Chapter 41: Council

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Fiearius’ fist hit the table. “Bullshit.”

Leta snorted a quiet laugh at how many of the Carthians gathered in the cramped meeting chambers of the dreadnought flinched.

“We took out the ground turrets on our descent, there was one left, but it didn’t have the range to hit any of your ships in orbit,” Fiearius snapped, his teeth bared as he glared across the table at the stoic figure of Gates who had yet to say a single word in this meeting. “So I call bullshit on your ‘we were being attacked’.”

Gates may have been unaffected by Fiearius’ dramatic accusations, but the rest of the meeting was less immune. The assembled Carthian captains and colonels continued to exchange nervous glances with one another, some even going so far as to step backwards lest they be enveloped by the firestorm their allied admiral was brewing.

After being dropped off on the Beacon by Aeneas the night previous, Fiearius and Leta, along with Cyrus, Addy, Corra and Finn had spent many hours debriefing what had been the most disastrous mission they’d ever encountered. Leta’s hands were still shaking, even half a day later, which was why she currently had them tucked into the crooks of her arms. Fiearius was, understandably, a mess. Stricken by grief, he’d gone from catatonic to impassioned and back again more times than Leta could count.

She hadn’t even dared last night to ask to clean the scrapes and cuts he’d sustained in the Satieran bombings. Now, however, having seen the way the military officials’ eyes had grown wide when he walked in the door, still covered in dust, dirt and speckled with blood, she was actually glad she hadn’t.

“The enemy fleet we engaged with pushed us into the atmosphere, putting us in range of their ground defenses,” Arsen argued, his tone also surprisingly calm. No wonder he had been chief strategist throughout this war. He was one of the only few present who didn’t shake in their boots when Fiearius got angry. “We altered directives to remove the threat.”

But he wasn’t the only one who was angry now. “By shooting at unrelated areas?” Leta bit out before Fiearius could do so more violently. “Even if there were more defenses we weren’t aware of, they sure as hell weren’t anywhere near where you were firing.”

Arsen didn’t meet her eyes as he responded, instead focusing on the tablet in his hand. “It was difficult to pinpoint the exact locations.”

Leta gawped at him, unsure how he could even rattle off such a bold-faced lie. “So you thought it was a good idea to target residential neighborhoods?”

“Again, it was difficult to pinpoint–”

Fiearius cut him off with a loud groan as he hit the table again and turned away. “Let me guess.” He paced a tight circle next to Leta and then fixed his attention on Arsen. “Because of the COMM scatter.”

Arsen’s eyes narrowed on him at once, but it was someone else who responded, a captain with a quavering voice. “The signal they were using cut out our communications and our detection systems so we were unable to–”

“Spare me your rehearsed lines,” Fiearius growled over her. “Mighty convenient all your COMMs cut out right when things start going to hell.”

“They likely transmitted the signal as a response to our attack–” pointed out a colonel carefully.

“That only affected your ships?!” Fiearius demanded.

Arsen’s response was impatient. “Carthis has been fighting Exymeron a long time, Admiral. Is it really all that unbelievable that they’d develop the technology to disable our ships and not their own?”

“I didn’t say it was unbelievable.” Fiearius smacked his palms down on the table again. A man in the corner jumped and tried to hide it. “I just said it was convenient.”

“Convenient?” Arsen barked a laugh. “Convenient that we were being attacked by something we were unable to detect? Convenient that we were out of communication with the entire operation for over an hour? How is any of that convenient?”

“Convenient that you could start bombing the place like you wanted to without me stopping you. Convenient you couldn’t determine where me or my ship were. Convenient you dropped three shots within two blocks of where I was standing.”

Leta’s stance loosened a little as she looked around at the shocked faces taking in exactly what he was accusing them of. She watched Arsen’s face in particular shift from a confused frown through the slow breath of realization and then stark anger.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” were the first words out of his mouth. “Why the hell would we–” His jaw snapped shut and he shook his head. “You’re insane.”

“Pretty good reason to kill me off then huh?” Fiearius taunted. Leta could have sworn by the upturned corner of his mouth that he was enjoying this. That or he really had lost his mind. After the night they’d had following the day on Satieri, she wouldn’t be surprised.

Arsen was sputtering in indignance. “I’m not even going to validate this ridiculous allegation with–” he started, dismissive as he waved his hand through the air, but halfway through, Leta supposed he changed his mind. “Also if we’re going to be throwing out accusations, perhaps we should talk about a true one. Perhaps you can explain to the Council why you flat out lied.”

“Lied?” asked a young colonel as Fiearius growled under his breath.

“We agreed to Admiral Soliveré’s ludicrous Satieri plan on the condition that he eliminate the last member of the Society Council,” Arsen explained, venom in his every word. “Something which, as we have learned, he not only failed to do, but was and is unable to do as he has not yet even determined his location. So yes, Colonel. I would classify that as a lie.”

“It was a slight extension of truth,” was Fiearius’ fearless response.

To which Arsen barked a humorless laugh. “Is that what we’re calling it?”

“Whatever it took to keep you from mowing down innocent Satierans.” Fiearius paused dramatically and put his finger to his chin, pretending to think, before he snapped, “Oh wait, you did that anyway.”

“We were being attacked.”

“Yes, you were the distraction, being attacked was the plan.”

“The plan was that we take a few hits so you’d have time to shatter the Society’s center of command which you didn’t do.”

“I didn’t have the chance because you nearly killed me!”

“–so, having believed you and put faith in your plan, we barreled straight into an active warzone and fought off countless attacks for an operation that didn’t even happen. Was never going to happen.”

“It was–”

“And for what? For no payoff whatsoever. In fact, negative payoff even.”

“It’s not–”

Arsen fixed Fiearius with a cold hard stare. “Do you have any idea what your little ‘extension of truth’ cost us?”

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