Making The Best Of It
Posted on August 20th, 2007 by Douglas McKnight and Persephone Busard
Douglas McKnight and Persephone Busard
It was cold. The heating systems must have been working inefficiently, Persephone thought. Then again, it could have just been that this was the kind of environment the Machen Bren preferred their prisoners stay in. But for now, she was trying to focus on how one would normally go about fixing those systems. If she didn’t, she’d remember that she was in a cell. She’d never been in a cell before. What was worse, was that she didn’t have anything to fiddle with. They’d taken all her gadgets, probably for good reason, but that left her hands shaking, as if trying to find something to do. She kept remembering their capture, and became more ashamed each time. She could have done SOMETHING, even if the Admiral hadn’t strictly ordered it. But she’d just turned potentially the most important part of the ship over to enemies. And for what? She was afraid, for herself and for those around her. She could have done something, but she didn’t. Her hands got worse.
Well, he’d warned Ian he wouldn’t be much help on this one, and here they were. Granted, being right really wasn’t such a huge comfort given their present situation, but small or not, petty or not, it was something of a smug comfort all the same. That school boy “I told you so.” crap may have been unfitting of a man his age, and he was pretty darn certain it was unfitting of an officer, but the silver lining was kinda hard to find in a room this simly lit, so he took it. No one would ever hear word one about it, of course, but hidden in the refuge that was his personal thoughts, he took it. And oh so bolstered by that little victory, Douglas McKnight had set about making himself as busy as possible; it seemed to keep coming back to that whole officer thing. He was hardly the most senior officer present, but as a member of the senior staff, it seemed as though keeping morale up where he could, and getting people to fake it better where he couldn’t, was a clear duty. No, that wasn’t quite true. Duty implied some chore given incentive by pretty internalized progananda. What he was doing now…in a peculiar way, it was more of an indulgence, a chance to give nostalgia free reign as he hadn’t managed since shortly after he first set foot aboard Atlantis.
It had been a bit unconventional, his transition out of officer’s candidate school after the war. He had, of course, known in theory that there was something of a divide between officer and enlisted, those leading and those led, but initially, this divide had been just that: theoretical. His initial assignment after the commission, in fact his reason for pursuing the commision to begin with, had been serving aboard the long range scout ship Cervantes, in effect little more than an overgrown runabout, playing host to the odd arrangement of a tiny, all officer crew. But onboard a larger ship like Atlantis, he had been somewhat surprised to discover just how real, how rigid those divides he had heard of could be. Over time, he had of course gotten used to it, found a proper and generally comfortable balance between detached command and hands on leadership, but still, he’d be lying if he said he never missed the simple camraderie that came with being just one of the men. Here, in this dreary stone prison for Commanders and Corporals alike, it wasn’t so hard to believethat’s exactly what he was. But of course, he still wore the oak leaves, and there was still the job.
“This a private corner, Busard?” he asked with a grin as he slid down against the wall next to her. “Or can anyone stare off despondently here? I’ll admit, it’s one of the better views in this hole.”
She tried really hard to give a smile at that, but it only really came halfway. Busard took her eyes off her hands for a moment, though, and tried to will them not to shake. It worked a little, and that was enough right now. She had to wonder how it was that McKnight could smile that wide in a time like this. Then again, he’d probably been through this several times. If she was lucky, maybe she’d turn out the same.
“Dunno, sir. You’d have to ask the Machen Bren. It’s their prison, after all.”
“Yeah…won’t lie, I’ve seen nicer. Still, I like what they’ve done with the place. Honest to God stonemasonry? That’s retro done right. Can’t really fault it on function either. Those bars may look like something out of the Dark Ages, but if there’s ever a power failure and that force field goes down…eh, not that my grand escape plan has an answer to the having nowhere to go problem, mind you. Still, I figure we’re doing alright so far.”
Percy looked at McKnight as though he were a madman. He was…complementing the decor? Wha? That made her slightly more uncomfortable than she’d been before, but she supposed it was probably just an attempt to lighten the mood. She examined the walls and bars as he talked about them. It was very doubtful that the walls were solid stone. Were that the case, the place would actually be potentially escapable. As for the bars, they looked very solid. It may have just been her pessimism, but it didn’t look like they were going to be able to get out of here by breaking out.
“If you say so, sir. I wouldn’t know.”
At that, McKnight’s gaze hardened a bit, and any attempt of his to lighten the mood took on a rather more forceful tone.
“Wouldn’t know? I realize it doesn’t actually SAY Lieutenant anywhere on your uniform, but if you’ve forgotten what those pips on your collar mean, I suggest you remember, and fast. You’re an officer Busard, and what’s more, you’re a department head. You’re anxious? Okay, there’s a club. The difference is, most of that club has the luxury of showing it. You, your people have to be able to look up to. And if parroting the party line’s the best you can do, well fine. Here it is. We’re alive. We got caught sneaking around their space, during wartime. It was within their rights, and WELL within their ability to just keep on firing, and blow us to bits. Instead, they beamed their soldiers into harm’s way, and then went out of theirs to take us alive. Why do you figure that is, Busard?”
For a moment, Busard looked like she was going to break pretty bad. Her hands shook more, her face crumpled a little, and she was obviously holding back tears. Up until this assignment, she’d spent most of her time on science vessels, which though they taught her proper decorum when addressing other officers and enlisted persons, were somewhat lacking in the “what to do if your ship gets caught spying and you’re stuck in a dark cell” category. But she straightened after that, taking what the Major had said to heart. She might have messed up, but she was still the Chief of Engineering. Even if she didn’t feel like it, she had to act like it. Her expression hardened, and she tightened her hands into fists to keep the shaking away. Now, logic had to kick in so she could actually respond to the question that had been asked.
“Either because they want to know how much we found out before getting caught, sir, or because they want to negotiate, but have to act the part of merciless leader so their higher-ups don’t get suspicious. Sir.”
McKnight’s earlier smile didn’t return, but his expression did soften a bit as he nodded slowly. Better.
“Okay. So let’s assume it’s that first one for a moment. What we know about these people is that they’re neither stupid, nor incompetent. And if they wanted information, we have to assume they’d know how to go about collecting it efficiently. Based on what you’ve seen, have they been doing that?”
She shook her head.
“Not that I can see, unless they’re extracting it from someone outside this cell, like the captain. And even if that were the case, the captain probably has the most loyalty to Starfleet, and thus the least likelihood of giving over that information.”
“Alright, Lieutenant. But getting the truth out of people who’d just as soon not part with it is a bit more in line with my job than yours, so let me throw a few things out for you to consider. If you know a prisoner doesn’t want to tell you what you want to know, you need to assume simply lying is one of the first things they’ll think of. That’s why, when you have multiple prisoners, you keep them in isolation. If they’ve got the guts to try it, you’ll know that their lies aren’t going to be the same as the next one’s lies, and you have the advantage. You’re that much closer to your goal. So let’s just ignore for a second what a huge and unnecessary hassle it’d be for them to come in and grab one of us in particular out of here if the rest didn’t feel too cooperative; why, if they wanted reliable information that badly, would they simply throw us all in the same place where we can get all our stories straight at our leisure? They didn’t even single out the bridge crew past the Admiral himself. The only answer I can come up with that makes any sense is they just plain aren’t that interested in us. They just want us some place we can’t make trouble while they have a talk with Blackthorne. And that in itself is a VERY encouraging prospect.”
Busard slowly nodded, at least visibly comforted by this news, but still scrutinized the walls. She had a tendency to be suspicious about things that just looked like walls. If the Machen Bren were any kind of smart, they’d have audio and video systems set up inside the walls, ceiling and floor all over the place. And since McKnight had just said they WERE smart, she assumed these systems were in place. But still, he had a point, and trying to argue otherwise was at the very least unbecoming of a department head. So, on that topic, she stayed quiet. As for the idea that they just wanted to stash the rest of the crew somewhere, that wasn’t a particularly happy concept, if only because it involved dark, cold cells and barred doors. And nothing for her to fiddle with…oh well. She’d have to break that habit eventually anyway.
“Yes, I suppose it is.” Her voice quieted a little more after that, if only so the people who looked more worried than her couldn’t hear. “Look, I’m…sorry for all this. I’ve just never been in this kind of situation before. It’s, well…what you can imagine being locked up in a medieval-looking cell was supposed to be like for people in the corresponding time period.”
McKnight briefly considered pointing out that most popular depictions he’d heard of that particular bit of fun often involved torture, but promptly decided to quit while he was ahead.
“Think of it as job experience. We’ll come out of this okay yet. If the ex-POW can believe it, so can you. Now, if we’re done with this, let’s get on to the important business. I spy, with my little eye…”
And at that, Busard finally grinned.