“No! Wait! I object!” Kelen jumped to her feet, in shock at the revelation.
“Objection overruled,” Pfeiffer stated in a bored voice. His eyes remained focused on the table’s surface.
“You can’t do that!” she persisted. “You can’t arbitrarily condemn us without a fair hearing!”
The colonel rolled his eyes up at her. “You were tried in absentia, which is duly allowable under the law, Lieutenant.”
“But you don’t know the facts.” She tried to calm herself, but her instincts were telling her time was of the essence. These men weren’t concerned about learning the truth. All they cared about was getting rid of Kyber and the other Seneecians as soon as they could without causing any diplomatic mayhem. And because of the warning Duruk had sent out, they had the perfect out by notifying him of their location. “How can you make any decision when you haven’t been told the truth?”
One of the officers, a lieutenant colonel, sat up straighter in his chair. After giving her a quizzical look, he turned to Pfeiffer. “Excuse me, Colonel. I’m curious to hear what she has to say.”
Pfeiffer raised an eyebrow at the man. After a second of consideration, he gestured for the lieutenant colonel to continue. “Go right ahead. You may begin the interrogation.”
Giving the colonel a quick nod of thanks, the man addressed her directly. “Let’s begin with you stating your name, rank, and assignment.”
Kelen curled her fingers into fists and pressed them against her thighs. Taking a deep breath, she gathered her wits about her, ready to do verbal battle if it came down to that.
“Lieutenant Kelen Chambliss, former pilot of the Manta.”
“Yes, sir. The Manta crashed landed on the neverwylde planet we came to know as Ganj.”
The man pursed his lips, glanced at Pfeiffer, then back at her. “And, pray tell, what is a neverwylde planet?”
“It’s what the Seneecians refer to as a planet that has been through a cataclysmic event, yet still maintains the ability to support life.”
“And this planet you crashed onto, how was it a neverwylde?”
“Half of the planet was gone.” She held up her hands, cupping her fingers into a ball, and made a slicing motion through the middle of it. “The planet appears to have been divided in two, right down through the core. We’ve stood on a precipice overlooking that division. All you can see is space, sir. It’s quite an incredible sight.”
The lieutenant colonel appeared surprised. “The planet has a vast chasm through its center?”
“No, sir. I’m saying one entire half of that world is gone. Like it was cleaved in two.”
Another officer scoffed at the description. “There are no such worlds.”
“Pardon the lieutenant’s remark, but there is.” It was an effort to keep her tone civil. “Our ship and the Seneecians’ lifepods crashed on it, and we remained there for several weeks until another Seneecian warship latched onto our distress signal and came to rescue us.”
Pfeiffer leaned forward, placing his hands on the table. “Lieutenant, there is no record of such a planet in existence.”
“Then where do you think we’ve been all this time?”
Making another disparaging sound, the third officer commented, “That’s what we all would like to know.”
“I’m not lying to you.”
The lieutenant colonel crossed his legs and rested an arm on the back of his chair. “Lieutenant Chambliss, why don’t you give us a brief rendition of how you arrived on this so-called half of a planet?”
She gave them the same version she’d given the Seneecian Triumvirate, adding, “Without the joint cooperation between us and the Seneecians, we would not have survived as long as we did.”
“How so?” the third officer questioned.
“With one exception, everything we encountered on that world was dangerous. The creatures, especially.”
“Are you saying there were lifeforms on that planet?”
“There were many. Some large and monstrous, and some as small as your hand.”
“Were any of them sentient?”
“Yes, sir. Two, as far as we know.”
“How were you able to maintain a breathable atmosphere?” a fourth man asked.
Kelen turned to him. “The planet had its own atmosphere, but don’t ask me how. That is beyond my knowledge. It also had water and indigenous plant life, which we were able to eat.”
The third officer chuckled. “So, let me get this straight. You want us to believe that your ship chased the Seneecians through a wormhole, where you all crash landed on this fictitious half planet, and made a pact with each other in order to protect yourselves against the lifeforms that existed there? Do you realize how fantastical that sounds, Lieutenant?”
“It is the truth,” Kelen repeated.
The man bent over the table. “Lieutenant, there...is...no...such...planet. Now, there may be a wormhole, which could explain why your ship disappeared without a trace twelve weeks ago. And why no one was able to raise you on the comm. But inasmuch, the rest is all circumspect.”
She frowned at him. “How so...sir?”
“What concerns us more is this alliance you claim to have formed with one of our deadliest enemies.”
Kelen turned around to check the worried expressions on her fellow crewmembers’ faces. The Seneecians, however, appeared resigned. She addressed the officers again. “So what you’re telling us is that, because we became allies in order to survive, that’s made us criminals and traitors?”
“No. It’s lying to us that’s condemned you,” Pfeiffer answered.
“How have I lied?”
The third officer snorted. “First off, your fanciful story about a half planet. Secondly, the fact that you were found aboard a stolen Seneecian shuttle.”
“We’ve never denied we stole the shuttle,” she confirmed. “But we had to. The Seneecians were about to put us into lifepods and eject us into space, to let us die out there.”
The lieutenant colonel pointed in Kyber’s direction. “Those Seneecians?”
“No. My brother,” Kyber responded.
The officers paused to stare at him. Taking the opportunity, Kyber rose to his feet.
“The D’har of my ship also survived the crash. He detested the alliance we had made with the Terrans, and tried to kill them outright. I challenged him according to the laws of our people, and I bested him, but he continued to cause havoc.
“Before we were drawn through the wormhole, our ship sent out a distress signal. That signal was picked up by my people, and my brother, D’har Duruk, was assigned to the rescue mission.” Kyber pointed at Dox. “Dox was able to rig up another distress signal, which Duruk was able to trace through the wormhole. He and his men landed on the neverwylde planet, and tried to leave Kelen and the other Terrans behind, but I intervened. He reluctantly took us all aboard his ship, but on our return to Seneecia, he planned to have the Terrans, and me and my men, dispatched before reaching it.”
“Why?” Pfeiffer questioned.
Kyber gave a slight shrug. “That is what we have been asking ourselves ever since we managed to elude Duruk. My brother wants us dead, which leads me to only one conclusion.”
“Either it is the planet itself, or there is something on that planet my superiors do not want anyone else to know about. And they are willing to kill anyone who threatens to reveal its existence and location, including those of their own kind.”