The rule of Law

Another day where I have a lot on my mind, but simply cannot find the words to say things outright.  So Science Fiction Saturday today will be another one of those parables, another one of those stories where my true morals are hidden under the layers, waiting to be found.

Perhaps you will find them.

* * *

I joined the Intergalactic fleet shortly after I finished secondary school, partially because I wanted to make something more out of my life, partly out of a sense of patriotism but mostly because flying out between the stars may finally give me a sense of belonging somewhere other than in my home.

I hadn’t known what to expect, but who ever does?

My job, as I was not physically prepared to be a fighter pilot and not emotionally equipped to be a soldier ended up being as a medic.  It was a fine job as it was peacetime and the most extreme injury I saw was when a galley boy dropped a pot of potatoes on his foot.  The stress of my job came not from the people I treated, but from my immediate supervisor.

Jennalee Soren was a pretty woman in the third decade of her life, she had deep brown skin and fine hair that was always pulled back into a utilitarian bun.  Unlike many of the women of the fleet she took no time for beauty, instead she wore a uniform that was cut more like a man’s and her face was always bare.  She had a severe kind of prettiness, the kind that you saw not because it was apparent but because everyt ime you looked at her you thought of who she might be if only she were more feminine.

Her lack of femininity extended to her profession.  The Code Enforcers were almost ninety percent male, as it was their job to write up deviations from the code with absolutely no sympathy.  If I handed out more painkillers than were standard I was handed a slip.  If I spent more time with a patient than was alloted I was handed a slip.  If I gave more than a single free sample I was handed a slip.  Any slight deviation was noted, and if my deviations reached a point that Jennalee felt was excessive, I was immediately docked pay.  Often I would rail on her about her lack of heart, about how the code could not account for the humanity of the people I was treating, about how if I were earthside her job would not even exist.  Jennalee would appraise me coolly and say “but you are not earthside, and the rules are here for a reason.  What if we were called to war and we ran out of supplies?  What if you have fifty patients to see in a day and you dallied because you felt badly for one?”

I would smirk and turn away.

Then one day as I was closing down my workspace for the day it happened.  A young girl came in, in tears, her face bruised and bleeding and her whole body trembling.  She wouldn’t tell me what happened, but I could tell from her injuries.  Rape was a serious offense planet side, but in the fleet it could be punishable by death.  The poor girl probably felt some sense of fear on behalf of her attacker, hence the silence.

I felt irritation with her lack of communication.  I wanted to slap her back to her senses, to yell at her that she had to be honest with me.  I found it hard to care for her properly. I eventually turned to Jennalee in consternation and bitterly asked her what the Code said I should do.

Jennalee looked at me with an unreadable expression.  She sat down on the table beside Isa, took her hand, and told her to cry.  Jennalee sang to Isa softly, like a mother, running fingers through her hair.  Jennalee spoke to her like a priestess would to an acolyte, reciting an old Soren proverb that one must cry away their grief to leave room for hope.

I saw then in Jennalee’s face, her hands, even the way her toes seemed to curl in suffering, that she felt for Isa, this girl she knew by name alone.  I saw in her eyes a sense of profound hurt that seemed foreign to me.

It was Jennalee who calmly coaxed out of Isa the details, it was Jennalee who laid her down to sleep.  And as Jennalee sat down to write up a report of the events she looked at me with that suffering still in her eyes.  “Every day you ask me how I can treat you with such a distinct lack of compassion.  You claim the law is without feeling.”

I said nothing, there was nothing I could say.

“The law is compassion for Isa,” Jennalee said.

And for once I understood.

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