A Point of Honor 15

A Point of Honor
Chapter 15 Draft (10-12-09)

The Wanderlust slid across the hyper-limit at 1.2 light-hours distance from Triocat. That close her grav pulse revealed her presence at once and she immediately began sending a squawk to the distant Calp orbital station. As the communications continued static bursts caused by a “malfunctioning” Radar Approach System made the conversation even more difficult to deal with than the time lag dictated. Included in the initial messages was one asking for a repair estimate on the offending equipment, one they knew would not be forthcoming due to the Wanderlust’s age.

G-1 repair hadn’t been a growth industry for at least the last two centuries and the ships themselves were never standardized much to begin with. They were all by now one of kinds, differences depending on their maintenance or lack thereof. Without the fact of war in the offing most of the remaining ships of this class were worth more for the scrap value of the transuranics in their drive bands than as working transports. Even so on a world owning only one or two such ships they were too valuable to sell off for any reason. They insured some type of contact with the rest of the universe.

“OK Boss, we should look as normal as hell; typical small world owned and operated G-1 with maintenance problems. Fed them the data on why we cannot boost at full burn due to other maintenance problems. Their responses show they are firmly convinced that we are the Wanderlust and have of course they have never heard of the Lying Bastard. First part worked, now the hard part!”

CAPT. Richard ‘Gomba’ Petrocelli swung his command chair around, hearing a squeak and a groan from the ancient swivels and asked, “What’s the time to docking one more time Nick?”

“One more time, right at 135 hours or as near to five and a half days as I could cut it. And a remarkable piece of navigation it was considering our destination even with the extra stop and some H from Tornado.” A fully loaded G-1 without the help would not have been able to carry the fuel an extra transition required unless they were carrying the fuel as cargo like the Bastard was and tapped into the same. Their cargo was slated for other uses.

Using antimatter as both fuel for power and ship’s reaction mass as well had long been the ‘Holy Grail’ of all ship designers and propulsion physicists. And after nearly four centuries of work and study there was nothing much new on the horizon. In theory all the problems were solved. In practice only one remained— that of research labs, containment facilities, with scientists and all going Boom! at the most annoyingly inconvenient times.

So there were trade offs. G-1’s and 2’s carried their fuel internally and were limited to the amount of delta-V they could use going to or from a hyper jump. Except for a new ship’s initial jump the amount of energy needed wasn’t an issue. The energy lost in a transition out was gained and put back into the drive bands on a transition in. But the energy from the transition point to a final destination had to come from the on board supply.

The two newer classes, the 3’s and 4’s carried most of their fuel in external tanks. Just enough inside for a slow speed run and internal power. Putting the reaction mass outside beyond freeing up room inside for weapons and cargo provided a place for warships to dump waste heat. And that gave a new lease on life to stealth systems that were no longer so stealthy.

It also meant that the ships mass fraction, that part of the ship’s total mass available for velocity change was much larger. And that meant the time spent from point A to point B, once in system was cut as well. And it made improvements to the ship’s gravity compensators both desirable and useful though the last go around had them on the edge of what was doable. Thirty percent light speed, the max anyone could shield for in normal space without an unacceptable penalty was now attainable several times over with out a refuel. And the external tanks could be changed or jettisoned much faster than with a normal refuel. The newest version of the G-4 would carry six rather than four external tanks.

But all of that Nick knew before he replied. “I was both awake and sober at those planning meetings you know!”
“And if he wasn’t I was,” chimed in David ‘Lighthouse’ Peterson the Navigator while he stood up and took a bow. The rest of the bridge crew let out low chuckles at the sight as a well oiled command team released a little tension.

“Thank you my Loyal and Faithful Team, now I ask if you have monitored the traffic from The Lady of Spain now in orbit about how their unloading is behind schedule. For those who have not, we need to generate about six more hours delay to insure that she and her consorts finish their unloading and be well clear before the Harridan and Gethsemane make orbit and we kick off the nastiness!”

“Oops, we missed that Boss. That should be no problem with a tub like this one’s carefully developed reputation. They probably will think it a miracle that we get there at all.”

“Fear not my minions; think about the crews of those four G-4’s out in space building velocity for the assault sweep. Those guys are going to have to balance a needle to make up for the change. I don’t envy that crowd at all, after all the only thing we have to do is appear to fuck up in place, shouldn’t be hard for this bunch.” The rest of the bridge crew really did loose it to laughter at that point.

2LT Don Diego de La Torrance was sweating blood in Laringham High Station, wearing civilian clothing and in his persona as the youngest son of the de La Torrance trading family, he was certain that this was harder than the last four years rolled into one frantic moment. Triocat Security knew that there were at least three Caliphate spies on the High Station and had worked hard to insure their regular duties kept them away from this bay at just this time. The Bernardo had completed her unloading and was moving towards the hyper limit shed of the last pieces of heavy equipment she had carried on the way in to Low Station. Don Diego was supervising the cross loading of the last of the ‘trade goods’ bound for the family warehouses.

For public distribution he had spent the last 4 years at a Fine Arts School on Novi, not at the Command Academy on Ryman. The load he was shepherding was not the machine tools the crates advertised; it was two Basic Loads for three Ryman Regiments. Thirty days worth of munitions each for units that lived by firepower and maneuver, the resupply was supposed to be in place before the shooting started. Now all he had to do was get to the surface and talk to his Father, he dearly wanted to show him what was in the big luggage case.

In deep space around Triocat the Harridan and Gethsemane broke the limit in blazes of glory and Gunther Jenkins became the Commander on Site. As his Command Team began to receive info from deep inside the system he silently cursed to see Lady of Spain still in place. Five hours later he could see her begin to move out of orbit and burn for the limit. “Todd, record for zip squeal to the Lying Bastard. Gomba, No Neck; plus five point five.”

On board the Bastard, Petrocelli turned to his Navigator, “OK, David now we have a hard hack not just our guess. Original plan plus 5 and a half hours, you have the Bridge and I am going to talk to the Marine Battalion Commander.”

The cavernous conference room was strangely quiet for a full meeting of the Cabinet level of the Ryman Government. Most had arrived early and were waiting for the one missing team, on most other planets with a Republican form of government they would have been waiting for the Secretary of War. On Ryman they were waiting for the Planetary Commander, they were waiting for General Arthur Redmond and Malinowski his ever present shadow. The side door opened and Redmond and Malinowski came in, both with portable computers which they quickly set up. Sitting now they merely stared at the far wall waiting until Lance Meeks, the first freely elected President of the Republic of Ryman, finally broke the silence as everyone knew he must.

“The purpose of this meeting is to lay preliminary plans of action following Operation First Strike, no matter which way it plays out. I have waited until this point because as a serving Officer I learned that Logistics is the true Queen of Battle. Given that, I give the floor to General Redmond.”

Art stood slowly and thumbed the remote he carried, “Logistics as you say Lance truly is the ‘Queen of Battle’, though I think the word ‘Bitch’ might be a more appropriate honorific in this case. Regardless it should be all in place. Bernardo and Lady of Spain ought to be through unloading, Toronado should have finished playing tanker for the G-4’s, Harridan and Gethsemane should be in system, and Masada is due within the hour. The Command and Control are on Gunther’s shoulders no matter what we wish.”

“I know most of the people in this room are just getting used to the idea of not being in the real time chain of command. That’s what happens when you wage war at this distance with its communications lags. So of course what I am relating is what is supposed to be happening; in three weeks we should know the truth of the matter. For good or ill the Civilian government has to live with its decisions and allow the Warriors to carry out their duties. I am the Planetary Commander, because I am still serving and you would not allow me to go to Triocat. You cannot freeze over the thought that you are not there to control it either, this ain’t Old Earth! When you start a war at Interstellar distances you plan and then you have to step back. That my friends is the place and edge we have over the Caliphate, for it is there they can not go!”

Don Diego was frantically storing his stuff before the ground car came to pick him up when his father walked in the room. Don Tomas de La Torrance was a large man by any measure, physical size, intelligence or sheer presence in a room; forty years of running de La Torrance Trading had honed all of his qualities. “What’s the hurry Diego? And I did not think you were even going to bring those Ryman uniforms home?”

“They need me over at Battalion and the uniforms kinda came with this,” Don Diego, finished with pulling on the boots to his Triocat uniform, reached into the large trunk. What he came out with stopped conversation even as his mother entered the room. Don Tomas had never seen a scabbard quite as beautiful as the one he saw now, and when his son pulled the gleaming Saber from its banded and filigreed funda de espadas he knew he was looking at a Kings Ransom, a sword that would be the centerpiece of any major collection.

“Father, I had to take an Oath to keep this. They did not even argue when I said I had to include ‘subject to the needs of Triocat’ in so doing. They told me it was only the second time that the Student Brigade had ever beaten the Aggressor Force and they did not want it to be the second time the Honor Sword had been refused.”

“How could someone refuse this?” Don Tomas asked as he took the beautiful creation from his sons hand and realized it was not a toy nor merely a display piece. True to his Spanish origins he had trained as a swordsman of the Classical School where the use of pointed rather than edged weapons predominated and had the trophies to prove it. Still it was certain this was a true weapon, one fit to be used in battle and not only for show.

“Very simple father, this other refused his commission. To quote the man, ‘You can order me to go to the school, you can order me to do my best; but you can not order me to swear an oath. I have already sworn an Oath! May I get back to work now?’ They maintain that Honor Sword in a display case in the entry hall to Command Academy as a challenge to every First Termer!”

“Who was that masked man, and what jail is he in?”

“He is somewhere out in the stars as a mercenary and the claim is that he made their change of government possible on his way out. He is a legend among NCO’s on Ryman and his name is Robert Terrence Davis. His hand-picked successor presented me with this Sword and I respect CSM Malinowski as I respect damn few others!”

His father sat in a chair and thought quickly. “Is this the same Malinowski who was instrumental in stopping that Calp Special Operations outfit here?”

“Yes father, he is and he is now Planetary CSM. Father I have been there the last two years after the overturn of the Oligarchs, you cannot begin to believe the change that has gone on. There was an entire underground culture on that planet. In fact it was the part we got to see because of the Military assistance that was being given us. I had no idea that they were a Class One world where shipbuilding was concerned. They made an attempt to keep it secret because the Oligarchs planned to sell them to the Calps for most favored status and the economic advantages that go with it. Very few if any people outside of Ryman know that they have four G-4’s”

Don Tomas shot upright in his chair, “They have four pure Warships?”
“Yes, Father and they are coming here! They wish desperately to take pressure off of Cardoman and Novi. The best way they can think of is to present the Calps with a third front and hurt them badly in the process. Not to mention that they promised many years ago to support us! This action that is running is their way of doing both! They are coming here with everything they have Father and I am to be a part of that! As it will become your problem Father to handle the politics of what must surely follow, if one exists I must be part of the Military solution. I am one of the few Triocat Officers whom the Rymans will follow and there must be some of us for this to work” He reached to the nightstand and picked up his headgear and walked from the room.

“Tomas— Is that still, my Son?”

“Yes Maria, more so than ever! Did you notice that his Triocat rank was that of Captain rather than that of a Second Lieutenant? Our world has need of talent like his, and he has just convinced me that the Rymans are not the fanatics some think. Read your history my Dear Maria, somewhere in that oncoming fleet is a Charles Martel. If not this world will soon be lost to us. But should such a man appear in answer to our prayers, then it is perhaps much more than a world the Caliphate will be losing.”

Masada crossed the limit hours ago, based on her entry point she would cut the orbital arc and merge with Harridan and Gethsemane in less than 24 hours. On board the Harridan one grizzled old Vet faced the decision of his life. Due to transmission lag he must make a decision on actions that would not occur for two more days yet and was caught in the time squeeze of Inter-Stellar war. No matter how much he wanted to micro-manage this battle he could not. The ships and more importantly the people aboard them were in place, yet he could not wait until the last minute to make his decision. The G-4’s piling on acceleration out in the darkness of space if nothing else, drove his time line.

“Well Ralph, what do you think I should do?”

The question was mostly rhetorical and the MCPO sitting across from him set down his drink and stroked his mustache once or twice then uttered the line which would finally give him a call sign, something he had resisted strenuously to for his entire military career, “No Brainer! It’s too late to back down now.” Gotcha!

“You are right Master Chief. It don’t mean much if I wimp out now because I have those Little Old Lady fears.” With that he hit the Red Switch that sent pre-recorded messages out to the entire fleet. The plan would execute in fifty-three hours. Operation First Strike was now unstoppable!

Fifty two and a half hours later the good ship Wanderlust was in the final stages of her approach to Saladin High Station. They had fumbled the approach so badly that they were having to do a retrograde approach to get to the soft dock tube they had been assigned. The officials on the station were not about to allow them to get a hard dock slot until they were sure the ships cargo was worth their effort. As they slowed to less than walking speed they began a careful circuit, with the RAS spacing in and out. At this distance the ‘malfunctioning’ unit was blanking even the control runs from the surveillance cameras on the station. Thus at every screech of the RAS, 21 sally ports spit out three man teams of Ryman Space Marines with their maneuver packs sliding down to the stations maintenance and emergency egress locks.

As each three man team touched the hull the electronics modules they carried were slapped on the lock control panel, which promptly forgot to report status to the bridge as well as not mentioning that it was no longer doing so. Then each team slid in through the locks, equalized and unlocked the inner door, ditched their space gear and waited.
Finally coming to a hard stop the Wanderlust waited as the soft faced dock tube extended from the station. One last screech from the RAS erupted covering every frequency excepting one and that one happened to be on an internal repeater for the station. Of course no one on the station thought a thing about the squeal on one isolated frequency; if they had and had a Ryman scramble unit they would have heard the message: “Fartsack, Gomba; 15 Sierra.”

Fifteen seconds after that message the inner doors of the service locks popped open into the corridors of the station. Three teams closest to the Bridge converged immediately, as on most civilian stations the bridge was located at the outer skin so that visual sighting could occur if the surveillance systems went down. Military Command decks were buried deep in the ship with redundant systems for security reasons. In 45 seconds the Ryman assault teams showed the surviving Bridge crew what those security concerns were.

Another fifteen seconds and without the sound of any internal alarms, the airlock, now sealed and latched against the ships hull with both inner and outer doors on the dock tubes opened. The station’s inspection team pulled themselves across. Well trained in the maneuver, looking almost like synchronized swimmers, they flicked themselves along with finger pressure only. And at the tube’s end slowed then reversed themselves before exiting upright to be greeted by a full company of Ryman Marines, invisible till now standing to one side and out of view.

“Let’s not do anything stupid Gentlemen!” rang the harsh command voice of Richard Petrocelli in his best ‘Stop this shit or else mode!’ And those few reaching for sidearms froze or other weapons froze as if cast in stone.

And as he spoke one Marine went to his knees and firmly on the deck and pointed a shoulder mounted tubular weapon down the boarding tubes central axis. With an audible whoosh followed by a blur of motion it fired, and without a hint of the normal trailing flare due to a reaction engine built up speed

This one was a ‘Special’, compressed gas fired and very short range, but no chance of setting off any fire detectors on the tube and triggering the double open hatch at its other end into an emergency shutdown.

From that other end seconds later came the noise and fury of the biggest flash-bang grenade anyone on Ryman could figure out how to build and stuff into such a small projectile. The full company of the finest trained Marines in the Galaxy (an arrogant belief that they longed to settle in a friendly bar fight with some of Uncle Robbie’s boys from Cardoman) went down that tube right in the face of that hell-storm. And 25 seconds later they owned the boarding dock of what the Calp’s had taken to calling Saladin Station. As they completed their spread through the corridors of the station a broadcast came from the orbital facilities Command Bridge.

“Good Evening one and all, I am extremely pleased to announce that Saladin Station is changing its name along with its ownership. We are now open for business as Triocat Station, come one and come all! See the new show in the sky!”

In the interval between storming the landing tube and their arrival on the bridge a warning message was sent out automatically when the alarms were sounded. After the unavoidable lightspeed delay the three Caliphate vessels in system turned their noses and sensors towards the planet as if puppets on a string. It wasn’t long after the alarm message reached them that their close in surveillance stations relayed the same report along with some additional information. And then, breaking the shocked silence, on each of the Caliphate ships came the sound of a new familiar yet still strident alarm.

“Sir, two of those G-1’s inbound are now showing as G-2’s! And they have launched ShipKillers.” At the same time from system surveillance came another cry, “Sir, four more sources have just gone active and they appear to be G-4’s on a C-fractional approach and they are firing as well!”

All three Caliphate Captain’s wondered for a moment why Allah had deserted them, then began the desperate evasion and counter-attack they knew would do them no good. The surprise was too complete, detection range too short, and life too fleeting.

On the boarding dock of the Lying Bastard thirteen good Calps, those who had not listened lay dead, and the two who had been smart enough to pay attention stood with their hands in the air. Petrocelli asked the Marine Gunny to take them to the brig and then stated for their benefit, “No Gentlemen, we do not kill prisoners; no matter what you have been told!”

“Lighthouse Gomba, talk to me son!”

On the planet below Tomas and Maria de La Torrance settled on the veranda outside the two story stucco glazed building that was their home, leaning back in double sized recliners, each under a light blanket warding off the evening chill, to talk for a while and to watch the stars come out.

Suddenly small pinpricks of light began to appear in the evening sky, almost like the fireflies they had imported from old Earth. But the fire was a hot red and white rather than a cold green. And as counter-missiles began to pick off ShipKillers in the glowering darkness the heat became ever more apparent. In thirty rapid seconds three huge blooms of light appeared and waves of color flashed from horizon to horizon shattering for a time any vestige of the growing gloom.

Throwing the covers aside and running to the service room they sat once more, this time in front of a device Don Diego had left on his last trip home. One that was in fact a communications receiver attuned to military channels. They listened as words and sometimes whole sentences broke through the staccato like static.

“Zulu to Fleet Comm, Target down. Burning Decel!”
“Spartan to Fleet Comm, Target down. Burning Decel!”
“Gael to Fleet Comm, Target down. Burning Decel!”
“Varangian to Fleet Comm, No Target, Burning Decel!”

“No-Neck to All Hands. Launch!”

Running back to the veranda he looked straight up and saw the flares as the assault shuttles of the Ryman ships began to launch and the torrent of light as the ground based shuttles roared up to meet the mother ships. Ryman was about to put boots on the ground, “May God Favor the Right,” he muttered under his breath!