The Cutting Edge 14

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 14 Draft (03/14/08)

Lt. Audie Madry knocked, and without waiting to hear an answer, came busting into Captain Reeves office. Reeves was the head of Cardoman R&D, and in theory, and on the organizational chart, leading Madry and her section, though surely the opposite was the case.

“Damn Sir! You won’t believe what I just read about.”

“Then I suppose there’s no particular point in telling me—is there?”

“Aw Cap, you know what I mean.”

“Go ahead Audie, I’ve got the budget to finish up,” Reeves said indication the display inlaid into the surface of his desk.

“I got this new Corporal assigned to me. Just nineteen but really sharp. I asked him how he got sent to R&D. He said after he got kicked out of the University it seemed like the only place he could get a job doing what he liked.”

“There must be more to that than meets the eye. No one gets into R&D just because they ask for it. But go ahead, tell me what he likes.”

“I read his paper Sir, the one that got him kicked out. He was studying explosives!”

“Studying explosives get you kicked out of school these days?”

“Well Sir, I think it was the collateral damage to the chem lab that really did it; but you’d be surprised at what some peoples think about military research.”

“After being in this section for years, and trying to lead it for the last three, I somehow doubt that Madry. Get to the point and make it march,” he said, indicating the desk once more.

“The kid was researching old explosives Sir, and he came up with a doozy. It’s called Astrolite-G. There’s a fancy chemical name for it but it’s a mixture of hydrazine rocket fuel and ammonium nitrate. It’s a liquid, mostly stable, not as stable as some others though, and people stopped using it hundreds of yeas ago. It has this one, really neat property. Because of its low volatility, you can spread it all around and it gets absorbed by the soil. But what makes it so cool is that it still retains its full explosive characteristics for almost four whole days! Think of what we could do with something like that!”

Reeves stared into the distance for a few seconds then said, “The ideas so seem to come naturally don’t they? Write up a report on this and I think I am going to have a talk with your boy wonder. But later Madry. Don’t forger to close the door on your way out.”

A week later Reeves, Madry, and Cpl. Yuri Boleslav, were overlooking a closed of section or the Seventh’s artillery range. Before Captain Reeves arrived, Madry and Boleslav had taken a liter of the explosive and sprayed it on to a three-meter square section of the range, then buried a detonator with just the tip of its antenna showing.

“Would you like to do the honors?” Madry said handing Reeves the standard signal device.

“I think I would,” he said taking the unit and looking at the red flag situated some 250 meters away in the center of the test area.
He pressed the button and a geyser of dirt and dust blew debris roiling into the air for hundreds of meters. The sound reached them a second later as the light breeze dispersed the dark cloud.

“Impressive for a first test. Yes indeed. Gather up your recording gear and we’ll all go back to my office and consider what to do next.”

Captain Reeves got a lightly wooded section of the range that hadn’t been fired into yet posted for his own use. The presence of the few trees was the reason that par of the range had remained unused. Trees were not native to Cardoman and each of them was considered special.

The test series went without a hitch. Ammonium nitrate is a common fertilizer and hydrazine, while rare, still in use. Audie came up with a way to use ground waves to set off the detonator so there wasn’t even the tip of an antenna showing on anything but highly specialized explosive detector.

On that type of equipment, Astrolite-G showed up as an anomaly, but didn’t trip any of the devices alarm circuits. It was reasonable that the same result happen on Calp detectors as well.

Once they had enough to put on a show, Reeves sent a message to Cardoman Chief of Staff General Inglase’s office asking that he, or a designate, meet with R&D at his earliest convenience. General Inglase came himself, not much of a surprise, as he liked to get away from Minton and speed time with the troops. Yuri ran the data display and Audie took care of the descriptions while Reeves and Inglase watched.

“So you see General, no downside at all. It’s cheap, effective, and easy to hide. We can ship the two parts separately and mix them on the spot. Who would look any further at a shipment of fertilizer and rocket fuel?”

“Except for the fact that even low tech world make their own fertilizers I expect you’re correct Lieutenant. Get some of your spraying gear made up and a load will go to Sylvan as soon as possible. I wish we could get some to the people on Marais as well but I don’t see any way to do that at this time.”

“Yeah,” Madry said with less than full military precision. “If we sent the instructions Davis could probably get hold of the nitrate, but rocket fuel on a prison planet, probably not.”

Addressing Cpl Boleslav for the first time, General Inglase said, “Quite a fine piece of work here Corporal, especially for one so new to the service. I looked at you file on the way over. Keep up the good work son; I think you might have found yourself a home.”

Boleslav positively beamed as Reeves and the General left the projection room.

* * *
At almost the same time as the conversation on Cardoman, Davis was waiting for Dean Messmer and Rabbi Israel Levinson to emerge from the tunnel they were surely navigating by now. Fader Jameson would lead them supply them with IR gear and lead them to the spot a kilometer from the exit to where Davis and Leah were monitoring the sensors they had set out.
When Fader saw the small hole form as the last dirt was removed he hiding the tunnels entrance he was ready. “Stop,” he said directly into the opening. “Dean this is Fader. I want you to get away from the opening. I will drop down some IR ponchos and before you finish the opening get them on. When you come out stay low and follow me. We have a ways to go before we are out of sight of the fence and any sentries. Don’t say anything and just follow. Got it?”

“Toss em down.”
Knowing what was going on, Davis kept track of the progress and sighed with relief when they were beyond detection from the prison. “They’ll be here in about ten minutes Leah.”

Leah peered into the blackness, she had no thought but for Dean’s safety, and still missed the silent approach until the three were a dozen meters away. When bare meters separated them Dean introduced the Rabbi, and Davis began asking questions even while Messmer was still trying to seat himself comfortably on the ground next to Leah.

“Rabbi, what I need to know up front, before we can proceed, is how serious you and your people are about overthrowing the Caliphate. How much are they willing to risk, how many can relied on, and how secure is anything I reveal to you, and you to them. I want you to understand, unless I am convinced by what you tell me this meeting will end at once.”

“Serious? You must know of the strength the faith that brought us here. I would think that enough to ease your mind on that point. And our numbers? We were a small, very small, subset of the people on Earth marked by the Caliphate for elimination, but on Marais we make up a third of the population. Security is something that is ultimately unknowable until success or failure is achieved. We haven’t lasted this long without taking some chances, and those things we do that would obviously bring down the guards, if they knew about, haven’t done so yet. That is my best, though not my only reason for thinking that we are secure today. Tomorrow must speak for itself.”

“You have someone up on the plateau in Calp headquarters?”

“My, you are quick to pick up a crumb Sgt. Davis. Yes we do. Not all the time and not only there. Dean mentioned you are familiar with the policy that keeps the prisoners off the plateau. Everyone forced to live below is officially prohibited from visiting there. Rules as absolute as that, when one is far from the rule making body, over years tend to become guidelines. My people became aware of this fact eons ago in a place called Babylonia. But I digress.”

The commanders of the prison troops have remained very true to the spirit of their orders. Regular replacement of the Commander and inspectors visiting from Earth, no doubt are the reasons. Still, violations happen. For men, infrequently, we have better doctors in the prison population than those sent from the Caliphate to a dismal post such as this. Some of those doctors are Jewish and several are taken up to the Caliphate headquarters now and again.”

“For women there are different standards. Women, holding to our faith, will have nothing to do with the guards or their officers, but some of the other women—while I’m sure you understand,” he said this with a glance in Leah’s direction. “There is a regular passage up and down the bluff for such as are compliant and willing. The Caliphate does not force any into that type of life but the advantages overcome the weak. We do not damn the vessel for its contents, but make certain instead that they know nothing that may harm us.”

“One woman of our faith does visit the Caliphate highlands frequently. She is an artist, a painter of immense talent. Personal portraits and religious decoration are both in great demand and she spends much time on the bluff exercising her talents.”

“Give me a moment Rabbi,” Davis said while running the recording of everything said to this point through the stress analyzer. Nothing even showed yellow. It backed up Davis’s own impression and he decided to take the Rabbi at his word, for now.

“Time to get down to nuts and bolts. We have modern infantry weapon with us, enough to arm fifty of your people. We also have a small quantity of explosives and of course sensor and anti-IR equipment. I need to find out everything you’ve got on the Calps plateau operations and see if we have a half a chance to dislodge them. Half a chance is what I need. Anything else and we still walk.”

“Just how many of you are there Sergeant? Dean claims he doesn’t know.”

“Not nearly enough Rabbi. We can supply planning, experience, the equipment I’ve mentioned, but that’s it. If you are going to be free of the Caliphate, the bulk of the work must be up to you.”

“And if we can succeed how do we hold our gains?”

“Success has many fathers. You can count on it.”

Jameson took the Rabbi and Messmer back to the tunnel mouth by a slightly different route than he had used earlier. He helped cover up the tunnels outward end, leaving a sensor and a com relay, and then, returned to where Leah and Davis remained. The three of them took another hour returning to their own camp, a meal, and with the rising of the sun, sleep.

Still early the next morning, Rabbi Levinson sought out Becka Aarons at her stall in the market. “We must talk my dear,” he said giving the code words. He then went on to seek out Judah Ben Judah on the docks.

It was several hours before noon but the sticky heat was already overcoming the breeze. Rabbi Levinson, in a hurry, said a few words to those that noticed him passing and was soon on his way. A long wharf stretched out into the calm waters of Parsons Bay. There were only a few fishing trawlers tied up and Israel thought he must be too late to catch Ben Cannon, but luck was with him. Ben Cannon’s trawler ‘The Endless Journey’ was tied a third of the way up the dock.

Ben Judah was cursing at the two men trying to erect a new mast in a futile effort to speed them along. He saw the Rabbi and pretending he was only speaking in jest told the workers to carry on and stepped on the dock.

“I am glad to see you Israel, unexpected as it is. May I invite you aboard for a bit of refreshment?”

“Alas I must say no. I have come to talk about your cousin Shelia’s situation. These were another set of code words.

“What is that girl up to now?” Judah asked.

“She needs family support. Would it be possible for you and your wife to come to the synagogue when you are done with the days work? We can talk about it then.”

“We will be there Rabbi, count on it.”

Rabbi Levinson thought to himself, “Where have I heard that phrase before?”

Using a small detector given him by Davis, Rabbi Levinson checked for surveillance devices and found none. This would could mean the Calps neither knew, nor cared about what he was up to, or that they had other means of checking on him. Either way it made him feel better about seeing Ben Judah and Rebecka here.

The entire Prison Calp security setup was rickety and haphazard showing development over time without much thought to the possibility of revolt except for measures guarding the way up the cliffs. Requiring everyone inside of an expanding wire perimeter every night made some kind of sense, but there hadn’t been a night check verifying that those supposed to be inside, were actually inside, in years.

His visitors must have met on the street outside because the three, Judah and his wife, and Becka entered together. A few moments of pleasantries and Israel, his own wife talking with Judah’s wife, took the others into another room and explained the situation.

“This seems unbelievable Rabbi,” Becka said, “I gave up hope for a change in the circumstances of out captivity long ago. I will of course do anything to aid you and them.”

Judah said, “Continue Rabbi, what do you want of us?”

“From you Judah, a means to take the ‘Maccabees’, that is the only term that comes to mind for an active resistance, to where they may be trained. Using your boat and going up the coast to a remote location I think might work, and I hope you can come up with a plan. From you Becka, maps and detailed descriptions of what is on top of the bluff and as much detail as you can supply about security arraignments.”

“How can we possibly train these people,” Jameson asked Davis. Too much traffic in and out of the tunnel and detection becomes a near certainty. I barely trust myself to make the trip to the entrance and back.”

“From what the Messmer has just sent us the Rabbi has come up with a plan. He says a critical few leaders, can be taken out by boat,” Davis replied. “Accidents happen at sea and we can work out the details so the missing are presumed dead. Those people we will be able to give extensive training.”

“Others can be dropped off for a day at a time, joining us in the morning and leaving when the fishing boat that brings them returns to port. It will take time to get a workable plan in place, so I think we have several months to get all the training in. What worries me more than the training itself is that every person we teach to use a weapon is one more person that can leak the fact we are even on the planet.”

“We need to do something so that communication with the inside is more secure. Even with a directional transmitter I don’t like it. Get a relay set up through the tunnel and use an optical link from its exit, send the link to us. Start on it tonight Fader and if Messmer show up as scheduled in another two days, he can do the work inside the tunnel.”

It took two weeks it took for Ben Judah to find his spot on down the coast. The relay system was in place and Davis and his team were in concealment at the landing site and watched as the 15-meter fishing craft with some small nets in the water went a short distance from a tree-covered shore. They saw the figure slip over the side and making most of the distance underwater, climb on the secluded bank. One where the overhead foliage hid the ground below.

Fader met the stockily built man of perhaps 30, skin weathered by so many years at sea it was a shade to an even deep brown, and with an oddly contrasting bleached almost white head of short hair. “Glad you could make it,” Fader said, extending his hand. The two men shook and Jameson led him away from the shoreline.

A hundred meters inland they halted under a low rock overhang and waited for Davis and Leah to join them. It wasn’t long and their talk began in earnest.

“A good plan getting you here Judah,” Leah told him. “If the Calps look at overhead imagery they will see the dummy with a foot caught in the net go over the side. I’m sure the weight you added will cause the foot to break off and the body to stay down. If your brother and your man working the nets do their parts it will look like a tragic accident. But your poor wife, I don’t know how she will stand up to it.”

“It was a harder choice than I have ever had to make. She is not an actress, far too straightforward and guileless. If she knew, she would not act naturally, and that might give us away. My brother and mate are both strange sorts so whatever their reaction little importance will be attached. When I see my wife again, I will owe her an explanation and a great debt. Yet I am certain she will understand and forgive.”

Ben Judah’s trawler, now under his brother’s command kept fishing; to do anything else would have been out of character in a people inured to hardship. They kept contact with Messmer and the Rabbi by use of the tunnel relay. Nine days after Ben Judah’s arrival the boat passed near shore again and dropped a weighted, waterproofed packet. Jameson, using an air bottle from on of the pods as an improvised diving aid, swam out and recovered it. Inside was what Becka Aaronson had gathered about the Calp city on the plateau. It was enough to start on a real plan.

* * *
Cmdr. Warren Woodrow put out a call for the production yards superintendent. The new 4th generation ship he was spending most of his time on was almost complete. It was going to Novi when finished. That was one of the factors, a very major one, and the one which convinced Novi’s government to aid the Cardoman fleet at Sylvan by sending the two battle cruisers SwiftStrike and Atropos. Now the SwiftStrike was returning for the promised reward. After leaving Sylvan, the Atropos went straight to Novi.

Even before the first message was received a wave of relief swept over all who knew enough about what was going on to be concerned. The Novi ship’s return meant that the Sylvan operation was likely on track. The com channels were busy while waiting for word. The good news wasn’t long in coming and soon made its way to the Cardoman government and military people with a need to know.

Once reaching Cardoman and the new ship, Captain Burgeron was to put a part of his crew onboard and take command. Along with his own men he would use yard techs and a small number of new graduates from the Cardoman Naval Academy to work her into shape. His present first officer was slated to get command of the SwiftStrike. News of the SwiftStrike’s return and what must be the imminent return of the Carpathian and Eagle as well spread through the dockyard and before long to the non-military citizens of the planet.

With Raymond away, and as small as the Cardoman Navy was, Woody was used to being the highest-ranking Navy officer in the system. In any ‘Real’ Navy, leaving an engineering rank in charge of the defense of the home system while everyone more senior, experienced and responsible went off to war just couldn’t have happened.

Burgeron made a good, but not great arrival, and two days later docked at the main Cardoman yard above the planet. Woodward was in the receiving bay when Burgeron came aboard. A few hours earlier two other hyper ships were detected coming into system, and it was known that the Eagle and Carpathian had returned. With Admiral Raymond back in town, Woody took Burgeron in tow and gave the Captain a tour of his new ship.

At 34,000 tons the new ship, she had yet to be christened and given a name, was far smaller than the SwiftStrike. Yet faster and with much more offensive power to boot. She needed a crew of three hundred, less than a third of the older SwiftStrike. Part of the deal struck by the interested parties was, when Hugo Burgeron accepted the new ship as finished, his old command became part of the Cardoman fleet.

The ship was a sister to the Saratoga. Minor maintenance upgrades but a near identical twin. Some of the electronics were not installed, and the weapons load out was far from complete, but those things were being worked on. Novi was responsible for some of those purchases and the items in question had not reached Cardoman yet. Most of what Woody and the people working for him could complete, was complete.

During the wait for the Carp and the Eagle, and while Burgeron was busy taking charge of his new ship, Woody went on to checking on the status of the cargo ready for loading when the two military cargo carriers arrived. When he was certain all was ready on that front he switched his attention to the next 4th generation ship in the production queue. There was never enough time, but he was on hand to welcome Admiral Raymond and turn over the system command when the Carpathian docked.

* * *
It was a nervous three weeks until the last of the Maccabees were done with the one-day familiarization course most of which was spent in learning to shoot. The rebels came in on the trawler in twos and threes and went home the same way same day. Ben Judah’s brother had put a livewell below the trawlers single deck. A rectangular box, it had an opening through the hull but the sides were high enough that the top of the well was above the water line. A good swimmer could now exit the boat and make it to shore without being seen.

Not long after the meeting with Rabbi Levinson, the Calps scheduled Messmer and his group to go to work developing a new farm. Dean went ‘Native’ and was the first to tryout the trawlers modification. His name was put on a list and a reward offered for information leading to his return but the Calps didn’t much care one way or the other.

The Calps also never bothered to ask Judah’s brother what he was up to, going back to the same spot everyday, but if they had, the explanation was going to be involved with traps set on the bottom for crustaceans very similar to earthly lobsters. And yes, they did find enough of them to make the excuse plausible. It gave a reason to stop long enough so delivery and pickup of the trainees was possible.

There wasn’t any need to take up valuable time with the standard instructions given to all recruits on the care and cleaning of the rifle. After the last training session was complete there would be months before the trainees would see a weapon again. They would be given one ready to fire and if the battle lasted long enough that knowing care and maintenance became an issue, the battle was already lost.

“What we’re gonna’ do,” Davis said, “is all of us, no reserves, mount the plateau at the broken section of the cliff wall 100 kilometers from the sea. Ben Judah will go with us and heaven help him if he doesn’t carry his own weight,” Davis said in jest. Years of toiling with sails and nets had made Ben Judah into an imposing physical specimen. Dean, for all the physically demanding work he had been involved with, was in equally good shape.

“Mules again?” Sgt Short said.

“Worse,” Davis replied. “Mules get to take a break now and then. We don’t.”

The cliff wall that protected the highland the Calps built on ran eastward from Parsons Bay. It was a major continental feature contributing even to weather patterns. Leaving the ocean it continued for 500 kilometers inland before gradually loosing height and merging into the surrounding land. A hundred kilometers from the coast it lost its monolithic nature and made a slight dip with tumbled rock before continuing on. This was something the prisoners knew nothing about, as they had never been permitted to go that far from the coast or see any aerial photos or data scans.

“After we take up the first load and hide it, we all go back down for another. Cpl. Jameson will leave us at that time and head back here to the coast on the lowland side. Fader, you will be with the Maccabees when they try to go up the cliffs from the bottom. If all goes well we will meet you on top. If not, you won’t be going up the cliff and there won’t be any writing home about it.”

“You will go into the prison area and inspect the preparations. If you are not sure they are ready, and if the untrained support isn’t mobilized, you can call off the operation by scrubbing it entirely or delaying a few days. Once the rest of us our in place we have to strike as soon as possible. Delay will be fatal. We can and will pull back if there is no chance of success.”

“We have 60 days, more or less, to get everything in place. No matter what it takes from us, we need to get the thing done before the next relief ships come in. If we can do what we plan, and then get hold of the orbital defense system in working shape, we might prevail against the picket ships still in system until help arrives.”