While in the Academy, the day had been regulated by bells and other alarms. Once he had graduated, that had passed – or so Elder had thought. Onboard the BALKANS everyone had timepieces and personal alarms but ship-wide alarms regulating the conduct of the crew were not used. The only alarms used were the various safety and warning alarms. Thus Elder was surprised when Reveille sounded. He remembered the call and woke instantly from what had been a deep sleep. Everyone else in the barracks room was startled awake as well. Over the speakers came – “Attention all BALKANS crew. Report to your nearest wardroom in one hour for breakfast.” The announcement was repeated the standard twice more.
Everyone began crowding around to get the various little details that are necessary upon waking and given that the barracks room was designed for just this sort of morning rush, everyone got it all done in plenty of time. And given that the ANDES was the same design as the BALKANS enough people knew were the nearest wardroom was so that everyone got there in plenty of time. Since the wardroom was near a Marine barracks, it was larger than usual – large enough to hold everyone without trouble. It was crowded to capacity but everyone fit in and ate quickly. Although nothing had been said about the matter, the conversations that Elder heard as he sat and ate amongst strangers was that people were expecting something to happen once breakfast was over. The second main topic of conversation was speculation on what Captain Mizutani had been doing. Even though everyone around him was a stranger, they tried to include him in the speculations. Elder knew too much and was not sure how much he should explain to these people. Much of what had happened would be classified of course and Elder didn’t want to get into trouble for passing along classified information even though he hadn’t been informed yet that it was classified. Details like that might be ignored due to the nature of the incident. The Empire needed to trust the Imperial Navy and Imperial Marines. Low ranking people going bad was one thing; indeed, it was somewhat common knowledge that low ranking people did “go bad” as it were. However, someone as high ranking as Captain Mizutani going bad and able to gather around him numbers of other high ranking people would shake public confidence in the training and loyalty of the Navy. Traitors would be encouraged and any efforts to put down rebellions would be tainted with this incident.
After n hour of breakfast time, a Senior Lieutenant and Chief Sergeant appeared at the entry and called for the attention of everyone. The wardroom went silent as the word passed around. The wardroom had been too large for the Senior Lieutenant’s unassisted voice to overcome the various conversations.
“Now that I have everyone’s attention, I will start giving out bunk assignments. Each of you will come forward and give your name to Chief Sergeant Rogoff. He will inform you of which bunk you will be sharing. Once that is done, you worked in on the BALKANS and perform whatever duties are required of you. The ANDES is going to be crowded, more so than the ALPS since we received a larger share of the rescued personnel from the BALKANS. As we accelerate to Jump Speed, some of you will be transferred to other ships in order to relieve the 0vercrowding. You will come forward in an orderly fashion starting with those to my front and left.” The Senior Lieutenant pointed so that his instructions were clear.
Once Elder made his way through the process, he was near the end of the crowd as it marched through the hatch, he headed to the cabin he was now assigned to. Bu odd coincidence it was the same number as his cabin on the BALKANS. On the other hand, maybe it was not a coincidence, maybe the crew of the BALKANS were being assigned to the same cabin in order to help them get over the shock of losing their ship. However, that idea was quickly demolished since none of the others assigned to the cabin were former roommates from the BALKANS. Once Elder picked a bunk, he headed for the Operations Center.
As with everything on the ANDES, the Operations Center was both familiar and unfamiliar. The layout was the same, obviously, as was the equipment but the people were strange. The only people Elder recognized were in the small crowd over next to the Operations Officer’s office. Elder headed over there.
Once there, one of the BALKANS crew told him that Lieutenant Captain Song would be briefing them shortly, once more of the BALKANS crew showed up. Over the next twenty minutes, the remainder did indeed show up. Elder spent the time chatting with people he knew and learning more about what happened aboard the BALKANS during the fighting.
Lieutenant Captain Song called for everyone to crowd into his briefing room and everyone followed his orders. Once everyone was inside, and packed tightly into the too small room, he said, “We will be returning to base immediately. Since we are now at about one hundred eighty percent authorized personnel, I am going to have trouble finding work for all of you. As we run up tp Jump Speed, we will transfer most of you to other ships in order to ease the crowding on the ANDES. However, until then, you and the crew of the ANDES will be working reduced hours. Instead of one day off per Imperial week, you will have two. However, today and tomorrow will be a day off for all of you. Each of you will log into the ship’s computer and register your sleeping quarters. Over the next five or six hours each of you will be given a work schedule or be notified if you are being transferred to another ship. Are there any questions?” There were none. “Very well, you are dismissed.”
Elder returned to his shared bunk and tested a hunch. It took a second but his issued portable computer linked in with the ship’s computer so Elder logged in through his portable computer. Since he would get his schedule through his portable computer, he headed for a wardroom to try to relax. He would sleep later, once he knew his schedule.
The wardroom was almost full, maybe a quarter of the seats were free, which suited Elder fine. He got a beer and found a seat at a table where there was more empty seats than full. The three junior enlisted people, two men and a woman, glanced at Elder. The woman paid attention to his insignia showing he was assigned to the BALKANS. The three began whispering. Elder ignored them.
Pulling his portable computer off his belt clip, he began sorting through his files looking for he did not know what. Maybe he was just trying to look busy so he would not be bothered. The three enlisted left and were replaced by two officers who ate a meal while talking about something that Elder ignored. They left and the table was empty except for him, which suited him even better.
Elder had by then settled on writing an account of what had happened from what he knew. He expected he would need a full description with as much detail as he could remember for future investigations or legal action. The verbal report he had given when first aboard the ANDES would not be the last time he would have to give a report, he might even have to defend his actions in a legal proceeding. Elder was not fond of having to justify himself before a court, although he understood the need for it.
His computer beeped to signify an incoming message. Expecting it to be a work schedule, Elder opened the message. It was a notice that he was to transfer to the CAPITAL CITY CLASS INS TOKYO -Iooo437J-432. He had to report to Hanger Bay 19 immediately. A Class T Utility Ship would take him to the TOKYO. Elder got up from the table, disposed of the four bottles of beer he had drunk over the last six hours and walked to the hanger bay. While walking he considered the incongruity of a ship named for the capital of the old Japanese Empire on Earth fighting a group who wanted nothing more than to establish a new Japanese empire in space.
The utility ship waiting for Elder. and dozens of other former BALKANS crew, was a DINOSAUR class ship. Elder thought it ugly but realized that it was functional since the class had to preform all sorts of general-purpose duties in the absence of more specialized ships. The INS ACANTHOPHOLIS T000073C-942 was an ugly brick of a ship, designed for versatility. Elder joined the line of people that were being processed aboard. Once it was his turn the Senior Sergeant Yeoman, with the three silver slashes indicating rank looking brand new, checked his name against the list and assigned him a seat in the passenger section. Elder took his seat and waited.
Several of the passengers were chatting amongst themselves and in spite of his desire to not join in, Elder was pestered until he did. As the ACANTHOPHOLIS launched Elder was chatting with the people on each side of them. It quickly came out that not everyone was going to the TOKYO. Indeed, the ACANTHOPHOLIS would be delivering people to several dozen ships. Elder thought about it for a moment and realized that it made sense to get the transfers over as fast as possible. Accelerating to Jump Speed would take a long time but the transfers should be done long before the first Jump this way. One other thing that Elder learned from the various conversations was that a ship rebelling was not common but it had happened in the past, notably early in the Empire, before the Academy was established. This was the first time anyone knew of a Class-G Dreadnought rebelling – at least amongst those within Elder’s hearing.
The TOKYO was the seventh ship that the ACANTHOPHOLIS visited. At each stop, rather than dock in a hanger bay, the ACANTHOPHOLIS connected to the other ship with a docking tube and the passengers destined for the other ship walked over. Elder was among the five people sent to the TOKYO. He was a bit apprehensive about what to expect.
Captain Jerome met her new crew at the airlock. Captain Jerome was only a few centimeters taller than Elder but packed a lot of muscle in her small frame. Her fair skin looked untouched by the sun. Being hatless, her short black hair stuck up as if she had slept on it badly. Overall, she looked somewhat closer to a corpse than the captain of a fighting ship. A well-muscled corpse but a corpse nonetheless.
“I would welcome you aboard the TOKYO but the circumstances are not the sort that lends credence to welcomes, only sorrows. Your old ship is destroyed and many of your former crew are dead – perhaps even some you knew. This happens but not normally like this. These circumstances are terrible and rare. Which is a good thing since they are so terrible that if they were not rare, they would crush our spirits. Your new crewmates will ask you to describe what happened and you will not tell them until you have been through your debriefing where you will learn the classification levels of this incident and the various parts thereof. Just remember the Regulations concerning Classified Material. You are assigned to cabins and workplaces and you can find the information in the computer database. Counselors will be available to help guide you through these tough times as we return to base. Are there any questions?” There were none so Captain Jerome said, “Very well then, dismissed.” She then turned and left the airlock striding as if she was on parade.
Elder swung his portable computer up and as he had it register itself to the ship’s computer of the TOKYO he noticed another doing the same. The three others were heading to computer data terminals. Then checking the deck plans of the I000473 class ships as he headed towards his assigned quarters. Halfway there he suddenly realized something and rechecked the database. Yes, there were his promotion orders to Officer and his appointment to permanent status in the Imperial Navy, signed by the Admiral Commanding Fourth Fleet. Such orders were normally signed by the officer commanding a Section or in special cases by the officer commanding a Flotilla but the Admiral commanding a Fleet? That was rare except for those assigned to the Fleet Headquarters. Elder felt slightly awed by the honor. This did not stop him from stopping on his war to his new quarters and changing the four gold discs of a Master Midshipman to the single silver stripe of an Officer at the first opportunity however.
There was also an order for him to report immediately for his debriefing. His debriefing officer was a Lieutenant Commander Figgis. Elder hurried to the assigned office. At his knock, a deep bass voice ordered him inside.
Inside was a tall black Lieutenant Commander standing behind a standard desk. For a moment Elder thought that the man was so tall that his knees would be at the level of the desk, but he quickly saw otherwise as he marched up to the desk and saluted. The salute was returned with machine-like precision.
“Sit down Officer Elder. This is going to take a while.” The bass voice reminded Elder somewhat of someone from Concar or its colonies but although he was tall enough, Lieutenant Commander Figgis did not have the bulk necessary. He was normally proportioned.
Elder sat at attention in the chair immediately in front of the desk. Not knowing this officer, he was not sure how much he could relax without offending him. Lieutenant Commander Figgis sat as well, and then leaned back far enough so that he and Elder were almost at eye-level.
“I understand that you were a friend of Sous-Lieutenant Palmer Officer Elder. Did he survive?”
“No sir, he was among the first killed by the mutineers. I think, on reflection, that he was targeted by the Marine strike team.”
“You were with him at the time Officer?”
“yes sir. He had just told me about his communication with 4th Fleet when this happened.”
“And how long did you know Sous-Lieutenant Palmer Officer Elder?”
“When the BALKANS returned to base after delivering King Mitchel, I met then Ensign Palmer when a friend of my wife’s lost her husband. He and I met several times while the BALKANS underwent refurbishment and several times after his assignment to the BALKANS sir.”
“And, Officer Elder, was this long enough for his special ability to register you?”
“Yes sir. That happened before the BALKANS left for this voyage.”
“Very well Officer, tell me what happened in your own words.”
Elder pulled out his computer and downloaded his report onto a transferable disc. “I knew this would be needed sir. I wrote this out for just this reason.”
Lieutenant Commander Figgis took the disc and put it into his computer. He read quickly through the report. “A very complete report Officer Elder. I do not see any need for questions, but I may have some later. This entire incident, including what I am about to tell you, is classified Fleet Secret. Do you understand Officer Elder?”
“Yes sir, I cannot divulge any of this information without explicit orders from the Admiral commanding 4th Fleet or someone authorized to give direct orders to said Admiral.”
“Someone can be given authorization to require such information but this must be on explicit written orders as well Officer Elder. However, that will be a rare occurrence. Fleet Secrets are too important for such orders to be any more common than is absolutely necessary.”
Elder had nothing to say, so he kept quiet and waited. Whatever was coming was going to be important, probably the most important information ever presented to him.
“Officer Elder, this entire rescue operation was only to rescue Sous-Lieutenant Palmer. There are approximately one thousand telepaths in the Imperial Navy and each one is too vital to lose. The Empire needs long-range communication more than ever. Ships, even risking Jump Sickness, are too slow for the Empire to operate efficiently. If it were not for Sous-Lieutenant Palmer the BALKANS would have been destroyed and every person aboard killed. The Imperial Navy cannot risk having mutineers escape and contaminate other ships.”
Elder was stunned. He knew that the Empire was ruthless against rebels; he also knew that the Imperial Navy protected its own against civilian governments. Now he was told that the Imperial Navy was ruthless against its own if it thought it needed to be. Whatever it took to keep the Empire intact and interstellar war from breaking out was the philosophy it seemed. Elder was now a commissioned officer in the Imperial Navy and therefore expected to go along with that philosophy. Elder saw that Lieutenant Commander Figgis was studying him. Elder realized that his choices were to accept the necessity of that philosophy or face court-martial for betraying a Fleet Secret. He had no time for a long, deep, examination of the issue, he must decide now.
“Very well Lieutenant Commander, I understand the situation and will obey the strictures of a Fleet Secret.”
“Very well Officer Elder. You should get your orders transferring you to the TOKYO at any moment. You are dismissed. Carry on.”
Elder rose, saluted and left.
Once outside the office, Elder checked his computer and found a set of orders assigning him to the TOKYO until further notice. Elder was no longer homeless, he had an assignment. Elder wandered around the TOKYO for a short while as he pondered the events of the last few days. Finally, finding an empty wardroom, he settled down and had a beer while he wondered about the Empire, war, and his role in the continued existence of the Empire. When it was time for him to go to bed he hadn’t decided on anything except that however close to war the present level of conflict and terrorism was, it was better than open war between the planets. One Section of Class-G Dreadnoughts could render a planet uninhabitable for decades. Imagine what could happen if every planet could do that instead of one overall government. Elder shuddered at that thought. It had to be kept from that.