a/n: I'd just like to say "hi" to the 11 people who glanced thoughtfully at the last chapter without reviewing. (I love you, too.) If you decide to review THIS chapter… even something simple like "Well that just SUCKED" or "it sounds exactly like chapter six"… I'll upload a soundtrack for this. : Just tell me your favorite band… or five… and I'll whip something up that everyone loves. Seriously; trust me. I've very good taste in music. So keep posted, okay?
I woke to Sher's insistent, trilling alarm, designed to alert me to the fact that I had some duty or responsibility that needed to be attended to rightaway!rightaway!rightaway!. From experience, I knew that the alarm normally sounded automatically at 0630 hours and not one minute earlier, but this could easily be overriden by anyone with the proper security code, or just a deep and driving will to annoy.
Someone, it transpired, several minutes and a few morning stretches later, had a deep and driving will to annoy. Whoever this spiteful someone was had scheduled my appointment with Investigative Operations that morning, even though the crew investigations were supposed to have started with highest-ranking and moving down to lowest. After one night, I sincerely doubted that every single crew member outranking me had been audited. Someone had worked a few favors to have me moved up in the list, and I wasn't happy about it one bit. I'd been planning an eventful day of torturing the Junior Officers, and, if I could get around to it, giving Keir Sebastion unescapable hell. But, like any well-executed plan, it had a strange quality of letting things get in its way.
The Grand Admiral was right, I reflected, taking my good sweet time entering the specs into the computer for a cup of coffee. In-Ops were certainly making their dreaded waltz across the Juggernaut. I didn't like it. And, knowing them, they'd find a way to bypass everything that was actually important.
Like the demons I'd done my best to avoid.
They were still there. Dormant, but there. It wasn't as though I could sense them; they were simply there, like a thought or idea in the back of your head-- easily forgettable, unless you were specifically looking for it. And, of course, the more I tried to forget they were there, the more I was aware that they were. It was... unnerving. A constant presence that seemed to be growing stronger the farther away we got from the Gridstop.
Well. I was going to deal with it, and there was nothing more to be said about that. After all, I had to. I had done it--though I'd no idea how--on Juggernaut's last mission, and I could now. I was made of stronger stuff than some invisible evil.
"A steely presence greeted me as I left my cabin; an In-Ops officer, wearing an intimidatingly vague nametag: 'Officer I.' Actually, 'greeted' was too direct a word. He was simply very there, blocking my way, and making it clear with just a look that he was there to collect me.
"Jesus," I said, noncommittally, downing the rest of my coffee in two throat-scorching gulps. "You people do not fuck around."
"No," said Officer I, whose voice belied nothing. "We do not."
"I really don't suppose you can tell me why, exactly, I have an appointment this early?"
He stiffened. "There was a significant amount of inclement weather last night which damaged our scheduled reports, which are static-based. All appointment times became... scrambled."
A storm. That made sense. I didn't remember hearing it, but I knew from experience the kinds of things I could sleep (and sleepwalk) through. It was nice knowing that the only people who'd hade any ulterior motives last night were Lady Luck and I.
"Come with me, sir," he said, leading me away.
"You're the boss," I said automatically.
The walls of the room that the Investigative Operations officer had led me to--an old storage bay-- had been repainted a creamy maroon, the kind of intimidating color that sample catalogues listed as oxblood or burnt sienna. The floor had been completely stripped out, right along with anything that may have been bolted down to it, so that the only furniture that remained was a gleaming new interrogation chair. The chair of nightmares, with unbreakable restraints and a shutter needle that sent a programmed laser signal through your brain. Kinky, if you were into the whole aggressive-interrogation-and-mind-probing thing, which I wasn't. Mostly it just made people nervous, and sometimes, if you were telling the truth or just stupid, it would piss you off.
I didn't which one I was--stupid, or honest-- but it pissed me off anyway. I'd been in too many life-or-death situations that it would make me nervous.
There was no preamble, and I didn't expect one. I sat down, and the cuffs locked around my wrists, cool metal moving and molding. A gravity feed drew my head backward onto the rest, and the shutter needle clamped at both sides of my skull. It was in there-the laser-even though I couldn't feel anything but a mild cooling buzz. That was the meperediphine.
The interrogator stood over me, holding a flat console in his hand-- my file, being transmitted from the locked implant somewhere in the back of my neck. Military standard.
"You altered your file," the interrogator stated, without so much as a cursory hello. "Why?" Like I said, no preamble-- Investigative Operations (formerly Investigation & Interrogation-- they changed the name because it intimidated their clients) didn't fuck around.
However, I didn't realize he could tell. I'd never really seen it the way a datarat could; the work must have been shoddier than I realized. But there was nothing I could, or wanted to, do about that. "Yeah, I did."
He didn't have very much patience. "You do realize that alteration of military records, especially one's own, is highly illegal and could result in your discharge?"
I shrugged as best I could, given that my shoulders were restrained. "Sure."
"So why did you do it?" he demanded.
"That's none of your fucking business, now is it?"
He stared me down. "Lieutenant-Commander Coruscant-Robinson. I would not be here if any single, tiny detail of your life was 'none of my business.' You are being deliberately unhelpful during a routine fidelity examination, which everyone, including all of your commanding officers, have had to or will have to submit to. Now: why have you edited your file?"
I said nothing, unwilling to give him the satisfaction. If I was right--and I was quite sure that I was-- he wouldn't be able to decipher what had been edited and what hadn't.
"You will show me how you have done this." And as he said it, I felt the meperediphine being pushed, literally pushed into the nerves of my mind, turning the cooling sensation an endless chilly compulsion.
"Can't," I said casually.
He looked at me in a way that he must have known made people glad that his eyes weren't knives. "And why would that be?"
"Because I'm not the one that did it."
That was the truth, too. I'd wanted it done, found a person who could do it, and paid quite generously to persuade them to. I'd overseen the process, but I wasn't a datarat, and I didn't understand very much about the process-- and I remembered even less. At any rate, nobody was allowed to look at their own file-- a rule that even the datarat, in all of her black-market hacking glory, had been unwilling to break for me.
The interrogator read silently, keeping one eye one me-- literally; one eye was skimming back and forth rapidly, focused on the file, and the other was trained steadily on me. I knew it was the drugs, but I almost choked trying not to laugh imagining him practicing that trick in his bathroom mirror.
"Some name," he said, finally.
"Fuck's that supposed to mean?"
"'Trash... Coruscant-Robinson.' It certainly doesn't require any stretch of the imagination to fathom what your parents thought of you."
I breathed relief. "Yeah, well, they were arrogant fucks."
"I don't doubt." He fixed both eyes on me. "What is your real name, Lieutenant-Commander?"
"Why do you think that isn't?"
"Would you really like to know?"
"Yeah, I would really like to know."
He lifted an eyebrow. "For one, the odds that these people-- Sara Coruscant and Angus Robinson-- are your parents... those odds are very thin indeed. Sara Marie Coruscant is the heiress of the Coruscant legacy, pioneers of wireless inter-space data transmission; and Angus James Robinson is the renegade son of a politician, known for his skills with a Cvetnich shrapnel gun. This data, to the best of my knowledge, stating that these celebrities are your parents, appears to be forged, as does your name. Thirdly, Coruscant and Robinson have only one child; a daughter named Cadence. Fourthly, Sara Coruscant has never once traveled to your birthplace, which is listed, seemingly correctly, as Ontario, Canada." He affected a very unimpressed sigh. "On the mere technicality that absolutely none of this data matches up... It seems as though you should not exist, Lieutenant-Commander, and I would like it very much if you cared to explain."
There was the blandest god damn silence in the world, in which I silently thanked the datarat for doing a better job than I'd expected.
"Would you believe me if I told you it was just one long fucking story?"
"No, I would not." He clicked off the file. "But I don't imagine you'd be willing to tell me anything else."
"Well, you don't imagine correctly." The meperediphine was beginning to be uncomfortable.
"Your lack of cooperation will be noted, of course. And I am going to schedule you for a deep probe-- perhaps we can uncover the truth then."
Something occurred to me. "Why don't you do it right now? Got the shutter needle all racked up."
"I lack the clearance to perform such an operation," he replied loftily, disengaging the interrogation chair. The shackles clicked off, and the gravity feed withdrew, lifting unnamed weight from my body. "One of my superiors will perform it instead. Meanwhile, it seems as if you are needed elsewhere-- a Seaman Recruit Shannon is requesting an audience. I suppose this is your lucky day."
Oh. Absolutely wonderful. Interrogation, deep probing, and River Tremontaine Shannon all in one day. I felt so god damned lucky I could skip. And that's just what I did, leaving the cabin that was a makeshift interrogation room, succeeding in startling the shit out of a junior officer who seemed to be next in the queue. "Lieutenant-Commander," she said, with a wary nod. "How-how was it?"
"Absolute joy," I said, grinning with complete conviction, entertained by her reaction. "Free meperedephine."
She blanched absolute pure white. "Isn't that a psychoactive deinitializer?"
"If you mean it removes self-imposed mental blocks to expose hidden trauma and prevent you from telling rehearsed lies... then yes. I suppose it is a psychoactive deinitalizer." Suddenly cheered by the prospect of someone else having to face the wrath of Officer Incompetent, I left whistling an unknown tune and bounded the stairs to my cabin two at a time.
Waiting for me when I got there was, indeed, Crewman Shannon, perfectly coiffed in a meeting suit and with his hair in a queue tied back with a strip of bright, cheery lilac. Sher informed me, perfectly impassively, that she, for Shannon's convenience, had allowed him inside. I shook my head, wondering at the interface's stupidity.
"Something I can do for you, Shannon?" I sighed and took an informal-yet-comfortable seat on top of my desk, right in front of him, observing him impassively as I could. Somewhere, mildly, I felt shaken, and wondered if the meperediphine had had more of an effect on me than I'd thought. Taking the possibility into consideration, I decided not to pick too much of a fight with Shannon, in case he asked the right questions.
"Commander Ricci sent me to you," he said, his voice an uncertain semblance of perfect tight control that he could barely keep hints of insolence out of. "She would like to request you raise my rank from Seaman Recruit to Midshipman, thus allowing me to become a permanent part of her team for the duration of this mission, and continue training in basic detanatory physics."
"Really?" I was surprised, and realized I shouldn't have been. Shannon's attitude was in no way indicative of his ability. If Ricci wanted him after only one day, then he was good; and it was just as well that, at least for the moment, it didn't pain me to admit it. Lucky on his part, as well. "So, assuming I approve this, you'll be reporting to her from now on?"
"Actually," Shannon said, with a vague smile, "I'll be working with you, sir."
I began to have the unexpected wonder if it was a requirement in the Mercóvennes for anyone who entered to have hidden masochistic desires.
He continued, not noticing my temporary distraction. "...because you will have to approve all of my work before I can pass training. If I do, I can become a Class Technician and get transferred to another ship."
Then something happened, something that I can only attribute to conscious-altering drugs and fits of hysteria. I realized I actually liked this kid, and wondered, in sheer fucking awe, what the hell was wrong with me. Maybe it was the fact that Keir more than likely hated my guts and I was projecting... but it felt like some weird sense of admiration. Actually, that's what it was; I was so used to everyone cowering when faced with my authority that it was actually refreshing when someone, no matter how stubbornly and stupidly, openly defied me.
Wonders, apparently, never ceased.
"It's only been less than a day," I finally decided on saying, steepling my fingers and resting my elbows behind by knees, causing Shannon to backtrack slightly out of unspoken personal-space requirements. "I trust the Commander's judgment, but I still think it's too soon to decide on something like that. Now, come to me at the end of--"
"I cannot wait until my tour is finished," he said, insistently. "The training is a month long, but most of it will have to take place on an open-range land base. If I start now, I'll be able to leave next time we dock."
"Why is it so important you leave next time we dock?" I questioned aloud. "You'll be skipping the majority of your tour-- which is the most important thing for you if you plan on working at sea. And we dock at Bleeder in eight days-- they don't have an open-range land base, so the closest place they'd be allowed to send you is the Greenland Circuit... and you wouldn't normally go there until the last fourth of the detanatory physics course. And at any rate, that circuit's not accepting new trainees for the next six months because of the Allieuselau mission." I sighed. "I see what you're trying to do, but I'm afraid it's just not going to work. There are too many loopholes, and too many rules we'd have to break."
"You're wrong," he said, eyes alight. "It would work. The Greenland Circuit closes in ten days from now. We gain a few extra hours in the time zone change, which, added to the two days at the Bleeder Circuit--"
"Would be just enough time to force a last-minute application," I finished for him, with grim realization. "And if your application's good enough, they'd have you speed-freighted over, with, yet again, just enough time to complete the last fourth of a program you haven't even had the first three fourths of... and by that time, you'd be so far off course from any Mercóvennes ship that they'd have to send you on the Allieuselau mission."
Shannon waited, clearly not daring to say anything lest he risk incurring any possible hostility. He was young; I got the distinct impression that a yes would shoot him gleefully through the roof, while a no would send him rocking in paroxysms of grief and anger. Oh, emotions.
I decided to be neutral, which, if I was correct, would only make him tremble with anticipation. "If this is possible, why should I do this for you? For the application to make it through, I'd probably have to submit it to the Captain for review and proofing."
I was right. My question was tinged towards yes, with a very obvious obstacle that he clearly hadn't planned for. "Sir," he said, carefully but admirably continuing on, "I am positive that I could be an important addition to the Allieuselau crew. There is nothing I could gain by serving the remained of my tour--"
"You've officially been a military officer for less than twenty-four hours," I interrupted. "Care to explain to me how exactly it is that you think you're qualified to decide where you are and aren't needed, or where your time would be better spent?"
"No, of course not, sir," he replied swiftly. "I think it is the responsibility of my commanding officers to decide that. Fortunately, one of them has already decided in favor of this idea. I'm hoping you will as well."
He waited, perfectly wide-eyed and innocent. He was nothing if not observant; he must have noticed how much I respected Commaner Ricci's undeniable hunches. But I smelled Trap.
"Tell me why you want to join Allieuselau," I decided on saying. Allieuselau translated to beautiful ruins if you were vague enough. It was the leftovers from the Second Dive War; a paradisical island with a diamond-white forest and uncatalogued plant and animal life, all evolved from the combinations of various biochemical and reactional weaponry. Unknown substances had detonated and combined... and known, but still-deadly substances, lay dormant beneath the ground. Air- and water-based travel around it was stupid; anything over it was suicidal, and actually landing on it was impossible. At least until the Allieuselau Project.
Still a suicide mission. I'd seen the data; it rained heat-sensitive gunpowder. Shit glowed, I had read, that was distinctly not supposed to glow.
"It's the opportunity of a lifetime. Exploration, science, prestige, danger, and mystery. Intrigue. And...I have... connections to the event. They might be listed in my file."
"Hm." I didn't remember any mentions of Allieuselau. But I hadn't had the patience to read the whole thing, either, only touching on the basics. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, since it was an easy enough thing to prove or prove wrong.
He thought for a few moments. "And I'll not talk to... Keir. I know that you ordered Vincent Tobias to keep some sort of guard over me; he wouldn't let me out of his sight for the entire night. And I think he tried to follow me into my cabin. Therefore, I would like to say that whatever is between you is not my concern, and I will not interfere."
"He tried to follow you into your cabin?" I reiterated, barely suppressing a snort of amusement. There really wasn't any point in denying it, though. And... if he wanted to go off and get himself killed, that had nothing to do with me. "Well. I'll approve the rank promotion. And I'll see what I can do about the rest." I paused for effect. "Congratulations, Midshipman."
"Soon-to-be Class Technician," Shannon corrected, but he was shining with happiness. Whatever was waiting for him in Allieuselau meant a lot to him. "Thank you, sir. Thank you so much." I practically could see several layers of pretense fall away as he dropped to his hands and knees in front of my desk, crying and laughing and shaking. (I hoped he wasn't about to puke on my floor.)
"Jesus," I said emphatically. "Pull yourself together, Midshipman."
After a few seconds, he did, but he looked like jelly, trembling and breathing hard. I began to be seriously worried about the possibly-impending vomit situation, and whether a future Class Technician should be made of stronger stuff, even with allowances made for his effemininity.
He gave me a shaky, disheveled glance from his angle below me on the floor. I look down at him from the desk, perfectly impassively. I had a wonderful idea. A horrible idea.
A wonderful, horrible idea.
"Ah," he managed. "Sorry. I'm in your way."
"No," I said, in my best Exacting Revenge voice. I pushed myself off of the desk, so we were face-to-groin. "You're exactly where I want you."
For a few bare moments, he looked mildly abashed and surprised, but recovered startlingly quickly. "And these, I would presume, are the conditions."
"Don't like them?" I asked, perfectly rhetorically.
"Actually, I think I do." He smiled, wicked and foxlike. "I know why you want this."
He did. I could tell-- I could feel the exhilarating rush of knowing I was sharing the same exact thought with someone. Revenge Fuck. I hadn't done this in a while, but it felt perfect. Showing Keir that he belonged to me, not anyone else, and that if he thought he could leave, I didn't need him. I could replace him. In ways I didn't understand, it made right again the fact that Shannon had flirted with Keir. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. This was payback. And Shannon didn't even seem to mind.
Which was, in itself, a little odd. "I thought you liked Keir?"
"Oh, I do." His little fox-toothed grin widened. "But I absolutely hate being slighted."
"Slighted?" I choked out a laugh from the depths where it lay. "He didn't slight you. If he didn't expect to be murdered in his bed, he would've chosen you over me a thousand times."
"If you can call that infinitesimal movement choosing you."
"Exactly." I ran my fingers through his flowing golden hair, using it to tug him closer. "He's disloyal."
He licked his lips, inches away from the fabric of my pants. "And what, pray tell, would you call this?"
"This?" I pushed his face roughly over my prick, and through the thin Mercóvennes material, I could feel his hot mouth, roving tongue, and sharp-edged teeth. He resisted with a deep growl. He was going to submit to me; he was going to be mine now, and not just because Keir didn't want him... because I did. And Keir didn't have any rights to be choosing in the first place.
"This?" I lifted him from the floor. He rose with grace, and I pushed him onto my desk, admiring his beautiful sprawl, delicate face, static-gray eyes.
"This is called vendetta."