Shades of Honor(10)

By: Sandy Williams

“The rumor that one of our own turned on us and betrayed us to the Sariceans? Everyone’s heard that.”

Ash rested her forearms on the back of the chair again. She’d been cleared of charges, but that accusation still stung.

“As rumors are, the tale is twisted,” Tersa said. “There was a betrayal, but to the best of our knowledge, the timing of the Sariceans’ attack was not caused by it.”

Liles nodded once, acknowledging the words.

“War Chancellor Hagan was compromised,” Tersa said. “He had an assistant, Tram Stratham. The man was a telepath and a traitor. He manipulated Hagan’s mind, stole information, and forced decisions on us that benefited an unknown contingent of additional telepaths. He’s dead now, courtesy of Lieutenant Ashdyn, but another man, Jevan Valt, attempted to do the same to her. He did not succeed. His failure is the reason we know these telepaths exist and are a threat.”

Liles watched the prime with eyes only slightly narrowed in skepticism.

When he didn’t speak, Tersa continued. “Ashdyn is the only way we have to detect telepaths and their drones.”

Ash shook her head. “You can get more out of Valt. If he’s not talking—”

“He is talking,” Tersa said. “He talks and talks and talks. We’ve learned that his goal was to control the leaders of our Coalition. We learned that you, Hagan, and the senator Valt worked for were drones. We learned Valt can’t manipulate you from a distance and that you have difficult walls to break through. He’s also told us that, now that you’re aware of your exposure to telepaths, you can feel when they’re nearby.”

“And of course you trust everything he says.”

“We have reason to believe he’s telling the truth.”

“What reason?” Ash demanded.

Tersa’s nostrils flared. “Our interrogators are good at their jobs.”

“I’m very aware of that,” Ash said.

Tersa snapped her mouth shut, and beside Ash, Rykus shifted. Guilt radiated from him. Even though he hadn’t known the Coalition’s interrogator had been sent in to torture her on the Obsidian, he felt responsible. When they were on the Fortune’s Citadel, he’d told her he should have discovered the truth sooner. He should have trusted her completely from the beginning.

Ash had told him playfully that yeah, he should have. Then she’d climbed on top of him and kissed him.

She didn’t blame her fail-safe. None of this was his fault.

Tersa erased her chagrin and started again. “Valt indicated a rival faction may be influencing the Sariceans. I need you to verify if that’s true.”

Faction. Her previous team lead’s last words—words she’d misunderstood until she’d confronted Valt in a capsule’s cargo bay—were an order for her to fight the factions. She intended to do that, but first she had to discover exactly what those factions were, how to find them, and why Trevast had known anything about them.

“What else has Valt said?”

Tersa studied her. Ash met the icy blue eyes and made sure not a trace of emotion remained on her face. She wasn’t sure she was successful. When Tersa finally spoke again, Ash felt as if she’d been calculated.

“Assist me at Ysbar Station, and perhaps I’ll secure the interview transcripts for you.”

“I can get to him on my own.”

“Can you?” No inflection in that question, just two words spoken monotone. And two words that made a good point.

Ash was an anomaly and had the right training. She could break into wherever they were holding Valt except for the one little fact that she’d have to hurt or kill Coalition men and women to do it. She’d done her best not to kill or permanently injure anyone when she’d escaped the Obsidian, but those circumstances had been different. She’d had to survive so that she could protect and preserve the Coalition. Now that the existence of the telepaths was known by more than just her, she’d lost that excuse to wiggle free from the yoke of the loyalty training.

This was precisely why the Coalition had begun brainwashing Caruth-trained soldiers, this and the assurance that it kept anomalies from snapping. She might be able to circumvent her fail-safe’s compulsion every now and then, but this would be going directly against an order from the leader of the Coalition. The loyalty training wouldn’t allow that.