A Very Blue Moon 3

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 3 Draft (02-11-10)

“You’re just a girl!”

The pudgy eight year old with the dark brown hair and bright blue eyes looked up from the circuit board and blinked as acrid smoke, gray and swirling, wafted slowly towards the ceiling where electrostatic forces took it—somewhere else. She was working alone on this prior to testing and setting it into her molecular plaything’s database. For the rest of the class this was all play, for that little girl it was life itself.

“And that means something? Like you got a point? Like you could even turn on a light switch without seven pages of instructions in twelve languages and a personal monitor in an orange suit and kneepads to keep you from harm?” Audie Madry was her name, and she owned and wore it proudly. And except for a ragged frock and the worn shoes on her feet that was about all she owned. Still she knew better than to back off at the hint of a challenge. She hoped he wouldn’t mention the word lead but if he did . . . There was always something else to lose.

Now it was twenty years later and she’d lost command of the Perseus, temporarily at least, and losing the ship permanently would not bother Audie in the least. She was on her way to Llanfairn as head of a technology transfer group. In effect the government of Cardoman wanted to trade an idea, her expertise, and that of her assistant, (though at times it was hard to tell who was assisting whom), Lt Cmdr Yuri Borselov, along with a datacube full of engineering diagrams, for a used Generation 3 Starship. And if that didn’t work for whatever they could get.

When the Calps landed on Cardoman at the start of their occupation they found nothing but ruins and gutted buildings at every single on planet manufacturing site that has been supplying the Cardoman Navy and the export trade with state of the art weaponry. Most everything off planet was in the same condition or worse. Cardoman was rebuilding but even the best estimates called for years to rebuild everything. And that was if the Calps could not, or did not bother to throw an effective quarantine around the system.

The CNS Widows Walk, Captain Kathryn Marquette, a G-1 transport, upgraded and with a military level compensator, was at Llanfairn when news of Cardoman’s liberation made it back to that planet, and her first cargo was a load of equipment needed to expedite that rebuilding, machines to build the machines.

Katie Marquette’s husband James, at the time Captain of the CNS Carpathian, a ship destroyed with the loss of most hands on board was taken prisoner by the Calps at the start of the war, even before the attack on Cardoman. Four years and she was long since over the shock, but not the sense of loss and lived for the day he might be returned, perhaps in some kind of prisoner exchange. Now with the Calp Admiral Kahn, along with several other high ranking Caliphate officers in custody something might be arraigned.

* * *
Yuri found Audie in the small cubical that was an extension of Katie Marquette’s day cabin. It was one of the few places on the ship, outside of the bridge, with unrestricted access to the Widow’s comp system and database. In addition to a strangely excited manner he brought with him a printout of an abstract for Audie’s attention. A grad assistant at Llanfairn’s Central University had a paper in the Physical Review speculating on the mathematics of transition bounce. “Why ships that ‘Transition In’, too close to a gravity source, end up, unpredictability, somewhere else.” That was something Audie and Yuri had talked about a few years ago before letting it slide for things more immediately important. Yuri evidentially had been kicking it around in his subconscious and the note had piqued his interest.

“Of course he’s got it all wrong,” Yuri said after Audie finished reading the abstract, “but it got me thinking about what you said last time.”

“And just what was that? Like you got a point Yuri?”

“This Professor Levitt thinks the bounce is random, some kind of quantum effect. And if you look at the data he shows it does look random. The problem is so much of his data is old.”

“That would seem to make sense Yuri. We do a better job of navigating now than they used to. Better location data and much better density information than even a hundred years ago. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of jumps that ended inside of a stars gravity well in any ten year period in the last two-hundred years. It’s been obvious for longer than that that the deeper inside of a gravity well you come in the further you bounce out. And if you come too far in we never see you or your ship ever again. Look at the nice picture. All this Levitt is saying is that there are ranges, call them layers that act like an atom’s orbital shell. And the distance of a bounce clumps around certain values and isn’t a nice smooth curve.”

“Yeah, the picture, that’s what got me going. It’s too nice. If things were that simple someone would have seen it a long time ago. I think he was playing with the numbers.”

“And no one caught it? There is a verified data set in the footnotes and the guy lays out all the assumptions he used and they do make sense.”

“Sure they do. But they’re old. And compared to data we have now and the instruments we use very crude and — er, ah, — granular.”

“What do you mean by granular?”

“Maybe just saying they have a kind of lumpy precision is better. What I’m trying to point out is that the numbers are an artifact of the measuring system, at least when you take it to the final decimal point, the one that you have to believe in if all this clumping is really happening.”

“Hmmm—Ok I see what you are saying. But really Yuri—Get to the Point! No wait a moment. Let me see if I can get Cmdr Franklin to drop in. As a real engineer on a G-1 like the Widow, one with some experience, he might make a good reality check, or if worse comes to worse a good witness.”

It turned out Lt. Cmdr. Eben Franklin was available, and five minutes later he was stuffing himself into the now overcrowded cubicle and chomping down on a sandwich he had brought along from the wardroom luncheon spread he was missing. Yuri quickly brought him up to speed and then continued.

“What I had the comps do was adjust the dataset in Dr. Levitt’s paper, replacing all of the old values with the ones we use today.”

“Stars and planets move Yuri. How did you recalculate for the difference in time?”

“I had to simplify there, but I took the average of the earliest and closest in jumps near the same time as Levitt’s data and used that as my base. When I double checked all that and ran the numbers again the clumping went away and the bounces looked random again. But sometimes looking random is just mathematical statistics way of fooling us and hiding the truth.”

“And sometimes what looks like an accident is just a big mistake.”

“That too. But what if it wasn’t? Wasn’t random I mean. What if there was a variable that was random at first but once generated was then responsible for the bounce distances. Or to put it another way: What other than some kind of quantum effect could account for the clumping? I started looking for something and I found it. — Too much band energy. Whenever a ship transitioned too close, call it into an energy rich environment, it couldn’t drain its drive bands quickly enough to stay in normal space and it bounced!”

“Wait a minute,” Eben said, “Running bands down to low energy levels is always a problem because we have to make up the loss before we can jump again. If you don’t have enough H to generate some speed again you’re stuck. And that fuel’s not free, though with a government paying the tab that part isn’t my problem but the Captain sure worries about it. Heck, I know I have easier than those old timers did but we still have the same one band problems on the Widow even if most of our support gear is better . . . When it works,” he added with a grin.

“Well it’s like this Eben,” Yuri said, “I may have been the Perseus’s Engineering Officer, but I never went to ‘Engineer’s’ school, so I don’t look at a ships energy budget in exactly the same way that you do. For some reason I got started looking at the equations for energy out rather than energy in. Tracking the trade off between what we gain on an out transition and what we lose coming back into normal space.”

“But they’re equal — Aren’t they?”

“I think most of the time yes. But most of the time we don’t make a transition inside the hyper limit, and no one has ever made an out transition from inside of a gravity well. You try and you drain your bands to zero and go nowhere. The long and the short of it is that if you come back in outside of a grav-well you get to keep some fraction of the energy you had going in, the further out the more energy you keep. But if you come back inside of a transition zone you bounce and end up somewhere else with nothing.”

“What Yuri is trying to say,” Audie spoke for the first time in a long time, “is a two-parter. Jumping outside a gravity well you pick up just enough energy to give it all back when you return. From inside you pick up or try to pick up too much energy and in effect you short out, draining everything. Jumping into a gravity well though you can’t get rid of enough energy to stay in normal space and so you bounce. Isn’t that right Yuri?”

“Exactly!”

“Well that’s interesting and all but just what does it have to do with the price of tea on How Ling?” Cmdr Franklin asked?

“Go ahead Yuri, You earned it.”

“It means that if we can drain off enough of our excess energy while still in hyper we might be able to make a transition one heck of a lot closer then anyone ever thought possible.”

“And how would we do that?” was Eben’s next question.

“Don’t know,” Yuri said. “Haven’t got there yet. But I bet if we tell the right people on Union we could get a lot of them trying to figure it out.”

“Write it up Yuri, but don’t say a word about this to anyone else. Assuming that it’s true, and if anyone can figure a way to make it work, let’s think some about what we can do with it.

“This isn’t exactly what we came to talk about.”

“This is much better Yuri, much better. You could almost say it’s open ended.”

* * *
Clay Grayson was back on Jorgen for the first time in three years. His father met him in the VIP check-in area of the space port. He was alone; Clay’s mother had died a year ago. Clay never knew she was ailing until it was too late for him to return. And even if he had been able to get off of Cardoman, which of course he couldn’t because the Calps were still in control and he was much too well known, ‘Wanted’, might have been a better word, by the time he did find out it would have been too late.

His father was older and grayer than Clay remembered, he suspected that he must look equally aged, though Gray in name only, to the security officer at the passenger gate studying his eight year old picture.

“Can’t say as how this really looks like you Mr. Grayson,” the guard said deferentially.

Clay took a look and had to agree. “Nice work,” he said, “Can’t say it doesn’t look like me either.”

“Sure. . . If you would step this way I so could just do a biometric scan. . .”

“That won’t be necessary,” Langdon Grayson, his father and Jorgen’s Minister of Cultural Affairs, said abruptly. I think you will find the diplomatic passport and papers are all in order.”

“Sorry sir, of course. Pass right through.” the guard said stepping aside.

“It’s good to see everyone in the universe isn’t aware of what your real job is and ready to jump on command,” Clay said as soon as they were far enough down the hall to be out of ear shot.

“Sometimes I wonder about that Clay. Now I’m going to have to run a check and see just how much that guard really does know. Wheels within wheels within wheels.”

“I’m surprised you don’t have any security with you Dad, least none I can see, it’s a certainty there’s not a Calp or Calp agent in space that doesn’t know about you and Jorgen Intelligence.”

“That time will come all too soon but for now I worth more alive. It’s really you that needs protection you know, leastwise when you are off of Cardoman.”

“Wes Calvert said the same thing. There is a squad of marines up in orbit I can call on should the need arise. I thought I’d put a toe in the water before I screamed for a lifeguard.”

“Call them down for some R&R,” his father said as the stepped outside into the bright afternoon sun where Clay could see the massive, black, government type armored ground car waiting, the one flanked by two only slightly smaller with polarized windscreens and side glass.

“Good idea but we better we tell the mayor to hide the ladies first.”
“Would that do any good?”
“No — I guess not.”
“What about you Son?”

“Not much to say really. Not that I’ve been a monk or anything like that, just not much time and the whole chain of command thing puts most of the people I meet that share my interests off limits.”

“Well my boy, I guess I need to do something that will change changing that situation, at least for the time you’re here on Jorgen. I have a reputation to live up to and as my son you do as well.”

“No need Dad, I’m Ok.”

“Your mother would have insisted and I would have agreed with her.” Then seeing Clay begin to frown his father added, “And it will keep our friends,” with a nod towards one of the two escort vessels, “from getting bored.”

Clay Grayson rustled his hand written notes and waited for silence in the auditorium sized lecture hall. He didn’t have to wait long this was not your normal kind of civilian audience, except for his security guards everyone in attendance was either a student or instructor at Jorgen’s highly respected Military Academy. A decade earlier and he might have, probably would have, been seated in one of the ranked rows himself. That long ago he would have been nervous, but the years, the briefs and staff meetings, had taken that away from him. He started at once.

“The message boards and data streams announcing my talk here have all said that I would talk about Cardoman’s war with the Caliphate. That is most definitely true, but also incomplete. What I intend to do is talk about the life of a soldier, and especially one aspiring to officers status, and if things work out as I hope, do some recruiting along the way. And I will say some things that are at odds with what you know or have been taught here in school. Things that came as a surprise to me and most every other serving officer I have ever met. The first of which is that those who say you have to be in it for the glory are—except for perhaps only one man I’ve served with—absolutely right!”

“Duty, honor, loyalty and devotion; you need all of those too. But if that is what your character and sense of self crave, a career in politics, or medicine, or even teaching would serve as well, and be much more satisfying. Without glory, and I’m talking about the religious sense of the word, when pain and death are all around you there is nothing else that can stave off the dark and save one’s soul.”

“That was my sermon, take it to heart. I can’t say I expect many to understand but some of you will, in time. Now I will get into the more direct and mundane part of our business, how we go about killing the enemy! Part 1: The Battle at Germfask.”

“That was brutal Clayton.”

Clay only nodded, that was his intention and that was how it was.

The Academy Commandant was as old as Clay remembered but not nearly as stern and unapproachable as he had seemed to a young plebe the few times Clay had ever been in a position to notice.

“I suppose Sir. And I might not have said the thing the way I did but Wes Calvert wrote the intro and that’s where I get my marching orders, not that I disagree mind you.”

“He was a strange one, even then. In my book it was you, Olivera, and Calvert that stood out. But Calvert most of all. When he signed on for Ophia I thought that would be the end of him.”

“It almost was. There’s no accounting for luck. But I have to say he makes his own. It might even be more accurate to say he writes his own history. I have a front row seat and would be nowhere else.”

“You and Paul keep sending me what you can. But as for your recruiting mission; you won’t get the best. Tabib ibn Marwan, sent from New Mecca on a scholarship, he will be going straight to Caliphate headquarters on Earth when he leaves here. I have an appointment set for you to talk with him, but it won’t do you any good. Next to Wesley he shows the most promise of anyone I’ve seen in my time here. I could be wrong, and it’s early to tell, but watch him. He will make a name for himself or die young. There are two others I think you should see as well. A boy from Frissia and one from Pillion. A lot of others are good but these three stand out. Please stop by when you are finished, I have a note I am working on that I would like you to take back with you.”

Thank you Sir, I will do that.”

Colonel Grayson was again on the G-2 Eagle, in the Marine detachment’s squad bay seated in Staff Sgt (probationary) Lotti’s small office. Lotti was giving him his full attention but seeing the knife twirling overhead as he tossed it from hand to hand, catching it, making it disappear and come back again without even looking, would have made most wonder. Clay ignored it; he’d seen stranger things and had got to know Lotti quite well on the trip out.

“We are going to have four officer candidates with us when we boost for Cardoman in two more days. They will be spending most of their time down here with you and your men. No unnecessary roughness, and I will be watching! Before they get here however I have a job for you. I’ll do what I can to help but I have to stay clean in all this. There is an accident that needs to happen and you are going to be the one to cause it. Now for the details. . .”

“Dad, I need a favor.”

“Why am I not liking this already?”

“I would prefer not to say,” Clay tried to laugh it off without much success. “I need to give my marines some practice and I just thought I’d let you know in advance. Jorgen’s a pretty advanced world for as small as our population is. I want to simulate a landing and do it without any of the planetary defense troops knowing about it.”

“Simulate?”

“No a real landing, I just want to make sure that if my guys are spotted they don’t get shot at.”

“I can probably arrange that but it won’t be easy. Sure you won’t tell me more?”

“Quite sure.”

It was getting dark rapidly as the sun slipped behind the range of mountains rising from the tundra a hundred kilometers to the west of the Military Academy grounds. Twenty kilometers from the fence a stealthed shuttle landed four hours earlier and disembarked just two marines. Sgt. Lotti was sure one would be enough but he was going to keep the stripes so he went with the standard version.

Once on the ground there was nothing between them and the fence so Lotti and Cpl Pasternak made good time but saved energy for the trip back to the lander. Student guards paced the perimeter but it was child‘s play to defeat the sensors given the equipment they had with them designed for just that task.

Dressed in Jorgen Academy uniforms they blended right in, neither being old enough to draw attention in the fading light. Clay had provided a map of the area and they were outside the Minaret in plenty of time to watch the robed students called to prayer. About ten percent of each Jorgen class came from the Caliphate, slightly less than a hundred, some were on duty and some gave up observation of normal religious proprieties when away from home.

Nothing would seem amiss if two cadets were seen sitting on a bench a few dozens of yards from the building entrance. The tricky part here was to get the right person and get him away from the scene without attracting attention. Lotti had software to identify the guy even if his face could not be seen. Just a scan of the way he walked would be enough. And it was. They had him spotted fifty meters away and as luck would have it he was alone.

“I’ll handle this,” Lotti said. “Start falling back but stay in sight.” Pasternak closed the book he had been pretending to read, stood up, and did as told.

As the target reached the front corner of the bench Lotti looked up from his own book and said, “Hey Tabib, got a minute?”

Ibn Marwan paused and turned right. He didn’t recognize the student beginning to stand and approach him. Tabib had a near perfect memory for faces. Something wasn’t right but the nagging alarm didn’t rise to a level that caused him more than a momentary concern.

“What do you wish? And should I know you?”

Before saying another word the unknown cadet looked around then took a step nearer. That was enough to set all of Tabib’s internal alarms ringing. He reached for the dagger hanging loosely from the belt that held his comm unit and sundries pack. But far too slow. He saw a glint of reflected sunlight from the blade that pierced entered his skull at his left eye socket before burying itself to the hilt, point deep inside the frontal lobe.

Lotti was supporting him before he fell and eased him down on the still warm bench lowering his head cap covering the eyes as if asleep. Very little blood and it was getting quite dark now. Taking a moment to see the coast was clear; Lotti moved the body into the bushes growing behind the bench. He then caught up with Pasternak and they retraced their steps and slipped outside of the school grounds. They were well away by the time the body was found and in orbit by the time outside investigators showed up at the crime scene.

The Eagle cleared customs and left orbit before anyone got around to thinking about the ship as a possible hideaway for an assassination attempt. None of the planetary watchdog alarms were tripped, so except for Langdon Grayson, no one ever did suspect.

Next