A Point of Honor 25

A Point of Honor
Chapter 25 Draft (01-03-10)

This was the fight slated to be the big one, the attack on the main Calp base below the Drakonsberg, but the real fight hadn’t started yet, just some head fakes, bobs and weaves, with a jab here and there to throw the opponent off balance. Wes Calvert was still cleaning up in Minton and the surrounding areas. There were hundreds of locations all over the planet where the battle was raging strong, small Calp units and inspection stations and a few larger units still holding out. These were being dealt with by the unorganized militia; a militia getting organized as fast as Robbie Davis could get them comm gear and instructions.

Raquel Zavala was off the link to Bledsoe, the artillery leader who had enough to keep him busy directing the traffic and so he watched as the first 155’s hit the ground. It was all extreme long range with smaller than normal warheads. Fifteen years as a soldier, eleven running his own merc company and a damn successful one at that, and it hadn’t prepared him for this. The occasional strike and the dust cloud it threw looked ever so small and harmless in the view relayed from above. Three years working for Cardoman and the Seventh and he had seen better but this was going to have to do.

Raq went back on line, “May as well cut it off Evan, we can do as much damage with mortars and the flight time is a lot less.”

“Wish we had those robot warriors the ancients used to talk about so much,” Yuri said while staining to keep his visual display locked on the picture in front in spite of all the interference. Audie Madry tossed a throw away line. “No R2-D2 for we two. Oh, and tough by the way!” She added. “This is as near a quote as I can remember from someone who had the reason of it.”

“And in my poor benighted country we do not have the time nor the ability to program into our fighting robots rules of ethics, and still deal with the threat your machines of mass destruction would inflict upon the faithful. We have one and only one goal. We demand Victory! Our God demands this of us and we can demand no less from our own soldiers — be they of flesh and blood or circuitry and metal.”

“Driven only by the need to win, and unencumbered by a decision tree made long and tortuous in an attempt to answer philosophical questions outside of their concern, ones you have never answered consistently; our robots will do their duty with a speed and dedication unmatched by those so constrained. They will perform their duty as ordered looking only to the ultimate goal. I say again, Victory!

“As it has been in the West, for the last hundred years your lack of belief in the righteousness of what you fight for continues to sow the seeds of you own destruction. How can you teach ethics to a machine when your way of existence shows you know not the meaning of the term and have turned your back on the one true source of enlightenment?

“I do not fear an army so slowed, so hobbled. Even winning this battle you will surely lose the war!”

“Whoever would say something like that would have killed himself in a heartbeat if it would have furthered his career, and it’s just as well no killer robots were along for the ride,” Audie finished, but then took it up again.

“We use remotely piloted vehicles and programmed drones and think nothing of it. We could do the same thing with a robot of some kind; I mean one that looked human walked and talked and such. Could even be biological rather than plastic and electronics but we don’t. Some things people do don’t make any sense, and it’s just as well. How would you feel shooting something that looked like it was human and on your side that you thought was a robot and then you found out you were wrong? Better to never go down that road.”

“Well we could give all the friendlies IFF transmitters or better yet implant echo chips.” Yuri said in an off hand way while he kept working on getting through the seemingly random noise that was hiding any of the drones the Calps might have in the air from his view.

It was full dark outside when a shuttle flight from Minton brought Fader Jameson and a single squad of his men to Zavala’s command post before going back upstairs to bring down the last load of recon drones and all of the remaining experienced combat troops still with the fleet orbiting Cardoman.

“We’ve pretty much narrowed things down to three areas where we need a close in look. Number on is their primary maintenance facility. Any devices not retrofitted yet would have do be there. The kind of work to put a ShipKiller warhead on a planetary cruise missile is beyond what a local launch site could deal with. The second is this complex here,” Hardtack Logan pointed to an area of a few square kilometers dotted with icons signifying launch tubes. “We have records of a lot of traffic to and from this area in the last forty-eight hours. Of course that might have been just to throw us off. And the third is everywhere else. There is no way to tell where they might have moved one of these missiles if they did it with all available stealth systems working.”

“We can’t use KE from up there because we can’t disguise something like that and if we were to try it and the Calps are ready to launch; they will get their missiles going before the strike gets there. And if they do that we will not be able to track them all. So, we have to get inside the main base without attracting attention on the way in. And that means drop pods from orbit. Fader, you and yours will go up as soon as we get another shuttle in and ready to leave. I will tale the next one and Colonel Zavala the one after that. We should all be heading down again just after midnight.”

“Time to launch thirty seconds,” Pavel Tsarinstyn was in the command seat reliving a flight from years ago when he dropped some of these same troops on a planet a lifetime and a hundred lightyears away. This drop, or series of drops, was a new and if possible even tougher challenge. One hundred ten soldier and pods but only two shuttles equipped to launch them, and they all had to hit the ground together. There was a way to do this but even with the time it took to get the people back from the surface the computations were barely complete.

A shuttle could only carry ten pods at a time in her cargo bay and launch tubes. And that meant both he and Lt Randy Kreager from the SnapDragon would need to make six runs each. Every launch also had to be made on a different trajectory from any of the others. There wasn’t time to just run back and forth and fire the first pods farthest away from the planet and each subsequent group from closer in but on the same path. What Pavel did was adopt a maneuver first practiced by jet fighter aircraft pilots on Earth back when nuclear war was still thinkable.

These pilots would come in low and then before reaching the target zoom upwards and release their bomb while still climbing. As the bomb continued on its arc giving them extra time they would run like hell to escape the blast radius. So that’s how the two Cardoman shuttle pilots worked it. The first group of pods thrown on a high arc then a return for load with the next group thrown with slightly less speed. The pods being unpowered would all hit the atmosphere with different velocities; the ones thrown first being the fastest would actually then be the last to reach air and slowdown. Using their trailing stringer like chutes the pods had some mobility and could change their drop speed a small amount. The comps said it would work and Pavel had no recourse but to trust them.

“We are go.” Fader had spent the last ten minutes checking and rechecking all of his readouts. Nothing left to do till the pods opened. He couldn’t even spend the time looking and worrying about all the other troops in their pods. The low powered system at his disposal was never designed to track more than a single squad. The idea of a company sized drop seemed too far fetched to the builders of a system planed for clandestine operations. Now he could feel the buffeting of reentry and he rechecked all of his gear that he could reach, paying especial attention to the straps and buckles. There was going to be no second chance if something shifted when the pod came apart. Not when that was slated to happen only 200 meters above the ground. If the main didn’t open there was not going to be time for the auxiliary, and so to use the space they had unpacked the spare and carried extra munitions in its place.

“Two-One-Now!” The pod split lengthwise and the cup shaped inner surfaces caught the wind and seemed to disappear in an instant. Without time to look around Fader pulled his D-ring and felt the shock when his chute opened at under a hundred meters. He didn’t know whether it was his action or the automatic deployment triggered by altitude that opened it up, but at once got ready for a hard landing.

Fader and his platoon strength unit were tasked with going after the remote launchers at the western end of the Calp area. Raquel Zavala was going to have even less free space under him when his chute opened because he was going after the main Calp maintenance building with about three times the force. If all worked out at this time other elements of the Cardoman seventh should be starting their own attack from ground level.

Fader hit slammed down and tumbled forwards just as illumination rounds went off low to the ground and well south of his position. Night vision gear made additional light unnecessary so the flares were meant only as a distraction to draw the eye of any defender and a quick scan of his surroundings showed none, just the mobile launcher with two small cruise missiles on its rails and a transport vehicle with a cab in back for the missile’s crew was sitting about 70 meters away.

Fader was close enough that his detection gear should be able to identify any nuclear device no matter how well shielded and it showed nothing. Both the birds in front of him were clean. He turned to the hauler, dropped to the ground, and just as floodlights from the vehicle came on sent three rocket propelled rounds from his shoulder launcher in its direction. Staying low he loaded another magazine, changed aim point, and sent another two at the carrier. Nuke or not, no point in not taking them out but another round at the tow vehicle would have been a waste of time.

He broadcast a target down signal and seeing no one emerge from the flaming wreck of the tow vehicle sprinted towards the next launcher in line 200 meters away, on the off chance Pvt. Lassiter might need some help.

He hadn’t gone ten yards when in reaction to an explosion ahead he threw himself to the ground again and then he heard Lassiter on the low power encoded voice channel.

“Blue 2 . . . Target destroyed, I am taking fire.”

Up again but trying to keep low, Fader changed course slightly to come in behind the Calp defenders now clearly marked on his helmet display.

“You Ok Lassiter?”

“For now. I came down with the launcher between me and the Calps. I got the missiles but couldn’t get a line of sight before they opened up. Must be half a dozen spreading out on either side in a gully of some sort.”

“Stay down, but keep up your fire. I’ll be behind them in about a minute so make sure you either hit one of them or the ground in front. Nothing long!”

“Got it Sir!”

Over the comm channel Fader was hearing others reporting in and there was enough light from burning missiles and vehicle fuel that his night vision had adjusted itself to its lowest setting. There he is! Fader saw the Calp trooper now less than a hundred meters in front of him. Slowing down but not bothering to stop he took aim and fired. At this range the bullet did the rest. Five to go. Cpl. Mathew, given the target on Lassiter’s other side, had finished with his site and was attacking on the other flank. The Calps never figured out what hit them.

Reports kept coming in and Fader learned that one of the launchers, the one belonging to Childers had sent two on their way. Childer’s suit was responding but there was nothing from the soldier himself. As close as they were to the launch point both Pranger and Ricks got a directional readout and sent the data to Audie Madry and her air defense section. It was unlikely these birds had nukes, none of the others did, but they still needed to be put down.

Fader sent his two closest to take a look at Childers and with any remaining Calps streaming rearwards called the rest of his men together. Their job now was to advance to the edge of the Calp perimeter and open a hole for Newmish’s Bravo and Morgan’s Charlie, two full companies who were just waiting to enter and get their hands dirty. Nearing the perimeter Fader heard from Cpl. Pranger. Childers was dead, his chute never opened.

A tumble and roll and he was down. The stone covered surface of the Calp central maintenance shed’s roof had scratched deeply and caused bleeding even through his mono-fiber reinforced jump suit. Raq Zavala shed his harness and looked for an opening to below while around him another twenty-nine troops landed on the roof. The rest of his men were coming down around all four sides of the building’s outer wall.

“Northeast corner!” Hardtack announced it over the com link and highlighted the slightly raised rim of a hatch cover on the master helmet display. Sgt Baumgarden had det-cord set just inside the rim and additional explosive charges on two corners and another near the center by the time Raq made it across the expanse of the huge structures roof. The maintenance building enclosed five or six hectares of offices and workspace and the open area below. He would have been a bit faster except for the pause to help Pvt. Gersner pull VerHorst back up over the edge where he was dangling some fifteen meters above the ground. Two of his men missed the roof entirely but the rest showed plainly on his display as able and active.

Baumgarden waved everyone back and seconds later the det-cord flashed and the hatch was forced downwards by the explosive charge. Raquel rushed to the coaming’s edge and peered over the rim. They had been prepared to repel down but the blast had left the topmost landing intact. He dropped and went down a flight of stairs to the next landing to leave room for the rest of his men, the first of whom, Hardtack Logan, was already on the landing below him. Zavala took the briefest of looks before shouldering his launcher and expending all three rounds and then a second magazine at the vehicles and equipment parked below.

By now one corner of his helmet display was blinking and showing red! There were nuclear warheads in that section of the building, and he could see armed men leaving a block built structure at what must have been the main entrance. Raq grabbed the last man down and pointed at the emerging Calps then continued towards the ground himself and seeing the trails of more shoulder fired missiles as the overhead lights went dark.

Outnumbered four to one they still held the advantage, surprise, firepower, and a plan was more than just an equalizer. From the foot of the stairs first small arms fire and then grenades were thrown; and that was likely a mistake as fires started at once from fuel tanks split open. The Cardoman forces could close their visors and had a half hour of oxygen in the tank. Their jumpsuits could withstand the heat for only a few minutes buy that was more than enough. The Calps died like flies but the Seventh was not immune.

A quarter of his original complement was down never to rise again as Raq raced after Tack to the corner of the building where the nukes were being worked on. When he arrived there were a dozen bodies riddled with bullets and blood ran thick on the floor. In stands were nine warheads, looking like they were only awaiting installation.

“No time even to grab the detonators, the only part of the device containing any radioactive material. “Smash em and let’s get outta’ here. Once we’re clear they can bury this place in rubble from above. Tack cut us an opening on the side and we’re gone.”

Logan took Baumgarden to do the demo work and went to a sidewall. They were not about to leave by the front. Inside the shielded building they hadn’t yet heard a word from their comrades outside. Raquel checked the time. Four minutes since he hit the roof, like always it seemed so much longer.

As things turned out there was no need to blast a hole through to the outside. A set of double exit doors, just like in an airlock, were forced and Tack opened his visor and was breathing fresh air again. Certain that none of the warheads would ever work again Raq was the last out of the building behind two of his men, severely injured, being carried on improvised stretchers. He didn’t—couldn’t— take time to count the dead.

“We have incoming!” Outside the jamming made a mash of the data shown on Raq’s helmet display and even the short range comm signals were iffy, but through the noise and dropouts that last call came in clear.

“Northeast corner by pairs! Cover your ass!” Zavala glance up and saw the long white streaking tracks of a KE ground strike wasting no time to warn about the obvious lent a hand to those struggling with one of the stretchers while he kept both of them moving to the proper corner of the building.

Sent down from the Admiral Raymond, a thousand kilometers overhead and relatively motionless in relation to the surface below, the small dense rods were moving at close to thirty KPS, high and that was slow enough that he could see the tails grow from dozens to hundreds and then to more than he could count; and the light brightened over the seconds it took for them to finish their trajectories. Massing two kilograms each when hitting the ground they would release as much energy as a two-hundred kilogram charge in a high-explosive chemical bomb.

They flashed overhead in double waves of five, Calp interceptors rising belatedly to meet them in an attempt intercept, trying if not to disable then to at least throw them off course. Projections had shown that under the worst case scenario about fifty percent would make it past any defense and hit where aimed. Raq had to hope that those that didn’t meet the projection would at least hit the Calp base somewhere other than where he and his men were gathering with enemy troops closing in from all sides.

The surviving projectiles from the first wave struck down on a perpendicular track three hundred meters to his front then spreading out half that distance on either side; uncomfortably close, and the noise was loud, near deafening, even with earplugs in place. Each succeeding wave struck another hundred meters ahead of the last, and the numbers getting through were twice what had been predicted; the Calps were still disorganized and mounting an ineffective defense. “Keep it up,” Raq and a hundred others prayed.

“Move out,” was the order. Zavala took the front so he would be the one to choose the path between the craters and fires in the debris strewn area being cleared for their escape. Hardtack Logan had the rear guard, arguably the more dangerous post, but he gave no thought to an argument. And with two squads he waited till everyone else had gotten a start before following; all the while laying down smoke and sending rifle grenades rearward towards an unseen enemy. Lotti was in his accustomed position on point while Baumgarden and Brian Fargo each had a squad protecting the flanks.

Their luck held—almost long enough. Only three more dead and four injured in the ten minutes it took to reach near enough to the perimeter that mortar and missile fire from units of Captain Ben Morgan’s Charlie Company finally got a clear shot to envelope and protect their sides, and more importantly make sure the Calps kept their distance. What remained of his landing force was almost out of the woods and Raq was starting to breathe easier when it all fell apart.

It was one in the last wave of KE ground shots, one not even targeted to clear their path but aimed instead to take out a Calp antenna farm. A very near miss and the shot was nudged only slightly off course. The explosion and blinding flash was the last thing Hardtack Logan and six of those with him ever saw.

Both of the flank guard units ran in without orders to collect the wounded and protect their rear. Their own spot now vacated was filled seamlessly by those closest at hand. A few minutes later and everyone left alive had crossed the perimeter.

* * *
It was quiet in Minton, unnaturally so for the first time in more than a week, no thunder in the distance, no cries closer at hand, and Wes could hear himself think. And it was only his wife Connie who would dare to interrupt his silent reverie. She had just finished talking to Robbie Davis, down from the mountains and supervising the clean-up at Castle Calvert, when she decided it was time.

Luther White was standing guard at the door of the small office in the military wing of Government House; he gave a slow shake of his head while opening the passage silently, and then stepping out of the way she walked in. Wes motionless at his desk didn’t even seem to notice.

Connie spoke softly, startling him none the less, “Come on Wes, it’s time to go. I just talked to Robbie; Jasper Newmish is covering for me. You can do what needs to be done from the Castle just as well as from here.”

He looked up from the list of dead and missing that seemed to scroll endlessly on the screen forming the surface where his elbows rested.

“I suppose you’re right Darling, Clay seems to have everything under control—between him and Paul Olivera—I don’t know how they do it.” He looked down again slipping away.

“Look up here Wes. Force a smile. What they do is a part of their job. And your job, your most important job, is to be ready for the next thing, not worry about the last. Get packed dearest, let’s go home.”

Epilogue