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American Contemporary Fiction

The clerk greeted her at the desk beside the conference room door. “Good morning, Lieutenant, please set your personal effects on the desk.”


She laid her cover, handbag and laptop bag on the desk and then set her raincoat next to them.


The clerk handed her a badge to pin on her uniform lapel.


LT Ann Scarletti, USN

Office of Naval Research


Ann noted the branches of service on the remaining badges: US Army, US Air Force and US Marines. Then she noticed the ranks: Colonel, Colonel, and Colonel.


The clerk placed her effects into a locker. Then he picked up her raincoat and said, “Rain is not in the forecast today, ma’am.”


Ann studied the Army clerk. He was likely a product of a good education and a lack of options after high school. He had adapted well to the run rules at the Pentagon. Small talk with officers was acceptable, but not much beyond the weather. 


Ann graduated from the Naval Academy and majored in Operations Research. She specialized in behavioral studies and shunned the run rules. She knew the limits of small talk and often used them as training opportunities.


“It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”


***


“Good Morning,” said the meeting host from the podium. “My name is General Jake Givens and I work for the Secretary of Defense in Test and Evaluation.”


The general dimmed the lights and projected a slide of tabulated data. The slide listed major wars in the history of the United States. Besides each war, the slide displayed a column of combat casualties. 


The general pointed to the screen. “What is the takeaway from this slide?”


“I see nothing but brave Americans,” the Army colonel said.


“Agreed,” the Air Force colonel added. “But raw statistics don’t tell the whole story.”


The Marine colonel said. “The casualty rate grows smaller with each war. We got smarter and improved our weapons.”


“These are all great points,” the general said, “but the Secretary has a different take.” He switched slides. It only listed specific wars. “As you can see from this slide, we suffer more combat casualties in ground wars.”


Ann fiddled with her pen until the general looked at her.


General Givens spoke a little louder. “About six months ago, the Secretary held a service-wide essay competition. One stood out. The winning essay asserts that our next conflict will be a ground war.”


The Marine colonel said, “We’re ready.”


General Givens pointed to the slide. “And how many casualties are acceptable in our next war?”


The Army colonel answered, “None are acceptable. Most are inevitable. Some are preventable.”


The general nodded and said, “Preventable deaths in the next war are why we are meeting today. The Secretary has hand-picked each of you for different but related reasons.”


He pointed to the Air Force officer, “Colonel Dunbar, you work at Manpower and Personnel. You are a specialist in the requirements for service entry. The essay suggests smarter recruiting could prevent future casualties.”


He pointed to the Army officer, “Colonel Green, you work in Operations. You are here to add a field perspective to our goal of preventable casualties.”


The general nodded at the Marine officer. “Colonel Wilford, you work at the Combat Development Command. Your performance in battle is a case study at our service academies.”


The Marine colonel shrugged the compliment off.


“Here is the citation for your leadership on the battlefield.” The general waved a certificate in the air. “And here is your after action report from the fight that day.” He waved a few sheets of paper in his other hand. “I want to focus on the latter.”


The general set both items on the podium. “You saved the lives of countless Marines by leading them across a river instead of a bridge. Your decision went against orders and mission intelligence. In your after action report, you called your decision to cross the river a—“


“It was a gut feeling.” The Marine colonel finished the sentence for the General.


“What Colonel Wilford calls a gut feeling, the Secretary of Defense calls intuition.” General Givens held up another stack of papers. “This is the winning essay. It suggests a battery of tests to identify intuition in our ranks. Our job is to answer one question for the Secretary.” The new slide read: Can we use testing to identify intuition amongst our ranks?


The Air Force colonel said, “I’d like to meet the author of that essay.”


Ann raised her hand. “It was me.”


***


General Givens pressed a button on a remote control. The screen split into four separate video panels labeled Subject A, Subject B, Subject C and Subject D.


“The lieutenant’s essay calls for three tests.” General Givens said. “We conducted these tests. My department has filmed the results.”


Ann said, “Did your test administrators follow the —”


“Lieutenant Scarletti,” the general interrupted. “Our test administrators followed your guidelines with a few exceptions.”


“Oh?”


“The subjects in these videos are from the four services seated at this table. They are not selected at random.”


“Officer or enlisted?”


“We didn’t specify.”


“And the selection criteria?”


“We asked local commanders to identify subjects that have shown signs of intuition in their opinion. From the 33 names submitted, we selected four at random.”


“What’s the first test?”


“It’s a maze.” General Givens said. On each screen panel, cameras pointed towards the same circular maze. It was the kind found in puzzle magazines. Rocks on the ground formed the edges of the concentric circles. Some paths lead to dead ends. Other paths lead to openings.


“We tasked our subjects to position themselves in the center of the maze. No other instructions were given.”


The general started the video. Small timers counted up the seconds on the bottom of each panel. Then four subjects entered the maze area. 


The subjects were the same height and body type. They dressed in matching coveralls. Digital effects masked their faces. Other than the letters stenciled on their backs (A, B, C and D) it was impossible to tell them apart.


Ann nodded assent. They did follow her guidelines.


Subjects A, B, and C walked to the entrance of the maze and paused. Their heads turned left and right searching for a clear path to the center circle.


The fourth subject walked to the entrance of the maze but did not pause. Subject D walked over the rocks and stopped at the center circle. The timer stopped at 4 seconds.


Subjects A, B, and C navigated the maze with relative ease. Their timers stopped at 30, 32, and 38 seconds respectively. The general paused the video.


“And how does this test measure intuition?” the Air Force colonel asked.


All eyes turned to Ann. She said, “It depends on us, as viewers, to identify flashes of intuition.”


The Army colonel said, “Subject D cheated.”


The Air Force colonel said, “He followed vague orders.”


The Marine colonel said, “There needs to be something to push a subject into an intuitive decision.”


Ann said, “Yes, sir.” She changed her voice. “According to psychologists, real displays of intuition require emotion to drive them.”


The Army colonel said, “We had a squad that refused to cross and open field unless a specific private was on point. He had a nose for mines. How’s that for an emotional driver?”


Nobody answered his rhetorical question. 


***


General Givens said, “Let’s add emotion to our test process.” 


Four separate computer monitors appeared on the split screen. Each monitor displayed white dots on a black background. They moved randomly. 


“Now if you focus on these dots, most are random, but some are moving generally to the left or right.” The general used a laser pointer to illustrate. “Now we gave each subject a button in their left hand and a button in their right hand. If subjects see dots that move generally to the left, then they pressed the left button. And vice versa.”


Ann asked, “Did you keep score?”


“Yes,” the general said, “watch the bottom of each panel, next to the timer.”


The Air Force colonel asked, “And how did you add emotion to this test?”


The general answered, “Look the right of the dots. If you focus, you can see micro flashes of red or green squares. A green flash alerts the subject their response was correct—red for incorrect.”


After two minutes, the screen went blank.


The Air Force colonel said, “I’m still missing how intuition plays a role in this test.”


Ann said, “You will after the second part of this test, sir.”


The general said, “The lieutenant is right. But first, look at the results of the test using red and green feedback.” The screen displayed test results.


Subject A - 55 presses, 50 green and 5 red.


Subject B - 47 presses, 38 green and 9 red.


Subject C - 52 presses, 33 green and 19 red.


Subject D - 62 presses, 17 green and 45 red.


“For the second part of the test, let’s add a countdown timer. And then replace the red and green feedback with negative and positive images.”


“What are these images?”


“We used images of the devil and a newborn baby. An incorrect response flashes the devil. A correct response flashes the image of the baby.”


The general started the video. The dots appeared and the audible timer counted down. The subjects responded. After two minutes, the countdown and video stopped.


General Givens displayed the new test results. “The question is: Did the subjects show intuition as a result of the countdown and change of imagery?”


The Army colonel said, “Subjects A, B and C had results close to their original effort. But each increased their total press counts. This suggests minor influence on them.”


The Air Force colonel said, “Subject D’s results were heavily influenced by the changes. He had more clicks and he reversed his results. This suggests the subject was driven by the urgency of the countdown and image of that baby. This is measurable data.”


The Marine colonel asked, “What is our takeaway from this part of the test?”


The general nodded towards Ann.


Ann said, “The colonel is right. The changes had little effect on Subjects A, B and C. Subject D showed notable response to the emotional feedback.”


***


General Givens said, “We have one more test, though.”


A camera pointed at each subject seated in a swivel chair. They faced a wastebasket about three feet in front of them.


General Givens said, “We handed each subject a sheet of paper. Then we asked them to ball it up and toss it into the wastebasket.”


On screen, all four subjects tossed the ball of paper into the wastebasket.


“Then, we blindfolded each subject, and asked them to toss the paper into the wastebasket.”


On screen, subjects A and B hesitated. Then they practiced the motion of a toss. Then they successfully tossed the paper into the wastebasket. Both timers read 10 seconds.


Subject C leaned forward in the chair and tossed the paper into the wastebasket. The timer read 4 seconds.


Subject D missed the wastebasket. The timer read 2 seconds.


General Givens said, “Let’s add some environmental effects to the same test. While still blindfolded, we are going to blast a fan to the right of them.”


Subject A tossed the paper at the wastebasket. The wind from the fan blew the paper away from the wastebasket.


Subject B paused and turned to face the fan. This took 6 seconds. Once measured, the subject offset the effects of the wind and tossed the paper into the wastebasket.


Subject C paused, then tossed the paper above the wind effects. Its new trajectory allowed it to fall into the wastebasket.


Subject D licked his index finger and held it up in the air. After swiveling to the right, Subject D tossed the paper into the air. The wind carried it into the wastebasket. The timer read 4 seconds.


General Givens said, “And our final round of testing. Still blindfolded.”


A test administrator walked into the camera view and grasped the back of each subject’s swivel chair. Fans started from both the left and right. Then the subjects were handed their balls of paper. And then the test administrator swiveled their chairs three quarters of a full turn.


Subject A tossed the paper and missed.


Subject B paused, swiveled a half-turn and tossed the paper. It missed.


Subject C hesitated and swiveled a full turn in the opposite direction. His paper missed the wastebasket.


Upon feeling the test administrator grab the chair, Subject D kicked off a shoe. He revealed a white sock.


The Army colonel said, “Subject D is clearly in violation of uniform regulations.”


Subject D swiveled the chair with a foot on floor. When the shoe was felt, Subject D regained orientation. The subject measured the effects of both fans and tossed the paper into the middle of the wastebasket.


The screen went blank. General Givens said, “These were the tests suggested by Lieutenant in her point paper. We’ll open our discussions after the break.” 


The general then paused and smiled. “But there’s one test left. It was not listed in the essay.” He crossed the room to the door.



***


The four subjects entered the room. They each wore the uniform of their respective service. They stood with their feet shoulder width apart and the hands joined behind them—parade rest. It was impossible to tell which subject wore which letter.


General Givens said, “You may ask a couple questions each, but only to the member of your branch. It is worth noting that each test subject was asked to bring an item from work or home. We asked the item be a symbol of their intuition.”


Ann measured the sailor in his dress blues. The Seaman Apprentice was likely a product of a good education and a lack of options after high school. He looked uncomfortable in this setting. His eyes scanned the room. He recoiled at the sight of the Marine officer. 


But he smiled when making eye contact with Ann.


The colonel said, “Let’s start with the Air Force.”


“Major,” said the Air Force colonel. “What drove your decision making process in the computer dot test?”


The Air Force major came to attention and pointed to a kneeboard fixed to his thigh of his flight suit. “I used standard operating procedures from the cockpit, sir. Observe, measure and react.”


“Did you choose the kneeboard as a symbol of your intuition?”


“Yes, sir.”


The Army colonel asked, “Captain, which subject were you?”


The Army captain came to attention and answered, “I’m not sure what you are talking about, sir.” He looked left and right at the other subjects. “I thought I was the only one tested.”


“What drove your decisions during these tests?”


“Without a doubt, it was the Army’s military decision making process.” The captain showed a picture of his family to the attendees. Then he added, “The MDP and my family drive all of my decisions.”


The Marine colonel asked. “During any of the tests, Sergeant, did you have a gut feeling, a feeling that drove your decisions?”


The Marine sergeant came to attention. “My gut told me to exceed expectations and not fail the Corps.”


“And what was your symbol of intuition?”


The sergeant removed a dog tag from his trouser pocket. He said, “Fellow Marines carry me through all my battles.”


Ann asked, “Sailor, can you lift the legs of your trousers?”


The sailor did not come to attention and no longer smiled at the lieutenant. He did not reach for his trousers legs. “Lieutenant, I got dressed in the dark this morning and rushed to get here. Plus, I couldn’t find my—”


Ann stopped him with her hand and signaled him to lift the trouser legs.


The sailor slowly pulled up his trouser legs, exposing his white socks.


“Sailor,” Ann said, “come to attention.” The seaman apprentice brought his heels together and his arms to his sides. “Is that your symbol of your intuition in your right hand?”


“Yes, ma’am.” 


The sailor held out his black umbrella.


***


Lieutenant Scarletti crossed the massive Pentagon parking lot and searched for her car. 


Then she felt the first drop of rain. 


She donned her raincoat and smiled at the partially clouded skies.


She was right. 


General Givens would report to the Secretary of Defense to trust his instincts. 


Intuition can be measured. 


Perhaps the Army could find more privates with a nose for land mines.


Perhaps the Marines could cross more rivers than bridges because their leaders went with their gut.


Perhaps intuition could lead to preventable casualties in the next war or conflict.


The rain stopped. Lieutenant Ann Scarletti slowed her pace. The sun cast her shadow on the concrete.


Now is the time to build the ark.

January 05, 2022 16:29

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6 comments

Bruce Friedman
19:39 Jan 06, 2022

Great story and so "military" in style and vocabulary. Welcome to Reedsy. I love this approach. Takes me back. I was in the medical corp stationed in Seoul 50 years ago. About that time, I was told that in the face of conflict with a foreign nation, the best strategy was to send a copy of PowerPoint to all of the opposing general officers. They would become so preoccupied with refining their PP presentations that they would forget about waging war. I'm a pathologist and on another occasion was met by an officer who said he needed to know i...

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17:03 Jan 16, 2022

Hi Dan, I'm going to be honest here too, in the hope that I can also be useful, though I appreciate the deadline for this contest is passed, perhaps I can catch your next story before the deadline. The clerk greeted her at the desk beside the conference room door. - I might try to avoid saying "her" in an opening line. It's a bit vague when you are trying to set a scene. Perhaps drop in her first name or rank instead? “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” - Nice line and shows that the character has some sass. Ann said, “Yes, s...

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Daniel Hafertepe
17:36 Jan 16, 2022

Katharine, there is no reason to continue with that review for Subject D. For me, the timing of these contests is not too editor friendly. The story you have reviewed is probably up to Version D by now. Please spare yourself the energy. There's a url between the <<<< >>>> that follows <<<https://hemingwayapp.com/>>>> Paste your text into the space provided at that site and it returns word, adverb, and sentence counts. I think the run rules for Flesch-Kincaid are easy to google. Let me know how that url works or if there's anything you ...

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Daniel Hafertepe
17:37 Jan 16, 2022

As I suspected, Reedsy deletes any url you try to send. Let me look for another way to get you that url.

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Daniel Hafertepe
17:40 Jan 16, 2022

hemingwayappDOTcom

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19:01 Jan 16, 2022

Thank you - much appreciated

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