Title: The Articles of War
Fandom: Treasure Planet
Rating: 12/PG
Summary: Nasty business, but I won't bore you with my scars. (Or, a formative incident in Amelia's service with the interstellar fleet.)
Disclaimer: All original works are copyright of their respective owners; I lay claim only to this particular story.
Notes: Written for [archiveofourown.org profile] wildgoosery for Yuletide 2013. (Also on AO3.) This story contains descriptions of military corporal punishment that are a bit more graphic than anything Disney would've sanctioned. Further notes are at the end.


The Articles of War

The first and last time that Amelia saw a man flogged round the fleet, it was all she could do not to be sick over the side.

The man's crime was known to all who witnessed the punishment, the details of both having been promulgated around all ships in the Third Planetary Fleet as soon as the sentence was handed down. The prisoner was charged with receiving a communication from an enemy, in this case a Protean privateer who had an eye on the convoy that the prisoner's ship had been assigned to guard in transport. The prisoner had reportedly received a written offer from the privateer to provide information about the convoy -- including their expected route, a full cargo manifest, and the number and types of escort ships and their armaments -- with the understanding that he would receive a due portion of the resulting spoils once the brigand's crew had launched a successful raid. The prisoner had not reported the communication, as was required by the Interstellar Articles of War, and it was only the watchful eye of a loyal lieutenant that had uncovered the letter and its incriminating contents. Though the Protean ship had managed to evade capture, slipping back into the depths of neutral space once the hue and cry had been raised, the traitorous crewman had been duly apprehended so that justice could be served.

The charge of communicating with the enemy would normally be a capital offence, but in light of 'extenuating circumstances' (which the space admiralty court left deliberately vague in the public report, lest the details tempt others to treachery with the hope that they too might throw themselves upon the court's mercy), the prisoner's sentence was commuted to a flogging round the fleet. But as all spacers know, a short drop and a sudden stop is far more merciful than a prolonged scourging of sins, and even the most hardened, battle-scarred veterans muttered darkly to each other when they heard what awaited the prisoner.

Ten credits says he don't live past the fifth ship.

They won't let 'm die, y' fool.

Can't stop a man from dyin' if he wants it bad enough.

'Course they can. They'll give 'm a jolt to keep his heart goin' and patch 'm together with spit 'n micro-wires when it's done, but they won't let 'm die. Not from the floggin', leastaways.

Well, I ain't never seen a huu-mon live after it's been round the fleet. Maybe one o' them Arcturians, sure, they could take the lash for days without a peep, but not a huu-mon.

Least they won't use the laser-whip on him, I heard.

Why would they? Be nothin' left of him if they did.

I'd like to take a laser-whip to that sneaking cat who shopped 'm, though.

She'd take one to you first, wouldn't she, just t' get her jollies out of it. Bet she's the type who likes t' watch.

And yet Amelia wasn't 'the type' at all. She'd had to watch, along with every other member of the crew from the captain down to the lowliest cabin brat. As the second lieutenant, she knew that a spacer's eyes were keen enough to detect even the faintest hint of weak-heartedness in an officer's bearing, so she made sure that she was perfectly turned out, with nary a whisker astray, as she took her place on deck. Yet it was only her determination to hold herself together -- or rather, her determination and the sturdy rail before her -- that kept her knees from wobbling when the little longboat carrying the prisoner hove into sight.

The Endymion was fourth of the twelve ships gathered for the punishment, but as she had been the prisoner's own ship the officer in charge of the longboat seemed to take his time in drawing level alongside her. There was a good deal of manoeuvering of thrusters and adjusting of tiller and trim, until the spacers assembled on the Endymion's main deck started to murmur their displeasure at the too-obvious rigmarole. Finally, sensing that he had prolonged the dumb-show as long as he dared, the officer gave the signal to tighten the cords on the prisoner's arms and prepare him for his next flogging.

Pressed up against the rail, Amelia was in a fine position to see every last detail. The knots in the cords of the whip -- not a laser-whip, but making up in crude efficiency what it lacked in fine technology -- that scored the flesh with each lash, breaking fresh stripes on the skin to add to the darkening crimson that oozed from shoulders to waist. The glazed-over expression of the spacer manning the tiller, eyes fixed on some distant galactic cluster so he would not have to watch the proceedings before him. The rocking of the longboat, sickeningly out of time with the rocking of the larger ship as the flogging progressed. The only thing she couldn't see was the prisoner's face, hidden as it was behind the mop of shaggy hair that fell forward over his bowed head. He hadn't made a sound once throughout his ordeal, but from the way his body jerked with the lashes it was plain that he hadn't fainted away entirely.

(Had she hoped that he would lift his head, raise his eyes, look her full in the face? Did she want to see forgiveness through his pain, hatred in his defiance? Why wouldn't he so much as try to look at her, when he knew that she would be watching every wretched moment?)

The final blow whistled home, and the flogging ended. The prisoner sagged in his ropes. Though Amelia was no stranger to the protocol of the punishment's end, the first fusillade of drums startled her so badly that her claws left scrape-marks on the rail in front of her. Without waiting to see the longboat fire its thrusters and turn its prow towards the fifth ship in its course, she gulped down a lungful of air and bawled out the first order that came to mind. 'Look alive, you bilge-slugs, back to your posts! And unless you want to be on watch-and-watch 'til your eyestalks drop off, keep your tongues behind your teeth or clackers clamped shut!'

Dimly, she heard the other lieutenants calling out their own orders, and with a tramp of boots and scurrying of claws and leg-pairs the spacers dispersed to their usual stations above and below decks. But just as she was about to grope her way to a quiet corner where she could collect herself in private, a heavy hand came down on her shoulder and a cool, faintly sibilant voice found its way into her ear:

'Lieutenant. My quarters, when you have seen to your spacers.'

Amelia snapped to attention with back-cracking speed, not daring to turn around or even twitch her ears out of their flattened position into a more neutral one. 'Aye, ma'am!'

And just like that, the hand went away, but a ghostly sensation of its weight seemed to remain like an imprint on her skin beneath her uniform jacket.

****


Captain Constancia Nyx was not, perhaps, one of the truly legendary captains in the interstellar fleets, but a spacer who had served under her command never failed to come away with a story or two that could pay for a round of ale at most any spaceport dive. It was said that her forked tongue could taste the air and tell when most anyone was lying, and the moment her cold yellow eyes glittered like the start of a supernova you might as well start to fashion your own noose out of the rope she'd given you to hang yourself with. Amelia, for one, was frequently impressed by the older woman's cool detachment, especially in situations where she was hard-pressed to keep her own temper in check at a spacer's laziness or incompetence in carrying out an order. But it was never a good sign to be summoned to the captain's quarters alone -- not least because the temperature in there was hot enough to make any warm-blooded species break into a sweat within a few minutes of shutting the door, even if they hadn't done anything wrong -- and Amelia prayed that she wouldn't have to be in there very long. With such short notice to present herself, the only precaution she could take was to loosen her cravat ever so slightly before she knocked on the captain's door.

'Enter,' Captain Nyx called out.

Amelia opened the door, suppressing a grimace at the blast of hot air that greeted her. She took a deep breath and stepped inside, pulling the door closed behind her. 'Reporting as ordered, ma'am.'

The captain was standing in front of her desk, adjusting the electro-wick of the lamp that hung over the map table. She acknowledged Amelia's salute with a brief nod. 'At ease, lieutenant.'

Amelia did her best to stand more comfortably, already aware of the prickle of uncomfortable moisture at the back of her neck that itched to be groomed away. It took her a second to remember to not lock her knees, either. But she stood and waited, her face a perfectly attentive mask.

Captain Nyx gave the lamp a final gentle touch, the razor-edge of her talons clicking against the glass. When she turned her attention to Amelia, her tongue flickered out briefly to test the air before she spoke.

'You have heard, I presume, that Mr Cranshawe's death sentence was commuted by the admiralty court for the reason of extenuating circumstances,' she said, almost conversationally. 'As you were the one who first brought his treachery to my attention, I feel that you have the right to know something of these circumstances.'

Amelia let her breath out through her nose, and felt her hopes for a quick audience fading with her exhaled air. As she had not been asked a question, she said nothing.

Captain Nyx continued, her tone calm and unhurried. 'In his defence, he claimed that he was tempted by the promise of the proposed reward for his assistance in the assault on the convoy. I paid scant attention to the details, but they apparently had to do with his desire to assist a family member in immediate financial hardship.' She paused, tilting her head to look more closely at Amelia. 'Was it a vital operation for an ailing younger sister, perhance? Or a poor widowed mother about to be thrown out into the cold, unforgiving streets?'

It wasn't said sarcastically, for which Amelia was grateful, because she would not have been able to keep her fur from bristling instantly at the wrong tone of voice. 'Neither, ma'am. His uncle -- his father's brother, ma'am -- had gambling debts.'

Another flicker of tongue. 'So he did tell you, then.'

'His uncle raised him from a boy, ma'am,' Amelia said, through teeth that mostly were not gritted. 'Looked after him until he joined up. Mr Cranshawe often spoke of him, to me and to others.'

'Indeed.' Captain Nyx rested her hands on the map table. 'The two of you were at the academy together, weren't you?'

'Mr Cranshawe was a class behind me, ma'am. We were on the Declaration together, and then he was on the Southern Cross before it was put out of commission following the first Protean skirmish.' The prickle of sweat was starting to run down her back, and it took an effort to not shift her shoulders.

'And in between that previous assignment, and this most recent one, he received the offer that sealed his fate.'

Amelia kept her mouth tight shut. A yes, ma'am was the correct, proper response, but she did not trust that it would not stick in her throat.

The captain tested the silence with another flicker of tongue, before she said, 'Do you understand the reasoning behind Mr Cranshawe's sentence?'

'I...understood it to be extenuating circumstances, ma'am.' A pause, not quite long enough to make her next words sound insubordinate. 'As you said.'

'Hanging is the usual sentence for such a crime, but in this case it was decided that a further lesson was warranted that a capital punishment would not encompass in full. I for one fully concurred with the court's decision, and in fact recorded my official support of the verdict. After all, the circumstances of Mr Cranshawe's crime were indeed extenuating: his actions would have put at risk this ship and crew, as well as all of our fellow ships in the escort and convoy and their crews. Had you not alerted the watch commander to the letter in Mr Cranshawe's possession -- '

(The heat of the stateroom was making the blood pound a slow drumbeat in Amelia's temples, and sweat was starting to trickle into her eyes. It was the only plausible reason why they should be burning with such a tell-tale salt-sting, and why her vision should have suddenly gone so blurred and painful that she could scarcely focus on the captain's face.)

' -- our former crewman might well have succumbed to the temptation with which he was sorely tried.'

Amelia blinked quickly, trying to banish the salty soreness in her eyes. By the time she managed clear her vision, she saw that the map table was no longer between her and the captain. Captain Nyx had closed the distance between them, and from only a few feet away was regarding her with keen, yellow-eyed scrutiny. Yet when she spoke, her voice was quieter, and had lost some of its calm impartiality.

'I know that you did not mean to expose him,' the captain said. 'You had no idea of the offer, let alone that he had even been approached by that pirate knave. It would have been treason as well for you to know of that letter, and not report it...but, given the choice, I suspect that even now you wish that anyone but you had been the one to uncover his treachery.'

For all of its truth, it was too close to sympathy. Amelia almost couldn't bear it. 'Please, ma'am -- '

Captain Nyx held up a hand, talons spread in a command for silence. 'I called you in here, lieutenant, to give you a word of advice. It is a word of advice that I do not like to give, yet I always seem to find some opportunity to convey it to most of the officers who serve under my command.'

Eyes on the captain's talons, Amelia held her peace. The captain was silent for a moment before she continued, slipping back into the tranquil, unemotional cadences she had used before.

'In our line of work, we are required to trust that each spacer will follow orders, and will regard the lives of fellow spacers and the safety of the ship as paramount in importance. And every spacer must be reminded that there is no greater crime than to betray the trust that has been placed upon them by their officers and fellow crew. But an officer, especially one in line for command, must never lose sight of the fact that we will all have our trust betrayed at one point or another, and that we can never be certain what manner of temptation will lead to that eventual betrayal. There is no real way to predict who we can and cannot trust...and it is especially important to keep this fact in mind when one is, shall we say, less in a position to rely on brute force to impose one's authority over a crew.'

At such a close distance, Amelia was more than aware of the captain's presence, as well as the air of command and control that she herself had tried to emulate with varying degrees of success. But as the older woman spoke, she also noticed how small and slender Captain Nyx really was, without the added bulk of the heavy greatcoat and muffler she usually wore on deck to fend off the chill of spaceflight. Her talons were long, but her hands and wrists were as thin as Amelia's own. Perhaps the captain's usual choice of clothing out of doors and preference for extreme warmth indoors were less a purely physiological preference and more a deliberate decision. But just as the possibility settled into her mind, Captain Nyx said something that completely broke her train of thought.

'That is why, in light of today's events, I have recommended that you be transferred to the Fantasia, as first lieutenant under Captain Hardacre.'

Amelia's stomach lurched, roiling like a ship caught in a solar flare, between transfer and first lieutenant. '...ma'am?'

The captain smiled -- or what passed for a smile, considering the intimidating sharpness of her teeth. 'Most will see it as a promotion for your loyal service to the fleet, which in truth it is. You have performed with more than the usual competence here, and my commendation will state as much on your records. But I think you will understand when I say that it is also a chance to leave Mr Cranshawe's betrayal behind you, rather than continue to serve with his memory under my command.'

It was hard to tell whether her head was spinning more from the heat of the room or the unexpected news. Either way, there was little that Amelia could say, apart from the obvious. 'Thank you, ma'am.'

'You'll have your formal orders in the next day or two, so I suggest that you have your trunk packed and corded sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, I expect that you will continue your duties as before.' Captain Nyx looked her up and down for a final time, and then turned back to face the map table. 'Dismissed, lieutenant.'

'Ma'am.' Amelia saluted (and oh, the horrid feeling of damp fur on damp uniform was far worse when one moved) and made haste to find the door. Once outside, she made straight for the rail, eager for even the slightest breeze that could be found when a ship was at anchor in port.

She stood at the rail for a few long moments, eyes closed, taking deep draughts of the fresh air and letting the shifting solar winds do their best to dry her damp clothing. When she opened her eyes and glanced down at the rail, the claw-marks she had left in it not half an hour before showed fresh and raw on the metal.

There was only one thing to do about it. Whirling on her heel, her eye fell on the nearest spacer swabbing the foredeck with a mop and bucket. 'Mr Bellworthy, see to this scrape here! I want this metal so burnished that I can see my whiskers in it.'

It wouldn't do to have such scars visible, after all.

Notes

Upon rewatching Treasure Planet prior to starting this story, I began to ponder the structure and discipline of the regular space-navy that Captain Amelia seemed to have come from. She's clearly used to a better class of crew (as she so firmly informs Doppler shortly after their first meeting on the Legacy), and she's sensible enough to have brought with her a first officer who appears to have earned her complete trust and confidence. So I thought it might be interesting to play with the movie's themes of trust and betrayal, and extrapolate them to explore a slightly darker side of life in the interstellar navy. Originally, I'd planned to have Amelia's friend and former shipmate actually sell the information to the privateer, and be sentenced to death, but a quick check of the Royal Navy's 1757 Articles of War gave me a better idea: If any letter of message from any enemy or rebel, be conveyed to any officer, mariner, or soldier or other in the fleet, and the said officer, mariner, or soldier, or other as aforesaid, shall not, within twelve hours, having opportunity so to do, acquaint his superior or a commanding officer, or if any superior officer being acquainted therewith, shall not in convenient time reveal the same to the commander in chief of the squadron, every such person so offending, and being convicted thereof by the sentence of the court martial, shall be punished with death, or such other punishment as the nature and degree of the offense shall deserve, and the court martial shall impose. So a death sentence became a flogging around the fleet, and Amelia became both the betrayed and the betrayer, which I think works better in the general context of the story.

I also wanted to give Amelia an interesting role model during her naval service -- and Captain Constancia Nyx wasted no time in developing her own character, with scarcely any assistance on my part. (I can't draw to save my life, but I imagine her looking vaguely like a cross between a velociraptor and an iguana.)


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