The Cutting Edge 16

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 16 Draft (03/21/08)

When Voinovich and the Aladin reached the Cardoman Navy dock Cmdr. Woodward was there to meet him.

In about as much time as it took to say hello, Voinovich and Roger Langstrom were whisked away to the Seventh’s offices, outward on the surface level observation deck. Raymond and Inglase were in the main conference room along with a large fraction of the high-level military and support logistics people on station, and those shuttled up just for this meeting.

All invited were waiting to hear Voinovich’s personal account of how the drop on Marais worked out. Stan told the story, plain and simple, answered questions giving the credit for the approach to Pavel Tsarinstyn, and the rest to the people on Davis’s team who actually made the drop, then took his seat. Decisions needed to be made.

General Inglase stood, took control, and ran the rest of the session. “The Marais landing seems to have gone off without a hitch. I salute all involved and invite those with the proper security clearances to delve into the details. The only thing we can do now is continue with our end and proceed as if the rest of the plan works as well.”

“The first transport leaves today. We have a chartered liner from Onaway getting ready to depart in sixteen hours. When she docked she carried with her not only proof of Onaway’s allegiance to our cause, but also a thousand men and women willing to serve, a few hundred should be able to start helping in the yards at once. The rest are technologically able but need instruction on our systems. We’re renaming the liner Rescue 1 until we let go of her. The one we will name Rescue 2 is under deceleration and only a couple of days out.

“The Aladin will travel back to Marais with the first transport and stay in the Marais system until we are finished. That’s our plan and we will make it work.”

“Admiral would you care to continue?”

“Yes I would General. We are going to have more ships in this system in the next couple of weeks than Cardoman used to seeing in a year. The strain on everyone dealing with the rush will be severe. I want you people to remember that whatever strain we are under is nothing compared to what the prisoners on Marais have spent their entire lives dealing with. Let’s work together to insure we get those ships unloaded and on their way as fast as humanly possible.”

“So tell me Woody, how are things going in the yards,” Stan asked when the meeting adjourned and he at last had a chance to talk to his friend and former boss for a moment.

“A ship a week from the belt shuttle yard, and every one is spoken for. The hyper ship you saw on the ramp, the SnapDragon, sees first light tomorrow. We’ve cut a couple of weeks of the delivery schedule since you were here last and will soon be producing a G-4 ship every other month. I’d have someone show you around the new ship if you weren’t leaving so soon. When people ask me what I’m up to I just say — I’m to busy to be up to anything. Just like it was when you worked here but in spades.”

“Thanks for taking this much time. I guess I knew most of that and I do wish I had the time to tell you about the easy life of a new Captain on his first tour with a new ship, but we boost in a couple hours so I’d best be getting aboard. If you see Captain Madry though, make sure and give her my regards. Tell her I hope to see her real soon. Would you do that for me Woody?”

“Count on it Stan and Good Luck!”

The Aladin and Rescue 1 were heading for the hyper limit two hours later.

* * *
Louise and Victor Shearing went back into the dining room of the Cardoman Embassy on Llanfairn and sat down on two of the comfortable chairs surrounding the large table in the room they knew so well. Louise had spent two years here as the Cardoman Embassy’s Economic Secretary. The old two-story building was much too small for all the activity taking place inside and had been for a year, but there hadn’t been time to find a new home yet. In a few days Victor was going on to Union and Louise would stay behind performing her normal functions and working behind the scenes gathering information unrelated to her position as commercial secretary.

Jules Petoskey, Cardoman’s long time Ambassador to Llanfairn said, “I have a hard time dealing with the extra zeros in the budget statements anymore. The events of the last year and a half are well outside the realm of my limited imagination.”

“Pshaw,” Louise said— really, she said ‘Pshaw’, Jules heard her say it. “Forget the zeros it’s the results that count.”

“Come now Louise, this is small fish for you these days. But it’s a bigger kettle than I ever dreamed possible. We are actually getting respect, and I mean major amounts, from the other governments in the Indie Council.”

“That’ll happen only accidentally when you have both a Navy and a Class 1 Shipyard,” Victor Shearing said, using a broad stroke, not a mere hint of irony. “We need to capitalize on all of our good fortune now. I am going to Union for discussions with the Feddies to help insure as much as I can that things continue our way. I do wish I knew about what is happening with the fleet at Sylvan and the operation on Marais but some news is bound to catch up by the time I reach Union and the Confederation.”

“You’ve been doing a great job here Jules. Keep spreading the possible availability of additional shuttles. All the G-4’s are spoken for, but there are a support construction contracts to be let out. And there though price is a major consideration it isn’t the only one. We are pressed to the limit but I think we can keep the strain from being too visible. I have no doubt that in six months we will be at war with the Caliphate. Naturally that isn’t our ‘Official’ position but don’t be shy in stressing the possibility either.”

“Have you decided on the ship you’ll use for your trip to Union yet?” Petoskey asked.

“The government ship from Ryman is leaving in two days. Ryman Ambassador, Kutner told me his Military Attaché’ and his soon to be retired First Secretary are going with it. He offered me a spot. With Ryman’s support so important to our cause I think I will accept the offer with gratitude and see about trading information with the two gentlemen he mentioned.”

“Time for another.” Jules said, rather than asked, noticing the empty glass in front of Louise and seeing that his and Victor’s were in near the same state of decrepitude. While pouring the straw colored liquid he asked, “How are you bearing up Louise? As a confirmed old bachelor, that’s bachelor and not bastard mind you, I have no worries about children, but Eric must be on your mind constantly?”

“At first, yes, he was. Not so much any longer, at least when it comes to worrying. He’s on the Saratoga with Madry; you’ve met her and can understand what I am going to say next. Even if in danger, I am certain he has a good and honorable Captain. You, me, Victor, we are all committed to Cardoman’s cause. Eric is too. I like to think he got that commitment from us. Other parents are going through the same and worse. They lack our knowledge of what we are doing and why this is necessary. Pray for me and pray for Eric if you will, but spend twice the time praying for all those others”

The statement seemed close enough to a toast that all three raised there glasses, touched them together, took a sip completing the tradition, and then returned to the work at hand.
The Ryman based third generation transport ‘Pride of Mills Valley’ was similar to every other ship in her class. Newer than most and better appointed, also by virtue of being government owned and operated, she carried a larger crew and was better armed and better maintained, especially in the spit and polish sense, than a normal merchant would find cost effective.

Victor Shearing’s stateroom, large and luxurious, was too large he thought, missing his wife already. Victor’s role, moving ever higher up a chain of internal and external political positions culminated in his appointment as Cardoman’s Foreign Secretary. All along it kept him separated from his wife for long periods of time, and that was truer now than it had ever been. But travel was certainly much more comfortable, he thought, looking at his palatial surroundings.

His traveling companion, secretary, and bodyguard, was a fourteen-year veteran of the Cardoman Infantry. Major Jack Trebeck, on loan to the Foreign Service, had until recently headed up ‘Plans and Intents’. When his current assignment was completed, Victor had it on good authority that the officer was slated for a major troop command. A necessary step if one was to advance beyond field grade.

Jake, as he preferred to be called, fit in well with his new surroundings. When Victor complimented him on the fact, Jake replied without the hint of a smile, “It has been no surprise to me Sir. Since I learned that what passes for informed opinions, in both political circles and the military, are indistinguishable from each other in terms of their relationship towards reality. Present company excepted,” he finished, indicating the two of them.

They were waiting in Victor’s sitting room, a side table of fancy caviar and other finger foods present, when the two Ryman visitors were announced by the doorman, who was in reality an armed guard present at the Ambassadors door courtesy of the ship’s Captain and the Ryman military.

Victor was well enough acquainted with the senior Ryman official but introductions were needed by Major Trebeck to both the First Secretary and to Major Evert, the Ryman Attache’ and Trebeck’s counterpart. A few moments of pleasantries, sipping and eating a small fraction of the delivered feast, and then they went on to meatier things.

“Your Ambassador Kutner was very kind to me in helping understand Ryman’s position, Mr. Secretary.” The 45-year bureaucrat had used only his title in conversation for so long that Victor would not have wondered if that was how his wife referred to him. “I returned the favor to the best of my abilities. However, in the close confines of the Llanfairn diplomatic community, too much talk could lead to too much comment. Here and now then I choose to speak off the record and we will be as frank as we know how.”

Of course Mr. Ambassador, those were my instructions.”

“You are aware of the operation on Sylvan that Cardoman and Novi are engaged in at the present time?”

“In sufficient detail that the ramifications become, if not obvious, subject to analysis. And furthermore,” then he paused and said, “But wait!” The Ryman First Secretary seemed to undergo a metamorphosis. “I am stopping at Union on my way to retirement. For too many years my job required me to use deniable language and. In the vernacular, beat around the bush! Today I start learning how to speak again. Victor let us begin this conversation anew. I can do much better. And Major Trebeck, I am truly pleased to meet you.”

Instead of being stilted and strained, the rest of the meeting and all further conversations became a pleasure rather than a diplomatic chore. The Secretary’s long service was both a store of anecdote and insight.

“You understand we are not talking about intentions here, but only about capabilities on the military side,” Giles, the name did fit, said when began talking about that part of the conflict.”

“Indeed, Giles, why don’t we retire to the card room and let out experts discuss this matter. I think we will speed the process along and we will be talked out weeks before we reach Union as it is.”

“Splendid, Victor, let me fetch my wife and I will join you shortly, she so wishes Louise was her as well.”

Trebeck summed up what he had learned over several days spent talking with Major Evert. With ten times the population of Cardoman, Ryman had been a force in the Indie World Congress since its inception. It was a progressive, outward looking world, and had already spawned colonies on two other planets that it supported through trade and occasionally direct aid, those two Onaway and Escanaba were not colonies but some of the Indie’s felt they served the same purpose. A prime tenet in the Indie scheme of things was ‘One world One government’. The Confederation was much more open to multi-planet coalitions.

Ryman had a strong industrial base, and with that, and the trade it generated, bought a Navy and commercial fleet larger than all but a handful of the other Indies.

Disappointment was far too weak a word to use when speaking of how she felt when the Llanfairn fronted space yard went to Cardoman rather than herself. The transuranic heavy metals connection explained it, but there were many on Ryman who still thought it a mistake and held a grudge against Cardoman as a result.

The Ryman Military Academy was arguably the best on any human occupied world, including those in the Confederation and Caliphate. Ryman had more troops posted and under off-world contract than any other Indie planet. With a population of 450 some million, she could field a ready army of 500,000, if all were home, and had 15 dedicated transports she could call upon to use in moving them when necessary.

In Naval matters, Union stood supreme, but for ground pounders Ryman had the reputation and the demonstrated success that made her preeminent. Jorgen had it’s niche and Cardoman was bent on creating one, but Cardoman, until the last several years, had been off the screen.

Ryman’s orbital infrastructure and repair facilities were first rate, a match for her naval and civil space activity, and of course, that was why they put so much effort into the chance at a hyper-yard. They were a Class-One world in every way that mattered but for an independent hyper-class build facility.

Evert and Giles supported privately the position of most of Ryman’s military and a large percentage of the government, that war would come, and sooner rather than later. The lead group of coalition presently in charge of Ryman’s parliament was at odds with this view and exerted influence beyond their numbers on the planets foreign policy. They had swept into power in part by casting blame for the loss of the shipyard contract. But Giles assured them the system was strong and change only an election away.

Victor was clear in his hope for a change in outlook but very careful that nothing he said indicated any possibility or of Cardoman interference with Ryman’s internal affairs. By the time they reached Union, Victor was certain of the favorable report Giles would deliver concerning Cardoman actions in precipitating the crises about to unfold. His retirement made certain Giles need have no fear of political repercussions but his inherent honesty would make any other course of action unthinkable.

Due to the nature of the passage, word from Novi concerning events on Sylvan/Mizar preceded their arrival into the Union System. As a result, a full-fledged debate was taking place within the Confederation government, one side, the larger, publicly calling for condemnation of Cardoman and Novi, along with a disavowal of any type of support. On the other side, a small number ready to go to war at once. In the middle were the people Victor was here to explain the situation to at first, and then sway to his side. And to test how firm the public call for condemnation was, especially in light of the increasingly ominous news and hard information making its way out of the Caliphate.

There were even calls for declaring the two planets illegal entities, and ban all of their ships from Confederation space and their business dealings with Confederation member planets. This was on top of the call for voting Novi out of the Confederation Congress and even the Confederation and itself, something that had never been done in the years of the political body’s existence. All this information reached the Ryman ship shortly after transition, via newscasts they picked up even before they had established communications with the planet.

“You have your work cut out for you Vic,” Giles said after reading and listening to the most vehement of the opposition. “This far from our own planet I think that after I deliver my reports, you will have the tacit support of the Ryman consulate. Not being a member of the Confederation it might not seem like much but we do have some influence here due to the amount of trade we conduct with the Feddies member states.”

The first official communication included a message from Arkady Reshevsky, the Union President, asking Victor to meet with him as soon as possible after his departure from the ‘Pride of Mills Valley’ and its military escort. The last seeming prudent under given the existing situation, and did make for good press.

” Well Victor, I think we can say you’ve stirred up rather more than a tempest in a teapot in this hornet’s nest.”

The Union President must not be all that dissatisfied with the political ramifications if he could make that kind of a bad metaphorical analogy thought Victor; and he was thankful for the early notification.

“Mr. President,”

“Please. It’s still Ari.”

“Thank you Ari, I should have expected no less. But the opposition is strong from what I gather. The Cardoman consular staff has sent more information than that in the newscasts.”

“Yes your people must have let you know that the opposition is broad but not deep. Navara is of course ready to declare its agreement with, and support your actions. And I can name another dozen almost as far along. I am going to use one of the powers granted me by our constitution, that of the executive having authority over our military and intelligence activities. And I have already assigned our Mr. Philips as your conduit to what we have learned since we talked last. On the political side, I think your consular staff should handle the details. Now, give me your unvarnished view concerning the Caliphates reaction.”

“Before I do that Ari, let me mention a little something about what we are doing on the Caliphates prison planet Marais.”

After an extensive free-ranging airing of the issues Reshevsky consulting his watch said, “I wish we could continue this discussion,” the President said. “But I have a delegation from Prestwick due in minutes. If you would be so kind as to accept, I will offer a ride and escort to your mission, and do not be alarmed if you detect heightened security around the building. One must not take unnecessary chances.”

“Thank you Ari, I look forwards to talking with you again at your pleasure.”

“I think a week or so should find the set the winds direction. We will speak directly again when its force is known,” Arkady emphasized, as he stood and shook hands with the Foreign Minister before they left the President’s office.

Reaching the Consulate, Victor found that John Philips of Union Intelligence had preceded him. He did not interrupt the stations Military Attache Andy Naples and Major Evert who were with ensconced in the Consulate’s secure conference room. Instead he went first to fill in his Ambassador Portisch Lavin. He had Ambassador Lavin take a look at the names on a list Reshevsky provided. Lavin checked off the names of those he was most familiar with, and went to his office and began making calls to the various Confederation State Embassies. Victor then got with the Consulates appointment secretary and set her to work calling and setting up meetings with the names he was reasonably familiar with. He then started calling those few remaining names he knew extremely well, looking to plant some thoughts and change a few minds.

When he received word that Philip’s and Evert were on their way out, Victor summoned Major Trebeck, found out what he had learned, and went back to his work, armed with additional hard information, not all of which he could reveal. When he quit for the night and checked in with Lavin, he was positive they had done some good.

* * *
The Calp Gen-2 transport Ramadan, Jawahiri Mohammad Faraj Captain, was a week late on the run to Marais. Delays caused by equipment sent to the Caliphate shipyards on Jersey and New Mecca and a hiccup in getting the new and replacement gear working as rapidly as promised her on New Mecca was the cause, delaying Ramadan’s preflight maintenance. It wasn’t usual to make a stop on a prison run so the mishap and delay was bound to come to official notice. Someone’s career would suffer and might even end, though not necessarily that of the person who made the promise nor the one who dropped the ball in executing it.

Ramadan was hauling 2400 new prisoners and a replacement crew for one of the system pickets, the Dromedary this time. Jawahiri had served on her years ago and thanked Allah every day of the voyage he would never need to do so again. This would be his last trip as Captain of the Ramadan as well. Upon the trips completion he would return to Earth to take over the Gen-3 Sinai and he would be finished with cargo hauling and be back into the Battle Fleet, a much more honorable position. Three years in the boring position but he had his ticket punched.

He gave the order to drop from hyper. “Ready the transition, Now!” and an instant later. At the calculated time, the automatic controls obeyed. “Broadcast our arrival codes and scan for local traffic!”

he Calp detection gear was close enough to what he was used to that Cpl. Ortega was getting a feel for it even without much help from the two Calp techs they had kept up on the mesa. Might as well send them down, Jesse told Davis a few hours ago, and the techs were taken away. He could read the built in manuals and that was enough. If the unit broke down and needed work there was no way he would trust the Calps in the same building. Nothing showing but a weather sat and the pickets retreating out-system, good riddance.

Jesse was about to call for Sgt. Short and offer him a demonstration and explanation so someone else could take over for him when the unmistakable signal of a ship making an inward hyper transition caused the screen to flash. Must be the replacement ship. This wasn’t good, but it wasn’t unexpected either. He commed Davis and told what he saw and the Sergeant said he would be over to take a look after he was done checking in with Short who was working on figuring out the spaceports defensive missile system.

“You heard?” Davis asked when he entered the blockhouse.

“Yeah, we have a ship incoming. Depending on what they are willing to do though, it might not be all that bad. We can keep them from landing for one thing, and if they behave like the guard ships that ran away, and don’t try and win the war by shooting at us from orbit they are pretty much neutralized. If they try and get nasty we can at least force a stand off till help arrives for one side or the other.”

“That’s the way I see it too,” Davis responded, “I don’t see any reason for the Calps to send any military force here until word gets back and that ship out there will be the one to take it. The closest Calp fleet units are stationed on Grange and that’s a three week round trip with perfect navigation. We could well have help by then.”

“Should I try and make contact and tell her to go away?”

“Naw, let her keep accelerating and get in closer. It’ll take up more time and the pickets out there are gonna’ warn her anyway. I’m taking a hike and going over to talk to Ortega. See you later.”

Less than a full day and for a few the euphoria was wearing off. Those people were beginning to wonder and then worry about was about to happen next. Rabbi Levinson had no time for such concerns. There had been so many deaths, and now he had too many funerals to arrange, and grieving relatives to console. The Rabbi Levinson and his wife gave what comfort they could, and that would have to be enough, but of course, it wasn’t.

Judah Ben Judah was in charge of finding those with enough technical training to help Davis up on the mesa. There were only a handful. That kind of training wasn’t given to the kind of people that ended up at Parson’s Bay on Marais. He was also keeping a close watch on those suspected of being collaborators.

The Rabbi had decreed a general amnesty, forgiveness of all sins. Everyone starts with a clean slate. It was holding but Judah was not sure for how long. Judah had exercised more authority than he knew he possessed in the aftermath of the Liberation. Having the Maccabees to back you up made a world of difference.

The Ramadan’s com officer picked up the prison beacon, though much weaker than expected from this distance. There must be transmitter troubles on the planet. Nothing too much to worry about and par for the course. Still and all, Jawahiri was beginning to wonder about the lack of a response to his system entering signal.

“Captain Faraj,” the com operator said, “I have am receiving a data packet and a voice signal. But it is not from the planet. Lt. Thani on one of the guard ships is sending the message.”

“Thani? Switch him to me at once. I want to hear what he says and get the data packet decoded and uploaded to my station at once!”

The Dromedary and the Ramadan were two lighthours apart. No such thing as a conversation so Jawahiri could only listen to the description of the disaster he was heading towards as fast as his ship would take him.

“And call our Political Officer. We have a problem where his input would be useful.”