10 The General's Perspective

The next morning's training was focused on the systems and tactics for larger fighting craft which were less maneuverable, but had more powerful weapons.

At lunch, Dev took command of the flight and marched them to the meal while Zeke proceeded to General Yalt's office, directed by his comm bracelet. In the office, an attractive young enlisted woman was busy at a console.

She looked up at Zeke as he entered and he could tell that she recognized him by her admiring smile. She worked for a general, yet was impressed by him? She indicated a chair, and touched a button on her console.

The general evidently had no need to emphasize his rank by keeping him waiting, as he appeared within a few minutes.

"Zeke," he said in his habitually good-natured tone, "let's go to the officer's mess. It will be quieter than the main cafeteria."

Zeke followed him out the door into the hallway and listened as the general spoke. "I have heard that the divisions within your flight have been closed?"

"Yes, I believe so. Even Rilt and I have developed, I believe, a mutual respect," Zeke answered.

"That is good--and more important than you know. However, I don't know if you have much visibility into what the rest of the complex---or the rest of Anyar---thinks."

"No," Zeke answered, "we don't have much contact with anyone but the instructors and the techs when we have hi-def sims. The instructors have not said or done anything to treat me any different from anyone else in the flight. The techs have been formal, but not disrespectful. Is that unusual?"

"For the instructors, no. The techs are enlisted and, normally, they tend to be friendly with some cadets. They wager on the outcome of matches and the performance of individuals and flights. It's frowned upon, but not forbidden as long as the amounts are small."

The general sighed. "You will find out, so I will tell you now. They seldom wager on your success--even when it seems likely. I fear that it is not because they are backing the opposing side as a long shot, but that they still have a strong resentment of you."

"Is that resentment a problem? Or becoming one?"

"Resentment of you? We have discussed it. We think not. We hope not."

"However," the general went on, "the objects of this resentment appear to have grown to include your entire flight."

Zeke was so surprised that he almost stopped walking.

"That had not occurred to me. No one has mentioned anything to me."

"Your flight has developed a camaraderie that is unusual for training flights."

They reached the officer's mess. Zeke followed the general inside. A human attendant, assisted by robotic servers, directed them to an open table.

After they'd ordered, the general continued. "One other problem, or perhaps I should call it a difficult decision, faces us because of the success of your flight in the match sims."

A "Hunh?" slipped out before Zeke could control his surprise. "Are we doing that much better than everyone else?"

"You can compare your results against all the previous cadet classes for the last hundred years. Most of the missions are the same. Your flight's mission success rate is thirty percent higher than any other flight's in history and appears that it will increase further.

"The cooperation within your flight has changed the tactics that will be used within the academy. It will surely change what is taught, and will soon change our standard tactical plans for use in combat."

"The question," he went on, "is how to proceed from here."

With that, he was silent and looked at Zeke.

"You expect an answer, or solution, from me?" Zeke asked with incredulity.

"We hoped for new insights by placing you in this academy," the general said. "We did not expect that you would have this much of an impact."

"Do you know how unsuited I am to answer questions like this? On my world, I was an unpopular person in a small school in a small town. I know little enough about things like this on Earth, much less here on Anyar."

"The truth is the truth, no matter where it is found," the general responded. "A good idea is a good idea no matter who has it, or how it comes to them."

"It isn't just that. The traditions you have here, in the academy and in your whole society--traditions that you have had for hundreds of years...we did not have anything like that on Earth. It gives me a sense of being a part of something bigger. That is something that I think most of us on Earth, at least those in my country, lack.

"It is not," Zeke continued, "something I want to mess with. It is something I don't want to screw up."

The general paused for a moment before speaking.

"Just a few months ago, everyone here on this planet came closer to death than you can imagine. I believe that you know, intellectually, the truth of that. But as insightful as you seem to be, I realize that your youth hides that reality from you."

Zeke shook his head and smiled. "It does seem unreal to me. Just being here, when I lay in my bed at night, I wonder if I won't wake up the next morning back in my room at home, with a school day ahead of me."

"I cannot, and will not, pretend to imagine the magnitude of the changes that you have experienced in such a short time. But I am one of those responsible for the future of my people. Like everyone else, I feel a personal debt to you for your part in saving Anyar. But I will not, and I cannot, hesitate to ask for more if I think it will help keep my people safe."

"Is what I've started--apparently started--a good thing? What if it takes us down a wrong path that weakens Anyari forces? If, instead of improving our defense, it leaves it vulnerable?" Zeke asked.

"You seem to be afraid of taking responsibility for your choices. Yet, you have already started something that will surely change this academy, and probably the entire Anyari military forever."

Zeke turned defensive. "I just did what I thought was best."

"As must we all," said the general.

They sat silently for a while. Their food had not been delivered, perhaps because the general had delayed it. The robotic server brought covered plates and glasses with their meal.

Zeke's appetite had disappeared. "I do not understand how I can be seen as important enough to have these conversations with you. How can I be seen as some kind of savior, yet still be despised by almost everyone."

The general, heartily attacking his meal, answered. "That you are seen as important? That one I can easily answer."

"First," he said, "you and Danil had a major role in saving everyone on the planet. Chance played a role in putting you in that position, but your actions should not be dismissed.

"If we forget about that, there is your completion of Behrlende's mission. Chance, I'm sure you will answer on that score, too.

"But, I must also consider your part in the recent performance of your flight. If you were me, what conclusions would you reach?" the general asked him.

Zeke struggled to answer, "Do you have lotteries here on Anyar?"


"Individuals each pay a small amount to purchase a chance to win. That money is placed in a pool. A winner, or winners, are selected by chance and receive the total amount in the pool. We have many millions of participants and the odds of any one person winning are astronomically small."

"But," Zeke told the general, "eventually, someone does win. Always, eventually, someone wins. Their good fortune comes from simple luck. No skill is involved."

The general answered, "We don't have lotteries. I would say they are somewhat contrary to the Anyari mentality. However, perhaps to your surprise, I agree with you on the role of chance in your sitting here with me now. But, I would add one more supposition to this theory of yours."

Zeke said nothing but looked at the general expectantly.

"Incredible odds brought you to Anyar at the right moment to help save us.

"Perhaps chance allowed you to succeed where so many of us, including myself, failed at Berhlende's mission.

"And, I might even grant that chance played a role in your uniting your flight and the recent successes that have occurred."

He paused, and his gaze seemed to become even more intent on Zeke. "Consider that there might be a fourth, unlikely, factor at play here--that you have the insight and ability to succeed when situations like these occur."

Zeke had hardly touched his meal. He didn't really buy the general's points.

"Let me try to take some pressure off of you. Anything you suggest is just that, a suggestion. The responsibility for decisions is mine and those of us who lead the military. We will certainly not blindly follow any suggestions you make. We simply hope to have the insight to recognize the best course of action from the many that we are considering. We, at least many of us, have determined that you are a likely source of good ideas, and a source of different insights into our strengths, weaknesses, and the actions we can take to improve our ability to fight the Rogue."

"I really don't know what to tell you. I don't believe you should change your training methods based upon what has happened with my flight. Although I'd have to give it more thought, I would wait and see what the next flight does, to see if they choose to institute sessions like ours. Will they know about our methods?"

"Yes, I'm sure they will hear. I'd already come to pretty much the same conclusions. Flights in the other training centers, and even the senior flights here, are trying to adopt your methods. A few of my peers suggested we forbid the group sessions, but that is not the Anyari way. A few others wanted to make them a formal part of the training and match competitions, but I think we have enough formality as it is.

"I must leave, but stay and finish your meal. I think you could do with a few minutes to relax and compose yourself again."

"And," he added, "you might get a chance to get a different perspective on things."

With that, Zeke followed his gaze to a table across the room where Elenne was sitting by herself. He rose to leave, smiled and said, "Unless I am mistaken, I think you'll have another companion at your table shortly."

Zeke rose and said, "Thank you, sir."

"Sit down, take your time and finish your meal. If it makes you feel better, consider it an order."

On his way out, the general went to the table where Elenne was eating. He bent over and said something quietly into her ear. Her eyes grew wide in surprise and he thought she was blushing as she nodded her head.

After the general left, she picked up her plate and came over to Zeke's table.

"Do you mind if I sit with you?" she asked.

"Did the general tell you to come sit with me?" Zeke asked in turn.

"Oh, no! That had nothing to do with you." She paused and thought for a moment, "At least I don't think it did."

Zeke didn't press the matter and smiled. The last few weeks had been busy and he hadn't known what to say when trying to contact her again. In what little time he'd had, he wondered if she'd forgotten about him.

She sat down with her plate and summoned a server to bring her a drink.

"Have you forgotten me?" she asked.

"No, but I'd assumed you had found another patient more interesting than me."

She blushed. "I hope you don't think I usually do that, uhmm, you know."

"Did you know I was here? Or did you just happen to be here by chance?" he asked.

She tapped her comm bracelet and smiled. "I can keep track of my patients."

With that, he felt his appetite starting to return. "I am glad. If I did think you kissed all your patients, I would have been...well ...disappointed."

"That may not have been the most proper behavior for a physician," she said, "but chances like that don't come every day."

"If you knew how invisible I was to the girls in my school, you would not look at me the same way."

"If they could see you now, I'm sure they would look at you much differently."

"I guess we'll never know," Zeke replied.

"I hope not," she said with a mischievous smile.

They were finishing the meal, when she suggested, "I think it might be wise to have you come in to check on how you've healed."

"It's been several weeks!" Zeke exclaimed. "That seems suspicious to me. Surely it will be noticed."

"And if it is?" she answered. "My medical judgment shouldn't be questioned on a matter like this," she said, indignantly, "especially by you!"

The corners of her mouth turned up into a little smile that told him she was kidding.

"Don't be surprised to see an appointment with me on Fifthday, after duty hours. You have your first days off this Sixthday?"

"Yes, I do."

"Has anyone ever taken you out of the academy, or the royal residence, to see how we live?" she asked him.

"No, not really," he answered.

"Meaning, no, not at all?"

"Well, no, I haven't had the time."

"Would you like to go up north with me to meet my family? I might prescribe it for your emotional well-being."

It took a moment for this to sink in. When it did, he simply smiled and nodded.

She rose, smiled, and said, "I have to get back to the hospital, I'll see you soon."