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Log of the Month for January, 2008

Now What?
Posted on January 15th, 2008 by Douglas McKnight and Persephone Busard

Doug McKnight and Persephone Busard

Right this minute, Doug McKnight really, really wished he could convince himself he was having difficulty finding the quarters of the officer he was currently seeking out, such was his actual enthusiasm for the conversation he’d decided the two needed to have. Unfortunately, the simple truth was that for all its impressive size, the twists and turns of a Soverign Class vessel, like most Star Fleet ships, were laid out according to rather decidedly military sensibilities. In short: utility yes, imagination not so much. Thus, even if he DID somehow manage to forget about the handy directional arrows available at a request from the ship’s computer, such a self-deception would be engaging in a kind of childishness that the marine veteran seldom allowed himself in the best of moods, and his current mood was far from the best. Besides, he’d be damned if he even half-seriously showed off the kind of incompetence that had been not so subtly implied on the part of himself and his department the day before.

“Right you are, sir.” came the disgruntled mutter as he closed in on the quarters of the ship’s chief engineer. “Having legitimate access to a system is JUST the sort of trick a saboteur would try to throw us off the trail. I’ll be sure to toss T’Kirr in the brig the next time she so much as LOOKS at her console funny.” Finishing that off with a low growl, he restrained himself from launching the umpteenth ineffectual punch at the bulkheads in the past few hours, and took a few deep, steadying breaths. Straightening himself up and schooling his features somewhat, he jabbed his finger into the door chime control without further preamble.

Busard answered simply from within.

“Come in.”

Once authorization was given, McKnight was not a man to hesitate, and so the moment the voice answered from within, he not only stepped through the newly opened door, but indeed paused only long enough to spot the sole human shaped figure in the room before he began to explain his purpose there.

“Lieutenant Bu- no, sorry, that’s not the right tone at all. Percy, I just wanted to say, for what little it’s really worth that I’m…huh.”

These last few words were uttered only as, beginning to process the information provided by his peripheral vision, he finally took a real look at their mutual surroundings.

For one thing, the place was a mess. For the second, most of that mess was either fully functioning or partially functioning robots, each a maximum of six inches in height. None of them seemed to have any particularly obvious purpose, but they more or less milled about the room. About a third of them appeared to be brand new. Their numbers were more concentrated at Percy’s desk where, her back turned to the visitor, she hunched over another one, working feverishly. She didn’t even look up, her goggled eyes (presumably, the goggles were for magnification purposes) focused on the tiny electronic parts she was adjusting. When she answered, the tone was overly formal, as if to cover up a certain detachment.

“Yes, sir?”

It was probably odd by the standards of most hypothetical observers, and McKnight knew it, but the tiny little metal menagerie actually dispelled a bit of the built up tension, on his end at least. Outlandish as it was, this sight wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to him, thanks to a one Darius Machia, chief engineer aboard his first semi-permanent ship assignment. To be sure, that assignment had brought with it a number of frustrations, such as listening to his CO explain why a psycho AI’s right to be a sadistic digital shit had to be respected…a disagreement which seemed a bit ironic, in retrospect. Just the same, in any case, there were memories from back then that made him chuckle. Like entering engineering only to be attacked by a metal cat so tiny its claws couldn’t even get appreciably past his uniform, an incident which in turn had only momentarily delayed the work of collaborating with said cat’s owner to design an onboard security system centering around phaser armed mechanical gnomes. Humor was at a premium right now, so mindful that he wasn’t being watched, he allowed himself a brief ghost of a smile.

“I know a guy who’d get a real kick out of this place. But right, the reason I’m here. No sense in dressing it up with extra words, I guess. I came here to say I’m sorry about what happened down in the brig. I wish I could offer more, but I figured I owed you at least that much.”

Percy’s hand slipped, and the tool in her hand made a loud “fzzt” noise before falling onto the desk. She herself, meanwhile, froze for a very long moment. After that moment was over, she let herself breathe somewhat shallowly, removing her goggles and placing them carefully on the desk by her tool. Her tone turned disturbingly hollow.

“You owe me nothing.”

Needless to say, any traces of that former smile were gone in short order, replaced by the bitter scowl that had instantly warned those who passed him in the corridors on the way down to give the Major a wide berth.

“I sure as hell owed SOMEBODY. I was watching that freak show, Busard. Just in case Blackthorne needed a guard, you know? At first,

I figured he was just playing an overblown game of bad cop, with the threats and all; I’ve played that game myself. You have to with some of these people. But by the time I realized he was actually…” At this point, McKnight found himself in need of a few more steadying breaths, and his white knuckled fists in need of unclenching. The passing hours had done nothing to dampen the fury, the betrayal even of what he’d witnessed earlier. “Well, it didn’t ACTUALLY take that long, but it’d be a lie to say I didn’t have time after it’d finally sunk in to do something about it. I just never expected the likes of that from him, not from a man who’d earned my respect a dozen times over. Sure, none of us on the senior staff are innocent of ignoring the letter of the law on occasion when the right thing needed doing, but I NEVER thought he’d deliberately dishonor the uniform like that. But he did. I’ve been through something not too different from what he did. I’d volunteered for it, of course, as part of my black ops training, but that doesn’t mean I don’t remember how traumatic it was the first time my mind was invaded. I couldn’t care less how he justifies deciding he can’t be bothered with regulations OR decency. That was rape. Nothing less. Shocked or no, Marcus was still my responsibility as long as he was in that brig, and I let that happen. I let that hang over BOTH our heads.”

Percy stood after a moment, turning very slowly, almost mechanically, to face McKnight. The signs of psychological trauma were obvious. Her skin was paler than usual, excepting the red marks on her knuckles and forehead. Her eyes were slightly puffy, red, and lined by dark circles. They were opened unusually wide, and on occasion, her eyelid twitched; it was obvious that she’d lacked rest since the incident. What was more, if one looked, was that her fingertips were also red, and had imprints of tool handles on them. She’d been doing a lot of work lately. She tried to take a few deep breaths before speaking, but had to settle with slightly ragged ones.

“Why…why are you apologizing to me? I’m more guilty of that crime than you are. I SAT there, WATCHING. At first…at first I thought maybe he was just making his presence known, just to show Damien he could do what he threatened. And I lied for him. I LIED FOR HIM. But…but I didn’t know…didn’t know he’d actually…” The eyetwitch became almost violent as she brought her hand up to her mouth. She glanced at the open door do her bathroom, in case she was going to be sick again. “I just…I can’t understand why…” She paused again, for longer this time, just trying to let herself breathe.

He would wonder afterward, almost immediately, whether the action was entirely appropriate under these circumstances, particularly with a junior officer, but acting on instinct, his hand came up to close the distance between them, applying a firm, but not too tight grip on Busard’s shoulder. He supposed, if he really put that much thought into it, that he’d never placed too much value on what was appropriate. Like this whole conversation and the incident which spawned it, it had nothing to do with what was appropriate, and everything to do with what was right. And it seemed right at this moment to offer whatever support he could. Fortunately, he could offer more than a hopefully consoling touch. The “why” of it was perhaps the one part he wasn’t having any trouble with.

“He’s a CO. THE CO, more to the point. And with the possible exception of myself, the most personally confronted with the reality that there are lives in his care. Things…things are different when you look at them from that perspective. It’s like having kids; you’re protective of your people, as is only right and proper, and when something threatens them, you take that personally, even when you know you probably shouldn’t. Basically, his blood was up, and he let that over-ride things he shouldn’t have.”

Busard looked McKnight in the eye. She seemed, by some point with in McKnight’s speech, to have calmed down a little, trying to think more rationally. Even then, her voice shook with a mixture of lingering horror and rising anger.

“Would you rape someone for your kids? Hurt, kill, those are one thing, but rape? Rape is not a protective measure. It is a sick, disgusting action that even in extreme situations is not entirely justifiable. This is NOT one of those extreme situations, sir. We had Damien’s work undone, hopefully sufficient evidence to prove him guilty of his actions, and he was locked in a cell with no means of escape. How…how can anyone justify that then? It’s WRONG. So wrong I just…”

She trailed off, balling her hands into fists in frustration.

“I know it, Percy. Maybe that’s really what I wanted you to know when I decided to come down here. Well, not JUST that.”

With that, he broke away, and spent the next few moments studying the carpet, alive as it was with a multitude of tiny machines, while considering his next few words.

“I’m not going to report Blackthorne. And it’s not because I’d be facing some of the heat along with him. Fuck career if it’s not about conscience; I sure as hell didn’t re-enlist after the war because I missed the pay. And if it was decided that my complicity in that crime merited a little prison time, I could deal with that too. Because I DO believe in accountability. The admiral may believe that morals need to take a back seat to pragmatism when he has the responsibilities he does, but that is the very definition of the phrase ‘ass backwards’. He’s got enough firepower at his command to glass the surface of a good sized planet. Throw in Third Fleet, and he could reduce what’s left to rubble in short order. You need to know it’s a good man who’s been handed that kind of power, a man who you can trust to always be tempered in its use. But even if I was comfortable with putting the man on notice, then turning on him anyway, which I’m not, that’s the kicker. It IS a good man I’ve served with these past few years. As much as I wanted to punch his teeth down his throat when he came walking out of that brig acting so damn smug, and as disturbing as it is that I’m not even certain he sees anything wrong with what he did…well, I just can’t believe a man’s character is undone by one failure, even a colossal one. So I’m going to give him a chance to prove that this was anger mixed with some warped sense of duty and a heaping helping of bad judgement, not the real man. But that’s me.”

Having kept his gaze upon the carpet all this time, he finally looked back up, and met Percy’s gaze squarely.

“You haven’t been with this ship as long as I have. Some of what I’m talking about, events which never made it to the official reports that showed the man at his best, you weren’t there to witness. So I could never ask you to put aside your better judgement because of my own personal views, not on this one. I won’t turn Blackthorne in, but I won’t lie for him either. If you decide that the only way you can come to any peace on this is to make a report to the Judge Advocate General, know that I WILL corroborate your testimony. You have my oath on it.”

Percy, at that point, did in fact look like she was about to be violently ill. This probably wasn’t far from the truth, she knew, as she held her breath a moment, trying to process what had been said to her. She turned away for a moment, collecting her thoughts, letting herself breathe after a while, before turning back. Even then, her eyes were turned downward, and her tone turned soft.

“You have to understand…I HATED Damien. Hated him for what he’d done to me, to this crew, to everyone, I expect, he’s ever known. I hated what he stood for and the fact that he always seemed so smug and confident in everything he did, even when it was blatantly wrong. And then…when the admiral did what he did, it was like in a moment, this man that I’d risked my life to serve and respect had suddenly turned into the one that I’d just seen put into a cell. I can’t…I don’t know HOW to forgive something like that. And I still want to respect Blackthorne, I want to try to forget this ever happened, but I can’t.”

Her eyes rose to meet his again.

“People have to be held responsible for their actions, somehow. Even admirals. ESPECIALLY admirals, who with all their power, as you said, can destroy worlds. It’s part of our duty as being members of civilized peoples. I’m not sure I have the strength or assuredness to make Admiral Blackthorne face the law, but by god, he will take responsibility for his actions somehow. He HAS to.”

Percy’s face took on a somewhat defeated look then.

“I just don’t know HOW.”

“Then it looks like you’ve got some more thinking to do. Just know that as much as you don’t have to face YOUR decision alone, you don’t have to make it alone, either. If you need to talk it out more, you know where to find me.”

With that, he offered the same firm grip to her shoulder before turning back toward the door, being careful to make sure his departure wasn’t going to assure the escape of this cabin’s newer denizens. Even with that concern in mind though, he did place his attention squarely on the engineer one last time before passing out of sight and hearing.

“Just…whatever you do, know that there IS no solution to this that you’ll like. Just settle for the one you think you can live with.”

She turned her back as he said his last words, before sighing heavily.

“I know, sir.”
And with that, she sat back down at her desk, and got back to work, her little creations crowding around her on the carpet, those with artificial eyes watching intently. After this one, maybe she’d try to get some sleep again.

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