Truth and Consequences – Part 1
*** Mid February, AC 203 ***
*** A small Preventers base in the North-eastern United States ***
Dr. Liaden McGilvray opened the door to the dim, airless closet that the base secretary had given her as an office and paused on the threshold. Looking at the piles of paperwork that covered most of the desk, computer, floor, and chair, she sighed. *It’s probably just mindless drudge-work, too, * she reasoned, her dark gray eyes darkening further. Clenching her jaw, she stubbornly fought the urge to turn and walk right back out again. Out of the office, off of the base, away from what was left of her career with the Preventers. Instead, she stepped inside, closing the door firmly behind herself before she could change her mind. With another sigh she shifted the stack on her chair to the last visible patch of desk and sat down. Glancing at the papers, she found that, just as she’d feared, it was nothing more than transferring other people’s written notes from handwritten hardcopy into the computer.
"This could be done by a monkey," she told the stack of files flatly.
They ignored her.
Ignoring them back, "Which is quite irrational," she told the computer with a wry smile, she leaned back in her chair and stared at the clock on the wall. Frustrated, she ran a hand through the layered shoulder-length mane of her golden-brown hair, trying to decide the exact point when everything had fallen to pieces.
*** Three weeks earlier ***
*** New Haven Colony, Perseus. Temporary Preventers Unit Headquarters ***
"You wanted to see me, sir?" she asked politely.
As she walked into the office, stopping at attention, Liaden looked curiously at Commander Kierns, who was sitting behind his desk, looking at a file she recognized. She had thought that her report on the evening’s events, which she had given to his second, had been clear, but she guessed now that she was going to have to go over it again. She sighed inwardly; it was late, and she had been getting ready for bed when she got his call.
"At ease. Dr. McGilvray," he began, looking oddly uncomfortable, she noticed, "There seems to have been a … mix-up made when you gave your report."
"Sir?" She cocked her head to one side, puzzled.
"You indicated to the lieutenant that the two Terrans involved in the … er…incident in the bar, were to be held and charged in connection with the …" He checked his report. "…attack on this colonist?" he finished, incredulously.
Kierns looked slightly pained. "You see nothing wrong with this?"
"No, sir, that’s what I said. The first Terran knifed the colonist, whom I had just disarmed. The second Terran fought me while I tried to disarm the first." Liaden watched him as she spoke. She started to get an uneasy sense of why he had called her to his office. *We were sent up here due to pressure from the Terran Trading Association. And he’s up for a promotion, isn’t he?* She automatically dismissed that thought as disloyal and mistrustful, but she forced herself to acknowledge it anyway, knowing that she was prone to trust naively at times. She was developing a bad feeling about this.
"But the colonist started the whole thing, did he not?" Kierns asked, looking relieved. "The Terrans could be said to have been acting in self defense?" Warming to his topic, he added, "And this colonist had a gun."
"Actually, sir, it wasn’t loaded. Apparently, he’s a local fixture of sorts. I’d be guessing, but I’d say a low-level paranoid schizophrenic, and quite likely harmless." She paused, thinking. "It didn’t make sense at the time, but his hostage, a local as well, seemed as afraid of the Terrans as of him."
"So you talked the hostage away, took the weapon and…?"
"The Terran attacked, sir."
"But the colonist initiated."
"Well… no, sir, I don’t think so."
Her commander looked upset again. "You don’t think so."
Liaden chose to take that as a question. "From what I can tell, the Terrans were being aggressive towards him. As a paranoiac, and outnumbered, he reacted, and in a notably defensive manner. He didn’t attack them, sir, he tried to sham his way out of the fight." *I’m not going to smooth this over for him,* she thought stubbornly, *The colonist was almost killed, poor man… one of those harmless cases you see sometimes, no threat to others, just socially unacceptable, adrift.*
The commander made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat, stood, and began pacing behind his desk. *Trying to feel his power,* Liaden surmised. She remained still and attentive, though forced to look up at him, now. Wearily, she found her customary patience.
"Doctor," he began in a friendly tone, "You have been working very hard, have had a terrible, stressful night, and still haven’t gotten to bed at," he checked his watch, "0300. It’s understandably hard for you to remember the details of this evening, so we’ll go over it again tomorrow at 1300, alright?" He smiled condescendingly and nodded, dismissing her.
Almost everything he had said was true. She had been working hard at this assignment – as the unit’s psychologist she had been responsible for finding sources of Terran-Colonial tension and soothing them. She was stressing. And, she thought dryly, she had not particularly enjoyed her night off. She had not been to bed yet, at 0301. However, her memory was fine. Better than fine, it was the reason she was as accomplished as she was at her age, about a week shy of twenty. Her late mother had called it her special gift. Better than photographic, it worked like a VR-recorder, with all five senses clearly caught and recalled.
With a thought, she could recall everything, in detail of the fight in the bar.
-- the sweat dripping down the face of the terrified colonist as he finally released the hostage to her, into eyes wide and blind with irrational fear -- the taste in the back of her mouth as she lunged too late to stop the Terran from slashing at his neck -- her fight with the Terrans, feeling each blow land on her, on them, as all the while she could hear the sickening sound of the colonist rasping, trying to get breath past his ruined throat, fading too quickly -- the smell as she worked on him, of blood, slippery and bright--
"No." Calmly. Flatly. She shook her head, scrubbing a hand through her hair, tiredly tossing the sensations aside. It was difficult. She had been frightened, not of the Terrans, but of losing the colonist. Fear memories imprinted well, she had always found.
"What?!" exclaimed Kierns.
"No, sir." She smiled without humour, a twitching of her lips to the left. *This is going to be somewhat less than intelligent,* she realized, *but I honestly don’t care. I’m right. That poor man will not suffer without someone speaking for him, nor will those Terrans get off without even a slap on the wrist!*
"My report stands, sir. It was the fault of those two animal Terrans."
"Whom you subdued. Forcibly."
"They are currently unconscious."
"With several other injuries."
"These were necessary?"
"One was armed, their fighting was coordinated, they were both much larger than I am, and I was working to a …deadline of sorts… Sir." It had been close. She was small and slight, but tough and agile, luckily, she had been able to take them down just in time to keep the colonist breathing.
Kierns tried to look stern. "Still, Doctor, you have had the best training the Preventers can offer for situations exactly like that. You should have been able to subdue them with less force."
*This is getting increasingly surreal, * she noted with the abstract part of her mind as the rest of her thoughts turned increasingly angry.
"Are you saying I used unnecessary force on civilians, sir?" *A serious offense. Highly disgraceful. *
"These were two very well connected Terrans. It is possible that the force used was necessary. Or perhaps they were drunk. Very drunk. Clumsy. Acquired some of those injuries through their own fault. That drunk, they wouldn’t be responsible for any of their actions…"
He was offering her an out. A terribly pathetic excuse of an excuse. She locked her jaw, fisted her hands, trying to hold onto a shred of her calm. Digging her nails into her palms, she spoke bluntly, stubborn in the face of his corruption.
She smiled, quirking her lips to the left. "Actually, sir, they were quite, surprisingly sober."
*** End flashback ***
Liaden dropped her head to her hands. "That would be it, eh?" she mumbled to the room in general. "Exactly when I started on the road leading here, talking to furniture." Following her interview with Kierns, she had found herself reprimanded, disgraced, and quickly reassigned here. They had tried to keep her from checking up of the status of the colonist. Incredibly angry, she had managed to evade them long enough to do it anyway, and to see that the local people at the hospital would look after him. They had sent her back to Earth on the next available shuttle, and she had had her birthday alone, save a quick call to her father. She hadn’t let him know that anything was especially wrong; he had always wanted her to join his roving practice when she got out of school, and he would have suggested it again. She still wanted to establish herself on her own. So she had arrived here, relegated to this paperwork, on this desk, in this closet.
She lifted her head and smiled, though, dark eyes brightening to silver.
"They didn’t totally get away with it, you know," she informed her computer as she booted it up. "I didn’t get court martialled and dismissed, and my report stood. The Terrans, well, they did at least get fined and restricted Earth-side for a good long while. Not much, but something."
She could take their punishment, for now. Do their work to keep them happy. See how long she could stand it, see if she could beat them and wait it out, while keeping her eyes open for a way to get herself reassigned yet again. It wasn’t likely, but her father had always told her that as long as she watched and waited, opportunity would knock. That, and that she could out-stubborn a cat. Smiling with real humour this time, a small dimple forming on the left side of her elfin face, she opened the first file in her stack. She decided that she would try to test just how right he was.