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All rights reserved by the author, L.V. Lloyd, any unauthorized distribution or selling of this ebook constitutes as an infringement of copyright.
Copyright © 2013 L.V Lloyd
Amazon Edition 2014
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
to E.J. Kellan and Rae Kitano for your support
(Author’s note, this novella is part of the Aurigan Space Saga series. The events in this story take place prior to the book His Guilty Secret, also available on Amazon.)
The Captain engaged the cloaking shield so that the ship’s presence was invisible to any overt monitoring, or even to the human eye had there been anyone near enough to look for it. The Jerez was on a routine patrol in the Auriga system and was not anticipating any trouble, but it never hurt to keep their movements unpredictable. Ion thrusters allowed the ship to glide through the vast space, quiet and unnoticed.
The Jerez was a class P108 military vessel. Although most spaceships were crewed by both men and women, there were still several specialised military vessels which were single sex, the P108 and P112 with men and the M394 and M401 with women. It was considered more effective when crew were placed in combat situations where they risked their lives.
“Mayday!” the vid com on the bridge sprang into life. A gray haired woman in a dark green singlesuit appeared on the screen. Her face drawn with worry, she spoke rapidly as if afraid she was going to be interrupted at any moment. “My name is Jamison, Second Manager at Oriell space station, in orbit above M- 1106 in the Capella star system. We have been attacked by pirates, I estimate 20 are down here on Oriell, perhaps ten more aboard their vessel. We have four fatalities so far. Patrol ship, provide urgent assistance if you-” The transmission ended abruptly.
First Lieutenant Hendriks was already entering the co-ordinates, even as he heard the Captain give the order, “Let’s move it. Sanchez, you’re in charge of the patrol team.”
Second Lieutenant Sanchez left the bridge, speaking on his wrist com as he went, “Alpha team, prepare for immediate deployment, then stand by at Bay 2.” The men of Alpha team strapped on their weapons belts, belts permanently stocked with stunners and gas grenades. They replaced their soft soled shoes with heavy boots and were ready to go in moments. Sanchez met with them in Bay 2 where six stealth pods were waiting for departure as soon as the Jerez reached its target.
“Anyone here been on Oriell recently?” asked Sanchez, getting their immediate attention. No one had. “It’s a small space station above the mining planet of M-1106, known locally as Burra because of the copper, I’ve been told. They are under attack by pirates, and we are going to assist. Khan and Nayak, Jaffrey and Chen, you four will take control of the pirates’ vessel. The rest of us will clean up the space station.”
The four men chosen to take control of the pirate vessel donned close fitting spacesuits and carried their helmets under their arms. They would flood the whole ship with nerve gas which would totally immobilise the crew. Then they could enter and take over at their leisure.
Now they just had to wait for the faster-than-light drive, or FTL as it was more commonly known, to get them there.
The Jerez came out into normal space on the far side of the space station, cloaked so that the pirates couldn’t detect them. Alpha team loaded themselves into the stealth pods, two men in each, and the Jerez’ navigator activated the tractor beam and moved four of the pods towards the station.
The stealth pods had no engines or method of moving independently themselves, which meant they were very hard to detect until they attached themselves to their destination and disgorged their highly trained cargo. By then it was usually too late. The navigator activated the magnetic force field on the pods and they gently attached themselves to the outside of the ship’s cargo bay. The men were ready to disembark in less than a minute.
Silently infiltrating Oriell space station, the two smallest men climbed into the maintenance hatch and crawled through the service ducts behind the walls. The electronic surveillance system inside the goggles they were wearing, showed them the layout of the station and they made their way as quietly as they could towards the ventilation control room. If they had to, they would reduce the level of oxygen being produced throughout the station, rendering everyone on board unconscious, hopefully only for the ten minutes or so it would take for the rest of the team to locate and neutralise the intruders. It was often the best way to avoid further civilian casualties, although there was always a risk that people with health problems might be damaged or even killed by such a tactic.
The rest of Alpha team used heat detecting devices to sweep through each room, making a note of where people were located but moving as quickly and invisibly as they could, their primary goal to take control of the command centre. Sanchez led the way, a short heavily muscled man who could break someone’s back if he had to.
They stunned four men who had been posted as guards before they reached the command centre, without raising an alarm. Then their luck changed. Sanchez scanned the room with his heat sensor and discovered a large group of people inside, evidently a mixture of pirates and hostages. There were also five bodies on the floor.
Fourth Lieutenant Ferris took out his monitor and accessed the command centre’s com unit, so that he could get a visual on what was happening. He could see at least ten men with heavy assault weapons positioned amongst the group and exchanged glances with Sanchez. Sure they could take them out, but probably not without heavy civilian casualties. Reaching the same conclusion, Sanchez gave a signal to his two men waiting in the ventilation room, and in seconds the oxygen was cut. The effects however, were gradual as everyone, intruders and civilians alike, slowly lost consciousness and fell to the floor.
Sanchez, followed closely by a couple of crewmen, entered the command room and quickly began securing everyone who was carrying a weapon. At the same time, Ferris and the other men from Alpha team deployed through the rest of the station, clearing rooms as fast as they could. The intruders were disarmed, restrained and locked up for the Space Station staff to dispense justice. After ten minutes, Sanchez signalled Private Harrison to return the air supply to normal.
The entire operation had taken less than thirty minutes.
The eight members of the patrol team gathered in the docking bay of Oriell Space Station. The four stealth pods were still where they had left them and the team quickly doubled up to squeeze themselves inside the tiny capsules, ready for the return trip to the spaceship Jerez. Fourth Lieutenant Matthew Ferris cast a surreptitious glance sideways at Private Daniel Peters and just caught the slightest hint of a nod. He stepped up smoothly after Peters and they packed themselves into the nearest capsule, Ferris reaching behind himself to pull the cover hatch shut and engage the locking device.
He was still pumped from the recent operation, revved even higher by the anticipation of what was to come. There was not much room to manoeuvre inside the capsule, there were two miniscule seats that the occupants could use if they sat down at the same time, knees to one side of the other person, otherwise they could just stand there for the twenty minute journey. Usually the men stood back to back. Unless they were close friends, and even then, it made most men too uncomfortable, to stand face to face, pressed up against each other. Others of course, took advantage of the intimate environment.
There could be no argument that Peters was a beautiful young man, his high cheek bones, wide blue eyes and silky blond hair had aroused interest in more than a few men. What was slightly less clear was whether Peters was interested in any of his admirers. Lately however, he had been responding to Ferris’ delicate overtures, a smile here, a sidelong glance there, and today a nod.
The Fourth Lieutenant unfastened his weapons belt and let it fall to the floor. Then he reached around Peters and did the same for him, letting his hands roam a little over his body. Ferris put his arms around the other man, pulling him back tightly against him, so he could feel how ready he was.
He bent his head and licked the back of his neck, where his uniform gaped invitingly. The smooth golden skin tasted slightly salty after his exertions on the space station. Then he bit him, just under the ear, careful not to leave a mark, nipping his way down the warm curve of his throat to his bared shoulder. Peters quivered. Ferris felt even more aroused if that were possible, his breathing audible in the small space. He brought his hands up and started to unfasten Peters’ singlesuit and then he heard it. “No.” It was almost inaudible, “No, don’t.”
Ferris stood stock still. “Have I made a mistake here?” he asked, his voice still a little hoarse.
Peters bowed his head, “Don’t.” It seemed to be all he could say. Ferris withdrew as far as it was possible in the cramped conditions and looked closely at the bowed head of the man in front of him. It dawned on him that he was bracing himself as if for a blow. That quiver had not been a sign of anticipation but of fear, the boy was terrified.
“I’m sorry,” Ferris apologised quickly, “I thought you ...” He broke off. It wasn’t as if he had not been encouraged. Why had Peters given him the nod if he didn’t want to? “What’s going on here?”
Peters looked even more tense, “I’m sorry, I just can’t.”
“It’s all right,” Ferris sought to reassure him. “I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”
Peters’ tension didn’t reduce one iota. Ferris felt a bit impatient with him. What did the boy think he was going to do, rape him? Right here? Come to think of it that was probably exactly what he did think. The evidence of his own arousal was still pressing against him in the close quarters.
“Well this is a bit awkward,” he said cheerfully, seeking to break the tension. He was rewarded by a sound from Peters, half a laugh, half a sob. “Don’t panic, I’m just going to turn around, so we’re not standing quite so ... close,” Ferris warned him, twisting his body about so that he faced the door.
“What’s going on?” he asked again, over his shoulder. “Did you change your mind?”
There was a long pause. “I’m not an om,” Peters spoke softly. “I can’t help how I look, everyone thinks I must be an om, but I’m not.”
Ferris made a big effort to keep his voice calm. “Then why on Earth did you let me think you were interested in me? This ... what just happened ... wasn’t all my fault you know.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
Ferris thought he wasn’t going to say any more, but then he continued in a low voice as if he was frightened of being overheard.
“I was told that was what you have to do, if you want to stay on this ship.”
“If an officer wants you, you have to say ‘yes’,” he spoke as if it was a well known fact, not something that had just turned the world on its head.
“Who told you that?” Ferris still couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Some of the other men, those who don’t look as ... as masculine as the rest of you.”
“I’m sorry, I’m having difficulty with this. You’re telling me that men on this ship have been forced to have sex?”
“With officers? Who? Who’s been doing this?”
Ferris felt obliged to defend himself. “As far as I am concerned personally, I’m homosexual, an om and I thought you were too. I thought you liked me, that’s the only reason I asked you to join me in here, not some sick sort of power play!”
He continued, “Believe me, this sort of intimidation is totally unacceptable, tell me who’s been doing this and I’ll take it before the Captain.” A nightmarish thought crossed his mind. “The Captain’s not part of this, is he?”
To his horror, Peters hesitated before he replied. “Not that I’ve heard. I’ll ask around. It may not be easy to get anyone else to talk about this you know. Some men like to pretend it never happened.”
Ferris felt sick. How long had this been going on? How widespread was it? And he had nearly been part of it, without even knowing. He thought he was going to throw up. If Peters had not said ‘no’ he would have gone ahead and had sex with him. Sure, he’d thought he was consenting, but it still would have been rape. He made a vow to himself then and there, that he would never, ever again seek a relationship with anyone of a lower rank, never. How would he ever know if they were saying ‘yes’ because they wanted to or because they thought they had to?
He shut his eyes. “Let me apologise again, Peters. I am so thankful you stood up to me. It would have been a nightmare ... for both of us, if I had ... had...” he faltered to a stop.
“I admire you, you know,” confessed Peters. “I thought if it had to be anyone, I’d rather it was you.”
“Thanks .. I think!” said Ferris, feeling rather as if he had been punched in the stomach.
“I’m glad you’re not part of it, sir. I thought it didn’t seem like you but I didn’t really know, not until now. You’re right. This abuse can’t go on, we have to put a stop to it. I’ll talk to the other men and then come and see you.” Peters squared his shoulders, looking more like a soldier instead of a scared boy.
“Yes,” Ferris agreed, then thought of something else. “Do you think, if we take it in turns, we could squat down and pick up our weapon belts? It might give the wrong impression if they’re both on the floor when the door opens.”
It took Peters a week to gather the information he needed to take to Lieutenant Ferris. He sought him out one evening when he was off duty and brought a crewman with him. “Lieutenant? Have you got a moment, sir?”
“Come in,” Ferris looked from one to the other. He was taller than both of them, with thick chestnut coloured hair and dark brown eyes. “Is it okay if I set the privacy seal?”
The two men nodded and he shut the door behind them and set the privacy seal, so no-one could come in unannounced. Both of them were standing uncomfortably in the middle of his cabin and he gestured to them to take a seat. They took the two chairs, leaving him to sit awkwardly on the edge of his bed, wondering if this was really an appropriate venue given the nature of what they were here to discuss. “I’m sorry about this,” he smiled apologetically. “I don’t warrant an office until I reach Second Lieutenant.”
Peters smiled back and for a second looked older than he normally did. “We’ll be fine, sir. I thought you’d want to hear this from Lin first hand.”
Ferris looked at the other man and saw a slight, wiry figure, of decidedly Chinese ancestry. He had joined the ship at the last point of intake and he didn’t know him very well yet, but he remembered hearing he was an excellent shot. “Yes?” Ferris asked invitingly.
“Firstly sir, I am not an om, but I was told when I arrived that on this ship you have to act like you are, if you want to stay.” Lin spoke defiantly, unsuccessfully trying to suppress his anger.
Ferris tried not to look at him too sceptically. As far as he was aware, he was the only om amongst the officers, and there weren’t that many amongst the crew either.
“Can you remember exactly what was said to you?”
“I’ll never forget it! The exact words were, ‘If an officer asks you to bend over, just do it. Otherwise they’ll use Rule 158 to transfer you. You’ll end up a guard on a prison transport if you’re lucky’”. He stared defiantly at Ferris.
“But they can’t do that, Rule 158 is supposed to help people. It says quite clearly, ‘an om will be transferred without any penalty’,” the Lieutenant protested. Both men stared at him as if he’d just said something incredibly naive. “I’m sorry, I interrupted, go on.”
Lin looked down. “It was in one of the stealth pods.” Ferris couldn’t help it, he glanced across at Peters and flushed a painful red. Peters was studiously looking at Lin. “Lieutenant Hendriks got in behind me and said it ... it was time for my initiation. He said all the men on the Jerez had to go through this. Then he made me undo my uniform and ... and you know the rest.”
Peters spoke again. “So far I’ve found two other men who will admit to this same thing happening with Lieutenant Hendriks and four with Lieutenant Sanchez.” Ferris looked aghast. Peters continued matter-of-factly, “I haven’t found any one who says they have had that experience with Third Lieutenant Demir,” he paused, then added, “or you, of course.”
Ferris swallowed. “Captain Perez?” he asked. Peters looked at Lin again.
“No.” But before Ferris could heave a sigh of relief, Lin continued. “But he hasn’t done anything to stop it either. I went to him, afterwards, to complain and he just said-” he gulped. “That I must have asked for it. It’s true, I didn’t say no and I didn’t fight him, but ... he was my superior officer! What could I have done?”
Peters looked squarely at the Fourth Lieutenant. “I know it would be more straight forward if Lin had actually used the word ‘no’, but do you think there is still enough evidence to take this further?”
Ferris was still having difficulty meeting Peters’ eyes and instead turned to Lin. “Yes, I do. This is a flagrant and systematic abuse of power. I’ll talk to the Captain first and if he won’t address it, I’ll forward a report to Colonel Young at Capella Space Station. He’s in charge of those external inspectors who come round every so often. I don’t think he’d be the sort to sweep this under the carpet.”
Peters nodded with faint satisfaction, as if he had expected that response from Ferris. Lin had one more thing to say. “Sir? Please don’t mention me to the Captain. At least until you are certain this is going to be seriously addressed.” He looked anxious and Ferris agreed.
For the first time that evening, Peters appeared worried, as if he’d suddenly realised there might be actual physical danger in this process he’d helped to start. “Can I suggest, sir, that you compile your report to Colonel Young, before you see the Captain? And maybe forward a copy to someone you trust, just in case ... as insurance?”
Ferris looked at him in surprise and agreed, but with a smile. That was a bit extreme, surely?
Peters was concerned that he wasn’t taking the threat of danger seriously enough and leant forward to speak earnestly to him. “Sir, we are not only threatening these men’s careers, but their freedom. It is quite possible they will be charged and imprisoned over these offences. Take precautions please, protect yourself.”
Ferris looked from one to the other, they were deadly serious. “All right, I’ll do it now.”
He let the two crewmen out of his cabin, reset the privacy seal and spoke into his personal console unit, he didn’t want to risk using the ship’s console and the possibility of being overheard before he was ready. He tried to keep the report short and as factual as possible, using the names of the men involved and their own words where he could. This report would be for Colonel Young’s ears only. Although, he still couldn’t believe the Captain wouldn’t take action when the extent of the problem was explained to him.
Following Peters’ advice, he forwarded a copy to Medical Officer Torres, and after some consideration, to Peters himself. He wondered briefly whether he should send it through to Colonel Young now, before he saw the Captain, but he felt he should follow the proper procedures as long as he could. Then he went in search of Captain Perez.
Perez was a solidly built man in his mid fifties counting down to his retirement, with iron gray hair and an olive complexion. He invited Ferris in to his quarters and told him brusquely to have a seat, “What’s so important, Lieutenant, that couldn’t wait until tomorrow morning?”
“Sorry, sir, but I’ll think you’ll agree that it couldn’t wait. I’ve been approached by some of the crew about a system of intimidation being applied by some of the officers. To put it bluntly, sir, men have been raped and told it was part of some initiation ceremony to stay on the ship.”
“Hold it right there!” ordered the Captain, putting up his hand as if to stop him physically. He glared at him in angry disbelief. “Who’s been telling you this rubbish? There’s been nothing like that on my ship! I’m not saying there may not have been some rough play, but this is a military vessel for god’s sake, not a kindergarten.”
Ferris stared at him in disbelief. Rough play?
He could see the Captain visibly trying to calm himself and speak more persuasively. “Who’s been squealing? I know, it was that man Lin, wasn’t it?” he smiled condescendingly. “He came to me some time ago with some bullshit story, but you don’t want to let yourself get taken in by that, there was no truth in it. I spoke to Hendriks myself.”
“But Captain-” Ferris had to keep trying.
“No, I don’t want to hear any more about it. My ship’s got one of the best records in the fleet and I want to keep it that way.”
“As you wish, Captain,” Ferris spoke stiffly, “But I feel obliged to tell you I’ll be reporting this directly to Colonel Young at Capella base.” Something flickered in the Captain’s eyes and Ferris suddenly wished he had kept his mouth shut.
“You’ve sent a report?” the Captain asked smoothly.
Ferris hesitated a moment too long before replying. “Yes, sir, just before I came in here.”
The Captain studied him and suddenly relaxed, “I hope you haven’t made too big a fool of yourself, Ferris. That will be all, dismissed.”
The Lieutenant left hastily, made uneasy by the Captain’s sudden about-face, what had just happened here?
As soon as the door shut behind him, Perez spoke into his wrist com.
When he got to his cabin, Hendriks was waiting for him.
Hendriks was a large blond man just on the right side of forty, whom Ferris had admired for his expert efficiency before he had heard what Lin had to say about him. He was standing in the middle of his cabin, one shoulder leaning negligently against the wall, his arms crossed. He smiled grimly at the Lieutenant.
“How did you get in here?” asked Ferris, annoyance uppermost, fear just starting to flick around the edges of his consciousness.
“As First Officer, I have access everywhere, except the Captain’s quarters of course.” He examined his fingernails. “What’s this I hear about you complaining to the Captain about our little games?”
Ferris braced himself and held his ground. “It’s not a goddamn game, Hendriks. It’s got to stop, Sanchez too. It’s barbaric, not to mention criminal. If the Captain won’t act, I know Colonel Young will.”
“How about you just mind your own business?”
Quick as lightning, he stepped forward and punched Ferris hard in the stomach with both fists, one after the other, watching him as he doubled over gasping for breath.
“You can take that as a friendly warning to stay out of our affairs. Don’t even think about contacting Colonel Young. Remember, Sanchez gets to oversee the entire ship’s communications, so we’ll be watching you. If either of us even gets a hint you are still pursuing this you’ll get another visit, when you’re asleep in bed this time. We’ll take turns. Nod if you understand.”
Hendriks bent down to whisper in his ear, “And that prettyboy you’ve been chasing? We’re going to get him too, only he might not look so pretty after we’re through with him.”
Ferris had been telling himself to just lie down and take it, to plan a counter attack later, when he was in a stronger position, but that last threat pushed his self control over the edge. He headbutted Hendriks in the face and followed it up with a punch over the heart. The larger man keeled over, blood gushing from his nose and Ferris started to climb to his feet. But then Sanchez stepped through the doorway and kicked him hard in the kidneys and he was down on the floor again.
“You can’t win you know,” Sanchez said conversationally. “You’re just making things worse for yourself.”
He caught hold of Ferris by the left arm and twisted it as he spoke, twisted it with both hands until the bone snapped. The Lieutenant bit back a scream and swore violently instead. Sanchez let him go and bent down to haul Hendriks to his feet, “Come on, let’s go. I think he’s learnt his lesson, he’ll be pissing blood for a week. And he knows what will happen next time, if he tries anything else.”
Ferris lay on the floor for a few moments, getting control over the pain, his heart was still racing. At least he hadn’t been raped, that was good, right?
He debated whether to try and fix his arm himself, a task of which he was more than capable, as was every man on board. It was part of basic training. When you were out in the field you couldn’t depend on a medic being available for every injury, but then he decided that would draw even more unwanted attention.
After all, the injury had happened on board, not in the field, why wouldn’t he have taken it to sick bay? Even more importantly, he had to warn Peters and Lin immediately. He had just received painful evidence of Hendriks and Sanchez propensity to act quickly. He dragged himself up so that he was sitting on the bed and spoke into his wrist com.
“Peters? Ferris here. Can you get a warning to Lin and the rest of the men involved? I’ve just had an unpleasant visit from Hendriks and Sanchez, and they made some rather comprehensive threats.”
“Are you all right, sir? I’ll be right there.” Peters’ concern was flattering.
“There’s no need, I’m fine.”
“I’ll be right there, don’t move.” Peters repeated firmly. In less than five minutes he was there, flashing his ID outside the door to let Ferris know it was him. His eyes flew to the Lieutenant’s face and then zeroed in on his broken arm.
“Fine?” he remarked dryly. “What else did they do to you?” His eyes were scanning him, noticing with relief that his uniform appeared to be intact, but that he was moving slowly and painfully as he stood up.
“Stomach and kidneys,” Ferris replied briefly. “Rape was threatened but not executed. Thank god.” He looked anxiously at the other man, who had taken his arm gently in his hands, assessing the damage. “Daniel, they threatened you too, and Hendriks can access any room on the ship! You and Lin need to be really, really careful. Don’t go anywhere alone, especially your cabins.”
“I’ve already told him, but I’ll tell him again,” Peters assured him. “You need to go to sick bay straight away and get this looked at, make sure Medic Torres makes a record of all your injuries.”
“Yes sir!” replied Ferris looking at him quizzically.
Peters coloured up. “Sorry, Lieutenant, I’m right though. We’ll need evidence to back our case.”
Ferris was still worried. “I’m not sure now if I can send the report through to Colonel Young. Hendriks pointed out that all communications go through Sanchez and he will be watching everything I send.”
“I’m a bit of a com link wizard. Let me have a go and see what I can do.” Peters seemed to be forgetting he was talking to his superior officer. As if he suddenly realised it, he added quickly,” If that’s okay with you, sir.”
“All right. Just be careful, this fight has the potential to get extremely ugly before it’s over. But we’ve agreed we are going to fight, haven’t we? Not give in to threats?”
Peters held his gaze, his blue eyes serious. “Yes, I’d rather kill them and face the consequences, than give in!”
He looked away. “We better get you to sick bay, sir, that arm needs attention. Can you walk?”
“I think so, if I take it slowly.”
“I’ll come with you, you can lean on me if you need to.”
Eventually they reached the sick bay and Ferris gave Medical Officer Torres a full account of what had happened. He found himself studying Torres with critical eyes as he spoke, trying to assess whether or not he was part of this conspiracy of denial. Although Torres professed shock and amazement, Ferris thought he must have had his suspicions. Had none of the men come to him for help? Or was the whole command structure rotten? Still, he didn’t want to alienate anyone unnecessarily. He needed all the help he could get to expose this abuse.
He spoke confidently to Torres as if he knew he could rely on his support. “I have reported this to Colonel Young on Capella. I expect he’ll send a team to investigate as soon as possible, he won’t let this last for a day longer than he must. As far as I am aware, only two men are actually committing this exploitation, and one condoning it. Admittedly they are the three highest ranking officers, but by the same token they are only three men. If the rest of us stick together we should be able to keep them in check until Colonel Young arrives.”
Torres nodded slowly, but as if he wasn’t quite so certain. He set the break and covered the arm in plasfoam to keep it immobile while it healed, and gave Ferris some tablets to help his kidneys recover. The stomach ache he could do little about, except give him some anaesthetic spray for the bruising.
Peters, who had been waiting patiently outside, walked back with Ferris to his cabin. “I don’t think you should stay here, sir, not by yourself.”
The Lieutenant had been thinking much the same, although his concern was for the other two men.
“How would you and Lin feel about bunking down in my cabin for the night? We could take turns to keep an armed watch, with stunners. I may be over-reacting, but I’d rather lose a bit of sleep than get another broken arm!” He looked uncomfortable, “Does Lin know I’m an om?”
Peters shrugged. “I don’t know, sir. I’ll tell him if you like.” He gave a wry smile, “Do you realise how ironic this is? You’re the only officer who is an om, and you’re the only one we can trust!”
Ferris winced and glanced at Peters apologetically. “You can tell Lin that I made an oath to myself that I’ll never get involved with another crew member again, if that helps to reassure him.” And you, he thought silently.
“Isn’t that a bit drastic, sir?” Peters looked a bit taken aback.
“I don’t think so. It’s the only ethical thing I can do, this whole affair has brought that home to me, strikingly!”
Peters left him at the door to his cabin, “I’ll go and talk to Lin and then I’ll have a look at sending that report. Perhaps you should go and sit in the common room, sir.” He added tactfully.
The three men met again that evening in the Lieutenant’s cabin, Lin looking sideways at Ferris’ broken arm. He appeared a bit uncomfortable but determined, and he and Peters had both brought their stunners.
“Good news, sir,” Peters reported. “I’ve sent the report off to Colonel Young and he is sending a team to investigate. They should be here in a day, or two at the most.”
“Excellent! I did wonder whether we should tell everyone what’s going on, but then I thought we should leave that to Young and his team. You’ve warned all the other men mentioned in the report?” he asked the other two and they nodded. “I’ll take the last watch if you don’t mind. Wake me up at 04.00.” He lay down, still in his uniform, on his bed, leaving the two crew men to talk softly between themselves.
An ear splitting screech brought him to his feet, instantly awake. His cabin door was wide open and Hendriks was already inside, swivelling his head to see what had triggered the brief alarm. Seeing no obvious threat, he turned back towards Ferris and squirted a tranquilizer spray directly into his face.
Hendriks smiled unpleasantly, “Don’t worry, you’ll still know what’s happening to you, you just won’t be able to fight back this time.”
The Lieutenant slumped back onto the bed, the spray already taking effect despite his attempts to draw his weapon. Where were Peters and Lin? What had happened to them?
Before Hendriks could touch the man on the bed, Peters shot him with his stunner and he collapsed onto the floor. Peters came out from his hiding spot under the desk and looked apologetically at Ferris. “I’m sorry I wasn’t quick enough, sir. Are you all right?”
Ferris managed to nod. “Lin?” he croaked.
“In the cabin opposite, keeping watch,” answered Peters, with some satisfaction. “He’s the one who made that god awful noise. We thought we’d be safer if we weren’t all in here together, just in case they used gas or something similar.”
“Good thinking,” Ferris applauded. “What are you planning to do with Hendriks?”
“I thought I’d ask a couple of the crew over there with Lin to carry him back to his quarters. We should have that last little incident on record,” he gestured with the camcorder in his left hand. “But he doesn’t know that. Let him wake up in the morning and worry about what happened. If that meets with your approval, sir?”
“Fine by me.” he yawned. “Do you think it’s safe for me to go back to sleep? I’m struggling to stay awake here, that tranquillizer spray is knocking me out.” Ferris was wondering why they had even bothered to include him in the plan, the other men evidently had things well in hand. Oh well, he supposed someone had to be the bait.
“We’ll keep watch for the rest of the night, just in case.” Peters stepped over Hendriks, and called Khan and Jaffrey across from the small group of men gathered in the passage, to take him away.
Lin was smiling grimly. “Are you sure we can’t just toss him out an airlock?” he asked, looking down at the unconscious figure, only half joking.
The atmosphere on board was tense the next morning. Rumours of all descriptions flew around. Hendriks had been attacked in his bed, no it had been Ferris. Sanchez had been caught trying to leave the ship.
Hendriks strode around the bridge his expression forbidding anyone to approach him.
The Captain stayed in his quarters. This would blow over, surely? They just had to sit tight and wait it out. Perez wasn’t quite so certain when he received a communication from Colonel Young, announcing his imminent arrival. How had Ferris got the message out? He supposed it was too late for Lin to have an unfortunate accident.
Colonel Young boarded the ship with an assistant and four armed guards. He went straight to the Captain’s quarters and ordered him to call an immediate meeting with all his officers, including the Chief Medical Officer; then sat waiting at his desk until the last of them arrived. The guards spaced themselves around the room, watching the men seated in a semi circle facing Young and his assistant. Young let his gaze rest for a moment on Ferris’ broken arm and Hendriks’ swollen nose. Then he addressed the Captain. “Captain Perez, I have received a very concerning report about practices on this ship.”
Perez broke in testily, “It’s a load of crap, sir! I could have told you that and saved you a trip if you’d asked me. You’ve wasted your time coming all the way out here, Colonel!”
Young raised his eyebrows, “Indeed?”
“Yes, it was just one of the crew complaining when some sex he was engaged in got a bit rougher than he liked. He shouldn’t have started something he couldn’t handle. And as for Ferris,” he glared at the younger man. “Can I assume the report you received was from him?” He went on without waiting for the Colonel’s reply. “I’m afraid I will be seeking his transfer under Rule 158.” He tried to look regretful. “He’s an om and he has been trying to get sexual favours from some of the men by appearing to champion Lin.”
Ferris surged to his feet, outraged, but the Colonel waved him to silence before he could object. “You’ll get your turn in a minute, Lieutenant.” A sick feeling started in Ferris’ stomach, they couldn’t believe Perez, could they?
Young looked at Hendriks. “Lieutenant Hendriks?”
“It’s as the Captain said, sir. Lin followed me into one of the stealth capsules and asked me to have sex with him. I’m no om, but I thought why not take what’s on offer? So I did, and then he complained about it!”
“Can I ask how you got that injury to your face?”
Hendriks looked vindictively at Ferris, “It was him,” he stated, “He wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and as I said before, I’m not an om.”
Young looked at Ferris. “Is that true, Lieutenant, did you hit Lieutenant Hendriks in the face?”
“Yes sir, but I-” the Colonel cut him off again. “Later, please.”
Ferris was beginning to feel as if he was in the middle of a nightmare. Ludicrous as these accusations appeared to him, he knew there was only his word, or Lin’s word, against the First Officer’s version. There had been no witness to either event, apart from Sanchez of course who would back up Hendriks.
He could only hope that Peters’ recording of Hendriks’ second visit to his cabin had been successful; surely that should go some way to supporting his account of what had actually happened. Providing he was ever allowed to tell it! He looked at the three conspirators, they were starting to think they had got away with it, he could see it in their body language, sitting back in their chairs, subtly relaxing.
Colonel Young called on Second Lieutenant Sanchez next. He simply denied that he had ever had sex with any crewman, consensual or otherwise. Ferris noticed that Young did not mention any of the victims by name, but couldn’t decide whether it was because he had discounted his, Ferris’, report or whether he was playing a deeper game.
Third Lieutenant Demir just looked shocked and bewildered, as if all this was totally new to him. He had nothing to add to either story.
Finally, it was his turn but the Colonel did not allow him to tell him what had happened in his own words. He insisted on him answering a series of specific questions. Ferris hoped it was part of his strategy but he was beginning to question whether he had put too much trust in Young’s integrity.
“Lieutenant Ferris. You are the author of the account of the alleged intimidation on Jerez?”
“Can you tell me how you became aware of it?”
“One of the crewmen drew it to my attention, sir.” Ferris kept his answers brief, he wasn’t certain how much detail the Colonel wanted him to give. He soon found out.
“He was one of the alleged victims?”
“Then why did he choose you to complain to, Lieutenant? How did he know you were not one of the perpetrators?” Colonel Young was watching him with cool appraisal. Did he know what had happened, what Ferris had done?
Ferris took a deep breath. He had done nothing to be ashamed of, really, compared to what the others had done ... he stopped making excuses for himself and answered the question. “I made a pass at him. I misjudged his interest in me, and when he turned me down, I backed off. Then he told me about the abuse that was going on, we made some investigations and that report was the result.”
“Were you angry when he turned you down?”
“No, sir. I was thankful, I didn’t want someone who felt compelled to have sex with me. Personally, I couldn’t think of anything worse.” Ferris spoke with genuine feeling.
“Why didn’t you go to the Captain with this information?” Ferris could see the Captain shift uncomfortably in his seat.
“I did, sir, but he didn’t believe me. So I told him I was going to forward a report to you, and this was the result.” He lifted his broken arm. “Although, this was from Lieutenant Sanchez, not the Captain, sir.”
“Sanchez? How did Lieutenant Hendriks’ nose get broken then?”
“Hendriks was waiting in my cabin for me when I got back from seeing the Captain. He hit me and threatened to rape and disfigure the crewman I was talking about, so I fought back. Then Lieutenant Sanchez came in, and broke my arm. They threatened to rape me too, if I took it any further.”
“Excuse me, Colonel, but that’s bullshit!” Hendriks interrupted. “Are you going to take the word of one om over three senior officers?”
Colonel Young sat back in his chair, and smiled deprecatingly. “That does seem to pose a bit of a dilemma, doesn’t it? Fortunately, I don’t have to make that decision. I heard rumours about problems on this ship a while ago and I sent one of my senior undercover investigators here to discover what was happening. He has been on board for a couple of months now.”
The announcement fell like a meteorite crashing onto an airless moon. You could see everyone racking their brains to think who it could be. There were quite a few men who had only been part of the crew for a few months, Ferris included.
“Let me introduce you to him.” The Colonel gestured and one of the guards opened the door to the outside corridor. To the Lieutenant’s surprise, Peters came in and Ferris found himself looking beyond him to see who the investigator was. Then he realised that Colonel Young was still speaking. “Investigator Major Daniel Peters.”
Ferris’ first reaction was pure horror. Sweet god, he had groped and amorously bitten a major, he could see the words ‘court martial’ flashing before his eyes. Then he started to feel ill. Peters had played him like a pro. He was a pro, a professional undercover agent. He thought back over what had happened in the light of this new knowledge.
Peters had deliberately set him up to make the pass in the stealth pod. Thank god he had done the right thing, in the end at least. A major, for god’s sake. And he, Ferris, had tried to protect him from Hendriks and Sanchez; Peters must have laughed himself silly over that. He couldn’t bear to look at him, he felt so humiliated.
Hendriks gave a bark of astonished glee, “A major! My god you screwed up big time, Ferris. At least we only screwed privates!” he laughed at his own joke, unaware that he had just clinched the case against himself.
Peters sat down stiffly next to Colonel Young. He was so angry with the Colonel he could hardly make himself civil. He had wanted to speak to Ferris privately, before the meeting, so he could explain what he had done and the reasons for it but Young had forbidden him. He needed only one look at Ferris’ face to fear he would never forgive him.
Hendriks and Sanchez were arrested on the spot. Captain Perez was cautioned and told he would be facing an investigation. Colonel Young had actually come prepared, his ‘assistant’ proved to be a First Lieutenant from another ship, and he moved him in to take over from Hendriks immediately. The Second Lieutenant’s position would be filled shortly from the fleet’s merit list. Eventually it was all over to the extent that Ferris could leave and return to his cabin. His body was aching and he was still feeling hot and cold inside whenever he thought of Peters, if he had his way, he’d never see him again.
It was not going to be that easy however. He had just taken some painkiller and lain down for a few moments when Peters flashed his ID at his door. He considered pretending to be asleep but then he thought, what was the point in putting it off? Get it over and done with as fast as possible.
He opened the door and stood there, a wooden expression on his face, “Yes sir?”
“Can I come in?” Peters looked at him uncertainly.
Ferris felt gladdened by his apprehension and hardened his resolve. “Of course, sir.” He stood back and Peters came in.
“I wanted to explain to you, about what I was doing and why.”
“There’s no need, sir, I think it’s fairly clear. You were doing your job. That’s all I need to know, sir.”
“For heaven’s sake, Matthew, stop calling me sir!” Peters ran his hand through his hair.
“You mean you’re not really a major then?
“No, I mean yes I am, a major.”
“Well then, sir. I guess you’re not really twenty years old, are you?”
Peters sighed, “No, I’m thirty, I just look really young.”
Ferris continued to look at him in silence. He was twenty four.
Peters’ shoulders tightened and he ploughed on with his apology, even though he already suspected it was a waste of breath. “I’m so sorry, Ferris. I didn’t like deceiving you, but I had to know if you were part of it. It was my assignment to discover who was involved and then put a stop to it, at least I’ve been successful in that.”
He looked at the stony face in front of him. “I know you probably won’t believe me now, I wanted to tell you the truth but I wasn’t allowed to. You should be proud of yourself, you’ve behaved with honesty and integrity throughout this whole process. I wish I could say the same.”
He reached out and put his hand on the Lieutenant’s arm. For a moment they both looked at it. Slowly, understanding dawned in the Lieutenant’s eyes and Peters snatched his hand away. But it was too late.
Ferris stared at him in frozen disbelief, “Sweet god, you’re not even straight are you? Was any one single thing you told me the truth?”
Peters felt so guilty and upset he blurted out the worst thing he could have ever said. “I suppose that means you don’t want to have sex with me any more?”
Ferris gave him a long look, “Oh, I’ll have sex with you,” he paused and watched the mix of shock, confusion and hopeful disbelief, on the other man’s face, “If you insist on it. Sir.”
Peters went stone white and he flinched as if he’d been hit. “I guess I deserved that.”
He straightened himself and stepped back. “There’s nothing more to say is there? You’re never going to forgive me and I’m just making things worse. Goodbye Lieutenant, believe it or not, I’m genuinely sorry.”
Ferris was silent as Peters left.