23. Commencement

Segovia believed Funston's plan brilliantly conceived, but only half-baked. The devil was in the details. Success hinged upon the flawless execution of each step along the way. The counterfeit correspondence they'd written to El Presidente on rebel stationery had set the stage, but once on the ground, the actions of the sullen, disputatious Macabebes would be the deciding factor. Segovia knew the Macs had no use for Tagalogs, often treated their countrymen with disrespect, sometimes cruelty. Therefore, he began their instruction in that dialect.

"Soon we will land near the costal village of Casigurian where we will obtain provisions, and then trek over the mountains to Palanan, the headquarters of General Emilio Aguinaldo. Our mission is to capture him, thereby forcing the rebel insurrection to an end." Oil lanterns swayed with the rolling of the ship. Segovia peered through the dim lamplight. No reaction, no expressions of surprise or dismay. The Macs didn't care where they went, Segovia thought, as long as they killed Tagalogs. "Colonel Talplacido is your commanding officer. From this moment on you will obey his every word. The punishment for any breech of discipline, however slight, is death. Is that perfectly clear?" No response.

The Spaniard continued. "The success of our mission depends on an elaborate ruse. We will pose as one of General Urbano Lacuna's companies previously operating against the Americans in Nueva Ecija province. Two months ago, we were ordered to join Aguinaldo's forces at Palanan. Since then we have journeyed northward to our destination. While crossing the mountains we ambushed a small detachment of Americans doing survey work and took prisoners." Segovia paused for a moment to let the information sink in. But for the drumming of angry waves on the outer hull, silence in the cargo hold.

He turned his attention to the sweating, ashen-faced Hilario Talplacido wedged between bulkhead girders for support. A pathetic excuse for a man, he thought, but the general hadn't given him time to recruit someone more reliable. A hedonistic coward, at least Segovia knew he could control him. Disliked and distrusted by everyone, if things went awry, he'd make the perfect scapegoat. "Colonel Talplacido will now provide further instruction."

The chubby, reluctant conscript stood before his men trembling with fear and fatigue. He coughed twice and mumbled through dry, swollen lips. "Comrades, do you see how I clear my throat before speaking? If you want to be taken for a Tagalog you must do this. Also, when you meet another person in a village or on the trail you must inquire about his health and the well being of his family. If the conversation continues, you must ask about the activities of the village headmen."

At that, one of the Macabebes snorted, said something in his native dialect. The men around him laughed. Talplacido stiffened and pointed at the man. "Tagalog only! Abandon now all Macabebe language and mannerisms. It is exactly that kind of mistake that can compromise our mission. You must begin now thinking all Tagalogs are your brothers, and you must do more than just play a role. Until we reach our destination, everyone you meet is a friend. We are rebel soldiers now. Ask yourselves, how could we harm anyone sympathetic to the revolution?"

Hearing the sound of his own voice made Talplacido feel better, and he continued, his words gaining in pitch and tone. "On this mission I am your commander. I do not think of you as Macabebe scouts, but loyal Americans with the opportunity to restore order and prosperity to our land. When I speak, when I give orders, my words are from General Funston directly, and his come from none other than his excellency President McKinley himself!"

Madre Mia, Segovia murmured. This man is a bigger idiot than I thought. But then he glanced at the faces of the scouts and saw for the first time since the briefing had begun, someone had their full attention. He decided to let Talplacido continue.

"Therefore comrades, unless you wish to suffer the great and terrible wrath of the President of the United States, do not, by the most innocent slip of the tongue, the slightest wink or nod, betray our purpose. Your vigilance alone insures the successful completion of our mission." Finding himself inexplicably at a temporary loss for words, the portly colonel bowed slightly and surrendered the floor to Segovia.

The Spaniard stood, ready to speak, when the iron hinges on the cargo hold door groaned, and a member of the Vicksburg's crew stuck his head in. "The general wants all you indians on deck now!"

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1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home