Having reached the pre-selected commo site for the satellite shoot, Brooks and team spent two hours observing the location for any sign of enemy activity. It was so far off into the outback that they expected none. The spot he picked was at the bottom of a deep valley between two high peaks, which should provide sufficient masking. Brooks set up his gear, with the help of one other, while the rest of the team pulled security. He oriented the satcom antennae, which looked like the skeleton of a tiny umbrella, to the correct direction in the sky and waited until it was time. The shot was scheduled for 2200. There was a five-minute window on either side to make his transmission. At exactly 2155, the satellite should be "waking up", and preparing to receive the transmission. He thumbed the query key on the SATCOM, and the device sent the "hello it's me, is that you" Signal. The Satcom should have sent a "yes it's me" signal and then both systems would commence their synchronization handshaking followed by the transfer of data.
There was no reply. Initially Brooks wasn't too worried as there could very well have been a variance in time synchronization which could have left them out of synch by as much as a minute. As the ten-minute window ticked away, he started to sweat. He performed a system self check and verified that his gear was working correctly. No luck on the query. The window expired.
"Fuck, Fuck, Fucking Goddamn Son of a bitch!"
"Ist der a problem?" asked his assistant.
"Fuckin'n A there's a problem! This shit's not working."
"Vat do vee do?"
"Well by SOP we're supposed to pack up and leave, then try again tomorrow. But this doesn't smell right. That satellite is supposed to be in geo-synchronis orbit. Either it's there and broken or something's fucked up. Or it's destroyed or off course, in which case we'll never find it."
"Zen vee no make der communications?"
"I'm gonna try one more thing." Brooks reprogrammed the PSC33 to accept his emergency code and switched the frequency over to the broad band guard net. This would allow the SATCOM to "wake up" the satellite even if it was outside of normal scheduled broadcast. The transmission band, though still unidirectional, was wider also, and there was a greater risk of compromise. Nevertheless, Brooks sent the query. Again there was nothing.
"Well that does it. I ain't got nothing. That satellite is gone."
"So. No communications?"
"Not tonight, bud. Let's pack up and get the hell out of here. We just lit up the neighborhood."
Chief Braun steadied himself against the workbench as he leaned over the sitting repair technician's shoulder. Having excused himself from sickbay earlier this morning, he still felt the occasional dizzy spells. They were an after effect from his concussion. Of course he wouldn't tell the ships doctor, as he would just be confined to bed rest again. Of course there was no time for that.
Technician first class Radchedl didn't notice the chief's unsteadiness. He was too busy inspecting the hard fiberglass cover of the amplitude rheostat power splitter. It was a key component to the Spiegel Mark IX cloaking system. Braun was in the process of turning it into the Mark IXa.
"But Chief, I am only rated for level four repairs. This is factory sealed. And it is only to be opened by a Spiegel factory technician."
"Give me that thing." Braun took it from Radchedl's handset it down on its edge and jammed a screwdriver into the crease between the upper and lower halves. He twisted hard and snapped the box open, cracking the aluminum seal. He set the splitter down so they could study the circuit board inside. From his leg cargo pocket he removed an identical splitter and placed it bedside the one I just opened.
"There you go", he said with a smile. "Pay close attention. Do you see these micro cards here. And do you see these two resistors?"
"I see them. The ones in your box are different."
Exactly. Before our last action I had been reading the technical supplement for this device. It occurred to me that if I replaced these resistors with a pair of 230 ohm resistors, and swapped out the micro card for a D247, then this would increase the power soak to this box. I ran some tests on my computer and I believe we will gain a 10% increase on our effective cloaking ability. This increases amplitude of the cloaking field without increasing bleed off of residual EM. "
"But this will generate greater heat within the box. That will reduce the life of the component by a factor of ten, nicht wahr?"
"Yes it will. According to the documentation, this component is rated for a service life of two years with regularly scheduled preventive maintenance. Given how far we are sticking our necks into trouble over the next few weeks, I'll take two months of good service. Then Spiegel can have their whole lousy contraption back."
"Now here is what I want you to do." He pulled out a small box and set it on the table. "Here are the new resistors and micro-cards. Don't damage any of them because that is all we have on the ship. Four of these boxes run the cloaking field generator. Pull each one out and replace the components as I've done with our one spare." Braun set a small datapad on the table. "Here are my notes on the modification. I want hem all done and replaced by 1700. I want to do a complete field test starting at 1800."
"While you are doing that I am going to see Uscha. I have some similar work for her to do. Your modifications will increase our effective cloaking ability. The ones I have for her will increase our ability to see through the cloaking. I want all modification done, tested and ready for operations by midnight. Verstehen?"
At 0200, Hauser held a command staff briefing in the officer's mess. They started with an update on the ship's status. Hrabek did the talking.
"Herr Kapitän. All repairs have been completed. Both holes in the hull have been patched and all internal bulkheads made secure. All systems operational. We can go back in at any time."
"That is not all. Chief Braun has implemented some enhancements to the Mark IX. We've conducted some tests over the past few hours. This included deploying three maintenance bots carrying a number of sensors moving about the ship at a distance of 150 kilometers. The new enhancements have increased our "cloakability" by 13 percent. And..."
"How is that?"
"The chief has a report repaired for you, which has been transferred to your datapad. Perhaps you would care to read it after?"
"Very well, go on." Hauser sipped on a coffee.
"What's more, a different modification to the Mark IX has increased our outgoing sensor effectiveness by 78%." Hrabek could not contain her smile. It was a rare occurrence. "This has all been tested.
"Chief Braun. Are you sure you've been in a comma? Or have you been communicating telepathically with Spiegel Industries back home." Everyone laughed at that except Braun, who puffed nervously on a cigarette and wore a sheepish grin.
"So, as I said before, the Köhl is ready for action."
"Excellent, number one. All hands are to be commended. Note that commendation in the logs. You especially Chief. Now on to the task at hand. Go on Number one."
"We are required to reenter the Röt Hafen system and extract the communications data from our surveillance satellite. The NAC Special Forces team will have made their required communications by now. Leutnant Bester will describe the mission profile."
The navigation officer cleared his throat and started. "Köhl will make the jump back into the system at 0745 ship's time tomorrow morning. We will be conducting a fast drift passed at Röt Hafen at 45,000 kph. We will be following this path. He activated the holo-display, which showed Köhl moving past the planet passing within a half light second. "Köhl will pass by the planet query the satellite and be on its way. From this point we will execute the first of three jumps back to the fleet rendevous. Total time in system: 30 hours."
"What happens if the satellite is not there?" Asked Hauser.
"If the satellite is has been intercepted or is dysfunctional, the team has one more chance to communicate us according to their plan. It'll be on a broadband emergency frequency, using VHF. We'll be in range at the emergency broadcast time, which will be at 0530 on the 1st."
"Well lets hope they are still alive. I want every sensor on and recording from the minute we enter the system until we leave. I want to know about every ship, every satellite, and every dust particle in that system. If we remain hidden we should harvest some excellent intelligence. We'll turn that over to fleet together with the sensor logs from insertion and the intelligence section can go to work."
"I also want the ship on general quarters for the entire time in system. We were caught once with our pants down but not again. Number One work out a suitable rotation. Everything that's come before, all that has been endured has been for one thing. To extract that data and get it to the fleet.
Lawrence hunched over the dim light, a kneeling on the cold floor of the abandoned building. A small holo-map was projected onto the floor before him. Gathered around were the element leaders for tonight's ambush. Yesterday, Mellor and his 20 schwabs had linked up with Lawrence's 14 men. There they had conducted final mission planning, briefings and rehearsals. The move into Röt Hafen had been without event. Dirlwanger and his men had got them in unseen. They set up in an abandoned building before dawn and lay hidden throughout the day. Dirlwanger's men were maintaining surveillance on the ambush site and on Kra'Vak movements in the area. They had opted for making the hit on the return trip because there was a chance the enemy would be less wary as they headed back to the enclave. Of course that was just a guess.
Lawrence, Gerard, Mellor, Matthais, Miner, Donner, and Mills had just returned from a leader's reconnaissance and were about to issue the final coordinating instructions. The ambush site was selected at a point where the Kra'Vak return route took them through an abandoned part of the city. This had been one of the first areas they had come for their slave labor. There had been some resistance and many buildings were destroyed or damaged. Still, it was advantageous that it was empty, as this would reduce civilian casualties.
They had selected a part of the route where there was a bend in the road, followed by a short one hundred-meter straight stretch then another bend. Miner and Freeman had arrived early and oversaw the emplacement of demolition charges at both bends to cut off and isolate the enemy vehicles from escape. The road was flanked on either side by multi-story buildings. It had been a living area in the city, so there were apartments and a tall cathedral.
"Ok, at this point there's no change to the situation. The surveillance team reports no traffic along the road now for about two hours. Watch out because there is a lot of rubble, broken glass and other debris laying around. Some of the wrecked buildings might be a little unstable inside but there should be a good opportunity for cover and concealment."
"There's a number or wrecked vehicles along the side of the road also. My guess is that the best firing positions will be from the second floor. The element leaders all know where to go. That's about it. Are there any questions?"
There were none.
"Ok then. Good luck. Let's move out."
They gathered up their equipment and formed up for the last movement to the release point. The security teams, with Mills in charge, led off. Followed by Lawrence's support elements. Then came Gerard and his assault teams. The rear security element trailed. They negotiated the narrow abandoned alleys carefully. They stepped over fallen cross-members and plasti-crete and the occasional decomposed body. Lawrence, near the middle of the formation, was constantly checking back and forth to ensure there was no break in contact. Using so many Gs, given the little time to work with them, made him nervous. Still, Charlie had confidence in 946's capability to see the job through.
The file of men stopped in the dark and took a knee. The signal was passed back. They were at the release point. They moved forward a few steps at a time until Charlie, at the head of the security elements, reached the RP. Gerard and Donner were there to great them. The surveillance element had not reported any changes to the situation. They waited for what seemed like forever until Mills signaled that the security teams were in place. Next came the support teams. Charlie shook Gerard's hand then was off with his men taking them off to the right down another back alley and into the wrecked housing complex. Miner took his team off to the left.
They entered the building through a portion of collapsed wall, moving as quietly as possible through the wreckage. Charlie's team consisted of himself, Matthais, and 3 schwabs. Matthais was with one man who carried a heavy power plasma gun. This was one of the partisan's few remaining heavy weapons. Charlie would control the anti-tank element with their HVARs (High Velocity Anti-Tank Rockets) known in NSL parlance as panzerfausts.
They climbed a set of stairs to the second floor. Broken glass and fixtures crunched under their feet. Charlie selected a corner room. Matthais moved into an adjacent room. There was sufficient space and openings to fire of the panzerfausts without giving everyone a concussion. It offered a good view down the road towards the center of town and into the kill zone. After verifying their firing positions and reading their weapons, they settled in to wait.
In the dim light of dusk he could see they were in a bedroom. On the floor was a picture frame. Charlie picked it up and looked a family portrait. It was a husband, wife, and two little children, maybe three and five. They were so happy in the picture. Charlie though of his owns family and felt like crying. The picture, in the current surroundings, was terribly sad. What had happened to this family? And all the others who had lived here? Were they in Donner's gully? He passed the picture frame over to his men. They peered at it in the dying light, but their expressions were inscrutable. Perhaps they had already seen enough of this so that one more tragedy failed to move them. Charlie waited his outlook grim and angry. It was the perfect mood for executing an ambush. So he held onto the thought.
After Gerard settled in with his team he gave the signal to Dirlwanger and Mellor. Dirlwanger's men were across the street in a blocking position further south ready to intercept any reaction force coming from the enclave. They were careful to avoid Miner's command detonated mines. They would start the show if with a nice bang.
Mellor and Dirlwanger crossed the street at the same spot so as to minimize evidence of crossing. Once over to the other side, Mellor said goodbye to the old man then headed off to cathedral on the left After poking around for a bit, he opted for a spot on the third floor which ad a good view of the killzone. They would also be above the firing from across the street, he hoped. He avoided the tower because it was too obvious and unnecessary for the short range. Kenny and the other sniper took up positions and made themselves comfortable. He sent the third man across the room to keep an eye out the back window. There was still at least two hours to go until the vehicle showed up, so he made himself comfortable.
Once Miner emplaced his team, he left the position to get a quick view of his demo charges and ensure that no one had set up near them. Miraculously, the occupation of the ambush site had gone off well.
Dirlwanger moved slowly. He picked his way in and out of abandoned building, some intact, some damaged or destroyed for more than one hundred meters until he found his men. They were a twelve-man detachment. His job would be the most dangerous. Though he didn't share it with his people, he was sure none of them would survive the night. They would engage the inevitable reaction force. After a short fight, they would withdraw in the opposite direction of Mills and company. The withdrawal route was carefully planned out and seeded with command detonated minds, to which Dirlwanger was handed the radio control. They needed to create enough diversion to pull all pursuers after them. He sat down on the floor to wait, his knees complaining. Dirlwanger was 62 years old. I'm much too old for this game, he thought. He had never imagined this situation when he had first signed on with Mill's operation two years ago. What a turn of events. He was actually going to give his life for the schwabs....
Soon it was completely dark. A slight hint of aurora activity cast weird light patterns amongst the ruins. It seemed to them as if the dancing shadows were ghosts of the dead, celebrating some weird ritual. The wind was strong today and howled through the abandoned buildings. A spooky night.
Minutes slowly ticked away into hours. They tried to stay warm and comfortable. Some dozed off despite efforts to stay awake. This was the hardest part of any ambush. Gerard noticed one of the schwabs dozing. He picked up a pebble and hit him in the head with it. He jerked awake, confused. Gerard hoped the security teams were awake or else they would fail to give warning of the approaching target.
Mills eyed his watch nervously. Ten o'clock had come and gone and there was no sign of activity. Did they take the main road today? That would be a real cock-up if they did. He peered through his night vision goggles down the deserted city street. Where the hell were those bastards? He rested his head on the sill, watching, his eyes drooping...
He was jolted awake by a jab in the ribs. "Look", said one of his men. He looked at his watch 2300! Had he slept the whole time? Sheisse. Mills could hear the feint whine of vehicles. He adjusted his night vision binos. Instead of the one or two GEVs he expected he could see four vehicles. There they were travelling at about thirty kilometers per hour. One light GEV in the lead, followed by a bus, then a wheeled vehicle and another GEV. Maybe ten meters between vehicles. He smiled at the thought of them being bunched up.
"Six, this is security one. Targets in sight.
"I have four vehicles travelling in column. One light GEV in the lead, followed by a bus. I think it's the prisoner bus. Then a wheeled armored car with a turret, and another light GEV. Maybe ten, fifteen meters between vehicles. They're travelling fast, twenty or thirty kilometers per hour. They'll be here in a minute."
"You said a bus?"
"Yes, looks like the work detail from the space port is accompanying them back. Don't ask me why."
"Damn. OK thanks."
"Everybody copy that?
OK Wait till the mine detonates. Support one has the lead GEV if the mine doesn't get it. Support two the rear one. Fire should go from outside in. Our targets should be in the two middle vehicles. Try to disable them Watch out for all the prisoners. Copy?"
Now, they waited. Their hearts beating forcefully in their chests, mouths dry. Charlie hoped Miner timed the detonation right or someone would get away. It was all a matter of timing. They could hear the whine of engines and suddenly, the little convoy rounded the bend. The lead vehicle passed his position. Fifty meters down the road, Eric detonated the charge.
There was a tremendous crash, which stunned Charlie for a moment. A wrecked passenger vehicle which was sitting on the side often road, half buried in rubble, was tossed like a toy spinning through the air and crashed into the lead GEV. The vehicles behind slammed on their breaks or other wise came to a halt. The rear GEV rammed into the wheeled APC. A second tremendous explosion at the initial bend in the road sealed off any means of escape for the wheeled transports. The explosions had been so violent that for a moment no one fired.
The first GEV had the thrown-vehicle wreckage draped over the turret and front glacis. The repulsors whined loudly as they tried to compensate for the extra weight. Charlie could see a body hanging limply in the commander's cupola.
"Jesus Christ", said Charlie. "Fire goddamit!" One of his schwabs stood in the windowsill and fired his panzerfaust. The loud explosion stunned Charlie for a moment despite his earplugs. The round missed and splattered molten sparks on the street next to the vehicle.
The second schwab stood and fired his panzerfaust. It impacted on the top of the rear hull, and set off a tremendous detonation as it hit the vehicle's fusion plant. The flash was so bright that Charlie was momentarily blinded as a safety circuit shut down his NVGs. The man who had fired the rocket was tossed back from the window and flung to the floor. Debris fell upon them. Charlie flipped up his NVG visor. He could hear shooting and further explosions now. While it wasn't quite up to the standard of an NAC infantry platoon, Mellor had done his job well, and the partisans maintained a high if ragged volume of fire. He saw one of his men on the floor grabbing his neck and gasping while the other one tried to help.
"Leave him! Keep firing!"
Charlie poked his head out the window. Directly below him was the bus, its engine still running. It was trying to move. Charlie selected HEDP on his L7 and fired off two 20mm grenades straight down into the front of the bus. There were two small explosions and the movement stopped.
Gerard was firing at the small-wheeled APC. Ten meters away, with the other support element, Freeman was spraying the back hatch with his SAW. Several Kra'Vak had jumped out with the first explosion. Some took cover on the far side of the vehicle using it for cover. Two others inexplicably charged straight at them. Freeman poured fire into them. They were tough, but twenty or thirty 4mm slugs tore them apart. Gerard fired 20mm grenades at the vehicle's wheels, disabling it for good. Three small explosions went off against the wall above his head. Return fire. The rear GEV fired its main gun and the wall collapsed in the next room, immediately silencing the firers there.
Mellor peered through his scope into the chaos below. He was taking a bead on the three Kra'Vak hunkered down on his side of the wheeled APC when rear GEV exploded, ruining his aim. He reacquired his targets. He depressed the first trigger, which lased the target, and provided the targeting chip in the rifle with the information it needed about range, and atmospheric conditions. He could hardly miss from here, as it was less than 100 meters. Once the green LED in his scope lit, he squeezed the trigger and the Guass barked. His target feel over a fist sized hole in its back and a larger hole through its chest. Kenny switched to the adjacent Kra'Vak which was returning fire and hadn't noticed it's comrade fall. This shot blew its head clean off. The third Kra'Vak, having seen the other two die, jumped up and ran around the vehicle charging Gerard's position. It was gunned down in the street after a few paces.
Gerard saw that enemy fire had slackened off. He called for a cease-fire and fired the IR chemlights off into the street. Firing continued for another thirty seconds as 946 personnel struggled to get control of their men. Once the firing stopped he called for the assault teams to move out. They stood up and rushed across the street. As they passed fallen Kra'Vak they fired extra rounds into them. One, on the far side of the wheeled vehicle, was crawling towards them along the ground, trailing entrails. It looked as if it was trying to attack them. A burst of rounds to its head finished it. Once on the far side of the vehicle he called for the search teams to get to work. Two men approached the wrecked wheeled-APC and clamored up on the roof.
"Watch out." Warned Gerard. "Come on let's hurry," he said to others. The clock was ticking. The top hatches on the rear roof of the vehicle were open. Part of a Kra'Vak was still in the turret's hatch. The rest of it was nowhere in sight. The two schwabs searched the inside using flashlights.
"There are three bodies in here!" Once cried.
"Drag them out." Ordered Gerard, distracted by all the shouting going on in the bus.
"We need help."
"Fuck." He slung his rifle and climbed up. The inside of the vehicle was smoky. One Kra'Vak lay against the rear wall, a hole in its head. "Leave that one." A second Kra'Vak lay on the floor still. It wore a flowing robe. This was one of the purple ones. Excellent. Beside it, also unconscious was a human.
"It's one of the collaborators!" One of Gerard's Gs raised his rifle to smash in the unconscious man's head, but Gerard grabbed the muzzle.
"What the hell is the matter with you? We need him. Pick him up and pass him out. Hurry! Then we'll get that purple one."
Miner kicked aside the wrecked forward door of the bus. There was a small fire coming from under the front grill. Inside there was shouting and agitated movement. The prisoners were in a panic. As he forced his way in he saw that the driver, a human and one Kra'Vak up front were clearly dead as were several prisoners. A second dead Kra'Vak, dressed in purple robes lay sat slumped over in another seat. Several prisoners were beating its lifeless head. There seemed to be in two heaps, one near the front of the bus the other at the rear. Some forced their way froward and tried to get passed Miner and his schwab counterpart, who was calling for order.
Miner started pulling prisoners out and shoving them towards the front of the bus. There was much crying and screaming. Some grabbed at his arms. A partisan pushed kicked and yelled for them get off the bus before it caught fire.
He came to the first heap of people and saw they were piled on a helmeted figure. That was who he was looking for. Luckily for the traitor he was still wearing his helmet as one man was beating his head with a truncheon. Miner fired a burst into the roof to get their attention then began pulling them off one by one. Some gave a parting kick or punch as they left. The entire scene was chaos.
He pushed his way to the back of the bus. There were more dead prisoners strewn about. It appeared that either the guards had opened up indiscriminately, or 946 had killed them in the opening fusillade. At the bottom of the rear pile he could see a struggling Kra'Vak. They had dog-piled him when the firing started. Between it and the writhing mass above him were several dead prisoners, who had been killed in the attempt to subdue their captor. As soon as Miner could make some room he shoved the muzzle of his rifle in between the creature's tusks and pulled the trigger. There was shouting and cheers, then more disentangled themselves from the heap and exited the bus
"Six, this is Assault two, we got another tango in the bus. Bringing him out now. He's pretty beat up. All Karlas in here are dead."
Frament ran about the kill zone attending to casualties. His first priority had been injured in the attacking force. Lawrence had reported one man killed when the lead GEV exploded. Two more were dead on The assault team. Injured prisoners were pouring out of the bus. Frament estimated that there must have been 70 or 80 men and women packed into there. The most severely injured he directed to be carried back over to the assault position. Molitoris had run to Gerard and was assisting with their captive. It appeared that the purple Kra'Vak was alive. Gerard has his men bind it as securely as possible, then detailed four men to hoist the heavy beast and carry it back to the release point. Molitoris, with two assistants carried the wounded traitor.
Gerard was furious now. Seven minutes had elapsed and the kill zone was still chaos. "Let's get The fuck out of here! Security, anything coming?"
"Not yet boss."
"Demo teams get to work."
"Already on it", replied Miner. They rigged each vehicle with a prepared explosive charge. Matthais directed that three dead partisans be tossed into the bus. Better to destroy the evidence. Charlie counted people past him on their way to the release point.
"Mellor pull off!"
"On the way."
There were many prisoners milling around. Matthais fired a pistol in the air to get their attention. "We have to get out of here. The enemy will be here shortly. You can come with us but you have to move fast. We need you to help carry the wounded. Run through that gap." Most responded to his orders but at least fifteen ran in the opposite direction, preferring to either take their chances alone, or determined to get back to their homes in the city.
"Charges rigged Sir!"
"Gerard called for the rest of the assault team to pull off the kill zone.
Mellor and his team ran by. "That's it", he said.
Gerard ran back to the assault position where Miner waited. "Support pull off." The support element gathered up their weapons and left. He eyed his watch nervously. They were going on eleven minutes.
"Security, pull off!" The security teams had longer to travel, but gave the heads up when they were safely out of the way.
"OK everyone's clear". Reported Lawrence back at the release point.
Gerard and Miner got up and ran back through the alley. "Go ahead", he said.
"Fire in the hole. Fire in the hole. Fire in the hole." Shouted Miner. Four huge explosions shook the buildings as the remnants of the vehicles were blasted to bits.
Twisting through the narrow alleys, they arrived at the release point. More chaos. Freed prisoners were milling around, still in an agitated state. Many wounded were crying. Freeman and Molitoris working on the worst chases.
Lawrence ran up. "That's everybody, Sir."
"Jesus, will you look at this circus?" He turned Matthais. "W have got to get out of here fast"
Matthais turned to his mean and barked orders in German. They picked up the freed prisoners and moved them out, some with rifle butts or by kicks. This was no time to be subtle. Of course the benefit was that they had sufficient porters to carry the wounded and captives. Everyone was still wide-eyed and breathing hard from the action. They moved out at a walk, too slow for Lawrence and Gerard, but as fast as they could make it.
Looking for Trouble (Part 4) Chapter 4 of Röt Hafen
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