A Point of Honor 18

A Point of Honor
Chapter 18 Draft (10-27-09)

Sandalwood? Could it be? It seemed unlikely but the scent remained in the air and not a part of his imagination only. Rashid could not remember smelling anything near as perfect, sweat and fragment since his youth, and even then not often. He’d read that except in botanical gardens the tree itself, the fine grained Indian subspecies at least was extinct.

His father was—had been— a dealer in antiquities and as such would occasionally have items made from this rarest of woods come into his procession. One item, a small chest, he’d given to Rashid’s mother, and inside she’d store secrete things, sometimes trinkets or treats for the small boy. Shaking away the remembrances he brought himself back to the present, filing the memories of another place for another time.

Still—Rashid was familiar with the aroma as were few others—and in the past had thought of having the scent added to the life support system on the Sword of the Prophet, but there seemed to be no standard template and no one with a formula. Something lost in time. But here it was, reserved for the few. A few. Perhaps not reserved but a benefit of power, a benefit that was as hidden as to Rashid it was seductive.

This was the second time The Sword’s Captain had been brought to the palace, to the attention and most particularly the quarters of Muhammad Ahmad al-Gamrawi Bey, supreme leader of all the Caliphate and Allah’s most favored. Because of that first meeting where his career and perhaps even life was spared Rashid was able to get over his sense of awe but his reverence remained undiminished. This time instead of being taken directly to Gamrawi Bey’s quarters a servant took them to a garden enclosed within the palace walls, therein the sandalwood trees and the scent so fondly remembered.

“We will not stay long,” Shehzad Tanweer, his superior and head of the Regulations Compliance Office said. “Answer any questions sparing no one—myself included should it come to that—I am bringing you with me so that when you go back to fleet duty and assume command of your squadron, your reputation as one who is a confidant of the Caliph will protect ct you from superiors and subordinates alike.

Only the day before Rashid had found out about his promotion and new circumstances. The orders were issued and sent while he was still in space decelerating for orbit bringing his ship and information home.

It was standard procedure to track the military you might need to fight someday. With a war already in progress, however lacking of public notice and hidden, it was obligatory. Rashid Kalid back from Trudelheim was supplying some of the details that Shehzad Tanweer wished confirmed. Reports were one thing, the willingness to back them up face to face against a superiors expressed doubt something else again.

“You say everything is under control?”

“I say it was,” Kalid replied. “But I don’t trust it and I hated the need to leave before the troops from New Brittan were eliminated. And I think there is the potential for things to get even worse on Triocat where we stopped first. I looked into the report concerning the loss of that company sized unit reported before I last left Earth and our commander on the ground could not explain how it could have happened. ‘Chalk it up to the fog of war,’” he said “He thinks some indigenous force of some type was responsible. I think there was outside meddling of some type, perhaps Cardoman, perhaps from somewhere else. It is a situation that could use watching and something more than our normal support runs. And were it my decision I would replace the man in charge. Not for being clueless but for lack of initiative.”

“I’ll have someone look at all the information we’ve gathered and copy you.” Tanweer took a note then continued. “The Navy?”

“Doing their jobs. We won’t be surprised again. The missile data and samples from Trudelheim show us that we need to be careful but our material advantage is enough if we use it properly.”

“And use it we will. Rashid this that I speak of is for you only right now. Ahmed al-Gamrawi Bey and I are both agreed that war is inevitable because we make it so, and that we will do whatever it takes to win. I will tell you something you do not know. If we wait any longer we will lose. We can maintain our present position in the inner worlds, keep our people, the faithful protected under Allah and the Caliphate, for our lifetimes and perhaps another. But all of the other world expansion outside our control will defeat us if only by numbers alone in the long run.

“We are already losing the technological battle and it will only get worse. Truth and righteousness is a poor defense against cold steel. A thousand years ago we failed in our duty. It took the better part of a millennium and uncounted martyrs to make things right. For five hundred years again we have neglected our duty. We may not have a second chance.”

“I am at the Prophets will and at yours to command. What must I do?”

“You have earned the confidence that I and others who know of such things have placed in you, with that comes more responsibility. You will go back to the fleet. Within weeks the Imam will declare the Jihad. We will start a call up and reinforcement of all Mohammed’s warriors wherever they may be. For this a squadron command is yours, earned by competence, piety and obedience. Continue to do well and you may pray for more and better knowing full well most will fail under the strain.”

“You Rashid will meet with General Arafat concerning your position under Fleet Admiral Kahn later today. He will supply you with complete details. Before that happens you and I will go the Palace where the Caliph will bestow his blessings. So here they were in the palace garden, both men lost in thought.

When the servant returned they were led under the arch supported balcony that went completely around the fifty meter square garden and through glass double doors into a long corridor with floor to ceiling windows looking out upon the greenery. Nearing the end from around the corner popped a young boy of perhaps 10. He pointed a cut down replica of a standard battle rifle and them and said in a high pitched voice, “Stop! For I am a soldier in the army of the Prophet and protect the Caliph against all who would do him harm!”

Rashid threw up his hands and said, “Don’t shoot Son! We’ll go quietly,” and a short robed and veiled woman came into view whisking the child away from sight.

“A nephew I do believe,” Tanweer said, “Though which one I can not say. Too many to keep track of.”

“Habib Sir,” the servant said, and led them in the other direction when they reached the cross corridor.

* * *
The city of Georgetown looked the same, the streets and buildings with all the bustling traffic looked the same, even the one time embassy and official residence library looked the same. Well the blood soaked carpet had been replaced by new tile that shown like glass under the bright interior lighting. But his wife was changed; a little age and more worry, and Victor knew he had changed as well. The short drive in from the spaceport had them accompanied by two cars forwards and one behind. Sgt. Avram Evans, head of the Cardoman security staff and military detail guarding the Embassy on Llanfairn mentioned overhead coverage from an armed air-car as well. And that was where he sat relaying instructions to the drivers below.

All the way in from the field, except for a comment from Louise about the lack of anything new from their son Eric, Louise and Victor talked about the upcoming parliamentary debate. Talking about the people and not the issues.

Vic greeted every member of the residences staff, lined up for his entrance, as the old and dear friends they were. Once seated in the library, at the great table, with the now explosion proof doors closed Victor said, “A Parliament is nothing more or less than a big meeting of otherwise mostly idle people.”

“Walter Bagehot again?” Louise took a sip from the glass that Jules Petoskey had ready and waiting when they entered.

“You know me too well.”

“Never.”

More than half of the other chairs at the long table were filled by political allies. Meghan MacWorther from Ryman, Sir Reginald Timmins from New Britain, Richard Pellow Novi’s Foreign Minister, and Andre Layette from the Federation were all present. And one other whom Victor had never met. A rather nondescript fellow who stood and came towards them with a steady gate and neutral bearing.

“Langdon Grayson, I believe you know my son.”

“Not as well as I might wish but yes we have met and I have been looking to make your acquaintance for some time now.” Langdon Grayson was the father of Clay Grayson, Wes Calvert’s chief of staff; they had met over a decade earlier when Wes was going to school off planet. Langdon Grayson the Minister of Cultural Affairs on Jorgen. That title was a thin cover for the man’s real job which was much higher and far more military in nature. “I hope your being here means Jorgen is throwing in with us.”

“That it does Mr. Minister. Not as openly as I personally would approve of but there will be time for that. For now we still have business in the Caliphate that should not be put to risk. As you know Jorgen has trained thousands of officers over the years, Feddies, Independents, and not a few who ended up taking service in the Caliphate. A small number of these former students have maintained a close relation with former instructors at the Military Academy and other friends on Jorgen.”

“You’re not trying to tell me your son is a spy dealing in Cardoman secrets now are you Mr. Grayson?” Victor said with a smile.

“Nothing more than I’m sure you already know about. But come let’s take our seats and get comfortable. What I wish to say is for everyone in the room and is going to take a little time.”

Two hours later Langdon and Victor both went into some detail on the current situation and taken a stab at predicting the future. MacWorther had the latest from Ryman and Reggie Timmins the same from New Brittan and Trudelheim. But even the latest was weeks or months old. Vic felt a bit guilty and cautioned everyone to strict silence when he revealed Reshevsky’s plans for the Union Navy. This was new even to Grayson with all of his contacts.

Louise Shearing handled current events on Cardoman and had to admit that nothing much had changed in the last six months. Contrasting with the good news was the Calp domination of Sylvan/Mizar resurgence on Altoona and the vast mobilization Grayson reported about. Jules Petoskey suggested a short break for lunch and said he and Louise had a presentation ready for afterwards.

The light meal cleared away a Cardoman Corporal brought in a free standing light board and set down the controller before leaving and once more closing the massive door. The ancient table that dominated the library’s furnishings had nothing electro-optical in its construction whatsoever.

“I’ll deliver the first part and when we get to the numbers Louise will take over,” with that Petoskey dove right in. “The Calps have been on Cardoman almost a year and a half now. Except for the first three or four months, before the felt secure in their control, communications with our people there has been rather easy. The amount of commercial activity is almost as great as before the war started. Ships of every world not directly aligned with us are welcomed with open arms. That may be a slight exaggeration but it is not a large one, customs inspections are very thorough but data chips small. It is simple enough for us to send couriers as well but data chips serve except when we send someone to the planet who we intend to stay there.”

“Calvert and your son,” he nodded to Grayson, “and the rest of the army staff have been speculating on why now? By that I mean why did the Caliphate choose this particular moment in time to begin expanding again? Taking some of their thoughts with a few of our own Louisa and I, with the help of a few people here on Llanfairn started running some computer simulations. What we found is this: Go ahead Louise.”

On the board was a graph showing three lines. The lower two tending sharply upwards and the third, once nearly as steep as the other two tailing off to a near level plateau at the top of the graph. It exhibited a gradual rise to be sure but one nearly flat in comparison. She quickly switched to a new graph, similar in shape but the line slopes even steeper.

“The first shows the relative economic gains of the Caliphate, Confederation, and the Indies over the last forty years and a projection for the next ten based on no war or war economy. It’s scaled in such a way as to show total economic output, as near as we can estimate. The graph up now shows our projection of what is available for new investment or expansion with the same assumption.”

People looked at each others and heads nodded. Louise put up another graph, this one showing only two lines. “This is the Caliphate versus the combined Indie and Fed economies weighted towards capital available for investment and expansion. As you can see about five years from today we should pass the Calps. And that we think is the reason for war. If Earth doesn’t do something now they will not get a second chance. They can say goodbye to a Universal Caliphate and a two-thousand year dream.”

“Do you think they have done these same calculations then?” asked Ambassador Timmins.

“A near certainty,” Jules said. “They’ve been at this expansion game a lot longer than we have and with a decidedly different end in mind. But what is more important is that this should be the ammunition to convince most everyone that the Calps are about to move because they must.”

“You might be going too far here Jules.” Victor commented. “Just because something is true doesn’t mean it will be accepted as true, or dealt with as such. Too often a highly educated people believe, or at least act and argue as if they believed, that history started on the day they were born.”

“We need to send this off to Union; it looks like I’ll be going back there next,” Vic added, “But this might just do the trick on Llanfairn and I’ll settle for that. What about you Langdon? Where to next?”

“I’m headed into the Caliphate. Maybe even Earth. It could be the last chance in a long while.”

“Just how bad are the financials Louise?” Everyone had left and they were upstairs in the bath just off the residence bedroom, soaking in the large tub with a drink in hand.

“Worse than bad. We’re broke and bankrupt if our debts are called.”

“The Calvert money?”

“There’s plenty on paper but nowhere else. When the credit banking system started up on earth there was a two or three day float. We have two or three months. That’s been enough till now. But some of our political opponents are looking for cash on the barrel head before dealing with us. Funds on Llanfairn. We can’t keep it up much longer. If the Indie council votes for war then we can start running on credit. But you saw the charts. The Federation has twice the resources we do and without them to back us we go bust anyway.”

“Hmmm, can’t say as I’m surprised we’ll deal with it somehow. With Reshevsky on our side I think the report you and Jules put together along with the Calps recent movements will solve those problems.”

“I hope you’re right dear, but as much as we owe now I can take some solace from the old standard that if you owe the bank a little the bank owns you, but if you owe the bank a lot. . .”

The next morning Victor and Jules were making their rounds, carrying the report from the day before. Louise was in her small office on the embassy’s first floor when the corporal of the guard buzzed her and announced the visitor, a governmental employee and merchant from How Ling, one to which they owed a lot of money. “Send him in Corporal Kline; I am always available for Mr. Gin.” Her voice would be heard by the man at the desk as she did not text the message nor hit the mute button.

The corporal knocked once then opened the door letting Husng Kai Gin enter without further ado.

“So good to see you, and it gives me a chance to stop counting up the change!” Louise waved at the papers strewn across her desk softening the otherwise offensive comment. Still there was truth in the matter and they both knew it. “Some coffee or tea?”

“At your pleasure Ma’am. Either would do fine.”

“Then we shall have both, a small thing for such a friend.”

Louise buzzed the kitchen but the order was already on the way. The same corporal brought in the tray with two decanters and some small biscuits; he left after bowing to her guest. Not quite military but showing more than common tact for which Louise was grateful.

Husng poured and took coffee in the delicate porcelain cup while Louise chose tea. There was something deeply diplomatic about both choices but she would reflect upon it later. “A moment to savor the drink and Louise felt she needed to say something. “We do not talk about the weather now do we?”

“The weather—It will change. I fear you think I am bearing bad tidings Madam Shearing. Far be it from that. Yes there are bills and paper but do not concern yourself with such. My government would like to help your cause in any way that we may.” He blinked and said, “So long as a connection can not be made.”

“Now there’s the rub now ain’t it,” Louise was starting to enjoy herself.

Husng reached inside a fold of his robe and pulled out a triple think sheaf of parchment. He opened it up and placed it upon the desk. Standing out amongst the rest of the verbiage on the front page were two figures, circled and in bold. “This first is what Cardoman owes us at this time. The second is the amount we would like to advance on no interest terms.”

Speechless, the second figure was three times as large as the first; Louise took another sip before replying. “Conditions? I should not even ask but you must have some.”

“A matter of history and self interest more than anything else. If you compare the population off Earth to that at the time of the diaspora there are many anomalies. Some easily explainable by the extent of Islamic influence, others not. Seven hundred years ago there was said to be two China’s. In reality there was only one but of two parts and reconciliation had already started.” He paused in thought and Louise spoke.

“Please continue, I have not yet caught the point.”

“Most of the native Chinese that got of Earth came from one large island. A few hundred others from cities on the coastal mainland. We made up a third of Earths population but only one planet did we ever colonize. This we blame on the Caliphate, yet still the wheel turns. In retrospect a large mistake was made long before the Caliphate came to power. As a nation, a people we divorced ourselves from the world and in turn paid the price. This time we will not make the same mistake.”

* * *
Rashid had his flagship, Sword of the Prophet and so much more, with Gondar Metemma as both Ship and Flag Captain, what else? The Prophet was as new a ship as the Caliphate boasted and under Rashid’s command as skilled a one as well. He also had a squadron assigned of ten more ships to boot. Three additional G-4’s and six G-3’s. Rashid regretted how little time he had spent on Earth, his wife even more so, but it was impossible for him to describe the feelings his new found posting generated.

He was on his way to the fleet base at Philomel. The 4’s, all new production traveling with him, and the remainder to be assigned upon arrival. Admiral Kahn might not be happy to turn over six ships to Kalid but the additional strength coming out with the new Rear Admiral would more than make up for the disappointment. Rashid had worked for Kahn often enough in the past and he respected and liked the man. They got along well and this would continue so long as he could get his new ships worked up to something more than mere readiness. And that was what he did on the seven weeks long flight to Philomel.

By arrival he was pleased. One of his original ship’s Captain’s would never serve on a moving vessel again but the point was taken and the replacement officer was one of the best. All of the new Caliphate production was manned from those who had spent years on 2’s and 3’s.

Except for a few on Llanfairn the Caliphate was the only power in space left with full up G-2 warships; not many and those existent in the home guard, reserve, and training squadrons. To old and slow to keep up with the Caliphates modern fleet. They made up about 20% of the total Calp Navy of some six hundred plus ships. In the Federation and on the Indie world the G-2’s were all the combination military transport version, the G-2 M with only half the firepower and much less than half the armor and blast protection. After all commerce and expansion was the main business of all the worlds outside the Caliphate. These G-2 M’s were powerful weapons but even in pairs no match for a more modern ship.

In terms of numbers alone the Caliphate fleet was half again as large as everything else in space; in terms of fire power even larger. But the numbers were closing and that was a major factor in the decision for war now and why Kalid was on his way over to Admiral Kahn’s flagship.

Kalid rode in front. Through the plastiglass view port the part of Philomel’s orbital infrastructure on full display. Twenty warships clustered around the fleet’s headquarters, docks and storage facilities for the merchant trade, and shipyards and construction structures capable of building the most modern type of ship. In the distance a tank farm that only supplemented the larger fueling station farther out. A smaller version of Earth’s own local space and not so much smaller at that. Philomel aside from its standing as a military base was one of the oldest and richest of Earth’s colony worlds.

A full squadron commander boasting the insignia of a rear admiral Rashid’s greeting was most impressive as was the Reza Gholam herself. Inshalah Cahdesh, an old friend and the ship’s Captain was there to insure that squadron commander Kalid’s new rank was given all the respect it merited. Cahdesh might have resented Rashid’s promotion, one that could have been his own, but if that was the case Rashid could detect nothing of the sort and the greeting and congratulation was warm and personal as they took the lift up to the flag deck.

“The Admiral will be pleased to see you, and not due only to your well known adherence to the ways of the Prophet. Not that that is unimportant. He will honor your name most especially because of the ships you brought along with you.”

“This is spreading it a little think wouldn’t you say Inshalah? You might well have gotten the new squadron rather then me.”

“Perhaps, and pigs could have wings, my time will come but wait and see. Admiral Kahn has been praying for this war to begin in earnest for ten years and more. He despaired of the hesitation back on Earth and I think him right to do so. The universe looks different outside the Sol system. I had the chance to be with him when he read the message you flashed in after transition and thought the new wrinkles his expression brought might cause his face to break and fall to the deck in pieces.”

“I can only imagine. Do you know how he will proceed?”

“Some of it but you will hear it from Kahn himself. My lips are sealed.”

They stepped of the lift and proceeded across the central hub to the flag bridge where Kahn awaited.

“So good to see you Rashid,” omitting his rank was an extreme familiarity and a higher mark of regard than when standard protocol was followed. Lighting up the central display was a graphic representation of all the ships assigned to this station. All those present and the ones out working. With four recent additions it showed 2 short of fifty, near five full squadrons. Admiral Kahn must have been shuffling them around working on how to balance out his conflicting needs.

“My own honor and pleasure could not be greater,” Kalid replied. “Captain Cahdesh put on quite a show when my shuttle locked in.”

“Spit and polish, too much of that and things are going to change starting today! Stand besides me and I will show you what I intend.”

“I can make three active squadrons, ten ships each and leave the rest at Philomel. That means we can begin actions on three fronts. One must be to reinforce Cardoman something I would have liked to have done some time ago. One will go to Trudelheim and aright our losses. Where to send the third is the question. Sending a force to Triocat might make sense, or one to visit Llanfairn, tie them down before the make any moves. But I think Novi is the logical place to put a major force. They are more than a mere nettle and making sure their fleet stays close to home will benefit us in many ways.”

“Could all three squadrons take Novi?”

“Yes that could happen but our losses against such a well defended system would be more than we could tolerate. I am authorized to begin hostilities but not to risk the fleet. And beyond that I am instructed to refrain from using force against any uncommitted planet. This I think will change shortly. Our intelligence on such matters at least in this sector is in advance of what the Regulations Compliance Office knows. What that leads to then is a plan for the near future. By placing a squadron at Novi I can freeze as many ships and more making our numerical advantage work elsewhere.”

“I can see this clearly Admiral. Have you decided where I might serve best?”

“Novi Admiral Kalid, Novi. Our most dangerous foe and one you may harass without mercy.”

Next.

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