Tools of the Trade 9

Tools of the Trade Chapter Nine

The ship to Valerian was on its way, taking all the supplies, fourteen more soldiers, and a packet of the latest news; first stop Ophia. Connie, Audie Madry, Pilchard and Russo Nevier, were seated at the large table in the Cardoman embassy making sure they would have their stories straight and be ready for the prize court which would finally meet the next day. In the Cardoman fashion Victor Shearing had insisted that everyone non military, be referred to by name rather than title.

Petoskey had been dealing with Russo for months now, ever since Nevier’s first trip back to Llanfairn with Settles to watch over the insurance settlement At an earlier meeting with Connie alone, and somewhat delicately he had brought up the subject of the mans competence.

“I understand exactly what you’re saying,” Connie said, “Personally once you get to know him he’s even worse than first appearances might suggest. But he does do the job for whoever is paying him. He’s always looking out for himself but wouldn’t have survived in the business as long as he has if he didn’t look out for his clients also. When Captain Calvert started this thing off we didn’t have much of a choice and on average it has worked out for the best.”

“Can we trust him to stay bought?” Petoskey asked.

“I’d say so—But let’s all of us keep watching to make sure.”

Shearing started the current session by asking Russo if he knew of anything that might have changed in the Ophian position.

In his most calm, reasoned, manner Russo replied, “Little or nothing has changed. The Ophians have no hope of contesting the disposition and settlement for the Carpathian so that will go as expected and It will be up to you Victor as to whether you can meet the asking price or if the Lieutenant will need to look for further bids. The Ophians are planning on claiming that the Surprise is rightfully theirs and that the Letter of Marque no longer applied after Captain Calvert and the rest of the company began their formal duties. The legal ramifications are quite interesting and they’ve spent a pretty penny buying legal opinions to support their views. I hear you have been doing the same,” he said with a knowing smile directed towards the Foreign Minister.

“We’ve been getting opinions all right but haven’t needed to spend a thing for any of them,” the Ambassador said. “Ophia will have a lot of Independent support from the planets that she owes credit to. If she gets ownership of the Surprise the sale of the ship would go a long way towards eliminating her debt from the recent war. The Confederate government would be more than happy to purchase her to keep the technology away from Llanfairn for a little longer. That view seems a little short sighted.

“We’ve got people on our side too. Most of us aren’t owed anything by Ophia and all of us would rather see Llanfairn with the ability to produce this level ship. So the threat, however real it might be of selling to the ConFed will help our cause. I have tried to make it clear, and the Lt. has said the same when contacted, that if the ship goes to Calvert then Cardoman will be the likely purchaser, and that insures the technology stays with the Independents.”

“And that does bring up your ability to Pay. Doesn’t it Victor?” Nevier said.

“It most certainly does Russo, but I think we will cross that bridge after we see the court’s determination.”

The Prize Court wasn’t like a regular court of law. It was a seven member group of officials from various planetary governments and met so infrequently, often just once a year to confirm the fact it still existed or to replace members returning to their home worlds, that it had no building of even permanent office space of its own. Cardoman and Ophia both had offered the use of their embassies for the session but the Ophian Embassy was even smaller than the Cardoman. And neither was really large enough for the number of interested parties. Llanfairn provided a chamber in their naval headquarters that was agreeable to all, and there the proceedings took place.

The room was packed to overflowing by the parties involved and over two hundred spectators. If there had been room, twice that many would have been there to watch. Connie and Russo along with Horace Parker from the law firm that represented Cardoman were sitting along one wing of an inverted U shaped table in the front of the room. The Ophian Ambassador and the Ophian finance minister who was also the planets highest ranking cabinet member and a lawyer from their army department who has spent the preceding months studying up on Naval affairs, held down the other wing. The seven members of the court came in singly or in pairs and sat at marked positions at the top of the U-shaped table.

Colonel Ramseyer as a potential witness had a seat in the row in front of the table as did Madry and Pilchard and General Anderson and the various experts prepared to do Ophia’s bidding by testifying on her behalf should the need arise . Prominent in the next row back were officials and functionaries from the Caliphate prepared to claim that both of the ships being disposed of were in fact engaged on legal and routine business and should be returned to the nominal owners and that Wesley Calvert and those action under his direction be charged with piracy,

When all of the court members were seated, Court President Merton Packard, pounded a gavel calling the session to order and when the hall had quieted said simply, “Let us begin.” He then laid out the particulars of the judgment to be rendered naming both ships and the situations under which each ship came under the Control of the mercenary unit led by Captain Wesleyan Calvert, a legally recognized citizen of the Independent world Cardoman while having in his procession a valid Letter of Marque issued by the Independent world of Ophia and continued, “The applicability of said Letter to be the primary factor controlling the court’s judgment.”

Packard next went on to the recognize the standing of the various parties, Melbourne as second in command of those claiming the rights of capture the agent representing the Mercenary Unit and then naming the Ophians present.

“In the matter of the commerce raider Carpathian the only fact in dispute is whether Russo Never, a registered commercial and military procurement agent operating under Ophian direction had the authority to grant under said Letter of Marque The members of the court have all read and considered the pleadings submitted. Does either party have anything to add at this time?”

When after a brief pause neither party took up the offer Packard continued, “That being the case the court finds in favor of Captain Calvert.” There was a slight buzz in the room but as this was the universally predicted outcome, even by the Ophians, it died out almost before it was born.

“Being that the Carpathian is an armed vessel and as such may not be owned by any but a planetary government recognized by this court, the ship will remain in orbit until sold to such a government or all weapons and military grade equipment removed. I call for a show of hands by the rest of the court verifying this was out true decision.

The other six members raised there hands without hesitation and the gavel was struck. “That concludes the first portion of what brings us hear today.” Connie gave a small sigh of relief. The easy part was done and it had gone even more smoothly than she had expected.

“Now for the second and more contentious item on our agenda. The capture of the supply ship used allegedly used to service the anti-government forces in rebellion on Ophia. Before we go any further with this matter I will call as a witness Abdel Qader Jassim, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Caliphate to Llanfairn and the rest of the Independent worlds.” This time, as the small rather nondescript man left his place in the front row and approached the table, the buzz was much louder and longer lasting. Silence was called for though slow in coming.

Jassim stood at the tables opened end, his back to the crowd. Unlike the majority of his male fellow religionists he did not avert his eyes or give any other indication of the shame and outrage his religion mandated in seeing the two woman members of the court. He was much too urbane and skilled for that.

“Ladies, Gentleman of the Court,” he began in courtly tones which turned harsh and grim at his very next sentence, “The present situation is most unfortunate and potentially dire. When the government on Marjoram leased the Gamal Nasser, the ship sometimes mistakenly being referred to as the Surprise, to the planetary government of Bane it was with a clear stipulation that the vessel would be used for peaceful trade only and not engage in any action which could be construed as an act of war. A copy of the papers showing such are in the court’s possession. It would appear that contract may have been broken, not by the government on Bane, but by devoutly religious members if the planet’s population looking to right the wrongs done, and come to the aid of their brethren resisting the tyranny on Ophia.”

The Ophian Ambassador jumped to his feet and in outrage yelled, “That sir is a lie! The only tyranny on Ophia is or was that imposed by your so called fellow religionists.” This was the raw meat the Newsies and a fair portion of the spectators had been waiting for. The noise level from the crowd went up dramatically. The Ophian Ambassador glared at Jassim as once more the court’s president pounded for silence.

“Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Minister, the court request you confine yourselves to the actions and not the politics that have brought us here.” And motioning the Ophian to be seated said, “Continue Mr. Jassim.”

“Mr. President, Members of the Court, the government of Marjoram, the government of Bane, in fact every planetary member of the Caliphate would consider it a very grave injustice and potential threatening action should the Nasser be held and not returned to her rightful owners.”

At that point Horace Parker, seated next to Connie, stood up and spoke for the first time, “Exactly so Mr. Jassim and it is for the purpose of determining who that rightful owner is that we are gathered. And it must be done in due consideration of the blatantly illegal actions being engaged in by said ship when Captain Melbourne,” he bowed slightly in her direction, “acting under a proper Letter of Marque, came into her control. If you Sir acting for the Caliphate have any legal recourse of action, it would properly be against the government of Bane for permitting the manner in which the ship was used.” And with that he seated himself once more.
Jassim looked once more from left to right moving his head slowly but not quite pausing on each person seated, “The Caliphate is not unaware of how sentiment has been manipulated in this and other situations.” As the court’s President started to make another protest against political speech Jassim raised his hand in acceptance and continued. “Understanding, as I say, the various interests. We have proposed a compromise solution which might meet the requirements of all parties involved in this matter.” With that he signaled an assistant who came forwards with a stack of documents and handing the first one to the President gave every other Judge and then the heads of each delegation a copy.

Melbourne reading her delegations copy was frowning as Major Trebeck the Ophian legal affairs officer stood and said, “I find this offer quite interesting and suggest we adjourn until tomorrow so that we all might have a chance to study it more fully.”

Packard asked, “Does anyone object?”

Connie was about to do so when Horace Parker cautioned her to silence.

Then seeing there are no objections we will resume this tribunal at 0900 hours tomorrow.” He banged his gavel once and as the noise in the room went up the participants in front were permitted to leave through a door in the front corner of the room while the onlookers were kept seated.

“I don’t like it,” Connie said to the gathering back at the Cardoman Embassy. “We took the Surprise and risked out live doing it. The ship should be awarded to us and then we should get to determine what happens next. Everyone knows the Caliphate’s claim that this was all some kind of a mistake is utter nonsense and worse than dishonest. The Caliphate was after military and political gain and anything else they say should have no bearing on how the case gets decided. What about it Mr. Parker.”

Horace Parker said, “From a purely legal standpoint I must agree with you Connie, but there is much more than legality involved in this decision. Perhaps Mr. Shearing would care to give a fuller explanation.”

“Connie the court recessed less than two hours ago and the Embassy has already received calls from the government of Llanfairn and twenty eight other Indie or Federation embassies. Abdel Jassim is a very shrewd operator. Each of those Embassies got their copies of his proposal while we were on our way to the meeting hall and I’m sure that earlier conversations had already primed the pump. While we were in court those Embassies staff people were studying Jassim’s proposals. No one wants to see deteriorating relations with the Caliphate right now and with that in mind his proposal looks like an easy way to keep things calm and stable a bit longer.

“After all the Caliphate has agreed to pay 120% of the fair market value of the ship for her return with the Court to decide how the money gets divided. And yes the judgment is supposed to be based solely on the facts of the capture. If we were in a declared state of war with the Calps I have little doubt you would be the proud owner of a generation 4 hyper ship.”

General Anderson added, “Most Indie worlds believe war is inevitable and the every planet where the government doesn’t have its head in the sand needs as much time as it can manage for preparations. Cardoman is in the second camp even though we have been preparing for years and most others have only much more recently faced up to the facts.”

Shearing continued, “The Ophian Embassy called and intimated that if they were assigned a third of the award they would withdraw their protest to your claim. That would go a long ways towards accomplish their major aim of paying down war debts. Llanfairn wanted to purchase the ship from whoever ended up as owner and they would not have been out bid unless it was by a non Indie world with an awful lot of available credit reserve.”

Basil Ramseyer who had been invited to sit in on this discussion took that moment to ask a question of his own, “Just exactly what, If you don’t mind me asking, do you and Calvert intend if you win the Surprise?“

Connie looked to Petoskey and Shearing, “Do either of you object to me cluing the Colonel in?”

“Your call Connie,” Victor Shearing said. “It will be public if it happens.”

“Ok then, as you know we planned sell the Carpathian to Cardoman. The payment terms are a little irregular but that was something we expected going in. What we want to do with the Surprise is naturally to keep her. But first sell Llanfairn the complete plans and fourth generation technology. We’ve just run that proposal up the flag pole and Llanfairn is for it but we can’t say what they will pay yet. We think, and Louise Shearing agrees that it should be worth the price of a new ship of equal value. Maybe more.
“So what we hoped to do was really jump start the Cardoman Navy with the Carpathian, Surprise, and another ship purchased from the technology sale.”

Ramseyer said, eyes wide in admiration, “Well, my dear, if you can pull that off no one will even think of accusing any of you of thinking small. I must say that you have been completely correct in keep this under wraps as it were. Jealousy would compel some of or fellows to oppose such a plan merely from envy. Still I think you might achieve most of your goals even under the Caliphate proposal.”

Mrs. Shearing, who had stepped into the room and heard Ramseyer’s comments said, “Seven more calls supporting the proposal and I need a break. Connie, could I get one of your sergeants to handle the incoming while I tell you how I think this might work out?”
“Carl,” Melbourne said, and the sergeant followed Louise who returned momentarily after showing him the standard message gear.

“If we convince ourselves to go along with the Jassim plan time is going to be working against us, Louise said, “Llanfairn wants to be able to take as long as needed to study the Surprise and compare the engineering plans with the constructed reality. But I think she will pay nearly as much if you will let her tech people have free reign aboard until the deal is done. What I think you, and I mean we, can end up with is this. First the Carpathian, next another generation three ship of similar specifications bought from the payment the Caliphate will make for the Surprise being handed back to them and finally the promise of a fourth generation ship from the Llanfairn yards in return for the tech base you will provide.

“There is also a possibility of selling a copy of the ships plan to the Confederation. Unless their intelligence service has been able to get copies already I would think they would be overjoyed to have the information. That still leaves Ophia to deal with and I am sure with agreement to the basics of the proposal we can bring enough pressure that the drop the third of award proposal down to something much more palatable.” Louise stopped there and looked at Lt. Melbourne.

Connie closed her eyes for a moment in thought then looked up and said. “Sounds like a plan.”

The next day to the disappointment of most of the watchers, and especially the press, the Court announced that an agreement in principal had been reached by the involved parties but that said proposal would remain sealed for 90 days.

Within a week most of the credit transfers were completed and the Llanfairn tech crews had gone over the Surprise from one end to the other. Connie had insisted on being aboard when the ships transfer back to the Caliphate as the Gamal Nasser was made. The members of its crew still aboard her were left for the Calps to deal with. There was no complaint made concerning the missing landing craft. Jassim was content to leave well enough alone.

Lester Raymond and the few members of the Carpathians original crew were ensconced on that ship with nominal ownership transferred to Cardoman. She would take Melbourne, Madry, and Pilchard, along with General Anderson to Ophia when finished there head next to Cardoman becoming the nucleus of the planets new navy. At least that’s what it looked like from where they sat.

Russo Nevier with Horace Parker and Louise Shearing backing him up had begun negotiations with the Llanfairn and the Confederation for the technical information sale. Russo had brought up a very interesting point. Even if the Confederation already had the plans for Calp generation four drive ships, they would have to buy them again anyway or else risk making it obvious how effective the ConFed intelligence service was. If it appeared that Union had already stolen the information the Calps would look for the leaks. That was something an effective intelligence service couldn‘t allow if it were possible to avoid. The twisted stream of logic had somehow escaped consideration by everyone else. The man was devious.

It would take time to locate and purchase another ship for the fledgling Cardoman Navy and so a couple of days after the Surprise was transferred back to the Caliphate they were on their way once more to Ophia with the rest of their purchases and even Major Trebeck the Ophian legal advisor as a passenger.

The last thing Connie had done before leaving her parents house was to call upon Colonel Ramseyer and wish him well. He still hadn’t locked down a new contract but said it was almost done. Connie found the trip back to Ophia the most restful time, the only restful time she had spent in almost a year.

One thing did happen on the trip back that got her attention. Sgt Madry had requested a private meeting and after arriving at Connie’s quarters Madry had the look on her face pf a child caught peeking at Christmas presents. “Ma’am, I know I was wrong but I busted the code on the data file for Sgt. Davis from the Ryman Liaison. I don’t think anyone besides you and the Capitan should see it.”

“Good Lord,” Melbourne exclaimed; “is it that bad?”
“Ma’am I did not believe how good it was, look!”

Melbourne looked first at a d-mail titled ‘Your Godson’. What she saw was pictures of a graduation parade for Ryman Recon and the Honor Sword being awarded to a 2LT with a name tag that read REDMOND. The next page was a newspaper story about Robert T. Redmond winning the Honor Sword at the graduating class from Recon OCS; with a handwritten note over the obvious fax scan. “Didn’t we do good Bobby, Jonnie?”

Connie thought about what she was looking at and said, “You are right about that Sgt., give me all copies of this that you have. I think we have the intelligence we need on the good CSM.”

Voinovich met them with the lander after they made orbit and filled Connie in on how things had been going as he ferried them down to the surface below. As soon they entered system she had sent off the communications packet with a summery of how things had ended up on Llanfairn and giving the alert that General Anderson was on board. Voinovich said all was ready for the visit.

As they neared the landing site, the change in the company area was large and obvious. For the first six months they had fought on Ophia they never had more than fifty troops at any one time. Now with the hires from before she left for Llanfairn and the soldiers recruited and sent back with the ship traveling to Valerian they were honestly company sized with one hundred eighteen enlisted and counting Voinovich three officers.

* * *
“By God you’re a sight for sore eyes,” Wes said to Connie as he came over to where she was standing apart from the rest while the lander unloaded. “And you accomplished so much while you were away that the entire universe might as well have turned inside out.”
“From what Voinovich tells me things have gone just as good here.” she said looking at the camp again. And then noticing the General on the other side of the landing area examining his surroundings, reminded him, “Military courtesies must be observed.”

General Anderson and Wes Calvert despite the difference in ages were remarkably like minded when it came to military matters. The respect Wes showed the General began with his understanding of the difficulties faced and overcome during the Cardoman struggle with the Caliphate, the one that cost his fathers life, but certainly didn’t end there.

General Paul Anderson had a similar respect and most remarkable understanding of the problems Wes had faced and dealt with in order to get to where he was now. Anderson, after reading all of the reports Melbourne had on file relating to operations on Witherway and Ophia felt that actually meeting Calvert could only detract from his favorable impression and but in fact it enhanced his opinion.

Connie, sensing herself a small cog in the wheel, nevertheless figured she might be seeing history in the making, though she would never have said such a thing out loud.
“I’ve read the copy of your proposals, those that were sent ahead General, and I guess we need to talk. I’ll get Davis and Higgins to represent the enlisted and we can begin discussions at once or as soon as you are ready.”

“Very good Captain let’s get started.”

Davis, not sorry in the least for the break from the usual, listened intently as Anderson described the proposal.

“So to summarize, Cardoman would like to hire all of you on a full time basis, and use your services to support our expanding involvement in the Indie political arena. Initially we would not interfere in any way with your internal operations. Later on, and in the case of an open war with the Caliphate, that would be bound to change. We would aid in logistical support and provide a permanent training base plus the traditional land grants to those taking citizenship or permanent residence. It will take time to get this set up and I would think that you operate much as you have been doing for at least another couple of years. But with Cardoman having a veto over what contracts you may accept.”

“One of the major advantages to you will be that with planetary backing you will be able to get contract and purchase terms that would otherwise be unavailable. Another will be the additional manpower at your disposal. We will make serving in this unit highly desirable to all the members of our current army. And we will be able to help out in areas such as supplying medical personnel and performing new equipment evaluation that can only be supported by large armies. Right now do to your successes the financial condition of this unit is unbelievably good. I’m not even sure unbelievable covers it, unimaginably good might just do justice, but these things can change. We would provide continuing long term support and a secure place to invest your profits. With that investment in mind let me explain a bit about where Cardoman is headed.”

“We have been building capital for some time now with the intention of starting a space force. The debate has been over whether to do it the hard and slow way, by trying to establish a second Indie hyper capable shipyard, or by purchasing whatever ships we could and even arming merchant vessels. It looks now that we might be able to do both.”

“Llanfairn has finally accepted that with war inevitable its survival is at stake and another shipyard located elsewhere will improve the odds. The deal for the Surprise included the technology transfer and aid for us to set up such a yard. But the cost will still be immense and we won’t see any of our own ships in the immediate future. Still the amount of money we will need sets it beyond our own ability to finance all of it. Members of this unit as individuals and the groups as a whole would be granted initial investment rights into the shipyard and related works.”

“As ships are purchased or built and then crewed it is from units such as yours that we will be manning any ground forces component. With that in mind one of Captain Calvert’s ongoing responsibilities would be overseeing those units.” There was a lot more territory was covered before the meeting broke up.

Leaving Higgins said, “Calvert’s Cardoman, I kinda like the sound of that.”

“Yeah the thing is gonna fly but right now we still got a war to win.”

The military successes of the Ophian forces had been so rapid in the last several months that the end of the Brotherhood threat on the second continent was at hand. And for that reason General Anderson had elected to delay the Carpathians departure a few days while he observed the beginning, and if things proceeded rapidly enough, the end of the final round. After all it’s not like anyone was expecting him. And in fact it would be Victor Shearing who was expected and even then not for another month.

The last brotherhood command post on the entire continent and the area around it was fortified beyond anything any of them has been exposed to. Surrender terms had been offered and turned down. The eleven thousand men of the brotherhood facing the twenty-seven thousand aligned against them were preparing to die.

“Why didn’t the big wigs decide to just starve em out Captain?” Davis asked.

“Beats me Sarge, General Anderson in deference to his rank was invited to most of the operational briefings but he said when that possibility was brought up it was dismissed for political reasons. If I had to guess, and you can see it by the op orders, they figured they paid for us mercenaries and are damn sure going to get their monies worth even if it cost a few of their own.”

And cost them it did. The Brotherhood controlled area they were attacking was a rocky finger like peninsula 15 kilometers wide and 70 long. Wesley and his company at first filled a gap about 300 meters wide between to Ophian regiments. The Calps were in caves or dug in with multiple lines of prepared positions to fall back on. They went through mortar rounds like someone else was paying for them and Wes hoped that someone would. The mortars were effective enough against those dug in on the flats or hillsides once they maneuvered to a firing position, but were useless against defenders in caves.

Shoulder fired missiles and rifle launched grenades shot at low trajectories cleaned out a cave rather nicely, but first they had to get close enough to use them. The best they could do was lay down massive amounts of suppressive fire thereby covering the grenade and missile teams. It was hot, bloody, work. And by the time they were finished even the newest recruits were veterans. They had taken eight killed and a dozen more with injuries requiring hospital time. The bulk of those casualties were as always with the most inexperienced.

That was far too high a price when starving the Brotherhood out would have accomplished the same mission. But by the time that became obvious Connie had dug out the information that the decision to attack was the result of a belief, mistaken she thought, that the Caliphate, aware of the numbers trapped, and having time to do so would send in a part of their fleet and enough of their own troops to avert disaster.

It was a one week campaign and on the final day looking at the carnage Calvert gave his last order to troops in the field. “I think we’re about done here Sgt. Davis, Prepare to load em up and move em out, next stop Framington.”