Once back at the temporary headquarters, Elder opened a secure channel and began giving detailed instruction, not that Lieutenant Lubow needed the instructions, she had been in Second Fleet longer than Elder had, but it was normal for a ship’s Captain to want to give instructions in order to make sure that the Captain and the Executive Officer were not going to surprise the other by doing something unexpected.
“Captain, we received a message torpedo from Flotilla about fifteen minutes ago. An Imperial Herald is coming to meet the aliens. Senior Herald Parkin will be arriving as soon as possible. Flotilla Command has ordered us to work with him so that he can establish friendly relations with between the Empire and the aliens, presuming that the people that we are in contact with are indeed aliens. If the people are a Lost Colony, then normal procedures are to be followed.”
“It is, what, three Jumps from Base to here? We have quite a bit of time before the Senior Herald arrives Lieutenant.”
“Actually Captain, four Jumps. However, the last Jump is just two and a half parsecs. With your taking control of the other ship, regardless of what the name really is, Senior Herald Parkin should not have mush, if anything, to do here. Waste of time to show up but with no way to talk to a ship in outsystem space, we cannot stop him.”
“Lieutenant, can’t we send a message torpedo to one of the systems the incoming ship has to go through and let them know?”
“Aye Captain, we could. However, should we waste a message torpedo doing that? Our stockpile is limited.”
Elder thought for a few moments, :If we can save Senior Herald Parkin from wasting his time to get here, or her time – whatever, then it would be worth it. The systems they Jump through are known, right Lieutenant?”
“Aye Captain. There is only one path that they can take to get here from Base, so we can aim for the next to last system and catch them there. I’ll have it out in an hour.”
Elder sat for several minutes considering the situation and then called his ship again. “Lieutenant Lubow, has anyone investigated the database for information on a generation ship VOLGA?”
“No sir, not that I know. We were hung up on the possibility of aliens. I’ll have Sous-Lieutenant Heller start a search immediately.”
:Concentrate on pre-Federation. I think I remember that a few generation ships were sent out before the James Drive was perfected. Moreover, even when it was in early use, I think some generation ships that had been under construction were finished and sent out as well, just in case the James Drive did not work out. However, the records are so chaotic and fragmentary from that time, I could be wrong. I seem to remember that all the generation ships are accounted for but a memory is starting to nag at me saying some were lost as well as some early James Drive ships.”
“I do not know when we will have any data for you Captain, but I’ll have History do a search. I might as well check for failed colonies as well. Remember what the Chairman said about a colony begging to join them? If we can find such a colony, it should help with dealing with the Captain’s people.”
“If the VOLGA started out before the Colonial Revolt and took a colony during the Colonial Revolt or the War of Unification, the loss might have been credited to military action, so don’t just look for missing colonies, investigate everything Lieutenant.”
“Scout Cruisers are equipped to investigate everything Captain. We are on it. MACALPIN out.”
Elder glanced at the computer terminal in the room. It was not the sort of computer he was used to, obviously, and he was not even sure it would work with voice commands. Even if it did, would those commands have to be in Russian? However, he rolled his chair over to the terminal and looked it over. The keyboard was in Latin characters, which surprised him. Nevertheless, Elder was increasingly of the opinion that the soviets were indeed Russians and not aliens. If so, then the computer dated to before the Federation when English was the dominate language of that era. Even the Chinese and Japanese had increasingly used English for their computers and not their own hieroglyphic languages. Moreover, English evolved into the standard Federation Language and then into Imperial. He could read pre-Federation English with some trouble, but the older it got the harder it was for him. He still could not read Shakespeare in the original Early Modern with any ease so he relied on translations. Not that he read Shakespeare much; he thought Shakespeare was not very good.
Anyway, Elder quickly found the power switch and turned the terminal on. After a few seconds, a screen appeared showing a picture of the Chairman and a few, very few, icons designating programs available. At least, that is what Elder expected the icons meant. There was script under each icon but Elder had no idea what the writing meant as it was in Cyrillic.
Before he was too absorbed in trying to decipher the writing and the icons, the Marine Commander called him. “Captain, we have secured the Engine Room. At first glance, it is strange, maybe you would like to see it? I know you are not an engineer but you do know a lot about pre-Imperial history so maybe something here will mean something to you. I’m sending someone to bring you, are you at the headquarters we established?”
“YEs Lieutenant Major, I am. That statue triggered some memory but it has not gotten clear enough yet. Therefore I am going to investigate the computer files and see what I can learn. I do have some expertise with computers and this is better than just sitting around doing nothing but squat.”
“Aye sir, do you want to come to the Engine Room?”
“Yes, Lieutenant Major, I do. I have not started here yet, not really. Moreover, it may take quite some time to get into the computer since it seems so old. Old, but not alien. Another reason to consider this is a Lost Colony in spite of the distance from Imperial territory, or especially Federation Territory.”
It was five minutes later that a Marine Private First Class showed up and requested that Elder follow him. Elder knew that the Imperial Navy and Marines had no minimum or maximum height or weight but this young man made Elder feel tall. The top of his head came to Elder’s chin and he was so skinny that Elder wondered if he had any muscle on his bones. Then Elder noticed the ribbons, including hand-to-hand combat and small arms expert. Elder decided not to worry about this young man. Anyone thinking he would be a pushover was in for serious trouble.
“Where are you from Private First Class?”
“Pizey, in the Boii Sector Sir.”
“I think I know a bit about your Sector, it is not near my home sector, you are clear on the other side of the Empire Private First Class.”
“Aye sir. I have spent most of my time in the Marines travelling from one post to another. Most Marines stay in one unit but I am one of those who get transferred in order to balance out unit levels. I have been in Sectors all over in the last six years. It has made it hard to get good reviews and recommendations for promotion but with hard work I have not fallen too far behind.”
For the rest of the walk to the Engine Room, Elder and the Private First Class discussed the home world of the Private First Class and his plans for his life after his term in the Marines, including that he intended entering into the Ducal Police as had many of his family. Elder also learned that the Marine was Wiccan, the first one that Elder had run into; at least, as far as he knew. He rarely questioned the religious beliefs of those who worked for him.
There was a Marine Corporal at the entrance to the Engine Room looking very uncomfortable in his forest green shipboard jumpsuit. Elder felt some sympathy for him, the Combat Suit was much better protection against whatever the Soviets could use in the way of weapons. Elder felt somewhat vulnerable without a Combat Suit as well, but the Marines wore it much more than naval personnel did, especially in combat situations. That Marine had to feel almost naked.
The Marine Corporal saluted Elder and opened the door to the Engine Room. Neither Marine entered with him.
Inside Elder paused o take the room in. He had been in Engine Rooms before, especially when he was the Executive Officer of the INS DATHICK before his promotion and assignment to the INS MACALPIN. It took a moment to realize that everything was the same sort of equipment found on Imperial ships except that these were huge. Each piece of equipment had to be at least three times the size of equipment normally available at the present time.
Elder considered that point for a moment and then looked at his Identity Bracelet. It was maybe a quarter the size of the one he had worn when he entered the Navy and was probably five times as capable.
There were two groups of people in the Engine Room, a Marine guarding several people in red jumpsuits and several Imperials over by what looked like a control board. Elder went over to that last group. As he reached them, and it took a short while since the size of the Engine Room matched the size of the equipment inside it, he studied the board and immediately got confused.
Elder had been around many control panels, both in the Imperial Navy and in civilian workplaces and this control board matched none of them. It did not even look like someone could use it with any efficiency. In an emergency, it would take valuable seconds to find the proper control unless someone had previously memorized it and if memorization was required, why not make it easy to memorize? Elder looked at the Imperials standing there, his confusion showing on his face.
“Aye Captain, it’s a mess. My guess is that somebody added some of these controls after the board was originally designed and just shoved them into whatever space was available. But that doesn’t make sense because programmable controls were available or a hundred years or so before the Federation was founded.” Chief Sergeant Fortunato knew engineering and when he made such a comment, it was the last word needed.”
“Meaning, Chief Sergeant?”
“Captain, the fusion plant controls are mixed with the maneuvering drive controls, and the Jump Drive controls. If we took out the Jump Drive controls, the other controls are still mixed together. No human ever did this for a sane reason. And if it is aliens, their thought process concerning controls are out of my understanding. The normal technique for decades before the Federation was to set programmable controls in place and you could move the controls, slightly, to fit your need. But all fusion plant controls would be near each other so that you could find something fast if needed; and the same with all the other control sets.”
Elder looked at the controls for a moment and then hunted down the safety and disconnected the panel. He then tried moving from one control to another, simulating emergency procedures. It did not work very well; it just took too long for him to move from one control to another. He turned the safety off so that the controls were active again. “With controls like these, any emergency could get out of hand far too easily. Moreover, if you put two people here to cover emergencies, they would just get in each other’s way. Am I right Chief Sergeant?”
“Aye Captain. Shall we get started on reconfiguring the controls?”
Elder thought for several moments. “No Chief Sergeant, if these people are aliens the Imperial University and who knows how many other Imperial agencies will want to study these. Moreover, if they are not aliens, it will not change a thing. A lot of agencies will want to study everything aboard this ship.”
“It will be hard to operate these controls Captain.” Chief Sergeant Fortunato swung his hands around, encompassing the entire Engine Room.
“It can’t be helped Chief Sergeant. The configuration of these controls and all the other weird things about this ship need to be preserved for future study.”
Then Chief Sergeant Fortunato did what any NCO does when given an unreasonable order that he could not change, he said, “Aye Sir.”
Elder looked around the Engine Room a bit more and then visited the Jump Drive Control Room the next deck up. Like the Engine Room below, what controls the were on various control boards were jumbled up and a danger in case of emergency. He returned to the temporary command center full of thought. Were these aliens or humans? One set of data indicated aliens and another set indicated humans. Every time he had almost decided on the subject, something came up which threw the subject into ambiguity.
The Marines set up several investigation sites and began questioning each member of the Soviet. It was slow going, as most had no clue about their history, just what the Politburo had taught them. There were discrepancies of course, that was to be expected. What was not expected, but perhaps should have been, was that the discrepancies varied by age. Several of the older people remembered being taught specific things that the younger people were not taught or had been taught differently; but the older people ignored these discrepancies for fear of their lives. The members of the Politburo were harder to get information from, but once they began talking, better information came forth.
Elder waited for the investigation to wind down before tackling the problem of the Captain’s people. He thought about giving the ship a third name to emphasize that it was now an Imperial ship and the Emperor had an overriding claim and jurisdiction but decided to wait. Besides, what would he name it?