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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Thirty Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, August 25, 2004 23:18 EDT



Pre-trial Confinement, Military Police Headquarters.

A gray cell, 7'X 5'X7' in its dimensions, complete with prison bed and chamberpot.

    The defense attorney who was assigned to Chip this time resembled Lieutenant Capra the way a cardboard-cutout of an elephant resembles an elephant. From a distance, at the right angle, the two were indistinguishable. Lieutenant Depardue had the uniform, the JAG flashes, the pips. He was roughly the same height and build, and presumably was also an attorney.

    That was where the similarity ended.

    "You might as well plead guilty, Lance-Corporal. I went along to take the deposition from Ms. Shaw. The evidence is damning. You might possibly get some leniency if you plead guilty." Distastefully, the lieutenant leaned back, as if afraid that the mere presence of a Vat-accused might corrupt him.

    "Most of these charges, Lieutenant, are the biggest lot of crap I ever came across," said Chip bluntly.

    The lieutenant shrugged. "You can try telling that to the judge, Lance-Corporal. We've got a pretrial session with him this afternoon. I strongly advise you to say that you've decided to plead guilty."

    Chip had no particular hopes of that session, or of the judge, improving anything.



    But it seemed that he had underestimated both.

    When the judge got to "you have the right to request a different military lawyer represent you," Chip saw the light at the end of the tunnel. It could have been an oncoming train, but when the judge told him that if the person he requested was reasonably available he could have him, Chip hoped that maybe, just for once, Shareholder justice would work in his favor. When he was told that he'd no longer be entitled to keep the assigned lawyer if he chose another, he was very grateful indeed. Another ten minutes with the son-of-a-bitch and they'd have been able to add murder to the charge sheet, as they probably wouldn't accept Justifiable Shareholdericide as a plea.

    The judge instructed that Capra be contacted.



    Sitting back inside a cell, Chip was pleased to hear a familiar voice. Any familiar voice. After what he'd been through in the last while, he was in bad need of comforting. The familiar voice was raised in more than a little irritation, though.

    "Don't piss around with me, soldier!" snapped Lieutenant Capra. "You can't deny me access. And you can't sit in on meetings between me and my client, either. Provide me with any more excuses and I'll see you ornamenting your own cells."

    "General Cartup-Kreutzler's orders, Sir."

    "The Military Code's orders, soldier. I know which I'd be wiser to obey. If you like I'll return with an order from a Military Judge."

    "You'll have to do that, Sir," said the MP.

    "I will. Post haste. And an instruction to free him from pre-trial custody."



    Within what seemed like a half a lifetime, Lieutenant Capra did return. "They won't let me spring you. It seems you're a dangerous man, Connolly. Apparently a threat to the virtue of all Shareholders' daughters on HAR. But at least they can't stop me talking to you. Now, let's look at these charges together... "

    Capra flipped through the pages with quick and expert fingers. Practically every page caused him to snort with sarcasm. "Several of them will fail the straight-faced attorney test in a kangaroo court, let alone under the eye of Judge McCairn. God knows what sort of idiot they got to pencil-whip these through the JAG pretrial appraisal. But let's talk them through. The most serious one is Charge IV. Rapists get short shrift. What I want to know, first off, is have they got any grounds for this at all?"

    Chip felt the lieutenant's eyes boring into him. He got the feeling that a wrong answer here, and he might as well put the noose around his own neck. Fortunately, he didn't have any doubts. "No, Sir, there isn't. What this is all about, Sir, is that Virginia Shaw is in big trouble. Bigger than I am. I've got to get out of here, and if they don't want to let me out, I'll have to break out of here."

    "I didn't hear you say that last part, Connolly. Don't even think about it. This is being 'fast forwarded' through the system, considering the political ramifications. You'll either be for the high-jump or a free man in two weeks, at most."

    "Sir, I don't know if Virginia has got two weeks. She... she managed to tell me when I went there, that she is being held prisoner by some doctor. She's being doped."

    Capra raised his eyes to heaven. "Look, Connolly. Let's just stick to the matter in hand. I don't know, off-hand, whether you're crazy or doped yourself."

    "Lieutenant. Last time they said I was crazy, I proved to be telling the absolute damn truth. If you don't believe me, insist she comes in to court to testify. Just see where you get to. You said yourself that you tried last time. You don't know any f... anything about Ginny. You just think she's Miss La-di-dah Virginia Shaw. She's not. Why don't you listen to me? Why don't you get hold of the rats and bats who were with us? Ask them."

    "Why don't you stop getting quite so excitable, and talk to me. Then I'll listen. And I am going to have subpoenas issued for the military animals involved in this case, and Ms. Shaw as well. Because it's a rape case she's entitled to not actually face the accused attacker. But she will have to testify to the entire panel."

    Chip counted to ten, slowly. He'd found that this had always worked when trying to deal with culinary disasters. This skeptical officer was the best hope he had, right now. He took a deep breath. "Sir. I'll do my best. I'll tell you everything I can and you can make up your own mind. But I have just one request. Will you tell Senior Bombardier-bat Michaela Bronstein that Ginny said Phylla was a bat and asked how she was doing?"

    "Why do I suspect this a bad idea, Connolly? You're not trying to get me to influence a witness, are you?"

    "No Sir. Phylla was a rat, and she's dead. When Ginny said that to me I realized that she was trying to tell me something. Bronstein will too. And I will bet that they won't allow Ginny out, into your court."

    "Whoever this mysterious 'they' is, they can't exactly stop her, Connolly. Now... Charge one, specification one...”



    An hour and a half later the Lieutenant left Chip, with a list of the rats and bats involved, and a thick sheaf of notes.

    He left Chip to his thoughts.

    Maybe Capra would have been less satisfied if he'd known that his client was already planning his escape, and the murder of a certain doctor. The only thing that was stopping Chip from taking out a few MPs and making an escape immediately was the certain knowledge that when Bronstein heard about “the bat Phylla,” she and the bats and the rats would probably be off to Shaw House.



    Mike Capra took a long pull at the beer that Van Klomp had put in front of him. "I'm supposed to be working on Fitz's case. Ogata has me running around like an errand boy. He won't trust the MP investigators. And now the JAG himself and you suddenly push me onto this Vat-kid's case. I can't, Van Klomp. I can't give my best to both cases. I'm going to step aside. Get you someone else."

    Van Klomp blew the froth off the top of his quart. "Kak stories, boeta. You can fool half the courts on HAR, but I can tell when you're trying to shoot me a line. I've seen those charges against my new Lance-jack. Most of them you could tear apart in your sleep. Anyway, this soldier is a fairly vital piece of your defense for Fitzy. They'll stretch Connolly's neck for rape and then you've lost him. There is something else going on here. Tell me."

    "I suppose I should be grateful that you aren't a judge," said Capra, ironically.

    "There wouldn't be a bleddy case backlog if I were," said Van Klomp forcefully. "Now stop drinking my beer for long enough to tell me what it is that's getting to you."

    "You're right. A lot of the charges are a joke. A few of the kid's deeds are technically crimes, but prosecuting him for them is ridiculous. The only worrying one is the rape charge."

    "That's a load of bull," Van Klomp interrupted. "I saw them together, Mike—so did several of my troopers. If anyone was raping anyone, she should be charged. Couldn't keep her hands off him. I didn't notice any complaints from that soldier, mind you, but he certainly wasn't forcing anyone."

    "If you'd let me finish. Connolly claims it was consensual, and he is certain she'd testify to that. He's also certain she won't be allowed to testify. He's got a real conspiracy theory syndrome. He even half had me believing him. I suppose he's been through a lot. But it's this bit about her having a soft-cyber implant that got to me."

    Van Klomp's eyes narrowed. "Soft-cyber. You mean like the little implants they put into the rats and bats. Or something different?"

    "One and the same. He insists it's true, and has been kept a secret. That she was brain-damaged as a kid due to a horse-riding accident and her parents used their influence to have her implanted to fix it. I don't know if he's just flipped his marbles, or... Well, he said I should ask the rats and bats, cold, without any possibility of collusion."

    "That sounds fair enough," said Van Klomp, wiping his moustache. "So what about it if he's right?"

    The young lawyer pinched his lips together. "Then it is rape, Van Klomp. She is of unsound mind, and he knew it."

    Van Klomp traced a pattern in the condensation off his beers on his scarred tabletop. "You've never really had much to do with Fitzy's rat, have you?"

    "That pet of his? No."

    Van Klomp grinned, showing off his big tombstone teeth. "Take my advice, Boeta. Don't ever say 'pet' to either Fitz or Ariel. Especially not to Fitz. He'll damn near kill you. He's in love with that rat. And she's just a chip of integrated circuits in a rat's brain. But she's a person, too. I know her and I don't have any doubt about it at all. A big improvement on his former fiancée Candy, that's for sure. You remember Fitzy's dear Candy, don't you? You had no trouble considering her human even though she had no brains outside her fanny. Ariel is a lot more human."

    Capra shook his head. "Not as far as the law is concerned."

    "Then the law is wrong and needs to be changed. What's bothering you, Mike? The letter of the law or the personal morality of the whole thing?"

    "The latter, I guess."

    Van Klomp stood up, drained his beer, and squeezed the lieutenant's shoulder with a ham-sized hand. "You'll ruin the bad reputation lawyers have spent generations of hard work acquiring. Now, finish your beer and bugger off, Mike. I've got a session on the assault courses starting at o-four-hundred tomorrow. I need to go across to talk to Dr. Liepsich. I'm with Fitz's conclusions about our dear friends the Korozhet. My advice to you is to talk to these rats and bats as soon as possible. You'll stop worrying about it after dealing with them for ten minutes. You watch. Otherwise, go with your heart, boeta. Turn my new Lance-Corporal over to someone else. But if you don't... well, I think you should stop calling him 'kid.' Don't you ever forget that he's a front-line veteran. You might have a nice degree on your wall, and seven or eight years on him, but he's older in experience than either of us. And he could probably kill me in about ten seconds, let alone you."

    Mike drained his beer. Van Klomp had an uncomfortable habit of putting his finger on things. Mike had gotten the idea that when the young Vat had said that he was going to escape, he wasn't just talking big. And listening to the story, he’d gotten the feeling sometimes that Connolly was talking down to him. He resented the Vat's attitude, without thinking about it. Now he realized that Connolly hadn't meant it either. He'd just been there and survived. He knew the man that he was talking to, hadn't. The gulf between the initiated and someone who hadn't been there was a vast one. And if Van Klomp considered him dangerous... he really was.

    "I suppose you'll be right, as usual," he said sourly. "I've already arranged for the rats and bats in question to be brought up to the Military Animal unit at HARIT. I've read of them being used as useful witnesses in a couple of cases. Their testimony should get about the same valuation as a mechanical recording device."

    Van Klomp laughed. "You're in for some rude shocks, Boeta. You should go and talk this over with Fitzy. He'll straighten you out a bit on this, and on Vats too. He learned a thing or two doing boot-camp with them."

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