The Cutting Edge 1

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 1 Draft (1/02/08)

Three months now spent getting things in shape. But it had been worth it. The Seventh Cardoman’s Battalion barracks were filled and all three Companies were mostly up to strength, lacking only a couple of officers and technical ratings. Training activity was continuous, Connie Melbourne saw improvement in her command, Alpha company, every day.

She was disappointed when she lost Virgil Cramer to Captain Morgan’s Charley company but when Mark McCormack and the Carpathian returned from their last trip to Zeeland, Paul Olivera, an old Jorgen Military Academy friend of Major Calvert’s was on board and Melbourne scooped him right up. Lt. Olivera must be something special Connie figured, Major Calvert didn’t recruit many of his old friends and when he did they invariably turned out well.

Olivera had spent the last several years doing garrison duty on Olympia, an Indie World just inside of what the Caliphate considered their proper sphere of interest. For at least as long as Paul’s commission from Zeeland stayed in effect he would be listed in the books as being on loan; but in another two years Connie was sure that the Major would make him an offer that would be tough to turn down.

Between Lt. Mankowitz, Olivera, and Ssgt. Beal, Alpha company was doing quite well in the intra-Battalion competitions. So well in fact that it seemed they were now stuck playing defender in all of the new scenarios being run. If it weren’t for Davis and his Recon Group Alpha’s record would have been perfect against all threats. Still she had even stopped Davis once or twice and given the chance might do it again. One could hope, and one could plan. Oh yes—One could plan.

Major Wesleyan Loyola Calvert, Battalion Commander of the Cardoman 7th, ‘Calvert’s Cards’, sat at the middle position of the heavy oak table, greeting with a nod and a word or two, each of his officers as they entered the small conference room at Battalion HQ. With him, seated at one end of the table, was Captain Clayton Grayson, his chief of staff, and at the other end CSM. Robert Davis, head of the Recon squad and the Battalion’s senior sergeant.

“General Inglase is sending a briefing officer who should touch down in a few minutes so lets spend a little time first going over the last training run,” Calvert began.

Melbourne and Davis looked almost smug, Captains Morgan and Newmish just the reverse. Newmish spoke first. “All due respects to Connie—But we had her dead to rights…if it was just her. But with that witch Audie Madry placing the sensors and reading the outputs, our misdirection doesn’t and our surprise isn’t! Without some kind of tactical surprise or weapons advantage two attacking companies can’t take one defending from a fortified position.”

“So how was it that Recon managed to complete their part of the plan?” Wes asked Sgt. Davis.

“Well Sir, I just took my people through the hardest and most unlikely path to Alpha’s ammo dump, nothin’ complicated. And I must add that we got pretty well shot up before we blew it and weren’t much use to anyone afterwards. If Captain Melbourne hadn’t moved enough of her ordinance off site the bad guys would have won last time. What Recon did wouldn’t have worked for Bravo and Charley, too many people carrying too much hardware.”

“Suggestions?” Calvert asked.

“I have one,” Ben Morgan said. “Get Madry to teach a few sessions on how to avoid detection from the kind of sensor types and patterns she puts out. Then we might have a chance till she comes up with something different. I’m not saying we can’t beat her any other way. In fact Jasper and I have talked about a few things to negate what we have run into lately. I just think it will save some time and give Connie a quicker look at the losing end of the game.” Morgan managed a smile when he said that.

“Consider it done,” Clayton Grayson said. His comment was punctuated by a double knock on the conference room door as a Captain dressed in regular Cardoman uniform, an officer sent by General Inglase, Chief of the Cardoman General Staff, was ushered into the room.

“Good Afternoon Captain Nesberg,” Wes said, “I think you know everyone here with the exception of Lt. Olivera. Paul Olivera, meet Ellen Nesberg. You will be seeing a lot of her over the next few weeks.”

“A pleasure Ma’am.”

“Thank you Lieutenant.”

“Need anything before you start Ellen?” Wes asked.

“I just need to hook into the display board,” Captain Nesberg said. “Then we can get right into it. Sorry to keep you waiting but the General had me add the latest estimates to the briefing notes just this morning and insisted on a staff review of everything before I could leave the Capitol.”

“Quite alright, I think we’re ready now.”

The room darkened, not quite to pitch black, and on the display board a stellar diagram appeared showing most of the colonized systems and all of the major stars in the, oblong, almost potato shaped section of space, 450 light years deep and 170 lightyears across that humans had colonized in the last 800 years. Different colors were used to show the worlds aligned with the Caliphate, the Confederacy, and the Independents. The Class One planets were all highlighted along with Cardoman and one other, a bright glowing dot at the edge of the area dominated by the Calps. It’s color, red, showed it to be under Caliphate control.

Using a pointer on the dot, Nesberg said, “A level three world, Marais, a prison planet if Caliphate world can be singled out as such, and a blot on the face of the universe, The General Staff’s first choice for an offensive action. Discovered five hundred years ago, the first colonists arriving shortly thereafter. Until the last fifty years the pace of transport was very slow and the population was expanding slowly.. Even now there are less than a hundred and seventy thousand people there in total.

“What makes it a suitable place for us to do something about starts with the fact that that 96% of the population are there against their will. They hate the Caliphate and everything it does and stands for, everyone on planet but the Guards and we expect more than a few of the guards have been sent out for disciplinary reasons.”

Nesberg brought up a new view, “This illustrates why fewer than 5000 soldiers and overseers can keep the rest down.” She brought up a scene from orbit and rapidly expanded it showing long range greens and blues and then focused down to a large bay on a continental size landmass. The view showed the geographical features and the military compound on the near unscalable bluff bordering the bay; it was obvious to her audience that climbing the bluff from below would be next to impossible.

“As bad as climactic considerations are the thing that prevents the prisoners, and I will call them that rather than colonists, from moving into the jungle and away from the landing area is that without the nutritional supplements provided by the Caliphate they would die in a mater of years.

“We have talked this out with the leaders of the ConFed and a few of the Indie planets, just those ones we might need support from, and decided that this is where we start. It has to be small scale and be deniable should things go wrong. I’d like everyone in this room to read the summery and then I will try and answer questions. How we do whatever we do will be up to you sitting here. I’ll take a stroll around the base while you go over things to this point. Please com me when you are ready to continue.”

“You really don’t need to leave us Captain,” Calvert said . “We have no secrets, but I guess it would be rather boring to watch us while we read. I’ll get back to you in an hour or so. And thank you by the way, this appears to be just the kind of thing we have been looking for.”

When all had finished reading Wes asked, “Pluses and Minuses? I’ll go first. If we take this on, it will mean detaching a small unit with out much support. From a purely financial aspect the amount of credit the Company, by that I mean the ‘Mercenary Company’ and not our battalion sized force, can expect to earn from the venture seems minimal compared to the risk.”

Marais has no contact with any Indie or ConFed planet so the only way we can keep in touch with our deployed squad is by using one of our ships. And they all have other things to do. We might get some help from the Feddies but that spreads the risk of what we are doing and risks leaking out. If we do use only our own ships we still might be discovered and attacked. If any leaks happen our vulnerability on Marais will be an obvious point of attack. That of course could also lead to retaliation here on Cardoman. And finally, to repeat a point, a successful operation can’t be talked about and gain us further employment, but a failed plan will cause nasty political repercussions for Cardoman and all of Indie Space.”

“On the plus side it gives us a chance to go on the offensive and there is much to be said for that. It also gives us a chance to test our training on a small scale and even though the pay would be small it will still cover expenses and might even turn a profit. Thats the top end view. Davis, how does it look from your prospective?”

“I’m for it,” Davis said without hesitation. “I’ll let everyone know that Major Calvert and I have talked about just this kind of a raid a time or two and things aren’t quite as gloomy as his opening remarks would indicate. If we can get on the surface without being detected and with enough supplies; I think we have a chance to do something pretty substantial.”

“There are several key factors that we have to get right if we are to do this. We will need absolute secrecy both before and after we are on Marais. We will need a secure means to liaison with the prisoners, and enough force of arms that when employed properly we will be able to overcome the local garrison. And most importantly, when we do meet up with the locals they must want, or at least accept our help, and be able to add the numbers our own forces lack. And they must be able to maintain their own secrecy in the process.”

“What I’m leading up to here is that we need to take with us a few of our own intelligence people to make the initial contacts and evaluations.”

“To sum it up then…We can win, or make this work, but only if we have accurate knowledge of the enemy’s strength and disposition, active support of the prisoner population, are sufficiently well supplied, and can operate without discovery.”

Wes took over again, “The need for operational security means one or perhaps two landings. Anyone see a deal breaker? No? Ok– let’s focus on objections. Connie will head the opposition. We’ll spend a hour then call Nesberg back in to see how she deals with our objections, and see if we can find out from her what the the General Staff talked about that didn’t make it to their report.”

* * *
“Class Dismissed!”
Audie Madry awoke with a start. She’d already read the book; what was the point in going over the whole thing in class? And without even a question and answer session to boot?. If she conducted training like that back on Ophia and Altoona before her promotion Major Calvert would have had her ass, not to mention her stripes. Well at least she made up for some of the sleep she lost in preparation.

For the last couple of months Audie had spent half her time each week at the Cardoman Military Academy and the other half with the Seventh. Mostly administrative and purchasing but that wasn’t all bad because she was learning the new systems and developing doctrine for their use. And some of those new systems were gonna change the way the Seventh fought. The drop pods just purchased from Enderlin were a prime example.

Audie had set up the detection gear when the first one was dropped from orbit and saw nothing until several hours later until Davis and his recon team overran the support unit she was leading. And she knew all the while they were on the way and the exact time of the drop. Standard operating procedure called for a stealthed shuttle to come in low and put in a recon team. Sure, even the best protection couldn’t completely mask the off angle radar return or disguise the engine signature, but they could come down at a low enough speed that the things didn’t look like shooting stars streaking in from above.

These new pods came in so slow—and totally unpowered. They were stealthed with emission defeating materials and were wrapped with hundreds of long tendrils having multiple parachute like aerobrakes connected to them. All were made from the same carbon nano-particles with a heavymetal binder for more absorption. They came down trailing all the streamers like some kind of a windblown thistle. Speed was lost so effectively high in the upper atmosphere that they never got to a temperature much above ambient. No IR detection and no radar return. And no noise as they were well below sonic speeds by the time the were in a medium dense enough to generate a shock wave.

The individual strands were patterned to kept the pod from tumbling and there was no way to steer the things so precise initial insertion was critical. Quite a system; but given a chance she could see room for improvement. That would be down the road and later, right now seeing as how they were a use it then lose it resource, just getting enough of the pods to practice with was a problem.

Another worry was how tight security was on Enderlin’s end. If the Calps found out about the pods before they were used the first time they might come up with a way of detecting them and neutralizing the surprise, though Audie, for the life of her, couldn’t figure a way to do it—yet. Just knowing about them would cause more effort to be expended on detecting the pod carriers, and detecting pod carriers was was something that could be accomplished whit well known technology.

* * * * * *
Early afternoon and Irwana al-Omari sat in the main dining room of Castle Calvert, able to seat thirty in comfort but for now she was the sole occupant seated and drinking a cup of tea. She had been on Cardoman for almost two months now and was still having a hard time getting used to her changed circumstances. When Ibrahim Saudi, no she must get used to calling him Abe Loomis, recruited her husband Gaza back on Altoona, a year ago, it would have been impossible to imagine herself in these surroundings.

Castle Calvert, or just the Castle most of the time, was a both a building and a home out of a storybook. Built of rough hewn stone and three stories high with towers and a moat and all of the classical features, but with large windows and modern internal amenities, it was hers to manage.

Leaving Altoona with her husband and twelve year old son Mohammad was a decision she resisted as much as one could in her position, but Loomis has been right in badgering them to come to Cardoman with the rest of the Seventh when the Caliphate sponsored rebellion on Altoona was put down.

Gaza was working for Sgt. Loomis, soon Gaza said to be Lt. Loomis, in the intelligence section of Major Calvert’s staff. Mohammad, who had by now insisted that he be called Moe, was attending school in Minton, taken into the city and brought back every day by military transport. And they were buying a home of their own in the little town growing up a kilometer or so distant from the Castle itself. A home three times the size of the rooms they left behind on Altoona and one in which the power and water worked around the clock rather than for only the off hour or so here and there.

Only two months ago, yet it seemed much longer, that Abraham had brought her to the Castle in order to meet Major Calvert.

Fifteen hundred meters up and thirty kilometers away from the Castle, Loomis came through the gap in the range of hills that marked the eastern border of the tract of land roughly fifty kilometers on a side, that Major Calvert had purchased inland and northeast of Minton.

“Look straight ahead Irwana, you’ll see it in a minute or so,” Abe said as he began a slow descent over the sparsely forested countryside.

“This looks nothing like Altoona and are you sure that Major Calvert wants to see me and can spare the time?”

“No doubt about that Wana’, my boss Captain Grayson, gave me a direct order to find someone, preferably from out of the company, to run the Majors new digs. He said the Major was quite certain that an efficient intelligence service could locate just the right person. And everything ran downhill from there and I got the job.”

“But what could make you think I am the one. I have never run any home but my own. That was not even a hut compared to the photos I’ve seen of this Castle Calvert. And our cultures are so much different that I must be totally out of place. I won’t even know how to cook a proper Cardoman meal.”

“Don’t worry Wana, you’ll do fine, wait and see.” And then she did see the Castle in the distance ,and as they neared it realized that no photo could possibly do it justice.

Loomis landed the flier a short distance from the imposing stone and mortar structure. It was rectangular two and three stories high for the most part with an internal courtyard. On all four corners were towers rising several additional stories more. The front and one of the sides and half of a third looked to be 60% windowed. An ell shaped section including most of the rear was of solid stone, built from the native granite of the region. They walked to the main entrance, and as they neared the door, before they had time to knock using the massive brass knocker in its center, the door opened and a lady of about forty welcomed them and ushered them inside.

She told them that her name was Ida Sevaldi and that the Major would be with them shortly. She then took them to a small sitting room just off the entrance. Irwana was still inspecting and admiring the the room and its high ceiling, part modern and part medieval architecture, from a well upholstered period piece when a few minutes later the Major walked in.

With just a glance at Loomis, Calvert walked straight towards Irwana, and before she could think to rise said, “You must be Gaza’s wife, the lovely Irwana. And you are even more beautiful than Sgt Loomis here has led me to believe, I’m so glad you could come.”
She started to blush as she started pulling herself from her chair, Loomis was already standing, but the Major said, “No, please remain seated, and you too Sergent.” as he lowered himself into a recliner facing the two of them.

“When I made up my mind to buy the land and build this house here I was a bit naive in that I didn’t look into the problems of managing and maintaining it. And as surely as thunder follows lightning, it’s time I get a permanent staff. Mrs. Sevaldi came with the place and got things going. I was hoping to convince her to stay on but she tells me that she intends to go back to Minton; neither her nor her husband, who runs a business in the capitol, want to give up the city life. She has, graciously agreed to stay around long enough to train her replacement. The Sergeant here heard me talking about my problem with Captain Grayson and suggested you might be just what I need. He told me a little about you and your family, I was aware of your husbands service, and I decided Loomis just might be right. So here we are. Any questions so far?”

Irwana had been first shocked then captivated by the Majors lack of formality and boyish charm, so different from the upper classes on Altoona or what she would have seen there.

“Excuse me for asking this Major, but why do you not hire someone from the planet. Someone of your own culture who will know at once what is expected? I might be suitable for cleaning rooms or washing clothes but certainly not for a job such as you propose.”

“Let me tell you a short story Irwana. And I will use Sgt Loomis as my example. Loomis has been with me since before we formed up on Witherway. He was a private then and to most of us not a very promising one. And it wasn’t that he screwed up and made mistakes, it was because he didn’t act like most of the rest of the privates in the unit. His upbringing was unusual, to say the least, and he didn’t know how he was supposed to act, and I dare say didn’t spend much time worrying about it either.

Somehow or another he managed to handle every new task and did so much more than he was given credit for and showed such good judgment, that he will be promoted to Lieutenant in a few weeks time.

“Sgt. Loomis recruited your husband, among his best decisions, and that worked out exceptionally well. Now he says that you are the right person to run this pile of rock. I think, based on his record, I am inclined to agree.

“Why don’t I hire someone from Cardoman? I would surely hire Mrs. Savaldi if she would let me but that not being an option I will be showing support for all the families of the company and that is a fine enough reason in itself. You don’t need to say yes or no at once, take the grand tour with Ida and work here a few weeks first. I want your help but from here on in it’s up to you.”

And it came to pass that three weeks later Irwana Omari was heading up, in grand fashion however reluctantly, the staff of Castle Calvert.

Booong! Booong! The sound announcing arrival rang in the entry way and echoed further into the building. It wasn’t a ind of surprise because the guard shack had already sent in word of radar recognition of an incoming flier. The gong sounded out only when visitors approached the entrance. Irwana touched the hand pad that opened the 14 foot front tall door, and gave a slight bow as a greeting towards the woman coming up the low flight of steps. “Captain Melbourne, a pleasure indeed.”

“Well, I should say the same Wana. Haven’t seen you since the trip back from Altoona but do get to I see Gaza every now and again and I am sure glad I have the chance to see you now. Quite a place isn’t it,” Connie said while looking around as if she had never seen the place before.

Connie was out of uniform, dressed in casual walking clothes, and seemed so different from every other time Irwana had seen her that Wana felt compelled to say, “Captain I would not have known it was you had I seen you anywhere else as a civilian and without notice.”

“Thank you— I think.”

“The Major and the Finance Minister are in the Library,” Irwana said leading the way.

Constance Melbourne, Captain of Alpha Company Cardoman 7th. , was perhaps not classically beautiful, in some peoples eyes, she was a bit too tall and thin and spare for that. Dark hair, grey eyes, she was 29 earth years old and had looked that age for the last ten and would look the same for another twenty or more. Even so, in an age where everyone was fit and healthy, she stood out without any effort or notice on her part as someone exceptional and special. It was a matter of presence and bearing.

The Captain owned an estate about eight kilometers away; in a more heavily forested section of land adjacent to that owned by Calvert. When they were not on duty the spent much of their time together at one or the other of the two locations. This fact could hardly be kept secret, as a communications link was always kept tied tightly to every member of the company’s command.

“Your looking radiant,” Aldoria Verser, the Cardoman Finance Minister said as Connie entered the library.

“I could say the same about you Dory,” Connie said with a smile.

“Bah! Humbug!” Verser responded, “I’m a bit to old for radiant but even so there are a few in the opposition party who must think I glow due to being radioactive, as close as they are ever willing to approach me or agree with the changes in our governments working and proposed changes to the old economic policies.”

“I hate to look like a traitor to the cause but they do have a point Dory,” Wes and I talked about this some and as he says, “No one likes higher tax rates, unless they don’t have to pay them, and you’re talking some major increases. The flat rate and the total exemption for people in the military is gonna have to go. Especially for those in the kind of rates the two of us are paying.”

“We know that,” Aldora said with a nod in Wes’s direction, “And glad to see that you know it too, but I really didn’t come out here to talk that out. What I am ready for a day of leisure. None of us have had much of that so let us begin.”

“Sure thing Dory,” Wes said glancing at the display on the library wall. “I see Barry’s flier just registered in our airspace and so let’s all go out and meet him.”

Barry Summers was a partner in Stine and Summers and both Connie and Wes’s financial advisor. Dory Verser had known him for many years due to her governmental position, and even though personally comfortable, her private holdings were insufficient to draw the firms interest. In the case of the two military officers it was the nearly unimaginable amount of prize money from the capture of a few hyper capable ships that had gotten entry, that and the management of the Cardoman Seventh Company’s operational and reserve accounts that had opened Stine and Summers doors.

Barry landed close to the guard shack and was out and talking with Corporal White by the time the others made it that far.

Corporal Luther White was a new hire, just out of the Cardoman regular service basic infantry school, promoted and selected for the Seventh as a result of his performance.

The kind of guard and security work he and the others in his unit were doing at the Castle was real and hence much better training than make work exercises. If they ever went to war, and that was the plan after all, White would be a support member of Calvert’s Battalion Staff and so she was very happy to see him out here doing real work and getting to know many of the people that came to visit with Calvert when off base. Wes had thought this level of security excessive, and indeed it was for now, but he couldn’t knock it’s value as a training tool and a warning then radar lock from the AA batteries did tend to keep the Newsies away.

Rather than take a flier or summon a ground car they decided to walk the kilometer that separated the Castle from the half dozen homes and work buildings, some completed and some still under construction, that made up the local part of the ranch and farming operation. When they arrived a few minutes later Kendrie Douglas, the ‘Ranch’ manager, was there to greet them. Kendrie, a native of Witherway, before enlisting in the Seventh had been the assistant manager in charge of livestock on a several thousand hectare estate in the interior of that planets main continent. He had invalided out of the Seventh when the unit left that planet due to loosing both a leg and his left hand to an enemy mortar round in a night attack. The damage was so severe, and medical evacuation and intervention so long in coming, that regeneration only returned about seventy percent of his previous mobility. After a lengthy recuperation instead of staying on in a desk job with the Cards or remaining on his home planet he took up Wes’s offer to move to Cardoman and try his hand, “My other hand,” he often said with a grin, at managing the ranch. By the smile on his face and spring in his step, one needed to look very closely to see any evidence of the injury, the change of scenery, being away from Witherway, was obviously agreeing with him.

“Mornin’ folks, you picked a great day for a ride. Jase and Ellen have the horses saddled up on the other side of the barn and the lunch Wana sent over is all packed into the saddle bags.”

“How’s the pond coming along Ken? I’d like to start out in that direction,” Wes asked.

“Think you’ll be happy with the way it’s going. Jase is out there now so you can get all the details from him. Hate to run off but me and the mule here,” he pointed to a small multi- wheel off road machine with a drilling attachment in the rear. “Have a mile of fence to get up by nightfall. So. . . If I don’t get to see you before you leave enjoy yourselves—and make sure when you take the trail up to the lookout, best view on the place.”