Shades of Honor(3)By: Sandy Williams
“Sorry, boss,” Ash said. “Already committed.”
“Team, switch comm channel to the one we used on the Gamden Raid.”
“Not fair.” Ash’s halfhearted protest didn’t draw a response. Her voice-link clicked as Hauch and Mandell, her third teammate, followed Liles’s order and switched channels. It was definitely possible Ash might end up back in a cell after this.
It didn’t matter. One way or another, she was done with guard duty.
Rykus was hoping for a reprimand and rank reduction, but one look at the faces of the three-person panel guaranteed he would receive far worse than that.
A dishonorable discharge.
Perhaps permanent grounding to his home world.
He stood too straight, but it was the only way to contain the anxiety punching holes in his heart. He hadn’t felt this way in almost twenty standard years, not since he’d stood before his father and told him he was leaving the Javerian military to join the Coalition.
Clasping his hands behind his back, he stood in the center of the room and made sure his expression matched the grim faces that stared up at him. Up because the two men and one woman were sitting at a long table that had been hastily shoved into the room, not on a raised platform where the Coalition’s soldiers typically met with justice. The legal proceedings had been closed to the public, closed to the media, closed to every individual who might leak a syllable of sensitive information.
“Commander Rhys Rykus,” Magistrate Dietz, the man serving as head of the panel, said. “We’ve reached a judgment.”
Judgment. The words pelted him like shrapnel. He’d told himself he could handle whatever sentence they threw at him, but he hadn’t known until that moment how much his identity was linked to the Fighting Corps. He’d defied his father when he’d joined the interplanetary force, and he’d given everything he had to it for the past two decades. He’d expected to give more for twice that long. Who would he be if he was forced to return to civilian life?
“Multiple charges of misconduct have been brought against you,” the magistrate said. “We are meeting here today to address each one.”
Dietz’s voice rang loud, as if he were addressing a large audience, not a single individual standing three paces away. The man had too much experience with politicians and cameras. Rykus had limited and regrettable experience in front of both, and he had to squeeze his teeth together to keep himself from demanding that Dietz get to the point. Showmanship wasn’t needed here.
“First, I will remind you that you have undertaken an oath of silence. Not one word of these proceedings will make it past these walls.”
The oath had been taken by all four people in the room. Ash had insisted on the secrecy.
Rykus wanted to close his eyes and remember her, remember those four days and nights on the Fortune’s Citadel, the scars he’d traced with his lips, the body he’d held in his arms, the scent of the woman he’d defied orders to save. But he’d chosen this path—the right, honorable path—and Ash was out of his reach.
“I understand,” he said.
Dietz used his stylus to tap something on the data-table. “To the first indictment, the abduction and assassination of War Chancellor Grammet Hagan, the charges have been dropped. The investigation into his death is ongoing, and you have cooperated fully.”
That was the easy one. Hagan had been assassinated on Ephron, but the stories from the individuals who’d pointed fingers at Rykus fell apart under the most rudimentary questioning. A telepath had been among the force that pursued him and Ash. Ash hadn’t been able to identify the individual who’d killed Hagan, and without any other way of knowing who possessed the power to speak to and alter minds—a power that few people in the Known Universe believed existed—they had no way of capturing the individual.
“To the second indictment,” Dietz continued. “Violation of an order from a commander of a ship, we have found you not guilty.”
Rykus’s gaze jerked to Bayis. That charge had been brought directly by the admiral. He hadn’t had a choice. Once Rykus had been accused of Hagan’s murder, Bayis had to follow procedure. He’d confined Rykus to his quarters aboard the Obsidian, shut him off from communications, and denied him access to most of the ship and its databanks. The only reason Rykus had been able to circumvent the detainment was by swallowing his pride and contacting his father, the Grand General of Javery’s armed forces and a man who had a powerful influence on the planet’s politics.