Vladimir Josef and the other men from the VOLGA led Elder and his people to a large conference room near the hanger. Elder noted that the corridors of the VOLGA were a dull red in color, with the various safety and information panels in the proper red and yellow and whit of glossy black panels screwed onto the corridor walls, unlike on Imperial ships where the notices were placed directly o the light brown walls. For reasons other than habit, Elder thought the Imperial system was better; Imperial notices were probably easier to maintain and stood out better. The glossy black placards tended to wash out the notices.
The Imperials saw several people walking the corridors as the boarding party traveled to the room and without exception all of the people the boarding party saw were shorter than Elder’s 152cm, averaging about 4cm shorter and all were of light build. Elder decided that this must be in response to the shortage of resources aboard the ship.
The conference room was big enough for more people than the size of the two parties combined. There was plenty of seating, but one seat that was different than the rest. Vladimir Josef took that seat, which must have marked the head of the conference table. The group from the VOLGA sat along the side of the table on his right hand. Elder took the seat next to Vladimir Josef and motioned for Ensign Wolfe to sit next to him. The Marines and Navy personnel alternated for the remainder of the seating.
Vladimir Josef started speaking. It was obvious after a moment that he was giving a memorized speech. The speech went on for about five minutes. Once he finished, Ensign Wolfe said, “Sir, my impression is that he just gave an origin myth designed to reinforce group solidarity. He stated that jealous rivals drove their ancestors from their homeland and then they wandered the stars for a couple of generations until they obtained knowledge. Once they obtained the true knowledge, they found a group of humans who repaired the ship and begged to join them. However, enemies hid amongst the true believers and began to try to overthrow the rightful rulers, the ones who had the true knowledge. He ended with a pledge to defeat the enemies and restore proper government of the workers and colonists.”
Elder ran that bit of information through his knowledge of Pre-Imperial history. When the Federation took over from the UN, communism had been dead around the world for decades. There had been some who tried to keep the tyrannical style of government alive and they succeeded with the Federation. Elder did not know how many groups fled the Federation during the First Expansion but since the James Drive had been invented almost halfway through the first wave of colonists there had been several multi-generation ships sent out, at least seven out of about twenty built based upon what he had found upon examining the historical record again. However, a huge percentage of the records of such efforts were destroyed because of the Colonial Revolt and the War of Unification. There was just nothing to settle the matter finally. Elder knew enough about foundation myths to take what Vladimir Josef had said with a large dose of doubt. Such myths were understood as taking, at most, a few basic facts and twisting them to feed the egos, individual and collective, of the people of the group. Often because of some defeat or other shameful event in the past. Moreover, it sounded like there had been such an event in these peoples’ past since the myth spoke of jealous rivals and hidden enemies amongst the colonists who otherwise had begged to join the soviets.
How to reply? That was the troubling point. Elder had to reply and he had to keep as much information from Vladimir Josef as he could, especially about the nature of the Empire and how it was governed. Hereditary nobility was one of the things that historic communism had been designed to combat.
Finally Elder decided to ignore any area that might cause problems right away. He had been leaning that way but now he was sure that going this route was the best way to proceed. Facing Vladimir Josef he asked, “How many people are in your portion of the VOLGA?” He did not expect that the Chairman would know how many were not under his control in the other part, or parts, of the ship.
Ensign Wolfe asked the question, which again resulted in an exchange. “Sir, before he answers that question he asks how many people we have aboard the MACALPIN. He says it is a fair exchange.”
“It isn’t Ensign. He asked for our help and I need to know his forces so I can estimate what we will need to add to that.”
Ensign Wolfe nodded at that, as did Lieutenant Major Major. Indeed, the Lieutenant Major had a hint of a smile on his face as he glanced at Elder. Elder tried to remember the last time the Lieutenant Major had smiled, even one as slight as this one was, he knew it had happened before but it had been a long time ago; or had it been at Elder’s birthday party. There had been the incident with Lieutenant Lopez two days ago, but that was not a normal situation for anyone. Elder was not sure. This time the exchange between Ensign Wolfe and Vladimir Josef was much longer.
Ensign Wolfe finished the conversation as he always had – by ignoring Vladimir Josef and speaking with the Captain. “Sir, he says each man – a total of two thousand three hundred – of military age is a trained warrior. They are trained in hand-to-hand combat and with Makarovs.”
The name Makarov triggered a memory in Elder’s mind but it fled as soon as he tried to fix on it. He guessed it was the name of a weapon but what it might be escaped him. “Very well. What areas of the ship does he control and does he have deck plans of the ship?”
Ensign Wolfe translated the questions and this was the first time someone other than Vladimir Josef spoke up. There was an angry exchange between the two men, Vladimir Josef and the man to his immediate right, with both men ending up on their feet. The argument continued for several seconds, and then Vladimir Josef moved and the other man fell to the deck with his throat ripped open.
The Marines were on their feet before the dead man hit the deck and the others from the MACALPIN were just a second later. All had their hand weapons partially drawn when Elder snapped out, “As you were. This is a matter for the local people, do not get involved.” It struck Elder as strange, after he had said it, to call them the local people but nothing else fit.
All of the MACALPIN people sat back down with the Marines keeping a hand near one of their weapons, either their knife or their pistol. The VOLGA people, other than the two people involved in the fight, did not move beyond maybe a flinch. Vladimir Josef barked something Ensign Wolfe did not translate. The man at the far end of the table rose and went to an intercom panel and said something that was too soft to hear. He then returned to his seat.
Vladimir Josef wiped his hand on the clothing of the dead man and returned to his seat as well. He spoke and Ensign Wolfe said, when Vladimir Josef was done, “The argument was over giving us the deck plans, the dead an did not want to give us the plans. The issue seems decided. If this is how they make decisions, I have no doubts about why their population is so small.”
“There are limited resources as well, Ensign. However, there is the planet they orbit; they could gather resources from there. I wonder why they have not done so. Or, maybe they have and it just hasn’t come up yet.”
“Shall I ask sir?”
“No Ensign, we’ll let this go naturally. One thing at a time. There might be reasons why they haven’t done so that are taboo or something similar.”
“Very well sir.”
“But keep listening for any clues about resources they have available Ensign. We are more likely to learn the truth from comments made while talking about something else than from direct statements. Especially if this soviet is anything like historic communism. With historic communism, telling the truth or a lie depended upon you goal. Nothing required you to tell the truth. In fact, I think there used to be a saying: Never believe anything until it has been denied – or something similar whish reflected how often communist leaders lied.”
Just then a crew of four women, also in red jumpsuits, arrived with a stretcher and took the corpse away. They never said a word, they just walked in, went to the corpse, picked it up and left. Another crew of four women entered then, cleaned up the bloody mess on the deck. Once that was finished, they also left. Vladimir Josef spoke.
Ensign Wolfe said, “Sir, the Chairman has ordered that a copy of the deck plans be brought here for our inspection. They should arrive within the hour. At least I think the word hour means the same to them as it does in the form of Russian I learned. I presume it does since hour is a term that they probably still use whereas any period over a day probably never got used for so long that they were forgotten.”
“That makes sense Ensign. Did the Chairman give any hint as to what we are to do until then?”
“No sir, shall I ask?”
Elder thought, watching the soviets as he did so. “No Ensign, let him make the decision if something is going to get done before then. I’m going to contact the ship.” Elder pulled his communicator off of his belt and triggered the unsecured frequency. “Elder to Lieutenant Moyer. Report.”
“Lieutenant Moyer here Captain. Nothing has changed; both the Russian and the English speakers are talking at us. No change in the system as well.”
“Interesting Lieutenant. It would seem that the soviets realize that the other crew can intercept and understand their transmissions. Which indicates that both sides can do so, otherwise the soviets would not have realized it. Any change on the planet?”
“No sir, none detected, but I haven’t been checking too closely there. Why”
“Think about it Lieutenant, this ship is a closed system so waste will deplete the resources over time. No closed system is perfect. Therefore, either this ship has not been here very long or they replenish from the planet.”
“Tat makes sense Captain. However, if they don’t replenish, then we can figure out what the maximum time that they could be in orbit would be. We know how far this system is from Earth and we can find out how efficient space drives were at the time the generation ships were built so we can determine when the earliest time they could have left was. That can help determine if they are human or alien.”
“Get working on the problem Lieutenant. And make sure to watch for signs that someone is gathering resources from the planet.”
“I’ll have an answer for you within the day, probably within a couple of hours Captain. Do you want it on a secure channel? I notice that you are using an unsecured one now.”
“I’m with the Chairman of the Workers and Colonists and several of his staff Lieutenant. That is why I am using an unsecured channel; I do not want them to start thinking that we have frequencies other than this one. If they don’t think to look for them, they can’t find them and we can later use the hidden ones if need be.”
“Makes sense to me Captain. I will call when I have the answers for you. Lieutenant Moyar signing off.”
“Elder off.” Elder leaned back and rubbed his nose, not that rubbing it had ever made it smaller, but it was a habit. Luckily he never did it while playing poker, it would be too big a ‘tell’ and he would lose even more than he did. Not that he played aboard the ship, the possibility of command influence was just too great. He had to settle for the computer opponents and play without stakes. Back at base he had found the ‘Ship Captain’s Poker Club’ before the MACALPIN had returned to base and he had taken command. There he could play to his heart’s content without risking fraternization problems.
It was then that Elder noticed that the party of the VOLGA had changed positions, moving up to fill the empty seat next to Vladimir Josef. Elder was not sure but it looked like they had just moved one position to their left in unison. Elder turned to Ensign Wolfe and cocked his eyebrow and motioned with a finger to indicate the movement of the VOLGA people.
“Yes sir, they got up and moved while you were talking with Lieutenant Moyar. I was watching just in case and it looks to me as if some of them are already expecting some more killings as if they are followers of the dead man and they will be killed also. The Lieutenant Major signaled to his people to beware of attacks.”
Elder knew the silent signaling system also, most Navy officers did since the Navy officers might have to react to the signals. He glanced at the Lieutenant Major and once he was sure the Lieutenant Major had an eye on him, he nodded just enough to make sure the Lieutenant Major understood that Elder approved. These VOLGA people were beginning to show just how dangerous they might be. However, Elder had faith in the training and equipment of the Marines.
For another twenty minutes, everyone sat around doing nothing. Elder practiced some meditation, the sort the Navy taught in order that someone could relax but stay attentive enough to a dangerous situation. Just before he started, Elder spent a moment wondering if the people of the VOLGA had something similar but decided that they did not. Sudden violence such as Vladimir Josef displayed was something that Elder expected would not survive with any serious meditation techniques.
“Lieutenant Moyar to the Captain. I have the data you wanted.”
Elder snapped out of his meditation just as per his training. “Yes Lieutenant, that was quick.”
“Not really sir, it turned out Lieutenant Niderost had his people working on this problem since just before you left. Presuming that the two thousand three hundred mentioned by the Chairman is an accurate count of the adult male population, then we can estimate that the total population on the soviet side- including women and children – is just over six thousand. Since the two sides we know about are stalemated, we estimate that the other side has the same sized population. This gives a total of thirteen thousand people aboard. The ship has an estimated capacity of just over a quarter of a million so the population we estimate would not strain the food resources. Given the probably time it would take the ship to arrive here, given a three-year delay needed to pick up a second population and do repairs as hinted by the two languages, they are not out of supplies yet. But they would have to have left Earth before the First World War at the latest.”
“Which is about what we had guessed when we first discovered this ship Lieutenant. Something is not right here. If they are humans, then how did they get here so fast? John Henry James did not discover the principles behind the Jump Drive until well into the Federation Era. No way a ship built before the First World War could have a James Drive, even if a multi-generation ship could have been built back then.”
“Yes sir. They have to be aliens from that set of data but why would aliens speak Russian and English? Moreover, the Russian and English of the early Federation or late UN period, That points to them being human. Do you have any clues sir?”
“Nothing but a foundation myth :Lieutenant. You obviously got the data we sent once we left the hanger, Ensign Wolfe can send his recording of what we have been doing in this conference room and you can continue to analyze the data and see if there are any clues there.”
“Aye sir. Shall I send off another message torpedo?”
“No, not yet Lieutenant. Let us wait until we have something more definitive than just maybe and perhaps. No need to send off anything until then.”
“Aye sir. Lieutenant Moyar off.”
“Elder off.” Still facing straight ahead, Elder said quietly, “Send off a copy of the recording Ensign.” Raising his voice slightly, to be heard, Elder continued, “Lieutenant Major, you keep you battalion informed just in case.” Both officers acknowledged their orders silently.
Ten minutes late a man and two women came into the room. The women were carrying a roll of plastic sheeting. Two of the seated men moved enough to let the women put the sheeting on the table. The women then left. The man turned the sheeting and unrolled it. Elder craned his neck and took a good look. It was a deck plan but although the script looked familiar, Elder could not read the labels. He could see the labels but he could not read them.
Ensign Wolfe quietly said, “I can read it sir. It’s classical Cyrillic.”
“Good, I should have expected Cyrillic but I hadn’t thought about it Ensign. What does it say? Is it indeed deck plans?”
“Yes sir, at least the top sheet is. Moreover, since the sheets are bound, I presume the others are also. As thick as the pad of sheets is, I guess it has all the decks. However, I doubt it is up to date, especially in areas that the soviets do not control sir.”
“Probably true Ensign. If I were the Captain of the LIBERTY, I would have made whatever changes I could so that the soviets would not have good information.”
The Lieutenant Major spoke up, “Sir, I have a couple of trained scouts among my people here. Once we start investigating the ship, I’ll have them explore for whatever does not match the deck plans.”
The man who had just come in with the deck plans started speaking just then and pointing at various sections of the deck plans as he did so. Elder had to pay attention to him, or at least look like he was paying attention. Ensign Wolfe began translating. Once the Ensign began speaking, the other man stopped and waited for the Ensign to stop.
“Sir, this man is pointing out the various important parts of Deck One, the Bridge Deck. The Bridge is at the long end of the sheet furthest away from the Chairman. It is the large area in the center of the end. On our side of the Bridge, at that end are some of the electronics for the Bridge. On the other side are the Captain’s Quarters. Just behind the Bridge are various storerooms and electronic spaces. There is an armory,” here Ensign Wolfe said a word in Russian and the man pointed at a specific space, “right there with small arms and non-lethal weapons. The remainder of the deck, until about halfway aft are senior officer quarters and mess rooms, kitchens, and pantries. Aft of the center-line is an area controlled by the soviets and consists of more officer’s quarters, messes, kitchens and pantries.”
The man flipped through several sheets, perhaps six dozen of them, and said something. Ensign Wolfe translated. “These decks are all the same, colonist quarters with kitchens, pantries, mess halls and repair shops throughout each one. All are exact copies of the others. Each deck can hold about sixty-five thousand people without problem.”
There were three sheets left in the pad when the man finished flipping the living space decks. The top one showed six large spaces at the aft end of the ship and more spaces that looked to Elder as repeats of the living and maintenance spaces of the upper decks.
“Sir, the center space at the aft, just ahead of the hanger spaces, is marked ‘Upper portion Special Drive’ but there is nothing to show what it is.”
“Who is the engineering specialist here?”
One of the senior enlist Navy people spoke up, “Sir, I am Chief Sergeant Fortunato. I’ve worked on all sorts of ship engines from Jump Drives to simple power units.”
“very well Chief Sergeant. I want you to have a look at the ‘Special Drive’ as soon as you can. If they are humans, you should be able to identify it and if they are aliens, you are our best hope of deciphering what it is.”
“Aye sir. It should be no problem, unless the equipment is too alien and uses principles I know nothing about.”
The man flipped the sheet to uncover the next sheet. This sheet had one huge space that started under the “Special Drive” section of the previous sheet and continued for about half the deck. The remainder looked like maintenance areas again. Something about the corridors bothered Elder, they seemed too small, not wide enough. Granted, on any spaceship, corridors were as small as could be safely made, but these were smaller than Elder expected. The maintenance spaces also seemed smaller than they should be.
The man spoke for a short time and Ensign Wolfe translated. “Sir this deck was extensively modified during the period that the colonists joined the VOLGA. The engines that they added were supposed to be much more efficient than the old engines; but they had to keep the old engines, they are on the next deck, to provide power for this drive and the remainder of the ship. Sir, this layout does not strike me as right.”
“Yes, I see it too Ensign but I am not sure what I see.”
Chief Sergeant Fortunato spoke up, “Sir, this kind of looks like an early James Drive, at least in terms of the way the spaces are organized. Early dries took up huge amounts of space and the bulkheads nearby needed strengthening to survive the stresses. I will have to look at the equipment to make sure, but I have seen this type of layout before in the historical archives. If it is a James Drive, then they could have Jumped here from wherever the colony was. This might have been a multi-generation ship originally and was modified to use a Jump Drive.”
Elder leaned back and rubbed his nose. Then, to no one in particular, “That explains a lot. Moreover, if the crew of the VOLGA was not expecting the effects of a Jump and the colonists were, then the colonists probably expected to use that to take control of the ship and return home. However, where was home? Who were the colonists? We need to find out.”
The man flipped the sheet and the last sheet was familiar to Elder. It was a classic engineering deck plan. There were the fuel tanks in front and the maintenance spaces between the fuel and the huge power plants. Since there were no exhausts at the rear of the ship, Elder deduced that the main drive was a reactionless one. The basic reactionless drive dated from early in the Federation period so that caused no problems in terms of a time-line for the ship.
:Sir, the Chairman asks what we are going to do now.”
“Next we are going to explore all the spaces we can get to, paying particular attention to the boundary between the Chairman’s people and the Captain’s people. Once that reconnaissance is complete, we will make plans to deal with the situation. We are not going to start this action without knowing as much as we can.”
Ensign Wolfe translated Elder’s comment and got a harsher than expected reaction. The Chairman seemed extremely angry. Elder swung his eyes and saw that the Marines had their hands near their pistols. Considering how fast Vladimir Josef had acted when killing the other man earlier, Elder was not sure that the Marines would react fast enough to prevent him from killing at least one person. Elder hoped it would not be his death. He did not want Constance and the children to have to deal with his death. The Navy would take care of them, the Navy always did in such situations, but Constance and the children would rather have him alive than dead although he never could understand why Constance loved him so – even after all these years.
After a short exchange between Ensign Wolfe and the Chairman, Vladimir Josef shut u and looked sullen. Elder deduced that Ensign Wolfe had won the argument. He was right.
“Sir, the Chairman did not want us to explore the ship but when I told him, repeatedly, that we would do nothing until we had done so he accepted the situation, with, as you can see, bad grace.”
“Yes, I can see that Ensign. Lieutenant Major, get your people into small teams and start exploring this ship. Start from the aft and work forward. I want Navy specialists with your teams to investigate the areas they are concerned with.”
“Sir, I would prefer that my people make a sweep first and then the specialists enter the areas they need to investigate. Less danger that way.”
Elder considered what the Lieutenant Major said and accepted it. “Good point Lieutenant Major, but make your initial sweep fast. I do not think the soviets are going to want any delays. Start with the engine rooms then and work forward and upward from there. I want to know what that ‘Special Drive’ is. That drive is the key to this mystery I think.”
“YEs sir, three teams with myself and Sergeant Gors acting as an emergency back-up. We can escort any specialists once we have cleared out an area of danger. But, if I station anyone with the specialists as guards I will need a lot more people.”
Elder thought about that, “Hum, yes. I do not want the whole battalion over here Lieutenant Major but you should have more than just twelve. How many do you expect to need, a platoon or a full company?”
“I’ll give orders for a full company over here with a second company waiting just in case. That’ll leave three more companies just in case.”
“I don’t want to sound like I’m telling you how to do your job Lieutenant Major, but the sheer size of this ship would require three companies I think.” Elder had some experience with combat matters, any Navy member who had been in the service for even a few years had at least two experiences with ground combat.
“Well, you might be right, but I don’t want to have too many people over here at first. I’d rather bring them over in waves than give away just how many Marines we have aboard the MACALPIN sir.”
“Sounds good. How about ship-based weapons Lieutenant Major? If either group has control of effective ship=based weapons any reinforcements you try to bring over could get destroyed.”
“I doubt that there are any ship-based weapons sir. Most colony ships from the First Expansion were not armed and even if this ship started out with such weaponry, why would the colonists maintain them? The risk is light in my expert opinion.”
Elder had to agree with the logic. Besides, even though as Captain of the MACALPIN he had command authority over the Marine Battalion assigned to the ship, he knew better than to interfere with the Marine OIC. The Marines always had ways of getting back at ship’s captains who did that sort of thing and it was never pretty.
“Very well Lieutenant Major. Make the arraignments and get the people here. Are you planning on rotating your people?”
“I hadn’t thought much about that sir. My first thought is no, unless you are going to rotate the Navy people.”
“No, I don’t intend to rotate them. Everyone here, including me, is expendable. I don’t like the idea of letting these people know how many people are aboard the MACALPIN just as you were thinking about your people Lieutenant Major.”
“So, when should I bring over the company? My suggestion is immediately sir.”
“Good idea, but not quite yet Lieutenant Major. Ensign Wolfe, inform the Chairman that more people will be coming over from our ship tomorrow, approximately six hundred people as reinforcements. These people will be doing the work against the rebels.” Elder wondered if the word rebel was the proper term for the Captain’s people; he was concluding that they were not rebels but kidnapped victims fighting for their freedom.
It took over an hour of wrangling to get the details worked out, at least for the start but the engine rooms were a sticking point that the soviets refused to budge on for now. In the process, the Imperials learned that the soviets had indeed lost words for any period over a day due to non-use. The soviets gave the Imperials a series of rooms to stay in and a mess room to eat in and warned the Imperials that food would be scarce since the planning of food rations had not considered them. Elder stated that food for the Imperials, not the term he used – he said “my people” – would come from the MACALPIN so that there would be no strain on the resources of the VOLGA. Once in their assigned quarters, and their gear stored in those quarters instead of the hanger bay, Elder had a quick conference with the Lieutenant Major.