A Point of Honor 21

A Point of Honor
Chapter 21 Draft (11-14-09)

“It’s a nice plan, a ‘Grand Plan’ even, but it has too many moving parts.” Wes Calvert and Robbie Davis were sitting with the preliminary provisional (such a nice title) order of battle laid out on the table like display in front of them and were going over the time line.

“Too tight Robbie. If all of them, every single one were Sevens, or even your Ryman troops and a few of ours to lubricate and make things fit we might make it work. Heck, might could even work anyway, it is that close. But for the kickoff anything less than certainty just will not do.”

“Certainty, the man says, ain’t no such thing but I catch the drift. I think this is way to make it more than half sure. And the shock and propaganda value of a sudden strike is immense. Time for some gambling here and not as much as you think. We can file off the rough edges and oil the thing up and make sure everything slides into place. We’ve done it before more than once.”

“Fader?” Wes asked the other officer present.

“I agree with Robbie. We can count on Jamie. . . and Novi will do what they say. The Calps advantage, let’s call it a monopoly of the high ground ought to be negated. The rest is up to us.”

“But this part about retaking the Castle. A little too much don’t you think?” Wes was trying to get any contrary opinion out into the open.

“I’m with Robbie on that one as well Wes. We will need to do that eventually and the best time is now. I do want to say one thing though. We need to make sure that in 30 days from the first shot being fired we have our victory. Any longer and we have nothing left to fight with. As we all know and I have finally come to believe, it is Logistics, Logistics, Logistics. We can win but the cupboard will be dry.”

“We’ll make it a point to grab what we can from the Calps then. I want another iteration then we talk again.”

* * *
“Are you sure you want the retake of the Castle to launch this thing off?”

“Hell no! But we got to start somewhere and this will do.” Robbie Davis was willing to support the plan to the hilt. He was sure that the staff was not going to come up with anything better given an additional week of work and Dammit! It was time! “Wes, I know my job and suspect my limits, but I also know this: We will not get a second chance! And if we wait we might not even get a first. The Calps can send in more troops and ships anytime and that sets us back a year or more.”

“Ok then, I agree, we will go forward but with one small change,” Wes looked at his most senior advisor and longtime friend. “You do not lead the force, any force from the front. Zavala will be here and he along with Fader can do that kind of work. Robbie, this war is going to last a long time. I want your help till the end. So—no operational command. Are we clear?”

“Am I that old?” Robbie’s tone and look were both in use now trying to sway Calvert’s position, almost daring him to say yes. Fader Jameson did his best to become invisible, outside the conversation. Wes wished he could do the same but said what he must.

“Look Robbie, I want—need— to lead from out front as much as you do, maybe more so. I am going to get one more chance because I am the one most likely to succeed at Germfask. I’ve spent the last year and a half on the ground there. This fight to take the Castle; either one of us could handle it. But neither of us are worth risking for such a small tactical gain. And certainly not both of us. So here we have it. The overriding fact is that Germfask and the Castle are strategic as well, in the sense that doing things right there will stand as a marker for how the rest of this war on the ground is going to go. And that is the reason I am going to be there and you are going to back me up. Besides Connie is starting to bug me about that Blonde Captain that always seems to be around you. Care to argue with her? And you can put either name you wish for the HER!”

“That’s it Robbie, no more to say, live with it; we have a war to win and we can do this. But not without each other’s support. I could say I didn’t ask for this job. But what would be the point? It’s mine and it’s ours; kick me when I’m wrong. Hell kick me when I’m right if you think I need it and I am going to do the same to you. Get Zavala up to speed on the plan when he gets here. I want to go in three more days.”

“Shit, I knew there was a reason I hung around here Wes, just please keep Connie off of my back. That ain’t a done deal yet, OK? “

“As Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet, explained in The Captive Mind, ‘To say something is white when one thinks it black, to smile inwardly when one is outwardly solemn, to hate when one manifests love, to know when one pretends not to know, and thus to play one’s adversary for a fool — these actions lead one to prize one’s own cunning above all else.’” Wes looked up from video screen and smiled. He could be quite the pedant given a chance and resisted the tendency except with his wife who had learned to ignore it.

“Never heard of the book and I may not be a Polish poet but I get the point. . . Don’t you think you are over analyzing this thing Wes?” Connie didn’t seem much impressed. “The Calps are going to war. No surprise on Cardoman—or Llanfairn, or Union. And not so much elsewhere people are paying attention.”

“Helps me to sleep.”

“You don’t sleep Wes; you just thrash around for a few hours and hit the comp restart again.”

“Just planning my next bluff Connie. We’ve been good, good enough that we haven’t been called yet. I have to work to make sure when it happens, and we know it will, that there’s something more than sleepless nights to back the hand up with.”

It was nonsensical that this present scheme came about as a result of trying to find a way to get at General al Negev and his staff without blowing up Castle Calvert. If we fail I’m gonna’ miss the place but I could let it go, and happily, if it helps in any way to get the Calps off of Cardoman. Single mindedness only works to a point. Wes paused for a moment and in that pause summoned up the germ of an idea.

* * *
The G-3 from Prestwick docked at Cardoman High. Passengers and cargo were transferred in an orderly manor and the ship left for the belt to refuel. Almost all of the passengers were going to Cardoman for business reasons, some sales, some support. One group Raquel Zavala as the tech leader and the half dozen of his employees were there to start and monitor a forestation project with newly engineered fast grow timber genetically modified for conditions on Cardomans interior continental grass lands.

They spent two days on the station before cycling down. They played their part to perfection having studied on the trip in. Anything less would have led to discovery and a much shortened lifespan for all concerned as they went through a brief interrogation by a Calp security inspector who was reasonably well versed in the basic technology.

He had senior tried and tested men only, the rest of the mission force from Alaraf were on their way to Novi and Cardoman fleet units as soon as connections could be arraigned. For himself and his group; they went by surface transport from Minton and halfway across the continent they stopped and went north a hundred kilometers to an agricultural station that until their arrival had been just two small buildings, one a bunk house the other for equipment storage, seeds and chemicals. For the next month without a day off they all worked at planting and monitoring the growth of their crop.

The Calps were most assuredly monitoring them from above and made no protests whatsoever when the entire group took leave and a few days off to visit Minton first and on the way back a stop at Castleton. Dressed for a holiday the company they worked for picked up the tab for air transport to keep the absence to a minimum. In flight their conversation was monitored but as most spent the few hours sleeping nothing much was said and nothing at all out of character.

The boarding house in Minton outside the port would have been familiar to Connie Calvert. It was next to the place Abe set up when the Calps landed. He had kept up the rent. No questions asked. That was where Raquel ended up an hour after he reached town. No girls, no time to set that up and no need for the complications. The owner saw all kinds and nothing would ever be volunteered. Under interrogation however brutal and complete he wouldn’t know anything of value. Loomis was on the bed napping when Raquel tapped on the door.

“Go away,” he said sounding sleepy when in fact he was fully alert. “I’m paid up till noon.”

“Hey, ya want your breakfast or what?”

The prearranged phrase so after deactivating the thing Abe set down the lighter that was really a detonator for the explosive pack pasted chest high on the interior side of the room’s door. A mini claymore it was called for reasons lost in antiquity. Any attempt to open the door by force or stealth with Abe asleep would have set it off and his second line of defense flooded the hallway beyond with smoke and gas.

Depending on the numbers Abe might even get away. Though if the Calps knew enough to bother breaking down the door that was unlikely. He had a rope and a blindfold too, used purely as a sleeping aid, there was a third floor window; but all things considered the rope and blindfold would be put to better use in a quick hanging than in trying to escape from a Calp Security Unit that was at the door and looking for him.

Hearing words expected Abe said, “Huh, oh sure,” staying in character, “give me a minute and I’ll get the door.”

Abe slipped the lighter in a pocket and padded over opening the door and looked up and down the hall while Raquel entered and set a box down on the room’s only small table. “You’re early. Sure you weren’t followed?”

“Got bumped up to an earlier flight leaving the station, and yes I was followed.”

Abe stared.

“There are two of my men out there on the ground. One watching the front door, the other the back. I don’t see how you stand the stress of working in the city all the time.”

“Some kind of character defect I expect, born and raised in a place four of five times the size of Minton. Growing up—stress was the least of my worries. One of which was where’s the next meal coming from. And by the smell there’s more than air inside that box of yours.”

“Sure, dig in. I ate while it was cooked.”

“While Loomis wolfed down the meal he took short breaks to fill Zavala in on the Calp strength around the Capital. Raquel had committed to memory a map of the city and surroundings but a map is not the territory so he paid close attention and had a list of questions by the time Abe was through with his meal and summary.

“Next on your agenda Raq is a visit with Davis and the Major. I need to stay in town cause I might be missed but I have a guide will take you there.”

“Anyone I know?”

“The al-Omari boy Mo. Even if you met and remember him from a few years ago you won’t know him today.”

“Are we leaving today?”

“Just you Raq. Your men stay here and I have a stand in to take your place for show. Tell your people to keep a low profile. No trouble with the police or Calp security so we keep em away from the area around the port. I have some rooms reserved under your supposed Bio-tech’s company name in a nice hotel in town. Room service and the hotel bar only. Site seeing within five blocks of the hotel and no further. You should be back with them in a couple of days.”

“This guy standing in for me, any good? Is he an actor or what?”

“Major Trebeck from Plans and Intents. He’ll do. And be able to fill in your team as well. Good seeing you Raq but better get a move on it. I’ll check the hallway then you’re gone. We’ll be in touch when you return. I expect Wes will be sending any final details with you. At this stage we don’t even trust secure com links.”

* * *
A month earlier at Novi: “Multiple grav pulses! Eight, nine, ten.” Lights flashing and bodies running to the vacant seats at Novi Central Command till there were none left and those off duty or late were left and locked outside the door.

“If this is the Calps they are a little short. What are you reading?” Vice Admiral Verdun was taking in data from a dozen places at once and he was feeling better all the time as the first scans showed the ships were not Calps but seemed to be from Union. Pulse readings were not perfect but with now eleven samples it was a nearly sure thing.

“Get the fleet moving on def plan one. Do it like we mean it! This is not an exercise, at least not yet!”

A little over an hour later and they stood down. The ships were all indeed from Union making a courtesy call. Verdun sent a return message out welcoming them and offering the courtesy of the port and all its facilities then retired to his quarters to read the encrypted portion of that first message and await the reply. He had a second message ready to send in short order. Then he dictated a personal message for Admiral Madry inviting her to the station.

“Message coming in from Novi Central Ma’am”

Jamie looked away from her tank. She had long since determined that the ships inbound were not a threat. “Cut us a course inwards then let the rest of our ships know. Signal the Perseus to close on the flag. I will talk to her captain later.”

Some six hours later the Perseus was alongside and Jamie sent a shuttle from the Saratoga to pick up her cousin. They spent another hour on board the flag and then they were both back on the shuttle again, vectoring in for a direct dock into Novi Central Command.

It was busy here but there was still a squad and a salute. Jamie was first and Audie second off. The station Commander, an Admiral with 20 years service stood in back as they were piped aboard. The Novi naval personnel did the thing proud. Hardly an eye deviated from straight ahead to catch a look at the two females disembarking from the deep space cold shuttle craft.

“Dedication ain’t it cuz,” Audie said when the had a moments privacy.

Jamie smiled and said, “Training dear. And your slip is showing.”

Audie looked down and saw she was caught. “I owe you one.”

The meeting was over. They both had ships docked so there was no reason to take quarters on the station. The two, Admiral and Captain walked to the boat dock. An escort ahead and behind.

“If this works you’re going to bail aren’t you.” Jamie looked at her cousin without a hint of what she thought, about what she was certain Audie was going to do, all other things being equal, and with Audie it was hard to tell.

“If we make it to Cardoman orbit and there is a chance, and even if not Jamie, I am going planetside. Lt Cmdr Kenwood can run the ship just fine; Calvert, Cardoman, and the Seventh own my heart. You got to know that. I am going to be there.” With a tear in her eye repeated blinks could not dislodge Jamie overlooked the standard response wishing the same option was hers and said nothing else. Ceremony to a minimum at the dock and two shuttles arched outwards.

When Audie was back on the Perseus she commed Borselov to let him know to fire the lady up. “We are leaving orbit in two hours Yuri. Next stop Cardoman. Keep us on the numbers; we got a promise to keep.”

Eight hours afterwards over the ship intercom; “Two…One… Transition Out!”

* * *
This range, so much like the highest in the south of old Earth Africa, had been named the Drakensberg—the Dragon Mountains—.because like their namesake they were said to be impassable. Sheer steep rises to rocky crags. You wouldn’t have gotten much argument from the recon and the two company sized units slogging upwards for the last two weeks.

Sgt Ortega was in charge and of the recon troops and would be till they met up with Fader Jameson who was still in Minton putting more of the pieces in place. Ortega was another of the few that had been with Calvert from the start. He had to be here, out in the field and leading a team, anything else was unthinkable. He’d gotten used to the few in the recon team he hadn’t worked with before but it wasn’t easy.

“What ya eating Lotti”

Leo Lassiter hadn’t figured out where Lotti stood in the food chain and until he did was not about to cut him any slack.

Lotti looked at Lassiter, eyes wide and said, “Sausage. Want to try some?”

Newly promoted Cpl Lotti was in the middle of the column keeping an eye out but with no particular responsibility. A common state of affairs. His new insignia and rank badges looked already as if he had worn them for years. Lassiter had heard some stories but didn’t quite believe.

“Don’t mind if I do.” Pvt Lassiter answered as Lotti sliced a good sized portion from the end of the sausage he wasn’t gnawing on. As soon as he finished the knife seemed to vanish. Lassiter had problems with that too. Lotti was just not natural.

Taking a bite Lassiter said, “Pretty mild.”

“It’ll get to you in a minute when the peppers start working.”

“Yeah I’m getting it now. Tastes pretty good. What’s it made from?”

“Fish.” said Lotti as he kept munching away.

“Fish? Never heard of a fish sausage.”

“Yeah, the white color gives it away and damn lucky to find it. Very popular back home. You should see what we do with eels. But anyway we take this part of the fish that normally gets thrown out and put it through the grinder to get rid of the bones. Then we . . .”

But by that time Lassiter was running for the bushes. Later he caught back up with the column but stayed clear of Lotti for the rest of the day and most of the next, Lotti took both of their share of time at the point.

The downward march on the Drakenburg’s western side was easy only in comparison to the hell of the last two weeks. But it went fast and they were in the foothills almost within sight of the Calp base shielded by twenty meter tall branching fern like native vegetation before the first of them stopped. It took another two days for all three hundred to come down and spread out but they hadn’t been detected. The Calps weren’t wasting their drones on such an improbable route. Sending one flight a day and at a regular time in the early morning when the air was as calm as it got. Predictability more than anything else let them escape being seen. It would be tougher now that they were almost to the plains. Fader started sending out scout teams, two men at a time, and working on the final details.

The bulk of the remaining work was to get the mortar teams in place, undercover, and sighted in. It started going rapidly as more and more of the predetermined sites were checked and verified as safe.

* * *
A traveling flea market, nothing more nothing less. Packard, ‘Sugarbear’ Lansing had his tractor in front leading the way. This was no disguise; it was the same thing that had happened each of the last twenty-five years during the Cardoman Summerfest. The only difference this year was that instead of spending a full week at Germfask the market spent only two days before pulling steaks and heading to Castleton. The road was as straight as it was hot.

A new group traveled with them this year, a large contingent from New Hope, the town created by the religious survivors from Marais. Fifty in all they were almost a fifth of the entire throng. Shemuel Ben Judah was surprised they had been allowed to travel. Of course he had been even more surprised that the Calps hadn’t tried to round them all up and ship them back to Marais immediately after they landed and took over.

Perhaps the only reason they had been granted the permit was that along with the acrobats and artisans, magicians and jugglers, they had included a troop of dancing girls. Regardless of religious persuasion a group to attract and titillate the sexually repressed Calp soldiers they would find at every stop. And even the Calp General Staff who were sure at some point to inspect the show to insure it was not too lascivious for the common soldier…

Leah Radom actually led those from New Hope. When the Cardoman military split into its active and much smaller inactive wings Leah had gone back to New Hope and finally married Dean Messmer. A marriage that surprised no one except the groom. He had long since given up any hope. Dean acted the part of the front-man where his experience from so long ago on Earth served him well. He had taken over the family business when a Caliphate inspired and incited mob killed his father and was expelled to Marais where Leah found him after taking service in the Seventh.

Sugarbear, with his honey to sell every year was a long time fixture at these shows and except for the group from New Hope and a very few others so were all the rest. Amongst those others were Gaza and Mohammad al-Omari. Gaza was a shill for New Hope.

The Calp officer class were to a man fluent in the English derived language spoken most everywhere outside of the Caliphate. The majority of the Calp enlisted even those who had been on Cardoman for better than a year spoke only the Arabian based dialects they had grown up with. One that Gaza and his son were familiar with as it had been native on their home world Altoona.

Mo was working as a roustabout and doubled doing the same type of patter work as his father did but in turn for individual merchants. As such after the second week he new almost everybody and they new him. Like his father he fit right in and went unnoticed except by some of the local lasses and their temporarily jealous boyfriends. He was often glad his mother was in Castleton and his father too busy to take much notice. Gaza took notice alright, he just stayed out of the boy’s way and watched with interest; for himself he was never even tempted, Irwana would never doubt him nor would she have a reason.

Mo’s behavior, however discrete, had given him a ready made excuse for the three day absence when he went into Minton and picked up Zavala for the trip back to Germfask. Rejoining the cavalcade market there was many a smile and a few pats on the back but no hard questions.

Wes, Connie, Robbie Davis, Fader Jameson, and Raquel Zavala were all together in person for the first time in two years. Had the Calps known and sent in a fire mission the war on Cardoman would have been over almost before it started. The part due next would have short circuited and fizzled leaving smoke and ash and perhaps some unmarked graves.

“This is it then. We go tomorrow and hope that Jamie brings the fleet. She will you know. I have no doubt.” They were meeting in the loft room in Sugarbear’s barn just outside of Germfask giving all of them a day before kickoff. Cutting it close but by the last chance to make any changes and for Fader and Raquel to rejoin their units. “Connie had to drag me kicking and screaming into letting her go to Castleton but she was right. She knows the Castle like few others and the lodge home better than anyone along with the land between. You and Raquel watch out for yourselves,” he said to the two men leading the other major combat sections. It seemed so long ago since he’d met them all. The last six years had changed every one of them though few could see it in Wes himself and in Raquel’s case few had known him well enough to judge.

“Connie, you and I can get back to Minton without too much trouble but Robbie you had better get going already in order to get to the command post unobserved.”

“I envy you this Wes, you and Connie both. If or when this finishes you know neither of you will never lead from the front again.”

“I expect we’ll manage and consider ourselves lucky to get through this one.” Connie said, “I will be happy to make this the last.”

“Don’t kid yourself Connie, I know you both too well. Good luck but then here’s hoping you won’t need any. Fader, Raq—they’ve earned it, give em hell!”

The traveling caravan passed the Castle, it visible in the distance at midday. An hour later and they were pitching tents in a field just outside of Castleton for the next day’s performance. A one day show and then move again, that’s how the schedule read. It was similar to all that went before. Everything was normal as ever more of the pieces continued to fall into place.

Gaza had seen his wife from a distance when she came back to her home from her workday shift. He went to bed and fell asleep with a bug in his ear, praying not to hear a word about the fleet’s arrival before the morrow and dreaming of Irwana. Soon all would be revealed, it was written.