The Cutting Edge 15

The Cutting Edge Chapter 15 Draft (03/17/08)

TCE Cliff3 BW

Scaling the escarpment put them more at risk than anything did since dropping on the planet. They could not do it at night, just too difficult wearing IR gear, and they were exposed to overhead view while climb. A planet is a big place to watch and Davis made the only call possible. It seemed reasonable to assume that the Calps were focusing outwards rather than on the planet anyway. “Too many people have ended up dead from reasonable assumptions,” Davis said. “Bad choices make bad decisions. Let’s get this done and hope for the best.”

The trip from the tangled vegetation below and up to the plateau, even with ropes in now in place, was the most physically demanding thing Leah had ever attempted. In comparison, all the days marching with loads equal to two thirds of her body weight were insignificant. Her respect for Mullins, who went up first without any help at all, was now stratospheric. Like all the rest though she made it. They wore the frames but pulled their packs and equipment up in stages, Short and Messmer guiding them over the rough spots.

The view from the heights was breathtaking. All the more so because she realized none of the 50,000 prisoners had ever seen anything like it. Near dusk and with the sun low to the horizon, a heavy mist rising from the valley floor. Now she understood why it seemed they’d spent half of their time walking in a fog. The place on top where they ascended was covered with broken rock. Away from the edge the forest was less dense and the trees were different in color and with a form more suitable for the higher elevation.

Fader Jameson stayed below and tied the gear on to the ropes. He kept a free end dangling from each load so he could pull it away from the cliff face when needed. Half way up the angle became so steep that he needed to work as hard as the people doing the lifting above. When the last load was up they found a place away from the edge and set a camp for the night. Jameson was already two kilometers away from the cliff’s foot, retracing the path they had just traveled.

Leah didn’t have the energy to eat more than a few bites before she wrapped herself into her poncho and went to sleep. She never got called for guard duty that night, and made up for it by getting the coffee made and warming breakfast for everyone the next morning. Mullins took point, and ten minutes later the rest followed.

Lt. Molazim. Captain of the Picket Dromedary, would have been just as happy if he didn’t have the more seniority than the other Picket’s Captain. Who needed the headaches? That ships crew was down below now and the station keeper left on the ship had his hand’s full just tracking the maintenance issues the ancient vessel kept throwing his way even in a state of rest.

Molazim was circling the planet in a pole-to-pole orbit that put him over everything below, but with almost a full day between passes over any given point. Anything of interest was going to come from outside the system so he didn’t worry much. It would have been nice to have continuous coverage but better to enjoy the time below than go crazy from the boredom. His relief couldn’t come soon enough but still a month to go.

“We’ll use it now,” Davis said talking about the lightweight, hand launched reconnaissance drone they had packed along with them. Compared to the full featured units they usually used it was a toy. Small and light, massing only a kilogram, it would be blown away in a breeze. It was low and slow but would outpace the point and let them travel much faster than if they needed to inspect every ‘inch’ in front of them. Now what exactly was an ‘inch’ anyway?

Leah was walking in single file 5 meters behind Dean. They talked for the first hour of the march but it soon became too much work to do more than place one foot in front of the other. Without Jameson to help the load was divided into one fewer part. The cooler temperature and lack of humidity made even that bearable.

When they stopped for the midday break and meal Davis had some unwelcome news. “We’re gonna’ knock the hourly breaks down to five minutes. The drone is keeping ahead and so it’s safe. Leach—You got the point.”

The days turned into weeks but they were within spitting distance of the Calp city shortly after Jameson, who had no need to drive himself made the coast. Now they went into full stealth mode and began to scout the area around the Calp settlement. Leah stayed back with Dean and Judah while the ‘Pros” did the legwork.

“I’m cutting off all communications except for the drone.” Leah wasn’t sure what that meant but Judah asked the question for her. “It means nothing gets broadcast or beamed. We upload to the bird and it skims down the cliff and through the treetops to Jameson. He downloads when it reaches him and sends back anything he’s got the same way.”

“When he goes inside the wire we will lose almost all communications until just before the action starts. We have a few things to watch for in town. Particular windows, open or closed during the day and lights on or off at night. What they will do is warn us if Fader is caught. If we need to call off the operation we will need to make a broadcast that will reveal our presence or take a chance on flying the drone into one of those open windows.”

“What if we don’t have time for that, if we need to do something in a hurry, like when we make our move?”

“Once we decide to move communication silence is the last of our worries. The evening before the bomb drops Fader will go back outside and we will be able to go over everything he has to insure our timing matches those inside.”

Rabbi Levinson appeared to be doing nothing other than going about his normal routine. Even close monitoring of his every word wasn’t outwardly revealing. All in all, he did his work extremely well. The change inside the wire wasn’t anything one could touch, but a feeling amongst those that the Rabbi wanted with him when the time came, for something to happen. Becka Aaronson became his prime messenger to the people that needed to know more. Judah’s brother Shemuel handled the contact and relays through Jameson and thence to Davis.

“Did you know that Shemuel nickname ‘Shema’ in Hebrew means or represents an article of faith?” Leah asked Davis at one time.
“Never would have guessed, but it seems appropriate given the situation were in.”

Fader Jameson left his rifle behind in the tunnel. The metal might give them away. Getting everything in place, he made two trips to the tunnel mouth. The first with explosives more advanced than the sugar/fertilizer variety the Maccabees had developed and experiment with for their own use. On his last trip he carried more explosives but also com gear.

Shema Ben Judah was the Maccabee Fader met at the tunnel entrance, and except for Rabbi Levinson the only person he had contact with for the first three days he was inside the prison area. Fader spent all those hours underground in the small room at the tunnel’s entrance. He wasn’t sure if he was more a mole or a rat, but when Shema took him to the basement of a home close to where the Rabbi lived, he was glad to be outside again.

He went underground once more but this time had a window. The divided cellar was under a two family dwelling with a large roof overhang. Coarsely woven wicker basket shutters covered a window lacking glass but let in enough light that seeing his surroundings wasn’t difficult. The overhang kept the daily rain out and cross-ventilation provided some cooling, mornings and evenings. The open grates also insured that noise from the street came through undiluted.

The woman living above him was old enough that she no longer was included in the levies for work crews, but young that she was able to keep a small bakery going that specialized in traditional products. This was ample cover for the daily visitors Fader started to receive while gathering information on the rebel’s preparedness.

“It’s on for tomorrow night,” Sgt. Davis said and began filling his team in on the details. “The painter, Becka Aaronson, that is giving us all the inside information has a late afternoon appointment. In obedience to religious commandment she must be down from the cliffs and at home before dark. She says she will make her excuses and start to return with time to spare. I don’t know where she will be working that afternoon but since ninety percent of the Calps up there live or work within five hundred meters of the elevator she has time.”

“When she gets to the elevator to go back down she will claim that she has forgotten something and go back for it, leaving her basket of painting paraphernalia with the elevator guards. They should not suspect a thing. Even if they do the explosive is disguised to look like a normal paint pigment. The thing goes off twenty seconds after she leaves it with the guards.”

“The explosion might not kill the guards but it is guaranteed to stun them to senselessness. Anything too powerful risks damaging the elevator controls located only a few meters away from the guard shack. The sound of the explosion will be the signal for us and the people below to begin our parts.”

“Where will the Picket ships be while this is going on?” Sgt. Short asked.

“We have a good situation there,” Cpl. Ortega said. “The nearest one, even if they react immediately, will be a good twenty five minuets away and moving in the wrong direction. So we have at least that much time.”

“Now we know, so let’s check all spend a few hours cleaning rifles and checking gear. We move into position near the Calps perimeter before dawn tomorrow.”

“They must be able to see me shake,” Becka thought to herself as she approached the guard shack. Evidently not. “Good evening,” she said to the Corporal of the Guard, as she had so many times when leaving the plateau for her home below. To her it sounded as if someone else was talking. The guard merely looked at her and nodded.

“Oh!” She said in mock surprise, holding on to her basket with one hand and throwing the other to grasp at the hat she wore at all times in public. “Cpl, please watch this for me,” she said passing her basket through the guard shack’s open window. “I must hurry; I left notes needed to finish the Colonels frieze on his desk. If I hurry, I will still be able to get home before dark. Thank you ever so much,” she said, giving the Cpl time to say nothing and walking, half running, back in the direction from which she came.

She was thirty-five meters away when the explosive detonated and she reversed course once more, heading for the elevator.

The sound wasn’t loud, but knowing it was coming, Ortega and Leah started dropping rounds into the mortar tubes. Leah had spent a fair amount of time back on Cardoman learning that particular skill. Even before the first rounds landed Davis and everyone else was moving across the 200-meter open area between the forest edge and the Calps built up construction.

They didn’t run, carrying too much weight for that, but since the field wasn’t mined and the machinegun pits had yet to be manned they made it in less than a minute. By that time, ten double explosions gave ample evidence that the mortars were being used effectively.

The first few rounds were directed EMP aimed at the Calps headquarters building and communications areas. Two reached the spaceport in an attempt to silence the transmitter there. Then Leah and Ortega switched to HE and targeted the gun pits barracks and other concentration of military power. They were very careful to stay away from the power plant and elevator.

Becka ran past the guard shack but did not stop to look inside. She rushed into the elevator control and loading area yelling, “What is happening! Explosions everywhere!”

There were two men, she had hoped for one, inside the large open loading area fronting the elevator itself. As a standard precaution, when not in use, the elevator platform was kept on top. Becka’s plan for dealing with the control operator was to get him to move away from his station. She had a small, directed charge device, secured to a plate inside of the robe like garment she wore. At close range, facing the guard and letting it go, would send a hail of small pellets towards the guard and the plate would distribute the back force.

This wasn’t going to work with two men so she needed to come up with something else, and fast unless the entire plan was to fail. The elevator had to be sent down for the Maccabees that must already be waiting below. Only one of the men was armed. The guard Becka hadn’t expected to see. He had his pistol drawn but lowered it when he saw it was only a hysterical woman he needed to deal with.

The controls operator seemed frozen in place. The one with the gun told her to be silent and went back to trying to get hold of someone in charge with his portable com unit. Becka stopped screaming, but looking scared, no acting involved with that, walked slowly towards the armed guard. He ordered her to stop and leave the building when she was still three meters away.

Now or never! And she triggered the blast. A flash and deafening blast. It felt like she had been hit in the stomach as the breath was knocked out of her. On adrenaline, in spite of the shock and pain, she went over to the guard now bloody and on the floor and reaching down pulled the pistol he had never let loose from his grip. She turned towards the man at the control station, pointing the gun at him and wondering if all she needed to do to make it shoot was pull the trigger.

Her voice coming in ragged gasps, she said, “You will get away from the controls now and lie against the wall. If you do not do this at once, I will shoot you, and you will die!”

The man wasted no time in doing as he was told. Becka went to the control station, hit the down button, and saw the platform begin to move. “Good! Like any well-designed piece of machinery, it did all the complicated work itself. She would not need to force the guard to help her. Something she could not have done in any event if the operator was the one that lay bleeding on the floor.

Fader Jameson walked with Rabbi Levinson and Shema Ben Judah, for the first time in weeks he felt the sun and a real breeze. The rest of the Maccabees, never in groups larger than three were also slowly working their ways towards the lower end of the elevator. Using the cliff as a back wall, a rectangular piece of land forty meters wide and extending the same distance on either side of the platforms track was fenced in and fortified by concrete towers at the corners and a concrete and stone barracks for the ten-man guard detachment that was always stationed inside.

What they called the elevator shaft was the U-shaped cut in the side of the cliff that the track followed to the top. Steep as it was there was still a slight slope to the cliff face so the ‘U’ was deeper at the bottom than the top. Used for freight and passengers both, the weight of fifty was trivial compared to its design load.

As would be expected there were several coffee houses and eateries located next to near the secured area’s entrance that serviced the needs of those waiting on a ride up. They gradually began to fill as the Maccabees wandered in and took seats.

“We would have come blundering in here and blown the whole operation weeks ago if you hadn’t warned us about the Calp sensor set up,” Fader said to the Rabbi.

“We found out the hard way and seventy people paid for our ignorance. The Calps have their system tuned to detect the introduction and movement of metals into the prison area. We are allowed very little. Stone, ceramics, wood, they will even issue plastics and tagged items, but the detection equipment and computers keep track of what is here and where it is. Anything weighing more than a few dozen grams, say the weight of a pocket knife, shows clearly. It was making smooth bore muskets from sections of pipe that led to the discovery of the attempted revolt in my grandfather’s day.”

“Davis will have the gear we brought with us at the top if we make it that far. I’ll feel better when I see the carts roll in though.”

The carts Jameson spoke of were the kind of human pulled wagons used normally for moving small loads inside the prison area. Each had a couple of simple wooden catapult resting on the bed undercover of tarps. They looked as normal as the hundred others in common use. Using homemade explosives augmented by the much more powerful explosives Fader carried in. Almost a hundred pottery-encased bombs were ready to hurl. They had no metal of any type in their construction. Even a few dozen pellets, like the ones inside of the device Becka carried, when multiplied by a hundred fold of bombs in close enough proximity to each other, might give them away.

They wouldn’t do much of anything to a hardened position like the barracks and towers but would be deadly to soldiers in the open. They were going to try to catch the Calps in the open and make those in the towers keep their heads down.

Both carts arrived in plenty of time and were parked in front of separate eateries with the owners inside the buildings as if waiting to deliver a load of foodstuff on the next elevator load. Fader and Shema were seated outside waiting for the sound of the blasts from above, as were both two-man teams that were he had helped train, however briefly, in the aiming of the catapults and fusing of the bombs. The Rabbi was circulating and giving encouragement to the gartering Maccabees.

They didn’t hear a thing when Becka’s small device went off but the sound of mortar rounds was unmistakable. In seconds the tarps were pulled from the wagon loads and they were on the ground with the home built bombs on crashing into the fenced elevator area. Maccabees began pouring out from the shops and waiting to charge the fence.

Even before the catapults were operating, four of specially prepared bombs were taken from the carts and set in place next to the fence. The fence was heavy bar and the posts that they tied into were adequate to resist any explosive device they had with them, but the explosions from the four bombs blew small craters under the fence and an entranceway created.

A few minutes later with most of the catapult bombs delivered Fader called for them to halt their fire. While the dust was settling the Maccabees rushed the fence and crawling under stormed the barracks and towers. The doors to the barracks and one of the towers were unbarred. The other tower resisted for a short time before the unused bombs forced an entrance.

When Fader looked up, the elevator platform was half way down and growing larger by the moment. He sent Shemuel to make sure those inside the fence were waiting for the platform when it reached ground level. A second group made up of another fifty Maccabees just now arriving from outside the immediate area and would make a second trip up if things continued to plan.

Communication silence from their side was no longer an issue. Davis heard the sound of the fighting below relayed through the drone. If he had the time he could have even watched the video. He managed to bark out, “All go,” so Fader might hear him then saved his breath and attention for what was happening around him here and now.

A few people were outside when the mortar fire began. Being that it was dinnertime there weren’t all that many. Now from his right he saw a group of five heading towards the lift’s control room. Mullins and Leach, out in front were almost to the buildings door. Davis, shucking his load and sinking to one knee, aimed and fired, then fired again. He had three down and the other two retreating and running for cover. Short hit one of those. Retrieving their loads, they were the last of the group to make it safely into the control room.

When Rebecka Aaronson heard the first arrival, Mullins, shout “Shalom,” the agreed upon code word, even before he was inside, she finally broke down and fainted dead to rights, the pistol in her hand clattering to the floor at the same time.
Petty was reviving her when Davis and Short made their entrance. Mullins and Leach were unpacking the weapons. Davis slammed and locked the door, relying on Ortega and Radom, using the images from the drone to keep the Calps away until help arrived.

Short went over to the platform control station and hit the up button the instant Fader sent word from below. Ortega and Radom were careful to keep the fire away from the power plant. The Calps didn’t think to shut it down either. All those in the first load but the Rabbi has gone through the day long weapons training course and knew what to do when Davis told Ortega and Radom to stop their fire and drag the tubes to a new location but hold them in reserve for later use.

The first notice of anything awry by Thani in orbit on the Dromedary, was the loss of signal from the spaceports transmitters. This had happened before but was very unusual. He directed his sensors to the Calp compound and saw explosions and the start of the battle. He ordered his men to strap in and began the course corrections that would place him near the action. When he was done he saw the other picket was doing the same. The distortion caused by his view angle through the atmosphere made clear close-ups impossible, but the fact that fighting was going on was obvious.

As soon as the lift platform was emptied, Short sent it back down. Meanwhile Davis, using their own com gear set to the Calps frequencies, broadcast a warning for people to stay inside. The Maccabees rapidly fanning out to mostly preselected locations. Those first were spot check on the damage to the military positions hit during the mortar barrage. Sporadic gunfire could be heard as some of the Calps failed to heed the warning.
With less than 500 Calps on the mesa and the damage done in the first few minutes, excepting for a few isolated there was no resistance. Most stayed inside as ordered. Those still resisting could be dealt with later. Davis relayed orders that no direct attacks should take place. Just keep them under observation. The power plant was under firm control and was a secondary command site if one were needed.

Now to spread the word below and then to wait and find out what the Calp Ships in orbit were going to do.

As the distance decreased and the angle improved, Molazim Thani got a clearer and clearer view of the Calp area. What he didn’t get was a clear picture of what it meant to him and what he should do. He heard the open channel signals that Davis was sending but without context Molazim could do nothing other than watch and listen. They had weapons and more to obliterate the attackers. But there was no way of doing that without destroying his own people at the same time.

He had to order the Captain of the other ship to hold when that idiot was about to take it upon himself to start sending KE weapons into the former Calp stronghold. A landing would be worse than useless as there weren’t enough men between the two ships to make any kind of difference even if they had had the training.

The big unanswered question behind everything was, “How did anyone with this kind of modern technology and weaponry get to the planet in the first place?” Without knowing that and what else might be down below Thani wouldn’t even risk his own ship any longer and he drew away from the planet, still watching and listening, but now scanning the system all around for what he knew not.

An hour gone by, several hundred on the cliff, and no attack from above; Davis began to breath easy. It didn’t mean they were out of the woods but it meant the Bear was being careful. Another hour, and with most of the Calps sent down below, Davis sent word to Ortega to drop a few rounds near the places where the Calps were still holding out.

Having heard nothing from their leaders and seeing the futility of the position they all surrendered were sent down with the others. Large crowds were forming. This could soon turn into a mob without much work. There had been enough death this day. Under Davis’s direction and Shema’s control, the Calps were loaded onto flatbeds and taken from the city to one of the outlying farming sites. There they replacing all the former occupants, who more than happy to give up their positions, came back to Parson’s Bay. Half of the Maccabees doing the transport stayed with them to keep watch.

Davis kept back the senior military and technical staff. He wanted to try to get the Calp equipment functioning under his control. He had to take the time to regulate the lift and limit the numbers coming up and down the Cliff because early on looting began, and might have gotten out of control if more were up at the time. Davis had his command post now at the power plant, and waking the next morning with things finally settling down, while at breakfast though to himself, still half-asleep, “Robert T. Davis, Planetary Governor for Life.” He snorted and then went on with his business.