A Very Blue Moon 12

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 12 Draft (01-04-11)

By the time both of the captured Caliphate transports too small Cardoman crews had settled into their new ships and were somewhat comfortable with the arrangements, Joe Speedway felt safe enough to leave them to their own devices and let them continue on to Cardoman without the Raymond as an escort. The three ship squadron was already nearly half way home by this time, and it was now or never if the Raymond was going to get a close in look at any nearby Calp world and add to the Cardoman Navy’s intelligence estimate, And there was also the chance, if things worked best as he could hope for, to go after some targets of opportunity.

Speedway joined the Cardoman Navy as Lieutenant and First Officer of the Aladin. That was all the way back in time from when she was captured and put into Cardoman service. Those were the days when Lester Raymond the Navy’s first Admiral, went along with each new ship for a check ride; back when Jamie Madry still had the Eagle. It seemed so long ago, Joe had worked hard for Voinovich on Aladin, and it was obvious from the start he was destined for a ship of his own. And by virtue of survival, and then some extra points thrown in for performance, here he was.

His background was primary engineering — mostly from a shipboard electronics end, or at least the part of that fraction that was still called electronics. From the middle of the 21st century onwards, photons, light guides, and quantum interactions rather than an electron’s mechanical motion had been the fields driving force. When the first hypership went on-line over five centuries ago, gravitons carved out their own ever larger subfield. Still engineering was engineering. You put the pieces together until they fit and then you learned to do it again, but this time with rules.

Joe’s nature inclined him to prefer working alone, relying on himself as the known quantity. Getting used to, and then becoming effective as a ship’s first officer under Voinovich called for changes and had revealed another part of him; one that went well beyond what he would have thought likely or even possible. Rules were the smallest part of it, sometimes ignored entirely. From watching tactical command exercised so naturally by Voinovich he had worked at considering every situation from a tactical stand point himself, until by now it was second nature, that natural style had washed over to the leadership portion of his job. He wished he could say as much about the rest of the Raymond’s crew. They still had some bumps, splinters, and rough edges to hone off. But this cruise should be just the way to sharpen things up.

Kellen Durnan, his First Officer, was almost an early proto-version of himself, making strides but still finding his way. Kellen needed to reign in his tendency to micro-manage everything that happened within his sightline, confine his sphere of influence to the things most important, but when that thought first crossed his mind Joe had to smile, because he knew a certain Captain that the same could be said about even today. What ever happened on this cruise Joe was going to make sure it didn’t become, “A disaster of magnificent proportion”, even if that meant he came back empty handed. Empty handed but with a ship intact had a lot going for it when one considered the alternative. Yes— that was the ticket.

Because the Raymond split from Voinovich when she had, and by virtue of leaving the captured ships when they did, there was a single Caliphate held planet within a weeks travel time, a class 2 world known as Durban. Durban, colonized in the early part of the 25th century had a population now upwards of 188 million. So typical a planet for its age and class it could have stood as the archetype. With almost no terraforming required before habitation, if it had not been constrained by the religious and political situation on Earth, (they were really the same thing,) Joe was certain it would by now have been triple the size and importance.

“Two, One, Transition In!”

The ships threat receivers were sounding alarms on multiple channels. Channels Joe barely knew existed were giving warning. It took seconds for the displays to start showing a picture of the surrounding space, but even before that could happen three ShipKillers arched out from his forward battery under automatic control. Joe reached for, and then pulled his hand back from the arming switch. The birds were still cold and there shouldn’t be any friendlies out here, but a mistake about something like that was unthinkable.

Then he saw what had caused the launch. It was a pair of Calp G-4’s only a little more than three light seconds away. “What the fuck! How did that happen?” He moved his hand forward again and sent arming codes to the three missiles already on their way before considering his options and ordered another launch made ready. This time it would come from all eight of his tubes and target the Calp cruisers. The range was much too great for defensive measures to be needed yet. That taken care of his next words were, “Kellen! — Get us out of here!”

Thank God for procedure and Kellen’s competence. With a jump-out pre-programmed, just in case of something like this happening the Raymond would be gone by the time the Calp launched missiles arrived and the range was too great for energy weapons to have much of an effect. To insure that second thought was accurate Joe put the ship into a series of random evasive maneuvers with each one in a direction away from the immediate threat.

“Keep on the lookout for anything else. Once bitten, twice shy.”
“Two, One, Transition Out!”

“Well that didn’t work out so well,” Joe said to Kellen and Lieutenant Loraine Bailey, his Second and Engineering Officer. Engineering’s performance in the rapid transition from Durban had raised her up in Joe’s estimation. Women, rare enough aboard most galactic navy’s ships, were rarer still in engineering, And in any other navy a ship’s chief engineer would be a Lt Cmdr at a minimum but would be very unlikely to be second officer in the chain of command. Cardoman did things the Cardoman way, differently, and out of necessity, but a few of the worlds with far longer Naval traditions were beginning to take notice,

“I’ve been looking at our list again and have another planet selected. This one here,”

Joe pointed at and highlighted a yellow-white dot on the full desk display. A circle formed, and then rapidly expanded filling half the viewing area. Beside the dot there now stood a planet, Bab al-Maqam, Gate of the Shrine, was the name under the planet and inside the expanded circle. “Either of you heard of it before?”

When all he saw was raised eyebrows and blank stares Joe continued, “Not surprising, the place was colonized less than a century ago, 2811 to be exact.”

“I didn’t think the Caliphate had started any new colonies in the last couple of centuries,” Lt Bailey said.

“This one didn’t start as a colony, more like a prison. The Calps were looking for a place to store some of their more technically ambitious citizens, a place where they wouldn’t contaminate the true believers with some kind of a rationalistic scientific zeal. Planning ahead the Calp military establishment, under a new branch of a special organizational section, had these people sent out to a planet that would have been low on the list of where would we go next if we were going anywhere.”

“Not prime real estate?” Kellen smiled.

“Dry, and hot — and did I say dry? We have a few records from three hundred years back. Unless things have changed, and I can’t think of any reason why they would, on over 50% of the surface rain might fall once a decade or so, on the rest never. There is just enough water at the poles to provide enough moisture during a summer melt for a bit of life to have evolved and hung on.”

“The system is filled with floating junk, both stony and icy comet types, the same for asteroids and just plain rocks in random orbits. Every couple of thousand years or so something large and icy will slam into the planers surface, bringing with it a little more moisture. That’s good! — But of course half the time it’s the other kind and that’s not so good.”

“The atmosphere is marginal, dense enough lower down, but at high latitudes and altitudes, where the water is, it’s a little thin and low on oxygen compared to what we find normal — but enough to survive on. Questions?”

“Okay Captain, you have us both on the edge of our seats,” Kellen glanced at Loraine, “How has the colony worked out and what are they doing?”

“Now that’s the problem. We don’t exactly know. But starting a couple of years ago there has been some traffic between the place and a few of the Caliphate home worlds. Commercial stuff, not just military or those we think are prisoner moves. Enough to make us think this Bab al-Maqam is becoming economically important for one reason or another. Nothing in the news about what or why; so it gives us a chance to go in and find out.”

“Do you expect an armed force guarding the place, the system, Sir?” Lt Bailey asked.
“Always,” was Joe’s return.

They transitioned in at three light days, doing as little damage to the gravity curvature of surrounding space as the ship was able, silent and far enough out that unless they system had full-up military grade detectors in place they would go unnoticed. At that distance the Raymond’s sensors wouldn’t get a read on anything either. So they headed inwards piling on the g’s. If their grav pulse hadn’t been detected then using the drive at this distance should work out the same. The white hot, to IR sensors, light from the drive was shielded from view forwards by the bulk of the ship. They were too far out to be seen from the side.

Two uneventful days later, doing almost half light speed, they shut down the engines and coasted, listening all the while, As chance would have it one of the commercial ships Joe had talked about came in two thirds of the way around the systems other side ten hours after they began their coasting phase, That ship made a deeper transition, only two light hours out from the local sun, and the energy from her return to normal space stood out against the system background.

“What do you make of her?” Joe looked over to the operator on the signals console while his fingers played idly with hid image magnifiers, she was far enough away that she didn’t show up even as a point of light.

“G-2 transport, that much is certain but we are too far off to give her a name. There’s a lot of dust to scatter the signal between here and there and it’ll take another twenty hours minimum before any radio traffic sent in our direction make it this far. And the only reason for a message being sent this way is if there is some other ship waiting for us in far out guard orbit. Not likely because we would be getting a neutrino reading by now if there was. Then again, on the other hand, they could send a message just to make us think someone else was out her and try to get us to react. Not much to see at this distance with the dust and all. If we keep coasting in on our present course I should be able to get something useful in another day.”

“How bad is this dust likely to get? Do we need shear off or slow down so we don’t run the risk of our particle shields shedding enough energy to give us away? We can’t kill too much velocity all at once without being seen.”

At that the petty officer manning the Nav Station spoke up. “So long as we hold course and stay better than a hundred million kilometers outside the plane of the ecliptic things should be manageable Sir. If we were coming in on the plane at this speed our particle shields would overload. Beyond that we would throw off waves like a speedboat scooting across a pond. There’s stuff in the plane, thick and so closely spaced, we couldn’t dodge in time and we’d need our anti-missile lasers to break up some of the larger rocks before the shields could handle them. Outside the plane there’s a lot of dust but nothing big.”

“We’ll carry on then.”

“Got two of them,” Petty Officer Cymbals said to Speedway who was standing over his shoulder at the display, “Both outside the ecliptic. One close to a line to Novi and the other dead on to Cardoman. G-3’s silent and waiting,”

“But waiting for what,” Joe mused, “They must have something on that planet there they feel worth protecting to keep two ships stationed at a world with less than a million population. Or do we have that part wrong?”

“We just might Sir. We are reading two or three times the power output I would have thought likely unless they have some heavy industrial processes soaking it up. But there is so little trace of greenery that farming is nonexistent. And if one wanted to support a large population some measure of agricultural self sufficiency is almost a given,”

“So that leaves us a small population with a large industrial base.”
“I guess it does Sir.”

“Keep at it and let’s see just how accurately we can site those power sources with a baseline spanning half a system,”

“Aye, Aye, Sir!”

There was something else out there. Flickers on the screen, a few errant photons, here then gone. Whatever it was it was real. Signals Officer Hussein al-Nairobi was sure of that, could feel it in his bones. But he couldn’t prove it even to his own satisfaction. Best to remain silent rather than risk annoying the Captain who would only ask questions Hussein would be unable to answer, His ship had another month to spend on station before relief and return to Philomel. He turned down the receiver gain and the ghost went away. He sat silently, waiting for his shift to end.

For another day and a half the Raymond continued coasting, drive down she was running on power cells alone. That was the only reason they were undetected but had managed to pick out the Calp guard ships amidst the galactic background noise. A ship on continuous long range patrol couldn’t operate on only stored energy, Not and remain on station, It was getting damn cold inside and everyone was dressed in bulky clothing, It would slow them down if they needed to get into suits so that better not happen.

At the end of the Raymond’s coast phase they gradually, very gradually, began shaping a course towards home once more, It was three weeks from the time they had entered the system before they transitioned out again, Next stop Cardoman, But first the paperwork.

“I want every record, every image, scanned and scanned again until the color washes away. I want size, mass, and orbital elements, of every rock down to the size of a raisin. And I want maps of that planet. Maps beyond the theoretical resolution of our instruments. And while we are doing all that, just maybe we can find the time to get this ship in order for our return home. We found something important out here, and I want to know what it was!”

The two weeks spent on the way back to Cardoman passed as rapidly as ships in opposite orbits, but with far more noise.

* * *
The SS Beagle slid over the Cardoman hyper limit looking like any other decrepit G-1 plying the borderline small trade market. She was a totally normal tramp commercial craft, if somewhat larger than usual, until the approach to Cardoman High took her into tight-beam range of the Military Yards and the orbiting fortress like CSN Wanderlust where the real communications began.

On the Wanderlust, now in refit and repair from her latest trip out-system, a bored Comm-Tech was surprised when the tight-beam rang with the latest Union codes. “Good Evening, this is Capt. Richard Petrocelli and I wonder if I might speak with Capt. Emma Debus? And please keep this link secure.”

The communications specialist scrambled to find the current location for the ships Captain and was even more greatly surprised to find that she had remained on board for the night. He quickly connected to the Captains quarters, “Ma’am I think I have a comm that you really need to take!”

“Captain Petrocelli, I know of you purely by word-of-mouth, and I assume that this concerns something less than public?”

“You are correct Ma’am! For public consumption we are here because the ‘Sar Major and Captain Christine Gustufson need a ride to the Military Chapel on Ryman. And being that we are listed as owned by Davis Trading Combine that should stand scrutiny. Especially as the current CEO of DTC is Robbie Davis’s little brother.”

“On the other hand the self-same Ethridge Davis has an offer for your Mr. Warren Woodward that he desires to be very under the table!”

“Why, might I ask, are you coming through me to initiate this action at this particular time?”

“Because you have the misfortune to be the Captain of the ship from which you Cardoman low life scumbags stole our very carefully developed cover. Remember — we are the real Wanderlust! I think you owe us at least a round of drinks with a very select company — and it goes without saying this is all on your tab.”

Hmmm, Emma paused, “I assume that you do not want the fact that you are really the RSN Lying Bastard generally known?”

“Take that one to the bank!”

“That I shall Captain. But don’t you think you could come up with a name for your ship that is rather more permanent?”

She cut the comm channel rather than wait for the explosion. Then she started to think about the odds that the Cardoman shuttles doing outsystem inspection would have just let this Lying Bastard slip insystem without a look-see. It didn’t quite add up. She’d get the truth out of Petocelli at the bar if it was the last thing she did, That would be a fair price for those ‘free drinks’.

“Listen up! I want all of you with perfect pitch to step forwards!” Sgt White looked at the members of the Castle security staff with a strange some kind of almost let’s look innocent here expression. It was scaring the living daylights out of the veteran staff. No one said a word or moved in his direction. He said it again followed by, “Look guys and gals, can any of you even sing a note in tune, whistle in the dark? Cause if you can I got some pretty light duty to assign. If none of you can handle the duty— well then Lassiter and his bunch of bozo’s get the breaks.”