Chapter 9

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HINDSIGHT

All eyes were on Dekker as he glanced around the room. “Before we get into all that,” he said, “I want to know how the Terran Guard managed to get their second brigade into line just in time for this battle. It is more than a day’s march from their compound, under the best of circumstances.”

“What are you getting at, Colonel?” General Lane asked.

Dekker eyed Lt. Simmons. Taking the cue, she placed her palm flat on the table. “Sir, my mission was to conduct a recce followed by a combat patrol if the opportunity developed. After we found the enemy flank, we immediately observed the Guard’s second brigade deployed in line moving decisively for the center of our own lines. Our estimate is that they were conducting a spoiling attack to secure and exploit a breach right down the middle.”

“Given that the Enforcer Battalion couldn’t hold the initial line, I can only imagine what would have happened if the Guard’s Second had reached their objective,” General Lane said, looking directly at Dekker.

“That’s not the way it was, sir,” Lt. Simmons said. Colonel Harris, the regiment’s S-2 and her boss, nudged her with his elbow, but she ignored him.

Lane leveled his gaze on her. “How’s that, Lieutenant?”

“Colonel Dekker’s infantry was engaged with forces from the Guard’s Second before the withdrawal. By my estimate, he was up against the bulk of their armor company and two companies of infantry in addition to the Third Battalion of the Guard’s First Regiment.”

The room fell silent as everyone’s eyes turned towards Dekker.

Lane squinted at Lt. Simmons. “Thank you for your report, Lieutenant.” Turning his attention to Dekker, he said, “Did you know you were up against that much resistance, Colonel?  I don’t recall receiving a report on the disposition of enemy forces at your location.”

“As I recall, sir, I was told to hold the line and then the General closed the net. But that’s not what’s important here.”

“Alright, Colonel, let’s have it.”

“As I said, I want to know how the Guard’s Second Brigade knew to be in position just as our attack was starting. You heard Lieutenant Simmons. Those tanks weren’t moving to contact. They had been brought forward from the Guards compound at least a day in advance and were rolling into the attack. They knew. What I want to know is how.” He paused to assess the room – still finding no allies. “We hit a spoiling attack right off the bat. I’m not saying we could hold the line, but there might be more of us left if I’d had some help from another battalion or even an extra weapons company. You deployed a single battalion to breach the middle – “

“Hold,” Lane said. “You were to hold the center. You weren’t the main effort here, Colonel.”

“That’s a fire support mission, sir. Giving us an extra weapons company makes even more sense if that’s the case.”

General Lane leaned away from the table. “I should have known better than to engage in a debate on tactics with the Enforcer.” A flurry of nervous chuckles floated around the table. He leveled his gaze at Colonel Harris. “I think we all got taken by surprise on this one.”

“What’s important here,” General Lane continued, “is how we’re going to get them back. Today’s attack showed us how not to do it. The question is what to try next.”

The rumble of Colonel Mason’s voice reverberated across the room. “Next?  Sir, we have three under strength battalions – one of them hurt bad – and, what – a company of tanks? –  against almost a full division of infantry and a tank battalion. If there is going to be any ‘next’, we need the Paladin here to get in the fight.”

“Yeah, well,” General Lane said, “the idea here was to take on a single brigade and then defend against whatever the Guards had left with whatever we had left reinforced by the Paladin’s Cats.” Lane folded his hands on the table and let out a sigh. “You guys know we can’t replace them. If there is any way to do this without risking them in the attack, I’d rather not resort to that just yet.”

“Sir,” Mason persisted, “If we don’t use them now, they’re all we’re going to have left. Things are not getting better. We need to get the Cats into a full attack while we can.”

“Alright, Colonel, we know where you stand. What about the rest of you?”

Colonel Quadish spoke next. “General, we can defeat them. It would be better with the Paladin, yes, but I don’t think we have to try that just yet. I agree with you.”

Turning to the S-2, Lane lifted his brows. “Colonel Harris?”

“It’s clear they’ve consolidated their forces. But I don’t think they’re going to leave their compound wide open for us to just walk in. They’ll have to pull back at least a battalion as a rear guard to keep the lines of communications open. We’ll have real trouble dealing with the rest, but with the Paladin -” He looked at the table and rubbed his forehead.

“Go on.”

“If we put the Paladin in, it would be an even fight.”

General Lane raised a brow. “Even?  That’s all?”

“Even,” the S-2 said.

“What about it, Major, are you ready to get in the fight?” He ignored the glances at Dekker, who had not been asked his opinion.

“All I need is a company of infantry for a Foot Guard to keep their guys off our fenders.”

“Hell, you can take two of mine,” Mason said.

“As you were, Colonel,” Lane said.

“Just give me the word, General,” Mason said. “I’ll lead it myself.”

Dekker  cleared his throat. “It’s not what it’s all cracked up to be.” He made sure Mason was looking at him before continuing. “But I know you’d do a fine job, Colonel.”

“Passing the torch?” Lane asked.

“I was relieved of those duties by your predecessor, sir,” Dekker said.

Major Walker glanced down at the table and then leaned forward, looking straight at Mason. “I’d talk to the Enforcer about it, Colonel. It’s tough duty.” He turned his gaze to Dekker and said, “It takes a special kind to guard a Cataphract.”

“Major, what’s the status on your team now?” Lane asked.

“We’re set up just behind the compound. My rig is down for repairs.”

“How long is that going to take?”

“At least a day.”

“Alright,” Lane said. “Let me know when you’re back on line. In the meantime, I’ll take the issue of committing your team to the main line under advisement.” General Lane stood up. Everyone around the table stood up with him, waiting for his final orders. “That’s all for now. Carry on. Dismissed.”

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence