A Very Blue Moon 13

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 13 Draft (01-07-11)

“Two, One, Transition in.”

Cardoman’s sun filled the viewscreen. That of course didn’t mean much of anything by itself; magnification after all was determined by control inputs. Buy standard procedure on all ships everywhere called for that first screen to light with a view based on how close the jump came to the destination star. Something that could be a reward or a punishment.

“One point Oh Seven Lighthours.” That was close indeed. And a good thing too, because the Raymond was very low on reaction mass. That high speed run of the Bab al-Maqam system had drained the tanks to such an extent that if they had emerged from hyper much further out they would be needing to plot a reduced acceleration course to finish up trip’s last leg rather than returning in style.

And that would have been an embarrassment and intolerable to almost any Captain returning from his first voyage of independent command, but especially for one with the last name of Speedway. Joe had heard those jokes in every possible combination from the time he was eight and still he found them exasperating.

As it was a direct trip to planetary orbit would get them there with “tanks bone dry.” Joe wasn’t sure whether a trip straight in or a stop first at the gas giant for refueling was the best plan so he ordered an intermediary course while he waited for receipt of the initial message sent soon as the Ray dropped out. Two hours later he was ordered to the dock at Cardoman High non-stop.

Someone had made provisions for a fuel barge to pull in along side as soon as Joe pulled into his slip at the space station that handled all of Cardoman’s civilian traffic and much of the military as well. Ship handling, especially large ship handling was something Joe excelled at. He hated to delegate this and was gratified to see Kellen do a competent job of bringing her home. A smooth run in with no over-correction required until the ship was locked to the dock and the passageways connected. One less thing for him to worry about in the future.

“Good work Kellen, compliments to the crew. Let’s start on the fueling and you have the bridge, I’m summoned to meet our makers. After the H is on board if you haven’t heard from me start issuing station leave but keep the drive warm. It’s been a good trip.”

With that he smiled, looked around the bridge, then headed towards the upper midship passenger tube, the one closest to the control room and shortest route into Cardoman High.

Joe felt his stomach turn over as he passed through the turn over from ship to station gravity, A momentary discomfort that some never got over, There were space sickness bags at either end of the tube, just in case.

Joe had read that a hundred years after the electrification of old Earth it took a kilowatt (a unit still in use) of energy an hour on average to provide for a person in an advanced nation. Perhaps three times as much if you included all industrial activity. On Cardoman High today it took 394 times that much; thank God for fusion reactors.

Station services and gravity control used 70% of that output but the amount of energy devoted to industrial processing or even data manipulation would surprise someone not intimately familiar with the station’s operation.

Entering the mammoth structure from a military slip he would bypass customs but experience his first arrival as a Captain with full, if somewhat reduced from pre-war level military honors, He found it something he could get used to, so long as he continued to take this as a compliment to the ship and not only to the man in charge, Totally without need Joe was given an escort to the Naval Station Command Offices in the form of a petty officer third class who instead of looking thrilled at the chance was at least not overtly hostile.. He had likely been pulled away from something else more important with a deadline attached, Joe knew the feeling.

Jamie Madry, ‘Admiral of the Fleet’ stood on no ceremony and greeted Joe at the hatchway leading into the station’s military section, “Good to have you back Joe, and that was some data dump you fed us on your way in. You’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest.”

“Hornet’s Nest?” Joe half inquired though his inflection showed he got the drift of the comment, if not the specifics. “We sent you what we had, but I am sorry to say that it was mostly visual without any means of knowing what it signifies beyond the raw data.”

“You’d be surprised, In fact you will be. Your information filled in some major gaps in our estimate of Calp intentions and abilities. We had information from—well I can’t say where—that showed something happening at al-Maqam, and now we have a very good idea of it is.”

“Don’t plan on settling in, your coming with me and a couple of other new arrivals on a trip downstairs and a visit with the Major. You have time for a drink at the club if you hurry. Have someone on the Ray ship send your travel bag to shuttle bay three; we’ll be leaving in,” she looked at her watch, “thirty seven minutes.”

The black attack shuttle sliced cleanly through dark sky, high above and streaking towards the dawn line as she neared the surface. With a couple of thousand kilometers to go it would be mid-morning local time when they set down at the Castle.

Over the sound of the intercom Joe heard leakage from the speaker directed at the seat next to him, “They’ve locked on to us Admiral.”

“A good thing too,” Jamie said, knowing Joe had heard it too, “at this range I don’t think another sensor setup in the human occupied space could even see us, much less get a lock. — Well maybe the one guarding Gumrawi Bey on Earth, but I wouldn’t bet on it and only because they have so damn many of them. Looking after the Major is at least everyone’s second priority around here, push come to shove, and unless the planet is under attack I take it as my first.” She went back to her reading.

Occupying the two seats, they were almost built to crash couch standards, in the row directly in front of Joe and the Admiral were two from the Ryman Ship going by the name SS Beagle, Joe had their names but beyond that no idea why they were aboard but that it had something to do with the Major. With Joe was petty officer third Cymbals, in case a deep response was needed concerning how they had put together their data from al-Maqam. The only other person in the passenger compartment was one of Madry’s staff officers who would not be going to the Castle but instead continue with the shuttle to Minton taking regular reports and archival information before returning later at Madry’s command.

The entire trip time from departure to dirt was less than thirty minutes, yet Joe found time for a ten minute nap, soothed to sleep by the near silent passage through Cardoman’s still upper air.

The shuttle set down at the large pad a couple of kilometers east of the Castle. Two ground cars were waiting and they boarded and were off in a cloud of dust. A minute later at the gate to the grounds proper, Luther White, head of Castle security, took the group under his own protection as they walked the last 50 meters towards the imposing structure. When they came to the large wooden entrance doors they opened as if by magic. Directing the group forwards Luther continued inside. In fact he went with them all the way to a conference room next to the small bar in the building’s rear corner.

Joe had been inside the Castle, the Calvert’s home built from prize money before the Seventh had voted for inclusion to the regular Cardoman Army, many times before. Those kind of riches would never be available again, but a ships Captain could still make out quite nicely if things broke his way, Once inside, the buildings rough exterior changed to a dressed and semi-polished look that resembled marble as much as anything. The floor coverings and loose furniture, were tastefully done in a minimalist fashion.

On the walls, spotted here and there, were paintings, or perhaps reproductions, of what was once known as modern art. It wasn’t Joe’s style but he had seen worse—art made for shock and not reflection. On a second story balcony looking into the entranceway, a woman Joe knew to be Irwana al-Omari, the Calvert’s housekeeper, waved down then continued on her way. Joe nodded to the inner guard, the man who had performed the magic opening door act.

The building was large, immense in fact, especially in an age where the cost of upkeep not to mention the unobtainable support staff, would have been to most both unthinkable and unobtainable. Joe, by virtue of being with the Seventh since near the beginning had some knowledge of just how large those original prize awards were. And so he did not find the present situation unusual. The look on Capt Petrocelli’s face had started to cause Joe some concern until he recognized it as ‘sticker shock.’

Down the central corridor they went to the rear of the building, then a right turn, another twenty meters and then a floor to ceiling glass panel with a door to the aforementioned conference room near the buildings corner, Inside and after everyone else was seated around a large table, Sgt White took a seat himself.

Wes Calvert, in a relaxed uniform, and not even looking his age, which Joe reckoned to be upper-mid-thirties, was seated at the head of the table, cup of coffee in hand and a screen on live in front and shining up from the tables’ surface. Joe was all of a sudden quite happy he had bypassed that drink on Cardoman High and instead packed his own bag while giving Lt Cmdr Durnan instruction on what to handle and in what order while he was away.

There was one person seated at the table who Joe did not know, though she looked familiar.

Wes introduced the woman Joe had pegged a spy as Louise Shearing, Cardoman’s Financial Secretary, and apologized publicly for dragging her away on such short notice from whatever it was she had been doing.

“Needed the break,” she said laughing, “I was helping Victor stir up the masses and a little of that goes a long way.”

“Important none the less,” Wes said, “There was an old Earth politician who said it best, I think in a book called ‘The Real War’, “Politics is battle, and the best way to fire up your troops is to rally them against a visible opponent on the other side of the field. If a loyal supporter will fight hard for you, he will fight twice as hard against your enemies.” That holds as true today as it ever did.”

“I’ll take your point and raise you one,” Louise returned, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” That is what I worry about, but I worry about it more from the other side than our own.”

Wes began to speak then paused and said, “Kissinger?”

“Nope, Voltaire. But close enough.”

“My interest in committing atrocities must be measured with a very delicate instrument, but I take your point Louise.”

Next Wes turned his attention to Capt. Petrocelli. “Glad you came along Captain, and even more thankful you have found it expedient to free up Tech Sgt al-Mahari for this operation.”

Petrocelli was astounded Calvert had even heard Robert al-Mahari’s name before, much less remembered it, He was sure nothing in the flight manifest was that specific. A suspicious bunch; Cardoman security must have recorded his personal details when he first visited the station during his off time, and had someone watching and relaying that information after they boarded the shuttle. Calvert said nothing more on the subject but Petrocelli knew he had conveyed the message intended.

“Mr. Phillips will begin this thing with a review of the background and how everything got tied together—Into one big knot,” Calvert said as he turned the stage over to an easily forgettable man of average height and build with an owlish looking expression. One tended to forget that an owl was a bird of prey.

“I am not sure how much everyone present knows about the working relationship between Cardoman and those of us working in Confederation Security. But it goes without saying that nothing revealed by anyone in this room leaves it.”

Joe suppressed a smile, wondering at the impossibility of being stuck in his seat for the rest of his life.

“We have reports, fragmentary but suggestive, that speak to the importance of Bab al-Maqam as a source of some of the Caliphates most advanced new technology. Technology is one of our few edges so this is something we were looking into, The Confederation had a few pieces and Capt Petrocelli filled in a part of the puzzle by giving us information about exactly what the Oligarchs had been selling, Capt Speedway brought us the rest with his direct surveillance.”

“What the Calps are perfecting, and building for export on al-Maqam, are system level communications platforms better than any the Caliphate has ever known. They rival, and we think surpass, even our own best efforts, With Capt Speedway’s photographic details, and the laser signatures he was able to obtain as proof, it is now up to us to see if we can do something to slow them down or even put a stop to further advances.” Philips looked towards Calvert, who nodded at Robbie Davis.

Davis took right off, “Good to see you again Richard, been awhile. Even before Joe did the deed, we were thinking of sending someone out to Beta Pectoris for a close up look with an eye to special operations. We had a good idea that what we now know to be the case might turn out to be true.”

“This meeting puts the spec ops plan into overdrive. We intend to land a small force upon the planet and eliminate the existing hardware, construction facilities, and the scientists and engineers that make them all go. Do all this without the use planetary bombardment. And we intend to get our people out afterwards.”

The meeting lasted another three hours. Joe had a ten minute segment where he explained the tricks Lt Bailey had devised made the long baseline interferometry they’d used possible. “The key to it was that we could use the scattering of the Calps own beams to predict the atmospheric effects on our own observations.”

For the rest of the time he just sat silently, taking in how this was done by people who had been there before. With the details ironed out Louise Shearing excused herself for more of the same in Minton, and the Major invited everyone to the bar next door while they awaited the return of Admiral Madry’s shuttle.

While they were in the corner bar three others joined them, Raquel Zavala, Audie Madry, and Yuri Borselov. All of the principals were gathered together, Joe was sorry he wouldn’t see the thing first hand but Major Calvert promised him a complete profile and debrief when the mission was completed and maybe even a bit more, that would have to do, He still had a new ship to keep him busy.

While Joe was happily contemplating that fact a most extraordinary thing happened. Something that would become legend the moment it leaked, and leak it would.

Six marines in the uniform of the Castle guard marched though the doorway that lead to the high ceilinged corridor outside. They stood front and center in the middle of a four meter square area recently made empty of furnishing just in front of the bar. Luther White stood up and took a place besides them. Then he said in a rumbling bass, “Here is where I win my bet.”

And a concert broke out. It started with the Seventh’s own Anthem and carried on for an additional five songs alternating between ballads and drinking songs without a pause, except for the rousing applause at the end of each number. When they finished Luther sent his troops to the bar with orders to drink up—cause they were on the house. Then he went over to the table where Wes and his wife Connie were seated.

“Do I go Major?”

Connie was beside herself with laughter, Wes just shook his head, “I don’t see how it was possible, but yes, you’re lead Sgt on the drop. Anyone who could get that bunch to sing proves he can get marines to do most anything and deserves a break from Castle security and a slot in the line if that’s what he wants. Just make sure Robbie doesn’t make you wish you had stayed here all warm and happy.”

“Not a chance Sir!” And the Sergeant joined his marines for some weight lifting, a kilogram at a time.

* * *
“The backside of that mountain is so steep a goat couldn’t climb it!”
“Well that’s why the come to us for lessons now ain’t it.”

The hills beyond the fence at Camp Logan were rocky and steep, and the temperature was hot, not as hot as they were going to find on al-Maqam, but with Cardoman’s slightly higher gravity the overall difficulty level would have been similar if there was someone waiting on the slopes above to fire live rounds in their direction. Robbie had climbed from the foothills and up to the thousand meter mark. He wasn’t carrying the weight of the others and his rebuilt knees and ankles were killing him. But he didn’t let on and his expression didn’t change, nor did his tone of voice or eye for detail.

Luther White was puffing— but for someone in what had amounted to garrison duty for the last year he was acclimatizing rapidly. “Five six years ago. I would be laughing at the laggards on this little jaunt.”

“Five six years ago we were on Ophia wondering if we would last the afternoon.”

“Yeah, there is that. Those were the days weren’t they. I have to finish this climb and a half a dozen as bad or worse before I can certify myself as fit, I’ll make it but might wish I hadn’t. Good to see Zavala has done such a job keeping the standards up in my absence.”

“He turned out good, Luther; I had my doubts, but not anymore. With two old war horses like you and me mostly out of the mix the Seventh goes on.”

Zavala had them moving again when White bade General Davis goodbye and hurried to take his position in the middle of the column, Lassiter was on point, no problems there. He watched Borselov, who with the resilience of youth took everything thrown at him without a sign of pain, asking for more, and he wondered where the years had gone.

* * *
“You and al-Mahari here won’t be in on the hard part, but when it’s time for extraction you need to be able to keep up. You don’t need to hump the weight but you have to pass the course if you are going with us, there it is,” Robbie pointed to the desert running track. Five kilometers and fifteen minutes. On your mark!” To his surprise Phillips finished first with more than a minute to spare, al-Mahari went over by eleven seconds, give him a week and he would pass with ease.

The Major and his Chief of Staff General Grayson came out for a pep talk and final review. Wes marched the course with the rest of them, up to weight and without sign of strain. No one really expected any less. Calvert was something different and special—and he was their’s.

* * *
“This is it Dennis, last chance to say no.”

“Surely we’ve passed that point long ago,” Planetary President Horvath said to Calvert over the secure comm link, He had a sour look on his face that went against his public persona, Wes was seeing it more and more. “Louise is keeping me current. If I didn’t say anything then I won’t say anything now. I do wonder is how sending the Confederacy’s Phillips and Ryman’s al-Mahari on this mission are going to change the political calculus. But we were planning on getting everyone involved sooner rather than later and this is a step in that direction. I can’t see Petrosky objecting no matter how this would play in the Feddie Senate. So yeah — You have a go. I wish all my decisions were this easy.”

“I’ll tell you what we really need Wes. We need some major military victories going our way. Something to build momentum and get a few more planets to declare for us and outright war. Enough neutrals and the power balance will never swing our way. We both know how a war of attrition goes.”

“It was good to see Pilson, Valerian, and Jason’s Landing come out with us.”

“It was, and don’t get me wrong on this, they are all class threes, small. It seems the smaller and poorer worlds realize how much they stand to lose by trusting the Caliphate to stop after gobbling up just a few more planets, but I tell you what Wes, I will force myself to look at the bright side. We’re a lot better off then when the Caliphate was in control.”

Horvath forced a smile. It looked unnatural.

* * *
Davis and Zavala were in Robbie’s cubbyhole of an office in the Seventh’s Camp Logan barracks. “That was it Raq, the final document. You’ve had a chance to look it over; it goes to Calvert as soon as I get Jamie to sign off on it. Anything more to add?”

Zavala knew he was treading on delicate ground and chose his words accordingly, “What will Jamie say about substituting Speedway and Raymond for Voinovich going back to the Aladin and replacing Tsarinstyn while running that part of the show?”

“I don’t think she’ll take it too hard. She came up with what on the naval side objectively rates as the best combination of ship and crew, so long as only this mission is looked at. But Wes pointed out to me that other factors intrude, Stan has time invested in the next ship coming out of the shop and Pavel could only see his replacement, even for a one time deal, as a vote of no confidence, Speedway’s earned a shot and it certainly won’t hurt morale to show that good works are rewarded.”

“Putting Audie Madry on board for this trip to run the sensors and supervise the technical end, not to mention fill in whatever gaps are left in engineering, you know the Ray’s engineering petty officer went out on a medical, but this Lt Baily looks sharp, takes care of any concern over lack of experience. So I think the Admiral will be happy enough to have Stan at home a while longer.”

“That does it for me then Robbie, I’ll figure on another few days on the ground then up to Cardoman High and some drop pod work. Keep yourself busy.” They stood and shook hands, then Zavala walked out through the empty barracks to his waiting transport. A trail of dust marked his departure.