The Cutting Edge 12

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 12 Draft (03/05/08)

Caliphate Army Headquarters – Day One Union:

With the Caliphate ships driven from the field and all remaining orbital assets in Infidel hands, Major General Gomaa was relying on his planet side military network for a picture of the Cardoman Landings. In the underground bunker with him were his operations staff along with Brigadier Amid Farouk and Colonel Ibn Naziri Aqeed, his political officer. Several surviving members of the planets one time military leadership were seated out of the way as observers and a possible sources for detailed local information should any be required. More information might have made the situation look worse but what the General saw was bad enough. Not perhaps disastrously so. If he could maintain discipline.

Gomaa and Aqeed had already agreed upon the larger framing of the political situation. The Infidel would be considered a rogue elephant, – no he meant element though the slip was amusing, – without standing except to the failed and disbanded former planetary government. Such a posture would minimize the negative political fall out in the Confederation and Indie Space. There was no point in driving popular opinion to support a general war.

The Cardoman landing must go on unopposed. The statement made by the flagship’s communications officer, demanding noninterference with their landing shuttles would be complied with. Gomaa was confident that his forces could inflict heavy damage, even shoot down and destroy many of the invaders if they chose to land near to his units. But the return fire from the ships above would eliminate anything they targeted. And if his entire force became a target, he would lose control and lose the war.

“How do you access the situation Brigadier Farouk?” he asked his second in command.

“We will beat them on the ground. Unless they bring in reinforcements before we do, they don’t have the enough strength to triumph militarily. So long as Aqeed is correct and they do not target us from space, we should be able to defeat them or drive them back off the planet. Along with Colonel Aqeed, I am more convinced than ever, that if they had a greater force committed to this operation, they would have brought it with them.”

“Colonel Aqeed?”

“Exactly General, I would predict the Cardoman’s and their allies will be working to gain more support for this limited situation. If we do not overreact we will not feed the fires.”

“And you mean what by ‘Overreact’?”

“Simply that we continue to use the new government as cover and confine ourselves to fighting the Infidel and any of the natives that assist them. Any use by the Cardoman force of weapons of mass destruction sent from orbit, and that includes pretty much every weapon a ship might use against a ground target will be counter productive. It will cause those, and they are a majority, on the Confederation and independent Worlds who resist war to harden their position.”

“For all of our sakes I hope you are right Aqeed.” And the General went back to watching the landing continue.

“You called it right,” Wes Calvert said to Nesberg. “No fire fire from the surface. I f this continues we get down without losses.”

“Either Gomaa is a political genius or he has some pretty damn good help. Or maybe a little of both.”

“So no use of weapons from above?”

“It won’t fly Major. We would lose enough support in most of the Confederation that no further help would be forthcoming. Once we are down and have some of the natives with us we can do more, but even then orbital bombardment will still out of the picture.”

“Such is life Captain. We will keep to the plan as written in case the Calps screw up, and then take it from there.”

“No attack from the Capital,” the shuttle pilot report to Melbourne, “we are diverting to the main target.”

Connie felt the forces pinning her into the acceleration couch change as the landing descent aborted and the shuttle boosted into a suborbital trajectory that would have them descending on the large island Accord some 3000 kilometers away in little over twenty five minutes.”

“That didn’t turn out like I expected,” Gaza al-Omari said to Ibrahim as the streaks of light changed directions for the east. “We will have no help here I am thinking.”
Ibrahim had been watching the show above but paying more attention to his com display. He was getting occasional updates from the Cardoman intelligence unit up on the Saratoga. “We are going back into town Gaza. I want to make sure we get there before the Calps think to shut down local unessential non-military transport. Get the ground car and we’re out of here.”

A cloud of dust followed them back to the capital and port city Unity.

“Captain Melbourne, we touch down in two minutes. I’ll give you a few seconds advance notice to unstrap once we cross the point where touchdown is a certainty.”

“Thank you Lieutenant,” Connie said and then flashed the word to the other 24 troops in the shuttle bay.

“Out!” Sgt. Beal stood by the ramp and made sure everyone leaving took all of his equipment and extra assigned items as well. When the last soldier was running down the ramp he nodded at Connie and followed. On his heels Connie, lugging her own gear went as fast as she could manage.

She sprinted away from the shuttle while the ramp retracted, after a hundred meters of separation the craft left the ground and accelerated upwards. The backwash was barely tolerable. There were shuttles settling down at other points in the 2 hectare field as Beal gave the orders to move out. This field was no place to malinger. Now that they were on the ground the Calps would have no qualms about making sure they knew they were unwelcome.

“Twenty minutes and two kilometers later she had 150 soldiers at work either digging in or heading outward on patrol. The sound of explosives echoed in the distance.

The landing site was 20 kilometers from the Calp base. The time taken before the Calps stared firing at the landing site was longer than military doctrine should have dictated, but Connie suspected that was due to waiting for all of the shuttles to leave the area. With no Shuttles around, they couldn’t aid in returning fire.

Her position was due south of the Calp base now. If she had it right there were 400 troops manning the Calp compound. Charlie Mankowitz and Paul Olivera, the Officers in charge of the each half of her company came down in shuttles with the first group. Next time around two shuttles would bring another 50 and she would have everyone on the ground.

Accord, the large island off the east coast of Harmony, was shaped like a squashed and truncated version ancient England back on Earth. It was 300 kilometers from north to south and averaged 200 miles east to west. A rugged peninsula, 125 kilometers in length, tended towards the southwest from the lower westernmost portion of the island.

Many of its place names were subtly similar by design and served to reinforce that perception. The island was settled in several waves the first in the northern lowlands was a mixed group of mostly farmers, both religious and secular. Before a regional government was in place there were a number of skirmishes fought over land possession and referred to as the War of Wedmore in which two lives were lost when a riverboat sank after hitting some rocks in a rapids.

That was seventy-five years earlier and there was no major conflict afterwards. Until the last few months. The south part of the island was highland, not mountain ranges but rocky enough and much colder year round with snow seen in winter. It had one thing going for it. An area known as the ‘Copper Country’, where the mineral was abundant and not in just ore but in the form of irregular nuggets and boulders waiting to be plucked from the ground.

Recently a few foundries and mills had started to supply a product that was taking the place of timber, concrete, and stone in new construction. The ore was so rich and readily available there was even hope that the cost of export might make it a valuable trading commodity and bring in off world exchange.

The Calps had 2000 men on Accord at two separate locations. The majority, 1600 were in a town on the ocean called Crows End, after one of three rivers meeting there that were used as transport channels for shipping much of the food gown in the interior. The remaining 400 were supposedly garrisoned in the North at the major mining and smelting complex.

Connie and Alpha Company’s job was to take the mining complex, with as little damage to the people and equipment as possible. Her second priority was to make sure the Calp forces were either captured or eliminated. Companies B and C of the Seventh, with Ben Morgan and Jasper Newmish in control, were landing in the South and would be under Colonel Ramseyer’s command for now, but Major Calvert would take control on the ground as soon as he came down in the second or third relay.

“Lt. Mankowitz!”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“The Calps are slow here; they might be just as slow if we attack now instead of digging in first. Get the Company ready to move. We’ll move out now and see what happens. If we are fast enough we can be half way to the complex by the time the Shuttles return on their next trip.”

“Yes Ma’am!” And Mankowitz started issuing new orders at once.

“Get the mortars sighted,” Sgt. Beal said to Cpl. Wilson, who would be in charge of the small unit. The shuttles had dropped of the rest of the company a kilometer to their west so as not to attract fire on the main unit and their first elements were already joining up. Connie was on the reverse side of a fair sized rock topped hill 800 meters beyond the foundries perimeter. Scout teams had taken out three widely spaced Calp observation posts so there was a good chance their location was unknown to the defenders. But not for long.

On the other side of the hill the land around the foundry was very flat and poor soil grew nothing but a hardy lichenous type ground cover. A fair sized steam came from higher elevations and cut a narrow path through the complex on the side furthest away from where they were finalizing preparations. It was very poor terrain over which to mount a charge against a fortified position. One thing was going to make this possible.

The inevitable slag produced, even from ore as high grade as was processed, needed to be dumped somewhere. In this case the somewhere was a series of parallel mounds with gaps between them where slag haulers deposited the waste. With the observation posts missing her forward most troops were only fifty meters from the road running unfenced along the perimeter of the complex. It was a horrendous mistake not to have sensor coverage in the storage area. The Calps thought the observation posts were enough and Connie was looking to prove them wrong. She checked her display and went to join with the rest of her platoon before giving the go ahead for the assault to begin.

“Let em rip,” Cpl. Wilson spoke the words and keyed the command and the companies eight mortars began firing as fast as their crews could service them.

The automatic counter fire began at once but the distance Wilson’s unit was shooting from much too close, and well over half of the 60mm shells made it through. The counter-battery weapons were the first targets and they were silenced almost at once. Wilson switched his unit’s aim to the other pre-selected points, and watched as the markers on his map display showed them being destroyed one after the other.

“Airburst and anti-personnel,” Connie sent word and the choice of munitions changed peppering the entire compound an insuring anyone still exposed went for cover. Approximately a minute after the battle started Connie gave the order for her troops to advance.

From around the sides and through the gaps leading between three of the slag piles, the Seventh charged, spreading out and as fast as they could run, across the intervening open space, across the road, and then into the cover of the factory’s built-up section. Two machine guns they hadn’t spotted managed to open up and inflicted a dozen casualties before being hit and taken out by Wilson and his team. But they were inside now and shock and speed were what counted most and both were on their side.

It took another eight minutes and 15 Cardoman lives before the remaining Calps through down their weapons and surrendered. More than two hundred and fifty defenders were killed or wounded. Most by mortar fire, and most of those in the initial salvos. Ignoring her own casualties, Connie went to work getting the prisoners under guard and securing the victory.

Basil Ramseyer, and his augmented battalion, had an entirely different set of problems than those that Alpha Company faced after reaching ground from the Carpathian. The Town of Crows End had a population of twenty thousand and the 1600 Calps and a third again as many local irregulars were mixed in with the civilians. Door to door and street to street fighting was at least for now, and more than likely in the future, out of the question.

A small air defense site on the Crow, thirty kilometers from the town had fallen without a shot being fired at his men. Overwhelming firepower and the word of Melbourne’s success showing it would be used was enough. The junior officer in charge did have enough sense to disable all of the weapons. There really wasn’t much else situated outside of the town and its human shield. Colonel Ramseyer was still waiting for the local commander’s response to his messages. It looked like whoever was in charge was waiting for instructions from Harmony and Calp Headquarters.

Ramseyer proceeded to get his own air defenses up and positioning his troops for a blockade to insure nothing moved into or out of the city without his say so. This was complicated by the need to make sure a counterattack wasn’t launched against him. The Calps were strong enough, especially with local help to ruin all of his plans. And without the ships above giving top cover might have done as much already.

The Colonel got on the horn to Major Calvert and let him know the situation was under control and right now he needed artillery and troops more than a Commander on the ground to take his place.

Wes agreed and changed his plans. He and his staff would be going down in one of the last shuttle flights when the final loads of supplies were landed. He called the ships surgery, checking on the wounded in the battle of the highlands and was told it was far too early for anything of substance. The evac flight was only now locking in. Several hours later Wes finally reached surface in one to the landers going dropping the support and engineering evaluation team at the mining complex.

His shuttle set down on the road circling the complex and the view from close range made the damage to the facility much more readily identifiable to someone like himself, with only limited schooling in aerial interpretation from raw data. He was met by Lt. Paul Olivera who filled him in on the Company’s current status as the waked to the center of the compound to a large copper-clad building near the factory offices, where Captain Melbourne was overseeing the interrogation of prisoners.

The Private at the main entrance of what had been an equipment storage and repair shop before the Calps turned it into their main barracks gave a salute as soon as the two officers made the turn taking them onto the gravel walk leading to his post. Returning the salute Major Calvert spoke first and said, “At ease private… Deutsch, isn’t it?”

“Yes Sir,” came the smart reply from the private so obviously pleased that Calvert, who had only seen him on two short occasions some months before, had somehow managed to remember his name.

“Carry on,” Olivera added as the guard stepped aside and they entered the building.

Inside was a middling sized room where Cpl Beal and two more of Connie’s men were working at entering data into their comp units. Beal looked up, gave a weary, overworked smile, the other two didn’t even glance in their direction as they went through another doorway and into the buildings cavernous interior.

Beal must have alerted her, that they were on their way, because Connie was already moving towards the entrance they used before the door swung shut behind them. Her walk showed nothing of weariness but, if something as common and simple as a walk could be said to do so, radiated confidence and purpose. When Wes met first met her eons ago, or was it only three short years, on Witherway he along with everyone else he knew thought of her as the ‘Ice Maiden’. That perception and her true nature were opposite sides of the same coin.

The overhead was 20 meters above them and Wes saluted her, even though they were inside. She returned it in kind and said, “Welcome aboard Major, how are my wounded?”

“All but Bostitch are going to make it Connie. Four or five will be going back with the fleet but Prentiss and Evans will be fit to return to duty in a few days.”

“Nineteen dead, a high price to pay but I suppose better than I had a right to hope for,” she said without sounding relived. Wasting no time she continued, “How long before the prisoners are picked up and A Company is out of here?”

“Later this afternoon we’ll shuttle them up to the Eagle and Captain Nesberg can try her hand at interrogation. Have you learned anything of importance during the screening your people are doing?”

“Afternoon? It’s afternoon already?” Then she caught herself and said, “I wish her well, let’s go back up front and I’ll fill you in on what little we’ve developed so far.”

“What about casualties to the complex staff?”

“Oh, sorry, I should have brought that up myself. When word of the landing came the Calps were so afraid of sabotage that the sent all the workers into the casting sheds, an area we stayed away from, and so only a couple of civilians ended up with more than a scratch. Two of the higher ups died. But far better than we had hoped for.”

“Glad to hear it. I wasn’t sure but was worried the lack of news meant the news was bad. I am happy to hear otherwise.”

“I brought down an engineering evaluation team to go over the damage here and see what it will take to get this place operating again. But more importantly I want to know about any kind of equipment that we can use to help us out in the future. Portable generating gear and heavy transport are high on our ‘Don’t Have Enough’ list.”

“There’ll be some and some that’s salvageable but I’m afraid shrapnel damage and a lack of spare parts will keep most of the equipment here down for a good long time.”

“I’m sure you’re right Connie. I’m off to Crows End and Ramseyer now. You should have some shuttles to start taking away the prisoners within the hour. If you can stay awake we’ll talk again this evening.”

“Yes Sir,” Connie saluted again and waiting for the Major to turn and leave went back to watching the interrogations.

Wesley met up with Colonel Ramseyer at a small lodge on the banks of the River Rye, the central of the three major watercourses that fed into Crows End. Ramseyer was seated with his adjutant, Maj. Alistair Bingham, at a heavy wooden table going over unit reports. Ramseyer looked up with an annoyed expression until he saw whom his unannounced visitor was. Then his visage was transformed into a jovial smile.
“Alistair,” he said to the aide. “Call an orderly, we need some port here before we continue.”

“Where’s Lewellyn,” Wes asked seeing that Ramseyer’s Chief of Staff Lewellyn Waterford was missing.”

“Out in the sticks turning up dirt I wager. He will be back soon. But have a seat and tell me your thoughts. And a marvelous job, Melbourne in the Highlands. For a girl she is one damned fine military man!”

“I’m sure she would be glad to hear that if I can bring myself to mention it. Don’t you ever consider how what you say comes off to a casual listener Basil?”

“Course not, waste of time eh?”

“Well not for most of us but I do see your point.”

Clayton Grayson took center stage and began the brief. “So long as the Calps do nothing to provoke us we are in a bind. We can march boldly into Crows end and have our tails handed to us on a platter or go into siege mode. And siege mode is something that works against us even if it succeeds. We can’t go into Crows Town and we can’t sit around and wait for the Calps to give out. They won’t, not in the time frame we have to work around.”

“What that means to me is we need local support and fast. If we get enough we can leave a small garrison of our own troops and the rest can get to the continent where the Calps are far stronger. I have a call to Nesberg on the Sara and she is working on things from that end. We know that Ramses Stillwell, the loyalist military leader got out of the Harmony alive, but we don’t know what has become of him since. We need him or someone like him to give us a hand now.”

“We are going to loose most of the fleet and a large part of our overhead protection shortly. That won’t change the situation on the ground as we will still control any fight in the air. One ship and shuttles will do that for us. But we get no closer to our final goal unless we can do something on the ground before the Calps reinforce.”

“How long before the Calps can reinforce,” Lewellyn Waterford asked for the sake of those who didn’t already know the answer.

“Five months at least for the ship that got out of the system to reach Earth and a return force is organized. But we can’t know what kind of force might be on its way even as we speak. The Calps were expecting more ships and I think it likely, and Admiral Raymond agrees.”

“Major Calvert, do you have anything to add before I continue?” Grayson asked.

“Only this, time is both our enemy and friend. We must finish this campaign before the Calps can manipulate opinion against us. We need to get our forces on to the main continent Harmony, and we need to make it obvious that the majority of the people on Mizar want the old government restored. We are going to start pulling people out of here tomorrow. The Seventh moves first and the New Britain Ranger will follow almost at once. How many remain behind is still to be determined but if there is door to door fighting, it will take place in the planets Capital Unity and we will need indigenous support. Bear that in mind with all of your contacts with the natives and be sure every one of the soldiers you are responsible for do the same.”

* * *
While Calvert was holding his meeting outside Crows End, Ellen Nesberg was talking to the two ConFed teams on planet and correlating what they said with the info Gaza and Loomis/Saudi were sending. But it did seem she finally had a line on the location, or at least contact with the indispensable patriot, Ramses Stillwell.

Half way cross the continent, away from its capital Unity, Ramses Stillwell listened to the messages traveling between the competing forces. At a minimum 99% plus were coded and all he could tell was the direction from where they came, but the other 1% gave enough context that he could tell in rough what was happening.

He was sure his prayers were in the process of being answered. All he had wished for was a chance and some off planet help. Evidently it was here, but how to get in touch? “Kessek,” he said to the com-spec on duty, “Get hold of the people that contacted us claiming to represent the Feddies. If they are what they claim to be we have some business to transact.”

It took several hours before the hookup was established and secure. Wide band, low power was hard to detect but just as hard to initiate with new protocols.

“This is Stillwell, what’s going on?”

“Colonel, the Confederation and Indies have come to all of our aid. There is a fleet controlling all planetary airspace and they have boots on the ground. The mining complex on Accord is under their control and the city of Crows End is under siege. I am in contact with them and the want, no need, your support and that of all others loyal to the former government.”

“No games, what exactly do they want from me, and how do I get in touch? As you can attest, I will not work through intermediaries the risks are too great.”

“I have a location, frequency, and pulse code. Do you have that type of equipment?”

Stillwell looked toward the com-spec, got a nod and said, “We can do that. Send the particulars and we will set the link. Victory for Sylvan!”

“Captain Nesberg?” The call was routed from the Sara’s bridge.

“Yes?”

“I have a laser signal from below claiming to be from Stillwell. It looks genuine. One thing, the com officer making contact says he represents free Sylvan, and was very emphatic about it after I called it Mizar. I don’t think calling the planet Mizar is going to go over very well with Stillwell either.”

“Got it. Put him on.”

“Colonel Ramses Stillwell?”

“We’d both better hope so I would think.”

“Yes, I guess we must. I am Captain Nesberg representing Major Wesley Calver and the Cardoman Seventh. He is down on Sylvan now but in touch. The government of Cardoman is responding to the Caliphate invasion of Sylvan with as much help as she can give. We need to get in contact with whatever’s left of the Sylvan government from before the invasion.”

“I guess that would be me, exactly what do you want me to do?”

The details worked themselves out over the next several hours and the resistance made contact with Ramseyer on Accord when loyalists, as instructed by Stillwell, came to the Cardoman camp. Air defense systems were set in place with off planet hardware and native Sylvans manning them. Two days after the initial landing, twelve hundred of the fourteen hundred man army were on Harmony and getting ready for the next stage.

That next stage started with a meeting at the farm, 60 kilometers outside of Unity, which Ibrahim Saudi had been using as a base. Only Ibrahim, Gaza, Stillwell and Grayson were present.

Advertisements