Operation Artemis (The Drift Nova Force #4) - Susan Hayes
“Private Reddy. I’m going to ask you one question and I want an honest answer. Did you do it?” JAG officer Roberta Castille asked the soldier hunched on a stool across from her.
“No, ma’am. I mean, yes, but no.”
“Which is it? Yes or no?” Bobbi leaned back in her chair and fixed her gaze on the young private. Veth. He was just a baby. She glanced down at the tablet in her hand. Twenty-one. Not as young as she’d thought. When did I get old enough to see twenty-year-olds as kids?
The man straightened on his stool and met her eyes. “No, ma’am. I did not do what I’ve been accused of.”
She considered him for a moment. He was a scared, angry young man, which wasn’t surprising given the charges he was facing. He was also telling her the truth, and there was clearly more to the story than the brief report she’d perused on her way over. “Alright.”
He blew out a long breath, his stance softening slightly. “You believe me?”
“I believe there’s more going on here than what I’ve read.” She set the tablet down and gave the private a small smile. “I’d like to hear your side of the story.”
“I don’t want to be dishonorably discharged, ma’am. I’ll take whatever punishment is required but not that.”
That got her attention. “Who said anything about a discharge?”
“The officer who arrested me. He said I was done.”
She picked up the tablet again and made a quick note. “Did he say anything else?”
Reddy was quiet for a long moment before answering. “He called me disloyal and said I should have remembered whose side I’m on.”
And just like that, she had a good idea what was going on. This story played out repeatedly all over Astek Station. Too many soldiers were packed in with a civilian population who resented their presence. Tensions ran high, and both sides had their share of troublemakers. “Tell me what happened.”
She listened, made notes, and asked questions as needed. By the time he was done, she had the beginnings of a defense planned and more concerns she needed to send up the chain of command. In the Interstellar Armed Forces, even small changes took time. But she had an inside track to the highest-ranking officer in the area and she was taking advantage of it to speed things along.
Reddy slumped back in his chair, as if telling the story had drained the last of the anger away and left him deflated. “So, that’s what happened. They were harassing Irani—uh, the Torski girl.”
“And how long have you two been dating?”
The look of panic on Reddy’s face was almost comical. “Me? No, no. We’re not dating. She’s just someone… a friend.”
“I take it her fathers don’t know?”
“That we’re friends?”
She didn’t bother acknowledging the lie. It was the first one he’d told since he’d started talking. Now she’d seen him try it was clear he was a lousy liar and probably a terrible poker player, too.
The silence stretched out for several long seconds, and she wondered how long he’d hold out.
He blew out a breath and hung his head. “Okay. We’re dating. And no, her family doesn’t know.”
“You should tell them. I’ve been to their establishment a few times. They’re good beings. And you did protect their daughter from getting harassed. If I were you, I’d use that to your advantage.”
“Maybe. But what if I’m discharged?”
“Were you off duty at the time?”
“Did you know the male you struck was an officer?”
“No. He wasn’t in uniform, and he’s not from my unit. I knew they were probably IAF because…” he gestured to his regulation haircut. “We all look alike.”
That made her laugh. “Not all of us, but I see your point. Do you see mine?”
He frowned and then nodded. “You’re saying that my intent wasn’t to deliberately punch a senior officer. I was just being a good citizen. Is that what you mean?”
“It is. And the MP who arrested you should have investigated their behavior, too. You’re not going to be discharged, Private. In fact, once I’ve spoken to Irani and gotten her statement, I’ll try to get the charges dropped. Until then, you keep out of trouble and don’t talk to anyone about this unless I’m present. Clear?”
“Yes, ma’am!” His words came out crisper now, the fear replaced with something more becoming to a soldier.
“And, Reddy? A bit of personal advice. Once you’re through this, you need to talk to Irani. Then go see her parents and tell them what’s going on. I