The edge, p.42
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       The Edge, p.42

           Leslie Lee
 
her. A statue might have been more active than this woman. She didn't look at him or the other officers. He didn't look at the other officers either. And he no longer bothered to look at her. She was a dead end. She hated this assignment and probably hated him as well. Probably, she'd just chosen the short straw. Maybe there was some fairness here after all. He didn't get to choose his advocate and she didn't get to choose her client.

  "What would have happened if the M'hin'rah hadn't waited?" one of the officers said.

  "I'd be dead." Exhaustion seemed to be his constant companion now. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt? Different. Maybe this was his baseline now. His new normal. Deep, abiding, tiredness. Sometimes, he wondered if he really was dead. Maybe his brain and body simply hadn't gotten the message. Maybe the Express had killed everyone after all.

  "But you aren't dead are you?"

  He didn't answer, staring instead at a barely discernible spot on the table. A defect in the manufacturing process had embedded a single imperfection in the grey metal.

  "You saved your own skin by sacrificing everyone on the Exeter."

  Once, he'd responded by saying how he had saved the people of the Bridge Express. But then they'd asked him how many had been saved. He didn't know. As far as he knew, nobody had survived except for him.

  Cameras watched the proceedings from the corners. His advocate told him D'ha'ren and Hellborne representatives observed everything. The Disaster as they had taken to calling it was of intense interest to those planets. Somehow he had thought the hearings would be held in some fancy wood paneled room with plenty of people watching. But he didn't even leave the prison. They shackled him up, dragged him along innumerable corridors, then threw him into this room to face two to three officers, along with his advocate. It had no windows, no furnishings except for a table and chairs. He might as well have been inside a metal box. The last time he'd seen the outside of anything, was his last mission in his pod. He'd lost count of the number of times he found himself here in this room. They just asked him the same questions. At first, he'd tried to be truthful and explain what had happened. Finally, he decided to be content in trying to give the same answers.

  "I'm interested in these aliens, pilot," an officer said who was new to Mak. His name plate said Larson. His uniform like the others was clean and sharply pressed. Mak wondered if he could cut himself on those creases.

  "Alleged aliens," one of the other officers, Gharib, corrected. "We have no proof these aliens exist. All logs were destroyed. The so-called aliens on the M'hin'rah and other ships have disappeared. The communication logs between the fleet and Unity Command do not mention these alleged aliens."

  Larson raised his eyebrows at Mak's advocate but got no response. "We do have reports from the survivors, the Kyrzal, the M'hin'rah captain?"

  "That captain has been relieved of duty by the D'ha'ren Directive. They believe as we do that her and her subordinates' testimonies are illogical and unverifiable. As far as the other survivors go, they were heavily influenced by this person. And the Kyrzal, they're liars plain and simple."

  "Be that as it may," he turned back to Mak. "Pilot, where are these aliens?"

  "I don't know."

  "The autopsy of the pod pilot, uhm?"

  "Brenn," one of the officers filled in.

  "Brenn, his autopsy showed nothing." Mak didn't speak. "There's been no other contact since then."

  "That's because they don't exist," growled Gharib.

  "And this conspiracy concerning Earth Central?"

  "That is a complete fabrication," Gharib said. "There's no evidence of any such conspiracy."

  "This alleged conspiracy, what can you tell me about it."

  "There's nothing to tell, because it doesn't exist," Gharib said in exasperation.

  "I don't know anything about it," Mak said. There was no reason to give them any other information since they didn't believe it anyway. He didn't tell them about the death of Telli nor the name of the officer who seemed to lead the Soldiers. The paranoid part of himself felt what they really wanted to find out was how much he really knew. Perhaps how much of their little conspiracy had been exposed. But then again, maybe they just didn't believe him.

  "The Hellborne representatives want to know about the deaths of their men."

  "We've been through this already," Eckstein said finally rousing herself. "It's all on the record."

  "They want to know why you didn't allow them to commit suicide."

  "I didn't want them to die by their own hand," Mak said.

  "So you murdered them?"

  "Objection," snapped Eckstein. "This is becoming tedious. Sir."

  "Alright then, you killed them."

  "They volunteered to save us?"

  "According to you."

  Eckstein leaned forward. "You asked him the question. Let him answer."

  Mak glanced at her but she looked away and resumed her stiff demeanor. It was more than she'd said in the last three meetings combined.

  "They volunteered to save us. Others also volunteered. I picked the rest. I killed them."

  "Under instructions of the alleged alien."

  "Somebody would have been taken over by zombies. I didn't want it to be random. And nobody wanted to be turned into zombies."

  "Nobody on your escape vessel was a so-called zombie."

  "We killed them all."

  As usual, silence descended on the room as the officers across from him just stared. Perhaps they were expecting him to fidget under their accusation. He kept still.

  "Let's adjourn for the day," Gharib finally said in disgust.

  Larson remained sitting. "I'm staying to just chat with Mak."

  "Suit yourself." The two officers left.

  "You don't have to remain, lieutenant," Larson said looking at Eckstein.

  She frowned. "I'm ordered to provide a defense for the accused, sir"

  "A defense. Not the best defense?"

  She stiffened and cleared her face. "Sir, my job is to represent the accused under the guidance handed down by the military tribunal."

  Larson nodded and turned his attention to Mak. "This conspiracy is the thing that troubles me the most.'

  Mak and Eckstein remained silent.

  "If such a thing existed, then railroading you would be the natural course of action. Finding out what you know would naturally follow. The way I would approach that would be to find somebody who appears to be on your side so that you'd trust them."

  Eckstein's lips thinned. "Are you implying, sir, that?"

  Larson waved her off. "Don't twist them into a knot. I was speaking about myself. I think they might still try that strategy but my hope is for their failure."

  Eckstein glanced at the cameras. "Sir?"

  "Ah, my suspicions are fairly well known." He turned and smiled at the cameras. "Nothing I can act upon. And they know that I'm no threat. For now. Basically I'm confirming what we all know. It's you who's the wild card. You and these aliens you keep referring to. My suspicions were, once upon a time, just the normal political back room variety. But what you've laid out here sounds interesting."

  Silence.

  Larson stood up and gathered his things. "There's nothing I can do for you, Mak. I'm sorry for that. But I did want to make you aware of certain options. One thing you should know though. You don't want to let the Hellborne get a hold of you. Who knows what they'll do."

  "This is a Unity matter, sir. Earth Central has jurisdiction. Neither the Hellborne nor the D'ha'ren can extradite the prisoner."

  "Make sure of that, lieutenant."

  The cell was tiny. Grey. Dingy. They never turned off the lights all the way. They never turned them up enough to be bright. It wasn't too bad. No windows. Cameras to keep a constant watch on him. Grimy and smelly, with a bed that was close to torture. It was better than he deserved. He spent his days trying to forget. Then trying to remember. Sometimes, he wondered what happened to his fellow survivors. If there were any. He was never
really sure given the officer's questions. He didn't ask anybody since that would give them leverage against him. And he didn't need that. The last thing he remembered had been on the Express. Then, he had awakened in this cell accused of mutiny and murder. His flight suit was replaced with an orange ill fitting jump suit. No shoes, No underwear. And untearable. Supposedly. He had tried. He was clean. And the meds had cured him of most of his ailments. He still had the burn scar on his thigh though. The scar running down his face looked deeper somehow. Probably imagination.

  From their questioning, he managed to pick up a little information about what had happened. The M'hin'rah had picked them up after all. Battle Group Cobra had been virtually destroyed. The loss of equipment was immense, the loss of life immeasurable. What he didn't know was how many had survived in the Bridge Express. Whether any of the pod pilots had survived. Where the other survivors were. What ships had escaped the initial sweep.

  Their escape turned into a nightmare. The grav plates failed. Vomit, blood, excrement floated through out the compartment. The lights went next and then the heat. People were freezing, dying. What little morale boosted by their escape quickly dwindled when reality smacked them in the mouth. The Express degraded from a life boat into a death barge. Too often, he dreamed he was still there. Trapped. Bodies pilled against him, crushing him so he couldn't move a muscle, couldn't even scream. And it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Everybody around him was screaming, tearing their fingernails against the hull, shrieking to be let out. He would shake away the nightmare knowing nobody had acted like that.
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