Marjoram 13

Chapter 13 Draft (09-17-11)

Stan was a deck down from the Wasp’s bridge looking into the three dimensional holographic display called Flag Plot when they transitioned back to Cardoman. Without an Admiral and staff to fill the seats located around the holo-tank’s rim the room was almost empty. Instead of close to thirty there were only five other people here with him. The view was suspended in the room’s center spectacular, more activity in the form of moving icons and multicolored lights than even at Philomel and thousands of small point sources showing the stellar background.

The last section of the orders that sent him out was very specific on the time and place where he should return. The Wasp needed to make and extra stop and jump outside of system detection range to keep from being early and by doing this he transitioned in to the second of the prearranged schedule and only a few million kilometers off location.

On the display it looked like every ship in the Cardoman Navy was present and in close proximity to the planet. Heading inward was a five ship squadron of G-3’s from Novi. Two ships from Llanfairn, the LNS Justice and LNS Holorith were parked near Cardoman High and the Ryman G-3T Pride of Mills Valley was heading outwards toward the limit. And that still was not all of the government flagged ships. The Federation’s Wm. Bradford was also detected with a drive hot and near to the limit.

Two Indie freighters were off-loading at the hyper yard and a third which Stan could not identify was in the rebuild and repair dock. The data blocks of the others had been completed by his database even as their colors were assigned.

There was no hint of any Caliphate ship nor any activity that looked like one was expected. The Wasp’s report was on its way by light beam and via the same five minutes later he received a general system status report from a repeater that as expected was stationed outside of the transition line with a message just for the Wasp saying, “Exercise on, proceed as planned. Good Luck. — Admiral Madry.”

“More ships than I expected, I can only imagine the communications nightmare,” Stan said to Third Officer Bill McGuffin who would act as his aide and sounding board, while Ted Bodine had the bridge with Pots assisting.

McGuffin spoke into the hushed microphone connected to his headset sending a query to the ship’s database. Then he said, “Including pickets and stationary receivers I show eighty-three sources with the ability to detect a grav pulse, figuring out where each of them would be at the time we transitioned in and making the orders clear enough and then sent and acknowledged must have been fun.”

“True Bill, and it will be interesting to see if any of the ships need to pull themselves from the exercise for not having their detectors turned off before our pulse reaches them. This will be a good test of our system level ability to detect a stealthed major ship incoming. The thing that should worry us on the Wasp is that all the automated system defense missiles and minefields got the word to call for help and not launch against us if they see us without our IFF on.”

“So it’s only the people at the Very Large Sensor Area (VLSA) and the Burgeron that know who and where we are?”

“If those ships we see from Novi and Llanfairn aren’t in on this they will know soon enough but I think we need to play this like they are part of the defending force.”

Stan opened his link to the ship’s bridge and filled Ted Bodine in on what he knew and expected, then the Wasp went inwards under low G and as silently as they were able.

Quite the feather in our cap if we can find her first,” Ensign Patrick Flanagan, who would have been running signals on the Perseus if Audie Madry had not come on board for this exercise said. “Could you tap into the Burg’s database and find out where she is?” he asked. Like all junior officers and recent academy graduates Patrick was in awe of Audie’s reputation and credited her with the ability to do most anything.

“You wouldn’t,” Captain Kenwood said, “That wouldn’t be fair.”

“Fair? That’s an interesting concept,” Audie said while looking over the shoulder of Boss’n Olson who had the master console duty. “I can’t do it anyway, or at least not in time to do us any good. One of the cadets in the last class sealed up my latest back door, and now, until I can build a new one, I have to be on the ship or have a link set from within. But,” she said brightly. “All is not lost!”

“How do you figure, Audie, we are far in system and even though are sensors are better than anything except for a few of our largest installations a ship closer to the limit should see the Wasp long before we do? And what makes you so certain that she is on her way in?”

Julian Kenwood was looking and sounding doubtful. The Perseus because of her G-2M status, and being primarily a research platform to boot was kept well away from the limit, because in case of a fight she had no business being first in line to face a 3 or a 4.

“No other reason to get an order to shut down sensors and I’d say our chances a very good, so long as we can beat Commander Borselov. The non Cardoman people involved must have been warned, maybe everyone but us. We do need to find her first!”

“Cmdr Borselov’s on the Westwind out near the limit, isn’t he?” Ensign McGinnis asked. “And doesn’t that mean the Wasp needs to come in close to his ship for him to see her first?”

“I predict this is going to have little to do with a ship painting the Wasp and seeing her colors,” Zena Gotlieb, the Perseus’s S.O. said. “But I can’t see how you are going overcome our distance disadvantage.”

“Processing power and number crunching beats skill and daring, this time I think. When Yuri and I were on the Burgeron last, after seeing how Cadet Nettles closed the backdoor, we had a talk with the young man and assigned him a project.

“That wouldn’t be the same Ensign Nettles who brought all that extra computing gear aboard and was just assigned by Fleet to our Engineering section would it?” Captain Kenwood asked.

“Got it in one Sir,” Audie answered, “Briefly this is how it should work. When a ship goes active and sends a radar type signal stealth works to defeat the return by absorbing much of the energy and then radiating the rest in a direction away from the sender. Some of those weak reflected signals are picked up by other ship’s receivers but they don’t know what to make of them. They are noted if at all as ghosts, and unless they last, which they won’t when coming from a stealthed ship, one constantly changing her reflective properties, they are filed and forgotten.”

“What Nettle’s and Cmdr Ferguson down on the Engineering Deck are going to do is take all those signal, all the data is being sent in real time back to Fleet and freely available, and try to find from all the ghost signals the ones pointing to a real ghost.”

Meacham Ferguson had taken an instant liking to Bruce Nettles when they first met on the Burgeron more than a year ago while Meacham was teaching a short section on advanced reactor optimization, override limits and shut down. Nettles was a ten year older version of his son, same dark hair and eyes, rapid smile, and same easy manner.

He also never wasted time asking questions about things that had easy answers, and more than a few that Meacham couldn’t answer, not about the way the machinery functioned but why it was made to function as it did rather than in another, and often more elegant fashion.

When Audie told him that Nettles was joining the ship and she had a special job she wanted done he was eager to jump right in. Connecting the new and very nonstandard gear the Ensign brought with him took a week of assembly and still required constant tinkering. More with the programming than the electrical and data feeds though.

“Ya got some Scotland in Ya eh laddie?” Ferguson enjoyed playing a role he had seen on many an old video recording.

“Not that I know of,” Nettle’s answered. “But mistakes do happen and my mother told me once that she found me under a leaf in a cabbage patch.”

“Well that’ll explain the software errors now won’t it. The Irish never could string two words together such that they made any sense. And sensitive. . . Which is what the problem is here. Too many signals for even this contraption to process. But don’t change anything right now; it will get better.”

“What makes you think so Sir?”

“Once all the ship’s signals officers out here get their fill of other ships bouncing electrons off of their antenna’s and knocking the gain down they are going stop with a global search and scan only where one of our ships isn’t. Then any scatter we pick up might mean something.”

It took four hours but Cmdr Ferguson’s prediction proved true and they were getting data that in part they could analyze. The largest screen in the engineering spaces was dedicated to mapping all the false signals. They formed a fuzzy sphere all around the limit and continued almost to Cardoman’s surface.

Audie was spending her time on the bridge, seeing how well normal operations were being carried out and taking notes. Meacham, after seeing his display almost covered in pink, had an idea and gave her a call.

“Tens of thousands of hits already and more every minute, we probably have seen the Wasp a dozen times but we can’t handle all the data. It’s like you always say, Processing Power. I think we would have been better off on the Burgeron. This is an experimental set up so. . . How badly do we want to win this?”

“How much would you give for a case or two of Earth’s best single malt and an opportunity to become the father of my first born?”

“That bad eh?”
“You got it. . . Well the first part anyway. What do you have in mind?”

“It’s like this; we know when the Wasp transitioned in, to within a minute at least, because we had to shut down our pulse detector as ordered or we wouldn’t have an exercise to run. We also know the max g she could be using and still avoid IR detection. Captain Voinovich can’t be more than fifty or sixty million K’s inside the limit by now or someone would have seen him. We could stop trying to match against all our data and filter out anything too far inside, anywhere he couldn’t be.”

“Do it, I’m on my way to the lift; I want to see this.”

When Audie arrived the wall display showed a hollow shell of pink colored marks that were slowly moving towards the center and Cardoman’s sun.

Audie watched in silence for a minute then said, “We could grab some extra cycles by slowing down the refresh rate and maybe by not worrying about the areas around the minefields. I think Stan will stay clear of them once he has them located. What do you think Ensign Nettles?”

“Changing the refresh rate won’t get much but we can do that Ma’am.” Nettle’s had three programmers selected from the ships crew working for him. Each learning a section of the code while making adjustments as directed. “I’d be afraid to screen out any major areas from the main code though. It hangs together now but there are too many nests to jump around without some major work, or better yet a complete redesign.”

“Take care of the refresh rate and I’ll send Mowers down to see about overclocking. I’ve seen his gaming gear and he knows just how far he can push it without burning something up.”

“Send him down and you won’t get him back,” Meacham said, “I have temp sensors on the coolant runs and wouldn’t press any further but I could use some extra bodies for relief, we’ve been at this for five hours now and no telling when we stop.”

Nine hours after transition and a hundred million kilometers inside the limit a message addressed to the Wasp came in on the Fleet optical channel. The message header showed it from the Perseus and Audie Madry’s chirpy voice welcomed them back to Cardoman Space.

“How did she find us? There are a dozen ships and the sensor platform at our fueling station that are closer and two more platforms in the belt. What did we do wrong?” Ted Bodine’s voice matched his bewilderment. He had been certain they would remain undetected for at least another five or six hours.

“My sister in law has her ways, and I am sure she has more to say, she always does.” Stan waited for the rest.

“Now don’t go active, the Perseus used some new stuff to find you, Yuri on the Westwind is the only one with anything like it. He will probably get to you next. Might even have beat the Perseus but we are closer so our message is going to get to you first. Unless he blows the game keep up with what you’re doing until someone else does. I’ll tell you all about it later but here is a hint, you held the same course for too long. It kept your drive silent but that’s not enough anymore. Perseus out.”

They were moving, changing delta V when the optical link from the Westwind brushed across their course and danced around their sensors. Never long enough for a complete message to come through but long enough to show that a second ship had them located.

The LNS Justice made them at the 200 kilometer mark and broadcast the find to all ships engaged. This was probably a good move for all concerned because Llanfairn was looked upon by some as not up to playing on Cardoman’s level.

Stan unmasked and congratulated the Justice, Captain and crew, after leaving Cardoman orbit they headed outwards at top speed for six hours were in the right place at the right time. That would not have mattered if their equipment and signals section hadn’t been up to the task.

Next Stan hailed the fleet and made speed for the Burgeron and Cardoman High. System wide, ships left position and went either to the system’s fueling station, Cardoman orbit, or in the case of two Cardoman G-4’s and all four of their G-2M’s stayed on station and kept looking for real threats.

In a large room on the Burgeron, set with chairs auditorium style, one most often used as a lecture hall, Wes and Connie Calvert were seated in the back row. There was room for three hundred and seats assigned; ships contingents broken up and spread out so those who had never met before might not say that again. They were going back to Midway and Jamie was doing what she could to help everyone connect names with faces. On something so simple is trust built.

“We’ve all had time to look at the data brought in from Midway by Llanfairn scout ships. It is already two weeks old and getting stale, if we don’t act upon it now we might as well wait another couple of weeks or months and go in blind. The fact you are all here is evidence of the choice we’ve made.”

“Locating the Wasp was an important exercise, not because we found her but because it gave us a chance to work together. I wish we had more time. There is never enough and we will be leaving tomorrow. Most of you will not know the person seated to your left and right. Take a few minutes to introduce yourselves and I will put up the summary of our op plan. Afterward we will have a discussion and then do a little socializing, I hope combining work and pleasure.”

With most every Captain attending the meeting on the Burgeron transported by one of his own shuttles it didn’t take long, once they finished, to move over to the O-Club on Cardoman High. It was too small for a group this size and the wall that separated it from the civilian restaurant and bar next door was partially removed and the compartment rented for the evening. With fifty percent more floorspace it was still a tight fit with some three hundred present and socializing was unavoidable.

“Who’s paying for all of this?” Audie asked, “Waving to the two open bars and tables piled high with food and additional beverage.”

“Government of Novi,” Connie Calvert said, “Wes is picking up the tab for the enlisted. He’s over there now with Robbie; I doubt he gets away for a while.”

“I haven’t seen him yet, how is married life treating him?”

“I think he might survive it but not without some cuts and bruises. Unquestioned obedience to authority a marriage is not. Well unless we are talking about the Caliphate and I did hear him say when Christine decided immediately after seeing them that hi s living quarters needed redecorating: If this were the Caliphate you wouldn’t be doing this.

“Wait till she sees his house down on Cardoman; she’ll be busy for a year and Robbie will have a heart attack! She really should be over here Connie,” Audie said looking around the room, “We are outnumbered two to one and I should be circulating, Captain Garza from the Holorith looks lonely.”

Connie turned her attention to where Audie was looking and saw a dark haired man in his late thirties with two of Jamie’s limited number of female staff Officers pressing him to the bar. Deborah Darling, Captain of the Justice, the other ship from Llanfairn, and the one that located the Wasp, was several meters further down the bar with her own circle of admirer’s. Audie was right though, even with many of the Cardoman Officer’s wives present the ratio of male to female was heavily skewed.

“Oh yes, very lonely man that one. Do go ahead and save him from doing something rash.” They both laughed and then drifted apart, Connie to talk to the Novi Squadron Commander and Audie going in opposite direction, towards the bar.

Christine Gustufson Davis entered the O-Club a half hour later on the arm of Raquel Zavala. With them were Fader Jameson and a woman Connie didn’t know. Not unusual when Fader was concerned. As it turned out she had that wrong. The woman, a Lt from Camp Logan, was with Raquel and Fader was temporarily without a partner.

That wouldn’t last Connie thought as Fader headed to a corner of the room where a game of darts was in progress and Raquel with Christine on one arm and his date on the other came to the table where she was seated. Connie stood, hugged Christine, and was introduced to Lt. Weaver who from her stammering was either in awe of meeting the wife of Wes Calvert or already a little tipsy, Connie wasn’t sure which.

Saving the Lieutenant any further embarrassment Raq lead her off to a table captured by his marines and more comfortable surroundings. It took only a moment and space was made for Chris whereupon she took a seat next to Connie.

“What’s a girl got to do to get a drink in this place?” she asked.

“Gentleman,” Connie said, “I present General Robert Davis’s new wife! Do I see a drink and do I hear a toast?”

It wasn’t long before Wes and Robbie joined them. By this time several of the Officers from Novi had made their way to the dart game where one of their marines had kept his place for three matches and was making a fair amount of change for himself, his mates, and those betting on him in the process.

Noticing the action and seeing Colonel Jameson in the crowd Robbie asked, “Fader thrown yet?”

“Not yet,” Connie said as Steve Carstairs, Second on the Essex stepped forward to try his luck, “I think he’s next.”

“I’ll be back in a minute then, I think it’s time to show Novi how one plays the cards with a sure thing. Would any of you like to come and watch?”

“This I need to see,” said Ian Fitzsimons, Captain of the Union G-4 Wm Bradford, “I do believe Captain Jennings has instructed his crew to take it easy on your boys thus far and for myself I would be happy to help you lighten your wallet.”

Robbie smiled, “Anyone else? … Wes?”

“I’ll stay here for a spell,” Wes replied, “But because I am such a homer and wouldn’t want anyone to think I’d bet against one of our own, I’ll give you twenty to lay on Fader.” He took out his wallet and gave Robbie a gold colored coin.

“Fitzsimons is it?” Robbie said as the two stood then walked away to get closer to the action.

“Wes! You set that poor man up!” Connie exclaimed.
“That’s what I do. I hope he learns his lesson.”

Robbie put a twenty on Lt. Carstairs. Carstairs was good and the game was close, but another went to the marine from Novi. Then it was Fader’s turn. Robbie being present caused enough other Cardoman officers to gather round that the board was hidden from view where Connie’s table was positioned. From the sound it was easy enough to tell the betting was active and the game still in doubt till the end.

“Colonel Jameson Wins!” They heard the voice but couldn’t tell whose it was. Then came, “Who’s next?”

“This is going to be bloody,” Wes said, “Let’s go and watch.”

The crowd parted like the Red Sea as those from Cardoman made an opening letting Wes and Connie and the others from their table passed through. The inner circle had gotten larger giving others a chance to watch. More than that the match was being broadcast on screens behind the bar and other set in table tops throughout the room. A feed was even sent to the E-Club.

“Another game Lieutenant Parks?” Fader made the customary offer that was a given when a match finished with a difference in single digits.

“Thank you, Colonel, I think I will try again,” Parks said, “This time, going first, I’ll work on your nerves, and think my luck is going to change.”

“It’s a theory,” Fader said. “Have at it.”

“Wait a minute,” Fitzsimons said. “Not much betting that last round.” He seemed a bit put off by that. “We wouldn’t want others to think any of us shy now would we? So I think we need to set up some stakes and make this a match for two out of three. What do you think General Davis?”

“This should be Up to the Club rules committee I would say,” Robbie replied, “and of course up to Colonel Jameson, we try to keep this fun and have an agreement that no one gambles more than a single days pay on any given day. However since it seems your people have done so well at our expense so far, perhaps we can make some changes. If Fader and the Major, I mean if Fader and General Calvert will go along with this, because it’s too late to get the rules committee involved, here is what I propose.”

“You and I Captain Fitzsimons can front the stakes going 50/50 each—call it a thousand for the winner of the match. Everyone else is limited to wagering their current plus score should they have any, and beyond that no more than one additional day’s pay. I know that Novi has been doing rather well tonight so I think I can get General Calvert to fund an additional fund if your people run out of those on our side of the game to bet against. How does that sound?”

“Splendid,” Fitzsimons said.

“Fine with me,” Fader agreed and nodded. He was examining the nicked fetching and wear marks on the bar supplied darts while Lt. Parks was sharpening his points and balancing the tiny missiles in his custom wooden felt lined box.

“General?” Fitzsimons asked now looking at Wes.

“I shouldn’t go along with this but on the proviso that anything I might win goes into the Seventh’s relief fund along with my own match to the winner’s prize. With that I give it my blessing.

“Well done Sir!” Ian said, “For my part I will equal your offer, and do you one better. Should Novi win I will put matching funds of my own towards both service’s accounts.”

Jamie Madry, who was seated at a table with her husband Stan, all the while watching the goings on with a kind of Boys will be Boys look, she made her way to the front and said, “We’ll do this right then, clear away the closest tables and get everyone out of the way of the cameras. When that was completed she said, “Captain Fitzsimons, by virtue of you magnanimous offer you are the judge. Good luck to all and let the match begin.”

Fitzsimons, by way or being the judge, and Robbie and Wes because of the stake involved had a table near the throwing line. Chris, Connie and Deb Darling from the Justice were in the middle of the room watching on their inlaid table view screen. Jamie and Audie Madry joined them chasing all the males away, even Lute Dormer from Castle security was forced to stand and watch from a respectful distance. Though in his case not a long one; five meters was his limit.

The first game was much like the one that had preceded it, but this time Parks won, but only by two points.

“I think your man might be in trouble,” Captain Darling said.
“Have pity upon the innocent,” Connie replied.

The next game was close again, this time with Fader the victor by three whole points. Betting, which had been slow till now changed at the posting of the last result. Money held back came in all at once in a torrent as the odds finalized in advance of the final game. It all showed on the table before them.

“Tell her Audie.”

“It’s like this Ma’am,” Audie was ten at least ten years younger than Captain Darling and the Ma’am came naturally, “If you take the scores from the last three games both your Lt Parks and our Col Jameson are averaging 8.32 points a toss. That’s a very high score, but Fader, even in his sleep, has never averaged less than 9.2 before. Lt Parks was scoring 8.48 earlier and he is obviously sandbagging, but Fader is doing the same, and not with a shovel but with an end-loader. Just watch.”

Even when Parks threw nothing but eights and nines and a rare ten the final outcome was never in doubt. Only needing to score one point in his final two throws to seal the victory, Fader took both of his final darts and instead of holding them in the usual fashion tucked the guide vanes between alternate fingers, then he clenched his fist clamping them tightly and threw overhand like throwing a knife and not holding the dart between thumb and forefinger as was always done. The result was a nine and a ten for the win.

Cheers and jeers were uttered in equal measure until Fader was dragged away by his admirers, one of whom was a Lt. Parks from Novi. Robbie and Wes, with Ian Fitzsimons accompanying came back to the table where the rest of Cardoman’s military hierarchy held sway.

Audie took here leave giving up space while letting everyone know she and Captain Garza had some business to transact.

Seeing the two of them leave the room Jamie whispered to Connie not wanting others to hear, “She never seems to go into low gear but she needs someone to . . . Well you know what I mean.”

“Indeed I do,” Connie said, smiling while making a place for Wes to sit beside her.