A Problem With Piracy
Chapter 1: An International Joint Adventure
July 12, 1990
"The problem is Cartoom," Mr. Lauro Soun said.
He was the Secretary of Commerce from the country of Filop. It was one of the more important positions in Filop. The economy of the country revolved around the export of exotic woods. He worked closely with the Secretary of the Interior who was charged with making sure that the source of exotic woods would never run out and the Secretary of Defense who was charged with keeping the country secure and trade routes open.
Mr. Lauro Soun had features that were a cross of those of an Island States native and a Chen. The combination wasn't particularly attractive, and he probably wouldn't have reached his position except for his high intelligence and political savvy. He was an extremely brilliant man.
Pen Hopo studied the people seated around the conference table. There were a dozen representatives from an equal number of countries along with the heads of four major shipping companies. They all looked worried. She knew what the problem was, but wanted them to state it.
"What exactly is the problem with Cartoom?" she asked.
"Pirates," Mr. Rolf Landvic said.
He was the owner of the Osslonova Shipping Company, based out of the country of Osslonova. It was the second largest shipping company in the world. It was the second largest only because of the original Osslonova Royal Proclamation by King Rolvsson that no ship flying its flag was to be involved with the arms trade.
When the great wave of expansion swept across the continent of Besland, Osslonova, like all countries, immediately charged forth with its fleet to grab as much land as it could. It quickly discovered that it couldn't compete militarily with Port, Ingle, Franka, Espa, Itan, and Romal. It managed to grab Redland and Norga, but only because Port, its neighbor to the south, was busy grabbing everything else in the neighborhood. Every time it set a flag down on another island, one of the big guys would come along and push them off.
At the same time, countries like Port, Ingle, Franka, Espa, and Romal were engaging in naval wars in nearly every part of the world. They had conquered new territory full of riches, that had to be defended at great cost. However, they weren't able to get any of the goods home without having to run past a host of navies. More goods ended up at the bottom of the ocean than at home.
King Rolvsson realized the difficulty other nations were having in getting goods home was an opportunity for his country to take a part in the expansion. He took two steps to take advantage of this opportunity. He sent out letters to the heads of state of every country on the continent of Besland announcing that, henceforth, Osslonova was a neutral county uninterested in expansion on any new or undiscovered lands. He also proclaimed that no ship flying the nation's flag would transport arms.
Businesses in other countries immediately saw the implications of these two proclamations. As a neutral country in which ships were banned from transporting arms, there was no reason for anyone's navy to stop, board, search, and seize or sink an Osslonovian ship. This meant that goods could flow from source to destination without impediment. Many people, particularly those of Osslonova, considered King Rolvsson to be the most brilliant man of his century.
The net result was that nearly every sailor in Osslonova ended up with a ship transporting goods from newly discovered lands back to Besland, despite the fact that their home port was closed half of the year due to ice. A small country with a desolate land and climate that wouldn't support more than a hundred thousand people now had a fleet of thousands of ships carrying goods to every part of the world. It, on a per capita basis, quickly became one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
When the age of iron ships was born, the island of Redland, which Port had ignored and left to Osslonova, turned out to have rich deposits of iron, hence the red color of the land. Osslonova turned that island into a shipbuilding mecca. Nearly every modern ocean going vessel that wasn't of military use was produced at a Redland shipyard.
The Landvic family went about organizing the great fleet, and ultimately transformed themselves into the owners of the second largest shipping company in the world. Only a handful of its ships ever sailed into the home port. It would also be the shipping company most affected by pirates.
Pen Hopo asked, "What about the Cartoom pirates?
"Cartoom is in a position where it can control the Ringland sea and the Long Jump Channel that connects the Ringland Sea to the Ocean. Essentially, countries from Imra all of the way to Kale can't get goods to the east without having to sail through waters now controlled by the Cartoom Pirates."
"What about your Navies?"
"Our Navy is not positioned to protect vessels at sea," Mr. Lorenzo DiMarco said.
He was the Secretary of the Navy for Coli. It was basically a poor country whose navy, limited in terms of resources, was primarily focused on coastal activities rather than open sea. It exported enough raw materials to cover the imports of food. It didn't have the most stable government in the region, so regime change was always a concern.
"We don't have the resources to protect ships as far away as the Long Jump Channel," said Mr. Obin Osei.
He was the Secretary of the Navy for Immani. It was a well equipped Navy supported by a relatively stable, although somewhat repressive government. It was relatively distant from the Long Jump Channel and it would be a stretch of its capabilities to extend its ships that far from home port.
Pen Hopo turned to one of the men at the table and asked, "What about your Navy, Admiral Kwong?"
Admiral Kwong, a man of obvious Chen descent, blushed from embarrassment. At one time, the Navy of Cartoom had been one of the strongest in the region for exactly the same reason that piracy was now a problem. It had been well positioned to be the gatekeeper of the Long Jump Channel along with Filop. It was now a quarter of the size it had been a decade earlier. It was unable to control the waters around the country.
Twenty years earlier, a president of Cartoom came up with the idea of rebuilding and modernizing the infrastructure of the entire country. Although it was a rich country and the cost could have been spread out over decades, the President of the time wanted it done now, not two decades from now. As a result, he borrowed money from a number of countries to fund his grand project.
The country discovered later that they couldn't cover the payment schedule. The next President was faced with a terrible decision of either declaring bankruptcy or finding the money from some other source. History had shown that a country that declared bankruptcy often required a century or more to recover economically, so he ruled out that option almost immediately. There were two other sources of income: nationalizing companies or selling off government owned assets. Nationalizing businesses was economic suicide.
Cartoom, as a short term solution, started selling off its Navy. From an economic and political perspective, it was a brilliant decision. Businesses were relatively unaffected by the decision. Citizens weren't hit with a huge tax increase. Ships, even older vessels, had value and could bring in money. A reduction in the size of the Navy also significantly reduced an annual expense, thus freeing up more money for use in repaying the loans. Unfortunately, the cuts went too deep.
Selling off the Navy worked to cover the debt in the short term, but it wasn't a long term solution. For something of a longer nature, Cartoom leased two islands, one to Chen and one to Amra, for use as military bases. Neither base had become operational at this point, but the lease payments were covering the debt quite well.
Cartoom was now in the process of rebuilding its Navy. Unlike the previous president, this one was approaching the problem with a long term vision in mind. Admiral Kwong was the chief architect of the new Navy, but the fact that he was needed for that role embarrassed him.
Admiral Kwong answered, "As you know, our Navy is a fraction of the size it should be. Your people at Jade Force bought a number of our ships. We can't even patrol our own waters, much less protect the Long Jump Channel."
Jade Force had purchased a troop transport, three antique landing craft, a small destroyer, two small patrol craft, and a single submarine from Cartoom. The troop transport and landing craft were in use, but the rest basically were for occasional use in training and maintenance exercises. There just weren't enough Jade Warriors to fully staff the destroyer or the submarine. The two patrol craft were used in training and to patrol the waters alongside the Jade Academy property.
"What about your navy, Mr. Soun?"
"Filop always relied upon Cartoom to keep the Channel clear. The majority of our military budget goes to the Army and the Air Force. We've increased appropriations to the Navy, but it is too little and too late to be of much help in the short term," Mr. Soun answered.
"What about attacking the pirates at their bases of operation?" she asked.
Sounding frustrated, Admiral Kwong answered, "Legally, we can't. The crimes are taking place in international waters. We can't arrest someone because we suspect they are a pirate. We have to catch them in the act of piracy. It actually requires another country to catch them in the act and pursue them to shore before we can act using land forces."
"Would you act?" she asked pointedly.
"By international law, we have to support the effort to catch the pirates. Unfortunately, there is a difference between supporting and acting effectively. There are just too many ports where the pirates can flee to for us to act effectively except by pure luck. We never developed that large of an Army," Admiral Kwong said.
"What is it that you want Jade Force to do?" Pen Hopo asked.
Mr. Soun said, "We want you to take command of a fleet comprised of a single ship from each of our countries and eliminate the pirate problem. Each nation has compiled a list of assets it is willing to risk. It will be up to you to choose from those lists, and put together the fleet you will use to eliminate the pirates."
Pen Hopo was surprised. She had accepted the invitation to this meeting more out of curiosity than an expectation of getting a contract. She knew the problem all of these countries faced was that of Cartoom pirates. A solution to that required a Navy, so Jade Force wasn't really an appropriate choice. After all, Jade Force only had a pretend Navy at the moment. The ships it had were for training and not actual use in sea battles. When so many countries and companies request a meeting like this, it was only rational to accept the invitation. She didn't expect them to put military assets under the command of Jade Force.
Looking for any suggestions, she glanced over at Sword Radek who just shrugged. Shield Gerta made the hand gesture suggesting that a decision was up to her.
"Why us?" she asked.
Mr. Soun said, "There are three reasons. First, we actually trust you to use our assets wisely. Second, we know that you are willing to toss out the normal rules of war when the situation requires it. Third, we think you'll succeed."
"We have no history of battle at sea. What makes you think we'll use your assets wisely?"
An embarrassed silence settled over the room. She looked around wondering why everyone was so quiet. It seemed an obvious question to her and not one that should embarrass anyone.
Mr. Landvic said, "I'll handle this question."
"Please do," Mr. Soun said with a little hand wave.
Mr. Landvic said, "It's pretty simple actually. You are politically neutral. You will use assets as they are meant to be used. You will use them when the circumstances dictate they are required. You won't put the ships of some countries at greater risk in an effort to preserve your own ship."
Admiral Kwong added, "You have a reputation for following your contract to the letter."
"That has been not always made our customers happy," Pen Hopo said.
"We know all about the reaction of Amra and Tobo to your solution of their drug problem," Mr. Soun said bringing a round of chuckles from around the room.
Mr. Landvic said, "The point is that you solved their problem. Completely. That's what we are looking for, here."
"We will not hide your involvement," Pen Hopo said.
"We understand that," Lorenzo DiMarco said.
Sword Radek asked, "We tend to act a little more directly than most military organizations would consider proper. For example, we don't fire warning shots across the bow. Our first shot is to blow the bow off the boat. Would the crews on your ships follow our commands?"
Admiral Kwong said, "You have quite the reputation for killing first and then asking the enemy to surrender. We believe that approach may be necessary in this case."
Mr. Soun said, "With you in command, our ships are no longer flying our flags. The officers can follow the orders you give without bringing about an international crisis."
Pen Hopo knew that was an important point from the perspective of the countries involved. They were signatories on the international treaties while Jade Force was not. Although twelve countries were involved with this, there were a lot of countries that would not look too favorably upon breaking the 'rules' of sea warfare.
"You may be willing for your officers to follow our orders, but are they willing to follow them?" Sword Radek asked.
"That was part of our consideration in selecting assets. Were the officers willing to do what was necessary? We believe they are."
Sword Radek said, "You do realize that we would have Warriors on each ship, and that we are willing to assure compliance with our orders using deadly force."
There was a long exchange of looks around the table. No one seemed surprised by that statement, but a number didn't look too happy. They knew he wasn't talking about killing a simple crew member, but the captain of the ship.
Mr. Landvic said, "That condition was not unanticipated. It is rather disturbing to hear it stated so bluntly."
Pen Hopo said, "I understand the role that the individual countries have in this endeavor. Why are you and your other business associates involved?"
"We're sharing the cost of hiring you," Mr. Landvic said.
"Except for us. We're here because you tend to make most of your money off the spoils of war. Our insurance company has to pay for everything that is stolen. We'd like to make a deal," Mr. Fredrick Harnsberger said.
"What kind of deal are you talking about?"
"We'll pay you a quarter of the insured value for any goods you return," Mr. Harnsberger said.
"What about the hostage value of the ships we return?" Pen Hopo said.
"Half," Mr. Harnsberger said. He'd been half hoping that they'd miss that little expense. It had been only a slight hope, so he wasn't too disappointed.
Starting a conversation with the other Jade Warriors in Elfen, Pen Hopo said, "What do you think? Go or no go?"
Shield Gerta asked, "Will it be profitable?"
"We'd have to investigate," Pen Hopo said.
"I say go, if profitable," Shield Gerta said.
Pen Hopo said, "It would take a lot of Jade Warriors to do it right."
"Eight per ship, at least. Two shifts of a Sword and two Shields. A Hearth for support. A Cart to take over the ship if necessary," Shield Gerta said.
"Plus an assault force, and personnel for any forward operating bases," Sword Radek said
"It might take some cadets to fill out ranks," Pen Hopo said.
"A job this big is going to take a major confab back at the base," Sword Radek said.
"I concur. Several days at least," Shield Gerta said.
"We'll need to train the officers. That'll take a week or so," Sword Radek said.
"They aren't Jade. We better make it a month," Pen Hopo said.
"We can train at the forward base of operations," Sword Radek said.
"No. We need a second base; one for operations, and one for training," Shield Gerta said.
"I agree," Pen Hopo said. "One question. Can we succeed?"
"Duration?" Shield Gerta asked.
"At least a couple of months," Pen Hopo said.
"Make it three," Sword Radek said.
"Okay, three in plan and four in contract."
"I concur," Shield Gerta said.
"We'll need intel."
"It'll be a contract condition," Pen Hopo said. "Is there anything they won't like?"
"We should include the standard kill all enemy conditions," Sword Radek said.
"That's a given," Pen Hopo said.
The conversation, transcribed into a regular language, was fairly verbose. However, in Elfen, almost every exchange was much shorter than a regular language would suggest. They were discussing war, a topic for which the Elfen language was designed to be concise and unambiguous. The entire exchange took less than a minute, with an audience watching spell bound.
Returning to Amran, Pen Hopo said, "This is a big job and will require a lot of us. We'll have to meet to see how many of our Jade Warriors would be interested in this contract. If we can't get a sufficient number of Jade Warriors with the right skills, then we would have to refuse it. If there are enough, then we would have to write a contract. All of that could take us ten days."
Mr. Soun asked, "What do you mean about having enough Jade Warriors interested in this contract? Aren't you a mercenary outfit?"
"Yes, we are. However, Jade Warriors are not required to work any particular contract. They are free to select assignments that fit their skills while providing the experience they think will lead them to become better warriors," Pen Hopo answered.
Mr. Soun said, "I was not aware of that."
"There is no reason you should have been aware of it," she replied. "As I said, it will be ten days before I can bring a contract for you to examine."
"That will be fine," Mr. Landvic said.
"We'll need two locations that meet our approval for bases. Unfettered access to intelligence data concerning the pirates. A training period of one month for the officers of the ships we'll select."
Admiral Kwong said, "I already have copies of all of the intelligence data for you. You can take it with you when you leave."
Frowning, Pen Hopo asked, "How much is there?"
"A small truckload," he answered.
"You're just giving it to us before we've even signed a contract?" she said.
Admiral Kwong said, "You're going to accept the contract, I'm sure of that. I've brought a contract of my own concerning the treatment and handling of the intelligence data. It basically states that you will not share it outside Jade Force, and that you will destroy the material if you choose not to accept the contract. The intelligence reports will be worthless once you destroy the pirates."
"You surprise me."
"It wasn't my idea. You can thank Mr. Soun for the suggestion."
"Thank you, Mr. Soun," she said.
Admiral Kwong handed over two sheets of paper, one an original and one a copy, of the contract for the intelligence data. She looked over the wording of the document carefully. Although a lot more words were used, the contract was just as simple as Admiral Kwong had stated. She read it over again, even more carefully, looking for 'gotchas, ' but didn't find any.
She signed the two copies of the contract and handed one back to Admiral Kwong.
"Here you go."
"Thank you," he said while folding it and putting it in the inside pocket of his jacket. "The truck with the documents is parked outside. It's under guard. I'll take you to it when the meeting is over."
"Shield Gerta, please ask Shield Unai to guard the truck," Pen Hopo said.
"It's already under guard," Admiral Kwong said.
"It'll be doubly guarded now," she replied.
Shield Gerta asked, "What kind of truck is it?"
"It's a Filop Army Duece and a half."
"I'll have Cart Amandi get a truck," Shield Gerta said.
"We can take the documents where you need them," Admiral Kwong said.
"Once we take possession of the documents, we provide security," Pen Hopo said.
In Elfen, Pen Hopo said, "Search it."
"You don't need to tell me to do that. I'm Shield. I'm the paranoid one," Shield Gerta said in Elfen.
"Sorry," Pen Hopo said in Amran.
Admiral Kwong asked, "What are you sorry about?"
"I was apologizing for stating the obvious," Pen Hopo said.
Shield Gerta stepped out of the office.
Mr. Landvic handed over a small stack of papers within a manilla folder. "These are the list of ships that each Navy is offering."
"Thank you," Pen Hopo said accepting the manilla folder.
She realized that these people must be pretty desperate to end the piracy problem if they were willing to provide the intelligence data up front. It was beginning to make her suspect that there was more going on than she realized. She wondered what Shied Gerta was thinking.
Edited By TeNderLoin