Crossroads, Part Six

Continued from Part Five

A few days later, the bugle blasted reveille. Snyder groaned, turned over in his bunk, and looked at his watch. 0300? What the heck? Reveille wasn’t supposed to be until 0500. Sergeant Cutler burst in fully dressed.

Does that guy ever sleep?

“Up and at ’em, soldiers. We’re having a special assembly at 0530 hours. Required attendance.”

The female soldier in the bunk above Snyder groaned. Cutler said, “Soldier, give me five push-ups.”

What a pushover. Didn’t he even remember his own basic training?

After breakfast and the morning exercise, the recruits from his company entered the assembly hall. A giant portable holovision “picture window” filled the entire stage. Inside said holo-window, a larger-than-life colonel stood at a lectern preparing his notes. “Please, take your seats.”

Snyder found a seat with his platoon four rows from the back. His shadow sat beside him naturally. At times, he couldn’t tell whether she wanted him to protect her from certain other guys in the platoon, or wanted him to break one of Sergeant Jirel Cutler’s cardinal rules: no hanky-panky.

The Colonel at the lectern said, “I am Colonel Leopold Lewis. My apologies to recruits in the Pacific and Mountain Time Zones and for our friends at the Naval training center in Hawaii. I’m sorry to get you out of bed. However, I think you’ll find what you’re about to experience worth the disturbance. Here to explain the core values of our Imperial Armed Services, we have our commander-in-chief.”

Snyder stood and cheered along with virtually everyone else.

Lewis continued. “The World knows him as a winner of the Noble Peace Prize for his work on human rights. America knows him as Time’s Man of the Year for two years running and People’s Sexiest Man Alive for the past three.”

The females scattered in the audience cheered, apparently at all locations, from Lewis’ pause. But only his shadow’s squeals threatened to leave him deaf.

It took a minute, but the female recruits eventually remembered they were supposed to be tough-as-any-guy soldiers, not groupies.

Colonel Lewis said, “I know him as a good soldier, a great statesman, and a faithful prince, Earth’s  future King, Donovan the Steward.”

The twenty-one-year-old world leader entered the picture in dress uniform and with his raven hair tied back in a ponytail he’d grown out in belated rebellion. Donovan took the place of the exiting Lewis. “Thank you, soldiers, sailors, and Marines of the Empire and thank you, Colonel Lewis for that fine introduction.

“Perhaps the greatest change I’ve introduced as Steward has been in the core values of the military. My predecessor defined the core values as KILL:Know who’s in charge, Insure the death of terrorists, Loyalty to the Steward,Laziness means death. The KILL model had some interesting ideas, but produced great enmity between reasonable Americans and the Empire that could have been avoided.

“Because of this, I’ve introduced the LEAD model.” Below the Steward, words appeared as he spoke them:

Loyalty to the people of your province, and to the Empire as a whole.

Achieving personal excellence

The Steward delivered an inspirational speech on the LEAD model. It was different than other speeches he’d seen the Steward give. The Steward seemed ready to pound the podium like Mama Borden’s pastor.

When the Steward got to “Ethics,” Snyder leaned forward.

“During my predecessor’s reign, ethics were never discussed. It was considered of little importance, which is why he felt free to betray America and the Empire. We’ve had to correct many of his errors. You are the new army, an ethical army that will understand its ethical obligations.

“An ethical soldier is the pride and glory of the Empire. An unethical one is the greatest friend terrorists ever had. I want my army—make that our army—to be loved, respected, and honored across the globe. If we’re to do that, ethics must be our first priority, and it must be a way of life.

The Steward held up a spiral-bound book. “Your ethics handbook is your guide to life, your source of truth in all situations. It was put together by the finest minds in the world from the disciplines of philosophy and religion. I want us to be proud of what we do, and we’re not going to have that if we do not have an ethical base.”

“Should you run into any ethical problems that you cannot resolve at the local level, feel free to contact my military affairs office, and we’ll make sure that it’s resolved.”

Snyder made a mental note of the number flashing in the air, as if to remind him this was only a live holovision feed. This would be a real change, a huge change, in the way the Imperial Army operated. He could hardly wait to tell Mama Borden.

When the speech ended half an hour later, Snyder spotted Sergeant Cutler frowning in the corner. Cutler called out, “Everyone report to your drill sergeants. Thank you for your time.”

Cutler spent the next hour drilling them on the handling of their weapon. Cutler had them use rubber guns so an idiot wouldn’t kill anyone if he mishandled it.

Cutler said, “All right, good work, men. We’ll meet in 15 minutes in Classroom 12C and review the sexual harassment policy. Until then, you’re dismissed.”

Everyone but Snyder broke off to enjoy a few moments of free time. Snyder walked after Cutler. “Sir, can I have a moment of your time, sir?”

Cutler said, “What is it, Snyder?”

“I was wondering what you thought of the Steward’s presentation, sir.”

Cutler looked upwards for some reason and walked a few steps. “It was interesting. There’s one area it could have used improvement on.”

“Sir, what was missing, sir?”

“Everything he wants you to do, he wants you to do for you. Be ethical, because it will make you feel good. Achieve excellence, because it will make you look good. But Armies are made to fight battles, and in the midst of a battle, will you risk your life so that you look good? Will you die for a promotion? Where I come from, we were taught about love and putting others before yourself. And if a soldier can’t find that love for others, they’re not worth a dime.”

Man. And he thought the Steward had sounded like a preacher.


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