(As I said yesterday, I think I’ll be moving the snippets to Saturdays starting next week. I have to leave early this morning to run some errands and then go help out at the library — one of the local Eagle Scouts arranged a book drive and they are delivering the books. Soooo, here’s the rest of the chapter I posted yesterday. 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.)
* * *
Chapter 3 continued
“Ma’am, I have to ask. Why did you bring me back here after all this time?”
Hearing the question, seeing the need for an answer reflected in Shaw’s brown eyes, Tremayne relaxed some. Finally, a chink in the younger woman’s control, a chink she’d hopefully be able to use to get through to her. Anything was better than returning to the stand-off they’d had two days before.
Still, after all she’d seen and read, Tremayne didn’t blame Shaw one bit for reacting as she had. Life in the military prison had to have been hell for her. The record she’d seen had revealed how the commandant of the penal colony had basically isolated Shaw and her people not only from the rest of the colony’s population but from one another as well.
Then there had been the punishments for what were, at best, minor infractions. Most were within the letter of the regs, barely. But others, the punishments that were hinted at in the records but not actually detailed, were what truly bothered the senator. She had a good idea that was how Shaw had gotten the scars marring her face. What else had happened during the last two years she could only imagine and she didn’t like it one bit.
She couldn’t let herself think about that though. Not yet. There would be a time to investigate what went on at the penal colony. But that would come later, after the current situation was dealt with.
“Ash, I’ll be honest. What I said the other day is the truth. You were right when you predicted that the truce would be nothing more than farce. That’s putting it mildly. The politicians pushed it through in the vain hope it would keep them in office. They sacrificed you, your people and so many others for their own petty ambitions. What they didn’t expect was how it would backfire on them. After you and the others were brought up on charges, the voters revolted and took the government back. Almost every person holding office at the time of your court martial was voted out in the next election. Once President Harper took office, he made a clean sweep of the Cabinet, including the military and it trickled down from there.
“This is all a roundabout way of telling you that things have changed, not only politically but also on the front lines. The truce didn’t work. The enemy wasn’t interested in negotiating a peace. Instead, they continued raiding the outer colonies. At first, before the elections, the administration and military command explained it away as pirates and slavers. The problem was that they couldn’t keep the rank and file quiet. Those who were out there fighting these so-called pirates and slavers were talking to friends and family. Then the media got involved. Once the president cleaned house and people like Rico Santiago started looking into what had been happening it became clear that the Callusians had been behind the attacks all along. The public knows and is demanding that we quit honoring the treaty terms. They want us to act. They want us to stop the enemy once and for all.
“That’s where you and others come in, Ash. We want — no, we need you back. No one knows better than you how the enemy operates groundside. Hell, kid, you know their space tactics better than most of our naval COs. We need that knowledge and experience to help us finally defeat these bastards.”
As she spoke, Tremayne kept her eyes on Shaw. All expression left the younger woman’s face and her mouth firmed. It was as if she’d suddenly turned to stone. She heard what was said, the senator could see that from the way her eyes dropped to stare at the table before lifting to stare at some unseen point beyond Tremayne’s head. But Shaw never said a word.
God, had she lost Shaw again now, just when it looked like she had finally been getting through to her?
Fortunately Shaw hadn’t told her to go to Hell yet. That was a good thing, at least she hoped it was.
“Ashlyn, I don’t blame you for not trusting me,” she continued, praying she found the right words to get through to her companion. “But I want you to remember something. I’ve never broken my word to you. I promised you when I found out you’d been brought up on charges that I would do everything in my power to clear your name and the names of your people. I gave up my commission to do so because I knew that was what was needed.
“All I’m asking is that you think about this. Think about what a black eye it would give those who so willingly sacrificed you and the others. They’ve lost their political clout. Now the best thing you can do is show that they haven’t beaten you. Prove to them that they haven’t broken you.”
God, what was it going to take to convince her?
When Shaw pushed back from the table and stood, Tremayne waited. One part of her mind was glad the guards weren’t present. The moment Shaw moved, they would have been on her, sure she’d been about to attack. But Tremayne knew better. She remembered how her protégé would pace when thinking. Maybe there was hope.
So she waited, aware of pain from her fingernails as she clinched her fists under the table. So much might rest on what happened in the next few minutes. If she failed. . . .
“Ma’am – Miranda, I want nothing more than to get a bit of my own back from those responsible for sending us to Tarsus.” Shaw stood across the small room and shook her head. “But I can’t agree, not unless I know for sure that my people are safe. I can’t leave them there. I just can’t.” Tears welled in her eyes and she reached up to scrub them away.
“Ash, I’ve got a pretty good idea what you’ve been through.” She stood and hurried to Shaw’s side. The young woman stiffened as she pulled her close. Then slowly, hesitantly, Shaw wrapped her arms around her and held on, for all the world as if she was holding onto a lifeline. “Shh, Ashlyn, shh,” Tremayne soothed, her right hand gently rubbing the young woman’s back as she cried.
Dear God, she’d known Shaw all the young woman’s life and had never seen her break like this.
“Please, Miranda, you’ve got to understand. I can’t leave them there.”
“Come, sit.” She gently led the young woman back to the table. “I can guess why you feel that way. But it would help if you’d tell me.” Now she held up a hand, hoping to ward off her companion’s protest. “I know Major Santiago visited you the other day. I also know of the little trick he did so your conversation wasn’t monitored or recorded by the guards. Believe me, he has made sure the same precautions are in place now. So you can tell me without fear that someone will overhear.”
She felt bad misleading Shaw, but she didn’t have a choice. Besides, she’d bet all she owned that she was right and that was exactly what Santiago had said and done. Besides, she had made sure no record would exist of this meeting. That much, at least, was the truth.
Shaw closed her eyes and drew a long, shaky breath. Tremayne waited, knowing her companion was carefully weighing her words. That alone told her more than she’d known a few moments before. Shaw was used to her every movement, every word being monitored and used against her. No wonder she’d learned how to exercise such careful control over herself. What hell it must be to know that anything you did or said, no matter how minute or inconsequential, could be used against you or those you cared about.
“Ma’am, let’s just say that life at the prison has been something of a nightmare. I never really thought of myself as a social animal, but I’ve learned to value any human contact, no matter how brief. I’ve also learned that it’s not wise to ask questions or to speak without first being given permission.” She opened her eyes and reached up to lightly touch the scar cutting across her cheek. “I got this as a lesson in proper attitude. I’d questioned why I was being held in solitary and wanted to know if my people were being treated the same way. The hell of it was I didn’t ask anyone. I’d simply voiced the question in my cell. The next morning I was taken to the commandant’s office where my lesson was administered by him and one of the guards. I spent three days in the infirmary after that.”
Tremayne’s anger spiked again as Shaw spoke. No wonder the young woman found it so hard to trust any of them.
“Ash, I promise we’re doing everything we can to not only bring your people home but to get pardons for them.” And sooner, rather than later. “I’ll need a full report from you, when you know they’re safe, about everything that’s been going on at the prison.”
“Understood.” She paused for a moment and Tremayne waited, hoping she was about to ask another question. Anything that kept Shaw talking was good at this point. “Ma’am, what about Sorkowski and O’Brien? What’s happened to them?”
Now the senator smiled. She’d approved of the actions taken against the two when President Harper took office. It hadn’t been enough, not by a long shot, but it had been a start. Hopefully Shaw would agree.
“Alec Sorkowski was one of a number of senior officers forced into retirement almost immediately after President Harper was sworn into office. The President and Linden Klingsbury, the new Secretary of Defense, have cleaned house in all branches of the military. As for Thomas O’Brien, General Okafor was even less forgiving than Secretary Klingsbury was with Sorkowski and his cronies. The general, who is now Commandant of the Marine Corps, brought O’Brien back here and he’s now assigned to escorting the children of diplomats other dignitaries around the capital.”
That brought a smile to Shaw’s lips, a smile Tremayne echoed. No marine wanted that duty. The fact that someone of O’Brien’s rank had been was a sure sign of the Corps’ disapproval. Hopefully that would help Shaw understand that things really had changed.
Tremayne knew there was more to why Shaw smiled. Early in her career, Shaw had served under then Colonel Okafor. Over dinner one evening before Shaw reported to her new assignment, Tremayne had told her that Okafor accepted nothing but the best from her Marines and wouldn’t hesitate to bounce anyone out of the Corps if she thought they were slacking. Shaw later told Tremayne that she’d quickly learned Okafor was a dedicated officer who asked nothing of those under her command she wasn’t willing to do herself. The fact that Okafor was not Marine Corps Commandant meant Shaw could at least hope her beloved Corps was returning to the greatness it once held.
“Ashlyn, I’m not going to push. I know you have to be sure your people are safely away from that hellhole. But I do need to know the answer to my question. If we manage to get them freed and pardons issued, will you accept your commission back?”
“Ma’am — Miranda, I want to say yes. But I can’t. Not yet.” Now it was her time to hold up a hand to prevent interruptions. She once more climbed to her feet and started pacing. Tremayne waited, worried by how troubled the younger woman’s expression had become. “You have to understand that this is almost more than I can take in. For more than two years, from the time I was first informed of the charges being laid against me, I’ve been cut off from the Corps, from friends and officers I respected. Since being sent to Tarsus, I haven’t had any contact with the outside. No visitors and no messages. I don’t even know how my family is. Hell, I don’t even know where they are.”
Once again, the younger woman’s voice broke and it was all Tremayne could do not to curse. She’d known about the time Shaw’s parents had gone to the prison and had been forbidden the chance to see their daughter. The excuse had been that Shaw was ill and not able to receive visitors then. Neither her parents nor Tremayne, when she found out what happened, believed it. That had been the final deciding factor in Tremayne’s decision to resign her commission and run for office.
But to hear that Shaw had been denied all messages from home as well. . . .
“Ashlyn, they’re fine. Believe me. They’re here in the capital and they’ve been instrumental in leading the campaign to not only vote out the old guard but to find whatever evidence we could to free you and the others.” She moved to where Shaw stood, wishing there was more she could do or say to reassure the younger woman. “I’ll make sure you see them before the day is out. I promise.”
“Thank you.” Shaw’s voice was so soft Tremayne could barely hear her.
Before Tremayne could say anything, her com-link beeped. She pulled it from her pocket and studied the small display. As she did, relief filled her. Finally, all the hard work and sacrifice had paid off. More than that, she had good news for Shaw, news that would, hopefully, help the younger woman make up her mind.
Without a word, she led Shaw back to the table and took a seat. She waited as Shaw followed suit. Then she typed in a quick command and watched as the holo-display came to life above the ‘link.
“Ashlyn, you need to read this.” She pushed her ‘link with its holo-display across the table. Then she leaned back, waiting.
Dear God, please let her realize this is no trick.
“Ma’am – Miranda – please.” So much hope, and so much pain, filled her voice. “Is this true?”
“It is, Ash. The pardons for your people are now official and the Breitman is being dispatched to pick them up as we speak.” She paused to give Shaw time to digest what she’d said. “So I have to ask again, will you accept a full pardon, complete with all references to the court martial being expunged from your record, no hits being taken regarding time in grade, back pay being credited to you, and will you return to duty?”
Shaw paused, a look of concern crossing her expression. As she did, a sudden shower of dust cascaded down on them from the ceiling. The floor vibrated beneath their feet and the water in their glasses sloshed slightly. As the overhead lights flickered, went out and then returned, Tremayne pushed her chair away from the table. Fear was quickly replaced by determination as the instincts honed by years of command kicked in.
One corner of the senator’s mind wondered if the capital had just been rocked by an earthquake. To be felt this far up in the in the security complex, it had to have been a major quake. That meant damage and casualties. It also meant aftershocks that would probably cause even more damage.
But that didn’t make sense. There hadn’t been a quake in that region for more than a century. Besides, the geological service would have issued a warning, wouldn’t it? Wasn’t that what it was for?
So, if this wasn’t a quake, what was it?
Before she could voice her concern, a muted rumble reached them. There was no mistaking it. The building rocked on its foundations. Bits of ceiling broke free and fell, filling the room with dust. Tremayne’s stomach rolled and she grabbed the edge of the table for support. Then she was being dragged under the table, Shaw’s hold on her preventing her from crawling out.
“Stay still, damn it!” Shaw rasped.
Tremayne winced as her earbud came to life and chatter from a number of different sources assailed her. Ignoring Shaw’s protests, she rolled out from under the table. Her eyes searched for her com-link. For the first time since retiring, she missed the communications implant that would have tied her instantly into both the military and government com-nets.
“Say that again!” she barked over her ‘link a moment later as Shaw joined her.
The building rocked once more. This time there was no mistaking the sounds of an explosion. From the chatter coming through her earbud, it was obvious someone had attacked the building. Whether it was a full-scale attack on the capital or just an isolated incident, she didn’t know and, frankly, she didn’t care. Either way, they had to get out of the room and down to the ground floor. If the building should start to collapse before they did . . . .
“This is Tremayne. Secure the immediate area and get air support in now!” she ordered. “And find Major Santiago!”
Even as she barked out orders, Tremayne watched Shaw race to the door. She pounded on it, ordering the guards to open up, reminding them they had a member of the Senate inside. It was their duty to get her to safety.
“Admiral, we have to get you out of here!” Shaw said, turning to face her.
“Ashlyn, give me your answer. Now!”
“Yes. Now let’s get you out of here.”
Tremayne was aware of sounds beyond the door, but she had no time to worry about it. Instead, she reached for the terminal on the table and quickly input a series of commands. Then she grabbed Shaw by the arm and drew her close. Even as the guards yelled something about standing back from the door, she told Shaw to read what was on the screen. There was no time to lose and, damn it, she wanted Shaw in the position to act if necessary.
“All right. Now let’s get the hell out of here!” Shaw said as she “signed” the pardon and added her thumbprint via the gen-lock next to the terminal.
* * *
Evan Moreau watched from her table by the window of the restaurant. The last thing she wanted to do was to call attention to herself. But it was hard not to lean forward, expression intent, as she watched as the first of several young men approached the main entrance to the security complex. There was nothing about him to raise any alarms. At least she hoped not. If this part of the plan failed, she’d have no choice but to go to her backup plan and get off-planet just as quickly as possible. No, this had to work. It just had to.
All around her, men and women went about their business, unaware that in a few short moments their lives would change, perhaps even end. She didn’t care. They were all expendable, pawns in the greater game she played at every day of her life. A few deaths and the ensuing panic were what she needed just then.
Still, she couldn’t help but feel more nervous than usual. Most jobs she handled herself. She didn’t like relying on others, but this was an exception. She’d worked hard, and in record time, to set this up. If she’d played her cards right, not only would she manage to appease Kincaid, but she’d manage to make sure Shaw never bothered her again and that no one would ever be able to trace what happened back to her.
That meant she couldn’t stay there any longer. There was no sense risking getting caught in the panic that was about to happen. Still, it would be so satisfying to see her plans finally come to fruition.
There! She almost missed the signal between the young man she’d been watching and the two others she knew were with him. It had been nothing more than a quick flash of a hand signal and then a nod. It was time. If she didn’t move out now, it would be too late.
She finished her coffee and tossed a handful of credits onto the table before climbing to her feet. Anyone looking in her direction would see just another businesswoman hurrying to get back to work. No one would remember her in the aftermath of what was to come.
A quick look to the east as she stepped outside and a slight smile touched her lips. She picked up her pace and turned the corner. If her estimate was right, she had less than two minutes before all hell broke loose. That was enough time to be safely away.
Another corner turned, more distance between her and the security complex. Just another few moments and she’d be safe.
An explosion sounded in the distance and she quickened her pace, smiling slightly as she did.