A Point of Honor 7

A Point of Honor
Chapter 7 Draft (05/03/09)

“I knew when you gave me the heads-up it was going to look lopsided, but I am surprised at just how much. Are you sure these figures are accurate?”

Jack Trebeck, the Major heading the office of Cardoman Plans and Intents nodded and said, “As true as I can read them.” He passed over a data cube and continued. “Wes, I was as surprised as you are. I got my training on Llanfairn and you got your’s on Jorgen, ten years ago for each of us. But we both got our grounding from the same book and the book was wrong. The standard model said there were eight or nine thousand hyper capable merchant ships and somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand military ships. Even then that was an understatement on the civilian side.”

“Forty percent? I say that was an understatement.”

“Yes, and more on the Caliphate side than ours. With the last ten year’s production included there are probably—and I stress that word ‘probably’—closer to 14,000 merchant ships and another 1500 military vessels of all classes. And what is worse is that the undercount is mostly on the Calp side.”

“But a lot of those Calp ships are old—right?” Major Calvert was looking to find a bright side.

“Sure, but again that doesn’t help much when it comes to moving really large items. The earlier generations even with their inefficiencies can pack in a lot more volume into a hull than the 3’s and 4’s we are making today. The Feddies and our own Indies need more G-1’s and 2’s, even at the expense of new modern construction.”

“How is it that you have figured this out Jack and it is news to the rest of us?”

“I’ve had a chance to go over the Calp traffic files Abe Loomis brought back from Earth his last time out. These were all open documents gathered off the Earthnet by the embassy research staff. Old news reports mostly, ships laid up due to operational inefficiencies and now being recommissioned, others never carried on an insurer’s books for whatever reason and a few hundred that the Calp yards reported as started and then never heard from again.”

“We have reports of ships with valid papers and no corresponding construction at their yard of record, ships that show up once or twice and are never heard of again, never reported lost or overdue. We think that is where the backbone of the pirate, I can almost call them fleets, that have been plaguing us was created.”

“It must have taken a lot of analysis to figure all this out Jack. I know we routinely scan in and make sure a few of our people read anything purely military published anywhere, and last I knew 15% of our intelligence budget went to outside grants for data mining Calp military and economic issues.”

“We owe this find to one of our civilian in-house annalists; we have so little military data to work with anymore that even the amount of computational power we still have left is underused. Anyway, this guy; he’s only been with us a year, didn’t realize or maybe didn’t care and thought he could hide the time, had an interest in the pirate problem; something we have neglected as the war heated up. So he asked the right question and set the hardware to work.”

“Did you catch him or did he bring this in on his own?”

“A week ago I saw the cycles were going somewhere and it wasn’t too hard to find out who, and what they were being used on. A lot better use of the system than the games most analyst play when ever they figure they can sneak one over on us. I put in a supervisory routine to check on his findings but he reported it to me first. He could see where the data was going before I got wind of it.”

“How did you deal with this genius Jack?” Wes asked smiling. He’d had his own dealings with loose cannons and was a little curious.

“Told him he had two choices; a commission or a firing squad, then put him on the list to be smuggled off planet. I want to send him to Madry on the Perseus. She has Borselov somewhat tamed and they can use someone to take over programming tasks so they both, but Audie in particular can concentrate on the big picture.”

“Good call. But what use can we make of this new data? It’s good to know but isn’t going to make our jobs any easier. We already knew the Calps had more fire power and tonnage than we did, just not how much more.”

“I’ve got our new Lt. Sollumchuk trying to place where all of these new ships are based and operate from. That will go out to the fleet as often as the estimate improves. He also found three old G-1’s that should be orbiting out in a bone yard near Jason’s Landing. They might be serviceable; laid up a hundred and fifty years ago and forgotten, no records showing any of the parts going anywhere. It’s a long shot but we need to send someone to investigate. Stranger things have happened.”

“Make it so Jack, have Sgt Bryce write the orders and I’ll get them issued. Tell him on your way out. I’ve got to get back to Germfask by tomorrow morning. So get with Paul Olivera for anything else that come up for action outside your group. I gave Paul the day off; he looked like he needed it. With Colonel Grayson gone I see how much we all relied on him, but you can’t imagine how glad I am to have Paul around to fill in with me spending all of my time in the boonies. I hope those ships are still out there because we surely do need them.”

Wes was sitting in Lansing Packard’s—Sugarbear’s— farmhouse on the outskirts of Germfask nursing a mug of coffee when the Bear’s eldest son, ran in from the barn for breakfast. He pulled up and said, “Hi Uncle Jack, I didn’t see you come in.”

“Billy Packard was only fourteen T years old but of real use around the farm, tow headed and large for his age, he might have been three years older. He was handling a lot of the labor parts of the Bear’s syrup making operation while his father was working along with Wes, (who the boy only knew as Jack Jackson), for the Caliphate forces occupying the district.

Wes knew from the boy’s mother Gertrude just how much flack he was taking, they both were, for what was viewed as his father’s indiscretion. To many; working with the Calps was akin to treason. For most of the rest it was reason to stay clear.

“Hey, Billy, good to see ya, and look what I brought you from Minton.” Wes opened the small knapsack that was resting on the floor next to his chair and pulled out a flat foil wrapped package. “Take a look.”

Peeling off the foil the boy touch a corner of the holographic panel and his eyes lit up. “Wow! A Saturn V full up with an Apollo Lander on top!” He scrolled deeper pulling the layers apart like the skin of an onion. Billy was wild about space craft, especially historical ones from pre-hyper days. “Thanks Uncle Jack, but this must have cost a fortune.”

“Not at all Billy, I was visiting Aunt Jannie before she got off duty and the cards were pretty good to me. The guy that lost was a holo-dealer without much cash so I took this off him in trade.”

Just then Billy’s mother walked in with a baby in one arm and a rifle in the other. “Saw you come up the drive,” she said, leaning the rifle in the corner and handing the bundle to Wes’s outstretched arms. The baby started crying but Wes gave a coo and a tickle and then there was just a happy gurgling sound. If Wes didn’t know better he would have sworn his smiling infant son was gasping for breath.

“Janie’s going to be out here in a couple of days for the Founders Day party. It’s killing her to be in town with junior staying with you. Not that we don’t appreciate it, you know that, but it is hard on her.” Little Gregoric, a common name on Cardoman, named after Wes’s grandfather started to cry again. Gertrude had the answer to that as she took a bottle out of the warmer and handed it to Wes. A few seconds later all was calm again.

“Why the rifle?” Wes asked nodding at the weapon in the corner.

“It’s for Billy.” At that he pulled his eyes away from the hologram and looked at his mother. “Eat you breakfast dear, she put a bowl of oatmeal in front of him along with a small pitcher of warm maple syrup. “Then go out and tell your dad that Jack is here. He has the range set and you are going to take a prize at the Founders Day shoot or you will be practicing in all of your free time with nothing left over for this spaceship nonsense.”

Billy dug in and Gertrude continued. “This was my father’s. It is my own favorite, when he passed on it and the dies and other loading gear that went with it became a part of my dowry. Nothing I’ve ever seen is its equal unless it’s got seeking bullets and Billy is pretty good for a lad in any event. I can’t really believe the Calps are letting the match go on this year. Maybe they don’t realize that it’s always been part of our Founder’s Days celebration and they haven’t bothered reading the program. If Billy does as good as I know he can he is gonna get some respect to make up for all of the abuse lately.”

The baby was asleep and the other children fed when the Bear made it back to the farmhouse. His breakfast was over hours ago but he nibbled on a sugar covered confection and sipped at his coffee while in the distance, from about a kilometer away every minute or so the muffled report of a high powered rifle sounded. “Good on him, he’s taking his time. The boy’s a natural Jack; we got an hour before we’re due at the outpost. You might want to go and take a look, maybe offer a few tips.”

“I’ve seen you shoot Bear; if you say he’s a natural anything I could add would just be a distraction with the fair just three days away. I’m glad Jannie is going to be here for it but sure wish I could be with my sister and her family. Course that’s impossible. And I’m I hate it as much that your family is subjected to the abuse they have to deal with due to what we are doing.”

“I could see that going in Wes.” By now Gertrude knew his real identity but it hadn’t changed anything. “My daddy used to say, ‘If it don’t kill ya it only makes ya stronger,’ we have to make sure it don’t kill us, the rest can look after themselves.”

“What about Arne Ordson?” Ordson was by his lonesome the local district constabulary. Before all the new laws set in place by the Calps there wasn’t much of a crime problem on Cardoman. In the remoter areas and the outback, especially the outback; people by and large took care of the problems that came up without much governmental involvement.

“Arne’s a sly one Jack, a deep file if you catch my meaning.” Gertrude had him back in character again. “He stops in for a chat every couple of weeks when he does his rounds. I think he looks at the little guy a wee bit odd at times. Carolyn told me that some of the young boys in town were playing right nasty with Henry and he smacked them down to a fair thee well.” Carolyn and Henry were two of the Packard’s younger children. “He probably suspects something ain’t quite right out here but if push comes to shove we can count on him to do what’s right.”

“It’s a fact,” the Bear added, “Jack; you just don’t stay in office for thirty years unless you got your head screwed on straight. Course you know that yourself with from where you was brought up.”

“Sure thing, just good to have you both agree. — Well times a wastin’ so we better get out and into town to see what Under Lieutenant Razek has set us up for today. I don’t think it will be more than a day or so out of town. He’s going to want all of his troops here for Founders Day.”

It turned out that Wes’s prediction was spot on. He and the Bear were flown out of Germfask on a Calp lander with a single squad of Calp troops. They scouted an area a hundred kilometers south of Germfask, very hot work this time of year, found noting amiss and were back at the barracks by nightfall. Both were given leave until after the party. The Calps were going to release as many of their own as well. Even the faithful needed some down time.

Connie made it in from Minton on the second from last bus heading east. The last few hours the day before found her good for nothing but paying attention to the child she had missed so much.

“It’s not fair that you get to see him more than me,” Connie said not realizing how irrational the complaint was.

“It was your decision to go to Minton,” Wes said with a bit of an arched tone to his voice.

“That was because I had to do that; has nothing at all to do with fair.”

“Another month and you are leaving. Robbie tells me the plans are mostly in place and we are going to start making things more difficult for the local forces. I wish it were sooner.”

“So what about you Wes? Do you leave the Calp service? You have to you know things are going to be too hot to leave poor Major Olivera in charge even with whatever help I can offer.”

“Oh, you’ll help out a bunch. I slipped away a week ago and spent some time with him. He’s as frazzled as you could expect but holding up well. In one way it’s Robbie I am more worried about.”

“Robbie? Why is that? He is as hard as they come; I’ve never even seen him blink an eye much less shed a tear. If I didn’t know him so well I couldn’t credit him with an emotion to his name. He is a rock! I don’t think he can bend at all. If things get too tough he will just hang on till he breaks and there won’t be anyone else left to see it.”

“He’s hard but not nearly as impervious as he seems. You haven’t seen the latest but the situation on Ryman is bothering him more than he is letting on to. His loyalty if not divided is strained. Intellectually he knows he belongs here with us, but he had a lot of years invested before he left Ryman Recon. What he was, and what he did in those days still defines him.”

“I’m sure you’re right dear, but I still find it hard to think of Robbie as anything other than that rock. I guess we’ve all become harder than nature intended; even you!”

“Me? Hard? Why I’m just an old softie, ask anyone!”

“Hah! Tell that to someone tomorrow, because tonight I will surely know the truth of the matter or find out the reason why!”

Cold showers under a hose in the corner of the barn got them going early the next morning; fun while it lasted but Connie couldn’t be to quick enough in getting back to the loft where they had their small room after Junior began squalling when he awoke and found himself alone in strange surroundings.

“Spoil sport.” That was what Wes said as he tosseled the short blond hair on his son’s head. “He sure doesn’t take after you or me,” Wes said. “Who did you say the father was?”

“You’re the one with the Galaxy Class intelligence service. Why not put it up to them darling?”

“On second thought my sister Sharon’s hair was pretty light until she got into her teens. That would explain it.”

“Say what you want Wes, this kid has Calvert, and a maybe a bit of Melbourne written all over him. I wish my parents could see him. Someday when this is over I guess. They had pretty much given up on me when I went into the army you know. And now except for an occasional note on the Llanfairn courier they never hear anything. And what I am willing to send even with layers of hidden meaning is far too cryptic for them to make much sense of.”

“Tell you what Babe; I’ll do everything within my power to get any video we can shoot today on the next ship that checks into the system. I’ll get the Embassy to invite them in for a look-see and make sure the data gets saved in the Embassy data base if they want to see it again.”

“Could you? Well I know you could and it would mean so much to them. Me too. But would that be taking advantage of our position?”

“Paul would do this for anyone in the Seventh who asked if it was at all possible. I think he will be kicking himself for not suggesting it himself. It’s precious little considering the price I have made you pay up till now.”

“I was a volunteer, and a willing one at that. Let’s go over to the farmhouse and see if the Packards are up yet. We have a glorious day ahead and I don’t want to waste a moment.”

The Bear, his wife and youngest, Trudy, were in the cab up front. Wes, Connie, and all of the children were in the trailer, good pneumatic tiers cushioning the ride, being towed along behind. Billy sat in the rearmost position, his mothers rifle in a hard case tucked tight against one of the trailers sidewalls, but he was oblivious to his surroundings, psyching himself up for the competition to come.
Wes was singing songs to the two younger children; songs he remembered from his own childhood and Connie tried to sing along. Wes had a pretty good voice, Connie—well she was enthusiastic. Carolyn and Henry sang along or started new ones of their own. It was a jolly crew that arrived into Germfask at nine local time that morning.

With the Bear in charge of his family group even the locals seemed to give up the animosity that Gertrude had talked about. A few of the locals even mentioned that Arde Ordson was hinting to law off the Packard’s, things weren’t always what they seemed. That set Wes to thinking it was past time he and Connie both got away from the local scene. It was getting to dangerous for all involved.

It was early but in a place like Germfask where most everyone was up at dawn not nearly so much as if in a larger city. Gertrude sent the three older children off on their own saying ‘Be Nice!’ and the four adults with Connie and Wes alternately, carrying their son, walked the fairground area set up to display the local produce and farm animals.

“I usually have a pretty good size booth,” the Bear said, “This year I turned over my concession to Ziggy Hanson. Couldn’t afford to do that without the Calps credits but I hate it none the less. Some years a quarter of our income comes from this fair and what we sell around Germfask. This year is gonna let us know who are friends really are.”

The venue was filling up now; they started seeing some of the Caliphate troopers from the local detachment. Most made a point to talk to the Bear and the man they knew as Jack Jackson. More than a few were taken with his wife but culturally were unprepared, unable to say anything to her. Those serving in the ranks were a far cry from those in the officer core.

The flags fluttered in the warm breeze, a few fleecy clouds floated above. Livestock and produce judging went first. After lunch came the games of skill and chance. The shooting was already underway. It must have come as a surprise but the Tarek Razec had the presence of mind to let the fair go on. If he were to try and interfere things might get nasty and he had let too many of his own people go on leave for the day to risk any kind of a confrontation. As military despots went he was pretty mild. He would go along with the flow and take notes in the case that later action was required.

While the pop, pop, pop, sound of the small caliber, eight and under class was heard from the firing line, the Highland Games were fairly underway. The Bear, a perennial favorite was in for the stone throw and the caber toss. Somehow or other he had gotten Wes to go in as well. Even some of the off duty Calps signed up so this was going to be a meet to remember.

“What? No kilts and bagpipes? Connie was laughing as she watched the lower of the two classes toe the line. Gertrude had told her that when it came to the Caber at least; experience and practice made as much of a difference as brute strength, provided of course the minimum existed. These were the younger boys and men who had neither won nor placed highly enough in past fairs to move into the senior category. Wes, as a newcomer to the region and this fair in particular, had to compete here first in order to win a spot and make himself eligible for the main draw.

Not a small man by any means Wes was still dwarfed by a dozen of the other competitors. His first toss was a joke. That’s what he said while he watched the others make their tosses. “Been five years since I threw the thing. Wait till next time.” His next throw was quite a bit better, placing him in second. Wes elected to pass on the third and final try and ended up taking the four spot. Good enough to get into the senior draw but well down the lists. He surprised the locals, even impressed the Bear.

“You’ll have to do a mite better than that in the next round,” he said between drinks from his wooden ale tankard.

“Don’t worry ‘bout me,” Wes said, “worry about Sgt Mustafa; he probably never even heard of the thing before and came out fifth on his last throw. That’s where the competition is Bear; mark my words!”

The trick here was getting the damned log to flip over so that when it fell the tail end came up directly opposite the starting line. Distance mattered but if the ending point was off line the penalty was severe. That was where the skill came in. Knowing just how high to throw to get a perfect landing and the log to fall directly away. The Caber itself was nothing more than a tree trunk, about three and a half meters long and a quarter of a meter in diameter.

No one could say for sure, but the claim was the native Pole Pine replicated the same log tree used on Earth almost a thousand years before. It was good enough for government work. The logs were suspended from above and reloaded by the venue operator as the time it took for one man, there were never any women it this competition, to walk such a log upright and go through the motions needed boost it up into a position to hurl, would have limited the competitors to a dozen or less. And this was a popular contest.

Two hundred and fifty or so men in the district of the proper age and disposition, there were always forty or more entrants. This year was no exception. The Calp Sgt, Mustafa Mohammad, and two others from the Calp contingent, squeaking in at nine and ten made it even more interesting. First though the finals of the rifle for juniors those aged fifteen and up. Billy had a pass on the age requirement due to last years score.

He did well, surprisingly well. This was the first time in a decade that someone under the group age even broke the top twenty, much less come in at the seventh slot. Billy was disappointed but those in his own age group were electrified and had nothing but praise. Seventh it’s the seventh it had to mean something. Perhaps they were right. Everyone knew his score would have blown by all in the sixteen and under.

It was good enough and then some. Billy wished his dad, and as an afterthought Wes, luck in the finals of the Caber and Stone Throw, and said he would get them all, all those sharpshooters next year in rifle match, might even try the Caber himself. Wes and Connie, even more so than his parents—were sure that he would do just as he said.

In the Caber Angus McPherson, a brawny lad in his mid twenties took first, the Bear, a last hurrah he said came in at number two. Another local, Meacham Ferguson took third and to the amazement of all Mustafa Mohammad came in forth. The score sheet put Jack Jackson in the five slot. That was it for that. A fair turn all the way round. In the Stone Throw the Bear came in sixth, Wes was nowhere to be seen.

That evening on the way home with the stars casting shadows from overhead, Gertrude was driving with Connie in the cab. The Bear, back in the trailer said, “Not so shabby for someone out of practice Jack. You got a shot at it next year if you practice. Have to put on a few kilos too. But time is short, it makes a prison for all of us. Over the years the bars get closer and tighter together. Still, if we pay attention—You listening Billy?”

“Yeah dad.”

“If we pay attention and do what we know to be right there ain’t no prison can hold us but the ones we make for ourselves. Lets all do it again and better next year.