A Point of Honor 9

A Point of Honor
Chapter 9 Draft (06/23/09)

When Connie Calvert agreed to work with Abe Loomis in Minton she hadn’t known how mind numbingly boring it was going to be— most of the time. She was holding down the job at one of the spaceport bars as a cover for being a communications conduit between Abe and his ‘loyal’ network. As a side benefit she sometimes overheard conversations from Calp enlisted or the Merchant ship crews that frequented the place. It was too low class and scale, not to mention run down, for the Officer Class to visit. Those higher ups inclined to a little sin on the side needed a place not quite so obvious. The bar had been a spaceport dive even before the Calps arrived and occupied Minton and had only continued its slide ever since.

The clientele consisted of the aforementioned Merchant crews and Calp mid level enlisted on one hand, on the other the type of person that war brought out from the indigenous population; those wishing to make some money by feeding their habits and those others, the kind of people that just naturally fed off the bottom.

The owner, not a bad sort really, was almost always present; though only a few, the longest time regulars and his employees could tell. He most usually sat in a corner with a rarely touched drink in front of him, his table had only one chair and he made a bad job out of pretending to watch one of the news screens while secretly watching what went on in the place.

The act kept the military personal in line because he had the air of someone from the Regulations Compliance Office about him. It was understood that off planet a Calp soldier could bend the tenants of Islam, in particular those concerning woman, gambling, and strong drink, provided he was discrete and didn’t do anything that would cause additional work for his commanding officer or keep him from reporting back on time for his own duty.

The real Compliance Officer, the one assigned to this section of the city, knew what the owner was doing and encouraged it by sitting at his table and talking to him as if they were colleagues whenever he made his rounds performing his observational duty which in the case of this place due to the relative lack of any problems seemed to happen less and less frequently.

As an employee she was off limits, that was the deal, though still something Connie had to make clear several times a day. A few times it took a slap and quick intervention by the owner. One of those times it little more, a broken arm and a stab-wound to make her point. That one got reported as an accident. But there were always other females, and a few males as well when required, who by choice remained near to hand and willing to share themselves when matters of sexual favors were involved and a price could be agreed upon.

Being from Llanfairn Connie at first didn’t think that the society and people she was familiar with would have been so easily corrupted, if that was the proper choice of words. She had been fairly certain in fact. As time went on and as a student of warfare, conquest, and more recently occupation, her opinion was changing. Now she wasn’t so sure. Human nature hadn’t really changed much in the last several millenniums as far as she or anyone else could see. She wouldn’t cast stones but she was going to stay out of the crossfire.

The Calp authorities had given a lot of thought to what happened the last time they put troops onto Cardoman and to remarkably good effect. Including the recent levies for military expansion, government at all levels pre-occupancy was consuming about 35 % of all planetary income. This wasn’t changing and in fact the Calps announced that in time it would go down. But where and on what the money was spent on changed at once.

The military budget, just over half of the former total was immediately available for other uses and went straight into the Caliphate’s coffers. Only a small portion of that made it back into the local economy by being paid out to the Calp troops on the planet even though their numbers were by now five times higher than the total enrollment of the old Cardoman Army. Wages and equipment for ground troops who mostly acted as police cost far less than building starships and other weapons systems.

The funds freed up were not taken off planet but used to further accelerate preparations for importing more people onto the planet. In the past Cardoman needed to compete against the other Indie planets and had reached a stage of development were it not for the war that population expansion was looked down upon by many with a number of politicians opposing it as their route to office.

The Calps had a ready source of both willing and unwilling transportees and tipping the population balance to their favor was of economic and practical benefit. Twenty thousand Calp civilians had already made their way to Cardoman and the flood gates were open. Naturally the number of newcomers was never announced or acknowledged in order to hide the extent of the policy and defuse opposition.

Even though the old governmental standing bureaucracy was small compared to many if not most planets there was always room for reduction from without something that almost never happened if left to the public employees involved and a planets elected officials. This made friends and enemies but a not insignificant number of Cardomans got an elicit pleasure in seeing the dismantlement of what they considered a parasitic over-class. Connie was certain that the same kind of policy would go over all too well if the Calps got a chance to try in out on Llanfairn. It wasn’t the immediate effects but the long term population change that was going to radically affect these people’s lives. And the long term was only a few short years she had every reason to believe.

Abe Loomis had gotten part of it already and Connie was going to be getting out of town. When Cardoman P&I purged the governments old database of select records while altering others they did much the same with the large private database sources held by the Newsies and banking services. But with so many records in so many places a perfect job was impossible. It had taken six months but the Calps had brought in a team of experts from their Regulations Compliance Office and anomalies were turning up. Some were mistakes in the original databases others the result of incomplete erasure and change.

For people like Abe and other recent immigrants to Cardoman, those who had by chance or design stayed out of the public spotlight detection by record cross correlation was going to remain impossible. For someone like Connie, who however briefly had held public office and even before that been often in the news there were just too many photos on record. And unlike Wes and his full face beard and the physical changes as he bulked up on a different diet and massive amounts of hard labor, Connie’s essential look hadn’t changed that much. Hair and eye color, a hint of skin tone change. That wasn’t enough to fool the RCO experts search programs. Another difference between their cases even with Wes’s aversion to publicity was that the Newsies were always more interested in a picture of a pretty girl than a military leader. Some things never change.

The newest wrinkle was the start of a program placing surveillance cameras around Minton, a practice that would spread outwards in stages to other cities but especially to all transportation checkpoints. Female clothing styles made this type of check less effective on a Caliphate world but here on Cardoman, once the cameras were up and running it would only take time till Connie’s face was matched against one of the anomalies from the database search. If that wasn’t enough it was only going to be a matter of time till voice recognition software was folded into the system and she had given a speech or two.

It was a constant source of amazement she hadn’t been called out already. Abe told her that the best disguise was to hide in plain sight. People who might have known here in another location at another time could never make the leap when seeing her as a servitor in a spaceport dive. She was quitting her job and going back to Germfask tomorrow. It wasn’t a perfect solution but to stay could only mean discovery and capture.

Abe’s words of reassurance that they would only be doing testing and setup on the new system at the travel checkpoint leaving Minton on the Main highway leading to Germfask and points east wasn’t enough to keep her heartbeat down to normal levels. A mild rate depressant took care of that. It would have done little good to escape visual detection and get dragged into questioning due to a physical scan. That hadn’t happened before, but now with the risk level up she was taking no chances. Even to be turned away or more likely passed with the indication of nervousness noted was an unacceptable risk.

She was on a bus with a couple dozen others and just her luck the techs installing the camera system decided to use them as a test case; one to see just how long the procedure was going to take when everyone needed to pass through on their way out of the city. Traveling alone she was in the middle of the line that was led through the stereo camera setup. The first three people merely stopped for an instant and then a green light blinked on over one of the cameras and they were waved through. Number four triggered a red, and were it not for the drugs in her system Connie’s heartbeat might have doubled. As it was she felt a little dizzy as the involuntary unavoidable reaction was suppressed.

“Go right on through,” the man operating the check station said. “This is just a test.” And Connie breathed a little easier.

When Connie paused for her photo-shoot the red light flashed again. This time the guard looked up to wave her through but a quizzical expression appeared, and taking his time and looking down at his screen then back up at her said, “Don’t I Know You?”

It was deja vu all over again and her vision constricted till it seemed she was looking back at him through a tunnel. This time she looked closely at the technician; something one did not do to agents of the government and a light came on in her own head, though not because of recognition. The tech had probably seen her face in one of the anomaly photos Abe had said were starting to float around but not being an intelligence operative didn’t make the connection. I work at one of the spaceport bars. “You probably saw me there or some other place in town.”

“Yeah, that must be so.” He blinked a couple of times and waved her on.

That had been way too close. Abe had certainly been right in getting her out of Minton, not that she had spent any time objecting. When she arrived in Germfask late in the afternoon Wes was there to great her and putting her two bags, that was all she had to show and bring back from Minton, into the Bear’s tractor rig they went directly out to the farm where Junior, closing in on a year old, to here surprise smiled and made some happy noises when he saw her. “No more long absences, at least for a while,” she vowed.

The drugs now fully out of her system (my how she had slept) much to Wes’s consternation; the departure next morning was doubly hard, and not just because they did it twice. Once saying goodbye to the Bear’s family when leaving the farm and again to the Bear himself when they parted company beyond the checkpoint north of town. The fall was coming on and despite the urging of his Calp overlords who wanted him to stay on, Wes and family was going back into the hills for another winter of trapping.

Cardoman pelts were one export market the Calps wanted to maintain as that was an important source of off planet credits and while the military market was being depressed the desire for off planet imports wasn’t.

“If we learn anything that is going to harm you or things get too hot in Germfask—well you know where to go so we can find you. It’s small repayment for everything you’ve done for us and I sure wish there were more.” Wes said.

“Not to worry,” the Bear smiled. “Wish I could have driven further but who know if the sats would watch us. I recon if the truth be told that we owe you more than the reverse, and I suppose it will just take a mite of time before everybody knows it. But I will take you up on that offer to move if the need arises. On that you can count.”

With a round of hugs Wes and Connie, and the now no longer baby once again riding on her back were walking north once more and back to regular duty in the Cardoman Seventh. This time progress was at about the same pace as last they made this hike. The supplies they carried out came near to matching the weight of the furs brought out when last they made the trip.

“I sure am glad to be done with this beard,” Wes said, freshly shaved and rubbing his chin. “It kept the bugs from biting down south but it was damn hot too.”

Connie stared for a moment and then replied, “I didn’t like it at first. But it kind of just grew on you.” She ducked as Wes scooped some suds from his water pan and threw them at her.

They had been on the road for almost a week and it was now almost time to make the change of direction that would lead towards the outpost where Mo Omari had maintained his vigil these long months.

“We’ll make an easy day of it and stop shortly after noon. I will ditch the com unit the Calps sent with me off the side of the trail. But then we will need to start hiking again and do it all night and tomorrow until we drop. The Calps might expect a day of rest by now but two are going to look suspicious. They made a big mistake just by not requiring we call in. When the do get around to sending someone to check on the locater in the com unit we should be fifty kilometers away and beyond their ability to find us again. I would smash the thing but this way should the need arise I can always say it must have fallen out somewhere and I never noticed till it was too late.

“What if they have drones tracking us?”

“Not likely and if they do they know too much already. If they decide to use them to try and find us we have bought another day and I just don’t see it working. We are going to be into deeper woods so overhead visual will be very iffy. By the time we get close to the cabin Mo will know and not let us come any closer.”

“Thanks for the easy first few days. Working at a bar does very little for ones stamina. Even considering the difference in weight we are carrying,” she patted little Greg, “I wouldn’t be able to march hard later today and tomorrow without the buildup.”

“My pleasure, and it would have looked strange for us to take the first part of the trip as if it were a forced march. A man and his woman need a little time alone after as much separation as we have had. Even a Calp intel analyst would be aware of that.”

“Ain’t it the truth. But if we hadn’t made this same trip once before, and knew where all the campsites with water were going to be come summer I dread bringing the baby with us.”

“Indeed. But no problem especially when we can get in contact with someone whenever we choose and it would have taken us out of character to do otherwise.”

“Getting out of character and being me again, and you being you, are the best parts of what we are about.”

“I have to agree Babe, least for now. I hope we both feel the same when we’re back in the decision loop.”

“I never thought making decisions was much of a problem for you Wes. I’ve seen you make some tough ones and sure you were second guessed, but you have been a rock to all of us in the Seventh. I could say that even if we weren’t married.”

“I might have misspoke. Robbie and Paul Olivera have done so well in our absence I fear stepping on their toes when we return.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that darling; we still have more than enough trouble to go around.”

When they reached the clearing away from the cabin Mo was there to greet them. He was alone and overjoyed at the meeting.

“My God! Mo, you don’t look like the same person,” Those were about the second words from Connie’s mouth after a welcoming shout when seeing him rise up from the underbrush. Most of a year had put eight centimeters and 15 kilos on his once spare frame. He was becoming darkly handsome in a way his father never had. Something to do with diet and freedom she suspected.

“Good to see you Ma’am, and you to sir,” Mo said while snapping off a very military type salute. And at that moment little Greg let out a squall. “Oops, didn’t mean for that to happen.”

“You can fix it,” Connie beamed. “I’ll let you carry him all the way back to the cabin.”

Without missing a beat Mo replied, “Thank You! It will be a pleasure!”

Over the course of the next several hours Mo filled them in on the few improvements he had made to the cabins inner and outer arrangements. He had converted the attached woodshed into a set of bed rooms and moved the horses another 50 meters away from the house. He also let them know that Colonel Olivera would be up sometime tomorrow for a visitation and report. “His exact words.”

“What about Robbie Davis?” Connie asked. “Shouldn’t he be here as well?”

“Colonel Olivera will have the details but all I know is that Colonel Davis has gathered together a couple of hundred of his recon troops and are laying the groundwork for something that both he and Colonel Olivera think will start to generate some momentum for our side.”

They were home to the cabin by nightfall.

Olivera showed up just before noon the next day. Irwana al-Omari, Mo’s mother and one time head of the Castle Calvert house staff had seen him via the sensor system and caught his recognition signal first, she was closest to the monitoring system after all, and after a quick inspection could also see he was bringing along another guest, both of them on horseback. She let Connie know and went to get a meal together, something she said she felt far more competent at than watching and interpreting sensor scans.

“Want any help?”

“Connie, what we call a kitchen here,” she pointed to one corner of the cabin’s main room, “is so small we could hurt each other just reaching for a pan. And besides; this is my job.”

“Ok then, I’ll tell Wes, we’ll probably go and meet them down on the trail.”

“That’s Colonel Olivera alright but I don’t recognize the man with him.” They were a kilometer from the cabin and Mo was a few feet above them on a rock scanning through a gap in the tees to a small open patch a few hundred meters away using a military grade vision system.

“Let’s have a look,” Wes said, activating his personal comp and seeing on its screen the relayed image. “I can’t place him either but even in civilian garb he looks kinda military. Here Connie, you take a look.”

Connie stared at the screen for a moment then said, “Got him. It’s Shemuel Ben Judah; he was out at the Castle once with Leah Radom when they were settling in after Marais. You must have missed him. Trained up with Davis and Fader after his brother died.”

A dark look settled on the Majors face for an instant when he thought about the Calp prison planet and all the lives lost when elements of the Seventh under Davis with Higgins and Fader Jameson, Leah Radom, and the rest of the small team along in support. It cleared and he said, “Well I think this means Robbie is closer to going ahead than I had thought. Come on down Mo, we’ll wait for them here.”

A few minutes later Paul Olivera and Ben Judah, a short burly man looking to be in his late thirties rode into view and approached them. After a dismount and a round of salutes started off by Mo, the others following suit out of habit, Olivera said, “I’m glad to have you back Wes, and of course Connie you as well. Let me introduce—”

“No need for that Paul, Captain Ben Judah’s fame proceeds him,” Wes said reaching out to shake the man’s hand.

“Horse feathers!” Ben Judah exclaimed, offering his own hand and an iron hard grip, one built by hauling on fishing nets for most of his life. Obviously he was one not impressed by rank and social position. “But it is an honor to meet you General Calvert, or should I say Major? Everyone else does. My people owe you and the people of our new planet a great debt. One we intend to repay.”

“Wes will do just fine Captain and for today at least I will call you by your first name as well. I truly am glad to meet you and I think the debt is mutual, and soon will be even more so. Let’s all get back to our cabin hideaway and you can both fill us in on exactly what Robbie has in mind.”

After a quick meal of wild game and canned vegetables the main room table was cleared and Olivera went straight to his briefing notes. “So the way things looked to Jack Trebeck in P&I we needed to do something soon or we could start losing the battle for hearts and minds. With the security checkpoints about to come on line, and the way people feel about that, knocking as many out as fast as we can manage looks like the best low-risk option out there.”

“Shemuel here was drafted by Trebeck to do much of the detail work for the eastern sectors and is going to lead that part of the strike network. He is the expert on all parts of the plan so any tough questions get sent in his direction.”

“You speak of low risk,” Connie said, “Just how low? What are the risks?”

“The Calp commander Admiral Kahn’s reputation seems somewhat over done. He’s known as a bastard that won’t take no for an answer! Hell, I’ve heard people say his is one who sometimes won’t even take yes! But he is acting remarkably tame. Even keeping his hot tempered Officers under control.”

“That he is,” Ben Judah spoke for the first time since the brief got underway. Even in New Hope where the bulk of us who made it off of Marais settled there was at first little outright harassment and none at all for months.”

“One thing we can be sure of,” Wes said, “is that after we start hitting the check stations that policy of ‘Benign Neglect’ is going to change, And when it does if the Calps learn how much support we get from you and how many of your people are in the reserves they will bear the brunt of it.”

“Please Major Calvert, we are no longer ‘You’ and Your People’ but merely one group of Cardomans ready to do what is right. And in spite of your earlier comment, we know when a debt is owed and we have seen where being part of the Caliphate will ultimately lead us all.”

“What Major Trebeck and his analyst think is that the Calps will react slowly here. They will round up the usual suspects and that won’t help them from a PR prospective. It also won’t help them stop the raids. We can increase the intensity anytime we chose. If we do that then they in all likelihood will react strongly, figure that the gloves come off, and it will be like your last war.”

It seemed there was going to be a natural break in the conversation when from the side Mo Omari spoke up. “Major, I want to go with one of the raiding parties.” Wana inhaled sharply and looked like she was about to speak, then cast her eyes downward, Mo continued, “I have spent the last year and more sitting up here on the top of a mountain. I want to do more. I need to do more! Please sir, let me go into the field. I know I can be more useful there than staying where I’m at, especially now that you are back.”

Connie watched letting Wes handle this, she knew long since it was going to happen, and with Wana present it only got harder. Wes glanced briefly at Irwana then spoke directly to Mo. “Are you sure you have considered everything your request entails Mo? You are one of the very few that have an insiders view of our security setup. What that means is for you capture followed by interrogation is not an option.”

“I realize that Sir, but it is true for others as well.”

“Not many and not in operations. And those that know as much and are still permitted to work the field are tested and have some type of expertise we absolutely need out there.”

“Sir, I know communications and surveillance system operation. And I most certainly know field craft, I need this. And if I am ever to do as much as I can for Cardoman and the Seventh I have to get real world in the field combat experience as well. Let me go Major, it is time.” It was hard to tell if his look was more pleading or defiant.

“Can you use him Shemuel?” Wes said turning his head towards Ben Judah.

“I think I can Major, I really do. Communications and sensor are fine but for another thing I bet he can ride and handle these blasted horses a mite bit better than I do.”

“I’m sure he can Shem, I watched you ride up here.” And Wes came close to smiling. “That settles it then,” Wes said with his tone lightening up. “Get your gear packed Sergeant, you and Captain Ben Judah will be leaving within the hour. I am moving up the first raid timing and you won’t want to be late.”

“Yes Sir!” he said, as with a touch to his mother’s shoulder and a wave in place of a salute she watched him almost run from the room.