The battle was in its final phases.
There were three more really big hills to be taken before the town of Ryanville sort of began, although there were a few homes and businesses along that stretch of Highway 17. Those people had all been evacuated.
There were continuous obstacles. There were numerous trees down across the road, and wire barriers made up of fencing, baling wire, spools of cable requisitioned from local building suppliers, and anything else that could be scrounged.
There were anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, all along the road. Every small bridge and culvert had been blown. The largest bridge, spanning another switchback of the Ryan River, had been left intact due to the time and expense of rebuilding it. This was for the sake of the inhabitants, who would be left holding the bag, long after this pissy little war was over.
There was little doubt that it would soon be over.
The bulk of the enemy was just six kilometres from the edge of town although their scouts and reconnaissance units were probing ahead.
Each ridge was defended, a mix of warm-bodied troops and automated systems. Her howitzers had been withdrawn to the extremities of the lakeshore road, with eastern and western detachments now working at their maximum effective range in this terrain. With all the cameras and sensors out there, they were still finding, and hitting, plenty of targets. The enemy had no such luxury.
The hilltop passive defenses relied heavily on glue-mines, anti-personnel explosive mines, light machine guns, all monitored by cameras. Her people had their holes, their weapons and their escape drills. There was the occasional anti-tank mine, buried in the road.
To prevent outflanking maneuvers, these defenses extended along favourable ground, to left and right of the road, a kilometre in the case of the first hill, a kilometre and a half on the second hill, and a good two kilometres running along the top of the third ridge. Any side-roads, connected or not, had been mined and booby-trapped. Bunkers and foxholes, any place a curious Unfriendly soldier might enter looking for plunder, food, booze, souvenirs, had been thoughtfully boobied. It had to be borne in mind that the civilians would eventually be coming home, and so their homes and businesses had been left alone. Every booby had been carefully mapped by the Confederation troops and this would be turned over to civil authorities. What that also meant, was that there was stuff there in private homes and businesses to find, and having had a good meal or a few drinks at some civilian’s expense, the enemy troopers would be sure to go looking for more.
Bait, always more bait.
They would find the juiciest bait in positions prepared by her troops, places where the civvies would hopefully avoid, assuming they were capable of listening to a simple instruction.
Stay the fuck out of our abandoned holes…
Stay away from our abandoned vehicles, weapons, or any other thing that strikes you as new or unusual in your environment.
Anything that wasn’t there when you left.
The last few kilometres were going to cost the Unfriendlies dearly, and in the end, all to no avail.
“Battery A.” This was located at extreme range at the eastern end of Lake Ryan.
“Go ahead, Command Centre.”
“Your orders are to use up all ammunition stocks, assuming hard targets can be found.” As of this moment, the stars were out and the satellite feed was good, but there was a big block of heavy cloud on the horizon.
You could pull back the curtains and see it out the window, by this point.
“Roger that.” This was all in the written plan and no argument there.
“If you can hold out until dark, abandon your positions. Use the boats. Rendezvous at the position of Command Four. Make sure you have tow-ropes and plenty of fuel. All troops will wear flotation devices, emergency beacons, and survival suits. Boats go in convoy. Acknowledge.”
“Roger that, Colonel. We’ll be fine, thank you.”
“Thank you, over and out.”
Battery B, out at the other end of town, already had their instructions. Their boats were anchored in small coves, heavily camouflaged against drone detection and with the civilian crews standing patiently by.
Now within three kilometres of Ryanville and Command Centre Three, the Unfriendlies would undoubtedly be taking the town within the next few hours and it was time to get her people out.
Every vehicle, every weapon, every weapons-pit and foxhole were to be mined and booby-trapped.
The enemy was bleeding, and they would continue to bleed.
As for Command Centre Three, the mother of all booby-traps, fifty kilos of the finest military-grade explosive that money could buy, wonderfully concealed. Three metres below her feet in other words. It would be timed to go off a few hours after occupation. Much of the more sensitive equipment had already been removed and she was working with a skeleton staff. Still, enemy intelligence officers would be combing through the place, searching for any scrap of information they could get regarding her plans. Her strength in weapons, vehicles and personnel, her state of mind. All of the remaining equipment would just be sitting there…
For this phase of the battle, heavier vehicles and weapons were expendable, although a number of Pumas, Panthers and Hellions, of which there were still a few left, had been carefully hidden.
It wasn’t the most imaginative dispersal, with a Panther under a mound of straw in a horse-barn here, and a Hellion in a three-metre deep hole dug in the ground and with a big steel plate and some dirt overhead there.
Statistically, at least some of them would evade detection.
Then there was the whole question of bugs—miniature, robotic, and autonomous. Programmed to observe, to report, and ultimately, to kill.
A measly two grams of the proper explosive in the right place would kill a man.
Or a general.
This would be something the Unfriendlies hadn’t ever seen before.
(End of part forty-one.)
Image One. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Two. CPCO.
Image Three. CPCO.
Image Four. Captured image.
Image Five. The cover of the completed novel.
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