Tools of the Trade 22

Tools of the Trade Chapter Twenty Two

“And we saved him and those with him in the laden ship.
Then afterwards we drowned the others.
Lo! herein is indeed a portent…”

Surah XXVI verses 119-121

“Our suspicions are confirmed,” Rashid Kalid said to his signals officer, Farhan Mutlaq Saleh. “Very fine work there, you and your section are commended.”

“Thank you Sir, we came in under such low power that our own emissions did not mask those of the other ship otherwise it would not have been possible. Now that we know where she is we will not lose her. Our records show here to be the Brisbane and as thought from Llanfairn. Third generation Corona class about half our armament. I recommend we leave a sentinel probe to watch over her. If she moves we will see the drive and track it. If not, we can return and retrieve the probe at any time.”

“Fine, make haste. We will continue in system as soon as you are ready. The courier should be waiting by the time we reach the meeting location and it is dangerous for a working ship to loiter in when it should be out mining. We must not delay. We will return to this position afterwards and shadow the Llanfairn ship if the situation warrants.”

Saleh did just as his Captain ordered and in well under the allotted hour the Sword was once more heading inwards under very low power, eliminating any chance that the Llanfairn vessel would notice her.

Lester Raymond, just as he had promised, was along for the check ride, he hadn’t figured it to be a military operation at the same time. Raymond was alternating shifts with his new Captain on the bridge. Eight on and eight off would have been easier but Lester took two thirds of the bridge time so that Stan would have a few extra hours every day to continue work on the weapons installation.

Lt. Joe Speedway, the ships first officer, had spent months working simulations and was splitting his time between real bridge routine and learning the new electronics from New Erin and had not much time left over for the rest of the ship.

Pavel Tsarinstyn was being broken in as a watch officer. Not much for a shuttle pilot to do in the twelve days prior to entering normal space again at Altoona. Even with his years in shuttles the Aladdin was so different from what he was used to that it would take at least six months to fully qualify. He also was spending half of his time working with the weapons systems as the tubes were brought on line, not on installation but learning fire control. Only two were launchers has been functional before the Carp returned from her last trip to New Erin and only two more made ready by the time the Aladdin left Cardoman. Try as they might there was no chance to getting all them all ready in the next twelve days so they concentrated on the four that they might finish up. That and installing the new sensor gear, and mating warheads to missiles, and getting a crew of marines ready to man the 155’s and….

Raymond was thankful that they did have mote than a full compliment of enlisted ratings who were working hard but they were also still learning the ropes.

“That’s five,” Voinovich said as the diagnostics came up clean on the fifth tube.”

The engineering section was in the best shape of any of the ships departments. All of Ellsberg’s people had been with the ship from the time the keel was laid down nine months ago and it showed. Ellsberg took it upon himself to do the accelerator timing in the new missile launchers. The faster they could get them away from the ship the faster they could fire the drives. Stan had picked up a little saying from the gunnery Sgt. Speed Kills. He better start some drill in manual handling and loading, after the automatic loaders were tested.

“Damn it was loud in the bay when doing the loading in manual mode, and it wasn’t just the cussing of the team leaders. Mechanical pulls and lifts powered by human effort set up a din inside the launching bay at odds with the calm orders for an orderly launch sequences. They did finally get the human powered speed up to near half of what the auto loaders could manage.

“Ok Lieutenant Speedway, Just how good is this electronic stuff we got from New Erin? We paid a bundle for it. Did we get our credits worth?” Stan asked.

“Sir, it’s magic… When we can get it to work. And the spec sheets demos are convincing. Our problem right now is with data transfer rates. Since we didn’t have time to mount the new sensors out on the hull and are hooking into the receivers for our original system we don’t have as much data transfer throughput. Until the new receiving gear is mounted we will have to work it out in in software protocols. The neutrino and gravwave gear are online now. We need to run some real world tests before we rely on it but since we can’t until we transition, I’ll keep all of our original equipment running in parallel.”

“That’ll have to do,” Voinovich said, directing his concern to where he might do some good and keeping this one on hold till it could be addressed later.
Jamie Madry whistled a little tune she made up as she went along. She didn’t even realize she was doing it but it was her way of concentrating on the sim running in the weapons bay control station. The Eagle and crew were working together like the parts of a luxury ground car. Most people would have said “Like a fine watch,” but that made no sense; watches, fine or otherwise, didn’t have any parts. She had her full officer compliment aboard and all but the newest watch officer had been on board for several months.

She hadn’t said anything but she thought she had a good chance of coming out of hyper at Altoona at the two light hour mark. Boosting at her maximum 50 G that would still be thirty six hours from orbit but a new record. Jamie hit pause and put the sim on hold and commed the bridge. “Lt. Matson, get with Tubs and the Boss’n and have them do a damage control exercise. I want it set up as if we just lost reactor one and have a hull breach in the connecting tube. Suit’s for all and I want it to start in ten minutes.”

“Yes Ma’am!”

Lt. Matson gave the word and Lt. Tubman cut the gravity generator, then he hit the alarm. “All hands to battle stations! Damage Control, fusion one is down, we have a hull breach at frame 37.”

aime watched from the repeater in the weapons bay. It had started out fine but there were problems getting people into the suits. When the damage control party reached the drive section Jamie had Matson shut off the main com link as if it had been severed. The damage party hadn’t set up any com relays.

Next all the lights in the drive section were turned off and from there it just got worse. Looks like the Eagle might need a little more work than she had thought. “Lieutenant, everyone but damage control back to there normal duty stations. Then have the repair team do it again. And this time see if you can get them to do it right. Two more tries and it met her grudging approval. Two hours later the same drill again. This time it went by the book. “Mats, make a list of some other damage scenarios and let’s run another in say eight hours. Middle of third watch, Lt. Hines to be on the bridge. You will be injured in your cabin, and when it starts off you get carted to sick bay. You can watch it from there while I observe from the bridge. And the same as last time, we do it till we get it right.”

For all but the last day of the two weeks in hyper it was drill, drill, and more drill. Jamie let up only on that last day. She wanted every one fresh when they transitioned in. She was going to see how rapidly they could get in the final position fix and course correction and be underway. That was another means of cutting a few minutes off of the total trip time and one way or another she would have her record.

Jamie hadn’t paid as much attention to her marine detachment as she would have liked to. With the Eagle now fully manned she had one of the marines, most usually a private, stationed outside of her quarters at all times. The entrance to the bridge also had a full time guard. The total number of marines on board was 38. Commanded by a Captain with a Lieutenant as his second. They had damage control functions but if the Eagle were to launch the single shuttle she carried in support of ground troops of for a cutting out expedition that was what they were there for.

The officer leading the Eagle’s detail was giving her problems. He couldn’t seem to get it through his head that until they could handle damage control, his men, from Jamie’s point of view, were just passengers for 99% of the time. This had to change and she called him into her day cabin, a small office just outside the bridge.

“Have a seat Major Cleary.” He got a courtesy promotion from his Captains rank. “We need to make sure we are working from the same page in the operations manual.”

The Major, trim, broad shouldered, and more than a head taller than Madry would have been perfect on a recruiting poster.

“Yes Ma’am, I expect we do.”

“You understand that it was the performance of your people that required us to run three of the last drills twice?”

Cleary was still looking like the poster boy when he respond, “I understand it might look like that but my men are trained to go to the point of contact or where they might make a military difference. They go to the docking bay either to repel boarders or get on board our shuttle for a ship action.”

“That stops now! Until I release them for other duties when battle stations sound they are damage control and will behave as such! You Major!… will be evaluated from this point onwards, on how well they perform that function. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes Ma’am!”

“Dismissed!” Jamie thought she might have gotten through. For the briefest of moments he looked like she might have shaken him up a bit. Cleary was old school. But how could someone of his age be called that? Was it a genetic thing? In the blood? No it was a combination of nature and training. Well he would shape up or ship out along with the horse he rode in on.

The Eagle was ready to transition out and Madry was on her command deck and strapped in like the rest. The lights, normally kept at daylight level when in hyper, were dimmed and Jamie watched the numbers count down. Two…One… Now! The overhead dome of the control room lit up showing points of light and the view outside. The data was mirrored in her seat display.

“Looks very close captain, we’ll have the numbers in a second,” Lt. Hines said. “A new record Ma’am, 1.14 lighthours.” A cheer went up from those on the bridge. That was very close to the theoretical best.

“Very well done people, let’s get the course to Altoona plotted and get an ETA.”

Just over twenty one hours, that’s all it would take and they would have a record that was likely to stand in the ships log for a long time. Jamie sure wasn’t going to try and better it while she still captained the Eagle. Ships exited hyper with a part of their initial transition in velocity and that velocity was retained in a logarithmic relationship that depended mostly on how close to the local sun their exit point was. With a star as massive as the Altoonan sun they had come in barely on the regulation mandated safe side. No way was she going to press her luck ‘cause that’s what it would be if she ever tried to make it any closer. Getting sucked into the heart of a star sized fusion reactor could ruin anyone’s day.

Admiral Raymond was impressed with the orderly efficiency as the Aladdin’s crew made ready for transition. He had taken over the navigational console and would get to see the transition details as soon as they were computed just as Voinovich would. The Captain sounded the alarm and Raymond heard him countdown, “Two…One…Now!”

Not bad at all, very good in fact for a first jump to a new location with a new ship, even one with drive and navigational systems as good as Aladdin’s. Just a bit under two and a half lighthours. Now they both would have a chance to see just how good those New Erin sensors were.

As a fourth generation ship with an extra drive band the Aladdin could out accelerate any older vessel by a third. It was the drive bands that as a secondary function gave the hyperships their gravity control in normal space. The lack of them explained why smaller vessels, system craft, landers and shuttles, were limited to whatever natural acceleration the crew could tolerate.

What that meant in the Aladdin’s case was a max acceleration of slightly more than 67.5 G or almost 660 meters per second. May as well use it all, Stan decided as he set up the final course parameters. Call it eighteen hours to turnover for a zero relative arrival at Altoona and thirty six in total. He wouldn’t know how close that was going to be to the Eagles time until he could pick Audie’s ship up.
“Lt. Speedwell let me know when you get a signal.”

* * *
Captain Kalid was on his bridge again a little less than a day after ordering the course which had sent them to the rendezvous point. The Sword had detected the waiting ship long before they picked up the signal from the asteroid miner at the spot preselected almost a year before. Once a month the work ship was required to be in position and wait for a possible contact with the Sword or a similar ship, and be ready to send whatever information Ibn al-Ghazzali thought should go back to the Caliphate on Earth. The data transmission, also as planed, was done using best technique on a tight beam optical link. No chance for interception unless something passed through the beam and that would be detected by the decrease in signal strength. The mining ship never even knew if the signal was received as no acknowledgment would be given.

Mission completed. Rashid went over the information the as the Sword reversed course, returning to the sentinel watching the ship from Llanfairn which still hadn’t moved. It was keeping it’s station well away from the planet, but more importantly well inside the hyper limit, there would be no escape should Rashid decide something needed to be done about it. It looked like the final act on the planet would play itself out within a few more hours and if the enemy vessel didn’t move soon it would not be close enough to affect the start of the action. But even if it arrived late it could prove decisive at the end.

Rashid would stick around and if necessary play a small role in the outcome. His orders were to aid in any manner whatsoever so long as the Caliphate could not be implicated. He was sure that he would be following both the letter and spirit of those orders if he were to stop any interference from the Llanfairn ship, still silently watching and waiting six hours ship time away from Altoona.

“Saleh, keep track of all message traffic from the planet outwards, should the infidel ship be contacted alert me! If she starts to move, I want battle stations sounded at once.” He turned to his first officer, “The Sword will keep on full alert. I want power maintained on standby and our launchers loaded and targeted. Take heed, for as Allah is my witness and protector, victory shall be ours,” he said and then went back to studying the data dump.

The Sword of the Profit was still several hours away from the position that Mohamed Kalid had chosen to watch the Llanfairn cruiser, he continued to use low acceleration to prevent detection, when Mutlaq Saleh messaged his Captain. “Sir we are detecting a coded message broadcast from the planet. It will reach target one,” that was the Llanfairn ship Brisbane’s designation, “in another three minutes.”

Kalid had hoped to be back in place before any messages were sent but this could work out better. “Monitor the target and I will take the bridge.”

The message would have reached the other ship by now but even if she went directly into power up the signal from the sentinel would still take a few minutes to inform him. He started to order battle stations but decided to wait. The two ships were far enough apart that it wasn’t necessary right now. He had ordered that the ship kill its outward velocity and prepare to reverse course. It the target did head inwards, something Kalid expected, he didn’t want the velocity vectors to be so large that the Sword would need to go to a detectable power level in order to match course and shadow the other ship.

“Target one powering up, Saleh said, then, “Heading inwards.”

Kalid saw the projected track on his display along with the drive output level which was peaking towards maximum, and the current velocity relative to his ship. He said to his first officer, who now sat at the navigation console. “Determine how much her sensors are being degraded by her drive radiation and increase our output in a like fashion but keep us below the detectability threshold. We shall follow her in and be ready to react if she tries to interfere on Altoona. Put the Sword on alert but hold off on battle stations till we are closer to launch range. I will return to the bridge in three hours.” He went back to his cabin and tried to relax. He might even get in some sleep. Nothing more would happen for another five hours or so.

On the Llanfairn cruiser Brisbane no one was relaxing or getting any sleep. As soon as her Captain had read the message sent by the Cardoman military commander Major Calvert, that informed him of the imminent coup attempt and requesting that he get in position to render assistance, the acceleration warnings were sounded and the cruiser set a course inwards at full military power. He would get to Altoona as soon as possible.

The message had been sent early afternoon local time so the ship should be making orbit around midnight local, approximately seven hours from now. With the ship on course and drive ramped up he then ordered all off duty personnel to catch what sleep they could and he tried to do likewise.

An hour after beginning his sensor sweep Lt. Speedwell reported. “Sir I’ve picked up the Eagle. Got her first a few seconds earlier on the New Erin gear. She’s heading to Altoona at max and based on what I’m getting she must have transitioned out at just over a light hour.”

Admiral Raymond said, “That is some kind of navigation. Even for Captain Madry. Lieutenant keep comparing the two sensing systems outputs. We know all the physical data for the Eagle so we can get an excellent baseline on just how good the new equipment is.”

“Yes Sir!”

Ten minutes later the Admiral was still on the bridge after taking over the Command seat from Voinovich who was already back in the weapons bay. Stan was going to time how long it took for everyone in the launcher installation crew to get from their flight stations and back to work on the still important missile detail. They all were in the bay five minutes later when Stan was summoned once more to the bridge.

When he got there Admiral Raymond motioned for him to go over to Speedwell’s station and Stan saw what all the fuss was about. There were now three bright marker lights with tail vectors showing three active drives putting out the kind of power only hyperships were capable of.

Speedwell filled in the details. “A few minutes after you left Captain I started to get some indications on the New Erin gear showing the other two ships. One checked out as the Llanfairn Cruiser Brisbane, but the other was a surprise. Now we have them on our older system and it’s certain one of the new ships is the Brisbane, the other isn’t even in our database. It’s also fourth generation so it has to be a Calp. You can see by the track that the Calp ship is shadowing her.”

Stan looked at the larger system plot that showed the Eagle much further from Altoona than either of the other two ships. “What do you think Lt? Does the Calp know about the Eagle and does Captain Madry know about either?”

“What we are looking at happened an hour and a half ago. If the Calp sensors are anywhere near as good as ours or even our older stuff she knows about the Eagle. The Eagle, being a former merchant ship is so noisy that at full acceleration I doubt Captain Madry has a clue yet. As far as the Brisbane, possible but I don’t know enough about the kind of equipment she carries to say anymore. If it’s close to our old gear, which is almost certainly the case, then since the Eagle is behind her I would say probably not for a while yet.”

Stan thought for just a moment then said, “Admiral we can’t do anything but continue on our present course for quire a while yet. I’ll call in Lt. Tsarinstyn and we can figure out what to do next. If that meets with your approval.”

“There’s one thing we need to do first.” the Admiral replied, “Send a message to both the Eagle and the Brisbane alerting them of our presence in system and what we know about the Calp. That insures they find out about her even if they don’t pick her up before our signal arrives.”

Stan turned to Speedwell, “Send it Lieutenant, then page Tsarinstyn,” If there had been more time Stan would have been feeling foolish he hadn’t thought of it himself.
Farhan Mutlaq Saleh sounded the call to battle stations and Captain Kalid entered bridge before the alarms were silenced. He saw the plot now showed another ship besides target one the Brisbane. Still a long ways out of optimum missile range he thought and willed himself to remain calm. They were though almost at extreme range for target one.

“Saleh, do you have an identity on the second ship?” He asked this in a strangely tranquil manner, thought his first officer who had relinquished the command seat.

“Yes Sir. She is Cardoman, the converted merchant ship they call the Eagle.”

“Could she have detected us yet?

“I do not believe so; she is very noisy else we would not have picked her up as soon as we did. Target one has much better sensors and by all indications has not seen us so the Cardoman unless she should cut her drive is many hours away from seeing our drive.”

“When she does,” Kalid said, “she will send a warning. We will set a course taking us as close to target one as we are able while still keeping her in the dark about our presence. We stay on full alert.”

Another hour later and Kalid got a second surprise when contact three was revealed even further out system than the Eagle. It was fortunate he had not boosted his own drive output or she would have remained invisible to his sensors. Forth generation and not in the database. Things had taken a decided turn for the worse. He had another surprise only fifteen minutes later they intercepted what could only be an alert broadcast by the generation four ship furthest out system. That could only mean he the Sword was not as stealthy as he had supposed.

This was where Kalid would earn his place in paradise. He could see all sixteen of his launchers armed and aimed. He was well within range. He gave the order. “As Allah wills! Engage the enemy, fire in sequence.” The first flight was on its way, then he ordered another, after that a third before the stop fire order. He watched the multiple tracks converge on the Llanfairn cruiser, quite certain another launch would not be required. Even so he went to full power and followed them inward.

“Battle Stations! Battle Stations! Missiles incoming! The watch officer on the Brisbane had already released the first defensive salvo but the suddenness of the attack and the ever increasing numbers of missiles showing on his plot made him want to disbelieve his eyes. The Captain had not yet reached the bridge. He could not possibly make a difference in the final outcome when he did arrive.

“First Lieutenant Sheila Murphy made the decision that would earn her the Llanfairn Medal of Honor, posthumously. “Ignore incoming and defensive fire. Target all weapons at the bastards that launched on us!”

“We have missiles inbound,” Saleh announced.

Now that was unexpected, target one’s only hope, however slim, to survive was to use all it’s available fire power defensively. “Evasive maneuvers and full electronic countermeasures,” was Kalid’s command. Every tube fired once then cycled again. The defense was almost perfect. All of the enemy missiles were intercepted outside of their kill radius. But one managed, due to blind chance and the interference caused by all the electronic noise of the battle when combined with the EMP from exploding warheads to penetrate close enough to cause minor damage to the Sword of the Prophet’s sensors and burn off a small section of the hull plating causing an overload in the number two driving band.

Kalid saw the destruction of the Brisbane then looked to see what could be done about the number two band.
On the Eagle Captain Madry, being further out system and closer to the Aladdin received the alert 14 minutes before the Brisbane did. After reviewing it with Lt. Matson first and then with the rest of the Eagle’s bridge crew she was afraid she knew what was going to happen. In slightly more than forty minutes, thirty for the signals to start coming in from the Brisbane and ten more before the battle was over and analyzed, she was proven all to true. Even with as noisy as the Eagle was the violence of the attack was such that it couldn’t be missed, or misinterpreted had they not received the Brisbane’s data. When the first warhead exploded the Brisbane’s drive signature vanished from the plot.

“Maintain course. Lt. Tubman, see if you can you coax out a bit more speed.”

Raymond and Voinovich got the Eagles reply to the alert message and a relay of her data almost two hours after the battle was over. The messages traveled at light speed but the Aladdin, still building up acceleration had a long way and a long time to go before she might be in any position to influence events either in space or on Altoona where Jamie had said the Calp ship was heading at 50 G’s.

On the Sword of the Prophet Kalid read the damage control report. Only one band out and a slight degradation in sensor ability. A few hours and the sensors would be back to 100% the band could not be repaired short of a level one shipyard. He was down to generation three performance. That wasn’t much of a problem, considering that if he should choose to flee he could not be caught before he was outside of the hyper limit. With only a rearmed former merchant relatively close he decided to keep heading towards Altoona orbit.

If the Eagle decided to follow him he had more than twice the number of her launchers. He had expended thirty percent of his missile load but would still have aboard far more than she would be carrying. Not knowing any details of the far off generation four ship he would have to flee should she get to a position where she might be able to engage him but that was for later. For now he prayed, thanking Allah for the victory, and took his ship out of battle stations but kept her on full alert.