A Point of Honor 10

A Point of Honor
Chapter 10 Draft (07/11/09)

There were three main routes, transportation arteries out from Minton, and the Calps now had checkpoints in full operation on two of them with the third station to the South almost complete. More were in the planning stage but without any building started. These were several steps up in terms of intrusiveness and record keeping from what they were replacing and hitting them all at the same time was the most difficult plan operationally. But of all the ideas they had studied it gave the greatest chance of a major success along with the fewest casualties for something that might really cause the Calps a long term problem.

The Calps were sure to rebuild but afterwards would be forced to tie down troops in order to prevent a reoccurred. Even a partial success would lead to that result but Wes and the rest of his staff were hoping for more, much more.

The Eastern route was the busiest and most heavily guarded. It lead first into farm country, and with offshoots into timber and trapping areas, and eventually across the continent to the Madigan Sea; an ocean actually that separated Cardoman’s two main landmasses from one another. This was the only station right now where traffic density was leading to backups and delays.

The second guarded route went due north for a hundred kilometers before splitting into two roads. One ran thorough the mountain foothills and then to the site of the close in mines that had once been so important in Minton’s founding. All of the original mines except for the legendary and still producing 3-M, the Magic Mountain Mine, had stopped operations decades before. The industry moved farther north into higher elevations where crustal upwelling had forced the transuraniums that were the reason they existed closer to the surface. The other section of the road struck off to the northeast, skirting the mountains and into a region of arctic tundra that a hundred million years before had been a shallow sea. It now was responsible for the majority of all the hydrocarbon feedstock still used on the planet for transportation fuel and manufacturing needs.

The third major road leading from Minton was the one tending southwestward till it hit Hightown on a bluff above the Palisades Ocean, named from the cliffs that lined most of the western side of the continent. It was the least used of the major roads. From Hightown were the building was in progress it continued south along the coast while the land got harsher and drier until the pavement terminated at Gobi, a city, large village actually, that was the base for whatever activities went on in the mostly desert lands even further south.

The checkpoint was being built at the Gobi terminus though it should have been constructed somewhere else up the line in so far as current traffic warranted, Intel projected that the Calps were going to bring in “a lot” of settlers more acclimatized to the hotter southern regions. That was the only explanation that made any sense.

From there spread tracks leading into the desert and towards the lands beyond. But by the time enough population had built up on the continent’s Southern tip, twenty-five hundred kilometers away to justified more construction, air, and even space transportation, along with the sea route to Hightown had made it unnecessary and in fact financially nonsensical to complete a paved and maintained road across the wilderness.

This far into the Calp occupation there were close to a hundred thousand Caliphate troops on the planet. On the Cardoman side were somewhat less than a quarter of that number. Three thousand of those were in the full time active opposition units, what might have been called a uniformed duty force. About half of these came from the Seventh, the rest as members of other units from the pre-occupation army had trained up almost to that level.

There were another twenty thousand recently active in the Cardoman Military disbanded and dispersed into the population. The Calps of course knew who they were but had offered an amnesty to all who would accept it and till the present time had stuck to their word. These troops were perhaps in theory on-call to active duty but they were monitored, though not all that closely by the Calps. Still, if a significant number dropped off the screen that would be direct evidence of something about to happen and cause those remaining be brought in for questioning and likely into captivity and put the occupying army on a high state of alert.

The rest of the force that had made up the Seventh were off planet; most on Novi, but a thousand or so in what was left of Cardoman’s Navy. Most of the Seventh Cardoman by now consisted of planetary natives but due to the way it had been founded and the way early recruitment went it had a core of officers and senior enlisted from off-planet. For most of these loyalty went to the Seventh first and Cardoman second, but from a practical standpoint this made no difference; they all opposed the Caliphate and faced the same death if captured.

It wasn’t just the three inspection stations around Minton that they were planning to take out. It was every single one the Calps had built or started to build; at least those with any equipment already installed or close to completion, in total seventeen targets. To get them all would take most every member of the Seventh in the field and more than a few of those who had gone back into the civilian population as a ready reserve. The reserve force would need to come from those areas outside of the cities where the numbers were small but that was how it was if surprise was to be maintained.

Wes was leading the unit assigned the task of destroying the check station on the northern road.  Paul Olivera had the south and Robbie Davis the most critical road leading east. That wasn’t how this would have worked out in a video production; the army commander is supposed to get the main chance and starring role. As it was Wes needed to put down a mutiny in order to lead any of the units in this operation.

“Wes, if anything happens to you the propaganda victory, even if all our military aims succeed makes this a losing proposition.” That was Paul’s take supported by most everyone else and most particularly by his own wife Connie.

“You should stay right here and direct from a distance,” Connie had said. “I am the one who ought to be leading from the front this time. Heaven knows I have earned the right by putting up with all the crap I had to over the last six months!” She was going to say something to the effect that the only reason Wes was keeping her back was because of the baby, but professionalism caused her to remain silent on that issue, though just barely.

“I know how you feel Connie—I really do. But I have been every bit as much out of the direct operations loop than you have.”

“Connie’s right Wes. You should stay away from the front lines,” Paul Olivera said with the resigned air of one who knows he will be ignored.

“Enough! I have the north road. Let’s get on with the final details.”

Wes was met by Sgts. Beal and Wilson five kilometers from the Alpha Company base camp centered around an abandoned and unmarked solitary mining tunnel, one that evidently had been worked for only a few season and played out at least a century earlier; probably even longer ago than that because there was no evidence powered machinery had any part in it’s construction. But more importantly it was one never registered, not enough ore to make it worth the bother.

“Charlie, Paul, good to see you.” Wes was greeting Mankowitz in person for the first time in over a year. The former second in command and now head of Connie’s old Alpha Company had been in the mountains north of Minton ever since the Calps landed. Paul Olivera left the cabin two days before Wes and had time to go over the latest intel along with viewing the check station and its security set-up from close range.

“And you too,” Mankowitz said. “Though before Paul made it back I was figuring Connie would come out for this one.”

“Not you too Charlie. I think I can still hold my own,” Wes grumbled.

“Oh! I didn’t mean it like that!” Mankowitz smiled. “Come on down below and I’ll show you what we got.”

After squeezing between a couple of strategically located boulders they needed to get down on all fours to make it through the entrance. The next several meter were every bit as claustrophobic but then it opened up into a small room crammed with display screens and electronics of various sorts.

“We enlarged this section right after we found the place. Did it the same way as the original construction. No powered equipment at all. The old shaft ends a few meters further in at a fault line. There we had to use some modern stuff, an energy drill to drive a pipe sized bore to the surface to route in our sensor feeds. All reflected optical of course so we won’t be found that way,”

“How will you be found?” Wes asked.

“If at all by someone following one of us back. And believe me; we are not taking that chance lightly.”

“Is that you Deutsch?” The man in question turned from the display he was monitoring and grinned, pleased to be recognized.

“Yes Sir Major. And glad you’re here so we can finally do something other than sit around and watch.”

“Some of us will do something Cpl Deutsch. You are going to keep right on doing what you do so well, far too valuable to risk with all of this equipment to maintain,” Mankowitz said.

“We could blow it up sir,” Deutsch said hopefully.

“In your dreams Cpl, in your dreams. Show the Major the sensor take from the checkpoint.”

Deutsch slid sideways and Wes sat on the bench fronting the table where the display was located. From what seemed about a kilometer away it showed the road, two lanes in each direction but funneling down to one at this point. There were two new, raw looking block buildings, constructed on bypass aprons on either side. They were both at the end of their bypass where the apron rejoined the main road. One of the bypass entrances was upstream and the other down so the buildings themselves were opposite one another with the main road running between them. Each apron had a number of angled parking slots for vehicular inspections with several large covered slots reserved for trucks.

A hundred meters away on the roads western side was a third building of similar construction. “That building on the west is the garrison offices, communication equipment and holding tank. They have somewhere between thirty-five and forty stationed there at all times and that many more again working the inspection area.”

“Not much traffic,” Wes commented. There were only a couple of dozen vehicles moving in each direction within the lenses field of view and about the same number stopped waiting their turn to proceed. “I can remember as a kid taking a trip to visit and tour one of the mines and I was amazed at all the heavy truck traffic. The lake district must be suffering from the lack of visitors.”

“Our first raids at the mining complex just after they landed got them spooked sir. They clamped down real hard on personal travel in this direction. Six or seven buses an hour go through now but those inspections take place when the people board so they pass through here without stopping. Civilian business travel in personal cars has just been authorized in the last month with the 3-M back in partial operation but unless it’s business it’s bus or nothing.”

“What about air travel?”

“Business and government only. We can track that pretty good since they’ve confined the air corridors to run over the surface route to make keeping track of things easier.”

“What’s the combined total for both directions?”

“Five to seven thousand people and call it three hundred trucks. Barely ten percent of the pre-war numbers. Highest density mid mornings and late afternoons. The Calp night shift gets pretty lonely.”

“Well Cpl Deutsch, we will just have to see what we can do to relieve that condition.”

“When do we go?” Paul asked. “All of the com traffic organizing this is making me a little skittish.”

“Depends on how fast Paul and Ben Judah get into position. Our advance team has the southern site under observation and has the weapons spots designated but we still have to wait for the equipment to arrive. Couple more days I expect, then another to set things up. Robbie at least is ready to move as of yesterday.”

“I guess we’re safe for that long but the Calps are getting damn sophisticated when it comes to sniffing out com traffic. The started dusting from the air to look for infrared links and they are scattering pickup around in order to find any broadband stuff. I ended all the radio a week ago so all we are using are our optical links. If they dust at the right time and get a reflection before we can shut the beam down they will know something is up and due to the location they will know what it has to be.”

“Best we can do Paul, if we loose surprise at any site we call off the mission at that location. As little as we have been doing lately I hope they are being lulled to sleep and not to suspicion.”

* * *
The trek across the rock strewn desert country was brutal, especially for the camels. Kendrie Davis had taken them away, south into the hills, when Castle Calvert was abandoned. “Alahambra and Najib, It is good to see you again,” Mo said when seeing them for the first time in a year.

Najib just looked at him, wrinkled her nose and spat. Alahambra ignored him completely. “What have you done to them Kendrie?”

“It’s not me boy, you’ve grown so much they don’t recognize you anymore. Hell lad I hardly do myself!”

Kendrie had protested but to no avail. As much as Paul Olivera admired and respected the man he had turned thumbs down on all of the Castles former grounds keeper’s pleading.

“No, you can not come with us and it has nothing to do with your age! You don’t know the mission and haven’t trained for it. All you know is that we need camels and Mo here has some experience in that line as well as some other things. Training you lack Kendrie. And the fewer on the move the harder for the Calps to spot us. You did your part by playing the prospector and moving all over the southern lands with these two beasts here. Now the Calps won’t be paying undue attention when they see them traveling again. I am sorry Kendrie, but you’re stuck right here until we get back and that’s final!”

The last two days they left the camels behind and had to carry everything themselves. Even Kendrie hadn’t been this far south before and they were taking no chances on an overflight and inspection. Their poncho like camouflage gear was good enough for hiding from orbital stuff but could not stand up against a closer view because they had to keep moving in order to make schedule. If Sugarbear Packard hadn’t taken them most of the way to Kendrie’s place in his hauler and then after loading the camels another hundred kilometers south and east they wouldn’t have stood a chance of meeting their self imposed deadline. As it was it was close.

“I almost wish we had Kendrie with us.” Paul said on the second day to Shem Ben Judah and Galen Nathan as they toiled along. I feel like one of the camels now.” Sweat would have been pouring off even under the camo gear, but in the dry heat it was evaporating as fast as it formed. The missiles, shrouded in their tubes were stealthy enough but the weight was a killer on the ten man squad. Mo was holding up better than most, not surprising considering the life he had led over the last year.

“We shudda sent some of this stuff with the advance team,” Sgt. Higgins said to no one in particular.

“Yeah, and we shudda joined the Navy too,” Cpl Avery replied as if the words were addressed to him personally.

Higgins gave his squad leader an evil look and they kept marching,

They met up with Captain Benjamin and the advance team only a couple of hours later than planed for. No sleep, well two less hours of not enough anyway, but still undetected the plan was a go.

* * *
“I wish we could just use long range ground huggers, light em off from a distance and just blow the bastards all away,” Robbie Davis said to Lt. Bledsoe. “There are more glory points in doing it this way but we’re gonna have plenty of time to earn those later.

“And I wish we could just use my guns, the artillery officer said. Bledsoe was the man in charge of the Seventh’s remaining long guns, the 155’s they had hidden before the landing. At two separate locations both half a continent away though they were quite out of range for this little operation. Bledsoe had come in to handle short range mortar and missile tubes this time, well at lest to develop the overall fire plan and timing. It was his only in and he didn’t want to miss the main chance. There was no risking the ‘Big Guns’ till they could make a big difference and with the Calps in orbit any that fired would be located and destroyed not to mention the problem of moving them unobserved.

“But the Major says we need to take some prisoners and if we used either of our preferences all we would get at the end would be the pieces.”

“It does make this harder. But after we pull this off the Calps are going to be madder than an Alchibaen Slizard in heat; and that’s about as mad as it gets! Afterwards, unless we have some protection, some bargaining chips, something to trade with, there is no telling what they might do to our own. And not just those of us working actively against them. We do the job, gag em and bag em—then stuff em in a warehouse for someone else to deal with next. Then we try to get out alive just like the Major says.”

“Our end of the deal is over quick at least,” Bledsoe said. “Hiding and then holding on to the prisoners afterwards has got to be the bitch.”

“True, but we sure as hell can’t take them out with us seeing as how we are dispersing with each man on his own when we get into the evac. Best way—but some of us ain’t gonna make it.”

“Like you say Robbie. In the long term ain’t none of us getting out alive.”

“Are you good with the fire plan?”

“Good enough, it’s the evacuation that is the problem,” Bledsoe said with emphasis on is. I hope those safe houses and farms are truly safe.”

“We agonized over this one son and this is what we came up with. Waiting any longer risked giving up some popular support. Failure does the same. Get your men into position and await my signal. And tell them not to miss.”

“At this range? Even with missiles? No way Robbie, no way!”

Just as Wes needed to keep to the background Robbie was forced to do the same. He resented being for one of the first times in his career relegated to a planning and supervisory roll; with rank came its responsibilities. And though he would only admit it to himself it might just be for the best. He was never going to be the physical specimen he once was and had the scars and medical records to prove it but he knew he could still outperform half of the troops working for him. “More than half but my how the mighty have fallen.”

He didn’t have to like it but being in first was no longer part of his job description. He did have free reign in choosing his team from the command level on down. And though he suffered for not being out front had no qualms over any of his choices.

Robbie had been running Seventh Recon the time it got the name, from the beginning, and except for those off planet every man, jack, and woman was only the best of the best. He would have put them up against any unit on Ryman and given odds; and that was high praise indeed from a Ryman native. Even so this was going to be tough and the cost could bankrupt Croesus or even Midas of legend if things went wrong. But not this time and not on his watch.

* * *
Despite the heat outside Loomis found himself shivering in the man made cold of the meat aging and storage plant. Even wearing a company jacket, blue with a stylized ‘C’ on the shoulder didn’t seem to help. Too much time spent on hotter worlds. C-Prime was the name above the loading dock where double doors leading inwards kept the cool in and heat out even as refrigerated trucks made their way in an out.

Prior to the Claps landing this building had been a major storage facility for out system exports for C-Prime itself and a number of smaller specialty exporters. It was almost as large as the second major building in the complex, a mostly automated packing plant that besides the serving the export market also provided for about 20% of the high end domestic consumption in Minton and the surrounding areas, restaurant, clubs and now the Calp officers mess.

A growing concern with a reputation for quality on a dozen other planets, it grew slowly but continuing to expand even started to ship into the Federation a five years before. The previous owners eighteen months ago, seeing the writing on the wall, had gotten out, quite pleased at a price met with very little haggling. With exports only now starting up again, and still far less than half of what they once were, there was a corresponding amount of unused space in the consignment lockers inside.

The building itself was at the front of the complex which covered about four hectares. The processing plant was one side with a maintenance garage on the other. The two larger buildings shielded the holding pens in back from view of the road. They were small and seldom used lately with the plant output where it was.

The entire complex except for maintenance, those portions inside at least, was kept at a temperature that in the summer came as a shock to those entering from the outside. Energy was cheap and spoilage expensive. Unless one was dressed for work inside even a quick look around was uncomfortable and checking each of the smaller, colder, consignment rooms even more so. That tended to keep inspections both infrequent and perfunctory and confined to checking records in the small office building C-Prime leased at the spaceport.

After purchasing the business six months before the landing it gave Abe cover for his constant travel in and out of Minton and would do the same if and when the Calps started issuing off planet visas. And of no small importance it was a ready source of minor bribes. The empty meat lockers were now about to serve another purpose than original design called for. Most of the rooms were set to twenty below zero at all times, but a few on one wall, those used for aging, were adjustable over a considerable range, upwards to twenty above.

The problem was going to be getting any Calp prisoners away from the inspection stations and inside the lockers without being seen. If they could manage that the captured Calps would be uncomfortable but safely hidden. The companies own trucks looked to be the key to solving that first part of the problem.

With the slowdown after the landing somewhat over half of the company’s seventy employees were laid off. Enough found new work or left Minton entirely that as things picked up again Abe was able to put members of the Seventh reserve into some of the vacant spots. Not all, but enough to have reliable drivers; and the section of the plant that was dedicated to out system cargoes was, with only two exceptions manned by his new hires. The two not in the Seventh fought in the last war and could be relied upon to keep their eyes closed and mouths shut. Abe was counting on that being enough to maintain secrecy after the new guests arrived.

He was into his waiting time now. The large tractor rig was on its way in from Germfask with a partial load and the other truck being sent on the northern route to service accounts around the mines was partially loaded as well and ready to send when word arrived.

* * *
“You want me to do what!” Mo Omari said, eyes opened wide and jaw dropping almost to his waist. They had been in position for less than an hour and Mo was not consulted when the fire plan was finalized.

“Look Mo, you’re a sergeant and I’m just a corporal relaying what Farmer Barns said for Christ sake. You ever fire a shoulder launched missile?” The answer being no Mo shook his head and let that one pass. “And this bomb thing ain’t that hard at all.” Avery seemed truly dumbfounded at Mo’s initial response. “We never even assigned someone to handle it in the original plan, it’s that easy. All ya gotta do is make sure these two keys are inserted and you have the timer set before you punch the start button before you lean it up against the building and walk away. Piece of cake.”

“That may all be true Career Cpl,” Mo said, making a not so subtle dig at his squad leaders long time in grade; something Avery had earned through performance outside of his military normal military duties time and time again and Mo had known the man for years. “I never even practiced on the thing, never used any kind of explosives at all. Never even saw one go off except for being on the receiving end. Are you sure I’m the right guy for the job?”

“No problem Kid! As we say in the Seventh. . . Anyone can be a demolitions man—once!”