A Point of Honor 22

A Point of Honor
Chapter 22 Draft (11-21-09)

Castle Calvert looked for all the world like some kind of an historical manor house adrift in time rather than a fortress: tall windows and doors, a manicured lawn and gardens with groundskeepers, very stately and newly built. Inside the house, except for a few oddities in the floor plan and strategically located guard it looked the same. Even down to uniformed servants. But in fact it did serve both functions, and each rather well.

As a fortress its built in protection went well beyond the fence, gates, and stone walls. It started with an armed and armored gatehouse out at the parking area, there was also an underground command center connected to an anti-air missile defense system, one capable of dealing with tube launched artillery, a complete camera and sensor suite, and roving guards to provide a defense in depth against ground attack. After more than a year without any threat everything seemed routine and there was no sense of urgency.

The complex, grounds and all, was still called the Castle, even by the Calps, but the Calvert name was never used, not even by the locals where one of the current occupants or guards might overhear. Admiral Kahn had gotten used to the place. So very comfortable and so much nicer than his quarters in Minton. Irwana al-Omari the head of the household interior staff kept things running so smoothly that Kahn had decided to take her with him as a personal servant whenever he should leave Cardoman. No danger of that quite yet.

The Castle was only an hour by aircar from Minton, Kahn had taken to conducting more and more of his business from the residence and now after a year and a half on planet went to the Capital only one or two days a week. He didn’t know because there was no one to tell him, (Irwana could have but never would,) that when Wes Calvert still lived here that was the way he had operated as well.

Admiral Kahn was competent and hard working officer, he had earned his position each step of the way unlike some who rode family connections till the horse died. Hard working as he was he still knew how important moral was to troops with less to gain than he from adherence to duty. And because of that today was special. A local leave for almost all of the local garrison.

The day started sparkling and bright. Just the thing and a perfect day for a break from the routine. In the east section near the front of the building where the light was best one of the military servants had breakfast on the table when General Mahdi Jazirah head of the Caliphate’s ground troops entered the room. Time spent walking from the parking area to the front door gave sufficient warning. Even a General and bodyguards didn’t get a pass at the gatehouse.

Kahn kept late hours; it kept his time from being broken up with the obligatory prayers he would otherwise have to attend to formally. And due to this he always late to rise, and most usually skipped breakfast entirely going straight to the midday prayer and on days he did go into town to his waiting aircar and the capital. Today he made an exception sleeping late and also on breakfast, No trip to Minton, later would visit the local fair, let the people see him and show just how unafraid of a physical attack on his person he was.

“Welcome and a pleasure to see you Mahdi. Try the bacon; it may change your outlook on the infidel.”

“Perhaps a slice or two and some tea. I’ve been up for hours now.”

“Anything I should know about?” Kahn loaded his plate and dug in.

“No change and all the same. That bothers me. But what truly bothers me is that we have become sloppy and lethargic. A year and a half, we seem to have everything in hand but where are the insurgent leaders? Here I live in this self styled Major Calvert’s home yet he does nothing and has not made a move in months.”

* * *
“I want one prisoner, two would be better to cross check their stories. And we need to keep at least one alive with their comm gear in case they get a call and need to report in. We have some voice recordings but a living example would be better. And you can’t spend much time on this. I’ll give you Lassiter and Pranger and four hours. If you’re not back by then we move without you. Got it Lotti?”

“Got it Sir!” Fader Jameson was one of a select few officers that Lotti always showed visible respect, almost excessively so. From what Lotti heard and the little he’d seen, Jameson’s skill with edged weapons might go even beyond his own. Just the day before Lotti had seen him take down two low mostly ground dwelling partridge like game birds that bolted from the brush ten meters from where they both had been standing. And Lotti had no clue where the second knife came from. Though where Jameson found the time to practice Lotti couldn’t guess. “Teamwork. We’ll get it done Sir!”

“Lotti I want you to remember this: The Major told me once that teamwork is essential; it gives the enemy other people to shoot at. Think about that and take no chances. If you even have a feeling they might spot you—call it off and get back here on the double.”

Four kilometers away was from where Jameson and his men waited was the Calp scouting party out of Germfask that a drone flight caught making camp only an hour earlier. They knew the territory and moved with speed. An hour from the time of dispatch the two sentries were dead along with three sleeping by a small fire. An IR scan of the small officers sleeping tent revealed nothing. The tent was made from materials much like their own stealth gear and with the same purpose in mind; like a Faraday cage it kept electronic signals from penetrating. A man sized spot not far from the fire, the length and width of a sleeping bag, and still warm, caused Fader to reconsider his course of action and he gave some additional instructions.

“Pranger, get out of sight,” he whispered, “Lassiter get over there where you can see the back of the tent, and still cover me.”

Slapping the tent’s side Lotti said loudly, “Outta’ there on the double! Now or I’ll toss in a grenade at the count of three. Your camp is captured, outta’ there…One!” Lotti took his time and a man poked out his head. “Move it!”

The firelight glinted from Lotti’s knife. Lassiter held his rifle covering the man from ten paces back and the same to the side a rather larger dot than was necessary holding steady on his chest where it was easily seen. In his skivvies, almost naked the Calp was quite young for an officer, the one who’d crawled out from inside the tent was standing and as shock drained starting to shiver, but even so he stayed alert and looked not the least bit cowed. He was much to alert and aware of his surroundings. Once he looked around and took a breath as if to yell for help.

“You do and you’ll sing soprano. Won’t do you no good no how.”

All the fight drained out and he visibly seemed to shrink, almost to invisibility.

“Take three steps that way,” Lotti indicated a spot where he wouldn’t block the tent’s entrance, “you just stand there and stare into the fire while I take a look inside.” Lotti turned as if to go inside then paused. “But on second thought why bother? I’m not partial to fleas and bed bugs. Better just to burn it. Lassiter, do the deed, we ain’t got all night.” Lotti moved where the Captain could see him and pointed his own rifle before Pvt Lassiter lowered his aim.

“Maybe I should soak it down first? Kinda wet and I got a can of starter in my pack.” The Calp officer didn’t know but this was not by accident.

“Go ahead; cloud cover’s low and thick enough. Best we finish up and take the Captain here away with us.”

Lotti went over to where Lassiter was standing and pointed his rifle in the general direction of the Calp officer while the private went to the tent and began spraying; the smell of hydrocarbons filled the air. The rear of the tent began to bulge but the walls were welded to the floor seam and there was no out in that direction.

“Back away and fire in a flare,” Lotti said loudly.

“No! No! Came a panicked voice and a bald head stuck itself outside the tent’s front flap then a man in his late 30’s or early 40’s crawled out clutching his uniform with one hand and arm; this the real leader of the Calp scouting party.

“Stand over there.” Lotti pointed to the other naked Calp soldier, “Take a look inside Lassiter, bring out the other guys pants and any electronics. Then we torch the place and get out of here. Pranger!” he called into the darkness, “Get some photo’s while I cuff our two love birds together and shoot them off to base. Captain Jameson will want to know and send it up the chain.”

“A bad ride is better than a good walk.” With the sun just over the horizon Sugarbear Packard was towing two large trailers behind him when he entered the fairgrounds. Both loaded, one with grain the other hay, feed for the livestock that would be judged and sold later that day. In the center of each trailer, covered by the grain and wearing their stealth and stacked like cord wood was a half a squad of thoroughly uncomfortable Seventh troopers. The Bear’s familiarity and the stealth suits got them past the rudimentary scan and then the Bear drove to the rear of the livestock tent and parked. Seeing no one around he said as if talking to himself, “Now all I gotta’ do is find some one the help unload this shit.”

With that the men, leaving the suits behind but roughed out from underneath and dressed like locals slipped into the livestock tent taking there arms and munitions with them. Concealing their gear in unsecured wooden boxes under bunting draped tables they scattered about the tent and tried to act like farmers. The Calps should never know the difference. The people from Germfask should figure them as out of towners. They planed to get lost in the crowd.

Gertrude Lansing, the Sugarbear’s wife and Connie Calvert, dressed and playing her role as Jannie Jackson, each with one of the Lansing children in tow were walking through the crowd. Unconnected by sight but each with the same purpose in mind. A more unlikely pair with a similar purpose would be hard to imagine, much less find.

Did she like doing this? Was there a choice? For Connie no, for Gertrude it was a much more difficult case and one Connie was not able to fathom. Gertrude and the Bear were as close as Connie was with Wes, closer if that was possible, they had been married for twenty years with no sign of it wearing off.

It was using the children that was causing qualms. They made the two indistinguishable from any of a hundred other women with children but it didn’t seem right nor fair—to the children. Gertrude had insisted. To Connie that was a surprise. She knew that Sugarbear had to be telling her something but never tried to find out exactly what. In all the time they’d know each other, all the time Gertie had taken care of her own baby they hadn’t talked about much of anything political and certainly nothing military.

“You’re not afraid this is going to cause them problems down the road?”

“Course it will but Sharon and Billy will get over it. Kids are like us Jannie, resilient. I want a place they can grow up with all the ease and freedom Cardoman’s made possible for the Bear and me. My big leap of faith is trusting you and your husband to deliver the goods. You can’t do it alone. Let’s just be fast and sure today, and then tomorrow can take care of itself.”

Mid morning and the fair was in full swing. Connie and Gertrude took the children to see the livestock show and had finished their own preparations. Admiral Kahn by now had arrived with his bodyguards. Irwana, trailing behind, saw Connie and Gertrude seeing Connie nod her head detached herself from Kahn’s train went over to talk. The children sharing a cotton candy and waiting in line for a carnival ride didn’t even pause their squabbling over where to go next.

Kahn and his men started walking towards them intent on reaching the boxing ring at the end of the Fair’s main walkway. As he passed them Connie pressed a button on her civilian level com unit and Wana stayed with the children while the other two women fell in and followed them at a distance of ten or twelve paces.

The few members of the Seventh who were still in the livestock tent slipped outside and merged with the crowd. Then took up positions either just inside the fair entrance or at the boxing venue. Most were already shadowing groups of Calp soldiers on leave. Connie hit the button on her com unit a second time and holding it mostly hidden in her hand saw eighteen lights go green. She nodded to Gertrude who moved slowly away till she was to the left and behind Kahn and his guards who were standing in the front row of the boxing ring. She then lowered her hand and the communicator into her shoulder bag pushing the button twice and started to draw.

Connie was faster but not by much. Without a hint of a warning and no time to react all of the guards went down in seconds. Kahn started reaching for his sidearm, Connie shot him in the shoulder and as he reacted in pain two of her Seventh recon force troops came in from behind and threw his body to the ground. A stench filled the air and shots were ringing out from all around. The hollow low pitched bark of hand weapons for the most part and a short burst then only one or two of the supersonic cracks that signified a high power battle rifle being fired. They pistol shots were sounding from all directions, punctuated by screams, shouts, and crying, people running in all directions.

“Get him out of here,” Connie said to Sgt Beal, I’m going to the Castle.” She broke at full speed for the main gate and Kahn’s parked aircar, Beal gave instructions and with two of the squad went charging after her. He had been with the Seventh’s Alpha Company when Connie was the Captain in charge and still had an interest to protect. Connie was opening the hatch when Beal arrived and said, “Let me drive Ma’am, you’ve got other things to look after.”

Connie gave a glance of appreciation and sat in the passenger seat while Cpls Nathan Galen and Jesse Ortega piled into the rear. The top down she got on her comm unit to Fader Jameson who along with Luther White were until hours ago waiting out at the Bear’s farm, perched in the cab of a loaded semi. Now at a rest stop five kilometers to the Castle’s east they were waiting on Connie’s signal before the last dash.

“Case One. I repeat Case One.” That was the signal for the best envisioned scenario, the one that actually took place at the Fairgrounds, and the start command for Fader and his men to speed up and get into position. It also told other Cardoman forces hidden at points six to twenty kilometers away, encircling the area, to bring up their umbrella coverage air defense systems and be ready to deal with KE weapons or any type bombardment from overhead. The third thing it did was start an all out jamming of the local airwaves.

Connie didn’t stop to worry about it now but she knew it must also start both Wes and Raquel Zavala moving on their own objectives.

Sgt. White had run the Castle guards, usually manning the gatehouse, until the Calps took it over and like Beal had a vested interest in getting it back. Before they had left the Castle explosive charges were set. Most were discovered but three remained. One in the barn area, of no use today, but another at the gate house that would sever lines to the Calp’s Castle based air defenses system when triggered. They were counting on that.

Beal kept the aircar low and slow but directly over the road so that from above he would look like normal ground traffic. That was to keep clear of friendly fire. The car was squawking Admiral Kahn’s IFF code so with any luck they would not be targeted by the Calp’s when they started to react. Something he expected to happen momentarily. Radio contact to Castleton and Admiral Kahn was being blocked but from close range the IFF code should get through.

The truck with Jameson and his men were visible far down the road when Connie and Beal pulled up by the gatehouse. The two guards and radio comm operator, having tracked the proper ident codes were relieved rather than alarmed at what they took to be Kahn’s arrival. They knew something had taken place at the Fairgrounds but it had happened so rapidly that they didn’t know what, only that it put all of them on alert.

General Jazirah was still there and had been sending constant queries trying to find out what was going on and was not happy with the lack of answers.

One of the guards steeped outside the meters square booth and the heavy door closed and sealed itself. He then stood to attention and made ready to salute the flag before passing the car through the gate and down the drive to the Castle’s front entrance. His eyes saw what he expected to see and too late noticed the strange driver and the woman sitting in front while the clamshell canopy began to cycle open. Next a gun hidden by the woman below the doors edge came into view. The guard had time to pull his own weapon and the sound of gunfire rang out but the bullets were unable to penetrate the amour of a military aircar.

With the canopy barely separated from the vehicles body and Connie fired twice. The sound inside the aircar was deafening, the results immediate. The guard still inside the booth tried to depress the guns on the roof for a shot, and they would have made short work of Kahn’s aircar but it was too close to the building and out of their field of fire.

As soon as he could squeeze through the opening Jesse Ortega leaped from the back and running three paces set a small charge about half way up the guard shack/com center door then fell to the ground a second before it detonated. The door was demolished and the sudden overpressure inside the small building knocked both remaining men senseless. Without prompt medical care both would die in a mater of minutes from internal injuries.

Picking himself up off the ground Ortega went inside with White just behind. The smell of the explosive was overpowering and directly across the room from the blast the fireproofed interior consoles and wiring smoldered rather than burned. The air defense command center on the back wall had one of its display units shattered but was otherwise untouched. While Ortega hauled out the bodies White sat down at the station and entered a pass code. No Dice. The Calps had reprogrammed everything. He ducked under the work surface and started unscrewing a panel.

“Give me two minutes,” he said to Ortega. He could hear the sound of a semi’s engine then the rending of steel as Fader and the rest of the attack force crashed though the partially opened gate and more shots rang out.

Inside the Castle there was General Jazirah and three of his men plus eight more of the normal building guard. Out back and in a barn converted to a barracks were perhaps a dozen more. In total about equal to the numbers who opposed them. On a normal day there would be four times the number of troops and an intact comm net.

Instead of blowing the door Connie, Fader and half of his men went inside through two shattered windows while the other half intercepted those out back. Ten minutes later four of the Seventh lay dead and seven more injured. On the Calp only six remained alive including the two from the gate but the Castle was secure.

White reported the remote control lines to the air to air defenses down and his own mission accomplished. It would have been nice to leave them in place but until a complete inspection and reprogramming job who could tell what the Calps might have built in? For now they would operate only on manual and that would have to do.

The dead were on the lawn in front under cover when Lotti and Lassiter entered the building and picking up a guide, neither had ever been here before, escorted Admiral Kahn into the Castle Library. He saw a woman in civilian dress, hair disheveled and streaks of dirt on forehead and along one side of her face; the same female who had fired the first shot at the Fairgrounds only an hour earlier, standing at a table and looking at a map showing on its surface. She looked vaguely familiar as if he’d seen her photo somewhere before but Kahn could not place her at once.

Next to her and closer to the center of the table was a Cardoman officer, identifiable by his blackened rank insignia. Kahn’s face was bruised and swelling, lip torn, his uniform bloody. Even so he held onto and maintained his air of superiority. A demeanor forged, hardened, and shaped by forty years of service did not break easily.

To Kahn’s surprise the woman looked at him and spoke first, “Admiral Kahn, you do not know me but you have been living in my house for the last year and a half.” Her eyes were cold, expression icy and distant, and the voice very, very, deadly. He could not know that his capture started a general uprising all across the planet nor that Connie had heard nothing from either Raquel Zavala or her husband in Minton. Whatever her worries they did not show.

“Mrs. Calvert, I regret we meet under such circumstances,” Kahn gaze was just as level but his voice was tinged with irony. He was not a large man and needed to look slightly upwards which put him at a disadvantage in this particular situation.

“You will address me as Colonel or Colonel Calvert. I am in charge of this operation here and your fate is mine to determine. You had best not forget and you may now be seated.” She pointed at an armchair a few paces away and Lotti nudged him in that direction hoping for some resistance with none forthcoming.

“You are going to make a broadcast and order your troops to stand down Admiral, and this is exactly what you will say,” whereupon Connie began filling in the details.

After Lassiter and Lotti led Kahn from the room to take him downstairs to the communications bunker Fader turned to Connie and said, “You know he won’t follow the script don’t you?”

“I’m certain of it. But I want his people up on the orbitals to know he is alive and where he is. It might keep them from dropping things on our head if they know Kahn is here.”

True to prediction, with jamming halted by both sides, Kahn, after a brief summary of the military position as he knew it abruptly began shouting and screamed, “Resist, resist! all soldiers of Allah, Allahu Akbar! God is great and Mohammad is his Prophet!” And with that he was cut off and the jamming of all channels resumed.

From her position in the library Connie watched and listened. “Fader, get down there and see about a land line to Minton. We need to find out what’s going on. And start getting everyone saddled up. We’ll leave the air defenses manned and some people in the comm center but the rest of us go to the Capital. Turn the prisoners over to the local police and militia; there is no time to waste!”

The semi and trailer were a wreck, the fire out (she was an oil burner) but the Bear still had his tractor rig. That was much too slow for what Connie had in mind but would get all of them to the rail line that reports said was still operational. There were volunteers aplenty, men and women who had kept their arms and hidden them against the Calp edicts for just this day. Except for the Bear and a couple of others providing transport they were all turned away and told to report to the local militia commander, a supply Sgt retiree of the Seventh from when they first arrived on Cardoman now sporting the rank of Colonel and loving every minute of it.

Connie told her old executive officer Charlie Mankowitz, who was to remain behind at the Castle, to keep an eye on him and slap him down if needful.

“Got it under control Ma’am. You watch yourself and don’t do anything foolish.”

“Me? Foolish? Perish the thought Mannie.” They had a good ground line back to Germfask but nothing to the west of Castleton. “And I don’t need to say keep working on getting more clear channel ground links up, especially to Minton.”

“Will do,” he said and saluted as she left the com center.

The track into Castleton was a spur, one they had cut themselves to make sure if things had gone wrong the Calps would have a harder time bringing in reinforcements. Several days and a trained crew would be needed to place it into service again so the Bear was pulling them the extra kilometers to the main line. Actually he was pulling on his trailer their heavier equipment; the soldiers, Connie included, were marching with all due haste and then some.

It was still early afternoon when the cars dispatched from Germfask slid to a stop and loading began. Unless the Calps did something to throw a wrench into the works they were going to be just outside of Minton by nightfall.