A MATTER OF JUSTICE
An Adaptation of 12 Angry Men for the Battletech Universe
By Sentinel 28A
Original Story by Reginald Rose
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I had actually written this story about three years ago, for fun, but I didn't save it. I thought it was one of my better stories—even if I didn't actually write most of the dialogue—so I'm rewriting it with a few changes to make it, hopefully, even better. Hopefully, it'll be a short and sweet Christmas present.
Basically, I'm rewriting (reimagining?) the classic play 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose for Battletech, and specifically my own characters. Since the play of 12 Angry Men can't really delve into the thought processes of the jurors, nor can the various (and superb) movies of the play, this is kind of an interesting way to look at this.
Moreover, as TVTropes has pointed out, the situation in 12 Angry Men is actually unlawful: jurors only decide innocence and guilt, not the evidence. So I've moved this to a "court of inquiry" instead. (Beats me if this reflects decent jurisprudence or current Uniform Code of Military Justice rules; I'm just making it up as I go along, and besides, the Sentinels are a mercenary unit, so they may do things differently!)
I haven't forgotten Choosers of the Slain (in fact, I should have another chapter up after Christmas, or possibly sooner) or Down the Well (that one's taking awhile to come together, but I'm starting to warm up to it again). This is just one of those things that my muse has been bugging me over, so here we go.
Those of you who are familiar with the original work, try and guess which juror is which. The hero, Juror Eight, should be pretty easy—but there's more than one hero, and more than one villain. Several of these characters have already shown up in the Snowbird Saga, but a few of them are new.
And yes, this is a Battletech/MechWarrior story with no 'Mech combat. Sometimes the most dangerous battles are ones fought with no weapons.
Sentinel Headquarters Virentofta, Sancrist
Virentofta, Pesht Military District, Draconis Combine
26 June 3060
5:00 PM Terran Standard Time
The guard opened the door into a chamber that was stark and remarkably drab. The room's only furnishings were a long, wooden conference table, a single endstand next to the bathroom door, and twelve upholstered chairs. The walls had been freshly painted, but were a single shade of government-issue gray. One wall was taken up with a window that looked over the manicured lawn of the University of Virentofta's Oval. The Sentinels had made their headquarters here, since a college provided all the amenities and necessities such a nerve center would need; the students and professors there alternately worked around, welcomed, or ignored the mercenaries. It had been four years since the Sentinels had come to this world.
The guard allowed a private to come in, who quickly set down a pitcher of juice and a few plastic glasses and departed. Behind the private came twelve people—six men, six women—and the guard counted each of them in silently. Her presence did little to comfort the twelve: the guard, wearing the immaculate uniform of the Sentinels Light Infantry, the same color as the walls, wore a pistol in a tooled holster on one hip and a submachinegun slung over one shoulder. The SLI took their job very seriously. They couldn't afford not to. Satisfied with the count, the soldier came to attention. "Very well, sirs and madames. It looks like everyone is here. If you need anything, I'll be right outside the door. Just knock." She saluted, which was returned by four of the people in the room half-heartedly, and shut the door. There were a few muffled beeps, and the door locked itself with a thump.
"I never knew they locked the door," one man remarked as he took a seat.
"Of course they lock the door," answered an older man, who then blew his nose into a hankerchief loudly. "What did you think they did? We're in seclusion." He glared at the other man, obviously expecting an answer.
The other man shrugged and looked away. "I don't know. It just never occurred to me."
Silence descended on the group. Almost all of them knew each other to one extent or another; the Sentinels might be two regiments of fighting men and women—MechWarriors, tankers, infantry, fighter pilots, techs, and so on—but it still mustered under two thousand people. There were two exceptions to this rule, but the room was filled with the gray duty uniforms of the Sentinels Regimental Combined Arms Team.
One of the exceptions wore the white-with-red-trim dress uniform of the Sentinels' current employer, the Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery. Yuri Deunan was here because she was the ranking liasion officer for the regiment; she wore the apple-green bars of a Tai-sa, a full Colonel. She did not really want to be here, didn't know why she was even in the room, but nonetheless she took her job very seriously. She reached across the table, took a notepad and tore off a page, then methodically began tearing that page to pieces as she sat.
The other was Samuel Johnson, who was both bored and afraid. He alone did not wear a uniform; instead, he wore an expensively-cut suit. His fear stemmed from the fact that he also was the only person in the room who was not a combat veteran, nor had the look of one. He looked like exactly what he was—a planetary government career bureaucrat—and knew it. Like Deunan, he wondered why he was here. Oh, he knew, but wondered why he had been picked for this job, who he had angered to get it, and if he could get some sort of angle. After all, Johnson thought to himself, he didn't intend to stay a paper-pusher forever. Moreover, since the Sentinels didn't look to be departing Virentofta very soon, these people might one day be voting for him. It couldn't hurt to put on a good front.
He regarded them each in turn. Duenan was not worth worrying about: she represented the House Kurita government, which Johnson hated, and besides, she couldn't vote. The young man sitting at the table at Duenan's left, who Johnson had been introduced to earlier as Benjamin Darkwood, took off his glasses and wiped them on the edge of his uniform tunic. He wore the single chevron on red shoulderboards that indicated he was just a lowly MechWarrior.
The pale and freckled young man who was standing at the endtable, Jean-Bart Dunsien, was at least a Lance Commander, if Johnson read the rank right—there were two chevrons. Dunsien took a glass of juice from the woman next to him, who then offered one to Johnson with a smile. He smiled back nervously and waved it off. The woman wore a single diamond on her shoulderboards of purple, indicating high rank, but she also stood a good eight inches taller than he did, and Johnson was nearly six feet tall; because of her thin figure, she looked even taller. This must be Nicia Caii, the Sentinels' Master Tech: someone who might be good to know, but not, in Johnson's opinion, as important as MechWarriors. Besides, women who he had to look up to—literally—intimidated him.
Finally, Johnson settled on a towheaded man who had just come out of the bathroom. He also wore a single diamond on his rank tabs, but those tabs were MechWarrior red. He looked too young to be a Lieutenant Commander, but that single diamond meant that this young man commanded a battalion of mighty BattleMechs, enough power to level a city. He recognized the name on the nametape. "Michael Whelan, is it?" Johnson stuck out a hand as Whelan walked towards him.
Whelan nodded and shook the hand, but absently, his expression distant. Johnson decided not to take offense—such a man would have a lot on his mind—and pulled out some gum. Putting a stick into his mouth, he offered some to Whelan, which was politely refused. Johnson shrugged. "Damn, it's hot in here. Haven't you Sentinels ever heard of air conditioning?" As if summoned, there was a click and cool air began to flow into the room.
Dunsien finished his juice, poured more, and sat down at the table, two chairs down from Darkwood, who he knew only slightly; they served in different battalions. Between them sat Lieutenant Commander Rissa Rowley, whose fiery red hair and body of a high school cheerleader swiftly drew both men's attentions. Smiling to herself—Rowley was in her thirties and sometimes wondered if she still had it—she leaned back in the chair, balancing on two legs, and propped her feet on the table. "Six days! I can't believe this has lasted this long. Talk, talk, talk…" She fluttered her hands in imitation. "You ever hear so much talk about nothing?" This last was addressed to Dunsien.
Dunsien laughed nervously. He wore the patch of the Snowbirds; Rowley, Gamma Battalion. But he had heard stories about Rowley's temper. "Well…I guess they're entitled, ma'am."
"Yeah. Everyone gets a fair shake." She rolled her eyes. "Well, I guess there's no point in bitching about it."
Johnson had given up on Whelan, who was limiting his answers to "yes" and "no," and sat down next to the older man who once more blew his nose into a hankerchief. "Hey," Johnson said, sticking out his hand. "Sam Johnson."
"Wayne Sorensen." Sorensen wiped his nose, then half-smiled from beneath a full beard, black and peppered with gray. He wore the green tabs of a tank man and the triple chevrons of a Major. "I'd shake your hand, but I don't want to give you this shit."
"A lulu. These things can kill you."
"And speaking of things that can kill you, what's your take on that kid's knife story? It's the phoniest thing I've ever heard."
Sorensen sighed. "Yeah. Well, you've got to expect that. Periphery trash, and a Snake to boot." That comment drew not only a glare from Deunan, but from another person who was just sitting down: Kahvi Falx. Both women were Kuritan by birth and in features: Snake was a derisive term for Kuritan.
Duenan had suddenly had enough of the idle talk. "All right, people." She had been elected forewoman of this board of inquiry, and she was going to do her job. "Let's take our seats." Those still standing did as she ordered, with two exceptions. Duenan heard the toilet flush, so that accounted for Arthur Sterling. That left only the woman who had been staring out the window since she had walked in, hands clasped behind her back—one flesh, one metal. "Commander Arla-Vlata?" Duenan cleared her throat when there was no response. "Commander?"
"Huh?" Sheila Arla-Vlata turned around, startled, then saw everyone else seated. "Oh. Sorry." She sat down next to Johnson, leaving an empty chair between herself and Sorensen for Sterling. Across the table, her eyes met those of Senefa Malthus'. The former Clanswoman alone wore her formal uniform, complete with green imitation feathers and the three red daggerstars of a Clan Star Colonel, along with the single diamond of a Lieutenant Commander. Hands clasped before her, Malthus spared her commander and best friend a nod. Except for their different uniforms and hairstyles, Senefa and Sheila could easily pass for sisters, with the same green eyes and black hair.
"Tough to figure, quiaff?" Senefa turned at the Clan aphorism, which Sorensen had used deliberately to get her attention. "A Sentinel MechWarrior just up and kills his own father—a Virentofta official, no less! Only two weeks after being formally accepted into the regiment. Just like that, bam." Sorensen sighed again. "Well, I guess it's the element. The kids these days run wild, ah, quiaff?"
"I would not know," Malthus said icily. She did not know Sorensen—MechWarriors and tankers rarely mixed outside of duty, and her company of former Clan warriors had no time at all for them—but was acquiring a dislike for him already. "I do not have any children in my unit." Sorensen was confused, not sure if he had been insulted or not.
Duenan took a deep breath. She had to maintain control. "Is everyone here?"
"Major Sterling's still in the can." Nicia Caii had taken a position directly opposite from Duenan. The sun reflected from her bald pate.
Sterling at that moment came out of the bathroom, drying his hands on a paper towel. He saw that everyone was staring at him and grinned self-consciously. "Whoops, sorry…late to the party." He quickly took the last seat. "My apologies, ladies and gentlemen. I didn't mean to keep you waiting."
"It's all right." Duenan had been raised to defer to age, and Sterling, over sixty, was the oldest person in the room. "Very well then, now that we're all here…for the record, I would remind you that this is a formal board of inquiry. This is not a court. We are merely to pass a recommendation, regarding murder in the first degree. We have all heard the evidence. Should the recommendation be that the accused is guilty, he will be stripped of his rank, be turned over to civil authorities, and tried in a Virentofta court. I would also remind this board that, should the accused be found guilty by Virentofta's court, the sentence for first-degree murder is death by hanging."
She let that sink in a moment, then continued. "That is the reason why Mr. Johnson is here." She motioned to the civilian, who smiled at everyone. "As the victim was a member of the Virentoftan government, and in that the crime took place off-based, by the contract the Sentinels have signed, Virentofta's government has the right to a representative on this board. As to why I am here, again per terms of the contract, Virentofta is a member world of the Draconis Combine, whom the Sentinels are currently under contract to. I was made, for want of a better term, forewoman of this board because I am the closest thing to a disinterested third party available.
"Since the accused is a member of the Sentinels RCAT, he is entitled to a review by his peers of the evidence. That is why you are here. Along with the commanding officer of the regiment—Commander Arla-Vlata—we have three Lieutenant Commanders-Mr. Whelan, Ms. Rowley, Ms. Falx, and Ms. Caii—and finally two Majors, Mr. Sorensen and Mr. Sterling; one Lance Commander, Mr. Dunsien, and one MechWarrior, Mr. Darkwood. So that the board cannot be accused of being unjustly weighted in favor of MechWarriors, which the accused is, Messrs. Sorensen and Sterling represent the Sentinels' tank and infantry units, Ms. Caii the techs, and myself the aerowing." She tapped the silver wings over her left breast. "As my rank is equal to Commander Arla-Vlata's, neither she nor I can 'pull rank' to gain the outcome that she or I wish."
With everyone's role established, Duenan looked around the room. "We may do this any way you wish to. I am not going to make any rules…I, ah, have never quite done anything like this before." Duenan privately reflected that she liked the way the DCMS did things better. There was an inquiry, followed by a court-martial, then sentencing, which usually was death, assuming the accused had not already committed ritual suicide due to being dishonored by a formal court. But with mercenaries and non-Kuritan heritage worlds like Virentofta, one always had to adapt to their ways. "If we want to further discuss the case, we may. Or we can vote right now."
"Let's vote now," Johnson said quickly. "Maybe we can all go home. I've got tickets to Rubber Match tonight—I gotta be the only person on Virentofta who hasn't seen it yet."
"Yeah," Rowley agreed. "Let's see who's where."
"I agree," Sorensen added. "Vote now."
Duenan looked around. "Any objections?" There were none. "Then all those who wish to vote guilty, raise your hands."
Eight hands shot into the air rapidly, including Duenan's. Two more rose slower than the rest, leaving only Sterling and Sheila. As Duenan began to count, Sterling raised his hand as well. "Nine…ten…eleven. Eleven for guilty. So ka. Not guilty?" Sheila's hand rose. "One. Eleven to one, guilty."