The Cutting Edge 22

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 22 Draft (04/18/08)

Admiral Suleiman sent up a com link to Governor Khalaf, “That is the end of the matter; there is nothing left for us here. You really do not have enough people left on the Marais to merit any kind of guard. Still I will leave the ‘Duhabi’ behind in case the Cardomans return. I will take my other three ships on patrol. I will visit the Mizar system as my first stop. If any of our ships come into the Marais system please forward the message I have downloaded describing the events here back to Earth.”

On the Eagle Jim Marquette gave the order to transition in and the ship emerged into the Sylvan fifteen minutes outside the limit.

“There’s a Calp in system, and the Saratoga is moving; at least she was an hour ago.” Lt. Randy Kreager was at the long-range sensors station.

“How can you tell how she was moving an hour ago?” The Eagle’s second, Dave Gump asked.” “There’s been no time for any kind of a signal return from anything more distant than a few light-seconds.

“She’s sending Sir. I have a coded message from the Sara coming in already. It’s a reoccurring burst.”

“Out with it Lt. What is she sending?” Marquette said sounding somewhat exasperated.

“Sorry Sir, the decode is on channel seven.”

Switching over Jim saw a time headed diagram showing the Saratoga’s location and course as well as the same information for the Calp G-3 Reza Gholam and three ‘Damascus Class’ picket ships and the vector cones giving a picture of what was possible to each ship as projected forwards.

A ‘Damascus’ picket carried five launchers, more offensive fire power than even a militarized transport like the Eagle’s four, and even with the smaller size, would typically carry as many reloads because this type of vessel was never used to haul cargo. They weren’t small ships, like an armored shuttle or a lander, massing out at 5000 tons. In a one on one fight though, a ship like the Eagle should, if handled properly come out on top, because along with the hyper capability came a certain measure of gravity control. Even the heavily drugged crew of a picket were limited to about 8 G’s, and half as much for long duration, whereas the compensators on the Eagle permitted her movement at 50 G’s in a straight line vector and maneuver at almost 40.

The data stream with the view gave details concerning the Sara’s projected course and a message that any Cardoman ship, or ship with the Cardoman codes could decipher. Jim listened to it in fascination, hearing Jamie Madry describing the situation and reason for the signal.

“That’s a pretty clever stratagem Captain,” Eric Shearing said when he set up the transmission a day earlier. “I must have missed this in my coursework when I was training for the navy.”

“It’s only clever if someone comes along and hears it Lieutenant, otherwise it’s a waste of time. So long as we keep the signal directional, there are no Calps in system that can hear it. And by beaming in the direction and general area any ship from Cardoman should transition in from, they will get all the information we can give them at least an hour earlier than if they had to interpret the returns from their own sensors.”

“That’s not the part I was referring to Ma’am, a planetary beacon does much the same thing. It’s the part where you go beyond that and explain how to begin acting as a unit with a prepared plan, even before we can actually get into contact with each other. That’s what I never heard about before.”

“I must have read about it somewhere, but this is how it could work for us. If one of our ships transitions in-system soon, something that is likely to happen, they can read the time-stamp on our message and because we are broadcasting a projected course, know with a fair degree of accuracy our position and vector within waiting for sensors or communication likes being established.”

“Knowing that they will also be able to deduce the earliest we would be able to detect their transition grav impulse. So. . .If as soon as they are in they head straight to Sylvan, a logical move in any event, and then at the instant we receive the grave pulse we both change course towards the Gholam and Pickets it will look like we are acting on a preset plan.”

“It will at that Captain, but it unless the Calps can figure how the new ship knows what kind of a heading to make before you even knew they were in-system it’s going to look like we have somehow managed to come up with a faster than light communications system. That’s got to give them pause for concern.”

“I hope you are correct in that assumption Eric, when I remember where I read about this I’ll let you know. Get the message timing and package details set up and I’ll record a voice addendum explaining what I intend to do when we detect a transition, and suggesting what the ship we hope to see should do as well.”

“Got a transition Captain,” Vern Matson commed Jamie, when the Eagles wake was detected. “One ship, the Eagle, good transition 3100 light seconds from our current position.”

“Execute the plan Vern, and we’ll see how the Calps react.”

On the Reza Gholam, Tactical Officer Dimihijra al-Chibah, started running was running down the details with Captain Cahdesh, while the ship’s second in command, Asma Ali Asani was on the bridge and linked by a com channel.

“We still have a strategic edge,” al-Chibah said. “The three pickets give us more throw weight and better defense than the Cardomans should be able to muster. Tactically though they have better maneuverability and can chose to fight or not as they please. I recommend we make all haste in returning to Mizar.”

“Do you have an explanation for how it was possible for the Cardoman Eagle to change course, and directly towards us, at exactly the same time the Saratoga made the same move?” asked Asani from the bridge.

“I do not Cmdr, and it troubles be greatly. We are analyzing all the available data and hope to come up how it was done.”

“Keep it as a priority,” Cahdesh said. “But, Cmdr Asani, set us on a course back to Mizar. If the Eagle maintains on her present track until she can sense or receive word from the Saratoga. Even though we cannot get back to the planer before the Saratoga does, we will beat the Eagle, and with enough time to handle her sister ship should she choose to try and stop us. With the Saratoga out of the picture the Eagle presents no problem at all.”

“This seems crazy.” Dave Gump said to Pamela Hines, when barely thirty minutes after making her first course move towards the Gholam, and before seeing how that ship reacted, they changed vectors again. “All this maneuvering, acting as if we knew what the Gholam is doing and where she is, when it’s all just guess work on Captain Madry’s part; it’s sure not the way the books say to do it. If the Calps don’t turn around and head for Sylvan Madry is going to have to fight them by her lonesome, and that could be a disaster. Not to mention the orders about not risking the Saratoga for no gain.”

“You haven’t met Captain Madry, have you Dave?”

“Not really, but I see that her cousin, the Lieutenant — ‘Just call me Audie,’– has pretty much taken over ships engineering with the help of her Sgt. Borselov, and it does make me wonder about the family.”

“If you had been at Altoona Dave, you wouldn’t be wondering. Trust them both, maybe even before you trust yourself.”

Jamie saw on her viewscreen, the Gholam and her escorts break back towards Sylvan and gave a sigh of relief. If Marquette and the Eagle were doing as she had suggested, and she was confident he was, after all, she was the senior Cardoman Captain in system, the Reza Gholam was in for a big surprise. Captain Cahdesh was going to find that Sylvan was off limits unless he got some more help.

She had Eric Shearing send to Major Calvert a complete picture of the present situation and asked that he send further instructions to Marquette on the Eagle concerning getting the troops and cargo aboard her unloaded as rapidly as possible. There might still be a battle to fight.

Three hours later Voinovich and the Aladin came into Sylvan space and for all involved the world changed again.

Wes Calvert was waiting at the edge of the open field when Eagle’s shuttle set down. First down the short ramp was the commanding officer the three additional companies General Inglase had sent from the Cardoman defense forces Colonel Oscar Vadinais. The second off was Audie Madry, who disregarding protocol, ran up and gave him a big smile and salute. Next off were Robbie Davis and Boss’n Carl Pilchard, and Davis’s recon team followed. Only seconds later the ship’s other shuttle came down with more of Oscar’s 650 troops.
The Colonel, as a young lieutenant, was an advisor to the Cadet Reserve training unit Wes had been involved with before leaving for his training at military academy on Jorgen. Seven years older than Wes was now at thirty-one, they had gotten along well back then. And when Wes returned to Cardoman with his ‘Cards’, and they were absorbed, (after a fashion), into the regular Cardoman army, their friendship continued.

“Good to see you Oscar,” Wes said, turning from Audie and saluting the new arrival.

“And you too Major.” Oscar replied. “But I have to say this Wes, it’s about time you pinned on your real rank pins. It would make all of your subordinate officers with higher apparent rank feel more at ease if we could hold to the time honored rank structure when it came to command.”

“You have a point Oscar, though my guys are used to it, and Colonel Ramseyer runs his own battalion so it hasn’t been a problem, but I guess when we are finished here I’ll have to do something. Let’s all go to my headquarters tent until the Aladin gets in, and you can tell me about your people. I’ve read the manifest but I’d like you to fill me in with your own best evaluation of your troops and their capabilities. And I’m quite sure Lt. Madry will have something to add to the conversation as well.”

Next, addressing Davis and Pilchard Wes added, “And I would also like you gentleman to accompany our little group so we can begin to see where you will fit in.”

“That’s about it Wes, there all pretty good, at least on the training field; not many have seen duty off planet though, so from that point they are still untested. And of course none have the kind of experience your people have.”

“That’s going to change pretty soon Oscar. Aside from the two infantry companies, I am necessarily thankful Inglase sent along a full tech and anti-air support unit. I hope you don’t mind, but as you say, your troops do lack experience, so I am going to send some of my veterans over to add some of what you lack. First thing, I am going to put Audie in charge of your tech unit. Nothing against the current leadership but, I know Madry and what she can do.”

“Thank you Major! Can I take my Sgt Borselov with me?”

Vadinais answered, “Lt you can take anyone you choose. And to make sure there are no hard feelings. . . Wes, why not transfer the tech units present leader to your staff. Captain Fellows knows us and would make a good communications conduit to the rest of my men.”

“Sounds good Oscar. I’m going to reissue Boss’n Pilchard his Master Sergeants stripes and send him to your first company. Robbie here and I have some talking yet to do before we decide what to do with the recon force So if you would like to take Audie back with you, I will let you go back to your units and get them settled in. But don’t make them too comfortable. Your infantry will be marching tonight.

After the others left Wes opened a carry bag setting in a corner of the tent and pulled out a bottle. Uncapping it, he handed it over to Davis and said, “We travel light here Robbie, no glasses. You first, I’d say you earned it on Marais.” Davis took the offered bottle and placing it to his lips, tilted it and gulped three quick swallows before passing back to the Major. Wes upended the container and took one swallow of his own, then set it on the table.”

“A remarkable achievement on Marais. I had hopes, but I could see by reading the reports that you accomplished more than even I thought was possible.”

“Yeah. — But those bastards had to go and murder everyone on the last ship out. That’s gonna’ hurt for the rest of my days.”

“We’ll get some of it back real soon now, that’s all we can do.”

“What have you got in mind for recon Wes?”

“That’s a tough one. With the new Companies on board and the losses we’ve inflicted, we are getting closer to an equal force level with General Gomaa.”

“I don’t call two to one exactly equal Major.”

“I’m counting Sylvan’s Colonel Stillwell and his men into the mix.”

“More untested troops I would say.”

“Too true, but we fight with what we’ve got.”

“You’re still not telling me where we fight.”

“The city Robbie, we’re going to take Unity and settle this thing.”

The Aladin had just reached orbit when the transition wake from Admiral Suleiman’s three-ship squadron was detected and the world changed again.

Instead of having his Naval Captains go dirtside, or doing this by com and data link, Wes took the next returning shuttle back to the Sara and met all of them in the Sara’s Flag Plot. The main screen went active when Fullson Lovell began his brief.

Pointing out the new ship icons, Fullson said, “Not a particularly good transition, almost two and a half hours outside the limit, Bad navigation data, and I find that surprising as these ships should have been here before, maybe not from Marais though. They could have had orders to stay clear of that system because of morale issues but some how I doubt that. The ready example of what happens to dissidents seems more the Calps style. Still they made normal space almost three hours from the limit and that gives us the better part of two local days before they can even get here.

“The force structure stacks up like this. The Calps have four G-3 cruisers and three Damascus Pickets. We have two G-4’s and a military transport. A part of Captain Marquette’s cargo included two orbital defense pods, so at least close in, it’s not as lopsided as it looks. Still, it’s bad enough.”

“Give em the good news,” Jamie Madry said. “We can even the odds some.”

“Yes we can catch the Reza Gholam and the pickets before they can rejoin the Philomel task force. If both the Sara and the Aladin go after her, the pickets won’t count for much. We project that the Gholam will not stay behind to fight. The pickets just don’t have the acceleration to outreach us.”

“The down side to this is that when the Gholam runs, if the pickets refuse to surrender we will have to destroy them. In that case war with the Caliphate can hardly be avoided.”

Wes, his expression frozen as if any animation would break it, and then shatter what remained into little pieces, looked over each person in the room and said in a tone so cold and hard that he became a different person, one none present had ever seen.

“The Caliphate made war inevitable when they killed everyone on the Divine Spirit! Those deaths are going to be avenged. I want those pickets destroyed and if the Gholam stays to help then out, I want her destroyed as well. Captain Madry, that is your number one priority. I want you and Voinovich on your way within the hour. The die is cast!”

Gomaa, Farouk, and Aqeed were starting to worry. The balance of forces was only slightly in their favor, and the resupply from Earth was overdue. The additional Cardoman landings meant that if they risked going on the offensive he could lose what he already held. The Infidel and their turncoat native help had no strong point that they must stand and hold. Farouk and his men retook Baldridge to the south the day after it fell to Ramseyer and Stillwell; they did not attempt to defend it. Even so, harassing fire from coming from long range meant Farouk burned through twice the munitions load in the recapture as had been used in the original attack. He needed that resupply.

There was unrest in town. Gomaa threw Ioseph Wahsabi, head of the puppet government into a jail cell with it being said his release was conditional on public behavior, but that didn’t help. Most instances were petty vandalism and arson, responding to them kept his men to busy to devote much time for action away from Unity.

If holding Wahsabi for the good behavior of the city did no good, maybe holding members of the not so secret opposition would.

“Aqeed, your advice?”

“Bring in the Perkins woman and a dozen of those who worked with her in the past. Summary execution of anyone caught engaging in any type of civil disobedience. Any major acts against us will result in the death of one of Perkins supporters. It this resistance continues and Perkins refuses to call for an end to the violence she must die as well. And all this must be made common knowledge.”

“Very well Aqeed, send the troops for her at once, this is not a police matter. Farouk and I will work on what we can do to hurt the Infidel more directly while we wait for our additional forces to arrive

“Faith in the will of Allah and honor both demand I stay and defend the picket ships Admiral Suleiman.”

“And my orders demand you do otherwise. One G-3 and three insystem pickets, suitable only for fighting merchants, pirates, and transports, will not stop two modern G-4 cruisers. If you stay with them any longer it will be two to one against you before we are close enough to be of any help. Those three pickets will do what they are able but when those on board ascend to heaven we will still have enough force to mount an attack.”

“The Gholam is leaving them, Pavel Tsarinstyn said interpreting the slight change in the data stream being feed to his sensor station on the Aladin. What do you think Captain? Do they surrender or fight?”

“They’ll fire every thing they have at long range and take to the boats. If we don’t get her first, I am sure all three ships will destruct as soon as the Calps are far enough away. This is a good decision by the Calps. If the Gholam had decided to stay we would have gotten her before the other ships joined in.”

A similar conversation took place on the Saratoga at the same time and Jamie Madry sent a message to the Aladin saying to be frugal with the Mod IV’s and let the Calps blow up their own ships. They would need the missiles later.

The battle happened as predicted, the pickets opening fire at long range and as soon as the Cards responded emptying their magazines. The sudden explosive energy spikes burned out a few sensors but other than that neither ship experienced any damage. They held their fire until the Calp Lifeboats cleared the area and then watched the three ships self-destruct one by one. The two ships change course once more, returning to Sylvan, the Eagle, and the orbital defense pods.

“I’m glad you found the time to visit me Sgt Borselov,” Robbie Davis said to the young man standing in front of him who was panting as if he had just run a marathon.

“Sorry it took so long,” he gasped. When I found I couldn’t get a ride, Lt. Madry said I better get marching. I did the best I could.”

“It’s only three kilometers but no mind. Lt. Madry tells me you’re the real expert on this new liquid explosive. I want you to tell be all about it.”

Before Yuri got started, Davis called in most of his recon squad to listen and ask about anything they thought off. When Yuri was finished, and Davis had all of his own technical questions answered to his satisfaction, he asked one more.

“How’s your local dialect?”

“It’s Ok, so long as I don’t try to impress people with my vocabulary.”

“Good Sgt. Very Good. I’ll have Cpl Leach drive you back.

Ibrahim Saudi took the most unusual step of calling upon Brigadier Farouk at his office in the military headquarters the Calps took control of when they first landed. The enlisted man, acting as a gate keeper, was most surprised at the short waiting time, and even more so when Farouk came out himself to greet the civilian who had not stated his purpose.

“Ibrahim, I am of course glad to see you but I am incredibly busy right now as I am sure you must understand.”

“Exactly so Amid. I would not have come here at this time had not a friend of mine offered a practical suggestion of a military nature, and neither of us knew any other way to bring it to the ‘proper’ authorities attention.”

The word proper, and the way Ibrahim spoke it caused Amid’s eyes to narrow, “And that might be?”

“My friend could not help but notice how hard your men work to keep all the sight lines open and the vegetation cut down around your various camps and armed strong points. The business he operates does much the same, or at least it used to, for the old government. Clearing shoulders and rights of way for the road network mostly, but also other large projects of a similar nature.”

“With the war as it is, the rebels controlling the road network, his trucks and spraying equipment sit idle and his men have no work. I am assured that a contract to take over this clearing your men are now doing, could be negotiated at very favorable rates.”

“You say trucks and spraying equipment?”

“Yes, a fast working herbicide tailored to the planets biology. One pass and the next day the plants have died and the ground stays clear except for a couple of species short, centimeter length, grasses. He had been working for the old government for over twenty years and has a long track record of complete satisfaction.”

Ibrahim wrote a number on a small scrap of piece of paper and slid it across Farouk’s desk. Amid looked, then crumpled it up and slid it back, were it went inside Ibrahim’s robe.

“I see the merit of this and will dispatch someone to look into it immediately. Tell you man to be ready to begin work tomorrow.”

The three trucks pulled up and halted at the main checkpoint into the city. Jesse Ortega, driving the first truck, got out and took off the half face gas mask that covered just his mouth and nose. After the briefest of greetings he handed the guard a copy of the authorization order, calling for him to spray down the entire area within 200 meters of the checkpoint including and particularly the areas adjacent to under the observation of, any permanently manned structures.

“Why the gas mask,” the guard asked. “Just how dangerous is this stuff?”

“Not very much, but we are with it all the time, and the trucks get covered with it. All that anyone needs to do to be completely safe, is make sure they are not down wind when we spray it. If you are, a half gas mask is good enough, unless you live with the stuff like we do, a short exposure won’t really do you any harm at all. But as you can see on the orders here, whoever is in charge if your medical section wants all of you to wear your masks until we finish. If nothing else it will be good practice, I guess. I been working with this stuff ten years and it’s not a problem.”

“Any problem with keeping the road open while you work?”

“None. Exposure time will be too low. Just don’t let anyone get out and have a picnic till the stuff soaks in and dries, say half an hour or so.”

“Sounds fine then, the weed detail is going to love you for this. I wonder what it took to get the brass to apply some common sense to the problem.”

“When we’re finished here would you call the other locations listed to let them know we are on our way? We have a lot of places to visit and the orders do say ‘ASAP’.”

The guard looked at the list of sites that included the artillery park, all checkpoints into town, the air defense field and spaceport and even the staging area at the race track, and a few other, not strictly military in nature. Could have been those places that got the brass to even consider the plan.

“I should think most everyone will be happy to hear you are on your way.”

Two of the three trucks actually did hold weed killer. Only the third one had the explosive in the tank and that needed to be hand sprayed because there had been no time to modify the trucks spray units. It worked better doing it by hand anyway, Yuri explained that this let them get close to fences buildings and obstructions that the trucks could not cover, and also they were using a much stronger version of the chemical, one that would last longer so next time around they could omit the hand spraying. He advised the guard that the hand sprayed area was going to look a little different than that sprayed by the trucks.”

The real advantage with hand spraying was that they were limiting the explosive to where it would do some good and it got them out of the trucks, where the necessary detonators could be pushed into the ground without arousing suspicion.

Each truck carried two people along with the driver. Ortega stayed with the explosive truck, moving it as required, leaving Yuri and five others to do all the hand work. It was an exhausting day. The only breaks coming from the mandatory periods of prayer enforced by the new regime. But they finished it up, and were out of Unity by nightfall.

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