Buzz and the Deserter
Major Bumble banged his gavel on the table, flanked by two captains. Private Beegate got stiffly to his feet.
"Private Thomas Beegate - you have been charged under Military Law with abandoning your post without permission. How do you plead?"
"Not guilty on grounds of diminished responsibility," replied Beegate, tripping over the words that he'd obviously been prompted to say. Standing there in the makeshift courtroom, his uniform and face spotless, his demeanour calm, no one could have guessed at how he'd been just weeks ago. He looked around the room and spotted a captain he'd seen around a few times, who all spoke highly of - a Captain Buzz. He was sitting near the back of the room, his uniform and buttons brilliantly clean. Beegate turned back to where Major Bumble was talking.
"Very well Private. If you will take an oath on the Holy Beeble, we can begin hearing your testimony," said Bumble. He hated this part of the job. He was one of the few high ranking officers who had seen the hell of the battlefield. He'd served for decades but never seen anything like this war. It scared him to the bone - that bees could commit such a horror, to condemn their kin to such pain. Looking at Beegate he could hardly blame him for wanting to leave, he could even understand it. But he couldn't condone it. War was hell but it still had to be won. They took the Queen's shilling and did their duty. Beegate had turned his back on that and whilst Bumble was sympathetic he wasn't forgiving. He looked again at Beegate and couldn't see any difference between him and the bees who stood and fought. He wasn't like some of the men he'd seen tried - men who flinched at the slightest sound, men who couldn't remember their name, men who couldn't remember even how to walk, men who were just a shell.
Beegate finished his oath. Bumble waved his hand, prompting him to begin his testimony. Beegate cleared his throat and began. "We had just replaced a platoon of bees on the front line who had recently captured a Hun-y-bee trench and who had been tasked with connecting our old trench with our new one..."
"Go on. Go and get cleaned up,"
It was so quite that Beegate could hear what they were saying as they built the support trench. He leaned back against the wall of the trench and began running matches close to his fur, the sound of popping parasites giving him immense satisfaction. He'd been chatting for a few minutes with a couple of other bees. They'd been in France for a couple of months and been at the front on a couple of occasions. As yet they hadn't been involved in an attack - either aggressively or defensively. Beegate was known to be a bit of a troublemaker. Ever since he'd skipped out one day on basic training to go meet his girl he'd been in trouble with every officer he'd served under. Absent without leave, drinking on duty, poorly turned out, late to parade; he was a terrible soldier but very popular. He had a good sense of humour and laughed easily. He was laughing as the muffled thump of German artillery fire began.
At first he hadn't even noticed it, the sound had almost been natural to him despite him never having heard it before - however, to the veterans such a sound was enough to strike terror into their very soul. It was only after the first shell landed about twenty yards from the trench and the mud had rained down on himself and the other bees that he realised what was happening. Terrified he fell into the water at the bottom of the trench, rolling over as the feet of other bees trampled down on him as they rushed to their posts. He pushed himself up as another shell landed, this time much closer. He felt a great pain in his ears followed by ringing and muffling of all the sounds around him. He pushed past bees on his way to his post. A shell landed in the trench twenty or so yards ahead of him, tearing bees apart in a cloud of mud and blood. Their shrieks filled his deafened ears. He stood and peered out into No-Bee's Land. The artillery continued to rain down and then suddenly it stopped. Beegate let out a sigh of relief. Then he heard the whistles.
The rhythmic explosions of the machine gun firing drilled into his skull disorientating him. He could barely bring himself to look out into the smoke clouded land that lay ahead of him. The faint shadows grew slowly before Hun-y-bee's emerged, trying to stay alive. Their attack was so sudden, the trench so inadequately supplied that they stood a chance. One of them reached the trench where Beegate was, kicking him in the face as he entered. Beegate sprawled on the ground, the hulking great bee above him, stinger ready to plunge in. Beegate soiled himself in fright. However, the Hun-y-bee collapsed down in front of him, a whole in his thorax from a well placed shotgun blast from Lieutenant Jenkins. More of the Hun had made it to the trench and the noise, the smoke, the smell, the death filled everyone of Beegates pores. His head pounded, his hands shook, he could barely walk, barely see. He felt sick and pain shot through the whole of his body. He had no idea what he was doing, compelled by some unknown force to get away from this terrible place. He stumbled up out of the trench without thinking about it and headed away from the front line. No one seemed to notice him. He couldn't remember anything, just that he had had to leave. Shouts all around him but no one stopping him. Unable to breath. Tightness in his thorax. Black oblivion descended.
He awoke in a copse of trees, about half a mile from the front line, a rifle pointed at his body. The MP looked at him disgustedly. He looked and smelt awful. Beegate knew he was under arrest.
"That's what happened Sir," said Beegate.
"Council?" Bumble looked towards the bee chosen to represent Beegate.
"Sir, as my client has testified, he was not in clear control of his faculties at the time. Compelled by some unknown force he left the front, a fact he freely admits but he did not do so of his own volition. We therefore seek for him to be shown mercy and spared the death penalty."
Bumble nodded his head thoughtfully. He felt a tinge of remorse for Beegate but little more. Hadn't the other men experienced the same conditions and yet Beegate was the only one to react this way. Then there was his past history, a known trouble maker. Could his word be trusted? Obviously, merely taking the defendants word for the events wasn't going to allow justice to be served. He called the witness.
"Captain Buzz - if you would please take the stand," said Bumble, motioning to the stand.