Maya Vilnit studied the unconscious Waldek's pupils with her opthascope. There was no reaction to the light. That was not good. Dr Blum had bandaged her fractured skull. Her scans of the area proved that internal bleeding had occurred, which had increased pressure inside the brain. What she really needed to do was relieve the pressure and eliminate the abscess. She loathed operating on the woman in her present condition just so the Kra'Vak could turn around and kill her in their infernal interrogation machine. Magg stared over her shoulder at the instruments. Vilnit, glanced back at him. "Do you mind?"
"What is the condition of the prisoner? Any change and status?"
Vilnit continued to work. Not really. I'm afraid were going to have to operate. I'll draw up a list of materials we'll need." Vilnit stood back and smiled. "Here have a look yourself." Magg stepped up and peered at the readouts of her instruments. She knew he couldn't read them, but she pretended not to notice. Magg tried to look important as he checked out her findings, nodding knowingly several times. "Tell me, what's so important about her?" She asked. Magg was busy looking knowledgeable. "She's an NSL pilot. Her ship crashed here over three weeks ago while she was inserting spies. We need her information on what the enemy's plans are."
Vilnit wanted to milk him for more information. The fool was distracting himself by reviewing her instruments and pretending to understand them. "You mean troops have been landed?"
"Just a few. Oh don't worry, they're being taken care of. Their fleet was repelled just yesterday in a major battle."
Vilnit tried to hide her wild excitement. Somebody was doing something! Could their rescue be imminent? That would explain their frantic desire to get Waldek conscious. She would have to delay her revival as long as possible.
Magg looked up from the med panel instrument readout. "I support your symptoms Doctor. An operation seems to be in order. Give me a list of what you need and I'll gather the materials."
"Thank you, Herr Magg." I support your symptoms? What an idiot.
Lawrence peered up into the swirling sandstorm but could not discern the top of the mountain. The wind howled at 60 kilometers per hour and fine granules of sand worked into every nook and cranny of their bodies. The insertion team was hidden at the base of the mountain. Nena Karlsen and Colin Frament would be the lead climbers on the ascent. The route had been carefully selected to avoid as much treacherous climbing at possible, but pitons and ropes would be necessary in a few spots.
Mellor and Donner also waited at the base of the hill with several other partisans. They would remain there until they received news of successful insertion into the mining complex, then head back to the advance base with Karlsen and the rest of the climbing party. From there they would make the hazardous trek into Röt Hafen and await Charlie's team at a pre-arranged extraction point. Mellor would also be responsible for making contact with the invasion forces.
Lawrence, Miner, Frament, Gents, Gibbons and Handley were dressed in the
worn out clothing of prisoners. Underneath their baggy clothes they carried
as much gear as they could safely conceal. Each carried a pistol and 3
magazines. Gibbons and Handley carried the tools and instruments needed for
their job. Miner carried some electronic debugging devices and lock picking
tools. Frament carried the bare minimum medical kit necessary and a
silencer. Charlie carried a comlink and a silencer. Small explosive charges
were divvied amongst the three 946 men. They gear was held secure by straps
and harnesses under their clothing. Each wore a jacket to protect them
against the biting cold. The clothing had been gathered from the freed
Karlsen and Frament had left cover and gone ahead to set up a handrail with ropes and pitons on the base leg of the mountain, which was also one of the steepest segments. As they waited for the lead climbers to set up, Charlie and Ken went over some last minute details.
"So you're all set. Brooks should be able to handle the commo up to the assault transports when the time comes. He seems to be coming along OK."
"Don't worry Charlie. It'll be taken care of. You guys just get in there and do the job. We'll be waiting for you near the west entrance just as planned. Send the signal and we'll figure out how to crack you guys out of there."
"Yeah well, there's not many people left I'm afraid."
"Don't worry, we'll make due with what we have,.
"I know you will. Hey Ken, I want you to do me a favor."
Charlie handed Ken an envelope. "See this gets to Anne."
Kenny took the envelope with a frown. "Why don't you give it to her yourself?"
"Look, lets quit fuckin' around. Between you and I you know this is a one way trip. Just do it for me, OK brother?"
"Man what the hell is the matter with you lately? Ever since we got
here you've been morose. . Look Chuck, everybody is looking to you to pull
this gig off. I know how it is. I miss my kids too. But you keep thinking
about them and you're gonna get yourself and us killed. Now snap out of it."
Charlie nodded. "I hear ya. Look I'm Ok. I'm ready to get it on. Just do this for me will ya?"
Kenny looked at the ground embarrassed. "I got it."
"Hey Sarge, they're ready for us." Called Molitoris.
Kenny looked up at Charlie and smiled. "Go forth and make trouble."
"Who dares wins." Charlie shook his hand and then the small group was on
A cold stinging wind fought the group every meter of the way up the mountain. They had left their undersuits behind so the cold was keenly felt. Visibility had dropped to less than twenty meters. Frament and Karlsen were the lead climbers, working the ropes, carabiners and pitons, where necessary, to traverse dangerous sections of the climb. Mills and Miner stuck close to Handley, ensuring that no harm would come to the valuable weapons expert. Charlie and one of the partisans did the same for Gentz. Miner remained close to Gibbons, who had some climbing experience. Another partisan brought up the rear, scanning the area for any unlikely Kra'Vak. Nena had told them all to keep at least three points of contact on the mountain at all times, and to keep their center of gravity over their hands and feet. But the wind would occasionally gust up 100 kilometers per hour. Gentz had nearly been blown off the mountain in one gust, except for the quick thinking of one of the partisans who had grabbed him but lost his rifle over the side in the exchange. Fear gripped them all and the tedious climb wore down everyone's nerves. However if there was one good thing to be said about the storm, it was that no one could see how high up they were. That was a good thing for the non-climbers. Four long and treacherous hours later the team reached the ledge just below the Four-East machinery house. They stopped and rested for ten minutes as Karlsen and Mills went forward to inspect the building. They returned shortly with reports that it was deserted. Reluctantly, the team picked themselves up and moved to the building. With two partisans left outside for security, they squeezed into the small space, thankful for a respite from the wind.
The condition of the building itself was poor. The roof had been torn off in places. A large boulder rested against one wall, having stove it in. There were four large recycling vents. Karlsen already had the grate off the one they would be using. With Frament's help, she had already rigged ropes, which dropped into the black opening.
"This is it." Said Karlsen. "From here it's a forty-meter rappel to four-east."
"I'll go down first, followed by Sergeant Molitoris. We'll check it out and then send up the all clear. Then the rest of you can come down. Mills will stay up here. There are some 12-foot ropes there. tie yourselves some rappel seats. Carabiners are in that sack."
"We're on it."
Karlsen snapped into the rope and went over the side. Once she was down, Molitoris followed. Charlie helped Gentz into his rappel seat and explained the rappel one more time to him. The man was afraid. "Don't worry. Molitoris will be at the bottom to belay you, even if you fall. It'll be all right. Mills was leaning over the opening watching the descents. "They say its all clear."
Frament went down next, followed by Handley. Then it was Gentz' turn. He was shaking like a leaf.
"Relax," said Charlie. "It'll be all right." Charlie pulled up some of the rope and snapped it into Gentz' caribiner. "OK. Turn around so that your back is to the hole. That's right. Put one hand up here and with the other grab the rope and tuck it behind your back. Remember, this hand controls your descent. Make short hops down, bringing the rope into the small of your back to stop. You understand?"
"Nothing to it old boy. You'll see. Now put your heels on the edge and lean back into the seat forming an L-position."
Gentz leaned back very slowly. He stopped, shuffled his feet a bit, scrambled for balance and froze still.
"Go on, keep going.. That's it. Now there you are. It's just like walking on the wall. Now loosen up with your lead hand. That's not holding you in place. It's merely there for stability. With your break hand slowly let some slack through."
Gentz swung his hand out too much, slipped and slid down the wall ten meters, yelling. He rotated to his right and smacked into the wall with his head. Panicking he reached out with his break hand to grab the rope above him and plummeted to the bottom screaming all the way. Molitoris was on belay and expertly brought the quivering man to a stop, three meters from the bottom. Gentz dangled helplessly upside down on the rope. He was carefully lowered to the ground. Charlie looked back from the edge and smiled to Mills. "Well. It's a technique, I suppose." The rest of the team made the descent without incident. At the bottom of the shaft they followed a large air duct for twenty meters and crawled out through an access panel and dropped to the tunnel below. Several flashlights lit the dark and abandoned space. An abandoned mine car was tipped over against one wall. Beneath it was a skeleton arm.
"Jeez, you came down here alone? Asked Frament.
"Ja. This is the route I take." Answered Karlsen.
"You've got some intestinal fortitude."
Karlsen led them off down the tunnel. Portions were collapsed and several times they had to crawl through narrow spaces. She broke chemlights open along the way to mark her trail out. One long passage had them crawling on their belies for fifty meters. Charlie was pretty spooked at this point. He though he could feel slight tremors in the rock and also here sand and pebbles falling. Never having been too fond of confined spaces himself, he thought that the others must be absolutely terrified. All pressed on in silence. There were several descents down very steep portions and one part need the rope to help them down a twenty-meter drop. Ninety minutes had elapsed before Nena called a halt.
"What's up?" Asked Charlie.
"This is it." She passed the light over a hatch. On the other side of this hatch are the main tunnels."
They gathered together and rechecked themselves to make sure no hidden gear was showing. They had a last drink of water, rest break and bite to eat. Molitoris studied a motion scanner.
"All clear on the other side." Nena operated the access panel and the hatch unlocked. She opened it enough to slip out and then shut it behind her. They waited twenty minutes. When she returned, she had six prisoners in tow. They seemed almost in shock when they entered the dark chamber. Flashlights lit up their gaunt faces. They'd obviously been through a lot. All looked severely malnutritioned and weak.
"Ok. These six were on an unsupervised work detail one hundred meters up the corridor that is at your one o'clock. They should be sounding worker recall in about five minutes. You have the map to the assembly area. That will get you to the buses. Put these black armbands on. It marks you as part of the mining detail. Any questions?"
"What were they doing?"
"They were replacing track lighting in the tunnel. Anything else?"
Charlie's' heart was racing. "No."
"OK. This is as far as I go. From here you are on your own."
Charlie looked at his team. All wore worried serious expressions. "You guys ready? Remember keep your heads down and try not to draw attention to yourselves. If things go to shit we'll make our way back here."
"We will wait here an hour for you. That's it."
"Understood. Ok let's go."
"Good luck guys," said Molitoris.
"You too pal. See ya in a few days."
"Yeah, sure thing."
The hatch opened and the six men slipped out into the light. After the door was secured, Molitoris and Karlsen surveyed the six shocked captives, which had just been freed. They were too worn down and weakened to even appreciate it. Molitoris made a quick inspection of each and found two of them to be extremely ill. He began to have concerns that they would not even make it out of the tunnel. They were simply too weak.
"How the heck were these people even working?" They can barely hold
their heads up. Two of them are very sick. They'll never be able to make the
trip out of here. I question if the others can either. Molitoris searched
through his pack for some food and water. He divided it up amongst the
Karlsen surveyed the captives. She struggled to find a better solution than
the one she had already come up with.
Five minutes after the assembly call had sounded over the mining complex
PA system, Charlie led his men into the main tunnel and melded in with the
other shuffling workers. They drew little attention due to the high turnover
in slave workers. They passed into the main assembly area and were roughly
pushed and beaten into a formation by the handlers. Very few actual Kra'Vak
were in evidence. Most were stationed outside against external threats. Four
buses pulled up outside the building and the Handlers motioned for them to
come forward one column at a time. Each worker was counted as they passed.
The count was added to those that had been killed in the day's work, and
when the number equaled the morning's tally, the buses were sent on their
way, escorted by a pair of heavy GEVs. The team managed to keep together and
enter the same bus. Charlie was glad to see there was no sort of discernible
electronic scan. Stupid-assed Kra'Vak security, he thought.
Molitoris and Karlsen led the six freed prisoners back along the tunnel. At the twenty-meter climb they realized that taking them out was extremely difficult if not impossible. The two sickly prisoners could do little more than walk. A third had a broken her wrist and she had sought no medical attention for fear of being "replaced". If you worked, you served some purpose. It kept you from being taken out of the city in the middle of the night. Not one of the other three could make his way up the ropes either.
"Please, just leave us here", cried one of them, a tall, thin, frail looking man. "We'll just hide here. We promise not to say anything to anyone. We just want to be left alone. Please, you can't understand what we've been through"
Eric tried to reason with them. "You can't hide here. There's no food or water for you. It's just a risk that you'll be captured gain. We cannot risk you falling into enemy hands now that you know what's happened. You have to try harder to make it out."
Nena called Eric to one side. "Eric, they are not going to be able to make this trip. And we can not leave them here, There's too much of a risk that they will be found."
"Well what else is there?"
I want you to go on ahead and tell Mills about this. Maybe he can send down some food."
"I thought you said..."
"Just do it quickly. There is not much time. We still have to get down the mountain."
Eric shrugged and started his climb. "I'll be back."
Karlsen watched him climb the rope effortlessly and then he was over the
ledge and gone. With her back to the prisoners, she slipped her hand into a
pouch and withdrew a small silencer. Nena pulled out her pistol and screwed
the silencer in place. She bit down hard on her lip.
Molitoris had crawled ten meters into the narrow, collapsed passage when he heard six distinct thuds. He was experienced enough to know what they were, and smart enough to have anticipated them. It bothered him a bit, but he wanted out of here and back with the team. They weren't going to be able to carry them out of the complex and leaving them here could jeopardize the entire mission. Eric had never been one to agonize over moral dilemmas, and apparently neither was Nena...
1st CAF hung silently at the final jump off point prior to Röt Hafen. The fleet had already shaken itself out into its component task groups and was conducting final preparation. OPERATION SAWMILL called for the 1st CAF to be split into three task forces. Task Force Gold consisted of the main fleet subdivided in four task groups. Its mission would be the destruction of the Kra'Vak fleet. This operation was code named PRIZEFIGHT. Task Force Silver consisted of two task groups and comprised the bulk of 1st CAF's carrier forces. Its mission was to secure Röt Hafen's near orbit in preparation for the landings. This operation was classified HARBINGER II. Task Force Bronze was composed of the assault transports and fleet trains that carried Task force Hannibal, the ground component of 1st CAF. To them would fall the responsibility of liberating the planet's surface from the Kra'Vak. This operation was known as HANNIBAL. D-Day for SAWMILL was set at 13 August. This day was known as ADLER TAG, or "Eagle Day". This was a direct reference to the first main attack conducted by the German Luftwaffe, which occurred exactly 252 years ago during the Battle of Britain.
In Admiral von Bulow's meeting room was gathered every task group commander in the 1st CAF. To his right sat the Task Group (TG) commanders for PRIZEFIGHT. Admiral Bellamy, vice commander 1st CAF, was also commander of TG1, the NAC carrier force assigned to support the main fleet action. TG2 was commanded by Admiral Olsen and comprised the main super-dreadnought battle line for TF Gold. Admiral Peters commanded TG3, a small battlecruiser element that would play a vital role in the coming operation. TG4, which was Silver's screen of missile destroyers, would have first crack at the enemy. The most accomplished destroyer commander in the KriegsRaum Flotte, Rear Admiral Jacob Stasny, commanded them.
To von Bulow's left, sat the commanders for HARBINGER II. Admiral Johnston, who had the powerful NAC carrier group at his disposal, led TG5. He would also be overall commander for TF Silver. Admiral Roth commanded TG6. His difficult mission would be to secure the Dortmund space station and surrounding facilities.
Also in attendance were Vice Admiral Braun, commander of TG7, and the assault transport group, and Admiral Zergebeil, commander of the all-important fleet trains. Colonel Rölle, as commander of TF Hannibal was also in attendance. A surprise member of the command group was Kapitän Hauser from the Köhl. He would be playing a vital, if unanticipated role in PRIZEFIGHT. Several staff officers rounded out the powerful group.
The officers were working through SAWMILL's details, in particular reviewing intelligence updates from the RNS Meadows. She had been left in system to report on final enemy dispositions. She carried a number of courier drones for the task. There had been an increase in FTL signatures as Kra'Vak ships left the system. Others were entering. Von Bulow was about to wrap up the meeting.
"So there you have it gentlemen. Any comments?" Asked Admiral Bellamy.
"Well I'll say one thing. It an ambitious plan." Said Admiral Stasny of TG4
"There's no question about that, Milo." said von Bulow. "We must hit the Kra'Vak simultaneously in order to swamp and confuse their defenses. You're role as the lead screen is vital. I will be counting on your missile salvos to attrit the Kra'Vak before Olsen gets his hands on them. Also your salvos should serve to either herd the enemy together in evasive maneuvers or split them into penny packets. "
"No fear, Herr Admiral. As long as I can finish the battle with empty missile racks, I am a happy man."
"To tell the truth, I am less concerned with PRIZEFIGHT than I am with HARBINGER II. I know we should be able to defeat the enemy orbital defenses but it's capturing Dortmund intact that has me concerned. There are so many civilians on the station and its surrounding facilities."
Admiral Roth shifted his bulk in his seat. "Task Group Six is prepared, Herr Admiral. I am very pleased with the addition of three strike cruisers. Their needle beams, needle missiles, and EMP weaponry should disable the Dortmund with little collateral damage. Our Marines have been training on rapid boarding for weeks. We are ready."
"And you Kapitän Hauser? I'm sure you never expected you would find yourself in this situation."
"Nein, Herr Admiral. My crew and myself are honored. The Köhl has finished preparations and has linked up with the others. We are ready to go."
"It goes without saying that your crew has already accomplished the most vital work for this operation. We are indebted to you."
"Thank you, Her Admiral!"
"Rölle, all this fleet nonsense must be boring to you, nicht wahr?"
Rölle laughed. "Of course not Herr Admiral!"
"Let us not forget that everything that happens tomorrow serves one purpose. To put Colonel Rölle and his men on to Röt Hafen in order to evict these aliens."
"Very well. Everything is in order. We will await the final report from the Meadows. Gentlemen, go prepare you crews." Von Bulow rose to his feet. Every officer in the room snapped to attention.
"Dismissed!" said Bellamy.
Major Natalie Burns sat back in her seat and sipped her tea. As 2IC for No.1 Squadron, Oceanic Union Defense Forces (OUDF), she juggled the day to day routine of 12 pilots, 64 ground personnel, and 8 Pterodactyl-D aerospace attack fighters. And she still had to maintain her flight currency. Her squadron would be landing with TF Hannibal and provide forward air support from an advanced field. Because the NSL and OU rarely worked together on military operations, they had requested a Forward Air Controller to act as liaison between No. 1 squadron and TF HANNIBAL. Lt. Colonel Cobb had left it up to Burns to select a pilot. She had just the man in mind.
There was a buzz at her door.
A young, tall blond haired officer stepped smartly into her office came to attention and snapped a salute. His cocky swagger annoyed Burns. He was a renowned womanizer. "Flight Officer Muldoon reporting as ordered, Mam"
"At ease Mister Muldoon. I suppose your wondering why you're here. Well I shan't drag on the suspense. TF Hannibal has requested one of our pilots to act as liaison between No.1 group and their staff. What with us never having worked with them before, it's a bloody good idea. And that officer, Muldoon, is you."
Muldoon looked absolutely crestfallen. He was one of the youngest pilots in the squadron and certainly a ladies' man. Burns considered him immature. "Me, Mam? How's that, then?"
"Because I say so, that's why. Any other questions?"
"With all due respect, it's just that I'd imagine we need every pilot right now."
"You're right, Muldoon, we do. But the fact is the Old Man, has agreed to it and it makes sense. You're getting the nod for two reasons. Number one. There was that nonsense you pulled with the base commander's daughter back on Digaby. You gave the whole squadron a black eye. You're lucky you are still on flight status. Number two, you were actually dopey enough to be in the infantry before you got commissioned and switched branches. So there you have it. Understand"
Burns stood up, walked around the desk and leaned against it. "I'll remind you that Number 1 Group is the oldest active flying unit in the Oceanic Union Defense Forces and traces its lineage directly back to the Royal Australian Flying Corps in World War One. That's almost 300 years. Keep that in mind because you will be representing us and the OU with your new assignment. Do a good job and all will be forgiven." She smiled.
"Very well. Get your space bag together and report to the hangar deck in two hours. Two corporals will be accompanying you with the necessary communications gear. There's an NSL shuttle that will be taking your little party over to the KRS Kreta." She held out a hand. "Good luck."
Muldoon saluted and left, obviously dejected by the turn of events. Burns felt sorry for him. But just a little.
Von Bulow relaxed in his cabin and reread some old letters from his family. Lona, his wife of 38 years lived at the fleet base on Neu Salzburg. Their daughter Magda also lived on Neu Salzburg and was a chemist. She had given them two wonderful grandchildren, who had brought great joy into von Bulow's life. He realized that he had never had time to devote to his own children, who had been raised by Lona. Now, at the eve of his retirement, he looked forward to dedicating his full attention to his grandchildren. Von Bulow's other daughter lived on Earth and was Deputy Director for Outworld Medical Affairs for the United Nations. Stefi had always viewed working for the United Nations as a higher calling.
They'd had many arguments over the decision. Von Bulow of course, supported a strong system of decentralized governments as the best way of ensuing that humanity moved forward. Stefi saw the power blocks of the NAC, NSL, ESU, and others, as ensuring that the old ills of Earth would simply be transported to the stars. Peace would never come. She felt the current status quo divisive to humanity. In quieter moments von Bulow supposed she was right. But how would all of humankind ever assemble itself under one government. Perhaps the Kra'Vak were the answer. Would this threat force them to work together? 1st CAF contained forces from the Nue Schwabian League, the New Anglican Confederation, the Oceanic Union, and the United Nations, and a number of independent nations. That in itself was one positive aspect of this whole operation.
Von Bulow wrote a letter to each of his three women, as he feared he might not get another chance. 1st CAF would be expecting a courier drone form the Meadows in less than 8 hours. The final enemy dispositions would be disseminated to the fleet and necessary alterations in the plan made. The fleet FTL transit officer had already reported preparations complete. Accuracy of the FTL transit into the system was paramount to prevent scattering of forces. TF Gold would be first in. They would hopefully draw upon themselves, the bulk of enemy fleet. This would allow TF Silver to slip into the enemy's "rear" (not that there really was a rear in space).
Von Bulow sat back in his chair and sipped his tea, thinking what to write his wife. Around the fleet, he knew 1st CAF would be conducting final briefings and preparations.
Go to Adler Tag, chapter 7 of Röt Hafen
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