A Very Blue Moon 19

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 19 Draft (02-03-11)

“It’s Cardoman’s sun up there at least.” First Class signalman Veracruz squinted at the small dot beyond the window in the mess hall.

The mess hall never had a window before, but there was a piece of plastiglass blast shield held by a composite frame and glued to the bulkhead. It was just the right size to seal up the hole after the cracked and leaking section was cut away and the corners and edges rounded. So there they were in a room with a view that would have been envied on a luxury liner.

“How can you be sure it’s Cardoman?” Lotti asked.

“Little voice inside my head told me.” Veracruz tapped the comm set he was wearing; the band under his cap and the speaker behind one ear. “She’s almost three light hours out, a miracle all things considered. Captain Madry really is a witch to get us this close.”

“Wasn’t Madry,” Lotti said. “She was too busy casting spells on the fusion plant and drive bands to spare time for something as simple as navigating through hyperspace without knowing either your mass or field strength, It was Lt Borselov and Lt Bailey did that part. I know that cause Bailey had me running all over the ship taking mass readings with a spot meter.”

“There’s no such thing as a portable mass sensor,” Veracruz said. “Been studying for Chief and the book says it takes a couple of multi-ton masses and an interferometer in a zero G field to find any variation at all on something much smaller than a planet.”

“Tell Borselov. The thing was the size of an ammo can with a meter and a pair of sliders. Move the sliders till you get a null reading and record the positions. I took the data back to Bailey and she waved her hands over it and sent in to Lt Borselov who processed it all manually. Least there was no ship comp or terminal in the room.”

“Well it’s a story and we are here.” Veracruz said with his doubt showing. “Gonna’ be a lot of happy women in Minton when the news gets out that the old Cruiser’s back.”

“No one is going to know what to make of the grav pulse once it reaches them. And a two band G-3 won’t be in anyone’s database.”

“Make that a band and a half,” Audie Madry said. “And that’s what it feels like.”

“And a mighty good feeling at that,” Speedway volunteered. He broke a smiled for the first time in three weeks, that’s how long the trip back had taken, four days longer than the transit time for a working G-3.”

“Well, we got a signal off so they will know it’s is soon enough. And we still have enough fuel in our internal tanks to get us in system without a rescue ship and tanker even if we did come in three light hours from the primary.”

Audie was sketching something on the face of the engineering screen, a circle with two eyes and a smile. She sent it off to the lower hull engineering spaces to reappear on the engine room backup display. “It’ll be far more impressive if we dock without any help. Show how resilient we are.”

Seventy hours later they were easing into a berth on Cardoman High.

“Tell me the truth now Audie, did you really think the Ray was going to make the transition in one piece?” Joe Speedway, Kellen Durnam, and Audie Madry in the Captain’s day cabin answering questions concerning the ship’s condition over a voice channel as soon as they arrived from the station offices.

They’d made it under their own power but a med team brought out by Fullson Lovell and the Saratoga had come aboard a day earlier to evacuate the wounded and add to their manpower to give most of the remaining crew a rest. Joe had given any that wanted a chance to go with the Sara but not a soul the medics would let stay behind had opted to leave.

Because of the jump to hyper all of the patchwork was done from the inside. An hour earlier while coasting in Joe had a chance to put on a suit and look at the damage from without. It was ugly. The Ray wasn’t much to look at, blackened and scarred, all her exterior tanks missing and a hole instead of a bulge where the number two defensive mount had been.

The large boat bay door had to be forced open when the Sara reached them because the boarding tubes wouldn’t extend and both passive entry hatches failed to seal. They’d never get it closed again short of the dock yard and that was the path Joe had used when he went on his inspection.

Someone had made it out here before him. Whoever it was deserved a reprimand and a medal. Wired to a brace that once supported a comm link was a broom. A simple broom, but it stood for so much.

Magnetic grapples pulled them in when they docked at the station. Unable to attach a tube; a Lt from the dockyard came through the Ray’s boat bay airlock and took formal command of the ship. As soon as the crew was off the Raymond would be towed to the yards. If a G-3 band could be purchased or gotten through trade, likely from Llanfairn, it was still going to take three months to make her battle ready again. The Cardoman yard’s own band machine could only make those sized for a G-4. That’s how specialized that kind of equipment was.

* * *
Wes and Connie Calvert both had come up from below to greet the Ray’s arrival. Actually they came up the day before in order to be their when the wounded arrived. Consequently Wes was standing behind Jamie Madry when Joe left the shuttle that had ferried him the three hundred meters from his former ship to the station.

Joe expected that. What he didn’t expect was that the boat bay would be filled to overflowing with soldiers and sailors on duty and off. The sound of cheering overpowered his senses the moment the boson’s pipe stopped its trill. He couldn’t hear a word Admiral Madry said as they walked side by side to the rear of the bay and then through a lock and into a corridor leading to the military section of the station.

One thing he did notice was that the air no longer smelled of burning rubber, oil, ozone, and antiseptics.

“We had plenty of time to read your reports while you took the slow way home Joe. We are going straight to the memorial service. As hard as it is it is best to get this over with and move on it’s best done now. The wake starts as soon as the service ends and goes till it’s over.”

The first half an hour was pretty grim. In an hour time and lubrication made it less so. It never never did get to the roaring party stage but that was just as well. Joe and everyone else from the Raymond was still running on fumes and frayed nerves. A day or two was soon enough.

* * *
Joe was sipping dark black coffee from a porcelain cup. Wes was doing the same. The sun shown brightly through the windowed south wall of the Castle library, Irwana al-Omari came in and out again checking to see if refills were needed and making sure cups stayed full and the tray of sandwiches on the table replenished.

The last time in she brought a bound volume with a ribbon and a card marking a page break. Wes picked it up and took a look.

“Official and in the books Joe. You’ve got a maneuver named after you now; retire and a career as an expert commentator for the newsies is yours for the asking.”

“Don’t think I need to ask; you should see the line outside the Admiralty waiting for me every night when I go home.”

“Here, sign this for me.” Wes passed over the book in hand open to the fly leaf.

“I had two hundred and fifty copies of you after action report printed on resinoid paper and bound in sealed leather. The gilt edging was a nice touch don’t you think? They will outlast any of us and all our data chips to boot. One goes to each planet in the Federation and one to each of the Indies. You get a dozen and I have about twenty downstairs for you to sign that I intend to send to friends and others that need the information. One even for Union President Reshevsky.”

Joe took the book but his eyes were glazing over. He signed with a flourish and passed it back. Just then Connie walked in.

“Stand up Joe.”

Dazed and totally out of he depth he did as ordered. And then Connie threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug while two corporals from public relations took stills and shot video while an officer gave direction and acted important.

“Ta ta,” Connie said with a wave, and left the room taking the PR types with her.

“Not Offisorial, no, not at all, she gets like that sometimes.” Wes was shaking his head. “But it was a damned good idea. We need to get the populace to take notice, not only here, but on all the non-Caliphate worlds. Get them more deeply interested in our fight if we are going to make it theirs too.”

“I’m sure you’re right Sir, but I’m just glad I have a new ship to work up while the Raymond is under repair.”

“Not just yours to work up Joe. Jamie and I talked about this and the Witch of the West Wind is your new command. Kellen will take over on the Raymond; you’ve both earned it.”

“Th-Thank you Sir, I don’t know what else to say.”

“You might not thank me so much after I tell you that Kellen keeps most of your old crew. We are training on G-4’s now. And we can’t replace them. Most everyone assigned to he West Wind is going to pretty new, right out of the Academy.”

“New you say! I’m only six years in the fleet myself!”
“Makes ya feel old doesn’t it.”
“What about Lt. Bailey?”
“Can’t help you Joe, she stays with the ship.”

While all of this had been going on, at another table Jamie Madry and Clayton Grayson were moving figurines on a marked up comp screen. Each square a planet and each gum drop soldier an army or a fleet. Wes called it to an end and ordered them all to the bar. It was time to for a discussion and a few decisions concerning their evolving relationship with Ryman.

* * *
Robbie Davis answered the ringing comm with a sigh, “Davis here.” What had started out as a long day kept getting longer and he was still behind schedule if he was to clear his desk before he and Christine could take the hike out to Ryman. He had a deadline only three day’s away or they missed the packet run to Enderlin and would need to go commercial all the way and that meant at least another week and a couple of extra days in transit.

Why Chris was so dead bent on getting married on Ryman he had not figured out! He was just happy that the logistician who he had first met during the occupation decided that she loved him as much as he loved her.

“Sar Major—It’s Rick Petrocelli here, how you fixed for the evening? Cause I have a jumper on planet that could have you and me both at the bar in Cardoman High in 45 minutes.”

“No offense Rick but it’s getting late, I’m busy, and it’s General Davis these days. And why would I want to take a jog up there just now?”

“Well I could claim it was for the meal General, but I need your help on something that—not to go all melodramatic on you—could affect both Ryman and Cardoman in a way highly advantageous to all of us.”

Connie Calvert was just finishing up the luncheon she’d set up with young Miss Christine Gustufson and she wanted to make sure the point was driven home. “So—Robbie IS going to live up to going back to Ryman for the wedding?”

“Yes and I understand that I am supposed to trick him into getting a medical exam once we get there, but I am still not sure why that is so important? Why do you think he would object?”

“Chris—and I have to ask can I call you Chris?”
“Of course you can Constance!”

Connie Calvert had to grin so she made it look like a grimace. The girl could give as well as she could take and no one called her Constance, not even her mother!

“It’s fairly simple, Cardoman medical science did a good job of fixing his knees and hip but, we have nowhere near the facilities and technique those Ryman doctors have. They are actually ahead of old Earth and even Union when it comes to complete joint replacements because of their specialization in battle trauma and military medical services. Robbie doesn’t like going under the knife, none of us do. But for Robbie after the last surgeries it is even worse, because he doesn’t want to spend anymore time in rehabilitation with so much else left to do,”

And there is another reason we would like you to get in touch with their medical establishment. If we could get some help for our Medical Service, not just data and training tapes but doctors, nurses and corpsman it would not go unappreciated. Robbie will understand that and it sounds like a job for a Loggie to me.”

Chris leaned back and stared at the ceiling, oblivious to her surroundings.

“So I get him fixed up, meet my Mother in Law and the rest of the family, cement relations between another military unit, grab some medical help and manage somewhere in the middle of that to get married. There must be something in there for me somewhere,”

“Have you thought about how after you get him fixed up how much better he will be in the sack?” Connie raised her wine glass along with her eyebrows and had a wicked look on her face while Chris tried not to look scandalized!

Robbie walked into the Bar on Cardoman High, a little stiff as always, though it took a keen eye and someone who knew him in the old days to see it. He was in civvies but that made no difference to the staff that jumped to near attention as the defacto Chief of Staff for the Cardoman 7th entered the room. The spell was only broken when Rick Petrocelli spoke from a corner table, “Over here Robbie!”

Those who hadn’t noticed the arrival did so now and the bar’s noisy undercurrent increased a notch or two as questions were asked about who the man at the corner table was, how he got the table in the first place, and by what right could he call General Robert Davis by name!

Robbie, approached the table, and decided to start out light. “Damn boy, last time I saw you on a purely social occasion, you were a shavetail wanna be Cadet in a prep school trying to get into the Academy.”

“Probably the only reason you remember me was that I was a roommate to one of your brothers.”

“That could well be, but it doesn’t pay the rent. So what is your real reason for getting me up here?”

“We really need to go out to my ship for me to explain!”
“Yeah well perhaps, but I think you owe me a dinner first!”

The meal was eaten with in silence and the conversation resumed after reaching the ship Petrocelli gave Robbie the nickel tour of the Lying Bastard and he told him about the tour he had given Debus.

“We showed her all the tricks, how we hide the short range weapons in the cargo containers and how we camouflage the ports for them. She about had a fit and couldn’t wait to get the info back to the Cardoman yards.”

“I saw her report Rick, Captain Debus came to us from commercial service with Llanfairn, so she’s not an innocent when it comes to such matters, but you guys have added a few tricks since I left back there.”

“That we have Robbie that we have and here is Cargo 3 and the reason I asked you over. This holds containers contain enough Band Metal for 8 G-4 bands in a yard that can shape them. We are willing to give that metal to Cardoman for a price. I just don’t think I am politically capable of selling that price!”

“What the hell is the price Rick?”

“In hold 4 is enough Band Metal for a third G-4, we want Cardoman to build that G-4 for us. Robbie we only have the capability to build 2’s. The four G-4’s we had were from bands built in the Caliphate and we lost one of them. We want the Cardoman to build a new Varangian!

“OK, I will not ask how you got hold of that much heavy metal right now, I will save that for the trip to Ryman.”

“What trip to Ryman?”

“The one where I go back with you if and when the deal gets done and after we empty you out. And Ryman now has a Ship of the List does she. There will always be a Varangian—is that the plan?”

“Robbie you have to have seen the reports of how she went down! What else can we do? Now I have the problem of whom do I pitch this deal to?”

“You were right to call me on this Rick. I’m sure I know for god damn sure one man on the planet who understands a debt of honor. I’ll pitch it to Wes Calvert in the morning. He will need to take it up with the Finance Ministry and probably talk to Woodward in the yards but you can expect to be contacted by some one, can’t say who end up with the job, shortly after noon at the latest. This will happen fast. So when do we leave for Ryman?”

“I’m going with you Captain, along with my wife to be.”
“How about one hour after I offload holds 3 and 4?”

“What about your boy al-Mahari? Borselov and Madry both say he’s trainable and they wouldn’t mind if he stuck around a while.”

Petrocelli grinned, “He and four others stay here. They go off of active duty, doff the uniforms, put on civvies, rent or buy an office and become the Cardoman office and the agents of the Davis Trading Combine. Robert in particular is tasked with setting up their communications and network. Now if certain elements of the Cardoman forces want to borrow their skills from time to time. Hey that is good trade craft!”

The grins from both parties could be best described as feral!

“Oh, and one more thing,” Robbie said, “Give a lot of thought to the name that goes on the door. For political reasons and others I am not so sure that drawing attention to the fact that a Davis, any Davis, is in charge of your operation makes good business sense.”

* * *
Cmdr Warren ‘Woody’ Woodward was looking for a way to cut another day of the construction schedule for the ‘West Wind’, the ship that was finishing up and should have been on its way a week ago until one of its fusion cores failed the proof test. Every hour was precious and his back orders continued to grow.

He’s opted to repair it in place rather than pull the unit and put in a new one. Now it was looking like a bad decision all around as the new coils were taking twice as long to install as he had estimated. Nothing for it now but to finish it up and try and make the time up on the next ship. If he though his presence in the cramped drive bay would have helped he would have been there. But of course it wouldn’t, only slow things down further.

To make matters worse his stomach was acting up again. He was washing down an acid neutralizer with a shot of whiskey when his comm rang,

“What is it Sykes?”
“General Calvert and President Horvath are on data one Sir.”

Sykes was new and hadn’t earned the right to refer to Calvert as the Major yet. Probably best as it did tend to muddy up the chain of command. “Put them on Sykes. And try and find out when Voinovich is getting back here while we talk.”

He reached out to touch the screen to switch to data one and found the selector getting further and further away. And for some reason he was looking down a tunnel, the sides drawing in and the spot of light bordered in black out front was getting smaller. And then it closed to nothing.

“Cpl, could you speed this up or let me know when Commander Woodward will be available?”

Sykes heard the voice on data one and bolted to attention. “I’m sorry Sir; I’ll get right on it.” He had more sense than to say that Cmdr Woodward should already be on the line. He tried the intercom and getting no answer opened the door to Woodward’s office and saw him face down, his hand reaching for the comm screen.

“What was the cause Doctor?” Connie took the call an hour later when it came down to the Castle.

“We don’t know Ma’am, he had some acid pills in his desk drawer and recently took one or two but that couldn’t be it. I had two people check his last physical and there was no sign of anything like this happening. We will keep looking but I don’t think we are going to find a reason. I’m sorry and wish I could tell you more. When we finish the autopsy I will send a complete report, sooner if we learn something but I think he just ran out of time.”

“Thank you Doctor, let us know.”

She hung up and called the station comm center; best talk to Stan before she took the news to Wes.

The funeral was the next day, and held on Cardoman High. Horvath went up on a separate shuttle from Connie and Wes. Paranoia was rampant in his security service and Denis couldn’t blame them. Shuttles did fail once a decade or so even without help.

“You know what bothers me as much as anything about this?” Wes said in a quite moment to his wife. “It’s that after all these years I never had the time to meet a single member of his family,”

“In a way Wes we were all part of his family and they a part of ours.”

The ceremony was short and the wake even shorter. The body sent down to the Seventh’s burial ground with only a few members of the family and an honor guard in attendance.

Unable to delay, Wes, against Stan’s protests, confirmed his appointment as the new shipyard superintendent. “Your far and away the best qualified and we can’t wait. I had Woody’s office cleared of his personal effects and moved yours in.”

“But I want a ship again Wes, this was supposed to be a six month tour and then I would go back to the fleet.”

“And I want another fifteen or twenty years to get ready before this war goes into a higher gear and breaks out everywhere. But since I don’t have it I need ships and crews to man them. And you are going to see I have them because that is what duty requires.”

Two days later, cargo unloaded, the Lyin’ Bastard broke orbit. From an observation blister Robbie Davis and Christine Gustufson had a chance to see the West Wind backing out from the Yard’s main construction dock under her own power. A host of small vehicles were circling round, taking readings and shooting video for the nightly news.

They could see almost as many vehicles and far more workers swarming around the Raymond, gaping holes where armor was being removed for replacement and the forward band was already floating along side make it possible to remove the damaged number two band. Robbie had heard that they’d used the remaining charge from that band to jump start a charge into the West Wind,

Looking back to the West Wind, now clear from the arms of the slip, they could see a few slight puffs, bursts of flame as the new thrusters finished burning out the paints and preservatives that had protected them from corrosion when they were built until now when they were permanently in vacuum. That was only at first, before the heat cleaned up the residue and the exhaust became invisible. Another ten minutes had them using magnification on the lower part of the window and the new ship seemed to jump as one of the fusion cores went to work.

“Looks like Captain Speedway got that part right.” Christine said.

“Looks like Cmdr Woodward did too,” was Robbie’s reply.

Eighteen hours later they were in hyper, three weeks out from Ryman and without waiting for formalities their honeymoon was already underway.