“I just don’t understand why,” Nalani grumbled. “I mean, I came here for the military program, so why am I given the same assignment as…”
“As the weaklings that decided to come here for the phenomenal education?” Adelle completed Nalani’s sentence with a grin. Her friend gave an exasperated sigh. “You’re not weak, but yes!” Nalani returned the grin. “Seriously, what the frak am I supposed to write about?”
Adelle chuckled appreciatively. “You know, for such a hard-core military chick, you can be such a nerd sometimes. I don’t know, I’m going to Google ‘contested electoral district’ and see what comes up.”
Nalani shook her head. “Google’s not authorized for research,” she said disapprovingly. Adelle shot her what she hoped was a withering look. “I’m not using it for reseach, just to find a contested electoral district. Then I can go to the library or whatever to look it up.” Sometimes, Adelle wondered what went on in Nalani’s mind, assuming there was even space for anything other than the old Battlestar Galactica she insisted on watching ad naseum. “Besides, I thought you didn’t have any brilliant ideas?”
Nalani thought hard for a moment. It was true that she could not afford to fail this class, even taken as an elective. She had only signed up for two reasons: because it sounded easy, and because Adelle was in it. She figured they could suffer the boring content together. The only problem was that the class was proving challenging, and Adelle not only loved the whole political side to a military education, but she was so good at bullshitting that she could do something random and still get a high mark. “I… I guess I could do that crap election in the United States that time…”
Adelle’s face displayed her amusement, though she at least tried to hide it.
“You mean the 2000 contest of Florida’s vote for that idiot Bush?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Bloody bastard, getting into a mess he couldn’t clean up. Even his nanny of a vice couldn’t keep him from screwing liberty in the ass, eh?”
“You mean the very contest that the professor told us was off-limits, because everyone wanted to do it?” Adelle managed to restrain her laughter at the look on Nalani’s face.
“But I thought that would be perfect! Damn him!” Nalani would spend the majority of the evening cursing the professor’s name. Meanwhile, Adelle turned to her computer and typed in her search phrase. One hit seemed to jump out at her, simply because she knew that no other student would be looking for the district.
“Nalani, I found it! Look, look!” She’s practically got me smelling her computer, Nalani thought, as she looked at the webpage in question. “What the frak is this crap?” she demanded.
Adelle sighed. “It fits the requirements.”
“Yeah, but Ade, do you always feel the need to stick out like a sore thumb?”
“Ah, Nali, when I’m chosen to be your CO, it will be due to the fact that I don’t blend in with the newbies. Sticking out is a virtue.”
Nalani snorted. “Yeah, but it also gets you a great many male enemies, not something to strive for here.” She finally took in the information on the screen. “Jesus Hell, are you crazy? ‘Joondalup’… in Perth? Isn’t Perth that planet in those frakking dragon novels?”
“Firstly, no, you’re thinking of Pern. Secondly, apparently Perth is the capital of Western Australia, so… still, no. Thirdly, if you’re going to curse, do it properly. We’re not on basic cable, you know. It’s not like you have to use ‘frak’ when you can just say ‘fuck.’”
“Eh, frak is more entertaining to me; less vulgar and all that crap.” Adelle rolled her eyes. Her greatest worries at Theresianum were often that her friend’s vapidity would rub off on her, and that the males at the school would one day beat her down for outshining them. Though why they should worry about me is incomprehensible. “It’s not like I’m a great athlete and, you know, actual competition for them.” Adelle didn’t even realize that she had spoken aloud until she caught the look on Nalani’s face.
True, at a school like Theresianum, athleticism in the women was mostly looked down on, and most of the few women accepted were more similar to Adelle than Nalani. But Nalani had military in her blood, and having no living sons, her father had started her training early in her childhood. Nalani had the physical equivalent of Adelle’s intellect: she was rapidly becoming a fierce soldier, but for once, it did not faze the men at the academy. Perhaps it was partly due to her insistence on being treated as any other soldier. She bathed in their showers, wore men’s uniforms that she altered herself, and even wore custom-sized men’s boots. She was able to take a joke, and a hazing, like a man, and even managed to drink some of the officers under the table.
The only thing she did not do with the men was sleep. Oh, a quick nap in a bunker during a week-long exercise was fine, but she always enjoyed her return to the room she shared with Adelle. They often joked that they lived in the Favorita, but were far from favorites. The men, the soldiers, accepted Nalani, but never the women. It didn’t hurt her terribly, but Adelle was on the other side of the spectrum. Well-liked by the professors and few females, the men teased her mercilessly, making her life as close to a hell as they could. Adelle put up with the light abuse for the pleasures of living in the Neue Favorita Palace, and the incredible poli-sci education she was obtaining.
Adelle often wondered what it would have been like to be paired with anyone other than Nalani. The Italian-born Nalani had more in common with Adelle than either cared to admit. While Nalani was not ostracized when her true birthplace was revealed to the other students, she sometimes wondered why Adelle had fought so hard to enter Theresianum. It was, after all, an Austrian military academy, and Adelle was a half-jew who had been born in Stare Opole, Poland, for Christ’s sake. If anyone had a reason to shun the elite academy, it was Adelle. Nalani, for her part, had been raised in Bianco, where there was an undisguised contempt for the military, and she had been eager to leave the seaside town of her childhood in favor of a good, rigorous training academy in Austria.
Nalani put an arm around her friend. “It’s not like I’m smarter than these guys, I just use their strength to my advantage,” she said quietly. “You outthink them on every level. You know that I would not be half as good as they think me if not for the tactics you’ve been teaching me.”
Adelle sniffed in what she hoped was a contemptuous manner. “Yes, but evading their brutish attacks with more Eastern-style maneuvers, that’s looked down upon if I mention it. When you actually use it, they hail you as some sort of military genius. I’m only considered intelligent as such in class.”
Nalani was concerned with the sniffle. It sounded more sad than uppity, but she wouldn’t hurt Adelle by voicing this opinion. “Well, it just seems that you know infinitely more about military strategy than any of those ‘brutes,’ regardless of your rather weak physical prowess.” Adelle gave her a genuine smile. Her lack of physical prowess was a standing joke between the two.
“Can I just ask… I’ve been curious since you told me, but… Why did you decide to school here?”
Adelle looked at Nalani, stared hard at her, and finally answered. “I don’t want to tell you yet.”
I want to watch the military. Keep them in check.
Nalani met and held Adelle’s eyes. “I’ll tell you why I’m here. I never want them to use Italy again, but I can’t ensure that without insider knowledge of their military.”
She hesitated for a second. Perhaps she had read Adelle incorrectly. Perhaps this wasn’t the person in whom she could confide a secret of this magnitude. Suddenly, Adelle tackled her, taking down the seasoned fighter with an unexpected embrace. “Thank you,” she said, tears in her eyes.
“Don’t mention it. Literally. Ever.” Nalani tried to look threatening, but succeeded only in looking amused. “Now, let’s turn that TV on before we miss the beginning of the movie.”
“What are we watching again?”
“…And what is it about?”
“A member of the IRA who has to inform on his fellow terrorists because he gets caught. Idiot even failed his mission.” Nalani had no sympathy for idiots who bungled their operations and got caught. No sympathy whatsoever.