Tools of the Trade 7

Tools of the Trade Chapter Seven

It took the better part of a week to repair all the holes in the lander. Not very pretty but functional. They would need to have an engineered replacement for the blister and damaged gun mount. That kind of work was beyond anything Ophian manufacturing could supply, so they just removed the damaged parts and sealed the opening. They now had their own transportation and that was all to the good.

The forth generation technology on the Calp ship, which they had renamed the Surprise, after the way it impressed everyone who saw it, was everything they had heard talk about and more. The ship massed only 30,000 tons, the smallest hyper capable ship anyone had ever seen in Indie Space without a doubt. Madry had been correct in her initial impression concerning its size. Even so, she had a gross payload of 7500 tons maintaining the pretty much standard three quarters hull and drive weight to one-quarter payload ratio standardized upon centuries ago.

The rational for that ratio went like this: If you cut back to just two drive bands, no one would take a chance on just one anymore, your hyper speed would drop and so a faster ship carrying less tonnage would make more trips in a given period overcoming most of the advantage. And especially when it came to moving people faster, speed commanded a premium.

What truly made the Surprise forth generation was the four hyper driving bands, really more like coils, that had been miniaturized enough to fit inside her. That and the improvements in the fusion reactors. Up until about 20 years ago, no one had figured out how to get more than three bands into a reasonably sized vessel. And only the Feddies and the Caliphate had the know how to do it today and their production was going into military vessels.

Llanfairn, the only Indie world with the tech base to build hyper-drive ships, was still producing third generation and Russo Nevier had said, though none thought otherwise, that she would pay through the nose for a chance at the Surprise.

The advantage one got from the extra drive band translated into speed. Roughly, the pseudo-velocity a ship could attain in hyper was a function of the square root of the number of drive bands. That meant the Surprise was twice as fast as a first generation ship, none of which were any longer active, and a little over 15 % faster than a third generation ship like the Carpathian. It also meant that if one wanted to accept the lower drive speed fewer bands could be used and a much smaller ship produced. This was an option only useful to the military or wealthy planetary government couriers because shipping tonnage was what paid the bills in commercial work.

The increase in speed was going down with each generation but that 15% took almost four days off of a trip between Ophia and a relatively close neighbor like Cardoman and that was nothing to sneeze at.

* * *
For the platoon it became a war of pacification. They dealt with one small hamlet after another. With the recon sats providing good information, they spent the next three months digging out pockets of resistance left behind when larger Brotherhood forces moved out. Over half of Brimley’s continental map was firmly in the blue and most of the rest in yellow but the toll on all of them was extreme as the pace of operations failed to slacken.

What was making this rapid progress possible was that once they cleaned out an area, newly armed locals with only minimal training were able to keep the Calps from returning. That and the Brotherhood’s lack of supply. The Brotherhood had been operating on a shoestring and the landing site capture and loss of supplies had hurt them much more than anyone expected. A full inventory of the captured ship showed just how much the rebels counted on off planet support for their needs. As the area they controlled contracted, the Ophians ability to locate them also went up in proportion.

Ramseyer’s men had done very well in dealing with the larger Calp units. So well in fact that they had refused combat and disbanded, breaking into smaller units that were harder to track. Wesley had picked up a lot by reading Ramseyer’s after action reports. Whenever they met, which was now a weekly occurrence, he would go over with the Colonel in detail the finer points.

Wesley and Melbourne, because his company has been tasked with dealing with the smaller groups, operating around the remote communities, needed and came up with a new unit deployment.

To keep the progress rapid and the rebels off balance, they had resorted to breaking up the platoons into four teams. Each unit would operate independently at different locations against a different group of insurgents. They could pull this off because the captured lander gave them a means to rapidly support any individual unit that ran into trouble. Tough on command but it had been very effective and very fast. The trick was as always, surprise first, and then superior intelligence. It was locals who were eager to help that were making the difference in intelligence.

Jasper Newmish, a burley, bear of a man from Kalmurie, took over the liaison position dealing with the local settlements and his involvement made it work. His family had lived on Ophia since its founding and Jas was respected by all of the locals as one who had spoken up early and often when the Brotherhood had launched their first tentative strikes into the southern continent and one who when personal tragedy struck never faltered. His network of trusted informants was priceless.

There were many who were threatened, or more usually had family members threatened. Most of the people living in an area the Brotherhood controlled were too afraid to have anything to do with the resistance. Newmish could always tell the ones who could be relied upon. He was brought into the unit’s operational planning. That he was working closely with the government was soon known to the rebels. Because of that, his wife and two children were chosen as examples and among the first to be murdered. High prices were asked and being paid.

With firepower and mobility backing the settlers up the Brotherhood had no choice but to relinquish the field.

* * *
Davis, Higgins, and Newmish, seated at the rough-hewn table inside the cabin that had belonged to the pastor, Reverend Reeves, of the settlement’s church . . . before the Calps executed him and his family as an example of their brand of religious tolerance. The three were drinking coffee for a change, not the kind of locally grown herbal tea that was the usual beverage of choice, and waiting for the lander to return with Ramseyer and Melbourne. Davis asked, “Where the hell did the coffee come from?”

Newmish told him it was taken from the pack of a Brotherhood casualty.”

In that case, “Praise Allah!” Davis quipped.

It was set up as a typical sweep, as much as any such operation could be called typical; the intention, to drive the Brotherhood further north and towards their remaining fortifications. The Ophians had sent in another eight thousand men, moat newly trained, but the manpower edge was becoming overwhelming. There was an old tradition in the Brotherhood that called for the use of suicide bombings to defeat superior force but it didn’t always apply in low population areas and they had nothing to fall back on. They used the fresh troops to keep the Brotherhood from returning to areas it had been forced out of, and to hold and clearing infiltration routes in areas where the native population was low.

When Connie did show up instead of Ramseyer, she had Brimley’s aide Major Unger with her. She said for the benefit of those at the table, “Colonel Ramseyer is still finishing up an engagement in the big push west of us. If the timing is right well pick him up when we return to HQ. Major Unger grabbed his spot to come here as an observer, he will be taking over command from Colonel Brimley when Brimley goes back to the capital so let us give him a good show.

“It’s a shame we can’t just use the lander to stand off and do this,” Davis said to Major Unger while the squad set up the mortars and did the pre fire zero.

Then Melbourne added, “Yeah but Calps anti air missiles are just as effective against the shuttle as they are against an atmospheric flier. So here we are.”

The Gomers were dug in deeply in an unexceptional section of jungle. It was Newmish who provided the clues which permitted them to be located. He had noticed on a time elapse video of IR data downloaded from one of the reconnaissance drones that the animals moving down a came trail were staying clear of one section that they had formerly been using. With that as a clue, the drone concentrated on the area of suspicion and eventually was able to pinpoint the bunker.

“Let em fly,” Melbourne gave the order, and a steady fire began. Using feedback from the drone for aim correction, another Brotherhood stronghold was reduced.

* * *
Calvert was thinking back to the first time he met Connie on Witherway, he certainly didn’t suspect she had it in her then, but Melbourne was rapidly developing, no had developed, a flair for the little twists that could turn a good pan or mission into a perfect one. And by perfect, he meant accomplishing the goal with no casualties. Up to this point they had only suffered ten serious casualties in total. Three dead, three wounded but likely to recover and four the result of accidental breakage, arms and legs. Another dozen had received minor wounds that had kept them out of action for a time but not requiring major or long-term care.

Their losses may have been slight in relative terms considering all they had accomplished. But as close as the small band had become each one hurt out of proportion to the numbers. At least med tech had eliminated the diseases and infections that Wesley’s reading had shown, ravaged all armies in past eras, and hard as it was to imagine, were responsible for two thirds or more of all the troops that died.

Lost in thought, he didn’t hear the lander’s near silent slow approach but as soon as Lt. Melbourne and Col. Basil Ramseyer entered the cabin, arm in arm, as if from a stroll in the park.

“That is what we call proper Military Courtesy on New Brittan,” Ramseyer was saying.

It was the kind of behavior that only someone raised and of a certain social class could make look wholly natural. Wes conjured up the picture of Melbourne wearing fatigues and with a parasol twirling on shoulder and broke into laughter.

Davis and Higgins both stood. Wes remained seated explaining the image that had come to mind and motioned to the waiting chairs. Disengaging his arm from the Lieutenant’s, Ramseyer took a deep breath, smelling the fragrant aroma and said, “Coffee, eh what? We’ve been out of it for a month.”

“Grab a cup and join us, Wes said, raising his mug, “A ship just in from Llanfairn brought in a fresh supply and wait till you see the spread we’re going to be putting on later.”

Ramseyer and Melbourne took their seats on the side of the table opposite from Wesley and with Davis and Higgins seated rigidly at either end. Three of Ramseyer’s staff officers were there and had been silently reviewing some of the raw data that Wes had been including with the reports he sent in. Neither of the sergeants showed any sign of discomfort in the arrangement. Wes hadn’t expected anything less from Davis but was pleased to see the way Higgins was reacting. The younger soldier looked to have a ways to go before he topped out.

“. . .And something I think you will find even more enjoyable than the coffee and meal,“ Wes said taking a sip and savoring it for a moment, “is the information the ship brought back with her. It seems the demand for soldiers is as strong as, or stronger than it has always been. I have my man Nevier going over the prospects but our contract has another six months to run. And even if things go well it will take that long to finish the job here. You on the other hand are sitting in the cat bird seat.”

“Hrumph, just so,” Basil said with a smile, “The battalion’s turned a tidy little profit, what with the capture bounty and all, (the capture bounty was another of those euphemism one encountered so often in military service, as it applied equally to dead enemy troops and live ones), nothing of course compared to what your people are going to make once your prize money gets paid out; I do envy you that. But even if Ophia still needed me and mine they couldn’t afford the freight; it‘s time for us to move along. I‘m headed back to Framington for a few days after I leave here. Would you mind ever so much, Calvert, if I looked up your man Nevier and added the data he has acquired to that which my own agent will be compiling. Two analysis being better than one eh?”

Wes found it strange that he could think of Nevier as ‘his man‘, but with the way prize courts divided awards it was undoubtedly true. Nevier would pickup a couple of points, and become wealthy as a result, but he, as sole commander of the force with no superior officer to report to, would receive almost two eights of the proceeds. After expenses, an eighth would go to the company welfare account, another eighth to Melbourne and a eighth to be split amongst the sergeants. The three eights remaining for the rest of the enlisted would still be more than 20 years for any at their base pay rate. And that didn’t even include the value of the Calp supply ship. There were going to be a lot of decisions made.

“Be my guest. You could even buy him a drink or two in return but be sure not to pay him for what he turns over; I’m already handling that part. I’ve offered him a long-term contract with an expense account somewhat better than the arrangement he had made with Ophia. If Russo chooses to stay in the business he knows and not branch out or retire, he will be working for me in all probability. The ship from Llanfairn is making the rounds and off to Freehold next. But, that aside Colonel I think I can make an offer you won’t want to refuse.”

“You need to keep a close eye on your business agent Captain,” Ramseyer said, “He can make of break you even before battle is joined. But you say you have an offer, do tell me more,” Ramseyer said with interest.

“I plan to send the Carpathian with the captured Calp ship back to Llanfairn. As the only Indie world with a first class shipyard, Nevier has told me that Llanfairn has come through with an offer for the Calp ship that he finds most acceptable. And if he likes it then I am sure the rest of us are going to love it. The fact that even with the power plant partially out of commission the ship is state of the art fourth generation makes it worth its weight in gold to the government there.

“Power plant out of commission?” Connie asked.

“After a fashion, Pilchard tells me when they took it up to full military power that Lerminov, the engineer from the Carpathian, saw reading that just didn’t seem reasonable to him and so as a matter of prudence decided to down-rate it till some experts can figure out whether everything is as it should be. Probably nothing to worry about but I agreed with him that there was no need to take any chances.”

“I’m going to send Nevier, Lt. Melbourne and my Sgt. Madry along for the final negotiations but between the Carpathian and the Caliphate ship, which by the way is operable at generation three levels, means there will be an awful lot of extra space. More than enough to transport all of your men and equipment for a rest and refit while you work out your own best deal for further employment. And I can guarantee our transportation rate will be very favorable. And what is more, I will promises not to try and raid your command for additional manpower. However, if we are approached by volunteers I might make an exception. How does that sound Colonel?”

“Splendid Captain, simply splendid,” was Col. Ramseyer’s response while every one else from his staff seated at the table and hearing the news for the first time, nodded in agreement.

“Davis, Higgins, that’s about all the substantive news so you’re excused. See to it that the scuttlebutt bears a passing resemblance to the truth. We’ve got another six months of hard duty but a lot do look forwards to the time when we‘re done. And make sure the lander takes a load of food and beverage out to each of the other units. They’ve earned that much and we can pay right now.”

The two sergeants stood came to attention and left the cabin as the six officers began talking about lessons learned from recent actions.

A couple of hours later they all headed to the mess tent. Most of the platoon was seated and eating, but a table near the center was reserved for the officers. Colonel Ramseyer had brought a couple of large boxes and his battalion mess sergeant along with him and as the food was brought out in covered trays and bowls and the meats and vegetables were passed around announced his surprise.

The mess sergeant removed the cover from the larger of the two remaining containers and Wes’s eyes popped wider and he smiled from ear to ear. Mashed Potatoes! And the other bowl was filled with a dark steaming gravy. He hadn’t seen it served in the almost five years since he had left home on Cardoman. It was a dish most of the galaxy seemed to have forgotten. But not, evidently, New Brittan
“May I do the honors?” the Colonel said standing and grabbing the bowl and serving spoon and then walking around the table.

“Sir, Please do.” Wes said in anticipation.

Connie watched in horror as Wesley stirred the thick gravy, speckled with bits of meat and floating grease and then proceeded to ladle it into a depression he had formed in the center of the large pile on his plate. “That’ll kill ya Captain,” she said.

“Maybe so Lieutenant, maybe so. But there are far worse ways to die.”

“Here, here,” Ramseyer said, pouring the rich brown sauce over his potatoes and then digging into the meal.

The next day Wes and Connie spent talking to Ramseyer about the finer points of mercenary contract law. Things of a practical natur, left out of the class he had taken on Jorgen. They in turn informed the Colonel what their plans were for the future. What they were looking to get from Llanfairn for the Calp technology on the Surprise was to pick up another ship.

* * *
“The Carpathian is just about out of supplies and due for a quick refit. It’s also time to get to Llanfairn and finish our deal concerning the award from the Pleasure Dome. And of course, we will see what happens when we show up with the Surprise.

“But what I’d like you do today Connie, is go over our logistic requirements for the next six months and get them sent back to the Carpathian as soon as possible. Nevier said the award for Settles ship was a done deal, and he would know, so by the time you reach Llanfairn the insurance carrier will have paid off on the Dome and you ought to be able to shop until you drop. Give Madry a drawing account and let her run with it just provide a little adult supervision. Then you can oversee Russo’s negotiations concerning the Surprise
“First though I need to hold a meeting of the troops and see how many we can get to agree to roll over their accumulated pay into the company general fund so we have a bit more ready cash for purchasing whatever we can on Ophia right now. With the exodus of forces likely to continue I expect some bargains in excess equipment.”

One of the clauses in most every mercenary contract, especially those made by the low population Indie worlds, was a land and citizenship clause granting rights to members of serving forces who wished to stay behind or return when their service term expired. This was always on top of any other bonus that might be payable. A hidden advantage to the granting planet was that it kept the soldiers accumulated pay and any of the aforementioned bonus money on planet with the new settler.

There were sometimes quite a few who chose to exercise the clause and always a portion that after a few months decided they had made a mistake and were looking for a new outfit to join. Wes wanted to be sure he had some funds available that he could use for signing bonuses until Connie should get back to Ophia. The quickest they could see Connie returning in the best of circumstances was something over three months from now. Though she should be able to send a courier back with a draft on part of the insurance settlement a number of weeks earlier. Cash in hand was always far more persuasive than a promise to pay.

* * *
The government back in Framington, sensing victory, had tightened up the purse strings in every way possible. Totally understandable but it made Connie’s job much more difficult as she needed to account for all of their ordinance expenditures.

Before turning in his lists, Brimley transferred to Calvert captured weapons and supplies beyond his battalions needs. Whenever possible Wes had done the same. That still left a lot to account for along with claims for wear and tear before replacement items were issued.

A large portion of the problem that Connie faced when dealing with Ophia was that due to the amounts of credit involved, especially when it came to the killed and captured bounty for enemy troops, she was dealing with officers and civilians much higher on the food chain than a mere lieutenant. They seemed to have an implicate faith they could somehow order her to accept whatever terms they dictated however much that might delay payment.

Ramseyer, though not in on the meetings, went over the sums and various claims made and helped her with the supporting documentation that would insure all would pass muster and get over the most common objection, that being the check box labeled— Excessive when judged against standard practice. In time, as she got her points grudgingly accepted, the funds in the bonded account that would be theirs in another six months steadily grew. And to think she had thought Brimley was hard when it came to re-supply Connie suspected now that he had the same problems she was experiencing but in spades and on an ongoing basis.

No one was saying much but she could sense that when the prizes and the letter of marque came under review things would get even stickier. That wouldn’t happen now because much was still unsettled. But she heard from Nevier that Ophia was going to send a representative to Llanfairn to make a pitch that the Surprise was really planetary property, and not covered under the agreement Nevier had presented to Calvert and signed in the Ophian government’s name so long ago. It was a very good thing she wasn’t in a position where she could be captured or the Ophians might have been tempted to do something rash.

The one thing the Ophians could not contemplate was an attempt to hold the Company on planet unless the ship was turned over. There were too many other vested interests involved for that to happen and none of the other off planet mercenary troops would have stood for it.

With all of the complicating factors, instead of the couple of days she had planed for, it took a week, and not for everything, but just what absolutely needed to be dealt with now. She could only hope that on her return, with the Surprise dealt with and out of the way, things would be easier.

While Connie handled her part, Madry and Higgins covered a lot of territory also. There was surplus equipment left by departing units, too worn out to justify shipping expenses and literally being sold by the ‘pound’ (now there was an odd expression though colorful Madry figured it probably referred to the equipment being beaten or pounded out of shape) as scrap. Looking for spare and replacement parts, they bought some items and spent the time to disassemble them to the component level for the parts they really wanted.

They also got to spend a fair amount of time doing ad hock recruitment work in the local saloons. The easy manner in which they stood rounds for interested parties along with the reputation the unit had earned fighting for Calvert was steadily getting signatures on the dotted line. Those signing in now had no rights to the funds which would flow to the company from past deeds. But it was obvious to any that took the time to think about it; a stupid mercenary didn’t tend to survive long, that if they signed on they were going to leave Ophia in a very well funded unit with future service assured as much as any such unit could be.

It was too soon to say it was cast in stone, but it looked to Connie like they would be loosing only a few of their own troops when the contract terminated. Even so, she had been happy enough to add a rider to the original deal for another squad to serve with the current unit until their time was up. That would get people trained in working together as well as keep money coming into their local account. She made a number of concessions due to the shortness of the remaining term and it was likely when they tallied the final bill they would at best break even on the deal, but that was fine.

The training together under combat conditions was the key thing. The new troops would make them more desirable when the time came for a new contract somewhere else; they were still too small for most governments to take seriously, and again the valuable experience working as a unit. And—they could start calling themselves a company with a clear conscience. Still more than a bit under strength but they could take care of that in time when they had more spendable funds on hand..

* * *
Immediately after the capture of the Surprise and the release of the knowledge that the Carpathian was up there somewhere Wes had been able to rotate Pilchard and the others who had stayed on board through the platoon on planet and keep them current. They were all experienced from the time spent on Witherway so it was a familiarization tour for the most part. Pilchard was down for less than 24 hours before the constant requests from Captain Raymond caused Wes to call him in and send him back up to the ship.

Pilchard told his captain, “Tell you the truth Sir, I kinda like it up there and I’m getting a feel for the weapon systems aboard both ships. Sure would like a chance to use them rather than just keep working on the simulations though.”

“Learn every thing you can Sgt.,” Wes advised, “Russo Nevier has been trying to hire them and Lieutenant Melbourne’s will be doing her best when she gets to Framington but experienced spacers are next to impossible to find and we are going to have to crew both ships for the run back to Llanfairn.”

“I understand that Captain, Nevier’s sent us three already and one lasted a day and another less than a week before Raymond booted them out the airlock.”

“What about the third?” Wes asked.

“Think he’ll make it Sir. In fact, I’m sure he will. He’s old, must be in his forties, and spent all of his working life on a second-generation ship. A retired engineer whose family was visiting relatives when the Brotherhood stated the war. He’s out of date but motivated.”

As more and more native troops began arriving from the main continent and the Brotherhood’s area of control continued to shrink, it looked like they could now drive the Brotherhood out and make sure they did not return. That caused the kind of mission Wes and his men were undertaking to change again. They became the eyes and ears for the newly activated units, completing the data brought in by the orbital satellites and drones. And that meant they were almost always operating in bad terrain, bad weather, or most usually, both but always out front.

Major Unger had at long last been granted the combat command he had earned through his dedication to the much less glamorous staff work that had made if possible to stave of defeat long enough for the tide to turn. He made the most of his opportunity and the troops he led figured prominently in the last stage of the war.