It would be overstating the matter to say that Krista had settled into a routine in her newfound duties as a Damn Yankee at the Detention Department. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that she had resigned herself to the boredom, monotony, and degrading day-to-day drudgery that had become her life. Every day, actually every hour, she thought about tossing her badge away and just getting the hell out of the whole situation and just look for an open position in some civilian occupation where the bitch slap that had been her law enforcement career wouldn’t sting quite so badly. Still, the knowledge that David Aquilar had been forced into a similar situation by her bad judgment stayed her hand, as did the sad realization that Arlen Bradford wouldn’t have thought well of her for doing so. She somehow believed that she owed it to both men, men whose lives she ruined and in one cased ended. They didn’t have the option of simply picking up and going away somewhere. One had his career forcibly ended with no way back. One was dead and gone, his memory and thoughts of what she had done to him and indirectly led to his death and her fall from grace as a respected law enforcement officer, and she thought that quitting the force would somehow mean quitting her respect for his memory.
And then there was Ghost. Krista still couldn’t shake the feeling that he was watching her somehow, as though waiting for her to fall as if to justify having an even lower opinion of her than he already had. His judgments of her had always been harsh but with merit, and she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of watching her give up. She would scrub cells and deliver lunches to those in the slammer for their minor offenses to show that masked abomination that she was made of tougher stuff than he could have thought, and that she was going to get her gray uniform, corporal stripes, and team back just to show Sergeant Ghost that he was wrong about her, even though she didn’t believe for a second that he would ever admit it.
But after six days, she looked forward and dreaded her day off. It meant not having to put on the blue and demean herself to keep her badge. But it also meant having to contend with Doctor Martin Ness, the Constabulary’s resident head-shrinker. She had nothing against the man and she was willing to bet he had nothing against her, but she was slated for a psych-evaluation and that meant sitting on a couch for God-knows how many hours talking about whether or not Krista’s mom took her to the circus or whatever those shrinks asked about anymore.
At least she got to sleep in that morning, which was a change from six straight days of waking up at the ass crack of dawn. She stayed in bed until just before nine and took a quiet shuttle ride to the Civic Center where Doctor Ness had his office. It was the same as usual when she was out amongst the public during the day. Glares and sneers were liberally thrown her way, but she didn’t even attempt to respond to any of them. Even out here off-duty, she was watching her every word and move.
Krista reached Ness’s office and knocked, walking in when the voice inside invited her. Ness kept his office in a former classroom in a building that wasn’t being used for much else. Ness himself was younger than most would suspect, being no older than the latter half of his thirties. Krista had never heard where he had come from before, but his medical degrees and other certificates were neatly displayed on the wall behind his desk, so either he hadn’t come from far away or he really liked those degrees and awards and wouldn’t part with them even when running for his life against a shuffling horde of the dead.
Doctor Ness got up and shook Krista’s hand, inviting her to sit down on the couch near the desk. She folded her hands and looked around nervously. This man’s reputation was well-known. Ness was said to have saved more lives than the whole Constabulary put together. In the wake of the building of the walls of the colony and the solidifying of the mechanics that ran the place, people’s thoughts had turned away from the horror that lay outside and to the horror they still carried within their hearts. Inevitably, suicides rose steadily as people found themselves unable to cope with what had happened to themselves, their country, and their world, as well as regret over who they couldn’t save, didn’t try to save, or the methods they used to stay alive. Doctor Ness was particularly busy those days, speaking with survivors at all hours of the day or night, always seeming to know the right things to say to keep people warm at night, so to speak. He had a knack for putting things in perspective, helping his patients look ahead with hope rather than behind with regret, and to find the delicate balance between learning to accept the fate of their loved ones and forgetting them completely. Suicides plummeted in the weeks that followed Ness putting his practice together, and now, as the colony’s only shrink, he was contracted to the civic government who wanted his practice to carry with it an unspoken message that the local council was looking out for the residents in every way possible.
Some called Doctor Martin Ness a great man, one who saved people with his heart, not with bullets, and was destined to be remembered long after he was gone. Others said he was a good man if not a great one, a man with a good soul who used it to look after the people without it being the dramatic experience some said it was. Whatever the case might be, the truth was that so many survivors had their lives touched, and changed by this man that there probably wasn’t a beating heart in the Duke City Colony that didn’t respect, admire, or downright love the man.
This was Krista Showalter’s first visit with him, and in the minds of many, a long overdue one.
“So, Miss Showalter, do you mind if I call you by your first name?”
Krista replied, “Feel free.”
“Very well, Kristiana, I’m Doctor…”
“Just Krista, if you please. That’s all anyone’s ever really called me.”
“Okay, Krista, now you appear to have been sent to me at the behest of your superiors in the Constabulary, is that correct?”
“Yes. The brass wants you to crack my head open and see what bullshit pours out. Though I don’t really believe that I need to be here, I was ordered to come see you so here I am.”
“Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Let’s worry about that later, Krista. For now, I wonder if you might explain to me why your superiors sent you here. I’m sure they have what are in their minds very good reasons, but you don’t seem to agree that you needed a session with me. If you think you don’t need to be here, why do they?’
Krista thought for a second, and finally said, “I can only guess at that. Maybe they just ran out of ways to chew me out and figured that you could play ‘good cop’ to their ‘bad cop’ or something. Maybe they figure that I’m such a disciplinary problem that I have to be batshit or something. I can’t really say.”
“Okay Krista, you’ve just referred to yourself as a disciplinary problem. How exactly are you one?”
“I’m sure you have a copy of my service record on your desk in front of you, Doctor. You can just read it all yourself.”
Doctor Ness just smiled, anticipating this response. “But your service record is just a lot of what others have written about you. I already have their perspective. I would prefer to hear yours. Yes, they have written a great many reasons in plain English about why you are here, but I want to see if you would agree with them. Not agree with them that you need to be here, but agree with them that their reasons for sending you are valid.”
“Okay, I’m a disciplinary problem, you know that already. I’m sure not denying it. I take stupid risks, put my team needlessly in harm’s way, and no matter what I do to circumvent the rule book, I don’t care one bit. I think I have the right to get away with anything and I think that the slightest bit of punishment really just an excuse to single me out even though I would regard the same punishment as justified when handed out to someone else who pulled the same shit. There you go, Doctor. I’m a hothead and the pain in the ass to work with. Is that good enough?”
Doctor Ness totally ignored her question. “Krista, you said that you’re a pain in the ass to work with. But your service record indicates that your teammates are extremely loyal to you. So, who exactly are you a pain in the ass for?”
“I get them in trouble. I put their lives at risk when I don’t have to. I don’t know why they’re loyal to me, I really don’t. Actually, I went and pissed that away. I’m guessing you know what happened to my team a week ago after ALERT Four dragged our asses back from Truth or Consequences and then went back the next day to escort the poor chumps who towed our ride back?”
Ness just nodded.
“Well, my team got taken away, they all got reassigned to shit details, except for Dave, I mean Constable David Aquilar, who was my team’s radioman. He got shit-canned. He didn’t do anything wrong. It was my call, my mistake, and he paid for it. We all paid, and still are, but he lost his badge. We’re still on the force, even if we’re doing boring details now, but we could end up back on Recon, but I can’t imagine any of them trusting me again. Dave though, there’s no coming back for him. He’s done. He’s done and it’s my fault. It’s eating me up, and I already had enough of that shit on my plate. One more tire around my neck, you know?”
“So, you are a pain in the ass because you get your team in trouble?”
“Yeah Doc, that’s what I just said.”
Ness leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. “Then how do we reconcile that with the loyalty your team had for you?”
“I really can’t say. I can only guess that…hey, will my superiors know any of this?”
“Not the specifics, Krista. The end of the world does not mean the end of doctor-patient confidentiality.”
“Okay, because I was always taking us into the red zones, because the picking were awesome there when we wanted free shit, okay? We grabbed stuff where we weren’t supposed to, and as long as the cool stuff was in everyone’s pouches coming back, no one was ever going to raise a word of defiance to the way I ran things. No one on the team at least. The only time anyone on the team ever bitched about it was when it went to shit last week.”
“Why did you loot in the red areas? Those places are particularly dangerous, or so I’m told. What was it about it that you wanted so badly?”
“Nothing really, Doctor. My people wanted to loot. Hell, everyone who goes outside the wall does. So much stuff is just lying around out there, waiting for a new owner. My guys wanted to, so I let them. They still bitched me out when we blew the tranny on the bus and had to shoot and scoot until ALERT Four showed up.”
“Krista, it almost seems like your team was loyal to you insofar as you helped them skirt the rules. They all wanted to loot in a red zone, so did you, but when it went badly and you got called to task for it, they turned on you. Did David Aquilar want to enter Truth or Consequences for the sake of looting?”
“That doesn’t matter, Doctor. I was the team leader, it was my call, it was my responsibility. They were right to blame me. This little stunt of mine ruined their careers, probably for good, and for David, it was for good.” Krista was increasingly confused about why Doctor Ness was continuing with this issue. It wasn’t as though her disciplinary problems began only a week ago.
‘What I’m saying Krista, is that you have stated that you had the loyalty of your team. Why, we have to wonder, was that so easy to throw away? Yes, your actions cost the team, but they all had a hand in it. If they followed you willingly into T or C, they were also at fault. Did David Aquilar contest anyone when you all made the decision to go into a red zone?”
“No, he was as gung ho about it as the rest of us.” Krista was starting to see what Doctor Ness was getting at.
“Then he was himself guilty of operating in a red zone. It doesn’t seem like he just followed you there, but was a party to it himself. Are you certain that he was really punished for your actions, or for his own?” Doctor Ness was now leaning forward, confident that he was getting somewhere.
“Captain Heyward said that I needed to learn that my actions can cost others, and that I could only really learn that if I saw for myself when others paid for my mistakes. He said that. David was canned for what I did.”
“But again, are you sure? Maybe he just needed an example, and Constable Aquilar was it, but then, he was still guilty of the infraction that cost him his badge. You said so yourself. He wanted to loot in a red zone. If he wanted to, then it should have been your job to restrain him and keep him focused on the task at hand, but when the day is over, everyone is responsible for their own action. Even if others can pay for our actions, we are still responsible for our own. He violated regulations, he was removed from duty. I fail to see how everything that happened last week was solely your fault.”
“It was my call. It’s that simple.”
“If it’s that simple, Krista, tell me why Constable Aquilar was taken off the force but you were not?”
Krista cocked an eyebrow. “Say again?”
“Captain Heyward could have done a lot. He could have taken your badge like he did with Aquilar’s, or he could have suspended you completely. At the absolute least, he could have reduced you in rank to Constable again. Instead, he transfers you to another department where someone close to him can watch you, demotes you only laterally, and gives you thirty days to purge yourself of your maverick tendencies and you could be reinstated at your former rank and accepted back into recon. Considering the severity of the infraction, he was not exactly needlessly merciless. Rather, he seems to have arranged things in such a way that you would be guaranteed a second chance, and perhaps indefinitely suspended David Aquilar to…oh I don’t know…help you perhaps? Maybe show you how much it hurts when you see others get punished for your actions and maybe with the expectation that this would help you understand that regulations exist for a reason?”
Krista looked half-convinced for a few seconds, but dismissed Doctor Ness’s words.
“That’s kind of a thin argument, Doctor. That’s a pretty elaborate way to explain something that probably has a much simpler explanation, one that I’ve heard myself, by the way.”
“Well Krista, I’m only saying that you shouldn’t rule out the possibility that Captain Heyward sees great potential in you and he doesn’t want to take a punitive measure that could burn bridges. He just might believe that you could do great things as an officer, and feels he needs to take you to task to help you get there, provided that it doesn’t drive you off the force. I just think you might want to keep in mind that the results of this incident might not be as simple as you think.”
Krista thought about that, but once again, thought it was too elaborate an explanation to have any real basis in reality. Still, she played along, knowing that her time in this office could end with her badge being taken away after all. Doctor Ness was quick to change subjects.
“Now, tell me about Arlen Bradford.”
"If you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and there's a straw, there it is, that's a straw...and my straw reaches...acrosssssssss the room, and begins to drink your milkshake. I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE! SLURRRP! I DRINK IT UP!