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The Court Martial of the Renegat Renegades, Part I
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


A hand slapped the side of her desk, jarring Lucinda Arias awake. She had drool on her left cheek, which she wiped off with a knuckle that wasn’t entirely clean. She couldn’t remember the last time she took a shower.

“Hey, Arias,” a male voice said near her. “Snap to.”

God, she hated that old phrase. And the fact that someone had used it meant she was dealing with the Old Man.

She blinked, wiped off her mouth, wished her hair was combed, and sat up. The office was mostly empty. It was a cavernous room that no one had bothered to fix up. Some of the protective tiles had fallen off the ceiling when she was a young lawyer, and they hadn’t been replaced in decades.

The office also had a distinctive odor of burned coffee and human sweat. Sometimes she thought that scent was baked in. She really didn’t smell the coffee right now, and she suspected the smell of sweat came from her.

The nighttime lights were on, which hadn’t caused her to fall asleep—nope, the entire place had been bathed in light when she had returned from court—but the nighttime lighting had probably made her sleep so deeply she had forgotten where she was.

Of course, she slept here often, catching a nap on one of the ancient uncomfortable couches scattered around the large room. She wasn’t the only lawyer who occasionally slept here. Just at the edge of her line of sight were the dirty bottoms of a pair of men’s dress shoes, poking up on the arm of the closest couch. She didn’t lean over to see who was sleeping there, because she really didn’t care. She was too concerned with sorting out her own mental state.

Usually, she fell asleep here in the middle of a case, not at the end. She had gone to her desk—which she only used to store things like her proprietary devices and actual physical evidence—and sat down to officially record her side of the case. She’d won, which made the closing assessment a lot more fun to compile, but her win had come at the cost of nearly two weeks of three hours of sleep per night.

She hadn’t realized how tired she was until right now, when it felt like her eyes couldn’t get unglued.

And in front of the Old Man.

“Sir,” she said, rubbing the inside of her eyes with her thumbs. “Sorry about my appearance—”

“I don’t give a crap about your appearance, Arias. I need you on this.” A proprietary tablet appeared in front of her.

God, another classified case. The kind she would have to guard with her life. The kind she would have to be careful to touch the right controls, because otherwise she would delete everything of importance. The kind that would eat her life just like this last one had.

“Sir,” she said. “I still have to close the file on the Herron case.”

She didn’t look up at him, not yet, because she wasn’t sure she could mask the irritation. Lawyers weren’t supposed to work this hard once they reached her level. She was the best in the Starbase Sigma office, with a higher percentage of wins at her age than the Old Man had.

She deserved time off. She deserved some kind of commendation.

She deserved . . .

Ah, hell, he knew that. And he wasn’t going to care. She could almost mouth his next words with him.

“Have your second chair do it. What was his name? Stevens?”

“Stephan, sir,” she said. “And that’s his first name. His last name is Rorrbutan.”

“Right,” the Old Man said in his driest voice, “because that’s easy to remember.”

She glanced over at him in surprise, no longer caring how she looked. The Old Man was sarcastic and difficult, but he rarely insulted his team, especially since he had handpicked them based on their skill. He believed in all of them.

But the Old Man looked exhausted, too. She had no idea how old he actually was. Marciela Kublis, who had been in the office nearly fifty years (please God, don’t let Arias be in the office fifty years) said he had been called the Old Man from the moment he took the job, back when he had his own hair.

Hair was the Old Man’s only vanity. He had thick silver hair, layered and styled to perfection. His hair wouldn’t have become a joke if he hadn’t brought the whole office in on the decision-making, fifteen years before Arias arrived, trying to figure out what kind of hair would most impress the panels of judges the cases were most often heard before.

The joke got carried down through prosecutor after prosecutor, even as the older ones—the ones who had actually been consulted—left. And through it all, the Old Man remained consistent.

He displayed no vanity anywhere else, or he would have worked on his face. It had deep worry lines carved around his mouth, nose, and eyes. The skin had wrinkled everywhere else, rather like nanobits that had started to decay.

As the worry lines around his eyes grew deeper, they bulged forward, making him seem even more intense than he was—and he was very, very intense.

Especially the way he looked right now.

He waved the tablet at her. “We got it. The dog of a case. And you’re prosecuting.”

The dog of a case. She blinked again, trying to remember. There had been some discussion in the office about upcoming cases, but she had ignored most of it, too busy with the Herron case to pay attention to anything else.

“Sir?” she asked.

“The Renegat,” he said. “We get to try the bastards for mutiny.”

*   *   *

 

2

Mutiny.

Sounded straightforward, and it usually was. Some idiot got it in his head that the command structure on board a Fleet vessel not only didn’t apply to him, but it also shouldn’t apply to anyone else. Or that he knew better than everyone else how to run the ship, even though he was—pick your poison—a navigator or a med tech or (once that she knew of) a chef in the captain’s mess.

But the Renegat case: there was nothing straightforward about it.

The ship had limped back to the Fleet with only a third of her original crew. Someone had overthrown the captain, but there was a dispute as to who and whether or not that person was still on the ship.

And then there was the sympathy factor.

The survivors of the Renegat had traveled back to the Fleet in a damaged ship, enduring at least one battle with a hostile force, and arrived, against all odds, just as the ship had been on its last legs.

Not to mention the time factor.

The Renegat had either gotten trapped in foldspace or discovered some kind of new foldspace bubble (depending on which expert was talking about it), and the crew lost a hundred years. Foldspace made even the most jaded Fleet officer nervous. It was a convenient way to travel—crossing what some compared to a fold in a blanket—but it was fraught with dangers. The Renegat had encountered one of them.

The rescue of the Renegat had been dramatic and traumatic, and half of the Fleet thought the survivors, no matter what they had done, should be allowed to retire somewhere nice and neat and on land.

Arias was one of those people who thought the survivors should just vanish onto some about-to-be closed sector base and not be worried about again. But she didn’t dare admit that to her boss.

Although he was giving her the strangest look she had ever seen, as if he was gauging her reaction. So she’d give him as negative a reaction as she could without being political about it.

“It’s a dog of a case, sir,” she said, repeating his words back to him. “It’ll mess up the win record of anyone who takes it.”

The wrinkles in his face smoothed out ever so slightly, almost as if he were going to smile and then thought better of it.

“So,” he said, “you think whoever takes the case will lose.”

The sleeping person on the nearby couch snorted. Arias couldn’t tell if that was a snore or a chortle. Not that it mattered. Her reaction was the same. A sad feeling of resignation, one that forced her to put her real opinion on the record—at least with the Old Man.

“Yes, sir,” she said. “Based on what I know, I think whoever takes this case will lose.”

“And what do you know?” he asked, starting one of those lawyerly dances.

“That everyone who travels with the Fleet is terrified of two things,” she said. “Going backward and getting trapped in foldspace. The survivors of the Renegat experienced both.”

“We’re trying in front of judges, not a jury,” the Old Man said.

She knew he was making an argument, but she hated that he stated the obvious to do so.

“And you think judges are any less afraid of getting trapped in foldspace?” she asked, too tired to be politic any more.

“I think judges on a starbase have the luxury of not worrying about it,” the Old Man said.

Just like they did. She had graduated at the top of her class, fielded offers from a variety of firms, and finally chose the prosecutor’s office at Starbase Sigma because Starbase Sigma was the newest starbase. It would remain operational long after she was dead. She wouldn’t have to be moved from one base to another, as the office moved forward with the Fleet.

“They understand the threat,” she said.

“They also understand the threat to the hierarchy if we don’t punish those who decide to take matters into their own hands just because they’re on a difficult mission,” the Old Man said.

And in those words, she finally understood what was happening. He had been ordered to take this case. The Old Man didn’t take orders from many people, and those who could order him didn’t do so often.

“Did you try to say no?” she asked him, deciding not to play any of the lawyerly games any more.

He glanced at the couch. Arias could see it out of the corner of her eye. The shoes twitched, almost as if their owner was a dog dreaming doggy dreams.

Then the Old Man smiled. It made him look younger, made his silver hair and its unique style look stylish rather than like an older man’s vanity. He was almost handsome when he smiled, especially when the smile was real, and not the feral smile he got when he was pursuing a particularly tough case.

“I told them it was a dog of a case,” he said. “I said it would hurt the win record of whoever took it.”

“And they asked you why you thought you’d lose,” she said.

“No,” he said. “They told me it was one of the highest profile cases of mutiny to ever occur in the Fleet and if we ignored it we would be inciting anyone trapped in foldspace or on a dangerous mission to stop following protocol. They told me that it would seem like we are condoning the behavior by ignoring it.”

“So we should take a case we’re going to lose,” she said.

“No,” he said. “We should take a case that everyone thinks we’re going to lose, and then we should prove them wrong.”

I should prove them wrong,” she said with a sigh.

“Get over yourself, Arias,” the Old Man said. “We are going to prove them wrong. You are sitting second chair.”

She felt a chill run through her. She couldn’t remember the last time the Old Man took a case like this.

“You’re taking this case?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “They’re sending in someone special. Danitra Carbone.”

One of the best attorneys in the Fleet. A legend. One of the few attorneys who didn’t have an office, but who went to the various spots throughout the Fleet and the sectors it crossed to handle important Fleet cases.

Arias had studied Carbone’s most famous cases (up to that point) in law school. Arias had once modeled herself on Carbone, until Arias had enough faith in herself that she didn’t need to model herself on anyone.

“I’d rather not be second on this, sir,” Arias said. She hadn’t been out of control of a case in more than a decade.

“Yeah, well, I’d rather not give this to you,” the Old Man said. “But again, not my choice. If it makes you feel better, any loss in this case goes on her record, not yours.”

“No,” Arias said quietly. “It doesn’t make me feel better at all.”

*   *   *

 

3

Eun Ae Mukasey stared at the information the acting captain of the Renegat, Raina Serpell, had sent her. Their conversation had been short; Mukasey did not like interacting with potential clients much. Every client had two things: a personality and a story. Some personalities were stronger than the stories. Some stories were stronger than the personalities.

Cases were won with strong stories, not strong personalities, so Mukasey preferred to see the story first and assess the personality second.

She paced around her small office on Starbase Sigma. The office was on a lower level, away from the shops and the restaurants and the hotels, away from the business sector of the starbase, and closer to the docking rings than most people liked to be.

The courts were sixteen levels up, off in their own wing. Most lawyers had offices near there, and while she thought that convenient, she did not need the convenience.

This case intrigued her. The story was fascinating and already in the media—at least the media around Starbase Sigma. That could work to her advantage if she took the case. Survivors against all odds, now being prosecuted by the very people they had tried to return to.

They had no real defenders because they had no friends or family left. They had returned one hundred years into their future to find the future more unwelcoming than they had expected.

She could argue that. She wove her way around the five chairs scattered through the small space. This room served as a work area and as an interview room. She had one tiny closet-sized room through an unmarked door where she kept the physical evidence she needed for a case, as well as anything else proprietary, like tablets and case-sensitive files on a non-networked system. She had several non-networked systems, because she had several cases at the moment.

She would have to jettison a few of them or hand them off to the assistants who floated between her office and three other defense attorneys’ offices. She had started that system when she didn’t earn enough to pay a junior lawyer or a law clerk; but that system worked so well for her that now that she could afford several junior lawyers on staff, she didn’t hire any of them.

Everyone still thought she was worth nearly nothing, and she kept it that way. She liked the perception that she lived a hardscrabble life because she had to, not because she wanted to.

And there was really no one to contradict her. She didn’t have time for close friends, and she wasn’t in any kind of relationship right now.

She scanned the information, looking for more. Serpell had been honest with her in that brief conversation; she said she had already talked to a dozen defense attorneys and they had turned the case down.

Mukasey hadn’t asked why the attorneys turned the case down or even who they were. She had a hunch she already knew. Everyone went to the defense attorneys with the spotless records first, not realizing that those records were cherry-picked, along with the cases, to show how great the lawyer was, rather than being someone who worked with the client’s best interest at heart.

But that thought of the client stopped her for a moment. She studied the faces of the potential clients, which she had in a flat, two-dimensional clear screen. The faces looked like they were some kind of art installation floating against her undecorated far wall.

She often did that to get a sense of people—not just the ones she might represent, but potential witnesses as well.

She usually didn’t study the faces. She usually let them scroll, figuring her peripheral vision would tell her much more than any direct study would.

These people seemed ordinary. They seemed like people she would have passed in the corridors of the most public section of the starbase, heading to the shops or the restaurants or making it through their daily routines.

They didn’t look like hardened criminals, and they certainly didn’t look like people who would overthrow their captain, take control of a ship, disgorge much of its crew (or whatever happened to them) and travel back over a long distance and one hundred years just to get arrested.

They didn’t look like adventurers either.

They looked unremarkable, even Serpell with her thin brown hair and roundish face. The only one who looked like trouble was Yusef Kabac, who had a thick black scruffy beard and uncut black hair and what seemed to Mukasey to be wild eyes.

If she were running the prosecution’s case, she would make Kabac the face of the defendants. She touched the image and moved it off the scrolling list onto its own little screen. Yeah, he looked like a crazed maniac, one of those messianic types who showed up every generation or two and led the spineless on some kind of half-assed mission that ended up badly for everyone.

Mukasey stuck her hands in the back pockets of the black pants she wore on non-court days, and rocked backward on her flat shoes.

If she took the case, she would have to isolate crazy-seeming guy or marginalize him or something.

But she still wasn’t certain if she would take the case. The prosecution wanted this one to be a big deal. They had brought in Danitra Carbone to head the team. Carbone had a reputation as big as the sector, and she deserved it.

Mukasey had never gone head to head with her, and Mukasey wanted to. But she couldn’t just take the case because she wanted to best the best in the business. She had to take a good case to face off with Carbone.

Mukasey had lost a lot, but she had gained a lot from her losses. Not just experience, but a reputation as a fighter, someone who actually cared about her clients and wouldn’t leave them in any kind of lurch.

The problem with this case wasn’t Carbone or the massive publicity this case would generate. Nor was the problem the story. The story helped a great deal. The problem wasn’t even crazy-eyes Kabac.

The problem was that she would be representing 193 people at the same time, all of whom would believe they deserved a bit of her time.

She did not have the resources to handle all of them. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to talk with all of them. If she took this case, she would have to hire help for the duration, which would be a problem.

The case already looked like a financial loser. Even though these people had salaries in escrow, they couldn’t tap the salaries until the case was over. And then, if she lost (if they lost), they’d lose any salary that they would have received on this journey.

Although . . . she frowned at the faces scrolling on that continual loop. They should have been entitled to other money. Inheritances from family and people left behind.

About twenty years after the Renegat disappeared, the crew on that ship should have been declared dead, their assets (if they had any not on a ship) would have been sent to others, and any family wealth would have gone to the wrong heirs.

There might be money here after all.

But she had to test that first.

She selected crazy-eyed Kabac for her first search.

It only took a few minutes to research his family background, because he had none. His parents had died when he was young. He had no siblings, and he had never married.

Which probably explained the look of desperation that was etched on his face.

So Mukasey looked up another face—a woman named Jorja Lakinas who had sustained serious injuries while defending the captain. That information was right at the top of her file, and it made her sympathetic. She had returned to the Fleet, after trying to prevent a mutiny. She should not have been tried for it.

Mukasey made a mental note of that, then looked for Lakinas’s family.

She had none either. Parents dead, siblings dead, divorced, no children. No distant cousins either—and all of this had happened before Lakinas had joined the Renegat.

Mukasey picked four more random faces, found similar stories for all of them. No family. No friends. No one who really missed them.

This was too common among the Renegat crew to be a coincidence.

She froze the scrolling faces and tapped her hand against her side.

Why would the Fleet staff a single vessel with crew who had no family to leave behind? Why, in fact, would the Fleet staff a security vessel and send it—alone—on a top-secret mission backward and across such a great distance that no Fleet vessel had ever traveled it before?

She sank into one of the chairs, half-smiling at herself.

She was hooked. Not so much on the story of the rescue or anything else that had hit the media around Starbase Sigma.

But hooked on the mystery of the Renegat and her crew.

Hooked on the idea that there was a great deal more here than could be found in a simple search, a great deal more than she had expected when she spoke to Serpell.

Mukasey cursed good-naturedly. This case was going to cost her in both time and money.

But it would do something more for her. It would keep her interested, keep her sharp, and keep her thinking.

She needed that. Every now and then, a woman needed both a mission and a mystery to keep her going.

Looked like she had found both.

*   *   *

 

4

Danitra Carbone sat in the gigantic suite at the back of her private runabout. She had information sprawled across the three bolted-in couches, two tables, and four chairs. All of them doubled as screens, and usually she liked that, walking from bits of furniture to other bits of furniture to get her information.

But on this day, she felt overwhelmed by all of it.

Not to mention the fact that she was furious.

She hadn’t been assigned a case in nearly a decade. She had been offered cases, told that they might benefit her, or that they might improve her already spectacular career. Sometimes she would be nudged—hard—by her superiors. Sometimes she would be discouraged just as hard by those same superiors.

But they always let her choose. And she usually ignored the nudging, believing that she knew what she could handle better than anyone else.

This time, though, she hadn’t been nudged. She’d been shoved into this case, told she couldn’t refuse it. She had actually asked what would happen if she did, and the response was swift:

You know what happens to a Fleet officer who disobeys a direct order.

Sometimes she forgot she was an officer in the Fleet. She had acted without supervision for so long that she felt like an independent contractor, just like the attorneys she often faced in court.

She had never envied them before, thinking of them instead with just a bit of pity, since they had to not only compete for cases, they also had to fund their own offices. They had to assemble their own resources when she had all of the resources in the Fleet at her fingertips.

Normally, she would have turned this case down. It looked like one of the worst cases she had ever been offered, because it was a loser no matter what happened.

If she lost, well, then she would have that on her quite spectacular record.

But if she won, she would still lose, because she would be responsible for imprisoning two hundred people who had apparently wanted nothing more than to return home to their friends and family. And who could blame them, really? It sounded like they had all gone through hell to get back to the Fleet, and then the Fleet was going to punish them for being successful.

Her greatest frustration, after two days of digging into this damn thing, was that she couldn’t find a middle ground. She needed to either vilify these people or somehow make the Fleet’s needs paramount to the survivors’, and she wasn’t sure how to do either.

There had to be another way out of this bind, but even after looking, she couldn’t find it.

It wouldn’t matter if the court gagged the proceedings. All that meant was that the media in this sector would not cover the case detail by detail. The results, no matter what they were, would become big news.

And she would be vilified for prosecuting these people or she would be ridiculed for losing something that seemed so easy. Or both.

Of course, she was probably already being vilified. She wasn’t yet at Starbase Sigma, but she would be arriving soon.

Then she would get to meet the locals on her team. They had been chosen for her as well, something that also irritated her. She normally would get to choose who would sit beside her on a case this important, but of course she wasn’t even getting that courtesy.

Although she didn’t want to complain too loudly, because she would have probably chosen Lucinda Arias no matter what. Arias was good, and some day might be spectacular.

Maybe someone in the Fleet wanted Carbone to train Arias. But hidden in that idea was the thought that Carbone was past her prime, when she felt like she had just hit it.

She sighed and hoped that the locals would have provided a space for her inside the prosecutor’s office. She needed a place to settle in, one that would allow her to run her war boards and her mock trials and maybe even depose all of the witnesses she needed.

She ran a hand through her hair, trying to beat the frustration back. She couldn’t go into this case angry. Nor could she go into it thinking she would lose.

She had to go into it like she went into every other case in her career. She had to go into it to win.

And not just win.

In this one, she needed to convince everyone—not just the court—that these people were guilty of the highest crime in the Fleet. They were guilty of attempting to murder the leader of their small universe.

They were guilty of upending the Fleet itself.

*   *   *

 

5

They gave Danitra Carbone the biggest private office in the prosecutor’s wing. Arias had been coveting that office. Hell, she’d been coveting any office. She still sat in the bullpen with all of the other prosecutors.

Before Carbone arrived, though, the Old Man asked Arias to set up Carbone’s office, which gave Arias a chance to wander through it. And as she did, she discovered the smaller private office through a set of double doors.

She supposed that smaller office was for personal use for the Great Being who worked in the larger room. But she didn’t care. She moved all of her stuff to that private office, figuring she was going to be Carbone’s second, so she was going to be as close to Carbone as she possibly could.

The Old Man caught Arias moving her stuff about an hour in. He watched, then followed her into the private office. She braced herself for a massive tongue-lashing.

Instead, he pushed a small button on the wall opposite the larger office, and a single door formed on the outside wall of the small office. That door opened into the corridor. Now the office that Arias stole looked more like a personal office rather than the private room it had been designed as.

She had given him a grateful look. He had grinned, that look that made him look young and impish, and made her wonder again what he had been like back in the day.

He didn’t say a word otherwise. He left after a few minutes, and she didn’t even see him go.

Arias settled into the new office, working as if it were her own. Over the next day or so, she did make it her own. She loved the privacy, the lack of conversation, that smell of sweat and nerves that always came with anyone entering the bullpen.

Her job actually felt like something she could grasp and hold rather than a fighter ship she was grabbing onto as it flew out on a mission.

It got easier because Carbone hadn’t shown up as expected. Oh, she was on the starbase, but after her runabout docked, she didn’t come to the office. She hadn’t shown up the next morning either, and for a while, Arias assumed (hoped) that she would have both offices to herself.

Then she came back after a late dinner, only to find all of the lights blazing in the inside office. She wandered in, and saw the great woman in the flesh, both smaller and wider than Arias had expected, as if Carbone’s skin couldn’t quite contain the force of her personality.

Carbone didn’t hear Arias arrive, or at least, Carbone hadn’t acknowledged her arrival. Carbone had brought in half a dozen tablets, black with silver trim, which made them much sleeker than anything Arias had seen on the starbase. Carbone had her graying hair piled on top of her head, held there with some kind of comb. The hair’s tight curls, which had always exploded outward in the holos Arias had seen of Carbone’s court appearances, seemed like they were going to burst out of the combs at any moment.

In fact, everything about Carbone looked like contained energy. She moved slowly, but as if she were holding back, as if moving fast would somehow ruin everything she was trying to do.

“I’m assuming you’re Lucinda Arias,” Carbone said, still looking down at her desk. “And if you’re going to work with me, then work with me. Don’t stare, and don’t wait for me to tell you what to do.”

Arias swallowed hard, annoyed at herself. She was a full professional, someone who had done this job for decades, and she was good at it.

Yet she still felt like a beginner as she stood there, like someone who needed full instruction on everything she had ever done.

“I am Lucinda Arias,” she said, glad her voice remained under her control. She crossed the room, extending her hand. “I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Carbone said. “I don’t do handshakes. They’re a cultural relic. I don’t do formal introductions either. You know who I am, I know who you are, we’ve already formed opinions on each other, and now that we’re going to work together, we’ll see if those opinions are right or wrong. So, let’s get started.”

Arias couldn’t tell if the speech was planned and designed to intimidate her, or if that was just an unintended consequence of Carbone’s focus.

Arias stopped in front of the desk, saw even more tablets, wondered if they were all for this case.

“Look,” she said. “I know you were assigned me as a second, and I know you need someone local to help with the customs here, but if you want someone else—”

“I would have asked.” Carbone lifted her head. “I don’t want to be here anymore than you do. Your boss already told me you think this case is a loser. And, on its face, it’s not going to help either one of us. To ease your mind, I would have chosen you as my local no matter what. I don’t compliment people to make them feel better, so you can trust what I said here. Okay? Now, let’s get to work. I assume you’ve already investigated some approaches here . . . ?”

“I have,” Arias said. “We have a surprising amount of information about the mutiny, given the fact that the Renegat blew up a few hours after it arrived near the Aiszargs.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Carbone said. “The Aiszargs was extremely efficient, which actually works against us. Half the people we’re prosecuting were nowhere near the captain when he was murdered.”

So she had already looked at the data. Arias let out a small breath of relief and hoped Carbone hadn’t seen it. Arias had been afraid that Carbone would slough off all of the hard work on her.

Nice to see that wasn’t what was going to happen.

“Worse,” Arias said, “at least six of them, maybe more, fought at the captain’s side that day.”

“Saw that.” Carbone fell into her chair as if her legs had given out. She actually let out a small woof as if sitting had knocked some of the wind out of her. “I’m thinking of separating them out, maybe giving them a plea or having them testify against the others.”

“We can’t separate them out,” Arias said. “We have strict orders to treat them all as a single entity.”

Carbone’s dark eyes flashed, and her lips turned up slightly. “I looked at your record,” she said. “I would never have thought you would be the kind of person who would let someone else dictate your case.”

“I’m a prosecutor,” Arias said. “I don’t always get to pick.”

Carbone turned her head, as if Arias’s words hit her harder than expected.

Then she nodded, as if she had just had a private conversation with herself.

“Our case,” she said. “We get to build it. And those six are going to force us to lose. We take control of that. We don’t ask the court’s permission. We just do.”

Arias had done that a few times, but never on a case as important or visible as this one. Usually on cases she didn’t want to bring to trial, especially a trial before a panel of judges.

“You don’t like that idea,” Carbone said.

“I haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion,” Arias said.

“Don’t lie to me, girl,” Carbone said. “You don’t like it.”

Great. Carbone could read her, and only after a few minutes. Very few people could read Arias that well, and usually that happened after months, maybe years.

“I was thinking of a different tactic,” Arias said. “Everyone on that ship knew that Nadim Crowe and his engineers were unhappy, and their unhappiness provoked the crisis. Everyone. And no one did anything about it. I was thinking of arguing that the six should have acted sooner, and it was their guilty consciences that made them stand beside Preemas, not because they believed in him, but because they were afraid they’d be blamed for the actions of Crowe and his friends.”

“Convoluted,” Carbone said. “Convoluted is hard to argue.”

“Maybe,” Arias said. “But the whole case is convoluted. All these people wanted was to come home. The Renegat was a last chance career builder for them, in theory anyway, a way of recouping all the screw-ups in their careers. We show what they did as another screw-up. Especially since everyone on that ship had an escape route built in.”

Carbone raised her head, eyes hooded. She seemed intrigued. Arias wished she could read Carbone as well as Carbone already read her.

“Preemas made an unscheduled stop at Sector Base Z. He let anyone who wanted to go leave the ship for good, and he brought in new crew members while there,” Arias said.

“Yeah,” Carbone said. “If they didn’t like how he was running the ship or the mission, they could have left. Seems their defense will argue that.”

Arias shook her head. “There was no career path for anyone who got off on Sector Base Z. They were officially done.”

“Maybe that’s what happened, but they couldn’t have known that.”

“Oh, but they did,” Arias said. “The leader, this Raina Serpell, she nearly stayed at Sector Base Z. But she knew her career would be over. She talked to a number of people about it, especially after her wife died.”

“Her wife fought at Preemas’s side,” Carbone said.

“Stupidly,” Arias said. “And got even more people killed.”

Carbone stared at her. “Your argument is confusing me.”

“This was a ship headed for disaster,” Arias said. “Preemas knew it. There was unrest from the start, but none of these people left. They all knew something bad was going to happen. They stayed.”

“Thin,” Carbone said. “We need the six.”

“If we separate them,” Arias said, feeling some frustration, “then the court’s wish that these people be seen as one unit gets broken. They’ll be individuals, and we’ll spend days arguing 193 different cases.”

Carbone moved some of the tablets aside. She appeared to be thinking.

“If I were stuck with this case by myself,” Arias said, “I would argue that these 193 people were opposed to being led by Nadim Crowe, not that they were supporting Preemas. I would argue that they were complicit in his death, because that was the only way they would get any credit when they returned to the Fleet.”

Carbone frowned at her.

“They thought they were returning to their time,” Arias said. “They were supposed to bring back information about that Scrapheap. Relevant information to the Fleet of one hundred years ago, not irrelevant information to the Fleet we know now. They might have been hailed as heroes. They could blame Crowe for Preemas’s death, something they really did not try to prevent, most of them, and then they could claim success on the mission itself.”

Carbone made a humph sound. She clearly hadn’t thought of any of that.

Then she nodded. “You’re right. We can’t look at this in the context of the Fleet now. We have to look at it in the context of the Fleet then.”

Arias tried not to smile in triumph.

“I’m not sure if I agree with your argument,” Carbone said. “But it gives us a place to start. You research the Fleet. Let’s figure out if we were different people one hundred years ago.”

That sounded like dismissive makework. Arias’s triumph fled.

“And what will you do?” she asked.

“Interview the six, of course,” Carbone said. “If we can kill this case in its crib, I want to do so, and I want to do so now.”

*   *   *

 

6

Before Mukasey conducted any interviews with her new clients, before she looked at the resumes of the additional help that she would need to run this case, before she even tried to build the case, she researched the judges.

The panel was set. The timeline was in place, which sometimes happened with big cases. The Fleet didn’t like deep dives into cases. The Fleet didn’t like cases to run for months, let alone years, as a case like this could have.

So the judges were assigned, the calendars were in place, and the lawyers knew what points they had to hit when.

Twelve judges, all of whom coordinated their schedules with each other before anyone had even contacted Danitra Carbone.

But as Mukasey started to research them, she found something interesting. Three judges had recused themselves from this case.

One had a family emergency that took her to Sector Base AA. She couldn’t guarantee that she would be able to sit on the case at all.

The other wanted to retire as a judge. Apparently, he didn’t like the workload, and this case would have guaranteed months of hard work for him, something he loathed.

The third gave no reason at all for her recusal except a conflict of interest.

Conflict of interest. On a ship that had emerged from foldspace a hundred years after it had entered.

Mukasey was intrigued. She had won cases before by investigating bits and pieces outside the usual scope of the case.

This was something she might be able to use.

She placed it at the top of the pile to investigate, and because it involved a long-time judge, she would do the investigation herself.

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2022. The Court Martial of the Renegat Renegades, Part I by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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