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Perils in Promotion

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently based in Madrid. Links to his recent and collected fiction can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.

Behind every grated man, Percina's mother was fond of saying, there's a woman who got tired of waiting.
Following the capture of several hundred pirates in an area of space seedier than a parrot's birthday cake, the Fleet had requested Percina's presence. It had been tough going since she'd lost her position with the Fleet, and if getting it back meant enduring the kind of idiots one got on a Fleet interview panel, then so be it.
In the famous riddle: "What do you call my grandfather's son's brother's nephew?" The correct answer was: "the entire Fleet's officer class."
Men dominated the panel, and even in that sliver where the Fleet had succeeded in broadening the gender-spectrum of its officers, it found itself unable to alter its bias toward awarding command to those from the upper classes. Judging by the panels' slack eyes and dumb questions, the silver spoons involved had come stained with the tar of opium.
Her mother claimed the Old Buoy Network was aptly named because one day the whole decrepit structure would all sink together. Until then, one had to play its pathetic games. The instructive thing about any glass ceiling, though, was that you could look up and guarantee you'd see nothing but assholes positioned above you.
"Now, Captain Saunders," the general leading the panel said. "About this first mate of yours...."
Martin had been Percina's first mate when she was with the Fleet the first time around. She had selected him as the man she would marry, paid for various physical and mental enhancements to ensure he became the man she did marry, and then lost her position when this behavior wasn't deemed appropriate... never mind the number of male officers who married their juniors.
Every "One small step for man," inevitably, became "one giant leap" when it was the woman's turn to advance.
"I'm afraid we can't invite you both back," the general said.
Percina had discussed this with Martin. Her husband understood how important a real command was to her. After the space-limo business, animal haulage, and space trucking, Percina needed something to justify her Captain prefix.
Martin would understand.
It was time for Percina Saunders to have something enhanced.
"Yes," she said. "Of course. You would not be getting both of us."
The general shared a nervous laugh with his colleagues. "Well, that's a relief. We were quite worried how you'd take it. Stories of your legendary temper precede you."
"That was before," Percina said. "I've learned to deal with... disappointments."
"I'm very glad to hear it," the general said. "We wouldn't want you missing your husband whilst he's working for us."
Martin had not been in the waiting room when she'd come out. A higher-ranking panel than hers would be speaking to him in a bigger, plusher room about his new Fleet command.
Percina sat where Martin wouldn't fail to see her when he walked in.
An hour later, Martin entered, walked straight across and sat down beside her.
"'Pri-' is a prefix that means 'first,'" Percina said. "Therefore, you're not just my first mate but also my pri-mate. Which makes you my monkey."
"Then that," Martin said, with the lewdest of winks, "would make you my organ grinder."
Percina blushed. "That fact notwithstanding, I will support you in your new career with the Fleet, Martin. Congratulations. It's deserved."
Martin looked at her in silence for a moment, wearing one of his cuneiform looks. Unreadable.
"But if you're expecting me to salute you, think again," she said.
"It's no honor to be awarded a prize from an institution that has ignored those you know to be better candidates than yourself," Martin said.
"You're only saying that because I'm your wife."
Martin's eyes flashed angrily. It wasn't an emotion she often saw him exhibit, but was something all the enhancements had never eradicated from the old Martin.
"You can question my opinion, Captain, but don't ever question my intelligence."
Percina swallowed. "Thank you, Martin."
He held out a hand, turned it away as she reached for it, and raised it in a neat salute.
"Could we leave here now, please, Captain? This place makes me ashamed to be a man."
And me, Percina thought, to wear its insignia.
Sometimes, if you spent all your time fighting from the inside, you couldn't distinguish between trying to change things... and just trying to get the hell out.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Author Comments

I had an idea for a sketch featuring two people stuck, and bickering, in quicksand. Percina and Martin were created on the spur of the moment, merely to give the characters names and a reason for being there. I really didn't expect to see or hear from them again. When I was submitting the story to DSF, I was reminded that they also considered series of stories and was drawn to the challenge. All the ideas I came up with, however, either called for stories that would be too long or off-genre. Sheepishly, I went back to Percina to enquire if, by any chance, she'd experienced any other "incidents" she might care to relate. I was surprised, but delighted, to find she had more to say, and honored that DSF accepted them for publication. Thank you.

- Jez Patterson
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