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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Nineteen

       Last updated: Friday, July 16, 2004 00:43 EDT



The largest office in Military HQ. No Horsey Prints. 18th century Naval engagements instead.


    In a stunning example of military bungling, the Army jailed Private Charles Connolly for desertion.

    Connolly, whom Lieutenant-Colonel Van Klomp of the 1st HAR Airborne said "should be considered for as many medals as he can wear and still stand up under the weight," was listed as dead when a Magh' advance overran his position. Buried alive in a cave in, Connolly survived, dug himself out and fought courageously on behind enemy lines. Battling million-to-one odds with a group of loyal Military Animals, he succeeded in rescuing the daughter of our late Chairman, Virginia Shaw. Against all probability and with suicidal courage he and his companions then managed to destroy the forcefield generator, allowing our heroic 5th Infantry Brigade to make their dramatic advance in Sector Delta 355.

    Private Connolly, described by Virginia Shaw in her interview on her release as "the finest soldier," was liberated during Major Fitzhugh's successful push forward. However, when he returned to his base, Colonel G. Brown, CO of Camp Marmian, promptly had Connolly arrested for desertion because the record listed him as "died in action."

    When questioned later by reporters, Col. Brown placed the blame on the camp's clerk, whom he said would be severely punished. Connolly spent eight days in the cells awaiting trial, before being completely acquitted.

    General Blutin put the newspaper down and sighed. Another article on the front page had been about Conrad Fitzhugh. The editorial had been by a military history buff. The army—more precisely, the High Command—was now being shredded almost daily in the papers, on radio and on television screens. The media, having slavishly quoted the Military press releases for the past year and a half, had suddenly discovered the Army brass could be wrong. They were still 100% behind the men and women on the front lines. It was just the crenalated Military HQ that was becoming the place everyone loved to hate.

    He'd liked being a general, back in the peaceful prewar days. There had been just three enlisted men for each officer, and, other than a liking for spit-'n-polish, there had been no vast military demands made on the army. At first, the huge increase in power and influence that had come with the Magh' invasion had been heady, if frightening. The Korozhet advisors had helped them to cope with the unknown, and Lieutenant-General Cartup-Kreutzler had expanded like a peony to take control of the now burgeoning army.

    Blutin had been content to let him. Cartup-Kreutzler had always intimidated him, to tell the truth. The booming, powerful personality of his subordinate was stronger than his own.

    Too late, he was beginning to wish that he had reined the man in. Or that he'd listened to that terrifying half-Halloween-mask-faced intelligence officer, Fitzhugh. Blutin hadn't liked the man. Disliked him intensely, in fact. But at least the intelligence major had made the army look good for a change. It was only since that Delta 355 victory—and the idiotic subsequent arrest of Fitzhugh—that media attention had suddenly focused on the way the army was run by the General Staff, almost as if they were waking up to the idea that it could be done differently. For the first time, the media had cameramen right up there on the front. The people of Harmony and Reason were getting the war right in their living-rooms. And they wanted to know why it couldn't be like old DVDs. At the moment they seemed ready to blame the General Staff for losing... now that they'd seen that they could win.

    And then had come Fitzhugh's trial: General Cartup-Kreutzler had assured him it would all be over and forgotten in a day. "Best done quickly," he'd said.

    Only it hadn't worked like that at all. The media were calling it a kangaroo-court. There were daily demands for a retrial. There were scathing editorials. More and more evidence was emerging about Fitzhugh's role. And none of it made the high command look good.

    General Blutin wasn't enjoying suddenly becoming a social outcast. The vendetta that Cartup-Kreutzler and his brother-in-law Talbot had pursued against Fitzhugh had certainly not worked out the way that they'd planned. This latest story about some blasted private—as if the army couldn't make an innocent error about one stupid Vat!—just made things worse.

    He needed to do something about it. Blutin scratched his jowls. There, as that unpleasantly smart-tongued Sanjay Devi would say, was the rub. Other than in a rage, he really wasn't up to taking on Cartup-Kreutzler. Not head on, at least, nor at office-politics. Cartup-Kreutzler had filled the ornate, crenelated military magnificence of HQ with his sycophants and allies.

    Blutin sighed, reached for the telephone on his acreage of gleaming desk, and picked it up. "Miss Burgess. Get me the Judge-Advocate General. And when I've done with him, the Surgeon-General." They were both what General Cartup-Kreutzler referred scathingly to as "Johnny-come-latelies." Not the "old army" that he and Blutin knew and trusted. General Blutin was not keen to ask them for help. But the alternative was far worse. He might actually have to do something himself.



    The two major generals seldom came into the huge Military Headquarters building. They had offices of their own, and seemed to prefer their less grandiose settings. General Blutin had always felt that rather strange in an officer; but then, as General Cartup-Kreutzler had disparagingly said, they weren't "proper officers." Well, right now that was perhaps what he needed.

    General DiMillio, the Surgeon General, looked at the thick fitted carpet. "You do yourselves awfully well over here at HQ," he drawled.

    Blutin started to draw breath for a furious retort, and then remembered that he was seeking allies. "The job's got its perks, but”—he pointed to the pile of newspaper clippings he'd assembled—“it’s got its problems too. I asked you to come here today to discuss them. I need your help, gentlemen."

    The Judge-Advocate General, General John Needford, was a tall, ominously silent and very black man. He made General Blutin sweat and feel aware of just how tight his tailored uniform had become. Needford didn't say anything, just walked over to the desk and looked at the clippings.

    The doctor snapped first. "I'm a busy man, General Blutin. Tell us what this is about so that I can say 'no,' and I can get back to my work."

    General Blutin sucked his teeth. "Well. It's about this affair with Major Fitzhugh..."

    The Judge-Advocate General narrowed his eyes. "You do realize that attempting to influence the course of justice could invalidate the whole case, General Blutin. Anyway, I'll have no part in railroading this man. I said as much to General Cartup-Kreutzler. This retrial is something I intend to see is as fair and legal as possible."

    "And I'll stand by the steps my medical personnel took. Fitzhugh shouldn't be in jail."

    "Good! Good! Then we agree on this!" Blutin said with relief, sitting down.

    The two generals stared at him.

    "You mean... that's what you wanted us for?" asked the Surgeon-General suspiciously. "You want us to support this Fitzhugh?"

    "Well," said General Blutin, uneasily, "not support in so many words, but..." He rushed his fences. "Look, Cartup-Kreutzler is all set for a personal vendetta on this man. I... I think it would be better if we... er... let sleeping dogs lie. Got out of it as quietly as possible. The man is very popular. I don't want to cause any further trouble, but, well, General Cartup-Kreutzler and his brother-in-law are set on it."

    The Surgeon General blinked at him. "Then why don't you tell him to back off?"

    "Er. He doesn't listen to me very well," said General Blutin, hoping that he didn't sound as feeble as he felt.

    The Judge Advocate General raised his head and pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Ah. Now I understand. You want us—Nick and I—to organize a palace coup."

    "Well, I, er... wouldn't have put it that way myself. But, well, they seem to be being very foolish about this."

    The Surgeon-General began to laugh, softly. "If even you can see that, General, what do you think that the rest of the world thinks of it? I came here ready to fight. I didn't think I'd come here to rescue you, General. But it sounds like you need it."

    Even you indeed. That stung. But before he allowed it to goad him, the Judge Advocate General spoke again. "Well, I don't think it's a laughing matter. But seriously, General Blutin, just what do you think we can do? The command structure at the top end is solid with General Cartup-Kreutzler's loyalists. And the Army is not exactly designed to be a democracy anyway."

    There was an uncomfortable silence. General Blutin realized that they were actually waiting for an answer. An answer he didn't really have. "Well," he said awkwardly, "This Fitzhugh affair. We seem agreed that, well, General Cartup-Kreutzler is damaging the image of the General Staff with his public pursuit of it. Can't it be dropped? Tossed out?"

    The Judge Advocate General shook his head. "No. And I would not be prepared to collude in any such process. The best we can do is to see that he gets a reasonably fair trial this time around. I've looked at the charges. Some of them won't stand. I suspect that if General Cartup-Kreutzler had stayed with a few basic charges, they'd have stuck like glue. But someone has gotten quite imaginative with these charges. There were shenanigans in that first trial. I've put Ogata onto it and he'll root it out. This time I can recommend a good defense team, and a good Military Judge. But when it comes to prosecution, well, that's a mixed bag." He smiled wryly. "My officers are all ex-civilian professionals. Not all lawyers enjoy a good reputation."

    "Do any?" asked the medical man, returning the wry smile. "I've been thinking, General. Your problem is essentially not that Cartup-Kreutzler directly disobeys you, is it? He—and his staff—just find ways of not quite doing what you wanted."

    General Blutin nodded, gloomily. "I've tried to assume the reins in the last while. It's been hopeless. There is always a reason why things have not been done. And things are always going to happen. They just never do. Everything gets referred back to Cartup-Kreutzler."

    The Doctor nodded thoughtfully. "But, if I am correct, the final appointment of new staff to the General Staff is signed by you?"

    "Two signatures. Lieutenant General Cartup Kreutzler's and mine."

    The Attorney General shook his head. "Not according to the standing regulations. Any promotion to the level of staff-officer must be recommended by an officer of the General Staff, and approved by you. Or by the elected head of the board of shareholders. It certainly doesn't need Cartup-Kreutzler."

    "Oh. It's just always been done like that," said General Blutin.

    "Which naturally means it is right," said the Judge-Advocate General sardonically. "Anyway, what's your idea, Nick? I think I know where you're going, but as I think your field of expertise is renal and colonic medicine, I want to make sure that hasn't influenced your judgment. Medical personnel are usually no use in legal matters. They usually try to 'help' the accused."

    The Doctor laughed. "We're a helping profession. And everything ends up with the kidneys or the colon, sooner or later. There's a glass ceiling in the Army's General Staff. There is hardly any one on it who hasn't had at least twenty years pre-war service. If you want to change things, General, you will need to move a few new officers up. Officers with actual combat experience on the front lines. I think I can recommend a few. And they can recommend a few more. Even my grumpy legal colleague could probably recommend a few more, if he wanted to."

    The Judge Advocate-General scratched his chin. "I wish I had some spare staff. We're hopelessly understaffed. That's why we agreed to allow Regimental Court-martials, which in retrospect, was a big mistake. But I suppose we'll have to deal with this. So. Actually, what you need is an attempt to crush the medical, legal and indeed the Quartermaster-General's little kingdoms."

    The other two stared at him. "The Mongols tried it in China," he said by way of explanation.

    That didn't clarify anything, thought General Blutin. However, he managed to keep quiet for long enough to let the Surgeon General be the one who said: "What?"

    The Judge Advocate General gave a half-smile. "The study of history would benefit both of you. By putting officers from, if you pardon my saying so, the least efficient part of the army into those parts that run well, they'll either have to shape up or be shipped out by us. And that creates any number of vacancies here. People answerable to you, and not part of the power-politics of this place, but also with a great deal of executive power."

    His smile became grim. "And, it gives you a reason for having called us in here. You were trying to instruct us on the Fitzhugh case, but we were singularly recalcitrant. So now you want some reliable men from HQ transferred into our units. I should imagine General Cartup-Kreutzler will be so delighted that he'll forgive you for having a meeting with us without inviting him. And just send any new recommendations from him for new staff officers over to the JAG for background checks or a medical evaluation. I think we can guarantee that they'll take a long time. We'll come up with a few commendations, in reply to that general memo to all departments that you are going to issue. Those, I think, will proceed swiftly."



    In another part of the same building, Major Tana Gainor shook her head calmly at the furious brothers-in-law. "No, General. There is nothing I can do about that. He will go for retrial. And I’m not about to return your money, Talbot. I did what I was paid to do. In fact, if you want me to do it again—and you will need me to—it is going to cost you more."

    Talbot Cartup snorted angrily. "Don't forget that I've got you pinned."

    Tana smiled seraphically. "And, needless to say, if I go down, or have an unforeseen accident—so do you. So let’s forget the histrionics and get down to business details, gentlemen. The law is always for sale, to the highest bidder."



    “No,” Needford said firmly into the telephone, tilting the chair back from the desk in his office. “There’s not a chance of that, Len.”

    After listening to the response, the Judge Advocate-General shook his head. “That may be the lamest insult I’ve ever gotten from you. Stick to physics, Dr. Liepsich. There is not a cold chance in hell that Cartup and his crowd will suddenly be seized by intelligence. I can guarantee you that at this very minute they are digging themselves deeper into the pit.”

    He waited a few more seconds. “And that one was even lamer. Look, Len, they won’t be able to resist. Not with the shiny new shovel I just handed to them.”

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