Tools of the Trade 6

Tools of the Trade Chapter Six

“Before we go to the out brief Sergeant, a word,” Wes said summoning Davis for a talk in the first private moment since the fight, “I hope not, but we might have a problem here, exactly why did you take a group of my people to that draw without saying anything to me or Melbourne first?” Calvert asked.

“You and the Lieutenant both had your hands full sir and I didn’t think interrupting at that time would have been helpful. Soldiers initiative mostly, and it’s because that’s where I would have sent some troops if I were in the Calps situation.” Davis replied

“I would rather get Forgiveness than Permission if it saves our people Sir. I am sorta used to limited free reign in that type situation. I am perfectly willing to accept your Strategic judgment but Sir, you gotta let me handle the Tactical.”

“OK Top, that works and pretty much what I expected. One thing though, in the future let someone know if at all possible. If you had needed a little fire support we might have lost precious seconds in getting it there.

“If you want to formalize your little group of commandos, go ahead but clear the names with me or Melbourne and keep it at ten or less if you would.”

“Can Do Sir, Can we formalize a Comm channel for these little excursions?” Davis asked with a straight face over a Parade Ground Salute.

Calvert grinned, “I think we can handle that but, talk to me first next time.” He snapped off an equally sharp salute and walked away
Colonel Brimley had been there to welcome them into camp again as they returned and off loaded. And not unlike their arrival from Framington,—could it have been just two weeks before?—there was a hot meal laid out for the soldiers. After deciding to skip the meal for now, Connie and Wes went back with Brimley, and to their surprise, a drink prior to the mission debrief.

“Congratulations on a splendid show and I can’t disagree with success Captain Calvert.” Brimley was fairly beaming, “But if you had been detected on hill 443 and the Brotherhood had chosen to attack you there, you would have been overrun, and then that army would have swept into the valley and taken everything in front of it.”

“True Sir, but if I’d stayed on 442 they would have known I was there to start with and with the number of troops they did bring the same thing would have been a certainty.”

After the debrief was finished the Colonel said, “I won’t hold you any longer now. Get a meal and cleaned up and report back at 18 hundred hours and we can have a proper celebration. Tomorrow is soon enough to go over our assessment and plan for what we expect to happen next. We have a few hundred prisoners, mostly those who were wounded too badly to retreat or suicide, and we might get something useful out of them.”

The next morning before breakfast Melbourne confronted Calvert, “I think I know more about Sgt Davis.”

“Really and how is that?” Calvert asked.

“Because I was confronted by a Supply type off the resupply shuttle who wanted to know if we had a Robert T Davis in our Company. He made me sign for a footlocker addressed to the Sgt.”

“So?” Calvert asked, “Someone wants to send him something?”

Melbourne just stared for a moment, “The supply type was an LTC in Ryman Recon and the shipper was the CG of Ryman Recon Art Redmond himself. The LTC’s exact words were, ‘If this don’t get to Bobby T. I’m gonna have Hell to Pay’; does that sound like a low rate bust out who just refuses to discuss his past?”

Calvert replied immediately, “Nope it smells to high heaven of politics, and might just explain a lot. You still worried about Davis?”

Melbourne grinned, “Not nearly as much, nobody in their right mind fucks with Recon; and if they love him, he must do something right.”

After breakfast, they were both back at the headquarters tent and had brought along Davis and Madry with them. After introducing the pair as his senior noncoms Wes requested that they stay for the rest of the briefing; something Brimley welcomed wholeheartedly.

Brimley began, “The recon sat the Confederation promised came in yesterday along with some other supplies they had promised us. And we already have a determined a few possible locations for where the Brotherhood might be landing their supplies. The most promising spot is about 200 kilometers inland from where we sit right now and we want to get that staked out as soon as possible. That‘s where I intend to send you and your people next.”

He watched for a reaction and seeing none Brimley started up again, “Colonel Ramseyer, whom I was informed you’ve already met, along with a couple of hundred of his men, should be arriving from Framington within the next 48 hours. After your successes we are going to hit the Brotherhood hard and hope to roll them up before they know what’s happened to them,” Brimley said this with a gleam in his eye and a smile showing teeth like a sharks. He glanced at his aide and said, “Barns put up the maps so they can get a look at where their headed.”

“It was a shame,” Wes was thinking to himself, “that the Carpathian cloaked in stealth and hiding so peacefully had no means of passively scanning a planets surface other than very poor optical methods. And unless they picked up an incoming ship on the passive sensors that failed to make contact with port authority, Pilchard was under strict instructions not to use even the laser com to relate what they might see. But now at least, and so long as they stayed functional, the recon sats, would give them the information they had been starving for.”

He made a further note to himself to have Madry do a quick check in with Pilchard right after the briefing. Any conversation with the Carp was going to originate from his end so that the receiving location could be pinpointed by those above.

After the review, Brimley asked them if there were any more questions. Connie asked, “When do we go and what about re-supply. We expended almost all of the ordinance from our initial load out, and not only that but Ophia owes us for food and a number of other consumables. And we will need those munitions at some point. I get very nervous when the reserves are less than complete.”

“Do a check of what you have on hand and make out a list. I‘ll see about getting as much as possible flown in with Ramseyer. We might not be able to do a complete munitions load out before you leave but food will not be a problem. You will be leaving tomorrow morning as soon as Ramseyer’s transports arrive—so better drink up now. No rest for the wicked and no time like the present!”

As soon as they left that meeting, Wes pulled Madry aside and told her to check on the Carpathian. Twenty minutes later, after speaking to the Carp, she located Calvert and reported all was well on the ship.

The next morning:

Two of the fliers that brought the first load of Col. Ramseyer’s men were waiting in the clearing at sunup when the electronic reveille sounded. Calvert’s company, hung over for the most part, swarmed or crawled into the mess tent for breakfast and when finished the first half of them loaded on board for the trip inland. Lt. Melbourne and Sgt. Davis were going in with the first load, Calvert stayed behind to talk to Ramseyer and work out the way they would coordinate if that became necessary or desirable.

“Outstanding Calvert, outstanding,” were the words Basil Ramseyer used to greet Wesley, “Back in Framington we all received the after action reports and I can tell you this, the locals were astounded at the completeness and speed of your success. Now with some real firepower here the wogs will soon be done for eh?” Ramseyer was a bit pompous but there was no mistaking his competence and keen interest not just in his men and area of responsibility but that of the entire force structure. So even as he nursed a few doubts that it might not be as easy as Ramseyer was intimating he still nodded in agreement but then added.

“I am not so sure firepower, or at least our firepower, is the complete answer Col. We can defeat the Calps and the Brotherhood today but unless we plan on sticking around, in time they might just come back again,” Wes said. “I think in the long term the farmers and townspeople need to be armed and trained for their own defense. There‘s not much manufacturing capability here but for the kind of low heat conflict this would turn into it wouldn‘t take much.”

“I completely agree, completely. Counterinsurgency doctrine has been a sadly neglected military specialty of late I am afraid. Far too much emphasis on force structure and firepower. But I think we can make a few minor changes to Brimley’s basic concept and do some very good work now that you’ve bought us a secure area of operations here. Let me show you what I have in mind—.”

When he was done reviewing Ramseyer notes Wes said, “Don’t underestimate Brimley Sir, he may be a local, but that means more than anything else he understands the other locals and how they will react. I found his assessment and predictions concerning the Brotherhoods tactics spot on even if his intelligence regarding their numbers was flawed. If he had the trained manpower he wouldn’t need either of us.”

“Well yes, quite so, he has at the least hung on for far longer than any of the brass in Framington had given him a chance for,” Ramseyer conceded, “Between the two of us, the man he replaced was a joke. But my contract is up in another four months and I want to be able to leave this place behind with a good consciences and a better bonus so let’s get on with it.”

With the basics out of the way Wes felt confident enough in their military relationship to ask the Colonel how he dealt with some of the finer points of a mercenary’s contract, things not covered back on Jorgen in the Academy.

* * *
When the fliers returned for the second group Calvert had Sgt. Madry load into the one he was aboard and told her to take the seat next to his. “I’ve got a surprise for you Audie.”

Ramseyer had brought along with him two high altitude drones that were equipped for both communications and observation and the portable com units needed to access their capabilities, one of com units he loaned to Wesley. The drones, capable of maintaining station almost indefinitely, well the better part of a day anyway, at an altitude of 30 kilometers would be impossible for the rebels to detect. And what was even more important, the signal strength needed to contact them at 30 kilometers was so much less than what it took to use the links to the new satellites up at 35,000 K, that the beamed radio should be undetectable also. The transmit and receive sensitivity even if used to the recon sats was an order of magnitude better than anything he was using.

Laser contact would have been possible with the satellites, but in the forest and on the move you often couldn’t use a laser unit when you needed it most. Wes vowed to buy a couple of the transmitters as soon as he got a chance. Maybe he could talk Ramseyer out of this one before he left the planet.

“Wow, sir. . . Heard about em but never seen one,” she said looking intently at the small com unit Wes had pulled from his jacket pocket, and continuing to marvel took a small tool kit from one of her own pockets and starting to disassemble it.

“You break it, you bought it. But if you think it will cut our emissions significantly I want you to see if you can use this for local stuff between our own people and not just between our group and Ramseyer, Brimley, and the recon sats.”

“Capt, by the time I get done here I’m gonna be so quiet my mother couldn’t even hear me comin’ home late.” Madry spent the rest of the half hour flight reading and rewriting the units control program, something most would have said couldn’t be done without a room full of cryptographic and chip tracing gear.

The transport set down a considerable distance from the suspected Calp drop site. They worried that it might be seen by the sentries sure to be stationed around such an important target. When Wes arrived, Davis was already returning from a recon of the first part of their march.

“Just like on the map Sir but it’s gonna be a bear, hotter than hell and still morning, sure wish we coulda’ landed closer but nothing’ for it. Your lead LT.” Davis said to Melbourne, “I’ve got two out on point and were as ready as we’ll ever be.
“Let’s march people.”

Wes had thought the heat was bad when they chased down the lead Brotherhood squad at Kalmurie. What he was experiencing here took it to another level. Less than an hour and he must have sweated off his first canteen already.

They had fifty kilometers to cover carrying loads a mule would have balked at. The only soldier seemingly unaffected was Pvt. Loomis. He breezed along singing a tune under his breath.

“Swattin’ flies, tellin’ lies, firing the odd one here and there.”

“What was that you were muttering Pvt. Loomis?” Wes asked

“Oh nothing much Sir, Just an old song my mother used to sing back home.”
Wes, deciding not to ask exactly where home might have been and what his mother might have done for a living, told Loomis to stay quiet and no more singing when he had started to volunteer the information. Thinking that the noise might scare anyone off that overheard wasn’t enough to cause him to change his mind.

They took a break at local noon and again a couple of hours before sundown. There was still had another two hours to go before they would reach the spot selected for ending the march. After they made it to the end and posted out their sentries there was still one more thing that remained undone.

Davis and Calvert went in alone to eyeball the landing site. It was pitch black and Ophia had no moon. That meant unless the cloud cover broke it would remain so. The rest of the company was halted two kilometers away in dense forest. At a first glance through the night vision gear, the suspected site looked much as it had on the satellite imagery that Brimley had shown them. But from up close the signs of multiple previous landings were obvious. The depressions caused by the landing skids of the multi-ton landers had been filled in and vegetation strewn on top but the loose uncompacted soil below were a dead giveaway.

“Alright Sgt. Davis, lets pull back and wait. The Calps we captured said a landing and pickup is scheduled for this week. I want to be sure that those making the pickup don’t realize we are about to spoil their party.”

They crept back to the waiting company and Davis began orchestrating their dispersal. “First thing I want a fine sweep of the entire area Go slow and concentrate on the IR. From what the Captain and I saw there might not be anyone around right now and no one might get here till later, but we can’t count on that. If you find anyone, or anything suspicious, mark the position and call it in then wait for instructions.

Half the platoon was soon back into their anti-IR gear and covering the area around the landing site. They could find no evidence of anyone but themselves in the area. By the time the sweep was completed Connie and Wes had prepared the map showing where the sensors needed to be placed in order to have the best chance of detecting the Brothers when and if they finally did show. The most likely routes were covered in some places out to five kilometers. The half that had not been engaged in the initial search were tasked with placing the sensors, those that had gone out already got some much-needed sleep.

“This is the craziest plan, by far, and I’ve seen a few, that I ever been involved with,” Pvt. Irving said to Loomis while piling another full shovel load of dirt besides the pit they were digging in the center of the landing area.

“Yeah,” Loomis replied, “kinda makes you feel like a trapdoor spider don’t it?”

“Kinda makes me feel like a friggen idiot. Were gonna bury ourselves under a meter of dirt and let Calps land right on top of us and pray it don’t collapse when they do, or that we don’t suffocate first.”

“Yeah, I ain’t never done nothing like this before either.” Loomis said throwing out another shovel of dirt.

* * *
“Ok that’s how we do it,” Wes said, “If the Calps land where they always seem to have set down in the past, and they seem very good at that, the five in the hole will wait till the supplies are mostly unloaded and tunnel out.”

“Question sir,” said Irving, How will we know not to start digging out too late and maybe get burned to a crisp if the lander takes off at the wrong time?”

“They won’t be leaving till everything has been off loaded and the personnel moving it are clear of the blast zone. We’ll be watching and signal you in plenty of time.”

“What if we come up under a skid Sir?”

Davis butted in and said. “In that case Private, we just dig a little more to the side. All we need to do is just make sure when we start to pop through that we are under the lander and not outside of the area between the skids. And in case of doubt, Madry will tell us exactly where to place the hole. If anyone sees you poking your ugly mug, the jig is up.”

“But that brings up another point,” Davis said to Calvert, “Whatever ship the Caliphate is sending the supplies to Ophia on is almost certain to be in communication and probably watching the lander with good optics the entire time she’s down. They’re gonna’ know at once when we launch the attack. If we capture it like we plan, before it can get aloft again what’s to stop the Calps from doing somethin’ like say, firing off a kinetic energy weapon and making sure that if the lander is a write off so are we?”

“I’ll take that one Captain,” Melbourne said, “First off this has got to be fast. No explosions no fireworks and no communications. Secondly, we need to make sure the lander remains flyable. We will need to take off at once. And thirdly, the moment she is in the air, we are going to simulate an attack on her from the ground and throw in enough jamming and ECM bursts that we shut down communications over half of the continent. If the Calps think their lander is safe or at least getting out of danger, and that the Gomers are in a battle they might win they will not be bombarding the area. If they figure out differently, we are toast.”

“Yeah,” said Madry, “I could see how that might be a problem.”

Then the Lt said to Davis, “Are you sure you’ll be able to fly the thing Sgt?”

“Sure as I can be without seeing it, I can fly pretty much all of the Indie stuff and I expect this will be about the same, these things are made for simplicity with a lot of automation. Their not supposed to let you do anything wrong enough that it’ll kill you. What the heck between me and Madry we should be Ok. What the heck, flyin’ one of these things ain’t exactly rocket science.”

Then Davis turned to Calvert, “Captain, Even if we can pull the crazy stunt off a second time won’t the ship belong to Ophia,” he asked?

“Very good point Sergeant. And listen up the rest of you. We are on active duty right now and a read of our contract would show a clause that permits us to take captured enemy munitions as replacement for our own. But a reasonable person could come to the conclusion that a Captured Calp supply ship hardly meets that definition. That being the case I propose giving Melbourne and enough of the rest of you 48 hours of leave as soon as we get the lander. Now I know that handing out leave when out in the middle of the boonies on a mission like we are on is highly unusual but I see nothing in the contract that would preclude it. Therefore if by some chance should a Calp supply ship fall into our hands I think we could keep it under the terms of the Letter of Marque, which Ophia in its wisdom has already granted us.

“Captain every space lawyer in the Galaxy’s gonna be crying if and when they hear about this and think about you wasting your time in the infantry.”

* * *
Starting twelve hours ago, the sensor net had begun picking up Gomers easing towards the LZ. At the first sign, Davis and four others went into the hole and set the braces while the opening was backfilled and the cover scattered back around to disguise the indications of digging. It looked pretty good and should survive even a very thorough search. It better. The rest of the platoon had pulled back a kilometer in the opposite direction and were waiting to see how the rebels set up before choosing were they could infiltrate back to the landing zone.

The Gomers did a quick scan then set up a loose perimeter, but didn’t have the numbers or evidently the sensor equipment to make it tight. A computer track of all the troop movement revealed three lanes where no one was posted and where no one had even entered to set detectors. They used the one most open lane to reach a point 100 meters out from the edge of the clearing. Now they could hear the lander making its approach.

Madry had an optical scanner slaved to the com unit that Ramseyer had provided and so they got to watch the shuttle settle in and the unloading begin. The Gomers were wasting no time. Crates and duffels, nothing larger than two men could handle, were pouring out of the ships unloading hatch and almost as quickly staged into the woods on the other side of LZ from where Calvert waited. “Better have em start digging out, this is moving fast. Then pass the word to Brimley and Ramseyer so they can have the electronic counter measures ready.”

Davis watched the falling dirt cascade off Loomis’ head as he tunneled out. “Slow down, you’re almost through and get your friggen helmet on.” Loomis put on the headgear and in a few more strokes he saw light coming in through a small opening.
“Ok, open it up but be very quiet,” Davis said at the limit of hearing. He then whispered into the line going back to the platoon. “One minute we are coming out.”

They climbed into the small, under a meter high clearance under the lander. Between the struts connecting the fuselage to the skids they could see stacked crates and moving legs. Davis clicked his com twice.

Calvert gave a nod and the platoon converged on the edge of the LZ. Still undetected. “Send it Madry,” he said quietly.

She pressed a button and the canned message was sent to Brimley and Ramseyer. “One seventy five seconds sir.”

The EMC rounds would burst well above the LZ and make no sound or show any light visible on the ground but Madry had her equipment set to stop receiving as soon as the leading edge of the pulse reached them. She saw the light and pointed at the lander. Wesley yelled, “Now!” and twenty rifles fired as one. Eight bodies fell just as rapidly.

Hearing the fusillade Davis rolled between the skid struts and springing to his feet charged into the shuttle the rest of his men on his heels. He saw a defender was up in the gun turret and heard the chatter of the gun going into action and Davis sent a burst into the turret that killed the Gomer and broke out the plastiglas. Wilson and Beal rushed forward where the pilot was futilely trying to get a message out and Loomis and Short had the two doing the unloading from the inside covered. The rest of the platoon rushed across the clearing, bypassing the lander, and went about their business chasing down, or chasing away the dozen remaining still carrying things off into the jungle.

The staccato burping of a Gomer’s submachine gun was heard once of twice amidst the higher pitched crack of 30 caliber rounds. Five minutes later all was still.

“What do you think Madry?” asked Wes after going to the front and leaving Melbourne along with seven other members of the capture team in the landers midsection. “Can we fix the thing and get her aloft?”

“Damn straight Sir. Let me do a quick check, but except for the holes, which would take us too long to fix right now, I can’t see any real damage. We can make her good as new in no time,” she said with that irrepressible gleam in her eye.

No real damage thought Wes looking at the shattered turret and multiple holes in the hull, guess turrets are designed to resist impact from the outside only. “Be fast Sergeant,” he started to say but Madry was already giving the thumbs up.

“Better get everyone in a suit before we leave atmosphere”, she said, as Wes left the pilot station and then exited the lander. Madry sealed the hatch on the undamaged and still air tight portion of the lander. “You’ve got the controls Sgt Davis; I’ll just keep an eye on the systems.” Fortunately the suit locker had been spared any damage. That would help a lot. In fact, that would make the next part possible.

Wes got out of the clearing then paused at the edge watching the lander take off slowly then accelerate away with a low-pitched rumble.

“Damn that was close,” Madry said about the buffeting from a near miss of one of the multiple missile launches firing up from below, “They got the proximity switches set a little closer than I’d like but it’ll look good to anybody watching from the Calp ship. Sarge I’m beginning to get transmission signals but I’ve got our radio rigged to send nothing but static in response. That turret you busted out is gonna’ show we were in a fight and explain the com difficulties, so all things considered this just might work.
Davis grinned, “Just keep lyin’ your ass off of Madry!”

“We should be in range of the Calps by now. If they don’t shoot soon they’ve bought the deception and we could be locking aboard her in 10 minutes or less.”

Flat black against the darkness of space they never even saw the Calp ship until they were almost upon her and the lights in the docking hatch came on. It was a small glowing rectangle at odds with the pinpoint lights from scattered stars. The lander was solid where an armored window might have been and the only forward visibility was by view screen. She looks awfully small thought Madry looking at the ship now being made out on the display. The ship kept trying to communicate but Madry kept sending static and then they were inside.

Like the taking of the Carpathian, surprise was total and the ship with a rush forward soon secured. Only the Captain and three others had remained onboard. With the kind of automation she possessed that would have been just enough to operate a couple of missile launchers or to send her on her way if they had need to.
Madry realized that from the moment Davis had gotten out of the shuttle bay unopposed it had been over.

From the bridge as she looked over the ships plans she soon came to see what it was they had captured. Forth generation drive technology, the first she had ever been near. She said to Lt. Melbourne, “Ma‘am, Llanfairn don’t even have this stuff. No one in Indie space has got it. The Captains gonna be real pleased.”

Davis took the lander back down along with the ships crew and some extra suits. Pilchard came over in the Carps shuttle with the ships engineering officer Igor Lerminov. He was even more flabbergasted than Madry had been. They monitored all systems and maintained a guard on the bridge and engineering until Calvert returned with more men on the next shuttle flight and the ship given a complete search.

Ten hours later back on Ophia and in the LZ, Calvert was watching the captured supplies brought back from the woods loaded into cargo haulers Brimley had supplied. Guess he didn’t realize we could have done the same in the captured lander but the extra bodies to help with the work were appreciated. Those few things still piled around the Calp lander when she departed were beyond salvage but most of the things she had brought down with her had already been moved out of the LZ and needed to be humped back. Speed was important. There was the possibility, which Brimley considered remote that the Brotherhood might launch a counter attack. Calvert’s men took charge of security while Brimley’s troops handled the loading. Everyone in the platoon and the work detail was done in, either by exhaustion or the oppressive heat; the comparative coolness aboard the cargo transports was a blessed relief going back to Brimley’s headquarters
“Another Job well done,” Brimley said, returning Calvert’s salute than shaking his hand.

“You seem to be making a habit of exceeding expectations. Go ahead, take care of your men, and then check back with Melbourne and Davis at 19:00. Major Unger should be ready with the first summary of what we’ve got and where we go next.