A Point of Honor 1

A Point of Honor
Chapter 1 Draft (03/06/09)

By their looks they had been walking down and out of the mountains for a month or more. The man, of some indeterminate age centered around 30, dark hair, quite long and a beard that must have been trimmed, infrequently, with a knife; he was slightly above average in height and carrying a load of pelts, rough tanned and with a pronounced smell: the pack weighed as much as he did. The woman with a smaller pack and a bundle slung in front, one that that showed on the scanner as an infant child of well under a year; she was tall and slim as well. Cleaned up a bit she would have been right presentable — but orders were orders and the young Corporal called for the guard officer glad for the excitement; not much ever happened out here.

The Under Lieutenant in charge of the checkpoint called at once to his own superior bivouacked in the small town to the south. “Two more on the road, a man and woman, both armed. The woman’s got a baby with her.”

“Check their ID, take their weapons, then bring them in. I’ll take care of the rest. And leave the woman alone! We are trying to pacify now, it just might work if we give it a chance.” The voice was not convincing but orders were orders and these came straight from the top. There wasn’t much joy in working out here any more. The officer in charge, like all of the rest, couldn’t wait to be rotated back to Minton.

At the end of the track leading north from Germfask, where it left the last farm behind and petered out into a trail used by wood cutters and fishermen working the areas small lakes and streams, was where the Caliphate set their outermost inspection station. The station was truly a guard shack built to look old and weathered before its time. Germfask was the first waypoint for some of the small band of Cardoman’s making their home in the mountains and living off the fur animals they trapped for off planet sale. It was on the road to the capital and that road had checkpoints as well.

At this place in the woods more than a hundred they had stopped and checked on once the end of the snow melt brought them down from above. No one knew exactly how many lived up there, certainly less than a thousand. Cardoman, colonized for a little over a hundred and fifty years, was lax when it came to record keeping. The planet’s population was edging toward 300 million; but now under the occupation far more people were trying to leave than return home or to settle.

Even before the two soldiers, hidden at the side where the trail came out of the forest started to move and reveal themselves the man was dropping his pack and unslinging his rifle. He must have caught some kind of motion but it was passing strange to someone used to helmet displays and full sensor support. The woman stepped behind him, brought her own rifle to the ready, and they both scanned their immediate surroundings.

“Stop, and put down your weapons!” The voice came from several speakers mounted high up and out of sight, hidden by the nearer trees. Showing an armed guard hadn’t always worked out so well when the checkpoint was first established. “These instructions are for your own protection. There has been a change in government and once you are checked and your packs inspected you will be free to proceed. Remain calm, place your weapons on the ground, then step back. Disobey at your peril!”

From out of the concealing forest stepped two soldiers in full battle armor. Blast rifles held at port. The man turned to the woman, said something, and the put down their own rifles and moved about ten paces to one side. “Now take off your packs and proceed to the guard shack.

They did as instructed, waking slowly the woman maintaining her place a few feet behind the still alert but now compliant mountain man.

Inside the four by five meter earthen floored building was a table a few chairs and four men. Military by their garb, an officer and two soldiers; and there was a civilian seated to one side.

One of the soldiers reached to take the baby, “Let me—”

“Touch my woman or child and you’ll live just long enough to regret it,” the man snarled, and just as fast a wicked looking knife magically appearing in his hand.

“Put down the knife friend, they mean you no harm, least none directly,” said the burly civilian figure seated in the corner in a recognizably backwoods Cardoman accent. “That dish on he ceiling is for a stun field. If they is to turn it on ya’ it I won’t do the kid no kind of good at all.”

“Let her keep the brat,” the Under Lieutenant said, waving his man away. Then to the two in front of the table, “I need to see your data cubes, ident papers.”

“What you say!” came the response. “We ain’t got no data cubes. What good they do us?” He turned sideways then spat on the ground.

The second soldier was busy at his display adjusting things for a moment before saying, “He’s got another, wooden handle and bone blade, the woman as two as well and there is a small one hidden in the baby’s blanket.”

“Are you sure you’ve found them all now?” The officer’s voice dripped sarcasm but became more normal as he said, “All of your weapons on the table and move very very slow.” That accomplished he said, “A blood sample is required, a normal medical procedure and you will not feel a thing. Each of you; place a hand on this. He pointed to a hand sized flat apparatus on the table. The bearded man nodded and went first, followed by the woman who leaned over and touched the childes hand to the square as well.

“A family I guess,” the scanner operators said, “At least the kid is related to both of them. Nothing in the planetary database.”

The officer nodded and said to the couple, “Ok then, you can take your packs and the furs — but the weapons stay here. That man over there,” he said pointing to the corner, “will take you into Germfask. Just stay calm and you will come to no harm,” he said before dismissing them while looking at the souvenirs he would be shipping home after his local commander took his cut.

They followed the civilian outside and around to the back of the guard station. There they found a hauler with a small cab and a trailer attached behind.

“Throw your gear in the sled and we’ll see if we can’t all squeeze inside. Watch your step ma’am,” he said giving her a hand.

The tractor like vehicle started with a roar and sputter then quieted down. Without saying another word the driver placed it in gear and at a speed slightly faster than a walk pulled onto the trail and headed south for Germfask. As the track became smoother and more road like he gradually accelerated to a top speed of perhaps 30 KPH. Then he reached under the dash and the engine started running roughly again and they lost a bit of the new found speed.

“Now we can talk, a little interference from a spark coil plays havoc with the Calps listening devices. I’m Lansing Packard, people call me Bear or Sugarbear sometimes, but you probably know that already. We have about ten minutes till we get into town.”

“Glad to meet you Bear, I’m Jack Jackson and this is my wife Jannie, but you must have the cover story memorized by now.”

“I should hope so, been working on it for a week.”

“Ok then let’s go over it a few more times. All of our lives depend on it.”

* * *
“I know’d em back when we was young’ns,” the Bear said. “A little slow and he don’t hardly come outta’ the hills but every couple a years therebouts. Never met his missus afore but I think I know’d her cousin once.” He smiled — more like a leer that could almost be called lascivious, while saying that.

“Backwoods bumpkins!” the Caliphate Major in charge of all troops and operations in the Germfask area said under his breath but not disguising a thing. Like everyone else out here he was awaiting his own rotation back to Minton and civilization. It beat shipboard duty though not by much.

“You can leave now Mr. Packard. You have the rest of the day to find them a job or send them on their way, just be sure they know that no opposition to the Caliphate is permitted none even thought about. And that we have them in the database now; so if they go back to the mountains they need proper permission and a locater and radio with them at all times.”

“And make sure the woman goes to the recruiting station alone for the standard pitch. If she signs on with a comfort battalion you will get the premium referral rate. Now get out of here and make it happen. I have more important matters to deal with. And get that engine of yours fixed! I could hear it from the time you were half way into town!”

“Right you are Cap’n, right you are.”

“It’s Major you lout, and don’t forget it again or it will go hard on you whatever your miserable worth to us now!”

“That’s the place Jannie, just go inside and keep saying no. They’ll ogle you for a while but then let you go. Wear this scarf as a headdress; it puts them off their feed.” A half an hour later she rejoined the Bear and her husband waiting outside; Jack holding the baby. “What next?” the Bear asked.

“How about finding a place to stay overnight and a meal, and the little guy needs changing,” Jannie Jackson said after receiving the bundle.

“That’ll be my place, but you can clean the little tyke up now. I got water and such in the trailer.” Another hour and they were pulling up into the yard at the Bear’s farm.

“Geez Wes, that’s some kind of a thick accent you and the Bear are using. Why didn’t I ever hear it at the Castle?” They were in a room built into the loft of the Bear’s barn. A pronounced sweet smell, but not objectionable, very noticeable. The aroma lingering from the Bear’s syrup refining of the spring. “I almost couldn’t understand what you were saying.”

“We save it for the rubes,” Wes Calvert laughed. “They think we talk like that all the time and we don’t want to disappoint. — And Connie — it is always Jack and Jannie from here on in.” He was unmistakably serious now.

“Yeah, I shouldn’t have slipped even that time. Never again, a promise, a year away from military discipline and I start babbling like a recruit. Will it be safe to eat a meal in the Bear’s house with his wife and kids around?”

“Absolutely, his wife is originally from Camperdown, a long way from Germfask, so the fact that I am an old school friend of twenty years ago will mean nothing to her. But if I were you I wouldn’t try the accent thing with her. She is without doubt used to the joke and probably does it herself. And remember, I really did come from the hill country myself.”

“I know that, but your parents and friends never talk that way, least when I ‘m around.”

“Like I said, we save it for the rubes.” He rubbed his stomach and said, “Is our son finished with his dinner? He looks to be. I don’t see him moving.”

“Out like a light; let’s go and introduce ourselves to the Bears wife. If the meal the Bear claims she is getting ready is half as good tasting as this barn smells, we are in for a treat, and if not I could eat a horse!”

“Just what is this meat we are eating?” Connie asked Gertrude Packard, the Bear’s wife.”

“Horse,” she said, “With a bit of tenderizer and some aging it really comes out fine!”

Wes was digging into a pile of mashed potatoes, smothered in gravy; his favorite food in the vegetable line and one he never tired of. Hiding her own surprise and consternation Connie smiled and said, “Delicious, I never would have guessed.”

“I’ll put some up for you can take with you in the morning.”

There had been a constant stream of chatter from the Bear’s children but Connie heard her own start to cry in the other room. Wes started to get up but Connie said, “Stay and finish Dear, I’m about done anyway.”

“Come back for coffee and desert, we have a fresh cobbler that’s good to go.”

“We’ll both be back as soon as I quite him down,” she said while Wes reached for seconds.

“Oh bring him in for sure, I miss having a baby around, and I so hope you will let us take care of him for you while you and Jack look for work. The hills is no place for one this young, and no need to go back until things settle down again. Lots of work in the city but no place to raise a family is what I always say.”

Connie looked at her husband and said rather wistfully, “Jack and I need to talk this over but it just might be for the best.”

After coffee and desert they retired to the loft room, a talk, and a good nights sleep.

The next morning, after kissing the baby goodbye, Connie got into the tractors cab again and waving till out of sight, they went back into Germfask; and with the help of the Bear found a ride into Minton. They left the furs behind with a broker, the eighty percent they were allowed to keep, and after forcing some of the money onto the Bear, and keeping a fistful of credits for themselves, were soon headed west.

The first thing after reaching Minton was to find a place to stay. And one where they could be sure no one recognized them. “Not much of a problem for me Babe,” Wes said. “I keep the beard and long hair and become invisible. You Jannie, have a problem! Even with the hair died a dingy red and frizzled you stand out like a hawk amongst the sparrows! Slouch, wear too much or too little makeup, dress down and don’t talk like when you were still in Parliament. Maybe Abe or Gaza, if we see him, can come up with some other things.”

“With the clothes I’m wearing now and what I brought with me I am looking like a hick from the sticks and that will have to do till we get settled. Hey Jack, don’t get me wrong, I like being from the sticks! And we are going to get settled aren’t we?”

Ignoring a direct response he swatted in her direction and looked around for Abe. — Loomis should have been there to meet them and Wes was starting to worry but was determined not to let it show.

A bus stopped letting off a dozen passengers bound for the area around the small park just outside of the governmental building’s set aside zone; a place familiar where they had both spent many more pleasant hours. Second from last off was a limping beggar with dark glasses and a cane. He headed towards them and as Connie looked away in shame Wes went into his pocket fishing out a ten credit note.

“Wait a second friend; you need this more than we do.” The man was surely a victim of the Calp landing, attack, and the resistance. Wes reached out to slip the note into the man’s free hand.

“Thank’ee sir.” The note was passed and the beggar continued on, his tapping fading with distance.

“It’s all so terrible Jack.”

“Yes it is darling, but time for us to move along now.” Wes was looking at a piece of paper hidden in his palm; the one Abe Loomis gave him during the currency exchange. “We need to get you something to calm you down Babe and I know of a right proper bar within walking distance.”

Connie grimaced and said, without much enthusiasm, “Lead on Sir Galahad.”

It was still early afternoon, more people in the dimly lit interior than before the Calp occupation, but the sound level was even lower than the number of people would make seem reasonable. Taking a semi-direct route they were inside long before Loomis might be expected. Wes slapped Connie across the face as they entered. As mild a swipe as he could manage, but it still had to look real. “Ough!” High pitched and she jerked back; rubbing her cheek with another small whimper, hanging her head and looking at the floor she shut up.

A year ago that would have brought every male and most of the females running to her defense. As it was only two of the patrons started to stand, and seeing no more violence they sat meekly, returning to their own sad business.

Jack Jackson strode and Jannie Jackson shuffled to an empty table. Jannie sitting so as not to face the door or the bar itself.

“We gonna’ get some service here?” He said it as if it was a natural right and no one better damn well object.

The barkeeper stared at him then said, “You must be new in town son, the Calps don’t truck with much and you are getting mighty close to the line.”

“Well sca-fuckin’-use me! No offense intended I am sure!” Then he calmed down; must be the likker talkin’ in advance and such. It be known to do that! I been out a’ touch for a time. Just came out of the hills and in from Germfask. And things ain’t a bit like I expected. How bout a couple a shot’s then? And our money’s still good ain’t it? The old gal and me got a powerful thirst.”

Wes kicked Connie on the ankle; she had been rolling her eyes through that whole last speech. A good thing he was the only person able to see her face and expression. The heightened state of emotion, now calming down, was all that kept him from laughing out loud.

The bartender brought over a couple of bar shots and another man entered the room. It was Abe, minus the glasses and cane.

“We got us some newbies,” he said aloud, then angled over and drew up a chair. “By me a drink and then let’s get out of here,” he said in a voice silent to all but Wes and Connie. Abe drank his down and left. Wes and Connie had one more then followed to an address given.

“How do you manage this playing a role all the time Abe? Two days and I don’t know if I’m coming or going.”

“Do it for a year, or like me and Gaza, ever since Ophia. You don’t know who you are and don’t much care so long as you can keep the story straight. The Major seems to be doing just fine.”

“Wes has compartments for everything. He keeps things so tight they don’t touch each other till he wants them to. I am going to have to learn.”

“Necessity gets you there Jannie,” Abe was going to keep her in character no matter what. “Anyway the job waitressing in the bar is yours. A good drop point and no questions asked. Jack can go and work for the Calps as a Mountain Scout if he chooses. Robbie will have fits but nothing he can do but complain once Jack says that’s how it is.”

“How is Robbie and how goes the training? How strong is the army of the resistance?”

“I’m just a conduit for most of that Jannie. Ask your husband, he knows more than me.”

“I will, I think I might be of more use with the Seventh than working as a spook in Minton.”

You could be right but I doubt it. We are not going to be putting on any large scale military operations and for now I can sure use the help. Stay around another few months and then do what you will. Help me now and I can work to make the Major see it your way later.”

“A deal Abe. Three months I help you out then back to the Seventh.”

* * *
“No more civilian reprisals!” Raed Kandouhaur, permanently detached from the Golan Heights and now in permanently assigned to pacification efforts was sure the higher-ups, especially those back on Earth, had no idea what it took to hold power in a well run occupation; and this one had been succeeding against a stubborn resistance, in no small part due to its ruthless implementation. Cmdr. Joppa, his immediate superior and like himself detached from the fleet explained the reasons but Raed thought them timid and unnecessary.

“We will have our total war but not now.” Joppa disagreed as much with the policy as Kandouhaur did, his job was to make it work regardless and he would pretend agreement until it was indistinguishable from true belief. That had always been his path to advancement and it had always worked before and it would have to do in the present. Speaking for official policy as if he had formulated it Joppa continued, “The fact that we are on Cardoman today with political factions in the Federation and on the Indie worlds in such complete disarray shows the divine guidance driving Caliphate policy. I will hear no more about the mater. — Major Kandouhaur, you have your orders and will carry them out as issued!”

“Of course Sir, I had never intended ended anything else! Here is my proposed plan of action.” He passed over the data and notes then started to lay out his plans. “General Kahn will need to approve the freeing up of trade and out of system shipping but within our constraints I think we will still keep the population in line and get Cardomans productive capacity up to nearly where it was by the end of the year.”

“This ties in nicely with my own thoughts,” Joppa said feigning contemplation. He was genuinely pleased though with long experience hid much of it. He actually had no plan when the Major walked in his office and what Raed was suggesting was something he could, he would, expropriate and claim as his own. “I am to meet with Kahn tomorrow, you will come with me. I shall send you a few notes this afternoon and you will incorporate them into a brief. Do well and it will be good for your career.”

When Kandouhaur left Joppa called in another of his subordinates, a second cousin on his mother’s side to whom he turned over the notes. “Go over these briefing materials and find some reasoned objections along with some additional ideas and options in the same vein. Have them back to me by the afternoon prayer break. Dismissed.”

The meeting, held at the former estate of the head of Cardoman’s Army and the present resistance went as planned, even better. Admiral Kahn, glum at first, was in high spirits by the time Raed finished. “At last we have someone getting with the program rather than gripping and objecting! You have done well here Joppa.”

Joppa, thinking that if the Admiral tolerated a little less dissent he would not experience so much dissension said, without mentioning Major Kandouhaur by name, “Thank you sir, and I would like to commend the members of my staff for the work that went into this.”

“Just so Cmdr, just so. Give support and you get it. Now I want to see a list of the manufacturing facilities we can reopen and in what order, and a list of the former trading partners to contact. Shipping firms to trust and those to keep away. The kind of security the reopened plants will need to hold off any sabotage. I wish the rebels would come out and fight us directly but they are too smart for that. Once they learn we are limited to proportional response I expect them to pick at us wherever they can. Give me your thoughts on that matter as well. Then I want you to. . .”

By the time Kahn was finished listing all of the things he wanted done Joppa was not so sure calling the plan his own was such a fine idea after all.

* * *
“I wish you were staying here in Minton and not going back to the hills working for the Calps. And I wish I was already back with the Seventh.”

“It’s what we came to do Babe. I will be more useful being able to travel some and I am one of the few that can play the part of renegade hillman to perfection. And I am far less likely to be recognized out there than you are staying here in Minton.”

“I’ll be alright. Crimes against women are one thing the Calps take seriously. This diet and the pills Abe has me on is adding weight so fast that I hardly know myself when I look in the mirror. I am starting to look like I am pregnant all over again. He says I will go back to normal as soon as I quit the pills and he better damn be right!”

“You look great and always will. And it is a good disguise, once the baby started to show you were at the cabin so no one in Minton who knew you before will catch on as long as you do every other thing Abe suggests. I will be with one of their forward units and come off duty with the rest, that means I will be able to come back and see you every few weeks. Better than the way it was on the lead up and after the Calps landed.”

“True, hiding in the open has something to say for itself. Think you will be able to call from the field?”

“Probably not and it wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. I am going to do nothing to draw attention to either of us. The Calps will be monitoring all communications so no letters electronic or otherwise. For the first month you might try to talk to me but after that, after I fail to try and talk to you just let things slide. That will be the best way to handle that.”

“I pray you are right dear, but you, when you are just being yourself, always seem to draw attention. So no playing the hero!”

“Never! I just go along, do what I’m told, and cause whatever trouble I can along the way.”