Griers Verigson Lowden tall and thin, big bones, brown mustache
strolled down the halls towards the senior mess area with
all deliberate speed, fuming. The news from the Bench was not at-all
satisfactory: no Inquisitor to be assigned, not any time soon. No
Inquisitor was even identified for assignment yet, since the latest
class at Fleet Orientation Station Medical wasn't scheduled to begin
for several weeks yet. If he’d convinced Koscuisko to commit to
an additional term of service but he hadn’t; and the Bench meant
him to suffer the lack accordingly.
was he as naïve as to believe that the two Bench intelligence
specialists who were visiting from the Danzilar fleet had no ulterior
motives. He knew all about Koscuisko’s appeals to the Bench. He
had connections, and paid well for information pertinent to his
survival and prosperity. Koscuisko had been trying to get the Ragnarok
declassified for Writ for years now: to no effect.
would Koscuisko do Lowden wondered if Koscuisko ever realized that
the money that thwarted his purpose at every turn, the money that
did such a good job of protecting Captain Lowden against the best
of Koscuisko’s arguments, the secret influence that baffled Koscuisko
time and again was funded directly out of Koscuisko’s own handiwork?
of the Record, copies of interrogation cubes, were the property
of the Bench, and were to be strictly controlled and accounted for
at all times.
only made them more valuable.
whether or not torture at Koscuisko’s level of expertise was functionally
restricted to the Protocols there being no law to interfere
with religious practice under Jurisdiction, should religion demand
frightful contrition rituals there was no question but that
Koscuisko was a genuine artist in his field. Captain Lowden had
never seen anything quite like Andrej Koscuisko in Inquiry. The
man was phenomenal. His tapes had proved phenomenally lucrative
in turn, over the years.TOP
Koscuisko was leaving, and that would be an end to new material.
And though Lowden knew he could live quite comfortably off his banked
proceeds he couldn’t help but resent the fact that Andrej Koscuisko
was to leave him alone on the Ragnarok with not so much as
a replacement Inquisitor to remember him by.
as his mood was Lowden almost looked forward to staff meeting. There
were good odds that he’d find an outlet for his irritation before
the eight was up; and in that hope Captain Lowden went into the
were waiting for him, of course, and his senior officers were already
rising to their feet as the lowest-ranking officer in the room --
Jennet ap Rhiannon, newly assigned called the formal alert.
to attention for the Captain, Lowden, commanding."
and Ship’s Primes, Jurisdiction Fleet Ship Ragnarok. Here
were Ralph Mendez, the Ragnarok’s First Officer, to whom
the bulk of the daily tasks involving the operation of a ship of
war or even an experimental ship on its proving-cruise
devolved, by Lowden’s own benign neglect and implicit order.
Ship’s Engineer, Serge of Wheatfields, the overtall Chigan responsible
for moving the ship from place to place and keeping the cyclers
Intelligence, the Desmodontae known as Two, one of the few non-hominids
with senior Fleet rank under Jurisdiction; two strangers with her,
male and female, wearing unmarked uniforms of the peculiar shade
of charcoal gray that identified them as Bench intelligence specialists.
Lieutenants, and finally his Ship’s Inquisitor, Andrej Ulexeievitch
Koscuisko, the youngest of his senior officers and by far the most
valuable as well as most high-maintenance.
let’s be started," Lowden suggested, pausing on his way into
the room to draw a flask of vellme. Plenty of shredded ciraby on
top. "You’ve all got work to do, I don’t want to keep you from
your tasks. First Officer. Report."
was a tall long green-eyed sort of Santone, his face tanned and
deeply lined from youth spent under the dry glare of the Gohander
desert sun. "Ship’s Mast and staffing, Captain. Ship’s Mast.
Violation of critical safety protocol cried by Ship’s Engineer against
technician second class Hixson. Adjudication of penalty recommended
at three and thirty. Your endorsement, your Excellency."
the record cube across the table Mendez recited the Charges dryly,
sounding bored. Lowden turned the cube in his fingers for a moment
or two; should he press Mendez on this? It would be perceived as
merely petty, to squeeze Koscuisko for an extra ration of punishment
so close to Koscuisko’s departure date. Koscuisko would enjoy it,
but he would hate enjoying it. No. Too obvious. Lowden coded his
counterseal on the record cube and tossed it back without comment.TOP
did Mendez insult him by looking surprised. Mendez knew better.
His First Officer had been part of the Ragnarok’s original
proving crew, a good First Officer, a competent officer, but one
who had stood on principle one too many times for there to be any
real chance of a Command in his future. "Very good, Captain.
Staffing, a new requirement just in, Chief Warrant Officer Brachi
Stildyne has been offered a First Officer’s berth on the JFS Sceppan."
he indeed? Lowden glanced quickly at his Ship’s Surgeon out of the
corner of his eye. The four-year association between Andrej Koscuisko
and his Chief of Security had been marked by conflict, misunderstanding,
even a species of power struggle -- great fun, all in all. If Koscuisko
were not leaving he might be glad to replace Stildyne or he might
be reluctant to face the breaking-in of a new Chief of Security.
But Koscuisko was leaving. Koscuisko didn’t care. Or Mendez had
tipped Koscuisko off; or both.
congratulations are in order for Stildyne, please pass them on to
him from me. He’s done good work for us." And we’re sure
that Koscuisko has no cause to complain of him, Lowden wanted
to add; but restrained himself. Once again the provocation would
be too obvious. "Very well. Serge? No? Two, then."
were newly integrated under Jurisdiction, an intelligent species
of night-gliding mammals that subsisted on the protein-rich blood
of a species of cattle that they nurtured for that purpose. Very
short compared to most hominids, Two stood in chairs rather than
sitting in them; as far as Lowden had ever been able to tell she
couldn’t sit at all, in the conventional sense.
in her chair now, Two dipped her velvety black head sharply in token
of having heard and commenced to respond, clashing the sharp white
teeth in her delicate black muzzle in his direction rapidly, her
pink-and-black tongue flickering back and forth in a disconcertingly
a moment her translator began to process. By that time Two had finished
speaking; and rested her primary wing-joint with its little clawed
three-fingered hand against the table’s surface, waiting patiently
for the translator to catch up.
have here some guests for us, to tell us all the gossip, what it
is. Bench intelligence specialists Ivers and Vogel, and this means
I do not need to give my report after all, because you are distracted
by their information. Yes? Of course yes. I admire this cunning,
never decided how much of the personality in Two’s language was
actually hers, and how much an artifact of her translator. They
had to have a translator; whether or not Two was capable of speaking
Standard and there was no particular reason why she should
not be, when other non-hominid species had learned to manage
few of them were capable of hearing her, since her voice’s natural
range dropped down into the upper limits of audible tones Standard
Vogel, then," Lowden suggested. "We’ve been expecting
you?" He had no clue as to which was which, Vogel and Ivers.
The woman black eyes, black hair, a little shorter than her
partner betrayed no sign of Iversness or Vogelicity, any
more than the man looked Iversish or Vogellic. Two’s descriptive
statements frequently lacked precision, in translation. Lowden had
decided years ago that she planned it that way.
of preliminary defense locks to your shuttle." Of the two of
them at the end of the table it was the man who spoke. Middling
tall, middling bald, with a voice that gave neither cause for offense
nor any other information -- younger than his hairline, Lowden guessed.
So he was Vogel. "For transport ahead of the Danzilar fleet,
to be ready when prince Paval I’shenko arrives. You’re sending?"
intelligence specialists didn’t observe rank, didn’t conform to
the norms of military titles or respectful address. They didn’t
have to. They were Bench-level operatives chartered on an individual
basis by the Bench itself and accountable not to any given
Judge but only to the Jurisdiction’s Bench in formal convocation.
First Lieutenant. G’herm Wyrlann." Who fortunately had the
good sense to rise to his feet and salute when his name was called.
Whatever unspecified rank a Bench intelligence specialist might
hold it was good odds they outranked a mere Command Branch First
Lieutenant. "The shuttle’s loaded and waiting for immediate
dispatch, Specialist, ready bay five down three over? Serge? Yes."
needed to get Wyrlann to Burkhayden as soon as possible. It was
to be Wyrlann’s formal responsibility to complete the final inventory
that would be incorporated into the formal contract between Danzilar
and the Bench. "If you’d care to accompany Lieutenant Wyrlann,
Indentured World, Burkhayden, Meghilder space. Danzilar to be planetary
governor, and responsible to the Bench for tax revenues; to be left
to himself to exploit Burkhayden as he saw fit as long as the cash
continued to flow. Lowden wished Danzilar luck of his enterprise.
There was nothing left worth taking off Burkhayden that the Bench
hadn’t taken; and nobody there but Nurail, resettled from the dregs
and scrapings of the Nurail worlds in the bloody aftermath of the
promulgation of the Political Stabilization Acts.
bowed and cocked an eyebrow at Wyrlann, who took his cue and started
for the door. Just as they reached the doorway Lowden remembered
the advice he had meant to give; important advice, in light of Wyrlann’s
history on ground detach.
Let’s be prudent this time around. There are still Bench resources
at Burkhayden." And you don’t want to go breaking anything
while Fleet still has to pay for it. Lowden hoped and trusted
that the point would be taken, even implicit as it was. Wyrlann
had a heavy hand at times. He had to learn prudence in the timing
of his little exercises of authority.TOP
didn’t like being reminded.
there was nothing he could do but accept the rebuke and go.
the door closed again Lowden turned his attention to the remaining
Bench specialist, who by process of elimination could only be Jils
Ivers. "And your role in this convoy would be."
was perhaps not the right word. There were eights of ships in the
Danzilar fleet, and its flagship prince Paval I’shenko’s
Lady Gechutrian displaced space at twice the volume of a
mere cruiserkiller in the Ragnarok's class. One Fleet ship in escort
was a mere token, its ceremonial nature emphasized by the fact that
the Ragnarok was not a chartered warship but an experimental test
bed sized and shaped like one.
this instance to pay my respects to your Chief Medical Officer."
Ivers’ voice was level and uninflected. Unrevealing. Unimpressed.
"And to present the First Secretary’s compliments. You may
recall having cleared the interview, Captain?"
Perhaps. If he thought about it. He’d wondered at the time why Chilleau
Judiciary bothered to send an envoy to Koscuisko. They could hardly
hope to succeed where Lowden himself had failed, and persuade Koscuisko
to renew his term.
himself had half-turned in his place to frown at Ivers skeptically,
ignoring for once the unwisdom of turning one’s back on Serge of
Wheatfields if one was Ship’s Inquisitor. Wheatfields only glared
down at the back of Koscuisko’s bared neck in turn. Maybe Wheatfields
was mellowing. Maybe not.
er, may have neglected to forward the appointment through to Andrej’s
scheduler, now that you mention it." His turn to come under
that mirror-silver glare of Koscuisko’s, but Koscuisko was too well
trained to let any real displeasure show. Koscuisko was autocrat,
surgeon and Inquisitor. But Captain Lowden was his master: and Koscuisko
knew it. "Sorry, Andrej. Recent excitement and all, I suppose.
Do you have time for Specialist Ivers this shift? Now, for instance."
hadn’t had a prisoner in Secured Medical for upwards of two weeks.
All Koscuisko had on his scheduler was running his Infirmary. Koscuisko
could make time. Koscuisko would.
course, Captain." Koscuisko’s clear tenor matched Ivers’ own
tone for inscrutability. Being irritated about it would get Koscuisko
precisely nowhere. It only amused Captain Lowden to see how easily
Koscuisko could be annoyed. "If you like, Specialist. My office?"
almost didn’t even pretend to wait for an answer, rising as he spoke.
"If the Captain will excuse us, of course."
nodded in reply to Koscuisko’s perfunctory bow, secretly delighted.
He had not thought to have this much amusement at staff. He was
going to genuinely miss Koscuisko when Koscuisko was gone. "Quite
so. Good-greeting, Specialist Ivers. Andrej, ward report, my office,
second and six."
he get rid of the rest of his staff in time to have Two open a channel
into Koscuisko’s office?
should he rather let this staff play out, and pump Koscuisko for
the details afterwards?
hadn’t heard anything from his Lieutenants. And he was supposed
to be paying attention.
Brem. There’s an inventory shortage on the Wolnadi line, I understand,
and you were to have a report for me this morning."
himself to an indulgence postponed Lowden set his concentration
on analyzing cargo loads, and put Andrej Koscuisko to the back of
his mind for later.
Avon Eos Science Fiction