If you missed the start of Alien Secrets, Flight of the Kestrel book 2, here is the link. To help your imagination, my idea of Tomos is a young Ron Howard.
With the crisis over, Reuel returned to his cabin. Not that he was relaxing. He shared with Balitoth, who remained on duty, so Reuel had no one to talk to. He dreaded the debriefing, but as he thought over the events, he couldn't see anything he had done wrong. It wasn't his fault they got arrested, and he had been vital in their escape.
He was disgusted with himself for getting so scared, since back home he was considered tough. There is always the possibility of violence in poor urban areas, especially among young males. Reuel knew how to handle himself in a fight, even before he received formal training at the Academy.
Ever since he became an adult, Reuel had not been afraid. Tense, prepared, nervous, yes. Worried about his friends. But not afraid. He knew what to expect, and he had won enough fights and skirmishes to be confident. But anticipation of agony was something else. This was new.
Back in the cell, as Parks described his experience with the pain-giver, a cold weight had settled over Reuel and he shuddered. This was not a danger you could square up to and do battle with. Physically, you were helpless. Tied down, unable to protect yourself or retaliate. Reuel knew pain. He had been hurt before, sometimes badly. Pain could be endured. Pain was temporary. Pain was soon forgotten. But this…?
It wasn't just the severity of the pain Parks described, it was the anticipation. What if the Bokans decided the servant might know more than he said he did? What if they thought he was the weakest of the team? How certain was it the pain-giver would be used on him? He had felt the horror growing in his mind, paralysing him. Even his cranial spines grew stiff. This was new. He wasn't prepared for this.
How could you prepare for something so extreme? His mind had begun to freeze, unable to cope with the thought of what they might do to him. At the same time there was a little corner of his mind watching this happen and wondering at it. He was watching himself lose control and analysing it.
He felt ashamed. He had been defeated by the mere thought of something that might never happen. He understood for the first time how people could become paralysed by fear. Tensed for fight-or-flight, but no one to fight and nowhere to run to. He should be better than that. What chance of promotion if he was afraid?
A couple of hours later, Balitoth came off duty and returned to their cabin. It was late, ship time, but Reuel was still awake.
'How was your shift?' he asked.
Balitoth shrugged. 'Uneventful, after the attack. It was unfortunate you and Hoy were called on so soon after Boka. How are you?'
'Troubled, my friend.’ Reuel did not hesitate to confide. ‘I am not happy about my … performance.'
'Did they interrogate you? Were you not strong?' Balitoth paused in undressing for bed.
Reuel shook his head, as much to get his cranial spines under control as to deny the question.
'The interrogation was not a problem, they merely asked questions and made threats. They concentrated on Commander Parks, once they established he was our leader. It was when I saw what they did to him that my courage failed. It is different in a fight, where the anger rises and you can be proactive. Sitting waiting for my turn to come was a different thing all together.'
Balitoth sat on the bed to take off his shoes. 'But your turn did not come, did it?'
Reuel shook his head. Balitoth raised his hand to stop Reuel's answer.
'So you do not know what your performance would have been under torture. Thinking of the future and feeling fearful is not at all the same as dealing with that future when it comes. You have told me a little of your time as a youngling, how dangerous the gangs were. You must have been fearful anticipating what would happen if they got hold of you. But when they did, you acquitted yourself well, did you not?'
Reuel nodded slowly, thinking the words over. He felt a weight drop from his shoulders. Balitoth always had a more reasoned way of looking at things.
'Now,' Balitoth continued, 'let us not let concerns for tomorrow rob us of our sleep tonight. Agreed?'
Reuel smiled. 'Agreed.'
Tomos shared a cabin with Roy Stubbs, the Assistant Engineer. Tomos was clean-cut, open faced, with sandy reddish hair that flopped over his forehead. Stubbs was slimmer, rough-looking, his dark hair cut close to his head. Tomos was younger than Stubbs, but had more in-flight experience, having grown up on his parents' cargo ship.
With Tomos having only just joined the crew, Tomos and Stubbs were still getting to know one another. 'Another shift over,' sighed Tomos, coming into the cabin and falling on his lower bunk. 'Dr Nefar is reorganising sick bay. I thought it was fine but he wants to put his own stamp on it. “New broom sweeps clean”, as they say.'
'What are you talking about?' Stubbs looked up from his console.
'Oh, sorry, haven't you heard that one? It's an old saying. How’s your wrist? I saw you with Dr Nefar.’
‘Compound fracture apparently.’ Stubbs displayed the splint on his wrist. ‘It’s a long way to fall from the top bunk, I should've strapped in. Blackwell was not pleased.’
‘Hey, what's that on your hands?'
Stubbs examined his hands. His nails were outlined in blue. 'It's lubricant. I should've worn gloves. This stuff never washes off, you have to wait for it to wear off.'
'You could bleach it, at least it wouldn't show so much. I can get you something from sick bay that'll fade those stains, but I'm not going back there now, I've only just escaped.'
'Thanks.' Stubbs turned back to his console and they were silent for a while.
'What are you working on?' Tomos asked.
'Particle distribution inside the exchanger. It's a tricky one.'
'Not if you use a germanium diode.' Tomos got up from the bunk and came to look over Stubbs' shoulder. 'It makes it easier to track, see?' He pointed to the diagram on the screen.
Stubbs batted his hand away. 'Do you mind? I'm concentrating.'
'Sorry, only trying to help. I'll go and eat and get out of your hair.'
The next morning, ship time, Hoy and Reuel were summoned to Parks’ cabin, where Captain Darrow waited. Parks was propped up on pillows in bed (senior officers didn’t have bunks). Darrow sat in a chair by the bed. There was another chair, but Hoy and Reuel looked at each other and came to an unspoken agreement they were better off standing to attention. They weren’t sure how much trouble they were in.
'Stand easy,' said Darrow. 'I want a full written report from you all as usual, so give me the key points for now. First of all, what went wrong?'
There was an awkward silence.
Parks coughed. 'It was my fault, sir. We managed to find out there was a stir on at a security building and went to investigate. There was definitely something going on… but I asked the wrong person. He turned out to be an off duty security guy. That’s how we got arrested.'
'Did you find out anything at all?' Darrow asked.
'Nothing concrete, sir,' Hoy said, 'but I would say the rumour the Bokans have got something is true. Whether it's a weapon, I don’t know. They were shipping in all sorts of people. I recognised Jernatha, the chief Bokan scientist, and I overheard some talk about a psychologist.'
'Psychologist?' said Darrow. 'Why would they need a psychologist for a weapon?'
'Something to do with our new guest Tanu, I think,' said Parks. 'The guy who questioned me was talking about a psychological report when they took me in the second time.' He shuddered, and Darrow laid a hand on his shoulder.
'We’ll talk about that later. What do you know about this Tanu?'
Reuel spoke up. 'He told us his name was Tanu, sir, of the family of Pe'Rod.' He frowned. 'I would guess that makes Pe'Rod his surname. He said he was an explorer. That is all I am afraid. He was in quite a state. He did not understand what was happening most of the time.'
He paused, and remembered something. 'Oh Captain, I do not know if it is important, but I think the Bokans were trying to get him to do something. He kept on saying "I can’t".'
'And why did you bring him with you? What do you expect me to do with him?'
Now it was Reuel's turn to look uncomfortable. His spines trembled. 'I am sorry, sir, it did not seem right to leave him behind. You saw what they did to him. And Lieutenant-Commander Hoy had no trouble carrying him, sir, he did not slow us down. Leaving him behind would have been cruel.'
'I agreed, Captain.’ Parks added. ‘After getting a taste of their treatment, I couldn’t have left him. Once he’s better we can drop him off somewhere.'
'That might not be so easy.' Darrow muttered. He looked up at Hoy and Reuel. 'OK, you two can go. I want those reports by 1300 hours - and I want individual accounts, not a combined collusion.'
'Yes sir.' They both looked relieved. They saluted and left.
Darrow turned back to Parks, and his voice softened. 'I’m sorry old friend, but I need to know what you told them under questioning …'
Darrow put through a call to his commander, Commodore Michel. When Michel answered, the video feed showed a human in his late fifties, with sandy hair that had yet to turn grey, and a slim build. Moving to a desk job had not blunted the edge of his fitness.
'Captain Joseph Darrow reporting sir. Request a secure line.'
'One moment.' Michel set up the security. 'Line secure. I assume this is a report on your mission to Boka?'
'Yes sir. My men were captured but revealed nothing under interrogation. They escaped and made it back to the Kestrel, but we were pursued. Our story is that we were only at Boka to drop off a party of sociologists, which was the landing party's cover story. The pursuing ships didn't even contact us, they just attacked. We succeeded in crippling the ships and escaping, but I don't know if Boka will track us and attack again.'
Michel frowned. 'That is unfortunate to say the least. But there was always the risk your men might be discovered. We need to do some damage limitation. The Alliance talks are precarious enough as it is, these Bokans are a suspicious lot. Now they know we've been spying on them.'
'Not really, sir. They know we dropped off some sociologists and helped them escape after they were arrested. There is no evidence otherwise. It seems to me there might be some truth in this rumour about a secret weapon, for them to react in such an aggressive manner. My men feel there was definitely something going on, which is possibly why they were arrested so quickly, because they were strangers.'
'Thank you, Captain. I will instruct the negotiators to stick with that story and challenge the Bokans over their extreme reaction.'
'There is one other thing sir. Our engines were damaged in the attack and we're heading to Caspar for repairs.'
Michel winced. 'Not a good idea. Is there nowhere else you can go?'
'I'm afraid not. The Casparans will want to know how the damage occurred. I can't mention the Bokans - the Casparans are almost as touchy as the Bokans. Can I tell the Casparans it's classified?'
'No, Captain. There can't be any hint of your mission. You'll have to be creative. Stray space debris, perhaps. Thank you for your report.'
'Yes sir. Darrow out.'
Darrow cut the connection and scowled. Get creative, indeed. Now who do I know on Caspar, he thought, who might be able to pull some strings? He had an idea. He searched through his old incoming messages until he found the one he wanted. A personal request from Prime Minister Barok to call on him if he was ever on Caspar. The Prime Minister’s son had died on the Kestrel’s previous mission. He replied, and hoped he was doing the right thing.
Tanu screamed. Dr Nefar came running, dishevelled from sleep. Tanu was scrabbling to reach between his shoulder blades. He twisted and turned, desperate to reach his back. Dr Nefar took hold of his arms and held him down.
'Tanu! Tanu! Wake up! You are safe!'
Tanu opened his eyes and looked wildly about. Then he focussed and looked at Nefar. He relaxed and started to cry.
'I know what they did to you, but you are safe now. They will never come near you again.' Nefar reached over to a nearby cabinet where he had a sedative prepared. He pressed it to Tanu's neck and helped him get comfortable. 'You need to sleep to regain your strength. Be calm, all is well.'
Tanu closed his eyes and Nefar headed back to his own bed in his cabin off sick bay. He must talk to Tanu tomorrow about his experiences with the Bokans. Teach him to deal with it and put it behind him. As he climbed back into bed his mind went to Commander Parks. He still had a haunted look, though physically he was well on the way to recovery. He must talk to Parks too.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz