So it was that a Marine NCO, a Senior Sergeant, escorted Elder to the Legal Department. Elder guessed that the Legal Department had been warned that he was coming, since the Department OIC was immediately available to him. Commander Ishi Seki Ilka Beatrice Lavine greeted Elder.
“Graduated Cadet, Captain Quinn has apprised my office of the situation. Let me apprise you of certain aspects you probably do not know. First, because we are a board a ship of war, the Captain has certain authority over my office that would be allowed. There are certain, unofficial, pressures that the Captain can apply to this office if he chooses to do so. Captain Quinn is not noted for doing so. He has yet to apply any pressure on any of my lawyers during his term of command. This is not to preclude him doing so now, since this incident took place in orbit and his superiors may apply pressure to him to get this incident finished with quickly. Second, while this fact is not widely known, nor publicized, mutiny and sabotage are common. The policy of the Imperial Navy is to deal with these incidents quickly and harshly. Even if you are not guilty of anything in this specific incident, you may be swept up and severely punished unless you can prove your innocence. The standard principle in the Empire is innocent until proven guilty but the Imperial Navy and Imperial Marines get away with ignoring the principle on most occasions. When you were accused of murder at the Academy, you were lucky in that you were able to establish surprisingly easily that it was the Imperial Services Agent who was responsible for the murder and for framing you. You were lucky then and you may not be lucky now, however innocent you may be of the charges. Third, because of the nature of the incident, not one of my lawyers volunteered to take your case. I have assigned your case to one of them, who will probably not be willing to go to any extreme to defend you. Treason can, although it is not supposed to, rub off on defenders of the accused. Even, or perhaps, especially if those accused are innocent. Do you understand the situation Graduated Cadet?”
“Yes Commander, I do understand the situation. Is there any hope for me?”
“Yes Graduated Cadet, there is. This incident happened at the end of your shift, and there is no evidence that you knew the individuals responsible, although with them dead, that could be hard to prove either way. In addition, that also counts against you, the unprovable part I mean. However, several people, including our Captain, have faced worse and survived.”
“Graduated Cadet, what you are facing, and have faced, is not uncommon. Your biggest problem here is that the incident took place in orbit and therefore under the eye of various agencies that are interested in such things. If this incident had taken place elsewhere then it would have been buried and never would have come to the attention of other agencies. The Imperial Navy takes care of its own. whenever possible. Now, it may not be possible to take care of you, but the Imperial Navy will take care of as many people as it can.”
“So Commander, I’m to be a sacrifice?”
“Maybe you will be Graduated Cadet. However, I prefer not. I intend to take care of you. Moreover, I believe that Captain Quinn intends that as well. If not, why is he rushing this? He is not allowing time for the Imperial Services Agency or the Imperial Naval Police to really get involved.” Elder shuddered at the mention of the Imperial Services Agency; yes, it has been a rogue agent who had tried to frame him, but he still shuddered nonetheless. Commander Lavine saw his shudder. “I understand Graduated Cadet, however, remember the task laid on the Imperial Services Agency. Even given all the advantages of the Empire, there are still many people who wish to destroy it. Enough of this, I have assigned your case to Lieutenant Fola Keena Baronet Patton. Your escort will take you to her. You are dismissed Graduated Cadet.”
Elder rose and saluted. Once it was returned, he left. His Marine escort motioned him to follow and led him to an office about thirty meters away.
Lieutenant Patton was waiting for him, standing behind her desk with a broad smile on her coffee-colored face. Elder immediately thought of Corrbet whos skin was just a shade lighter, but otherwise could have been a sister to this officer standing here. Elder stopped and threw a very correct salute. Which was returned in a sloppy manner. Elder began to despair.
“At ease Graduated Cadet, sit down. We have a lot to discuss and not much time. Captain Quinn wants this started in two hours. Senior Sergeant, since you will not be needed for at least half an hour, please retrieve Graduated Cadet Elder’s formal uniform and bring it here. You know this meeting is confidential.”
“Aye Lieutenant.” And with a punctilious salute, which she returned just as sloppily as Elder’s salute had been, the Marine left.
“Now then, let’s go over every detail of what happened. Start talking about your shift that night and just give me an overview until you first noticed something wrong.” Lieutenant Patton leaned back in her chair, folded her hands over her chest and smiled.
“Excuse me sir, you sound like you want this case, but Commander Lavine said no one volunteered. I don’t understand.”
“No one did volunteer. However, Graduated Cadet, at least two other offices in the Legal Department want this case. Commander Lavine assigned it to me, and I would have been extremely unhappy if I had not gotten it. It is all office politics. My eldest brother runs the Earldom and I indulge myself playing politics in the Navy. If you intend to stay in the Navy, you had best learn politics and how to fight a political war or else you will never get very far. Merit alone is not enough. You have to know who to fawn and who to fell. By not volunteering, I cover my line of retreat and by getting this case, and especially by winning it, I advance my career. Graduated Cadet Elder, I intend to win this case. If you are actually guilty, I will win this case and then make sure that you are still punished, only in a way that does not reflect on me. If you are innocent, I’m you best hope.”
“I’m innocent sir.”
“Good. That almost always helps Graduated Cadet.”
For the next hour and a half Elder went over the incident and answered the questions his lawyer asked about it. Lieutenant Patton dug deep into several aspects that Elder thought were meaningless but he expected that the Lieutenant knew what she was doing. His uniform arrived on time but the Marine escort waited with it in the reception area.
Finally, “All right Graduated Cadet, I think I have everything I need. There is a latrine next door, go clean up and get ready. I will have the escort bring your dress uniform there. Once you’re ready, we’ll head for the hearing.”
Elder got up, saluted, waited for the sloppy return, and left to clean up. Inside the latrine was a full cleaning bay. He quickly stripped and cleaned himself. Just before he finished his escort entered with his dress uniform and a clean set of underwear.
Meeting Lieutenant Patton once he was finished was a surprise for Elder. Also in dress uniform, she had a large number of decorations hanging on her chest. Leading the array was an Emperor’s Medal. She was a certified hero from some action in her career. Elder stared at it, dumbfounded.
“Don’t stare Graduated Cadet, it looks bad.”
“Sorry sir. It is just you are the first person I have ever seen who has earned an Emperor’s Medal. I thought that was always posthumous.”
“It often is Graduated Cadet. I do not think there are more than a few thousand people who have ever earned it and remained alive. Being caught in a terrorist attack can open interesting possibilities. I do not like to have I known, too many people expect weird things if you have one, but it might hel in your hearing. Lets go.”
The Captain held the hearing in his formal reception chambers. This pleased Lieutenant Patton, although Elder could see no reason why unless it was a sign that the Captain was acting in his favor. One of the Marines, also in formal uniform, guided Lieutenant Patton and Elder to the table facing the Captain and two other officers. Elder did not know either of the others by sight.
Captain Quinn stood and announced. “This is a formal hearing to determine the facts regarding a mutiny and the possible involvement in such matters by Graduated Cadet Jesip Dwight Roger Allen Elder on Imperial Date I.Y. 174, 5, 32. The Board members are Captain Kivi Clement Emir Quinn, Lieutenant Captain Jael Yagil Ishmael Oren Dafydd Goldwater and Commander Robert Bruce James Douglas Angus Wallace. Is there any objections to these Board members?”
Looking at his lawyer, Elder saw the slight shake of her head. Realizing that he was expected to answer, he said, “No objection sir.”
Several witnesses were called before Elder was. Elder was a bit surprised to see that most of the people on his shift were alive, although some were wounded, since he had seen only bodies during the fight. He almost leaned over to his lawyer to ask her how many casualties there had been but decided that knowing that small piece of information could wait until after he was cleared. Uniformly the witnesses told a tale of surprise and trying to get out of the way until help could arrive. Uniformly when asked by Lieutenant Patton, they said yes, that if the opportunity had presented itself, they would have tried to take out one of the attackers.
Once it was Elder’s turn, he went through the same series of questions, plus some additional ones relating to his actions during the fight.
During his lawyer’s questioning, “Yes sir, I do think it was odd that I was able to catch an Imperial Marine by surprise; however, at the time I wasn’t thinking, I was just doing.”
“And Graduated Cadet, have you ever seen these individual Marines before this attack?”
“No sir, as far as I know I have never seen them before. I might have seen them in passing, while traveling a corridor, or perhaps we were in a wardroom together, or even they might have been on an opposing Drenthar team or perhaps a poker game, but I have never otherwise met these people.” Elder was on firm ground here, the two Marines had been identified during the questioning of previous witnesses and he had time to go through is memory carefully before his turn as witness came up.
:Graduated Cadet, have you eve been in combat before?” This was from Commander Wallace.
“Yes sir, once. On Actia, there was a terrorist attack while I was visiting First Park. A few friend and I were caught in the museum and fought some of the terrorists.”
“So, you might have reacted a slight bit faster from experience Graduated Cadet?”
Elder too a few moments to consider the thought. “I hadn’t thought of that before now sir, but it might be so.”
The Captain looked at the two other officers on the Board and they nodded. “Very well, this Board will now retire to consider this matter based upon the evidence resented. Until we have reached a decision, we are in recess.” He banged the gavel and stood. Everyone dashed to their feet and waited for the three to leave.
Once the three left the room, everyone relaxed. Even the Marine guards seemed more relaxed while still at attention.
Elder looked around, “Uh, Lieutenant Patton, am I still on the stand?”
“Hell no. You should have been dismissed first, but once we went into recess, you were dismissed in fact. I do not know how long they will take to decide, but until then, I will buy you a beer. Come on Graduated Cadet.”
But sir, shouldn’t we…”
“Don’t worry, they’ll page me and the wardroom is real close. II rarely takes less than half an hour or so before the decision comes down.”
Once in the wardroom, and sitting at a table with their beers, Lieutenant Patton leaned close to Elder, “I’ll let you in on a little secret you’d learn soon enough anyway. Once the Board members left to discuss the case, you are home free. If the Imperial Service Agency had been able to get to the hearing and take authority you would probably be convicted. Somewhere there may be an ISA agent wandering the BALKANS looing for you. You have already had a run-in with the ISA but that agent was not typical. The ISA is staffed with fanatics for the Empire. The typical agent would sacrifice anyone to ensure that the Empire stays intact, and that person’s rights aren’t worth liquid space.”
Elder had never heard that expression before, most expressions that he had heard since joining the Navy had a slightly obscene aspect to them. He, therefore, filed this expression in his memory for future use.
Lieutenant Patton took control of the conversation, making sure that the hearing or any possible outcomes were avoided. It turned out that both the Lieutenant and Elder were interested in Pre-Imperial history, so they discussed historical communism and why no socialist economy had ever worked for any length of time.
They were still nursing their first beer, neither wanted to have alcohol on their breath when returning to the hearing room, when the alert came over Lieutenant Patton’s Identity Bracelet that they were to return. Elder hated to waste the beer, but there was no option. Besides, Lieutenant Patton cheerfully threw hers away, so Elder followed suit. They sucked on de-alcohol mints as they walked the few meters to the hearing room.