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"Attention on deck!" barked Marine First Sergeant Petrus Saalwächter as First Lieutenant Matthias Valentiner entered the large room within the Hamburg USE Marine barracks set aside for the daily administrative duties of India Company, Third Battalion, First Marines.
This being a Monday morning, the time reserved to hold NJP (non-judicial punishments) for minor offenses committed by company members during the previous week, most of the tables and chairs used by the officers and clerks were placed against the wall directly opposite Lieutenant Valentiner.
The largest table, however, was placed three-quarters of the way down the room, forming a natural focus point for all present. It was equidistant from the two flanking walls, with one chair behind it, centered upon the table. Behind it all on the white-washed pine wall were a USE flag and the unit company guidon. Flanking the flag and guidon were two photographs, each sixteen by twenty-two inches, one of USE Prime Minister Wilhelm Wettin, the other of Emperor Gustav II Adolf.
"At ease," Lieutenant Valentiner ordered. After he seated himself at the table, he added, "Apologies for the wait, gentlemen, Colonel Schmidt wanted to discuss this week’s training schedule. How was your weekend, Top?"
Marine protocol having been respected with the call to attention, Saalwächter responded to the Lieutenant’s informality with a grin. "Horrible, Skipper. Absolutely horrible."
Senior company clerk Corporal Adalbert Eisenherz, as the usual straight man to the first sergeant’s sometimes odd sense of humor, took up his cue. "How so, Top?"
A tilt of the head from Lance Corporal Max Klinger, company junior clerk, indicated his own curiosity. Valentiner, familiar with the first sergeant’s style, sipped coffee from the cup he’d brought in and awaited Saalwächter’s explanation.
"It was Dorothea’s turn to host this week, so I was roped in for crowd control," Saalwächter explained.
"Ah. That would do it," mused Valentiner. Eisenherz and Klinger nodded in understanding and sympathy of Saalwächter’s sufferings over the weekend.
The weekly meetings of the wives (and the occasional husband) of serving Marines were supposedly nothing more than a social club to share issues and provide mutual support.
In practice, the meetings were as vital to the good of the USE Marines as any official policy and protocol. Many issues potentially detrimental to the service were resolved at that level, and other concerns received official notice and attention when resolution was still simple. Careers had literally been saved by what some junior, unmarried Marines viewed and dismissed as kaffeeklatsches. Which view junior, unmarried Marines were disabused of either through marriage or by explanation from senior, wiser Marines of the vast gulf between de jure and de facto.
Eisenherz, whose own wife Kunigunde had been at the meeting, along with their twin girls Albruna and Antje added, "I heard you handled the kinder well, Top. Girls against the boys, right?"
Saalwächter, still grinning, replied, "Naturally. The girls won, of course."
It was a running joke in the company that whenever the first sergeant minded children the girls always won even when they hadn’t been playing. No boy ever objected. In the strange alchemy among adults and children Saalwächter enjoyed the status of a benevolent pied piper, probably due to his experience in being the paterfamilias of four boys.
For the next few minutes Valentiner, Saalwächter, and Eisenherz discussed last week, the weekend, and the week coming up, with occasional comments from Klinger. Finally, Klinger, tasked with keeping an eye on the clock, at 0825 piped up, "Five minutes, Lieutenant!"
Forewarned, Valentiner and the others finished their coffees and hid the cups away. Uniforms were quickly checked and errant fluff tossed into a small garbage can. Satisfied the office was shipshape, Valentiner and Klinger sat at their respective chairs Marine-straight.
As the company commander, Lieutenant Valentiner had the privilege of sitting. As the junior company clerk, Lance Corporal Klinger had the duty of sitting at a small table set near the right-side wall. His shorthand notes would later be transcribed for final copies on a Goldfarb & Meier typewriter, one of three used in common by the Marines and naval personnel stationed in Hamburg. Even with the advantages of volume purchase and bulk discounts, the down-time creations were still too expensive for even the military to afford one per clerk, as the fabled up-time USA military was said to have had.
Corporal Eisenherz took up his duty position standing next to Klinger. In the unlikely event of prisoners being so stupid as to vocally and/or physically object to a decision, he was poised where he could quickly assist the first sergeant and the masters-at-arms in subduing the idiots.
First Sergeant Saalwächter for his part positioned himself next to the main entrance door and stood at attention. That stance was not yet necessary, but as he had explained to the lieutenant on their first meeting, "Best set it in advance, Sir."
At exactly 0830, Valentiner loudly (for the benefit of those in the hall outside) announced, "First Sergeant Saalwächter!!"
Saalwächter, equally loudly and for the same reason, replied, "First Lieutenant Valentiner, Sir!" He opened the door into the hallway, and, holding it open, stood beside it and announced, "Non-Judicial Punishment for India Company, Third Marine Battalion, for Monday, 21 July 1636. Provost Detail, bring in the prisoners!"
Detail leader MA2 Heike Kemp marched in, followed by three Marine detainees. Her subordinate MA3 Ernst Beiderbecke brought up the rear. Once all five had entered Saalwächter re-entered the room and closed the door.
By now MA2 Kemp stood in front of Valentiner the regulation two paces back from the table. She saluted, and announced "Sir! Provost Marshall detail with three prisoners reporting to the company commander as ordered!"
As soon as Valentiner returned her salute, Kemp snapped her arm down, moved smartly aside and stood at attention next to Corporal Eisenherz. MA2 Beiderbecke remained behind the prisoners.
Saalwächter, having followed the masters-at-arms and the detainees, placed himself to the left of the prisoners a regulation three paces away from the nearest. All three arranged themselves in a line facing Valentiner. Their lack of shoulder insignia showed they had not attained the rank of PFC, private first class.
Valentiner now commanded, "Provost Detail, at ease." As Kemp and Beiderbecke went to parade rest, Valentiner addressed Saalwächter. The First Sergeant’s role in the proceedings was now to present the facts of each case brought before his commander.
"First Sergeant, what do we have today?"
"Sir!" called Saalwächter, coming more fully to attention. "Privates Julius Haas, Otto Sommer, and Franz Schuster were taken into custody at approximately 2140 hours 19 July 1636 for violation of Article 134, drunk and disorderly conduct, specifically fighting with a group of Army privates. The incident happened off-base at Bierhaus Kompass & Karte." As it was the closest civilian bar to the Navy yard, it had been adopted as the unofficial hangout of the Navy and Marine enlisted ranks.
The referenced privates, who remained standing at attention, did their best to keep their gaze at a point just above Valentiner but not on him. Their faces and hands bore cuts, bandages, and bruises, marks of the drunk and disorderly conduct that had had them in the base jail since Saturday night.
The cuts and stains upon their uniforms, including the smell of stale beer and sawdust, showed how—involved—the fight had been. So much so that even standing at attention and facing NJP couldn’t keep the privates from clearly favouring one side of their bodies, indicating the presence of multiple bruises to the ribs.
Valentiner gave his first sergeant an interested glance. Brawls at Kompass rarely got to the attention of officers, since Navy and Marine NCOS and the bar owner liked to keep things very much under wraps. That this one had come up before the company commander indicated it had been what Amideutsch called a freifurall.
"Very well. MARINES!" he called.
"Sir!" said the privates, saluting and contrary to all human norms, standing even more to attention.
Lieutenant Matthias Valentiner, First Sergeant Petrus Saalwächter, Corporal Adalbert Eisenherz, and Lance Corporal Max Klinger silently focused and narrowed their eyes as they surveyed the offending privates until Sommer, possibly as the smartest of the three, remembered Marine regulations on indoor salutes and whipped his right hand back down to his side.
Beside him Haas and Schuster did the same a half-second later.
Valentiner maintained his gaze until certain the privates would never again need reminding of that particular item of proper Marine conduct.
"Am I to understand that you are all requesting Article 15 of the UCMJ?"
The Marine privates chorused, "Yes, Sir!"
"Have the charges against you and your rights under Article 15 been explained to you?" asked Valentiner.
Again came the chorus of, "Yes, Sir!"
The lieutenant gazed at them for several seconds, per the standard intimidation tactic of officers, judges, police, sergeants first or otherwise, parents, etc.
Lieutenant Valentiner’s pointed chin and general lean looks gave him what was becoming known as a Mephistophelean look, as knowledge of up-time versions of the well-known Faust story (especially Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s) spread from Grantville. A recent play at the the Magdeburg Opera house had drawn record crowds, with the Hamburg newspapers foregoing their usual disdain for all things Magdeburg and enthusiastically promoting Faust, and the clear necessity for Hamburg to have its own Opera House.
Which was all well and good for Hamburg, Magdeburg, and the USE, save that so closely did one Lieutenant Matthias Valentiner resemble the popular image of Goethe’s demonic creation that some Marines, the more stupid and superstitious ones, had surreptitiously (they thought) cast the sign of the horns against Valentiner.
Those Marines had soon been suitably educated as to what was and was not proper Marine conduct and response.
Still, early impressions died hard, and although each member of India Company soon learned demonic was not truly in Valentiner’s nature, it made no difference when standing before him awaiting judgment.
Especially since the lieutenant, having perhaps more in common with Mephistopheles than only looks, often emphasized the resemblance when holding Non-Judicial Punishment.
Not always, as repetition grows stale and familiar terrors lose effect, but when judged necessary, out the image came.
Fortunately for the privates, so far the necessity hadn’t arisen, so it was with only his everyday visage that Lieutenant Valentiner first spoke to them.
"Sir!" cried Schuster, nearly swaying in fear. His fellow detainees almost let looks of relief appear on their faces at not being the ones on the hot seat.
"Please state these rights as you understand those to be."