By The Sword 25

By The Sword
Chapter 25 Draft (02/26/09)

“We’re being hailed Captain, should I respond?” Kellen Durnan, a civilian former yard worker on Cardoman station was handling the control room sensors and communications board. He was one of the few non-Seventh on the hijacked shuttles and as a former civilian had no sense of how a command deck should run. No surprise—why should he?

“Pretend that you’re a part of the original crew but not a bridge officer and the fight is still in progress. Make it confusing, that shouldn’t be too hard.” She encouraged him without being harsh. Then Audie went back to the navigation screen and worked on her course while the reactor powered up. Finally finished and loaded she connected to both of the ship’s weapons bays on an internal link, “Zavala, Fader, you guys ready?”

Zavala reported first with brevity, “Yes, as soon as we get the release codes.”

“I’m working on it,” Audie told him. “They got them hid pretty good.”

Jameson needed more time. The gun room he was trying to bring up had been the scene of a short and violent firefight, both tube’s control screens broken and useless the controls smashed and much of the internal circuitry fried, some of the traces charred black dust.

“The missile systems will need several more hours repair work if we have the parts before we can even test things,” Fader said. “The beams and close in systems are hot and ready to go.”

“Fader, send someone to drag the First Officer up to the Bridge. It’s gonna take more time than we got for me to figure a way to do a command code override, maybe I can get some help so I won’t need to. For now here is a key to the parts store data, but we can’t wait and are going to start accelerating—Now!”

The Salat began picking up speed, the sound of the ship changed. “Use the beams and the small stuff, anything hot enough to light a match; make sure that transport over there never boosts again and anything she hasn’t managed to unload is turned into scrap! Then start on whatever else you can see in orbit. Be ready to defend against incoming from those two G-3’s high and behind us. Our sensors show them powering and they’ll be getting ready to fire.”

“The G-3’s are in our aft blind spot Captain. A little maneuver and we can get a shot at them.” Her signalman was attentive to duty.

Audi studied her display, it was similar to what she was familiar with but just different enough that her decisions were slower than otherwise. And in battle speed in decision was as important as speed in execution, often more so. “No course change Fader. It’s better we put some distance between us than burn off a few replaceable sensors.” She went back to gun room one.

“Zavala, I’ve sent you the ShipKiller launch codes. Get ready to fire all tubes. But unless they launch on us just hold on and wait for my command.”

“I still need numbers for the warhead arming sequencer.” Raquel’s voice was clear and as calm as could be, he sounded as if this was just another routine practice run and he had spent his career on a ship rather than leading a mercenary unit on the ground. It they got out of this alive Audie vowed she would run a stress test on his responses but didn’t think it would turn up anything. Zavala’s IQ, his ‘Imperturbable Quotient’ must be somewhere off the scale.

“I can’t find those codes and no time to look. If the ships First Officer doesn’t give them up we will have to fire blanks, but that will keep the Calps heads down until they figure it out. They’re gonna’ have to intercept everything we send their way so let’s make it hard and keep them guessing.”

“Freidikin, how long before you have the boat bay sealed?”

“We just kicked out your shuttle Ma’am and are about to get the hatch closed. The other two that belonged to the freighter are tied down already and everyone is on the floor.”

Audi saw the hatch indicator go green and restored normal gravity to the boat deck and increased the ship’s acceleration. Sensor readings gave her a three minute head start on the other two orbiting Calp warships. They were the Nubuwah and the Tawid, both G-3’s. So if she could get out of range she would have legs on them; an 8000 kilometer lead already even before they got started. Next to nothing for a ShipKiller but the lead would keep increasing for two reasons. The first due to the Salat’s higher base acceleration, the second because they had to make sure to stay outside of the kill radius of any unpowered warhead dropped off as a mine.

If they could keep the Salat from getting hit for an hour and a quarter they would be over the first hurdle because any ShipKiller the G-3’s fired after that would burn out before reaching them. Defending against an unpowered missile with a known location was a relatively simple matter, if the numbers were equal. Two against one, not so much. A little over sixteen hours at max till they could break the light hour limit, transition and put the chase behind them, but there was a pickup to make along the way.

On the Tawid Captain Riba waited impatiently for his ship’s drive to power up. His weapon stations were active but beams were useless against the stern of the fleeing Salat and she was still too close for his ShipKillers to arm. Another five minutes would take care of that problem. The Nubuwah’s signals officer flashed over an updated ships status and her state of readiness roughly paralleled his own. Riba was the senior officer so the Nubuwah would take his orders, a mixed blessing at best. The two ships began to accelerate and spread apart giving each a shot and putting some constraints on the volume of space where the Salat might run.

Riba sent an order to the Nubuwah’s Captain Jannat telling him that he should override the missiles friend or foe codes and pulled up the authorization screen from his own ship’s comp and entered his password then the command. The screen blinked red and the words ‘Unauthorized Entry Code’ appeared in a more violent shade. He tried again, twice more with the same results.

“What in the name of the Prophet is going on here!” Riba poked at the error code block slowly blinking at the bottom of his screen and saw the message, ‘Entry Change Limited — Squadron Commander and Above.’ “Damn the bastards!” It worked in practice but when it came to the real thing there was a cruel lack of trust. “Get hold of the Admiral,” he yelled to his signals officer with undisguised rage. His best, his only, chance for a quick kill was about to slip away, and all because of a lack of trust amounting to a failure of faith.

The Calps should have been launching by now and Audie wondered what was holding them up as she worked on overriding her own ship’s warhead codes. Then she saw it. “Well, well, could be the Admiral is a little busy right now.” She wished Yuri Borselov was here doing the comp work, she was good but no one could hack a code base like Yuri.

On Cardoman below it wasn’t much of a diversion as diversions go, a little harassment, nothing more; a few 155 rounds and some creative destruction wrecked upon the Calps planetside comm channels. Thirty-five minutes later the offending gun was destroyed and things were back to normal on the ground. But it kept Admiral Kahn off the net and by the time he was giving orders again the Salat was in a much better tactical position and well ahead of the perusing ships giving much more time to track incoming. And Audie had her own ShipKillers armed and ready for use— but first the pick-up.

Pavel tried his low power IR laser and found he could not lock on to the Salat’s receiving gear. He would need to broadcast in the open radio spectrum and forgo secrecy. He established a link and spoke into his helmet mike. “SP-101 to Salat, we are closing on you.”

“I’ve got them,” Kellen Durnan said, “and didn’t see or hear a thing until the broadcast.”

“Yeah,” Audie replied, “Now we know how good our stealth really is and a lot more about the Calps detection capability.” She was pleased to see the velocity and course vectors were such that until she cut back on the Salat’s acceleration the necessary corrections could be made to look like a normal jink. She commed the boat bay and told Freidikin to get ready. She cut the drive just as the Calps opened up.

“Four on the way. Make that eight! And another eight from Nubuwah!

Audie saw her own defenders off, just one gun room active; Zavala’s, Fader hadn’t time yet to fix the battle damage and bring his up.

He had the large boat bay hatch was open and Freidikin sent the two shuttles belonging to the Calp freighter on their way, making as much noise as possible with their controls placing them on a course towards the Calp G-3’s. Pavel held off while two of the other Cardoman shuttle’s, they had been hiding out in the Belt, passed by the open hatch without entering and the pilot and crew jetted into the open dock. Their EM and spoofing gear was also on at full blast and he hoped more effective then the random noise from the empty Calp shuttles. These were also sent rearwards.

“Make it march everyone!” That was all Audie said. They all knew about speed. Zavala’s first ShipKiller went off taking two of those from the Tawid with it. Then one at a time five more were taken off the field. But one gun room wasn’t going to be enough unless they got moving again

Pavel had his shuttle and another in the dock and the hatch was closing, Audie was accelerating at a full 67 G’s again when two of the Calp ShipKillers closed inside of their killing radius and—Failed to Detonate!

“What the hell was that?” Durnan asked. “We should be in little pieces right now, not that I’m complaining.

Then Audie figured it out. “The shuttles from the Cargo Carrier, they have a different IFF code than what the Salat uses. I bet the Calp Captains only removed our own. They are going to figure that out soonest but it saved our ass this time and gets us a little more distance.”

Audi took a chance and ordered only beams and close in missiles to fight off those Calp ShipKillers currently on there way. She wished to save her own dwindling store for later. It was a calculated risk and Salat and beat off the rest of the incoming and for a moment at least no more were on the way. And now they had enough of their own naval people on board to come close to fully manning the ship.

“Freidikin, take Commander Tsarinstyn to Jameson’s gun room and Pavel—get those tubes working!”

* * *
It was nail biting time, or would have been if she was so inclined; Audie had the Salat sending feeds back to the planet, all in the open for anyone with a receiver. Connie Calvert watched as the chase continued. The Calps up till now were making no attempt to block them. They must be planning on a favorable outcome, otherwise jammers would be active. Now that Pavel’s shuttles and the gear they carried with them were connected to broadcast antenna, even if the Calps tried to jam something was going to get through. Wes was with her at the cabin for the first time in a long time. It had been over a month since she had seen him.

“An awful lot hangs on this Babe,” he said, absently snuggling closer on the couch in front of the display. “We haven’t done much since the landing to make people think we can hold on.”

“Can we? I mean really—can we Wes? If Audie makes it—how much good does that do us? It gains no territory and doesn’t change the situation on the ground.”

“It’ll be big because we will say it is, and we will say it over and over. We have to keep winning the fight for hearts and minds.”

“A big risk sending Audie out at this time.”

“Sure it is, but a bigger risk doing nothing. Give us a year without losing and we are going to win. Robbie and Clay and the rest are going to be able to do some training and build up out numbers. With the planet behind us the Calps can bring in ten times their current force and all they will accomplish is to make the death count higher. The will to resist is what we need to make strong until we have the means to win. I want time for off-planet support to build. I am expecting, planning on some kind of return from our people in the Federation and on the Indie Worlds.”

“And if we get nothing?”

“We carry on. And we keep believing.”

“I wish I were—I wish I could be doing more now,” Connie said.

“Plenty of time after the baby arrives,” Wes said, concern in his voice. “Keep taking it easy for a while yet. For the short term at least we’ll all be hiding, and planning for the future. And if Audie makes it basking in her glory.”

“She’s gonna’ find a way. I can feel it.”

Just then Mo Omari came through the door with a load of firewood. The storm outside would hide any sign from eyes overhead and most eyes above would be looking in the other direction.

“What did you find,” Connie asked being familiar with the routine.

“There is a Calp patrol about 15 kilometers south of us. Less than squad strength and nothing out of the ordinary. They’re headed east and aren’t climbing any higher. Compared to the first patrols they sent this way their communications discipline is one heck of a lot better. Come spring we should put another sensor line farther out. Nothing else out of the ordinary.”

Wes thanked him for the report and Mo reloaded the fire and took a seat in front. Then and afterwards the three of them kept watch in the flickering light and warmth of the fire while the cabin display projected on the cabins wall updated. As the chase continued with nothing new happening Wes fell asleep and Connie let him stay that way, her head resting on his shoulder, her heart temporarily at peace.

* * *
The Confederation of Free Worlds Battle cruiser Fortune Hunter came into Cardoman space a light hour out from the hyperlimit. Her job to take a quick look, observe, record, and report back to Union; make no close contact and become no kind of a thereat. Federation President Reshevsky hadn’t needed to fight at home for this reconnaissance. None of the Confederation governments were taking the present situation lightly. They trusted the Cardoman’s own version of what was happening but this was a trust and verify territory.

From two hours out there shouldn’t be much happening. Only inter-system traffic and the general run of comm traffic to overhear. What the Hunter’s sensors showed instead were the detonating Nukes of a battle in progress, though due to light speed lag one that took place ten hours earlier. And she saw the hard drive signatures of ships heading towards the battle site and a ship with two others in pursuit.

They sorted out the readings and found them all to be Caliphate in origin. “Take us in, Max G. . . Send a message announcing our transition and let’s find out what’s going on here.” The Fortune Hunter would be looking into the past and unobserved by any of the blockading fleet for another hour. By the looks of things the fight could be over by then.

Hours later, his thought about an early finish proven wrong, Josiah Smith, Fortune Hunter’s Captain saw the Salat was close to the limit and now if his data was correct might even be beyond it. He couldn’t tell from his sensor readings, but never suspected anything else, that the ship had both gun rooms in operation. The two Calp G-3’s left in the running ships wake were trying to make up the distance but it wouldn’t happen. That much was obvious.

He could see another ship vectoring in, trying to close the gap on the running Salat and still another Calp warship on the edge of the transition zone but she was coming in on track from the outside the systems border and unless the situation changed was not going to be in time. Very close but not in time. It was a confusing picture but he no longer wondered what it meant having picked up transmissions from the escaping ship.

Instead of the most direct route to Llanfairn or Union Audie had chosen to run for the systems least defended area, one to galactic north and directly away from the plane of the ecliptic. An extra jump or two counted for nothing compared to getting out alive. The Salat’s final jump on this mission was going to take them to Llanfairn but they had a present to deliver first.

“Two, One, Transition Out!” and the Salat vanished. On the Fortune Hunter the same procedure was about to take place, destination Union.

“Make course for home?” asked the Sailing Master. (The special assignment of Sailing Master was just the Llanfairn Navy’s terminology for whoever was on the nav screen at any given time.)

“Go ahead,” the Hunter’s Captain said. “We will probably jump as soon as we get a response to our transition in message. Should give us something new and they know we are here anyway. Keep recording as usual.”

When the Calp signal came in it was an order for the Hunter to continue on her present course and prepare to be boarded for inspection. A G-3 picket ship was heading their way a good sixteen hours flight time from contact.

“We won’t stand for that type of reception,” Captain Smith said. “Send our regrets and get ready to transition out.”

* * *
“I think you have somewhat of a piratical nature Sir! And it does not become you in the least. This vote is nothing more nor less than a taking of rights, and a further taking of my planets resources without recourse of appeal. I vote no! And with my duty done I will leave this chamber for more civilized company.” With a wave of his hand Duke Clarence of Pillion, the oddly named planet, though far from the only one, gathered his papers and left the house of assembled representatives, then silence reigned—for a moment only.

For most of a hundred years Pillion had been a thorn in the Confederation’s side. A semi-feudal government unique in all of human space. Often good for entertainment value but rarely for anything else. Somehow they survived and even thrived in competition with the rest. In some things there was just no telling. The present Lord Ambassador was only the last in a long line of hereditary nobility holding the position. But with a strong military, and especially a space force, all out of proportion to the planets population, Duke Clarence and Pillion did indeed have admirers.

Reshevsky caught his breath and looked towards Hannah Perkins. She sat high up in the gallery. If she hadn’t gotten in early she never would found a seat for this debate and vote so she was thankful to be watching even from high up in the wings. As President of the Sylvan Government in Exile, she was a most interested observer. She shrugged hoping Reshevsky could see her from the distance and waited for the Newsies to quite down and business to resume.

This same scene had repeated over and over with minor variations for more than the last week. Clarence was acting out for the home team but nothing was going to come of it and his show was getting old. The final vote was all that would count. The Newsies were not fooled but still they followed him out, metaphorically reading from the script as if it mattered. Part of the job. Hanna continued checking off the Aye’s and Nay’s.

The resolution, it fell just short of a declaration of war, passed with a comfortable majority. Some of those opposed voting Aye when passage was inevitable. Hanna and her supporters didn’t get all they hoped for but it was a start.

The Confederation’s military budget and especially her shipbuilding plans went up dramatically, (some said they went up in smoke.) The price of any item needed for, or relating to, any facet of shipbuilding would soon reach new highs; skewing all the rest of every Confederate planet’s economy. That type of distortion was going on in the Caliphate too but the population would not see the changes for some time yet. The benefit of a planned economy was to hide the damage till it was too late to protest.

In response to the Caliphate’s interdiction of Sylvan and Cardoman all Confederation members must accept limits placed on technological trade with their larger more populous neighbor, and more economic harm was easy to see even before it was felt.

Caliphate military traffic in any system would be limited to a single ship at a time, resupply limited to fuel alone; and only enough for a one way jump to the nearest Caliphate world with a fueling station. Non military trade in commodity items only. Aid and credit made available for Indie planets if used to boost their own military forces. And last but not least formal recognition of the Sylvan Government in Exile funded out of Reshevsky discretionary funds.

For now at least Cardoman’s situation was different. The Confederation refusing to accept any Caliphate claims to the Cardoman system or it’s off planet resources. Hanna could look over and see Cardoman Foreign Secretary Victor Shearing in another section of the balcony gathering up his own support. Through some kind of financial legerdemain the Cards had managed to transfer much of their negotiable foreign accounts off Cardoman and onto Llanfairn or the originating planets before the Calp attack and subjugation.

Perhaps even better, short term, for Shearing and his position was the Cards still had ships under their command, three G-4’s the Saratoga, Aladin and SnapDragon, the G-2 military transport Eagle and even a G-1 cargo hauler Widows Walk. A huge fleet by Indie standards and with the Caliphate looking to expand a sure source of additional revenue.

Many of the bills provisions could only take effect four and six months in the future after a delegation went to Earth returned with a response and word then passed to the Confederation members. Still the taxing and spending could start at once, something all governments were good at.

* * *
The Salat was back in normal space again after the shortest possible jump. The drive was still hot and Audie knew the ships position relative to Cardoman with a precision verging on absolute. She also knew with that same accuracy where the Calp G-4 that had been chasing them till it ran out of time and missed ought to be. “You ready Kellen?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” her comm officer said. Audie did a check on the rest of the ship and got similar responses from all divisions. What she was attempting now would have been impossible but for all the trained personnel that came along with Pavel and his shuttles. It was worth a shot and nothing to risk on the downside.

The jump alarm went off again; it had barely quieted from the last transition. “Two, One, Transition.”

In and out were almost as one. The Salat came back into Cardoman space not even a light second away from the Calp G-4 Battle Cruiser Iran under Captain Agha Qajar. He had seen the Salat jump just minutes before and stood his ship down as soon as the Salat left normal space. He powered down his drive radiating heat away but continued coasting till he was out beyond the very edge of the limit. He needed authorization to try and follow the Salat’s jump and none was forthcoming. This coasting without course change was a mistake he would never have a chance to repeat.

“Fire all tubes, reload and fire till we are empty!” Audie’s voice was pitched to well beyond her normal excitable range. They didn’t have the ShipKillers left for even one more complete reload so this wouldn’t take much time but the Calps had even less time to get ready.

And then, only two minutes later the first of Salat’s ShipKillers detonated. Then almost simultaneously one after another they all went off; and no defense was possible. The Iran was gone from their screens before the last warhead detonated five seconds later.

After sending a final message to Cardoman the Salat made course corrections then jumped for Llanfairn. She beat the Fortune Hunter by an hour.

End of Draft Version