By The Sword 6

By The Sword
Chapter 6 Draft (7/05/08)

The military market is based on human folly — not normal market precepts, Human folly goes up and down. But it always exists — and its depths have never been plumbed.”

Samuel Cummings, Interarms – Late Twentieth-Century Arms Dealer.

Eric Shearing was studying up for his new career, trying not to repeat all of the mistakes that others made in the past. Russo Nevier was conducting final purchase negotiations, while he sat and watched. They were all subject to Captain Kathryn Marquette’s approval, but she had him checking everything first, before she would take a look and sign, releasing the money.

Russo was a strange one. He had the look and lifestyle of a ‘Gentleman Trader’. He also had some kind of a relationship with Major Calvert and the Seventh that went back to the units earliest days. The shipboard rumor said he was instrumental in getting both the Widow’s Captain and her husband who was Captain of the SwiftStrike, into Cardoman service. Other, garbled versions, gave credit to Audie Madry.

Eric, always aware that his own parents might be seen as the only reason he was where he was at this stage of his own career, stayed far away from questions on that type of subject. From that point of view, avoiding the taint of nepotism, it was much better serving as a First Officer on old G-1 than on anything newer. He had some kind of idea on how much more he needed learning, and this was without a doubt the place where he could learn the fastest. Provided he was on a real warship when the action started, he would have no complaints. He would trust to luck for that.

Eben Franklin was the ship’s Engineering Officer. He was the second engineer on the ship when she was purchased into Cardoman service. Not yet thirty, this was the only way he was going to get a top slot at his age. It was a plus that the rank of Lt. Cmdr. came with the job but he would have taken it anyway. Eben loved the old gal, but he didn’t have any relish for a warship. A quarter of the ships personnel, including the Second Officer, Lt. Karla Ieito took the same route as Eben had into the Cardoman Navy, holdovers from the pre-purchase crew.

Karla, like Eben had gotten a promotion with the job and four years older than Eric’s twenty-three did not seem to resent the fact he held rank on her. After all the Widow was a Cardoman ship now, and he had gone through the Cardoman Naval Academy and served on a real warship.

The ship made a fair jump outside of the How Ling hyperlimit, but the 10 G maximum of her compensators meant the trip inbound would require three and a half days. Once they were in orbit, due to the outwardly sized cargo she carried, another week was going to pass before departure. Every member of the crew would get a couple days leave to spend below and the all looked forwards to it. For Eric things worked out even better. When half of the unloading was done he went down with Nevier for trade talks concerning future cargoes and if possible some military recruitment on the side.

Nevier was a rake, and How Ling, with a population of 53 million and a traditional culture, was nowhere near cosmopolitan enough for his tastes, but he was resigned to make do. Future cargo concerns were minimal, having been taken care of by the team that oversaw the smelter deal, so that left only some antiquated military equipment for them to examine. That and some spare parts found in an old warehouse meant for the Divine Spirit, How Ling’s G-1 Transport destroyed by the Caliphate at Sylvan when she was taking off the last of the prisoners. With the Widow’s Walk purchased into the Cardoman fleet any spares were a plus and they were happy to pay a premium to the owners even though the insurance carriers would have let the materials go for scrap.

“Junk, nothing but junk,” Russo said dismissing the entire lot. I’m surprised this stuff is operational after so many years. Even if we took it off of your hands, the first time anything broke we would end up scrapping it.”

“I don’t know Russo,” Eric said. “Some of the deepspace anti-ship stuff left over from the last war doesn’t look all that bad.”

“Junk!” Russo replied with disdain. “It was old even then and totally outdated now.”

Kai Gin Huang, the agent in charge on How Lings side of the table responded, “The young officer perhaps sees more clearly than you do Mr. Nevier. From what we in our backwater hear, Cardoman has a need for almost anything when it comes to space defense. The purchase from us of your own ship seems to indicate the ability to maintain older technology is not an insurmountable problem by those you represent. Perhaps if we agreed to contract a number of technicians familiar with the equipment you might reconsider your position?”

An hour later the deal was struck. The technicians and a representative sampling of the gear would go back with the Widow, the rest wait for another trip by a Cardoman ship or more likely go on a commercial carrier. That left the recruiting.

Even before they reached the planet Russo had contracted for a hospitality suite in the planet’s best hotel and contracted for advertisement in the local media. Response was about what was anticipated. By the time the pre-screening was done they had a couple of dozen left to interview. They ended up hiring seventeen, six of whom had at one time served on the Widow’s Walk, the others destined for orbital construction.

When Eric took his leave Russo was already in the process of relieving three of them of their signing bonuses with a deck of cards as an accomplice. Unless they actually made it through final screening on Cardoman, Russo was going to be responsible for the bonuses himself, so Eric put it out of his mind and went off to see the sights, enjoying the experience immensely.

He reported back on duty the day before departure and worked on making sure everything was stowed and balanced, a large problem with so much heavy equipment in the holds. In order to fit a couple of largest items they had even needed cut out part of deck above in order to make room. A good trip, but Eric was glad to be going back home.

* * *
Sheila Merchantson was bored, this was nothing new; she had been bored much of her life. But never before in Georgetown, the capital of Llanfairn. And it was all Roger Imdorf’s fault. Three whole days—and he wouldn’t let her out of the apartment! He went wherever he pleased. Oh Yes! She studied her lines. Dammit!—she had them down on second glance. Once she knew the plan, she could have written them herself. She would show him how it worked tonight. Then things would change and he would see just how much he needed her.

Perry Ellison was a little nervous as he waited in the dimly lit bar of the Grand Hotel for his date to arrive. Sheila had always been punctual, so that wasn’t the reason. It must be because he wanted so much to see her. Or it could be because a couple of drinks here would cost more than a meal did anywhere else he was familiar with. And unlike all the other bars in his experience, this one held no video holographic display equipment, not even sponsored spots and feeds. A muted volume instrumental music of a type he was also unfamiliar with played in the background and masked the quiet conversation of anyone more than a few feet away. He was sitting near the center of the rooms long, highly polished counter, using the mirror to keep track of those entering from the hotel lobby.

He almost didn’t see her when she walked in. He saw someone but it took a second glance to before he was sure. She looked a few years older, far more sophisticated, and even more desirable than usual. If Perry had any sense of the thing he would have realized the dress she wore, so simple and elegantly styled, would have set him back the better part of six months pay.

Perry had left his com units tracker on and she must have checked before entering because she did not need to scan the room but headed directly towards him without pause. Perry was torn between watching her reflection in the mirror and standing to greet her but manners got the better of him.

No hug and a kiss here, she nodded and sat next to him even as the barkeep brought the drink he had pre-ordered. “Geez Sheila, you look great! I feel like a fish out of water but you look like you belong!”

“It’s called presence Mr. Ellison,” she said smiling, and at last looking like herself again, “something drama school insists on. But don’t sell yourself short Sweets. You look just fine to me.”

“Well, maybe, on a good day, and with you sitting next to me I won’t be noticed much anyhow.” Perry glanced again at the mirror and was surprised that Sheila wasn’t drawing covert looks from every male in the room. He turned back to her and said, “Tell me then, how did your job search go, any luck?”

“None of it good,” she said lightly. “I had three interviews and all I was offered was a chance at an internship. That’s nothing but legalized slavery. Without experience you don’t get work, and without work you don’t get experience. But I’ll tell you this; I am going to find some kind of a job here. There is no other place on Llanfairn with so much happening and I am going to stay around to see it.”

“What then? Some kind of live theater or video work?”

“Do they still do that on Cardoman? With real people?” she asked with interest.

“Well, sure. Isn’t that how it works everywhere?”

“Not on Llanfairn, or most any other class one world. Except for planetary and national companies, all the actors are generated. And unless someone really important notices you the only way in is entirely by chance.”

“Then what’s the point of a drama degree if you can’t rely on it for a job?”

“You really don’t understand this do you? What one does with a drama degree is teach drama so that others can experience the joys expanding their personal horizons by learning to express the full range of human emotional experience. Either that or find work as a spokes model. But I—and I say that with a dramatic pause— have another idea! A completely new plan.”

“You’ve got me hooked, want another drink and to tell me now or over dinner?”

“Let’s eat, I’m starved and I want to see what you have planned for a poor country like me.”

“The restaurant is only a couple blocks away so we can walk but you might look out of place in that dress. Not that I’d care and we can go someplace else if you want.”

“Don’t you worry about me, lead on and we can talk on the way.”

An amazing transformation occurred moments after they left the hotel. Sheila fiddled with something in her shoulder bag and all of a sudden her dress changed. The fabric seemed to take on a thicker look and lose some of its shine. Even the cut seemed looser and the hemline changed.

“How did you do that?” Perry said in awe.

“Silly boy! It’s an adaptive fabric—so much better than a hologram if the power should fail. Now, let me tell you about my plan.”

“It sounds great to me, but I can’t say how Mrs. Shearing will look at it.” They were finished with dinner and drinking coffee, and knowing the state of his credit balance with this month’s pay a week away, Perry didn’t mind in the least skipping desert. “I go on duty midmorning tomorrow and I’ll ask.”

“That’s all I hoped for dear. So what do we do with the rest of the evening?”

“Well, we could go to my place, but no privacy there half the squad wants to meet you though. What about your friends place?”

“We can do better than that. She gave me the card for a suite her company’s sales big shots use when entertaining important clients. Nothing scheduled for a few days so the spare room is ours.”

“Now that just might work.”

* * *
Sheila wasn’t worried, she should have been, but she wasn’t. The call came in shortly after noon and she was at the Cardoman Embassy an hour later seated at the big table across from Louise Shearing.

“When Perry mentioned this I must say I was not impressed. But he is a very impressive and persuasive young man, and yes an appointment secretary would take make my job easier. And since I gather it was really your idea; you deserve a chance at it. But what do you think a degree, let’s be charitable here, as an aspiring actresses, does to make you suitable?”

“Ma’am, what I want to do is break into the newsies—someday, and I can’t do that without experience. And I can’t think of any better experience than to be where news is being made. Even if I didn’t know Perry, I could still see that something big is happening and Cardoman is going to be one of the major players. If I am right, and I am sure you know I am, then I am also smart enough to do the kind of work an appointment secretary does. And I can deal with the newsies. What I want is a chance to prove it.”

“You are persuasive, but you know if we decide to hire you there will be a background check as thorough as we can make it?”

“Sure, I know that, I’m not old enough to have any problems in my past.”

“Speaking of age, before I asked you in I did a quick check and it does seem you are a couple of years older then Perry suggested when he told us about you.”

“Ma’am I never told Perry may age and didn’t ask about his either. If that becomes a problem for Perry there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t imagine it will be, and much as I like him, maybe because I like him, I am not looking to work for Perry anyway but for you and the Cardoman Embassy.”

“A most sensible attitude Sheila, I am inclined to take you at your word and make an offer.” Louise pulled out a form from her valise, “If you would just sign this we will get the background check underway and see what comes next.”

When she got back to the apartment she shared with Roger Imdorf Sheila was in very good spirits. That changed as soon as she entered and saw Roger viewing the video taken the night before at the supposed salesman’s suite.

“Roger! You are a pervert! Shut that thing off.!”

“Now, now girlie, calm it down. I’m just admiring your technique, business only, nothing personal.” And he kept on watching.

Sheila lunged at the control and killed the picture, then slunk down beside him on the couch, leaned into him resting against his side and said, “Well ask me how my day went.”

“I could ask but no need. If you were not sure you would not be here— no?”

“Roger, you should cultivate a more social outlook. You could you know.” and she snuggled closer.

“When the time is right dear. But let me get out the recorder and give me the replay. An actress’s memory for lines can be very useful, especially when recording devices are not to be used.”

Sheila did a verbatim recital of the employment interview. When she was finished she asked, “Are you sure I can pass the background check?”

“It was already started before you left for the interview. Officer Byron tells me he is handling it himself. You won’t come out as an angel, that would never do, but you will pass. Now tell me about the embassy, everything you can remember about basic layout of all the rooms you had a chance to see.”

* * *
This was the start of the first full session since her election, still unseated, Connie watched with the other Members in Waiting, from the first row balcony the opening ceremony and votes on business unfinished from the last session adjourned a quarter year earlier. This took two hours and it was time to be sworn in. Usually only a few new members, perhaps as many as four on average, were sworn in at any given session. This time due to population increases there were the usual four sworn in from existing districts, replacing the old representatives due to retirement or a local vote changing parties, and eight new members. Wes viewed the proceedings from the section of the balcony reserved for the military in the governments section of the balcony.

The closest thing on Llanfairn, the planet where Connie was born, to the way the system worked here on Cardoman, was the way some large commercial enterprises operated. In effect she would be voting the proxies tended her by the governmental shareholders of her district. As a Proxy Holder, her official title, she received no direct payment of salary, only a per diem capped by law and based on the days the legislature was in session. The Council of Proxies met four times a year for a two-week period. A session could be extended for a term of one week by majority and for longer periods by a two-thirds vote. It seldom was.

The size of the legislature was capped at three hundred and fifty members. The minimum size for a district was eighty one thousand voters. The maximum number could be five hundred thousand before a district needed to be split. Both the minimum and maximum numbers were subject to legislative change but the three fifty top was enshrined in the Constitution and could only change by amendment. The way they kept things even, was that the representative of each district vote counted proportionally to the number of citizens they represented.

Whenever a redistricting was required due to the cap on district totals the number of legislators was reduced by twenty. In the past this had meant redistricting happened infrequently. As rapidly as Cardoman’s population was increasing now something would need to change, either more or larger districts, maybe both, or too much time and effort was going to be wasted on the wrangling that naturally went along with every redistricting.

Citizen voters qualified under several schemes, but if you had sworn allegiance to the Constitution and were a native or gainfully employed, most were eligible. Your vote went with the representative of the district where you lived. This requirement could be waved for military members. They could pledge their vote to their home district or the district where they were stationed or that of their proposed retirement home. Connie slipped in just under the wire. It was those voters, military along with the new arrivals from Altoona and the industrial communities Wes was setting up on his new lands, and of course the influx of people settling the outlying areas, that won Connie here new position.

She felt guilty about it, but Wes assured her it was traditional and Dennis Horvath’s coalition, the one she supported and would become a member of, needed the votes. None of the other entrenched politicians, or any of the newsies, made any kind of statement about privilege and opportunism, so the process must have seemed normal to them. And now here she was, taking her oath of office.

The party afterwards was a Cardoman high social event. All of the Calverts attended, Wes’ mother, sister Sharon and husband, and even his great uncle and grandfather. Every retired, or serving member of the Seventh able to get leave was either at one of the venues in Minton or celebrating locally. And on this particular weekend leave was easy to come by.

Connie and Wes spent the next two days back at the Castle. They toured the district, stopping and meeting as many people as possible until exhausted from all the activity they had to call an end and get ready to go back to work. The next day Wes went first to the military base then left Cardoman for the planet’s military orbital station, Connie returned to Minton and her first day working at her new job.

President Horvath, standing in front, put the session to order, and said rather than asked, “Do I hear a motion to reform the government.” This was always the first item considered each quarter on the first working day. When no one spoke he said, “The Government is Recognized.” Had there been a challenge the phrase would have been, ‘The Leadership is Contested’ and he would have turned the session over to the most senior legislator present for an immediate vote on a new leadership.

With no challenge he then said, “Those wishing to change seats may proceed.” He then seated himself while a few of the members moved from the center of the chamber to the wings. He lost eleven votes and picked up only two. None of this was a surprise to anyone present as these kinds of details were always worked out in advance. His majority still in place, though diminished, Dennis then read out the list of bills scheduled for vote this session.

Connie, with the smallest of the new districts, had a desk in the last row near the center of the chamber as she had pre-announced support for the ruling coalition. The President, by custom, always offered the first bill considered. In this session the first issue put forth was the government’s— Horvath’s— request to expand by one the full member his Cabinet of Ministers and a structural reorganization of some of the departments.

When this issue was voted up, the opposition New Democrats had one of their own as the head of the new Lands and Immigration Department, and Connie was the Undersecretary of War for Military Affairs. The various departments were full time components of the government with the Cabinet Members, who were their managers, responsible for day-to-day operation and reporting to the Planetary President. The coalitions might change but the system went on with only minor changes over the years. It worked fairly well and had popular support. That was about all one might ask from any government.

For the next week only normal appropriations and bills with general support were scheduled, little or no debate and certain passage, coalitionist planning sessions held after each day’s adjournment. It would take till the second week and proposals from the floor for things to get more interesting.

* * *
Admiral Raymond, Cmdr. Woodward and Wes Calvert exited the transport shuttle and were piped aboard the Cardoman Navies newest ship, the CNS Wasp. This was getting to be old hat for Wes, but he couldn’t help but notice how young everyone looked. The Wasp would have been a G-4, if more than one drive band and all of the weapon systems were in place. As it was she would be going into service insystem and upgrades made whenever possible. Salutes exchanged and ceremonies completed, they proceeded to the Captain’s cabin.

“I hadn’t figured how you would get her officered and manned, but knew you would come up with something,” Wes said, draping his uniform jacket over the back of an heavily upholstered chair and walking over to an unshuttered port to better see the Wasp’s sister ship being worked on by the yard crew.”

“A training vessel. Moving the Academy over here was the only option. So now I am Captain, and Woody is the Chief Engineer, and none of the crew has any fleet experience. Those that can do, those who have no other choice can teach,” Les finished up.

“I can work out of here about as well as from my office on the station,” Woody said. “And training has to work better with real equipment rather than on simulations,” he added.

“It’s a lot harder to damage a simulation but we do what we must. What about a crew for the hull you’re staring so intently at Wes? Her first band gets powered up in a few days. Is Ryman going to supply a crew? Heaven knows I can’t.”

“All indications say yes. We are going to have to finish her up though, get all four bands on her, before we can go back and complete the Wasp. What’s the time line look like on that Woody?”

“Another six or seven weeks, but she will be livable and mobile in ten more days. Getting a crew on her you might think would speed up my work but in reality it will slow it down. Not by much and we can still be working on our largest hold up, completed drive bands, but it will add a few weeks delay to the next ship we launch.”

Les Raymond took a draw on the cigar he had been rather absently manipulating, and commented, “If we get the Ryman crew Woody, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t rush too much finishing the ship. I am having trouble sleeping most off shifts, worrying about defending the system once the Caliphate gets serious. What about the Seventh and the rest of the Army Wes, and of course Connie’s new job? I’m sorry I missed her taking the oath of office and the parties afterward.”

“Compared to what the both of you are dealing with the Army is coasting, all but for Davis and Recon. He still has to complete the fleet marine detachments but I can tell that beyond the bitching there is hope. Clay Grayson is running the Seventh and that leaves General Inglase with whatever help P&I can give, worrying about the big picture. I fill in where needed. It’s gonna take some time to see how Connie makes out but I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have looking out for our interests.”

“Let’s take a walk around the ship Wes and see if your halo can rub off on any of my young scholars and officer candidates. Then we have the schools dedication ceremony and you get to make a speech.”

“Sounds about right Les,” Wes said standing and putting his uniform jacket back on. “Let’s get to it. I intend to talk later about Jamie Madry’s decisions at Altoona. If I can’t make that inspiring I need to find a new line of work.”