Alternate Chapter One
I enjoyed writing this; but it set up the story to run off in the wrong direction, not with its attention riveted on Andrej Koscuisko as it should be, and so on and so forth and yadda yadda yadda. Also, Robert’s arrival at Safehaven was from Robert’s point of view. Still and all: “Blood Enemies” wasn’t a Robert novel and wasn’t a Karol novel. It was a Koscuisko novel and expected to behave as such.
So here are some scenes about “first contact” between Flag Captain Leo Ulexeievitch Koscuisko at Poe Station with Karol Vogel and the first fresh bean tea he’s seen in months. Also, Robert St. Clare arrives at Safehaven to visit his former “Excellency,” who hasn’t gotten any taller since the last time Robert saw him.
Poe Station is called Poe Station for “Point Of Entry” to Gonebeyond Space. It’s an artificial concept – there are multiple points of entry into Gonebeyond, as to any Judiciary – but some of the fiercest battles are fought over just such things when the symbolic meaning overtakes the physical realities of the situation.
“Vogel, wake up. We need you. You’ll like this.”
The voice came through the door from the corridor outside, or maybe the talk-alert was working. It didn’t make much difference. Living quarters at Poe Station were basic and bare. All of the resources not strictly required to keep people alive were channeled into the infrastructure of the port itself, Port Authority patrol and security, communications, docking facilities, vector control.
Karol Vogel rolled from his side onto his back and off the opposite edge of his cot, making efficiency out of the fact that his bed was barely wide enough for him to lie on. Fastening his trousers, pushing his feet into his crumpled cloth boots, he grabbed his cup and his old campaign jacket and headed out, shoving the tails of his under-blouse into his trousers and fastening his overblouse as he went.
That had sounded like Mags. She’d sounded excited, and Karol hadn’t really needed to sleep anyway. He could do that anytime. Life at Poe Station was too busy for luxuries like four or five hours of uninterrupted time to himself.
“Yeah, Mags, what have you got?”
He lived in a closet just steps from Port Central Control, but it was like crossing between worlds. “Personnel” meant drafty corridors, narrow to conserve heat, seams and joints almost flush and even, walls frequently something like all the way to the floor. Or the ceiling.
Inside Port Central Control it wasn’t much warmer but much more airtight, no drafts, no leaks, no carpeting but the struts of the chairs wouldn’t have been able to take the strain of any additional friction anyway, and the equipment – oh, the equipment – an unholy aggregation across generations of technological innovations, none of it of a piece, none of it originally designed to work with the equipment with which it was linked, but all of it running in tandem and doing its job almost as well as the almost best that any Port Authority under Jurisdiction could boast.
“No chance of stopping them short of the vector,” Mags said, and pushed away from the boards so that Karol could see her main screen. They kept the room dark to save power, and so that the resolution adjusters on the schematic would last them as long as possible.
Karol could hear the rest of Mags’ crew on shift around them, Dewain and Bisco, Nivalla, Avins and Chott; but he couldn’t see more of them than their outlines in the shadows. He didn’t need to. He was already as familiar with their faces as he could be, and Mags’ screen was much more interesting.
“How many of those monsters are you picking up?” It wasn’t an actual monitor, just a plotted representation on a pick-board. The resolution was less than ideal, but the basic picture was clear enough. There were ships coming off vector, and they were much bigger than anything Karol had seen at Poe Station since his arrival here months ago. They were too big for their presence to be good news.
“Three in the queue,” Mags said, showing him the data stream with its angry lines of excited code that showed up a body in space like a rock in relief. “Two off vector. We haven’t tracked the vector access point, not yet.” It could be any one of them. There were at least five access points into the corridor that debouched at Poe Station; but the size and the number of the ships could be a clue.
“Tell me the calibration’s gone off again, Bisco.” Karol raised his voice, because one of the calc nodes at Bisco’s station had developed an unfortunate and annoying rattle over the past ten days or so. Someone faded in from the darkness, put a mug of something hot in his hand, and faded back out; Karol took a drink, wondering what it was. Bean tea, maybe. Seventh pressing. At least it was hot. No. Cavene? No, where would they have gotten their hands on cavene, or had the mess been holding out on them?
“Sorry.” And Bisco sounded genuinely regretful. “That’s the size of it. There. But they aren’t Fleet battlewagons. I think that’s a hint.”
Bisco was right. The ships were almost as heavy, almost, as the Jurisdiction Fleet’s destroyers, the biggest in its inventory. Fleet had hundreds. Gonebeyond Space had one, and it didn’t really even have that, not strictly speaking. “You’re thinking Sant-Dasidar Judiciary.”
That was possibly the single richest among the nine administrative units of space under Jurisdiction, until recently parts of a unified whole, now struggling with the rest to make sense of where they stood and make its way in a new power structure, a new economic order, every Bench for itself and the Devil take the hindmost.
Sant-Dasidar included one of the most persuasively imperialistic systems in current existence, the impressively rapacious Dolgorukij Combine with its baroque social structures and the sincere clarity of its aims and objectives.
Preferably by force of arms, as it had operated until the Jurisdiction had integrated it and created a new Bench to contain and control its phenomenal energies. Through market dominance, if it could have victory no other way.
“Oh look,” Mags called out to the room, cheerfully. “More. And somebody wants to talk to us.”
A third ship had come off vector, and was moving up into formation. One ship stood at the Line, the imaginary – the symbolic – pulse intercept pattern stretched between two transmission beacons between the vector and Poe Station, the formal threshold to Gonebeyond Space. According to Jurisdiction commerce codes nobody could cross that line without clearance unless their intent was to effect unlawful entry: as a private enterprise, undocumented traffic, usually smuggling; as a governmental entity of any sort, a declaration of war.
“Polite,” Karol noted. “Observing the niceties. Bastards, but with really impressive good manners.”
He’d never particularly cared for Dolgorukij. They were predators, they were ruthless even if their depredations were all market-driven rather than blood- and fire-based now, and their absolute conviction of their own overwhelming ethnic superiority was all the more dangerous in a people with actual proven ability to back up the claim.
Two or three individual Dolgorukij he liked, or didn’t care to kill, and one of them was a Bench intelligence specialist. One of them was a Malcontent, an agent of the Dolgorukij Combine’s secret service. There were rumors about whether the Bench intelligence specialist Irenja Rafenkel had contacts too deep within the Malcontent not to be part of the organization, but Karol knew how to mind his own business.
The third was a man he’d been authorized to execute, and hadn’t quite gotten to it, and was a cousin of the Combine agent the way a god-emperor was a cousin of a man who wove sandals out of straw for a living. If the Malcontent “Cousin” Stanoczk didn’t how to weave sandals out of straw himself he could unquestionably find three people who could inside of the time it would take to drink a cup of bean tea, each as good or better than the last.
“Eh,” Mags said. “They always play with their food. Incoming. Do you want to take it?”
Karol thought about that one.
He and Rafenkel like were Bench intelligence specialists, one of a handful of very special agents with powers of extraordinary discretion, frequently working in close coordination with a presiding Judge and her chief administrative officer but answerable to the First Judge alone.
On the other hand, there was no longer a First Judge in the sense of the supreme authority, the deciding voice, the ultimate say. There was no longer any single most powerful Judge in known Space, and the First Judge was now no more than the judge presiding at Chilleau Judiciary.
So who were Bench Specialists now, and what were the range of their authority, and to whom or for whom did they speak?
Karol had assigned himself here, to Gonebeyond Space, because he thought there ought to be a Tenth Judiciary. An autonomous polity that could treat with Jurisdiction as an independent entity, speaking for the refugees, the displaced, the fugitives.
Karol thought it had been working rather well so far. The other Judiciaries had been far too busy up until now with internal affairs to be bothered by the absolutely impoverished, almost uninhabited, functionally unexplored, amorphous entity of Gonebeyond Space. What had changed?
“We’ll assert the Port’s Authority.” If he spoke, the implications would obviously be that he was running things. He wasn’t. He didn’t even want to. Terrible things happened when Bench Specialists decided they ought to run things. The last one to come up with that idea had destroyed a political system that had been stable for more than eight hundred years, going on yesterday. “Take it away, Megs.”
Nodding with a smile whose sourness was comprised of equal parts amusement and solid recognition of the strategic implications of it all, Mags keyed her transmit. Someone wants to talk to us, she’d said. Karol faded back a step or two to watch from the shadows, where his presence couldn’t be reliably confirmed and then made to carry some inappropriate meaning at some later time.
“This is Poe Station, Gonebeyond space. State your identification and business for clearance to proceed.” Karol had to give Megs points for composure; she sounded just exactly as if multiple warships appearing on her doorstep was an everyday occurrence for her. “Comp-key query in process, please unshield your navs.”
Standard operating procedure. Unshield your navs and prove you’re coming from where you say you are. Mags was on audio; before the visitor responded the tone-alerts sounded on screen communications, so Karol knew they wanted a face-to-face confrontation.
The screen brightened and cleared, autofocus sharpening the blurred outlines of a command bridge into a picture of an admirable clarity just short of dimensional projection. Poe Station probably couldn’t handle the complexity of a dimensional signal. They were feeding off the visitor’s transmit power for what degree of resolution they were enjoying as it was.
“Complying,” the command officer said, coming into clearer focus as he spoke. The bridge was bright and beautiful, appointed with the sort of decorative flourishes that spoke of a shipyards that knew it was building a ship of war and was enjoying itself a very great deal in the process. Fully committed to the work.
The officer himself was wearing a version of Jurisdiction Fleet standard uniform, made distinctive by the white raised collar of his under-blouse; Karol had an idea he knew who the officer was, in an at least general sense, even before the officer identified himself. The rank-markers on his uniform identified him as a Flag Captain in a Home Defense Fleet, an officer with the direction of five to eight warships of the battleshield equivalent class – although the ones he’d brought with him were much bigger than that.
“This is the Dolgorukij Combine Home Defense Fleet Ship Direwolf,” he said. He had a clear voice, and his accent was very precise; but a man in his position was likely to be from one of the old aristocratic families, and to have had a ferociously elite education. Aznir Dolgorukij. Karol was beginning to have a very bad feeling about this. “Speaking on behalf, and with the authorization, of the Sixth Judge at Sant-Dasidar Judiciary. My name is Leo Ulexeievitch Koscuisko. And we want my brother back.”
Megs cut the transmit, turning her head to speak over her shoulder. “Koscuisko? That Koscuisko?”
Karol could only sigh in resignation. “I’m afraid so, Mags. There are more than one of them where he came from.” Dolgorukij families ran large, the ones that could afford it. Koscuisko’s family was old, rich, and influential. Of course they had their own private wing of Sant-Dasidar’s Home Defense Fleet. Did they have a Kospodar thula all their own, as well?
Mags turned her transmit back on. “Welcome, Flag Captain.” Karol felt a little relieved; she’d read the markers right, and if they’d both got it wrong, there was moral support in a mutuality of mistake. “Poe Station is not aware of holding any Combine nationals in custody, do you have a warrant for release of detained foreign souls?”
As if she thought that was what he meant. The Flag Captain betrayed no hint of irritation at the transparency of her feigned ignorance, however, which Karol felt counted in his favor.
“Let me explain, Poe Station. Approximately one year ago in Standard reckoning the Jurisdiction Fleet Ship Ragnarok left Emandis Station in pursuit of alleged fugitives from that ship, and has since been reported at stations in Gonebeyond space. My brother is the Ragnarok’s chief medical officer assigned, and, since nothing has been heard from him, we can only presume that he is being held against his will.”
That was an interesting spin; Karol liked it. He didn’t believe it – the Malcontent knew where Koscuisko was, and was perfectly capable of passing messages to and fro for him – but he had to admire the ingenuity of the argument, and the perfectly reasonable pretext it provided for an incursion in force.
Which, however, Poe Station could not permit. “No such claim has come to our attention before now, Captain.” Mags was speaking slowly and carefully, clearly thinking as she went. “We will require further information on the identity of your kinsman and your reasons for concern. Should a situation exist it rests with us to take appropriate measures. I invite you to stand off pending further discussion.”
Stand off, that was Port Authority for back off past the vector debouch and wait until we call your name. Koscuisko – he was going to think of him as Captain Leo, Karol decided, he was already too familiar with the man’s brother and he found Dolgorukij names baroque in construction to begin with – Captain Leo gave no sign of waving cheerfully and going offline to issue a withdrawal order.
“Our concerns are immediate and pressing, Poe Station. My brother is an important man in Combine affairs. His father is dying. An orderly transmittal of authority pertinent to commercial, cultural, and political concerns is a matter of the keenest interest to the Sixth Judge. As well as to his family.”
Could it be as simple as that? If he thought about it he could just see the logic of such claim. Koscuisko was not the largest or richest of familial corporations, but it was one of the oldest, and one of Koscuisko’s sisters was in service as an Autocrat’s Proxy. Maybe. Perhaps.
But Poe Station had to push back on Captain Leo’s embassy anyway, because the only way an armed force could cross a Judiciary’s borders not under command and direction from the Judiciary in question was to invade.
No, Gonebeyond Space didn’t have the resources to successfully fight off Captain Leo’s ships. But to let Koscuisko’s ships cross the Line unopposed would inevitably set off a free-for-all contest amongst Jurisdictions for influence and control in Gonebeyond. That would be the end of Gonebeyond’s chances for autonomy. And that would be the end of Karol’s plans for Gonebeyond space.
So there had to be a way to make sure that didn’t happen, and he was going to have to find it. “Ask him to meet us for a cup of bean tea,” Karol said, quietly enough that the feed wouldn’t pick it up – he hoped. Let’s talk. Mags took the idea and deployed it, her volley demonstrating her understanding of Karol’s larger purpose.
“Flag Captain, we are unable to clear a major concession of Gonebeyond’s sovereignty on the grounds stated. We will undertake to transmit a message to the Ragnarok on your behalf, should you wish it.” Carefully omitting any reference to the fact that they didn’t know just exactly where the Ragnarok might be this instant. That fact was immaterial. Koscuisko wasn’t on the Ragnarok anyway. “Do you wish to log such a message?”
Captain Leo’s expression remained clear and serene, calm and untroubled. He raised his eyebrows, furrowing his forehead; social signaling, no more, no less. “That is not acceptable, Poe Station. May we send people for a face-to-face at your earliest convenience, to more effectively communicate the urgency of the situation?”
By all means. Of course. It was the only way to find out what was really going on. “We will receive a courier,” Mags agreed. “At your convenience, Flag Captain. Poe Station away, here.”
It was Poe Station’s best meeting room, the newest carpet, the nicest paneling; the finest conference table, which wouldn’t have been out of place at any small regional college or successful local business concern. Karol Vogel knew how it compared to Bench offices: so far down the scale it might as well not be there at all. But it was theirs, and to the credit of the Dolgorukij who were here to explain themselves they betrayed no sign of noticing.
“About one year ago my brother disappeared somewhere en route from Brisinje to Chilleau Judiciary to log his release documents.”
Flag Captain Leo Koscuisko was doing the talking. He had an intelligence officer and an adjutant with him, and a small security detachment doubling as crew for the courier on which he’d come. His ships were standing off by a polite distance from the Line, serene in the self-evident fact that there was nothing to stop them if they decided to cross it. “This was not long after the Jurisdiction Fleet Ship Ragnarok took the dar-Nevan vector for Gonebeyond Space, in pursuit of some Fleet resources. The details are uncertain.”
Probably not. Leo Koscuisko almost certainly knew that his brother had come to Gonebeyond Space with Karol himself, and at his own request. Whether Captain Leo knew that Andrej Koscuisko had been parked at Safehaven and the medical center there ever since was perhaps less certain, and unlikely to come up in conversation one way or another. It would be rude for Captain Leo to show too much familiarity with the internal affairs of Gonebeyond Space. It might imply the existence of secret service agents operating undetected within sovereign territory.
Karol didn’t say anything, so Captain Leo spoke on. “We feel it likely, almost certain, that he would have rejoined his ship of assignment, out of a misguided sense of duty. But the ship is a suspected mutineer. His position cannot be very secure; he may even be under duress to stay, held against his will. We cannot allow a Dolgorukij national to be held against his will without due process of law, and Gonebeyond Space by repute – forgive my blunt language – has no such thing as due process.”
There were Megs and the station-master – Rinpin Secht – as well as Karol here, representing Poe Station. Karol was here as a mere interested bystander. None of them could dispute Captain Leo’s point; Gonebeyond Station had in fact little by way of law at all. It had been the rule of Law that had gotten them all in so much trouble in the first place.
There was very little appetite for anything of the sort in Gonebeyond, but even so some rules were necessary if people were to live and trade together, if people were to hope to build new lives and raise their families. It was no good to escape Bench tyranny only to find themselves at the mercy of other sorts of bullies.
“We have had some contact with the Ragnarok,” Secht said cautiously. “We have heard no indication that your brother is a prisoner there.” Because he wasn’t on the Ragnarok, though its captain believed he should be, and had mentioned that to Karol from time to time. “Absent probable cause to presume so, we would not find it appropriate to send armed guards to force his return. And authorizing an incursion by a Combine fleet, even one under the direction of his brother, is out of the question.”
Once you let them in you’ll never get them out. It was a complaint Karol had heard before, albeit with reference to market share; and if he had to be fair he’d admit that it wasn’t just Dolgorukij who suffered from a persistent tendency to overstay their welcome in that way. But one of the defining factors of a politically autonomous state was a monopoly on the lawful use of force.
That monopoly would be challenged by the mere presence of Combine warships; and once they admitted even one, let alone six, everybody would cross the Line without so much as a by-your-leave. At which point Gonebeyond Space became only a collection of competing spheres of influence, and that was ever good for the people who were already there. Gonebeyond couldn’t afford to let the Combine through.
“Station-master.” Leo Koscuisko was perfectly polite; but perfectly unyielding as well. “The Combine is not in the habit of losing track of people as frankly important as Andrej Koscuisko. When I tell you that he is the inheriting prince of all the Koscuisko familial corporation it may not mean much, but it means a very great deal to us, a very great deal indeed.”
The Koscuisko family itself had intimate connections with the Autocrat herself – one of Koscuisko’s sisters was one of the Autocrat’s Proxies, in fact. Karol could sympathize with Captain Leo’s argument, but he couldn’t allow it any leverage.
“Gonebeyond is full of people who decided they didn’t want to be kept track of,” Secht pointed out with emphasis. “Many of them have excellent reasons, and for the rest it’s our founding principle not to ask.” Well, that was one of the founding principles. But that wasn’t the point. “What can we do to satisfy you that your brother is here because he wants to be, and let you sort it out amongst yourselves?”
Gonebeyond Space had no extradition treaties with any Bench. They had no treaties of any sort. There were extradition protocols between Judiciaries, but Gonebeyond space wasn’t a full-fledged Jurisdiction with a Judge presiding and the full measure of political autonomy so recently assumed by the other Benches – not yet.
Captain Leo sat back in his chair with one hand resting lightly on the table, well, I am considering the answer to your question. He was just being polite, of course. He knew exactly what he wanted. “Let me see my brother face-to-face, and speak with him. Here, if it must be so.”
Any transmission could be coerced. There were stress evaluators that could detect that sort of thing, since voices reflected stress in different degrees; but Andrej Koscuisko’s supposed captors could claim signal interference. No. Face to face was really the only way. As little as Karol liked the idea he couldn’t fault Captain Leo’s instinct.
Before Secht could respond Captain Leo sat up and clasped his hands, there will be a temporary interruption of the program. “I beg your pardon, gentles.” This was a signal, because there as someone at the door, now. “My doctor orders, and I did not want to impose, so I brought rhyti. Please do not be offended by my seeming rudeness. Do any of you take rhyti?”
Poe Station had put cavene on the table for appearance’s sake, but nobody was under any illusions as to its quality. The people at the door were Koscuisko’s people, wearing much less braid but guiding trundlers loaded with all one would expect from a high-end beverage service. Politely generic, no gilding, no mottos, no family seals.
An urn half as tall as Karol was, water seething toward the boil for brewing and dispensing, much of its bulk the water tank. A three-shelved trundler dedicated to cups and saucers, plates for tidbits, napkins, serving utensils; a third devoted to a cabinet containing cannister after cannister of hermetically sealed rhyti leaf, in all of its forms and varieties.
Fully oxidized rhyti leaf. Three-quarters oxidized; one-third oxidized, not oxidized at all, even the latest craze – dirt-rot rhyti. And beneath that, bins with something to tempt the will-power of a saint: the fragrant glistening roasted bean for bean tea.
Although it was his firm and principled stand to accept no bribes or inducements Karol found himself hoping that Captain Leo had brought a good-will offering, a professional courtesy, and would be leaving it behind when he went away. It could be self-defense against Poe Station’s cavene. Karol didn’t care.
There was fresh-cut fruit. There were pastries. There was sugar. Probably the true Aznir Dolgorukij red-root sugar, he could see the golden cast to the crystallized lumps in the dainty service dishes that accompanied each cup and saucer, a subtler and more nuanced form of the sweetener than the mass-produced product that came out of the Core in Supicor Judiciary to be used for everything from sweet perfumes to animal feed.
“Bean tea, if you have some on hand,” Karol said, keeping his voice casual. “The house brand is good” – there was no house brand, and nobody had touched after the carafe of cavene that had been handed around politely – “but fresh is always to be appreciated.”
Captain Leo glanced at the orderly, and nothing more was required. The cup the orderly poured for Karol was gorgeous stuff. Inhaling its sharp spicy flavor – knowing the kick of botanical stimulants it would soon deliver – he felt a moment’s nostalgia for the perks that were a Bench Specialist’s to command, anyplace else but here.
Captain Leo had rolls and butter in front of him as well as a curl-leaf sugar-tart, and was eating through them steadily. Maybe he really was under doctor’s orders, Karol thought. The Dolgorukij metabolism ran high to the Judicial standard. It took a lot of high-density carbohydrates to keep them going, and that came with a series of subspecies-specific metabolic disorders.
“You’ll have to wait if you want to see your brother,” Secht said. “We’re not in regular contact with the Ragnarok. And they’re dedicated to mapping new vectors. Transit time could be unpredictable.”
Mapping the access lanes that formed short cuts between star systems was very much a work in progress in Gonebeyond Space. That was the Ragnarok’s current assignment – or activity, since the Ragnarok acknowledged no directing authority here. Ragnarok was willing to trade logistical support for technical assistance, but that was as far as Jennet ap Rhiannon had been willing to go, at least to date.
“I can wait, Station-master. But not for very long. There is something I need to tell you, but it is of the utmost sensitivity.”
The orderlies had left once the first beverage service had been completed. They were on their own for refills, Karol mused, eying the apparatus with a degree of greed; more to the point, of course, they were alone, and either the Dolgorukij were satisfied with Poe Station’s privacy shields or they’d brought one of their own. Maybe they’d leave that, too.
Captain Leo had given Karol the opportunity to excuse Meghs or Secht, either or both, as Karol saw fit. Now he drained his cup, setting it down onto its saucer with a delicate sort of emphasis. The cups and saucers were actually ceramic, Karol realized, with a jolt. He wondered how long they’d last here.
“There is more than my brother’s position in our family, his social standing, his status within the familial corporation. This concerns the role he has performed for Fleet. It has been a year since the confederacy model of government was introduced. Fleet Orientation Station Medical has been closed. There are no new Inquisitors.”
The system of judicial torture had been sanctioned at the highest level, and held by Fleet. Yet there was no highest level – no ultimate authority – any longer; there were only nine regional Jurisdictions, each with its own Judge Presiding. Karol had been there when it had happened, when the Judicial order that Karol had half-believed would last forever had finally failed beneath the weight of irreconcilable differences. And some of those differences had been specific to Inquiry itself, and all that it entailed.
Karol nodded. “Because the Fleet has no mandate.” And an increasingly tenuous position. Fleet’s budget came from taxes levied by the supreme authority under Jurisdiction, the First Judge. Now the First Judge was only one of nine. If Karol had been a Judiciary he would be having serious thoughts about why he should still send money to the Jurisdiction Fleet when he could be using it to build up one of his own, especially if he already had a local-owned Home Defense Fleet to start from.
“And at last count, Bench Specialist – ” it startled Karol a bit to hear his formal title, it shouldn’t have, Dolgorukij were formality personified, it kept people at an arm’s length – “there were two hundred and thirty-seven Ship’s Inquisitors assigned. Then there were two hundred and twenty-two. Now there are less than two hundred. Some of this is natural attrition, of course.”
Suicide was the leading cause of death amongst Inquisitors, whether classified as “accidental death” or otherwise. “Begging the question,” Karol said. “What about the rest?”
“Someone seems to be collecting them.” Captain Leo let the statement hang in the air for a moment before he went on. “Inquisitors are going missing. And there has always been a black market in torture, with demand for specialists, and a premium for proven track record. I trust I surprise nobody.”
Of course not. The existence of such things was an unpleasant and largely unspoken truth, but it was no secret that it happened. Crumbling a pastry as if absent-mindedly with his fingers Captain Leo completed his thought. “My brother in Inquiry was notorious, and the environment of Safehaven is unstable. He needs to know what’s going on. We want him home, where we can be assured of his safety.”
Karol wondered how many agents the secret service of the Dolgorukij church had operating in Gonebeyond; he wondered how much they knew. Malcontents. It was a unique religious order of misfits and social deviants, and to go by the few Karol was aware of having met they were very, very good.
“I don’t think he’ll go.” Andrej Koscuisko had come to Gonebeyond Space for a reason, and as far as Karol knew he hadn’t accomplished his goal as yet. That was none of his concern, but he felt he should warn the Captain. Captain Leo seemed to have just noticed pastry crumbs all over his fingers, and was wiping his hand fastidiously on one of the spotlessly white linen napkins that had come out of the beverage service.
“And his will is my law, he is my elder brother. My orders are to meet with him directly nevertheless, face to face, in person, and deploy every inducement in my power. I have a letter from the Autocrat’s sacred person, summoning him back. I have a letter from his son. It would break your heart.”
A surge of anger flooded Karol’s heart; damn the heartless bastards, to draw a child into their manipulation. He let the moment pass. He already knew he didn’t like Dolgorukij. “Station-master, how long do you think we need?” If Inquisitors were being kidnapped Koscuisko’s family’s concern was not to be wondered at.
“I’m guessing we could have him here inside of twenty-thirty days. Maybe. I’ll have to see what I can do.” It could be six days from here to Safehaven, but Secht was building in some wiggle room. Captain Leo sighed, and stood up.
“My orders give me twenty-four days, and no more. If I am not face-to-face with my brother in twenty-four days my orders require me to proceed to seek him out myself. I would do so with reluctance. But so I will do.”
Secht rose to his feet as well. “Crossing my line without authorization is a violation of the laws governing transport and passage,” he said – for the record, Karol supposed. “There are still laws, aren’t there? Even in the Dolgorukij Combine? If you do so, we will feel legally empowered to treat you as unauthorized and unwelcome. Stand off and wait, Captain.”
Secht didn’t say for as long as it takes and Captain Leo didn’t say for twenty-four days. There was no need. “Thank you for your hospitality, Station-master,” Captain Leo said. “Bench specialist, chief comm officer. I look forward to hearing that my brother is safe, and en route to Poe Station.”
He left the service carts behind, as Karol had hoped. It wasn’t an oversight, Karol was sure of that. Maybe he was just anticipating that he’d be back: Poe Station was the winner either way. “I’ll call in as many ships as I can find,” Secht said. “We’ll look pretty silly up against those monsters, but we’ve got to do what we can. Vogel, go to Safehaven for us, will you? Talk to Koscuisko. We need him here.”
A border was a fragile thing. Once it was breached the first time that mutual understanding was torn to shreds. People would die. To give up one’s life in defense of one’s homeland – even one still in the process of invention – was a noble cause; but dying of old age in the company of friends with a thriving vegetable garden to show that one had lived and toiled with honor had a great deal to be said for it as well.
“I’ll take the fast scout,” Karol said. “Save me some cavene, if it’s not being selfish to ask. I’ll keep you posted.”
He had the vegetable garden planned out and plotted in his mind, and a good start. He knew who he wanted to share it with, Walton Agenis, who had been flag captain of the Langsarik fleet that was. Langsarik Station was a thriving community with a future If he meant to be a part of that future – and he did – it was time he fetched his kit and went to bring a scout on line, and hit the vector for the Nurail hub at Safehaven.
Now imagine that the scene of Andrej versus the patient come to kill him from the opening pages of the published text of “Blood Enemies” is between the material above and that following. I’m including it because it’s Robert’s POV and I like Robert’s POV . . .
The intake officer at the Port Authority rose to her feet as Robert came through the door marked Incidental Arrivals. He had all those years of training; he knew that no trace of his smile would make its way through the maze of multiple barriers in his mind to cause embarrassment.
“Good-greeting,” he said, and smiled, because now it would be polite. And she was attractive. It was Robert’s experience that very much the majority of women were. “Robert St. Clare, from Langsarik Station.” That anybody could tell by the color of his uniform. “Personal business, three to five days. What else do I need to tell you?”
They had a discussion ongoing at Langsarik Station, he and his fellows, Andrej Koscuisko’s lost sheep – sent on before, into Gonebeyond Space. The Bench had put them in uniform, and marked them as bond-involuntaries with a cord of poison green on the cuffs of their uniforms like manacles.
Now that they were free, Fleet uniform was out of the question; for the time being, since they were working with or for the Langsarik Port Authority, they had adopted a Langsarik uniform. Pro tem. No green piping. A man had to wear something; they’d all left Emandis with one set of underwear, each. Besides which he felt the color looked good on him.
“Are there – ah – others in your party, sir?” She’d sat down again, slowly, reviewing the ship’s manifest. It was just a commerce freighter, through Langsarik Station from Palyarich at Wurlie with a load of small-heavies, power cells for industrial construction.
“Left ‘em behind,” Robert said cheerfully. It wasn’t that any of the others rejected their obligation, or cherished no feelings; but their situation was so uniquely peculiar. Robert had known Andrej Koscuisko longer. In a sense his relationship was less complicated. Being a free man, he’d taken advantage, and come alone. “But I had to promise souvenirs.”
Good, she’d relaxed, she smiled. “Welcome to Safehaven, Mr. St. Clare,” she said, and spun the manifest-screen for his mark. “Enjoy your stay.”
And she hadn’t asked him what he was carrying in his satchel, as – technically speaking – she ought to have done. He wouldn’t remind her; it would be awkward. He found a public mover, and set its destination; Safehaven Medical Center, the largest of its kind in Gonebeyond space. Almost the only one in Gonebeyond space.
If she hadn’t been Nurail, if he hadn’t come on a Nurail ship with a Nurail crew to a port run by Nurail, he wouldn’t be enjoying any of the notoriety he was experiencing. The administration of Langsarik Station knew who they were, former bond-involuntaries, men made to execute the orders of a Ship’s Inquisitor in implementing the Protocols – or, in far fewer syllables, to torture people.
There was a baseline distance between them and everybody else, however, because although – as far as Robert’s experience during the past year went – everybody understood how the Bench had made them, the horrors of an implanted governor, the fact remained that a bond-involuntary had been sentenced to thirty years of hard labor in a torture chamber. The stink was hard to scrub off.
But none of the bond-involuntary Security that Koscuisko had stolen from the Bench were Langsarik. And Robert was the only Nurail amongst that number. Anybody else – Lek Kerenko, for instance, a Sarvaw from the Dolgorukij Combine – could have come to Safehaven in a uniform of rose gold and probably aroused no interest at all beyond the normal run of anything to declare.
On the way back to Langsarik Station, Robert decided, he’d set his mind to rank-ordering a list of which of his fellow wolf-pack – “former bond-involuntary Security assigned that Andrej Koscuisko sent into Gonebeyond” got to be such a mouthful – would be first on the list to be invited into a comfortable closet for a cup of rhyti and a conversation.
He found Safehaven Medical Center well sited, on the weather slope of a hill overlooking the ocean. Parts of the extended campus were new-built, raw and still-curing concrete a dull damp grey in the sunlight. It could take years for quickset to coalesce completely, but it was structurally stable and load-bearing within three days of primary pour. That was the purpose for which it had been compounded.
They kept administration in an older building, shabby and depressing; but this was Gonebeyond Space. Everything here was shabby and depressing, because they were the back end of nowhere and until less than two years ago everybody here had been outlaws, refugees, enemies of the Bench. No money. No supplies. No equipment.
But also no Bench, no Jurisdiction Fleet, no Rule of Law; and no judicial torture. Technically speaking they were probably all still outlaws and refugees and enemies, but now nobody cared very much because the Bench had bigger problems.
The mover pulled up to a visitor’s entrance with a wide sweeping loading apron and a hopeful flower-garden decorating its approach. There were five levels; five pairs of tall glass-paned doors; and more than one member of staff, administrative and clinical, lounging around casually, taking their breaks or their mid-meals or just come out for a look at the grey water and white chop and far horizon.
Which was convenient, actually; because by the time he approached access control all pretense of protocol had been abandoned, and the security officer behind the desk had two men waiting to escort him up to the stratospheric heights of the fifth floor, where they apparently kept their senior medical officers.
The lift stopped on three, though, and they went down a long hall into another building. It was impressively archaic, in a low-tech no-money sort of way; clinic area, then, and Robert was recognizing the style of medical center. Ramp hospital, by default, grown outwards from its core in an organic manner, building as funds and material became available.
There was some sort of excitement going on in the clinic area. The patient waiting area was wide open, the waiting patients all lined up at the far wall looking pale and alarmed; several Security – Robert assumed they were Security, they were wearing dark blue uniform, rather than duty whites – were huddled around the door to one of the examination or treatment rooms that were arrayed along three sides of the waiting room, each behind its own privacy partition.
One of the Security looked back over her shoulder at Robert as he approached with his escort and a look of horror replaced that of determined concentration on her face. He had a bad feeling about this.
Hurrying forward Robert forced himself into the clump of Security, careful to avoid interfering with the action, listening to learn what was going on. There were three Security at the closed door; he thought he recognized its kind. It didn’t take a deal of work to kick in. And just then Robert heard a familiar voice from inside the room, one he’d sometimes thought he would never hear again.
“I want Raklin.” Frustrated and irritated; not in critical pain. More annoyed than anything. Andrej Koscuisko’s irritation could be a very fearful thing for orderlies and hospital administration; he did try not to take it out on people – unless the situation required it – but he’d been born and bred to mastery, and it was his second nature. “And call the janitors to haul away the trash.”
It was all Robert needed to hear. Crossing his arms he grinned at the Security; very embarrassing for them, to be caught in the middle of an obvious security breach by the muscle from out of town. One of them was trying to force the door without being obvious about it – the master keys were elsewhere, then. Maybe they’d been down at the hospital entrance minding their own business when some notorious Nurail in Langsarik uniform had arrived.
“Respectfully inquiring,” Robert said to the door, with a wink at the hospital security. “If the officer would care to open the door.”
His timing was perfect. There was a rattle at the frame, and the door slid open. The officer needed a haircut; he was blood all over; and he hadn’t grown an inch since Robert had first met him, Fleet Orientation Station Medical, somewhere between ten and twelve years ago. Yon undertall beauty. “Robert,” Koscuisko said. “Holy Mother. What brings you to me?”
“Very good to see you, sir.” He’d been practicing that “sir” in front of the washroom mirror for a year now. “Doctor” would be cold. But “your Excellency” had bad associations for everybody involved. Security were piling into the exam room; there was a body on the floor. “Have I come at a bad time?”
They were surrounded, now, by medical staff and Security staff alike. Two gurneys threatened in the immediate vicinity; Koscuisko waved one of them through into the room and ignored the other. “Dr. Sanford,” Koscuisko called, beckoning to a very young man with a pip on his collar. Koscuisko had five, Robert noticed. “This man needs surgery, and it’ll be at least a few hours. Shame really. We could do it now, no further anesthesia, oh well.”
The second gurney stood waiting – not very patiently – making little “let me at him” gestures, though its orderlies didn’t seem to be paying attention. Koscuisko spoke gurney, Robert knew that for true; but Koscuisko was ignoring the pleas of the gurney, continuing to bleed on his own two feet. Probably shock.
Sometimes letting it catch up with Koscuisko and knocking him over was the thing to do, but that could take a while, for Dolgorukij. As a subspecies they enjoyed a high degree of physical resilience, or Koscuisko’s drinking would have killed him years ago; which might have been Koscuisko’s plan all along.
“Not at all, Robert.” That was right. He’d asked Koscuisko whether he’d come at a bad time. Taking Robert’s arm Koscuisko moved a few steps out of the traffic as the body came out of the room on the gurney. Which seemed a little puffed-up and over-lordly, scorning its partner, I have a patient and you have – what? “Tissue adhesion with aortic return, Dr. Sanford. – Robert, let’s sit down.”
There were privacy screens all around them in an instant, and the gurney was wrought up to a fearful pitch of anxiety. Let me do my job. I’ll never hear the end of it. Robert wondered that its orderlies could be so calm and professional. It was almost as if they didn’t speak gurney at all.
“Here would be a good place,” Robert suggested, the orderlies adjusting the gurney to a comfortable sitting height immediately. “Where are you hit, sir?” It was easier the second time around, that “sir,” but Robert didn’t think it was working for him after all. Koscuisko had been “the officer” for too long. “The officer” – Student Koscuisko – had saved him at Fleet Orientation Station Medical. “His Excellency” had saved his sister’s life. Anybody could be sir.
Sighing, Koscuisko started to unfasten the shoulder-strap of his cover-all, peeling blood-soaked fabric down to his waist so that his orderlies could do their work. “Only here,” he said, pointing with his chin. The wound was jagged and long; by its angle Robert had good hope it hadn’t gotten into the chest cavity. “Call me Andrej, Robert, if you please, it is my name, and I would like to hear it. It has actually been my name for quite some time. Or Koscuisko, if you prefer, have I mentioned how good . . . to see you?”
There were some words missing there. Maybe Koscuisko had been hurt more badly than he’d realized; that wasn’t unusual, the rush of adrenaline could confuse a man. “The same as well.” He hadn’t seen Koscuisko for more than a year. Koscuisko had sent them into Gonebeyond, they’d kept clear of the Ragnarok when it had followed out of sheer self-interest, and then when Koscuisko had been reported to be here at Safehaven they hadn’t known what to do about it.
Wait for Koscuisko to send to them? Ignore him if he did, because he was the one who’d severed relations? Send to Koscuisko, because of what he’d done for them and severing relations had been part of it? Keep clear of Koscuisko because it was a struggle to adjust to being free, and seeing him again wouldn’t make it any easier, to the contrary rather, their relationship having always been at base founded in the fact that they would do anything he told them or suffer consequences? “You should let yourself be seen to, sir.”
And because they’d had a relationship, because it had been what it was, Andrej Koscuisko lay down without further argument and let the orderlies trundle him away down the hall to another treatment room. Robert stood watching them go; the orderlies were looking back over their shoulders at him in clear astonishment, which made him smile. Not accustomed to the officer doing as he was told.
“They’ll not be three hours,” someone said from beside him, a pale-skinned red-haired woman who didn’t look Nurail at all to Robert. “Our chief of security will want to do some ranting. Want something to eat? Then I’ll take you to his quarters.”
It was frustrating to have come all this way to see Koscuisko, only to have him carried off immediately. He had so little time; he had to leave almost as soon as he’d got here to get back to Langsarik Station in time for their next assigned mission. The interruption was unavoidable, however, and only temporary. “All right,” Robert agreed. Because when given the chance between something to eat and brooding, something to eat was always the best choice, and did not preclude brooding if a man was determined. “Meal-cakes, maybe?”
“Everlastingly, and you can have mine. Come on.”
If Koscuisko was drugged enough when they released him to quarters it might be easier to tell him the news Robert had brought with him from Langsarik Station.
(Susan’s note: I left that last paragraph above in just to note that I have no idea what I was talking about, it’s been that long. I’m sure I had some subtle secret subplot running, but dogged if I remember what it was.)