Chess’s heart thudded as he thought of his family. What would they do now? he worried. He had been thinking the future was all settled… and now? Trying to breathe normally, he walked toward the general’s office. He could never regret what had happened, but… He paused beside the open door.
“Really?” The general’s deep growl floated out through the doorway.
“Like a damn spinning Christmas tree, General.” Chess recognized the other voice as the emphatic tone of the senior drill sergeant. He seemed to be laughing. “One thing’s for sure, people are going to be talking about this final training exercise for a long while.”
Now, Chess could not make any sense of what was going on: was he in trouble for the shower… or for something that he had done during the field exercise the night before? Swallowing hard, he stepped into the doorway and the two men inside stopped talking and turned toward him.
“Come in here, soldier,” the general ordered mildly. Blinking, Chess stepped into the spartan office, furnished only with the desk where the general now sat. In the same placid voice, the general stated, “Soldier, I hear you’re very good at running and hiding.”
Chess stopped and gaped in confusion. Belatedly, he remembered to stand at attention.
The senior drill sergeant appeared at his side. “Answer the general!” he insisted in his big, booming voice, making Chess’s heart thud the way it had during his first day at the camp. As Chess stared straight ahead, trying to collect his thoughts, the drill sergeant put his face closer and repeated slowly, “Soldier, are you... or are you not... good at running... and hiding?”
Chess blinked again. Well, yeah, he was, he thought defensively, wondering what the point of all this was. After all, hadn't those skills just won the day for his team? he reasoned indignantly.
He inhaled and answered, as calmly as he could, “Yes.” He turned to the general. “Yes, sir.”
“Outstanding, soldier!” the drill sergeant shouted in Chess’s ear, making him jump. “You now have a mission.” With that, the drill sergeant stepped back and the general rose from his desk.
“While you were playing in the dirt yesterday,” the general began, a slight smile on his lips, “some of our men took this from a captured dissident.” He stretched out his arm and Chess, trying to control his shaking hands, received a small metal box from him.
“We think it’s a communicator, using an unknown technology for transmission,” the general explained as Chess gazed at the device. “If we can get it to the Fort Prince military base, they have the equipment to examine it properly. I can’t risk sending a truck that way. Can you get there on foot?”
Chess answered affirmatively. The recruits had been to that military base several times over the course of their stay, usually to gather supplies. Much bigger than their own camp, the base seemed busier, more densely populated, and, Chess had noticed, much better equipped. It was there that the massive pieces of machinery were housed: the ones that had created the trenches that had proved so useful in Chess’s nighttime assault. Judging from his own superficial impressions of the base, Chess was not surprised that they were in a better position to examine this thing. What did surprise him, however, was the general’s willingness to rely on him. Chess let out his breath quietly and looked up.
The senior drill sergeant stepped toward him again. “Soldier, you will take this device straight to the base,” he commanded. “You will hand it directly to Colonel Howard and no one else. Colonel Howard is in charge of the base.” The drill sergeant paused to take a breath and Chess blinked at him in growing apprehension. “You will then come straight back here. You will not tell anyone what you are doing. You will not stop. You will not rest. You will not eat. You will not so much as take a dump until you are back inside the wire here. Do you understand?”
“And, soldier,” the general added quietly, “don't take any unnecessary chances.”
His brain still in shock, Chess left the office, heading for the exit. Suddenly, the alarms sounded, loud and clamoring. It was a sound he had never heard before: the camp was under attack. Chess stopped, wondering: should he continue now? People ran by him as he stood there. Finally, he exhaled, heart pounding even harder now. He had been given a mission. He hastened to the nearest door.
Continued next page...
For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
The General's Song, Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan
Some people might gasp to see an NCO (non-commissioned officer) and a general acting so chummy in this page. In my limited experience, I can say that at least sometimes it does happen, perhaps only at a small base, where there are not a lot of intervening people. When the goals of two such leaders, although far apart in level, are essentially the same -- maintaining the order and daily activities of the organization -- strong bonds can form while still maintaining that essential distance and respect.
It definitely happens at companies in the private sector. For instance, if the superintendent of a school system is bright, she will make sure that she is always available when the head of maintenance contacts her. Because if he does not do his job properly, the schools will not remain open for long, guaranteed. He also tends to be the source that she relies on for his particular field of expertise. That’s pretty much what I was envisioning here. And the often stressful situations in military-like settings appear to build camaraderie in a way that many other fields do not.
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