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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Twenty Four

       Last updated: Tuesday, August 3, 2004 01:34 EDT



Military Police Central Pre-Trial Confinement Facility.

A place of grayness and bars, which do not a prison make.

Not to Ariel, anyway.

    On thinking about it, Ariel was as pleased with the new situation as anything could have made her except having Fitz out of jail. She'd learned a lot during her time spent with Fitz among humans. She knew and understood far more about how human society worked than any other rat on HAR, although the other rats provided a great deal of information about being streetwise.

    Not that that was entirely relevant any more. She had a number of humans on her payroll, now. Meilin seemed to be involved in some form of Vat organization with a number of cells. They'd been useful contacts and sale points, once Meilin had set it up. And she had a very good human clerk doing the administration. The Army hadn't prosecuted Johnny Simms for helping Fitz, because that would have meant admitting that half the charges against Fitz were garbage. They'd just left Simms be. So now she had a corporal inside Military HQ, and an expert forger to boot, if she needed one. Simms was as loyal to Fitz as she was, even if—hopefully—he wasn't in love with Fitz. Simms had a wife and a newborn child, so Ariel thought she probably didn't have any competition there.

    You never could tell, though. Humans were odd.

    And Ol' Bluefur-bigteeth was a wonderful stalking horse. No rat would cheerfully take orders from another rat, but Ol' Bluefur seemed different.

    She'd been in to see Fitz today. Really, human defenses were feeble to a rat of intellect, as well as a little litheness. Capra had been there to see him too, along with a frightening looking man called Ogata. Ariel kept her head down, out of sight in her usual hiding place, and listened. She felt she could bully Mike Capra, if need be. This other man might be a lot harder.



    "Right, Charge I, assault on a commissioned officer. It's the intent to do grievous bodily harm part that weakens their case. They've got plenty of witnesses to say you actually did it."

    "Actually," said Fitz, "it was those witnesses that stopped me making it worthwhile. Charlesworth has killed more troops than any other commander on the front."

    "While that is probably true," commented Ogata dryly, "and it would be useful if we could prove it, I don't suggest you mention the temptation to homicide to the Judge."

    "I did the research," said Fitz curtly. "It's in my files at Military Headquarters. And I'm only prepared to tell the truth, Lieutenant Colonel."

    Ariel made a note to get Johnny Simms to deliver the file to Capra. He was less alarming than this Ogata man.

    "And I will be asking the questions," said Ogata, "so I will choose what to ask you to tell the truth about. Now. Mutiny. Once again, they've over-reached. The business about the 'intent to have massacred, to cause lose of life to soldiers of the Army of Harmony and Reason' will make this difficult to stick. Capra has collected the statistics to back us up on this. Injury and loss of life on the sectors of line you commanded as a lieutenant and a captain were very light, they show."

    Fitz nodded. "The lowest on the front, simply because the Magh' didn't attack successfully defended positions. It was something I tried desperately to get HQ to apply, without success. But when I was serving on the front line—until that final advance when divisional headquarters refused to send us reinforcements—we did very well. Even then... we lost less men than most sectors lose in ordinary day-to-day combat. And the death and casualty tolls for the taking of Delta 355 must have been exceptionally light."

    "There'll always be the idiot that says one combat casualty is too many—if they didn't want you to take that action," said Ogata. "But the lieutenant is working on those figures also."

    "It's a question of locating records that aren't fully into the system yet," said Capra. "And of locating the witnesses. But I have a list of people from Van Klomp to contact as long as my arm." The lieutenant winced. "Did you have to fight with quite so many soldiers close at hand? Most officers don't. And that new Corporal of Van Klomp's—Connolly's his name, the one who rescued Virginia Shaw—will be invaluable for both the spying and mutiny charges. I've been acting for him on charges just about as ludicrous as these. He'll make a good, credible witness, and prove that there was no 'prior plan' for you to have betrayed to anyone."

    "As for the 'flight' charges," chimed in Ogata, "we've got hold of the MP that Captain Van Klomp's men kidnaped and brought to you. You were injured in combat, but on hearing they wanted to arrest you, you asked that they be brought to you. That charge we should be able to at least fight on those grounds."

    "I don't think I should—“

    "It's a minor charge, Fitz," pointed out Capra. "You were planning to hand yourself over, after all. And Van Klomp stuck his neck out to give you some defense. The MP captain says you were a model prisoner, and that he regrets having had to arrest you. We might even have to get him to tone down the hero worship a bit. You're causing the High Command more headaches, and you are more likely to get them to reform from jail, than you were prowling around their corridors. They're not immune to public opinion, which is going to be solidly behind you. And fixing some of the mess at H.Q. was your aim, wasn't it, Fitz?"

    "I suppose so, if you put it like that," conceded Fitz.

    "I do," said Capra, with mock sententiousness. "I'm a lawyer. It's my job to put the best appearance on daft deeds. Now, this business of 'attempting to disrupt a secret plan.' We can—with Lance-Corporal Connolly on the stand—prove that there was no secret plan. This was a target of opportunity, a huge one, that through negligence General Cartup-Kreutzler was prepared to let pass until rank and file soldiers went ahead on their own and took advantage of. We've got supporting evidence from the guards at his gatehouse, and their major, and the arresting MPs. Getting Daisy onto the stand might be worthwhile too. It'll destroy his reputation with the public in military terms, anyway."

    "That's his private life," said Fitz, rigidity creeping into his tone. "I don't think it's right to get into that."

    "If I might point out to you, Fitzhugh," said Ogata sarcastically, "this man has attempted to have you killed on several occasions now. I am something of a student of military history. I would estimate that he could be held responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, through sheer incompetence. It would seem to me that charges of 'aiding the enemy' are those that he will eventually face himself, for his co-operation with the Korozhet. His only interest is his own skin. I think it unnecessary that you have to try to preserve his reputation, for him. Decide where you stand, Major."

    Fitz sighed. "I was brought up to believe that a person was entitled to a private life, Lieutenant-Colonel. Any person."

    "We'll try and keep away from specifics, Fitz," said Capra. "The press will be terribly sad. They love a good scandal. There's been at least one editorial every day on this. Yesterday, they had an article from the Vat sergeant who was with you when you got the GBS Cross. We might use him as witness for this spying and aiding the enemy charge."

    "SmallMac? He deserved that medal as much as I did."

    "And the lieutenant who served under you then, Cavanagh?" asked Ogata, showing he had also done his research.

    "Last I heard he was also a major now. Good kid."

    There was a rustle of papers. "I have him as assigned to the sixth division," said Capra. "He's still on strength. We're trying to contact Major Cavanagh."

    "It's the spying charges that are the best structured," admitted Ogata. "The witness, Mervyn Paype, and those photographs are their crown jewels. And General Visse's secretary... We're looking into both."

    "They're complete frauds!" snapped Fitz. "Anyway, Shaw and Cartup-Kreutzler both discussed the plans with their Korozhet advisors. That's a direct line to the Magh'."

    "If we can establish that, we will," said Ogata, grimly.

    Inside the leg of the prisoners overalls, Ariel felt terribly discomforted by all this. She didn't share—to put it mildly—the confidence of the lawyers in the legal system of Harmony and Reason.

    And why should she? From a rat's-eye point of view, that legal system was a complete joke.

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