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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 7, 2004 00:30 EDT



Military court C, southern suburbs of George Bernard Shaw City

    "Not guilty to these charges, Sir."

    Fitz had known something was very seriously wrong when Mike Capra had been pulled off his case. The young lieutenant he had acting for him now would have had difficulty spelling her own name right.

    The court too was empty, except for the defense, the trial attorney and the panel of gray-haired officers.

    He'd never seen the first witness in his life before. Nonetheless, this Mervyn Paype claimed to know him well. Paype was a counterintelligence agent with Special Branch, it seemed, and he swore that Conrad Fitzhugh had received large sums of money from him. Paype even had a number of excellent photographs of Conrad Fitzhugh handing over battle plans to himself.

    The female witness who followed, claiming to be a typist in General Visse's office who had been seduced and misled by the despicable Fitzhugh, cried quite artistically. Fitz had never seen her before in his life, either. Odd, really, given the rather graphically intimidate details the woman gave of their various trysts.

    The young Lieutenant defending him put up not one question, and raised not one objection. Fitz was not even called to the stand himself. Fitz had never been to a military court before. But there seemed a marked paucity of justice here.

    The entire case took less than forty-five minutes. The panel didn't need more than thirty seconds to decide on his guilt. Major Gainor smiled seraphically at him as the Judge pronounced it.

    He was hardly surprised at the death sentence that the panel thought an appropriate punishment.



    "I can have you out of here in ten minutes," said Ariel conversationally to Fitz, through the bars of the paddy-wagon. She wasn't supposed to be here. But then Ariel never let that stop her.

    Conrad Fitzhugh looked speculative. "Which would effectively be an admission of guilt, wouldn't it?"

    Ariel shrugged. "Who cares?"

    "I do, Ariel. I broke the law half a dozen ways to breakfast. I'll take the consequences. I've always said that. But I won't take a load of trumped-up rubbish. That was all I wanted to say. But obviously they didn't want the truth coming out, especially about the Korozhet."

    "That's a part that not even I am sure about. They're our allies. But I love you, even if you're wrong."

    "Talk to Van Klomp about it. Actually, that's what I want you to do anyway. Can you get to the paratrooper's base on your own?"

    "I think I could. It's a longish march, but at least I know the town. What do you want him to do? Prepare a hideout?"

    "No. I want him to feed you and provide you with chocolate while I'm inside. I sent messages to that effect while Mike was still my counsel. He was supposed to be here to pick you up."

    "I'm staying with you," she said determinedly. "There isn't a prison on Harmony and Reason that can keep me out. They're all built to keep humans in. Methinks they fail on rats."

    Fitz shook his head. "One of the few things I do know is that the right of appeal is automatic in cases of the death penalty given out by a general court-martial. There's no way they can get around that. I want you to get to Van Klomp. He'll get Mike. Between them, they can get the process going. I want my chance on that witness-stand. I want you there too, to tell the people of Harmony and Reason just how their general was spending the evening while he was supposedly directing operations. I need you to do this, Ariel. I need you to stay out of trouble long enough to do it."

    Reluctantly she nodded. Then, leaped up to the bars and whiffled her nose against his cheek. "'Kay."

    Fitz heard the MP drivers arrive. Ariel slipped away.



    "Let's see. Is there any law that they didn't contravene?" asked General Needford, his fingers steepled.

    "Off-hand, no," said Lieutenant-Colonel Ogata. "The entire thing should be declared a mistrial. The time and the court in which the case was taking place were altered in the record. You have the press baying furiously at you about that. The clerk of the court says that the necessary pretrial offer of an alternative defense simply wasn't issued. In fact Judge Jeffers made several dozen straight errors of law. You're going to have to take serious action there.”

    Ogata looked down at the file in his hands. “The defense... Well, to say the woman was out of her depth is the kindest interpretation.” Flipped a few pages. “The panel... The word "unlawfully influenced" comes to mind very easily. No Challenge was issued to any of them. General Cartup-Kreutzler must have gotten some advice from his SJA. He's a lush, but capable enough when he's sober. It must have been his idea that the charges were pressed by Major General Visse, so Lieutenant General Cartup-Kreutzler was the convening officer. Very convenient. The sooner you act, the less public outcry there will be."

    General Needford raised an eyebrow. "Ah, but I don't really want to stifle public outcry just yet. Dreyfus, Ogata, Dreyfus. That's what we need to finally start cleaning up this political cesspool. There is a historical precedent for nearly everything. By the way, you'll be conducting the defense this time. And I suggest you have young Capra as your junior counsel."

    "Capra cheeks too many Judges, and thinks he's too clever to be caught out at it," Ogata said, sniffing. "But he's a bright boy, I admit."

    Ogata still looked doubtful. "And so, you think this parallels the Dreyfus case do you, Sir? That might be a bit rough on Fitzhugh. If I recall correctly, Dreyfus went through several retrials over a good five years before he was pardoned."

    Needford smiled wryly. "Communications and the media move a little faster now. They call it 'progress,' I believe. I anticipate Fitzhugh going for retrial in a week or two."



    Fitz had expected things to take a rapid turn for the worse when he arrived back at the Central Detention Barracks.

    This appeared to be incorrect. He was ushered into Colonel Trevor's office.

    The officer looked more than a little uncomfortable. "Major Fitzhugh."

    Fitz felt that there was no longer any particular need or justification to giving any recognition or respect to senior ranks. "I thought I had been stripped of my rank," he said curtly.

    "Well... ah. I've just had a call from General Needford, advising me that this is not going to be the case, and advising me... Well. It seems the JAG is not entirely satisfied with your trial."

    "It wasn't a trial. It was kangaroo-court. I'm hoping my appeal will be slightly better. Based on what I have experienced so far that's unlikely. But I'll give it a try. So: how do I appeal?"

    Colonel Trevor looked at his desk. "The judge ought to have dealt with that. As a death-sentence prisoner, you do have the automatic right to appeal."

    "Well, the judge didn't deal with it," said Fitz curtly.

    "I know," admitted the Colonel. "General Needford pointed that out to me."

    "Who is this General Needford?" asked Fitz. "I worked in Military HQ. I thought I knew all the idiots available."

    "General John Needford is the Judge Advocate General, Major," said the Colonel stiffly. "And he certainly is no idiot. He's advised me that your trial will, in the next few days, be declared as requiring retrial on the basis of substantive errors of law. Of course, it will take some time for the paperwork... "

    Trevor cleared his throat. "In the meantime, I have to treat you as if the previous trial is valid. However, I can advise you that you will be permitted visits from the attorneys that the JAG has delegated to defend you in the appeal: one Lieutenant Colonel Ogata, and a Lieutenant Michael Capra. They'll be here in approximately an hour."



    And he'd left Ariel out there, to walk. Fitz cursed himself silently. There were dangers out there.

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