CN: Torture, Colonization
I am so tired, but I roll my shoulders and re- focus on the task. I got this.
It’s my fault. I was the one who decided that reading until I got sleepy would be the answer to last night’s restlessness. That never works; I just stay up late reading. Maybe I should grab a protocol manual next time. That should do the trick.
Mona screamed, startling me. I dropped the curved knife and almost without thinking I threw my other fist out and punched her, more to shut her up than to punish her outburst. My aim was off and I heard something crunch. Mona’s head snapped back and she slumped in her chains. I cursed softly. I didn’t want another auto-write up from the review camera, but knocking out an subject was definitely a no-no. Right up there with cutting too deep and causing a subject to bleed out. Maybe it’s good that I dropped the knife.
I stooped down to grab the knife. While I crouched near the ground, blood dripped from Mona’s face and splattered against a sliver of exposed skin between my steri-gloves and medical apron. “Shit! Shit!” I didn’t even try to keep my voice down, and the review camera bleeped as it recorded another infraction.
A voice came over the intercom, “Jesus, Ness, take a break. Clean up and step outside for a few minutes.” Still cursing I ripped my gloves off and threw them at the biohazard bin. I pulled my apron off and slammed it into the furnace, then stalked over to the sink to wash the offending blood from my arm. Next into the UV sanitizer for a full body decon. While I waited impatiently for the clean room seal to break, I ran through the morning’s protocol. I was almost done with Mona; there wasn’t much more she could tell us. Still, knocking her unconscious was unprofessional. Dammit.
Colonel Raystrith – Ryan – was waiting on the other side of the door. I snapped at him “What? I’m fine.”
Ryan gestured towards the hall. “Let’s go for a walk.” He turned and started down the hallway, his uniform blending into the gray metal alloy of the walls, ceiling and floor. He turned his head and glanced over one shoulder to where I was still standing and said “Now.”
We walked in silence past the other rooms – some empty, some not. Ostensibly we were in peace time, but there was always some dissident, some hybrid, some criminal that needed interrogation. Job security was not something that kept me up at night.
Ryan let me fume for a bit. As we neared the diamond atrium, he turned and said, “You’re getting sloppy, Ness.”
My breath caught and my heart raced. No. Oh no no…“Sir, “ I started “You know that I was the highest ranking intern of my class. I aced all three courses on subspecies anatomy.” My voice took on a hint of panic-driven petulance. “I did a residency in alien psychologies. I interned at two substations prior to this and received exemplary marks!” Ryan knew all of this of course, but I continued to babble.
He broke in. “I didn’t say you aren’t good at your work. But I’m beginning to think that you don’t like it very much.” I started to respond but I couldn’t think of anything to say. I had nothing. I couldn’t not like my work. I’d wanted to be an Interrogator forever.
He continued, “I’m not doubting your passion for Interrogation. But the major thinks, and I agree, that you might be better suited for a different career within the station. Don’t worry – you’re bright, you’re insightful, and we think we’ve found an opportunity for you.
God. Had I always been this tired? What was he talking about? This is who I am. I had sent home proud holofilm of me standing next to the station Commander on the day that I’d been accepted to this post. My mother was thrilled to have an Interrogator in the family.
I looked around. While I had been lost in my head, we had made our way onto a lift at the far end of the atrium. I forgot my worries for a moment as Ryan drew a key from his pocket and inserted in into the bridge access panel. “Ryan?” I asked as calmly as I could manage.
Ryan smirked. “As I was saying, you are a textbook Interrogator. You’re a natural. But for the past month your sleep records have been lacking and you’ve practically stopped eating. I know that something’s missing.” Jesus. He’d pulled my personal hygiene records! “I think you need a new challenge. Interrogating is an honorable profession – the training and the sacrifices that are made by Interrogators are remembered for generations. But it’s not the most challenging of jobs during peace time.
Ryan gestured to the SPC pin on his lapel. “Do you know that no Interrogator has advised on the System Planning Commission before?”
“System Planning Commissioners have to serve as Bridge Officers, Sir.”
He watched me. The lift hummed in the background.
“Interrogators aren’t Officers,” I insisted. “It takes years of specialized training to even be considered to serve on the Bridge.” I shut my mouth as he arched an eyebrow at me.
“Unless the Station Commander re-assigns an Interrogator to a role on the Bridge,” he said.
I snorted. “True, according to Strategem protocols, that could happen, but an Interrogator has never been offered a commission.”
The lift stopped and the doors opened onto the Bridge and a flurry of activity. We were close to coms; a man was quietly translating between an English-speaking lieutenant and a subspecies representative on the planet below. I could see HaRtul in the background! An arc of red and beige filled the sky at the bow where the screen projected a real-time image of the planet in front of the ship. At the far end of the bridge three officers manned controls while a fourth consulted a holomap. At the starboard beam, the Bridge Commander himself was watching a news reel of our recent victory on HaRtul. The Bridge Commander looked over and smiled when he saw Ryan. “Colonel Raystrith! There you are!”
“I apologize if I’ve kept you waiting, Commander.” The Commander waved his hand dismissively as he walked towards us. “You and I both know you’re ten minutes early, so stuff it, Colonel. Have you seen this footage of HaRtul? It’s rubbish. Those Defense Charge loons are making complaints against Strategem’s colonization. They’re saying the rocks are sentient!” The Commander looked towards me and my bladder wobbled . “Maybe we’ll send some of those rocks your way, Warrant Officer! If they’re sentient, you’d find out, wouldn’t you?” He roared with laughter and my knees wobbled. “Yes, Sir,” I forced myself to say.
Ryan chuckled and maneuvered the conversation back to him. “Commander, this is the Interrogator I was telling you about.”
“Well of course it is, Colonel! It’s not every day that you bring a Warrant Officer Interrogator onto my bridge!” The Commander focused his gaze on me. “Has the Colonel explained the situation adequately? I need an Officer to deal with this HaRtul situation. You’re not an Officer, but you’ve got the skills I need. A residency in alien psychologies, an outstanding record of intelligence acquisition during your time here, and you’ve got the respect of your peers and the Chief Interrogator. I need someone to get down there to find out what we’re dealing with. You’ll be given a security officer and a linguistics team to find out what’s going on with those rocks. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d send some your way.
My mind raced.
“I’m offering you a commission, Interrogator. What do you say?”
“Yes, yes of course, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
He clapped my shoulder and barked out a laugh. “Those rocks don’t stand a chance! Thanks for your help, Colonel.” Ryan saluted and turned toward the lift, winking at me as the doors shut. “Captain Edmond, get over here and show Warrant Officer Ness around so she doesn’t trip over somebody.”
A woman with captain’s stripes walked briskly over to where we were standing. The Commander smacked my shoulder then headed back to his news reel. I shook my head, trying to process everything that had just happened. Was happening. What just happened?
“Warrant Officer Ness!” Captain Edmond barked and I straightened my shoulders. “Yes, Ma’am!” The Captain began rattling off ship stats, information about HaRtul and instructions for how to log data entries into the encrypted bridge feed.
My head was swimming, but as we walked by coms and tactical, a single thought ran my mind: I was going to sleep well tonight.