A Point of Honor 16

A Point of Honor
Chapter 16 Draft (09-26-09)

Yuri Borselov woke in a cold sweat to the clanging of the ship’s alarm bell, a metal dome with a barely visible vibrating clapper mounted and firmly attached to the bulkhead above his cabin’s bed. His arm swung sideways, hand swiping at the mute switch that looked so incongruous sticking up from the table top in his cramped sleeping compartment. Even the Captain of a ‘Galaxy Class’ starship was required to sacrifice for the common good. “Captain to bridge,” he croaked. And hearing no response said it again, taking his time and leaving out as much of the rasp as he could.

“No more Cardoman Ale on an empty stomach,” he promised himself for at least the twentieth time this month. And hearing the squeal from an overloaded feedback loop swore he would get Engineering Commander Watt to fix the damn thing himself if it was the last thing the overbearing Scot ever managed in this life.

“This is the Captain, let’s hear it!” He said, forcing himself once more to sound like he gave a rat’s ass on a cold Friday night.

“Sir, we are picking up a distress signal from somewhere in the Gamma Quadrant.”

The sultry voice of the tall, dark skinned Com Officer was affecting him like it always did, “Damn—that bitch can get on my nerves, and something else if I ever get the chance,” Yuri swore it silently. “Lt. Ohara? What exactly does the damn message say, if I might ask?”

“Sorry Sir! It fades in and out. But there is loud noise that could be screaming in the background and the computer says the coordinates match the last reported position of the Federation Science Vessel Endeavor!”

“The Endeavor! That’s impossible; she disappeared on a routine training voyage over fifteen years ago while I was still a plebe in the Academy on Llanfairn. The Essex under Admiral Raymond went out looking for her and came back two years later saying ‘Move along, there’s nothing to see!’ Why that even became his motto!”

“I know Sir, but that’s what the computers are reporting and Sensor Officer Spork agrees. Commander Spork went down to engineering to check on the plasma conduits but he asked me to call and get you up here on the bridge as soon as possible. He has an idea that there this is more this than just a routine distress message.”

“Spork’s an old woman who can’t handle his emotions any better than his sex life! But you didn’t hear that from me Ohara and you better not repeat it where he can hear you either! Call the Doctor and have him get his sorry ass on deck and I’ll be right there . . . Borselov Out!”

“We called him first,” Lt. Ohara said into an empty mike.

Yuri rolled from the bed and made it to his washroom where icy water and a change of uniforms conspired to make him almost presentable. He should have taken the old uniform off before crashing on the bunk a mere four hours earlier. But no one better say a word about his appearance if they knew what was good for them. A Starship Captain, warts and all, was the closest thing to a god anyone on this ship was ever likely to see and he had all the power that went with the title. “At least on the Confederation Starship Enterprise.”

The lift came to a halt and the double doors opened, and there stood the Doctor in his tacky purple velour medical tunic, looking for all the world like a stewed prune with legs. He had his hand held scanner at the ready and managed to look both put out and attentive at the same time, no small task. Thirty years of service had given him something he could put on in place of his usual supercilious or sometime mindless questioning expression.

Glaring but accepting the inevitable Yuri paused long enough for the Doctor to wave his magic box with attachments looking like nothing else than salt shakers along with its pre-programmed flickering lights back and forth a few times before saying in his tired grumpy voice. More of a whine then what used to be called a bedside manner. “You got to take better care of yourself Yuri; all of us are depending on you. And you are pushing way too hard. You’ve been in the dumps ever since you got passed over by the last promotion board and unless you pull out of it I can’t be responsible for what happens next.” His voice trailed off as he pretended to look at the scanner codes.

“Back to your leaches and magic beans Doc, I got work to do.”

And with that Yuri took his place in the middle of the command deck with the cinema sized display screen barely thirty feet away looking like an ancient TV that had lost sync with an out of phase color bar generator.

“Get me Sensor Officer Spork!”

The alarm sounded again, this time even more insistently than ever, and Yuri snapped awake. “God that was awful!” He had fallen asleep watching one of the old videos from the ship’s collection less than four hours earlier. Still blurry, but at least somewhat sensible, he tapped his remote and took the call.

“Rise and shine, rise and shine. Audie here. We just had a ship hyper in and I think you might like to get your lazy ass up to the bridge and hear the message she’s sending.”

“Do I have to?”

“Move it Yuri! NOW!”

That last word was loud! Almost deafeningly so. But the Captain must have had her mike hushed to anyone else but him. Decorum on the bridge almost made that a given, almost. Lieutenant Ferguson, his assistant, must have been alerted by Madry because there was no call from him duplicating the information.

Yuri stumbled out of bed and got dressed all over again; for the last time today, he hoped. The young, young even for the Cardoman Navy, department head of the G2-M Perseus’ engineering contingent had his quarters on the same deck as the ships control engineering spaces. Two rooms and a bath, a two thirds of the way down from the rounded point of the blimp shaped vessel and one deck above the ship’s generating plant and the four, equally spaced, curved meter thick feeds to the ships lower drive band. Another four feeds came from below and continued upwards for two more decks before curving into and powering the upper band. The decks in between that would have been set aside for bulk or oversized cargo on a straight ‘Merchie’, on the Perseus were split between the boat bay and missile deck and the ships R&D areas along with the shops and labs that were what made this ship so unique.

The first generation of FTL ship’s had a single drive band. They were based on the earliest sub-light types that Earth had used to populate the closest habital systems to earth. The last of those journey’s had stretched into decades with passengers and crew spending time in what amounted to a state of hibernation. Those ships were large, 200,000 tons and more. They had to be, considering the length of the voyage considered from a time sense and the need for the colonists to take everything they could imagine needing along with them.

That very size, and the Earth orbital manufacturing that built them, made production of the first drive band FTL ship possible. For a hundred years the type remained in production. Towards the end of that period, and with shipyards now in production on several of the colony worlds the G-2 was introduced. Smaller (half the dead weight tonnage and a little less interior volume), faster, ellipsoid rather than spherical, with 2 bands rather than one and only half the mass and construction cost, this new type was in continuous production for over three hundred years. Minor improvements were added along the way but the basic pattern remained and was still being produced.

Before the start of the last war, some forty-five years ago, the first of the G-3’s came out of the more advanced shipyards of the Caliphate, Confederation, and a sole Independent world Llanfairn. They were once again smaller than the class they were displacing, at some 60,000 tons, and faster as well. Using the relative speed of a ship in hyper, with a single band like a G-1 as a base; the increase was very close to the square root of the total number of drive bands.

A G-3 was 70% faster than a G-1 but only about 22% faster than a G-2. They cut the time across the 400 light year wide area humans had explored and colonized thus far from those first G-1 hyper ship’s six months to fourteen weeks. The latest class, the G-4’s, in production at only half a dozen yards cut another two weeks from the total. They were running up against the laws of diminishing returns. Generation five ships weren’t even in the dream stage as the speed increase over a four was so small. A six might be possible but without a change in design philosophy one would be too small for anything but courier work.

The G-3’s were the first class to take on the modern ‘Dumbbell’ shape and carry their reaction mass in tanks attached to the outside of the pressure hull. Without that innovation, even with all of the miniaturization each new class introduced, there wouldn’t have been enough interior free space for much of anything other than reactor, drive gear, and tankage. So on this older class ship, below the deck his cabin was on and the one under that, there was the reactor itself, and surrounding the central core of the fusion plant the G-2M, (the M for militarized) Perseus, was mainly a thermos holding thousands of tons of liquid hydrogen and precious little else save a few small passageways leading to inspection stations and sensor ports.

The ships total length was just over 260 meters, Yuri’s cabin was 100 meters below the bridge and command deck just about a third of the way down the lower ellipse. In a hurry now he took the grav free jump tube going up rather than the elevator running along its side and regretted doing so as soon as his stomach found out what was going on. Managing to keep everything in he steadied himself upon exiting the tubes upper hatch and climbed the single flight of stairs leading small central hub with a hatch to the bridge taking out a pie shaped section on one side and the ships offices, and computing and, electronics bays, and the very large plotting and simulator tank, along with Captain Madry’s own quarters on the other.

There was no Marine guard standing watch over the bridge entrance as was standard in most military vessels. Audie figured that the trooper involved could find something of rather more use to occupy his or her time. The ship’s compliment of two-hundred and eighty was split about 75/25 male to female. That was within the normal range on a Federation or Indie military ship but well outside the norm of the same world’s merchant fleet where the numbers were usually nearly equal. It was far in excess of the ratio in a ground fighting unit where females, officers and enlisted, were few and far between.

In the Caliphate females held minor positions in ground based medical and administrative posts but were kept far away from active army and navy units. Before the advent of psychological conditioning and in extreme cases drug therapy the commingling of the sexes had been problematical at best. Now raging hormones were restrained in both sexes, at least while on duty, and the service was the better for it. Not only more efficient but more pleasant as well. The normal reactions were not totally repressed.

Because the Perseus was in part a research ship they had on board another eighty people subject to ships rules and discipline but not in the chain of command. These were scientists, technicians, and research staff. Built to transport paying customers the ship had more than enough room to house everyone comfortably. The semi-civilians in the foremost part of the ship above the bridge.

Captain Audie Madry’s journey from point A to B was even more irregular than Yuri’s own. She had been a rare electronics and missile tech with a ground based unit. In fact she was one of Wes Calvert’s original Cardoman Seventh, fewer than a dozen of whom were still serving, or for that matter still alive. To say she was good at her onetime job would be to akin to saying water was wet. There were a few delusional misguided fools who thought Yuri was a genius. Yuri knew better. The ship’s Captain Audie Madry was the genius, he was just good in a quirky one at a time hit or miss kind of way.

Yuri had joined the Seventh shortly after their official governmental adoption when Calvert came back to Cardoman after Witherway, Ophia, and Altoona. Almost from the start he had worked with Madry on those little improvements, and at least one pretty large one, the missile modification that had kept Cardoman at the cutting edge and with a little ground duty at Sylvan/Mizar. And then as a crew member and a small role in the first and only mutiny in the Cardoman Navy had ever experience he earned his own small measure of notoriety. Along with that came rank and responsibility. In the service everything was either terribly fast or excruciatingly slow. With a war on it was the former rather than the latter that threatened to overtake him on his new found perch and rip him limb from limb.

Straightening his uniform and pulling himself erect he walked through the hatch and onto the bridge in his best martial manner. No one noticed as all eyes were glued to display screens and readouts. He walked the four paces to the sensor station located next to engineering and tapped the shoulder of petty officer on duty—who startled—jumped in place. When she turned around Yuri smiled and motioned for her to stand and then took her place and buckled in using the waist restraint only.

“Good morning Cmdr. Glad you could join us.” Audie said this with a lilt in her voice and a twinkle in her eye.

Yuri though about the title Commander. Actually he was a Lt. and called Cmdr, except by Audie when she was making a point, as a temporary measure because he was in charge of the ship’s engineering department, but that temporary part was always omitted. Even in time of war, and even with the Cardoman military his rise through the ranks was almost unprecedented. Yuri had started to read a little history. The cultural milieu he found himself in forced that upon him, and he knew of a few others. One in particular, a pre-space army officer cadet at the start of the American Civil War had risen in the space of a few years from a cadet in that academy to Lieutenant, he had graduated at the bottom of an accelerated class, and then to the rank of Brigadier General by the time the war was well underway.

And a short time later, after the affray had ended, the officer in question was back once more to a permanent rank of Lt Col in the Seventh Cavalry. Something somewhat equivalent to Yuri’s present rank. And it was at that time he met a most untimely end at a place and in a battle known as ‘The Little Bighorn.’ This was career path Yuri was not looking to emulate. But he did find it interesting that rank seemed as highly variable then as it did now when one worked for Calvert and the Cardoman Seventh. Coincidence? Let us pray!

Captain Madry was both short and pert. A combination that annoyed her when she paid it any mind. She had to work to insure she maintain the dignity of her office and didn’t always succeed. No matter to anyone but herself, but to her very important indeed, whenever she thought about it, which wasn’t often, she kept telling herself. She wasn’t called perky any more, least not to her face, and heaven help any who would even think about her in that fashion, on this ship, her own!

“What do you think we’ve got her Yuri?”

He studied the panel for only a moment before replying, “A Calp G-3 Merchant. No doubt about that. I wonder what she is doing here?”

“The question of the day. The fleet should be on alert by now but a single unarmed G-3 isn’t much of a threat. We picked up the footprint ten minutes ago and if she decides to signal we ought to know in another twenty or so. Some of the system pickets are closer but we are the capital ship closest so until we hear anything different I think we ought to make sure we are ready for whatever happens.”

“Drive up in two minutes,” Bowman, standing watch on the engineering console said.

“Good work, Fergies got them on their toes,” Yuri said to the deck at large and taking satisfaction from the fact. Even more-so than Audie he had to work at the military bearing thing and too often with less perfect results.

As soon as the reactor was up Audie ordered an intercept course at max G. Eight minutes later she throttled back as a Cardoman recognition signal was received followed by the voice of Raquel Zavala.

Twenty-nine hours later a team from the Perseus, headed by Yuri Borselov, was boarding the captured ship and getting ready for another examination of ships systems just to make sure nothing was missed. She was new enough that she would be a window on the latest Calp civilian construction practice and procedure. An idea what they were doing to streamline and speed up production.

Novi Fleet Headquarters was an impressive structure. Two and a half kilometers in its smallest dimension and housing over 10,000 permanent residents, it was in geosynchronous orbit 32,000 kilometers above the home world and gleamed silver in the reflected light of Novi’s sun. The largest of its docking bays could even swallow a G-3 freighter whole. Inside of the same was the Calp ship, her tanks pumped dry, and coming up to ambient as fast as IR heaters and convection could manage.

From the windows of the observation platform, where Yuri, Raquel Zavala, and Jamie Madry stood, small figures looked ant like as they went in and out of the ships open hatches.

“It’s a shame Raq.”

“What is Jamie?” Zavala asked, without the least hint of formality to the woman wearing the uniform and insignia of a Fleet Admiral. They went that far back.

“The prize money Raq. It’s nothing like it used to be.”

“Do tell. I really haven’t given it much thought.”

“Really!” Jamie shook her head in mock wonder. “From an old mercenary like you I find that more than somewhat unbelievable!”

“Well Ok, you caught me. Still 3 percent ain’t all that bad.”

“I guess not. But between you and me—Yuri you don’t hear this—there were a few in the Novi high command that couldn’t believe you just didn’t run with her once you were out of sight of Audie and the Eagle. Your reputation does precede you.”

“Not so much after this I guess,” Raquel said with a smile. “Besides, with you to come back to how could anyone think otherwise?”

“Now I am absolutely sure Lt Borselov heard nothing!” Audie laughed, “Come on and let’s take ourselves to the ‘O’ club, and then you are going to tell the whole story till you loose your voice and your tonsils are raw.”

“I’m glad to see your sister on the Perseus had a chance to go and look at her but tell me Admiral, what will you do with the Calp freighter?” the Novi Vice Admiral asked. Jamie Madry was here in Novi HQ with Colonel Zavala as more than a courtesy to Cardoman’s ally and until the Rymans started acting up only co-belligerent. A request from the Novi Secretary of the Navy wasn’t a summons but Jamie dropped everything else in response. Cardoman needed every friend it could get and at this stage without Novi’s help the war was as good as lost already.

“Audie is my cousin, not my sister, most people get that wrong so no offense taken,” Jamie said pleasantly. “Not much point in trying to turn her into a warship,” she continued. “With something as small as a G-3 unless you start from the beginning and design for it, there just isn’t enough room to make it practical. Though I guess you know that already. I haven’t heard from my civilian masters yet, but having an idea about the state of the Cardoman bank account, we will likely keep her in the navy, put in an antimissile battery or two, and rent her out as a fast, somewhat secure, cargo carrier. We’ll keep her in the navy, that much is certain. Heavens knows we can keep her busy.”

“My own thoughts entirely. And I think we on Novi would like the first shot at using her. Call it a rental if you will.”

“You know you don’t have put it that way. With what we already owe you she’ll be yours for the taking. But what exactly do you have in mind?”

“We know about your intention to send an observational mission to New Britain’s forces on Trudelheim. We think we would like to send some support also in the form of a supply train. And your new ship is just what the doctor ordered. Room for cargo and ready to move. Have you decided upon a name for her yet?”

“Nothing cast in stone but I think we call her the Castleton.”

Castleton?”

“Named after the place on Cardoman near where Major Calvert settled and built his house and a new village, I guess you could call it a town now sprung up, populated at the start by immigrants and military veterans. It’ll be a morale booster and they could use one.”

“I imagine so. Tell me Admiral Madry, just how are things on the home world?”

Jamie has been starting to wonder if there was something more to this conversation than just a friendly chat. What ever it was it wasn’t sexual, Novi Vice Admiral Verdun was twice her age and putting out none of the requisite signals. Not at all like Zavala, but then Zavala was a piece of work of another sort entirely. And one Jamie was getting to appreciate because of rather than in spite of the fact. Though not necessarily in the way Zavala hoped. ‘Save all this extraneous stuff for later!’ she thought to herself and answered in the same spirit by which the question was asked.

“They’re hanging in but it ain’t easy. Except for some diplomatic traffic and personal messages your people see all of the information going both ways,”

“I’ll not tiptoe around it then. We, and by that I mean me and the rest of Novi’s command staff, think it is premature to invest so much effort, spread ourselves so thin if you will, into so many areas right now. With New Britain on Trudelheim and the Ryman, I won’t call them fanatics, fighting on Triocat, is it truly time for an uprising on Cardoman as well and just how likely are they to succeed? Do your personal contacts give you any greater insight into that? It seems to many of us that there is an inordinate amount of luck involved with your Major Calvert’s successes thus far and our own government doesn’t actually realize the risks we run.”

“No need to worry on the luck front Admiral, Wes Calvert makes his own and spreads it about liberally. Raquel here is going slip back to Cardoman as soon as we can work out the details. I am sure he can pass any of your concerns along on the back channel. How would that be?”

“Most grateful Admiral Madry, Colonel Zavala, I’ll get my people to prepare a briefing and a list of our concerns.”

“What did you think of that?” Jamie asked Raquel an hour later when the two of them were back on the CNS Saratoga and seated in her day cabin just off of the bridge.

“Rot at the top. Admiral Verdun’s over the line. His job is to protect the Novi Home system and with the force imbalance between the Caliphate and ourselves I can’t fault him for wanting to avoid distractions. But at his level worry runs in one direction only. Up—never down or sideways. To the extent that his view represents the Novi Command Staff he talks to his bosses on the civilian side. They have to make the determination whether to say anything to us about whatever the Major might have in mind.”

“How can you be sure that he didn’t do that and is acting under instructions from that same civilian side them? Their Navy Secretary Rand Bergman canceled out at the last moment but Verdun insisted on taking his place even after I said we could wait a few days. Even knowing our shipping schedule someone’s in a hurry to make a point.”

Raquel paused before answering. “You’re right, I can’t be sure. But if that’s the case the civilian side ought to be doing the talking and not the military.”

“Maybe they are, but not to me at least. I haven’t heard anything new on the diplomatic front so I guess Novi has a right to worry the fact they are going to help Ryman out on Triocat makes my concerns seem groundless. Pass everything he says at that briefing and your take on it to Wes when you get back to Cardoman. After we talk I will put something in witting and get it on the next ships headed for Llanfairn and Union. This looks like we might be headed the place one of those old Earth pre-space leaders was talking about when she said something like, ‘This is no time for them to go all wobbly on us.’”

Seven days later Zavala was on his way to Prestwick where he would change ships for his final leg to Cardoman and dispatches were likewise on the way to the Federation and Independent Capitals. In Novi space the renamed G-3 Castleton was loaded and about ready to depart for Triocat, and Jamie found herself spending more and more time wondering when Stan Voinovich would make it back here again. He had taken the SnapDragon to Union and she missed him already.

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