Bad Things Happen
Editor’s note: This story is out-of-sequence for the internal chronology. It presents some of Isabella's back-story.
This part originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue.
188th of 2024 (014-93): The Battle of Rurur
The Apuludukii was sinking, the drives were out and it was falling into the giant’s atmosphere. I was working furiously. There were so many casualties, they’d turned the boat deck into a temporary sickbay and I was busy with triage. With pen, I wrote one, two or three on each patients forehead. I was checking a young spacehand, he was barely out of his teens. Third degree burns to most of his body, grey tissue visible through his skull. I sighed as I wrote three and moved on, so young to die out here. There was a sudden groan and the deck twisted and buckled. I was thrown off my feet and slid across the deck, slamming into the landing leg of one of the boats. A marine sergeant pulled me to my feet. I looked and could see the hull was about to crack. “Into the boat, Lieutenant, now; we’ve got to go.”
“The wounded…” I began pulling and dragging the nearest to the boat. I thrust her into the boat and turned to get another.
The sergeant screamed, “No time, ma’am, into the boat now!”
“I've got to…” The sergeant hit me with his rifle butt. My head spun as he forced me into the boat. I watched, trying to regain my balance, as the sergeant crammed two more in. I saw the hull give way as he pushed the door closed and the crushing atmosphere rushed in. I felt the boat’s drive light and heard the smashes as fragments of the disintegrating Apuludukii struck the thin skin of the boat.
My head was clearing as I heard somebody say, “How many?”
A reply, “Fifteen, including us.” I looked down at the young woman I’d saved and cried, three.
191st of 2024 (017-93): Prisoner Review, Rurur
Shen Saida Kaptan was tired; there were so many prisoners to process. Even with twenty boards going, this would take weeks. “Next?”
The clerk checked picked up the next file. “Apuludukii, Kaptan.”
“Fourteen? She was the flag, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, Kaptan.” Only fourteen; he said a silent prayer to Yasant.
“Most senior survivor?”
The clerk checked the file “Isabella Montoya Lieutenant, a dokhtor.”
Beatrice Parker Komant, the board’s second member, spoke, “I doubt she’d have anything useful.”
Saida considered awhile, “Probably, but protocol does call for the senior officer to go to intelligence.”
Parker read her details and sounded doubtful “Shen, we all know intelligence are far from gentle. She’s twenty six years old and traumatised. Do we really need to follow protocol here?”
“Have you checked the intel report on her?” The board’s final member, Yis Desvu Komant.
Parker looked up, “No; is there something of interest in it?”
“Possibly, Beatrice; she’s listed as in a relationship with Darius Vilis.”
Saida sounded interested, “As in, sector director of Naval Intelligence Darius Vilis? When and for how long?”
“Yes, that Vilis; for fourteen months and it ended three years ago.”
Parker snorted, “A long dead love affair, that hardly seems important.”
Saida hummed, “Perhaps, but it is interesting.”
Parker disagreed “So we should send this young woman off to be brutalised on the off-chance that Vilis let something slip over pillow talk?”
Desvu grew irritated, “Nothing they do falls under the classification of ‘brutalization’, Beatrice; it’s all within the military code of justice.”
“Oh yes, they stop short of electrodes and rubber hoses, but we all know they push the limits as far as they can. Mind warping chemicals, sleep deprivation, ‘emotional disorientation’, ‘extreme physical discomfort’. Sounds pretty brutal to me! For all the gods’ sakes she’s just a reservist working off her medical school debt.”
“You know full well such extreme methods are only used under strict supervision and in the most recalcitrant cases. It won’t go that far; like you said, just a reservist.”
Parker was on her feet to respond, but Saida cut her off, “Ladies, please. It’s late and we’ve got a lot to get through. Arguing isn’t going to help. I’d like to get home to my family tonight, so lets just follow protocol and move on to the next case.”
Desvu nodded, “I agree.”
“I’d like to register my opposition.”
“Noted.” He marked Isabella for transfer to intelligence and selected the next file.
204th of 2024 (030-93): The Protectorate Council Building, Waicir
Lord Councillor Oskar Sherin reviewed the situation. The war he’d been expecting for so long had come. They’d invaded, they’d come. The Protectorate was fighting for its life now. Efepkammosaryn Edtyassos, they had to survive. He was in charge of intelligence gathering, but for far too long his hands had been tied; to have any chance that would have to change. He scanned the latest reports from Sesh Liryn; they often achieved results with difficult cases, no doubt of that, but it took time and success was not guaranteed. He’d recommended changes before, but had always been out voted. Concerns about control. Perhaps valid in normal situations, but this wasn’t normal. There were fifty-two worlds in the Protectorate; the Imperium covered entire sectors. If they were defeated… It was unthinkable. He needed to introduce changes. He’d checked the files and had the ideal candidate, he just needed to get it passed the committee. He picked up the communicator and entered Lord Councillor Jkuaese’s code. He was the weak link in My Lady’s power base. “Lanla, I need to talk.”
Lanla Jkuaese looked up from a pile of papers; he seemed busy. “About?”
“Sesh Liryn, Lanla.”
“What about it?”
“Given the circumstance, I think it’s time to revisit my earlier proposals. It will need to be expanded anyway.”
Lanla seemed irritated and distracted, “Nashu will never go for it, Oskar; outsiders, we’d lose control of them. You know how things can get out of hand, what happened with the L’polians.1”
“I know, I know. But I have a solution for that. A small group under the direct supervision of a qualified citizen we trust.”
Lanla considered for a moment. “Do you have anyone in mind?”
“Toscar Pedter Dokhtor. She’s a Kolant in the Iadthu, an expert in psychology; the Verasras2 and the intelligence services already consult her in difficult cases. She’s the perfect choice.”
Lanla was less than certain, “Mmm, have you seen some of her works on Edtyassos3? She seems a little too focused on it4.”
Oskar paused a moment in thought; he’d met the woman; a little eccentric perhaps, but not that bad… “Nothing too extreme, Lanla, if it were anything to worry about do you think she’d have a cyan three clearance5?”
Lanla considered the matter, there was a war now, and with the Imperium, not some small pocket empire. “Okay, I’ll support a pilot program. See how it goes. But if it gets out of hand, we kill it.”
Oskar smiled, “I knew I could count on you, Lanla.”
237th of 2024 (063-93): Protectorate Holding Camp on Daramm
Petra Majkor and Ishugii Kaptan sat behind the one way glass partition watching yet another interview. There were so many prisoners and so few interrogators, it had taken almost a month just to get started with this one. Petra spoke first, “Error in the paperwork, you say?”
“Yes; nobody flagged Vilis on her file, so she got a low priority rating. It was only picked up when somebody read the review board transcripts.”
Petra shook his head; they’d have to be better organised to have any chance of surviving this war. “Sloppy. So, have we got anything from her yet?”
“No, she’s surprisingly resilient; we’ve got a few codes we already had, a couple of minor details about Vilis she let slip, but generally I’d have to say nothing of value.”
“She says she doesn’t know anything; do you believe her?”
Ishugii considered the young woman on the other side of the glass for a moment. “No, she’s holding something back, I’m sure of it.”
“So, Sesh Liryn, you think?”
“It would seem to be the best option.”
15th of 2025 (206-93): Sesh Liryn
Basijk is a rather unremarkable K0 main sequence star, with two belts and six planets. Eight moons circle those six planets. Two of the planets, Daramm and Verasaryn, are home to flourishing complex ecosystems; a third, Yasant, hosts primitive life in the form of protoza. Closest in is Sesh, a tiny sun-baked rock. And Sesh was home to Sesh Liryn, a very secure Protectorate military facility dedicated to the interrogation of recalcitrant prisoners.
Gami Rinni liked this ticket. His life had not been easy since the L’polian Empire fell five years ago. The Imperium had not appreciated the Vermox’s6 activities and he’d had to run for his life. He’d drifted since then, living hand to mouth, forever looking over his shoulder. Still, there was always employment for a man of his talents, provided you weren’t too fussy about your employers. And Gami certainly wasn’t fussy. But this job was different, no criminal thug or tinpot one world dictator. The Protectorate was a major power, bigger than the Empire even and he had something approaching official sanction. Gami looked at his ‘assistant’, one of Padter’s mercenaries. Brutes, for the most part, more at home with thumbscrews and the rack than the subtle methods he used. Not that he was squeamish; a physical approach could have its place sometimes. But Padter preferred a more ‘intellectual’ approach. Well, usually; she was growing impatient and wanted to try something new. Gami had been surprised at her suggestion, but it might work. He looked at the file, Sanchez y Montoya. He tried not to use their names, it was better to keep your personal feelings out of it, but he did rather enjoy his job, the sense of power and control. This one was surprising resilient, a perfect candidate for the new approach.
21st of 2025 (212-93): Sesh Liryn
I sat on the cold floor of my cell, grey concrete walls surrounding me. There were two types of light here, either so bright it hurt your eyes or so dim you could hardly see; today they’d picked dim. Not that that really mattered; there wasn’t much to see, just me and the bucket in the corner. I was filthy, my hair a matted, smelly mess. They said I hadn’t been co-operating, so I hadn’t been allowed to wash for I think over a week. I’m not sure; it was impossible to keep track of time here. Here things worked on reward and punishment. If they thought you were co-operating they gave you things, clothes, a blanket, a bucket, better food. Mind you, you needed to be careful with the food. If they thought you weren’t co-operating, they took things away. They’d taken my clothes last time. They’d been filthy like me, stank of stale urine and itched, but they’d been clothes. They hadn’t thought I was co-operating for a while, actually. They were right, I wasn’t; there was something else. Darius had shown me something, something important and I hadn’t told them. It was important, I knew it had to be. I fought the urge to smile. Smiling here was bad, it meant you were holding something back and you never knew when they were watching you.
People tell you the human mind is a fragile thing. They’re wrong; the human mind is one of the toughest things in the universe, almost infinitely creative and adaptable in its ability to protect itself. But only almost. It’s funny; you can feel yourself slipping into insanity, you know the world your mind is creating isn’t real, but you go there anyway. Darius had been coming to me. He held me and kissed me, we danced and then made love. But I knew it wasn’t real, I was alone, just my mind in the final desperate stages of a losing battle to protect itself. I had clung to that one important thing he’d shown me, focused on it, kept it. It was all that was keeping me in this world, but even it wasn’t enough any more. Now there was a new humiliation, absolutely nothing belonged to me any more. I was so tired, I didn’t have any fight left in me. I was going to give up and stay with Darius the next time he came.
Gami Agugik Reemral looked up as he heard the message arrive; he was weeks behind with his paperwork and didn’t need more. He noted the sender and opened it. It was brief and to the point. He dialled in Toscar Padter Kolant’s code and opened a line. “Toscar?”
“Sanchez y Montoya, we’re pulling the plug.”
A pause, “I think that’s premature.”
“You’ve been saying that for weeks, but this one comes from above.” Agugik had tried ending it as a waste of resources, but she had the support of Oskar Sherin himself and he’d been overruled.
“I really think it’s premature,” sounding certain.
“Well you’d better come here and convince me then.” He took a deep breath. She gave him the creeps, all her talk of the war and Edtyassos, unhealthy. And her ‘specialists’, they just plain scared him. He was just grateful he’d been able to limit her to five subjects so far.
Padter pulled out the files. Agugik sat patiently, then handed her a copy of the message “So, tell me why I should appeal this?”
Padter read the message; she knew it'd be an uphill battle against this. “She’s holding something back, I know it. I just know it. We already got a lead on a spy ring and know there’s more.”
Agugik nodded politely, “The ‘ring’ was operating three years ago. We have yet to have any confirmation that it still is. So other than that, what have we got?”
“A lot of details about Vilis.”
Agugik looked at the details. “Yes; what he likes, what she likes, what toothpaste he uses, oh, here’s a good one, how he brushes his hair. The list goes on, but nothing I’d say is remotely useful.”
Padter’s mouth formed a broad grin. “Well, the psychs will like it, to help fill out his profile.”
“And that justifies continuing? Especially given this?” He indicated the message. “Just what more are we going to get, his shoe size?”
“We already have that; ten.”
Agugik sat forward. “My point exactly.” Agugik had made his decision. “It’s over.”
She rocked back, thought for a moment. “I could go over your head.”
Agugik smiled, “Take a look at the name on that message again.”
Padter frowned. “I only need a few more days. Here, look at this.” She pulled up a video file; it showed Isabella rhythmically weaving and dipping round her cell.
Agugik looked puzzled. “What’s she doing?”
“She’s dancing; with Vilis, according to the audio—or at least she believes she is. There’s more; she gets quite… intimate, but it means she’s on the verge of cracking. I’m trying a new approach; I’ll have her in two days.”
Agugik was concerned. “A new approach?”
“Yes.” She sounded excited, “Yes, look.” She pulled up another file.
Agugik watched in horror, sick to his stomach. “Has anyone else seen this?”
“I included it all in my weekly report; I submitted it a few hours ago.”
Agugik hadn’t got round to reviewing it; to be honest he’d only skimmed the last five. But, obviously, somebody else had. Padter was insane, completely and totally insane. With luck, he might get away with just resigning.
22nd of 2025 (213-93): Sesh Liryn
Madam Manish was furious; she was watching Isabella moving elegantly around her cell from the security room, She was struck by how good a dancer she was. “Agugik Reer Adtmral, may I ask why she is still filthy and naked? I believe you had received clear orders that these humiliations were to stop.”
“I am afraid there has been insufficient time, My Lady Councillor.” In truth, Agugik had been franticly busy reviewing every single security video to see if Padter’s ‘new approach’ had been applied anywhere else and simply neglected to see to her preparation.
“The travel time from Daramm to Sesh is currently eighteen hours and twenty three minutes, Reer Adtmral.”
Agugik understood the meaning; he had actually taken care of that some time ago. “I have already submitted my resignation, My Lady.”
“Probably wise. And Padter Kolnel-Lekhtenant?”
“In custody, My Lady, along with her accomplices.”
“Good. I will need every file from every case she has had anything to do with.”
“Of course, My Lady. And the lieutenant?”
“Have her brought to the interview room, gently, very gently, Reer Adtmral.”
“At once; I have had the infirmary prepared, My Lady.”
Madam Manish sighed, “I will be seeing to that matter on Daramm.”
“But, My Lady, protocol…”
“…will need to be flexible, in this case; I think she has suffered quite enough here, don’t you?”
Darius had come to me again; we were dancing, close, I could feel his heart beating. I no longer cared if it were real or not. He whispered in my ear that it was time to leave. I smiled. I heard the lock on the door; he said goodbye and disappeared. I shuddered and balled my fist as tight as I could.
The door opened. A guard appeared, not the usual one. He handed me a blanket. “Please come with me.” That was new, please and a blanket. I wrapped the blanket tightly round me and followed to the interview room. The door opened. It was somebody new, an old lady, well dressed and elegant. They did that sometimes, changes just to keep you confused and disoriented.
“Ah, Lieutenant Sanchez y Montoya, it is a pleasure to meet you; may I call you Isabella?”
I smiled inside myself, one last gesture of defiance before I crumbled. “No.”
The woman’s eyes were full of guilt. “Of course; I understand. You must despise us after how you’ve been treated.” No, I didn’t, not any more, not really. I had, but I didn’t really feel anything towards them now. I understood now, I had something important, I was worth something.
“Please, please sit.” I sat on the floor. She sighed “No dear, you may sit on the chair. May I introduce myself, Lieutenant; I am Lady Councillor Nashu Manish Khaadii Mmarislusant, most people call me Madam Manish or My Lady Councillor, but I would regard it as an honour if you would call me Nashu. I am to be your sponsor.”
I was now utterly confused, but I suppose that was the point. “Sponsor?”
“Yes dear, you are to be paroled into my custody.”
“Yes, you’ll leave here and come and live with me until we can send you home. After all, you are an honoured guest of the Lord Protector.”
I couldn’t help it, I roared with laughter, “If this is how you treat honoured guests I’d hate to be an enemy.” I’d probably lose the bucket for that, but it did feel good to laugh.
She sighed deeply, “Yes, you must feel that way, my dear. I would apologise, but it would be rather pointless.” I could hear so much guilt in her voice. “Now we’ll need to get you cleaned up. I am afraid there is however one last… indignity you must endure.”
23rd of 2025 (214-93): Antiavash Central Hospital, Daramm
I lay in a cheerful hospital ward; the nurse came to check on me again. He smiled at me, “How are you feeling now? The pain killers working?” I nodded and tried to sit up. The nurse gently pushed me down. “No, try and stay still; it’ll take two or three days to heal.” Madam Manish, Nashu, had told me it would be difficult, my own medical training told me that too. The trace, a tiny electronic device bonded to the top of my spine. Go too far from the base unit and it would tingle a warning. Keep going and it would block the nerve signals totally, leaving me paralysed until they came and reset it. It was my leash.
- The L’polian Empire was a small pocket empire absorbed by the Imperium some five years before the Luriani War. Traditional enemies of the Protectorate, the Empire was actually the re-establishment of an earlier, larger L’polian Empire that had existed during the early years of the Long Night. The first empire fought five bitter wars with the First Protectorate before collapsing into civil war and anarchy following the pyrrhic Luriani victory in the Fifth L’polian War. However the exhaustion caused by these wars is regarded as the cause of the Protectorate’s demise some one hundred years later. The reformed empire fought two more inconclusive wars with the Second Protectorate before succumbing to a short Imperial campaign.
- The Protectorate’s central law enforcement service.
- Edtyassos is a proper noun in Standard Luriani unique in that it never takes an article nor a possessive form (traits that extend to Luriani Anglic); instead additional nouns are suffixed to it forming an extended proper noun. It refers to the events following the Vilani conquest of the Luriani worlds in 2614:pre Luriani (-4546 Imperial), usually known in Anglic as the year of woe. Exactly what occurred is unknown. Vilani records only briefly mention it as a purge and Luriani oral tradition is considered unreliable. It was however, a pivotal event in Luriani history, still exerting a major influence on their culture thousands of years later. Luriani tradition speaks of near total genocide and there is clear evidence of a substantial reduction in the Luriani population at this time. The most common theory is that it was a deliberate attempt to wipe out all trace of Luriani history and culture before that date. It is know to be the only recorded instance of the Vilani actively destroying knowledge. In strict usage it refers only to the events of the immediate aftermath to the Luriani Consolidation War, however more common usage covers the entire period of the war and subsequent Vilani occupation.
- While Edtyassos is a central part of the Luriani's history, they regard an excessive focus on it as unhealthy. In extreme cases this can become a obsession leading to a mental illness they call Edtyassoswislad (Edtyassos madness).
- Protectorate security clearances are coded by colour and level. Red covers domestic and criminal matters, blue covers foreign and diplomatic matters, green covers military. Beyond these are magenta (combining red and blue), cyan (combining red and green), yellow (combining blue and green) and finally white (combining all three). The level is a clearance from one to five.
- The L’polian intelligence service, noted for its ruthlessness and use of various forms of torture.