The issue of the Bonds
When I was writing The Devil and Deep Space, I didn’t know I was going to manage this problem in Warring States. But in the years that intervened between The Devil and Deep Space and Warring States Andrej got a little more overtly devious and determined, and shed more of his conditioning. He’s still trying to play by the rules, here, in a scene from the very end of the novel.
They were three days into the Shabmirton vector, and he knew how he meant to approach his problem. Andrej Koscuisko stood on the threshold of the Captain’s office with his left hand tucked out of sight, behind his back. “Captain. If you would.”
Odd, how little he liked coming here. Captain Alid had been dead for a year and more; would Captain Alid ever be deal long enough? He had avoided the Captain’s office during Alid’s lifetime; he avoided it still. ap Rhiannon would get the idea that he didn’t like her.
ap Rhiannon had looked up from the work before her, as the door had opened. There was no danger that she would decline to extend the time to him; she would have known he was one of her ranking officers when the door opened without prior explicit clearance, and from all that he had seen of her she knew how to handle her officers with respect.
“Chief Medical. Please come in. Sit down?”
She was a little confused to see him; unless, perhaps, First Officer had tipped her off – in which case she would be only a little confused. He wouldn’t put it past First Officer. And it wasn’t that he disliked her, not at all; he simply had very little by way of any opinion, positive or negative. He wasn’t sure he cared. Of course she had protected his people, and that had saved his life as well as theirs; it was her job, to protect his people.
It should not have been so unusual for a Captain to protect her crew rather than exploiting them.
If she granted what he had come to ask it would be different.
Andrej found his mark in front of the Captain’s desk and held it, hearing the door slide shut behind him.
“Thank you, no, your Excellency.” Formality was required, and brevity. “There is a thing which with you I wish to discuss. When Captain Alid had been killed you asked me for the Bonds.”
Months ago. She had been offended that he held them at all; abstractly speaking she was right – his bond-involuntary Security were a Fleet resource, not personal property. The Bonds were to remain in First Officer’s custody until the troops were transferred, died, or were reborn at the end of their Term, when the Day dawned at last.
With Captain Alid dead he had had no excuse for not surrendering them, though it had taken him several weeks to get around to it. Mendez had not pressed him. Mendez knew what Captain Alid had been accustomed to do with bond-involuntaries when he felt a need for recreation.
Setting a record-cube down, ap Rhiannon straightened where she sat, squaring herself to the table’s surface. Being formal. Recognizing his formality. “I hadn’t heard anything to indicate non-compliance from First Officer, Surgeon. Is there a problem?”
Meaning, he supposed, that once they were returned to Mendez’ custody she had no further interest in them. Andrej settled his weight over the balls of his feet, preparing himself for conflict. She was younger than he was. She had no real rank, and he held the Writ. He had a great deal of money and she had her stipend, and that was all. She had no family to match his own, outside of Fleet.
She was the Captain of the Ragnarok, and he could not have what he wanted if she would not consent.
“Give them to me back, your Excellency.”
He could do as he pleased within the confines of Infirmary, he supposed; he might even be able to keep it from the Captain until the thing was done. But he didn’t dare. In their precarious position it was imperative that he support the command structure in word and deed. And if he were to proceed without her leave, the troops themselves would be too vulnerable to punishment when they were reconciled with Jurisdiction, and she would not be able to protect them then. He had to get her to agree to it.
She seemed to need a moment in which to decide how she was going to respond. Reaching around behind her, ap Rhiannon pulled a flask out from some portion of the furniture that backed the desk; took a long pull at its narrow neck, and offered the flask to him across the desk’s surface. Strong red Rossippe naracid, and a little young, by the fragrance of it. He could smell it from where he stood, and declined with a shake of his head and a polite nod. Thank you. But no thank you. I prefer to destroy my digestion with overproof wodac, your Excellency. And not with Rossippe naracid of whatever age.
“Give them back to you. Chief Medical. They aren’t ‘yours.’”
Yes, he understood her distaste for the idea of personal ownership. Wasn’t that the point? “Of all the souls on board the Ragnarok, your Excellency, to six alone has the choice been denied. Has the privilege of choice been denied. It is an entire Wolnadi, we need the ship, and Kerenko can pilot the Malcontent’s thula to advantage. How can it be that to six souls alone the freedom to decide is not afforded?”
Because they were Bonded, and would do as they were told. But the safes terrified him, because safes could be lost, misplaced, damaged, even stolen, and who knew what effect that might have? He had to find a way to find safety for his people. Safety from the safes. The only thing that he could think of – was illegal, under Jurisdiction.
“These people are criminals, Surgeon. And have made their choice.”
An argument that had particularly depressed him over recent months, when presented in principle, because of the changes in his own life. “I did not use to be a criminal. And I had made my choice, of what I can only interpret as my own free will, when it comes so far as that. I do not pretend that I had an understanding of what it was that I seemed to have selected. I have changed my mind. Only permit them if they choose to do likewise.”
He’d lost her on that one, he could tell. She set the flask down on the table’s surface in front of her, and frowned at him. “I don’t quite take your meaning.”
Perhaps it wasn’t even important. “I only ask for them the same as afforded the others of this crew. That they have been constrained to serve should not diminish the value of their service to this ship. You should extend to them the choice, your Excellency. It is only fair. I ask it of you, give these Bonds to me, and I will expire them for the duration of our exile here in Amberlin.”
Bringing his arm around from behind his back, now, he showed her what he carried in his hand. Bonds. Six Bonds; because St. Clare’s replacement governor had not arrived, and he had made his choice as a free man.
“I thought you’d given those back to First Officer?”
“I have just come from First Officer. Who says that he does not know how you will judge on such an issue, but that I am welcome to find out, and let him know.”
It might be important, that she know he would not go behind her back. Mendez had assumed of him that he would not go behind her back, and he had not thought twice about what that implied that First Officer thought of him, until just now.
“How do you ‘expire’ a Bond in that way?” ap Rhiannon asked thoughtfully. “I would have thought that it could not be done.”
She and he alike. “Neither of us would have thought a Record could be forged, your Excellency. Ship’s Engineer is willing to perform the calibration, I am qualified to perform the surgery. If we are to hazard death in the defense of our honor and our Appeal we should all so hazard our lives as free souls.”
She looked into his face thoughtfully for a long moment, which seemed a good sign. He knew the argument had merit. On the other hand she might also know that he had tried to buy them, from Jurisdiction, and been turned down.
“If I were to tell you no.”
He could do as little about it as he had ever been able to do, for them. Because the ship did need a Captain of whatever age. Because he had agreed – howsoever tacitly – to support her authority, as her price for his remaining on board of Ragnarok. “It would be shameful, your Excellency, to deny so plain a thing as simple choice to Lek Kerenko, after what he has for us accomplished. Shameful as well to privilege him, but not his fellows.”
He had hit on a good point, there, perhaps, because she reacted to it, rising to her feet to face him. Was it the word, “shameful?”
“If they stay, they agree that these Bonds are to be restored prior to our return to Jurisdiction space. You agree to restore them. If they leave – I won’t make excuses for them.”
But that meant yes.
And that was all that mattered.
“So noted, your Excellency. With my profound appreciation. Thank you. And take some starch-flats with that naracid, it will help to pacify your liver.”
With any luck his impertinence would not conceal the genuine gratitude he felt to her, for her decision.
Just now he was in a hurry to go to see Wheatfields, and could not stay to sort things out, if not.