Marjoram 15

Chapter 15 Draft (10-01-11)

Rick Petrocelli was relaxing, at least as much as possible in the Bar/Restaurant of the G-2 transport Lying Bastard. He had his portable comm unit on the table in front of him, using it all the while he worked though a good lunch and most of the message stack that had hit him within the hour after transitioning a tad outside the limit into Cardoman space.

The ship had a full load of passengers, some 400, but more importantly had both of her main cargo holds loaded to the gills with the kind of specialized equipment it took to turn a standard 2 into a G-2M. The high tech gear filled nooks and crannies, the Cardomans could do the control work themselves and most of their electronic and optical gear was better than anything made on Ryman, so the bulk of the space was taken up by layer upon layer of stacked and shaped armored hull plate and interior sections.

Given that the Bastard had been here in the last year and had the local gravitational topography recorded this was a long way from what his ships navigational ability could have achieved. But he was playing at deception and a perfect jump closer in might cause question. A transport does not take chances.

Rick spent his time watching the Caliphate squadron leaving the system with the newly built SwiftStrike nipping at its heels during much of the last day. The ships sensors suite, though the interface was programmed to make them look like the most common type of commercial grade equipment, with the proper codes entered was front line Navy in terms of sensitivity and range.

This long approach was a good excuse to leave the details and final docking at Cardoman High to his very capable Navigator and Pilot. Better his second officer get some practice making the very complicated passage through the safe lanes of Cardoman’s Planetary Defense than Rick do it one more time, and Lord—that was getting more difficult every time he revisited. Rick stayed mostly off the bridge, not being the type to look over another’s shoulder except when necessary.

Looking closely at all of the defensive works he felt pretty much same way as when last he transitioned into Ryman and saw the improvements made in his most recent absence. And that thought set him to daydreaming as he flashed back to those events of six months ago, the ones that began in this same bar in this same booth while leaving Cardoman, and that lead in straight line fashion to his being here today.

* * *
Six Months Earlier

Rick knew at a glance his life was about to get even more complicated then usual. Playing the part of a civilian freighter Captain, one who was willing to do whatever necessary to make a profit, one suspected of working for the former Ryman Oligarchs and one’s who had a ship and crew that were actually a part of Ryman Navy, required all the acting ability he could muster. No amount of acting however could deflect the force now moving his way.

He had been looking in the direction of the bar when one of his passengers saw him, and in seeing gave a wave from across the room as he started moving towards the darkened booth Rick was using as a shield to keep such people at a distance.

He had made a mistake in coming here he realized. Most passengers had by now been trained to respect his wish for privacy. Not this one. Rick’s wishes were about to be dashed along with his hope of a quiet lunch without a need to deal with anything new or a need to be polite to any of his passengers. The last thing he wanted was to talk with someone he was not even sure how to address anymore!

Rick watched his plans for a quiet meal go a glimmering and then vanish like the memory of a dream, they just didn’t matter and slipped into emptiness, because either CSM or General Robert T. Davis was about to sit down, and Rick wondered which persona he would have to deal with today.

Somehow the man approaching saw his confusion and decided to use it as an opportunity to send a message.

Reaching the booth the Cardoman General said, “Rick, I can see your confused again; let me explain how it is. And then you can spread the word by whatever means you choose. The Command Sergeant Major died the day I signed my resignation papers back in Redmond’s office lo those many years ago. I was never an Officer on Ryman—as the Sword hanging in Patton Hall will prove. And at least that much I hold no regret.”

“To my friends, present company included, when on duty I am now General Davis, and only because there was one man alive who could convince me to take that Officer’s rank. Any loyalties I have left to Ryman fall under family! I was born here, was formed here, and I still have family here. But, and that is one damn big BUT; I am a now a Cardoman, and I damn well intended to stay a free one!”

“With that out of the way I should add that two of the four women who have decided run my life live are still here on Ryman and number three is on your ship even as we speak!”

“OK General, I can figure out who three of them are. I’ve met Arianna Davis, I was your brothers roommate after all, Christine’s on the ship, and the one who’s not here or on Ryman must be Connie Calvert; so who the hell is the other one on Ryman, number four?”

Rick could remember the wry grin as Robbie stood and started towards the buffet; it was of a type look Rick had never seen before from the normally taciturn Davis. He could recall his surprise when Robbie stopped then said, “It was Jonnie Redmond!”

A month after that encounter, as Christine Davis waited patiently in a small sitting room at Ryman Forces HQ; Robbie’s wife was puzzled as to why Jonnie Redmond wished to see her privately. She had met the woman only twice before, once at the formal reception after the wedding, and prior to that at the private one held one day earlier at Highland Estates. This, the larger and supposedly more important of the two, had been presided over (no other way to say it really) by Arianna Davis. Christine was getting fairly tired of running into women who could best be described as ‘Formidable’.

The Sgt. level receptionist, she did look out of uniform, was quite apologetic about the wait as she informed Christine that the office to her left was now ready. And she seemed a bit surprised when Christine snapped at her, “OK—I understand this lady is damn near my second and unofficial Mother-In-Law but why all the formality?”

“Mrs. Davis, I was told only that this was business and Mrs. Redmond never does business in an informal manner. She says business, family, and pleasure, are three things that should never be mixed in any manner!”

Entering the office, first pausing at the door, Chris decided the fix was in in someway or another. Facing her was not Jonnie Redmond alone, but also Arianna Davis, looking smug, or perhaps that was what in her case passed as self assurance. This, Chris decided, was either going to be very bad—or not. There was a possibility, slim, that this would turn out to be a second Christmas Day.

Jonnie Redmond got the ball moving, “Come in Christine and have some coffee—please! We had hoped to help you with your efforts here on Ryman, if just a little, and as you have not talked to Robbie in the last hour or so you should know that according to Arthur the time we have at our disposal has just gotten quite a bit shorter.”

“As you say Jonnie, I have not talked to him today. I’m supposed to go sign him out of the Body and Fender Shop and take him to Highlands in an hour as I am sure Arianna already knows.”

“Touché! And he truly must love you dear; Robbie standing still for anyone to sign anything for him is a first. We just were not sure if he had messaged you this morning or was going to be his usual taciturn self.”

She paused for a moment and when Christine said nothing continued, “Art, having bought off on what you are about called us immediately when plans got changed. It seems we received a rather extensive message sent from Cardoman on the G-3 that docked last night, and you two will be going home via New Britain. Your ‘Major’ Calvert wishes Robbie to meet face to face with some people he knows out there.”

“To our original point, Arianna has heard from her sources that you have been trying to sniff out Medical resources on Ryman to take back with you to Cardoman. Is she correct?”

“Yes, you know she is. I can’t hide a damn thing from my mother in law can I? That was a second reason we came here for the wedding, or maybe the third, but the first was to get my husband on the table. Connie Calvert was adamant about that. Dear God! Do you realize how far advanced you are over the rest of the Independents and even the Confederation when it comes to combat trauma and repair?”

“What was done for my husband cannot be matched anywhere off of Ryman. I understand why things worked out historically the way they did, but even so, it’s a skill we need on Cardoman. And with the favorable press I did not fully understand Connie’s insistence until I got here and saw it for myself. You can’t stand in my way on this; it would kill our relation, personal and planetary.”

Arianna was the one who replied, “Who said we were against what you’re trying to do? We want to help, both you and the couple we are recommending return home with you. Please, take the comm pad from Jonnie, I have some files queued that will show you their records but will not come close to telling their story.”

Christine took the device and concentrated on the reading sized projected screen. Reading intently it took her about two minutes to absorb everything, “This here is mostly about the Doctor who did the cutting on Robbie, and the woman is the PA who is in charge of his rehab. I was told they were the best you have, why would you be showing me this?”

“Daughter, did you notice their Military Ranks?”

“OK, he is a Recon Captain and she is a warrant Officer Two. I just figured they were Planetary Reserve or something.”

“No, they were Strike Bravo but are now Strike Charlie. They are Planetary Defense, the problem is prejudice! Not as you may first guess only because of his Arabic name, but due to the sins of his Father. His Father was personal Physician to one of the Oligarchs and went with them when they left, proving loyalty to something, if only money.”

“The fact that your doctor is nothing like his father fails to get through to some old heads around here!” Arianna took a long pull off of her coffee, and Christine could tell from the slight breeze from the air circulation units that it was NOT pure coffee. Then Arianna stood to face the window.

“The man and his wife are capable of recreating of teaching the Shock/Trauma and Reconstruction curricula from our Command Academy on Cardoman without a doubt. Beyond that feel free to hire the additional odds and sods you find necessary in fielding more immediate capabilities. But, to build your own long term establishment they are what exactly what you need. More importantly they deserve the chance!”

“Well, I will certainly discuss this with them, provided they do wish to leave with me.”

“It seems I have used the Mother-In-Law privilege and discussed it with them already; their question is when do they leave?”

“That certainly seems to solve my problem. And we can discuss ‘Mother-In-Law privilege’ at a later date. But, since I have all involved here in a private setting I have a personal question to ask! Jonnie Redmond. . . Did my husband ever actually ask you to marry him?”

At that Arianna Davis did in fact spit coffee through her nose, and then she choked out, “Go ahead, try to lie about that one. Just tell her the damn truth Jonnie!”

“Yes he did—and yes—I said NO! I did it for exactly the same reason I explained to him and later his Momma. I was not, never would be, the right one for him!” Jonnie then grabbed a fresh cup and poured a drink from the same carafe that Arianna had been using; she drained the entire cup before continuing.

“I was not an Arianna Davis nor as I understand a Christine Gustufson; there was no way I was going to grab a Sniper Rifle and go defend a perimeter. I was not the right one I would have gotten him killed somewhere, somehow. Yes, I loved him then and still do now! But you have no idea how happy I felt when I saw you, Christine Gustufson, walk down that ramp arm in arm with him in Uniform, with that damn Snipers Badge on your chest. I knew I could finally let him go because he had found the Right One!” She stopped then said, “Happy now?”

“You think I did not have that figured out? I have listened to him mutter in his dreams. I KNEW! Go and figure that out! Now my question: What is the signal you are trying to send that you will not say out loud?”

“Damn you were right Arianna. OK, the change of plans means you on top of going home via New Britain you will travel on a Ryman G-4, in fact the same one you built for us! That’s why it will be three weeks before you leave, the need to wait for her to finish fitting out. You are going home on RNS Varangian, the unspoken message we want to send woman to woman is straightforward. And if Art cannot get it into Robbie’s head or Robbie cannot get it into Wes Calvert’s head, you get it into Connie’s! It is this—If you call, then Ryman will come. For Dear God. . . We do consider you Family!”

Twenty-three days later, while Christine was standing at the boarding ramp of the shuttle waiting to take her husband and herself to the orbiting Ryman G-4. She saw General Arthur Redmond, the other person not a Calvert that Robbie had been known to refer to under his breath as “That Damned LT” shaking his hand as they were about to go inside.

“The day you left the first time I thought I never wanted to see you on this planet again. Thanks for proving me wrong Robbie. And Mrs. Davis, should you want or need anything do I have to tell you also have another home?”

“No General Redmond. That has been made abundantly clear in many ways. I never thought I was coming here to do anything more than to get my husband fixed up. When you are an orphan it is a shock to suddenly realize that you have not one but two families!”

* * *
“Captain Petrocelli, to the bridge please. Captain to the bridge.” The page was muted but it was enough to wake Rick from is elaborate daydream of events on Ryman. He looked down at his plate and saw it was empty, though he could not remember eating a thing. He had been that deep into reverie.

With time on ship followed by time on Ryman he had gotten very close to Robbie and Chris. It was Chris who had filled in the details concerning the interactions with her new family, and beyond that Rick wanted to find out about their reception upon reaching New Britain, and of course what the reaction had been on Cardoman once they returned. Ryman’s future, and his own course of action, would be heavily influence by whatever he learned.

From the tone of the summons Rick could tell the page was important but not urgent, so he took the time to send an acknowledgment before walking slowly to the rooms exit; no need to alarm any of the paying guests. Once in the corridor he sped up slightly as he made his way to the lift and then the command deck. While on the elevator going up he sensed a momentary change in the ships normal background. Their course had just altered and a change wasn’t on the schedule for at least another three hours.

June McCarthy, the Bastard’s Second Officer, brushed back a strand of auburn hair and adjusted the lean of the barracks cap she always wore when on duty. These were unconscious gestures and ones she always made whenever Captain Petrocelli entered the control room. Other members of the crew had noticed and drawn the obvious conclusions, a fact to which June seemed oblivious.

“What is it June?” Rick asked.

“A course change Captain, due to a message from Cardoman Naval Headquarters.” After a year on board the ship June still would not call Petrocelli by his first name. It was from fear of what getting too friendly might bring, and again not something she thought about, at least while on duty. “There’s a chart that came with it Sir, so best you look at it on screen.”

Rick nodded and took the command seat. Unlike a warship a freighter, even one owned secretly by the Ryman navy, did not have a holo-tank so he saw the system map in only two dimensions. But that was enough to make out clearly the extent of the obstacles Cardoman had put in place to make travel in the system except on designated pathways a most dangerous proposition.

“They want us to go and look for survivors from an attack on some of their picket ships, Shuttle Force 5, they call it. There were three ships, two were destroyed and the other suffered so much damage that she can just barely look after herself. We are in a better position than any of their own ships to reach the scene and give some aid. I changed course figuring you would approve Sir.”

“Quit right June. Send a reply saying we are on our way and make damn sure they remember to make sure their mines and whatever else they might have out here give our IFF code a pass.”

“Should I make an announcement about this to the passengers Captain?”

Rick thought a moment before saying, “Don’t see why not. It will give them something to tell their grandchildren about.”

It was a busy two days spent examining one piece of wreckage after another. In the end they recovered three bodies or the major parts thereof and could say with certainty that none of the crew on the two destroyed pickets were still alive.

“Call Captain Daniels. We’ve done all we can.”

The Bastard met the picket and a survey showed the ship was on its way to being mobile again but if Rick was any judge of things next time she made base would head straight from the dock to the scrap yard. An offer was made to take on board some of crew and take them to Cardoman easing the ships overloaded life support. Daniels conveyed the offer but found no takers. They would all go home together this one last time.

The Bastard was boarded and inspected when she reached the inner system before being allowed to get near to Cardoman and the near planet infrastructure. Failure to enforce this procedure upon the freighter would tantamount to advertising her special nature. Rick wasn’t even sure that the inspection team knew of his ships status but the fact that they found nothing suspicious made it quite likely.

His own shuttle was already in a bay on the Burgeron and the ship’s First Officer, Ned Black, taken temporary command so Rick had a rare opportunity to watch Second Officer McCarthy dock with Cardoman High. “Great job,” he thought, “She never overrode the automatics, not even once.”

“You’ve given instructions to go to the ship yard and start unloading the cargo as soon as the last passenger disembarks?” Jim Marquette asked for the third time in the last hour. “Ed Tubman called again asking me to speed things up.”

“Exactly so Jim. But what about the yard hands we brought with us, I’m supposed to Ok the contract before our trade consulate signs it.”

“That’ll work out, you know it always does. Calvert told me there was a meeting in Minton set for later today to finalize the details. You can go if you want, or just leave it to your delegation.”

“I think I better go below, there are things the mission doesn’t know, and even if I can’t risk being involved directly with the talks I can make sure this happens rapidly.”

“I hate to run you off then but that would be best. Shall I provide transportation or do you want to use your own?”

“Get me down and let me skip customs Jim. It would be best if there are no records. I even went below, and especially that I met directly with the people in our delegation.”

“Let me place a call and consider it done. We’ll have you downstairs before you know it.”

Rick was on Cardoman two hours later. It only took that long because instead of going to Minton Field, General Calvert’s shuttle came up from the Castle and returned to the planet with the Bastard’s Captain aboard.

The air was still and not a cloud in the sky; it must be a hundred out here in the shade; Rick worked in Fahrenheit for temperature as did most people, the more standard system was too coarse when describing the effect of weather on human comfort. Either way it was hot Rick thought as Lute Dormer walked him from the shuttle pad to the door of the massively constructed stone built Castle and the sudden coolness inside. He heard the sound of the shuttle leaving before the door closed.

Dormer took a right turn upon entering and guided Rick through a double door into the building’s library where Wes Calvert was standing, looking outside through one of the room’s tall windows.

Rick had never met the man before; only new of him by his overblown reputation and from Robbie Davis’s certainly exaggerated opinion. In this setting he did not seem all that formidable, looking more like the pampered son of a Ryman Oligarch than the military commander of what was the most active force in all of human space standing against the Caliphate and its expansion.

“Captain Petrocelli, we finally meet, Robbie speaks very highly of you—almost half the time.”

The voice was calm and measured; it fit the look and feel of the room. Rick was having a hard time placing the man on a field of battle other than accidentally. Likable, handsome, telegenic even. All that and only a couple of years older than Rick’s own 30. But not at all like a dynamic leader—warrior born. Some guys had all the luck.

“Glad to meet you General,” Rick said as he crossed the hardwood floor and shook Calvert’s hand. “Now if we could go into Minton I would like to talk to the Ryman Trade Commissioner we have important business to transact and I’m anxious to be on my way.”

Pointing to the nearest table, an active display embedded in the surface, Calvert said, “Take a seat Captain. We do have some business to transact but not perhaps of the kind you have in mind.”

The voice was still calm but underneath was a hint of steel; the eyes were cold and distant. Perhaps he had misjudged. Rick did as directed and Calvert sat opposite. On the screen was a relay of what must be a meeting between the Ryman mission and representatives of Cardoman’s government.

Rick had memorized the dossiers of the Rymans involved with the mission and he had met briefly the Generals wife who was also on screen and speaking now. She was wearing a Cardoman Uniform and not in civilian dress and must be representing the Cardoman military. An older woman, Aldoria Verser, the name came to mind unbidden, the planets Finance Minister interrupted.

“We have been over this time and again, we have bent over backwards to help Ryman out at the expense of some of our other, and may I say, longer term allies. You’ll get your ship but not for at least a year. And nothing you can do or say is going to change that! So let us go about this in a friendly fashion while you see just how much you Can, extort from us.”

While Rick’s attention was on the screen a Cardoman Sergeant came into the library and handed Calvert a note, “Thank you Bryce,” he said, handing it back. “Have him come in as soon as he gets here.”

Then looking back to the desk display Calvert said, “As you see Captain they are doing just fine without either us being present. The reason I had you brought down from orbit was to show you this.”

Calvert touched an icon on the screen and a new display opened, it showed a picture of a G-2 transport with the name Alice Mae printed underneath. “I’m sure you are familiar with all of Ryman’s ships in service now and in the past. Read the report of her sighting, and then I’d like you to tell me what, if anything, you make of this and what you know concerning her current activities.”

After reading the report brought back from Antakeya by the Cardoman Wasp Rick was confused. He wondered what the point of this was. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen her before, but one G-2 looks like another.”

“Take a look at this then.” Wes touched the same Icon and the first picture reappeared but underneath the name was changed to read “Ryman Transport Muddlin’ Through.”

“Well I certainly know that ship, she was built for by the same cartel that built the Lying Bastard, Ryman Spice and Liquor, and they always did have a way with names. But she was sold off five or six years ago, when the old regime was still running things. I haven’t heard a word about her since.”

Rick noticed a low rumble coming from outside, noticeable even here inside the thick walled structure. He glanced at a window.

Calvert must have heard it as well because he said, “That will be Jack Trebeck, let’s go and meet him and we can continue this in the back room.” He turned off the screen and stood, Rick followed suit.

Outside it was still hot but the wind was up and temperature down by fifteen degrees. Dark clouds in the east hinted of rain. The walk to the shuttle pad took them past an automated mowing machine that shut down while they passed and then a guard making rounds. Rick had not seen him on the way in. He saluted and continued on.

“How much security do you have here General?”

“I could tell you but then I’d have to—,” and Calvert started to laugh. “I assume that’s a professional query. All I can say is more than you can see but less than my advisers tell me I need.”

Rick heard rapid footsteps sounding off the flagstones and coming from behind; he turned in time to see a middle aged woman dressed more like someone native to the Caliphate than Cardoman before she flew past.

“Irwana al-Omari, my housekeeper, her son Mo is on the shuttle with Trebeck. I’ll tell you more about him later.”

They were still twenty meters from the gate through the low surrounding vine covered fence separating the front of the Castle from the shuttle pad beyond when two men walking unescorted and walking leisurely came into view ahead.

The older and taller was dressed in civilian clothes suitable for a walk in the country, the younger was wearing a Cardoman uniform but from this distance Rick could not make out any rank insignias which were always subdued on Cardoman uniforms in any event. They did make up for that lack of flash with style though.

The Omari woman was all over the younger of the two, even from ten meters closer his rank could not be discerned, but she was hugging the boy as if she hadn’t seen him in years, which could likely be the case. Trebeck said something then left the tow together and continued on alone.

Even with both out of uniform the man saluted Calvert when in range. “Evening Major, and you to Captain Petrocelli, it’s good we finally meet because we are going to be working rather closely together in the next several months if my reading of the stars has any validity.”

Rick only nodded—things were moving much faster and in directions he had never imagined only hours before.