Marjoram 2

Chapter 2 Draft (07-22-11)

“Damn piece of Ef’n shit! This is like all the friggin’ junk Lucas arms stuck us with on Altoona!” Audie Madry was not on her best behavior as she cursed at the charred remains of the bulky optical run that was daring her to do anything about setting it right after it blew and took out the modulator for the forth band of what should have been the newly finished G-4 Wasp. “Whose idea was it anyway!— to put all these additional spares into a cable that always did fine without them?”

“I think it might have been your idea Audie,” her cousin, Jamie Madry, Admiral of the Fleet said while leaning over her shoulder. “Build suggestion 341.134-c as I took note of: ‘Inspect captured Caliphate shipping for engineering adaptations suitable to our use. – A. Madry, Cpt, Chief of Engineering, CNS’.”

“Was that me?”
“I think it was dear.”
“A good idea in theory—in practice it sucks! And you can’t even take it home for later!”

The two young first cruise engineering mates assisting, one male the other female, were both starting to turn a bright shade of—call it near red—just from listening.

“The Calps can get away with doing this, putting in a 20% thicker cable than necessary. They build at a glacial pace and modify everything later to make up for mistakes. They need the extra bandwidth. In our case, on the other hand, 10% is more than enough, and I will see the manual reflects that as soon as we get back to Cardoman High!” She eased out of the crawl space clutching the burnt section like she was looking for a place to deposit a dead mouse.

“There are a hundred and forty-seven necessary links in that run. Take your time and do it right. God knows when we can replace the whole thing.” Turning from her assistants Audie said, “Come on Admiral, let’s go and take a look at the plotting tank! Unless we get that working we will never find our way home!”

With Cardoman High Station as a point source radiating better than a gigawatt amongst the diffused background of near planetary space, finding their way home wasn’t really an issue. All its radio frequency and even laser traffic could go dark and they could still find it visually. After all the fact that it orbited around Cardoman was not some kind of a deep dark secret. Beyond that it was only the battle display and plotting tank on the Flag Bridge that were down; the ships nav-comp equipment was working as designed. The problem with Flag-Plot was another optical run, this time just a miss-matched pair that took only a few minutes to correct. Admiral Madry had already left for control by the time Captain Madry was noting the fix in the ship’s log.

Audie was another of Calvert’s original squad from Witherway. A tech sergeant then, she had been instrumental in recruiting her cousin Jamie after the capture of the FTL Carpathian. Jamie, a former Merchant Officer trained under Lester Raymond to become the first Captain and nameplate owner, as far as Cardoman was concerned, of the G-2M Eagle, the second and longest serving ship in Cardoman service. She had proven the wisdom of that choice and now, less than ten years later was Admiral of the Fleet. And going back to fleet duty on the ship she was so intent on finishing.

Audie’s task complete, she took the central elevator down to the engineering spaces in the lower hull to check on other repairs in progress.

* * *
With an almost imperceptible thud the Wasp locked hard against the docking arms extending outwards from the CNS Burgeron. A small detail of twenty, ranks at attention and whistles blowing, met the two officers as they entered the loading bay on the ancient G-1. Aside from being an armed battle station and Cardoman Fleet Headquarter the ship was also the Naval Training Command, the School in other words, for Cardoman’s continually expanding space forces.

They rushed them through but before leaving each cadet would get a chance to practice the traditional forms that glued a service together. James Marquette, who’d taken over the school and station after being exchanged from captivity on Earth was there to greet them as well. The ritual complete the trainee recruits cadets went running back to their classrooms knowing they had another chunk of lost time to make up. Again.

Laving the boat deck Marquette took off his cap, ran his fingers through what was left of his thinning hair, and started talking at once, “Stan called and said he would be here in a quick jiffy. He was still going over the engineering logs you passed through. Didn’t sound happy about what he was seeing but he did sound happy that you were back.” Marquette was addressing this primarily to Jamie even though it concerned Audie more from a professional standpoint. Stan Voinovich was Admiral Madry’s husband of less than a year; a full Captain he had taken over as superintendent of the Cardoman shipyards after the death of Woodrow Woodward and was stuck there until he could groom a replacement. And maybe even afterward if the technology started passing him by.

“Good to hear he’s having a hard time living without me, even if for only three weeks,” Jamie said.

“Guess then we’ll all get to spend some time with him on Cardoman High when we go over there won’t we?” Audie said with a large smile.

“That part has changed,” Marquette said, “The meeting is being held here now, and the Wes with most of the rest of our General Staff should make it aboard this watch (the Burgeron ran six hour watches, like the fleet did, rather than the eight of civilian or ground troop style). These watches were usually adjusted to fit the local time when on planet but reverted to standard time in space. This was another tradition that set the Navy apart and built camaraderie, but it could, and often did, make scheduling difficult.

“What now then?” Audie asked.

“We’ll go to my office and you can hear me cry the blues,” Captain Marquette said, with a hint of relief bordering on desperation. The job was really getting to him.

The conference room was midsized and utilitarian; nothing on the Burgeron approached the opulence of Cardoman High or even the usual governmental offices in Minton. Wes and Connie Calvert, Paul Olivera, Clay Grayson, Jubal Reeves and Jack Trebeck who would give the brief, with Ellen Nesberg acting as his secretary were seated on one side of the table. Jamie and Audie Madry, Stan Voinovich and Jim Marquette balanced on the Navy’s side. Audie was as much a ground pounder as a naval officer but like most everything in the Cardoman Seventh positions and rank were hard to pin down and changed with the task. It made sense from the inside, not so much otherwise.

Robbie Davis, still on Ryman, Jamie’s counterpart on land, and with the marines—and as she was well aware—with a greater influence on overall strategy than anyone but the Major himself, was missing; nothing could be done about that.

What did surprise her was that the Cardoman government had three representatives present. That meant Wes had planned how this was going to turn out and trusted everyone not in on the secret to do their parts. Okay, she could do that.

Foreign Minister Victor Shearing and Finance Minister Aldoria Verser were representing the party in power; Orin Blackburn of the Progressives was representing the loyal opposition. Jamie relaxed to better concentrate and more easily see how Calvert the Magnificent would force cards from the unmarked deck.

He started out with some slight of hand.

“Mr. Blackburn, I think you know everyone here but for Jim Marquette. Do I have that right?”

“Actually I met Captain Marquette at a reception almost six years ago, though I would not expect him to remember. We in the political class keep notes on such things as a mater of course. I was naturally pleased when his exchange was finalized, war leads us to such sentiments even when we resist the cause, and as you also must know as a Progressive I am sworn to try and put a stop to the current state of affairs before it gets any worse.”

“Here, here!” Dora Verser said, “Spoken like a member of the ruling class and a true elite!”

“Please,” Vic Shearing said before Blackburn had a chance to reply and the conversation drive itself any lower. “Let’s put a hold on the politicking until we see what we have to work with. I don’t see a crowd gathering and we are just wasting time.”

Seeing at first a hesitation and then a nod from both former combatants he continued, “Go ahead, I am sure we both want to find out what this is about and what it will cost.”

Wes, with a wave of his hand and totally ignoring the previous byplay said, “Captain Nesberg, if you would begin.”

“Yes Sir. What our most recent sources say—”

“That would be Yousef Al-Shibli,” Blackburn said before she could continue and making it clear that he was not coming into this without some prior knowledge.

“Excuse me Mr. Blackburn. As Yousef Al-Shibli, our source states, ‘The Caliphate has a new class of ship, a very large military transport’, and they intend to use it in support of operations soon, very soon, more than likely on their next operation.”

“Which would be where?” Blackburn asked.

“Sir, if you would let me get through the preliminaries we can do the questions later. I think that would save us all some time.”

“Excuse me, please do.”

“First I want to say that though we believe what Al-Shibili is telling us we do not believe that he is on our side. He is delusional and thinks that he is working to limit the death and destruction that inevitably results from armed conflict. He does not call it war. By telling us about the Caliphate’s strength, which he is believes to be overwhelming, and in enough detail to be convincing, it is his opinion that we will, ‘Stop hostilities and sue for peace’. He is healthy enough in a physical sense that the doctors say he could be here to say this for himself. At P&I’s we think that had we brought him along it would only speed up his recovery and shut him off the best information source we’ve ever had concerning Caliphate ship technology. And he is even more enlightening on the subject of their production capability.”

Ellen powered up a projector and in the middle of the table floated a meter long artists reproduction of a new class of ship, the Caliphate’s G-2L. Beside it floated a G-2 of normal stature, what they were all used to. Looking more streamlined, as if that mattered in a ship too large to ever touch down on a planet, it was not quite like putting a guppy next to a whale but the thought came to mind. “This is to scale,” she said, before continuing.

“Able to carry almost a G-1 cargo at G-2 speed in hyper and do 35 G’s in normal space. She is slower than a G-2M in N space only because they left out a reactor set to free up interior space. They’ve freed up even more interior space by a proportional decrease in fuel storage; that makes sense for a ship intended to fly dedicated missions of a single round trip. And only two ShipKiller tubes as opposed to a G-2M’s four, again to free even more interior space.”

She saw the telltale of a blinking light visible only to herself and paused so that Wes could break in with a question.

“Could we build one of these?”
“Stan? Would you like to take this?”

“Not easily and not for some time,” he said. “The larger more important question is: Why would we want to? Unless our aims have changed we are not looking to send an invasion force out to conquer a strongly held hostile planet. More and faster ships able to attack and defend, those that can defeat an invasion force before it can get close enough to land troops, those are the types of weapon systems we need; and right now the properly armed and manned G-4 fits the bill.”

Now it was Jamie’s turn. “A minor point of disagreement here. The Cardoman Navy could easily find a use for ships such as this, properly armed they would make a better battle station, battle ship if you prefer, than even the Burgeron. Even used as a straight transport, with the expansion of trade we are going through, the proportionally smaller crew size is also significant. But I have to ask if we could afford the additional expense added to our projected budget and if the Government fund them?” She looked to the other side of the table.

“No, No, and Absolutely Not!” were the immediate responses. Blackburn’s being emphatically number three and it was he that answered.

“A rare point of unanimity,” Blackburn said pleasantly. When not vilifying the party in power he was a study in grace and a hard man not to like for purely personal reasons. He also did not go back on a promise. But on the minus side the man was willing to use any means necessary to achieve a political objective.

‘Damn shame he is on the wrong side,’ Vic Shearing thought then said, “With that out of the way what does this change and what do we do about it?”

Now it was Olivera’s turn, “First we can stop looking at this new class ship as another problem and start looking at it as a target. We must take the war to the enemy to keep the Calps off balance and convince Union to do the same. What we ought to do is destroy both ships and the yard that makes them before they are used against us.”

“Our guppy to their whale,” Orin Blackburn said with a nod towards the hologram.

“Exactly,” Paul said, “Give them something to think about and force them to keep more of their ships locked to guard duty.”

“And you have a plan to accomplish this?”
“An idea that I think should be discussed but not here and not now.”

“Because you don’t trust the Progressives to keep your plans quite?” Though the tone was calm the question was pointed.

“Mr. Blackburn, no offense intended, but I wouldn’t trust my father to keep my plans quiet.”

“Enough for now,” Wes said, “Connie, why not go through the quarterly budget summaries and then we can all retire to Cardoman High for drinks and a meal at the Officers Club.”

With no objections Connie started on her prepared notes and Ellen figured out where the ace was.

* * *
After the politicos shuttled back to Minton, the military types went back to the O-Club to complete their business adding a few additional members along the way, with the exception of Fader Jameson all Naval Officers with a few Petty Officers to keep everyone honest. The moved four tables together forming a square and with drinks served Jack Trebeck led off.

“Admiral Madry will handle the operational end but before she does I want to tell make a few comments highlighting what we think we know about our next target world, or system to be more precise. Developed by Punt to serve as a fueling station, Midway, as the name indicates, is slightly more than half way out from Earth, on a heading galactic east, to the edge of colonized space. Not that far off of a line from Cardoman to Earth and from us about fifty-three light-years distant.”

There were no displays in use because the bar was not empty; the reason for meeting at this time and in this place was to make things look like a social occasion rather than a planning session.

“The Caliphate took control of Midway before they took control of Punt, that was ten years ago. And they restricted access so that only Caliphate vessels were permitted to fuel there. Shortly thereafter it became the destination of choice for the shake down cruises of Marjoram’s new construction. A safe place protected from prying eyes. Union kept a near constant watch on Marjoram but traffic at Midway couldn’t justify that type of effort.”

“How much traffic are we talking about?” Kellen Durnam, in from the Admiral Raymond asked.

“A couple of ships a week, sometimes less and ninety percent of it commercial. Union was aware of the shake down cruises but was getting good intel on the various ships EM signatures coming and going from Cardoman itself, no need to look elsewhere. We’ve never had a military ship anywhere near there and the last time anyone on Cardoman was even in the system on was a single passenger on a transport when it was still operated by Punt. Old records and no records petty much sums up our intel, nothing at all from the last year.”

“That of course is about to change,” Jamie Madry said. “Vernor Matson and the Snapdragon should have jumped already, with the confirmation signal on the way, their destination Midway and a close in look. It’s not much more than three weeks in each direction for a G-4. Give him another week to pry and no later than two months from today we Will! . . . be ready to react as the situation warrants.”

“What if when the Dragon returns there is nothing for us out there,” Mike Miller, Boss’n of the Saratoga asked.

“Well then Boss’n, we will need to fall back to plan two, won’t we. Because sure as hell, sixty-one days from today, or even sooner if the Dragon is refueled and ready, the Cardoman fleet is going to be going somewhere!”

The heads up the night before meant Captain Voinovich was ready for the parade of shuttles heading his way and waiting turn to dock at the main shipyard entry. It gave him time for six hours sleep, or near sleep, or something not at all like sleep, with his wife on the Wasp, while no one on his staff had time for more than three hours of tossing and turning.

Madry had commanded that each ship in system release half of its engineering talent for indefinite duty at the yards, the object was to have their newest G-4, the Wasp, completed and ready to join the fleet by the time the SnapDragon returned from Midway.

Stan sent half of his ‘Yard Rats’, the newest of his construction crews, many of then on loan from the Burgeron’s engineering school, back with the shuttles where they would pick up a little experience in the fleet. He had gotten by far the best end of the deal and everyone knew it. His former accelerated plan, had the Wasp shaking down in system about the same time the fleet was now scheduled to leave Cardoman. Time lines were revised downwards. The new schedule had the Wasp complete and taking a position in system defense while the rest of the G-4’s went elsewhere.

Best of all he had both Audie Madry and Pavel Tsarinstyn working for him. Audie to handle trouble-shooting on the Wasp’s completed systems, and Pavel to take over his own Yard duties. In an earlier life, before returning to the fleet, Captain Tsarinstyn, then a Lt Cmdr, had been superintendent of all small ship construction under Yard Superintendent Woodward. What the changes boiled down to was that Stan could use himself to boss the Wasp’s construction crews and give up nothing on the ships further back in the completion queue. It also meant two months of double shifts but that was about standard anyway. It also gave him in Audie Madry someone who was hands down his better on the strictly engineering side for whatever she might lack in terms of management. No one dare call her incompetent on that end but she was certainly unconventional.

Pavel arrived first, and that was good, because it gave Stan time to cover the small things left unsaid on the charts tracking build progress that lined his office walls. Pavel had the job and office both; Stan was moving into the engineering spaces on the Wasp, and it was there that he continued the short conversation from the night before with Audie.

“Is Yuri taking over for you in the fleet?” Yuri Borselov was Audie’s one time protégé and now only real collaborator. Peas from a very select pod. Engineers were like scientists in a way, the good ones existed in three levels. The highly competent, the Genius class, and the Magicians.

The highly competent could look at what the Genius did and think, ‘If I were just a little smarter, or had a little more time, I could have come up with that myself.’ But when someone from even the Genius class looked at something a Magician managed to pull off, all they could do was shake their head and wonder where it came from. Audie and Borselov were two of Cardoman’s resident Magicians, and on the Military side, Stan had to figure, picking up on this train of thought based on something Ellen Nesberg said the night before, that the Major counted as well. Most planets had none, Cardoman three; God was surely on their side. He said aloud no such thing, but the thought was never far away.

“Yuri went off with the Dragon—snooping around out there they just might need him,” Audie said nonchalantly as she opened a box on the Engineer’s work surface hoping to find a doughnut to go with her coffee.

“Good thought,” Was Stan’s reply.

“Where are the doughnuts Stan? How do you expect to get this job finished on time without doughnuts?”

“Wait a minute,” he said and then spoke a few words into comm unit. “On the way. If you’d been here earlier . . . The look she gave him ended that thought so he opened a drawer and passed over a sugarcoated jelly filled he had been saving for later. This should hold you till reinforcements arrive.”

“Stan,” Audie said between bites, ‘Jamie isn’t good enough for you.”

There was a lot of work to be done but it wasn’t particularly hard. Including ships built in under contract or committed in trade the Wasp was the eleventh hypership the yard had built in the three years since it was opened, if one discounted the time after the Calps destroyed the first band machine and shut that part of the yard down during the occupation. Nothing was truly hard to someone expert in its accomplishment, someone who knew how to do well. Time consuming, even exasperating yes — but never hard.

“Damn this is hard!” Audie said as she tried to line the Wasp up vertically along the central axis of the first drive band to be installed. Stan was outside the hull with the connection crew so as the only other Ship Captain aboard she had the bridge and the thruster controls. There were yard rats aboard who she was sure could have handled this in their sleep but she was supposed to be the expert. Her time in command had really been quite limited and for the most part she had left the driving to others.

After the deed was done she added some time in the ship’s simulator to her shrinking list of things to do. They were going to finish with almost a week to spare and enough time for an in-system shakedown albeit brief. She might even get the chance to wear her Navy Captain’s hat on a ship again; more time in the simulators, just in case.