Friday snippet (#3 of untitled sf)

(I think I’ll be moving the snippets to Saturdays starting next week. Because I’ve already put up one post today, this is a short snippet. I’ll post the rest of the chapter in the morning. In the meantime, here is the next snippet of the current WIP. As always, this work is © Amanda S. Green, 2014. All rights reserved. Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page. You do not have the right to alter it. You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email me.)

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Chapter Three

Miranda Tremayne paced the small conference room like a caged animal. She was furious. She’d been furious for the last two days, ever since her futile meeting with Ashlyn Shaw. She was angry with Shaw for being such a stubborn pain in the ass. She was furious with the military tribunal that had convicted Shaw and the others simply because it had been politically expedient to do so. The evidence, such as it was, had been flimsy to say the least.

No, not evidence, innuendo and the need for a scapegoat because the former Secretary of Defense and his political cronies hadn’t wanted to admit one of their own had not only issued illegal orders but had then covered them up. They’d willingly sacrificed Shaw and so many others in the process.

Tremayne’s fury had turned into something she’d barely been able to contain after meeting with Rico Santiago the night before. The major had arrived at her home, exactly as her admin had arranged, his wife on his arm. To anyone who might be watching, they were nothing more than a happily married couple coming to spend an evening with friends. What those potential spying eyes wouldn’t have seen was how Anna Santiago had retired to the game room with Tremayne’s grown daughters while Tremayne and the major disappeared into her study. There they’d stayed until well after midnight, reviewing what they knew about the so-called evidence against Shaw and all that had happened since her court martial.

Tremayne had suspected all along that Sorkowski and O’Brien had not only lied in their reports about what happened that fateful day, but had actually altered Shaw’s original orders and then made sure her protests were “lost”. But to see actual proof of it and then to remember how many people had died, Marines and civilians. . . Damn it, she should have pushed harder to find out what happened the moment she got Shaw’s message and realized just how concerned Shaw had been about that last assignment. By the time she’d learned Shaw and the others were being brought up on charges, the damage had been done and records had been altered.

Damn them!

Now, in the light of day, Tremayne’s fury hadn’t lessened one bit. She felt like she’d failed her protégé and the members of Shaw’s company who had survived the mission only to be brought up on charges and sent to the military prison. So many had died during that last mission. The survivors had been made into scapegoats just to save a few political and military careers. She’d sworn two years ago that there would be justice for them, just as there would be for Shaw. Now that justice was close to becoming a reality. But it wouldn’t be easy, especially not if Shaw continued to be such a stubborn pain in her ass.

And where the hell was that guard with Shaw?

Before she could reach for her com-link to demand — yet again — that Shaw be brought to her, the door slid open with a soft whoosh. Tremayne turned. Her expression hardened to see Shaw, shacked and sullen. Her wrists were secured behind her back. The chains about her ankles forced her to take short, shuffling steps. If that weren’t bad enough, the guards escorting her held her firmly by her upper arms, so firmly Tremayne knew they’d leave bruises. It was no wonder Shaw looked sullen.

Well, that was something Tremayne could deal with now.

“Remove the restraints, all of them!” she snapped and was rewarded with the sight of Shaw looking at her in surprise for one quick moment before the younger woman had herself under control again.

Good. Hopefully that meant she was in more of a mood to listen.

“Senator,” one of the guards began.

“I said to remove the restraints,” she repeated firmly. “And then leave us alone.”

“Senator, we can’t!” the second guard protested. “Regulations—“

“Regulations be damned,” she countered. “I suggest you remember that I am not only a senator, but I am still an admiral in the fleet, even if retired. That means I outrank you by some magnitude. If that isn’t enough, where do you think Captain Shaw can go? There’s only one entry to the room and you two will be on the other side. As for worry that she might try to do me harm, let’s take care of that right here and now.” She turned to Shaw and prayed the young woman understood what she needed to say. “Captain, are you going to try to do anything foolish like attack me the moment the guards leave the room?”

For a moment, Shaw said nothing. Instead, she looked from the guards to Tremayne and back again. Then she shook her head, a slight smile – bitter and bemused at the same time – touched her lips.

“No, ma’am, I won’t try anything. You have my word.”

“There. You have your answer. Now release her and leave us alone.”

“We’ll have to report this to our CO, ma’am,” the first guard said as he removed the cuffs from Shaw’s wrists.

“You do that – from the other side of the door.”

She waited, her expression hard as the guards finished freeing their prisoner. If possible, her expression turned even harder as the second guard leaned in close to Shaw and warned her what would happen she even thought about doing anything to the senator. Instead of reacting, Shaw simply stared through him. Tremayne shook her head, not sure whether to be amused, impressed or worried.

“Ashlyn, please have a seat,” she said as the door slid shut behind the guards. Instead of waiting to see if she did, Tremayne moved across the room and poured water for both of them from the pitcher sitting on the narrow counter against the far wall. By the time she returned to the table, Shaw had pulled out one of the chairs and was seated, her hands resting on the table. Well, that was one small victory. Now, hopefully, others would come.

“Ash, I know you have no reason to trust me, but I’d like you to listen for a few minutes, to let me explain why we had you brought back here,” Tremayne continued as she sat opposite the younger woman and handed her the water. “And then I’d like you to explain a few things to me.”

“Permission to speak, ma’am?”

Tremayne closed her eyes and willed herself not to react. Except when they’d been on duty and Shaw had been fresh out of the Academy, they’d never stood on this much formality. Was this another indication about what her life had been like at the penal colony?

“Ash, you never have to ask me for permission to speak,” she answered. “I wish you’d believe me when I say you’re safe now.”

“Ma’am, that may be, but it won’t last, not if I have to return to Tarsus.” Shaw reached up and touched the scar marring her cheek. As she did, Tremayne wondered if she even knew she was doing it. “I meant what I said the other day. Unless whatever you want me for includes freeing my people, my answer’s no. I have no other choice. You can ask Major Santiago to confirm it for you if you like.”

Tremayne’s mouth tightened as Shaw confirmed one of her suspicions. She’d been sure Rico Santiago knew more than he’d told her the night before. When she’d tried to press him on it, he’d sidestepped the issue. He’d done his best to convince her she knew everything he did, but she hadn’t believed him. Now, sitting across from Shaw and seeing the determination mixed with fear that was reflected in her eyes, she realized why. Santiago never said he’d gone to see Shaw after learning she was on-planet. There was no way he wouldn’t have and, judging from what Shaw had just said, he’d not only seen her but she’d given him some sort of explanation for why she refused to cooperate.

He’d better be ready to explain because, if Shaw continued to be obstinate, Tremayne would be paying him a visit very soon.

“Ash, you have to believe me. I haven’t forgotten your people any more than I forgot you.”

*     *     *

She sat there, watching the admiral – no, the senator, she corrected – weighing what the woman said. She wanted to believe Tremayne. There’d been a time when she’d never have doubted the woman. But that was before she’d been brought up on charges and found herself, and the surviving members of her command, sent to Tarsus. The last two years had done a lot to destroy her ability to trust anyone.

Still, there was a ring of truth to what Tremayne said. Besides, it did fit with the urgency she had sensed to her guards since her return to the capital. But what if she was wrong? So many things she’d thought inviolate before had proven wrong. Did she dare trust her former mentor now?

Did she dare not?

More importantly, she’d trusted Santiago with at least part of the truth. Surely she could do the same with Tremayne. But, before she did, she needed information. She needed to know why, after so long, FleetComm suddenly seemed to remember her.

“Ma’am.” She paused and licked her lips. It felt strange to speak except in response to a question. “Ma’am, will you tell me what’s going on? Please.”

Damn the desperation in her voice. That was weakness. Even if Tremayne didn’t use it against her, there was no guarantee that those listening in wouldn’t. She had to remember her place. She couldn’t let her guard slip again.

“Ash.” Tremayne’s voice choked and tears swam for a moment in her blue eyes. That emotion did more to reassure Shaw than anything else had in a very long time. “I’ll be more than glad to answer any of your questions, but I need you to answer a question for me first.”

“W-what?”

“If we were to guarantee that your people would be freed immediately, would you accept a full pardon?”

For a split second, hope flared. Could justice finally be served?

But, just as quickly that hope was extinguished. Tremayne hadn’t said they had secured the release of her people. She’d asked if there were able to do so. Nothing had changed, nothing at all!

“Ma’am, until I know my people are safely away from the prison and have been pardoned, I can’t do anything.” She stared at her hands where they rested on the table, fingers interlocked so tightly it hurt. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

“I understand and I want you to know that is exactly what we’re working on right now.”

“Thank you.” Now she looked up, knowing her expression revealed too much. But she didn’t have a choice. She had to trust this woman to help and be damned with those who might be watching. “Ma’am, I have to ask. Why did you bring me back here after all this time?”

She hated asking, especially since Tremayne hadn’t answered when she first asked. But, suddenly, she didn’t want to return to her cell. She wanted – no, she needed – the small sense of freedom being in the conference room gave her. Anything was better than being alone again.

Oh, God, she didn’t want to go back to her cell.

*     *     *

 

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