A Very Blue Moon 9

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 9 Draft (05-17-10)

It was fast and it was bloody, and neither side giving an inch. Overconfident and discounting the G-1 Victory, 9th Fleet closed to under 500 light seconds before opening fire. The tactic worked at first. The Brit’s Arc Royal was the first to go but she had inflicted so much damage on the Calp al-Harir that missiles from the as yet ignored Aubrey were able to finish her off.

That piece of work gave priority to the Aubrey and she held off till her magazines emptied. And even without power for beam weapons the Calp’s used more SK’s then they should have to finish the job due to lack of coordination in the fire plan when two Calp warships each ranged on the now crewless Aubrey where one would have been more than sufficient. The Aubrey’s captain went off last and the short handed compliment was all in pods distancing themselves from the doomed cruiser when their final SK’s launched and the double salvo of a Calp return ended her life.

Then from out of the blue two Cardoman G-4’s showed up 200 million kilometers in their rear with neutral intercept vectors, and then powering enough to show a 10 G closing rate. Precious time was lost before signals intelligence (sigint), could determine that the G-4’s were something else and more likely than not Cardoman shuttles. Admiral Zubayr pressed forward again but precious time was lost and the New Brit forces had taken up a near perfect defensive stance.

The Bab al-Nasr (Gate of Victory) was the next to fall and by this time Admiral Zubayr recognized his mistake, but too late to correct it, he was committed. He still had a six to five advantage by ship count but the throw weight of HMS Victory was making that moot. There was a chance to save a fraction of his fleet and Zubayr took it. He ordered the Bab al-Hadid and the Dazarugian break off while his remaining four ships continued the attack and provided covering defensive fire.

The Confederation Mt Morris fell and there seemed to be a chance again. But when the Mayden and Al-Wazir went at almost the same time all Admiral Zubayr could do was salute the memory of what might have been and make peace with his God. It was easy enough, comforting in a way. His G-3 Saaman gave her life protecting the Khayer Bek and in the process, in an almost incidental way, took one of the sniping New Brit shuttles with her and bathing the Jutland’s hull with enough radiation that there was sure to be sensor damage and perhaps something more serious.

Bab al-Hadid and the Dazarugian would reach the limit and report back to Philomel. They would not suffer. In fact the ships would be praised and the crew members were likely to become heroes. And not without cause. In a war of attrition this kind of a tactical defeat was a strategic victory when the losses were counted up.

And that was his last thought as missiles from Victory, Trafalgar, and the Van Rijn converged ending everything.

Thirty-six hours later Kenwood and Borselov were aboard the Van Rijn. The Bradford and Covington would return direct to Union, Van Rijn would drop the Cardoman survivors off at Llanfairn where they could continue the journey back home. The Federation ship after leaving Llanfairn would take the news to Novi and then head back herself. Van Rijn had lost one of her shuttles in the action so Yuri’s 189 was filling what would have been an empty boat bay. Big of Captain Kenwood to give his shuttle the 189 precedence, and Yuri appreciated it.

As soon as he finished writing up his reports, something Kenwood demanded, Yuri planed on getting to know everything there was to know concerning one Lt Carla Bignotti. The crowded time they had spent together thus far really did not count. Two and a half weeks would be cutting it fine but once again Yuri had a plan!

* * *
“Tell us again Cmdr Borselov— about your ‘Master Stroke’— the one where you single handedly save New Britain from the Caliphate onslaught and then set the New Britain fleet free to wreck havoc upon the oppressor.”

“Well I wouldn’t tell it quite that way but . . .”

They were all so young. Another group was gathered at Castle Calvert at the same time talking about the same thing but without so much of a hint of levity.

Audie Madry had spent some time with her own and just enjoying herself, listening, no need to get in her own digs at this point, the rest of her anomalous Command gathered round the table in the launch port bar was doing quite well without any help. And besides that she was a little tipsy and wanted to watch Yuri squirm, not to mention see his face turn a bright shade of red that clashed remarkably with is dark hair and eyes.

And also there was Lt Carla Bignotti making for want of a better term ‘cow eyes’, large again, dark and staring in abject worship that not only Audie was taking note of, though Yuri, bless his heart, seemed oblivious to the attraction. She was called away and Yuri continued more freely.

“Ok, so this big hulking brute of a G-1 comes lumbering out from orbit and the Calps don’t know what to think or which way is up or even what day of the week it is. I say to Lt, Bignotti here,” he smiled at her and tipped his glass, “I got a plan.”

Yuri was telling this so much better now than in the debrief but the story was still the same in essence.

“So I say to Cap Kenwood I say — Hey, I think we can make the Calps think there are a couple of Cardoman G-4’s out here about to jump the Calp Admirals backside. Now that’s gotta make most anyone nervous, and especially one of the Muslim persuasion.” Yuri looked around to see if he was going to be slagged for the somewhat un-PC like statement. Nope, he was amongst friends. The thing was like most popular sentiment that was faulted by the elite, there still was a bit of truth in it. In aggregate, of course. The trouble was most of life got lived in the aggregate and there were never enough do-overs. But seizing the moment Yuri just went on.

“So they think they got the Brits outnumbered, which they do, and that they also have a stronger ship mix, which they do, and that the Victory is a laughingstock, which it is, and so they figure they are going to kick some ass.”

“Now I’m pretty sure that Admiral Zubayr, when we start making like a G-4, is saying, ‘What the hell is that?’ which just happens to be one of the top three most unfortunate sayings in all of military history.”

“What are the others Yuri?” a newly minted corporal from logistics asked.

“You really don’t want to know son. And based on your operations specialty, I’d prefer you never got around to saying them anyway!” Laughter broke out all around and hadn’t stopped before a Naval Ensign strode to the table and delivered a printed message, folded over once and sealed.

Yuri broke the seal and read the single thin sheet. “Duty calls,” he said setting his drink on the table and standing up.

The Ensign said officiously, “If you would come with me Sir, I will show you to your driver.”

Sgt Luther White met Yuri at the steps; there were only three of them, fronting the tall wooden double doors giving entrance into Castle Calvert.

In spite of the disparity in rank Yuri always felt there was something wrong with him whenever he came across an old-line NCO like White. It made him all too aware of the experience he lacked. Luther had no such reservation from his end and wasted no time in congratulating Yuri on the results of the battle out at New Britain.

“If this job wasn’t so damned difficult, or if the Major would let me go, I would be out in with the Fleet Marines myself.”

“Buck up Luther, a little excitement goes a long way, and when the Calps were here on Cardoman you pulled your weight and then some. Someone has to keep the Major from hurting himself and you seem to be the one.”

“A drink to that,” the Command Sergeant said as they entered the foyer and proceeded down the buildings central hallway to a right turn leading to the small bar in the Castle’s far corner, there footsteps echoing from the marbled floor.

Yuri had been in the Castle enough times that entering the room itself was no big deal. But when he saw seated at three tables all those who had arrived before him, most of whom he knew at least in passing, he took notice. Wes and Connie, General Davis and his own boss at P&I Jack Trebeck were at one table with a few Yuri didn’t know.
Audie and Jamie Madry and some other naval luminaries, including Captain Kenwood who was new to this crowd, more ship captains and such, anchored another. At the third was Fader Jameson with Raquel Zavala listening while Clayton Grayson sketched pictures on the tables embedded screen with several other upper echelon types hanging to every word. Sitting in the small room was most of Cardoman’s high priced talent and Yuri could feel a case of nerves starting to build.

Audie saw him first, Audie always seemed to sense him rather than need to look. She smiled rather enigmatically and the Major noticed him next.

“Yuri,” he said both loudly and for him uncharacteristically, “I have been saving a place for you.” He pointed an index finger at the one open chair at his table.

Now more befuddled than nervous Yuri started towards the Major’s table while applause broke out spontaneously amongst the rest of the guests. At Calvert’s table they all stood.

“Cmdr Borselov, let me introduce you to Vic Shearing. He has a few words to say to you concerning the government’s appreciation for how things turned out at New Britain.” Wes and the other sat but Shearing remained standing as did Yuri. He was too surprised to do anything else.

In sonorous tones befitting a career bureaucrat, though he was much more than that, the Foreign Secretary wasted no time in cutting to the chase. “Cmdr Borselov, your government and all of Cardoman are proud of you and your contribution to our eventual victory.”

Yuri was beginning to feel faint and the Secretary noticed. Take a seat young man, you’ve bought and paid for it. Getting the Perseus back to Cardoman was worth more than the four billion credits she cost to build and outfit. Though that is what your government plans to reward you for. Captain Kenwood attempted to give all of the credit to you but as much as it might be deserved there are rules that must be followed. The Navy’s prize court will publish the decision tomorrow but you, Cmdr, Borselov, and may I add Knight, Commander Borselov, as Ambassador from New Britain has so graciously informed us, will receive one third of the officer’s share of three percent of the ship’s value. We could ill afford to lose her. If you check your comp you should see the credit is already posted to your account.”

Not knowing what else to do Yuri tapped in his code and about fainted, damn good thing he was sitting down. “General Calvert tells me there are some military awards and considerations to be attended to but let me be the first to salute and shake your hand.” And the Foreign Secretary did just that.

* * *
“Two, One, Transition in!”

Two weeks at low cruise and another two while sheathed shuttles coasted towards Yatagan. If it was hard on the Aladin and her crew, hardest of all on Stan Voinovich the ships captain, but don’t even think about how it is for those on the shuttles. But there was nothing for it but to wait. And examine in detail every scrap of a signal their sensors at this range could detect. And Stan was well aware of just how good those sensors were but that did not help much.

Russo Nevier looked into the pale evening sky between glances at the face of his watch. Born and bred to the city; Yatagan’s outback, for him, held no allure. Four months earlier, Abe Loomis had promised he would leave the planet when he and his henchman Gaza Al-Omari did. Well they were still here and so was he. And he was finally able to put two and two together for an inkling of why and didn’t like where the numbers were leading.

The part that had thrown him off for so long was after the collapse of negotiations with Mujahid Zabiullah for what they euphemistically called ‘surplus weapons’, failed due to Loomis being so damned tight on price, they didn’t run as fast as legs and starships could manage. Russo told Loomis that Zabiullah would never come down and they both knew that he could turn on them, and would, if the Calp supply Colonel could find a way to do that without endangering himself.

Seven weeks earlier, and after a few not so minor initial payments, Col Zabiullah, delivered a list showing exactly what he did and did not have access to, where it was stored, and some of the security measures keeping the military hardware safe from pilferage. Loomis had claimed they needed that info to evaluate the risk involved their side and whether any kind large deal could be done. To keep his interest and test his truthfulness Russo had made a few small purchases; items already under Zabiullah’s complete control. And then Loomis balked. At this late date the Colonel must think them off Yatagan, or so Russo imagined.

But here he was standing a few meters from the side of a lorry and waiting for a Pod Drop Commando Team, something he’d never even heard of till yesterday, to materialize out of thin air. And that they did. He about jumped out of his shoes at the touch of a hand on his shoulder.

“Russo, glad you could make it.”

Nevier turned to the voice and seeing the man’s face through the open helmet visor tried to remember the vaguely familiar features his puzzlement showing in spite of his start.

“Jameson,” the man said, “I am not surprised you don’t remember, it was a while ago and our paths crossed tangentially.”

The man spoke a few words into his helmet mic then removed the headgear and motioned to the truck. “What will she carry?”

“Christ! I don’t know! Loomis gave me the keys and directions, here I am!”

“Looks small but we will soon find out.”

By this time more shadowy figures were appearing from the outer darkness, all of them carrying loads that looked beyond human limits.

“Sure would be nice to send the truck out to collect this stuff,” Jamison said, “But tire tracks in the grassland here would be too visible from above. Whey don’t you get in back and arrange this stuff while I help my men carry it.” It was an order, not a request. Russo’s expression turned dark but he complied at once.

An hour later Russo was driving back towards Aleppo, the lorry thumping on overloaded shock absorbers and the engine straining from the weight of four men riding up front and the rest of a drop team with all their supplies packed like sardines in back.

“How good are your documents Fader?” Abe Loomis looked concerned but not overly so.

“As good as Federation Intelligence could make them, good enough I’d say. It would take a trip back to the archives on Earth to find us out and we won’t be here long enough to worry about that.”

“Alright then, you and Lotti will come with me and Russo. Gaza will fill in your squad and answer any question Sgt Higgins might ask, least so far as we have an answer. I want to do this only once so note everything and keep good records. If we are stopped I will do the talking. If for some reason the Calps get suspicious and try and detain us I will take my cue from you. Ready then?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

The Calps were starting to take security seriously. There had been a sudden jump a week ago when the latest ship bearing news of the war transitioned in. Today, except for the jump between Scimitar and Aleppo all air cars were confined to the ground. A short ride on the surface then time-wise and even shorter flight in Loomis’s rental, and the four of them were across the rift valley in the newer capital, and walking through the city streets towards the Calp military HQ and storage depot where Jameson and Lotti would consider the approaches leading to those areas from a military perspective. They were to look at defenses and consider firing lines, even to see about what they might do to minimize civilian casualties should it come to that. Though that rather minor detail was not at the top of their program notes.

Midday with a lot of street traffic, they split into two pairs, separated by about 25 meters and walked tourist like some distance from each other but careful not to get out of sight.

“Something is not quite right here,” Loomis was saying to Fader when a solitary figure clad in khaki fatigues, and wearing riot gear with crossed bandoleers stepped out of a doorway directly behind Lotti and Nevier. Faders hand went to his pocket and he clicked his comm unit twice. Lotti turned slowly turning to face behind and see what was happing behind him.

Twenty meters to the rear it was easy to hear, “Stop! Hands over your heads!” They were in a small pocket without others terribly near.

Lotti reached up slowly, Nevier from the corner of his eye saw a dull blur and then Lotti take a step towards the Calp trouper. He must have thrown something but to Russo it was all but invisible except for a dull black protrusion on the left side severing the strap where the two halves of the man’s body armor joined. Fader was scanning both sides of the street looking up and down to see what kind of attention was being drawn. Five seconds and nothing.

“We’ll drop back, Lotti can handle this.” Abe was not so sure but he had nothing better to offer. The two of them stood for the briefest moment, examining a store front window, then turned back towards where they had started from and the parked aircar, moving slowly so as not to attract attention.

“Inside,” Lotti said supporting the limp body and crowding Nevier towards the still open doorway that the Calp trouper had used to make his entrance. A curio shop with an older woman staring at the entrance.

While Russo blocked the woman’s view, Lotti lowered the dead Calp soldier to the floor and rifled through his pockets removing a wallet and everything else of value. Then Lotti stood and said, “He got a little excited and fainted I guess, probably was drinking. Be a sport and give him a couple of minutes and if he doesn’t come to call the hospital. Don’t want his boss gettin’ down on him or nothing like that.”

Russo had seen the body was leaking blood from a razor thin gash where Lotti had removed his knife but Lotti had placed the corpse such that the fact would be hidden for a time. Where the hell had the knife come from?

“Is there a back way out? — Ah I see it,” and Lotti pushed Russo toward the far end of the narrow storefront where there was a cracked sign reading in large letters ‘EXIT.’ The proprietress dropped to a chair, motionless and looking stunned.

The alleyway behind the building was chocked with weeds and showed neglect from all angles. Three young girls were playing some kind of came requiring singing and skipping rope. They did not stop when the two strange men cut into their space. Russo was recovered enough to give a haughty glance and brush his tunic in dismissal as they passed. Yuri grinned and gave a thumbs up.

They walked rapidly to the end of the alley and joined the street a few hundred meters from the scene of the crime. Still no alarm. The rental vehicle pulled around the corner, canopy too dark to make out who was inside. The door opened even before the car rolled to a halt and they got inside without undue haste. “Back across to Aleppo,” Loomis said, “Wish us luck. We’ll ditch the car so be ready.”

They grounded as soon as they crossed the rift and except for Abe the car emptied. He dropped of the aircar and individually the all strolled through then out of the Old Town of Aleppo. Gaza met them at the quarter’s edge driving a ground taxi and they were back with the rest of the Cardoman Drop Team before the bulletin was broadcast concerning an ill defined crime that took place in a Curio Shop.

The incident was made to sound like a robbery and the report omitted mentioning anything about a Caliphate trouper’s death. That part must go unsaid because it was bad luck, very improper procedure, to let the locals know that the soldiers stationed here were anything less than invincible.

“So we’re fucked,” Russo was not mincing words. “The Calps must have seen the landing somehow, and all bets are off. We have two choices; we get off the planet or go deep underground. And I know which one I choose! That cold blooded killer over there,” he pointed to Lotti, who was examining the edge of the carbon composite knife he carried to avoid metal scans, “has put the local security service on alert and we have to stop anything that could make them look harder than they already are.” Ending the tirade he stalked into a corner where he was ignored. Lotti was smiling still at the implied compliment.

Gaza spoke next, “I don’t think they know anything more than they have lost a minor battle out at New Britain. This is just the local commander acting tough. The dead soldier will be taken as a shakedown gone wrong. Security will tighten up but we knew that was going to happen so let’s just continue on as we were.” He looked to Abe for support which was soon forthcoming.

“Gaza is right. We have seen this heightened security come and go. What about Voinovich? Any help there?”

“I doubt it, the Aladin is so far out system that local traffic will go unheard, not to mention a six hour round trip time lag. Unless we call her off she is going to jump with a go message in another day.”

“That being the case I guess we have to try another, how do you say it, ‘recountour’? Higgins? Anything to add?”

“Don’t think that’s right Colonel, the word you want might be reconnoiter but I just love it when you mangle French.”

“For that crack Sergeant you have earned the right to—how do you say it?— come with us when we try again tomorrow.”

They left early the next morning. Civilian aircar traffic across the rift was banned so they took one of the public buses disguising themselves as worker commuters. Security was notable for its absence; this seemed to be a day for checking one-legged grannies and orphans. Jameson and Higgins did there note taking from windows and tourist observation decks well away from where they had planed to walk yesterday because the only reason Loomis could figure there was so little obvious surveillance about was that the Calps had pulled in tight and concentrated around their seat of power.

The trip back went as smoothly as the morning flight. When they were all together again Gaza asked, “So what is the verdict, do we go?”

“I didn’t see anything to stop us,” Fader said. “Eventually it will come down to what the Calps have up in space when the ships get here but from our end no reason to call it off.”

The message was sent by omission. Hearing nothing to stop her, the Aladin crept out until the transition energy from this jump, traveling at the speed of light, would reach Yatagan some hours after the pulse from a much closer in transition scheduled to be made by ships waiting a half a light year distant.