Monday, August 10, 2020

Quest: Counter-attack

The high school complex as seen in the imagery Pep used for planning. Arrow added.
Tory dropped in from the north and lined up on the long, slender parking lot that ran along the east side of the high school complex. From the imagery, the parking lot scaled out as forty feet wide by 800 feet long.

Tory did not try to finesse the drop. The men were in place. Tory swung around some trees that were west of her southward path. Then she threaded-the-needle between the high fences around the tennis court and the wood-lot west of the tennis courts. Then she flared over a porta-pottie that had been abandoned on the north end of the drop-zone. She saw the blue porta-pottie at the very last second in the dim-light of the rising moon.

It was 21:30 local time.

Dot would have crapped her shorts but Tory flew with the absolute surety of youth.
Tory flipped the switch to unclamp the package. She got the green light telling her that all four clamps were back in their home positions. She popped the drogue chute as soon as she had settled back into level flight six feet above the deck.

Dot had installed several fisheye mirrors so nobody could sneak up behind her again. Consequently, Tory could see below and behind her. She saw the main chute blossom and the sparks as the package skated along on the pavement.

Tory eased back on the yoke and leisurely climbed to five hundred feet elevation. She had an extra hundred pounds of gasoline but it was reserved in case the crew on the ground had problems.

Pepperoni and the other nine men double-timed it to the package. It had come to a rest against the curb of a divider that had not been seen in the images. It could not have been going very fast when it hit, having hit the ground almost 300 feet earlier with a velocity of fifty miles per hour.

The protective cups around the most sensitive parts were scuffed but the heads of the cap-screws holding the caps on the howitzer barrel were clean.

The men lifted the seventy-five pound cannon barrel and slid a rope cradle beneath it. Then, two men to a side, they picked it up and double-timed to the firing position. The barrel needed to be installed into the cradle Tory had air-dropped earlier and the sighting verified.

Then it would be time to rock-and-roll.

Tory orbited west of the high school in a lazy figure eight. The landscape was low-density suburbia. Tory could have orbited the nature preserve east of the high school where the crew had spent the uncomfortable day before but that was closer to town. She could have orbited north of the high school but that was the team's exfiltration route and she didn't want to poison it.

Prior to Tory dropping off the barrel, the men retrieved the howitzer's carriage from a willow-filled swale. The cradle was the approximate size and shape of a wheelchair, although many times heavier.

On the ground, the locating pins were dropped into the appropriate holes in the carriage. Cap screws torqued to spec. Then Pep leveled and rough-sighted the tube. The precise position on the parking lot for the firing position was chosen from aerial footage. The location was chosen so sighting on the southwest corner of the stands on the west side of the football stadium lined up the barrel with the target some 2.4 miles to the east-southeast.

Fortunately, the precise location where the carriage needed to be located was the intersection of two curbs where a drive entered the school parking lot and extraordinarily easy to find.
The bad news was that the football field was sub-grade and the corner of the stands that Pep needed to see was masked by a berm. Those details had not been obvious on the images Pep had used to plan the mission.
"Crap!" Pep grunted. Punching the closest fighter in the shoulder. "Grab a buddy. Haul ass over there and give me a light to show me where the corner of the stands are."

It had been a calculated risk. Pep decided to stay hunkered down until the very last second. It had proven to have a downside.

The two fighters sprinted the almost-three-hundred-yards to the perimeter fence around the football field. It was trivial to find the corner of the stands. One of the fighters looked around and found a plastic coffee cup. He guestimated where it needed to be to line up with the gun emplacement and the corner of the stand which was separated from the perimeter fence by a broad walk. The second fighter pointed his headlamp at white, plastic foam cup with his headlamp after it was stuffed into the top of the chain link fence. He illuminated the cup for twenty seconds and then both men hustled back to the firing line.

The ammo was Capiche-standard 2.6” howitzer ammo. The only thing special about it was that the projectiles had been made sequentially from one lot of propellant and they had then been sorted for weight and the fliers removed.

Twenty seconds had been plenty of time for Pep to dial in the azimuth. Once the cross-hairs of the scope were aligned, Pep cranked up tube up to six degrees, thirty seconds.

Two-point-four miles was a chip-shot for the howitzer. Time-in-flight would be about ten seconds. Pep had entertained a multitude of scenarios. It was resoundingly clear that he needed to fire the howitzer from mortar range to ensure the success of the mission. Accuracy was that critical.

The element of surprise would evaporate quickly once the shells started coming down. The first two rounds were flares with the exact mass of the high explosive rounds. The intention was to shoot OVER the target with two ranging shots and then come back to hit it.

They wanted the inhabitants of the brick two-story on the corner of Catherine-and-Division to be clueless of the treat they were in for. Once the shells were hitting the target, the attackers could ill afford any misses, especially early in the bombardment lest the inhabitants of the target escape.

The elevation knob had detents and each “click” dropped the end of the barrel by half a millimeter which translated to about fifty feet at the target. The azimuth had similar adjustment but Pep was confident they would not need to make any adjustments for that.
Pep did not consider the fact that every foot the coffee-cup was from the precise line between the corner of the stand and the muzzle of the howitzer translated to fifteen feet off at 2.4 miles. Even if he had considered the fact, there wasn't much he could do about it. After all, that is what the ranging shots were for.

Pep gave the barrel of the gun a little pat for good luck then radioed Tory.

“Lucy-with-diamonds. Ready on the ground. Let me repeat. We are ready on the ground.” Pep radioed. In a matter of a few minutes the easy part would be over and they would be running for their lives.

Tory acknowledge the message and eased out of her orbit to head east where she would orbit the target. She had the throttle dialed back so she was loitering along at forty mph, a mere ten mile per hour above stall. At this elevation, above a densely populated area she wanted to be as quiet and as stealthy as possible.

She expected eyes to soon be turned skyward but she didn’t want them looking in her direction.

Five minutes later Tory radioed to Miguel who had been monitoring events. “Speedy, send in the Valkries. Repeat, send in the Valkries.”

Miguel was on a rooftop in Ann Arbor. 
Pep and Miguel had done a dead-drop transfer. Pep dropped off electronics and a thumb-drive with sound files. Pep had been surprised to see that Miguel had already been there and left a package for his crew to take back to the Buffer-Zone. Miguel's instructions were terse "Deliver to Chnvs. Destroy if caught."
While Pep and the squad were hunkered down for the day, Miguel had used the electronics to set up a simple, wireless local area network. He had laid out a string of speakers on rooftops that spanned three miles.

The string centered on the target and strung west-southwest toward Jackson and east-northeast from the target.

Miguel transmitted “Playing our song.” back to Tory.

Each speaker played the sound of a plane pass-by. In fact, it was the Zenith Tory was flying, sans the mufflers. To a person on the ground, it sounded exactly as if a plane had passed overhead at low elevation. The speakers were synchronized so as one faded, the next speaker in line got louder.

The speakers cycled so it sounded like a plane was passing overhead every five seconds.

 “Lucy Diamonds to Pep. Got my eyes on the prize. Got my eyes on the prize. Speedy is singing our song. Do your thing.”

Pep radioed back. “Sending.”

Tory had seen the trajectory calculations. The maximum elevation of the shells would be a mile west of her and a hundred feet below her current orbit. It is still nerve wracking, primarily because it was completely out of her control.

Tory thought she saw the bloom of the muzzleblast. She started counting. At the count of ten, there was no evidence that the shell had landed anywhere near the target.


Then she scanned the infrared monitor. It showed a bright spot in the yard of an apartment building on the corner of Ann Street-and-Division. That bright spot had not been there before.

“Send number two” Tory radioed back.

Ten seconds later a second bright spot appeared some twenty feet from the first. The flare rounds had tunneled into the rain-softened turf and buried themselves.

The target was 45 feet on a side. Tory judged the two rounds to have impacted  150 feet long and sixty feet to the south.

Given that the target was a two-story house and that the rounds were re-entering at a six degree angle, Tory deduced that the incoming rounds had barely skimmed over the roof of the house south of the target.

“Drop back a hundred feet and and sixty feet north and fire-for-effect.” Tory radioed. “Let me repeat. 60 feet north for azimuth. Reduce range 100 feet.”

“Copy that. Azimuth plus 60, range minus one-hundred feet.”

Each of the ten men had carried in three, fifteen pound rounds of 2.6 inch ammo. It could fired at a rate of 12 rounds a minute when under duress but most accurate fire was slower than that to give the carriage time to settle down. 
Pep fired the first ten rounds as fast as the men could load-and-fire. He wanted to disrupt the target as much as possible and if one or two missed, well, that how it went when making omelettes. He prayed that the misses might be close and not back-to-back in delivery.
The next ten were at most accurate cadence. The last ten were saved for the secondary target across Catherine Street from the brick house and were fired at most accurate cadence. 
In less than six minutes the two story, brick house had been reduced to rubble. The server-farm across the street was in flinders and a fire was breaking out.

None of the rounds had missed their intended target.

Ann Arbor did not know it, yet. But their central nervous system had just been shivved with the military equivalent of a 3" length of 18-gauge music wire.

Tory did not loiter and try to assess damage. The imagery had been recorded automatically. She knew, instinctively, that the odds of surviving two-story masonry walls dropping on you was not very high.
"Speedy. Stop the music" she transmitted.

The last thing Pep and the squad did was to pitch the Little Howie into a shed near the athletic track. They threw a lock on the door. They knew it would be found eventually, but delaying the find would give rumors time to sink in. 
THOUSANDS of Ann Arbor citizens heard the planes come from Jackson and pound two houses with bombs. By morning, every soul in Ann Arbor would have heard the news.

A minute after throwing Little Howie into the shed, they were jogging at an eight-minute-mile pace north toward the bridge that crossed the Huron River. It was an eerie feeling. The backpacks, empty except for the expended shells from Little Howie almost felt like they were lifting the runners off the ground.


  1. Nicely done with the disinformation!

  2. ;) I just hate to wait since it's getting so good.

  3. Haven't said so lately, but excellent work. I'm enjoying it.