The words neatly inked on the board stood out, red on white:


There was plenty of room on the board for more, but Adree didn't teach by writing endless notes. Her students had been brought up in the oral tradition of the Evinthei, meaning she was free to debate with them, confident their memories were up to it. Now, though, she almost wished there was more on the board – enough to distract her from the word ‘disciplinary’, which hung in the corner of her eye wherever she stood.

“Right,” she heard herself saying. “But while we have two courts, one military and one civil, we only have one system of laws. Something illegal under civil law is illegal under the military code, too. So why have two courts?”

Two or three of the students raised their hands. Adree let her gaze linger on one of them; she could feel the solid rightness of the answer in the student's head, but Adree wanted to put the point home, and chose another with an answer they could discuss.

It was hard, very hard, to focus on the mundane things in this room, and not to seethe with anger.

It was her duty as a high-ranking officer to run classes for the younger members of the Evinthei. The faces before her changed often, as Evinthei teenagers didn’t spend long in classrooms, but they all had points in common: well-scrubbed, solemn, dressed in blue-grey uniforms. Adree had been teaching for four years, and had made a name for herself – or so she hoped – as one who was firm, but fair. There was something in a name, too. An Aeslin commanded respect, as did the fact of her telepathic implant. Hard to misbehave when the teacher knows just how and when it’s going to happen…

It didn’t matter to her whether the students actually liked her or not. This wasn’t a popularity contest, and her objective was not for these cadets to pass exams, getting a meaningless number at the end as their reward. It was for them to survive beyond their early twenties. So she had to make them learn.

Usually she enjoyed this job, but not today. She felt as if there were whispers not even she could hear clearly; askance glances, surreptitious pointing. It was cruel that she had to teach about the Evinthei disciplinary process, not long after she had been released from the Central Forum herself. The humiliation of it – the rank memory kept dragging her thoughts back, to this morning when she had finally been summoned.

* * *

The report smacked down on the table; the bulldog clip holding the pages together clacked loudly on the varnished wood. Adree, her hands behind her back and her spine straight, willed herself not to flinch.

“What is this?” the Forum Commissioner demanded.

Adree mulled over the best way to approach this. The Commissioner, Caler Bronns, was seated behind the high conference table – seated, in fact, in what would normally have been her father’s place rather than his own. Bronns was muscular and looming; his was the figure of a man who could run to fat if his fitness wasn’t absolutely maintained. His eyes were cold, as he waited for her answer.

To his left were two senior commanders. One, Fifa Azera, was a calm woman in her fifties with silver-grey hair. She looked composed and serene, but there was an edge to her eyes that might have gone unnoticed unless one was looking for it; and knowing her reputation, Adree knew to look. Azera was a trained lawyer who often served as a prosecutor in criminal cases - her presence at the Forum was worrying.

Beside her was Greidon Corvini, a big, black bearded man with large hands. Someone must have called him back from his latest tour of duty to be here. He was known for equality and fairness, and he was a good soldier. However, his name spoke volumes. He was much too fond of talking about his inheritance of the prestigious Corvini line, whereas in fact the Evinthei records proved his claim to be slender at best. He had changed his name in an attempt to silence some of his critics.

Adree recalled, with the familiar wrench she bore like an old wound, that the Borden family had been secure in their Corvini blood without having to resort to such nonsense.

On the other side of Bronns was a senior Archivist, Luso Tayner. He looked both impatient and concerned – Adree had been under his supervision when she had been working on the Archive and she considered him a friend. He wasn’t one to keep his views silent when he had the opportunity, but he didn’t have it now. Now there was a pad of paper and a pen in front of him; he was here to take the minutes, no more.

Next to Tayner was another commander, Nandie Harpeti. He was quiet, pious, necessarily qualities for a scientist who specialised in genetic security. There were a few other officers in attendance, but they were below her rank and unfamiliar, and Adree had no interest in them.

“Commander Aeslin?” Bronns barked at her.



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