By The Sword 18

By The Sword
Chapter 18 Draft (12/07/08)

Rashid Kalid and First Officer Metemma used a small transfer vessel rather than a much larger landing shuttle to move over to Admiral Kahn’s flagship the Reza Gholam. Ali Asani was waiting for them when they docked. He took them straight to the Flag Plot where Kahn was waiting

“Kalid—Metemma, It is good you are back. Your report filled in much of what I needed to know. Now I want you both to look at the Mission Plan before I release it to the rest of the Fleet. See if something not in your report might argue for a change. I will be back for a final review in an hour.”

Admiral Kahn left the Flag Bridge taking Asani with him. When he returned he was alone. “Tell me, what faults have you found. I know in any plan there will be some.”

“There is one thing I question Admiral,” Kalid said. “I think we should aim for a closer jump point when we transition. My data is very good. The fleet should have learned from our last fiasco. We should give the Cardoman forces as little time to react as we are able.”

“I have considered that option, and jumping closer has much to recommend. However, I think our advantage in force is important enough to take no chances. Should any ships jump long the Cardoman Navy might attack them in detail. We will come in with enough margin to prevent that from happening. Is there anything else?”

“We should jump as soon, as soon as we can. Any delay could change what we already know about the Cardoman’s present disposition. In worst case give time for reinforcement.”

“Do you consider that likely? Were there signs that were not in your report?”
“None, and it is not likely. But why take chances once we are committed?”

“With that sentiment I agree completely. I will issue the necessary orders. We will stand down for eight hours, giving us a full rest period, and then we go. Please rejoin your ship and take advantage of the respite. You have done well. I expect that will continue.”

“Transition in! The viewscreen took on a new look and the bright light of Cardoman’s sun dominated the middle portion. It took a moment, and then Simini Asfaruddin, the Sword’s Signals Officer announced, “Two-point-five light hours out. No other ship in range or detected.” Over the next twenty-three minutes the rest of the feet materialized and took their places on the display. Secure links were established and courses assigned.

The Sword would be in the van for this first maneuver. A textbook jump. The fleet headed inwards.

Alarms rang and speakers blared! “We have a grav pulse, multiple pulses!” The signals reached Atropos first. But do to that ship being slightly off line from a direct intercept, the speed of light signatures reached Cardoman Station Control (CSC) before the more detailed report from Captain Hemphill’s command. The Free Novi Ship was out in front by chance. It could have been worse, thought Jeffery Hemphill. I could have missed this by staying at home.

“Let’s do a sprint and triangulate the distance. Admiral Raymond will want that information yesterday!”

Half an hour later the refined estimate was calculated and on it’s way. “Start crunching the numbers people. I want some options here!” Hemphill leaned back in his seat and tried to look relaxed.

Admiral Raymond was now talking to Calvert over a shuttle link. He’d left Cardoman Station with Wes on his way up to take over his former local responsibility, “I’m off for the Essex Wes, wish me well,” were his parting words over comm link.

“What I wish is that you were still here Les. This is as about outside my usual duties as it gets.”

“Luck you want? As the man once said, What the friggen fuck Wes! People hereabouts may call me an Admiral, but I sure as hell never ran, or was even involved with, any type of fleet action before today. You and your first green half-assed squad beat me like a drum every which way from sideways to Sunday and across the cow pasture out back the first time I ran into you and serious opposition. Do I look like some kind of a military genius? I can give orders and I can take them. This time I take em. And your orders are?”

On the SnapDragon Lt. Debus was saying to Cmdr. Fletcher. “When is he gonna get out here, or at least issue some orders? All the other ships but the Essex are moving by now. We could have been underway ten minutes ago.”

“Fitzgerald, call the Captain again, tell him we are ready and await his instructions.” Clarence Fletcher let no hint of the disgust he felt show in his tone or expression. Langston better get a move on or he would be hearing from Raymond. Or maybe from Calvert. He sure didn’t want to be the intermediary. “Then check with Engineering and see how long we can maintain full power without kicking in the drive. I can see we are dumping heat already.”

“Sir, Cmdr Madry says seven minutes. Then we have to start powering down.”

At just that time Roger Langston entered the bridge. He looked around. It was like he had never seen it before. “This can’t be happening,” Fletcher thought as he relinquished the command seat.

“Captain—You have the bridge.”

“I have the bridge.” Langston sat slowly, as if he had all the time in the world, then ordered, “Move to our assigned position. Forty percent military power, keep us in stealth.”

Whoa! That wasn’t part of the plan! “Forty percent sir?”

“Plenty of time Cmdr. Send a message to Fleet telling them what we are about.”

On the Saratoga Jamie Madry was watching her board and reviewing the canned plans. She knew them by heart but was looking to see if changes were called for. No—nothing yet.”

The other ships in her section were moving. SwiftStrike and Aladin were at max G looking to get in front of the Calp fleet, which so far as she knew was not yet underway. Damn this lightspeed lag. What was wrong with Langston? The SnapDragon showed power up but she still wasn’t moving—Oops, there she goes, but slow. Well it wasn’t her problem. At least not directly and not now.”

Wes was through composing the message for Parliament, the military version was sent moments after the alert came in. Damn, you just couldn’t soften this thing. He wrote:

From Fleet Headquarters – Cardoman Station:

As of this time, this date, we are under general attack. The outcome is indeterminate but we must prepare for the worst. If the Caliphate forces arrayed against us act expeditiously they will be in a position to engage the fleet in thirty hours.

Cardoman Naval Command strongly recommends:
-1. Dispersing all essential governmental activities and personnel at once.
-2. Informing the populace to evacuate heavily populated areas where relocation is
possible. That and prepare for an attack upon the planet.

We will be ready to fight the battle in space. Pray for success.

For Admiral of the Fleet Lester Raymond.
General Wesleyan Loyola Calvert.
Cardoman Station.

“I wish it didn’t sound so stilted but covers the situation and give them notice and something to do. With the speed differences involved we have time to evacuate our own non-essential people, put them on the Widow and send them to safety. Relative safety anyway.” Wes looked away from Commander Woodward and said to an aide. “Get the Widow loaded, I want her away within two hours. Any longer and she can certainly be caught before making transition. See to it now. Woody you’re going with her.”

“Wait a minute Wes, I can’t run while half my people stay behind! And I can read a display as well as you can. Even if the Widow runs now the Calps can catch her an hour before she jumps.”

“Woody, if we lose here you will do us far more good on Llanfairn, or running some other Class A yard, than dead or in a Caliphate prison. The Calps may not give chase or they might wait too long. Get packed and then supervise the loading. Two hours. Any stragglers stay behind. You are dismissed.”

Wes saluted, more like a wave, turned his back, and went to watching the data still streaming in and Woodward left shaking his head.

“Get a move on it,” Clay Grayson ordered. “I want this column into Minton and every member of the Parliament, willing or no, brought out. If the Calps force a landing they are going to have a hard time finding anyone from the old regime to use in setting up a puppet Government. Use whatever force necessary. But make it happen!”

“Horvath won’t be able to stop some of them from turning.” Robbie Davis said, watching the soldiers, trucks, and buses leaving Camp Cardoman.

“I expect you’re right Robbie but we will make it harder for them. When do you and your men leave?”

“Most are gone already. I’m out of here soon as Connie Calvert arrives. Before Wes left he made her my personal responsibility, and as God is my witness, she and that baby inside her, are going to get through this one way or another!”

“Luck then Robbie, I’m leaving for the Command Post up in the hills. We will be in touch.”

“Ma’am, you can come along with me at the point of a gun or be drugged and carted like baggage, but you and your family will get on that bus. You have ten seconds to decide how it’s gonna be.”

“Sgt Avery,” she said, looking at his tag, “Even someone with a seventh grade education could see that I cannot leave my responsibilities and go running off into the woods somewhere!”

“Yeah Lady. Seventh grade, I know about that, been there, couple of times. And your times up.” He held her while spray took affect. The rest of her family put up no resistance.

Most were willing enough; those that weren’t were drugged in every case. Reserve Sgt Avery didn’t have the manpower for anything else. Those who hadn’t used the few minutes warning to pack a bag were going to regret it later. Now he couldn’t take the time. After the politicians it would be the rest of the list. Those they had time for.

“Command to SnapDragon. Do you have a problem? Full military power.”
“I concur,” Captain Langston said to Cmdr. Fletcher. “Full military power. Take station.”

Fletcher had been awaiting that message from fleet, but Langston’s response still just about floored him. “He concurs? What if he didn’t concur?”

In the flag plot on Cardoman Station Wes Calvert was seeing in detail the impossible situation the defense was in. On the Cardoman side were two sections. Under Raymond was his own under ship, the under trained Essex G-4, also the Ranger, Wasp, and Hornet, G-4’s under remote, comp, and AI control, then the fully manned G-4’s Saratoga, Aladin and SnapDragon plus the G-3 SwiftStrike. He also had charge of Cardoman’s two G-2’s, the up-armed transports Eagle and Carpathian.

Under Squadron Commander Admiral Flynn Talbert from the Confederation and Novi were the G-4 Victorious, and the G-3’s Casandra and Atropos. The Ryman RNS Panoply was working under his command as well.

Arrayed against them were 11 fully manned G-4’s and another 9 G-3’s and various troop and support ships. “Send a detailed readout to Flynn, and Admiral Raymond. I’d like to know what changes each suggest with the larger force picture. Send it to Jamie Madry with my request for her independent evaluation copies of which go to all concerned. And that means every ship in the fleet.”

Wes went back to studying the display and saw the Widow’s Walk break away from the station and head out system. One less thing to worry about. Twenty minutes later Admiral Flynn replied to the earlier message.

“I am truly sorry the rest of the ships promised by the Confederation have not arrived as yet. Those eight additional G-3’s would place us close to parity.”

“Nothing for it Admiral we haven’t lost yet so we will just have to do our best to keep it hat way.”

Audie Madry, Yuri Borselov, and Captain Langston were in the SnapDragon’s plotting room. Audie and Yuri needed the communications bandwidth to deal with the remotes on the Hornet, Wasp, and Ranger. The comm lag was about half a second and they should be up tighter.

“Captain, we need to get in the center to maximize our control,” Audie waited for Langston to issue the necessary course corrections. He seemed oblivious to her statement.

She rephrased it as a request, to which Langston replied, “We will wait Madry, the Calps know about us and the Essex. The other three ships just may come as a surprise. I don’t want to do anything to attract attention to us.”

“Get her centralized, do as Madry says,” came Lester Raymond’s voice over the comm link. He was listening in and duplicating the Dragon’s view in his own flag plot. The Essex was on the inward side of the formation nearest the axis of the Caliphate fleet. The Dragon was on the outside, in a flanking position. “As soon as you are in position Captain we will move to the front. Remote control will be hard enough without worrying about hitting our own.”

Langston glared while he snapped instructions to Fletcher on the bridge ordering the course change. “Are you happy now Madry?” Audie could see that he had shutdown the comm link just before saying that.

“Sir, things are gonna be hard enough. We need to keep the time lag as small as we can make it to have any chance at all.”

“Any chance at all you say! This plan is madness, delusional lunacy! We are outnumbered two to one. Instead of fighting we should be asking for terms and trying to save as many lives as possible.”

“That part must have been left out of the final version Sir. Terms are for losers.”

Langston stalked out of the plotting room and back to the bridge without another word. His expression said it all.

“He’s afraid Audie, quaking in his boots,” Yuri looked up from his own display.

“I am too Sgt. Just had more practice dealing with it.” Madry turned the recorders back on. “We do our parts and trust the others to do their own. I am going down to engineering. Call me at once if things change.”

“Yes Ma’am!”

On the Sword, Captain Kalid saw the Widow break away from Cardoman station and head towards the hyperlimit. Some rough calculations and he knew that if the Admiral issued orders at once she might just be caught. An interesting problem. Was it worth trading some force, probably excess and unneeded force in the upcoming battle, for a heavy hauler and what might be aboard her?

From the Reza Gholam, Khan sent word to mount a pursuit. Naiyer Al-Qiblah, Admiral Suleiman’s former aide, now commanding a mixed squadron of 3’s and 4’s, passed the word to the Sunah under Captain Khumm to take up the chase. If the Cardomans failed to send support, Khumm would break off and rejoin the fleet. If the Cards sent some help, the odds in the main fight would improve even more.

“Major, the Calps have sent a G-4 after the Widow. We’ll have the details in a moment, but they can catch her if they want to.”

“Give it a few hours, if nothing changes send the Eagle and Carpathian out to support her. They aren’t going to be much use here and might be enough to let the Widow break free.”

Robbie Davis was piloting, Mo al-Omari sat in front and his mother Wana and Connie Calvert were in back. Snow was falling and the air was rough. Robbie kept low as he made his way to his cabin in the woods far north of the Castle. He was receiving but would not transmit himself until he was sure the transmissions were untraceable, not just secured by encryption There was no proof, but he was not going to assume the Calps hadn’t put agents on the planet to track the movements of the Major’s wife.

“A hostage? It’ll never happen Robbie; they’d have to take me alive.”

“Connie, you’re far more valuable to the Seventh alive then otherwise. After I drop you and Wana off I am going to get with Clayton and see how the evacuation is coming then go over our troop dispositions. After that we will have to see. I doubt I will be back up here for some time. Mo knows all the Comm sequences; you’ll pick them right up. Get yourself up to speed, we need all the tactical sense we can muster.”

“What about Gaza?” Irwana asked.

“I’m not in the loop on that.” Robbie said. “I’ll talk to Major Trebeck and find out what I can. He came up over a forested ridgeline and said, “We’re here now.” He set the car down a hundred yards from the cabin. “Mo will unload and pack your things in. It’s steep and icy, so take it slow and easy. Connie, listen up now, pay attention to the Command Channel but no sending till I talk to you. Got it?”

“Got it Robbie, good luck.”

On the deck above SnapDragon’s Engineering Spaces Audie ran into Fader Jameson. He flashed a smile and was about to pass when she grabbed him by the arm. “We gotta talk.”

“Can’t it wait? I have a sim starting in a few.”
“See me when you’re done.”
“Gotcha.”

Fader went up and out to the number one missile room where Fargo and Prentiss were seated. “This is the last practice run you get so make it perfect.” They both were looking his way when the drill started.

“That delay in getting underway stressed us pretty bad Ma’am,” the duty section chief took up from where he left off last time Audie looked in.”

“Let me see where we stand,” Audie said as she went over the ship’s energy budget. “It seems we can dump the heat and get to max storage capability before the Calps are in range but only if we waste some reaction mass to do it. I’ll have to run this by the Captain and see what he wants us to do.”

“It’s the Captain’s fault we’re hot now. It was a bad call to sit around after power up without going anywhere.” Audie was going to say something then thought better of it and went into her office and commed the Captain.

He took a while in answering so Audie scanned the navigation screens to check the ships location. They were close to where they should be, nearer the center of the drone remote ships but further behind than she would have liked. Langston’s voice came over her speaker. “What is it now Madry?” He sounded irritated. “I have a ship to run.”

“Sir, we’re still storing 15% too much waste heat. We could dump it in a burn by closing to the remotes.”

“We are powering down now, or haven’t you noticed. We will not attract any more attention to us then this last move has already done. I want minimum power and radiate everything you can. But I will not waste reaction mass now. We may need it later. Tend to your business Madry and I will tend to mine.”

Nagibah Khumm, Captain of the Sunah, was an hour from reversing course and returning to his squadron when the two Cardoman G-2’s lit off and followed in the track of the G-1 Widows Walk. It looked like he would miss the main event but in another twenty hours or so he ought to have easy pickings of his own.

Four hours to contact:

Wes Calvert was back in CSC after four hours of uninterrupted sleep and a good breakfast. Unlike an infantry battle on the ground, out here in space, even after things started happening they happened slow. President Horvath had come up from the surface. He should have gone into hiding with the rest of the government but insisted, perhaps for the best. His presence wouldn’t hurt morale and they could still get him off the station before the Calps could reach it. Maybe it was time for a diplomatic offensive.

“Give em a call Dennis. Tell Kahn if he leaves without causing any more trouble we’re willing to let bygones be bygones.”

“Sure Wes, should I send along flowers and candy while I’m at it?”

“I don’t think you need to go that far but he might say something that helps us in some way. We’ve made all the preparations we can and it won’t hurt our efforts in any measurable fashion.”

“Do you think he will answer?”

“One way to find out,” Wes said nodding to a comm tech who opened a channel beamed at the approaching Calp fleet and read the header announcing the Presidents desire to talk. They waited the fifty seconds for the message to reach the Calp flagship and another fifty for a return. It took only another few seconds for the responding data stream to reach them.

Khan’s voice, certainly prerecorded, began, “We will accept your surrender, under the following terms, at the present there is nothing else to talk about. Khan, out.”

“That was short and sweet,” Wes said, “Let’s look at the details.”

After a minute of study Horvath said, “No surprises here, maybe you and I will get to share the same cell before our trial. Is this worth responding to?”

“Not now. If anything about this attack is a bluff, and the chances for that are minuscule, we won’t find out till just before weapons release. I think we should send a copy of this out to the fleet and release it for the people below. If there were ever any illusions about a peaceful settlement this will blow them all away.”

Three hours before contact and Jamie Madry was in the Flag Bridge on the Sara. She would have rather been in the Main or even the Battle Bridge but she had the third portion of Cardomans strength under her command. Her ship, the SwiftStrike, and the Aladin some dozen up-armed shuttles and the remote mines and missile systems.

Pavel Tsarinstyn was bitterly disappointed that only nine of those shuttles already on station had been in position to reach the scene of battle before the Calps could arrive. If only Khan had taken his time. He was thankful when Jamie released one from each of her ships to bring him up to twelve.

The systems remaining small craft were trying to get between the battle scene and Cardoman before it was too late. Though there wasn’t much of anything they would be able to do if the Calps broke through with even a single G-4. Without the element of surprise they were just too slow. And unlike the ships out here they all had had to blast like mad to reach position near Cardoman. Their numbers and approximate locations well known to the enemy.

Pavel, and the rest of his still stealthed shuttles, at least he hoped that they were still stealthed and undetected, were out in front of the three capital ships by nearly 500,000 kilometers. The math was tricky but when they Calps reached engagement range both fleets would have vectors taking them back towards Cardoman, the shuttles moving fastest of all but if they fired as per plan they would still be out front for nearly eight minutes until those remaining could be taken aboard a Cardoman ship. Assuming they survived that long. Pavel verified all of his data links and settled in for the wait.

Two hours to go and Fader still hadn’t gotten back to her. Audie did a locate, and saw he was still in the number one missile room. She couldn’t delay any longer if she was going to go back up to the Dragon’s flag plot to take over from Yuri and check back in with Admiral Raymond. She wished the chief well on her way out.

“Their gonna go stale Fader,” Audie said to Jameson who was throwing one last problem at his crew.

“We’re done here. Take a break and everyone at their stations in thirty minutes.” After his men left Fader slid into the saddle of the main director and Audie took a place in front of the checkout board. She could see that all ten of the reloads for this station were in the green. She did something and the ships recorder turned off. “You know why I’m here Fader.”

“Afraid so. Worried about the Captain.”

“I should have pushed the case when the Major was here. Too late now. I’ve seen him in action and it’s not pretty. The man’s yellow Fader. Scared of his own shadow.”

“Hmmm… What do Fletcher and Debus think?”
“They have to know. Everyone on the bridge must.”
“You know the next step Audie, they gonna do it?”

“Never, Never, Never. No unless Langston runs screaming to his cabin and refuses to come out. And when the shit hits—he’s gonna be too petrified for that.”

“And?”
“I don’t know Fader! Just be ready if I call.”
“Count on in Audie.”

She left Fader alone and went up to Flag Plot.

On the Reza Gholam with a direct course flight time of two hours to missile range, Admiral Khan gave his last maneuver order. The fleet vectored to the side as a unit, fifteen minutes later it corrected again, putting it on line with Cardoman. This roundabout motion would keep them clear of any concentration of mobile missile launchers, or mines the Cards may have placed in their direct path.

His signals officer watched and reported the movement of all nine ships detected in the Cardoman fleet as they adjusted to his course change. Khans own forces numbered 19. The Sunah would not be in position to attack the Cardoman G-2’s and the transport Widows Walk out at the hyper limit, until hours after the battle here was over.

Kahn went to pray, as in rotation did everyone else under his command. With an hour left till contact all positions were manned and ready.

That last Calp maneuver cost Pavel two of his shuttles. Their stealth gear could not mask the boost needed to reach the new position. Reporting in to the Sara, Madry had them continue towards the scene at reduced speed. Something just might break their way.

This was shaping up as a classic battle, on both sides, one war-gamed to exhaustion. Even the three stealthed ships under Raymond and her cousin were included in most of the models. Not necessarily exactly what was supposed to happen here, but in the more general sense of a suddenly appearing threat. Until those ships began to fight no one could even say how effective they would be. Jamie could only hope. The new Mod V ShipKillers were a definite improvement as were the anti-ship defenses. Neither came close to negating the firepower advantage held by the Calps.

Sixteen minutes from contact, only four from extreme missile range, Jamie saw the strobes and light cones displayed as the Calps launch a pair of recon drones, seconds later two more pair. Each one of the Card’s three elements was targeted. These drones would burn out then coast in without guidance. But if they got close they were going to reveal the presence of Raymond’s three stealthed G-4’s. Those ships were just too big to hide. Maybe Pavel’s shuttles would escape detection but not the big ones.

A little less than a minute later and the Calps were in the 800 second range of the Mod V’s. There was an eighty second window of opportunity before the Calps older IV’s could open fire. They were going to use it. What they lost with range might be gained in surprise and there was nothing else to try in any event.

The order went out —– Open Fire!

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