A piercing female voice called out, “All hands! Collision alert! Brace for impact!” The alarm was repeated twice more.
Elder recognized the collision alert alarm, and so even while the voice was coming over the announcement system the first time, he was hunting for a place to wedge himself into. He found one and was snug and secure almost before the voice finished speaking. He waited.
A minute later the same voice said, “All hands secure from collision alert.”
:Looking around as he returned to the corridor, Elder saw a few commissioned officers, Officer or Ensign rank, standing nearby talking amongst themselves. Mustering his courage, Elder walked over to them.
“Excuse me sirs, was there a collision? I didn’t feel anything.”
One of the two Ensigns looked Elder up and down, his two silver stripes gleaming in the corridor’s lights., glanced at the other Ensign, who just shrugged, and then turned back to Elder. “Graduated Cadet,” he wheezed through his nose, “this was probably a drill. Our noble Captain likes to pop drills so that we keep our wits sharp about us. Think about it, we’re in space dock, what could collide with us?” A couple of the Officers snickered.
“I’m sorry sir, I haven’t been under Captain Quinn before and I’m not sure…”
“Yes, yes, I know, you’re not sure about anything. Well, get sure. If you intend to last your probationary period, you had best start thinking a bit faster and a damn sight straighter. Carry on Graduated Cadet.” The Ensign’s wheeze had an edge to it and he turned away from Elder, back to the others.
Elder slunk away, his dream of making it in the Navy critically wounded. He went to the nearest wardroom and sat alone in a corner, nursing a cup of coffee. It was there that he heard the collision alarm again and ignored it.
Elder wiped the warm coffee off of his face as he picked himself up off of the deck. Whatever hit the BALKANS must have hit with real force to shake everything as much as it had. Looking around, Elder saw several enlisted crew and junior officers picking themselves up also. Doors were slamming shut everywhere. The hull must have been breached.
The piercing female voice came over the speakers, “Attention all hands. All Damage Control teams report to decks four through seven. All hands prepare for life support failure. This is not a drill.” The alarm was repeated twice more. That, after all, was standard Navy procedure.
Elder looked around, there was no way out of the wardroom, all of the doors were sealed, and only the emergency lights were on. Then he remembered that he was on Deck 5. The announcement ordered Damage Control to Decks 4 through 7, Deck 5 was in the middle of whatever happened. Several of the others in the wardroom were already in emergency space suits by this time, so Elder darted over to the locker and began putting one on as well. It took just seconds since Elder was now well versed in the skill due to hours of practice.
Over the general circuit of the suit’s radio Elder heard a babble of voices, sorting itself out into order and method. The Captain’s voice came over the radio demanding proper discipline and there was quiet. Elder switched his radio to monitor and activated the audio part of the his communications.
Remembering that as an officer, albeit an extremely junior one, he had responsibilities Elder asked, “Is everyone all right?”
“Fine sir. No injuries to report. Ensign Bloch is checking in for orders.” It was impossible to tell which emergency suited figure made the comment.
Elder looked around. He had not paid attention to the various people in the wardroom before, so he could not identify Ensign Bloch from any of the others in front of him. Since these were emergency suits, none of them had rank insignia or nametags; thus, everyone looked the same.
A tenor voice spoke, “All officers with the rank of Graduated Cadet and above come with me.” One of the space suits moved away from the locker and a few others immediately followed. Elder looked around, especially at the ten suited figures who were standing at the locker, with one figure touching helmets with one of the others. With a start, Elder realized that the voice had just heard over the audio circuit had said, “… with the rank of Graduated Cadet and above…” so he hurried off with the smaller group moving away.
“I’m Ensign Bloch, is there anyone who outranks me?” No one said anything. “Very well, I take charge of this wardroom. As I point at you, give your name, rank and specialty so I can assign work as needed.” Ensign Bloch pointed at Elder first since Elder had come up to the group at Ensign Bloch’s extreme right.
“Graduated Cadet Elder, Operation sir.
“Master Midshipman James, Science sir.”
“Master Midshipman Crawford, Marines sir”
“Midshipman Kimbrell, Logistics sir.”
“All right. I spoke with the Operations Center and they report that there was an accident with the thrusts of the ship next to us as they were moving past us. Just so you know, it was the I.N.S. ALPS, G00134C-0017, from our section. All of our force fields were off since we are in space dock, so there was physical contact between the ships and our hull has to be checked out. The ALS is in bad shape, they will have to abort the patrol and undergo extensive repairs by first estimate. If we have to abandon this section, each of you will take command of some of the enlisted and guide them to safety. If not, we are going to have to stay active while the hull is checked out. Boredom may be our biggest enemy after a while. Everything is off-line in here, there is either no power in this part of the ship from the accident or the bridge cut it off as a safety measure. So if any of you has any idea of something to keep us all occupied, speak up.”
“Any idea, sir, how long it’ll be?”
“Identify yourself when you speak, I can’t tell who any of you are by voice, none of you are familiar to me.” There was not anger in the Ensign’s voice, just disappointment that whoever had spoken had not thought far enough ahead to realize that he needed some identification.
“Sorry sir. I’m James sir.” Master Midshipman James sounded contrite.
“No Mister James, I don’t. Operations will not be able to tell until the damage control teams finish their look-see at the hull. Are you by any chance related to the Earl America?” Elder had heard this sort of question many times, it seemed a common pastime, at least at the Academy, to try to establish a connection with some noble family. Quinn had been sick of being asked for his connections to various famous Navy personnel and to various noble houses. Maybe that had been a reason to keep the formal speech pattern, by using that sort of language, he confused people who were not used to it and they stayed away from him with those questions.
“Yes sir, my father is a Viscount of that line.”
“I’m from the County of Ontario.”
“I understand sir.”
“Crawford sir, until we have an idea of how long it’ll be before we can leave, we should just relax. Activities may not be needed.”
“You my be right. We have an hour, at least, before the damage control teams finish checking out the hull. I doubt that anyone is going to go crazy in an hour. However, during that hour, I want you to be ready to come up with something to occupy everyone’s mind if need be.”
Elder decided to speak up and seize chance to learn more about the ship. “Sir? I’m Elder. I don’t want to sound self-important or anything like that but since I just arrived on board, perhaps if we need something to occupy people’s minds, I could question various people about the ship. It would occupy minds and help me become acquainted with the ship better, I just arrived from the Academy. We might even make a game of it, like a quiz show.”
“That’s an idea, and a good one; but we’ll wait and see what else gets thought of before we turn this into a classroom for a brand new Graduated Cadet. Anyone else? No? All right, let’s go meet our roommates.”
The ten other space suited figures were lined up waiting for the officers. As Ensign Bloch stepped close, one of the figures snapped to attention and stepped forward and snapped a salute.
“Master Sergeant Blackthorn reporting sir.”
Ensign Bloch returned the salute. “Very good Master Sergeant, who are the others?”
“Sir, we are Gunnery Crew 412. Senior Corporal Rogers, Corporal Bradley, Leading Privates Helling and Palma, and Privates First Class Kowalski and Robles, and Privates Dancho, Gallant, and Rinaldi.” Each of the others stepped forward for a moment at their naming before returning to the line.
Ensign Bloch looked over the ten figures, not that he could see anything about them in the emergency suits, but any commanding officer gave that sort of looking over at the troops when taking command. He then briefed the enlisted on the situation, as he knew it. He repeated his request for ideas on how to keep busy and got no ideas. Then he dismissed everyone for an hour, or until new information came in.
It was an hour later that they were released from the wardroom and told to return to their normal activities. The hull was fine and no major repairs were needed, power was returned to the various sections of the ship where it had been shut off as a precaution. The ship continued preparing for the beginning of patrol. Those in the wardroom took the emergency suits and placed them for recycling.
Elder spent most of the rest of the night in the nearest gym. He was tired but he wanted to make sure that he slept when he went to bed. New on the ship, he felt more alone than he had ever felt in the past.
Slipping into his quarters at 0845 hours, Elder noticed that five of the other seven bunks were filled. All the bunks were assigned to someone, so the other two might come in soon. Elder slipped out of his uniform and into his bunk and fell asleep within two minutes of entering the room.
It was 1743 when Elder woke up. Glancing around in confusion for a moment, he regained his bearings. One other person was asleep in the room. Everyone else was gone. Elder wondered if he would ever meet his roommates while awake or if he would go the entire twenty-five Imperial week patrol without knowing who they were. Quietly Elder went through those actions that needed to be done when first awake. Then, cleaned and dressed, he eased out of the room and headed for the nearby wardroom for breakfast.
The wardroom was full of people, some eating, some socializing and some just hanging out. Elder got his breakfast and hunted for an ampty table. He saw none.
Seeing a table with only two people sitting at it, a Sous-Lieutenant and a Master Warrant Officer, Elder walked over and asked if they minded if he sat there. The Master Warrant Officer shook his leonine head. The Sous-Lieutenant looked around, perhaps noticing the crowd for the first time, and shrugged his shoulders.
“Sit down Graduated Cadet, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else for you/ Why didn’t you wait until the place was less crowded?”
“I just woke up sir. And since I was very hungry, I finished getting my breakfast before I noticed the crowd.” The Sous-Lieutenant ignored Elder’s breach of protocol, using the “sir” in the wardroom.
The two shrugged off Elder’s comment ad went back to their own discussion, the Master Warrant Officer waving his arms while talking and barely missing some of the people who were walking through the wardroom, concerning the maintenance of the Ship’s Boats and other routine matters. Elder listened to them surreptitiously, although he doubted that they even remembered that he was present.
Once he was full, he politely left the table, ignored by the two in full conversation, and looked for something to do. He discovered a Holovid center and watched a Holovid that he had never seen before. It did not interest him, indeed, once he walked out, he could not remember a single detail about it. Somehow he killed most of the remaining three hours.