Vicky Chan was just going off duty and briefing Dona on the day’s events.
“Yup. Looks like another night attack. It makes sense from their point of view. We knew they were going to take that hill, and they knew they were going to take casualties doing it. Our estimate is that they saved themselves fifteen to twenty percent in terms of casualties just by going in at night.” It was an interesting psychological insight.
They had used their best troops instead of their worst. So, lives meant something to them after all. Even after the fetuses had been born. The other thing was, that the regulars would want their fair share of the glory—
Even more so, their senior officers, who had their reputations and perhaps even some fortunes to be made.
“It’s our impression that they will continue with the night attacks. They might well have time to do four or five hills tonight. On the road, it is unclear whether they will attack by day as well. Even with superior numbers, they still need to rest. It’s hard to sleep beside an artillery barrage, even when it’s your own. When they get close enough to Ryanville, the attacks will be more or less continuous. By day or by night. There is yet another big column forming up in Deneb City. This one’s heavy on the infantry, and they will obviously have the manpower.”
“Roger that, and thank you. Off you go and get yourself a good night’s sleep—eight hours, all right? I’ll find someone to cover, don’t worry about that.”
Major Chan slumped.
“Thank you, Colonel Graham.”
“Don’t worry. Vicky. When this is all over, we’ll get together and have ourselves one smashing big piss-up.”
The tired grin was quick, but it was there and eminently worth it to see.
Dona was talking to Paul. Another private conference. They were trying to decide.
Paul had his doubts, but the decision was hers to make.
“Look. It’s a question of upping the ante, not so much as when, but by how much.” Dona went on. “As long as Mongoose One is sitting there, there is some possibility of discovery. We have exactly two reloads left. There are six Unfriendly ships on the pad…”
The enemy had the Red-Tails, on the concrete apron at the spaceport. Their air-defense could be jammed. There was no lack of targets.
The initial landing of roughly a thousand troops and a few scout and armoured cars had taken three small ships. The larger contingent, with all of their troops and equipment, perhaps even the nucleus of some new system of civilian governance, of which they had been hearing rumours, had been landed by the three big Boer-class ships. Once the field was declared secure.
“It seems to me, that if we take out a couple of the smaller ships. Our missiles are not wasted. In fact, they have been extremely effective. We’ve spent our money there, I agree. But we’ve taken out one or two ships, a heavy psychological blow. And the enemy still has enough tonnage to get their people out when the time comes. We have raised the stakes but then raked in a mighty big pot—it’s still not enough for them to get really ugly with the civilian population.”
The thing was to give them a kick in the ass. The kind of kick in the ass that would, psychologically, force them to accelerate their timetable. This wasn’t so much bait, as it was an added incentive. The carrot up front, waving around in front of their eyes, the stick going up their backsides. Hopefully, they’d get a few slivers along the way.
Paul was nodding.
With all of the satellite, visual, on-scene data from the fire teams, plus the ships’ own radio traffic, the probability of at least one hit was high. This was firing them on coordinates, in an almost ballistic fashion, although the feedback from onboard target-recognition, the fire-teams’ designators, and the cameras in the noses, would steer them the last part of the way down.
Sitting out there in the open, with their distinctive shapes, specifications, three-views and silhouettes downloaded from the databanks into the Mongoose’s own system, it would be a pretty hard target to miss.
There was more to discuss and this one wasn’t worth an argument. What the hell, it was only two missiles.
It was in the plan. He’d signed off on it originally, and Paul couldn’t immediately think of any real good reason to go back on it.
Now was as good a time as any.
“Who knows. Maybe the enemy will finally find the thing and then the Sky-Cats can get a shot.” One never knew, in war.
“Yes, Colonel. I agree.”
“Okay. Next on the agenda.”
Paul looked up from his com unit to the eyes clustered around the table.
“With the Mongoose’s last two shots accounted for, we still have another fairly large column forming up in Deneb City.” Team Four might get a shot with the Barkers or anti-tank rockets. “They still have a good three or four thousand troops in reserve.”
Teams One and Two were on the other side of the city.
The thinking was that this one, assembling in the late afternoon and early evening hours, was preparing to make a mad, night-time dash up Highway 17. There was little sense in forming up a column and then just letting it sit there all night.
“All right. Make Team Four wait. They are completely unsuspected. Wait until they come within range, and then hit them with the mortars stashed just south of Gossua.” The enemy had taken a Mongoose missile at the village earlier in the battle, but the fact that there were mortars in the vicinity would come as a distinct and unpleasant surprise. “After that, anyone that wants to, can have a crack at them.” Time to earn some bonus money—
“Roger that, Colonel. They will be notified.”
Her troops had strung the mortars out in a line, up in the hills, roughly a kilometre apart. With a range of up to five kilometres, launching the heavy, armour-piercing smart-rounds, they’d be damned hard to find by even the most determined infantry.
Each one had six loads in the rack, enough to make a mess of almost any combination of vehicles or troop-carriers.
There was a Confederation team right in the area. The best thing for them to do was to wait and to keep themselves under cover. They’d get their chance next time.
“Very well. Next.”
“Ah, yes, the satellite.”
“So, Colonel. What do we do.”
“Hmn. We wait.”
And waiting was hard.
But, as long as they were getting anything from their own satellite at all, and as long as the battle was unfolding more or less as predicted, it was best to keep their bird up there.
The only real way to destroy the enemy satellite was to work their way in as close as possible and then to self-destruct. That charge was very small, and the shrapnel effect would be uneven due to the nature of the Mark Seventeen’s components and architecture.
The very definition of a crap-shoot.
If they were going to do it, it had bloody well better work.
As usual, she knew one or two things that they didn’t.
“How many churches are there in Ryanville?”
It was a question that should have been asked earlier.
Turns out, someone had.
“Four churches, one mosque, a Temple and one or two others. There are certain denominations…” Presumably, the temple was Jewish, or maybe Zoroastrian.
Who cared if they were Rosicrucians, Christadelphians, Amish or Hindus. They were all her responsibility.
“Well. I don’t quite know what to say. But Catholic churches aren’t independent.”
Some guy didn’t just rent a storefront somewhere and start preaching the Gospel. Not Catholics.
Some of those little operations were quite small. It was easy enough to miss the smaller, Protestant denominations.
“All right. See if we can get General McMurdo on the line. Tell him we will undertake not to use those particular buildings for any military purpose. Ask him if he would accept our assurances, and if he would be so good as not to fire on those locations. Also schools, hospitals, and the ambulance centre.” The ambulance centre, with three modern ambulances and a small number of civilian employees, was about two blocks from Ryanville General Hospital.
Negotiation theory at work. Get him to give up a few little things—reasonable things. That big old negotiating table was always lurking in the background.
“Yes, Harvey. You. A junior, talking to a senior, ah, officer. Make sure you have all the addresses or the map coordinates lined up for him. And if he asks to speak to me, tell him that I am presently unavailable.”
“Okay. Trooper Harvey. The other thing is to be polite—diplomatic. Do you think you can do that?”
Reddening slightly, he nodded.
And now, back to work.
With the enemy preparing for their second night attack, this one on Hill 212-B, it was time to vary up the punches again.
It was time.
With over four hundred troops in the Ryanville area and the Unfriendlies a bare twenty-plus kilometres down the road, Dona was committing some of her human resources.
The moons had sunk below the western horizon. With virtually no lights along the roads outside of the cities, and a heavy, damp overcast that yet refused to rain, naked-eye visibility was just about nil.
She had about two dozen troops involved in her own night attack, timed to disrupt the enemy as they assembled and took up their start-lines. Most of them were in covering positions, waiting to lay down fire when the forward elements withdrew.
Satellite data was almost non-existent. The ground and the enemy’s emplacements, their troop dispersals, had been pretty well mapped. For that, the big dogs had been very helpful. The battleground was an undulating ridgeline, with a lower notch where the road went through. There were only so many of the enemy. It was heavily-forested, and their lines of attack could be predicted with some degree of accuracy.
Her people had crept in to within a few metres of the forward pickets. Several of the dog units had penetrated the perimeter and were observing the bivouac and assembly areas from the edges of clearings, screened by the underbrush and sheer darkness.
The thing to do was just to watch for a while…
Every forty-five minutes to an hour, a sergeant or corporal would follow a narrow track, checking on the pickets and making sure they weren’t asleep. This was the best time to hit the pickets in silent-killing mode. There was a long line of posts and their immediate superiors had a real bad habit of strolling, all alone, along that path as if nothing in the world could ever touch them. These were definitely not the Guards units.
The enemy, confident of success, well-fed and well-rested, had no clue.
The first of the big dogs rose from its hunker-down position, and darted forwards into the middle of an Unfriendly infantry platoon, this one led by a senior sergeant. People squawked in dismay, people shouted. People stared open-mouthed. One man, with desperately fumbling hands, was trying to unsling his weapon…
The resulting explosion, a ten-kilo charge, all ball bearings and shards of light casing, bits of mechanical dog, would have taken out the bulk of them. This unit had just been written off the order of battle for all intents and purposes. The survivors would be in a hospital or sent to the reinforcement pool.
She waited ten minutes, as surviving Unfriendlies tried to figure out what had just happened, talk flying back and forth and the officers and NCOs trying to reorganize. There was now a big hole in the line and that would have to be filled. They were behind schedule already. It took time to deal with the dead and wounded. Only a fool would not send out some quick patrols and have a look around before proceeding.
The eastern sky was a dull shade of lighter blue in the curious false dawn at these latitudes. That would be moon number one, laying just below the horizon. That was one fast moon, but all planets were different.
“Okay. Send in the next one.”
“Roger that, Colonel.” This would initiate Phase Two of their plan.
Whoever was supervising the enemy picket line would know something was definitely up, and more than one enemy NCO was about to get their throat cut or a real big knife in the kidneys.
Another big flash lit up the night, this time their animal having gotten to within fifteen metres of the battalion command post.
Little dots on screen sped up, as a couple of sergeants or corporals on perimeter duty, caught between guard-positions, broke into a run. Although one dot in particular appeared to be stationary, and only thirty metres from a guard post.
Her people were already on the rush, personal arms set for full auto, and with the enemy in a state of confusion. All of those pickets, hearing the bombs go off. It would be against human nature not to be looking the wrong way.
Backlit by smoke and flame. Rifle grenades, dropping in at your feet—
All they wanted was enemy casualties, and mostly likely, they’d drag off one or two prisoners as well.
The vehicles were two or three hundred metres away, on a side-road that was passable all the way to Ryanville. And again, if the enemy wanted to follow that road, it would require another division of forces. More mines, more booby-traps, more automatic weapons and trained snipers.
The enemy barrage had opened up, still fixated on the hills out in front of them, although Ryanville town centre was well within range.
Her own gun batteries were on standby.
(End of part thirty-nine.)
Image Two. Denebola-Seven Chamber of Commerce.
Image Three. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Four. The cover of this book.
Louis Shalako’s completed novel, Tactics of Delay, of which this is the serialization, is now available in several ebook formats from Smashwords, and within hours, from Amazon. It will be available in ebook from Kobo and Google Play in a matter of a day or so. Paperback versions are on the way, a 5 x 8” paperback from Createspace and a 4 x 7” from Lulu. If you really want a hardcover version, use the contact form and let me know. I’ve never done one, but it’s not that difficult either. Please help a guy out and consider rating or reviewing this book.
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