The Cutting Edge 13

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 13 Draft (03/09/08)

Clayton Grayson was wearing civilian attire borrowed from one of Stillwell’s loyalists on Accord. Technically that would make him a spy if captured and subject to the death penalty. The same went of course for the other three who had already introduced themselves by the time Grayson’s feed truck drove up to the farmhouse. “Colonel Stillwell, Lieutenant, Sgt. Omari, good to see you,” he said to the men sitting on the covered porch.

“And you too Captain,” Ibrahim said as Stillwell, sizing the newcomer up offered a strong handshake.

“A shame your Major Calvert couldn’t join us also,” Stillwell said. “But I totally understand.”

“Where are the owners?” asked Clayton, “indicating the farmhouse and surrounding lands.”

“I sent them off a week ago, before you landed. Gaza and I are quite unpopular at the present time. We are going to have to do something about that once the active resistance starts. Maybe even sooner. No way the two of us can stay here without a lot of protection that won’t be available. The best thing I’m thinking would be to take our Camels and move back to Unity.”

“I could spread the word to leave you alone,” Stillwell said, “Though not everyone would get it and the Calps would be sure to find out. So yes I think it must be back to the city.”

“I’m sure Ibrahim must have told you enough about the Cardoman forces on the planet that we can skip that subject for now. What I want to know, Colonel, is everything you can tell me about those loyal to you both inside and outside of government. Let’s start on the political end, if you will. And by that what I mean is how much popular support do you have and perhaps more importantly are there enough of the pre-Caliphate elected official with recognized standing, willing to take a chance on a Government in Exile?”

“What exactly do you mean by a Government in Exile?”

“One completely removed from the planet here, at least half a dozen senior officials, more would be better, and probably on Cardoman to start with. Depending on what happens they could end up on Union in the Confederacy.”

“There are more than enough opposed but whether or no many of them would leave the planet is something I’d have to look into. As a first thought, families would need to leave with them. Why would this government need to be off planet?” Communication turnaround time is so long that I don’t see the advantage.”

“Without a credible group from the old government supporting us we have no chance to mold popular opinion in the Confederation and Indie space. Without popular support there, the Caliphate will not hesitate to use whatever force it takes to end what they are going to call our act of aggression. If the opposition government remains on Sylvan, they run the risk of being captured and killed. It also makes it impossible for other governmental entities to talk with them.”

“Ok, I can get in touch with Hanna Perkins and get her read on this. It’ll take at least a day though.”

“Fine, let’s get on with the military situation then, particularly the numbers of loyal troops and how well they are armed. Then we can go into specifics of where they are and how the surrounding population stands.”

The resulting conversation took the rest of the day. And at the end Colonel Stillwell said to summarize, “Captain, a quarter of the existing army left their posts when I did or shortly thereafter. We are spread out in small units far away from our former bases. Another twenty percent of the army deserted and went back home. The Calps, as you likely know, only yesterday declared a temporary general amnesty for deserters, provided they return to service. With the news of Cardoman’s landings,” Stillwell said, “My intelligence section is estimating more than half of those eligible for the amnesty will find their way into loyalist units within the next week or so.”

“Less than a quarter of those remaining in the old army will fight strongly for the Caliphate, and the presence of so much dead weight in the ranks will cut into their usefulness even further. The situation relating to weaponry, especially heavy weaponry, is less favorable. A few missile and anti-air systems and a dozen armored ground cars were all we have to show. Most of our people took their personal gear, but ammunition is going to be a problem once fighting starts.

“We could have taken more,” Still well commented. “At the time, we had no idea that you were on the way. We didn’t figure to be able to hide them from the Calps. What we have is scattered around and still subject to detection though we are getting things hidden more securely every day.”

“On the plus side many of the crew served systems left behind were spiked and in the old army there was never a large stock anyway. The Calps could probably get enough working to supply their hard core supporters but I think sabotage could be initiated to render useless much of what we left behind.”

“One could wish for more, Colonel,” Clayton said, as they were still not on a first name basis. “Yet it is a start. I think it would be well for Ibrahim to meet your Hanna Parker. Do you think that could be arraigned?”

Stillwell thought for a moment and said, “Yes we can do that. How will we communicate the details?”

“You call me, I call Ibrahim. Compartmentalization is the word and order of the day.”

“I’ll get back with you by noon tomorrow,” Stillwell said.

* * *
When Clayton returned to the grounded shuttle the Pavel Tsarinstyn, who had made this flight himself said, “You’re on your way back to the Saratoga for a general strategy session Clay so better spend the next twenty minutes getting your notes in order.” And with that, SP101 lifted skyward.

A large map of Harmony was on the wall screen but people seldom looked at it. Everyone present had most of the details committed to memory and much more of their attention was devoted to the expressions on the speakers faces as the various reports were delivered.

“All of our remaining ship but the Sara will be leaving the system in a day or so. The SwiftStrike and Atropos are already boosting for the hyper limit. The Sara and her two shuttles have more than enough firepower to deal with anything on the planet. We’ll take the prisoners back to Cardoman on the Carpathian.”

“What about the three remaining Calp Pickets?” asked Farmer Barns.

“Not worth the time to hunt them down. So long as the Sara is in orbit they are a non-issue. Destroying them out of hand is evidently an escalation unjustified by military need. I am sure they will remain out system until they run out of supplies or until a Calp relief force arrives.”

Raymond looked around the room, and seeing no other questions said, “Your turn Major.”

Ellen Nesberg was the first of Calvert’s staff to speak. “We are in touch with General Gomaa but his bargaining position hasn’t changed and I am sure it won’t unless something shakes him up. He is sure that all he needs to do is wait us out and it’s not obvious that he’s wrong. After hearing Admiral Raymond, it occurs to me to ask; is there a chance we could offer to exchange the prisoners for some of the Calps local political prisoners? It might get them talking.”

“Can’t do it Ellen,” Wes said at once. “We’re outnumbered enough as it is. No captured Calps get exchanged unless it’s for our own people.”

She nodded acceptance and said, “I have nothing more to add at this time that isn’t already in the briefing notes,” and took her seat.

Clay Grayson was next. He went over in detail his conversation with Stillwell as it was news to everyone present. Then, glancing at the notes he made on the shuttle, began his analysis.

“Despite our successes in the last two days our situation is worse than it appears at first glance. Right now there is precious little the loyalists can do that helps us. We can hold the outland, but without using air power we can’t come close to cracking the Calp forces around Unity.”

“Hold a second Clay,” Major Calvert said, “I’m going to go into the deeper strategic picture for a moment before we get back to the here and now. A general war with the Caliphate is inevitable. That has been my reading on the situation ever since my student days in the Military Academy on Jorgen. Over the last few years that view has gotten outside of its military cage and into the political arena. Not many are saying as much publicly but the majority of the powers in the Confederation and Indie Space are thinking very hard about it.”

“There are many, who chose to look away and ignore what is becoming more obvious to others every year. We, the Cardoman Seventh, and the people of Sylvan are at a tipping point. The wider war could start her with us or it could stall for another year or two. I don’t see it waiting any longer than that. Our aim here is to free Sylvan, yes, but more importantly to by time. The Caliphate outnumbers and out produces all the rest of the human occupied universe by a large margin. And they have a single leader.”

“I’m not saying that a general state of war broke out tomorrow we would be absolutely bound to lose, but I wouldn’t be betting on the good guys. Everything we do on Sylvan must be more than on the up and up, it must look that way to the undecided planets who we will need to join with us in the struggle ahead. That makes our job here much, much, harder. It’s why we won’t use KE weapons or let our shuttles decide the issue. If we do that, it makes it look like we came in to start this thing.”

“What we have to do is reestablish the old government or at least one favorable to what we are here for, and do it with an absolute minimum of civilian loss of life. We have to do it on the planet and hope that the Calps don’t get back soon enough, with a large enough force so that they hold the high ground. Les, would you come back for a moment and fill every one in on the Navy’s intentions?”

Raymond stood again and said. “We are going back to Cardoman for as rapid a turnaround as we can make it. When we return we hope to have the newest of our level 4 ships with us. Due to the distances involved we will be back before any relief force sent by the Caliphate, which they are certain to do because of what they learn after Battle Cruiser Golan Heights return. They have a problem with central control of their fleet that I hope they do nothing about.”

“In the interim the Saratoga should be able to deal with any normal military reinforcement we think are on the way. If this evaluation is wrong, the Sara is under absolute orders to leave the system rather than risk destruction. It shouldn’t come to that but it might.”

“Major it’s your show again.”

“What this all adds up to is we have about six months to win the battle on the ground. After that, if the Calps come into system with more force than we can deal with, we will board shuttle and run with our tails between out legs. I don’t like that particular position and don’t expect any of you do either. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The discussions switched to the tactical and lasted another hour. After telling Grayson to spend whatever time he necessary with Nesberg to insure that intelligence communications remained speedy yet secure, Wes and Raymond visited the sickbay and awarded the ‘Purple Heart’, the military award with the oldest pedigree still in use, to the injured from A-Company and tree others from the fighting on Harmony. He then went back to his temporary command site below.

“Send me Boss’n Pilchard as soon as he comes aboard,” Captain Madry said to her Third Officer Eric Shearing, “I’d like to talk to him; I met him on Llanfairn a few years ago when I was just getting involved with the Seventh but I think I might have missed something.”

When Jamie first met Carl Pilchard, he was part of a recruiting team staying in a luxury penthouse suite on Llanfairn. Jamie’s cousin Audie and Captain Melbourne were the other members of the Seventh there and even more important than the recruiting, was dealing with the ‘Prize Court’ that would determine the status of several captured ships. Jamie at the time was the Second Officer on a merchant vessel and taking a chanced signed up with the Seventh. Only three years ago but so much had happened since.

Pilchard was a sergeant then working for the Major and shortly thereafter made the switch to the Navy. He was now, or had been until a few minutes ago, the Boss’n on Mark McCormack’s Carpathian. Only slightly above average in height but arrestingly handsome to those of the proper persuasion who were not taking a repressor on a regular basis, and he knew it. On duty, he was a model soldier or sailor, off duty he found his fun where he could, but handled his romantic interludes with such grace, that they had never interfered with his professional life and duty.

Mike Miller, the Boss’n of her own ship, met him when he cycled aboard and escorted him to Madry’s office and day cabin before excusing himself.

“Make yourself comfortable Boss’n, a coffee, tea, or something more substantial?”

“No thanks Ma’am, I’ve been up for far too long as it is and am going to find a bunk as soon as we are done here. Not that I mean to rush you,” he said with a hint of a grin.

“We’ll keep it short then, and talk more later. You do know your Idea to strip the fleet of some of her most experienced crew, those with substantial regular ground side experience, is going to play havoc with our efficiency for a while don’t you?”

“Sure do Ma’am, but I think it for the best.”

“So do I and everyone else that didn’t think of it first. Except for guarding the Calp prisoners we have no real need for a marine detachment on any of the ships going back to Cardoman and a reserve of thirty five highly trained troops up here on the Sara, ready and on call when needed, is something that could make a difference.”

“Major Calvert sends his best and wanted to let you know a commendation for thinking is going into your folder.”

“Sorry I didn’t get a chance to at least say hello while he was up here.”

“He’s a busy man, as you will be also Boss’n. Better go and get your rest, because in eight hours, by Major Calvert’s orders, I have you scheduled to start filing the rust off of thirty five former ground troops.”

“Thank you Ma’am, a pleasure seeing you again.”

* * *
Ibrahim and Gaza had taken rooms in a boarding house located in a respectable section of Unity and near to the racetrack. It was owned and operated by a man whose name was on the list supplied by Stillwell. Their wards, Alahambra and Najib, were in residence at one of the better stables just outside the grounds of the track. Even with a war in progress General Amid Farouk had assured Gaza when he saw him in the track’s still open lounge, the raceway would be back in operation within a few days. There seemed no immediate danger to the Capital and civilian moral was a factor to consider.

“What are we to do about the invaders,” Ibrahim asked seeing the opportunity fall into his lap unbidden.
Amid, a drink or two too many under his belt said, “We have a plan all right. One I in fact, wrote mostly myself. The infidel think we have no idea of where they are locating themselves. They are in for a surprise. We have reports from the countryside and, er, he caught himself, shall I say other means of finding them. There ships but one are leaving orbit, and we are about to reassure faithful that there is no fear of a planetary bombardment or any attack from above.”

“But do we just wait? And pray to Allah for help? That seems so wrong somehow.”

“No, friend Ibrahim, we will soon mount operations to overwhelm them and they shall learn that the Prophet’s will is not to be mocked. But enough of this. I have said too much already. Let us instead discuss the various ways one might make a successful wager once the racing season is once more underway.”

Using Stillwell’s list Gaza made most of the contacts. Ibrahim spent his time at the track in order to garner any military information dropped in his presence. A surprising amount was. A culture with years spent in barracks, where gossip and speculation was the norm, did not change overnight.

The resistance of several thousand in Unity might be rapidly organized, but lacking weapons they wouldn’t be of much consequence. The Seventh had small arms to spare, enough to equip a force of equal size to their own. Helping to arm the loyalists was something they had planed for. The problem would be getting them into town.

Colonel Stillwell, or one of his officers, came up with a clever solution. There were a number of ships at sea carrying finished product from the copper mill on Accord to cities on the mainland. These had all left port before the Cardoman landing. The crew of such a ship was small and two of them were owned and operated by people Stillwell spoke for. Using the hide inside the book method, the middle sections of palleted two and half by four meter copper sheeting were cut out, leaving a wide margin on the outsides, and made ready; the removed interior dumped at sea.

The first ship, due within the week, would take on a small quantity of rifles and a larger quantity of explosives offloaded from a fishing trawler that would by ‘chance’, meet up with her still several days from Unity. If that ship survived inspection at Unity’s maritime port, the rest would come in with the other ship; the proper pallets being sent to warehouses owned by loyalists.

“I see Ibrahim is reporting the Calps claim to have knowledge of our troop locations. Should we believe them?” Calvert asked his staff chief.

“We can’t afford not to believe. I would guess they must have some kind of a stealthy drone setup. It would need to be as good as what we are using or we would have noticed by now.”

“If the sensors on the Sara, even from the distance she is operating from, hasn’t seen any sign; it would be pure luck for us to see them unless the Calps make a mistake. Get word to Stillwell that we would like his moles on the Calp bases to report anything they find on where they might be launched from. With that to go by, I think we can take them down when we have to.”

“I’ve got an inkling of an idea for a plan to kick the Calps out of Towns End on Accord. We could use the troops that would free up and any captured equipment. Give Farmer Barns a call and I will fill you both in.”

Fourteen hour later Barns, along with Higgins, Hanson, and Beal, were strapped inside the egg shaped drop capsules and contemplating what was going to happen next. Remarkably quick work; Barns was sure the Seventh was up to it but wondered about the Loyalists. This was going to be a test they had to pass if future combined operations were planed. And one even more important to Barns and the others with him.

They were ejected from the shuttle on the other side of Sylvan from the target area. Little or no chance they would be seen in route to the drop zone. The drop zones, there were two of them, were the main communications center and the anti-air artillery site in Calp held Towns End. Barns felt the jolt and then weightlessness. He quickly gulped down a couple of anti-nausea meds. “Shudda’ done that earlier.” he thought.

The timing was such that they would be dropping in a few hours after local midnight. A traditional time when guards are expected to be less than fully alert. Some how in, a besieged city, Barns was sure he would have managed to keep a close watch. Checking his pod’s display, he found fifteen minutes had already elapsed, so in a half an hour more he was going to find out everything he needed to know about the other side’s state of readiness.

When the buffeting of atmospheric entry started and his stomach began acting up again, Kelly, ‘Farmer’ Barns was glad the meds were working. The pod split apart and he was swinging under his chute and acquiring his landing spot at the Calps ‘Com Center’ when the voices of the three others making the drop informed him that they had made it this far safely as well.

Barns and Higgins had the com center to deal with, Beal and Hanson the artillery site. There were supposed to be Loyalists ready to assist from the moment they touched down. “There had better be,” Barns thought as he braced for the landing. A gust of wind made touchdown easier than his practice jumps He had kept the landing point, a parking area a dozen meters from the com centers doorway lined up the servo controls to the chutes lines did the rest. There didn’t even seem to be a guard on the door.

Without a sounding alarm, he had time to ditch the chute and wait the ten seconds it took until Sgt. Higgins landed barely ten meters away. Instead of barreling through the door, Barns tried just turning and pulling on the knob, surprise, it came open, revealing a small unoccupied reception area with another door behind the desk. Higgins was opening the second door when they heard a series of explosions, sounding as if not far away, and the building began to shake.

Higgins pulled the door aside and Farmer rushed in. Seven men in front of com and surveillance consoles was his quick count. An armed guard, probably the one missing from the front desk, was starting to run to his station and the door Barns had entered from. Seeing a soldier in unfamiliar near black battledress, the guard started to swing his short barreled rifle up. A three round burst and the guard was down.

Barns was moving fast and had cleared the doorway when Higgins followed in on his heels.

“Stand and move to the corner Now!” Barns yelled to those seated in the dimly lit room.

One of the operators, a hero in the making, jumped up, and instead of heading towards the corner tried to pull a holstered side arm and rush, zigging and zagging, towards the two Cards. Another burst, this time from Higgins, and the rest did as directed. A couple of staggered magazines later the com gear was in bits and pieces on the floor.

“Do it sergeant,” Farmer ordered and Higgins tossed the grenade that seconds later left a cloud of incapacitating gas behind while the two Cardoman soldiers shut the door and went back outside. Time to send up a flare and see what was happening elsewhere.

Sergeants Hanson and Beal were in a tight spiraling descent at 400 meters when the opened fire on the artillery base. They trusted their chutes memory and servo system to stay on course and concentrated on the gun locations below them. They each carried a shoulder launched missile tube and an extra three round magazine. The missiles were small, a third of a meter long and 40 mm in diameter. They were ‘Fire and Forget’ once the aim point was selected and a small charge took them from the tube. A half of a second later the main drive ignited and the guidance package steered them to the target.

The battery held five targets. Three 155’s and two heavy mortar revetments. Hank Hanson fired at the 155’s first and continued on, sending one missile to each of the five locations. Beal, starting with the mortars did the same. Even with the 20 seconds it took to change magazines (it would have taken half as long if the weren’t dangling from chute straps) they still had 200 meters of altitude when the primary fire plan was complete.

One of the missiles had malfunctioned and failed to detonate. Hanson sent his last missile at the target hit once, Beal at the easternmost guard post. They dropped the tubes and sailing across the width of the battery dropped grenades into the central region. There job wasn’t to land inside and mop up what was left but to get out alive.

Trading speed and altitude for time aloft they made a field on the outskirts of town and were headed for the woods when the flare signaling success at the Com Center lit up the night sky.

At the same times Barns was firing his flare into the air, Higgins sent one into the guard shack at the compound’s gated entrance. The shack was armored for attack from the front, not the rear. The flare penetrated and went off inside the small enclosed space blinding anyone inside. Both men ran towards the several meters square building and tossing a concussion grenade through a broken window, took to the ground behind a parked vehicle until the thump of the explosion sounded.

They were through the wreck of the guard shack, and stopped fifty meters down the road was a light colored van, just as Stillwell’s liaison said it would be. Sprinting for it, the rear door opened and the scrambled inside. The man who had opened the door closed it again, and then the van sped away. Three minutes later Barns and Higgins were in a residential cellar and the heard the sound of small arms, seemingly from distances and directions all around them.

Leftenant Alistair Bingham and twenty-four of Ramseyer’s 1st Company, with the anti-air silenced, landed at the police station and took control after a short but intense firefight. The rest of Ramseyer’s forces stationed on Accord were sweeping in from the woods outside the town and by morning the city was secured. They had taken over seven hundred prisoners.

The Calps had taken heavy casualties, and several hundred had fled the city to the north. The locals would be able to take care of that problem. Ramseyer’s men came through with casualties of their own but light in comparison. After leaving a few teams of advisors behind on Accord the rest of the 1st Company, a hundred and sixty were now available for duty elsewhere, most likely on the continent.