Once ready to face the new day, his new day since this was still the same ship’s day from when he went to bed, Elder checked out the facilities available as listed in the computer. Benka was a fad in the Empire now and had been for several years, there should be no trouble finding a court. Poker would be just finding a standing game in a wardroom. After searching the database, twice, Elder had to conclude that Benka was not available on the BALKANS. The courts must just take up too much space. Running through the sports available, Elder saw a couple listed that, once he looked up the rules, made him wonder. Two versions of something called “football” both of which took up a lot more space than Benka. Elder wondered what the difference between “American football” and “Association football” was and the ship had so much space allotted to them. Eight separate courts, called fields, for each but not one for Benka.
Looking at a schedule of events for each form of football, Elder saw that there was a presentation of an old game of each that he could watch as a preview so that he, or any other crew, could get an idea of the game. Alternatively, if already a fan, they could enjoy as a leisure activity. Elder decided to watch the American football game that had just started.
After the game, as he hurried to work, Elder pondered what he had seen. Why was it called football? No one used their feet except to run with the odd-shaped ball or, occasionally, kick the ball. Eleven players on a side seemed a bit much but Elder could see the necessary close teamwork required between those eleven players. The game was full of deception and counter-deception, teamwork and individual effort. He could understand why the Navy would encourage it as a sport. Tomorrow he would check out Association football and see what it was like.
If Elder had thought that he was busy the previous night, he cound himself far beyond that this night. Every section he covered was finding problems, lots of them. Problems that needed to be corrected and every section expected that he would give them the highest priority and immediate service. When his shift was over, Elder was frazzled and worn past what he thought he could be. Mitchell was not much better, he had been covering Elder and other stations much of the night while the operators had been trying to juggle explosive-filled eggs in a varying gravity field. At least, that was how Elder thought of the night. A call to Constance was out of the question since all circuits were secured for military use only, so Elder headed to the wardroom. Maybe someone could explain more about American football or Association football.
Halfway to the wardroom, “Elder, wait up.” It was Mitchell. He was alone.
As soon as Mitchell’s long legs caught up with Elder, “Welcome to Launching Blues. Every launch from space dock, it is the same thing. The first couple of shifts in Ops have a hell of a time correcting all the little problems left over from space dock. Let’s have a beer to celebrate surviving.”
“Fine with me sir. Maybe you can help me with a hobby I might get interested in. By the way, where are the others?”
“Appointments, every launch it takes a few days to get appointments settled to the crew members shifts. Which hobby?”
“I’ve only seen the American football so far. I was hunting up a Benka court and stumbled onto this football instead.” By this time, the two were inside the wardroom and heading for the dispensers.
“Welcome to the Navy. Benka is an individual’s sport. The entire sport is two players batting a ball between them. The only advantage to the Navy is the obstacles and the varying gravity field on the ball which might improve the individual’s co-ordination but that is it. It is a nice sport, it is catching on back home, but the Navy needs teams and teamwork. There are what, 15,000 Navy people assigned to the BALKANS plus the Marines? The Captain doesn’t need 15,000 individualists, he needs a team, 15,000 people working together. Therefore the Navy encourages sports that encourage teamwork, planning and so forth. If football had never been invented, the Navy would have some other similar sport.”
Once the two men were inside, Elder looked around for Hartz. He was not in sight.
“So, I guess poker is out as well?” In spite of his tiredness Elder remembered to drop the sir now that they were in the wardroom.
“Elder, little man, think Navy. Poker will always be a Navy hobby. Most people rebel against the team mentality that is pressed upon them. The Navy cannot stamp poker out and does not try. Chess in its various forms is another individualist’s sport that the Navy lets float by. You can find individualistic sport, don’t get me wrong on that; it’s just that wherever possible, the Navy goes for a team sport and limits the number of individualistic sports.”
As the two of them sat at an empty table with their beers, Elder asked, “And what sport would you recommend for me?’
Mitchell looked huffy. “Don’t start expecting me to run your life for you. You still have to have individual initiative and personal integrity and all that. Command decisions don’t, or at leas shouldn’t, extend to your personal life.”
Sung by the comment, Elder replied, “No, I just wanted your advice.”
“Sorry, new Graduated Cadets often look to those senior to them, and officer is senior to them, even ones like me, to tell them what to do.” Mitchell paused long enough to look off into the far distance. “Sports for you. I presume you have normal hand-eye co-ordination, so it is only your physical size that would keep you from either form of football. Unless you are good at what they call punting in American football or maybe placekicking, which I used to do. Did you pay attention to the size of the players when you watched the game yesterday?” Elder shook his head. “Linemen are big enough for Concar, at least they try for that big. Big and fast, that is the ideal for a lineman, you may be fast but big you are not. Sheer mass is against you. Most offensive backs have to be strong and large, just not as large as the linemen are, they are tall more than huge, and fast. The quarterbacks have to be big enough to see over or around all the other big men on the field but quickness of thought and throwing ability are the big requirements there. The linemen on the ends of the line, since they can receive passes, are more like backs than the other linemen, but you have your shortness going against you there also. In addition, the defensive players are much alike; linemen big and fast, linebackers not as big but fast, and the four backfield players fast and strong. Therefore, unless you can kick a ball high and far, with accuracy, I do not think you could be a player in American football. You might be able to help on the sidelines; drafting plays and so forth, but that is a lot like normal work, so you may not want that. You might try for one of the positions as an official, making sure everyone follows the rules. That is what I am doing now, I am a Line Judge. Association football won’t require as much size on the part of the players, watch a game or two and see if you like it. That you might fit in better with, but even there your size might be a problem. The other players have to be able to see you easily. However, since the field is so large, larger than the American football field, and there are fewer players per team, it is easier to see the other players. Other sports, those you probably know about. Football, the two forms, are the only strange sports in the Navy.”
Elder saw Hartz walking over to the table with a beer in hand. He pulled out a chair for the Marine. “But why weren’t these football sports available in the Academy? If the Navy is so much in favor of them, why not teach them at the Academy?”
“That I can’t tell you. Hello there, do you know Elder? I presume so since he pulled out the chair for you. I’m Mitchell, from Operations.”
“I’m Hartz from the Marines. Third Battalion, Company D, Second Platoon, training to become a Platoon Leader. I met Elder yesterday and thought I’d let him know that my doctor’s appointment went well since he was interested.”
“You must be from Celtar, I recognize the accent.”
“Right ya are. Born and bred Celtar. I am the first one in my family to pass the full exam. Right proud my family are and my wife is home now strutting high and mighty over those in the family and neighborhood who strutted over her before.”
“Sounds like fun, speaking as one who strutted over others back home. I had that knocked out of me at the Academy. More luck to your wife.”
“And your wife?”
“I’ll get my wife when I return home. I do not know who she is yet, and will not until the wedding, but I need not worry about her. My father will pick out someone who can take the hair pulling. Probably a second or third cousin, have to keep the gene pool close. I can’t have my children all hairy and un-Mitchell.”
“Ah, you must be one of the Irvel Mitchells. I had guessed as much from the hair, but was not positive. I knew one of your relatives, Eoghan.”
“Eoghan? You knew him? Elder, you have brought me a treat. Eoghan was the cousin I was closest to when I was a kid. Three years older than me, but we were always close. Where did you know him Hartz?”
“We met at the Academy, We were in the same quarters for a few months after I got there and just before he graduated.”
“Do you keep in touch?”
“I haven’t heard from him in at least a year. I lost where he was assigned when I left the Academy and he never knew where I went.”
“I’ll pass on that you’re here. He is at Logistics Base C-453, supporting Task Force E, Forth Fleet. He’s made Officer now, got commissioned about two months ago.”
“He’s trying for a career?”
“He always was a bit of a fool. He should head home. He’s not going to live long enough to make a good career.”
“Huh? Not live long enough for a career? Mitchell, what are you talking about?” Elder let the questions slip even though he had been quietly listening to the conversation as befitted one of his lowly rank.
“Elder, remember I told you Irvel has only been in the Empire a couple of generations? We,, we do not live as long as normal Imperial subjects do. My grandchildren might, by then our genetics will have caught up, but I expect that I will live only about sixty years, maybe more since some people live to about a hundred or so. However, living that long is rare. You have a lifespan of, what, a hundred and thirty or so? We still have all the bad genes in our gene pool. We don’t live as long as most people during the UN period on Earth. You benefit from all the genetic engineering from before the Empire and we lost a lot of advanced knowledge. When the Empire found us, my great-grandfather was using radio to rule the planet. We had no Jump Drive, no Repellors, no Maneuver Drive; all our space ships were rockets. We had just returned to space about three years before the Empire found us. Elder, you have to remember that not everyone has been in the Empire for the entire one hundred seventy four Imperial years of its existence.”
“But you could stay in the Navy for thirty or forty years or so.”
“But my faculties would be going downhill massively by then, even if I was still able to perform any duties. Remember, that much service, and I start at twenty, I would be reaching the end of my expected life span. You would still be a young man, or at worst middle-aged, physically and mentally, then I’d be old, almost ancient.”
“I take your point. How many of the generation that was alive when the Empire found you are still alive?”
“Maybe a tenth, if that many. Mostly those who were children at the time. There is still a lot of resentment over our being forced into the Empire among the older people. My generation grew up with the Empire and we do not resent it as much. A full division of Marines being stationed on planet tends to quell resentment.”
“A full division? Still? After two generations? That seems odd.”
Hartz broke in, “It’s not odd. The Empire does not want a rebellion on planets newly to the Empire. It is cheaper to station the Marines there than ship them in if fighting starts. In addition, the Marines are an advertisement for the Empire. There is nothing better than a group of well-behaved Marines to get people to like the Empire.”
Mitchell rolled his eyes at the comment from Hartz. Trust a Marine, even a Midshipman who could only have been a Marine for a year or so, to be enthusiastic about Marines as diplomats.
“When I left home, we not only had a full division of Marines, but large contingents of heralds, doctors, lawyers, and all sorts of Imperial bureaucrats swarming over our planet. We were getting the crash course, and had been for decades, in how to be Imperial citizens. Since so many of us passed the Naval Entrance Examination when it was first administered, I wonder if the standards were lowered to let us in and use us as further indoctrination tools.”
Elder started at that comment, almost spilling his beer. “Lower the standards? I hope not. I had to work hard to get where I am, and I hope you did not get a slide to here just because of where you were born. Even royalty has to meet the same standards as us commoners, why shouldn’t new planets?”
“I can’t prove that my people weren’t held to the same standards as everyone else. However, historically in the Empire, about one in a thousand passed the preliminary two parts of the exam and about half of those fail the third part. By that token, for the first time we were tested, about two hundred and fifty people should have gone past the first two stages, six hundred did. Of those six hundred about three hundred should have made it to the Academy and four hundred and ten did. Four years at the Academy should have whittled the four hundred ten down to somewhere around one hundred fifty to maybe one hundred seventy-five or so; two hundred seventy five made it through. That class was one of the largest graduating class in recent history. And all the other large classes that I know of had large groups of new Imperial subjects as well.”
“But, that’s insulting.” Elder took a large gulp of his beer to keep from getting angrier; he had to remember it was not Mitchell’s fault.
“To whom? You? Well, probably, I would grant you that. Us? Maybe, but that I am not so sure of. Remember, anyone in the Imperial Navy, Marines, or other Imperial agency does not count against planetary population limits. When Irvel came into the Empire, our population was just over four billion. With Imperial technology, we have expanded to some other, nearby, systems, establishing new colonies of our own, plus the expansion we have done in our own system. With the thousands entering the Navy, Imperial Police, and so forth, we lost a lot of family material, many of those people will not have their children on Irvel, or with someone from Irvel. The last I heard from home was that the population was just under two and a quarter billion on our home planet. Seven other duchies have been established nearby, and there is talk of sending a dozen more colony ships where the Empire is expanding. Ten years from now, Irvel will have a stable population of about one billion. That is what the Empire is shooting for.”
“But why lower the standards for entry into the Navy? Mitchell, why risk it? The Navy is too important to the survival of the Empire.”
“Elder, I don’t know. However, think about it, two hundred officers in a Navy of a few hundred million might be a risk the Empire is willing to take for peace. Moreover, in about three hundred years of Imperial and Pre-Imperial exploring, there has never been an alien race discovered. Every time someone has been discovered, it has been either a Lost Colony like us or a bunch of descendants of someone who rebelled against the Empire years ago and fled when they lost. None of the people discovered have had a chance against the Empire. Some bureaucrat may think our lives are worth the stability.”
Ticking the possibilities off on his fingers as he spoke, Hartz said, “The Second Fleet has not discovered any aliens, maybe there are none. If that is so, then the risk to the Empire is so small that it is worth it. If there are aliens, they may be peaceful; they may be less advanced than we are; or they be just as advanced or even more and may not or may be willing to fight the Empire. It is only the last possibility that threatens the Empire. Somebody might have done a study that proves that possibility is not to be worried about.”
“How could someone prove something for which there is no data? Hartz, that doesn’t make sense, even I can tell that.” Elder got up and went for another beer. He did not want to see the look on Hartz’s face after making that comment.
Hartz raised his voice a bit. “Ah, but do we know that there is no facts to base such a study on? How can you tell that there are no facts? We are just lowly officers that have not even been commissioned yet. Maybe there’s a pile of data that we just do not know about.”
“Give it up Hartz, you’re pushing your straws here. Elder’s right, there is no way to prove it either way or it is more likely that there is no data like what you’re talking about. Irvel is learning a lot about the universe, all that data that the Empire has is being combed through so we can catch up and be normal Imperial subjects. The kind of data you are talking about would be easily spotted. Moreover, I cannot see why the Empire would classify such data, if it existed. Proving that there is no danger from aliens would be a welcome relief to the subjects.”
“And to the taxpayers? Would the taxpayers pay for all the ships in the big Navy if there was no threat from aliens?”
Mitchell stared at Hartz, his jaw barely agape. Elder hurried back to the table with his beer.
“Hartz, you have just hit on something I have never thought about in the six years I’ve been in the Navy, ever since I entered the Academy. I don’t doubt that your idea is something that would never be brought up at the Academy, and as a Senior Midshipman I haven’t reached the point where the Navy would explain anything like that to me, but how did you ever come up with that idea?”
“I studied economics in my secondary levels. I know the tax structure of the Empire. I know that the Empire has a budget of thousands of Royals, if not millions. The money has to come from the taxpayers, either direct or indirect.”
It was then that the alert happened.
“Battle Stations. All hands to Battle Stations. This is not a drill.” As normal, the alert was repeated twice more.