An automated ambush is basically one big booby trap. A modern ambush was a smart ambush.
The culvert under the road, at the bottom of a very steep hill, had been filled with explosives, quickly improvised with the help of local civilian engineers. Used in open-pit mining in preference to more expensive, imported explosives, it was a simple mixture made from diesel fuel and fertilizer, rich in nitrates and then trucked to their destination in plastic drums of different sizes. Normally used as a slurry, poured into holes drilled vertically into solid rock, this ensured that a package would fit its horizontal hole, one real big one or two or three smaller ones as the situation called for. The blasting caps or det-cord to set it off was the big thing, but they had plenty of that on hand…all those open-pit mines being rather helpful in the present situation.
At its simplest, a good car battery and some wire would set it off.
It was a simple situation. The shareholders wouldn’t like to lose their entire investment and the companies were cooperating. They were also keeping track of every little thing. Their bills would no doubt be rendered—ninety days, same as cash, as the saying went. They probably understood that the Confederation and the Denebians themselves would pay up a little more gladly than the Unfriendlies, having faced some opposition, would ever be likely to do. As good corporate citizens themselves, most of the firms had already committed to paying or absorbing a share of their own losses…there had some very good public relations there, on both sides of the equation, and her people had worked it out on the spot with little direction from her. All of their employees were Denebians, at least at the lower levels of management and virtually all of the production workers. There were even a few natives on the payroll or so it said in the file—
There were remote machine-gun posts on one side of the hill, their human monitors under cover on the other. All they had to do was to sit and watch their scopes. The weapons, mounted on electric turntable mounts, were set to rake the road and the opposite hillside and ditches as soon as the big bomb went off. Low-set and heavy, staked down to the dirt, they were stable enough on their shock-absorbers, gimbals and gyro set-up.
There were glue-mines, anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines at points where the far hillside was open, which would be fairly inviting to people under fire and looking for quick cover.
The Confederation firing positions were also covered by cameras. The positions were mined and booby-trapped. There were other weapons, including a couple of small automatic mortars firing smoke bombs. Any troops attempting to scale the hill to get at them would face quite the gauntlet of active and passive weapons.
Dona and anyone who had a minute watched in fascination as the enemy column, after a few kilometres of not finding resistance, came rolling over the top of the far hill in pretty good order.
They were well spaced, but it was a big hill and with people throttling back and touching the brakes instinctively, they were already bunching up. It wasn’t so much lack of discipline as lack of experience. Some of them would have literally ten or twelve hours of training time in a vehicle, rather than the hundreds of hours of training of the typical Confederation soldier.
By now, their dedicated crews would be getting tired, and there was no one qualified to relieve them.
This time some care had been taken in positioning a couple of disposable cameras right at the bottom of the valley.
Trooper Marley with Force H was charged with monitoring the view and firing the mine. He waited until a solitary scout machine, a hundred metres out in front, had safely passed over, and then the first big armoured car.
The second armoured car was fifty metres back and coming on strong.
It was like the valley floor exploded right underneath the vehicle, another of the Samsons.
The sound was turned down, but it must have been thunderous. People watched with open mouths as the armoured car spun, end over end, spilling wheels and tires. The low turret came off and what looked like dark grey rag dolls were flung in all directions. Perhaps it was nothing more than the imagination.
The huge pall of smoke hung there, and from somewhere off in the background, came the stutter of light machine guns and the pop of the first mortars going off. Self-loading, they each had a clip of three rounds, programmed to fire at short and erratic intervals. This was to give the impression there were live troops up there on the hilltop, trying to hit as many targets as possible before beating yet another hasty retreat.
The Unfriendlies halted all along the line. Those in a position to do so backed up, reversing on the far hill or scurried to make three-point turns on the narrow road. They were quickly lost to sight due to tall trees and the twisting road. They had their own smoke-screen going now. Sure enough, another big bang up in there under the trees.
Someone was having a bad day. Black smoke began to rise. Another vehicle destroyed, although some would often be salvageable by a good repair unit.
The anonymous grey uniforms abandoned the big six-by trucks, running up the slopes, left and right. They were going into the trees or simply diving into the ditch, which, at this time of year, would be cold, wet, muddy and uncomfortable at best. There would be the native leeches, active down to three or four degrees Celsius in there, and other pests. If they had looked at the map, they would have seen no good side-roads for quite some distance. It was all hills, rock, swamp and trees.
She had another live ambush, a small one involving two snipers and another big mine, on the very next hill. That was barely a half a kilometre away. After that, the road was mined intermittently. Culverts had been taken out for the next five kilometres and then another live ambush…her people were knocking tall trees down all over the place, felling them across the road. She was desperately trying to be unpredictable.
The next three culverts would be blown, small, meandering streams through the valleys, with plenty of black spruce and water, water, water…boggy meadows, small ponds and long, meandering strips of muskeg all over the place.
There were limits to how close Dona could let the Unfriendlies get, with Confederation troops fighting a rearguard action all the way up from Walzbruch. She still had the bulk of her force in Roussef, and she could only hold them there for so long before heading to Ryanville.
If the enemy had divided their forces, so had she. She had some concerns about bringing them all back together again, but this was the plan. At this stage of the game, she had no option except to proceed. In some ways, McMurdo was being smart by not committing any more force than he had to.
Dona tore her eyes from that scene, quickly punching up a good view from the first Highway 3 ambush.
There was more to the reverse-slope ambush of course—there were two sides to every hill, and she would have to stop them for some considerable time in order to get her people safely out of the Walzbruch operation.
They were just a few kilometres out of Walzbruch.
A careful examination of the ground was crucial when laying any trap. A deadfall trap for big game would be laid on the widest, most heavily-used trail. Wire-noose traps were a lot easier to make, and would be scattered all along small game trails, rabbit and guinea-pigs and the like.
The goal was the same, only the size of the prey was different.
The Unfriendlies, under fire, not unexpectedly, had little choice but to get off the road or be destroyed.
Just coming over the top of a hill when the first mortar round and the first anti-tank rocket struck, the troops in the trucks behind the hill had dismounted, scurrying like ants up the reverse slope, under cover as much as possible. Their small four-bys roared up the hill, looking for cover and firing positions for the machine guns. At that point, they had run smack into a line of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. The mortars had switched targets as well as loads. For vehicles, it was armour-piercing.
With smart-rounds coming down from a high angle, the thin or non-existent armour on top was not much protection and a hit would be fatal for the vehicle and all concerned. For unprotected troops, it was high explosive with shrapnel mixed with a few incendiaries for sheer terror. There was plenty of forest, and a big fire would be good, although conditions had been a bit damp.
With their high angle of flight, rounds were dropping in just on the other side of the crest where the enemy would be concentrated—or concentrating. Things happened very quickly under such circumstances and it took time for people to react properly. At some point, the enemy might decide it was just better to sit in the trucks! Better yet, to get underneath them, but there was only so much room, and not much protection anyways. The thoughts of a couple of big tanks of diesel right over one’s head would be a bit of a deterrent.
The enemy drone, damaged to an unknown extent by a proximity burst of their 20-mm anti-air defense, had lumbered off to the southwest, trailing vapour if not actual smoke and fire…hopefully that weapon would be recovered. Dona was prepared to sacrifice one or two for Highway 17 and maybe one each for Highways Two and Three. She only had a dozen to begin with.
Small parties of Confederation troops were evading on foot, plunging down through the bush on the back of their hill. Wading through swamp, climbing over deadfall trees, thrashing about in the brush, the pictures were nerve-wracking enough. They were blind down in there, and their backs would feel very exposed climbing up the far side. Compared to the air temperature, the muck might actually be a little warmer.
For this and a million other reasons, trust in one’s fellow soldiers, trust in the plan, was paramount.
In that country, there was just no way for troops on foot to ever traverse a kilometre and a half in anything less than half an hour, with luck a bit less. Not quietly, anyways—during which time they would feel very vulnerable. With such precipitous crags, going downhill in a hurry was dangerous, and climbing the far side would slow them down considerably.
The other thing was to avoid unnecessary casualties from injuries caused by slips and falls, broken and twisted ankles and the like. Accidental shootings were not exactly unheard-of.
They had their personal arms, small day-packs and other equipment on their backs, and for that reason, it was difficult to hurry in such terrain.
To run, to thrash and splash about in brush and swamp was to draw unwelcome attention.
Sooner or later, another enemy drone had to appear—knocking one down was a real feat and those guys would be seeing a pretty nice bonus.
The sound of firing breaking out above and ahead, in response to fire from behind—the Unfriendlies having taken the ambush point by now, must have been pretty terrifying for those who had never been under fire before. The point was that they really were under it, as troops and weapons on opposing hilltops engaged each other at extreme range. The sounds of their mines and booby-traps going off would have been small consolation. If nothing else, it indicated the enemy’s progress.
She could sympathize, to some extent.
The road between the two hills was mined, the culvert was out, and they had an automatic machine gun, two mortars and other light anti-tank weapons to cover the next stage of their retreat. Dona was being very sparing of the resources, reluctant to give up anything that she might need later. Just one example, the machine gun had one box of ammo—after that it would go silent, probably lost to the Confederation for good.
If the Unfriendlies caught up to the Confederation troops, they were going to be very angry indeed.
In the meantime, the enemy had been held up for a good hour, an hour and a half so far. It appeared the junior enemy officers, the NCOs, were playing it strictly by the book. No one could blame them for that. She could almost see them, standing about the command vehicles, studying their maps and thrashing it out…the commander, on the radio to Deneb City for confirmation.
The firefight with Ambush Two, Highway Two, was just warming up.
Dona had to break away and see what was up down south.
Blind to the external world, she almost jumped out of her skin at the touch on her shoulder.
She flipped up the goggs.
It was Captain Aaron.
“Colonel? You’re relieved…” Paul was looking tired, but he’d just had a nap and she had to give up the hot-seat at some point, whether she liked it or not. “I can skim the logs if you want to go off.”
At some point, she needed a minute to herself—to eat, to sleep, to shut down all the thoughts for a while. There was this burning sensation just where the gut met the gullet.
“Okay, okay—just give me another minute.”
There hadn’t been any more missile attacks. After a quick inspection of Command Centre Two, where pretty much all the equipment was set up and ready to go, she took her pet red truck home, if that was the proper word.
Her head swam a little, the blood pulsing in her ears, upon getting out of the truck in front of Number Nine. She’d phoned ahead, and with a bit of luck, her lunch or dinner or whatever would be along…too tired to care, on some whim she’d ordered the veal parmigiana, which was said to be very good. With their well-known potted cheese, bread sticks and a salad, it would be more than enough the way her guts had been lately. If she got half of it down, she’d consider herself lucky.
A few units down, a door opened and a male figure came out, wearing autumn woodland camouflage and with a small utility bag and an assault rifle slung over his shoulder.
Looking up, his eyes met hers. With a start of recognition, she saw that it was Trooper Noya.
There was a magazine in there, and hopefully the weapon was on safety.
He was unshaven, there were discoloured bags under his eyes and hard lines around the mouth, but he was upright and clearly heading back on shift.
He grinned from ear to ear, gave her a quick left-handed wave and then mounted a bicycle that was way too small for him. No telling where he got that, probably stolen from the workshop they were using. The other thing was that the local people had been very helpful in so many ways, contributing everything from flowers and fruit baskets, frozen meat, fresh vegetables, winter hats, hand-knitted socks and mitts from local service clubs. They had thrown the doors open and invited her troops into the front room, in some cases.
There would be some broken hearts and maybe a few unexpected babies, before all of this was over. She bit back a sour grin, shaking her head.
With the front wheel momentarily wobbling, and the rifle obviously an unfamiliar load, he set off across the parking lot without a backward glance. She was amused to see him stop, not quite falling off, and shift the strap to go over his head. This kept the weapon higher up and the butt didn’t hit one in the calf when pedaling. Only then did he look back, looking a bit sheepish, and she gave him a smile and a nod before turning away.
If there really was an enemy satellite up there, sooner or later, local traffic patterns would be revealed. This particular motor hotel, the Knotty Pine, would be an especially juicy target if they had any idea of where she was.
Dona was too tired to care at this point, but it very much felt like it was time to move on. It was an old and familiar feeling, a kind of hollow in the pit of the stomach. It was funny how quickly even the most anonymous room became a person’s home. Back home—back home she must have become very set in her ways. It would all still be there when she got back. The plants would be watered and her cats looked after. The cats, at least, would miss her.
She sighed with the guilt of leaving them, but she sure as hell couldn’t bring them along. That would be the worst kind of stupidity. Stupidity, now, stupidity was one of the few things she truly despised.
There was this delusion that nothing could get at you, when you were at home—dangerous thinking.
But first, a bath and some sleep. Standing there, she looked around. She could clear her personal belongings in three minutes. Hell, maybe a minute or less, if it came right down to it. Trooper Noya seemed to be doing well.
He’d taken to it like a duck takes to water.
She still wondered about that one, from time to time. It was true that people signed on with the Organization for all sorts of reasons and in all kinds of circumstances. Sometimes it was pure idealism.
There was a knock at the door.
And thank Christ for that—and maybe she’d have a cold beer too.
The thing was to tip them very well.
(End of part twenty-one.)
Image One. Collection the Author.
Image Two. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Three. CPCO.
Image Four. CPCO.
Image Five. Collection of author Louis Shalako
Image Six. Box Mortar in Infantry Transport Vehicle. CPCO.
Image Seven. Roussef Daily News.
Image Eight. Denebola-Seven Defense Force.
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