Andrej Koscuisko stood at the view-port watching with dread as the ship neared the Station. There was a signal at the talk-alert; sighing, he keyed it.
The Station came closer moment by moment, a bleak lifeless piece of galactic debris with a self-contained school for potential Ship’s Surgeons sprawled over its surface. He didn’t like it; but there was no sense in making things harder on the crew of this ship than they already were. It was simply their bad luck that the Pride of Place had been going in the same direction as the disgraced son of the head of the Koscuisko familial corporation, just at the time the ship had been ready to leave.
“Cleared through to offload, your Excellency. You’re to be met. A Tutor named Chonis expects to be greeting you.”
“Yes, very good,” Andrej murmured halfheartedly. He was late arriving. He hadn’t wanted to come. He was more frightened of what awaited him than he thought he’d ever been in his life. He couldn’t take his eyes off the view-port, consumed with apprehension as the ship neared for landing.
Ugly piece of rock.
Grim cold utilitarian dock-port, the ship’s tugs at least eight years old, and all alike. Fleet resources. Fleet Orientation Station Medical, where potential Ship’s Surgeons all had to come to learn how to Inquire.
If he’d guessed beforehand what his father would wish, would he have completed his medical training?
He was here now, and there was no help for it. He would do what was needful. His father had said the word. That was all.
Gathering up his documents-case, Andrej quickly leafed through flimsies one final time. How to salute. How to speak to a Tutor. How to conduct oneself as a Student, soon to become a Chief Medical Officer. CMO was all very well, a position of significant influence and power on a cruiser-killer class warship upholding the Judicial order in the space-lanes. Any young surgeon would jump at the opportunity.
It was only that he did not want to Inquire.
The wait-room on the loading docks was small, almost cramped, even with only two people sharing it; and one was Security. Curran hardly counted. There was the smell of too much waste fuel in the air, and more noise than could be comfortably borne for very long without ear-stops for protection. Tutor Chonis suppressed an impatient twitch of annoyance as he stood waiting for his Student to arrive. Just enough time for a final scan through the scroller, and he would be ready for the interview.
ANDREJ Ulexeievitch KOSCUISKO, STANDARD SCAN ANDREW SON OF ILEX. PRONOUNCED AHN-DRAY YOULECHS’VICH KOE-SHOO-SKOE. OLDEST SON OF RANKING KOSCUISKO PRINCE ALEXIE ILMYANITCH AND PRINCE INHERITOR TO KOSCUISKO FAMILIAL CORPORATION, DOLGORUKIJ COMBINE. EIGHT YEAR COURSE OF STUDY, MAYON SURGICAL COLLEGE, MAYON MEDICAL CENTER, MAYON, GRADUATION WITH HIGHEST HONORS IN SURGERY AND HONORS IN PSYCHO-PHARMACOLOGY. NO FAMILY MEMBERS ACTIVE IN FLEET. HOMEWORLD OF ORIGIN AZANRY, DOLGORUKIJ COMBINE, SANT-DASIDAR JUDICIARY.
Tutor Chonis shut his scroller down and marshaled his thoughts together. First contact, Student and Tutor. This could make or break the entire Term. It was important to get off on a good cycle. There was to be enough stress on Student Koscuisko as the Term progressed without the existence of conflict between him and his Tutor.
“Let’s go, then,” Chonis said. The telltales on the wall gave notice that the incoming craft had come to rest and was ready to offload. Curran keyed the exit, standing to one side for the Tutor to precede him out onto the apron of the loading dock.
Out on the apron, a maintenance team had taken custody of Koscuisko’s personal effects; and there was the Student, standing alone, staring off toward the open end of the maintenance atmosphere.
“Attention to the Tutor,” Curran called from behind him, to put Student Koscuisko on notice. Koscuisko looked over his shoulder at that; turning around, he started toward them, not quite hurrying but quickly enough. Once he was within a reasonable distance he stopped, saluting politely. “Student Koscuisko reports at the Fleet’s invitation. Tutor Chonis?”
Student Koscuisko was blond and pale, and looked a little on the slightly built side of the Jurisdiction Standard; but Tutor Chonis wasn’t taken in. Koscuisko was Dolgorukij. And Dolgorukij packed muscle. It was just that the way they packed muscle wasn’t obvious to look at them.
“Good-greeting, Student Koscuisko. I trust you had good transit?”
There was the suspicion of a frown on Koscuisko’s face at that, quickly smoothed over. “Thank you, Tutor Chonis.” Tenor voice, and pale eyes. Polite enough, though, as was usually the case with aristocrats. “It was a quiet transit.”
Koscuisko knew very well he was late. Koscuisko offered no excuses. On the other hand Chonis hadn’t asked for any. “Student Koscuisko, as your briefing states, you are to be under my tutelage. You have only a few months in which to learn all that Fleet will require of you; no time like the present for us to begin. Joslire Curran. Present yourself.”
Curran stepped forward from where he had posted himself two paces behind Tutor Chonis, to his left. “At the Tutor’s direction.” Curran was a little taller than Koscuisko, but not by much; and his face had more contour. Curran was as dark as Koscuisko was fair, even after his years here on Station away from solar browning. Right now Curran was as tense as Tutor Chonis had ever seen him — though Koscuisko might not realize that. Koscuisko was unlikely to have met Emandisan before. Emandisan off-world were almost always Security; and as far as Tutor Chonis knew, Joslire Curran was the only bond-involuntary Emandisan in the Inventory.
“Curran, Student Koscuisko is your officer of assignment for this Term. Student Koscuisko. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Curran is bond-involuntary.” Watching Koscuisko’s face, Tutor Chonis caught Koscuisko’s quick glance at the telltale green piping on Curran’s sleeves. “Curran is tasked by the Administration with seeing to your meals, your exercise, and whatever administrative matters may arise.”
Koscuisko regarded Curran with a look of frank and good-natured curiosity, which Tutor Chonis found rather engaging. He hoped that Student Koscuisko and Joslire Curran would sort well with each other. The man deserved a break; last Term had been unusually rough on him. But they couldn’t afford to sideline one of their best while Orientation was in session. There weren’t enough bond-involuntaries assigned for that.
“The Administration anticipates that you may not have worked with bond-involuntaries before. It’s important that you take this opportunity to explore their resources and their limitations.”
It would be very unusual if Koscuisko had even met a bond-involuntary, outside of Fleet. There weren’t that many of them to start out with.
“Curran will provide you every assistance; you should not hesitate to make any of your needs or desires known to him, howsoever personal. When you are posted to your Command, you can safely anticipate at least one Security team of bond-in voluntaries will be assigned to you.” In Fleet, bond-involuntaries could be assigned only to Chief Medical Officers, in fact, and to no other officer on staff.
And that about covered things for their first briefing. Nodding at Curran, Tutor Chonis gave Student Koscuisko his dismissal. “I will see you this evening in Tutor’s Mess, where I will introduce you to your fellow Student. Tutor’s Mess at sixteen, and be prepared to discuss your background and your interest in the field of Judicial administration. That will be all for now. Curran, you may take your Student to quarters.”
Koscuisko saluted with easy grace; Curran gestured politely toward the lift-access corridor. “If Student Koscuisko would care to proceed?”
Tutor Chonis watched as they left, Curran giving directions as they went.
He hadn’t known quite what to expect from Student Koscuisko.
He wasn’t sure he knew any more about him now than he had before this interview.
It didn’t matter.
There was no predicting how Students responded to the pressures the practical exercises put on them.
There were five levels between the loading docks and the administrative area where Koscuisko had quarters. Student Koscuisko hadn’t spoken to him; nervous, perhaps. That was almost funny. Ship’s Surgeons exercised absolute power over the bodies and lives of bond-involuntaries; why should Koscuisko be nervous?
Most of the Students Joslire had seen hadn’t wanted to be here, though they’d volunteered. That was none of his business. When the lift-car arrived Joslire keyed the offload; as the doors slid away, Koscuisko straightened up a bit, alerted perhaps by the noise or the change in air pressure. Turning, Koscuisko caught Joslire’s eye; and Joslire gazed hungrily at his new officer, anxious for something that might give him a clue as to what kind of Term this one was going to be.
Staring too long could be interpreted as insolence, and his governor would not tolerate insolence. Joslire broke eye contact, bowing hastily.
“Show me to my quarters, if you please, Curran,” the officer said, moving past Joslire to gain the corridor outside. Pleasant and formal, and neither promise nor threat to be read in the Student’s voice. Yet. Joslire hurried out of the car before the doors closed on him, hastening to his duty with resignation.
“To the officer’s right.” The senior member on a standard four-soul Security team led by direction, not example. One of the things that the officer was expected to learn was how to figure out where he was going by listening to the voice of a Security post behind him. “It will be to the officer’s left at the next nexus, eight doors down.”
Eight doors down the hall after the left turning. Joslire could almost hear the officer counting to himself. There was little to distinguish one door from another; so when the officer paused, Joslire confirmed the guess indirectly, disguising his reassurance as an explanation.
“The admit panel is to the officer’s right. In the recess.” Not where the officer was accustomed to finding it, so much was obvious. The Dolgorukij Combine Koscuisko came from was a parochial system, very rich, very insular, rather primitive in many ways by the Jurisdiction Standard. For all Joslire knew, Koscuisko was accustomed to finding rooms behind tall wooden doors, pivoting inward on old-fashioned hinges.
After a moment’s fumbling at the doorjamb, the officer found the admit, and the door opened. The interior was familiar to Joslire in its functional severity: Fleet issue sleep-racks, Fleet issue floor-covering, Fleet-issue study-set, and an open closet full of Fleet-issue uniforms. Joslire already knew that there was an unpleasant surprise in quarters for the officer. He wondered how Koscuisko was going to react to it.
After a moment Koscuisko stepped across the threshold; Joslire followed on Koscuisko’s heels, closing the door behind him. Posting himself near the door, Joslire watched as Koscuisko took inventory: the washroom at the left beside the closet, with the toilet’s gray metal privacy barrier clearly visible through the open door and the wet-shower beyond; the sleep-rack to the right and the study set in the middle of the room; the inner room beyond, half-visible past the partially closed slider. Koscuisko — his back stiff and his shoulders tense with understandable confusion — moved around the study-set and stood in the doorway to the inner chamber with his back still to Joslire, puzzling out the problem, looking for his luggage. It didn’t matter that Joslire had only the back of the officer’s head to judge his reactions by. Bond-involuntaries learned very quickly to read an officer’s moods from the other side of his face.
The officer spoke, finally. “I had brought some personal effects with me,” Koscuisko said mildly. “I do not see any of my house-master’s packing here.”
Nor would he. “As the officer states.” Technically speaking Koscuisko was not an officer yet, but Joslire’s governor would not fault him for using the formal title. It was safer to use the formal title, for the same reason that it was safer to keep to indirect address and avoid the first person whenever possible. “The officer’s personal effects are to be forwarded directly to Scylla. To provide an agreeable sense of homecoming when the officer reports to his Command.”
“Who — ” There was predictable outrage in Koscuisko’s voice, as well as a degree of frustration — which Joslire could certainly understand, and sympathize with. A note of savage humor there as well.
It was a moment before Koscuisko seemed to master his reactions and trust himself to speak, after having bitten off his first response so sharply that the word hadn’t so much as bled before it died. “Who sleeps on which of these boards?”
The boards . . . oh, the sleep-racks. Joslire stepped carefully into the middle of the room to post himself by the study set. “The officer sleeps in the inner room, behind the slider-screen, which has been provided for his privacy. Assigned Security sleeps here, in order to be available to the officer at will.”
“You and the mashounds,” Koscuisko said, as if to himself.
Joslire didn’t bother to mention that the privacy partition could not be secured from the inside. The officer would figure that out soon enough. And would doubtless realize that assigned Security slept between the officer and the door as much to prevent the officer from going out unaccompanied as to be available when wanted. “I do not suggest an equivalence, of course. How am I to call you, then?”
It was nice to be apologized to, howsoever obliquely; but the officer would learn better soon enough. “It is a matter up to the officer’s discretion.” Koscuisko would learn that, too. Here at Fleet Orientation Station Medical there were few conventions to define what an officer could do with assigned Security, as long as the forms of transgression and discipline were preserved. Fortunately Administrative staff was careful about things accordingly; it all balanced out in the end, more or less.
“As it pleases the officer to inquire, ‘Joslire’ would be preferable to ‘Curran.’” Many of his fellows welcomed the psychic camouflage of the name the Fleet had given them; Joslire didn’t. To be called Curran was a constant reminder of the place where Joslire ise’Ilet had died — or at least been shut away in legal suspension of animation for thirty years. Where the man that he had been had been enslaved for crimes against the Judicial order, and his honor and his five-knives with him.
“Very well, it shall be Joslire, then. Are you required to confiscate my clothing, as well as my travel-trunks?”
“And the officer’s documents-case as well. An exception is to be made for one item of a religious nature.” He was a little surprised at Koscuisko’s obvious grasp of what was going on. There was no particular reason to be surprised; surely it was clear enough from the standpoint of basic psychology — the removal of anything that might be comforting in its familiarity, in order to render confused and disoriented Students the more receptive to the new rules and expectations of a whole new reality. Except that none of his other Students had grasped that meaning quite so quickly, if they ever had.
“What if the officer is irreligious? One item of a profane nature? Never mind it, Joslire, what am I supposed to wear to Tutor’s Mess?”
On familiar ground with this, Joslire moved with confident assurance to the closet to cull the appropriate selections from the rack. “This is the officer’s informal mess dress. It has been prepared from the information in the officer’s medical profile, so the measurements may not be precise. There is time to arrange for alterations before the meal, but not very much time, and therefore the officer is respectfully requested to test these garments for size as soon as possible.”
Koscuisko was a little different from the Students he’d seen through Orientation previously, perhaps.
But he could hardly be that different.
Which meant that the biggest problem facing Joslire in the immediate future — how to suggest that Koscuisko trim back the fine blond fringe of hair across his forehead to conform to the Jurisdiction Standard — didn’t particularly worry Joslire now.
Anyone who could grasp the trick with his personal effects as quickly as Koscuisko had could surely be relied upon to submit himself sensibly to other Fleet requirements.
Mergau Noycannir was prompt in her appointment for dinner with Tutor Chonis, as she made a point to be in all her dealings with superiors. She’d been ready for an eighth, her glossy black hair neatly tied up, her uniform crisp and precise on her tall spare frame. She’d reviewed the schedule and tomorrow’s ceremony several times, rehearsing the steps in quarters with her bond-involuntary’s assistance until she was certain she knew exactly what was required. She wasn’t particularly hungry, and she disliked wasting time over food; still, every opportunity to spend time with the Tutors was a valuable one, well worth the investment. The more she could learn about Tutor Chonis the better she would be prepared to manage him. And she would manage him, too, because she had no intention of going back to Chilleau Judiciary without her Writ, regardless of what it might take to obtain one.
Her Patron at least recognized superior ability when he saw it; Verlaine knew what was in his own best interest. For that, Mergau was exactly as grateful as she ought to be. Once she brought the Writ to Inquire back to Chilleau Judiciary, she could reasonably expect due compensation in consideration of the valuable resource she’d obtained. If it failed to come, she’d be prepared to ensure that a satisfactory adjustment was made.
She was always prepared.
She’d had her bond-involuntary escort her here to Tutor’s Mess in good time. It wouldn’t do to come too soon and be seen standing idly in the reception area, waiting for the Tutor to arrive; that would give the appearance of anxiety or that she was conscious of being in a subordinate position. She’d sent Hanbor back to quarters and then left Tutor’s Mess, going down the corridor a few eighths around the nearest corner to wait.
Now she tapped her earlobe thoughtfully, checking the time. Fifteen, the little chrono whispered, its timer connected to a neuro-thread that lay beneath the surface of her inner ear. Fifteen and seven eighths. It was time to go. Arrival prior to seven-eighths would have been early. Arrival much past seven-eighths would be almost late.
She tugged at the unfamiliar uniform blouse to straighten the front creases, and made for the door.
The entry to Tutor’s Mess was open four times a day, during each of the meal-breaks. Another Student was waiting in the small reception area just inside the door — a Student as tall as Tutor Chonis, with light-colored hair that wasn’t groomed to the Standard for uniformed personnel. The Student acknowledged her arrival with a nod that deepened into a polite salute. Mergau didn’t know enough about him to feel she could select the best response, so she merely returned the offered courtesy in precise measure, dismissing him from her mind. She couldn’t afford to waste any energy on people who would have nothing to do with her. Peers and subordinates could be used to support her, but Tutors could place obstacles in her way: She only needed to pay attention to the Tutors. She tapped her ear again: fifteen and sixty-two. Just two until sixteen. Surely Tutor Chonis would come soon.
Tutor Chonis was coming through the open door into Tutor’s Mess even now. Mergau turned her back to the other Student to greet the Tutor with the requisite salute, smiling in her most ingratiating manner. Chonis answered her salute with a pleased smile of his own; but, then, he seemed to be distracted by something that was behind her.
This was confusing.
Moving forward to take her place at her Tutor’s side, Mergau realized that what had captured Chonis’s attention was the other Student.
“Good, I’m glad to see you both in good time. Shall we go in?”
A modest smile and a diffident bow would be the most suitable response, Mergau decided. But the other Student was already bowing with a sycophantic grin on his face, so Mergau made sure to keep her expression utterly solemn.
She’d overheard Tutor Chonis complaining about a Student just yesterday as she waited outside his office. This was Student Koscuisko, then, the man who had so little respect for the Administration and his fellow Students that he had come at the last possible moment?
She would take precedence without hesitation. She had demonstrated her commitment to the program and the Administration by arriving in plenty of time to get settled in and complete in-processing. It was too bad she hadn’t known who he was earlier, though. She could have used the few moments of wait-time to draw him out a bit, probing to discover his strengths and weaknesses.
Tutor Chonis had gone through to the mess without waiting for further response. Mergau hastened to take first place in following the Tutor, but the other Student made way for her quite naturally and carelessly, giving no sign of meaning to contest with her for precedence — as if he felt the issue was not important, which indicated that he did not take her as seriously as he should.
Tutor Chonis was waiting for them at a table set just short of the administrative equivalent of the Captain’s Bar, the railing that divided the room and marked off the raised area at the back as privileged space for senior officers. She and her fellow Student would be sharing the bench, of necessity; protocol prohibited junior officers from turning their backs on Command Branch.
Mergau paused in the middle of the room, gazing at the Bar. Once she’d taken up her Writ, she would be entitled to turn her back to the Bar with impunity, as long as the Captain wasn’t present. Ship’s Inquisitor, Chief Medical Officer, Ship’s Surgeon was subordinate only to the senior officer in the Command, and since it was the Writ that defined the Chief Medical Officer, she would be one of Ship’s Primes.
Tutor Chonis knew well enough that Mergau would never be assigned to a cruiser-killer, since she could not serve as a medical officer of any sort. That had been part of the agreement that Secretary Verlaine had made with Fleet when she’d come here. Fleet’s requirement that its Inquisitors be Bench-certified medical practitioners was appropriate for on-Line warships but hardly applicable to a Bench setting. Secretary Verlaine didn’t need a Ship’s Surgeon; Chilleau Judiciary already had Medical support. All he wanted was an Inquisitor on staff, a Writ on site at Chilleau Judiciary. A Writ that he could direct as he saw fit — without having to negotiate for a loaned Inquisitor from Fleet resources to support what was, after all, a Judicial function.
They were waiting for her, her fellow Student standing politely until she took her seat. Suddenly she was annoyed at him for making her feel awkward, even clumsy, twice already in so little time. Being here was just another step in a well-mapped career for him, and from what she’d gathered about Student Koscuisko, it wouldn’t destroy his life if he failed- — he was a rich man, playing at doctor, playing at Inquisitor. But she represented First Secretary Verlaine and Chilleau Judiciary, Second Judge Sem Porr Har, Presiding.
The honor of her Patron depended upon her ability to survive the tests that Fleet would put her to.
“ . . . Senior Security, in other words the Warrant Officers — ” Tutor Chonis was saying, obviously responding to a question from Koscuisko — “the Engineer’s Mates, and your own shift supervisors. You’ll take your meals above the Bar, of course.”
He continued to talk to Koscuisko as Mergau slid into place along the bench, Koscuisko waiting until she was settled to sit down beside her. “Then there are typically four, sometimes as many as six Fleet Lieutenants, usually one to a shift. Sometimes the noise . . . but I’m getting too technical. We’ll be covering this all in session, in detail.” An orderly had approached their table and was waiting for instruction. “Meal three, please. And for my Students, of course.”
“You seemed to be reminiscing, just now,” Student Koscuisko said as the orderly went off again. “May I ask if you were posted to such a vessel yourself?”
Student Koscuisko wasn’t supposed to be controlling the conversation. She was supposed to control the conversation. And if she didn’t eat her meal, the Tutor would have to ask whether something was wrong with it. She’d be able to make a point about the fact that he should have consulted her preferences beforehand, rather than being distracted by Koscuisko’s obvious toadying.
Tutor Chonis seemed in an expansive mood, answering Koscuisko readily-almost eagerly. “The last was the Oxparen, of honored memory.” He slapped the table lightly with the fingers of his left hand twice in a gesture of apparent respect that Mergau had seen him use before. “Destroyed during the reduction of Karset, but that was after my time. I was called in to help activate this facility before all of that was well begun.”
Koscuisko had chosen the correct approach. She had to give him points for that; maybe Koscuisko was going to take managing. Chonis clearly seemed to be enjoying himself, rather than merely tolerating the conversation. “In my father’s time,” Koscuisko said, “such activity — as this facility represents, I mean to say — was considered to be a Security function.” Koscuisko was working it entirely too well; she could not find her way into the conversation. He must have planned it that way. People with rank and education never spoke without such hidden purposes. He would know that no Clerk of Court had ever taken a Writ to Inquire.
“Your father’s time? I suppose that’s about right.” Chonis was mulling Koscuisko’s statement over, obviously distracted from Mergau’s very existence. “Hasn’t been a Security function for, oh, fifty years. Fleet Medical only gained control of the office rather recently, compared to the history of the Fleet. . . Where was your father posted?”
“A Security assignment, the Autocrat’s Niece, on the Desular Line. A lieutenant. When Fleet forwarded its invitation that I serve as Ship’s Surgeon — ” There was an abrupt break in his response, and Koscuisko looked down at the table, very briefly. “But I am being inexcusably rude. It is a family matter, of no consequence. Please accept my apologies.”
On the other hand, it might prove good policy to let Koscuisko talk. He seemed to have run into quite a sensitive subject all unawares, to judge by his abrupt silence. And Tutor Chonis also apparently shared the interest that she found in whatever could seem so delicate to Koscuisko.
“I understand it is traditional in your culture for the eldest son of a great family to go into the Fleet.” Chonis’s remark gave notice that the subject would not be permitted to drop quite so easily. Koscuisko seemed to swallow a sigh of resignation, and his pale profile looked a bit more melancholy than it had before.
“As you say, Tutor Chonis. Once the inheriting son went to do service to the Autocrat’s Household as an officer in Service. But now in some of our old families, an oldest daughter has also come to inherit, though it is not yet so in my father’s House.”
What was the point of all this? Was Koscuisko saying he had an older sister? How could Koscuisko possibly expect anyone to care? Why didn’t Koscuisko answer the question as bidden, and be still?
“The Home Defense Fleet has no tradition to include a woman warrior, and therefore it becomes the Jurisdiction Fleet that we serve in the Autocrat’s name. There is also a matter of prestige to consider, because there are no cruiser-killer-grade ships of Scylla’s rating in the Home Defense Fleet. My family is old, and my father is proud to send his son to Jurisdiction Fleet rather than to a post of lesser rank.”
A mild and impersonal response on the face of it. Koscuisko’s points about the differences between them-he was going to Fleet as Ship’s Surgeon-didn’t escape her notice. One way or another, however, it gave Mergau the opening she’d been waiting for to expose the irrelevance of Koscuisko’s remarks.
“It is very interesting. And this activity, it accomplishes?”
Koscuisko turned his head to look at her as if he were a little startled to hear the sound of her voice. His mild frown might seem to be simple concentration, but he didn’t fool her. He didn’t mean to yield the ground to her. “Two things, Student . . . Noycannir? Thank you, Tutor Chonis, Student Noycannir. One, it gives one something constructive to do while one is waiting for one’s father to arrive at the year of his Retirement. And also — two — it gives one’s younger brothers, of which I have four, reason to live with good hope for their futures.”
Chonis snorted in amusement. Mergau hadn’t heard any joke. Their meals were arriving; she could channel the fury choking in her throat into politely muted but clearly visible distaste for her food. Now she wasn’t sure she could afford that bit of business, though. Koscuisko had her at a disadvantage.
“You’ve reminded me, young man. I’ve been remiss. Mergau, your companion is Andrej Koscuisko; Andrej, you have the pleasure of Mergau Noycannir’s acquaintance. You are expected to use the formal title of Student with each other during class hours, in token of respect for each other’s . . . rank.”
She understood Chonis’s momentary hesitation. Other Students would respect each other’s status, each other’s ability, each other’s shared education and background. Chonis had been told to give her every assistance, and to make sure that she got the same training and practice that any other Student might have. Tutor Chonis was not going to let anyone forget that she was just a Clerk of Court, without Bench certifications.
“But we’re not quite into Term yet, and officially this is an informal meeting. How are you liking the fish?”
Be smooth, she told herself. Feel the pavement. It could hardly be a conspiracy. Koscuisko had no reason to go out of his way to make her feel small. Tutor Chonis’s comments were innocent, if ill-advised. Keeping her focus on the goal was one thing. Going out of her way to look for opposition was a waste of energy. Revealing that she even noticed petty slights or attempts to put her down would only work against her.
She could deal with Tutor Chonis later.
She had to obtain the Writ first.
Dinner was over, finally. Joslire stood waiting for him outside Tutor’s Mess, along with another bond-involuntary who would logically be the one assigned to Noycannir. He wasn’t sure what to make of Noycannir. She was attractive enough in a somewhat severe fashion, and she had certainly exercised herself to be pleasing to Tutor Chonis; but something gave him the idea she didn’t like him.
Andrej wasn’t sure he cared one way or the other.
His feet hurt, but luckily for him they didn’t have too far to go to gain sanctuary.
Safely back in quarters, Andrej sank down into the chair at the study-set and stretched his legs out toward the middle of the room, beckoning Joslire with a wave of his hand. “Give us a hand with these boots, if you would, please. My bootjack was one of those items that you have so kindly forwarded to Scylla for me, to await my homecoming.”
Though he couldn’t be sure — having just met Joslire, and unacquainted with his expressions — Andrej thought Joslire was smiling to himself as he turned his back and straddled one leg to get the proper angle on the boot.
“The officer’s footgear will be broken in within a day or two. Generally speaking, the process is completed during pre-Term Orientation.”
The comment and its delivery were both aggressively neutral, even passive. But Andrej’s feet hurt. He knew very well what Joslire was really saying; if he’d reported in good time his boots would have been broken in by now. The fact that Joslire was absolutely right was only annoying. He was in no mood to be nagged by anyone.
“What, are you being impertinent with me, you ruffian?” he demanded in a tone of outraged disbelief.
Joslire flinched fractionally before straightening up with Andrej’s boots in hand, directing a swift sidelong glance of wary evaluation at Andrej’s face.
Andrej knew almost as soon as he’d said it that he’d made a mistake. He expected to be lectured by his body-servants; and cursing at them extravagantly in affectionate response was the only protest he was allowed, whether the criticism was deserved or not.
But Joslire Curran was a bond-involuntary, not a servant in Andrej’s House. He had no reason to expect this stranger to understand. How could he tell whether Joslire interpreted his joking rebuke as a serious one? And if Joslire believed he had offended an officer, Joslire’s governor — responding to the specific physiological stresses created by such an apprehension — would apply corrective discipline, no matter how undeserved.
Andrej tried to clarify. “That is to say, you’re right, I am quite convinced. Your point is well taken.”
This was intolerable.
But souls in Joslire’s category of servitude were allowed an uncharitably narrow margin for joking. There was no indication on record that primitive behavioral modifiers like the governor were capable of developing a sense of humor.
Joslire merely bowed politely and took the boots over to the sleep-rack in the corner to touch up the polish for tomorrow’s events. Arms cocked up across the arm supports, stockinged feet stretched out in front of him, Andrej glared at his tender feet with a sour mind.
Unnatural, that was what it was.
The sacred bond between master and man consisted of respect and reliance, exchanged for self-subordination; to demand Joslire’s obedience without granting him privilege to speak his mind was a perversion. Was Jurisdiction. And that was what this Station was all about, wasn’t it? Jurisdiction perversion?
When his father had been an officer in Security, the Bench had been less strict, and interrogation less formal. The Judicial process as his father had known it had indeed involved beatings, intimidation, even torture; ugly, sordid, but human in its scale.
Now it was different.
Now interrogation had become Inquiry, formalized into Protocols and divided into Levels. Now it required a medical officer to implement the Question, because it was too easy to kill a man too soon unless a torturer knew what to do. What had started as back-alley beatings in search of required information had evolved into systematic brutalization, forcing confessions to predetermined crimes, and all “in support of the Judicial order.”
It wasn’t as though torment and brutality were unheard of in Andrej’s home system. Far from it. Andrej himself was Aznir Dolgorukij; any Sarvaw had stories to tell of what Dolgorukij were capable of doing when they felt that it served their best interest. It was only that the Bench increased the level of atrocity year by year, as unrest within subject worlds continued to seethe and writhe and challenge the Judicial order. The public’s desire to see crimes punished in proportion to their severity could serve as a rationalization for atrocity; but only as long as such measures worked as deterrent.
And there was no way the Protocols could be described as punishment in proportion to the crime’s severity.
Andrej straightened up in his chair, weary with the familiar futility of it all. It did no good to worry that old dry bone. The Station was on Standard time, and Tutor Chonis had told them that they were to be on first-shift for the duration of the Term; so it was coming up on sleep-shift, which meant it was time to go to bed.
Student Koscuisko sighed and stood up. Joslire waited patiently to be noticed. It wouldn’t matter if he spoke first, not so early in Term; Koscuisko wouldn’t know it was a violation — but the governor would. It was best not to risk it.
“I’m sorry, Joslire,” Koscuisko said. “I am brooding. There is something?”
“As it please the officer.” Koscuisko’s dialect seemed to include more apology than Joslire was accustomed to hearing; this was the third time, surely. It meant nothing. “The officer may wish to review the material pertaining to the Administrator’s briefing?”
The information was on-screen on the study set; Koscuisko hadn’t noticed, sunk deep in thought. Now the Student leaned over the desktop, scrolling through the data, a mild frown of concentration on his broad flat face. “Presentation of the Bond, yes, Joslire. I rehearsed it in the mirror, in fact. On my way here.”
Just as well. The public presentation was humiliating enough in its own right. When the Students hadn’t bothered to learn their lines, Joslire felt the depth of his degradation more keenly than ever.
Student Koscuisko tagged the view off and met his eyes squarely. “There was a note in the briefing, Joslire; the option to receive the Bond now or tomorrow. Which do you prefer?”
Confused for a moment, Joslire recovered as quickly as he could. It was true. He was only required to surrender his Bond in good form. He didn’t have to do it tomorrow. If Student Koscuisko would receive his Bond here in private, they’d still stand at briefing, but he’d not be forced to repeat the bitter lie of his condemnation in public this time.
“With respect. It is the officer’s preference that prevails. As the Student please.” He had to say it; it was his duty to try to teach Koscuisko how to use him.
“Thank you, Joslire, but I desire to consult your preference. I solicit your preference. I ask you to tell me which you would rather.”
It wouldn’t last.
It never did.
Koscuisko would learn soon enough to treat him as an object for use, and not as a person. But as long as Koscuisko had made the demand, he was clear to reveal it; he only hoped that his voice was professionally neutral, as it should be, and not dripping over with gratitude. It was a small thing to be asked for his preference. It was a great thing to a bond-involuntary to be asked anything, rather than told.
Koscuisko was an aristocrat; for Koscuisko asking and demanding were probably the same things. He would concentrate on that. “As it please the officer. To be permitted to present the Bond would be a privilege.”
Koscuisko nodded. “We will the transfer accomplish here and now, then.” Easier for Koscuisko as well, perhaps, since he need not expose himself to ridicule before the Tutor if he missed a word. “Bring me back my boots, if you would. I will just go adjust my attitude.”
What did a man’s boots have to do with his attitude?
Koscuisko took the boots from Joslire’s hand, but he didn’t want any help getting into them. Joslire had nothing to do but stand and stare at him as Koscuisko tucked in his trouser cuffs, fastening his uniform blouse smooth and straight.
Koscuisko went into the washroom with careful steps, his feet tender from wearing new footgear. He washed his hands and combed his hair — for all the world as if he were a schoolboy on his way to sit among his elders. As if he was preparing for a formal occasion. As if he felt the Bond and what it stood for was something worthy of his respect.
Then Koscuisko was ready.
“I will receive your Bond now, Joslire Curran.”
Joslire opened his blouse, pulling at the fine chain around his neck to find its metal pendant. Koscuisko confused him; he was taking as many pains as it would have cost to do this tomorrow.
“This tape is the record of my trial.” Not precisely true, perhaps; it had not been Joslire Curran’s trial. But it was close enough. And the formula had been established by the Bench, and could not be materially amended. Requiring that he use personal language — “my trial,” “I” — was all part of the ritual, personalizing his enslavement. “Here the officer will find details of the offense for which I have been justly condemned, by the solemn adjudication of the Jurisdiction’s Bench.”
All of this time, and he still could hardly say “justly.” He had been betrayed to Jurisdiction, condemned to this shame by the cunning and hatred of an ancestral enemy. He would survive to revenge himself. If he failed to revenge himself he would be dishonored in fact, as well as in the eyes of the Bench. He would not fail.
“According to the provisions of Fleet Penal Consideration number eighty-three, sub-heading twenty, article nine, my life belongs to the Jurisdiction’s Bench, which has deeded it to the Fleet for thirty years.”
Betrayed by an enemy. Bonded by the Bench, because he’d satisfied all the requirements they had for bond-involuntaries: youth, fitness, intelligence, psychological resilience . . . lucky him. He got to carry a governor for thirty years, and in return the Bench waived all charges. If he lived out his Term, they granted full retirement along with the pay that would have accrued had he been a free man; as if that could make up for it.
“The officer is respectfully requested to accept the custody of my Bond.”
In two hands he offered it, the prescribed gesture of submission.
With two hands outstretched, the officer received it. With real respect, as if understanding that it was Joslire’s life — and not some piece of jewelry, some dull trinket — that he was to hold for the Bench in the Fleet’s name.
Koscuisko had a solemn face, a grave expression even at rest — as far as Joslire had seen of him thus far. Joslire told himself it was just weariness that made Koscuisko look so
serious now. Otherwise it was too tempting to believe that Koscuisko understood; too tempting to imagine that the Bench formality could actually become the contract-of-honor that it mocked just this one time.
“I will accept your Bond, Joslire Curran. And hold it for the Day your Term is past.”
It was just ritual, Joslire told himself. The words were only words, the same as those spoken by his other officers before Student Koscuisko; the same words that would be spoken by the next Student once Koscuisko was graduated and gone.
Except the promise was real this time; the hope for that distant Day was sharp and poignant, because something in Koscuisko’s tone of voice utterly convinced Joslire that Koscuisko meant it.
On board a cruiser-killer, the Ship’s First — the Security Officer — would husband all the Bonds for safekeeping. Here at Fleet Orientation Station Medical, the Students were required to carry the Bonds on their own person, to increase their sense of ownership and authority. Koscuisko put the chain over his neck, slipping the flat gray record-tape into his tunic.
It was over, for yet another Term.
“And now, not that it follows, Joslire, I’m tired. I should like to go to bed.”
And yet he felt less enslaved — and more personally sworn — than ever he had since the terrible day that the Bench had first condemned him to the Bond.
“Attention to the Administrator,” Tutor Foliate called. Chonis winced internally at the ragged shuffling sound of twenty ill-prepared Students trying their hand at Fleet drill and ceremony for the first time. Twenty bond-involuntaries and ten Tutors — the sound of their feet moving across the floor was as one sound, crisp and complete. Twenty Students, and it might as well have been two hundred from the time it took them to come to attention.
Clellelan was halfway to the Captain’s Bar before the noise quieted down. Tutor Chonis could see the repressed smile of amused disgust on the Administrator’s face as he passed.
Students. They ought to bring them in as cadets for the first half of Term. Really they ought.
Chonis had heard Clellelan declaim on the subject often enough. As it was, Fleet simply handed them rank and bond-involuntaries, pretending they knew how to manage both — simply because they were Bench-certified medical practitioners. But it was hard enough already to find even the marginally qualified volunteers they usually got with a Chief Medical billet and Ship’s Prime status placed enticingly at the far end of the course. They couldn’t afford to make recruiting more difficult than it already was.
Clellelan was posted, now, glancing briefly at the Record on the table at his left. Matching names to Students, perhaps. Trying to guess whether they’d all graduate this time.
“This is Fleet Orientation Station Medical. I am Administrator Rorin Clellelan, Directing. By the Bench instruction. The Term opens with the following Students in attendance, answer to your name when called. Molt. Angouleme. Yurgenhauen. V’ciha.”
One by one he called out their names; one by one Students answered to him-nervous, diffident, confident, bored. Too much personal feeling by half, Chonis felt. They’d learn. Discipline was the best defense, as the bond-involuntaries demonstrated. Retreat into formality could help provide the insulation that these Students were going to need.
“Wyadd. Sansoper. Noycannir. Koscuisko.”
Noycannir sounded bored and amused, above it all. Not obviously enough to give offense, no. But Noycannir was a Clerk of Court and a member of First Secretary Verlaine’s personal staff. She clearly meant to give the impression that she was completely comfortable in this environment.
There was no particular emotion of any kind in Koscuisko’s voice, and Chonis wondered about that for a moment. Koscuisko had seemed clearly unhappy to be here during their meal last night. For Koscuisko to be suppressing emotional cues so absolutely meant he was more frightened than Tutor Chonis had guessed.
“Shiwaj. And Bilale.” The Administrator came to the end of his list, and Chonis focused his attention to the fore. “Students, you are welcome. You represent a vital resource for the Fleet, as you know. And in these increasingly troubled times, you will be called upon to serve the Judicial order as never before in the history of the Bench.” Because never before in the history of the Bench had civil disorder been so pervasive, so corrosive, and above all so persistent.
“Let there be no doubt in your minds, the task for which you have volunteered is a difficult one. And you will be more personally involved in the Judicial process than any of our Line officers, even those in Command Branch itself.” Clellelan had to be careful with that one, Chonis knew. It was all to the good to encourage the Students to see themselves as uniquely valuable to the Bench. But if Clellelan put too much emphasis on their critical role, they might start thinking about why Line officers wouldn’t have anything to do with it.
“Please be assured that I personally, as well as your assigned Tutors and all of our Staff, will render every assistance in ensuring successful completion of your Orientation. Each of the bond-involuntaries here assigned has been dedicated by the Bench to furthering your instruction in any way possible.”
The Bench had created bond-involuntaries specifically to support its Inquisitors. Ordinary Security, no matter how professional, sometimes recoiled from what might be required to support Inquiry. The Bench’s solution had been elegance itself: create Security whose indoctrination ensured that disobedience of lawful and received instruction would be unfailingly, immediately, strictly disciplined by a “governor” that held the pain linkages of the brain in a merciless grip. Thus Joslire Curran and others like him, condemned for crimes against the Judicial order to a thirty-year sentence with a surgically implanted jailer in their brains.
“It is prudent and proper that you take their Bonds into your hand as Orientation commences in earnest. The troops here assigned will therefore declare their Bond.”
The signal was clearly flagged out in the orientation material. And still it always took them too long to realize where they were in the program, to turn around, to face their assigned bond-involuntaries and stand ready to receive the Bond. Chonis could hear the shuffling sounds behind him and see the other Tutors’ Students out of the corner of his eye. He heard Noycannir pivot sharply and bring her heel down emphatically, completing the move.
But there was no sound whatever from Koscuisko.
“By the Bench instruction,” Clellelan said. That was his signal to turn around and bear witness to the ceremony, in order to be sure that his Students got it right.
There was a problem, though, wasn’t there?
He hadn’t heard Koscuisko turn around because Koscuisko hadn’t moved.
“This tape is the record of my trial.”
The words were spoken in unison; no problem with Security; they knew their lines. Chonis raised his eyebrow at Koscuisko’s calm, waiting face, suppressing a twitch of a gesture with difficulty. Curran didn’t look concerned. Had Koscuisko taken Curran’s Bond already, then?
“According to the provisions of Fleet Penal Consideration number eighty-three . . . ”
Student Koscuisko met Chonis’s eyes with a careful, neutral expression in his own and bowed fractionally, just enough to convey the concept of the salute.
Most of the bond-involuntary troops preferred the group ceremony, because there was a measure of defensive insulation to be had from the presence of the other troops. After Curran’s last two Students, Chonis would have expected the man to stay as clear as he could from anything that might involve personalizing the relationship.
“I will accept your Bond. — And hold it for the Day your Term is past.”
The Students picked up quickly. Their lines were spoken in something close to synchronicity, breaking down into a babble of incoherent noise only at the point where the individual name was given. Tutor Chonis turned back to face the Administrator, dismissing Curran’s anomalous behavior from his mind.
“You have accepted the Bond from your assigned troops, to be held by you in custody for the duration of the Term. It is just and judicious that it should be so. Welcome to Fleet Orientation Station Medical, Students all. We have every confidence in you, and will do our utmost to see you successfully graduated. Tutors, dismiss.”
Maybe it was a hopeful sign, and Curran’s Term wouldn’t be like the last ones had been for him.
They’d all be grateful if Curran got a break that way.