By The Sword 14

By The Sword
Chapter 14 Draft (10/21/08)

Shehzad Tanweer parted the curtains and entered the innermost room of the royal palace. Muhammad Ahmad Al-Gamrawi Bey, spiritual as well as political, and any other kind of leader that one cared to name and that mattered in the Caliphate, was kneeling besides General Ahmed Abdel Arafat, servant of the Prophet and head of all Caliphate Military forces. Shehzad slipped out of his shoes and took a position behind them, all three facing Mecca and he fell into prayer.

So much had he fell in with the spirit that it came as a surprise and startled him to alertness when Al-Gamrawi Bey stood and began to speak, cutting short the observance.

“Come with me my friends,” he said leading them through an archway into his reception room. They went right trough, past the guard, and down the ornate hallway and thence into a chamber as different from the stark austerity and religious motif of the devotional sanctum as could be imagined.

Display screens and electronics predominated. It was the present day analogue of the old and fabled old US governmental leader’s White House Map Room, fabled to those with access to the history. The data devices here tied into the planet-wide net, those scattered everywhere around the globe, privately operated and governmentally maintained alike, with very few exceptions. The ones directly under Shehzad’s control had one-way tie-ins for incoming information only. He had a data cube with him to rectify that situation. This was done on a weekly schedule. The Imam was always informed. Shehzad would have it no other way, even if his life did not depend on the fact. General Arafat got his updates upon request.

Tanweer inserted the cube into an empty slot in front of him and the screen the three of them faced showed a new data display. “This is the result of our operations on Mizar,” he said. “Suleiman and Khan have done all we expected of them. The former Planetary President Perkins is on Union trying to drum up support. We are working to negate her efforts but it’s 50/50 whether or not we succeed. My man, Rashid Kalid, performed as expected. We need more like him. He should now be monitoring things at Cardoman until the fleet arrives. And of course that is why we are here. General Arafat, would you continue?”

“Thank you Sheza, I will indeed. There were perhaps a dozen people in the Caliphate, not members of his family, who would use such an informal form of address to the head of the Caliphate’s security services. “Suleiman sent a request with his report, one I wish to honor.

“The victory on Mizar must be followed up at once by a similar action at Cardoman. Success breeds success. Suleiman wishes a reinforcement of his fleet so that the issue cannot be in doubt. I agree. If neither of you have objection that cannot be resolved, as a servant of the Prophet I intend to dispatch the twenty ships of our third fleet to support his mission.”

Al-Gamrawi Bey stroked his beard and turned an inquiring look upon his security chief. “What are the risks Sheza?”

“To numerous to count. But the main one, the one that concerns me the most, is what they will do on Union when the word of Cardoman’s defeat reaches them. That defeat is a foregone conclusion. This second fleet will make that a certainty. If we go ahead as General Arafat recommends we must have our follow up plan in place and ready to execute at once.”

“And the follow up Ahmed?” Al-Gamrawi Bey’s gaze and eyes were as cutting and sharp as ever.

“What do we do with Cardoman after she is ours? That is the main point. That depends on what we intend to do next. And that is up to you my Father. Do we rest at that time? Or seize the moment, and complete the work that Allah demands of us, the complete subjugation of all those not within his state of grace?”

“Can we do this at this time? Using our own resources? Without divine intervention?” The Caliphate’s supreme ruler waited for Arafat to answer.

“We have the military might and more. And If I may be so bold as to say. . . It is only a question of Allah’s will against the determination of the blasphemer and infidel. We can wait to see how things work on Cardoman before proceeding in our path. This would be wise and prudent. But! We must be prepaid and ready to do battle with the Independents and Confederacy. Now is the time to plan for the second coming of Mohammad in all of his glory, and to assure our return to righteousness in the sight of Allah!”

“Shehzad?”

“In this Ahmed is more than my brother. I concur it is time.”

“Then let it be so. Report to me upon the completion of your plans. Make haste to do the Prophets bidding. He has not time for else. Nor do I! I expect the third fleet to leave as soon as possible. I expect a draft plan for our future operations even sooner. You many both go with my blessings.”

“General, may I invite you to my offices,” Tanweer said, proceeding him from the room.

“I am constantly amazed at the simplicity of the surroundings every time I visit with you Sheza. My subordinates would dismiss me as a small-timer and eventual nothing if I had such simple offices. There is much truth in the statements that the Surroundings and Accouterments make the man.”

“Ahmed, you saw nothing of the examination we both underwent in that last 20 meters of hallway. Three people decided it was really me and that you were not a threat. Let me call in my aide.” Tanweer brushed a fingertip upon a desk icon and said, “Bring in the report.”

“Don’t I know you Sub-Major?” Arafat said when the officer placed a small holographic projector and two folders on the desk.

“Falinam As-Sabiqun, I believe we met at the court martial after first Mizar Sir.”

“Yes I remember now, you were a leader of the ground troops, were you not?”

“I had that honor,” he said adjusting the screen controls and then took a seat near the door while the General skimmed the three-page document contained in his folder.

“Not much new here is there? Just the details concerning and our own updated ship production projection, both ours and Llanfairn’s. You do have some details concerning Novi and Ryman ship deployment but nothing on Cardoman.”

“Falinam, would you start the show?”

Operating the controls on his remote, the projector came to life and a model of a Cardoman G-4 Battle Cruiser formed in the air over the Security Chief’s desk.

“I admit,” General Arafat said, “I am not an expert on Cardoman Navel construction but this looks like everything else I’ve seen.” The squat cylinder circled by four bulges for the drive bands was dead black in color. It was enclosed by a yellow grid-work of uniform lines, scaled to reveal the ships absolute dimensions.

“Outwardly there is little to see, some changes in antenna location and design and a slight change forward adding an extra couple of meters to the overall length. We think that is for more internal storage. The Cards by now have a complete enough picture of drive geometry under all conditions that this is probably the final configuration. The ship you are looking at just left for delivery to Ryman.”

“One less to oppose us then.”

“Falinam, next slide please.”

This next hologram was an obvious reconstruct, fuzzy and lacking the detail of the first view.

“This was taken by a commercial traveler just two months ago. Using tourist grade equipment and combining several long range views from his ship’s observation deck.” There were three ships, two looking complete and the third waiting for some plating and its drive bands.

“How can they possibly be building this fast? I thought we could expect five, maybe six new ships a year with half of the production leaving for other Indies?”

“It cost two of my agents their freedom to learn this, both are now held in a military prison on Cardoman, the businessman that took this view brought out their report. The Cards are building these ships and leaving off three of the band. They can’t go hyper. I had man in our own ship bureau make an estimation of what this would mean for normal space use. We were both surprised at the results. Real space performance is hardly affected. All that the additional bands do is give the necessary coverage and energy density to make a jump, and increase performance once the ship does make transition.”

“So how many of them will we need to face and are they all armed and crewed?”

“Based on their known military import and export markets it seems certain that these ships are complete but for the drive-band bottleneck. The Cardoman’s manpower requirements are something else. They must be sending half-trained recruits into the fleet. We can track off planet hiring quite well and with half the Confederacy and all of the Indies trying to expand, even with payment premiums and luring people from retirement they are falling well short of trained crew.”

“And how many ships to oppose us then?”

“From Cardoman perhaps a dozen of all types. Eight or nine G-3’s and 4’s, two or three each from Novi and Ryman with the possibility of a Squadron from Union, another six if they sail in time.”

“More than I’d expected but an additional 20 combined with Kahn’s ships and Suleiman’s squadron will give us a seventy percent advantage in hulls and probably twice the firepower. Against that we need to factor in the planetary and system defenses. Do you have anything concerning those I have not seen yet?”

“Your Intelligencer staff has my most recent evaluation, several weeks old but we know of nothing changing in the interim. How I curse the infernal communications time delay. How many troops will you take with you?”

“Four full Armies and a Complete Central Command staff and the associated manpower and equipment. Close to 125,000. I would take more, but sadly the shipping is lacking. We are bringing old G-1’s out of mothball but none will be ready by the time we depart. I have already sent orders for half General Jazirah’s command on Mizar. Their experience must not be wasted. ”

“How long then?”

“Ten days, or there will be officers looking for new employment, very far from Earth and wondering what happened to their rank and retirement.”

“Ten days later the Caliphates fleet left Earth orbit for transition. General Arafat almost wished he was going with them.

* * *
Bang! went the gavel, “I call this session of the Cardoman Parliament to Order.” Connie Calvert standing in for President Horvath again, it was almost a given the last two sessions, read the order of business. It was budgetary, and mostly military in nature, except for a motion from the president as the first point of business; that’s why she was up front. That and to give a small breathing space to President Horvath who was sure to need it. Pure politics played a part as well.

The staging needed to be perfect for this to work and Connie’s face up front made for good video. The Newsies knew photogenic values, and in Connie they had that, she distracted even hardened veterans, not that they minded. Sexual appeal sells, always had, always will. It drove what aired and what was passed on. Every little bit helps.

Dennis was sitting in his permanently reserved seat at the rear of the chamber. He was waiting for the fireworks to begin, Military it would be but the budget was far from it.

“The motion is presented. Our existence as a free and independent planet is at stake. There is no hope for a rapprochement with the Terran Caliphate. The government moves for an immediate declaration of war and all that entails. I call for a vote! Do I have a second?”

Pandemonium was too mild a term. Shouts and cries for recognition came from all sides. Connie stood, seemingly oblivious to the storm sweeping through the chamber. The secret had been kept a secret; else the motion would not have been made. The loyal opposition could have delayed the vote and that would have been fatal here and now.

Bang! And Bang! again, this time to no discernible affect. The noise if anything increased. Horvath was on his feet marching up the aisle towards the podium. When he reached the front, he said a word to Connie and took the gavel from her hand. She retreated to the side of the chamber and Horvath swung the wooden mallet. This time the room began to quiet. A second strike and he spoke out, his voice amplified, cutting through the din.

“Wow Babe, that got em going!” Wes Calvert said looking at the split screen display illuminating one wall of the bar at the front floor rear of the Castle. One side had the public government channel, the other the pooled commercial channel with the Newsies ‘Little Stars’ doing the commentary. The big guns would be running for the studios as soon as they could be reached.

Connie had a military comm unit in her lap and sub-vocalized her own impression of what was going on. With Wes in the bar were Clay Grayson and Robbie Davis and Ellen Nesberg of Sandoval Inglase’s staff. The General was at the military offices in Government House watching the same feeds.

“Listen to this guys, Dennis knows how to deliver a speech, and this one’s a beaut!”

Dennis Horvath was a short unexceptional looking man in his sixties. Were it not for his position he would blend in and be unnoticed in almost any gathering. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, surely an affectation compensating for his near invisibility. But when he spoke, and especially in public his voice was an organ. An instrument of power and precision. And beyond his natural abilities he had the wherewithal to employ the best speechwriters on the planet. This time he exceeded even his own abilities.

“I stand before you, neither to beg for your support nor to demand it. But to speak of the truth, making evident that honor leaves no other option. When our Eagle returned from Mizar the first time the refugees from Marais had already given testimony, undeniable proof or what was intended for the rest of us. Some refused to listen . . .” By the time he was finished, scarce five minutes later, there was hardly a dry eye even amongst the hardened survivors of years of political infighting. The motion passed near unanimously. There would be war!

“Well that was something,” Wes said.

“Sure was, and I heard the rehearsal.” The applause, somehow not out of place at this moment was beginning to fade. “Watch the Newsies. This took most everyone by surprise so they had to go along. No time to plan a defense. That’s not going to last. I have to get back to the dais. Catch you all later. This is going to be a short segment. I am going to call for an adjournment till tomorrow. That one is going to pass unanimously. I’ll be back at the Castle in an hour. Love yah Wes.”

Robbie spoke up, “That worked, but back on Ryman we would have had a backup plan. Loaded Assault Shuttles, primed and ready to land troops around the Capital, an extra incentive to get with the program. Just in case you know. You missed out on that one Wes.” Davis shook his head, slugged down a shot from the fresh bottle, poured another and offered a toast. “To victory and those of us that live to see it.”

Wes was the first to follow from his own glass.

“What’s the matter Clay? Ellen? You think this is gonna be bloodless?” Robbie downed another then capped the bottle. “Excuse me. I’ve had about as much as I can stand.” At the inquiring glances he added. “No not the drink, being away from the rest of Recon. Wes I need to go back to the fleet. There isn’t anything left for me here.”

“Clay, do you agree?” Wes turned to the Seventh’s second in command and his own alter ego, and when Connie was out of reach an alternate conscience.

Clayton downed his own drink. “Let him go Wes. Robbie’s going stale. I am amazed you lasted this long in a non operational role,” he said straight out to the Recon Colonel. Then he smiled and said, “Time to shake up the fleet in any event. But none of this doom and gloom out there Robbie. They don’t know you like we do.”

“And a damned good thing,” Wes added. “How else does he put the Fear of the Lord into those innocent lads?”

Robbie uncapped the bottle again and poured about a half a shot for all the others. “Don’t you worry. They will be as ready as any unit in history, and fear will have nothing to do with it. We are going to do this for the honor of the Seventh and our place in history. If we make this work there are going to be a few more pages written.”

They all drank to that.

When Connie returned from the city she brought the President and half of his cabinet with her, the party ratcheted up a notch, even Davis joining in.

* * *
The Hornet was sleeping. That’s the only way it made sense to Yuri to think about it. Power and ventilation levels were so low as to verge on undetectable. The normal background noise of a functioning spaceship was noticeable by its absence. A couple of dozen yard workers were buttoning up panels and a small crew was working on a misbehaving fire control computer on the bridge. Other than that Lt. Borselov had the ship to himself. He could go for hours without seeing another soul.

The installation of the AI program was a snap, went as planed. Now he was going from station to station, sending queries and receiving software generated answers. He had recoded, patched really, a few errors, but for this much code in a new system it was going well. Audie was responsible for that. Every thing he had to fix was his own doing. Audi just didn’t seem to know how to make a mistake.

“Probably a good thing”, he thought, “If not for that I might think I was the one to know it all.”

Every time he moved to a new station the lack of other people onboard still astonished him. There would be five to six hundred souls on this ship if she were in normal service as an operational G-4. And not a piece of deadwood in the lot. When this program proved itself, Yuri had yet to learn to doubt; it was going to signal a change as significant as the introduction of the G-4 class itself.

“Well I’ve done about all I can. Time to call in and arrange for transport back to the Dragon.” Normally that type of message would go through the signals division. But with none of the permanent crew aboard, and Yuri knowing how the board worked, he sent the message himself. Calling up the destination on the input screen he tapped the prepare to send icon, and the connection was made automatically. Petty Officer Hicks had the duty on this shift, working out of the Dragon’s Comm section.

“Morning Hicks. It is morning over there isn’t it?

“Indeed it is Sir. What can I do for you?”

Yuri wasn’t used to people calling him Sir so he hesitated, as if Hicks was talking to someone unseen entering the room before replying. “I’m through with my work out here. Would you let the duty shuttle pilot know I’m ready for pickup?”

“Sure thing, when he’s back aboard. Both the shuttles and pilots are kinda busy right now. The Captain’s got them doing a combat patrol with communications off. Their both orbiting the Dragon at 15 K’s protecting us from pirates and ready to intercept incoming.”

“How long they been out there and when do they get back?”

“Nine hours and counting. As to when they’ll be back? My guess is when they beat off the pirates or run out of ammunition. Theirs is but to do and die and all that hero shit.”

“Gee Madry told me to get my ass, err I mean, ordered me back to the Dragon when I was finished here. Can you set up something with fleet?”

“I’m checking the lists here. How’s this, there’s a construction pickup in a little over two hours. Will that do?”

“Guess it’ll have to.”

“Think we’re gonna be attacked by Pirates? I hear our Fleet Admiral has had some experience in that area.”

“Sure, any minute now.” The shuttles Command Pilot flipped the page on the novel he was reading with his personal com unit. No unauthorized use of ships systems. No-sir-ree-Bob. “I wouldn’t be talking about Admiral Raymond if I were you. There might be more truth to the rumors than even you suspect.”

“How come you get to read and I have to pay attention to the screens all the time?”

“Because I must remain rested—ready to spring to alert at the first sign of trouble, ready for when the Pirates do attack. At that time you may rest, as you watch in awe, my steady hand firing wave after wave of instant death and destruction from the massive blast cannons mounted on our bow.”

“Those 1.5 millimeter close in missile lasers? Their nothing but pop guns.”

“Don’t let the Captain hear you say that. Or it’ll be bread and water for thirty days before your drawn and quartered then forced to walk the plank.”

“You make it sound like an improvement on our present condition. How the hell did Roger Langston ever get to be Captain of a ship like the Dragon anyway?”

“Well, I guess he went as far as his skill and natural ability could take him and kept on walking.”

* * *
Locked down in the hold with the rest of the lowly enlisted, Gaza al-Omari was mentally reviewing the last seven months and wondering how Ibrahim Saudi, no make that Abe Loomis, had ever come up with this crazy plan. And even stranger, managed to sell him into it.

“Under cover in the Caliphate, just think about it Gaza, the possibilities are staggering.”

“Sure. But there are dozens of other ways to commit suicide and Wana would miss me.”

“Shoot, good looking gal like her, she’d find someone easy, even with the kid.”

“Abe,” Gaza said without a hint of a smile. “Remind me to shoot you—next time we’re at the range. I would do you good.”

“You may be on to something there; Fader Jameson has said the same thing. Him and Davis both. And more than once.”

Using persuasive powers Loomis did not even suspect he possessed, Gaza was finally convinced. Though Gaza thought Irwana probably most responsible. But she was the one person he could never blame if anything had gone wrong. Captain Kronnin, one time head of the Seventh’s Intelligence Unit, had a long reach even in death. The doctored records he managed to get slipped into the Altie Puppet Government’s database were as good as Loomis said they would be. Things were really screwed up on Altoona at the end, even worse than before the Caliphate tried to take the place over, but it was still amazing.

The delay-fused explosive, destroying Calvert’s ground car while Gaza himself was on a ship headed out-system for Driessen, was the icing. Gaza’s story of Calvert stealing his wife and turning his son from the ways of the Prophet was bought complete. His knowledge and personal relations with many of the top Cardoman Officers made him a valuable catch. Too valuable for a career officer’s advancement potential to bear looking at the story too closely. Gaza was on a transport bound for Earth as fast as could be arraigned.

The interrogation there was more complete but without any more suspicion or much of an attempt to find him out. A few lies spread amongst the truth and near truths got him through. It turned out he didn’t really know that much. Nothing of military value anyway. When he was wrung dry he turned down the offer of a small cash reward for a chance to enlist and go back to Cardoman to mete out justice on the side of Allah. His offer was accepted. His knowledge of the terrain and the principles might just possible come in handy. So here he was, packed like a sardine in the belly of the G-1 Troop Transport Jordan on his way back home, his new home, Cardoman.

Captain Abraham Loomis, booked as Ibrahim Ali Mohammad, a dealer in used and refurbished industrial equipment, was on a ship as well. One also bound from Earth and for Indie Space. Llanfairn, not Cardoman was his destination. A person made the best travel arrangements possible. Playing the role of a trader again was by now second nature as well. Even used and refurbished industrial equipment; it was a near repeat of what he had been doing on Altoona, just leaving out the part about the guns. Too dangerous to try that one out on Earth.

Ibrahim would have traded places with Gaza if he could have. Wouldn’t have worked though, his genetic profile had too little Arab in it. He had picked up a few tidbits not sent along yet, and with no need, or ability to contact Gaza anymore, it was time to leave.

Once he reached Llanfairn he hoped to get passage to Cardoman and the Seventh again, before the Calp fleet made that impossible. It was either that or sit the war out, something he would not even consider.

This ship was taking a diplomatic mission to the main Indie planet. Most likely to offer pleasant words about how Cardoman was the Caliphate’s only aim, and offer inducements for one and all to remain neutral. Ibrahim was going to stay in character and see what he could learn. With war at hand, anything might make a difference.

His G-3 liner was so much faster than the G-1 transport Gaza was on, that even with an extra stop he should be able to beat the lumbering Jordan to Cardoman. But if the Calp fleet decided to close off the system before the troops arrived, he would be out of luck. Ibrahim hadn’t come close to getting that kind of high-level information, battle plans and intentions. Didn’t even try. Except for a couple of short brushes with Gaza, all members of the Military and Government were off limits. That kind of stuff was work for Phillips and the Union people, and more power to em.

He checked his chronometer and saw it was almost time for prayer. He would join with some of the Calp Diplomats. Stay in character and pray, and hope that his prayers were the ones answered.

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