The Cutting Edge 21

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 21 Draft (04/14/08)

Squadron Commander Admiral Razuli Suleiman on the lead Philomel Battle Cruiser Jerusalem, was very close to a final decision on his course of action. The political situation interceding, he decided to talk it over with Governor Khalaf before he issued the orders. This Amid Khalaf was going to get a lot of undeserved credit for retaking Marais and his influence with Al-Gamrawi Bey would rise accordingly. The man had missed no opportunity to mention the number of times he had already spoken to the Caliphate’s leader. Suleiman had never even been it the same room with one so lofty and had met few who had.

“Governor,” Khalaf much preferred this form of address to that of his permanent rank of Colonel, it masked his actual lack of status when compared to the Admiral he was now in contact with, “I am sure that the Cardoman Captain was telling the truth when he said there was no force left guarding the planet, and that the only ones remaining were loyal to the Caliphate. I will advise the Ramadan’s Captain to go straight to the planet so you can make your assessment at the earliest possible moment while the rest of my squadron pursues the prisoners and the Cardoman cruiser.”

Khalaf was not happy to hear this, he wanted no risk to his person and said, “These people are known liars, every one of them, it is possible they have left defenses of some type hidden on the planet or stealthed and in near orbital space.”

“Even if they could conceal something of importance from us Governor, the Ramadan has adequate defenses.”

“I am sure you have considered this from a purely military sense Admiral, as I would have done before my recent appointment. But now I see other concerns, the repercussions of only a minor setback in achieving our ends are beyond calculation. Because of that, I request you detach one of your ships to accompany us. Surely three will be enough to stop the prisoners escape?”

Khalaf was wrong and Suleiman knew it, yet political considerations overruled logic. “It shall be as you say.” The remaining three ships in his squadron continued onwards. When Khalaf received his reward Suleiman was making sure that he would receive much of the credit.

“We’ve lost one of them,” Joe Speedway said. Only three of the Calp Battle Cruisers are continuing the chase.”

“Thank the lord for small favours,” Voinovich replied. “We don’t have too many options here. We are going to have to try to draw all of them after us. If we stay with the transport, we are both going to lose. Joe, try and come up with a course that gets us to the limit where the Calps need to follow us early. If they just send two ships for us and use the other for the Spirit, there is nothing we can do about it.”

“This is too much like old Earth siege warfare where all the moves were planed and the outcome was predetermined by the forces involved. A dance with no variations. The odds we have against us make it just like that. We will not sacrifice the Aladin for nothing, and that’s what a fight with these odds would be. Let’s just hope the Calps follow us when they see out course change, considering us the dangerous target, and leave the Spirit alone until she jumps.”

The Jerusalem’s signal officer said, “Admiral Suleiman, the Cardoman cruiser has changed course. It’s too early to tell what she is trying to accomplish but one of the possibilities is to stay outside of out range and head back to Marais.”

Suleiman studied his plot and saw that the Aladin could stay outside of engagement range and reach Marais; but what would be the point? It didn’t take a squadron commander to figure out that one.

“This is nothing but an attempt to buy time for the transport. Detach the Joppa so she can continue after the Spirit, and we will try to close with the Aladin. Two against one odds are more than satisfactory. This infidel ship stands no chance. Send word to Khalaf and inform that we are pulling his escort for use against the Aladin, in this instance three to one odds are even more to my liking.”

“About what we expected Captain,” Roger Langston, the ships first officer said. “Do we alter our course?”

“What would you do Rog?” Stan replied. This type of question was a test he used frequently and found he often learned much from the answers.

“If I were making the decision, and I’m glad I’m not, I would look for a way to try and help the Spirit. One that would not risk the ship without helping those poor souls on the transport. I don’t see one. So I would just keep out of Suleiman’s range, continue to try to draw him after me, and line up for the jump back home.”

“That’s what we are going to do Roger. But we will delay the jump until we can see what happens when the Spirit comes under attack.”

“The spineless cur is running for home, it is much as I expected,” said Captain Freqahri of the Jerusalem to his squadron commander. “Shall we stay in chase sir?”

“No, Captain, break it off. I will send the Baghdad to assist Captain Yousarin on the Joppa, and we will take a backup position in case the Cardoman does anything other than continue running.”

“Fire a warning shot, we may as well see what kind of defenses these old ships are carrying, Be careful that we take no chances of the first doing any major damage.. Yousarin the Joppa’s captain said. “Afterwards send the message to surrender or be destroyed.”

Ten hours later Joe Speedway reported, “The Joppa has opened fire sir. One missile only. Must be a warning unless they are just trying to cripple her. The Spirit might just have enough defense to stop one missile, but no more than that.”

Stan watched his screens and saw the Calp missile detonate well away from the spirit.”

“It was a self destruct sir, the Spirit never came close to stopping her. She might have if the missile got in closer but we will never know. She’s hauled her sails now and is decelerating.”

“It was the only sensible thing to do. I pity those people on board that will now be going back to Marais. There’s nothing more we can do here Joe, it’s time to head out.”

Rabbi Israel Levinson and Judah Ben Judah viewed the unequal chase from a display the Devine Spirit’s captain had set up for the Rabbi’s convenience, in hopes that he might be an informational conduit to the rest of the ships passengers, and to hold down the inevitable rumors, and yes—to soften the blow when the time came to surrender.

For a time there was hope that all of the Caliphate ships would chase after the Aladin but that hope was long gone.

“This is the end Ben Judah; I must tell the people what has happened.”
“Wait,” Ben Judah stepped in his path, stoping the Rabbi from reaching the small room’s door. “When out people left Egypt, did they return to Egypt? When we returned from exile in Babylon did we then turn around and march back? I will not return to slavery on Marais Rabbi, I think you will find that most all of us feel that way.”

“But Judah, the ship is slowing down and will surrender, it is out of our hands.”

“No Rabbi, it is not. On this, the final ship to leave Marais, are the old and the weak, those who could not aid a resistance to the Caliphate. But I think you will find they do not lack in courage. Considering the small size of this ships crew, there are more than enough Maccabees on board to do what is necessary. Go forth Israel and comfort those in need.”

“Captain Yousarin, the prisoner’s ship has reversed vector again and looks to be attempting to reach the hyper limit once more!”
“What fools! Contact the flagship and Admiral Suleiman.”

“Fools indeed Captain Yousarin,” Suleiman said. “If they wish to become martyrs, we are prepared to help. Open fire and finish her off. They are criminals, condemned to death, we gave them a chance and they turned us down. And in this fashion it shall be as Allah wills.”

On the Aladin’s bridge, Joe Speedwell commed his captain, “Sir, I think you should come up at once, the Spirit is changing course and there is an increase in coded traffic between the Calp ships. Something’s happening and I do not like the looks of it.”
“On my way!”

By the time Stan reached the Aladin’s control deck, it was obvious that for some reason or another those on the Spirit had changed their minds about surrendering and return to Marais. The events they were watching on their screens had happened over an hour and a half ago in real time. Nothing they could do would or could, ever affect the outcome of the unequal battle once the Calp cruiser Joppa opened fire.

“Sir, we are receiving a transmission from the Spirit. It’s garbled and weak and needs more reprocessing but I can make out the words. Would you like to see it?”

And just then, the bright yellow sparks showing the Joppa’s missile trails converged upon the Spirit and that ships image went from green to flashing red, and then faded to a ghostly transparent violet.

“No I don’t think I need to hear that message now. Sometime later will be soon enough. Keep on our present course and jump schedule.”

“The Aladin has jumped Admiral,” the Jerusalem’s second said on a link to Suleiman’s cabin. Her course at transition has her on a path to Cardoman.”

“Thank you for informing me Commander. Let me know when we are nearing Marais, right now I must attend to my prayers.”

“We are about to transition back into normal space,” Roger Langston reported to his captain. Would you card to come to the bridge sir?”

The Aladin had made the jump into hyper only three hours earlier. In that period she put a half a light year between herself and the Calps on Marais. It was that kind of distance, and the time it would take for the transition wake to get back to the planet, that meant even if the jump was detected, the news to be so old, that it could have no practical value to anyone.

“How long to Sylvan?” Stan asked Speedway.

“We’ll arrive in ten days ship’s time,” Joe replied.

“Light duty for the next two days Joe, everyone on board has earned it.”
“You handle it Rog, I’m going to stay down here with Lt Ellsberg and see how it looks from engineering. Get our new vector laid in as quickly as you can and I will come up when we are ready to jump again.”

“Aye aye Sir.”

* * *
Lester Raymond took his place in the command seat on the SnapDragon’s bridge, he had sworn he would never be doing this again but he had a new ship to work into shape and no one else to do it. When the Eagle got back from Sylvan, her first officer Dave Gump was getting a bump up to Captain and Pamela Hines could take over his old slot as first officer, a slot Gump had held for all of four months.

After paying close attention to the Eagle while out at Sylvan, Les was fairly sure that Gump would work out. But by all the ‘Odd Gods!’, this was no way to man a fleet. James Marquette would take over on the newly acquired SwiftStrike. Hers first cruise as a Cardoman ship would complete the job of returning to Novi with two thirds of SwiftSrike’s original Novi crew, those that Hugo Burgeron would not need on the new G-4 ship the Cardoman yards had just turned over to him. A message was received from Novi and that new ship now had a name, the ‘Victory’.

The ‘SwiftStrike would be retaining her old name, changing the FNS, Free Novi Ship prefix to CNS, standing for Cardoman Naval Service. Raymond was sending along on this voyage the newly trained and new arrivals from Russo Nevier’s recruiting efforts. When she returned to Cardoman a Reserve Captain from Novi would be in charge of handing her off to Marquette, or to Raymond if Jim was still out system.

Russo was getting a credit equal to 30% of the first year wages of everyone he sent in that was accepted and a deduction of 10% for those rejected. That would have to change Les thought to himself. The reject rate was so low, only two of the last eleven Russo sent were deemed unfit, that the Admiral was certain Nevier was passing up on some potential additions to the fleet.

There was one certainy; the Cardoman Navy was starting to look like a real Navy now, at least in terms of numbers. Three G-4s Aladin, Saratoga, and his new SnapDragon, the G-3 Battle Cruiser Swift strike, and the two militarized G-2 transports, Carpathian and Eagle. In addition to the capital ships and their shuttles, they had another six shuttles constantly working in the Cardoman system and engaged in training. Some of those trained would stay in shuttles, others would move into slots on the larger ships.

The latest of Nevier’s new hires, Clarence Fletcher, was his first officer on the ‘Dragon’. Another, Emma Debus, was the second. Both were out of commercial service but at least had they had some time on large well run G-3s so the were familiar with most of the Dragon’s systems.

This ship would become Roger Langston’s new command next time the Aladin came back in system, but for now Les was going to see that when she was turned over the crew was ready for duty.

“Cmdr Fletcher, if you would do the honors,” Lester said, turning over the bridge to his first officer. “It’s time we make the first transition and see how the Dragon is going to react.”

“I have the bridge sir,” Fletcher said taking over the command seat. “Sound the transition alarm. We jump in two minutes!”

A quick trip out and back. No serious problems, but a few minor system errors to fix, and calibrations make. Ahead an eighteen hour run back to the yards and Cmdr Woodward would send some people aboard for the tweaks and adjustments. Les kept a keen eye as Fletcher continued to exercise his crew.

Woody Woodward was the first through the hatch when the Dragon docked; he was piped on board with an announcement, “Master of the Station.” He returned the salute and went over to talk to Les, waiting just outside of the receiving area.

“That’s a new title, hadn’t heard that one before.”

“Consider it a promotion Woody, and a well deserved one. Let’s go to my offices and we can talk.”

“After you Les, I’m all ears.”

Les took a decanter from his sidebar and poured a couple of drinks. When they both were comfortable he began. “I want to keep Lt Quentin on the Dragon. He readjusted the phase delay on our way back in. I would have thought that would take a day in the dock and a lot more equipment than we had on board. He’s just what the new ship needs.”

“Have a heart Lester, every time I get someone up and trained, you steal them away. How can I keep up production if you keep doing that to me? Quentin is the best I have right now, he lived with the SnapDragon until she was done. He cut two weeks from the delivery schedule because of things he noticed that nobody else seemed to see. We have the other ship due Novi in final prep and two others in progress. I’m grooming him now for Voinovich’s old job as my backup for both the yard here and the one in the belt.”

“I have to talk with the Finance Minister every day and keep her apprised of our progress. Money must be much tighter than things look from where we sit spending it.”

“How is Aldoria, I’m going to see here first thing when I go dirtside.”

“Pretty much the same as always I expect but very concerned about shipping schedule’s and the costs involved with resettling the people from Marais.”

“Where is she sending them?”

“The original plan was to disperse them amongst the rest of the population but that didn’t sit well at all with our guests. They claimed, the religious ones in particular, that unless we permitted them to stay close together, they’d only work long enough to get a ticket out system to some planet that would. Dory had to agree, we need the labor too much here and there would be a half dozen other planets willing and anxious to take them in on their own conditions.”

“How’s Dory going to handle it?”

“I haven’t taken the time to talk to her about that situation, but I am sure it’s going to cost money, and you taking my best people isn’t going to help on that end.”

“Got anyone else even half as good for the SnapDragon?”
“You didn’t notice but his assistant in engineering, the guy who was probably doing most of the actual work, is a damn good man.”
“Lt, Yancy? Is that his name?”

“That’s the name all right. Not up to Quentin on the theoretical end, but just like Quent, he’s been with the ship since day one and can fix it if it breaks.”

“I’ll talk to Dory and you could be right about this. Let’s go over to the schooling deck, I want to see how the training of the ones from down below working out.”

That night, (Les was adjusting his day to Cardoman’s capital), the ship from Union and the Confederation transitioned in with Victor Shearing and the Feddies inspection team. Les delayed his trip downside another day giving the ship time to make the station. There was enough work here to keep him busy and he wanted to talk to the Feddies Navy types at the earliest moment. The shipyard team could stay up here and do what the came for, but Les wanted to meet this James Philips character and get his measure before talks got underway about the military cooperation that could be forthcoming.

Aldoria Verser, General Inglase, Victor Shearing, Jack Trebeck and Les Raymond were representing Cardoman. Admiral Burton, Cmdr James Philips, and Andre Lafayette, the Confederation Envoy who traveled with them on them as the Confederacy Officer in Charge, were on the tables other side. They were working from Victor’s Ministerial offices in the Capital Building. After a toast to cooperation, Aldoria started off for Cardoman.

“We have much to talk about Gentleman, so let us not mince words. I have been instructed by my government, through the Foreign Minister,” she nodded at Victor, “that I am free to be as honest and direct as you are. Victor has requested I direct this meeting until he catches up fully with events on Cardoman since he left. We will both report to our President when this first session is completed. General Inglase and I have many questions to ask, as I am sure you do. Mr. Lafayette, the President has asked me to welcome you in his name, and mention that after we are through here and you talk to your people inspecting our production facilities, he would very much like to meet you in person. Would you care to begin sir?”

“As I am sure everyone here knows, I was sent on this trip to Cardoman, not because I support war but because I oppose it. And in no uncertain terms. The utter waste and futility of it all seems so obvious, that any means to avoid a general war with Earth and her rulers must be used.”

“To be blunt then, Mr. Lafayette,” Inglase asked, “What was the point in sending someone here who was preordained to advise for a lack of cooperation?”

“Our President, Mr. Reshevsky is well aware of the bedrock strength of those in the Confederation opposed to war. He knows that acting against our interests will lead to a succession of at least twelve planetary governments and perhaps more.”

“Yet, I assure you, I am not a pacifist. If you can convince me that war is the only option, and that it must begin now, rather than wait for a chance for the situation to improve, that is what I will report and recommend.”

“Then I guess that is what we must do,” Dory said, “General, would you summarize what we know of the situations on Marais and Sylvan?”

“Do you think we accomplished anything Victor?” was the question Sandoval Inglase asked of his friend Victor when the first session was over.

“The man is hard to read Sandy, I had almost a month to figure him out on the ride back to Cardoman and I don’t have all the answers yet. But I am sure of this; he learned some things today he would have rather not, and even with all the constraints he sets on his beliefs, he will not reject the truth out of hand.

“If he wants to see the truth I think we might have him talk to a few of the survivors from Marais. They have a story much different from the one told by the Caliphate.”

“A good suggestion. Pay close attention to Cmdr Philips, he is more than he seems.”

“What do you think James,” Jack Trebeck asked the Union intelligence agent while waiting for the rest of the Cardoman Plans and Intents staff to show up.”

“All I can say is that what you have shown only goes to support what we already thought we knew. I have additional data that I was not at liberty to disclose until now. Here is the file.” Philips handed over a data chip. “Keep this out of your main system, it will prove to be quite embarrassing and politically damaging if the knowledge gets out to the public.”

“Dennis,” Victor Shearing said, “Jack here has just learned some most distressing news.” Trebeck and Shearing were in the office of Cardoman’s coalition president, Dennis Horvath, Victor was holding a one page summery of what they knew and suspected. “Not to put a fine point on it, we have evidence that the Vice President is leaking information to the Caliphate, and had been doing that for better than a year. We have not been able to positively verify all of this data, but it holds together in every way we can check it without direct questioning.”

“Let me see it,” President Horvath said, his expression startled and then showing anger, as he reached for the paper and then read the contents.

“This can’t be true! I’ve known the man all my life. We’ve worked together, and for all the right causes, for the last twenty years. There must be some other explanation.”

“I sincerely hope so Dennis, I really do. But we will need to talk with him as soon as you authorize it. My authority does not rise to that level.”

Horvath considered the request then said, “You have my go ahead, I will call him in and we will get to the bottom of this. And if it is some kind of a play by the Confederacy to discredit an innocent man in order to make the Caliphate look even worse than we know it to be. We will have to consider whether they are the kind of people that we can deal with on any level.”

“Mr. President, may I say something,” Jack Trebeck asked.

“Go right ahead Major.”

“Sir I think it might be best if we didn’t talk to the Vice President. I would expect within a few days we can confirm or deny our fears. As you point out if we are wrong, the damage is potentially as great as if we are correct. But if the worst is true it could be possible to use the fact that we know about him to our advantage. False information and the like.”

Looking very troubled President Horvath took his time before agreeing, and then gave Jack a number to get in touch with him that would bypass his office staff. Horvath told him to use it once the truth was known, or if the situation changed in any respect. His final words were, “Beware Major, if information slips out to the press before we make any effort to contain a security breech, my administration is ruined. It might be ruined in any event. If that press leak happens, your career is finished as well. Not because anything here is your fault, but because once the feeding frenzy starts, the opposition will make sure that all involved are consumed.”

“I understand Sir and will keep in touch.”

“Now you’ve seen the nonmilitary side of governance Jack,” Victor said after they had left the Presidents Office. “It can be deadly as well. You may not loose your life but everything else is up for grabs.”
“Tougher than I’d imagined Vic, much tougher.”

“It won’t get easier with your next promotion, your promotion to Colonel was a don deal till this came along, but handle this one right, and by that I mean please the President, and you become one of us, for better or worse.”

* * *
On the Aladin – Four hours out of Sylvan:

In his day room off the bridge Stan Voinovich read the transcribe message, the last from the Divine Spirit. He almost had it memorized. Listening to the recording was almost worse, scratchy, not of broadcast quality at all, and with the gravely voice of Judah Ben Judah doing the reading. This was what Ben Judah said:

“We fight for freedom, because we must. And we fight for that freedom anyway we can. Whatever the cost and whatever the pain. We refuse to become slaves again. This ship, our ship, the Devine Spirit, is said to contain the old and the weak. But we are not the old and weak in spirit. And we cannot help but take comfort in the name.”

“For I am certain, and as God is my witness, there is a Devine Spirit in each of us. Our actions, here today, we do for ourselves and our sense of worth. But we do this also as an inspiration for the countless others, who will, in the future, risk as much in the name of freedom. I hope, and I pray, our example makes your path easier to follow. We die for a cause that is just. Whether we die in vain is up to you. Remember us in your prayers, and in your hopes, and in your dreams.”

Four hours later Voinovich gave the orders. “Transition out!”