Returning to the planet, he soon found a museum and immersed himself in the history of Irvel. It was much like Mitchell had said, King Mitchell Elder reminded himself, but Elder found the problems associated with trying to run a planet without modern aids fascinating. Even with all the advantages of modern technology, it was not much better. Elder remembered his father’s complaints about trying to deal with the various layers of the nobility while running his import business. Granted the local Count was easy to work with, but since Father’s company dealt off-planet, and even out of Sector, he had to deal with the Earl and Duke, and sometimes with the King. Elder decided that nobility and the Navy had something in common. The quality of personnel was variable. However, the Navy had the ability to rid itself of the bad ones. Nobility was for life unless the Emperor decided to remove someone, which Elder thought had not happened yet in the history of the Empire.
Once back aboard the BALKANS with shore leave over, Elder busied himself with the various minor details that were assigned him as the lowest ranking officer I his department. Fifteen new Graduated Cadets reached the BALKANS while at Irvel, along with over five hundred other officers and enlisted crew, Elder knew a few of the cadets from the Academy, but none were in the Operations Department. It was only after the BALKANS left Irvel that they were returning to base for major personnel changes.
The journey back to base was without incident, or rather without calamitous event. There were all sorts of event, some of which involved Elder, but nothing that raised itself above the level of normal operations. The next calamity occurred as the BALKANS entered orbit above base.
Elder was on duty and looking forward to his scheduled three months shore duty while the BALKANS refitted. Most of what he was presently doing was recording work that the base crews would do while the BALKANS crew was on shore duty. Every individual in the section he watched over was determined to report every possible problem so that the base crew would repair it, leaving less work for the ship’s crew when they returned. Of course, the base crews knew this and left a great deal of the work undone as a result.
Elder heard the explosion through the security helmet, which meant it was very close or very large, or both. He glanced in the direction he thought the sound had come from and saw a lot of smoke. Cussing through the open microphone for a moment, he responded to the questions from the crew at the other end and the alert got out.
Two men in Marine uniforms were shooting blasters and throwing grenades all throughout the Operations Center. Elder could see several bodies, then realization kicked in and he pulled off his helmet and ducked for cover. Those two had to be suicidal; there was no possible way they could escape after this, it was half a kilometer to the nearest airlock and none of the escape pods would work unless the bridge or Operations unlocked them.
Elder took a sneak look and saw one of the two just a few meters from him and the mutineer had his back to Elder. Without thinking, training took over and Elder rushed the man, hitting him square in the back. It was a trap, the other man took a shot at Elder and he felt the pain of the blaster bolt hitting his left shoulder. Luckily it was not a good hit and Elder was still able to act.
Knocking the mutineer down with his momentum, Elder grabbed the blaster from the man’s holster and shot him in the head. It was mean but quick and quick was necessary to save Elder’s life. One person he had a chance against, but against two he had no hope. Hartz, with his more specialized Marine training, might stand a chance against multiple opponents but Elder was going to be lucky to stand against just one Marine.
Staying low, Elder darted of to his left. A blaster shot behind him showed he had made the right choice. Most people would have gone to their right and that was what the other person had expected. Just as he got behind a computer console, Elder turned and darted back the way he had come, taking a blind shot at where he thought his opponent was. He heard nothing from the other so he presumed he had missed.
y now, alarms were going off throughout Operations. Elder had to ignore the noise and outguess a trained fighter.; at least long enough for help to arrive. A grenade went off just to his left; a console shielded him from the direct blast. Since he had not seen any motion, the grenade had to have come from only one direction, However, the mutineer could be anywhere along that line, and probably had moved since throwing the grenade. Elder decided to stay where he was.
Using the console as a cover for his back, he swiveled his head looking for any sign of movement. Where were the Marines? Someone should have arrived by now, how was he supposed to survive without help?
Another, strange sounding, grenade explosion went off. Indeed, it was strange enough that it took Elder several seconds to realize it was a grenade. The sound was off to Elder’s right and just a few feet away. Against the possibility that it was a trap, Elder decided to investigate. While crawling in that direction with every sense at full alert, Elder heard running feet. Thudding running feet, unlike the sound normal uniform boots made. Elder eased his head up and saw a Marine in the Combat Suit dashing into the ruined doorway of the Operations Center. Help had arrived.
“There’s one mutineer left!” Elder yelled, “I don’t know where he is! I am disarming! I am Graduated Cadet Elder! This is my duty station!” With that Elder slid his blaster out into the open.
Within a second or two a combat-suited Marine was standing in front of Elder with a blaster rifle pointed straight at him. Elder desperately tried to remember his training about relaxing since if he panicked, he was dead.
Spending the night in the brig was perhaps preferable to being dead and Elder could understand why he was suspected of being part of the mutiny, but he did not really like it. At least he had received medical help for his blaster wound. The brig cell was just three meters by two meters. The bed, the chair, and the table folded into the cell wall when not in use, the single light was centered in the ceiling and the computer terminal was limited in what it could do. Small as he was, Elder felt cramped. Someone from Concar would not fit in here. Elder spent some time before sleeping thinking about Sloan, his friend from Concar during the entrance examination, now working at Fifth Fleet Headquarters. Would he ever see Sloan again? The Imperial Navy was huge, and it covered billions of cubic parsecs, unless something strange happened, the odds were too great against a personal meeting, and letters would have to do.
The next morning was Elder’s third meeting with the Captain. This time there were three other people present, all in dress uniform. Elder felt smaller than usual being in his duty uniform, then he realized that the uniforms were a deliberate effort to produce that exact feeling. He was following along that chain of thought when the Captain’s loud voice brought his attention back to the present.
“Graduated Cadet Elder, do you understand the nature of these proceedings?”
“Yes Captain, these proceedings are to determine the exact order of events which took place yesterday at about 0530 ship’s time.”
“And during the examination of those events I expect that your part in those events will become clear Graduated Cadet. Depending upon how this hearing finds, you will receive either a commendation or a court-martial. With that in mind, do you wish legal representation?”
Elder thought quickly. Not asking for a lawyer might show confidence in his innocence but would probably expose him to the tricks of the legalities of this hearing. Asking for one might seem guilty, but would probably protect him better during the hearing. Elder made his decision quick enough so that it seemed he had thought this through the night before, before he had learned of the hearing. “I wish a lawyer present sir since I am not familiar with the rules of this hearing.”
Captain Quinn nodded, with just a hint of a smile on his face. “Very well Graduated Cadet, since we are in orbit at our base, do you wish the hearing aboard the I.N.S. BALKANS or at the base?”
That was another aspect Elder had not expected. “Which would be quickest sir?”
That got a raised eyebrow from the Captain. “Quickest? Why do you want the quickest hearing Graduated Cadet?”
“Sir, I can see no reason to delay this hearing other than the need for me to have counsel.”
“One of the lawyers aboard the I.N.S. BALKANS can be ready within half an hour and with reasonable time for consulting with your lawyer, I believe holding the hearing aboard the I.N.S. BALKANS would result in the quickest hearing and probably the quickest resolution of this incident.”
“Very well Captain, I request that the hearing be held aboard the I.N.S. BALKANS.” Elder had almost said aboard ship but with the Captain being so formal about the ship’s name, Elder decided to follow along. No need to annoy the Captain.