The Cutting Edge 23

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 23 Draft (04/22/08)

“Let’s go over the sequence of events one more time.” Wes was looking at his master display showing units in place with a time sequence running up one of its sides, and adding notes in some of the comment fields.

Clay Grayson began: We will replace the fist 0 with the proper hour when we have it nailed down but this is the overall.

0:00:00 – Recon is dropped. This has got to be the absolute quickest unload ever. Pavel has the go ahead to adjust vector in the seconds between pod launches. So long as he gets it right that will place the termination points all the pods into a smaller circle and boost the odds of everyone meeting up at the same place and time.

0:19:11 – Recon lands on top of Caliphate Headquarters. They have five minutes to eliminate the air defenses on top the building and make their way down three floors and need to be at least 200 meters away when the artillery opens up.

0:21:30 Ships in orbit begin jamming all communications and data bands.

0:21:35 — Shuttles already on Sylvan take flight to start probing for damage to the air defenses.

0:21:37 – Artillery opens fire. First, EMP rounds at every Calp location in Unity. They will be followed by HE with the HQ building as the first order target. If recon has not cleared the area by the time these shell arrive we can lock out the warheads. If they are not clear once one more minute elapses, that’s 0:23:45 precisely, we may, probably will, have to take out the building anyway.

0:22:10 – Ground explosives detonated. We hope the forty second delay from when we started jamming will let us catch more people in the open running for their stations.

0:22:15 – All infantry units begin executing their orders. There are for major areas we need to deal with and six primary targets. Colonel Ramseyer’s complete battalion will attack the Calp artillery park; this must fall as soon as possible and will affect all other areas of the battle.

Melbourne and A company will attack from the northwest, sweeping across the barracks and the staging ground. With them will be 500 of Stillwell’s men. Their destination, the main Calp barracks and depot. The goal is to take it, but in the worst case, to bottle up those inside.

Captain Newmish and Bravo Company and Captain Morgan with C will both come in from the north. Newmish is to take the main air defense site. If this appears to be going well, Ben and C Company will head directly to the air defense site at the spaceport. If necessary, he will aid Bravo Company before proceeding. Should that be the case they will first make sure all the launchers are destroyed and then both companies will continue to the spaceport.

Colonel Stillwell with his 1800 indigenous troops will attempt to overpower all defenders at the cities southern boarder. They will concentrate on rapid movement and take infrastructure type targets before the Calps think to disable them. If city residents can join in and help, more power too them, the Colonels end task must be to retake the seat of government and empty its prisons.

Colonel Vadnais and his Alpha Company will lead the way down the central highway and enter at the main checkpoint. Lt. Madry, with all of the mobile counter fire and air defenses will be right behind him. That leaves Colonel Vadnais’ second company as our reserve and under the direct command of Major Calvert. Their use will be determined after we have a chance to evaluate how everything else is working out.

“That’s the sequence and the exact time we begin looks to be about 11 hours from now. Before we end this the Major has a few words to say.”

With the exception of Clay Grayson, everyone participating was away from the command post and with his or her own forces. Most had displays set to show small frames enclosing the faces of the others. Calvert’s face became the one highlighted when he started talking.

“Surprise and Speed, are our two best weapons. Followed up by all the force we can bring to bear. That’s how quick decisive battles have always been won, and how they always will. I have one more point to bring up though, the question of prisoners.”

“We will have precious little time or manpower to devote to capturing and holding enemy combatants, but remember this, each of you and every member of your chain of command to the newest recruit will respect an offer to surrender if immediately followed by a laying down of arms. We do not have the time for negotiations so our terms are unconditional and the laying down of arms. If that offer is unacceptable keep fighting until it is.”

“We are certain that the average Caliphate troop, once captured, has no value to us beyond that resulting from his no longer being able to fight. High-ranking officers, and certain members of influential families may have a political valued beyond their military position. All of you have a list of these people, should any come under our control, segregate them from the rest and send them up stream as soon as you can.”

“I will add a few more thoughts and wish us all well, just before we launch, but now, all of you take care of the last minute details, then try and get a few hours of sleep. Let’s do this right and keep the mistakes down. Don’t get distracted by the unimportant. We have a war to win.”

The waiting was easier this time. They would be going in first but not alone. “Ten seconds.” Pavel said over the intercom. The first pods on either side were locked in place, Davis in one, Fader Jameson in the other. After a quick review of the indicators, with three seconds left, Davis closed his eyes and tensed for ejection. And Wham! A violent shove in the back and then he was free falling. Shortly all the team was clear and green indicators showing on the Sgt’s display. It was only a minute before the first buffeting from atmosphere became noticeable and the G’s began to rise.

Four kilometers up and two from the coast the pods split open and the chutes started filling. It was a very dark 04:30 hours after local midnight. Making a drop for the first time were two of the former Maccabees from Marais. After all the old team members completed a refresher drop, the new ones kept going until they had the hang of the parasail chute. It was harder at night and when it counted, but Davis could see everyone joining up on him. It would have made an easier drop to come in closer to the target, Calp HQ, but they needed to have anything left of the pods end up in the ocean rather than the city. They had a long glide ahead.

They were wearing a new kind of cloak made and supplied by Cardoman R&D, but purchased from Llanfairn. It consisted of many strips of chaff like plastic. Some strips absorbing and some phase shifting, the unusual return meant to mimic that of a bird, combined with their low speed and they should escape detection until the were spotted visually.

After spiraling down about half a K, and with everyone in place, Jameson led off to the east, the coast and the Calp HQ roof. Just when Robbie began reviewing the landing orders for each team member, disaster struck. Out of the corner of an eye, even in the darkness, Robbie saw something flash by on the edge of visibility. He switched to night vision and magnification and reacquired then stabilized the view.

“Count off. By the numbers,” Davis said into the one low power com channel. When the roll was counted, Davis knew the two figures he had seen, chutes entwined, and falling unsupported to the ocean below were the two Maccabees at the top of his unit forwards tilting column. No one could ever know exactly what happened; but it was likely one of them got too close and hauled the wind from the others chute causing the one above to drop and the sudden entanglement. They didn’t carry reserve chutes. The mains were too reliable, and they couldn’t afford the weight penalty. RIP. It was going to make the mission that much harder, having six rather than eight to carry it out. Mourn the dead later.

“Don’t you see them Yuri?” Audie asked the Sgt, using his device as an example to show the rest of the sensor operators.

“Not really. With maximum gain everything just returns as noise.”

“Here, right here,” she said using a pointer to circle an area on the screen where to her at least, the clutter looked different enough to stand out. “Watch it move, the random static is getting denser as the pods are getting closer to our antennas. See it Now? Wait…” She said playing back a few seconds worth of data. “Something happened right here, but I can’t make out what it was.” She went back to the real time view.

“When this is over,” Borselov said, “I am going to run a data build where the pods tracks get overlaid on the screen and see how close your guesses actually are Lt. I can’t detect a thing and unless their stuff is better than ours the Calps won’t either.”

Carl Pilchard’s voice came briefly on channel. “A week of my pay against a week of yours for anyone who thinks Madry’s faking it. — You got my number.”

* * *
Seven hundred meters above Calp HQ, three and a half klicks in from the coast, just north of the central city, they finished the descent. The building below was a neat three story square some 55 meters on a side with an enclosed access containing a lift, leading in and down at one of the buildings corners. The other three corners had anti-air launchers in place surrounded by the equivalent of sandbag barriers. In the center was a ventilation stack to deal with heating cooling and makeup air. Next to this was a tower holding antenna and light-wave com gear. There were two more makeshift areas probably holding reloads. They were roofed and sandbagged so there was no direct evidence of what they contained.

The building was low enough that Loomis and Gaza had been able to view it on numerous occasions from several nearby buildings. The typical guard stationed on top was 10 to 12 and Robbie could mark 10. He hoped that was all of them. Circling dropping rapidly now, a hundred meters above the roof, on the same level at four points of the compass, Davis, Short, Jameson, and Leach each tossed two grenades and went through a magazine on auto fire, then pulled their chutes, dropping the last couple of meters to the roof.

The grenades were stabilized and programmed to explode 5 meters above the roof with all the shrapnel aimed downwards. When Robbie set the weapons parameters for the mission he ruled out shoulder-fired launchers, because of the risk of exploding the warheads on top the building. Grenades and rifle rounds could start fires but they were not likely to shock the warheads into going. The team was far too close to live through that.

Petty and Ortega skipped the grenades. Too much chance of hitting one of their own with part of the team already down, but each emptied a magazine into a target area. They heard the piercing wail of attack sirens and then they were on the roof with the others, and sprinting for the lift to disable it. The jamming must already have started. Davis, Short, and Jameson each lobbed from a different corner of the building, anther grenade over the sandbags there to protect the missile tubes but now containing their grenades blast. These were timed to explode 2 seconds from leaving the throwers hand. Then they raced through the zig-zag entrances to each missile site. Leach started opening one of the storage room doors to see what was inside.

A loud blast, and then a curtain of light shown for an instant all around the Headquarters Building. Dirt was soon raining down. There went the stuff they had sprayed in a couple of days ago. At other locations the same thing was happening. It was at this time the first wave of EMP devices went off and in sparkled in the pre-dawn sky. All of the Cards and the rest of the attacking forces were now on the move.

Tossing another grenade around the corner, Robbie ducked back, waited out the blast then entered the enclosed space, his rifle at the ready. Helmet sensors showed no signs of life but he could see three mangled bodies. He emptied his magazine, then another into the weapons control console and exited back to the open roof. A smack followed by an audible crack and he was falling backward and rolling sideways.

A gun barrel poked out from the partially opened door of the second storage building. A second shot missed and Robbie was shielded by sandbags. His body armor had stopped the round but there would be one heck of a bruise later on if he lived to see it. Ortega, seeing the relay from Robbie’s camera, jumped up on top of the low storage building and from above the cracked door dropped a grenade. After it detonated, blowing the door inwards and all the way open, he reached down over the edge and pitched one inside. That ended all resistance on top the building as everyone else finishing with their responsibilities headed for the midway point of the buildings northern side.

Robbie, adrenaline, masking any pain said, “We have a minute and a half left till the HE comes in. No mistakes now! Jameson, you first, I go last.”

Fader snapped the end of the cord from his drop reel around an antenna mast, and with a check of the drag setting steeped from the buildings edge. Kicking off once from the buildings side he was on the ground and running for the closest part of the downed fence that was no longer keeping anyone in or out. One by one the rest of the team followed at five second intervals. When Leach was over the side leaving Robbie as the last one left, he hooked his cord on mast, checked the reel drag and stepped outwards. Damn! There was no resistance. He did what he could, in fact he did everything right. There just wasn’t anything right enough. The problem was a human body wasn’t built to jump off of three story building roofs.

His reflexes were fast, fast enough to absorb some of the shock, but the stress transferred by muscles and ligaments was too great for merely human bones. He didn’t really have time to feel them breaking in both of his legs before his helmeted head struck the ground with more than enough force to render him unconscious.

Leach was not sure why he turned to look for the Sarge rather than keep running for the fence but he saw Robbie pitch forwards and make no effort to get back up. He used their local IR channel; it wasn’t being blocked, and called ahead to Petty, their medic next up the chain. “Back to the wall Uriah, Davis is down.”

Leach beat Petty to the wall by four or five seconds but Uriah had already looked at the relayed information from Davis’s suit display. Leach had already stopped staring at the jagged tip of a thighbone poking through the Sgt’s combat suit and was lifting the unconscious weight from the ground building up a head of steam in the other direction once again.

“No time to worry about that now,” Petty thought to himself, having no extra wind to make a comment while he tried to keep up with the running Leach. The suits had most of the external bleeding clamped and stopped. All of Petty’s efforts were now of the type. “Let’s get him the hell out of here. We got only thirty seconds till the HE comes down.”

It was a good thing the first rounds were penetrators and not spreaders, or they wouldn’t have made it out of the blast area. Just minutes later Gaza al-Omari located them and took charge of getting Robbie to a local doctor for whatever might be done on the spot.

“We had best evacuate him as soon as we have control of the air.” Petty said. “He seems stable but that’s not certain.”

Connie Melbourne issued the go, and her company, traveling as fast as the locally commandeered vehicles would let them, made it to the churned up ground and broken fence line beyond the racetrack some seven minutes later. She hoped the lack of fire from any of the Calp long guns at their Arty-park meant Ramseyer had already silenced them but was operating as if it was just plain luck.

She made sure they maintained communications silence as they continued across unopposed and started towards the converted warehouse barracks. A hundred of the locals were with the company. The four hundred others not yet at the front, were marching in this direction at their best rare of speed, and would get motorized transportation as soon as she had any.

Her first platoon leader, Charlie Mankowitz was working with Stillwell’s people and Sgt. Beal was running the platoon. He did that most of the time anyway. The warehouses that made up the Calp barracks were scattered over a square kilometer area. It there was a fight each one needed to be taken separately. Connie didn’t plan on letting that happen.

Paul Olivera and second platoon was going after the single anti-air launcher at the track. It shouldn’t have been easy, but it was. The Calps were paying attention above, incoming 155 rounds and looking for the Cardoman shuttles. An attack at ground level didn’t seem to register; they weren’t deployed to guard against one, and didn’t act like there was a danger. The confirmation that Calp Headquarters was destroyed explained one part of the reason.

Olivera’s men were the first to the old fence line. They were met by sporadic small arms fire that faded away as they neared.

The track’s grandstand and the stables beyond it made certain that those Calps at the air defense and sensors set in a far corner of the grounds never knew what hit them. They raced through a gap between the stands, the one the animal transports usually used, and had mobile tube fired missiles from two launchers on their way before the Calps reacted. And by then it was too late.

Connie used a laser relay up to the Sara to stop the jamming long enough for a prerecorded surrender offer to broadcast on all com channels. With no immediate responses, she signaled Bledsoe and he started to target the barracks.

Half a kilometer out from the earthwork mound protecting the northern Artillery Park, Major Lewellyn Waterford watched round after round fired from their mortar tubes arc towards the Calp position. At first almost all were intercepted in flight, and some small amount of return fire came their way. They were much too close for the 155’s and the Calps with their outer defensive line hadn’t given enough thought to using their own mortars to drive off an attacking force.

For in close protection the Calps had the Gatling style machineguns that provided close- in knock down for shells and missiles that eluded their longer range defenses that were entirely missile based. That seemed enough for the Sylvans and the Calps made few changes when they put their own guns on site. It was a good defense being overwhelmed by number of incoming rounds.

The commander of the battery could tell right away he was in for tough times. He sent out a force of fifty to try and silence Ramseyer’s mortars, or failing that force them back and out of range. Lewellyn, handling the mortar spot defenses for Ramseyer, was too well prepared for this to work and only fifteen of the fifty made it back to the arty-park. One by one the big guns were going silent.

When the last gun was still, Ramseyer kept up his mortar barrage for another three minutes. He was with the first of his troops into the compound and after his inspection banned its interior to all but the intelligence section and the graves detail. It wasn’t a place for even the morbidly curious.

Due to the stiffness of the resistance around the main anti-air site, Morgan and C-Company stayed close, adding their own contributions, and delaying going out to the spaceport

When the Sara lifted the com blackout in order to relay Connie’s surrender offer, Wes used the time to talk to Morgan and Newmish and decide to send Morgan on to the Spaceport. He wanted them out there by the time the main artillery site fell. A half of an hour into the fight things were going well.

Stillwell didn’t have the problem that had most worried him when he talked to his officers before they jumped off, maintained enough discipline to keep his troop from becoming a mob. It would have been easy for a group like the one he commanded to react badly after entering a city and ousting the Calps opposing them. Prior service and Stillwell’s talk about not wanting to see Sylvan’s Army degraded might have been the difference, but more likely, almost certainly Ramses admitted to himself, was his own dour outlook not only colored the way he saw the Calps but added a false tinge to everything else as well.

Stillwell lacked all the data but he could tell the Calps were loosing this battle and loosing it badly. He had suffered perhaps seventy fatalities thus far, two thirds of those happened during the bitter fight at the police station, When his men did get inside most of the prisoners were dead. He vowed to do better with the prisoners held in the Parliament building.

No one thought in advance the Cardoman 2nd Battalion was going to take the bulk of the off planet casualties. The Calps had targeted the main road not giving any credit to suggestions that their close in defenses could be breached. Both sides paid in blood for the oversight. While the Calp 155’s could still fire they sent three out of four fire missions towards the approaching Cards trying to halt their advance.

With help from the Sara’s and Aladin’s beam weapons, until the Calps wised up and kept everything in the atmosphere, Audie and her tech section stopped 98% of the incoming, a fact made all the more remarkable by the low number of defending launchers versus the high number of incoming shells.

As they continued towards the city, Audie took note of the burning carcass of about a fifth of the Company’s troop and cargo carriers before the Calp fire let up as they neared then entered the city. By now, overhead the Cardoman shuttles were moving without opposition.

The battle took place at a bad time for General Gomaa and Brigadier Farouk. Any battle could be said to take place at the wrong time while one is in the process of loosing it, but here, neither commander ever got in touch with his command. That early in the morning both were in their rooms at different hotels not far from the Headquarters Building. That structure fell so rapidly that neither man was inside when it began to crumble and cave in.

With HQ gone they went to the Calp guard at the Parliament Building as the closest place with good secure communication abilities. That proved not to be the case because the Cardoman jamming was very effective on unit level equipment. It had far less effect on the type of long-range gear they used when talking to their own ships still closing on the planet. They would not be here in time to change the course of this fight but if defeat was not total, the outcome might still be reversed.

With three hundred troops guarding against a frontal attack, in a building that years ago had been built with this kind of possibility in mind, and several hundred hostages for collateral, Gomaa and Farouk were going to make the best deal possible.

Stillwell and his men beat the Cardoman Second Battalion to the Parliament by about 15 minutes. Wes talked to Stillwell concerning the parameters that the Cardomans expected would be followed, but made sure Ramses knew, that except for turning over any of their gains, where Wes would very much appreciate being contacted, the choices were all Stillwell’s to make, and negotiations started.

When Davis came back around, and began to focus, he looked up and saw a woman wearing not a niqab, the full, cover-the-face veil some Muslim women wear, but the other one, a hijab, a plain white scarf that surrounding the face making no attempt to mask the wearers appearance. The woman did seem vaguely familiar, as if he had met her in a previous life. And it was certainly true at that moment in time, when he first looked upon her, that he felt her the most beautiful woman he had ever seen or would ever need to see.

He felt a drug induced warm glow permeating every aspect of his being. He tried to ask a question of her, then lost interest and slid back into unconsciousness.

“How’s he gonna’ be Petty?” Captain Melbourne asked, speaking from her throat like an old time ventriloquist, her voice distorted by the white bandage wrapped tightly around her face, over her forehead and under her chin, to keep the bones of her broken cheek and jaw in place. It also helped to hide the livid bruise but did nothing for the pain.

“Get the Sarge on a ship and in a quick heal chamber and he’ll be good as new, — In about 8 weeks. He came as close to buying it as anyone I’ve ever seen and Ma’am, when the report is made I want to add my piece. When it all came down to shove, the only thing that stood between Robbie Davis and death was the person of Malcolm Leach. I will never know how he got back to the Sgt. and carried him out of there in the few seconds before the HQ went down. I was with him! But I do know it had nothing to do with me.”

“Write it up Petty. If nothing else, when the time comes, Davis will be more than a little interested.”

“What about you Ma’am? You’ll heal up in a couple days back on ship.”

“I’ll get a number. There’s one hell of a lot people with more serious injuries in line in front of me.”