By The Sword 11

By The Sword
Chapter 11 Draft (9/12/08)

Philomel Station was much like Terra Major, built at the same time and with virtually identical plans. There was docking spaces for only four capital ships so most of the incoming Captain’s would be ferried in via two shuttle ports and the shuttle’s docking bay.

Inside, the level of opulence, non-functional decoration, was considerably less than at Terra Major Station, but the general sense of urgency and purpose most noticeably greater. Captain Kalid’s ship ‘Sword of the Prophet’ made a picture perfect docking right after Admiral Kahn’s flagship the ‘Reza Gholam’ put in. Admiral Razuli Suleiman was still at the Main Docking port when Kalid came on board.

After the piping in, so similar to what was done in the Confederation and Indie space, Rashid had a moment to speak with Admiral Suleiman. The Admiral of course began, “We have not met, but your fame precedes you Captain.”

“Thank you Admiral,” Rashid said somewhat guardedly.

“Well deserved and well intentioned you may be sure. I have studied the action off Mizar and realize the choice you needed to make. Not many would have chosen as wisely. We shall not speak of this again.”

“For my part,” Kalid said, “I am happy for my ship’s crew that you are here to welcome us. May I introduce my first officer Commander Metemma?”

Metemma braced himself and saluted with the will of a plebe. “I am honored to be here Sir,” he said.

“The Honor is to the Prophet, I am his servant.” Suleiman had that formal greeting down pat, but it looked to Rashid as if he believed it as well. If such were the case, his addition to the fleet would add more than numbers.

“If you both would continue on with my staff aide Cmdr. Al-Qiblah, I will greet and introduce myself to all of your other Captain’s as they dock. We will be working closely together and first impressions are important. Briefings will start in three hours. Until then you have the freedom of the station. Go with Allah for he alone can show the way.”

Not Allah, but Nayier Al-Qiblah and a senior rating, led them to the Officers Mess. Admiral Khan was waiting for them at a large table in a sunken area near the center of the room. They did not see him until ushered inside of the privacy screen surrounding the area. Quite large, this area had relaxed informal seating for thirty or more.

With the Admiral were Captain Cahdesh and a half dozen of Suleiman’s senior officers. Rashid recognized Captain Yousarin of the G-3 BC Jihad. Yousarin took care of introductions and the group talked of routine matters as one by one the rest Kahn’s Captains were led into the screened section of the room, Suleiman accompanying the last arrival. When all were seated Admiral Kahn began to speak.

“The operation at Mizar went as well as could be expected, better than I thought it would. I wish to commend all of you here who were involved and I am assured by Admiral Kahn that Philomel Squadron is ready to perform to those same standards. I have known Suleiman for half a lifetime and respect his judgment as much as any man I have served with. Do not disappoint me at this late date.”

“Fleet Captain Inshalah Cahdesh will conduct the rest of this overview and after a meal we will begin the detailed briefing. I urge and insist that every one of us become acquainted with the others present that he does not know. I will be doing the same as each of us holds the lives of the rest in trust. We have precious little time, though a bit more than I had planed on, and must make the most of it. Though it be as Allah wills, we shall aid him in all possible ways.”

Fleet Captain Cahdesh began, “As you all have heard by now the ‘Medina’ arrived in system only hours ago. She has instructions from Earth that will change our plans somewhat. We have another Squadron, one from New Mecca, five more ships on their way to join us. While we wait for them to arrive and continue our training, Captain Kalid is going to go on ahead and take the Sword in for a close look at what has been going on at Cardoman.”

Two hours later Rashid Kalid and the Sword of the Profit were heading out system feeling very much alone.

* * *
Warren Woodward watched from a screen in his office while seated with his old friend Igor Lerminov, the Cardoman Navy’s Fleet Engineering Officer, as the yard crew brought Woodward’s latest ‘Latest Build,’ slowly in towards the Navy dock on Cardoman Station. This was not the rapid ‘Bring her close and kill the velocity so a tube can make hookup’, but the far more delicate nose forward into the evacuated compartment maneuver where the seals would be set and the atmosphere restored.

Christening and acceptance into service of the CNS Ranger would happen on the morrow. Just like her sister ship Essex, the Ranger was a one drive band G-4 and hence labeled as a G-41. Both ships had the parental classes’ standard armament and except for acceleration were their equal in all respects. Well perhaps not in efficiency, but that would come as they worked through the training schedule.

Workers in vacuum suits jetted about and cables were attached from the station to clasp points on the Ranger, and then, ever so slowly, with additional guidance from the ship’s thrusters, the 30,000 tons vessel was brought into contact with the port. Additional supporting members were attached and the seal completed. It would take an hour to repressurize the compartment, this procedure happened infrequently enough that heaters had not been installed to counteract the drop in temperature when the air filling the chamber expanded, but the tricky part was finished.

“A difficult job nicely done,” Commander Lerminov said.

“They are good; they ought to be with all the construction going on riggers are the least of my worries. Admiral Raymond keeps taking my best engineers and mechanics from me to keep the fleet expanding. I get to provide ten percent of the Ranger’s crew for him,” Woody lamented.

“What about the rest?” Igor asked.

“The Ranger will be manned by a mixed crew, near half from Freehold where the next hyper rated G-4 is slated for delivery so good training time for them, and the other half raw Cardoman Naval Academy graduates and upper class trainees and of course my contribution.”

“How in the world did those anarchists on Freehold finally get together and agree to cooperate long enough to combine and purchase her?”

“I think it was fear. They call it rational self-interest. A strong point could be made that they are one and the same. Freehold is on a fairly direct route between Cardoman and Earth. Let’s go see the Admiral, he’s expecting us and if there’s time before we start he can fill in the details much better than I.”

“This is a first so far as I know—a fleet-wide engineering conference.”

“Madry’s idea, fronted by Captain Reeves out of R&D. We haven’t had so many ships in system at one time ever before, and the way the fleet has expanded many of the new guys have never met any of the old hands. It’s a good time to share some of the things people have found effective that aren’t in the manuals yet, and more importantly to bring up anything that doesn’t work or is merely a waste of time.”

“The Carpathian is in and out of system often enough that I know all of our own, hell I passed on them, it will be good to talk to the Officers from the Ryman and Novi ships though.”

“One other thing, I have this open to anyone with a clearance and we will record what we talk about and use it for training purposes.”

“Lead on Woody, we have a lot to cover and I am as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Good thing, because after I do the introduction of my staff, you’re first up,” Woody said as they left for the stations largest conference room. Les Raymond was at the door greeting everyone who entered. Inside Clayton Grayson, Major Calvert’s chief of staff, was doing the same.

“I didn’t know you were going to be here Clay,” Woody said as they went inside. “Is the Major going to attend as well?”

“He sent me instead. With so many ships here Wes and Davis are out to visit the Marine detachments on each of them. His way of attending to fleet morale and make sure they know he considers them important and is thinking about them.”

“A good thing,” Lerminov said. “Shipboard duty isn’t what any of them signed up for. Ships duty is a far cry from a recon platoon and most have little in common with the rest of the crew.”

“I can see you appreciating that fact,” Clay smiled.

“Yes, I did serve with Admiral Raymond in what I like to call our Pirate Days, and we had some interesting crews back then I might add.”

“Of that I am sure. Well gentleman, I see Les is about ready, why don’t you proceed to the front and I will grab a spot to watch from. We can all meet later and review notes.”

“Ok Robbie,” Wes Calvert said to Colonel Davis, head of Cardoman Seventh Recon, as the each prepared to board different shuttles, “Take the time you need but I would like for each of us to see as much as we can in about an hour spent on each ship. You have five to visit and I have four. Let us do this quickly and get the teams some shore time. I am going visit the Casandra and Atropos from Novi; I figured you would like to handle Ryman’s Panoply.”

“Thanks for that Wes, I have a cousin on the Pan and it will be good seeing her again. It’s been six years; I hope I still recognize her.”

“Make that the last ship then and bring her back with you if her Captain agrees. In fact invite him too; I would like to meet them both.”

“Will do.” They saluted each other for show and left the station.

“Take her up and over,” Wes instructed Pavel Tsarinstyn, who had pulled some strings for the chance to pilot the Major’s shuttle. “I want a good look at what we have here.”

“A pleasure sir, and a damned impressive sight it is,” Pavel answered as he pulled away from the shuttle bay and arched upwards and out a couple of dozen kilometers under a couple of Gs to a position where the station and all of the ships could be seen at once.

Pointed downwards and looking through the armorplast viewscreen some of the military vessels were toy like and difficult to see much beyond navigation lights as the partially blacked out hulls in the shadow of the station blended into the deeper blackness around them. This close sunward, and with know need to maintain stealth, the warcraft, those able to do so, maintained a reflectivity sufficient only to balance incoming solar flux. A dull gray near black color. Those in full sunlight gleamed brilliantly white.

Nose into the station was the Ranger, docked by tube the Essex and the Carpathian. In a semi-regular ring, three kilometers out, the CNS Saratoga and SwiftStrike were side by side. Next came Stan Voinovich’s Aladin. The two G-3 cruisers from Novi, Atropos and Casandra were on the far side of the station with sparkles and flashes of a blue light showing against their darkened hulls.

“Construction?”

“Yes sir, their welding new sensors and com gear onto the iron attachment points that tie into the magnetic shielding. New stuff, the same as we use. It just came in with the Carp.”

Ryman’s Panoply completed the ring.

“A far cry from three years ago. Hard to believe we’ve come this far this soon.”

“Yes sir, and the FNS Victorious and our SnapDragon are exercising out towards the fueling station and both of our other transports, Widows Walk and Eagle are out making cargo runs. Throw in the pickets and orbital defenses and we’ve got ourselves a real Navy and one that keeps growing.”

“Enough rubbernecking Pavel, take me to the Sara and I’ll get on with the business at hand.” Wes noticed the occasional flash of an unshielded exhaust from a yard ship or personal propulsion unit as Pavel made course for the G-4 Battle Cruiser Saratoga, the lead ship of Cardoman’s fleet.

Robbie Davis started out on the Carpathian and ended on Panoply. His cousin, Commander Julie Davis DeWitt and Robbie spoke in quite tones while Captain Kimsky talked shop with Mark McCormack and Marigold Last all the way back to Cardoman station. A short stop over to pickup some more transients and they took a lander down to the Castle.

Luther White checked the names of his list as each new arrival passed through the unobtrusive inspection at the Castle compound’s gateway. He would have done more but Connie overruled him. “If we can’t trust our Navy and allies Luther we can hang it all up to dry.” She was right of course but Luther still validated everyone before they reached the large entrance doors, just not as thoroughly as he wished.

Sixty to seventy guest were expected, a large number compared to any normal day, but far below what the lavish building could support. Irwana al-Omari’s son Mo was taking some time from his studies to drive the visitors in from the shuttle pad and in a most unusual twist Kendrie Douglass, the Castle’s grounds keeper and defacto superintendent, was inside acting as the event’s factotum. Sometimes Connie, sometimes Wes did the door greeting while Irwana made sure things were going smoothly in the kitchen. Ground and air cars came in and parked at the lot just outside the gate. Each was tracked by sensors operators backed by missile systems just in case. Luther thought he might be paranoid but nothing was going to happen to his charges so long as he had the watch.

A tinkling of glasses and conversation and with a background of music selected from the various home planets of all present played softly from hidden speakers till it filled the large corner room on the Castle’s first floor front were the crowd gathered. There was a live group of orchestral musicians scheduled to perform after dinner but they would be a distraction during this stage, where people were expected to get acquainted and spread gossip or rumor.

Most of the crowd was military or members of various commercial interest, but Connie, with the help of Cardoman’s Diplomatic Corp had made sure a few of her political allies and enemies as well as a portion of the off-planet representative got invited. Dennis Horvath had turned down his invitation, saying he would be too much of a distraction. He was of course right as he was on all such calls, but that made Connie the senior representative of the government, and on the political side, and due to that, she was very careful about what she said.

She didn’t spend much of her time with the military folks, but instead worked on getting to know the diplomatic types, and especially her own government’s opposition party. Still new as a politician, she wanted and needed to know what they were talking about amongst themselves when in public but away from the parliament building.

When Robbie Davis, Kimsky, DeWitt and the two officers from Carpathian landed the two from Ryman were introduced to Wes, doing duty out in front. and then Davis took them to the smaller gathering room at the Castles rear where Clay Grayson was holding court, with him Major Jack Trebeck of Cardoman Plans and Intentions and Ellen Nesberg, chief of staff to Cardoman’s General Inglase.

As they were entering, Dave Gump was on his way to the main gathering in the front. “I’ll talk with you all later,” he said in passing. Colonel Grayson saw them enter and walked right over.

“Hi Robbie, Captain Kimsky, Cmdr DeWitt, I’m Clay Grayson, Major Calvert’s surrogate for the time being. He wanted me to meet you and apologize for the fact his duties are keeping him up front. Tomorrow we will have our military get together but both of you will be staying with him at Connie Calvert’s place tonight while most others hanging around will stay in the Castle or at Visitors quarters at the Seventh’s training base. Have a drink then head back to the ballroom up front, we don’t want anyone on the political side to think we are planning things behind their backs,” he said with a smile.

The had the offered drink while Davis took them around introducing them to the others present and then took them up front where Irwana al-Omari took them to their assigned table. The gathering consisted of about half military and half civilian, at least if the dress was a good indication, and they seemed to be seated randomly. At the table with the Ryman Officers were the Ambassador from Llanfairn and two members from the local political district. Julie DeWitt could sense no rhyme or reason to the seating plan. Perhaps it was random.

The talk was animated, both Captain Kimsky and herself being quizzed on matters Ryman, and the half hour until dinner was served passed rapidly. After dinner, with tables and seating rearranged to face the orchestra, Connie Calvert came over and said a few words apologizing that she would need to stay until the end, but they were free to leave at any time. Kendrie Douglass would take care of getting them to the retreat whenever they were ready.

Rather than leave early they stayed and even enjoyed the time until some three hours later a young man who had been operating as a waiter all evening informed them he would be driving them to the retreat and asked if they were ready to leave. “Your gear from the shuttle is already loaded,” he said introducing himself as Irwana’s son Mohammad.

As they left, with Wes Calvert nowhere to be seen and Davis gone as well, Connie said she would follow shortly but they were in good hands for now, as she roughed up Mo’s hair and complimented him on a doing a good job with his earlier duties. “I think we may have found your life’s calling.”

“No chance of that Mrs. C.”

He lead them out to the waiting air car and five minutes later, they landed again in a clearing in the woods in front of a fair sized building constructed as far as they could tell totally from large wooden logs.

They each took their own bag and Mo a box of supplies from the car and went onto the porch then inside. It seemed no one else was present. “There is a small squad out here taking care of security,” Mo informed them setting his box down. “But if they do their job right we never see them.” He then led them upstairs to adjoining rooms on the second floor. “Come back down when you’re unpacked, change into more comfortable close if you like, the Major and Mrs. Calvert will be here soon and I will be in the kitchen. Unlike the Castle this place is small enough that you can actually find it without a map or a guide.”

They were in the kitchen with Mo describing how the economics of the political district Connie represented worked when they heard the door and then voices in the entranceway. “Now I get to hand you off and get some sleep for myself,” Mo said, “An early start for all of us, especially me in the morning.” He walked out with them and just gave a nod and a wave to the four new arrivals as he went outside into the night.

Julie saw Connie and Major Calvert standing with her cousin Robbie and a man she had met over at the Castle. The name came back to her Jack Trebeck, Cardoman P&I. The Calverts had both changed into informal wear; Trebeck and Robbie were still in uniform.

Wes came towards them and shook each of their hands, “I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to speak with either of you earlier, though from talking to Robbie I feel I do know you already Cmdr DeWitt, and Captain Kimsky it is my pleasure.”

“And one for us as well I assure you,” Tata Kimsky said, and then added, “somehow I feel this is more than a social call,” he raised his eyebrows in inquiry.

“Well yes it is, and that is why I didn’t talk to you at the Castle, no need to start any speculation. Let’s all go outside and sit on the porch. The weather’s warm, the sky clear, and tonight is the start of one of our annual meteor showers. Id like to get on a first name basis and we won’t be too late, a lot to do in the morning. Robbie could you grab a few beers from the kitchen and bring them out?”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

When Robbie rejoined he found them seated in recliners on the lawn in front of the covered porch. He handed each a bottle and found his own spot. Seemingly without command the lights in the house behind them dimmed and the stars became visible.

“We might not see much tonight, their just starting, but I suspect we’ll get a couple anyway.” The chirping sound of insects and rustling of leaves was the only sound. “I could fall asleep out here if I let myself,” Wes said contentedly, “so I better get on to why I asked you both here. Jack will tell the story and then I have a request.”

Trebeck cleared his throat and began, “I run P&I which you know is our military intelligence service among other things. Until recently we were pretty small time, still are compared to Ryman and many of the larger planets, but we get a lot of help and occasionally turn up some things of our own. What I will tell you isn’t 100% but damn close and it concerns Ryman most directly. I can’t reveal how we learned it or even to you exactly what we know but I can say it seems that the Government Portion of Ryman’s Military Affairs section has been penetrated by someone working for the Calps.”

“And you’re very sure of this?” Tata asked.

“As certain as things ever are in this business,” Trebeck replied. “And due to the nature of the leak and the nature of our source we cannot send the information through normal channels. For you see, we seem to have our own internal security problems.”

A streak of light flashed across the sky, bright enough that Julie saw a momentary reflection from something inside the forest’s edge fifty meters away. As it faded from sight Wes said, “Now that’s why we came out here. Look another.” He gave it a minute then said, “I’ll finish up the story from this point. We need to get this information to Ryman but can’t go directly to your Government. Robbie says General Arthur Redmond is the person this information needs to go to and Julie is the person to deliver it.”

“Whoa, slow down,” Kimsky said. “I feel I’m being blindsided here. You can’t expect me to take the Panoply and return to Ryman reporting to General Redmond who isn’t even in my direct chain of command. Why the very thought is insane. And if you are asking me to somehow detach Commander DeWitt on this mission… I just don’t get it at all.”

“Ok Wes, Connie, the rest of this is mostly for family, so if you two would like to turn in, and Major Trebeck by your leave, I will finish up. We will get it shaken and sorted out and talk in the morning before we go back to the Castle.”

Trebeck nodded and pulled himself upright, “See you all tomorrow.” He walked over to his vehicle and powered her up preparing to leave. Connie and Wes standing said, “Try not to be too late,” then they walked inside arm in arm, the house lights coming on, though dim.

“Alright Captain Kimsky, this starts by going back to why I am out here on Cardoman and not on Ryman. Julie I am sure most of this will be news to you as well, but here goes. I didn’t leave Ryman for the public reasons, there was much more to it than that. . .”

The sun was up and Connie and Wes in the kitchen making breakfast when Julie came downstairs, beating both Kimsky and Davis. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Not a thing,” Wes said pleasantly. “Grab something hot, coffee or tea are on, and tell us how it went last night.”

“I’ll be going. Can’t say I like it but there is no other way I suppose. And of course I see why you didn’t spend any time with us last night.”

“That’s what we wanted to hear,” Connie said putting strips of some kind of meat into a black frying pan and turning on a flame underneath. “As soon as the smell of this heating up reaches his room Robbie will be here like a shot!”

“I heard Captain Kimsky moving around so he ought to be down soon also I would expect. I am surprised you are doing your own cooking though.”

“We see so little of each other anymore that it’s by choice.”

“Are you sure you should be standing Connie?” she inquired.

“Of course, why do you ask?”

“Well from my untrained eye it looks like you are going to have a baby in the not so distant future.”

“Caught you,” Wes beamed, “Your the first outside of the family to see it Julie. I had to threaten my mother and sister with bodily harm in order to keep them quiet.”

“After last night I’m a bit more aware of such things,” Julie said. “You must know the reason that will be given for me returning to Ryman.”

“Yep, consider it practice, someday it could come in handy,” Connie said patting herself on the tummy. “And don’t you breath a word of this either. In another few weeks it’s gonna get out and I want to hold off the media circus for as long as possible.”

“Got you there, mums the word!”

“It better not be!” and they all broke into laughter.

Tata and Robbie joined them directly, and with breakfast over and the dishes rinsed, they left for the Castle and the major briefing where both the Navy and Army would show and tell all.

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