Robert Notices Something Peculiar

If you’ve read Hour of Judgment, you may remember (spoilers, darlings) that by the end of the novel Robert St. Clare was disembarrassed of a governor in his brain, but it didn’t make a very great deal of difference because the Bench was just going to have another one installed promptish.  Memo for the record:  If you’re the Bench, you might not want to ask Andrej Koscuisko to place one of his own troops back under Bond.

This scene is as long as it is at least partially because it’s from the early draft of the novel, before any of the cutting-page-count and tightening-up-action had begun.


Robert St. Clare stopped in the doorway to the operating room, painfully aware of his unaccustomed dress:  a patient’s smock, his very pale feet with their short toes tucked into sterile slippers, and nary a stitch else.  Why a man had to strip to have his brain muddled with was beyond Robert’s comprehension, but so was a very great deal of the information the officer had attempted to impart to him over the years about a person’s brain — no sense in tempting a headache on it, especially now, when he was in for a headache due to last him for years.

There was the surgical level — a bed, high and narrow, with its levers and supports to raise or lower or tilt.  He’d never had a surgery that he liked to remember, and this would be no exception.  The presence of his officer was only scant comfort; Koscuisko in hospital whites was the more harmless variety of Koscuisko — quite different from the officer in duty black, down-planet — but Koscuisko’s carefully expressionless face couldn’t conceal the genuine concern in the officer’s clear pale eyes.  Neither of them wanted this.  Neither of them had any choice.

Robert bowed, acknowledging his appreciation for the officer’s concern.  Three surgeries in his entire life:  the one that had put him under governor at the detention facility, so that he could be Bonded under law; the emergency operation at Port Burkhayden, a year ago or more, he didn’t remember much about that one.  No, he didn’t remember anything about that one.  His governor had been going bad, they’d told him that the stress of knowing that the woman who had been brutalized by the Ragnarok’s now-dead First Lieutenant was his sister whom he had not seen for years had proved too much for the limited capacity of the primitive brain at the heart of the governor, and had driven it mad.  Insane.  Over the past months he had recovered little fragments of memory he knew to be associated by the red haze of an almost-remembered agony that colored them; for a year he had been a free man — a bond-involuntary Security slave without a governor.

But Captain Jennet ap Rhiannon was careful about discipline.  The unusual legal limbo in which the Ragnarok had existed since its breakout from Taisheki Station could not continue indefinitely.  Their captain confidently expected — would accept nothing less than — complete exoneration on all charges by reason of provocation and entrapment; Koscuisko had put this off for as long as possible, but as a condemned criminal Robert could not escape the re-implantation of a governor.  He supposed that he was lucky they hadn’t threatened to extend his sentence by the months of freedom he’d enjoyed, but they could well get around to that even yet, if he lived out his term.

This one was new — the governor, of course.  The one he’d gotten in the first place had gone a little high-country on him from the beginning; it had never been quite right.  This one would have no such idiosyncratic quirks.  This was a new governor, personally delivered by the officer’s cousin — some kind of a religious professional, but apparently acting as a courier for the Bench.

“Come along then, my dear,” Koscuisko said.  “There is no avoiding it.  By the Bench instruction I am required to show this abomination to you and ask the required question.  I never thought to be saying such a thing.”

No use.  Robert nodded at the little box with its evil contents.  He remembered, the last time, the first time he’d seen one of the little things with its spider-thin legs of superfine filament and its tiny glittering eye . . . which wasn’t glittering.  That was odd; but perhaps he was remembering it wrong.

“Take it as read, your Excellency,” Robert urged, as cheerfully as he could.  “According to the verdict of the Court, and so on, and so forth.”  Never to be forgotten.  Words were such innocuous things, but they could carry horrors on their backs.  “And I say it is just and judicious, prudent and proper that it should be so.”  He was lying; Koscuisko knew that he was lying.  But it didn’t matter.  “But the one thing else, your Excellency, and I don’t care who should hear it, though it’s not the Bench’s business.  Thou’rt a good maister.  Just in case thou had’st doubts.”

He shouldn’t be saying such things; it didn’t make Koscuisko feel any better.  Robert could tell.  There was so much pain in the officer’s smile; but if he didn’t say it, he’d be sorry.  He knew.

“And thou art very good to me,” Koscuisko said.  “Now go to sleep.  I’ll speak to you when you wake up.”

Koscuisko didn’t need general anesthesia for this surgery.  The danger lay in a slip of the surgeon’s micro-scalpel, not in any movement on the patient’s part; immobilization could easily be accomplished without loss of consciousness.  All right, so perhaps there was some real therapeutic point to putting him out:  the small pulse of tissue under an electrical impulse might be a problem.  Robert fixed his mind on that to keep his spirit from fleeing into darkness.  He would survive.  He would.  He was going back there, back into the horror in his mind, about to be a slave to discipline; but Koscuisko was still his officer, and a good maister to him.

And a man had little enough opportunity to get drunk, on board of Ragnarok.  When they went down to a service house, yes — there’d been that one leave at Chihibur —

Halfway between regret and reminiscence Robert went to sleep.

When he awoke it was some time later, he knew.  He was no longer in surgery, but in isolated recovery; the room was dark and pleasantly cool, and there was no one in the room but the officer.  Oh, and himself, of course, but he was part of the equipment, after all, and he had to mind his habit of thought lest he fall into error.  He was a man under governor once again.

The officer did not seem to have noticed that he was awake.  Lying on his back on the bed Robert took an inventory.  Legs.  Arms.  Feet.  Belly.  Necessaries.  Head.  All in good order, except for his brain, which had never been in good order — people had been telling him that for as long as he could remember.  There was another mistake, remembering; so he opened his eyes and made to sit up.

A firm and familiar hand descended like his uncle’s fist to settle him back swiftly, if somewhat more gently than his uncles’ had ever done.  “Do not even think about it,” the officer said.  “You are likely to have dizziness.  How do you feel?”

He wasn’t sure.  Raising his hand half-fearfully to the back of his head Robert felt for the little patch of synthetic skin that would be covering the site of the micro-incision.

“Not as neat as the last, I’m afraid, Robert,” the officer said.  “I’m sorry about that.  But we need to discuss this.  There are things.  And it will be difficult.”

Well, yes, of course it was going to be difficult, obviously it would be difficult.  That was a singularly dunder-headed thing for the officer to have said, Robert thought, crossly.

Then he remembered.  And waited with resignation for the first stirrings of the beast within his brain; but felt nothing.

He could try something more extreme, perhaps; the Bench is a blight on the crop of Creation and the Law is a merchant’s whore, as an example.

Still nothing.

“Robert.”  The officer drew a little stool on rotor-wheels close to the side of the bed and kicked the tapper to raise it.  The officer wasn’t a tall man, and now — slumped a bit on the stool with his hands loose across his knees — he had even less height.  “I need you to think for me about the last you saw.  Tell me.  You’ve seen a governor before.”

Yes, he had.  It had looked so light, so inconsequential, with its little eye gleaming like a cheerful light in a distant window.  It had been green, then.  What color had it been just now?  Robert frowned.  He couldn’t remember.  He could remember other things — it couldn’t have been so very long ago — the surgical bed waiting for him, the officer’s technicians, the officer’s screen and hand-visioner ready to ease the thing into his head, the frame that was to keep his skull absolutely steady and give the required calibrations — and the governor.  The officer had shown it to him.  No color.  No little light, whether blinking merrily or evilly; no color at all.

What had Koscuisko done, what had he done?  And, more to the point, what had he not?

“Thou’rt mad,” Robert said bluntly, staring, wondering how the officer could sit there and gaze at him with such unruffled serenity.  “You know that, don’t you?  Mad.  With respect.  Sir.”

It was a feeble enough gesture, and what would be the use of it?  Did Koscuisko expect that no one would think of it, after this trouble with the Ragnarok’s appeal was over; did he think that it was possible to go years without the fraud being detected, that the Bench would not take vengeance for being cheated in the matter of the punishment of criminals?  What did Koscuisko think?

Robert closed his eyes with a shudder, in awe at the enormity of it.  “Well, I’m sorry,” Koscuisko said quietly.  “But it didn’t survive three days of Wheatfields.  Scarce long enough to perfect an antagonist.  I had little enough choice in the matter, Robert, I have to make a report to ap Rhiannon.”

Oh, yes, right.  And there was not a soul on board who did not know that Koscuisko had gone down into the heart of enemy territory, from Medical to Engineering, and spent long moments behind closed doors with Serge of Wheatfields.  Who did not like Inquisitors on principle, who had of late clearly regretted having mellowed in his antagonism to Koscuisko so far as to have let the man back on board ship when he could so easily have worked a small and modest and discreet fatal accident.  Closed doors, and Koscuisko emerging without things thrown or any visible bruising.  Koscuisko had taken the governor down to Engineering, and given it to Wheatfields, that was what he had done.  The thing Koscuisko had just slipped into Robert’s brain was nothing but a shell, with something in it to give the expected readings to a scan, Robert supposed.

“Mad.  What will you do when you’re found out?  The Captain — ”  Oh, that was a fearful thought.  Jennet ap Rhiannon and the officer were still working things out and trying to fit around each others’ edges:  and they were both autocrats and absolute in their own fashion, but the captain was Koscuisko’s superior officer.  “What is in your mind?”

He said it with wonder, and a slowly dawning sense of realization of what he was saying and how he was saying it.  He’d been as carefully indoctrinated as the next bond-involuntary, perhaps more carefully, because the Bench did not like Nurail — had declared war on all of his race regardless of where they were or what danger they represented.  It was a danger to the image of Fleet invincible that they represented, that had been their crime — their only crime, their only real crime, the only one that mattered.

So as he had been carefully taught to mind his tongue or fear punishment swift and savage inflicted by governor, he should have realized more quickly that his body was no longer afraid.  He should have been afraid.  No man could remember the pain he had endured at Burkhayden and fail to tremble; his problem right there, Robert decided.  He didn’t remember it.

“What is in my mind, Robert, is that although it was not what I expected when I returned to Ragnarok I am still your officer of assignment.  In legal custody of a Writ to Inquire.  You will remember, please, some of what that means.”

It was spoken as a warning, but it was not a threat.  It was a plain reminder.  The Bench protected its Inquisitors; the Bench excused them much — so that they never need fear for a legal challenge to decisions that they made in the pursuit of their lawful duty.  Koscuisko held a Writ.  He could do whatever he liked with bond-involuntaries.  Bonds were Bench property.  They had been made to serve Inquisitors, to be the torturer’s hands and feet in Secured Medical or portside on assignment.

That Koscuisko might extend his franchise to freeing his Bonds from the slavery of their governors was surely not within the Bench’s expectation, but Koscuisko’s point was that he was technically exempt from punishment for so small a thing as petty vandalism of Bench property.

There was still something wrong.  “Have you discussed with any, sir?” Robert asked, almost not believing what he heard his own self say.  The others were on Safe, and protected against their governors by the small transmitter each was to wear around his neck at all times.  The Ragnarok stood accused of mutiny and murder, and had declined to stand down meekly and surrender her troops to interrogation.  The Bench declined to punish Security slaves for the ship’s crimes until those crimes were proven:  thus the Safes, one to each of the Ragnarok’s six assigned bond-involuntary troops, except for him.

The officer’s cousin had left a governor, but no Safes.

Now Robert questioned whether that governor had come from proper channels, at all.  Koscuisko had planned all along . . . had never meant . . . would never have installed a genuine governor, not without a Safe on hand for Robert.

“Of course not,” Koscuisko said.  “Now who’s mad, Robert?  A man under governor may be punished, even killed, for failing to report a crime, whether he is on Safe or not.  No court could fault a man for neglecting to mention it if he woke up on some morning without a head-ache.  Well.  No sane court.”

Robert closed his eyes tight with a groan.  “I’ve a headache now, sir, oh, she’s a fierce one.  The great-grand-uncle of a headache.  Sir.”  Koscuisko knew better than anyone on board how little sanity could be expected of any court under Jurisdiction, especially in these troubled times.  Never had the Bench been so unsettled, with no First Judge and no good way to decide on one; never had the Bench been so insecure.  The officer knew how the Bench behaved, when it was feeling insecure.  All of Inquiry — the entire system of institutionalized torture, of terror as an instrument of State — was no more than thirty years of age, Standard; and had grown as swiftly and as pervasively as it had done as the Bench felt itself increasingly challenged from within.  There was no without.  Not unless a man was willing to brave Gonebeyond space — exactly and precisely as Koscuisko meant for them to do.

It was the only explanation that Robert could derive, and it was on him like a bucket of cold water.  Koscuisko would know better than to think that he could get away with the crime, or even hide it for very long; Koscuisko didn’t care.  Koscuisko had been keenly sensitive to the distress it had given Robert in recent months to be free of the taskmaster in his head and know that he was only to be enslaved again.  Koscuisko would not free his Bonds unless Koscuisko meant for them to remain so, and there was only one place Robert knew of where a man could go and be rid of Jurisdiction so long as he did not mind the likelihood of being rid of goods and chattel and his life itself to get there.  Gonebeyond.

So desperate an act meant things that Robert did not wish to contemplate.  How could Koscuisko imagine that they would go, and leave him to the fate that he seemed so clearly to be courting?

It was a muddle.  It was an awful mess.

“Headache,” Koscuisko said scornfully, standing up, picking up a dose-stylus from off of his specifics-tray.  “For headache you need brain, Robert, and I’ve just been in there.  Stalactites.  And echoes, and I think that I saw Two, or at least some creatures very like her.  You should be ashamed to make so patently ridiculous a claim, I am embarrassed for you.”

No such thing.  The dose that Koscuisko put through was pain-ease and muscle relaxant, and as Robert saw his eyelids fall over his eyes as if of their own volition he saw the officer reach out to set the cover of the pillow straight, his broad flat Dolgorukij face in shadow.