The conference room was crowded, even with a couple of Marines stationed outside the door to prevent unauthorized crew from entering; enough had already talked their way into the room to make it crowded. Although they were not aliens, the fact that they were a Lost Colony was enough to make the entire crew interested. Every officer who could think of a reason why Elder would need their expertise tried to talk him into letting them attend the conference and often succeeded. Even the Ship’s Chaplain, a Siberian Russian Orthodox priest made it in based upon his knowledge of Ancient Russian although two other chaplains, the Conservative Jewish Rabbi and the Sunni Muslim imam did not, nor did most of the other officers and enlisted who tried, usually based upon their knowledge of Russian.
Elder stood up at the head of the conference table. Not that it made a lot of difference in how visible e was, but commanders stood to emphasize their authority, Elder had learned that bit of knowledge years ago.
“Quiet down everyone. You are here to advise me and help me plan, not to chatter amongst yourselves. Lieutenant Moyar, you’ve had the bridge as Exec, is there anything new about the Lost Colony?”
“Yes sir, the Russian speakers have said the name of the ship is the VOLGA and the English speakers say the name is the LIBERTY. The Russian speakers claim to represent the Soviet of the Workers and Colonists and the English speakers claim to represent the ship’s Captain. Both sides want our help to suppress the other side.”
“And where does this ship, whatever we call it Lieutenant, hail from?” Elder still wondered how a generation ship could have gotten this far from Earth.
“Again, conflicting answers Captain. The Russians say from Earth, refugees from the Federation and the others say from a colony established during the First Expansion, name never given. When the UN became the Federation, several generation ships fled taking various groups away from the new government. In addition, several dozen colonies failed during the First Expansion, the Colonial Revolt and the War of Unification. How the two got together, I cannot say. And neither of the two groups say.”
“Any idea on how many people are on that ship, anybody?” Elder swung his head around to encompass everyone in the room.
Sous-Lieutenant Chin, the Logistics Officer, said, “I can’t make a firm estimate but Lieutenant Niderost and I estimate that there cannot be more than two or three hundred in each group. It depends upon if the groups exchange spouses to preserve genetic diversity or not. I guess not which would indicate a larger number in each group. Lieutenant Niderost guesses that they do, saying that genetic defects would accumulate and require it sir.”
Science Officer, Lieutenant Niderost said, “Yes sir. There are a few hints that the Executive Officer mentioned and my estimate is that two small groups cannot survive for generation upon generation without some sort of spouse exchange and survive.”
“Lieutenant, do you have any idea how long this ship has been here?”
“No Captain, I don’t. We have not been able to establish effective communications; oh, we talk with each other but the concepts we use are divergent. I asked one person how old they were and they said that they were just under 10,000 years old. At least, I think that is what they said.”
Elder stared for a moment, “But that would make him older than the Pyramids!”
“Years, yes sir, it would; even months would make him older than a Biblical Patriarch, weeks or days would be my guess since that would be more in line with what human life expectancy was a couple of centuries ago. Although ten thousand weeks is still longer than our present life expectancy by a few decades. Maybe he was thinking of the life of the ship. Even then, ten thousand years means two groups of humans built a spaceship before the pyramids. That means that somehow, their languages evolved into something so similar to Federation Russian and English that we have no real trouble translating them. As you see Captain, they have to be recent arrivals but that leads to many questions about where they came from. There is no record of any ship this large ever getting constructed on Earth and getting sent off with a Russian colony, and very few early colonies had the ability to construct spaceships; although, I grant you that a lot of records were lost during the Colonial Revolt and the War of Unification.”
Elder considered the comment. “So, Lieutenant, one set of data says they are humans, recently arrived here and another says they aren’t?”
“Yes sir; basically, that is what it boils down to. Conflicting data. We are going to have to go over there to discover which is right. So, of the two groups talking with us, which do we visit?”
“Anyone, any suggestions?” Elder looked around the crowded conference room, inviting comment. He made one sweep before anyone spoke.
Chaplain Sous-Lieutenant Suvorov was the first to speak. “Captain, it should be obvious; at least, it is to me. We support the Captain of the LIBERTY; after all, the captain of a ship is the captain and must be in charge.”
Chaos ensued as everyone tried to make a comment either supporting Chaplain Suvorov’s comment or opposing it. Finally Elder held up a hand and demanded quiet.
“Np Padre, it isn’t that clear cut, I’ve studied Pre-Imperial history, I taught it at the Academy remember, if the Soviet of Workers and Colonists was in charge when this ship was launched, then the chairman would have been in charge and over the ship’s captain. Moreover, if that is the case, then the Chairman of the Soviet is the proper authority on the ship. In addition, I cannot see how any soviet that started with power would be willing to give it up, Historically, was almost impossible to get them out of power. Overthrowing the Soviet Union almost took a civil war.”
Lieutenant Major Major spoke up just then, ‘but Captain, if these Russians were in charge from the start, wouldn’t the language of both groups be Russian? Why would one group speak Russian and the other speak English if they were united at the start?”
Elder rummaged through his memory of the First Expansion for a moment. “In the First Expansion there were several multi-cultural colonies. This may be the result of one such failed colony.”
Lieutenant Niderost spoke up, “Captain, it would take years for this ship to be made. As big as it is, it would take probably three years to build in an Imperial shipyard even today. How long would it take a new colony to make such a ship? Even those few colonies that were started just to establish a shipyard were visited often enough so that this ship would have been recorded.”
Elder looked around at the crowded conference room, almost twice as many people were in the room as it had been designed for. Thankfully, there was no one from Concar, or its colonies, taking up three times as much space as most people. Even though Elder knew quite a lot about Pre-Imperial history, he did not know the answer to the question he had to ask next. He was not even sure that anyone knew the answer.
“All right everyone, we know that during the War of Unification a lot of records were destroyed. We know that at least seven multi-generation ships left the Earth and we know the results of five of them. There may have been as many as ten more but the surviving records are not clear. This ship could not be one of the two missing colony ships about which we lack any information about what happened to them. From what I can tell of the situation, the soviet was in charge but a revolt happened and thus the two groups claiming command. We will back the soviet until we can integrate the colonists into the Empire. Communications, send word to the Soviet of Workers and Colonists that we will be sending a boarding party over to evaluate the situation nd render what aid we can. Do not send anything to the Ship’s Captain; we will deal with one group at a time. Also, do not, repeat not, give any information about the Empire or the Imperial Navy or the mission of this ship.”
The next day Elder formed a boarding party and got it ready to go, Elder included himself as a matter of form, several Marines went along under their Lieutenant Major, and enough crew of various specialties complemented the Marine specialists brought the total up to twenty-three – Elder, twelve Marines and ten Navy members. The Marines were no in the Combat Suit, Elder had argued that wearing the Combat Suit was not proper for what should be a diplomatic mission and after a while the Lieutenant Major reluctantly agreed.
Since no one aboard the MACALPIN knew how good the sensors were aboard the other ship, Elder had his boarding party spread out and leaving from four different airlocks, with the airlocks dark so that it was not obvious that they were being used. The party aimed at the airlock on the other ship that the Soviets said would be open for them. It was obvious which airlock was since a light was shining from the inside of the airlock, visible to the boarding party but to no one else. Just before the boarding party left, the Lieutenant Major raised another objection to Elder’s plan.
“No Lieutenant Major, I will not have the Marines lead the way. Yes, I know there might be danger but I insist that I lead. I am the Captain.”
“Yes sir, you are the Captain and as such you must be protected. This is a situation that Marine training covers. You, sir, have not had that training. I have examined your service records.”
“However, if the Marines lead the way, it shows that we are expecting combat. This is a diplomatic mission Lieutenant Major.”
:Captain, by having the Marines leading the way, you demonstrate that you are willing to evaluate the situation and put your personal pride aside for the greater good.”
“By leading the way myself, I show respect for whoever is in charge over there Lieutenant Major.”
“You show more respect by being intelligent sir.”
“Lieutenant Major, I am not stupid!” Elder was just shocked enough by the Lieutenant Major’s comment to let some anger show.
The lieutenant Major immediately replied, “Sir, I mean that if you show up in an intelligent manner, then the other person or people will understand that you are not underestimating them; that you are treating them with intelligence.”
Elder considered, then decided that he would take the lead – he was tired of holding up the rear and now that he was the Captain, he would not.
“No Lieutenant Major, I will lead. I understand your argument but I have made up my mind, I lead.”
Then the Lieutenant Major did what Marines do in such situations, he said, “Yes sir.”
It was not really an airlock that the boarding party entered, it was a hanger. There were no craft in the hanger but it was large enough to safely hold four or five Class-S Supply Tenders at a time. Several suited figures were standing a short distance inside the hanger; to Elder it looked like ten or twelve people, all very small. Hell, they looked smaller than he was.
It was not hard flying into the hanger, all members of the Imperial Navy and Marines had extensive experience flying space suits. Elder took the time to examine the people waiting or rather their suits since the people were not visible. The suits looked functional, they would have to be, but they did not look old. Even if the suits had been kept in storage for years, Elder expected that the suits would show signs of aging. However, that was just another mystery to investigate.
Flying into the hanger and landing in front of the suited figures was easy. Even though there had been no mention of how many people would be in the boarding party, the delegates from the Soviet of Workers and Colonists had left more than enough room in front of them. That was easy – the hanger could hold a couple of thousand people from each side.
Once the party from the MACALPIN was standing in front of the other party a vibration came through the feet of their suits. Elder looked around and saw that four large doors were sliding towards the center of the hanger opening. Elder approved, to an extent, of the idea since it got the hanger doors open and closed faster but he wondered what would happen in a battle and one door was damaged. After the doors closed there was a pause, and shortly Elder heard the hiss of air as the hanger was pressurized; one of the other party began taking his helmet off. Doing so was a ponderous affair; the individual had to loosen several fasteners before he (it was soon obvious that the person was a male) could unscrew the helmet and it took three full turns to unscrew it. He threw the helmet behind him.
The head that came out of the helmet was that of a young man, and with dark hair cut short, with a neat beard of the same color. The eyes were a piercing blue and the skin was almost albino it was so fair. None of the other ten made a move to take off their helmets. Elder guessed that this was a test of some sort. He decided to be the only one from the MACALPIN to remove his helmet. He passed the word to the others to keep their helmets on. Ensign Wolfe stepped up to Elder’s left and just behind him – ready to translate. Elder removed his helmet and held it in his hand.
There was a short burst of speech, the person talked twice as fast as a normal human it seemed. Alternatively, maybe it was just that Elder was expecting something strange and his mind exaggerated what slight difference there was.
Ensign Wolfe translated. “Welcome to the Soviet Ship VOLGA. I am the Chairman of the Soviet of Workers and Colonists. There has been a mutiny for generation upon generation and I request assistance in putting it down and regaining full control of this ship.” Then Ensign Wolfe said, “The remainder of his speech is a diatribe against the reactionary forces that drove his ancestors from Mother Earth. He hinted that the purpose of this ship is to gain strength and to return and take control and govern as is their right.”
Elder thought for a moment. He could see several traps here. He guessed that the individual who claimed to be the Chairman of the Soviet of Workers and Colonists spoke English, he would almost have to if there was any contact with the other group, but Imperial was radically different from English. He was safe speaking in Imperial even though he did know the English of the era. “Ensign, you will make no hint about the governing structure of the Empire. You will not explain anything without my direct order. Now, say to this person that I am Lieutenant Commander Elder of the survey ship MACALPIN. You will not refer to it being an Imperial ship nor a Navy ship. Let him deduce that it is a Navy ship. Ask him how long his ship has been in orbit around this planet and when his ancestors left Earth. Also ask him his age; if he wants to know mine, tell him I am 45 years old.”
Ensign Wolfe spoke for a moment and then he had a conversation with the other for almost five minutes. When it was finished, because Ensign Wolfe just stopped talking to the other person, he said, “Captain, the Chairman says his name is Vladimir Josef. He is 11,467 in age and wonders about the meaning of the word ‘years’ since it is not in his language. He says that this ship has been in orbit for fifteen generations and that his ancestors left Mother Earth seventeen generations ago. He tried to be insistent about speaking with our ship’s political officer.”
That sparked a memory in Elder. “Yes Ensign, he would want to speak with the political officer. Well, tell him that his request is denied but do not explain why. Explain that a year is a period of 365 days. Ask him if this ship was built on Earth or elsewhere.”
Again, there was a flurry of conversation that ended when Ensign Wolfe just stopped talking to Vladimir Josef. “Captain, he says that the ship was built on Earth and that colonists were taken on when they visited a colony for repairs. The colonists asked to join the soviet but when things went crazy shortly after they left the colony, the captain started a rebellion. They have been in orbit here ever since.”
“Something doesn’t feel right here Ensign. However, it may just be that we have not enough information yet. Ask him the name of the colony that joined the ship.”
Again there was the exchange of information that ended when Ensign Wolfe just stopped talking. Vladimir Josef seemed very determined to have his way.
“Captain, the name of the colony is not remembered. I think he is lying on that point, but it may be just because I’m getting annoyed with him.”
“It may be true that he is lying Ensign. If we knew the name of the colony, we can check up on it. Ask him if he will show us more of the ship.”
Again, the conversation between Vladimir Josef and Ensign Wolfe was protracted. Finally, Vladimir Josef barked out something and everyone in his party began removing their suits. Elder took the hint and ordered his people to unsuit also. The party from the VOLGA took their suits to a locker and hung them up. Elder had his people place their in a row on the hanger deck so that they could be easily retrieved. The Lieutenant Major had one of his troops, Leading Private Bennett, stand guard over them. Elder noticed that each of the VOLGA people wore a red jumpsuit, that triggered a memory that red was the color of historic communism. Elder wondered if that was a deliberate choice on someone’s part or if it was a coincidence.
Ensign Wolfe said as he divested himself of his suit, “Chairman Vladimir Josef is going to take us to his command chambers where the conversation can continue with more comfort sir.”
“And where he probably thinks he can control us better Ensign. I doubt he can guess how well our Marines can fight. Lieutenant Major, be on guard and do not underestimate these people. It sounds like they have been fighting for dozens of decades; they may be quite proficient in combat.”
“Aye sir. I doubt that they have any weapons of real danger given that they are in a closed ecological system and probably can’t repair broken weapons but we will be on the lookout for signs that I am wrong.” The Battalion Commander kept his eyes on the soviet group while speaking to Elder.
“Good, I don’t want to screw this up. If these people are a Lost Colony or if they are aliens, either way they are very important to the Empire Ensign, Lieutenant Major.”