The Cutting Edge 4

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 4 Draft (1/22/08)

“And now Kalid you will explain yourself,” Muhammad Ahmad Al-Gamrawi Bey the supreme leader of the Terran Caliphate said, eyes intent upon the man before him. “The charges against you are of such severity that I have chosen to hear and rule upon them myself.”

Rashid Mohamed Kalid did not flinch at the severe tone of the Imam’s voice nor turn his head from the piercing glance, though his life hung in the balance. He had been, and was still at least for now, the Captain of the Caliphate hypership Sword of the Prophet, though that helped to sustain him in the difficult weeks just past, whether he would remain as such was the smaller part of his worries.

When the Cardoman’s sent a part of their army supported by their new and minuscule navy to Altoona in order to put down the local rebellion, Kalid’s orders were to make sure they did not succeed. In this he had failed. Out numbered three to one he had destroyed the Llanfairn battle cruiser Brisbane, damaged and would likely have destroyed the converted Cardoman ship Eagle. Were it not for the arrival of the third ship, a generation IV vessel, when added to the casualties he had already taken, convinced him that getting word of the Indie Worlds new capabilities were what mattered most, he would have fought it out. The decision was a hard one but he was convinced even now had been the proper one.

Rashid-Mohamed was not surprised to see Abdul Khalaf in the room, Khalaf had been Ibn al-Ghazzali’s second in command on Altoona, but the sight of Moqtada al-Sadr was unexpected. Sadr was Ghazalli’s chief of intellegence and Kalid had thought him dead with his patron in the bombed out cave where Ibn met his fate. Say what you will the Regulations Compliance Office, the euphemism for the Caliphate’s security service, could still keep a secret, at least from the rest of the Caliphate military.

“Your Supreme Reverence, Speaker for and representative of Allah on this and all other worlds; May I ask that the exact charges against me be stated for all to hear that I may respond to them fully?”

“This is permitted, proceed Colonel Moqtada.”

“Forgive me if I am blunt Supremacy but when this dog, this spineless cur we see in front of us, insulting all that is holy by his meer presence, fled from the Altoonan system, we were within an eyelash of total victory. Had he stood his ground and finished with the crippled Cardoman ship Eagle, that planet would be ours. An aerial bombardment would have broken the Cardoman forces and we would have held all we had taken and completed the operation in a matter of hours. This could all have been accomplished before the third Cardoman ship was close enough to affect the battle on the planet one way or another. As it was– it was the forces fighting for Allah and the glory of the Prophet who suffered attack from the skies and lost, no I say had taken from them, what so many had paid for in blood.

“We have all seen the battle records. It is not hard, even for one who has not trained for battle in space to see that had this miserable excuse for an officer, for a man, only performed his duty, the righteous would have prevailed for the glory of Allah. It is easy to see from the destruction of the infidel ship Brisbane that when unnoticed and undetected, Kalid has the all the guile and courage of a thief in the night. It is equally easy to see that he is unable to even measure up to standards such as that when needed and in service to his fellow soldiers. He cares not for obedience to the orders of his superiors, and most importantly refuses to recognize his obligation for obedience tothe Will and Word of the Prophet!”

“Colonel Khalaf, as the senior member of our forces returning from Altoona, may we hear what you have to add?” Al-Gamrawi Bey said this in a tone of voice so mild as to instantly cause Abdul to rethink what he was about to say.

“My Lord and Master, concerning the outcome on the planet’s surface I can attest that everything Colonel Moqtada says is true. But it does not explain in full. We held the barracks and armory and had infiltrated most of the Altoonan regular army, the only organized force that could resist was the Cardoman led mercenary company, and they were on the verge of being wiped out. We would indeed have taken all of our objectives and been in a strong position to hold on to them it not for the attacks launched by the shuttle craft from the two Cardoman naval vessels.”

It was at this point that the subtle message he had picked up from the Imam’s tone of voice caused Khalaf to depart from his planned script. “It would seem the evidence is complete and damning, yet before I make my final judgment I would hear what Captain Kalid can say in his defense.”

“This is a statement seeking knowledge before revenge and as such I find it proper and wise. I grant you your request Colonel. Captain Kalid, you will present your defense.”

“Before my master Muhammad Ahmad Al-Gamrawi Bey, and before my Allah Himself, I need nor want any defense. Inshalla! It shall be his will. My orders were to observe and aid so long as we were not detected, to make sure that no overt knowledge of our assistance be provable. With no disrespect intended, an easy thing to ask and command from afar. The destruction of the Llanfairn cruiser Brisbane and the damage done to the Cardoman Eagle, in a simpler world, would have been enough. Instead I was put to the test. When the second Cardoman ship entered the system the situation was something for which I was not prepared to deal. The foolish heroism shown by the Captain of the Eagle was another unfortunate development but alone one I was ready to handle.

“Had I stayed and fought I might have won or I might not have. I would have undoubtedly, as far as this can be known before the fact, beaten the Eagle. However I had already suffered damage and even if I escaped any further, my weapons store was depleted. I did not, nor do we even now, know what the capabilities of that second, level four ship were. I had to consider the worst and I did. ‘Take not the counsel of your fears’ is a fine and proper attitude when there are no other options and all is lost should one fail to act.

“If I had delayed long enough to insure victory on the planets surface I must surely engage the incoming Cardoman ship. I left the battle not from fear but from belief that it was not the time, nor my place, to set the Caliphate into a confrontation I was not certain my leaders wished. I was not the one to set such action upon it’s course. If I was unwise and chose wrongly, then…Inshalla! But to those who would say I did what I did out of fear, I can only repeat the words of another prophet— Judge not lest ye be judged.”

Al-Gamrawi Bey gaged the silence at that point and then took charge of the direction by inference. He had of course determined the outcome of this meeting before it even started. Kalid had played his part well, though unwittingly, but that was axiomatic. It would not hurt for the decision to be made now and less speculation would color the analysis of those watching, always watching.

“Each life shall be a test and a series of tests. No, these are not always tests sent and known only by the Prophet. Far more often as we have all seen the first test is a test one imposes upon oneself. When passed it prepares him, purifies him, and sanctifies him for other tests to come. We can never know when we face penultimate test, that one prior to Allah’s final judgement. It is my belief that Rashid Mohamed Kalid has not reached that point yet. We have spoken with those on the Sword of the Prophet who would best know from first hand experience what transpired. It can hardly be said a fault with Kalid’s leadership that none will say a word against him. I find their testimony compelling and as a result accept all that he says at its word. And yet he failed in his mission, and for that there must be consequences else obedience to orders become secondary to intention.”

Ignoring Kalid as if he were a piece of furniture Gamrawi Bey delivered sentence, “The Captains rank is reduced one grade and he is relieved of command. He is to be assigned a post in the corrections division within the ministry of justice. His first assignment will be to determine and oversee the punishment of Colonel Khalaf and For indeed failure does have its price.

* * *
Sharif Shehzad Tanweer, in charge of the Regulations Compliance Office could trace his lineage to the Prophet directly through Mohammad’s daughter Fatima. He had no need nor use for military rank ad it could only limit his authority. Taking an observers role only it the day to day events at the palace he would give Kalid several weeks before he could be called him in for a discussion concerning the needs if the Caliphate and the resurrection of Kalid’s career, Men such as he were always useful when handled properly.

Rashid Kalid followed his escort first into the elevator then down the muted corridor running centrally through the top floor of the Regulations Compliance headquarters building. The sign out front read Bureau of Resource Assesment so a misnamed building housed a misnamed department. The outer office was standard government issue a short counter and a few desks half of them occupied. Kalid caught the brief flash from the optical sensor doing it’s part of the identity scan. This was the forth scan he had noticed since he entered the building. A few words between his escort and the receptionist and he was directed to a chair against one wall where he sat and watched the escort leave the room. After an hour had passed Kalid was having trouble staying awake. After another hour he was brought to wakefulness by hearing his name and looked up to see his escort was back again.

“I am sorry to have to wake you Commander, but it is a pleasure to see a man with a conscience so pure he is able to nap while waiting to see the Director.”

“Twenty years onboard ship–one sleeps when one can.”

Instead of being shown through one of the doors leading deeper into this office area Rashid was taken back out into the hall and down a side corridor. Inside a small room another scan and a final door was opened.

“Sharif Tanweer, I present Commander Kalid.”

About fifty year old, slightly above medium height, with an athletic build, dark eyes and the pronounced nose held by all members of his family. He was dressed in unremarkable civilian clothes and would not have drawn a second glance if seen on the street or other public venue. His office surroundings were equally nondescript. The only feature that would have stood out was a glass enclosed bookcase lining one wall. Tanweer had stood when Kalid entered the room and moving from behind his desk had taken several steps forwards nodded slightly then reached to shake Rashid’s hand in greeting.

“A most suitable disposition of your problem with Khalaf and al-Sadr Captain. Posting them both to Marais will mean they continue to serve but are no longer in a position to hinder or undermine you any further. A shake up was due there in any event as complacency and corruption seems to have crept in. There will be a few on Earth who are less than happy with the change but they will find other ways to try and expand their fortunes. I think your time in the Ministry of Justice has come to an end. I have a job that needs doing and you would seem to be the man for it. Have a seat and let me explain.”

“Upon assumption of the throne, Al-Gamrawi Bey set Caliphate external policy in a new direction, one that has not always been apparent nor was it intended to be. The Confederation and the Independent worlds were expanding too rapidly. In the past they were useful as a driver of innovation and a hedge against complacency. They now were becoming a threat to our supremacy. The only solution was military and he rightfully concluded time was not on our side. Presently we hold a substantial military and population edge and essential technological parity. We are losing the technological race and with it will go our military advantage.

“We are going on the offensive. In all likelihood there will be general warfare within the next five years. The top ranks of the old guard has been retired or will be so shortly. General Ahmed Abdel Arafat now is in charge of all the Caliphate’s military forces. I will continue to act as Gamrawi Bey’s deputy, and representative in all military matters. I have chosen to appoint you to my staff and make you one of my personal retainers, as such you will perform some tasks at my request which are outside of the normal chain of command.”

“I have never aspired to ought but command of a ship.”

“And that you shall have for at least the short term. It is important at this time, with the rearrangement, some may say shake up. at higher levels going on, that naval morale be maintained.. Returning you to your ship with some polishing of the events on Altoona will aid in that direction. After a suitable time period you will be formally assigned to my staff and thus your shipboard days are numbered.”

Tanweer waved his hand and a holographic projection sprang into being and he went into detail of what Rashid would be doing next.

A month later, and back on the bridge of the Sword of the Prophet, Kalid was reflecting upon all that he had experienced and savoring the anticipation of what was to come. He met the high and the mighty, survived, and found they were indeed different than normal people. Both virtue and vice were expanded until it became difficult in their person to tell one from the other. As a young officer he had been trained to obey orders, not to question them. With increase in rank and responsibility he had learned to balance obedience and initiative and then at Altoona the he found that even obedience had shades of meaning he had not imagined. According to Sharif Tanweer what had saved his life was combination or policy, politics and chance. Previously he had no direct line to any of the three, now at least when it came to policy he had some input.

Neither of his wives complained that he spent so little time with them this time back on Earth. Even though he had spoke little about his troubles they– as military wives always seemed to– knew that some kind of a miracle had occurred and instead of complaining about its shortness made his stay as pleasant as they were able. His three sons and four daughters were each in their own way responsible for a part his new sense of purpose and pride. Areal, his eldest, received word of his acceptance into the elite fleet section of the Naval School. He would follow in his fathers footsteps, something that in spite of the cast like system of military service in a proper position was never a certainty for the sons of officers from less than noble families.

Enough of this dreaming about family. The formal staff meeting with General Ali Liwa Gomaa laying out in detail his plans for the coming operation will start in an hour and he must get cleaned up and change into his best uniform. He was looking forwards to the presentation.

Kalid’s political officer, yes even he had one, Deewa Joppa, was going to give the background information brief that would lead up to General Gomaa’s mission statement. Rashid and Deewa had spent weeks in putting together the complete folder using all the information available. The synopsis was short by design.

Lt. Cmdr. Joppa began, “Mizar, the infidel call it Sylvan, was first discovered by one of our exploration ships in the year 2699. Salaam sent the first colonists in 2713. Some five years later the Confederation planet Sheppard landed a group that claimed a part of the planet as their own and declared a loose alliance with the Indie Worlds. The planet is 83% water with the land area broken into thousands of islands mostly in a couple of dozen major chains in the temperate climate zone. The largest island is about a two thirds the size of Australia. A few dozen more are as large or larger than the main land mass of Indonesia. The rest have a normal spread and as would be expected hundreds being only a few hectares in extent. The rule of 80/20 is broken here for close to 90% of the habital land is on 10% of the largest islands.

“When we discovered Mizar and began our colonization, at home on Earth religious belief and political will were both suffering from a lack of virtue. We were still a unified whole within our boundaries but had no coherent foreign policy for dealing with those outside who continued to reject the will of Allah. Because of that we did not resist the landing of the infidel and his expansion into lands rightfully ours. It was only with the elevation of Muhammad Ahmad Al-Gamrawi Bey that the Caliphate returned to its traditional and righteous position concerning expansion and coexistence with non Muslim beliefs.

“Both Salaam and Sheppard landed their early settlers on the largest island Harmony, and here there was substantial mixing of population groups. As expansion continued either one group or the other chose a new island and becoming the dominant, and in the last forty years exclusive local power. From the time of first landing and for the next hundred and twenty years population growth was slow but steady for both sides though slightly faster amongst those derived from the Caliphate. At that time planetary population was 22 million 13 million of whom were people of faith. Since then we have made Mizar a major recipient of colonists and technical assistance. The present population stands at 38 million and the faithful comprise some 25 million almost two thirds of the population.

“We made a mistake when we let a planetary referendum influence events on Altoona. This time we will not make that same mistake.”

The battle cruisers Sinai and Golan Heights along with the transports Kofi Annan and Anwar Sadat and of course Kalid’s ship Sword of the Prophet made up the forces on their way to Mizar. Fleet Admiral Suleah Kahn was second in command to General Gomma. Kahn sat next to Gomma on one side and on the other sat Brigadier Amid Farouk second in charge of the landing forces. From the head of the table down in strict order of seniority came on one side the navel officers and on the other those in the Army. Kalid’s position was closer to the head of the table than the tail but not by much. Kahn stood up to take over from Cmdr. Joppa and defined the mission objectives and parameters. Joppa went to a seat by the wall and the lights dimmed and a small holovid sprang into being in front of each of the officers present at the table.

“We have with us the the entire Third Army’s first division, 4000 men on each of the Annan and Sadat, 600 on the Sinai and Golan, and another 200 on the Prophet. I have led and trained these servants of Allah for two years and now and under General Gomaa’s overall direction this is how we will use them. Additional supplies and out system picket ships are due within a fortnight.”

Splotches of color spread out from the largest island and landed on six of the others. “We will keep a full brigade on Harmony and initially operate in nothing smaller than battalion level strength. We have been working with the local troops for a number of years and intend to integrate them under the Generals overall charge. As we add additional soldiers we will expand to approximately 20,000 men. It is anticipated that after eight or ten weeks of joint training, if the infidel has not acquiesced to the changed situation, we will begin conversion by force. The Brigade and Regimental leaders will now in turn brief us on specifics. Colonel Aqeed, would you go first?”

“The time line for the first twelve hours shows. . .”

* * *
The landings were unopposed as was expected. Armed shuttles from the warships guarded the troop carrying landers just as doctrine called for. The orbital infrastructure was left in place for the time being and calls from the planets surface were handled with scripts readied in advance. The standard reply to incoming calls was that the States governed by the community of the faithful had requested training support from the Caliphate and it happened that this met with the Caliphate’s needs. The third division was due for off planet deployment and this request would provide a perfect match with the level of realism desired.. Nothing for anyone to worry about and no need for alarm. The economic benefits would likely spill over into all sectors of the civilian society supplies purchased and labor hired. The General is unavailable right now but in a few days when he is down side would be pleased to meet with and even address the Planetary Parliament.

Jason Feiger was in shock. Hanna Perkins, the leader of the Parliaments Indie leaning faction standing in his office and facing him said loudly and with barely concealed scorn, “You better snap out of it now. Nothing is gonna change, and it sure as hell wont get any better unless you make it happen and from where I stand all I see is your past practices and proclamations coming back to haunt you.”

The Honorable Jason Feiger when assuming the rotating chair of Parliamentary President only half a year before considered it the culmination of his public life. The fact that even with the increase in strength of the Caliphate leaning section of the opposition and the ever more neutral stance of the middle, his turn had not been challenged caused him to dismiss the doom and gloom being spouted by the right wing section of his party. Go along to get along. That motto had served him for his thirty year climb to the top. Surely no sane individual could even consider a course of action that would change the hundred and seventy years of peace and prosperity all on this lovely world had enjoyed. It would be madness, nothing less.

While others worried about what forty years of increasing aid from the Caliphate, delivered to a world though pleasant in climate and peaceful in nature, and without any particular technological edges really meant, he chose to view it as an example of how man had evolved forward from a time barbarity.

“Snap out of it Jase!” Hanna said again, this time from inches away while giving a rude shove to his shoulder.

Feiger rocked back and his eyes cleared. “What do you expect me to do Hanna? order the Army out to stop them? With one battery of missles outside the capitol no ships and nothing but infantry on any of the other islands? The only laws they have violated thus far concern the necessary permissions for transfer from orbit. And even there the flight controllers gave permission.”

“Call in the leaders of the opposition parties and ask them what they have to say. The worst that can happen is they lie to you and the way they do it will be revealing. Then get with Colonel Stillwell, you’ve ignored him long enough, but by now even you must see that he was right all along. Do it now or you are out of here!” And with that she tossed down the document signed by a majority of his own party, most of whom were life long friends and supporters and stormed out of the room. Jason picked it up and read. It was for now only a paper vote of no confidence, but with conditions he could never meet.

Colonel Ramses Stillwell stared at the puddle of blood soaking out from underneath the edge of the carpet and onto the hardwood floor. He had seen the body, wrapped in a tarp, as it was carried down the hallway to wherever bodies of high ranking political figures go. There would certainly be no need for an autopsy. Feiger had left a statement and filmed the whole thing.

“Could’ve been worse, could’ve been me.” It was a jest he had used with her for years. Stillwell had know Hanna Perkins for what today seemed like forever. In their University days it was even money that they would marry and live happily ever after. Funny how things have a knack for confounding the even the best of predictions.

“I’m gonna have to talk to his widow and then the newsies. And I need to do it before word leaks out and that gives us maybe five minutes. So you tell me and I’ll save all my questions for later. Where do we stand and what can we do?”

“For now we sharpen our knives and wait. The only good news I have is that the mail packet was about ready to leave when we detected the footprint of the Calps ships. We got her underway and I ordered her off in the opposite direction with what we knew and sent updates until she went hyper. She’ll have to make a short jump and redirect but the word is out. We get the chance now to see who our friends are. I see nothing else but for you to go along with the program at least until when and if force is initiated. Don’t give them any reason for advancing their timetable or more simply do nothing to give them reason for use of force. Do it right and you might even slow them down some. We’re going to get as many of our people out into the country as time allows. But with mostly integrated units thats problematical. Had to know who to trust. Other than that keep the faith and be ready to run when it all comes apart.”

“That sounds vaguely like our late leaders take on things,” she said looking down at the carpet. “And you Ramses? Are you running now or later?”

“I’m giving myself about a week to do what I can, and then yeah– if I last that long I take to the hills.”

“Well– keep in touch.”

“I’ll save you a spot.”