Andrea – in search of space, picks up where Making Merry left off.
Fresh from her work on Project Prodigialis, Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson takes command of the Terra II project.
The largest in-system luxury cruise liner had been refitted and recommissioned in the Royal Space Regiment fleet as HMDSV Colin Pillinger. Its mission? To identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which can be populated over time to take pressure off Earth and its resources.
Andrea – in search of space. Chapter eighteen, part two.
Shortly after arriving on board the Colin Pillinger, Doctor Louise Green, psychiatrist and counsellor (officer ranks), instituted as an adjunct to the regular 360 degree performance reviews what she called FTL assessments [I know what you’re thinking, but they aren’t the psychiatric equivalent of speed-dating, FTL in this instance refers to Fitness To Lead]. These semi-formal interviews are investigative in nature and aim to draw out any issues that could render the subject less than optimally fit for leadership or command and, through traditional counselling, help the subject to work through and overcome any limitations that might result from these issues. Starting from the top, both Andrea and Ishmael had been through the process, helped where appropriate and deemed fit to lead. Next in line was to have been Algernon Pippington, Tarquin was called in next, as the Sir Prijs was only days short of going out, for the first time, under his command.
“Take a seat, please, Captain,” Dr Green said when Tarquin entered her office, “Before we start, let me confirm a couple of things for you. Firstly, in this office, we are not Commander and Captain; the ranks mean nothing here – we are doctor and patient. Secondly, that relationship carries with it levels of confidentiality, openness and frankness that would be neither expected nor appropriate in any other setting. As for mood: I am happy to address you as Tarquin, Captain Stuart-Lane, Captain, or whatever you are most comfortable with. For my part, I am comfortable with Dr Green, Doctor or Louise. Again, your choice. Any comments, questions or suggestions before we start?”
“Yah. Actually, Louise… no, feels wrong. Let me start again. Actually, Doctor – yah, call me Tarquin by all means, but what exactly is the purpose of this?”
“Did you not get the memo?”
“Well, yah. I did.”
“It was fully explained there. Was it not clear enough?”
“Didn’t read it fully. Too long. Scanned it and picked up the main points. Still don’t get it, though.”
“Okay, Tarquin, let me explain. This ship—”
“The Colin Pillinger…”
“Of course, the Colin Pillinger – is led and staffed by the cream of the Royal Space Regiment. However, it is my belief, in fact it is the belief of the highest echelons of the Regiment—”
“You mean Merry?”
“Sorry. Keep doing that; Admiral Winstanley.”
“Yes. It is her belief and thus the regiment’s official position that no-one, not even the admiral herself, is so good that they can’t get better. That is what I am trying to facilitate in these sessions. I want us together to find out if there is anything, no matter how minor or seemingly irrelevant, in your past that is stopping you from being the best officer you can possibly be. And if we find anything, I want us to work through it together to allow you to develop to your fullest potential. Okay so far?”
“Well, yah. Except… I can see how that could benefit me – if there were any such stuff – but how does the firm gain from it? After all, your time doesn’t come free, does it?”
“I am here anyway, Tarquin. If I didn’t do this, I’d be twiddling my thumbs on what Admiral Smithson refers to as the King’s shilling, so there’s really no marginal cost to the regiment. However, much as you can benefit from the enhanced career opportunities presented by being a better officer, the regiment also gains by having the services of the best officers money can buy. So you see, it really is a win/win.”
“I say, that’s devilish clever, Doctor. I’m impressed.”
“Thank you, Tarquin. Can we get on with it now?”
“Yah. Sorry. Okay. Shoot.”
Dr Green started by delving into Tarquin’s childhood and soon found that, throughout his early years at home, his parents, particularly his father, instilled in him the belief that he was irredeemably stupid and would never amount to anything. He was packed off to preparatory school at the age of seven, where his retiring manner, coupled with his habit of speaking slowly and deliberately to avoid making any mistakes earned him his nickname of Lane Brain – a play on his surname and the cruel epithet lame-brain. This nickname stayed with him throughout his time in education and may well have been the root cause of his failure to collect any useful A-levels. His father’s money, rather than his own abilities and achievements ensured him the offer of a place at Oxford – an offer he never took up because he didn’t feel up to the rigours of a top-flight university. After his sister Tara died so tragically, his father bought him a commission in the Royal Space Regiment “to take his mind off it”.
By this time, Tarquin had spent two decades being told that he was useless, an upper-class twit and as much use as a chocolate fireguard.
“And that was how you were seen when the regiment sent you on the mission—”
“Yah. They even called it the Waist of Space. Didn’t know why all the chaps laughed at the name until later when Merry – that’s Admiral Winstanley now – told me what it really meant. She cottoned on quickly and made herself into a proper officer – and you can see where she is now. She still kept telling me how stupid I was.”
“And when did that change?”
“Rear Admiral Smithson?”
“Well, yah. She wasn’t that when I first knew her. In fact she wasn’t even a she at first.”
“Yes, she told me about that. What determination and courage she showed, don’t you think?”
“Yah. And when she was in charge on the Moon, she left me minding the shop for a while and – well, I suppose I was too keen to impress her, and ended up mucking it up quite badly. You see – my father had lots of chaps from other parts working for him, and he always told me that if I wanted any work from them, I should treat them with an iron fist, not kid gloves. I thought if I did that and could show her that I was proper officer material, that she would—”
“Well, yah. That, too, but mostly I had other – ahem – benefits in mind.”
“Yes, we’ll pass on that, don’t you think, Tarquin?”
“Except that it was another thing that kept me believing I would never be any use to anyone. But since I’ve been here, she and Commodore Al-Kawazi have been giving me more responsibility and now I get to be captain of the Sir Prijs!”
“Oh, yah, but it’s a start, isn’t it? And if I don’t mess it up, there may be more.”
“And what is that doing to your self-esteem?”
“That’s part of the reason I feel ready to take on the Sir Prijs.”
“Part of the reason?”
“Well, yah, obviously. I mean, Nusha keeps telling me I’m better than I think I am, though I can’t for the life of me see how that works.”
“You are getting on well with Lieutenant Nambeesan, then?”
“Oh, I should say. Funny thing is, I’ve dated loads of girls and women – I mean, with my movie-star looks and my father’s money, how can I fail? And I’ve always been able to guarantee… you-know—”
“No, Tarquin. I don’t know. What have your father’s money—”
“And my movie-star looks—”
“Mama. Always said I’d have girls falling at my feet.”
“Carry on, please.”
“Where was I? Oh, yah. I’ve always been able to guarantee what I call bedroom action on the second date. Sometimes the first and only occasionally having to wait until the third.”
“And how long have you been dating Lieutenant Nambeesan?”
“Since before I came here – more than a year, I should say.”
“And what, Doctor?”
“I say, that’s a bit personal, don’t you think? Not the sort of thing a chap would expect to be asked.”
“I’m sorry. After you raised the subject in relation to other women, I assumed it would be safe.”
“But we’re not talking about other women, are we? We’re talking about Nusha.”
“And she is different how?”
“Nusha isn’t just interested in my family money or what we can do for her. She is interested in me, as a person. Damned near the only person who ever has been. And before you ask, no – we haven’t done it. You want to know why now, don’t you?”
“Only if you want to tell me, Tarquin.”
“She is a good girl. Not the sort I’m used to, really. Nusha is saving herself for the man she marries.”
“And you don’t think that’s going to be you?”
“I’m hoping it will be. I mean, we’re practically engaged, on top of which my father is putting money into her bank – which he thinks and she thinks I think is for her to help her parents. I did some digging, and I found out her parents don’t want any help and that she’s saving it so she and I can buy a house together when we settle back on Earth. You see, father’s going to pop his clogs one day, and when he does I get all the dosh, cos I’m the only one left, but there’ll be loads of tax to pay on his estate. He’d already put a ton into my trust fund, so that won’t count for tax, and if he gives a load more to Nusha, that won’t either. Could save a few hundred thousand from the tax bill between them. Mum’s the word, though. Nusha doesn’t know I know that. But anyway, that shows that we will get married. She says no hanky-panky until we’re married, and she won’t marry me until I get a decent promotion or at least recognition through my own efforts.”
“So what’s holding her back?”
“Well, she’s absolutely right, of course. If she and I do it, and I die before we are properly married, she can’t then be pure for her husband, whoever that might turn out to be.”
“And you’re happy to wait? Something you’ve never had to do before?”
“I’m sure you’ve found, Doctor. Some things are worth waiting for.”
“How right you are, Tarquin. How right you are.” She paused, then added, “And, I’m prepared to say, fully fit to lead – something I wouldn’t have been able to say only a couple of months ago. Congratulations, Captain. No, don’t spoil it by crying.”
“I’m sorry,” he blubbed, “I just find it hard to get used to people being nice to me.”
Tarquin left the doctor’s office, saying he was off to find Nusha.