The Cutting Edge 17

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 17 Draft (03/23/08)

It’s official Audie,” Captain Reeves said, “You and Boleslav are going to Sylvan on the Eagle. Get your kit packed and report to Minton Field by 0400 tomorrow. I know all about you and your career and reputation with the Seventh, but watch out for Yuri, I don’t think he is really a type suited for field work in a war zone.”

“He’s gonna’ be fine Sir. I’ll just have to show him how it’s done.”

“Yes Lieutenant Madry, I’m sure you will.”

Lt. Madry and Tech Sgt. Yuri Boleslav, he was eight hours old in his new rank, Audie claimed he needed it for the credibility factor and Reeves agreed, were the only passengers on the shuttle that took them and their tanks of chemicals and generating equipment and other paraphernalia up to the Eagle. They cargo hauler was heavily loaded and so made a gentle departure and slow and cautiously docked.

“The pilot must be worried about the hydrazine,” Audie said to Yuri. He looked a little queasy. “You ever been up before?” she asked him.

He gulp once or twice and said, “Never, closest I ever came was the ‘Rocket Ride’ at the Minton Carnival Park.

“Yeah! I’ve been on that too. It’s way worse than the real thing. I saw people going back for a second time around, I don’t know how they stand it!”

The Eagle’s crew rotation was adjusted for Cardoman local time, that of the planets capital. As a result, there was only the cargo handling crew in the docking bay when they came aboard. As an officer of the Seventh, but one on the Military rather than Naval side, Audie didn’t rate being piped aboard by a boatswains mate. She looked around the bay on the off chance there would be someone she knew on duty, but with the few marines who were onboard, having stayed back at Sylvan, she didn’t recognize any of the security or loading gang.

The rating on duty saluted and requested a copy of her orders.

After scanning them in he said, “Madry eh, the first Captain of the Eagle, when she came into our Navy had the last name of Madry. She’s got the Saratoga now. You any relation?”

“My cousin, she done good for herself.”

“I should say so!” the boatswain sniffed, and attaching her quarters assignment to the orders amendments waved her own her way. Audie took a few steps and waited for Yuri to process through while she took a close look around spotting some of the changes made over the last year. She glanced at his room assignment and took him in hand and told the crewman waiting to guide them that she was familiar with the ships layout and would show the Sgt. where the noncom’s berths were located.

“Be careful Ma’am, she’s a big ship so don’t get lost.”

“Thank you, I’ll call you back if I do.” And they left the bay and went into the central shaft running lengthwise through the ship.

The corridor was busy, people getting ready for the next watch heading mostly in the same direction. “There going to the mess deck for breakfast,” Audie told the wide-eyed Yuri. “That’s good for us too. Let’s get your carry on gear stored and join them. Audie’s own locker and her smaller carry on would be in her cabin when she got there.

“You are in with the Cardoman company noncoms back aft. It’s a couple decks down, just follow me.”

Reaching the berths open entrance Audie told him she would wait outside but told him his bunk and locker would be up front, and showed him the locker code listed in the attachment to his orders. “I’m gonna take a look at where I stayed last time I was on the Eagle and meet you back here in about five minutes.”

The room was the same but looking around and at the roster there was no one Audi knew inside. Yuri was waiting for her when she returned and they headed forwards to the large room set up for the Company mess.

“You can find a seat anywhere, I gotta’ sit in the ‘O’ section,” Audie explained as they went through the cafeteria style line. The room was quite full. “Look for someone with a Seventh Pin,” she said, “pointing to the insignia on her uniform. Mention my name and tell them I asked that they give you the lowdown on what the troops are thinking. You can go back to the berth when you’re finished but I have to go and see some people. I’ll try and check back with you if I can before we leave orbit. If not sometime on the third watch, that/s about 12 hrs from now. Keep your eyes open, this ship’s got some great systems.”

Audie ate in a hurry, the food about what she expected, and saw Yuri take a seat across from, and by his animated gestures, strike up a conversation, a face she could almost place a name with. No matter, she finished up and headed for the Command deck and an introduction to the Eagles first officer.

“Enter,” the bass grumble of Cmdr Dave Gump, the ships newly appointed First Officer, on loan from the Ryman Navy. That was obvious enough when Audie stepped through the hatch and saw the plaque on the wall over his head showing the planet’s emblem, two crossed swords in gold on a deep blue background.

“Lt. Madry, R&D, detached to Sylvan,” she said, in her best imitation of proper military speak.

To her surprise the Cmdr stood up and came around his desk offering her his hand. “I just saw you were onboard Lieutenant,” his voice in the confined space didn’t quite cause loose objects to shake but Audie was certain a few more decibels would have done the trick. “Captain Marquette had a notification put into my message queue but I was asleep at the time. I saw you were at breakfast when I got to my office here and let nature take its course. Sorry we didn’t have anyone meet you when you boarded.”

“Thank you for saying so Sir, but I am sure I don’t rate that kind of attention.”

“Don’t be shy Lt. Ed Tubman our engineering officer saw the cargo manifest sent up before the shuttle that brought you here was loaded, and since it seemed like a strange last minute add-on, he scanned the passenger list. Your reputation precedes you in the ship’s technical manuals. Ed signaled the Captain and requested a chance to talk to you as soon as you could make room for him. Captain Marquette said he wanted to see you first though and the message on my com said to signal him when you reported in to me. So pull up a chair and have another coffee, I have to finish the balance sheets and we’ll both go and see the old man.”

If the coffee had been any hotter Audie wouldn’t have had time to finish before they left the office and passing security walked onto the bridge. All but the weapons relay stations were manned, the Eagle would leave orbit in an hour and a half. The Captain was in the command seat, not obviously doing anything except watching his crew making final preparations. He saw his first officer and the diminutive Lt wearing the Cardoman Seventh’s uniform as soon as they arrived, stood, and went over to greet her.

This caused a few heads to turn and Audi saw Pamela Hines seated at her control station smiling broadly and nodding her head. Audi had met the Eagles second officer several years ago on Llanfairn when they were both still noncoms. Audie nodded in her direction and gave an answering smile. She would have to look Pam up as soon as she could manage.

James Marquette, smiling as well, shook her hand and asked the two of them in a tone of voice loud enough that every one on deck could hear him, asking if they would to so kind as to accompany him off the bridge so his people could get back to work. Outside, in front of the opened entryway, open so he could say he hadn’t actually left the bridge without assigning someone to take his place, Marquette apologized he couldn’t spend any time with her now. However, he let Audi know she had a spot with her name on it reserved at his table and they would have a long discussion later on at dinner. He said that Ed Tubman was waiting to see her and asked anything he could do for her now.

“The Tech Sgt that came up with me Sir, he’s green but really sharp. I’d like to take him to Engineering and have him shown around the ship if that is possible.”

“Consider it done! Dave, pass the word, then relieve me on deck, and I will take my final walk around.”

“Yes Sir.”

Audie was seated at the Engineering electronics systems station, Lieutenant Tubman insisted she take it over for the orbital departure. The rating that who would normally be operating it was told to show Sgt Boleslav around as soon as he arrived. Quiet efficiency were the words best describing the surroundings. Audie was talking about the trunk runs for the weapon controls when Yuri was shown inside and she saw him give her an odd look before he was started off on his tour of the engine rooms.

The countdown completed without a hitch, the Captain gave the final orders, the Eagle gliding slowly at first, and then picking up speed, headed for the hyper limit.

* * *
Connie Melbourne had her augmented A-Company spread out and patrolling an area that blocked the main road leading from Unity into the heart of the continental island. And spread out was an apt description. The local traffic was minimal, farmers and cattleman going about their normal daily chores. After identification and passes were issued they were left alone unless heading into the Capital. Every load moving from Unity, and there were many, needed a thorough inspection before they could be permitted to continue into areas where the Seventh and Colonel Ramseyer’s Brits had no control.

Camry, a fair sized port down the coast had a road leading from it that connected to the main artery a kilometer away from A-Company’s inspection station. Closer to the ocean there was a maze of smaller interconnecting tracks and roadways that made an inspection impossible given their numbers and provided routes around any checkpoint they might have setup. These roads were watched from above but left alone otherwise.

The main route had to stay open. They couldn’t kill the patient in order to save her. And without the flow of commerce, popular opinion, now on their side, could change in a heartbeat.

General Gomaa had done nothing overtly to challenge the existing situation. The word from inside Unity said that was going to change. The coast north and south of the main city was under complete control by Gomaa and his local supporters. Ibrahim was relaying daily, information on a Calp column being readied to make an attempt at forcing the road, and splitting the smaller numbers trying to keep Gomaa and his troops hemmed in.

Supplies were getting into the Capital and going into storage for later use, but they were a long way from having enough equipment, not to mention the people to use it, that would enable them to do anything now interfering with Gomaa’s plans. They could only alert him and put at risk what they’d already accomplished. One thing Gomaa had done was get his anti-air defenses working as the designs and specifications called for. That was keeping the Cardoman shuttles away from his strong points and well away from the coast. His defenses were good enough now that they were loosing the occasional drone and had even cut back on that type of surveillance.

Ibrahim, Gaza, and Stillwell’s network filled in the gaps so they were able to keep going with a measure of confidence that there was no large surprise awaiting them at least until the Caliphate decided what it was going to do after found out what was going on out here.

Connie, despite her own problems, found time to consider those of the Seventh’s artillery officer, Lt. Bledsoe. Most of his guns and men were still on the Sara. They hadn’t figured where to place them yet. They weren’t going to target Unity and nothing else stood out as a major threat. It didn’t make much sense to keep them on the Sara though. If nothing else, another location with some troops in place was better than waiting to find the perfect place to locate them. Wes was going to have to make a decision soon or waste an opportunity.

“Ok Clay, we bring them down. Here’s how I want to do it. Have Bledsoe place half of his guns here,” Wesley marked a position that covered the coast and road network between Unity and Camry. “I want the rest well into the interior but ready to move.” Clayton Grayson marked the second point well away from any area of immediate threat. “Bring the two guns from Accord back to the mainland and have Bledsoe put them fifty Ks north of A-Company. Any thoughts?”

“Works for me and about time. The Calps could be back anytime and we use them or loose them. I’ll com Bledsoe at once and check with Madry about the transport. Get back to you as soon as I have a time definite.”

Bledsoe and his Gunnery Sgt. Manners had his people help get the first of the 155’s loaded twenty-seven minutes later. Half an hour later they were setting up shop.

“They’re going sometime in the next 48 hours.” Ibrahim had spent the last three day at the racetrack and had a bird’s eye view of the lack of normal activity after the Calp equipment was marshaled and stored inside of stables now empty of animals. “Farouk tells me that even the clubhouse will be shut down tomorrow. So we have to watch from outside. I think it better we don’t even go near the place. We can see enough from the rooming house and once the troops going that way, once the movement starts, there will be no further delay.”

“This is could be a chance to start something, maybe sabotage, maybe something else here in Unity,” Gaza said. “With so many troops away from the Capital there are going to be security lapses and weakly guarded positions.”

“I like the way you are thinking Gaza, let’s work on a short list of possibles and send it up the chain.”

Calvert saw the message as soon as it came in. “Get hold of Stillwell, we have a window of opportunity to soften things up in Unity while the Calps are spending their time looking outwards at us.”

“I’m going back inside the city,” Stillwell said, “Our first acts of active resistance inside of Unity are too important to risk failure. Those in the city need to know that we out here are willing to tale the same chances they do. And besides that I need to talk to Hanna Perkins.”

Leaving the rooming house where he and Gaza were staying, the streets, even at this late hour seemed even quieter than normal. This secret operation had leaked through enough cracks that it registered on the sensitive by omission.

“Gaz, take the recording gear and go to the hotel. I will get with Stillwell and wait for the time signal from the ship. If all goes well we meet back here before sun up, if not — fade into the background.”

Ramses Stillwell slipped into town driving a cattle truck bringing meat to the slaughter yards. He was older than the last time but remembered it clearly. Growing up on a farm, he lived it 25 years ago. Gaza al-Omari was waiting for him when his truck pulled in, with a message from Hanna Perkins.

“I’ll go see and her,” Ramses said, “and meet you at the warehouse in a couple of hours. That will be in plenty of time.”

Gaza handed him a key strip. “A ground car half way down the block, a light will turn on and it will unlock when you reach it. I wish you well.”

“You were right and I was wrong Ramses. I have money, more than you’d expect, but except for old Rutherford, no men, and nothing material that can be traced back. If I were trying to raise support for the Caliphate rather than against it I am convinced I would have gotten the same reaction. I might even have done better.”

“I’m not surprised Hanna, and you shouldn’t be either. You’ve worked with these people half of your life. Former President Feiger made his share of mistakes but he acted out of principal however misguided. How much money did you raise?”

Hanna opened a leather case and Stillwell was astonished at the amount. “I’ll take it with me and see it goes to where it will do the most good. I have to leave now Hanna. Take care of yourself and just pass along information. No more appeals for help. If our friends ever think we are going to lose you will be tossed to the Calps like a bone to a dog. Be ready to run.”

Ibrahim Saudi was seated on a bale of straw watching Gaza brush out Najib’s coat when Stillwell squeezed his ground car through the half-open stable door. He stood up and went behind the parked vehicle closing the entrance. Getting out of the car, Stillwell went straight to the side of the building where the men, once soldiers in his regiment were reclining against the wall and spoke with them in hushed tones. In a few minutes he went to where Ibrahim was seated again.

“It’s fortunate you came into the city when you did Colonel, all traffic in and out is stopped now. If we needed anymore proof that the Calps are moving before dawn that was it.”

“There’s a case on the backseat of the car with a few hundred thousand credits inside, we should get it to a save place to make sure that it can still be of use if we are all killed or captured.”

“I’ll have Gaza handle it at once.” Ibrahim went and explained the situation and Gaza went to the car, opened the case and transferred the bills and cards into large pockets sewed inside of his robes, then slipped into the night through a small side door.

“If I ever do this again I am going to insist on lots of ready money. There would have been no problem bringing it when the ships came in with the Seventh. It was a risk Hanna Perkins should never have needed to take.”

“We learn from our mistakes if they don’t kill us first.”

“Gaza will come back after Gomaa’s troops leave the racetrack. Let’s go and sit with your men and give a final rundown on what we are going to do.”

“And the drones?” Gomaa asked at Calp HQ at Stillwell’s former base.

His Intel officer said, “We’ve put out enough energy to fry them. They can see us from orbit but not any closer than that. All signals will be line of sight and untraceable.”

“And air defense?”

“Solid! We are ready to move.”

“Make it happen!”

The first units left the racetrack holding grounds and at a speed of 25 kph went down the road and into the night.

“We have them moving,” Ellen Nesberg sent to Major Calvert on the planet below. “When do we launch our counter attack?”

“I am going to wait until the Calps reach the 50 K mark. Tell Ibrahim that Stillwell has a go.”

The roving street patrols were noticeable by their absence; they had only passed by one, as the truck he had used to take the cattle into town now took Stillwell and his men into the center of the city. With somewhere between a third and a half of Gomaa’s forces out of town and the rest manning and guarding the most important military positions the street patrols not only were the street patrols cut back so was the guard at the city jail that held those the Calps viewed as being too dangerous to remain at large. The jail had once been Unity’s police station. The city grew so much that a larger building was constructed a few kilometers away and the old station converted entirely to its present use.

The building backed on the harbor and when the Calps took it over throwing out the old prisoners and replacing them with new ones, they had the paving broken through and meter wide ditches dug across the road on either side of the building. That eliminated ground traffic in front of the jail and vehicles could take a detour around.

The truck pulled to an abrupt halt just in front of the ditch it needed to cross. There was no guard on the buildings end but from a building across the street Ibrahim and Gaza could see the man standing outside the central entrance was looking in the trucks direction. Calvert had given them the ok to watch but that was it. He wouldn’t risk the only Cardoman intelligence operatives in the city and Ibrahim knew it was the right decision.

The driver remained in the cab when Stillwell and his men piled from the back. They spanned the gap with planks, and while they gathered their gear the driver went across. He had a metal plate propped on the windshield with a plastic covered slit in it just large enough to see through. The plastic was to keep out shattering glass and he was firmly buckled into his seat as he drove over the curb and accelerated up the short walk towards the buildings entrance. Stillwell and his men were in hot pursuit a few seconds behind.

The man at the door shouldered his weapon. Ibrahim could see the flashes and then heard the sound. The trucks window blew but the shield held. At the last instant the guard leaped aside and the truck went crashing into the entranceway It was an old building never designed for anything like this and the locked panels were torn off their hinges an the truck smashed inside wedging itself in place blocking the door like a plug in a bottle.

The guard had enough presence of mind to replace his emptied magazine and was emptying the new one into the cab of the truck, this time from the backside, when the fleetest of Stillwell’s soldiers ran up and shot him dead. The truck was blocking their own entrance to the jail.

When the truck was mounting the curb Ibrahim was sending a signal from his remote detonator and at four widely separated locations small explosion went off and two warehouses and a lumber yard started burning, adding to any confusion in an attempt to make the Calps hold in place until they figured out what was going on.

Rubin Pasquale climbed into the cab from the back and started spraying the lobby. Another man joined, and seemingly at once they both stopped firing and slumped on the seat. Concentrated return fire by the defenders was continuous and deadly. Stillwell tried squirming under the vehicle but the axel up front stopped him. He emptied his magazine and crawled back out. A third man was shot before he could make it through the cabs rear window. The sound of sirens seemed to be converging from all directions.

“What a balled up mess! Let’s get the hell out of here!”

Stillwell and his three surviving men ran across the street and then through the building Ibrahim and Gaza had been watching from. Ibrahim held the rear door and followed behind while Gaza led them to the rear entrance of a building on the other side of a narrow alley. Down a flight of stairs they went and through a connecting door to the building alongside. Then back to street level and out the front again and across that street to an underground garage where three getaway vehicles were parked. Stripping off their outer clothing the placed it with their weapons in the trunk of a forth vehicle and splitting up drove slowly away from the scene of the disaster.

Ibrahim and Gaza drove just another four blocks before parking their car and walked another two to a local mosque to say their prayers as the sun was coming up. Two hours later, Stillwell had made it back safely but nothing yet from the two in the other car. Ibrahim reported to Major Calvert and learned the Major had problems of his own.

* * *
The alarm went on ringing softly, muted after the first loud warning blasts, and then the chimes indicating battle stations sounded over the ships intercom system. Jamie Madry was running down the corridor leading from the engineering spaces, holding to the right wall with people passing in the other direction, on her left and heading for Engineering and Damage Control, when she heard the rating manning the com console on the bridge say, “In-system transition, 2.2 light hours away, second generation, waiting on ID.”

Reliving the officer in the command seat, Fullson Lovell who had been on duty for the first warning she said, “What have you got?”

“One ship, so far, looks like — Yes! Positive ID. Calp Heavy Transport Anwar Sadat.” He relinquished the com.

“Secure from alert, but keep all stations manned. Let’s get an intercept course plotted, and let Major Calvert know we have visitors. Cmdr Lovell, you have communications and sensors, I have the bridge.”

“I do not detect the planetary beacon,” the Annan’s signals officer said in reply to his Captain’s questioning.

“Send a message to the Planet and try and raise the pickets.” He switched to navigation and said, “Kill our velocity, we are outside the limit, and here we stay until we can find out what is going on. Even if the planetary transmitter is off line the orbital beacon should be on. Power down and do a complete sensor sweep. Be ready to transition out at a moments notice.”

On the nearest guard ship, due to its position, the Annan’s transition was detected well before the Saratoga had an inkling. Her identity was established in moments. The picket sent out the data packet the Ships Captain had been preparing for the two weeks.

Molazim had been living with the constant fear that the Infidel ship would come out, hunt him down, and destroy them before help arrived. One ship and only a transport, but a way to get out of this system still in one piece. He gave orders to strap in and proceed towards the Annan’s projected position, carrying as many g’s as the old picket could handle.

“She’s killing velocity, Ma’am,” Pavel spoke, highlighting the changed condition on her main display. “Her Captain must already suspect something is wrong and is a cautious type.”

“I would be too,” Madry said, “And especially if I were flying a lightly armed transport. What about the Major?”

Grayson sent the signal. “The Major should reach the com bunker a few more minutes. He didn’t want to broadcast anything until he was physically inside and on the secure channel.”

Jamie saw the telltale noise from the ship’s drive as the picket started to move. Then she heard Calvert’s voice.

“Details?”

“One ship so far Sir, two lighthours out, the regular replacement vessel. Her Captain is suspicious from not hearing the beacon and is killing velocity.

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