Nine days after the third and final epic battle of Smokestack Mountains, Sergeant First Class Devon Perez of Company Alpha One of the Second Infantry Division was met at the hospital discharge desk by Sergeant First Class Wu of the Third Brigade. Sergeant Wu directed Perez to accompany him to a meeting with Military Legal Affairs officers for an unknown purpose.
Sergeant Perez was still suffering from shortness of breath, persistent dry coughs, lingering headaches, tremors, and poison gas skin irritation syndrome. He paused several times to catch his breath on the walk of approximately one hundred fifty yards.
Sergeant Wu assisted Perez into the Office of Legal Affairs and escorted him to Room Ten, knocked, they entered, Wu and Perez saluted the middle-aged lieutenant colonel and a younger major sitting at a wooden table. Wu announced Sergeant Perez and departed.
Lieutenant Colonel Abbott motioned Sergeant Perez to a seat across from the two officers, introduced himself and Major Horowitz and explained the purpose of the meeting and that the interview was being video recorded. "Sergeant Perez, you're here because we're investigating an issue of high priority and national security. We'll be asking questions, and you'll be subject to Military Perjury Rules in answering these questions. These Rules require that you answer every question truthfully under penalty of perjury. Do you understand the MPRs?"
"Well, Colonel, you referred to Rules. But, you only mentioned one rule. So, I guess there are more rules. I don't know what those rules are. So, I think I'm in the dark about a lot of the Military Perjury Rules."
The two officers exchanged glances before the colonel continued, "Sergeant, I have explained the essence of the Rules to you. Would you like time to review a copy of the MPRs before we proceed?"
"Thank you, Colonel, but I'm not so sure that I would understand the rules without some, some legal assistance."
The colonel snorted in disgust, "Sergeant, you're not entitled to legal representation during this interview. You're not a suspect at this time. You're a witness, and as such, you're required to answer questions without the presence of counsel. Understood?"
Sergeant Perez caught his breath before responding, "Colonel, with all due respect, I request the opportunity to review the Military Perjury Rules and my rights as a witness with counsel before your interview starts."
Major Horowitz intervened, "Sergeant, you appear to mistrust us. Are you aware of any facts or opinions that make you mistrust us personally or are you suspicious of our legal process?" "Officers, may I speak frankly?"
The colonel shook his head in exasperation, "We, we're investigating a time-sensitive high priority issue of extreme national security. Sergeant, speak quickly and to the point."
"So, we just finished three horrendous battles of attrition in nine days that left over 50,000 of our troops dead on the battlefield, and even more of the enemy perished. I just spent nine days in the hospital, and you had someone waiting at the hospital discharge desk for me? You know, I would like time to get my balance -- get my feelings and thoughts in order. I'm not so sure I would be a reliable witness in my current state of, of weakness, fatigue and so on." The Sergeant was racked by a brief bout of coughing.
The lieutenant colonel and the major had a whispered conference at the table. The major responded, "Before your hospital discharge we checked with your treating physicians, and they gave you a clean bill of health. However, we'll allow you forty minutes to consult with a staff attorney in this office about our MPRs and witness rights. We'll reconvene here at 1340 hours, and you'll answer our questions truthfully, promptly, and thoroughly. Understood?"
Sergeant Perez rubbed and scratched his left shoulder with his right hand, breathed deeply, closed his eyes for a few seconds. "Okay, I thank you, but it would help me understand my rights better if I knew what this was all about. Then I could ask the appropriate questions --"
The colonel slammed his fist on the table. "Sergeant Perez, you have 39 minutes and the clock's ticking."
* * *
At 1341 hours the parties were back in Room Ten. The colonel started the interview. "Sergeant Perez is in attendance and has had an opportunity to consult with military counsel. Are you ready to proceed, Sergeant?"
"I, I..." The sergeant paused to catch his breath, scratch his left leg. "So, I, on the advice of counsel, would like to have my hospital discharge records incorporated into this interview by reference."
The colonel sighed in exasperation, "Your request is duly noted. Sergeant Perez, during the three battles of Haystack Mountains did you serve with Medic Third-Class Meshach Mendoza?"
"Did, did you serve with Medic Mendoza on Post Battle Battlefield Review Duty?"
"Yes, Colonel. We referred to it as FRD or Final Relief Duty."
"On how many occasions did you share this duty with Medic Mendoza?"
"Four or five times, Colonel."
"And as part of this duty did you observe Medic Mendoza performing battlefield triage and dispatching soldiers where there was no hope of survival for these suffering warriors?"
"What were your duties, Sergeant Perez, during these battlefield tours?"
"Colonel, I collected identification tags, took pictures of the dead, and gathered DNA samples."
The major followed up quickly, "How did Mendoza dispatch the wounded soldiers?"
"Major, Mendoza used a bayonet attached to a three-foot steel rod to sever the cervical spine."
"Why didn't Mendoza use a handgun, rifle or a laser weapon?"
"Major, we didn't have the ammunition to spare. We were literally down to our last laser charges and projectiles. We were using our rifles as clubs in the final battle."
Sergeant Perez coughed into his shoulder.
"Sergeant Perez, are you able to continue?"
"How many soldiers did Medic Mendoza bring relief to in each one of his post-battle reviews?"
Sergeant Perez's left hand vibrated like a tuning fork. He grabbed the shaking hand with his good hand.
"Major, between 150 and 400."
Sergeant Perez removed a pill dispenser from his jacket pocket, and dry swallowed a pill.
"Sergeant, I know this may be difficult for you, but how many soldiers did Medic Mendoza save?"
"Three, Major. Three."
There was a moment of silence as the sergeant bowed his head and the officers exchanged looks.
"Why so few survivors?"
"Major, our field hospital and medical supplies and doctors and nurses, were destroyed and killed in the first strike in the first battle."
Sergeant Perez raised his head and looked from officer to officer. "We had no relief to offer except for a quick death."
The colonel asked the next question in a soft voice. "Was Medic Mendoza known by any other name during these battles?"
"The Angel of Mercy. Colonel, he was an Angel of Mercy."
The tremors were back in the Sergeant's left hand and arm. He took another pill. "Colonel, Major, with respect to the Angel ... He ... deserves the highest Medal of Valor. What he did was more than courageous..."
The Major dabbed at his eyes with a brilliant white handkerchief. "Sergeant, did the Angel, Medic Mendoza, provide relief to the enemy as well as our wounded?"
"Major, he, the Angel, provided relief to all who needed it -- civilians, the enemy -- it didn't matter."
"Sergeant, did you see the Angel of Mercy provide relief to enemy troops?"
"Major, Colonel, what's this? What are you after here?"
"Sergeant, it is a violation of military law to offer comfort, aid, or relief to the enemy. They taught you that in basic training. Is that not correct?"
"What? What? Are you serious? You can't be serious. You want to prosecute the Angel for ending the suffering of the dying?"
The Colonel, spoke in low, soothing tones, "What the Medic did is a clear violation of military law. As is your failure to report these violations."
"Colonel, the enemy, the so-called enemy, they were conscripting fifteen and sixteen-year-old boys and girls toward the end. There were children suffering, and the Angel ended that suffering."
The major was quick to respond. "Unfortunately, the law is the law. Now, in exchange for your testimony, we will not prosecute you for your dereliction of duty in not reporting the Angel's violation of military law."
Sergeant Perez sat rock still for several minutes. At last, the sergeant took a deep breath and slowly stood. He saluted the two officers, did an about face and left. Ignored the commands of the officers to stop and return to his seat.
The officers decided against calling the Military Police to detain Sergeant Perez or to cite him for insubordination.
Major Horowitz rubbed his brow and loosened his tie. "Colonel, we have to get Perez back in here. We have to address the rumors about and unconfirmed sightings of the Angel with him."
Colonel Abbott paced, clenched and unclenched his fists. "What? No. No, enough -- I think we have enough."
"Colonel, the rumors are escalating in numbers and frequency. The Angel of Mercy has been spotted killing the terminally wounded on the Green Valley battlefields 10,000 miles away, and minutes later he was seen at Boro Boro 15,000 miles from here and even off-world on two planets--"
"Major, what could the Sergeant say? He has heard the rumors, or he hasn't. It doesn't prove anything."
"Colonel, the Angel of Mercy phenomena is, is escalating into a service-wide superstition that is undermining military authority."
"Tell me something I don't know, Major. Wherever the Angel appears, soldiers, lose faith in their commanders, question the reasons for war--"
The major stood, and his voice rose an octave. "And in the two most recent cases, troops have refused to go into battle. I think--"
Both officers were surprised when Sergeant Wu knocked on the door and announced that Medic Third Class Meshach Mendoza wished to speak with them.
The Major let out a gasping breath, licked his lips, fell back into a chair.
The Colonel's eyes widened, his lips thinned. He snapped at Sergeant Wu, "Tell the Medic that we're not available today. Tell him that he needs to make an appointment."
The colonel and the major waited anxiously in the room to avoid even inadvertent contact with the Angel of Mercy. The longer they sat in Room Ten, the more convinced they became that this prosecution might be necessary but was a terrible idea with potentially horrific unforeseeable consequences.
That night the officers were careful to secure their windows and doors, set their alarms, say their prayers.
Unfortunately, these barriers and devotions, which might have hindered the Angel of Mercy, were no obstacle to the Angel of Death.