A Point of Honor 23

A Point of Honor
Chapter 23 Draft (12-07-09)

Gaza al-Omari was manning a console in the Calp communications center at Military Headquarters in what once had been the Cardoman capital of Minton’s Government House just before the hammer was due to fall. Not by plan, he just couldn’t get out of the duty and had been caught while trying to leave the building unobtrusively. He was not on the watch list but never the less was dragged in for an unexpected shift so that someone higher in the rank structure might enjoy the holiday. It was only an hour before the impending disaster; no—make that the victorious liberation.

He was put into duty as one of the of local traffic intercept monitors, looking at messages the comps AI programs flagged in real time and sent for human review. Now he had to find a way to get out of the place before it came under fire and that didn’t look like something that would be easy.

With Kahn and General Jazirah both at the Castle and seemingly held hostage and Colonel Ishaq Quraysh in charge on the ground in their absence; the occupying forces faced a problem that contingency plans never contemplated. Gaza needed to convince someone that he ought to be sent into the city for some reason, perhaps to gather information. And he needed to do it in a way that made it look like it wasn’t his own idea. The message he saw in front of him might just be the ticket.

“Captain, take a look at this,” he said opening a channel to Hatem el-Gabali, the section leader on duty. The intercept was a weakly encoded text message mentioning both Castleton and a need for speed and requesting an immediate meeting at one of the coffee shops frequented by mid level Caliphate personnel and similarly situated representatives of off planet agencies, economic and political.

“I know this place Captain, It’s just outside of Carnival Park and I have had it on my investigation list for some time and am well known there. This could all be innocent but now is not the time for a talk about business issues. Perhaps we should send someone to see what they talk about and if anyone else is involved.”

“You say you are known there?”
“Yes Captain, but only as a customer.”

“Call in your relief and go and take a look then. Maintain your cover but return with your report as soon as possible. Send it in if it is important.”

Gaza had no intention of complying with either part of that order. Upon leaving the com center he entered a destination code and command that caused his personal locater to start broadcasting erroneous data. The low level code had been hacked from the start but this was the first time Gaza had used it. He trusted Major Trebeck and an early fail would have compromised him anyway. Now should he be tracked it would look like he was headed to the afore mentioned coffee shop while instead he went back to his apartment for a change into civilian clothing and then a trip to the rail station to join up with Connie Calvert and troops on their way in from Castleton.

“We’ve got to kick this off now Abe, before the Calps recover from the early shock.”

Loomis looked at Major Calvert and nodded. “I’ll send word to my civilian team leaders. We should see a mob forming within an hour.”

“Wish it were sooner but that’ll have to do Abe. As soon as the Calps send out a force to put your people down I take my own out to hit the Calp command post and then Fader attacks the base and barracks. You need to keep the Calps busy Abe and draw their strength into the open and keep them there for us to have a chance.”

“Depends on how the citizens react Wes. Will they stand and fight?”

“Oh they’ll fight alright especially once word spreads about Castleton and our announcement goes out.” Wes extended his hand and grasping Abe’s said, “Good luck to all of us then.”

Evan Bledsoe was worried. Not merely concerned but in a near state of panic. This operation was different from any he had been involved with in the last three years where he had been in overall charge of the Seventh’s artillery. He came to his former position from the ranks. Adjustment wasn’t all that difficult. But now he had moved up another notch and taken over command of the air defense wing of the Seventh to go along with his ground pounding duties. The difference between offense and defense was something he could finally understand. And much as he hated to admit to the fact, being that he had been responsible for dishing it out . . . being ready to take it was a far tougher task. So much was out of his hands and depended on what the Calps up above were willing to do. And until now he had never envisioned having the launch codes of nukes. And if the Calps went all out Evan knew he was going to lose this one. Still orders were orders and he had his end under control and was ready when the word came down.

“This is it Evan.” Bledsoe recognized the voice and his com unit agreed but he waited for more. “Code word Trinity, launch enabled, shut em down.”

Evan acknowledged and hit the permission key and then the launch button. Twenty missiles blasted skyward drawing immediate fire from the Calps above. Then he sent the second package. While the first group was being dealt with rather easily, and elements of his second group coming under fire and being picked off, he sent a final salvo then ordered his fire teams to shut down all emitters and receivers as per plan. It was only moments before the bombs went off from missiles fired in the third wave. Three directed EMP devices, one aimed at Cardoman high and the other two at Calp ships in orbit sent from silos buried deep in the continents central the mountains.

Bare seconds after the pulse, long before the light faded almost a hundred ShipKillers came from tubes in those same mountains. It was good there were so many because most never made it out of the atmosphere. The Calp defense was impressive but insufficient. Cardoman High went first. Ten thousand fatalities, 30% Cardoman natives, a terrible price to pay to clear the way to the two Calp Hyper ships. Evan knew it would always lay heavy upon his soul. He wouldn’t even think about how the Major must feel.

This ShipKiller routine wasn’t going to work much longer. From now on capital ships would keep their distance from any planet that was not absolutely secured but thank God it was working now. “Artillery, open fire! Hit em where they live!” And the 155’s and missile barrage batteries came online while fiery tracks crossed the evening sky.

Gaza was standing across the street from the maglev station when the nukes went off. Due to the geography of the situation only one detonation was visible the, other two shielded by the planet’s curve. Inside the station the flash of light was noticeable through overhead windows but not to a level that was blinding. More like a close lightning strike than anything else. It still sent guards running for cover and Gaza slipped in via the main entrance and threw himself upon the floor and crawled towards a clutch of stranded travelers. The guards retook their positions but ignored him and his entrance.

The board that normally showed arrivals and departures was blank. The display showing track and train locations was equally blank. Gaza knew the unscheduled maglev from Castleton, the one with Connie Calvert and Cardoman troops was only five minutes away and wondered just how much the Calps knew. They didn’t seem overly excited all things considered, looking more to the sky than the situation on the ground. He blended into the crowd but crept ever closer to the front where the train was going to stop . . . provided it made as far as the station, something yet to be determined.

Luther White was leaning out of the broken out window on the first car when the train rounded the final curve and the city came into view. He had a standard five shot GPGM (General Purpose Guided Missile) launcher cradled in his arms and he braced himself against the cars frontmost seat. All White knew for sure was that the Calps were relocating on an hourly basis; else Bledsoe would have sent them a gift they wouldn’t have been able to refuse.

The Calps manning the defensive works should have fired first. But they didn’t know who or what was coming at them and didn’t want to make the mistake of hitting their own. As fast as he could pull the trigger Luther sent his deadly cargo on its way and slapped in another magazine and then a third. By the time the maglev, slowing now, passed the defensive works there was nothing to see but smoking ruins and drifting smoke.

Connie gave him a pat on the back while he reloaded and got ready for what could happen when they pulled into the station.

Waiting for Wes and his squad on the outskirts of Minton that morning a few dozen kilometers from town, parked in the lot of a small manufacturing plant closed for the holiday was their transport for the day. Loomis had arranged it all with the vehicles owners. Eight Cardoman Loyalists who had gotten up early and driven their personal light trucks and off-road vehicles out just this morning A man and a woman working for Loomis gave them a ride back to Minton and then to a church in whose basement they would remain for the rest of the day. They had been told never to expect to see their cars again and if things went wrong perhaps in a day or two consider reporting them stolen. In the meantime they would get to listen in on the fight as it progressed.

“Pull out, make it march!” Calvert ordered to the platoon he was taking into Minton, “And for God‘s sake let’s do this right!”

Wes had access to imagery from cameras Abe Loomis had set up scattered throughout the city. Most located in corner windows and on top of buildings where streets converged. Many showed streets blocked by abandoned and often burning ground cars. Others showed where aimed on the paths from the outskirts to the central city that were supposed to remain open. Most of these routes were still open but not all. Minton’s people were improvising and coming out in numbers even Loomis had not anticipated. To Wes the turnout was all but unbelievable.

“Get the snow trucks out front to clear the way and they are to stop for nothing. And keep the loudspeakers on. These people won’t be listening or watching any video feeds.”

Barreling down the near empty Procession Avenue, the street leading to the heart of Minton, with speakers blaring a warning and the Cardoman flag flying from their comm antennas were two plow truck from the municipal yard leading the rest, Wes, fifty meters behind watched as the lead truck slammed into an unplanned barricade blocking the street and saw car bodies fly to the left and right. He could only hope none of them were occupied, that no one was inside and using them for cover. There was no time to stop and check; a delay now was sure to be fatal to someone.

Loomis had also been the one to get the street riots in motion but there was no liaison with city services. He never even considered setting such a contact because of the risk of a leak. How could he say get ready on such and such a time on such and such a date to put out fires and save civilian casualties? Like most every other type of job on the planet on this holiday the manning of police and fire stations, hospitals and any type of emergency service one could name was at a low level.

Government House, the three hundred year old structure that had been Cardoman’s political center, seat of government, and location of the headquarters of the Cardoman Military lay just ahead now, and though the 155’s had stopped their pounding and switched to the Calp controlled compound outside of the city. Mortar rounds were still falling from close in positions. Some of those firing were not under his control at all, never had been except in times gone by; members of the Seventh who had managed somehow to save, store, and hide weapons and munitions despite the risk and all the Calps had done to make it dangerous and difficult though obviously not impossible. The penalty if one was caught was death. For some the risk had been worth it. Others had already paid the price, but this friendly fire had to stop.

Wes had his comm teams broadcasting in the clear on open channels trying to call off this fire and even as they sped forwards the speakers on his vehicles sent the same message. They were prepared to intercept a few rounds but couldn’t waste the manpower and resources for more than that. Wes had already issued orders to backtrack and take out friendlies if that was what it took to protect the attacking force under his command. Some of Loomis’s runners were trying to accomplish the same thing.

Smoke was starting to interfere with vision now. It got worse the closer the came to the government building. The Calp defensive fire had been good while it lasted and as expected most of Bledsoe’s 155’s never reached the ground except as slowly falling shrapnel or inert lumps of metal. Some however had been nudged only slightly off course and their self destructs rendered inoperable. That still killed the explosive detonators but when the shell hit the ground at maximum terminal velocity intact; that much kinetic energy had to do some major damage to whomever and whatever lay underneath.

Electrical and gas fires were blazing and in some places rubble was strewn halfway across the avenue. Less than ten minutes had now elapsed from the first shot intercept going awry and still no fire or other type of rescue vehicles were in evidence. Timing is everything except when it isn’t. This time it was.

Both of the Calp Shuttles at the spaceport were gone, one shot down trying to lift the other too slow entirely and taken out while still on the ground. The half dozen in orbit at the time of the attack on the Castle and ignored by Bledsoe and his ShipKillers had already expended their air to ground weapons, mostly wasted on phantom targets and distractions. With only defensive munitions left they were in full retreat, distancing themselves from any retaliation, heading outward towards the Calp bases in the outer system, not willing to take a chance on landing for a reload even as their comrades died.

The stonework fence around the government building put up when the Calps took over was mostly intact but no obstacle at all for even a shoulder fired GPGM. There had probably been about a hundred inside the building when the fight started.

How many were still alive was an unknown, but very few above ground level could have made it through the barrage. One who had sent a missile into the second car in line. It punched right through the unarmored vehicle without exploding but sharp edged mental fragments from the entry hole killed the driver instantly as his medical monitor clearly showed. Fragments drew blood from another of the team inside but this was only a flesh wound.

Moving slowly the car skidded sideways at a forty five degree angle away from the gap blown from the barricade and crashed into the stonework fence before coming to a stop. The three survivors inside were tumbled and shook up but without any further injury. Forcing open doors they piled outside the wreck and jumped the wall. Sgt Bryce led the way followed by Avery and the slightly injured Kioos. At a run they were seconds behind the rest of the squad and made for a side entrance, stopped only when inside the building twenty meters from where the rest had gone in through a breech in the buildings wall itself.

“Teams of two! Find a way down,” Wes gave the order and they split up looking for a passage left open and unblocked by rubble.

Bledsoe had pulled his guns point of aim away from Government House and was sending flight after flight towards the Calp Compound north of the city. He was taking fire himself now and a third of his guns were silent. Crews dead and pillars of smoke marking their graves. The Calp fire was falling off but not fast enough.

“How soon Fader?” He asked the question as another of his emplacements went off line.

“We’re through the minefield and almost to the wire. Keep em coming for another minute then cut your fire!” Fader’s job wasn’t to take the military compound, he didn’t have the force for that, just the artillery park; destroy they dug in guns that Evan couldn’t reach then leave. Without overhead cover and long range weaponry the Calps would fall as soon as the rest of Cardoman’s army could mobilize. He had dropped off mortar teams that had kept things hot but once inside the park all outside fire must stop lest his own troops take the brunt.

“Freidikin, Raleigh, run the perimeter. Lotti, Lassiter start on the gun emplacements. Mathews you and your men follow me!” They were inside the base on the ring road now and everyone knew their jobs, yet Fader still felt the need to say something. Fader had started with almost a full company. Counting the mortar teams left behind to cover the withdrawal and those lost getting across the minefield had cost him better than a third of his initial force. He was down to eighty-seven effectives inside the wire with an unknown number of Calps looking to save their own lives while ending his.

Fader took off for the command bunker on the other side of the park from the breech. If any reinforcements were on their way from the main camp he was going to make sure they didn’t arrive before all the artillery was silenced. Each of the men under his command wore armor good for light weapons fire. Fifteen kilos worth that got heavier and hotter with each passing moment. A good thing too. It saved Fader’s life when a well aimed shot sent him sprawling with the wind knocked out of him as the bullet’s energy stiffened the linked and flexible plates while it spread out the impact area until the momentum transferred and struck him with the kick of a mule.

“You Ok Sir!” Mathews asked, while seeing Faders lifesigns still showed green.

“Never better,” Fader said struggling to his feet and continuing on and silently thanking the private on his flank that sent the rifle grenade arching upwards that landed where the shot that had taken him down came from and put an end to that problem.

Twenty minutes later they had silenced all the guns. But the cost, oh the cost. Half his men dead and carrying fourteen wounded they went back the way they came in an orderly retreat to await reinforcements. And they had better get here soon because the Calps were starting to get organized.

“Find out about the reserves Mathews!”
“Yes Sir!”

On the train from Castleton: “Captain Loomis says go and Gaza is waiting. Let’s crash out of here as soon as she stops! I am first off!”

“Sorry Ma’am, can’t hear you.” Luther White looked at Connie and cupped his ear before quickly donning his helmet and closing the visor.

“Out of my way Sgt,” Connie said abruptly into here mike. This is my turn,” she reiterated while trying to jostle his extreme bulk aside as the maglev lurched to a stop. Someone was overriding the normal safety circuits.

White nodded agreement but somehow managed to be first out the door breaking through even before the stop and then hitting the station floor and rolling in a fashion that took in every part of the platform and its surrounding area. Connie was fast on his heels imitating Luther’s particular method of leaving a train and the rest of her troops came out as fast as doors and windows permitted.

Gaza al-Omari was standing in the middle of the near empty station. A few civilians huddled against the walls but no sign of any police or security forces. The air was thick and smelled of cordite, or what would have been called that long ago. The smell of high explosive was unmistakable in this instance and one every person exiting the maglev was familiar with.

“Where is everyone Gaza?”

“Seems a bomb threat drove them away. Would have left myself if I didn’t need to set it off first.”

“Cover the entrances Connie said to her men while walking towards Gaza and scanning the situation map that was now downloading from the command net. She keyed trying to get in touch with Wes or Loomis but to no avail. “Where next Gaza?”

His expression fell, “Don’t know Connie. Wes came down Procession Avenue from the north. I know he made it as far as Government House and went inside. I lost touch with Abe at just about the time Fader kicked off his attack on the Calp artillery. I have a couple of buses outside and I think we should try to go up Procession from our end. Keep trying for contact and take it from there. The going could be tough. There are a lot of people out in the streets.”

“What about Fader again?”
“I just don’t know.”
“The tracks are clear through the city center and up north?”
“As far as I know.”

Connie thought a moment then said. “Back on the train. We’ll head north and trust to luck.”

“Hell of a plan ain’t it Ma’am?” Sgt. White said.

Connie just pointed back to the open train doors. “You first this time Luther.”

He went without complaint.

“Major I’ve got a clear shaft down!” Wes saw it was Bryce sending the message on his display. Interference from iron members in the building’s structure made the voice unrecognizable. But Bryce had been working for Wes since the very beginning, first as a company clerk secretary clerk and later back in the field, and Wes could tell who was sending just by cadence and tone. “Close on the signal!” All of the Seventh went into maximum overdrive and full tilt forward, staying on corridors already swept and cleared.

A thin haze, smoke and ash was till in the air. It was much more pronounce welling from the open elevator shaft. “What do we make of this,” Wes said pointing at the effluent.

“Major, I think some incendiaries made it to the bottom untouched. They burn self contained and the smoke is heavy. I don’t think anyone is alive down there.”

“Bryce, Jessup, seal up and go down for a look.”

Hooking lines they dropped from view. A few minutes later—“There all dead down her Major, must be fifty or sixty, no sign of life at all. We’re on our way up.”

“We’ve got a Calp column on the road!” Fader looked at his screen and saw nothing but static. “Can we clean this up?”

“Working on it. They got our freqs and time changes figured. Never should have been able to work this long. Nothing we can do here; blind from about now I guess.”

“Where’s the intel from then?”
“Loomis and the public net.”
“Try to reach him direct; I need to know what’s heading our way!”

“Can’t find him Fader but I got Captain Calvert. She’s on a maglev in transit and almost here.”

“I’ll take this . . . Connie how the hell did you get here?”

“Long story short book. I saw Loomis’s report before it went buggy and shut off. You have problems heading your way. I have a little help and will do what I can. This is going to happen with incredible speed and we are going to be outnumbered four to one but then we will flank the Calp column and see how a flanking attack should be done.”

“Looking forward to the recap Connie. Shai Dorsai!”

“Down the hole Lassiter, down the hole.” Lotti kept saying that every time he dropped a grenade into an airshaft. When he lobbed one over a berm it was ‘Tally Ho!’ something he had picked up from New Brittan a few planets back. Involved with all that he had still found time to pick off three Calp snipers before they had managed a shot. How had he even seen them? None of the others had. The man was not natural.

Lassiter did his best to pick up the pieces and stay close. Lotti didn’t look like the survivor type but Leo was now convinced he had been wrong about that from the start and was not about to make the same mistake again.

No station this time. Connie and the troops from Germfask fell from the train in good order, on a section of track 300 hundred meters away from the road leading from the Calp base to the artillery park. An industrial area almost clear of traffic. As soon as they stopped old soldiers seemed to appear as if attracted by a magnet. All of them armed and some in uniform and with comm gear. This fight might not be so lopsided after all.

“Archer—Ben Archer—is that you? Haven’t seen your ugly ass in a. . . well I can’t remember when!”

“Yeah, took my retirement when we got back from Altoona Ma’am. But I still know which end of the stick points forward.”

“Take this,” and she tossed him a beret with Captains bars, “Stretch it and make it fit. My people can make the Calps stop for a moment and hold them in place. You take all of these irregulars,” she motioned to the several hundred already gathering near, “and finish the attack. We have to stop them before they join up with units further north. Understand?”

“Can do!” Archer turned and started yelling at the top of his lungs and chaos became organized as those looking to join them quickly fell in line, skills learned in training command had some useful outside value. He followed after Connie and the regulars when they continued towards the roadbed and then got his people stopped, ready, strung out along one side of the track, ready if needed but out of sight. Connie and White placed their own troops into ambush position. Gaza drifted away and to the rear. He still had an identity to protect.

Connie watched the track in a view sent by a building mounted camera. An overhead drone would have been nice but the few left on the planet were out with Zavala where they could do the most good. She hadn’t heard anything about how things were going for him nor wasted time worrying.

There had just been enough time to set the demolition charge and get out of sight before it came into view. And there it was; a dot in the distance. Moving faster than normal inside the city limits it closed on ambush site and Connie waited for the explosion.

In a normal power outage situation, not that they were normal, the string of cars would have settled to the trackbed on a thin air cushion while residual induction slowed them to a halt. Even so they were moving far too fast for a populous area, even one such as this light industrial section of factories and warehouses.

The force of the explosion broke the central rail and turned the severed section upwards and the first car in line speared itself on the up thrust end. Faster than the eye could follow all six cars scissoring then buckling and tumbling. Speed at impact was better than two hundred and fifty kilometers per hour. It was a good thing they had stayed so far back and the right of way was unusually open at this point.

As open as the area was nothing moving that fast stops quickly. Two of the cars slammed into a construction equipment factory, another into a fuel pumping station that immediately went up in flames. Leaving Archer to organize help and cleanup Connie and her squad got back on the buses and headed back towards Government House. Barely started she was able to get into contact with Wes.

“Turn around and back the other way Connie. We have things under control and with so many in the street you would need to force you way in. And some hot head could mistake you for Calp reinforcements. Go out and give Fader a hand. Cut the maglev tracks closer to the Calp compound and we have them bottled up. Reserves are pouring in from all over and can take our time finishing them off. And take care of yourself! Oh, send Gaza back, I’m gonna’ need his help interrogating the few survivors we pulled out of the basement and Calp headquarters.”

An hour later she was in Fader’s Command post reviewing the action and helping to place reserve units.