Chapter 21 – Shuffling the Deck
Morning parade held a surprise announcement: the formation of a corps of cadets, aged ten to thirteen. Before the child could join, he or she would have an assessment – basically, a simplified, unofficial CAP test to pre-screen for potential sponsorship CAP scores – and be assigned to whichever service best suited his or her aptitude.
After the parade, Samantha met in the Commanding Officer's Boardroom with the Colonel, his battalion commanders and Butch. All of them had two questions for Michael: why, and how will this work?
The Colonel answered the "why" first. "Last night, Optio Redburn made a remark about how the youngsters out here were maturing faster than their Earth-based counterparts. The reason is that they're seeing adults do adult stuff and through sleep-training are receiving their education at an already accelerated rate. Normally on Earth, they'd be expected to receive the kind of military education I have in mind through cadet units, but that extends from 13 years of age through to the end of high school, when they'd be expected to enter the cadet units' parent militia regiments and reserve units. After seeing how my daughter and her new boyfriend behaved, I realized they were more mature than their contemporaries still living on Earth. We need to start giving the kids this sort of training at a far younger age out in the Diaspora than we did back on the home planet.
"In the evening, we'll have a couple of hours for training from Monday through Thursday, and three more on Sunday morning. Volunteer some sergeants and corporals. We'll rotate the kids through the various battalions so they get a sampling of tactics and arms from every angle, and we'll also work with the Navy to get them some time learning about ship life."
The room groaned. Navy and Marines just did not get along together.
Michael glowered at the disapproval. "Not everyone is cut out to be a Marine. Some of our offspring are going to be better suited to be Navy and others Fleet Auxiliary. Would any of you object if your child decided to be a Civil Service officer, like young Redburn here, rather than a Marine? And I fully intend to have the base brats from Scott included in this Cadet scheme. Now, uniforms." He thought for a moment. "Any ideas?"
"By your leave, Colonel," requested Samantha. The colonel nodded. "AI, please give me a 3D model to work with, about the age of the cadets." The figure of Daniel Bachelor appeared in front of everyone. "Cute," commented Samantha sardonically as the rest of the room gently chuckled. "Now give him a standard Confederacy dress uniform cut, but red jacket and black pants, with red stripe down the trousers. Black boots and a black Sam Browne belt. Same rank badges as the adults. Red wedge cap."
The figure rapidly took on the uniform that Samantha was describing. "Looks like someone left their collection of Mounties out in the rain, and they shrank," someone commented, and the room had a brief burst of laughter.
"We can use that for the Monday training," suggested Chaz, "but I think we need something for every day. Let's see about a daily dress, maybe something along the lines of the Fort Henry Guards?"
Another 3-D copy of Daniel Bachelor appeared, dressed in a red pocket-less jacket and wearing a pillbox hat. At Sergeant-Major Blondell's suggestion, a swagger stick, thinner than a pace stick and therefore lighter, appeared, firmly grasped under the figure's left arm.
All present gave their stamp of approval, and the meeting broke up.
Colonel Deschenes, Optio Redburn, Lieutenant-Colonel Desrocher and Lieutenant-Colonel Waterman were sitting at a table together having lunch in the Officers' Club when Admiral Van De Graaf walked into the room, looking pleased as punch. "May I join you gentlemen, lady?"
When an Admiral wants to join a table, a chair can be found quite quickly, and that proved the case for this Admiral. "You are looking quite pleased with the universe today, Admiral," observed Waterman, as the waitress/concubine hustled over to take his order. "Have we won a big battle somewhere? Oh, and may I buy you a drink, Sir?"
"Thank you very much," the Admiral responded. "A Manhattan, please. And the battle we've won is political, not military. You have your first three Tarawas arriving tomorrow."
Samantha felt the pressure of her position, but kept her cool. "How many concubines will I have to look after? And please, Admiral, a bit more warning next time would go down nicely."
"You got all the warning I got, young lady – the message drone just popped out of hyperspace an hour ago. The ships aren't permanently assigned here, so unless and until that status changes no families are expected. They only have one concubine per sailor on board, and those will be staying with the ship. No dependants. I'll ask you to pay a courtesy call with me to the ships, to ensure the concubines are still being decently treated."
"Of course, Admiral, delighted to come along. When do we go?"
He glanced at her. "Eager young beaver, aren't you?" Carruthers blushed at the double entendre and cleared his throat as his brother Marine officers shot Samantha's future lover amused looks. "The Bataan, Kearsarge and Tripoli get here at oh five fifty hours, as you lot put it. The minute they finish docking, we go on board. Be at my headquarters at oh-five-fifteen, and we'll head up to Harbour Control together."
"Aye aye, Sir." Samantha whispered into her wristband unit – she'd need to be up and awake by 04:30 to make that appointment and still get fed first.
"You still have this officer in a wrist unit?" demanded a disbelieving Admiral.
"The AI won't give her a subvocalization unit until she has her official CAP test in four weeks and a day," advised Michael. "I've tried to convince them, to no avail."
The Admiral snorted. "I'm sure one of my communications staff can whip together something like a Bluetooth headpiece. Far more convenient than that silly Dick Tracey crap. Oh, and Colonel, can I have a word in private, after lunch?"
Michael nodded, mystified.
After lunch found Michael and Chaz meeting with the Admiral and his aide Lieutenant Simonetti in the Colonel's boardroom.
"Here's our latest intelligence on the Sa'arm in this sector. They're sticking to our projected time line, which means we now have the ability to slow them down, and hopefully stop them from advancing any farther in this direction." The Admiral ordered the AI to add the Colonel's senior staff to the security lock on the file.
"Now, as you can see, we have a small window of opportunity but if we work fast we have the ability to stop them from taking over Hesperus Three. Those Tarawas didn't just show up because Earthat is feeling generous; they want you to send them, the Sir Lancelots and every ship we can spare to Hesperus within the next week. Leave the heavy tanks behind; we don't have space for them. We're expecting that by next week, the first Hive ship will enter that space. We're going to hike on over there, destroy the Hive ship and if they've had a chance to land, dig them out from underground. It'll be a Combined Operations event, utilizing Marines on Hesperus Three, Fleet operations in orbit, and those new Patrol Combatant sub-type ships seeing what mischief they can get into. Right now we've got six PC's, I'm trying to get more. They're small, but they punch above their weight."
Neither Michael nor Chaz could give much of a damn about the fleet – they were ground pounders through and through. They immediately started planning their attack.
"Maximum effort?" Chaz asked.
"Maximum effort," Michael confirmed. "We want to kick them out and keep them out of Hesperusat. If we can deny them Hesperus as a Sa'arm world, we don't have to worry about them making an attempt on Thuleat."
Chaz and Admiral Van De Graaf nodded in fierce agreement.
"I also have two other items of import, one from the busy minds at Azahar and another from a young lady at a water world called Atlantis." A globe started rotating over the boardroom table, then expanded to show a significant arc of the planet. "They've adapted the geological surveying techniques used by the oil and gas industry to determine the Sa'arm hive underground structure. We'll need some training in its use, but the manuals and sleep-training are available. The second thing is this." A large 3D rendering of a ship replaced the planet.
Chaz stared in puzzlement. "Auroras are hardly new, Admiral. The Darjee have been using them for some centuries now."
"It's not the ship itself, but how the pods it carries are being used. Just like the hospital ships, this is a modification to the original design. The pods come in two versions: a personnel lander and a vehicle lander. There's no AI, so it's manually or remotely operated. And there's no in-flight self-defence – it's strictly for landing large numbers of troops quickly after the bridgehead has been secured."
"So first we use Panthers to establish a bridgehead and then land large numbers of reinforcements?" Chaz wasn't sure about this.
"Exactly," the Admiral confirmed, "although we now have a second alternative to Panthers too. Now, the personnel lander can carry an entire company to the surface at once, its walls fall open like the front of a landing craft, and out they pour from either side – with machine gunners or mortar squads or a single cannon firing from the upper deck. The vehicle lander carries a pair of de Gaulles or a single Rommel, plus a platoon of infantry. Alternately, it can haul a single APC plus two platoons of infantry. Its ends open up, once again the side pops open but only on the upper deck to let the gunners unlimber machine guns or mortars or a cannon, and once again you're in business."
The men nodded. Made sense so far.
"And after, they can function as the basis for barracks or bunkers."
"Elegant," Michael noted approvingly. "Basically, any Aurora, or even any kilopod, can function as a troop transport."
"And I was saying there's another option to Panthers too. It's called a Kitten."
"'Kitten'?" Michael growled dangerously. The pet pods were still a sore point with him.
"'Kitten'" the Admiral confirmed. "It's name refers back to the fact that our troop shuttles are all named after cats. It's a small, unmanned flier with a transporter nexus mounted on top, sort of combining the nexus and drone that we've been using on Earth extractions for years. It lands, and Marines start pouring out. A dozen or two of these and you've got a whole company on the ground as fast as it takes to describe. If ground fire is too much for a Panther to survive, you go with this."
"We start training the advanced troops on the new tactics in the morning. I want all four thousand ready to rock and roll within the next week. We'll have a briefing for all officers in an hour."
"Aye aye, Sir."
"Now," the Admiral added, "About Hesperus Three itself." The AI brought up a one metre wide hologram of the planet over the boardroom table. "It's a dead world with no ozone layer and comparatively shallow seas – we think every time life tried to form, any DNA was destroyed by blasts of radiation from their sun. In summary, it's a desert planet. That makes it ideal for any test battles, and less than ideal for the Swarm for anything other than an advance base – they need food supplies in situ. It's also great for another interesting test that you'll be very interested in." Van De Graaf glanced at the Marines, who were staring at the hovering globe raptly. "The brain trust want to try to induce an artificial ice age. They think that if they can do it on Hesperus Three, they can do it on Earth – and just maybe give Earth's ground forces an edge on the Sa'arm."
The next morning saw a bleary-eyed Samantha grasping a cup of coffee as she stood in the Navy's "temporary" headquarters underneath a Martello near Base Scott. The drink was a strange shade of grey close to the dress uniform she wore and had a metallic aftertaste that screamed "replicator version of instant coffee", but it was liquefied caffeine. In her ear was a replica of a Bluetooth headpiece, a gift from Fleet Communications. She no longer needed to communicate with the AI by lifting her wrist to her mouth; it was great, and she wondered why nobody had thought of it earlier.
Admiral Vincent Van De Graaf strode into the room as if he were on the parade square, his almost two-metre-tall form clad in black full-dress uniform. Samantha noted that he rarely seemed to wear the Navy's daily uniform. "All right, gentlemen, has the fleet arrived?"
The duty controller responded. "Fifteen minutes ago. Assault ships Tripoli, Bataan and Kearsarge, Midway carrier Howland with three squadrons embarked, and escorting battle cruisers Ajax and Hector, light cruisers Koln, Lyon, Belfast and Palermo, destroyers Morocco, Sahara, Zambia, Zulu, Mongolia and Saipan, Aurora-class transports City of Montevideo and City of London.... There should also be six patrol combatants, Haddock, Halibut, Trigger, Bluegill, Dace and Hake. Where are the PC's?"
The sergeant technician beside him pointed to a small smudge on the sensor screen. "Is that them?"
"I thought that was a trace echo. Ping it, just in case that's them."
The IFF response to the ping showed up on the screen: "PC-022 HALIBUT CAPTAIN JOHN BUTLER"
"I'd have never realized. They could have destroyed the entire dockyard and every vessel in it before we even suspected they were there."
Vincent took a look at the name and decided to take a chance. "Open up a channel to the Halibut," he ordered.
The communications sergeant pressed a virtual button on her console. "CSS Halibut, this is Thule Control, please respond."
"Thule Control, this is CSS Halibut."
The sergeant took a quizzical look at the Admiral – clearly what he'd just told her subvocally puzzled her. "Admiral Van De Graaf would like to know if your skipper is known as 'Newfie John Butler'."
A thick brogue bit through the speakers, rattling anything not firmly secured. "Nawt t' me friends, t'ank yer ver' much. Vinnie, ye awld reprobate, is t'at yer? How t'fuck are ya?"
The officer next to Samantha leaned over and whispered, "I think I'm getting about one word in five of what he's saying."
"You're doing better than me," she responded. To her, the thick Newfoundland accent might as well be a different language.
"So what brings you out to space, Johnny? I thought you were in subs for life?"
"Well, it's like t'is. Them t'ere lubberly Canadian Navy admirals, t'ey doan ken the Queen's English none too well. T'ey figgered t'at dere was't any much chance o' inflictin' damage on the Swarm wit d'subs, clapped out as t'ey are, so t'ey goes and ardered all of us sub types t'volunteer for the Confederacy. 'Volunteer'." You could almost see the snort of derision. "Last time I checked, t'ward meant t'do it because you t'awt it a good idea, not 'cause some Newfiejohn merchant's son t'awt it might be so. So's I bin voluntold. T'ey says t'ey needs sub skippers out in space. Next t'ing I know, me an' t'missus, we're sailin' in t'space."
The Admiral was chuckling. "Well, I for one am glad you decided to get voluntold, John. I need a good man in a fight."
"Calls me 'Newfiejohn' one more time dere b'ye, an' you'll be ta findin' exact' how good a man I c'n be in a fight." And with that, Halibut signed off.
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