Marjoram 25

Chapter 25 Draft (04-21-12)

“Thar she Blows!” was the irreverent response of Madry’s Flag Lieutenant to the destruction of Marjoram Naval Command, and with it the deaths of the thousands on board. It was possible Lt. Vultree had been showing off his literary prowess, but not likely, just a phrase that had slipped in and out of popular culture. Not even Wes hadn’t known where the phrase came from when Jamie mentioned it. Score one for countless hours spent reading old Sailing and Whaling novels when she was dreaming about joining the merchant service.

The pieces, and there were still far too many of them spread haphazardly across the board, were looking like they might all fit. Had the Lying Bastard failed Jamie would have called off the landing and ordered the troop ships back beyond the limit. There would have been a battle but with numbers so nearly equal, overcoming first the fleet and then the planet’s orbital defense would have been an event to rival the Resurrection.

The part of Marjoram’s fleet in the inner system that had started in their direction could in turn be seen to hesitate and then draw back; those closest moving first as a function of the time lag in observation due to the light speed limit. Whoever had assumed control was determined not to make a mistake by attacking precipitously.

Too much caution was as good a way to lose a battle as by being overly bold. Probably worse. Jamie was glad for the hours this was going to win before contact. Two ships, G-3’s on the far side of the system never moved, they were messenger relays, waiting to spread the word, good or bad, about what happened next.

From a Naval standpoint leaving the transports waiting out beyond the limit until the battle was won would have been best. Jamie made that point more than once, only to be overruled by the Major. The purpose of the fleet action was to clear the way and then support the landing. The landing had the greatest chance of success if started at the earliest possible moment. By giving the Calps an extra day to get ready they would insure higher losses during the landing. There were few enough troops as it was for the work at hand.

“I sure wish they would have tried to block us, or even made a flank attack and stated shooting already,” The Aladin’s Captain Pavel Tsarinstyn said in response to the latest information. “So do I Pavel,” Jamie agreed, “Until they concentrate our numbers are an advantage. But look at it from the bright side, they can only fall back so far, and when they run out of room we keep the initiative stays, or it swings even further in our direction.”

“Between numbers and initiative I’ll always take . . . Whatever I can get. We’re six hours to turnaround and get to see how they react. If I were in charge I’d try and poke us as soon as we turn, while we’re still at max V. Guess we’ll see. And we have a plan for that you know.”

“Sure Jamie, but does it work?”
“I’ll get back to you tomorrow on that one.”

Getting a fleet turned around, slowing down and having everyone arrive together with forty ships of various classes and capabilities was something no one had ever attempted before. In the last war there were only a few hundred G-3’s and a handful of the very first G-4 prototypes in service near the end. Almost all fleet maneuver was designed around what a G-2M was capable of. There were two ways for fleets of similar size and composition to close on one another under relatively equal conditions.

If both were moving in the same direction, in parallel was the term, they could angle towards each other slowly without ionized plasma from reaction drives interfering too much with sensors. A further slow rotation on the ships long axis gave all their weapons a chance to engage.

A head on engagement was best, at least for your side if you were the one facing head on, because it gave the most unobstructed view. Another option, especially when attacking a stationary target was to build to a moderate vector and coast by while firing and decelerating and then returning as often as necessary. That type tactic would not work at this time and place. The landing needed to happen as soon as possible and give the Marjoram ground forces as little time as possible to recover from a surprise and initial pounding and then organize a defense.

A battle in space given equal numbers and force type had always favored the defense, hence the rule of a 2 to 1 advantage to guarantee success. And even that was no guarantee.

Communications always played a large role, usually on the side of the defense. Not this time, Marjoram Naval Command had been more than the place where the Marjoram fleet’s Flag Captains and Admirals gathered to discuss operational matters and engage in high strategy over tea. It was the comm center of the system, the only place able to track and send secure and coordinated message traffic to each combatant. Its loss would prove fatal.

This was the largest fleet action ever fought by any space based navy. The addition of the landing forces added to the complexity and removed it further from comparison to any other.

Now that the troopships were decelerating and would continue to do so until they reached orbit, the Cardoman defense had to change its stance. Slowest of all the transports was the G-1 Widow’s Walk, she was rated at 20 G’s max, 200 meters per second. She also carried the highest number of troops almost a quarter of the total number, more than 27,000. And even more important to the operation’s success she carried on her boat deck four of the largest type landers; any two of which could load on a full battalion with their light gear and rolling stock. And set them down in one fell swoop.

Last time in as a refit the Cardoman yard crew had done some work on her, in fact given her age every time she returned form a trip they were doing some kind of work on her. Last time it was on her drive, and compensator, if pressed as she was now, the Widow could handle another 1.7 G’s. But like a violin string, you could only tune the thing so much, tighten it beyond that point and it breaks.

The other troopships ranged from a Ryman late model G-2L, a Large, not military but able to handle 35 G’s compared to a G-2M’s 50, the 3’s could handle 58.5 G’s, and the state of the art G-4’s in Cardoman and Llanfairn service peaked at almost 70. That was a very large range of capability to keep close and clear of one another for the sake of mutual protection. Jamie’s staff, in countless simulation, had found a solution.

Claude Germond kept scrolling down till the words were a blur. Another eighteen pages to reach the end and he still didn’t know if his question got answered and he did not want to read it all to find out. Who to ask? There he was: the Flag Lieutenant. Even when too busy he never said no.

“Lt. Vultree, could I have a moment of your time?”

“Yes Sir, by all means.” He’d been told to cooperate with the Newsie and by damn he would. In fact George Vultree had begun to like the man for his serious attitude tempered with just the right amount of irreverence. He also had insights into the personal dynamics of the chain of command that only a civilian could see, or even contemplate.

Claude started off target, “I’m surprised to see you here Lieutenant; I thought you would be with Admiral Madry on the Aladin.”

“Me too, but I’m liaising.” Vultree said with a smile.

“Between you and me Sir making sure that Admiral Madry knows what Admiral Ordman is up to.”

“In her shoes, not that I’d wear her shoes mind you, I’d want to know as well. I wont tell your secret if you help me out on one little thing. I’ve been trying to read the book on closing tactics and I fear it never ends. Could you just tell me what we’re doing and why? When I write this up I can give it a couple of paragraphs before my reader lose interest. Losing ones readers is a cardinal sin for any author, much less one trying to write a popular history. I’ve been watching the tank and it just looks random, the way the escort ships are moving back and forth.”

“It’s supposed to look random, though it isn’t of course. What you are seeing is some of our ships accelerating and getting in front of us, that keeps their weapons and sensors pointed in the right direction, while others are decelerating so they can fall back to repeat the maneuver. We keep about half the ships going each way and they change direction in a semi random fashion so the Calps never know which of our battle cruisers is going to be the next one furthest in front. If they start to gang up on any one of them that ship just changes direction earlier and heads back to the safety of the fleet.”

“How much longer can this go on? Won’t they have to make a stand before we reach the planet? Make a line and dare us to cross?

“The Admiral says they should have done that already.”

“Well then why not, what’s keeping them? From what I see in the tank they are slowly gathering, becoming thick like a swarm of flies all spread out around Marjoram.”

“Lack of communications. We’re jamming everything but their optical links and they don’t have the common bandwidth or gear to synchronize.”

“Try that one again.”

“By the time enough ships know where to go we’ve moved. It only looks like we’re coming straight in because of scale factors.”

“They are going to try and stop us at some point—right?”

“One would assume so. But it looks like we’ll be close and slow by the time they do and that is what this has been all about.”

“The fighting ships will all be in front then, pointing forward?

“That’s right Sir. The Widow, the Witch and the rest of the transports will be behind, just out of shipkiller range. Another five hours and we can watch it all from the bleachers.”

“Why no minefields?”

“Every other battle, almost every after action report I’ve read talks about sending out drones clearing lanes and dodging mines. Why not here?”

“We have been looking, believe it. But with a military presence and as much civilian traffic as Marjoram has, not to mention all the pickets too slow to help then now, they never thought they would need one, that it would harm their own maneuverability as much as it did what figured to be a much smaller enemy force. Thank whatever Deity you choose but they got that one wrong.”

“Sir is that all? I have other duties to attend to?”

“Oh yes, and thank you Lieutenant, you’ve earned a mention in my next report to the popular press.”

“It’s Vultree Sir,” and he spelled it out.

‘Comedians, all comedians,’ Claude thought as he started dictating into a hushed microphone. Then he stopped, and decided to take a walk through the ship, check on the sailors and see how the landing troops were holding up. Plenty of time for naval details later—if he survived.

The wait was over, the Marjoram navy had gotten their act together and occupied a disk shaped region of space a third of the way between the planet and the bulk of the allied fleet whose lead units were now only an hour away from orbit. The transports were still decelerating an hour to the rear, but that would soon come to an end. Until the battle was decided they would coast slowly inward on momentum alone, ready to flee in extremis.

Two Union G-3’s, the Bullet and Charger had till now been well behind the rest guarding the slower transports against a threat that failed to materialize. Starting sixteen minutes ago they went at max G towards the enemy concentration. They were now equal with the fleet’s forward members but moving five hundred and twenty KPS faster when Jamie gave the order to fire.

The initial fire plan was for a five missile launch from each of the allied warships excepting the two Union G-3’s. The Bullet and Charger were first to let loose and were in rapid salvo mode. They emptied all eight of their tubes, then did the same thing four more time, firing till their magazines were empty. All this before another allied ship was in range. They continued accelerating all the while but as soon as empty they broke away from a straight line course, trying to get distance from the Marjoram center. The 520 KPS initial vector advantage of their shipkiller launch meant that those eighty missiles would be first to arrive, beating the rest of the first strike by about half a minute.

As soon as the shooting began the tracks of their own missiles started showing in the holo-tank. No one doubted that the Calps would soon launch interceptors in anticipation but the 800 second 2450 G powered range of the latest SK should have meant twenty seconds or more before any would be positively identified. Instead the angry colors of an enemy launch showed up even before the last of their own half salvo cleared the tubes.

On the Widows Walk Lt Vultree was engaged in liaising. He was explaining to the gathered Army Officers, and a solitary journalist, what they were seeing in their holo-tank, the one whose regular job lately had been to simulate or display ground operations.

“This is us,” he said using a beam of light to point at the Widow. “We’re about 14 million kilometers from Marjoram. As you can tell by our vector length and direction we are still decelerating. The data animating the tank is being relayed from the Wanderlust. She, like us, is coasting now. The Wanderlust, that’s her right here,” he said pointing, “is a G-2M and has a maximum acceleration two and a half times greater than what we can make. So she can wait before breaking and still come to a relative halt out of enemy shipkiller range, which by the way is just under eight million kilometers.”

Hearing only silence Vultree looked away from the display to see if he was loosing his audience. He saw General Calvert shaking his head, looking down and moving a light pen, then pointing at his comm screen. George glanced at his own and saw the blinking words, ‘No, Numbers’.

Taking heed of the not so subtle cue he said, “For those of you interested in exact distance and time values or other technical details, you can bring up the data blocks next to any of the objects in the tank on your own screen. I’ll try and concentrate on the larger picture.”

“Please do,” Ordman said.

“The two ships here,” he pointed at the icons representing the Bullet and Charger, have emptied their magazines, sent eighty shipkillers down range. They are reloading but they only carry two spares per tube and need to get away from the action in any event because they are too far in front to return directly to the fleet without coming under fire.” He pointed at the thirty five Marjoram fleet ship icons clustering close to the planet.

“We can see the explosion of some warheads already; Calp SK’s taking out our first launch. This is what we intended, the more difficult we make it for their sensors the better our chances.”

“This band shows where due to range the defense changes from shipkiller types to energy beams and small close in missiles. It looks like almost half of the Union ships load out is going to make it this far at least. That is much better again than we’d hoped for.”

Lt Vultree continued to talk while the display filled up with ever more moving lights as the distance continued to close and each side launched and launched again.

Missiles from the Charger scored the first kill, but the celebration did not last long. The advanced Union G-3’s trying to break off were the closest targets and drew far more than their share of fire. With perfect defense they stood a chance against twenty-five or thirty SK’s; the Calps sent a hundred and both ships vanished from the display. Ordman bowed his head but said not a word.

When he looked up again there were five fewer Caliphate Icons between the fleet and the planet. And then another of the Union squadron started to blink, showing loss of communication, and then faded out for ever. This time it was one of his G-4’s the Clipper. The smaller almost pinpoint lights of shipkillers going dark and dieing were too numerous to count. Another Calp was destroyed and then Llanfairn’s Glider was hit.

Ordman turned to Wes Calvert sitting next to him and started to speak, but he neglected to shut down his voice channel. Vultree and anyone else with a headset could hear the conversation.

“We should draw back Calvert. We must draw back! Our losses are too great.”

“Admiral, I think that is Jamie Madry’s call. She’s busy as you can see, but if you insist I will have Lt. Vultree see if he can get her on the line.” Calvert’s voice was calm, obviously trying to steady the agitated Ordman.

Ordman looked at the tank again and saw the Union Argent vanish, with her the lives of another three hundred sailors. All the color had drained from his face he looked like a ghost and his voice rasped when he said, “I insist. My son was on that ship.”

“Admiral, you’re on open mic.” Vultree said.

“Oh Damn that!” Ordman said back in command. “Patch me through to Madry; this has to end!”

Vultree looked to Wes who nodded and placed the call. But George did make sure it was a direct line and not one open to the net. Reaching the Aladin the call was intercepted by Arnold Bolinger who was handling the ship’s signals.

“Can this wait George? She told me not to bother her.”
“General Calvert and Admiral Ordman.”

Jamie heard a tone then saw the blinking bar showing a message with the comm icon showing white, General Calvert’s color. She finished issuing an order pulling the 3’s back and touched to connect. Instead of Wes it was Admiral Ordman who spoke in full Command Superior Mode.

“Pull back and regroup Madry, this is costing us too much! And the Union Fleet is taking the brunt of it.” Even as he spoke the light showing the Union Covington flashed then went dark.

“Let her speak General,” Wes said using his override.

“The Calps are targeting G3’s and Sir, that’s half the ships you brought to this fight. But they’re using up their shipkillers, five for every three on our side. And in spite of that we’re winning! They are going to break, and I don’t have time for this!”

“Admiral, I want to bring the 2M’s up and get them into the fight.”
“No! Absolutely not! Break of the Action Madry, and that’s an order!”
“Sir, you’ll have my resignation before I issue that order!”
“You are relieved Admiral Madry, I will . . .”

“Stop!” Wes said in a tone that would have kept the sun from rising, “Jamie, do whatever you think best, I will hear no talk of resignation. Calvert out.”

The line from the Widow went silent and Jamie got back to directing the fight.

“Admiral Ordman, until I say otherwise you will observe only! Keep score if you must, nothing else!”

“I will order the Union squadron to withdraw!”

“No you won’t Admiral; you no longer have the luxury of outgoing communications, check your board.”

Ordman took a look and then said, “This is intolerable Calvert. You have no such authority over me and my men!”

“Intolerable of not—this is a fact—another word and I will have you escorted to your cabin. It’s your choice.”

“No need for an escort General, I can find my way!” Ordman stood and walked out of the room, one of his aides following, one remaining behind.

Not even waiting for him to complete his exit Wes looked at General Davis. “Robbie, we have a slight change of plan,” Wes said to the head of ground operations, “Jamie is bringing some of the 2M’s up early, I think you can advance your first landings accordingly.”

The rest of the battle in space went as Jamie predicted but for one small item. With the 2M’s adding fire power and the Calps running out of shipkillers, who ever was in charge of the Calp fleet made the decision to direct all remaining offensive force at the 2 class ships. At the final mass salvo Cardoman’s G-4’s flew in front and tried to screen the older, slower, and less capably armed ships.

The maneuver was overall a success but for one thing; it cost the life of the CNS Saratoga; her Captain, Fullson Lovell; and the sailors, and marines, and the two-hundred fifty infantry troops on-board.

After that last gasp the Calps broke and ran. To this point they had lost fourteen ships to the allied forces eight, but it was worse than that. Lacking coordination, each Caliphate Captain was more or less on his own. They were firing too many missiles at the same targets, and using shipkillers to intercept shipkillers instead of saving them for use against ships, and rely on their close in defense for some of that work. As a fighting force, as a fleet, the Calps were finished and they knew it.

Singly and in pairs, spreading to all points of the compass they streaked for the limit and a jump to safety. Most would escape; Madry didn’t have the ships to chase them down. Two to one or three to two against were acceptable odds. At this point she would not risk single ship actions where luck played a larger role.

An additional constraint on Madry was that her main task now was to support the landing, and a ship couldn’t be in two places at once. She also had the task of looking for survivors from both sides. There wouldn’t be many but there would be a few and this was something owed all who fought. And every ship sent in pursuit took two shuttles able to land troops and supplies away from where they were most needed.

She had to move fast on this or most of the enemy survivors would be out of range with the velocity advantage to keep them in that position till they were beyond the limit and jumped. A minute’s thought, no more, and she sent all twelve surviving ships from Union and seven of those from Llanfairn off in pairs and trios to run down some of the fleeing Calps. Then she called Wes to let him know what she had done.

He could of course see it in the holo-tank and understand what he was seeing, but better to be on the same wavelength from the start and give him a chance to countermand the order in private if that was his choice. Jamie placed the call from her day cabin.

“What this will do Wes, is take out another dozen or so of the Caps and keep them running so they can’t turn around and snipe at us once we start landing troops. And of course Ordman is going to take this wrong but I wont send any Cardomans out on this because we have to be far better than the Union ships at the tasks necessary to support a landing, hunting out and suppressing ground targets, and running shuttle and lander opps with rapid turnaround. We’ve done some of this before and have been practicing with Marjoram in mind. They haven’t.”

“Sounds right to me Jamie. We’ll deal with Admiral Ordman later. . . Robbie, any objections?”

“I’ll tell you after we’re down — But no, it seems about right. Coordinating all the up and down traffic is going to be a bear, starting with a few less in the pattern could help more than hurt, probably will. How long before the pursuit gets back to us? A day?”

“Closer to twice that long. The Calps are going to be piling on the delta-V, to catch them so will we. Ten hours to the limit unless we can make a kill faster and if there is nothing else close enough to target afterward we still need to dump our outward velocity. A high speed return will take up more time and also eat into our fuel reserve.”

“Nothing for it I guess,” Davis said. “Pavel ready to run things for me next stage?”

“I have Cmdr Dillingham out of the battle bridge and on the command deck, Pavel is already in flag plot setting up the tank and staging landers. Stan has the job of securing orbital space and then taking care of ground threats. I’m feeling kind of useless about now.”

“As soon as we reach orbit why not come over to the Widow, after the troops leave us this ship is going to seem mighty empty. And Jamie, I’m sorry about Captain Lovell and the Sara. . . About all our losses. Now isn’t the time to mourn but the time to justify their sacrifice. Give Stan my best.”

“Does his best include another twenty ships and a construction battalion?” Stan Voinovich half joked when his wife told him about the conversation and relayed the final words.

“Is it safe enough to bring in transports?” Jamie asked by way of response.

“No telling Jamie, there are literally hundreds satellites still circling Marjoram, weather, comm, supply depots, half their main yard, and the inner ring of their main passenger terminal and transportation hub. They did a piss poor job of denying us the infrastructure by destroying it. With the ships and manpower we have to spare it’s going to take a week just to look at everything, much less check for sabotage by delayed action weapons or explosives.”

“But you can’t tell me it’s unsafe?”
“Nothing definite.”
“Then I’m going to tell Wes and Robbie the landing’s on.”
“Give them my best!”