Marjoram 8

Marjoram
Chapter 8 Draft (08-20-11)

The transport from Novi arrived with the promised shipkillers and another came in from New Erin only hours later with miscellaneous electronics. New Erin made advanced electro-optical interfaces that went into both Hyperships and Cardoman’s second leading export industry, shuttle and lander construction. New Erin also supplied the best, in terms of power vs size, lasing elements used in beam weapons.

Two-thousand new citizens came on that ship as well, half from New Erin and half from planets closer to Earth and the center of human civilization. People were getting nervous and those worried and able looking for a place to sit out the war. Fleeing to Cardoman was not the proper course for someone undecided about getting involved or about which side to support.

After Intel screening the Navy got first crack at the passengers documentation, the shipyard came second, nineteen hundred continued their journey from Cardoman High to a relocation center on the planet below, of the hundred who didn’t make it that far the Navy took five and the yards the rest.

None of this interrupted the Fleets preparation for departure and eight days later all nine ships transitioned out at five second intervals. Their course judged by acceleration vectors in n-space led straight to Philomel. This deception meant an extra set of transitions for each of the ships involved; but if they were being watched it would send the watcher rushing to the fleetbase with a warning. Cardoman deep space sensors were looking for just such a reaction and just maybe one was found, an indistinct signal six days after the fleet jumped.

* * *
Sgt. Nathan Galen was in charge of the Fleet Marine force assigned to the new Hornet. He came to the Seventh via the Sylvan resistance and just recently made a lateral transfer to the marine force from recon. He had also spent the last several months stationed on the Burgeron honing his zero-G skills along with the men under his command. Both the Hornet and the Saratoga were carrying twice the usual marine compliment of twenty.

Lt. Stuart Short on the Sara would be in charge if they ever operated as a unit, and much of his detachments training had taken place under Short’s leadership—and it had been brutal—until Short was satisfied they were up to the task. And the task was boarding, securing, and making off with a Caliphate hypership under difficult conditions, putting down a crew that was willing to fight even after its officers had ordered surrender.

On the run to Mosul they could no longer practice low gravity work but they had the full run of the Hornet with enlisted ranks more than happy to break from ship duty to play the role of a Calp Jihadist and especially eager to test themselves against the Fleet Marine reputation. It made for some spirited competition. Audie Madry, her own department squared away, had taken to planning the defense.

Galen was glad he would never have to go against her in real life. She, with the help of the ships Second Officer Jon Yost, had an annoying habit of either stopping them cold or causing enough simulated casualties and destroying enough of the ships supporting structure that getting her operational again would take longer than the two ship team could spare hanging around Mosul.

Capturing a Calp freighter was a long shot but he was going to be ready if the chance came about. And Audie would be on their side, she was the designated Captain in case it worked out. Before the ship left orbit at Cardoman Galen had been ordered by Admiral Madry that Audie was not to be allowed to take any chances with her own safety.

If it came down to returning with a Calp ship or the fleets Chief of Engineering he better have the engineer with him or not bother coming back at all. And of course breathing a word of this to Audie was strictly forbidden. Interesting times.

Emma Debus was having her own problems, and they weren’t made any easier by ten percent of her crew playing hide and seek in the aft and tween deck spaces. Her missile crews couldn’t seem to hit the broad side of the proverbial barn! And if she had been just a little more paranoid she might have thought her First Officer, Lt Cmdr Bill Easterbrook, safely away from her anger while on the battle bridge was laughing.

“Let’s do it again people! This time don’t wait till the automatics are swamped before selecting a target and going to manual, we need to be thinking where they are going to end up well before they get there and if the comp gets distracted and goes all defensive on us we have to keep pushing the attack. The Sara will be there to support us, keep it in mind!”

Neither, Galen nor Debus had yet to have an exercise go exactly as planned by the time it came to transition out at the nav point thirty light hours beyond Mosul. At least that worked out and they found the Sara an hour later. Audie Madry wasn’t concerned. She said the old proverb about fighting like you trained was vastly overrated. Then she proceeded to tell stories about how the real thing was usually worse.

Communications established they decelerated before building up speed again in Mosul’s direction. With exhausts pointing away from their destination their sensors, even at this distance, were gathering valuable information. Indications were that there was a G-2 class vessel showing signs of motion in system. And from the doppler shift and decreasing distance from the point like star, as their intel firmed up, they were certain it was on an inbound track.

Of the two ships they expected to find guarding the system—not a trace. They were too far away to pick up something military unless it was under acceleration and no sign did not mean the ships weren’t there. Vectors matched and timers set, Lovell gave the order to jump.

They were in hyper for something short of twelve seconds when Debus said, “Two, One, Transition out!”

Another second and the screens repainted. They were 623 seconds out side the limit and moving at 11% light speed. The closer to the hyper line the more speed was carried through the jump. They would be detected on Mosul in sixty-two minutes and sooner by the systems outlying sensor platforms and of course any Calp ship in the near neighborhood.

“A G-2 could be seen making 20 G’s as she slowed down still three hundred million kilometers from Mosul. She was either in no hurray or her drive had never been updated to full 2-M status where 50 G’s could was the normal max and most ships cruised at over 40. Most of the 2’s in Indie space had the upgrade but in the Caliphate they took their time. In this case it might have been a hundred years since the ship they were seeing was launched. If that 2’s acceleration didn’t change she was 11 hrs from Mosul. Even if she saw the Sara and Hornet in an hour and went running towards the limit—at 20 G’s it was more than a day away.

Each of the Cardoman ship’s carried two missile bodies set for long range work without warheads and capable of speeds roughly matching a G-4. They were loaded with sensors and noisemakers with which they used to emulate a G-4 to a high degree of accuracy. Captain Lovell gave the order to head in and loosed one of his minesweepers and they followed it in. The track behind would be clear unless the Calps had mines hid deep and set on manual. There was nothing else in the system to distract them from the main chance.

There was still another hour and a half before their jump would register at the planet. Then they would likely see what they were truly up against.

The signals officer on the G-3 Golan Heights was the first to react when the grav pulse reached Mosul. Ali Madiman Badr, his Captain, was second; he was standing nearby when the alarm rang. Badr had been sent from New Erin along with the G-4 Alahambra to bolster the defenses around Mosul until the 2 ship G-2M force always on hand could be strengthened. The Alahambra was newer and faster but seniority ruled and Badr was in charge. Two Cardoman G-4’s, he had made, one with the electronic signature for the Saratoga and the other ship, though not in his database, might as well be her twin.

Two 4’s against his two and the 2M’s gave him an advantage in throw weight and crossing fields of fire should make it decisive. Badr had the 2-M’s power up and go in support of the inward bound freighter. He held off on doing the same. Let the Cards get in deeper, then he would pounce. His major worry now was that the fool of a merchant skipper, who didn’t yet know of the danger approaching, might get it into his head to make a break for it. Badr had word ready to send. Once informed if that Captain did not do precisely as directed Badr was ready to order the destruction of his ship and crew. He wouldn’t really do that but he made sure that one couldn’t tell from listening to the message.

Lt. Linda Henty Sara’s Second Officer had the command seat when the Calp G-2M’s showed up. Navigation was using the strong signal to select among various options and plot vector cones and time lines. The freighter had started a course change then almost at once returned to her original heading. Best guess was the warships were going out to meet her and give some cover while she continued to Mosul.

“If I were driving one of those 2’s I wouldn’t like this one little bit,” Lt Henty said to the ship’s executive officer Cmdr Fred Brent. Captain Lovell had taken a look at the display and elected to stay in his day room and try to get some sleep. He’d have the bridge in another seven hours when the ships got close enough that battle became inevitable.

“They either have more static defense in orbit or they want us to think they do,” Brent said, “We are going to meet them quite a ways out. I wonder how effective a delaying action they think they’ll provide?”

“Does it really matter Fred?” Linda asked.

“Guess not,” he replied, “Duty, Honor, and Glory. I’m going to do like the Captain and take a nap. Don’t you go and do the same, at least till your shifts up.”

Rather than take a nap, Linda kept looking at the data as it was came in, was decoded, and analyzed. And something was bothering her about the energy density but she couldn’t pin it down. Then signals reported a new finding.

“We have two high power point sources on the back side of the planet. Tentatively marked as Caliphate Battle Cruisers.”

“Well,” thought Linda as she buzzed Lovell in his day cabin, “Nobody gets any sleep for a while.”

“Definitely ships Sir,” Linda said as Lovell entered and took over the helm, “Knowing what to look for shows the sources have remained in the same spot behind the planet for at least an hour while it rotates beneath them. They’re ships alright.”

“Battle Cruisers? Class?”

“Still working on it Sir, they are only using enough power to keep the planet between us and them. If you want my guess—plan for the worst.”

Cmdr Brent was now back on the bridge. “What do you think Fred? Can we still pull this off?”

“I think we can Captain, if the Hornet is up to it.”

“Get Emma on the horn,” he said to signals, “I’m certain she will have something to add.”

Responding to the call she had been expecting Captain Debus said, “Yes I think we still go through with this. And Madry says the ships are a G-3 and a 4, the Golan Heights and Alahambra.

“How by the light of the silvery moon could she possibly get that from the kind of weak data we have?”

“I don’t know Sir, but if she says it’s true I say it’s gold and buy stock in it.”
“Yes,” Lovell said then chuckled, “She is a witch you know.”

“I’m convinced of it Fulson, and so is everyone else on board, especially the marines. She has been screwing up their plans something awful.”

“I am going to power up the Flag Plot here. We will continue inward and while we do plan for the future. Give me fifteen minutes to get ready and get your people together, and then we’ll see if we can work out something based on our new information.”

Seeing his G-2’s now half way to the freighter and decelerating again to match velocities when they met Captain Badr said, “It’s time we joined them. Power up and set a course, I am most interested in observing how the Cards react.”

“That helps,” Audie said, “She was first to notice the Calps lighting off and coming out from behind Mosul, “We can get some real parameters locked down.” Lights stared changing colors, courses were plotted, and displays updated. The picture didn’t change much from what they had been viewing but did become clearer.

“That settles it then,” Lovell said, “We go with the marked up plan and get into action as rapidly as we can. The Calps will either have to fight or let us cut out the freighter right from under their noses. They will be certain of an edge and they will fight. We have four hours, check your reliefs and handle any last minute details. We go to battle stations in three more hours.”

Two and a half of those hours were spent with ships sensors almost blind as they needed to decelerate heavily in order to match velocity with the freighter that was going to be at the center this fight. Both the Cardoman G-2’s had a sensor enabled missile leading them now so they wouldn’t miss much.

The Calps fired first. Extreme range, they weren’t planning on a kill this early but Badr wanted to see how the Cardomans would react. Each of his ships sent one missile from each of her tubes, 10 from the Alahambra, 8 from his Golan Heights, and 4 from each of the G-2’s, a total of 26. The Cards used 18 shipkillers to stop them and got the ones that were missed with their close in weapons, not much of a problem at this long range. Their defensive fire was very well coordinated; the ships he was up against must have worked together in the past.

“Prepare another launch, but wait upon my command.”

“Good call on not using the Wonder Weapon too early,” Brent commented from the battle bridge, “A much bigger surprise when we do. And now we wait to see who fires next.”

A nerve wracking half hour later and it was the Calps again, but they had waited too long. The Sara and Hornet each fired two salvos, one after the other, then waited thirty seconds and let loose a third. The Calps thought they had plenty of time to respond and were slow to engage the second group of 20 but they had sent a shipkiller out to intercept each missile in the first.

Four of the Cardoman missiles were armed with only the tiny bomblettes. The entire flight of missiles had kept very close to one another, a fact that was raising some concern amongst the Calp weapons officers, when all of a sudden they had something of much greater import to concern them.

Feedback from their interceptors showed all at once not 20 missiles in the first flight, but hundreds, maybe even thousands, there wasn’t the bandwidth to send in everything that the sensors were imaging. All the Calp weapons techs knew was that just what happened prior to an overload; four of the Cardoman shipkillers had pulled slightly ahead of the rest.

Sensors on the Caliphate ships next picked up one warhead detonation after another. When the view cleared all of their own missiles were gone and sixteen of the first flight from the Cardoman ships was still homing on their position. Now was the time to panic.

They sent another full loadout at the 16 from the first group and another full loadout aimed at the second Cardoman salvo, the one fired on the heels of their first. This was their third salvo of 26 missiles and it did take out the rest of Cardoman group one. But all the maneuver involved caused 6 of those, missiles that had not found a target to self destruct when it became evident they had nothing left to shoot at and would soon be out of fuel.

The Calps fourth group did little better than their second, there was the same overload of communication channels and when the dust had cleared there were still 14 Cards coming in and another 20 thirty seconds behind.

The total now stood at 104 of their missiles fired and lost with only 26 Cardoman missiles destroyed plus another 18 used in defense and 2 as minesweepers. By now they thought they knew how the Cards were doing this but it wasn’t going to help them much.

Badr was good at numbers, but it wasn’t helping, even with reloads of 2 per tube all his ships combined had only 78 shipkillers remaining. Subtract out 14 to stop the second Card salvo and call it 26 for the third if he staggered the launch, and he would be down to 38. The Cardoman G-4’s, if they had the same 2 per tube reload that he carried still had 60 left to fire. He was about to be heavily out gunned. And that was without factoring in the effectiveness of the Cards latest countermeasure.

He couldn’t keep up the fight, now he needed to figure out what, if anything, he could save.

“They’re breaking off, they’re all running!” It was said to the sound of cheers. The four Calp warships were on diverging courses, their obvious goal the limit and safety.

“We will go after Golan.” Lovell said, “She’s slower and if we could go after the Alahambra she could escape if she is willing to risk her compensators. And I am sure that is exactly what her Captain has in mind. Let me talk to the Hornet again.” He waited a few seconds for the link and then for Captain Debus to acknowledge.

“I’m going after the Golan Heights Emma; before I do I will drop off both my shuttles with marines to take the freighter. I want you to pick them up and do the final delivery and then if the Calp Alahambra is still running go after whichever of the G-2’s you think you can catch most easily. Any questions?”

“Sound like a plan Sir, I’ll let my people know.”
“Very good, we’ll keep in touch.”

Ten minutes later two small ships were ejected from the Sara and the Hornet went in for a pickup. With her own shuttles in launch tubes there was room, just barely, on the boat deck for two more. After loading the Hornet closed on the freighter and gave the order for it to power down and surrender with a warning that any attempt to abandon ship and blow her would be met with extreme prejudice.

Surrendering to a woman was almost more than the freighter’s captain could bring himself to do, but surrender he did. It would be as Allah willed.

Emma dropped all four shuttles and watched as the team in the first one boarded before heading after the nearest and slowest of the fleeing G-2’s.

“I should have been with the first team going in,” Audie Madry said quite loudly from her seat in the rear of the forth and final shuttle to launch.

“Can’t do anything about it now so we might as well enjoy the wait,” Sgt. of Marines Nathan Galen said from his position beside her. She wasn’t getting out of his sight until the freighter was secured and all of her crew accounted for. And from the looks of things that would happen before anyone on this shuttle even got aboard.

When Audie did board the freighter she was absolutely last, right behind Sgt. Galen. Lt. Short was there waiting to escort her from the boat bay to the bridge.

“Where’s the Captain,” Audie asked, seeing only two uniformed crew-members standing against a bulkhead, eyes cast down and staring at the deck plates.

“Oh, he’s hanging around,” Short said, “In his cabin and by his neck,” he added.

“Any other casualties?” Audie asked.
“Not a one Ma’am.”
“See—all that training I put you through didn’t go to waste!”

Ali Madiman Badr used the last of his shipkillers, 12 of them, on another full flight of ten from the CNS Saratoga. His fire control stopped 8 of them, with the last 2 forced by his swarming close in defense missiles to detonate beyond what was considered effective range. The Cards had another trick up their sleeves.

When the last two shipkillers warheads exploded they did so at exactly the same time. And somehow both managed an aim point at the same spot on his aft hull where one of the band supports met the main structure. This breached his armor and the resulting damage, part radiation, part shrapnel, killed half of his engineering department and sent one of his two reactors into shutdown.

It had taken three hours for the Cardoman ship to run him to ground because of the head start he had gained while they delayed near the freighter that was supposed to have been the bait for his trap.

His gun teams had been learning but magazines dry it was almost over. Badr ordered the plug pulled on his second reactor, broadcast his surrender, and gave the order to abandon ship. The Calps would know what he was about but had no way of stopping him short of sending another shipkiller and detonating it in contact with the ships hull. He was just making that task unnecessary.

The amount of retained energy held within a G-4’s drivebands was equal to that required when accelerating some 30 thousand tons to a tenth the speed of light. Releasing it all at once made a very final statement.

Without taking time to admire Badr’s handiwork Lovell checked the vectors and came to the same conclusion his navigational computers had, the three and now almost four hour delay spent chasing after the Golan Heights meant he couldn’t catch the G-2 that Debus had been forced to pass up when she selected her own target.

He now had a problem he hadn’t planned on; how does one collect prisoners without shuttles or a marine force? He was not about to let one of the Calp shuttles used when their ship was abandoned get anywhere near the Sara, and using a ship of the Saratoga’s size to run down several hundred life pods was not going to work either.

He ordered the Calp shuttles to shut down and wait, if they made any motion towards Mosul he would see them blasted out of space. Then he turned his attention to see how things were working out for the Hornet.

Modasah Hamali Captain of the G-2M Otrush saw all too clearly the destruction of the Golan Heights and came to the conclusion he was not cut out to be a martyr. He had always thought that might be the case and now he was sure. The problem was too many on his ship were of an opposite state of mind. He could think of but one way out.

“Fire all tubes, then fire the reloads!”

His gunnery officer hesitated; this had to be a mistake. “Sir, we are beyond maximum range.”

“I said fire! And trust Allah, or I shall have you shot!”

That got six shipkillers on there way and a lot of strange looks from the bridge crew. Hamali just looked satisfied and said, “It shall be as Allah wills.”

“What the hell was that all about,” Captain Debus asked Bill Easterbrook who was down in the battle bridge.

“I haven’t a clue,” Easterbrook said, not usually the best response to a Captain’s question, but this time understandable. “I wouldn’t bother using an SK to knock them down though, if we move a bit they won’t come within a million kilometers of us. And according to my count they have nothing left, that was the last of their heavies. I’d send a message saying the jig is up and demand surrender.”

“You and I are thinking alike on this Bill, thanks.” Emma had the message sent and it was her turn to wait.

“Abandon ship,” Hamali ordered, “I shall do what must be done.”

When his crew was off the ship and well away Captain Hamali sent another message to the Hornet, “If you would be so kind as to spare my life, and we can work our certain other details and conditions, I believe I have a gift you might find of value.”

“He’s giving us his ship, “Lt. Yost said, voice showing utter amazement.
“Yes,” Emma replied, “I do believe he is.”

Audie had not had time to follow closely what was happening anywhere else in the system but on this G-2 freighter. While she, with the help of the shuttle pilots and most tech savvy of her boarding party checked out the ship the rest of the marines stood guard over their prisoners or worked on a compartment to compartment search of the living spaces and storage areas and hold.

The ship itself was in remarkably good shape, recently overhauled, and quite modern in terms of controls and life support equipment. There was a lot of automation on a ship this side to enable a crew of twenty to manage her operation. Inspection of the manifest showed no unusual cargo, some farming machinery, a few luxury goods, and consumer electronics for delivery to Mosul; she was mostly empty and was supposed to be laden with grain when she returned to her home port on Bab Al-Ahmar. Records also matched the number of prisoners and a count of bunks did the same. No one was hiding in a service run or closet.

It was no surprise when Captain Lovell called and asked for his marines and his shuttles back. There were a few complications though.

“Well Captain, we will be taking her out light so we don’t need to top off her tanks. If you leave me Lt. Henty to stand the other watch and a half dozen marines I think we can get her back to Cardoman in one piece. I’ll have the crew locked into the mess hall with the kitchen door welded shut and we can feed them through a slot.”

“What about the shuttles?”

“There’s a serviceable lander on board and I can have three of the shuttles loaded and sent back at once, the other as soon as the prisoners are taken care of. Where shall I send them?”

“Send the first three to help Debus and the Hornet; we don’t want that G-2’s Captain to have any time to change his mind. Send the other back to me. But take as much time as you need to secure those prisoners; there is nothing to rush on my end. I want you to get underway and out of here as soon as you reasonably can start moving.”

“Emma and I are going to be here for quite some time yet. After we gather in our prisoners we have to reduce Mosul’s orbital infrastructure, space station, storage, and fuel farm, and do that while making sure nothing falls on the planet below. Then anything else we might discover that needs doing before we drop off our reconnaissance platforms and bid this place adieu. You could well make it back to Cardoman before we do.”

“Here’s to that. We will keep in touch until transition, but as soon as the prisoners are locked down I’m on my way.”

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