March 11, 3033
I cannot remember when I wanted to become a Battlemech pilot- It may have been after viewing combat images on the evening news broadcast or perhaps watching an adventure holomation at the Saturday matinee as a young child. I clearly remember early during mandatory education my father, a long-time factory worker, told me about his brief term as a DCMS reserve infantryman and how he had witnessed the incredible firepower a Battlemech possessed while observing a lance of machines on a live fire range. I remember how his eyes would light up when he described the thunder of autocannon fire and the brilliance of the high-energy weapons as they struck their distant targets. He also related on how everybody looked upon the Battlemech pilots with awe and reverence as they wielded control over those artificial divinities of war whose tread shook the ground with each step.
While it is customary for a son to follow in his father’s footsteps my father was very clear that a career working in a factory machine shop manufacturing tractor parts was not for me. If I were more of a cynic I would conclude that my father was looking at how I would support him after he retired- My father not only supports my mother, my younger sister and myself but his elderly mother as well. I could see my father looking forward to having a portion of a DCMS officer’s paycheck in addition to his meager pension because that’s the kind of guy he is. I already have this image in my head of him playing cards with his work buddies and drinking sake all night while I’m patrolling the Federated Commonwealth border.
After my father got it into his head that I would enter the Sun Tzu School of Combat not only did I have to work part time as a delivery boy for the corner bakery but I also had to take summer courses at a cram school to boost my grades. I swear, the main reason why anyone would join the DCMS is to get away from their small-minded parents. I would go crazy if I had to work in the same factory as my dad. Thankfully, my grades qualified me to take the entrance examination and although I failed the first exam I took, the score was only three points below passing, which allowed me to retake the test. You have no idea how much time I put into studying- My father was ready to give up and have me apprentice at the factory but I stuck to my guns and dangled the possibility of an officer’s pay as the reward for patience. I managed to work odd jobs which, despite my father’s insistence on me paying rent, netted me some money in my savings account- Not enough to buy a passenger vehicle but if I’m lucky I might find a decent, used motorbike.
The shuttle from town to the Sun Tzu campus takes about an hour and a half if you avoid the morning or afternoon traffic. At lunch time and under normal conditions the electric powered bus would be empty. The shuttle was packed with teens, mostly from Ogawa and its outlying communities. I recognized a handful of the students who, like me, were on their way to the academy to find out if they had passed the entrance examination. It was going to be a long, depressing ride home if I failed a second time. I didn’t even want to think of what my father would have to say.
There were about thirty people on the shuttle. Most were quiet but I could hear bits and pieces of conversations between the prospective cadets. I heard the voices of at least two girls. I couldn’t see them because of the number of people standing but it confirmed what I’ve heard about the Sun Tzu School- Of the military academies it has the highest ratio of female cadets to males. Of course, I am rather cynical about the kind of girls who enter military academies- They obviously have something to prove or, as my father says, they are just looking to net an officer for a husband. He could be wrong but I have no doubt that the idea of two officers’ paychecks used to fund his sake habit most likely crossed his simple, working class mind.
The academy covers a vast amount of land even though the campus proper, with its classrooms, dormitories, administrative buildings, et cetera, seems no larger than a small college. The Sun Tzu School brochure does indicate, with slick color images, the maneuver ranges, Battlemech hangars, combat vehicle facilities, and aviation assets used to train combined arms soldiers and officers that are not visible from the main campus.
On the long ride I skimmed over the academy brochure, mostly to fend off boredom but also to keep my mind busy- I couldn’t wait to see my test results and looking at the faces of the others on the shuttle only add to my building stress. The girls on the shuttle, of whom I’ve been able to count three, were potential cadets as well. I wondered if any of the other guys would be mortified if they failed to be accepted while these young women passed.
The city of Ogawa was no longer visible due to the industrial haze. The shuttle’s electric motor strained to climb the winding road that led up the low hill to the academy. There is no way I could live in town and expect to commute to and from class every day. Sure, I’m going to miss home cooking but the idea that I might have my own room or share a room with one or two cadets, which is certainly better than sharing a six-mat apartment with my parents and little sister and trying to study. What I can’t imagine is how the cadets in the infantry school manage to study while living in open barracks.
Wait a minute- Where do the women stay?
The shuttle coasted gradually to a halt behind another shuttle parked in front of a roadside shelter. There was a man in uniform waiting and he waved to the driver. Through the bus window I could see a vehicle parking area with several civilian groundcars and at least a dozen motorbikes and scooters. There was also a section where a score or so bicycles were parked. I saw a folding rack for bicycles on the front of the shuttle so I guess anybody who wanted to check out the nearby villages could spare themselves a workout back up the hill if they took their bicycle, although I still have my heart set on a motorbike. I’m not a kid anymore.
I looked over the guy in uniform. He must be an upperclassman. The uniform he wore was of a similar cut to the student uniforms found in elitist schools. I mean, I wore a typical Ogawa public school uniform, which amounted to a white dress shirt and khaki trousers, with a gray jacket for winter. The more expensive, elite schools have uniforms based on military styles; some are ancient and others contemporary. The rich boys’ school, Ogawa Gakuen, has the traditional, high-collar gakuren in black with brass buttons. I read that the school system in the Japan of ancient, Pre-jump Terra adopted the education methods of Europe and copied their uniforms as well. The information said that the gakuren was based upon the military uniform from a kingdom called Prussia and that they were Germans. That makes no sense at all because the article also said that the Prussians had a formidable army and brilliant military leaders, which causes me to doubt that present-day Lyrans have any connection to these ancient Terran people at all.
One would think that the Sun Tzu academy uniform would look like the DCMS uniform but it bears little resemblance to it at all. The Sun Tzu uniform shares the standup collar of the gakuren and the DCMS dress uniform but I think it’s more practical. The Sun Tzu uniform jacket is sort of brownish green with simple, brass buttons, more of what I’d expect for a field uniform, and it has external pockets which make plenty of sense to me. I don’t recognize any of the markings but I assume they are for rank, although they obviously aren’t based on DCMS markings. The trousers look comfortable and the shoes are neither the cheap, slip on shoes normally worn by students nor are they the boots used by the DCMS. They appear to be dress shoes- The kind you’d see worn by an office executive or a salary man trying to impress his boss. The shoes gleam in the sunlight with the kind of sheen you only see on carefully polished, quality leather.
“Those of you here to view the examination results please go to that building.”
The man in uniform motioned toward a nearby building and I could see a bulletin board and another group of people, most likely from the other shuttle, gathered in front of the board. Right away I could make out people celebrating. The man in uniform leads about a third of the passengers from my bus away and I join those who are here to see their scores. There are some people on their way back to the other shuttle and I can see dejected faces among them. Okay, my heart was pounding.
There must have been thousands of names.
“How many students attend this academy?”
A guy next to me stepped aside to allow somebody room to back away from the printed names.
“There are over thirty thousand applications every semester but only a fraction of them make the grade.”
Hearing that made sense but the answer did nothing to ease the stress. I avoided the temptation to push ahead of the others to find my name. Two of the girls turned away from the board in tears. I sympathized with them because I know how I felt last year and my score was so close to passing. I must also admit that I am somewhat relieved because I couldn’t see being bested by a girl.
I found my name! The entire line was highlighted in light green ink!
I could barely remember walking to the administration building. I showed my identification and the middle-aged lady at the counter handed me a thick orientation packet. There are a dozen other teens that carried orientation packets back to the shuttle. This was very different because I feel self-conscious about the packet. When I made the trip last year I paid no attention to the other passengers, even the ones celebrating.
I lifted my eyes from the packet on my lap and I saw the guy sitting across the aisle- He obviously didn’t have a packet. I stammered out a thank you but I felt more than a little uncomfortable. I closed my eyes and tried to take a nap on the way back to town. I should have been restless and ready to go out and celebrate with my friends but I just felt drained.
The cramped apartment in which my family resides is located near the center of the Kasukawa housing complex overlooking the rail bridge. Thankfully, we live on the third floor so the climb up the stairs wasn’t so tiring. The wooden door was closed, which meant nobody was home. My mother might have been out shopping for fresh vegetables at the farmers’ market- It was late and the merchants would be offering bargains before they closed. I left the main door open, shut the screen door then opened some of the windows to get some air flowing. After I brewed a pot of tea I put a cushion by a window and sat down so I can go over the material in the orientation packet. There was the expected congratulatory letter from the academy commandant as well as copies of similar letters from the town mayor and a handful of local representatives. So far, everything appeared encouraging. There was a list of items to bring when I moved into the dormitory and an even longer list of things that I cannot bring to the academy. Why would I bring explosives? They wouldn’t make a rule if there wasn’t a problem.
Ugh, I was hoping for a quiet, home-cooked meal but my father decided that we were all going out to celebrate. Why didn’t I take a nap when I had the chance? I can already see it- A few minutes after we order our meal some of dad’s friends will walk in and help us celebrate. They’d order sake and start singing warrior songs from their reserve duty days. This isn’t the kind of attention I want. Really, I just want a simple meal and some sleep.
Shizumi’s was busy- We had to wait almost half an hour for a table. Everyone was cheerful. Even my sister was behaving.
“One weekend you have to come out with us wearing your uniform.”
My father was already planning to show me off to his friends as if I were a winning lottery ticket. Forget it, I gorged on teriyaki beef and shrimp tempura and tried not to let anything spoil my mood.
I am a firm believer in “mission shopping”- That would be the practice of making a list of specific items you have to purchase, going to the store, collecting those items and buying them. That’s it, mission accomplished. I may make a note of prices or new products but I always make a point of not picking up anything that isn’t on the list. My mother does not “mission shop.” She can’t resist a bargain and is usually unable to just walk in and out of a store.
The list provided by the academy wasn’t long and the items inexpensive. Since I’m receiving a government scholarship my uniforms, books, quartering, meals, and other things are paid for. I’m even going to receive a modest stipend since part of the scholarship requires that I serve in the DCMS even if I do not graduate.
The dry goods store carries most of the things on my list, such as underwear, socks, soap and a new razor. The small store on campus carries similar items but they are much higher priced. Maybe I’ll buy from the campus shop after I start receiving a stipend because the stuff there looked like they were of higher quality.
While shopping I passed by the electronics section. There is no way I can afford most of the things they sell. The media hubs are reasonably priced but anything with a holographic projector, even a small one, is out of my range. One of these days, when I’m an officer…
The shuttle wasn’t as crowded as the last time I made the trip up Academy Hill. Most of the passengers were workers who disembarked at earlier stops and since the test scores were posted over a week ago, there wouldn’t be many more students visiting to see their results.
The remaining people on the shuttle were cadets like me- We all appeared to be carrying backpacks filled with the items from the list in the orientation packet. Some of the other passengers were carrying conversations. I wondered if these cadets were friends. I was wearing my everyday clothes, the kind of clothes I wear when not in school and I tried to figure out why some of the other passengers looked so different. I mean, I didn’t look any different from the people I knew so what makes these others, who were also in street clothes, different? Great, that was going to be bothering me all day.
The shuttle was greeted…no, I wouldn’t call it greeting in a friendly way. A cadet in uniform waited for the shuttle and he addresses the passengers as they disembarked.
“Those of you here to view the examination results please go to that building.”
Okay, I see there was nobody there to check out his test scores.
“If you haven’t received your orientation packet you are to report to the administration building.” The cadet points out the way and three people break away from the group.
“Anyone who has already been issued their uniforms may continue on to their assigned billets.”
I guess I’ll have to get used to waiting in lines for the next few years.
Sun Tzu School of Combat
“So as you can see by the chart, the combined total of tuition, government grants, fundraising, investments, and donations shall allow our institution to cover its annual budget as well as allow for the acquisition of additional property as required in the Proposed 3040 Master Plan.”
Tai-sa Miyamoto rubbed his high forehead with his palm and fought off the urge to yawn. He considered the Sun Tzu School of Combat Board of Directors’ meeting as a necessary evil which he was obligated to endure –If only the accountant wasn’t so meticulous in his presentation. There were few things as boring as watching a middle-aged gentleman explain ledger entries projected upon a wall-sized screen.
As an active duty member of the Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery, the Tai-sa was the only member of the Board of Directors wearing a uniform. The other eight men in the conference room wore traditional business suits and looked more like a collection of elderly bank employees. Dull, elderly bank employees.
“Miyamoto-san,” Senior Director Nathan Yempuku stood up and waved a sheet of paper, “some inquiries have been brought up about the curriculum and its adoption of…questionable training material.”
“Senior Director, are these your inquiries?” The Tai-sa also rose to his feet. He had grown to expect the occasion confrontation from Yempuku, a man with many influential connections in the DCMS.
The gray-haired man removed his glasses, took his time folding them and placed the black-framed lenses in his suit’s breast pocket. The other board members no longer paid any heed to the stacked reports each had been distributed and focused their attention on the two men who were about to duel with words.
“My sources have drawn my attention to the planned expansion of the school’s infantry, vehicle and aerospace training divisions –I have to question the wisdom of this.” Yempuku glanced around the conference table and a faint smile appeared on his lips. He believed that at least half the board would follow his lead.
“Of course, Yempuku-san, the expansions have been in the works for quite some time, considering how Sun Tzu expanded its Battlemech training almost a decade ago.” The officer tapped the screen his datapad and the projected display of financial charts changed to an official Draconis Combine letterhead that featured the symbol of the Office of the Kanrei. “The planned expansion of the various supporting arms is in conformity with DCMS Training standards. The Sun Tzu School of Combat is the only academy in the Inner Sphere whose cadets are trained in combined arms tactics.” The display changed to a list of major Fourth Succession War battles. “As you can see, those actions in red where the battle’s loss was attributed to enemy units utilizing effective combined arms tactics.”
“When has adopting the dishonorable methods of fighting ever been a good thing?” The Senior Director jabbed the teak desk with his index finger. “This academy shall never have the prestige of Sun Zhang or An Ting if commanders like you keep straying away from traditional DCMS methods of warfare.”
The Tai-sa’s eyes narrowed. “The purpose of the Sun Tzu School is to train leaders and commanders, not one-trick ponies unable to properly utilize their supporting units in battle.” He pointed to the image on the wall-sized screen to emphasize his message. “The Kanrei’s office has approved every proposal in the planned expansion over the next two years, and has generously allocated funding as well; I intend to see the Kanrei’s plans carried out.”
“Cadets in this line will be measured for uniforms.” The supply staff was made up of middle aged and elderly men and women who mechanically executed their jobs with quiet efficiency.
Nishimura sniffed and stretched as he took his place in the queue. After he had confirmed his admission he stood in line to call his parents to give them the good news then he stood in line to pay his tuition then stood in line to complete his registration then stood in line to obtain his academy identification. After he was handed his data card Nishimura was issued a packet that included a list of tasks to complete before the new cadet could report to his assigned billet. He looked over the page that included an inventory list of what he’d be issued and tried to imagine how he would pack it all into the backpack and kit bag he’d receive without wrinkling the dress uniform too badly.
“Have you gotten a look at any of the women yet?”
Nishimura turned around to see who had just whispered in his ear and had to take a step back. The person who addressed him was undoubtedly European. The Draconis Combine was made up of various ethnic groups and a variety of Terra’s races would be expected at an academy like Sun Tzu. Still, Marcus had grown up in the city of Ogawa where the vast majority of the residents are still of Japanese descent and the presence of gaijin still made him somewhat uncomfortable.
The stranger bowed, “Sandström Samuli.”
“Nishimura Marcus.” He bowed in return then shrugged. “Er, I really haven’t had time to really look.”
Sandström nodded, “I have not had time for a complete reconnaissance sweep of the facilities but I figure between twenty and thirty percent of the students here are female.”
“Ah, you are from Rasalhague.”
The cadet held up a hand, “No, I am a loyal Draconis Combine citizen…and not one of those Swedish bastards, either.” He struck a bold pose, shoulders back with his hands on his hips. “I am a Finn.”
Nishimura had to smile.
“Nishimura-san, I am off to the infantry barracks.” Sandström gestured toward a distant set of buildings with his kit bag. He shouldered his bulging backpack and grinned. “I am certain the mechwarrior types wouldn’t want me around.”
“Good day, Sandström-san. Perhaps I might see you at the mess.” He bowed and watched as the other cadet strode off. “I wish I had that kind of confidence.”
The concrete walkway was lined with cherry trees and there were wooden benches near each intersection. The cadet shrugged the backpack from his shoulder, grounded his gear and sat down so he could peruse through his orientation packet.
The Combine teen looked over the small map of Sun Tzu campus and held it up in order to get his bearings. “Alright, there’s the Administration building, the dining facilities…” He stood up and slowly turned around in order to confirm the location of each building with its corresponding image on his map. He took notice of four buildings assigned to Mechwarriors –One of them was labeled “Women’s Billets.” He smiled to himself and whispered, “Target acquired.” He returned the map to his orientation packet and stuffed it into one of his backpack’s pockets. The concrete walkway led to an open courtyard surrounded by the four billets.
Nishimura had taken his time with the registration process. The school year did not officially begin until the beginning of April so most of the few students present would be transfers from other systems. Although Nishimura attended school in the nearby city of Ogawa, Marcus was eager to get out of his family’s cramped apartment.
Ogawa was a dirty, sprawling, industrial city and the schools Marcus attended were filled with students with little hope of leaving the endless generational treadmill of factory workers. The teen’s father was a production line foreman who pushed for his son’s education. Most of Nishimura’s classmates were either in technical schools or already working entry-level apprentice positions. He shuddered at the thought of being trapped working ten hour days, six days a week and living in a room with barely enough space to lay his futon on which to sleep and share a bathroom with a dozen or so other tenants. That was the life his father wanted him to avoid. Between many years of his family setting aside funds and a minor scholarship, Nishimura would be the first of his family to seek higher education.
As a male in the Draconis Combine, Nishimura realized how much easier his lot would be. In Ogawa, girls had little which to look forward to other than marriage and perhaps a low-wage job. Most girls in Ogawa left the education system after middle school to find work or stay home to help their families. He thought about what Sandström told him: Twenty to thirty percent of the cadets in the Sun Tzu were females. How could that many women pass the entrance examination when it was so difficult that he had to take it twice? He found that idea somewhat annoying.
Each of the three story buildings occupied a compass point with the southern building housing the first year male students. The east building served to house the second year cadets while the third year cadets were billeted in the north building. The female mechwarrior cadets were assigned to the east building with the first year cadets on the ground floor.
Nishimura noted the stark simplicity of the four structures, painted a light shade of gray and trimmed with a somewhat darker shade of gray. The new cadet paused to look over the building that would be his home for the next three years and sighed. It looked just as depressing as the buildings at his high school but at least it wasn’t covered with grime and graffiti.
Through the glass-paned doors he could see a desk with a cadet in uniform on duty. His reflection in the glass reminded him that would be the last time he would be wearing his civilian clothing for several months. He pulled the door open and stepped through the portal. The weather outside was fairly warm and the first thing he noticed was how cool the air inside was.
“Name?” The cadet had what looked like an electric ledger on the desk and he sat leaning forward with a stylus at the ready.
The cadet quickly scanned over the list of names, looked up at the large clock on the wall and used the stylus to tap the screen, which entered the time next to Nishimura’s name. He turned the book around to face the new arrival. “Sign here.” He stood up, turned around, opened a gray metal cabinet and selected a key card. “You are assigned room two zero four.”
Nishimura picked up a stylus from a holder and entered his signature on the line next to his printed name. “Very good.” He grasped the key and looked at it before he placed it in his trouser pocket.
“The stairway is to the left, there is no smoking in the rooms, make sure you keep your door locked when you are out, there are pay terminals at each end of the hallways if you want to make a call and make certain you review the barracks regulations in your orientation packet.” He took his seat and looked up. “Do you have any questions?”
Marcus shook his head. “Er, not right now, thank you.” He picked up his gear and turned toward the stairs.
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans