Shades of Honor(4)

By: Sandy Williams

Bayis’s expression didn’t change. The admiral was a friend, but he was an officer and a professional. If the panel had found him guilty, Bayis would have sat there with the same blank face.

I should be guilty of this charge. Rykus was being let off because of a technicality, a favor he’d called in. Why?

“To the third indictment,” Dietz said. “Providing aid and comfort to an accused traitor of the Coalition…”

Dietz’s words rolled through Rykus’s ears like Rykus’s heart rolled through his chest. This was one of the two charges he feared the most. Not because of the consequences, but because of the implications. The third and fourth indictments proved his judgment had been clouded. They proved that, when it came to Ash, he couldn’t be the steady, unwavering soldier he’d trained his whole life to become.

Dietz peered up from the data-table. “We have found you not guilty.”

Air tangled in his lungs. “Sir?”

“We have found you not guilty.”

“But—” Did Rykus want to argue for a reversal of the panel’s decision? Aiding a traitor was a serious crime. Not as contemptible as the indictment that would come, but one that would destroy his life. It would certainly destroy his career.

His gut twisted. He’d always taken responsibility for his actions. He made decisions only after weighing the consequences, and then he accepted those consequences whatever they were.

“I helped Lieutenant Ashdyn with the full knowledge that she had charges of treason pending against her.”

Bayis’s expression remained neutral, but Dietz and Prime Tersa exchanged a look.

“You’re aware of the repercussions of a guilty charge?” Dietz asked.

“Fully aware.”

A muscle in Dietz’s face twitched.

“Commander.” The prime clasped her hands on the data-table, and her long silver braid swung over her left shoulder. “The circumstances surrounding Lieutenant Ashdyn’s arrest were unconventional. You acted in the best interest of the Coalition. In fact, your actions can be seen as heroic—”

“Heroic.” The word tasted like acid, and now the verdicts were beginning to make sense. “No.”

Tersa’s eyebrows went up. “No?”

“No.” He squeezed the word through gritted teeth.

“Commander,” Tersa said. “Lieutenant Ashdyn would be dead if it weren’t for your faith in her, and we would be sitting here without any idea of this hidden threat. War Chancellor Hagan was compromised. For how long, we don’t know. But I’m grateful we’re aware of the danger now.”

He despised the way she emphasized that word, grateful. He’d been thanked too many times in his life for a different event that he didn’t deserve praise for. He wouldn’t accept praise for this one either, especially not when he knew the expectation attached to it.

“I won’t be paraded—”

“You’ve served the Coalition bravely for years. You’ve put your life at risk and saved hundreds of thousands of people.”

“Gaeles Minor was—”

“The entire Known Universe recognizes your name because of what you did there. The people respect you. I respect you. And you have an obligation to—”

“I have an obligation to do my duty.” He felt the tendons in his neck tighten. “To honor the military code.” A code he’d violated more than once with Ash. “I damn well won’t—”

An air raid siren shook the small room. He tensed even though it was undoubtedly another false alarm. Every time a speck of dust shifted in Meryk’s near-space, some newbie technician overreacted and sounded a system-wide alert. The whole of Coalition space was on edge. Since the attack at Ephron, the enemy had been appearing in and out of Coalition space, testing the Fleet’s reaction time, collecting intel, and generally wreaking havoc on interstellar commerce. The Sariceans hadn’t yet appeared in Merykian space, but Rykus almost hoped they would. Here, in the heart of the Coalition, they were ready to meet the enemy.

The prime raised her voice over the siren. “I don’t think you understand the power you have. You don’t understand your influence and how you can use your reputation to save more lives.”

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