A Point of Honor 14

A Point of Honor
Chapter 14 Draft (08-26-09)

Triocat was a main stream habitable world. In fact that wildly understates its desirability. A cold reading of the Gunning-Fogg index had it located in the 94th percentile of habitability where even Earth could only score at the 96th. It did have one large drawback however; one the index had never been designed to measure. It was located a long way from Earth and in a highly variable region of space when it came to gravitational flux stability; the most unstable by far any exploring ship had ever encountered.

When the first generation settlement ships came out this far from SOL III their navigation systems were greatly affected and the planet was found more by accident than by design. To this day the difficulty in navigation in this region has keeps the planet a low priority.

The navigation difficulties were found to be caused by the close proximity (in Galactic Terms) of a very rare (as in the only one found to date) Binary Black hole system, one half of which is a rapid but non-periodic Pulsar. How this is even possible no one knows and Astro-Physicists have been having headaches trying to figure out the Gravitational and Hyperspace stress vectors ever since. Even today reality and theory are like reflections in a fun-house mirror; not quite distorted beyond all recognition but the next nearest thing.

Add the location of the first located fueling station, a quasi-gas giant near Triocat and navigational difficulties caused by the binary pulsating black hole made shipping if not impossible, downright unfriendly. The low grade gas planet in this second, system some three light years away, shares its orbit with dual asteroid belts of uncommon density and eccentricity, making it uncomfortable but not completely unusable as a fueling station—or so the captain of the first ship to see it surmised. The intermix of the planet and the two belts guarantee that the asteroids NEVER have a stable orbit. With asteroids dropping into the giants upper atmosphere on a regular basis a fueling ship would need a lot of eyes to keep from being near one of those hits and suffering the consequences.

Triocat is hard to find and difficult to operate out of, this, as would be expected bears greatly on its History.

Geographically the planet is unexceptional consisting of ocean, ice, and two major continents. The Southern landmass even at this late date has only been lightly settled and incompletely explored, there being large desert areas without obvious use and there being no population pressure to drive interest.

The Northern continent is a geological oddity, a match in strangeness for the rest of the system. A huge sprawling continent with two major lobes separated by a narrow land bridge (which geologists predicted will break in a mere 50,000 years due to drift). The original settlers landed on the Eastern lobe and the Caliphate shortly thereafter landed its own group on the Western.

These original settlers, the non-Caliphate ones, though all from Earth, were of no single cultural ethnicity. They were merely a group who had found each other and come together on the old WorldNet looking for a way off the planet. They used their pooled resources to lease three G-1 transports for a settlement attempt “as far from Earth as possible”.

The Captain of the lead vessel was about to vacate the region in search of something more congenial when they stumbled across the system that housed Triocat. He had already located the binary black hole system and the jump into Triocat showed that the strange astronomical pair was going to affect navigation in the future making movement through this small interstellar region somewhat more random in nature than any ship’s captain was willing to accept. But then there was Triocat, so Earth like it could have been its twin, and right in front of him. Even with the nav problem this system was too good to pass on by. They went about unloading and the first colony was on the ground.

Before this last shot and discovery of Triocat they had already found a nearby system having a gas giant that could be mined with easily their onboard equipment, be fueled and made ready to jump for the new target. He took five days to burn to orbit from his transition in point. Something was obviously off with his navigational equipment but seeing at once the new planet’s potential he began to unload. After unloading the transports went back to the gas giant system and refueled for the trip back to Earth.

Sixty years later the Caliphates first settlement fleet was not so lucky. On their way back from dropping their passengers and cargo onto an unoccupied area of Triocat’s main continent and after leaving the Triocat system for their fueling stop; while they were headed inward the gas giant was struck by a large, no make that very large, asteroid. One that hit with enough energy to ignite a fusion reaction in the planets hydrogen atmosphere. The former fueling station was no longer a planet but instead a low grade star, one that burned from without rather than within. In a few thousand years it was going to burn itself out and revert to planetary status but for now there was no way it could be used to refuel the Calp transports and there was no longer an easy way in and out of Triocat. Or for that matter a way to get all three of the G-1 transports back to Earth.

Doing the best they could the remaining boost mass from all three ships was transferred into one of them for the return to Earth with all of the crew members of the other ships boarding as well. The two empty G-1’s were left with just enough reaction mass for a long period elliptical orbit having a perihelion outside of the hyper limit. The Caliphate could send a couple of tankers out to retrieve these ships once the lead G-1 made it back to Earth with word of what had happened.

The bad luck wasn’t over yet. In fact the worst was yet to come. Navigational errors due to the binary black hole pulsar caused the ship to emerge from hyper almost a light month from Earth orbit. With good navigational data now available the ship’s captain elected to jump again as close to the limit as he was able. His ship had so little reaction mass remaining that nothing else made any sense.

This time the jump was nearly perfect with the ship emerging into normal space only five minutes from the limit. But on the wrong side. She bounced back out, not even very far, only three light days this time and immediately broadcast Triocat’s location coordinates back towards Earth. But the captain and crew never got to send any more information or celebrate their own special luck as the ship’s overworked fusion bottle lost containment and exploded in a blinding flash leaving nothing but a multi-thousand kilometer ball of ionized gas to mark its passing.

The next Calp expedition to Triocat, hearing about the first expedition’s path and nav problems, arrived safely at the giant but never did pickup on the two abandoned G-1’s in their cold and lonely orbit. A report back to Earth that soon made its way to all occupied planets told the story and Triocat became known as a less than desirable destination for merchant shipping of any kind.

The initial Caliphate landing force thrived. And thus an entrenched multicultural and balanced society faced an Islamic Caliphate across the narrow land bridge. It did not take long for the shooting to start!

The two sides took quite different approaches to the fighting. The Caliphate decided to use the front as a training location for untried troops. From their standpoint it worked very well, the truly incompetent died and the ones who could become leaders were identified very rapidly. The garrison battalions for the two major cities were units that had just come in from fighting somewhere else and needed a rest. Again this served two purposes, they were able to rest veteran and hardened combat troops while having them available if anything went seriously wrong.

The Triocats on the other hand were quite happy to have a relatively stable and low intensity front so as to hide as much as possible the economic and industrial growth going on in their seven major cities. They also were using it as a training area but, tried to eliminate obvious cannon fodder from going out there and dieing for no good reason. Mostly they found that those were their eggheads who were sent off planet to get their educations. A few a very few were sent to Ryman for advanced training and a smaller few to the Ryman Officer Candidate Academy.

* * *
The small auditorium in the Ryman Military Headquarters Building was slowly filling as Ryman’s Command and Planning Staff entered in dribs and drab; most, after two days of nonstop labor, wanting nothing more than to find a place to sit. As they gravitated towards their preordained destinations, like electrons in layered orbital shells, each found his place on the hard backed bench type seats with order of rank a substituting for order of charge. Only a very few spoke or exchanged nods of greetings with their fellows. Instead, and in most cases, they just slumped into position and sat or squirmed into some semblance of comfort. And for almost all it took a supreme effort of will merely to remain awake.

Normal Ryman spit and polish was thrown over the transom and few uniforms included jacket or even a tucked in shirt. The last to of those to enter was General Arthur Redmond with his ever present shadow CSM Todd Malinowski, who somehow managed in spite of the fact he had worked the same hours as the rest managed to look just as militarily precise as ever.

The room became totally silent as the Planetary Command team finished setting up their work area and a few snoring attendees were poke into wakefulness. Even those still squirming and others twitching nervously as they tried to remain alert stilled as if on signal and out of respect for the Officer in front.

Redmond cleared his throat and began “Gentlemen, the purpose of this meeting is to determine if I will issue the Planetary Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) to allow you to implement your Operational Plan (OPLAN) for the proposed Triocat operation. I recognize the work that went into this thing and I ask of each of you but one thing… be honest! I can live with long and boring, I can live with short and sweet, I can even live with strong dissent; what I can not live with hedging or CYA bullcrap. Gunther you are up first/; if the Navy can’t get us there then little else matters.”

Admiral Gunther (call sign: No Neck) Jenkins stood and flicked on the display screen at the end of the room. “Art it is simple, I can execute Case 1 with no problem. If the combat situation in Triocat goes at least 60 percent of plan I can squeeze Case 2. Case 3 is not gonna happen if I cannot get at least one more G-1 transport. I could live with a couple of G-2’s and would cheerfully sell my granddaughter out as a hooker for two G-1’s. No, I don’t need them to be armed and could promise to protect them. The old Oligarchs practice of ‘if you want our stuff, you come get it’ has us in the hole for basic transport. This time next year I will sing a different tune but, that’s where I am at right now.”

“Honest at least Gunther, we have some chances of getting you at least one G-1. Why are you so adamant about two G-1’s?”

“Give me two G-1’s and I will give you Case 4. You want the heat off of Cardoman and Novi, give me Case 4. I will get hurt if the Caliphate comes in force but, I will hold Triocat from space. The ground effort I cannot comment on.”

“Nor should you Gunther. Having said that, Bob you are up next for First Regiment of Strike Alpha.”

“Thanks Boss,” spoke MG Robert (Snake) Allenby Commander of 1st Alpha. “The big thing we need is a ride to Triocat. Our job is to stabilize the direct front and begin pushing it back. The big problem there is to co-ordinate our actions with the local forces and that is flat just no problem. We have been training their people since before Robbie took a hike and I am going to carry the latest Triocat graduating class from the Officers Academy with us. There are three sealed warehouses on Triocat with the latest Ryman issue in them and the Triocat’s are in a severe case of lust waiting for us to open the doors. They are all already trained on and qualified in its use! If we get the Close Air Support as planned we will start rolling back the front within twenty-four hours of landing!” He then sat down.

“Brief as always Snake and I don’t think anyone here is going to doubt you very much! OK Thumper, how about Second?”

Hearing his old, but now seldom used nickname, the next briefer to rise was MG Scott Thompson Commander of 2nd Alpha. “We have the second hardest job; as soon as Snake starts pushing back the front we have to Aerial Envelope the 1037 Battalion at Tears-of-Mohammad, which is the battalion just staging in from front line deployment. By the time we get there they will have staged down and be in their R&R phase. They will be integrating replacements but, they majority are battle hardened troops just slightly down on their reflexes.

“Good news is that none of them has ever seen a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) as their use went away centuries ago on Earth until now even the concept seems lost. I will have the sheer joy of introducing the latest generation of ‘Ragheads,’ excuse me he said, without looking the least bit penitent, “to the concept of Steel Rain. We are going to get hurt but, shock and surprise are going to be on our side. In my humble opinion Dumbass over there has the toughest job.”

Redmond laughed with the rest of the room and once more did not stand to comment. “Geoff, sounds like you are up!”

MG Geoff (Dumbass) Henderson took over the floor. “Thumper is right we have the tough nut to crack, we get the 2161 Battalion at Al-Jharamid. These guys are in their work up phase getting ready to go back to an active front somewhere, the bonus is we think they are tasked for Cardoman. The downside is that they are late in their train-up cycle, so late that they are sleeping with their weapons. I am going to get hurt and my troops know it. These people will not fold; we are going to have to take them down in Urban Combat. That is why we have more Medical assigned to us that anyone else; we are going to need them. Art, we can take ’em but, we will need a rebuild cycle back home afterward.”

Without a word being said the attention of the entire room turned towards MG Robert (Oddball) Kinnison and his CSM Andrew (Reaper) Stewart the Command team that had years before retired early to allow Art Redmond and Robbie Davis to take their place. They were currently the Command Team for Fourth Regiment, the Reserves whose job it was to defend the home world. The General merely nodded his head at his CSM and the dry laconic voice rolled over the room. “Don’t worry Dumbass; we will still be here when you get back. Most of us are too damn old and stubborn to die just yet!”

The room really did erupt in laughter this time. It went on until Redmond finally grabbed a tissue to wipe his eyes and manage to croak out, “OK, humor for the day. I will note the 4th Alpha did get the priority for the new remote launcher system, which is why the Triocat shipment is going out short and will not go to full supply until the relief run phase.”

Jenkins chimed in, “No problem with that as we really will not need them until the Calps show up in force and we have to prep the sites anyway.”

“That’s good Gunther, the problem then becomes the Calp Space Station, what do you have for us Tommy?”

The slender figure of MG Thomas (Flinger) Davis Commander of the Aero-Space Force stood and took the floor. The Uncle of CSM Robert T Davis, he was in fact younger than Robbie. Robbie was the first born of the oldest brother in a large family renowned for its long life span and above average fecundity while Tommy was the youngest child of the youngest brother and was one hell of a pilot. “Most of my assets are going to be tied up getting 2nd and 3rd where they need to be and providing CAS, the station really only needs the attention of the ‘Lying Bastard’ anyway. My battalion of Space Marines should be able to take that fairly easily. We have never let anyone see our skin suits for space combat so the station security is just going to be outclassed and I am more worried about civilian casualties than anything else.”

“If I may I would like to interject a personal note, it’s a message from my rambunctious nephew which I note was also addressed to General Redmond.”

“Go ahead Tommy I was gonna use it if you did not!”

“Dearly Revered Uncle Thomas— ‘IN YOUR DREAMS!’ Glad to hear things are finally on the right track, kick some asses and take some names. I surely am going to! Gentlemen, I submit that he is right. Cardoman and Novi need some relief and the best way we can do that is punch the Calps right straight in the teeth at Triocat. I am jealous of my ‘Nephew”, I wanna bust some Calps!”

Redmond rose and started packing up his documents and gear, “I believe so also, I will talk to Foreign Affairs first thing in the morning about additional cargo ships. Immediately after that I shall issue the Planetary FRAGO, begin you preparation phases without waiting for it. Gentlemen, Ryman is going to war in the full light of day for the first time!”

“Ski, get a message to Robbie and his new Boss Wesley Calvert, tell them to be sure to hang on and give us some time, the shit is getting ready to hit the fan!”

Robert Kinnison had no such luxury, the job of Commander 4th Alpha included Command of the Leadership Academy System and the current hopefully graduating class of Officers was in the middle of their Final Field Exercise. Traditionally they lost a few in this exercise and he hoped it would not be any of the Triocats. Fortunately the Academy was a short walk from Force Command building so he was comfortably able to get in a smoke on his stroll over.

Entering the dimly lit room was like coming into another world, heads nodded at him in obedience to his standing orders that no one called a room to attention while an exercise was on. Moving to the LTC in charge he asked, “Lost any or are we getting lucky?”

“You tell me tomorrow, the reports on the two we pulled out will be on your desk. First one was a kid from Novi who just got rattled and talked too long, forced the system to miss a freq jump. So the Direction Finder squad got him and sicked the GLQ-35’s on his whole platoon, they smoked five comm units.”

Kinnison winced, the GLQ series were vehicular mounted jamming systems and the massive 35’s could literally destroy comm units too close with 10,000 KW of tight-beamed power. The Man Portable TLQ series did not have the destructive power but could completely disrupt communications if given the chance. The Calps had similar if not as efficient systems thus the core of Ryman communications discipline. Don’t talk unless you have too, if you talk, talk fast and never ever use names or Command Titles! Thus every uniformed Ryman who had any chance of using Command and Control Communication (C3) was assigned a callsign. Said handle usually referred to something dumb or awkward that they were involved in during training; none the less it was unique to them for their entire career. His own CSM’s callsign “Reaper” came from shooting up a friendly platoon in an exercise.

“OK Chet, what did number two do?”

“That’s the one we are recommending for a bust out. Scion of an Oligarch family, he decided to put down a plebeian on the C3 and used names and ranks. In the process he compromised the Chain of Command for a whole Company and its weapons platoon in particular!”

“Good God, him I am going to make a mud puddle!” Just as he finished the comm monitor broke out with classic Ryman communications.

“Pool Ball, Bam-Bam: Loc squirt!” There followed a short squeal of sound followed by 20 seconds of silence.

After that the monitor indicated a freq shift, “Bam-Bam, Pool Ball Locked!”

Another 20 seconds, “Pool Ball, Bam-Bam Double Tap!”

“Chet, what was that?”

“The Aggressor Mortar Platoon just got a double spread of MLRS scatter shot from our young Trainees. Now that the way it’s supposed to be done!”

“OK, I am outta here for some sleep. Have your recommendations on my desk in the morning, any problems with any of the Triocats?”

“You just heard two of them. For some reason, they are very very intense. You would think they were fighting somebody or something!”

Robert was laughing as he left looking for his bed.

* * *
Arkady Reshevsky, President of the Confederacy, leaned back in his black, cowhide leather, overstuffed chair and started to close his eyes. Not cooperating, the springs balancing its movement howled in protested and he immediately leaned forwards again. James Philips, head of his intelligence service, sitting on a couch diagonally opposite the desk with a spectacular view of the Federations Capital city winced at the sound then smiled.

“I hope that noise doesn’t spread beyond this office and that the Luddites don’t insist that the squeak should be built in, fair, just, and a part of nature not to be trifled with.”

“I’m afraid they would James. And try as I do I can’t seem to get them into this millennium, much less this century.” He shook his head then continued. “I don’t like what Ryman is about to do. I am afraid it is premature. But if it shakes up those hidebound bastards some good will come out of it.”

“You’re going to let them have the ships then?”

“I don’t see another choice. Unless we help this new Ryman government with their operation it is going to fail, your report makes that clear, and that would be far worse than the alternative.”

It was Philips turn to nod his head before saying, “As I said, talk Ryman out of it and nothing much will change. Triocat is hardly a factor on any scale that matters to the rest of our member states.”

“I won’t argue that point, can’t in fact, but I am not looking at it from quite that way. We had a lot of trouble dealing with Ryman’s old government. But when push came to shove we could rein them in to a certain extent. If we hope to have any influence on this new military setup we need to show that our power, tenuous as it is in this particular case, is something worth trying to get on the same side of. Or maybe even getting on board with. So yes, I am going to let them use a couple of our ships and I am going to leave it up to you which ones and how we make it deniable both to the Caliphate and our own Luddites.”

“Somehow I knew you were going to say that Sir,” and this time Philips gave a genuine smile and suppressed a chuckle, though poorly. “The Federation Navy is reactivating everything we’ve mothballed over the last forty years. We have one G-1, the Lady of Spain, powered up and ready to go. It was my intention to suggest we lease her to Novi. But in the short term Ryman can make use of her every bit as well. We haven’t another G-1 even close to bringing back on line but we can send them one or two G-2’s without the Admiralty getting completely out of joint. We do need to stress to our friends on Ryman that they must not militarize them and what ever happens they are returned to us in the same condition as when we loaned them out.”

“I can make that point quite clear to the Ryman Ambassador. How long before we can have these ships ready to go?”

“I will need to talk to my counterpart in our space service, but I would think a week from today would give me time to set up enough cutout points that nothing too awful bad can fall back on us. All you need to do is issue the order Sir.”

“Do it James. I’ll take care of the Admiralty.”

* * *
Art Redmond, Gunther Jenkins and Thomas Davis sat quietly in the waiting room, the private one, for the Office of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Each had received the invitation only late the night before and they were all hopeful it was in fact good news. The door opened and a quiet clerk asked them to enter the Secretary’s office. From behind her boomed a voice they all knew well. “Drag your worthless carcasses in here and deplete my Bourbon!”

Art was the first to speak as he entered the room, “Probably some old rot gut you found laying around Dave.”

“If it is it’s probably better than that Scotch you normally swill,” replied David Matthews.

“So how does it feel to be a civilian these days anyway?”

“I have a great desire to see Lance lose the next election, He is after all the only reason I agreed to take this job.”

“Well, I am sure you didn’t ask us here just to have shoulders to cry on.”

Dave stood acknowledging the other two men’s presence and for a moment said nothing, then in his typical direct manner, even before they found a seat began, “I can’t believe what I am about to say and that I will not get a chance to be a part of it. Gunther, I got you a G-1 and two G-2’s from the last place you would expect, the Confederation. The Feddies are going to lease them to us through more cut-outs than you could possibly believe. Two strings though, you cannot militarize them and they have to go back in one piece.”

“I just need them as cargo haulers so no problem there. I said from the word get go that I could protect anything we got. The big question is when do we get them?”

“Within the week, the G-1 is Lady-of-Spain and the two G-2’s are Toronado and Bernardo. OK, Art why are you grinning?”

“I think it might be my Masters Degree in Classical Literature but, I can’t help wondering if they have a G-4 named Zorro!” The three quizzical stares started him laughing.

Three months to the day later a G-1 tramp cargo vessel calling itself Wanderlust slid over the hyper limit into the Triocat system. It was in truth the Ryman ship “Lying Bastard.” Operation First Strike had begun.