Defy the Stars(145)

By: Claudia Gray

“Soldiers are meant to defend this world!” Kaminski shouts. “Not to demand what they think they ‘deserve’ from it.”

Noemi wonders if her chair is bolted to the floor. Probably so. That means she can’t just get up and throw it at him. Words will have to do. “We are this world. Its next generation. If you’re not trying to save us, then what exactly are you trying to save?”

A deep voice from the back of the room says, “A good question.”

The sensors recognize the shift from day to night and turn on the artificial lights, bathing the courtroom in brightness just as everyone turns to see who’s walked in. Noemi thought she recognized the voice, but still can’t believe it when she sees the figure walking in, dressed in the white-edged robes of the Elder Council.

“Darius Akide,” says the chief judge, whose power is irrelevant next to that of one of the five individuals who lead the entire planet of Genesis. “You honor us with your presence. We… did not expect the elders to take an interest in the case.”

Akide steps closer, a rueful smile on his face. “You didn’t think we’d be interested in the first citizen of Genesis to leave this star system in three decades? How incurious you must think us.”

“She claims to have left this star system.” Kaminski can’t mouth off at one of the elders, but his disdain for Noemi remains clear. “Since the ship she says she traveled in has conveniently disappeared, we can’t prove or disprove her word.”

“You think machines have all the answers? Sounds like Earth thinking to me.” Akide comes to stand beside Noemi’s chair. He’s not a tall man, but right now he seems like a giant. “Sometimes we need to search for truth within, quite literally. Ensign Vidal’s report said that on Stronghold she was identified as a citizen of Genesis through medical examinations. So we examined the routine tests she was given upon her return to see if the reverse could be proved as well. Lo and behold, we found traces of antiviral medications that haven’t been used on Genesis in decades, as well as one previously unknown to us. Also toxins in her blood… not dangerously high levels, but high enough to suggest that she’s been breathing air more polluted than Genesis’s has ever been. If you believe Vidal didn’t travel to these other worlds, Commander Kaminski, how can you account for these test results?”

Kaminski looks like he’d gladly swallow his tongue. Captain Baz grins, a more open smile than any she’s shown since Noemi’s return. Until this instant, Noemi hadn’t realized that Baz had her doubts. But she fought like hell for Noemi anyway. The fighting takes away any sting the doubt might have caused.

The chief judge manages to say, “We will of course take all the findings into account in our proceedings—”

“These proceedings are over.” Darius Akide takes one step forward, more forceful than any of the judges up high behind their bench. “The Elder Council doesn’t interfere often in justice proceedings. Almost never, in fact. But we have that right, and we’re exercising it today. By decree of the Council, the Masada Run is hereby postponed until future notice. The Council, not the military, will decide if or when that run ever takes place. Furthermore, Ensign Noemi Vidal is cleared of all charges and reinstated at the rank of lieutenant.”

“A promotion?” Kaminski realizes he’s said that out loud a moment too late.

“This girl has brought us the only intel on Earth and the other colony worlds that we’ve had in three decades,” Akide replies, letting them all hear the steel within his voice. “More than that, she’s described a way to destroy a Gate—a way that’s no longer useful to us, but one that might spur our own scientists to come up with new theories of their own. I’d say a promotion was the least we owed her.”

“I agree,” Captain Baz says. “Congratulations, Lieutenant.”

It ought to feel like the most exhilarating victory possible. Instead it feels… well, okay, pretty good, but this doesn’t solve everything. The Masada Run might not be canceled for good. The war isn’t won. And this doesn’t bring Esther back.