Conduct Unbecomingby Nina M. Osier
Author Biography: Nina M. Osier started "writing" at the age of
Rik Boehmer is the first Human to leave the ghetto-like enclave on Luna for military service, centuries after the Protectorate took control of Terra. Now the Humans have a plan to take back their world at any cost, and Rik finds himself forced to choose between duty and his love for his family.
Author Biography: Nina M. Osier started "writing" at the age of two, when her parents decided to write down her stories and read them back to her. She is the author of science fiction novels Exile's End, Matushka, Silent Service, and Regs from eBooksOnThe.Net, and Rough Rider from Adventure Books. Tabitha June Is a Shoulder Cat, her first Xlibris book, was written after family and friends repeatedly asked her to write down her extensive repertoire of pet stories. It will soon be followed by SF novels Unfamiliar Territory and Conduct Unbecoming from Xlibris, and Starship Castaways from CrossroadsPub.com. Nina directs the Division of Records Management Services at the Maine State Archives, where she gets some of her best ideas! She lives in a turn-of-the-century Victorian house in Augusta, Maine, where she writes, gardens, and wishes humans didn't have to waste time sleeping. Her home page can be found at http://members.mint.net/mbarron.
- Xlibris Corporation
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.54(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.63(d)
Read an Excerpt
"What happened? Anja, where's Rik?"
Commodore (Retired) Thanta Orwell stirred experimentally in the sickbay bed, and squinted against impossibly bright lighting. The last place she remembered being was dark, and the H'cpt had kept her there for what seemed like a long, long time.
"Commodore, how are you feeling?"
It wasn't the voice she wanted to hear. It belonged, apparently, to a woman in a medical uniform--a woman who had pink skin, a flat-boned face, and gentle hands.
Hands that pressed Thanta down again when she tried to sit up. That was foolish, because she felt fine. Just a little disoriented, maybe, after something had knocked her cold--something she didn't remember.
"I'm okay," she said testily. "Anja! Where is Rik?"
Commander Anja Britton, executive officer of the Protectorate Defense Forces starship Solomons, leaned against the nearest bulkhead and held her arms folded just below her breasts. It was a posture Thanta Orwell had seen Anja Britton use many times before--always when the Patriarca native was trying to carry off a bluff.
Anja couldn't be doing that now. She had no reason, no reason at all, for wanting to deceive Orwell ... did she?
"The captain took your place, Commodore." The medic, who must be largely Charonese if her appearance was anything to go by, answered when Britton didn't. Tartly, as if she found the silence exasperating. "That's how he got you away from the H'cpt."
"What?" Now Thanta did sit up--glaring at the medic as she did so, almost daring the woman to force her down again. This time her head didn't spin. "Commander Britton. Where's Captain Boehmer? And where inhell is the new ambassador? Report, dammit! Now!"
It couldn't be true. The ruling principle of Anja Britton's life was, "Thou shalt accept reality and deal with it, no matter what that means!" Yet this time, she couldn't believe her own memories had happened.
She stared for a moment longer at Commodore Orwell, who'd been her captain in tours of duty gone by. A captain whom Anja both respected and liked; a captain for whom she would, if anyone asked her, have been willing to take considerable personal risk. But hazard Rik Boehmer's life to protect Thanta Orwell's? That Anja would not have done, not under any circumstances.
Which made no difference now. Anja moved to the commodore's bedside, and she sat down there. She said quietly, "Backup's not here yet, Commodore. The Solomons is alone. I'm not sure why the H'cpt decided to hold you, after you called us and requested an early pickup--but Rik offered to take your place when he tried to open hostage negotiations and he got ignored. The H'cpt started paying attention then, and they accepted. So they've got him now. I'm waiting for the new ambassador and the amalgamation team to get here before I do anything else, because that's what Rik ordered me to do." She paused, staring into the older woman's eyes with angry intensity. Then she demanded, "What went wrong down there? What did they want from you, and what are they doing to Rik now that you're safe and he's the one they've got instead?"
Orwell failed to flinch under Britton's accusing stare. That wasn't surprising, of course, if you considered that not so many years ago Orwell was captain to Britton's conn lieutenant--but most people reacted quite differently when Anja decided to glare at them. Patriarca's children tended to be a pugnacious lot, and a first-generation amalgam like Anja was apt to have both a bad temper and a parsec-wide stubborn streak to go with it.
Thanta Orwell, whose ancestors amalgamated into the Protectorate generations ago, had thirty-five years of starship service to help her face Anja down. She also had memories of Anja as a junior officer, and before that as the scared (although still decidedly contentious!) kid whom Rik Boehmer took in hand during the evacuation of survivors from what was left of Patriarca after the rebels were through there.
The H'cpt weren't the first species to decide that they would take almost any risk rather than submit to amalgamation, once they learned what the Protectorate required of its members. The rebels of Patriarca were willing to do whatever it took to cleanse their planet of youngsters like Anja Britton, after all; and there had been movements like theirs on other worlds. But the H'cpt panicked much earlier in the process--and that was Thanta Orwell's fault. This was her mission, her first as a diplomat. A solo diplomat, to a culture on the verge of entering into its initial covenant. Orwell didn't yet know exactly how she had failed, but she knew for sure it had happened.
"Have you had any contact with the H'cpt since Rik went down there?" she demanded of Anja Britton. "And how long is it going to be until help gets here?"
Before Rik's executive officer could reply to either question, the comm whistled. A disembodied voice wanted to know, "Commander Britton? Is Commodore Orwell available yet? There's a H'cpt who wants to speak with her."
"Tell her, him, or it to go ahead," Anja said into the small silence that followed, after she glanced first at the medic--who nodded reluctantly--and then at Orwell.
"Thanta," said someone whose voice the commodore recognized easily, after months of living among the H'cpt. They were beings who used single names and avoided addressing others by titles, and she'd adapted to their ways out of courtesy.
"Yes, H'rck. I'm listening."
"The man who offered to replace you as our messenger is on the flying boat that he used to come here. You may retrieve him now. Good-bye, Thanta. I will not see you again, I think."
"H'rck! Wait!" Thanta found her voice, frantically. Lack of dignity didn't matter right now. "Communications. Get him back! Immediately!"
"I'm sorry, ma'am. No response." From the bridge, from decks above sickbay, came the apologetic reply.
"Britton to ops," Anja snapped, stepping into the situation with confidence now that she knew what needed to be done. "Get a tractor beam on the captain's shuttle, and bring it on board. Stat!"
"Aye, Commander." There was a pause, an endless several minutes during which a small craft on the H'cpt planet's surface was lifted through layers of atmosphere to intercept the starship's orbit. Then, "We've got it on board. But there are no life signs."
"Oh, no." Thanta drew in a horrified breath. She knew, now, what kind of message the H'cpt were sending to the Protectorate's leaders--and what her own fate would have been, if her friend hadn't replaced her.
His family didn't claim his body. That came as no shock to Captain Rik Boehmer's friends and superiors.
No one was surprised, either, when Boehmer's family didn't even acknowledge receiving official notification of his death. Humans, after all, weren't supposed to leave their reservation on Luna except to be educated or for business that could only be transacted on Terra. They certainly weren't supposed to join the Defenders like Rik Boehmer, weren't supposed to take up arms on behalf of a Protectorate whose citizens they referred to with age-old scorn as "mongrels" or "mutants." Or by worse terms still, according to what Rik had told Thanta Orwell.
Of course none of his relatives would be making the shuttle transfer from Luna to attend his memorial service. They'd bludgeoned him into marrying, a decade or so earlier--into taking a female of his own kind and siring offspring, a family that his salary as a senior Defender officer supported generously--but that was where his value began and ended, as far as his society was concerned. To them Rik Boehmer was no hero, now dead in the line of duty. He was someone who'd lived by choice among the monsters, among those Terrans whose ancestors accepted amalgamation.
Why the Protectorate's leaders of long ago permitted Humans--Humans only, out of all known sentients--to maintain an unamalgamated remnant of their species, was lost now to history. What Thanta Orwell did know was that as a Defender who'd helped to put down more than one rebellion, she understood why the Human reservation on Luna could have no counterpart elsewhere.
She didn't understand why Rik had felt any degree of loyalty to his fellow Humans. But his marriage to one demonstrated that he had; and for that reason she was more glad than astonished, when a female whom she recognized from tridee images Rik proudly displayed aboard ships where they'd shared duty entered the local Defender base's chapel at last.
Rik's coffin rested on a bier at the front of that chamber, which was crowded along its walls with symbols of dozens of the Protectorate's assorted faiths. For now just his three closest friends were with him, but in a little while the dignitaries would arrive--such dignitaries as Terra had, anyway. This wasn't an especially powerful Protectorate world nowadays. Yet it was home to Thanta Orwell, and (since Luna wasn't a Protectorate member in its own right) it was also home world of record for Rik Boehmer.
It wasn't that to Anja Britton; or to Thimor, the single-named former ship's surgeon who was the third watcher at the dead man's side. Thimor's substantially Blaintain heritage showed plainly in her softly rounded body structure, and in her eyes that lost all pigmentation from their irises during times of stress.
"Mistress Boehmer?" Human women changed their names when they entered into a matrimonial covenant. Thanta knew that, because Rik had told her.
A cloak concealed the Human woman's body. Her hood was thrown back, though; and it revealed a face that was, by Human standards of attractiveness as Thanta understood them, a lovely one. Lovely, yet care-worn. Tired.
Understandably, since Thanta knew (although the cloak kept her from seeing) that Rik's wife was in the advanced stages of pregnancy. The couple already had two daughters, and soon now Salla Gardner Boehmer would bear Rik a son.
A posthumous son. Thanta couldn't imagine being pregnant, herself; but now she thought that it must be comforting, no matter how uncomfortable otherwise, to feel a loved husband's baby stirring as counterpoint to the sight of his sealed coffin.
The Human woman was paying no attention to the retired commodore in a full dress uniform. Salla Boehmer walked past Thanta, past Anja and Thimor, and stood beside Rik's casket.
Only a full captain or above, a command or flag officer who'd died in the line of duty, rated being brought home for a memorial service. Rik's body had spent the passage from the far-off H'cpt planet in a stasis tube on board the Solomons. Once here he'd been scanned thoroughly by Thimor and her colleagues at the local military hospital, since just how the H'cpt executed him remained a mystery; and then he was sealed up inside that gleaming black coffin, to lie in state until combined fire from his closest comrades' side arms vaporized both casket and corpse at the service's climax.
The others would arrive in just a few minutes, now. The chapel's seating would be filled, Thanta had no doubt, because Rik Boehmer was an easy man to respect--and to love, also. Even though his marriage was an arranged one, she didn't find it odd that Salla Boehmer should defy Luna's customs to come here and say good-bye to what remained of her husband.
The Human woman spat on her husband's coffin. She turned away from it, and stared directly into Thanta Orwell's vertically pupiled eyes.
This was probably the only time in her whole life Thanta had been acutely conscious of her physical differences from a Human female. Her skin was a pale, delicate lilac in color; Salla's was light brown, like that of most Humans now (since racial distinctions had vanished during the first few generations after their retreat to sanctuary on Luna). Salla had hair, long strands of black hair. Thanta's scalp had fur on it, as did other, less obvious parts of her anatomy. Fur, for example, cushioned her pelvic bones whenever she sat down. Fur that once had been deep violet, but now was iron gray.
Salla's limbs had fewer joints than did Thanta's, and the Human's mammary glands (like those of Anja Britton) were housed in fatty globes. Thanta's chest was flat, and her half-dozen nipples undeveloped because she'd never nursed an infant and never would. Thimor was just starting to show mammary development, because Thimor was gestating her own offspring. She and her mate were physically compatible enough so they could do that, conceive without medical intervention and then (since Thimor so chose) bring the youngster or youngsters to term inside the female partner's body.
That was becoming an almost rare thing, in today's Protectorate. It was an ability Thanta didn't envy--she could hardly imagine being capable of bearing live young, as Thimor was doing and as Anja could do if a compatible male caused the pregnancy. Thanta's reproductive system classified her as female, but she'd known since pre-puberty days what she would have to do if she wanted children. She was a true amalgam, her DNA mingling that of so many different species that there was no way new life could ever begin spontaneously inside her body.
That was fine with Thanta. To her it seemed quite normal.
Spitting on something or someone was a gesture that didn't need interpreting. Salla Boehmer said calmly to the three females who stood by in shock and silence, "He's all yours now, Commodore Orwell. He never was mine, anyway! But you knew that, didn't you? Of course you did. I'm the one he made a fool of, every time he touched me."
With that pronouncement, she drew up the hood of her cloak. She walked out of the chapel.
Behind her, her dead husband's three closest friends stared at each other in consternation.
Dark. Airless. Confined. What was this place, where Rik Boehmer was awakening?
He was gasping, and getting nothing to fill his lungs. Nothing that wasn't stale, anyway. He knew oxygen starvation when he felt it, and as always it terrified him. To be without breathable air was one of a veteran starship officer's greatest fears.
He could move, although he couldn't scream. With both hands and both feet (both booted feet--why was he lying in what felt like a bed, with his boots still on?) he battered at the unyielding surface above him, desperately, because it was the only thing he could do that might get him out of wherever this was.
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