Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Travelers - Chapter 20

*“Choke on it” – a cruel phrase meant to insult
*Permanent Isolation – a rarely used punishment for the worst offenders.  Those convicted and sentenced are placed in a cell just big enough for basic necessities: a bed, a toilet, and a tiny enclosed shower.  They receive no human contact other than a silent guard to deliver food and other necessities.  The only exception to have even limited contact is in the case of dire medical need.
*Quick-carry – like a swiss army knife.  A device easily carried in a pocket.  It holds multiple tools within it including two different size blades, a reasonably accurate purification tester, and several mini-tools.

Chapter 20

Since the moment Kel returned to the shelter he shared with Corbin and let the young man know that Seren would eventually be joining them, Corbin had continually been looking for the Charge’s appearance.
Kel did his best to distract his friend by having Corbin help with the third meal preparation, but he eventually gave that up when Corbin nearly burned himself twice due to his distracted manner.
“All right, lad.  Sit there and stay out the way with those anxious thoughts of yours before you do yourself harm.”
Corbin looked sheepish, knowing he’d been more in the way than a help to Kel.  “I’m sorry.  Did I mess anything up?”
“Of course not, and I could save it if you did.”  He winked at Corbin.  “I’m that good.”
Corbin chuckled.  “That’s some ego you have there, bud, and I’m not anxious,” he asserted.
“Really?  Well, here he comes.”
“What?!  Where?!”  Corbin’s head flew from side to side as he searched for Seren’s approaching form.  When he didn’t see the man, his confused gaze returned to Kel.
“Gotcha,” the other man laughed.
Corbin blushed in embarrassment and a bit of anger at the feeling he was being made fun of.  “Choke on it,” he said nastily, while throwing a glare at Kel.
Kel felt the verbal punch hard.  It was taunt not often heard, but it was a cruel one.  His laughter stopped immediately and he turned his attention to the food he was stirring.  Five more minutes of low heat and it would be ready to serve.  He’d pass the word along momentarily, knowing it wouldn’t take long for Group 6 to be aware their meal was ready to be served and eaten wherever they chose. 
He let thoughts of the food distract him from the hurt of Corbin’s words.  He shouldn’t have teased him.  He’d already learned that Corbin didn’t always take teasing very well, and he shouldn’t have done it in the knowledge of his shelter-mate’s ever growing crush on Charge Seren.
He heard movement from where Corbin had been sitting, and then sensed the other man’s presence behind him.
Kel thought Corbin’s voice sounded very little-boy like.  He sighed slightly.  “Yes?” he answered without turning around.
There was a minute of hesitation before Kel heard, “I’m sorry”. 
He sighed again and nodded once.  “Thank you.  I’ll try to not tease you again.”

Corbin heard Kel’s acceptance of his apology, but he felt like it wasn’t enough.  He could clearly see that he’d hurt the other man, and he wished he hadn’t.  Sometimes his words just came out and he didn’t stop to think about them before it was too late.  Not knowing what else to do, he chose to give Kel some space and decided to walk a little bit, but not too long just in case he missed Seren’s visit, even though Kel had implied that it could be an hour or more before the Charge Pilot would be available.
He started to move through the camp, his eyes taking in the stream a short walk away and the trees off in the distance.  He saw them, but he didn’t really absorb their presence.  He was letting himself wallow in his self-disgust instead, thinking he deserved it.  However, his lack of attention caused him to miss what was right in front of him.  His knees walked right into a Traveler kneeling on the ground and sent them both sprawling.
“Oh!  I’m sorry!  I…ow!” 
In his scramble to get off the man and the ground, he scraped his hand on a sharp rock, effectively cutting the skin of his palm and making it bleed.
“It’s ok,” a familiar voice said.  “Here, let me see.”
Corbin groaned to himself.  Of all the luck, he would have to fall on top of his ship Charge.  Ozias righted himself with more grace than Corbin had done and reached for the Backer’s hand.  Strong fingers took a gentle grip on his wrist while he used his other hand to gently pry Corbin’s fingers open from the way he’d fisted them
“I’ll have to wash the blood off to see how deep it is,” he said after a moment.  “Come inside with me, Corbin.  Cayson’s not here or I’d have him look at it, but if it’s not too serious I think you and I can handle it.”
For the second time that day, Corbin found himself in the shelter Charge Ozias shared with his husband and wife.
“Settle down there,” Ozias directed, pointing at a bed mat, before soaking a cloth in water.  “This is water from the stream.  Amrynn tested it and it’s pure, so it won’t bring any bacteria into the wound.”
He gently cleaned off the blood, slowly revealing a small but deep looking cut.  “So where were you going in such a hurry?” he questioned as he noticed the cut was still bleeding and proceeded to put some pressure on it.
“I wasn’t in a hurry.  I just wasn’t paying attention,” Corbin muttered.
Oz glanced at him for a moment before returning his attention to Corbin’s hand.  “You don’t have to confide in me, Corbin,” he said after a moment, and his tone was kind.  “But you look distressed over something.  I’ll help if I can.”
Corbin shook his head.  “There’s nothing you can do.”
Ozias shrugged.  “Maybe.  Maybe not.  At least I know you’re not upset about having to tend plants in the Ag Unit, so that’s one thing I can cross off.”
Corbin managed a grudging smile.  “Yeah, at least there’s that,” he agreed.  Then, with a sigh he felt the words come out of him.  “It’s just my friend…Kel.  He’s a good guy, a really good guy, but he teased me and I got mad and wasn’t very nice to him.”
“Charge Kel from Culinary?  I know him.  He is a good guy, and not easily rattled from what I’ve seen.”
I rattled him,” Corbin claimed.
Ozias silently directed Corbin to keep pressure on the cut while he began rummaging around in a bundler for some items.  “What makes you think you succeeded in that?” he questioned.
“I said something really nasty to him, and it hurt his feelings.  I know it did.”
“Did he say it hurt his feelings?”
Corbin shook his head.  “No, but I saw it on his face and he got really quiet afterward.  He was just teasing me in fun and I let it get to me.  I know he wasn’t being mean.”
“Why did it bother you enough to say something mean then?” Ozias asked while carefully taking the cloth away from Corbin’s hand and starting to put a numbing ointment on the skin around the cut.
“I didn’t…hey, what are you doing?!” Corbin interrupted himself as his mind caught on to what the numbing ointment was usually used for.
“This needs sewn,” Ozias said unapologetically.  “It’s a small cut, but it’s deep.  You won’t feel anything, Corbin.  I’ll make sure the cream has you numbed first.  Go on now, tell me why Kel’s teasing made you react the way you did.”
Corbin knew it was a distraction tactic, but Charge Ozias was being an awfully good listener and Corbin could admit at least to himself that he wanted to get his guilt off his chest.  Deliberately not looking at what Ozias was doing, he tried to explain his reaction.
“Kel’s been really nice to me—a really good friend—but I had, um, something else on my mind at the time and I guess it made me too sensitive to what he said.  I was embarrassed and that made me mad, so I just said the first thing that came to mind.”
“And what was that?”
Corbin sighed, and the sound was heavy with remorse.  “I told him to choke on it,” he said softly so no one outside the canvas would hear.  He felt Ozias look at him and sensed the disapproval in the gaze, but the man didn’t scold, at least not directly.
“I haven’t heard that phrase since I was fourteen,” he commented almost too casually.  “And I spanked Cayson hard for saying it.”
Corbin couldn’t help the sudden turn of his head to see Ozias’s face and make sure the man was serious.  “Charge Cayson said it?”
Ozias nodded as he threaded a med needle.  “And he’s never said it again.  Do you know the origin of that phrase, Corbin?”
After a moment’s thought, Corbin shook his head.  “I don’t think so.  I just…” he swallowed a lump of shame.  “…I know it’s considered one of the meaner things to say to someone.”
Ozias nodded, seemed to consider something for a moment, and then began telling a story while gently starting to suture Corbin’s wound.  “There was a group of Arlytians that formed almost two hundred years ago.  They called themselves ‘The Enlightened’.”
Corbin nodded, having heard of the group, although not knowing much about them.
“The members of that group claimed a special connection with nature, and that appealed to a lot of Arlytians since our people have always been taught to care for and respect our land…our planet.  However, The Enlightened weren’t together to respect nature or people.  They wanted control, not for any altruistic reasons, but simply because they saw the ability to control others as the best and fastest way for them to get whatever they wanted.  The core group who started this cult found a way to blend several plants known to have hallucinogenic qualities into one very dangerous weed.  They used it to trick and manipulate their growing number of followers.  You see, whenever someone joined the cult, they signed a contract which basically was the signing away of their soul, but the wording of it was strange and twisted, although it sounded pretty under the influence of the drug, so many didn’t realize what they were committing themselves to. 
“However, as the cult leaders grew more addicted to the power they were gaining, they began to act on some very horrific crimes, crimes I won’t go into but I guarantee your imagination couldn’t come close to some of the things they did. 
“Some members of the group, during a few days when they weren’t high, saw the horror of what their leaders were doing and wanted out, but when they tried, they were caught and caged up.  The leaders then used the blended plant’s properties to create hallucinogenic nightmares.  It was a torture of the mind and the members suffered for days.  Then, when the leaders tired of tormenting them, they took the contracts the people had signed, stuffed them down their throats and repeatedly chanted the words ‘Choke on it.  Choke on it.  Choke on it!’.
Appalled, Corbin couldn’t keep the shock from his eyes or expression.  Ozias looked at him seriously.
“How were they stopped?” Corbin had to ask once he found his voice, hoping for some sort of happy ending.
Ozias snipped off the medical threading once he was done sewing Corbin’s hand and began to wrap the palm as he spoke.  “One member, just one, managed to escape and he alerted every authority he could find.  One of the authorities had connections and the news of the threat and what they were capable of went higher and higher until those with the best means to stop them got word.  It’s a long and detailed story to explain, but in the end all members of The Enlightened were captured.  The leaders lived the rest of their days out in Permanent Isolation for their crimes. 
“Their followers, unfortunately, didn’t have a much better fate.  The exposure to the plant’s effects had done havoc on their bodies and minds.  Within a month of their capture, even with treatment to attempt a cure or at least reduce the damage, each one passed away.”
Corbin’s palm was neatly bandaged and Ozias proceeded to wash his hands and put away the medical supplies. 
“I didn’t realize it was so awful,” Corbin whispered, his shame feeling deeper at what he had said to Kel.
“It is awful, and I’m hopeful that nothing like it will ever happen on Neveah,” Ozias said softly but fervently.  “And I hope you’ll never, ever, repeat those words, Backer Corbin.”
“I won’t,” Corbin replied with just as much ardor as Oz had used.
Ozias put the last item away and faced Corbin with a stern look.  “Good.  Now, I have something else to discuss with you.”
That tone and look sent warning bells off in Corbin’s stomach, but he didn’t know exactly what for.
“Do you remember our talk in Charge Seren’s quarters?” Ozias asked.  Corbin nodded slowly.  “Do you remember what I said I wasn’t going to offer grace on anymore?”
Corbin swallowed, the promise Charge Ozias had made to him coming back with clarity.  “Yes, sir.  I wasn’t to be disrespectful to a Charge, or a Traveler, again.”
“What you said was definitely disrespectful, and I plan to stand by my word, Backer.  However,” he said, just as sternly, but in a way that Corbin hoped might be a reprieve.  “Your contempt was given to Charge Kel, not to me; nor was it said within my hearing, so I am going only on what I believe was your truthfulness to me in telling me what happened.  So, I’ll offer you a choice, Corbin.”
“A choice?”
Ozias nodded.  “Your choice is to face me and my consequence based on what you’ve told me; or, you can talk to Charge Kel.  Tell him your new understanding of the seriousness of what you said, explain to him the rule you broke with me, and let him decide how to handle it.  Whatever his decision would be, I’ll accept it since I would be choosing to turn it over to him.”
Corbin’s head dropped.  Ozias’s “However” hadn’t given as much leniency as he’d hoped.  He thought honestly for a couple minutes about the choice of facing Charge Ozias’s discipline, or essentially going to Kel and asking him to punish him.  Ultimately, he couldn’t bring himself to want to put Kel in that position.  He wanted Kel as a friend first and foremost, and he didn’t want to strain that friendship any more than he already had by asking Kel to discipline him.
With a sigh, he met Ozias’s gaze.  “I’ll take your penalty, sir.”
“Are you certain?”
Corbin took a slow breath.  “Yes, sir.”
“Then come with me,” Ozias said unexpectedly.  He quickly left the shelter and Corbin had to hurry to follow him. 
They walked for several minutes and Corbin was severely tempted to ask what his penalty would be, but he had a feeling he already knew.  Charge Ozias brought them to the furthest distance of the boundaries set up for camp where a handful of trees and bushes were growing.  Ozias stepped within the grove and Corbin watched apprehensively as the man studied one of the trees.
“You may feel this is harsh, Corbin,” the Charge stated as he bent a branch toward him, pulled out a quick-carry, and used the blade to cut the branch from the tree.  “But I don’t want to take away from your assigned tasks by giving you an additional service penalty, nor do I have the ability to enforce a rights restriction since you and I are in different groups during this trek.  A corporal discipline seems to me to be the best option.”
Grudgingly, and only to himself, Corbin agreed with Ozias.  A corporal castigation was painful and definitely memorable, but soon over.  In addition, if he managed to keep quiet, no one else should know about it.
Still, it was with dread that he watched Oz strip the leaves and bark from the branch, leaving a smooth implement to be used on him.  His hands were trembling slightly as Charge Ozias directed him to another tree a bit further into the grove and directed him to bend over and hold onto the trunk.
“Six, Backer Corbin,” Ozias warned before bringing the switch down.
Corbin gasped at the sting of the first stripe, then bit the inside of his cheeks to keep from crying out as Charge Ozias methodically laid on each strike.  When the sixth was given, Ozias’s deep voice spoke. 
“Stand up, Backer Corbin.  You did well.  Stay where you are, face the tree, and collect yourself.”
It was embarrassing to face the tree as he was told, but Corbin did appreciate the time to get his breathing under control and for the sting in his backside to decrease to somewhat manageable proportions.  He heard Ozias moving around behind him, but couldn’t see what the man was doing.
After a short while, the Charge bid him to turn around.  He was surprised to see Ozias with an armful of dry wood.  The man directed Corbin’s attention to another pile of branches on the ground nearby. 
“Gather them up, Corbin.  I’ve no intention of shaming you.  If people question the need for our disappearance, you can tell them we wanted to make sure there was enough kindling needed for the night.”
For a moment, Corbin felt his throat close.  He was grateful for the gesture, and he wondered briefly if Ozias had been trained or mentored by Charge Seren, because the Charge Pilot was another one who chose not to humiliate his subordinates if he could avoid doing so.
“Thank you, Charge Ozias,” he managed to say after a moment.
The tall man smiled at him, and it was a kindhearted look.  “When I’m not acting as your Charge, Corbin, feel free to call me Oz.”
Corbin nodded, once again feeling grateful as he and Oz returned to the camp.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Travelers - Chapter 19

*General Med Service - a degree in medicine that covers a large amount of general knowledge.  It does not have a specific focus, but it qualifies a person to perform basic medical services and assist medical personnel with higher degrees or focused studies in their tasks.
*Lower Form Education - This is a degree equivalent to what we would call elementary education
*Hazard Bag - A bag that can be safely and strongly sealed to enclose anything that poses a threat.

Chapter 19 
“Yes, lad?”
“This morning, before that animal showed up, I was talking to Charge Seren and he said you have three first rankings, and then Charge Cayson said you were qualified to do the medical exam.  I didn’t know any of that.”
There was a hint of accusation in Corbin’s tone and Kel couldn’t help finding amusement in that.  He and Corbin had only been getting to be friends and knowing each other going on a week, but apparently the young man was offended that someone knew something of Kel that he did not.
Of course, Kel knew he should be amused with himself as well.  He’d liked and been attracted to Corbin at first sight, and he’d grown to like him more in the time they’d spent together since.  He’d rather hoped his new friend would develop some similar interest in him, but it seemed that right now Corbin’s romantic interest was focused exclusively on Charge Seren.
And that thought saddened Kel a little as far as his own appeal to Corbin could go.  Seren was a dazzling man…handsome looks, strong body, kind but firm authority.  Kel knew he might be able to match their leader in intelligence and physical strength, but his looks would never be of the standard of Seren’s.  He wasn’t unattractive…just plain.  He had brown hair and brown eyes, soft facial features rather than the sharp and attention-grabbing looks of the Charge Pilot, and while he could hold his own as a Charge, he didn’t have that commanding presence that Seren did.  It was hard to compete with a man like that.
And Kel honestly liked and respected Charge Seren.  While it hurt his heart a little, he didn’t mind encouraging Corbin in ways to interact with their leader, because he could see that there might be a good match with the two of them. 
In any case, he still found Corbin’s mild upset over not knowing something about Kel that Seren did a sweet thing.
“I wasn’t hiding anything from you, Corbin.  It just hasn’t come up,” he told the smaller man.
Corbin seemed to accept that as he worked to set up their shelter.  “What are your first rankings in?”
“Obviously culinary is one of them,” Kel said with a grin. 
Corbin grinned back and laughed a little.  “I would hope so since you’re handling all our food!”
“Well, I could be lying about that,” Kel teased.
“Nah, you wouldn’t lie,” Corbin said easily, and that simple comment of trust pleased Kel to no end.
“You’re right.  I wouldn’t lie to you.  I do have a first ranking in Culinary.  I also have one in General Med Service, and one in Lower Form Education.”
Corbin looked impressed.  “How come you’re cooking instead of doing one of the other two?”
“I thought it would be the best fit for me as Traveler,” Kel explained.  “I enjoy cooking, and I knew it was a need yet to be fulfilled when I was approached about being a Traveler.  The other two are always there if I’m needed; like today, I could use my medical training to make sure you were ok.  In a few years I’m hoping to use my education ranking to its fullest.  I have the training, and I’m privileged to be among the first to experience and explore this new planet, so I’m hoping to be assigned as a Lower Form teacher for any children born here on Neveah or who might be able to come from Arlytia.”
Corbin finished securing their shelter and stood up, stretching his arms above his head and then groaning just a bit.
“You ok?” Kel asked with a hint of concern.
“Yeah, just achy,” Corbin informed him.  Kel watched as the young man’s eyes drifted across the sea of canvases and sought out Charge Seren’s shelter.  “Do you think Charge Seren is ok?  He said he might look at my map tonight.”
Kel started to pull out what he’d need to produce third meal for the Group 6 members as he answered.  “I think he’s all right.  He managed fine on the trek today, and we kept up a good pace.  I saw Charge Ozias assisting him in getting his shelter set up so he wouldn’t have to use his arm.”
Corbin looked between Kel and Seren’s shelter.  “Kel...um…would you check on him?  I mean…you’re qualified and all, and maybe you could see if he’d be up to seeing my map tonight.”
Kel looked at the items in his hands and knew he needed to get a start on the meal, but he didn’t want to deny Corbin his request.  “Sure, lad.  I’ll check on him right now.”
The smile Corbin gave him made Kel’s stomach warm.  He liked seeing the young Backer smile, especially when he was the cause of it.  He put the pans he held down and headed toward Seren’s canvas. 
As he approached, he saw Seren in conversation with several other Travelers.  The man was rarely alone except at night when he was on guard duty; yet Kel had noticed that he didn’t seem too bonded with anyone except perhaps Pilot Sabik.  He waited for a few minutes, hoping the other people wouldn’t take up too much of Seren’s time because Kel knew he needed to fulfill his own responsibilities. 
He was starting to get a little anxious over the wait when the other Travelers finally seemed to finish their discussion and move on.  He approached the Charge Pilot respectfully as soon as the people turned to leave.
“Charge Seren?”
The man turned and immediately gave Kel his full attention, although Kel noticed there appeared to be some strain in the man’s eyes.  “Charge Kel, what can I do for you?”
“I came to see how you are, sir.  Backer Corbin was just asking me if I thought your injury was all right, so I told him I’d check.”
There was brief appreciation in the nod Seren offered.  “My arm is fine; or, it will be.  It’s not a serious injury and Charge Cayson will check it and change the dressing in the morning.  You can tell Backer Corbin that I’m grateful for his concern, but I really am alright.”
Kel considered ending things there, but he didn’t want to let Corbin down.  “If you’re up for it, sir, I know Corbin would appreciate hearing that from you, and he’s still hoping you might have time to look over the map he’s been working on.”
Seren sighed.  “I’d forgotten about that, and I’m afraid an issue has come up that I need to deal with.”
“Now?” Kel asked.
“Yes, unfortunately.  I just need to gather a few items first and then I have a couple people I need to talk to.”
Kel nodded in understanding.  “I don’t know how long it will take, but why don’t you join Corbin and I for third meal afterward?  You still need to eat, sir, and it might even be a bit of a break for you.”
“That sounds good, Charge Kel.  I’m afraid I can’t give you a time frame that I’ll be there, but I’ll plan to join you when I’m done.”
Kel smiled.  “Thank you, sir.  I’ll let Backer Corbin know to expect you and also that you’re feeling fine.  It will relieve his mind.”

Seren gathered a couple items from his shelter before heading to where he knew Charge Carter was waiting for him.  His head of security was good at his job and Seren trusted him, so he knew the man wouldn’t have asked for his personal assistance if he didn’t feel it was required.
Carter and Backer Lux were standing in wait with two other Travelers.  Seren knew them by sight and name, even if he didn’t have a personal connection to either one.  Backer Haley was one and the young man next to her was Backer Jax.  Both were members of the science team, although he couldn’t recall their specialties at that moment.  Neither one of them met his eye as he approached.
“Charge Carter.  Backer Lux,” Seren greeted with authority.
“Charge Seren,” the men returned in unison.
“I understand there’s a situation of which you need to inform me.”
“Yes, sir,” Charge Carter replied.
Carter had already given Seren a brief explanation of what had occurred, but it was necessary to do a formal questioning of everyone involved.  He also knew that the situation could be a delicate one, and Seren was a proponent of keeping a person’s privacy intact as much as possible.  It was too easy for gossip to spread amongst their small group, and it wouldn’t do to have any Traveler spoken against.
With a wave of his hand, Seren directed Carter and the others to follow him.  They went only a short distance, but a small outcropping of rocks near a stream provided some minimal seclusion and a sound barrier.  Seren gave a curt order for Backers Haley and Jax to have a seat, and then turned his attention to Carter.
“Explain to me what it is that happened, Charge Carter.”
Carter nodded and immediately gave a detached and clinical explanation of facts.  “Backers Haley and Lux are members of my Group 3.  When we rested for mid-meal this afternoon, we joined with Group 4, which Lux leads.  At that time, we were still within the wooded area of Neveah.  As per routine, I, Backer Lux, and Backer Celeste from Purification marked off an area deemed safe for the rest period and instructed the teams of where the boundary lines were. 
“When the time came for us to depart, I realized I was short two team members.  Within a few minutes it was confirmed that they were not within the boundary lines, which gave cause for concern throughout the group.  I gave orders to Charge Cael from the Sciences to take command if both Groups while Backer Lux and I looked for the missing members.”
Carter paused briefly, his eyes glancing just briefly at the two silent and shame-faced looking Backers sitting nearby.
“The search took approximately twenty minutes before Backer Jax and Backer Haley were found.  Their location was roughly a half milia outside the boundary lines and their…actions,” Carter had briefly hesitated over that word, seeming to choose it over others he could have used.  “…were preventing them both from being aware their surroundings and from acknowledging the limited time we were taking for our break.”
He stopped there and Seren, his face serious, turned to Backer Lux.  “As Charger Carter has said, you were with him in the search.  Do you have anything to add, Backer Lux?”
“No, sir,” Lux replied immediately.
At that, Seren focused his attention on the two nervous Backers.  “Backer Jax.  Backer Haley.  Do you disagree with Charge Carter’s explanation?”
Quiet but respectful, “No sirs,” were given.
“Is there anything you’d like to add?” he offered.
Backer Jax looked up and briefly met Seren’s gaze.  “Only that we regret our actions, sir.  We were…caught up,” he said carefully.  “And we allowed that to overrule our proper priorities.”
Seren nodded once, his gaze not wavering from the two Travelers.  “You are aware that I take disobedience to your Charge and ultimately to myself very seriously?”
“Yes, sir,” they replied.
“Do you grasp that you not only put yourselves in danger, but also every Traveler in your group, and potentially the rest of the crew?  You went beyond boundaries to an area that had not been checked for purity or safety.  Plants you touched could be poisonous.  The habitat of Neveah’s animals and vegetation might have been damaged by your recklessness.”
Briefly, Seren turned his attention to Carter.  “Were all four of you checked for spores or anything else that could carry danger to the rest of the crew?”
“Yes, sir,” Charge Carter assured.  Backer Celeste checked all of us and deemed us clean, but I still had each of us change our clothes and place the used ones in a hazard bag until they can be sterilized.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Seren acknowledged.  His eyes turned back to the miscreants.  “You’re lucky your Group Charge clearly has more sense than the two of you showed today,” he scolded.  “Besides the danger you risked, you delayed the departure of two groups out of an area that just this morning we confirmed holds at least one breed of dangerous animal.  You also appeared to have not considered that your own friends and coworkers amongst the Travelers would have been highly worried over your safety.” 
If possible, Seren’s voice and gaze grew more intense.  “We have entered an untamed land which will not always be merciful to us.  Every individual is important and we will not take unnecessary risks.  Calculated ones, yes, but not unnecessary ones.”  His tone brooked no argument and the admonishment was given sternly.  “I want to make it clear that I am not against relationships being built and developed among the Travelers, but not at the selfish risk of anyone’s safety.  I will not tolerate that, and I have to wonder at how well the two of you actually care for one another when I think of your choices this day.”
Both Backers looked at him with shocked eyes and mouths open ready to dispute that statement.  Seren cut them off with a piercing stare and a hand rose to order silence. 
“I will not hear your argument to the contrary at this point.  I would think that if there was a deep affection going on between you two, you would have considered one another’s safety instead of running into an out-of-bounds and risky area to sate desires that should have been maturely set aside until a more appropriate time and much safer environment.”
He stared the two down, making sure they understood his seriousness.  When they’re acceptance was understood, he beckoned Charge Carter to him while issuing a brief instruction to Lux.
“Backer Lux, please remain to oversee these two while I speak with Charge Carter.”
Lux immediately stood at attention while Carter walked at Seren’s side to a distance far enough away that they wouldn’t be overheard.
“I want to discuss their penalty with you, Carter,” Seren explained.
Carter’s look became puzzled.  “The decision lies with you, Charge Seren.  I’m willing to give my opinion, but I trust your judgment, sir.”
“I appreciate that, Carter, but what I have in mind will directly affect you, and if it will cause a problem instead of correct one, then I will choose to handle things in a different manner.”
Carter nodded.  “I’m listening, sir.”
“First, how well do you know these two?” Seren questioned.
“Not closely, but still fairly well, sir.  I had interaction with both on ship, and I’ve been able to better know everyone in Group 3 since we started out.  They’ve not been a source of problems previously that I know of, although you’d know better than I whether either one has any warnings or discipline noted in their charts.  I will admit that I noticed the two of them growing closer, although I didn’t consider that they’d step out and disobey as they did.”
Seren did a quick memory search of the two Backers’ files and recalled that Backer Jax did have one verbal warning noted, but it was a minor error, just a misfiling of a folder that caused some frustration for his ship Charge.  He had no intention of holding such a trivial mistake against the man, nor think that one mistake played into another. 
“This is what I’m considering,” Seren started.  “I want the two of them on Rights Restrictions, but I see no need to make this any more public than necessary, which is why I’d like to know if you and Backer Lux would be willing to take them as your responsibility during the remainder of the trek.”  He looked with understanding at Carter and spoke with sincerity.  “I know you and Lux are seeking to know one another better, and that you’ve chosen to share a shelter when we camp for the night.  If you would take on this responsibility, it would mean forgoing that privilege so each of you could stay with Haley and Jax.”
Carter nodded, not in agreement, but in understanding so far of what Seren was saying and encouraging him to continue.
“If you and Lux choose to accept, Haley and Jax would need permission from you for everything.  All rights are taken away accept what you choose to give them.  Once the trek is done and we are back at the ship, I’d make an evaluation with the two of you to decide if the Restriction would continue for a time, if a different discipline is necessary, or if they’ve earned the right to have their privileges returned to them.”
He ended things there, knowing that Carter would grasp the fullness of this assignment if he accepted it, and also giving the man a little time to think on it. 
Carter remained in quiet thought for no more than a minute before nodding with sincerity.  “I can’t think of a fairer penalty than what you’re proposing, sir.  Lux and I have time to get to know one another, so I believe he will accept the responsibility without thought of resentment.  We’ll also do our best to make sure the details of the crime and punishment are not spread amongst the people.”
Seren was pleased with his security officer’s willingness and attitude.  “Good man,” he praised.  “I’ll stand with Haley and Jax for a few minutes if you’d like to explain this decision to Lux.  I’m sure he’d like to hear it from you.  When you’re done I’ll detail the consequences out to our offenders.”
It took Carter no more than two minutes to enlighten Lux of what would be happening.  When the two of them finished, they stood on either side of Seren as he addressed Jax and Haley.
“Stand up, Backers,” Seren ordered.  The two Travelers rose obediently and stood at attention despite their obvious nerves.  Seren let them squirm for a moment in silence before explaining their punishment. 
“I am disappointed,” he started, “that two such qualified individuals must be disciplined for such an offense as disobedience, lack of forethought, and dangerous actions.  However, you both have proven to be quality and beneficial members of our crew in the past, so I am going to assume this was a one-time crime that will not be repeated. 
“Your penalty, effective immediately, will be a complete Rights Restrictions for the duration of the trek.  Backer Jax, you are assigned to Charge Carter.  Backer Haley, Backer Lux has authority over you.  The two of you will not leave their sight at any time.  Absolutely everything from talking to eating to chores to personal needs must be approved by them before you may carry them out.  If you are denied permission, you will not argue it.  If you do argue or fight this penalty in any way, you will find yourselves before me once again, and I will not be so lenient for a second infraction.  Once back at the ship, I will converse with Charge Carter and Backer Lux to deem whether or not a longer sentence is required, or if the punishment can be deemed completed.  Is all this understood?”
“Yes, sir,” they answered, although Jax seemed to choke on his words for a moment, and Haley’s eyes had a sheen of moisture that she was clearly fighting. 
Seren, never one to want to end things on a bad note, softened his tone a little.  “This incident will be recorded in your files, but neither I nor Carter or Lux will share anything of it to anyone else.  If you choose to speak of it to someone, that is your call, but your privacy will not be made public knowledge by us.  I do hope you’ll take these next few days to think about the poor choices that were made and work to not repeat them.”
Backer Haley took a small breath and nodded with clear relief.  “Thank you, sir.”
Backer Jax also managed to meet Seren’s gaze and his eyes showed his gratefulness.
With a brief nod to the two Backers, he turned them over to Carter and Lux to handle things from then on.