“Ben-Ari frowned. "What?"
"Repeat!" Petty shouted, spraying saliva, so loud that a few of the others in the room jumped.
Ben-Ari squared her shoulders. She forced a breath in, out, in again.
In twenty days I’ll be rid of her, she thought.
"I, Lieutenant Ben-Ari," she repeated.
"Am nobody," said Petty.
Ben-Ari ground her teeth. "Am nobody."
"I am worthless," said Petty. "Say it."
Finally one of the others in the room spoke. Major Mwarabu, the stern commander of the Miyari , took a step closer to Petty. "Coleen, maybe—"
"She’s my concern, sir, and I will deal with her," Petty said to the major, but she kept staring at Ben-Ari. "Repeat it. I am worthless."
Ben-Ari forced another breath, trying to swallow her fury, her pride. Twenty days.
"I am worthless," she repeated.
"My only purpose is to serve my commanding officer," Petty said.
"My only purpose is to serve my commanding officer," Ben-Ari repeated, voice strained.
For my soldiers. Twenty days.
Petty’s smile stretched into a cruel grin. "My family are traitors."
Ben-Ari gasped. "What—"
"Say it!" Petty said. "I know who they are. I know how your father lost the Battle of Cape Town. I know of his cowardice. Say it! My family are traitors. Say it!"
Ben-Ari could not curb her rage now. Her fists trembled at her sides. She spoke in a strained whisper. "You may humiliate me, but you will not bad-mouth my family."
"Are you disobeying an order?" said Petty, then whipped her head toward the other officers. "Sit down! All of you, sit down! This is between her and me." She looked back at Ben-Ari. "Say it, or by God you will never be part of the STC. I will see to that myself. I—"
Red lights suddenly ignited across the monitors on the walls. Beeps filled the chamber. Petty spun toward one monitor. The others—the commander, the helmsmen, and the twin sergeants—stared at other monitors. Ben-Ari narrowed her eyes, staring with them.
"It’s a distress call," Ben-Ari said.
Captain Petty hit a few buttons on a monitor, and the lights vanished and the sounds died.
"Coleen," said Major Mwarabu, turning toward her. "We should chart a new course."
Petty shook her head. "No. Ignore it, Major. My father, a brigadier-general , wants us at Nightwall as soon as possible." She raised her chin and gave a smug smile when reporting her father’s rank, making it clear that while Mwarabu outranked her personally, he did not outrank her father. "We continue on our present course."
Ben-Ari inhaled sharply. "Ignore it? Ma’am, that was a Priority One distress call from Corpus Mining Colony. They need immediate military assistance, and we’re the only HDF ship within light-years."
Petty spun toward her, livid. "That information was classified."
"Not to me," said Ben-Ari. "I have security clearance. Yes, even me, a lowly ETC lieutenant. Ma’am, we cannot ignore a Priority One distress call. Corpus is an important azoth producer. The same material this very ship uses. They need help. It might be the scum. We’re nearby, we have two hundred armed soldiers aboard this vessel, and—"
"Silence!" Petty barked. She turned toward the twins. "Sergeants, escort Lieutenant Ben-Ari to the brig. She will remain locked up until we arrive at Nightwall, and there I will personally court-martial her for disobedience. I—"
"When you court-martial me," said Ben-Ari, "you will need a higher-ranking officer in attendance. And what will that officer say, I wonder, when they hear why I disobeyed you?" Ben-Ari was in too deep now. It was too late to back down. She would fight this battle. "What will they say at Nightwall when they hear you abandoned an azoth mine, that you ignored a distress call from a human colony? What will they do when they hear—and I have witnesses here in this chamber, including the commander of this starship!—that I demanded we obey proper military protocol, and you chose to ignore it?" Ben-Ari leaned closer. "I know who your father is, Petty. That doesn’t scare me."
Petty stared at her, silent, eyes bugging out and face red. Behind the captain’s back, Ben-Ari swore that she could see Major Mwarabu stifle a smile. Ben-Ari was willing to bet that Mwarabu had bitten his tongue many times in the presence of this company commander he had been transporting.
"You miserable worm," Petty whispered.”