A Point of Honor 8

A Point of Honor
Chapter 8 Draft (06/10/09)

Burning through the early morning haze overhead, twin parallel lines of orange-yellow fire curved downwards towards the southern horizon shading to red in the longer sight-line through the thickening atmosphere. “I had them! No more than 5,000 meters up. And too hot to beat the IR lock. Damn!”

Tech Sgt, Air Defense, Leslie Greenwood cursed under his breath, but not softly enough that Colonel Lewellyn Waterford, who was preoccupied while stirring a powdered cream into the lukewarm tea in his canteen, cup missed the muted outburst and of course not the cause of the action preceding it.

First Waterford sampled the tea, fragrant in the lightweight composite cup that looked and felt remarkably like porcelain, though an ugly off-green shade not suitable for entertaining guests, and at once the corners of his mouth twitched downwards. Then taking another sip and raising his bushy eyebrows the Colonel said in a mild, an almost normal tone, “Greenwood?”

“Yes Sar!” came the much louder response from the surprised launch controller. He was not used to being spoken to when attending to his duties. The messages normally went in text to his display and with a priority level assigned.

“Get your bloody finger off the launch button!” This time the voice was decidedly louder. “If the software blocks or the hardware interrupts fail—why you might, and I say might because we cannot discount the fact that you could get lucky—send a shot close enough to one of the Calp landers that they could bloody well pick it out and figure where it came from.”

‘Bloody bastard has a point,’ Greenwood though without responding. Chastened and feeling a bit foolish Greenwood moved his hand backwards away from the launch console. Eight years fighting with Ramseyer and New Brittan; he knew better than to say anything in his own defense. Not that he had much of a defense based on training and doctrine, but he had set the software blocks himself and hardware lockouts never failed. In all his years and of all the stories he’s heard it just didn’t happen. The only failure of a launch control he had ever seen himself had been a failure to fire—not a premature activation. And he would never make that kind of mistake himself.

“Sorry Sar,” the slight burr, the softening of consonants, all a part of Greenwood’s upland accent went unnoticed; because it was the rule and not an exception from the norm for technical the corps of New Brittan’s enlisted forces. In fact newbies picked right up on it and did their best to emulate the dialect. Often with hilarious results. To make matters worse Greenwood, seemingly at random, through bits of old Earth 17th century naval jargon into the mix.

“It won’t happen again Sar,” the Sergeant said in his most military manner.

“Quite right,” answered Waterford who after finishing with his tea ritual went back to tapping on his com unit’s touch screen while six hundred kilometers away General Ramseyer kept watch over the bulk of New Britain’s troops who were stationed with him and much closer to the spaceport where those ships that Greenwood had been tracking were just now setting down.

* * *
“Too many eggs in one basket, Major Riggs,” Ramseyer said to his battery officer Major Jeffery Riggs who did double duty like most of Ramseyer’s staff as an ad hoc intelligence analyst.

“Counting the last two, Colonel Waterford makes it as sixty percent of their ships on the ground.”

Ramseyer paused a moment for dramatic effect and said, “Then it’s time we bake the omelet. We will execute our complete fire-plan basic as soon as the ship lifts from the port. Should they come from above we start anytime a shuttle enters our range while scouting or descending from orbit.”

“What about sensor drones? The Calps must have everything they own in the air by now.”

“Unless there is a direct overflight, or you see one turn in our direction, ignore them. I am confident they would have found us already if they were able.”

Efficiently as always, Riggs passed on the necessary orders while Ramseyer stood up poking his head through a hatch in the command car, and with a pair of ancient optical binoculars, performed a completely redundant search of the sky above. He had a remote camera trained on this location; it would make great theater and play well back home if the pictures and video ever got that far. He considered this as a means to boost morale and not as ‘Grandstanding.’ Most of his troops, used to the common occurrence, thought otherwise.

* * *
“Two more incoming—same track as last time Colonel,” Sgt Greenwood said making sure his finger was nowhere near the launch button.

“You have authorization for weapons release Sgt, unsafe your missiles and bring those bastards down!” Greenwood went about his business with practiced calm while Waterford sent word up the chain to General Ramseyer.

Hearing the relayed message on the command channel and next turning towards the General who silently nodded his go ahead, Major Riggs unsafed his own panel waiting for Waterford to launch first. His own part of the fire plan was simple. As many and as fast as possible, overwhelm whatever defenses react quickly enough and obliterate the shuttle field and let nothing larger than a sparrow in or out. Everything else was secondary. But some of the secondary targets such as the tank farm and repair shops were high priority and would have to be hit a time or two lest they remain to service whatever Calp shuttles remained.

IR trackers locked on then followed and relayed the two landers positions and vector to the missile launchers electronics that then went about its work calculating and recalculating the optimal firing solution. Greenwood watched the first of the twin icons representing the Calp ships touch the spiked hemisphere centered on his own position. A launch straight upwards would take his birds out of the thick lower atmosphere soonest, extending their range and increasing their speed. His first two off the rails were going to come as a surprise to a tired and likely bored flight crew that had been at this turn and turn again for almost three days now without a rest or a hint of a threat after the first landing.

Both of Sgt Greenwood’s missile units were set to fire a double, one missile from each rail and their firing solutions matched each other in a most satisfactory manner. If the Calps knew they were down here he would have pushed the button long since if only to make certain they didn’t fire first. This wait didn’t feel like a luxury, but it was one that could only be enjoyed for a few more moments. The two displayed blips were already into his inner zone and about to pass overhead. Greenwood’s eyes told him the same thing as he looked upwards at the glowing trails above.

“Go to manual Sergeant,” Waterford commanded, “there’s something fitting to flesh and blood in getting off the first shot—eh?”

“Thank-ee Sar, an honor it be,” and Greenwood toggled the selector and waited the final few seconds till he triggered the strike and saw all four birds in the air.

This flight was much higher up than the last. Range at launch was just over eighteen kilometers. The Calp shuttles were nearing the point directly overhead and pointing towards Drakonsburg. The landers sensors detected the attack at once and went to automatic mode. But pointing away they were in a very poor position to return fire. And to make matters worse the New Brittan ground to air missiles had not gone active until the initial impetus from the electromagnetic rails momentum had taken them almost a kilometer from the launchers base position. Even perfect backtracking to the point where the rockets motors kicked in wouldn’t locate the launching units.

Flares, foil, fine glass bead to scatter lasers and EM measures were equally useless as a defense at this kind of range with optical acquisition and control in place. The two shuttles split, one going high the other low. One of the pilots even had the presence of mind to kill his drive in an attempt to fool the IR tracker, but seconds apart they were both engulfed in massive fireballs when they were struck, the small HE warheads detonated, and their onboard fuel stores ignited.

Receiving the fire relay Major Riggs, seated inside of the command car hidden in deep woods, touched his controller’s release and five kilometers away his own remote launchers began emptying their magazines at a rate of one missile every other second. Twelve seconds later forty-six missiles were headed for the landing field, two destroying themselves when their electronics lost positional awareness.

Battle Alarms sounded on the Sunah, not the shrill tones showing a threat to the ship itself, but the lower pitched sounds indicating something happening on the ground below her. Captain Khumm was off the flight deck but his orders stood. “Saturation bombardment. Kill those launchers!” It was going to take ninety five seconds for the slim 10 kilogram KE projectiles to reach the ground but a hundred of them would make sure that the threat was eliminated. Alas, that would be too late for the shuttles sitting naked at the spaceport.

Three of the Calp shuttles made it into the air. One was struck down before it had cleared the port and crashed into the local fuel storage. The other two stayed on the deck and headed further south before circling around to the closer of the identified attacking force location in order to get readings on the destroyed positions and search for additional threats. One of those passed too low and within range of one of Ramseyer’s outlying squads and a hail of shoulder fired missiles brought it down. But not before it had located a reserve unit and identified firm signals data indicating the attacking force as belonging to off worlders or with at least off world supplied with arms not common to the rest of Trudelheim’s military.

The second shuttle fired at long range and turned away running to safety. By that time counter fire from the Sunah took out all five of New Brittan’s active launchers the Brit forward units began to shift position as quietly as training and stealth gear permitted. Both of the large Calp landers were hopeless scrap needing months of refit if ever they would fly again.

“The former Commander on the ground at the spaceport is under arrest and praying for a speedy trial.” General Babilee al-Negev was not surprised at how rapidly his orders were carried out or that his staff officer and second in command Colonel Amiji Aabiwalah mentioned no name. Guilt by association was a powerful force in the Caliphate military. General Negev had been running things from orbit till now but if his own career was to survive he had best get onto the planets surface at once.

“You are sure these are troops from New Britain?”

Colonel Aabiwalah paused for the briefest of moments before answering, “Signals intelligence says the few transmissions we intercepted were encoded in their particular manner. That and that the weapons used were consistent with what we know of New Britain’s standard deployment. Whoever it is, they are from New Britain or armed and trained by that army.”

“What was it that was so specific about the weapons employed that you can place this on New Brittan’s forces?”

“The launch off line and redirect is standard now in the most modern mobile ultra light artillery batteries, but the com-link back from a shell in flight is something that outside the Caliphate only Ryman and the Brits have ever deployed. Even the Brits friends on Cardoman have never shown this type of capability though I world suggest that it will soon become the standard. And one other thing stands out. If the Sunah had not seen and been able to track the shells and back compute the original fire position from the off axis vector when they redirected, we would not have been able to pinpoint the guns closely enough that even a direct scan from our best close range sensors could find them. They were that stealthy.”

“How many of them are down there? How and when did they get to Trudelheim? And why were we not aware of this fact?”

“They must have landed very shortly before we came in system General; otherwise our interrogation must have turned up someone, civilian or military, who would have known or heard a rumor concerning them. As to numbers: If they had been strong enough to stop our landings or if they were in position to do so they would have done that and not given us the week we have already had to secure ourselves and remove the existing government from power.”

“The fact that there were no ships waiting to engage us upon our arrival indicates they cannot be a large force. A large force, say one as big as our own would not have been left without ships in space to protect it. And we would have spotted them on the ground before now. The weapons used in the attack on our landers amounted to what a couple of anti-air companies might employ. That could be the extent of what we face; but we just do not know.”

“So what now Colonel, what now?”

“I can only provide options Sir…”

“I am quite aware of that fact Colonel but do proceed. I expect more from my officers than just going by the book.” General Negev interlaced his fingers and placed his hands on the table in front of him, staring at his intelligence officer giving little hint of his own inner turmoil. Not only his career but his life would hang on the decisions he was going to make in the next several hours, perhaps those in the next several minutes; and things had been going ever so well up until now. He was going to need the best from all of his men to get this thing back on track and knew it.

“We have only seven remaining shuttles and one lander. If we try for a direct landing at the spaceport, any kind of an attempt at evacuation, we could lose them all if the forces opposing us has additional anti-air capability. This is something we must assume to be true. According to Captain Khumm three of those shuttles are by fleet regulation reserved for ship support duty and not available for our use. This severely limits our ability now for resupply, troop movement, or evacuation.”

“We will not waste time on evacuation planning Colonel!” Negev’s voice was as hard as diamond.

“In that case Sir we should use what we have to get our remaining supplies and men— the men go first—down onto the planet, and on the next ship out urgently request additional transport craft.”

“Send in Commander Joppa and make preparations for us to join the troops on the ground.”

Deewah Joppa a full Colonel in the Regulations Compliance Office had little to fear from anything General al-Negev might do when it came to his own career prospects but he had to conceal his mounting fear, no this was not simple fear it could far more accurately be termed terror, caused by what he knew the General was going to do next. When assigned to this. . . it was turning into a fiasco, Joppa had contemplated a nice comfortable, low risk, station onboard ship, away from any of the nastiness that invariable accompanied military action on the ground. He had always feared direct physical involvement, something unusual for someone of his rank in the Compliance Office, but he had no choice. When the General went downstairs he would be going along for the ride.

* * *
Air Defense Sgt Leslie Greenwood was watching the readouts on the launch platform itself. He had taken it upon himself to disable the remote and stay with the unit when Waterford and most of the other team members pulled back. With the kind of suppressive coverage he was now getting from high up above, any use, even a test signal from the remote might have been detected. And without a test verifying the link there was just too great a chance that the time it took to synchronize and the inevitable jamming would hamper the mission’s success. And his mission was to stop any more Calps from reaching the spaceport or any other landing ground around the city.

‘If the Calps were smart they would set themselves down far out, a hundred klicks or more, and come then come in on the ground. Well—smartness was a matter of situational awareness and the Calps were lacking in that area.’ At least Greenwood hoped that was the case. If not he wasn’t getting out of here alive. He estimated about thirty seconds from the time he could make a launch until all hell would come raining down upon the launching site. He could gain another half minute by programming in a thirty second pre-fire delay, but a minute wasn’t much time for a man on the ground to hide from a KE attack. It would have to be enough. Skill alone would not handle a counter attack. He was planning on luck. Not a good plan but all he had.

‘There it was, about time,’ he thought. The stealthed listening post, one whose sensors were on a flightless drone grounded in underbrush on the top of a hill some two hundred kilometers away detected the heat signatures of three shuttles and relayed the message to a sending unit on another drone perched on a second hill, one almost out of sight thirty some kilometers away from the first grounded flying machine. It had taken four tries to land both of them into the foliated hilltops and still let each view what was needed.

In the air, as close to invisible as they were, the drones very likely could not have escaped detection. Very likely wasn’t good enough. Greenwood had never heard of anyone parking a drone on the ground and using the sensor suite from so low an altitude but it did make a lot of sense in retrospect. He hoped that the expenditure of the extras it took pulling this thing off in this particular situation wouldn’t come back and bite them.

One last check with everything still in the green and Greenwood himself was sprinting down the front side of the hill where his missiles were sited, hell bent on getting as much separation as possible from the inevitable counterstrike once they fired and detection was unavoidable.

Even before he heard the shuttles alarm Aabiwalah felt his stomach drop away with the abrupt change of course as the machine he was ridding in broke towards the ground trying to evade the single missile tasked with its destruction. His ship was second in line; the General was in the lead shuttle with the lander in the middle flanked by the other two at their disposal.

Greenwood’s waited with his launchers till the lander, the most vulnerable target, was in its optimum range before firing. The large ungainly vessel hadn’t a chance. It took two direct hits and blew apart with a shockwave that sent the closest of its flankers tumbling out of control. The second of the outriding shuttles was hit by a third missile and with the aft end trailing flames and the pilot and co-pilot ejecting, slammed into the side of the hill where the launch and destruction originated from. Ten minutes later the top of the hill failed to exist as one KE projectile after another struck the launch point and throwing debris upward cratered its surface. Ten minutes after that, the two remaining shuttles, with both Negev and Aabiwalah still amongst the living, landed on the outskirts of the Calp Military base.

He expected to find confusion running rampant, or if the local commander was very good perhaps even purposeful activity. Instead he was greeted by a lack of any reaction to his arrival. The base, a rectangular area two by three kilometers, was eerily silent, a few fires burning themselves out and smoke rising from shattered metal. A pungent smell in the air of oil and ozone. Instead of working to send a counterforce, even one consisting of confiscated civilian aircars, in the general direction the attack missiles had come from, the new, and Negev decided at once—very temporary— base commander had ordered all of his men undercover and was merely waiting for the arrival of a superior officer or orders issued telling him what to do next.

It was true that the main part of any attack against the New Brittan troops should come from military units nearer the launch points, but that didn’t excuse a lack of action from those directly attacked. In fact where the hell was the base commander anyway?

“I’ve got him on the com screen sir,” Colonel Aabiwalah said, from just inside the landers cargo door, and Negev stepped back inside taking the Colonel’s place in the flight cabin. A very junior officer’s face was on the screen in front of him; one Negev had never even met, or even seen before.

“Sir! I am glad you have arrived and landed safely!”

Looking at the relieved expression on the expectant face Negev said, “You won’t be for long Lieutenant. But if you shape up I you just might be and there is also the possibility I might even let you live.”

Major Jeffery Riggs saw the base destruction, at least a few snippets video wise, on his helmet display. He had seen to the destruction of his artillery and the booby trap in the buried command car and with Ramseyer and the rest of the fire team were marching to join up with the rest of the army. The transmission from a shell just milliseconds before a hit, sending only time and coordinate data were much easier to track and count. The sensor shells interspersed with the explosive munitions packages broadcast their own compressed signals and relayed the explosive munitions signals at full strength to seemingly random destinations, several thousand of them every second. Far too many directions and frequencies for the unprepared Calps to jam in their totality.

With the attack in progress broadcasts outward from the aimpoint hardly needed masking, so long as the location to where they were being sent could not be determined. The sensor shells lost all stealth when sending and were easy to detect and hence intercept. But to concentrate on the senders took away from defending against the more deadly shells targeting the base and grounded Calp supply ships.

“If they’re good they’ll pick up on the slightly higher signal count sent along the path to where we want them to think we are going. To find that statistical artifact will be hard enough and will take the processing power on their command ship up above.” Riggs reported to General Ramseyer.

“Hear, hear! But if the unit commander is good, and he will be; after all he’s survived our strike on the ship coming down and that wasn’t merely by chance, he will doubt the implied message. I know I would.”

“But you would still act upon the analysis, wouldn’t you General?”

“Indeed I would, but very warily. Try again to get in touch with Waterford. I do hope he survived.”

Lewellyn Waterford at that exact same instant was echoing the last part of Ramseyer’s sentiments but referring to Sgt. Greenwood. Like the General he was on foot and marching under cover of a standard issue camouflaged IR defeating poncho. In the still cool morning air he was sweating heavily already with worse to come as the sun rose ever higher. There was forty kilometers yet to cover before he would link up with the rest of his men and equipment hidden in a forested ravine. He was going to be marching all day and half the night so he best either get used to the heat or forget about it. Much easier said then done.

A half an hour later his signalman passed word that Greenwood had somehow managed to avoid being killed by the counter fire aimed at his battery and was moving to rejoin the rest of his unit’s forces. “Good. Keep trying to raise General Ramseyer, but make sure you don’t get caught.” Shortly thereafter his report went through to Ramseyer and after a few words and a data dump Colonel Waterford put all his effort into slogging along trying not to be embarrassed by his younger troops and succeeding, though only because of the lesser load he was carrying.

In a third location, at this same time, so much as thinking about the same time had any meaning for an event happening over three hundred lightyears away, a meeting and conversation was taking place that would affect the war here on Trudelheim more than anyone involved at either location could possibly suspect.

Arthur Redmond, the newly appointed Chief of Staff for the Ryman War Department, walked into the first staff meeting that had not turned his stomach in years. The Constitutional Convention was ongoing but their instructions were clear; don’t wait for us get cracking! The Staff reflected the changes that had occurred so rapidly when the Oligarchs were overthrown.

The military revolt had caught most of those holding power unawares. But two of the leaders on planet who were not caught up in the net, and naturally all those away, or with important family members or lieutenants away on business might still be a threat to the new Government. This was going to be a constant irritation, he hoped not worse, until all of them were tracked down and dealt with.

At this meeting there were quite a few new faces, but all of them handpicked and well known. Art now had three generals with three star flags and he had authority over their individual staffs who worked closely under his direction. Ryman also as another development had a newly reorganized Fleet. One augmented by government owned transports and with a new Admiral in charge. He had an Aero-Space Force attached to take care of close-in and landing operations. A separate and somewhat redundant command. It was resisted by many, but Redmond felt the element of competition that ruined most such combined forces could be controlled; and quite naturally got his way on this. His primary force, the core of old Recon, was now renamed Strike Force Alpha! With the mess mostly cleaned up at home Ryman was finally going to get into the real fight!

There were far too many irons in the fire but he was going to wield the hammer and strike while the iron was hot. Redmond laughed at the thought and vowed to phrase things differently and certainly without all the metaphors when he got down to writing his own biography.

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