Jut then, several Marines burst into the wardroom shouting something that Elder did not understand but thought was the two words Okami and Banjou. The Marines were firing as they entered the wardroom, and Elder ran from them. Sous-Lieutenant Palmer was the initial target of the weapons fire, which allowed Elder to escape. Elder knew he was going to be a target since he had seen too much. Where to hide? No, where to go to prevent a rogue captain from using his ship to commit treason and condemn thousands of innocent – and loyal – men and women to a traitor’s death?
Carefully walking along as he thought these thoughts, Elder noticed that he was passing the Main Operations Center. He had not worked here for two years now, his work had been in one of the dozens of Auxiliary Operations Centers. It was still First Shift, it was only about 14oo hours, Elder knew the Officer-in-Charge from conveying messages and orders of a secret nature to him. Lieutenant Captain Tomalo would recognize him and listen to him.
Once inside the Operations Center, Elder marched up to Lieutenant Captain Tomalo sitting in his office and saluted. Luckily Elder was still in his uniform, indeed he did not even have any civilian clothes aboard except his sports uniforms.
Lieutenant Captain Tomalo finished what he was doing and acknowledged Elder’s salute. “What is it Master Midshipman Elder?”
“Sir, orders from Fourth Fleet by way of Sous-Lieutenant Palmer, Special Communications. Order Number 4-178-EMOR-9317. Fourth Fleet suspects Captain Mizutani is committing treason and has ordered INS BALKANS G00134C-0021 to stand down and await boarding teams from the INS ALPS G_00134C-0018 and from the INS ANDES G00134C-0027. Captain Mizutani and all command offices are relieved of command pending a message torpedo from Fourth Fleet.”
“Where is Sous-Lieutenant Palmer? Why didn’t he bring me these orders himself?”
“He is dead sir. I was with him when he received the orders and immediately afterwards several Marines in Combat Armor killed him. I believe, but do not know for sure, that he had already passed the orders on to people he knew on the other ships in our Section.”
“That is easily checked on.” Lieutenant Captain Tomalo asked his Communications Petty Officer to contact the Operations Officer on the ANDES, :Lieutenant Captain Hertenstein.
After a moment, one during which Elder began sweating in fear, the message came to Lieutenant Captain Tomalo that all communications were blocked as the BALKANS was operating under communications silence by order of the Captain.
“Maser Midshipman Elder, did Sous-Lieutenant Palmer have time to give you any Authenticating Codes contained in the orders from Fourth Fleet?”
“No sir, not that I know of. The only thing he said that might have been an Authenticating Code was that it was a cut and dried matter.”
That got the attention of the Operations Officer. He pressed a control on his desk and announced, “Attention all Operations Stations. Shut the ship down. Only emergency and life support equipment is to remain operational. Engines, navigation, weapons and all other equipment are to be shut down immediately by confirmed order from Fourth Fleet.” Lieutenant Captain Tomalo repeated his order twice more as was standard.
Emergency lights came on as the Operations Center went dark. The blast door slammed shut, the vibrations of which almost knocked Elder off his feet, as he was not expecting that – although he should have, he had it happen often enough in his short career aboard the BALKANS. Now that the Operations Center was a field of darkness with several bright emergency lights illuminating small circles at various points. Even knowing that life support was still active, Elder thought about his experience aboard the JACOTOT during the last part of his entrance examination when the testing ship cut all power, even life support. Various officers were getting into the emergency suits stored at each station, Elder realized that he should get into one also and headed for the storage locker where spare emergency suits were kept.
Once suited up, Elder could hear the conflicting orders – the Captain trying to regain control in order to continue his mission (and Elder had a moment of doubt as to just how legal his mutiny really was while listening to Captain Mizutani give his orders and make his case for continuing) and Lieutenant Captain Tomalo giving counter orders on the authority of the order from Fourth Fleet.
After a short while the orders and counter-orders stopped. There was silence over the suit intercom. Elder wondered if Lieutenant Captain Tomalo had somehow shut it off. He had a sort flashback to his experience on the PLETHEO when the Navy had done exactly that. Nevertheless, Elder quickly decided that that was not what had happened. These suits were not specially designed suits for use during a specific test, there were ordinary suits and needed the ability to communicate without interference.
Elder wondered how long it would take for people from the ALPS or the ANDES to board the BALKANS. If they came through the airlocks, there would be a battle there if Captain Mizutani refused to surrender. Many Marines would be dead as a result, would it be worth it? Yes, it would, Elder decided, since the alternative would be more people dead and chaos as the Empire reformed. Captain Mizutani had to be stopped.
Just as Elder finished these thoughts, a huge shudder went through the ship and collisions alarms went off. Something had struck the ship – something big. Had one of the other ships rammed the BALKANS? In the confusion resulting from the collision, Marines from the other ships might be able to swarm through any breach that resulted. Then Elder rethought his idea, it wasn’t a ship ramming the BALKANS that he had felt but one of the asteroids carried by a Class G Dreadnought to bombard planets with. Innocent people aboard the BALKANS might get hurt or killed but no one aboard either of the attacking ships would be hurt. Elder’s idea was confirmed when a second collision shook the BALKANS. Knowing the reload tie for the mass driver, Elder knew that it would be a long time before a third hit the BALKANS. Voices came over the emergency suit receiver, confused voices of the BALKANS crew. Vaguely, Elder thought he could hear the sounds of weapons firing as the voices were babbling. Would the Marines take prisoners? The normal procedure was to never take prisoners unless there was an intelligence need. There might be such a need now, to find out how deep the rot was in the officer corps. Besides, the innocent people aboard the BALKANS would not be prisoners, they would be rescued hostages.
Elder kept his receiver on. The sounds of combat were agonizing but he could not not listen. Elder knew he was hearing only half of the transmissions, probably even less than that even. Marines from the boarding ships would be using classified frequencies and coded transmissions. Actually, so would the Marines aboard the INS BALKANS. All Elder would hear would be the unclassified transmissions of the people in standard space suits or emergency space suits – all Navy personnel caught between the two fighting factions. Elder heard several times groups trying to surrender to someone, Elder could not determine whom the group was surrendering to, and a few times calls of “Don’t shoot!” but he never heard the outcome of such confrontations.
Five hours passed between the time of the first collision and the time Elder began hearing the sounds of combat over his audio receiver and not his radio receiver. Just outside the blast door to the Operations Center a combat was raging. Small-scale explosions were almost constant and occasionally a blaster could be heard. Several times the door shook from the explosions but every time one of the operations offices checked it, they reported that it seemed undamaged. No one wanted to open it. Indeed, most of the officers, Elder included, were now taking cover behind the various stations so that if the door were blown open the station consoles would block whatever shrapnel happened.
Even after the sounds of combat ceased, no one wanted to risk opening the door absent orders from someone from one of the other ships. It was a good thing too, for within five minutes the sounds returned – louder and somehow angrier. The blast door vibrated almost constantly during this episode. One side or maybe both were attacking the door. Elder huddled more tightly behind the console sheltering him. Emergency space suits had very little in the way of armor unlike normal space suits, which were designed to survive at least one hit to any of the armored sections.
The door blew in and several combat-suited figures darted inside the Operations Center. Elder snuck otherwise incapaca peek; what he saw confused him. The figures had some sort of bandanna or other cloth wrapped around their helmet. Other figures came into view, these had a stripe of black across the left arm of the combat suit just above the elbow. One of the combat-suited figures with the bandanna fell backwards onto the deck. Elder could now see more of the bandanna/ There was a red solid circle on the front, centered on the helmet – located where the eyebrows met on Elder’s face. As Elder stared at the bandanna, trying to remember what the symbol meant – and he knew that he knew what it meant, one of the others with the same bandanna charged the other combat-suited figures. The charging figure pulled out a repair torch and flicked it on. The plasma flame sprung out, full strength – obviously, the attacker had no desire to husband the fuel – and the attacker swung the torch at one of the combat-suited figures with the black stripe on its arm.
All of the black-striped figures shot at the bandanna-wearing figure. With their attention thus focused, the remaining bandanna wearing figures charged similarly. The plasma torches gave an eerie light to the Operations Center. The fight lasted only a couple of minutes after that. All of the bandanna-wearing figures were dead or incapacitated. Only about half the black-striped figures were. One of the black-striped figures stepped into the Operations Center and started barking commands.
“I am Lieutenant Major Nugent from the INS ANDES. All personnel will step forward and form up.”
Everyone got out from behind their cover and began forming up into formation. Lieutenant Major Nugent barked, “Hurry up! If you don’t leave with me you will be considered rebels.” Everyone hurried at that. “Formation, Attention! Left Face! Forward, March!” And the formation marched to the nearest hanger bay. The Maines taking their wounded with them. Shortly after they left the Operations Center Elder heard several explosions coming from the room. He almost broke formation to investigate but quickly realized how stupid that would be – besides, the center was probably being rendered unusable for the rebels.
Once inside he hanger bay, where there was a crowd of space-suited figures under the watchful eyes of dozens if not hundreds of combat-suited figures – each combat-suited figure with the black stripe on their left arm. Elder then realized that the space-suited figures were in lines and going through a checkpoint before being allowed to leave the hanger bay.
Once the interminable wait in line to reach the checkpoint was over, Elder was sked for his name and service number. He gave the information as ordered. The space-suited figure with the now familiar black stripe on the left arm checked the information in a portable computer and cleared Elder to proceed. Elder followed the instructions and marched forward to where the other cleared figures were. Attached to the hull was a line stretching off to another Class G Dreadnought hanging in space not more than a kilometer away. Elder was ordered to place his left hand on the line and use his suit thrusters to follow the line to the INS ANDES. He was warned that if his hand left the line, he would be shot and abandoned. Once it was his turn to grab the line, Elder placed his hand around it, with a gap so that there was no friction to slow him down and aimed at the ANDES and fired his suit thrusters at a slow acceleration.
By careful adjustments Elder was able to avoid crowding the person in front of him. If that person was shot, Elder did not want to be in the immediate area of the person. Once he had a steady space between him and that person, Elder looked around – dozens of lines were strung between the ANDES and the BALKANS with each line crowded with people heading towards the ANDES. Probably there were just as many lines between the BALKANS and the ALPS as well, which Elder presumed was on the opposite side of the BALKANS. There were over 15,000 people assigned to the BALKANS plus the Marine division. The Marines were presumably fighting to the death since they had no hope now. The Naval crew would probably be checked out to try to catch any rebels who were trying to flee the BALKANS in order to continue their poison. Elder realized this just as he was reaching the ANDES so he stopped thinking on the problem of the rebellion and started concentrating on flying safely aboard the ANDES.