Chapter 51

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"In closing, Chief Marshal, I only executed the Minister in accordance with the laws of the land," Zoe said. "Those who would enter the President's employ are under the solemn responsibility and trust of the people, the violation of which must be punished with death."

The stone faced trio of old women sitting at the towering table above her appeared unmoved. Not that Zoe was surprised. Everything in the hearing room, from the utter lack of windows to the extremely dim lighting of the singular faint lamp hanging behind the three, was designed to break those forced under the Tribunal's gaze. Of course, Zoe had found herself here too many times for it to have any real effect anymore.

"Your actions were lawful," the woman on the left said. "But reckless. If, as your evidence suggests, Marie Mayer was complicit in conspiracy against the State, a more sensible course of action would have been to bring her to us alive."

"I considered such a course of action," Zoe replied. "But considering the potential the Minister of Energy had for turning any attempts at public prosecution into a divisive scandal at a time of national crisis, I considered it in the best interests of the People to end her quickly before such damage could be inflicted. I also assessed that under the conditions given, there was likely little more appreciable intelligence we could have gathered that would have warranted the risk of such a scandal."

A tense silence settled over the room. The three senior officers exchanged hushed whispers while giving Zoe the occasional sideways glance. Finally, they quieted down and turned their undivided attention to the young Major.

"This Tribunal does not find Major Zoe Kruger guilty of crimes or misconduct," the woman in the center said. "However, after much deliberation, it does conclude that she acted recklessly with a temperament unbecoming of an Officer of the Military of Dan. We therefore extend the hold on all further promotion considerations until the beginning of next year. Furthermore, given the severity of the matter which you were investigating, you are to be relieved of this duty which will be turned over to a member of the Military Police. Do you understand soldier?"

"Yes ma'am," Zoe said.

"Then you're dismissed. Heil the Motherland." The three senior officers extended their arm forward in the traditional salute of Dan.

"Heil the Motherland," Zoe repeated, extending her own arm forward.

***

Even though it was evening and the ceiling lights were dim, Zoe still found herself squinting as she stepped out of her hearing.

"How long until you're up for promotion now?" Erwin said.

"They only added two more months. They must've had something really good in the Officer's Mess Hall for lunch today," Zoe replied. "Speaking of which, I'm starving. Your turn to pay."

"Oh come on! I feel like I pay everytime," Erwin grumbled.

Zoe shrugged unsympathetically. "Your family's rich enough to buy all my family's property with two hours' worth of pay, and with how long these holds keep getting it's only a matter of time before you have a higher pay grade than me."

"Yeah, then I'll be ordering you to pay everytime," Erwin said.

"Abusing the poor. What a heroic use of a military officer's authority."

The restaurant was even louder and more densely packed than usual, even for the middle of dinner. Zoe and Erwin stepped through the door as quietly as they could, doing their best to walk as straight a line as possible to the host attending the front desk. As soon as the man caught sight of the duo's military uniforms, his posture straightened and he shooed away the well dressed older couple he had just been addressing. The pair, though mildly annoyed, rapidly fell into line once they too noticed a soldier in their midst.

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