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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Monday, April 26, 2004 23:59 EDT



A large room, decorated with horsy prints and expensive leather tack, in a crenellated and imposing den of iniquity, otherwise known as Military Headquarters

    General Cartup-Kreutzler looked around the room at the grim faces of those of the General Staff that he'd summoned to his office. The small standing army that the colony of Harmony and Reason had had through twenty-seven peaceful years had expanded a thousandfold to deal with the Magh' invasion. But the people in this room all had twenty-seven years of service behind them. In their opinion, this made them the only competent people for the job. Korozhet advisors helped, of course.

    "Gentlemen. We're going to have to do some very major damage control here. What with Shaw's daughter also being involved, there are major political ramifications."

    "To say nothing of us having egg on our faces," said Brigadier Charlesworth bitterly. He'd arrived barely minutes before from his Sector HQ. He had a pile of newspapers with him.

    "The papers and newscasts are praising this blasted Fitzhugh fellow to the skies, and calling us incompetent!" Charlesworth's plump red face was positively choleric at the idea. Major Fitzhugh had—much against the inertia of the General Staff—managed to see to it that the HAR army had had its first victory.

    The general nodded. "We need to rectify the situation with the media. I've already gotten onto John Carsey, just before this meeting. He's pulled the plug on the live television coverage with HBC. In the interest of maintaining security. Allen, you've got contacts with Allied Press?"

    The balding-bulldog-faced man tugged at his jowled chin. "My cousin. He's Managing Editor."

    "He has editorial control?"

    Bulldog-face grimaced. "I suppose he could have," he said. "He usually leaves most of the day-to-day running to his staff."

    "Leave it to me," said the only civilian present at the meeting. All of General Cartup-Kreutzler's lackeys—who, to a man, regarded those who were not in the army as non-entities—treated this man with wary deference. Talbot Cartup controlled the Special Branch of the HAR police force. That made the general's brother-in-law a man to be feared.

    "I play golf with Erwin. He'll be amenable to my suggestions. What did you have in mind, Henry?"

    "A blanket ban on coverage of this incident!"

    Talbot laughed. "Not a chance. Even I can't do that... yet. The anti-censorship laws of the colony are rigid, Henry. The best I could arrange would be to plant a story about this military operation having been planned by yourselves, but kept a secret as you found that communications were being intercepted by the Magh'. I'll have them mention that the hoo-ha about this in the press has prejudiced further operations. That should provide me with a good reason to push the Board of Shareholders to legislate some limitations on freedom of speech clauses."

    The General nodded, grudgingly. "That'll have to do. But you won't get the Freedom of Speech stuff modified. I spoke to Aloysius Shaw about it, er... just after that unfortunate incident at the Ballet, when the media had a field day about you. It would require a constitutional amendment and that would require a full 67% of the vote. Even with Shaw's 34% block he'd didn't think it could be swung. With the vote passing to his daughter Virginia, now that she's still alive and rescued, thanks to this victory, there's no chance."

    Talbot Cartup's eyes glinted. "She's already been dealt with. Believe me, I have that matter in hand."

    Brigadier Charlesworth was slow on the uptake of anything except for whiskey. But he'd finally caught onto the idea of a planted story about the capture of the Magh' scorpiary. Major Fitzhugh had almost single-handedly directed and stage-managed this victory, despite the refusal of Military Headquarters in general, and General Cartup-Kreutzler in particular, to take any action. Fitzhugh—in charge of the pitiful HAR army intelligence unit—had spotted a situation created by some stray HAR troops inside the enemy's force-field. The General had refused to act on the information, so Major Conrad Fitzhugh had gone right ahead and done it anyway, taking the law—and the chain of command—into his own hands. That had included having the Brigadier arrested in his own comfortable chateau-headquarters!

    Charlesworth was not the forgiving kind. "I say! If you plant this story... then that blasted upstart bounder, Fitzhugh, will get away with it all."

    General Cartup-Kreutzler and his brother-in-law pinned the Brigadier in spotlight glares. "Not a chance in hell," hissed the General through clenched teeth.

    Talbot Cartup rubbed his meaty hands together. "Fitzhugh has been a thorn in my flesh. We've already decided. He will be court-martialed and shot."

    General Cartup-Kreutzler nodded. "I had given orders for him to be arrested and brought for trial. I've changed those to orders for a field court-martial and summary justice, if possible. The MPs hadn't succeeded, and anyway, they're inclined to do things by the book. I've dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel Jeebol from Divisional HQ. He'll deal with the matter immediately and personally. A good man. Expeditious. The sooner Fitzhugh is out of the picture, the easier the clearing up of this mess is going to be."

    "I think we might just put all the blame on him," said Talbot Cartup. "He was the leak. And when he discovered the Special Branch were onto him, he attempted to cover himself by doing some glory-grabbing."

    Brigadier Charlesworth nodded. "Let me know what witnesses you need. I'll see to that."

    Talbot Cartup smiled on him. "We also have some photographic morphing machinery from old Earth. I'll need some old confidential battle plans, Henry."

    The door of the room swung open. The guilty-looking group of conspirators tried hastily to look as if they'd been discussing football scores. A red-purple spiky beach-ball shape ambulated through the doorway on jointed flexing spines.

    "Ah," said General Cartup-Kreutzler, seeing the alien. "Advisor Tirritit. What brings you here?"

    "Good day, General." The Korozhet military attaché dipped his spines respectfully. "I have been dispatched by my commander to ask a favor of you. We would find it of great value to go and inspect this front your bold troops have opened up. A daring initiative! I gather you have captured some enemy territory. I should like to take a party of military advisors from my strategy group into the area."

    Cartup-Kreutzler was somewhat taken aback at this request. "Well, I suppose so, Tirritit. But what you'd want to see there I don't know. Battlefields have very little to do with military strategy. And you chaps know everything there is to know about the Magh'."

    Advisor Tirritit hissed a naphthalene reek at them. "True. But we like to gather fresh material. And to confirm certain things. I hadn't wanted to broach this with you yet, General, but, strategically speaking, this attack could have catastrophic side-effects on the whole war effort. Really, you should not undertake such exercises without first consulting us."

    "It wasn't exactly our plan, Tirritit," said Brigadier Charlesworth sourly. "And we didn't know about it until it had happened."

    The Korozhet advisor gave a sort of hissing sigh. "You are Brigadier Charlesworth? This did happen in the sector of the front under your control, where, if I remember correctly, a planned strategic retreat was in progress. Most unwise!"

    Charlesworth looked sullen. "I told you. This wasn't our idea. Some blasted intelligence Major did it off his own bat. We were just discussing how best to deal with him."

    The Korozhet military advisor spined forward into the ornately wood-paneled room. "Perhaps you should tell us more. This sort of individual could prevent you from winning the war if he continues this sort of interference. By the way, the request we put in for this... Private Charles Connolly. How is that proceeding?"

    "Ah. I am happy to say that he appears to be dead," said General Visse. "Our records show this clearly."

    Tirritit clacked his spines. "Most satisfactory. I mean, we did want to debrief him and question him about the death of the Korozhet tutor assigned to Virginia Shaw. But his death removes the necessity."

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