Tools of the Trade 12

Tools of the Trade Chapter Twelve

“Damn Ma’am. Camels! Real Camels! I can’t believe they got real Camels!” Sgt. Madry was saying to Captain Melbourne as they disembarked. “How’d they do that! Is this like Lawrence of Arabia or what?”

“Too much like or what I’d say,” Melbourne answered, swishing at flies rising off the pile of dung next to the container holding a major part of their medical supplies. “If you would have spent more time listening to Captain Kronnin’s lectures instead of playing with the electronics this would come as no surprise.”

“Guess so Ma’am but life is so short.”

“True Madry, very true. And if you don’t pay attention to what counts it always seems to end up even shorter doesn’t it. But your knowledge of the classics does surprise.”

Altoona was a dry world. Not so much in terms of ocean area or amount of salt water. Almost 50% of the planet was ocean, but of the rain that fell very little ended up falling on the continental land masses. And much of what did was confined to a few areas only tens of miles wide near the continental shore. That meant deeper inland fresh water was scarce. The planetary average temperature was rather cold for a habital world which led to lower than usual evaporation and extensive icecaps. The most habital continent was twenty degrees south of the planets equator and was warm. The other two large land masses straddled the equator and were hot and even drier.

All of the continents were sandy and didn’t hold on the surface what little rain that fell. That was what gave the entire planet the startling resemblance to an area known as the Middle East on Earth and made it inhospitable to most. But it did attract the first settlers who saw something resembling their former homes.

Those settlers brought along a lot of cultural baggage. Not so much religious but in terms of how they expected their society to function. Life on Altoona was far more tribal in nature than most any other colonized planet. They might appeared to most outsiders as a strange cultural relic from the past but the Caliphate hadn’t viewed them in that manner, but rather as an opportunity for expansion. Even though the vast majority rejected Islam the Calps never felt apostasy was the end of the matter. History and dogma had shown them there was no God but Allah and that there was no escaping his embrace once accepted.

Virtually all of the Confederation worlds and Indie planets were politically agnostic when it came to religion and religious rights. There were perhaps eight out of the lot that had a strong component of scriptural driven morality written into law and enforced by governmental authority. Altoona was the only one of those having laws written with a decidedly Christian moral outlook and enforced with an Islamic bent. It was as if the Old Testament Christians had come out of the desert with Moses reading the Ten Commandments and Mohammad explaining what they meant and how they should applied.

That meant, among other things, that women were held subordinate, to men and all human beings not adhering to their belief system were looked down upon as misguided and unworthy with only one general exception, that given to the scattered survivors of the Jewish faith. Almost all members of mainline Christian churches were viewed as belonging to social clubs and continuing due to societal habit rather than conviction. The original Altoonan settlers were there because of Caliphate oppression and just as Protestant reformers incorporated much of Catholicism so did the Altoonan Christians include much of Islamic teaching.

In spite of the planet’s reputation for intolerance, cooperation with off worlders was never a problem once the discovery that heavy elements could be profitably mined with off world assistance meant there was money to be made, and a much more enjoyable lifestyle for the fortunate few who controlled the trade.

Jawad Ayyub al-Masari, elected leader of the Altoonan government and by extension head of the church, greeted the officers leading the off planet relief forces soon after they landed. He had them met by his representatives and escorted from the spaceport to a section of the main mosque reserved for non religious encounters.

On their way into town accompanied by armed guards and military checkpoints, lightly manned and fortified, were evident. The town was outwardly peaceful but the defenses were in place.

Jawad was used to dealing with the trade delegation so the strange woman, a Captain Melbourne, was able to be accommodated without offense. It was of course a given that she was there only due to social pressure from the hierarchy of the Indie world Cardoman and not for any kind of military benefit to their mission. She was he granted very decorative, if the situation were otherwise his harem would have been able to make room. Jawad Ayyub al-Masari had learned how do deal with such people and was not unnerved in the least.

Twelfth century Connie was thinking looking at the tilled entryway and rich tapestries lining the walls. No, Ninth or Tenth. The carpet was probably hand woven at a person a year per square meter. It was exquisitely done.

They sat on the floor and surrounding a low table. With a clap of the Majordomos hands servants, who looked and acted as if they might as well have been slaves, brought in trays of; could she call them sweetmeats and fruit cups; compotes? Is that the word? So archaic but it seemed to fit the motif of everything she had seen since they landed. Both of the female servants were veiled and heavily muffled in floor length robes. The male overseer was dressed in flowing garments much more suitable for the weather. A Eunuch?… No it wasn’t possible, or was it? She would have to ask Kronnin.

Wesley held the position of honor at Jawad’s right hand at the head of the table. Melbourne, as senior subordinate, was on the left side and Kronnin and Morgan were opposite her on the table’s right. Lucas Jackson as a Lieutenant was too junior to be here and was taking care of the battalion bivouac. The rest of the table contained on Connie’s side the Cardoman trade minister and his aide and at the far end several of Jawad’s political advisors.

The temperature was hot and would have felt hotter but for the lack of humidity. A large overhead fan, turning slowly, and another in the wall, kept a breeze going which made the room comfortable if still warm. The windows were opened but unscreened. They must have included an electrostatic field to keep the flying insects out as none were visible in the room. The food was delicious but very sweet and served in quantities well beyond what anyone might have reasonably expected to eat. A cultural thing that Kronnin had told them to expect.

Wes had told Captain Kronnin to keep his language proficiency under wraps and everyone else would just put in the occasional phrase showing at least an interest in learning the Arabian derived dialect spoken by the natives and demonstrating some weeks of practice in acquiring it. Loomis, not at the meeting, had been given orders to keep his mouth shut concerning any ability to converse with the locals; he might be of use later. There was no telling what might be learned when around people who thought what they said could not be understood by those from off planet.

Today we shall get to know each other. We will deal with our troubles tomorrow. The next hour was spent in light conversation touching on matters of planetary and personal history. After the meal was over and the table was cleared various fruit liquors were served. Sweet again but served on ice so very welcome. In all they spent a pleasant two hours at the combination Palace-Mosque.

* * *
The Alties largest mine, the Mt. Hebron Works, was 200 kilometers from Gabara the capital and only truly large city on the planet having upwards of 500,000 inhabitants. It was located near the ocean as were all cities with major populations. Gabara was at the end of the transport conduit that led to the mine where the heavy minerals were first discovered. Two other sites, one at Wadi Abbas and one in the Jeddah Valley had been put into production 12 and 13 years after the Hebron discovery. Between them they now accounted for 45% of the ore being mined and were expanding production while Mt Hebron’s was slowly tending downwards. Abbas was 270 kilometers distant and the Jeddah Valley mine, which was sure to be the richest of all once it could be developed into full production, was almost 350 kilometers from the capital.

They were in the trade mission building, a thick walled single story structure built of plastered brick that was quite suitable for its present use. Wes asked a question about something that had been troubling him from the first moment he thought he had a grasp of the economics of the situation.

“What’s with the Camel caravans? Why not build roads and truck the stuff in and out?”

“Funny you should ask,” Harmon Cowen, head of the Cardoman trade mission replied. “Those are the two questions most asked by all off worlders who look at the mining operations.”

“When the Hebron works first opened they did it that way because that was the only way to do it, there were no roads. Now it’s a combination of no roads and culture. The ore, after mining and going through a hammer mill comes out in nugget form. Further smelting and refining is done until ingots of fairly pure metal are produced, but the quantity is really quite small and volume hardly a consideration, though the weight is still fifty percent greater than an equivalent amount of gold. Less than three hundred people are able to man and operate the caravans serving all three mines so the expense of building and maintaining roads just never made sense. They might be able to cut the number of people involved in half but instead of Bedouins they would have drivers and mechanics and a modern society and they decided not to go that route.”
“What about transport by air?” Wes asked.

“That would work but wasn’t needed before now. They did try it right after the first caravan was ambushed but found surface to air missiles were much less expensive then aircraft. So in addition to hunting down and eliminating the Calps strongholds, assuming they have more than one, you must also safeguard the caravan traffic and guard the mines.”

“Aren’t the Alties taking care both of those other things now?” Connie asked.
“Well, yes and no. Jawad Ayyub al-Masari, as soon as the trouble started, sent a large portion of his personal guard to handle that function. But ever since he has been looking to get them back so as he says; if other internal matters eventuate he will be able to deal with them. What that means to us is that the government is none too stable and we need to get things under control, in simple terms it means get rid of the Calps before his internal problems become ours. And by that I mean we start dealing with a hostile government.”

“Aside from the few people here at the mission, how many Cardomans and other off worlders are working on planet?” Was the next question.

Cowen responded, “Each mine has a Cardoman technical maintenance staff of about thirty. In addition to that we have fifty installing new machinery to boost output at the Jeddah Valley mine. The Alties are so insular that I would guess fewer than a thousand non Alties are allowed visas at any given time.”

Wes asked, “How did the mining equipment our people are working on get on site without roads?”

“It was landed by heavy shuttle before the Calps became active and a darn good thing it was because with the present missile threat we couldn’t do that today. The way I read the memos from home we need all the production we can manage for our new shipyard. Even without that to factor in, with the ConFed and Llanfairn expanding production and needing more of the metal it’s become a sellers market. And the kind of hard currency our own hard metals bring in not to mention selling and servicing the equipment we export is something we on Cardoman are desperate for.”

Captain Kronnin who had been taking notes said, “This is somewhat of topic but what about the planetary name change?”

Cowan replied, “I’m surprised you even heard about that. The planet was named after Tomas Altoona, the captain of the discovery ship. It was fine with the earliest settlers who were far more secular than the way things are trending now. The political party fighting al-Masari has been agitating for a more Arabian type rename. They got it on the ballot the last two elections and it was narrowly defeated. The name, New Jerusalem, could be read in too many ways for Jawad to support it and his political enemies are making hay out of his intransigence. Between us Cardomans, we could wish for a better and truer ally but unfortunately we’ve have to play the hand were dealt and he is,” Please forgive me, “it includes if not an Ace— the King.”

“I can say for all of us that we thank you for filling us in on the local situation.” Wes said, “Keep us up to date on the political infighting; it might be as important as anything else in getting the kind of outcome Cardoman needs. We should have our initial deployments figured out in a couple of hours now and I’ll send someone with the outline to you tomorrow. Study it and make any suggestions you feel apt.”

“I should, I think, thank you, “the Trade Minister said, “It’s not what I would have expected, to have the military commander pay any attention to us political types.”

* * *
I got what I said I wanted Connie reflected while watching Alpha Company set up their tents and fabric domes in an area that had been roughly graded by some of the Hebron Mining Works construction machinery. She had two young lieutenants, one hundred twenty troops one hundred eleven male and nine female, six sergeants, and all of the headaches that went with the job. She considered herself lucky to have twenty-five in the company that had seen service on Witherway and Ophia. Kronnin’s and Morgan’s units at the other two mines didn’t have as many who had served in combat together.

Wes was out with Lieutenant Jackson setting up a firebase that could cover both the Hebron and Wadi Abbas sites.

Ben Morgan had Sgt Higgins and two of the battalion’s 155mm artillery pieces doing duty for him in the Jeddah Valley. He was really out on the pointed end of the stick.

Philip Kronnin was setting up in Abbas but it was likely he would be spending a lot of time in Gabara setting up an intelligence network. Wes said he would be taking over Phil’s job if and when he went native.

Connie would have predicted Wes’s reaction to the numbers of commissioned officers that the Cardoman folks had tried to foist off on him. “Only enough to get the job done and no more,” he had said. He valued ingenuity and experience over staff work but in her own mind Connie felt they were short on command staff and company level officers. Wes had said, “We’ll let the noncoms make up the difference. We need to be close enough to our units that we know every member by name and ability.” Connie was also certain an unspoken reason was to insure primary loyalty to the Cardoman 7th and not the regular Cardoman military service.

Still she had a couple of new officers to get familiar with and learn their peculiarities along with their abilities. Lieutenants Crammer and Mankowitz. Each was in charge of a platoon and of course had other unit wide duties as well.

Everyone enlisted into the Cardoman 7th got a listing showing the table of organization. It went like this:
1. Three line companies. Unit strength 110 each. Headed by a Captain.
A. Each Company has 2 infantry platoons of 40.

-1. Each platoon headed by a Lieutenant.
-2. Each platoon having two squads headed by a senior sergeant.
-3. Each squad is usually broken down into two or three sections.
-4. Each Company a heavy weapons section of 20 headed by a Sgt.
-5. Each Company headquarters has communication,medical, and a staff of 10.

2. An artillery squad (called delta company) of 40. Headed by a lieutenant.

3. A headquarters company (called echo company) of 40 including Intelligence and
Communications and logistics. Headed by the Battalion Major.

This was a field setup and was light in terms of officers when compared to most military organization charts. The quality of the enlisted men and responsibilities given to senior sergeants made it function in an efficient manner. And if the workload was high so was the reaction speed.

With three infantry companies and three mines to protect it worked out just fine on that front. Sometimes things are like that. And of course things were never just like the book said they should be but it gave something to start running with.

So Connie had Cramer and Mankowitz to get her company into shape. Both were Cardomans and had served off planet but only Lt. Charles Mankowitz had seen anything in the way of combat. He has served in the abortive attempt to help the minuscule Caliphate resistance on Marjoram and barely escaped with his life when it ended.

Lt. Virgil Cramer had spent a year on Prestwick in a training position. He was the one getting the training. He was an intelligence type dealing in evaluating opposing troop operational and motivational readiness though he had gone through the infantry officers course. His education had been leading to a scholarly position as a societal psychologist before he entered the service. Connie thought if he was any good as a shrink he might be able to make some useful predictions that went beyond what the Calps were able to do into the more exacting nature of what they would want to do. If not she was likely going to regret having him along.

They couldn’t stay in tents very long, the risk from Calp artillery or even snipers was just too great so the first order of business was to clear out the rubble and get set up inside of one or more of the played out mine shafts. That clearing was already in progress.

Water for the Mt. Hebron mines came from two deep wells powered by a battery of wind turbine located a kilometer from where the ore was dug and closer to the mountains base. There were seeps scattered throughout the region but reliable water in quantity required very deep wells. Open air storage tanks higher up the slope from the main production area held the wells output and provided for backup supplies on the few days a month when wind power was insufficient to operate the pumps. Those tanks were an obvious target and they would need to create some internal cisterns to hold a large water reserve. Any such cisterns would need to be lined to keep out mineral and heavy metal contamination.

Including the Cardoman tech staff there were almost 400 full time employees living at the mine almost all above ground in thick walled housing made from a plaster like adobe made from the local gypsum. Very good protection against changes in temperature and small arms fire but offering no protection at all against larger explosives.

As remote as the mines were there were other small groups of Alties scattered throughout the region. Some engaged in operating very small surface mines or prospecting and others herding the goat like animals used for meat and milk or tending small farm plots that were a major source of food for the mining personal. There was enough human traffic in the area that they couldn’t just put out sensors and figure any contacts were hostile.

Connie had Mankowitz stay at the mine working on finishing the company’s defensive setup, primarily getting a camp perimeter established. He had an ordered list and the active help of mines general manager. Connie and Cramer each took a squad out for a first hand look at the immediate terrain. Mt. Hebron was only one of five peaks located in an arc and rising abruptly from the desert floor. It was some sixty kilometers from the start of the thousand meters plateau that signified the start of the continents first inland mountain chain.

The area immediately around Mt Hebron looked from above as if each mountain was an Island in a sea of sand with a goodly separation between each. There were also areas where the sand had blown away leaving a hard dry soil. This was probably in truth the old sea floor. On either side of the arc were lesser hills that faded into the desert and beyond them to the northeast the ranges grew steadily higher and the distance between peaks grew smaller. The wadis were rivers of sand and dry ground separating the peaks where once water must have been present.

Before returning later that day Connie visited two of the gardening villages and with an interpreter supplied by the government interviewed the inhabitants. They either knew nothing or were unwilling to talk about those interfering with the transport caravans.

Eventually she wanted to have one of her patrols walk every trail in the area and visit each encampment. Today she with Sgt. Short would cover about twelve kilometer to the east and Cramer about the same to the West. Those lower elevations held most of the permanently farmed and occupied territory. It was prospectors and goatherds that frequented the more rugged northern reaches.

Sgt. Madry thought herself lucky, at least for someone down on the planet, to be out here with Lt. Jackson and the Major setting up the main artillery base slated to be her post for the near future. They were on top a mostly flat steep sided cone that had been obviously formed by volcanic action. The caldera wall was gone except for about 20 degrees of arc facing southeast. Even where it was in place, being less than, twenty meters high it would offer little protection from overhead so they were using explosives to undercut it at it’s thickest section and using the blasted lava to shield the inner side making it cave like as much as they were able.

The top of the cone was virtually inaccessible from below but in easy view of many of the surrounding peaks some of which were no more than a long mortar shot away. It was close enough to being centered from all three mines that the 120 plus kilometer range of the main 155’s would even cover their exterior approaches, though just in the case of Jeddah. That was of course the reason the spot was chosen.

Like so many of the basic weapons of war the artillery pieces would have been easily recognizable for what they were by any military man of the last thousand years. They had three anchoring legs spread out permitting 360 degrees of fire and the propellant charges were no longer encased in metallic cartridges but cast in a plastic matrix. They were just slightly more efficient but vastly cleaner and hence easier on barrel life. Even the sustaining charge that burned slowly filling up the turbulence and drag causing vacuum in their wake had been in use for eight hundred years. Their targeting and stealthing packages had been constantly improved along with better barrel materials cooling and recoil dampening permitting a higher rate of sustained fire.

They had eight of the 155’s which could be operated by a crew of three, two loaders and a fire boss, but they had them all setup with auto loaders which meant for the first 10 rounds the could be directed by a separate firing computer and only one person was needed to keep the magazine reloaded though two were better as the maximum rate of fire would soon tire anybody. Each gun emplacement was blasted slightly below ground level giving a small amount of protection from poorly aimed enemy fire.

For defense against air defense against incoming fire they had a variant of what was once used on Earth as an anti missile defense on naval warships a rapid firing, 4000 round per minute rotating machine gun radar aimed at the incoming shells. Audie had control of these guns slaved into the radar unit she had purchased on Witherway. She also directed the sensor feeds to the main firing computer which was under the control of Lt. Jackson and operated by SSgt. Bledsoe a ten year instructor on Cardoman before he joined the Seventh. They had redundancy in the communications net and had several shuttle drops of ammunition and consumables. When the Carpathian headed back to Cardoman all such supply was ended.

The diameter at the summit of the volcano was near three hundred meters and Wesley made several circuits looking for possible points the slope might be scaled and also for firing and observation spots in the surrounding mountains. He found only two places where with great difficulty a path from the bottom might start but too many places where observation or mortar teams might be hidden.

Wadi Abbas was located in what during an earlier geological epoch was a large river bed and flood plain carved by melting ice runoffs. There were still ice covered peaks further in the interior but they were told ice melt seldom reached the area where the mines were located. Flash flooding due to unexpected rain was a once in a decade occurrence. The Jeddah mine was situated in a valley, more of a saddle between two peaks. Both at were at higher elevations than Mt Hebron by another 500 and 800 meters respectively. For those stationed there it led to shortness of breath till they were used to it but it was not so high that altitude sickness was a problem.

Captains Kronnin and Morgan were doing much the same things as Connie during that first week while setting up at Abbas and Jeddah respectively. By the end of the seventh day each mine was to have a caravan outfitted and send back as much metal as they had ready under guard of the Altie troops who had been protecting the mines. Each of those caravans would be accompanied by a squad of the Cardoman 7th who would familiarize themselves with the route and provide security when the caravans returned from Gabara bringing in fresh supplies and being ready to haul out another load of ore.

Lack of a major a fusion power source at any of the mines meant that the ore when first processed from nugget form was melted, partially refined and fused into ingots. It was better than 99% pure at this stage but would undergo the energy intensive final processing after it reached Gabara. The way thing were done at the mines did lead to a good inventory of what was being transported and kept the pilferage of individual nuggets down. A chunk of the ore smaller than the size of a fist was worth over half a years normal pay at local rates so the temptation for larceny, even without political motivation was high.

The caravan trip from Mt Hebron to Gabara lasted about two weeks from the other two mines took roughly three and five respectively. Seasonal temperature variations would change the durations by only a day or so as travel which normally took place in the daytime could be pushed earlier or later into the night. In all but the coldest months, or rarely when the temperature cooperated, a stop took place for several hours at mid day in a preselected location offering shade and if possible water. On the rougher sections of the trip sources of water in sufficient quantity for the animals could be a journey of a week or more apart. There were many known seeps that could handle the needs of one man but when traveling in groups the situation for humans was much like that for the animals with the exception that they couldn’t go as long between drinks.

Another constraint on trip time was the stamina of the camels and that was a function of how heavily they were laden. There was much variation but a normal caravan would consist of around thirty camels with about half as many drivers, each being responsible for two of the beasts and a caravan master in charge. It really wasn’t quite that simple because usually the master and some of the more senior drivers had their families with them on the trips. That meant there were usually more people than camels in the mix and meant additional camels to carry the personal possessions of the family members.

There were at least three different routes from each mine with various interconnecting branches that could be used to reach Gabara, the local refiners and the spaceport. When a caravan left the exact route was nowadays never announced in advance. That made it more difficult for large groups to lay in wait on the planed route. Still if they chose to act as a large unit, in time, the Calps were bound to get lucky. A caravan would by random chance pass near them. There were only so many possible ways to get from mine to town. It was a given that low level information such as caravan routes would be known to the Calps almost as soon as to the friendlies. With the number of people working and scattered in the mountains there was a lot of communication going on. Even schooling and religious instruction were delivered over the airwaves and simple codeword messages could not be detected from the normal traffic.

If the routes all having branches that could be used to change the usual path made exact predictions of a spot where any given caravan might pass impossible, the location of water for the camels made some routes far more likely than others. A successful attack on one of the first caravans under the protection of the Seventh would be very bad public relations and a plan was required to make sure no such thing happened.