A Point of Honor 24

A Point of Honor
Chapter 24 Draft (12-22-09)

The leaders of the Caliphate, those of the Confederation capital world Union, the Indies, especially those on Cardoman and Novi, all knew they were in a fight; but none of them realized just how far and fast it was spreading, and even now none could see how it was about to engulf all of human explored space.

When the light speed limit was superseded by hyper travel it did change things, but sending and receiving messages still took weeks or months over lightyear distances, and that lag created a system where the present fought with the past. Time was out of joint as someone had once said. Here at the front of the battle, what was soon to be thought of as the eastern quadrant, this was not a literary reference but a fact of life that one needed to consider at all times.

In hindsight the war was preordained and that should have been obvious to all involved, certainty something to be planned for by even those on the edge. But seeing no evil was the default position of too many outside the Caliphate and even those directly involved, with the example of the short war fought just thirty years previously as a tune up it was easier to keep the blinders on. “One must never underestimate one’s own ability to deceive one’s self.”

A thousand years before a military author named Clausewitz, one far more famous for his writings than any battlefield victory, wrote a book and named the confusion of battle “The Fog of War.” ‘Fow’ was and forever afterwards would be a swearword to those inside. It also explained a lot of the otherwise unexplainable and even with all of the sensor systems and battlefield integration, and all of the other buzz words and slogans nothing much had changed in the intervening millennium. And the book was still in ‘Print’; print being a somewhat archaic expression when most books were subatomic particles arrayed on data cubes or twisted molecules on compliant membranes. From a sufficient distance those about to do battle could be viewed in much the same way.

A Rear Admiral with ten ships in two squadrons under him; Rashid Kalid was quite satisfied with his life and career trajectory. He had walked the fiery path and survived the burns. This present joy was a personal failing of a sort. He no longer went through the motions of professed belief. In the past that would have been unthinkable, he would have never survived long enough to come this far and almost hadn’t. A skeptic in believers clothing; he was far beyond the reach of his ships political officer and a personal confidant of Al-Gamrawi Bey. This was something even his own military superior Admiral Razuli Suleiman could not claim. His present mission, leading his new command and tasked with finding out just what had gone wrong on Triocat did not please him nearly so well. It pleased Admiral Suleiman, in charge of the fleet base at Philomel even less if that were possible; an unplanned use of limited resources.

“What in the world— the universe— the galaxy, has gotten into those Ryman rebels?” Suleiman could not bring himself to think of them as a legitimate government. “A single isolated planet daring to contest the Caliphate! This is preposterous. They must be taught a lesson!”

“Rashid you will first go to Triocat. There you will destroy any opposition, any Ryman, Cardoman, or Novi vessel you find will cease to exist. Any merchant ship from that same list of planets will be destroyed, or should time and situation permit, captured, speed once more being paramount. Ships from other systems are subject to capture. I will place an additional squadron under your command to garrison the system while you continue to Ryman. The documents you carried from Earth declare war on Novi and New Britain and order me to commence action against those two worlds, to do what I see fit. But they also command that I make the declaration public and refrain from actions that would bring other Federation or Indie planets directly into the conflict.”

“That would seem to me impossibility at this stage Admiral. And what exactly is meant by making the declaration of war public.”

“I agree with your first point Rashid. I will send messengers to Earth and to Admiral Kahn on Cardoman expressing that opinion. For now and an additional thirty days, time enough for word to spread, we will announce this state of war upon first contact with any ship we encounter and then proceed as the situation dictates. I will make it plain in your own orders that you are to consider any opposition by a government not yet engaged against us to be tantamount to a formal declaration of war upon the Caliphate by that power. You will act or react accordingly.”

“Accordingly?”

“Excuse me Kalid; old habits die hard. We are not looking for martyrs. Protect your ships but do not draw Union or Llanfairn into this fight by a first strike against their shipping or military units without further orders; General Arafat’s instructions are clear on this matter.”

“And if they interfere with my original orders and I hold equal or superior force?”

Suleiman mulled this over and said, “In that case you fight! And Allah be with you!”

“Now . . . You have had a chance to review the rest of what I intend. Off the record an evaluation.”

“Too little intelligence and Novi may be a tough nut to crack.”

“Of course, the reason I took her for my own. Nine and Ten Squadrons will go to Cardoman, and take those troops you brought along with you. I have long been uncomfortable with the amount of support Admiral Kahn has stationed with him there both in space and on the ground. The numbers now favor us if we act decisively. I say again that it will be as Allah wills!”

* * *
“Two… One… Transition in!” The transit energy let loose when coming out of hyper, that not taken up, reabsorbed by the drive bands, was dumped into the vacuum outside the hull by radiators lined up in near geometric pasterns, lines and crosses; exposed to space and time. It radiated only to be absorbed by the effect that had once been called dark matter, most retained and the rest showing up in the associated grav pulse until it vanished in the cosmic background. Stars popped into view and nav comps updated; and on the Perseus alarm bells sang.

Audie Madry was on the bridge forty seconds later taking the control seat and saw at once the cause of the alarm. She was surprised and relieved to see the initial designation showed friendlies. A few moments later the Perseus was acknowledging transponder codes from one of the two ships closest in. And within another minute she was seeing a ping back and additional confirmation that Union was the home planet of the new arrivals.

A voice link was up by the time more pulses were detected and soon there were another seven ships up on the display. All of these also showed as Union and they plotted at varying distances based on the strength of the pulse. Bearing was exact, or nearly so on a ship with the kind of sensors on the Perseus. Distance could never be quite so certain, unless one was taking a read on a ship that had jumped with you, at the same time and with the same relative velocity. The amount of energy bled into the grav field was related to the speed and point of departure from normal space. The other Federation ships were still too far away for visual or sensor conformation but the grav pulse identity match to the Cardoman database was exact.

After the initial identification the signal’s crew on the Perseus updated their records adding the new pulse data to what was already archived and would take all of this back to Cardoman but send it first to Novi HQ. The closest ship was only three million kilometers away. A near miss by any reasonable standard. Space was a pretty big place.

The initial readout compared to what was known about Confederation command structure put the tentatively identified Flagship Exciter out on the far edge of the pattern almost a hundred and sixty kilometers distant. But that close ship, the Horn; a good jump was expected between two worlds with a history of so many measured trips by ships of all classes. Even so for one to come this close to the limit on any jump was pushing it a bit fine. Audie wondered if it was a show of confidence or just a mistake.

“The nearest ship is the FNS Horn, Ma’am,” Lt Cmdr Kenwood, her first officer had taken over signals when Audie came onto the bridge. “The other one we have a transponder readout on is the Charger, a G-3. Got another now, the Argent.”

The alarm was silenced and direct contact established with an eighty-five second lightspeed lag established. Then the alarm started to sound all over again. More grav pulses, another seven ships and all of them Feddies. “This is getting curiouser and curiouser. Let me talk to the Horn’s Captain,” Audie said, “shut off the clangor but stay at alert. I want firing solutions on anything within range but nothing active. We’ll see just how good we are.”

Audie had the Perseus begin to close the distance and she could see the Union fleet start forming up well beyond the limit and still waiting for permission to start inwards. For now they limited at 30 G’s which was far slower then even her own 50 G’s maximum. Audie’s Perseus was only a G-2 and the Captain of the Exciter was taking excessive account of that fact. News of this arrival would hit Novi like an asteroid impact within the hour and shortly thereafter many things would begin to speed up.

The reason that Perseus had been so close to the Union fleet’s ‘in’ point was because two days earlier she had left her position exercising along a line that seen against the globe of stars from Novi would have connected Philomel and Earth. This was on the other side of Novi from where a jump to Cardoman would normally take place and the Perseus left that exercise area in order to join with the rest of Cardoman’s fleet which would soon leave Novi orbit for Cardoman. A direct line from Union to Novi came very close to intersecting Perseus’s trajectory exactly where the Feddies came out of hyper. The geometry of the situation was hard to explain but easy to visualize, especially so if one had a 3-D map—or better yet a ships tank able to project the vector and course lines against a starry background.

“I’ve got Exciter, Ma’am” Lt Wayland the new signals and com officer said crisply, “Fleet Admiral Ordman; his record is under info-2.”

Audie recognized the name but was sure she had never met the man. She touched the indicated icon and saw a photographic likeness and then quickly scanned through several pages of data; all in less time than it took too compose her features, straighten her uniform and take the call.

Audie was still on line with Admiral Ordman when the ship’s alarms rang again,

“We have ten incoming,” said Wayland at once, “All from Llanfairn, that’s what the signals say.”

“Confidence?”

“The drives match, here’s the list.”

On her screen entries started adding and the take was sent and repeated on all the ships in system. Audie saw a list, boxes filling as the details became known. Infinite, Fortune Hunter, Pachawan, Hurricane, and Nova Ceti G-4’s grouping in one division and the Glider, Lightning, Hollorith, Justice, and Magellan G-3’s in another.

* * *
Admiral Jamie Madry was about to get on a shuttle parked on the Sara’s boat deck for a quick trip to Novi Station and a discussions concerning her own impending departure when the Union fleet and the force from Llanfairn transitioned in and alarms on the Sara started ringing. She quickly boarded the craft, took the copilot seat up front, and began studying the viewscreen.

Based on pulse analysis there were ten additional warships of mixed denomination and two logistics vessels, a third of Llanfairn’s fleet. And Llanfairn had the largest navy of all the Independents.

“What do you make of it?” Jamie signaled from the shuttle up to the Sara’s bridge and Cmdr Fullson Lovell her first officer.

“It’s war Ma’am, can’t be anything else. And it sure as hell is going to be a help for us. We should have some direct data from Perseus in seventy minutes but I don’t doubt the lead ship is sending messages of her own in any event. Want me here or should I go with you to the station?”

“Stay here for now. Do a complete systems check and get in a full alert drill, then shuttle over with any last minute work or details that should best be finished up on the station. I’ll see you then. Whatever is happening here can’t change the fact that we are leaving for Cardoman as originally promised.”

Novi Fleet HQ had never been so crowded. People were coming in on lighters from ships in parking orbits tens of kilometers away. Non essential types had been ordered dirtside along with their families lest the environmental plant overload. Shuttles normally dedicated to fleet duty were dragooned into the effort. Restaurants, bars, any venue dealing directly with people in transit were exempt from this order and for them business was booming.

The latest intel, so carefully packaged and carried from Union, had been kept quite for all of a day; the arrival of the ships from Llanfairn was never even announced. Now there was no separating rumor from fact. And fact was more flammable than rumor and disappeared far faster—and Lordy there was rank aplenty!

“Audie! Ya gotta fix your hair!”

“What you say! That can’t be you Yuri. Whoever you are—what did you done with my Engineering Officer’s brain?”

“Audie I confess, before being well. . . let’s just say I left school under less than honorable conditions, I took a course in cosmetology; it was a mistake I assure you! I didn’t read the syllabus and it sounded like something to do with astronomy, you know, the cosmos and all. I skipped the first couple of sessions and by the time I found out what it was all about it was too late to drop and pick up another. So I stuck around for the grade and because it seemed I was one of the few regular type male students enrolled. I learned a lot in that course,” he smiled, “but I sure had to work at it!”

“Coiled braids aren’t good enough? The classic Princess Leah look?”

“They make your face look round Audie and . . .”

That was as far as he got before Audie stuck out her tongue, made a rude gesture, and left the room.

“Guess I had more to learn,” Yuri thought.

The discussions with Novi’s Grand Admiral Asbury, Secretary of the Navy Rand, and Richard Pellow, her Foreign Secretary and Admiral Ordman from Union accomplished little, there were too many unknowns. The decision that the ships from Llanfairn would go to Cardoman was made after first contact. Keep the Indies out of Union business for as long as possible. Jamie hadn’t much time to spare and was beginning to worry about the time lag to here own ships and those of Llanfairn now closing in on them. It would look bad for the Admiral to be late for the jump. Perseus being a G-2M would slow her down even more, best to see her cousin off without further delay.
Jamie announced her intentions and asked for a short break, immediately granted.

It was only a day since Union’s Exciter and four other Confederation ships glided slowly and silently through the close in defensive screens and docked with Novi Station. Twelve hours since her own ships began leaving one by one, and about the same length of time since Llanfairn’s G-4 Infinite and the rest of that fleet had corrected course as well but in another direction. Now except for the Sara and Audie Madry’s Perseus, whose ship had been on station so long she needed to come in for a final refuel and resupply, every other ship owned by the Cardoman Navy, including the Widows Walk and three rented transports flying the flag, was streaking for the limit and transition to Cardoman.

The only Cardoman ships absent were Dave Gump’s Eagle and the Castleton, both running supply missions and out of reach. The fleet’s return had been in the works for over a month, ever since the Major set the date of the revolt and passed the word back; Jamie wouldn’t think of holding their departure time and even less let them jump without her.

“Cmdr Kenwood says we’re as ready as were gonna be. Perseus is warm and can boost as soon as Yuri and I get aboard.”

“I’ll meet you at the jump point then. There is no holding this up for any reason any reason at all; we have way too much planning and timing involved.”

Jamie returned to the staff meeting where they continued spinning wheels for a time but before she had to leave for her own ship the outlines of a plan was in place to reinforce Triocat and send help to both New Brittan and Ryman while part of the Union fleet would stay here at Novi filling in for Cardomans departed units.

Perseus jumped first, she was going to be first in by a couple of hours a test of how good her new stealth systems really were. Two hours later and Jamie and the Sara took the rest of her fleet through.

* * *
“Tell me again Yuri, but this time don’t kid around.”

“It’s true Audie we lost it.”

“How the hell can you lose a reconnaissance drone Yuri? They cost like ten times both our wages for the next twenty years or more!”

“We gettin’ paid again?”

“Yuri! No more beating around the bush! Out with it. What happened?

“We just lost lock. I’d like to blame it on the Llanfairn Lightning’s drive pulse, she bleed off three times as much energy as she should have, lost a band I’d wager. But there really is no excuse. The lookaheads should have kept her in the beam but we lost her and she’s so damn stealthy we can’t get her back. It could be worse.”

“How so? And this had better be good—I can hardly wait.”

“I had a mission profile programmed in and that’s what she is doing now. Because of some random test and nav routines to make path prediction difficult or impossible we just can’t tell where the bird is hunting, at least not close enough for a beam or even a narrowcast to lock on. And of course we can’t send a general stand down. That would break all of our platforms into the open and give up the codes to anyone listening in. And we both know the Calps must have someone listening. We just let her run and if she detects anything we should know about she will call us and then we have our lock.”

“I’m going to have to say something to Jamie about this.”

“Can you leave me out of it?”

“Step up Yuri!—We’ll make it seem like you planed it this way!”

“Yeah! . . . Think it’ll work?”

“Not a chance.” Audie went on her comm channel to Second Officer Wayland on signals as usual. “Get me the Sara and Fleet Ooops— no make that Fleet Ops.” She gave Yuri a delicious smile.

On Jamie Madry’s flagship Saratoga the alarm was sounding once again. Jamie saw the display and felt no surprise. One of the ships from Llanfairn making their transition into Cardoman space with the rest of the Cardoman fleet came in barely a hundred thousand kilometers away. That was very close and space is very large. “Shut it down,” she said and continued studying the display.

Most of the Cardoman fleet was here already scattered in a globe 200 million kilometers across, locations showing as soon as the data links became active. The leased transports were the only two unaccounted for and that was how the jump had been set. Jamie and the Saratoga, Voinovich and Aladin, the Essex II, SnapDragon, the captured ship renamed the Admiral Raymond under Joe Speedway, and of course her cousin’s Perseus. The oldest, slowest, but most important for the moment.

The Calp’s had been putting defensive systems into the Cardoman system ever since they took the planet. Cardoman patriots had been keeping track as much as they were able. All of the ships looking in from Novi did the same but those with the Cardoman fleet also left stealthed drones to sweep the system looking for any thing new. Audie had all those records to download and the key read anything new at once. That was the one reason the Perseus came along.

The data read so far had only whetted Jamie’s appetite. There was nothing to show Caliphate activity anywhere in the system and it was far too soon for a lightspeed link to Cardoman. She needed to talk to someone the planet to find out what was going on. Wes, Robbie, Major Trebeck — hell anyone would do in a pinch. From what she could see Cardoman must be free again, or the Calps holding on by the skin of their teeth. Anything else and the Caliphate ships she had been expecting would be showing on the battle display. Maybe everything worked just as the Major had said it would. Time to find out.

The ships formed up, fanned out, and drove inward, the 3’s and 4’s together. Audie and the Perseus limited to 50 G’s were tail end Charlie but her recon probes were already out front and her info and view the best. Captain Josiah Smith took his Fortune Hunter and four more of the ships from Llanfairn towards a point intersecting the line from Cardoman to Philomel, the most likely point of entry for a Caliphate attacking force. But nothing like that should be in the works. Least that’s what they thought.

Right on twelve hours later the G-4’s Aladin and SnapDragon made their turn and began decelerating for a zero zero orbit around Cardoman. The news from the surface was good, incredibly good. Half of all the Caliphate forces on planet were destroyed, captured, or on the run. The major point of resistance was the Calp stronghold on the plain below the Drakonsburg Mountains. Raquel Zavala had troops already nibbling at the edges, engaging outlying units. Jamie wondered why Wes didn’t call it off and wait for the fleet to arrive. But it was his call so she didn’t even mention it. Just glad to hear the voice again for the first time in two years. It was just like coming home.

“What about it Wes, could we call Raq off and wait till we have overwhelming air cover?” Connie was asking but deep inside where it hurt she feared she already knew what the answer was going to be.

“Robbie figured it out so he might as well take the credit; though I think I would have ordered the attack even without the bad news. Robbie you want to tell this?”

“It’s like this Connie,” the gruff rumble of his voice spoke to everyone in the makeshift command center in Minton and not to Connie alone. “After we took out all the Calp ships close in and the others fled for the limit I started to wonder what we might have missed. I asked Major Trebeck to review all of the electronic and sensor intel with a special cap on the area over the Calp fortress in the Drakonsburg. He found a stealthed drop hidden in the noise, not even a shuttle, cargo pods. Maybe as many as eight or nine packages. We figure they are small nukes, probably SK warheads. Too small for complete missile assemblies. Jack says if they are technically competent they can mate them with a standard ground based missile in a day or so. Modify some software and if the use them we have problems. We just can’t be sure about a 100% intercept. And even if we could they could smuggle some out overland and that we have no defense against. Raq has to fight this battle and he has to win it quickly.”

“What do we have to help him with?”

“I’m going out there,” Wes said, “Fader and his marines as well. This is a dangerous situation but not a desperate one yet. And Connie—could you get with Admiral Kahn and try to convince him to call this whole thing off?”

Connie grimaced then nodded before saying, “This whole don’t use Nukes on a planet thing seems to be falling apart before our eyes.”

Robbie looked up from his data display and said, “It’s our job to see it doesn’t, not this time. And I mean OUR job! I’m coming along for this one.”

Wes looked and nodded. Connie looked away before saying, “Can we find Dennis Horvath? Somebody has to stay in Minton to run the government.”

* * *
Audie called her Lt Cmdr Kenwood to the bridge. “You have the Perseus now Billy, I’m going below, down to the planet.”

“You can’t do that Ma’am; give up your ship like that. What about orders and chain of command?”

“Why Captain Kenwood, I’ve just issued them, signed and filed, all in the data bank with copies stored. Take care of her Billy until this is over she’s yours; treat her well. You have the bridge!”

Audie went straight for the ship boat bay where her gear was already loaded. She walked up the short ramp turned and saluted, then stepped inside. She passed seated marines released from the ships compliment and took a seat up front next to Lt Cmdr Borselov. It looked like the ship’s assistant engineering officer Lt Ferguson had also received an unexpected bump in rank.

“You don’t have to do this Yuri. I have my reasons but that’s just me. You can go back on the Perseus and no one will think the less of it. I could order you to do that you know.”

“Yes and I might obey. But I have my own reasons Audie, and I suspect they are the same as yours. Let’s not talk about it till later and it’s over. Someday this will all make sense. If not we do what we must.”

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