Marjoram 7

Chapter 7 Draft (08-16-11)

This was the most perfectly simulated advance in weaponry that the young Cardoman navy had ever achieved. Perfect in simulation because they knew its offensive capability, which in this case was the confusion factor, and how an alert defense would react, or fail to; they had tried it out against their own navy, first using students in their tactical school and then pitting ships against each other. One Captain always had the device and the other did not even know of its existence until after it was used on him.

As a final test they ran a full fleet level simulation against the ships from Llanfairn, and much to that squadron’s embarrassment. Once the secret was revealed they ran it again with the Llanfairn tac-teams knowing about the decoy but not yet having a software fix. Then they ran several iterations of this one with ship number odds favorable in turn to each side.

The final tally looked like this: In a single ship action of equal types, a one on one, the ship with the weapon always won; One on two the weapon was often enough for victory over both opponents though not always; at greater odds the results started to get random because of a single ship being unable to stand off the three to one ratio of inbound threats. If a shipkiller got close enough it would always go for the enemy ship, because it was getting so many more cues and spent more time on the proper target and by now was in final approach mode not to be distracted.

With this information and looking for targets no more than five weeks travel time distant so after their ships returned a second round might take place, a list was generated showing likely points of attack. There were only seven possibilities and the list was winnowed down to four prime choices with ships and crews shuttled around to match capability with desire.

This final selection took place on the Burgeron; nothing was ever discussed at Cardoman Naval Head Quarters in Minton of an operational nature. Too many people involved with finance and public information were stationed there and too many government types moved freely in and out of their spaces.

Castle Calvert had adequate security so Wes stayed in the loop but did nothing to interfere; the plan was hammered out by Jamie Madry and her staff. The four targets selected were:

A Caliphate class 2 with a population of 470 million, at just over four weeks journey for a G-4, and no fueling station or much in the way of off planet activities was item one on the list. There was no reason for the Calps to station a large defensive force here and they didn’t. The system stationary defenses were also weak. It’s population base and industrial output were however responsible for a reasonable amount of civilian traffic, two or three ships a week, and most of those on a regular schedule published months in advance. This was to insure the items being shipped out were ready and in orbit when a ship arrived to take them away.

Machine tools and light weight but intricately shaped composite panels braced with synthetic molecular strands were the two largest sources of income, and like almost all planets on a decent trade route they shipped and received various specialty food crops. It was far enough from the Caliphate’s center that tourism was not of much importance. Most of shipping was on G-2 transport class vessels with a smattering of 3’s filling out a cargo.

A couple of G-2M’s operating out of New Mecca stood guard.

Another class 2 with a larger population of 770 million stood on list position 2. It had a fair amount of mining taking place on an airless minor planet producing usable amounts of heavy metals but almost nothing by way of an asteroid belt. Scientists were constantly coming up with new theories about why one had not formed but the most popular explanation was that something had swept them all away. Exactly what that might have been was another subject hotly debated, most theories laying the blame on a large star that had gone nova so long ago that no trace of its existence still remained.

There remained a gas giant inside the limit and a smallish fueling station operated there. At one time considered as a location for a subfleet base the lack of a belt and a high level of out-system activity finally removed it from contention.

Fueling station, metals, and population, led to a two ship standing patrol with a half dozen smaller picket ships as an extra measure. There were also some unmanned sensor platforms collecting data and looking for unannounced visitors and infrequent stops by other military units.

Number three on the list was still another and more important class 2, larger economically than the others; it had a population slightly greater than 1.1 billion. It also had major stretches of land, continental areas that were nearly perfect for agriculture, and it was in the minority of worlds that could profitably export staples such as grains and even root vegetables over interstellar distances. It maintained orbital storage facilities and had a fleet of very large ground to orbit transports to keep them well stocked.

Due to the bulk nature of this type cargo Sam’an was routinely the destination of a G-1 in search of an easily handled shipload. One without time constraints on delivery. Earth was always ready for food imports and there were other planets even closer that usually were in the market, those with a hard time dealing with year to year variability with unpredictable weather or with excessively long seasons.

There was volume here, but the low unit value left Sam’an still quite low on the Calp’s growing list of planets requiring and due for more defensive resources. She also had on permanent duty only a two ship standing guard and seldom saw any others carrying weapons.

The fourth planetary system on the short list had the smallest population but the largest defense structure. It was in the perfect position for a sub-fleet base and had all the necessary naturally occurring objects one could hope for with the lone exception of a habitable major planet. Gas giant, asteroid belts, minor planets galore and a large sun with a correspondingly large radius on its hyperlimit. And not only that it had one other attribute counting for more than all the rest combined, location, location, location.

It was equidistant between Llanfairn and Cardoman and the fleet base at Philomel.

The Calps had hoped to keep its existence a secret until it was finished, but that was impossible due to the amount of shipping going between it and almost every other Caliphate Class 1 world. Building a fleet base, even on a small, scale took one hell of a lot of tonnage. That much shipping of that particular type was going to get a lot of protection and a lot of scrutiny. Not only were four G-4’s assigned there at all times but most ships delivering cargo brought with them an escort. Six and often as many as eight Caliphate warships were what intelligence said to expect.

To stop the base construction was a goal, to go grab a major portion of the equipment and supplies already in place was the dream. Here was where the strike would hurt the most even if it only resulted in the destruction of what the Calps already had on hand.

With four targets chosen that left crew selection, which was all on Jamie’s shoulders, but wasn’t very difficult. There wasn’t a target on the list of a low priority nature. There was also a chance of capturing a ship or two to add to the Cardoman transport division. Glory and money both classic motivators. Prize awards were much smaller than in the old days but they did exist again having been recently reinstated over Progressive opposition. Amongst Cardoman military personnel the Progressives couldn’t buy a vote, couldn’t even rent one when they tried.

When Jamie was finished with the selection part of her job she ordered up a shuttle for a trip to the yards and a talk with her husband. This would not just be for pleasure, though that certainly should be involved; she wanted to be as certain of ship availability as she was of crew readiness. And Stan would have all the answers she needed.

Because they were mostly civilian operated the shipyard had no notion of Naval forms when Admirals came to call, and so Jamie was out of the shuttle and on her way to Stan’s office almost before the shuttle’s hatch opened. Recently, and to her displeasure, she also had two marine guards assigned when ever she was off the Burgeron and not on her own ship. They still didn’t tell her where or when she could go anyplace but Wes had told her that it was only a matter of time.

She knew the yard layout better than her guards did so they scrambled to keep up as she exited the main corridors for little used shortcuts. Stan was at a fabrication center in a remote part of the yard, not even in this self contained orbital when she signaled she was on her way. Because of the travel times involved Jamie beat him to his office and was seated at his desk looking at records dredged up from his computer when he arrived five minutes later and reached his engineering hideout.

“Stan, don’t you believe in passwords and security?”

“Most anywhere but her my darling. The person that can get by my secretary and gains entrance to this office is going to have as much right as I do to view what’s inside.”

“But what if she’s a Caliphate spy?”
“Then the war is lost and we can all go home.”

“If not for the part about being lost that would suit me just fine. We could spend a lot more time together.”

“You’re trying not to tell me something.”
“Am I that transparent?”

“Couldn’t be any clearer. You see how the ship build is coming along. We are close to timeline everywhere and beating it now and then. You are intent on keeping me trapped here. I want a ship Jamie. I belong in the Navy.”

“Two more months Stan—and I promise. The Hornet is going to Emma Debus and we have to give Llanfairn back her own, but the next ship is yours.”

“You know I’d be better for the Hornet than Debus, she’s too young and inexperienced.”

“Not for what I have planned for her first mission; and I have been reading all her work-ups, she knows that ship Stan, as much as anyone can who has never had a command before. She stays where she is. Emma will still be in command after transitioning in from the test jump, and when she gets back tomorrow, as we are both sure she will, the ship remains her’s for its first cruise, and I expect for much longer.”

“You can think about what you want to name the ship you will get Stan, I’ll support you in anything but a new SnapDragon. We’ve had two by that name already and I would like to give it a rest. Let the families and the Navy get over our loss. You should transfer your office over to the new ship as soon as you can. Do you have a name for her?”

“How about Justice Denied.

“Stan, let’s get a two seater and you can give me the tour, I get away from my keepers, and you can take your revenge, do with me as you will.”

“That just might work, no promises from my side but it’s worth trying.”

* * *
Captain Josiah Smith of the Llanfairn Naval Service Fortune Hunter was on that planet’s short list for Admiral. He had been in charge of the squadron from Llanfairn two years ago that helped with the landing and eventual defeat of the Caliphate forces on Cardoman and in keeping their navy out of the system. Wes had a dossier but had never met the man, something that was about to change.

He had been allowed to set down in is own shuttle on the pad near the Castle, something that was only done for Cardoman Naval craft or something much smaller and less lethal than a Naval lander. Castle security wasn’t happy, they seldom were. Cardoman air-defense even less so. Their motto was nothing military in Cardoman airspace unless it flew the Cardoman Flag. It had taken a word from Clay Grayson to change their mind.

Sgt. Lute Dormer, the current head of the Castle Guard, that portion in the center that reacted directly with the Calvert’s and the rest of the Castle staff, had spent some time off planet and was more cosmopolitan about the situation; he made certain that his Corporals Satta and Ethridge had their weapons set on single fire rather than full automatic after a series of scans showed Captain Smith was unarmed.

Seeing Smith, Olivera, and both Calverts standing next to each other in the Castle’s entrance-way it was easy to pick out the two born on the same planet. Four hundred years of gene sharing was unmistakable on the surface. Smith and Connie were both taller than the Cardoman norm and shared the same dark hair. Wes was also a bit above average height but Smith had him by seven centimeters.

When Jeric Anders, Third Officer of the Fortune Hunter and Smith’s shuttle pilot finished shutting the landing craft down and came in with his own Cardoman escort in order to support his Captain he fit the same general mold. Paul Olivera, who was from Zeeland originally, and of regular build, seemed short and squat in comparison.

Upon introductions by Olivera, who had met Smith the last time he was in system Wes thanked him for the service he had performed while helping with the landing that led to the Calps being removed from power; defeated by force of arms was another way of saying the same thing. Then Wes pointed them to the large library opening on the right of the entrance where they would hold initial discussions pertaining to the use of Llanfairn’s Oslo, the ship Smith had come to receive into his service and take back with him.

They sat at a round table, comfortable for six, and noticing the empty chair Captain Smith said, “I would have thought someone from Cardoman’s Navy would be here, Admiral Madry in particular.”

“We can get in contact with the Burgeron or Wasp in an instant if anything comes up, but I have Admiral Madry’s complete confidence in this matter,” Wes said with a smile.

“I need to thank you for playing the fall guy in our sims game while you were traveling in from the limit. I know you couldn’t have enjoyed it. I also want to let you know that the ship we just sent to Llanfairn has along with the complete wonder weapon specs and defense software, also has double our contracted shipment of band metal. They’ll know that we could have used it here, and by extension how important we think keeping your Oslo for a few extra weeks is. I had sent to Llanfairn even more of the reason, now let me show you and Lieutenant Anders.”

The room darkened and a shelving unit swiveled to reveal a display screen. Details of the four planets and the Cardoman attack plan were shown and Wes gave a running commentary. When he finished Captain Smith said, “Your sending your entire fleet out again, I can see why holding on to the Oslo is so important to you.”

“If you can give us your whole hearted support once more I will even put the Oslo under command of one of your officers, at least temporarily. And do it at once. Right now the crew we have assigned her is to put it mildly, inexperienced. We use instructors and students from our naval college, and civilian dockyard workers on all our new ship test programs. If the Calps were to attack they would do their duty but nobody thinks they would have much of a chance. The hope is that if the Calps look in and see her they do not realize that at this present instant she is more of a decoy than a threat.”

Smith must have known what he was going to say in advance because he did not delay his response, “I believe you have convinced me General Calvert. And I do admit I expected this to happen, Cardoman skills when it comes to negotiation are marveled at back home.”

“Good!” Olivera said. “It’s only your arrival and going along with this, dare I call it a plan?—that convinces me we made the proper choice. And the fact that you brought along enough extra personnel to fly the Oslo home. The Calps at Philomel know by now what happened at Midway and it’s fifty/fifty they sent or will send a force to check on us.”

While Paul was speaking Wes had noticed Connie sneaking furtive glances in the direction of Jeric Anders. He wondered what that was about. He didn’t have long to wait before finding out.

“Lt. Anders, Do we know each other?” Connie asked.

“I believe we do, took the same second year class in small unit tactics at the Llanfairn Military Academy, though you have had more opportunity to apply it.” On Llanfairn each class of new students took a general curriculum for their first two years and specialized afterward. Connie went into the relatively unpopular Land War School and hired out to Witherway upon completion. It was there, and after a couple of years duty, she met Wes when he was a platoon leader and she his Witherway executive officer.

“Well,” Connie said with a sparkle, “Given the length of Llanfairn’s year that makes this as good as a ten year class reunion, and therefore I think it best we continue this in the reunion room.”

“Reunion room?” I’ve never heard of one of those.”
“Come along then, you must see ours.”

Then she stood and led her classmate and his Captain down the Castle’s central hallway and then to the dark paneled room at the rear of the Castle where most agreements were sealed. While Wes took care of the drinks, Connie got with Wana al-Omari and asked her to set up a barbecue on the deck under an awning outside.

A reunion wasn’t complete without a barbecue and Cardoman would have been famous for its wild upland game if there was ever enough for export.

* * *
Only slightly more than two hours from the time of his arrival Smith left the Castle and went straight to the Burgeron.

“Stan couldn’t be here, he’s got too much remaining with getting your Oslo ready before the rest of us leave. Equipment to complete and install when she next hits the dock but very important equipment, the finish touches on your life support. I am going to cover his concerns along with my own.”

“We went through a lot of shipkillers at Midway,” Jamie said to Capt. Smith. “Our own production can’t keep up with that much expenditure. We have a hundred due in from Novi but all that does is get our own fleet fully armed again without stripping the Burgeron. All we have on the Oslo are dummies for testing.”

“We didn’t plan on taking her back defenseless,” Smith said, “We brought enough spares to give her three for each tube.”

“Wonderful. On our side we have enough short range stuff for now and can supply you with a full loadout on that end. We’ve been exporting warheads and short range missile bodies are next on our list to bring to export while we work on growing our fleet some more. And that leads me to ask: How is your production coming along? The reports I see make it look like you are missing a few ships from the schedule we saw six months ago.”

Smith frowned, almost grimaced, before saying, “This is off the record, but we are having troubles with our newest band machine. It is having trouble dealing with impurities in the semi-refined ores we have been getting in from Triocat, not dealing at all. The remelt and purification is slowing us down by 50%. Better software won’t do the trick, we need a beyond state of the art redesign or a purer input stream.”

“We’ve sent an engineering team to Triocat and hope we can help them work out the problem on their end. Until that happens we are limited to a new ship in the raw every six and a half weeks. We take one in four for our own use and export the rest. But we can’t hold up on the export. Too many planets on our side have defensive problems worse than our own.”

“You and Stan need to talk about this after I leave. We have been building up our refining capability in hopes of getting another band machine on line. Total transport time would be greater but after the first delay you could get up to full production on both your machines.”

“Coordination of effort for the greater good. Our efforts need some improvement on that front.”

“Our greatest weakness might be our fragmentation, but it is what we are fighting to protect.”

When he returned to his Fortune Hunter Captain Smith had the shuttle refueled and readied, then sent it along with his First Officer Breton Hughes and two more officers and a dozen senior rates out to meet the Oslo. Hughes would then take over as that ships Captain and another two shuttles filled with more crewmen would follow. He would wait to transfer the missiles and weapons team leaders until the ship was back at Cardoman High.

Dockyard support was a plus in that type of operation as the IFF codes needed loading in and verifying before Madry would permit the ship’s launch tubes to become operational. That was proper procedure in both Navies and ruffled no feathers.

Stan Voinovich claimed some of the naval types released from duty on the Oslo and a few of the civilians were sent back to the docks but most stayed to finish the work remaining on the newly tagged LNS Oslo.

While this went on and for several weeks thereafter the crews of Llanfairn’s Pachawan, Glider, Nova Ceti, and Hurricane, had the run of the station with two ships at a time docked and two exercising close by and getting used to working with the Bergeron. Now none of the Cardoman military type 2’s and 3’s would stay behind.

“There is no point in waiting any longer,” Jamie said to her new Fleet Lieutenant Eric Shearing; she had pulled him from the second slot on the G-3 Raymond and he held that same position, First Officer, on the Wasp, but with added responsibility dealing with the to and fro of communications between ships going into fleet duty and action far from home. He was Jamie’s eyes and ears when she could not be around, at those times he even spoke with her voice, “Go ahead and send the message to Captain Lovell; the Saratoga is cleared for departure.”

With the farthest distance to travel the Sara would leave for Mosul a week before any of the rest of them would leave Cardoman. Fullson Lovell and his ship had been together for what counted as a long time in Cardoman service, and it made him a top choice for lead off.

Jamie had Lovell take Debus and her Hornet with him on what seemed to be the mission best suited for an untested ship and crew. Jamie’s cousin Audie was going with Debus as the Ships Engineering Officer, an important slot on a first cruise; if anything broke that could be fixed, Audie could fix it. The rest of the bridge crew looked if not good at least adequate on paper. Jamie was taking Yuri Borselov with her on the Wasp for the same reason.

After both ships transitioned she stopped worrying about what was out of her hands and worried harder about that which was not.

The rest of her ships were going to jump at the same time. The hyper time to any of these destinations did not vary by much, and if a Calp spy ship saw them leave together the most reasonable conclusion would be that they were all going to the same place.

Two of those ships would go to Jabal, the Aladin and the G-3 Admiral Raymond. Jamie didn’t have the luxury of pairing only ships of like classes together if she were to hit all of the targets simultaneously. She had tried to get Captain Smith to release one more of his ships for Jabal but he told her he was out on a limb as far as he would go with the Oslo, where he was supplying the Captain and part of the Crew.

The speed difference between a 3 and 4 wasn’t great, only 9 G’s in normal space and a 4 could manage hyper with one band off line; they could operate at the slower ship’s speed. They would need to time their jump from the initial nav point with a reasonable degree of accuracy, but that would be simple and almost automatic.

Two more ships were tasked with Sam’an, the Essex II and another mismatch in the G-2M Wanderlust. Mac would only attack if the odds were two to one against or less and then only if no more than one was a G-4. That left her Wasp and the Westwind, both G-4’s and the Eagle, and Perseus, and of course the Oslo. And that would have to be enough.