Dissension in the Ranks

In the first draft, I spent some more time thinking about what the general tension would have been when Jennet decided to haul off and shoot her way out of Amberlin.  Obviously it’s not going to be as easy as everybody being of one mind.  And possibly as obviously if there’s going to be trouble the single most inoffensive person on Andrej’s security is probably going to be involved in it up to his Nurail neck (because a man has a temper, after all).  — Also, a brief example of someone doing the right thing for maybe not the completely right reasons, but close enough.


Andrej Koscuisko didn’t often have First Officer’s company in Medical, and was a little surprised to have it now.  He frowned to himself in moderate confusion over the issue, laying a strip of knitting-cloth down along the edge of Robert’s cracked rib, wondering why Mendez wasn’t in his office taking comments; Robert, however, saw only the frown, and took it personally.  Bleeding and humiliated over his failure to stay out of trouble – as he had so frequently, so earnestly, been exhorted to do – Robert tried one more time to explain.

“Very sorry, sir, to have disappointed the officer.  His Excellency has warned me.  Provocation no excuse.  Sir.”

Pausing, in his repair work, Andrej drew back, to try to read St. Clare’s expression.  He knew why St. Clare was speaking in short bursts, like that; it had been a brief, but intense struggle, and Security knew how to hurt each other when they came to blows.  It wasn’t as though Security were the only people on board of Ragnarok coming to blows, of course.  There had been a fairly regular stream of activity coming through Infirmary since the Captain had made her Brief with them – several hours ago.

Nothing he had seen so far had been serious, for which Andrej was grateful; it was only the kind of brawling that went along with making up one’s mind and sorting things out – not any concerted attacks, or settling of scores.  The kind of thing that used to happen at the great medical teaching center on Mayon during test-phases, when anxieties would get out of hand, and take the path of least resistance to relief.

“You are trying to apologize, Robert?  To me?  Do not apologize to me, Robert, it is you who is to suffer for this.”

Mendez had stationed himself near the door with his cup of konghu.  Well out of the way; but where he could see everything that was going on, inside and out in the corridor, and put in his remarks where he felt they might be apropos.  “Vashki on his way down to the thula?  He all right?”

St. Clare turned his head a bit, so that he could face First Officer politely.  “Once he’d woken up, First Officer.  Kerenko checked him over.  We tried to get him to stop at Infirmary but he refused, and Lek thinks it’ll be all right as long as he gets help at Visurga.  Nothing serious, just uncomfortable, Lek says.”

Good, Robert was distracted.  Andrej took the opportunity to test the spongy bruise that was already blackening Robert’s belly, needing to reassure himself that there was no connective tissue torn, there.  It had been Robert and Vashki, before other Security had been able to separate them.

It occurred to Andrej, daubing ointment on a scrape on Robert’s cheek and throat, that he had not even stopped to wonder whether Robert would stay with him.  He had only assumed that Robert would stay, along with the other bond-involuntaries – ap Rhiannon was not releasing the bond-involuntaries, fearful of what Fleet would put them to in light of what Gonkalen had told them.  Robert could easily have agreed with Vashki and gone.  Robert was technically under Bond, true enough, but he had no governor; he could make his own decision.

“I’d feel better if I knew there was a medic on board, Andrej.”  Mendez’ comment was a little wistful, for all that Mendez knew as well as anybody how little it could profit them to care.  Those who were leaving had decided to separate themselves from Ragnarok; they could have no further claim on the Ragnarok’s support or protection.  It did no good to hope that they would be all right when Vashki – and the others who had made Vashki’s choice – were willing by that token to see their remaining crew-mates go on alone to face death or torture and imprisonment without them.

And still they had all been the crew of the Ragnarok.  A man couldn’t help but worry about them.  “I have not seen my good Sinspan this shift.”  It was safe to say that much, Andrej supposed.  Sinspan was very focussed in her loyalties; very rigid.  He half-expected not to see Sinspan again.  “It may be that there is medical support.  Now, Robert.”

Robert would be very sore, within a few hours, and Andrej could only trust Robert’s fellows to care for Robert as they all cared for each other.  He could not afford to confine St. Clare to wards unless the requirement was crucial, which it was not.  “Go and rest, now, and get someone to rub these bruises for you, every six hours.  Not your ribs.  Keep your arm and wrist wrapped, you may adjust the pressure, but be sure that you wrap well up again, at least fifty-four hours.”

There had been injury, but it was neither serious nor permanent.  It had just been an explosion, after all, a release of pressure, without premeditated malice or intent to harm.  Vashki had been struggling with the decision that ap Rhiannon had required of them all.  Robert had simply been the person who had said the wrong thing at the wrong time – a knack which was turning out to be one of Robert’s most significant talents – and touched the explosion off.  “I will see you on wards in a day and a half, and untape you.  There are meds at the desk should you suffer discomfort, Robert, see that you take a sufficiency of them.”

And something else.

Andrej didn’t know if he could ask, if he should say; Robert had not moved, watching his face, waiting calmly, and saying only the words which always meant that Robert merely wished to know Andrej’s will, to do it.

“Yes, your Excellency?”

Mendez was curious now, too.  So perhaps he had better ask his question and be done with it.  “Only that I wonder, Robert.  How it goes, out there.”

He’d kept himself busy here in Infirmary, and some of his patients told of people leaving, and some of them had a simpler tale of personal friction getting out of control under the pressure of coming to terms with ap Rhiannon’s ultimatum.  Robert was the first of his Security he’d seen.  He didn’t question Stildyne; Stildyne had taken it for granted that Andrej understood there was no question but that Stildyne would stay.

But what about his others?

It seemed to take Robert a moment to decide what he was being asked; but once he did, he grinned, a quick flash of white teeth that he surely regretted immediately in light of the nasty scrape across his cheek.  “Uh.  Yes, sir.  I can’t speak for other Sections, sir.”  Vashki had been one of Two’s people, as far as it went.  Which meant that he had been more to do with Mendez than with Two.  “But I don’t think anyone’s gone missing from his Excellency’s teams.  Sir.  There’s Chief to be taken into consideration, after all.”

Meaning – Andrej supposed – that as far as his own assigned Security was concerned Fleet Interrogations Groups, quarantine brigs, mutiny, any threat from outside to their survival paled in comparison to their healthy respect for Security Chief Stildyne’s expectations of teamwork and loyalty.  That actually seemed quite sensible, to Andrej.  There was no question but that the internal strength that Stildyne nurtured so carefully among his people was powerful to bind them to each other; by choice, and gladly.  Andrej gave Robert’s uninjured arm a gentle shake, by way of thanks for his candor.

“It is good to hear.  Go and get dressed, Robert, and do not fail to get a rub for bruising, or you will be very sorry for at least four days.”  No, it wasn’t pleasant to have one’s bruises massaged, even by friendly hands.  But it was therapeutic; and the discomfort of the rub in the short term was less than the cumulative discomfort of the bruise itself over the extra time it would take to heal if there had not been measures taken to increase the circulation at the site of injury.

Rising from his place – and bowing in salute, politely, even in his hip-wrap, and to Andrej and Mendez alike – Robert belted his wrapped-tunic around his waist, stiffly; gathered up his clothing, and left the room, nodding in friendly greeting to Senior Technician Sinspan as he went.

Sinspan was pale, grim and determined, and looking at her Andrej knew what she had come to say, and did not want to hear it.

“Come in, Senior Technician.  First Officer, you will excuse us.”

Mendez started to stand up, but Sinspan shook her head, firmly.  “First Officer can stay, by your leave, sir.  I don’t care any more.  Permission to speak to his Excellency.”

She had always been so formal with him; and so reserved.  It might be said that she had never liked him; they had such profound differences in what they felt the rule of Law required.  Still, she was among his most skilled technicians, and he had never had occasion to find fault with her work, as long as he kept her well clear of injured prisoners.  She had yielded to him so far as to be as tender of the bond-involuntaries as of any other crew, quite contrary to her own best judgment and most deeply held convictions.  It was perhaps only an equivalent yielding for him to hear her out now, and in front of First Officer if that was what she wanted.

First Officer himself folded his hands with a certain species of formality and kept shut, grave and somber, to hear what Sinspan would say.

“Of course, Senior Technician.  What is on your mind?”

As if he didn’t know.  Sinspan took a few steps into the room to face him, and it was clear from her expression that she’d given a good deal of thought to what she had to say, and found it no easier to speak for the preparation.  Andrej could respect that.  She would be leaving, because they were all Fleet renegades now, by intention if not by act, and she would have nothing to do with such disloyalty.  But at least she had struggled with it.  More than that, no-one could in honor demand from her –

“His Excellency has been opposed to aspects of the Judicial order since he was assigned on board of Ragnarok, perhaps even before then.  His Excellency and I have not shared the same values.”

That, they both knew.  It was unnecessary to say anything about it, one way or the other.  She went on.

“I never would have believed that the Record could be forged, sir.  Nor that anybody – except Free Government – would even wish to do so.”  The force she put into that phrase, “Free Government,” was as savage and as bitter as anything he had ever heard, from her.  “I cannot believe, sir, that you did any such thing.”

Nor was he accused of having done so, in the scenario that they’d heard from Gonkalen.  According to that report, he was only the victim of Jennet ap Rhiannon’s plots.  “I brought that Record from Chelatring Side myself, Senior Technician.  And who would know better than my own Section whether coercion had been applied?  To suggest that our Captain would think to forge a Record is to mistake her religion.”

Not her ability, perhaps.  Andrej was beginning to think that ap Rhiannon could do whatever she took it into her mind to undertake.  But if anything was sacred to a creche-bred Command Branch officer, it was the rule of Law.  She was to be his Captain, for as long as the Ragnarok could manage against Fleet.  It was his responsibility to know what she was capable of, and what she was not capable of.

Sinspan met his eyes, briefly.  “I don’t know about that, sir.  I only know what I know.  I never thought I’d be a criminal.  Me.”

Nor would she be.  She would be leaving; Fleet might yet chose to take sanctions against her – to conceal the weakness of their accusations against the Ragnarok, if for no other reason – but there was nothing that ap Rhiannon could do about that.  ap Rhiannon was doing the best she could to protect all of her crew.  People who rejected her attempts to protect them would simply have to sort for themselves.

“I don’t believe one soul on board this ship is a criminal, Senior Technician.”  She was being blunt; very well.  So could he.  “Everything that ap Rhiannon has done has been done with respect for the rule of Law.  It is not reasonable to expect her to sacrifice crew to what she perceives as unlawful violations of the Judicial order.”

Sinspan frowned, as though she were in pain.  “All of these years, your Excellency, you have been trying to convince me of that same thing – that there is a disconnect between the rule of Law and its administration.  I didn’t believe it, sir.  With respect.  I didn’t believe you.”

That had been mutually understood, from early on.  Andrej felt no particular malice, in his heart, toward her; and could only respect her obvious turmoil of spirit.

“For none of us is the decision easy, Senior Technician,” he assured her.  “Although we would be very grateful if you were to stay, because we need you.  No one can make such decisions for another.  And you would have to be very certain.”

“The question is whether you could trust me, if I stayed,” Sinspan replied, a little too quickly.  What had she said?  It hadn’t been what Andrej had expected, that much he knew.

“I’m sorry?”

He almost thought that she regretted saying anything, now.  But, having once started, she seemed clearly determined to see her mission through.  “I mean to stay on, sir.  If I can stay on, and not be whispered about.  I know it’s not what you expected, of me.”

No, indeed.  But no less welcome for being a surprise – “Who am I to judge, Senior Technician?  No-one may know another’s mind and heart.  You will be most heartily welcome, here, among us, give me your hand on it, I am glad to have you to remain on board.”

Not to be whispered about.  Not if he had anything to say about it.  There would be gossip; that, yes.  But surely everyone was fresh enough from their own struggle not to make fun of what it cost another to look at the values that had defined her life, and find them wanting.

Extending her hand with a certain degree of diffidence, she nodded.  “It’s decided, then.  And thank you, sir.”

He was not to thank.  Andrej took her hand in his own, and could not restrain himself from embracing her, briefly.  “Indeed I am very glad.”  Because he wanted as many of his staff as could be comfortable to stay.  Because the Ragnarok was going to need its medical staff.

First Officer nodded to him, behind Sinspan’s back, and left the room; to report to ap Rhiannon, Andrej supposed.

Sinspan stepped away, being released, and they were both a bit embarrassed.  But not much.  “I expect we shall have an allship, once count is taken.”  He was stating the obvious, yes, but it would cover any awkwardness between them.  “Perhaps you would for me the ward-master inform.  We should try to hold a staff meeting, once we know what final status is.”

All business, once again, she saluted briskly.  “I’ll take care of it, sir.  His Excellency will be on site here?”

Until the Captain called for him, yes, he supposed so.  “I’d like to keep my eye on things, yes.  It helps a little, to feel as though one has some control, over howsoever small a thing.”

She smiled and left the room with confident dispatch.

Andrej felt irrationally better about things, for this small victory.