The Cutting Edge 6

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 6 Draft (01/13//08)

Clayton Grayson was set up for a twice weekly appointment with the Major as a normal, make that compulsory, part of his job. Anything truly important got handled on a much more timely basis. He hadn’t been sure it was the best career move to leave his teaching position on Jorgen and join up with the Seventh Cardoman but what little information that filtered slowly back into the Confederation was tantalizing.

Clayton and Wesley had gotten along well in their academy days where he was one of Calvert’s few close friends. But the reports of his successes on the frontier seemed preposterous, more than preposterous, but the resolution of the Ophian campaign, which he had heard about and the operation on Altoona that Clayton witnessed as the new Chief of Staff had turned him into a true believer.

Clayton’s father was Jorgens’s Minister of Cultural Affairs Langdon Grayson. This title was actually a somewhat transparent cover for being that planets chief spook. In the spook business being a little bit transparent was like being a little bit honest. Like a magicians miss direction it kept attention diverted from where the real action was taking place. But since everyone already knew that there must be someone else really in charge it served as it’s own cover.

Clay’s childhood had consisted of repeated one and two year stints on planets inside the Caliphate, going along wherever his father was posted as he worked his way up the bureaucracy. Clayton’s mother was killed in a kidnap attempt gone horribly wrong when he was twelve but that had strengthened his attachment to his father rather than causing alienation. Because of the nepotism factor already working against him on Jorgen he decided to throw in his lot with the Seventh when contacted by Calvert’s recruiting agent Russo Nevier.

“Come along Clay, I want to observe the artillery unit in action. They’ve got an exercise planned that goes off in forty minutes. My driver is on his way and we’ll get to see how Lt. Bledsoe is coming along.”

The Cardoman 7th artillery unit consisted of seventy men operating twelve 155mm long guns, two missile launchers capable of air to air or air to ground work and four mortar tubes and a like number of heavy machine guns used for firebase protection. Bledsoe had assumed command on Ophia after the death in action of the former unit leader. He had been a sergeant at the time and had earned the promotion the hard way working to stave of defeat with a unit that had suffered over 75% casualties. Only eight of the artillery’s present force structure had survived that battle on Altoona so the enlarged unit was very green. Throw in the communications, medical personnel and a squad of infantry and the section was larger now and better equipped than it had ever been but green none the less.

“You’ve been out with them before what was your impression Clay,” Major Calvert asked as they sat in comfort in the back of his civilian level staff flyer.

“Not my specialty, I was only with them twice to see how the drones were working in conjunction with regular communication and spotter network. He seemed to be on top of things but was I would think spending too much time directing rather than analyzing. But who am I to throw stones about that, it pretty much describes what I have been doing the last several months.”

“That’s about to change Clay. When we are finished here we go to Minton and Cardoman HQ for a briefing on what you will and all of us will be doing next. But I am not going to spoil the surprise by talking about it here.”

“I can hardly wait,” Clay said with a rueful grin.

They set down on a slightly smaller hill about 2 kilometers away from the one the artillery unit was perched upon. There were no real opposing forces in the area designated as the battle site. Only sensors to see where the practice rounds were going to land and a crew of technical and communications people sending in reports and describing the results upon the hypothetical battle ground.

The noise was loud even considering the use of practice rounds snd the distance of their vantage. The screen on Wesley’s comp showed icons representing troops conducting preplanned maneuvers. All three of his company commanders Melbourne, Newmish and Morgan had worked out the decision tree without much concern for the virtual soldiers but to increase difficulty for Bledsoe and his artillery. The virtual body count numbered in the hundreds. Over 80% of the attackers and 60% if the defenders were casualties. It was a phyric victory for the defense but Bledsoe and his unit saved the day for the blue team though there wasn’t much worth saving. If this had been a real battle there would have been no flags waving at the finish and carrion would have feasted on the field long before all of the bodies were recovered.

“Bout the best I can say is that the Alamo was worse.” Clay and Wes were both students of military history.

“We have to find a way to do better. Bledsoe sent me a memo that we need to talk to him about. I was waiting to view this exercise before going into it deeper but I’ll give you a copy so you can pass it around and get it into review list at the end of the after action report. Lets get back I have to go into Minton and talk to General Inglase.”

With that they headed back to Cardoman HQ.

* * *
General Inglase stood front and the small talk came to an abrupt halt. “We are going to start off with a short historical lecture. Professor Kagan, from the University has offered to present the information his study team developed. Professor, if you would be so kind.”

“Sylvan is what we call the planetary system, the so called faithful refer to it as Mizar, it was discovered by a Confederation exploring ship in 2699. Sheppard sent in the first colonists in 2713. Some five years later the planet Salaam landed a group that claimed the world as their own and petitioned for membership in the Caliphate, a petition that seemed to languish then vanish into the black hole of the imperial bureaucracy and nothing seemed to to come of it.

“During the time of first settlement the relations between all three human political entities, Caliphate, ConFed and Indies, were friendly, or ar least not overtly hostile, and most governments felt they would remain that way. It was considered inappropriate and a misreading of historical trends to speculate on what might happen should the Caliphate return to its former position concerning expansion and coexistence with non Muslim beliefs. In this time of inwardness the Caliphate was still a society controlled from the top but without much control being exercised in any direction. Those observers who warned that the essential nature of the beast remained unchanged and that in time pressure from below would force reversion to the old ways found themselves outside the political mainstream and quickly marginalized.”

“God! I hope I didn’t drone on like that when I was standing in front of a classroom.” Clayton thought to himself. Soon enough the professor wound down and the General took center stage again.

“What I will talk about next few in this room, including the Professor, know about as of yet. It will stay here. Even after the news is public we can have no leaks regarding what we knew and when we knew it. That would reveal too much about our intelligence gathering capabilities.” He paused briefly, “The Caliphate has already launched the assault we were expecting and Sylvan has fallen.

“The government that was at least nominally friendly to us has been deposed. At this time we do not have much to go on about any kind of resistance, organized or otherwise, but we do know the kind of force the Caliphate sent out to accomplish the task. Captain Nesberg will go over that deposition now, but first Professor I must ask you to leave the room and believe me, your help has been invaluable and we will call upon you again.”

After the professor gathered his notes and left Ellen Nesberg took over from the General and rapidly summarized all that they knew about the Calp forces sent to Sylvan. That of course included the names of the four ships involved and a fair estimation of the forces sent. Clay was surprised and impressed with the amount of information at hand but after the General resumed and laid out the mission ahead he more than aware of what they didn’t know.

On the return trip Calvert and Grayson went over logistic details briefly then both began reading the complete intelligence summary. They hadn’t finished by their return to the Seventh’s HQ and so Wes had his clerk, Cpl. Bryce, set up a full staff meeting for first thing in the morning.

All of Calvert’s officers were present except those serving off planet. First Sergent John Higgins, who had been with the Seventh since the start on Witherway, was sitting in for CSM Davis as the enlisted representative. This enlisted presence was a holdover from their pirate days as pure mercenaries but Wesley knew a good system when he saw one. If anything got said that couldn’t or shouldn’t get out; a word and Higgins would be the sole of discretion.

Grayson began the session with the announcement of the Caliphate landing on Sylvan distilling what they had spent hours on yesterday into fifteen minutes.

“Four Caliphate ships, two battle cruisers and two transports, and out old friend Sword of the Prophet left Earth some months ago and landed 10,000 men, a full division with all of their equipment. We have no verification of this next piece of information, call it speculation, but the old government must have fallen withing days or hours of the landing and a pro-Calp regiem taken over. We along with our allies are going to try and interfere with the Calps plans. In order for us to succeed we certainly will need allies and I will get to that in a moment. Now Captain Nesberg will go over the preexisting political situation and conduct a short course on the planets geography.

“This is the largest continent; the natives called it Harmony, and it was scheduled as the primary landing site.” Nesburg traced the outlines on the projected map.

When Nesburg was finished she called upon another Cardoman Officer who had accompanied her and was new to all of them. “Major Trebeck of our Plans and Intents section, Yes we call them the Political Officers too,” she said with a smile, “though it sure doesn’t mean the same thing as in the Caliphate, will continue the talk and introduce you to our allies.”

The Major, short, plumpish, and with a receding hairline defied the stereotype and delivered in impressive style his message. He first talked about the years of low level factional strife and then got to the crux of the thing. “We, those of us on the, General Staff, have nothing but admiration and confidence in the Seventh’s abilities. Yet we can see that a battalion against a Division is impossible. We know that unless something comes along and stops them, the Calps intend deploying another division Division to the planet and use it as a base for action elsewhere.

This change in Caliphate operational philosophy is so extreem that we must do something, ill prepared or not. If it looks like we will be able to reverse this situation we have support from a number of different sources. I will not name any of them at this time and I remind you all that even speculation beyond these walls is forbidden. Suffice to say you will go in first for a look see and we will be making preparations to take it from there.

Major Calvert now got up to speak. “I can see by the look on your faces that the idea of a battalion against a division isn’t going over very well. It’s not going to be quite that bad to start with, and I am going to divulge something Major Trebeck wishes I wouldn’t, but since you’ll know soon enough and it does not leave this room, there will be a second battalion landing at almost the same time we do. One commanded by an old friend of mine and ours, Colonel Basil Ramseyer who many of us know from Ophia.

Late that evening Wesley and Connie were out at her country home; the weather had turned nasty and the beat of the rain could even be heard trough the thick wall of the heavy log building.

“So tell me Wes, just what went on in order to Convince Col. Ramseyer to join out little venture.” Connie was propped up with several pillows behind her and drinking a glass of wine almost in darkness while Wes had a spot of light focused on a report he was reading for the second time.

“I sent Russo after him with an offer I hoped he couldn’t turn down.”

“And what might that have been, and how did our dear Mr. Nevier take to leaving the fleshpots of Minton Darling?”

“As for Russo, the man can spend like water through a net and some personal dealings gone wrong made him more than happy to carry the message.

“And Basil–Why I told him he could work with you again,” Wes said throwing up his arms in protection from the pillow already on its way.

After the laughter subsided Wes told her how it came to pass. “Trebeck, the P&I guy is a lot sharper than he looks. I get the impression that much of it was his idea. If the Indies were to get together on this or the Confederation jump completely in we could kick the Calps off of Sylvan in a heartbeat. But oh the risk! It would almost certainly start a full fledged war and we aren’t ready for that now. We may never be. But just letting them win easily by default would be wrong as well. That would send a signal, loud and clear, and encourage the Calps to try for more.

“From our side any direct government action looks wrong. We will be acting under the polite fiction, not totally fiction I guess, that we are answering a ligitamate call for help from the deposed leadership. Basil as a true mercenary commander, and a darned good one as well, can also go their aid without forcing the issue.”

“That’s all well and good but even if the blockade works we are still going to be outnumbered five of six to one.”

“And that’s why our initial landing and battle need to even things up until we get some help from the natives.”

“And that’s why there better be some natives around willing to help,” Connie finished the thought.

* * *
“Sir, You can’t leave me behind, you just can’t,” Audie Madry said first thing after knocking and entering his office.

“I can’t,” Wesley said mildly.

“Oops, I didn’t mean it that way Major,” Audie said reddening slightly. “What I mean is this kind of mission is just what I’ve trained for and know about. You saw how things went on Altoona. I can be a real help Sir!”

“At ease soldier,” Wes said to Madry who’s color deepened a little more as she realized she had already done so. “In fact take a seat Audie there are a few things I would like to talk to you about.”

Audie sat in the indicated spot and the Major continued, “Do you have all the new com and sensor gear we received from Union integrated with our own equipment and is the group working to crack the latest Caliphate weapons codes done with your services?”

“Not exactly Sir. But I am almost through on the hardware side of the code group thing and the breaking of the actual data encryption is a pure math job and not up my alley. And the Union gear is great but anyone could finish up tying it into our stuff.”

“And how long would it take you to finish the hardware integration Audie?”

“About a month I guess, I got a few Ideas on improvements and–” Audie tailed off and stopped figuring this wasn’t helping her argument.

“And how long will it take this hypothetical ‘Anyone’ to finish the job and who do you have in mind for the position?”

“I’m pretty sure Captain Reeves of Cardoman R&D could do the work and he could get whatever help he needs assigned by Commander Woodward at the space yard,” But Audie by now was truly winding down. She could tell the lossing side of an argument when it was about to jump up and bite her.

“Not good enough Warrant Officer, Woodward doesn’t have any labor to spare and we would be taking the new equipment with us if it were ready. I appreciate your spirit and willingness to fight but your the best person for the job you’re doing and I won’t delay development while others get up to speed.” Most soldiers, especially those with Madry’s experience would have been stone faced by now, Audie had always had trouble disguising her emmotions.

“What I can guarantee is that as soon as the equipment is complete and tested you can come out to Sylvan on the very next ship and oversee the field trials. That is all Warrant Officer First. Send Bryce in on your way out.”

“Bryce, go over to Bravo Company and let Captain Newmish know I’d like to see him and Farmer Barnes as soon as is convenient, make sure he understands a couple of hours will be fine. Oh, and have them bring Higgins as well.”

“Jasper, Farmer, Sgt, the sun is over the yard arm,” Wes said with a glance at the window while pulling a bottle from one of his desk drawers, (it was actually late afternoon) “A toast is in order, let me do the honors.”

Wesley poured a couple of fingers worth into four classes and passed them around. “I salute the Brave!” And with that he tossed his off and the others, somewhat bewildered did the same.

“The brave?” Jasper Newmish asked, “Who do you think he could be talking about boys?” the Bravo commander said looking around the room as if searching for hidden bodies.

“Such modesty, I find that truly becoming in men of unquestioned military virtue. Doesn’t it stir you also Sergeant?” And Calvert continued before Higgins had a chance to say anything, “But no matter I am not fooled for a moment. When I found we had a few more drop pods on hand It came instantly to mind how best to use them. So listen up and start thinking about what I am about to propose.”

It really wasn’t a plan yet just an idea that Wes was sure the three listening as he sketched it out could turn into something near workable. They couldn’t land on Sylvan blind. Even if they received more intelligence before departure it was going to be stale by the time they reached the system.

Wes wouldn’t reveal until later the existence of a couple of Union operatives with com gear who had been moles on the planet for years. They might not even have survived undetected. Though according to information from Union that was not much worry from their end. Neither were even remotely connected with the government and both were minor nobodies. living in different villages of Calp loyalists.

“I want you three to go to the two day version of jump school and get checked out on the pods. Two of you and I haven’t decided which two it will be, except one of them will be you Sgt. Higgins, are going to become advanced scouts before the rest of us set down. I can’t spare any of you but especially the two top officers from Bravo. What I want from you Jasper and you too Higgins to verify my belief the Captain Barnes should be the second member of the team. And naturally this is all volunteer work.”

“I was going to put together another team but I will leave it up to you to do the choosing; no one else from Bravo need apply. Get me the names and start working up the equipment you think you need, and see me tomorrow morning. Jump school starts at nine. Let’s see those glasses again–before I get all choked up just thinking about it.”

Wes gave a weary sigh as the three of them left and turned to the pile of papers that never seemed to grow any smaller no matter how many he sent to the out box.

Jasper Newmish was impressed with the way Calvert handled the thing. They both knew he was too old for the job and of more use in his slot as company commander. But he was going to go through the training with the rest of them and would in the worse case be ready as a backup if the situation required it. It was not an easy decision but my virtue of rank he selected Sgt. Hanson and Sgt. Beal, one each from the other two companies. They would be missed but would rejoin their units as rapidly as possible once everyone was on planet.

Drop school was a blur but no one got injured. They skipped the practice drop, not enough time or equipment, but all took four chute refresher jumps. Barns was in, they would get the shuttle drill on the way to Sylvan. Best that way and there was still so much else to do.

The Carpathian under Mark McCormack was sent off to New Britain to pick up Colonel Ramseyer. The Eagle, under Captain Marquette would transport the seventh. The Saratoga and two ships from Novi, the closest of the Confederacy class one worlds would be the escorts. Admiral Raymond would travel on the Saratoga and be the the Task Force Commander. Novi, the larger Confederation planet planet wasn’t overjoyed with the choice but Raymond did have more combat experience than anyone they could nominate.

It was a shame the Aladin wasn’t back from Marais but Woodward was able to get another shuttle modified as a drop pod carrier. A ‘Drop Pod Lite,’ as it were, because it was set up to carry only for four of the aeroshells and could be put back to normal use in hours by removing the drop gear.

It wasn’t particularly critical when they left Cardoman, except that they didn’t want the Carpathian to be waiting at the rendezvous point for too long a time before they met up, so from that standpoint the sooner the better.

Six months worth of provisions for near 800 toops and navy types were loaded on the transport. The battalions large gear was on the Eagle as well and dogged down for a week before the ships from Novi arrived. These were the SwiftStrike and the Atropos, both third generation and neither more than twenty years old.

Admiral Raymond invited the other two Captains aboard his ship where he got to know them a bit better than from screens and dossiers, and filled them in on the capabilities of the Sara and got those same kind of details from them. Most interesting of all was when he told them that Major Calvert was really running the show. If they were uncomfortable with Raymond in charge finding out that Calvert was the power behind the throne just added to the unease. They were back aboard their own ships before Wes came into the Saratoga and so he didn’t get a chance to met them and feel them out in person but the short video conference went smoothly. He would have everyone on board after they met the Carpathian.

“How did you explain it Les?” Calvert asked.

“I just let them know that the commander on the ground, over and over in times past, was given overall authority over his air assets and that’s how we did it on Cardoman. They both seem like good soldiers so I think things will turn out fine. But how much is all of this costing us, the Seventh I mean? I you don’t mind me asking?”

“From the navy’s stand point very well, we can’t help but turn a profit unless we loose a ship. And if that happens no amount of money can make up for it. It[s amazing how trivial these kind of expenses seem to a collection of planets as wealthy as the Confederation. The rest of the Seventh is on a standard contract with normal bonus rates. Because we are supplying the manpower, Cardoman is off the hook so our planetary books won’t take any kind of a hit.”

“Colonel Ramseyer got a bonus and is on cost plus. The key for our bonus base is to get it done quickly and keep the body count down. But if it takes time to keep from killing our own that’s how we run it.”

“I’m going to go and circulate for a while. Let me know ten minutes before we boost. I wont make it to the bridge so tell Jamie I will talk to her after we Jump. I am going to strap down in auxiliary weapons control. The show should be good from there and I will see how your little surprise comes off.

An hour later the three warships and the armed transport we heading out system for the jump to hyper and the trip to Sylvan, or as the Caliphate called it Mizar.

Captain Hugo Burgeron of the FNS (Free Novi Ship) SwiftStrike was not happy keeping things from his crew but he had to admit Admiral Raymond’s plan was a fair test and so he let his exec take the helm and steeled himself to watch.

Ten minutes from the hyper limit the alarms rang and his tactical officer announced, “We have incoming, just unmasked and they appear to be Calps”

“Take them out. Beam weapons only.”

“In the blink of an eye the weapon fired and the dot representing the Calp weapon disappeared. Mere milliseconds later the the Atropos destroyed the second and the Cardoman Saratoga finished off the last two.”

“Sensors say they were drones Sir came a voice over his headset.”

“Yes they were a little something Admiral Raymond set up to test us on the way out. Well done people well done! The Saratoga performed well but we were first. I think I will enjoy mentioning that to the Admiral when next we meet.”

“Sound the jump alarm and make ready for transition.”