A Point of Honor 17

A Point of Honor
Chapter 17 Draft (10-20-09)

“Major Riggs this will not do! We must get someone into Caliphate headquarters, someone who can find out what it is and then tell us what they are about.”

“I know Sir but I am at my wit’s end.” Jeffery Riggs had been dreading this conversation. Basil Ramseyer was not a hard taskmaster but he did expect results and for the New Brittan Intelligence Unit that he commanded—those results had been scarce ever since the initial battle.

“You do indeed sound somewhat confused Major; aside from the present situation is there any particular reason for that to be the case?”

“Well sir I keep myself confused on purpose, just on the off chance I should ever get captured and fall into enemy hands!”

Even Field Marshal Basil Ramseyer, consummate actor he was, couldn’t help but break from his pose and smile, however briefly at the retort. “Carry on Major! And Get Cracking!” he said, with a wave of dismissal and a snap from his swagger stick.

* * *
“The good news? It’s been six months and we haven’t lost yet. In fact with Ryman and Novi firmly on our side we are better off than we were a year ago.” Vic Shearing gave a weak smile and his haggard expression dissolved until he almost looked like his natural self again. He was good at hiding the strain he was under in public, but knew he should work harder at it when he was alone, or talking to his wife whenever their paths crossed, and of course other’s, anyone as much in the know as he was. And let’s not neglect the public at large.

‘After all an ambassador is not simply an agent; he is also a spectacle.’ This was the phrase that kept running through his mind, and one he wished he could forget. It used to relieve the strain, now it seemed all too true a statement of fact and not merely an ironic observation.

The old Earth despot Stalin was credited as saying, ‘You have a person, you have a problem. No person, no problem.’ Victor’s problem was the Consular General who scheduled the Federation Senate’s order of business. With only a small stretch of the office’s authority the woman could structure the main bodies’ agenda to suit her whim and political leanings. Vic Shearing as Cardoman’s Foreign Minister was not even a member of the august assemblage and knew he needed help.

“It’s like this Arkady,” he said to the Federation President, “We have too many irons in the fire. And unless you can get us some immediate help there will be hell to pay. For us now, for the Federation later.”

“My hand are tied Vic. Ryman’s former government didn’t exactly endear itself to most of our members and especially to the ones most likely to support you. And even the best of us considered New Britain as somewhat of a Rogue State. Preoccupation with tradition can only carry one so far.”

“When we both spend our time talking in clichés that much seems obvious. What can you do? I’ve got our latest intelligence estimate and am willing to go public with it. I’m sure it will garner us a few more yes votes.”

“I’ve seen it Vic. It’s not enough. A vote now and Cardoman loses. What I think you need do is spread the report as background. That way what I can make happen behind the scenes might let me survive the storm when our opponents learn about it. On my authority I can send units of our fleet to both Triocat and Trudelheim with instructions to recognize and protect the territorial integrity of any Governmental alignments that result due to military successes of your allies. Provided they pledge to recognize the Confederation with respect to our laws and traditions. It’ll buy us some time as when the Calps react. They won’t be expecting it and will need to get instructions from home. For now we just have to hope that Ryman and New Britain can deliver the goods.”

It wasn’t as much as Victor had been hoping f or, he wanted full military backing and a declaration of war, but he understood the pressure President Reshevsky was under. The Caliphate was using all of its economic muscle to sway by bribe or coercion any of the Confederation members on the edge and working mightily to push others in the same direction. The strategy was working with people who should have known better. Another timeworn phrase, but true none the less, ‘Is none so blind as he who will not see?’

“I’ll get right on it friend. Two days and I’m off on the SnapDragon for Llanfairn and am at your disposal for any dispatches you might wish conveyed.” With that their talk broke up and Vic went off to write his report.

Out of touch for a month Victor spent most of his waking hours on the bridge and wandering the corridors of the Dragon. He found the emptiness of his stateroom oppressive. All he seemed to do was fret over things out of his control. At least he would soon see his wife again and with luck hear how his son Eric on the Essex was doing. From what he saw here if Mark McCormack ran his ship anything like Stan Voinovich did Eric was probably too busy to worry.

Even though the Dragon was one of the longest serving ships in Cardoman’s service the constant need to crew new construction had pulled away members of Voinovich’s crew even faster than he could train them. Stan didn’t complain or even mention that fact constantly aware of the importance of his duty to help train the newer members of Cardoman’s naval forces. With that in mind he just went ahead doing just that along with everything else that needed doing to keep his ship at its highest state of readiness. And the results were impressive even to one only marginally aware of what that all that entailed.

Order out of Chaos, that is what we train for. Then we go a little further and strive for some order even in chaos.” It seemed to work and Victor was impressed in spite of himself. If Calvert on Cardoman could do as well then things might not be as bad as they appeared. Victor was a pessimist, and that had its advantages. The lows weren’t as low and the highs were a plus. He kept walking the corridors and waiting for the highs.

* * *
His pulse pounding in his head so loudly that anyone might hear, the missile tech finished dialing in the target coordinates. The Calp inspectors didn’t seem even to suspect that a ShipKiller might be reprogrammed to attack a ground target. After all ‘It just wasn’t done!’ The rules against using a ShipKiller, any nuclear weapon on a ground target, understood more so than written, were about as universal as any rule of war had ever been. Kinetic strikes from orbit could be devastating but the amount of energy evolved and damage as a result were orders of magnitudes less. Relativistic, so called “Fractional C” KE strikes fell under the same prohibition. In this case it would be a government attacking its own territory, something unaccounted in those rules. And though destroying one’s infrastructure in order to deny it to the enemy was not so uncommon in the annals of warfare as to escape notice none of the experts or the literature had ever dealt with nuclear warheads as a way to achieve that goal.

The test stand was on a platform orbiting 500 kilometers off of Trudelheim, the normal target a drone set to mimic an incoming warship. One missile from each batch of a hundred was used as a final quality control check. It was expensive but a kiloton of prevention was worth a megaton of cure. The practice warhead except for yield was an exact replica of the Caliphate standard unit so it served to test the detonation circuitry and do that same QC check on their fleet issue.

In the past Trudelheim shipped out the missile bodies and propulsion systems leaving it to the buyer to arm them. The Calps being captive customers decided to put on the finishing touches themselves so that they could ship a completed device sparing the transit time back to one of their own planets for the final arming step. It had made sense—up till now.

“We have incoming.” The acquisition sensors caught the IR signature before a return radar pulse delivered lock, computers did what computers do and alarms sounded while people scrambled.

The Calp inspection officer viewed his display and said, “We will wait till the range closes.” Having a hard time believing previous shots terminal performance he had the attack drone programmed for wildly evasive action starting at 100 light seconds out. With his full knowledge of the test missile’s capability he intended to prove it could be defeated one on one, provided the launch was late as it would be from an overloaded defensive system.

This was a full up test of ShipKiller against ShipKiller and if the Caliphate’s slightly less capable version survived long enough to destroy even damage the launching platform, (in simulation only,) he would earn some valuable points towards advancement and a ticket away from this infidel bedeviled den of iniquity.

The test equipment didn’t replicate all the features a warship’s spread of sensors might have, but for its dedicated purpose it was good enough. Light cones showed possible paths and intercept vectors drawn in various colors showed possible responses. A hundred light seconds out came the order to launch.

The bright line showing the Mark V’s path headed directly to the center of the incoming missile’s light cone for about 3 seconds, and then veered sharply to the side. “What is this!” came a shouted query as the missile continued its turn and the inspector reached for his side arm.

Vulnerable but committed the missile tech tried to leave his chair and latch on to the man’s arm. He almost made it. But the brief struggle, it was less than ten seconds, kept the kill switch from being pushed in time to stop the hit on Trudelheim’s Calp headquarters.

Six kilotons wiped out all of the command staff and half of the Calp troops on the planet. And that was just the start as Ramseyer readied to launch his own attack.

Sixty kilometers from ‘Ground Zero’. It was four in the afternoon, not the time anyone conversant with military theory would chose for an attack, hit em in the early morning hours when they are least alert, but one took what one could get. Even viewed against the sun halfway up the sky the initial flash caused their visors to darken for a dozen second or more. Ramseyer was partially inside his command car with his torso filling and sticking out from the hatch. He wanted to see this first hand. Not many but those on Trudelheim would ever get to say they saw a nuke first hand. At least that was the plan. He was far enough away that when he finally heard the rumble of the explosion that the shockwave was no longer noticeable.

Any similar type weapons the Calps had on hand should have gone up with the rest of the headquarters area. But Riggs said there was no evidence any such weapons existed in the first place. That was the advantage of being first. Basil had ported this plan to Wes Calvert and his staff on Cardoman some months ago. Neither of them liked it at first glance and it wasn’t ruled out. Later came grudging acceptance. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

Brigadier Llewellyn Waterford, Ramseyer’s former Chief of Staff, was more than ready when the thing went up. And of course he was much closer to ground zero, only 30 kilometers from blast central and unlike his commanding General made sure all of his troops were undercover and protected. It was his job to race the city and clear it of any Calp forces that were not immolated with the first strike.

‘Immolated?’ Why that word? In his ridged, some would say stilted upbringing, as a second son to a moderately prosperous family of the very very middle class, one whose career in the army was preordained from birth, why one might hear that word often. Especially when dealing with what must be done to handle the obligatory lower classes was a daily topic of interest. And it was even more likely if one had a mother who fancied herself as one with a turn of the phrase, a frustrated language major and author who could say quite often something like “A million credit vocabulary and a five and ten future,” them smile waiting for the applause. What the hey, or something, he’d grown accustomed to it.

Forty three T years old, a staff officer for Ramseyer the last five, chief of staff for three, he had his chance now and wasn’t about to muck it up.

They were strange little vehicles. Almost a tank but nowhere near what was once called a Main Battle Tank; they were something not seen in combat in five hundred years. Weighing in at about 15 tons, tracked and armored but lightly and with a gun that wouldn’t scratch any kind of heavy metal clad opponent. But there was virtue in numbers and radiation shielding. Two hundred of them were lumbering into Trudelheim’s capital and the Calps not caught up in the destruction of their headquarters were fleeing in mass. The few armored police vehicles the Calps had deployed gave a good account but were overrun.

The part of the city closest to the blast was in flames. Derbies from the strike now high in the atmosphere floated down wind. Public fear over fallout, never having risen very high was fading with only a few hysterical voices after repeated announcement that the weapon was clean and medical care could minimize if not eliminate any health effects, wear dust masks if in an affected area and that was that.

A ShipKillers warhead, even a low level practice device, was designed for directed blast effect, neutrons and x-rays. From a radioactive contamination standpoint they were as clean as one might get, any ionizing byproducts very short lived. Still the fires raged and innocents burned. Projections made before the go showed more fire and blast deaths than from radiation or long term health problems. This wasn’t beer and skittles

Four hours from the time of the initial blast the city was secure, fires mostly under control, with five or six hundred Calp troopers in custody and those few who remained at large looking to turn themselves in rather than face the wrath of the mob (make that armed citizenry, the arms whatever came to hand). This was a fear much overblown and based on what would have happened on any Caliphate world where mob justice was entrenched in the legal system and popular culture as well.

The tracks main gun was designed as a short range deterrent to aircraft or in this case shuttle attack. They had been built hurriedly on the chassis of a general purpose construction dozer. Seeing how effective they were Brigadier Waterford wished he had a few hundred of his own. But this was a one of a kind operation and without the element of surprise, or with an organized opposition they would have been so much canon fodder defenseless as they were. What Waterford did have was 800 men and a city to secure against counterattack while the enemy was still in a state of shock.

“Lamb’s to the slaughter, eh what Waterford?” Ramseyer was in a good mood and his tone of voice showed it. The results thus far were well beyond expectations. “Turn command over to Wellsey and his dragoons and bring your staff back here at once. We have only two more days to finish this thing off before the Calp ships out system arrive; time is of the essence, we’ve not a moment to waste!.”

At the start of this battle for Trudelheim the British forces were out numbered by four to one. Now they were two and a half to one behind. The problem was like real estate, location, location, location. The Calps had done one thing right in placing several large forces and numerous smaller garrisons well away from any envisioned conflict. One a short battalion equal in size to Ramseyer’s forces and with equipment and electronics to match were the capital reserves located 400 kilometers to the west astride a maglev line servicing the interior.

As fate would have it General al Negev was visiting when the strike went down. He had good com links to the orbitals so he saw at once the extent of the destruction and had a decision to make. Stay put or move. He chose action over the reverse. Quite naturally a road paralleled the maglev track seldom straying more than a dozen kilometers from the main line and even without heavy air or space borne lift he could move at once, or as soon as he could get loaded.

Overhead imagery and various sensor scans located some of Ramseyer’s forces and indicated by implication the existence of others though not as yet the main body so Negev was aware of the danger from being caught in the open. But it also gave him someone or something to strike at and that tipped the balance.

“How long before we can be ready to move?”

“A matter of hours Sir, though might I suggest a delay until we have some orbital support?”

“A prudent suggestion Major, though when word of all this gets back to Earth we would not wish to appear inactive.” Appearing inactive was far more a danger to General Negev than the base commander advising him.

“We can send a small relief force at once and improve the intel situation as a side benefit giving us a chance to determine how best to deploy. Who goes by what route and in what order. Wait a day and leave tomorrow. That would be my suggestion sir.”

“Fine then, but get some air intel if only by drone flight and let’s do this by the book.”

“Yes Sir! And Colonel Rawalapindi left wondering just what book Negev had in mind.”

“We’ve been catching scattered instances of Calp drone flights and reports of the Calps at Arburg preparing a move. It seems we missed General al Negev and second hand information places him at the base there.”

“Make sure all of our own stay under cover. It looks like Mohammad comes to the mountain.”

“Listen up now! What we want to do is flush them from the cars and into the open. Anyone who harms the line will have me to answer to before the firing squad convenes. Got it! No damage to the infrastructure. We might end up needing it ourselves.”

Those tasked with the troops on the maglev had a better tactical situation to deal with than the larger force to their north whose job it was to halt the column on the road. Without much to break in normal operation on planet spare parts were limited at best. The plan called to break the line once and gently. Two cars an hour earlier passed the observation post uncontested and made it into the Capital where they secured the railhead against limited resistance. With some heavy weaponry in place Negev deemed it safe to send the bulk of the troops. Those on the road had been moving since daylight and were now almost due north and a hundred kilometer from the city.

Sgt. Greenwood had placed the explosives to break the line himself after making sure only one small switching section would be destroyed and that a replacement did in fact exist. They needed to end this in a hurry and with a lot of prisoners to keep the Calps above out of the mix.

As close as they could tell no drones were left in the air. But that was pure speculation. The terrain south of the track was sandy, grass covered mounds that made no claim to being hills. In the last hour some weapons had been brought up from woods even further south. A couple of robot vehicles drew fire from above and in the resultant smoke and blaze the rest advanced, seemingly unnoticed. To the north there weren’t even mounds to hide behind. The land was flat but at least forested. How much the Calp’s knew was open to question.

They’d by now pulled their own drones from the air and had only relayed voice contact from isolated observers further up the line. Ramseyer was in overall command to the north. Waterford in charge at the south where the first shots were going to be fired. Like Greenwood he wanted to pace up and down the line but remained still under his IR gear.

Captain Khumm on the Sunah had never considered or even given a thought to protest the orders that had him out system at just the crucial time. But he cursed them now. Covering fire was his mission. But when does that turn genocidal. Only an hour from orbit now, General al Negev should have delayed a few more hours before committing his troops. Clausewitz again, “In war even the simple things are hard.” Good as his ship’s sensors were he refrained from launching from extreme range against what might have been phantom targets south of the maglev line, noting his reason and concern in the log book. His deceleration on a high G course made his ship’s sensor readings almost useless.

“There she comes.” The first of two close coupled maglev cars were shown by vid only, the position put the ten minutes away. Time to close. Leslie Greenwood checked his detonator and ordered his squad forwards. Slow time and crawling under the IR tarps but ready to make some noise. He followed at the same rate. There was only a hundred meters to close.

No sound, he saw the first car as a dot in the distance. Plan was to let the first one go over the switch and cut the track before the second one got there. Hopefully before breaks were applied. Launch some shoulder fired explosives and the Calps ought to charge their position instead of holing up in the relatively fragile rail cars. The plan relied on Calp training being up to snuff. And it was. The first car slid to a halt and car number two plowed into the destroyed section then skewed from the metal guide with Calps boiling out like bees from a hive.

“Tally Ho!” With twenty smoke rounds hiding the scene from troops unprepared Waterford ordered the charge and Greenwood pushed on the van. A little further up the tracks those same shoulder fired missiles, this time with non-explosive penetrators, holed the cars behind and caused them to stop with mass confusion as a result.

Last car in line held al Negev. He beat a hasty retreat back to the base camp.

To the north the battle was just starting and about to turn bloody. Unfavorable terrain for Ramseyer and Riggs and the Calp troopers on the road alert and at the ready, many of them in armored ground cars with a mission to sweep towards any of New Britain’s troops that made a nuisance of themselves. News of the attack on the meglev track sent the mobile part of the force south with a rear guard left on the logistics vehicles. With the column now halted and the remaining cargo haulers concentrated and the mobile forces going south already four kilometers away, shoulder fired missiles from men in close and ready mortar from teams in the woods disabled all the transport without concern for cargo or crew. And then Ramseyer ordered the rest of his troops still in the woods to sweep towards the stalled unit.

Some of the Calp troopers that should have held in place or turned to resist the oncoming force did so but far too many of them just fled south on shank’s mares after their wheeled and tracked gun carriers. The Major in charge of that mobile force made a snap decision and turned around in an attempt to save his logistics. For both forces smoke and communications jamming was the order of the day, for the Calps there was fratricide as well. With men from the logistics train running towards their own mobile units they were mistaken for the enemy and wiped out to a man from the fire flooding the mostly open ground coming equally from both sides. On the Calp side IR gear couldn’t make up for the lack of personal IFF beacons.

Using the disabled transports as cover Ramseyer suffered his own defeat, losing ten percent of his force but had no real problem beating of the first attack as he gave three times what he got. A second, weaker try with the butcher’s bill presented but only partially paid the surviving Calp ground units turned ninety degrees and followed after Negev in full retreat. With nothing to chase with Ramseyer watched them go without remorse. Let them run, he knew where they were headed and had some harassment planned along the way.

Greenwood took the prisoners, a guarding detachment with him, all of them carrying wounded until civilian transport could reach them on the line of march to the city. Ramseyer and the rest of his men faded back into the woods and obscurity.

A week later the planetary situation was stable with only sporadic small unit actions being reported. In most ways Ramseyer, New Britain and Trudelheim had won. The remaining Calp forces though still outnumbering the Brits were confined to their large fortifications. The ships overhead made a direct assault against those positions impossible but without reinforcement the fortifications were domed to fall. It was a matter of which side got here first with the most. Ramseyer knew when his support was due but on the Calp side it was just a guess. His side’s greatest, perhaps only failing thus far, was getting someone inside General al Negev’s headquarters.

He knew was going to suffer additional casualties due to Calp control of the high ground but consistent with keeping Negev bottled up he set his staff the task of keeping the losses to a minimum.

On the civilian side rebuilding was the order of the day. And not just at the Capital. Even before the Sunah reached orbit Captain Khumm ordered a KE strike on the main ShipKiller production facility and associated storage areas. Seeing one unconventional use of the missile he wasn’t going to take a chance on another, a launch from the ground against his ships in orbit. The decision was correct on both a tactical and strategic level even though at this point most of the production was handled by an imported Caliphate technical staff and given the chance Trudelheim could rebuild in six months or so.

The survival of his command in orbit and the bulk of those alive on the ground overrode all other concerns. Khumm could threaten his own nuclear strike but what would be the point? Without the ShipKiller production to protect, and help on the way, the decision was something he could avoid with a clear conscience. Negev remained silent on the issue and sleeping dogs were best left undisturbed.