Tools of the Trade 13

Tools of the Trade Chapter Thirteen

“I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve.
Therefore strike off their heads
and strike off every fingertip of them.”

Surah VIII verse 12

Ibn al-Ghazzali was pleased with progress to this point. Just after Rashid Mohamed Kalid, Captain of the Sword of the Prophet, had taken out the defense observation satellites, set all of them down by shuttle, and then left the system, was a very dangerous time for his forces. Had they been detected at that time and the touchdown location reported, they would have been nearly defenseless to the small number of kinetic energy weapons that could still be launched into orbit from the spaceport at Gabara. Instead due to confusion and delay caused by Caliphate supporters there had almost a week without interruption and they were well dug in before the first of only two replacements sats were in orbit again and with only two of those satellites in total, coverage was spotty. Better than half the time there being no coverage at all.

His first order of business was to contact the leader of the intelligence unit that had been operating on planet clandestinely for the last year. He knew how to get in touch with them but even the leader of that force was not told where his main base of operations was located. Only Ibn himself or the head of his own intelligence unit took the risk of travel to the contact site. Another necessary effort to insure his main base could not be located.

They had set up that main base in a central location about two hundred kilometers deep into the mountains and midway between the Jeddah and Wadi Abbas mines. Once they completed that part of their task, inside the rough triangle formed by the three mines they set up two more operational basses and supply points which were linked to a couple of minor farming villages.

Stretching from the foot of the mountain they were dug into, pointing like a dagger towards the Abbas mine and ending some five kilometers away from it, was a narrow sand filled crevasse not only suitable for caravan traffic but also just barely passable by the transport vehicles that The Sword of the Prophet had left behind.

The soldiers he had brought with him were mostly Janissaries from Bane. Many of them had served for a time on Ophia and been extracted before the final defeat and end of that unfortunate operation. They were all well trained and motivated. They were also very well supplied except for transport. For that they needed to acquire their own camels. Using any kind of motorized transportation would be impractical and far too easy to detect. His leadership cadre was composed of men he had worked with before and who were mostly from families prominent in the Caliphate hierarchy back on Earth.

They had been purchasing the animals they needed in a slow but regular fashion ever since landing some four months ago. A few they had even caught themselves. There were a large number of the beasts roaming free inland. Their agents made all of their local buys in small lots and as far away from the mining areas as possible. They now had more than seventy held in three encampments, none within a days march from the main base and each even further from the mines. They were still buying but intended to keep the rate purchase rate at its current slow steady level.

The mountain region of this part of the planet held besides wild camels, wild goats and also herds of various types off llamas and camel/llama hybrids. They had been imported during the planet’s initial colonization. Their numbers and range added to the difficulty of trying to pick out Ibn’s still small herds from the background noise.

Even without resupply there was enough material on hand to insure successful military action at whatever scale seemed appropriate. The major problem at present was keeping the men occupied and getting them familiar with caravan operations. Camel purchase and capture were solving that problem. Ibn had ordered a few minor skirmishes which had disrupted the mine trade tested tactics and doctrine. He had even managed to recover some of the ore.

It was only to be expected that the Indies, and especially Cardoman’s, would send in troops once they were asked for. The Believers political faction though strident and insisting there was no place on Altoona for more outsiders had not been strong enough to stop the request from being made. So be it. It was time to pick up the pace.

* * *
The first thing Wes had done after reviewing the caravan situation was to drastically change the routes. The mines at Wadi Abbas and Jeddah would henceforth send their ore first to Mt. Hebron and thence to the capitol. That plan would greatly simplify the task of defending them. It would also negate any ambush points previously prepared. He used the last day before the Carpathian departed he used her armored shuttle to bring all of his officers and senior noncoms together for a joint meeting.

The meeting was held at Firebase Vulcan, the name given to Lieutenant Jackson’s artillery location on top of the otherwise unnamed volcanic cone. When the session was over all would be delivered back to their own bases and the Carpathian head home. They had been picked up and delivered all at once so the first thing the passengers did was admire the view as Sgt. Bledsoe gave them a tour and welcomed them into camp.

Sgt Madry had gotten a surprise when she found out it was her cousin Jamie piloting the shuttle in its final trip to the planet. As second in command of the Carp she had spent almost all her time aboard only bringing the first shuttle down. They talked to each other as much as time permitted before the meeting started filling in the details of what each had been doing the last week. Connie was struck again by how similar the two were in outlook and behavior in spite of the physical differences.

When the newcomers had satiated themselves on the view they walked from the cones rim and over to the shade of the caldera wall to where a large open table made up of smaller folding units brought in and set up for the occasion. It was under an awning that was really not necessary to block the sun which was behind the rim wall but would serve to keep people from staring up into the cloudless sky overhead. The sky was such a deep blue it was almost purple. And the awning did make the presentation feel more urgent by concentrating the view cutting down on the ever present wind gusts thereby eliminating one distracting factor.

After they seated themselves Ben Morgan said, “This is great, no flying insects! With the camels and goats and other livestock around Jeddah we can’t escape them for a moment except insides and not even then sometimes.” Both Connie and Kronnin nodded their heads in agreement, the situation was the same at both of those other mines and at Mt. Hebron she probably had it worst of all because Hebron was at a lower elevation and had been occupied longer. Higher up she would bet there were more crawling insects in proportion to the flying ones.

“I’m sure Lt. Jackson will appreciate fact that after we leave here but then that’s probably all the enjoyment he will get.” Wesley commented, before launching into the briefing which he intended to deliver himself.

The junior officers and enlisted present with the exception of Davis maintained a strict silence and military posture. Davis was continually looking around, as if to see if he could verify the fire base lookouts were on duty or spot someone who had climbed to the cone’s top and was poking a head over the volcano’s edge.
“To most of you,” Wes began, looking around the table at the instantly attentive group, “it should be obvious why I’m changing the caravan routes. For any of you who have not seen the preliminary op plan I’ll just say that by bringing in all the ore to Mt. Hebron neither Captain Kronnin or Morgan will need to send guarding forces away from a secure base for more than a couple of weeks at a time. That’s bad enough, but the direct route to Gabara is much worse. From where I sit an equally important consideration is that at least for this first caravan it will be next to impossible for any kind of major opposition to get in place on a route which has never been used before when transporting the refined ingots. With as new as this experience is going to be for all of us, being able to learn the procedures without being under threat of attack would be worth the change for that reason alone.

“The slightly longer total time this less direct method will require will be more than compensated for by the greater security we will be able to be maintained on final section of the route from the Hebron mines to the capitol. For just this mission Davis I want you to go back with Kronnin to Wadi Abbas. Hope you brought your kit.”

* * *
It was hot but not unbearably so in the higher elevations, especially at times outside of an hour or so either side of local noon. In fact it got downright cold at night, barely above freezing. Sgt. Davis had seen worse and was certain he would likely do so again. All of the squad with him were veterans and complained as was their right but none could be too vocal given how stoic the native Alties were about the hardship, which to them was just everyday life.

They distrusted the native troops from the Capital walking along the trail with them. Not so much their ability but there was some doubt about that, but most, near all of the distrust, whether merited or not, was caused by the now active religious and political opposition to the present government. Better safe than sorry. They did not mingle their forces but stayed off to one side whenever the track was wide enough. When that was not possible they dropped behind and keep a lookout in all directions.

The largest group of Altie soldiers started early each morning and went out well in front of the caravan. They would it was hoped encounter any opposition well before it could get close enough to harm the animals or cargo they carried.

A recon drone flew in a lazy figure eight overhead, far out of eyesight and they hoped beyond the reach of any sensor suites the Calps might have with them. It was looking for evidence of life and motion below. They had a warning and tactical viewer carried by the com corporal with them but were relying on Madry at Firebase Vulcan for complete analysis of the incoming data. The drone’s pattern took it alternately over the group from Wadi Abbas and Jeddah.

There was no point or possibility of them to maintaining anti-IR coverage so at least without the need to wear the heavy ponchos they were as cool as conditions allowed. They wore light tan desert fatigues and everyone had on lightweight headgear and been ordered to take salt tablets and drink water whether they felt thirsty or not. So far that had worked but Davis had seen it before and would be amazed if at least one of the men didn’t ignore the orders and as a result suffer symptoms of heat stroke. When, not if that happened, after the miscreant recovered some harsh company level punishment would be handed out.

Davis kept a keen watch, so far as the reports over the com net permitted, on Captain Morgan’s squad and especially so on one of the new sergeants they had picked up on Cardoman. The new guy, a Sgt. Wells, looked like a keeper. Morgan seemed to know what he was about and was keeping a low profile, mostly watching the performance of the rest of his unit. The right thing for a new company officer.

If he could manage it this was going to be Bobbie Davis’s last march through the desert for a long time and he needed to make sure that Wells, or someone like him was up to the task of taking over.

They stopped at midday for a break. The camels were carrying much of the company equipment so the individual load was only about twelve kilos. It was a welcome relief from what they were used to carrying on a combat patrol. Davis planed on upping the ante every couple of days until they made Mt. Hebron. The last of the trek would be conducted under full combat loads. It wouldn’t add to his popularity but then that’s not why he was here in the first place.

Ata Allah ‘God’s gift’ was what Captain Kronnin had said the Arabs called the two meter tall up to ton and a half camels. From what he could see from his non native perspective highly unpredictable but not nearly so ornery as he had thought. They started every morning protesting for a while, very noisy, moaning and bawling, whenever they were forced to work, but once in motion no complaints. Their rolling gait while walking was caused by moving the feet and legs on one side of the body and then those on the other. Kronnin had said that was why they were called also once known as “The Ship of the Desert’ and that a fully loaded Camel could carry as much as 450 kilograms but on long marches such as this they traveled with about half of that. Lightly loaded they could cover 40 or more kilometers a day for days on end.

Kronnin had also said that the camel was the only animal to ever replace the use of the wheel anywhere after it had already been in wide spread use. This happened on Earth in North Africa shortly after they were first domesticated. Given how difficult it would have been in places here even to tow wheeled vehicles Davis could understand how that could happen. Though a kind of very narrow trailer with wide tires might just be possible. If not on all tracks at least over what they had covered in the last week.

Davis had been amazed to see one camel drink down eighty liters of water all at once after going for nearly a week with a drink. They could lose almost a quarter of their body weight through lack of food and water between meals and still operate at normal levels. And the milk they produced, and cheese made from it, wasn’t anything to turn ones nose up at either but he passed on the yogurt out of habit.

“Look up there Sarge,” Private Mullins said, pointing to a spot a kilometer ahead and high up on the rock wall bordering their trail.

He found it after fifteen seconds of trying. But all that Davis could make out was that it was a lone four legged animal with a longish neck and without any horns he could see from this distance. It’s color blended it into the surroundings so well as to make it almost invisible. “Damn Mullins, that must be one of the wild Guanaco we heard about. Did you pick that up on your own or do you have a direct link to God and the recon drone?”

“I saw him a ways back when he turned to look at us,” Mullins said without any hint at how he’d managed the trick with unaided eyes. Davis knew he had found himself a scout and point man. He shouted ahead to Bryce who had been manning the drone receiver.

“Brice!” he said while pointing. “Did you know it was up there watching us?”

Brice glanced at the animal and said, “Yeah Sarge, caught it about a minute ago as a hot spot. Sgt. Madry must have seen it too cause she retasked the drone and sent down a picture. There’s three more of em out of sight further back from the edge.”

“Ok then keep up with it but next time notify me between detection of anything hot and confirmation of what it is. Got it?”

“Sorry Sarge won’t happen again.”

* * *
Ibn al-Ghazzali was not pleased. The troops he had sent and ambushes set on the normal mining routes had proven to be a waste of time. It was now easy to see that all of the caravans were set to converge at the Mt. Hebron mine instead of heading into Gabara by a more direct route. He summoned his second Abdul-Karim Khalaf. “A new plan is needed. One that moves us into position for a decisive encounter. Can we do this?” he asked.

“I fear not without revealing far more than the results would likely warrant. In order to be decisive we would need surprise and overwhelming firepower.”

Ghazzali had come to respect Abdul both for the sagacity and integrity of his opinions. He was not the type to hide bad news and that was rare in any large bureaucratic establishment, which the Caliphate military certainly was. It was, thank Allah, equally as rare in the camp of the infidel. He wondered for a moment why with even his education and experience with the Confederation and Indie worlds he could think in such stilted terms and concluded there must be something in the grandeur of the language which made it inevitable.

“What can we do, and I mean now, Abdul to at least sting them? I wish to see none of their operations work out exactly as they have planned.”

Khalaf replied, “We might send some of those we have in place in the small settlements they will pass through engage in acts of sabotage, planting mines and the like, but if the harm comes to the native Alties and not the Cardoman forces it would likely make our work in the future more difficult. We need at this stage the support of every native we can bring to out cause.”

“But you evade answering the question. What should we do?”

“First and most importantly we must send a small force as rapidly as possible to take a position on their route of march. We need to do this not for any definite harm we may cause but to see if we are able to evade their detection devices in a low level engagement. Should we succeed to that point we might plan further.”

“Let it be so. And how do things go in Gabara? How much has the addition of the Cardomans affected the political situation?”

“Here at least the Cardomans have changed nothing. Jawad al-Masari is under great pressure. Even with only the purely parliamentary maneuvering those loyal to us are employing his government might fall at any time. Those forces ready to follow us in the true faith are not swayed by such minor injections of military power as they have seen so far. Our assurances that the Cardoman contribution can, and will be negated are accepted as the truth they represent.”

A much more pleasant expression came to the fore as Ibn al-Ghazzali then asked, “How long before we can expect to see the ouster of the present regime?”

“I would not expect the governmental crises to occur as soon as those feeding us information claim. The idea of an elected monarchy is ridiculous on its face but it does still carry popular support. We are being told six to ten weeks. I think six to ten months more likely. And if the outcome is to be as we have planed it will not mater how the mines are delivering.”

“Just so Abdul, but we must continue to take care that whatever we do does little harm to the primary mining machinery and creates no permanent disruption in the mines output. The metals produced must serve the ends of the Caliphate and not of its enemies.”

As soon as he left Ghazzali’s quarters in the cave system they had created Khalaf issued orders to start several small forces heading for positions where new ambushes might be set. If Allah willed it something still might be accomplished before all of the caravans reached the Mt. Hebron mines.

* * *
The women and children of the caravan workers had been walking along and enjoying themselves as much as possible this was not a severe silent march for them but a social occasion and except for all of the armed guards just like so many of the other trips they had been on carrying supplies to and from the mines. This time the terrain was new and that made it all the more enjoyable.

Sgt. Davis had talked to Kronnin and readily gotten permission to approach the caravan’s civilian leader with a request that the cooking for the Cardomans be done by the women of the caravans group. This would give his troops a chance to learn how and what the people cooked, how one lived and survived here when lacking the kind of supplies that the military was used to.

It would also inject a small amount of cash into the hands of the women themselves as the agreement stipulated that though 90 percent of the payment for such services go directly to the caravan leader the other 10 would be given to the women who did the actual work. Except when in the military on patrol or for some other reason, some other male only setting, it was unheard of for men to take care of minor domestic items like cooking, cleaning, or laundry.

Davis made damn sure that all of the troops knew what the penalty would be if any of his men got overly familiar with any of the caravan worker’s wives or daughters. The loss of a stripe was going to be the most enjoyable part.

Riding camels were provided for the leader of the native troops and two of his subordinates along with one for Captain Kronnin. Everyone else walked. Captain Kronnin, though expected and even forced by cultural conditions so as to show visible proof of his status, rode only about half the time and made sure each of his men got a chance to ride also once in a while. Not for the slight rest if allowed, and it wasn’t very restful the first several times, but so if it were ever necessary they would have some experience in how it was done.

For the same reason he had assigned half a dozen to help with the care of the camels while on the march. This surprisingly enough was a popular posting. Almost anything new was enjoyable at first but he did rotate the duty as the initial enjoyment faded rapidly as the often disagreeable beasts became familiar. Here too he wanted to get as many familiar with the procedure as he could reasonably manage but he didn’t require everyone to handle the duty. His scout’s time was two valuable where they were using it.

This wasn’t only a route familiarization march. They were finding locations for and setting in place small sensor units in suitable positions. Climbs were made several times a day to spots high above the track and the surveillance units briefly actuated and then set into observation and relay mode. The were able to communicate up through the com sats but in order to keep their locations hidden used low power broad spectrum burst radio signals relayed between units.

If two or more right next to each other in the chain were located and destroyed that strategy would be out the window. But until that might happen they had a secure means of communication that wouldn’t give away their location to anyone with signals intelligence equipment. They now had four means of signal communication, the sensor relays, through the recon drones, up by sat link, and regular direct planetary com net. That certainly ought to be enough.

Every one in the squad had at least two activation codes that could be used to initiate voice contact and each soldier had their own two identifiable codes traceable only to them. The first was used in all normal situations. In case of capture however and knowing it was pointless to refuse to turn over the password as death would be the result, the second would also establish contact but let the receiving party know that the contact was either being made by a phony with a captured unit or under duress. Every communicator was locked into the GPS system so using a captured communicator was almost always worse than pointless.

* * *
The order to move had been sudden and urgent; two things that Hassam Tariq knew were never good in military matters. Still, with little sign of disarray, he along with the half of his men he would take with him and had camels to carry supplies for, left the previously prepared perfect ambush site 40 kilometers from the Jeddah mine and were moving southwards to a spot 100 kilometers away. They would likely beat the transport caravan to that location and then he would have to judge what came next.

Ibn al-Ghazzali and Abdul-Karim Khalaf would both be displeased beyond measure if he failed in some to force some form of engagement. It would happen and Allah would decide the outcome. Hassam intended that Allah get all the help he and his men could provide.

They could not travel by night, and that was a major problem, because they needed to travel almost as far as those from the Jeddah mines and do it in less time. They also couldn’t move too rapidly or it would show up and be marked as suspicious by the monitoring programs the Cardomans were surely running. Not much was done in a hurry on Altoona.

As a small party, lightly loaded, they could handle the part about moving faster but he would need to make sure he reached their final position just barely before the caravan they would attack. But he had to get there first so his speed along the way and his speed along the way couldn’t give up the game. That was the reason the point of meeting was so far away. He would leave a little time to set up the proper reception once he got there.

There were no complaint in the service of the Caliphate, none were permitted, but there was also little or no initiative. The fatalistic vision worked well for a stable society but Hassam, as one of those selected for advancement, could see that it put far more responsibility on the shoulders of those selected to lead. He was fatalistically ready for the challenge.

They made the trek without interference. Passive sensors had seen the drones flying high overhead on a couple of occasions but they behaved as a normal small group would. There were only eighteen in this unit, himself included and no way for anyone to stop in for a close inspection of what was hidden in the camels’ loads. They were dressed in the usual desert robes and all weapons and military equipment under cover at all times.

Their pace a bit rapid but not unusually so. They were acting as if they were a hunting party returning with captured alpacas for sale to commercial breeders. As such, and the drone photos would clearly show the animals they were bringing down from the mountains, they had a perfect cover. And a reason to move faster than a regular caravan.

Hassam rejected with scorn the suggestion to plant mines in the transport caravan’s path at the selected location. He could imagine the kind of satellite or drone imagery would be generated if this were done by a group milling around on a trail, and then pulling back and waiting for a caravan to pass.

No! They would need to camp and set up mortar positions, and using their own anti-IR gear get them as close to the target site as they could manage.

Hassam Tariq would send out a stealthed team of two scouts so that he could be notified when the mine caravan was in the killing zone. He would have the four mortars he had brought with him laid in and was prepared to pull back without firing a shot if it seemed he had been detected and suspicion aroused.

He made his camp in the evening and would make it appear to a recon drone that he was taking a day of rest in his march before proceeding onwards. That would be enough excuse for the Jeddah mine group to get into range. The rest would happen; he hated to think this way, as Allah willed.