By The Sword 2

By The Sword
Chapter 2 Draft (5/30/08)

Muhammad Ahmad Al-Gamrawi Bey look up to the heavens from outside of his apartment on the one-hundred and seventy third— the top floor—of the Dubai Towers. From this high up, above the smog and grit that covered even the lowest population density areas left on Earth, he could see dozens. . . no hundreds of stars, and almost, he imagined, make out the milky way. He could remember seeing that silvery band across the sky in his youth, or was this just imagination?— seeing it on high in the deep desert night eighty years before?

There would come a time when the vision would be clear again. It would be impossible to convince enough to migrate off planet in order to cut the population to the kind of levels cleaning up the atmosphere would require. But under the needs of war, the migration would be both rapid and final. If—the ships were built. He would not live to see the result but it would come. And paradise, as Allah ordained, would become closer to each in everyday life.

“Sharif Shehzad Tanweer and his aide are here to see you your Supremacy,” his gatekeeper, greeter, and factotum, a very large, strange looking, and sounding person, odd in a way that was hard to describe, announced into thin air. His words carried to a speaker on the balcony.

“Have them made comfortable, I shall see them after my devotions.” Gamrawi Bey said then knelt on the thin carpet and facing Mecca and gave thanks for what was to be the crowning moment of his life. He, along with all of the believers, would do as the Lord God Commanded and the prophet Mohamed directed, and the infidel brought low.

Rashid Mohamed Kalid, one time hypership captain of the Sword of the Prophet felt as out of his place as an elephant in a com booth. He took his lead from Tanweer and followed the overly large man?—Eunuch?—Was that still possible in this day and age?—into an inner room. Trays of sweet compotes and various delicacies were set between a samovar and a carafe of thick black coffee. Shehzad poured coffee for the both of them while Rashid kept his silence.

Shehzad Tanweer was the head of the Caliphate’s Regulations Compliance Office, whose members carried the title of ‘Guardians of the Faith’, not the large visible part that enforced the religious statutes and customs, but the smaller and much more powerful section that watched the Guardians for signs of corruption and error. It was a difficult job as corruption varied in meaning depending upon whom the term was applied. Tanweer had numerous Sub-directors dealing with the ins and outs of that portion of his department. It was a long established tradition, often expressed as a joke in the Compliance Office, that a Sub-director was a scapegoat who had yet to reach his fullest potential.

Under Tanweer firm rule, and due to his powerful support from al-Gamrawi and familial linage, not to neglect his competence, there was little need for scapegoating. The Sharif devoted the largest part of his time to Compliance on planets outside of the Caliphate’s direct sphere of influence; he ran the intelligence service and was the representative of Gamrawi Bey in all military matters when the Imam was not available or chose to excuse himself. A degree of separation was maintained with Tanweer in the middle of that did not sit well with the regular military establishment.

Not long, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes after they gained entrance the Supreme ruler of the Caliphate also came into the room. Rashid had seen the Imam in person only once before, and under much less favorable conditions, when he was under arrest and on trial for cowardice in the face of the enemy under battlefield conditions. He had come out on top of that one, with Tanweer’s help and the Imam’s understated support, though he had his share of scars and a burning desire for ship command again. As a result he had only respect for Gamrawi Bey, servant of the Prophet, and the Prophet’s true messenger on Earth.

As the Supreme Ruler seated himself on the carpet across from Kalid, Tanweer poured a cup of tea from the samovar and held it out to the Imam.

Gamrawi Bey looked at Rashid and said, “It is the doctors command, I must reserve coffee for public and formal events, even the Prophet’s messenger has Earthly constraints.”

Knowing not what to say to that Rashid kept silent and nodded taking a sip from his own small cup.

“So tell me Shehzad, are we ready to begin the jihad?”

“It starts in a public sense in one week, with a fleet leaving for Sylvan via independent Onaway and a squadron leaving for Cardoman. I believe General Arafat and Admiral Khan have kept you current on the details and costs but I would like Rashid here to brief you on the strategic considerations.”

“Yes; it seems like such a small start to so large a project.”

Rashid had spent the last ten days preparing for this briefing yet he found it hard to find his voice until the Imam looked at him and quietly asked him to begin. Then the words came tumbling out.

“It is believed that by starting slowly and acting against only those worlds that have directly opposed us we can make initial gains without getting the Confederation or the rest of the Independents to declare against us.”

Gamrawi Bey’s eyes seemed to bore into him but he said mildly, “You say it is believed, rather than we believe.”

The Caliphates ruler was every bit as sharp as Shehzad had said; it seemed certain that not all his preparation had been a waste of time. “There are three main groups with input into the early panning stage, the Military, the Industrial Production Bureau, and the State Department. All three recommend this approach. A minority view held by us in the Compliance Office technical Directives think that an all out attack can accomplish our goals before opposition can build up against us.”

“And you Rashid Kalid? Your personal belief?”

“I say we should attack at once with all the force at are disposal. Yes, that will almost certainly bring in the Confederation at once and lead to a costly more general fight, but I think that is where we will find ourselves even if these first steps succeed. By holding back now we give time for the rest of the Indies and Confederation to build more strength.”

“Does not it give us more time to build strength as well? And can we not build faster than they are able?” Gamrawi Bey inquired.

“Our projections show this to be true. But due to the time lag involved and the impossibility of knowing all the factors, and since we project a general war likely to happen I still must recommend we start at once while our information is most accurate.”

“I have recently spoken with General Arafat, and he has requested more time. The results on Sylvan did not please him. Admiral Kahn is ready for this first step but he also feels that more time will improve the performance of the fleet.”

Seeing which way the decision was going to go, Rashid made one last request. “When the fleet sails I would like to go along with it. I have some dealing with the Cardoman Navy and a point of honor to settle. May I ask this in dedication to the will of Allah and from his voice on Earth?”

“Can you spare him Shehzad?”

“I want Kalid to be my eyes in this matter your Supremacy. It is time he is given his ship back. With your permission, and a word to Admiral Kahn, I will attend to the details.”

“It shall be as you wish and as Allah wills. Kalid shall wield the Prophets Sword.”

* * *
A whirlwind would have been calm in comparison. Rashid made orbit and took over command of his ship with half an hour to spare. The fleet left together as scheduled, they would split after breakout at Onaway. Rashid watched the bridge crew make ready for departure, only giving the word for transition. Gondar Metemma, his former First Officer, still held the position. Gondar was competent, has done well on his way up, but lacked unimaginative, else he would have had his own major ship command by this time Knowing the man well Rashid had no qualms in watching the efficient evolution from normal to hyperspace. There was much to say for competence without ambition.

Ahmed Allahabad, the Captain he was replacing took over the G-1 Mohammad’s Wings a heavy hauler recently out of dry-dock. This did not please Allahabad and of course caused great embarrassment to the Officer who expected to be her Captain. There was nothing Rashid could do to help that situation so he gave it not a second thought. He was where he belonged, with a deck under his feet and a crew to lead. He had never wished for more.

With transition complete Rashid left the bridge to inspect his former command and make sure nothing had slipped in his absence.

His first stop, as was prudent took him to the small rooms of his religious officer to say prayers for the success of the mission. Even here his reputation as one who had been judged and found acceptable to Gamrawi Bey made this an almost enjoyable task. The political officer, Lt. Cmdr. Joppa he would see later. That duty on hold he went to engineering. The comparative difference in the two sections, spiritual and mechanical could not have been more visible.

“Pasha, you still keep her moving I see.” Pasha Khomeini had served the Caliphate for almost thirty-five years, as good an engineering officer as Rashid had ever met. He was lucky to have him aboard.

“How do you manage it Pasha, the bane of the fleet is maintenance. We have equipment second to none but our uptime is horrendous when compared to our rivals. If it were possible I would bottle what you do and sell it.”

“I thank the Prophet for your return my Captain. I think you can answer your own question. We lead and men follow by example. The Sword has slipped a bit in your absence. I shall do all that I am able to bring her back where she belongs. As shall we both Pasha. Show me the changes in our upgraded fire control system. We may find a use for it.”

* * *
“Audie, how old were you when you learned how to read?”

1st Lt. Madry, without missing a beat said, “I always knew, can’t remember when I didn’t.”

“Another data point, but of course it’s only apocryphal and not rigorous.”

“What are you getting at sir; I’m not sure I follow you.” Audie said to her boss Jubal Reeves the head of Cardoman Military R&D.

“The point is we need to expand our unit. And the standard sorting routines that send people our way aren’t sending enough of the kind of people we need. What we get are people that score high on tests that show what they know about the stuff on the test. That’s all well and good we can use people like that to write the manuals. And I am being a little harsh here but yes, they will make a contribution, and I want every one of them. What we really need in Cardoman R&D are some more of the people that didn’t take the courses that provide the answers for our standard questions but instead taught themselves what they wanted to know and did it on their own. Those are the kind of people that might find the answers to questions we never think to ask.”

“Pretty deep sir, never thought about it myself.”
Jubal looked at her, saw from the earnest expression that she was trying to follow his train of thought, and then lost it and couldn’t control himself. First a chuckle, and then another, a laugh and a louder one and another until he could not stop. Audie just watched with opened eyes.

When the tears finally ended and he got his breath back Captain Reeves started in again. “Audie when you left home and joined the army what were you like?”

“Same as now I’d say,”

“No Audie you were a good five years younger, a career private, a medium sized somewhat plump adolescent with a less than stellar love life looking for a change and a way out of town.”

“Hey— no fair, you read my file.”

“The files are all the same, you should read mine. I have little doubt you will someday— when you run this zoo and I find my true calling. What I’m getting at is that the files, the tests, the recommendations from the best sources overlook what we need if we are going to keep ahead of the Caliphate not to mention our friendly allies. How did you find Borselov and get him to join up?”

“I didn’t find Yuri, he found us. He wanted in.”

“If I had someone following Yuri, or yourself for that matter, and they watched your progress through school, would they have picked you out for R&D?”

“Not hardly sir. If I’d have grown up on Cardoman I don’t know what people might have made of me but it sure wouldn’t have been anything like. ‘Grab her quick for R&D before she learns about boys!”

“No I expect not. Enough of my complaining, I think I have some news you should like for a change. I read your report on hyperdrive instabilities near a stellar mass and passed them around to see what the experts though. Except for some guy Commander Woodward’s got out doing ship work everyone said interesting for a non-specialist but a total waste of time. Those things were all tried hundreds of years ago we’ve moved on.”

“Yeah, I can see that, but still— if we could figure a way to get FTL communication without needing to send the message in a ship, even if the range was short and didn’t extend beyond a few light hours it would give us a pretty big combat edge.”

“That it would Audie, and since you are due to head for a rotation to the fleet and they are chronically short of engineering officers; I have you assigned to take over on the SnapDragon as soon as Captain Langston makes orbit.”

“I heard he was back from Novi sir, how long till she docks?”

“You’ve got yourself a few days leave. Report on board at eleven hundred hours on the third and your orders will be waiting for you. I am going to send Borselov to fill the third engineering slot and I’ll make sure the shuttle port has travel authorization, but you could cage a ride without them I am quite certain. Be gone Lieutenant, we will keep in touch.”

When Audie reached her quarters she shed her uniform and made a list of necessary purchases before flying into Minton, in her own car no less! First one she had ever owned and she wasn’t going to treat this on like she did the military hulks she was used to. The city was busy, lots of traffic, lots of activities, but no one she knew and so a couple hours later she was back in her small apartment on base. She was planning on the O-Club for dinner but checked for messages and was glad she did. Captain Melbourne left a message. She listened while she got her laundry together.

“Hi Audie, sorry I missed you earlier. Jubal tells me you have a couple of days off and I am dying for some company who can talk about anything other than my marriage plans. Wes is in the belt for a few days so invite a friend and get yourself out here until you need to report on board. I’m out at my place and not the castle. Dinners as nine see you then.”

‘That sure beats hanging around base’, Audie thought, ‘but bring a friend?’ She had made no close friends made since moving to Cardoman. Except for her cousin Jamie, who was off somewhere doing something and would have been far too busy to take a few days off even if she were in port, and except for her military acquaintances she had no social life whatsoever. A few nights on the town but nobody to take to the Captains place. ‘I should fix this,’ she decided and gave Yuri a call.

“Gee Audie, I’d love to. But I just got orders cut sending me to the SnapDragon in three days. I got a ton of stuff to study to be ready for that.”

“I should say you do! Any idea who your section chief will be?”

“Not really, I skipped over that part. Let me look, Oh!”

“Anyone we know?”

“I shudda’ guessed, you got me the job didn’t you?”

“Not me soldier, that part was all Captain Reeves doing. Pack your books and while Captain Melbourne and I are busy you can study to your hearts content. I’ll pick you up at the gate at 08:30.”

It was after midnight, Madry and Connie Melbourne were out on the back section of the porch that encircled the massive log home she had built less than two years before. A square of light fell upon the ground, shining from an upper bedroom window, the one next to the room where Connie’s inside maid had taken Audie’s suitcase, and where Yuri was without doubt studying for his new job.

“How are you going to stand it Connie, staying on Cardoman when the Major is gone and things are happening elsewhere?” It had been hard going for a while but they were through with the Captain Melbourne and Ma’am stage.

“I’ll always remember when you slid on your rump all the way down that hill on Ophia.”

I will too Audie, but I got up then and moved on and that’s what I’m doing now.”

“What’s it like to be in love Connie?”

“I wish I could tell you Audie, but there are no words. What about you and Yuri? You seem to be getting along.”

“That’s different. We just like the same things.”

“Well you’ve hit on part of it. Keep your eyes open and who can tell.”

They sat in silence for a while and then Connie said, “I’m off to bed. We have a full day planed for tomorrow and sunup comes early. Let Yuri know to prepared for and early start, we’ll find some use for him I am sure.”

“You know it’s strange,” Yuri said shoveling another forkful of fried potatoes into his mouth and gulping down some juice. “We get about the same meal back at the barracks, the food is all pretty good, but it tastes so much better here. What’s up with that?” he said spearing a sausage from the self-warming container resting at the table’s center.

“Don’t let Irwana hear you say that, Connie said. “But you are not far off. I think it’s just that away from the base, and in smaller groups, awareness goes up a notch.” From outside there was a low rumble getting nearer. “Must be our rides.” Connie said. “Finish up, we’re gonna’ ride.”

Kendrie Douglas, Calvert’s man in charge of the Castle and all its grounds and works rode up on his own mount leading a brace of others. They were saddled and ready to go. He dismounted and wrapping the group reign around the house railing walked towards the door. Wana al-Masari had it opened before his foot hit the porch. “Douglas, how good to see you! Come in, the guests are still eating and I can set you up as well.”

“Wana, I declare, if I weren’t happily married Gaza would have a fight on his hands. I’ve been missing out on your cooking the last couple of days while you’ve been over here with Captain Melbourne.”

“Oh ho ho, you teaser you! But tell me about Mohammad, he never complains, things can’t be that easy for him.”

“I’ll keep him and work with him for as long as I can, but as soon as he is of age, or sooner if you give permission, he’s joining the Seventh. And I can’t say I blame him.” And then, wistfully, “If only I were younger. . . But if we have time, and about that breakfast—bring it on!”

The ride in the early morning was slow and gentle. Kendrie stayed close to Yuri and Connie and Audie rode together. “What are your plans Audie?” Connie asked. “Are you going to stay in? And for how long?”

“Connie, I look at 67 million credits in the bank and it means nothing to me. You have ten times as much and the Major has twice that again or more. It’s just too outside of anything I ever thought about. Sure I wanted to be well off, but this is something so outside of that, well it doesn’t compute.”

“Didn’t for me either Audie, in many ways I’m glad I am out of the service for a time.”

“Bet you’re even happier you and the Major are getting married.”

“In a way you are right but in another you are wrong. Not about the marriage, I couldn’t be happier about that, but about what it all means for the future. We are at war. Most won’t admit it but it has started already. Any kind of personal involvement and new commitment with that hanging over our heads gives pause for thought. But we go on.”

“It was strange to think I would ever run for a political office, unimaginable really, but hey! I am just getting used to it. No choice in the mater, I was the closest thing to an unopposed candidate that ever ran for office on Cardoman at least. I looked at the records. Things are tough here, and I am going to have to be just as tough myself. But you Audie, what are you going to do?”

“Still got three years on my contract and I am not angling for an early out. I might have to buy a setup like you have before I leave, but I got the best situation anyone serving could want. Other people buy my toys and I play with them, and get a say on what goes out to the rest of the force. Never asked for more and happy enough with what I got.”

“Any personal regrets?”

“Shoot Connie, I’m not old enough and don’t have the time for that kind of stuff, you do what you do, and move on. You’re doing things right, I think I am too.”

They were winding steadily higher up the foothills of the low mountain range to the backside of the Calvert lands. Just above the treeline there was a fringe of grass low flowering plants then bare rock for another few hundred meters to the summit.

“End of the line. This is as far as we go.” Kendrie said when all four horses were together on the quarter hectare sized sloping but mostly level rock shelf.”

“This was blasted out of here wasn’t it.” Yuri said as a statement rather than a question, making no mistake in interpreting the freshly shattered and fractured rock on the inward side of the shelf.

“Aye laddie, that it was. I’ve been doing it myself. What do you think could a shuttle set down here?”

Yuri shrugged and looked towards Connie and Audie; they each had far more experience on where a shuttle might land than he had in his short military career.

“Could you do it Audie?” Connie asked.

“Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to try. I think Pavel Tsarinstyn might make it but wouldn’t bet on anyone else unless he gave it a go.”

“That’s what I was hoping you would say. Good work Kendrie. You can stop right here and we will see about getting Pavel to fly in the equipment for the next stage.”

“What’s it all about?” Yuri asked.

“Normally I wouldn’t be able to tell you and you wouldn’t even be here, but since you and Audie have a role yet to play I brought you both for an early look. The Caliphate is going to be sending some kind of an attacking force in our direction. We are doing what we can out in space. Putting more firepower in orbit and at various outer system points but we need to beef up defenses on the planet as well. Take a look around, quite a view isn’t it.”

“It sure is,” Yuri said looking back and down in the direction of where they had come from. He couldn’t make out Connie’s place but Castle Calvert was easily seen as was the town growing up on its south and the road to Minton.

“On a clear day like this you can see almost all the way to the capital. At night the sky glow is visible.” Kendrie pointed toward the north. “See that peak, the one with two adjacent spires. A new defense battery is being built in place up there right now. You can’t hide things like that. Too many people involved. There are a half dozen more new sites being built and all under dual control, either from main operations outside Minton or from the Navy’s orbital command center. General Inglase thought, and got the people with the purse strings to agree that both were too visible and vulnerable to attack.”

“And that’s the reason for this little place here,” Connie said taking over. “No one but Wes, Kendrie, me, and now you two know where it is or that it exists. Of course it isn’t much yet either. But it will be. Were going to have Pavel bring in some small mining equipment and bore into the mountain until we have enough room for another control system. The debris get piled out here and along the rest of the ledge so the whole thing will look natural when seen from overhead. When it’s finished and ready to be equipped we want you Audie to make sure everything functions as it should and then we eliminate the Navy control system.”

“Yeah, they got a lot on their plate too. You know both Yuri and I are both going out on the SnapDragon.”

“She’s going to be working up around system and in a month or so when this place is ready to be set up Wes will get you detached for as long as it takes. The Navy won’t like that but they will like getting back all the people from Orbital Command enough to consider it a net plus. You’ll go back to the Dragon when this is finished.”

“I can’t really see how I fit in here,” Yuri said. “Audie it makes sense for, but I don’t know all that much about anti-air and space missile command and control systems.”

“What’s another couple of dozen tech manuals piled on top of what you are already carrying around,” Connie said smiling.