“Who have we got in charge of the southwestern patrols?”
Dona had just come back on duty after a bit of a nap, a meal and a shower. It was hard to stay away, and that was just the truth. It was mid-shift, with Vicky Chan in the hot-seat, but things were happening and the pace was quickening. They had half a dozen patrols and sniper teams out there.
“Well, there’s Trooper First Class Broser—”
“I think I’ve met him. That guy’s huge.”
“Yes. But. He’s like a big cat in the jungle. That, is one of the quietest ones I have ever met. And I’ve met a few. I was with him and a few others on Arcturus Four. He’s got all kinds of experience and he’s not stupid, either. He knows when to keep his head down and he knows when to strike.”
Arcturus Four had been a pretty good little war, by all accounts. It paid the bills, as the saying went. The Organization and their clients had won, and without too many casualties on either side. It had all the appearance of justice, insofar as that could ever be had.
“Then there’s Virge. She’s a sergeant, all the qualifications. Also did a year or so on Arcturus. Her specialty is reconnaissance and special ops. Ah, there’s Corporal Twon, and a couple of others. They’re picking their way forward, snooper-dogs out and being very, very quiet themselves.” No noobs, everyone with them had proper training and the combat experience.
“Nothing yet. Estimating time of travel, in a beeline, for the Unfriendly patrols…they’re still a good few hours away. Some of those tracks are still passable, but you’d be lucky to get much more than walking speed a lot of the time.” When vehicles bogged down, it took a lot of time to unstick them, from the enemy’s point of view.
Their own people were reporting the same problem. The plan was to hide the vehicles as far up as safely seemed possible and to continue on foot…on an interception course.
Make contact with the enemy and disrupt them.
Dona sat looking at the battle map. Earlier in the day, as had more or less been expected, a trio of enemy surface-to-surface missiles had struck at the town centre of Roussef.
They had a good minute and a few seconds or so of warning, and then the subsonic, cruise-type missiles were landing in the centre of Roussef.
She had learned much from that.
It took a while to digest, sometimes.
Back in the Command Centre, everyone was all talking at once.
“Reports please, one at a time.”
There was a pause, and then they all started up again.
Finally, as people realized, they dropped off until it was Captain Aaron, looking at the big board where the satellite and sensor data was collected and displayed.
“Colonel. Fox-Tail Mark Twos, three of them. One hit, roughly where City Hall used to be—” There was a camera view, someone having the brains to dispose of a dozen or so in the downtown area. “They still don’t know about our command post, or so it would seem.”
There was a corner missing on City Hall, and smoke billowing, but no fire.
“One hit on the police station.” The picture showed a red-glowing hulk although the frame and some of the walls were still standing. “One hit, or so it looks, out at the airport.”
He looked up and around.
“I’ll get you some casualty reports as soon as they come available.”
As far as anyone knew, everyone had gotten out hours ago. The attack was pure retaliation, in the sense that the airport, the most important target in the area, hadn’t been blanketed. This was sending a message as much as anything. They’d hit the control tower, one must assume this was what they were aiming at...
There were a number of usable buildings, vehicles, even a few aircraft, all unscathed. Was the enemy simply being economical?
How good was their intel?
Or are they just firing at map coordinates and GPS-plotted LEO photos.
Her attention was caught by Sergeant Kelly, onscreen and on camera in the front seat of the Puma.
“We’ve got a face for you, Colonel. This is an Unfriendly Major. He’s giving orders and rallying the troops. He seems brave and competent enough, and we got a pretty good picture. Walked within five feet of a camera, and the light was good. Those things just eat light, as we all know. I’m sending that through to you now.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. Look after yourselves. And good work, incidentally.”
While Force H conducted its fighting retreat up Highway 17, all the members of Force Two in Walzbruch could do was to wait, clean up the remaining demolitions, and check the sighting of their defensive systems for about the fifteenth time.
Off in the background, there was the occasional rumble of the demolitions work as mine equipment and certain bridges were blown…then came the regrettable work of destroying heavy machines that might be used by the Unfriendlies in re-opening the mines, including road-building equipment, cranes, dump trucks, bulldozers, backhoes and the like. Anything that looked like it might be useful, in other words—
Seven kilometres southwest of the town, there was a ridge. There was a long, straight, rising approach along Highway 3. The vehicles were hidden behind the next ridge, and all personnel had been well-briefed on the exit strategy. This involved a compass bearing through some pretty rugged hills. Not exactly a jungle, it was all young growth, a thicket and a swamp. It was a good kilometre and a half, and it would take some time. They were relying on defence in depth, which meant retreating under the cover of a second line of guns, rockets, and mortars. There was a third line further back, but that would mean hours in the brush. It would be so much better to get to the vehicles before the Unfriendlies came over the top of that second hill…
Retreating along the road itself wasn’t a very good idea as the Unfriendlies might just bombard their own path of advance if they got desperate enough. The whole point of ambush after ambush was to make them angry—angry enough to lose their objectivity. To make them act rashly—to lose people, to burn money, to expend ammunition to no effect, and to suck up more time.
They had a few mines by the roadside, before and after the initial ambush point, these were designed to slow the Unfriendlies down long enough to get aboard their own vehicles and go.
This far from Deneb City, the drone could only make a couple of radar and photographic runs, signal-gathering, et cetera, before heading back to base. Hopefully, they had timed it to the point where the drone was low on fuel. The pace had definitely picked up in terms of surveillance.
The drone had been over, more than once that morning, and the satellite map showed that the enemy’s Force Two had slowed considerably upon coming into the really big hills around Walzbruch. This was all red-stained granite, high in iron oxide, and some of their sensors must have been affected…hopefully.
The sun was just going down, at this time of year a good ten degrees south of the equator, and right in the eyes, lenses and sensors of the Confederation troops. They were otherwise pretty secure in their trenches and behind their hilltop.
“How come we don’t shoot down that drone?”
It was a good question, and, bright to begin with, the young man was learning.
“Well. It’s not very effective at that range. They really don’t have the loiter time, do they? We have good cover. And we are being used as bait in a way—”
They exchanged a glance.
“Yes, Robert. Bait. We want them to know we’re here. They have no choice but to do something about it.” Which sort of accounted for the enemy column headed towards them, he explained in his gentle, humorous tone.
“Well, we fire off our rockets and then we run like hell.”
The kid grinned.
They’d have cover from smoke and the automatic weapons systems left behind. The enemy would be thinking about boobies.
The sergeant studied the map, with every Confederation trap, weapon, mine, vehicle, trooper or other asset marked.
“Let’s hope they’re in a hurry, but it looks like they’ve stopped again. Sergeant.” His stomach was growling, and they still had a while to wait for their relief.
The odds were, they wouldn’t be seeing lunch anytime soon—
If the Unfriendlies were too slow, they’d be relieved and Robert was itching to get a crack at something—almost anything would do. He wasn’t prejudiced. Almost anyone would do.
The pair were monitoring a trio of heavy rocket launchers, with a dozen shots per launcher.
On trailers light enough to be towed by Pumas, in the end they’d been dragged and manhandled the last thirty metres into position by grunting, sweating, cursing soldiers of both sexes. It was a process as old as time itself, or at least artillery. Catapults and ballistae and whatever. Whip out the chainsaws, knock down a half a dozen trees in front of them, same thing a hundred metres away for the command hole, set up remote sensors, run a couple of cables, and hey, presto—another rocket battery up and running. The Romans would have had axes and shovels, rough sandals or those strange boots with the toes sticking out, but it was all the same thing in the end.
With their twenty-kilo warheads of high explosive, the rockets would make a real mess of the Unfriendly infantry, riding along in their soft-skinned trucks and pissy little scout cars.
“Shit. Nope. Here they come—” A low warning tone in the headset was confirmation enough, set to detect rapid changes in velocity in terms of the lead enemy elements.
That particular unit was not unlike a civilian police radar gun, and they had two or three out there sitting on their tripods, half a kilometre out, and closer to the actual road.
“Arm all weapons. We’re going live, Robert.” The sergeant thought for a moment. “I’ll tell you what. If we get a chance, we’ll try a shot at the drone, okay?”
“Yes, sergeant.” The thing was, the drones put out so little heat and radar signature—they’d have to let it get in real close.
To do that, they would have to expose themselves. Which was going to happen anyways, like when they launched their rockets.
It had better be one shot, one kill.
(End of part eighteen.)
Image One. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Two. CPCO.
Inage Three. Black Moth.
Image Four. Highway 17. Denebola-Seven Chamber of Commerce.
Image Five. Collection of Louis Shalako.
Louis has books and stories available from Amazon.
Thank you for reading.