Actia was the first stop on this voyage and as the BALKANS settled into orbit, Elder wondered if the Caverns of Kreshtel were open now. He did want to see them since he could not the last time they were here. He did, however, study up a bit on the history of the planet. It was a bit bloodier than Ranger First Class Patton had suggested. Yes, most of the colonists were dedicated pacifists, but that only put them at the mercy of the ruthless elements of their society. There never seemed to be the crucial element that believed in peace but was willing to fight. Therefore, people gravitated to the two extremes and as always when such a society existed, fought. Most of the time in their history, between the pacifists and the violent groups the fighting was in words, the real warfare was between the different violent groups. The pacifists came into their own only when the Empire imposed peace and drew off a large part of the violent segments for its own purposes. It was only then that the pacifist element was able to take control of the parts of government they wanted and began to glorify their role in the history of the planet. However, that was not Elder’s worry, it was the Duke’s or maybe the King’s Elder was young and wanted to see the sights.
None of his friends went with him this shore leave; all were on different shore leave shifts and he was taking a couple of extra leave days. So, Elder, now armed with accurate information about the various sights and their operating hours, went off to play tourist. He did not expect another terrorist attack; after all, he believed that terrorist attacks were rare. The Caverns of Kreshtel were beautiful and he spent four hours meandering through the various sections, gazing at the formations of rock and crystal. He even fancied he saw some raw gemstones hidden away in a few sections. Not that he was a gemologist to be sure, but he liked his belief.
Spending his night at a hotel in the Point Leopard Ducal Park, Elder spent the next day seeing the wonderful waterfalls and beautiful rock formations that were the most famous of their sort in the Sector. Sad he was when his leave was over and he began heading back to the spaceport.
It was while the shuttle plane was over Oakley that it happened.
The explosion was loud, it had to be near where Elder was sitting. Since he was in uniform, he had been given first-class seating, so the explosion had to be near the front of the plane.
Elder looked around, seeking signs of what had happened. He saw no debris, and as far as he could see, the hull of the plane was intact, so he decided that the explosion was either inside the cockpit, or outside the plane.
The plane was still flying, and still more-or-less in controlled flight, so Elder decided that the explosion was outside the plane and not in the cockpit. It was probably a surface-to-air missile Elder decided.
The pilot was struggling to keep the plane in the air, a foolish act Elder thought. The pilot should get to the ground as fast as possible and prevent the plane from going out of control. Then Elder saw out of the window that the plane was over an inhabited area and remembered they were over the town of Oakley. No wonder the pilot was struggling, he was trying to make it to an area where no one else would be in danger.
Elder would have approved if this was a military flight, but the civilians aboard were just as important as the civilians on the ground.
Besides, he was aboard. However, Elder quickly quashed that thought.
The pilot of the plane struggled to keep control and prevent the plane from crashing into the inhabited area below. He made it, but at the cost of a vicious landing. Several people died, both in the plane and on the ground – mostly people who were unable to get out of the way as the plane crashed on a highway. Elder’s face and body were covered in a host of scratches and bruises from the barely controlled crash.
The woman next to him was unconscious. Elder undid her seat straps and quickly checked her over for serious wounds.. None showed up in his hurried examination. Picking her up and easing her out of the row of seats, Elder started towards the nearest exit His feet bumped into something on the floor.
A child lay on the floor, Elder remembered seeing her running up and down the aisle shortly after take-off and bothering several other passengers with questions. She must not have been in her seat when the crash occurred. Both of Elder’s hands were full with the woman, but he did not have time to go out and come back for the child. Setting the woman on a seat handle, he maneuvered her onto his back with her arms draped over his shoulders. Using his left hand under her rear to hold her in place, he reached down with his right hand and grabbed the child around the waist. He did not have any more time, he could smell smoke.
Getting the two civilians out of the plane and onto solid ground was harder than Elder had expected. He had to lean forward to keep the woman on his back and the child .was heavier than he had expected. Going down the inflated chute would be hard, but Elder decided that he would shove the two civilians down and follow them. Some of the plane’s crew were waiting at the bottom. It had been longer than he had thought, perhaps he had been unconscious for a short while.
Shoving the two down the slide, Elder started to make a sweep of the plane. He stopped when one of the stewards came from the dark interior. Elder could now see smoke rising from the floor just behind the cockpit.
“There’s no one left inside Midshipman, get on the ground.” Elder recognized the voice of command and did as she ordered. Emergency vehicle sirens were audible coming towards the crash site
Once on the ground, Elder refused treatment until he was sure that the civilians were all OK. Helping where he could with broken bones or placing bandages, Elder worked diligently using his military first aid training. Finally, one of the paramedics stopped him and began treating him.
“That you Midshipman, I’m sure your help has been most useful. It’s a good thing that all Imperial Naval personnel get training in emergency procedures.” The Emergency Medical Technician who relieved Elder checked his work and, nodding in approval, started to move on to another casualty. She was a perfect professional, in spite of her beauty queen looks.
“Thank you EMT Suileabhain.” Elder followed in case he could help. Naval personnel were qualified in emergency procedures almost to the level of paramedic in the Academy. “The pilot did a great job getting the plane away from Oakley”
“And it’s a good thing too, Midshipman. If he hadn’t missed Oakley the death toll might have been a couple hundred times what it is.”
“Huh? Excuse me, EMT Suileabhain, but I checked the almanac before shore leave and it said Oakley was a small town”
“Normally yes Midshipman.” She flashed a quick smile and set a broken arm without Elder’s help “However, Oakley is hosting the Froissart Festival and the visitors are probably eight or nine times the normal population. Worst case could have the plane hitting the Festival itself and killing thousands.” Taping the arm with a splint, she moved off to another casualty.
Elder stood there, stunned at the thought of someone trying to kill thousands of people who were probably complete strangers. He knew who Jean Froissart was since Pre-Imperial history fascinated him, and he expected that the Festival was a celebration of poetry and other arts. What possible political statement could be made by dropping a plane on such a festival? The people responsible, and it had to be more than one since one person could not get a SAM without help, had to be crazy.
It was not until most of the wounded were taken away in ambulances and the dead in hearses that Elder decided to leave. His wounds, scratches and bruises, were not serious and since he could get them looked at aboard ship, the Imperial Health Service workers were glad to shuck off the responsibility for him. He was given a lift back to the spaceport where a shuttle could get him back to the BALKANS.
“Midshipman, you are three hours late. However, the Captain has heard of the terrorist attack on the plane you were on, and of your staying to help with the emergency crews. He granted you an extension of your shore leave. You are scheduled for an Incident Review tomorrow afternoon, but the Captain wants to see you now. You are to report immediately.” The Marine Sergeant growled at Elder as he approached. Elder knew the Marine by sight and knew that he growled everything he said, so he too no offense.
So, once again Elder made his way to the Captain’s Office. Snapping his best salute, Elder reported in as he wondered how the Captain had such a crisp and clean uniform. Elder’s uniform was rumpled after every shift. He didn’t know, of course, that Captain Mizutani kept several uniforms immediately available and changed often so that he always looked fresh, even after being up and on duty for over a day
After returning the salute and ordering Elder to be at ease, Captain Mizutani said, “Midshipman Elder, you were involved in a terrorist incident yesterday evening, correct?” The Captain’s voice was unruffled and perfectly matter-of-fact.
Since it was after midnight ship’s time, it was true that the incident was last evening. Elder wondered if the Captain ever slept.
“Yes Captain. I was on shore leave and…”
“I’ll ask the questions concerning what I want to know Midshipman Elder. Save the full discussion for later, when you meet the Incident Review Board. Why had you gone to the Point Leopard Ducal Park?”
“Sir, I went there because there are some interesting rock formations that I had read about when I reviewed the data on the planet.”
“And the same reason for your visit to the Caverns of Kreshtel Midshipman?”.
“Yes sir. I had wanted to visit the Caverns on our last visit to the planet and was unable to do so then, so I took the opportunity this time.”
“I saw no indication that you were interested in such in your personnel files Midshipman. Is this just a passing fancy?”
“Not really sir. You see, I don’t want to visit all these planets and just visit whatever is at the spaceport. I want to be able to remember something unique about each planet so that later in life I have real memories, not just spaceport blurs. After all Captain, all spaceports are exactly the same.”
Captain Mizutani looked at the Midshipman standing at ease rigidly in front of him and smiled. Elder, not being sure of what that meant, began to worry. “Midshipman Elder, pending your attendance at the review board, you are relieved of duty. This is not a censure of you, it is merely to ensure that you will be available. Although you are not confined to quarters, please remain available until dismissed from the review board. Go get some sleep, you need it I’m sure.”
Elder snapped to attention and gave a salute which the Captain returned with a quick “Dismissed.” Elder marched out of the Captain’s Office as best he could. He barely made it to bed before falling asleep. He did not even pay attention to the picture of Constance.
The Medical Section repaired his minor injuries without problem the next morning. The Review Board went through the motions quickly. The board had the information from the various civilian agencies before them and listened to Elder’s report with scant attention. Elder was commended for his attention to duty and his efforts to help in an emergency. He was returned to duty without any hindrance.