Court Martial


“Bill, we need to see the captain.”

Sergeant Bill Asher wondered why it was that all the civilians treated him like a secretary. He was Captain Slater’s adjutant, and as such, he outranked even the battalion commanders. It didn’t matter much. Let the civvies think whatever they needed to.

“No, you don’t. You’d like to see the captain. Sorry, guys. He’s busy right now.”

“Bill, we insist.”

Okay, if civilians were bad, civilians that had been to college for three years and had two weeks of Corpse Corps action were worse. “Oh! Why didn’t you say so earlier? That makes all the difference. Who should I tell him is calling?” He wondered if the kid would be able to pick up on his sarcasm. “Come on. You know procedure. All requests for meetings with the captain go through your squad leader and battalion lieutenant. Nothing is so urgent that–”

“This is.” The taller man in the back had spoken for the first time.

Bill stared at him in a cold, stony silence. “No, it isn’t. Back to your unit, soldier.”

The door opened and the captain stepped into the room. He looked over the three men standing there.

The one who had not yet spoken said, “Leo, sir. 74th Squad. This is J. J. and he’s Razor.”

The captain nodded. “Yes. I thought you’d be by. You’re here sooner than I expected. You’d better come in.”

The captain sat down behind his desk. Before the men could sit down, he asked, “So, what seems to be the problem?” There was a moment of confusion as J. J. and Razor looked at each other. Leo slid into the chair closest to the captain’s desk and leaned back, stretching his legs. “Leo, I asked what the problem was. I did not invite you to sit.”

Leo stood up and glanced back at J. J. and Razor. “Ask them. They can say it better than I can.”

“I did not ask them. I asked you.”

Leo felt like he was back in school again. It was a feeling he didn’t like, which is why he had dropped out in tenth grade. The way the captain was staring him down was like that time when…

“Leo. What’s the problem?”

“It’s her. The old lady.”

“And by old lady, I assume you mean your squad leader, Joanna Shute?”


Slater turned to the other two men. “And what seems to be the problem with Joanna?”

J. J. turned to look back at Razor. The older man nodded his head and the twenty-three year old turned to the face the captain. “Well, sir. She just doesn’t know how to lead. She’s no good at it.”

Slater thought for a moment and replied, “That’s interesting. You come to this conclusion based on your three years at LeMoyne before the outbreak?”

J. J. had been hit in his weak spot, but his Business Communication class (where he got an A- because he was hung over for the final exam, but that prof should have given him the A anyway) helped him to recover without missing a beat. “Sir, while it’s true that my knowledge of leadership is mostly through academics, the other guys feel the same way about this. She does not have a grasp of the real-world realities of the paradigms of effective leadership.”

“I see. Razor, do you agree with whatever it was that J. J. just said?”

“Tom, forgive the kid for his enthusiasm, but yes. Yes, I do.”

“Razor, I’ll thank you to remember that we are still on duty. That first-name shmoozing may work on a judge at your country club, but I’m not going to fall for it here.”

“Sorry, Captain.” Slater noticed that the tone that the former lawyer had used was not sorry so much as it was impatient, which did not surprise him in the least. He knew that Razor, whose full name was Bruce Schick, thought that he was a little too smart for someone of Slater’s poor, inflexible military mind. Schick/Razor had been a silent and very rich partner of that law firm that had always been advertising on TV before the collapse, but that hardly mattered anymore. Schick needed to learn post haste that West Point didn’t accept morons. And that he didn’t tolerate hypocrisy. And he didn’t care how many Lexuses Schick used to own.

“Okay. What you are saying is extremely serious. Your being here represents an attempt to impeach a superior officer. There will be a very high burden of proof. Be very careful of what you say so innocent people are not hurt in the process. Having said that, what is it that she has done to warrant your all coming here like this?” He looked first to Leo.

“I dunno. She reminds me of every assistant manager I ever worked for. Arby’s, McDonald’s, BK, they’re all the same. Always squawking about nothing. Except instead of talking about food temperatures or serving sizes, she’s always goin’ on about being out of formation, being more precise with my ZED strikes, or getting my feet off the seat of the Rumbler. She’s a control freak, you know what I’m saying? I get the job done. I may not be by the book, but I do what I gotta to kill Z’s, you know?”

“Is that it?”

“No. Ask them.”

Spoken like a true dropout, thought Slater. How old was this kid–eighteen, twenty-eight? Still working at minimum wage and still fighting petty wars against the Man? Or in this case, the Woman? He turned to J. J. “And you, son?”

“Well, sir. There are a ton of things she’s done wrong. But like I said before, she just doesn’t have it at all. She’s never even read Jackson’s Principles of Leadership. That’s standard reading for freshmen at school. Leaders are supposed to go the extra mile, you know? But she doesn’t use any positive reinforcement techniques at all. It’s like her attitude isn’t right. She doesn’t pour herself in. I don’t feel as inspired to be killing Z’s with her as my squad leader as I might be with someone else there.”

“You don’t like her because she doesn’t read books or give you a high five after you score a kill? There must be something else. I’m getting tired of this.”

“Well, sir. It’s the routine. She’s not predictable. Training calls for a three-person delta with ZEDs and the squad leader between them with the rifle, taking out any Z’s that try to get around the flanks. She doesn’t play that way. There always these non-standard deployments and weird positions that she uses. She’s not by the book at all.”

“I see. Boy, do you think that leadership is something that comes from instruction manual?” The student eyes darted nervously toward the lawyer. He exhaled. The captain turned toward Schick without waiting for a reply. “And I suppose you have something to add too?”

“Oh, yes captain. There are numerous examples of her ineptitude. But none stands out quite like Mattydale. (I need the name of a pharmacy and liquor store on Route 11.) We were trying to clear out a path for the rummagers to get some pharmaceutical supplies. The fighting had been hard and heavy, and it was getting close to dark. It was a long day. Joanna ordered us back to the Rumbler to head back to Central.”

“And? That was reported a successful mission.”

Schick smiled. “It was even more successful than you know. That pharmacy was three doors down from a former gentlemen’s club. There were only a hundred or so zombies that way, and while Joanna wanted to withdraw and leave the next crew, I thought we might be able to find a couple of bottles of whatever inside that club. As soon as I suggested it, the boys were on board. Those Z’s never knew what hit them.”

“Did you get anything?”

“Yes. There was half a bottle of vodka and a fifth of bourbon left behind the bar. We had a bit of a scare when it turned out that a couple of former dancers and a bouncer had reanimated. The dancer inside the cage wasn’t a problem, but the one on the dance floor wanted brains for tips. And that bouncer almost got J.J.’s leg. It was hilarious. ”

“And where was your squad leader all this time?”

“She was behind us, telling us to get back to the Rumbler because it was going to be dark soon. She helped us fight our way out anyway.”

“So, was the booze good for squad morale?”

“It was excellent. As I said, it had been a hard day of work.”

“Okay. I’ve heard enough. Should I assume that your team to stick together in its next assignment?”

J.J. answered quickly. “Yes, sir. We work great together.”

“All right then. You are re-assigned—” He paused for a moment to see the lawyer’s eyes flash with greed, though Slater kept a poker face and didn’t smile. The captain knew who the lawyer’s roommate would be if he got the room in the hotel he’d be entitled to as a squad leader. “—to the Sanitation Squad with lowest seniority. You may re-apply for duty in Corpse Corps after you have served for six months. You should report to that department tomorrow at 0800 for training and assignments.”

The two college-educated men stood there, their jaws slack, while Leo looked between them and the captain, confused. J. J. said, “Disposal duty? But we have degrees! Why are we…”

Slater interrupted him. “Schick, you’re an attorney, though you probably don’t have much military law experience. Even so, you ought to have known where going into that strip club against orders would lead you. In Corpse Corps, yours is not to reason why. It’s to kill zombies when and where you’re told to. Someday when you’re out burning some corpses or scrubbing latrines, tell your crew the punishment for insubordination during a time of war and remind them how lucky they are not to be at the receiving end of a firing squad. Now get out of my office.”

The three left in a daze. They would adapt to life inside the fence, he knew. He might even see one of them emptying his wastebasket every now and then. This might finally send the message he needed to get through the ranks of the Corps–his squad leaders were not den mothers–but on the other hand, he had the unsettling feeling that even with them on the Sanitation Squad for six months, he hadn’t seen the last of the weaselly lawyer, his sniveling sidekick, and their idiot lapdog.

After a moment, the sergeant stuck his head in the door. “Word will get out about this one pretty fast. It may be bad for morale in the short term, but the discipline will help a lot.” He paused for a second. “Would you really have court martialed them?”

Slater shook his head. “No. We need every body we can get around here. Besides, I wouldn’t waste valuable bullets on a lawyer.”

One response to “Court Martial”

  1. This is good. I like the flow of the conversation between the characters. However, I nver noticed where you explain how the Squad leader was excually right. With all the negatives against her the the Captain should have rebounded with what made her best for the position. Also, instead of making them had to the bar, get the drinks and come out being hilarious, you should have one troop die or become injured to prove it wouldnt haev happened. Overall it was good, and solid.

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