Corporal Xasl #2

In the second installment of this great story, Xasl is in basic training and finding the regimen better than going hungry, but just barely.

Xasl breathed a sigh of relief.  He was surprised to see how quickly he had felt the fear of failure.

“Okay, you can bring your caf and sweetbread over to the questioning booth if you like.  Let’s get you through that process so we can get on to the exciting part, selecting your job.”

Xasl felt real excitement at her optimism and followed her over to a small cube with a comp screen and an ident plate.

“Just press your palm here and then answer the questions as they are asked.  Be certain to answer truthfully, they will be scanning to detect any lies.”

“Yes ma’am.”

He placed his palm on the ident plate and immediately the comp identified him and began a series of questions as the young woman stepped back and closed the door leaving him alone.

He didn’t even think about the fact that all his worldly possessions were still sitting outside.  He had been in an interview booth before and knew the routine.

But this was  different, the comp asked him a bunch of questions about his past and what experience he had, but then it went on to ask him a long series of questions about math, and science, and history, and even languages.  Finally, it asked him a series of question about which he liked better working outdoors or indoors.  Did he prefer to be told what needed to be done and how to do it, or be told what needed to be done and allowed to figure out how to do it?

The questions continued and continued, and Xasl lost track of time until he realized his caf had gone cold and his sweetbread was forming a dry crust.  Finally, the questions came to an end and the comp told him to please exit the booth and wait in the main office.

Xasl got up and stepped out into the office.  The young woman was guiding a young man into another booth, but took the time to smile and nod at him.

Xasl sat back down at the table he had been at earlier and noted that the stack of sweetbreads had shrunk considerably.  He finished his second sweetbread and drank the last of the cold caf as the young woman gave the same instructions to the young man she had just taken into one of the cubes.

“So Xasl, you were in there quite a while.  You must have done well.  Grab another caf, I will be just a few seconds looking through your results.

He got up and walked over to the table where the caf dispenser was and filled his cup once more while his mind raced.

Well, even if I don’t get the job, I got some food in my belly and more caf than I’ve had in months.

“Excellent, you did very well, and your background check confirmed what you told me.  Come on over to my desk here, let’s discuss your options and select your new job.”

“Really?  I got the job?”

“Really.  You qualified for a number of jobs.  Some I have never seen come up before.  So you apparently did very well with the questions.”

Xasl sat in the chair she indicated, his heart beating hard in anticipation of the change in his fortunes, he suddenly knew was real.

“Okay, so we have three different comp spec options that you qualified for, but before we get to those, I would like you to really consider a couple of options that are much higher on my priority list and will provide you will much more opportunity for advancement.

This one I is rare, and there is high signing bonus if you choose it and make it through training.

Weapon’s Master.  You would be in charge of the comp unit that targets and fires the weapons of a destroyer or battle cruiser.  Really high tech, and it has a 3X signing bonus, meaning you would get three additional months’ pay added to your credit account on your first pay date following completion of the training.  Then you get that bonus again on the first pay period of the year for the next two years.  It requires a three year commitment, but people in this specialty get promoted way ahead of everyone else.

Tell me that’s not exciting!”

Xasl could not believe his ears.  They were going to guarantee him 3 years of work and pay him extra for taking the job and staying in it.  Not only that, he would be trained to do it.

“That sounds great.  What happens after 3 years?”

“Well, you can chose to leave the job, but if you want to stay, this is a job that is always in demand with us.  I would expect they would offer you another enlistment of 4, 6 or 8 years, probably with the same or better signing bonus.”

Xasl, could not believe his ears.  But there had to be a catch.

“So what’s the catch?”

“No catch.  It’s a great specialty in high demand right now.”

“Okay, that sounds good.  You said there were other options?”

“Yes, of course.  We have small arms spec with a 2X signing bonus.  Com Spec, ship to ship with a 1X bonus.  Nav Spec with a 3X bonus, and of course the three Comp Spec fields with no bonus. “

“What’s the Nav Spec?”

“That’s a high pressure one.  Pay’s good, but you can only do it for one tour and then you have to do something else for a year before returning to Nav Spec.  It is the person who runs the Nav units on the starships.  You also have to learn how to plot a course when the Nav units are out for emergencies.  You barely met the score for this one, so it might be a real stretch for you.  But you qualify, so it is definitely an option.  Which one do you want to pursue?”

Xasl thought about it for a moment and decided that he should take the money while it was being offered, so one of the two positions with the 3X bonus.  But which one?  She said he might not be able to handle the Nav Spec and it came with the disadvantage of having to do something else for a year after spending 3 years doing it.

But, if he didn’t get on for a second contract with the military that was a skill that he knew was in high demand everywhere.  The Weapons Master on the other hand, had a much smaller market, but there was definitely a market out there on the private yachts and the big commercial vacation ships.  Actually any of the ships that were targeted by pirates.

And there was no year off between contracts.

“I think I want to do the Weapons Master position.  I like the Nav Spec better, but don’t like that year off bit.  I’ve been off for a month at a time before and nearly starved to death.”

“Excellent choice.  Excellent.  Remember me when you out rank me in a few years.

Okay, let me select that for you, and confirm my ident.  Then you will have to confirm you made the choice of your own free will, and commit to the term of enlistment.”

She flew through screen after screen telling him what was contained on the screen and asking him if he understood, and by the time they got to the final screen where the comp unit asked him if he was making this commitment of his own free will, and he understood that the commitment would still be enforced even if he failed the training course.

Three years of work, guaranteed even if he failed to pass the training.  How could a person beat that?  He confirmed his willingness to commit, and pressed his palm to the screen to sign the commitment.

“Excellent.  Welcome to the High Councilor’s service Private Xasl.  Here, I have some meal tokens for you and a lodging voucher.  You are in luck we have an opening for departure tomorrow to your basic training.

Collect your bags and I will call transportation to take you to your lodging.  Hit the sleep station early, you will be departing at lunar rise.

Anything else you need?”

“No, ma’am.  Thank you!  Thank you very much!”

Minutes later, Xasl was sitting in a traveler headed for a low end bed and breakfast.  He could not believe his luck.  Even if the dream came to an end tomorrow, he would have a full belly and a good night’s rest.  And, he and his clothes would be clean.

He arrived at the bed and breakfast just in time to catch the very end of the mid-day meal.  Another stroke of luck.  He ate until he could eat no more and then slipped a couple rolls into his pocket as he went up to his room to get cleaned up and prepared for the trip tomorrow.

…Xasl awoke to the sound of the drill sergeant yelling down the hall.  It had been a rather challenging couple of months.  Going from living on the streets and hunting for work, to doing make work and being yelled at when it was not perfect.  Xasl had adapted quickly though as he always did, and his years of tough jobs and difficult bosses helped him adapt to the drill sergeant mentality of basic training.  The hardest part had been adapting to leaving his things in the dormitory when they went out on drill, and surprisingly leaving food behind when a meal was finished.

But he was nearing graduation from basic training and would soon be moving on to technical training for his new job.  Xasl climbed out of his sleep station and quickly got dressed and cleaned his area, taking extra care to ensure everything was in exactly the right place and positioned exactly right in that place.  Then he went over his bed once more to make sure you could bounce a credit chit off it and there were no flaws in the corners or pillow.

As soon as he finished looking at his area, he moved over to the sleep station next to his and looked it over closely straightening a line on one of the corners and nodding his approval.

After that he moved to the sleep station across the walkway from him and did the same thing.  They had learned early that the only way to survive was to help one another prepare for the sergeant and his critical eyes.

Both the other recruits looked over his sleep station and nodded their approval and they all three moved to the walkway and stood at attention waiting for the sergeant and his lackey to come through and decide who he would mess with today.

Minutes later the sergeant came into their hall with his pet recruit in tow.  She was a pretty young girl, but not very smart and it was clear she did not realize it was just a matter of time until he flunked her out of the squad and sent her to repeat with another squad.

The sergeant was in a mood today.  The first sleep station he came to he bounced a rock off the covers and claimed it was not tight enough then grabbed the covers and threw them across the room.  He turned to his lackey and told her to mark down the demerit as he proceeded to examine the personal area of the recruit whose sleep station had already gotten him a demerit.

Seconds later he declared that the recruit’s personal area was a disaster and he was to receive another demerit and be assigned to relief station duty for the day.  Next he criticized the recruit’s dress and kicked the recruit’s shoes scuffing them up.

“An absolute disaster.  You have learned nothing in the last two months.  Perhaps I should just set you back now and let you try again.  How would you like that?”

“Sergeant, I would not like that at all, Sergeant.”

“No I bet you wouldn’t.  I suppose I will give you one more chance, but if you present this kind of crap tomorrow, you will find yourself heading back to a first day squad to repeat the entire course.  Am I clear?”

“Sergeant, yes Sergeant!”

The next recruit got very similar treatment, as did the one after that.  Then suddenly half way down the row, the sergeant, started screaming at everyone for their lack of teamwork and poor attention to detail.  Then he declared that they were going to go on a 5 parse run with full gear before returning to scrub this Plox pen with toothbrushes.

He turned on his heal and yelled as he left the room.

“Outside! Full Gear! Two minutes!  Move! You slimy bastards!”

Xasl grabbed his backpack and weapons belts putting both on as he moved toward the door.  It did not pay to be in the last third of the squad to get outside.

He heard some grumbling as he moved to the door and waited for the others to line up behind him.

Some of these recruits clearly do not understand that this is all a game to determine how well we will handle stress and unexpected changes or criticism.  The key to survival here seems to be to identify the motivation and adapt to the new rules as quickly as possible.

I suppose it helps that I have gone hungry so many times that I’m willing to put up with an awful lot to make sure that meal keeps coming.

But of course the 5 parse run will replace the early meal today.  Probably an attempt to rattle my cage.

“Last recruit in line, proceed squad leader.”

Xasl watched as the recruit that had been designated squad leader based on her name beginning earliest in the alphabet, opened the door.  He followed her out staying in perfect step as they moved down a long hall and across to the ladder that would take them to the drill area three stories below their dormitory.

As it came his turn to get on the ladder he heard the quiet cadence call and picked it up for those behind him.  You were not allowed to look at the person below you on the ladder, so the only way to avoid stepping on them or getting a big gap between was to move on cadence.  Another of the meaningless rituals they had here.

He reached the bottom of the ladder and stepped aside moving smartly to his position in the squad formation as he saw the Sergeant exit the cafeteria door holding a cup of hot caf and watching them form up with a scowl.

“Move your asses!  I don’t have all day to wait for you cream pies to go down a damn ladder.”


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