High above the clouds, beyond the edge of space, hung an office whose wide floor was composed of OPEL panels. The office formed the base of a massive structure named Tetra 5 that drifted gently in intermediate orbit over Akos V’s lush moon. The ceiling was a mirror, reflecting the bright surface of Lanan—clouds, land, and seas—back into the room. Glimmers from distant starships and orbital infrastructure flashed in the black sky. A transparent, circular desk inhabited the room’s middle, and within it sat an Elestan with long, black hair and dark gray skin wearing officer formals. Multicolored, transparent lumigraphs surrounded her. Some showed maps of the entire Federation; others the entire region of Civilized Space. Yet more displayed information about the Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the ten Armadas composing it. News from several sources, both near and far, played on another.
Panels detached from the ceiling and slowly descended around the desk. Each panel paused and hovered at a certain height, together forming a circular staircase that wrapped around the Elestan’s work area. As the staircase was still falling into place, a Terran woman with blonde hair—also dressed in officer formals—stepped downward into the office.
“Hari,” said the Elestan, looking up to the ceiling from where the Terran appeared.
“Admiral,” the Terran addressed. When she reached the OPEL floor, she stopped at the front of the desk. The Elestan made all of her lumigraphs disappear. “Adjunct, chair.” A lumionic seat appeared for the Terran, and she sat down. Across from her was a lumionic nameplate hovering above the desk’s surface reading “Fifth Fleet Admiral Ula Musani.”
“So,” Musani said, crossing her arms over her front, “what’s so important that you needed to hop on a shuttle first thing in the morning to come up here?”
“I want you to see something,” Aesho told her, trying to keep her anger in check. The armada admiral produced a lumigraph and flicked it toward Musani. Aesho let her superior read it for a moment before saying, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Don’t give me that,” Musani said.
“You should have kept her on a tighter leash,” Musani barked. “She’s been snooping around like her mother, and now she knows too much. About you, about me. I invested in a little wetwork a couple decades ago. I knew she’d eventually be a problem, like Cassandra reaching out from the grave, but I never anticipated our archon waking up. Aren’t you concerned about her at all?”
“You went over my head,” Aesho told her. “It wasn’t enough to have deprived her of her parents, was it?”
“You’re too attached to her. She’s like your niece. Or your old friend. Take your pick. You know you never would have done it. That’s why I had to do it all. Remember, we’re in this together.”
“Or so you think,” Aesho told her. The Terran snapped her fingers, and down the floating stairs walked four women in SIRAC armor and one Zelnaran in just a bodysuit. All of them sported dark navy blue with white checker patterns and the immediately recognizable FedSec emblem. When Musani’s eyes met the FedSec agent’s who wasn’t wearing a helmet, her face soured, her mind melted, and her heart cracked. Beneath the office was one of Lanan’s oceans. If only she could fall through that OPEL floor that very moment and be close enough to skydive down, incinerating quickly in the reentry. If only there was a way to end it all quickly instead of being publicly crucified. The way the Zelnaran agent looked at her, Musani knew that her years of deception were about to catch up with her. At least Aesho would be there with her, having been her accomplice for decades.
“Good show, Admiral Aesho, I must say,” said the Zelnaran, her skin almost matching the color of her bodysuit. “Fleet Admiral Musani, I’m agent Rhin Dekka, Federation Security Agency Investigation Division. I have a warrant for your arrest.”
“On what charges?” Musani asked, refusing to stand.
“Want me to name them?” The agent asked. She opened a lumigraph and read from it. “Let’s see. Bribery; malfeasance in office; treason; conspiracy to commit murder, three counts; and archon manipulation.”
Musani asked, “What about Aesho here?”
Rhin laughed and asked, “What about her?”
“You’re going to arrest her too, right?”
“I don’t make a habit of arresting my informants,” Rhin explained.
“Informant?” Musani whispered in shock. The armored FedSec officers walked behind the table and lifted Musani to her feet. Musani stared at Aesho in utter disgust.
Rhin told the admiral, “I would like to remind you that pursuant to Federation law you are legally protected against compulsory self-incrimination. Therefore, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law.” Musani’s arms were placed behind her back, and bindings positioned over her Accellus bracers. “You have the right to be represented by an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed by the court. Do you understand?”
Musani wanted to hurl every curse in the Miri lexicon toward Aesho, but she took Rhin’s warning literally, holding her tongue. Aesho trailed behind the contingent of FedSec officers, following them up the stairs as they retracted into the ceiling.
“Welcome back to your morning headlines on SBN,” said an anchorman to the lumigraphers capturing his likeness and cool speech for broadcast throughout the Federation and into the surrounding Civilized Space. “I’m Jorj Danner. The time is now eight-oh-five. Yesterday, Fifth Fleet Admiral Ula Musani of the Federation Navy was indicted by FedSec on charges of bribery, treason, and archon manipulation. This high-profile arrest of a top Navy official is connected to the recent attempted murder of another, unnamed high-ranking Navy officer.”
When Atara and Xannissa ate breakfast together in the morning, now that they were back within Subnet range, they typically played the news in a large lumigraph across the room that they could watch together. When they realized the headline that was being introduced, both of them set their utensils down upon the table and quickly finished chewing.
“Joining us now is lawyer and Military legal expert Jas Feder…” said Jorj. The scene cut to briefly show a Larissian woman. “…as well as Defense Secretary and Retired Admiral Noro Katased,” the scene cut again to show an Elestan woman, and then went back to Jorj.
“Sesh,” Atara asked her first officer through a separate lumigraph, “you need to see SBN.”
“Morning headlines,” Atara said. Sesh opened another lumigraph to the Subspace Broadcasting Network’s news service. She then projected it forward of the bridge, between Naret and the sweeping OPELs, for all of the bridge officers to see.
“Madam Secretary,” said Jorj, “I’ll start with you first. Can you describe for us who Admiral Musani was in regards to the Military?”
“Yes I can,” said Secretary Katased. “Musani was the Admiral of the Fifth Fleet. Basically, she ran most of Coreward Operations Command as the Fifth Fleet tends to operate entirely under it. She was also officially in charge of MARAD—the Military Advanced Research and Development agency under the Defense Department.”
Jorj stated, “So it sounds like she was involved in a lot of top-level Military operation.”
“That is correct.”
“Madam Feder, can you describe the charges that Musani is facing?”
“Admiral Musani is accused firstly on bribery, a serious corruption charge that stems from alleged decades of accepting kickbacks from defense contractors for priority MARAD funding for black projects. The second one, treason, is a little less clear. Some believe that, in the lead up to the Semarahn Incursion, the Semarahn Corsairs were goaded into a confrontation with the Federation because of a deliberate drawdown of downspin border security, so I believe that’s where the treason charge might be coming from. That one will be harder to prove, that the drawdown actually occurred the way FedSec thinks it did, and whether it was deliberate. But if that’s part of the indictment, then they must have enough evidence to support the prosecution in court.”
“So FedSec mentions archon manipulation in the indictment,” Jorj told them. “If I could get your opinion on this, Madam Secretary, what exactly does that mean?”
“It literally means that Musani found a way to hide her actions from the Military’s archon, Fiori,” Katased explained. “Sadly, we didn’t know she had been illegally modified until her outage last month, and I think that’s what led to a breakthrough into the investigation into Musani at this quick a pace. FedSec claimed they had someone on the inside, and they’re not saying who yet, but that’s another reason why they have all this evidence just sitting around.”
“The Fiori outage happened last month,” Jorj stated, “and now this comes out, I mean, how reliable is the archon system?”
“The archon system is very reliable,” Katased assured them. “She is invaluable to the modern Military command structure. When you are in command of millions of starships across millions of cubic lightyears of volume, and trillions of soldiers, it takes a mind of a electronic god to keep track of it all. Could it be better? Of course. Mankind has said similar about his inventions throughout history, and we are actually working right now to make it better. In a few years, the Navy will begin introducing an addon to Fiori that we’re calling the subordinate archonoid hierarchy that will replace the current core-node relationship between Fiori and the multitude of primitive adjuncts in service. Our goal is that every starship and base abroad will have its own archonoid that is semi-independent of Fiori, and this new system will be safer, more secure, and more robust.”
“That makes sense considering the widespread adoption of archonoids by the private sector over the last couple of centuries,” Jorj said. “Madam Feder, Madam Secretary, thank you for your time.”
“Thank you, Jorj,” both of the women said one after the other.
Jorj continued with the next headline, “The Persean Corporate Alliance is threatening to boycott the upcoming meeting of the diplomatic body, the Interstellar Cooperative, next year, saying that they will refuse to send their delegation to the meeting if hostilities in the Persean Rift do not cease…”
“Do you think they arrested Aesho, too?” Xannissa asked as the news continued to play.
“If they got the head,” Atara said, “surely they’re hunting down all the tendrils. They may already have Aesho since they worked so closely together.”
“Captain,” Ethis announced through a newly-formed lumigraph, “you’re receiving a Q-comms transmission. It’s from Admiral Aesho.”
“Thanks, Ethis,” Atara told her. “Xann, I want you to come with me.”
Xannissa leaned against the side wall of the Q-comms chamber to avoid being captured by the lumigraphy scanners. Atara stood before her superior one last time, but the captain had a certain confidence about her that felt different than times before.
“Atara,” Aesho said, “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but…”
“About the Fleet Admiral?”
“I heard about it just a few minutes ago.”
“Okay. Saves me from explaining things to you. Before the hearings start, I just wanted to say…”
“My parents. Were you responsible for my parents?” The two stayed silent for a moment.
“I’m sorry, Atara,” Aesho admitted. “I’ll pay for what I’ve done, but I can’t bring them back to you, and I am sorry.” Atara could feel the raw emotion swelling within her. Before her was the orchestrator of that tragic day in the skies of her homeworld.
“I hope they give you what you deserve,” Atara told her coldly, “and then some…”
“I know, Atara, I really do…”
“…and I hope to God that I never see you again.”
Before Aesho could utter another word, Atara killed the transmission and looked over at Xannissa. Tears already threatened to overflow in the captain’s eyes, but when she looked upon the face of her best friend, she lost it, seeking solace on her lifelong friend’s shoulder one more time.