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  12:00:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2981 words  
Categories: Nexus


?Private Dickbite.? Williams approached me on the bridge; he didn?t seem enthused that I remembered his name. A few weeks had passed since we?d fired the first volley of sensor pods.


?It?s Ensign.?


?Ensign Dickbite, then. Wait, I didn?t demote you? I should probably make a note of that.? That same anger from before, but this time he caught it, took a breath. ?Only kidding, Williams. McCain says you?ve made progress.?


He was sheepish. He?d probably forgotten I had access to his psych files. ?Yes.?


?Nothing to be shy about. Every man wrestles with his demons. No shame in having them, only in giving in.?


?Thank you, sir.?


?Now what?d you need??


?EngDiv wanted me to let you know they?ve tested all my environmentals: work station and living quarters, as well as recreational areas. Nothing for me to blame my outburst on. Just a crappy attitude. What I don?t understand is why, since he works on the bridge, he had me come up here to hand-deliver the information to you.?


?Probably so I could call you ?Private Dickbite.??


?Ah. So this was all part of my rehabilitation, then.?


?That certainly sounds less callous and abusive than the alternative. So we?ll say that?s it.? He stared at me dumbfounded for a moment, then, realizing it was far less frightening to be serving under a Captain with a dark sense of humor than a genuine sociopath, smiled like an idiot. ?But yours is the eggiest head currently on my bridge. Care to sit in on this??


SciDiv continued with his briefing. ?We?ve received back out first sensor pods. Planets are lifeless, though scans indicate that it was the site of a Roanoke.?


?A Roanoke?? asked Williams.


?Abandoned or lost colony. Buildings, signs of a settlement, but no people.?


?So we?re on course for,? I hesitated, ?fuck, what?s the name of the next habitable planet??


?It?s in the NGCs, I think.?


?Right. Whoeverthefuck cares. We?ll give it a proper name once we?ve got sensor information back, have a guess as to what we?re looking at. In the meantime, we?re still a good .16 lightyears from Tuscaroras- on account of the Roanoke.?


?You know that seems cute, now,? Dave said, ?but think in fifty to a hundred years when likeminded captains try to be clever across the galaxy, and we end up with fifty different Tuscaroras.?


?Mine will be special; it?ll be the one with the whores.? 


?You keep saying that, and I keep telling you that decreeing it in executive memos you send me from the toilet doesn?t actually make laws, or ensure that the planet will be whore-friendly.?


?Silence, doubting David. We?ve still got another .21 light years until we?re in range of the next planet, though we should be picking up its sensor pod in the next few days. Then we?ll know if we need to reverse the engines.?


Williams spoke up. ?If we?re talking distances, shouldn?t we be using parsecs instead of light-years??


?No,? I corrected him. ?For one, we?re traveling at near-light speeds, so our total travel time is, roughly speaking, one light year per annum. Second, our entire trip will be less than two parsecs. Generally, I prefer meters, but telling a woman I?m packing .15 meters isn?t all that impressive.


?You could always say fifteen centimeters.?


?That sounds like a French lady?s ring-size. There isn?t much room for inches in science, but there?s even less room for science in my pants.?


A notification flashed across my eyescreen. I answered the call, and the SecOff Williams had verbally bludgeoned appeared in the corner of my vision. She looked better, and younger, without the tears or emotional distress. Her name was printed in a font that grew when I paid attention to it, then receded. Miranda, V. She was noticeably trying to be cold and efficient; I imagine she wasn?t pleased I?d seen her vulnerable.


?Sir, we have a fatality, in the barracks. Footage and scene indicates a suicide. Baker, Brian Phillip, Sergeant.? 


I was numb when I said, ?Excellent work, officer,? but she was relieved enough not to notice.


?Thank you sir,? she said, and was gone.


?Something I have to take care of,? I muttered, and wasn?t sure anyone heard me. I dialed in a call as I walked off the bridge. ?Maggie, have you heard about Baker?? 


?Yeah. They call me first any time there?s bloodshed. I?ve been combing over his psych file the entire time they were investigating the scene. I don?t have a formal report yet, obviously, but I can give you my impressions.?


?Go ahead, then.?


?Brian Phillip Baker. Was in the midst of a sexual identity crisis. Put in a request for a sexual characteristics transfer.?


?You mean a sex change, don?t you??


?Yes, and no. The technique is similar to the civilian procedure, only such a thing isn?t allowed on ship. You remember when we were all first up for a posting on the Nexus- they had us all tested for genetic and personality compatibility? Of course you do. You are aware that as the head of PsychDiv I?m flagged when anyone, officers included, religiously check their bio/psych compatibility listings, right? Or when you link from there directly into my dossier??


?Are you saying I?m bordering on electronically stalking you??


?Not entirely. Bit of a gray area, there. But we can talk about your burgeoning digital codependence officially later. The reason our on-board sex characteristics transfer is different is that we can?t leave any genetic material on the table. Long-term- and I?m speaking in generational terms, here- diversity and viability on the genetic scale depends on having as many genomes in the mix as possible.?


?So our surgery does most of the same things, altering genitalia and appearance. It also involves a hormone-secreting implant. But the difference is that the testes are repositioned into the abdomen. They?re sequestered by a small dialysis device that keeps hormones from interfering in either direction, it?s really just a more strict version of the blood-testies barrier that all men have.?


?The what??


?Sperm cells are divergent enough from other body cells that they can cause an immune reaction. Your body would attack your testes if they weren?t kept separate from the blood. But basically, he?d still be producing sperm. There?s two potential options for harvesting haploid cells at that point, a reservoir with, for lack of a better term, a spigot, or a jab with a needle.?


?That?s disturbing.?


?What?s disturbing is we?ve all agreed, in advance, to these things. It?s in our employment contract. Of course, on the flipside, this kind of operation is prohibitively expensive in civilian life. So it isn?t all without benefits. And I did notice this. A portion of his file is sealed under executive level authority, and records indicate you?ve been through that information. I don?t need you to unlock it, just, is there anything in it I should know??


?He was my cousin.? My door slid open, and there was a long moment where the ship didn?t turn on the lights inside; it seemed to, like me, not know whether I was going in.


?Oh. I?m sorry.? She paused a moment; I couldn?t tell if it was a professional courtesy, or if she was measuring my reaction. ?Anything else that might be clinically relevant??


I plopped down on my bed; my whole body was heavy. I felt dead myself. ?Off the top of my head? He had divergent sexuality, questioning, I think is the term they prefer. But he signed an affidavit agreeing to contribute to in vitro if he decided to be gay. I don?t think he was going back on any of that.?


?Wait, here?s something. He was into one of those social role-playing games, but he was spending a greater amount of time in it- nearly double the average. That?s a marker for dissociating identity. And he was coming up for a mandatory profile review in a couple of months. We probably would have flagged him.?


?I wouldn?t assume that?s coincidental. He must have known how he felt, and how it would look. The review put a ticking clock to his decision.?


She sighed, and it came over breathy and heavy in my cochlear implant. ?I hate this. Feeling like I could have done something- maybe even like I should have. He was so close. We could have-? she sighed again, but this time it was lighter, and it made me feel, for a moment, lighter, too. ?But I guess that was the point. He didn?t want to be helped, anymore. Whatever he was struggling with- he wanted to be done with it. Look, I should get back to this. I?ll let you know if I find anything else useful. Do you want to be CCed on my write-up?? 


?No. I imagine it?ll be synthed into Elle?s incident report, and probably addendumed to it; if I need a copy after I know where to find you.?


I wasn?t completely honest with Maggie. I guess, if you parsed it, I hadn?t lied to her, either. But I hadn?t told her everything. He?d tried to kill himself once before. It stayed out of his folder, because his family took care of it privately. Which was more expensive, but keeping a suicide off his record saved his career. It was certainly the only reason he ever made it into consideration for the Nexus.


I wasn?t captain, then, just part of the executive committee managing staffing. I was one of the people, half of whom were now Div heads, who considered him for an engineering slot. He was on the bubble. I didn?t push him over, so much as not push him off. Maybe I should have.


But I?m lousy at second-guessing. I didn?t want to go to the scene (I?m not that stupid), but I couldn?t just stay locked in my room, staring at the wall. I called SecDiv. Elle?s portrait flashed up immediately, too fast for a human to answer; she must have macroed me, assuming I?d call her eventually. ?What can you tell me about the suicide??


?Still compiling, and its early into the investigation. But I walked the scene myself. Sorry about throwing the meat at you, earlier, but she?s been wobbly since the confront with Williams. Talking to the Captain seems to have hardened her back up a bit.?


?This is all prelim- report?ll come after we?ve had a chance to analyze and verify, but I can give you my gut-read. He was careful, and cautious. Put his BioMonitors in test so the ship wouldn?t flag him as dead. Used the just the right cocktail of drugs and chemicals to make it virtually impossible to transplant him with clone organs. But, and here?s where it?s strange, he was also specific in using drugs and chems we could either harvest back out of him afterwards, or can reproduce with relative ease in the BacFarm. He wanted to be sure he was gone, but? he wanted to make sure that nobody was going to be inconvenienced by his death.?


?Except of course whomever he pumped for information on how to kill himself thoroughly.?


?You think he had help??


?I think the system would have flagged him as a suicide risk if he?d started querying for clean means of offing himself using only available material. And he wasn?t medical himself, which meant he talked to somebody who was. We?ll get a SecDet to look into it. We?ll want whoever it was to have a sit-down with Maggie. And in the meantime, I?ll have to figure out an engineering schedule that?ll keep us on our targets without impeding anybody who needs to mourn the loss of their colleague.?


?HR can probably handle it, or the EngDiv. Or are you just trying to keep your hands busy??

?That wasn?t an oblique reference to masturbation, was it??


?You were a prolific masturbator while we were dating, but no. I understand the need to tinker. I remember after Dalaxia. We didn?t stop screwing for a week. Unless you count passing out due to dehydration. Which was a little awkward, since the medics kept coming in to give us fluids while we were in an unconscious, naked embrace. You?re smiling. That?s good.? She didn?t tell me how unsettling I was when I was upset, but I remembered she didn?t like it.


?You naked always made me smile.?


?Past-tense? Because I have to say it?s only gotten better.? One of the SciTechs bumped into her, and for the first time I realized she was back in the barracks, still at the scene, and how awkward that really was.


?I should go. It?s a mad house, and apparently I?m the one who?s supposed to be in charge.?


I did a quick comparative analysis on EngDiv shift changes. It gave me an idea of who preferred to work with Baker- Brian. I started to build a schedule where those who spent the most time with him on shift got the most time off. I was still engrossed when I was interrupted by a call from EngDiv. ?You?re monkeying with my schedules.?


?That?s because you?ve got a hole in your duty roster.?


?And you?re a bull in my China shop. Raw numbers aren?t enough to massage the schedule, though I can start from where you?re leaving off. But you can?t put Perkins on duty. I know they didn?t work shifts together, but they were outside work-friends. She called off this morning, emotional distress, after she heard about Baker.?


?Yeah. I?m obviously out of my depth, here. I?ll leave you to it, then.?


I sent SecDiv a memo for the SecDet, to have a hard look at Perkins. I was focusing hard enough on the memo, sparse as it was, I didn?t notice somebody at the door. Suddenly it slid open from a Div-level emergency bypass.


Maggie stood in the hall. She was a physically stunning woman, something I occasionally lost track of, since most of the time I only saw her on the screen in the corner of my eye. ?Doc.?


?Really, I try for our first few months to get you to call me by anything other than my first name, but now, when I?m walking into your cabin, at least technically off duty, you want to be formal. Or is that just an attempt to keep me at arm?s length. Now that you feel vulnerable, you want to make sure I don?t get too close.?


?You can get into my head or into my room, but only one at a time.? I wanted to add a side option of getting into my pants, but had just enough trouble navigating the subtleties of humor and sexual harassment that the moment passed without it.


?You?re right. I?m not here to examine your head, though I think there?d be fair precedence for me to consider doing so. I?m here in case you need to talk. Professionally, or otherwise.? She sits down on my bed, close enough that her leg brushes mine. It?s the first time there?s been anything past casual contact between us, and it distracts me; I embrace the distraction.


I try to kiss her, awkwardly, fumblingly, like a teenager who for the first time had a pretty girl sit on the edge of his bed. I think she recognizes it, too, but lets it happen anyway- at least for a moment, before pushing me away.


?If you ask me to a proper meal, I may say yes. But I will not be your rebound fling.?




?Well, let?s see. There?s a death in your family you?re trying to avoid. And Elle. It?s nice that you?ve dropped the ?T? from it every time you mention her; it sounds like an actual name, rather than an initial, or half a title. But you?re trying to keep her at arms length, too. And I don?t have access to your recent psych work-ups- clearance again- but if I had to guess, you weren?t alone when you decided to captain the Nexus; you left somebody behind. You have things to work through, and professionally I?m available to you, but personally, well, that?s an entirely different conversation.?


?And I also won?t be so easily deflected. I?m not here to crawl around inside your brain. If that?s what you?d like, I?m happy to listen. It?s the one part of my job that?s still fulfilling. But before we say anything else, you need to recognize one thing, and if I could sit down with every single member of your family planetside I would, because they need to know the same damn thing: it wasn?t your fault.?


?No. I know.? I didn?t kill him. I just made it easier for him to die. He?d tried to kill himself once before. I thought bringing him aboard- I don?t know what I thought. But taking him away from his family, whatever support structures he had in place on-world. I?d contributed, at least.


She got up, walked over to where I had m liquor, and poured a couple of glasses. ?You really should be resting. Take the rest of the day off.? She handed a glass to me and I killed it in a swallow. She handed the other to me, and she was so close to me, her lips were so close to mine, I thought maybe she?d changed her mind. ?Doctor?s orders,? she said, and handed the other glass to me, and left.

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