By The Sword 9

By The Sword
Chapter 9 Draft (8/14/08)

“They’re dead, now General, every last one of them. I suspect we have two hours or less to get away from Unity before the Calps land.” Lewellyn Waterford waited for a response. When none was forthcoming, he said, “General Stillwell! Snap out of it! We have to get away from the Capital, and now!”

“Eh? What was that?” Oh, sorry, I was thinking about—,” and Stillwell’s voice trailed off again.

“General, the transports waiting. You’re all we’ve got. Don’t fall apart now. Fall apart later if you must. But first authorize the broadcast and let’s go!”

“Yes, of course, have them play it. It was well Hanna made the recording and didn’t leave it up to me. I pray for her, for all of us you know.”

“I do Sir, indeed I do. Let me carry your bag General.”

“Thank you Major, I can do that myself.” Ramses Stillwell braced himself and picking up his solitary piece of luggage followed Major Waterford to the waiting ground car.

A short trip to the spaceport and warehouse complex and the recently loaded shuttle, at very low power and in stealth mode, left Unity for the mountains in the center of the major Island continent.

General Mahdi, (Arabian for The Guided One) Jazirah was not going to make any of the same mistakes that idiot Gomaa made, nor any new ones he vowed. He had three times the number of warriors and equipment to match. And at least for a couple of weeks an entire fleets worth of orbital intelligence. Speed was his watchword and Allah help any in his command who could not, or did not understand.

He was sorry to meet no initial opposition. Even the landers descending from orbit were given a pass. The infidel must be saving whatever defenses they had for some time later. Arafat would make sure that they never got a second chance.

The spaceport and military basses were empty, all military and the bulk of their supplies fled. Not so on the civilian side. Three hundred and eleven souls, all but ten on the list provided by Ioseph Wahsabi, in charge of the government for a second time, were rounded up and shot. General Arafat didn’t bother to vet the list. If Wahsabi was going after a few of his own then so be it. His puppet rule would be stronger as a result.

It took half a day to deal with Unity, two more for the coastal cities. Next on the agenda was the capture of the mines on the cross-continent offshore island Accord. Arafat wanted this done with as little damage to the production equipment as possible and planed ‘Accordingly’.

Stillwell watched the display showing the Calp attacking force streaking some two hundred kilometers up and to the north of his hideout. The few human defenders at the mines didn’t have time to watch. They were too busy with sabotaging a few more mineshafts. They intended to get back a bit of their own and were doing what it took in order to make that happen.

The anti-air defenses were underground, shielded from deep scans by overhead copper ores. Their own detection sensors were passive. Most of the mining equipment was damaged in such a manner that it would require special order replacement parts before operating again. They were fixable, but by nothing available on planet. Much of the equipment was purchased from Cardoman originally. There would be no replacement parts supplied by the manufacturer anytime soon. If the Calps wanted the mines worked and ore extracted it was going to be done with pick and shovel for a long time.

“No trace of military activity, and only two defensive positions identified,” reported the officer in charge of the strike force’s reconnaissance drones and long range scanning gear.

“Not likely,” General Jazirah said to Hasani Hojjat ol-Islam, the Major who would lead the ground forces. Hojjat had been one of the few officers from Gomaa’s failed operation who had not suffered because of it. Then a Captain, he was in charge of the General’s security detail. Luckily he was not in the infantry chain of command at the time or even his family influence on Earth would not have saved him from at a minimum having his career advancement being put on hold. Instead, he was promoted a grade.

Even a disaster of the first rank needed some positive spin put on it for home consumption. Hojjat was the Propaganda Ministries first choice, and it seemed he might have been deserving. His performance in the landing at Unity was up to even Jazirah’s standards, hence his choice to lead this assault. One of Jazirah’s nephews ran the sub-department that selected Hojjat as the lottery winner so a good showing now would benefit both of the younger men’s future prospects.

“They heat signature of the smelter is unmistakable, they are trying to operate up to the end. Your recommendation Major?”

“As planned sir. Land the transports at a distance and continue on the ground. The defensive systems stripped from the Capital went somewhere. And this is the most logical place.”

“Issue the order. Then send a couple of drones and one attack shuttle to remove the systems we’ve located. We could learn something as a result.”

“Dammit, the Calps are not going to fly in. It looks like landings in two groups, each thirty kilometers out, and on opposite sides of the mine.” Evan Cornish, the Sylvan officer in charge of the defenses considered the new for only a moment then replied.

“We wait then. It won’t be easy for the Calps, with explosives ready to close all of the ground approaches. Let’s start wiring the AA missiles warheads and then get most of our people out to the bolt hole. May as well see they get as much of a head start as possible.”

The air raid alarm sounded but Cornish issued orders to hold all fire. “Keep them in the dark as long as possible. And make sure all the charges are set. If the shuttle sets down inside the compound one of the teams with short range stuff can take her.”

Hasani Hojjat ol-Islam lead from behind, not all the way to the rear of the column but just in front of the supply train. It was doctrine, nothing more in his case, and he wished he was at the van, at least until the sides of the narrow passage his men were traversing began tumbling inwards.

The only advanced warning was the noise of the explosive blast that sent tons of rock from above into the defile. There were over sixteen hundred troops on the ground split into two equal sections. Even strung out as they were fifty-seven died in the rock-fall and twenty others before the med-evac. It might be that foregoing the shuttle landing wasn’t such a good idea after all. And now his column was cut in half by the rock fall. Time to rethink.

Major Hojjat commed to the Reza Gholam and General Jazirah high up above. He sent all of the data his own sensors recorded hoping the more powerful computers on the ship could find something his own equipment had missed. They did locate the triggering device but it took almost three minutes of processing time even knowing where the blast originated. The shielding properties of the ore laden rock were just that good. No way could he continue on the ground at his previous rate of speed. He would need to slow down or use the lander option.

In the end, after consultation, he decided to slow down, sending the sensors out ahead and waiting for an analysis before committing the troops. Who could tell what might be in store for an airborne assault force? What was sketched out as a quick march turned into a two-day slow-motion ordeal. They located three other triggering devices and disabled them, but kept wondering about what they might have missed. Finally the complex was reached by both groups without further loss of life. Viewing the complex from up close added nothing to Hojjat’s store of knowledge and he had to decide now who would Bell the Cat? And how?

This would be much easier without the need to save the mining equipment.

“Are we ready?” Hojjat asked the leader of the second section Sub-Major As-Sabiqun.”

“Yes, the smelter building is first for my men. I wish you success on your own attempt at the mineshaft head.”

“Thank you Sub-Major, but please to remember, this is not an attempt, we will carry it off and with dispatch!”

“Certainly Sir! I await your word.”

“Let’s do it on my mark then. One minute, and. . . Mark! Allah Akbar!”

From either side of the compound mortars first sent small charges flying, not to damage the buildings but to make depressions in the open ground his men could use for cover. It seemed almost a waste of time because there were so many high points that could look down into those shallow pits with clear lanes of fire. But they had a plan for that as well.

The explosive rounds were followed by screening. Smoke with suspended metal particles to confuse infrared, and chaff rounds for their effect on ground radar. As soon as the explosions ended, and before the smoke and dust cleared the infantry swept forwards. A couple of automatic guns opened fire and were quickly silenced.

Sub-Major As-Sabiqun, well aware of the potential for sabotage followed his second group into the smelter building. There was no human presence or reaction as the lead squad burst into the control room. It was loud inside, the sound of pumps and cooling water circulating in the walls of the twenty-meter tall melting vessel.

“Let her run or start shutting her down?” asked the Engineering Petty Officer, a man brought down from the fleet with this job in mind. He had spent most of the fleet’s transit time studying up on standard industrial practice for this type of equipment. It was time well spent as he gained immediate access to the computer operated control system and appeared confident of his ability to do what was needed.

“Shut it down,” As-Sabiqun ordered.

The control board and comp messages indicated all was well as lights on the board gradually changed color. Main power was off of the heaters and the building was eerily silent.

The Sub-Major gave a silent sigh and reported all was well. Major Hojjat issued a well done thus far, and described his situation at the mine entrance. All power runs were destroyed along with the transfer cages at the bottom of the shaft. They would need to do a thorough cleansing of the surface and bring down hoisting equipment from orbit. All evidence to this point indicated the minors had indeed fled.
When As-Sabiqun looked back to the control board showing shutdown, he saw the petty officer stabbing a spot on the control screen again and again.

“What is the problem Petty Officer?”

“The pumps are shut down and I can’t restart them.”

“So?”

“Sir, unless I get them going it is only a matter of time before the molten metal burns through the smelters sidewalls!”

“How long?”

“Not at once. It depends on the condition of the firebrick inside. But with no coolant flow the water in the channels is going to turn to high-pressure steam. After that happens, and once the lines start bursting even getting the pump’s running won’t help.”

“Should we evacuate the building now?”

“That would be best Sir. I will stay and keep trying to bring the pumps back on-line.”

There was an orderly evacuation but scarce ten minutes later a loud hissing sound was heard and clouds of steam issued from the building. The Petty Officer died at once and a half an hour later the molten copper breached its containment and like volcanic lava spread out setting fires to anything burnable.

Evan Cornish saw all of his telltales die when the smelter failed. “I wish we could have made things tougher for the Calps, but they won’t get the plant running anytime soon, and we didn’t lose anyone. Best of all we saved most of our weapons. Now if we can save ourselves I’ll be happy enough.”

The plume from the burning compound not only made an optical cover as it blew over the exit to the tunnel end but also roiled the atmosphere to an extent that made IR detection impossible. Leaving by twos and threes, wearing issue stealth-suits, they headed towards the lowlands using different trails and fanning out under the covering blanket of smoke and heat.

* * *
The run from Cardoman was a smooth one. Only three weeks and everyone kept busy. Captain Gump was pleased with his crew’s progress and especially with his First and Second Officers Ustinov and Hines. Hines in particular had surprised him. She seemed to know what he wanted before he asked; it made his life easy and gave him time to spend on training and not data pushing. He ordered the alarms sounded calling the ship to battle stations and counted down the remaining seconds until transition into the Sylvan system.

“Two… One… Transition.”

“One point eight out,” was the almost immediate word from navigation. Then the alarms started ringing in earnest as a swarm of red lights began showing up around their destination. The system was crawling with ships.

“Looks like we’re a little late. After they detect us it will be interesting to see how they react. Any sign of anything but Calp ships?” Gump asked.

“Nothing active,” was the reply.

“Let’s get a course set to take us back to Cardoman. We will stay long enough to gather what data we can. It might even be worthwhile to pass a message or two.”

“She is the Cardoman G-2 Military Transport Eagle,” reported Dimihijra al-Chibah from Tac Systems.

“Not likely the lead ship in an attack squadron,” Captain Cahdesh added.

“No, I wouldn’t think so,” then Admiral Kahn said. “Send the Sahara and the Wing out towards her and we will see how she reacts. I have little doubt that she will run. And place a call for General Jazirah. We have some options to discuss and decisions to make.”

“General, I am going to act aggressively against the Cardoman Eagle and make sure she is forced from the system.”

“Do you think you can destroy her so word about the situation here gets back to Cardoman with as much delay as possible?”

“No, there’s not much chance of that I’m afraid. She is well outside the hyperlimit and not moving inwards. If any ship of ours gets close enough to harm her she won’t wait for proof of out intentions, she will jump. My first priority until you have complete control, eliminated any resistance, is protecting the troupes on the ground. Afterwards I will join with Admiral Suleiman and his Philomel Squadron, and we will deal with Cardoman. But until I am sure this planet is secure, Mizar takes priority. How much longer General?”

“Another two, three weeks.”

“That’s what you said last time.”

“Unfortunate, but the reaction of the rebel is something I can shape but not control. My men performed to the highest possible standards while taking the Accord Mines. It is too bad that the rebels did not play their part as well. Another week to eliminate them as a threat on that side of the ocean and I will bring that army back. Tomorrow we start a major offensive here on the continent. Two, three weeks, by that time even if help is sent by off-worlders there will be no organized forces left to make use of it.”

“What about the civilian population?”

“What indeed, they count for nothing!”

Ten hours of bombardment, kinetic energy weapons from orbit, and there was nothing much left to defend. “How the hell did they find us here,” Ramses Stillwell wondered. “Their sensors are better than we gave them credit for or our internal security isn’t as good as we thought it was. Probably both.” He would play it that way.

The battle in the Central highlands was bitter and brief. Calp landing forces took heavy casualties, perhaps 15%. But even from defense his men had taken more. It was time to pull out with what he had left and try to merge into the civilian population. There were still a few untargeted weapons caches, but only a few, and no prepared fortifications to rally round. A Cardoman ship, the Eagle, far out-system watched and would carry word away, but could not help in a direct manner. The Second Battle of Sylvan was over. Stillwell made sure his last broadcast made it clear that the war would continue so long as hope survived.

“We’ve got all we can get,” Captain Gump said. “Time for home.”

* * *
“My great great grandparents spoke polish but I don’t know a word, so it must not be inherited genetically. And yeah, growing up, and still today I got friends that speaks it too—but none rubbed off on me. So it can’t be transmitted culturally either. How the heck does someone learn it anyway?”

“Study Yuri, long hours of intense study followed by practice,” Boss’n Pilchard was saying to Sgt. Borselov, both passing the time at the unofficial NCO end of the Spaceport bar when Audie Madry came in and joined them. Once a sergeant herself she was not unwelcome, and the easy byplay and lack of even superficial formality was much to her liking.

Audie didn’t drink much, never had really, but even less over the last several years. When she did, at least when on planet and in Minton, it was usually here. And as long as they were all going back to the Station and then the SnapDragon so soon if she was going to have a drink anywhere it would be at a place that served upon request the medical antidote as a last shot.

The Cardoman Station transport was still being serviced; diagnostics had found a problem in one of the automatic inertial recorders so the three had an hour to kill before launch. Audie had checked to see that the repair crew knew what they were doing; they seemed up to it, before following in the other two’s footsteps. It was early and there weren’t many others here, too late for those being replaced in the morning shift change and too early for lunch.

“I didn’t know you were down here Audie, not till I saw you at the gate, did you get out to R&D?” Yuri asked.

“Nope, Bu Ships, the Engineering and the plans office.

“I’d a thought everything they had would be duplicated at the Station,” Carl Pilchard said.

“This was a meet the people trip for me Boss’n.”

“I went on a ‘Meet the Peep’ trip once, public relations and recruiting, hope I never do it again. Civilians, how do they stand it,” the Boss’n said with Yuri nodding his head in agreement.

“They pay the bills and everyone doesn’t require the same 24 hour a day supervision that you two need. Besides the Major and Captain Melbourne were there, though I guess I should call her Undersecretary Calvert now. Can you imagine? She actually changed her last name.”

“I don’t know Audie, I think it’s kinda’ sweet,” Pilchard was young for his grade but the responsibilities had aged him enough so that few would know. The veteran added with a smile. “It makes me think of my dear old gray haired mother.”

“Instead of thinking about the poor dear, why not pony up the money so she can get a regen treatment? You’ve been with the Seventh as long as I have, since Ophia. You can afford it.”

“Why for a crack like that Lt. Madry, your gonna’ be buying your own drink. You don’t know my mother. It was almost impossible to convince her to move from Bingham when I decided to make my home on Cardoman. I never took to the religious background but she certainly did. I offered to pay for treatment, indeed I did, but she told me to mind my own business and that she was more than happy with the way she looked.”

“And you believed her? Ask again. This time make sure she knows it’s for her health and not her looks. All the new medical procedures that are becoming available on Cardoman these last couple of years must seem like magic to some. Have your wife take her. She can explain that the level of cosmetic regen is selectable. She won’t have to end up looking like a teenager again.”

“I’ll do that Audie; she might go along with it that way. And she is finally getting used to the idea that I have a wife who has a faith as strong as hers. But for making the suggestion, I’m buying again. Time for one more before we go dry again.”

As it turned out repairs to the shuttle took twice as long as expected so they managed lunch also, before going aboard.

When they reached the station Carl went directly to the SnapDragon, Audie and Borselov reported in and then went to the Navy Office complex. Admiral Raymond wanted a personal brief.

They checked into the stations military section and were immediately Whisked to Admiral Raymond’s offices where once again, without delay, they passed into the inner sanctum. Whatever else he insisted on formality was not in the loop, Yuri could easily see. The Admirals aide, a Captain outside the chain of command, took them straight into the conference room then left.

“Good to see both of you again,” Raymond said, pushing aside the com unit he was working with. Yuri had met him before, but unlike Audie, did not know him well. Rank, authority, who was who with influence beyond their position, was hard to determine in the Cardoman military, Yuri surely hadn’t figured it out and didn’t expect he ever would.

“Before we go any further Sgt. Borselov, sign this. The Admiral passed a multi-page document; the paper sized flat display had highlights at two locations on the final page. Taking his stylus Yuri began signing where indicated.

“Not even going to read it?”

“Sir, if I can’t trust the Admiral of the Fleet to look after a lowly tech Sgt and do right by him—I am in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with no hope of salvation, and not much else matters.”

“Damn Madry! You’ve got the boy trained. Not a bit like you!” And then he grinned and laughed with amusement. “Have both of you had lunch? Not me today, so I am going to have something brought in.”

“We ate dirtside Admiral, but if you bring in anything interesting I am sure we both could help a little insuring nothing goes to waste.”

“Corned beef sandwiches, dills and chips, there will be enough.” He said into open space, “Lunch please, make it for three,” then told Yuri to read the document he had already signed and went back to talking with Audie. “Tell me about your ship, I want to know everything.”

“Everything Les? That’s a tall order. Were far from perfect, and I take my cousin Jamie on the Saratoga to represent that, but are marks are good and we are improving.”

“Ok, what I really want to know is how you rate your Captain.”

Audie hesitated then said, “Admiral, I’m not sure it’s for me to say.”

“Continue Audie, you can do it.”

Audie glanced over at Yuri Borselov, who looked up, not yet through reading what he had signed.

“The Sgt can heat this too I will want his opinion after I’ve heard yours.”

Yuri stopped reading to pay attention as Audie continued.

“Well Les, the thing is Captain Langston isn’t like you or me. He is—conservative. Shoot you were a pirate way back when, and a damned good one, and I am a free spirit constrained. In our cases, and due to circumstances we never imagined, here we are. Captain Langston is—normal. Not in ability, he can handle a ship, but in outlook. And maybe not even there. I’m not making myself clear. He is a perfectionist, I think, who struggles to keep his surroundings in sync with his idea of the way things should be.”

“That sounds like a Captain of a warship to me Audie.”

“When you put it that way I have to agree. And that’s why I give him the benefit of the doubt. I haven’t spent enough time onboard to understand how all of the intergroup relationships work out so I am doing my best to fit in and making sure that my department, engineering, causes no problems.”

Taking his time, Raymond looked at Yuri and asked, “What do you think son?”

“I haven’t a clue Sir. From as far down the chain as I sit, and as someone who never served on a ship before, I can’t add a thing. I only saw the Captain one time, and that was right after I came aboard. I see some grumbling, but I saw that in regular army units on Sylvan.”

“Fair enough. You will forget everything you’ve said or heard here. Am I clear on that?”

“Yes Sir!”

“Good— now about the patent papers.”

“They look fine to me Sir, I sure didn’t expect this.”

“We take care of out own. Audie told me to write in 100% of the royalty rights to you. I know Madry so I left the boxes blank, you two can decide again. Fill in those blanks and turn it into the Registrars office. You can go now Sgt, I need a few more words with Audie here.”

“Thank you Sir, I’ll show myself out.”

“A remarkable young man Audie. Is he as good as he looks to an outsider?”

“Yuri’s good sir. So good it’s scary. He listens, and then figures things out for himself. He won’t ever make it in the regular Navy or the Army for that matter. Way too original.”

“How much of that missile work was yours and how much his?”

“Yuri had the idea; I just did a bunch of the scutt work. Call it 50-50. After all that Ophia crap, and thank you for the Carpathian Mr. Raymond, I can’t spend it fast enough.”

“Split it 50-50 then. Don’t give him anything he hasn’t earned. I think he is going places and you don’t see it but he is more like you than you are willing to let on.”

“In some ways I suppose, but I am more—outgoing I guess is the best way to say it. Yuri is more content to keep to himself. Someday I see him running Cardoman R&D.”

“I thought that would be your job down the line.”

“Admiral! I’m a fighter! Not some kind of a half-assed wienie bureaucrat!”

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