Throughout the time Captain Mizutani was in charge the ship’s personnel complement changed as officers were transferred or promoted or both. Elder noticed that most of the senior officers who arrived were from Nihon or one of its colonies. This was strange because Elder knew that the Imperial Navy liked to have the crew of a ship, especially the senior officers, from many different Duchies in order to prevent serious incidents. Perhaps the Captain just felt more comfortable around people of his native culture, even after decades of service. However, he was so low in the chain-of-command that he just noted the fact as part of the background information that he was now collecting about the ship and its crew.
“Master Midshipman Elder, you are scheduled for promotion to Officer next week. Once we return to base, you will be transferred off ship. I am informing you now so that you have plenty of time to say your goodbyes to your friends and workmates”
“Thank you Lieutenant Montero.” What else was there for Elder to say?
“Don’t be too quick to offer your thanks Master Midshipman. There is a rumor going around that the BALKANS may be detached and sent to First Fleet for some special event. If the rumor is true, and I cannot figure it out either way, then you’ll get cut out of a promotion and it will be close to a year before we return to base.”
“Sir?” Elder was absolutely startled by that comment. He had heard no such rumor.
“Normally anyone assigned to First Fleet gains an automatic promotion upon reassignment but we won’t be assigned to First Fleet, we’ll stay in own own. In addition, the time it will take us to travel to the ceremony and back will be at least a year or more likely two. In addition, we will be running without communications, the entire time there. Therefore, your family will not know where you are or what you are doing until we have finished the ceremony unless the command at base tells them. Your transfer to the TOKYO may be cancelled because of the time spent with the ceremony. If so, your new assignment may be worse. On the other hand, it might be better, but given that the TOKYO is a good ship, that is unlikely. Dismissed Master Midshipman”
Elder saluted and left the office. It was his day off so he wandered around thinking over what the Lieutenant had said. It was while doing so that he ran into Sous-Lieutenant Palmer. Literally ran into him since his mind was on what Lieutenant Montero had said and Elder was paying no attention to his surroundings.
Palmer grabbed Elder to keep him from falling after the collision. “Slow down Elder. I knew you were around but couldn’t get out of your way in time. What has got you so tied up? All I can get out of you is confusion.”
Elder looked at Palmer and his mind snapped to a decision. “Let’s go somewhere more private. I have some questions for you sir.”
Sous-Lieutenant Palmer was surprised when Elder passed on two wardrooms and entered the third one the two came to. This one was empty. The two got a light snack and a beer and sat in the middle of the wardroom.
“OK Elder, push it out. You’re acting like a Cadet trying not to get caught sneaking into the Admiral’s personal mess-room.”
“Maybe I am doing just that, so to speak. Lieutenant Montero just informed me that I passed my probation and will get my promotion to Officer next week.”
“That isn’t what has me scared. He also said that the BALKANS is going to take part in a ceremony with First Fleet and will be under communications blackout until the ceremony. That makes no sense.”
Sous-Lieutenant Palmer leaned back and sipped his beer. Elder nibbled on his salami and mayo on marbled rye sandwich. Silence weighed heavily for several minutes.
“This is the first I’ve heard of such and if it was a secret I’d be the one handling the communications. I have a classmate at Fourth Fleet Headquarters so any secret communications between them and us goes through the two of us. I am being transferred to Task Force A Headquarters once we get back to base so that the chain of command is preserved and the levels between ship and fleet are not skipped. Eventually every ship and base will have a telepath once there are enough of us to go around. Hopefully more than one since the workload will be too great otherwise.”
“But something could have been sent by regular channels?”
“You’d know better than I with all your contacts in the various sections of Operations. However, if there is a communications blackout, then all communications would go through me and none has. The Captain seems to have forgotten I exist.”
“Well, can you find something out? Even if you cannot say anything because of secrecy, can’t you find something out?”
“Hang on a minute.” Sous-Lieutenant Palmer’s eyes went unfocused and he sat staring blankly at nothing. After several minutes, he sat up straight and looked around worriedly. “Those have to be the weirdest orders I have ever heard of.”
“When do you go back on duty?”
“Tomorrow night. Why?”
“Who is in charge of the shift?”
“Lieutenant Montero. Damn it, why?”
“Don’t cuss yet. Does the Ops Center have ship-wide communications?”
“No, not normally, there are just the connections with the various sections under our control and to the Bridge. Ship=wide communications would have to be an emergency. Why?”
“There are no orders to attend a ceremony with First Fleet. Whatever Captain Mizutani is up to, Fourth Fleet wants to talk with him. We may have to stage a mutiny on the orders of Fourth Fleet Headquarters.”