Hawk in a Chicken Coop
Chapter 3: A Bad Night
October 2, 1986
Cadet Sada followed Sergeant Rao out to join the rest of the troops. They were lounging around outside, passing time in a manner she didn’t understand. Two were even asleep, but not one of them was alert enough to keep track of his surroundings. She didn’t understand how any group could be in a strange place, and yet be so oblivious to everything around them.
Cadets didn’t just sit around and do nothing. There was always some skill to practice, some topic to learn, some maintenance task to perform, or just problems to work through. She had a small book on advanced mathematics tucked away in her armor to read when not actively doing something. Just sitting around staring at the ground was a waste.
The sergeant barked out an order to line up in formation. The regulars seemed to take their time getting up and moving into formation. Apparently, the sergeant was used to it because he didn’t chew them out about not moving quickly or being alert. There was a bit of fumbling while they grabbed their rifles and gear. She was the first ready to get in line, but waited until the line formed before taking the last position in it.
The sergeant stood in front of the assembled troops apparently pleased with their performance. Each of the soldiers was standing straight up at attention with eyes fixed forward. She leaned forward and looked down the line. She saw that they were all stiff and facing the same direction.
Thinking that someone needed to watch their backs, she turned around so that she was watching the other direction. She did notice a rather poisonous snake slowly moving in their direction. She wasn’t standing ramrod straight but with her feet apart and body balanced to move in any direction at a moment’s notice. Her arms weren’t pressed against her sides with hands straight down. She had one hand resting on the hilt of her sword and the other on the butt of her pistol.
After the third year, cadets didn’t formally get in lines like that unless moving from one place to another in an organized manner. When they did line up, they didn’t all face the same way. Some faced to one side or the other, some to the front, and some to the back. That was even true for first years who did spend a bit more time in lines than the later year classes.
The idea of everyone lined up, facing a single direction, and with eyes focused forward really bothered Cadet Sada. It was the most unsafe practice that she had ever observed. It might have had value when armies lined up against each other on a battlefield and basically slaughtered each other by firing into each other’s ranks until one broke and ran.
Sergeant Rao looked across the rank. All of his soldiers were at attention as expected except for one. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The cadet, one of these supposedly wonder soldiers they were supposed to collect, was facing the wrong direction. Not only that, the cadet wasn’t standing at attention! The sergeant was beginning to believe that the General was right: These cadets wouldn’t fit in his army. The general wouldn’t ever admit that his cadets were too stupid to be in the army. Well, Sergeant Rao was confident that he could deal with stupidity and turned this cadet into a real soldier.
He stormed over toward to give the cadet a proper sergeant’s chewing-out that would cause the cadet’s ears to burn for three days. He was about two steps away when he came to a sudden halt. The cadet had twisted a little, but there was now a pistol pointed straight at his gut.
Cadet Sada shouted, “You idiot! Don’t you know better than to charge someone from behind? Particularly when you are in an unsecured area? I almost shot you! I swear by all the Gods of War, I’ve never seen anyone act in such a manner. Do you have a death wish?”
Sergeant Rao had never, in his wildest imagination, thought that he’d be chewed out like that by a raw recruit. He was stunned. A couple of the privates snickered.
Sergeant Rao shouted, “Private Sada!”
“I am Cadet Sada!” she shouted back just as loud. Holstering her pistol, she stepped forward until she was nose to nose with the sergeant and shouted, “If you want to address me, you will call me Cadet Sada, not Private Sada. Do you understand?”
Apparently, he didn’t.
“Private Sada! You will get back in line! You will face forward! You will stand straight, feet together, and shoulders back! You will look straight ahead! Do you understand me?”
“Mister Rao! Are you an idiot? We are not in a secure area!”
“Private Sada! You will follow orders.”
Cadet Sada glanced over her shoulder, pulled her pistol, and fired at the snake. It had moved to within two feet of one of the soldiers in line. She returned her pistol to her holster.
“What in the hell did you do that for?”
“One of your idiots was about to get bit by a snake,” Cadet Sada said pointing at the dead snake without looking at it.
The soldiers, unable to resist turning their heads to look, suddenly jumped forward about five feet, screaming, and pointing at the dead snake. Sergeant Rao stared at the dead snake.
“We are not in a secure area, Mr. Rao. You should have your men on guard duty watching for threats such as that snake, or the one over there or the one over there.”
He looked in the directions in which the cadet pointing. He could feel his anus tightening. There were two more snakes in the area. The good news was that only one of them was poisonous. It appeared that they were coming out of the tall weeds to sun themselves.
“You are derelict in your duty!” Cadet Sada shouted.
General Wynn took a sip of his coffee from a very thin porcelain cup. There was a pattern of green swords and black shields around the rim. He put the cup on an equally fragile looking saucer that was obviously a pair with the cup, although the matching pattern was covered with small paper napkin used to blot up any small coffee spill.
Lieutenant Rangan was not so relaxed. He was concerned by the shot fired outside.
Startled by the noise of a door banging open, he looked up as Sergeant Rao stormed into the room. The man looked livid. His ears were actually red.
“I heard the pistol shot. Since there is no blood on you, I guess that Cadet Sada killed one of your men,” General Wynn said as if he was suggesting that Cadet Sada had stopped at the store on the way home to purchase a gallon of milk.
“He shot a snake.”
“Ah, we have quite a few of those around here. A good percentage of them are poisonous. It’s always good to hear that another has been killed. I suppose I ought to send a bunch of cadets over here one day and let them tromp through the grass. It’s a good way to get rid of snakes and it increases the cadet’s awareness of their surroundings, although they don’t have much room to improve.”
“You send your cadets into a grass field loaded with poisonous snakes?” Lieutenant Rao asked.
“Only inside the compound and around the administrative offices. The guards on the wall enjoy watching the snakes go after the small mammals that live in the field. If you are really observant, you can judge just how big the snake is by how much it disturbs the grass when it moves.
“Having them there is also a little surprise for anyone foolish enough to approach the Academy compound, off road. A man would have to be positively insane to attempt crossing that field on a midnight reconnaissance mission.”
That little comment took care of the red ears on Sergeant Rao. He paled thinking that he was planning on doing exactly that, later that night.
Lieutenant Rangan asked, “Why are you here, sergeant?”
“I want that cadet out of my sight.”
“What happened?” Lieutenant Rao asked.
“I had the men line up. Cadet Sada got in line facing backwards. When I went over to correct him, he pulled a loaded pistol on me. He then yelled at me, calling me an idiot. After he shot the snake he even dared to accuse me of dereliction of duty.”
“That’s absurd,” Lieutenant Rangan said.
General Wynn said, “It makes sense to me. You’re lucky you didn’t run up on a Shield. You’d have been killed.”
“What do you mean?”
“You always slowly approach someone on guard duty from the side where they can watch you in their peripheral vision. Running up on someone on guard duty from behind, and without announcing yourself, is basically an attack.”
“He wasn’t on guard duty. He was supposed to be standing in formation.”
“Let me guess: You had them standing in formation facing a wall with their backs to the field in an unsecured site.”
“I had them standing in formation.”
“Did you have guards posted?” General Wynn asked.
“No. There’s no reason to have guards posted.”
General Wynn said, “You are in unfamiliar territory. You are surrounded by people with whom you may be in conflict, because of your desire to conscript our cadets; you had your back to a field full of dangerous reptiles, which were likely to leave the field to sun themselves in the area you occupied; I would suggest that you had every reason in the world to post guards!”
He reached over and picked up his cup of coffee. He took a sip watching the sergeant over the lip of the cup. The sergeant was fuming. It seemed pretty obvious that Cadet Sada had told the man exactly the same thing.
“We are members of the Inran Army and no one would dare attack us inside our country,” Lieutenant Rao said.
“Except snakes. They don’t care if you’re wearing a uniform or not,” General Wynn said. He started to raise the cup for another sip and then lowered it as if he had a second thought to add. “Come to think of it, you were mentioning something about rebels. They might attack you.”
“He questions my authority.”
“Frankly, so do I,” General Wynn said.
“I outrank him.”
Making note that the sergeant continually referred to Cadet Sada as a male, General Wynn smiled at the thought of what would happen when he discovered that he was actually a she.
He said, “Actually, you don’t. Cadet Sada is not a member of your army, but is attached to your army for a specific purpose. Cadet Sada is not military and has no rank. In fact, someone in that position might actually be considered a civilian. What do you think, Lieutenant?”
As much as he hated to admit it, the general was right.
Finally, he said, “You’re right.”
“To give this little experiment a chance, I’ll let the cadet know to follow your orders so long as they do not jeopardize the cadet’s life. Would you say that is fair?”
“Yes,” Lieutenant Rangan said.
“I don’t like him,” Sergeant Rao said. “He’s trouble. His voice hasn’t changed yet, but he’s acting like a know it all.”
“I think that is what this whole experiment is all about. We want to see how easily our cadets would function in your organization,” General Wynn said thinking there was a very good reason why his voice hadn’t changed.
“Exactly,” Lieutenant Rao said.
General Wynn said, “Cadet Sada fired a shot and needs to clean the pistol. Why don’t you send Cadet Sada in here, so that I can talk with the cadet while the pistol is cleaned?”
“I’ll send him in,” Sergeant Rao said. He laughed and then added, “When he’s done cleaning his pistol, you let him know that we’re going to do some exercises. We’ll see how he likes a little ten mile run wearing that heavy crap he has on.”
“I think a light workout might be good for Cadet Sada,” General Wynn said with a smile.
General Wynn had a short chat with Cadet Sada while she cleaned her pistol. She made the lieutenant a little nervous with the way that she positioned her rifle so that it was close at hand while her pistol was apart.
The exercise was a light workout for Cadet Sada, although the Inran troops seemed to be dragging by the time they finished their run. She had been surprised when they had left their rifles in the truck before the exercise and during the ten mile run. On the other hand, the sergeant was surprised when the cadet did all of the calisthenics wearing the armor and with the weapons. It bothered him that the cadet didn’t drop to the ground at the end of the run, but walked around cooling off.
Most of the afternoon was spent doing nothing. The troops sat around indoors talking and playing cards. Cadet Sada sat in a corner of the room reading her math book. Sergeant Rao watched her thinking that the guy was an arrogant prick by not trying to blend in with the rest of the soldiers.
It was nearly ten o’clock at night when General Wynn called Lieutenant Rangan and Sergeant Rao into a room filled with monitors. The two men entered the room and stared at all of the equipment in the room. On four of the monitors they could see the soldiers moving around in the barracks. The men in there were giving slightly hostile glances in the direction of Cadet Sada.
“I hope you don’t mind if I record what happens in the dorm, tonight,” General Wynn said.
“I don’t know,” Lieutenant Rangan said.
Sergeant Rao said, “Look, young soldiers will occasionally razz a new recruit. It’s all part of bonding. We all know that there are times when things might get out of hand, but that’s just normal. I don’t want a tape of this being made so that you can file charges against them.”
“I’m well aware of that.”
Sergeant Rao said, “You get some punk boy who isn’t even old enough to shave being disrespectful to real men and there’s going to a little payback. It’s just how things are.”
He could easily imagine a little midnight action where the men would give the punk a little lesson in humility. Bars of soap in a sock could be quite instructive.
“I know,” General Wynn said.
“I don’t want a recording that will be used against the men,” Lieutenant Rao said.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’m not making the tape to prosecute your soldiers in case things get out of hand but to protect Cadet Sada from prosecution,” General Wynn said.
Lieutenant Rangan said, “I guess it would be okay.”
“Good,” General Wynn said.
The soldiers in the barracks started stripping down to their underwear in preparation for heading to bed. All of the Inra soldiers had picked beds at one end of the room. Cadet Sada selected a bed that was well separated from the beds the other soldiers were occupying.
“Look at that. He won’t even sleep near my men.”
“Cadet Sada isn’t much of a joiner,” General Wynn said.
Cadet Sada carefully placed a couple of folded blankets on the floor. She removed her weapons and placed them on the blankets. She then slid the stack under the bed she was using that night.
“I’m glad to see that Cadet Sada really takes care of hi ... er, the weapons.”
“I tried to get him to lock them up with the rest, but he wouldn’t give them up.”
“No cadet would ever give up his weapons unless they were dead.”
“That’s what he said.”
Then Cadet Sada removed her armor. She was wearing somewhat tight briefs that covered her body from waist to mid-thigh. She was wearing a tight tee-shirt that covered her chest. However, there was no doubt about her gender. Every man in the barracks turned to look at her.
“He’s a she!” Lieutenant Rangan shouted.
“A girl? What the hell?”
General Wynn said, “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t pick up on that earlier. Cadet Sada, like two thirds of our cadets, is female.”
“She can’t stay there.”
“Male and female cadets share dorm rooms, ten to a room. She won’t embarrassed by anything they might show her.”
“She shouldn’t stay there.”
Unconcerned, General Wynn said, “Don’t worry. She can take care of herself.”
“I don’t know.”
General Wynn pulled a microphone across the desk so that it was in front of him. He flipped a switch and spoke into the microphone, “Lights out in one minute.”