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Bolgeo Homestead

Liberty Crossing

Henderson Highlands

Planet Gryphon

Manticore Binary System

July 15, 1905 PD

“that’s much better, brandy!” Ariella Brady said.

“Easy for you to say,” Brandy replied, clinging to the parallel bars for support while her right leg quivered from the stretching exercises. “If they can regenerate an entire leg for me, then why do I have to work so hard after I get it back?”

“Bones and nerves and muscle tissue—those we can regenerate,” Ariella told her cheerfully. “But regeneration’s only the first step. If you were to push those brand-new tendons of yours too hard, for example, it would be way too easy to end up with something like an ACL tear. At which point we’d have to start over again with quick-heal, wouldn’t we? And even after we get the tendons up to speed and that cartilage conditioned so you can actually start some impact workouts, you’ve got pretty close to zero muscle mass. Trust me, building that up again will be a lot more work than this is. It’ll go faster, probably, but you’ll burn a lot more calories in the process. And while I know you’d really prefer to get started on that right now, we can’t, because until your leg is fully regenerated, they won’t let me unleash my inherent sadism on you.”

Brandy glowered at her.

She and Ariella had known one another for a long time, because Brady was the senior nurse therapist for Dr. Allen Whalen’s practice, and Whalen had become the Bolgeo family physician while overseeing Senior Chief Bolgeo’s physical rehab after the Vulcan explosion. Tim Bolgeo’s rehab had been both less and more extreme than his daughter’s was going to be. Because while he’d “only” had to regenerate a hand, as opposed to Brandy’s entire leg, reconditioning—or, really, initially conditioning—a leg was a lot less complicated. A hand was far more . . . complex, with more tendons, ligaments, joints, and muscles, than a leg, and regaining hand strength and—especially—manual dexterity took time. In some ways, reconditioning the larger, more powerful muscles of the human leg was harder work, but it could be done much more quickly.

Once she was allowed to start on it, anyway.

She’d been released from Bassingford over a T-month ago, but regen took time. She’d continued the treatments on an out-patient basis since, and it still wasn’t quite completed. But at least Ariella had finally allowed her to begin stretching exercises this week, although that was something of a mixed blessing at the moment. She was appalled by how much work would be needed, if just stretching exercises were this hard. As Ariella has just pointed out, her leg had no muscle strength at all, and she couldn’t even begin working on that problem until Doc Whalen signed off on it structural integrity. Which, at this rate, was going to take forever, and she couldn’t even start asking BuPers for a new assignment until she got that done, which meant—

Oh, stop complaining! she told herself as she wiped sweat from her forehead. At least you’re not one of those people who can’t regenerate at all! Think how much “fun” this would be if you had to master a complete prosthesis like someone like Lady Harrington, instead.

She grimaced at the thought. She’d never known, until her father told her, that Captain Harrington had lost an eye in Yeltsin. Like everyone else, at least in the Navy, Brandy knew Countess Harrington had been seriously wounded in her defense of the Mayhew family, but she hadn’t realized she’d actually lost her left eye as a result. Nor had she realized Countess Harrington was one of the people who couldn’t regenerate. That meant the docs had been forced to replace it with a prosthesis, instead, and rehabbing an artificial eye was a copper-plated bitch, from everything Brandy had heard. And while it was possible to provide an artificial eye with capabilities nature had never provided, some people never managed to adapt to one of them at all. In fact, a sizable percentage of recipients experienced some loss of function even with the “upgrades.” Brandy had never seen any sign of that in Lady Harrington, though. Not that she’d spent any time hobnobbing one-on-one with the squadron’s flag captain! But she’d been an anonymous, astronomically junior fly on the wall at more than one officers’ video conference, which meant she’d actually had a fair amount of facetime, of the electronic variety at least, with her.

“Are you going to just stand there a while longer? Or can we move on?” Ariella inquired sweetly, and Brandy glared at the therapist.

“At the moment, I can’t decide which of my legs is less happy with you,” she said. “The new one is really pissed off, but its buddy on the other side seems equally ticked because it’s having to work so much harder.”

“And you haven’t spent a lot of time on either of them for the last three T-months,” Ariella pointed out. “So your left leg lost a lot of its muscle tone while you waited for the right one to finish regrowing.”

“I did all my stationary exercises, just like they told me to. I was good! So why is this so hard?” Brandy complained.

“Because stationary exercises can help with flexibility but it’s not the same as when there’s actual weight on the leg, and they wouldn’t let you put any weight on the leg until the regen specialists signed off on it. Especially on the bone density. Besides, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for you to start walking until Bassingford’s regenicists—and Dr. Whalen, of course—decide they’re done, even if anyone was willing to let you. Remember, your right leg was still a good centimeter shorter than the left just a couple of weeks ago. Lot better idea to make sure they’re both the same length before you start working on balance.”

“I suppose,” Brandy groused.

“My God, I thought your Dad was my crankiest patient!” Ariella shook her head with a grin.

“I am not ‘cranky.’ I’m only . . . impatient. You do realize my survivor’s leave doesn’t even start until you sign off that I’ve completed therapy?”

“And this is a problem?” Ariella cocked her head.

“Yeah, it is.” Ariella frowned as Brandy’s tone turned more serious, and Brandy waved one hand. “It’s just . . . it’s just that I feel like I should already be back aboard ship somewhere. I don’t want to go out and get shot at again any more than the next woman, but I don’t want to be sitting on my posterior while people I know and care about are getting shot at, either.”

“I suppose I can understand that.” Ariella nodded. “It’s more than a little illogical, but I can understand it. At the same time, though, as fast as we can go is as fast as we’re going to go. And I know it doesn’t seem to you like we’re making any progress just at the moment, but, believe me, that’ll change. The entire structure of your right leg’s muscles and—especially—its tendons are at what we might inelegantly call the ‘wearing in’ stage, right now. We’re very carefully stretching and conditioning those tendons before we let you work them any harder, and until your bone density numbers are in the green, that’s all we’re letting you do. And the reason just stretching seems like so much work is that your leg muscles have very little—as in the next best thing to zero—strength. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if the bone density curve holds up, Dr. Whalen should be able to sign off on it in just another week or so, at which point I will let you start doing strength conditioning, as well. And once we reach that point, you’ll make progress a lot faster than you probably think you will right now. Trust me. I know it seems like it’s taking forever, but when you turn that corner, you’ll be astonished at how quickly it goes.”

“If you say so,” Brandy sighed, but she also smiled. After all, she remembered how her father had complained when it had been his turn. Which was why she’d been very, very careful to never voice a single “poor me” plaint in his hearing.

“Oh, I do. And now—” Ariella smiled at her. “About those stretching exercises, Lieutenant Bolgeo?”

* * *

“So, how’s it going, honey?” Tim Bolgeo asked across the dinner table, and Brandy puffed her lips.

“Ariella swears I’m doing great,” she said. “And I guess I am. I wish it could go a little faster, though.”

She reached under the table and tapped a knuckle on the exoskeletal “splint” which encased her new leg. Until Ariella signed off on her bone density for the regen sadists back at Bassingford, she was allowed out of the splint only when she was off her feet and planned to remain there, unless she was actively exercising under the therapist’s eagle eye.

Brandy understood how important that had been while her leg was still growing, but the way it took all of her weight off the aforesaid leg was also the reason she’d built up no muscle mass at all while still hospitalized. It was ironic, really. If her leg had “only” been shattered and put back together surgically or with quick-heal, they’d have had her up on it for PT months ago. But because they were growing new tissue—and, especially, new bone—and because, according to the regen specialists, the bone in her leg remained dangerously fragile until it finished growing, she still hadn’t been able to start true PT at all.

“Be patient,” her father said sympathetically. “I know I wasn’t the most patient man in the Star Kingdom when it was my turn, but—”

He paused as something remarkably like a snort came from Linda Bolgeo’s direction in response to his chosen adverb. She gave him a very direct look, and he grinned back at her.

“As I was saying, while I was, of course, a model patient and a paragon of virtue while I convalesced, I did experience the occasional moment of impatience. And”—his expression sobered—“I wasn’t feeling like I was shirking my duty while I did it.”

“Daddy, I don’t feel—”

“Oh, nonsense!” Tim shook his head. “Are you forgetting who raised you? Your mom and I know exactly what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. In fact, I’m pretty sure that intellectually, you know you’re wrong. You’re not ‘letting anyone down’ by taking the time to heal, Brandy.”

“I don’t—” Brandy began.

“Yes, you do, sweetheart,” Linda weighed in. “And I knew before we ever got you home that you’d feel that way. But your dad’s right. You’ve already paid a lot more ‘dues’ than most anyone else in the Star Kingdom. Or in the Navy, for that matter. I understand that’s not the way it works inside your head, but it happens to be the truth. So just accept that no one’s letting you go back until Ariella and Dr. Whalen are satisfied and you pass your post-therapy physical at Bassingford. And that it’s not your fault we’re all going to be so unreasonable about it.”

“Am I really being unreasonable, Mom?”

“In a word? Yes.”

“And there you have it,” Tim said in the tone of a man who recognized the sound of victory when he heard it. Brandy wiggled her nose at him—it was something she’d learned to do in grammar school—and he laughed.

“In the meantime, I have two items that might interest you, Lieutenant,” he said then, and she arched an eyebrow.

“What sort of ‘items’?”

“Well, the first and unofficial one of them is that a little birdie at Admiralty House tells me the JAG has formally recommended charges against Young.”

“She has?” Her eyes narrowed. “And just how does it happen your little birdie knows that? JAG recommendations are supposed to be confidential until they’re formally announced, and I don’t remember any formal announcements from Vice Admiral Cordwainer. So if somebody in the Judge Advocate’s office is telling you tales out of school—”

“It would be a violation of the Official Secrets Act and Article Nine,” Tim completed, and nodded. “But the birdie in question isn’t in the JAG’s office. Nobody officially told him a thing about it, and no one officially told him it was confidential or classified, either. Which is sort of my point, honey.” He shook his head soberly. “Somebody’s already leaked her recommendation, and I’d feel a lot better if I thought it was just some big-mouthed yeoman clerk. I don’t think it was, though. Not given what else my little birdie’s been picking up. It sounds a lot more to me like someone—and I would strongly suspect it was a commissioned someone, to be honest—deliberately made sure this got out before any of the Space Lords wanted it made public.”

“You think somebody wanted it out so they could start spinning it to protect him?”

“That’s what I’m afraid of, anyway.” Tim nodded again, his expression grim. “It’s the way those people’s brains work.”

Tim Bolgeo—like his wife and daughter—was a Gryphon. He was not only a Gryphon, he was a Gryphon Highlander. And when a Gryphon Highlander used the words “those people” to describe members of the Star Kingdom’s aristocracy, it was not a term of approval.

Brandy was a little less steeped in Gryphon’s traditional contempt for the nobly born, but she shared every iota of her father’s refusal to kowtow to someone simply because they were entitled to put “lord” or “lady” in front of their names. And she also shared every bit of his contempt for the way in which some members of the aristocracy—not all of them, because there were also aristocrats like Earl White Haven and Countess Harrington—rallied to the defense of their own, no matter how despicable someone’s actions might have been.

“I hope you’re wrong,” she said somberly. “At the same time, I have to admit, I’ve been sort of waiting for exactly that to happen ever since you told me about how he ran for it.”

“I hope I’m wrong, too,” he said. “But the way he ran for it sort of brings me to my second item—the one that’s official.”

“What?” Brandy looked at him. “Are you deliberately not making sense, Dad?”

“Disrespectful young hellion,” Tim said with a grin. “No, actually, what I’m thinking about is the contrast between his actions and those of certain other people. Like”—his eyes were suddenly very level—“you.”

“And what are you talking about now?” she asked warily.

“I’m talking about that little thing you didn’t mention to your mom and me,” he said.

“What little thing?”

“The fact that Lieutenant Commander McBain sent you to sort out that situation in Enviro Three before the squadron ever sucked the Peeps over that minefield.”

It was very quiet in the dining room, and Brandy looked back and forth between her mother and father.

“He had to send somebody,” she said, after a moment, “and I was available. Heck, I was the most junior available warm body.”

“And also the one who walked into that compartment to manually activate the fire suppression system, which explains why your skinsuit was already badly damaged before DC Central ever got hit. Which probably explains how the blast from that hit managed to do so much damage to your leg. And which overlooks the fact that you hauled two ratings out of that compartment with you. Two ratings who would definitely have died if you hadn’t gotten them out.”

“It was my job, Daddy,” she said quietly, and behind her eyes she once again remembered the roaring inferno which haunted too many of her dreams. Remembered the damaged duct system and the warped blast doors, twisted and jammed by Cassandra’s second or third hit, which had prevented her from simply sealing the compartment and venting its atmosphere. Her horror when she realized two of the life-support techs were still trapped in the compartment.

“Yes, it was your job,” he agreed, and she knew he truly understood that, in a way too many people wouldn’t have, because he’d been there and done that aboard a space station named Vulcan. “But I still wish you’d told us about it.”

“I try not to think about it very much,” she admitted.

“I’m afraid you’ll find that just a little more difficult going forward,” he said. “Because I was contacted at work today by one of Admiral Cortez’s aides. The Admiral thought I might like to be the one to tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“That you’re being awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.”


Brandy came halfway out of her chair, then made herself sit back down.

“That’s wonderful, Brandy!” Linda said.

“It’s wrong!” Brandy protested.

Her mother looked at her with a confused expression, but, again, her father understood.

“No, it’s not,” he said. “This isn’t a fortune cookie or a prize you found in a box of candy, Brandy. And they don’t hand out CGMs on a whim. It’s not something you ‘win,’ either. It’s something you earn, and you damned well earned it aboard the Cassie.”


“But the people who didn’t make it out are the ones who really deserve it, right? You don’t deserve it because, just like you said, all you did was your ‘job.’ You’re not the one who paid the price your dead shipmates paid.”

Brandy nodded slowly as he put her roiling emotions into words with devastating accuracy, and he reached across the table to take her hand.

“Navies award medals for a lot of reasons. I’m sure they taught you about this at the Academy. But in case you were asleep in class that day, medals are the way the Navy expresses its approval for people who go above and beyond when they ‘do their jobs.’ And the Navy doesn’t express that approval lightly, or just because the people in question deserve it—they do deserve it, but that’s not the only reason they get the ribbons. It’s because the people who rise to the occasion are the models, the examples. They’re who we’re supposed to look up to, the level we’re supposed to rise to. And for better or worse, baby girl, that’s who you are. Your mom and I have always known you’re something special. Now the Navy knows it, and you’re not allowed to disagree with them.”

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