A Point of Honor 3

A Point of Honor
Chapter 3 Draft (03/20/09)

“Two, One, Transition In!” Mark McCormack felt a slight twist as the Essex came back into normal space. Most claimed to feel nothing at all and doubted the few to claim otherwise. The evidence was statistical in nature. A ship in which passengers and crew did not strap in during the maneuver had an increased chance of what looked like accidental injury, or equipment damage. And that always happened exactly at the time the ship jumped. The twist was real enough to Mark and seemed even stronger on the G-4 Essex than in any other of his experience. This was his second transition on his new command, leaving Novi was the first.

“What about the court martial?” he asked immediately after receiving his orders. Even though he knew it was to be just a formality it was bothering him. Loosing the Carpathian hurt him deeply.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Jamie Madry replied. “I closed out the paperwork a week ago, issued you a medal and did the same for most all of your crew. I thought that was obvious at the General Meeting. Look in the ships database for the details.”

He didn’t have time to do more than scan it until they were a day into hyper on the two week run to Cardoman to check on Caliphate fleet activity. Then he was astounded at the document as a whole. In four sentences it summed up the destruction of his previous ship and where a transcript of his own testimony should have been entered was the note: Waived by Trial Board. — J. Madry Adm CNS.

In the final box, the one for the verdict were the words. “Captain McCormack has been found to have performed to the highest levels of excellence a military service can command. He is hereby returned to service with no loss of pay or rank. We salute his devotion to duty and honor those with him who met their end or fell into enemy hands due to his ship’s heroic defense.”

Signing the form along with Jamie were Captains Voinovich, Gump, K. Marquette and A. Madry. ‘Well how did Audie get here before her own court martial for mutiny?’ Mark pulled up that document, he had a lot to catch up on being so busy getting the Essex refitted that unless something was addressed priority to his attention his First Officer Marigold Last had just signed the fleet message and filed it away. She really should have told him about his own trial or lack thereof; but then it seemed like everyone else she considered it a non issue.

The paperwork on Audie Madry’s actions was even stranger than that describing his own. It seemed Roger Langston and died in the line of duty; cause accidental discharge of a weapon on the SnapDragon’s bridge. For all that McCormack could figure Jamie must have started from the premise that Langston shooting his First Officer Cmdr Fletcher was an accident and from there it all just rolled down hill with Audie taking charge of the ship by necessity.

Another put up job; Vern Matson was said to have conducted the investigation and Jamie’s signature was all that was required to make the determination official. Someday historians were going to have one hell of a time making heads or tails out of all of this but it did keep them from spending anytime on the past events that were beyond mending.

There wasn’t much difference in being Captain of a G-4 than his previous G-3. In some ways it was easier due to a slightly smaller size and roughly the same numbers in the crew. Changing the control systems and adding the Cardoman upgrades to weapons and sensors was where all the time went. The Essex was not quite up to top CNS standards but she was a bit better than a Calp G-4 in almost every respect but layout and that was something she was going to have to put up with for the rest of her service life and really not much of a detriment. The Calps spared no expense and built very able war ships. The former Salat made that plain.

“No immediate threat,” Eric Shearing reported somewhat redundantly as McCormack saw the green bar at the top of his display.

“Keep us at alert for another ten minutes than stand down. Turn of the active sensors and let’s try to not miss a thing.” One by one Caliphate ships began appearing on the board. Nothing within half a day’s travel time but within the hour the closest would get their drive pulse and start towards them to investigate. Before she got close the Essex would jump again. This time for Llanfairn.

* * *

Back on Llanfairn Foreign Minister Shearing had a few days with his wife Louis, the Cardoman Commercial Secretary and second after Ambassador Jules Petoskey of the Cardoman staff on planet. Sgt Avram Evans, in charge of the Embassy security detail, was following him around like a tail on a kite when ever he left the Residence and Victor was most appreciative. They were now on their way to the port to greet his son Eric bringing in the first lander from the Essex; the ship insystem for two days and in orbit for only hours.

Georgetown, Llanfairn’s Capital, bustled with activity but the atmosphere was calm and orderly, not hectic in the least. The change from Novi was profound and understandable. Llanfairn might kneeling on a platform, have its head in a guillotine, a blade ready to fall from above; but to most the possibility was so distant as to make it invisible. Victor’s first job was to bring that blade into focus. Bring it so close that it was seen its descent heard the very existence not just imagined. The data brought back from Cardoman was going to help with that task.

A police vehicle picked them up when the drove through the residence gate and followed to the spaceport. It parked and waited while Victor and Sgt Evans went inside. Evans nodded to a pair of other police in plain clothes standing at the building’s entrance. He did the same to another he noticed inside. Short of remaining inside all the time this was as good as security could get and Evans was glad to see it. The house cleaning after the Embassy bombing has been most thorough.

A hand shake then a hug and they were back to the ground car. Eric, carrying a diplomatic pouch bypassed any normal entry inspection. Once again inside the old two story residence Eric and his parents had more than an uninterrupted hour together before duty called them both away to business. “We have a meeting with the Confederation Envoy, Andre Layette and Megan MacWorther the Ambassador from Ryman. Go out and see the sights with Sgt Evans,” his mother said. “We won’t be finished for hours. Just don’t wear your uniform.”

“What?” Why wouldn’t I do that? It’s not like we’re in enemy territory.”

“Humor me dear, you are not a famous person but your father is. There are some that would swipe at you to get to him. I just think we should not tempt fate.”

“Ahh! Why didn’t think about that part?”

Victor, Louise, and Ambassador Petoskey were with their guests were in the dining room with its large oak table by the time Eric was changed and back downstairs. Steering Evans towards the double door he said, “I’m sure you know where I want to go Sgt. He said.

“I guess I do Sir. It never changes. Does it?”

“Not today and not on my watch!” Evans took him first to the local pub that the Embassy guard staff frequented. He was on his own after that.

* * *

Envoy Layette said, “This may be fine for Llanfairn Victor, but what people will claim if you run it out on Union is that you are just setting fire to an army of straw men. They are going to say that you exaggerate the threat of further aggression only for Cardoman’s benefit without a care for the cost and magnifying beyond reason its likelihood.”

“Sure they will, some from conviction and some from baser motives. But if I can pull out the straw from what I claim are Cardoman plans, and set fire to it all you would normally have left are a pile of empty sacks. The Calps, no matter what some might believe, are a lot more dangerous than an empty sack. You may dismiss my analysis of their motives but you cannot overlook the — extreme magnitude of their building program.” He turned to Megan MacWorther and said, “And If you go public with what is actually happening on Ryman my job would be a lot easier you know.”

“Would that I could. I am risking my position and the lives of my family back home just by telling you both what I know. I am ready for this to get to Reshevsky but there it has to stop until we deal with things on Ryman and we have to do that without outside interference of pressure.”

Jules Petoskey spoke up, “She is certainly correct about that Vic. Those people on Ryman are so pig headed and obstinate that they won’t do what they know to be right if it looks like others are trying to force them in the proper direction.”

“More is the pity,” Louise added. “We would do anything to get Ryman out of the Calp camp and completely on our side, especially if we could trust them to stay that way afterwards.”

“A free people, for all their virtue, can be almost infinitely deceived by the simple act of telling them what they want to believe,” Layette said.

“I’m going to quote you when I deliver the speech on Union,” Victor smiled.

“Please do; it’s true enough. Just don’t let on where you heard it. President Reshevsky can use some cover too.”

“Back to brass tacks and arguments Cardoman can make that will change some minds; I think we can start with are positive knowledge of what the Caliphate really does intend. And at least privately we can back up everything we claim.”

The trip to the Federation Capital Union was uneventful. Crowded on the Essex to say the least. Captain McCormack gave up his main cabin and stayed in the day cabin off of the bridge. Calp construction standards meant this was about half again as large as yards outside the Caliphate built. First Officer Last and Second Officer Shearing were bumped down the food chain displacing those less fortunate. It was crowded! But relatively short. From Llanfairn to Union on a G-4 was only a month. Only — Everyone on board, especially the crew, wished it was ever so much faster.

Besides Layette and MacWorther they carried eight more delegations and another five single travelers. In total sixty-three more souls than the ship had been designed to handle. The Calps made up for officer space by cutting down on that for the enlisted. Zavala’s marines were bunking inside the shuttles in the landing bay and felt lucky for the spot. The detachment’s Lieutenant “Hard Tack” Logan shared their feelings.

None of his men had a clue to the man’s given name and when appropriate he just went by the name of Tack. He was drilling them on procedures for once they reached Union. The small group from the Seventh Marine on Embassy duty there was going to need more help when this traveling circus arrived. A lot of the effort went into convincing them that they had to look less threatening while remain as deadly as ever. If they stood out they would be that much easier to negate.

With so many passengers onboard the Officers took a slot from the crews mess and each one was responsible for a table. “What is this mushy white dish with the brown sauce?” The Frissian Ambassador asked looking at the plate in front of him. Frissia was a class two Feddie planet that provided medium tech weapons, mostly small arms, battle helmets, and ground transport. They did make the best stealth clothing in the business; something he commented on frequently making Eric wish that the Marine Lt. Logan had this particular table.

Tack would talk about small arms or anything else for that matter relating to his specialty almost as soon as he would bring up small unit tactics. And Eric had learned more about those than he had ever imagined existed. After a month Tack didn’t look to be running out of more to say.

“Why it’s mashed potatoes and gravy,” Lt. Shearing, hosting this table said. We have it every year on this date to celebrate Major Calvert’s birthday. Try it — it’s not hard at all to get used to.”

The time did pass and a fair transition was made into Union. With the numbers recorded the next jump on the same course would be better but the Essex was circling and her passengers disembarked and leave given to most of the crew.

“How we gonna pay for this,” Marigold Last asked Captain McCormack. “All I have on the ships books are Cardoman Credits.”

“There all still good the Minister Shearing informs me. Make sure to tell everyone not to let them be discounted. Any Exchanges should take place with a government vendor. I don’t imaging there are any less public places beating the market rate.”

“How much can I let them have?”

“It’s their money. Let them spend it as they will. They might never be another chance. The ones that want to save will save; the others can get whatever enjoyment the port allows.” The two of them didn’t realize how much that conversation resembled one being held between the Foreign Minister, his wife Louise, the Cardoman Ambassador to Union Portisch Lavin, and Union’s President Arkady Reshevsky.

“My treasury department tells me you still have a surprising amount of credit left in your off planet accounts. The Caliphate is looking to freeze those funds, and even confiscate them to pay for what they claim as rightful damages. They are a long way from that kind of support at the present time; too many are looking in the mirror on that one. In the future things could change. They discreetly suggest you either use them or lose them.”

Victor opened a small flat case and took out a data cube and handed it to the Presidents military aide who placed it in the reader, besides Victor, Louise and Reshevsky he was the only other in the room. “This is a list of what we wish to purchase. As you see almost half is dedicated for direct support of Novi most of the rest for help with purchasing interest in and then expansion of strategic industries in the Indies.”

“When the Caliphate goes after Novi you stand to lose all of that investment.”

“Not all, a fair part goes into ships and weapons. Our Navy didn’t fight to the death for Cardoman, if they had Cardoman would still be under Calp control and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. President Horvath, after consultation, has issued orders to support Novi but save the fleet. This is going to be a long war. The realists on Novi know this as well. We have to make sure we don’t forfeit a chance for eventual victory right here at the start.”

“Let’s get back to the concrete,” Reshevsky said. “I can see why you are going to support Novi but the fist item on the second section of your list looks to be beyond your means short of charity, an action lacking from most governments and especially with war looming. How do you propose to get a stake in establishing a new shipyard? No one with that kind of technology needs any partners and pre-order deposits will be funding them just fine.”

“This will leak soon enough but we took the head of our band machine from the Cardoman yard out on the Widow. We took out her engineering and maintenance staff as well. Given a place with some off planet infrastructure and we have the start of a new yard.”

“Now that is something new. Who are you intending negotiating with?”

“We didn’t have time for negotiation. It’s already out at Enderlin and ought to be working by now. It would have been very much to our advantage to place it somewhere on an Independent like Trudelheim where our ShipKillers are coming from but that would just make her another indefensible target. The Calps will need to think twice about going after Enderlin and so there you have it.”

“I understand your choice, but it might have been wiser to forgo the immediate production and place the thing in a Class two world looking for a step up. Frissia comes to mind on that front. Their delegation has been pressing me for years to help get them a yard started.”

“We brought the Frissian Ambassador from Llanfairn with us on the trip out,” Louise said. “If I may say, he seems a couple of sigma short of a bell curve, when it comes to the present situation.”

Arkady and Portisch Lavin both chuckled then Lavin said, “I’ve met the man; don’t judge a planet by one individual. I wish you would have talked to me first on that choice and I would have said go with Frissia. I see why you wanted no delay; perhaps it is for the best but it hasn’t gotten any easier working here and making friends than it was when you were here last.”

Then Reshevsky added, “I am going to support Frissia with their plans for a yard and you can help me.”

“In what way?” Victor asked.

“Send as many of your engineering team from Enderlin as you can spare. With two startups in four years they have more experience on that end than anyone we could send. And it will temper their disappointment.”

“Consider it done. Another thing I want to do is get a complete evaluation from Confederation Intelligence concerning what the Calps can and might do next; and of course all of our sources are open to you with the usual caveats.”

“I will authorize complete disclosure, subject, of course, to the usual caveats,” Arkady smiled in turn. “Our Mr. Philips has ‘Unearthed’ quite a bit of the new.”

Reshevsky’s aide, who had been sitting at the far end of the table watching his own display, touched the screen and a message flashed on the Union President’s device. “One more item of interest. A ship from new Brittan has just come into the system. On board her is, I gather, an old friend of Cardoman’s General Basil Ramseyer. The second message after the arrival notice was a call to your Embassy. I understand he fought with you on Ophia.”

“With the Seventh on Ophia and Sylvan both, I’ve never met the man but Wes Calvert speaks very highly of him. I dare say some of our people will know him. Thanks for the heads up. I will want to contact him and invite him to our Embassy as soon as his ship reaches orbit.”

Arkady said, “I am curious to know what he is about. As I am sure you are aware New Brittan has a trade office here but takes no position on Confederation affairs. The better to serve any side of any conflict. I too would like to meet him and I am sure that Mr. Philips will insist upon it.”

As it turned out none of the several hundred Cardomans currently on Union had ever met Ramseyer. Marine Lt Logan had been introduced once years ago while on a transport named the Pleasure Dome but could claim no friendship or personal knowledge. One of their friends knew him well, Hanna Perkins head of the disposed government of Sylvan.

She went to meet Ramseyer and even had he not been wearing his scarlet and silver uniform would have known him anywhere. His pencil thin mustache, aquiline nose and ruddy complexion under a receding hairline along with his erect posture made him look the perfect picture of a New Brittan senior officer. Hanna drove back with him to the Cardoman Residence.

“I was quite devastated when I learned of your planet falling again to the Caliphate, quite devastated indeed”

“You and me both—” Hanna tried to say it with humor but the irony obvious. “On the other hand Basil; you have done very well. I congratulate you on your promotion.”

“Was a matter of time is all, but most regrettable it took your planet’s loss and more particularly that of Cardoman to bring me out here and present the chance to see you again. How does Stillwell do? How is he holding up?”

“Not good at all Basil, the Calps have enough popular support on Sylvan that he can do so very little to hinder them without risking everything. If the Calps would just take their ships away we could accomplish something. Until they do or they are forced out we can only wait.”

“I wish I could cheer you up but I see a long haul before things change.” A gloomy silence accompanied them the rest to the drive.

Once through the gate and ushered inside the Residence, and after introductions from the security staff, hand picked Cardoman Marines, the two were alone for the moment. Hanna offered her support for whatever Ramseyer was up to, wanted to say more but then Victor Shearing came down from the upper floor she introduced him to the General and left claiming other matters to attend to.

Louise and Ambassador Lavin were away on business of their own and Victor led him straight into the dining room where he asked while serving out two tall gin and tonics; the gin from a bottle labeled Genuine Bombay – A Product of New Brittan, brought a smile to the Generals face, “And just what is the purpose of your visit General?”

“Employment and off planet credits for New Brittan Eh? What else?” He took a sip, “A pity Cardoman is so isolated. For you because of past experience our standard contract price would negotiate down, we might even find it possible to omit some of the bonus clauses.” He paused, waiting for a reaction.

“Aren’t you worried the Calps might go for New Brittan? Isn’t if risky taking a part of your army off planet instead of leaving it in place?”

“Lesser of two evils, indeed; we have a substantial merchant fleet for a planet of our size but only a couple of armed G-3‘s to wave the flag. That being that, my political masters think we could still be of mutual assistance.”

“I have little doubt; just what have you in mind?”

“We need to arm our ships; you have influence and a stake in Trudelheim, not to mention New Erin and their electronics manufacturing base. You also I find have technicians who have done this kind of work before.”

“You may be overestimating our influence with New Erin and to be blunt the ShipKiller production on Trudelheim is our main bargaining chip with most of the Confederation right now. Everything made out there is spoken for, some of it twice.”

Ramseyer took another sip and setting down the glass with ever so much reserve said, “In return for a spot at the head of the line, so to speak, and provided certain other conditions are met, we would be willing to commit to a qualified operational alliance along with sending a contingent to help guard the planet against a ground action making it a much tougher nut to crack when the Caliphate comes to call.”

“There are other planets that would trade weapons for a ground presence as well General.”

“Would they offer not only troops but also a mutual defense pact? Say publicly than an attack on Trudelheim was an attack on their home world? This is how far my government is prepared to go.”

Victor was quite now, calculating the cost to benefit ratio. This might cause some small amount of harm with the Feddies but would sway opinion with other Independents, but one more planet, a prosperous one at that, positively aligned with their cause was ever so important. “I think we have the basis for an agreement here General Ramseyer. Permit me a toast to your Queen.” They raised their glasses.

Starting later that day Prime Minister Shearing, Louise Shearing and Lavin hammered out a draft agreement with Ramseyer his chief of staff Lewellyn Waterford and the New Brit trade mission. The principals of agreement, wrapped up in hours, were as a formality sent with McCormack and the Essex that same evening when she left for another look in at Cardoman and then back to Novi. A Cardoman warship was much too valuable and asset to remain idle while waiting on a diplomatic mission.

Louise would return to Llanfairn in another week, if nothing else changed on Union, while Victor went first to Trudelheim with Ramseyer and then most likely to Llanfairn himself depending on the situation or news that might reach him there.

Nothing particularly new or unexpected had come from the meeting with Union Intelligence and James Philips and here at least no news could be read as good news. The Cardoman and Novi citizens trapped on Earth would be exchanged for those from the Caliphate now on Novi. Timetables were being set and a neutral exchange point being determined.

Lists of captured military prisoners were also exchanged but getting the people back was another matter entirely and proceeding slowly. In all such negotiations Reshevsky had offered Unions good offices and the offer was immediately accepted yet even that wasn’t helping. Philips predicted that progress on this front would continue to be slow. The value placed upon a hostage was high in the Caliphate and they held the preponderance of prisoner.

Another ship from New Brittan came into the system, this one a transport with a Brit military unit and a gang of shipfitters; Ramseyer had been certain his offer would not be refused. It was on this ship the two left for Trudelheim, the transport to be militarized after they reached their destination.

The time passed slowly and Victor wondered if he should have sent someone else but getting to really know the new ally trumped all else. As much as it seemed to affect him Ramseyer could have been traveling afloat on a river of gin rather than on a starship in hyper.