The Cutting Edge 20

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 20 Draft (04/03/08)

“It’s all we’ve got so it’s what we go with. Vern get the course plotted and I will come to the bridge when we make the change.”

The plan was simple and likely to fail, but it could cause delay and that was a victory in itself. Still by changing course to flank the Gholam, the pickets would become ready targets unless they proceeded very slowly. This was a slow ballet, balance and finesse, and on Jamie’s side, bluff. The colored escape cones told most of the story.

Jamie needed to make it look like she was not only trying for a flank attack by might even be trying to get in position so she could send her missiles angling in from behind, At the distances these maneuvers took place it was hours before the reaction could be seen but yes the Gholam was slowing down.

Nail biting time.

Captain Cahdesh addressed his Tactical Systems Officer, Dimihijra al-Chibah, “Evaluation,” Cahdesh inquired.

“We can say for certain now due to information from General Gomaa’s staff that the ship is the Cardoman Saratoga. The Captain would be the same Madry that bested Rashid at Altoona. She is much more cautious today. Perhaps her brush with death has dulled her lust for battle.”

“As would be expected of a woman in a fighting command her best course of action would have been to engage us directly before the pickets had a chance to get in a supporting position.”

“Very true Captain; she now gives us an interesting course to pursue ourselves. So long as this Madry seems willing to stay to out of attack range and move to the side, we could make thins more difficult for her by moving sideways in turn. In time, even if she wanted a fight, she would no longer be able to get between us and the planet.”

“Would this not delay us in bringing aid to General Gomaa?”

“For a time it would. But he is in no danger of anything like defeat now, his recent setback merely serving to maintain the status quo.”

“How long would we be delayed?”

“A few days to a week, it will depend on how the Saratoga reacts. Once she can no longer cut us off, we will have the option of either forcing her to fight or flee. Alternately at that time we could ignore her and head to Mizar ourselves, and assuming the high covering position that insures Gomaa’s success.”

“I find your arguments sound Cmdr. Al-Chibah. Have navigation plot our new course.”

“She’s following us,” Eric Shearing announced to the rest of the Saratoga’s bridge crew.

“A little something’s going our way,” Jamie said. The visuals didn’t show the change yet but the numbers were pointing in their direction. “Now what we will do is keep him interested for as long as we can. We will let the Gholam close to extreme missile range. Based on what we saw last time we have a slight distance advantage so we will fire first. I don’t think a Caliphate Ship could turn down the chance for a fight, so we stay at a distance and see how long he is willing to chase.”

“Every hour we buy is important. We know that we have some help on the way; we just need to keep the Gholam busy until it gets here.

“You’ve bought us some time Jamie,” Calvert said over the secure link. We’re working on a way to use it. I’ll send a time line when we have one. Remember your first rule is not to risk the Sara. Good work so far.”

“Thank you Sir, I’ll remember.”

“Bring them in if you can do it with no loss of life on our side, they won’t have any valuable intelligence, so remember the vehicles are more important than they are.”

“I got it Captain,” Lt. Olivera said to Connie Melbourne. He was 60 kilometers down the road towards Unity with a platoon getting ready to engage the advanced scouting force from the column that Bledsoe’s artillery had so recently decimated. At first the scouts turned around to head toward their main force. When the shells started flying they took a side road in an attempt to circle back to the Capital. They were going very slow hoping to avoid detection.

“Slow,” Olivera said to Sgt. Beal, “there so slow they couldn’t catch a cold. We turn at the next side road and should be able to get out in front of them.”

“We’ll do that Lieutenant,” Beal said. “Shall I check with Lt. Bledsoe and see that he is ready to cover us?”

“Wait a while, I’m sure he can use the time and if we need him it won’t be for at least a couple of hours. If we can complete the ambush without him firing a shot that would be best. A 155 can make an awful mess out of an up-armored ground force scout car.”

“This is how we’re gonna’ do it,” Beal said to Cpl Wilson, who would direct the mortar fire. “When the LT says go, walk them up the road from the back and the front. Take your time; we want them to leave the vehicles. We will be in tight on either side so no misses—and don’t hit the cars! Got it?”

“Under control Sarge.”

“Twenty minutes later, with the Calps traveling a section where driving the vehicles off the road was impossible and his men in position, Olivera gave the order. Barely a minute later all enemy combatants but two were dead, and they had picked up a couple of up-armored scout cars.

“The Major and Colonel Ramseyer are on their way,” Connie told Pvt. Deutsch, her company clerk. “See what kind of a meal you can dig up. The local farmers have been pretty good to us so let’s share the wealth.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Deutsch said. “They grow potatoes here; the Major is in for a surprise.”

“Do you still think Stillwell is reliable?” Lt. Mankowitz asked. “The raid on the police station didn’t turn out so well.”

“I know close doesn’t count Chuck,” Calvert said. “But he was close. If the truck hadn’t gotten stuck in the doorway it just might have worked. It was a good plan, given the time constraints and the men he could work with. But even the best laid plans… So yes, I still trust him. It’s even more important for us, but even more for the anti-Calp forces, that he is willing to try something immediately. Part of the reason for the last try was a morale boost. It is as necessary now as it was then, more so given the last result.”

“I’d feel better about this if it were our troops on the ship when she reached harbor,” Colonel Ramseyer said.

“A mixed blessing,” Clay Grayson spoke, “We can’t be everywhere and Stillwell’s people will fit in better and have a better chance of avoiding detection.”

“Certainly true Clayton, I sincerely hope that should they manage that part, they are able to make the most of it.”

Ok then, we will give this a go and hope we take out the smaller of the two Unity artillery parks. I see nothing to add right now and Connie says her company’s cook has set up a feed for us in celebration of stopping that Calp column. Let’s enjoy it while we can!”
An hour and a half later Ramseyer left first but Wesley stayed back to have a few words with Connie in private and off the com-net.

“I’ve missed you darling, you can’t know how much.”

“I could guess, especially if it’s anything like the way I feel— when I let myself feel anything at all. If I were ten years younger I don’t know how I could stand it. As it is I manage to put it into the background.”

“One way or another two more weeks are going to see how things turn out and we’ll have time enough then I expect.”

“Wes, somehow I think we will never have time enough.”

“Let’s roll,” Bledsoe gave the order. “If we aren’t 75 K’s closer to Unity by the morning, and ready, there is going to be hell to pay.”

By the time dawn came Bledsoe wished they had another couple of hours but they were in place except for two guns hidden under tarps and off the road. The rest were inside one or another of the local farmer’s barns and invisible to any overflights. They had a good chance of avoiding detection until they could get the other two in position that night.

Quite a novel idea of the Major’s, to set the 155’s up inside a number of barns and just fire through the buildings roofs when the time came. He had his men putting up netting, old fishing nets brought in from Idlers Cove, to catch any falling derbies when the time came. It ought to work; they hadn’t said a word to the fishermen about what they would do with the nets so that shouldn’t leak.
They were such a long way from Unity that even when firing off angle to confuse counter-fire the guns muzzle wouldn’t traverse more than a few degrees, a meter in any direction. This was going to work Bledsoe was going to make sure of it.”

Ramses Stillwell stood alone, a hundred meters up the beach from the dock and watched the ship, carrying twenty of his men, turn northward to proceed up the coast. He would rather be with them than managing, or in this case it seemed even worse, cheering from the sidelines.

Basil Ramseyer walked over and said, “I know just how you feel ‘Old Man’, but buck up, and put on the show, a large part of leadership is appearance, and that is the one area that’s always yours to control.” Basil slapped him on the back and pointed out to sea for the benefit of anyone watching, “They’ll do their part, let’s do ours and retire to my quarters for a drink and discussion about how we will make sure neither of our forces mistake the other for the Caliphate’s.”

The racetrack in Unity was open again. Ibrahim was back at his favorite seat in the lounge, a table in the corner, away from the room’s entrance where he could see everyone enter and with tastefully concealed fire door immediately to his left. Whatever the two captured men from the prison raid had said before they died, neither he nor Gaza had been picked up or even questioned. The Calps were doing their best to keep the population calm. Even the news reports of the failed raid minimized the actions of everyone involved.

The announcement that the Reza Gholam was in-system was made in an equally low-keyed fashion. Quiet efficiency and inevitability was the tone they were trying to convey and doing a very good job with the help of their local supporters in accomplishing the same.

Gomaa had issued strict orders, “We will not clamp down hard and at once.”

Ioseph Wahsabi, speaking for the new government, was calm and moderate. After the first rush of political arrests, there was no further mass crackdown on dissent. He had instead instituted a brilliant policy for one who was essentially setting up a religious dictatorship, or using his preferred term, a ‘Theocracy of the Faithful in the Name of Allah.”

A report would come in from one of his informants, only a few on the political side needed to be paid for their service, the rest were happy to be doing God’s work. The vast majority of these reports were for trivial comments said often without any real malice or intent to undermine the new order. Even a mistimed joke might find its way to Wahsabi’s investigators.

The person responsible for the statement would be taken in for interrogation, treated respectfully, instructed on the need for all citizens to work together during this period of transition, given a pat on the back and admonished to try harder in the future, and sent on their way. This incredible conduct, by what had under the past administration, been a far more forbidding process, was instead causing many who would have been inclined to reject the new government, instead to embrace it.

There were those of course, for whom harsher methods and dispositions were needed, but few, and in these cases the names and the nature of the crime was made public, along with regret, and where appropriate condolences to the surviving family. All published reports of cases like these began and ended with the words, “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammad is His Prophet!”

Ibrahim was certain had he been called in for questioning the news report would have contained exactly those words.

Brigadier Farouk walked in, and seeing Ibrahim at his accustomed table, went over and sat down. A tray on the table had extra cups and Ibrahim filed one from his heated carafe then placed it in front of Amid.

“I am glad you are well my friend. It is hard from here to understand military matters, but I can guess you would have wished for a different result from you last campaign.”

“Banish your concern and take not the council of your fears my dear Ibrahim, in matters such as these nothing is certain, but with the Gholam driving the Cardoman ship off, we will announce that later today, I am confident of the final victory.”

“This is indeed good news, about the Cardomans being driven off I mean. Though not being familiar with such things I wonder why it would make much of a difference in the present situation. The Cardomans didn’t seem to be making any progress when they had the advantage.”

“That was a tactical failure upon their part. They did not press forward while they were able. We will not make the same mistake. Allah will perhaps show them more mercy than otherwise and look kindly upon them because of that concern for the life of the faithful. We, on the other hand will do whatever is necessary for Allah to make his decision.”

“I am exceedingly glad you are able to look at the larger picture Amid, I would suffer from worry over even a minor delay and if I had been a member of the army I would have my morale shattered far too easily.”

“The men are well drilled and trained it is true. We will however grant them a short period of light duty and then work them back to full efficiency. Is this not how you train your camels, who are far lower creatures in the eyes of Allah?

Ibrahim poured each of them another cup of the steaming hot beverage. “I am glad that things are going well enough then. And if they were not doing so, I am sure you would not be here. So let us talk on more pleasant things, my camels, as you have already mentioned them, and the races tonight. I have some thoughts on a number of the contests. It might be profitable for us to combine our resources in order to maximize our return.”

“I see that Alahambra is to race tonight and the odds are heavily in his favor.”

“Yes this is so, unfortunately the poor animal has not yet settled down from the movement away from the track and now back to his former stable. As a trainer, you understand I cannot wager against my charge. Alahambra has a sterling heart so winning is not out of the question mind you. I am sure it will be a close and exciting contest in any event.”

“I am sure it will be Ibrahim, and make for very interesting sport.”

This was the last time he would do something like this, the owner of the ship thought to himself, things here on Mizar, (he did like the newer name best), need be no worse than under the old regime. He had lost a son in the early fighting, but now he must think of his other two sons and the rest of the family. This last task, taking some of Stillwell’s men into the harbor at Unity, would satisfy his honor. He glanced aloft at the sails and could see nothing amiss in the darkness. Bidding his sailing master goodnight, he went back to his cabin, to sleep the rest of the night through as best his troubled dreams allowed.

* * *
CNS Eagle, Seven Days from Sylvan:

Tech Sgt Yuri Borselov commed Lt. Madry to tell her he had finished the test schematic she had assigned him to make sure he ‘Really’ understood the arming and target discriminator circuits in a standard Mod IV ShipKiller. She had asked him to come up with a way to spoof the code. Well he hadn’t been able to do that, but he might have found a way to mask the arming signal once it was sent, turning the standoff weapons into something that would need a direct impact to do any damage. She responded to his message by asking him to meet her up in the mess area. She was crawling around in engineering again.

Audie walked into the room with a large, rolled up display, and opened it up on the otherwise empty table. “Send it,” she said.

To Yuri’s surprise, her eyes went at once to the change he had made, a single additional area on the chip mask.

“Good catch Yuri, look at this.” She replaced his view with one of her own where a slightly different change fixed the same problem. “Now look at this.” The last view was shown by one with an inline module made of discrete components receiving the signal before processing. “I think we can make this change on ship. The processor change will have to be made in the fab-labs. I saw the problem yesterday and just worked out a correction. We are going to go right to the head of Engineering and get the fix made pronto. I will convince him to put you in charge but let his men do the cutting and pasting. They got the experience.”

“Go grab us some coffee, we’ll drink it here and then go visit Lt, Tubman”

When Yuri came back with the mugs he said, “How come you never mentioned anything about Witherway, or Ophia, or Altoona? Or the fact that you have enough money to start your own research lab or do damn near anything else you want? I didn’t know until the last few weeks I was working for a legend.”

“Me!” she choked, “A legend?” It came out along with the coffee she sprayed coffee while making the statement. Audie wiped off the display before continuing. “Major Calvert’s a legend, Sgt. Davis is a legend, my cousin Jamie’s a legend, I’m just a pretty fair Tech along for the ride. And about the money, I happened to be in the Major’s Company on Ophia and everything else just fell in my lap.”

“That’s not what the stories say.”

“Well stories are good and all, I am sure some of your friends tell stories about you too, but stories don’t get missiles modified so lets to see Tubman and we’ll start turning you into a legend.”

“What do you mean by that Audie?”

“Come along, you’ll see.”

“That’s the situation Ed. I thought I saw a possible problem and Yuri here came up with an independent verification.”

“This is serious. Do you think the Calps have any idea and have you talked to Captain Marquette yet?”

“Not yet. Yuri show the Lt the diagram.” Yuri spread out the display and indicated the module Audie had designed.

“This should take care of the problem Sir,” he said.

“Hmm, We can build that and install it here quite easily I would think.”

“I thought so too,” Audie said, “Why don’t we have Sgt. Borselov start showing your people what needs to be done and you and I will go talk with the Captain.”

“Yes, let me call in my maintenance chief and we will do just that.”

“I’m somewhat leery of making changes to operational equipment without a Bu-ships authorization,” Marquette said.

Tubman spoke at once. “Sir, if we don’t and the Calps know about this weakness we could be somewhat dead.”

“You make your point Lieutenant. How long to make the changes?”

Tubman looked to Audie for the answer.”

“Couple of days Captain, Tech Sgt. Borselov knows what he’s about.”

On the way back to Engineering Audie said to Tubman, “Ed, I never studied anything about why our drives work as the do and not all that much about how we make them do it. I need a complete picture inside before I understand anything. I’ve seen the equations and can struggle through the math but that’s all it is, words and numbers. After we have this missile project put to bed how about giving Yuri and me a talk from your point of view. You’ve had a lot more time to think about it than I have and I would be thankful for the help.”

“Sure thing Audie, though it’s all deep stuff and I can’t say I understand it myself beyond what I need to know to keep the ship running.”

“Even that will help me. Thanks again.”

Docking in Unity went smoothly, and the port inspection was perfunctory. Stillwell’s men took their equipment; nothing larger than one could carry without attracting attention, and were lost into the night. They gathered, one by one, in various buildings beyond the fences of the northern and smaller Calp firebase.
As soon as they were in position, a signal was sent back to Stillwell, and from him to the Cardomans. Do it now, Ramses, Wes advised. You gain nothing by waiting.
From almost 200 kilometers away, Stillwell issued the order to fire. Fifteen minutes later, four of the six 155’s were destroyed, and all 21 of Stillwell’s men along with another 386 civilians were dead. The Calps had no choice but to aim their counter fire into civilian areas, because that was where the rounds targeting the big guns were coming from. Those receiving counter fire had no choice but to die.

Basil Ramseyer ordered his men to move, Stillwell, leading his own troops was out in front. Baldridge, the next city on the coast fell by daylight.

* * *
The Caliphate Transport Ramadan, A week out of Philomel:

Abdul-Karim Khalaf was extremely pleased with himself and his changed situation. Haraj had asked him which of the three closest Class 1 aligned planets had the most military reserves available at any given time. Philomel was the obvious answer. A population of more than four billion she was in the forefront of those looking to expansion. Because of that, but also because she was close to the frontier, her standing army was large and well armed.

She had a permanent naval fleet stationed at home, with elements rotating out on patrols and a large merchant fleet as well. It made sense to go directly there and report the loss of Marais to the local governor, who then could do little else than send ships and troops to restore the planet and protect it in the future.

The Ramadan was now carrying those troops back to Marais accompanied by 4 G-3 Cruisers. Better yet, Khalaf using the authority granted him as Marais appointed Governor was in overall command of the Philomel supplied ground troops. He would head up the staff and the Philomel unit commanders would do the work. Once Marais was back under Caliphate control Khalaf was sure his star would be on the rise again.

They had five more days to transition out and Khalaf was savoring every one.

“That’s the thirteenth, and a lucky number for them,” Cmdr Langston, bridge officer on the Aladin said as the transport disappeared from their screens. Rescues 14 – 17 were in system already, 14 almost loaded. Extra landers and crews had stayed behind so the loading was going much faster than when they started. The word was out to the crew that in about a week the job would be finished and Aladin would be making tracks for Cardoman. One more week without a Calp fleet showing up to ruin things. Was that too much to ask?

Twenty three hundred people, many more than Stan Voinovich expected, chose to stay behind on Marais. He would not be the one to force them to leave. Maybe a third had been collaborates and informants and in their hearts feared the reprisal they had earned. Half of the remainder were family members of the first group, but the last third chose to stay because it was the only life they knew, and they refused to move and learn to live another.

The last ship to load was an ancient G-1 freighter, the Divine Spirit out of How Ling. She was old and slow, able to make 10 g’s at maximum acceleration, but had the room to take the extra landers aboard along with the final 3700 people willing to leave. Earning her living by carrying cargoes too large for newer generations to handle, she was the kind of ship that the Calps used when moving their Picket Class ships from world to world and found enough employment to pay the bills and earn a profit for the planetary government that owned her. Beyond that, the ship had taken many of the earliest settles from Earth to How Ling and thereby figured prominently in its history.
Five hours from Marais the alarms on the Aladin sounded as the light speed impulses from the Ramadan and her G-3 escorts were detected. They made a good transition as the Ramadan had just made the trip in the other direction and her information was up to date. Lt Speedway making some assumptions had a plot up within a minute.

“The Spirit’s gonna’ show up at once. They won’t see us for a while yet. Close to a stern chase, only 11degrees out. We can get away easily, the Spirit can’t. We will know in a bit over an hour but I would guess all four ships will bear on the Spirit until they are sure of what is in system.”

“Captain,” Speedway said, “Check screens five and six. The Comp has the first showing the Calps theoretical optimum course and six shows a likely minimum.

“Very good Joe, it simplifies the possibilities. I would guess once they know no one is guarding the store, the Ramadan goes straight to Marais. The question is will two or three ships follow us to force an intercept on the Spirit. Either way the get within missile range four hours before the Spirit can jump. If they want to fight, and I am sure they do. We can’t avoid it without condemning more than 3700 people to death or slavery.