A Very Blue Moon 2

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 2 Draft (02-04-10)

Rashid Mohamed Kalid was seated in the flag bridge on the G-4 Battlecruiser Sword of the Prophet. He was more used to being on the bridge itself and a bit uncomfortable with the surroundings. His former first officer, Gondar Metemma had the ship now and both Farhan Mutlaq Saleh and Simini Asfaruddin had moved up a notch to first and second officers as well. In fact the only one of the ship’s officers heading a department to hold his position from their last deployment was the veteran engineer Khomeini Pasha who really should have retired years ago. Not that Rashid wasn’t very happy to have him; it was just that 40 years in the service, the last fifteen with no promotion in sight was long enough for anyone.

The holotank on the Sword’s Flag Deck was a floor to ceiling cylindrically shaped three dimensional display. It glowed with the pinpricks of a thousand stars that were the background for the much larger and brighter symbols representing the other ships in Rashid’s own command, his squadron. Each ship’s status was shown by data block and their courses by bright lines surround by the vector cone proportional to a ships acceleration representing where they could be at a given time if ordered to move. No such order would be forthcoming today. In another minute the Sword with the other 10 ships would be jumping into Novi and whatever awaited, with orders to harass and do as much damage as was possible and consistent with the safety of the command. It was an order Admiral Rashid looked forwards to carrying out.

They came into Novi space off line from the direct path back to the fleet base on Philomel. A minor delay and cost in terms of energy budget but it should insure when they came into Novi’s space there was nothing waiting for them at close range. Rashid’s ship was first and the jump tight. Not more than ten light minutes separated the extreme outliers. With such a tight group it was even possible one of them had really hit the mark.

With all of his own ships accounted for Rashid studied the holotank and what it showed as sense was gradually made from the signals received.

The basics were up first, the sun and the planets, no way their position could differ from the database. Next came large emitters. Ships under power and accelerating, then those powered but stationary or docked followed by power plants on moons or planetary surfaces.

Communications nexuses glowed with a halo showing their strength signal and traffic density. Last came the weak sources too numerable to name and ships on patrol in the systems far reaches. But these were the ones most likely to cause Rashid problems in the long run and after verifying the recent intelligence the ones his signal officers honed in on. Last of all would come the signals from ships far in system powering up to meet the threat. Those numbers would control what happened this day and those in the immediate future.

* * *
The instantaneous speed of the incoming fleet’s grav pulse sent alarms ringing all over the system. On the Cassandra and Far Star it did more than wake people up from an otherwise boring shift. It set them into motion.

“What do you have,” Marty Vogel said as he came through the blast doors and onto the Cassandra’s bridge.

“Ten Calp warships, all threes and fours, distance 276 Million klicks, drifting away from us but call it a light hour from Novi. A good tight formation.”

“Cut the cord and get us in front!”

“Aye, aye sir. Sound the strap down, accel in . . . fifteen seconds—Mark!!”

Vogel had time to strap in and look for the Far Star before he felt the g-load of a maximum run. The 58.5 gees the compensators could handle plus another 2 for good measure. The Cassie could have handled more but the crew not so much. Those last 2 were the ones pinning him to his couch. The Cassandra was a G-3, the Far Star matching his maneuver a G-4. On the Far Star that kind of acceleration was fully compensated so those onboard would feel nothing outside of the ordinary 1 grav ship normal internal field, but Captain Vogel gave no thought to that as he composed the message he would send back to Novi. He had the names and classes of the enemy ready to attach to his message. Rashid Kalid, and the Sword of the Prophet had shown up again.

On the Sword of the Prophet: “Two ships cutting into our path, a three and a four.”

Admiral Kalid relayed instructions, “Close the gap, we will see how serious these people are.”

Novi Command had it under control. That was the official line let out for public consumption. Inside the vast orbital palace a few felt somewhat different about the whole thing. Rand Bergman the secretary of Novi’s naval establishment was one of those and one who could actually put a name to those who needed to act and that would make all of the difference.

“Get me Gerber on a secure channel!”

Milton Gerber was the Prime Ministers Chief of Staff. The PM was too busy working on a press release and on how to deal with the public to spend time right now on the little things that might make a difference.

“Gerber! Tell that ass to request help form the Feddies! We have eight ships docked and more waiting in orbit to come to our assistance. All he has to do is ask! The Calps are going to sense something is wrong when they see how many of our ships are based out system protecting our deep space assets. We ought to go at them with everything we got and make them run. We absolutely should not be taking any chances by getting cute and trying to suck them into an attack on Novi. If that’s what the President thinks he’s doing he is making a large mistake.”

“The President fears that war will be inevitable should he choose such a course of action. Certainly we can wait for some message traffic to clarify the situation before we must act. See if the Caliphate squadron is here for something other than a standard courtesy call.”

“No one in their right minds makes a courtesy call with a complete fleet element and then vectors towards the home system planet. Especially without sending in something a bit less daunting as an invite. The Calps are here for blood and unless that fat slug gets off of his ass it will be his and not just the Navy’s!”

“Watch your language Secretary Bergman; you are not the indispensable man. Your resignation is on file with the rest of our appointees and I can see the edge poking out from the rest!”

“You’re a political whore Gerber! Get the bastard on line, If you do not I will make the call to the Union fleet commander myself. That’s what this means. We have two of our own ships and crews out there who do have a clue about what duty and honor mean. Get me the damn PM!”

“Hello Secretary Bergman, this is Richard Pellow, I am sure you recognize my voice, what can I do for you Sir.”

“Well it is good to talk to someone other than Gerber and I guess that all this delay has nothing to do with you, but I really need to speak to the Prime Minister.”

“I am afraid he is not available right now, and so as Secretary of State I am handling all of his calls, the ones that can’t be put off till later.”

“Be straight with me Rich, is the bastard coming back?”

“All I can say is that is yet to be determined.”

“What about Gerber?”

“He is cleaning out his desk and about to take a long vacation.”

“You know about my problem then?”

“Yes and you have your Government’s fullest support. Send a message Rand, the world is waiting!”

“I will rephrase that if you don’t mind, Vice Admiral Verdun might take it wrong and personally given that I have been the one holding him up.”

“How ever you wish is fine with me.”

“And Union Command.”

“I have recorded a message for them under government seal requesting their help. We want the Calps removed from Novi Space as soon as possible and no matter what the cost or consequence.”

“Have you sent that message in the clear so the Calp Admiral will have something to think about? If nor hold off unless you get a positive response.”

“Well — I’m not sure about that. Get back to you.”

“Power up,” Fleet Admiral Ordman of the Union Navy said, and on the Exciter all hands sprang to action. The Horn, Charger, Argent and Bullet went through the same evolution. Away from the docks the Novi fleet units were getting ready as well. It was going to take an hour for that information to reach Admiral Kalid and almost that long for the defensive forces to move but the message was sent.

And on the Sword of the Prophet the list of challenges was getting longer and longer. “Tell me Gondar, who was it that said no news is good news?”

Captain Metemma was peering at the display with half his concentration saved for his Admiral. “I could not say, but then this is not lack of news is it? Or have I missed something?”

Rashid snorted, almost laughed. “Thank Allah there are two parts to our orders and the second part instructs us to cause maximum destruction upon our enemy’s hosts. Drive for the planet. There are two ships on this field that must yield or die. Let us see what they choose.”

“They are serious Marty, serious about something. It doesn’t make much sense for them to go strait toward Novi against greater odds but there it is.” Dana Killing his exec gave the opinion she must and went on record with her evaluation. “The broadcast would have reached them twenty minutes ago, more than enough time to back off.”

“Agree Dana. They are still going for the home system, there are twice as many ships converging to cut them off. We are the closest. I have my mind made up, what do you do?”

“This testing is so phony! I follow my Captain’s orders and if my captain doesn’t close with the enemy I question his fitness for command. Not that I would ever say anything to anyone about that because I am loyal to the natural hierarchy of the Navy and — well you know the rest Sir.”

“Yeah, let’s see what we can do to make life a little more interesting for Admiral Kalid. Stay on our present course but slow us down enough so we end up behind him and on his flank, and with some loiter time. I want to be in position to snipe at him when he makes his retreat, and retreat is what Kalid will do because anything else is madness and more than a little more difficult.”

“It’s definite Admiral, five of the ships we just picked up are Union Navy. We are getting some warm-ups that look to be Union also.”

Kalid studied the list, “Well that explains why there are so many of Novi’s own scattered about. Any trace of Cardoman fleet units?”

“Not a whisper. They might have left for Cardoman but they aren’t here. The Union ships pack twice the punch. They’re all threes and fours.”

“Calling for us to stand down or else would seem to indicate the Federation is no longer sitting on the sidelines. This news has to get back to Earth and we can’t stand against them anyway. We are going to have to leave. But before we do let us see about the two Novi ships on our flank. We have waited long enough that they will be hard pressed to avoid us. Choose an intercept course. One that insures we do not need to stand up to the Combined Novi and Union Fleet on our way out.”

Leona Bren on the Novi G-4 Far Star could only watch in helpless horror when the Caliphate Squadron began its withdrawal and changing direction bore done upon the two ship formation in which her ship held the trailing edge, three light minutes closer to the hyper limit. She hadn’t signed up for this. At least not intentionally. Twenty-two years earlier a career in the Navy seemed an exciting and prestigious path for a young woman with ability, one well versed in math and science who had excelled at sport and with a competitive instinct that yearned to prove herself as good as any man at anything.

In the intervening years she had come very close to her goal. Never quite topping the lists of service competition but very close and very consistent in all areas her rise through the ranks was exceedingly rapid. A Captain for five years; she was the first of here class to receive command of a G-4, something Marty Vogel had missed out on due to his service out system when the last round of duty reassignments were put into effect.

She didn’t exactly resent the fact that Vogel had command of the two ship formation. But up until a day ago, when the Calp fleet transitioned in, she had cursed the luck involved in his seeing action while she remained at Novi on station, now almost the only thing she could think about was how much she feared dying. On the ragged edge of collapse she would not let it show.

“Start seeding,” Captain Bren said to her tack officer.

The first of twenty mines in the Far Star’s weapons locker was soon on its way, sent from one of the same tubes that normally housed a ShipKiller missile. The extra delta-V that the power and length a missile tube launch would give over that of a mines normal hull mount canister launcher might come as enough of a surprise so as to make the extra work worth while. That idea was all her own and Vogel saw its virtue at once.

The beam strength and hence the kill range of one of these mines was twice that of a missile mounted warhead. The depended on being in the right place and invisibility. Without the drive unit and guidance controls beyond some passive sensors and a gyroscopic aiming system, or any kind of jamming gear they cost only a fraction as much as a ShipKiller. Captain Bren would have much rather been using her ShipKillers for this job but with the odds against their ships saving them for defense against the Calps own made far more sense. Watching them deploy gave Leona something to keep her mind away from what she feared would only lead to madness.

“Two Away!” and on the bridge of the Kandahar Captain Bukhari saw the line representing the tracks of his hunter-seekers forge ahead, sniffing for signs of the defensive platforms, mines or full up missiles the Novi ships were almost certainly placing in hopes of staving off the inevitable. He saw the same lines leading away from each of the ten ships making their way at eighty percent of max G towards the two Novi ships standing between them and the limit. He had left a string of his own mines trailing behind and even had he not the Novi and Union ships in his wake were too far behind to help the two ships about to die so gloriously but for so little purpose. It would be as Allah wished.

His first and second brace of hunter killers had burned out and were coasting outwards, sensors active but without ability to change course if a target were detected, they would self destruct about the time Kalid and his ships made the limit. The return from his third group was showing what they all knew was going to be there, mines. Based on what he could see, and especially the lack of countermeasures, they were most unlikely to be missiles waiting to power up. The Cassandra and Far Star would not have used their best defensive weapons in such a profligate manner.

As one by one the devices were located and where possible eliminated Kalid saw his best plan was to break for the end of the line and use all of his firepower against the Far Star. Destroying both ships while taking a chance that he might miss something and lose one of his own was not as palatable a meal as the sure destruction of one of them without loss.

“Make it look like we are still interested in both ships. You will call me should things change.”

He called for max G and then left the flag bridge retiring to his cabin. There was no point in letting the ships chasing him gain any further ground and nothing here would require his presence until the end of the watch, and there were always reports to write.

The Calp squadron was now closer to the limit than either of the two Novi Battlecruisers and the lightcones on the vector plot showed both of them to be closer than before and within extreme range of the newer model ShipKillers. Kalid sent word to execute his plan and the Sword’s flight angle changed in such a way as to narrow the distance even further and take a more direct path towards the Far Star.

Leona Bren was almost numb with fear now; somehow she had become two people at once. One calmly issuing the proper orders and the other waiting to take control, scream into the mike, and call for retreat.

When the first missiles launched from the Calps she heard over the comm channel. “Far Star, cut back on your acceleration.”

Leona knew to do so would only prolong the agony. To everyone else, even those on her own ship who should have seen through this it looked like she was putting her own ship into greater danger in order to lessen the danger to Cassandra. Unable to give voice to her fears she lost all touch with reality. This was a training run, a simulation, of course. Being good at simulations was one of the things that had put her in this place and she would show them all there was no one better in all the fleet.

Her fingers flew over the nav screen and a decelerating course line appeared. It looked like the Far Star was about to fall back towards mutual support with the Cassie. Even as the ship’s velocity started to change here fingers were moving again. Over her comm channel she heard her weapons operator request weapons release.

“Wait,” she said. “Then seeing the Calps missiles adjust to her last course change she said, “Counter missiles only, fire now!”

That made no sense to the Lieutenant on the weapons console; the Calp ShipKillers were much too far away. The counter missile, built for close in work would be coasting by the time the Calp missiles crossed their flight path. But orders were orders, especially now, and he cycled through each countermeasures launchers.

“Tubes 1 and 5, ready and hold for my mark.” She finished the program for her latest course adjustment, put it on hold, and watched as the small defensive missiles put distance behind them before burning out. Then touching the release Icons on her main tubes 1 and 5 she spoke the single word, “Fire!”

Boosted from the launching tubes the New Model ShipKillers coasted for the two seconds it took for them to get beyond the local area of space dominated by the grav fields of the Far Star’s drive bands and then rocketed towards the Calp incoming. Leona noticed that a second flight of twenty was on its way towards her ship by this time. The first flight only a hundred and thirty light-seconds away. If she used all of her remaining ShipKillers in defensive mode she just might stop this flight but by then a third would be on the way. She saw the yellow lights representing her own ShipKillers turn from yellow to green seven seconds out while they were still far enough away from the ship for their warheads to arm themselves. Captain Bren took control of these missiles from her weapons officer and forced a self destruct and at the same time triggered her new course change.

For several seconds after the detonations every outside viewing system on the ship paused on the last clear frame before updates started coming in again. The blast effects were directed towards the Calp missiles and of course the ships behind them so downtime on their part, even though they were farther away, would be two or three times as long. Not long enough to hide the Far Star’s vector change excepting for one other little detail.

As the wave front reached each of the small counter missiles fired first, their own warheads detonated. Small in relation to the Mark V’s but spread out over time they kept the Calps sensors from seeing anything for close to ten seconds. By then the Far Star’s drive was down and she was in full stealth mode and it would take an active scan, a pulse and return, and that only happened at light speed for her to be found again. Leona had bought them another few minutes and each one seemed precious.

“That won’t work again, they’ll close on us now but if we send a few more ShipKillers coasting their way it might get us enough time for the rest of the fleet to catch up and give the bastards something else to think about. Send ten, then we wait.” While one of her cried the other said, “Keep it up kid, you’re doing great, no one will ever know.”

“The Far Star’s medical officer saw the Captains name at the top of his continually scanning display. All of her vital signs were tending off the scale, some high some low. She must be in a state of shock—and yet—he dare not relieve her. He saw her drop one place as his own name rose to the top. Shutting down his console he took a sedative and went out on a walking tour in order to cheer on the troops.

“It would seem we have lost her Sir,” Lt Cmdr. Joppa the ships political officer said to his Admiral.

On many ships, perhaps most, the political officer was really in charge of all that he might survey, but not on the Sword where Kalid’s influence with the Imam who led all the Caliphate, Al-Gamrawi Bey protected him from the evil of all lesser beings. Joppa was not a bad sort and had been with Kalid and the Sword since its commissioning. He wished Kalid would be a little more attentive to the spiritual lives of the crew but could not fault Kalid himself for his own conduct. Kalid in turn was thankful that he had Joppa with him and not one of the ‘Fanatics’ riding herd on his command. Piety did not equal efficiency, nor did it equate with competence, and in war only those latter two items could insure victory.

Cmdr. Joppa by the nature of his duties had free run of the ship and realized in times of stress he was a negative influence on most of the crew. With the ship in action he spent his time in his quarters, the compartment serving as the Mosque, or here in the Flag Plot where he could sit at an observation station where Kalid’s protective envelope covered his staff and the technicians who served them. Watching the main display over the years had given him a keen sense of what was happening and his interest and the knowledge that Admiral Kalid took no offense at his occasional comments or questions, or forays into tactics but in fact welcomed them when time was not critical, made this the place where he tried to be when his duties permitted. And that was generally the case with the ship engaged and Kalid at work.

“A clever move but we will find her!” Admiral Kalid said from his ships Flag Plot, “the will of Allah may be delayed but it will not be ignored.”

Joppa made note of that last statement for inclusion in his next report and continued watching while Kalid issued his next set of instructions which gave up all pretense at a direct attack on the Cassandra and sent all of his force, sensors active, towards the Far Star’s last known position. She would not have been able to change her course and position by much in the short period of time she was unobserved and the circle showing her possible location expanded slowly. The location and destruction of ShipKillers in the fleet’s path was unnerving and informative. Their position helped to narrow the volume in which the Far Star might hide. The bulk of Novi’s fleet and the Confederation ships accompanying them were closing the distance far too slowly to change the course of this lopsided game of hide and seek.

The Calp ships drew ever closer and the meters monitoring signal strength their active sensors were all in the red. By now the Calps had to know where the Far Star was and Captain Bren had come up with nothing to do but power up and run. She gave the order, “Set a course 180 degrees from the Calp’s intercept vector.” She said unnecessarily, “We won’t need to worry about a shot from directly behind,” and even more unnecessarily added, “May God be with us.” They would need all the help they could get.

The missile duel had been going on for fifteen minutes now, a surprisingly long period of time. All of her long range weapons were expended and only a few of the short range remained. The Far Star’s four beam machines had overheated and failed. Work crews tried to make repairs in hours that should take days, but hours they did not have, nor even minutes.

The blast from the first Calp warhead that reached them did only minor damage, but minor damage was major at times like this. The second from slightly closer in took out two of her drive-bands and gravity control. The third went off a hundred meters from the ship herself and for a few—brief moments—the Far Star resembled her name before fading from view and for Leona Bren. from that moment on there was nothing left to fear.

“And Allah is served.” Admiral Kalid nodded to his political officer then calmly ordered his ships to the limit and a transition back to his fleet base on Philomel.