The Cutting Edge 8

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 8 Draft (02/16/08)

Gaza and Ibrahim were at a somewhat remote village 60 kilometers from Harmony’s spaceport and major city Unity. They claimed they needed a place to keep the two camels, Alahambra and Najib until they recovered fully from the troubles on the transport. Ibrahim didn’t want any part of the capital, if as expected. the Caliphate invasion happened on schedule. This place out in the country, where they rented some stalls in a farm building, was just the ticket.

Within a short period of time and without seeming obvious, they made it know far and wide the kind of problems they had with the camels on the starship and nature of their business. This was not a heavily Arab/Caliphate area but there was a large enough local community that the did not stand out amongst the rest of the population. The owner of the farm they were renting stable space from didn’t have any spare room in his house, at least any he was willing to rent, but did have an old tool shed that he might permit them to use for their own lodgings if they cleaned it up. A deal was soon struck.

A week and a half after they were situated the Calps landed and the world turned upside down. The fight, what little of it there was, didn’t reach this far from Unity but instead of the way their local reception had started, with polite conversation and welcome from strangers, they were being shunned and from some there was outright hostility. Three days after the landing there came had a visit from a member of the invasion force.

The cloud of dust raised by the speeding ground car could be seen a kilometer away. When the car reached the farmyard Ibrahim and Gaza were drinking sweet thick coffee from small porcelain cups and playing a game of dominoes under the awning they had erected to one side of the barns entrance. They looked up then stood as the vehicle pulled to a halt in front of them where they could see it was really a light open bed truck.

“Good day to you Effendi,” Ibrahim said to the Sergeant in charge as he left the enclosed section of the vehicle and took a few steps in their direction. Two soldiers stood in the back of the truck next to a medium caliber slug thrower and the driver remained inside the cab. Ibrahim spoke again, “I welcome you hear with all of my heart and soul. May I offer you some slight refreshment?” he said this while reaching for the carafe on the table where the domino game was in process.

Used to much ruder greetings the Sergeant was taken off stride. “That would be quite acceptable, and something for my men, water would do nicely.”

The owner of the farm was walking rapidly towards the barn but before he could reach them Ibrahim said in an ingratiating tone of voice, “I want to say how happy I am you have shown up here. Allah knows these people do not as yet follow his ways and I am thankful that such as yourself will soon be correcting the matter. I find great joy in your arrival as I was saying to my friend Gaza here only moments before you arrived.”

And then their landlord made it to the barn. Still puffing hard he stood in front of the Sergeant crowding himself into the space between the man and Ibrahim, “What is the meaning of this intrusion?” began Jethro Caddish, the owner of the farm, “And what right ha–”

“Curb thy tongue, Infidel Dog!” came the lashing retort given directly and with feeling. “You will address the faithful with respect or you will address no one ever again. And with this he pulled the bone handled dagger from his uniform belt and slammed it into the table for emphasis. Farmer Caddish did not miss the point.

“Begone, leave us at once. I will speak with you if and when I desire to do so. I have come to talk to the gentleman in front of me. Get out of my sight for at this time I find his company far superior to yours.”

Caddish would have said something, but ugly looks from the three other soldiers gave him cause to pass and he managed a slight nod and then turned and stalked off to his house where his wife stood on the porch with a rifle in her hands.

The sergeant noticed the wife and commanded Caddish as he departed. “You will place every weapon you own into a pile on the porch where the woman is standing. I will send my men inside to check. If they find anything I do not like, you and your family are all dead! It is the will of Allah and with this I heartily agree!”

“He does not pay the proper respect,” Gaza said, speaking for the first time. “He was oh so happy to squeeze from us everything he could just for letting us keep our poor animals here. It is time he begins to regret and learns how to atone for his evil..”

“And you are?” the Sergeant asked in a not unfriendly tone.

“Gaza al-Omari, trainer for my master Ibrahim Saudi.”

The Sergeant pointed to the barns entrance, “Let us go inside then and see these marvelous beast of which I have head so much.”

Ibrahim led the way. The two camels were kneeling on the hay strewn dirt floor, a single halter rope from each was attached to a common ring on one of the central support beams.

“Can they Stand?”

“Up Alahambra! Up Najib!”

The two camels stood showing no effort in so doing.

“They do not look to be suffering now,” the Sergent said with a practiced eye.

“Praise be to Allah! Lord most high! The last two days have seen miraculous improvement. If you had been here to see them when we arrived here you would not know they were same animals,” Ibrahim said with much animation. “If you had seen them at their prime, how they will look when completely recovered, especially Alahambra here, you would still know they are but shadows of what they will become. These noble beast are as much beyond others as the word of the Prophet is beyond mortal review.”

The Sgt. gave the camels another appraisal and then said, “That be as it may. Now that I have seen they do indeed look to be thoroughbred, you will show me their papers and naturally yours as well.”

Sgt. Asaf Oldjuani, was sharing more of the think sweetened coffee. He had always fancied himself a fine judge of racing stock, indeed his father had been a trainer of such, and the two inside the barn did indeed look superior. The traders papers were in order and the gratuity Ibrahim had offered, purely out of respect for his position, was neither too small nor too large.

“You shall call me Asaf and I will call you Ibrahim and Gaza. The nature of my duties required that I act as I did when first we met. We are actually far more alike than you would imagine. My father, the honorable Dousef bin Oldjuani was a trainer for Sultan Habib on Driessen. I have not been home in years but I see you have been on my homeworld only six months ago and took the Sultan some animals. Tell me, how is the old man, and did you by chance meet my father?

Ibrahim, taking a sip a the time, almost swallowed the small cup when the question was asked coming out of the blue. Getting control of himself Ibrahim smiled a weary smile and said, “Friend Asaf, alas no, I did not meet your father. The papers you have seen slightly exaggerate my involvement in that particular transaction. I was merely acting as an intermediary for another who I am not at liberty to name. Simply a matter of keeping the paperwork in order as I am sure you must understand.”

“Yes, indeed I do understand.” Oldjuani smiled as well, making the natural assumption that this was really a fund transfer and not one done only for sport. That was fine with him as he knew his father always got a small tip for doing nothing but more than adding his own name to the paperwork.

“This farmer, Caddish—Do you find him as insolent and insufferable as I do?”

“He was ever such, but he did have the best place for my animals and that had to take precedence over personal considerations,” Ibrahim replied. The Loomis part of Ibrahim’s character didn’t like saying that because in fact Caddish had treated him fairly, but to reply in any other way would surely have raised suspicions.

“Hmmm…We can do something about that.—Corporal,” he said to one of his men, “bring the infidel back out here at once!”

The corporal hurried off and Caddish was soon marched from the house and to the barn. The sergeant spoke, “Farmer Caddish! Just as the infidel that you are, you have behaved improperly towards your guests. This is something that is no longer tolerated on Mizar. You have fifteen minutes to remove personal belongings from the house. It now becomes the abode of Ibrahim for as long as he should make it so. You and your family will live find some other inhabitance. Should you give further insult to my friends who are also the Caliphates loyal subjects, you will pay a much higher price. Go now, your time is limited.”

As Caddish was marched away Ibrahim said, “This will not go over well in the countryside.”

“They will learn, Ibrahim Saudi, they will learn.”

Gradually, over the next several months, Ibrahim and Gaza spent more and more time in town, much of it with Sgt. Oldjuani, or other members of the Caliphate invaders lower level military officers. They prospered for reasons that seemed to derive from astute wagering at the tracks and the fact that they had begun representing some of the locals in dealing with the new order. This was only part of the story. Ibrahim has started to tap into secret Union funds to cover expenditures the Caliphate was not to know anything about. The romantic nature and rewards from their outwardly revealed work was over estimated and grossly overvalued by the small secularly devote Islamic community. Before long Ibrahim was staying in rooms in Union more often than at the farm. He main area of operation became the owners lounge at the racetrack. Anyone who was anyone in the new hierarchy passed through on a regular basis.

* * *
Major General Ali Liwa Gomaa answered the call to prayer for the fifth and final time of the day. He begrudged all the time it took and the interruptions but he knew that unless he was punctilious in showing the proper outward forms of religious subservience eventually the reports would be sent back to Earth and he would be soon to follow. And he enjoyed his job and spent years in reaching the rank. After all that hard work to get here, an outward display of religious scruple was a small price enough price to pay for maintaining his position and he would have been a fool to throw it away now.

Gomaa rolled up the carpet and resumed his position behind the desk that had once belonged to Planetary President Feiger and then buzzed his second in command Brigadier Amid Farouk.

“Are the gentleman nervous enough, or should we have them wait a while longer Amid?”

“Oh they are nervous enough but to call them Gentleman? That seems a stretch.”

“I have it on good authority that on Mizar, by long standing tradition, a gentleman is any white male not locked up at the time in question.”

“White male indeed, though their color sense is remarkably flexible when needed.”

“Yes they are flexible, but excepting for some of our support troops you must have noticed the lack of anyone with an appearance that would hint at roots derived from the African landmass anywhere south of the Sahara. and that can hardly be an accident.”

“They do have what they so euphemistically call ‘People of Color’ here, but all such seem to bel laboring well outside of the capital and have no hope of influencing anything important. Rather like the Caliphate in that respect I could say. But no mind. I shall send in the ones waiting to see you and you may judge for yourself. I find that they crawl as if it were their natural state of being.”

Farouk left and two men were shortly ushered into General Gomaa’s office. The first was the new leader of the puppet government the second his minister of labor. They bowed deeply when entering and Gomaa played his role by failing to rise or offering them any opportunity to socialize. The General made straight for the point.

“You two are both failing miserably! You Mr. President… and remember it is by virtue of my favor alone that you hold that position, have had more than enough time to find where this Stillwell character has gone to ground. Should your methods continue to fail I will be forced to use my own and the Perkins woman will be the first to experience them.

“And as for your pitiful excuse for a labor minister,” Gomaa actually sneered when he said that and looked straight at the man who was doing his best to disappear in plain sight, “Unless the workers strikes stop at once and production raises to prewar norms my Army again will be forced to deal with them. And I will add that neither of you will be alive to see the results.”

Ioseph Wahsabi, the parliamentary leader by appointment, was certain when the Caliphate landed and the staff officer Colonel Aqeed made his visit that he would ride the tiger. Now it would seem the tiger was riding him. “General, I am doing my best I assure you but the only thing the labor minister has suggested is that I start jailing or even shooting those who are less than cooperative.

“And your problem with that?”

“If they are dead they are not in the workforce and contribute nothing.”

“Better nothing than causing strife and confusion. Make a few examples of the worst cases. If that does not have the effect required hold the families responsible and kill their children in public view. I think they will soon fall in line. You have one week only to prove yourself capable of handling the situation. I suggest you waste not a moment. Dismissed!”

Gomaa called for the Brigadier and Colonel Aqeed who had been watching the performance. “So Colonel, will Wahsabi do what is required?”

“That he will General,” Aqeed replied, “so long as there is someone to tell him what that requirement might be. He has dreamed of power but never considered what would be necessary to maintain his hold if he achieved it. He is someone who can be taught.”

“And you, Aqeed will teach him?”

“It shall be as you wish General.”

There wasn’t any underground resistance to get in contact with. The attack had been so unexpected that there wasn’t time or a felt need beforehand for anyone to set one up. The two covert agent observers that Union had on planet were what they had on every world, no mater what it’s political persuasion. In fact less than they had on most. Ibrahim Saudi had put the add into the local newsbase with the proper code words in sequence so his presence should be known but he had yet to be contacted. He was getting anxious to hear from one or both of them. His spot in the racetrack lounge was getting information about local force structures but precious little about what was going on beyond the main continent.

“I wagered on your Najib to place,” Amid Farouk said seating himself at the table Ibrahim held down in the track’s lounge. “A small enough win with her coming in second, but profitable none the less. May I buy you something to drink friend Saudi?”

“There is no need,” Ibrahim answered while signalling to the barman for a refill. She is almost completely recovered now and even I did not expect a win, though as owner I could do no less than bet that she would do such. I have no doubt that next time out will be the charm.”

The serving girl, clad in robes that completely covered her body leaving only a narrow slit for her eyes brought a two tall glasses on a small tray over to the table. “The Brigadier said nothing as she set the drinks down; it was beneath his station to acknowledge service of this sort. Ibrahim on the other hand looked in her direction and smiled. It must be tough,” he thought, “to be forced to accept the Caliphates Islamic ways for one who had never needed to so before.” Still this was a good job and one not given up lightly.

“That one might be pleasant to view under the proper circumstances,” Farouk said. “Sometimes obedience is difficult but that is why we must obey.”

Knowing that both drinks contained liberal amounts of alcoholic spirits caused Ibrahim to discount the statement. “I am pleased that Najib was able to aid in your successes last night. It is rumored that you did quite well last night.”

“Rumors, what can one say of such? They follow where even the bravest fear to pursue. But I ask friend Ibrahim, when will you run your other animal, Alahambra, the one I have heard spoken so highly of? And who shall ride her?”

“Would that I could race her. But she is promised to Sultan Habib on Driessen and I fear if she should injure herself or come to some sort of harm…Well I am sure you understand me.”

“Another drink,” Farouk said loudly looking towards the bar even though his first was less than half finished. “Surely you must keep here in training if only to see if she has recovered from her bout of illness? Even the Emir would understand that.”

“Perhaps—no I am sure you are correct. You have a valid point General, I will need to think upon the matter.”

“Nothing to think about. It is obvious! Why I might even find it within myself to pay the entry fees rather than see such a magnificent beast remain idle. If, of course, the animal is completely recovered. And if some think she may not be recovered, that will be their mistake. Not so?”

“You are very persuasive General, I think we have the basis for a plan.”

“Do I win big or small?” Gaza asked when Ibrahim told him of his meeting with Brigadier Farouk.

“Neither, we lose! And you do not ride.”

“How is that possible Ibrahim? There is not another camel on this planet who would stand a chance against Alahambra, even with an inexperienced child as a rider? And unless you bet heavily for our camel someone will smell a rat. I know we have extra funds but do we have enough to lose them in this fashion?

“I can see that you must be planing this with Farouk but how do we benefit if he throws out afterwards?”

“The odds the second time Alahambra runs will be overwhelmingly in our favour no matter what Farouk intends, and when that race comes off we will not lose. Farouk knows this and will not throw his own money into the game except for a small amount against us. And from that point on we will have nothing to fear from Caliphate military intelligence. Farouk will know at least one thing that will be revealed if we undergo questioning. All you and I need to do is play our parts convincingly and everything will be well. For now just we just keep gathering information on Calp troop disposition and wait to see what happens.”

* * *
Ramses Stillwell looked at the map and said, “We are totally gonna get fucked so let’s keep standing and not bend over and make it any easier.”

“Colonel what else can we do?” came the plaintive response. “If we don’t pull back from the occupied areas those people haven’t the chance of a brisket at a barbecue.”

Stillwell said nothing for a moment then indicated that his aid take a seat. “Josh if we give up here it’s over. Our support melts away and the Calps win by default. We are resisting now and the people know it. These people, our people, knew the drill when they signed on, just like you and I did. A thousand years ago back on Earth there was a battle at a fort called the Alamo in area called Texas in what was to become part of the North American Union.. A group of patriots was wiped out to a man. As a result they ignited the rest of the population and ensured eventual victory.

“Much as I hate to admit it I am hoping for the same thing to happen here. Send the word to hold at all cost and you and I will pray in time a planet salutes their memory.”

The sky was falling. You never heard the explosions, muffled, far away, till long after your position was struck. You never heard what was coming till it was to late and gone. And now lancing up the side of the hill, towards the ridgeline where the squad came dazzling streamers of green light coming from high in the western sky, only tailing to a duller orange as the ablative coatings wore away. The squad couldn’t have been spotted yet but still the fire was getting entirely too close. A piece of bad luck or worse; weren’t they all, a quiet observation, just a quick surveillance and then bug out of the area and report in. A routine mission; just like in training. Something had gone very, very, wrong. The Calps were incredibly lucky, prepared, or Allah was indeed on their side.

We’ve got them on line Sarge,” Com spec Sunapee intoned while switching control over to Sgt. Oquassa’s helmet mike.
His words went up the tight infrared beam link to the to relay leading to group HQ

“This is Oquassa, reply…Sgt. Oquassa here awaiting instructions–over.”

From the unit commander, well away from the action, came acknowledgment and word to hold.

“By the blood of all that’s holy,” Oquassa swore, “The Calps must know we’re here. They’ve got the us targeted. Our cover is blown and we need immediate pickup.” Even as he spoke the barrage was slowing down and Oquassa knew Calp reconnaissance satellites would be assessing the damage.

“Sergeant, you must hold.” came the reply, “The Calp satellite coverage of your position will be lost in another quarter of a rotation. You must hold for another five hours. We will then be in a position to launch a covering raid that should provide distraction enough for you withdraw. Hold till then and we should be able to help pull you out.” And then in a strained tone of voice the last words. “It is the best we can do. You must maintain.”

Keying the local command channel Oquassa gave the order. “Mission aborted. Mission aborted. Slow burn.” and he watched as his helmet screen displayed the shutdown, one by one, of the other units combat and control transmitters. Except for the command channel everything went dead. Energy was heat and heat was another more permanent kind of death.

The standard military combat suit provided complete, temporary, protection from infrared detection, but at a cost. It was almost 100% insulating with temperature regulation depending on a built in heat sink. Ten kilograms of sodium circulating through heat exchangers in the suits outer fabric insured that the IR. signature of the suit exactly matched the wearers surroundings.

If the internal heat generated by the suits occupant was greater than local ambient, which was almost always the case, then the sodium gradually got hotter and hotter storing the excess in it’s dump tank. After a time, and when it was safe, the excess heat could be vented. But there would come a time, if no heat could be dumped, when even the materials used in the tanks construction could no longer absorb the excess. Should this happen some of the liquid metal would automatically vent into the suits’ interior, incidentally killing the wearer, and hence eliminating the source of extra heat while protecting the safety of those left alive.

Assuming they could elude the Calp electronic and optical defenses for the next five hours Oquassa knew that it might not make much difference whatever they did..

He hunkered down for the wait.

Ibrahim was scanning the newsbase personal sections and had just seen the message containing the code indicating that one of the contacts he had been waiting to hear from was trying to reach him when his com signal activated. He set the sound so that only he could hear it.

“Ibrahim?”

“Yes.”

“This is Gaza Ibrahim, and we I think we have a problem. Colonel Aqeed just inspected the stables and asked me about those last two races. I told him that everything was on the up and up but he didn’t buy it. He is loking for corruption and thinks he has found it. He closed us down and has two guards standing out in the paddock right now. He is probably on his way to talk to you. Better make yourself scarce if you don’t want to talk with him.. I know and you know that we have nothing to hide but the Colonel doesn’t.”

“Gaza, we have nothing to fear for our hearts are as pure as our devotion to Mohammed’s word. To fail to meet with him would be a gross breach of manners and would cast us into an evil light. I shall await his arrival and talk with you again later.” Ibrahim tucked the com unit into a fold of his robe and turned to his companion at the bar.

“It seems General Farouk that one of your men, Colonel Aqeed, is on his way to talk to me. About what I cannot say though if you would like to leave in order to avoid any kind of an unpleasant scene I would certainly understand.”

“Nonsense Ibrahim, I shall stay and deal with him.” Amid Farouk said with an offhand gesture and before ordering another drink. Aqeed’s duty is a hard one that makes hard men of them. Suspicion is a part of the job; perhaps the most important part. We will find out his concerns and I assure you that as they prove unfounded he will go on to other things..