Tools of the Trade 20

Tools of the Trade Chapter Twenty

Wes Calvert, along with Morgan, Melbourne, and a newly arrived Clayton Grayson were all at Firebase Vulcan for a very rare personal meeting. It could have been handled by secure communication but with the armed and armored lander that brought Clayton down readily available he took advantage and made sure the others could meet the new Captain of Kronnin’s old Bravo Company. Wes had already filled in Grayson on why he had him signed to the Seventh specifically and not in a joint contract.

“Connie Melbourne is my exec but as large as the Seventh is, and it will keep growing I need someone to act as a liaison to Cardoman, one who has his primary loyalty is to the Seventh and looks after our interests first.”

“What’s the difference between what the Seventh’s interests are and that of Cardoman Cal?” Clayton asked.

“Right now none, but political winds blow hot and cold and governments change hands. For example, with all of the new alliances and building projects Cardoman has underway there are already some highly placed politicians and a portion of the population beginning to look at this as a profit making concern and not as a prelude to the inevitable war with the Caliphate. There’s going to be pressure to minimize operational expenditures and maximize out system sales. There will a lot of people looking to spend the profits on the planet and they will find supporters backing their position in the in many places including the Cardoman Military.”

“So what exactly will I be doing here?” Clayton asked.

“Learning about the people and the ground forces. Then it will be back to Cardoman to handle our interests there. Rest assured you won’t run out of things to do.”

They could almost have been brothers Connie thought. Size and build almost the same but Wesley’s complexion was much darker from the years he had spent in the field and especially the recent time spent under the sun of Altoona.

Sgt. Madry and Staff Sgt. Bledsoe were watching the firebase systems so Lt. Jackson was not unduly worried about bad things happening while his attention was elsewhere.

“The Eagle will be with us only long enough to finish unloading and taking on the H225. Would be nice if she could stay a while for overhead support but her cargo is too important for her to stick around. Clay will be returning with me to wadi Abbas and is ultimately going to take over that command. Captain Kronnin is doing good work and I am going to detach him on a permanent basis. Not a word of that to anyone and from this point on none of you even know his name. So long as we have the shuttle available we will make sure all of our positions get restocked to the extent supplies permit.”

“The political climate in Gabara seems to have stabilized but that can change in a heartbeat. If not for the fact that the Eagle and the armed lander is here Connie would be sending in another shipment to Gabara. Because that can now go by air we have picked up a little time. Ben when you get back to Jeddah make sure anything ready to go gets on the lander and Clay and I will see to the same at Abbas. Now to go forwards into what I want us all to be doing next.”

“We will all have at least another few weeks after the Eagle leaves until the next shipment needs to be made. I wish the Eagle was just cycling back and forth between us here and Cardoman but our shipments are far too small to justify that as long as we can keep getting the metal into Gabara. Captain Madry told me that as soon as she gets returns to Cardoman from this trip she is heading for Zeeland to load fusion units and other equipment for the shipyards. When next the Eagle or the Carp will show up is something we can only speculate about.”

“All of us need to keep up the patrolling and planting of sensors. Our best defense is to not unknowingly come under attack.” Wes continued for a few more minutes than opened things up by saying, “Time for questions and suggestions and comments. Who’s first?”

Melbourne started things off by telling how useful the contacts she had made in the surrounding small communities were in rapidly assessing the importance of group movement in the area. They always knew whether those nearby were local and hence presumed to be of low risk or others less well known and worthy of a higher level of scrutiny. She went on to talk about her attempts to get at least one person at each settlement to agree to investigate in person people or small groups that were not local in nature. “I’d like to have my own troops do that, but once we send a patrol anywhere we are too short on manpower to investigate that kind of thing.”

Lt. Jackson spoke next and said. “I just wish that I had the forces to mount any kind of patrol at all.”

“A good point Luke,” Morgan said, “You’re not on a direct transport route so no help there in getting some sensors out. What about air dropping from the recon drones?”

“I asked Sgt. Madry about that and she said we could drop them all right but absolute placement and orientation was so critical that it was a losing proposition. Just landing behind a boulder or in a depression much less on the side or with the chute covering part of it up would make them near useless and unless they were situated properly the data wouldn’t make sense anyway.”

Wes said, “Every one think on it. Next time we get the Carp or Eagle back here I’ll have them bring along a squad for the purpose of getting those sensors in place. But as I said it could be months. I think we might get a few planted when the lander takes us out of here but the timing is too tight for more or we delay the Eagle. Luke, take a minute and turn this over to Madry and Bledsoe and have her chose no more than two locations and we will at least get that much done.”

Jackson said, “What about the Llanfairn ship and her shuttle? Couldn’t we get some help there?”

“Afraid not,” Wes responded, “I communicate with her once in a while but I can tell by the time lag she is far out system. They are staying covert and unless things fall apart are under instructions to remain so.”

Grayson was impressed with the meeting and the free exchange of ideas, but expected no less. It certainly looked like the faith which had led him from Jorgen to Cardoman and then Altoona was not misplaced. And like everyone else who ever stopped to consider it, he was in awe of how far Calvert had come in so little time. And seeing now how Calvert and Captain Melbourne got along he figured his school buddy might even have won the girl too.

* * *
“You know, this wasn’t a great decision, from a strategic sense, us placing these sensors,” Wes said to Clayton as Sgt Madry supervised the placement of the first one. “But tactically now, showing our support and a willingness to take a little risk is what I think the situation requires. Any thoughts?”

“I defer to your better judgment Cal. I wouldn’t have risked the chance we get shot up or the shuttle down. Not out of personal fear mind you, but because with only Captain Melbourne still on Vulcan and going back to Hebron when the shuttle returns, and Kronnin in the city, half of your entire command staff could be wiped out in one fell swoop. I know, with Vulcan on alert and the Eagle up above, it’s not likely to happen. That said I guess it’s one of those decisions that make the troops willing to follow, and so long as it works a mark of genius.”

“Not sure I’d go that far Clay, but you caught all your points.”

The shuttle dropped Connie off, stopped in Gabara for the metal cargo, docked with the ship, and the Eagle beat it back to Cardoman. At the Abbas mine Wes finally had time to talk to Captain Barns.

“Good to see you Farmer, wish I had some more time when you first got here so first I’ll get you fully up to speed and then we’ve got some old times to talk about. But I do see nothings fallen off while Clay and I were at the firebase.”

“Very god to see you again also Wes,” Barns replied, “Jas Newmish was disappointed he didn’t get a chance to talk with you on the ground but he certainly understood the reasons. You should hear him speaking the local dialect. Sounds perfect to me but I haven’t really been here long enough to tell.”

“On that end,” Wes said, “you are going to be amazed when I tell you what Loomis has been up to but it’s a long story I’ll save for later.”

“I hated to miss Jas, but had to figure with Morgan at the firebase, meeting Clay for the first time as everyone but me is doing, he would be better off getting an intro from Sgt. Davis than reminiscing with me. There are a number of other men that served with us on Ophia out there too so he won’t lack for old friends. I talked to him for a while right after the Eagle made orbit and will talk with him again in a few more days when he’s firmly in place. I bet Wells was to your education at the same time Davis was taking care of Jas.”

Barns said with a grin. “Oh I got an earful alright, and knew enough to pay attention.”

Wes said, “If I get the chance I think I am going to send more help to Morgan and Charley Company. They’re at the end of the string and now with you here I’d like to give Ben some more support. We’re in the best shape we’ve been since we got here but things can always be improved. Well we’ll do what we can, as fast as we can, and the Devil take the Hindmost.”

* * *
Fire Time on Vulcan and Audie’s favorite time of the day. She had even coined a phrase for it, ‘Happy Hour ‘, which had been picked up at once and become the official name. At least once in each 24 hour period the 155’s would send out two rounds at preselected targets. At near ten thousand credits a round it was expensive but as training, invaluable. The Eagle’s shuttle had topped off the magazines and more. They had needed to dig some to get enough room to hold it all but no complaints from those doing the digging and stacking. That was a first.

Three out of four days the fire control computer was taken out of the loop and the gun crews did it all manually, taking the relayed coordinates and doing the setting and aiming as if the unit had been put out of action.

Sgt. Bledsoe had a suggestion that Jackson jumped all over and passed right up to Major Calvert. He gave his blessing so for a month once a week they would get to fire five to ten rounds from each gun. Audie pulled the guidance packages from each round first or else it would have been way too expensive. But that meant that for the first time in anyone’s, even Bledsoe’s experience, they were doing things the way they had been done back on Earth in the twentieth century. While that went on the spotting was done by the recon drone. But whoever was being trained on the drone controller called out corrections just as if there was a human spotter on site watching the rounds land. It was pretty bad at first, especially compared to their normal standards, but improvement was rapid and it was wonderful for morale.

Morale might have suffered in another way as Audie was the only female stationed with the unit. But her rank and the professionalism of the men kept things on an even keel, except for the one time when a strategically directed knee accomplished the same task in a more direct manner.

By now almost half the people could operate the aiming system or work the recon interface. A few were getting very good. In a sense Audie’s job at the firebase was about finished. Lt. Jackson gave her a heads up on what the Major was thinking of in relation to her future with the Seventh so she was ready when a week after the Lt. mentioned it Major Calvert finally commed her.

“So that’s how I see it Sergeant, a Warrant Officer’s billet for you until we can free you for some Academy time, and a trip back to Cardoman when next either the Carp or Eagle get here.”

“I really do appreciate this Sir, but I since Lt. Jackson ran this by me I have given it a lot of thought and think I would be much happier staying enlisted.”

“Captain Melbourne advised me that that would be your response so I have had time to prepare my own. Of course I cannot nor would not force you to accept the warrant. But—I can say that otherwise you are doing such a fine job in your current assignment that it would seem foolish for me to change it. I checked your records and see that you extended back on Cardoman and I shudder to think how efficiently those artillery pieces will be after another four year of your constant care…. Sergeant?…You still there Sergeant?”

“…Well Sir when you put it that way a warrant doesn’t really sound that bad after all. I guess I accept Sir. And thank you, I think.”

A few hours later, after a bit more reflection, and Audie had determined nothing much was going to change for a while in any event, she vowed to make the most of her current situation until the inevitable became the actual. It didn’t take much longer till she was even starting to relish the idea of a change. She had gotten a download showing what Voinovich was doing back on Cardoman and ideas were already running free.

* * *
Ibn al-Ghazzali had been able to see much of the activity of the Cardoman reinforcements, if not know all of their purposes and dispositions. His agents at the capital had not yet identified anyone able to get inside of the Cardoman force structure but there were hints starting to trickle in. His agent in charge had sent a coded message saying a breach might be imminent. That was the stuff of dreams and a practical man must not wait to act. He summoned Khalaf.

“We will start preparations for eliminating the Cardoman forces at once. When our men are a week away from being ready I will activate our people in Gabara giving them the date to overthrow the existing regime. The Cardomans are becoming too strong. We must deal with them now. I think it best we attack all locations simultaneously. Can this be done?”

“I will start preparations at once,” Abdul Karim replied. “In order for us to succeed we must cripple the Cardoman firebase. It will take time to get those men into position but it can, and will, be done.”

There was more mining taking place in the mountains beyond Gabara than the very high tech search for heavy metals. Copper, tungsten, silver, and even gold were being extracted commercially. One of the largest mines, owned by a family holding much political influence and opposed to the government, was being used as a cover by the Caliphate. Weekly, shipments of refined copper ingots were sent into Gabara. The caravan at its closest approach passed 18 kilometers to the north of the Cardoman firebase. Abdul-Karim Khalaf chose this mine as the starting point for getting his men into place for what he had planned.

A previously abandoned mine only five kilometers from the firebase had already been scouted and found to be suitable. The scouts had avoided detection by riding all the way concealed under a tarp and disguised as a load of ingots. Very unpleasant duty. When camp was set for the night the scouting team donned their anti-IR gear and spent several hours investigated the mine then returned to the caravan and went back under the tarps until the caravan reached the nearest settlement. They slipped away at that point into the general population and the caravan continued to Gabara.

Khalaf would use just this procedure to get his men in place. These were large caravans carrying many ingots. Forty to fifty camels were the norm. Hashim Mohamed would head the forces at the mine. He wanted to get at least fifteen mortar teams into place. More would be better. A minimum of three caravans would be needed each taking twelve to fifteen men and their supplies. It would depend on how soon the first could leave. He was looking at something on the order of three or four weeks. That should be sufficient time to get the rest of his men ready to attack the Cardomans at the mine sites.

Khalaf had been using similar means all along in order to get people close to the mining locations the Cardomans were guarding. Due to the higher volume of traffic to and from those mines the task was much simpler.

* * *
“We can’t use the kid,” Omar said, “if anything happened to him the repercussions would be intolerable.”

“Repercussions by whom?” Ibrahim asked.

“Not the point, he’s just a kid with no stake in this.”

“Omar, I beg to differ. Everyone in this city, on this planet has a stake. It might not seem that way at the boy’s age but Gaza is looking towards the future and is the best judge of the thing. Mohammad al-Omari sitting and begging in front of the hotel is the only way we are going to have any good information about who goes in and when and how often they deal with Imhoff, that is something we need to find out about.” Then Ibrahim continued.

“The DIS knows a coup is being planed. We know Moqtada al-Sadr is forcing it. We haven’t given up what we know. When do we do that? After the revolution starts?”
“This is wrong on many levels but Ok use the boy. We will keep no records on this matter. Am I making myself clear?”
“Completely… But Ibrahim was beginning to have second thoughts about his leader.”

* * *
Wes Calvert was pleased with the way things had finally shaped up after all the months on Altoona. It was touch and go for a while, when the Calps has started burying standard and improvised model explosive devices along the caravan routes.

They hadn’t the manpower nor the equipment to use traditional minesweeping techniques. Blocking remote detonation signals they could do. But the devices also had sonic and pressure sensitive triggers. Ground radar equipment normally used to locate such devices was traditionally mounted on specialized vehicles and had not been miniaturized to a man portable level. They lost eleven men in the first week that the explosive devices were used. After that, in order to scan ahead for signs of recently disturbed ground, the speed of the transport was cut to a third of what it had been.

This couldn’t keep up for several reasons. Maintaining a caravan for what now would turn into months on end as it made its slow way onward was almost impossible. The metals needed to reach the Gabara and the spaceport on a rapid and timely basis or the ship construction crews at the Cardoman yards would start missing deadlines. And most importantly of all, from the Altie governments prospective, the harm to the local economy would feed the unrest which seemed too close to the point of boiling over already.

A suggestion by Sgt. Wells had put a near end to the problem. Firebase Vulcan would henceforth direct its happy hour shooting to areas ahead of moving caravans where mines might have been placed. The shock waves caused by HE armed projectiles set to detonate a few feet below the surface triggered any pressure sensitive device for hundreds of meters from the point of impact. It was a bit more complicated than just that as other traffic needed to be kept track of and records of previously swept areas. But with the recon drones both now concentrating on the trade routes having little time to spare for anything else, the deaths hadn’t quite ended completely but most caravans made it through without loss. The last three had a perfect record and took no more time than before the precautions had been set in place.

Major Calvert sent word for his subordinate and friend Captain Grayson to come in to company headquarters. “It’s time I get out of here and turn the Bravo Company over to you Clay. Unless the Carp or Eagle gets here before hand, I intend to travel with the next caravan to Gabara. I can exercise overall command their just as well as from here or Firebase Vulcan but things are building to a head in the capital and I think I should be there when they explode.

Captain Kronnin seems to think the balloon goes up in about six more weeks. He says he is sure to have a weeks worth of warning. If I get caught on the trail leaving the loaded camels behind I can make Gabara or worst case Vulcan before anything happens.”

“Makes sense.” Clay said, “We’ve got a load moving set for about a week from today. Sgt. Higgins is leading the escort. We can send it out light if you want to get moving soon. If a ship comes in they can send a lander for you and you’ll get to Gabara as fast as possible whether one comes in or not.”

“Fine how soon can we leave?”

“First light tomorrow if I get things started now.”

“That’s a plan.”

First Light. Sgt. John Higgins had been on caravan duty ever since Davis had returned with the first one before going back to Charley Company. Wells took over Higgins job as the head sergeant in charge whenever he left Bravo. Higgins heard that when Davis met up with Captain Morgan again after that first caravan trip he had said, “No more walks in the desert for Bobby Boy,” and meant it. Higgins had also heard from the same source that Captain Newmish was making a positive difference in the company’s readiness and was happy to see that Captain Grayson and Barnes were doing the same with Bravo.

Sgt. Higgins by virtue of his rank, but more importantly his experience on Witherway and Ophia was given the task of leading the squads sent on caravan protection and now, since the problems with the explosive devices were mostly a thing of the past, rather enjoyed it. No paperwork or training schedules and very little routine. He had a busy few hours ahead of him now so he best get to it
Hot, dry, and slow, was what Wes thought to himself, but it was smoothly run organized. In two more days they would reach Gabara. Neither of the Cardoman ships had made orbit else he would have been there already. He was at least thoroughly current on the situation at the various mines and at Vulcan. Communications wasn’t a problem, transportation was.

The situation in town seemed to be changing so rapidly that no one could honestly be said to be current. Wes talked to both Kronnin and then Cowan at the trade mission at least once each day. He had gotten into the habit of thinking of Kronnin as Omar and used the name when he talked to him, but if the messages were intercepted the disguise would be a thing of the past. There might be some kind of a disconnect happening between Kronnin and Loomis. Almost impossible to tell from this distance but it was in the back of his mind from reading between the lines of the communications.

* * *
Gaza al-Omari had been reading a handbill full of anti-government propaganda, one of many being placed mysteriously all about the capital. This one he had peeled off of the warehouse wall. But when he went inside and passed to the rear of the building he lost interest in the handbill and looked closely instead at the four boxes, aligned in a neat row, on the workbench next to the door. Each box held two dozen grenades. They were a dull gray green and clearly marked as Cardoman made. Ibrahim Saudi was busy refastening the covers. “Ibrahim, Isn’t that a lot of firepower to turn over to the revolutionaries? After all— we do not want them to win.”

“Yes Gaza, a lot of damage could be done with these. We must be sure to deliver them the day of the coup. I have even improved them a bit. I took the time delay out of the fuse circuit so when the pin is pulled they will go off immediately. I know those that wish to use them will be in a hurry. You would also be amazed to see how I have increased the charge loaded into some of the ammunition for the rifles and hand weapons. Much more powerful. Much.”

Gaza had not been able to learn the exact day, but when Ibrahim had sent word to al-Sadr that there would be another shipment ready soon, perhaps early next week, extreme pressure had been applied to get whatever was ready sent no later than noon four days from today. The reason seemed all too obvious.

“And your son Mohammad, his reports are concise, we see the repeated coming and going of the same people, so the correlations are easy enough to make out. Has he said anything, gave any indication, that would make you think he is under suspicion?”
“No, nothing. He tells me only the things you request. He does as he must and would not say if he anything he thought would cause me worry.”

“Have him stay away from the hotel and stop the begging. We have enough now and there is no need for him to take any more risks.”

“It shall be as you wish”

* * *
“It’s time to turn everything over to al-Masari,” Omar said to Minister Cowan. “If we wait any longer he might not have time to do anything with it. We have about thirty names, some rather highly placed. The one thing that bothers me though is we haven’t been able to locate any of the leaks in al-Masari’s government.”

“Four days you say,” Harmon Cowan repeated.

“It’s a guess, but based on good evidence. Remember to stress to al-Masari that he has at least one traitor in his intelligence service and probably more. If I had to do this I would use the police of maybe a military unit to do the round up. Not the DIS. Once it gets underway unless everyone on the list is taken at the same time the ones at large will disappear.”

“I’ll try and get an appointment with al-Masari later this afternoon. Watch your step. I wouldn’t want to be in your place if word gets out about the names on the list.”

“Can’t help it if it does, but I somehow forgot to mention most of those that Ibrahim or I had any direct dealings with so we will be as far above suspicion as possible. I’ll tell you this Mr. Minister, I have to keep the warehouse going for one final delivery but I think you ought to consider shutting down the trade mission for a few days and taking a trip out of town till it’s over.”

“Not a bad idea Omar, I just might do that.”