Marjoram 6

Chapter 6 Draft (08-12-11)

At Fleet Base Philomel two weeks after the ship action at Midway, eight of the ten ships comprising Ninth Fleet transitioned in at varying distances up to an hour and seventeen minutes beyond the limit. Two of from the fleet were left behind, one as a replacement for the Bimaristan and the other as temporary support, in case the Cardomans decided to return instead of running for home, tails tucked firmly between their legs as was expected.

Last in, Squadron Leader Fansa sent off his report along with complete internal communications records and a navigational plot covering all ship’s motion since the time he had last been seen. Then and only then did he adjust course and head back in to Philomel Base.

On the way he did find time to make sure that 227 letters addressed to next of kin were included with his second data packet. Each one he had personally checked for proper names and relations, it was the least he could do but not all he could do.

With that section of the data dump he also included a request that copies of his letters go to Earth and additional copies to Caliphate Naval Headquarters. These were to remain unedited, and with his recommendation for awards and honors intact, lest the valor of those having served so well be remembered to more than Allah alone.

His coming aboard Philomel station was a new experience, in degree as well as kind; Fansa had never before received Squadron Leader honors. Admiral Suleiman was making sure his own, and by that virtue, the official fleet feelings were known. If horns were available they would have been used, as sometimes seen in a lowbrow type of historical drama, used to signify a triumphant return from battle and a hero’s return to the imperial city; they did have drums and a large beaten brass gong, gilded to look like gold. That not enough there were twenty side men in resplendent livery along with a cast of hundreds (thousands being unavailable) all on the base’s main boat deck.

And a red carpet too, he would never forget that part. The Head Imam blessed the occasion, and young children tossed flower petals brought up from the planet at hideous expense before the floor show ended and Suleiman took Captain Fansa by the arm and led him away. And it was all recorded by contract videographers, for viewing everywhere and everywhere inside the Caliphate. The PR value of his success was being rated as up there with the return of the Prophet by all the newsies commenting upon the news and story of his return. Fansa knew what was coming next.

“It should come as no surprise Basheer (this was the first time Suleiman had ever called him by his first name) that I have recommended your promotion to Fleet Admiral under me. After the report of what happened at Midway is seen this promotion review will be a formality and your advancement automatic.

“It wasn’t that much of a victory Admiral. We destroyed a ship and lost one of our own. We didn’t gain any territory just kept what we had.”

“You’re far too modest Basheer. Without the warning you brought us, and our combined planning, the Cardomans would have swept through the system unopposed, caught us unaware, and most certainly destroyed three of our ships at no cost to their own. If the two others that I see from your report, that were far away from the fueling station had tried to make a fight of it instead of running they would most assuredly been lost as well.”

“The Cards would have left Midway no matter what happened, they could never have hoped to hold on to the system once we went back in strength.”

“But they would have destroyed the base before they left and we would not have rebuilt it, because in the greater scheme of things it is not that important to our aims. Now we keep it and it remains a small plus; one our PR people will magnify into a major victory. And we needed one. Ninth Fleet is yours, you might as well get used to it.”

“A single ship’s command is all I ever wanted Admiral, and all I want today. Spare me this.”

“There is a named principle, named after one of the alleged Christian Disciples, it is expressed like this, ‘A man must rise in any organization to the point where he is proven to be no longer competent.’ Midway proved that you are not there yet. What are our own desires when it comes to serving our God?”

“Have uniforms made Admiral Fansa, and convey my congratulations to your former First Officer Worjeh, I am confirming his promotion to Captain and giving him the Dzarugian. “May his term of duty rival your own.”

“I am sure it will, Admiral,” Fansa said resignedly, “I have one question to ask though. How are we going to protect Midway when the Cardomans return in force?”

“A very good question Admiral, best you start working on the answer! And get with personnel; you need permanent quarters on the station here and something down below as well to give you a chance to breathe some fresh air. You also need time to interview all of your new command. We will talk again in a few days. I expect much from you Basheer, and you will not disappoint me.”

* * *
After Mac McCormack gave the ‘Bug Out’ order, Essex was the last ship to leave Midway. The flare signaling the final moments of the SnapDragon was seared into his memory. It faded some during the two weeks it took to return to Cardoman, but it would never leave him entirely, of this he was sure. Of the ships in the fight, the Essex might not have suffered the most external damage but it would be a close call, and take a dockyard review to determine with certainty.

His ship wasn’t the first to make it back; the orders were for all to jump independently. He was not surprised to see the icons of the Aladin and Witch appear on his screen shortly after his ships sensors became active again. Fullson Lovell and Sara had transitioned in first but enough farther out, that she did not show for an hour. By then his own report was on its way and he was waiting for a reply.

The response was brief and to the point, an acknowledgment and a request he make course for the Burgeron at his earliest convenience. The concluding lines indicated a follow-up to be sent shortly. His course plotted, the other ships ready, Mac lead the squadron home.

* * *
“We lost a lot of good people Wes. Vern Matson and Carl Pilchard were with us from the start. Fitzgerald was almost ready for a ship of his own and Lt. Yanasata was on her way to the first rank as well. Each and every one; they are all irreplaceable, and yet replace them we will. Things will never be the same.” Jamie Madry was doing all the talking while she looked to the one source of strength that she knew would understand.

“They never are Jamie. It’s times like this we need to remember what an old soldier on Earth said during the 19th century American war to rid that nation of slavery, his name was Grant, and after a brutal day’s fighting, when most everything went wrong, his best General came forward to finished counting up the cost, after Sherman finished Grant said only this; ‘It was bad—but we’ll get em’ tomorrow.’ And that was it and it was and he did. And he also ended up winning the war Jamie. We will repeat that history! Count on it. No crying, at least in public, put the best face on it, feet forward, and move on.”

“Thanks Wes. That’s not enough I fear. And sure, it could have been worse. Yuri wasn’t on the ship, he stayed behind and went to the Perseus and Lotti got off the Dragon as well and started teaching drop school on the day she left, and there were others. I wouldn’t wonder if many are wondering why they were spared when their friends died. I think about that myself.”

* * *
“What is it you’re humming dear?” Connie asked, as they stood at attention, arms by their sides, large as life symbols on the reviewing platform, waiting for a horse drawn empty casket to pass by. It was a slow mournful tune at odds with the weather at Camp Logan which was perfect, even beautiful at this time of year, but of course it wasn’t.

“Something from long ago, ‘So bang the drums slowly and play the pipes lowly,’ it rather fits my mood all too well. I gave a pick me up speech to Jamie yesterday, but today I find I need one for myself.”

In the distance explosions could be heard. Even with a funeral in progress training went on. There had been a noonday break and a few words spoken. Most of the people out there were new and didn’t know anyone in the fleet, not even the marines. For some it was different. But the point was that they were all the same, and the point was pressed home.

* * *
“What next?” After the service, and after a private meeting with the relatives of the dead, a dozen people left Camp Logan to return to the Castle. They didn’t get quite that far but stopped at the retreat Connie Calvert, then Melbourne, had built when she took up residence on Cardoman a year before she and Wes married.

The log built home did not rival the Castle in size or opulence, but built from funds generated by prize captures it was close to as large, and far more exclusive than almost any other private home the planet possessed. It sat on more than 400 hectares of land adjoining Castle Calvert, and was higher up and in more wooded country. It also boasted a permanent guard of Seventh Recon. They trained in the heavy forest and steep terrain all about when the home was not in use.

A caretaker and his wife were always on hand, and additional help only an hour away. That came either from the Castle staff or from the locals in Castleton, the town deeded on Castle grounds that Wes set up for military families in order to bring some small amount of factory work into the area to provide employment for retirees and dependents.

“What Next? . . . That’s what we are here to decide,” Wes said this to the gathered operations people who he had brought all together in the cabin’s large dinning room. No one from plans, research, ground forces directly, or even fleet marines was present. It was Wes, Connie, Grayson and Olivera, Ellen Nesberg, and Staff Sgt Bryce who was the Calvert’s and headquarters company’s long time clerk/secretary, then Jamie and Audie Madry and Pamela Hines, First Officer on the Eagle from the navy, Yuri Borselov, whose position was hard to pin down, and Dory Verser watching for the government but without a say in any determination. The twelfth person present was Claude Germond, a Newsie by trade and more recently Ellen Nesberg’s boyfriend; he was the semi-official historian for the Cardoman Seventh.

“At least for the time being we can’t even hope to dent the Caliphate on the ground, so whatever we do will be up to the Navy. Give me a moment,” He said glancing at an ornate timepiece hanging on a wall near the rooms vaulted ceiling. “I have a few calls to make, I promised President Horvath I would talk to the House tomorrow and he will have the questions I am supposed to answer lined up. Once I know what they are we can make sure we are all together on the military response to the recent crises. Jamie, this will take about a quarter hour so could you fill Claude in on what our action at Midway accomplished?”

Jamie wasn’t as comfortable working with the Newsie as the Major seemed to be but a request was an order in this case and she put her best face on it. “It wasn’t an unmitigated success, we lost a ship and crew and that pain runs deep, but it is far from being a crisis as the Progressives are saying. We can’t win a war of attrition but we also can’t win by sitting on our hands and waiting for good things to happen—something like say the Caliphate start to self destruct.”

“Everyone knows the Calps have an almost two to one advantage in ships over the rest of us, and that their population base is more than three times as large. Most assume that their people are restless and looking for a change. Something different from 6 centuries of religious intolerance and oppression. Would that were the case.”

“Claude,” she said, “I am not going to name names but Cardoman Intel sees only six of the eighty-eight primary Caliphate worlds as being ripe for a change, and only another three as headed in that direction. The vast majority of the people in the core worlds are at least resigned to, if not satisfied with, their lot in life.”

“Seven centuries of letting the hard cases go elsewhere will cull the troublemakers from the gene pool won’t it,” Germond said in agreement.

“Exactly,” Jamie said. If Germond was just playing the cynic she could see no trace of it. “We thought the Calps had perhaps five ships stationed at Midway when we sent our own ships out. There were three times as many when we arrived. It took some good decision making by the people on the spot but we were fortunate that we only lost one ship. The Calps are going to have a minor military victory and a larger one in terms of propaganda.”

“That, I think is going to backfire upon them. With so much invested into a relatively minor base they are now going to need to keep quite a few ships with material support out there on the chance that we try to hit the system again. The kind of force the need to invest is way out of proportion to any intrinsic value they can benefit from.”

“So we are not going back then,” Claude said taking notes.

“Why of course we are! And next time we will do it right.”

“General Olivera,” Claude started to ask of the thus far quiet officer who was listening to the conversation as if this was all new to him, which was of course preposterous.

“I understand that you are the chief amongst the political theorists here. I have heard many reasons put forward to explain why the Calps are trying to expand now, why they chose war again after their unpleasant experience only thirty years back. What’s your take on it?”

“Paul will do Claude, and to call me a chief theorist rather overstates the thing. I keep track of all our thinking on such matters and do the summaries. So I can tell you what we believe, and what we are trying to get most of the other non Caliphate governments to accept.”

“The Calps religious leadership is willing to expand, especially if that means the spread Islam, obedience to the will of Allah as they view it, but it is nothing that has them all fired up. They take the position that whatever Allah wills is how things will turn out. Their job is to follow the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad and everything else comes in by the numbers. There is a second group driving this. Let’s call them the Economic Fascists.”

“Rather a loaded phrase isn’t it?”

“Well sure it is, but they’re not Agrarian Reformers, and to call them right wing puts the name on the wrong side of the aisle. They are a privileged class, well entrenched, and who have I should add, mostly earned their position, but they see the tides of history running against them.”

“The disparity between rich and poor inside the Caliphate, or make that rich and normal if you will, is large, and it always has been. But with the expansion of trade that has occurred in the last fifty years, the poor, the average citizen, can sense that outside of the Caliphate the general standard of living has passed them by, and not satisfied with that is leaving them in the dust. What once seemed a fact of nature under the will of Allah, their lot in life, does not look the same anymore. Along with rising tides the winds of change are beginning to blow with vigor and the economic elite want to provide themselves an escape and prevent backlash.”

“The Caliphate has a huge economic base but it is spread out amongst such a large population that incremental improvement doesn’t help. They feel they need for land to grow. From where we sit that means worlds to pillage, and freedoms to destroy.”

“So where does the Caliphate professional military stand?”

“Most are the sons of the elite and most of the rest aspire to that plateau. The highest of the high know exactly where the money comes from that keeps the fleet in action. The military, and the Calp navy in particular, see this war as the Calp wealthy do, their best chance to stay in power and pass the benefits on to their children and grandchildren. Union Intelligence has been trying forever to find dissension in the ranks. We have been trying for a slightly shorter time. There’s not much of dissension to be seen.”

Wes was back into the room now and rejoined the talk. “Ok then, let’s get back to what we are going to do next. I’ll take it from here Paul, thanks.”

“We are all in agreement that Captain McCormack did as well as possible under the circumstances.”

“Then why isn’t he here?” Claude asked. “He was at Camp Logan with the rest of us.”

“He asked me to let him stay behind,” Wes said. “He felt it his duty to talk to any of the relatives that had any questions. I did not want to put him through that again but he was right and made another good decision. I grabbed Pamela on the spur of the moment thinking she might have something to say about the rest of the fleet. If you want to comment on anything feel free Pam.”

“Thank you Sir, I will.”

“And Sgt Bryce knows everything that happens everywhere; but he only tells me what he thinks I need to know. He is also welcome to join in—but don’t expect much.”

Bryce just rolled up his eyes and went back to his own note taking.

“Back to McCormack; he made an amazingly good decision at one point in the fight. We have a new way to fool weapons sensors and he could have used it. It would not have won the battle but it would have been safer for all concerned if he had ordered its use. The temptation must have been unbearable, yet he held off and we still have a surprise.”

“Can I ask what it is?” Claude said.

“I don’t think—,” Jamie started.

“Wait a minute Jamie, I have had time to think it through and I am going to let Claude in on this. Two reasons; One I trust him to remain silent; and two, It is going to leak anyway. When we started the manufacturer process speed and not secrecy was our main worry.”

“We’re building some small sensor decoys using fresh caught labor in a temporary building in Germfask Claude. There are more than a hundred people involved and hints of something going on out there is going to reach the Capital and your fellow journalist before much longer. I’d like for you to tell me, or more directly Ellen, about anything you hear. We need to keep this out of the press, because we can still use it so long as it stays a surprise. Once we lose that we lose an advantage we can ill afford to give up before using our edge at least once.”

“Got a name for it?”

“We call it the ‘Wonder Weapon’ in the fleet,” Lt Hines said. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the people making it are calling it the same.”

“Is it that good?”

“We think it is Claude,” Jamie said, but only for a short period of time. In any ship against ship duel we should have a huge advantage. But once the Calps see it they can defend against it rather easily the next time and thereafter. And by the way, for history’s sake, it was Audie who came up with it in the first place. If we keep it hushed up for another three months that will help tremendously because we are going to try and hold on to our initiative and continue to hit first. Eventually if word doesn’t leak on the civilian side it will leak from the military end. In a short period of time there will be hundreds who know about it, for most nothing too definitive; but Newsies dig and pigs gotta swim. I got that one from Audie, and she is right, this will leak before much longer, we need to hold it off until after we strike.”

“Strike where?”

And Jamie then started getting into the details.

* * *
It was hot and humid inside the granary building. Some automation was coming in, being installed to replace the hand work. The mixing of explosive went first; that took place under a tin roof on the backside of a hill just out of town. Forming it into the proper sized ball was next. In another day the first set of molds for the cover casting machines would be delivered and then it would be only final assembly and inserting the fuses that was done by hand.

The production rate was going to skyrocket. They were looking at five thousand individual bomlettes per day; two days worth and they would have enough for ten missiles on each ship equipped with the proper delivery device, a modified shipkiller. Two hundred could be loaded into an antimissile but they would only be last ditch defense and not something to clear away a strike path.

Connie Calvert stopped to take a look at the building and talk to the work crew while on a trip to Minton. Sugar Bear Packard met her and took her on the tour. Connie expected the Bear to meet her when she landed but she hadn’t realized how much he was involved with the project. His normal business was more agricultural. He produced 10% of all the honey consumed on the planet.

The Calverts and Packards were long time friends. The Bear put them up and later took care of their son when the Calps occupied the planet; their friendship took root and grew. He and Wes had worked together on some very dangerous operations. Coming from Llanfairn as she did, and new to Cardoman, the Bear and his wife were the closest friends outside of the military, she had on the planet. And the last several years she’d made more than a few.

“I understand this isn’t going to last forever; you couldn’t have gotten the granary no way if it was.” Sugar Bear said, “And Trudy and I need help—what with the boy 16 and pining to go off and join the army. I know he won’t be here much longer. I’ve been watching, and have some offers ready. We have to keep working out here or we get rusty. I might take as many as seven from the work crew when we you close it down.”

“You know about that.”

“Wasn’t born yesterday now was I?”

* * *
It wasn’t unexpected but it was certainly welcome when the six ship squadron from Llanfairn transitioned in. Sent for at the same time McCormack left for Midway the delay had been troubling. No one wanted to think that the government on Llanfairn was getting wobbly. They had only just declared for war and had made no overt actions supporting that decision as of yet, other than what might be termed protection of their shipping.

By far the wealthiest world, and most populous, and with the greatest manufacturing base of all the Indies, A Class One with a multi-build capable ship yard, Llanfairn could stand with any planet except Earth herself when it came to industrial and military power.

The Federation had long courted her but she remained too independent for a merger. Without her, Novi, and now Cardoman, the Indies wouldn’t have much to add to the war breaking out all over. Even New Britain and the reconstituted forces on Ryman were loose change in comparison.

“What do I say when I get asked about the transfer of the new ship?” Stan Voinovich asked Secretary Verser; he wanted to talk to Wes but Aldoria was what he got. “After reading all of the progress reports we sent our they are not going to be happy unless I say we can turn the ship over on time; and that means two weeks from yesterday.”

“How well do you know Captain Smith of the Fortune Hunter? He is in charge of the squadron, correct?”

“I know him well and I am in no mood to lie to him.”

“We won’t do that. I just need to know if things go a bit beyond regulation if he has the gumption to do what’s proper, even if it skirts what we and he think his orders might require?”

“I trust he can handle that if we can convince him that what we are doing makes sense.”

“Well then, talk to your wife and make it happen! Waiting another couple of months for the ships final completion and turnover is the least they should expect us to ask for after we give them the Wonder Weapon and the software fix to keep them from being burned by it. And you can go even further by putting a copy of the delivery device on the next ship to Llanfairn.”