Three weeks later Annalisa King dropped down out of the sky in Hilton Head, South Carolina, a city on an island on the U. S. eastern seaboard. She landed atop the terminal of the small international airport there. At a command Pegasus unfolded its shields from around her and she became visible. He took up his usual invisible station a yard above her.
She approached the door in a closet-like box which housed the entrance to stairs downward. She tried the knob and found it unlocked from this side. She had suspected it would be.
Anna entered the stairs and came out onto the main concourse. It was moderately busy in the early evening. She asked a woman at one of the gates where the Marine-recruit waiting area was. Getting directions, she walked till she came to the waiting area set aside for recruits. About two dozen were there along with a Marine staff sergeant in camouflage utilities and boots and a flat-brimmed hat. She approached the sergeant and handed him her papers.
He examined them, examined her, said, “Sit over there. Be quiet.”
Anna returned the papers to her blue-plastic folder, obeyed, closed her eyes, and used Tiara to examine the people around her, then the larger area, and watched the sergeant briefly.
For more than an hour she sat perfectly still, browsing the internet via Tiara. Her stillness began to bother the sergeant, so she opened her eyes, stood, approached him, and said, “May this recruit visit the head?”
He blinked. This form of third-person reference was how recruits in training were supposed to refer to themselves, never as “I.” Nevertheless, he gave permission.
Anna visited the restroom and spent several needless minutes in a stall, then returned to her seat. Thereafter, though she remained still, she occasionally opened her eyes, shifted her weight, and looked around, before becoming still again.
Such could not be said for the other recruits. There was a lot of fidgeting and attempts to talk or walk around which were met with reprimands. Every once in a while another late arrival showed up. Then no one for two hours, then one last hurrying man.
At midnight the sergeant barked an order to follow him. He walked out of the waiting area through a door onto the front of the airport. Waiting at the curb was a large yellow bus. The recruits boarded when their name was called. Anna sent Pegasus up about fifty feet with orders to feed her information about her surroundings.
Anna was halfway down the list. She found a window seat midway down the aisle, sat, and closed her eyes.
Silently overhead Pegasus followed the bus. Anna idly traced their generally westward passage through the small city from its viewpoint. The images she saw were a synthesis of infrared, intensified starlight, her “gravity radar,” and photos taken by the Mapper military satellites. The scene was full-color and stereoscopic.
They passed over a couple of bridges which brought them to the mainland. This was like the island, flat, with a mix of trees and pastureland, though this was visible to those in the bus only dimly via the narrow corridor of the bus’s headlights.
After twenty minutes or so they turned north, went a few miles, then turned east. Another twenty minutes brought them over a bridge and then over a long causeway over a river. They were now near Parris Island. The training center was another ten minutes or so away.
They entered a small city lit by street lights and those lights outside various buildings. A bit later they crossed under a sign reading WE MAKE MARINES.
A few blocks later the bus pulled up near a two-story red brick building. A sergeant wearing the traditional flat-brimmed hat of a drill sergeant bounded up into the bus.
“NOW! Listen up, sit up!” He let moments pass while everyone oriented on him. “Now! Out! Out! Out!”
The recruits rushed out of the bus to be directed to stand nearly back-to-belly-to-back on a set of yellow footsteps on the concrete.
“Now. Pay attention to these two articles from the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The law you will live under as long as you are in the Marines.”
He glared at them.
“You will not strike another Marine. You may not run away from your unit. Either of those will earn you punishment.”
Another long pause, then he pointed at a red-brick building and yelled at them to get inside, sit, be silent.
Anna was not bothered by the yelling. She’d read a lot about how Marine training was done and knew what to expect: lots of techniques to break civilians down and remake them into soldiers who’d obey orders instantly and automatically. The yelling was the least of those techniques.
The doors of the building were open and two other sergeants stood on each side of the doors. The recruits nearly ran up short stairs and into a large classroom starkly lit with neon lights. Most of the floor was covered with metal desk chairs with attached desks. They hurriedly sat.
The sergeant followed them inside and took up station behind a lectern in front of and to one side of a huge flat screen. The screen lit. He pointed out several vocabulary words they would henceforth use. Not floor but deck. Not door but hatch. Not pants but trousers.
He had them write a number on their hands with a magic marker resting on the desk: 4044.
“This is your platoon. It is your address for the next 12 weeks. Use the pen in front of you to write it in the From: area on the envelope in front of you. Write the address of your home in the To: area. Then read the enclosed letter.”
The letter was from the commander of the center. It said the recruit had arrived safely and could be written to at the From: address on the outside of the envelope. It said a few other things about the importance of the service they would render their country and of the training to make them ready for that task.
Next they were told to inventory their clothing by checking off and writing in blanks on a standard form lying on the desk. This included shirt and jacket (if any), pants, shoes, cell phone, info slate, jewelry or other such wearable items, wallet, drivers license, passport, cash, credit cards. Those would go into storage in the next room.
“One item you will be allowed to keep: a neck chain with a SMALL religious pendant such as Christian cross or Muslim crescent. But, if you can, put it in with ‘jewelry’ since it is easy to get lost during the vigorous training activities. And we will not allow searches for such lost items.”
A long list of contraband items would go into the orange trash barrel on the entrance to the next room: drugs, sex protection, snacks, drinks, weapons, lighters, etc.
Then the recruits were sent two at a time into the next room. There they received clothing and foot wear after being measured by a 3D computer imager. They then were give one minute behind a privacy screen to change out of their clothing into the recruit clothing.
Anna managed it do it so quickly that she had time to blouse her pants leg bottoms into her auto-closing boots precisely as they should be. This was not quite as impressive as it might seem, since she had JRTOC training and had been silently and invisibly shadowing recruit training for much of the three weeks between enlisting and now.
That done, they returned to the two people issuing clothing and placed everything on their inventory list into a box. It was then sealed and that fact witnessed by the two personnel and the two recruits, who signed their names to the inventory list which then was taped to the box of property. This was digitally scanned and the information transmitted to the Training Command database computers.
A duffel bag was then given to each recruit containing two blankets, three sets of underwear, and several other items which they’d need in the dozen weeks on Parris Island.
Lastly each recruit was sent through a room in which all their head and face hair was removed. Anna skipped this since she’d had Tiara remove all the hair on her head just hours ago. Thus she was sent to stand at the head of one of four lines on the floor with more yellow footprints.
In less than a minute another recruit was behind her, nearly pressed against her in his attempt to place his feet over the yellow images. By mistake he brushed against her back and whispered Sorry. She said nothing.
It was now almost 4:00 am. Anna felt sorry for the rest of the recruits. Most had been up for nearly twelve hours now and some of them were reeling a bit. She, with her superior physiology inherited from her Confederation parents, felt no fatigue at all.
They were given a brief basic instruction in marching and went two blocks to their barracks.
Inside the large room were bunk beds arranged in four rows of ten beds, two rows on each side of a central walkway. Two white lines at the edge of the walkway made for a lane a yard wide. They were lined up toes to white line on each side of the lane, their duffle bags lying beside and behind them.
The sergeant walked up then down the aisle, eyeing the recruits. Periodically he shook his head in apparent disgust. Two other sergeants, not noticeably of lesser rank, one of them a woman, did their own inspection. These sergeants were focusing on clothing details and posture, stopping frequently to quietly correct problems.
Finishing his once-over the sergeant came to the center of the aisle and spoke. FORBES was the name sewn onto the right breast of his uniform.
“Sad. Sad. That the Marines have such sorry stuff to work with. But work we will. When you leave here you will either be a civilian or a deadly warrior able to be the cutting edge of any ground conflict.
“NOW. You’ll stow your gear and learn to make beds. You are assigned bunks according to the alphabet. That–” He pointed toward the entrance to the long rectangular hall. Entering, they had passed a restroom and a large shower stall. “–is A. The other end is Z. When I tell you, take your duffel and find your bunk by examining the name taped atop the locker at the foot of your bunk.
“Open the locker. Remove the pillow and place it on your bunk. Put the contents of your duffel, and the duffel folded neatly, inside the locker. EXCEPT one blanket, one sheet, and one pillow case. Those you will put on the bunk. Then you will stand at the head of the bunk facing this center aisle. NOW!”
The room exploded into chaos. Anna waited a few seconds while the surrounding recruits ran away from her, then with one hand smoothly swung the heavy duffel up onto a shoulder and walked quickly but calmly to her bunk. The alphabetic bunk assignment made it easy to find. Her short delay meant that there were few people in her way.
At the bunk she followed the instructions. She was done before anyone else. Going to the head of the bunk she observed the recruits closest to her. She delayed a second to pick up a pillow beside one bunk, swat it to remove any dust, and drop it onto the bunk. Even so she was at the head of her bunk staring into space before anyone else.
One of the two satellite sergeants who were assisting Sergeant Forbes drifted by her, observing the other recruits. He quietly said, “JROTC?” without looking at her.
“SIR, yes, sir.” Bookending each answer with Sir was what the main sergeant had told them earlier.
“Sir, yes, sir.”
Anna in her last two years of high school had taken Junior ROTC and attended a camp in the summer between. But her efficiency came naturally to her. Such as the delays which ended up speeding her overall actions. As did her urge to help others such as the recruit with the errant pillow.
Some of the recruits lagged behind the others. The longer the delay the more attention they received. The last recruit had a sergeant to left and right urging her on.
She looked harried but not flustered. She finished her tasks properly.
Anna made note of her. It would be interesting to see if the woman was naturally slow or thought too much when she worked.
She might also be a worthy companion in the chaos of a firefight.
“NOW,” said Sergeant Forbes from the center of the long aisle. His voice was pitched loud enough so that even the most distant recruit could hear him.
“Pitiful. But maybe a microscopic bit better. A few of you show promise. But don’t get cocky. Cocky gets you killed. We spit on cocky. We stomp on cocky.
“You will now learn to make bunks. We’ll start from the A direction. The first four bunks on each side will learn first. Sergeants.”
With that the two assisting sergeants stepped from their locations at the A end of the aisle to the beds indicated. The four recruits watched as each sergeant slowly showed how to cover the pillows with their cases, apply the bed sheet so that each of its four corners were neatly boxed with edges folded a certain way and tucked underneath the corners, and the blanket folded a certain way and placed at the foot of the bunk.
Then the bed sheets and blankets were pulled into crumpled piles and dropped onto the middle of the bed. The recruits were set to copying the assistant sergeants.
Anna’s first try at making her bed when it came her turn to do so was nearly perfect. Nevertheless the sergeant crumpled the bed clothes and ordered her to do it again. And again. And again until all four bunks were done to a certain minimum.
Through it all she remained calm and moved quickly and efficiently. She’d known all recruits would be treated this way.
When the Z end of the room had finished Sergeant Forbes announced it was time for chow. He gave instructions on how they were to proceed. Soon the 40 women and men were marching erratically five blocks to a cafeteria. Here they were ushered through the two serving lines serving only recruits. There were no choices here, as there were for the other four lines for regular Marines and civilians.
Anna piled her plate high with eggs and sausage and toast and orange juice. Seated at a silent round table with other recruits she ate quickly but with great enjoyment. The food might be basic but it was cooked well.
Fifteen minutes only were allowed from the moment they sat down to the moment they stood up. Anna was not the only one to finish with minutes to spare. She memorized who her fellow efficient eaters were. The information might come in handy some day.
Next they were marched to a building and broken up into five groups by alphabet. Eight officer psychologists spoke to eight recruits at a time in as many private offices.
“Annalisa King,” said the greying forty-something year old man in grey-and-brown camouflage uniform with Captain’s bars on his shoulders. “Sit and be comfortable. Slouch if that will make you feel better. We have 15 minutes to talk about anything whatsoever. Then 15 minutes about subjects essential to you and your possible career.”
Anna smiled and sat relaxed but by no means sloppily, one leg crossed over the other.
“Say,” she said. “What’s with those Cardinals?” A glimmer of a smile showed on her perfect lips.
Captain Alexandriou (his name tag said) chuckled.
“Cocky?” he said.
“We spit on cocky. We stomp on cocky.”
“Melodramatic, I admit. Also true.”
“I know, Mario. I enjoy the silliness of the lines. But I also know the awful failures that can come from over-confidence.”
“Interesting that you would assert that you are my equal despite the gulf in our ages and statuses.”
“You are an excellent judge of character. I can read that on you, not by making assumptions about an experienced officer with a psychology degree. I too am an excellent judge.”
He looked at her steadily for long seconds. She looked back. Tiara told her much about his mood and mental state. It also gave Anna an overview of his background summarized on the internet, including the most secure sites. To a computer from a super-advanced civilization there were no online secrets.
“So,” he said, “how are you feeling about your experiences so far?”
“I feel perfectly fine. So far the drill instructors and the whole recruitment training process is working well.”
“You don’t feel stressed?”
“This is what I expected. And it would take a lot more than this to stress me.”
“I see no signs of exhaustion.”
“I can go for days without sleep. Then the usual sleep-deprivation psychoses begin to kick in.”
He examined her dossier on his computer screen, more to give him time to think than for the information on it. She’d have bet he’d done a quick once-over of it before calling her into the room.
“Why did you want to go through the enlisted program rather than the officer channels? You’d have excelled in that program, too.”
“At this time it’s best for me to become a Marine scout/sniper. An enlisted specialty. I am supremely deadly and driven. Something in the civilian life along the same line would not be good for me or for our country. And that’s true even more for any covert government programs which we might have. I want to be a protector, not an assassin.”
He examined her thoughtfully for long moments, then said, “I agree and am so recommending.”
He wrote a decisive few sentences on the terminal, then touched the Send prompt. Tiara reviewed the form and summarized the likely reception it would meet when it was called up by those who used such forms. Her conclusion matched Anna’s intentions.
“I’ve enjoyed this chat. I wish all of them had such a happy conclusion.”
“I’ll do my best to help those around me with their problems, Dr. Alexandriou.”
“I hope we meet again under less formal circumstances.”
“I’m sure we will. Though it might be a few years in the future. You now are part of my…cohort.”
Anna had been released a few minutes earlier than most of the recruits. So there were three more groups of eight to go through the interview with the head doctors. Most of the 24 recruits looked at least a bit nervous.
“How’d it go in there, King?” said one of the recruits seated near Anna. He spoke very quietly and they all covertly eyed the one sergeant who was overseeing them. He didn’t seem to be paying much attention to them, however.
Anna guessed the “inattention” was a ruse but decided to act as if it was not. She answered in the same quiet tones.
“OK. They’re Navy or Marines. So they’re looking out for the service. But they were all doctors before they were officers. I THINK they’re looking out for us, too.”
He turned to the nearest recruit. “The King said it’s OK.”
“THE King?” She already had a nickname? She knew it would happen. Everybody got a nickname in close groups like these, though she’d expected it to take days and weeks. Then she realized her mistake.
The recruits had been deliberately and accidentally cut off from all their previous family and friends. And many of those had not been close or caring. So they watched the sergeants as closely as dogs watched their masters. To ensure they took care of them and didn’t abuse them, much.
But they also watched those around them closely, too. For the next few weeks at least the other recruits were their family. They might even be family for years and decades to come.
So they’d noticed that Anna was calm, efficient, and helpful. They couldn’t help but imprint on her.
Or come to hate her. That, too, went with being outstanding.
The next few days were not that stressful. The yelling and rushing stayed the same but the confusion diminished. They could now all march, though still imperfectly. Terminology was beginning to sink in. They could salute, and knew who to salute and who not to. The daily routine was established. Sleeping and waking habits were becoming habit.
Agonizing to many were the physical tests: pull-ups, push-ups, running, crawling. Even those in mostly good physical condition found they had weak areas.
Anna stood out. No matter what was asked of her she could do, easily and accurately. Her reflex tests were off the charts. When she had to move fast her arms and legs were a blur. And she seemed to have eyes in the back of her head.
A big skinny boy, Anson, was a bit of a class clown. While some of them, including Anna, were waiting for several others to finish an exercise he threw a clod of dirt at her back.
She merely leaned to one side and it flew by her. Without turning she said, more as if she were curious than anything else, “Anson. Do you really want to get your ass kicked?”
“Marines don’t hit Marines. You can’t kick my ass.”
“Oh, boy. You don’t know that soon we’re going to be learning hand-to-hand combat? And practicing on each other? I can practice real good on you, Funny Boy.”
Which was how Anson became Funny Boy. He bore the name proudly. Every name The King gave made the recruits proud.
The best day was when they were issued their rifle. It was in perfect condition, new except for being test fired. In the next weeks it would be their constant companion until they were discharged or graduated. It and its successors would save their lives and those of their comrades and of those they were charged to protect. It stayed in a rack on each side of the barracks. It was part of them, and made them who they were.
They learned to call it their weapon by learning an immortal saying. “This is my weapon, this is my gun. This is for business, this is for fun.”
One third of the recruits were women, who had become fully integrated into combat several years ago. They thought this mantra hilarious. At least when Anna amended the ending reference to a penis.
“This is my weapon, this is my gun. This is for business, this is just funny.”
On Monday the stress returned, intensified. They were marched to a different barracks right after chow, duffels over their shoulders and rifles held crossed in front of them. This barracks (they now saw) was the actual 4044 platoon building.
They were given just a few minutes to hurriedly rack their rifles, unpack their duffle into a new locker, and dress their bunks.
Then they were marched to a nearby drill field. Three officers, the highest the base commander, spoke to them of the high-minded ideals and tough realities of being a Marine.
The officers vacated the area and the recruits were attacked verbally by five sergeants, one of whom wore the black belt of primary drill instructor, the rest his assistants who wore green belts over their camo uniforms. They were insulted to their faces from an inch away by the green belts, never with obscenities but with more scalding criticisms.
Anna got the most attention. At one time all four assistant drill sergeants stood around her haranguing her. At one time two of them were giving her contradictory instruction about how many pushups she should do.
She remained perfectly calm and did all that was required of her, doing both sets of pushups like a perfectly maintained machine. This time, due to the level of punishment, she called on Suit to aid her slightly to maintain this perfection.
Finally one of the sergeants issued a “dumb insolence” demerit, the first she’d ever been given, and the DIs abandoned her for another victim.
Anna finished the last of the pushups and rose smoothly to stand at parade rest in the ranks. She was only lightly sweating and breathing barely faster and more deeply than usual.
Sergeant Finley, the primary drill instructor who would take the 4044 the rest of the way through their training, ambled by. He stopped, looked her over.
“Did you deserve that dumb-insolence demerit?”
“Sir, this recruit must have, sir.”
“No, I think not. But I can’t erase it. Carry on, recruit.”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
Anna thought she knew what was happening. It was like those cop shows she’d seen, with one cop playing the bad cop and the other the good cop. The criminal would be so frightened of the bad cop he would open up to the protective good cop. Except in this case there were four bad cops and one fatherly good cop: the primary DI.
But she felt little fear. She had read much in the encyclopedia contained in Tiara about the history and nature of the Human Interstellar Confederacy. It had over many centuries cautiously improved the genes of the human race. When highly stressed her body did not spew massive doses of adrenaline into her body to protect itself with desperate measures. Instead it roused her to peak efficiency in some other ways. Ways which used only small amounts of adrenaline.
In the days to come Sergeant Finley and two of the four green-belted DIs from the first day fully in 4044 began a more methodical training schedule. There were short classroom lessons in the laws of the UCMJ, first aid, military organization, and so on. There were tests on each subject.
Anna of course passed each with perfect scores. As she did when tested in the field by screaming sergeants while she was marching, running, crawling under obstacles. She was given more dumb-insolence demerits despite her perfect answers.
Early in the third week they were marched to a drill field and instructed in the use of pugil sticks. These were plastic sticks about a yard long, the length of their rifle, and two inches thick. On each end were tough foam rubber cylinders about four inches through and six long.
The instructions were in their use as simulated bayonets and rifles butts used as weapons. The recruits were dressed in padded clothing and helmets.
The first bouts were done on a wooden platform a foot off the ground and about a yard wide and six yards long. Three pairs of recruits preceded Anna.
Perhaps coincidentally, she was paired with the biggest and toughest of all the recruits. They faced off about two yards apart.
She waited to see what Bear (a nickname she’d bestowed upon him) would do. He was hesitant to hit her, maybe because she was female, or respected by him, or possibly plain fear. By now The King was a known quantity to all the recruits.
The DI began shouting at him, urging him to kill her, kill her!
She nodded at him and he charged, swinging wildly. She easily deflected all his blows and backed up in a sliding foot motion which tested the surface behind and beneath her feet.
The sergeant was screaming at her to fight, pussy, fight! A derogatory term which would earn him a reprimand that night from his superior as sexist and not in the best traditions of the Corps.
After a half dozen buffets she began to strike back as well as deflect. Soon he was beginning to be pushed back, and back.
Just before he’d fall off the platform behind him she eased up and called out to him.
“Attack again. More science, more science!”
They began a bout in earnest, back and forth, her leading him to smarter and fiercer action.
The sergeant, Conley, yelled at them to break it off. At that Anna made a deflection with one end of the stick which flowed smoothly into a bayonet-like jab to the gut with the other end. Bear collapsed before her.
As he did so Anna reversed the stick and struck down on his head as with a rifle butt. She pulled her punch to merely stun him. If she’d used her full strength the blow would have killed him despite all his padding and that of the stick.
Sergeant Conley told a couple of recruits to get that “trash” off the platform. They hurriedly got up and dragged Bear away. The sergeant jumped on the platform and began to berate Anna for “playing” and lacking fighting spirit and so on. She listened calmly and apparently with great interest to him.
She was given another dumb-insolence demerit.
In the next week the pugil sticks were wielded again, this time from a narrow rope-and-plank bridge twenty feet above a stream of water. When it came Anna’s turn she was set upon by two recruits on both front and back sides of her.
Again she “played” with them, teaching them more than the DIs could, by egging them on and quietly instructing them in the midst of furious activity. Screamed at to finish she did so with two whirling strikes too fast for human eyes to follow.
One recruit collapsed backward onto the bridge. The other reeled sideways and pitched over the waist-high rope parapet strung all along both sides of the swaying bridge.
He did not attempt to halt his fall, too stunned perhaps. Anna dropped her pugil stick and was at the parapet in time to grab one wrist, then the other, and haul him back up onto the platform.
She received a demerit for insufficient fierceness, two for interfering with training (she should have let her opponent fall into the water), and five for “losing her weapon.”
Now in the fourth week of their training recruits were allowed Sunday mornings for chapel or other religious observance and afternoons for leisure activity.
As in the previous weekend Anna spent the afternoon after lunch studying and taking care of her gear: shining shoes, disassembling and re-assembling her rifle and practicing cleaning it. This was unnecessary because as yet the recruits had not been allowed to fire their rifles but it was good practice.
This time she had an audience. As she’d had the week before, but then only with three recruits. This time she had thirteen surrounding her bunk: one leaning on a support column, several on the edges of nearby bunks, and several more squatting or lying on the floor.
There was much good-natured bad-mouthing of each other and an occasional insulting remark about this DI or that.
Anna put a quick end to the last.
“Shut your mouth unless you have a real complaint. That you take to the chaplains or the admin corrections office. These ‘clowns’ are teaching you how to live through combat.”
Funny Boy Anson had a serious comment for once.
“They don’t seem to be teaching you much. You already know it all.”
“It only looks like it. I went through JROTC and read a lot about what we would be going through here. I’m ahead of the rest of you but I’m not fooled into thinking that I know it all. They have real experience I can’t match.”
“They just seem to yell at us a lot and hurry us too fast to do a good job.”
“That’s tame compared to what it’s going to really be like in the middle of a firefight. All that yelling and hurrying is training us to overcome the stress and fog of war. You’ve heard that phrase? Think sometimes about being in a REAL firefight and how you’d do.”
There were moments of quiet. But soon the chatting started up again, about the upcoming pugil stick practice. And the day when they’d be able to fire their weapons.
In the fifth week they were introduced to the Marine Corps martial arts practices. Anna’s years of aikido training both helped and hurt her here. It had given her skills at assessing opponents and defending against more than one of them, timing, and body control. But aikido was mostly a defensive art and the Marines were mostly about offensive measures. Nevertheless in that first week she worked up from tan through grey to the green belt level.
Pugil stick practice of bayonet and rifle butt techniques continued. By now Anna had become widely recognized as far ahead of everyone else. There was much speculation about how she’d do against opponents in other platoons.
The fifth Sunday Anna instituted a practice which continued through the last and twelfth week. By now her afternoon audience had approached the level of an audience with a monarch, with up to thirty people coming and going during the afternoon.
At 3:00 someone suggested they all go to the base exchange. Anna foresaw a problem with that.
“They let us in because we go at scattered times and don’t make a big splash at any one time. If all two dozen of us invade at once they may limit our access.”
Dennis Southey was a spindly but tough redhead who was always arguing points of regulations and laws, so was nicknamed Chaser for ambulance chaser. He began a long explanation of why this would be illegal. Anna cut him short.
“You’re probably right, Chaser. But I’d rather not chance it. Suppose we march there and then go in five at a time?”
There followed much discussion of this suggestion and of ways to implement it. Finally they agreed that Anna would march them there in a formation of four abreast and the front four would go in first. The formation would be ordered by height, tallest first.
Anna agreed, but only if she could swap off her unit leader status with someone else whenever she wanted to, to whomever she wanted.
Thus almost two dozen platoon 4044 recruits assembled outside the barracks. Anna stood to one side, facing them, and said loudly enough for all to hear, “Platoon, FALL IN.”
“PITIFUL,” she yelled after a couple of minutes of much confusion. “Do you want everyone to laugh their asses off at us? Again, NOW, dress…RANKS.”
Secretly Anna knew part of the fault was with her. She was relying on her memory but, good as it was, she’d had no training nor studied how to give the commands a unit leader did. Still, keeping things simple, and with much haranguing, the fragment of their platoon was soon in reasonably good order, the tallest in front, the shortest in back, height dropping off to the right.
She gave the command, “Platoon, forward…MARCH.”
The result wasn’t too bad. By now the recruits had developed the minimal habits they needed. But Anna wasn’t satisfied. After a block she gave the command, “Platoon…HALT.”
They did that well enough. Then she walked in among the ranks and gave instructions to two of the worse offenders.
She returned to the front of the group, by now augmented by a few more recruits. She spoke up so all could hear.
“Look, this is only going to work if you take this seriously. I know I’m not trained for this. But I’m willing to give it a try. But not if we look like clowns. We can’t let Forty Forty-four down.”
She looked them over. They seemed to be taking her words to heart.
“So, if you can’t do this right, or don’t want to try it, drop out now.”
A couple of recruits did. Most straightened their spines and stared straight ahead.
She went to the side near the head of the unit, faced them, and again said, “Platoon, dress…RANKS. Platoon, forward…MARCH.”
This time the recruits did a better job. She let them go till the end of the block, then gave them the command, “Right turn…MARCH.”
She’d given the command just at the right time. The turn was done well, each rank turning right when they reached the correct point.
She had them turn left at the next block, march a block, turn right, and continue to the exchange. There she gave the command, “Platoon…HALT.”
Then she said, “First rank…FALL OUT. Platoon, at ease.”
By now it was mid-September. The heat and humidity had eased off but it was still not comfortable on a bright sun-shiny day. Nevertheless, the recruits stayed in ranks.
After ten minutes Anna said, “Platoon, atten-TION. Second rank, FALL OUT. Platoon…at ease.”
This continued until the entire group who’d marched to the exchange had entered it. Anna followed the last recruit.
The incident did not go unnoticed. The next day Sergeant Finley called them into formation after mid-day chow.
While they all stood at attention he said, “Some of you thought it would be fun to march on your own to the BX yesterday. We are now going to spend two hours drilling the right way.”
And so they did. At the end, all sweating except Anna, they were allowed ten minutes to “water up and piss out” before entering the class room for their first lesson in rappelling: sliding down a rope from a helicopter, cliff, or building top.
The sergeant stopped Anna from entering and spoke to her.
“I hear you played unit leader yesterday. For that we’re going to have two hours of instruction Sunday after noon-day chow. So if you ever do it again, you’ll do it right. Understood?”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“Now get in there and learn how not to kill yourself.”
That week two recruits, unable to conquer their fear of heights, dropped out of 4044.
Two other recruits showed up that Sunday afternoon and took instruction with Anna in drill leadership. Afterward half a dozen recruits marched to the BX under her leadership. By the time the platoon graduated nearly the entire platoon used an hour of their leisure time each Sunday taking part in this now-traditional march on the BX.
In Week Seven Platoon 4044 learned how to fire their rifles. But only dry firing with plastic dummy ammo inserted to protect the firing pins of the rifles as they were aimed and triggered. Much time was spent on short lectures and longer practice of each lesson in breath control and aiming and pulling the triggers.
Anna had already gone through this in the summer camp between her high school Junior and Senior years. But she kept silent about this experience and renewed her knowledge of the basics.
In Week Eight much of each day was spent on slow and timed firing practice. At the end of the week Anna earned the Rifle Expert badge, one of a very few recruits who did so that year.
Week Nine was obstacle courses, eleven different types in all. As the week progressed the obstacles became taller and taller. The recruits practiced in four-man fire teams, learning to make up for their weakest links and finish together.
Three more recruits dropped out of Platoon 4044.
Much of Week Ten was devoted to day-movement exercises. Their ears bombarded by simulated gunfire, the recruits went over walls and under barbed wire, again in fire teams.
One recruit dropped out.
Week Eleven was the culmination of all that training. There was a full week of review, and review, and review. Then over a long weekend the recruits underwent 64 hours of “The Crucible” while every test was applied to them several times over. They were allowed little food and sleep.
At the end of that time, the recruits were marched to the Emblem Ceremony. They were ordered to parade rest and the base commander spoke to them.
“Congratulations. We have treated you tough. You have proved you are tougher. You are Marines. You are among the best military forces in the world. In the years ahead you will have an impact far beyond your small size, in your communities, in your nation, in the world. I salute you.”
He braced and saluted them. The ranks in perfect unison returned the salute.
Then their drill instructors presented their platoons with the Marine Corps Emblem made up of an eagle and anchor over a globe. They were Marines.
Most of the recruits were promoted to E-1, Private. Seven became E-2s, Privates First Class. Anna was awarded Outstanding Recruit of the Year. She was also promoted to E-3, Lance Corporal, the only recruit so honored in every fiscal year of October to September.
Each Marine was usually allowed a full day of recuperation. Thanksgiving was this Thursday, however. So on Tuesday and Wednesday the several platoons visited the “head doctors” for assignment.
Most new Marines were offered an assignment and there was little choice in the matter. They could either accept or leave the service. A very few did, often citing “extreme family emergencies.” They were let go without penalty. The Marines did not want anyone to stay in who was not committed to service of their country.
Some Marines were offered two or three choices. Anna was offered none. Instead she was counseled first. So early Wednesday afternoon she met with Dr./Captain Mario Alexandriou.
They exchanged salutes. He shook her hand and gestured at the seat before his desk. She was in her dress uniform.
“Congratulations, Anna. I’m not surprised you made Outstanding Recruit.”
“Thank you, sir. I feel honored.”
“We’ve got a full hour if you need it. Please drop the military courtesies.
“First, how are you generally?”
“Excellent. Looking forward to seeing my family.”
“Good. Now. I’m sure you know this but I’m obligated to state it. One of your choices is to leave the service with an honorable discharge. There are no penalties of any kind. We only want people who really want to be here, not because they were forced.”
“I’m staying in.”
“Glad to hear it. But hear out all the options before making a final decision.
“One is a full scholarship to a four-year college. You’d then go through Officer Candidate School. Or, if your college has ROTC and you participate, you could immediately become an officer on graduation.
“Another is the Naval Academy. From there you’d become an officer directly, no OCS. You’d have to be nominated by a member of Congress but that should be merely a formality for you.”
“I intend to become a scout/sniper in the Marines. If there are no openings I’ll leave the service and find a similar position in another military organization.”
The doctor looked at her. He was clearly puzzled, even without Tiara’s special diagnostic senses.
Anna did not perfectly understand her own firmness nor why this position was important enough to make a special effort to get it. She spoke slowly, thinking matters through.
“I do not disdain killing as so many civilians do. Nor am I persuaded by the Marine attitude that a fierce desire to kill is a virtue when it’s focused on enemies. It is simply a necessity sometimes, when it’s the only solution to a problem.
“I mean the ONLY solution. Not the easiest one. I’d rather avoid it, and take great effort to do so, even if it means giving up some important advantages otherwise.”
She nodded. Her attitude was clear to her, perhaps for the first time. Maybe it wasn’t clear to the doctor. But she felt no strong need to make him understand.
“The other part is that from the earliest I can remember I’ve known that I’m more capable at just about everything than other people. Physical, mental, social abilities, I’m superior in them all.
“Maybe not emotional. I’m not sure what ‘superior’ in that would be. Very healthy, I suppose, is the closest I can come to a definition of emotional superiority.
“I don’t mean that I feel godlike, above other people. Something to be proud of. It’s just a fact.”
She focused her attention on the doctor. He seemed to understand. And not be making judgments pros or cons. But then that WAS his job. To understand, first. Making judgments must come later, if they did.
“The more I understood that, the more I felt that I should do more with my abilities than just please myself, or my family. Or friends. I should do as much for as many people as I can.
“I studied the jobs people do when they grow up. The military seemed worthy. As long its main job was protecting others. I know in other countries the military’s main job is to make the generals and admirals rich. And our country isn’t without those types. But on the whole we do more than pay lip service to protect and serve.”
“Why not join a police force? That is their function as well.”
“Scope. Even the federal police forces are limited to our country. The military’s mission is global.”
“Why the Marines? Why not one of the other forces?”
“Opportunity to make a difference. We’re small compared to the others. What I do here will make more of a difference.”
“In the army those two specialties are separated. Their combination in Marine operations means I have a lot of independence.”
“You are usually paired with someone when acting as sniper. One person spots, the other shoots.”
“I would not like that. I need to work alone.”
Anna considered whether to say “personal preference” or give the real reason. She chose truth. She told Tiara to monitor all the doctor’s electronic communications, then expand that to ALL communications, and stifle any reports of what she was about to admit.
“I know many people are amazed at what I can do. I’ve even heard a few say I can’t be human, I combine so many outstanding abilities. But those abilities go beyond what I’ve let everyone see.”
“Interesting.” Anna could see the doctor only believed she believed what she’d said. Not that she was truthful.
“I see you are skeptical. I don’t blame you. But you know my claim to be outstanding IS true. The Corps has documented it.
“So, consider if I were paired with someone. I’d be held back to their level. I couldn’t serve as well. Lives might be lost. Wars, even, might be lost.”
Anna was silent as the doctor thought. The man took many long moments, then nodded.
“I’ll so recommend. Let me see what positions are available.”
The doctor pulled on a recess in the surface of his desk. This swung up a screen and keyboard and positioned it in front of him. He gestured at the screen and a 3D sensor read the gesture and the computer displayed something on the screen. He then placed his fingers on the keyboard and began to type. Occasionally he’d lift a hand, make another gesture, then type some more.
This continued for a couple of minutes. Anna sat, relaxed and using Tiara to follow what he was doing. So just as soon as the doctor knew something, so did Anna.
“I see three positions available that fit your criteria. Each requires you to go through the four-week Land Recon course, then the 12-week Scout Sniper course. The earliest school opening is two weeks away. The latest five. Here is where you’d likely be posted and other details.”
He swung the screen around so she could read what he’d described. At the same time a silent printer on a nearby table began to print out the screen contents.
Anna pretended to study the screen contents and then the paper copy of it when that was handed to her. But she’d already made her choice.
“I believe I’d be of most use in this Afghan position.”
“That requires you to learn the local dialect of Pashto. How are your language skills?”
“Outstanding. As you may recall from looking at my records, I took both Spanish and French in school. What they don’t mention is that I read and write Latin and Greek. I studied those for fun using online courses. Greek was harder because of its non-Latin alphabet, but not much so. Then, because the Greek and Russian languages share related alphabets and grammar I learned Russian. But only at the basic level.”
“I’m surprised you had time, considering your heavy academic schedule. Including three college-level courses.”
“I only need to sleep about five or six hours. So I’ve got more time each day than most people.”
The doctor looked closely at her, seeming to evaluate upward his already high regard for her abilities.
“Very well. I’ll put you in for the Afghan position. But give me your second and third choices. My input carries a lot of weight, but the Corps will decide which position it wants you in. Remember, they will have several other people to choose from.”
Anna pointed to her second and third choices. The doctor entered them and leaned back in his chair.
“I believe we’re done. Anything you’d like to discuss?”
“Somewhat to my regret, no. I enjoy your company.”
He stood and she did too. He followed her to the office door and opened it for her. They shook hands a second time.
“Au revoir, Anna.”
“Hasta luego, Mario.”
An impish urge took hold in Anna. She dropped his hand, rose two feet in the air, smiled mischievously, and disappeared. A puff of wind fanned his face.
A few minutes later the doctor was still sitting limply in his desk chair staring at the space where Anna had vanished when he heard a loud explosion overhead which shook all of Parris Island, followed by a diminishing roaring sound. It was the exact sound of an aircraft breaking the sound barrier going straight up.