Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Friday, July 16, 2004 00:40 EDT



Military Courtrooms

    A lieutenant by the name of Capra had been appointed to act as Chip’s "friend" at the Regimental Court Martial. What a stupid term, he thought. As if some Shareholder-officer was going to be the friend of a Vat-grunt. Why not just call the man "defense attorney" and be done with it?

    Still, he'd been recommended by Corporal Dusannay, the colonel's clerk. She said he was the best, and she had reason to know, as all of Colonel Brown and Camp Marmian's business was handled through her. By her, in practical fact.

    Now that he was standing here in shiny boots and a new uniform, Chip was a lot less certain that all of this had been a good idea. The charges were ridiculous, but when did that stop them from sticking? He hoped that the lieutenant from the JAG was good. He was a Shareholder, after all. You couldn't trust Shareholders... except maybe Ginny, and she'd deserted him.



    "Not guilty to all the charges, Sir."

    Lieutenant Capra stood up and turned to the major who was serving as Presiding Officer. "Major Betelsman, I would like to move that this case be dismissed. Not one of these charges can stand. Not even with someone propping up either side of them."

    The major was in charge of a neighboring supply depot and was an old friend of the Colonel in charge of the camp. He had quite an impressive way of snorting. "Colonel Brown drew up those charges, Lieutenant Capra! Seems a pretty open-and-shut case to me. Private Connolly was AWOL. He told some stupid lie about it, from whence the charges of disrespect to a senior office stem."

    The JAG lieutenant coughed. "Firstly, technically, the charges cannot stand, Sir. The charge of AWOL is incorrect. It should be Desertion, Sir, which is a capital crime and must be prosecuted by a General Court Martial, and not by a Regimental Court Martial."

    "Aha. More serious charges. Well, I suppose..."

    Lieutenant Capra shook his head and sucked air in through his teeth. "That's not all, Major."

    "That's quite enough for me!" snapped the major, standing up. "Colonel Brown can have the charges sent to the JAG department for their correction, and this Private sent up for a General Court Martial. Desertion and cowardice are problems that must be stamped out. Take this man back to his cell."

    "Ah. You can't do that, Major. He can't be in pretrial custody—“

    "I'm going to, Lieutenant. Remember that you're a lieutenant and I am a major. And don't tell me what to do!"

    "I'll consult with the JAG about it, Sir," said the lieutenant stiffly.

    Great, thought Chip. My "friend" just got the charges upped to a capital case. With friends like this, who needs enemies?



    So at fifteen hundred hours, three days later, Chip Connolly found himself pleading not guilty yet again. He was a little more confident this time. Lieutenant Capra had been to see him.

    "Your Colonel is being sticky and bloody-minded. Somehow these charges of his got pencil-whipped through. We're overstretched, and this stuff about Fitzhugh is making waves. I'm sorry. At your Regimental Court Martial I was still furious about Fitz—and at least that's going for retrial."

    Capra flipped through some papers. "But your case: I've gone all the way up to Lieutenant-Colonel Ogata. He's arranged for the case to be set forward so that it can be cleared up quickly. The only problem is we couldn't find a Military Judge free for this session. You'll be up before a Judicial Panel of officers and enlisted men advised by Trial Attorney and myself from the JAG. I can, however, spring you from the brig. Colonel Brown has exceeded his authority already, and I've put in a recommendation that Major Betelsman be brought before a investigative commission for his conduct of the Regimental Court Martial. If this case goes as I foresee, he'll never serve on one again. In fact, he'll be lucky if he doesn't get demoted."

    The lieutenant had been startled to hear that Chip preferred to remain in the brig, but he'd been quick enough to understand why. And Capra seemed to be the sort who could sniff out a silver lining in any cloud.

    "If it's okay with you, Private, it's okay with me. It won't do your case any harm, that's for sure, when I list it as pre-trial punishment and point out that it was illegal."



    And there was Tim Fuentes in the court—the fellow who had tried to interview him, and his cameraman... and dozens of other civilians, all watching. Mike Capra had said he was going to tell a few people in the media. Chip hadn't believed him, or hadn't believed they'd listen. He'd been wrong, obviously.

    Their presence might have worried some prosecuting attorneys. But this Trial Counsel was a certain Captain Tesco, who had a reputation for being an arrogant ass. He also had a big caseload, and this was, after all, an open-and-shut case.

    "His unit record shows Private Connolly as killed during the assault on Sector 355,” stated Tesco. “He arrived back at Camp Marmian several days later. The survivors of that assault were sent on from Divisional headquarters to Camp Marmian to join units being posted again to the front. The only conclusion that this court can reasonably reach is that Private Connolly was not killed, but had in fact deserted his unit."

    It did sound very unarguable, especially when Colonel Brown was called to the stand to testify about the time, date and manner of Chip's return. It was apparent that insolence was a question of perception.

    Lieutenant Capra stood up to cross-examine. "Colonel Brown, could you tell the court exactly what Private Connolly said to you?"

    "A lot of disrespectful rubbish and cheek!"

    "His exact words, Sir," said Capra. "To the best of your ability."

    The colonel was unimpressed. "Hmph. Ask my clerk. I know you came and interviewed her."

    "I will be calling her as a witness later," said Capra patiently. "I am asking you now, Sir."

    "I don't remember," grumbled the colonel.

    Unlike Brown and Tesco, the Presiding Officer had finally noticed that the court had filled up alarmingly for the open-and-shut case of an insignificant VAT deserter. "Colonel Brown," he said firmly, “you will answer the question to the best of your ability."

    The colonel puffed himself up like an irritated bullfrog. "Some nonsense about killing millions of Magh'. And whether he could go home if he was dead."

    There was a titter from the audience. Capra waited for it to subside. "Anything else, Colonel? He didn't by any chance try to tell you where he'd been?"

    "Ha. He said he had been trapped behind enemy lines and had fought his way back." The Colonel plainly found this ludicrous claim quite funny.

    "I believe he also claimed to have destroyed a Magh' forcefield generator, and to have freed Ms. Virginia Shaw?" prompted Capra.

    The colonel snorted. It was obviously his favorite noise. "Yes. He did. I suppose you're going to claim that the man was not of sound mind or something."

    The lieutenant looked at him, as unblinkingly as a cat, and then slowly shook his head. "No, Colonel. I am not. I have no further questions for you."



    Standing in front of them all in his polished boots and pressed BDUs, Chip felt as if he was naked. In uniform, dressed as if for a parade—but without a bangstick or a trench knife. Lieutenant Capra had just read the colonel's clerk's statement to the court. "Do you confirm this as substantially correct?"

    Chip swallowed. It was the first time that he'd had to say anything but "Not guilty" and "I do." So he kept it to a monosyllable. "Yes."

    You couldn't go too far wrong with that. He hoped. He didn't trust these Shareholder-bastards not to stitch him up.

    "Thank you, Private. I have no further questions for you at this point." Chip was relieved. He was sweating as it was.



    "Now," said the defense attorney. "I'd like to call the court's attention to exhibit 1: dispatches from Divisional headquarters for that period. This is the period in which Charge 1 Specification 1 accuses Private Connolly of having deserted. I call you attention to Dispatch D3728. It states that the front line, having sustained heavy shelling, fell with the loss of all but four human survivors, at 1100 hours. Notice the date, please. The territory is also described as lost to the enemy advance. Private Connolly is among those listed as killed in action."

    He paused. "We no longer have a category 'Missing in Action.' I asked the Bureau of Military Statistics why. They said that the nature of this particular war has made such a category virtually meaningless. I am here to present evidence that they are wrong, and that Private Connolly has been unjustly accused."

    He cleared his throat. "I would like to call my next witness, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Van Klomp of the 1st HAR Airborne."

    Chip's heart lifted at the sight of the huge man stumping down to the witness-stand. They'd obviously promoted him, at least. Well, far be it from Chip to praise any officer, but this one was almost... sort of... possibly... okay.

    "Lieutenant-Colonel Van Klomp, do you recognize the Private in the dock?"

    Van Klomp nodded. "Connolly. He's cleaner, and has had a shave. And I presume his shoulder has healed."

    "Could you tell the court just where you were when you encountered Private Connolly?"

    "We had just assaulted the Central hub of the Magh' scorpiary in the area now known as Delta 355 advanced. That's the center of the thirty-two odd miles of Magh' territory recaptured from the enemy. It's more or less seventeen miles from the point at which I believe Connolly was stationed when the Magh's launched their assault. When I and my men reached the Brood-heart of the scorpiary, I found that Private Connolly had beaten us to it, Sir. He, Virginia Shaw, and whole lot of rats and a few bats. They'd destroyed the power cables to the forcefield generator and had killed the Magh' in the control center. We couldn't have captured all that territory without them."

    The presiding officer had to quell a semi-riot, before Lieutenant Capra could continue. "In other words the statement that Private Connolly made to Colonel Brown was simply the truth?"

    Van Klomp beamed. "Ja. Other than the fact that he grossly understated what they had achieved. I've put in a motivation that the boykie and those rats and bats should be considered for as many medals as they can wear and still stand up under the weight, Lieutenant. Ten or twelve of them managed to advance seventeen miles into enemy held territory. At Carrack, a full division supported by three days of heavy artillery managed to advance less than half a mile, with horrendous human casualties, before being driven back. Now, between their efforts and Major Fitzhugh's advance, we've recaptured thirty-two miles of territory. They gave us our first major victory against the Magh'. When I got back to base and they told me the Airborne was being expanded to take conscripts too. So. I put in a motivation that Private Connolly be transferred to the Airborne, with immediate effect. The Airborne is supposed to be Harmony and Reason's elite unit, and I want this man. His transfer has been okayed. I believe he's also in line for promotion."

    Van Klomp bestowed a ferocious glare on no one in particular. "But the desk-jockeys at HQ told me they hadn't been able to find him. Idiots. When Private Connolly and his troops escorted Ms. Shaw out of the combat zone—she insisted on having her rescuers for an escort—I had radioed through to Divisional HQ and told them that these troops were on their way. I requested that they deal with their redeployment to somewhere they could be debriefed after their ordeal, but Divisional's staff claimed that they had never arrived. I was deeply shocked when the Lieutenant told me Colonel Brown had put Connolly here in the stockade at Camp Marmian for being AWOL. That's no way to treat a hero."

    Looking at the deflating bullfrog of a colonel, pinned by the gazes of the media, Chip had his payback.

    The Trial Counsel stood up slowly. Captain Tesco was plainly smarting too. He looked as mad as a chef discovering he only had powdered egg, and just about as nasty. "While I appreciate that the Private plainly did not desert, he still hasn't accounted for the fact that he didn't arrive at Divisional headquarters, never mind remain there."

    Mike Capra’s eyes widened dramatically. "Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Despite the fact that the prisoner turns out to be a hero, innocent of the ridiculous charges heaped on him, a man who has been abominably treated, illegally kept in pre-trial custody—Captain Tesco still wants his blood. Well, fortunately I still have two witnesses, and other items of evidence. Lucky us. Oh, lucky us!"

    "Cut out the theatricals, Lieutenant," growled the Presiding Officer. "Just present your evidence."

    "Certainly, Sir. Entered as our second item we have here a DVD disk. It is part of an interview shot by my witnesses, at Divisional headquarters. They can be called, if necessary, to confirm its veracity. There were a number of other witnesses present, who can also be called if the court deems it necessary. You will all excuse the fact that Private Connolly has been in combat for five days, out of reach of showers or razors. He'd been fighting for his country, not dressing for parade, ladies and gentlemen. If we can just show the clip on the rear screen."

    Brigadier Charlesworth had his moment of glory, faithfully recorded:

    "Get back to your unit, soldier. As quickly as possible. And get your platoon sergeant to put you on a charge for the state of your uniform and that half-beard of yours. Just because we're at war doesn't mean you have an excuse to ignore dress and appearance codes! Now, get these scruffy military animals back to their units, before I have them put down."

    There was nothing like reminding the public that you were the man who told a war-hero and new idol of the press, that he should get back to his unit and get himself put on a charge, for not shaving, when he'd just rescued the colony's most prominent citizen and caused the greatest victory of the war. Even the most Vat-despising Shareholder would find the lack of recognition given to Private Connolly for his achievement hard to accept.

    Lieutenant Capra cleared his throat in the stunned silence. "And then Private Connolly, like a good soldier, obeyed orders. He discovered that the remains of his unit had been sent to Camp Marmian. He arranged for transport there, and he reported to Colonel Brown. He told his story honestly and was imprisoned... for courageously fighting for his country, and obeying the orders of a superior officer."

    The Trial Counsel knew when to abandon a sinking ship. Tesco turned to the Presiding Officer. "I'd like to move that all these charges be dismissed, Sir. There are no grounds for them, and the army would be wrong to pursue the matter further. I should like to offer my apologies that I have had to act against this gallant soldier."

    Chip happened to be looking at the Lieutenant who had defended him at that moment. He could lipread the word "Asshole," but the rest he hoped he'd misunderstood.

    The Presiding Officer nodded. "We'll have to withdraw so that the panel can consult. But I agree, I don't see any grounds for any of these charges. Not even the minor ones of disrespect."



    Five minutes later Chip was carried shoulder high out of the court. Onlookers pressed in to try and shake his hand.

    One of the first was the INB reporter. "You owe me an exclusive, Private. I want your story."

    Outside were the cameras and questions. This time they were for him, not Virginia. After battling for a few minutes, he found a step which allowed him to look over their heads and address the crowd. He wasn't given to making speeches, but this had to be said. He knew Virginia had been planning to point out that it had been the efforts of the rats and the bats that had made it work, not just humans. And then, somehow, she hadn't been able to finish saying it. So it was up to him. He owed it to them. He wished now that he'd at least said a proper goodbye to them. He'd just been so upset and so mad at the time.

    "I'd just like to say one thing. You're all clamoring around me. I'm just a vat-grunt who was in the wrong place at the right time. And I'm only one of those who did this. We couldn't have done it without the rest of my buddies. My fellow soldiers, comrades, who were all fighting for us, for humans here on Harmony and Reason, were rats and bats." He swallowed. "Some of those... brave comrades didn't come back. Every one of us, from rat soldiers like Falstaff and Phylla, to the bats, and little Fluff, and... Virginia, fought to try to at least pay the Maggots back for killing so many of our people. My comrades, both the living and the dead, deserve the credit. Not me."

    "You mean Ms. Shaw actually fought?" demanded a reporter eagerly.

    Chip nodded. "Yes. I saw her cut a maggot in half with a chainsaw, mister. No slowshield, no training, just pure guts."

    "With a chainsaw! We've been trying to get to interview her. They say she's still too unwell for visitors. Was she badly injured? Sick?"

    A bubble of uneasy fear pricked at Chip. "No. She had a slight concussion... but our medic—the Airborne's medic, too, and the Doc with the infantry—all examined her. They all said she was fine. Ginny's no stinking Share—ah—fainting violet. She's tough as army boots."

    There were a few more shouted questions, most of them having to do with the overall course of the war. Chip answered as best he could, doing his best—he truly believed this—not to heap undue sarcasm and ridicule on the army's high command. For some reason the crowd laughed a lot.

    After people started drifting away, Lieutenant Capra tugged at his elbow and spoke softly, so only Chip could hear him. "I attempted to subpoena Ms. Shaw as a material witness. I thought she'd knock that son-of-a-bitch Tesco out of the park. I got, um, an odd response."

    Chip felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. "What?"

    "None," said Lieutenant Capra.

    "And that's odd?" Chip asked.

    "It is indeed," replied Capra. "Harmony and Reason may have its flaws, Private. But it has the finest constitution, and a legal system derived from that, that the New Fabian Society was able to devise. And that law extends through to the military code. Put simply: No one, not even Virginia Shaw, is above the law. Willfully neglecting or refusing to appear is a crime. And her legal advisors would know that. A written deposition could be taken if she was unfit to travel. But..."

    He shrugged. "The case was due, and we really didn't need her. I didn't follow it up, as the news reports say that she is still very ill. And now you say she shouldn't be."

    Chip took a deep breath and turned to Van Klomp. "Sir. You say I've been transferred to your unit. Do I have to go back to Camp Marmian?"

    "I don't think you should have gone there in the first place. But according to the army, if you aren't dead, you're in the 1st HAR Airborne. And I'm your new commanding officer."

    Chip saluted smartly. "Can I have a pass, please, Sir?"

    Van Klomp gave a wry smile. "Common sense tells me to say: 'no.' But I think you deserve it. Will two days do you... Lance-Corporal? I think more than that might go to your head." From a pocket of his tunic he handed Chip a set of stripes, a beret badge with wings—and a pass-chit. He'd obviously been expecting this.

    Chip looked at the pass. The form was made out to Lance-Corporal Charles Connolly, 1st HAR Airborne. "Sir. I don't think I'm noncom material, Sir."

    "Privates don't think, Connolly. So if you do, that proves you're an NCO at heart already. This pass is made out to Lance-Corporal Charles Connolly. Not Private Connolly. Do you want it?"

    Chip gritted his teeth. He'd always been militant about being a grunt. As a combat veteran, they'd tried to make him an NCO a couple of times. In the front lines that just meant you died sooner. But he put the pass and stripes in his shirt pocket, all the same.

    "See that those stripes and the badge are on when you get back from pass," said Van Klomp. "I want to talk to you about rats and bats when you get back. And Lance-Corporal..."


    "Stay out of trouble, will you?"

    Chip saluted. "I'll do my best, Sir."

    "When you've finished your parachute course you'll be due for some more leave," said Van Klomp, with an absolutely straight face.

    Chip could only stare at him in utter horror. "Me? Jump out of an airplane? You must be fu... mad... Sir," he added, belatedly.

    Van Klomp laughed. "I have a feeling you'll be up for disrespect again soon, Lance-Corporal. That's what airborne do. And we don't need a company chef."

    Chip realized that the big paratrooper had checked on his background. He also got the feeling that Van Klomp would cheerfully throw anyone out of the plane that wouldn't jump for themselves. He took a deep breath. "I'll see you in three days time, Sir."

    He saluted and turned, hastily, nearly bumping into his old jailor, Ngui. The Sergeant beamed at him. "I have taken the liberty of bringing here certain personal items of your kit. If you would like to sign for them, Lance-Corporal."

    "And when you've done that," said the INB reporter who had stayed behind, "how would you like a lift into the City? I presume that's where you're going for your pass?"

    My. He was going up in the world. A lift in a Shareholder's car. Mind you, he was sure that was just because the man wanted to pump him for the story. Well, he might as well make the best of it. In fact, he might as well grab as much cover as he could. The Shaw family were not going to like some scruffy little Vat-grunt showing up on their doorstep. A good soldier takes cover wherever he can get it, even if it meant hiding behind the press.

    "Actually, I want to go and see if I can see Ginny... uh, Ms. Shaw. I'm, uh, concerned about the stories I'm hearing of her health." He felt his face glowing a dull red. They'd think he was going to ask for some sort of reward. Well, so what? What did he care what this bunch of pansy-shareholders thought of him? They'd never believe him if he told them that the thought had never even crossed his mind. That he was going simply because he had a feeling that she was in trouble, and he was going to see for himself.

    "Well," said the reporter, "you'll have to go in the morning, Priv... Corporal. That district has a curfew, unless you have a special resident's pass, or one of them to vouch for you." He hauled out a mobile. "You could try calling. But I hope you fail, because we want to film this, and they'll never give curfew-permission for all of us. But otherwise I'll take you to the gates of Shaw House, myself, in the morning. You tell us your story and we'll organize you a slap-up supper and a bed. Do we have a deal?"

    Chip looked at the mobile. He'd never even held one before. They cost more money than a Vat could dream of affording. "I don't know the number," he mumbled, feeling his face go puce.

    "123-SHAW," said one of the other media women, sourly, "and he wouldn't be offering if he didn't think you'd get the same runaround as we all did. We get the estate switchboard. And they say: 'Sorry, Miss Shaw is not taking any calls at the moment.'"



    It was exactly the reply that he got.

    "Uh. Well can you give her a message from me?"

    The cool voice on the other end said she would see that Miss Shaw got the message.

    "Just tell her Chip called. I'm going to come out there to see her tomorrow."

    "Miss Shaw is not receiving visitors."

    "Just tell her. Please."

    He had to accept the receptionist's arctic assurance that all messages were delivered.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image