I am intimately acquainted with this feeling.
Friday, April 29, 2016
The shipwide meeting took place just after third meal was offered in the dining area. Charge Seren, along with the men who had accompanied him onto Neveah, stood in front of the hundred-plus Travelers and detailed out their days on the new planet.
With help from the men who had been with him, Seren explained the landscape, the foliage, the wildlife, and the dangers. All six men answered questions, and more than once the Charge Pilot had to order the excited crew to calm down so everyone could hear. Almost three hours passed before Seren felt they’d answered all questions they were able to and decided to lay out the final plan for disembarking before dismissing everyone.
“I know that every one of you is curious as to the day we’ll disembark and the manner in which we’ll do so. I want you to know that everyone’s safety is my first priority, and I hope it is yours as well. If we’re all watching out for each other, the likelihood of things going wrong is greatly lessened.
“Now, this is subject to be changed if I find it necessary, but as of now I am making arrangements for the entire crew to disembark three mornings from now.”
He was interrupted by cheers that went on for several minutes. It took effort to bring the roar down to levels where he could be heard, but he understood their happiness.
“I believe three days will give you time to gather what supplies you’ll need for seven days’ worth of travel.”
The earlier noise was replaced with a quiet murmuring of voices that revealed confusion. Seren offered a mild smile and nodded his head.
“To answer the question I know is in your minds, we will not initially be staying in the area around the ship, although we will be returning to it. Our first days on Neveah will be spent walking the area that the team and I explored. We’ll be placing markers as we go. The markers will be color-coded for specific reasons and areas, and I will be sending out a transmission within the next day or so explaining them in detail. However, just so you know up front, there will be places that are initially off-limits. We have much more to learn about this land and we will take the time to learn it, both for ourselves and for our fellow Arlytians who hope to join us here sooner rather than later. But, that doesn’t mean that the initial boundaries we set cannot be expanded. I thoroughly expect them to enlarge as we grow and learn, but I do ask you to be patient. If you have questions or concerns over the course of time, I hope you’ll approach me or another Charge and share them.”
He paused a moment to let his words sink in and take root before continuing.
“Also in the next day, I’ll be sending out a transmission that will inform you of group assignments. To keep confusion at a minimum, we’ll be leaving the ship in six groups of twenty. The order of disembarking will be listed as well. I’ll have leaders appointed within the groups, and each of you will have specific assignments, either given by me or by your group leaders. You are to stay connected with your group throughout our trek. Is that understood?”
A chorus of “Yes Sir” and “Yes, Charge Seren” rumbled around the room.
The Charge Pilot stood tall, looking proud and pleased. “Thank you for your cooperation and patience. You are dismissed.”
The dismissal didn’t happen right away. The Travelers were too excited and wound up to just leave, and many still had questions. Seren did his best to assure and answer what he could, but more questions kept coming and he began to wonder if he’d ever make it to his bed that evening when he unexpectedly found himself being helped through the crowd by Charges Ozias and Cayson. Cayson made general comments to the Travelers about the medical crew needing Seren’s attention for a while, and Ozias walked close by his side, silently acting as a barricade between the Charge Pilot and overexcited crew.
When they were free of the crowd, Seren gave proper attention to Charge Cayson. “What need is there from your medics, Charge Cayson? Is it something to do with being on Neveah?”
“No sir,” Cayson answered immediately. “I hope you’ll forgive us if we’ve stepped out of line, but my medics don’t need you…at least not right this minute. We all do have some questions for a better time. But it’s been more than two hours since the meeting ended and Oz and I just thought you might like to return to your quarters. Amrynn believed that the bulk of the crew would forego their beds tonight so long as they were able to question you. It seemed that it might be best for everyone’s sake if you were able to leave.”
While Seren didn’t quite like having given off the impression that he needed “rescued” from his own people, he could admit to himself that he was grateful for the two men’s aid.
“Thank you both. I hate to leave everyone with unanswered questions, but some things the crew will have to discover on their own.”
The men nodded and Cayson flashed a smile that Seren suspected could bring Oz and Amrynn to their knees. “Discovering things for ourselves is more fun anyway,” he stated.
Seren noticed Ozias’s fingers threading through Cayson’s after the remark, and the action was something the Charge Pilot was pleased to see. It also reminded him of a thought he’d had earlier that day, and he decided to follow through with it.
“I agree with you, Charge Cayson, and I’d like to ask both of you as well as Charge Amrynn to meet with me tomorrow morning. I’d like to discuss something with you. Would the eighth hour work?”
The men looked at each other a moment before nodding in unison. “Yes sir, we can do that. Where shall we meet you?” Oz asked.
“My stateroom would be easiest. I have some things there I’d like to show you. Tomorrow then?”
“Yes sir,” they answered together, and then with respectful nods, the three men parted ways.
Kel, the Charge Nutritionist among the Travelers, groaned as the kitchen’s specialized data unit beeped, alerting him to an order being received. It had been a busy day, busier than others because of the extensive meeting Charge Seren had held in the dining area, which meant that people ordered food they didn’t particularly want because they were there and it was appealing. The crew had finally dispersed and Kel had sent his Backers and helpers to their quarters, promising that he’d do the last of the clean-up for the evening. It was two minutes to the time he locked the doors when the beep sounded, which meant that any Traveler was still within their right to order something. Tired and wanting his bed, he hoped the order was for a morning meal and not a late-night snack. To his unfortunate luck, it wasn’t. In fact, it was more than a snack. The order was for a third-meal.
Grumbling, Kel sent a reply with an estimated arrival time, then set to work making the food. However, in a few minutes his grumbles ceased. Kel enjoyed the ease and creativity that making a meal, particularly a healthy meal, gave him. He could cook for one or for a hundred. He spent his spare times creating recipes, learning from farming and nutrition textbooks, and studying the plants in the Ag unit—Ozias had even allowed him a small patch to tend for himself. He considered himself and his interests simple, even though he’d been told his whole life that he had a brilliant mind when it came to anything food related.
It didn’t take long to make the meal, and Kel wrapped the plate and made sure the ship’s kitchen was neat and clean before heading out to deliver the food. He double-checked the order origin. He wasn’t typically the one who delivered meals, but he had no intention of disturbing one of his Backers to do a task he could easily handle himself. In short order he was at the Traveler’s door and he rapped briskly.
It took a moment for an answer and Kel was about to knock a second time when the door opened. His heart turned over at the sight of the highly attractive but tear-stained face that appeared before him. The lad…and he really didn’t appear much older than a lad…was shirtless with a lithe but toned upper body, and the chest was rising and falling with the effort it was putting forth to breath and not look like its owner had been crying.
Kel forgot about his job and the food in his hand at the sight. “Hey, what’s wrong? Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” the boy told him both insolently and unconvincingly. He wiped roughly at his eyes. “I’m just hungry. Sure took you long enough.”
The tone caused irritation to flare briefly in Kel’s chest, but it quickly dissipated as he recognized the young Traveler’s attempt to distract from his distress.
“I’m sorry for the wait. I was about to lock up when your order came in, so it took a little longer.”
The lad seemed troubled by his answer, his face falling further. “I didn’t know you were locking up. Sorry if I caused you extra work.”
Kel smiled at him, hoping the young man would smile back. “It’s ok…”
His unspoken request was answered when the Traveler almost shyly said, “Corbin. I’m Corbin.”
“I’m Kel, and I’m sorry I haven’t met you before. Looks like you could use a friend right now.”
Corbin shrugged. “I’m ok.”
“You sure? Who’s your roommate? Can you talk to him?”
Corbin wrinkled his nose, a gesture Kel found sweet, although he didn’t know a man on Arlytia who would appreciate that choice of word.
“Marc is with his friends somewhere.”
Kel took that to mean that Corbin and Marc weren’t overly close. “Would you like some company?” he found himself asking. “Eating alone isn’t usually much fun, and you can unload on me if you want.”
Corbin snorted…or sniffed…it was hard to tell for sure, but he nodded once and let Kel follow him into the small stateroom. Kel still held the wrapped plate in his hands, and he moved automatically to set in on the room’s small table while Corbin shouldered into a shirt.
“Eat it while it’s hot, Corbin. It’s always better that way.”
Corbin managed a small smile. “I will. I just want a drink. Um, you want something?”
“Sure. Whatever you’re having.”
Corbin nodded and retrieved two waters from the icing box, handing one to Kel as they sat at the table. The young man looked uncomfortable at first. Kel’s presence seemed to be making him squirm. Hoping to make him feel better, Kel watched him eat a couple bites before trying to get the young man to talk to him.
“Want to share what has you so upset? I’d think, like the rest of the Travelers, you’d be thrilled with the news that we’ll be heading onto Neveah soon, not looking so sad.”
The comment seemed to upset Corbin more. “Who cares about Neveah,” he grumbled, although Kel saw fresh wetness in the young man’s eyes.
“Who cares? Why do you say that? Most of the crew has been dreaming about the day they get to leave the ship and touch down on Neveah’s soil.”
Corbin’s voice was choked when he spoke again. “Yeah well, Charge Seren is making me be the last one off the ship.”
Kel was confused. “He’s making you be the last? Why? I don’t understand.”
Corbin wiped at his face again as a tear slipped out. “It’s my fault. I fought with Pilot Sabik when she denied a request to leave the ship a few days ago, and when Charge Seren found out, he said he was putting me in the last group to leave.”
And to someone who’d been so looking forward to leaving the ship, Kel could understand how that decision was hard to accept, although he thought the Charge Pilot had made the punishment fit the crime.
“That’s rough,” he sympathized. “But at least you’re still going to get to leave. Charge Seren has a reputation of being fair but pretty firm when it comes down to it. He could have decided on Isolation or Corporal Castigation, so maybe you actually lucked out.” Corbin’s head dropped and Kel saw the redness of a blush burning his ears. “Corbin?”
The young Traveler picked at the food on his plate. “Charge Seren has a heavy hand, you know?”
Kel was confused for a moment, and then Corbin’s uncomfortable squirms suddenly weren’t about having an unfamiliar man in his room. He felt truly bad for the young Traveler, and not a little upset with the Charge Pilot for what seemed like overkill.
“He physically disciplined you as well?”
“Not for the thing with Pilot Sabik,” Corbin explained, his voice coming quietly but without the choking it had a minute ago. It appeared he wanted someone to talk to. “I wasn’t entirely…truthful…with him. He said he couldn’t trust someone who lies to him, and that’s why he…”
He couldn’t finish, but Kel knew what he meant. “He disciplined you for lying to a superior,” he concluded.
Corbin nodded. “I shouldn’t have done that. I know, but it…hurts.” Another tear dripped down his cheek and Kel reached to rub a hand up and down his back.
“He was severe? Is it bruised? Maybe some cream would help.”
Corbin drew in a shuddering breath. “No, that’s not what hurts. I mean…yeah, it does, but…”
“But?” Kel asked, confused once again.
“But that’s not what hurts the most.”
That didn’t clear anything up for Kel. “What are you talking about? Are you injured somewhere?”
Corbin shook his head. “It’s not that. It’s that I let him down. I hate it. The first chance I really get to talk to him, and I mess up so badly. He’ll never think well of me!”
Puzzle pieces clicked together for Kel. “I see. You wanted him to notice you for other reasons.”
Corbin nodded morosely. “It’s stupid. He’s the head of the Travelers and I’m just a Backer who screws up and causes problems.”
Kel didn’t like hearing that. He didn’t know Corbin, but he instinctively liked and him and found him appealing. He also knew that to have been picked as a Traveler, you had to be considered an exceptional individual.
“Don’t talk like that, Corbin,” he ordered, maybe a bit more harshly than he meant to, but he believed what he was about to say. “Everyone screws up. That’s normal, and the best you can do is learn from your mistakes and not repeat them. Even Charge Seren is going to mess up sometimes.”
“No he’s not!” Corbin said immediately, and Kel immediately recognized hero-worship when he saw it.
“Calm down,” Kel soothed. “And listen to me. You don’t do Charge Seren any good by putting him on a pedestal like that. It will hurt you both much more when he falls off it. Look at him and see the good man as well as the real man. He is not perfect, but he is a noble leader to respect.
“And be careful how you think of yourself,” he added. “Less than one percent of the population of Arlytia was chosen to become Travelers, and you were one of them. I don’t know what your specialty is, but I’ve no doubt that you’re exceptional at it. Remember that you were chosen because people believed you capable of handling the mission and were someone who could prepare Neveah for future generations. You are not a screw up.”
Corbin finally looked him in the eyes. “You really think so?”
“I really know so,” Kel stated firmly. “And there might be something else you should remember.”
“Charge Seren was part of the team who picked each Traveler. Maybe the two of you don’t know each other personally, but he knows your background, your talents, and what your professors, friends, and family think of you. All those things made him believe that you were a right pick to be on this mission.”
Corbin’s face brightened. “I didn’t know that. He really helped pick me?”
“That’s my understanding. Chief Win told me how things were done before we left.”
Corbin’s smile slowly got bigger. “Thanks, Kel.”
“You’re welcome, lad. Now eat up and tell me what you are looking forward to about being on Neveah.”
Corbin did eat with more enthusiasm then, and he and Kel enjoyed each other’s pleasant company until Corbin’s roommate returned. Kel introduced himself to Marc, but then made his excuses to leave, not having realized until that moment just how late it had gotten.
“Hey Kel,” Corbin said as he followed him to the door.
“Um, I just thought, if you ever want to talk or go to the lounge with someone, you could call me.”
Kel smiled. “Or I could ask you outright,” he said with a wink that made Corbin grin. “I spend most of my day in the ship’s kitchen, but I can cut out early tomorrow. Will you be here about the fifteenth hour?”
Corbin nodded. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“I’ll stop by here then and we can make a plan for the evening. I’ll see you then.”“See you,” Kel agreed, and left with a wave.
Friday, April 22, 2016
*Minder - a counselor or therapist
Seren woke after a full night of undisturbed sleep. He was surprised but appreciative to have not been needed during those hours, although a few minutes later he grasped why he’d been left alone. Chuckling as he read Pilot Sabik’s transmission to the Travelers, he couldn’t say that she had disobeyed his orders. She’d informed the ship that all six men were back safely and likely to head straight to bed. It was emphasized that all questions would be answered at the morrow’s meeting. Seren shook his head, hoping that he would have the answers his people wanted. He knew the biggest question on everyone’s mind was when they would leave the ship. He hoped to have a definite answer for that question before the shipwide meeting. He didn’t need any Travelers defying orders because of desperation to get off the ship. If they had a date and time to look forward to, he believed he could provide them with some satisfaction until they actually set foot on land.
Those thoughts reminded him that there were already a few crew members who had crossed the line in respect to Sabik’s authority while he’d been gone. He had no intention of letting anyone get away with noncompliance to necessary safety, nor disrespect to earned authority. It was too important that all Travelers were respectful, worked together, and accepted the positions of authority among them. Rebellion and grudging obedience could cause large problems within their numbers and with the goal and hope of a future their people had placed on them.
He looked for and found the transmission that gave him the names of those who had argued Sabik’s order that no one leave the ship. His mouth became a thin line of displeasure as he read the names: Backer Medan, Backer Kemp, Backer Corbin, and Backer Ajen. Four men who knew better.
Backer Kemp was someone he’d issued a warning to once before about disrespect. The man struggled to serve under women and Seren believed it had to do with his upbringing. Kemp had been adopted by an all-male Trio after his mother abandoned him when he was five years old, having never married his birth father or revealed to him who that had been. Seren knew from Chief Win that Kemp’s adoptive fathers had treated him very well and loved him to distraction, and Kemp got along well with other men, but he struggled in his respect and trust of women.
Kemp’s psychological report that Seren, as the leader of the Travelers, had access to, revealed a few more details on the man’s history and how it affected him. Seren knew Backer Kemp’s interaction with women had been limited through most of his life. His adoptive grandmothers lived far enough away that he usually only saw them on holidays, and there had been more male than female teachers throughout his education. There had been no female role model who held a consistent place in his life, so Seren could deduce that Kemp’s subconscious believed that men could be relied on, and women couldn’t.
This faulty perception had almost prevented Kemp from being accepted as a Traveler, but he had exceptional skills in space flight, as well as high testing scores as a land engineer. Those, along with excellent personal references from three respected professors, had been in his favor. Thus, the offer to be trained as a Traveler was extended.
Backer Corbin was another name he was familiar with. He’d had very little personal interaction with the young man, but knew from Charge Ozias that Corbin had caused some minor problems in the Agriculture unit.
The other two men he’d worked with a little more and believed their arguing had more to do with the growing need just to get off the ship. It still didn’t excuse disputing with a higher authority, but he understood the mindset that was going on with them.
Quickly, Seren composed a transmission for the four men to see him in an hour’s time in Wing C. He had no intention of publicly scolding them, but he knew they’d feel the disgrace of being called to Wing C. It was where discipline was held and where the criminal holding cells were. Seren had a small office in the wing to deal with situations such as these.
He took time to dress and eat a small meal before heading to his destination. Like the previous day, he maneuvered himself through hallways that were little used and unlikely to have him run into anyone. He made it to the small office in Wing C without being delayed by anyone and ten minutes before the first of the men showed up.
There was a small waiting area just outside the office with no chairs on which to sit. That had been Seren’s choice. He felt the discomfort of standing at attention kept the miscreant’s focus on why he was about to be reprimanded. Through the small glassed window, Seren was able to watch the men arrive. Backer Kemp was first and he stood with arms behind his back and face straight ahead. He took no notice of Backer Ajen who arrived next, nor Backer Medan a minute later. Those two greeted each other cordially, but all three men then stood in quiet contemplation.
Seren was not pleased to see that Backer Corbin arrived two minutes past the hour. He felt further irked when instead of standing respectfully as the other men, he leaned against the wall with crossed arms and a surly—although anxious—expression.
Corbin’s attitude made Seren decide to handle each Traveler individually instead of as a group. While all guilty of the same crime, he quickly saw that different disciplines were going to be needed for each person. He rose from his spot behind the office’s small desk and went to the door. All four men gave him their attention when he opened it; even Corbin stood from his leaning position and tried to look courteous.
Seren met each Traveler’s eye without smiling before focusing on one. “Backer Ajen,” he called and turned into the room. Ajen followed immediately. “Shut the door,” Seren ordered, and Ajen did so obediently. The man was clearly trying to be on his best behavior.
“Backer Ajen, it has been brought to my attention that in my absence you were argumentative with Pilot Sabik, who was serving as Vice Leader. With full authority, she determined that no one was to leave the ship until my team returned, and for some reason you believed this was a debatable decision. Is this true?”
Ajen was red-faced but still standing respectfully. “Yes, Charge Seren.”
Seren was proud of the man for not disputing his fault. “I can think of no reason why behavior like that would be appropriate, but I’d like to hear your side.”
Ajen looked surprised and he licked his lips nervously. “Sir, I…I have no excuse,” he stated after a moment of thought. “Some of us had thought that since the air and water was testing so pure, that it would be acceptable to go onto Neveah in the area around the ship. It was hard to hear otherwise and I contended with Pilot Sabik over her decision. I am sorry, Charge Seren.”
The Charge Pilot contemplated the man’s humble demeanor and attitude, thinking that he’d judged correctly on Ajen’s motivation. “Your honesty is noted, Backer Ajen,” he finally said. “But I will not leave you without chastisement.”
The man hung his head but waited silently for Seren’s judgment.
“I think it only fair,” Seren began, “that those who let their eagerness to leave the ship lead them to disrespect a higher authority, should be the last to step foot onto Neveah. I will not publicly disgrace you with this choice, but when I assign the teams to disembark, you will be on the last one.”
“Yes sir,” Backer Ajen said with acceptance.
“Also,” Seren continued. “You will be remanded to your quarters for the rest of the day, and that includes not being a part of the meeting I’ll be conducting with the Travelers later on. You may watch through a room transmission, but you will not be physically present. During that time I expect you to compose a written apology to Pilot Sabik. It should not be less than a full page and you will deliver it personally.”
“Yes sir,” Ajen repeated.
Seren nodded. “You may go then, Backer Ajen.”
Ajen began to leave the room, but he paused before reaching the door. He turned back with an almost shy look. “Charge Seren?”
“Welcome back, sir.”
Seren allowed a smile to show. “Thank you.”
Backer Ajen left then, and Seren moved to call Backer Medan into the office space. His dialogue with Medan was almost identical to that with Ajen. Medan admitted to uncalled for disrespect, humbly accepted Seren’s terms of discipline, and left rather quickly, obviously wanting out of the uncomfortable encounter as quickly as possible.
Kemp was brought in next, and Seren knew that this discussion wasn’t going to go as smoothly as the first two.
“Backer Kemp, do you remember the last discussion we had about respect?”
The barest scowl flickered across the man’s face, but he quickly controlled it. “Yes sir.”
“Then I’d like you to repeat back to me what we discussed at that time.”
For a moment, Seren wasn’t sure if Kemp would obey, but after what looked to be a brief internal battle, Kemp’s shoulders slumped slightly and he complied with Seren’s order.
“I am to show respect to everyone on board, male or female, not just because of rank or status, but because they are human beings who should be treated respectfully.”
“I’m glad you remember. So can you tell me why I’ve had to call you to account a second time for disrespecting not only a fellow Traveler, but one who does rank higher than you?”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“So you say, Backer Kemp, but that doesn’t answer my question.”
Kemp looked both forlorn and frustrated. “It’s just…not right, sir.”
“If you’re talking about your dispute with Pilot Sabik, I’ll agree with you; but something tells me that isn’t what you mean.”
Kemp’s hands clenched, but it was clearly a motion of frustration, not anger. Seren had mercy on the man and stated what he believed the problem was.
“Backer Kemp, I think your struggle is not so much with Pilot Sabik or even with women in authority. Your struggle is with acceptance that not all women will be as untrustworthy as your mother.”
Kemp’s eyes widened and met Seren’s with an intensity that was hard to define and quite unnerving. Seren still maintained his calm and held the man’s gaze.
“I don’t mean to pry into private matters, Backer Kemp, but you know I’m as aware of your background as I am of all the Travelers. However, I am not a minder, so don’t convince yourself that I’m trying to dissect you in any way, but I know your history and the struggles you’ve had since being picked as one of the members of this mission. I understand that you have very little comfort in the presence of women, and even less when one has authority over you, and I believe I have a minimal understanding as to why.
“However,” he continued, “that does not excuse your behavior. I cannot force you to feel respect for someone else, Backer Kemp, but I can insist that you behave in a way that shows the appropriate deference to those around you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Charge Seren.”
“Does that mean I can issue my judgment for your behavior and expect that it will not be argued?”
The slightest pause, but then a, “Yes sir.”
“Good. Then, as I told Backers Ajen and Medan, you will be assigned to the last group to leave the ship on the day we disembark. Along with that, you will spend tomorrow in Enforced Personal Service to Pilot Sabik.”
Kemp’s mouth opened slightly in shock and it took clear effort for him not to debate that punishment.
“Then,” Seren said, “when your service is done, you will compose a letter of apology to Pilot Sabik. Is this all clear?”
It took several moments to receive an answer, but eventually Kemp managed a nod and a forced, “Yes sir”.
“Then I’ll dismiss you to your quarters. Take some time to think about these things, Kemp, but I’ll expect you back on duty after mid-meal.”
With a nod and very controlled movements, Kemp left the room with clear displeasure. Seren sighed after the man left. He knew the discipline was going to be hard on Kemp, but he also knew that Sabik would not exploit the situation or Kemp’s feelings of shame. He hoped that in the end the experience might be looked back on as positive in Kemp’s eyes.
The last Traveler was still waiting for him and Seren moved to the doorway to call him in. He was not pleased to see that Corbin, in the time he’d been waiting, had lowered himself to the floor and appeared to be half asleep against the wall.
“Backer Corbin,” he called roughly.
The young man’s eyes immediately shot open and he hurried to stand. Seren deliberately glared at him.
“Follow me, Backer Corbin.”
Corbin immediately scuttled after him, but his demeanor was much different than the other men’s had been. He gave Seren a wide-eyed look that portrayed him as much more a boy than a man when the Charge looked at him again. Seren forced himself not to fall for the overly innocent look the young Backer displayed.
“Is it your habit, Backer Corbin, to so lightly take a summoning from a superior rank?”
“No sir, but there were no chairs and I didn’t know how long you’d be. I don’t even know why I’ve been summoned!”
“You don’t? I’m afraid I don’t believe that. You have an intelligence of high degree just like the rest of the Travelers. With some careful thought, I’m fairly certain you can determine why I sent for you and the others to come to Wing C.”
“Think!” Seren cut him off. He hadn’t raised his voice, but he let it cut sharply through the air between them.
Corbin’s face contorted in shock and Seren thought he saw the brightness of forthcoming tears for a moment, but the young man managed to gather himself and he clearly took a few moments to think as Seren bade him. The pilot saw him swallow a few times before finding a voice to speak, and the tone was much meeker when he spoke.
“The others you called in had…disagreed...with Pilot Sabik while you were gone, and I kind of sided with them,” he admitted reluctantly.
“Hmm,” Seren murmured. “We seem to be getting somewhere now. However, it seems we have some differences in what we believe happened while I was away.”
“Yes,” Seren stated. “In the version of events I was told, you disagreed with Pilot Sabik just as strongly as the others.”
“Not really, sir!”
Seren wasn’t pleased with that response. A young man, especially a Traveler, who couldn’t be responsible for himself was a liability.
“Not really? So if I bring in Pilot Sabik and the other men who were just here, they will concur with your version of events?”
Corbin went slightly pale and his eyes somehow got wider. “That’s not fair, Charge Seren!”
“Not fair? What I find unfair is the clear evidence that you are lying to me.”
“But you haven’t heard my side!”
“I’m trying to hear your side, Backer Corbin, but all you’re giving me is half-truths and lies. I want honesty. Tell me what happened while I was gone.”
Corbin looked like he didn’t know what to say, but then it poured out of him like a waterfall.
“It wasn’t fair, Charge Seren! All the Purifiers’ tests said that it was safe to be on land. We were all stuck inside this ship without any certainty that you and the others would be back, and we could see how much better it was outside! There was no reason why Pilot Sabik had to deny our request!”
“There was every reason!” Seren said with conviction. He stood behind the room’s desk and pointed to the chair placed in front of it. “Sit down, Corbin. You need to understand a few things.” He kept talking as Corbin unwillingly sat. “First, just because the air and water tested safe, that does not mean that other dangers weren’t around. My team and I went onto Neveah to ascertain what those dangers might be, and you just admitted that we couldn’t guarantee a safe return, so do not justify your actions by claiming safety where you clearly knew that was not a certainty.
“Second, unless you feel your morality or safety is at risk, you do not defy a higher ranking peer. Is that understood?”
Without meeting his eyes, Corbin managed a mumbled, “Yes sir”.
Seren wasn’t pleased with the attitude behind the words, but he chose to pick his battles, and there was one more battle he wanted to address.
“Third, I will not tolerate lies, Backer Corbin. We are on a high risk mission and I carry a responsibility to each and every Traveler on this ship. Trust is vital, and if I cannot trust you then I see you as a liability to every member of this mission. If I cannot be confident in your ability to follow orders and be truthful to me, then I may have to consider options such as temporary isolation or confinement until you grow into a man I can rely on.”
This time there wasn’t just a hint of tears, the wetness in Corbin’s eyes was plain as day. “Charge Seren, no! I’m sorry!”
“Are you? Do you understand the severity not just of your words to Pilot Sabik, but of your attitude to her and me?”
“Yes sir! I just didn’t think about it at the time! I am sorry!”
Seren scrutinized him. The young man appeared entirely sincere, and also very young in that moment. With all his intelligence, it appeared Corbin hadn’t yet learned to think before speaking or acting. Seren hoped he would learn quickly.
“I think you are sorry, Corbin, but you must face the consequences of your actions.”
Seren saw the flicker of fear pass across the young man’s face and he knew the Backer was scared of what his discipline would be. Seren didn’t think it necessary to drag anything out.
“Along with the others who were here before you, you will be assigned in the last group to leave the ship when the time comes to disembark; and since I’m not sure I can trust you, you will spend the rest of today confined to your quarters where you will write out a detailed apology to Pilot Sabik, as well as hand write every tenet on safety that was addressed in the contract you signed when you became a Traveler. As I recall, there are thirty-seven specified regulations, and I expect to see each one neatly presented to me tomorrow morning.
“Lastly,” he continued as he opened a drawer in the desk, “for lies purposefully spoken and with a mindset to deceive, you will submit to a session of corporal castigation.”
He watched Corbin barely swallow a whimper as he removed a very solid looking board from the desk drawer.
“Charge Seren, please…” the young man whispered.
“Can your lies be justified, Backer Corbin?”
Corbin choked on his answer. “No…sir.”
“Then stand and place your hands on the desk.”
It was clear the young man dreaded the request, but he was too proud to not accept it at this point. He rose slowly, approached the desk, and placed his hands on the smooth surface. The position didn’t bend him much, but it was still enough to make him feel like his backside was on full display. Seren didn’t give him any indication of how many whacks he’d receive. He thought it would give a deeper lesson if the Backer didn’t know when it would end. He also felt it was better for himself to determine how many strikes were needed by observing Corbin throughout the punishment.
He stood behind and to the side of the young man, and without warning he swung the board and connected with Corbin’s backside. The loud thwack filled the room and Seren heard the breath leave the young man in a rush. He waited a moment before delivering the second smack. Corbin tensed and whimpered slightly. Seren paused again before swinging the board a third time.
This strike elicited a yelp and brought the young man up on his toes as he straightened from his bent position and grabbed at the seat of his pants. Seren saw some tears had strayed down the Backer’s cheeks and he felt both glad that it seemed he was getting through, and aggrieved to be the one to cause those tears.
In sympathy, he put a hand on Corbin’s shoulder and squeezed in consolation before exerting enough pressure to guide the young Traveler back over the desk. Choosing not to drag it out, he swung the board two more times in quick succession. Corbin let out a brief sob, but remained where he was as Seren returned the board to the desk drawer and moved to a position where he could see Corbin’s face.
There were tear drops on the desk and the young man clearly didn’t want to look at him, but Seren felt like it would be a greater blow to Corbin’s pride if he managed to leave without making eye contact. He wanted his fellow Traveler to know he’d accepted his discipline well.
“Look at me, Backer Corbin,” he ordered gently. Slowly, the dark head lifted and watery eyes finally met his gaze. “It’s done,” he said with sincerity. “I’m pleased you accepted the consequences of your actions as well as you did. I have renewed faith in you and believe that you’ll see the rest of my orders through.”
Corbin took a breath and nodded. “I will, sir.”
“I believe you, and I want you to know that while regulations require me to put today’s actions into your file, I will not share your discipline with anyone. Its privacy belongs to you.”
A fresh tear slipped from Corbin’s left eye and he swiped at it quickly. “Thank you, Charge Seren,” he said huskily.
“You’re welcome, Corbin. Go on now.”
Seren watched as the young man left more slowly than he expected, and also with a much humbler attitude than that with which he had entered. When he was alone again, he sat heavily in the desk chair and stared at the ceiling over him. He had taken no enjoyment from the morning thus far. Disciplining four members of his crew was not a great way to start the day, and having to corporally punish one of them hadn’t made things easier. It wasn’t the first time he’d formally spanked someone, but it was a rare enough occurrence that he hadn’t yet learned a way to distance himself from the upset of causing pain to someone else…even deserved pain.With a sigh, he chose not to think on it anymore. He’d write up the letters of discipline for the men’s files later, but right now he wanted to forget the morning’s events for a while. Turning his attention to other responsibilities, he left Wing C with a running list of things he needed to do to prepare for the meeting he’d be holding later that day.