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Chapter Thirty-Nine

The conference room was silent as the four other members of the court filed into it behind Alistair McKeon. The door closed after them, shutting off the humming background murmur of the hearing room conversations, and McKeon led the way to the table at the center of the room. He and his fellows took their seats, and he tipped back in his chair with a weary sigh.

He was not the senior member of the court... but he was its president. That unusual arrangement had been adopted at the unanimous vote of the rest of the board, and he wished it hadn't been. Honor was right, of course, but however much he might agree with her, he didn't have to like the logic which had put him in charge.

If anything like justice was to be done where StateSec's atrocities on Hell were concerned, it would have to be done by a military court whose members, by definition, had been SS victims. That was the reason the other members had insisted that he, as not simply the sole Manticoran member of the court but also as the only one who had never been in SS custody here on Hell, must preside. They were as determined as he or Honor that their proceedings should be seen as those of a court, not a mob seeking vengeance, which was the main reason they had recorded every moment of the trials themselves. No one in the People's Republic or the Solarian League was likely to be convinced the difference was real, however careful they were or however many records they had, and they knew it, but that wasn't really the point. These people wanted posterity, and their own people, to know everything had been done legally, properly, as impartially as possible under the circumstances, and by The Book. That was important, for it would make the difference between them and their victimizers crystal clear for themselves, and at the moment, that was all they really cared about.

After all, McKeon thought mordantly, if we blow this thing, the Peeps will take this planet back over. In which case all of us will undoubtedly be dead... and the only chance we had to punish the guilty will have been lost forever. And bottom line, that's what really matters to these people.

He let his eyes slide over the other four members of the court. Harriet Benson and Jesus Ramirez had both turned down invitations to sit on itwisely, in McKeon's opinion. Honor had had no choice but to extend the invitations, given the roles they had played in making the capture of Styx possible, but both of them knew they had too much hate inside to be anything like impartial, and so they had withdrawn themselves from the temptation. Instead, Commander Albert Hurst of the Helmsport Navy represented the inmates of Camp Inferno while Captain Cynthia Gonsalves of Alto Verde and Commodore Gaston Simmons of the Jameston System Navy represented the other military POWs on Hell. Simmons was senior to McKeon... and so was Admiral Sabrina Longmont, who undoubtedly had the hardest duty of all the members of the court.

Unlike any of the others, Longmont wasor had been, at least a citizen of the People's Republic and a fervent supporter of the Committee of Public Safety from the earliest days of the New Order. She hadn't cared for its excesses and purges, but she'd been too intimately acquainted with the old regime to miss it, and at least the Committee had appeared to be open and above board about its objectives and tactics, which the Legislaturalists had not. Unfortunately, Longmont had been defeated in battle by the Alliance, which had given her a much closer view of the Committees "excesses" than she'd ever wanted. Indeed, she was extremely fortunate that her previous exemplary political record had bought her a mere trip to Hell instead of a firing squad.

Unlike most of the other prisoners on the planet, she'd been housed in Camp Delta Forty, where conditions had been far better than anywhere else on the planet. Indeed, Longmont had had no idea what StateSec was doing to its other prisoners, because Delta Forty had been a sort of holding point for Peep officers who hadn't blotted their copybooks beyond all hope of redemption. Since it had always been possible the Committee would choose to reach out and pardon one or more of Delta Forty's inmates in order to make use of their skills once more, the SS had been careful not to permanently embitter them against the regime. As a result, Longmont, like most of her fellows, had come to the conclusion that the horror stories about Hell they'd heard before being sent here had been just that: stories. They certainly hadn't seen any sign of the abuse and casual cruelty rumor assigned to the planet... which meant that the discovery of what had been happening elsewhere shocked them deeply. The more so because they blamed themselves for being credulous enough to let StateSec deceive them so completely.

Not all of them saw it that way, of course. Some had been delighted at being granted even a slim chance to escape Hell and strike back at the New Order and all its minions. A surprisingly large majority of Delta Forty's inmates, however, had wanted no part of the escape effort. In some cases, that was because they expected the attempt to fail and preferred to survive, but most of them remained genuinely loyal to the Republic (if not necessarily to the Committee of Public Safety) despite all that had happened to them. By refusing to cooperate with Honor's efforts, they demonstrated that loyalty with the clear hope that if and when the PRH retook Hell, they would be given a chance for rehabilitation among their own people, not foreigners.

McKeon could respect that... but he respected Longmont more. The Peep admiral (actually, she still insisted on being addressed as "Citizen Admiral Longmont") found her own loyalties badly torn. In the end, McKeon suspected, she would be one of the ones who threw in with Admiral Parnell and went into exile in the Solarian League. But unlike Parnell, who had declined any role in the trials for much the same reasons as Ramirez and Benson, Longmont had chosen to serve, and she had made no bones about her reasons.

"What's happened here on Hades have been atrocities, and the guilty parties must be punished," she'd told Honor frankly, brown eyes bleak in a face of stone, when she accepted a position on the court. "But that doesn't mean you and your people have carte blanche to convict and hang everyone who comes before your tribunal, Admiral Harrington. I will serve on your court, but on only one condition: any guilty vote on a capital offense must be sustained by a unanimous vote, not a simple majority."

"But that's" Jesus Ramirez had begun, only to close his mouth with a click as Honor raised her hand without ever looking away from Lohgmont's granite expression.

"I agree that it has to be a court, not a source of hunting licenses," she'd said quietly, "but I'm not prepared to give you a license to hang any verdict that comes along, either, Citizen Admiral."

"Nor would I ask you to," Longmont had replied. "I will give you my wordunder a lie detector, if you wishthat I will vote in accordance with my honest understanding and interpretation of any evidence presented to me. If I believe a death sentence is merited under our own Uniform Code of Conduct and the Field Regulations, I will vote to impose it. But I won't lie to you, Lady Harrington. I am willing to accept this role only because I believe that it is also my responsibility and duty to be the voice of doubt, the one who speaks for the accused at least until your prosecutors and the evidence absolutely convince me of their guilt."

McKeon hadn't known how Honor would respond to that. He'd sat beside her at the conference table, trying to ignore the silently fuming Rear Admiral Styles at the table's foot, and watched the composed expression on the living side of her face while she considered what Longmont had said. She'd scooped Nimitz up in the crook of her arm, holding him to her chest while she gazed at the Peep officer, and McKeon had been able almost to feel the intensity of her regard. And then, to the amazement of every other person in the conference room, she'd nodded.

"Very well, Citizen Admiral," she'd said simply, and so it had been decided.

Now McKeon gave himself a mental shake, returning himself to the present and letting his chair come back upright. He could readily understand why Longmont had disqualified herself as president of the court, despite her rank, but he knew most of the liberated prisoners on the planet must have been as surprised as Commodore Simmons when she kept her promise to Honor. She was tough minded, skeptical, and hard to convince, but she also voted to confirm the death sentence when the prosecutor convinced her it was justified.

"All right," he said into the silence. "Who'd like to start the ball rolling this time?" No one answered, and he cocked his head and looked at Captain Gonsalves. "Cynthia?"

"I'm not sure," the dusky-skinned Alto Verdan said after a moment. She glanced sideways at Longmont, and McKeon suppressed a wry smile. In an odd way, they had all come to use the board's single Peep member as a sort of ethical sounding board. That was largely due to the ample proof she'd given of her integrity, but there was another dimension to it, as well. All of them had come to recognize the agonizing position in which Longmont had put herself. If she could accept that sort of responsibility out of a sense of moral obligation, then none of the others were willing to come up short against her measure.

Longmont and Honor have a great deal in common, he mused, not for the first time. Especially the way they get the rest of us to live up to their standards simply by assuming that we will... and daring us to disappoint them.

"The evidence of what actually happened at Alpha Eleven is pretty clear," Gonsalves went on in a troubled tone, "but there are too many holes in the documentation for what happened here on Styx for me to feel comfortable, Sir."

"We have eyewitness testimony from Jerome, Lister, and Veracruz, Captain," Hurston pointed out. "They all saw Mangrum order Lieutenant Weiller aboard the shuttle, and Mangrum has admitted forcing her to have sex with him. That's rape, at the very least. And two of the other slaves both testify that he's the one who killed her."

"They did testify to that effect," Commodore Simmons observed, "but Mangrum's counsel did a pretty fair job of demonstrating the probability of bias against him on their part. Mind you, I don't think I can blame them for thatI'd sure as hell be prejudiced against him in their place, and I'd do my dead-level best to get him hanged, toobut the fact that we sympathize with them doesn't absolve us from the responsibility of considering whether or not their prejudice is affecting their testimony's reliability."

"Agreed." Gonsalves nodded, her expression troubled, and then looked back at Hurston. "I agree that the rape charge has been clearly demonstrated, Commander. But rape isn't a capital crime under the Havenite Uniform Code of Conduct unless accompanied by actual violence, not simply the threat of it. Murder is a capital crime, but we have no physical or documentary evidence to support that charge. For that matter, not even the slaves who claim he killed her agree on whether or not he committed forcible rape as defined under the UCC. The womanHedgessays Weiller had bruises on her face and that" the captain tapped a command into her memo pad to refresh her memory, then read aloud " 'She limped pretty bad the next day.' But even Hedges goes on to say that 'She wouldn't talk about what the bastard did to her.'"

Gonsalves shrugged unhappily, and McKeon concealed a mental grimace. The fact that Gonsalves was right about the terms of the Uniform Code of Conduct didn't make him like it. Under the Manticoran Articles of War, forcible rape was a capital offense whether force was actually used or simply threatened, and given the situation here on Hell, any demand a Black Leg made had to be considered to be backed by the threat of force. Given his druthers, McKeon would hang Citizen Lieutenant Mangrum in a heartbeat and then go back to piss on his grave, but Honor had been right. They had to proceed under the basis of the Peeps' own rules. Otherwise Section Twenty-Seven of the Deneb Accordswhich neither he nor Honor had any intention of infringing in any way, given their own experienceswould have prohibited any trial of enemy personnel in time or war. Subsection Forty-Two specifically provided for wartime trials of individuals for alleged violation of local laws (in this case the Peeps' own UCC, since Hell had been sovereign territory of the People's Republic of Haven at the time) predating their capture, but prohibited ex post facto trials under the municipal law of whoever captured them.

"I believe Captain Gonsalves has a point," Citizen Admiral Longmont said after a moment. "In my judgment, the charge of rape is clearly sustained, not simply by Mangrum's own admission, but by the physical evidence. The charge of murder, however, is not."

"It would have been if the security imagery hadn't been lost," Hurston grumbled.

"You may be right," Longmont conceded. "In fact, my own feeling is that you probably are. Mangrum was just a bit quick to confess to rape for my taste, and I suspect he did it in hopes of convincing us to accept his 'honesty' and 'contrition' so that we would believe him when he denied the murder charge. But what you or I suspect is not evidence."

"There is the testimony of the other two slaves, Hedges and Usterman," McKeon pointed out.

"There is," Simmons agreed. "However, they've contradicted one another on several other points, and Usterman actually contradicted himself twice. Nor could he or Hedges explain how Mangrum got from the Morgue to his quarters during the time in which Weiller was killed without being seen by anyone else or any of the base security systems."

"Um." Hurston's grunt was unhappy and angry, but not at Simmons. The problem was that the commodore was right. None of the escaped prisoners had expected to discover that the SS's security systems here on Styx had actually kept tabs on their own personnel round the clock. Not that they should have been surprised by the discovery, McKeon thought. The surveillance systems appeared to have been installed to keep track of the sex slaves and farm "trustees" for their masters, but anything with that sort of coverage was bound to catch most of the Black Legs' day-to-day activities, as well. When Harkness and his team of moles broke into those files, they'd found themselves with a huge treasure trove of evidence. Not only did they have audio recordings of people casually discussing things they had done to the prisoners under their control, but they had actual imagery of many of the guards in the very act of committing the crimes of which they stood accused. And the Republic's UCC included none of the Star Kingdom's prohibitions against admitting electronic evidence gathered without benefit of a court order.

Unfortunately, the very wealth of those records worked against a sense of sureness in the instances in which there was no recorded evidence. And in this instance, it did more than that, because they did have imagerycomplete with time and date stampof Mangrum reporting to the storage area for the garrison's powered armor for a routine day of scheduled maintenance. What they did not have was imagery of him actually working on the armor... or of him crossing the base to his quarters, where Weiller's body had been discovered that afternoon. The pickups inside the Morgue had been few and far between, and no one had bothered too much over whether or not they were in working order. Which made sense, since no slaves were ever permitted anywhere near the battle armor, and the main function of the system was to keep an eye on them. But if they didn't have Mangrum on chip performing the scheduled work, they did have his log sheets for the day, and they seemed to support his claim that he'd been in the Morgue all day.

"Of course," McKeon murmured, "we only have his logs' word for the fact that he actually performed any maintenance checks. He could have falsified them. God knows it wouldn't be the first time someone did that to get out of a little work!"

"I know," Longmont said, her expression as troubled as Gonsalves' had been. "And the fact that he didn't log a single component replacement is certainly suspicious. According to his records he worked onwhat?" She consulted her own memo pad. "Here it is. According to his log sheets, he up-checked fourteen sets of battle armor... and he did all that without finding a single faulty component?" She shook her head. "I find that highly suspicious, but it's not enough to offset the fact that we don't have any evidence that positively places him at the scene of the murder."

"He knew about the pickups in his quarters," Hurston pointed out. "We know he deliberately disabled them on at least four other occasions, and someone sure as hell disabled them the afternoon Weiller was killed. What makes you think it wasn't him that time?"

"What proves it was him?" Simmons countered. "Certainly the fact that he knew where they were and had previously shut them down indicates he could have done the same thing again. But each of the four times we know the pickups were down as the result of his actions and not a genuine malfunction were very shortly after he brought her back to Styx. It certainly looks like he was shy about being recorded having sex with her"

"Raping her, you mean, Sir," Gonsalves said grimly. Simmons paused, then nodded.

"Raping her," he agreed, and Longmont nodded sharply.

"You're quite correct, Captain," she said, and managed a wintry smile. "Neither Commodore Simmons nor I ever said he wasn't a loathsome, revolting piece of human garbage. I simply said we don't have any supporting evidence of Hedges and Usterman's contention that he's the one who murdered her. And the point I believe the Commodore was going to make is that he'd become increasingly less shy about performing for the cameras."

She glanced at Simmons, who nodded as if to resign the ball to her, then continued.

"In fact, he hadn't shut them down for over three local months prior to Weiller's death. So unless we're going to stipulate that he knew ahead of time that he was going to kill herthat it was a carefully planned murder, not unpremeditated or an accidentand wanted an alibi, why should he have disabled them on arrival this time? And why should he worry about establishing an alibi when Citizen Commander Tresca had made it abundantly clear that no one would be prosecuted for something as 'inconsequential' as the murder of helpless prisoners?"

The loathing contempt in the Citizen Admiral's overcontrolled voice underlined her disgust at having to make any sort of argument in Mangrum's defense, but ultimately, that only gave it more power.

"She's got a point there, Cynthia," Hurston said, manifestly against his will, and Gonsalves nodded unhappily.

"I know," she confessed. "That's what I meant when I said there were too many holes in the documentation. I just hate the very thought of letting him walk away from the hangman. Whether he actually killed Weiller or not, he's the sick animal who dragged her back here, raped her, made her his toy, and put her in a position for someone to murder."

"I don't like it either," Longmont said. "And just among the five of us, I wish to hell the UCC made any case of rape a capital offense. But it doesn't. And if these trials are going to be justifiable under the Deneb Accords"

She shrugged, and McKeon nodded with an unhappy sigh.

"I think I'm hearing a consensus here," he said. "Does anyone want to call for secret ballots, or is a voice vote acceptable?"

He looked around the table, then directly at Longmont as the senior officer present.

"A voice vote is acceptable to me," the citizen admiral replied, and he glanced at the others.

"Voice," Simmons said, speaking aloud for the recorders faithfully taking down everything that happened in the conference room.

"Agreed," Gonsalves sighed.

"Agreed," Hurston said more grudgingly.

"Very well. How vote you on the charge of second-degree rape, Commander Hurston?" McKeon asked formally, beginningin age-old military traditionwith the junior member of the court.

"Guilty," Hurston said flatly.

"On the charge of kidnapping?

"Guilty."

"On the charge of abuse of official authority for personal advantage?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of murder?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of second-degree rape, Captain Gonsalves?" McKeon went on, turning to the next most junior member of the court.

"Guilty," Gonsalves replied in a voice of cold certainty.

"On the charge of kidnapping?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of abuse of official authority for personal advantage?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of murder?"

"Abstained," Gonsalves said with a grimace, and McKeon turned to Simmons.

"On the charge of second-degree rape, Commodore Simmons?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of kidnapping?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of abuse of official authority for personal advantage?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of murder?"

Simmons opened his mouth, then closed it. He sat hunched in his chair for several seconds, glaring down at the table top, then raised his eyes and looked at McKeon and Longmont almost defiantly.

"Guilty," he said in a hard, cold voice.

McKeon nodded. He wasn't really surprised, despite the discussion which had preceded the vote, and he simply looked at Longmont.

"On the charge of second-degree rape, Citizen Admiral Longmont?" he asked.

"Guilty," Longmont said without hesitation.

"On the charge of kidnapping?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of abuse of official authority for personal advantage?"

"Guilty."

"On the charge of murder?"

"For acquittal, due to lack of evidence," Longmont said unhappily, and McKeon nodded once more.

"The vote on the first three charges being unanimous, and the vote on the sole capital charge being divided, the president of the court accepts the decision of the court's other members without casting a vote," he said for the record. "It is now the responsibility of this court to recommend a sentence to Admiral Harrington, however. The UCC provides for up to twenty-five years in prison for second-degree rape, fifty years for kidnapping, and two for abuse of official authority for personal advantage. By my math, that means Citizen Lieutenant Mangrum is theoretically subject to seventy-seven T-years at hard labor. To impose such a sentence, however, will require his return to Alliance space with us at such time as we leave the planet."

He didn't add "assuming we can leave the planet," but the other four heard it anyway, and he smiled wryly. Then he looked back at Hurston.

"Commander Hurston, what is your recommendation?"

"The maximum penaltyseventy-five T-years without possibility of parole," Hurston said harshly.

"Captain Gonsalves?"

"The maximum," she agreed, her expression murderous. "God knows the bastard has it coming... and I only wish we could leave him here on Hell to serve it!"

That wasn't exactly proper etiquette or procedure, but McKeon had no intention of pointing it out. He simply nodded and turned to Gaston Simmons.

"Commodore Simmons?"

"The same." His voice was hammered iron, even colder than Gonsalves', and McKeon looked at Longmont.

"Citizen Admiral Longmont?"

"I concur with the recommendations of my fellows," she said flatly.

"And so also says the president of the court," McKeon told them. "The vote being unanimous, this court will recommend to Admiral Harrington that Citizen Lieutenant Kenneth Mangrum be kept in close confinement for the duration of our time on Hell, to be returned with us to Alliance space, there to serve the full term of his sentence. Is there any exception to or disagreement with the court's statement of its recommendation for the record?"

No one spoke, and he nodded one last time, then sighed and let his shoulders slump.

"Well, that's one more out of the way," he said in a much less formal tone, and rubbed his face with both hands. "God, will I be glad when this is finally over!"

"I'm sure all of us will be, Commodore," Longmont told him, then shook her head sadly and looked at the other three members of the court. "I'm sorry we couldn't find the evidence to let me agree to hang him," she said. "But"

"Don't be sorry, Sabrina!" Somewhat to McKeon's surprise, it was Simmons, interrupting the Havenite before she could finish. "I think he did it, Cynthia and Albert and Alistair all think he did it, and you think he did it. But you were right. We can't prove it, and if we ever start rubber-stamping execution orders, we'll be just as bad as the people we're hanging." He smiled sourly as Longmont raised an eyebrow at him, and then shrugged. "I know. I voted guilty. And in this case, I would cheerfully have hanged him if the rest of you had gone along, holes in the evidence or not. I would've slept soundly tonight, too. But that's why there's more than one person sitting on this court, and I was the one who held out against hanging Citizen Major Younce last week. As long as every one of us votes his or her conscience every time, then we've done both the bestand the leastwe can do under the circumstances."

"You know," Longmont said after a moment, "it's really a pity we're on different sides. If the politiciansespecially minewould just get the hell out of the way and let the five of us deal with it, we could hammer out a peace settlement and end this whole damned war in a week."

"I wouldn't bet on that, Citizen Admiral," McKeon told her wryly. "Compared to the war, the things we're looking at here are pretty cut and dried. At least we've all agreed whose rules we're going to use as the basis for our verdicts! But when we started hammering away at each other about things like who owns which planets... well"

He shrugged, and Longmont gave a snort of half-bitter, half-amused laughter.

"It's not polite to go around destroying a lady's daydreams, Commodore!"

"My commission says I'm an officer and a gentlemen, Ma'am; it never said I was a polite gentlemen!" The citizen admiral chuckled appreciatively, and McKeon grinned at her. "And however unlikely I may think it is that we could negotiate an end of the war, I'd much rather hammer away at you with words than laserheads any day, Citizen Admiral!"

"Amen to that," Commodore Simmons said fervently, then pushed his chair back. "And given that we've just concluded our judicial duties for the day, I move that we adjourn, deliver our verdict and recommendations to Admiral Harrington, and then go find a nice, thick steak and a good beer. Takers?"

"Me, for one" Longmont told him. "Assuming that an unregenerate Peep is welcome in your company, of course?"

"This particular unregenerate Peep is welcome anytime," Simmons said graciously. "As long as she agrees to lose at darts after supper, that is!"

"Of course I'll agree to lose," Longmont promised. "Of course, I am an unregenerate Peep, servant of an order which you all insist is corrupt and venal."

"Are you saying your agreement would be a lie?" Simmons demanded.

"Of course not," the Citizen Admiral said sweetly. "I'm simply saying that despite Commodore McKeon's rudeness where my dreams were concerned, I would never even contemplate damaging our close working relationship by overturning your concepts of proper Peep-like behavior." She smiled. "And, of course," she added, "the loser does get to buy the beer. Coming, Commodore?"


* * * | Echoes Of Honor | Chapter Forty



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