By The Sword 5

By The Sword
Chapter 5 Draft (6/24/08)

“The Foreign Secretary must finally be coming out of it,” Second Officer Pamela Hines said to her immediate superior LTC Vince Ustinov while seated in the CNS Eagle’s Officer’s Mess. “This is only the second time in a month he’s eaten here.

“You see him a lot working out in the gym,” Ustinov said. “And he and Captain Gump have been spending quite a lot of time with each other. It kind of makes me wonder,” he said with a hint of a leer.

“Cut it out Vince, I don’t know what he was up to on Union but by the look of it it must have turned out bad. He’s usually a very outgoing person socially. I think it goes with the job.”

“How well do you know him Pam?”

“Not that good at all really. I’ve served on ships he’s was traveling in a couple of times, and talked to him at a party at Major Calvert’s once. He remembered my name even then and was very friendly. Not so much this trip.”

“Now Calvert, there’s someone I’d really like to know. Young, rich, and famous, and just married to a woman almost equally, rich, and famous, and a beauty to boot. Not that she holds a candle to you Pam, but some guy’s have all the luck.”

“I hear he makes his own luck and it’s not going to work Vince, find someone willing. That shouldn’t be so hard. There must be someone in the crew just dying for you to make a pass.”

“Not hard at all my dear, but you are such a challenge.”

Seated alone at his own table, Victor Shearing was mentally replaying the month spent on Union, and it went no better now than it had then.

“As you can see the benefits are compelling, a base and fueling station already built in a system central to the large increase in Federation Trade,” Cardoman Foreign Secretary Vic Shearing said to the Union committee assigned the task of preliminary negotiation. Portisch Lavin the Cardoman Ambassador and Andy Naples the station’s Military Attache’ were assisting the Secretary with the presentation, the response to which was becoming ever more hostile as the meeting wore on.

The two most influential expansionist members were absent and with out their lead the naysayers were having a field day kicking the proposal from one end of the table to the other. The session was supposed to be private and in fact was, but within an hour of adjournment Victor was sure the hostile reaction would be leaked to the Newsies for the benefit of political junkies, but with the purpose of swaying popular opinion.

Popular opinion didn’t stand for much on Union as all of those passing judgment and voting on laws and treaties represented a planet with a population that would never see the debate until weeks of months later, and by then it was old news. What counted was the strength of you faction. Coalitions changed based sometimes on Ideology but more usually on where the cash was hid or the body buried.

In this case ideology was winning out. A Confederation owned fueling station at Cardoman would bring additional profits to most members, but if it led to war with the Caliphate the profits would have all been illusory. Quite a few of the Feddie member states were already blaming Cardoman for the rising military budgets both they, and the Confederation as a whole, were finding necessary.

“Yes there might be a fight at some point,” Victor said. “But don’t you think the stabilizing influence of a strong Confederation presence would help to minimize the threat?”

The meetings went on interminably and with a month invested, and no matter how he eased the terms, he was finally certain that there would be no purchase by the Confederation of the Cardoman base. A few discrete approaches were made by single planetary governments, but none that could station the kind of forces that would act as much of a deterrent to the Caliphate. And so he thanked them politely, made some contacts that might lead to something somewhere else in the future, but that was all.

Even Arkady Reshevsky, the Confederation President had seemed distant this time around. Well Llanfairn was only three days away, and with luck he might do something there to salvage the trip so the whole thing wasn’t a complete waste of time.

The Flight Sergeant piloting the shuttle to Llanfairn’s landing field was still working on his technique, and Victor regretted not taking a pill before leaving the ship. The buffeting was minor but constant. Lt. Cmdr. Ed Tubman, the fleets most senior engineer by age if not in years of Cardoman service, was the shuttle’s only other passenger, and he showed no sign of wear or tear. In fact he seemed to enjoy the ride. He had a list of items with him given by Admiral Raymond and Commander Woodward that was long enough to rope a vulture.

That’s what Ed said, but he was odd that way. Victor’s wife Louise, the Cardoman Commercial Secretary to Llanfairn met them at the port and they rode together to the Embassy, Victor sitting up front with Louise driving and Tubman behind.

“Any news from Eric?” was his first question when they were on their way in the light, early morning traffic.

“Got a message dropped off two weeks ago. He’s about as happy as a man can be I would say. He filled ten minutes just praising his new ship. ‘She’s a great old gal’ is a direct quote.”

“That makes me feel good to hear it.” Ed said from the back. “The Widow’s Walk may be old but they knew how to build to last back in the day. Where else could a young Lieutenant find a slot as a ship’s First Officer. Where is she now Louise?” he asked.

“This is supposed to be top secret Ed, Eric didn’t say anything about it in the message but my tentacles run deep into Cardoman trade policy so I am able to say that the ship is likely on it’s way back from Ryman with a cargo of second hand heavy construction equipment.”

“What are we going to do with that?” Victor asked this time.

“We’re not,” Louise replied. “It all goes to How Ling and we get furnaces for our smelters out in the belt.”

“Takes a lot of ship for a cargo that size,” Ed Tubman said, “It was a damn fine decision to pick up that old G-1. And your son’s gonna learn a hell of a lot more by serving on her than he could learn about how machinery really works as an officer in these modern things we call ship. It reminds me of when I was on the old Justine, before they took her to the breakers. Now the Justine got her name in honor of the late and unlamented wife of the Roman Emperor Justinian and that was a crime but…” Tubman regaled them with stories until the reached the Embassy.

The drive wasn’t long and they soon pulled into the small lot in front of the two-story Cardoman Embassy in an older section of the city. There were a couple of vans parked on one side and a Cardoman soldier, standing alert at the door. He looked at Louise as they approached. She nodded towards her husband and the guard said. “Good morning Minister Shearing,” and opened the door.

“You’re new here since last I was on Llanfairn,” Victor said amiably. “But past time I would say. We used to hire temporary security for parties and such. I am glad to see my wife is in capable hands of our own. What’s your name son?”

“Private Ellison, and thank you Sir,” The young private said. “It is an honor to serve you both.”

“How many of you are assigned to the duty, and where do you stay? There sure wasn’t room in the Embassy last time I was here.”

“Seven of us Sir. Sgt Evans is in charge. We have the upstairs of a building a block away. But keep our equipment inside the Embassy.”

“Sound like you have it under control then. Glad to meet you.” And with that they proceeded inside into the dark paneled foyer and made a right hand turn to the dinning room that occupied one side of the buildings lower level.

Jules Petoskey, the Ambassador, and Major Jack Trebeck of Cardoman P&I stood up from the heavy wooden table to greet them. Victor knew Trebeck well from an earlier assignment on Union where the Major had served as his aide. There were ladders and buckets in one corner of the room and a pile of tarps in another.

“Redecorating Jules?” Vic said smiling.

“Yes, but not the way you’d expect. A team of construction workers from the Cardoman Navy is just finishing up. They came in on the Carpathian ten days ago and will return with you on the Eagle. What they did, after two days work on the foundations, was strip the walls down to the framing and put in a millimeter layer of hull metal, and then covered it all up again to look just like it did before. And they replaced the doors with near perfect copies and doubled the thickness of the armorplast windows while they were at it. The petty officer in charge tells me we are safe against anything up to a 155 coming in from overhead. They’re working upstairs now and will be done and cleaned up tomorrow. ”

“Looks good, and I suppose it was necessary if you stay here but I thought you were looking for a bigger place.”

“Were getting a new building too but that won’t be finished for a while yet. When it is, this becomes the residence.”

“What brings you here, Jack?” Vic asked Major Trebeck.

“I was sharing information with my counterpart here. Finished up now so I’ll be going back with you when you are finished. But tell us, how did things go on Union?”

As he took a seat Victor’s expression turned somber. “Not well at all. We will be getting a few more tanking visits from Feddie commercial ships so long as we charge less than market prices but no commitments on the military end. They certainly aren’t going to assume ownership of the gas giant. But what about Llanfairn? Do you think she might be interested in a long term lease?”

“Sure, anyone would be interested, but what will it cost them, can we get enough out of the arrangement to make a difference?”

“With Llanfairn maybe we can’t. The government here has if anything, too many commitments that her navy and merchant fleet are both over extended but I still will make the offer. I can think of at least two other delegations here and now that aren’t so risk adverse that an offer will be dismissed out of hand, Ryman and New Britain.”

“This is somewhat outside my area of expertise,” Trebeck said, “But why didn’t you try offering something less than full sovereignty for something less than establishing a fleet base to them or some of the other more expansionist members of the Confederation when you were still on Union?”

“A number of reasons seemed compelling at the time Jack. On Union the ranking members of both Ryman’s and New Britain’s staff were new enough that I hadn’t met them before. I didn’t know them well enough to make an offer and risk getting the approach sent back home with negative or even prejudicial findings. Here, as I say, it’s different. Even one or two ships stationed at Cardoman could make a difference. So we need to talk to all three governments and any others that show interest. Grasping at straws is sometimes the only sane choice, and I think now is one of those times.”

“What I want to offer here is so removed from my instructions that even if we can make a deal the Falangists back home will go into a feeding frenzy sensing a weakening of the present coalition. The only three planets amongst the Indies that granting lease rights to won’t cause an immediate split in the Center Coalition government are the three I’ve mentioned.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Jack asked.

“Now that you’ve heard Jules’ reasons, that seems awfully close to being a political offer from someone nominally serving in the Military Jack,” Louise said.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve finished up all my official business for this trip and am on personal leave till we get back home, least that’s what I’ll say if anyone says anything.”

Sir Reginald Timmins, K.C.C. (Knight Commander of the Chalice) and New Britain’s Ambassador to Llanfairn, along with his diplomatic equal, Meghan MacWorther from Ryman; a cousin of Ryman’s Prime Minister, each with a couple of staff members were gathered around the large table in the Cardoman Embassy. Both of the Shearing’s and Ambassador Petoskey represented Cardoman.

MacWorther spoke first. “Reggie and I are in agreement Victor, that though neither of our governments might chose to risk the kind of arrangements you offer, our friendly rivalry would be strained if either one of us were to accept to the exclusion of the other. And of course neither of us wish to see Llanfairn’s influence spread the extent it trumps the rest of the Independents in total.”

She passed over a page of notes. At this stage of the talks nothing was going into an electronic record. Ambassador Timmin’s took over. “So what we propose is a joint lease. Each of using the base and providing support as needed.”

“That’s not what I was hoping to hear,” Vic Shearing said. “None of us have any doubts about Caliphate intentions and an early attack on Cardoman would have to be part of their plans. If they succeed in that, it will make things much tougher down the road for whoever remains to fight. What Cardoman needs, and I think what both of your governments need also, is some kind of guarantee, that with the lease there goes a constant military presence to insure it’s safety.”

“Victor, if it weren’t for my cousin’s hate, some say irrational hate, for the Caliphate and all of its works, even this much would fail on Ryman. The fact that Cardoman got the Hyperyard rather than Ryman did not sit well back home. Short sighted it may be, but there is a substantial portion of our population, in government and out, who wouldn’t mind a bit, watching you take a fall.”

“And for somewhat different reasons a similar situation exists on New Britain,” Timmins added. “That is long term both pigheaded and wrong. Though the former has trumps the latter far too often in our business I am afraid. We both agree though that something worded like you see in the notes is as strong either of our governments would be willing to go along with.”

“You’re not giving me much to take back to Cardoman, as written like this, even with the ax about to fall; I don’t see it being acceptable.”

“No, obviously not,” Ambassador MacWorther agreed calmly. “But of course this is only a proposal and not a treaty. I would think both of our governments might find it necessary to send a few ships on a long-term study mission to evaluate the possibilities of what we propose here. And that would naturally take place before the final details were hammered out and the finished project put to the vote.”

“Why I would even think that under existing conditions, that either Ambassador Timmins or myself would be fully justified in recommending such a course of action to any of our own planet’s military vessels that happen to pass through here at Llanfairn. And knowing the independent nature of most captains of my acquaintance I think our requests would be looked upon as compelling and a matter of duty.”

While MacWorther was finishing her little speech the expressions on the three Cardomans faces gleamed brighter and brighter. Jules Petoskey stood and went over to a sideboard and returned with a tray containing bottles and glasses. “I think we all can drink to that,” he said.

Sgt Ernie Evans, Cardoman Seventh Recon was glad— no overjoyed would better describe his feelings— when the Foreign Minister and Major Trebeck left for home. That gave him possession once again of the now spare bedroom and a place to station and insure that there was at least two of his men at the Embassy at all times, one on duty and one resting and ready. In addition he spent most of his days in the building and served as an aide and bodyguard for the Ambassador whenever he left the grounds. Trebeck undoubtedly knew something about military matters, but he wasn’t Ernie and he most definitely was not Recon.

When Petoskey or the Commercial Secretary Louise Shearing went out in their official capacity, a call to the small Llanfairn police department would usually bring an unmarked car as an escort and shadow One of Ernie’s duties was to keep track of their schedules and make the calls. If none of the Llanfairn officers were available—that was another duty and service Ernie provided. And of course the further training of his own squad. The Llanfairn police helped out there too, giving them a place to practice and keep up small arms proficiency. The competitions between his men and the locals were the best morale builder he had going for him.

Evans was a Sergeant in Recon by chance not choice. A member of Melbourne’s ‘A’ Company on Altoona, he was one of the casualties. He’d healed up pretty well but wasn’t going back to a front line unit. It was a desk job, medical discharge, or this. Colonel Davis, just promoted from CSM Davis was undergoing his own medical recovery and they met in rehab. In order to get people into the fleet Recon’s role was expanding faster than its troop strength. And then Davis got the orders to provide security for two of the Cardoman Embassies, the one on Union, and here on Llanfairn.

Davis told him he wanted to inflict the same kind of job stress on someone else that he was undergoing, purely as a demonstration project, which would once and for all show Robbie’s own superiority off as what it truly was, and he offered Ernie as spot. “Desk job mostly, but still get to hang out with the best.”

It seemed the best option at the time and three months later he was on Llanfairn with his protective detail consisting of himself, a corporal, and five privates; none of whom having any more Recon experience the he had.

He had met Major Calvert only twice. The first time in hospital and doped up to a level where he wasn’t clear on just what they talked about, though the Major seemed to remember.. The second time when he got his Recon Badge, he mentioned to the Major how unprepared he was for his new job. The Major said, “But that is your new job Sgt. You go out and make the mistakes so we can all learn from them.” Ernie wasn’t even sure that Calvert was joking. It didn’t seem like it at the time.

The guard stationed outside of the Embassy door was only there for show and when visitors were expected. Usually he sat to one side of the entrance facing a wall screen with only a small ledge sticking out from the wall acting as a table and desk. The gate to the street was normally closed and locked, with sensors on the fence and building grounds ready to alert in case of visitors or intruders.

In the two months they’d been here all of the intruders were of the feathered or furry kind. Several times a day at least, and that was good, the alert would flash; it kept the guard awake and gave Evans a way to measure reaction time. In theory and at least when conducting exercises, they had also been able to detect all of the small mechanical creatures invading the property.

The additional protection put into the walls and windows was good to see but getting back into the building for most of the day was even better. Of course it stood to reason, if there was ever an attack on the place it would come at night and that meant. . .

Abd ar Rahman an Nujumi, the Embassy’s ‘Charge’ d’Affaires’ , had just been called on the carpet by Jassim Abdel Qader, who was the Caliphate’s Minister Plenipotentiary to Llanfairn and all of the Independent Worlds and a favored nephew of Ahmad Al-Gamrawi Bey himself. The fact they were both seated on the carpet at the same time did nothing to mitigate the tongue-lashing that rightfully should have been directed at the head of the security section. They were so close.

The Compliance office sent out a device that was supposed to read the vibration of the windows in Cardoman’s Embassy using reflected sunlight and not the easily detected laser kind. The calibration was finished and they were starting to get a word here and there and then a team of workers showed up and that was that.

“They did something to the windows, thickened them, made them stiffer, something,” the technician doing the work said. “Before they made the change this new gear would have worked. Now, whatever information remains is below anything we can measure, much less use. Still not a complete loss, the equipment is portable and calibrated to Llanfairn’s sun; you will be able to use it someplace else.” Fine for him to say.

Private Perry Ellison was sitting in a tavern, in uniform, and nursing his drink. This was the one day in ten that Sgt. Evans tried to give each of them. A day with no duties assigned, and no expectation of being called in for something special. Perry wanted to meet and get to know the locals, especially unattached females close to his own age. He was getting a little help today. Joe Byron, one of the Cops they trained against had taken him out to a smaller town an hour from the Capital.

Joe warned him that his luck in the big city was going to be hit or miss. And after four tries at local places near to where they were staying, Perry couldn’t disagree.

“Nice people here in town, but too much money and an excess of competition with the Navy base so close,” Joe told him. “Next time you’re off duty I’ll take you out of town a ways. And wear your uniform, the Cardoman Seventh is a little famous and I myself have found that a uniform doesn’t hurt.”

As an act of good will, or maybe because he felt he didn’t need any help, Joe wasn’t even wearing his own.

The day was pleasant for one so early in the local spring. The few people in the tavern wore light clothing and for the most part ate and drank sparingly before leaving. The two-wide doorway was propped open and Joe said the local girls school was letting out in a half hour, Then the complexion of the bar would change. Perry, without expectations, was willing to wait. And because of that, he was surprised when a voice from behind them, must have been someone from the direction of the kitchen said, “Hey Soldier, buy a girl a drink?”

Perry turned and saw her standing, the girl of his dreams, if only he could dream that well, a classic Scandinavian type. Ok he had a sense he was overreacting, but being young that was not something that made him step back and examine the situation as a potential problem. He was happy to be swept along with the moment. Hearing her voice, Joe turned and said, “Hey Sheila, I kinda figured you’d be here, any firm plans for the rest of the day?”

“Taking advantage of your hospitality if you let me. Who’s your friend?” the tall blond asked.

“A certified hero, Cardoman Seventh with a Recon badge to prove it. Perry Ellison is the blokes name and he’s slummin’ with me just to see how the natives live.

“Does he talk,” Sheila said, smiling and paying attention to the near stupefied but fast recovering private.

From that point on things mover rather rapidly. Perry spent as much time with her as his job allowed and she would let him. She made it very clear that he wasn’t the only man (or woman if he cared) in here life, but Perry kept telling her he would change that. Joe was around once in a while, but not part of the group she hung out with was far more liberal than Perry would have chosen. Not that he paid them any more attention than was polite when Sheila was around.

Outwardly Sheila Merchantson was taking advantage of a lonely soldier and his money, but Perry didn’t look at it that way. If anything he wished she would take more advantage of him. She said that once she was finished with her drama degree she was going to make it big in video news, and Perry didn’t doubt if for a second. He tried repeatedly to get her to visit him in the Capital but she always refused.
From a Cardoman perspective she was a wild spirit and a free thinker. That didn’t cost Perry any sleep, how could it when she had all those other sterling qualities? And besides, when they were not engaged in other activities she was so easy to talk to and showed such an interest in his life and work.

“Dammit Roger, stop that,” Sheila said to the man in bed besides her whose exertions were starting to seem strained and could soon turn rough. “How much longer do I have to keep playing the role of a ditsy kid who actually gives a shit about some Cardoman private? Couldn’t you find me a mature diplomat or at least someone with a little more experienced till we get out of here? And what about moving to the Capital? My disguise as a student is already wearing thin. You said you were going to take me there and that’s where all the action is anyway.”

Roger Imdorff, that was the name Moqtada al-Sadr was using when dealing with Sheila, ignored her talking until the volume ratcheted up enough to interfere with his thoughts. “Shut up girl, I am beginning to lose patience with you and trying to think. You should do the same, you still cannot get this smitten private to tell you anything important about the security arrangement or the unit he is a part of.”

“He’s just a dumb kid and doesn’t know anything,” Sheila pouted. It never crossed her mind that from Roger’s point of view she might fall into that same category.

“There’s too much security in the Capital Sheila, I’m getting out in another month, and yes I’ll take you with me, but only if you can get me something to useful concerning the Cardoman Embassy security setup.”

“Roger! You promised!”

“And I’ll keep my promise, provided you can give me something of value before I leave. If you can’t then you’re not likely to be of much help in the future either. So long as I say nothing you are a little better off financially and just become yourself with no one the wiser.”

“If you would let me go to the Capital I could meet some of Perry’s friends and might get something from one of them. What do you say honey?” She almost purred, brushing her fingernails lightly across his chest.

“Ok, we try it your way.”