by Ernest Edwards
Darmore is a small town of 700 souls in North-western Berant and eight kilometres from the base of the Sharten Mountains, the northern border of Berant. It provides essential services and a transport terminal for the farms in the area of about fifty kilometres around it. The main products are citrus fruits and grains. The area has several small passes in the mountains that allow foot traffic to cross, but no vehicles can pass through them. The only road through the Sharten Mountains is eighty kilometres further East. The road from Darmore joins that road, The Northern Road, just below a major river crossing, then The Northern Road runs straight to Berana, the capital of Berant. In recent years some tourist trade has come to Darmore. A few locals set up escorted tours of the mountain trails and weekend jungle camping trips for nature loving tourists. This small boost to the local economy is very beneficial to all in the area.
Throughout history groups of people crossed the mountains to raid the farms and towns on the other side, the tribesmen went both ways. The last such raid into Darmore was in 1932. Darmore was untouched during the civil war. The area has known nothing but peace for nearly forty years since the end of World War Two.
Jessica Tandar is the second child born to a poor farming family. Born in late 1964, four weeks early as her mother is visiting her parents in Amarant. The family lives with her father's clan while working on a farm at Marley's Landing on the Kotar Plain. Her father dies in an accident on the farm when she's four years old. The family stays at the farm and her mother continues working on the clan farm. Family cares for family in Berant, even in-laws. When Jessica is eight years old and her brother Brian is eleven years old their mother marries another man who's a cousin to their father. The four of them move to Carmel as he has a new job there at a hotel, she's nine years old when this happens.
Jessica loves living in Carmel, a seaside holiday resort town. The Carmel school has much better resources than her previous school and her studies improve a lot. The warm sea is a delight to swim in. There's also a major Royal Guards base nearby with lots of off duty Guards wandering around town. To her they all look very handsome and strong, both the men and women. She's infatuated with them, often seeking them out in her free time to talk with them. Mostly about life in the Guards and what she should study to gain entry. They're used to some children doing this and speak freely with them. They know most ask because they're thinking of joining the Guards when they're older, and most end up joining; this is what they did when they were young. On her twelfth birthday she tells her mother she intends to join the Guards as soon as she can pass the entry exams. Her mother thinks this is a passing phase, despite it going on for some years already.
In Carmel Jessica joins the Martial Arts Team for school sport and soon becomes a top competitor in the school and regional matches. She's also fast to progress through the ranks of devotees of the Way of the Hand, the local form of martial arts. At thirteen she joins the local junior shooting club to participate in rifle and pistol competitions on weekends. By her fifteenth birthday she rates as marksman with both. Just before her sixteenth birthday in October 1980 she successfully passes the Year 10 exams. Three weeks later she receives her official results notification. At dinner she hands it to her mother with an application to join the Royal Guards. This is for her mother to sign to approve her enlistment as she's under eighteen years of age. Her mother looks at the form and at Jessica. Sighing softly she signs the form. She realises her daughter will never go to university and she's already given up on trying to teach her how to cook properly.
Her application to join the Guards is accompanied by the written recommendations of two teachers and the shooting club instructor, all retired Guards. All speak well of her, especially her concentration and level of commitment.
Sixteen year old Jessica is 160 cm tall, slim athletic build, light brown hair, striking steel blue eyes with well above average intelligence and very fit.
In the Guards
The next day Jessica visits the Guards recruiting office to lodge her application. They note her scholastic record transcript and high marks. She returns two days later for her medical and physical tests, passing both. The following day is her interview with Peter Landers, a retired warrant officer with a psychology degree. He's to evaluate her attitude and suitability. In response to the key question of 'Why do you want to join the Royal Guards?' She says her wish is to help others and defend her country. She explains how she's admired the Guards ever since she saw them as a small child when they fought her country's enemies. She likes their unity and spirit of purpose. She wishes to be part of it.
Later when discussing her application with his supervisor, Monica Stephens, Peter says, "I was concerned Jessica may be too idealistic, but she came across as being very well grounded and realistic. I think she's perfect and will go far. If she's not solid enough they'll find out in basic." He sits there for a moment and Monica raises her eyebrow in question. "There's something else that troubles me about the girl. Oh, it's nothing to wash her out. But in the tests she never flustered once. I've never seen that before, everyone gets flustered at some point. The tests are designed to make them get flustered. She never did. Also I felt very comfortable sitting and talking with her, almost as comfortable as being down the pub drinking with my mates." Monica raises both her eyebrows at this. She makes notes on Jessica's file about her stoic attitude, and a personal note to handle her final interview herself as she wants to see what this candidate is like.
All Guards applicants are given two weeks from the date of their application and testing to the date of their final enlistment. This is to allow them time to review what they've done and retire gracefully if they have any second thoughts. At the end of those two weeks Jessica attends a final interview with Monica, the senior recruiting officer, a retired major with a psychology degree. This interview is deliberately designed to really rattle the applicants and encourage those not fully committed to withdraw. The Guards requires a total commitment. Monica is also surprised by Jessica's level of stability and calmness in the interview. Nothing rattles her. She approves Jessica's application and gives her travel papers with orders to report for training at the next recruit induction in January. Later while talking to Peter over an after work drink she mentions her interview with Jessica and how she too felt like Jessica was an old mate, even when she knew this was the first time they'd met. It's not like she's an old squad mate or something. Looking up Peter says, "That's it, she's the feel of a combat veteran and it sets me at ease." Absent-mindedly Monica nods. Suddenly she looks up as they both stare at each other and they wonder how that could possibly be? How can a sixteen year old girl feel like a combat veteran? They stare at each other as they ponder this paradox. Neither says anything about it to anyone else.
On 5th January 1981 Jessica stands on the parade ground at the Royal Guards basic training base as she reports for her first day of duty. She's successfully passed the entrance exams. So well she surprised the testers by how well such a young woman can do them. The Guards accept anyone who's a legal adult or is sixteen years old with parental approval. Most people don't join until after they're eighteen years old.
The next eleven months are a whirl of studies and organised mayhem as the instructors push all the trainees as had as they can to learn what they're capable of and where their skills and aptitudes lie. During the first ten weeks every recruit is given an opportunity to be their squad corporal for two weeks. She's one of the few to spend the next nine months on higher pay as an acting junior corporal. The instructors are amazed at her calm manner as basic training is designed to rattle everyone, but not Jessica. In everything they do she stays cool, collected, and a calming influence on her squad. When acting squad leader she's in total control at all times and gets the best out of them
After basic graduation she's sent for three months medic training, followed by three months sniper training, three months heavy weapons training, and three months urban warfare training. During this time she completes the theory training for corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain; passing all the exams with 95% marks or better. On the day she graduates from the Urban Warfare Training Course she's notified of her promotion to full corporal, the youngest ever, and appointed to 2nd platoon, A Company, 5th Claymore. With orders to take four weeks leave before reporting for duty. She'd turned eighteen years old six weeks earlier.
When she arrives home on her leave her mother is surprised she's wearing the uniform of a full corporal in the Claymore. Letters home never mentioned what she was actually doing, just that she was doing another training course. She'd expected, and hoped, Jessica would join the Royal Rescue Service. Regardless of this she's proud to walk down the street with her daughter in her uniform. During Jessica's leave they often go shopping with Jessica in her uniform at her mother's request....