"Brigadier, I have an Ultimate priority message coming in from New Delhi. The wrapper says it's from General Mahdi and it's 'eyes only' for all operational commanders. If you want me to decrypt it without looking at it myself, it will take a minute."
"Go ahead and do it right, Rani. I may show it to you after I've read it myself, but we need to be able to say we followed our orders."
Now what? In the month since the aliens had landed south of us, we had gotten an amazing stack of Ultimate messages. Very few made any sense at all, and the few that did were very disturbing. Sooner or later, the General Staff was going to have to make up its mind.
I leaned back and thought of my wife, safe in America visiting Sanjeep at University. Well, I hoped she was safe at Stanford with our son. The aliens had landed in America, too.
I had to read it three times before it sank in. All operational commands were ordered to immediately mobilize and advance on the aliens. Commanders of units actually on our various borders were requested to liaise with our opposite numbers if possible, to let them know what we were doing.
Eventually I looked back up at my communications and code clerk. "Rani, please get me General Ali over in Cockraper, or whoever has the watch if he is away."
The village of Khockropar was no more miserable than any other north Indian village before the Partition, and a good deal more prosperous than most since it was on the old British railroad between Hyderabad and Jodhpur. After the Partition, of course, it and our own Munabao were nothing more than convenient collections of buildings that our troops had taken over.
Between Hindu expansionists and Moslem fanatics, India and Pakistan stayed in a state of low-level war and the civilians from both villages were long gone. And, since neither village really existed any more, there was no valid reason to honor the inhabitants by remembering their names. We called the Pakistanis the 'Cockrapers' and what they called us in Munabao doesn't bear repeating.
Using either village for a major headquarters was idiocy, of course. Cockraper was well within range of the artillery we had positioned safely behind a rise several kilometers back. If those guns were ever ordered to fire, Cockraper would be a sterile field of rubble within minutes. Munabao was even worse, it was less than two kilometers from the border and even small-arms fire could reach it. However, the railroad made this section of the border critical and on both sides the political leadership had stepped in to ensure that if we ever started shooting in earnest both sides would lose horribly.
Me, I had come to think of my opposite number as my brother. I would lose much karma if I ever had to order his death. It would take dozens of lives of penance before I was allowed to be a human again. It would be better if he got the orders to kill me first. That way my karma would be safe, he would lose his religion's idiot one chance at paradise, and he would be killed anyway in the war that followed.
Even our names reflected the differences between our cultures. Me, I proudly bore the name of an officer who had come from Europe to help the British Raj subdue the natives. He had married and raised a family, and when he retired he had gone native. We may be glad the Raj was gone, but we were proud of all the Raj had built, and what we had built on top of it.
Ali, well, Ali was Mohammed's brother or son or second cousin three times removed, and that made it a proper Moslem name, one with power. His family had probably adopted it a hundred years ago, when they first became wealthy enough to actually own their own goat.
I was still staring at the message when Rani told me "General Ali on line 3, sir. It's a satellite connection." It was silly needing a satellite connection to talk to someone nine kilometers away, but the land-lines between India and Pakistan were not reliable.
When the latest alien invasion fleet brushed aside our remaining defending fleet, as part of their mop-up they had completely destroyed Earth's ring of satellites. Weather cameras, communications repeaters, weapons platforms, all gone. On the other hand, when the surviving Confederacy ships had recovered from the attack, they had eliminated all remaining alien ships and promptly replaced all our satellites with new ones that worked better than the originals. A satellite linkup would be far clearer than a land-line.
I picked up the phone and heard Rani's voice saying "General Rasmussen is on the line now. Thank you for holding."
"My brother, this is General Ali. How can I help you today?" He sounded in a good mood. At least he was willing to speak English. There had been times where he had insisted upon speaking Urdu. I had to wait for a translation, then I would speak in Hindi and he would have to wait for a translation. Those calls never accomplished anything, since when we were like that neither would admit knowing the other's native tongue.
"My brother, I have orders to confer with you. I bring what may sound like good news to you, but you will quickly realize it is not. Can I come for a quick visit?"
"Of course. I will have an escort ready for you. Um, one of my superiors may be available also. Should I invite him?"
"If he is trustworthy, of course. I will be there as quickly as I can."
After I hung up I looked at Rani. "Get me a driver. We're going to Pakistan for a few minutes. Meanwhile..." I looked at Col Singh, my chief of staff. "We will be pulling out and joining the fight to save India. Get everyone moving. Staff meeting when I return."
I was shown to a well-appointed conference room and served coffee. I'd been there before, and got comfortable. After a few minutes General Ali walked in, followed by the Caliphate's most senior soldier, the Emir Mohammed Mubarak. Mubarak had jumped to the head of the class several years before when he had somehow talked the US into selling the Caliphate their most advanced missile and laser air defense system.
"Emir!" I jumped up and saluted him.
He waved at me. "Sit down, General Rasmussen. I am delighted to meet you at last. This sector is one of the quietest ones we have, and that's because you and General Ali keep your men in hand. Thank you for that. Now, what can we do for you?"
I pulled the message out. "Can either of you read Marathi?"
Both of them shook their heads, a distinctly Anglo gesture. They started rattling off languages. Ali's native Urdu of course, the Emir's native Arabic, Pushtu, Farsi, Hindi, English naturally, Russian some, a smattering of German. Not Marathi. Ali said "I can get one of our intelligence people in here if it's needed. Some of them can read Marathi."
I smiled and said "Well, it's good to know that SOME of our messages are secure. It says..." and I translated it for them, following up with "It appears that the security of our border with Pakistan is no longer important. We will be leaving as quickly as possible. Our leading elements will leave today and our last vehicle should be clear of Munabao sometime tomorrow. I will arrange to have a flare sent up when everyone is over the first rise and out of sight. I would suggest that you not send anyone across the border until then. You are, of course, free to do whatever you want but I pray that we will be back here in a month pushing you dirty Pakis back across the border where you belong."
The Emir sat down. Ali and I did, too, of course. "General Rasmussen, we have heard far more of the news than is good for us. I will pray for you. It would be a wonderful thing for the land of peace to have you filthy pagans staring at us again, across the border. Tell me, have you seen the aliens yourself?"
"I have. Please, allow me to tell the story. It won't take long. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit a Syrian infantry company defending Khartoum. It took a while to set it up, as I had my whole entourage of security troops and the usual useless baggage, but they prepared an exhibition for us."
"We were led to a shallow ditch with an embankment, where a single platoon was calmly awaiting a coming Sa'arm patrol. I was given to understand that these were veterans of several ambushes. Besides my people, I counted 13 riflemen. The platoon had an officer and a radioman, but no other long weapons."
"Having heard of this sort of ambush before, I examined one of the rifles. They were all armed with the American 'Barrett' rifle. They were using one of the magazine-fed bolt-action sniper versions with absurdly long barrels and scopes to match. Not as rapid firing as the semi-automatic versions, but far more reliable and accurate at long range."
"Their officer insisted that we all disarm ourselves by removing magazines and ejecting chambered rounds. They were happy with us carrying our weapons as they might be needed, but they wanted to ensure that it was not possible for us to spoil the ambush. After the first shots, we were free to reload and indeed requested to do so just in case they turned out to be needed."
"We were there for some time, as the Syrians could not predict how often the aliens would stop to investigate whatever they passed. When they arrived, though, I got an excellent view of the battle thanks to one of the Confederacy's toys. A rock at the top of the embankment had a sensor stuck to it, and several of us had binoculars that could show the feed from the sensor. Believe me, it is far safer to observe the enemy from the bottom of a ditch!"
"While we were waiting the lieutenant showed us their ammo. As I'm sure you know, the Barrett is a rifle that uses the same ammunition as the American M2.50-caliber machine gun. I'm told that that weapon was developed in the decade before World War Two for use in aircraft. To make it useful in aerial combat it has an astounding range."
I knew that. We still used the M2 ourselves. The weapon was more than a century old, and just like the .45 pistol its inventor had developed for the American Army, it was still regarded as the last word in its subject. It had an accurate range of two kilometers, and a usable area-effect suppression range of more than six kilometers.
"They were using two different cartridges. For long range fire, greater than 1000 meters, they use the original armor-piercing tracer round. For shorter ranges, though, they showed me what they had loaded that day. It had a segmented jacketed hollow-point bullet. It's not quite an explosive round, but the effect is much the same."
"One of the Syrians reported 'enemy patrol in sight', and soon afterwards 'patrol verified to be nine djinn on foot with no close support'. Their lieutenant explained that this makeup was the reason that his men had been selected for our show. If the alien tank had caught up with the foot patrol, he had orders to get me out of there immediately. However, since their support vehicle was out of position to help them he was allowed to continue the show."
"After cautioning us all yet again to do nothing to attract attention until after they had started firing, he started giving orders to his men. 'There are nine aliens. We are, unfortunately, down to only thirteen soldiers of God with weapons that can kill them. The two rifles at each end of the line will hold their fire until after the volley and they will take down any survivors. The nine rifles in the center will select their targets and, upon my command, volley fire to kill them all at once and immediately drop prone to avoid return fire."
"They waited until the aliens were within 800 meters before they fired. Nine of those rifles firing at once is not a sound. It is a physical blow. Even with ear plugs, it hurt. In my binoculars I saw that the aliens all immediately returned fire, then seven of them fell."