Home > Champion (Legend #3)(8)

Champion (Legend #3)(8)
Marie Lu

“Cadet Rin,” he barked at one of the newer soldiers. The soldier jumped at the steel in my brother’s voice, then hung her head in shame as Metias tapped the lone medal pinned on the cadet’s coat. “If I wore my medal like this, Commander Jameson would strip me of my title. Do you want to be removed from this patrol, soldier?”

“N-no, sir,” the cadet stammered.

Metias kept his gloved hands tucked behind his back and moved on. He criticized three more soldiers before he reached Thomas, who stood at attention near the end of the line. Metias looked over his uniform with a stern, careful eye. Of course, Thomas’s outfit was absolutely spotless—not a single thread out of place, every medal and epaulette groove polished to a bright shine, boots so flawless that I could probably see my reflection in them. A long pause. I put my comp down and leaned forward to watch more closely. Finally, my brother nodded. “Well done, soldier,” he said to Thomas. “Keep up the good work, and I’ll see that Commander Jameson promotes you before the end of this year.”

Thomas’s expression never changed, but I saw him lift his chin with pride. “Thank you, sir,” he replied. Metias’s eyes lingered on him for a second, and then he moved on.

When he finally finished inspecting everyone, my brother turned to face his entire patrol. “A disappointing inspection, soldiers,” he called out to them. “You’re under my watch now, and that means you’re under Commander Jameson’s watch. She expects a higher caliber from this lot, so you’d do well to try harder. Understood?”

Sharp salutes answered him. “Yes, sir!”

Metias’s eyes returned to Thomas. I saw respect on my brother’s face, even admiration. “If each of you paid attention to detail the way Cadet Bryant does, we’d be the greatest patrol in the country. Let him serve as an example to you all.” He joined them in a final salute. “Long live the Republic!” The cadets echoed him in unison.

The memory slowly fades from my thoughts, and Metias’s clear voice turns into a ghost’s whisper, leaving me weak and exhausted in my sadness.

Metias had always talked about Thomas’s fixation on being the perfect soldier. I remember the blind devotion Thomas gave to Commander Jameson, the same blind devotion he now gives to his new Elector. Then I see Thomas and me sitting across from each other in an interrogation room—I remember the anguish in his eyes. How he’d told me that he wanted to protect me. What happened to that shy, awkward boy from Los Angeles’s poor sectors, the boy who used to train with Metias every afternoon? Something blurs my vision and I quickly wipe a hand across my eyes.

I could be compassionate. I could ask Anden to spare his life and let him live out his years in prison, and give him a chance to redeem himself. But instead I just stand there with my closed lips and unwavering posture, my heart hard as stone. Metias would be more merciful in my position.

But I was never as good a person as my brother.

“This concludes the trial for Captain Thomas Alexander Bryant and Commander Natasha Jameson,” Anden finishes. He holds a hand out in Thomas’s direction and nods once. “Captain, do you have any words for the Senate?”

Thomas doesn’t flinch in the slightest, doesn’t show a single hint of fear or remorse or anger on his face. I watch him closely. After a heartbeat, he turns his eyes up to where Anden stands, then bows low. “My glorious Elector,” he replies in a clear, unwavering voice. “I have disgraced the Republic by acting in a way that has both displeased and disappointed you. I humbly accept my verdict.” He rises from his bow, then returns to his salute. “Long live the Republic.”

He glances up at me when the Senators all voice their agreement with Anden’s final verdict. For an instant, our eyes meet. Then I look down. After a while, I look back up and he’s staring straight ahead again.

Anden turns his attention to Commander Jameson. “Commander,” he says, extending his gloved hand in her direction. His chin lifts in a regal gesture. “Do you have any words for the Senate?”

She doesn’t flinch from looking at the young Elector. Her eyes are cold, dark slates. After a pause, she finally nods. “Yes, Elector,” she says, her tone harsh and mocking, a stark contrast to Thomas’s. The Senators and soldiers shift uneasily, but Anden raises a hand for silence. “I do have some words for you. I was not the first to hope for your death, and I won’t be the last. You are the Elector, but you are still just a boy. You don’t know who you are.” She narrows her eyes . . . and smiles. “But I know. I have seen far more than you have—I’ve drained the blood from prisoners twice your age, I’ve killed men with twice your strength, I’ve left prisoners shaking in their broken bodies who probably have twice your courage. You think you’re this country’s savior, don’t you? But I know better. You’re just your father’s boy, and like father, like son. He failed, and so will you.” Her smile widens, but it never touches her eyes. “This country will go down in flames with you at the helm, and my ghost will be laughing at you all the way from hell.”

Anden’s expression never changes. His eyes stay clear and unafraid, and in this moment, I am drawn to him like a bird to an open sky. He meets her stare coolly. “This concludes today’s trial,” he replies, his voice echoing throughout the chamber. “Commander, I suggest you save your threats for the firing squad.” Then he folds his hands behind his back and nods at his soldiers. “Remove them from my sight.”

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