“As of this day, nine February, fourteen forty-nine After Landfall, it is the determination of this august board that Prisoner six-six-eight-nine-seven, Gideon Michael Quinn, be granted parole, effective immediately.”
Gideon stared at that august board. “I have to say, I did not see that coming.”
“Quinn,” Finch whispered the warning from Gideon’s left.
It was twenty-some minutes after the kerfuffle in the yard and Gideon, now somewhat grubbier and bearing a few fresh bruises, stood in front of the Honorable Warden Simkins, two members of the Corrections Board, and three ranking officers from the Corps.
These last were a necessary addition to the proceedings for prisoners like Gideon, convicted of military crimes. But only one of the officers now present, General Kimo Satsuke, had sat on his court-martial.
Not just sat, but presided over it.
To his eye, the general’s appearance had remained largely unchanged over the years. Perhaps a few more lines accented the sea-green eyes, and more silver shone in the black of her hair than the day she’d slammed an Earth-mined marble sphere onto its pad in pronouncement of his sentence—a life of hard labor in the Morton Barrens.
It was the closest thing to a death sentence the United Colonies allowed.
Since Gideon had served only six of those years, and was, to the best of his knowledge, still living, he found the sudden amnesty confusing, to say the least. “May I ask why?”
At his left, he sensed Finch rolling his eyes.
“Something to do with procedure on the Corps side of the process,” Warden Simkins responded, sending a killing glance Satsuke’s way.
Gideon turned his attention to Satsuke but found her expression as closed as Morton’s gates.
“It should be enough to know that your case has been reviewed, and the sentence reduced to suit the discoveries,” she told him.
Gideon felt his jaw tighten because it was absolutely not enough to know, as the conditions of his sentencing affected people other than himself.
Not that he could tell anyone.
He could, however, press for more detail, and was about to do just that when he caught Satsuke’s stare.
The general possessed what could best be described as a very speaking gaze. What her gaze was saying now was shut your trap.
He shut his trap, opening it only long enough for a terse, “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me.” Simkins slapped the folder in front of him closed. “I’d as soon see a traitor like you in the fields until crystal takes root in your eyes.”
“I’ll miss you, too,” Gideon said. Finch gave him a less than gentle nudge of the elbow, and Gideon added a belated, “Sir.”
Simkins was unimpressed. “The transport departs at twenty-one hundred hours,” the warden told him. “Dismissed.”
Finch left Gideon at the entrance to his cell block with the suggestion to keep the parole quiet until it was time to move out.
For a change, Gideon listened to the CO’s advice, as some inmates tended not to look too kindly on short-timers.
He made a single exception, sharing the news with Doc when he went to reclaim Elvis from the physician’s care.
There was no question of the draco remaining behind.
Fact was, even if Gideon were inclined to leave without his scaled companion (and he wasn’t), Elvis would likely follow the transport to wherever it dropped Gideon back into society, and there proceed to give his chosen person nine kinds of hell for forgetting to bring him along in the first place.
“Odd, the board turning around your sentence like that,” Doc now said, leaning inside the open door of Gideon’s cell, watching the other man pack.
Not that Gideon was doing a lot of packing. At the moment, he was standing by his cot, staring at six names carved into the wall, a task that had taken countless slivers of rock, and most of his first year in Morton to complete.
“You were in for, what?” Doc continued, prodding Gideon from his reverie. “Treason, wasn’t it?”
Gideon’s head dipped in acknowledgment, but he didn’t look away from the list. “Among other things.”
“Very odd,” Doc repeated his previous statement.
There followed a silence in which Gideon heard Doc not ask the question, Did you do it?
No, Gideon thought the answer, but didn’t say so aloud because he’d made a deal, six years back. And even if the Corps were granting Gideon amnesty, the man he’d made the deal with would expect Gideon to keep to his end of the bargain.
He’d been branded a traitor, and a traitor he had to remain.
Besides, it wasn’t as if Doc would believe him; Morton, like all prisons, overflowed with innocent souls, wrongly convicted.
So Gideon didn’t answer the unasked question.
Instead he stood, silent, his fingers brushing over the list.
At the top was Lieutenant Eitan Fehr, the first to fall, followed by Estelle Carver, then Bertie Walsingham, Anya Duvagne, Nbo Mulowa and Juster Siska.
It was for these names Gideon had been court martialed.
There was a second list, as well—a second set of names known only to Gideon and one other man—and those names could never be written, never even spoken, because they were the names of the soldiers who’d lived.
It was for these unwritten, unspoken names that Gideon had confessed to a crime he hadn’t committed.
And there was yet a third list, confirming, Gideon supposed, the circus axiom that comedy works in threes. It wasn’t much of a list, containing as it did only two names, but those two names were as indelibly etched in the wall of Gideon’s psyche as the first six were in the brick of his cell. The only difference was, the owners of these two names deserved whatever suffering might be visited upon them.
Which was why Gideon meant to pay both John Pitte and Jessup Rand a visit, at the earliest possible opportunity.