A Very Blue Moon 6

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 6 Draft (04-03-10)

Most everyone involved in the high level decision to send the Perseus out to New Britain was overjoyed to see her depart. That went from Admiral Jamie Madry, Commander of the Cardoman Fleet direct and all way down the line. It went first to senior captains, those who made up her inner circle of confidants, and then like drops of rain dripping leaf to leaf after a shower to everyone else in the navy. It was important that something be done if only from a morale standpoint. Captain Julian Kenwood just wished that something was being done to someone else.

The financial division, beginning to be known Navy wide as the department of Draughts and Naughts, might bicker internally, some fearing loss of the ship, others looking at profit from cargo, but few would have been happier if she had just stayed home. Cmdr Kenwood, recently promoted, had good reasons for not concurring with the majority. He was not included amongst the exalted Captains of the first rank in Madry’s inner circle, being the newest ship commander in the service. And perhaps for that reason and also because the ship in question was his own first command, now stripped of its research function and converted back to being a cargo hauler, saw the ship’s deficiencies best, and was of the opposite opinion, one he must keep silent about.

It wasn’t because he resented having served under the Admiral’s cousin Audie Madry for the better part of a year, though moderate resentment, well hidden, did play somewhat into the mix; it was more because his sense of propriety was tortured by the strange interplay between his former Captain Madry, and the rest of the ship’s officers and crew. And a feeling he needed more time than the month spent in reorganizing, to work the ship into a cohesive whole, one that followed like clock work from his spoken word. Desire and deed inter-meshed and one.

Kenwood considered himself a moderate disciplinarian. So was the semi-mythical William Bligh he liked to think. Not too strict and not too lenient. In Kenwood’s case discipline usually consisted of a frown when he felt there was too much levity on the bridge or a uniform jacket not quite up to snuff, an extra button undone.

Moderate by nature and the soul of moderation in all things corporal and temporal. That attitude had served him well as he worked his way upwards in the Llanfairn Merchant Service. It had come as a surprise when he was let out from his contract and given permission to take service with the new Cardoman Navy but promotion was where you could find it and he went from third to first officer in near record time.

Doing his best, and that was quite good enough in the inexperienced Cardoman Naval Service, he made no waves but made sure that he was not viewed as overly placid. He was still working on his ‘Command Persona’ and didn’t realize yet that it had to be entirely his own, and no amount of emulation would do. He was smart enough to see that an overt copy of the previous commander was also not the way to go. And so here he was, first cruise, on the one time research ship taking a cargo of system defense weapons and advanced shuttles to one of Cardoman’s few allies and wanting nothing but to finish the run and go into a safer region of space and more practice. After New Britain it was Llanfairn and home again and most particularly away from the hottest of heat.

A coward he was not, but then neither was he a hero. Moderation, that was the ticket. He had overheard a conversation that made him doubt the sanity, if not the competence, of his ships former Engineering Officer, and by proxy the ships captain just prior to taking command.

It was Yuri Borselov who began: “You see, I was this time travel agent in a 20’s speakeasy and there was this gorilla chained in the corner. I took care of what I came for, and when I got home 80 years later — in the future I mean, it was chained in the kitchen talking to my sisters and waiting to play cards. Now naturally I thought a gorilla chained in the kitchen was a bit strange and . . .”

“You don’t have any sisters Yuri, least not any in your record file. And time travel can’t work so why even bother dreaming about it?” Audie shook her head and acted as if she just wanted Yuri to go away.

“Sure I got sisters, three of them! I lied when I joined up. Doesn’t everyone? Any way it was gnawing at the chain and one of my sisters said that it could never bite through it and that was that. I said maybe it could with a soft enough chain. So then I leave the room for a minute and when I get back Sure enough it did.”

“Stop it Yuri or I’ll call a medic!”
“Just let me finish Audie and you will get my point Ok?”
“Go ahead,” Audie said muting the volume.

“So it asks me for the 500 dollars we had bet. I say it was my sister said it was impossible not me.”

Ok,” the Tyrannosaurus says disappointedly. You see the Gorilla became a different animal, and he picks up his cards as my opponent, then asks, “What are the stakes?”

“I say we are playing for points only. Don’t ya get it Audie? . . . Audie?”

Kenwood knew Yuri wasn’t the only ‘Unusual’ individual working in Cardoman Research, on loan to the navy, and also due to need promoted out of the range, and like the others was to say at the least — ‘Somewhat Off Kilter.’ But he was the one here, and the one Kenwood knew best. He also had a track record that made him able to get away with the kind of major oddities normally suppressed by a sensible bureaucracy.

And Borselov’s natural tendencies ran even wilder when someone like Audie Madry was in charge and who encouraged him rather than holding him back. She had a reputation of her own to live down to. Julian was sure that some of those stories were exaggerated, but again he knew for a fact not all were. It took every bit of his will power not to break in on the comm channel that time, after Yuri finished up and Madry clicked off.

But he had the Perseus now. Al Wayland moved up a notch to first officer and Carla Bignotti was new in the second officer’s slot. Like himself she had come over from the merchant side but just out of school and with no real experience before hire. Meacham Ferguson, a Cardoman native and the youngest and least experienced of all his department heads, was the ships Engineering Officer and by rights hadn’t the experience to hold down the job. That was most likely why Borselov was along for the ride though both he and Madry had signed off on the original promotion.

With the ship turned over to cargo the ship had a total complement of thirty nine, almost twice what a normal G-2 freighter carried. But then a normal G-2 didn’t need to worry about manning a couple of ShipKiller tubes and four close in mounts as well as a pair of pair of light cannons (heavy light cannons?), usually used only for vaporizing the occasional dust sized particle that at a third of light speed would strike the hull with the force of a small bomb. With the proper power and software upgrades these lasers could do some of the same work as a close in missile defense. If they needed to use any of that firepower for real Julian knew he would be wishing for more than just a larger crew.

As flaky as a winter storm he might be but the Lt Cmdr knew the ship’s systems inside and out and was actually wearing three hats for this trip; balancing them in the air might be another way to say it. Giving Ferguson a check ride and finishing up his education, being in charge of the six man marine detachment, and responsibility for the tech transfer when they reached New Britain was quite enough work for anyone, even Borselov. Captain Kenwood was glad to have him along and together they worked out a continued training program for all hands.

Julian spent two thirds of his time in support of his bridge crew and Yuri handled damage control most everything else with an emphasis on his marines.

There was a very tense moment when they came in system but that passed after establishing communications with the planet defense force. No Calp activity, especially not the kind of in and out that would show someone was scouting for a possible fleet movement. That initial spike was followed by two weeks of a kind of low grade tension one got used to as they completed their mission and proceeded out system again. Now only a few hours from the near indefectibility of a hyper jump and safety; most of the crew was catching up on lost sleep.

* * *
Rear Admiral Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr had 9th Fleet and the unshakable belief that he was amongst the most favored of Allah. How could it be otherwise? Instead of a sub fleet command under Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani as originally planned, Admiral Suleiman had instead given him this ten ship independent 9th fleet and the task of subjugating the infidel on New Britain. This was the job he had trained for all his adult life. And one he was supremely confident he could accomplish. In public he might say “It shall be as Allah wills,” privately he did not doubt. The evidence surrounded him as he waited for his charges to gather before the final jump.

Sayed Darwish, Captain of 9th Fleets Flagship Khayar Bek, listened while the navigator intoned, “Two, One, Transition in!” He was not as pleased with this operational plan as Admiral Zubayr and his staff tactical unit. Too many jumps in too short a time frame. Sayed was used to and lived by the principal of safety first; even older than the Admiral, he still had some new tricks to learn and how to balance the scale of risk and reward in a war time setting.

The Bek along with the other nine ships of Zubayr’s squadron were on their third transition within a period of seven hours. The first had been at a couple of light days out from New Britain, its purpose to concentrate the fleet and gather accurate navigational information. The second jump had taken them to a point three lighthours outside the stars gravity well where they sat for almost another three with drives shut down for energy silence and to better gather information on the goings on insystem. What that meant in practice was they compared active emitters to known and unknown sources.

Before making this intermediary stop Sayed had doubted what they would learn would be worth the drain on his ships energy reserves. He still wasn’t sure he was wrong but the possibility was staring right at him on his command screen in the icon and data field of a Cardoman G-2 streaking for the limit.

Physics, simple physics, as if anything about FTL was simple; a ship could generate only so much energy and a drive band was constrained as to how it could be used. The liquid hydrogen a ship carried was used for both energy generation, charging the bands, and reaction mass, powering the ship from point A to B in normal space. Fully fueled a ship such as his Khayer Bek had enough reaction mass to generate the equivalent of .6 c.

What that meant in practice was a maximum of six jumps before tanks dry and they needed to refuel again. This didn’t count any reserve energy left circulating in a ship’s drive bands which could add another jump, but that was true only if the ship in question had never expended any mass on speeds beyond .1 c while moving through normal space. And if they were not moving at 10% lightspeed when transitioning into hyper the drive band could not capture any of the field energy and so it depleted itself in a maximum of three jumps.

Why was this the case? Sayed certainly didn’t know; he doubted anyone did. He did know that from an engineering perspective, and he’d made enough jumps to see this in action, a drive band never stored more than a .3 c equivalent. As a ship’s captain he hated to see a band so empty, below that .1 c equivalent that an immediate jump, provided one was outside the limit, was impossible. But here they were and about to capitalize strategically on a deficient tactical situation. Or maybe it was the other way round. They did have their H tanks almost full and plenty of time to build speed.

What they had learned in the middle jump on the way in, call it the scouting jump, was that this Cardoman ship, the Perseus, was on its own way outwards. The path information let them calculate the jump just completed so that it brought them into a blockading position, one that would insure the Peresus’ capture, or equally likely her destruction if she failed to surrender. Those on the Cardoman ship had another half hour before they would even be aware of the danger.

* * *
“Dour, that’s the word to describe him,” said Meacham Ferguson, the Engineering Officer on the Perseus.

“I’m sure it does,” Cmdr Borselov replied, and then asked, “Is that good or bad?”
“You’re playing the naïf Yuri; you know what I’m saying.”

“Naifs are us— I guess. And did anyone mention just how much you sound like the ship’s last captain? Bet you can explain that as well.”

“You know what I mean. I suppose I was spoiled when Captain Madry ran the ship. And having you ease my way into engineering was a blessing in disguise.”

“Disguise? Sure, I made enough mistakes that it was obvious you couldn’t hardly do worse.”

“Let me put it another way. This cruise, and the way Captain Kenwood is handling things makes it feel like we are in the merchant service and not on a warship at all!”

“How bad is that? I’ve had enough excitement in my young military career and you my friend are getting too old for excitement for excitements sake alone Lieutenant Meacham. I saw enough of things going the other way and am quite happy enough. Anyway it’s time you went back to your engines and I go to look over my children.”

Yuri had taken to talking about the marine detachment that way even though most were older than he was, and he was just outside of the compartment when the ship’s alarms rang. He raced to the bridge and took over the empty weapons station and tried to sort out the overloaded sensor reads.

Captain Kenwood was doing the same and sending rapid fire messages over to Lt Carla Bignotti at the sensor board proper. “Too much jamming Sir! There are a lot more of them then there are of us. At least seven in an arc shaped front, all with near zero motion vectors relative to our course and all directly on the other side of the limit. I’ve got names and data on two of them the others are too far in the muck but three of them are firming up.”

Kenwood triggered the tac-comps automatic fight or flight path generator and saw no way out. The faint glowing ovoid showing his ships possible range of motion was totally encompassed by the vector cones emanating from the two ships they had already made definite ID on. As more information surfaced things just got worse. A max acceleration with uncompensated over boost would find them well inside of the Calps extreme spread.

“Everyone strap in,” he announced without hesitation, “Over boost and prepare for three G’s.” Commenting to the fully manned bridge he said, “We won’t make things any easier for them then it has to be.”

“Captain, bring us up slowly but hold us at 2 G’s. I have an idea.” Yuri was speaking softly into the input mike and punching at numbers on his screen as fast as fingers could fly. “Just how much accel would it take for us to skirt their long range solutions?”

It gave him something to do so while working out that number Kenwood said, “Just by nature of class they have 17 G’s on us, so unless — here it is 27 and change for an hour and a half — we are very lucky we all become quite dead in a most painful fashion long before the missile strike or we reach the limit.”

“I don’t suspect this will help us,” Lt. Bignotti said, “but idents on these two here,” she highlighted a couple of blips to the galactic north, “are G-3’s. If we start soon enough eighteen uncompensated gravities for an hour and a quarter would take us past them. We’d be just as dead though.”

“Ahh!” Yuri exclaimed. “Take a look at this.” He sent over an info dump several pages long consisting of structural calculations. “If we jettison 2 of our H-tanks the ship will have the thrust and ought to be able to stand the strain.”

“But we’ll still all be dead,” Captain Kenwood said. “Though I see your point. If we can program the ship to jump and wire around the manuals, at least she doesn’t fall into Calp hands. But we can make that happen by just surrendering, boarding the shuttles, and setting her to blow after we’re away.”

“If we work it this way we might—just might—be able to save ourselves and the ship as well,” and Yuri wasted no time while programing overrides and fleshing out his plan.

First Officer Alvin Wayland was the last to make it to the shuttle bay. He had climbed almost a hundred and twenty meters from his lone station in the battle bridge aft, which in the case of the Perseus was little more than a one man compartment stuffed with wire, some machinery, and life support for one. At 2 G’s it was like carrying his double each step of the way. Sweat stained, chest heaving, face bruised and clutching his right arm tight against his body.

He must have taken a fall in ladder well on the way up. The ships elevators were shut down by the uncompensated acceleration. Not enough time to over ride those safeties. Two of the ship’s marines helped him into a crash couch and strapped him in then took their own places.

For most of the crew, and those on the bridge especially the trip to the boat deck was downhill. Wayland and the marines at the weapon mounts needed to climb. For the marines not too bad, they practiced and worked out in a plus G environment as part of the normal routine. For Wayland, young and in good shape it was an ordeal and one only a few of the other naval ratings might have managed.

Seeing the light showing the boat was sealed, “Time to go,” Yuri said on the inter-ship comm link to the other shuttle.

They felt rather than heard the two H-tanks jettison, then immediately felt the brief crushing acceleration as first launching outwards went Yuri’s shuttle, piloted by Carla Bignotti, they were followed a millisecond later by the Captain piloting his own. Timing here was critical, they needed to get away from the ships exhaust and also away from the tanks due to explode as soon as they were touched by the reaction drive’s plasma.

Yuri managed to see the fireball out the forward armorplast as it swept by. Everyone felt the shuttle shake and buffet. Then silence. It was fortunate they could not hear the creaking and groaning on the Perseus a she speed away on a sharp angle from their coasting shuttle.

“Well Carla,” Yuri breathed a sigh of relief, “now we get to see how stealthy we are with a layer or two of skin missing. If you would be so kind as to set a course back for New Britain, I will try and monitor what the Calps are doing.”

“What was that?” Admiral Zubayr asked of the staff intel officer responsible for interpreting the anomalous data showing in the flag plot. A display such as this held so many subcodes that only a full time expert could keep up. And yet another block popped up below the icon representing the Cardoman Perseus, while a fog seemed to envelope the small picture.

“The glow is hydrogen Admiral. She could be dumping in order to make a few more G’s but that can’t do them much good unless the crew is made of iron. It’s a lot of H and all at one time, we can’t see the space inside the ion cloud but the ship is well beyond it now and is indeed starting to lay on the acceleration. Over 70 G’s; they are all going to be dead very soon.”

Zubayr saw the vector cones change, this he could interpret. The central line, but not the cone shaped penumbra the Perseus cast, was now well outside of his own G-3’s Samaan and Meydan’s missile range. “How many G’s for the Samaan to reach long range intercept?” he barked.

“Five point oh seven uncompensated if we send now,” his Tac Officer said almost at once and the display reflected the possibility.

“Make it happen, I want that ship destroyed!”

The order flashed outwards and everyone on the flagship knew that even drugged to within an inch of their lives a not insignificant portion of the Samaan’s crew would never pass another medical. and for at least a few a medical was the least of their concerns for it was only Allah’s judgment which awaited.

“Not a chance in hell we can reach New Britain before the Calps so let’s just keep coasting and hope the miss us. No more comm traffic unless something changes, and Cmdr Borselov, Well Done!” Kenwood shut the comm down, turned shuttle control over to Ferguson, and tried to relax. It would be another day at least until he had anything else to do.

Eighteen hours later the Perseus, defensive system fireing on full automatic had somehow managed to fend off a dozen Calp ShipKillers and transitioned out. She had suffered some damage. Just how much was impossible to tell at this range with the kind of sensors a shuttle could carry. Yuri was showing Lt Bignotti the code that just might drop the old gal out of hyper again get her back to Cardoman.

“Nice enough that we kept the Calps from blowing her up but so much nicer if she makes it home again. That extra programing is what took me so long.”

“So long! You were finished even before I had the shuttle warm. How did you do it? This is way to much code unless you had it in the can and ready to go. And get back to Cardoman? Not with the vector she was on when she jumped.”

“Well I’ve been here long enough the ship’s AI did recognize my voice. I woke her up after all, so no finger work involved. I think the AI thinks Captain Madry and I are her mother and father but gets confused about which of us is which. Would have been faster but as you know; to get her back to Cardoman she needs to come out and jump again. Needs to relocate and compute a new vector aim and transition time. I told her all that and set the decision tree, now it’s up to the God of the Machine.”

Yuri smiled, he had always wanted to use that phrase conversationally, and now had done it with what he hoped to be an impressionable female. She certainly was making an impression on him whenever she reached for selector controlling the main display controller; he wondered why she did just ask? And then thought better of it.”

“Grav Pulses, Multiple Grav Pulses!”

Admiral al-Zubayr had taken a seat on the Khayer Bek’s flight bridge rather than one in his own domain a deck below as the ship neared the location where Perseus had started her run. Captain Darwish was there as well. No captain would leave the deck to a subordinate with a Fleet Admiral taking notes. Darwish was almost too busy to notice the Admiral’s departure as his own signals crew began sifting and routing the incoming data and started making requests of the ships comp systems.

“Union made, all from the Confederation.”

The smaller version of the holo tank on the flag bridge started to show detail. All the fleet’s scanners switched to the distant threat and two Cardoman shuttles continued to coast onwards, silent, black, and undetected.

The transition wasn’t particularly tight and individual ships were easily marked and matched against the database. There were eight of them, only two 4’s the rest G-3’s. Was that it? No other ships on the way? If so this might be the time and place for the major victory Admiral Zubayr had dreamed about. There was still no sign of the six ship New Britain navy and even if they were here, ready, and came out at once, there was the chance to defeat both forces in detail if the ships from Union would stand and fight. Union hadn’t fought anyone but pirates, and precious few of those, in a generation. Was this a cardboard fleet or was there metal stiffening up the framework?

“Send a signal and see if we can warn them off! Threaten their honor and let them know that this system now belongs to the Caliphate. Then set us on an intercept! Keep sweeping for missile platforms and unless a threat from New Britain materializes we will ignore the inner system! We have time. Cover all our bases, get the challenge issued and we shall see.” Zubayr began plotting the future and forgot all about the past and the possibility of anything or anyone left behind by the Cardoman Perseus.

Another nine hours and still in the blind spot of the Calp fleets exhaust, two Cardoman shuttles put on 3 G’s towards New Britain and temporary safety.