“Okay, Force H is about sixty kilometres down Highway 17. And the forces involved in the retreat from Walzbruch, Force W, are roughly the same distance down Highway 3. We’ve gotten most of them out, including the heavier weapons. We’re proposing to pull them back, to within five or ten kilometres out from the junction of 17 and 2.” The next big retreat looked a bit hairy…
“Anyone not out has their orders.”
“Yes.” That was in their original plan, and she saw no reason to change that with the information in hand. “So what’s the problem?”
“We’ve left weapons behind. We’ve lost a few to hits that almost seem accidental—until we consider the possibility of an enemy satellite. In which case, why not take them all out? What would be the capability of that satellite. There’s one question. But if we look at the terrain, Colonel, here and here…we can see good defensive positions. Our troops, or our robotic weapons, would obviously make use of such positions in order to hold up the enemy for as long as possible. While we try to get our people out of Roussef.” In other words, no big surprise that it would be defended in any case.
One more big, beautiful ambush point.
Also, the Confederation troops had been busy preparing a program of demolitions in Roussef.
The enemy might know all about it, in which case they would know there were still a good number of Confederation troops in the town…this would obviously tend to suck them forwards.
Hill 163 dominated Highway 2, and Hill 114-A, overlooked Highway 17 from a commanding height. The hills were protected in front by a short series of lower but steep ridges, heavily forested and with cascades coming down, the creeks flowing east to west, some of them visible from the roadside cams. There was a series of bridges and culverts, some of them quite large.
There was one interesting little river just off of 17. It was a local tourist spot, with multiple waterfalls and short stretches of white-water. It was easily accessible to the casual hiker, and there were some folks, on almost any planet with sufficient water, who enjoyed kayaks and rubber boats or just drifting down on an inner tube.
Captain Aaron, walking up and down the rows with his hands behind his back, was listening in.
“So what are you saying, Trooper Wyles?”
“It’s another psychological moment, Colonel—ah, Captain.” Time to get the hell out of Roussef, in other words, although he didn’t say it.
Her troops had their psychology as well. It probably felt a lot like running away, this when they’d had nothing but success against the Unfriendlies, and so far, not a man or woman lost.
Her written plan was almost too reassuring. But the fact was, they were withdrawing, retreating.
It might be better to go a little early—rather than a little too late.
The urgent call came from the girl on the main battle board.
“Helos in the air. They’re headed our way—direct line, not the highway, and they are, according to Teams Three and Four, Deneb City, loaded for bear.”
Their eyes locked and then she and the young male at her side exchanged some kind of a look.
Everyone else was intent on their displays.
“Very well. There should be—”
They were nodding. They all knew the score.
Missile launch, shortly before the helos arrived on their raid.
“Ha. The other two helos appear to be returning to base. No known results from their search.”
Things were definitely coming to a head.
“How many people do we still have in Roussef?”
Wheeler had it all on her board.
There were air-defence batteries, the Hellions, a few Panthers. Big trucks, although most of the Pumas, the smallest of their units, were out on the roads, carrying on the action and being quite useful in spite of their small size.
“Very well. Prepare to evacuate. All non-essential personnel to depart immediately. Notify all people that an air attack is imminent. At the very most, they have about, ah, half an hour. Take the bigger vehicles first—the Hellions, the six-bys.”
“Roger that, Colonel.”
She and several others were studying the main battle-board.
“How many people do we actually have, anyways?” She meant in Roussef.
It couldn’t be very many, the way she had plastered them all over the place. All of this had been foreseen, but there was no question of defending the town even if they had wanted to.
This valuable prize was to be given up, as bait.
“Ah, maybe a hundred and forty, Colonel.”
More than enough.
More bait, always more bait—
Let the enemy think they were winning. For as long as humanly possible.
No matter how you felt about it, but she’d come to like Roussef.
The few people she’d met had all been very kind to her.
Wheeler was still checking.
“Ah, a hundred and fifty. Two hundred, tops. And that includes the militia. Can we get them out of here too, Colonel?”
“Yes. Make the call. Either they get out now, or they’re stuck here with the consequences.”
Lieutenant Wheeler was already punching up the number. She was of equal rank with their commander, during daylight hours, operator of a hardware store in Deneb City and a fellow who had some actual combat experience.
At least to hear him tell it. A big, bluff sort of a fellow, he seemed popular, perhaps a little too popular, with his people. No one had bothered to check his story as there were presently no secure communications at stellar distances.
No communication at all, just as Brigadier Renaldo had said.
Perhaps that was just as well—
What she didn’t know about the larger picture, well, it just didn’t matter.
Let’s keep this nice and simple.
I’ve got my own worries.
“Command Centre.” It was Marissa, flying Drone Two from their new base up the road to Ryanville.
“Go ahead, Drone Two.”
Pictures flashed up on the screen. There were two helos, now equipped with fuselage pylons.
As they watched, the system analyzed the pictures. Multiple folding-fin rocket launchers and what sure looked like good old-fashioned, wire-guided anti-tank missiles.
Hmn. Nothing really unexpected there. There would be a door gunner with a 12.7 and possibly a small rotary gun under the nose, anywhere from 20 to 37-mm. Their jammers were going full blast. The actual position was only accurate to within a few hundred metres, not enough to get any kind of a shot. The helicopters were all sharp angles, sloping sides, radar-absorbing materials and stealthy design. It would be the Sky-Cats that had the most chance of a hit. The thing was to knock them down and then get the missile batteries out of Roussef and harm’s way. They still had a limited number of reloads which would be worth their weight in kryptonium later on...
Her own 20-mm units, and her three remaining laser-cannons, were mostly in Ryanville or its approaches. The two 20-mm still in town might get a good shot though. The thing there was, she was hoping to recover them for the move. If they opened up, the enemy helos would probably try and engage with them.
“Roger that, and thank you. Keep on that.”
“Roger. Will do.”
She turned to the young trooper on the Sky-Cat board. The individual units of the battery were scattered, for reasons that would soon become obvious.
“Next time that enemy drone comes around, I want you to take a shot at it—one load, try and use Unit C, that’s all. Understood?” Unit C was slated for first removal.
Fire it, let them see it, and then it would be gone. This was also in the original plan, and the other units were sited accordingly. With luck, they might get a shot. If they enemy saw it, they would probably take a shot…
“Yes, Ma’am. Absolutely.” He seemed to approve.
Better yet, he seemed to understand the simple three-unit, triangular dispersal strategy for AA missile defense.
Drone Two had temporarily broken off from the action and turned to an intercept course.
“Helos turning away, Colonel Graham.”
“What? Where the hell are they going?”
They had broken to their right, headed east. They watched in fascination, as Drone Two, at maximum throttle, three thousand metres above, tried to keep them in sight. Putting the nose down, the pilot gained some speed, but it was no good. The overhead satellite view showed them pulling ahead, just two black dots now in the view from Drone Two.
They were flying low, using hills as low-level radar cover. As if they didn’t know about the Confederation satellite—but the satellite didn’t have weapons directly dependent upon it.
That was all ground-based decision-making
Then they slowed, made a cautious approach, and landed on the highway, down in the middle of a valley just a kilometre from the front of the second enemy column—the one that had started off with all the fuel trucks. There was at least one still intact. Some of that must be JP.
The column was two minutes up the road.
A side door opened and a half a dozen troops scattered into the ditches and underbrush on security detail. The rotor blades still spun—ready to dust off at the first sign of trouble.
“Ah. Now they’re getting smart—”
The remark was cut off by Lieutenant Wheeler’s hand on the young fellow’s shoulder as Drone Two’s cameras held the scene steady. Drone Two itself was turning back onto its original course.
“What are they up to?”
It wasn’t that hard to guess. Refueling a bare fifty or sixty kilometres from Roussef would greatly extend their time over the town.
“Enemy drone, inbound. They must have gotten that one fixed. Either that, or they have more in the crates, Colonel.”
“Team Three reports more choppers. Two choppers, up on deck, Deneb City, fueling up and loading…choppers are armed. Please advise.”
“Hold fire. I repeat, Team Three is to hold fire. Team Four may fire if they get a shot—”
Team Three, holed up in the middle of Deneb City, in broad daylight, had no hope of escape.
One and Two were out of range, or were being held in reserve.
“Mongoose One’s Sky-Cats are active.”
“Thank you. Let’s hope they get a shot.”
Team Four, up in the hills, was in a far better position to get away, or to evade detection completely and were saying so in a brief text message.
“Team Four. Acknowledged.”
A trooper to her left began typing.
“Team One reports missile launch imminent.” He turned and smiled. “That’s always the way, isn’t it?”
“Roger that.” Somewhere, an enemy technician’s hand hovered over the button, listening for word from the helo force…
“As soon as they fire, hit the sirens.” Until then, keep working the boards.
As long as you’ve got a minute.
Team One had successfully evaded the enemy patrols looking for them. While some small enemy patrols were still out there, as near as three kilometres in one case, they had worked their way back into a good position to observe the space and airport facility.
Team Two was still in place. Buttoned up in their holes, with good concealment and a certain calmness of mind, the Unfriendlies had walked right through their position without so much as a clue as to their existence. One trooper had a bruise on the calf from being stepped on…that one deserved some kind of a bonus. As far as she could recall, there was nothing in the book regarding that particular situation.
Put him down for a hundred credits, even if she had to pay it herself—it would be money well spent. That one would be talked about—all over the place.
Those southeastern patrols, finding nothing, had all returned to Deneb City. It must be assumed that more would be coming out soon enough…surely the enemy must patrol.
“What about them other choppers?” A trooper down the line of workstations had a good, deep voice, one that tended to carry over the general hum in the Command Centre.
Harvey, noting her look, brought the stream up in time to hear the response.
“Gunships. On the pad. Rotors spinning. They’ll be along in a minute, I’m sure.”
“Thank you very much.”
The Command Centre was running smoothly, everyone seemingly very professional. It was interesting, just how quickly the newcomers and the original contingent had shaken down from any previous ways and formed themselves into something new and congruent.
The helos on the ground on Highway 17 would take some minimal time to top up their tanks.
It only took so long to travel the distance. If their two new machines followed a similar track, they were well off from Mongoose One—and its attendant Sky-Cats. This was perhaps a good thing, as she had some ideas for later. Mongoose One had a handful of missiles left. That was it. Without a target, the Sky-Cat defense was entirely useless. The real problem with Mongoose One was that it was too close to Highway 17, but that particular track had been a short one and they had been running out of time. It was just one more gamble.
The thing had already paid for itself.
The trooper did a quick time-and-distance calculation. Not aware that she was already with him, he touched her call-icon and spoke.
“They’ll probably sit there a few more minutes, Colonel Graham. The only real question, will they be taking it in shifts, or will they concentrate for maximum impact…when they finally do, ah, get here.”
“What would you do, Trooper Dax?” It struck her that she was still teaching, still encouraging, still asking a lot of her people—
Stretching everyone to the limit.
He shrugged and shook his head.
“Damned if I know, Colonel.”
The tone was perfect and the young man seemed surprised by the quick ripple of laughter that went through the control room.
With a nervous little nod, he continued.
“I mean, it’s just one of many decisions. They have all kinds of options. But, all they got to do is roll on a bit further with the fuel trucks, make another rendezvous, and then they can have four helos, all fueled up and ready for an attack.” The road, with the fuel trucks rolling along it, was a land-based aircraft carrier on the move.
Not a bad analogy, she thought.
“That’s as good an answer as any, ladies and gentlemen.”
He sat there, neck visibly reddening from six metres away.
Sitting on the far right of the front row, the trooper in question stabbed a quick button and then the sirens began going off all over town.
“All right, people. Into the bunkers—you got thirty seconds to haul ass. No exceptions, no going back for something you forgot—”
Their low-level air defense was live and on full auto—
No one was listening, so she took her own advice and got the hell out of there.
(End of part twenty-six.)
Image One. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Two. CPCO.
Image Three. Collection of Louis Shalako.
Image Four. Earthpig.
Image Five. Dneboloa-Seven Defense Force.
Image Six. CPCO.
Image Seven. CPCO.
Louis Shalako has many books and stories available from Amazon.
Louis hopes that readers are enjoying the story so far.
Thank you for reading.
By Earthpig - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15901733