Two weeks passed, ten days of hard work for almost no progress. The Soviet colonists were easy; they talked all day long if you let them. However, that verbosity gave forth no new information to add to what the Imperials already knew. Master Herald Killea and his people started classes for them on how to be good Imperial subjects. The descendants of the Federation colonists were stubborn. Any information gleaned was by accident.
Captain Major Major sat roughly in one of the chairs in the Day Cabin. “Captain, my interrogators are frustrated. What little information we have gotten is by accident you might say. Reading body language rather than getting an answer, let alone a straight answer, from the Federation types is how we have been able to advance. One thing that we have learned is that they do not like us identifying them with the Federation. Quite a few of them have let slip their disgust with the idea. You know more about pre-Imperial history than I do, but wasn’t the Federation something of a despotism?”
“Something of a despotism? Captain Major, the Federation was the worst tyranny known to history. Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin were babes compared to the Federation. They had every phone or computer bugged with the information going to the Bureau of Education and an estimated 15% of the population were informers. No one can be sure of that number sine so much was destroyed in the Colonial Revolt and War of Unification. Antonino Calegari grew up in that environment and his psychological studies had a heavy dose of how to suppress the population. The Empire he founded was in large part the same. The expansion of the population and the resulting difficulty in communication has eased the burden as much as it has. Emperor Caroline cannot control any duchy not within a couple of Jumps except in the loosest way. The local aristocracy governs and they are closer to the population. Even then, there are kingdoms and duchies – and you know the ones I mean – that oppress their people and get away with it solely because they are loyal to the Emperor. I is the very size, and the resulting difficulty in communications that result, that allows the kingdoms and duchies to be as free as they are.”
“Captain, the Navy and the Marines could impose the same sort of despotism that the Federation had if we were ordered to.”
“True Captain Major, and the ISA being composed of fanatics, tries to impose despotic control where they can. Nevertheless, the local aristocracy would have enough power to keep the Navy and Marines, and the ISA, from taking power from them. The balance of power, between the ISA, the military and the aristocracy keeps any one from imposing such a despotism. Only the Emperor, being at the top of the three, could do that. There are too many kingdoms and duchies in the Empire for the Emperor to control directly, the aristocracy has to control the locals and the military and the ISA are the checks she needs to keep the aristocracy in line.”
The next day. “Sous-Lieutenant Heller to the Captain.”
Elder knew the Sous-Lieutenant, he knew all four officers and fifteen enlisted in the History Office. He also knew that Sous-Lieutenant Heller was the Section poker tournament champion. “Go ahead Sous-Lieutenant.”
“Sir, and I apologize for not thinking of it earlier, but we have discovered the colony the Federation colonists came from. That colony name was Liberty. A large group from North America settled it. The colony was discovered as destroyed during the War of Unification.”
That made sense to Elder. Moreover, a colony with that name would not be welcome in the Federation. In addition, if they considered the Empire to be the same as the Federation, that would explain their resistance to rescue.
“Good work Sous-Lieutenant. Forward whatever information you have on the colony to the Captain Major and the Master Herald. They can make sure it gets to whom it needs to get to. With this information, we should be able to break the code of silence the Federation colonists have. Send me a copy also. Elder out.”
Elder received the information within five minutes. Looking at the size of the file, he considered the small size of it. Yes, the Colonial Revolt and the War of Unification destroyed much of the data from that time but this was odd. Most Federation colonies had much larger files on their pre-Imperial existence even after the chaos that surrounded the establishment of the Empire. A quick computer search showed that the file was about one-third the size of the average pre-Imperial file on the Federation colonies. It was slightly less than half the size of the next smallest file.
Elder read the file, three times, and he still did not understand what he read. What was the Liberty Party and why did it go underground decades before the establishment of the Federation? The government of the country variously known as America or the United States was a democracy, and worked hard to ensure that the Federal Government suppressed hate speech and other forms of unmoral behavior. He would have to revisit that era and concentrate on the North American region in order to understand this.
“Captain Major to Captain Elder.” This interrupted Elder’s musing.
“Elder here. What’s wrong Captain Major?”
“I wish to apologize for the lateness of this but one of my scouts just discovered a hidden compartment in the Federation part of the ship. During previous sweeps, no one had mapped the area and compared it to the deck plans we had. Now that we have started mapping the ship more carefully, we have discovered a compartment hidden near the library.”
“Have you been inside Captain Major?”
“Yes sir, in the company of some of the Master Herald’s people. The compartment is an auxiliary library. The Master Herald’s people are investigating what it contains but there is a computer system not interfaced with the main computer system as well as dozens of physical books and other papers. I had wondered about the Ship’s Log, if you will remember sir, I mentioned that it seemed incomplete shortly after we took control.”
“Vaguely Captain Major. There was a lot of new information back then and it probably got lost in the overload. Is there a more complete Ship’s Log in this compartment?”
“Aye sir. The Master Herald sent word to the HINDO and Captain Quinn and some of the HINDO are on their way to examine it as well.”
An interruption came from the Bridge. “Captain, the HINDO has a message for you. It is marked CLASSIFIED and URGENT. Please come to the Bridge to receive it.”
“On my way. Well Captain Major, this must be Captain Quinn informing me of what you just told me. Elder out.”
It did not take long to get to the Bridge and his Command Chair. Once he activated the security measures, he clicked on the urgent message. “Lieutenant Commander Elder, this is Captain Quinn. I and several of my staff will travel to the LIBERTY and examine the recent discovery of the library annex. I presume that the Captain Major has informed you of the discovery but he may not have the knowledge that the Master Herald has informed me of its existence. Therefore, I wish to inform you of my information in order to maintain proper protocol. Captain Quinn out.”
Trust Quinn to keep proper protocol, he always had. Of course, as he rose in rank, this habit increased, as it should have. He was grooming himself to become Grand Admiral, as his family expected great things from him and so far, he had achieved them from what Elder knew of Quinn’s career.
Releasing the security measures, Elder called to Lieutenant Moyar. “Lieutenant Moyar, I am heading to the VOLGA to examine this new discovery. Contact Sous-Lieutenant Heller and have him, or whomever he designates, go over and help examine this new data. You have the Bridge.”
“Aye Captain, I have the Bridge.”
It was easier to get to the VOLGA now; instead of flying over, a transfer tube connected the VOLGA and the MACALPIN. Another such tube connected the VOLGA with HINDO on the other side.
In less than fifteen minutes, Elder was at the hidden compartment, escorted there by a Marine Junior Warrant Officer. Elder made the trip in silence.
The corridor outside the Library Annex was crowded with Imperial people, mostly from the Master Herald’s staff. Elder pushed his way through. A Marine Corporal in a Combat Suit stood guard at the door, keeping unauthorized civilians out.
Elder was quickly let in, to the protests of several of the members of the Master Herald’s staff. Inside the compartment were the Captain Major, Captain Quinn the Master Herald and an enlisted crew member that Elder did not know, so he presumed the crew member was from the HINDO and probably with Captain Quinn’s staff.
Quinn turned his head to look at Elder, waved his right arm to encompass the entire compartment and said, “Lieutenant Commander Elder, I have formed the opinion that amongst these archives is the answer to most, if not the entirety of the remaining questions concerning this ship and its occupants.”
“You might be right Captain Quinn. How about you Master Herald, do you think this is the end of our search for answers?”
In his nobody voice, “Perhaps, but I doubt that this archive will answer all our questions. Some riddles may never be solved. That is the nature of historical research. But, this will answer a great many of our questions, certainly.”
“Well Master Herald, how long do you expect it to take for your first reading of this material?”
“Perhaps a day or two, I doubt much longer. Unless, of course, there is more here than first reported.”
Sous-Lieutenant Heller showed up just then. The compartment was not crowded; it was surprisingly large and uncluttered. “How the hell did we miss this until now?” Obviously the question was rhetorical, at least Elder thought it was obvious.
The five Imperials gave a quick scan of the material in the compartment. Elder reminded Sous-Lieutenant Heller several times to move on past whatever he was studying because this was a quick scan, not a thorough examination. After an hour, which Elder enjoyed, they found nothing definitive regarding what had happened over the decades since the VOLGA had left the Earth. They did learn a bit more about the colony Liberty which explained some of the attitudes of the present descendants of those colonists but the mysterious book and the agreement about the fighting, for example, were still mysteries.
Elder finally quit, and assigned his History Department to the task of researching the data in this hidden compartment.
As he left, “Captain Major, how did your people find this compartment?”
The Captain Major fell in with Elder, “Well sir, it was simply that I wanted a more accurate deck plan. There are several areas where the deck plans the Soviets gave us were inaccurate and I wanted accurate ones. Therefore, I assigned my scouts, who were not in use as scouts at the time, to mapping the decks. The sensor sweep found this unmarked area and it didn’t take long for my scouts to discover how to enter.” The Captain Major smiled one of his rare smiles. “So, you might say I got lucky but I was frustrated by the improper maps and followed procedure for when we are entering an unknown urban area.”
“Well Captain Major, good training paid off.”
“Aye sir, it did.”
Back on the MACALPIN, “Captain, Master Herald Killea wishes to speak with you. He is using an open frequency.”
“I’ll take it in the Day Cabin. Thank you Senior Sergeant.”
Once in the Day Cabin, “Lieutenant Commander Elder here. What do you need Master Herald?”
“Lieutenant Commander, the hidden compartment is revealing a lot of information, not all of it processed yet. I believe you should know that the colony Liberty was reported as destroyed during the War of Unification, but there is a report, dated after that report, stating that the colony is merely missing, not destroyed. Depending upon which report you believe, either the colony destroyed the faculties on the planet in order to make it look destroyed or the fact that the colony went missing was covered up.”
“Fascinating Master Herald. How much time between the two reports?”
“About what would be an Imperial month now Lieutenant Commander. About three Gregorian months by the calendar of the time.”
“So Master Herald, again we have conflicting data. Was this data from the Imperial archives or from what you found in the concealed compartment?”
“Imperial archives Lieutenant Commander. We are searching specifically for confirmation, one way or another, in the data here. Given what little we know of the colonists of the colony Liberty, I am presuming for the moment that they destroyed the colony in order to make it appear that they were killed in battle.”
“But Master Herald, what about bodies? If the fighting had destroyed the colony in battle, wouldn’t there be bodies? What do the reports say about that?”
There was a silence lasting for over a minute before, “Lieutenant Commander, I don’t know. I never thought of that. I do not remember anything in the reports, and I just finished reading them. I will have one of my people research that.”
“And I will have one of my people doing the same Master Herald. Two people working on it should cut the time needed to get an answer in half, or better.”
“That is a good point Lieutenant Commander. If you have someone qualified in this era, the assistance would be welcome. Since the Imperial archives are on the MACALPIN, I will have someone come over to do the research. Expect someone within the hour. Master Herald Killea out.”
Elder stared at the bulkhead while fuming. Was the Master Herald implying that the Imperial Navy training was inferior? Or worse yet, incompetent? He had the thought of assigning Private First Class Wharton, the lowest ranking enlisted in the History Department and a recent graduate of the history technical school, to the task. However, he decided against it. The idea of doing so, however, did get him smiling.
“Communications, get me Sous-Lieutenant Heller.”
“Sir, the Sous-Lieutenant is on his way to meet you. We just got his message.”
“All the better. I am in my Day Cabin. Elder out.”
It was fifteen minutes later that Sous-Lieutenant Heller reported to Elder. Acknowledging the salute, which in the Day Cabin was not required but the Sous-Lieutenant was reporting which made the salute required, and then motioning for the historian to sit down, Elder asked, “The Master Herald has someone going through all the reports on the destruction of the colony Liberty. Who do you have on that Sous-Lieutenant?”
“I had assigned Officer Yorick to the task but the Master Herald objected. It seems the Master Herald believes that Imperial Navy training is not rigorous enough and that an Officer lacks experience.”
“I know Officer Yorick, Sous-Lieutenant, he was one of my students at the Academy some years back. Why hasn’t he been promoted to Ensign? He is due, or past due, isn’t he?”
“Well sir, he is a good historian but he has trouble with naval discipline. Was he a problem at the Academy sir?”
“Not that I recall, or if he was, it was very minor Sous-Lieutenant. What sort of problems are you talking about?”
“Sir historians are well known for being opinionated and quarrelsome. Officer Yorick takes that to an extreme. Half of the enlisted in my Department have asked that I not assign them to work with him. I had to discipline him once because of a fistfight he had with another officer. Officer Yorick would do better someplace where he could do his research without interacting with other people.”
“Has he any published research Sous-Lieutenant?”
“As of the start of this voyage sir, no paper he has presented had been accepted anywhere. His latest research, before the start of this voyage, was on why Antoninio Calegari succeeded during the Colonial Revolt, presenting the unusual theory that the soon-to-be Emperor was an early telepath who had not become discovered and that is why he was able to get the rebels to convert to his side so easily. His paper was well written and he makes an interesting case. It is just that, I believe, he cannot support it with enough facts. And it seems the scientific journals agree with me.”
“Well Sous-Lieutenant, there are reports of telepathy going back centuries and not all were ever disproved.”
“Sir, Antoninio Calegari was a psychologist as well as a Federation Navy Admiral. The use of psychology can easily explain his success. There is no evidence in any scientific studies that telepathy can force a change in people’s minds.”
“However Sous-Lieutenant, his historical knowledge is debatable. Look at the aristocratic titles as an example. A jumble from several cultures with no relationship between the power of the Imperial title and the power of the title in its national form. And so many ranks in the Imperial Navy and Marines. He cannot be blames for the tax system, that grew over the years but he can be blames for the large number of money denominations. His skills were purely military, in spite of his advanced degree in psychology. His historical knowledge was pathetic at best and because he was the First Emperor, we remain stuck with his errors. If he had been a telepath, I suspect he used what he gained from that in order to help his psychological work in converting people to his cause. I knew a telepath shortly after I graduated from the Academy and I still remember that, at least according to him, it takes time to be able to read someone’s mind. Maybe Emperor Antoninio had that time and maybe not. A lot of what he did between the Colonial Revolt and the War of Unification was never recorded.”
“Sir, you sound like a republican.”
“No Sous-Lieutenant, I believe in the Empire. Interstellar war has to be avoided and independent planets, or even multisystem nations, will lead to war.”
Sous-Lieutenant Heller looked unconvinced.
“However, back to the matter at hand Sous-Lieutenant. Not knowing who the Master Herald is assigning to this task, is Officer Yorick likely to get so involved that he forgets to be combative?”
“Sir, he might get so interested in the colony Liberty that he forgets to be abrasive. The destruction of the colony is in the period that is his specialty. However, that might backfire as well. He might take his own knowledge and research and use it to advance an idea that is not supported by what we know of the colony Liberty and his abrasive personality might lead him to violence.”
“Your call Sous-Lieutenant. If not him, then who?”
“Actually sir, the more I think about it, the more I like Officer Yorick. The Master Herald has been condescending towards us and Officer Yorick just might teach the Master Herald to not be so obvious in his prejudices.”
“Heralds are not historians as a general rule, they’re diplomats. So what basis does the Master Herald think he has for being condescending towards us Sous-Lieutenant?”
“Well sir, they are kind of historians since they handle genealogy and that involves historical research. However, the Master Herald just looks down on the Imperial Navy as a rule. Moreover, that prejudice has become the norm for his people as well. Especially the younger ones.”
“Sous-Lieutenant, if Officer Yorick starts something that makes me have to intervene, I will cashier him when we return to base. It will not be as easy as if he was still on probation but his lack of promotion to Ensign and your recommendation, and documents showing his abrasiveness, will do the job. Impress on him that if he wants to make the Navy a career, he has to act better. Unofficially, he can step on the toes of the Master Herald’s people all he wants as long as I do not get involved. Understood?”
“Aye sir. I’ll brief him right away and get this going.” Sous-Lieutenant Heller stood, saluted and left.
Elder sat and pondered. The Federation had been a huge tyranny, and the Empire started off as a tyranny also, but it was getting better over time. The aristocracy on Krasgia while he had been growing up had been mild and cared for the population. The King of Sharnalt had even stood up against the Emperor once or twice according to legend. Elder could understand why the descendants of the Liberty colonists leaped at a chance to flee the Federation. However, why go with a bunch of communists, after all, communists were just the same sort of tyrants. What was missing? There was something that was not visible to him, something that should make the pattern clear,