1900 hours local, 26 July, 2193
The distant sun of LT1533 was rapidly fading behind the towering red cliffs. The patrol was halted and taking a break, having just moved ten kilometers in two hours. Given the rough terrain it was a veritable speed walk. Now, the lengthening shadows reached for them with icy fingers of cold. Some watched others rested.
Frament lay back resting against his ruck, helmet off, turning a cheek towards the fading sun in an attempt to get at least some rays. With his boyish good looks and unruly crop of chestnut brown hair, he was the team ladies' man. Colin never passed up an opportunity to catch some sun. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the cold air against his sweaty face. Beside him, Miner sat on his own ruck, relacing a boot. Though opposites, they made a good pair. Frament spoke in a quick staccato manner. He was single and enjoyed surfing, zero-G handball, skydiving, and spelunking. Miner lived on a farm with a wife and three kids. His hobbies were carpentry and explosives. Deliberate and methodical, he rarely spoke, except to friends. Both were competent operators with much experience under their belts.
"Man, my dogs are killing me. Tell me something. Here we are in 2193, the height of technological advancement. Why is it that we're still walking? How the fuck is it that every move is like a twenty-kilometer walk? They've got all this great miniaturization. All this high-speed lightweight gear, which you think would make it easier on us, but instead now we're just loaded down with twice as much stuff. Shit, even leaving our body armor behind, I'm still lugging' 40 kilos of stuff. Good thing we're at .85 standard gees here. Still it's rough going. What the fuck, over?"
Frament grunted, tried to ignore his friend, and get some rest.
"I mean, I'm walking just as much as my great great great grandfather. Or for that matter, as much as some damn roman legionnaire from 2200 years ago. Go figure. Our lot never changes. Doesn't that piss you off sometimes?"
"No man. You know what pisses me off? You running your suck while I'm trying to get some rest."
"Now, you see. Why do you have to go and act like that now? Here we are having a friendly conversation, and you start that shit."
"We're not having a conversation. You are! I'm fuckin' sleeping."
"That's another thing. All you ever do is lay in the rack like a piece of shit. It amazes me that you ever pass the PT test."
Colin sat up, annoyed. "Pass the PT test? You got big balls. Dude, I'll run circles around you any day of the week."
"Relax. I'm just fuckin' with ya."
"I'm hungry, give me something to eat."
"How about this?" Asked Miner, grabbing his crotch.
"Fuck you, I'm serious. I know you have a bunch of gorp in your pack."
"Uhh uhh, no way. You want to dig into my stash and we haven't even gotten to the hide site yet? Forget it. Besides, I happen to know for a fact that you have a couple of bags of the stuff too."
"Yeah but I'm laying on my ruck. You're sitting with the middle outer pouch of your ruck right there next to your hands."
"Have you been rummaging through my ruck? Conducting some clandestine ops in search of chow?"
"A good soldier always knows where his buddy keeps his sensitive items. You never know when you might become incapacitated and I have to take over your stuff."
"Now I've heard everything". Said Miner, shaking his head and smiling.
Rudi sat silently by the two soldiers, regarding them with curiosity, He had trouble following their banter. They always seemed to be fighting with one another, like an old couple. But apparently it was usually in jest. "I have something for you Sergeant Frament." He held out a piece of dried beef.
Colin took the offering and examined it. "Mmm, smells good, what is it?"
"Dried Kra'Vak," said Miner.
Colin pulled his nose away quickly. "Bullshit?"
Rudi laughed at that one. "Of course not. It is…how you say auf English? Jerky?"
Colin sniffed again and took a bite of the tangy meat. "Mmm. Excellent. Thanks Rudi. You are The Man!"
Before Rudi could respond, Gerard signaled for the patrol to ruck up. Miner slung his pack onto his back by slipping it and the straps over his head like a sweater. Frament got into his straps while laying down then got a hand up from Eric. Within a minute they were on the move again. Moving for another hour, as the sun dropped below the horizon, they reached the release point. The 14-man patrol was within five kilometers of the outskirts of Röt Hafen, which lay over the next large ridge. From here, the patrol would split up into four reconnaissance and surveillance teams. They would make their way along carefully selected concealed routes, under cover of darkness, to their hide sites. The intent was for everyone to be in position by dawn, remain in place for 48 hours, pull out, reassemble, and move back to their base. Each reconnaissance and surveillance team, (R&S), consisted of two 946 personnel and two partisans.
Frament, Miner, Rudi Gant, and a fourth man, Hans Reidel, were R&S team three. Their objective was the spaceport on the northern edge of the town. The distance to their proposed hide site from the release point was eight kilometers. They moved carefully, and it took them four hours to reach their objective. They had pre-selected a site using imagery and detailed maps. Arriving in the area after midnight, they could see that their spot was unsuitable. It was the highest and most obvious peak in sight. Getting up and down would be difficult and could only be reached through an exposed part of the rock ledge. They spent an hour checking out other likely positions and found two. One was a lower hill, which had a good view of the overall spaceport area. They could reach the top from the far side of the hill, which masked any observation from the spaceport. Several large boulders at the summit would provide them cover. Frament and Reidel would set up an observation post there.
Miner spied a second spot further down the valley. In fact it was just off the main road leading to the spaceport. Fifty meters from the road's edge was a collection of boulders. The must have tumbled down from the ridge during some past seismic event. In fact the entire area consisted of smashed rocks small and large. It was as if God had taken a sledgehammer to the entire region. One particularly large boulder was leaning precariously against a rock wall. Miner discovered a small hole in the rear of the pile. Upon further investigation it was found to lead into a small cave with an observation opening in the front. This spot was two hundred meters from the spaceport. A perfect observation post. Eric and Rudi would take this site.
The two teams spilt up and carefully occupied their Ops, moving stealthily to remain hidden. Once in place, they camouflaged their areas and covered any tracks leading to the OPs. A key component was a special net, called a HideNet. When placed over the observation side of the OP, it would provide camouflage and dampen and heat signature coming from within.
They quickly settled into a routine. Frament's site was more exposed, with a constant high wind sandblasting them. Miner's site had more cover, with almost enough room in their little cave to stand, but had a narrower view of the spaceport. At each OP, one man would observe while the other would record or rest. From the back end of Miner's site, he could observe Frament OP up the hill behind them. Even though he couldn't see them, it gave Eric a good feeling knowing they were there. For the next forty-eight hours they would work a rotating two hours on two hours off schedule.
Röt Hafen's spaceport was a large sprawling facility located on the north end of town. Several low building on the town side represented the passenger, office and control facilities. On the west end of the port, close to Miner's OP, were located the maintenance and hangar facilities. Launch area was to the north. On the east side were the industrial and corporate facilities, where minerals were lifted into orbit. Most prominent visible at the site were two large Kra'Vak ships parked near the control tower. Each was at least 100 meters long. Both teams recorded many pictures and vids of the ships. They had the telltale twin boom feature sported by most Kra'Vak ships. One the east side of the port, many small Kra'Vak craft were parked. Miner recognized the ships, which had flown over head the day they had landed. There were three distinct designs. Each was photographed and catalogued.
There were only two human craft visible. Both were parked near the passenger terminal. However, there were numerous wrecked ships and craft pushed off the perimeter of the spaceport, cast aside like so many toys. There was not much movement in evidence. Some of the buildings, including the maintenance facilities bore evidence of modifications. Several Kra'Vak could be seen working on various ships or obviously overseeing the numerous humans which still worked on base construction. Still, a heavy security presence was not in evidence. They saw three Grav combat vehicles which looked like they could be have an air defense function posted about the port. But that was it. In some way, that made Miner and Frament more nervous, since they both new the Kra'Vak had to be taking spaceport security serious. It was their lifeline off world.
Eric used a Minolta K45 vidcamera to record the spaceport. The camera would remain on throughout their entire mission. Occasional, Miner would take the disks and edit them down in a small mixer. He would add comments, remarks on coordinates, and other pertinent information. They made their cramped little space as comfortable as possible and settled into their routine.
Charlie Lawrence and Donald Mills waited near an intersection on the outskirts of Röt Hafen. Hidden from the road, they nervously eyed their watches, awaiting their contact. Both were dressed as workers. Charlie wore a brownish gray full-length duster and a knit cap, as was the style on Röt Hafen amongst the miners. A small workbag was slung across his shoulder with his miner's helmet attached. He wore a bandanna around his neck to protect against the wind and dust. Several days' growth of beard completed the look. Mills was dressed similarly. Both were armed solely with pistols. Charlie also carried a K45. They were going to meet Mill's contacts within the city and gather some information about the traitors. Charlie, with his fluent German, chose to accompany Mills. They were alone.
Aurora activity in the sky had temporarily lessened and it was pitch black. They peered through their night vision, observing the area for anything suspicious. After twenty minutes of waiting a group of vehicles appeared. They consisted of a half dozen wheeled passenger buses and two escorts. The windows had steel mesh welded over them. Charlie, filming the little convoy, could see that they were packed with people. Two alien grav vehicles bracketed the convoy. Each had a small turret with duel stubby barrels. The hatches on the rear deck were open and several Kra'Vak were sitting exposed, watching the buses. This was Charlie's first good look at live Kra'Vak. They were larger than average humans. Based on their torsos, he estimated they were at least two meters tall. It was difficult to make out the details of their equipment, with the NODs, but it appeared they wore a flat helmet on their heads, which contoured the shape of their skulls. He could make out pronounced shoulders or shoulder pads. Each carried a stubby rifle, and had additional equipment draped over them. They wore some sort of goggles over their eyes. He could see their air tubes, looking like dreadlocks, swaying with the breeze. He wondered whether Röt Hafen's cold climate effected them adversely.
"Miners returning from work", said Mills.
"They get back late."
"And they'll be out again early. The Kra'Vak are guarding the mines because they fear sabotage."
"I still can't believe how fast they've put together their operation here."
"Obviously the whole thing was well planned out ahead of time."
The convoy passed out of sight. Charlie stopped recording. "What kind of vehicles were those?" He asked.
That's sort of their infantry-fighting vehicle. Has a turret mounted rail gun. I've seen up to six infantry on the back of that thing. As you can see it works on grav technology. We call it the Salamander. All Kra'Vak vehicles have been named after amphibians."
"How many other vehicles have you identified?"
"Four so far. A heavy and a light tank, that IFV we just saw, and this thing with a huge gun on it. I think it's a mobile artillery piece. All mounted on grav chassis. There may be more, but they keep the vehicles in shelter when not being used. Some at the starport, some at the enclave. We've also identified three separate VTOLs and flyers. One is the aerospace fighter, which you guys spotted on the first day. Then there's a smaller scout-like skimmer and a larger workhorse/transport ship."
"We'll need to get the exact location of their vehicle parks as well as an idea on numbers."
"I have people working on that."
"You know something Mills, you've built a pretty efficient little intel network for a cop. And your English is flawless."
"Yes, well I lived in New Jersey for five years when my father's corporation transferred him there. Then we did three years in Birmingham, England. As for my little network of spies, well I was the chief KRIPO (KRIminal POlezei) investigator here on Röt Hafen. So I had my sources. There is a medium sized well-established criminal element on this planet. Don't ask me how the Kra'Vak, enterprising bastards that they are, were able to tap into it so quickly. Anyway, the threat of an FSE or ESU attack forced us to always keep our contingency plans for invasion in order."
Charlie listened but wasn't buying it. Mellor had pulled him aside and shared his belief that Mills was most likely GeSAMT, (Schwabian Geheim Sicherheits Amt or secret security bureau) Most likely Department III, counter-espionage. Corporate intelligence gathering and stealing tech secrets was a flourishing business in the 2190s. Since the NSL coordinated the protection of corporate secrets directly related to their defense industries, it would not be unusual for Röt Hafen to have it's own GeSAMT office. Secrets on the new state of the art atmosphere processors working on Röt Hafen were highly sought after by many governments.
Another five minutes past and a second vehicle came into view. It was a garbage hauler. "Wait here", said Mills. He got up from behind cover and casually walked into the intersection. The vehicle stopped and he said something to the passenger in the cab. The vehicle pulled to the side of the road and the both riders exited. The driver popped the engine access hatch and peered under the hood. Mills motioned for Lawrence.
Charlie approached the vehicle. The rear hatch of the trash hauler was open. A woman tossed Charlie a garment, and told him in German to put it on quickly. Mills donned his. It was a one-piece polyvinyl coverall that completely sealed. Attached to the face piece was a small rebreather.
"Get in", said Mills. "I hope you don't mind the accommodations." They both climbed into the rear hatch amidst the garbage. Most of the trash had been arranged so they could crawl to the rear of the compartment and through a small access hatch. There was just enough room for the two of them. They crawled in and shut the hatch behind them, entombing them in absolute darkness. A loud whining noise indicated that the hydraulic compactor was being activated. In a moment the hauler was on its way again. They rode in silence, uncomfortably packed in tight together, feeling every bump. The smell was none too pleasant, even through their rebreathers.
It seemed an hour before they finally stopped. Several times along the way they could hear garbage being tossed into the back and the compactor being operated. Charlie was not claustrophobic, but he found the whole experience unsettling.
Eventually the vehicle stopped and they felt the entire rear compartment tilting over. Charlie was squished by Mill's weight. Apparently they were dumping the trash. The temperature in the cramped space was rising at an alarming rate. Mills surmised they were probably at the reprocessing plant and near the smelter. After several minutes the rear compartment righted itself and the vehicle moved on. Twenty minutes later it stopped again and was shut down.
They waited for what seemed like an hour. Occasionally, movement and voices could be distantly heard. Finally, the hatch to their compartment was opened and they felt hands dragging them out into the light. They were inside a large public works garage that appeared to be shut down for the night. A man motioned for them to strip off their coveralls. Two others stood behind them, armed with pistols. He quickly identified Mills and asked in German who Charlie was.
"One of us. That's all you need to know", replied Mills.
"Jawohl", the man replied.
"I am Reinhart", said the man for Charlie's benefit. "We're going to take you to a safe house for the night. These two will be escorting you. As you know there is a curfew in Röt Hafen after dark. Anyone found traveling without official pass and escort is shot on sight. So stick close."
"Asshole to elbow," replied Charlie.
After exiting the garage, they moved cautiously along the back alleys of the city. It was still pitch black. There was almost none of the sound one expected from a big city at night. Their footsteps reverberated through the narrow streets and alleyways. Charlie thought they could be heard for miles. The safe house was ten minute's walk. Occasionally a wheeled patrol vehicle would move down the main road, but they were not seen. They entered a filthy-looking dome building and made their way into the basement. Both men were quickly photographed, scanned and then taken to a small room with two bunks and left alone.
"OK, we're home," said Mills. "We will rest now. First thing in the morning we will make a pass by the enclave so you can orient yourself. My people should have already identified a few possible targets so we'll start observing them as soon as possible. Then you can decide which one we want to grab."
A moment later, a man entered and handed Mills two ID's. "Danke," he said. "He tossed one to Charlie. Here's your identicard. Without it you are dead. But if I were you I would make sure I never found myself in a position where I had to pull it out.
"Jeez, you guys are efficient. That was fast."
"Memorize all the information on that card. But for God's sake, lay low."
"Don't worry about me,. I know how to stay gray."
"I worry about everything. That is how come I am still alive."
Shortly after dawn there was some activity at the spaceport. Eric, panned the camera around and followed several Kra'Vak as they walked over to a hangar, not two hundred meters from the OP. The Overhead door slowly opened to admit a large wheeled vehicle of some sort. As the door opened wider, Eric zoomed inside the building, adjusting controls to compensate for the light difference. There were several more creatures within the hangar. Sitting in the middle of it was a ship. It looked familiar. He adjusted the K45 further to clarify the details. As it came into focus, Miner realized with a chill that he was looking at the interface shuttle which had inserted 946.
Waldek grimaced in pain as she hobbled along through a field of fist-sized rocks. She had sprained her ankle, or worse, and banged her knee the day before while descending a steep ridge. Cold sapped at her will to continue. She still had a kilometer to go before she reached the far ridge and safety. Worse, the sun was up. She felt exposed. She was down to her last few drops of water in her canteen. Her requirement to keep moving had prevented her from trying any of the water gathering techniques in her survival book. Several times, Kra'Vak ships had passed near by and she was sure they were hunting her.
A small rock gave way and she fell into a heap, injuring her bad ankle further. The pain was sharp and would not subside. She sat hunched over holding onto her ankle, trying to think of what to do next. She had to make it to the far wall, as there was absolutely no cover here. Fishing around in her survival pack, she pulled another pain pill from the med kit. After swallowing it, she rose unsteadily to her feet, still in pain and walked gingerly forward.
There was a terrible green flash and a roar filled the air above her. Waldek sprawled face first on the ground. Ten meters above, hovered a Kra'Vak skimmer. She knew she was trapped. In a moment of clear thinking she reached into a cargo pocket and removed the small data disk from the shuttle, then hid this under a flat rock beneath one of her legs. She rolled away a two meters from the spot. Despite her fear Waldek attempted to draw her pistol, struggling with the straps and webbing of her pack. Two large creatures hopped out of the craft on either side of her, grunting something in a language she could not understand. One struck her in the head with its weapon and she was knocked out cold.
Lawrence and Mills moved along the busy street, blending in with the crowd. With daytime, Röt Hafen, erupted into activity again. Despite the occupation it was still a large city, which required essential functions to run and a population to feed. Many had been taken for slave labor, but the Kra'Vak seemed to realize that basic necessities had to be performed if they intended to keep their slave population alive. At regular intervals, Charlie spotted Kra'Vak guards, who kept individuals moving along with a threatening grunt or a swat with a rifle. No assembly larger than three persons was allowed to form. He noticed that most walked with their heads down. Fear gripped the city.
At one intersection a small alien wheeled patrol car sat with three Kra'Vak and a single Human. Before them lay two bodies, a man and a woman. This was Charlie's first look at a collaborator. He or she wore a long coat and had a red armband on each arm. A long truncheon hung from a belt. The collaborator wore a helmet with a dark visor over the face, making identification impossible. They were careful not to stare and moved past quickly. A small clandestine camera in Lawrence's palm photographed the scene.
They entered a building on the corner of the next block. The first floor held a grocery store. Charlie and Mills proceeded to the back of the store and went through a door, which led to a stairwell. They descended to the basement. Mills nodded to a man there who pointed to another set of doors. This led to a machinery room. Another man, tall, old and thin, was waiting for them. Mills introduced him to Charlie as Dirlwanger.
"Hello Mills", he said. "Here is the situation. Through here is an access shaft paralleling the elevators. We'll climb here to the top of the building. There is a good concealed spot up here where you can observe the enclave. It is as close as we can get since there's a roadblock preventing all traffic right on the other side of this building."
"Fair enough, lead on."
They stepped into the small shaft and climbed a ladder, which led up six floors to the roof of the building. Dirlwanger was in the lead. He moved surprisingly quickly for someone who appeared so old. Once on the roof, he eyed the area carefully and checked the sky. Then, bent low, they scurried across the roof to another small outbuilding. It contained the air circulating machinery and filtration system. A single window, covered with steel mesh, looked down into the enclave. This would serve as their OP.
Below them, the enclave was sprawled a section of the city like an urban renewal project. This was the main contonement area for Kra'Vak forces. It was a rectangular area at least 600 by 400 meters across. Around it was a rectangular clear zone where all buildings had been flattened. Some of the original buildings within the enclave had been allowed to remain, but other large structures had been erected also. At each corner of the enclave stood a large tower, perhaps fifty meters in diameter and forty meters in height. Charlie and Mills surmised that these were defensive emplacements. Another large dome stood in the middle of the enclave. Mills believed that this was a shield generator. Hundreds of human workers moved about selected areas of the enclave where more construction was under way. Apart from that there was little movement.
"So this is where the Kra'Vak live?"
"Most of them." Said Dirlwanger. "There are other little garrisons spread about the city, the largest being at the space port. But this appears to be the center of their attention."
"Do you have any idea how many Kra'Vak are here on the planet?"
"No we don't, but we believe we've identified four distinct groups." A large crack rang out and their attention was drawn to one of the construction areas in the enclave closest to their OP. A guard had just shot and killed a worker. The other workers pretended not to notice. "That goes on all the time. It's how they keep everyone working. Shoot a few every once and a while to serve as examples."
"But effective," said Mills.
"Anyway," continued Dirlwanger. "As I said, we have identified four groups. Here at the enclave there is one large guard force. They dispatch patrols all over the city, and are responsible for security in Röt Hafen proper. Also here is where their technical staff seems to be, though there are many at the spaceport also.
"There is another group which we've started to see a lot of as more work details are. They are dressed differently than the others,. They wear what appears to be shimmering purple robes. Some have been spotted coming out of that large low circular building near the power generator or shield generator, whatever it is, and they walk to that large warehouse over there. These are the aliens that direct the work details and modifications being made here and at the Spaceport. They are occasionally seen moving with some of the collaborators."
"A fourth group appears to be a second military unit stationed at the Spaceport. They have many Grav combat vehicles and seem to be responsible for patrolling the hinterlands outside of the city. They have been the ones engaged in hunting the partisans down."
"Their uniforms are slightly different in color. I can give you the details later. We've seen them actually fighting with other Kra'Vak."
"What do you mean fighting?" Asked Lawrence.
"Not with guns but physically beating each other. My guess is that they are from a different unit, or clan or whatever they call themselves."
" It's something we have noticed from time to time" Interjected Mills. "The Kra'Vak are apt to treat each other very harshly. One of my agents has actually witnessed one Kra"Vak, a leader of some sort, actually shoot and kill another. For what we don't know. But if they are that harsh with each other you can imagine how they treat humans.
"Except for these collaborators", said Lawrence."Let's get back to them, Herr Dirlwanger. Do you know how many there are?"
"We don't know how many there are, but we've counted as many as 34 on duty at the same time. You will usually see one with each work party, acting as a translator or go between with the Kra'Vak. Some of them are stationed with larger Kra'Vak patrols on some of the intersections. I don't know what the others do."
"And they are all part of the criminal element?"
"Yes, we believe so. About three days after their ground forces landed we started seeing them moving with enemy patrols. We know that the Kra'Vak took over the detention center here in the city on the first day. In the first days of the resistance, before a halt was put to active operations, we did kill a few Kra'Vak, and ambushed some patrols which included the collaborators. They were always killed by the Kra'Vak before we could get to them. No one was taken alive but we were able to identify the bodies as criminals from the detention center. We don't know how the Kra'Vak initially communicated with them or whether they are working with the aliens of their own free will or are coerced somehow. However, we've never seen one mistreated by the Kra'Vak."
"It is our intention to capture one of them alive." Said Mills.
It was Dirlwanger's turn to look surprised. "Really? Do you realize the massive retaliation we that will occur?"
"I do. But nevertheless, it must be done. We must get a clear picture of what is going on inside that enclave, what the Kra'Vak are doing here, and what capabilities they possess."
"Is there any way inside the enclave that you know of? Sewers or underground tunnels?" Asked Lawrence.
"Not that we've been able to detect. Security is very tight. The sewer system feeder pipes are very small. All waste is preprocessed at individual housing first. And it never rains here. "
"What about the workers leaving and entering?"
"Once you are taken to work in the enclave you stay there. The Kra'Vak will just go out into the city and bring in a draft or one or two hundred at a time. You never see these people free again. They are kept in there. Work details that leave the enclave are under strict guard and in enclosed vehicles."
"Dirlwanger", said Mills. "I want you to review your surveillance logs. We need a pattern. I want to ambush one of those work vehicles that contains a collaborator. You look for the pattern we will arrange the action. You have 24 hours to present a preliminary list of targets to me. We will then review the data and order further reconnaissance if necessary. Lawrence's men will make the actual ambush, but be prepared to support it as necessary. Verstehen?"
"Good. Now leave us and get to work. We will be down in about two hours or so."
They watched Dirlwanger leave. "Sounds like you have a plan," said Charlie.
"Very tentative, but yes I do. The laborers, which are working at the spaceport, are housed here at the enclave. They are brought out there every day and returned every night. I'm sure there is a "foreman's party" that accompanies the work contingent. If we can identify this vehicle, we can ambush it, and you can have your prisoner. It will be a near run thing, and the people of Röt Hafen will pay dearly. But it must be done. This seems like the best course of action given the time we constraints we have."
"I agree." They watched as a guard beat another worker to death.
Looking for Trouble (Part 2 of 4), chapter 4 of Röt Hafen
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