Nobody Likes Palarma
Chapter 1: A Pi, A Slate, or A Hammer
March 24, 1995
"Did you know that Sada is an acronym?" General Wynn asked with a wry grin.
"No," Sada answered with a raised eyebrow knowing that this was going to be good.
"Pray tell ... what does Sada stand for?"
"Stubborn and Damned Annoying."
"And here I thought you didn't like me," Sada said with a smile.
"You're never going to commit to a Cadre, are you?"
"Nope," she answered.
"What are we going to do with you?"
"I didn't know anything needed to be done with me," she said.
"I've got a couple of cadets for you to meet," he said.
So far, everything had been lighthearted banter, the kind of exchange that took place between two friends with a history of swapping insults. All of a sudden, the expression on his face was very serious. It appeared that he was about to tell her why he had asked her to visit Jade Academy.
"Why?" she asked suspicious about what he wanted from her.
Her suspicions were probably well founded. He had declared her an expert in subterfuge, but he was the grandmaster of it. There was a trick here and it was up to her to find it. Odds were good that he was about to saddle her with a problem.
He rubbed hand through his hair and then rubbed his chin looking thoughtful. Sada was beginning to worry. This was not going to be good.
"They are kind of like you. They're Sadas."
"I'm not sure that I follow you."
"I don't think they'll ever declare for a Cadre."
"That's not a big deal. Look at me," she said with a smile.
"Actually, I'm not sure they'll ever qualify to enter a Cadre."
She frowned and asked, "What year are they?"
"Eleven and thirteen," he answered.
"Thirteen?" Her eyebrows shot up to her hairline. She added, "There's no year thirteen."
"There is now," General Wynn said looking across the desk at her.
"Ninety percent of the cadets are qualified to graduate at the end of year eleven. Almost nobody takes a full twelve years," she said.
"And all but one has finished by the end of year twelve. However, I have a year thirteen who is still a year or two from qualifying for any cadre."
Pounding her right fist into the palm of her left hand, she asked, "So you want me to rough him or her up a little?"
"No. I want you to meet them."
"What's the problem with the year eleven?"
"You'll see," he said sliding a piece of paper across his desk to her.
She picked up the piece of paper and looked at it. All it had written on it was a building and room number. She looked up at him.
"Go forth and be Sada," he said with a grin.
"Stubborn and Damned Annoying."
Cadet Marcin tapped the switch creating an arc between the two electrodes. Across the room, an arc appeared between a pair of electrodes. Tap – spark. Tap – spark. It was a nice little demonstration of an arc radio. She had seen that exact same demonstration in her physics class back when she was a ninth year.
"Watch this," he said going over to distant pair of electrodes.
He moved a couple of heavy cinder blocks in front of the pair of electrodes so that she couldn't tell what he was doing. He picked up a metal box, opened it, and removed something from it. After closing the box, he fiddled with the set up for a second. He went back over to the device with the switch. He tapped the switch.
There was a sharp explosion behind the block.
Jumping, Sada asked, "What was that?"
"That was a blasting cap," he said with a smile.
"Okay. So you set off a blasting cap," Sada said thinking there was some trick here.
"Yes. I can set off any blasting cap that is within range of this device, so long as it isn't shielded," he said.
"Nifty. What good is that?" she asked.
"I can set off any blasting cap that is within range of this device, so long as it isn't shielded."
Sada thought about it for a second. Any blasting cap? That was a pretty strong claim. If it was true, then that could be pretty handy.
He went back over to the blocks and fiddled around for a second. She followed him over to the blocks. She watched him carefully making sure that he wasn't pulling a fast one. He placed a blasting cap on a stand. He walked back to the table. She returned to her chair.
He gestured to another device and said, "This one is even better. It uses one watt of power."
"How much was the other?"
"About ten watts."
"That's quite an improvement."
He pushed a button and there was another explosion. She wasn't surprised this time.
Sada said, "I'm impressed."
"This is just a scale model of what I wanted to build. This one has an effective range of about ten meters."
"That's not too bad."
She could see a couple of good applications of that little device. She wondered if it could be made a little smaller and aimed. That would really be neat.
"The one I designed has a longer range. I can boost the power up to around ... oh... 250,000 Watts. The signal would cover ... well ... the entire Surprise Continent. Of course, it would only have a truly effective range of thirty kilometers or so for setting off blasting caps like that."
Sada sat up. She said, "That could be a problem."
"My first model, which was only a hundred watts, blew up all of the explosives in the storage facility. Apparently, the blasting caps weren't adequately shielded over there. General Wynn wasn't very happy."
"I can imagine that he wasn't too happy."
"I told him it would make a great weapon," Cadet Marcin said.
"Yes, it could."
Cadet Marcin said, "It can also ignite other things that use an electrical charge."
"Oh ... a rocket."
Sada said, "Interesting. What's the downside?"
"It causes a lot of sparks to fly. Any little gap in an uncompleted circuit tends to spark."
"It screws up my computer," Cadet Veda said with a growl.
"Only if it isn't shielded properly," Cadet Marcin said.
"I can't sit in an electrically grounded cage all day," Cadet Veda said.
"You don't have to."
Cadet Marcin said, "She's still upset because my demonstration screwed up her first attempt to pass the expert examination on the computer."
Sada said, "Don't feel bad. Being an expert isn't all it's cracked up to be. I know. I avoid getting labeled as an expert in anything whenever possible."
"We know all about you," Cadet Veda said rolling her eyes.
"Yeah," Cadet Marcin said.
"What?" Sada asked.
"You just don't want to play nicely with anyone," Cadet Veda said.
"I'm qualified for every Cadre. I just can't make up my mind. You haven't qualified."
"You're a thirteen year student. Why haven't you gotten the basic skills to graduate?" Sada asked.
"I forget," Cadet Marcin answered somewhat sheepishly.
"No. Don't play that game with me. You know why. Tell me," she demanded.
"I know. I forget."
"You aren't that stupid," she said.
"He's saying that he forgets to go to classes," Cadet Veda said shooting him a dirty look.
"Don't they use the switch any more?" Sada asked.
"Yes, they do. I've been on the receiving end of the switch so many times that I've got callouses on the backs of my calves. I still forget."
"How can you forget?" Sada asked incredulously.
"It's easy. I get to thinking about something and I forget everything else. Next thing I know, I missed another class," Cadet Marcin said.
"I'm the same way. I start programming and time just evaporates."
Sada asked, "So what have you managed to get adequate ratings in?"
"Hand to hand and shotgun."
"Let me guess. You got that before you got interested in electronics or computers."
"Electronics, physics, and math."
"Computer, math, and intelligence analysis."
"Is there anything you're ready to test for?"
"What are we going to do with you?" Sada asked while shaking her head.
"I wasn't aware you needed to do anything with me."
Sada growled at hearing her own words echoed back at her. She was going to get General Wynn for this. He was going to pay and pay big time.
"You can't be a cadet forever. You've got to qualify for something so that you can graduate," she said.
"Well, maybe there isn't a Cadre that's appropriate for us," Cadet Veda said.
"You know ... that might be why you've never committed to a Cadre. There isn't one that fits you," Cadet Marcin said.
Sada said, "You can at least qualify for Hearth. All you'd have to do is to learn about laundry, cleaning up, and cooking a dish or two."
"Get real ... Me? A Hearth? Hearths worry about people. Not me. I think about my computer and what I can make it do."
Cadet Marcin said, "Don't even bother suggesting that I try to be a Sword. That's not me. I don't like all of that running around. Even a Shield ... that's almost as bad as a Sword. I get too lost in my head to get paranoid."
Cadet Veda said, "I couldn't be a Cart. I'd be too busy trying to figure out how to reprogram the navigation system to actually go anywhere."
"What's left? A Pen. The pen might be mightier than the sword, but a bolt of lightning will fry your ass. I like electronics, not law," Cadet Marcin said.
Sada understood exactly what they were saying. She never felt like she had fit into any of the Cadres, but she had completed the necessary skills to join any of them. She knew that they were smart enough to gain mastery in a number of different disciplines, but they weren't dedicated or motivated enough. That was a problem.
"What are your plans if you don't ever graduate?" she asked.
"I guess I would quit. I'm close to that point now," Cadet Marcin said in an offhand manner.
That was an option. On his anniversary as a Cadet, he could move his plaque from one side of the alter to the other and leave Jade Academy. The Academy would make arrangements for him to have a period of transition from the Academy life to life outside.
She glanced over at the device on the table. It was a powerful weapon if used in the correct manner. A small portable version could be used to explode improvised explosive devices before they could do any damage to a warrior. It would be a shame to lose the kind of talent that could invent something like that. Odds were good that he'd end up making devices like that for other governments at some point in the future.
"Why haven't you done that before now?"
He didn't answer except by looking over at Cadet Veda. The look explained a lot. He wasn't going to leave until Cadet Veda was ready to leave. She wouldn't be given that option for another year.
Sada had a feeling that Jade Force would lose both of them in a year's time. Losing Cadet Marcin would be a real shame. She wondered how big of a loss it would be if Cadet Veda left. All she knew was that the cadet was interested in computers.
She turned to Cadet Veda and asked, "So what do you do with computers?"
"Give me a mind blowing example."
"Well, Marcin and I have been working on a weapons control system. It's pretty good, but we had to scale it down since they wouldn't let us use an artillery gun."
"Can you show it to me?"
"It'll take a little time to set it up. We have to go over to the rifle range."
"I'd like to see it."
Using a ruler, Sada examined the target. An array of holes had been blasted through it with a regular spacing between holes of four inches horizontally and two inches vertically. There were ten columns and ten rows of holes. The spacing was machine precise. It had taken one second to fill the target with the holes.
She went over to the gun and examined it. It wasn't anything like she had seen with the exception of the automated feed and barrel. The rest of the gun was robotic.
"This basic setup could be used in a number of different configurations. With an anti-aircraft configuration, we could easily shoot down any approaching aircraft or missile. With an artillery configuration, we could level a whole city block in minutes."
"Who made this?" Sada asked.
"We did. I wrote the controller and Marcin did the electronics."
"Who made the hardware?" Sada asked while tapping the weapon.
"Oh. That was Hearth Yara."
"Hearth Yara?" Sada asked somewhat surprised by the answer.
She knew Hearth Yara and hadn't been all that impressed with the woman. She worked in the dining hall back in Misera as a member of the clean up crew. She went through the motions, but there was just something that was just a bit off about her. Even taking into account the fact that she had committed to Hearth only a year earlier, she was the lowest rated Hearth on the base.
The quality of machining required to make something like that wasn't typically associated with any of the Cadres. Hearths, Swords, Shields, and Carts took a basic machine shop class just so they could fabricate a replacement part should one be required in the field. Maybe one out of ten took the course, but manufacturing this device required far more skill than one normally got in the courses available at the Academy. They didn't even test beyond adequate.
If Hearth Yara had done this, then she had taught herself almost all of the skills necessary. Sada wondered if anyone back in Misera even knew that Hearth Yara was capable of doing work like this.
"Hearth Yara is really good at metal work. She can do it all. It's kind of a shame that it isn't something she can get rated in. She's so unhappy as a Hearth, that she's thinking of quitting Jade Force."
Sada activated her microphone. "This is Pen Sada, I want Hearth Yara on a plane to Jade Academy right now."
There was a long moment of silence.
"Yes, I can."
She listened to the response for several seconds before she said, "It's a matter of contract."
"I thought you would see it my way."
She turned off the microphone and muttered, "When a Pen speaks, people should listen."
"Not when it is Pen Sada," Veda said with a snicker that was supported by the snort from Cadet Marcin.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sada asked.
"No, I don't know."
"You should read some of the histories."
The histories were the written records of the individual warriors who participated in a contract. The histories were more than just a sequence of what happened. They also contained the reflections of the people involved, with comments on who did what, what happened, and how it impacted other events. Conversations were captured within the histories.
"Why?" Sada asked thinking she might want to spend a little reviewing them.
Cadet Marcin said, "A common line in a lot of them, is that they now knew that they should have run, when you told them that you had an idea."
"All of my ideas have turned out good," Sada said defensively.
"They're so twisted most people can't follow them. Your plans seem almost insane," Cadet Marcin said.
"They're quite reasonable," Sada said primly.
"Like declaring war on two countries at once?"
"Not to mention getting a third country to pay for it."
"Well... someone had to pay for it!"
"Whose idea was it for Sumar to lease a strip of land to Desera? Or to create a free trade zone? Who had the great idea for moving the last batch of refugees into the free trade zone?"
"I get the point," Sada said.
"Or how about moving the first batch of refugees to Misera?"
"Don't forget the Misera Civil War. That was her idea."
"I get the message," Sada said.
"Hey, don't forget about her plan for stealing the tanks from the Inra Army."
"I did forget about that one."
"Enough!" Sada said. "We could be here all day."
"That's the point," Cadet Marcin said.
Cadet Veda said, "You are a misfit. That's why you haven't pledged to a Cadre."
"You're just as much of a misfit as we are."
"Maybe," Sada said.
"The only difference is that you've found a way to get along within the confines of Jade Force. We haven't," Cadet Marcin said.
"We'd like to stay in Jade Force, but that's unlikely to happen unless some way is found for us to fit in a little better."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Me?" Sada asked.
"Yes. You're the only one who can change things around," Cadet Veda said.
"Can you really level a city block with one of these controlling an artillery gun?"
"I guess I better get someone to build a city block," Sada said.
She envisioned a whole city block of highrise apartments made of concrete and steel construction being leveled in a matter of minutes. That would be a good test of the system Cadets Veda and Marcin had built. If they could level a single block, then they could level a whole city. It was just a matter of scale.
"That's your answer to our problem?" Cadet Veda said.
"No. Don't worry about your problem. That's easy enough to take care of. I'm just curious what would be required to level a city block, that's all."
"Well, what about our problem?"
"There's only one thing to do."
"What's that?" Cadet Marcin said.
"The right thing."
"What kind of answer is that?" Cadet Marcin asked.
"I guess we need a name," Sada said.
"A name for what?" Cadet Veda asked.
"Who could build a city block for us?" Sada asked, still distracted by her thoughts about who she could find who would build a city block for her.
"A name for what?" Cadet Veda asked getting a little impatient with Sada.
"A name for a new Cadre for misfits."
"A new Cadre?" Cadet Veda asked.
"Who said anything about a new Cadre?"
"I did," Sada answered. "How long will it take you to build one of these for an artillery gun?"
"I don't know. A couple of months."
"That's acceptable. It would probably take that long to build a city block."
"It would probably take a bit longer than that," Cadet Marci said. "You might look for a building that needs to come down."
Cadet Veda said, "What's so damned important about bringing down a building?"
"We just need to make a point. I have a plan!"
Cadet Marcin and Cadet Veda looked at each other. They started to back away. A common line in the histories was, 'When Sada said she had a plan, I knew it was time to run.' They were giving serious thought to running.
"Maybe we ought to go now," Cadet Marci said.
"You two aren't going anywhere until we come up with a name," Sada said.
"How about Pi?"
"You mean like the number?"
"Yes. It is a key mathematical constant."
"No. I couldn't imagine being very happy with people calling me, Pi Sada. It sounds like some kind of Itan side dish. Besides, it's an irrational number. I don't want people thinking we're irrational."
"They already think that."
"Let's not give them any more ammunition to use against us," Sada said.
"How about Slate?"
"What does that have to do with the Cadre?" Sada asked.
"I don't know. It just popped out."
"It doesn't have anything to do with what the Cadre is about."
"What is the Cadre about, other than being a home for the misfits?" Cadet Veda asked.
"It's about being exceptionally smart in one thing," Sada said.
"What do you think of Atom? That suggests the whole physical world thing."
"Atom Sada? No. That sounds worse than Pi Sada."
"No. That sounds like we're going around taking a piss on everything."
"How about Scientist?"
"That's not bad, but I don't like it. We're not really scientists. We're more of a problem solving thing."
"That's rubbing it in. We don't want people to feel inferior to us," Sada said.
"How about Hammer?"
"You can solve a lot of problems with a hammer," Cadet Marci said.
Sada said, "That's very true.
Cadet Veda said, "It's not very subtle."
"Who cares about subtlety?" asked Cadet Marci.
Edited By TeNderLoin