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The Oath

By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 1 of 7

Victor Maryatt studied the records on his desk screen, deliberately ignoring the pale, defiant young woman seated apprehensively across from him. Her dangerous political sympathies had finally come to the attention of the Security Division and early yesterday morning she had been taken in for a very preliminary interrogation.

Maryatt's lips thinned in disgust. Even a short session with the lowest level of Security's experts had left the girl with bruises of body and soul. He wouldn't have interfered except Kiera Cameron was one of the best patient therapists in his division despite her politics. If anythingcould be salvaged from the human wreckage he had attempted to reconstruct in the OR, she was the only one who could do it.

He glanced up briefly, noting that her normally neatly styled dark brown hair hung in lank disorder around her ashen face and her open, empathetic gaze had been replaced by a cringing, submissive expression. He shook his head in disgust at what the Security Division had already done to her.

Finally he spoke, attempting to hide his concern with a brusque impersonal observation.

"I warned you that any hint of association with Blake's Freedom Party was dangerous."

"I only glanced through some of information disks circulating among the Beta class workers. I never went to any of the rallies," she protested weakly.

"The mere appearance of sympathy with the resistors is evidence enough to condemn you to the slave pits," he hissed angrily. "You idiot! Ever since Kasabi's defection, Space Command has been in a full-blown state of paranoia. You should have destroyed those disks as soon as they came into your hands to avoid any hint of contamination by dangerous ideas."

Kiera's eyes narrowed at the implication that Maryatt was more than a little familiar with the Freedom Party's beliefs and goals. She started to question him but the look of mixed anger and fear on his face reminded her of the high probability that this conversation was being recorded as evidence against her and she quickly stifled her curiosity.

"I realize that...," she answered woodenly. "I was just curious about the Freedom Party's wide appeal, from the lower class Delta labor grades to disaffected Alphas like...Blake."

"Curiosity can be a fatal trait, as I'm sure you are well aware of by now. Leave such political matters to the High Council and the Supreme Commander. All that should concern you now is how to save your own skin.Besides, Blake and his followers have been dealt with ...permanently."

The medical officer pushed away from his desk and began pacing restlessly around his spartan office. Kiera flinched at the note of finality in his voice and put further curiosity firmly out of her mind. "What do you want from me, Surgeon? With my loyalty under suspicion and every person I speak to scrutinized for possible rebel sympathies, I doubt I'd be welcome in any ward in this hospital."

"" Maryatt answered bluntly. "But this case is anything but ordinary."

He paused, his hands clasped tightly behind his back, staring out the narrow window in his office at the looming, sterile grey towers beyond. "I've just finished surgery on a critically wounded young officer who suffered severe laser burns to his face and upper body during a battle in the lower levels with Freedom Party dissidents.

"And he's still alive?" she questioned in amazement. "The shock alone should have killed him, if the blast didn't charbroil his brain! Why bother even trying to salvage such wreckage?" she questioned harshly.

"Gifted officers like Space Commander Travis are few and far between and Supreme Commander Servalan does not intend to lose him." Maryatt's voice held a precise, cautious note.

"TRAVIS! That butcher! All he's `gifted' at is murdering innocent civilians in cold blood!" Her expression twisted bitterly "So he finally winds up paying the piper after all."

Maryatt spun angrily around to confront her, his fists clenched as he leaned over his desk, spitting out a warning. "Don't be so quick to judge a field officer until you know the truth behind such `massacres', Therapist Cameron. I'm beginning to believe your sympathies for the Freedom Party might actually be more than just a minor flirtation with dangerous ideas."

Kiera took a deep shuddering breath, realizing that only Maryatt stood between her and the sadistic whims of the Security Division.

"I...apologize, Doctor," she grated through tightly clenched teeth. "I spoke out of turn. What were you saying about assigning me to the heroic Commander Travis?"

Maryatt seated himself at his desk again and pulled up Travis's medical records, tilting the screen so that Cameron could view them too."Amazingly, despite the destruction of his left eye and portions of his face by the blast, actual damage to the brain itself appears minimal. At least as far as we can tell by neuroscans and EEG readings."

Still the professional clinician despite her fear and disgust, Cameron questioned, "Has he regained consciousness yet? These are just basic delta wave patterns with erratic theta spikes that only show minimal neuroelectrical discharges. That indicates little more than an automatic reaction to pain or other unpleasant stimuli."

"We've been using a sonic sleep inducer for the past forty-eight hours to allow his body and brain optimum recovery from the initial shock that he experienced."

"Then how can you be sure he retains any brain function at all? This certainly isn't conclusive evidence." She gestured to the faint readings on the screen.

"I know." Maryatt shuddered at the horrifying memory of his medical team's arrival at the charnel pit that was the aftermath of the Federation's bloody suppression of the Freedom Party -- the moans and hoarse screams of the survivors, the stench of blaster-charred flesh, the gore-splashed,

mutilated corpses scattered like so much rubbish.

"I was one of the first medical officers on the scene and even though he was barely conscious,

splattered with his own blood, Commander Travis was still on his feet, gasping out orders, directing the mop-up." He shook his head in disbelief. "I don't think he was even aware of the severity of his own injuries."

"Battlefield syndrome. Shock provides its own anesthesia," Cameron shrugged indifferently.

"I'm quite aware of that, Therapist," Maryatt responded in a chill tone."But when we managed to get him down on a stretcher, just before he was evacuated, he finally seemed to realize how badly he was injured. He was half-delirious with pain and shock but he. . . made a request of me."

Cameron was silent as Maryatt contradicted himself. "No. . .first, he ordered, then after the drugs began to take effect, he pleaded, `I don't want to live half a man, Surgeon. Do you understand? I won't be the object of anyone's pity!'"

"Then why did you operate to save him?" Cameron asked emotionless.

"As I said earlier, Supreme Commander Servalan does not wish to lose an officer of Travis's caliber and I'm not foolhardy enough to ignore her direct orders, no matter what my personal feelings might be."

The doctor rubbed his upper lip thoughtfully. "The hero who led the strike force that put down the Freedom Party insurrection will be invaluable to her - if he survives."

"If...I thought you said that he had."

"Survived the surgery. Yes, he has," Maryatt answered grimly. "He's quite strong and physically resilient. But when he regains consciousness, that will be another problem altogether. If what he said just prior to his surgery is any indication, we will be dealing with a man hellbent on self-destruction."

"Give him to the psychostrategists," she tried to answer calmly. "They can easily erase such suicidal tendencies."

"Perhaps," Maryatt disagreed. "But they have little experience in dealing with the severe physical trauma that he has suffered and the devastating effects it can have on the mind. It will require a gifted therapist to provide the care necessary to stabilize his condition enough before the psychostrategists can even begin their task. I want you to take charge of him personally, Kiera. You're the only one who can keep him alive and sane in the interim."

"Why should I?" she demanded harshly. "I know this is a temporary assignment at best. The Security Division has already decided my guilt. Within days I'll be under a surgeon's knife being modified or enroute to some hellhole of a slave labor colony. Why waste my last hours as a human being trying to salvage a man who's better off dead?"

"If you take the assignment and succeed, there is a possibility that it will weigh in your favor. Be a mitigating factor when final action is recommended in your case." He studied her shrewdly.

"Depend on the mercy of the Security Division?" she snorted in disbelief. "Small chance of that."

"Then there is the matter of your oath." Although the words were spoken barely above a whisper, they seemed to echo loudly in the small, sparely furnished room.

"What oath? My oath of allegiance to the Federation was a particularly ugly corpse that the interrogators enjoyed resurrecting at frequent intervals," she sneered.

"I was thinking of an older one . . .that you swore when you first became a therapist. . .and healer. `The regimen I adopt shall be for the benefit of my patients, according to my ability and judgement and not for their hurt or for any wrong.'"

Kiera's face was rigid with suppressed emotion and her voice a tattered whisper. "You are a heartless bastard, Victor, and a hypocrite as well."

"I do whatever is necessary for the well-being of my patients. Will you take the case?"

"Do I have a choice?" Her voice was barely audible.

"This may be the last voluntary decision you ever make," he retorted coldly. "Consider it well."

"Damn you, Maryatt," she cursed colorlessly, her head sagging in defeat.

After a brief pained silence, she looked up her face haggard and eyes cold as a winter glacier.

"How much longer until you bring him out of the induced coma? Do I get any time at all to . . .prepare."

He took in her battered, exhausted features and after studying the records on his screen one last time, made a quick decision. Travis would be a difficult patient - arrogant, stubborn, and reluctant to endure the patience, empathy and compassion that were Therapist Cameron's primary tools. He honestly doubted that Kiera could have salvaged the young officer even before the interrogators began their destructive violation of her mind and spirit. Still, he had to make some effort for both their sakes.

He ordered curtly, "I imagine he can stand another twelve hours of induced coma so you can clean up and get some rest. But I'll expect you here promptly at 0600 tomorrow. We'll take him off the inducer shortly thereafter."

A pained nod of resignation was her only reply.

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