Part Four of The Phantom Airship Dossier: The Texas Incident! I think this was my favorite part to write so far. Comments and criticism welcome! - Neo-Tanuki
Transcript of Military Court of Inquiry dated 1430 hours, July 12, 1937, Tulsa, Oklahoma Protectorate, Republic of Texas.
Presiding officers are Major Joshua Campbell, Commanding Officer, ARB Tulsa; Captain Ellen Creed, Squadron Commander, Sixth Texas Fighter Squadron; Lieutenant Daniel Gage Ramirez, Executive Officer, Sixth TFS.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: This court of inquiry is now in session. State your name, rank and current military assignment for the record, please.
WITNESS: Billy Childress, sir. Flight Sergeant, assigned to First Flight, Second Oklahoma Defense Force air auxiliaries. We perform border patrols and provide security for the local aircraft manufacturers supplying ARB Tulsa.
CAPT. CREED: On July 11, you and two wingmen were assigned to a patrol flight near Ponca City. At 1340, radio logs showed you ordered your flight to divert east toward Bartlesville. Is that correct?
CHILDRESS: Yes, ma’am. Lowie — that is, Corporal Lowell Baines, my senior wingman — had spotted a convoy of five, six trucks on the road at 1325 in the afternoon. The beds were stacked with boxes covered with canvas. We diverted to do a fly-by. As we flew over, we, ah, we spotted individuals concealing themselves under the canvas in the back of the trucks, who displayed suspicious behavior upon our approach. We figured the drivers might be engaged in some kind of illegal activity across the border — maybe smuggling contraband into the People’s Collective — and they should be detained in order to inspect their cargo and question them.
CAPT. CREED: And it was at this point you took it upon yourself to halt the convoy?
CHILDRESS: Ah, yes, that’s correct ma’am. All the signs pointed to cornrunners.
CAPT. CREED: “Cornrunners?”
CHILDRESS: That’s what we call them, ma’am. Because, um, they grow lots of corn in the Collective. Cornrunners are no-good lazy skunks who don’t respect the rightful government of Texas and trade with the Commies for food and medicine, or even try to illegally sneak across the border to live in the Collective…
CAPT. CREED: Thank you, Sergeant, I believe your explanation is sufficient. Continue.
CHILDRESS: Corporal Baines, Airman Packard and myself made a second low-altitude pass over the convoy and fired, um, fired warning shots in order to signal the trucks to stop. The vehicles failed to comply, instead attempting to leave the road at high speed and escape into the tree cover.
LT. RAMIREZ: (angry tone) So you’re saying, Sergeant, that you fired on unar—
MAJ. CAMPBELL: (interrupts) At ease, Lieutenant. Sergeant, at any time during this encounter did you consider yourself or your men to be in potential danger?
CHILDRESS: Ah, yessir. I mean, we had no idea what they had in those trucks. Could have been guns, rockets, live ammunition, anything. I don’t want to take no chances with my men’s lives, sir.
LT. RAMIREZ: Major, you can’t seriously believe —
MAJ. CAMPBELL: Order, Lieutenant! Let the record show Sergeant Childress has stated that the convoy’s actions appeared suspicious and his unit believed they were in potential danger. Lieutenant, further interruptions will be considered contempt of court per Air Ranger Military Code of Justice Article 27-A, Section 121 and you will be removed as a sitting officer of this tribunal. Is that understood?
LT. RAMIREZ: Sir. Yes, sir.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: Continue, Sergeant.
CHILDRESS: Yessir. Well, since we saw they were trying to get away, it seemed clear they weren’t up to any good and we had to respond fast. I ordered Lowell and Peachy — that’s Airman Packard — to put some shots into the rearmost truck. The rear axle blew apart after the first couple of shots, the truck flipped on its side and the canvas came off.
CAPT. CREED: What was in the truck?
CHILDRESS: Um. We…couldn’t see clearly, but some bodies fell out of the truck bed. We think they were smugglers, ma’am. A bunch of boxes had also spilled out of the truck and broken open. It looked like furniture, clothes, stuff like that.
CAPT. CREED: If you couldn’t see them clearly, how did you know they were smugglers?
CHILDRESS: They…they were hiding, ma’am. What else could they be?
CAPT. CREED: You couldn’t see anything else? Were any of these bodies women? Children?
MAJ. CAMPBELL: (Interrupting) Order. Captain, Lieutenant, may I speak to you privately? Court reporter, this conversation is not for the record.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: Thank you. The court reporter may resume. Sergeant, I think we’ve safely established that you had located illegal activity that posed a potential threat to border security. Please describe the encounter with the hostile aircraft you reported in your previous debriefing.
CHILDRESS: Sir. At that point, the convoy was stopped and we were getting ready to land and take them into custody when two aircraft appeared off our port side, fired on us, and flew past at high speed. They looked like pirate craft, maybe Valiants or Nightingales, painted black with no visible squadron markings. We presumed they were working with the smugglers, so Lowell, Peachy and I pursued them. They went for the hard deck, flying close to the ground and using the terrain as cover. As we dove on them, they suddenly swung around and both opened up on Peachy. He tried to roll out of the way and his starboard wing hit a tree and he crashed.
CAPT. CREED: We’ve located the wreckage and Airman Packard’s remains. I’m sorry, there was no way he could have bailed out and survived at that altitude.
CHILDRESS: Yes, ma’am. Lowie and I knew at that point those bastards were playing for keeps. We pulled up to gain some altitude, and then Lowell got a lucky shot that cracked the propeller on the lead Nightingale. The wingman took off and the damaged plane made a belly landing in a field a couple of miles away.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: What happened then?
CHILDRESS: Ah…Lowie and I landed and approached the wrecked aircraft. The pilot was wearing this freaky getup—a white flight jacket and a black Halloween mask, but we heard breathing. We had to get kind of rough…the witch broke Lowie’s hand when we opened the cockpit—
CAPT. CREED: Excuse me?
MAJ. CAMPBELL: Order! Sergeant, you will confine yourself to appropriate language when answering questions from an officer of this court. There will not be a second warning. Is that understood?
CHILDRESS: (pause, then mumbles) Yessir.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: Very well. Describe the pilot you captured.
CHILDRESS: We didn’t know it was a girl until we pulled the mask off! Just a kid, blonde, maybe 19-20, a real looker, but crazy mean--.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: Order, Sergeant.
CHILDRESS: We tied her up and tried to question her, find out if she’s with a local pirate gang or OKFF. We couldn’t get much out of her, even when we got a little rough — I think the crash scrambled her brains — but we think she was French, maybe Foreign Legion out of Louisiana.
LT. RAMIREZ: Why French?
CHILDRESS: Her name. She’d only say four things over and over again when we questioned her: “Marie Celeste. Squadron Leader, airship Cerberus. Born: February 1, 1916. Died, October 31, 1934.”
CAPT. CREED: I beg your pardon...she told you she was dead?
CHILDRESS: I’m telling you, she didn’t make no sense, Captain! Lowie and I finally gave up and radioed Tulsa ARB for a pickup. We got a reply saying they'd send out some MPs. About 30 minutes later, a Ranger military police officer lands in a courier plane. Says he's Captain Charleston out of Muskogee Air Station. He puts cuffs on her, loads her on the plane, and takes off. We got back in our planes and reported in.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: We’ve located the convoy you encountered, Sergeant. While no contraband was found, and the loss of life is regrettable, it does appear that the passengers were attempting to illegally cross the border in an effort to reach our enemies in the People’s Collective.
CHILDRESS: Just like you — that is, just as I said, sir.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: The prisoner could have valuable information for us, especially if we can confirm she's in league with the Reds…excuse me a moment. What’s that, Corporal, a message? Very well, give it here. (Sound of paper unfolding). Captain Creed, Lieutenant Ramirez, could you look at this?
(whispered discussion for several minutes)
MAJ. CAMPBELL: Sergeant Childress. You testified that you radioed Tulsa AFB after capturing the pirate and requested Ranger MP assistance?
CHILDRESS: Sir? Yessir.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: And Captain Charleston arrived shortly thereafter and took your prisoner into custody with the intent of bringing her here?
CHILDRESS: What? Yes! Yessir. Ask him yourself! He should have been here hours ago.
MAJ. CAMPBELL: Sergeant, according to the evidence in front of us, your story appears to be a complete fabrication. “Marie Celeste” is not a person; it is the name of a sailing ship found abandoned at sea in 1872. There is no record of any radio message received by Tulsa ARB Tower from you or any member of your flight on the date in question. Your prisoner never arrived. Assuming she ever existed in the first place! What's more, there is no “Captain Charleston” serving with the Ranger Military Police squads stationed here or at Muskogee.
CHILDRESS: Sir? No, wait, it’s not what it looks like…
CAPT. CREED: Are you also aware that while you were supposedly dealing with this “Marie Celeste,” a group of pirates raided the Whittly and Douglas supply depot in Broken Arrow — one of the facilities your squadron is assigned to protect — making off with thousands of gallons of aircraft fuel?
CHILDRESS: What!?! Sir, that can’t be right! That’s, that’s crazy…
(whispered conversation among officers)
MAJ. CAMPBELL: It is the decision of this Court of Inquiry that Sergeant Billy Childress be stripped of his rank and remanded to a military court martial on the charges of dereliction of duty, accessory to air piracy and conduct unbecoming enlisted Republic military personnel. Master of Arms, place the accused under arrest. This court is adjourned.
Paladin, I know you don’t like meddling in politics, but it’s common knowledge that the so-called “civilian auxiliaries” serving in occupied Oklahoma are a disgrace to the Air Rangers. Most of the “Oklahoma Defense Forces” are local pro-Republic bullies and thugs who are given guns and planes and set on their neighbors to make sure they toe the line Austin sets for the Oklahomans. Despite what the Air Rangers think, I suspect Childress was telling the truth about tangling with flyers from the Cerberus rather than simply lying to save his ass after he shot up those refugees. I hate to admit it, but if the story’s true, I do have to admire your “Captain Charon’s” moxie.
Libra, don’t let sentiment cloud your judgment. Pirates are thieves and murderers. Attacking Childress and his flight distracted them long enough for Charon to get a clear run at that fuel depot. The fact that this “Marie Celeste” happened to engage the ODF at the same time the refugees were being attacked may simply be a coincidence.
Noted, sir. But assuming that Childress’ account is accurate, the pirates took a huge gamble in bluffing the ODF and snatching their pilot from under the noses of Childress and the Air Rangers. That shows a highly atypical degree of loyalty for a pirate gang.
“Assuming” is the key word there, Libra. Never trust a pirate.
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