Elder turned back to Captain Smith, but he was turning in a circle, looking at the landscape. The bulkheads aboard a ship were bland and boring compared to the natural wonder visible from this glade. Even the dead carnivore had a bit of charm compared to a bulkhead. Elder wondered about agoraphobia and how many of the colonists would have it. Growing up in the confined spaces of a space ship, regardless of how big it is, would not prepare one for the wide-open spaces of nature. Maybe the colonists would need counselors trained in such matters as soon as the colonists began moving to the planet. Need, but probably not get as those counselors, if they existed, were Jumps away. It would take months for the need to reach those who could act and for those too act and then for the counselors to arrive.
Captain Major Major was also looking at the landscape, but Elder guessed that the Marine was watching for carnivores instead of beauty. Predators here would have no fear of humans and spotting them early was a great protection. So, as well as counselors, hunters or whatever profession would be needed to teach the colonists how to deal with wildlife would have to get here ASAP. What other professions would the colonists need, but Elder realized he was worrying needlessly. After all, colonies were established all the time, but it was rare that a colony started on a world that had not been surveyed and where as many of the dangers as possible had not been discovered. Some bureaucrat probably had a list of what professions the colonists would need in what situation. Then again, if this situation had not happened in a long time, and Elder was not sure just how often it did happen, then the information might have been lost or destroyed. Elder hoped that hadn’t happened, he wanted this colony to succeed.
Captain Smith finished his circular inspection of the surrounding area and faced Elder. “Not this entire planet is like this, is it?”
“Of course not, Captain. Every planet large enough to merit colonization will have a wide variety of climates and environments. After all, not everyone likes the same thing. Maybe you like confined spaces and drab, boring corridors and rooms but there are some of your people, I am sure, who will welcome a different view. Give them the options, and they will make different choices. Some will like the mountains, some the seashore, some the prairies, some the forests, and some the cities you will build.”
Captain Smith took a deep breath, and looked around gain. “My ancestors fled the Federation because it was a despotism, the rule of law was a farce and in order to survive you had to pay off various bureaucrats at various offices. If your name was not on a list of contributors, it might go on a list of soon-to-be prisoners or missing people. They had hoped that they founding of the colony Liberty would allow them to live lives free from the despotic bureaucrats due to its distance from Earth. When the Soviet arrived, my ancestors saw the generation ship as a means of escaping in a way that the Federation could not trace. They tricked the Soviets and took control after the first Jump while the Soviets were confused. Mixing Jumps with generation travel, the LIBERTY arrived here. The Soviets wanted to flee further, but my ancestors decided to stay here. We needed the ship for support so the Soviets were tricked again and the fighting started with the sole purpose of keeping the ship here. The gift of the Communist Manifesto was a way to distract the Soviets. However, my ancestors fell into the trap of staying aboard the LIBERTY for fear of the Soviets discovering we were settling on the planet and fleeing with what we needed. We never moved to the planet and eventually only the ship’s Captain and Executive Officer were ever taught that this was our idea and hope.”
“Well now you can settle on the planet just as your ancestors wished Captain.”
“But, from what little you have said, your Empire is worse than the Federation. We will have to flee again and hope that you will never find us. Or else, you will kill us.”
“It isn’t that bad Captain. Yes, the Emperor is an autocrat, but the various layers of the aristocracy mitigate that. It is in the interests of the various kings, dukes, counts, barons, earls, and all the rest to keep the Emperor from ruling too harshly. After all, ruling too harshly increases the chance of a widespread rebellion and that could end up killing the aristocrat. In addition, the distance from Earth makes it hard for the Emperor to rule in detail on each world. General rules and guidance is normal with detailed governance being left to the levels of the aristocracy that are closer to the situation. My first boss, just after I graduated from the Academy, became ruler of his kingdom due to such a rebellion. It was more of a terrorist attack really, but it killed many of his relatives. However, the point I am making is that he was of the opinion that all politics is local. The local count was better at dealing with local problems than he would be as king. I have paid attention to politics since then and I agree with him. This planet will have a Duke and various Counts and a King over that Duke; and once your population expands, you can establish colonies close by, each headed by a Duke under the King. The Counts and Dukes will interact with the population closely and govern more effectively than the King of Emperor can, since they will not know the details or the solutions. You won’t be as bad off as you fear. Especially since the local aristocracy will come from your own people.” Elder hoped that he was not telling a gigantic lie here. He believed in the Empire but knew its dark side. However, this planet was far enough outside the present edge of the Empire that the King and Duke could govern without the despotism these colonists feared. At least, he hoped so.
Captain Smith took yet another look around. “Could we go to some other places? I want to be able to describe more of the planet than just here.”
“Sure Captain. This Class-R Ship’s Boat has the range to fly anywhere on this planet. I’m not the greatest of pilots, but I can get the job done.”
The Captain Major spoke just then, “However, I would suggest that we stay aboard at most places, Captain, just in case the local predators get past me.”
“Good point Captain Major. Well, let’s be off then.”
Elder flew the ship’s boat to several other locations, landing at most, but, for example, flying low and slow along a seashore. There were enough ports and cameras to give as much of a view as Captain Smith wanted at each location. Elder did land and everyone got out so that Captain Smith could feel both a rainstorm and a snowstorm. Elder made sure that neither wee not severe, he did not want to scare Captain Smith after all. All of this fascinated Captain Smith but the topper was the night sky. Seeing stars in space was overwhelming but the more limited number visible from the planet’s surface was more comprehensible and thus more awe-inspiring.
“Well Captain, have you seen enough?” Elder enjoyed flying the Class-R Ship’s Boat, but he had enough of it, he wanted to get back to his ship and this Class-R Ship’s Boat was not his ship.
“Yes, I think so. I may need to give tours to various members of my staff and other important people so that they can see the planet and realize that I am not brainwashed or something similar.”
The Captain Major smiled one of his rare smiles, “And once they are beguiled also, you can start moving to your new home.”
“However Captain, I have duties aboard the MACALPIN, so I won’t be your pilot for these inspection tours. I will assign a young officer, perhaps an Ensign or a Sous-Lieutenant to do the piloting and answer any questions your people may have.” Elder rubbed his nose, wondering who he was going to assign to be the pilot.
Back aboard the MACALPIN, Elder released Captain Smith to his people and started catching up on his workload. Even a trained, experienced and competent crew needed supervision, and there were always duties that were designated to the Captain of a ship. Elder tried to emulate the captains he most admired and keep his supervision to a minimum but he was still busy. Being responsible for everything that happened was a heavy load and Elder wanted to have some warning if something was going wrong. Assigning a pilot for the colonists was easy, he just took whoever was next on the duty roster. This would give the colonists a wide variety of viewpoints about the Empire, although people in the Navy were very pro-Empire, just not as much as the ISA.
Once the colonists decided to stay, the Class-R Ship’s Boats from the MACALPIN and the HINO were able to transfer the colonists in one trip. That freed the HINO to leave and it did. The Soviets settled on one continent, in the southern hemisphere, and the Federation colonists settled on a larger continent that ran lengthwise between the northern and southern hemispheres. A third continent was, for the time, left in its natural state. The generation ship had a large supply of prefabricated and easy-to-assemble buildings that the MACALPIN transferred to the various locations on the planet’s surface where the colonists were. The HINO left and the MACALPIN was alone. Elder was going to stay until relieved, he wanted the colonists to have some consistency in their oversight.
A full Imperial month later, a small squadron of ships appeared, ;ed by the Class-I Cruiser TOKYO. Elder had served on the TOKYO right after the BALKANS was destroyed during Captain Mizutani’s rebellion. Seeing the TOKYO brought back memories, both pleasant and unpleasant. Friends murdered by rebelling Marines and Navy personnel, the destruction of his first ship, the wonderful poker games and Drenthar games, including a championship game aboard the BALKANS that his team barely lost. Drenthar needed a larger ship and the TOKYO was just large enough to have room for Drenthar, but only Class-G Dreadnoughts had room for football fields. Elder had not been able to keep in touch with most of the friends he had made in the various ships and bases he had served on but he had a lot of fond memories of them. But, the TOKYO would be here soon and travelling down his memories got none of his work done. It was pleasant, for the most part, though.
“Captain Yorick to Lieutenant Commander Elder.”
Elder had known that the communication was coming, so he had adjusted his schedule in order to be free now. “Elder here. Captain Yorick, are you in charge of this expedition?”
“I am Lieutenant Commander, or rather Lieutenant Captain. I have your promotion orders skipping the rank of Commander. Put two more gold stripes on your uniforms Lieutenant Captain.”
Lieutenant Captain? Elder knew that his orders to Commander were waiting for him back at base, he knew about them before leaving on this voyage. Nevertheless, to skip a rank like this? It has happened, Quinn skipped Lieutenant Captain because of his service in First Fleet, but that was routine, everyone skipped a rank after serving in First Fleet. Outside of the Imperial Guard, it was rare.
“Thank you Captain for the information. My new uniforms back at base have the two gold stripes of Commander, which I already knew about, this is a shock.”
“Well, you can thank Captain Quinn. His report on what you have been doing here was crucial in the decision to jump you the extra rank. We knew from their first reports that these were no aliens, so we had this expedition set up and on its way when Second Fleet gave you the boost Lieutenant Captain. We got the information while still in system and I am happy to surprise you. By the way, is Captain Major Major nearby? He got a promotion also, he is now Major Major. I have been trying to remember, wasn’t there a famous historical military figure called Major Major? You know more about pre-Imperial history than I do from what I’ve heard.”
“Captain, I’ve been thinking about that very point, off and on, ever since I took command. I finally found the reference. Major Major was a fictional character in a story about the Second World War. The book was a satire on the military of the day.”
“Ah, now I remember Lieutenant Captain. Catch-22, wasn’t it? I read that book just a couple of months ago to my grandson.”
“That’s the one Captain.”
“Well, we will be relieving you in a few days Lieutenant Captain, once we reach orbit. So you can return ot base and celebrate. Second Fleet reassigned you exploration tour to another ship, the BOLESLAW THE BRAVE, K00092C-0047.”
“Speaking of reassignments, the TOKYO used to be in the 4th Fleet, I was assigned to her right after my tour on the BALKANS Captain. When was she transferred to the 2nd Fleet?”
“About three years ago Lieutenant Captain. You were on the BALKANS? When the mutiny happened? That is where I heard of you. Aren’t you the telepath that foiled that mutiny?”
“Not quite Captain. The telepath was Sous-Lieutenant Palmer. I knew him and when the mutineers killed him, I was able to get his information to the Operations center and Lieutenant Captain Tomalo was the one who frustrated Captain Mizutani’s mutiny. That is all I did.”
“That is still pretty impressive Lieutenant Captain. Did you get the Emperor’s Medal for that?”
“No Captain, I didn’t; I got the Imperial Cross.”
“Good job though Lieutenant Captain.”
“Thank you Captain. Anything else?”
“No, I’ll sign off for now Lieutenant Captain, see you in a few days. INS TOKYO off.”
Elder looked around his Day Cabin, looking for something to focus on as he contemplated his sudden jump in rank. He settled on the photo of Constance. Constance had followed him from base to base and showed her pride in his accomplishments in many ways, usually in the name of the design and decorating company she started anew each time they had transferred. She and he had talked about where they wanted to settle when he retired from the Navy, he would be eligible after a couple more promotions and she could focus more on her design work. She already had an extensive reputation as designer and once they settled, that reputation would only grow. Maybe she would be more famous than his father, the Mushroom King, was.
Heading back to base before the six-Imperial month tour was over was nice and a lot of the crew would be extremely happy at that. Elder wondered for a second if he would be taking the Master Herald and his staff back as well. The MACALPIN was not configured for a large number of passengers but for a few Jumps it would take, it might work. However, leaving them here to work with the new team would probably be better. At least, it would be better for Elder. He reached for the intercom.
“Battalion Commander, report to the Captain’s Day Cabin.” He would tell Major Major privately and let him inform the Battalion. Elder would make a general announcement to his crew about his promotion tomorrow.
The Battalion Commander showed up, with a worried look on his face, an hour later.
Once he reported, Elder said, “Relax Major Major. Yes, I got your rank right. Second Fleet promoted you effective immediately. Go put the second gold sunburst on your sleeves. I got a promotion also. I would have made Commander when we got back to base but that is now skipped and I am a Lieutenant Captain. Second Fleet likes our good work here it seems.”
“Well Captain,” the now relieved Major said, “that’s good news.”
“Oh Major, there is better. Second Fleet cancelled our exploration tour effective immediately, we head back to base once the TOKYO and her supporting ships reach here. I forgot to ask if the Master Herald and his crew are staying or going with us. But, we will find out in a few days.”
“Aye Captain, that is better news. I presume that promotions and transfers for the crew and my battalion will happen once we reach base.”
“Probably, that is normal. There will be a chance for a good party there.”
“Well, thank you Captain. I will inform my battalion now.” The Battalion Commander did something that Elder had never seen in real life before. The Major drew his ceremonial sword and gave Elder a Sword Salute. Elder had seen such salutes in holovids but never in person. This was a rare honor.
Once the Major left, Elder sat and just quietly enjoyed both his promotion and his heading back to base to see Constance again and early too. She and the youngest kids should be back from Krasgia now.
The TOKYO and her group of supporting ships arrived seven days later. The Master Herald and his crew transferred, with some complaints about transferring again, to one of the support ships. The crew of the MACALPIN threw a party to celebrate their Captain’s promotion. Unlike the birthday party, this was a lot more rowdy and three junior crew spent a night in the brig.
The MACALPIN spent the extra time to pick up the message torpedo sent to the wrong system trying to prevent a diplomatic contingent expecting aliens. Arriving back at base, Elder lost almost half his crew to transfers and so spent a lot of time getting used to the new members of his crew. Everywhere he went on base, people recognized him as someone lucky and smart. People wanted to be connected with him, which he liked. Women, not all of course, but some, wanted to be his mistress, which he did not like and refused every time. He was not going to lose Constance even if having a mistress was becoming fashionable in the Empire now.
The MACALPIN did not need a lot of repair work, so most of the next six Imperial months was spent in getting the crew to work together as a team. Constance and he spent as much time together as they could but work for both kept them apart more than either liked.
The Empire continued on.