A Point of Honor 11

A Point of Honor
Chapter 11 Draft (07/19/09)

The planets rotation and the start of a new day was shading the eastern horizon with a thin band of gold when Robbie Davis saw the C-Prime reefer truck pull into the nearly deserted inspection lot and roll to stop. He’s seem any number of early morning sunrises since arriving on Cardoman but this one stood to be more memorable than most.

The image on his com screen was relayed from an optical sensor a couple of kilometers from the checkpoint but might as well have been just perched upon the trucks cab (the view was that sharp) and Robbie was pleased to see three other trailer rigs waiting their own turns along with ten or a dozen ground cars. Someone might have paid attention to the name of a single truck even in the relative darkness but with four to choose from that wasn’t likely at all.

They had decided on the morning shift change to minimize the amount of normal in and out traffic, reduce visibility and with luck civilian casualties. It seemed inevitable that with three places to hit, and all at the same time, some casualties were going to be unavoidable. Wes had made the call but it was a cost they would all have to bear.

A half an hour before shift change the guards were working on their paperwork and those few motorist in the lot were going to have to wait for the next shift to start before processing through. This was a well known phenomenon and tended to keep the lot empty until just before the change over.

The C-Prime truck and driver had made the same trip arriving at the same time a half a dozen times this month already. When asked why not get a little more sleep and arrive later the driver replied, “I get paid by the hour and just as soon be sitting on my ass as unloading a trailer of beef.” The guard could agree though he couldn’t know that today the truck would be half empty.

Studying the situation briefly Davis passed the word back to his com Sgt. to go ahead and signal Major Calvert and Colonel Olivera that the plan was a go and they could start moving at their ends. Then he got into his own truck and gave the order to proceed. They had twenty-seven kilometers to travel and 25 minutes till the first shot got fired.

Three hundred kilometers to the south the preliminaries were already underway. “Ok Mo. Start walking.” That was the command an hour ago and Mo Omari looked closely for the recall as he passed by the forward most strike team. Nope—the small odd shaped stone was still balanced against the larger rock by the signpost showing the last turn off before the road was blocked by the partially completed check station. He had started far enough back that if the camera a couple of K’s behind was in operation his presence on the road would be expected. If the imaging device was still nonfunctional then no harm done except to his boot leather and overworked imagination.

He no longer noticed the satchel charge under his shirt resting between his knapsack and the small of his back. The plastic explosive was thin and the package only weighed a kilogram or so. The station was being built at the site where people without transportation of their own could gather and wait for a ride or to catch the twice daily bus that headed north to Minton. Not a lot of foot traffic but the guard detachment was used to what little there was.

Mo halted a moment and reaching back as if to adjust the weight of the pack reached up under his baggy shirt and inserted the detonator keys. Now he noticed the explosive, feeling its pressure with each step. Walking past the parking slots he reached the security booth and without waiting for instructions took off the knapsack and placed it on a table just in front.

A bored looking guard came outside and asked his name. “Take a seat Mr. Mo,” he’d used a fake last name the first being so common as to need no disguise. “And you can go wait over there and wait till we process you.” The soldier pointed to the windowless side of the newly built inspection station. Well that part went as planned; it was standard procedure to check parcels first but Mo was worried that he might have been waved straight to the personal check as sometimes happened. This early in the morning though the same guard almost always took care of both tasks so he didn’t have to try plan ‘B’ which called for him getting captured and hope he lived till and after help arrived.

“Process me?” he said looking baffled.

“New way of doing things. Just do what I’ll get to you in a moment.” And the guard started looking through the pack examining each item with care. Scanning everything that wasn’t clothing and opening every box, setting a few things aside for an even closer look. Mo went where he had been directed and sat down leaning back against the building wall.

He reached behind him again and slid the bomb from under his shirt leaving it against the buildings base. The shaped charge was covered with a dull gray material that was supposed to match the building surface and not attract any notice. A few moments later the guard was finished and summoned him back.

“Go on inside and you can pick this up when you are done and take it around front to the cleared area to wait for your ride.

“I can see the package but their taking him inside,” Cpl Avery said to Farmer Barns.

“Not surprising they started doing that last night when you and Higgins were setting up the mortars and taping into the land line. There going to take some pictures and do a biometric scan. They can’t do an instant check with the master data in Minton till they have their data links so they’ll store the take until they can send it in. If nothing changes from the way it worked last night he’ll be back let loose in a minute or two.”

And such was the case. Mo was back outside, shouldering his pack, and moving to the cleared, Minton side of the station. He didn’t stop there but continued down the road. The bomb was going off in another 10 minutes and a little distance was in order. To his surprise no one called after him as he left the gated area and walked with his long legged stride away from what would soon be the blast area and no place for an unarmed man.

“Move out Farmer,” Paul said, then watched him join Higgins in the tarpaulin covered truck supplied by a local supporter and then move out smartly. Even if the Calps were looking from above the men underneath were safe from observation. Olivera sent a coded message via the public use land link to Davis and the Major and after the reception was confirmed turned his attention back to his helmets command display and watched the time to detonation count down.

“Five seconds Avery, Two, One, Now!” As fast as they could drop them down the tubes the 40 mm rounds from both mortars arced upwards. “Two, One,” and just as Barns’ truck pulled into the lot the satchel charge blew a hole into the side of the barracks building. The first four rounds knocked down the radio antenna at the buildings rear and opened another hole in its side. Seconds later as more round fell into the compound dark black smoke began to billow, blanketing the entire area. While Barns, Higgins, and a dozen troops with IR goggles active ran for the planned breach in the barracks wall four more cut through the darkness and burst through the door of the check station.

In Minton a variation on a thyme. As the rental truck bearing Robbie and half of his men pulled into the check station lot smoke from mortar round detonating just above ground level was already beginning to blacken the area. The rear door of the C-Prime hauler opened and armor clad reckon troops came boiling out. They could hear more explosions, HE this time, to their east. Some of his men using shoulder fired missiles began punching holes in the nearby barracks while others were busy taking down sensors and com gear. Several from both squads lobbed smoke grenades to insure the coverage was complete. There were too many civilians parked in the lot to risk direct mortar fire here but the effect was the same as dense smoke hid everything from view.

On the other side of the divided highway, the one leading away from the Capital and towards the heartlands, where incendiary and HE rounds were falling the office and com center were turning into burning piles of rubble along with the east bound check station and creating their own smoke screens. Mortar rounds kept raining down, HE targeted at the buildings and communications apparatus. With no sensor take sent from the site the role played by C-Prime would not be obvious.

There was a limit to the number of prisoners they could handle and the troops they could commit to the attack and trying to take prisoners from both sides just wasn’t going to work.

“Everyone stay in your vehicles. Keep you doors closed and windows up.” the voice boomed over the hand held megaphone. “Do not attempt to leave or approach any of the troops or you will be shot! When the smoke starts to clear and we pass the word; turn around and go back into the city! Don’t rush! Stay calm!” The instructions were probably a waste of time but it was the best they could do.

Now the loud but low pitched rumble of mortar rounds was being punctuated by the crack of rifle fire from inside the block building. It lasted but a moment. Robbie stood aside while the first of the prisoners taken out of the barracks were herded into the trailer. “Wounded?” he asked.

“Pranger and Ricks, nothing serious, both moving under their own power.”

Davis nodded then looked at his watch. “Time on site one minute forty-seven seconds. He ordered a stop to mortar fire and motioning to Sgt Ortega and four others held in reserve started running across the highway towards the office building. “We’ve got movement over there!”

Leaving what must have been a bunker or some kind of a sub-basement at the structures rear just visible through the smoke and heat signature were three men wearing breathing gear and standard issue protective gear. As far as Robbie could tell from the overloaded sensors only two were armed. Only one seemed to have the ability to see through the sill dense smoke and he was attempting to lead the others towards a parked ground car that by some minor miracle appeared to be unharmed.

Robbie wasn’t first but after covering some sixty meters and by dint of the ungodly amount of adrenaline pumping through his veins was a close second. The thing seemed to happen in slow motion. It could have been the sound as they ran but the soldier in the middle of the three in front of them sensed something and turned to look behind. By now only ten meters separated Childers, in front of Robbie, from the last of the three Calps. Continuing with his turn—and before Cpl Childers could bring his rifle to bear the flame spit from the muzzle of the Calps short barreled and Childers was down.

“Damn!” Robbie swore as milliseconds later he fired his own three round burst aimed at the gap between the soldier’s face shield and body armor. The man’s head was holding on by a few strands of flesh when the body hit the pavement. Sweeping to the next in line he emptied half of his magazine into the top half of the back armor then on two the last remaining Calps who lost balance under the impact and went to the ground as well. “Move and you’re dead! Don’t even breathe! — How’s Childers,” he called behind.

“I’ll be Ok, soon as I catch my breath,” the corporal managed to say.

Robbie grunted then said, “Let’s get these two out of here and get the civilians moving. We’re running late.”

Back with the main group again Robbie ordered one last barrage. His mortar crews went into rapid fire mode again but instead of aiming for a target on the ground the smoke and chaff rounds detonated at the peak of their arc, slightly down wind and some 600 meters above ground. Then a half a dozen men from his first squad joined in using their rifle mounted launchers. They put up another layer much closer to the ground. The prevailing wind would carry the cover towards the city and masking from above the traffic underneath. When it cleared they should just blend in with whatever else was on the road.

The smoke at ground level was now mostly gone and Robbie ordered everyone in the lot to start moving. With the high up screen above it was going to be almost impossible for the Calps to recreate exactly what had happened here. When the smoke finally cleared they would figure out what, but finding out who and how was going to be another matter entirely.

* * *
Tariq Hasani, the commander of what once was Cardoman’s but now the Caliphate’s high orbital station was an early riser. The geosynchronous satellite located above the planetary capital ran on Minton time to stay in tune with General Kahn’s command staff. Hasani was at his morning prayers when the alarm bells rang. Their distinctive tone told him that it was something happening on the ground and not a ship coming in from the hyper limit. But that just meant the urgency was greater, because any ship or fleet would take hours to reach this far into the Cardoman sun’s gravity well but an alarm on the ground meant Now!

He stood at once and left his quarters for the operational command center two decks up. Rushing inside and taking his seat he listened while the duty officer delivered his report.

“Both here and on the ground communications with the units involved are out. The smoke makes it impossible for us to see what is happening but the fact that three locations are being hit at the same time and in the same fashion makes it an obvious military strike. We can launch from a platform in low orbit and have penetrators at ground zero in eleven minutes. General Kahn might be able to get troops to the site just outside Minton a few minutes sooner.”
Hasani said, “Send down something with a sensor head; get us a closer look at what is going on. Before I will authorize weapons release we must know what we are shooting at, or have orders to the contrary. Firing blind we are as likely to hit our own as those responsible for all of this.” He glared at his display then leaned back in his chair watching his staff react, and wishing he was junior enough to be manning a weapons station instead of where he sat with all this power at his fingertips and unable to use it.

* * *
Cpl. Bryce, the Major’s clerk and orderly double checked each piece of armor as Wes strapped it in place, just over twenty-five kilograms worth excluding his helmet, com gear, and weapons load, amounting to another fifteen. That was probably close to what a well appointed knight had to carry during the wars on Earth in what they called their ‘Middle Ages.’ But it did not include the lightweight pack he also carried. Still it was much less than he was used to as trapper Joe Jackson and it was distributed so well he barely felt it. In the pre-dawn chill even heat under the thermal IR gear wasn’t a problem. Shouldn’t be a problem later when they started moving, at this elevation the air was going to stay cold till almost noon.

“Double check your own gear Sgt, then see that everything here gets packed up and carted away.” Wes was having all of the camp equipment and supplies moved by a squad that would not participate in the main attack. He wanted to everyone to be traveling light when they cleared the area.

“I should be going with you Sir,” Bryce said with his disappointment showing.

“Next time Sgt. After you pull back to the staging area just be sure that nothing is overlooked.”

Virgil Crammer and Hank Hanson from the Seventh’s old Charlie Company were his second in command and senior Sgt respectively. Captain Morgan, the ‘C’ Company commander was minding the store and coordinating odds and ends from a temporary com center that was going to disappear as soon as they were finished using it today. Ben had also wanted in on the action. There wasn’t a single member of the Seventh who didn’t. It had been a long time since they had operated in even platoon sized units but most of these men had worked together before and Wes didn’t think any rust was going to show.

Unlike the other two stations the one up here was in fairly rugged terrain, a cut in the foothills that was a natural right of way. On the side of the roadbed they were on—the west side—rose a steep near vertical rock face some three hundred meters high. On the other side almost as high and a kilometer away the corresponding slope was steep but not quite vertical, rising at a still unclimbable angle to a weathered edge.

That should have meant they could get the mortar teams closer without detection here than at the other two sites. And yes it did and they could—but perversely—because the Calps needed to sent out regular patrols to sweep the sites perimeter it also meant that the chance of detection once they were in place would be higher. The contrasting principals led to a two hour march and a silent wait before pulling back yesterday and that same march again today before hearing from Robbie that today the return would be delayed.

It was on the other side of the cut, the one easier to reach from the bottom that the Calps had their transmitter and an anti-air missile battery. Too far away for a 40 to reach from this side Artillery Sgt. Manners had two 60 mm tubes away from the edge and hidden from view that he had personally dialed in. With a missile battery to target and protect the Calps maintained complete sensor coverage, both radar and optical IR Detecting and backtracking a stealthed 60 was difficult for a field unit but well within the capabilities of a permanent ground station such as this. With only a couple of tubes and a seven second flight time the rapid firing close in defenses had the ability to shoot down the mortar rounds before they posed a threat. Because of the IR signature and the wide open clear zone when over flying the cut a short range infantry type cruise missile was not going to help either.

The solution to the problem was simple but not obvious—riflemen—accurate aimed fire at the exposed missiles on their rails and the various com links tying the sensor net together. A thirty caliber round would cover the kilometer in under a second, exploding ground to air propulsion stages and downed com links should take care of the short term problem.

Crouched behind waist high rocks twenty-five meters from the cliff edge with an open expanse of granite between him a 300 meter drop Wes checked again to see all was in place and had Wells pass the time mark to the shooters while he once more checked his armor and load. Then it was time. Three, two, one!

He heard the flat crack! of the battle rifles, then subconsciously the sound of distant mortar fire, and he was up and running. Twenty-five meters as fast as his legs would carry him then out and over the edge with two squads in line behind. He counted to three and saw fire bloom on the opposite side of the cut well above his eye level before pulling the cord releasing the chute from the small pack he had spent so much time adjusting and inspecting. It deployed at once and filled in a second. Wes just had time to make out the small C-Prime delivery van before he was snapped upright and hauling on his risers was gliding towards the road and inspection station below. He breathed a sigh of relief while the first of his 40’s struck below with smoke issuing out and heard the 60’s begin pounding on the other side of the cut.

They hadn’t had time to practice this but Wells sent each of the chuted soldiers at one second intervals racing for the jump point. The rest of the drop team pulled the cord one second into their free-fall and as soon as they were able directed their flight alternately left then right. Wes wanted to make sure no one waited so long to deploy their chutes that they fell into the wing like canopy of the man preceding him.

Wes was still six seconds from touch down when Manners, retargeting based on precise information from Wes’ own sensors, dropped four rounds on each of the two main Calp buildings. With some luck the rest would be cleanup, grabbing what prisoners they could, and escaping back into the hills before help could arrive. As he hit the top of the smoke layer Wes clicked his goggles into full IR and angled for the front of the inspection lot, one hand on his rifle the other on his risers. And then it was touchdown, release the chute and charge the guard shack, tossing a flash-bang over its roof to land in front before blowing the lock and tumbling inside low through the small buildings lot side door.

Huddled under a table were two women, civilians by their dress with hands covering their face and heads. Reacting slowly to the sound of Wes shooting out the lock a lone guard was spinning around, raising a pistol and staring at the battle clad intruder. A three round burst and he crumpled to the floor.

“We’re Cardoman! Get out of here and back in your car. Then wait till we say to go!” He yelled it loud and clearly and hoped they would understand and follow his directions. Without waiting to see he was out of the shack and running for the main office barracks behind three others he could see and two more who only showed up as green tinted friendly icons with names next to a c-more tab on the small projection in his visor display. Seconds later he saw visually that one corner of the building was missing and followed the leaders inside.

On the cliff above the 60’s kept pumping out chaff and smoke rounds to explode at altitude over the station and road leading north while the ground below started to clear. Both 40’s crews packed up and began their retreat leaving only the portable radar short range radar behind. It would give the Calps something to see and draw fire but not where it would do the fleeing troops any harm.

“Time to leave,” Wes said to Sgt Wells over the command channel. “Let’s get the hell outta’ here.” He signaled Capt Manners, “Use what whatever you have remaining to build cover above the road there’s nothing left here but the dead and dying.

* * *
The situation was clear enough now in general terms at least. Colonel Hasani still hadn’t heard from Kahn or his staff, but on his own authority he gave his first strike order sending multiple ‘Arrows,’ the name universally given to the light KE weapons, at each location where mortar fire had been detected. He’d be much more likely to get in trouble for doing nothing then this minor reaction however late and ineffectual. The wrath of Kahn was going to fall on someone, and as Allah was his witness, he would do what he was authorized and then a bit more.

He went a step further by releasing a heavier and hence more powerful ‘Spear’ at the single functioning radar unit; it was obviously left to draw fire but even so he was happy to oblige. He couldn’t target traffic on the road without certain knowledge, to do so would be a gross violation of the present rules of engagement but he was certain that he should be doing exactly that. Sparing civilian casualties was well and good provided they were amongst the faithful. But infidels? They were vermin to be converted or destroyed. But orders were orders and could only be stretched so far!

“Damn it! Get me someone at staff with the balls to call a strike!”

Fifteen minutes later he had his authorization but by then there was nothing left to shoot at. “Ok then,” Hasani said to his signals officer, “Start reviewing all the data and imagery. I want to know which vehicles were involved and where they went afterwards. The trail may be cold but it’s not dead!”

It hardly seemed possible but only a little more than an hour had passed since that mad leap from the cliff. Wes and the rest of his troops, the ones that jumped with him, were ten kilometers north and a kilometer east of the road on their planed evacuation route. The seven prisoners they managed to take should be in the small company town and the first already dispersed and on the way to temporary safe storage. From an operational standpoint the plan was still working flawlessly.

The transmitter he had left behind like those at the other two sites stayed on the air long enough sending coded signals that he knew the other raids had gone off about as well. His plan now was to keep moving and cover as much ground as the need for invisibility permitted. The Calps would still be watching from above and likely had drones on the way already.

Wes paused for a moment and took a long drink from his second canteen. Water wasn’t a problem with a stream marked an hour ahead. Dinner would have to wait till late in the day when they reached the cache higher up in the mountains where they planned to resupply, split up, and continue into the night. In another week Wes hoped to be back at the Cabin HQ, seeing Connie again and meeting with Robbie. Eighteen hour days and more, from now till then; it couldn’t happen soon enough.