Marjoram 23

Marjoram
Chapter 23 Draft (04-07-12)

“If Llanfairn wants to send troops Wes, and indeed they insist upon it, I don’t see how we can turn the offer down.” Dennis Horvath, Cardoman’s President, had both Calverts off to one side while dancers cut intricate figures on the ballroom’s polished floor; they continued a discussion started at dinner.

“No Dennis, not in the first landing. What we need is transport, and fighting ships.”

“They can provide their own transport so that won’t be an issue. Ezra Cadish needs a boost, the Prime Minister is up for reelection and Jules Petoskey says the numbers don’t look good. We lose Cadish and we could lose a lot of support going forward.”

“Dennis I’ve seen their table of organization and talked to some of their officers; Llanfairn may have a first class navy but their army is a glorified public works project, little better than a planet wide police force with an officer class made up from second sons not devote enough for the ministry or pretty enough for video work.”

“If the landing goes well we are going to need a planetary police force,” Connie Calvert said. “Couldn’t we find some out of the way and undefended place for them to occupy early on? Any way there’s barely enough time left for the Captain Garza to send back for different orders even if Ambassador Summers gave his personal blessing; and he won’t, of that I am sure.”

“I’m sure you’re correct on that point Connie, being from Llanfairn yourself and Summers being your economic advisor and agent there for so long. And by the way, I’ve been wanting to ask, did you pull any strings to get him the Ambassador’s job?”

“Little ole me? A back bencher interfere in another planets internal affairs? . . . Well I never!”

“See how good she’s getting with this political thing Dennis? You better watch your step or your job could be next.”

“A promise?”

Connie was about to answer when from ten feet behind, politely out of hearing range came a familiar voice speaking loudly.

“Ahh . . . there you are.” Andre Layette, the Confederation Envoy from Union was the one interrupting, “Mrs. Calvert, the dance is lifeless, so drab without you. Assuming you three are not conducting affairs of high state right now permit me to request the pleasure of your company for a time?”

He offered his hand and Connie could not refuse, she had wasted too much time practicing with Wes the latest fashionable steps, and until Wes could set the President straight someone should be upholding Cardoman’s honor. Robbie Davis and his new bride were doing their best but Robbie was still a bit stiff on his rebuilt ankles and knees. Good exercise though, and with a range of motion different from walking or sitting at a desk.

“Who was it that said, Even the best laid plans never survive contact with one’s allies?” that was Clay Grayson’s question when Joe Sollumchuk from Plans and Intents told them of the Llanfairn offer three days earlier. Well whoever it was Wes knew the feeling.

“Okay Dennis, I’ll see what we can do.”

* * *
“Kinda looks like we’re putting all our baskets in one egg doesn’t it?” Jamie Madry was standing on a balcony up near the ceiling of one of the large boat bays on the CNS G-1 Widow’s Walk. The ship’s Captain, Kathryn McCormack, was standing with her while the Second Officer Serge Tamaroff directed from the floor setting rigging to unloading one of the ship’s large landers.

The landers cargo was light infantry pieces, 155’s and armored personnel carriers being hoisted out, rolled off, and put to one side while at the same time metal crates of consumables and four wheeled trailer tanks of fuel were weighed or otherwise inspected and their numbers and contents verified against the master loading documents before being sent via drop chute to a hold far below.

In the ships other large bay a lander borrowed from the Burgeron was undergoing the same process directed by First Officer Murray Greenbaum. On the ground the ship’s twins were in the process of loading; one from stores in the depot in Minton, the other at the Army’s Camp Logan.

With her spherical shape, extreme size, and current paint scheme, the Widow did resemble a large egg.

“Only three days in orbit and a day behind schedule already. I know it’s not your fault but we need to speed this up. At the rate this is going the fleet will leave before we finish.”

Kathryn rolled her eyes then raised both hands and started to flutter them like leaves.

“I warned everyone who asked and some that didn’t. This isn’t like dealing with bulk cargo after all. Handle with Care means something when if the package arrives contents broken it can cost someone his life. What we could do Jamie, is start bringing up the troops early, not wait until two days before we boost and we might even get some help with this job from some of them.”

“That would mean calling the first army group back from leave early. And how would you feed them? We haven’t planned for that.”

“Field rations, I hear they’re quite tasty. Even when hauling passengers around our kitchen at full capacity can only put out 3800 hot meals a day. We never considered increasing galley capacity and dining space. Finding nooks and crannies to hold 27,000 troops if only for a month was hard enough and then some. Did you see the three large squarish ‘things’ being welded up outside when you came aboard?”

“Sure did. What are they for?”

“It’s not just kitchen facilities we’re short of. There are problems in some other environmental areas as well. You’ve heard the term ‘to Shit-can?’ The ones we getting ready are copied from the originals. And when that though occurred to me I didn’t even smile. For the next week or so we have more shuttle types than we are using. Get them working now or you’re going to regret it Jamie.”

“I’m convinced, I wanted to get away from the Aladin and see this for myself. Any other thoughts before I head over to Cardoman High and a trip to the Castle?”

“Start the other transports loading as of now, you won’t regret it. Maybe replace the staff guy from P&I and put Audie in charge of all this, she’s usually good for an idea or three.”

“Let me use your comm, I’ll send the message from here.”

Jamie was the only passenger on the orbital scooter she took from the Widow to Cardoman’s main station and passenger terminal. Off the military net for that short period of time she was met by her latest Flag Lieutenant, George Vultree. It came as a surprise to her that there were so many applicants for the position after she had insisted it become voluntary. ‘Probably a rumor that a medal was issued just for volunteering,’ she had said half joked when she told Pavel Tsarinstyn about her aide, the Aladin’s newest crew member.

“A Union fleet under Admiral Ordman transitioned while you were in transit Ma’am.”

“That’s the best. . . No make that the only good news I’ve heard today. How many ships did he bring with him?”

“Fourteen in all. A squadron of battle cruisers two troop ships and two G-2’s set up as tankers.”

“Good. Draft a personal message and include something about meeting on his flagship as soon as he reaches orbit. Have it sent as soon as we are back on the military comm link.”

“Be a while Ma’am, they’re holding a lander for you now in docking bay three.”
“Well let’s not keep them waiting.”

* * *
“My fault Jamie,” Wes said over the secure comm link passing through Army headquarters in the capital and ending at Minton’s spaceport. I should have checked and found out you were in transit when my plans changed. I’ll send my shuttle to pick you up, should be there in thirty minutes.”

“Thanks Wes. That will give me just enough time to visit the video arcade, Lt. Vultree tells me they have the latest version of Spacewar 3 installed. A little more practice I think I can beat it.”

A Corporal with a riot gun was standing outside the shuttles entry port scanning the tarmac when Jamie and Lt. Vultree came on board just as the fueling truck was pulling away. “I’ll sit up front,” Jamie said, “I’ve a few calls to make that shouldn’t wait.” George took a window seat and belted in while the guard sealed the hatch and then racking his weapon came over and sat in the adjacent seat.

“Lt, hope you don’t mind but I’m rather new to all this, only been on Castle detail for a week, and there’s some Naval terminology I’d like to ask you about.”

“Ask away,” George said affably as the turbines spooled up and the vehicle lifted.

“I’m hearing all this talk about lack of shuttles and not enough landers, heavy haulers and light. What’s the difference and why a shortage? Our shipyards have been building small craft for years, one of Cardoman’s major exports in fact.”

“I’ve been hearing the same thing Cpl. Bagley,” Vultree had read the name tag above the man’s tunic pocket. “It’s much simpler than it seams, your problem is that even on ship we don’t always use the proper names ourselves. To keep things simple there are two classes of ship, actually three, capable of leaving a planets surface and delivering or taking on a cargo and then returning from orbit.”

“The largest of all is a system only heavy transport, we don’t have any of those on Cardoman but most class one shipbuilding worlds have a few of them. Too large to move anywhere else except in pieces. They mostly carry bulk cargoes up and down and they need to land on water or far away from populated areas, too much blast damage otherwise. Takes a lot of reaction mass and a lot of heat to put a thousand tons into orbit.”

“What we do have, what most small population worlds have, though in our case we make our own, is eight of the next size down, those able to carry about 200 tons. That’s the size cargo carrier that can fit on the boat deck of a G-1 transport, and that’s how the oldest two we have still in service got here in the first place. Most of the time they operate from water, but given enough room and no fire hazard, like the large pad at Camp Logan, they can put down on land as well. A G-1 like our Widow’s Walk carries two of them.”

“I’m good with that,” Bagley said, “It’s smaller ships like this one that have me confused.”

“This is how it works. Strictly speaking a small ship lander isn’t armed or armored. They are fine for cargo but never more than tons fifty tons at a time, those are the types carried on a G-2. Three’s and four’s use something just a little smaller and they both use the same size auxiliary craft. Transports have landers, military ship’s shuttles, though like I said, in the Navy we call them all shuttles with the weaponized version called an assault or attack shuttle. Anything smaller yet is a boat and in a pinch you could ride some of those types down from orbit but never up and after one reentry they would likely never fly again.”

“That just leaves picket ships I think.”

“They’re built from the larger two classes of landers but with armor—and weapons on board, and they never land on a planet’s surface, not built for it, they never leave space. Worst duty in the Navy, long cruises and no place to go. That would have been me but I got lucky and ended up on the Admiral’s Staff.”

“Yeah, no counting for luck is there?” Bagley said passing over a bag of peanuts. “Lot of that going around.”

“I appreciate the ride Wes, but we sure could find a use for your shuttle if she was in fleet duty.”

“I understand Jamie, but when Dennis and Connie both say no I back down gently. I do have one thing for you though. Dennis is going to declare a state of emergency. Until we leave for Marjoram no more civilian traffic on of off planet. Too much risk that word gets out. You, or we, can use everything there is on the civilian side to speed things along.”

“When did this happen?”

“Bout five minutes ago, Audie called and asked if I could do anything, said she called the port authority and was laughed at. I gave the President a call and twisted his harm, didn’t take much, he understands. Five days before we leave he is going to stop all traffic from leaving the system.”

“That helps. What about messages?”

“Between now and then not much we can do. Word may leak but not to Marjoram. Nothing going that way is scheduled and we are putting a squad on every ship that departs to make sure that plans don’t change once a ship gets out of our field of view.”

“Sounds good. Where’s Robbie?”

“Out on a run. I think in the back of his mind he still thinks he is getting off ship once we start the landing.”

“And he’s not?”

“Maybe as Military Governor on D+30 if we make it that far. He’ll be with you on the Aladin; if he so much as enters a boat bay without my say so you will chain him to an eye-bolt on the Flag deck until I say otherwise.”

“Where will you be?”

“With Admiral Ordman, tail wagging the dog. At least for the first day. I’ll be with him on the trip out to make sure he follows directions.”

“Glad to hear it, he outranks me by thirty years and a couple of fleets.”

“Took some doing but he has strategic command and you’ve got tactical. Keep things from falling apart and he just checks boxes on the time line.”

“If things fall apart I suspect I’ll have more to worry about than who’s in charge.”
“You and me both.”

* * *
That the G-2 Princess of Mars made it to Marjoram with out a major breakdown in route, a fact which came as a surprise to some of her passengers, most of the crew, and all of her officers. But they were used to the excitement, not that they enjoyed it. Now safely out of hyper all they need do was make it to dry dock and the old girl, 250 years old, was going to receive a complete refit. She would be tied up for at least six months and most of the crew paid off to find other employment. No passengers booked for a round trip, and just a few passing through, a cargo of odds and ends, barely profitable enough to pay freight charges.

Dressed as civilians, Fader and Mo were expected and bypassed the usual customs inspection. Met by an officer from the personnel division all that was required was to match the data encoded into their ID chips with that supplied from company records earlier. That complete they their luggage was scanned but left unopened, next they were passed to a military ship going down from the station to Camp Boondocks and their waiting mates.

Leo Lotti was driving the jeep with an emblematic flag tied to an antenna parked to one side of the pad where they landed. He honked the vehicles horn grabbing their attention and causing everyone else to look his way as well. Beside him sat a soldier wearing the Marjoram ground forces uniform in a green and brown tiger striped camo pattern.

“Fader, Mo, Can’t drive on the pad,” he yelled, “grab your gear and bring it on over.

When they reached the jeep and Fader and Mo loaded into the back and Lotti roared off, once again horn blaring. “Pvt. Horta.” Lotti said introducing the other man seated in front.

“He’s my minder, goes where ever I go when we’re on base. Keeps me honest so to speak. I’ve been telling him how shot up you guys were but you look might fit for a couple of invalids only five weeks from deaths door. Modern medicine I guess. We can talk about that when we get to the barracks. Gotta concentrate on my driving,” he said honking the horn again and swerving into the oncoming traffic to pass a slow moving tarpaulin covered truck.

“Where is everyone?” Fader asked when they entered the empty barracks.

“Ben Judah’s got them out running; the next class doesn’t come through till day after tomorrow. Horta; tell Cpl Fader here—you can tell he’s a corporal by the way his shoes shine—about running.”

“We never run, running is for cowards and infidels, we march to battle, do our duty and march away. To run is to tire, to lose fighting strength and contact with your officers. Without order an army is a mob and cannot fight.”

“Now let’s hear what the infantry motto is.”
“Dust, desert, and dieing!” Horta said pounding a clenched fist against his chest.

“That’s from their infantry basic course, I think we are in the wrong service guys. You can go now Horta, we will be staying in the barraks until the others return.”

“What about dinner Sgt Lotti?”

“If the others aren’t back by then we’ll have it catered in and alert the search party. Go ahead Horta, take the afternoon off, you’ve earned it.”

“Yes Sgt, thank you sir.” Horta almost saluted but caught himself in time. He smiled weakly, turned and left at a brisk marching pace.”

“These guys don’t do anything without orders. And speaking of orders now that you’re here is Ben Judah still in charge?” was Lotti’s first question, asked as soon as Horta was out of hearing.

“Bugs?”

“Not anymore, better to talk here than outside where someone could listen at a distance.”

“This is Shema’s show; I’m just here to help however I can.”

“Let me show you guys to your rooms, we each got a private bunk and our own head—roughing it compared to a jaunt on a luxury liner like the Princess of Mars I bet. Not so bad if you like to sleep in with evenings and weekends off and a town just over the hills only a free bus ride away. And the ladies, let me tell you about the ladies. . .”

* * *
Admiral Ordman had taken over a full deck on the Burgeron, even the Flag Deck and with its expansive conference and office space on his G-2 Saxony was too small for all the gathered Captains of the ship’s now under his command. Mark McCormack, the Burgs nominal Captain was rapidly running out of patience with the string of orders issuing from what had been his office and he wasn’t the only one.

“Dammit Jamie, he’s got me sending over our maintenance records and training schedule. No way he needs that stuff, just wants to sniff around to see how we do things.” Audie Madry was visiting socially this time. She was staying at Jamie and Stan’s apartment home in Minton while spending a few days at the Cardoman Admiralty. “I told Parker to tell Ordman to buzz off, then called back and told him to send him everything. Everything from the time the SwiftStrike was just smallish nickel iron asteroid waiting its turn at the smelter and including the original assay results.”

“When he got our training records he had his excuse for a Flag Captain visit personally to determine whether our ratings and engineering staff, those without a proper degree in their background, were fully qualified for ship’s duty. Parker said he kept asking to see a certain Yuri Borselov and Yuri isn’t even on the ship anymore.”

“What did Parker tell him?”

“Parker had him call me. I said, Yuri who? He said the Admiral needed to know. I said, I could tell you but then we would have to kill you cause the clearance is so high. Can’t you get the Admiral to take care of his own and let the rest of us get on with it?”

“Give him hell Audie,” Stan said, “He’s spending so much time on the Swift he’s leaving the rest of us alone. No way he can straighten you out before we leave.”

“Parker’s gonna straighten him out if he ever gets close enough, I might even take a swing myself!”

“Let it go Audie, I’m almost living with him and will be until we go into action, if I can take it so can Parker. And you just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s not only Stan but forty other Captains in your debt; you’ll never buy a drink again.”

“How about now?”
“About now what?”

“How about we go out for a drink? The Captain of Llanfairn’s Pachawan has been after me ever since I told him he was cute, which I shouldn’t have done but I wasn’t myself when I saw how exact his transition in was and had to call to see if it was a fluke. Anyway he should be leaving the Admiralty as soon as I send word to give him what he came for which I was holding up until I knew what I wanted to do so I’m pretty sure we could catch him if you want to.”

“Not Garland Galahad, He’s got a reputation that I’ve even heard about,” Jamie said feigning shock.

“It’s Garland Galloway if you must know—but I kinda like the other one.”

Jamie looked at Stan who nodded. “We can give you an hour, after that Stan and I are both up to the Burg; you’ll be on your own the rest of the night.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Audie smiled.

Wes asked Admiral Ordman to hold this pre-departure meeting at the Castle. He’d accepted with a remarkable lack of grace, resisting until Wes insisted. Ordman was Admiral of the Fleet but Calvert outranked him with the title of Supreme Commander, Allied Forces. Connie had started calling him El Supremo, but not in public. Wes sent his own shuttle to the Burg to make the pickup, telling Ordman’s Flag Captain that no other orbital craft had clearance to land on the Castle grounds.

Jamie came down from the Burg riding with him and the Aladin’s Captain, Pavel Tsarinstyn, took over the controls, replacing the rotating duty pilot who considered it an honor to ride in the second seat and see just how a legend did it. Ordman spent the trip down reading and was waiting for the bump signaling touch down when the hatch opened and the metallic artificial atmosphere in the passenger compartment was invaded by the smell of fresh cut grass. Pavel was out of the cabin breathing deeply before either Jamie or Ordman had left their seats; it had been two months since he’s been dirt-side and breathing unfiltered air.

“Save some for the rest of us Pavel,” Jamie said, second out the door. Then she realized her mistake; the senior officer got on last and got off first. They did that in that way in Cardoman Navy most of the time but not always and not on a passenger run. One more thing for Ordman to take offense at.

She could see he was displeased but he said not a word as he exited the lander. And instead of an honor guard with a boson at pipes here was Sgt. Lute Dormer of Castle security in plain fatigues and a step back Wes out of uniform entirely, wearing jeans and a Panama hat. They were the only ones there to greet them.

“Welcome to my home Admiral, this is the first time you’ve been on planet and I wanted you to see it.” Wes said, “Take a look around and you’ll see a part of what we’re fighting for.”

“Very nice I’m sure,” Ordman said with barely a glance at the natural surroundings and only a little more time spent on the imposing Castle, a building that would have dominated even on Union.

“Glad to be here, but let’s get on with it, I have much to do upon my return to your Burgeron.

Entering through the massive two story oaken doorway Wes turned right and led then into his first floor library rather than continue to the rear of the building and the more intimate and comfortable bar. Ordman was known as a teetotaler and Jamie could understand why Wes would make accommodation for that fact.

Ordman’s eyes lit up at the sight of all the books. The room was thirty by sixty and two stories tall with a wide balcony half ten feet up. Easily 40 or 50 thousand volumes at a guess but not overly packed even with tall windows interrupting shelving on two of the walls. Wana al-Omari and Connie Calvert were busy arraigning a small buffet on one of the central tables. Finishing Wana excused herself almost as soon after they entered.

“I didn’t know you were a bibliophile General,” Ordman said in admiration, “I have a collection myself but nothing compared to what I see here. Perhaps we can exchange card files and see if our tastes in literature run in the same direction?”

“We can indeed. May I call you Wilfred? And if course my wife is Connie as you know.”

“Most assuredly, though Will should suffice, we do need to know each other better in order that we work as a team.” Ordman seemed to dismiss Jamie and Pavel from the conversation, two minor characters taking up space on the larger stage.

“The list then Will, what ships do you suggest we leave behind to protect Cardoman in our absence?”

“Well as you can see we have been most thorough here.” He handed over a folded piece of paper taken from a tunic pocket.

“Unacceptable,” Wes said after a glance. Jamie grabbed the note from his hand and read it. She was about to explode when Wes spoke again.

“You have half the Cardoman fleet staying behind. It will not do. Every one of these ships is vital; they carry the troops that make a landing possible. And without a landing we are not changing the calculus of this war but only escalating its magnitude. I asked for Union help to protect Cardoman while we took the fight to the enemy. That is what I expect—what I demand. If you think otherwise you are free to pickup your fleet and go home. Some may applaud your action, but not Reshevsky and not the rest of your Navy. . . Of that I have no doubt.”

The room was deathly quite, Ordman not sure how to react. Wes filled a small glass from a cut crystal container. There was after all a bit of whiskey in the room. Wes spoke again, “Jamie, how would you choose?”

“This should be Mark McCormack’s call Wes.”

“He’s not here and you are Jamie, if he wants to change things we can do that, but I want to end this bickering here and now! Admiral Ordman, you have a second chance, what do you say?”

“Well . . . Since you put it that way. . . I think two G-4’s from Union and two from Llanfairn might be enough. I am impressed with your regular system defense structure and even see some innovative solutions to particular problems worth taking back with me to Union when this is over.”

The fleet transitioned out of Cardoman space a week later, two days in front of schedule, almost half of the Cardoman army went with them. The 27,500 on the Widow and 6,000 each on the Cardoman G-2T’s Pilchard and Carpathian, another 3,000 on the 2M’s Eagle, Perseus, Wanderlust and Ranger. The 3T Castleton was carrying 2,500, mostly fire support and techs. And every one of the G-4’s had from 800 to 1,000 Marines or Force Recon packed tightly wherever there was room.

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