Chapter 1: Brave
"General Hawk, Sir!"
Hawk looked up at the sound of the voice. And blinked. The owner of that voice wasn't habitually an early riser, and was usually not even coherent until he'd had his first cup of coffee. "Aren't you up early, Conrad?"
Duke didn't smile. "General Hawk. Sir. Permission to take a day off base. Sir."
Hawk sat back. Here it came. He'd been seeing many of the soldiers whispering around the halls, discussions that abruptly stopped whenever he was around, but he wasn't called 'Hawk' for nothing, nor had he gotten to the rank of General without learning ways of finding out what his soldiers were saying and thinking when he wasn't around. He'd already decided his course of action over this particular request—he'd asked Liv the other night if she minded if he went to the courthouse the next morning, and she had said of course not.
But he still wanted to hear it from his soldiers. "You have duties, First Sergeant."
Duke stiffened. "Sir. I traded off with Recoil, Sir. A lot of us, me included, decided we'd like to be at the courthouse, at least for this first day, to support our girls, Sir."
Hawk almost smiled. Almost. He'd been pretty sure this was what the whispering had been about even before he'd made sure that was the reason (thanks to Mainframe, whose role as one of Hawk's 'little birds' would forever remain secret) and Duke's words confirmed it. And although he would be the last person to ever tell his people that he was proud of them, he was proud of their closeness, their camaraderie, their support and loyalty to and for each other. "Did you ask the girls, Duke?"
"Sir. We all know how stubborn Scarlett is. Sir."
Hawk did smile that that. Yes, he could imagine what Shana would have said when Conrad said he wanted to be there the first day. "I take I she said no?"
Duke rubbed his chin. It didn't quite hide the smile. "She…was rather forceful about it."
"Think she's going to get forceful with me?"
Duke looked blank. "Sir?"
Clayton smiled. "I'm going to clear my schedule for today and go with you. I knew you were planning this, you know."
"Stalker figured. He said you were going to know. Allie said you might even go along."
Hawk grinned. His soldiers knew him too well. "What are you planning?"
"We get to the courthouse early, Sir. Dressed in our Class B's. Alex already said that and Shana can't be in the courtroom, they can't hear the details, just give testimony. Since the prosecutor also filed one of those for Charlie and snake Eyes and myself, we can't be in the courtroom either; neither can Allie and Lifeline and Stretcher. They subpoenaed Snake Eyes too but he submitted his testimony in written form and Abbie says she'll probably just call him for a quick cross-exam and there will be an AMESLAN interpreter in the courtroom for him as well. Cover Girl, Stalker, Recondo, Wild Bill, Jammer, Ace, Airborne, BeachHead, Tunnel Rat, Ambush, Hard Drive, Gung Ho, Dusty, Hacker and Flint also want to go."
Hawk mentally counted off the number of soldiers that would leave his base with…and then stumbled over three of the names Duke had rattled off. "Wait. Did you say Hard Drive, Hacker, and Jammer? They're communications and monitoring/surveillance specialists. Why are they going?"
"They're friends with Charlie."
"Not that close." There was something more to this than Hawk was seeing, but he had a sneaking suspicion that he wasn't going to get an answer out of Duke. "Just tell me one thing; is it going to get us in trouble?"
"Not if we don't get caught."
Hawk raised an eyebrow. "Is what we're doing against the law and are our personnel going to be put in jail if someone finds out?"
Duke scratched his head. "Um, it's against courthouse rules but it's not against the law, per se. At least according to Alex."
"You all are starting to sound like her."
Duke shrugged. "Bad influence."
Hawk rolled his eyes. "So Alex knows about…whatever it is you're planning on doing."
"And she okayed it?"
Slight hesitation. "She doesn't really like it but she says she honestly can't see anything wrong with what we're planning, legally or ethically, as long as no one but us gets hold of the results. That's why Jammer's going, to make sure no one accidentally hijacks the frequency and finds it."
"Are you going to tell me eventually?"
Duke gave up. "Hard Drive has been playing around with the tracer chip that Alex brought from the ICC. He's figured out a way to connect it to a pinhole camera mounted to the side of a pair of glasses, with an audio/visual high capacity storage chip hidden behind the earpiece of the glasses. The camera and microphone is supposed to record the trial proceedings while Courtney's in the courtroom and we all can watch it when the day's over, even those of us who haven't been there or who couldn't be present in the courtroom."
Hawk heaved a gusty sigh. As he'd been wiggling the details out of Duke, he'd been wondering what it was they were doing, and now that he knew, he honestly couldn't see a reason to shut it down either. However, he was their superior and they had come up with this without him knowing… "I'm going to pretend this conversation never happened. Officially I know absolutely nothing. However, if Alex tells you to turn it off or shut it down, or if you can foresee if this is in any way going to put her career or Prosecutor Carmichael's career and Shana and Cam's case on the line, you will shut it down. That's an order."
"Sir. Yes, sir." Duke snapped a salute.
"That being said, I will approve the day off for the soldiers you mentioned. Only for the day. Alex said the trial would likely go on for about a week, so at the end of today you'll submit to me the names of those who will be…sitting in the courtroom… for the week. If any of those people have duties, Duke, or can't trade assignments to have someone else cover for them, they aren't going. When you submit that list you'll also show me an amended duty roster so I know who will be covering for whom where and when. Is that clear?"
"Yes Sir. Thank you, Sir."
"Good. Now get along to breakfast, I'll be saying a few words before you all leave for the first day of the trial." Duke saluted and disappeared.
He finished the last of the administrative paperwork sitting on his desk and headed for his quarters to change into his Class B's. He took the time to take out his decorations, stars, and other insignia, arranging them ostentatiously on his jacket—while he normally didn't make a show of his rank and commendations, he wanted to make it very clear to everyone watching the trial that the American military was behind their two soldiers and supported them. Over the last two weeks he'd become increasingly upset at the way media had been alternately trying to portray Damien Kennedy as innocent and a victim of his underlings' machinations—which Clayton couldn't understand at all because Damien had been arrested at the scene in the act of torturing one of the women, how anyone could think he was innocent when they knew that fact was beyond him.
And on the other end of the spectrum, there were people calling for a bullet in Kennedy's head before the trial even started. Siobhan's comments to the press hadn't helped at all; since she'd spoken to the press the morning before the news had been full of stories of the two women. They'd spoken to Shana's law professor at Harvard, some friends of the family in Atlanta, even tried to ask a few questions of her former posting at Fort Benning and called the commander at Fort Hamilton on the assumption that she was posted there.
And even more troubling, they'd managed to find people who knew Cam. They'd apparently sent a few news reporters to the reservation and had quite firmly been denied entrance; Cam had called Jennifer and asked her not to say anything, and so the tribe had refused to even allow reporters on reservation land. However, they'd gotten plenty from Adam Barefoot, who had called Cam quiet and a loner, had revealed to them that Cam had been disfigured in a childhood accident and had said, on national TV, that Cam had issues.
Clayton had the channels in the mess changed from news to something innocuous so Cam wouldn't be aware of the controversy, but he could see the whole trial was going to be a nightmare. Shana's suggestion the other day hadn't been anything he hadn't already planned on, so he and Liv (Auggie was asleep) made the trek from his quarters to the mess hall.
Half the people in the mess were either in their usual Joe uniforms, or regular fatigues, but those individuals who Duke had said wanted a day pass were there in their Class B's. And as he looked at the number of them sitting there proudly in their blue dress uniforms, firmly behind their own even if most of them only knew Cam in passing since she hadn't been there long. Their solidarity, their firmness of purpose was going to help immensely over the next week as the trial unfolded. Hawk had no doubt that they would find Damien Kennedy guilty. There was too much evidence; testimony from the dealer busted at the slave market who said that Kennedy had bought the two women, voice analysis of the audio from Cam's tracer chip that matched voice analysis of Kennedy's words, from various TV interviews and other sound bites from the years he'd been in business.
Unfortunately for Shana, the African slave traders who had shipped her from Africa to Amsterdam had been 'eliminated' in the Amsterdam slave market's attempt to keep the military from ever finding out where she was; there had been a story, barely even a blip on the news, of a cargo vessel called the Mokata that accidentally collided with another ocean-going ship and had sunk with six people on board. Salvage operations were still being conducted, but the people who were on that ship were presumed dead. Hawk couldn't help wondering if they had been dead before the ship sank, and he'd also wondered of one of the recovered shipping containers was going to be found to have human bodies, corpses of those destined for the slave markets who had drowned chained to the floor in a stinking, filthy shipping container, having never seen the light of day again and having never been given the opportunity to try and save themselves. Thinking about it made his stomach clench—it was a horrible way to die. One of the Amsterdam port officials had been at the market the day it was raided by police (a huge embarrassment and a scandal for the government, that one of their appointed officials had been doing this for years, covering his tracks and making huge sums of money off the buying and selling of human beings) and had admitted that he'd ordered the African vessel eliminated because they knew about the red-haired female American soldier.
He stepped up to the front of the mess hall, cleared his throat ostentatiously in a request for silence. Every eye in the mess turned to him; he looked them all over quickly, then let his gaze linger on the table at which Alex, Liv, Shana, Cam, Charlie and Snake Eyes was sitting. All of the soldiers were in Class B's. Alex, although she technically was a soldier and was entitled to wear a dress uniform, had apparently opted for a navy civilian skirt suit that very closely mimicked the cut and fit of the Class B's that everyone else wore. It was a clever move, subtly pointing out that she was a member of the military but was serving now in a quasi-civilian capacity as Federal Prosecutor Carmichael's second chair. Cam, he noted, had managed to find a set of class B's that sort of fit—the skirt was actually a few inches longer than regulation length on her, but he assumed that whoever she had borrowed them from was slightly taller than she was and there hadn't been time to hem or alter the clothing for a proper fit.
"These last few months have been a roller coaster," he started now. "Between Columbia and the Congo, California and New Mexico and New York, Amsterdam and Fiji, we've been through more in the last nine months than we do in a normal year. At least, what passes for normal for us." A ripple of amusement passed through the mess hall. "We've lost commanders," He didn't have to mention Clancy's name, everyone knew who he was talking about, "Lost friends, lost soldiers," a nod here to Alex, who had had her entire escort troop of young soldiers massacred before her eyes trying to protect her from a jungle ambush indirectly orchestrated by Cesar Velez, "And found new friends in the process." A nod to Liv, to Alex, to Cam. "But irregardless of what we've lost, the one thing we haven't lost, I'm proud to say, has been our cohesiveness as a unit. We've been through some rough times before, been in situations where we weren't sure who our friends were and who our enemies were, but the one thing we have always been sure of was that we could count on each other to treat us with honor, to do the right thing and stand by us even when everything seemed lost and hopeless. From those who have been with us for a long time," his gaze rested on Shana, "to those who may not have been with us for long but still exhibit the traits of loyalty, honor, justice and faith in each other, you have proven to me that my choice of each and every one of you for this posting, this unit, this project, has been well-deserved and richly rewarded." A sense of pride in every person there.
"But I wanted to bring special attention today to someone who is relatively new to us and yet has sacrificed everything for people in this unit she barely even knows. Corporal Cameron Arlington has been with us for less than six months, yet her commitment to her unit, her fellow soldiers, her friends and the people she loves and cares about has been sorely tested, in ways that few people should be tested. I need to take some responsibility for that; I gave her no choice in coming here, gave her no choice in staying, and then I trusted someone I shouldn't have, tried to give someone a chance who had already proven himself to be unworthy of trust, chances, or respect, and she paid that price in the dearest coin possible. And yet, despite all that, she managed to find it in herself to give us a chance instead of blaming us, and me, rightly, for her experiences. She opened her heart and her mind, gave us a chance. And when one of our own went missing under the worst circumstances and in the worst way possible, she took a gamble and risked everything—her freedom, her health, her sanity, and her life, to bring back an irreplaceable member of our unit. She volunteered for an unimaginable assignment under unimaginable conditions, knowing that failure would mean that she too, would be lost forever…and yet, knowing this, she still volunteered, and it was only through sheer luck that we recovered both of them.
"The road to recovery will be long, has involved much pain till now and will require more in the future. We will stand by her, as we stand by all of our soldiers, knowing that friendship and loyalty is the most precious currency in this world we live in, and we treasure it wherever we find it. She has a place with us for as long as she wants it, and we are in her debt. In acknowledgement of that I award her this Soldier's Medal, for conspicuous bravery in a situation that didn't involve enemy combat. It took determination and dedication to come up with the idea to bring Shana back; it took an extraordinary amount of courage and personal strength to suffer what she has and do what she did, to carry through with the idea and rescue a fellow soldier she has barely known half a year." He took the medal out of the box, crossed the mess hall, and before Cam could rise, looking stunned, he draped the ribbon with the medal around her neck and handed her the box that held the pin to which she would later affix the medal.
Cam's hands were shaking so hard she almost dropped the box…and then she rose from her wheelchair and gave him a crisp, snappy salute, which he returned.
Cheers erupted in the mess hall.