Tools of the Trade 21

Tools of the Trade Chapter Twenty One

Captain Madry and the Eagle were back from Altoona. She had hypered in at three and a half hours, four days under acceleration to reach the planet, and was looking to shave some more time when she made the same passage again. With her the only passengers were two Cardoman officers who had been loaned to Major Calvert and now were returning home. That was well and good but the most important part of the ships loading, from Stan’s point of view, was Jamie herself.

She also brought back more than enough of the H225 heavy metal to finish off the first of the two generation 4 hyper ships, one was nearing completion in the dock already. That portion of her cargo was out of the Eagle and being processed long before Jamie was able to get into the shipyard offices. After the ship unloaded they only had half of one day and a night to spend together. But what a night.

The Eagle was outbound again the next day for Zeeland to pick up more of the drive units for the armored shuttles and another for the hyperships. It was a shame Admiral Raymond and Captain McCormack weren’t back with the Carp yet. Had they been Stan was sure there would have been a few more days in port for the Eagle. He would see her again in about five weeks but there was enough metal on hand now to finish up the radiation shield not only the starship but the first shuttle as well.

A week after the Eagle departed the Carpathian did return from New Erin. She brought back with her most of what she had intended when sent out. Additional missiles and the kind of shipboard electronic detection equipment that only a long established navy, such as the Caliphate or ConFed would have. Both of the long established navies were better across the board with that type of gear than what was being used by Llanfairn, but unless they were holding something back, not by as much as they had expected. Of course the deal used to get the information and equipment was delivery of an early production shuttle and the Zeeland fusion system.

It was worth while for all that, and equally important for the contacts made and the respect that Cardoman was getting as a new soon to be major power in Indie space. The Carp didn’t stay for long but under the command of Captain McCormack turned around and headed to Llanfairn to turn over information and hardware samples as called for by the mutual assistance treaty between the two worlds. Admiral Raymond stayed behind. The ship was all McCormack’s now.

Stan was spending all most all of his time lately at the shuttle yard. Lester Raymond was down on Cardoman doing the things that Stan figured Admirals did that lesser mortals were never made aware of. In reality he was working on budgets and schedules and doing PR work for the government. He did talk to Stan nearly every day and exhorted him on to greater levels of performance and output, assuming that was even possible.

Normal in system traffic was slowly adding more people to the Cardoman triad of needy organizations, Construction, Naval, and Military.

Ten days after the Carpathian’s return Admiral Raymond, General Anderson, Stan’s boss, Commander Warren “Woody”,Woodward, and lowly Lt. Commander Voinovich, were gathered together to finalize an number of things dealing with the Hyper Program. Admiral Raymond, as befitting his rank and the fact that they were at the yard, got the meeting underway.

“We have a lot to cover today so let’s get it moving. First of all information wise is the name of the ship nearing completion. There was a strong contingent wishing to rename her the Surprise, after the name given the ship Calvert captured and that she is based on. Good choice and we will save it for later. The winner had to go through political channels but there was a suggestion from Captain Madry that pretty much stopped all debate. We are going to name the new ship the Aladdin. It works on so many levels, from Witherway to the current struggle on Altoona, not to mention the black eye it gives the Caliphate. Once it was mentioned it ran away from the field. Got enough votes to call it a landslide.

“Second thing we need to do is to decide the weapons load out for this new class. We have gotten input from the Confederation and from Llanfairn. We have to make the final choices. The Aladdin, and I can call her that now, is nearly enough done that Woody says that decision must be made today or we delay the launch. Ok we do it now.

“The Carp has four standard launchers, the Eagle six. Both are primarily cargo haulers and designed for that from the start. The Aladdin will do better. We are committed to two of the new model shuttles and that takes up most of one deck, a fair amount of space. We have the control runs in place for sixteen missile launchers at the present time; I see no compelling reason to change.

The ship is smaller than almost all of the ConFed and Caliphate ships and sixteen, in any event will equal their standard battery. We don’t have the launchers or missiles to complete missile a full load yet though we do have what came back with the Carp and the licenses to build more. We have too much underway to start building right now so we will keep getting them in trade. Their installation looks to be about the last thing done to the new ship. We’ll get them installed as soon as we can but we will do the propulsion system trials before hand if it works out that way.

“Two 155’s are already mounted for close in work and unless someone today gives reason to change that is the final say in that matter. We have yet to figure out our total measure for dealing with missile defense but until something new comes along for long range work we will be using the same missiles we use against enemy ships against any thing they launch at us. Again the Carp brought in samples of the standard close range defensive missile and one launcher. We will put that on the Eagle for now. Comments?”

“Makes thing simple from the construction end if we have no changes,” Commander Woodward said.

“I see that too,” Stan added, “but I think we can do better for close in defense. We have two laser mounts planed for but I would like to try and fit in a couple more. We’ve got the whole ship but the docking bays split up by so many bulkheads and assigned areas that finding a space at the hull level in the control end is out of the question. But there’s just enough room to fit some slightly non standard units down in the drive spaces between the number two and three fusion unit. No crew of course but we can run them by remote. Won’t hold up the ships delivery if I can give the word to start the modifications today or tomorrow.”

“Makes sense ahead and get it started,” Admiral Raymond said without another thought. Then he continued on to his next point.

“So who will Command this Aladdin, first of her class?”

Stan stopped breathing and from the tightness he felt in his chest he thought later that his heart probably stopped too. Admiral Raymond paused only for an instant. “She’s yours Stan and for a lot of reasons.”

Admiral Raymond, as did everyone else, marveled at Stan’s dumbfounded expression and loss of words. “Yes you’ve never had a ship before but you’ve been in charge of a crew ten times the size of the Aladdin’s while the constructions been going on. The leadership and organizational ability that has shown is undeniable. Woody says you know her ins and outs better than he does. I don’t doubt it. And then let’s face it, our choices are rather limited. Neither Madry, or McCormack have ever fought a battle in space so all start even from that point and, I excuse myself from that last, though admitting I did get here under less than favorable circumstances.

“Captain Madry has proven herself, but I do not want to take her from the Eagle she knows it too well and her crew is almost fully integrated and I can’t spare her from her present duties. So when she’s done Stan, she’s yours— Subject as always to my check ride. No favorites shown there.”

Try as he might, Stan could find little to say. Until later on at the officers club.

* * *
The first of the new model shuttles was finished, through with final prep and waiting for only the breaking of a bottle of a good Cardoman champagne before leaving the dock and trials. Major Calvert’s mother had, with reluctance, made her first trip into space and would do the honors. That had been a suggestion from General Inglase and met with approval by all. Her first husband, Wesley’s father, would have loved this she thought, but except for the honor she would have rather stayed home.

When the yard hit full production the plan was to complete one shuttle every five working days and every day was one of those. This early on the next completion date was three weeks away. There were going to be so many of the small ships made, they massed only 210 tons, that giving them all an official ship’s name was ruled out. They would go by a class name and hull number. The ship in the bay was Shuttle, Patrol Class, Hull 101… SP 101 on all official records.

She was 23 meters long and 7 wide with two decks and very little headroom up in front of the shielded rear compartment that was mostly filled with engines and fuel. She was near rectangular in cross section unlike the large hyperships which were circular in almost every horizontal plane to accommodate the driving bands and the fields they produced. SP 101 would carry crew of seven.

The top deck was partially weapons but also contained the signals gear. The lower deck was weapons and cargo along with living spaces and life support. In service there would be two qualified pilots aboard but for the shakedown cruise she would carry four. Training, training, training. For at least the first trip out and return to the yard she would be accompanied by one of Cardoman’s older system shuttles in case something should go wrong and she needed assistance or even a tow back to base.

The honor of command was going to Lt. Pavel Tsarinstyn. He was assigned to the shipyard shuttle project from the start, learning about the systems from the inside. He had the proper engineering background but had been a pilot for the last five years. A perfect choice for the duty but it should have been, as everyone flight qualified had been considered before Pavel name came out on top.

The first flight, an hour out and back, showed a couple of minor problems with the communications and environmental systems. Some antenna alignment and temperature feedback loops tuning would handle that. Later the same day Pavel started working up the curve on power and performance. Two weeks later SP101 was qualified and accepted into the service with Lt. Tsarinstyn orders sending him on a full month evaluation cruise staying in the inner system so that just in case something should go wrong help would be available.

SP102, the second out of the yard, was almost finished with flight test by the time Pavel returned.

With the completion of the second shuttle Stan was once more working full time on the hyper project.

* * *
“She’s a beauty alright,” Commander Woodward said. And no one watching the placement of the final section of the outer hull would even think of disagreeing.

The Aladdin wasn’t beautiful in a classic streamlined sleek elegance kind of fashion, but rather in a utilitarian simplicity of form and function. She was shaped somewhat like a large dumbbell, 225 meters long with the front end being about 50 meters in diameter and 80 meters in length and the rear, reaction drive section 30 meters in diameter and 100 meters long. The middle connecting rod was 25 meters across and 65 long. Around the center bar were the four drive bands sticking out to the same extent as the front control and cargo section.

Protruding from both the curve of the front of the ship and the rear the reaction drive housing were blisters holding radio and laser communications gear along with various weapons and sensors. The standard anti-ship missile tube accelerators were mounted inboard and the exits covered when not in use. She was double hulled and massed a bit over 28,000 tons.

The four drive bands each had standing ribs running to the band adjacent and connecting to the bar middle section of the hull. They were there both for rigidity and for help in radiating excess heat. The fusion units creating the energy to power them were in the lower end of the dumbbell along with the fuel and the main ships heat sink.

The mid section, the bar, was filled with a maze of bracing and control runs. There was also a small shaft between the control and drive sections running through the bar’s center.

Besides the bridge at the very front and engineering control at the rear. The forward portion of the dumbbell held the cargo, docking bays, and weapons decks. Filling the rest of the section were crews quarters, a machine shop, a medical facility, and everything else needed to keep the normal crew of three hundred, and however many others might be transported, fit and functional for three months at a time.

A couple more weeks on the finish work and then acceptance test and evaluation. Stan left with the others still admiring the ship and went back to work.

The day finally arrived; Captain Voinovich gave the command, and with the drive at its lowest setting the Aladdin moved slowly out of the clutter of the shipyard and was free in her natural element.

Llanfairn had managed, no they had been eager, to free up two flight officers and an engineer to go through acceptance trials with the Aladdin. In doing so they would get a preview of what the second ship nearing completion would be like. Both flight officers were Captains who would stay with the second ship till construction was finished. That ship would be going back with them to Llanfairn.

Stan was thankful for the experience they brought but sure hoped he didn’t need it. The Aladdin was manned with those trained on the Carp and Eagle and workers and contractors from the yard. Stan knew that Admiral Raymond has wanted to be on board but General Inglase had overruled him.

Admiral Raymond had said, and Voinovich was not sure whether he was joking or not, “The General told me I couldn’t go along because he needed to have someone left to pin the blame on, just in case.”

As in the shuttle testing there were no problems of a major nature. Virtual design and engineering had just gotten so good over the centuries that it had been in use, that even massively complicated projects like the ship build seldom suffered major problems. Little things, connections, minor component failures, and human interface items that needed refinement, were what was most often found. The last part of the trial would be a few short hyper jumps but they would wait till the Aladdin had her shuttles aboard.

The new hypership Aladdin was sealed up tight and decelerating at 2.G’s to make the problem difficult enough to meet the qualification standards. Unless at rest in or in orbit, orbital velocities being so relatively slow that they were almost the same as being at rest, there wasn’t a direct view port any where on the ship left uncovered. It was possible, often necessary, to launch the two shuttles with the ship in motion, and that of course required a couple of large opening through the hull that did get exposed with the ship moving.

The shuttle bays themselves were not much larger than was necessary to hold the vehicles the housed. That kept air loss down to a few hundred cubic meters even if the bays weren’t pumped down. Civilian transports left far more room and relied on always having time to pump down and repressurize if the holding field was inoperable. The inner bay walls could be collapsed and swung into the floor and ceiling for very large loads or if the shuttle needed work done. This was rarely the case.

Stan was rather enjoying watching Lt. Tsarinstyn trying to get SP101 into the assigned docking bay and having one hell of a time doing so. Just looking at the opening from the view relayed by SP 101 it was impossible to believe they had left enough room. She’d gone in on her own under automatic control but now Pavel had to do it as if the system were broke. Pavel aborted the attempt for the second time killing his thrust and went back around to try again.

“Close, really close that time,” Voinovich commed with a barely detectable hint of amusement in his voice.

“Thank you Captain,” the pilot said, gritting his teeth and breaking off, Each time he missed SP101 boosted backwards at 4 negative G’s so that even glancing contact couldn’t be made and then and broke sharply away from any to make sure there would be no possibility of contact with any part of the Aladdin or her exhaust. Then Pavel would come around for another go. He finally made it the third time around and then three more in a row before turning the little ship over to his copilot for his qualification.

Stan didn’t enjoy it nearly as much when he had to do it himself and found how fiendishly difficult it actually was. Even after watching and learning from Pavel and those before him he took twice as Tsarinstyn had before he mastered it.

“Hyper…Now!” The ship vanished from normal space. “Start the shutdown Stan said at once to his Engineering officer, Lt. Miles Ellsberg. Miles had started out in physics, but on the experimental side rather than the theoretical, so the switch to the tinkering trade had come easily to him.

“Decreasing power Captain,” was the reply as the input to the drive bands was backed off. It took less power to stay in hyper than to get there in the first place. Exactly how much less had to be determined for each ship. The power down needed to be done smoothly but there was always a small difference in level each time it was done. It depended on the absolute mass of the ship and the velocity she was traveling when hyper was entered. Small differences of initial conditions led to large differences in final outcome. That was one of the reasons navigation was unpredictable even for very short distances.

“Were out,” Stan announced to the crew at large. It was obvious to those on the bridge and in engineering. “What do you think Miles,” he said as the brightness of the much smaller point astern was measured giving them the distance traveled.

“Close to what we figured on but the transition out seems quicker than in a generation three ship. If that holds up it can only help navigation. Every thing else is good so lets take an hour for my section to review what we have and then get lined up for another go around.”

They repeated the procedure once more and with good enough information hypered to within four light hours of the Cardoman yards and sent word that all was well. Another week was spent refining the various parameters and when they returned from the last jump prior to docking were just 17 light minutes from the planned reentry point. And even better than that from Captain Voinovich’s point of view the Eagle was in and off loading fusion units at the shuttle yard.

“God Jamie I missed you, more than anything,” Stan said as soon as he reached her table at the O-Club.

“Hah!,” she exclaimed, “A Captain with a new ship, his first ship, and he misses me or even think of me more than once a week, that’ll be the day!” And then with the now famous to Stan in any event, Madry twinkle in her eyes. “But just on the off chance you mean it, how long you gonna be here sailor and what ya got planned for later?”

What time they had was again far too short. The Eagle had almost completed its unloading and the demands for ore from Altoona dictated an immediate trip. The Carpathian and Captain McCormack had taken the third and fourth completed shuttles one to Llanfairn and the other to Zeeland and was expected back with the rest of the Aladdin’s Missiles and launchers at any time. One drink only and no more time was wasted at the O-Club. Another fabulous night and back to work.

Admiral Raymond, who was getting surreptitious reports that even should he wish to avoid them couldn’t, said to General Anderson between refills, “They do suffer, don’t they.”

Madry and the Eagle left as planned. Even as she departed her sensors caught Mac McCormack and the Carpathian arriving with the Aladdin’s final weapons load out. Good for Stan she thought, let’s cut this trip as fine as possible. I need to see him again, and really soon, there were a few things I didn’t think of last time I saw him that we ought to try working out.

The launch tubes were laid and the auto loaders assembled, completed and tested, within a matter of days. It was official now that Pavel and SP101 would be assigned to the Aladdin. The second shuttle for the Aladdin would be SP105 and it wouldn’t be done for another couple of weeks. At last Stan thought his ship was almost ready. Now he was waiting for Pavel to return from his latest out system patrol and training run with SP 104.

Stan was finished for now with all of the shipyard work and turned over the remaining bits and pieces to Woody Woodward. Even Commander Woodward couldn’t come up with a reason he couldn’t be released from any further yard duties. And he had tried really hard.

* * *
Rashid Mohamed Kalid watched his bridge aboard the Battle Cruiser, Sword of the Prophe; the blinking squares on his displays turned first to blinking green and then burned with a steady light. On Altoona Ibn al-Ghazzali had been preparing his position for the better part of a year. Muhammad Ahmad Al-Gamrawi Bey leader of the Caliphate in spirit as well as fact had decided it was time to find out how far the plans he had made with al-Ghazzali has proceeded. Rashid was not to interfere, unless called upon, and was to do everything in his power to prevent knowledge of his own presence being suspected.

It was thought, indeed taken as a given, that there was a ship, most probably from Llanfairn, watching the system. The Sword of the Prophet must not be seen. He would make sure he came out of hyper far from the primary. Twenty light hours out and on the other side from what would have been a normal approach. He had delivered Ibn to the planet in the first place so his calibration was beyond that needed for this type of accuracy. Once out of hyper he would proceed inwards with a low enough energy expenditure that detection should be impossible. He and his ship would do all they could but Rashid readily admitted, in the end it would be as Allah would will.

It was four weeks since the Sword of the Prophet had left Earth for Altoona. A six week passage with still one brief stop to make for a long range scan of the Cardoman system. Much was happening there. Presently the Caliphate had no intelligence network in place on the planet. Rashid was sure that plans were being made to rectify that situation. The one thing he was certain of was that he wouldn’t be called upon to do a covert drop there.

Out of hyper 15 hours from the Cardoman sun. Much too far for detection. All of the ships instruments were directed inward and the Sword accelerated towards the distant bright light at one G. Rashid was going to gather his information and hyper back out while still beyond the expected detection range and use minimal energy doing so.

He used only passive sensors, radio, neutron detectors, and electro-optic lens based devices. They were enough. The reports had been true, even an underestimation of the amount of construction in progress. A new, what could only be major, shipyard, and a four fold increase in activity at the preexisting small craft yard. With that kind of increase patrols and scans were likely more intensive and further out than he was ready for. Time to get out of here.

* * *
“What was that,” Pavel Tsarinstyn said as the threat detector gave a slight beep and blip and then lapsed to silence. “Hmm… It could be a ship going into hyper at the extreme edge of detectability.” He reanalyzed the data from every angle he could think of then radioed his report back into the newly formed deep space command.

What ever action was taken on it he couldn’t know about for at least another day. That was how long it would take for the signal to reach the command and any response to get back. He focused on the area of the probable contact but it was like looking for the lost horse once he was already safely back in the barn.

When Pavel’s message did reach his superiors the ultimate reaction was quite predictable. A request for a higher priority along with more ships and manpower so a deeper detection range could be supported and a potential threat detected further out. The immediate reaction was to call Lt. Tsarinstyn back in system for new orders.

When he got back in he found he had orders to report to the Aladdin. He had known that was going to happen but nice to have it official.

When Pavel docked with the ship and was still shutting down SP101 systems he found that Admiral Raymond and Captain Voinovich were meeting with two Defense Signal Officers and he was called directly into the session. Hr turned the shutdown over to his co-pilot and crew and made a dash to the meeting room. Lieutenants reporting to a new ship don’t keep their Captains waiting, much less their Admirals.

When he got there, “Is there anything else you can add to your contact report,” was the question everyone wanted answered.

“I’m afraid not,” Pavel answered. “The data dump had it all… If that last contact was a ship going into hyper, where might she have been bound,” Pavel asked. A hard question but the resultant analysis said Altoona was the most likely possibility. Muted alarms were starting to sound in the Admirals head.

“This might be a real threat, and if not it will be a real test. We’ve got to get out to Altoona and see what that ship, if indeed it was a real contact, and I fear it was, is up to,”
Admiral Raymond said, “And see how fast we can get there. If I am over reacting and I hope I am, such is life. One thing Stan, it will give us a good chance to see where we stand in terms of readiness, and a real test of your crew!”

An hour later after and the two signals officers had departed and the Aladdin was heading out and preparing for her jump.

Captain Madry and the Eagle had left with an almost three day head start, and the Calp ship, they had decided to call it that, had a two day lead by the time the Aladdin was given the go ahead and ordered to follow. Even after the late entry into hyper, and with the difference of speed between third and fourth generation ships she the trip was short enough that the Eagle would beat the Aladdin but only by a mater of hours.

If the suspected Caliphate vessel was fourth generation it would be there first of all, if third generation it would be last. No mater what the final positions were it was important that Stan cut the navigational data fine. It would be no help to anyone if when they arrived they were so far out system that he would not be able to offer assistance if needed. It would mean using only the rudimentary data he had collected so far to try for a very close entry. That was the plan and he would execute it.

Once on the way there was still much drill and training to continue so even if the trip turned out to be an unnecessary gesture much would be accomplished.