A Very Blue Moon 23

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 23 Draft (02-26-11)

The jump from Novi to Llanfairn took another two weeks, the distance only a little shorter than the trips first leg. With Union as the ultimate destination and a stop at Llanfairn and Prestwick along the way there had been no problem filling the berths left empty by those departing at their last stop. Eighty-five percent of the passengers were new, the remaining fifteen travelers with business on both worlds along with a single academic and a handful of tourists.

Llanfairn was the most populous and by far the wealthiest of all the Independent Worlds. Until its government helped Cardoman by selling it a G-4 band machine it was the only Indie with a hyper capable shipyard, one that built 2’s 3’s and 4’s. Lack of band metal was the bottleneck that once kept production down to four or five ships a year. The hadn’t built a 2 in fifty years but did keep the band machine running for replacement and the export market, With recent discoveries and Cardoman as a source they were doubling the numbers of 3’s and 4’s. There Navy, now at four squadrons of ten ships each reflected that fact.

In the seven hundred years since its founding Llanfairn had seen its population grow in step with industrial might until a century ago when immigration control first stabilized it at a shade over two billion then was loosened to bring in a limited number of the most capable individuals. You could buy your way in as well but that almost never happened.

It was virtually a twin to Earth but with an even more favorable climate and a day only ten minutes longer, the tourist board said it showed what God could do with a little practice. But it was ship building and a transportation industry that drove the planet’s prosperity. It also had a Navy that no single world, with the exception of Earth could match and in view of the present situation was expanding it further. It was also the world that Connie Calvert once called home,

Working on the road less taken theory Connie graduated from the ground side of the Llanfairn Military Academy and took a contract for work on Witherway. It was in that successful combat operation but financial disaster where she and Wes first met and the Seventh Cardoman originated. It hadn’t been love at first sight but thrown together they stuck until they married and became inseparable.

Officially neutral, Llanfairn was at war with the Caliphate in all but name ever since she had intervened when the Calps went after Novi and accompanied the remnants of Cardoman’s fleet when they went to take back their planet. Getting a formal Declaration of War issued in response to the Calps latest offensive topped the list of what they hope to achieve here.

The system defense forces were certainly taking the threat seriously. They were met by a picket, boarded and inspected while still far out-system, delaying their arrival by three hours. Messaging back and forth to the Cardoman Embassy, relayed through Llanfairn’s optical comm station, began as soon as their identity was confirmed. The fact of their arrival was revealed as soon as their grav pulse was analyzed.

Their prior vetting got them clearance to dock at the passenger station and this was a maneuver Second Officer Arpinia was allowed under the guidance of his Captain. They were lucky to find an open slot for a 3 without needing to wait in line. There was a slight hiccup in the changeover from ship’s to station gravity that Wes could feel but probably not many others even noticed, It was a workman like job, He’d watched this done enough times to know.

Vic Shearing, Phillips, Wes, and the rest of his party including Claude left through the upper docking tube avoiding customs, the passenger, those going below and those in a hurry to experience the delights of the station, left from a tube connected to the boat bay. The ships crew would have to wait till the cargo was unloaded and that was going to take an extra day because there was a little band metal left to deliver to Llanfairn’s yard and instead of transferring it here the Castleton would do the cartage in return for a top-off of her H tanks,

Casual civilian was the uniform of the day still they caught a lot of eyes before making it from the gate to the station proper. Once inside Phillips left them bidding adieu; he had a ship to catch for a direct flight back to Union. The Castleton had a scheduled departure in five more days but she was going nowhere until Wes said it was time, and if he went back on board and said leave now—that is exactly what would happen.

Vic Shearing’s wife Louise had spent the last five years on Llanfairn as Commercial Secretary to Jules Petoskey who was Cardoman’s Ambassador. Trips back home, a ten day trip on a G-3 happened several times a year. And Vic spent as much time on Llanfairn as he could manage, but it was never enough.

She had planned to be on the station when the ship arrived but the shuttle assigned to diplomatic duty had decided otherwise. By the time the diplomatic service and the port authorities compared notes and delayed another long enough for her to board the Castleton and her husband had already docked.

They met her shuttle and after an embrace for Victor and a hug for Connie and Wes she started asking about Eric, the Shearing’s only son.

“I got his letter a week ago and he told me about being promoted to the Raymond, even after reading it I can only imagine how he must feel.”

“He’s not the carefree innocent lad we raised but he is doing us proud Lou. I have some pictures from when he left the Essex for First Officer on the Widow and some from when he joined the Raymond. All you need to do is look at them to see how he fells about it.”

“I also read what the Progressives said about it.”

“Tempest in a teapot Louise,” Wes said, “he earned it and you have every right to be proud. Jamie would do anything but die and go to heaven for more like him. And not to detract from your present state of bliss—How is recruiting going?”

“Lets wait till we get to the ‘Highball’ and I’ll tell you about it.”

The Highball was the most expensive restaurant on or above the surface of Llanfairn. Not because of the food, though the food was first class, but because of the view. It was an armorplast dome, too large for mere plastiglass construction, without any visible supporting structure and attached to the surface of the station. Now it gave an unobstructed view of the planet below and the lower level docking slips. Once an hour, when the station rotated on its long axis, the planet was replaced by the stars above and the band of the Milky Way.

The station was in low orbit so the view changed by the minute, and night on the planet was gem like from the lights of cities and fishing fleets at sea. And closer at hand there were the ships, large and small, to follow in their dance,

“I’d love to stay,” Connie said before she had time to more than glance at the scenery, “my mother and father will be waiting below. Dad will not get on anything with wings and mother won’t leave him to wait alone. We’ll go on to our place in the city and I’ll see you all again in a few hours.”

“Cpl, go with her,” Wes said to Dormer, who had been trailing behind ever since they boarded the station.

“Yes Sir,” Dormer replied, “I will alert Sgt Lotti to send someone here to replace me. I don’t imagine anyone with enough credit on account to get past the reservation desk could be too dangerous, but Please Sir, don’t go anywhere else till the Sgt sends someone.”

“Certainly Corporal.” And to Connie, “Take care Dear.”

* * *
Llanfairn’s Capital, Georgetown, sat on a bend in the Owosso River, an early transportation route and one still in use. It had grown over centuries from an agricultural city to a cosmopolitan center that matched the style and sophistication of any city anywhere. Newer than some, cleaner than most, and one with very little crime. At least of the type which was visible, the kind to mug you on the streets. Violent crime of impulse did occur, but given the state of surveillance and forensic tools, if one were not found out at once it was a given that what had happened was not truly an impulse crime.

Still—any normal desire, greed, lust, a yen for power or ideological purity, could be taken to extremes and in a large enough population there were always those who went did so. There were also those actions made criminal by definition, violation of traffic laws, tax avoidance, or failure to register and secure a permit for an action otherwise completely legal.

Roger Imhoff, who sometimes went by the name of Moqtada al-Sadr, dealt exclusively with crimes of the first type. He also had a history of involvement with the Cardomans on Altoona and Llanfairn and had been the mastermind behind the attack on Cardoman’s Llanfairn Embassy and the only one to survive long enough to escape off planet.

In those days his cover was that of someone employed by a Ryman trading company, one of the Oligarchs. The Oligarchs being long out of favor, Roger’s newest cover was that of a one time asteroid miner from far off Valerian who had gotten lucky, made a fortune, and was determined to spend the rest of his life exploring and educating himself in what the rest of universe had to offer.

He played the part of neither a sybarite nor a wastrel, but of a professional tourist and sometime travel writer. That he worked for Shehzad Tanweer and the Compliance office was something only known to himself and never those he hired to do his bidding. And that explained why he still lived and many of them did not.

Returning to Llanfairn, even after all this time was a risk he had debated before taking the plunge. His new identity would not arouse suspicion, even his looks had changed with bone implants changing his jaw line and facial structure; surgery because of a near fatal accident if he were asked. The DNA information record on his earlier presence was not his own. That had been expensive but to a customs official already fingered as corrupt not that much of a risk,

This time it was different in that the sample he gave was his own, too little time to do otherwise, but this was the ultimate challenge, the assassination of a major national figure, one expected to have protection at all times, and then living to collect the reward. If he failed he would never be able to return to Llanfairn or any other Confederation planet, then too he wouldn’t likely be returning anywhere,

Imhoff had to play the game, that was his single obsession and why he was here again on Llanfairn. One change from his last visit was a new alias; he now went by the name Roger Elmendorf, Imhoff was in the database. Another was that at least for now he was working alone,

The Caliphate employed many agents who would go after the Union President and a very few who would willingly seek out Calvert, where even the first part of the job, gaining permission to set foot on the planet Cardoman was difficult. But Llanfairn was the gateway to Cardoman that Imhoff was about to pass through when the he heard the newscast; the Castleton with his quarry had instead come to him. Truly this was the work of Allah,

* * *
The two story building that was at one time the Cardoman Embassy on Llanfairn was the most heavily fortified diplomatic property on the planet though one would be hard pressed to tell as much from a casual inspection. It appeared to be a normal stone clad structure, too large for its original lot that was enclosed by a three meter iron fence broken at intervals by slightly taller post like stone columns.

More substantial stonework and a massive gate separated the street from a small parking area in front of the building leaving only a few stets to the buildings entrance with its heavy double doors. That entranceway was used as a model when Castle Calvert was built. Invisible was the hull metal under the layer of stone and the guard station just inside the entrance, And the sensors that scanned every inch of the grounds, the streets out front and even all public areas for two blocks around,

It took a full time security staff of eight, all Cardoman regulars, to operate and maintain the various systems. It took ten to insure that Ambassador Jules Petoskey and Commerce Secretary Louise Shearing had an armed guard who would double as drivers whenever they left the residence for the newer and much larger official Embassy located closer to the Llanfairn Parliament.

Connie had wanted to stay at her parent’s house but Dormer, though only a Corporal had put his foot down and with Wes in silent agreement, insisted they stay at the residence. With even her parents siding with Dormer Connie was forced to concede the point. Along with Dormer came two more marines from the Castleton to help out. The capital police were placed on a heighten state of alert because a second attack on the Cardomans even years after the first would be an attack on the integrity of Llanfairn itself.

The tiled lobby with a marine standing at a panel next to the door and the reception desk had not changed, nor had the library with its massive oak table off to one side. What had changed was the building that once stood next door had been torn down and a small park put in its place. The original owners always refused to sell. But after the rocket attack three years ago they’d evidently had a change of heart. And the partial basement from that time was now complete and home of the guard force which freed up space on the upper floor for two more bedrooms bringing the total to five.

“So it’s like I’ve been saying in my dispatches, four days to go and then it doesn’t look good. Unless we can sway about a dozen more to vote with the government the Declaration of War is going to fail.” Jules eves looked owlish through the thick spectacles that bridged his large nose and that he wore as an affectation. But not entirely so, they did have a data display only he could see, similar to what the military used in their combat goggles built into the frame. He was seldom without the data to back up an argument.

“How does Llanfairn stand on our interfering with their internal affairs?” Wes asked.

“Why we would never do that,” Jules threw up his hands in mock terror. “The little get togethers we host are for purely social and informational purposes. And to tell you the truth the new Llanfairn Prime Minister Ezra Cadish is on our side and wants all the help he can get. Every foreign delegation here has a hand in and is watching the vote.”

“What do you intend for me,” Shemuel Ben Judah asked, “I didn’t just come along for the ride.”

“You may wish you had. The story of what happened on Marais is back in the news with a little help, and you have interviews and a first hand reports to give to the newsies. Most of those we can do at the embassy starting in a few hours. Then it’s a four city tour, visits and speeches at every civic organization we can make time for, and the last day back in Georgetown for the rally the Prime Minister is organizing. I hope you caught up on your sleep on the flight out.”

“I don’t know about a speech; I’m not much at writing.”
“With Claude as your ghost writer you don’t need to be.”
“Wait a minute,” Claude began, “I’m a serious journalist; I don’t do speeches!”
“Claude I read the ships paper,” Ellen said.
“Well okay, I’ll write just one, and I guarantee it’ll make you cry.”

“Just be sure after their done crying you have them mad enough to vote for war,” Ambassador Petoskey said.

On an island in the St, Sebastien, the river that split Georgetown down the center, like fireflies at dusk the light flicked and reflected from landing beacons on a hundred aircars waiting to land on the limited pad space and to be taken into the garage underneath the twin domes of the Parliament Building.

The lower and larger chamber of government had been emptied of desks and the aisle way carpets removed, the raised speakers dais replaced by a lower stage and sitting orchestra. Off planet diplomats and high ranking members of the Llanfairn Military dominated the quest list. It was all for show, the cynics said, a vein last ditch effort to drum up support for the wrong war at the wrong time.

An hour earlier at the Embassy Dormer had taken his security concerns his boss. “Sir, the whole idea of using an aircar, even an up- armored aircar sucks! You’d be a sitting duck to anyone with ground launch capability. I checked with Lotti and one of the military grade shuttles in the Castleton’s hold could be made hot in a few hours.”

“And blast damage when she sets down on the island?”

“Manageable, the landing pad is large enough and we can clear away the people and have a fire suppression crew standing by in case.”

“Well that would insure that my wife has the most impressive entrance so long as no one else tries the same thing. And even a small fire would give us something to remember the evening by.”

“That’s a good call Dormer,” First Sgt. Wilson, recently arrived on a tour of embassy duty said. “We won’t be going that way, I cleared it with the Capital Guard and we can use the tunnel before the Prime Minister goes over. Gives them a chance to see if any bombs were planted.”

Connie and Wes entered the chamber unannounced, though not unnoticed; official recognition was reserved for a higher sort.

“Sir Reginald Timmins, Ambassador New Britain, Lucius Pissaro, Ambassador Durban and Wife, Meghan MacWorther, Ambassador Ryman and escort, Andre Layette Presidential Envoy, Union,” Mere Four and Five Stars, Generals and Fleet Admirals entered and were seated unannounced, as did the lesser political types, Llanfairn Senators and Members of the Commons.

“Jules Petoskey, Ambassador Cardoman and escort.” Ellen Nesberg entered on his arm, but mid level officers remained unmentioned, though in her case also with approving glances.

Enlisted members of Llanfairn’s army, in full dress uniform, but stripped of rank insignia and medals earned for the sake of—uniformity— acted the role of servitor with lower ranking officers attending to the seating arrangements.

“Now I remember why as soon as I got out of the Academy I ran off to Witherway!” Connie said.

“Based on what I see here you’d have been the best looking butler in the Army,” Wes said. Connie was wearing a simple dress made for occasions of State that would have taken three months of a Captains salary to pay for, Captain her permanent rank, Colonel when she was on duty. One shoulder bare, and cut daringly low. Connie had the face and figure to complete the picture; it had been money well spent,

“And you, my Dear Husband, cut quite the figure yourself.”

Wes had on his Dress Blacks with only a single silver edged bar to represent medals earned from Cardoman and a half dozen smaller bars in a single line representing awards earned from government including Ophia, Altoona, and even one earned for pirate suppression from Llanfairn itself. Plain in comparison but it set him apart from most others, and especially for those who had earned the bulk of their foreign awards for diplomatic duty.

They had a good table, close to Prime Minister Cadish’s own. Seating priority was determined by the length of time an Ambassador had spent on the planet. Jules had represented Cardoman for almost fifteen years giving him much seniority and personal insight into both Llanfairn internal politics and those of his fellow—and sometimes rival diplomats. Long serving locals and a few invited guests had seats on the lower floor; others in the overflow crowd were seated in the balcony usually reserved for the general public.

The orchestra was playing softly and was far enough away from the table they could talk in low voice and still be heard.

“Do you think anyone is listening to us Jules?” Vic Shearing asked.

“Some would like to no doubt; but the equipment the parliamentarians keep so they won’t be overheard is up and running the Prime Minister assured me so except for lip readers we are quite safe. And lip readers unless native born have trouble with a foreign dialect. So just continue to speak the Cardoman version of Standard English and all is well. And in any event we might as well enjoy ourselves tonight rather than relate dwell on state secrets.”

And that is what they did, with brief forays into proselytizing for a yes vote on the War Measures Act now two days away. Wes even found the dancing enjoyable, as Jules and Louise, old hands at this, had taken the time back at the Residence to restore Connie and Wes their rusty skills and get them up to date on the local moves. Dancing outside of the Caliphate was a universal social norm but one practiced little on Cardoman the last ten years,

As a native daughter, though now a Cardoman citizen, Connie was a popular and photogenic partner for the Llanfairn political class as was Ellen. Wes, a dashing military phenom, was also in high demand. Petoskey and the Shearings did less dancing but spent some time with almost everyone who still might be influenced to vote the Prime Minister’s ticket. When the evening concluded and they returned to the residence there was still a sense of gloom on that front but there was also the satisfaction of a pleasant diversion and the knowledge they had done their best.

Before taking her departure Ellen asked, “How much of what went on tonight can I speak to Claude about? He will want to write an insider’s view of events and was terribly disjointed when he found out with only six in each Ambassador’s party he was the one left out.”

“You can tell him everything on the social side but nothing political he doesn’t already know and especially keep away from the need for security,” Jules said.

Wes added, “And tell him he can quote you directly, so long as he spells the name right,”

They spent the next day as the day and evening before, trying to swing votes, and again with little to show in the plus column,

* * *
Roger Imhoff thus far had also come up empty. He had taken a shuttle to Llanfairn Station just before the Castleton docked. He wanted to see how tight security was for Calvert and his wife. It was tight. He never saw them or even knew that they visited the Highball until the entourage was already on the ground. After spending a few hours in the casino betting conservatively on break even games he took a shuttle back to the surface.

At the port he hired a cab to take him to a restaurant on the other side of the city on a route that was sure to pass by the old Cardoman Embassy. He could tell at once there was nothing for him there. That left only one option, returned to his hotel and told the concierge he would be leaving Llanfairn in a few days and asked for the name of a local agent to book a ticket on the Castleton, destination Prestwick and then Union. Once on the ship he was sure that something would turn up.

On their fourth and final full day on planet after landing, with the vote the next morning or evening if it could be delayed, the mood was dark in the residence. Then came a bolt from the blue. A Llanfairn trader, the Falkyn, made the jump and came in system. It was shot up and reeking of death, only a third of her crew still alive.

Leaving from Pillion, one of the Indies and very neutral at this point, the Falkyn was an hour from the limit when a Calp G-3 Cruiser hypered in close enough to order her to halt and await boarding. The trader refused, missiles were fired from the warship and a jump made, but barely. The Captain dead the First Officer comatose, the Sailing Master in charge, somehow she made it back to Llanfairn,

Reaching home the news sent shock waves that upset all of the political calculations of the antiwar coalition. Next day when the vote was final it was almost unanimous, Llanfairn was at war.