We turned right at the next corridor and walked through a narrower hall to a lift that most soldiers avoided if possible. The words Command Group were stenciled on the closed door, as if everyone didn't know where it went. Command group implied the station commander. The general. No soldier wanted her to know their name, and most would go out of their way to avoid her.
As I said, I'm not your regular soldier.
I didn't let Ken in on the fact that I didn't mind the new destination, but I didn't pretend that it bothered me, either. I had a rule I lived by: wherever I found myself, that was exactly where I wanted to be. It's an attitude that people gravitate toward, for whatever reason. So that was my play. We were at the command group, and I tried to act as if it was normal and expected. As far as anybody would see from me, I owned the place.
Ken held their wrist device up to the scan pad, and the door opened.
We went up four decks, and the door whooshed open into an elegant room just outside the command suite. I'd been there once before, supervising a cleaning detail as they vacuumed the deep blue carpet. But I didn't pay attention to the well-appointed surroundings this time. My eyes went to the person waiting to enter the lift after we disembarked.
Sergeant Kara Miller.
We called her Killer, because, well...it rhymed with Miller, and her first name started with a K.
Cut us some slack. We're soldiers, not poets.
Killer led third squad. In theory they were sister squad to my fourth, but if we were siblings, we were the kind who didn't get along.
I stared at her, and she met my eyes for a split second before turning her head and pretending she hadn't. Despite being my age—twenty-two—she looked older. Apparently being an evil minion of the lord of the underworld aged a person. I stared at the back of her head, her textbook blond bun. By-the-book Killer Miller leaving the command group. That explained how I'd been caught.
I stood at attention, my eyes locked on the tasteful framed picture on the far wall without really seeing it. It allowed me to avoid eye contact with the crisply uniformed staff of the commander's office who sat at polished desks or walked around pretending they had something to do so they could sneak peeks at the convict headed for the gallows. I wore the gray utility clothes that we wore under our armor, form-fitting and glistening with the moisture that it wicked away from my body. Not the best look to meet the general—I really didn't think she wanted to check out the bulge in my pants—but I didn't think I should ask to go change. Non-coms who worked in the command group had a notorious deficiency in the sense of humor department. Not to say they weren't good at their jobs. Everyone in the office had been chosen from a group of excellent candidates, all of whom were better soldiers than I'd ever be.
At least on the surface. From my alternate line of work, I knew a lot of their vices. But I don't judge, and I don't tell. Those are two things you can count on when you do business with Gas Gastovsky.
"Sergeant Gastovsky, the colonel will see you now," said a sharp-looking staff sergeant, poking his head out of the office of the deputy commander. Colonel. I was seeing the deputy commander, Colonel Gwan, instead of the general. That was very good news.
I did a crisp facing movement and marched to the door, my head level. We weren't big on drill and ceremony in the augmented infantry, but when you're in trouble, it never hurts to show the brass what they want to see. I was where I wanted to be, but I didn't want to explain that, so it was best if they thought me suitably intimidated.
The staff sergeant with the perfectly trimmed buzz cut held the door for me, then let it slide shut after I entered. The large office—large for a space station, anyway—reeked of furniture polish as I stood at attention again, just inside. An officer with the regulation salt-and-pepper hair of a colonel focused on a screen that rose from his immaculate desk.
"Sergeant Gastovsky?" He looked up.
"Yes, sir," I said, a little louder than I needed to, maintaining my show.
"You can relax."
I snapped from attention to parade rest, spreading my legs to shoulder-width apart and placing my hands in the small of my back.
"Really," he said. "Relax."
I didn't move. I heard him, but the concept of "relax" did not mix with the concept of "in a colonel's office and in trouble." It was one thing to work to get myself into this position. It was another thing altogether to actually be there, and I have to admit that it had me a little on edge. He sighed, then stood up and came out from behind his desk, his feet silent on the thick carpet. He gestured to the round table in the corner. "Have a seat." When I didn't move, he added, "That's an order."
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the paperback edition.
Monday, June 27th, we begin the book Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji.