In Ryanville, the Command Centre was located in the town’s one large strip mall. The reasoning behind this was the fact that there was substantial civilian traffic and it was hoped that the Confederation troops would blend in to the scene. This was very much a double-edged sword.
Coming and going from their shifts, they could use requisitioned civilian vehicles, they could take the bus or a taxi. They could ride a bike or walk. There were only a dozen or so people in the Command Centre at any one time. Interestingly, they were digging bunkers right indoors, using mini-dozers, after first punching through the concrete floors with robotic jack-hammers.
There was the problem of uniforms, which would be identifiable from space or drone-based observation.
Every bunker had one or more escape tunnels, which was essential when the roof stood a good chance of coming down…sooner or later.
She couldn’t really ask her people to wear civilian togs. This would leave them in a bad position if they were caught by the Unfriendlies, who would be sticklers for protocol. A soldier’s pay wasn’t worth being shot over details of personal attire. The uniforms also provided that group identity and did a little something for discipline and morale as well.
If the enemy had a satellite up there, they would be seeing a lot of long overcoats and odd-ball hats.
No one wanted to be shot for a spy, which they most assuredly weren’t. With the local economy in a bit of a slump in recent years, the Organization had taken an empty grocery store sort of a space on the end of the mall. They had grabbed another vacant space, and set up a public relations bureau with two very junior soldiers. They had been in training as corporals, junior NCOs, when the original contingent of Unfriendlies came down. Not suitable to command anything other than themselves in the field, this was a pretty good duty in terms of the compromise use of personnel. This was located in a small retail space down at the other end. All it took was a desk or two, a few chairs, one old desktop computer terminal and a few recruiting posters on the walls. There was a threadbare rack of brochures, including You and the Confederation, as well as How to Join the Organization, typical of the Organization’s recruiting materials. They had their schedule, and they were taking turns on breaks and lunch—Team Management, TM101, a first-year course at the Academy.
A quick sign out front and some terse orders. They’d been asked to shave properly and to get their hair trimmed. They were impressive enough in their full dress uniforms, caps and bandoliers, a minimal number of campaign badges, and a single stripe each on the shoulder.
They were talking to anyone who would listen, explaining about the trenches and the bunkers, and what to do when the sirens went off. Apparently, they were getting quite a few inquiries.
It was the best she could do on short notice. As for the recruiting, they might even get a few, although actual intake would be deferred until the end of the present conflict.
Hopefully, in the event of missile attack, they wouldn’t lose too many civilians. The locals had to eat, they had to shop, and they still had to do their jobs. The real thing was to put trenches and bunkers all over the place and hope for sufficient warning. People knew the truth. Half the town was out there digging—it was like fucking Leningrad out there, according to Harvey. There were other stores in the town centre and when the enemy got closer the mall would be off-limits to civvies.
That was still a day or two away, and it probably wouldn’t last very long, either. In the meantime, the shelves were emptying as folks stocked up for a siege, however long or short that might be.
She took her stance in the middle of the room, sweeping through every eye and every face.
This was no time to be shy.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen. As you all probably know by now, the Brigadier has been having a little fun with the propaganda war. Naturally, I understand the strong need to respond. But what are we going to do, waste precious time and manpower in faking up a few images of our own? Good old McMurdo, seen on-camera, fucking a bunch of little kids up the ass or whatever? Sucking some little black boy’s cock? That’s not my style and I know it’s not yours.”
Anyone that saw it would know it was fake.
In her view, the enemy was already doing a pretty good job of making themselves unpopular.
“What are we going to do, show babies boiling in a big pot and him eating soup?” No one would believe it anyways.
That was her opinion.
There was dead silence. Twenty pairs of eyes glittered at her. They shone in the dim light of the control centre.
“I’ve got a better idea. Who’s good with media? Pictures and sound.”
A hand was tentatively raised.
“Okay. You’ve got the job. A one-minute video. Make a thirty-second version too. Voice-over, Samsons spinning through the air. Fire and flames. Lots of smoke. A bit of music. Rockets taking off, a short segment from that helo going down. The civilians don’t know who that belonged to, right. Hits on targets. People running, stuff blowing up, okay? Unfriendlies bolting into the woods—soldiers stuck in a swamp. We got a couple of good shots of them guys stuck together by the glue mines—” Show that one kid with his legs blown off and crying for his mother—full volume.
The trooper was nodding. He had all kinds of material to work with, and he seemed pretty quick on the uptake.
“So. What’s your name, young man?”
“Ah, Thornton. Jay Thornton, Colonel.”
“Lieutenant Wheeler. Get this man anything he needs. How quick can you put something like that together?”
“Oh, God. Half an hour—an hour, maybe.” He was thinking of the music, and what to say—
He’d studied mass media in college, some years before.
Of course he could do this—
“Take all the time you need. This isn’t a rush job. It’s going out to the news services, and we do have some broadcasting capability of our own.”
As professional as he could make it, that would be good. The newsies might also cut it to their own purposes, or the enemy’s purposes, so every single picture should be unequivocal.
Good, clean shots of the uniforms and the badges. Somewhere, back home on Shiloh, if this was ever shown there, their kin would be scanning the video for familiar faces—and some of them would find them, too.
“If we have identified someone, stick a name-tag onscreen as well. Put a shot of that Unfriendly Major in there, shouting and screaming his damn-fool head off.”
The kid was nodding.
“I can do all of that too, Colonel.”
She turned to the Lieutenant.
“Find him a quiet room to work in.”
“Absolutely, Colonel. And welcome to Ryanville. It’s a nice, sleepy little place, with some really good seafood restaurants.” There was a pause. “Oh. And some of the finest bluegrass music you’re ever going to hear.”
It came out of nowhere, but that was the best laugh Dona had had in days.
They were examining their options. If the Confederation was going to defend Hill 163 and 114-A, they were going to need anti-tank, anti-air and anti-artillery capability. Those resources didn’t necessarily need to be located on the hills in question, but there had to be something there for the Unfriendlies to bite on, as someone said. Also, with the drones working at such short range, it was time to hang a few bombs on Number Three.
“The time has come, as the Walrus said, to sacrifice a Hellion. Methinks.”
“Ah, Harvey.” If the trooper wasn’t careful, he was going to find himself put forward for officer training—
His three-year stint was up for renewal and it was good encouragement, even if he didn’t actually go for it. If nothing else, he seemed literate.
“Sorry, Colonel. But they’re not all that useful when confronted by heavy armour.” The Unfriendly Joshua-type tanks were technically a medium tank, fifty tonnes or so, whereas the main battle tanks were over seventy-five tonnes.
The Hellions weighed maybe ten or twelve tonnes at a quick guess.
The armour on the Joshua was a hundred, or even a hundred and fifty millimetres thick, with active defense systems designed to defeat armour-piercing and shaped-charge projectiles with their lethal Explosively-Shaped-Penetrators, ESPs. As far as laser blasts, it could stand anything up to 150 MW for two hours straight at the narrowest possible aperture. That made it pretty much invulnerable to anything less than a light space-cruiser’s weapons. Certainly the Confederation had nothing to oppose it on the ground. The Hellion had maybe fifty millimetres of frontal armour and not much more than half of that on the sides, top and rear.
The bottom was about twenty millimetres. This was not enough to defeat the typical anti-tank mine. It sure as hell wasn’t going to stand up to the big 130-mm smoothbore, boosted-projectile gun on the Joshua firing depleted uranium or tungsten-carbide projectiles. The enemy had the ESP warheads as well. They wouldn’t even need them for a Hellion. Fired from such a weapon, even a simple lead slug might have done the job, due to the sheer kinetic energy of impact cracking all the seams.
The Hellions would be at a distinct disadvantage against anything but a comparable vehicle—the Samsons, for example, which were a vehicle of similar design although not quite as up-to-date.
That was especially true for electronics and software.
The Hellion had an 85-mm rifled gun capable of firing sabot rounds, very accurate, and wire-guided anti-tank rockets. It had smoke and grenade launchers and a heavy machine gun.
The trouble with really big hills like that was that they were pretty obvious defense points and the enemy would no doubt be expecting something. The initial approaches were mined and booby-trapped heavily. This went on for five or six kilometres…quite the stretch considering the battle so far. There were bridges out and trees down all over the place. Fences had been few and far between. A few fences and abandoned power lines (that particular settlement not having worked out), had been pulled down, and the wire stretched across the road in multiple strands that would slow if not defeat smaller vehicles. Those would take time, and combat exposure, warm bodies exposed to the guns, to remove. As far as putting out some bait, that decision had already been made.
All of this had been discussed in the original plan. Now that it was time to put it into practice, people were having doubts. The window of time was shrinking, the road was getting shorter—and this was the end of the line. They only had so many more cards to play.
“Okay, people, listen up. The enemy knows all about the reverse-slope ambush now. They know all about being taken from behind and they will prepare their plan accordingly.” And yet there were still variations on a theme. “So. The Hellion can take out a Samson, or even a Joshua if it gets close enough—say three hundred metres or less, just to be on the safe side.” She engaged each and every eye. “I want to hit them from front, rear and sides. When they take their objective, then I want the next hill to be the exact same. More double-reverse ambushes. Right?”
Then there were the boobies—and they had some big ones in store.
There were trees everywhere. Before and after every hill there was another hill, as often as not separated by bog, swamp, rivers and streams. Then there were the chasms, spoken with a dry emphasis. Anything dry enough and level enough to be cultivated meant open ground, crops, hay and pasture. There was some forest pannage for pigs, dark and forbidding, although open at ground level. There were quite a few outright farm fields, along the road or up some minor track into the hills. The latter were bare, the hay, the grains and the soybeans having been taken off by now…deeply turned by the plough in order to let the frost work on it for next year, such ground was extremely difficult for infantry to cross, with next to no cover and the mud, when the weather was wet, clinging to their feet and quickly adding weight to bodies and boots that would already be heavy enough. Under the trees, the hogs would have made a real mess of any little pond or puddle of standing water. Half-feral after a while, they were dangerous in their own right. This was why the pigs she’d seen all had a name, a number or some other symbol painted on the flank or the shoulder—on the commons, land held by all or land held by no one, one had to be able to identify one’s own property. This was especially true if they got into someone else’s property, a truck garden for example, and did a lot of damage. The owners would be identified and politely asked to pay up. The hog, of course, would be a hostage or surety for same. Under such conditions, people’s herds built up over time and some of the hogs got pretty old before being slaughtered. The longer they were out there, the more independent-minded they became.
That one brought a few tired grins.
“…pray for rain, ladies and gentlemen.”
They laughed—they laughed.
It was a slightly-nervous laughter, but laughter nevertheless.
There were a series of ridges leading up to the defense points in question. A few automatic weapons might still be spared, and might still bear fruit in terms of troop and vehicle kills.
“What’s going to happen is that we’re going to stash a Hellion here—in front of Hill 163, up this little side-road, which just happens to lead right up into the mouth of this gorge here.”
There was an old quarry up there, abandoned when the hole had flooded out, due to the abundant artesian springs. Water from above constantly weaseling its way down through cracks and crevices, only to bubble up from below under fairly high pressure when opportunity arose.
With so much native rock available, the owners had dropped tools and simply moved a half a k up the road according to the historical notes. That one was also abandoned and had been for years.
The Joshua’s side armour was nowhere near as thick as the front, or especially the turret and gun mantlet.
“The same thing for the other position, Hill One-One-Four-A.” There were more than enough side-tracks going into the hills, or even just naked, fairly gentle slopes in some cases, of bare rock leading up from the road.
In such country, cover was abundant.
There were variations on a theme, shoulder-launched, dismounted weapons, or even a coordinated suicide attack by big dog units. They had all kinds of weapons.
She pointed at the map.
“On the far side of the hill, I want Panthers with wire-guided missiles, all lined up and ready to shoot them in the backside.”
Good concealment. One per hill. They listened quietly.
“The crews will dismount. They will monitor the systems and especially weapons from a minimum of a hundred metres. They’ll have all personal belongings, and their personal weapons, out of the vehicle. They will be prepared to spend a couple of days out there if they must. Take your sunscreen and lip balm, okay? Bring your woolly socks and long underwear. Lots of water. Food for three days. Before deployment, excess ammunition will be taken out and sent to the depots. The thing is only going to need two or three rounds, a box or two of belt ammunition. Two missiles, maybe three. No more. Right? But the odds are, once the Hellion is destroyed, or the Panther, there will be plenty of time to pick their way up that hill. If they can’t get out, retreat along the just below the top of the hill, well away from the road. Set up another ambush, throw out a forward flanker to keep watch, and sit there and wait. We need good concealment here, especially in the infrared. We need to get that fucker into position, and keep it cool—quite frankly you could tow it up there and I couldn’t be happier.”
If they weren’t running the engine, there wasn’t any heat to speak of—although solar heating would definitely warm up the upper surfaces.
On the plus side, it was a cool six degrees and there was a low, scudding cloud base blocking out the sun much of the time. Local conditions were nearly perfect.
It was interesting, just how quickly the local star became the sun.
“We could cover it with dirt, Colonel. Chunks of plywood on the front end. Ah, painted dark green, right? Cut a few branches. As long as we don’t obstruct the weapons or the sensors—”
“Excellent suggestion.” Right out of the manual in fact, but such stuff was in there for a reason. “Now, for the other ambush, we want to do something different. How about halfway down the valley, another Hellion, in a side-ambush position.” Knock them off before they really get going—
Sort of thing.
People started to talk, coming up with ideas of their own. Shoulder-launched missiles, mines, Barkers, the whole schlemiel—Drone Three might get a shot at a tank.
She nodded, shutting it down again.
“I want it all, ladies and gentlemen. Use your imaginations.” She really didn’t have time to explain everything.
All of this could be dealt with.
The real challenge was to get them to give up something they loved, and she had little doubt it would be a wrench for the crews.
The people in the Command Centre were looking at each other, some of them were looking at the floor, or their boards, or almost anything other than her. An older trooper named Ann even glanced up at the clock on the wall, but then this group were nearing the end of their shift and they still had to brief their individual reliefs. She had to let them go.
“What’s interesting here, is that our Hellion is not on the back of the hill, neither it is on the back of the preceding hill, which has worked for us pretty well a couple of times. This is ambush from the flank, and it stands a very good chance of working.” Mortars could also be deployed to the side of the road, and not on a hill or back-slope at all. It didn’t matter where they were fired from.
You could plop them fuckers down in the middle of the road, throw a few fibre-linked cams out forward, just over the next hill, and let them talk to each other. Hop in the vehicle and drive away.
They just needed targets within range.
“What matters is getting our troops out.”
A robotic machine-gun took no cover at all and could be best used far out into the open ground…all of that enemy infantry would be exposed. If firing from the right place, it would hit them from the side and just mow them down.
The thing was to use them in minimal numbers. They were relatively expendable although Ryanville itself still needed a defense. This was pretty basic stuff and they should be able to handle it.
With an armour-piercing round, firing at that range—and it was a bare two hundred metres, the Hellion would have a real chance of penetrating the side armour of a Joshua, even if the enemy still had them on the trailers. But her instinct was that they would be eager to engage with the Joshuas, upon being presented with an important target, an important position. If only for the newsreels, an old-fashioned word but still holding its meaning well enough after five hundred years.
“If the enemy is dumb enough to leave them on the trailers, then it’s a nice easy shot or two and no harm done.”
Otherwise, one had to wonder why they had bothered to bring them along. The infantry, in their sheer numbers, were far more dangerous.
“Four helos, one thousand metres altitude, and they are headed towards Roussef.” Forty kilometres out and closing.
“Keep an eye on them.”
They’d refueled on the highway. The enemy artillery position had been dismantled and was in the process of being brought forward. One more move on the board and they’d be in a position to bombard Hills 163 and 114-A, and if they were willing to risk counter-battery fire, possibly even Roussef.
Did the enemy know that Roussef had been abandoned?
They were about to find out.
(End of part twenty-eight.)
Image One. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Two. CPCO.
Image Three. CPCO.
Image Four. Deneboloa-Seven Chamber of Commerce.
Image Five. The Organization.
Image Six. Collection of Louis Shalako.
Image Seven. CPCO.
Image Eight. CPCO.
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Thank you for reading.