A Very Blue Moon 4

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 4 Draft (02-28-10)

“Transition in. Two, One, Now!”

The reconstituted Caliphate 10th Fleet based at Philomel under Rear Admiral Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani was still in a moderate state of confusion. Last minute changes sent Rear Admiral Rashid Kalid once again to Novi, then stripped al-Afghani of 9th fleet and handing him a reordered 10th along with this less important, almost diversionary, trip to Triocat instead of what should have been and attack to retake Cardoman.

With Cardoman was off the table Jamal felt Novi should have been his by right of seniority if nothing else. He could not say this aloud of course but inwardly Jamal still fumed. Instead of leading 9th and 10th to Cardoman and glory as originally planned he ended up with Triocat, 9th Fleet went to New Britain, and Admiral Suleiman, in what 9th Fleet considered a fit of nerves put Cardoman on a temporary hold.

This muddle was the final result of the third major change in Suleiman’s Op Plans in less than a month. Admiral al-Afghani, once an admirer of Suleiman was now quite the opposite and if anything his distrust of Kalid was greater still. Yes word of Kahn’s reverses (a polite way of saying monumental incompetence) was responsible in part for the changes, but even so al-Afghani could only think political concerns had taken away the plum assignment and handed him the minor role. True Kalid was originally tasked with Novi and now had it again at the last but al-Afghani felt that what was his in the second go around should never have changed. There was nothing to do about this situation now, later he had friends in Naval Affairs and the Compliance Office on Earth who would make inquiries, and insure sure no stone went uncast. As Allah was Just Suleiman would live to regret this slight.

It took almost four seconds for the first star to add itself to the tactical display of Captain Naiyer Al-Qiblah’s G-4 Shia, a sign that the transition in was not going to be a good one. In a close transition the automatic sensor scan that located beacon stars was near instantaneous. It took another five seconds for Red Sea, the first of the nine other ships in al-Afghani’s 10th Fleet to appear, another minute for the Baradar, and almost three hours before all of the fleet’s icons, with multi-colored vector cones and data blocks gave silent testimony showing how truly bad this jump was. To make matters worse they would need eight hours at max G before even reaching the one light hour hyper limit itself.

The Admiral, known for his excitable nature, must be about to explode if his lack of comment thus far was an indication of what must be building inside. Captain Al-Qiblah was reasonably certain he would avoid the destruction; his ship was eighteen light minutes out of place, towards the edge of the standard error band but still inside. On the ship furthest out Captain Riba on the G-3 Tawid was probably already planning for his retirement.

“All in and accounted for sir.” Redundant indeed as al-Afghani could see as clearly as the Shia’s flag captain where everything was and wasn’t, but it gave his battle staff a breather while they waited for instructions. A jump as far off the mark as this one was called for decisions and changes kicking the command level down a few decks to where the Admiral and his staff lived.

Senior Cmdr Ishaq ibn Baqum, chief of the Admirals Fag Crew was for the first time in a year happy to be where he was rather than seated in the captain’s chair on the fighting bridge of a combat vessel, especially one assigned to 10th Fleet. Unlike most in the squadron he had gotten to know the Admiral quite well and was not surprised to see how calm he seemed while taking everything in.

“Well, Ishaq, it seems your prediction has proven itself correct, the instabilities around this system did prove to be more than our nav comps could deal with. I had hoped for better but as Allah wills. Send word to Captain Riba that though I am deeply disappointed I understand the difficulties and his ship’s performance will not be held against him. . . Did you know Ishaq that there were once captains who would flog the last man down from the yardarms after a sail change?”

“No Sir,” the Cmdr said wondering what in the world a ‘Yard Arm’ was. Yard hand he could understand, some one had to build these ships, but this last must be archaic and somehow connected; flogging had gone out of style in the Caliphate Navy over sixty years ago.

“It did not lead to orderly behavior and punishing those taking the most risk at the top of the mast and most exposed to the wind and far from support seems to be misguided or worse. Still it must have been a pleasant diversion.”

He paused for a moment savoring the thought then continued, “We are doing a credible job of reforming. Still it will take twenty six hours to close ranks enough so all of our defensive fields of fire overlap. Unless things change this must be complete before we continue inwards. I can’t believe there is much left of it but the system defenses dealt harshly with the resupply convoy last time around.”

“What I will do is have Riba and his Tawid exchange places with our Red Sea as the ship remaining outside the limit. Naval tradition demands that even bad luck needs some kind of punishment. Send off those operational orders soonest, and as always update me if anything new comes in, but for now I will leave everything up to you and Captain Al-Qiblah.”

Before al-Afghani reached his cabin one deck down the Cmdr was rewriting the 10th Fleet Op Plan while trying to squeeze information from the ship’s tactical sensor suit, in this he was not alone.

“Transition alarm! “ The same warning signal triggered an alert on an expanding front as the multiple grav pulses radiated at the speed of light from 10th Fleets transition point. When it reached Triocat the two Ryman starships in geosynchronous orbit on opposite sides of the planet went to full battle alert, but not for long. As soon as the nature of the threat was determined and distance assessed, on each ship the weapons section that included nothing more than a single close in missile mount and a pair of lasers normally used for blasting pebble sized rocks into dust the deflectors could handle went off line and engineering sections stood down.

The assumed Calp invasion fleet was almost two lighthours out and there was no immediate danger. A G-4 would need almost a full day for a high speed pass and the two hour old data was showing a wide spread and only minimal doppler affect. The intruders were closing on each other and not running inwards. As more data was gathered analysis of the drive signatures began providing names to data blocks.

“Caliphate, all 3’s and 4’s, we have idents on five of them. Battlecruisers based out of Philomel.”

Captain Marion Trippen on the RNS Warspite was not exactly ready for this, actually dreading this was a better choice of words. A Calp force returning to Triocat at some point was a given. But for his ship it had happen at the worst possible time while they were still loading cargo, with no Delta-V, and far from the hyperlimit. He had contingency plans made and continually updated but had hoped not to use them.

Before issuing any more orders he called up the tack system, saw data flowing in and entered his plan number. Then called for the lander on the ground to end loading cargo and return while he waited for a new system scan to paint. This would have been near instantaneous on a military vessel but both the Warspite, in spite of the fierce sounding name, was a civilian type transport through and through, as was the RNS Lexington on the planet’s other side. Every merchant ship in the Ryman fleet had been called up and the RNS in front of each ship’s name was more of a courtesy title than anything denoting any type of military upgrade or much in the way of training.

When the display was finished with its update he saw what he had known he would see going in. The Warspite was ‘Commercial’ plain and simple, with no business in a fight, and now, if the Calps chose to pursue, no way to avoid one. With a two hour head start and all of the acceleration he could manage there was still no way that he could make it to the limit without being caught. Even overriding his compensators built in safeties and standing up to an apparent internal 4 G’s all the way, as if any of them would be standing up and not drugged and strapped in place, would still bring the Calps within range more than five hours too soon.

There was always the chance they would just let him go, a slim one, but it was all he had. “Wait for our lander then take us out of orbit.” If the Calps were going to leave him alone he might as well delay the extra hour it was going to take to get his support ship back on board. “Get me the Lexington, let’s see what they intend.” As senior to the Lexington’s captain, Marion Trippen technically could issue orders but technically they were going to be either captured or dead no matter what he did and responsibility for his own command was quite enough.

On the Lexington the same rough calculus was worked out by Captain Liam Fulbright. He had one advantage in that both of his tenders were already safely in his docking bay, one unloading and the other off-line for minor maintenance. If Trippen hadn’t sent the message Liam was only seconds away from sending his own.

“I’ve seen better days,” Liam said with a hint of a smile.

Laringham High, 37,000 kilometers above Triocat’s night side, was old fashioned but also quite usual for a station of its type at a class 3 world; one built on the cheap over eighty years and more. The orbit was an unusual one for a station this far out from the primary; near-synchronous, its period lacked fifty seven minutes from equaling Triocat’s length of day so it seemed to drift backwards against the stars. From time to time a push was made to move it outwards another couple thousand kilometers and lock it in place, but the novelty of a slowly changing view from both above and below was enough to through back the grasping onslaught of progress.

In form it was a rotating, double donut with the two large diameter ring sections on either end of an 800 meter long by 40 meter diameter spindle of a central shaft made from empty external fuel tanks, purpose built and left for a fee, by G-3 ships transiting the system. The mid sections of the spindle contained the fusion plant and other environmental and engineering necessities.

Extending out beyond the donut shapes at either end were lander sized docking bays. The newer ‘Southern’ ring (the station was aligned with the planet’s axis) was less than 50% complete so that part of the station looked like a series of disjointed beads on a doubled, two strand string. This string was a pair of 12 meter tubes each independent of the other and duplicating the main ring passageways. They also provided the space for utilities and most importantly the structural support that held everything together.

When new sections were added they always came in pairs, one built on either side of the ring. Structural sections were lowered by cable from hard points on the spindle and held in that fashion until joined. And on a micro scale everything was kept in balance by pumping water ballast through the central shaft and passage rings to where it was needed. Flow in one direction or the other regulated the station’s rotation speed and hence the apparent gravity of the ring sections outward facing decks. Two of the bubbles on the incomplete South ring were in the process of being converted to the control nexus for the systems space based defense and in fact all but finished, testing transfer complete with only cosmetic items remaining.

Don Tomas de La Torrance, the planetary President, just three months earlier had stopped protesting the expense and now was glad that wiser heads had prevailed. Not that it was likely to do much good, but at least the main control point was no longer at Government house and hence no real reason for it, and the planets capital to be a target. Revenge was always a reason as Don Tomas knew all too well.

The recent battle where Ryman forces working with his own military liberated the planet, and in so doing destroyed a Caliphate supply convoy, left scares that would never heal, and very little in the way of system defense to stop this newest Caliphate incursion. Ryman’s fleet had long since left for home and the G-2 freighters, the only visible evidence that Ryman had ever been here. Fifty stealthed ShipKiller and a dozen longer range and more powerful planet defense missiles were all that remained.

Don Tomas kissed his wife Maria as he left his house and was at Triocat’s spaceport a half an hour after the alarm sounded and on Laringham High. An hour after that he was in orbit where docking went smoothly but Don Tomas found the lack of gravity disconcerting to say the least. The dizziness and grumbling from his stomach was bad enough, but the indignity of being towed like barge by way of a strap connected to a balloon like temporary life support unit was if anything worse. He put all of that aside by the time he reached the stations outer ring where the bag was deflated and was escorted into the command center.

“Good morning Mr. President,” said a disheveled looking Colonel rushing towards the hatch. He an officer unknown to the President but was evidently in charge of the surrounding disarray. “Excuse the mess here Sir. It may look bad but we are functional.”

“Quite right, I am sure,” the President said as he stood in place, looked around, and was jostled from behind by techs sliding a console into place next to where he was standing, something that must have been brought up on the same shuttle he had used.

“That’s the last of it,” the Colonel said, “I can leave the center for a time Sir, why don’t we get out of the way and I can bring you up to speed on all we know?”

De La Torrance could tell a plea from a request when he heard one and readily nodded agreement.

Colonel Nickels lead the retreat from the tack center and up one level to a rather more orderly dining area. No cooks or line at the counter but several bins of film pouched meals. “Breakfast for me,” Nickels said, “It’s really quite good for pack rats.”

“Pack Rats?”

“Packaged rations, an inside joke. Try some, you get used to it.”

Nickels showed de La Torrance how it was done and he took a seat in the near empty room. “First Mr. President let me tell you how the timing is.”

Tomas wondered if this was a prelude to a song and dance leading to a quick exit. In Nickels place he might have tried the same. “Let’s skip all of that Colonel. Just jump to the end. A day, two days. What will things be like when the Calps reach us? And don’t tell me they won’t.” He then thought better of the comment and said. “Excuse me; I am projecting my dislike for the political situation I normally deal with upon you. Just tell it straight. I’ll keep myself busy with this—food I think you called it—till you finish.”

“The coffee’s not bad, but I do get your point. The Calps will probably kill or capture both of the Ryman freighters. If they run it will just take a while longer. I talked to both Captains and they are going to run for the limit. They will likely be moving by the time we finish here. Whatever chance they have waiting just makes it worse. The Calps will send a ship or two after them, no point in any greater force and the others, there are ten total, will come our way. We can slow them down but that’s it. We will need to decide how long to hold on before we give up Laringham High.”

“These are all battlecruisers?”

“Good point. Yes they are and that means no ground assault, at least with troops. Bombardment from above is another thing. Up here we think it likely the Calps will take station on Triocat and wait for help to take the ground again unless they can drum up some popular support dirtside.”

“And Laringham High?”

“They’ll ask for a surrender. If we refuse they’ll send what combat forces they have to take it. This station is far more valuable to both of us intact than in bits and pieces.”

“And we can’t keep it can we?”

“No Mr. President we can’t. We can fight the good fight, loose a lot of people and then blow everything up. Or we can leave at the last minute, blow the station, and minimize our casualties. Barring a miracle that’s all there is.”

“Pray for a miracle Colonel but prepare for the worst. I won’t hold you from your duty any longer. Could you find someone, to take me around here so I can make sure people know that all of down below care and are paying attention.”

“Someone from the medical staff would be perfect I suspect.”

“Do I really look that bad,” Don Tomas said.

“Oh! I didn’t mean it that way Sir. Do I have your permission to start sending nonessentials downstairs?”

“Absolutely, I should probably be going myself in an hour or so. I’ll leave with one of the evac flights.”

* * *

“All systems hot Captain.”

“Very well then, relay a signal to Lexington and make it happen.”

The RNS Warspite was on the far side of Triocat from the Calp fleet. The bulk of the planet was going to hide their departure for a couple of extra minutes but the Calps had hours of time to play with. Strapped down and medicated they blasted outwards at 14.5 G’s.

“One of the Ryman freighters is running Captain.”

The commander of the Caliphate Mullah Baradar Wahid Dadullah looked for the telltale glow from a ship in flight to peek around the edge of Triocat. There it was. He checked the data block for details, they were sketchy but firmed up almost at once. They ships was on a track just slightly off center of a line between the fleet and Triocat. Even as he watched he saw the other ships Icon flare and a vector cone begin to grow.

“Have a maximum overtake course ready; the Admiral is going to order an intercept and if he chooses us I want to boost before he signs off!”

The Baradar was now one of the closest ships to the Flag, signals transmission time was on his side. Admiral al-Afghani would order an intercept and would brook no delay. Captain Dadullah smiled, relaxed, and listened to his serene inner voice saying over and over again while he waited, “There is no deliverance except in killing, there is no safety except in killing.”

“Sir, we have a signal from the Flag!”

Twenty hour later and moving at 10% lightspeed Baradar swept wide of Triocat. Trailing by ten minutes and fifteen million kilometers, well to the outside, was Captain Mohamet Qadil and his G-4 Arabia. The tactical plot showed they were now 330 million kilometers behind and unless something changed, seven hours from intercepting the closest of the Ryman freighters. On full alert and with all sensors active they were well beyond any kind of danger from Laringham High. Six hours to the rear, taking a more leisurely course came the rest of 10th Fleet, Triocat their goal.

Three hours later with 10th Fleet 80 million kilometers off Triocat and decelerating towards a full stop, Admiral al-Afghani took his place once more and Cmdr ibn Baqum was able to report all was proceeding as planned.

“Time then we offer conditions.”

The signal took just over four and a half minutes to reach Laringham High. Stuart Nickels had it on his screen at once. Short and to the point. “About what we expected except for this,” he highlighted a portion of the text. “We best let the Politicos make the call. Send a receipt and let this Admiral al-Afghani know our reply will be forthcoming.”

Alfonso Garcia, distinguished, silver haired, silver tongued, leader of Triocat’s newly formed Independent Party did his best in public settings to hide behind platitudes. He was often blunt and even abrasive in private. Politics was not a sport for the meek. He was on a com link to the President’s office moments after the Caliphate communication reached the planet. It had not been encoded and the Newsies might sit on it for a time but Garcia had the text as fast as de La Torrance had his own copy.

“I think we need to talk about this Tomas,” he said as soon as the connection was made. “I know that even with the vote of confidence you managed as a condition of assuming your current role the ruling coalition cannot stand unilateral action on something like this. You must order the Rymans to surrender their ships intact. We have suffered enough already and the Caliphate promise to work for a reconciliation is our only hope.”

“Out of the question and be damned with your posturing Garcia! Those are Ryman ships and not ours to command. Calling yourself an independent doesn’t change what we both know about you and your party. Be thankful I don’t label you a traitor and call for your arrest! Go crawl back under your rock and by God let it be your tombstone!” Don Tomas cut the connection and turned to his wife Maria who had been listening from across the desk and out of view; he shook his head in sorrow rather than anger. “I have been wanting to say that for the last month.”

“What will you say the Caliphate Admiral?”

“Pretty much the same thing my dear, but a little more politely.”

From the drivers seat of the Warpite’s number one lander Captain Trippen saw the distant flash that was the end of the Lexington. His own ship and the number two lander were only minutes away from the same fate; a little more distance from the blast was all he was waiting for. The Calp offer of a large cash payment for an intact ship was an interesting twist on the usual surrender demands. All he had to look forward to now was who knows how many years stranded and rotting in a Calp POW camp. Each member of his crew was wearing their recently issued Ryman uniforms and had the proper documentation. There could be no mistake that the Warspite was no longer a civilian merchant but had been taken into Ryman military service.

“This is far enough,” he told Bill Desmond, his first officer seated beside him. Would you do the honors? I find I am not up to it.”

Even with sensors stepped down and view ports darkened the searing brightness cast shadows on the landers interior walls. “You have the ship Bill; I am going to make sure every last bit of non essential gear is jettisoned before the Calps pick us up.”

He was through the hatch leading from the control room to the cargo area when he heard the alarm only inches from his head sound and was thrown to the deck as the ships maneuvering system overloaded. The last thing Marion Trippen heard was, “The bastards are firing on us.”

Had he been on the Baradar he would have heard Captain Wahid Dadullah say, “There is no deliverance except in killing, there is no safety except in killing.”

The station was evacuated and everyone on the ground. It was noon in Triocat’s Capital city. And for a brief moment one might have been excused for thinking that the sun was a stellar double as Laringham High flared against a very blue sky then faded from view.