Hawk in a Chicken Coop
Chapter 2: A First Attempt at Conscription
Copyright© 2018 by Lazlo Zalezac
October 1, 1986
General Wynn, as was his habit, slowly walked along the walkway of the great wall inspecting the academy grounds. Every morning he would leave his townhouse and walk to the wall, climb the stairway to the top, and look out over the grounds. Then he would slowly make his way to the front gate, pausing occasionally to observe the students in their training. From the front gate, he would either continue his walk to the far side of the street upon which his townhouse was located or stop by the administrative offices. It usually took him an hour to complete his morning walk.
Today was one of those rare days when all six classes of cadets were out practicing their martial arts at the same time. It was an amazing sight looking out over all of those cadets. The sixth class, only in their first year, was still learning the basic forms with instructors walking around making major corrections to their positions. At the other end of the spectrum, the first class of cadets were now in their tenth year and were practicing advanced forms of multiple styles of martial arts including the newly introduced Assini style which was developed by Sun assassins several hundred years ago.
The first class, which had started out at a little over 300 students, had lost four due to a training accident, two cases of food poisoning, and one duel to the death. There was one cadet in a wheelchair who would never walk again, but she continued in the program focusing on rear echelon support functions. She still practiced a modified form of self defense that was appropriate for someone in a wheelchair.
The second class, which had started out at 300 students, had lost two due to health issues – one had succumbed to a bad case of food poisoning and the other to leukemia. During their first six months in the academy, there had been a lot of cases of food poisoning among this group. A simple shift in what kinds of foods were served cut back the number of cases significantly. However, the cadets were entering the phase of training where accidents could have long term consequences.
They cut back the size of the third class to 200 students. There were fewer cases of food poisoning and none of the cadets died from eating spoiled food. They did lose one cadet to a snake bite. This class was now in its sixth year of training and was beginning to learn how to use a variety of weapons, many of which offered plenty of potential for self injury.
The fourth class retained the 200-student level since it had proven to be much easier to manage and oversee that number of students. So far they hadn’t lost any students of that class although a few had managed to break an arm or a leg. This class seemed to be particularly aggressive for some reason. It was speculated among the staff that the cadets were trying to emulate the cadets in the first, second and third classes.
The fifth and sixth classes were kept to the 200-student level, as well. Now it was more a matter of resources available to watch them than it being an easier number of students to manage. It took an awful lot of staff to watch over 1400 cadets.
It still wouldn’t be accurate to say that the academy ran like a well-oiled machine. There were a lot of students out on that lawn and it seemed like every day one or two the cadets had a bright idea that would get them in trouble. They definitely kept the staff on their toes.
The first three classes of cadets finally finished practicing their forms. They drifted off in several directions, heading for specialization classes that would ultimately place them in one of several cadres. It was expected that a cadet would declare a cadre at the start of their ninth year which would give them three years of advanced training.
Swords were specialized in assault operations in which they went into enemy territory in pursuit of mission objectives. There were the basic skills associated with effective utilization of weapons and explosives, but there were also hours spent studying and practicing historical battles and tactics. They studied psychology, terrain, weather, navigation and survival. They were also expected to know medicine not only in terms of treating illness and wounds, but how the body responded to various kinds of stress.
Shields were specialized in defense operations in which they provided a defense against enemy assaults through construction of defensive structures, layout of operating bases, securing facilities, and fighting off assaults on bases. They were to know engineering and construction. They studied material properties, sensor technologies, and communications. They were to be warriors able to guard facilities and fight off attacks.
Hearths were trained in daily support operations such as maintenance, logistics, medicine, housing and entertainment. Hearths had the widest range of specializations of any of the cadres. It could be something as simple as doing laundry all the way to being a physician. It was focused on keeping Swords and Shield at peak performance levels by making sure they were well fed, well rested and physically healthy. While Swords tended to be aggressive and Shields tended to be paranoid, Hearths were caring and nurturing. For orphans who had lost their birth families, the chance to care for their new family was very enticing.
Carts were specialized in transportation including the movement of supplies and people. If something could be operated to move anything from one place to another, Carts studied it. They studied everything including carrying things on their backs, using pack animals, carts, bicycles, vehicles, boats, planes, and helicopters. They studied load balancing, packaging, navigation, impact of terrain, and a dozen other things associated with assuring that things or people arrived in one piece and on time.
Pens were specialized in using language to greatest effect. This included things like negotiation, public relations, sales, purchasing, and law. They specialized in languages, often speaking a dozen or more. They also studied psychology, and business.
The cadre system was a fairly effective means of separating responsibilities for a mercenary force. Pens negotiated contracts for Swords to fulfill. Shields provided secure locations from which Swords could mount offensives. Hearths made sure that everyone was at peak performance, and Carts made sure that people and things got to where they were needed.
The Cadre system was intended to allow cadets to focus on a set of specialized skills. It was not intended to limit a cadet in terms of taking non-cadre oriented training. A cadet wanting to become a Sword could study cooking and gain a high rating in it without impacting his or her ability to become a Sword.
It was recognized that no one could know all of the areas of knowledge necessary in a cadre so there was a rating system that identified the competence in individual bodies of knowledge. Thus, a Cart might have high ratings in operating boats, but a low rating in operating aircraft. When it came time to use a boat, a Cart with a high rating in boats would have greater authority than a Cart with a high rating only in aircraft. In many cases, it was the rating within a body of knowledge that was more important than the whole of the Cadre.
The rating system provided a far more fluid command structure than any based on rank. Although rank often reflected overall experience, a rating reflected specific experience within a specialized field. In order to effectively command in rank, it required the rank and the experience. In order to effectively command in a rating, all it required was the rating because that was also a measure of experience.
Upon graduation from cadet to Jade Warrior, the individual will have had twelve years of intense education, and harsh practical training as a warrior. Even after graduation, a Jade Warrior was expected to continue gaining new ratings and improve existing ratings.
It was with this in mind that General Wynn watched Cadet Sada leave the training field. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do with the young woman. Cadet Sada had master ratings in over twenty different areas, but not a single expert rating. She had ratings in areas that would nearly qualify her for Sword, Shield, or Hearth. When asked to commit to a cadre, she just shook her head and declined. Recently, she had the signed up for specialization classes that were typically associated with Hearth.
He called down, “Send Cadet Sada up here.”
He could see the request get passed along, moving from one cluster of cadets to another until it reached Cadet Sada. Even from a distance he could see the grimace on the young woman’s face when the request finally got to her. General Wynn grinned knowing that there was nothing quite as unpleasant as getting called to talk to the old man.
Cadet Sada picked up the pace and jogged towards the nearest stairway up to the wall. She took the steps two at time until she reached the walkway. She then jogged over to where General Wynn was waiting for her.
“You wanted me?”
“Walk with me while I complete my morning rounds,” General Wynn said while beginning to resume his walk.
“I’ve never been up here before. It’s an amazing view of the training field,” Cadet Sada said trailing slightly behind General Wynn.
“I like the view from up here, particularly when all six classes of cadets are practicing their forms. I enjoy seeing the contrast between the first years and the tenth years.”
“It’s hard to believe that I was ever so clumsy.”
“Well, you’ve had ten years of training and they’ve only had a couple months. I would hope that there would be a little difference after ten years.”
“I suppose so. Still, they’re just so short.”
General Wynn chuckled at the comment. He asked, “Do you know what the Sergeant Major said when I asked what he thought of our first class shortly after you arrived?”
“He said, ‘They’re the shortest bunch of recruits I’ve ever seen.’ I’ll never forget how he said it in that droll dry manner of his.”
“That’s is funny, but if I may ask ... who is the Sergeant Major?”
“Excuse me, I meant Teacher Washington.”
“Ah! Knowing Teacher Washington, I can just imagine how he said it, too. He is a master of understatement at times.”
“Yes, he is.”
Sada, as did all of the other cadets who had gone through year six of training, had spent long hours every day learning how to aim a rifle or a pistol without assuming any specific firing position. He called it John Wayne-shooting although she had no idea who John Wayne was. In class, each cadet was handed specially made replicas of his or her assigned pistols and rifles. The replica had a built in laser pointer. It was a very new invention that flashed when the trigger was pulled. The cadets were told about an invisible line that extended through the barrel of their weapon to whatever target at which the weapon was pointed. They were to adjust the orientation of the weapon until the line was on the target, and then pull the trigger to see if it actually was on target.
At first, it was frustrating when the dot was usually ten feet from the target. Hours of practice, every day for a full year, instilled a kind of hand, eye, mind, and weapon coordination that slowly became automatic. When they could run through the combat course and make a perfect score, they were judged to have achieved a rating of master in the weapon, rifle or pistol, depending upon the weapon used.
An expert rating was when one could hit ten targets while falling after being pushed off a platform. All ten targets had to be hit before shooter landed in the water. It was a fall of ten feet, but Teacher Washington was an expert at making sure the fall included a lot of rotation! This particular drill used the replicas with the laser pointer, and heaven help the cadet who shot Teacher Washington with it. The result was not pretty.
Cadet Sada had managed to get up to seven hits on target before hitting the water, so she hadn’t achieved the expert rating. Teacher Washington suspected that Cadet Sada had intentionally been slow in acquiring targets just to avoid getting an expert rating. She denied it, although without that much energy in her voice.
“Teacher Washington was always a little disappointed in you.”
“Well, he’d watch you practice and score well enough to quality for expert, but every time that you were officially tested ... you blew it.”
“It’s frustrating,” Cadet Sada said without sounding frustrated at all.
“You don’t sound frustrated.”
“I’m good at hiding my frustrations.”
“Ah, that must be it,” General Wynn said wryly.
The two of them walked for another hundred yards without talking. Cadet Sada kept looking over the wall every couple of steps. Unlike the short cropped grass inside the compound, the grass outside was quite tall. With the air still, she’d catch little movements in the grass suggesting something was moving around in it. She knew enough about the local wildlife, particularly the reptilian forms, to know better than to walk around in that grass without wearing hip boots and armor.
They reached a cadet standing guard on the wall. She was looking out over the area surrounding the compound. When they passed behind her, she quickly moved to the side to keep them in sight using her peripheral vision. Having someone stand behind her gave her an itch between the shoulders.
General Wynn asked, “Anything moving around out there?”
“Only snakes and small mammals.”
“I hear that answer quite a lot.”
“That’s because small mammals and the snakes that eat them are the only things that move out there on a regular basis. We don’t even get that many birds. They stay in the jungle.”
“Well, keep a sharp eye out,” General Wynn said.
“Always,” the cadet replied.
General Wynn resumed walking. Cadet Sada followed behind him. They walked for several hundred feet without talking.
He said, “I heard that you did quite well in the equestrian arts.”
“I achieved a master rating in it. I had a bit of trouble when going for the expert rating.”
“If I remember right, you missed the first melon on the saber cavalry charge, you went around a couple of obstacles rather than over them, and ... what was the last thing?”
“My horse was slow.”
“Your horse was slow?”
“Weren’t you riding the horse that holds the course record?”
“Yes, I was. He may have been having a bad day,” Cadet Sada said, “or I wasn’t getting the best out of him that day.”
“You don’t seem upset about it. I’d be upset if I fell two points short of receiving an expert rating.”
“You win some and you lose some.”
“You appear to be doing more than your fair share of losing.”
“You might be right,” Cadet Sada said.
They reached the corner in the wall. A cadet was standing there looking out across the open space surrounding the complex. The cadet had been aware of their approach for a long time but didn’t turn around to challenge them. They had been noticed, assessed as friends, and dismissed as much as was possible for having someone standing behind her. There was always that itchy feeling when her back was to someone.
General Wynn asked, “Anything moving around out there?”
“Only snakes and small mammals.”
“This morning was busy with the typical traffic to and from the administration complex. All cars identified and accounted for.”
“Good. Keep your eyes open. I’m expecting visitors.”
“Could be,” General Wynn said. “They weren’t invited.”
“Thanks for the warning,” the cadet said.
The pair walked away from the cadet at the corner post. They walked without talking for another fifty feet. She kept glancing at the General wondering why he wanted to talk to her. So far, he hadn’t said much of anything substantive.
General Wynn said, “I heard that you were part of the operation in town.”
“Yes, I was.”
“What did you think of the Inrans?”
“To tell the truth, I wasn’t impressed at all. We could have run them over with the truck and they’d have never known what hit them. I still can’t believe how unaware of their surroundings they were.”
“They were constables and their training is a bit different from that of a soldier. How would you like to meet a few of their soldiers?”
“That might be interesting. I’d hope that they would be a little bit better than the constables. It might be nice to see them in action,” Cadet Sada said.
“That could be arranged.”
“Do you mean I could take a tour of their base?”
“Not exactly,” General Wynn said cryptically.
Cadet Sada was a little confused by the answer. What did ‘not exactly’ involve? It didn’t sound promising.
“Could you be a clearer?”
“Not at the moment,” General Wynn said. “Let’s walk a little faster. I’d like to reach the gate before our uninvited guests arrive.”
Much to her surprise, Cadet Sada had to increase her pace to keep up with the General. Although he wasn’t that old, to her 15-year-old eyes he was almost ancient. The way he was moving, she didn’t think he’d be able to talk much. She guessed that he wasn’t going to tell her anything until after the uninvited guests left.
They hadn’t take more than ten steps when he said, “I was informed that they were getting ready to leave for here about thirty minutes ago. It’s a thirty minute drive from the local outpost. I figure it probably took them five minutes to get loaded and on the way. How much would you like to bet that they won’t be here within ten minutes?”
“I’m not sure what a bet is.”
Her ignorance shouldn’t have been unexpected. Five-year-old orphans don’t know anything about gambling. Making bets and gambling had never really been discussed at the academy, although it did come up in the context of their war studies. General So-and-so gambled it all on the outcome of this-or-that. Their statistics course discussed probabilities and odds, but not in terms of gambling. General Wynn wondered if he should correct that deficiency or not.
“Sorry, what do you think are the odds that they won’t be here in less than ten minutes?”
“They should arrive here with five minutes to spare,” she answered.
“I doubt it. I expect them to get lost at least once on the way here.”
“Really?” she asked in disbelief.
She had studied maps of the area and knew exactly where they would be coming from and the route they should follow. It seemed to her that following roads was much easier than cross-country navigation and she couldn’t see how they could possibly get lost. Of course, navigation was another of those areas in which she was rated a master, but wasn’t rated an expert (she had navigated the boat a hundred feet off the proper location).
“I find that very difficult to accept.”
“Navigation ... Wasn’t that another area where you failed to get rated as an expert?”
“I was two degrees off on my last turn during the ocean portion of the test,” she said.
“That’s right. I find it interesting that you zig-zagged across miles of ocean and, on your very last turn, you missed it by two degrees.”
“It was frustrating,” she said.
“Strange, you don’t sound all that frustrated,” he said.
They reached another cadet standing guard on the wall watching over the area outside the compound. Like the first cadet, this one moved a few paces farther away as they approached and then a few paces back once they passed him.
“Mostly snakes and small mammals,” the cadet said.
“I didn’t even ask the question yet,” General Wynn said somewhat amused.
“You ask the same question every morning. You get the same answer almost every morning.”
“A couple flew past earlier. They don’t like to leave the jungle.”
“Keep a sharp eye out, we’re expecting visitors.”
“It could be.”
“Thanks for the warning.”