By The Sword 1

By The Sword
Chapter 1 Draft (5/15/08)

The battle alarms started sounding and the comp generate voice announced, “Transition Alarm, begin exercise.”

“We have grav pulses from eight G-4’s incoming, seventy light minutes out,” Joe Speedway said. The icons came up in blinking yellow on large screen surrounding the Cardoman Battle Cruiser the Saratoga’s Flag Plot. One by one they stopped blinking as names and vectors were assigned to the bogeys.

“Time out!” Admiral Lester Raymond, the referee said. “Stand down and send word to Lt. Brent on the battle bridge. Have him work out a solution. We need to find out how these Llanfairn loaners operate. Everyone else– take a break and we will come back in an hour. Madry see me in my office.”

The Saratoga’s Captain, Jamie Madry, issued the orders and then left Flag Plot for the Admirals spaces.

“What do you think Jamie?” Les asked.

“We’re gonna’ lose again Admiral. Too many Calps not enough Cards.They have a two to one advantage and the ships are just too equal in class type I can’t see a solution, I don’t see any way too keep them away from Cardoman.”

With a two to one disadvantage and the ships being equal in class—I think… Well I don’t see any way to keep them off of Cardoman. We could save the belt shuttle plant I think. We have enough fixed base defenses to manage that, but to do it we leave Cardoman and our orbital ship manufacturing pretty much defenseless.”

“That’s the way I see it too Jamie. We’ll work through the exercise and go talk to Calvert and the Council. We need help here and we need it now.”

* * *
Sergeant Luther White sent permission to land and the flyer set down on the flagstone pad, a dozen meters outside the stone fence surrounding Castle Calvert. Raymond and Madry had stooped at the Admiralty offices in Minton and picked up Captain Ellen Nesberg from Plans and Intents and Major Pete Reeves the head of Cardoman R&D. Reeves had never been to the Castle before but his bio-scan was on record so Luther could determine his ID even before he reached the iron, (actually alloys much tougher than that but made to look more traditional), barred gateway.

Luther knew the others by sight from their many trips to Castle grounds, but still checked their cards against the database before opening and passing them through. The thing about security was to do all of the little things right so the big things never happened.

Irwana al-Masari met them at the elaborate main entrance and directed them into the Library where Wes Calvert and Woody Woodward were seated, talking about plans already in place for the expansion of the space construction facilities that Cmdr. Woodward managed. The both stood up and as Wanna brought over from a side table a tray of drinks, all sat around the worktable near the room’s windowed southern wall.

Wesleyan Loyal Calvert was in his mid thirties and looked a few years younger. Dark haired, fairly average build with regular features. Not video star handsome but he’d do in a pinch Nesberg thought; it was a shame he and Connie Melbourne were getting ready to tie the knot. Wes went by the rank and title of Major but that didn’t tell the story by a long shot.

He was a Lieutenant newly graduated from the Jorgen Military Academy and working his first contract on Witherway and with a bit of luck made it out alive. With the remnants of his company and Connie Melbourne as his second in command, he organized a small mercenary unit that went on to amazing success on Ophia and Altoona and a few captured ships in between. The rewards were commensurate with the risks and the Cardoman Seventh, or just the Cards as they were now known, had gone on to greater glory on Sylvan and Marais. In the process money was made, a lot of money!

The Card were now officially part of the Cardoman military but they still were a mercenary force at Calvert’s command should the situation warrant. Normal rank and pay scales applied to all members of the battalion but hazard, prize, and bonus pay, had made many of the longer serving troops extremely wealthy. Both Calvert and Melbourne ranked among the ten wealthiest on Cardoman and a number of noncoms, other enlisted ranks, and officers were in the top one hundred. It made for interesting times when like now they were not serving off planet.

The units attrition from contracts running out or other opt outs was surprisingly low. And those who left were making major contributions to the economic well being of the entire planet so there was no real downside from the Seventh’s or the Governments side. Some envy yes, amongst the general population, but no real animosity except for a few in the older aristocratic families that saw a threat to their hereditary positions.

All of this did leave Wes’ status a little ambiguous as it did his wife to be and Card A company commander Constance Melbourne. For Connie this was not going to remain a problem as she was going to take leave from the military side of the family business and concentrate on the political and economic situation on Cardoman and the rest of the Indie worlds for a few years. If things worked out as they hoped their was a family to start.

In effect, Wes was the second ranking member of the Cardoman military. General Sandoval Inglase was the Chief of Staff and delegated as needed. Wes was an official Colonel on that rank structure but for idiosyncratic reason few understood preferred to go by his Mercenary Seventh rank of Major. No matter everyone, even Admiral Raymond, who Wes had hired and put in place, understood and were comfortable with the situation. In fact they would have a hard time imagining things any other way. Wes inspired that kind of confidence.

“Give us a brief rundown Les and we’ll take it from there.” Calvert said leaning back into his chair and queuing his recorder.

“I hate to start this way but that’s why we are here, at the present time if the Calps decide to send any kind of a major force into local space we can’t defend the system.”

“And how likely is that Ellen?” Wes asked of Captain Nesberg.

“Too likely by half. Major Trebeck has an ongoing evaluation but the trend-line keeps going up. The real question is how soon. They must be fully aware on Earth by now about everything that went on at Sylvan and Marais. They will also know that we were the major player in both cases. The fact we are building ships and expanding influence with the other Indies just makes us more of a threat. And we can’t for a moment ignore the loss of face we’ve caused them. The Caliphate will react and soon.”

“Exactly how they do it is harder to determine. An economic boycott against Cardoman is a given. Since we never traded much with the Caliphate in the first place that is mostly symbolic. We expect that they will mount a military operation against us. If we read the tealeaves properly, it will likely be an attempt to eliminate our ship production capacity. Take out our shipyards and claim it was a necessary measure against a rogue state.”

“Why does Trebeck think that’s what they will do instead of an all out assault on Cardoman itself?” Woodward asked. “Not that destroying the shipyards wouldn’t hurt us where it counts.”

“In Plans and Intents we don’t think the Caliphate is ready for an all out war against the Confederation. They could handle us and the rest of the Indies in a heartbeat, if that was their intent, but the Confederation makes things difficult. They obviously no about the support we are raising there, and especially about the aid we have received from Llanfairn, so to worry about just how strong that support might be seems entirely normal. That is why we think a first strike will be limited.”

“And as we have seen,” Lester spoke up again, “we cannot even defend adequately against a limited strike on our orbital systems.”

“How much time do you think we have Ellen?” Wes asked.

“That’s tricky, but between four and six months is the general consensus at the shop.”

“I should have gotten someone from the Foreign Ministry here for this talk,” Wes said. “Because I see two courses of action. One, to see what kind of help we can get from the Confederation, and two, to find out from Woody what we can do to build our own strength up. I was talking to Woody about that before you all arrived and I think he has at least a little good news on the second front. Woody?”

Warren ‘Woody’ Woodward had been in charge of Cardoman ship construction for almost twenty years. He had taken the small insystem yard and made it into a major exporter of military shuttle and landing craft. When Llanfairn came through with the technology to produce hyper drive equipment he ramrodded the construction and operation of the yard orbiting Cardoman that for its size was the best on any human world and had been meeting production records to prove it. He’s lost a lot of his best engineers and other workers into the Cardoman Navy but still managed to keep the system improving all the time.

“I’ll first lay out where we are with current production and then go on to what we might do,” he began. “The G-4 undergoing trials now finishes off our commitment to Llanfairn. We have an almost completed ship waiting in the dock for the last drive band. That one is promised to New Erin in return for the last equipment for their shipkiller missile system and electronics transfers. We have two more partially completed hulls but with band production unable to keep up, we are taking labor and resources away from hyper craft and putting it into shuttle work. We can make hulls much faster than the drive bands.”

“We could, if things go smoothly, and that’s asking for a lot, have a second drive band machine running in eight or nine months. Until then that is our bottleneck.”

“Purchasing more ships is out of the question then,” Jamie asked.

“Yes and no,” Wes replied. “No one, no system, with the ways things are, is selling military vessels, not even the G-2’s still around, but we are going to get ourselves an old G1 that we can use for transport of large bulk cargo. Union is letting her go in return for the plans and information we provided concerning our G-4 production setup. We threw in a few credits, but not many. She’s old and slow but we can use her for training and machinery transport. I have no doubt we’ll keep her busy. Name of the ship is The Widow’s Walk, and Les tells me Kathryn Marquette will be her Captain. She is a purchase of the Cardoman Seventh Corporation so we use her when we need her and rent her out when we don’t. We can book her for the foreseeable future just moving shuttles from the belt yards to their destination planets. Woody— your turn again.”

“Well—the Widow’s Walk will help with our shipping problems but is also going to take away some of my best riggers for her permanent crew. A net plus I suppose but I don’t have to like it. The good news for the belt yard is that we are selling everything we make before we make it and it’s bringing in credits for our other projects. Dory Verser keeps telling me how important that is. We cut our prices on signed contracts, still make money, and get more orders. I don’t know where this ends, but without the credits flowing in we couldn’t pay the wages we now are paying. And being able to do that means we can hire anywhere.”

“That’s fine and dandy, but shuttles can’t defend us from a Calp task-force. How do we do that? Where do we go from here?” Madry said bringing the meeting back on point.

“One of my scientist-engineers made a very interesting observation. And by the way I was at first leery of getting scientists into my engineering departments but now I can see I was wrong, at least if you get them early enough, before they start taking themselves too seriously. The guy said that he ran some calculations and the numbers showed if we put just one hyper-band on a G-4 ship, instead of all four, we could get grav control even if we couldn’t take her hyper. The way the math works out, and I had it double checked, we would have enough grav control that with normal armaments the acceleration potentials in normal space would make such a ship the near equal of a fully hyper capable vessel.”

“How much would we have to change the hulls? How hard to add the rest of the bands later on?” Wes asked.

“The initial change to one band saves us some time. Adding the other three later would take a few weeks to a month, but then we would have to do a complete system retest. Still, until we get another band machine going it makes sense.”

“What will that mean over the next half year?”

“Three more ships in the fleet that insystem have the kind of capabilities to fight on an equal basis, ship for ship, with whatever the Calps send against us.”

“And the downside?”

“Only one I can see Wes. It would delay selling another ship out-system but unless we are harder up for foreign credit than it looks from where I sit that shouldn’t be a problem. But finding crews, that’s were the real hurt lies.”

Wes paused a moment in thought then said, “Maybe we could get the crew’s from the people that will ultimately take delivery of the ships that we are going to sell anyway and all we need do is find crews for the ones we keep. I know even the second part is hard enough but I get with the Foreign Ministry and see what they think about the first part. It’s a plan at least so start the planning soonest. I will find out if we go ahead.”

* * *
“I think we will have little or no problem getting the changed production schedule through the relevant committees,” Dennis Horvath said to a general round of nodding agreement. “It will be a big plus when the votes come down that it means having more ships guarding us even if the crews are not completely our own.” Joining in the discussion with Cardoman President Horvath were Victor Shilling, the Foreign Minister, Aldoria Verser, the Minister for Finance, and Wes Calvert.

“That’s all well and good but it doesn’t come close to solving all our problems.” Wes said so calmly that he might have been ignored if he had been prone to speaking loudly. “We might beat off a first Caliphate attack but if we do they will next send a fleet we have no chance of dealing with. We need allies and we will not get allies willing to risk their own systems until war is inevitable. For Cardoman to survive war must come, and the sooner it does the better our chances.”

“That will be a much harder sell,” Dennis said ruefully. “In fact it’s a non starter. I’m already catching hell for what we did on Sylvan and Marais and those complaining the loudest are the ones who fear war the most.”

“Any sane individual fears war,” Aldoria chimed in. “But we have to make sure that the alternative is clear to the public. It will help that the economy is expanding so rapidly now but we need to get the message out that hard times are ahead. And do it in a way that doesn’t rob our coalition of too much support. I have started to hear grumbling from the usual suspects that too many or the best of the new jobs are going to new arrivals. Unless we make it clear the reason why it’s working that way, those kinds of complaints will resonate.”

Victor Shearing held up a hand and when all were looking at him began to speak, “Each of us here is aware the war has started. Wes is exactly right, without allies it will be short in the Cardoman system and we will lose. We need to do a number of things without delay. First of all, get as many Confederation and Indie worlds to accept the inevitable and agree to mutual defense treaties. Secondly, we need to get Llanfairn to base one of their squadrons here. And thirdly, we need to get the Confederation to do the same. And do this before the Calp fleet comes a callin’.”

“Ok, that’s a diplomatic mission. Can you do it and what does it cost?” Horvath asked.

“Let’s talk about it from the Feddies point of view first. Reshevsky on Union is in our corner and that counts for a lot. Novi, as we know, is if anything even more firmly prepared to throw in with us. What we need to do is give them both something to show their people that is substantial and compelling. The Confederation, or at least the Confederation Military and the present government, would like to get a foothold out here in Indie-space. The one thing big enough to truly motivate them would be valuable real estate, and especially in our system, and we do have something to offer.”

“We can’t give up either of or shipyards,” Dory said at once. Without them our economy collapses and we’re all out of office.”

“Not what I was getting at,” Victor said. “We have our fueling station and base at Midas. We also could grant claims to parts of the belt. Heavy metals are in such demand that they are worth more to others than to us. Our current production can handle present needs and there is always Altoona. Am I not right Dory?”

“I can see it from that point,” the Finance Minister said. “But ceding sovereignty to part of our system, and make no mistake that’s what it would take, is something no one has ever done before, and then lived long enough as an independent power to remember it as something positive.

“I have to disagree with you there Dory,” Wes spoke up. “Back on Earth some eight hundred years ago there was a major power, though starting to show decline, that was engaged in a war with another power on the same continent. It looked like defeat was inevitable and the only hope was for aid from an uninvolved power on another land mass. The country facing imminent defeat traded far flung basses for economic and military aid, and eventually when the party that took control of those bases was compelled to enter the war, managed to end up on the winning rather than loosing side.”

“You’re talking about Britain and America aren’t you Wes?” Dennis said. “I don’t have your knowledge on the history involved, but wasn’t that the last hurrah for the British Empire before she slunk off stage as a major power?”

“She lasted another hundred years and it was the rise of the Caliphate that finally did her in as it did the Americans as well. I think that would work as a very fine starting point for us if Vic can make it happen and you, Mr. President, can sell it to the rest of the government.”

“We’ll have to insist we maintain primary fueling rights and none of our people lose their jobs.”

“Absolutely, I don’t see any problem with that,” Victor said.

“That takes care of Union, Novi, and the Confederation, provided they go along with us. What do we do to get Llanfairn here and in force?” Dennis then asked.

“We start with heavy metals but that won’t be enough. We throw in all the rest of our technology base, those things Llanfairn doesn’t have yet as transfer items, and that still might not be enough. I hate to say this but I think it will take money, large amounts of money, mountains and rivers of money, and all untraceable directly to us, or back-traceable to the recipients. Louise has a list of whose palms need greasing, and ideas of how to make the transfers. We need to come up with the funds, and we can’t do it governmentally, doing it that way would be bound to leak, so that means wealthy private sources. Wes you’re the one we have here now. How far are you willing to go with this?”

Without hesitation Wes answered, “Far enough I suspect, far enough. Let me know how much you need and when you need it. We’ll make arraignments and take it from there.”

“No records and off the books you understand, don’t you Wes?” Victor said. “You aren’t likely to get any of it paid back.”

“I hear you loud and clear.”

* * *
“Ma’am I don’t see how I can be a bridesmaid.” Lieutenant Audie Madry said shaking her head while looking attentively at her one time platoon commander, Connie Melbourne. “No experience and until today no inclination. Now that could change– I suppose–but I gotta’ really get my head around the concept first.”

“You are extremely good with concepts Audie, it’ll be a cinch. I have this little list for you,” And Connie handed over three pages of closely printed details. “Just look at the main points and all will become clear, why soon enough you will start to wonder how it was that you managed to miss out on all the fun until now.”

Taking the papers, and scanning them rapidly, Audie said, “What’s this part about swords?”

“Very old and very traditional, I think Wes will love it.”

“The Sgt. Major has been playing with swords again. You put him up to it?”

“No, but it did get my interest. Recon is going to provide a marine guard on all of our hyperships and I think that’s what got Robbie going. But remember he started some of that back when we took the Carpathian.”

“That seems so long ago now doesn’t it Ma’am?”

“Audie! Stop calling me that! My leave has gone through and for the time being at least I am not in the Seventh’s chain of command. Just call me Connie like everyone else does.”

“Yeah, I guess I can do that,” Audie said with a smile. “And I hear you’re gonna’ be in charge of the Cardoman Government now. Won’t that be something!”

“Not now, not hardly, and not ever! But yes it will be a change for me. The populated area around the Castle has expanded so much, especially after we resettled the refugees from Sylvan, that another district needed to be set up. Since serving military personnel are disbarred from holding a seat, and the people from Sylvan, even though they were granted immediate citizenship, haven’t been here long enough to run for office, when Wes asked me to run it just made sense. Even I wouldn’t have enough time as a normal immigrant citizen for eligibility without the automatic military dispensation.”

“That’s one of the things that help us with recruiting, the fact you serve your term and if you choose to leave all the benefits go with it.”

“Thank Horvath and the Progressives for that much. He knows what this planet needs and it’s a damned good thing he has the leadership now. But politics ain’t why we’re her girl. We have a wedding to plan.”

Looking again at the three-page document Audie said, “I think you got it planed Ma’am– now we just need to execute!”

* * *
Former CSM. Robert T. Davis leaned his chair back on two legs and was glad for the chance. His legs were out of the casts that had kept his mobility down for the last couple of months, and despite the pain he was ready to resume full duties. But that just wasn’t going to happen, nor should it when he looked at his situation honestly. The docs had given him a limited pass. Enough for most things but not to do what would be required of a fully active member of Seventh Recon. Nothing he could do about it, no amount of additional therapy and effort was going to change things, the injuries healed, but only so much. From here on in he would be leading from behind.

Bamm! Bamm! Bamm! Followed by the announcement. “Lieutenant Jameson, to see the Colonel!” And the newly minted officer waked into the office at the back of the squad bay and braced to attention.

“Take a load off Fader,” Col. Davis said, “You’re as new with your rank as I am with mine so let’s not get all up and formal here.”

“Thanks Sarge– er I mean Colonel,” Jameson said. “No make that Thank you Sir! One way or another you will always deserve that much respect.”

“Stop polishing the apple Lieutenant. And I will keep calling you that till you get used to the new rank. Grab the other chair and take a load off.” Robbie opened a lower drawer, pulled out a bottle, then poured two tumblers about a third full before awkwardly standing up and handing one to Jameson. “Here’s to the Seventh, those present and past.” They each drained their glasses then took a seat.

“With me being on medical most of the last couple months and you in school I suspect our sources of information are about equal.” Robbie said.

“I don’t think I could agree with you there Colonel, the Major wasn’t visiting me or anyone else in command school on a daily basis. We hear about things like that you know. At least I do. I kept in touch with the team.”

“Sure, the Major visited, but that was social. The main thing is that Recon’s mission is changing. And you are going to be my eyes and ears to insure the change works. The present threat analysis says we are going to have to deal with the Calps in our home system. And it’s obvious we don’t want to wait till they land on Cardoman to start. So we in Recon become the spearhead of the Fleet Marine Force. Something easier said than done.”

“I hear you. Been thinking about it ever since it became obvious, maybe even before. We have no established doctrine or tradition. We need to go way back for anything like that. Back before inter-system travel and colony ships and hyper travel. Back to the days when pirate suppression and boarding parties were a regular facet of shipboard life.”

“Tell me more Fader, I think we are on the same wavelength. Then we get to decide where we take it next.”

“Recon is too small to put even a platoon sized force on even the few ships we have in our navy now. Training can’t be skimped on for Recon. That has to be a given. What we might do is put a squad on board and train up a detachment, say platoon sized, for the kinds of things that ship to ship fighting and drill might require, so long as they hasn’t totally destroyed each other beforehand.”

“What makes you think that won’t happen Fader?”

“Can’t say it won’t Robbie. But I’m planning to survive and I think doing things out in the fleet the way I envision will be the best way to insure that it works out that way.”

“Give me the details then and we can see where it takes us.”

Next