A Very Blue Moon 10

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 10 Draft (06-05-10)

Cardoman G-4’s SnapDragon, Essex, G-3 Admiral Raymond, and the newest Novi battle cruiser FNS Novi, the first of them all to detect the grav pulse by virtue of proximity, were waiting silently when Aladin came out of hyper. Voinovich knew they would be undetectable to Aladin’s sensors, so almost as soon his ship was back in “real space” a burst message was sent and deciphered.

The four ships in hiding, already close to each other powered up and began converging on the Aladin in order to make real time discussion feasible. At the same time they were aligning themselves along a vector back to Yatagan.

The transition was a good on, pin-point in fact, as it should have been from the distance involved and over a course just traveled. In a couple more hours, instead of a conference call, all of the ship Captains had been piped aboard Aladin and were in the large room underneath the bridge deck, the one that would have held the flag plot if there were an admiral on board. Lt Shearing was fussing with a data projector while Stan Voinovich caught up with Marty Vogel from the Novi.

“Everything check out so far?” was the second sentence Stan uttered as soon as greetings were exchanged. A new ship, freshly delivered, this was the Novi’s shakedown cruise.

“Almost perfectly, the crew that brought her out from Llanfairn had a list and we were able to clean that up before we boosted.”

“Any hint of the political winds? When is Llanfairn going to come into this war full on?”

“From what I gather not until the Calp’s do something to directly affect Llanfairn’s trade or Navy. It can’t be long though. News reports say the Caliphate offered to purchase every ship out of Llanfairn’s yard at a price beyond even this market and that she continues to sell to both Cardoman and Novi is going to force them to act.”

“I certainly hope so,” Voinovich said. “Because they would be better off ignoring the insult and work on finishing off what they have on their plate already.”

Captain Voinovich held up a finger as if to say wait. . . While he listened to a message from Lt Shearing only he could hear.

“Everyone’s hear now, time to get this going. I’ll talk with you again Marty when we finish.”

“There’s no real rush here,” Captain Voinovich began, “but I’d like us to jump in two hours or less. As of the time Aladin left Yatagan the Calps had five ships in system. Two G-3 battled cruisers and three haulers. Two of the Cargo vessels are G-2’s the other’s a G-1. We have no indication that any other ships are due, our intel concerning ground operations is by all standards good, when in comes to those in space Loomis hasn’t had the time to get any contacts. But the odds are not going to get any better unless the battle cruisers leave and we can not count on that. Eric, put up the first slide.”

A three dimensional view of the Yatagan System came up in the tank, the light-hour hyperlimit showing as a globe shaped violet grid. The symbols for planets— four inside the limit—orbitals, moons and ships were all easily discernible to the trained observers peering intently into the holographic display.

“This ship here,” Stan said indicating the G-3 closest to Yatagan, “is the Beirut. She has been holding this position for more than a week. The other G-3, the Aldebaran, is more active and along with one of the G-2’s seems to be servicing the systems defensive platforms. Based on the maneuvering involved I would say the hauler is also putting new ones in place and when she does the Aldebaran then makes a few mock passes to insure they are functional.”

“The other G-2’s is involved in construction work. This one,” he said, pointing out the one close in to Yatagan’s larger moon, “is supporting construction of a deeply dug in complex which can only be a home for large numbers of ground launch missiles. She seems to have brought in components and is serving as a temporary home for the construction crew. The third ship, the G-1,” he highlighted a ship halfway in from the limit with a decreasing vector directed at Yatagan, “came in after we were already in place and appears to be a regular supply and trade ship. But there’s something odd about that because Yatagan size and relative unimportance means she probably only sees a ship of that size once in every year or so. Probably a coincidence. As you see she is still about a day from reaching orbit.”

Lt Shearing, interpreting a nod, added five more icons to the view. All outside the hyper limit and representing the ships captained by those present.

“Vern and Mark,” he said to Matson captain of the SnapDragon and McCormack, captain of the Essex, will be with me in this triangular formation.” The three ships could be seen spread with vectors aiming towards the Calp Aldebaran. “If we do this right we should have her boxed and be able to get within launch range before she can reach the limit”

“Marty,” he said to Vogel, you and Captain Speedway will transition in and head straight towards Yatagan and the Beirut. If she powers up fast enough and decides to run there isn’t anything you can do to stop here. But that will leave both the G-2’s without escort and no match for either of you much less both. If the Beirut does run; let her go. Taking out the new construction and the smash and grab on Yatagan are more important than even a good chance with 2 to 1 odds against a Calp battle cruiser. We have people on the ground and accomplishing our primary mission objective comes first.”

Shearing changed views once more. “This is what we know about the capability and location of the outer system defense platforms . . .”

In just under the self imposed two hour deadline the five ship squadron was transitioning into Yatagan.

On the Calp Aldebaran there was a brief moment of confusion when the first grav pulse was detected. Not event the ships signals officer knew whether this was part of the test sequence they were running on the second from last of the platforms they needed to finish calibrating prior to issuing the arming codes. This was the kind of unannounced complication Captain Hakimullah Mehsud had taken to using this entire deployment to get double duty out of the otherwise uncomplicated routine.

Captain Mehsud had no such doubts; he hit the battle alarm and said over the all ship channel. “Battle Stations! All sections! This is not a drill!”

The speed at which is order was obeyed would in other circumstances caused him a moments pleasure. But not this time because even before the last support station was manned two more grav pulses alarmed and the Cardoman signature of the first ship was shown on his tac screen. At the same time light cones emanating from the new arrivals began to fill the space surrounding his ship. He couldn’t stand and fight; but could he run? And if so in what direction?

A first approximation from the tac comp showed a direct try for the limit would take him within missile range of at least two of the ships and he now had data on two of them with the third, obviously a G-4 but not in his database. The perfection of the envelopment showed these ships had known that he was here and probably what he was doing. And what about the G-2 he was working with? She was setting the last of the platforms but not at such a distance that she could make the limit if the nearest Cardoman chose to chase after her. Virtually weaponless she was; Mehsud wrote her off and went back to considering his own situation.

“Back to Yatagan! Max acceleration! A slim chance but the only one he had.

Mark McCormack watching the Aldebaran vector for the inner system was expecting the call from Voinovich when it came. “Go after the G-2 and force her to surrender. If she does not comply, and you can do it without risking the Essex, then go ahead and board her. As a last resort just blow her away and start taking out the system defense platforms we already know about. The Captain of this Aldebaran has a large surprise in store when he finds out there are two more of us he doesn’t know anything about.”

McCormack went about the work at hand; he had only his standard compliment of marines, enough for a boarding party. The other four ships carried enough for a landing.

Skirting the partially enabled missile platform some four hours later both Aladin and SnapDragon took aim and fired one shot each. It was enough and without any delay they followed the Aldebaran deeper into Yatagan’s gravity well.

Captain Mehsud was getting instructions from Yatagan when the grav pulses from the ships commanded by Marty Vogel and Joe Speedway reached him. If fleeing was hopeless before it was worse than that now. His only chance was that the planetary defensive screen could overcome the two to one odds against him and his sister ship Beirut. They could have handled the attack, done it, and easily, if the base on Yatagan’s moon they were working on was completely functional. That was a story for another day when pigs had wings.

The fight for control of the space above Yatagan was decisive. It took almost every ShipKiller on the four attacking ships to finish the job but in the end both Calp G-4’s died and the partially completed moon base was nothing more than a glowing crater. The other G-2 and the G-1 were both floating empty, their crews left free in pods to manage as best they could and eight new model Cardoman shuttles were headed down to the surface with an umbrella of top support. Mark McCormack was still out system picking off platforms one by one.

Lt Irving Mullins leading the team from Aladin was wondering if he was still up for this. No one else would even give it a thought. After all he’d been Davis’s point man way back when. So long ago in fact that it was almost three years since he had fought anything other then a sticky keyboard or an eyeball high pile of printouts. Stuart Short in the Aladin’s other shuttle was in almost the same position, but as the details Sergeant he had gotten in a little more combat like training and dealt with a little a lot less of the organizational rigmarole.

He was as ready as he could be, not nervous or indecisive, just wondering. Combat wasn’t something most wanted to remember but it was something few could forget. The ‘Go’ came over the comm and Mullins settled back in his couch feeling again the 6 G pressure as they broke from orbit spiking briefly to 9 before settling back to 5 for most of the descent. A couple of years spent in the fleet Marines and hundreds of hours practicing drop operations but this one didn’t feel like practice as they knifed through a layer of high haze and saw the dried out delta land leading into the rift.

“Their firing on us,” the SP copilot said straining but trying to maintain an off hand manner— like this was a daily occurrence. For all the damage done it might well have been. Because beam weapons from above made quick kills of interceptors and insured nothing got close to any of the ships on their way down. “It’ll be different on the surface,” Mullins said, grunting with the effort. “Once we cool down our IR is going to vanish.”

“How is the signal from Loomis?”

“Hundred percent, we got it locked!”

For ten more minutes more, until they hit the IP, the only sound Mullins heard was the rumble of the jets and the subsonic buffeting as the planet’s atmosphere yielded grudgingly to their flight.

Russo had never looked worse, at least from Abe’s point of view. And he found that a rather pleasant distraction while waiting for the Cardoman shuttles to reach the city. They were going for the military compound in Scimitar eventually, but in a most indirect manner. Entering the rift valley far to the south of the city proper, the air defenses would not even see them even though the Calps still manning the weapons knew exactly where they were and what they were doing. No one had given a thought to planning a land based air defense that looked downward.

The Calp’s didn’t mind civilian casualties at all. Welcomed them if it would advance the cause. That was why even with ships in orbit they were willing to contest the landing. Russo, once he learned about what Abe was really up to wanted to be as far from the scene of action as possible. But Abe made him stay. If this went as planned and they left with the Cardoman landing party Russo had to come with them.

He knew too much. The only other option was to shoot him dead on the spot and Abe was not keen on that particular proposition though Gaza, perhaps due to most of his life spent on Altoona, seemed to favor the proposition by and large. They fought about it in a spirited fashion, with Russo an interested spectator, and Abe had finally allowed that if Nevier started causing trouble his own initial position was subject to change.

That was enough to satisfy Gaza and it kept Russo silent from then on. Russo had never learned to deal with silence imposed from without. Foreign to his nature he was lost here but he did his best to look put out rather than terrified. And almost succeeded. Would have to most others but after the last several months Abe knew him too well and couldn’t be taken in by stagecraft even from one as skilled as Nevier.

“Never trust a man afraid for his life because even that man can never tell what he might do next.” Abe had written that in the notes for his autobiography and did not want to use Russo as the example to prove the point.

In the city bells rang from all the minarets calling the faithful to prayer. Abe, Gaza, and Nevier were outside the landing zone for cross rift traffic; that was where the shuttles would come out of the rift valley in about three minutes now if all kept going to plan.

Fader and Higgins were waiting for pickup forty kilometers down on the rift floor to Scimitars southeast. They had spent two days walking the dry riverbed mapping each twist and turn. As deep as the Grand Canyon on Earth, though much wider and without a trace of water most of the year, navigation was still a demanding task at the speed they shuttles were going to employ in the final leg of their journey.

Too fast for mere humans, the autopilot almost at meltdown, the sound, tunneling ahead and contained by rock walls, came before the sight of the four landers in line traveling at perhaps 300 kilometers per hour. Two touched down hatches opening on the sides. In the blink of an eye Fader was into one and Lotti into the other while the remaining two hovered in wait just far enough above the ground so as not to generate a dust cloud. As soon as they were safely aboard the shuttles took to the air and accelerated towards the curve ahead.

With a datacube downloaded into the flight comp and compared to what they had gathered from above; Mullins now more than doubled his previous speed keeping all four vessels, the line stringing out, barely subsonic. A shock wave in these confined conditions could throw up a dust cloud visible from one side of the planet to the other.

So close to the speed of sound were they traveling that Fader Loomis saw them as a glint of light before he heard the noise and gave the signal to those in the initial landing team to open fire on the gun emplacements capable of covering the plaza landing site. A dozen shoulder fired small bores and all three were flaming rubble.

Both landers came up from the rift and disgorging the drop teams took to the sky to provide covering fire. Mullins turned over the shuttle to his Ensign copilot, grabbed his rifle, and was last off running hard after Jameson and troops hauling wheeled carts with cases of mortar rounds towards the brick wall sheltering the plaza’s edge.

Everyone was into battle armor but for Loomis and Gaza who quickly donned gear delivered from above. Russo was the odd man out. Mortars were set and began firing into the Calp compound which was something under two kilometers away from where they knelt listening to Loomis who was making sure each understood the paths they would take to the Calp citadel.

A total of sixty eight members of the Cardoman 7th including Loomis and Gaza were on the ground. Not many for what they were about to attempt but the war ships above and the four shuttles now standing off and circling out of small arms range were a powerful presence more than evening up the odds. Six would stay back to service the mortar fire, the rest split into three sections, were to take the Calp’s HQ.

As the rest poured over the wall, three men from each section scanned the buildings on the other side of the roadway. The crack of a shot rang out and even as the bullet hit against the brickwork sonic locaters zeroed in on the point of fire and a window, high up, was demolished by battle riffle aimed penetrators, glass and cement raining down into the street.

Fader led one section, Higgins another, and Lt Mullins the third doing his best to stay out front. The hope was to cover the two kilometers in something under ten minutes. That meant no time for much of anything but spray and pray, but at all costs keep the feet moving. If not for the certainty of Calp soldiers with portable launchers hiding in civilian areas on the edge of the compound they would have tried a direct landing. Even as things were that might have been best, but things were as they were and Mullins was breathing hard after the first minute.

The streets were deserted, metal shutter on most of the lower level windows and door frames, a relic of the past; Yatagan had been entirely peaceful for a hundred years. For the first kilometer what little resistance they met was from overzealous locals with antiquated hunting weapons. Their battle armor was proof even against even a direct hit at point blank range and the running figures ignored the insult, out of range or out of view and not slowing down. The ships above were sending light KE projectiles but keeping them outside the compound; the goal here was to capture munitions and supplies still in usable condition.

The Calp’s should have blown the dump. By the time anyone thought of that it was too late. Elements from Fader’s unit started crossing the open area ringing the compound and as they did fire started coming from behind. The range was much too short for the anti-shuttle missiles to arm so the result was predictable. Missiles from Cardoman landers went streaking towards every location high or low where Caliphate soldiers remained true to their duty. Those that persevered did not last long and most others had lost all interest in the fight as soon as it began.

As the Fader and his men ran into the front of the compound the Calps ran out the rear.

“Make it move!” Jameson said over the all-unit channel. “As soon as someone thinks of it the Calps will send in artillery and any thing else they have left to smash us rather than let us get away with the goods.”

Taking turns; one shuttle landed and was loaded while the others kept up the air defense. Previously undetected positions were now firing on the compound from beyond line of site but too little too late as one shuttle stopped for Loomis and Nevier before all four of the heavily laden ships headed skywards. Total casualty count: One killed by a lucky round through a joint in the battle armor bent at the wrong time; and four battered and bruised by concussion grenades in spite of the armor. Fader knew it could have been much, much, worse.

“How did things go with the other team?” Mullins radioed up to Aladin, and got no immediate response, but a hold for new message. About thirty seconds later the return, “Still in action, they are meeting greater than expected resistance, Captain Voinovich suggests you divert and offer assistance. Details follow.”

‘This was supposed to be the easy one,’ Sgt Lassiter cursed to himself and whatever God’s or emissaries from on high, might be listening. Two defensive missiles locked on each other and a Calp ground to air hit SP-155 eight klicks out from the LZ. With the shuttle went Mathew Prentiss and Jeremy Freidikin, two of the best soldiers and friends a man would ever know. The three had served together from before Audie Madry’s tour on the Dragon and words did not exist to explain how deeply the bonds of respect and friendship went. Or how hard it was to muffle the grief.

Not easy just easier. The pain must have struck Captain Fargo as hard as he felt it himself but the Captain wasted no time but went with the stored OP plan already configured for the loss of one shuttle. The easier job just got a lot tougher.

Bastion, the name of the factory site and outlying city, had earned its name from its function. The manufacturing plant here was a relic of the past, a complex of reactors and a build site for nuclear warheads. Only in the Caliphate would something like this be done on a planet. On Yatagan the output accounted for well over half of the planetary income, and located far from any other population source there had always been strong political forces opposing moving it anyplace safer. Especially because that would more than likely have meant moving it to another system entirely. Yatagan even today didn’t have much in the way of an off planet manufacturing base. After they took what they could and the ships above destroyed the rest Yatagan would wait even longer.

The area was far north of the equator, cold year long but not so much that the rivers flowing to the sea ever froze; cooling water was as important as radioactive minerals for this type of operation. The minerals came from numerous regional mines. There was a single bunkered storage area used to hold completed stocks until they were shipped out and it was guarded but troops rotating in and out for the harsh duty.

Far enough from Scimitar, and not contaminated by Capitals ways, the present garrison had been on Yatagan for less than a month and had not yet developed the habits of sloth and indifference universally common to garrison troops. Under strength for the job at hand; several hundreds in total; they were spread out over too much territory.

The fight at the weapons storage bunkers working under plan B went well at first. They had gotten in and started loading finished warheads on the elevators feeding the surface without any further loss of life. . . on their side. The three remaining landers orbiting the wreckage of the initial strike. Surgical was what it was, there was no room for near misses with production facilities all around. But that left a lot of Calps to close in around the storage site.

Back on the surface with warheads enough to replace twice over what the squadrons ships had used in attacking the system Brian Fargo found himself pinned down and unable to make for clear ground and pickup. The plan was to eventually destroy the reactors and chemical plant but not while any of the Cardoman Seventh could be exposed to the result. Three of his fifty-one Marines died and seven more were wounded under withering fire before the word got passed that help was on the way.

The arrival of four more shuttles and the troops they carried were enough to end the fight. The Calps did not throw down their weapons but retired in good order doing everything possible to get out of the manufacturing complex and away from the city; they knew what was coming.

Now the pickup was rapid and in less than an hour all of the surviving Cards were back in space. The command was given to evacuate the city. Bastion, everyone in it had two hours to shut down what they could and clear the area, and get up wind of the inevitable fallout. When the time was up the complex was bombarded; no nuclear scale detonations but the nearest thing, as containment buildings were penetrated and chemical treatment plants burned.

Night had fallen and Bastion was an ugly red sore on the darkness below when Voinovich gave orders to leave orbit and with the two captured Caliphate ships head back for the limit. The loss of life was equal to a quarter of the Marine force. They died for something more valuable than they would ever know. The captured G-1 transport that had mystified them so, now being operated by crews taken from the other ships, had a cargo more precious than gold. It contained a completely assembled drive band machine. Cardoman was back in the Starship Business!

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