The Cutting Edge 10

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 10 Draft (02/26/08)

It was raining again and hot as usual when Davis had them all back up at the hilltop base camp and began to lay out his plan. The next morning, with the weather the same, Leah and Mullins were in the rocks at the edge of the field being cleared before the prisoners arrived. Leah was on the northern side, Mullins positioned to the south. Both were dug in and out of view. The rest of the squad except for Ortega, still at the base camp, was deployed on the rivers other side up in the treeline.

They were an hour early and the time passed slowly for Leah as she tried to remain calm. The sensors left along the trail leading from the prison compound showed them the progress of the clearing team as they neared the field. Leah had no trouble picking out Messmer as he emerged with the others into the clearing. It seemed to take ages for them to get the fires started and begin working at the field’s streamside edge again. Unfortunately, for now, Dean was in the central portion of the field and there was no possibility of contacting him.

He needed to be at one side of the field or the other and preferably well away from anyone else before she could try and contact him. The method was really quite simple. Both Leah and Mullins had a directional speaker set up so if Dean was within about 50 meters and not close enough to anyone else that they would see his reaction they Leah would simply be able to begin speaking with him. She had given considerable thought to what she would say first and still knew it would be hard to keep from saying more than Davis had authorized.

The morning dragged on with no chance of contact but after the mid day meal Messmer headed to the edge of the field with an axe and began to cut down cane near where Mullins was stationed with no one else within 20 or 30 meters. Leah, in the rocks, was high enough above ground level that she had a clear transmission from her com unit to Mullin’s sound rig and she keyed her set and began talking.

“Dean,” she began, “It’s me Leah Radom.” She saw the lone figure jerk to an abrupt halt and then continued, “Keep working. It really is me and I have to do this fast.” He was still standing still. “Dean! Keep working! Stay Busy!” Leah watched and breathed a sigh of relief as he started to swing his axe again.

“Don’t look towards anyone in the field with you. The voice you hear is coming from a directed sound source in the rocks to the south of you, but don’t look that way yet. I know it’s hard but just act naturally and I’ll explain as much as I can. I’m here with some—friends—and I am only allowed to say so much. But our aim, if it is possible, is to set you and everyone else here free. I can see you have enough cut to take it to the fire. Do that now, and then, if it makes sense, go to the other side of the field and start clearing there. I will talk again when you do that and Dean; you can’t know how much I missed you and how much more I would say if it were possible.”

Messmer strapped his axe to his back and gathered up an armload of cane and then, without looking anywhere but the fire that was his destination began dragging it to be burned.

“Hot day, eh Messmer?” Hakim the guard said looking up from a near slumber as Dean threw the refuse into the fire.

“Hot enough I recon. But things could get even hotter in time,” he said his thoughts whirling as he wiped the sweat from his face and neck before turning and waking away.

When Dean left the fire he went to the other side of the field, the one where Leah was at waiting for him, though he didn’t know it at the time. On his way, he casually scanned the rocky berm but saw nothing out of the ordinary. He started cutting again and Leah’s voice returned.

“Dean, it’s me again. If you hear me, all you need to do is talk in a normal tone of voice and I will hear you. Don’t look around and try to find me just don’t let anyone see or overhear you.”

Messmer did not give any outward indication of hearing her but he immediately said, while looking at the ground and the work in front of him, “Leah! I can’t believe this! How did you get here and how did you find me?”

“That’s a long story and I can’t go into it now. But I can say I am with some friends and our purpose is to help get ride of the Caliphate guards here and set all of you free.”

“This is all so strange,” Dean said, “I’d given up hope of ever doing anything but what the Calps tell us to. I’ll certainly do what ever you want me to, if I can, but what do you have in mind and can I see you somehow?”

“We’ll work that out soon I hope. First though tell me every thing you can about the way the planet is being run and especially anything you know about how the Calp security is set up.”

“How many are with you Leah? I can’t be very many. How did you get here? There have been no changes in our normal routine so I don’t think anyone knows about you.”

“All of that in time. Right now though tell me about the way things work at the main site under the cliff at Parson’s Bay.”

They talked for the rest of the afternoon, questions and answers, with a few personal comments. Leah told him how she came to leave Earth and what had happened there in the last few years. They had to stop for about an hour, mid-afternoon, when Dean had to help some of the others for a time but later continued till it was time for the workers to return to their compound.

“I got to go now Leah. Will you be here again tomorrow?”

“Yes, and I will try and have a plan to speak in person. Take care Dean, take care.”

“We’ve got to get him out of there so I can see him in person. Any ideas?” CSM Davis asked of the rest of gathered squad.

“Their security leaks at the rear of the compound,” Mullins said. “He can probably get out there but only for a night, six or eight hours. I am sure he gets missed in the morning if he isn’t back inside the wire.”

“I need to be there when we see him the first time,” Leah said.

“Yeah, I guess you got a point,” Davis replied. “We’ll set it up for tomorrow. Ok, this is what we do…”

* * *
Corporal Jesse Ortega took careful aim with the narrow beam EMP rig and pressed the detonator. A very low level ‘whoosh’ was all he heard as the small charge so metallized explosive detonated sending a conductive shock wave into the surrounding superconducting coil. A fraction of a second later the light flickered and went out.

Jesse retreated back into the forest and waited to see if anyone would come and replace the thing immediately. Not likely based on what the team had seen in the past. All maintenance seemed to be done on the day shift. A half an hour later he was shimmying up the pole that held the IR sensor that was scanning the section of fence with the newly burnt out light. In a delicate operation, he dropped an IR transparent screen in front of the sensor. As the device identified the type and range of energy the camera was seeing, it gradually began to mimic what it was detecting on its front side by re-broadcasting it from its backside into the sensors lens. In a few minutes the camera was only seeing what Ortega wanted it to. Now he just had to wait and see if Dean Messmer would show up.

Messmer left his barracks shortly after dusk. “Musta’ found hisself a woman,” One-eyed ‘Long Jim’ said to the three other card players as the door closed. “He don’t need to leave with the kind of luck he’s been havin’ and he done his washin’ just last week.”

It was dark out here, and raining again. Dean Messmer had a basket half full of laundry and went directly to the washing shed. Four others were inside but it was late and they were most likely near finished. Selma Jenner gave him a pleasant smile and said, “Help you out Dean?”

Selma, ten years older than Dean, had been after him ever since she arrived at the compound a month ago. Dean had been polite but noncommittal. “Well maybe you can Selma, I got a card game going and this is cutting into my winnings.”

Selma sighed and said, “I’ll take care of it for you, but you owe me. Got that Messmer, you owe me.” And she smiled a gap toothed grin.

“Sure Selma, thanks.”

The only road into the compound was a dirt track that came from Parson’s Bay to the west. The camp itself was in side of a fence, really just a strand of wire marking out official limits with sensors doing the duty of checking the perimeter. The laundry, kitchen and power shed were the first buildings inside the single pole gate and shielded one quadrant of the camp from the view of those in the guard’s quarters or the workers barracks. Looking towards the gate and just south of it Dean saw the deeper darkness where one of the few perimeters lights was out just as Leah said it would be. With a quick glance all around him to insure he was alone he walked, as if he had not a care in the world, across the hundred meters of open ground directly towards wire and the missing light source.

As Dean neared the fence, he wondered if he would see it before blundering into the wire. He knew the fence was close when he heard a man’s voice, seemingly coming from his left and telling him to stop.

“Dean, this is Corporal Ortega speaking. I’m watching from the woods on the other side of the wire with low light equipment and see you well. There is a fence post about seven meters directly in front of you. When you reach it, I will turn on a light mounted on the pole. You should be able to see the wires. Step carefully between the two strands. If you brush one you will get a shock but it will only sting, high voltage low current. So long as you don’t break a strand or maintain contact with one you will be fine.”
Just as promised, a few seconds later, a dim light came on and Dean stepped between the two wires, an easy task as one was at knee height and the other well above his waist. Following Ortega’s directions, he soon was in the woods. After a handshake and quick introduction he was equipped with low light goggles and following the Corporal towards where Leah and a Sgt. Davis were waiting.

* * *
Even though he had been anticipating seeing Leah again after all these many years Dean Messmer wasn’t really prepared. She was standing next to a tall burley figure looking towards him and wearing the same kind of lowlight vision equipment he was using. She took a step towards him then froze as Dean continued forwards. A moment later she came rushing forwards and without any thought or hesitation they were embracing while Dean just kept saying, “Leah, Oh Leah,” over and over for what must have been minutes.

“Break it up you two,” came the surprisingly gentle voice of the man, Sgt. Davis, who had been standing next to Leah. “You will have more time to talk later. Right now we have some other business to attend to.”
Dean let go his grip and Leah did as well, and then she took a step backwards, tears now showing on her face and still at a loss for words.

“Have a seat people,” Davis said indicating a spot where they could use a downed tree trunk as a back support. “Ortega, sweep once around us here then return to watching the compound. I’ll call you when it’s time for us to take Dean back. Should be a couple of hours—so stay alert.”

“Roger that Sarge,” Ortega said as he faded back into the forest.

Leah and Dean, now holding hands, were seated on a ground cloth backs to the downed tree. Davis gave one more look at his sensor display, sat down, cross-legged, in front of them, and started talking.

“First thing, we are all here from the Indie world Cardoman and there are only a handful of us on the planet. Every one of us is a member of a private mercenary company name of ‘Calvert’s Cardoman’ or more formally, ‘The Cardoman 7th Mercenary Company’. Even Leah here is a member of the Seventh for our operations on this here garden spot.”

“But who hired you, who are you working for?” Dean asked. And how much support can you bring in if we revolt and are somehow successful?”

“Right now we are working on speculation for our majority owners. The Caliphate is changing its foreign policy and it looks to many who study the situation that a general war is coming between the Caliphate and whoever resists the new expansion. Marais here has a strategic location and would be a perfect base of operations and a defensive point in a general war.”

“And you’ll get paid for your part?”

“That’s how the game is played Sonny. If we can get a hold of the keys to Marais there are going to be a lot of buyers willing to drive her away. Unless thing change more rapidly than even Major Calvert our boss thinks they will though, we are just gathering information. But if the prisoners here can overthrow the local Caliphate forces without the Confederation of Indies taking any direct action this planer becomes even more valuable. That’s what we’re here to find out, and I have a lot of questions on that score so let’s get to it.”

Three hours later Sgt. Davis recalled Ortega and Messmer was taken back to run in reverse the steps that had gotten him out of the camp in the first place. In addition, after gathering up the gear, Davis, Leah, and Ortega were heading back towards the river and their base camp on the other side. Just as the crossed they met Cpl. Mullins going the other way to do lone guard duty at the field, now almost cleared.

“Poor Dean is going to have a rough day on almost no sleep,” Leah thought as the local sun started to dispel the night and she crawled into her sleeping bag for the four-hour sleep she could manage until she would be on duty again. But sleep was hard to come by as her thoughts reeled.

* * *
“We’ll be finished here tomorrow,” Hatim Harim said, as the prisoner left the work site that evening. “I can’t say that it comes too soon. All of you will be returning to Parsons Bay for your annual medical; so let’s make sure nobody gets hurt today and we will all be going back in one piece. I hear we might even have transport as the first group of settlers will be brought out to take over.”

“Get a move on it,” Davis sent out to Ortega and Mullins who were doubling up on point. “They’re moving and we better be doing the same.” Unlike the workers leaving the compound, they were going to be walking the whole fifty kilometers to Parson’s Bay.
Privates Leach and Jameson were staying behind to watch the goings on at the river. By the type of equipment brought on the low-sided trucks it was easy to tell there was going to be some more construction activity taking place. Half of the guards were going back as well. Their replacements would come from those escorting the new arrivals. The fact there was going to be more construction didn’t fit with what Messmer had told them about normal operations. The compound barracks could easily house all the people needed to keep the farm and cleared land in production. Time would tell.

Leah said to Sgt. Short who was helping get her load adjusted. “I should have studied the terrain maps a little better but I always seemed to be short on time. I did see that the track we’re going to take to the Bay seems relatively flat. The road runs in almost a straight line.”

“Yeah, if it weren’t for the weight it would a stroll in the park. We about 120 meters above sea level here and the plains around the prison compound are only at 5 to 10 meters above. We are going to be well south of the road but the vegetation doesn’t look to be too thick. Bout two days of steady travel with what we’re carrying. When I get back to Cardoman and marshal out I plan on a second career as a mule.”

“Ok Leah, I figure you’re balanced out. We can make adjustments at the first stop.”

“Thanks Sgt, none too soon,” she said as Davis gave the signal to march.

The trucks had left the near compound an hour ago. They had crossed the river before sun up and the first part of their journey took them along the well known route that skirted the compound. The pictures they took from space before the drop were the data and computer plotting routines that took into account the ground cover and the need to stay away from the road delivered an optimum track. They took their first break forty-five minutes in and after minor adjustments of the gear maintained a steady pace for the rest of the day. The evening of the second day found them in a boggy area, a few kilometers in diameter, and roughly five kilometers from what could be considered the edge of the Parsons Bay prison site.

In the few spots where they an unobstructed view to the north, the abrupt upthrust of the butte where the Calps lived dominated everything else. They were going to need to keep away from those areas so that any of the optical detectors the Calps were using on the bluff wouldn’t be seeing them.

“We’ll set up here just like we did last time on our hill base, Davis said to the weary squad. First thing in the morning we get the IR sensors out so we aren’t surprised by an overflight and then we map every dry path in and out of here and get a bolt hole set up. When we finish with that, couple of days I guess, we get in contact with Messmer and see what happens next. Get some sleep…you’ll need it. I take the first watch.”

There were several small streams feeding from the bog into slightly larger one that discharged into the Bay another six or seven kilometers from the hummock of dry land they were using for their camp. They couldn’t do much digging because the water table was only a foot or so below the nominal surface of the bog even in the spots where it was dry enough to make walking easy. The spot they were preparing was near the edge of the boggy land furthest away from the prison and not the highest of the few lumpy mounds in the swamp. That would make things too easy if the Calps suspected their presence.

For their bolthole they had to go another five kilometers further south. A longer distance than anyone liked but the ground was dry and had more elevation to it with generally thicker woods to shield them from reconnaissance by air. They decided to make this instead of a bolt hole their main camp and use the location in the swamp as a forward observation site and a place to meet with people from the prison when the time came for that to happen.

When all was ready at the new location Short and Ortega left for the hill site to map the route from that point and bring back another load of supplies and equipment. That left Davis, Leah, and Uriah Petty to make contact with a resistance and left them all wishing they had another couple of hundred members of the Cardoman 7th with them for additional support.

* * *
There was only one group of prisoners, Dean was going to make sure he used that word from now on instead of the word settlers, that many had begun to use as if it would mitigate their situation, only one group that he felt he could trust enough to talk to with some assurance of not being immediately reported to the guards as a subversive and trouble maker.

“Good morning Rabi, might I have a word with you?”

Israel Levinson was in his early forties though his appearance and vigor denied his age. He had been born on Marais, as had his parents before him. Studious by nature, with a brilliant mind made for rabbinical studies his path through life had been clear. The Calps tolerated his presence and position as a leader in the Jewish community so long as he did all of the work assigned to him. He was one of several veterinarians amongst the prison population and traveled extensively, from time to time making it to all of the remote sites where livestock was raised.

He knew most everyone and even most in the non-Jewish group, which made up 80% of the prisoners had at least heard of him if not dealt with him directly. Surprisingly enough, seven years before when the transport brought Dean to Marais it had been the Rabbi who sought him out, welcomed him, and gave him advice on what to do and how to fit in to the society here with minimal difficulty. In the process Levinson pumped him for the story and all the details about what was happening on Earth and especially about what he knew concerning the Radoms. That relationship must have been what brought Dean to the Rabbi’s attention. They were a tight knit group.

Now, a day after returning to Parson’s bay, and with his medical completed Dean was making the approach and praying for the best.

Welcome Dean, good to see you after all these months. Come in, Come in,” the Rabbi said, holding the door to the tiny two room unit he and his wife were assigned. Small as it was it did double duty as the Synagogue also. The Calps, tolerant though they might be, were not going to authorize construction of any religious building when there was always something else that needed doing that would benefit their masters back on Earth.

“I don’t have much time or I’d offer you some refreshment. I’m due at the Prescott settlement this morning and the bus leaves in a half an hour.”

Looking around it was obvious the Rabbi’s wife was already about her own business so Dean launched right in. “Rabbi, your going to have a hard time believing this but I have seen Leah Radom and been talking to her for the last week.”

The Rabbi, used to dealing with delusional individuals started to talk even before all the words were out of Dean’s mouth. “I have seen this–.”

“Stop Rabbi this is not a figment of my imagination and I’ll prove it to you. When I first got here, you asked me a number of questions about the Radoms. There were some I didn’t have any answer for, those about their relatives and family history. Some people have brought Leah here from Indie space, and she’s told me some of the things I didn’t know then. I’ll just mention a few and keep going until you’re convinced.”

“Ok, Ok, I’m convinced, surprised, even shocked, but convinced. So what does she want us to do? And is it safe to talk here?”

“I was given a small device by those that brought Leah here,” Dean pulled a button sized object from his front pocket, squeezed it a certain way, and a small green dot lit up on its surface. “I made sure it was safe before I knocked on the door. I can see you must be leaving very soon but what these people are offering is help, maybe a way to get the Calps off the planet. Maybe even a chance for real freedom. They can’t do it alone. Heck, they are so few in numbers, it’s hard to think they even want to try. But I am going to help out in whatever way I can and the first step was coming to talk to you Rabbi.”

“This is all so sudden Dean. I will meet with your friends as soon as you can make it happen. Other things have been in the works for a while now but this changes everything. I should be back from Prescott late afternoon. I will need to talk to a few people but if you can set up a meeting the sooner the better.”

“I’ll do what I can Sir. I’m due for a little retraining myself right now so I will leave and hope to see you tonight.”

“Go with the Lord Dean and we will do his work as he ordains.”

* * *
“Be careful,” Levinson said as he walked, sometimes stooping in low spots behind Dean Messmer. “There is much work left to do until we have the tunnel smooth enough to walk without paying attention. There was, after all, no rush.”

It was dark and damp, with the sound of water dripping but not the slightest hint of a breath of fresh air. The opening was hidden underneath one of the communal shower buildings. Entrance was effected by moving a section of the tiled floor aside and dropping the few feet to the ground below. Rabbi Levinson had people posted at all of the buildings doorways, on the inside so the were not visible to a guard or random passerby looking from the outside. Levinson was going to make sure they were not seen and the building’s secret revealed. None would gain entrance until they were well out of sight.

“How long has this been here Rabbi?” Dean said helping to move aside the dirt covering the trapdoor under the sub-floor of the showers.

“My father started it some twenty years ago. He would be pleased to see its use tonight. We will come out a hundred meters beyond the fence. It was a heavily forested area when the opening was first made. Now it is overgrown enough that we should not be seen. I just hope your friends are waiting to meet us.”

“Don’t worry on that score. They will be there as promised.”