The Cutting Edge 5

The Cutting Edge
Chapter 5 Draft (01/08//08)

Lieutenant Abraham Loomis was with the trade mission led by Victor Shearing, that was traveling to Union on the Eagle while Marquette was taking his check ride. Loomis was nominally in charge of the two new shuttles they would use to grease further relations with the Confederacy. He had his friend and assistant from their days on Altoona, Gaza al-Omari with him.

When the ship returned, sans trade mission and shuttles, Loomis and Gaza both stayed behind as well, though in a far less public fashion. A low level embassy staffer returned in Abe’s stead, taking on the Loomis identity, and Abe returned the favor. In Gaza’s case; he was just added to the Embassy staff as a replacement for one of the guards being normally recycled home.

A comparison of the man who’s identity Loomis was to assume would show the two very similar in build and appearance, so with some slight cosmetic additions adjusting hair, eye, and skin shade, the resemblance was uncanny. With a diplomatic ID he would never need go through a biometric scan so the switch might stay a secret, then again it might not.

Abe was sitting in the Hotel Grande breakfast room, (the name was a slight presumption) drinking a coffee, good stuff but not up to Naval standards, and looking at the menu, wondering whether Hartwick, the man he was replacing, liked bacon or sausage. He had about decided on bacon when a tall well dressed man of about forty walked over to his table and said. “Good morning Mr. Loomis,” and sitting down, “Might I have a moment of your time?”

Abe stared at him a second and said, “Name’s Hartwick, I’m afraid you have me confused with someone else.”

“Come come now. Getting your true name right is surely evidence enough that no mistakes were made. Shall I tell you a bit more?”

Abe merely continued his stare while taking another sip of his coffee.

“Yes?…Let us see then. A member of the Cardoman Seventh Mercenary Battalion, recently landed off the Cardoman registered Eagle. Staying in Deeming Hartwick’s rooms at the hotel here and oh yes, a friend and confidant of a certain Clayton Grayson. Need I continue?”

“I see no need for that Mr–?”

“Philips, James Philips.”

“What exactly is your purpose here Mr. Philips? And who might you be working for.?”

“That’s the way! I work for the civil government of Union and I think we might be able to profitably exchange certain items of information.”

“If I say no am I free to walk out right now?”

“But of course, though do think of all you might be missing out on. Afterall you are here for information in the first place. Not so?”

“Mr. Philips, would you be willing to accompany me to the Cardoman Embassy where we might continue this conversation in a more private manner.”

“Capital idea, my good man. After you?”

Loomis took one last swallow and the two left the hotel and walked the couple of blocks to the Embassy without another word.

Philips and Loomis walked through the automatic scan at the outer set of doors, and with nothing untoward detected the inner doors slid aside and they entered a small lobby. Still early in the morning, and only other non staff member in the lobby was seated, his face obscured, and reading travel literature as if waiting to see someone in the visa section. That person was Gaza al-Omari. Gaza kept reading and outwardly ignored their entrance. Loomis led the way as they approached the reception desk. The receptionist had just finished replacing cut flowers in the vase on the counter that doubled as her desk.

“Good morning Mr. Hartwick, I didn’t think you would be in this early in the morning,” she was more than a simple receptionist and aware of the identity switch.

“I hadn’t planned on being in myself but then I ran into Mr. Philips here,” Abe said getting the name on record, “And as it turns out we have some business with the Military Attache’. Could you inform him and see if he has a moment to see us?”

“One moment sir.” She did something behind the low counter railing and then said. “Mr. Philips, purely voluntary since you are with Mr. Hartwick, but would you permit me to swipe your Ident? Purely for our records, we like to know who visits us and how to contact them if the need arises.”

“A pleasure,” Philips said sliding his card from an elegant leather folder and handing it over. It was quickly swiped then returned and the two of them approached a plastiglass entrance panel fronting a corridore opening up into the lobby. It slid upon, undoubtedly at the control of the woman at the desk and the entered and it closed behind them. Half way down hallway another door opened and they went inside.

“Gentlemen, I am Captain Naples and at your service. Though I should add your Ident really gives no indication of how I might help you Mr. Philips,” said the Captain and Attache rising to greet them.

“Perhaps this then,” Philips said taking another card from his card-case and passing it over.

Naples studied it for a moment then said, “One moment please, If you gentlemen would be seated,” he waved towards the chairs in front of his desk, “I will return in just a moment.” As they took their seats Naples left the room.

He returned in about five minutes. “Well now this is surprising, Mr. Philips, you would seem to be a colleague of ours,” he said presenting his hand for a shake. “May I call you Jim, and I am Andy to my friends?”

“James, pelease– Andy, one does get used to it.”

“So fill me in,” Abe said, “what exactly is going on here?”

“Mr. Philips, I would say it is your turn now,” Naples said settling into his desk chair.

“As Captain Naples—Andy should I say—is now aware, I work for Union Intelligence. One of the sections I am concerned with deals with keeping track of foreign embassy personell, all embassies, friendly or otherwise. One never knows, does one? As such it came to my attention—Abe’s, if I may—arrival. My government has recently uncovered information of vital importance to the Confederation and the Independent Worlds as well.

“My section has been trying to formulate dealing with this and the News of your trade mission and newly developed capabilities caused us to think we might combine our assets in dealing with this new development.”

“That sounds like something I could be in favor of,” Naples said, “But first I would need to know what the development is and then run it by the Ambassador and Foreign Minister.”

“I think that it is important enough that we do that as rapidly as possible. Right now would be fine if the gentlemen are available.”

“Let me check,” Naples replied.

The embassies conference room was much nicer than the spartan office Captain Naples occupied though not particularly large. The five of them, Loomis, Naples, Philip, Victor Shearing, and Ambassador Lavin, clustered themselves at on end of the table, large enough for three times their number.

After the introductions Philips spoke first, “Before saying anything else I would like your assurance that this room is as secure as present technology allows,” After seeing Naples and Lavin shake their heads, Philips continued, “My government has firm, credible information, showing, and again I stress, beyond a doubt that the Caliphate has made a complete revision of its foreign policy. They have made the decision to go into an expansionary phase and are an extreme danger to all of us.”

Philips reached inside his jacket and took out his card-case once more. He removed what looked to be a standard data store and did something complicated to its surface with finger movements then slid it to the center of the table.

“This is a complete summary of what we know. It also includes what we suspect. It will reveal sources and methodes. As I am sure you are all aware this is an almost unprecedented step. But we do this to show the absolute certainty of our information.

“Go over it and check what you feel necessary but please, be very careful with sources. We risk losing them if they find out what we have done. Minister Shearing, our president has reserved a block of time for you later this afternoon. If that is not to your liking he will see you anytime at your request.

“I will say now the only operation to which we know the Caliphate has made a firm operational commitment is an invasion of the Independent planet Sylvan. The detail are in the card. Mr. Minister, when you meet with the President I will be present, you may of course bring any of your staff you find necessary but please—Keep the numbers down and let no one outside of this room learn any of this until after we speak.”

“It’s all true, as close as I can tell,” Naples reported to Shearing a few hours later. “Our intel concerning events on Earth and the few other Calp planets we have anything on, contradicts nothing in the report. The Union organization is so far beyond anything we have that the vast majority of what they are showing is new to us. From what Abe and Gaza know and feel considering arab leaning Caliphate attitudes, it also rings true. I think you need to see the Union President, Sir.”

“Will you make the arraignments, Captain?”

“Yes Sir, at once.”

Only the two of them were present, Victor Shilling and Arkady Reshevsky, the Union President. He was a small, unimposing man in person and did not at all resemble his public posture, but Victor was quite familiar with how that worked, and how it was done. Reshevsky’s office was in the ConFed Tower, and not in the Union government compound. The reason for that went back centuries to the founding of the Confederation, or what is officially known as, The Confederation of Free Worlds, and very informally the ‘Feddies’ or ‘Damn Feddies’!

That long ago, even more so than today, Union was the ‘Big Kid’ on the block.

With the Caliphate looking to assume total control over all the human colonies in space, the fear of Union dominance replacing the domination the Calps were aiming for made an alliance near impossible. With travel times of weeks to months between the various worlds it was a given that the Confederation Headquarters would need to be on Union; she was at that time responsible for a quarter of economic output of the states looking for member ship and a higher percentage of the military output. Coordination would have to start with that inescapable fact. Hence the need to locate the government there.

Union, seeing the struggle ahead, was desperate to get whatever help it could and as a final proposal made an offer out of desperation, it offered to make the Union Presidency, and leader of the Confederation, an elected office. But one open to any Confederation planetary leader except one from Union itself. As a measure of good faith, and yes out of necessity, they chose to cede control of the planet, but more importantly, control of the Confederacies military arms, to someone not of Union itself.

That proposal made everything which followed possible. Nowadays the President spent virtually all of his time on ConFed business. He had an assistant, though one elected by the citizens of Union, who dealt with Union internal affairs. Union itself had no longer an official military establishment of any kind. Just some tariff boats and non hyper system monitors.

The Union shipyards still turned out as many hyperships as the next two Confederation yards combined, and Union had their share of officers and others in the service, but they were spread throughout the fleet and owed their loyalty to the Confederation and not the planet of their birth.

President Reshevsky, from Navara, another of the Feddies class one worlds who still tended to dominate things due to their ability to broker coalitions using economic might as a base, welcomed the Cardoman Minister with the kind of skill derived warmth that had led to his election.

“Please Mr. Minister, and do call me Ari. And if I may be so bold I shall call you Victor as if we have been friends for life.” Reshevsky was not behind his desk but in the informal sitting room that connected to his office. Understated elegance would best describe it yet comfortable for all of that.

“Thank you Ari. For someone from a backwoods planet like Cardoman you certainly make one feel at home.”

“Backwoods planet bah! You have a hyper yard and all at once you are a force to be reckoned with. And more than that I have seen the early reports concerning the shuttles you brought as trade goods. Let us not play the humble peasant,” he said with a smile. “I am about to ask a lot of you and your people. I promise you this, that even though the Confederation cannot act overtly now, should things turn out badly, we will declare for war if that is what is required. And I fear it may come to that.”

“From reading the report your Mr. Philips provided, it does look like war is unavoidable. Many in my government have felt that way for years, so this is troubling but comes as no surprise. Others on Cardoman are resisting the notion and feel that the best policy is to let the sleeping dog lie, and even if he wakes to ignore him and he will leave us alone. I am with the first faction. Now I think we need to get to the heart of the matter. What exactly are you asking from Cardoman, and why us?”

Reshevsky nodded several times before answering, “Someone must resist this Caliphate expansion or all of us are lost. If we in the Confederation take the lead, the threat to the Caliphate will be seen as so immediate that war must begin at once. That is something that we are preparing for and will do as a last resort. But, if we can delay that step, even for as little as six months, our position will be ever so much stronger. Even though we are outnumbered in terms of ships and shipyards we are producing military vessels at a rate at least equal to theirs. The absolute numbers separating us remain about the same but the percentage difference narrows. Six more months will give us twenty or more new ships. Plus of course whatever you on Llanfairn and Cardoman can produce.

“My General Staff says the additions are more important for a future war than losing one planet to the Caliphate. I think they are wrong and that a vice once fed becomes ever more hungry. If Cardoman were to be the outwardly visible force opposing them on Sylvan they are not as likely to react as rapidly as if it seemed the Confederation had decided get involved. So getting back to your question about what we want from you is a plan, one that you put together, reflecting your capabilities. Something that were we to try and orchestrate the hand of the conductor could not be disguised.

“Your plan, our total support, from the beginning to wherever it might lead.”

Both men sat in silence for a moment. Reshevsky solemn but in no way rushing a response. Shearing stared into space expression blank. He finally spoke, “I cannot commit my government to your cause but I can commit myself and that I will do. I had intended on spending some time here on Union. Instead I will go back to Cardoman as an emissary and I do hope, friend. As soon as it is possible you shall have our decision but even before that can happen I think we need to do more. Let me talk to my staff and we will see if we can get a few things underway before I leave. As you say, time is of the essence, and the longer the Caliphate holds on to the Sylvan system before we try and do anything about it, the harder it will be to in fact, do anything about it.

And as a direct result, Abraham Loomis, now Ibrahim Saudi again. and his partner Gaza al-Omari spent the next two weeks ensconced in the bowels of the Union Intelligence Service and then found themselves on a transport to Shalaam.

“I tell you Gaz, the way they found me out on Union, was something I’d have never thought of. By looks, Hartwick and I were so similar, I don’t think they could have, but a computer analysis of the way I walked when compared to their recordings of Hartwick, and they knew at once I was a ringer. And to think they had records from Cardoman with me in them. Fingerprints are a thing of the past. Walk analysis—we have a lot of catching up to do.

And our cover now…you or I could have come up with it but to make sure the records jive or don’t exist, out of our league. I’m thinking that on Union they spend more on their Intelligence Service than we spend on our entire military. No, make that more than our entire government.”

Gaza nodded agreement and added, “Camel Traders, what a life, something I always wanted to do but would never have had the means and now it is thrust into my lap. I sure hope we live through this, I will have so many stories to tell Irwana and Moh.”

All throughout the Caliphate and on ConFed and Indie worlds, those with a meaningful Arab population, camel races, unless banned were a local staple. Gambling on the results was reason, and thoroughbred camels the coin of the relm. They were one of the few untaxed items allowed transport in interstellar commerce, but a license, one almost impossible to obtain was, required to traffic in them. Ibrahim Saudi, courtesy of Union and James Philips had such a license.

The thing that made possession of the license of such high value went beyond the gambling aspect and use in sport. The camels, and not just because they were untaxed, were the perfect item for smuggling. No, it wasn’t the camels that were smuggled but currency. Money transfer between most planets was heavily regulated. Certainly between all in the Caliphate. Governments need their skim to keep operating in the style accustomed to, hence the juggling of tariff rates and in most cases the outright ban on money, whether drafts, bills, debt instruments, you name it, letting any type of money earned in one place go off and fuel expansion in another.

But when it comes to camels, especially thoroughbreds, who can say what they are honestly worth? Gamblers gamble and buyers buy. And sometimes a 200,000 credit camel is only worth a 100 credits at best, and in truth that was all that might be paid, plus an outrageous commission, and large sums escape off world in a crime that is winked at. That’s the way the game had been played in the Caliphate for hundreds of years and no one with the power was looking to change it, few even complained. Because sometimes those overpriced 200,000 credit camels pay off ten fold. Not as racers, except at the start or their careers, but later on as a source of genetic breeding material.

Victor Shearing knew– in fact he approved of the plan to send Loomis and al-Omari on their way, but before their ship had departed Union, Victor was on his own way back to Cardoman, bringing everything that he had learned back with him and pondering what the next step should be. He had made tentative agreements, exceeded his authority in matters large and small, and now would need to get them made official. Much more than his honor and word were at stake though in his own mind they would be forfeit should he faile.

* * *
General Sandoval Inglase finished reading the dossier and commed Shearing—We need to talk.”

“Your place or mine?,” the Minister asked.

“I’ll be over in a few minutes,” Inglase said. “I feel a need to sample some of the resupply I am sure you brought back from Union.”

Shearing had the bottle, glasses, and ice bucket loaded with minutes to spare.

Savoring the smooth blended whisky Victor said, “You know Sandy. if I had a free drink for every time I got turned down when I was younger I would have enjoyed one hell of a lot more free drinks.”

“You and me both Vic. And about being younger, how is Eric making out in the Navy?”

“From what little I saw just fine. But you know as well as I do no one is going to come up to me and complain. You’ve seen so many over the years. How do you manage to stay away from easing the path of those that impress the most?”

“It’s not easy and I probably do help out in some ways. Primarily by making sure that the good ones get the challenging posts, the ones that give them a chance to fail.”

“That’s certainly what I am proposing we do with Calvert, if we can convince enough of the Legislature to authorize sending the Seventh on to Sylvan.”

“A drink to that,” Inglase said taking another sip. “He’s magic you know, I keep studying the actions on Witherway and Altoona. And everything seems logical and inevitable after the fact. But how does anyone manage to see through the fog of war so clearly and consistently? I was talking to a professor I plan to bring into our group with the job of analyzing the historical trends that have the Caliphate on the march again. When he claimed to know nothing about the military he was exaggerating but he does have an eye for detail and is very highly regarded for that reason.

“I asked Wesley if he had ever heard of the guy and off the top of his head he named three of the man’s books and gave a brief critique of each. And then he said we should get him on board, because even when the professor got it wrong he was addressing the right points, the ones that really mattered.”

“Hummph. Did you ask Wes what he thought about me sending Lt. Loomis to Sylvan without knowing if we are going to be able to go there ourselves?”

“Vic, I merely told him what Loomis was up to. And he said something I completely agree with, he said that information is usually worth what you pay for it and some times you have to do something, even if it’s wrong, because you can’t know if it’s wrong unless you do it.

“Now it’s your job along with the other right thinking members of the government to make sure that we do something we know is right. It may turn out badly but letting the Caliphate start to expand again unchecked will make anything we can think up to stop her in the future that much harder and more likely to fail. Are you sure that Union will send the ships I have already requested even before we have an official go?”

“I don’t doubt it for a second. The

The two spent another hour reviewing their options, evaluating each in terms of its likely success and more importantly likelihood of passing the Senate before Inglase returned to his own office and other concerns.

* * *
Ibrahim and Gaza were wandering through the streets and alleys of Shalamar, the port city of Shalaam. They had already paid for, c38,575 for one and c28,000 on the nose for the other of the two camels that would travel with them to Mizar; they needed to get used to calling that planet only by that name. Transport up to the ship was arraigned and a couple of cases of liquor from Union were going to be coming back down. They were looking for a place to turn the liquid drink into liquid cash. By the looks of things it wouldn’t be hard; forbidden fruit is always sweetest.

The intention wasn’t to make a lot of money, though two cases should handle all of their incidental expenses and leave enough for a small gift tor the Port Captain, but instead to make sure they stayed in character on the off chance that anyone was paying attention. And in the Caliphate someone always was. They had come close to exhausting all of their usable funds, the credit stored on the chip they brought with them was next to gone. But when the camels were delivered that chip was bound to become heavy again– in a virtual sense.

“Good looking animals wouldn’t you say Gaz?”

“Far better than the price would indicate. Union must have gone to a lot of trouble to get a hold of them and keep them here without any firm plan for their use until we came along.”

“I can’t see it, but then I never had anything to do with Camels until Altoona.”

“And alas, I have dealt with them all of my life. Remember as the owner you can talk only in generalities, whereas I, as trainer, am the expert. People will look to you as the smuggler in any case and your knowledge of the overall trade is surprising even to me.”

“Thanks Gaz, I work at it. Hey, this place looks interesting, let’s go in and grab a meal and see if we can strike up a conversation with the owner. If you can casually mention the camels I bet he will find a way to ask about what else we might be dealing in.”

“The next day, two cases of liquor lighter, a bit of background established and they were on the transport once again bound for Philomel.

“Ibrahim was in the ship’s bar, a week away from Mizar, merely passing the time of day with the barkeep when Gaza come up to him and bowing slightly said, “Master, Alahambra and Najib, they are not riding well. None of my nostrems seem to help any longer. We must appeal to the ships doctor, perhaps he can help.”

A short time later Gaza was explaining the problem to the doctor. “They do not travel well, I have seen this countless times in the past and have all of the standard drugs used to medicate. At first they were effective but now they do nothing. Unless we can do something I fear for their future health.”

“I am sorry for you, of course, but none of my training had anything at all to do with camels or any other type of livestock.”

“Kind sir–Effendi– have pity on these poor animals and their owner. We have another three weeks journey till we reach Philomel and can make delivery. They will not survive unless something can be done. At least take a look at them and consult whatever references the ship may contain.”

“Aren’t you insured against loss?”

“Against loss we are covered, but not against future pofit when they are not delivered, nor against the anger of the esteemed Emir who has contracted for their purchase. Yet I do not ask this for me, but only because they are magnificent animals and should live rather than suffer such. Look at them, I beg this of you, and see what may be done.”

* * *
“I am afraid Ibrahim there is nothing I can do. And I am certain now that you are entirely correct. The camels will not live to reach Philomel. A thought, an idea, has occurred to me. It may not be easy and will cost much, but for say– 30% of the monies due you upon delivery, and with a legally binding ownership intrest, I might be able to convince those that will need convincing to let you disembark on Mizar with the beasts and then hold them there until they recover sufficiently to complete their journey. As I say, it will not be easy and will cost much.”

“Effendi, I would gladly do whatever you ask if it would lead to such a result–what would you say to 20%?”

They settled on 28 and a plausible, near bullet proof reason for Ibrahim and Gaza being on Mizar at just this time was in place.