“Captain Major to Captain.”
Elder finished chewing and swallowing his bite of beef stew before answering. “Elder here. What’s wrong Captain Major?”
“Captain, the colonists are now using slug throwers. Mostly rifles that outrange our stunners. I have halted our advance until I have a better idea of the danger those slug throwers pose; they seem to be high caliber.”
“How big a slug Captain Major?”
“It varies, but most seem to be between 15 and 20 millimeters Captain. No danger from a single hit. Nevertheless, two close together, especially the larger ones, could penetrate. Where they had these and how they found powder that is still useable I cannot yet say. Nevertheless, these things are more dangerous than their stunners. The colonists are grouping these slug throwers in sections of five and can lay down a barrage of fire that could damage a Combat Suit before we get into range.”
“How fast do these rifles fire Captain Major?”
“Well Captain, I had the second encounter recorded and we analyzed the audio and heard thirty-two gunshots in ten seconds from five rifles. Muzzle flashes confirmed the number. These were rifles of 20-millimeter caliber. Any bigger and I would classify them as portable cannon much like our 25-millimeter cannons for the Combat Suit.”
“How many of these rifles are there, Captain Major?”
“We have identified thirty teams with five rifles each team Captain. How many they have in reserve, I cannot say, obviously. Moreover, the rate at which they are using their ammunition indicates that they have some way to manufacture the ammunition or they have a huge stockpile. I’m thinking the former; again, how could they store these and have the ammunition still work after all these generations?”
“I wonder about the availability of these weapons Captain Major. Think about it, if these weapons had been available early on, why did not the colonists use them before now? In addition, why are they fighting us? We represent their best chance to return to civilization and a more normal life.”
“I had not thought that far along Captain. We are presently in a residential district, that may be why they are using the slug throwers since there is little in the way of vital equipment here that those weapons could damage if they miss us. Maybe once we move past this district into something with more vital equipment, the colonists will change weapons again.”
“Captain Major, you know what weapons the Soviets had. Did they have anything comparable to these rifles?”
“Nothing Captain. With these rifles, the colonists could have destroyed the Soviets or at least eliminated them as a threat and gone home generations ago. I see what you are saying. Something does not add up here.”
“Very well Captain Major, this is a problem we cannot solve until we get more information and to do that requires us to subdue the colonists. You may take causalities but not too many I hope and no one KIA. I would suggest that you not give the colonists a chance to come up with new weapons. Nevertheless, that is just a suggestion; you know what you are doing. You are Marines and I am Navy; so take it for what it is worth.”
“Aye Captain. I understand. Marines out.”
Startled at the unusual sig off, Elder considered it for a moment before returning to his meal. What was the Captain Major telling him? Anything? Nobody expected Marines to be subtle in their messages, especially in combat, so if there was anything here, it was plain to see. And, Elder did see it after a short period of thinking. The Captain Major was just emphasizing his responsibility to the ship’s captain. Elder had told the Captain Major to secure the colonists and the Captain Major accepted what seemed to be the almost unlimited authority given him to do just that.
Elder was asleep in his cabin aboard the MACALPIN when the call came. It was not the middle of the night ship’s time; it was just the middle of when he was asleep. Between the odd hours as Captain and the odd hours he needed to be available for issues concerning the colony ship, Elder had no set sleeping schedule and was as often sleeping in the middle of the day as the middle of the night ship’s time.
Elder did wake up quickly, most people in the Navy did, but unless there was something to keep him awake in the moments immediately after waking up, he tended to slide into a waking doze for however long it took him to get ready for the day. He did not have that problem this time.
“Captain, this is the Captain Major. We have secured the colony ship.”
That guaranteed that Elder was awake and would stay awake. He rolled out of bed and asked, “How many casualties Captain Major?”
“For us, just a few wounded. Six at the last report. No one KIA. Of the colonists, we are still counting but there were a couple of instances where the colonists were shooting at us and ignoring other colonists either just past us or among us, so their rifles have seriously wounded about twenty-five and killed seven. That is as of the resent count and it could get larger. The colony ship’s captain was one of the killed.”
“That is bad Captain Major. How about the Executive Officer?”
“Alive and captured Captain. We started interrogations just about ten minutes ago. We should have at least the basic information about the history, or at least where to find it, shortly.”
“Captain! This is the Bridge! An Imperial ship just entered the system, and is accelerating fast towards us. Transponder code indicates INS HINDO G000134D-043, No sign of any accompanying ships.”
“What is the estimated time of arrival?”
“Captain, if they go for minimum time, three days. And at the rate the HINDO has been accelerating for the last fifteen minutes, that is their goal.”
“Did you hear that Captain Major?”
“Aye Captain. I’ll aim to get as much information as I can and return in two days.”
“Captain, this is the Bridge again. We are receiving a coded message on the secure command channel demanding to speak with you.”
“I’ll be right there. Captain out.” Elder threw on his uniform and headed to the Bridge. Luckily, the Captain’s Cabin was near the Bridge, so he could walk the distance in a couple of minutes. Between getting dressed and striding to the Bridge, not quite ten minutes had passed. Elder considered the time not an issue since the coded message gave no priority demanding speed.
Once on the Bridge, Elder went to the Command Chair and sat. Activating the security system that gave him a private space for communications, he responded to the message from the HINDO.
“Captain of the MACALPIN, you will terminate any and all communications with the slien species immediately and forthwith dispatch all information you possess on these aliens to the HINDO for evaluation by the staff aboard the HINDO. Further contact with the aliens is hereby forbidden by order of Admiral Commanding Second Fleet. The HINDO will perform all procedures necessary prior to these aliens convening with Emperor Caroline. Do you understand, Captain of the MACALPIN?”
The language sounded familiar, there was not too many officers that used that sort of language but Elder had not spoken with Quinn in a couple of years. Hell, Elder did not even know what rank Quinn held now. However, Elder needed to clarify the situation before the HINDO arrived so that the people did not expect aliens but Lost Colonists.
“Officer commanding the INS Class-K Scout Cruiser, KENNETH MACALPIN K00092C-0065, Lieutenant Commander Jesip Dwight Roger Allen Elder acknowledges your message. Your information is out of date. The people aboard the discovered ship are not aliens but Lost Colonists from the period of the Colonial Revolt and the War of Unification, or earlier.”
After several minutes, during which Elder expected a frantic re-evaluation of what the people aboard the HINDO were going to do, “Officer Commanding the MACALPIN. Do you comprehend your orders?”
“Lieutenant Commander Elder here. I understand the message you sent, did you understand the message I sent?”
“Officer Commanding the MACALPIN you communication is not relevant. Obey the order of Admiral Commanding Second Fleet.”
“Lieutenant Commander Elder here; Quinn, is that you?. Listen to me.” Raising his voice to just below a shout, “THESE ARE NOT ALIENS!”
It was not that many years ago that radio would be how ships communicated over interplanetary distances. The Empire needed better communications over interstellar distances and this faster-than-light radio was one result of the research that was still ongoing. However, it was so short-range that it was useless at interstellar distances. If there were more telepaths, telepathy could be a viable method of interstellar communication but there were still too few for more than communications between a few bases. Elder could conduct a normal conversation with Quinn, presuming it was Quinn at the other end, and not have it drag over hours if not days or even weeks. But message torpedoes or ships were the only way to communicate over interstellar distances.
“This is indeed Captain Quinn. If you are the personage named Elder I know, aboard which vessel was the concluding period of our entrance examination?”
“Congratulations on making Captain, and we were aboard the JAVOTOT. Shall I refer to your attempted sacrifice at the end when the food was running out? You were impressed with my intelligence and problem solving ability back those many years ago, I have not lost my touch Captain Quinn. In addition, that was you title then because we needed someone to lead us and you were the choice. Have I proved my identity Captain?”
There was a pause that lasted long enough that Elder wondered if the other ship was not going to reply. A video link came up so that Elder could see Captain Quinn. Then, “Lieutenant Commander Elder, the message torpedo received at Second Fleet Headquarters make specific reference to the discovery of an alien species. Explain yourself.”
“Captain Quinn, the message torpedoes I sent off made no such explicit reference but merely said that there was the possibility. Moreover, I sent those torpedoes to Section Headquarters not Fleet. If Section told FLeet that aliens were definitely present then they got my message wrong and you need to take it up with them, not me.”
“Lieutenant Commander Elder, the HINDO has orders from Second Fleet to meet promptly with the aliens. You will comply with the orders of Admiral Commanding Second Fleet immediately.”
“Captain Quinn, you are more intelligent than this. Did you come from Second Fleet Headquarters?”
“Lieutenant Commander Elder, I obtained my orders from Admiral Commanding Second Fleet personally three weeks ago.”
“Captain Quinn, you have not had time to travel here from Second Fleet Headquarters. Where did you depart from?”
“Lieutenant Commander Elder, I obtained my orders directly from Admiral Commanding Second Fleet personally.”
“Admiral Marner stood before you, face-to-face, and gave you those orders? On Base A-92?”
“Lieutenant Commander Elder, that is affirmative. Comply with your orders.”
“Captain Quinn, you must be suffering from Jump Sickness. Who is in command of the HINDO? I presume you are in command of the expedition.”
Jump Sickness, a mental disorder that happens when a ship makes too many Jumps too quickly. Emperor Antoninio Calegari created the five-day Imperial week based upon the time between safe Jumps. Not all humans got Jump Sickness, nor with the same number of Jumps. There was just too many variables to predict who got it and when or how severe.
“:Lieutenant Commander Elder, you are deficient in the education required of a medical officer. Your diagnosis is invalid. Comply with your orders.”
“Captain Quinn, every Imperial officer went through the training necessary to recognize Jump Sickness in their third year at the Academy. In addition, there is the refresher training roughly every three years after the probationary period. I completed mine just last year, as you should have done also. Did you complete your refresher training? I remember that you have quite a bit of medical knowledge even without formal training. So even without refresher training, you should recognize your symptoms.”
Quinn just glared at Elder and did not reply. The focus was set so that the rest of whatever cabin Quinn was in was not identifiable.
“Captain Quinn, what are the symptoms of Jump Sickness?”
Quinn looked shocked for a moment, an unusual emotion for the normal stoic Quinn. “Lieutenant Commander Elder, your endeavor to flout your orders is rehensible. I should relive you of command immediately, unfortunately, I have not that authority. Comply with your orders.”
“Since you won’t Captain, I will. First is a slacking of mental ability. Second is increased irritability and anger. Third is stubbornness. Fourth is a tendency to excessively repeat oneself. Fifth is decreased situational awareness. Shall I continue Captain? Or do you recognize yourself so far?”
“Lieutenant Commander Elder comply with…”
Elder began shouting in order to override Quinn’s expected comment. Quinn might even remember that there was a provision for reliving an officer of duty and Elder had to act before Quinn did so. “Captain Quinn! Under Imperial Navy Regulation 146-932, Paragraph 73, Subparagraph (E) I hereby relive you of command. Lieutenant Lubow, log that action.”
Once Quinn stopped sputtering and stuttering, “Lieutenant Commander Elder! You forget yourself!”
Another figure entered the viewing area. With looks typical of someone from Sharnalt, an arm with the four gold stripes of a Captain took hold of Quinn’s shoulder and yanked. Elder heard the new Captain shout to someone not visible, “Captain Quinn has been lawfully relieved of command. Take him to the brig.”
Then to Elder, :Lieutenant Commander Elder, I am Captain Lacido Ronak Wilke Brunel Mozart, Captain of the HINDO. I am not suffering from Jump Sickness, or if I am, it is a very mild case. I can think straight. You say there are no aliens here?”
“No Captain, no aliens. It seemed a plausible idea when we first got here, as this is a generation ship and for it to have come from Earth would require that it left Earth before the First World War. Since then we have discovered that these were communists who fled the founding of the Federation, and during the Colonial Revolt or the Unification War met with a colony with a functioning space yard. Those people put a Jump Drive and revolted while the communists were recovering from their first ever Jump. Somehow, they ended up here and have been fighting for generations upon generations. I have secured the ship and have both factions in custody. My people are going through their historical records now to fill in the details.”
“Very good Lieutenant Commander Elder. How many message torpedoes have you sent out?”
“Just the two to Section Captain. And one to the last expected system a ship from Section Headquarters would have to come through warning them.”
“Nothing to Second Fleet Headquarters? Your first torpedo mentioned aliens did it not Lieutenant Commander?”
“Captain, the first torpedo I sent to Section mentioned the possibility of aliens. I expected a ship from Section Headquarters to show up with some people who had some better knowledge than I, even though no one really has any knowledge about aliens.”
“Well Lieutenant Commander, it seems Section sent torpedoes to every command level up through Second Fleet. Torpedoes have been flying at an intense pace ever since. Second Fleet decided to send us, Captain Quinn was there on an unrelated mission and we have sped here at the fastest pace that Grand Herald Javier Cadel Osai Zorba MacDermot could push us. Captain Quinn, the mission commander, agreed. I think Captain Quinn is pushing for a title in case he retires soon. You know he is just an Emir, right?”
“Captain Quinn and I went through the third phase of the entrance examination together on the JACOTOT. If you came from Second Fleet Headquarters, then you missed our last torpedo as it is waiting in the wrong system, Captain. Wait a second. Did you say Grand Herald?”
“Yes Lieutenant Commander. Grand Herald MacDermot is on an inspection tour to various bases and duchies. He was at Second Fleet Headquarters and declared that his rank gave him the authority to negotiate with the aliens. He and his staff transferred to my ship and away we came. We have been averaging two days between Jumps not five, with the last two having just a day between them. The Grand Herald probably is just as Jump Sick as Captain Quinn, if not more. He does not have the training the Navy has. Not that the training does us much good, but we get it.”
Elder thought back on all the days of training on how to avoid Jump Sickness, none of it repeated as the Navy experimented with different ideas. The only sure way to avoid Jump Sickness was to take at least five days between Jumps. Nevertheless, since some people, like those from Sharnalt, were able to resist Jump Sickness better than others were, the experiments continued.
“So, Captain, how many of your crew are suffering?”
“Lieutenant Commander, just over two-thirds of my crew and the Marine regiment are suffering to some extent. The Grand Herald’s staff is even worse. I will reduce my speed in order to give us time to recover. Expect us in seven days. Captain Mozart out.”
Elder leaned back and rubbed his nose. Not that he ever wore any of it away but rubbing the over-large proboscis helped him think. Checking in with the Chief Medical Officer on Jump Sickness and the recovery time from it got him no joy. With as many people suffering from it, seven days would give them a chance to recover but probably a third of those suffering would not recover in seven days. Perhaps 5 to 10 percent would never recover. Elder had never learned the percentages since he had never been on a ship that had risked it, although, he knew of ships that had risked it and some which had lost the gamble.
However, he had just over an Imperial week to learn as much as he could about the colony ship. The Captain Major had said he would have the information in two days, but that was before Elder knew of the longer time before the HINDO arrived. Should Elder tell him? No, it would really make no difference since if the Captain Major had not finished by two days, the extra four or five would allow for extra effort.
Elder paused. He had commanding officers who had pulled such a stunt on him and he resented it. He would not do it to someone else.
“Communications, get me the Captain Major.”
Captain Major Major must have not left his communications center yet, or else Elder’s call was immediately routed to wherever the Battalion Commander was. “Aye Captain, what is it?”
“I have just spoken with the Captain of the HINDO and they are slowing down to recover from Jump Sickness. The commander of the expedition is someone I know from my entrance examination and Academy years. The diplomat is a Chief Herald who happened to be on an inspection tour. You have some extra time Captain Major, seven days total, but press on regardless. Do not waste time. Am I clear?”
“Aye Captain. I will still push for two days, which will give us some time to start analyzing what we learn before the HINDO gets here. Anything else?”
“No Captain Major, not at the moment. Just remember that nothing seems right about this. And not just the timing of the VOLGA reaching here.”
“Aye Captain. Battalion Commander out.”
After taking a quick look around the Bridge, Elder went to his day cabin and called up the files on the VOLGA. As he expected, it was confusing. The evidence so far indicated that the VOLGA left Earth just before the establishment of the Federation. There was no indication that it was a government-funded colony ship and no indication that it was privately funded. However, a government-funded ship was more likely. However, what government would spend the quadrillions necessary to send off a small group of dissidents? Moreover, the initial group of colonists seemed small, notoriously so. After a hundred years, the growth was enough to take over a small colony but even that was a problem. The colonists, the soviets to distinguish them from that other colony, had to have a large military trained population. On the other hand, the Federation suppressed the civilian population from having weapons or receiving training in them.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to Elder. Calling Chief Sergeant Fortunato got him nowhere as the Chief Sergeant was off duty and asleep at the time. The Chief Engineer of the MACALPIN had never gone to the other ship but in spite of that, he might be able to answer Elder’s question.
“Lieutenant Kumagi, what kind of efficiency would the maneuver drives have on the VOLGA? How fast would her top speed be?”
“Well Captain, the best engines just before the founding of the Federation got up to about .4c, roughly, after about a year of acceleration.”
“So, how far from Earth would the VOLGA have gotten in a hundred years Lieutenant?”
“They would be well within Federation claimed territory Captain. Say, maybe, two-thirds of the way to the edge as I remember. They could have reached several of the Federation colonies.”
“And Lieutenant, how many Jumps from there to here?”
“Well Captain, the Navigator could give you a better number but my guess is perhaps a dozen or so. Depending on which side of Federation space they started from.”
“Thank you Lieutenant. Captain out.”
Twelve Jumps, maximum of four parsecs per Jump. However, the history that the Soviets recorded indicated just a single Jump. No Jump could go that far unless it was a Misjump. Moreover, Misjumps were a branch of physics all to themselves that no one had a clue about. Not even to start investigating them since they were so unusual and varied. Misjumps usually damaged the James Drive and often the Maneuver Drive and sometimes even the power plant. Such damage was often past repair, even in the portions protected from the effects of Jump by shielding. There was no sign of such damage in the colony ship’s engine rooms. Not that the lack of such damage was proof that a Misjump had not happened, but it was evidence to that effect.
The Imperials aboard the colony ship found the historical records that the Captain’s people kept and reading through them confused the Imperials. The references to multiple Jumps, properly identified as Jumps, contradicted the Soviet history of a single Jump. Moreover, the history spoke of working the Jumps so that the Soviets were always confused. This would seem that the Captain’s people were trying to induce Jump Sickness in the Soviets but how would they avoid it themselves?
One small point made the confusion worse. The early records spoke of meeting between the leader of the Soviets and the Captain to decide upon the issues. What the issues were, the records did not state but the record implied that the issues were important if the head of the Soviets and the Captain met to discuss them while a mutiny was in progress. Then the paragraph that really confused Elder came up.
The paragraph spoke of the delivery of a book from the library and the start of the fighting. Between the delivery of the book and the start of the fighting was just two days it seemed. Nothing in the paragraph specified what the book was but the book was treated with reverence and the fighting started so soon after the delivery that Elder guessed that perhaps the book was a combat manual but that made no sense. Why deliver a book on combat tactics to your opponents during a mutiny?
The Captain Major was still onboard the colony ship, directing the follow-up activities of the Imperials. Elder took a quick glance at the schedule of those on the colony ship and called the Captain Major, who had just come on duty.
“Captain Major here.”
“Captain here. I have a question, Actually probably more than just one. Did you go through the records that the Captain’s people kept?”
“Aye Captain, I did and one point strikes me as significant. Early on, the Captain’s people could have taken the Soviets down easily. People with knowledge of the effects of Jump, even if that knowledge is just from schooling, recover faster than people without such knowledge do. Why didn’t the Captain’s people secure the Soviets then and return to Federation space?”
“I had not fully considered that point Captain Major. I concentrated on the file talking about the meetings between the Soviets and the Captain’s people. There is mention of a book that the Captain’s people gave to the Soviets from the library before there is ever any mention of any fighting. What book is that? A combat book> Why is there no mention of fighting until after these meeting and the gifting of the book?”
“I missed that point Captain. I will look into it. There are people searching the library now, I’ll have them check the inventory and discover what is missing.”