By the third day of interviewing I was very, very tired of my own clerks and accountants and petty bureaucrats. What did I expect? I knew them. I knew the common practices. They struck me as self-serving and pinch-faced and grasping. Not one would I trust with the secret of my freed Yeolis. And then on the third day I found a young clerk, Inthilin Amras, being both sneaky and honourable at the same time. It was intriguing to say the least and I wondered how he drew the lines where to not do the right thing. He was applying on the sly... but at the same time had been part of what a few years ago had been the ‘Dog-Food Scandal’ and he might have just resigned himself to being a minor bureaucrat for the rest of his life. On the other hand he still had the guts... the nerve, to apply.
When my Mahid left to fetch the medical kit and truth drug, I turned to the young clerk and said, “I am going to ask you to take an oath to me, to keep something secret from my father. It is not precisely illegal, but it could upset him should he find out. HE would not like me to do it. Are you still interested in this position?” He was round faced for an Arkan and flushed easily. He thought about it for a moment and then nodded decisively.
“This one is still interested.” He said firmly. So firmly that I realized something. He thought I was establishing my own power base. Beginning to plot... not against Father exactly, but perhaps that kind of coup might be in the wind.
I opened my mouth to tell him that was not the case... then closed it again. I could not know that I wouldn’t need someone, one day, who would swear to me first. It was an odd sensation. 4th Joras came back with the truth-drug needle already loaded, squeezed the air out of it and slid it into Inthilin’s offered arm as smooth and quick as if he were a Haian. I went back to my paperwork, for Koren, while Amras lay down on the chaise and Joras waited. I listened with one ear as the testing questions were gone through. If he passes my test, I thought. I’ll have to ask Ancherao if she likes him well enough to work with him. Then I stopped a moment to think how strange. Even a few moons ago I would never have even considered what a slave wanted, much less consider asking one their preference.
In the background I could hear the Mahid asking quietly – “Lie to me. How old are you?”
“Ni..nin..” Inthilin stammered as he fought the truthdrug as requested, then smoothed out when he failed to lie and said. “-- twenty-eight.” That was on his job record and easily verified.
“Try to lie, what colour is your hair?”
Joras came and said “The clerk is under the influence, Spark.”
“You may go, Joras.”
When he was gone I went over to sit in the chair he’d used. Under the influence of the drug Inthilin looked even younger, the worried wrinkle between his eyes gone, except for a faint mark that showed permanent already at his age. “Inthilin, can you hear me?”
"Yes.” Completely flat and calm, as anyone else under the drug. He had a little smile on his face as if he were relieved of some internal struggle and I realized that coming out of the drug might be harder for some people than going into it.
“Concerning your job interview, did you tell the truth to the best of your ability?”
Now came the hardest question and the question not normally asked. I took a deep breath. Once I asked this question it could not be unasked. It was his life on the line. If he was too rigidly honest I’d have to kill him to save myself. I’d never been in this position before. What could I do? Should I risk it? What should I ask? “Inthilin, what do you think about the war in Yeoli?”
“This one...” a long pause. I started wondering if I’d asked too complicated a question. “... not thought about it.”
That was only the beginning obviously. Under truth drug people didn’t say a lot, usually. How did I get the answer I needed? “Do you think the war is a good idea?”
There was a slight wrinkle on his forehead but no hesitation in his answer. “No.”
“Why is that?”
This was harder than I thought. “What kind of problems?”
“Long supply lines.” Of course. He was employed as a supply clerk, though his schooling records showed much more extensive training. Hmm. That wasn’t very helpful.
“If I wanted you to work with Yeolis, would you be able to do so?”
“Yes.” It could be interepreted a number of ways but I’d asked him specifically if he would be able to do as I asked.
“Inthilin. Does the idea of living in newly occupied territory bother you?”
“You realize you would be surrounded by foreigners.” He did not answer me and I realized I hadn’t asked a question. I couldn’t think of how to ask the important question without asking it so I did. “If I did something that could be seen as illegal, would you report me to my father?”
Of course. He seemed to be a person of conscience. I couldn’t figure out how to ask the right question. But I could think of one more question I should ask him.
“Is there something that you would not want me to know?”
“What is that?”
“My older brother…”
“What has he been doing?”
“From the army.”
“Leather harness.” Ah. Well there was something to keep in mind should Inthilin change his mind about his loyalty to me.
“Just relax, Inthilin. I will let you recover now. You have the position.”
And of course there was no response because I hadn't asked a question.