It was 2315 when he entered the Auxiliary Operations Room. Not that he was hoping for praise, but he had just run out of things to occupy his time. Once inside he looked around for a minute, looking for someone to report to. He could see neither Senior Midshipman Mitchell nor Sous-Lieutenant Jewel; everyone he could see was a stranger to him. There was a Lieutenant standing near the center of the room, just standing there with his arms crossed (almost making it look like he had eight silver stripes not four on his sleeve ends) looking amused at all the bustle around him. Elder took a chance and walked over.
“Excuse me sir, are you in charge of Third Watch?”
“I am, I’m Lieutenant O’Roark and you’re early. You must be Elder, right?” Elder nodded his head. “At least you aren’t late. Why’d you show up this early, trying to earn Brownie Points?” There was humor in the baritone voice.
“No sir, I just ran out of things to do and decided to report in. I could go out and twiddle my thumbs if you want me to, sir.” Elder hadn’t meant that comment to be funny, but he realized just how stupid it sounded when he finished saying it.
The Lieutenant, a black man standing at least two and a half meters tall, laughed with gusto and looked Elder over. “No, don’t bother. Most Graduated Cadets are either early, trying to impress their new boss, or late from getting lost on their first day. You are the first one who ever reported in because he was bored. At least, as far as I remember. Come with me and I’ll assign you to a station.”
At workstation number A47, where a Midshipman was just getting up, Lieutenant O’Roark motioned Elder to sit. Elder did so. Lieutenant O’Roark handed him the security helmet.
“Your job until further notice is to ensure that all orders that come across your station are completed. This means you will check the order, assign priority, make all arraignments needed to supply any material or people needed and so forth. Any questions?”
“No sir. I did well in the Operations classes at the Academy sir.”
“Classes and reality are not always the same. Your station covers a lot of area, I would rather break you in on a less used station, but I am short-handed. We are shipping out at only 85% assigned crew instead of 105% as per Regulations. Therefore, in the future you are to just come in here to this station and take over from the previous watch. You schedule is five on, one off. If we were full, it’d be four and one. “Elder realized that he was getting slightly less than one day off an Imperial week, instead of the normal one day a week. He had already checked out the services held by the Neo-Reformed Lutheran chaplain and those were on the Gregorian calendar of seven days a week not the Imperial calendar of five days a week, there might be times when the two schedules conflicted. “Your first day off is the shift after next. You will take no breaks without approval of your next in command, Senior Midshipman Mitchell. Carry on Graduated Cadet, and do not screw up too badly. One explosion per Section is enough. Captain Quinn wouldn’t like it if we had to abort our mission.”
Lieutenant O’Roark marched off to where someone called his name. Elder slipped the security helmet over his head and tightened it down. Now, nothing he said could be heard by anyone not connected to his audio system. Glancing over the board displayed in front of him, he saw that he was now in charge of a section of the navigation system, One of the backup navigation computers, one complete set of thrusters – third port aft – and two maintenance shops were in his hands, enough work for two men. Elder quickly fell into the rhythm of his duties, for in spite of what Lieutenant O’Roark had said, Elder found his training to be very similar to reality.
It was tiring to keep track of all the details necessary to keep his sections of the ship running smoothly. Elder had expected at first that most of his sections wouldn’t be active until the ship moved from space dock, but the people working in the sections were over active in preparation for the departure, plus there were fewer distractions on this shift so the sections Elder watched over were ore able to get work done. It was only when Senior Midshipman Mitchell asked over the communications system if Elder was ever going to have lunch, that Elder realized how fast time was passing.
“Sorry sir, I haven’t been paying attention to the time. Is there any problem with my having lunch now?”
“None, which is why I spoke up now. There is a wardroom just aft and port from here . Grab a bite to eat and get back. I can give you twenty minutes. Tomorrow ask me closer to the start of shift and I might be able to give you more, depending upon the scheduled workload, although it’s unlikely.”
“Aye sir. twenty minutes for lunch, I understand. I have 0415 hours on my board.”
“Same as me, so be back by 0435. Carry on Graduated Cadet.”
Elder slid the security helmet onto its standby station and walked to the door of the Auxiliary Operations Center. Taking the time to glance at the dozens of other stations as he walked out, he noticed Graduated Cadets or Midshipmen of various sorts occupied most of the almost one hundred stations. There were a smattering of Officers and Ensigns and a few empty stations, whether from being short-handed or people taking a lunch break, he did not know nor care about for the moment. By the time he had entered the wardroom and gotten his meal, ten minutes had passed, Elder had turned the wrong way once he left Operations and that had cost him valuable time. Elder glanced around to see if he knew anyone here, but everyone present was a stranger to him. However, since he did not have time for a conversation with his meal that was to the good.
It was 0434 when Elder slid the security helmet back on his head. “Graduated Cadet Elder returned to station.”
“Carry on Graduated Cadet. Did you enjoy your break?”
“Not really sir, I’m not yet set to this shift and I’m a bit tired.”
“You’ll get used to it. Senior Midshipman Mitchell off.”
At 0728, a Senior Midshipman tapped Elder’s shoulder. Elder glanced around, then at the clock on his computer terminal. It was shift change time. Handing the security helmet to his relief, Elder stretched and glanced around again. People all over the Center were turning their duties over to the day watch and walking out. Elder joined the exodus river and began wondering if he should head straight for bed or relax a bit first.
“All right Elder, what did you think of your first night?”
Elder turned to the voice and saw Mitchell and two other Senior Midshipmen standing right behind him. Several other junior officers leaving the Auxiliary Operations Center slowed enough to glance at the small group and then move off in groups of their own.
“I can’t really think much about it now, I’m kind of tired. My body isn’t on the right cycle for this watch yet sir.”
“Heading anywhere specific?”
“I’m not sure sir. I might give my wife a call and then head to bed.”
The two standing behind Mitchell glanced at each other with condescending looks, and then moved off. Mitchell noticed and snickered.
“How long have you been married? An Imperial month?”
“Just two weeks over. Because of the number of Jumps between here and Krasgia, we got married at the Academy and took a short trip in this general direction for our honeymoon. Constance is setting up in Married Quarters and I want to say goodbye before we leave space dock sir.”
“Well, a few of us, including those two who think so little of marriage, usually meet after work in Wardroom 327 for an hour or so. Join us if you want, we can help you over the jitters of your first few weeks. I’ll tell you what I was told when I was at your point in a career, make friends because without friends your voyages and career get very lonely.” Mitchell waved his hand and walked off.
Having made his decision, Elder walked to the nearest Communications Center. He was out of luck; he had to wait since official business occupied all the circuits until almost 0900. Once he said what he wanted to say to Constance, in the brief time allowed him, he headed to Wardroom 327.
No one he knew was in the wardroom, Mitchell and the others from the Operations Center were gone. However, keeping in mind Mitchell’s comment about the need for friends, Elder looked around for someone he could meet.
As he stood looking around, blocking the door without realizing it, Elder was punched in the back. It was not a hard punch, more a tap, but it did get his attention.
“Move along there, some of us others want to use the wardroom.” The voice was a rich tenor, but it took Elder a moment to break through the singsong aspect and the broad a sound.
“Sorry. I was looking for some people from where I work.” Elder stepped aside and turned to the person he had blocked.
“Were is it you work?” The speaker was a Midshipman in the Marine version of the shipboard uniform, the two gold discs of his rank gleaming against the forest green color of his jumpsuit.
“Operations, sir.” Elder looked up at the other person, towering over his 156 centimeters by at least a full meter. Tall as someone from Concar, this Viking did not have the bulk of those from that duchy or its colonies.
“Are you off duty? Then in the wardroom drop rank and be a person. Are your friends here?”
“No, I guessed I messed them. I was making a call to my wife to say goodbye and it took longer than I expected.”
“As a Graduated Cadet, you can’t have been married for long, so a long conversation is only to be expected.” The stranger motioned for Elder to follow him as he headed for the dispensers.
“Actually, it was getting a free circuit. She was still busy with the various problems of getting settled in, so we couldn’t talk much.”
“All so much the better for you. My own sweet wife is with her parents now and I do indeed miss her dearly. Come, we can drink to our missing loves and to the success of our voyage. I’m Hartz, Evan Vachel Carmine Hartz, from Celtar in Fransson, Comanche Sector.”
“I’m Elder, Jesip Dwight Roger Allen Elder, from Krasgia in Sharnalt, Kiowa Sector.”
“Where is Krasgia? I think I’ve heard of it, I think Kiowa Sector is next to Comanche Sector. But I don’t think I know of its exact location.”
Exchanging astronomical data as they got a snack and a drink, the two men discovered that their kingdoms were close together and their Sectors were really neighbors (which might say something about the Midshipman’s memory but probably said more about his tiredness). Indeed, Elder’s father shipped some luxury goods from Celtar to Krasgia. The two men spent over an hour talking together, sharing experiences of the Academy and their lives before the Academy, before Hartz declared that it was his bedtime, to which Elder ruefully admitted it was past the time he had expected to go to his own bed.
“Get to bed in the middle of the afternoon and sleep to just before you need to go to work is the best idea. The ship runs all day and all night the same so that is not a problem. If you are awake long before you go to work, then you work tired. Think of midnight as if it were eight in the morning and you’ll do fine.”
“That’s a good idea, but I’m still getting used to this shift and I’m tired out.”
“Then this is the proper time to start sleeping in the right cycle. If you start one schedule and go to another, you mess with your body and it takes longer to get used to the right schedule. I’ve got a meeting with a doctor early and have to sleep off schedule for today.”
Elder thought over what Hartz had said. “I’ll take your advice to heart then. Let us see, it is just after 1030 now, so if I went to sleep now and slept for eight hours, it would be about 1830 when I got up. Five hours before I report for duty. I do not think I can stay awake for another five hours; I think I will sit here and shoot for another two or three hours. Is there anything serious about the doctor’s appointment?”
“Naw, it’s just a routine check. Nevertheless, I cannot get it scheduled for a reasonable time to my shift. It is always like this just at the start of a voyage. There are always screw-ups to get some of us off on the wrong feet. Perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Perhaps. This looks like a nice wardroom, maybe I will come here often. Presuming I don’t find something else to occupy my time.”
As he left,, Hartz said, “Always find a hobby. Make friends outside your work, that way you don’t get stale and sour.”
Elder sat at the table for over an hour, missing Constance and deciding what hobbies to become active in. While taking the entrance examination aboard the JACOTOT he had not time for hobbies, except for the weekly poker game the cadets held. While at the Academy he had taken part in several, hobbies were encouraged there for the well-being of the cadets. Which hobbies would he want to continue? Poker was an obvious choice, everyone in the Navy liked poker according to the popular legend and Elder’s experience showed it was not too far off the mark in reality. However, he would need something physical as well as mental. Poker was good mental fun, but there was nothing physical about it. Finally, he decided to go back to a hobby he had not practiced since secondary levels, Benka.
Thinking about the sport reminded him of Hard-Luck. Gemma Neva Marian Irving, born Maria Chyka Rajah Stephen had been given the nickname Hard-Luck by her crewmates on the JACOTOT. This nickname came from all the accidents she had during that part of the entrance examination, starting with the time she had bounced between two active power lines like a Benka ball. It was a shame that she had been murdered while at the Academy by a rogue ISA agent. For slightly over two hours he mused along those and similar lines, before he realized he was falling asleep at the wardroom table. He left to get some sleep in his bunk, which was more comfortable than a wardroom chair.
Getting back to his quarters, Elder slipped in without waking anyone. Of the seven others, only four were in their bunks. Elder wondered for a second about his roommates before sliding into sleep. All eight junior officers assigned to the cabin were on the same shift, so why the odd sleeping patterns? Maybe someday he would have a chance to ask them.
Elder woke to the strain of the ship moving. Glancing at a clock, he saw that it was 1738, the BALKANS was leaving space dock. A Class G Dreadnought could not accelerate very fast in normal space, the BALKANS could still be clearing space dock an hour from now. Elder thought for a moment and decided that in fifty years he might be used to the noises of a ship just getting under way, but not now. He would get up and start hunting up a Benka court or a poker game.