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06 : In The Doghouse

At 09:00 hours on the next day, Lt. Sampar was brought back to the sickbay, where Lt. Draxt had been kept overnight. Captain Fregath and her senior command officers were already there when Sampar arrived. The captain was wearing her most severe Dragon Lady face. Commander Tarn-Verat was also adding his disapproval but Second Officer Orcand was wearing his normal, neutral expression. The group gathered around Draxt's bed. He was lying at an approximation to a position of attention, probably by accident.
   "You have a choice, gentlemen," the captain told the prisoners. "You can opt for a court martial when we get home and spend the rest of the trip in the brig, or you can accept my field punishment."
   "I see no point in hanging around, Captain," said Sampar. "We should get it over with."
   Draxt nodded careful agreement.
   "Duly noted, the prisoners accept the captain's field punishment," Sub-Commander Orcand said in a formal tone.
   "Would you accept Mr. Orcand as your Prisoner's Friend or would you prefer someone else?" the Captain added.
   "I shouldn't think there's anyone more qualified to look after a prisoner's legal rights, Captain," said Sampar.
   "Very well. I'd like to hear your side of things, gentlemen," said the captain. "I think I've heard every other side by now," she added with a touch of weariness.
   Lt. Max Sampar had prepared a lengthy speech of justification. Sub-Commander Orcand noted in passing that Sampar argued the indefensible with some skill and he made no attempt to pretend that he had not deliberately disobeyed his captain's orders. He also insisted that the mission had been his idea after hearing the details of the colony's plight from Qasin Tamar.
   "What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Draxt?" Captain Fregath managed to combine severity with an air of greater weariness, as if expecting another long lecture on her failings.
   "Just a quick proposition, Captain," Draxt said, to her surprise. "Quote: 'In order for tyranny to flourish, it is necessary only for good men to do nothing.' We chose to take action. The results of which are now plain to everyone. And there were no pressed men on the rover, Captain. We all knew what we were getting in to."
   "You defied the chain of command, Lt. Draxt."
   "Yes, sir."
   "You admit it?"
   "There's no point in denying it, Captain."
   "We've heard Mr. Sampar's reasons, why did you do it?"
   "It was the lesser of the evils on offer, sir. Embarrassing my commanding officer, for which I apologize, versus letting the idiots running Vrhad kill everyone living there."
   "Or getting yourself killed if your deflector modifications had failed sooner," said the first officer.
   "The theory suggested the system would hold out long enough, sir. And we took it as a given you'd shoot to disable when our deflectors went down. If only for the pleasure of seeing us stand in front of a court martial - which seems to have been a miscalculation on our part. The way we didn't anticipate Star Dancer's increased disruptor yield."
   "Yes, the way you resisted the full augmented disruptor power in just a rover made us quite glad you're still on our side," said the captain. "It's customary for the Prisoner's Friend to make a plea of mitigation. Do you want to spend some time discussing it?"
   "I should think Mr. Orcand came prepared, Captain," said Sampar. "I doubt whether talking it over will do anything other than waste time."
   "Very well. Mr. Orcand?"
   "Captain, there are times when a state sends out agents to perform a desirable action in another state," said the second officer. "Usually, on an unofficial basis. And if they are caught, it is customary to let the host state punish the agents. And then they are retrieved quietly when the dust dies down. I would suggest the circumstances of Mr. Draxt and Mr. Sampar's actions are broadly similar."
   "Except the locals would probably award these two a medal and a pension apiece rather than lock them up," said the captain.
   "Perhaps you'd care to bear that thought in mind when you decide their fate, Captain," said Orcand.
   "Maybe they'll agree to swap the medals and the pension for the price of a rover," Sampar said thoughtfully.
   "I think you'll find that levity isn't calculated to improve my mood, Mr. Sampar," the captain said with a Dragon Lady glare.
   "In conclusion, I'd like to stress that their actions had an outcome which was of great benefit to the locals, Captain," the first officer added. "Not to mention the benefit to ourselves of their improvements to the rover deflector systems. I should also mention that they sent us a data stream on the performance of their deflectors under fire as a precaution in case their rover was destroyed; demonstrating, I would suggest, that their disobedience did not go as far as disloyalty. And if they'd been wrong about the self-repair mechanism, all they would have done is blast a small hole in the planetoid at no risk to its occupants."
   "Thank you, Mr. Orcand." The captain frowned at the prisoners. "I spent a long time thinking about your fate last night, gentlemen," she said, "and I haven't heard anything to modify my conclusions. I accept that you had fairly noble motives for what you did and that no harm would have come from your actions. Nevertheless, you chose to defy my orders and you know the sky has to fall because of that. You're both reduced in the ranks to brevett, effectively immediately. And you will be moved to appropriately smaller quarters."
   Sampar put on a pained expression.
   "Mr. Sampar," the captain continued, "I'm assigning you to the task of modifying the rest of the rovers to achieve your deflector improvements when you're not needed for helm, simulator-training and rover-flying duties. You can expect to have very little free time in the future while you teach our other pilots everything about the new systems and the tactics you developed."
   "Yes, Captain." Sampar looked like a man who was getting more or less what he had expected.
   "Mr. Draxt, the doctor tells me you're too battered to work but not sick enough to require constant medical supervision. You will be confined to your quarters on basic rations until you're passed fit for duty. And like Mr. Sampar, you'll be given plenty to do to occupy our time when you recover. Which will include quite a lot of night duty and other unpopular but necessary tasks. Any questions?"
   "No, sir," the newly demoted brevetts replied.
   "Does either of you wish to lodge an appeal against sentence?" said Sub-Commander Orcand.
   "No, sir," the prisoners said in chorus.
   "Very well, Mr. Sampar, report to the rover hangar and be prepared to get your hands dirty," said the captain. "Mr. Draxt, report to your new quarters, when they've been assigned, until further notice."
   The captain and her first officer headed back to the bridge, leaving Second Officer Orcand to install Brevett Draxt in his reduced circumstances.
   "Comments?" the captain said to Commander Tarn-Verat when they were alone in a stretch of corridor.
   "A high degree of pragmatism in your punishment, Captain," the first officer acknowledged.
   "Well, we agreed last night, Clivv," the captain said with a laugh, "having them shot wasn't on."
   "It certainly makes more sense to have them doing useful things rather than sitting in the brig under guard."
   "That's what I thought. And it's entirely possible that Mr. Draxt will come up with another brilliant idea while he's vegetating in his quarters, reflecting on his sins."
   "You don't think confining them to the brig for even a token period would serve a useful political purpose, Beril?" the first officer asked. "I'm thinking of the reaction from the governors of Osirlanding. I don't think they'll be handing out any medals."
   "I think it would serve the interests of the ship more if Mr. Sampar helps to make the rest of our rovers more resistant to weapons fire. As for Mr. Draxt, I don't think it matters to him where he does his thinking. And as I said, confining him to his quarters means we don't have to have someone watching him sitting in the brig, thinking."
   "An enlightened approach to the reform of offenders, indeed. I think I'd probably have locked them up for a while. If only to show the rest of the crew that they're not getting away with it and to prove to the people on the planetoid that we believe in discipline."
   "I think our two former lieutenants are in no doubt that they'll stay in the dog house for a long time and they haven't got away with it. As for opinion down on Osirlanding, I'm going to tell the governors what I've done about Draxt and Sampar, but I'm not sure who I expect to see sitting in the governor's chair."
   "Yes, things do seem to be in a bit of an uproar down there," said the first officer. "It'll be interesting to see how things work out."

Brevett Max Sampar found himself in the unaccustomed position of being a bit of a hero. Naturally, he thought that all pilots have a heroic streak but he was not used to others agreeing with him. Surviving the full power of Star Dancer's weapons for long enough to save Osirlanding from the folly of its governors had made a positive impression on the crew once the full extent of the modifications to their rover was known.
   Some of the crew were also impressed that Sampar had dared to oppose the captain's authority, even if he had done so on a moral issue which had not involved the ship's safety.
   Lt. Merrith was used to living in his colleague Korolas Draxt's shadow. He found himself enjoying being the top dog among the mathematicians and he threw himself into the task of developing the theory behind Draxt's work on the rover's deflectors to find out how the system could be scaled up to a vessel of Star Dancer's size.
   Brevett Draxt found himself quartered in what seemed like the outer reaches of C-Deck. He was used to living next to the lift and being able to reach Deflector Control on D-Deck in moments. His former, lieutenant's, quarters lay on Star Dancer's perimeter, next to the inner layer of the triple hull. Having one wall of his quarters which curved inward seemed normal to him. The reduced floor space of a brevett's quarters made the curvature seem much more pronounced, however.
   Draxt had tided up his former quarters before Rover Four's final mission, acknowledging that he might not survive it, which meant that service technicians were able to install him in his new quarters simply by moving interchangeable modular storage units. Once in his new room, Draxt felt too lacking in energy to tackle anything more energetic than finding out how comfortable a brevett's bunk could be.
   Confined behind an unlocked door with most of his access to the ship's systems switched off, Draxt gazed in outrage at the first meal of his 'basic rations' regime. The catering officer, Lt. Metzreg, had chosen to give him r'vode served up in an 'interesting' way - as the basis of a nourishing vegetable stew.
   Draxt placed an angry call to the catering department when the steward left with his untouched meal. He demanded bread and water, plus vitamin supplements, as an alternative basic diet. Metzreg called him picky in a way which told Draxt that r'vode was still on the menu as it was the most plentiful foodstuff on the ship.
   Draxt thought the problem through after breaking the connection. He realized that he could either eat something which he loathed or he could starve and do himself personal injury. There had to be a third course of action but he was feeling too angry to think of one.

Captain Fregath found herself speaking to a new, younger governor of the Osirlanding colony at her next electronic contact with the administrators, but not until three days after what had become known officially on Osirlanding as The Repair Mission. Governor Garth Orin invited a delegation from Star Dancer to attend a reception at the parliament building in the afternoon. He also mentioned that the colony's automatic self-repair system seemed to have gone back into hibernation after finishing its work.
   The Old Guard had resigned en masse and the colony was to have an election in about four weeks' time. The New Guard of 'progressives' had formed a caretaker administration and they were being very cautious, knowing that the Old Guard were waiting for them to make a wrong decision, which would prove that they were incompetent and unfit for office.
   Captain Fregath warned Governor Orin, while having a private word with him, that it would be a bad idea to make too complete a break with the past. The Old Guard had blundered badly over the issue of the atmosphere containment system, but they had got a lot of other things right.
   The leader of the New Guard said that he would take her comments under advisement. Captain Fregath resigned herself to having her opinions filed and forgotten. She could see that the mood of change at Osirlanding was driven more by politics than science. The colonists had been letting the Old Guard get on with running the place for years. Now, they were no longer quite so content to let others make decisions without consulting the people at large. The colonists were asking more questions and demanding complete answers.
   The New Guard, Captain Fregath expected, would have a pretty bumpy ride until things settled down again at Osirlanding.
   The main business of the reception was to offer thanks to Star Dancer for helping Qasin Tamar, who was now an acknowledged local hero, to kick-start the valley's self-repair system and to offer a locally built rover to the ship as a replacement for the one lost on the mission. A generous supply of luxury goods, which the captain had felt unable to buy in the first round of trading, was also included in the package.
   Captain Fregath managed to make a graceful speech of acceptance when she had recovered from her surprise at acquiring the new rover. As the skipper of a deep space exploration vessel, she had received more diplomatic training than was usual for a Spacefleet commanding officer. She knew how to put together a speech which said the right things.
   Aboard Star Dancer, Brevett Max Sampar had to put up with everyone asking him if getting a new rover meant that he didn't have to pay for the one which he had destroyed. As far as Sampar was concerned, the new craft should have been named after him rather than just labelled 'Rover 4a'. Sampar knew that he would have to wait a long time before he was allowed to fly the latest addition to the rover fleet on anything other than a training mission.
   Lt. Merrith had completed his analysis of the data on how the enhanced deflectors had performed under battle conditions; the data which Korolas Draxt had sent back to Star Dancer during The Repair Mission. Merrith had reached the conclusion that a direct scale-up from a rover to a vessel of Star Dancer's size was not a practical proposition. The mother ship's deflectors could be enhanced but devising the method would take a lot more analysis, thought and testing.
   In the meantime, while the former Lt. Draxt had been content to operate a rover's enhanced deflectors on the basis of his own calculations, Star Dancer's engineers took a more practical approach to new technology. They believed in conducting lots and lots of testing before they released something on which lives could depend, which was why Max Sampar was flying endless trial missions in the rover simulators to test new deflector programming and new equipment profiles.

07 : Switched Off

Dr. Percey had been kept busy by the demands of resupplying the ship, attending to the crew's usual ailments and attending social functions. He had almost forgotten about Korolas Draxt - but the ship's computer had an infallible memory for routine appointments. The doctor decided to pay a house call on Draxt, expecting to find him eager for company and even more eager to escape the cell-like confines of a brevett's quarters.
   The doctor was surprised to find that Draxt seemed not at all bored by his own company and he was baffled by the fact that his patient's injuries showed little sign of healing after five days. The doctor's reaction to that was to have Draxt rushed to the sickbay for tests. After some thought, the patient worked out why he was giving the doctor so much trouble. Unfortunately, the reason involved personal embarrassment and he felt reluctant to share it.
   Draxt had been browsing through the ship's library while thinking about his possible Third Way of survival, which had to avoid both eating r'vode and damaging his body by not eating. A vague idea had led him to a section on survival techniques. He had been denied access to many areas of the ship's records but he had not been cut off from the basics, including Spacefleet's regulations and training manuals.
   While skimming essentially dull volumes, Draxt had recovered a memory of Second Officer Orcand talking about a meditation technique, which was recommended as a last resort when someone was stranded and his/her air, water, food or a combination was running out. Orcand was a student of meditation techniques and he had issued a warning about this method which, if taken to an extreme, could shut the human body right down to the bare fringes of life.
   Draxt had been quite surprised at how effective the relatively simple technique had proved in his own case. It had made hour upon hour fly by during his period of confinement in his quarters. Now, of course, in the sickbay, he knew that he had been switching his body off so effectively that it had been at 'full speed' for just a few hours over his four days of confinement - mainly when he had accepted meals from one of Metzreg's stewards and put them into the disposal system when he had found that they were just r'vode done another 'interesting' way.
   There had also been a daily check by the security staff at 13:00 hours to make sure that he had not killed himself. Knowing the routines of his callers, Draxt had been able to program himself to be alert for a matter of minutes at the proper time before switching himself off again. As he lay on an examination bed in the sickbay with the doctor fussing over him, Draxt calculated that it was over five days since he had eaten anything and yet he wasn't feeling hungry at all.
   "This is baffling," Dr. Percey said to his monitoring instruments. "You've not got a stasis chamber in your quarters?"
   "Is there room for one of those in a brevett's quarters?" Draxt replied, not answering the question.
   "Oh, yes." The doctor inspected Draxt's revised badges of rank.
   "Personally, I put it down to r'vode poisoning," Draxt added.
   "Baffling," the doctor told the monitoring instruments, not really interested in Draxt's views on the matter. "The bed over in the corner is yours. The rules are you're either in bed or you're up, dressed and using the chairs."
   "No lounging about on the beds like someone in a civilian sanatorium," said Draxt.
   "Quite. And don't wander around and get under anyone's feet. You're here to get well. Okay?"
   "Yes, Doctor." Draxt took his recently unused PDL out of his pocket as he headed for the chair in his bedspace and wondered which of his outstanding mathematical problems had the highest priority.

In sickbay, Draxt found to his delight that he could chose his own diet, within the limits of basic rations, and he had the freedom to use most of Star Dancer's systems when the medical staff were not looking. His only serious problem was boredom. He was unable to access the raw data held in Deflector Control, which meant doing anything new was out of the question and he found that he had little enthusiasm for pushing on with work in progress.
   Dr. Percey made him undergo so many tests that Draxt decided to share his secret on the morning of his fourth day in sickbay. He was beginning to worry that the doctor would never let him out again. Sub-Commander Percey stared at him in outrage when Draxt asked if using an advanced meditation technique might be the cause of the problem.
   "You do know that seventy-one per cent of the people who use that emergency survival technique don't wake up on their own?" the doctor said eventually. "And that around forty per cent of all cases die, even if they get medical attention?"
   "I don't remember reading that," Draxt admitted. "I just read up on how to do the process."
   "You're saying you were programming yourself to wake up at specific times just as a means of surviving without having to eat r'vode?"
   "Yes, well. If you can't stand the stuff, it's a reasonable alternative."
   "Hmm. I've been doing some research into that. About seven per cent of the crew find it revolting but harmless and two per cent suffer extreme allergic reactions to it."
   "Really?" Draxt asked with a frown.
   "I suspect it's genetic but I haven't been able to prove it to my complete satisfaction yet," the doctor told him. "You can really switch yourself off for a specific number of hours?"
   "Why would I lie to you about it, Doc?"
   "This is extraordinary. Would you be willing to do it under controlled conditions?"
   "What, with half the sensors in the sickbay plugged in to me?"
   "Probably three-quarters. If we could get some decent data on what the human body does when someone goes into the survival state, we might be able to make it more survivable. You really were doing it over four or five days? Switching yourself off and on again to order?"
   Draxt shrugged. "I was just doing what it said in the official survival manual when food, water, air or a combination are in short supply. Or non-existent when the only food on offer is bockan r'vode. And it worked."
   "What's the time?" said the doctor. "Zero nine fifteen. Could you switch off and tell yourself to switch on again at fifteen hundred, say?"
   "Easily," said Draxt.
   "Okay, let's think about what I can measure. You don't mind doing this?"
   Draxt shrugged again. "I don't have anything else to do. And it passes the time."

Brevett Draxt was released from sickbay as fit for light duties on the day when Star Dancer left orbit around Osirlanding, having spent two eventful weeks there, and resumed the long journey home. Dr. Percey seemed reluctant to let Draxt go but he had a lot of data to study after three days of tests and Draxt would always remain available in Star Dancer's closed community.
   Sub-Lt. Rilla Frand arrived at the sickbay as Draxt was gathering up a few personal possessions in readiness for his return journey to his cramped brevett's quarters. "You look rough," she remarked, taking a carrying case from him.
   "Maybe I should turn round and stay here," Draxt replied.
   "If you think you're going to be cluttering up my sickbay, think again," said Dr. Percey.
   "I suppose it's nice to be unwanted in some places," said Draxt. "Thanks for your hospitality, Doc."
   "Just don't read any more survival manuals, okay?" Dr. Percey said severely as his parting shot.
   "I've been worried about you," Frand said when they were on their way to Draxt's quarters - with Frand taking the lead as Draxt had forgotten where he now lived.
   "I know, I got your messages." Pevel Merrith had tried to smuggle some messages to Draxt while he had been confined to his quarters but his 'switched off' condition had meant that he had not found them until he had been in sickbay for half a day. "Did you get mine?"
   "Yes, but it's not the same as being able to talk to you."
   "Plenty of time for that, I don't go on duty again until tonight."
   "Yes, I know, all the jobs no one wants to do, that's what you and Max will be getting. What Max has been getting."
   "Yes, is that any way to treat heroes?"
   "You should have stayed back on Osirlanding if you wanted to be a hero."
   "Sure! The home of r'vode?" scoffed Draxt.
   "I can't even bear to watch people eat the stuff. I've been living on snacks and eating in my quarters."
   "Sounds a good idea."
   They reached Draxt's quarters and Frand invited herself in. Draxt let her take the chair and perched on the end of the bunk.
   "I've been evaluating our relationship while we've been separated," Frand said, "and we need to think about where things are going. I mean, how much have you been thinking about me?"
   "I've been wondering a lot how to tell you why I didn't warn you about the mission," Draxt admitted.
   "I've been wondering that myself."
   "I guess the truth of it was that it was always Max Sampar's mission. Well, his and that guy from the colony, Qasin. I was just there to make it work. And not telling you meant that if anyone asked afterwards if you had prior knowledge, you could say no and pass a veracity tester."
   "So you were quite happy to leave me right in the dark?"
   "I did record a message for you in case things went terminally wrong."
   "Are you just saying that?"
   "If you really want to embarrass me, you can replay it before I erase it."
   "Why, what does it say?"
   "Basically, I enjoyed knowing you a whole lot and anyone you get seriously attached to is going to be very lucky. And keep up your singing because you've got a great voice."
   "So you didn't think we were having a serious relationship when you made the recording?"
   "The object was to say goodbye and let you down as gently as possible. To leave you thinking you'd lost an acquaintance rather than a soul-mate. You know, the greatest love of your life who's unfortunately dead, to put it bluntly."
   "I think we have a serious relationship going on, Rol."
   "That's a terrifying thought, Ril. Pity my battery's pretty well flat most of the time."
   "I'm sure you'll be back to normal soon," laughed Frand. "Did you hear about the excitement when engineering found one of your encrypted messages to Pev Merrith, which had been copied to them by mistake?"
   "What, was that one saying, 'Help, I'm being held prisoner by a brutal regime which gives me only r'vode to eat instead of food'?"
   "Something like that. I don't think they ever worked out who it was from. Did you know seven per cent of the crew find r'vode totally horrible? It's something genetic, the Doc reckons."
   "Yes, he told me. How did he find it out? I never asked him."
   "After two people went down with allergies to it. He did a study and found this genetic factor. I've got it. I suppose you have, too."
   "I suppose I must have." said Draxt. "So we've got at least one thing in common."

Now on supervised light maintenance duties, Korolas Draxt was free to use the synthesizers and choose his own diet. Following Rilla Frand's example, he opted for snacking and he avoided the mess hall in ordered to be spared the sight of people eating, and apparently enjoying, r'vode. When he happened to meet Catering Officer Metzreg in the later part of a ship evening, two days after leaving Osirlanding, he looked straight through him.
   "Mr. Draxt!" said Metzreg.
   "Sir?" Draxt returned a blank stare.
   "I've not seen you in the mess hall. I thought you'd been locked up."
   "No, sir."
   "I don't know what you're living on but it can't be a proper diet. I want to start seeing you eating proper meals in the mess hall."
   "I'm doing fine on my own, sir."
   "I'll be the judge of that Brevett Draxt."
   "Really, sir? Well, I think you should know that I will not be bullied, blackmailed or starved into eating food I don't find palatable on genetic grounds. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have jobs to do."
   Draxt walked away with a false appearance of purpose, wondering if there was a regulation which required him to eat in the mess hall and how it could be enforced.
   Later, as he sat at a detector station on the bridge in the middle of a ship night, waiting to tell the officer of the watch of any hazards, Draxt had an idea.
   Watching the displays and waiting for alarms which never went off was extremely boring. Draxt checked that no one was looking in his direction, then he began to compose a long message to Rilla Frand. It was something which would entertain them both if she went along with the idea.

A long and boring night shift was coming to an end when a message from the Captain summoned Draxt to her ready room. Captain Fregath was becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of progress with adapting Draxt's deflector enhancements to Star Dancer's system. She had decided to put Draxt on the problem full-time.
   "This is your chance to redeem yourself eventually, Korolas," she said after explaining his new assignment. "Take it."
   "Yes, Captain."
   "Dismissed." The captain returned her attention to the routine reports, which she was tackling at the start of her working day.
   "Sir." Draxt returned to his duty station on the bridge.
   He checked the time when he was back at the detector station. His shift had just five minutes to run. Rather than make a start on the new assignment, he decided to head for his quarters and sleep when the shift ended. Making improvements to deflectors no longer interested him. He had done it at rover level and he was ready for a more fundamental challenge than just repeating the work in another context.

Having very little free time while he was in disgrace, Draxt chose not to do any work on his new assignment before his next spell of duty began. Instead, he opted to spend an hour with Rilla Frand and then devote a further hour to polishing his concerto for human voice and orchestra.
   He spent most of the ship-night in Detector Control checked though Pevel Merrith's calculations and extending his work. In the morning, the captain found him scowling at a sheaf of print-outs, which were covered with comments and equations written in blue and red marker.
   "Progress?" the captain said brightly.
   "Not so's you'd notice, Captain," Draxt said in a neutral tone.
   "Mr. Merrith seems optimistic of cracking the problem."
   "A proposition, Captain. To achieve a scale-up, we'll have to use a radically different approach from the one that I used for the rover."
   "That sounds like you do think beefing up the ship's deflectors is possible, Mr. Draxt."
   Draxt shrugged. "It's the same basic type of deflection system in both cases, Captain. Adapting it to ship scale or rover scale is just a matter of engineering and programming. And working out how to do both of those. Which is complicated by issues such as you can't just divide the size of Star Dancer by the size of a rover and use that as a scaling factor."
   "Time scale? For a useful result?"
   Draxt shrugged again. "Probably months. And probably after we've done a lot more analysis of the information we got from the black hole encounter."
   "Months?" the captain said in dismay.
   "This is not an easy problem, Captain. If it were, we'd have the technology already, given the amount of work on research and development that goes on back home. And you need the right starting point. We were lucky enough to survive our black hole encounter and get good data out of it. But reviewing it will take years. I was just lucky enough to find something that gave me the ideas for the rover modifications. But you really need to be looking on doing the same for a ship of Star Dancer's size as a completely separate problem."
   "Oh, well, do your best." The captain headed for the bridge and the start of another ship's day in a thoughtful mood.
   It was only natural for her to wonder if Draxt, the fallen hero of Osirlanding who was in disgrace, might be dragging his feet deliberately. The captain's problem was that Lt. Merrith always seems impressed by Draxt's ideas and he seemed comfortable with the pace of the work. And he also believed that deflector modifications for a rover and its mother-ship were separate problems.
   Is it just Mathie solidarity? Captain Fregath asked herself. Or am I just expecting too much?
   She had heard Sub-Commander Orcand, an accomplished mathematician in his own right, offer the opinion that while Pevel Merrith was a mathematical prodigy, it was probable that Korolas Draxt was a true genius in the field. On the one hand, the mathematicians were seen as remote beings who had little contact with the real world. On the other hand, Draxt's recent adventure with Sampar, and what seemed like a blossoming relationship with Sub-Lt. Frand, suggested that he wasn't such a cold fish after all and that he might be ruled by deep emotions - such as feelings of resentment.
   The captain realized that she could not order a genius to think to order. All that she could do was give him an assignment and see what developed. And if he said that she was asking the impossible, and his colleague Pevel Merrith agreed with him, then she would just have to accept that she had, indeed, asked the impossible.


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Created for Romiley Literary Circle by HTSP Web Division, 10/12 SK6 4EG, Romiley, GB.
The original story Merik Katuryan, 2002. This version Merik Katuryan, 2005