Tools of the Trade 5

Tools of the Trade Chapter 5

The Pleasure Dome and the Carpathian translated out of hyper some three hundred light minutes from Ophia’s G4 primary. Not too bad, but a proper military vessel with modern navigational tools and the skills to use them would have been much closer. Hitting within 100 light minutes was sometimes done though uncommon. The gravitational field of a star sized mass was sufficient to make it impossible to come out of hyper inside of it. In the history of interstellar travel there was but one documented case of a ship popping out so close to a systems star that it was unable to avert plunging into it with the predictably disastrous consequences. That once was enough to establish the minimum hundred minute rule. Over time as navigational ability continued to improve, that rule became the One Lighthour Standard.

They set a course inwards that would take a bit over four days to arrive with a velocity match using 80% of the Dome’s maximum shielded acceleration of 15 g. Calvert had the Carpathian lag behind until he could see how things were going to turn out on Ophia. The Carp had been upgraded to military grav compensation levels and could do 50 g while still maintaining a 1g field for passengers and crew.

Corporal Carl Pilchard was on the command deck of the Carpathian. From where he sat he could see and hear everything that went on. What he didn’t know about hyper ship operations would have filled just about every volume ever written on the subject, but he was armed, and presumed dangerous, and none of the captured pirates at their control stations were. To be strictly honest they weren’t exactly pirates either. They were operating under a Letter of Marque issued by the planetary government of Bane, which claimed status as an independent world, merely aligned with the Caliphate and not under its control. That fiction kept the ships action from being an explicit act of war by the Caliphate as a whole.

Pilchard didn’t expect trouble but Capt. Calvert had put him here to make sure none arose. With Higgins to take the alternate watches the former pirate commander Lester Raymond would be more than a little crazy to try to switch back to his former allegiance. Igor Lerminov the ships second engineering officer and three of the crew who had been pressed from ships the Carp had captured before meeting up with the Dome had also elected to remain on board.

The 60,000 ton Carpathian didn’t carry state of the art military stealth systems, but then Ophia didn’t have a military grade sensor net either. As the Pleasure Dome took up her landing orbit just outside of atmosphere, The Dome wouldn’t actually land, she was incapable of setting down on a planets surface, but the two atmosphere equipped shuttles she carried would. The Carpathian, had once carried two atmosphere capable shuttles but the Calps had replaced them with space only versions when they supplied it with the weapons for its first voyage under their control. It was a way of limiting the possibility of a double-cross. The Carp went into a geostationary orbit that would keep them in sight of the planetary government’s capital city of Framington.

No one, and especially Nevier, was completely happy with the arrangements made with Settles concerning the handling of the Pleasure Dome. Because, and as they had discussed earlier, she had technically been captured by the pirates before Calvert had taken the Carpathian and turned the tables on the hapless pirates who had captured the Dome. Because Settles had lost command of his ship just like the former pirate ship she was subject to a prize court. As a legally owned transport the Dome’s insurance carrier would have bought her out from the court and turned her back over to the former owners. Instead Wes had made a deal with Captain Settles to turn the ship back over to his command immediately on the condition that instead of the full amount the insurance cartel need only pay eighty percent of the appraised worth to buy her back.

In return for that savings which would amount to over 150 million credits the cartel would carry the Dome without insurance payment or penalty for five years and five million would go as a reward to the Captain and crew of the Dome for their efforts. In the unlikely event the insurance cartel, which would save between 12 and fifteen percent of what things might have cost them, or the even more unlikely event the ship’s owners balked at the deal, the Pleasure Dome would go to the prize court and all the proceeds from the sale would go back to Wesley and his forces. All things considered the present arraignment was more than enough to buy Settles and the rest of the Dome’s cooperation and make the insurance carrier as happy as possible under the circumstances.

Before the two ships separated Wes intended to swap one of the Carp’s shuttles, minus the weapons load, for one of the Dome’s. Settles had no problems with that, figuring it a small enough price to pay; and they could always change things around later if it proved advisable.

“You’re giving up millions,” was what Russo said over and over again, when he heard the proposal. He was certainly thinking of the four and a half million it was going to cost him.

“Russo with the proceeds the way this thing stands now, when it pays out you’ll never need to work a day again in your life, so just learn to like it,” Connie said brushing aside his objections.

In return no mention of the Carpathian was to be made to the authorities on Ophia and as a further precaution none of the Dome’s crew but the shuttle pilots would be allowed to leave the ship and go planet side. And as still an additional safety Settles himself would pilot one of the shuttles down. When custom agents at the landing field performed their inspections one of Calvert’s people would be right there to witness every transaction.

Wes didn’t need to rely on the professionalism of the other two military units leaving the Dome to keep their mouths shut. If they had known what he had in mind most would have anyway because a ship in orbit might just do them all a lot of good. There would have had a large incentive to remain silent but with all those people in the loop it would have leaked anyway. As it was he hadn’t told anyone but those with an operational need to know that the Carp was still with them and hadn‘t been sent away right after it was captured.

The Carp had about three months loiter time before she would need to take on supplies or head to Llanfairn and the prize court but that was something to deal with then. Now he needed get dirtside and report in to his new commander.

The Dome shuttle number one landed cleanly at the Framington field.

“A laser com? Can’t see any use for that,” the customs inspector said, “but you’ve got to carry it with you unless you pack it up properly for storage. Everything, except for your personal side arms and a single carry bag you can take with you now, will be sealed and stored in warehouse 12-C,” he said this while signing for the gear and then calling for a transport, “It will be released when you have your orders.”

The recently erected, they couldn’t be more than three years old, temporary headquarters of the planetary defense forces which had been built on several hundred acres, about 10 kilometers back of the river mouth that the city of Framington surrounded, were already beginning to fall apart. A crew of contractors was busy reattaching panels blown loose by a recent storm and another crew busy filling potholes in the street leading off from the main gate. Wes examined the sign indicating the entrance to headquarters and personnel building then went inside. He presented his copy of his signed contract; Russo was doing the same at government house in town, and waited while the civilian clerk spoke into her com screen.

“Captain,—” she looked again at the contract header, “—Calvert. . . Major Jennings would be pleased to see you now.” And she indicated a door leading from the entry area.

When Wes entered the Major’s office he saw a powerfully built, balding, middle aged man seated at a large metal desk, papers and folders completely blocking its surface except for the blotter supporting a display screen directly in front of him.

“Well Captain Calvert, I hope you had a pleasant trip from–Witherway,” he said looking the display.”

“We managed Sir.” Wes said fearing that by some strange twist of malevolent fate Jennings knew about the Carpathian. Evidently not because the Major continued on in a normal manner.

“Good to hear it but I am afraid things are a little on the iffy side here. How soon before all of your men are down and ready?”

“Well Sir I’ve added two more to the company roster from the our transports passengers, thought I better snatch them up before they got a chance to sign here,” he had his data unit transmit the new information to Jennings, “and we need to get all of our paperwork processed. But all of my people were slated to come down on the next shuttle so they could well be on planet with my Exec right now.”

“Very good,” he replied looking relieved and handing Wes an authorization, “Though we don’t usually take kindly to poaching. Take this over to records and they will do what needs done and issue you quarters for tonight. You and your troops will head for over to our southern continent and report in first thing tomorrow. Take this download and study it tonight,” he said, pushing his send button.

When Wes nodded indicating the download complete Jennings wished him well and without further ado, not coldly but as someone severely overworked, dismissed him and sent him on his way.

It took most of the rest of the afternoon to complete the paperwork, paper or not, and then Wes caught a lift back to the field with the transport that would bring his company to the barracks here at headquarters. That was to make sure they would be ready to leave again in the morning and go back to the field again for the trip overseas. Might have made sense to do it some other way but they would need to load up the gear anyway.

When he got back to Framington field he found everyone down and cooling their heels in the military terminal. They had been waiting for hours. “I’ve got the orders, no shore leave,” he said to a chorus of groans, “Just glad to see me, I guess.” he added and looked around as if expecting a reply.

No one said a thing until Madry finally came out with, “Damn Sir, we’ve been waiting all day and thought you might have fallen in.”
“Can it Madry.”

* * *
The sun had just made it above the horizon, they had tracked its path for a large part of the flight, when the transport set them down in a small clearing surrounded by dense forest. There were a dozen or so tents on its southern edge and a security detachment, too small to be anything else, that looked to be preparing to head out soon. As soon as Wes, Melbourne, Davis, and the rest of the first squad disembarked the machine lifted off. It was going to take five trips and until sometime tomorrow for all of Wes’s people and equipment to arrive. Transport along with everything else on Ophia was strained to the breaking point.

They had just adjusted their kit, grabbed their weapons, and started toward the tent area when a tall red haired man with a neatly trimmed beard came out of the most centrally located tent and headed in their direction.

“Colonel Edgington Brimley,” he said, offering first a salute and then his hand to Calvert and then Melbourne. “Captain, Lieutenant,” and with a nod to the troops, “Welcome aboard, I am extremely pleased to make your acquaintance. Lt., if you would be so kind as to escort your troops to the mess tent, that’s the large one off to the side, and then come back battalion, he indicated the tent he had waked out of, I’ll further our introductions and begin to fill you in on the situation here.”

When Connie reached the headquarters tent Col. Brimley and Calvert were seated at a folding metal table and another, probably the intelligence officer was preparing a flat projection screen for a briefing. She grabbed a chair and sat facing the display as the first map came up and the presentation began.

“First some background about how things got into the mess they are at right now,” he began, “When Ophia was first discovered and settled, near the end of the first expansion, the colony ships from New Erin and Sheppard both set their people down on the major continent and the city of Framington was established. The original numbers were so small that continents two and three were left unpopulated. As their final display of territorial ambition at the time the Caliphate set a group down on Continent three, which they called East Medina. Even had we wanted to do something about it at the time we were far too weak considering the distances involved. With the first expansion dying down none of the ConFed planets or wealthier Indie worlds were willing to lend assistance for fear of rousing once more the sleeping giant.

“For better than a century we had occasional contact and minimal trade with those living there. Our original sustainable tech base was greater and our population larger so we did claim and stake out settlements and farms and claimed this the second continent, more to keep the Medinans out than that we needed the land. The Medinans seemed, and in fact were peaceful enough until ships from the Caliphate started calling again some fifty years ago. They brought more than new colonists and trade the also brought the new strain of religious fervor and expansionism.

About a year ago forces from East Medina calling themselves the Muslim Brotherhood and supplied by the Caliphate landed on this continent, their object—Conversion or conquest. Forty years ago we had started to augment the people here by subsidizing colonist willing to settle and we also set up a few new military posts. But we were not prepared when hostilities began. The story of the last year is one of a gradual bleeding of territory as we lost two of the larger settlements and almost two thirds of the continents land area. With the support we’re now receiving from off planet and the promise of more, plus the fact that we are able to keep the Brotherhood from landing large numbers of new forces, we hope to hold what we have and start to retake the rest.

“We are at a critical juncture. If we fail to hold until more help arrives and are driven from our present holding, the chances of driving the Brotherhood out in the near term look dismal and in the long term, without massive support from off planet, impossible.”

The glum description highlighted the information on the download Jennings had given Wesley for review.

“Now for an overview of the current tactical situation.”

Three small settlements were located in an area, roughly circular and some sixty kilometers in diameter. It was mostly cleared land, cleared probably by the farmers that by the looks of it made up most of the population. Surrounded on the north and east by steep hills and on the rest by the thick forest that covered so much of the planet. A reasonably sized stream with a couple of tributaries flowed through the center and into a small lake leaving the lake it continued another twenty kilometers outlet through a marshy area to the sea.

Half a dozen other settlements, the largest Kalmurie, and scattered farms could be seen but were marked off inside of a red perimeter rather than a blue one. Other areas were shaded in orange or yellow but as a measure of friendly control, somewhat less than twenty percent was solidly in the blue. They could see their present position was at the base of a gap between the hills and just inside of the forest to the north of the farmlands. The rest if the gap showed yellow but soon changed color to orange then red.

“Major Unger, if you would be so kind as to arrange for some refreshments I will continue with the briefing.” Brimley said.

“Yes Sir,” Unger replied and then said to Connie and Wes, “Good to meet you both I‘ll be right back.”

Without referring to the map, Brimley started his portion. “We have 70,000 troops stationed on this continent now. Our best intelligence leads us to believe that that is almost twice the Brotherhood force level. We have three major coastal fortifications where we base the air patrols that keep more troops from shipping over out of East Medina. Protection of those areas ties up half of our manpower lest we risk defeat in detail. The same situation applies to the settlements we have held on to.

“We are in the process of replacing units that have been guarding the coastal fortification with newly trained Ophian forces. The soldiers that are being freed up, due to the nature of their constant defensive effort, are far from what one might think of as garrison troops. They, along with the two larger Mercenary groups that were hired and I see landed at the same time you did will spearhead an effort to retake lost territory.

“The size of your unit, though welcome to say the least, makes it too small to engage in such maneuvers. Hence you have been sent here to take over for a company which we will attach to Our Second army for use against the mobile Brotherhood units.”

With that, Major Unger returned along with a private bringing lunch. And Brimley stated they would take a break and get back to an examination of the local situation afterwards.

* * *
Davis finished setting the charge inside the mostly depleted ammo bunker and followed the rest of his men down from the firebase atop hill 442. He had a sneaky feeling that Calvert knew what he was doing. When the Ophians who had been manning the base left leaving the two big guns, it seemed like a godsend to him. They were two big for the departing troops to carry or use in the operations they were tasked for and after verifying he had people with the expertise to operate them they were turned over to Calvert. As soon as the Ophians were gone, Wes and most of the rest of the company lit out for hill 443 a couple of kilometers away and set up a new firebase using their own tubes.

Both of the weapons on 442 were autoloaders with 20 round magazines Davis had attached the remote firing controls with Madry watching and almost unable to constrain herself from a desire to help. “Madry, just get the com link set, I was doing this type of stuff before you were born.”

“Sure thing Top,” she said as she went about that job.

Davis leaned back and thought, “Dear God, when was the last time I was called that?”

At the same time on hill 443, Sgt. Pilchard under Melbourne’s direction was setting up the company’s mortars while others began to dig in. The hardest work of all was performed by those who went back to 442 to move another load of the 40 and 60mm mortar rounds that had been left to augment what they brought along with them and, as per contract, replacement for the same. The backbreaking work of moving the loads down one hill and to the top of the other continued for most of the first week.

It did make sense the way the Captain explained it. “The Brotherhood is gonna have people watching the evacuation and will know that the big guns were left behind. If they mount an attack into the valley they will expect fire and plan on taking or destroying that firebase. I don’t want to be on top that hill when they do. And they will need to see evidence that the guns are manned or they will pause and start to look elsewhere.”

With the first part of his plans complete Wes had Davis by night place a few more sensors in areas he felt needed more coverage. Twice Davis reported evidence of Brotherhood scouting units but no visual sightings. So now, they just waited.

“I’ve got something, said Pvt. Loomis who had been watching the sensor net, “eight klicks out and moving in our direction. Not animals this time, we have signs of metal along with the IR traces.”

“I’ll take over Loomis. I see you caught it early, very good.” Melbourne said reliving him. “Go wake the Captain then take your position as a loader on the sixty.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said hurrying away, first to wake the Captain and then to the mortar position.

Mustafa Abu Izzadeen sweated along with the rest of the faithful positioning themselves for the attack, which would come at first light. The recent losses up north were inconsequential and would easily be reclaimed once the remaining fortified bases were overrun. With thousands of the enemy trying to secure a mostly empty continent of scattered farms and small hamlets, the Brotherhood was concentrating its strength for decisive attacks on targets with actual military importance. Praise Allah and his prophet Mohammad.

Wes was asleep, mostly clothed, and dreaming of someplace that wasn’t Ophia when Loomis brought him to full wakefulness. “They’re coming in Cap; the exec told me to get you up.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Wes managed slipping into his boots. He had only a few paces to go before he was into the Intel bunker. His first words to Melbourne were, “Have you notified Brimley?”

“Message sent. He’ll be getting a reaction force ready and must have sent the word out to the other remotes by now.”

“How does it look?”

“Like you predicted Captain, least as good as I can tell from the sensor data. The Brotherhood has split into two parts with one going up hill 442 and the other waiting to see how it works out. I say we run the plan as written.”

Wes turned to Madry who had by now taken her position directing the remotes on hill 442 and said, “Ok Sergeant, we run with the plan.”

“Line one Sir, Madry said.

“Let it go,” Wes ordered.

The first rounds were on their way from the big guns and flares were arching out from the individual launching units. The sensor plot showed a momentary halt in the Brotherhood’s advance. As the rounds landed, some of the sensors went dead. Those remaining soon showed the advance sweeping forwards. “Send ten,” was the next line on the scripted sheet and Madry sent them away. The bulk of the Brotherhood still waited in position.

This time the explosions rolled like thunder. The attackers, there must be a thousand going after the hill position alone, and they were the smaller of the two forces, had spread out to cover the northern circumference and were climbing as individuals or in small groups. Not concentrated enough to be a good target for the few remaining rounds. Even if the full fire team had remained, they would have been swamped by the human wave tactics the Brotherhood was using.

Madry watched more of the sensor die and then slowly, one round at a time used up the rest of the shells waiting in the loaders. Near the top, the Brotherhood ran into first a buried minefield then at what would have been the bases manned perimeter a line of claymores. Despite the casualties they were taking, and they were lighter than anticipated, the charge continued. Forty-five minutes from the time they were detected there three quarters of those who had started out were on the top of hill 442.”

Mustafa Abu Izzadeen looked around at the strangely empty firebase and though to himself that something was terribly wrong. Though how could that be true while he still lived? It had not been expected that his attack would succeed so completely. He had been expected to take 90% casualties and the final assault conducted by the support battalion even now waiting near the river beyond the hills lower slope. He was raising his com unit to report the lack of enemy combatants to the main force when the largest explosion so far echoed and reechoed in the heavy morning air. Madry had just lit off the rest of the ammo and explosives in the bunker on top of hill 442. Fewer than thirty survived to crawl, broken and blooded, back down.

“I think it’s time we talk to Brimley again and let him know where we really are and that what’s started moving towards the valley.”

Connie called into the HQ and Major Unger, Brimley’s intelligence officer, came on line. “Brimley’s out for a moment doing a visual on our perimeter I expect him momentarily. We heard the blast and saw it light up from 10 kilometers away. How did any of you live through it?”

“We weren’t there Major we vacated the position and set a trap. The important thing now is that we estimate 5000 that is five, zero, zero, zero will be paralleling the river and towards Kalmurie. Captain Calvert suggests you get a blockading force in place soonest.”

“A blockading force you say Lieutenant Melbourne. If we took everyone from the southern firebases we could only come up with 300 troops I don’t think the odds work out very well but when the Colonel returns I‘ll give him your report.”

“Do that Sir, and tell the Colonel that far fewer than 5000 will make it past our present position and we are confident those that do won’t be much of a fighting force.”

“They’re moving Sir,” Madry reported, sending her data view over to Wesley’s command set. “Sensors are mostly down around 442 but this side they are bunching up nicely.”

“Looks like another fifteen minutes Lt.,” Wes said to his exec. “Why not take a walk of our perimeter and make sure everyone is ready.”

Where the hell is Davis, Melbourne was thinking as the flag dropped.

“Fire line 443, let em fly.”

The Brotherhood troops, except for a company in advance and a smaller group behind, marched along the open riverbank in a column a kilometer in length centered now at the foot of hill 443. For the next two minutes, they fired every mortar in the section as fast as it could be loaded. Nearly 300 rounds covered that kilometer and when those two minutes were over, fire continued for a couple more at a lower sustainable rate from the overheated tubes, first into the advanced company and then back to what was left of the main body.

At draw 443 Alpha a Calp Recon Force was trying to sneak around the killing field. They were met by an absolute hail of small arms fire. The 40-man contingent went down like a field of wheat.

Sgt. Davis removed a radio from one of the bodies and commented, “Bet Madry can make this thing sing. Back to your Platoons all of you. I will tell the Boss you done good.”

A few, perhaps as many as fifty from the main body, after seeing where the fire was coming from tried to get to the top of 442 but were stooped by machinegun fire 200 yards out. With no danger of a counterattack Calvert had Madry and a radio operator stay up on the hill just in case, while he led the rest down the southern slope in order to attack from the rear and keep those moving in that direction from turning around.

It was a gamble on his part as it would have been far safer to wait on the hill for Brimley to finish up the fight but it paid off handsomely. Those that fled towards Kalmurie, those not stopped by Calvert’s people were wiped out by the ones Brimley had in place. And of the rest, no more than four or five hundred survived to retreat northward as fast as they were able. It was as complete a rout of the Brotherhood as anyone could have imagined.

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