“Jutel and Malikina we’ve reviewed your entire mission log. The thorough reports you included were appreciated as well as the more abbreviated ones provided by the United Universe Aid Coalition. After days of deliberation, we have come to a conclusion.”
The head of the Nian Council, Salinor, looked at the two of them. He was standing on the raised platform behind his usual place at the council’s table. The other members sat on either side of him, all looking solemn. Jutel wasn’t sure if she was imagining things but she thought she saw pity in his eyes when they landed on her. Making no outward sign of her feelings she tried to ignore the anger boiling inside and focus on the judgment being handed down.
“Your actions, while violent, bordering on the extreme can only be construed as self-defense. While lives were lost, some may say too many lives,” here his eyes darted to a member on his right that was scowling down at them. “We the council as a whole deems your response justified. No action will be taken against you at this time.”
Mal sagged against her. Still weak from the rejuvenation tank he’d only managed to stand this long from sheer force of will. He hadn’t been required to be there but had insisted quite forcefully that he be by her side when the verdict was handed down. They both knew that he had done nothing that would require punishment but neither was sure what the council would think of her actions.
Seeing that there was more to come Jutel didn’t allow herself to betray what she was feeling and when Salinor opened his mouth to speak further she felt relieved that there was more. She was Nian, oath of vengeance or not, and she had killed many albeit in self-defense. She was due a punishment, she only hoped that it wouldn’t stop her from going after the UUAC like she planned.
“However, that being said, we feel that it would be detrimental to you both if you continued your pursuit of a full reinstatement of Nian within the United Universe Aid Coalition.”
When Mal opened his mouth to object Salinor lifted his chin and spoke louder drowning out Mal’s objections. “Reviewing everything that you yourselves have provided about the UUAC as well as their own reports we could not in good conscience become a full-fledged member of an establishment that promotes the actions that it does. We highly recommend that you cease all further contact with the UUAC as we feel that it would eventually force you into a situation that would require the harshest of punishments. We will release a further, more detailed statement, later today. That is all.”
Giving them no further opportunity to reply the council stood and filed out of the room leaving Jutel gutted and Mal stricken.
“We can appeal. We must. A decade of our lives spent trying to join wasted if we quit now. Surely we can make them see? Right? Jutel?”
Mal’s hand gripped Jutel’s arm tightly as he desperately tried to think of a course of action for them to take.
Feeling numb Jutel stared blankly after the council and tried to figure out what she felt. She’d known the minute she swore to pay the UUAC back for what they’d done to Mal that she might not be able to return to her planet, but she hadn’t expected them to see her plan, to know how she felt, but their words told her they knew everything. They would be watching her, covertly, but she knew even out on the fringes of the universe they would be paying attention to her.
Leaving the council chamber Jutel took Mal back to the medical bay so that he could return to the rejuvenation tank. After his initial objections, he’d grown quiet and she was too lost in her own mind to notice how thoughtful he was.
As she waited for the doctors and techs to help Mal she reviewed her plan. It had always been to commission a space ship and then figure out the best way to cripple her enemy, the council’s judgment changed none of that. She couldn’t stay on Nian, the looks of pity and scorn followed her everywhere and would only get worse once the council’s full judgment and information were released, but she had always planned on coming back. If she took down the UUAC the council had already told her what would happen, the harshest judgment possible.
It would be worth it, though. They deserved her wrath after what they’d done to Mal. Looking up at him floating in the tank she made her decision. Her jaw set she turned and walked away. The only way to accomplish her goal was alone, that meant she had to leave Mal. His life was on Nian, he wasn’t marked like she was, it was the only way.
Months went by as the ship she’d commissioned was built. She separated herself from her family and friends, all the people that tried to talk to her once she was back home. She didn’t want to explain to them why she’d done what she’d done, they’d never understand. She just wanted to be left alone to think and plan, to decide her next course of action.
She should have known Mal wouldn’t make it easy for her.
“So when do we leave?”
Mal’s question broadsided her and she stared at him blankly as he leaned against her door jamb waiting for a response. She should have looked before she answered her door, but she’d ordered food and hadn’t thought.
Frowning she asked, “What do you mean we?”
He didn’t make a move to enter her apartment and she was grateful for that, no one needed to see how she was living.
“You can’t honestly think you’re going back out there without me. We’re a team.”
“We were a team when we shared a common goal, but we’re nothing now.” Her words were harsh and she regretted having to say them, but she couldn’t let him come with her. She couldn’t let anyone.
“If you think that you’re crazy.” Pushing past her into her apartment he didn’t even pause when he saw the disaster around him, he just turned and glared at her. “Do you honestly think I’m going to let you leave me here? All these people wanting to talk to me, talk about everything I’ve seen and done, forcing me to constantly relive it all? They have no idea what that does to me and I don’t want them to, but I wish they’d understand. Why can’t any of them just understand?”
He sighed and plopped down onto a pile of clothes piled on top of her couch and for the first time since the council’s judgment she studied him. She really looked and she felt a pain of regret then a surge of anger. Not once had it occurred to her that he would be feeling anything like what she was. He was supposed to be the pure one, he’d never killed anyone, he’d not once failed during their mission, that was all on her. He didn’t get to feel this way.
“You can’t come with me.”
He snorted and said, “Try and stop me.”
“You stupid, stupid man, you’ve done nothing wrong! You didn’t hurt anyone! You didn’t fail once! I’m the one that screwed up and if you think for one minute I’m going to let you tag along then you’re the crazy one.”
His ears burned a bright red as he heaved himself up off the chair. His movements were slow and belied the emotion he was feeling. “Don’t you dare try and take responsibility for everything. I didn’t fail? I didn’t hurt anyone? The only reason you ever had to defend us, protect us, was because of my screw ups. If I’d been a better diplomat, a better negotiator, none of this ever would have happened. You would never have had to hurt another soul. Everything you had to do was because of my failings.”
Her jaw dropped and she couldn’t think of a response to that as he walked back to her open door. His hand on the knob he said, “I’ll get your departure date from the docks, but don’t think for once second I won’t be there, so plan accordingly.”
Her door slammed behind him and she tried to wrap her mind around what had just happened. Slumping down onto her couch she rested her head in her hands as all of her planning flew out the window. She could never pursue her quest for vengeance now, so what did she do next?