Episode 23

The Instinct to Pry

Since the records had produced nothing of use, she decided to go in search of artificial stimulation. In the wardroom, she found Doctor Benbow taking tea. At his invitation, she joined him and listened as he spoke of his home planet. The doctor had come from Omar, fourth of the yellow sun Pollux, and he spoke longingly of it.

“A lovely world,” he told her. His eyes took on a distant look. “It's been a long time. I suppose much has changed since I last saw it.”

“How long have you been away?”

“Twenty-five years. Most of my adult life, as it happens.”

“Haven't you ever been back?”

“Only in my memories.” The doctor set down his cup and looked at York. “I passed on the request you made to the captain.”

“Oh?” She cocked her head and waited for him to say more.

“He has no objections. He instructed me to assist you in any way I could. Within reason.”

“I appreciate that.”

“You realize that he is unhappy over your concerns about the crew.”

“Yes, but unfortunately, the nature of my work demands a certain amount of cynicism.”

“You're too young and attractive to be so cynical, Miss York. I am very curious what drew you to your present occupation. Revenge or a broken heart would be the cliched explanation, but the more I get to know you, the more cold-blooded I observe you to be. So, whatever it is, I doubt it relates to passion.”

She saluted him with her tea cup. “I am impressed, Doctor. You're correct. Neither revenge nor romantic passion drove me into the arms of my employer.”

“I don't wish to pry.”

“Of course you wish to pry, Doctor!” She grinned at the expression on his face. “I should be very offended if you did not. I would hate to think I interested you so little. After all, the instinct to pry is an integral aspect of both our professions.”

“I stand corrected,” he said, and they both laughed. “Perhaps I should say that I don't wish to offend.”

“You won't offend me. I think you'll find I'm unusually good at not answering questions I don't wish to answer.”

“Is your motivation a question you don't wish to answer?”

She thought about it for a moment. “No, but to tell you the truth, it's a question I've never asked myself. I don't think I can answer it because I don't know the answer myself.”

“Interesting,” the doctor mused, studying her through narrowed eyes. “Such a non-answer is an answer in its own right, of course. Not the most informative, granted, but better than nothing.”

“How well do you know the crew, Doctor?”

“I've talked with most crew members on and off, at one point or another. For the most part, they are like young spacemen anywhere. They're steady and dependable on the job, wild and irresponsible when in port, if I'm to judge by the cuts and broken bones I have to deal with when they return to the ship.”

“Are there any crew members that strike you as anomalies?”

“In what way?” the doctor asked, puzzled.

“Incongruities. A low-ranking man with an advanced degree. An uneducated man with a vocabulary betraying his nonexistent education.”

“I see.” The doctor nodded slowly. “It appears you are hunting your own kind, and on this ship, no less! That's a little frightening, I have to say. I will think about it, Miss York. Are there any specific attributes that might be of particular interest to you?”

York hesitated a moment before deciding an intelligent ally would be worth taking a risk. And besides, Benbow was from a House Trafalgar world. “Yes. I am particularly interested in any connections to House Dai Zhan, personal or professional.”

Benbow frowned. “House Dai Zhan? Is this on a political or ethnic basis?”

“The former.” York spread her hands. “To the extent they can be separated.”

“May I ask why?” The doctor's expression indicated that he really didn't expect an answer.

“I think that would be unwise at this point in time. But, if it will help you restrain your professional urge to pry, I will tell you that the reasons for my interest will almost certainly become obvious to you before long.”

“That's fair. Do you think there is any danger to the ship?”

“Not now, no.”

Benbow nodded and glanced up at the display showing the ship's time. “I'm glad to hear that, at any rate. Now, if you'll excuse me, Miss York, I'm going to turn in, catch an hour or so of sleep.”

“An hour or so?” She gazed curiously at the older man. “Surely you don't sleep so little!”

The doctor grinned, mildly embarrassed. “I hate to see the universe blink out. There's something terrifying about it. But I do like to see it blink back on, and I understand that in just over two hours, we'll be emerging from transit.”

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A Mind Programmed: The Instinct to Pry