The Cutting Edge 24

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 24 Draft (04/26/08)

Calvert and Farouk were alone in the Parliament Building’s Presidential Office. Just a few moments earlier, after a brief com message, Wes addressed Hanna Perkins, who was sitting at the desk Wes now occupied. “Madam President, would you please leave us alone for a moment?”

“But I’m in charge here,” she said sharply, before she took the time to look in the Major’s direction, and seeing the look on his face, she stopped talking, gathered a few papers from the desk, and left the room.

After she left and was beyond hearing, Farouk said, “She may not be in charge here, but neither am I Major. General Gomaa’s orders are quite clear on that. And I talked with him just before I was directed here by your chief of staff.”

“These things change Farouk, that was Major Grayson I was speaking with and according to what is just coming out of Stillwell’s headquarters; Gomaa has paid the ultimate price for imperial ambitions. So you see Brigadier Farouk,” Wes paused and spoke into a hushed private circuit and nodded his head before turning back to Amid. “As the senior member of the Caliphate Military Service in the system upon you alone is the responsibility for making certain that the best interests of your government are respected, not neglected, by those such as Admiral Suleiman who only look for self aggrandizement.”

“Admiral Suleiman is doing exactly what Gomaa wants him to do, or wanted him to do if he is indeed no longer with us. He holds the balance of force in this system and if your ships do not yield they will be destroyed.”

“A debatable point at best. Captain Madry estimates a better than 60% chance that in the case of an engagement near the planet, and that is where she intends for it to occur, the battle will end in out favor or at worst be indecisive.”

“This is nonsense talking Major Calvert,” Farouk said with disdain. “The two weapons platforms your Eagle delivered have nowhere near the offensive or defensive power of a first rate warship. To give you a better idea of the way a battle in space will turn out I give you Admiral Suleiman’s 95% estimate that all of your ships will be destroyed with a probable loss of one of his own. This is something for the glory of Allah that he is wanting to undertake at the earliest moment. I think we will know the truth of the matter in a few hours–no?”

“Putting away the disagreement over outcome for a moment I suggest you are wrong about what the Caliphate Leadership on Earth would have you do. And you may also be wrong for more personal reasons.”

“My personal reasons have nothing to do with this! This is for duty, honor and God’s will!”

Wes tapped a spot on the desk display and said, “Major Grayson, send in Loomis.”

Immediately into the room, still dressed in his local garb, stepped Ibrahim Saudi. Farouk seeing him said in Arabic, “So the dogs have caught you as well, what was your crime?”

“I suppose by your lights,” Loomis said, “My crime would be not only working for the Cardomans but being one of their commissioned officers. I’ve brought a few items we might all wish to examine,” he said to a thoroughly stunned Farouk. Loomis handed Major Calvert a hard file and Wes had it playing on the wall screen in seconds.

“This first is a map showing where we breached your defenses around Unity. Note the red lines showing your fence, guard post and sensor network. Next a short video showing all of these points going up in smoke and flames from what looks like they were all wired with detonator cord and thousands of mines. From there we go to another showing a small group spraying some kind of liquid substance into the ground and then the explosion when a detonator is discharged into the same location some hours later.”

With each new view and each new description Farouk’s innermost being took another hit and his sense that he, by doing the work of Allah was in control, began to slip away. The last two scenes completed his personal destruction.

“Here we have pictures taken just yesterday showing trucks spraying all the areas shown exploding in the previous view and as a finale a two parter showing your signature directing and authorizing the contract as well as myself handing you an envelope which we have previously shown to contain a number of high denomination bills legal not only on Sylvan but throughout the Caliphate as well.”

Wes spoke again, “I think you can see Amid, even if Admiral Suleiman were to win his battle and retake the planet, when this shows up you will not live long enough to experience much enjoyment from that fact. Brigadier, Lieutenant Loomis and I will leave you alone for a few moments in order that you might consider your options without our presence affecting your judgment.”

In a room two doors down the corridor from the Presidents Office, Hanna, Wes, and Abe watched a display showing Farouk still seated in the chair in front of the Presidents desk and with a balled fists slowly pounding his hands together.

Hanna, drawing from both her medical education and political experience said. “He won’t try and kill himself we left him his dagger and he has not even fingered it much less made a motion to pull it from its sheath. I don’t know him near well enough though to say whether or not he will cooperate if his life is threatened. My best guess is yes, but it’s just a guess.”

“Abe? You know him better than anyone else on our side. What do you think?” Wes asked.

“He wants to live through this but he won’t cooperate out of fear for his own safety, he would die first. His sense of honor is split into two parts one referencing himself and the other his spiritual and political masters. Farouk is able to selectively ‘not see’ what could be called minor lapses that enrich himself, provided they do not raise to a level that he sees as actually harming the goals of the Caliphate and its leadership. Minor bribery, of the type we have him engaging in here doesn’t even raise any ethical concerns. It’s too common, something everyone does.”

“If we are going to get him to talk Suleiman out of attacking it will have to be because we have convinced him that the Caliphates best interests make that proper course of action. Either that or drug him and hope Suleiman doesn’t find out. And of course he must not find out about the deception over the death of General Gomaa.”

“Alright then, we try persuasion first and Hanna I am going to keep pretending that it is me running the government here and not you.”

“Are you sure that is pretending Major?”
“So Farouk it this battle is fought, one outcome is certain. Cardoman, in support of Sylvan and as a response to your acts of aggression, will declare war on the Caliphate and the timing will no longer be adjustable by or determined by your leaders intentions.”

“And if all your ships are destroyed and you are trapped on the planer here how do you expect anyone on Cardoman to hear of your problem.” Farouk was resilient and somehow managed to seem his normal arrogant self again. Quite a performance and Calvert’s respect for the man’s acting ability went up a notch. If he could convince the Brigadier acting ability would be important.

“My ships won’t be destroyed Brigadier, don’t even think it. If it turns out that fight we must I will order one of them to flee the system. Both of the Cardoman cruisers are newer and faster than even your own Gen 4 ships. Word will get back to Cardoman, the Federation, and the rest of the Indie worlds about a ruthless power grab by your political masters. And one against a planet where your support has been rejected. Some of those we have captured are onboard my ships now. The truth of my claims are demonstrable and undeniable. Do you know that Ahmad al-Gamrawi Bey wants war now? And that he wants it over this planet where the naked aggression is so readily apparent?”

“Perhaps you are correct Major Calvert but it does not matter, for it will be as Allah will have it. Razuli Suleiman holds the power and will wield the sword as he sees fit.”

* * *
Captain Marquette on the Eagle received orders from Madry, to drop his shuttles so the could be used as in atmosphere fighters and make maximum G’s for the limit, the Sara and Aladin were going to be following her shortly. The plan was to wait about ten minutes and thus cause the decisions Suleiman needed to make that much harder.

The three ships of Suleiman’s squadron and the now attached G-4 Reza Gholam, all had straight line positive vectors aiming at the two Cardoman ships still at Sylvan and also positive with the Eagle starting to run for the limit. They could catch any of them before the Cards could jump, if the pursuit was straight line. But it wouldn’t be.

A pursuing vessel couldn’t know when, or even if, a stealthed missile was dropped from a fleeing ship, and at grav compensated accelerations could not detect one in time to deal with it if it had. That meant that vectors were changed in order to keep the pursuit to the ‘side’ of the fleeing ships vector cone with all of the maneuvering and loss of time that entailed. The best position for an attacker with greater strength than her foe was to be out in front. With both fighters approaching head on and relative vectors too great to be reversed before coming within attack range.

That was not the case here, so Suleiman sent word to Cahdesh on the Gholam. “We will continue to decelerate until we see what the Saratoga and Aladin will do. If they stay and fight their destruction in worth much more to us than the transport. Under no conditions short of battle do we let our vectors relative to these two ships go negative. Even at long range 4 against 2 should inflict some damage.”

“Time to go Jamie said,” and the Cardoman G-4’s sped of after the Eagle drawing the four Calps after them and giving Calvert and everyone else on Sylvan another couple of days without needing to deal with an attack from Suleiman’s squadron. It would take that long to catch the Cards and return again.

* * *
On the Sword of the Prophet, Fleet Admiral Suleah Kahn studied the details on his Flag Plot. The transports Annan and Sadat and a G-1 hauler, Mohammad’s Wings, loaded with system defenses and four state of the art Pegasus Class Pickets were about to transition in to Mizar. The Prophet’s first officer on the previous trip, Ahmad Allahabad was now the Captain and in Admiral Kahn’s eyes had performed well.

The Annan and Sadat had another 5000 troops and the addition of the Pickets would relieve one of the ships he had left behind last time, either the Golan Heights or the Sinai, from the very boring job of guarding a secured system.

The difficulties of long range warfare meant that since he began his journey from Earth before the return of the Golan Heights and her report, Admiral Kahn was not aware of the defeat his ships had suffered, the destruction of the Sinai, when the Cardoman’s came in to aid the planets original government. He would find out soon enough.

On the Confederation G-2 Battle Cruiser Peerless, Squadron Commander Talbert was waiting for transition as well along with his two other G-2 ships. Peerless she had been, long ago when first commissioned; now she was somewhat slow, relatively noisy, and very much out of date. Never the less, if a battle took place where speed and maneuver were not the most important factors, all three ships had upgraded weapons and sensors and were trained and capable of giving a good account. It took a lot of arm-twisting, and less obvious pressure by President Reshevsky, to get even these ships sent from the home fleet.

A direct look into the situation out at Sylvan was something his political adversaries were not much in favor of. It couldn’t happen to soon, Talbert thought as he waited for transition.

“More ships in system,” Joe Speedway said, and broadcast the alarm as the Aladin, being slightly closer to the entry point, caught the grav wave of Admiral Kahn’s ships first.

“More ships in system,” Eric Shearing reported, as this time the Feddies entry point was closer to the Saratoga. “Three G-2’s from Union. Think they’ll get involved?”

Making a snap decision Jamie said, “I would count on it. Everyone, all ships, back to Sylvan! Let’s see what else is gonna; happen, and what we might be surprised by next. Close on the Eagle and let’s remember to keep self-supporting.”

After studying the details and engaging with his navigations officer, Captain Freqahri on Suleiman’s Jerusalem said, when the Cardomans changed vector. “We can engage the Cardoman’s before they make it back to the planet Admiral.”

“Yes, I see. But now it is out of our hands,” the Admiral replied. “The Commander on the Sword of the Prophet from Earth is now the systems senior officer, and certainly has a much better, more current and direct knowledge of how the Caliphate’s leadership would have us continue. Draw back. If they press the fight we will respond. If not, we will wait to talk to the Prophet.”

Those orders were being carried out when the Calps detected the squadron from Union.

* * *
Basil Ramseyer’s ruddy face fairly shown until it almost matched the scarlet and silver of New Britain’s dress Uniform.

“You look like you’re about to burst Basil,” Wes said greeting him in the hallway outside the elaborately staged meeting room in the Parliament Building.

“And why not? How often does a Colonel engage in discussions that will affect the lives and fortunes of entire planets?”

“You left out the part, ‘For Good or Evil’.”

“For good, I have no doubt. Twenty-four hours ago or ships were being chased out of the system and we were working on a plan to go underground as guerrillas in an attempt to hold on till help could arrive. Today we may be meeting as equals but we are the ones trying to dictate the terms. I think my attitude is well justified and that it won’t hurt a bit if Admiral Kahn comes to recognize that fact.”

“You may have convinced me,” Wes said, adjusting his sword and giving a look at the full-length mirror so conveniently placed next to the double high and wide set of doors. Wes nodded to the guard who stepped into the room and announced their presence and arrival.

Ten people had places assigned around the large table. For the Caliphate, Admirals, Kahn and Suleiman, General Gomaa and Colonel Aqeed, and Ioseph Wahsabi the anti-government puppet leader who was wondering what he was doing here. Gomaa and Aqeed, still prisoners but having given their parole, were in uniform and outwardly looked as if they still ran the place. Brigadier Farouk was nowhere to be seen.

On the Sylvan side of the table sat Provisional President Perkins, Ramses Stillwell, Wes, Basil, and Admiral, by virtue of squadron command, Flynn Talbert, in theory representing the Union Government, but in practice representing the interest of Confederation anti-war forces in the Federation Navy. Wes had talked with him but did not yet have a good feel for the man’s own internal belief system. He knew that the nominal Captain had powerful support in the Confederation political arena or he wouldn’t have gotten command of his particular squadron.

Talbert had been very insistent during their earlier talk that the Confederation was both officially and in reality neutral and that maintaining its non-combatant status was one of his government’s aims.

Wes showed the man a draft communique written by President Perkins’ State Department directed at the Confederation Council requesting talks concerning an application for admission to the Federation. This was something he had not been made ready for, and Talbert realized at once that if things went south, he could no longer wash his hands of the situation and go home, leaving the others to fight it out amongst themselves.

If Gomaa hadn’t been defeated it could have been a tossup as to who was senior on the Caliphate’s side. Kahn’s rank of Fleet Admiral barely edging out Gomaa’s of full General. As it was, Kahn was the obvious choice to look to for clues to what the Calps would actually entertain to accept. However, the politics on Earth, both religious and secular made such an easy determination fraught with possibilities of error. Observing the two men’s interactions would be Wes’ first order of business.

Hanna Perkins began by reading a prepared statement:

“The brutally illegal occupation of the Sylvan system by forces of the Caliphate under the command of General Aki Liwa Gomaa was and is an Act of War. The continuing presence of warships, under instructions from Earth, is a continuation of this belligerent atrocity. We demand all Caliphate warships leave the system at once and request the help and assistance of any and all who would help us to protect our liberty and right to self determination.”

She glanced up from the paper she held. These were much more impressive in this context than a view screen, and ritually passed on, to Admiral Suleah Kahn, the right to speak next. He in turn glanced at Gomaa before proceeding, and just maybe the true order of precedence was set.

“A call from the righteous must always be answered, and it was just and fitting we did so on Mizar. A people represented by this child of the prophet,” he indicated with a turn of his head Wahsabi, who was trying to become invisible, “were and are in need of deliverance from the Great Satan. We will not turn our backs in spite of temporary reverses and skulk of into the night. Our duty to Allah and his law is supreme.”

With that out of the way, and now fairly certain of the outcome, after seeing the deference Kahn gave General Gomaa, Wes summed up the military situation in the system from Cardoman’s perspective.

“Officially neutral,” he said for Talbert’s benefit, “or actively assisting the present government of Sylvan, and backed by planetary orbital and land based defensive systems are three ships from Cardoman and three from the Confederation. The combined number of Caliphate ships is larger by one, but lacks any additional planetary or orbital assets.”

“The people and restored government of Sylvan control all of their planet’s land area. The only way that will change at this date is through force applied from the outside and that force will be resisted and will not succeed.”

It was now Gomaa’s turn. “When we were invited by the faithful here, to visit and to grant them some small manner of assistance in maintaining their traditional rights we did not expect to find in Cardoman, a new belligerent power, looking for and aiming to ignite a war that would sweep across all human occupied systems. Not being prepared was a mistake, an understandable one due to the Caliphate’s peaceful nature, but one we will not make again.”

“Perhaps a greater war may be averted. Perhaps not. At a minimum freedom must be restored to all loyal members of the Caliphate being held in military prisons and they must be allowed to go home as soon as there is transport. With such a first step the ultimate horror on here on Sylvan might yet be averted.” Gomaa’s use of the word Sylvan for the planet was the final confirmation that the Calps would withdraw given the chance. “For Cardoman, whose perfidy is undeniable I predict there will be a day of reckoning.”

They spent the next several hours figuring how to make the forced disengagement of the Caliphate from the system look like that was something being done on their side out of purely altruistic motives.

* * *
Six weeks later Connie Melbourne was just about ready to leave the Sylvan system on the Carpathian with the last of the Seventh. She had one more duty to which she must attend. Her last official act. And it led to her standing at the new military cemetery outside of Union, Ramses Stillwell and Hanna Perkins on either side, saluting while Cardoman’s flag was raised to the top of a flagpole from half-staff and then lowered again. Alpha Company’s Sergeants. Beal and Wilson were the only other Cardomans at the ceremony and they also had a part to play, everyone else being loaded on ship for home.

When the flag reached the bottom of the pole, the two Cardoman noncoms removed it from the line, folded it, and then handed it to Connie. Saying a few words to the small grouping at the foot of the flagpole Stillwell stepped forwards and attached another Cardoman flag to the lanyard. And when it was partially raised, just below it he placed Sylvan’s standard. And they were both smartly hoisted to the top.

All eyes were on the two gently waving banners, and salutes once more offered, as Hanna Perkins read a short statement:

“As this patch of ground shall forever remain Cardoman territory; it is only fitting and proper that it be the one place on Sylvan, where another’s flag may fly higher than our own.”

* * *
It was good to be home. Three quarters of a year had passed since boarding ship for Sylvan. It was two weeks since the Carpathian’s return and she had last worn a uniform. The wind was howling and snow drifted up to the bottom panes of her west facing windows. She hadn’t really appreciated the kind of climate Cardoman had to offer this far from the coast, so different from growing up on Llanfairn. A red, fading into purple, gleam was still visible at the horizon line as the sky darkened above. A very light snow was falling, but Connie could easily make out the sky-glow caused by the lights at Castle Calvert some distance away.

“Eggnog, what a curious drink, but so appropriate at this time,” she said putting her cup on the glass tray and permitting Ida Savaldi to help her with her cloak. The car and driver sent by Wesley had just settled in front a few dozen paces from her door.

“It’s a tradition! A Cardoman winter drink served rarely to add to the spice. I won’t be here when you return Connie so I do hope everything has met with your approval.”

“You’ve done a great job here Ida, Connie said giving an impulsive hug. I am forever in your debt and will figure out a way to repay you that goes beyond the money.”

“No need for that dear, my work is my pleasure.”

Cpl White held the car door and then closed it after Connie was securely inside. He returned to his seat in front and after sending the notification he was in route, with a rumble and then the smooth whine as the turbines spooled up the car lifted off and headed for the ‘Castle’.

Irwana al-Masari greeted her at the door, and giving Connie’s cloak to one of the extra retainers hired for the night, filled Connie in on the events of the last several hours worth of preparations. “Dinner starts in forty minutes. The weather made sure that most coming from the capital got an early start so almost everyone but President Horvath has arrived and his car is in the air. The Major has finished his circulating and is in the back bar with some of his officers and men. Most of the military wives are in the sitting room and library. The political class is circulating but seem to have decided on the ballroom as their main base of operations with the front bar as a rallying point. It’s a good thing this is a semi-official gathering or we could have never kept the guest list down to the two-hundred ten that we did.”

“I’ll just cruise through the sitting room and library and then find Wes. I’ll talk to you later Wana, if you can find the time.”

“I’m sure we will do that,” Irwana said with a smile and a look as she went to greet another newly arrived guest.

Fifteen minutes later, when Connie walked into the dark Oak paneled room at the rear of the Castle, she recognized at once everyone inside.
It was not a large room, 10 by 12 meters with a half dozen tables with a U shaped island in the middle. A rough estimate showed thirty or so inside and with a smile for those that saw her enter she went to the table where Wes was seated and talking with Clay Grayson and Robbie Davis. Davis was still using a wheel chair to get around though he was working out with braces.

“Take my seat,” Ben Morgan said, standing and making way for her, “If I don’t get back to my wife and continue with the tour of the Castle there’ll be hell to pay. Till we meet again.”

Connie took the offered seat and a barman brought a drink in a small shot-glass to the table. Raising it she said, “To all Comrades, past and present.” She finished it off in one swallow. The preliminaries out of the way she temporarily waved off another and asked Davis how he was doing.

“Pretty damn good!” he said. And then with less oomph, “Considering the alternative.” Then he picked up again. “The docs say I’m doing fine but I will never be able to run marathons much less jump again. Too much nerve splicing and damage to the hips. I had enough of that anyway and have been thinking some on the future.”

“The darker side of why we are here tonight,” Connie said. “Figuring out what comes next.”

“No more darkness tonight! And that’s an order!” Wes said. “Figuring out what to do next is something I’ve made a study of. And Connie next,” he said, reaching for her hand and slipping a simple band over one finger continued. “You and I are going up front to the Ballroom, and announce our engagement to anyone that cares to listen!”

End Draft Version.