Cousin Stanoczk does Damage Control
Stoshi likes to control sensitive information whenever possible, especially if it might reflect on the honor of the heir to an old and deeply respected Dolgorukij familial corporation. Like, er, Koscuisko, for example. He’s also almost never made the mistake of underestimating peoples’ intelligence.
This is a scene I wrote to keep in my back pocket in case it turned out I was going to want/need it. It addresses something I think may have been happening in background toward the end of the novel, within a very few hours of the Ragnarok taking Fisher Wolf and its patients on board.
(Be advised as always that I haven’t done any reverse engineering to correct continuity disconnects between this scene and the published novel.)
Doctor Mahaffie had for the past year been filling the post of Ship’s Surgeon in Andrej Koscuisko’s absence, and very ably he had been doing it, too. Granted that Mahaffie wasn’t the neurosurgeon Koscuisko was, but few people were, so not every ship had one, so the Ragnarok was better off than most, with Mahaffie heading up the department.
Ralph Mendez found Mahaffie standing in the corridor that ran from Emergency Care past treatment rooms one through five and ended up in Critical Care. Mahaffie wasn’t alone. There was a determined-looking man with a nose of respectable proportions between Mahaffie and the door Mahaffie apparently wanted, and that man was not moving.
“Cousin Waclav, I presume?” Ralph called. Two had made a point of suggesting he stop by in Infirmary because, she said, the same man should not be making trouble in two different places when one of them was very quiet and asleep. Things frequently didn’t quite add up when they came out of Two’s translation interface but he knew enough to follow up on her hint that something might be needing his attention.
“First Officer,” the man acknowledged. He looked the worse for wear. Ralph hadn’t seen any of the offloads; he’d been sequestered with ap Rhiannon and Two in the Captain’s office until just now, putting together a containment plan for those ships in convoy. The receiving report listing the people who’d come in on the thula had only mentioned one person that Ralph wouldn’t recognize on sight, though, so this was him. “I appeal to your authority, your Excellency. To overcome your Chief Medical Officer’s understandable sense of outrage.”
Mahaffie turned his head a little toward Ralph, but didn’t break his concentrated glare at Waclav. “I don’t care who he is,” Mahaffie said. “He’s injured, and he’s in my Infirmary. I’m going to examine him. Or you should have left him on board that ship.”
Ralph didn’t know which “him” Mahaffie meant, though. “Help,” he suggested. “Who’s here, and what’s their status, and – Cousin Waclav – what seems to be the problem?”
Waclav straightened up. “Very well,” Waclav said to Mahaffie, who clenched his jaw in pure frustration. “We’ll go through. You’ll understand. I’ll explain.” So at least there was progress, Ralph told himself.
Inside the treatment room Koscuisko sat slumped on the examination levels with his hands braced against the padded liner on either side of him as if to keep his balance. No. Not Koscuisko. How could it be? Mahaffie knew perfectly well who Koscuisko was, and how little reasoning could be done with him. It’d be Cousin Stanoczk, then, Cousin Stanoczk had been on the thula. But Cousin Stanoczk had dark hair, dark eyes.
Hair-color could be altered and so could the color of a man’s eyes, if that was more complicated and also more painful. And there was something subtly different about the man’s body language; Ralph had upwards of six years’ experience seeing Koscuisko on a sometimes daily basis, though not for the last year or so. The expression of grim-faced, white-lipped, determined exhaustion, that was Koscuisko through and through, but no man had a monopoly on that.
He could send for Stildyne to resolve the confusion, Ralph knew. Stildyne was intimate with both Koscuisko and his cousin, if in totally different ways. But Stildyne was in surgery, soft-tissue damage, shot in the hind end; not available for consult.
One of Mahaffie’s senior techs was in the room as well, but Stanoczk had apparently been keeping Ellis at an arm’s length with as much determination as Waclav had barred the way against Mahaffie. Koscuisko would have simply thrown Ellis out no matter how tired he was. So it was Cousin Stanoczk.
“So,” Ralph said. “Tell me.” Ellis had doses in array waiting to go, and a basic issue of wound-wipes stacked at the ready with a neatly folded set of Infirmary dress alongside. None of the doses seemed to have been picked up and put through, though. And Cousin Stanoczk’s dead-white face communicated its own message of bodily distress. Another word for pain.
“It is necessary to keep this information under control,” Cousin Stanoczk replied. Tenor, and Stanoczk’s voice had always been in the basement before, but there were ways around that, too. “You will understand when I have told you. Jins.”
Right, Ralph told himself. Jins Ellis. Where first names were concerned Stanoczk assumed where Koscuisko would not presume; so it was Cousin Stanoczk, still talking. “You are an educated and perceptive man, Jins. Dr. Mahaffie, I do not doubt the same is true of you, and you have both seen to Robert St. Clare, and know what has come to him in recent days.”
Ralph didn’t. He looked to Mahaffie for explanation. “Tortured,” Mahaffie said. “Significant pain, some injury, but Koscuisko was there for initial stabilization so we’re ahead by that much and his eye will heal. They used a neural rasp, Ralph. I’d like to know what Koscuisko did to them in return.”
“He locked Mathin in a cell to be saved for later,” Waclav said to Mahaffie. Reminding Ralph that there’d apparently been an eye-witness. “We can keep Mathin out of Koscuisko’s way. But we can’t let anybody any closer to Stoshi until we’d had a chance to set top-level parameters.”
Waclav was a “Cousin,” like Stanoczk; and Stanoczk wasn’t sending any let’s-have-the-meds-and-let’s-have-them-now signals, so Waclav wasn’t keeping him from any. Things frequently stopped making sense in Andrej Koscuisko’s vicinity; and Koscuisko and Stanoczk were also cousins in the ordinary Standard way in which Ralph had one or two of them himself, so — Ralph told himself — he shouldn’t be surprised that he wasn’t making any sense of this.
“More context, please,” Ralph suggested. “This is Doctor Mahaffie’s infirmary, he’s the boss. And I don’t think either of us knows what the problem is, yet. Parameter setting, go.”
“But he will know,” Stanoczk said, gesturing toward Ellis with a tired nod of his head. “And so will Dr. Mahaffie, because they have both observed Robert St. Clare. Jins, I have also beneath the lash come, recently.”
Ellis folded his arms across his chest with an emphatic gesture of compassionate skepticism, couldn’t prove it by me. Taking the unspoken point Stanoczk pressed his lips together and started to pull the clothing away from his upper body. Waclav helped; Stanoczk took Waclav by the shoulder – to keep his balance, as before – and let him.
Ellis moved in to take a top-level visual inspection, taking advantage of the fact that Stanoczk was distracted. Ellis was frowning. Some of what Ralph saw he understood too well how to interpret; but medical staff – especially on board the Ragnarok, under Captain Lowden’s regime – were far more expert at reading the signs than anybody could ever have wanted to become.
Stanoczk was naked to the waist, now; he leaned up heavily against Waclav, who cradled Stanoczk’s head against his chest with one hand and turned Stanoczk gently where he sat so that Ellis could complete his visual examination. Mahaffie looked to Ellis, who seemed to be perplexed, even past his evident concern.
“Not the same hand,” Ellis said. “Whoever tried with Robert – assuming he just tried, and I don’t want to know – wasn’t anything like the caliber of the one we used to have.” In other words, Andrej Koscuisko, though Mendez had heard enough about Koscuisko’s “caliber” to last him. “We didn’t see his work, or almost never. But we heard. Other medical support staff, and people talk.”
Ralph was beginning to see where this was going. Straightening up, now, Cousin Stanoczk pulled a dressing free from its place on the skin of his chest just south of one of his collarbones, grimacing with irritation as the adhesive pulled. Ellis started to reach for the neutralizing solution that would have dissolved the adhesive, but Cousin Stanoczk just looked at him, and Ellis stopped.
Ralph didn’t see anything there but an angry patch of reddened skin. There was a corresponding burn mark on the other side of Stanoczk’s chest, not a very impressive one, but a fire-point didn’t start leaving really ugly surface wounds until it was pressed deep and long. So it hadn’t been.
And somebody had been lying, with the wound-dressings, someone who knew how to hurt a man but also how to make it look like it hurt worse, someone who had practiced the art of deception to protect prisoners from extended atrocity when he could get away with it. Until it went on for long enough that he stopped wanting to.
“He was not supposed to be there.” Cousin Stanoczk said it slowly, and with great emphasis. “We had only one chance to save ourselves, the crew of the thula, the thula itself, and all that we had worked for. Innocent people have died. More would have followed. There was only one way. Even he had to accept it. And did the best he could, the only way he could.”
Mahaffie turned on his heel, suddenly, and faced the closed door with his head bent and his fists clenched. One hand on his hip, Ralph pressed his other hand across his mouth, looking past Waclav at the wall on the other side of the treatment room.
After a long moment Mahaffie spoke. “We can’t quarantine St. Clare. For his own sake.” No, Ralph agreed, to himself. Everybody in Infirmary and a healthy proportion of the women elsewhere on the ship would be wanting to know how Robert was, and what had happened to him, and how he was doing, and whether he needed anything. “Ellis and I are the only ones who’ve seen anything else, Cousin Stanoczk.”
“But can you tend my cousin Derush, and not betray yourselves?” There was pain that was not physical in Cousin Stanoczk’s voice. “Because I was the one who demanded it of him. If he was to guess that Jins knew . . . bad enough already that the others, they were there to see. You know why.”
No, Ralph wasn’t even going to think about that one. “Take care of yourself, Cousin Stanoczk,” he said. “Cousin Waclav, make him. We’ll figure out a way. But I have to tell you. I wouldn’t want to be your cousin.”
As soon as he said it at least two unfortunate ways in which that could be misinterpreted sprang into his mind. It was too late for him to call the words back, though, and to try to clarify would only emphasize the hard truths of what he hadn’t meant to say.
“Nor would I, First Officer.” It seemed that now he had made his point his remaining strength deserted him. Cousin Stanoczk collapsed into Waclav’s arms, and closed his eyes, his words starting to fade away on him. “Dr. Mahaffie, my apologies, you understand my urgency. Jins, I would be very glad of some of your doses now. We are not out of this by a hard chase over icy rocks, with the very dire-wolf in pursuit.”
Ralph faded away toward the door, catching Mahaffie’s eye for one last quick question. “Anybody?” Ralph asked. Would anybody guess. Would anybody find out.
Mahaffie shook his head, no. “And the others,” Mahaffie said. That was right. The others. “Know how to keep a secret, if anybody does.”
Letting himself out of the treatment room Ralph took himself away to return to his office, and wait for the Langsariks that Two had on scope to call a ping in. As call they would. He used the walk time from Infirmary to set his thoughts in order; and if the people that he passed took him for deep in contemplation of what had happened and what he was going to do about it next, they would be quite right in concept, if the full baroque complexities would have to remain forever private.