Dreanought Chapter 18

“Ensign Palmer? What are you doing here?” Elder bumped into the Special Communicator as he was entering the wardroom, and the Ensign was leaving. A slight crowd forced them into each other.

“Ah, Midshipman Elder, I thought I felt you aboard. The Navy decided that I needed some experience in space so that I could understand what someone was saying from a ship” Ensign Palmer moved back into the wardroom “Getting a meal?”

“Yes sir, I just got off duty and came in for a dinner and a post-duty beer.”

“I’ll join you Midshipman. I was just heading out to explore the ship, this thing is huge!”

Elder, who still had not gotten familiar with all the ship smiled. “Welcome to a Mountain Range Class Dreadnought Ensign. This is my second voyage, and I still haven’t seen everything.” Elder ordered dinner, with a beer as a relaxer, and sat at an empty table. “You said you thought you felt me. I bet you were looking for me, right?”

“You’re smart Elder. Yes, you and two others are the only ones I know well enough to get an idea if you are present or not. I can usually see a familiar mind. There doesn’t seem to be any relationship with distance and how well I know the person, you are just as strong as the others and I know them a lot better Midshipman.”

“Can this feeling of yours home in on me sir?”

“Kind of, which is another reason why the Navy is so interested Midshipman. In a disaster, a telepath might be able to find trapped crew. Of course, I could only find someone I knew well enough to feel, but it might be a help. The Imperial Police and the ISA are interested for the same basic reason. Finding someone. But, there again, the limit is how well the telepath knows the person.”

“So, how well were you able to find me sir?”

“Poorly. This wardroom must be a favorite of yours, I feel your presence here. I also know where you work and where your quarters are. However, I usually end up just missing you Midshipman. What is your connection with the Drenthar courts?”

“I play sir. My team practiced yesterday.”

“That explains it Midshipman. You feel very strong there. You must like it a lot. What position do you play?”

“I love it. There my size is an advantage. And, I play Left Forward Wing sir.”

“Not Striker? I would have expected you to be a Striker Midshipman.”

“No sir, there’s already a very good Striker, Yamaguchi, on the team and I play Forward Wing quite well. He and I make a good pair. Other teams have a hard time handling us.”

“Ah, you have a good team. No wonder you love it Midshipman.”

“You know sir, that could explain it. However, when I play poker, I usually lose, but I love it just as much. How do you explain that?”

“Poker is, well, poker. I have heard of people who drop as much as  Crown at a time and still play. I love it as well Midshipman, but I am in a bad situation. If I play long enough with someone to learn the ‘tells’ then I can see their mind and if I constantly play with new people, I can never have any confidence in my play. So, I play through the computer when I play people, which slows my learning them, or against computer opponents.”

“I remember you said that it takes time to get this feeling for someone. Couldn’t you play for a while, stay away from that person for a while and go back later to them? That way you could, why are you shaking you head sir?”

“Sorry Midshipman. You cannot know, almost no one does. The effect is permanent. Every minute I’m with someone counts toward the point where I get the feeling for them and once I’ve got it, I’ve got it forever. The researchers on this say that it’s as if my exposure to someone is like chipping away at a wall and no one knows how to repair the wall.”

“Doesn’t this drive you crazy sir?”

“What, knowing where people are? Being able to listen to people think? No Midshipman, at least not yet. Remember, I do not have to do it. I can let the thoughts and impressions of people flow over me and not really touch me.. Kind of like a conversation being held near you, if you pay attention you can tell it’s there and maybe catch some of it, but if you ignore it you can’t tell it’s there. Maybe after another fifty years or so, it might overwhelm me, I do not know. Telepathy has been around, at least proven to be around, for only twenty years or so. And so far, those few of us who have it haven’t had any real problems.” Then, continuing on more morosely, “At least not from the telepathy itself.”

Elder caught on right away. “So people without telepathy are always afraid of you sir?”

“Just a few Midshipman, but it seems that the few are making trouble beyond their numbers. The Empire has always supported telepathy, probably because we represent a way to communicate over interstellar distances faster than a ship. Not that I look forward to the day when bureaucrats on Earth can send messages to the farthest reaches of the Empire with ease, although it might be nice to send family messages. Think about it. Ease of communication has always been an instrument of oppression. If it takes a year for a message to get from a planet to the Emperor’s administration and a year for the reply to return, just in travel time, then the amount of control over that planet is not as tight as if the bureaucrat just has to pick up a telephone and demand a report. Local leaders can respond to local conditions without having to worry about some bureaucrat thinking he can do better and therefore throwing his weight around. You’re from where, Krasgia?” At Elder’s nod he continued. “Have you ever noticed that the Duke closely oversees the actions of all the Earls and Counts who have parts of the planet? In addition, if the King happens to have his capital on Krasgia, you can bet that he watches the Duke as well. The better the communications, the more often the higher levels of government interfere with the lower levels of government.”

“Oh come on now Ensign, are you saying that we shouldn’t have communications beyond shouting at people?”

“No Midshipman, what I’m saying is that you have to accept the bad with the good and I am not saying that government is bad. Just that it can be. Think about it. Of all the kingdoms, duchies, earldoms, and counties in the Empire, can you say that all of them are governed well? Aren’t there bad kings, dukes, earls and counts now and in the past? And yes, there have been bad emperors, at least bad emperors as compared to some of them. I think we have been lucky and we have not had a really bad emperor yet. Nevertheless, government by inheritance is a bad concept, but I have never seen a better one. Democracy has always failed because the government takes control of the education system and teaches people to let the government do it and because it becomes so easy to use tax money to buy votes. In the Empire, when some level of government instigates a project it is not to buy votes. In a democracy, government projects have vote buying as a major factor. And good communications makes it easier for any government, good or bad, to slip along the path to being bad.”

“And what do you think about dictatorships sir?”

“Well Midshipman, I’ve never heard of a dictatorship that didn’t rule by force, a lot of force. Although all governments rule by force, I guess. My guess is that a dictator has to keep the population in check and that means force and oppression. Moreover, dictators never believe that the laws apply to them. Therefore, they operate on whim. Anyone who wants to oppose them has no protection and the dictator can apply whatever sanctions against that person that the dictator wants.”

“You’ve really thought this through haven’t you sir?”

“History has always interested me Midshipman. Moreover, history usually means how people are ruled. If we lived in a democracy I might run for office, but there my telepathy would work against me. A lot of people don’t trust telepaths.”

“So instead, you became a communications officer sir.”

“I didn’t have any choice there Midshipman. Once the Empire learned of my telepathy, I lost all choices and had my future selected for me. I did not take the entrance examination, I was sent direct tot eh Academy and I probably could not flunk out. I did not try to test that, I found the courses too interesting, but I know that I sailed through my probationary period without any risk of being dumped out. My Captain told me that when I was promoted to Officer. And I will stay in until I retire, I cannot resign.”

“Really conscripted huh? Much more than those of us who were forced to take the entrance examination and resented the fact sir.”

“Yep. I may never make it to Grand Admiral, or even Flag Rank, but I am guaranteed a full career short of committing a major crime. I could resent it Midshipman, but I find the work interesting.”

The general intercom blared just then. “Ensign Palmer, Ensign Palmer. Report to your duty station. Report to your duty station. On the double Ensign.”

“Whoops Here is pone of the downsides of my duty Midshipman. I am pretty much always on duty. Whatever it is, it cannot be an incoming message. I get those wherever I am, even asleep. Someone must have an outgoing message.” And off he went, hurrying out of the wardroom.

Elder sat nursing his beer, his dinner finished, thinking of the questions he should have been asking Ensign Palmer. Elder had never met Palmer’s family, so he wondered if telepathy was inheritable. Twenty years Ensign Palmer had said it had been around, time enough to at least start learning if it was genetic. However, if not, what could it be? In addition,  were did it start? Elder decided to investigate the matter. He should have started at the base, but he had too many other matters to occupy his mind then. For the next hour, Elder sat dreaming of Constance.


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