Tools of the Trade 8

Tools of the Trade Chapter Eight

Wes greeted the 28 additional men Connie had signed up in Framington before she, along with Madry and Ramseyer with his men and equipment departed for Llanfairn. He took pains to keep his demeanor outwardly severe and stern, as was only proper for the first impression of new soldiers, but inside he gave a silent thanks for the extra help. In nominal charge of the group, though he actually trailed just behind Davis, was a newly minted Lieutenant from of all places the Confederation capital planet Union.

In her last communication Connie had mentioned taking him in but she didn’t explain why a new officer from the confederation would be starting his career out here rather than on his home planet’s or at least with Confederation forces. She had just said cryptically that he was in for a pleasant surprise.

And indeed, as it turned out he was. They were, after all, as desperate for personnel as the Indies. And with the problem of manning both ships truly desperate for experienced spacers and this guy’s education must have included enough of that to make him useful. At least that’s what Connie had thought had thought. And Wes learned after the interview.

“Lieutenant, if you would dismiss your men, Sgt. Davis will take them under his wing and get them situated, then join me at headquarters.” He pointed to a table and a couple of chairs sitting under a tree 30 meters from where they stood.

Sgt. Davis, carry on.” Wes gave a regulation salute then walked over to the shaded table and the tall pitcher of iced tea awaiting him there. “Much too early for Ramseyer’s favorite gin and tonic,” he thought, with a wry grin.

Well before the glass was fairly started on his newest officer was standing in front, “Lieutenant Voinovich, reporting as ordered sir,” Stanislaw Voinovich said with a snappy salute.

Calvert, looked at the stocky, blue eyed, curly haired officer in the Ophian black with 2nd Lt. tags issued by the Union Naval Academy, and had a hard time believing that he had ever looked so young. Yet less than four years before he must have been the same.

“Have a seat Lt. and pour yourself a glass of tea. I’m glad Melbourne sent you along of course, but curious about how you came to be so far from home in the first place, and in particular why someone with naval training is joining an infantry unit. I would have thought she would have enticed you with a position on one of our captured prizes.”

“It seemed odd to me at first too Captain. I mean my being here on planet not turning down the shipboard offer. It surely isn’t what I thought I’d joined the Union Navy for but the reasons did make a lot of sense once they were explained to me. On Union, we don’t have enough ships for the number of people the Academy is turning out right now. No Confederation planet has the number of ships they want to man but unlike on Union, they are also having problems manning the ships they do have.

“Bu-ships and Bu-personnel both claim that on Union at least the imbalance will be rectified when the new construction in the yards come on line over the next three years, but for now too many bodies, too few ships.”

“I suspect even in three years time, unless the Calps make major changes the overall shortage in ships and manpower will be just as great and probably more of a problem than it is today,” Wes said, “but the situation on Union, as the Confederation capital is unique, continue.”

“I can only speak to what I was told Sir. What my superiors decided to do with my graduating class was offer a few of us a choice to accept orders for a temporary enlistment into the Indie forces. The idea being to gain real experience rather than be additional cogs in the shore side bureaucracy until slots opened up on the ships in commission or those almost ready. I went to Llanfairn for a chance at a one or two year enlistment outside of the Confederation and guaranteed a jump in grade and assignment to the fleet when I return. And if there is any discrepancy in pay rate, the Union Navy will make up the difference.”

“I see that takes care of the first part of my question. And according to your records they weren’t making this offer to just the bottom half of your class, but why Ophia and why me? And it still doesn’t answer why your sitting her drinking a tea and not on the Surprise or Carpathian.”

Well sir, when the option was presented we had a chance to look at Bu-Int’s evaluations of the eight most likely Indie planets where we might go in order to secure experience. The one most would have chosen Llanfairn, was in the same temporary situation as we were. More people than ships and every Indie naval graduate looking for a way in. The powers that be in the Admiralty knew this was the case but decided officers having experience working with infantry were in short supply and this could be a way to fix the problem.

Right now, Union agencies that ought to know think, almost all Caliphate activity is directed at the Indie worlds, but Bu-Int and the navy brass fear that it wont be that way for much longer. We might soon need people familiar with the Independent worlds military and also capable of working with the kind of units most employ. So when Lieutenant Melbourne offered me a position on the Surprise I turned her down but countered with a request for an infantry assignment.

“Why you in particular sir? That’s a little more complicated. With travel time as it is we knew you were on Ophia but there was only a one sentence reference in the report, which even mentioned your name. Colonel Ramseyer was commented upon quite heavily and I based my decision to come here based on his presence.”

“And you talked to him back in Framington?”

“Yes sir, that’s where I met Lt. Melbourne sir. Col. Ramseyer offered me a position, but told me he was headed for Llanfairn right now, and could not say with certainty where he might end up, or when. He recommended I talk to your exec and the Lt. said that she would take me on at infantry for now, but only if I agreed to serve on a ship for the second half of my contract should I be so ordered. I said I would think about it, and then I found out that CSM Davis was you First Sergeant and here I am. Sir, if you can describe a better learning environment I am all ears.”

“Very good Voinovich, set up your gear in Melbourne’s old tent, have Davis show you where it is and ask that he take you around to meet some of the others. We’ll talk again after you’re settled in.”

“Thank you Sir,” the Lt. said standing and giving a salute before turning to and heading over to the company area.”

Even before he returned there moments later he heard Davis’s loud voice which yelling at one of the newly arrived men over a real or imagined slight, and that greatly simplified finding him.

He had no trouble hearing Davis say, “And that is the last time anyone refers to our Ophian replacements new troops and allies as Oafs, do I Make myself Clear!” Waiting to enter the tent until the noise level was just a low rumble; Voinovich went inside and conveyed the pertinent part of Wesley’s instructions. Davis snapped out directions and detailed some help to move the chest containing his personal belongings from its location piled on top of the rest of the company’s supplies. He gave Voinovich about five minutes and then proceeded to introduce him around.

Stanislaw Voinovich was having second thoughts about not taking the offer to crew the Surprise. He was absolutely certain it would have been acceptable to his Union military masters. And he would have been warm and dry.

The rain was falling heavily again just as it had for most of the last two weeks. Voinovich peered into the darkness wondering if the infantry always lived like this. From his limited experience that would seem the case. Davis should be back at any time and then Stan would get to see how his impression from what he had heard of him matched up with reality.

Silently as a ghost Davis seemed to appear next to him as if materializing out of the darkness. When Stan first noticed him, he was lightly shaking water from the anti-IR poncho they all were wearing.

“Bout what we expected sir.” he said in a whisper. “Couple of sentries and no one else stirring. Either they’ve run out of em, or the pulse from the suppressor rounds knocked out their sensors, so we can do it the easy way. I’ll take Short and go for the one on the left,” here he pointed to IR blob that was further away and on one side of the small display. “You take Loomis and go for the other. Be in position in twenty minutes and we’ll both try to do it at the same time. Understand Sir?”

“Got it Sarge,” he said then signaling Loomis moved into the underbrush.

They covered the first half of the distance in less than five minutes and Stan looked at his watch and the dim display over and over as they slowed down to a crawl as they got closer. The sentry was leaning against the bole of a large tree looking down slope from his position near the top of the jagged ridge. Voinovich and Loomis had managed to circle around behind him and he didn’t seem to be paying any attention to their direction. The last two minutes had been an agonizing succession of step–pause, step–pause, but now Stan was five meters away with Loomis on his left shoulder and an arms length away.

Thirty seconds to go. Stan pulled the combat knife from its sheath and through the low light goggles, its eight inch blade showed a slightly brighter green line along the edge. He was scared clean through but managing to control it. He was in charge and in front and needed to prove himself. That made it was his job to go in first with Loomis providing the backing up.

Ten seconds to go and a tap on his shoulder that almost caused him to jump out of his skin. He looked over towards Loomis and saw him holding a long barreled pistol with a can shaped silencer screwed onto its end. Loomis took a double handed grip, extended his arms, and a muffled Phet.. Phet.. Phet.. almost as fast as Loomis could pull the trigger.

The sentry slumped to the ground. Loomis whispered, “I heard about people doin’ it with knifes Sir but I was afraid with the two of us moving towards him I might slip and make some noise. It’ll be your turn next time and I promise not to interfere.”

* * *
The 3 weeks from Ophia to Llanfairn was for the most part uneventful. Captain Raymond had taken a short hop In the Surprise to verify the performance when operating with three drive bands and then along with Igor Lerminov programmed the engineering settings and course data for the trip. Both ships were in hyper terms, right next to each other, and in communication the whole time. Russo Nevier was unhappy about being berthed aboard the Surprise as he had just about given up any hope of making headway with Madry who was also on board and spending every waking hour examining the ship’s systems.

Tough luck for him Connie thought but after all what good was rank if one couldn’t exercise it once in a while. Raymond using the controls of the Carpathian as the baseline sent the Surprise exact time to translate out and put them both into Llanfairn space a very respectable 12 hours from planetary orbit. And that’s when the fun started.

Two ships arriving at the same time much less at almost the same position sent the planetary defense forces and the Llanfairn Navy on full alert. The waited without approaching the planet while two cruisers closed in on them for a boarding and inspection. It was only the fact that Connie was a citizen of Llanfairn and that they had complete information brought in by Settles and the Pleasure Dome that made things go as rapidly as they did. Even so, both ships had an ‘Honor Guard’ on board when they were given permission to proceed inwards and take orbit.

The ships were barely in orbit and the communications black out lifted; they were asked to say nothing about the presence of the Surprise over an open com link. The first message came from the planet in barely the blink of an eye. It was from the Cardoman Embassy.

Everything had gone as planed with the Pleasure Dome and Settles let the small Cardoman delegation stationed on the planet know to expect the Carpathian. They had requested a heads up from landing control as soon as the Carpathian should arrive and that explained how they managed to beat the Newsies into the message queue.

Connie took the call on the Carp’s bridge. “Good afternoon General Anderson,” she said, adjusting the greeting to fit the local day. The message header identified the uniformed officer identified as the Military Liaison between the Cardoman and Llanfairn governments.

“Good afternoon indeed Lieutenant Melbourne,” was the reply. Her name and rank were mentioned by the radio officer who had transferred the call and was on her own message header as well. “I can see I won’t be the first nor last to congratulate you and everyone else in your unit. But I would appreciate a meeting as fast as it might be arraigned. If it’s agreeable I can be waiting for you at the port when you are ferried down,” he said with a smile
Connie’s appearance and voice shifted from one of welcoming relief and took on a more serious look. “I believe would like that more than anything in the world right now Sir, but for at least another day I am going to need to stay here on the Carpathian. Perhaps I could send a shuttle for you sir and we could meet here?”

“A shuttle? I thought from the information we received from Captain Settles of the Pleasure Dome that the Carpathian only has auxiliary craft unable to enter atmosphere.”
“That was true Sir but things have changed a bit. If you could be at the port in say another hour and a half I can make sure you have a ride waiting.”

“Most acceptable,” he said and they each politely signed off.

With the Pleasure Dome avoiding the prize court and the insurance proceeds already paid, there was an almost indecently large amount of credit in the Companies account. As soon as she could get them clearance, within the hour seemed likely, Madry and Pilchard were going dirtside with orders to start spending some of it. First priority was a place to stay and second the list of replacement supplies for those remaining back on Ophia. Then, modest upgrades and new equipment to keep track with the growing units increase in size and abilities.

As part of the quid pro quo for keeping silent about the Surprise, the Llanfairns had agreed to provide transportation on the stream of landers they were using to ferry back and forth their customs and technical people. Connie hadn’t yet permitted any close inspection of the Surprise and the point wasn’t being pressed. But there were many who just wanted a look at the ship from a closer perspective than that of a recording. And it was on the next of these ships that Madry and Pilchard took downwards, and another that later General Anderson, after swearing secrecy to he didn’t know what, rode back up.

They sat in Connie’s suite on the Carpathian. “Did you know the Captain or his family General?”

“I’m sorry I can’t honestly say I did. I must have crossed paths with his father at some point in our careers. And I did serve briefly with his uncle Fredrich but we were never close. After I found out what his father accomplished before his death I always regretted not knowing him.”

“The Captain didn’t talk much about what his father did but only occasionally what it had meant to his mother when after he died. Would you think it out of place if I asked to see the records General?”

“Not at all, when they finally let you out of here stop by the embassy and I’ll make sure they’re available. The basic details are in most recent Cardoman histories. Now though I think I need to be getting back and see just how much of what Captain Calvert would like to see happen that we can assist with. And between you and me, “ he said handing her an envelope sealed with the Cardoman Emblem, “he’s a Major now and you are a Captain, at least in the service of Cardoman. “Oh, and I have an electronic file from the Ryman Liaison for a Robert T. Davis whom I believe is one of yours?” With that bit of cheery news he took his leave.

Connie had tried to get in touch with here family as soon as the communications blackout was lifted and had only reached the answering machine with no responses being returned. She tried again and still nothing. Then a real voice. “Daddy! I’m home! Well almost.”

It was almost a week before word leaked out, as it was bound to, that there was a generation four hyper-capable ship up in orbit. Once that became public, the Newsies trying for an interview doubled and redoubled. Those public relations aspects finally caused the government to overrule views of the Llanfairn Navy regarding secrecy. They came close to begging in their continual requests that Melbourne grant an interview. Reluctantly she agreed but made sure that all concerned were aware that she’d be owed for it when the prize court met.

Four days later when she did finally leave the Carpathian the first two hours down were spent doing a live video broadcast, in studio, with what passed for the press, and followed by a question and answer period. She thought she did fine by stressing that because she was a citizen of Llanfairn with roots going back generations how she understood the importance to the planets economy that the technology the ship represented become available to its shipbuilding industry.

When she was finished, she took the ground car she had rented at the spaceport over to the address she had sent giving the location of the building where Madry and Pilchard had set up shop. She rode the elevator to the top floor then walked down the expensively carpeted hallway, stopped, and knocked on the door. In a matter of seconds and the door opened.

“Damn Ma’am,” Madry said as expected, “Good to see you. You were great on the Newsies, Pilchard and me could hardly recognize you!”

“Thank you Sergeant, I think,” and looking around the layout of the penthouse suite, “Pretty expensive surroundings wouldn’t you say?”

Looking somewhat crestfallen then brightening up again Madry replied pointing at the window, “Yeah I know it looks that way but see the dish over there? This is the only place we could find with a good sight path up to the Carp and so we took it.”

Connie considered that and much as she did not like the ostentatious display she had to agree that it made sense. “Alright then Sergeant I can go along with you on that. Anything else new since we talked?”

“Do I have a surprise for you!” Madry said, “Jamie get your butt in here!”

From a doorway leading to a room off of the main entrance hall walked a woman, who though not a spitting image of Madry, being nearly a head taller and Connie thought several years older, was someone obviously related.”

“This is my cousin Jaime Ma’am. Her ship’s laid up in dock at the orbital station and I’ve been trying to sign her up. She‘s good, real good, and we could sure use her”

Jamie Madry tossed off something vaguely resembling a salute and said, “Hello Lieutenant, nice job with the press, lyin’ bastards.”

“Yes, I’m of a similar opinion.” Connie granted. Then motioning to the double doorway of the fancy sitting room she had seen Jaime enter from said, “Lets sit down and talk.”

Audie’s cousin’s story was similar to her own. She had gotten her education and left for better things off planet. The kind of quirky intelligence Audie had shown must have been part of the family’s genetic heritage because Jamie in a remarkably short period of time had made it to first officer on a merchant operating out of Llanfairn. She had come so far so fast that she would be stuck for a good long time in her present role unless something extraordinarily unusual happened. And the more Connie talked to her the more she thought it just might have.

“Where’s Sergeant Pilchard Madry?” Connie asked.

“Don’t know exactly Ma’am, he said he had some personal business to look after and would be back later this evening, but he let me know not to wait up,” she said with a smile that was almost a leer.

“Guess I’ll catch him later than. I’m off to visit my folks and will see you tomorrow. Till then carry on.”

“Yes Sir, Ma’am”

When Connie showed up early the next morning Pilchard was remarkably chipper especially if what she expected he had been up to the night before was even nearly true. But it at least spoke highly of his powers of recovery. She wasted no time in getting down to details.

“There’s a ship leaving for Valerian day after tomorrow. The prize court won’t meet for at least another week and I think we can pay a little more in shipping fees and get everything you’ve purchased to date sent on its way. I talked to the Ophians the Cardomans too. They both would be more than happy to add their immediate cargo as well. That means that there will be enough that the amount we will need to pay to get her to make the unscheduled stop is minimal. Make sure that it’s all packaged and ready to go.”

“No, problems on that score Captain,” Pilchard responded.

“I also understand you’ve got another 12 soldiers lined up for enlistment into the company and I’ll go over the records this morning and if everything looks good we need to get the sign in ceremony scheduled and get them on the way with the Valerian.”

“Will do Lt.,” Sgt. Carl Pilchard said, “I’ve got a few major purchase items that you need you to sign for and that you’ll probably want to look at. Some can wait and a few might be negotiated downwards, but I’ve marked the ones that are either time or price sensitive,” he said pressing the button on his com unit that sent the information over to Connie’s. “Best to get these out of the way before the ship leaves.”

“Thank you Sergeant, carry on and we will talk again later today in time to get it done and anything we decide on ready to ship.”

Connie looked at her reflection in the full length mirror on the dressing room door of her room in the penthouse suite she now occupied. Not too shabby, she thought, though, a little thin if popular sentiments were taken into account, and at twenty seven standard years the maybe a little old for voyeuristic appreciation, except for the rather pronounced bones showing in her facial structure she would make good. But voyeuristic appreciation wasn’t the emotion she wanted elicit. Not in the least or at all, she told herself. Connie wanted to represent the company in the best possible fashion, and if a few of the old staff officers she must deal with get a little distracted, that was just fine with her. One thing was sure; distracted was all they would get.

The Cardoman delegation to the planet Llanfairn was set up in quarters only slightly larger though far less opulent that those Madry and Pilchard had selected. Located in the downtown area and only a few blocks away Connie had decided to walk. The weather was pleasant and felt wholly natural and what weather was supposed to feel like. Even though she knew that was only because she had been raised here, she felt both relaxed and refreshed by the time she arrived.

A smallish two story brick-stone building on an equally small fenced in lot with the fence mostly hidden by vines and clinging shrubbery. The entrance gate had a guard booth, presently unmanned and Connie stood in front of the annunciator and said, “Lt. Melbourne, to see General Anderson.”

“Welcome, we’ve been waiting for you,” she heard a woman’s voice respond, “Come right in,” she heard as the gate slid open.

The drive opened at once into a paved area large enough to hold about a dozen vehicles and then a couple of meters of lawn and the building itself. At some time in the past most of what would have been lawn must have been removed to provide additional parking. With taller commercial building crowding in on either side of the property there was no other room for expansion. A wealthy émigré had donated the property several hundred years earlier and it was unlikely Cardoman would be looking to spend the kind of credit to change locations or enlarge the present building by adding more floors.

Connie walked the flagstone path that bisected the parking lot and as she stepped onto the small curb the building’s door was opened and a middle aged woman dressed rather informally for an embassy servant stepped out and greeted her.

“Hello Lieutenant,” she said offering her hand, “”I’m Louise Shearing, Cardoman Commercial Secretary to the planetary Government of Llanfairn, though if the truth were known a far less impressive position than the title might indicate,” she added that aside with a friendly smile. “After you,” she motioned to the still open door.

Stepping inside the darkly paneled foyer she could see a man in shirtsleeves and suspenders beginning to rise from a dinning room table in a room off to one side. The Commercial secretary escorted her the few meters necessary and introduced Connie to the Ambassador, Jules Petoskey. “Pleased to meet you Mr. Ambassador,” Connie said.

“Jules will do fine my dear,” he said with obvious sincerity and his pleasure in meeting her could not have been feigned. “Please be seated,” he said moving one of the ornate wooden high-backed chairs out from under the end of the table that was clear of the papers he had been studying. “The General will be downstairs directly, I think he was taking a nap but he’ll claim otherwise. With the kind of hours he’s been working ever since you and your ships arrived I wouldn’t wonder if he needed to rest for a week.”

The room the three of them occupied was quite large considering the size of the building as a whole. It took up almost two thirds of the floor space of the side it was located on. Tall windows reached to near the top of the four meter ceiling on both exterior walls. Connie saw a door open in the far end and a man appeared carrying a tray with several decanters, glasses, and various and sundry bowls and palates of edibles. He was dressed more formally than the Commercial Secretary had been.

“Finally a butler,” she said, I knew Embassies had to have staff.”

As she waited and the Ambassador made more room then set the tray down the Ambassador said, “He does do the butler part quite well but Victor here is actually the Cardoman Foreign Secretary in charge of relations with Llanfairn and a few other planets.

Victor Shearing, husband to Louise and not the servant she had mistaken him for, smiled warmly and said as Connie’s face reddened, “Don’t be embarrassed dear girl, people mistake me for the help all the time. Why even my wife does it all the time.”

“Victor is really my boss, Lieutenant,” the Ambassador said. “Though he spends only a small part of his time here. He’s has five other planets he also keeps in touch with and we usually only have the pleasure of his company when he stops by to visit Louise.

“And now Lieutenant Melbourne,” Victor Shearing said genially filling a glass from one of the decanter setting it in front of her, “you’ve met the entire compliment of the Cardoman Diplomatic Service on the planet.”

Connie expressed her thanks for the offered drink and heard the sound of footsteps descending the wooden staircase she had seen leading from the foyer to the second level. General Anderson, dressed much like the Ambassador, came into the dinning room and said, “Good after noon Lieutenant,” then looked at the Foreign Secretary and pointed to the other decanter and said, “Whiskey for me Vic, much to early for more refined spirits.”

A jovial bunch indeed, and Connie thought for a moment that she might be overdressed but came back to reality realizing that for someone as junior as she that was the way it was supposed to be. They were all soon down to discussing the Cardoman position concerning the prize court and reaction to the Company’s success.

“The first thing we must do,” Jules Petoskey said, “is get those Cardoman Captains bars pinned on your uniform. That will serve to remind everyone of how we feel and of our support.” Connie couldn’t hide her surprise at the statement and hadn’t really made up her mind about accepting them.

Anderson said, “Ah, I see we need to fill you in on a few things, I suspect out plans go much further than your own. Hear us out first and then decide.”