A Very Blue Moon 20

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 20 Draft (02-10-11)

The text at the top of the screen read: “Fleet – Personnel Assignment.” It was a job that came up every three months and one Jamie Madry could not delegate. She had page after page of recommendations, commendations, and reviews. The Academy was particularly prolific when it came to the last two concerning those about to join the fleet. And since the Academy was operating out of her own ship the CNS Burgeron she had a chance to not just read about the students but see the graduating class frequently as she taught three of the final year courses herself. With all the inputs it was up to her to place the names and then defend the choices if questioned by the Civilian Secretary of the Navy.

The Major, who managed to have a handle on the fleet situation even without all the reports, could be relied upon for support; still the job was a killer and the most important thing she did. Another thing in her favor was that with the navy expanding and slots unfilled promotion was so rapid that the only two who had ever complained about being passed over hadn’t made it through a second cruise.

She hit the send button and began clearing her desk for a trip that evening down to the Admiralty on Minton. Once the list was out the review was immediate. By tomorrow evening it would be final.

Instead of a drop straight to the Minton spaceport a call from the Castle changed the itinerary. Jamie’s lander flew over the lights of Castleton, the town that had grown up on land donated by Wes out of his first prize awards, with a primary population of former troops and dependents of those currently serving and also the namesake of a recently captured Calp G-3.

She landed on the Calvert pad before being driven to the checkpoint and then the Castle entrance, One of the house staff took her carryall and another walked with her down the central hall then to the back where Wes and Paul Olivera were waiting in the dimly lit bar along with another man whose back was turned to her,

“Paul,” Jamie said, “I didn’t know you were back from Zeeland,”

“I’m not, that was just a cover story. I actually came in on the packet from Union earlier today; just wasn’t on the passenger list.” The Colonel who was a fixture on the Cardoman staff said this while the third man at the table stood up and turned to face her.

“James!” she half whispered/half cried, then ran towards him her arms outstretched. “James Marquette. I can’t believe you’re back at last.” Then a tear fell and she rushed forwards. They embraced before Jamie took a seat and started getting ready to hear the story.

“Three years it’s been,” she said, “and we thought of you every day. And prayed for your return. Why didn’t someone say something as soon as you transitioned in?”

Olivera and Marquette had arrived at the Castle only a short time before she had and along with Wes she was hearing the story for the first time; but Wes at least knew it was coming.

“That was my call Jamie, I didn’t want you distracted today and I wanted to see Jim first myself. I know that sounds selfish but I always considered myself responsible for what happened, at least in so far as I could never do any more than we did to get him and the rest of the SwiftStrike’s survivors back.”

Just then Connie Calvert entered the room and took the last remaining seat. Her calm was such that Jamie could tell she had already spoken to the SwiftStrike’s former Captain. “Go ahead now Jim, we want to hear everything.”

“Well first it’s a damn good thing I’ve been filled in on what’s happened out here since the Calps took us away; it was first to Philomel and then all the way back to Earth, or I’d make you fill me in before I even got started. Because it seems to me that a lot of the people here had it much worse than we did. The Calps treated us with honor if not respect. We never missed a meal and none of us ever doubted that so long as you held out an exchange would be made. But since you asked I’ll go into the long version from the time we bailed out of the ship.”

“When the Calps were done collecting all the life pods there were fifty three of us . . . “

It took close to two hours with interruptions held to a minimum and was near midnight when the tale was told.

“And the only thing that could make tonight better would be if Kattie were sitting here with the rest of us.”

“She should be back with the Widow from New Erin in about three weeks Jim. She’ll know as soon as she drops in.”

“Time for some sleep,” Wes ended the evening, “Jim — Jamie, Irwana had your rooms made up and I have all of us set for a wake-up call in about six hours. Jamie and I go to the Capital and Jim you take an aircar and meet the rest of your crew when they arrive at Camp Logan.”

“Anything special?”

“Not that I’m aware of. I imagine just a medical check and short debrief. Then I gave orders to let you all do whatever it is you wish for a couple of weeks. If you have any problems get in touch with Paul and he’ll take care of it.”

The left the bar and proceeded to the second floor where Connie showed the two guests where they would stay for the night.

Madry and Calvert spent the flight to Minton reviewing the new Fleet Roster. Wes had a few questions but signed off on all of her choices without a fight. Jamie knew him too well to expect otherwise, especially after she considered his reaction before penciling in the names. Not that she wouldn’t have fought for something else, but trying to imagine what the Major would do made many decisions much easier.

“We have our Fleet Admirals husband running our shipyards and are about to give her cousin command of the newest ship. That to me smells of nepotism and worse.”

Wes was about to say something when Dennis Horvath raised his had and spoke up. “We have been fighting the most powerful Navy in space for five years now. Their army invaded and occupied us yet we forced them off planet. When this started we stood alone. Now — New Britain, Novi, Ryman, Triocat, Ophia, New Erin and Enderlin along with as many lesser worlds are our allies. Union sides with us and that will soon be official. Llanfairn will be next. If this is what nepotism can deliver than I want more of it!”

A round of applause filled the chamber from those in favor of the current military establishment and Horvath’s Conservative Party supporters. A few boos and catcalls could also be heard from the loyal opposition.

“I take nothing away from General Calvert and his conduct of the war to this point,” Progressive leader Blackburn said; he knew to do otherwise was political suicide, “But we are at a point where it is still not to late to offer an olive branch.”

“And you know this how?” Horvath asked.

“Why it stands to reason,” the portly opposition leader said. Portly, the man had to work in this day and age to give that kind of an impression.

Wes tuned the rest of the debate out. He’d heard the same speeches delivered a dozen times in the last year and a half and so long as they kept winning Horvath had nothing to fear. The new budget had been hammered out separately and when the votes in session did come each and every measure passed by acclamation. Blackburn had made his point. If things went well he was a patriot. If they went poorly he was positioned to pick up what was left.

“Time to go back to the Admiralty spaces with us,” Wes asked.

“Not now Wes, time for the newsies. I need to bask in the warm glow from the return the SwiftStrike’s crew as long as is decent. Perhaps even a bit longer! That piece of news threw Blackburn off his feed and I do so wish to rub it in, His reaction proves that my government can keep some secrets, if only from ourselves, and I must add that I certainly wish you had brought Captain Marquette along with you for this”

“And I am just as sure, just as certain,” Wes said, that Captain Marquette is glad that I didn’t.”

“Catch you later,” Horvath said with a look of defeat, then left to face the crowd out front of the Government Building.”

The Cardoman Army, the Seventh, and the Navy, were all one and the same, and they shared a wing of Minton’s Government Building with the Parliament and the rest of the Political apparatus. A hundred years ago when the structure was built and with a planetary population of less than a hundred million that made sense, Except for the war it would still be reasonable today. But that was not the case and the military side packed to overflowing.

The broad two tier hallway that once led to the government section had its door bricked in and the remaining space turned into offices. There was only one entrance now between the two sections short of going outside the one into the elements and reentering the other. That was by a door on the backside of a closet in the Planetary Presidents office. That was the path Wes and Jamie used to reach the Commanding Generals office that was nominally belonged to Wes whenever he was in town. When he was away his staff made sure the space did not go to waste,

Even this room had been larger when General Sandoval Inglase had been in charge. That was when Wes had first seen it. Now it was one third of its former size, with the large conference room turned into a much smaller one, the table that could seat twenty good for eight. And Olivera and Clay Grayson each had a desk and two more for an aide or a clerk partitioned off from the remainder. The data links and wall screens were still there and if anything had been improved upon.

Put your fleet data up on the conference table Jamie, I have to talk to the Finance Minister in an hour and you need to tell me if I am wrong in what I will suggest. We’ve had these talks before but not since we acquired all of that band metal from Ryman. I am going call in Captain Nesberg because she’s been working on an independent study with an eye to what we can afford.”

“Nesberg is good for someone without naval experience I admit. But how can see do any kind of evaluation without that?”

“Because as I said, she knows what we can afford. From your standpoint the Navy gets the first stab at everything. Fortunately we have an army to support as well not to mention a civilian population that is not an army or a navy but without whose support there would be neither. Nesberg’s job is to work on the balance, to help with policy that keeps priorities in line with our desires.”

“I guess that means I don’t get three new ships?”
“And smart too.”

Ellen Nesberg joined them a few moments later, Wes said, “Go,” and Jamie read off the current roster.

“G-4’s Aladin, SnapDragon, Saratoga, Essex, West Wind; G-3’s Raymond and the 3 Transport Castleton; G2-M Eagle, Perseus, and Wanderlust; G-1’s Widows Walk, and Burgeron. The next ship out of the yards, like everything we build a G-4, is due in two months. We’ll name that ship the Wasp again. Putting a name back in service doesn’t ruffle any feathers like naming a new one does, The ship after that, in another ten weeks, I guess we owe to Ryman.”

“I see you haven’t named a Captain for the Wasp yet,” Ellen said, “With Jim Marquette back does it go to him?”

“I’ve thought about it,” Jamie replied, “I just didn’t want to rush things until he had some time to sort out the changes that three years bring. In a month she should have the plank holder on board while the construction winds up.”

“Find someone else Jamie,” Wes said. “I want Marquette to take over your responsibility on the Burgeron. He and his wife Katie are the only ones in the Navy with any real G-1 experience. The SwiftStrike was a 3 and Jim is out of date with the latest tech. We have a fleet again and we are going end up using it like a fleet, not devote all our effort to commerce raiding and single ship actions. And I think that means it’s time that you turn over home defense, a job I know you didn’t want in the first place to someone else, and make sure the fleet is ready when we call on it.”

Jamie had been expecting something like this, she would not have been sitting where she was if her view of the Navy and its future course differed much from Calvert’s, and they had talked about this before, though not in detail.

“I will miss the Academy part of the job, but Jim should have no trouble stepping right in. Are you certain he will take it?”

“No. But once we assign all of his returned crew, those that decide to stay in service there I think it almost certain. If not we will find someone else because we must. And that brings us back to what do we do with enough spare band metal for 12 G-4 bands? Ellen, your thoughts.”

“Don’t we need a third of that to build Ryman’s ship?”

“Yes, but we can handle that from our own sources. The belt mines are almost all in full production now and we can keep up with everything we build plus a little for export. What we can’t do, without another band machine is increase our rate of ship production.”

“We’ve sent enough in metal and shuttle types to pay for the band that we need to finish repairs on the Raymond, so this is quite a windfall. I think we can trade it to Llanfairn for eight completed bands or for another G-4 in six months or so if we provide the power plant. If we take the completed bands we have two choices. We expand our shipbuilding capacity here and in another year we start to see the results. The other option is to work a deal with Novi for a G-3 ready to fly but for the weapons which will give us another ship good to go a heck of a lot sooner.”

“I can see advantages either way,” Jamie said, “In the long run what we need is another band machine, but I guess that is out of the question?”

“Unless we steal one,” Wes said rather ruefully, “And I don’t see that happening again. — We do the triangle trade with Novi. She can put out additional G-4 tonnage, needs the bands, and is likely to trade. Besides that we owe her. I want the both of you to put something together today. I can present it to Minister Verser this evening along with another proposal of my own. It’s not just you that needs to become more active Jamie. I’ve been on Cardoman too long and need to get out more, get off the planet and see some of sights this universe has to offer.”

Aldoria Verser met them at Sidney’s, the best seafood restaurant Minton had to offer. It was within walking distance of the suite the Calverts maintained in the Capital and Connie, who had arrived in town earlier in the afternoon then went out shopping walked in trailing the marine, Private Ethridge, who was both her driver and guard until she returned home,

The marine was wearing civilian clothing but his bearing and the pause while he took in every corner of the dinning room made his function unmistakable.

Wes was seated at one end of a table set for six, eyes facing the street and the door through the waiting room to building’s main entrance. He started to stand, his expression showing the pleasure he always felt when Connie was near, then sank back down, still looking pleased when she saw him and started his way,

Jamie Madry was already back on the Burgeron, and Wes had invited, perhaps ordered is a better term, Ellen Nesberg to go home and change then meet them here as well. “Bring a date, if you can find one on such short notice,” he added.

“I don’t think you need worry yourself about that Sir,” she said. “Once I get an advert out on the social nets, and make it plain that I’m eating with the Finance Minister and the famous Major Calvert, within seconds every newsie on Cardoman will be declaring their eternal love and showering me with gifts and attention.”

Wes went and changed into civilian clothes himself and it came as a shock when after entering the restaurant lobby fifteen minutes before his reservation time he found that Ellen’s date, a man whom he could not recall ever seeing before was introduced; and it turned out that he actually was a Newsie!

“Don’t worry about Claude General,” Ellen said, setting up the ground rules for their relative status. “He can keep a secret and only leaks when he gets poked really hard.”

With a pained expression Claude Germond said, “Ellen knows all my, secrets ands weaknesses General, especially when it comes to, how shall I put this delicately.” and he paused looking quizzical, then continued with, “What she calls being poked?”

“You wish Claude!” Ellen said laughing while the maitre d’ took them to their table and a waiter brought up the rear then took drink orders while they waited for Aldoria, who came in next and then Connie and her escort.

Claude was introduced and then Wes said, “Private, you have the seat facing the kitchen, but enjoy yourself, I’d say we’re safe from attack and you will find the food here even better here than Sidney’s reputation suggests.”

“Actually sir I’ve eaten here many times before, and was overjoyed at the chance for a return visit.”

“I didn’t realize you came from a wealthy family,” Wes said,

“Not that sir. Before I enlisted I worked in the back washing dishes. The pay wasn’t great but the meals would have kept me here forever if the Calps hadn’t taken the place over and turned it into an officers club when they were in charge.”

“Just the man I’ve been looking for,” Claude said, “The only reason I let Ellen drag me here is because for years I have been wanting to do a story revealing how Sidney’s manages to obtain their delicacies, fresh and not frozen, and freshwater type that are simply unavailable anywhere else on the planet. And now at last I find a source.”

“Nothing mysterious there sir, old man Sydney owns a lake, a couple of them, good sized several hundred hectares at least up in the mountains, He brought in from Earth the right kind of aquatic vegetation then stocked them with imported walleye, grayling, and trout. When we weren’t working he would let us go fishing and paid for whatever we caught. No nets, no commercial aquaculture, just care to make sure that only enough get caught to keep things in balance. The more standard types and usual restaurant fare he buys just like everyone else whenever a ship gets in with something to sell.”

“Can I quote you on that Private?”
“Wish you wouldn’t Sir, I might want to work here again someday,”

When the meal was served Old Man Sydney came out from the back and shaking the Privates hand said the meal was on the house as a tribute to an old employee who had moved up in the world.

In spite of the assurance that Claude could keep things off the record nothing was mentioned about the war or government that if compromised would be news. Leaving the restaurant an hour and a half later while Ethridge brought the car around, Wes left a hundred Cardoman dollars, two gold colored coins under the edge of Ethridge’s plate as a tip.

Ellen and Claude went off together, thanking them for a wonderful evening, and the other three got into the car, Connie in the front, Aldoria and Wes taking places in the back and finishing up the nights final course. After agreeing on all particulars of the trade agreement Wes had outlined they dropped Aldoria off at her apartment and then ended at their own.

Connie went back to the Castle next morning, Wes stayed for one more day of meetings then a quick trip to Cardoman High before returning himself.

“Got the travel plans worked out Darlin’, all except for the day we leave; that depends on when the Widow gets back. Anywhere from five to nine days is the estimate based on where we knew she was last.”

“Can’t be soon enough. I haven’t been to Llanfairn or seen my mom and dad, at least in person in what, three years? I really wonder if we shouldn’t take Greg with us. Four months is a long time at his age. He might start to forget us.”

“No worry there. We have enough bedtime stories recorded that he can listen to one of us every night for a year and even if we are gone an extra month or two, which I don’t see how we could be, Sharon and Kevin will make sure to talk about us. You know how my sister is. And you know what Cpl. Satta’s favorite line is too, when ever she sees him acting up is don’t you?”

“Sure I do, it’s: ‘Gregoric, Stop that or I will tell your Mother!’, though that doesn’t always work for her anymore so she has started using father, but that works even less well. And you, My Dear Husband, cheated!”

“Cheated? How?”

“I read every story, every word. You read a page or two and had the comp do the rest!”

“Can you tell where I left off and the comp begins? Because after the first couple I just chose the titles and let the program take care of everything.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“No, that’s practical. What’s disgusting is when parents take a book or a movie and hire a video service to generate voices and full holographic images of themselves and use the reconstructions in place of the originals so that they can star in their child’s fantasies. Now that’s disgusting!”

“That’s Creepy! And you have a point there. And it’s also as bad or worse that an entire industry has sprung up to feed these—I hesitate to call them people—virtual parents. Why there are writers making new works just for that market. Still you are on a slippery slope Dear; though I guess if Greg ever suspects that you didn’t do the reading yourself he’ll be smart enough to figure out why. . . We’re going on the Castleton? I didn’t know she had worked up with a full time Captain yet.”

“Lots of debate but Jamie finally decided to take Vince Ustinov away from the Eagle and give him the command.”

“Why debate?”

“Taking someone from a fighting ship and placing them into a pure transport. Relatively pure anyway, all the Castleton has for offense or defense is a single laser mount and a few dozen short range defensive missiles. Except for the laser just what she’d have if we weren’t at war.”

“What was the option?”
“Karia Ieito from the Widow.”
“The Widow carries as many ShipKillers as a G2-M doesn’t she?”

“Yes but she is a G-1, and even though the Burgeron is a G-1 as well we just don’t train for that class of ship. It’s not like we are going to get any more of them, much as it would please us if we had a chance. With only a couple of dozen still active and all in demand it won’t happen. So we train for what we can build or buy and G-1 experience gets more and more valuable.”

“But I see Jamie took Eric Shearing from the Widow and put him on the Raymond.”

“And almost had a Captain mutiny when she did! Katie Marquette was not happy. And besides, we needed someone now, and Ieito doesn’t get back till Katie does and we plan on leaving the next day. Timing plays a role in most decisions; in this one, once we decided we take the Castleton, it was decisive.”

“So other than the crew, who all is coming with us?”

“Not as many as you might expect. But Vic Shearing will be technically in charge and we’ll pick up his wife Louise when we get to Llanfairn, He will take two other from the Ministry; I don’t know if he’s made up his mind yet but I expect he has. You are second in command on the military side and after talking to Nesberg I think she need to come with us as well and Shemuel Ben Judah. It won’t hurt to have a Marais survivor with us.”

“Last and least, or so I hope, I offered Nesberg’s newsie friend Claude Germond a ride. We could use someone to help us with the local press every place we visit and Ellen says we can trust him to tell the truth but not blab. A working reporter will be better in that job then someone from our PR staff. He jumped at the chance, so he’s in. That’s about it.”

“Oh! Two more things about the crew. Yuri is going as Chief Engineering Officer, another critical specialty we’re short of; it’s tough to send him back out again so soon but he can step right in and do the job. We may be short on engineers but somehow between Yuri and Audie we ended up with the best two in any navy anywhere.”

“And the big surprise is that I’m taking Lotti along to lead the marine detachment and be in charge all security with Sgt Dormer from the Castle Guard under his command and taking care of the bodyguard duty.”

“Cpl. Dormer I can understand, But Lotti! Now that is a surprise!”

“He thought so too, but he has qualities that I am beginning to appreciate more and more. He thinks he’s good, but even Lotti doesn’t know the truth of the matter. Look at his record.”

“Are you going to promote him to Lieutenant?”
“Not quite yet, that might be a bit too much.”