With his uniform as perfect as he could make it, Elder marched up to just under two meters from the Captain’s formal desk, snapped a salute and said, “Graduated Cadet Jesip Dwight Roger Allen Elder B37AQ8473954AA reporting to the Captain of the I.N.S. BALKANS sir.”
Captain Kivi Clement Emir Quinn studied the small man standing in front of him while returning the salute. Graduated Cadet was ugly, there was no doubting that simple fact. The face of planes and angles was not completely strange to the Captain, he had seen it on two occasions before, once while visiting his great-nephew at the Naval Academy and once at the graduation of the same great-nephew just two Imperial months ago. All the other Graduated Cadets had already reported in during the last week, Elder was the last of the six assigned to the BALKANS this time.
Captain Quinn stood up, emphasizing his authority over the newly graduated cadet in his immaculate uniform with the highly polished single gold disc and silver ship and occupation insignia standing in front of him. Since Elder was only 156 cm tall, Captain Quinn towered over him. Like most of his family, on either his mother’s or his fathers side, Captain Quinn was closer to two meters tall. Moving forward to pace along the area of armor deck between Elder nd the desk, with his arms positioned to prominently display the four gold stripes of his rank, the Captain said, “Graduated Cadet Elder, I trust that you will conform to the highest standards of the Imperial Navy. I remind you that until you are promoted to Officer, I may dismiss you without question and that you will have no recourse from such dismissal. I do not want any untoward happenings while you are under my command. Yes, I know that you were not the murderer of your classmate, but I do not want such things happening onboard the BALKANS. Anyone can have someone else try to frame them for a crime, but if you attract such events, you may not belong in the Navy.” Captain Quinn stopped his pacing and faced Elder. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes Captain.” Elder tried to stand even straighter and more military.
Captain Quinn resumed his pacing. “Good. One of the reasons you are assigned here is that my great-nephew recommends you and my rank and position allow me some leeway in who is assigned to my ship. He saw something in you while you were together either on the JACOTOT or at the Academy that I have not seen yet. If you are lucky, I will see it and strongly support your career. If you are unlucky, I will see something wrong with you and dump you out of the Navy. You have made it through the entrance examination and the Academy. Now you have to make it through the next three years onboard the BALKANS. Have you received your quarters yet?” Captain Quinn again stopped and faced Elder.
“Have you finished your processing onto the ship?” Captain Quinn had to know the answer to this question, meeting the Commanding Officer was the last thing a Graduated Cadet did when processing into their first assignment.
“You will be working in the operations section. Sous-Lieutenant Jewel here,” and here Captain Quinn pointed at the officer standing off to one side with the three silver stripes of his rank somewhat tarnished, “will show you where you need to go. Do you have any questions?”
Captain Quinn snorted. “Well, I have one. Where did Michael pick up that ridiculous habit of speech he is using? He talks like some sort of character in an ancient novel.”
Elder’s gray eyes went wide, almost separating his bushy eyebrows where they joined in a mass over his over-large nose. He gulped and then said, “Uh, sir, shouldn’t you ask him sir?”
There was armor steel in that voice now, “I asked you Graduated Cadet.”
“Yes sir. I am not sure sir, but I think that he started using that formal style of speech on the JACOTOT because he thought the rest of us would expect it sir. After we pass and went to the Academy sir, it was already a habit and he just kept it up sir. But I don’t know for sure sir, I have never asked him Captain”
Understanding the nervousness behind the over use of the “sir” in Graduated Cadet Elder’s reply, Captain Quinn snorted again. “Very well Graduated Cadet Elder. You are dismissed.”
Once the Captain returned the over-accurate salute, Elder reversed himself and march out behind Sous-Lieutenant Jewel. Unknown to him, his new Captain was pondering if he had ever seen anyone as ugly as Elder. Once he remembered an unfortunate, now a Commodore with Second Fleet, who had been t least as ugly, Captain Quinn sat behind his desk and returned to work. Preparing for departure from base was more work than the rest of the voyage would be.
Outside the two men got into an elevator and traveled to the Junior Officers Quarters. Elder waited for the other to speak first, but in vain. Sous-Lieutenant Jewel said nothing until the two men were at Elder’s quarters. Elder had already been there, unpacking the few items he was allowed to bring with him since living space was tight aboard any ship, even a Class-G Dreadnought.
“Graduated Cadet, do you know where the Operations center you are assigned to is and how to get there?” Sous-Lieutenant Jewel’s jewel-blue eyes were worried.
“Yes sir. I studied the ship’s schematics at the base.” Elder wondered at the question, of course he had studied the deck plans for the BALKANS.
“Good, report for the third shift tomorrow and I or someone else will show you your duties. For today, get acquainted with the ship. We start our patrol the day after tomorrow and I have too much to accomplish before then for me to give you the tour you should have. Carry on Graduated Cadet.” And before Elder could finish his salute to acknowledge the order from his superior officer, Sous-Lieutenant Jewel strode off.
Elder watched the Sous-Lieutenant depart until he was around a corner in the corridor, then unsure of the protocol in this situation he unsteadily dropped his salute and went into his quarters. Seven other junior officers of various ranks shared the room with him, but none were present now. Elder finished putting away his few personal effects, including the picture of Constance, since holopictures too up too much room he had brought an old-fashioned flat one. Then he secured his issued portable computer to his belt and started exploring the MOUNTAIN RANGE CLASS I.N.S. BALKANS G000134C-0021, his home until they returned from wherever they were going. If his information was right, they would be back to base in twenty-five Imperial weeks, although he did not know the ship’s scheduled route. Constance would have settled into married officer’s quarters on base by then and made many friends among the various wives and families on base. It was his bad luck the his ship left immediately so that he could not be with her while she did so.
Checking out the nearest wardroom found him nothing he thought of as noteworthy. Only a few people were there, and those were all mid-to-high ranking enlisted. Elder was too new in his rank and too aware of the strict wording of the Naval Regulations against fraternization to chat with the people who could probably tell him more about their part of the ship than anyone else he would meet could. Instead, Elder wandered to the Operations Center he was assigned to and just looked at the door. After that, he checked out various other sections of the ship until he got hungry. He headed back to the wardroom he first saw and sat down with a snack.
A baritone voice interrupted his snack. “You’re the last of the newers aren’t you?”
Elder glanced up from his salami and mayonnaise on marbled rye sandwich and saw a completely bald Senior Midshipman standing, arms akimbo and the three gold discs barely visible, with a tolerantly amused smirk, just to his left. Forgetting for the moment that such conduct was not required in the wardroom, Elder came to attention.
“Yeah, you’re a newer all right. This is a wardroom, you do not play soldier here. Remember, proper conduct at the proper place. Sit down and eat you, whatever it is that you have in front of you. Where do they have you working?”
Elder sat down but stayed at attention. “Operations sir.”
“I said you don’t play soldier here. Call me Mitchel.” The Senior Midshipman seemed to ignore the fact that Elder was sitting at attention.
“Yes sir, I mean Mitchell. Sorry, I’m not used to dealing with ranking officers like that yet.” Elder relaxed some in his chair.
“Many won’t like it. I am one of those who think that a wardroom is where rank should not matter, especially since Regulations say it should not. Graduated Cadets and the various Midshipman ranks are close enough so that we should not have to worry about that sort of protocol until we actually get past the probationary period. All the commissioned officers are strict about proper protocol from us on duty, but we can let our hair down for a while in here. Pulling out a chair and reversing it so his arms rested on the back, Mitchell sat down opposite Elder.
Elder wondered why Mitchell used that turn of expression, he was more bald than Elder was hairy. Mitchell either shaved his head smooth or he was naturally bald, even to the eyebrows. With his dark olive skin, it did not look bad.
“What do I call you, Hairy?”
“No, I’m Elder, Jesip Dwight Roger Allen Elder.”
“Does all of your family have that lump in the middle of the forehead?”
“No, just me. And to return the curiosity, is all of your family as bald as you?”
Mitchell grinned tolerantly, flashing gleaming white teeth. “Sure, it’s a hereditary sign of the family. A clear sign that I am a Mitchell, maybe not one to take charge, but a Mitchell nonetheless. We’re Royal Family.”
Elder was shocked, again he was dealing with major nobility. First it had been Irving, although he had not known she was Royalty until after her murder, then various members of the Academy and nor this Senior Midshipman Mitchell. “Royal Family?”
“Where’re you from?”
“Krasgia, in Sharnalt, Kiowa Sector.”
“That’ nowhere near Irvel is it?”
“Never heard of it, so I can’t say.”
“Probably not since you haven’t heard of it. We have only been in the Empire since fifty-seven years ago. We were big news in the sector when we were brought into the Empire. My full name is Basil Jasper Knez Mitchell. Moreover, don’t you start with the Senor stuff either We’re in the Navy and that doesn’t apply here.”
“I know. I took the last part of my entrance examination with an Emir. He is a great-nephew of the Captain. In addition, I knew Rajah, except she was hiding her birth rank. She was murdered at the Academy.”
“Ah yes, so you are the one. The great computer expert. And the Rajah must have been Marcia Chayka Rajah Sepheri of Grandview, the one who divorced her family.”
“Yes, but I knew her only under her new name. I always called her Irving. Moreover, no, I am no expert. I’m good I guess, but I don’t think I’m that good.”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard. I guessed you were the one; there can’t be many people as ugly as you are,” Mitchell grinned again to take the sting out of that comment, “but I had to make sure. I am one of the ones in your chain of command. Here I am Mitchell, at work I am Sir or Senior Midshipman. Remember, proper conduct in the proper place. I’ll see you tomorrow at 2330 hours and you’d better be on time, lateness is the one thing that’ll send our Lieutenant into a fit and I don’t need him pulling my hair.” Mitchell got up and walked off, nodding to a few of the others in the wardroom. Elder thought about returning the chair to its proper position but decided against it. It was Mitchell’s fault, let him take care of it even though Mitchel ignored it.
Elder planned to stay up all night and get to his bunk about 0900 tomorrow, he had to get his body onto the proper sleep rhythms, so after his snack he started wandering the corridors again. He knew the layout of the ship from his studies of the deck plans but he needed to relate what he knew to the reality. In an emergency, he would not have the time to stop and plod through his mind and dig the needed data out. He was next to Boat Bay Six when the alarm klaxon went off.