Chapter 1: A Company in Distress

July 21, 1989

It was a common misconception on the part of the outside world that it was General Wynn who was the commander of Jade Force. His title was Commandant of the Jade Academy, a position that gave him control over just about everything that happened in the Jade Academy. However, a Jade Warrior, upon graduating the Academy; was no longer in the Jade Academy, despite still living on its grounds. General Wynn was not their commander, just one of many former teachers.

There was no overall commander of Jade Force. Most people would consider this to be a major problem area that should be rectified sooner, rather than later. This was Jade Force though, and no one saw the lack of an overall commander to be any kind of issue. Command was always settled using ratings of skills that fit the situation.

Life as a Jade Warrior was one of continued expansion and improvement of one's skills. That meant actually using them. On a daily basis, this meant that Hearth kept the Jade Force in full operational status, Shield kept guard, Cart delivered supplies, and the Pens used their ability with words for the benefit of Jade Force. Swords were always training, in preparation for the next contract.

When it came time to put a solid effort into solving an especially tricky problem that didn't seem to fit in any of the areas for which ratings were measured, there was no one who could lead the effort. Groups made of individuals who seemed the most capable in those areas worked together to solve the problem. It was often a little messy while individuals struggled to identify what would work and what wouldn't work.

In most organizations, throwing together a number of people to solve a problem would create more problems. Mostly, they would be of a political nature, in which people positioned and postured to take control over the group. This would be particularly true for individuals who are physically active, striving for excellence, and given to applying their full effort to any activity. For most organizations, more often than not, the problem would never be solved. The good talented people would be too busy with infighting.

For Jade Force, there was one underlying philosophy that ruled behavior: 'War is a matter of life and death.' The best warrior was a live warrior, not a leader or a follower. That philosophy gave a clarity to group endeavors, and cut through politics better than any threat of firing by a 'boss.' What usually occurred was that one person slowly emerged from the group as having the best set of skills to 'take charge' during such situations.

One area which all cadres studied extensively, was that of intelligence analysis. Intelligence analysis is the art of sifting through reams of incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading data and information, to extract knowledge about what is actually happening. Any philosopher will agree that truth is a very slippery topic. A particular curve drawn on sand will look like a '6' to an observer on one side and like a '9' to an observer on the other side. The context of other shapes drawn in the sand can resolve the ambiguity, if they are present. The art of intelligence analysis is finding that other information that provides a context, by which ambiguity can be minimized or eliminated.

For Shield, analysis was focused on assessing physical threats to the Jade Force. Was anyone attempting to attack the compound? Was anyone spying on them? Were there security leaks? Was the rhetoric coming from some politician based on fact or fiction? They studied individuals trying to ascertain motivations and how they went about pursuing their goals.

For Hearth, analysis was focused on availability, and threats to access, regarding supplies. Was some group actively engaged in price fixing? How would weather affect the price of wheat? Would war between two countries affect the availability of oil? Was a threat of war being raised for the purpose of driving up prices? Was some group selling off assets at a low price that might be of use? Were medical studies accurate or tainted by political considerations? They studied markets, technology, products, and medicine.

For Cart, analysis was focused on threats to transportation. Were there new laws or instabilities that might prevent free flow of goods across an area? Was piracy a threat? Were there air spaces that were now restricted or had a restriction been lifted? Were new vehicles available that would better fit their needs? Was an existing product line going out of business? They studied routes, stability, technology, and products to identify short-term and long-term trends that affected their ability to move things from one place to another.

For Pen, analysis was focused on threats of a legal or political nature. Was there some politician who was campaigning on a platform that went against the best interests of Jade Force? Were new laws being passed that would impact them? What political maneuverings were occurring, which could lead to instability? Of course, during the first few years of Jade Force, the pens were off to law school, so they didn't have much time to spend on analysis.

For Sword, analysis was focused on how well a potential enemy was prepared against anything Jade force might try. What were the strengths and weakness of each country? Who or what would make the best targets? What other military, paramilitary, or criminal organizations were there? How would this or that group react to an attack?

It was often the case that the different cadres would examine the same data, but for different purposes. Always data was evaluated based on the source from which it originated, intent of the individuals releasing the data, and the consistency of data with regard to other data. Doubts concerning the authenticity or accuracy of the data by one cadre would filter to the other cadres. There was a continual adjustment and readjustment of their understanding of the threats and opportunities originating from outside.

One of the biggest problems faced by Jade Force was the fact that it didn't have a cadre set up for the specific purpose of collecting intelligence data. They did receive copies of newspapers, magazines, and journals from around the world. It was amazing just how much one could discover from such public sources. Little snippets about a defense company being awarded a contract often gave deep insights into what a government was doing and how it was positioning its military for the future.

Using only three hundred Jade Warriors, going through the tons of available data was difficult, if not impossible. Cadets were often tasked with extracting data from the newspapers as part of their lessons in intelligence gathering and analysis. It was a daunting task trying to wade through so much information.

One saving grace was that the Nguyen family had contacts in most parts of the world. They helped gather some intelligence and provided helpful analyses based on more than what was publicly available. That information was forwarded to Jade Force via General Wynn. Unfortunately, after a dozen years of putting their lives together, many of the Nguyen contacts were more concerned about getting their children through colleges and preparing for retirement.

At the moment, the problem of information gathering and analysis wasn't critical. No one was particularly taking any interest in Jade Force, so there weren't any threats of a substantive nature. The episode with the Inra government had essentially put some safeguards into place that any threats from that source were more or less powerless. The first contract had a spectacular outcome which subsequently generated some interest in Jade Force, but that was more along the lines of speculating if it would make a good tool for use, rather than if it represented a threat.

Although it wasn't a critical problem, it was a significant problem. One reason was that it impacted the ability of Jade Force to contract for work. It was not just enough to know that an opportunity was available, but to know that it was actually an opportunity, rather than a disaster in disguise. Several opportunities had to be bypassed, just because there wasn't enough information available to assess the risks involved.

The closest anyone in Jade Force came to being a full time analyst was Sword Lina. She was an interesting individual amongst a number of unusual personalities. She proved that desire and hard work can overcome great obstacles. It all started when she broke her back in training, during her seventh year. It was a serious injury that left her paralyzed below the waist. One could reasonably expect that she would have moved over to Hearth where she could serve in a logistics position of some sort, but she wanted to be in Sword.

Through sheer force of will, she managed to achieve expert ratings in rifle, pistol, and knife. She almost drowned when pushed off the platform during the free fall shooting test, but emerged from the water sputtering and managed to swim to the side of the pool dragging her wheelchair with her. She also received expert ratings in the less physically demanding areas of strategy, tactics, intelligence analysis, and meteorology. She had a dozen master ratings including such areas as survival skills, tracking, and camouflage.

The biggest hurdle for her becoming Sword was getting an adequate rating in the wilderness obstacle course. It wasn't the standard obstacle course with laid out obstacles like rope ladder, walls to scale, tunnels to pass through or ropes to swing on, but a twenty mile trek through the most inhospitable jungle imaginable. There were wild animals, snakes, streams to cross, cliffs to climb, quicksand, and numerous other dangers that had to be overcome. Most cadets finished the course in two days. It took eight days, but she managed to crawl out of the jungle in one piece. She earned an acceptable rating and became a Sword.

One would think that a number of people would be cheering her on, but it was her alone against the course. It was true that she was followed a little more closely than most cadets, but no one helped her. These were warriors and she had to be able to stand on her own (even if she couldn't stand). That's not to say that there wasn't a hint of respect in how people greeted her. Her close friends were pleased for her.

Once she qualified for Sword, she continued to train to acquire additional areas of expertise that would be useful in a battlefield environment. She was of the opinion that she could contribute more in an urban than a wilderness environment. As a result of her desire to actually participate in an urban war, she tended to search out those kinds of situations.

It was a strange confluence in which she and Hearth Asif identified a potential contract at the same time. She was looking for something that had to do with urban problems while Hearth Asif was upset that his contact on a purchasing contract for advanced electronic surveillance equipment was kidnapped. A little investigation showed that this was actually a big-time operation in which a number of businessmen from a variety of industries were kidnapped and held for ransom.

After a detailed investigation, she and Hearth Asif convinced enough people that this would be a worthy mission that was relatively low risk with a high payoff, perhaps the highest payoff they'd made so far. The biggest hurdle was getting a customer to pay for it and that was going to require a direct sales call. The logical choice to make the pitch was Sword Lina and Hearth Asif. Unfortunately, that required traveling to Amra where the affected businesses were located.

Sword Lina rolled into the conference room wearing a tan outfit cut in the style of a woman's business suit. It was made of Kevlar, but without the normal thick padding of the normal Jade armor. It would stop a bullet from penetrating, but the bullet would still do a lot of impact damage. The outfit was a compromise between the armor and business attire.

She was not comfortable and tried hard not to show her nervousness. The lack of real armor was bad enough, but the fact that she couldn't bring her sword, pistol, and rifle with her made her feel exceptionally vulnerable. She had been able to bring her knife with her on the plane from Inra. She had stopped at a sporting goods shop and purchased a number of throwing knives. It took every bit of her will not to pull one out to have it at hand when entering the room.

Already seated around the conference table were four Amra businessmen: Ben Klun representing a beef company, Harold Jinas representing a leather company, George Shanley the owner of an oil company, and Jim Bodham the owner of an electronics firm. All four of the firms they represented had executives currently being held for ransom. The total amount requested came to twenty million with the oil company and electronics firm getting held up for the majority of that.

Shield Wong and Hearth Asif followed her into the room. Shield Wong was there as protection for Hearth Asif and Sword Lina. It wasn't that Sword Lina couldn't defend herself, but it was expected that her attention would be on the meeting rather than on security. Someone had to watch her back while she was engaged in warfare of a different kind. Hearth Asif was there to sweeten the deal with some side contracts.

While rolling to a slow stop, she said, "Greetings Gentleman. I'm Sword Lina of Jade Force. I'm pleased that you chose to meet with us, today. I'm hoping that we can help you with your problems."

"I'm George Shanley of Shanley Oil. Your call intrigued me. Let me be blunt. Why does a mercenary outfit want to get into hostage rescue?"

George Shanley was a big guy. Based on his dark tan and weather beaten face, it was obvious that he wasn't a desk jockey and ran his business from the field. He was in the production side of the oil business – buying or leasing the land, drilling for oil, and pumping it out of the ground. It was good money when he was able to find oil. Lately, he had found a lot of oil.

"I'm Ben Klum. George and I go back a long ways. We tend to see things the same way. I've got the same question."

Ben Klum was a tall slender version of George. He was in the processing side of the beef business, buying cattle from feed lots, butchering, and shipping the beef around the country. People liked their beef and the money was good. His brother-in-law had been kidnapped while negotiating the purchase of cattle in Teal.

"I'm Harold Jinas. Who are two men who came in with you? I was only expecting you."

Harold Jinas was built like Ben, but was pale skinned. He ran his business from behind a desk, worrying about numbers. He had a lot of numbers to worry about. Animal rights groups were protesting the use of leather in clothes and that had been bad for business. He had sent a man to Teal to see about moving some of his operation there to reduce production costs. The kidnapping had left him in a tight spot and he wasn't happy.

"I'm Hearth Asif and the other gentleman is our Shield."

"What in the hell is a shield?"

"He's our bodyguard," Sword Lina said.

"Mercenaries with bodyguards! What kind of tin pot outfit are you?" George Shanley asked with a snort of disdain.

Voice hard, Sword Lina answered, "We are Jade Warriors of Jade Force. When Hearth Asif and I are dealing with you, one hundred percent of our attention will be on you four gentleman. Shield covers our back so that we won't be surprised. We do not react to surprise very well. In fact, we react rather violently when surprised. It's better that he deals with a secretary delivering coffee than we kill her by accident."

Smirking, Ben said, "Those are pretty big words from a little gal in a wheelchair."

Sword Lina whipped out a knife from the sleeve of her suit. She threw it across the room. It stuck in the wall with a loud 'thwang' before the four men were even able to react. All four slowly turned their heads to look at the knife. George and Ben didn't look particularly impressed. They'd seen such demonstrations before.

Shield Wong calmly walked over and removed the knife from the wall. He threw it back at her with the same speed she had thrown it at the wall. She caught the knife and returned it to her sleeve in one smooth motion. That did impress George and Ben. They hadn't seen that kind of demonstration before.

"Just because I'm in a wheelchair doesn't mean that I can't kill all four of you before you even realize that death is staring you in the face. I am a Sword. That makes me the most dangerous person you'll ever meet."

"I gotta say, I'm impressed. How long did it take you to work up that little trick?" Ben asked.

"Three years, every day for an hour. She can make a knife do tricks that you wouldn't believe," Hearth Asif answered.

"So, getting back to my original question. Why does a mercenary outfit want to get into hostage rescue?"

Hearth Asif answered, "John Long Badger."

Jim Bodham, who hadn't said a word so far, sat up with surprised expression on his face. He asked, "Do you know John?"

"I was negotiating the purchase of six radars with him."

"You're with Defense Weapons Limited, in Inra?"

"That is one of the names under which we do business," Hearth Asif answered.

"That was a three million dollar deal."

"Yes, it was. I appreciate how Tim White handled the deal after John Long Badger was kidnapped. Still, it set back our plans almost two months."

"So these kidnappers made you angry and you're looking for us to pay you so that you can get a little payback," George said.

"Our minimum contract is one hundred thousand dollars a day for each warrior, a minimum of ten warriors, and a term of thirty days. However..."

"That's thirty million dollars. It's cheaper for me just to pay the kidnappers," George said interrupting her.

"However ... we have some business needs that we will use to offset any loss on this contract," Sword Lina said.

"What kind of business needs?" Harold Jinas asked. "I make leather. I don't see where I have anything you need."

"Our armorer needs six thousand hides prepared according to some very exacting standards. We will pay for them at cost plus shipping. We are expecting Mr. Klun to provide you with the hides at cost."

"Six thousand at cost..." Harold said thinking about it.

He worked the numbers through. This might not make him any money, but it would keep his people busy and help cover his operating costs. Then again, covering the operating costs would allow him to make more on the products he did sell for profit.

"We want one tanker full of crude oil shipped to Inra. We'll pay cost plus freight."

That was a lot of oil. Even paying cost at spot market prices, that was going to require a hefty chuck of change to purchase. George had the oil and even selling it at cost wouldn't hurt that much. His ability to sell what he was pumping from the ground had been hurt ever since his guy had been kidnapped in Teal.

"Do you know what kind of money you'll have to come up with to pay for that?"

"We know it to the penny."

George Shanley asked, "You've got that kind of cash?"

"Yes, we do. We'll have more after we resell the oil to a refinery."

"You're not mercenaries, you're businessmen," George said.

"I'm Hearth. It is my responsibility to ensure that all material needs of Jade Force are met. I can buy small quantities at a premium, or I can purchase large quantities at discount and sell what we don't need. Here, I am doing the latter. That is effective utilization of resources."

It was obvious from the very beginning of the Jade Academy that it and Jade Force had to be run as businesses. Without a constant inflow of money, it wouldn't last long even though the initial start-up costs had been covered by the money General Nguyen had stolen from the fleeing politicians. War could be very profitable, but it was also expensive.

"Well, I'm impressed."

"What about me?" Jim Bodham asked.

"We need forty thousand ground vibration sensors: Model 1298 Seismic Sensors. We'd appreciate you selling them to us at cost."

"That's a lot of expensive sensors."

"We have a lot of ground," Sword Lina said.

"So, how much cash are you looking for?" George asked.

"None. Just those deals in exchange for returning your people," Hearth Asif answered.

"You're going to make a lot more than thirty million dollars on this deal," George said.

"What does that have to do with you getting back to a position where you're able to sell your oil as fast as you can get it out of the ground? Or with keeping one of your tanning facilities running at full capacity? Or getting an order for sensors that will keep your company afloat? Or gaining a new market for some of your beef by products?" Sword Lina said while looking from one man to the next as she asked the questions.

Surprised by her bluntness, George said, "I take that back. You are mercenaries."

"Do we have a deal?" Hearth Asif asked.

No one wanted to answer the question first.

George said, "Of course, if you don't rescue our guys then we don't pay. Right?"

"Correct. You are paying for results, not for effort."

"I can agree on those terms," George said. "You're making a boat load of money on this deal, but yes ... I'll go along with it."

"Boat load of money, ... That's rich," Ben said picking up on the unintentional pun.

"Did I really say that?"

"Yes," Ben said. "We'll sell the hides at cost to Harold."

"It's a deal," Harold said.

Jim said, "Count me in."

Sword Lina said, "That's excellent. I will tell Pen Ocival the details of what we've agreed to. She will bring the contracts to your respective places of business tomorrow."

"I take it she's your lawyer."

"That's correct."

Warily, Sword Lina pushed her wheelchair through the front doors of the office building after getting a nod from Cart Guang. Although she trusted him, she still paused to look around after passing through the door. There were not as many people on the street as would be in Inra, nor was there as much pushing and shoving, but it was still a lot to have to assess in fractions of a second.

Cart Guang said, "It's good to see you again, Sword Lina."

"It's good to see you," she replied.

Cart Guang opened the side door of the van for her. She launched herself into the van, landing in the seat with a little assist from holding onto the door. She leaned out the door and grabbed her wheelchair. She folded it while lifting it into the van. She pushed it over to the side where it would be out of the way. She then moved to the middle of the bench seat.

Shield Wong was the last one in the van. Once he was in the shotgun seat, Cart Guang handed him a revolver.

"I thought foreigners weren't allowed to buy guns here in Amra. Where did you get this?" Shield Wong said.

"Some guy tried to rob me while I was waiting for you," Cart Guang answered.

"Where did you put the body?" Sword Lina asked.

"In the dumpster."

Shield Wong asked, "Does that happen a lot?"

"It used to be a fairly common occurrence where we live, but the crime rate dropped for some reason," Cart Guang answered.

No one had to ask the reason. A household occupied by a Shield, Cart, Hearth, and Pen was not an easy target. It didn't take long for them to develop a reputation as folks best avoided.

Sword Lina said, "I can't wait to see where you live."

"It's a dump and in a poor neighborhood, but it's close to the school," Cart Guang said.

"How's Pen Ocival doing?"

"It's finals week. She's a little intense at the moment."

Even though it was in the middle of summer, Pen Ocival was taking summer classes. This particular school had pairs of six week classes that ran from the beginning of June until the Middle of July and then from the Middle of July until the end of August. It gave business students working on their MBA the chance to get ahead in credits and was particularly important for students going to school part time.

Although majoring in law, Pen Ocival was taking business courses in addition to her regular schedule of courses. The three years of specialization courses she'd taken in law had put her well ahead. She figured that she'd have most of an MBA by the time she graduated law school.

"We need some contracts written," Sword Lina said.

"Don't worry about that. You know what she's like, she's always a little intense."

Cart Guang, Sword Lina, and Pen Ocival had all been assigned the same dorm during their tenth year. This was a critical year from a social and sexual development perspective. The friendships formed as dorm mates during this year lasted for a long time.

"I can't wait to see her again. It's been almost a year."

Cart Guang turned the van down a street leading to a very rough neighborhood. The van immediately attracted attention from the people hanging out along the street, but once they saw who was driving it their interest quickly evaporated. It was like a wave that swelled as they approached and crested when they drove past with people leaning forward and then stepping back.

Shield Wong commented, "It kind of reminds me of jackals watching a lion walk past."

"I hadn't thought of it that way before, but now that you mention it..."

"Are they a problem?"

"Not any more," Cart Guang answered. "Shield Arkady straightened things out right after we got here."

As the van made its way down the streets, the houses continued to get in worse shape. They passed an apartment complex that looked as though it were in the middle of a war zone rather than a civilized country. Cart Guang slowed down to pull into the driveway of the one house that was an exception to all of those around it.

The house, for one thing, had all of its windows, boards, doors, and shingles. It was also freshly painted. However, the thing that immediately caught the attention of the average observer wasn't so much the state of the house as much as the state of the yard. The yard had a real lawn with grass rather than weeds. There was a flowerbed with brightly colored flowers in it. Along the whole street, it was the most colorful property by far.

"Who did the gardening?"

"Shield Arkady."

"He did a nice job."

"He enjoys gardening. He says that it relaxes him," Cart Guang said.

"Who stands guard while he's working on the yard?"

"We all have to stand guard," Cart Guang said.

"That sounds like Shield Arkady," Shield Wong said with a smile.

Hearth Asif said, "It sounds like every Shield I've ever met. Come to think of it, I know every Shield."

"We do tend to be a little cautious," Shield Wong said.

"I've heard the word paranoid used when describing Shield," Cart Guang said.

"Who fixed up the house?" Sword Lina asked.

"Hearth Maria and I did the outside."

"You did a nice job," she said.

"Thanks. Pen Ocival did the inside."

Cart Guang parked the van behind their regular car. Shield Wong was the first out of the car and took a defensive position. Normally it would be a Sword who would exit first with the Shield covering the currently occupied position, but moving out first was a problem for Sword Lina. She could swing her body up easier than she could let it down. Coming down, it was too easy to land on her legs, which she couldn't control, in a way that would break one of them. As a result, it always took her more time to get out of a vehicle than it did to get into it.

Watching her struggle, Shield Wong asked, "What are you going to do about that?"

"I'm going to start using braces. I can lock them straight and ease my way down," Sword Lina answered.

She was already working with the Armorer to incorporate braces inside her armor. The weight was a problem so far.

"Why aren't you using them now?"

"Because there are a thousand other things that I have to relearn to do once I start using them. Once I figure out how to use them, I'll retest on the obstacle course. Maybe I can do better than adequate on it."

"You are hoping that you'll actually get to go out in the field? You just barely qualified with a rating of adequate in survival skills. I don't think there are many who would be happy if you went into the field," he said with a look of concern.

"I'm already out in the field, and nobody is unhappy about that."

"You're here as a negotiator. That's a big difference from Sword on the battle field."

"I have a two weeks to improve my urban warfare rating," she said.

"Urban? I thought the kidnappers took the victim into the jungle."

Sword Lina said, "They do, but they have an infrastructure in the city. If we're going to take them down, we need to know who's who. The big boys are going to be in the city. I plan to find them."

"It might work," Shield Wong said thoughtfully. "Everybody overlooks the cripple."

Edited By TeNderLoin

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