The Cutting Edge 19

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 19 Draft (03/31/08)

“That’s it for orbital defense,” Sgt. Stuart Short said, after losing the data link to the last one.

“I wouldn’t of thought it’d be that easy,” Davis said over the com link. “One ship and a transport at that.”

“We’re blind down here in as a practical matter. Without the picket ships in place on our side, and their longer range stuff to make the Ramadan stand off. . . Well we did ok, she used two ship killers on each platform and her Captain can’t be happy about that. We can still use the launchers we have at the port to keep the shuttles away unless they start working on us with spears.”

“That’s just what there gonna’ do I’m afraid. There is no way we can move the missiles and sensors to hide them and if they can attack their own base and equipment without any political fears. It’s not like using KE weapons on civilians. There’e going to figure that out soon so the question becomes will they do that and then make a landing?”

“Don’t see any point to it Robbie, they could kick us off the cliff here but they won’t be able to restore the previous conditions without a lot more troops than they have at their disposal.”

“That sounds about right. Let’s make sure that Rabbi Levinson keeps doing the talking for the prisoners. They may suspect outside help but can’t be sure unless we announce it. We’ll see what happens and wait for relief. The revolution went off on schedule; our own ships are due at any time.”

On the Ramadan, Captain Jawahiri Mohammad Haraj, was satisfied he had done everything right to this point, but now it was going to be harder to avoid a career ending misstep. He needed to do something to try to take back the planet and he couldn’t wait too long before making the attempt. It was time to tell this Rabbi Levinson exactly what he had gotten himself into.

“I will not land any of the prisoners on my ship in an area that is not under Caliphate control. I do not have supplies aboard the Ramadan to continue to feed them any longer. They came on a one-way passage and there is nothing that either of us might do to change that.”

“You would condemn 2400 of your fellow humans to death rather than let them out of your control even temporarily? I do not believe your god would approve and I don’t think you do either Captain. There must be someway around this.”

“Of course there is, release all of the faithful under your control, leave the bluff and spaceport and return to your homes. I will send down enough additional security to insure that the situation is stable and begin landing the convicts — provided you and your ringleaders turn themselves over to me.”

“You must know that I will not, can not, do that. I will turn over all of the prisoners we have taken, guarantee your safety and help you load the cargo already in storage for your return voyage, but that is as far as I am able to go.”

“It is not far enough, what does the death of one more infidel matter? You have only hours, a few days at most until the convicts on by ship begin to die and we start sending the bodies down to burn up in the descent. The choice is yours.”

“Ready for transition. Now!”

The Aladin and the Onaway transport Rescue1 had taken the time to exit hyper and recalculate their position before the final jump. Fuel cost wasn’t an issue on this run, maximum closure on the hundred minute limit was. They emerged nine minutes outside the limit and seventeen light minutes apart. As it turned out the transport was slightly further in. Pavel Tsarinstyn had the Aladin’s sensor station.

“There’s a ship in-system, G-2 Ramadan and the planet’s orbital beacon is down.”

“They won’t see us for a while yet. We start in now but we will stay slow until we detect Rescue1. I want her located as soon as possible. A little over an hour after their arrival they were picked up by both Davis at the spaceport and Haraj on the Ramadan and the situation was completely changed.

“What have you got Mullins,” Davis switched channels as soon as his screen started flashing.

“One of ours in system — no make that two. One’s an Onaway G-2 freighter; the other isn’t in the database a G-4 has to be ours, and just in time.”

“Can you figure an arrival time?”

“The G-4’s going all out, give me a sec. I can’t see how to do it on the console here.”

Davis made sure the rest of his team had the news by the time Cpl Mullins came back to him.

“Worked it out on my own comp. The G-4 can make Marais and blow on by in about sixteen hours at max, twenty-three and a half if she plans for a direct orbit and the freighter will come in four hours behind. Haraj and the Ramadan have a five-hour window if he is going to run and make the hyperlimit without a chance of being caught. Doesn’t leave him much time to work us over and take in the picket crews as well does it?”

“I should say not! But we need to get in touch with him at once, and see if we can convince him that freeing his cargo is the only proper course of action. Get him on line; it’s time he finds out that we are on the planet. It’ll be two more hours before our friends hear from us and can make a return call. I hope we can work something out.”

Haraj took the call in his room off the bridge, his political officer out of sight of the camera, was supposed to be offering advice through his silent mike but hadn’t offered any. The only thing he had said thus far was a comment about how dealing with a Sergeant would not look good when the formal record was reviewed. A lot of help that was. At least this Davis was not so unhinged as to ask for his ships surrender.

“All of those being transported from have earned the death penalty. I would be well within the scope of my orders to kill them all now rather than let them live.”

“If you murder those people Captain, I can not be responsible for the Caliphate prisoners we hold on Marais.”

“So your comments are nothing more than moral preening. You would initiate what you would label an atrocity in response to my carrying out of a legally determined criminal sentence?”

“Not me or mine Captain, it’s been as much as I can do till now to keep the people on Marais, the ones your guards and government have so brutally abused, from resorting to their own forms justice. And I think very few living on planets outside the Caliphate would judge them harshly no matter what they did.”

The final agreement was complicated. The Aladin would slow down and stay far enough away that the Calp Ship could make the limit without being intercepted. Using her large landers, the Ramadan would send 2000 of the 2400 prisoners on board down to Marais and the when the landers returned from the last several loads they would take the Caliphate prisoners from the planet with them. The pickets would follow her out towards the jump point and the last 400 from Earth were to be placed in the picket ships with their picket’s environmental, drives, and military systems destroyed. The Aladin would then need to pick them up before making any try at stopping the Ramadan. The pickets were a write off in any event, as they had no way of making a hyper jump.

It took the better part of a day to empty the Ramadan and most of the next before Voinovich and the Aladin, after taking the people off the pickets, got back to Marais.

“It’s not like you came here on purpose,” Leah Radom was saying. “Sure there are attachments, and many of you grew up here, but to the Caliphate, and most everyone else, this is, a Calp planet. The Cardoman’s are willing to help anyone who wants to leave but those who choose to stay will be on their own.”

“The list for the first ship out will be posted today. It’s going to shock most of you when you see that the names are all those of young able-bodied men and women along with their wives and children. We will not be using the time honored woman and children first rule. The Cardoman’s intend on getting everyone out of here, but there might not be time. The team that I came in with, in landing here and setting you free, is going to be the first shot in a full-scale war with the Caliphate. The order of loading is based on how a guess at how likely a person is to make a contribution to winning that war.”

“The Aladin is going to stay in orbit until the last of us have a ship unless the Calps come back with more than she can handle. Starting in another week we expect a steady stream of transports from more of the Independents. It will take at least twenty ships the size of Rescue1 to transport us all and we will just have to pray that they all arrive in time.”

“Leah, you should have said it was my idea, that the able-bodied and technically useful go first,” Rabbi Levinson said, “or at least called me up to explain.”

“Rabbi, you are going to have enough problems until everyone gets out of here. I’m going back with Sgt. Davis and the rest of his team on Rescue1, he won’t even let me stay to help later. The least I could do was help now. Someday they are going to understand.”

Pavel invited Davis into the control cabin when he took Recon back to the Aladin. “You amaze me Robbie, six months ago when I dropped you here I wouldn’t have given you a chance in a hundred of making the thing work. When we transitioned in I just hoped I would find you alive and be able to get you out. This worked out so close to the way it was written I might have to start trusting Plans and Intentions.”

“I had a lot of help but yeah, I kinda’ amazed myself. And for myself, I’m gonna’ keep trusting Major Calvert.”

The trip back to Cardoman was nothing to write home about. Twenty-eight hundred on a ship that wasn’t laid out for passengers, and to fit another hundred in they were on half rations all the way. Everyone, even the ships crew lost at least 5 kilo’s, some almost twice that, but they made Cardoman and for all, especially for the refugee’s, lives began anew.

* * *
Cardoman Military Headquarters, Minton:

Leah was greeted in the lobby and escorted to General Inglase’s office by a Captain who must have had better things to do, but was waiting when she walked through the door. She was wearing her fancy Lt’s Dress Uniform for the first time in her career (it had magically appeared and was hanging from her wardrobe door the day before) and thought she was wearing it the last as well. They had made some kind of mistake here; she was a civilian advisor and not a real Lieutenant.
General Inglase was elsewhere when they entered and his orderly offered seats, and then brought coffee. “The General said he would be right back. He said he would be back shortly and that Captain Coonts was free to answer any question you might ask and the orderly left the room.

“I don’t even know where to start,” Leah said. “This whole military thing is strange to me. First off, I am not a Lieutenant, someone made a mistake with the uniform and I can’t get the tabs off. Second, I came in eight months ago, spent five on Sylvan and the rest in training or on a ship. What does the Commanding General of all Cardoman want with me Sir?”

“Call me Steve Lieutenant, and I’ll call you Leah. As for being a Lieutenant, of course you are right, but the form was checked and signed off on so, we will get to that later. Sandy; that’s what General Inglase is called in his office if you haven’t been hauled in on a carpet, is quite informal with those he favors, and you meet that specification.”

“Favor me? I came here as an involuntary refugee from Earth and got lucky. Everything that went well on Sylvan was due to Sgt. Davis and the rest of his recon team. I was along for the ride only because of where I came from and a chance to help an old and dear friend. I am spinning around now trying to see where I am going after I am released.”

Coonts smiled and stated to respond when the door opened and Sandoval Inglase walked in with a briefcase sized package in hand.

“Welcome Steve and Miss Radom, I am sorry I missed your arrival but this is going to make up for it.” He placed the case on the table and opened it.

“Please stand Lieutenant, — help her up Steve, times a’ wasting.”

The General took a pair of silver bars out of the case, filled with rank insignia and ribboned medals. He pinned them on Leah’s uniform collar. “That’s much better! Congratulations Captain.”

This was about all Leah could take. “General! I just told Captain Coonts, I wasn’t a Lieutenant, and I certainly am not a Captain! I deserve none of this. No honors no awards, no promotions! I didn’t get involved looking for medals or promotion. Talk to the real leader on Sylvan, and that would be Robert Davis. I was there because of a sense of honor, a bit of coercion, and something I owed to my living relatives, living and dead. I didn’t volunteer, and after what I’ve done, and seen, I wouldn’t volunteer in the future. I respect these bars and I will be proud to wear them, for a time. But I am going to look for another place, on the civilian side, and pray those still waiting to leave Sylvan get a chance to join me on Cardoman.”

Inglase looked more than surprised at Leah’s reaction, he looked stricken with guilt and pained, with obvious sincerity he said, “I should have known better than to do it that way, but the promotion is yours, you earned it. Have a seat Leah, let me explain.”

Leah, cooling down and wondering about her own reaction, regained her seat and Inglase speaking from his heart talked about a military culture and mindset that Leah knew nothing about.

“Sgt. Davis is the second most under-ranked soldier in Cardoman service right now. If weren’t for the Seventh’s commanding officer he would be number one. Davis is maxed out as an enlisted rank and that’s damn impressive no mater how you slice it. You, Leah, on the other hand, have no choice but to accept what little rewards we are able to offer. The rest of the decorations in this case belong to Recon, but they also belong to every other person in the service and every Cardoman that understands what they represent.”

“Belong to everyone General? I am not sure I follow you.”

“Why do we have and issue military awards? It’s not to make the uniform pretty, and it’s only vaguely related to enlistment and retention. It’s because we believe in the code we swear to uphold and realize how hard that can be in the face of adversity.”

“When we issue an award we honor the recipient but we also reaffirm the values it represents, and in that sense support our own code of ethics. To turn down a medal earned and awarded, to throw one away after the fact, is to say, ‘Your values are not worthy of such honor’. When we hold the official presentation ceremony I want every member of Davis’s recon team to feel proud about what was accomplished. But I also want everyone witnessing the presentation, or seeing the awards, medals, and ribbons worn later, to feel proud to have the chance to serve in, or know someone from, an organization that recognizes the virtues they stand for.”

“Please think about what I have just said Leah, and you are to call me Sandy whenever we talk in private in my office here, and I hope that will happen often. With that in mind let’s hear what Steve has to say.”

“And I have a lot to talk about,” he said with a grin, “Talking is our main job in P&I. My boss, Major Trebeck, is either on Union with our Foreign Secretary or on his way back from there right now. The last order he gave me before he left was to ‘Get More Help!’ Leah I want to offer you a job and I want desperately for you to say yes. You are almost unique on Cardoman several important areas. You grew up on Earth but managed to get off planet with the help of the closest thing we know about to a functioning anti-Caliphate organization. We need to talk to those people.”

“If we get everyone off of Marais we will have near 60,000 new Cardoman settlers and we hope citizens. Again, some of them will have knowledge that could assist us greatly and you would be the perfect person to act on our behalf. Normally I might say take a few days to think about it but I just don’t have that kind of time. So I am asking you for another six months or a year. I won’t say when that time comes we won’t ask for more, but the choice will be yours.”

Leah accepted the offer, with some misgiving, but when she returned to her room, back at the Seventh’s training area, she was more at peace with the decision and with herself, than at any time since leaving Earth.

Two weeks later a second ship, Rescue2, from Sylvan brought another 2500 with word that a third should be along in under a week. For now Leah’s job was more Immigration and Settlement than Plans and Intents.

* * *
The Confederation Capital, Union:

Victor Shearing had two seats reserved in the glassed in gallery/balcony overlooking Confederation Hall, the auditorium where the important debate occurred, and where all of the votes were taken that informed and directed Confederation policy. Seated with him was Cardoman’s Ambassador to Union, Orly Lavin. It was only due to the intercession of the man standing at the podium in front, Arkady Reshevsky, that the extra seat was made available.

The result of this debate and vote would determine whether a general levy would be assessed, a tax by any other name, on all Confederation inter-system traffic, the purpose to increase usual military spending and expand shipbuilding capability. That vote would pass easily. All Confederation members knew that more ships meant more competition and lower shipping rates in the long run. A shipyard once built could turn out commercial transports as well as naval vessels and the market would always be there.

A second proposal for a general 3% assessment tax increase, based on member planets Gross Planetary Product, and used to fund a massive military expansion, would face much tougher going, and threatened to split the Confederacy apart. The vote would be close, too close Victor thought, and hence the high demand for a place in the viewing area.

Reshevsky started on time and called upon the Representative from Novi to make the case for the first tax. As predicted, it passed with fewer than a dozen dissenting votes. Those were certain no votes for the next bill.

The Union President took the unusual step of representing his home planet, Navara, in support of the second proposal and an amazing thing happened. The three opposing speakers had their five minute say, and two others spoke for the bill. And the roll was called. The increase sailed through. The final tally was 17 opposed 41 in favor. An extraordinary landslide. The chilling meaning of the Caliphate interfering on Sylvan had finally sunk in to those sitting on the fence. Not one of the undecided wanted their planet to be next.

That evening Victor was invited to the ConFed Tower office Reshevsky maintained. They had a few drinks and talked about the vote. “You must have known it was going to turn out the way it did. Why keep it such a secret?”

“I was sure it would pass a couple of days ago but like the proverbial line of dominoes once the first fell they all came down on the same side. That even I found surprising. When will you return to Cardoman, they must be anxious to hear the news?”

“I have my aide looking to book a passage using the fastest means available even as we speak.”

“I think I can help you out Victor, our Naval Construction Bureau would like to see how you on Cardoman went about getting a small Class1 yard up so rapidly, and from what we hear finishing up ships at a rate beyond its capacity. We are going to expand our existing yards at once but are interested in setting up a couple of more. I am sure I can get you some space on one of our Navy G-4’s in return for a look at your shipyard and letting us examine it in depth.”

“Consider it a done deal. When do we leave?”

“I think they will need a day or two to select the inspection team, no more than that, so figure the day after tomorrow. You will be careful to inform those you speak with when you return home, that the vote we just took is one that will help to arm the Confederation if war is to come, and not a call for war in itself?”

“Most assuredly so. And it just occurred to me Ari, that if the Confederation could send a ship, of better yet a fleet, to do an inspection of the situation at Sylvan, that might also help to head off an early call to war. ”

Leah awoke in her new room in Minton to the sound of an incoming call on her com unit. She accepted it while noting the blinking time stamp showing it was an hour earlier than she had the thing programmed to wake her up. “Yes?”

“Good morning Ma’am, Davis here, glad you were awake.”

“It’s good to talk to you also Sergeant. If I get an early start, what can I do for you, before this day is done?”

“Recon is going off to Sylvan to help the Major out in the next week or so. I’m trying to get her up to two teams, say 14 actives. What with you leaving us, the promotions, and Mullins going to Tech School, I find myself in need of a few more people to start qualifying as team members. Frankly, the pickings around here aren’t so good. Not at all up to the standards of the old Seventh. And I was thinking. Shema Ben Judah is on planet, and at least another seven of the good ones from the Maccabees back on Marais, and they just might, with a little more work mind you, fit right in. A week here, a month on the trip out, they’d fit right in. I sent you the names in a data packet attached to this call number, and would really appreciate it if you would cut through the crap that immigration is giving me and send them my way.”

“I would be happy to do that for you Sergeant, It seems I have an extra hour on my schedule today and by rearranging a few things, I can see that finding the time will be no problem at all. Thank you for the call and glad to be of service.”

“Thank you Ma’am, I knew I could count on you.”

* * *
Battle Cruiser Saratoga, Sylvan System:

Inshalla Cahdesh, Captain of the G-4 Reza Gholam, finally had a picture reflecting the reality of the situation in the Mizar system. The strategic and tactical odds were both in his favor, though not as much as he would have liked. Despite his name ‘Inshalla’ meaning, ‘As God Wills’, he was not a fatalist and intended to take every step need to insure his victory should the Cardoman Saratoga choose to fight rather than run from the system.

General Gomaa’s man, Hojjat al-Islam and Colonel Aqeed the political officer made his course of action certain should the Saratoga stand and fight as indeed looked to be the case.

“The Gholam will have all three of the guard ships in position in another day,” Fullson Lovell said to Madry. They were in the Saratoga’s flag plot, without an Admiral on board to direct things it had the largest screens and most room for a discussion of tactics. The bridge received the same information and more on the ships systems side, but much better to let the bridge crew handle their duties without interference and play war games a level below.

“Yes, and that means her Captain, or records say Inshalla Cahdesh, will likely travel in no faster than they can keep up with. If not there wasn’t much point in waiting for them to join up. I wish we had more information on how this Cahdesh runs his ship, though I am sure he wouldn’t have a G-4 if he wasn’t quite competent.”

Fullson entered a short string of commands changing the speed component of the Gholam’s vector and they watched their own escape cone change size and angle. “We have 56 hours before he can force an engagement,” Fullson said. Our electronics should stand for something. I think we can take him even with the three small ship support.”

“And I think you are right Lieutenant,” Jamie said. “But our orders are cast in stone. We will not risk the Sara unless the odds are in our favor. So I think we’d better come up with a plan to do that within the next 56 hours. “Call in Cmdr Matson,” she said to the petty officer handling the duty, “I think we can trust Lt. Shearing with the bridge for a time. And get with engineering and ask Cmdr. Whippen to join us.”

Jamie went over their orders and the situation confronting them making sure they were all on the same page. She summed up by saying, “The one thing the Calps can’t know is that we are under orders to avoid endangering the ship. Somehow we need to find a way to use that fact to our advantage.”

“Let’s hear some ideas people.”