A Point of Honor 5

A Point of Honor
Chapter 5 Draft (04/13/09)

Ahmed Abdel Arafat, head of all Caliphate military forces on Earth and beyond along with Shehzad Tanweer, the little known even mysterious figure in charge of the Regulations Compliance Office, the public name for the Caliphate Intelligence Service left the Mosque and walking outside in the bright sunshine started their conversation from where they left it a hour before.

The guards were at a distance but the coverage complete, and there was little to fear in any event. Popular support for Al Gamrawi Bey, on Earth at least, was as complete as seven hundred years of, repression, indoctrination, and for a favored few, enrichment could make it.

This is not to say that the mass population of the Caliphate was poor, on the contrary, except on the newest colony world the standard of living for the majority was high enough that revolt over basic economic conditions was not — could not — be an issue. The calls for revolution came mostly from the top of the pyramid. The sons, second and third sons of the ruling families looking for more wealth and power, and in a few cases to also expand the Caliphate’s dominion for the glory of Allah.

For those not in the favored classes, those with ability and ambition, the surest way for advancement was to be born or posted to one of the newer worlds where land was plenty and wealth expanding. But the Caliphate had few of these within its sphere of influence; most having reached a natural limit to development and looking to expand. With this material basis of support and religion as justification the only real opposition to the present government came from those already in high places seeking to replace those on even loftier perches, and of course the people on the worlds the Caliphate was seeking to add to the empire. Triocat was one such planet.

“I will tell you Shehzad, things are going very well. Success breeds success and we are on a run and must keep in motion. A stumble now would set us back a year. In a year momentum will keep us moving despite any internal difficulties. The Confederation is divided and the longer it remains so the better we stand. How much will our moving on Triocat and Trudelheim affect their policies?”

“That will depend on how long we take and how bloody the battle. But of the two speed is most important. Once we control the news we control the reaction. Have you finalized the number of troops, the ships, you plan on sending?”

“Twenty thousand soldiers and the required transports. A squadron of five warships to each.”

“So few? But of course I agree. And we must admit to smaller numbers should it come to that. It is important not to appear overly aggressive. Make it look like the situation on Altoona where we were merely aiding the indigenous population.”

“This could work once or twice more. I have seen the latest readiness figures, at least you do not delude yourself, but the Army seems a shambles compared with our naval forces.”

“For now yes; in a year it will change though it will also start to pinch the civilian population as we take merchant ships and covert them to troop and logistic carriers. That is going to be the bottleneck. We can make the army ready to fight but getting them to where we need them will be a long term problem.”

“Captain Kalid will be waiting now with all of the latest on Cardoman and Novi. You have seen his reports. I think you are wise to hear him in person.”

“I have another job for Rashid and I do not want you to think I am poaching in your territory. I think he should go along with the squadron to Triocat, perhaps even lead it. His reports are most illuminating.”

The two men reached the other side of the open area surrounding the Mosque and in separate vehicles returned to Arafat’s headquarters building to continue their conversation.

“Tell me General, how long before our ships leave for Trudelheim?” This was the first of the two planets next on the Caliphate’s list. “Are we still on schedule? You said nothing to Gamrawi Bey.” Tanweer was certain he would know about any change in plan before it was issued and was only trying to get a sense of how Arafat was feeling about the operation.

“No changes, we needed to send one of the transports to Cardoman but her replacement will be loaded and ready or heads will roll. I must say though I was disappointed when you failed to support an immediate attack on New Erin.”

“Political considerations. Trudelheim takes less force and will seem less threatening. Triocat is better yet.”

General Arafat said, “It will take, or I will use, less force only because of those political considerations. Given a free hand I would double the ships and manpower. If we seem invincible the appearance becomes reality. I will consider your idea to put Kalid in charge of the Triocat squadron; it is late to make that kind of a change. Perhaps send him as an observer again?”

“By your own estimates you have more than enough strength.”

“That is true but right now we have the resources to send even more.”

“And showing that so obviously will spur our enemies into an even faster buildup. Tactically I am certain you are correct. Surely you see the strategic considerations?”

“Absolutely, but I don’t have to like them.”

Tanweer nodded, wondering what the General would say if he knew about the most recent intelligence concerning New Brittan. “I take your point about making changes and the desire for more force. Why not send Kalid then as an addition to Trudelheim and charge him with bringing back the initial report? Send him in the same capacity to Triocat if he returns in time?”

“I have no problems whatsoever with that Tanweer and I thank you for the suggestion.”

Captain Rashid Kalid, his ship the Sword of the Prophet in orbit taking on supplies for her mission to Trudelheim, was in Tanweer’s office. He wasn’t happy about the trip down and the day’s wait, but with departure so soon was thankful for the chance to see his wife and family one last time.

“Rashid, I shall tell you now the real reason I maneuvered to have you go along with the expeditionary force.” Tanweer called up an image of Basil Ramseyer. “New Brittan as I am sure you can tell by the Uniform. He and 5000 to 7000 of his men will be on Trudelheim when you get there. I expect the possibility of one or two warships as well, though this is far from certain. General Arafat and Squadron Leader Captain Khumm know nothing of this. And the squadron must leave Earth without knowing.”

“But why Sir? This must change the op-plan. I just sat through the final brief and even I would make changes knowing this.” Kalid’s initial surprise was turning into something between suspicion and anger but years of practice hid his thoughts. “Why are we withholding this information, if I may ask?”

“Because the Ayatollah Bey wishes it so. As soon as the report reached my office I went to the palace, brought up certain facts and made certain proposals. We are rapidly reaching the point of no return. Success on Trudelheim brought about by the application of overwhelming force will not reveal how our armed forces will fight when condition are more nearly equal. Are we as good as we think we are? How good is the opposition? Before taking that last step we have a chance to find out. The troops we are committing to this battle are by no means any kind of an elite force. They are those we fight a general war with.”

“Withholding this information will cost us lives and in the worst case lead to a failure of the mission.”

“As I said to Gamrawi Bey, ‘Even a failure serves the cause of Allah if it prepares us for a greater victory.’ And so I send you to observe and report. You will of course keep this information confidential for all time and do nothing to risk your ship, even if that means disobeying a direct order from Captain Khumm. Are we clear on this?”

“Yes we are Sir.” Any other answer was unthinkable.

“Take this and study it.” Tanweer handed Kalid a small object. “It contains all we know and surmise. Destroy the cube when you are done with it. You may go now Rashid, it shall be as it is written.”

* * *
Yuri Borselov was reporting to his Captain. It wouldn’t have looked like that to most but this was the CNS Perseus with her standards of Naval Etiquette rather elastic. Yuri sprawled in his seat much at ease. He wasn’t the wildly erratic youth that first enlisted into the Seventh, the ships Engineering Office; Yuri had a ways to go before becoming typical. For that matter Audie Madry had a ways to go herself, but she could feel the weight of responsibility changing her, a change she would never have credited way back when.

“Dead end then Lieutenant?”

“For now at least. I can almost do the math but even with your help I can’t see where to go next. Someday I am sure someone is going to find a way to do FTL communications but it is not going to be me. Not any time soon.”

“That’s how I see it too; a shame though, it would sure be a game changer.”

“But I tell ya Audie; I am getting a hint of a handle on a theoretical way to cut down on the grav pulse that always gives us away when ever we transition out of hyper. And again I can’t do the math to see if it really works. If you could spend some time checking my work and steer me in the right direction I will share credit with you.”

“Sure Yuri, in my spare time. Don’t sit on it send it to fleet. They got better math people than I will ever be. Do that, but first and for the last time, you are late on getting your readiness report filed and I want it yesterday! So before you do anything else get the frakin’ paperwork done. You got to set an example for the rest of your division!”

“Me? Set an example? Geez Audie that sounds bizarre — and especially coming from you.”

“Oh, I try every now and then, mostly when I’m off the ship representing us to the rest of the fleet. And I do wonder why Jamie ever put me here. And I wonder even more why the Major went along with it. But it has taught me one thing; I sleep better when I see those reports filed and can check on the details!”

“Yeah, sorry.” and then Yuri grinned and said, “And I bet you would sleep even better if you spent more time with Major Zavala.”

“Yuri, my love life or lack thereof is not open for discussion. Get the report in! Second thing is we are going to boost for Trudelheim within the week. We can take them the latest ShipKiller upgrades and get out from under fleet command. We will transport any production ready for shipment from there to New Erin where we get a chance to see our old band machine. And for our own ship’s benefit we get a chance for a live fire exercise with a working warhead.”

“What about shore leave?”

“Your division, your call. Just make sure that everyone is back on board twenty-four hours before we boost. And Yuri?”

“Yes?”

“You go nowhere till that readiness report is filed!”

The Perseus boosted, part of a unit of two with Stan Voinovich and the Aladin as the lead.”

* * *
Drums beat and bugles sounded. Real drums, real bugles; New Brittan did nothing in half measure. The only thing missing was the skirling of the pipes but the Dillingham Grenadiers had left an hour before and were now twenty kilometers in front.

“Quite a thing getting us down without the locals knowing, eh, what? And now a bit of an exercise that’s good for unit morale.” General Ramseyer was standing in his command car with Colonel Waterford beside him.

“Indeed Sir. We should have been hard pressed to do as well even using only our own transport. And never so rapidly.” Waterford turned to watch the column string out behind until the desert sun rising due local east made him avert his view. He kept his helmet visor up to more fully savor the moment. “As I have said before General, the locals may be ignorant of our presence but I rate the odds no higher than 60/40 that the Caliphate is ignorant as well.”

“Oh I quite agree with you Lewellyn, quite; but the odds what ever they may be, are entirely beyond our control.” Ramseyer scanned his display then barked over the comm channel, Major Riggs, you are falling behind. Get a move on it man!” Then he went back to his pose and continued to set an example.

Most, perhaps three quarters of everything brought down from orbit had been delivered by the locals on heavy lifters. Landing a large and ungainly cargo carrier out here in the desert was highly unusual, unprecedented, but they did handle it well enough, frontier pluck. In fact everything had moved along smartly, a good sign, but Ramseyer was not nearly as confident as his outward appearance suggested.

He needed to get his army, a short division, all fifty-two hundred and fifty of them, close enough to the planets manufacturing center that in case of attack he could act as a buffer. And he had to do it rapidly and as quietly as possible. Yet there was not a lump of a chance that he would remain undetected for very much longer. All off planet, out system comm, was limited to government controlled equipment. With him on this march were two hundred of the planetary militia, a quarter of its entire force. Their job to try and convince any locals they came across that this was an approved, but secret training exercise. They would be seen before long. That was as much as could be done. He prayed it was enough then dismissed the thought and with a wave of his hand urged the troops onward, then made another broadcast.

“Riggs damn it — tighten things up!”

“He looks in good shape to me General,” Waterford was used to his General way of command.

“Yes, of course, I would expect no less — someone else will get the stick next hour.”

Loafing along, half way out to the hyperlimit, the Essex was alert but also at ease; her drive shut down and the ship in full stealth mode. Mark McCormack was finally able to take the time to appreciate how well his people had performed in making the landing work as well as it did. Four days since the transport Pleasure Dome left, taking Victor Shearing with her on his roundabout way back to Llanfairn and he was able to relax long enough think he ran his ship and not the other way round.

He had sent a Lieutenant Pilot back on the Dome for a lack of zeal, an unwillingness to approach and make landings with the proper amount of dispatch. In the service they name for this, they called it being a bit shy. But when it came to getting a military force landed the line between caution and speed must always lean towards the former. A simple warning hadn’t sufficed. Some had it some didn’t. This wouldn’t end the woman’s career but she would never again fly on a combat op, her chances for promotion severely limited. He might even have saved her life, though no credit would he get for that.

McCormack made a note to confirm the woman’s former copilot as the shuttles new Lieutenant Pilot and to give him a jump in his permanent warrant rank, the paper work was bound to go through but give him the rank and pay now. Then he called to the bridge, “Commander Last, take relief and report to the plotting room!”

“Aye aye Sir.” She in turn issued her own order, “Carstairs, you have the bridge!”

“Yes Ma’am! I have the bridge!”

One deck down and half the size of the bridge itself the Plotting room on the Essex wasn’t up to Cardoman standards but was still a wonder to behold for someone who had spent 90% of her space going life on civilian cargo haulers and liners. McCormack had the main display set to show the Trudelheim system with the starry background dim and framing the view. Marigold tossed her hat on the conference table and took a seat. McCormack was the only other person in the room. There wasn’t a single trace in the entire system showing a ship in motion.

“Quite for once,” she looked at the display. It didn’t take much imagination and she felt like she was hanging outside the hull, in vacuum with nothing but nothing all around and the points of light representing system objects, rocks, planets, inhabited stations were nothing more than points of light to add some color to the view.

“I turned off all of the small ship movements; no distractions, it helps me to think.”

“It would put me to sleep Mark. But do tell me about those great thoughts. You didn’t call me from the bridge for chit-chat.”

“Nothing monumental, nothing like that. All I wanted to do was get you off of the bridge so Carstairs could get some time there on his own. He needs the experience and better now than later.”

“Your saying more than that I keep to tight a reign on my watch. Am I overdoing it?”

“That I am Commander. I am guilty enough myself. This ship and the challenge involved are different enough from what either of us has faced before that there is no wonder in the fact. Spend more time on systems study and less on personal oversight, use one hand to hold your watch and the hand for the ship. I guess what I am really feeling is mortal. You are my first officer and next in line. Spend time with all departments and all three watches.”

“You have done everything I could ask for up to this point. Time to do even more. We are going to stay here until we get relief from Admiral Madry from Novi so let’s make sure when we bring the Essex back in none of the time was wasted. She may not be the best in the fleet now but we can change that. No more pep talk for now — take the rest of your watch off, get some sleep, then go back on deck with Eric for when his crew comes on. It’s part of the job and might be the most important part.”

Five days later, when Cmdr Last was pulled from a sound sleep by battle alarms clanging due to detection of a massive grav pulse, one soon followed by the announcement of 12 ships incoming, she didn’t have the time to appreciate her much improved knowledge and feel for the technical nature of her ships operation but it came in handy at once.

Captain McCormack went straight to the bridge. She went directly to the plotting room acting as an additional pair of eyes and indirectly responsible for overseeing the battle bridge down in the engineering spaces where a skeleton crew waited in case of need.

On the command deck they were looking at the here and now. Marigold started tracing the when and what if. The Essex was waiting in the section of space that would have been the likely path of a single ship sent from the nearest Calp base. This fleet was on a path indicating a single jump transit from Earth. By the number of ships involved that was probably where they were from. Not a particularly good jump either. They came in two hours beyond the hyper limit.

The Essex could get in the way but not without leaving stealth mode.

The odds too much against them, she was looking at six warships and now eight transports, some likely armed, made fighting suicidal. If the Essex came close enough to the Calp incoming and was detected, the Calps favorable velocity vectors would permit them to force a fight. And with these kind of odds force they would. Kind of like the concept of the wind gage in ancient sailing battles. Marigold predicted the Essex would wait this one out, keeping under cover and hope for a shot at a single opponent.

Her prediction proved a bit off the mark when Captain McCormack gave orders to make a low power course taking her even closer to the limit, keeping in stealth all the while. He was going to put getting word back above all else. Along with their own sensor they would get a feed from everything on the planet as well, at least until the Calps got close enough to shut things down. Several days before that could happen. Marigold started making notes for the briefing sure to come.

The Calps grav pulse was detected in Trudelheim orbit and flashed to the ground where the Brits were still at least a week away from their planed final position. “Caught us with our knickers down,” Ramseyer commented. “So much for attempted secrecy eh, what? How soon before we need to go to ground?”

“From what we know we can count on only a day or a day and a half, Colonel Waterford replied. Best we count on the short end there has not been time to see it they will come in as rapidly as the can manage or do it slow and cautiously.”

“The will opt for speed Lewellyn, count on it! And with that so much as well for our own slow march and no time to select new positions. Full speed ahead and let’s get the battery into position first. Those not involved will disperse to their own destinations as fast as terrain permits. No hope at all of hiding from the locals now but if we can be in place before Calps detect us, and comm security lasts, we might still bring this off, eh what?”

They were in place with half of his guns deployed in a rumpled area at extreme range of the spaceport and the other half in hiding before the Calps reached orbit. Had the fleet shut down their drives a few hours earlier, only slightly delaying their arrival time, the ships sensors might have detected the still unshielded New Brit forces. Now it would take a mistake, or word from an agent on the ground to reveal their presence. And the whereabouts of individual elements was known only to Ramseyer’s command staff and their own unit commanders.

Army HQ was also dispersed and under cover making destruction from orbit most unlikely. Close in surveillance was up to the Trudelheim military, an annoying fact but unavoidable under the original plan; his own people at the spaceport could never have escaped comment, and too late to change when the Calps came early. Ramseyer was the kind of leader to take what came along and make the most of it and not about to waste time on what might have been and the attitude trickled down.

“What do you see Metemma?” Kalid was on the Sword’s command deck and First Officer Gondar Metemma, his First in the plotting room below. As a ship dedicated to intelligence missions these last years the Sword of the Prophet had a sensor suite well beyond anything the Caliphate had available in normal service, one rivaling the best the Confederacy had to offer. Certainly better than what Squadron Commander Khumm had on the Sunah.

The Regulatory Compliance Office had first crack at every new advance. How better to determine what needed to be suppressed? Even so; at such a distance from Trudelheim all of his sensors but a few looked outwards, away from the planet. And what he saw of the inner system was the combined feed sent out from the Sunah.

“Nothing beyond what has been reported Captain,” his First Officer replied. “More detail after our running it through our own analysis but nothing really new.” Metemma had been with Kalid from his first command, had stayed loyal even when Kalid brought the Sword back from Altoona and was under arrest facing court martial. The ship’s Second Officer Farhan Mutlaq Saleh was his former Signals Officer, the spot that Simini Asfaruddin filled now, and been with him almost as long. Kalid trusted them both, in fact his entire bridge crew implicitly. That was something very rare in the Caliphate Navy.

Kalid was waiting just on the outside of the hyper limit some 90 degrees earthward of the Essex while the rest of the squadron, constrained by the speed of the transports went inwards, he followed instructions and watched and waited. When he was younger this would have hurt, offended his sense of honor, it no longer mattered to him anymore but stay away from the landing was not taken well by most of his crew. He would order them to pray for acceptance and patience.

A day later the picture seemed complete. The system defenses were light, almost nonexistent. That matched what they thought to be true from the start with what they found on the way in, but it made very little sense.

One ship, one only, a G-2 M, out front and engaged in screening was lost due to a remote missile platform. Why would a world making state of the art ShipKillers not have a defensive system to match? Mistakes were made and someone would answer for them. The fleet was already in orbit and the first landing parties down. Could it be this easy?

The orbital defenses, what few there were, eliminated and the landing was proceeding apace. No contact with any of the few agents they had on the surface yet and that was troubling but due to everything going along so smoothly not an issue. No doubt some had been detected and eliminated, others waiting for tangible proof of a landing before coming forward. The numbers were small in any event and no one highly placed. Once all resistance ceased there it should be easy enough to buy whatever information they should desire. It was always such.

“Gondar come to the bridge and relive me.” Kalid was intending to pray but did not broadcast the fact. ‘I must give thanks, and atone for my doubts and failings,’ he thought. On the way to his quarters he continued the thought, took it deeper and straight to his heart. “War is a bitter brew best when taken cold, may I never drink it hot enough that I find it tasting sweet.”

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