Disclaimers: In chapter one.
Maggie hauls her briefcase out of the trunk of her car, feeling the pull on shoulder and hip joints not yet recovered from the recent battle. “The late unpleasantness,” as some wag has christened it, apparently permanently. The dead have been buried, their own on one end of the old parade ground—as Kirsten put it rather forcefully to General Hart, there won’t be any more parades at Ellsworth anytime soon—the enemy in trenches beneath the broad meadow where the battle was fought. What remains of the droids and their vehicles has been gathered and sorted, to be scavenged for metal and usable parts. One engineering party is hard at work rebuilding the bridge. Another, under Tacoma Rivers and a handful of techs, has set out for the wind farm outside Rapid City, to study the feasibility of relocating two or three of the huge generators to the Base.
Life, she thinks wryly, getting back to normal.
Except, of course, that nothing is normal.
The unaccustomed pressure of a pair of Ace bandages around her right foot and calf remind her constantly of the graze she got off an M-16 round in that insane charge across the pile of rubble that had been the Cheyenne bridge. So does the limp. And there was “normal” for you: she, an F-14 Tomcat squadron leader, commanding dirt soldiers in the sort of battle that had not been fought in a century, abandoning that command to charge straight into hand-to-hand combat with the enemy on the heels of a for-gods’-sake veterinarian with a civilian cyberwonk as her right-hand buddy. A fragment of antique song comes to her, a whisky-roughened voice interspersed with the occasional bleat of a harmonica. Oh, yeah, the times they are very definitely a-changing..
She unlocks the kitchen door and swings the briefcase over the threshold, plunking it down just inside the door. Nothing, she reflects, is more indicative of those changing times than the half-ton load of books in that satchel. She has not carried around so much actual print and paper since her cadet days at the Academy. Even then, most of her courses and almost all of her entertainment came in CD jewel cases. But electricity is now at a premium or will be shortly—hence the raid on the wind farm—and computer use rationed to those who cannot make do without it.
Which means the medics, and the techs whose urgent job it is to convert airborne navigation and targeting systems from satellite-dependent GPS to old-fashioned radar and laser options. And, of course, Kirsten King.
Something savory is roasting in the oven; something with onions and—sage?—and a hint of other herbs. The oven light shows her the last of the chickens from her deep freeze, running with golden juices and browning nicely in a nest of potatoes and carrots. The silence in the house, though, and most of all the conspicuous absence of Asimov, tells her that Koda and Kirsten are out.
Out, and together. They have seldom been separated since Koda came out of her fatigue-induced stupor on the third day after the fighting at the Cheyenne.
And you know where that’s going, Maggie m’girl, she reflects as she slips out of her uniform jacket and runs water into the kettle for tea. A blind woman could see the inexplicable bond that had—no, not formed, because that would imply that it was something that had a definable beginning—manifested between the two women, simply asserted itself as fact without any of the accustomed preliminaries. If she were honest with herself, she would acknowledge that she had seen it when Koda brought the scientist back from Minot.
And as long as she is being honest with herself, she might as well acknowledge that while she loves Koda and is aware that Koda loves her, it is not the same emotion that has been present from first meeting between Kirsten and Dakota. Because Maggie knows that her deepest passion is not and never will be for another person. If forced to choose between Koda and her freedom—her Tomcat and the blue intoxication of the sky, skimming its depths like a dolphin in the wine-dark sea—she will slip loose onto the currents of the air, like the flight-born thing she is.
And if there is sorrow in the recognition, as long as she is being honest with herself, she might as well admit that there is something of relief, too. She will miss the love-making, but her bond with Koda can shift smoothly into friendship. There will be regret, yes. But there will not be the heart-tearing grief she senses would consume Kirsten or Koda should either lose the other, even now.
While the tea is steeping, she unpacks the tomes—there really is no other word for books and loose-leaf binders half as thick as a foundation slab—she has brought home with her. One is embossed in gold: Uniform Code of Military Justice. The rest are the familiar rawhide leather law books with red and black bands on the spines, thick with case histories and precedents of both civil and military law.
Bet there’s nothing quite like what we’ve got here, though.
Nor anything like a flygirl turned dirt commander turned Judge Advocate, either.
Little as she likes him, Maggie is worried about Hart. She folds back the cover of her long-unused clipboard, and makes a note to speak to Maiewski about their superior. His exclusion from the battle of the Cheyenne seems to have shrunk him; there is a grey cast to his skin, and his cheeks seem sunken in upon the bones of his skull. As from this morning, he has also delegated to her the legal proceedings against the prisoners taken in Rapid City. There are none from the Cheyenne fight, and that is just as well. However the probabilities might weigh against all of the human collaborators just happening to have immediately fatal wounds, and however that might or might not jibe with the laws of civilized warfare, it would be worse to have to try and legally execute them by the dozens. Better that they die on the field, in the fire of battle, than coldly against a barracks wall.
Sipping at her tea, she spends the next hour making notes. When she has finished her preliminary search of possible charges, she has five to lay against the rapists, singly or in combination:
Item: Article 120. Rape and Carnal Knowledge
(a) Any person subject to this chapter who commits an act of sexual intercourse with any person, whether male or female, by force and without consent, is guilty of rape and shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.
(b) Any person subject to this chapter who, under circumstances not amounting to rape, commits an act of sexual intercourse with a person not his or her spouse who has not attained the age of sixteen years, is guilty of carnal knowledge and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
(c) Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete either of these offenses.
Item: Article 128 Assault
(a) Any person subject to this chapter who attempts or offers with unlawful force or violence to do bodily harm to another person, whether or not the attempt or offer is consummated, is guilty of assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
(b) Any person subject to this chapter who—
(1) commits an assault with a dangerous weapon or other means or force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm; or
(2) commits an assault and intentionally inflicts grievous bodily harm with or without a weapon, is guilty of aggravated assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
In the margin by Article 120, she scrawls: MAIN INDICTMENT, in forceful block letters. Assault will be a lesser included charge. Very carefully she underlines the penalty for rape: for three of the Rapid City men, she can cheerfully ask that they pay with their lives. The fourth— She frowns as she remembers Buxton’s abject shame, the guardhouse staff reports that he is sleeping little and eating less. Death might be a mercy for him.
Maggie is not at all sure she wants to be merciful. She makes a note to set him under a suicide watch. Then, reluctantly, finally giving a name to her own uneasiness about the man, she scribbles a reminder to herself to set up a second, less obvious, on Hart.
Briefly, she rises to check supper. Koda and Kirsten are not back, but the chicken is done. She sets it, covered, on the stove’s smooth cooking surface to await their return, then goes back to her newly-assigned lawyering.
Item: Article 104. Aiding the Enemy
Any person who—
(1) aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money or other things; or
(2) without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly; shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.
Item: Article 105: Misconduct as Prisoner
Any person subject to this chapter who, while in the hands of the enemy in time of war—
(1) for the purpose of securing favorable treatment by his or her captors acts without proper authority in a manner contrary to law, custom or regulation, to the detriment of others of whatever nationality held by the enemy as civilian or military prisoners; or
(2) while in a position of authority over such persons maltreat them without justifiable cause; shall be punished as a court-martial shall direct.
Maggie sets down her pen and glances out the window. The sky is beginning to fade, the blue leeching out of the east as the sun drops toward the horizon. The light still lingers on the crowns of the young pines in her yard, caught like diamonds in the fall of melted snow, drop by drop, from its branches. Winter is beginning to break; the wind that soughs among the long green needles sits in the south. It will be the first spring in centuries in which humans will not interfere appreciably with the natural cycle of life and death, slayer and slain, in this part of the world.
Possibly not in any part of the world.
For a moment her neat kitchen falls away, and she looks down from an immense height on a sun-drenched plain. From horizon to horizon, the herds fill her sight: impala and springbok, oryx and gazelle. Along the flanks, seen only in the sinuous ripple of tall grass, lion and leopard stalk their prey. It is this earth, molded into her very bones, that calls to her, even as she knows that the template of the Black Hills, layer upon layer of molten rock and sediment, is somehow laid down in the double spiral of Koda’s heritage.
It is a call she is not free to answer, not in this lifetime. She shakes her head slightly, bringing time and place into focus once again. But the sense of hovering on the imminent edge of a new world lingers, and with it the sense of multiple possibilities. Choose one path and pursue it to awaiting fate; choose another and alter the woven strands of karma.
Even the droids, it seems, intended to remake the world in the image of—what? Something that required breeding human beings, hence the preservation of women of childbearing age and a small number of men to sire young. Herd bulls. But nothing she had encountered so far explained why the droids set out to breed their human cattle or why young children had apparently been taken alive. Which was another question—where? Into slavery? Droids hardly needed slaves; they could always replicate themselves, or at least they had been able to until the destruction of the Minot facility. Food? Droids did not eat. Nor, as far as anyone could tell, was there any surviving market on earth for either slaves or long pig. She and Koda had gone fruitlessly around the subject, around and around again. Some piece of the puzzle was missing, something vital.
Damn. Her mind had begun to run in the same endless loop, again. Stop that.
Perhaps one of the prisoners would be able to supply the one fact that would make sense of all the rest. She was far from certain that they knew their own role, beyond the obvious, in the droids’ purposes. Still, they might not know what they knew. The questioning would have to be a careful process.
The immediate purpose at hand was to bring a handful of collaborators to justice. Collaborators who had viciously and willingly abused their fellow prisoners at the behest of their captors. It was not necessary to know what the droids had meant to achieve; only that the accused had co-operated with them.
Which brought her to the final charge:
Item: Article 81. Conspiracy.
Any person subject to this chapter who conspires with any other person to commit an offense under this chapter shall, if one or more of the conspirators does an act to effect the object of the conspiracy, be punished as a court-martial may direct.
Whether the droids could be counted as “persons” for the purposes of the statute was unclear, but it ought to be possible to show that the rapists had shared a common, explicit intent.
Rape, cooperating with the enemy, conspiracy to tie it all together and make it tidy. Justice would be done.
Satisfied, Maggie closes her clipboard and moves the books off the kitchen table. Making her way through the house, she switches on the CD player—a frivolity, perhaps, but one she feels she has earned—detouring to undress and hang up her uniform. In the bathroom, she runs the tub full of hot water, adds myrrh-scented bathsalts, and gently eases herself into the steaming comfort. As she drowses, the music comes to her, weaving sinuously in and out among her half-conscious thoughts. It is an old song, and a sweet one:
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley sage, rosemary and thyme.
Give my regards to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.
She would take her pleasures where she found them, let them go when she must. Her regrets, if regrets she had, would never be for missed opportunities.
“Take the IV out as soon as he shows signs of coming around, then get him out of the kennel and try and walk him. We’ll see how the pins hold.”
“Will do, Doctor.”
“Thanks,” Koda replies to the young tech, smiling as she wipes her hands off on a towel. She has spent the past several hours putting the fractured pelvis of a young army dog back together. Rex, the dog in question, had been hit by an old, rattling truck driven by a newcomer. The surgery was grueling, but nothing that she hadn’t done before; several times, unfortunately. “And Keisha?”
“It’s Dakota. Let the old-timers in the M*A*S*H tents stick to their titles if they want to okay?”
The young woman smiles shyly, charmed by this beautiful, if imposing, woman. She nods, taking the towel from Koda and tossing it into the hamper.
“Good. I’m gonna get some fresh air. Send someone to get me if he looks like he’s in trouble.”
After a final check on the dog, who is still sleeping off his anaesthesia, Koda turns and leaves the small clinic, stepping into the bright sunshine. Despite the long hours in surgery, she feels refreshed, at peace with herself in a way that has eluded her since the battle. Perhaps it is because she has spent her time doing something known and loved. Perhaps it is because she has saved a life instead of taken one. Perhaps it is both of those things, and none of them. Whatever the reason, she welcomes the feeling as she starts down the walk toward the base proper, lunch the only thing on her mind.
Until, that is, she sees a flash of gold in the near distance, and without conscious thought, aims her steps in that direction.
Her subconscious suspicions are confirmed as Kirsten comes into full view, standing in the ‘picnic area’ and chatting with two people who could have come straight out of the Teutonic Bible. Long and lean, with cornsilk hair, pale blue eyes and pale skin, they are poster children for the Aryan race. The man has his arm around the woman’s waist, his hand gently cupping what she can see as the telltale bulge of a six-month pregnancy.
The man is the first to see her. His eyes widen, and a smile filled with awe curves his lips, displaying perfect, snow-white teeth. Reacting to the abrupt shift, Kirsten turns her head, then adds her own smile to the mix as she spies Dakota approaching.
“I saw you!” the man exclaims in lightly accented English. “Leading the charge on that bridge! It was…amazing!”
“It was needed,” is Koda’s curt reply as she nods to the group and comes to stand beside Kirsten. Asi, ever the pleasure hound, squeezes his massive body between them, and tucks his cold, wet snout beneath Koda’s hand in the universal signal for “Pet me and make it snappy.”
With a roll of her eyes, Dakota indulges the pushy canine while looking expectantly at Kirsten, who suddenly snaps out of the fog of attraction and remembers her manners. “Oh! Yes. Franz and Anna, this is Dakota Rivers. Dakota, this is Franz Dorfmann, and his wife Anna. They were part of the group that came over the ridge near the end of the battle.”
“Pleased to meet you both.”
“It’s a great pleasure to meet you,” Anna replies, taking Koda’s hand in a surprisingly strong grip. “You very likely saved our lives out there. A simple thank you seems less than adequate, somehow.”
“It was a group effort,” Koda replies. “But…you’re welcome. Glad I could help.”
Sensing Koda’s discomfort, Kirsten tactfully steers the conversation in another direction. “Franz and Anna were telling me an interesting story as you walked up. I think it’s one you should hear.”
Anna looks to her husband, who nods and returns his attention to Dakota. As he removes his arm from around his wife’s waist, Koda notices his hands are long-fingered, sensitive, like a those of a concert pianist. She can almost see him sitting behind the staid grains of a Steinway channeling Mozart well enough to make the very gods weep.
“I am…a software engineer,” he begins, folding his hands and looking down at them. “My company has a defense contract with your government’s military. All very classified, except, I guess, not so much anymore.” His smile is wry. “Two weeks ago—maybe three now, I seem to have lost track of time—we were in our hotel room when we were awakened by the sounds of screaming. And then gunfire. We thought, perhaps, a robbery. All those stories of American violence.” He eyes them both from beneath fair lashes, assuring them silently that his words are spoken in jest.
Looking back down at his clasped hands, he continues. “All at once, our door burst open and two heavily armed men came through.”
“Men?” Koda asks, surprised. “Not androids?”
“Men,” Franz confirms. “In military uniforms, with rank and insignia removed.” He shakes his head slowly, as if waking from a perplexing dream; or a nightmare. “At first I thought…terrorists? Because of the sensitive nature of my company’s business, you understand.”
“Mm.” She doesn’t press him, not yet, though the opening is large enough to drive a squadron of tanks through. Her well developed sixth sense is jangling furiously, telling her that whatever it is that this man is hiding, it may well be something they can use in the future. Until then…. “It wasn’t terrorists.”
“Not in the conventional sense, no.” He pinches the bridge of his nose between two fingers, the stress of this retelling evident in the gesture. “In any event, the men entered. One grabbed my wife from the bed. The other put his gun to my head and appeared ready to pull the trigger. It was…quite terrifying.”
“My husband has a gift for understatement,” Anna remarks, threading her arm through his and leaning against his body. “I was quite sure we were breathing our last. I managed to break free from the man holding me—he stank of tobacco and sweat, I remember that—and jumped back on the bed, landing on top of my husband. I must have jostled the gun or something because there was a shot, but Franz wasn’t harmed.”
“Another man walked in then,” Franz continues, “followed by an android. I could tell it was an android by the silver band around his neck. That was the only way I could tell. The likeness to a human male was extraordinary. I don’t believe we have that model in Germany.” He smiles then, but it looks more like a grimace.
Clearing his throat, he continues. “They tried to take Anna from me again, but she fought them, and they began to handle her roughly.” He winces, remembering the repeated blows raining down upon her soft flesh and his own inability to stop them. Anna responds by going to her tiptoes and placing a soft kiss on his stubbled cheek. He smiles down at her with great affection and love. “My Anna,” he whispers. “Such a fighter.”
Anna returns the smile, then looks over at her avid listeners. “The android pulled the man off of me and threw him across the room, like he was a doll.” Her eyes close briefly. “I heard his neck snap. It was a sound I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
Kirsten nods in empathy, having more than her own store of things she’ll never forget. “What happened then?” she asks softly.
“The android was looking down at me,” Anna continues, voice little more than a whisper, gaze dim with memories. “His eyes…so cold…so cold.”
Franz steps in. “The third man approached, his hands raised like this.” He demonstrated, arms raised, palms out in a gesture of placation. “He apologized for the ‘misunderstanding’, as he called it. Said there had been a big mistake.”
Koda smothers a snort of derision behind a cough. Kirsten eyes her knowingly.
“He said that Anna was…needed—for what, he refused to say. He told me that if I allowed her to go with them, my life would be spared and I could join her. I agreed.” His looks up, eyes beseeching. “What else could I do? They had guns.”
“Where did you wind up?” Koda asks, cutting to the chase.
“I’m not sure I know the word for it in English,” Franz explains. “It was like a hospital, but not.”
“An Urgent Care Center?” Kirsten asks.
Franz looks at his wife, who translates the phrase into German. He shakes his head in the negative. “No, not that. It was more…where women go to give birth, but not a hospital. I wish I….”
“A birthing center,” Koda hazards.
“Yes! Exactly right! We were taken there by bus. It was a short trip, perhaps an hour. No more.”
“Do you remember the name of it?” Kirsten asks.
“No, I’m sorry, I never saw a name,” Franz replies, crestfallen. “I could, perhaps, describe the building, but….”
“That’s alright.” Kirsten waves him off for the moment. “What happened next?”
“As we were being taken out of the bus, I began to have cramps. I thought I was losing my baby.” Her hands move instinctively to cup the bulge of her pregnancy. “I was terrified.”
Franz pulls his wife in close, holding her in a warm and supportive embrace. She rests her head on his shoulder, accepting and relishing the calm, quiet support. “They took me to an examination ward right away,” Anna continues. “There were four others like myself in the ward. Franz was the only man. They let him stay because I screamed so loudly, I think.”
Laughing softly, Franz presses a kiss into Anna’s hair, then releases her and stretches his arms. “You did scream, my love. I feared for the windows.”
“I’m guessing things turned out alright,” Kirsten mentions, nodding toward Anna’s pregnant belly.
“Oh yes. There was a doctor there. A human doctor. Doctor Hoek, an obstetrician. He told me the cramping was a result of stress, but that my baby was fine. I was so relieved.”
“Did he tell you why you were there?” Koda asks, cutting to the chase once again.
“No,” Franz replies. “I asked, but he wouldn’t say.”
“Wouldn’t? Or couldn’t?”
“A little of both, perhaps. I think, maybe, that he feared saying anything that could be overheard more than anything else.”
“How did you escape?”
Franz smiles. “He left the door unlocked when he left that evening. He might have done it on purpose. Anna believes so.”
“Yes, I do. He let you stay with me. He didn’t have to do that.”
“There wasn’t anyone left to watch over you?” Kirsten asks, surprised.
“A human female. She was asleep in a chair. I don’t think they were worried about escape. We were all women in danger of losing our babies, after all. How could we run?”
“So you left.”
“Yes,” Franz replies. “I asked the others to join us. Begged them, even. But they refused.” He nods at the looks of surprise on the faces of his listeners. “They were like sheep, afraid to break away. Finally, I gave up. I wouldn’t risk Anna’s safety on their stubbornness. We saw the chance, and we took it. We ran.”
“And we kept on running,” Anna adds. “I was still cramping, but I didn’t care. I kept running, and running, and running. When I couldn’t, Franz carried me through the snow and the woods. We were lost and we were cold, but we were also free, and that was more important than anything in the world.”
“We were rescued the next afternoon by a group heading for this base, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
“Do you think you could find that place again?” Koda asks.
“I wouldn’t want to,” Franz exclaims.
“I realize that, but do you think you could?”
“I doubt it. I never saw a name, and I’ve never been to this part of America before.” He looks down from Koda’s intense gaze. “I suppose, with a map….”
“Let’s go, then.”
“Okay,” Maggie says, leaning over the back of the MP’s chair, careful not to bump against the precariously high stacks of files or the small mountain range of blank forms that marches along the narrow shelf of built in desk that occupies two walls and crowds up against the bank of twelve-inch monitors. She has been in any number of closets larger than this cramped guardroom. “ Two down. That leaves us who?”
“McCallum and Buxton, Ma’am.”
”McCallum’s our little jewel, isn’t he?”
“Oh, yeah.” The guard punches code into his keyboard, and the cell monitor comes to life. Major Leonard Boudreaux of the Base Comptrollor’s Office, a paralegal in his pre-CPA misspent youth, perches uncomfortably on the edge of the single chair, urgently taking notes. His long face is drawn down with the effort, distaste or both; a thin film of sweat sheens his balding scalp. Boudreax’s lips are pinched above a sharp chin, nostrils drawn in as if he smells something disagreeable. Maggie can see McCallum’s mouth moving, but the audio is muted to preserve attorney-client privilege. The prisoner’s big hands saw the air as he makes his point, fist pounding into palm to drive it home. “He doesn’t want anything to read, isn’t interested in any kind of video that we can let him have—“
“Let me guess,” Maggie interrupts dryly. “He wants porno?”
The MP nods. “And when we tell him he can’t have it, he just lies there on his bunk and jerks off for the camera. Especially when he knows a woman’s got the guard duty.”
“Classic sex offender. He’s let a couple things slip when we bring him his meals. He’s done time for rape before.”
“Surprise, surprise.” She straightens up, rubbing the back of her neck. A trip hammer pounds in her head, keeping the metaphorical headache company. “Send them on into the interrogation room when Boudreaux’s ready. I’ll wait there.”
The interrogation room is equally cramped—a small table, four chairs, the single overhead light with its metal shade. A brief review of her notes on the other two accused offers no inspiration. Another folder holds transcripts of interviews she has conducted with the women of the Mandan and Rapid City jails.
Q: Would you state your name for the record, please.
A. Cynthia F******
Q: What is your profession, Ms. F******?
A: I am—that is, I was—a kindergarden teacher.
Q. Ms. F******, how did you come to be imprisoned in the CCA facility in Rapid City?
A. I was taken prisoner in the droid uprising.
Q: Can you tell us what happened?
A; Droids attacked the school where I worked. They killed all the adult men on the staff, and all the women older than forty or so.
Q: What about the children?
A: They—they—I’m sorry. . . .
DEAD AIR ON TAPE: 2.6 MINUTES
Q: Can I get you anything, Ms. F******?
A: No, I’m all right. I can-- What did you ask?
Q: What happened to the children?
A: They—the droids—they killed all the older kids, the fourth, fifth and sixth graders.
Q: The others?
A: I don’t know. They—took them—off—somewhere. I don’t know where
Q: And what happened to you?
A: They took me and all the other younger women to the jail..
DEAD AIR ON TAPE: 1.2 MINUTES
A (continued): There were some men in the prison. They raped us.
The accounts have been remarkably consistent. So have the interviews, so far, with their assailants.
One of the two men Maggie has already had the displeasure of talking to had been up for minor drug dealing; the other for a convenience store robbery. Both, ably advised by Boudreaux, had gone stone mute except for brief, formulaic assertions of their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. According to the Rapid City prison records, McCallum is the only one of the four actually convicted on sex charges: two counts of rape, another of possessing and offering for sale pornographic materials depicting minors He is unlikely to be any more fruitful than the others, assuming that Boudreaux is able to get his swaggering machismo under control. Her best hope is Buxton, who seems to be ashamed of his actions and who has no prior history of violence. He had been en route to a federal prison for tax evasion when the uprising occurred. Always assuming, of course, that any of them know anything at all about the droids’ purposes.
A thump of boot soles on concrete and the jingle of manacles announces McCallum’s progress down the hall. Maggie clears the table of all save one notepad and pen, tilting the lampshade so that her face is half in shadow. The door opens to admit McCallum, Major Boudreaux and an MP who promptly takes his station by the door jamb. His name tag identifies him as Corporal Esparza, George. Maggie says, “Sit down, Major. And Mr.”—she makes a show of checking the printouts in front of her “Eric McCallum, is it?”
McCallum sets his elbows on the table, clasping his hands in front of him. A skull and crossbones earring dangles from one ear; a tattooed crown, impaled by a cross, adorns his left forearm. The words “DIE MOTHERFUCKER” march across his knuckles, an amateur prison job done by incising the skin and rubbing ball point ink into the cuts. “Let’s ut to the chase here, why don’t we? You want something I’ve got; I want something you can do for me. How about it?”
Maggie ignores him. Instead she addresses Boudreaux. “Major, your client has been advised of his rights, has he not? He is aware that this interview is being recorded and that anything he volunteers can and will be used against him in a court of law?”
Boudreaux’s thin face acquires a resigned look, dark eyebrows reaching up his forehead to chase his long-departed hairline. “He knows, Colonel. He knows he cannot be compelled to give testimony against himself. He is pursuing his present line of inquiry against counsel.”
“Is that true, Mr. McCallum? Major Boudreaux has advised you that you have the right to remain silent? That you have the right not to answer any questions except upon the advice of your legal representative?”
“Lady,” McCallum says, “I have heard that bullshit so many times I could say it in my sleep. Let’s deal.”
Maggie ignores his second offer. “And Major Boudreaux has informed you that under military law you face a possible death sentence if you are convicted of the crime of rape, or of aiding the enemy, or both?”
The muscles around the man’s mouth tighten., accentuating the rawboned line of his jaw. His eyes, already narrow with the light directed into his face, become mere slits. “Why do you think I want to cooperate? You get me off, I give you information about the droids. Everybody’s happy.”
“And what information do you have that would be worth sparing your life, Mr. McCallum?”
“Excuse me,” Boudreaux interrupts. “Look,” he says, addressing McCallum, “I already warned you about saying anything at all. You didn’t listen. But any answer at all to that question will almost certainly make you guilty of the conspiracy charge and aiding the enemy.”
“Big fucking deal,” McCallum snorts. “And how many of them bitches is gonna testify I screwed ‘em against their will? By the time they get through with that, the rest won’t fucking matter.”
Q: Please state your name for the record.
A: Inez C*****.
Q: What is your profession, Ms. C*****?
A: I’m a nurse—an LVN.
Q: Ms. C*****, were you one of the women imprisoned in the Corrections Corporation of America facility in Rapid City?
A: I was.
Q: And how did you come to be there?
A: The droids took several women there from the hospital.
Q: Can you describe conditions there?
A: We were kept two to a cell. They fed us twice a day—rice, potatoes, starchy stuff.
Q: Did you have any medical care?
A: They asked us when we’d had our last periods. They took our temps every day.
Q: Do you know why they did that?
A: They never said, but it was obvious that they were trying to keep track of ovulation cycles.
“Mr McCallum,” Maggie says, “I think you had better understand something. I’m not your prosecutor. I’m setting up the tribunal to try you and your co-defendants and am gathering preliminary information. Whether or not to grant clemency will be entirely up to the jury and the judges.” She straightens the already perfectly neat arrangement of papers and pens in front of her. “What I can do is make a recommendation. You won’t get any promises, not at this level.”
“Listen, bitch.” McCallum surges to his feet, pushing his chair back so hard it rocks on its legs. The MP darts forward to catch it, grabbing the prisoner by the arm. Boudreax half rises, then subsides when it is clear that the officer has him. McCallum glances toward the door, and Maggie can almost see him computing the odds of getting to it and out. Then he, too, settles back into his seat. His face has not lost its snarl, nor has Maggie taken her hand off her sidearm.
“Listen, Colonel,” he repeats. “You got no right to try me at all. The Constitution says I got a right to a speedy trial by my peers. My peers ain’t no goddam military kangaroo court .”
“True,” she answers drily. “The problem, Mr. McCallum, is that your only available ‘peers’ are facing charges similar to your own. The fact is, we’re the only law in town, and if you want to deal with the law, you’re going to have to deal with us.” She gives him a small, tight smile. “ Make your argument, though. If you persuade us we can’t hold you, we might just have to turn you loose. Right into the waiting hands of your victims.”
“You can’t do that!”
Maggie says nothing. She opens a manila folder prominently labeled with McCallum’s name, makes a notation, closes it again.
“She can’t do that!” McCallum turns to Boudreaux. “She can’t! It violates my right to due process!”
Boudreaux develops a sudden interest in the toes of his shoes. “Actually, Mr. McCallum, the Base authorities can hold you, or they can release you. There really aren’t any facilities for long- or even medium-term incarceration here. If you satisfy the Acting Judge Advocate’s office that there is no grounds on which to hold you—” he shrugs—“they will doubtless release you. What happens after that is your own responsibility.”
“And before you start telling us again what we can’t do,” Maggie adds, “I suggest you start spelling out what you can do for us. Because that is your best, probably your only, chance of saving your lousy life.”
McCallum glances at Boudreaux. “I wanna talk to my counsel here. Privately.”
Boudreaux glances at Maggie in his turn, his eyes wide as his hornrims will allow. She says, “Officer, shackle Mr. McCallum here to the table leg. Counsel, if I were you, I’d get out of arms’ reach.”
When the MP has the prisoner secured to the table, which is itself firmly bolted to the floor, Maggie slips quietly into the hall, taking her files with her. The MP follows and takes up station by the door.
“Esparza, if you hear even a whisper that sounds wrong to you, you give a yell and get back in there. I’ll be right behind you. Meantime, I’m going to get me a breath of real air.”
“Yes’m. It was close in there.”
“It was nasty in there, Corporal. The bastard’s a psychopath.”
Maggie lets herself out of the building into a day just on the cusp of spring. Melting ice makes runnels of brown water in the gutter that runs along the street that separates the brig from the old parade ground; by the steps of the building, a few blades of dessicated, grey-brown grass push up through the receding snow. The sun rides higher in the sky, veiled from time to time by cumulus clouds blowing northward on a warming breeze. If she were poetical, Maggie thinks, she would draw a metaphor out of that. Life returning. Springtime renewal. The beginning of a new cycle.
But the past months are too much with her. Too much is unexplained, too much beyond repair. To her the widening circles of snow melt over the lawn look like wounds, the transparent edges the dissolving
margins of necrosis.
And there is, as yet, no medicine for this hurt, not in the pharmacology, not even, yet, in the spiritual power that has begun to make itself all but visible in Dakota Rivers. Maggie is a skeptic; a realist. Being a realist, unfortunately, sometimes forces one to recognize an uncomfortable and unprepared-for truth.
One of which, much as she hates to admit it, is that pond scum eating coprophage that he is, McCallum has a point. There is presently no adequate judicial mechanism to deal with him or with others like him. Hell, there’s no way to deal with a pickpocket beyond a person’s own fists. Or, more frighteningly, a person’s own gun.
It is not that the evidence is lacking. She opens her folder again, to remind herself why it is important to find a way to do justice, not just vengeance. The printed words convey so little of the timbre of the voices that spoke them, the emphases, the empty spaces that represent a woman’s struggle for control and coherence.
Her memory is not so handicapped. She will hear these cadences, these halting phrases, in her head until she dies.
Q: Please state your name for the record.
A: Monica D********
Q: What is your profession, Ms. D********
A: I’m—that is, I was—an artisan. I made jewelry.
Q: You were among the women liberated from the Rapid City CCA facility?
Q: Can you tell me how that happened?
A: I was in my studio when the riot broke out. I hid in a storeroom in the back, under a tarp.
Q: They found you?
A. They set the studio on fire with my blowtorch. I ran out when I couldn’t stand the smoke any more.
Q: What happened at the jail?
A: I was raped. We all were. Almost all.
Q. Do you know why?
DEAD AIR ON TAPE: 1.4 MINUTES.
Q: Can I get you something, Ms. D********? Water? Tea?
A. No. No, thank you.
Q: Let me put it a bit differently. Did the—the men who assaulted you—ever give you any reason for it?
A: Reason! <laughter> Reason!
Q: Ms. D********, I’m sorry, but I do need to ask. Did any of the men ever say anything that might tell you, and us, why the droids instigated the attacks?
Q: Did the droids ever discuss the matter in your presence, or did you overhear anything that might indicate what their purpose was?
Q: Can you come to any conclusion, given what you know, why they might have wanted to salvage and impregnate women of childbearing age?
A: No. Please, I can’t anymore . . . .
“Colonel.” The Corporal’s voice interrupts her memory. “The Major says they’re ready.”
Reluctantly Maggie levers herself up, feeling the persistent soreness in her right leg where the bullet grazed her. She wants nothing more than to be done with McCallum and all he represents, but she sees no prospect of that in any immediate, realistic future. She dusts a bit of soil and leaf mould off the seat of her uniform. “Coming,” she says.
Both men are seated when she re-enters the room. Only Boudreaux rises at her return, but something in the set of McCallum’s back is less defiant. Maggie glances at the Major and receives an almost imperceptible nod. She seats herslf at the table across from the prisoner and switches on a small recorder, stating her name and the names of those present, the date and time. Then she says, “Talk.”
McCallum shoots his legal representative a quick look; Boudreaux stares stonily back. After a moment he says, “All right. You wanted to know what the droids were up to. I can tell you.”
Maggie does not unbend by an ångstrom. “We’re waiting, Mr. McCallum.”
His knuckles go white under their tattoos, but he looks her straight in the eye. “You remember that the Jews and the A-Rabs never bought none of the domestic models, right? Just the heavy-duty military droids that don’t really look like humans.”
“I remember something about it,” Maggie answers, frowning. “Get to the point.”
“I am getting to the fucking point, you—” McCallum catches himself and glances down, away from Maggie’s hard stare. “They didn’t buy the MaidMarians and that junk because they’re imitation humans, get it? They’re images. And the Jew god and the A-Rab god Allah don’t want no images. The ones that are serious about it won’t even paint a goddam flower, much less somebody’s face.”
“I remember,” Maggie repeats. “Get—
“—to the fuckin’ point. I hear you.”
“So the goddam Jews and the goddam A-Rabs don’t got nothing but the military droids. They can control them all through their guvmint, their buncha fag princes royal families. And they can use those droids to control all the rest.” He looks up expectantly, as if every word he has said is self-explanatory.
”So they got the oil, right? And now they want to control all the rest of the world, so they use the drods to kill all us American and European Aryans off and probably the sp- uh, Hispanics and Ornamentals, too. That just leaves the Semite race alive.”
“That tattoo you’ve got there,” Maggie says, pointing to the impaled crown and cross. “That’s the Church of Jesus Christ Aryan, isn’t it? That bunch up of Neo-Nazis up in the hills in Montana?”
“Nazis?” The man’s voice climbs in genuine outrage. “Fuck, no! Old Schickelgruber himself was a Jew! Why the fuck you think he couldn’t make the Thousand Year Reich last even twenty? Naw.” He looks as though he wants to spit, glances around him and thinks better of it. “We’re White Nationalists. We’re Christians. That’s different.”
“I see.” Maggie steeples her fingers, willing herself to patience. If there is some chance, some minuscule chance, that this racist idiot has some clue about what has happened to the world, she is duty bound to hear it, even if McCallum makes her skin crawl. She promises herself a long, hot bath with double the lavender she ordinarily uses. “So why, having destroyed your Master Race, do these people want to breed more of you? How does that fit with your theory.”
McCallum leans across the table confidentially. It takes all Maggie’s willpower not to draw back. “They want to live forever.”
This is too much for Boudreaux. Even though he is an auditor, and, in Maggie’s view therefore used to lies, he apparently cannot quite stifle the sudden constriction in his throat. He covers his mouth and transforms the laugh into a cough. “Sorry, Colonel. Something caught in my throat.”
Damn right. Like this preposterous story. Aloud she says, “And this has what to do with—“ A wave of her hand encompasses the whole horror of the jails, the apparent breeding program, McCallum’s place in it.
“Spare parts. They grow the kids, see, then harvest their organs when they need ‘em. Replace a heart, replace a liver, a kidney—the bastards’ll never die. Just keep getting replacements
There is a certain nasty plausibility to the story, if one begins with a certain mindset. Maggie can remember hearing news reports of Mexican paisanos and Columbian farmers attacking evangelical missionaries because they believed the americanos had come to steal their children to sell for parts on the medical black market. Prejudices never die, she reflects, just attach themselves to new and different “others.”
“This was told to you? By whom?”
“Ah hell! Hell no, lady, they wouldn’t tell us that! What white man’d want his little kid cut up for parts?”
“So you did it because….?”
“To save my fuckin’ skin, why do you think? Think I enjoyed ramming those bitches?” He manages a quite convincing shudder. “Man, not more’n half of ‘em was white! Think I wanna pollute myself that way?”
Maggie manages to keep her thoughts to herself and her fist out of his lying teeth. She says, “So how did you find this out?”
McCallum’s face relaxes into bland sincerity. His eyes gaze straight into hers. “Because I overheard two of the droids talking. They do , y’know. Said the E-Mir would be pleased with them. Said the kids would be ready for harvest in four-five years.”
“I see. That’s your story.”
“That’s what happened!”
“And you want clemency on the basis of your testimony?”
“I deserve clemency. I told you why the metalheads were up to it. You owe me.”
Maggie presses the control buttons on the recorder, and a printer across the room spits out a couple pieces of paper. Boudreaux brings them to her, and she reads them through without comment. Then she sets them in front of Boudreaux. “Sign.”
Laboriously, he reads it though, the holds out his hand for a pen. Maggie hands him a soft-tip, and he laboriously scrawls out EMcCallum across the bottom of the page.
When he is finished, Maggie reclaims the pen, touching it gingerly only with her fingertips. She jerks her head in the direction of the cells. “Lock him back up.”
“Hey! We got a deal,” McCallum objects.
“We got a deal,” Maggie repeats. “You tell us what you know, we take it under advisement. No promises.” To the MP she says, “Lock him up.”
Maggie picks up her folders and the recorder and pushes her way out of the room and all but runs out into the evening air. She has never felt so dirty.
She needs a bath. She needs a long talk with Dakota and with Kirsten, too. Hot water. Lavender salts. Clean.
She switches her brief case to her good left hand and sets out for home.
And that’s it for another week. Pretty disgusting, humanity sometimes, huh? Thanks for sticking with us. We’ll see you next week! If you’ve a mind, drop a line at
email@example.com. We love hearing from you!
Continued - Chapter 18
Return to The Growing Main Page
Return to The Bard's Corner