Marjoram 10

Marjoram
Chapter 10 Draft (08-27-11)

Jamie saved the toughest and arguably most dangerous part of the attack plan for the ships under her command. Even without a major planet as an anchor, or any type of commercial activity to protect, Elmira was the most important and heavily defended target of the four selected. And Jamie’s ships and crews were the least experienced at war, most members of her crew had no experience at all. They were fresh from the academy or had only stood system duty at Cardoman.

This was a target that needed attacking; a new fleetbase close to the Cardoman, Llanfairn, and Novi home worlds, if linked to the established base at Philomel and the sub-fleet base at Yatagan, would effectively wall off these planets. The combined Caliphate force would be enough to keep them from supporting the war beyond their local spheres of influence. It would confine them to a small distant part of the larger battlefield because the constant observation of their own systems would let the Calps react if or when they sent ships elsewhere.

Jamie’s five ship force was made up of her Wasp, the Westwind and the Oslo, with first time Captain Breton Hughes from Llanfairn in charge of the last ship with a mostly Cardoman crew. These at least were all G-4’s. Her two remaining ships were the Cardoman G-2M’s Eagle and Perseus.

Jamie had been a part of, even led a mixed fleet before, but she had never been in charge of a mixed crew before and wondered how Hughes would deal with the situation. But she didn’t wonder for very long; she had enough to worry about concerning the Wasp’s state of readiness without adding that to the mix.

Joe Speedway on the Westwind had proven himself over and over, no worries there. Joe also had a superb supporting cast, especially Lt Randy Kreager who was his First Officer; Kreager was due a promotion and would have it when they returned.

Dave Gump, Captain of the Eagle had been in a few fights also, so to him this would be nothing new, his First, Pamela Hines had served with Gump for two years, moving up the chain, and was in a similar position to that of Lt Kreager, just waiting on the promotion board.

The Perseus had Julian Kenwood in command, steady but light on experience, with Alvin Wayland backing him up and Wayland also was light on experience. This was Kenwood’s first ship and the Perseus, normally a research vessel, hadn’t done any fighting except for once during the time her Cousin Audie temporarily held the top spot. And the crew, though experts in theory, were mostly neophytes when it came to anything other than that.

On the Wasp she had as Exec Eric Shearing. Eric was the son of Victor and Aldoria Shearing, the Cardomans Foreign and Finance Ministers. He had worked his way up and earned each spot, never once playing upon his family influence; God help him if he ever did. He was another proven commodity and would one day get a ship of his own. And that was another problem, if she had ships and young Captains, she didn’t have the crew’s to man them. It must be getting better but it was hard to see.

Jamie thought back to a time nine years before today, when on an upper floor room in a high-rise hotel in Georgetown, the Capital of Llanfairn, she first met Connie Calvert and gotten herself involved with the Seventh; back then of course the Major’s wife was still Connie Melbourne. Jamie’s cousin Audie had set up a recruiting meet in between other business she was involved in, Audie was dealing in the buying and selling of arms and supporting Connie in a lawsuit over the disposition of a captured ship. Then she remembered Carl Pilchard was also at that meeting, and a wave of sadness rolled over. Carl died on the SnapDragon; she would never see him again.

She had lost much over those nine years but gained even more; a ship; a husband; and a cause. She shook off the reverie, a gray mood that seldom visited, and got back to the work at hand; transition to the initial nav point was only seconds away. “Two, One, Transition in!”

The first of two nav points they would use for this approach to Elmira, it was six light hours out and all of the other ships arrived tolerably close together. They had made a distant stop a day before so the G-2’s would be close enough for the jump to the IP. A transition this far from a grav source didn’t cost much reaction mass but even so Jamie had fuel from her G-4’s external tanks used to fill to capacity the internal tanks of the G-2’s.

External tankage or even cargo was only possible on 3’s and 4’s. Earlier classes due to maximizing the hull size inside the drive band created field had no room left inside the field for storage outside the hull. The 4’s jettisoned their empty tanks.

“Are we going to pick them up on the way back?” Third Officer Pots asked when Jamie sent the 2’s away, having the slower ships leave first so that everyone’s timing would come together at the next jump point.

“Not this trip,” she replied, “I imagine they’ll keep out here in the big empty for a time, a few hundred years give or take.”

Transitioning in at the six hour distance it was just possible to detect the neutrino emissions of fusion power sources located outside the small arc of the large star they circled. Sensors found five ships at first then a sixth and a seventh and Jamie hoped that was all of them and they would find no more when closer.

The star centered in her holo-tank, Elmira, was larger, hotter, and brighter, than usual for a colony world; by virtue of that it was shorter lived as well, an F type, staying on the main sequence for hundreds of millions rather than billions of years, and its hyper limit was farther away from the gravity source that was its center than was the case with a less massive star.

Their intel had the fleetbase being built not orbiting, but actually on the surface of a very small rocky minor planet deep inside the stars gravity well at almost one and a half light-hours from the limit. Jamie wanted to keep all her ships together and give as little time as possible for the Calps to react to their presence.

What she planned included the simple expedient of making an extra jump. Nav data gathered at six light hours would make a jump to thirty light minutes a simple accurate movement. Fifteen minutes spent there with double checks on everyone’s calculations and a jump to twenty seconds outside the limit should work. It did work and it also got them close enough to have a fair idea of the numbers and location of the Calp ships waiting for them.

Their final jump to fifteen minutes out showed a single ship located near the spot they chose to use to in entering the system; their final course put them as close to that point and as far inward as safety permitted without being bounced. Coming in at this distance they still held onto nearly10% of lightspeed after their bands discharged. Their vector was however now pointed at the Calp G-4. Database records identified her as the Iskenderun; she was two hundred million kilometers away and as yet unaware of their existence. This was supposed to be a surprise and that was how it worked out.

When they jumped in they were at 1.34 billion kilometers from the new base construction, the Iskenderun, provided she had continued to move on the same track the double fix determined, was now a little less than 200 million kilometers away, and with a very small vector relative to their own making it impossible for her to avoid contact. The Cardoman squadron began shedding velocity at once. Killing 10% lightspeed from their vector would take the G-2’s almost seventeen hours and 900,000 kilometers, the 4’s could handle that much change in twelve and a half.

“Start deceleration, we’ll take her in passing,” course and target data had been exchanged by the time Jamie issued her first order since transitioning in. She had almost used the chess phrase En passant, and regretted, in passing, forgoing the opportunity. Her command skills had gotten a little rusty. Eric Shearing, for his part on the battle bridge, was however doing even better than she’d suspected he would.

Alarms wailing and display updates were starting to show details. The fact that five Cardoman ships were eleven lightminutes away and closing was enough to shock the Iskenderun’s bridge crew into wakefulness from what had been till now a sleepy patrol. A moment later and one of the ships was shown as having no database entry but given the four others names and details it was near certain she was also Cardoman and even if she was not it didn’t change a thing. The Iskenderun needed help and needed it now, but there was none to be had.

The Captain had his telemetry and a message sent to Sub Fleet Commander Turanshah; but he was far inward circling the rock, and a return message would take two hours travel time, the Cards would be on him by then. He also sent a challenge and ordered them to stop, for what that might be worth.

In the return message he was ordered by Cardoman Admiral Madry to surrender. His only other option was to fight and die with his ship destroyed in either case. It was another hour before he made the choice he knew all along that he would; he ordered his crew to abandon ship.

“That’s a relief,” Jamie said to Lt Cmdr Shearing when they detected the shuttles and life pods leaving the Calp G-4. Now I don’t have to decide whether to reveal our secret weapon early or overwhelm the Calps defense at the expense of our shipkiller supply.”

“What would you have done Admiral?”

“I would have waited till the last moment then sent a full loadout from every single one of our combined ship’s tubes. That and had every jammer in the fleet pouring out so much interference that the Calps sensors would either fry or shut down. We want to take out as many Calp ships as we can but it is more important that we destroy the fleet base and the effort put into it. We count six Calps at Elmira Base and I have no doubt they will come out to meet us, and I don’t count on any easy surrenders. When they do we are going to need to get through them and to the base. Holding our surprise in reserve is going to help with that. Then we can see what happens next.”

“Will we be coming back to pick up these guys?”
“Fat Chance!”

Sub Fleet Commander Adda Turanshah did just as Jamie predicted. He had time; the Calps would not arrive for a day yet. While the seven ships remaining under his command took position twenty five million kilometers away from the rock that was building into fleet base Elmira he also had a few dozen shipkillers waiting silently on one wing in individual launchers ready to rake her enfilade as he fired from the front. The accursed Admiral Madry had finally met her match.

Five G-4’s and two G-3’s against three 4’s and two 2’s should have been a recipe for disaster. The Calps were going to know this and be very suspicious when Jamie pressed home the attack—well let them wonder. This was one of the simulations already run back on the Burgeron so her setup came out of a box. The Cardoman ships spread in a line, the Oslo went on one flank the Westwind on the other. Jamie and her Wasp took the center with the Eagle to one side of her and the Perseus between the Wasp and the Westwind.

The Cardoman ships were spread out, but each one, except those on the end, could support two others. The Calps would need to spread their own line to avoid being flanked but with numbers on their side they were already in the process. So far so good.

Jamie worked this as she had gamed it. She had her ships take up position early to give the Calps plenty of time to prepare; she didn’t want to see them all in a knot with every Calp ship able to support the rest.

“They’ve spread out nicely,” Captain Hughes said. There was now a single Calp G-4 outside flanking his position. “Do you think she’ll fire first or has Admiral Madry got this thing going forward on rails?”

“I’d go with the Admiral Sir,” said the Cardoman ensign serving as the Oslo’s signals officer. “The few times I ever had to work against her in one of the sims she seemed to know exactly what I was going to do long before I did.”

“The mark of a good Captain and Officer, and of course I knew you were going to say exactly that.” Hughes leaned back and took in the calm that he knew would not last.”

On the other end of the line Joe Speedway didn’t stop to wonder about the launch orders but did instruct his signals officer Lt jg. Gilbert Bell to keep a lookout for something, anything unexpected, like perhaps a flanking attack from a stealthed shipkiller outside their forward track. “And be as active as you wish, or more so, it’s not like they don’t know we’re on our way.”

He saw Bell boost power to the active sensors and pinging senders, then he went about checking the readouts from the missiles being readied for his own first launch, for about the fifth time in the last hour.

Watching the Calps near, Jamie wished she could be down in the flag plot, where directing a battle, coordinating five ships, would have been an easier task. That was the purpose of the thing after all. But she also had a ship to fight and that could best be done from the bridge. She split her attention sparing neither task. Still something was bothering her and she couldn’t pin it down.

If the truth be known she wasn’t as certain as most of her crew that she had made the proper call about delaying firing time. But as she issued command for the final countdown she began to feel better about the plan. It was important the Calps start wasting shipkillers on the defensive side and get the numbers down instead of going on offense before Jamie opened fire. Their numerical superiority would have forced her to call of the attack if they had.

Here we go, she thought while seeing the countdown timer hit zero and her first group launch. The ship’s Gunner could be heard on the weapons channel saying, “All tubes fired, first launch on its way.” This was followed at once by, “Reload and fire number two.” Then it hit her, she knew what had been bothering her a few minutes ago.

The Calp Fleet Commander on the Bohemond, the ship holding the center of the Caliphate line, should have felt a need to test them at longer range, make them use some shipkillers as well. Now Jamie was afraid she knew why he hadn’t. Fast as her hand could move she hit the command channel switch and yelled with alarm rather than calmly gave command, “Watch your flanks!”

The words had only been uttered when she saw icons flash on either side of her command screen, and then looking to the center of the bridge she saw images in the holo-tank come to life. They represented shipkiller missile drives closing at very short range on the ends of her line.

On the Oslo, being closer to the launch, they saw the incoming before Jamie’s message reached them, yet they were still too late to redirect their second flight which was already on its way and turn it to defense. The third launch finished loading and that was what they used instead. Combined with their beams and close in missiles it was almost enough. Almost was not enough as two Calp shipkillers made it through their screen before detonating and ripping the ship open from end to end.

Joe Speedway was another Captain who didn’t hear Admiral Madry’s warning in time. He wasn’t listening for it because he did hear the warning given by his signals officer Lt. Gilbert Bell, and Joe had the presence of mind to divert six SK’s from his second salvo to deal with this new threat. As a consequence the Westwind beat back the attack and continued forward.

The flash and fading red glow that cast dim shadows outside the holo-tank when the Oslo died overcame the chill of the ventilated air on the Wasp’s bridge deck. Jamie shut it from her mind and concentrated on the Calp reaction to their own two flights, and as the picture cleared she ordered a third. Had she known that this was a reenactment of what the Calps had faced in two other actions already complete she would have set that knowledge out as well, concentrating on the moment, getting ready for the immediate future.

The Calp missiles in interceptor mode aiming for the Cardoman shipkillers saw Audie’s bomblettes go off and lost lock as their overloaded processors jumped from one evaluation routine to another while trying to determine the nearest threat. While they were chasing after phantoms, six of ten Cardoman shipkillers were through the first wave of defense, two out of ten made it through the second. And the second and third Calp launches were close behind.

Instead of trying for a flanking attack Jamie’s intention all along had been to go for the center, blow through the heart of the Caliphate line and go for the fleet base. Even the loss of the Oslo could no longer stop this from happening as a third and forth Calp salvo was used up defensively with little effect.

The Bohemond, in the center of the Calp line was destroyed first. Subfleet Commander Turanshah had not left instructions on how the other ships were to proceed if he were killed and his ship put out of action. There was already so much confusion that none was added on account of that oversight.

The ships to what had been her left and right were next. That eliminated the squadron’s second ranking Captain. And in terms of ship count it was now even numbers, four on four. The Calps were in deep trouble getting deeper, their advantage in class type proven illusory. One more launch and they would need a manual reload and still no answer to this new Cardoman weapon.

The first Calp ship to break off was the one nearest to the short end of the Cardoman line, outside of where the Oslo should have been alive and savoring this with the rest of the Cards. When she ran the G-4 next to her with, gaps on either side and no defense, withdrew as well. On her main display these ships were marked as the Hetoum and the Kitbuqa. Jamie let them go and turned her attention to the two remaining Calps, both now in action against the Westwind.

Eighteen more missiles left their tubes; this was the forth complete load out from her Wasp, Eagle, and Perseus. Speedway was on his fifth and final magazine load, using them one at a time against the Calps still standing while his loaders worked on getting the ship’s twenty spares into empty launch queues.

The Calp G-4 now closest to the spreading cloud of gas and debris that was the former center of their line, Baibars, was the next to be hit and put out of action. With that, and missiles still bearing down, the last remaining Calp, the Suq Al-Attareen, shut her drive and took her weapon directing targeting signals off line, her shipkillers shut down and their countermeasures went silent and the Captain offered surrender.

Once certain this was no ruse Jamie had the warheads on her own missiles still in flight safed and their drives shut down. Then she had internal beacons turned to tracking them for later pickup. She would send them a self destruct if that later turned out not to be possible.

The Westwind had taken some light damage and Jamie pulled up a summery of as much as had been sent. She was instructing her First Officer on how to handle the details of surrender when Third Officer Pots interrupted the conversation. But by then it was too late.

Another flash of red on deck and the icon in the holo-tank representing the Al-Attareen expanded to a sphere then started to fade.

“Did he suicide?” Jamie asked the logical question almost as an afterthought.

“No,” Pots had the answer ready, “It was one of ours, aimed so precisely that when her drive and warhead shut down she just continued on and made a kinetic kill.”

“There’s one for the books, never heard of that before.” Jamie took one last look at the tank and seeing the last of the Al-Attareen said, “We have a few minutes before we get close enough to the new construction to start shooting, let’s make sure that nothing like what happened to the Oslo happens to any of the rest of us.” Then she went back to studying the Westwind’s damage report.

With no warships left to oppose them they proceeded inward slowly, all of their active sensors looking for return signals and often finding them. Jamie had the G-2’s reverse vector and then keep their distance; she did not want to risk the loss of another ship.

There were two transports near, neither tied up, to the unfinished base docking structure. She had signals make contact with both ship’s Captains and told them if they must leave the docking area and join her G-2’s well beyond range of the blast damage she intended to inflict. At that point they would abandon their ships without damage. If orders were followed she would pick them up and spare their lives, taking them as prisoners to exchange for captured sailors from the Indie’s side.

Over commands from the partially completed base to the contrary, they both pulled away. Neither got very far as missiles intended for station defense were given new targets and both freighters became lose collections of free falling scrap iron. After that there was no hesitation on the Cardoman side in destroying everything they could reach. The cleanup took seven hours and most of their shipkillers but there was no rush; even if a full Calp Fleet were to drop in there would be plenty of time to run.

When they were finished there was nothing at the present site large enough to build a base around. There was also nothing left to sift for spoils to take back when the next Calp ship examined the wreckage. They set charges on all the partial construction to be sure of that.

Before leaving the system Jamie had two shuttles worth of the few who made it off the station picked up for interrogation, there were no highly ranked officers on either craft. With those shuttles as their only prizes they set a course back to Cardoman. The picket ships they did not have time to deal with could take care of anyone else still alive until another transport transitioned in. One transport would be more than enough.

Well before the end both of the Caliphate G-4’s the Hetoum and the Kitbuqa, who had run from battle early were outside the limit. They did not delay long before the lead ship transitioned leaving the second to watch over the ruination of sixty billion worth of supplies, equipment, construction, and labor hours. She was too far off to see things in real time and no possible danger to any of the Cardomans getting ready for their own exit which now could not come quickly enough.

Everyone on all of her ships had been on duty for sixteen or more hours, some for twice that. Jamie had them retracing their way to limit using the same track they used on the trip in, it gave them less to worry about by way of undiscovered mines or single launchers.

Jamie sent two thirds of her crew off duty then left the bridge leaving Eric in charge on the Wasp and giving him the use of the day cabin. She was going to get a hot meal followed by a full eight hours in her quarters and nothing was going to stop her.

Jamie was sound asleep when a Caliphate transport’s grav pulse was detected on the other side of the system and Eric chose not to wake her and instead started working on a contingency plan of his own. When Jamie found out after her rest she wondered what kind of medal she might award for something like that. What with the changes she had been making to Naval Regulations she didn’t have the free hand she once did but there was one thing she could do now.

Back on the bridge she relieved Eric and told him to be back before they transitioned out. And she also told him to dress for the occasion. He was going to issue the command. What she failed to mention was what else she had in mind. She intended to try out Eric’s scheme.

Once the Cardoman squadron left Elmira’s space the Calp freighter would wait a few hours and then go in and pick up survivors. Trained work crews were far too valuable to leave behind and the G-4 Captain would force the issue. That meant perhaps twenty-five hours after the Cards jumped the freighter would be working to collect those still alive.

Before they transitioned out Jamie issued two sets of orders. The Cardoman 2’s would go straight home while the Wasp and Westwind made a much shorter hop and then, twenty hours later returned to Elmira.

The plan was perfect, if obvious in retrospect, and the Calp’s cooperated as if reacting to a force of nature. Jamie stayed on the Flag Deck and let Eric take charge, fair is fair. The G-4 had kept her distance and was still uncatchable, perhaps worried about what had come to pass. But because of that had no way of affecting the situation when the freighter after a short run surrendered.

Another day of nonstop work was devoted to taking most of the prisoners aboard the Wasp and Westwind in order to make things easier for Cmdr Borselov and the rest of the crew bringing in the freighter back to Cardoman. Eric spent a shift on that freighter prior to returning and assuming command for the Wasp’s second transition out.

When Eric came on deck there were two marines in dress black standing inside the hatchway. From Eric’s standpoint the rest was a blur. Jamie pinned him with Captain’s Bars, taken from her own uniform, and gave him the ship. “It’s not proper that an Admiral bother herself with such duties as a Captain is required to perform. Here after you may find me on the Flag Deck. I see the course is laid in so please give the necessary orders and then see me when all ships are out of this system. Congratulations Captain Shearing!”

Eric did say the words, “Two, One, Transition out.” He congratulated the bridge crew and then he went down a deck to speak with his Admiral.

“It’s temporary and good till we reach the Burgeron, but the promotion is real. Losing the Oslo means the G-4 that Stan was due now goes to Llanfairn. In fairness after I go back on shore again Stan gets the Wasp, and you will revert to First Officer again. But this temporary promotion to Captain goes in your record book with my highest commendation. Enjoy it while you can but you can be certain there will be another ship in your future.” She smiled before saying more, “But enough of pumping you up! Go about running your ship now and leave your Admiral alone, she has reports to put out and an explanation for Llanfairn’s Captain Smith to make ready.”

“The Captains Bars?”

“Yours Eric. It won’t be long before and you will need them more than I do.”

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