Leander stared at the dusky valley below, counting the moments between bursts of gunfire-wrought light which marked engagements between rival forces like the moments between lightning and thunder. It was actually much the same principle; he could tell the flow of the battle by those flashes. The seconds between flashes told him how certain of the enemy’s position the combatants were; the faster they came and the longer they lasted, the more likely it was that the two sides knew exactly where one another were. Similarly, the movement of the flashes in those seconds told him which side was pressing forward and where. The forces moving northeast to southwest were driving forward. Those were the troops of the rebel faction that had sprung up in this countryside. Rebels only because they were too numerous and organized to be called “bandits.” They’d razed an entire town two days past when they found it too poor for their tastes.
In a moment, Leander would lead his troops down into the fray, joining the policing force sent by the regional government. But he waited now, watching the flashes. Behind and to his left, one of the men shifted. Leander guessed it was Ivers, ostensibly second in command here, but still new to the position and unused to the men leaning on his direction. Lee shook his head and muttered, “Take a breath, Terry. Give it another moment. I know it looks like our side is being routed, but give it a minute. They’re not breaking; they’re pulling back to that ridge on the far side of the treeline. They’ll put a stand together there and we’ll come down the hill. The rebels will be caught between us. We’ll cut their avenue of retreat first, then sweep in.”
“Are… Are you sure, Lee?” gulped Ivers, clearly not calmed by Leander’s plan.
“No. I can’t be. They could push to the hill faster than we expect. A segment of the police force could break and run too soon. They could have a rear guard that I can’t see from here. Or reinforcements pushing in that we hadn’t been told were inbound. No plan is certain. No plan is perfect. But this is what I see from here. And this is what we’re going to move forward with it. If something changes, we’ll have to change with it. Tally off a third of our force. You’ll push to the northwest, swing around and come back in. You’ll be our reserve force in case of a surprise.”
Leander finally looked back over his shoulder at Ivers, lifting the M16 he’d had before his waist. The other man still looked nervous but nodded. Lee ran the costs in his head, adjusting already the calculations he’d made while staring down at the battlefield. A taste of command in a low pressure situation. That might help him settle a bit. And those numbers won’t press away my theoretical advantage, but might save me if their reinforcements do arrive. If none come, he’ll be with me before things get really hot. Worth the risk.
Nodding to himself more than to Ivers, Leander raised a handheld red-LED light to signal the nearby troopers. Two quick flashes and Ivers moved off to gather his third of the men. Lee turned on his heel and strode to the point where the slope down toward the valley intensified. Without looking back to see if he was followed he started down, picking up pace as he loped into battle.