By The Sword 10

By The Sword
Chapter 10 Draft (8/22/08)

For Hanna Perkins the worst of things was not knowing. Not knowing what had happened on Sylvan since she left. The best? There just wasn’t any. No! —She had to get away from thinking like that. She struggled to get her emotions under control.

The arrival of Victorious at Novi caused an eruption in both the government and the popular press. After discussion with military and governmental leaders, Hanna was amazed at their unanimity of outlook. I was as if there was only one faction involved in formulating policy, and in this case that was how things were. This kind of agreement was unheard of on Sylvan, where for years its diverse ethnic factions had been exploited by the Caliphates political machinery.

As soon as they transitioned in and the first exchanges were complete, while still onboard, Hanna, with complete cooperation of the military and government gave interviews to the media. When she landed, a day was spent in meeting with the Planetary President and many lesser officials, including what would have been the opposition if one existed. It was only a matter of a few days before Hanna was on a transport for Union, the capital of the Confederacy.

Much as she wanted to stay inside Indie Space and remain closer to Sylvan, she recognized the need to garner support from the Feddies if Sylvan were to be set free. Before she left Novi Hanna knew that Novi intended to send a ship to watch over Sylvan at a distance, and was going to send perhaps as much of a third of here fleet to reinforce Cardoman. With that fleet would go the last cargo shipped out from Sylvan and carried on the Victorious.

If the Calps hammer was to fall again, surely Cardoman would be the head of the nail, and that cargo was all Sylvan had to offer at this time. Another ship would be dispatched to Llanfairn, by far the most prosperous and influential member of the Indie worlds. And every ship that exited the Novi system from this point forwards would take word to whatever port of call was next on their schedule. News like this would travel fast. But due to the distances and the limiting speed of the only way of transmitting it, by shipborne courier, there were worlds on the opposite side of the Caliphate from Novi that would not hear anything concerning this for almost half a year.

The threat to Novi due to her open pre-conflict support for Cardoman was also very immediate and real. Hanna could only wonder in silence how this planet could give up even a portion of her own defensive forces when so much of the future was uncertain. She hadn’t seen the infighting that led to the final disposition of forces.

At Command Fleet Headquarters Novi, Grand Admiral Asbury in charge of the planets’ combined space forces called his subordinates together in order to implement the governmental policy. For the better part of a year contingency planes for various scenarios were drawn and redrawn by the Admirals planning staff. With so much time invested into planning it should have been no surprise that they had something already in draft that came close to the situation they now faced. In hindsight though, it was remarkable.

Talbert Flynn would be in charge of the squadron leaving for Cardoman. A year earlier he had been very much in agreement with the Anti-war segment of the Federation’s military and political establishment. His outlook gradually changed and now he was at least, and at best, neutral on that score.

To say the overall command structure of the Confederation of Free World’s combined forces was complicated was an understatement. The Admiralty on Union, located at the seat of government, held supreme authority. Because of the unavoidable communications lag, each major base had someone, usually from that planetary system in local command. Here on Novi that person was Admiral Asbury.

Novi was a Class 1 world, meaning she had a large population and tech base. She had her own shipyard capable of building interstellar shipping and because of that was a natural site for a major base. The planet had three squadrons that called her their home port. Most of the ships were locally built and the crews local citizens. Grand Admiral Asbury, a native, commanded the base. Squadron Admiral Flynn was from Navara and serving under orders issued by the Admiralty. Even so he was under Asbury’s direct authority.

“Talbert, this is what you have to work with. “You’ll have the Federation Novi Victorious under Burgeon for your flag, and two G-3’s for section leaders, our Atropos under Hemphill and FNS Casandra under Marty Vogel. RNS Panoply under Kimsky is yours once you reach Cardoman provided his instructions from Ryman permit it. If not I am sure he will cooperate. It’s fortunate we have as many ships at home as we do now.
I’m giving you the Ryman RNS Pride of Mills Valley as a fast transport and communications vessel. Take a good look at the listing of the rest of your squadron and if you want any changes made call me directly and I will make arraignments. Do what you can to work them up as a team on the way out. There may not be much time once you get there. Any questions at this time?”

“I think that about covers it for now Admiral. I will send you my final disposition report before we transit out. We should be hading to the point sometime early tomorrow. They’ll have to work at it but I have every confidence.”

“As do I Talbert. I’ll keep pulling strings, both here and at the Federation Admiralty. If I can get you more help I will, but we can’t count on it. Keep the lines of communication open and God Speed!”

Squadron Talbert departed on time as stated. Along with the Victorious and his two section ships Admiral Flynn had another eight warships, all G-3’s and another two supply ships along with the Mills Valley, a very considerable force. But whether or not it would be enough was up to the Caliphate and the plans they had made.

* * *
“Run it through again,” Captain Langston said to his first officer Clarence Fletcher.

“Yes Sir!” was his only reply, Lt Cmdr Fletcher had long since learned that perfection was not good enough when the captain was overseeing things.

This was another boat drill. Valuable in itself, but Fletch would have been spending the time on weapons drill if it was his to decide. He had pushed for a change in the operations plan but to no avail. One thing at a time was Langston’s comment, and so it was. One thing, over and over, so it seemed.

Fletch was afraid if this kept up a major portion of the crew would begin sleepwalking through the drill. If that happened mistakes were going to be made. And he was responsible for mistakes. The last go around met with the Captain’s approval and the ship’s company stood down.

“That’s the way I like to see it done,” Langston commented. “You can start your weapons drill on the watch after next. Give the crew my appreciation and carry on.” Langston retired back to his day cabin as Fletch completed the watch from the bridge.

Yuri was now up to standing a relief watch in engineering without additional supervision so long as someone was available with more experience should he need it. That gave Audie time to work on software updates for ship’s systems and time to document and pass along the changes to the rest of the Cardoman fleet. She had just received her Lieutenant Commander’s stripe, and Yuri would go Warrant as soon as the paperwork cleared. Such were the rewards for success.

In the Seventh she was still a Lt, but her paperwork for Captain was churning through the mill and would be completed when she got back. And she was sure she would go back to the Seventh, once there, the rank wouldn’t actually mean much, The Cardoman military structure was passing strange,

The last twenty-four hours spent doing boat drill was an annoyance to the engineering detail, but not a lot of extra work. All they did when abanson ship sounded was to load into the inflatable life pods and drift around until they were returned to the Dragon. The first couple of times they played the game as if they had time for an orderly departure from the ship and Audie made here way to one of their two shuttles. After that they did nothing but emergency evacuations.

It was get on board the shuttle or escape pod, then wait for recall, then wait again and back to the ship to wait till the cycle restarted. Five times, three spent floating around it the pods seemed excessive but she could get some sleep and had her comp with her to get some work part of the time. This was only a drill so they didn’t shut down ships power completely at anytime, and they powered down to maintenance levels only twice. For that reason the normal engineering crews on duty stayed with the ship and off duty ratings had a little excitement.

Audi was just about to clean up and get ready for a real nights sleep when her door chime sounded and Boss’n Pilchard announced his presence.

“Come on in Carl, I’m decent,” she said as the hatch opened.

“Sorry to bother you Audie,” he said seating himself in one of the two comfortable chairs in the small stateroom.

“Must be important or you wouldn’t be here so what is it?” Audie took the other seat.

“Audie, I’m not sure how to start this but let’s do it this way. What did you think about the last 24 hours of drills?”

“I wondered what took you guys so long to get things right, but other than that not much.” She gave Pilchard her full attention, but other than that just said, “And?”

“Those drills were all perfect. Or at least as it is possible to do them with a human crew. Your section had it easy and you only went on the first shuttle. After that your people were all together in the same life pod so they never got to listen to the rest of the crew complaining. And they damn sure had reason to complain. Let me tell you about the Marine detachment.”

“Their job at the end of each drill was to sweep the ship and make sure there was no one injured in any compartment or crawl space before the left on the last shuttle. All out, every compartment, and they were being scored by time with some of the hatches declared inoperable due to damage and other sections of the ship declared breached and out of air so suits were needed. Audie they set records! Five time in a day. There all passed out now in their berths except for Pvt Freidikin, he’s in the brig. Oh and Lt. Jameson who is in the Captains cabin, getting raked over the coals I’d wager.”

“Whatever for?”

“Freidikin missed one, a dummy, a stuffed suit on the floor in a closet in Captain Langston’s day room. Sure, in a perfect world he would have checked, but this was the fourth time we ran the drill and Langston was in his cabin when Freidikin burst in feigning injury while Freidikin carried him out. He’d been on duty the shift before the drills started, standing guard on the Captain’s door, and was almost dead on his feet by that time. This ain’t hear-say; I saw it myself from the bridge.”

Audie went to the corner of her room and punched up a couple of cups of coffee before responding. “Remember when I came onboard the SnapDragon, I said at the time it seemed odd here? You told me the Navy was had a way of its own and I took you at your word. What’s changed?”

“I could have said something then, maybe should have, but I wasn’t sure myself and didn’t want to cry to a newcomer, especially you. You needed to see things in your own way and I really didn’t know. After we talked I started to keep a notebook. Here it is.” Carl pulled it from a shirt pocket. Paper and ink, nothing electronic about it.” He handed it over.

“Do I read this now?” Audie asked.

“It can wait. When you’re done keep it. I’ll start a new one; I don’t even trust my own com codes for things like that. The instances will all seem petty standing alone but the make up a total story that–” and Carl paused here before saying, “Langston isn’t suitable for command. Unless something is done, and we go to war, people are going to be killed.”

“So—you pass it up the line? Make it my problem?”

He shook his head as if disoriented, “It looks like that doesn’t it? What I wanted to do, when I came in here, was just to talk with someone else about it. If I’m all wet then my career in the Navy is down the tubes. I can take that without too much strain. The problem is the reason I’m still in could go down the drain as well. And that I can’t take. You are far closer to people on the Captain’s level and above than I am. Do what you think is right. Whatever it is I will support you. If nothing else I’ll understand. I really am sorry to bring this to you Audie, but bringing this to you is all I could think of.”

“Ok Carl, I’ll nose around. Since the missile test life for me on ship has been pretty smooth, could be I should have been looking harder. Sometimes though the best thing is to do nothing. Get some sleep, I’m gonna do the same. I’ll talk to Captain Jameson tomorrow and see what he has to say.”
Boss’n Pilchard took both empty cups, rinsed them in the sink in the corner, then left the room saying, “Thanks.”

Mismatched work schedules, it was two days later Audi finally caught up with Jameson. By this time the SnapDragon was docked at Cardoman Station, the large military satellite. No one in her own shop had said anything about Freidikin or the brig. She had found him in the ship’s near empty gym working out. Audie changed, then took a couple of rapiers and joined him. “Remember these things?” She handed one over, grip first.

“Sure do Audie, but you don’t stand a chance and should know it. On Guard!”

Five minutes later the board score maxed out. All red on Audie’s side, and Fader hadn’t been touched.

And good to see you again Ma’am, lessons are Wednesdays but I am mostly booked up. For you I could make an exception. Call it a past business bonus.” He hadn’t broken a sweat and Audi was panting and having trouble standing. So much for muscle memory sans practice.

“I didn’t plan on wining but I didn’t think it would be that bad,” she gasped.

“We take no prisoners. I should know; I’ve heard it enough from the Captain.”

“Yeah, the Captain. What say we shower and meet at the O-Club? I want to talk about that.”

“Sure Audie. I’ll beat you there too!”

This time Audie won, but she had to run from the club’s door to the bar in order to do it, passing Jameson, who didn’t see her enter the room behind him.

“I won the drink back.” Audie said while the barkeep came over and all of the eyes watching turned away from the sight of a short female Naval Lt Cmdr running in the normally more reserved environs.

Ok Audie, it is not my body you’re after, you can have that anytime, hey—I’m easy. Why the secret meeting?”

“Secret? With me running through the bar?”

“Yeah, tactics, another thing you could use some work on. But when it comes to explosive displays—Hey! Congratulations! You got that one down pat. Those new missiles look good even from the limited things I hear.”

“Thanks Kelly,” Fader said as the bartender brought too mugs of draft over and welcomed them in. They were seated at the small ‘L’ shaped section ending the bar with no table near their seats occupied.

Audie didn’t drink much, but when she did it was here, and both Fader and her own self were quite well known. It went with being a member of the Seventh and being a Fleet Marine Force Officer made it obligatory. “Tell it Audie,” he said before taking his first pull.

“Let’s go about this obliquely instead of me barging in. Tell me about Private Freidikin.”

“You heard about that, I’m amazed. He was out of the hooch by the next morning. Who told you about it?”

“Let’s just say a little bird. And I heard you were either called on the carpet or went to bat for him— maybe both.

“I plead guilty on both counts. Freidikin was technically at fault, I assume you know the charges, but it should have been administrative punishment if anything. The brig was way overboard. And I had to say so. It’s not part of my job to question the Captain, except when what he does makes a hash out of the marines’ readiness. Skipping administrative justice would have done that. Took a while but the Captain finally saw it the same way.”

“And that’s it?” Audie took a large swallow from her own mug.

“Damn-it Audie, you’re dancing around something here. If you want more from me you gotta’ go first.”

“If I do that and something comes of it and I am wrong then we both are guilty of conspiring against our oaths of office and the code of military conduct and justice. Serious stuff. Are you up for it?”

“Go ahead, I’m listening.”

Audie took another drink and looked around; she brushed at her bangs which came nowhere close to obscuring anything, and then said, “It’s the Captain. I think there’s something wrong with him.”

Yeah, well, Ok. I don’t much like him myself, care to be more specific?”

“That’s the hard part. There used to be something called ‘The Right Stuff.’ You know it when you see it. The Major, Colonel Davis, Stan Voinovich, my cousin Jamie, even you have it Fader, the rest of us, we can tell. I don’t think Roger Langston is even close. And I don’t know what to do about it.”

Fader slowly shook his head from side to side and said, “I hear you, and can’t say I disagree. But I’m at as much a loss of something to do as you are. Our reports are good. The crew is performing, meeting goals and improving. Anything concrete you or I could say about the Captain seems pretty minor compared to what we measure. All I can say Audie is that we both keep our eyes open and watch our sixes. If he cracks we can hope it happens soon. If we’re wrong, we won’t have ruined another’s life and messed up our own in the process.”

“Yeah, a heads up. Thanks for listening.”

“That’s what I am here for. Now tell me more about the ‘Right Stuff’ and how someone you know might have it, cause if I never said it before, you’re not all that shabby yourself.”

* * *
The Eagle made a fair transition, eighty-seven minutes outside the limit. After first her recognition signals, the data packet was sent, that was what was most important anyway, and it got through to Cardoman at the speed of light. Three days later, docked to Cardoman Station, all members of the crew got with the exception of a small rotating watch received a well-earned seventy-two hour pass, and Dave Gump was meeting with Admiral Raymond.

“This is preliminary Dave, and probably a waste of time. Your download was complete and any follow-ups on your way in didn’t change a thing. Still our ‘Overlords’ down below like to know what’s going on before the bills are paid. It will likely be a rather light grilling this time with you as the raw meat. Here’s a distillation of everything you sent us. Take a look, and if you think of something more to add, make the notes and get it back here on the double. My staff will finish the report’s final and official draft. You go downstairs in four hours. I’ll send someone from public relations to get you up to speed on proper behavior. Just remember, the truth always works. You tell it straight. If it needs seasoning; we do that part from up here.” With Captain Gump on his way, Les grabbed his own shuttle, for a direct flight to Castle Calvert.

“This was a first for the lander’s pilot, a flight through the defended airspace of the Castle. Entering the destination code before filing his flight-plan, sent a request that caused the appropriate identification and response codes to upload via secure data link into his signals gear’s IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) buffer. He was able to detect two separate radars tracking him from the time he came over the horizon till he set down on the pad some six kilometers from the Castle proper. The parking area closer in was for atmospheric and ground cars only.

When Captain Gump left the lander for his meeting, the shuttle remained on the pad, powered down to standby, and waited for instructions on the time of departure to the civilian shuttle port at the Capital.

Sgt. Luther White met the car from the shuttle pad and escorted Captain Gump through outer security and into the large tiled foyer of the Castle’s main entrance. Dave had heard the building described in some detail by Pamela Hines but never been inside.

“Hello Captain, I’m Wana Omari,” said a youngish looking woman of obvious Arabian ancestry with a pleasant tone as she took over his guidance from Sgt White. “I run this pile of rock for the Major and his wife.”

“A pleasure to meet you Ma’am.”

“I checked our records and see that this is the first time you’ve been out here. The Major is still on his way in from some business in town and the Mistress is upstairs taking a nap. She asked that I wake her before you arrived but I think she is working too hard, so I forgot.” Wana smiled and the twinkle in here eyes invited Dave into the conspiracy. “I’ll wake her now and the Major should arrive in about ten minutes. First though, if you’ll come with me, I’ll take you to the back where the Major’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Grayson is already waiting.”

She led him deeper inside taking a direct route down a wide central hallway with a turn to the right, when they reached what must have been a position near the rear wall they kept with the turn. The building seemed even larger from the insides than the view Dave saw from above as the shuttle came in for its landing.

Before they reached the end of the side passage Wana took him through a double width sliding glass door into a room that resembled nothing else but a local tavern with one oddity. Three sides of the room were covered with, or perhaps made from, rough-hewn wooden planks; the wall opposite the doorway was a floor to ceiling window looking out on the back Castle’s grounds. Clay Grayson stood as they entered.

“Good to see you Dave, and I’m glad we have a few minutes before the meeting starts. Let me help you fix yourself something to drink,” he said pointing walking over to the bar on one wall. “After I show you where things are you’re on your own and then we can talk.”

Dave said, “Sounds good to me,” and turned around to thank Wana, but found she had already left. After they sat at the table Clay was using as his work area Gump said, admiring the view out the window-wall. “This place is really something. If I didn’t know the Major had it built only a few years ago I could believe it had been here for centuries.”

“It does look old, but that window you are looking through is armorplast. The sill at the bottom is the top of a wall that can slide up from the floor. It looks like all the others in the room, and they are all backed up by hull metal. This is not just a castle in name only. They talked about the report and trip from Sylvan for couple of minutes before Clay said “Look,” and pointed outside added, “There’s the Major.”

It took a moment for Dave to find him and when he did he said, “That’s him? On the— the Camel?”

Wes was heading towards one of the outbuildings a couple of hundred meters away. The animal settled to the ground and he dismounted, giving the halter to someone who had just come from inside of the barn-like structure. He appeared to say a few words then started walking towards them, still to far away, in spite of the window-wall to see inside the room’s darker interior.

Before Clay had a chance to reply Dave heard the faint sound of the door-wall sliding open and turned to see Connie Calvert striding inside. “Stay seated men, I’ll help myself.” She went behind the bar and grabbed a glass and bottle then came to the table and sat directly opposite Captain Gump. “Wana should have called me before you got here Dave, If should wasn’t indispensable I’d have to do something about it. But I did need the sleep.”

“You did indeed Madam Undersecretary,” Clay said, “And Mrs. al-Omari has my number to call if she ever needs employment elsewhere, so I think you had best not say a word and let this one slide.”

“The first lesson of command. Never give an order that won’t be obeyed. I must be getting rusty.” She poured for herself and noticing is look at the bottle said to Captain Gump, “Fruit-juice, doctors orders. One glass of Wine with dinner. I’m on hard rations.”

“Sorry to hear that Ma’am, I hope the condition isn’t serious.”

“Connie, till we get into town Dave. And serious isn’t the word for it. I’m due to become a mother in about five months now. Though I have been called that before.”

They all laughed at that and Connie said, “Wes will be down as soon as he showers and changes, we’ll eat and then we all go to Minton. Both of us have read your preliminary report. And before I came down I saw a note that Admiral Raymond sent an hour ago saying that nothing much has changed. So let’s just keep this social call and you can relax.”

“It wasn’t much longer before Wes joined them. The talked briefly about Sylvan but spent most of the time discussing other matters. Wana brought in lunch and an hour later Wes drove them out to the shuttle pad and they left for the Capital.”

The session before Military Affairs, Appropriation and Budget committee went as predicted. Wes and General Inglase watched from the rear of the room. Connie handled much of the government’s side of the questioning; making sure that what she wanted on record was mentioned. Dave was surprised at how civil the questioning was. Even the opposition party’s speakers were thoughtful and serious. On Ryman, his home world, this would likely have degenerated into a partisan riot.

Late afternoon and the session was over. They went to the Generals office where Dave was introduced to Captain Sally Tomes from Army Public Relations.

“Sally has your interviews with the Newsies scheduled and will stay with you tomorrow until you’re finished. You can stay at our place in town her Dave,” Connie offered, “But we would much rather you came back to the Castle for the evening. Totally up to you.”

“The Castle by all means. I have a great desire for open spaces after two months on the Eagle.”

“Sally? We could find a place for you if you can get away.”

“Why thank you, I would love to. Let me get out of here now and I will pack a bag and be at the field as soon as humanly possible. How much longer do you think you folks will be here?”

“The General and I have an action list to put together, an hour I should think,” Wes said. “Plenty of time if you hurry.”

“And I need to see if anything new has come in from Irwana’s husband Gaza.” Connie added. “So get a move on it and we will see you at the port.”