The Cutting Edge 2

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 2 Draft (1/06/08)

Captain Jamie Madry was having a hard time seeing Admiral Raymond clearly as he swung the bottle of Cardoman champaign against the hull of CNS—Cardoman Naval Service—Saratoga, the second fourth generation ship built in their own yards and taken into the Cardoman Navy.

Raymond was drifting in and out of focus as she blinked away the watery tears. This has to stop! She had put her foot down hard when the decision was made deciding who got to swing the bottle. It was very usual on any planet that an official of the Navy perform this duty, but Madry knew that if not for the faith and trust Raymond had shown her, she wouldn’t be here now.

Only the tip of front-most section of the ship poked through a conformed and sealed opening in the station’s hull; a rounded dull metallic bulge was all that was visible. Only the Caliphate yards on Earth and Driessen, and the Feddies yard at Union, had docks large enough to house in pressure a completed hypership, even one so small as the Saratoga’s 30,000 tons. Cardoman had a long ways to go before that size structure would be built.

Madry wiped her eyes, hoping no one had seen. Jamie was surrounded, if a spacer could be claustrophobic she could have said smothered, by the proximity of so many friends. Major Calvert, the commander of the Cards and her ultimate boss was here along with her cousin Audie, newly promoted into Cardoman R&D, and several dozen more of the Cardoman 7th; and of course Stan Voinovich, her sometimes lover. They had all made time to be here. Not to mention the rest of the Cardoman political and military officials and the workers and families who has built the ship in record time. A once in a lifetime experience she wouldn’t forget.

Jamie was taking about half of the crew from her previous command, the converted freighter CNS Eagle, with her as she transferred; the other half would stay on the old ship but there would be a lot of promotions to go around; and that should help mitigate the disappointment of many who wanted to move into the new ship with her.

She was bringing along Vernor Matson, her First Officer from the Eagle, that in itself would come close to insuring a smooth transfer. Jamie’s new Second Officer was Fullson Lovell, a Cardoman native with a few years merchant experience returning home. He had been recommend by Marc McCormack, Captain of the Carpathian so he was almost certain to turn out fine. Jamie had no complains at this time but did not know him well enough for any final judgement.

The third officer appointed, though he wouldn’t hold that title, on the Saratoga was a newbie, Eric Shearing, son of Victor and Louise from the Cardoman foreign office. He had just graduated from the accelerated training course on Llanfairn and yet to prove himself on duty. Jamie knew the elder Shearings well so even though she worried about his fitting in she had high hopes. If any nepotism was involved she’d find out soon enough and highly placed parents or not he’d be ancient history in record time.

One very happy circumstance from her point of view, was that Admiral Raymond granted her the authority to bypass BuPers when selecting ranking noncoms. That meant she could take Boss’n Mike Miller with her when she changed ships. Jamie was confident BuPers would do well with the rest of the enlisted portion of the ship’s crew and if not– Boss’n Miller would do whatever it took in order to correct any errors. She had learned that there were times when it was best even she didn’t know exactly what the phrase ‘Whatever it took’, actually meant.

The old converted freighter Eagle was getting a skipper new to the fleet and Navy both; Captain James Marquette. It might seem strange to some to call a four ship navy a fleet, but tradition had to start someplace. Marquette was retired from the Llanfairn Navy after 25 years service. Raymond had been very hesitant taking about taking him on, mostly because that retirement was at such a young age. One usually had to pry a Ship’s Captain out of service, and even then the reason was almost always, at least in the military, due to hitting the mandatory retirement age limit. The kind of people that made it to Captain had overcame so many obstacles and jumped through so many hoops that they had found a life not a job. And to most, giving up that life seemed worse than any kind of physical death and retirement was something to avoid as long as possible.

Messages were passed back and forth to Marquette’s past masters on Llanfairn by diplomatic and more personal means until Raymond was satisfied the early retirement was completely Marquette’s decision, and that there was nothing in his record hinting at for cause. The most that could be said was that he had been passed over for promotion to flag rank. Admiral Raymond had told Jamie in private that he hoped the reasons were political and not operational. If he worked out he would be a rare find with officers so much in demand.

When Marquette reached Cardoman one of the first things Lester did was to take him aside and give the third degree about what did cause him to resign his Llanfairn commission. And in retrospect, Lester should have guessed, it turned out to be a woman. That was the one reason so obvious that none had thought to mention it. He had fallen in love with his ship’s Second Officer and marriage would either force one of them to retire from active duty or mean permanent shore side stations for both. Knowing there was no way around that they both took retirement prefiguring to go into commercial service at the earliest opportunity. Marriage to a member of the ships company was not a bar to command in most merchant fleets.

Kathyrn Marquette joined the Cardoman service when her husband did. Lester would have been more than happy to give her shore duty; there was so much work that needed doing where real ships experience was better than rank, but she turned him down flat and insisted on a ship. So long as her husband was going to be away most of the time she said that she wanted at least one real tour in the navy before considering a shore bound job. That wasn’t all bad and he put her into the open first officers slot on the Carpathian. McCormack was suitably thankful and Raymond a bit disappointed he couldn’t keep her.

Admiral Raymond didn’t say as much, but he wasn’t about to assign a married or even a couple known to be more than just friends to the same ship. Calvert and Melbourne’s situation was one he didn’t have to worry about so he didn’t even think about it. And if he had he certainly wasn’t about to say anything. They were discrete but the word gets out and what was obvious to him was a rumor throughout the Seventh Cardoman. Anyway in the Seventh Wesley made the rules; End of story!.

With Jim Marquette as the Eagle’s new Capitan, Pamela Hines was moved up to Second Officer and Ed Tubman stayed aboard as the head of engineering. The Eagle was slated for a trip to Union and Admiral Raymond would be on board. It was the standard check ride wich every new captain received however experienced or senior. Lester would take the part of First Officer on that voyage and either they would hire in some more officers really fast, or Pamela was going to get another promotion– in like the way everything else was happening, ‘Record Time’.

The Cardoman hyper yard was in full production but the next four ships down the ways were absolutely spoken for so it seemed in best case it would be more than a year before they could hope to see any further expansion of Cardoman’s naval service. With manpower in short supply that was probably for the best. No—not probably, trained personal was a major constraint, and not just in Indie space. The Confederation was for the first time in memory recruiting from beyond their boarders..

Commander Warren ‘Woody’ Woodward, without Voinovich to assist him, was trying his best to do two jobs at once, running the hyper yard in Cardoman orbit and the shuttle production facilities located out in the belt. The new model shuttles were shipping before the paint was dry and so like the rest of the navy he had his hands full. But those credits and orders kept rolling in.

There might be some light up ahead. Woody was beginning to see some pretty good engineering and construction talent heading his way as word of the new technology leaked out. Keeping up with demand was impossible but no effort was being spared. Woody was here for an hour as a part of his job. Launching the Saratoga on time and only slightly over budget was a major accomplishment and it was easy to tell how pleased he was.

“Acceptance trials went so smoothly I was worried,” he said to Madry. “I’ve never seen the like. You’ve got yourself a honey Jamie.”

“Don’t I know it. And now I get to do all of my calibration exercises over again. The Sara is going to be the best ship in the fleet no mater what Stan thinks, or says, or tries to do about it.”

“He’s heading out in a few days but I haven’t heard where. Care to break the secret?”

“I’d like to Woody, but Admiral Raymond would have my hide.”

“Ah, I think I see. I’m back to the shuttle yard right now so you wish him well for me. Ok?”

“You’ve got it Commander.”

* * *
Lt.. Abraham Loomis, chief spook for Clayton Grayson’s intelligence unit, looked around the table and wondered what in the world he was doing here. A misspent youth and a hitch in the seventh followed by some pretty remarkable luck on Altoona and somehow he had a military career and people actually listened to him. Course Captain Kronnin had to die for things to work out this way.

Earlier Loomis and Grayson met with the ConFed Intelligence Officer, then went over all of the information furnished, and tried to punch holes in the analysis.

“An initial contact or two inside the prison population is going to be critical. How sure can we be that this guy Messmer is still alive,” Loomis asked Captain Nesburg, who while wearing another hat had reviewed all of the data.

“We can’t, but it’s our best shot if he is. Out here in Indie space we see precious few who manage to escape from the Caliphate, so finding Leah Radom on our books was a god send. We’ll get her in tomorrow and you can talk to her and do your own evaluation. You’ll find as we did that beyond the fact of her presence, extreme motivation would be an understatement where she is concerned.

“Now let’s go over what the shrinks have come up with concerning the profiles of a few of the past and present transportees that we have identified. They claim this group should be representative of the whole but with no prior with no way of predicting how their time on Marais has changed them it’s mostly conjecture.”

* * *
“Wow!” That was all Loomis could think when Leah Radom was ushered into to the conference room in Government House, Military affairs section. She had been shown the way by one of the security orderlies, who by evidence of the lingering glance as he left the room obviously felt the same way.

She was just a bit over average in hight with dark hair and eyes, very slim with a small high bosom and hips and legs to match., but she moved with such grace. Probably mid twenties Abe thought but he wasn’t very good at guesstimating women’s ages. No one was anymore with all of the bio/med enhancements being done but that age would match what he had read on the background sheets he had only glanced through. Now if there had been a picture, he might have had them whole thing memorized. Describing her just couldn’t do justice to the girl he saw in front of him.

“Sit down Ms Radom, I’m Lieutenant Loomis but feel free to call me Abe if it makes you more comfortable.”

“Thank you Sgt,” she said sitting down at the far end of the table. Her response wasn’t cold but distant.

“I want to thank you for taking the time to see me,” Loomis said.

“As if I had much choice in the matter,” she replied. This time a little ice showing as she stared at him sharply.

“Yeah, I guess a summons to Military Security is pretty compulsory. After you hear me out though I hope you will be a bit more understanding. Can I get you something to drink? Coffee, Tea?”

“No thank you Sergeant, let’s just get this over with as fast as we can.”

“Very well, Ms, Radom. For the record would you please relate how it is that you, as a citizen of the Caliphate on Earth came to be on Cardoman?”

“If you think I am some kind of spy you are sadly mistaken.”

“Not at all. We think we know the reasons and just want to hear them in your own words. Start where ever you like.”

A year and a half ago on Earth:
“… But you must leave Leah,” her father said. “It is time and past time. The papers are dated and the ship leaves in six hours. There may never be another chance.”
“Uncle Leo, tell him that that is not the way we deal with authority anymore. Before Israel was destroyed and taken away from us we Jews learned to fight. Never again must be our greatest truth.”

“Leah, in those old days we were outnumbered 100 to one. And with heroic effort we created a new country. But we were small and ultimately lost again due to the barbarity of our opponents. Those in Israel fought and won for a hundred years but against a nuclear airburst they had no defense. They never lost due to anything they could fight against. And our condition is as dire. Today we are outnumbered 10,000 to one and yes, we can still fight but we cannot afford to lose again. And we will lose on Earth.”

“Then give my place to someone else. All I want to do is stay and fight till the end.”

“Daughter, oh my daughter, it is far too late for that! The ship smuggling you out leaves tomorrow and there is no way we can get another set of papers made up by then. The ticket is already purchased. If you do not show up suspicion will be cast on the Captain of the Waverly and from him all those who have helped us. We might never get a chance to use him again and or even this method to save others. Twenty more are scheduled to go with you. If you fail to show they might all be lost.”

The trip on the old Level 2 Waverly took me first to Novi and with three additional stops out of the Confederation and into Indie Space. Six months from the time I left I ended up on Cardoman, about as far from Earth as one could get. I had used the fake ID from Earth when I left the ship.

“How did you find me out?” Leah asked.

“I am sorry I can’t answer that with specifics. Be assured that there are many in the ConFed and amongst us Indies who are doing everything we can, short of outright war, to aid people like you.”

“People like you!” Leah spat! That’s a polite way to phrase it.”

“Leah, get a grip,” I said. “If you had spent anytime at all on the planets your ship the Waverly stopped at once you left Earth you would know beyond a shadow of doubt that the evil, may I say the sin, of antisemitism doesn’t exist outside of the Caliphate any longer. The people that left Earth and got out here just weren’t that type and wouldn’t tolerate anyone trying to introduce that kind of evil later.”

If the truth were known I was rapidly falling in love with this girl but the interview wasn’t going well at all.

“I will accept what you say for now Lieutenant, and you have heard my story. So what exactly is it you really want from me?”

“Leah we want you to go back with some of us into the worst hell-hole in the Caliphate, a prison planet called Marais.”

Her eyes opened wide and for a moment I was swimming in them until she said.
“Why me, why now?”

I had to go it on my own and give out information that was not supposed to be let out except on a need to know basis. Burn before reading kind of stuff. She was still ice but I was the one who was melting.

“Ms. Radom. The kind of intelligence that let us find you gives us more information about the conditions on Marais and also on who was sent there. I will say, though you must never repeat what I am telling you, that your former employer Dean Messmer has been on Marais for better than a year.”

That got to her. I could see, if only by the frozen expression and hesitation in breath that something had finally gotten through.

“Tell me about him, please!” I almost broke down myself listening to her plaintive tone. I steeled myself hating what I had to do.

“Ms. Radom I can not tell you anymore then I have already stated. Methods and sources are involved. Believe me I wish I could say more but my hands are tied unless you freely choose to aid us in a matter we are engaged in at this time.”

She went icy again and said, “You Bastard! You already told me where he is and that he lives, not saying anything else unless I cooperate is nothing short of blackmail!”

“I’m very sorry you feel that way Ma’am but I have said all I am able to at the present time.” It was only a matter of seconds before she said, but with emotion that showed only in the almost unnoticeable clenching of her hands.

“Of course I’ll do as you wish. What’s next?”

* * *
Lieutenant Pavel Tsarinstyn, third officer of the Aladin, shook his head wondering how anyone could consent to get inside one of those little spheres and be kicked out of a perfectly good shuttle and go falling, unpowered and uncontrolled towards a planetary surface, until, and if, things worked out a flimsy parachute opened seconds away from a complete smash up. He was inspecting the modifications to Shuttle-Patrol 106 that changed her from an attack model to a pod drop carrier. Gone were all but one of the internal weapons stations and controls and most of the weapons stores as well. The space was now taken up by nine, just over a meter and a half in diameter balls that looked to be wrapped with a fuzzy kind of twine. Almost like a ball of yarn he thought. They were loaded into a rack setup and would feed one after the other from a hatch cut through the side of the ship. Once loaded there was no provision, in fact no room to remove any of them inside the shuttle.

“So how are you gonna work on them Pavel should one get a down check at launch?” Captain Voinovich asked.”

“We’re not Sir. Once the first one goes they all have go and the Lord have mercy on their souls. If we don’t do it that way we miss the target unless we can make another pass and that doesn’t work with the flight plan we’ll have to use.”

“I just got the orders for some training drops and we are getting some practice pods delivered in a few days. Get engineering to make some cradles and then get these offloaded into the bay. Be very careful we don’t have any extras if any are damaged.”
“When does Davis and his squad come aboard?”

“They aren’t. They will be doing all their practice on the ground. It seems that when the pods went through acceptance trials on Enderlin even though everyone made it to the aim point 30% would never get inside of one again. And these were experienced airborne troopers. Davis says this mission only had to work once and he isn’t going to take the chance of loosing any of his men in advance.”

“So what are we training with Sir?”

“Madry’s worked up some straight parachute models, no stealth or life support but they will track the same as the real thing. We’ll get enough for a few practice launches to verify the ejection system and one full launch of nine to check dispersal. You will need to concentrate on getting to the drop point and getting out without detection. After you get through with engineering come see me and will go downside and see Davis about choosing the drop sites.”

When Voinovich and Tsarinstyn entered the company HQ they could hear Sergeant Major Davis giving a fatherly talk to on of his men.

“Pvt. Short! You couldn’t find your asshole if you opened your eyes! Is it just too damn dark in there or do you have another explanation!

“Yessir! Sgt Major Sir! Someone loaded the terrain map upside down and I went in the wrong direction.”

“And it took you fifteen minutes to come to the conclusion the valley floor was more likely down slope than up?”

“Sgt Major! My pod opened late and I was in a hurry to rejoin and thought the display–.”

“That’s just it Short, you didn’t think. And to help make sure you remember not to make the same mistake again you I have a nice 20 kilometer compass course you will run tonight starting at 0:22 hundred without any thing but a compass. And you will bring back each and every waypoint marker with you when you return. Do I make myself clear Pvt.!”

“Sir, those things are heavy and–.”
“Do I Make Myself Clear Private!”
“Sir, Yes Sir!”

By the time the wind gust caused by Short’s rapid departure died down Stan and Pavel were both seated in Davis’s office and busy selecting likely locations matching as close as possible the landing area selected for insertion on Marais. When they finished there all three went over to visit with Audie Madry and the radar bofins to see what kind of coverage they could expect and have to evade.

“I’m gonna have two up in orbit and three on the surface,” Audie began. “The weakest point of coverage will be out to sea. Any chance you could make a drop off shore?”

“Nine pods spread over a few kilometers, individual inflatables, loaded down with gear and not knowing the weather in advance. Thats a recipe for disaster if I ever heard one Davis said cheerfully.”

“I knew you would say that Sarge I just wanted to see how you did it,” Audi said with a grin. “So what it boils down to is the further away from the main site at Parson’s Bay the better. Everything else being equal, which it never is, 100 kilometers or more and with the highest range of hills you can find between the drop site and the radar stations. I’m really more worried that they see the shuttle than the drop pods. From far enough away the pods can be under the horizon of ground based observation. So the point is Sgt. How far from the Calps you can land and still accomplish the mission.”

“Even 100 K is too far for my liking so let’s start at 50 and work our way out and see what we get.”

* * * * * *
“A good run Captain,” Lester Raymond said to James Marquette as they settled into the padded seats of the lander and buckled in.

“I’d like to take the credit but I just sat and watched the crew perform.”

“And a good thing you did. I’ve sailed under skippers that made changes just to show they could and nothing positive ever came out of it.”

“I feel the same Admiral and I do have a list of things I intend to implement on our way back from Zeeland.”

“And if I don’t agree?”

“If it’s official Sir I defer to your judgment. If not I go ahead and we see how it comes out.”

“I can go along with that and another thing, I am going to want to see a complete evaluation of your command staff when we return. I already know most of them but we are expanding so rapidly my knowledge though broad is not very deep. I am taking you down with me so you can meet our trading partners here. Get some personal contact to help make things go smoothly. For the near term at least you are going to be the main cargo carrier for military procurement. Zeeland is providing most of the fusion units for our shuttle yard and anything we can do to speed up the flow is important. A few hours hear, a few days there, it all adds up. Pay attention to the loading details both above and below. We will go right back to Cardoman when we are finished here and then you will be off again.”

The message came over the speakers announcing descent and they felt a gentle nudge as the lander headed down. Two weeks later they were back home and two days after that the Eagle was heading for Ryman taking a load of completed shuttles with her. Jamie Madry and Admiral Raymond watched the departure then went to the Admiral’s quarters in the Navy section to discuss the Saratoga’s first official cruise.

“It’s time we showed the flag around a bit Jamie, so first to Enderlin for a missile load out and then to Union. Vic Shearing will be going along to represent the government but I will strongly recommend he keep contact with his son to a minimum. The last thing Eric needs is to have people think he got his slot due to favoritism. I want you to have Lt. Commander. Matson keep the boy working like a dog so that no one can get that impression.

“Your cargo bay will have a couple of shuttles for Union delivery. I expect Victor to supply you with greater detail if he feels it’s appropriate, but we are looking for more technological support. He will be authorized to trade licenses for the few things we can make better here in Indie space than they manage for whatever and as much as he can get. You are going to need to help evaluate what those things are and assist in figuring the rate of exchange.”

“Isn’t that somewhat above my pay grade Admiral?” Jamie thought tis might be a good time to use his title.

“Don’t fret your pretty little head dearie.” Lester said with exaggerated gratuitousness, “Minister Shearing will have other advisors with him but I am counting on you to look after the interests of the Cardoman Seventh and the Navy. If I didn’t think you could do it I wouldn’t send you. I ran it by Major Calvert and he never even blinked. Who are we to question such confidence. Spend an hour getting the ships internal orders started then take two days leave. And make sure you spend it dirt side. And that is an order!”

When Jamie made the surface the first thing she did was ring up Connie Melbourne.

“Absolutely,” Connie said. “Don’t even think of unpacking. Grab a lift out to the Company area and I’ll send you out to the Castle. Wes is in the field for a few days but Wana Omari will give you a tour and then take you out to my place and we can talk into the night after I get home. I’m due for a day off so I can make tomorrow free too. See ya later.”