POV Shift

Up until “Jurisdiction” (the novella I wrote for FOGCon3) I’d only handled Robert, Lek, and Joslire so far as POVs go for Andrej’s Security.  There isn’t much going on in this scene — it’s one that was discarded from Andrej’s transit from the Ragnarok home to Azanry near the beginning of the novel — but it’s the only one I can think of that’s from the POV of a non-Bonded Security.  She’s a little skeptical, but she’s not near so much so as Garrity turned out to be.


Some eights into the transit Koscuisko came into the crew rest area and laid his hand on her shoulder, waiting while the others got up and left the room.  Surprised as she was to see him without Chief Stildyne close behind she glanced up at the pale profile of the man standing there beside her, and he winked at her, with a mild conspiratorial glint in his ice-gray eyes; but she was not much reassured by that.  She knew quite well that there could be only one possible reason for his being here, and it had nothing to do with anything that he might have winked at her about.  He was trying to put her at her ease, she knew.  But not even Andrej Koscuisko’s subtle touch with his Security, the warm touch of his small hand on her shoulder, could allay her anxiety, under the circumstances.

Watching Illerau’s back as he left, she swallowed hard, trying to predict the probable course of the conversation in order to gain a sense of some control.  He was watching Illerau, too.  When they were alone together in the crew rest area Koscuisko patted her shoulder once or twice and moved around to the right side of her, sitting himself down on the padded bench that made the square angle to the one she occupied.  He had changed his boots for neat black Dolgorukij padding-socks, and undone his blouse down the front, so that the white of his under-blouse broke the solid black of his uniform; tokens, all in all, of a determination to relax, and it should have been comforting.

But she was not comforted by his informality.

“What are we to do with you, Miss Smath?”

It was not the form of his rebukes, on the infrequent occasions when he delivered one.  Her anxious expectation of official displeasure made it seem to be one regardless.  The emotional response she felt helpless to control threatened to swamp her entirely and betray her to her fearful self-examination, repeated over and over in every one of the few free moments she had had since learning of the explosion.  Was it something that she had done?  Had she made a mistake?  Could there have been a live round?  Could it have been her fault?

But Koscuisko had not so much as paused before speaking on, and after a moment or two she began to hear what he was saying.  “It will be difficult enough that Pyotr is black in his complexion, and more difficult yet that Lek is Sarvaw.  What the house-master is to do with a female warrior I do not at all know.”  The unexpected nature of his remarks distracted her from her self-flagellation; what could he be talking about?

“I don’t understand, sir.”  Direct language had always worked best, with Koscuisko.  The polite rank-determined circumlocutions, the twisted passive constructions that Fleet required in correct converse with officers just gave Koscuisko hair-clutching fits, and he hadn’t so much hair to clutch in the first place.  Not thin, no.  But fine, and Stildyne insisted it be kept short, too, because Koscuisko displayed a certain tendency to get shaggy around the edges when his hair started to creep down his collar.  “Do female Security violate his Excellency’s cultural norms?  I could hide out on board ship, I suppose – ”

Holding up his hand, grinning, showing all of his white even teeth, Koscuisko interrupted her.  “No, you will do no such thing.  It will be interesting to watch, if only it does not make you uncomfortable.  We have no history of armed women except for religious, and there are many expectations for hospitality to be extended to guests.  It is not impossible that one of the women in my Household may offer you the privilege of her body, and it could all get very confusing.”

She knew that Koscuisko’s homeworld was insular and parochial, for all the influence the Combine wielded by virtue of its food production.  And the excellence of its business class in negotiations.  “Are you saying that Security must necessarily be male, sir.  That I’m to be treated as a biological male, because of my job.”

“Quite right.”  It seemed to surprise him, just a bit, put in that way.  But that had been what he’d been getting at, hadn’t it?  “You may perhaps find yourself being treated as a man, which is in some ways to be preferred to being treated as a woman – or as an Aznir woman without children, at any rate.  Pyotr may be regarded as an exotic beast, and Lek is almost certainly to receive a subtle suspicion that he might be a lower form of life even yet.  We are not an attractive people, I’m afraid.”

That depended on who was being attracted to whom, of course.  Koscuisko himself – being blond and compact of frame, dangerous and elegant – had more than his share of admirers on board of Ragnarok; and she herself had not always been unresponsive to the joyful astonishment with which he was capable of taking his falls on the exercise floor, and not holding any personal grudges over to some later time.  Still, he was talking about other issues than his personal charisma, and it did conform to the reputation that Dolgorukij had.  Kerenko had never said much about being Sarvaw, not as though he would have been able to – being bond-involuntary meant being governed, after all.  Words and actions edited by a behavioral modification implant.  On the other hand, when Petrusk’ in Intelligence had suggested that Koscuisko’s aptitude for Inquiry was only natural for an Aznir Dolgorukij, Lek had reacted in defense of Chief Medical’s personal morality; but he’d not argued against the point itself.

“If they’re going to be mistreated, your Excellency, why did you want them to come with you?”

She’d startled him, a little.  She’d startled herself.  Why had she asked such a stupid question?  Granted that Koscuisko was thinking about it, honoring the honest confusion that she felt.  She already knew that he was open and fair-minded.  She didn’t need to confront him with his own inconsistencies.  He did quite enough of that himself; maybe too much.

“I couldn’t have Robert, and Lek has been with me the longest of all the other Bonded troops that there are.  And I particularly wanted the Bonded troops because I thought that it could be a bit of a treat, for them, in one way or another.  The people in my house will not treat either Pyotr or Lek – or any of you – with less respect than Fleet has already shown them.”

She didn’t want to know.  It interfered with her ability to keep her distance, from him.  She liked to try to maintain her emotional detachment, because a job was only a job, after all.  They would not be here – assigned to Ragnarok – forever.  It was better not to get involved.

“I could rely upon their position to protect them as well, or at least that was my thought.  We have a very high opinion of ourselves, we Aznir, Miss Smath.  And even a Sarvaw is a somebody if they are connected with blood of sufficiently rarefied quality.”

She’d been sorry she’d said anything as soon as the data had dropped, and it was only getting worse.  “We’ll be fine, your Excellency.  I’m sure of it.  Please don’t think twice about it, and if I’m to be propositioned I promise to decline.  Manfully.”

He smiled at that, once more, and Koscuisko had always been very beautiful when he smiled – regardless of the situation.  “Miss Smath, I am sure you will handle the situation very well, whatever it turns out to be.  There will be a briefing, in a bit, we will go through my mother and my father and my brothers and their wives and children, examples of traditional architecture, how to tell the religious from the deranged, and what one is expected to say if fish are introduced into the conversation when a meal is not contemplated.”

Fine, they would congratulate each other on their coping skills, and things could finish up on a comfortable little mutual back-patting session.  No.  She didn’t have any reason to be so cynical about Koscuisko’s motives; when he wanted his own back patted he generally found a way to communicate the idea in an inoffensive manner.  She was just in a temper because of the accident, that had to be it.  No, in a mood.  No, a temper.  A mood.  A temper.

“You, however, are in a place that somebody has tried to make to seem compromised.  I thought that I would also talk to you about that, although there is very little to be said.”

Mistakes that resulted in blown-up observers were simply not the sorts of mistakes that were made.  And there had to have been two eights of people on that observer, it was the standard complement.  What the Brevet First Lieutenant had said about sabotage could not comfort her.  Right now, in the eyes of the Fleet, she was responsible for the deaths of sixteen Fleet resources; and one of them was Command Branch, too, she realized, with increasing panic.  Murder of a Command Branch officer was an automatic Tenth Level, and everyone had heard about Koscuisko’s first Tenth Level Command Termination –

“No, you are not listening to me, Miss Smath.  Please, or I shall regret having mentioned it at all.”

Oh, we can’t have that, now, can we?  It was one thing for her to have to bear up under such a suspicion; quite another for Andrej Koscuisko to be pressed to the point of regretting some comment or another.  Oh, she was being too hard, too hard.  No.  It was too hard on her.  She had a right not to blame herself.  She was not to blame for the accident; and she knew it.

“I’m sorry.”  More than he could guess.  But it wasn’t what he thought.  “Sir.  His Excellency was saying?”

“It is only this, that I will not give you up.  I will not give any of you up to Fleet.  I will send to you the Reconcilers of the Malcontent before I will give you up to Fleet, Miss Smath, and that is a thing that the First Lieutenant did not even know was in my power.  We will not permit Fleet to make examples of any of you, and I hope that you may enjoy yourself a little in the land of my birth and blood.”

His absolute conviction was too much for her.  Catching at the loosened cuff of his sleeve, as he rose to go, she said the words that she’d been trying not to think, helpless against his utter faith in all of them.  “Excellency.  The loads were checked, rechecked.  The target grids were preregistered and registered and reregistered, and we knew every drone on them, and we got confirmed target ident on each of them, and there isn’t.  Any.  Way.  That we blew up that observer, killed those people – noncombatants – ”

“Our Brevet Captain has no doubt whatever of it.”  Somehow her hand at his sleeve had found its way between his two hands, and she was strangely comforted by the gesture.  “We will not stand for any mistakes on Fleet’s part, either.  I cannot say so to Lek, or in Pyotr’s presence, you understand – it could be misinterpreted, and would create conflict for them.  Or correctly interpreted, it is of little consequence to me.  I will not give any of you over to Fleet for whatever purpose.  I am decided on it.”

Giving her hand a reassuring squeeze, he let it go, and nodded as if they were agreeing on something unspoken.  “In a few hours, then, Smish, and have your nap beforetime, I want to hear no snoring during my briefing.  Perhaps you would warn the others about that for me, as well.”

“Sir.”  He had touched a ground-wire to the panic within her, in some way.  She felt more calm, and much less frantic.  “No snoring during his Excellency’s briefing to be tolerated.  Yes, sir.”

Fleet could think what it pleased before the Record had been proved, she supposed.

As long as anybody who mattered knew that they hadn’t made a criminal mistake she guessed that maybe all would be right again, in time.