Read The Devil and Deep Space Online

Authors: Susan R. Matthews

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The Devil and Deep Space

Table of Contents

The Devil and Deep Space

a novel under Jurisdiction

by Susan R. Matthews

Andrej Koscuisko, the
Ragnarok
’s Ship's Inquisitor, is going home on leave. His ship of assignment is participating in training exercises, and when an observer station unexpectedly explodes –- killing the
Ragnarok
’s captain -– Pesadie Training Command has to come up with a cover story in a hurry or risk exposure of its black-market profiteering.

There is a conveniently obvious explanation: the
Ragnarok
did it on purpose. All Pesadie needs are a few confessions -- obtained by judicial torture, which creates its own truth. And a bitter enemy from Andrej’s earliest days in Fleet has been waiting for just such an opportunity to set a trap and bait it with the lives of people Andrej loves.

Andrej will have to fight Fleet itself to bring the
Ragnarok
the only thing that can save the ship and crew from destruction –- a single piece of evidence with the potential to change the course of the history of Jurisdiction Space forever.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

eISBN: 978-1-62579-261-7

Copyright © 2002 by Susan R. Matthews

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

Electronic version by Baen Books

Originally published in 2002

Dedicated to the Intemperate Muse

according to his Excellency’s good pleasure

Special thanks to Denise Vincent for her assistance in preparing the OCR scan of this document for publication. Any remaining errors are mine and mine alone!

Chapter One

An Unfortunate Combination of Circumstances

“I have your report from Burkhayden, Specialist Ivers,” the First Secretary said, looking out the great clear–wall window over the tops of the fan–leaf trees in the park below. “I apologize for taking so long to get to it. I find it rather strongly worded in places.”

Rather strongly felt, Jils told herself, wryly. But Burkhayden and everything that had happened there were months behind her now; except one thing. “Yes.”

The First Secretary looked tired, even from behind. Jils didn’t think she’d ever seen him lean against anything in all of her years of working with him. She could understand his fatigue, though; with the recent and unexpected death of the First Judge, Sindha Verlaine was at the defining moment of his entire career.

If the Second Judge at Chilleau — Verlaine’s Judge — became First Judge, Verlaine would become the most powerful civil servant under Jurisdiction; Chambers here at Chilleau, with their beautiful gardens and their tall whitewashed walls, would become the center of known Space, since whatever might be in Gonebeyond was not worth consideration.

If the Second Judge failed to negotiate the Judicial support that she needed in order for her claim to prevail, however, it would be all over. Second Judge Sem Porr Har would remain one among eight equally powerful Judges for the rest of her life, and First Secretary Verlaine would still be nothing more than the senior administrative officer at Chilleau Judiciary.

Good enough for most men.

Not good enough for Sindha Verlaine, who had been working toward this moment for his entire adult life — twenty–plus years by the Jurisdiction standard, in service to the Judicial order.

Verlaine turned from the window, his expression open and candid. In the bright morning light his normally pale complexion was an unflattering claylike color, and it was clear from the drawn contours of his face that he had not been getting enough rest for some time. “Please. Sit down, if you will, Bench specialist. I mean to be very frank with you.”

He almost always had been. The relationship between a Bench intelligence specialist and the administrative staff of any given Judiciary could become adversarial, because men like Verlaine weren’t accustomed to being told no — and only Bench specialists and Judges could do it. Bench intelligence specialists answered to no single Judge, but to the Bench itself.

Some Secretaries that Jils had coordinated with had tried to wheedle, threaten, influence. Verlaine had never stooped to subterfuge; she respected that in him. So she sat down in one of the several chairs that were arrayed to one side of the window, in front of his desk.

Verlaine nodded his thanks for her cooperation and picked up a flat–form docket from his active file, backing up against the forward edge of the brilliantly polished wooden desktop until he was sitting on it, file in hand.

“Chilleau Judiciary got off on the wrong foot with Andrej Koscuisko from the very start,” the First Secretary observed, mildly. “It’s past time I faced up to my responsibility for what’s gone wrong there, Specialist.”

There were reasons Verlaine might have for taking time out of what had to be a hellishly grueling schedule of political coordination to talk about a single individual.

Koscuisko was the Ship’s Surgeon assigned to the Jurisdiction Fleet Ship
Ragnarok
— Ship’s Inquisitor. Several months ago Verlaine had sent her to Burkhayden to obtain Koscuisko’s services for Chilleau by fiat, and Koscuisko had reacted by doing the one thing no one could have anticipated — reenlisting in Fleet, when no other offered inducement had moved him from an apparently single–minded determination to be done with the practice of Judicial torture and go home.

Koscuisko was just one man, though his public profile was higher than most due to the personal notoriety he had won at the Domitt Prison: but Koscuisko also had family, and his family was very influential within the Combine.

When the Dolgorukij Combine spoke Sant–Dasidar Judiciary and its Sixth Judge were obliged to listen, or risk expensive and awkward civil challenges. The support of the Koscuisko familial corporation could be the key to the Combine’s endorsement of a chosen candidate, and the Sixth Judge had to defer to the Combine’s wishes if she meant to keep the peace. That meant that the Sixth Judge’s support for Chilleau’s bid lay with the Dolgorukij Combine to grant or to withhold.

Nor was Koscuisko simply one among a powerful family, but the inheriting son of the Koscuisko prince, and would be master of the entire familial corporation in time. That made him the man with whom Sant–Dasidar Judiciary would expect to have to deal during much of the tenure of the new First Judge. It was in the Sixth Judge’s best interest to cultivate Koscuisko’s goodwill accordingly, and pay careful attention to his feelings.

“I have read your report, Specialist Ivers, and I have decided. Chilleau Judiciary has wronged Koscuisko, and it is my responsibility because it was my doing. But the timing is awkward.”

Funneled special assignments in Koscuisko’s direction to keep the pressure on, assigned him to the
Ragnarok
even knowing that three out of three of the
Ragnarok
’s previous Inquisitors had been unable to tolerate the work to which Fleet Captain Lowden had put them. Verlaine was right; he had wronged Koscuisko.

Clearly Verlaine meant to send her to Koscuisko now with concessions. Jils didn’t see where timing could really affect Koscuisko’s reception of whatever Verlaine had to say one way or the other; she knew Koscuisko’s feelings about Chilleau Judiciary. And Bench Specialists didn’t run personal errands with political motivations behind them. “What would you like to tell me, First Secretary?”

“It goes deeper than just Koscuisko. Though he must be admitted to be the most visible symbol of the entire system.”

Of what? Of Inquisition?

Verlaine set down his flat–form docket and cast off from the desk, starting to pace. He was a very thin man, not tall, but very quick in his movements; he frequently gave Jils the impression that the energy of his mind could not be contained within his body. “The Second Judge has agreed to issue a statement of intent. Her proposed agenda.”

It would be the formal announcement of her desire to step into the First Judge’s position. No one had issued such a statement to date; it had only been twenty days since the death of the First Judge had been reported. It had been a surprise. People were scrambling.

“When she does she will challenge the rules of Evidence as in the best interest of the rule of Law and the Judicial order. It will be controversial. I must have Koscuisko on her side.”

Jils was startled into a question. “Rules of Evidence, First Secretary? Does she really mean to question the Protocols?” Because the Second Judge was a brave woman if she did mean to do that.

The Bench had come to rely more and more on Inquisition as its instrument of state over recent years; that was why there were Ship’s Inquisitors, Judicial torturers. And still civil unrest continued to increase, regardless of — or even possibly as a result of — the increasingly savage methods to which the Bench resorted to contain it.

“It costs too much,” Verlaine said, simply. “In more than just money. But more than that, it’s just not working, Specialist Ivers. The more the Bench leans on confession extracted under torture for validation, the less credibility the rule of Law can hope to retain. She will need all of the help in this she can get. She will need Koscuisko’s support.”

For a Judge to question the usefulness of her own Inquisition was a genuinely stunning development. If the Second Judge spoke out against the Protocols, she challenged the most useful weapon in her own inventory. There would seem to be little political capital to be made with such a slap in the face of the status quo; was it possible Verlaine meant exactly what he said, that torture did not help keep order in the long term, and cost too much besides?

“I know better than to accuse you of trying to deploy me on a partisan political mission.” It wasn’t done. “So where do I fit into all this, First Secretary?”

Pivoting in mid–pace Verlaine turned back to his desk and the flat–form docket, which he picked up and held out to her. “Except that that’s just what I’d like you to do, Specialist Ivers. Complete a personal errand, in a sense.” The note in Verlaine’s deep voice was ambiguous; nerves — or self-deprecating humor? “I can’t deny my partisan interest in the potential payoff, here. I can only ask that you believe me when I assure you that at least part of my motive is genuine and disinterested.”

There was something odd in the First Secretary’s demeanor; he seemed almost embarrassed. Jils opened the docket and reached out to leaf through its stacked pages; then stopped where she was, page one, paragraph one,
In the circumstance of the recently renewed engagement of service, Andrej Ulexeievitch Koscuisko, Ship’s Surgeon and Inquisitor, it is the judgment of this Court . . .

Verlaine meant to cancel Koscuisko’s Writ.

Without prejudice. Having been extended under and as a result of inappropriate duress contrary to the rule of Law and the Bench’s responsibility to protect its citizens from unreasonable and unlawful imposition.

There was more. There was an advance copy of the Second Judge’s proposed statement of intent, and Jils could pick out the pertinent titles with ease.
Regrettable vulnerability of the system to abuse. Multiple instances of failure, not excepting Chilleau Judiciary’s own shameful failure to protect the rights of displaced Nurail souls at the Domitt Prison. Immediate moratorium on imposition of the Bond and granting of any new Writs to Inquire.

There it was, in plain text; and that meant that this was not a flat–form docket but an incendiary device capable of destroying Chilleau Judiciary at one blow in the wrong hands.

“Are you sure about this, First Secretary?” She had to ask; she had to hear it from him. If Koscuisko was minded to be vengeful he could create a very great deal of trouble for the Second Judge by leaking this to her anticipated opponents before she had a chance to make her case. The Fifth Judge at Cintaro in particular would pay a very great deal of money for the document in Jils’s hands.

“It’s the only way I have any hope of convincing Koscuisko that I’m serious. I was wrong; he’s suffered for it. I need his help. But I mean to try to make things right whether or not he’s willing to support the Second Judge, Specialist Ivers.”

Because the Bench judgment was to be executed at Koscuisko’s will and pleasure. It was already fully endorsed. All it needed was his seal to make it official. All he had to do was sign, and he was clear of Fleet and Inquiry forever.

No quid–pro–quo for Chilleau Judiciary; no if then, else. Jils thought about it. As Verlaine had warned her, the errand he proposed had clear political overtones; and yet she was a Bench intelligence specialist, she was expected to make up her own mind about whether to accept or reject any given assignment. That included taking her own counsel about whether the immediate partisan impact of her mission was outweighed by the greater good of the Judicial order.

“Where is the
Ragnarok
, First Secretary?”

All right. She’d go. She’d carry this liberating document to Andrej Koscuisko, and find out whether he would even see her, after what his last interview with her had cost him. But she’d wait to see whether she would trust Koscuisko with the full power Verlaine offered to put in his hands.

“In maneuvers at the Pesadie Training Grounds, Bench specialist. But Koscuisko’s due home on leave. If you’re willing to perform the errand, agents of the Malcontent will see to the necessary arrangements, on Azanry.”

On Azanry, where Koscuisko’s family was?

Verlaine certainly had the political angles tabled out as acutely as he could. A Bench intelligence specialist taking relief of Writ to the inheriting son of the Koscuisko familial corporation in the very heart of the Dolgorukij Combine . . . where every move a man like Andrej Koscuisko made would be seen, analyzed, interpreted, then acted on by an immense and arcane machinery of tradition and ethnic solidarity. Working toward the will of the Koscuisko prince . . . or of the man who would be the Koscuisko prince, and perhaps there was not even so very much difference at this point.

“I’ll take your Brief to Azanry.” What was owed Koscuisko was fairly owed. She’d been there when he had been forced to gnaw off his own leg to escape the trap that Chilleau Judiciary had set for him, the trap that she herself had sprung on him. She had a right to be there when Chilleau prised open the jaws of the trap and apologized and begged him to accept a replacement leg with the sincere compliments of First Secretary Verlaine. For the rest of it —

“Thank you, Specialist Ivers.” Verlaine knew that he was asking her to intervene in a more–or–less personal relationship between Chilleau and Andrej Koscuisko, but that was all right. He’d read her report. He knew what she’d had to say about his attempt to co–opt Koscuisko in the first place. “I appreciate your cooperation. We’ll alert the Malcontent to your expected arrival.”

For the rest of it she’d review the docket, and if its contents conformed with the rule of Law she’d do what she could to enlist Koscuisko’s cooperation in turn. And while she was there, on Azanry, maybe she’d ask the Malcontent for something on her own behalf.

Garol Vogel had dropped out of sight on an exit trajectory from Port Burkhayden months ago, and had not been heard from since. Maybe the Malcontent knew what might have happened to him. No other source of information Jils had consulted had been able to offer any help.

Bench specialists were supposed to be difficult to seek, locate, identify. But not by other Bench specialists. “Very good, First Secretary. I’ll keep you informed.” She couldn’t shake the feeling that more had gone on in Port Burkhayden between Andrej Koscuisko and Garol Vogel than she’d realized.

If the key was on Azanry somewhere, Jils meant to find it.

###

The little Wolnadi — one of the
Ragnarok
’s complement of four–soul fighters — careened past its target on a high oblique trajectory to plane; weaponer Smath screamed, from her post on the aft cannon, and Lek Kerenko grinned with pure delight to hear her curse. “Damn you, Lek, slow down!”

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