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Genie Out of the Vat: Section Three

       Last updated: Monday, January 3, 2005 23:56 EST



    The seven of them were on their way back from the messhall in the moonlight when they came upon two very, very drunken NCOs. Under most circumstances this would have been a good reason to turn and quietly walk away. In fact, they all checked. It was the whimpering that was coming from a thing at the feet of the two corporals that made Fitz decide to walk forward. That, and the fact that SmallMac was already doing so.

    Coming closer, Fitz saw the bundle lying there was human. Or had been, before they'd started kicking it.

    "Whatsh are you lot doing here?" slurred the one man.

    "KP duties, Corporal," said SmallMac, kneeling down next to the victim.

    "Well bugger off to y'r tent. And leave that little dickhead alone."

    "We're taking him to sick-bay, Corporal," said the small man, his glasses glinting in the moonlight.

    "Like fuck you are!" The corporal swung a vicious kick at SmallMac's head.

    Fitz caught the man's foot and extended the swing. He gave the falling corporal a far better placed kick in the solar plexus. The corporal doubled over as he flew. And as his fellow drunk swung wildly at him, Fitz hit him neatly on the jaw.

    "Holy shit! Let's get out of here!" gasped one of the conscripts.

    "What the hell do you think you've done, Fitz?" demanded another, horrified.

    Fitz ignored them. He leaned down and grabbed both of the drunk NCOs by the throats. Neither were particularly large men. The little Vat they'd been beating was even smaller than SmallMac. "Is he OK?"

    SmallMac shook his head. "Hard to tell. He's not really conscious. Blood coming out of his ears by the feel of it. Let's get him to sick-bay."

    One of the drunks began to struggle. Fitz brought their heads together with a crack and tossed them aside. SmallMac was already staggering to his feet with his burden. They linked arms to form a chair. And ran. Three of the others ran too, heading for their tent with as much speed as possible. The other two came along to the sick-bay. One of them actually had the forethought to run ahead and pound on the door. There was always a medic on duty.

    When it opened... Fitzhugh realized that things could get a lot worse. Two medic NCOs, the camp doctor, and Major Ogata were all there-playing cards on one of the examination beds.

    "What is it?" asked the Medic who had opened the door, plainly not pleased.

    "Emergency, Sir. We found this man. He's been beaten up, Sir. He's unconscious."

    "Bring him in. Get him onto the examination bed."

    Fitz and SmallMac complied.

    "Christ! I want an IV line up on this kid," snapped the doctor.

    The doctor and medics moved into action.

    That left the four of them... and Major Ogata, who had moved against the far wall to allow them passage. Ogata, with JAG flashes on his shoulders, had arrived in the camp three days before. Nobody knew quite what he was doing here, but he had been taking some bangstick drills. "Stand," he ordered coldly, as they attempted to melt back to the open door. "Just what happened here?" he asked. He pointed to one of the young vats in the group. "You speak."

    The youngster looked around, nervously. "We were on our way back from KP, Sir. We... we found that private in the alley between Q-stores and the chaplain's offices, Sir. We brought him here."

    "You had no part in beating him up?" All of them shook their heads.

    "We wouldn't have brought him in if we had, Sir," said SmallMac earnestly.

    The Major looked at them with cold speculation. "Maybe. And maybe you realized that you or perhaps your companions had gone too far? You know who did this."

    "Sir, KP ends at 21h00," said Fitz, calmly. "Look at the time now, Sir. We haven't had time to administer that kind of beating."

    Ogata looked at his watch. Looked at the Doc and his two medics. Then, nodded.

    "Two men have been killed in this camp, and a number of others have ended up seriously injured. As yet no one has been prepared to testify. I have been sent here by the Attorney General to put a stop to it." With a ghost of a smile he said "The army doesn't want soldiers dying before they reach the front."

    The Major's eyes narrowed. "If I have to drill this entire camp until half of you end up as clients for the Lieutenant," he pointed to the doctor who was helping the medics to get the boy onto a stretcher, "I will find out who did this. I'll need all of your names and numbers. Then you can get yourselves back to your tents." He jerked a thumb at the victim, now being carried through to the military ambulance. "He doesn't need you any more."

    As far as Fitz could see it was a lose-lose situation, especially for the four of them. All the conscript-boots dropping dead on the parade-ground weren't going to affect the guilty parties in this case. On the other hand... If they grassed... the instructors would see that they suffered in interesting ways. And Fitz-by now-had a grunt conscript's faith in the fairness of the system: ten to one, the two corporals would get off while they carried the can.

    Just then fate, in the shape of two drunken corporals, intervened. They also obviously did not expect the sick-bay to be occupied by anything more than one easily intimidated medic. And they were less than observant as they barged in and turned on the four privates.

    "All right, you lot of little scabs! Where's Margolis? We haven't finished with him. Or you. Especially you," one of them snarled at Fitz.

    Standing against the wall behind them, Ogata cleared his throat. "I think I have solved that little mystery."

    The two corporals turned, and looked in horror at the pips and JAG flashes. As one they tried to bolt.

    "Halt!" yelled Ogata. They didn't.

    "Privates! Catch those two. Restrain them," snapped Ogata.

    It was not an opportunity that came the average boot's way very often. An order from heaven, as it were. By the time the two corporals had been caught and "restrained"-one by SmallMac with his powerful horse-breaker's legs applying a life-threatening scissors, and the other by being sat on-a number scores from the last five and half weeks had been settled. Then a squad of guards and the guard commander arrived at a run.

    Ogata looked grimly at the two prisoners hauled before him. Sniffed. "I'll want blood samples from these two when the Doc gets back. And I want sworn statements. Now. Before anyone gets either intimidated or clever."

    He turned to one of the guard detachment. "Get me Lieutenant Belsen. I'll use the doctor's room for the statements. I'll want these men one at a time. There will be no discussion amongst them." He turned to the Fitz and his companions. "I advise you strongly to stick to the bald truth. If one of your statements does not agree... you will be subjected to further investigation and charged."

    The Lieutenant arrived at a run. He was a young, rather sadistic and sarcastic man, a once-minor Shareholder who obviously enjoyed controlling life and death for a large number of conscripts. The Camp Commandant was a bumbling and mediocre career officer. Belsen's overeagerness appeared to give the old man dyspepsia. But the Lieutenant stepped a wide and wary berth around Ogata.

    Fitz's turn came. He stuck to the truth. Under the circumstances it seemed like pretty good advice. The Major, and the Lieutenant who wrote it all down, seemed satisfied.

    "Very well," said the Major. "Read through the document. If it is correct, put your number and signature at the bottom."

    Fitz did. He was then dismissed, and told to wait in the outer room. It looked like it was all over.

    Ogata and Belsen came out with one of the statements. "Take those two NCOs to the second room under guard," said Ogata. "The medical personnel will be here to take blood samples in a few minutes. Then you can take them to the cells." He looked down at the piece of paper he was carrying. "Fitzhugh, you've made a mistake with your serial number. This will have to be corrected, signed again and witnessed." He held out the piece of paper.

    Fitz looked at it. The number was a simple enough one: his own ID with an army prefix. "There is no mistake, Sir. That is my number."

    Lieutenant Belsen lifted Fitz's chin with his swagger stick. "You're a fool, private. The last four digits indicate Shareholder status. Making up a number was bound to trip you up."

    Ogata pursed his lips, shook his head and sighed. "You obviously wanted to derail the course of justice with something the Court-martial tribunal was bound to pick up. Slick, Fitzhugh. But not slick enough."

    Fitz felt the blood drain from his face. "Major. I am a shareholder," he said angrily.

    In reply, Ogata tore his statement up. "Very funny, Private," he said grimly. He turned to the guard commander. "Put this one in the cells also. Not the same cell as the other two. I'm going to contact military police headquarters and have them moved there. No sense in keeping them here."

    Fitz found himself spending a cold night in a cell in the guardhouse. He'd been made to clean it and was then given breakfast, while the sounds of the first parade of the day went on outside. It was silent and monotonous in the cell. Fitz had never thought the day would arrive when he would have preferred to be on parade to any other possibility.

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