Marjoram 24

Chapter 24 Draft (04-14-12)

The ships from Cardoman and Llanfairn arrived at the initial transition point a light month from Marjoram all as one. The Union fleet, fourteen ships strong, having jumped from Cardoman at the same time as the rest of them was already waiting. For all the vaunted technological edge the Confederation claimed over the Indies, their G-3’s and G-4’s did not have the ability to match speed in hyper with the slower G-1’s and G-2’s, something standard in the newer construction in the Cardoman and Llanfairn yards. As a result the Confederation G-4’s had been waiting for six days when the rest of the fleet came out of hyper.

Those ships arriving early had put the time to good use. Navigational data for the next jump, the one taking them in-system was collected over such a long baseline and lengthy period of time, by so many ships, that it should prove to be near perfect.

They wouldn’t be going anywhere for another three days and a constant steam of traffic was soon in place, most of it between the Widow’s Walk and the ships depending on he instructions for their next move.

Wes was traveling as much as anyone, back and forth between the Widow and the Castleton several times a day. General Davis had his offices and staff for Ground Command on the Cardoman G-3T. He would be in tactical command of the assault troops if and when they landed. It was rather fortunate the bluff General and Ordman were not in close proximity; Robbie had come to the conclusion that Ordman was a pettifogging bureaucrat; his term was the more direct petifrogging, and Robbie’s diplomatic skill-set, developed from a lifetime of leading real soldiers, without conscious effort was not up to the task of hiding exactly how he felt. And he felt letting Ordman know how he felt was more important than hiding it.

Wes wasn’t sure that Robbie was wrong but it was too soon to rile the waters.

Admiral Madry, with quarters were on the Aladin, was spending almost all of her time on the Widow, she needed to work with Admiral Ordman and had a wealth of information at her fingertips that he needed to see. And best to explain in person all of Cardoman’s Naval actions from the past six years. Ordman couldn’t help but be impressed. The Cards had done more fighting in that short period of time than any Union aligned planet had done in the two generations since the end of the last war.

He was even more impressed when a day before the final jump was to take place alarms sounded and the words, ‘We are under attack, Multiple grav pulses, all directions! Battle stations! Go to battle stations,’ came roaring over the general comm channel. And in the holo-tank recently installed on the Widow lights began popping into view, one red icon after another.

Twenty seconds later the first of the icons turned amber, then white and finally to blue. Blue was the color of a friendly. Data blocks started filling as each ship was matched to stored records, the Icons changing shape to represent class, stretching then adding tails to show vector and acceleration. The two squadrons from Novi, and the troop ships from New Britain had appeared out of nowhere, but that was all just another part of the plan.

“You should have seen his face when he went over the after action reports. I told him what he was going to find—but he didn’t believe me. Even asked if I’d warned the Cardoman Captains about what to expect. It was perfect Wes, Perfect!”

“Not so perfect from where I was sitting,” Basil Ramseyer, General in Command of thirty-two thousand troops sent out from New Britain said. When that fool Captain on the Brill let loose a salvo all headed for the Pinafore you can believe we were more than a little concerned.”

“Sure,” Jamie said, “But you jumped out with plenty of time and now I have one less fool captain to worry about and Ordman got to see just where the Union fleet stood when it came to reacting to something not playing in a simulator. Ten shipkillers and a little fuel is a small price for all that. I almost felt sorry for the Brill’s former Captain by the time Ordman finished raking him over the coals.

The Brill’s new commander, Vassily Tartakower, seems like a competent sort. Eighteen months as First Officer; he was off duty and by the time he made it to the battle bridge the deed was done. I’m sure he learned the lesson I intended but Ordman was looking for more, not obedience but blind obedience. Too much of that causes problems you never see until it’s too late. He heard what Ordman said and the rest of the Brill’s crew heard it second hand. I hope they didn’t hear too much; there is a place for initiative.”

“How many of our Captains did know what to expect Jamie? I can’t believe you didn’t tell Stan, and Audie.” Wes was enjoying this almost a much as his Admiral was but wanted to hear the rest.

“Sure Stan and Audie had a heads up, Pavel too, and Yuri. Audie and Yuri had managed to get software blocks into almost all of the Union and Llanfairn ships that would have kept them from launching this once, but they hadn’t made it to the Brill yet. I’m the only person that knew about that. About the ships coming in—they didn’t tell anyone else and none of them were in the command seat when the action started, so a fair test all around.”

“Ordman knows this now?”

“Some of it. About Audie and Stan being in the loop but not working the defense—yes. About the software blocks—no way! None of the protected ships tried to launch, and the code was time limited, not a trace remains. Audie swears it was safe but I won’t take even the slightest chance that our allies get locked out of fire mode when push comes to shove and things are real. And I don’t want even Ordman to know just how good we are on the software end. There will be software sales to make when this is over and if he knew he would just be beating on his engineering staff to no purpose. Audie says she couldn’t have done it if they hadn’t been invited on board.

“ And Basil. . . If you breathe a word of this there will be no more gin and tonic till you’re back on New Britain.”

“One more ship to wait for until we jump then,” Wes said, “The Lying Bastard got the word out to New Britain at least, but it would be a shame if she missed the big one.”

“She’ll be here Wes, you count on it.” Robbie Davis was as certain of that as he was that his glass was empty.

Early in the next watch another transition was detected, this time one ship followed shortly three more, and nobody jumped the gun. The Bastard had made good on Robbie’s promise. Done even better, with her were three Ryman G-2’s and another 14,000 troops and all their light gear. Pausing for only a greeting and a burst exchange of data she jumped again an hour later. With the transition, on the rest of the combined fleet countdown timers were set and started ticking towards zero.

A day later while making a show of studying the master time line Admiral Ordman waited while his analysts looked over the data just transmitted by the Cardoman G-4 Hornet. Captain Debus on a quick recon was returning from a jump six light hours outside the Marjoram hyper-limit. She had dropped in and hung around only long enough, to charge her drive bands enough to jump again, and then transitioned back to the fleet. The fifteen minutes of sensor scan time enough to justify the minor risk of detection. Total time in hyper on the return leg, just over an hour and a half, then four minutes on this end to make establish contact and send over the data.

The nearest Marjoram ship to the Hornet’s transition in point wouldn’t be seeing a grav pulse for another two hours from now. The news wouldn’t reach Marjoram for twice as long. With luck it would never be seen, at least by those in Naval Command.

Jamie was on the Aladin, she had the data as soon as it came over and passed it on to Wes who was with Ordman on the Widow, along with a notation: ‘Have Him Send the Jump Command! We should be out of here in Twenty Minutes!”

Wes was just about ready to prod Ordman when the Admiral looked up from his screen and said, “It seems that Captain Petrocelli has indeed been cleared for orbit, his ships signature is unmistakable in the data your Hornet brought back with her. We will transition out in,” and he made a show of checking a pocket watch, no less, “Eighteen minutes plus ten seconds.” He tapped his screen sending the message to all commands then returned to inspecting his time line.

The Widow went first, followed by the slower G-2’s. The ships from Union would be jumping last to insure all arrived at the same time, ten minutes outside the Marjoram Hyper limit. About and hour later and the fleet’s grav pulse would reach Marjoram, even before those, or word of those most recently generated by the scout ship Hornet.

“Two, One, Transition In!”

* * *
“This here is a suicide mission Captain, sure as night follows day I thought we were all dead when customs insisted on boarding.” Ned Black, the Bastards First Officer wasn’t one to mince words, and Rick Petrocelli knew he was speaking for most of the ship’s crew as well. But not one of them had failed to volunteer, and Rick didn’t take the implied lack of faith in his infallibility too seriously. This was fatalism as a way to ease tension.

“Shook me up too, but—as we might have guessed—it was only another opportunity for some money to change hands. Never underestimate the power of greed.”

The ships Second Officer and Loadmaster, June McCarthy, tried unsuccessfully to look like she wasn’t hearing a thing. Rick hadn’t wanted her to come along on this trip, no place for a woman he couldn’t help but think down deep in his evolutionary hind brain. But he hadn’t stopped her. Changing crew members from the last time through would only add to any suspicions still held concerning their true nature, and they had worked hard to get Marjoram customs used to the Bastard and her loose way of operating with irregular cargoes but an unchanging crew.

June was one of two women on the ship. Ryman didn’t even measure up to Cardoman standards when it came to females in combat. That had something to do with the way the Oligarchs used to run things. Ryman’s former governors had other uses for adventurous females willing to take risks.

The Bastard was a spy ship and not supposed to see combat, but that wasn’t meant to be this time.

On her boat deck, beside the single large and two small civilian type landers she always carried were another two of the very latest Cardoman built military shuttles. A chance for Marjoram’s Navy Command to have a close look and compare specs to what they’d seen in the past earned the Bastard a slot in orbit only thirty miles from the Navy’s main satellite base three hundred miles above the planet’s surface.

It would have been nice to have trained crews or at least a well versed pilot for both of them, but the additional manpower would have been noted and the Bastard forced to keep her distance. Some past experience and two days hands on training followed by simulator sessions on the passage from Ryman would have to be enough. The two small vessels had near automatic capability so long as rough courses were plotted and entered, canned control routines could handle most of the work.

The same was true for the Bastard; her autonomous routines were in fact routine. Life on the control deck was one spent waiting for the ship to make its next move. Now, with the shuttles in the boat bay loaded and hatches sealed there was not a soul left on the bridge, or any other part of the ship for that matter.

A light started flashing and the sound of the ships alarm heard through his headset on the command channel, Rick calmly gave the order to abandon ship. Things were more hectic, and alarms much louder on the Marjoram Naval Command Sat.

“Grav pulses! Multiple transitions! All crews man your stations!” The reaction was to an event already history, the transition already an hour in the past by the time the signal arrived. But it was one drilled for with a response set in place by doctrine and long practice, all eyes, all sensors, swinging outward toward the identified threat.

On the Bastard, theoretically in preparation for moving the shuttles to the Naval Headquarters, the boat bay was pumped down and the hulls large hatch out of the way, the passage open to space. Within seconds both shuttles were clear of the deck latches and magnets and then and outside the ship. A single button press and the ship’s still warm fusion plant began to increase power level and temperature, reaction mass began flowing and the Bastard started to move. Acceleration built rapidly to 20 G’s, the most she could manage with her compensators shut down. It was enough; Marjoram Station Navy Command was a very large, very fixed, target.

At this short a range, and with the station defenses activated a laser or particle beam could have locked on, but the automatics did not see her; they were set to detect objects closing at much higher velocities, from much further away. At the end of her run, thirty some seconds of powered flight, the Bastard was moving at a leisurely two and a half miles per second. If they had been fired upon the ship’s 200,000 tons would have absorbed any damage, shrugged it off, and kept moving without notice.

The small shuttles powered down immediately after exiting the ship. They drifted slowly apart, insignificant mites where the ship had been and were understandably overlooked in the ensuing panic. Those in the station’s fire control room did not have time enough time to bring a missile battery on line and deal with the larger threat. They died in place when the Bastard struck, and breaking into tens of thousands of pieces, large and small, plowed straight through the heart of the station emerging much diminished on the other side.

In one particular way they had been lucky, the Bastard was parked in front of the station from the standpoint of orbital motion before this started. That meant momentum transfer had a negative sign, and with multiple decks and air tight compartments the station was built to absorb momentum. The velocity change was enough to de-orbit all that remained intact after impact.

From the pilots seat on Shuttle One Rick saw it all, and he heard the demand to shear off, a call to a ship with no one on board to listen. He saw the first pieces hit the atmosphere and start to glow a dull red and then brighten. And due to the orbital mechanics he didn’t see much of anything headed in his direction; the safety was momentary, before long unless they moved they were bound to be noticed.

“Hit the breaks and down we go.” Masked by the falling debris, thousands upon thousand of metal fragments in a cloud that would rain on half a continent making detection impossible, the two shuttles headed for the surface. Not only couldn’t they be seen, it was likely no one was even looking—at first.

Still seventy miles up they passed while over ocean through the day/night terminator and into the dark side of the planet, a part of the largest meteor shower anyone had ever seen. The maps available, even those from Union, were years out of date. The light from coastal cities marked the edge of a continent, their lack a less populous interior.

Choosing a largest black area a thousand miles inland the landing site was set. A quick radar scan from fifteen miles up and a hundred miles down range showed it was not perfectly flat so they wouldn’t be landing in water. Normally water would be fine, but they had been rocked a couple of times by pieces of falling space station and checking to see how watertight they remained under pressure was a low priority item.

* * *
Claude Germond, the journalist turned historian charged with writing Cardoman’s side of this war had a seat in Aladin’s Flag Plot. The large compartment with the very large holo-tank was only about half full; the entire Cardoman Navy was involved in this and Admiral Madry had chosen carefully, there wasn’t a ship under Cardoman command that couldn’t have used a few more trained crew members. No trainees this time, they could watch the tapes later but everyone here needed to know their job inside and out.

Claude was in front of an unused signals display and could listen in on any whatever channel he chose, even the direct link between Aladin and General Calvert on the Widow, the one even Admiral Ordman knew nothing about. Claude had decided to leave everything on record and watch the holo tank; he wouldn’t understand everything he was seeing but it was as close as he could get to the kind of overview he needed to do his job properly.

This wasn’t the first time he had been in this position, and he’s sat in on the same briefings and had access to the same memo’s and data, so except for the numbers involved understanding came easily.

The entire system was displayed in the tank right now. The allied fleet of some forty-four ships, counting the transports, which was fair since most were 2M’s and heavily armed for their class, formed a small globe to one side, still outside the hyper limit but with vectors showing they were headed inward.

The defenders had about the same number of war ships though none were transports. And they also fielded several dozen large pickets able to put up some kind of a fight. Another thirty civilian type hyper ships were visible as well, but they would have no part in this fight.

Half of the Calp ships were in the inner system, the rest scattered not quite randomly, close to the edge of the line showing the hyper limit. This was a formation made to deal with an individual ship, not a fleet like the one they represented. There were probably a few ships powered down, and invisible now, there wouldn’t be many however. Not enough to change the numbers enough to stop the attack which was now being directed by Admiral Madry and Tactical Command from the Aladin.

Close to Marjoram itself, by data an hour old, the Lying Bastard could be seen, still decelerating but almost to orbit. It was going to take two hours to see what the Bastard did once their signal arrived but it was looking good. Claude happened to glance over to where Jamie was and saw her listening intently to something. The general link was silent so it was likely Wes on the Widow. He stifled the urge to listen in; he would save that for later.

“Okay people, the closest have seen us now and are starting to move. Keep your sensor coverage at maximum and begin stretching the formation. We have at least a couple of hours till we are in range of anything so stand down from battle stations and take a break. I can guarantee the Calps are more worried than we are.”

* * *
Ben Judah’s Lions were in the middle of a week long field exercise, playing hide and seek with a division of Marjoram ground forces. O:dark:30 and they were headed east, trying to flank the end of the Marjoram line. Ten miles from Camp Boondocks and a quarter mile from the nearest member of the opp force, they started turning the corner, crossing a ravine and scaling a near vertical wall of rock by using climbing aids and a path scouted the last time they’d been in the area. Once at the top they slanted north, single file moving rapidly in the natural depression of a dry stream bed.

“We left enough visible sigh behind heading south there not going give up for at least another couple of days. Especially since we didn’t answer the signal for recall.” Shema said to Fader and Lotti and deFalco as the checked the demolition packs they would be carrying once they split off from the rest, and now was the time.

Shortly before midnight they picked up the first indications that something was happening, something was wrong. Aware of the schedule and hearing messages calling for help fighting fires sent in the clear they also knew that System Command must have fallen both literally and figuratively.

By then the company was already moving and it took almost three more hours for someone to think of calling off the exercise and sending a recall to the troops in the field. Another hour after the Lions failed to respond to plot a course of action telling the training division to hunt them. With System Command destroyed the planets entire communications net was damaged. Ben Judah and his troops had a plan to make things even worse in their local area.

It was getting light in the east, the local sun about to rise above the horizon, the chirp of birds indicating the dawn. In the center of a grass covered track, fifty feet wide and strait as an arrow pointing west towards the planets capital the three marines had been taking turns with a shovel at the bottom of a hole, making sure it was deep enough that when their penetrating charge went off the landline, optical and electronic, tying Boondocks to Army Ground Command was going to be severed.

Eighty pounds of Astrolite-G backed by metal foil formed so the detonation surface pointed down should do the trick. The charge planted, all three could work to fill the hole, so that went rapidly. And a good thing too, because the charge was on a timer with little to spare. They had to wait in the woods not far away for five minutes before the charge exploded.

A visual inspection followed by a near surface scan showed the still buried line dead, cut well beyond what anyone local could repair. They put on their now light weight packs, adjusted their IR gear, and cut back towards the camp perimeter. With Marjoram having a weak magnetic field and not much by way of an ionosphere, long range communications just got a lot harder.

In full daylight now, closing in on noon. Ever since they left the stream-bed the going was slower. Two miles from the camp fence the Cardoman Recon Force paused inside the forest edge to eat under its leafy canopy and sort out what to do next.

Greenwood came up with the winning idea. “We just form ranks and march in two by two as if nothing out of the way ever happened. They’ll see us but by the time anyone can think of what to do next, like send reinforcement, we’ll be at the wire. That gets us close enough for missile launchers and we take care of the guards the same time we are taking down the line of sight comm towers. After that mass confusion is our friend.”

“Wish we had some bagpipes but the singing should do nicely Sir.”

The unhurried approach wasn’t even noticed until they were almost to the fence. A guard came running towards them, armed only with a pistol and using a bullhorn at 50 paces he told them to halt. Ben Judah and two of his men continued walking forward while the rest obeyed the command and in the back of the pack a dozen marines loaded rifle like short range missile launchers with magazines, each holding five high explosive rocket grenades.

The soldier with the bullhorn was reaching for his pistol when Ben Judah, from fifteen feet away pulled his own and shot him dead.

Ten of the grenadiers took aim at an antenna park on top the hill covering the command center, the other two fired into the guard house. It wasn’t made for this kind of an attack; this was a training base after all. The thought that it might come under attack didn’t figure in its construction and the lack of armor showed. All the Cards were running forward now. Corporal Haversold, quite fast in spite, or perhaps because of his size, was the first to reach the smoke obscured wreckage, nothing flammable was allowed inside out of a zealous concern for safety regulations. Every few seconds another round would cook off, a sharp popping sound, much different than when out of a rifle or pistol’s barrel.

Two jeeps were parked nearby. One had a lump of concrete the size of a trashcan sitting in a dent in the hood; it was out of service, the other, with only a broken windscreen, started right up.

Greenwood had the grenadiers throw their launchers in the back along with their spare magazines and Haversold driving told to other to climb on and the raced towards the tunnel opening leading into the hill.

The door was closing when they arrived but the got eight rounds inside before it was sealed. Nothing they had with them was going to touch that reinforced gateway and just as well, they hadn’t enough manpower to clean out the interior. They switched aim to the hillside above the opening. It took almost every round but once the landslide started it continued until the opening was buried by enough rock and rubble to keep a hundred end-loaders busy for a week.

“Listening in on the fire calls we got a track where the debris fell. The center is about two thousand miles east from here. Could be some people there that could use our help.”

“It’s a long way. Take weeks maybe.”
“Got your boots on?”
“Remember how to use them?”
“I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”