Fleet Ship Scylla, Fleet Captain Irshah Parmin commanding. For the
Jurisdiction Fleet Ship Ragnarok."
To this. Andrej
swallowed, hard. Setting aside his documents-reader he straightened
up as best he could, all too keenly aware of how ridiculous he had
to look in Wheatfields' chair. They'd had to hide a footrest at
the base of the installation so that his feet would reach the ground.
This was in all respects the worst way in which one would wish to
greet a former commanding officer, an officer who had struggled
so long to teach one military decorum, an officer to whom one owed
a significant debt of gratitude never fully acknowledged or comprehended.
is the Ragnarok," he said. His voice came out sounding a good deal
more self-assured than he felt, and surprised at least one of Wheatfields'
technicians into turning around to wink at him in an encouraging
manner. "Andrej Ulexeievitch Koscuisko, officer of the watch. In
what way may we assist you?"
He was not
to stand up, First Officer had told him. So long as he was the officer
of the watch he represented the Captain and would yield rank to
no one while on board this ship. It was hard. Irshah Parmin had
never believed that Andrej even noticed the trouble he'd taken to
try and socialize a young and militarily inept officer who held
senior rank only by virtue of his Bench function. And in point of
fact it hadn't been until Andrej had gotten to the Ragnarokand
understood how much different it could have been for him on Scyllathat
Andrej had fully appreciated Irshah Parmin's forbearance.
cleared, and there he was. Much larger than life; the Captain. Irshah
Parmin. Staring out at Andrej with an expression of affronted incredulity
mildly tempered with something almost like pleasure, on his face.
"Koscuisko, I'll be damned. You're the last person I would have
expected to see. What are you doing on the engineering bridge?"
There was no
soft way to put this. "I am performing my assignment as I have been
charged by my Captain, your Excellency. Who will be with us shortly,
I hope and trust." To rescue him. But he hadn't called for her yet,
because he hadn't heard what Scylla wanted. Andrej thought fast:
if it was Irshah Parmin the Captain would want to speak to him,
whatever it was. Captain to Captain. Yes. That would work. He keyed
his call-alerts with a clear conscience, and relaxed a little.
gratified to see that you've learned, over the years, to attend
to your Captain's orders, Koscuisko," Irshah Parmin said. Leaning
back in his chair; propping his chin up in the palm of his hand
with his elbow braced on the arm of his station. "It seems to me
that I can remember some conflicts we had on related issues."
Which was stating
it mildly. So long ago; Andrej had wallowed in horror, in those
days, and thought that he was in Hell. Before. Then he had gone
to the Domitt Prison, and to Lowden after. Irshah Parmin had refused
to allow any of the bond-involuntaries assigned to Scylla to follow
him to the Ragnarok, and after Andrej had discovered how Lowden
used bond-involuntaries Andrej had understood.
"I hope his
Excellency would consider me to be an eventual credit to him. But
I do not lay any wagers on it, with respect, sir."
Captain would be here soon. Memory threatened to overwhelm Andrej;
and Irshah Parmin either failed to realize the impact that thought
of earlier days was having on Andrej or misinterpreted it, because
he frowned a bit and said "Say, that one troop of yours, Koscuisko.
The Nurail, lady's favorite, is it safe to ask after him?"
Was he still
alive, Irshah Parmin meant. It would have been an unkind question
to ask if Robert had been dead; perhaps Irshah Parmin had checked
up on him. Perhaps Irshah Parmin had a plot in mind. Andrej frowned
slightly. "Yes, thank you, your Excellency. What of the others,
is Miss Samons still assigned?"
And what sort
of a man is your Ship's Surgeon, and does he treat them decently,
and I could have them back now that Lowden is dead. But Fleet would
never transfer valuable bond-involuntary troops to the Ragnarok,
not now. And he was leaving again once the issues that threatened
the safety of the ship and its crew were resolved: a situation which
Captain ap Rhiannon had just complicated, true, but Andrej could
see her view in the matter.
and visit, Koscuisko," Irshah Parmin suggested. "We'll send a courier.
You can catch up. Yes, Chief Samons is still here. Some of the others
you remember. Say the word, and I'll ask your captain to grant leave."
realized, with a sudden surge of gratitude mixed with amusement.
Irshah Parmin was up to something, perhaps not premeditated but
nefarious none the less. Five years after Andrej's departure from
his Command, Irshah Parmin was still trying to protect his once-junior
officer from the repercussions of ap Rhiannon's actions. Irshah
Parmin did not understand that ap Rhiannon's actions were those
of the whole ship: or if he did he meant to shield Andrej yet, if
he could, whatever it took.
and sincere thanks, your Excellency," Andrej said, rising to his
feet, carefully stepping down off the foot-rest that was there to
bow very formally. "Respectfully decline. I cannot afford the appearance
of compromise, Captain, and will remain with my ship."
nodded, gravely, but smiling somewhat around the eyes and the corners
of his mouth. They did understand each other. And Andrej's gratitude
was sincere. He had not earned Irshah Parmin's protection; he had
only happened under it by accident of assignment. That protection
was no less valuable for the arbitrary nature of its extensionand
Andrej's obligation in return was no less profound.
It was only
how ap Rhiannon felt about the Ragnarok, Andrej realized, though
her expression of her dutiful care was rather different. He owed
her a similar obligation: and as he attempted to grasp this concept
in fullnessJennet ap Rhiannon, a junior Command Branch officer
and one he had not thought he particularly liked whenever he had
been unable to avoid noticing her existence, and he was in her debt,
he, Andrej Ulexeievitch Koscuiskothe door at the back of the
engineering bridge slid open and his Captain came through into the
away from the chair of the Ship's Engineer gratefully; ap Rhiannon
mounted the footrest to seat herself without any trace of awkwardness
whatever. She was not a tall woman; perhaps she didn't notice such
expedients, Andrej guessed, becauseunlike a man who had been
raised the heir to the Koscuisko familial corporation, and had all
manner of accommodations made for him accordinglyshe had lived
with them all her life.
Parmin," ap Rhiannon acknowledged, with a crisp nod. Two had come
in with her, Andrej notedexplaining how she had known the
identity of the officer on-screen. "Jennet ap Rhiannon, Jurisdiction
Fleet Ship Ragnarok. At your service. What's the occasion?"
out the depot, ap Rhiannon, that's the occasion," Irshah Parmin
said. Very mildly, Andrej thought, but then he'd known Irshah Parmin
and didn't know whether ap Rhiannon had met the man before. "The
unusual status of your approach against Taisheki aside, and your
actions there notwithstanding, no one would grudge you stores and
replenishments. But I need the munitions. I have thirty cities in
this vector two steps away from armed insurrection, and only seven
ships to keep it all under control. I can't afford to lose control
of so significant a portion of my already strained resources."
up slowly and carefully to where he could stand at Two's side. The
First Officer would be on link in quarters or in his own office,
Andrej supposed, and Wheatfields as well. Did this mean that they
would not need him any longer to pull duty as the officer of the
watch? Because he had plenty to do in his own Section if that was
"We are very
willing to assist you in maintaining the public order, Fleet Captain,
though we have received no orders to do so. When we left Taisheki
we were keenly aware of how little we could hope to contributed
to the Fleet's mission in these unsettled times as an experimental
hull. It is for the good of the Judicial order that we have drawn
stores, which we will deploy at your direction until further orders
are received, at your discretion."
But she wasn't
giving anything back. That was her point. They'd arrived at Emandis
Station an essentially unarmed warship: the Wolnadis had their guns,
but most of the rounds that the Ragnarok had carried had been training
rounds of one sort or another even then. Arrived at Emandis a test
bed with the fašade of a cruiserkiller-class battlewagon; left Emandis
packed from the maintenance atmosphere to the carapace hull with
armament and munitions to sustain them for a long time before they
would have to find the next load. Which was a good think in light
of the fact that it was going to be quite a while, in Andrej's estimation,
before they would find any Fleet depot half as cooperative as Emandis
"I have no
orders to integrate any non-assigned resources, ap Rhiannon, and
will therefore be unable to take advantage of your generous offer.
Nor have you any business with my store. Return the munitions to
depot, and leave the system. You are unsupported and unassigned.
I will not insist you return your other replenishments, but I will
have the armament."
hear what would be coming next. He had been anticipating it since
Smath had roused him from bed two days ago; the personal loss was
poignant, the threat to the ship and crew much more terrible to
face. But he could not convince himself that he had truly hoped
for anything better.
stood up. "I decline to return any stores and munitions, your Excellency,
having a real and pressing need for them. My requisition was honestly
released and indisputably owed. I will leave the system, though
I had hoped to grant leave on station. But I will not release my
weapons-loads back to depot."
So close to
Emandis that he could watch the great golden deserts of its massive
central continent roll away and away and away from him on the view-port
of the engineering bridge, and not to be permitted to see Joslire's
people after all, to speak to Joslire's survivors, to tell them
how much Joslire had meant to him. Oh, it had been a fantasy from
the first, perhaps, and they would only have wanted Joslire's knives
from him; and still it was painful to know that he was not to be
able to sit down with Joslire's family and share stories of a man
that he had loved.
If they would
have spoken to him, the man who had murdered their sonbrotherperhaps
even husband. Why had he not armored himself against the idea from
the start? He had much larger issues to content with. The Captain
had offered to leave the system. He remembered what came next, from
Taisheki; and sure enough Captain Irshah Parmin sighed with a pressing
together of his lips that Andrej recognized, rememberedand
Rhiannon. You are in receipt of the only full base load of arms
and accoutrements within twelve days' transit on vector, and three
entire supplemental loads besides.
thought to himself, impressed. She had been thorough. It only worsened
the problem, of course. "Not only would it be imprudent of me to
let my own stores decline without replenishmentfor which I
now must wait for a full month or more, if I am luckybut in
light of the ambiguity of your legal status and that of your Command
I cannot, in duty and honor, permit you to leave with all of that
firepower on board. It was not an options list, ap Rhiannon. Surrender
the guns and leave. Not one or the other, both, or neither, and
'neither' is not a choice I am anxious to see you make."
"While if I
surrendered these armsand my basic right, Fleet Captain, the
ship's base load, outstanding since the launch of this shipI
could not risk the lives of my crew by leaving this system. We were
undefended. I will not be undefended again."
undefended, they'd had the Wolnadi fighters, but Andrej could see
her point. Unfortunately her reference had apparently reminded Irshah
Parmin of something that annoyed him"You can keep the damn
battle cannon, ap Rhiannon, the one you used to shoot your way out
of Taisheki. I don't want it. It's dirty. Give me back my stores
and get out."
of words, Andrej knew. Ap Rhiannon had gone white to the lips; still,
when she spoke, she kept her voice steady. "It's an honest cannon,
your Excellency, not to blame for its history. It did us good service.
And will again if you attempt to retrieve my stores. I will not
surrender a single round. I will leave."
"I have corvettes
on standby on every vector debouchment you can find from Emandis,
ap Rhiannon. Shoot your way past them and it will be much more difficult
for you to pretend that you're just waiting for your Appeal. I'll
give you four shifts to consider the situation, your Excellency.
Captain Irshah Parmin, away, here."
the engineering bridge. Jennet ap Rhiannon bowed her head, putting
her hands to the back of her waist, stretching. When she straightened
up it was to cock an amused eye at Andrej, taking him by surprise.
"You know that
officer, Doctor?" she asked. From experience Andrej had guessed
that she had not yet decided what to call him; it was no longer
appropriate for her to call him by his rankbecause she outranked
himthough that didn't stop her from calling their guest artilleryman
General, rather than Rukota. Andrej felt a blush prickle at the
back of his neck: how much had she heard?
"He was my
first Fleet commander." And had confidently predicted, from time
to time, that he would be the last as well, because Andrej would
not survive the posting. It had been three parts ferocious frustration
and one part humor, even affection. Captain Lowden had come much
closer to being the literal death of him. "And suffered much for
my youth and inexperience, not to say arrogance, your Excellency.
He is a man of great determination, he will not let personal inclination
stand between him and his duty."
In other words,
he might well be more sympathetic in principle than he could admit,
but ap Rhiannon would not be able to appeal to his sense of justice.
Not over his sense of duty. A man could not survive long in the
Fleet if he could not learn to sacrifice his personal convictions
to the rule of Law: Captain Irshah Parmin had referred prisoners
to torture when he had felt called upon to do so, and if he'd never
sent Andrej back to Secured Medical to savage an already broken
soul he had never rebuked him for the excesses into which his appetite
betrayed him, either.
realized, Andrej mused. Perhaps he'd known all along that Andrej
could not do what was required of him without surrendering to excess:
and perhaps it had been that those lapses in judgment, those shameful
self-indulgences, had been nothing compared to the things Captain
Lowden had required of him, innocuous enough to let pass once they
were passed beyond hope of all recall. Perhaps.
with her wings, a gesture oddly like shrugging the shoulders that
she did not have. "Call goes out to Brisinje," Two said. "For immediate
attention, First Secretary Aril Tirom. Would you like to hear it?
We could go into my section, if you will first declare yourselves
deaf and blind to things you might not wish to notice."
had been an experimental test bed for multiple technologies and
enhancements. There was a fine line, Andrej expected, between determining
the operational limits of test hardware to intercept secured transmission,
and outright illegal manipulation of Bench-sensitive information;
on the other side of which line Two had in all likelihood danced
merrily for years.
Captain would not cry foul, not at this point. The only thing that
had saved them at Taisheki had been the cannon that Two had found
hidden away as a case of deckwipes; it did not do to inquire too
closely as to the precise ethnicity of the man who pulled out of
the icy river for fear that he might be Sarvaw. Or something equally
as questionable, whatever that might be. If there was such a thing.
"I think we'd
better," ap Rhiannon said. "Coming, Doctor?"
On the one
hand there was no reason he should not. On the other hand"I
have not been relieved, your Excellency. First Officer would speak
to me about it, I am convinced, should I quit my post without due
The First Officer's
authority, that was, since the Captain had just granted him leave
to accompany her by implication. When it came down to it Andrej
supposed he didn't want to know what Irshah Parmin said to Brisinje.
It would come to shooting or it wouldn't. If it came to shooting
people would be injured, maimed, and killed. If it did not, it could
only be by a conjugation of circumstances too far from his imagining
not excused staff, then, Doctor. Good-greeting." Ap Rhiannon and
Two, Ship's Intelligence, went away. Andrej climbed the footrest
to sit down in Wheatfields' chair once more, and brood about fatality.