Mala looks at me and tilts her head and purses her lips, her chin drawing up and in, her eyebrows compressed, eyes narrowed. It’s an expression I’ve seen plenty of times in class, and she’s worse at disguising it than most cadets: it’s her “Sir, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” expression.
“Sir,” she begins.
“Listen,” I respond. I’m thinking through the options: today’s Friday, a training day, and we’re almost at the end of first hour. As a cow, a junior, she’s got her afternoon clear, but it’s 0826 and she’s got three morning classes left and mandatory mid-day formation at Washington Hall. After the sit-down Cadet lunch — all 4,316 cadets eating in the same facility, at the same time, in an environment that every visitor I’ve had has said reminds them of the dining hall scenes in the old Harry Potter movies — her schedule gets a lot more free. “How are you doing in your other classes? What have you got B, C, D hour?”
She thinks for a moment. “I’m good, sir,” she says. “B minus in Chem but otherwise OK.”
So I ask: “If you get a COR, can you walk some hours?” CORs are electronic Cadet Observation Reports; the ways that faculty tell a Cadet’s chain of command that the Cadet has screwed up, and the penalty is marching for hours around the quad. Mala’s so scrupulously careful that she’s never had to worry much about hours, and the emotions that cross her face make it clear: Cadet Casey doesn’t walk hours.
She swallows. “Yessir.”
I nod. “OK,” I tell her. I speak slowly, deliberately, for the sake of clarity and emphasis. “What I am about to tell you is not an order. This is advice about one possible way to rectify the situation into which you’ve been put. Following it will violate policies and the orders of your chain of command.” I pause. “You will see trouble for this.” She nods. I’m now the one to take a deep breath. “I also believe,” I say, “that it’s the only way out of this situation that both upholds the integrity of this institution and the Corps of Cadets and keeps you from violating the Honor Code.” She nods again. “Cadet Casey,” I continue, “if you blow off the rest of your morning classes, you’re going to generate CORs for your B, C, and D hour classes, and you’re going to walk hours for those CORs.” Her eyes get a little wider, but she nods. I’m gambling here: most faculty I know don’t bother with reporting attendance until the end of the day, especially on Fridays, so Mala’s absences won’t hit her chain of command until COB, which makes lunch still fairly safe territory for her. And the fact that it’s a Friday works to our advantage.
“Sir,” she blurts. Frustrated. “There’s nothing I can do.”
“There’s plenty you can do,” I respond. I slip my antiquated civilian laptop out of my bag and hand it to her. “Take this. It’s Friday; you’ve got walking privileges. There’s wireless off post.”
She nods. She knows where the public wireless points are in Highland Falls, the tiny town outside the Academy’s south gate. They aren’t safe, but they’re temporarily anonymous to the point where she can at least get on a secure channel and not have her transmissions blocked by the military filters for a few hours. “First order of business,” I say. “Get Tim, get him to watch for what you’re going to write. Get his network in on it.”
She nods. “They’ll tag it,” she says. “That’s the idea, right?”
“That’s the idea.” Mala’s already grasped the nature of response here: the power of the disciplinary action being taken against her is that it lies in secrecy. The clickstream accusation of plagiarism and its concomitant implication of treason only hold teeth inasmuch as they connect to secret-classified Air Force documents; documents closely held. Mala can’t disprove synchronicity in terms of the time frames of document release. What she can do, though, is publicly reframe the debate over what happened, and that’s what I’m sending her to do. “After Tim,” I tell her, “update your public bookmarks. Make everything point your way, to this.” I gesture vaguely, but she understands: to this situation, this mess.
“Yessir,” she says. She’s buckling on the body armor as we talk, gearing up the distributed computing, the sounds of microturbines and hydraulics and the unmistakable pings from her earbud: nine in a row, messages received. We both know they’re likely from her Cadet Chain of Command, and they’re likely best not listened to right now. She grimaces and slips her browser into its front pocket and shoulders her carbine. “Sir,” she says.
“Go change your clothes, Cadet Casey,” I say. “Highland Falls. Secure wireless. Change the topic. The swarms are secondary, not primary. Write your paper to shift the argument to management of affect and management of information rather than management of technology.”
She stands there in my office door a moment, thinking, and I hear the backpack hardware gear up as well, its tiny chuff of condensate. “Management of affect, Sir?”
“Tim’s a Tamil,” I say. “He loves you.” She blinks, nods. “Why?”
Then: gone. She moves quickly, faster than her peers.
Eight minutes later, I’m alone in my office with the door closed, hoping that my browsing and tagging on my government machine is sufficiently discreet. It isn’t, of course, and it doesn’t matter that it isn’t, and I knew it wouldn’t matter. There’s the knock of body-armor knuckles on wood.
A male voice: “Professor Edwards?”
I don’t answer.
Seconds later, the same voice, and again the rap of armored knuckles on my door: “Military Police, Professor Edwards.”
(To be continued.)