Tools of the Trade 23

Tools of the Trade Chapter Twenty Three

It was quite dark and the streets were strangely silent even for a city with as little night life as Gabara. Captain Philip Kronnin, no sense in him maintaining the disguise and alter ego any longer, and after tonight not Loomis either, was seated in his upstairs office under a dim lamp and listening to the com unit. Ibrahim and Gaza had both reported in and were now going as a team to the club that Imhoff/al-Sadr had used for his a message drops.

The list of collaborators had leaked almost before Harmon Cowan had gotten back to the Trade Mission. Only two of those fingered had been picked up and that was just a day ago, the rest having gotten away with plenty of time and the sense to stay hidden. From that point on Gaza was being not shunned— but certainly— not treated with the same warmth of affection by those that had formerly been eagerly seeking his friendship. Clear evidence of suspicion but well below certainty and not at the level that delivery of the final arms shipment would be jeopardized. They had finished that without a hitch earlier in the day.

Cowan and his staff had taken Kronnin’s advice and gotten out of town. The were at a salt making settlement further down the coast, supposedly on a short seaside vacation celebrating an obscure Cardoman holiday that no one had ever heard of before or on Altoona cared enough to check on.

From their separate locations both Loomis and Gaza had reported the slipping away from the tavern and the coffee house each individual present and known to be in on the plot. Those who had been left off of the leaked list turned over to al-Masari and the DIS. It was troubling that the com traffic showed no indication of a heightened alert status by the Altie military units stationed in the capital. That should have been a given based on every thing Kronnin knew about nature of Jawad Ayyub al-Masari.

Kronnin might have chosen to leave the warehouse and go to the Cardoman unit still in Gabara guarding the battalion’s supplies, but that would have been so out of character that he ruled it out. He had been updating Major Calvert on what he knew or suspected as rapidly as anything changed for as much good as it might do. There were no Cardomans save the few at the supply warehouse close enough to be of much help in the city and even though it would likely make no difference, Major Calvert was uncharacteristically traveling at night with the rest of his men in the transport caravan in hopes of making Mt. Hebron before midnight.

From his position in the abandoned mine just west of Firebase Vulcan, Hashim Mohamed, having received his orders, sent his men to the surface, and maintaining IR discipline all the while set up the mortar sections that he expected would destroy the big guns up on the mountain above and across the wadi from his position. In the worst case if not destroy them, than he expected to render them useless. Less than two hours to go. He and his men would be ready.

Major Wesleyan Calvert cursed the darkness but gave thanks for Captain Kronnin’s notification that the coup was starting. He hoped to make Mt. Hebron and Captain Melbourne’s command post before it got kicked off for fair. They did less checking ahead but the section near the mines was continually under surveillance by the drones and the firebase patrols. It was a chance worth taking.

High atop the volcanic mound that was the platform for Firebase Vulcan Sgt. Audie Madry peered into her display knowing she was in for a long night. Lt. Jackson had ordered a full alert and all but five of the troops, those who would take over tomorrow morning should nothing happen tonight, were manning the 155’s or engaged in whatever else duty called for.

Both drones were in the air but were reporting nothing new. Two days ago the low flying one had found something that looked suspicious near Captain Morgan’s position at the Jeddah Mines. Sgt. Davis led out a patrol but as they got into view of the small group numbering twenty he had been sent to inspect, the members split up and headed back into the surrounding mountains. Davis took a chance and splitting his squad into two sections caught up with two of the smaller groups trying to break contact. A running gunfight took place and when it was done examination of the bodies and weapons provided clear evidence so that the off planet nature of the dead was indisputable.

Audie had tracked individuals leaving the area but there was just no way that Davis and the Cardoman forces could spare anyone to follow. It was obvious something they weren’t going to like was happening soon and tonight could be the night.

Back now at the Jeddah Mines Davis and Morgan had done all they could think of. Guards were mounted and people alerted. Captain Morgan was walking the area at random intervals, leaving his command post and seeing that everything was well. He decided to take himself a nap. Those that had seen combat before followed his example. A few of those who hadn’t tried unsuccessfully to fake it.

Captain Jasper Newmish was on his way back in. He had been at one of the small mining camps gathering contacts and information. As usual Pvt. Jameson was accompanying him. Travel by night was common enough that a couple of men on camel shouldn’t draw attention or suspicion.

Captain Grayson at Bravo Company sat listening to the com calls and wondering about the impulses that has gotten him here in the first place. Captain Barn’s voice broke in on the local net overriding the more distant signals that had been the only ones active.

“Guard station Wells,” he said announcing his position on the perimeter. Clay had him located on the display even as the call was coming in but Barns always used proper procedure. “One of Sgt. Well’s men, Cpl Bryce, says he just saw a couple of hot spots here.” Barns marked and sent in the grid locations and got the transfer acknowledgment back at once as Clay saw the spot start blinking on his own display map. “It’s gone cold but I think you ought to pass it up the line and see if we can get a drone to do a overfly”

Lt Jackson had overheard the last part of the conversation because he had switched to it when he saw the blinking yellow light appear on his situation map.

“Vulcan here, we can’t spare a drone until the Major gets to Mt. Hebron. About an hour and a quarter, say an hour and a half to your position. We’ve got the spot marked as a possible threat and have a firing solution figured. Vulcan, end transmission.”

“Could have been a stray camel or llama passing through an opening in the rocks,” Sgt Wells said. “But I wouldn’t count on it. Camels and llamas like to sleep at night just the same as we do.”

* * *
From his still darkened office, Captain Kronnin had couldn’t get a response from the land line that should have led straight to Jawad Ayyub al-Masari and was supposed to follow him wherever the Altoonan ruler went. The Mustafa seemed to have disappeared from the planets surface. He had even been absent from news reports the last several days.

Loomis was due to report in and Kronnin had turned off the light and drawn the blinds covering his only window. He opened them a crack and saw many, most of the houses in town were dark. He had started to close them again when the city seemed to flicker and brighten. Not by much and not only once. He could see it happening over and over again as if from the light of distant lightning though far more regular than lightning strikes so that couldn’t be the cause. The light source was somewhere above and on the other side of the building from the direction his window faced. What the heck was going on?

He finished closing the blinds and using the button pushes required, switched to scan mode on his military grade receiver; disguised as a more common, though expensive, civilian import. He caught the last part of the alert message from the Aladdin.

He commed Loomis and told him what was happening. Loomis said after the first flash he had looked up into the night sky and seen the distant explosions. Kronnin went back to the window and looked out again. Seconds later there were lights again but this time flame red and yellow, much closer and followed closely by the sound of explosives. The coup was underway.

He called Loomis back again and ordered him to bring Gaza in with him and come to the warehouse to sit it out.

“Captain,” Loomis said, “That might not be such a good idea. Someone’s gonna twig to the weapons… and when he does the next stop could be the warehouse.”

“A chance of that,” Kronnin allowed, “But not much, and if I leave the warehouse, something I never do at night it will be very suspicious. You and Gaza best stay away. I’m going to remain.”

He then radioed the news out over the Cardoman net. Even before he had gotten his message off Sgt. Madry, who had been monitoring the channel all along, made sure that all of the Cardoman bases and Major Calvert, only a kilometer now from the Mt. Hebron mine, had a copy of the transmission. The news of fighting starting in the city was more evidence of the inevitable.

Wesley Calvert only had time to say, “Double time!” before the thumping sound of heavy mortar fire could be heard, seemingly coming from right over his left shoulder and not more than a few hundred meters away. He took his men and charged up into the rocks in the direction the fire was coming from.

Sgt. Madry at Vulcan sent out a general alarm with a message saying, “Firebase Vulcan is under attack!”

Neither Captain’s Morgan nor Grayson needed the warning because at the same time both of their positions also came under fire.

Ibn al-Ghazzali had given the go ahead twelve hours earlier after learning about the arrival of Captain Kalid and the Sword of the Prophet. He would have done it in any event but this was strong evidence that things would work out favorably. The infidels had learned much and penetrated to a small extent the civilian side of his operation, but militarily they had learned nothing of importance. His manpower, the trained and well equipped force at his disposal, had been consistently underestimated. That was a major part of the plan but it had been a nearly impossible task, hiding not the two to four hundred troops that the infidels thought might have landed ,but the nearly twelve hundred that had actually been in hiding with their supplies ever since planet fall.

It was likely coincidence, nothing more, unless it could be said to be the will of Allah, that the arrival of Kalid and his ship had coincided with the go ahead for the final assault. He received Kalid’s message explaining the meaning of the multiple lights and flares in the night sky that seemed to presage the start of his already planed operation. Allah works in mysterious ways. He turned his attention to the reports coming over his com net, paying close attention to Hashim Mohamed and his attack on the Cardoman firebase.

“This is gonna be ugly,” Sgt. Madry said to Lt. Jackson. The 12.5 mm guns were spinning up, two of the four at the firebase’s corners came up to speed and started firing. The sound, more like a ripping of cloth than anything else she could think of, was drowning out all else as the one in five tracers showed the aiming and contact point of the predicted path of the 60 mm rounds still on their upward arc. She kept the rate of fire down until the range was made.

Bledsoe’s 155’s had sent the first rounds out to preselected targets and were now getting information for the next rounds. The mortars firing on Vulcan were too close to be a good target for the 155’s according to doctrine, at least so long as the firebase 90’s could deal with them. The mortar Calp mortars firing on the three mine sites were another case entirely. “Too many incoming,” Audie said as the first round detonated on top the ancient volcanic mound.

“We’ve lost the fire control radars,” was what she said next. And then, “Gun seven out of action. Better let the Major know we got big time trouble Lieutenant!”

“Luke,” Calvert said on the command channel, “Use all your guns to secure the firebase first. If you don’t you won’t be able to help anyone else.” After making sure again that Jackson would look after himself first Wes with one half of the men and Higgins the other, continued to climb upwards towards the enemy mortar concentration.

“Time for all guns manual mode yet?” Jackson asked.

“Sir,” Madry replied, “the radars are down but the back track coordinates they delivered are still valid. Let’s stay in automatic and let the comp do its work and keep the gun crews in their pits. Damn, we just lost gun two.”

“Madry took only a matter of seconds getting gun twos targets assigned to the remaining guns and had the retargeted barrels near vertical. The mortars still firing rounds into their position were a lot closer than the kind of range the 155’s were designed for. It took another five and a half minutes before the last Calp weapon was silenced. A lot of the time due to the guns trajectory height. Sgt Bledsoe said when it was over that they had been damned fortunate in one way. He had never seen so many rounds land short from as close in as the Calps had been.

By the time the last Calp mortar was silenced only two of the 155’s were in any condition to fire, and both of those had been taken over by their gun crew and could only fire in manual mode. They had taken 40% casualties and Lieutenant Lucas Jackson was dead.

Hashim Mohamed led the thirteen survivors wearing IR gear slowly up the slope of the volcanic cone. He could tell by the decreased rate or fire that he had caused major damage and destroyed a large part of the Cardoman offensive firepower. If all of the short rounds fired at the end had fallen as planed and cleared a path through the remote sensors and mines he might yet finish the job he had started.
Abdul Karim Khalaf had taken personal charge of the situation in Gabara. There were three primary objectives, the headquarters of the DIS, the Palace, and the armory at the military base. Khalaf had elected to lead the attack on the DIS himself. He waited with his men in a delivery truck several blocks from the building housing the DIS command staff. A truckload of explosives driven by a local willing to martyr himself for the crashed through and demolished the main gate and entranceway. The explosion which followed turned the front half of the building into a pile or rubble.

He sent his own truck forwards as soon as he heard the blast. They reached the building and pouring from the vehicle and sent several dozen gas grenades into the now open front and exposed rooms and corridors. Abdul Karim led his men in using breathing gear and low light equipment. He met with almost no resistance they shoot everyone found alive. Then headed next to the upper levels and cleared the building.

Khalaf’s informants said there were still as many as a hundred men still alive in the two below ground levels secure behind fortified blast doors. He had charges set and taking his men beyond the blast radius brought the rest of the building down on top of the impervious doors. There were no other exits. He pulled his men out and got back into the waiting truck then sped off to the Armory.

The scene he found was one of mass confusion. The rebels held the front gate and had passed out rifles and additional munitions to the fifty who had joined up with them from the enlisted barracks area. Except for the guards on the armory itself, they held just about all the fire power on the base and though vastly out numbered they only needed to concern themselves with the officers or senior noncoms who had access to their personal hand weapons. Not much of a concern and in any event none were evident.

There was enough light in the area around the armory building and bunker that even without low light gear Khalaf could see more than a dozen bodies scattered on the ground. Most were near the hole which had been blasted open the main entrance and through the cement and block wall, ten meters in front, that was the armories first line of defense. “What has happened here?”

“The rifles blow up, the grenades explode in out hands.” said the local leader of the group who had a classic ‘Lead From Behind’ style.

“Show them to me.” Khalaf saw at once the Cardoman markings. Where did you get these?”

“From an elicit dealer here in town.”

“We will deal with him later. Discard anything from that source or marked Cardoman.” Khalaf called to one of his men and ordered that the supplies from the truck be passed around. “If we don’t take the armory soon a relief convoy will get here from one of the outlying basses and we will not be able to stand them off.”

With the rearmament rapidly completed Khalaf directed the next attack, which, though extremely bloody for both sides, was a rebel victory.

At the Presidential Palace things had gone much easier. There was little opposition and what there was did not put up a struggle. But of the President himself, Jawad Ayyub al-Masari, he was nowhere to be found.

“Stop the counter fire upon the mortar section on my command,” Captain Melbourne said, “the Major and Sgt. Higgins are in place. Two…One…Now!” She spoke into her pickup, “Last round on the way ten second till arrival.” With that done she retasked her defensive fire. “Switch to the wadi floor and entrances to the mining area.”

Calvert and Higgins came in from opposite ends of the firing position, both moving from front to back. For some reason, even though it shouldn’t have been, surprise was total. They joined forces at the rear of the site and swept through the middle. That was one less threat to Mt. Hebron. Now to deal with the other, the near three hundred troops working up from the wadi towards the mines higher elevation.

“Calvert here. The mortar position is destroyed. We have two dead and have deactivated their sending units. How many do you count? Over.”

Connie looked at the local area display and said, “I get eighteen Major.”

“Correct! Three are injured and will stay here. The rest of us will try to harass the Calps from behind. Watch your targeting.”

“Roger that Major, Good hunting.”

Three and a half hours after the first round was fired at the mine things had turned into a standoff. After some initial success Calvert was a known factor, and the still near two hundred Calps were secure in locations up in the rocks surrounding the Hebron mine. It was going to take either firepower or a lot of troops and too many casualties to drive them away. The Seventh was left with only two active guns at Vulcan and they were still trying to deal with the attacks at Wadi Abbas and Jeddah.

Captain Grayson was looking haggard and worn thought Captain Barns, though if he had a mirror he would probably look the same or worse. They were holding— but barely. The decision was made to use the both remaining 155’s in support of the Jeddah mine. It had been within a whisker of falling but like Abbas was still holding on.

“If we could get them to mass up,” Clayton said, “we might have a chance to do some real harm. But spread out like they are we would lose more of our men than we would get of theirs if we do anything but try and hold the line.”

“Well we could probably get them to bunch up if it looked like there was a weak enough spot on the perimeter that they could overwhelm it. But hell Sir, they would know if were trying to fake it. As jumbled as the terrain is out there, they are already getting people within fifty meters of our positions.”

“Yeah you’re right…But what if we weren’t faking it? Get Sgt. Wells and the head engineer and the mine foreman in here. If we can fix the point of attack there just might be a way.

Even before the other two men got there Grayson had a large scale display of all the tunnels the mine crews had ever driven, those active and played out, from the earliest days onward. There were many areas where seams of ore had been followed a thousand meters or more from the central mining area and well beyond their perimeter.

“If we were to pack a tunnel with explosives and blow it, how close to the surface would we need to be to make sure we break out and do a lot of damage on top?”

“That’s hard to say,” the engineer started, “But if after packing the tunnel or better yet an fan shaped seam, and if we set of a few small explosions first to block off the passages leading away from the charge and confine the explosion— We could reach the surface from as much as 15 meters below with just the effect you are looking for.”

Grayson drew a line around the entire perimeter but 200 meters further out. “I don’t think they would concentrate any closer than this line. Are there any places outside of it that fill the bill?”

The engineer highlighted three. “This one here is best,” he said. “Close to the surface with a fan shaped seam and second tunnel leading from it at a near right angle.”

“Ok Clayton said to the foreman, get to work.”

Clay passed his plan on to Calvert and the other two mines but in both places due to the way those mines had developed was such that no suitable location to try something similar. The shallow ore at Hebron had been mined from pits and caves before the tunneling equipment reached the planet and at Jeddah they were on the side of a mountain and digging straight in and then down.

Over the next several hours while the explosives were placed, Barns gradually took men away from the section of their lines closest to the tunnels. He concentrated the men he was pulling out on the other side of the site making it look as if an attack would be mounted from that point. The Calps played their part to perfection and after massing almost two thirds of the total force they were wiped out at once. They found out later the local commander was with his attacking force. The sound of the explosion had barely died down when the Bravo Company Seventh Cardoman swept out at the point of the breech, Wells going in one direction, Barns in the other, routed the remaining leaderless Calps, killing most, capturing a few, and sending the remainder running into the hills in retreat.

Wadi Abbas was secure, at least for now.
Loomis checked in with Kronnin, “You still there Captain?”

“Yes, nothing much happening in the area and things seem to have calmed down all over town. It’s obvious the old government has fallen but not so obvious what’s gonna’ happen next. I think it time I get out of here.”

“Past time Sir!”

Kronnin never got the chance to say anything else. The final things Loomis heard over the com unit were the breaking of a door and then a short burst of machine gun fire and the com unit went dead. A couple of seconds later he heard the sound of a large explosion rocked the still night air, it happened in about the time it would take for sound to travel from the warehouse to Gaza’s house where they both had spent the last several hours.

“I thought Kronnin was crazy when he asked me to wire up a deadmans switch in his office” Loomis said. “Probably was but he made use of it and took some of the bastards with him…Gaza better get your family ready to go. They could come looking here next.”

The Calps had taken out one of the recon drones. The other was in for service and when it got back up that was all they would have left giving spotting information to the remaining 155’s at Vulcan. That meant almost all spotting was now visual which meant Newmish and Jameson were doing most except when one of the deployed sensors happened to be in location to detect something.

Captain Newmish was still six kilometers from the mine when the attack on Jeddah started and it was only in the last hour that they had called in any aim points. They had to be very careful, hence slow to remain undiscovered. They sent their camels in unattended. The animals were seen and the Calps instead of letting them continue on their way to the mine decided to stop them for possible transport use. That turned out to be a mistake. The detonation of the claymores concealed under the camel’s blankets eliminated two camels and all five of the Calps attempting to bring them in.

The Calps seemed to have an inexhaustible supply one man rocket launchers. They would fire a round into the mine site and move before counter fire could answer. Defense against a frontal attack was still good as Vulcan’s big guns and the remaining mortars at Jeddah would stop it cold. But with only Jameson and Newmish able to spot stationary targets, and the kind of tactics being employed by the enemy, the attrition rate favored the Calps.

* * *
Hashim Mohamed and his men were now only a few tens of meters from the lip at the top of the volcano. The sensors guarding the slope had been destroyed by all of the seemingly miss-aimed fire. The reduced number of defenders were further diminished by the need to care for wounded. For the lack of attention they would pay. Hashim had managed to get a look over the edge already without being seen. He sketched the base layout for his men and told them of his plan.

Surprise was total when grenades from rifle mounted launchers began exploding around both of the remaining 155’s. In a matter of seconds both guns were out of action and the loading crews dead. Sgt. Madry was the first to see Hashim leading his men over the top and start rapid fire into the confined areas where the few remaining Cardomans were left alive. She must have already planned out in her subconscious what she did next because she never could recall thinking about it actively.

There was still one of the 12.5’s operable but without radar control pretty much useless against incoming fire. She started the six barrels spinning up and using the tracer rounds as a guide she brought the barrel down and swung it towards the Calps inside the base, then swept the 3000 rounds per minute across the Calps like water from a garden hose. When she shut it down she heard someone calling for a medic for Sgt. Bledsoe. That wasn’t going to happen their medic had died when the grenades first started landing. People were doing what needed to be done so she commed the Major.

The report didn’t take long and the first question was, “How far is the repair Bledsoe’s doing on gun three from being completed?”

“Bledsoe’s down Sir, they got him when the came over the edge, but if the gun wasn’t damaged any further he had about another twenty five minutes to remount the breech.”

“You know how important that is Sergeant.”

“Yes Sir, I’m on it now.”

Bledsoe might live, if they any of them did, but both of his arms were broken and he had passed out from shock and loss of blood. It was all up to Madry now and the nine others from what had been a forty man unit still able to function. She started working on gun three.

Ibn al-Ghazzali was satisfied with progress thus far. Things had gone well in the city and Khalaf was firmly in control. The Cardoman firebase was out of action and two of the mines were in danger of falling. The Jeddah mine might be taken at anytime. Only the Abbas mine was secure for the moment. When the Rashid Kalid reached orbit he would be able to eliminate any Cardoman resistance and then would be free to escape the system. With the Cardomans destroyed and civilians held hostage there would be nothing that a lone ship could do to change the basic equation and the only Cardoman ship, the Eagle, close enough to cause problems, did not look to be much of a threat.