By The Sword 12

By The Sword
Chapter 12 Draft (9/26/08)

“It all depends on how good the opposition’s sensors are. If we are correct in assuming they are no better than ours, we will remain undetected. If not we may see a reaction that gives us valuable information anyway.” Rashid Kalid was explaining the reasoning behind the way he chose to approach to the Cardoman system. “What we need to do is determine what kind of defensive force they have, and if possible the locations of ships and sensor platforms without ourselves being detected. The further out from the hyperlimit the less our gravity pulse reacts at the interface.”

“Captain, may I say something?”

“That’s why I have you here. Go ahead.”

Second Officer Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, his former signals chief said, “I think our transition point is closer than it should be. Based on what we saw at Sylvan, it seems to me they picked us up sooner than we would have been able had the situation been reversed. I recommend we back off by another twenty percent.”

First Officer Metemma, looking at the graphical plot said, “That will extend our sweep by several weeks. If Admiral Kahn gets to the assault point on time, or a little early, always a possibility, we will not be there to meet him.”

“Better that than we be found out and the Cardoman’s send a force out to locate us and then drive us off.”

“How much would be gained by that?” Metemma asked. “If they are already doing everything they can from a defensive position knowing they are being watched won’t speed up their work. The disruption involved in normal operations could even slow them down.”

“Yes it could. But we cannot say with any certainty when Admiral Kahn and the rest of the fleet will arrive. They should be expecting us to send one or two ships in close for a good look and while the information is still fresh have our fleet ready and in position to act upon it. Should they detect us scouting at long range they could conceivably have time to call for help.”

Rashid wasn’t sure himself what the best course of action was, but it was his decision. “We will back off and transition farther out. It’s best we take more time in order to make detection more difficult. I had wondered myself about the rapid response at Sylvan but chalked it up to readiness alone. I may have been wrong. Another point is I think it more likely the fleet’s movement is delayed rather than it starts on time or early. If we are found out, then any fleet delay insures the chance of calling for help is not just real but might bring the infidel aid. That we will not risk. Thank you both and finalize transition. I will remain on the bridge. Do not make Me wait.”

* * *
Perry and Joe Byron were passing time with a drink and a meal at their favorite local watering hole.

“She’s just ignoring me, it’s like I don’t even exist anymore.”

“Goes with the uniform boy, I could have predicted it, you should have expected it. Babes like here ain’t for the likes of us. They got a shelf life to look after! A brand to protect!”

“Sheila’s not like that, at least she never was before,” Perry Ellison said looking glum. “I’ve had enough of this kind of talk. I’m going over to see her and find out what’s really going on!”

“You’ll regret it,” Joe Byron said to no effect.

As soon as Perry was out of sight Byron placed a call on a secure line.

“Get out of here Roger, that fool kid is on his way,” Sheila Merchantson said scrambling over to her closet to get dressed.

“I’ll just wait in the other room Dear, I’m sure you can get rid of him soon enough and we do have unfinished business.”

It wasn’t long and there came a pounding at the door.

“You’re drunk Perry!”

“Drunk, shmunk! Sure I am, and it’s your fault! The first time we’ve both been off duty at the same time in a month and you won’t see me.” Perry noticed her expression and quieted down a bit. “Geezus Sheila, if it weren’t for you I’d go crazy on this off the wall planet.”

“You are crazy! And Llanfairn is hardly off the wall. And that last comment hardly sounded intelligent! We were a class one world when Cardoman was still a provincial outpost. Not only that, but the difference between us is still much greater than you can imagine. I think you presume too much!”

“Presume? Me? I just want to be with you honey.” Perry reached out to pull her close.

“Hands back mister, we have security in this building. And if I need to call for help I will!”

It was a slap in the face moment, and Perry felt the alcohol draining from his system and his vision focus, as if he was looking down a tunnel with a small point of light at the end. “You were using me!”

“We used each other. Let it go at that and be thankful.”

“I never used you Sheila, and I sure never meant, or thought you would think I did.”

“Well that’s it then isn’t it. Perry get out of here right now! If there is any trouble I will complain to Sgt. Evans at the Embassy. If that doesn’t work I will bring in Ambassador Petoskey and the police. Go! Now!” She stomped her foot and pointed.

As broken and hurt as he was, Perry knew when it was time to leave. Without saying another word he left. The next morning, back on guard duty, when Sheila walked in, he only nodded politely.

“Silly girl, and never destined to be one of the seventy by any stretch of the imagination,” Imhoff’s grasp of the Holy Book was somewhat lacking. “Even as an agent she might have held promise at one time, but that was years ago. Her looks and acting ability made things too easy.”

Moqtada al-Sadr, acting under his guise as Roger Imhoff, was in a hurry, not good for someone working for Shehzad Tanweer. ‘Plan in haste, repent at leisure.’ In the field things were different. It was time to move. Silly she might be, but Sheila Merchantson had the potential to ruin all of his plans. Of course without here there wouldn’t be a plan. No surprise here, Allah had found a use for her, infidel though she was. No sparrow drops, that was the Christian way of looking at this type of thing. Moqtada was more pragmatic, getting ready for a drop with a big splash to follow, and no concern from on high.

Hashemi Samareh and Abdul Fadil Almaz threw daggers into the wooden wall of the small resort cabin Roger Imhoff had rented for them. They had been here for a month and time was passing hard. Neat to a fault, Hashemi swept up the chips and splinters at the end of each session. In their line of work neatness counted and Imhoff was very observant. But if Hashemi and Abdul had not been good, they would not be here.

They heard the sound of his ground car scrunching on the gravel when he pulled up in the parking space at the cabins front. He would not take a chance on an air car, too easy to track. Likewise he did not use anything but person-to-person contact. They left the daggers in the wall and went into the front room, Abdul going for the door, verifying it was Imhoff before opening it.

“It is time. Pack your things and we go back to the city. The girl has delivered all that I asked of her.”

“A sweep of the premises first effendi?”

“Of course, but no delays, time is on our side, we will not waste it.”

On the two-hour drive back to town he filled them in on the near completed plan.

The security setup at the Cardoman Embassy on Llanfairn was far from perfect. The Embassy, hemmed in on too small a piece of land couldn’t support any defensive depth and he could have used twice the number of troops in the guard detail, but Sgt Avram Evans was never the less quite proud of the way the detachment under his control had shaken down. Even so, it was going to be a relief when the new building was ready and this place here become a residence only. Not that it would become any easier to watch over, but because they wouldn’t have all of their eggs in one basket.

Evans barely slowed at the streetside gate of the Embassy before it slid aside letting him enter the courtyard in front, one large enough for only a single row of parking spaces. A dozen strides later one of the large doors, outwardly normal but with a layer of hull metal armor buried inside, swung partially open and he went inside.

His head swiveled automatically to its left. Private Ellison was at the guard station, Sheila Merchantson at the reception desk. That was a surprise, rather early for her, she normally didn’t show up much before noon and worked through the dinner hour, where visitors were often expected. Those two shouldn’t be working the same shift. Evans made a mental note to rearrange things.

“Morning Sarge,” Perry said as soon as he was fully inside and the door closing again.

“Morning Perry. Anything new?”

“Nothing at all, the board was clear when I took over. Not even a passive scan in the last twenty-four hours. That makes two weeks now without one. Whoever it was; we must be off their radar screen by now.”

“A comedian you are not Private. Any guests scheduled?”

“Mrs. Shearing is having a tea this afternoon with Escanaba’s Commercial Attache’, nothing till then.”

“I’ll be upstairs working on the usual. Signal if anything unusual happens.”

As he passed the reception desk on his way to the flight of stairs at the rear of the building, before he could get out a word, Sheila said, “Good Morning Sergeant. Anything on your agenda for today that I should know about?”

“Eh?—Why no but thank you for asking.” That was unusual; Sheila didn’t normally concern herself with what he was doing. The almost hint, indicating that something wasn’t right, faded away by the time he was upstairs in the bedroom office.

Hashemi reviewed his part of the building invasion, most unusual to plan an assassination attempt for broad daylight; he had been involved as a participant in a couple—and in planning several more, so he should know. It did look doable though, as long as the girl did her part. Abdul would drive the catering van and stay there inside it for the getaway. He, Hashemi, would take the cart inside and do the real work. Imhoff hadn’t said what he would be doing, but without doubt he was planning to watch from some place nearby. It stood to reason.

Operationally the whole thing was simple. Once inside Hashemi would turn and take out the man at the guard station, then toss a couple of anti-personnel explosive devices towards the stairway in back. Those were new to him and quite clever; he had never worked with the type before. They were supposed to remain passive unless they detected the motion of someone who wasn’t wearing an identification coder. Simple enough. Next a run inside the dinning room where the Shearing woman usually worked, do the hit, and, if things went as planned, kill the girl on the way out. The whole thing from the time he entered the lobby till boarding the van again should take less than thirty seconds.

If Louise Shearing wasn’t in the library/dinning room and he had to hunt her up, that would slow things down. Not for long provided she was in her small office in the back. And as long as the guard was out of the picture and this Evans fellow was unable to interfere. The girl knew all this part of the plan. She didn’t know what was in store for herself. She was to verify the stage was set and send a signal that would initiate the final go ahead. A crucial role but as he thought earlier—if she played her part, it ought to work.

For Moqtada al-Sadr this was the best of times, others worried, reexamined everything looking for a flaw. He had done all of his worrying during the setup, everything was in the hand’s of Allah now, and because that didn’t usually concern him he was amused at the incongruity of the thought. He had a repeater overlooking the Cardoman Embassy, unable to see inside the building he would see enough from the outside to judge success or failure.

“Sheila, there’s a van pulling up at the gate. Are we expecting anyone?” They had hardly said a word to each other all morning. Perry was slowly getting over the previous day’s rejection but wasn’t going to make things easy.

“Oh! I have it right here and didn’t send it over. Louise had me call for caterers for her luncheon, she said she was too busy to do the work herself and told me not to bother getting things ready. It’s the same people we always use. I’ll send the details over to you.” She pressed a button and the information appeared on Perry’s appointment log.

The vans paint job was familiar and the appointment ID matched the updated log. Perry was about to open the gate and then decided to buzz Sgt Evans first. Sheila wouldn’t appreciate that but payback even in such a small fashion was in order. Sheila might not hate making mistakes, but she did hate anyone finding out about them.

“Sarge, we’ve got some caterers coming in, nothing unusual but thought I’d let you know.” Then he pressed the control opening the gate so the van could enter.

Evans was glad for the interruption and decided to go downstairs for a look-see, more for the exercise really. He was getting more than a little hungry and would stop in the kitchen before going back to work. He took a moment to shut down his comp and headed towards the staircase.

Abdul pulled through the open gate and backed into a parking spot next to the buildings entrance then pulled slightly forwards again. Perry was \watching the screen in front of him. Sheila was watching Perry.

The door to the library was closed. She would wait until the deliveryman was inside before opening it. The van’s rear door slid open and a short ramp extended itself. Hashemi backed a wheeled a cart down the ramp. Then, still keeping his face pointed away from the visual pickup, moved to a spot in front of the entrance.

Perry heard the sound of Sgt Evans on the stairway as he commanded the door open.

Ready and alert as he ever could be, Hashemi saw the figure coming down the hallway and nearing the reception desk. What the fuck! The bitch had given the all clear. Almost as an afterthought he reached into his white uniform pocket and hurled a grenade over the desk. Pitching aside the cover from one of the trays on the laden cart, he grabbed a short-barreled pistol and swung left.

It was all happening too fast! Perry reached for his own sidearm. Too late! He felt, ever so briefly, two of the three slugs enter his body. Then nothing more as he slumped to the floor.

Seeing the arm motion and the blur of a flying grenade, Evans instinctively flung himself forward, diving for some shelter at the base of the reception desk. It was enough, barely.

The explosive, made to be smart, sensed the motion and went off. Too smart this time, it was built to throw its fragments horizontally and upwards. No point in wasting energy blowing a hole in the ground. Evans was under the main part of the fragment pattern, Sheila was not so lucky. From a standing position her body was riddled with shrapnel. She fell on top of Sgt Evans, now tangled up with her empty chair that had fallen over when she jerked backwards.

As smart as the grenade was, Hashemi had been hit. He felt warm blood trickling down from his left arm. No pain yet, that would come later. He lobbed another grenade over the top of the desk hoping to finish off anyone still alive. The door to the library was closed and he had to finish the mission.

Louise Shearing heard the sound from the first blast. Even the thick soundproofing in the library doors couldn’t stop that kind of noise. Training took over and she hit the panic button that beyond connecting inside the Embassy sent a signal to the remotely located embassy guards’ quarters and the Llanfairn police.

Without taking time to see if the doors leading inwards were locked she went into the pantry behind the library and triggered open the trap to the crawlspace below. As soon as she was below she closed it and waited. For what she wasn’t sure, only that it wouldn’t be anything she wanted to see. She was wishing they had built the tunnel leading out of here rather than just talk about it.

Removing his hand from his shoulder, it was wet and sticky on the knob; Hashemi found the door would not budge. Working as fast as one hand would let him; he placed a detonator on the lock mechanism and backed off. He was beginning to feel dizzy. A soft Whump! The door was shattered and splintered by the blast, the way was clear! He stumbled now inside. No one in the room. With darkness closing down his vision from all sides he went into the pantry at the rear. Still nothing. Where could she have gone? Time to get out!

The sound of the last explosion brought Avram Evans out of his shock induced coma, momentarily at least. His sidearm was clutched in his right hand, his head on the floor. Everything was upside down, or was it himself inverted? He could see around the corner of the reception desk and into the open doorway that led to the library. Focus narrowing; it would have to be enough.

He saw motion, a male figure blocking the light, fired once and slipped away.

Abdul had heard all of the noise from inside. Whoever had the responsibility never closed the front entranceway. That was a good sign. As the seconds ticked off his elation began to melt away. One minute, sixty seconds. That was all he could wait without hearing from Hashemi. Time up. He retracted the ramp, heard it scrape as he closed his own rear door, and got into gear. He drove towards the gate. It had closed as soon as they were in the lot. The van, reinforced as it was, should be able to deal with that little problem.

A shame thought Moqtada as he saw the van begin to move. Without seeing Hashemi leaving the building it would take a while to find out how it all turned out. Still, a point had been made. The Caliphates arm had a long reach indeed! He touched an Icon on his screen and saw a flash of red flame preceding the fireball and explosion of the van. It was a small blast. He didn’t want to do anymore damage than necessary. The hunt for him and the cause of the Embassy attack would be driven enough without collateral damage to the Llanfairn population at large.

Avram Evans was dreaming again, he heard voices that made no sense. It was pleasant in here, but he wondered where here was. He wished the voices would go away and leave him alone.

“How is he doctor?”

Ambassador Petoskey was insistent, he was practiced, it went with the job. “Even though I can’t interpret all the lines I can see the waveforms changing, Most are going higher up on the screen. That has to mean his condition is improving and he is coming out of it.”

“He’s not ready for this. The ‘Revive’ could set him back weeks.”

“That responsibility is mine. As I told you before, it was either do it here or we would insist that Sgt Evans be transported to a Llanfairn military hospital. I was told you and the facilities here were the best of all my options. This is more than a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of State and people have already freely given their lives so bring him back to us.”

The doctor entered some notation via his comp screen then turned the devoice face up and extended it towards Petoskey. Jules read what was showing, then brushed a finger across the bio-sensor and said, “Go ahead.”

Standing to one side a Detective Lieutenant from the Llanfairn Police was taking in everything but remaining silent.

Tapping in a final command increasing the flow through one of the tubes connecting Evans to the life support unit (LSU) and the doctor said, “You’ll have at most five minutes from the time he starts responding till I put him back under or he exhausts himself. Make the most of it.”

“Avram? Can you hear me?” At first there was no indication of any change in the Sergeant’s awareness and Petoskey kept repeating the words. Then as if with the flipping of a switch, Evans eyes opened and he answered.

“Of course I hear you, no need to shout.” Then seeing his surroundings for the first time said, “I killed the bastard didn’t I.” It was not a question.

Jules said in a near whisper (the drugs must be boosting all of Avram’s sense of hearing, maybe all of his senses), “Yes, you got him, and undoubtedly saved Louise Shearing’s life. But what actually happened, after the first blast most of our recording equipment stopped functioning, after the second all of it.”

“What about Ellison?” Evans voice was strong but the volume of individual words varied up and down in a detectable fashion. The doctor’s expression was sharpening, showing ever greater concern.

“He’s dead, and Sheila too. But Louise is fine. She made it into the shelter in time. There was nothing anyone could do.”

“It was Sheila. She was in with them. Had to be.” A speaker in the LSU started making a soft beeping sound and its screen was slowly flashing. “She told Perry to let them in. Said she forgot to put it on the schedule.” Avram’s voice was varying even more and his breathing labored. “He knew the setup, where everyone was, an inside job.”

The doctor interrupted, “Thank you Sergeant. That will be all for now. Get some sleep and we will talk with you again later.” He had already stopped the drug flow and Evans tried to say something else but drifted off to darkness.

“How bad is he Doctor?”

“You can come back tomorrow; he’s going to pull through.”

Jules and the Police officer left the room. Two of the remaining Cardoman security troops with them. One in front, one bringing up the rear. “What next Detective?”

“Well we’ve got something to go on now but this was professionally done. I’ll get some more people researching the girl’s activities and past and be back here tomorrow with a list of questions. Do you want the department to keep handling the newsies?”

“Yes, Please do. Just make sure they tell them nothing. And when I make a statement, probably in a few days, they back up whatever I say, true or not.”

“I think we can do that. I assume you’ll take your request to someone high enough to issue the orders?”

“Count on it.”

By this time Roger Imhoff was on a shuttle flight heading up the Ryman registered G-2 Tradeship ‘Free Lunch’, as its parent company’s business agent, he had done this before on any number of occasions. No one thought to put him through any higher level of scrutiny. Why would they? He was a recognized figure and a well known quantity. The ships departure schedule had been public for weeks, along with the fact that Imhoff would be accompanying it. Nothing to see here, time to move along.

The ship’s Captain, met Roger as he unloaded in the boat-bay, two members of the ships crew were removing bonded shipping containers from the shuttles storage area.

“Would you see that both containers with the green striped tags get stored some place near the front of the hold? There’s a possibility I might need to get at them before we reach Cardoman. Other than that you can get us out of here, away from the station, as soon as you are able, but do take your time on the way to the limit. There’s a press conference I would like to hear before we make transition.”

“I’ll have the First Officer call for clearance. The paperwork is already complete.”

Louise Shearing was waiting along with the rest of the Cardoman military force when Ambassador Petoskey returned to the residence, one of whom with a physical presence watching over the repairmen installing a new gate. This one strong enough to stop a mid-weight armored vehicle.

The police were finished, diplomatic protocol had limited their investigation to the lobby and library rooms, the only two places the dead caterer had entered. Much of the cleanup work was completed as well. Llanfairn traffic control blocked both ends of the street in front and the alleyway behind the building. The phones were off except for a single private line.

“Sergeant Evans is going to be alright. It was Sheila who was the insider. I don’t know why but we’ll probably find out. How are you feeling now?”

“Better, I’ve stopped shaking in any event. What do we do next?”

“Two things; a message back to Cardoman covering everything we have learned since yesterday; and a personal message to Ellison’s family.”

“Let me write that Jules, It was my life he died to save. I’ll do it now. How do you intend to send them?”

“I had our friends in the Llanfairn Secretary of States Office make the arrangements. There happens to be a ship from Ryman getting ready to boost for transition even as we speak. They will hold clearance a few hours, long enough for it to take onboard any of our sealed messages. I imaging they’ll be sending one to their own ships out at Cardoman as well.”

“I hate to rush the letter to the family and I will send a follow up as soon as I can. The boy didn’t die just for you Louise. He was doing his duty to Cardoman. Now it’s up to us to try and justify his sacrifice. We have a lot of people to talk to and minds to change. This blatant act, with the Caliphate so obviously behind it, should make our jobs somewhat easier.”