The Gifted Have Fallen
Navy Camp, Day Two:
In the morning, we rose at our assigned time and kept the appointments on our agendas. For me, that meant breakfast, followed by Navy sports regimens that gave me no lasting memories. Next, we re-joined other sub-groups and toured the computer center. Again, this made almost no impression on me, personally, but my roommate said he was interested in what he called ARPANET. His descriptions sounded okay, especially about the Star Trek game he played when he got computer time, except you had to sit down at a keyboard to do anything. I figured it wasn't for me. I didn't really pay attention to anything more than the enthusiasm of my roommate.
Even then, my new friends pushed my roommate aside as we left the computer center. He was a tall, blonde guy, and nice enough but they didn't like him. He wasn't cool by their standards.
"Those fuckers," Dave from Boston hissed.
"What, the navy again?" I glanced backwards. The computer room staff had seemed fine. They had acted like our tour was an annoyance in their morning but I thought from their perspective they had it about right.
"No, the wrestlers." He said it like 'rasslahs.'
"Oh, them." I sighed. Dave had mentioned the rasslahs on our first day. Apparently, a couple hundred of them from a bunch of high schools along the east coast were holding a different camp at the Naval Academy. They were here during the same span of days as our Gifted and Talented program.
"Didn't you say you wanted to swim?" Dave shook a photocopied program in his fist. He'd gotten his hands on the wrestling camp handouts from a kiosk in one of the naval buildings.
"Yeah." I shrugged. "That's the only sport I'm good at. And karate, I guess."
"Our camp doesn't get to use the pool because the rasslahs do." He opened the handout and jabbed the marked boxes on the wrestling camp schedule of events. Sure enough, they had reserved the pool.
I changed the topic to how we could meet at lunch. Our sub-groups were different but everyone had lunch at roughly the same time. Plus we had class together afterwards. I thought that could be funny.
At lunch, I re-discovered how the guys were trying to prove they were brainier than one another and also smarter than the girls whenever they sat in mixed company. How did these guys ever get dates? But after a while I realized, well, maybe they didn't. A bunch of them were my age, a year younger than usual for high school juniors. They had been at a disadvantage on the dating scene. On top of everything else, many of them couldn't drive yet. I couldn't either. I knew what a date-killer relying on parents to drive could be. Maybe these guys had gotten mad at the situation and given up before things even started.
After lunch, Dave and I enjoyed one of our rare classes together. He shook his fist at the wrestling camp banners along the way. On the return trip, he slowed down and grabbed my shoulder.
"Look," he said.
"No one is watching. This is our chance." He gestured to the wrestling camp flags and welcoming posters. "Help me take this down."
"Are you serious?" Even as I replied, he was grabbing one side of the main banner. I shrugged and accepted an end of the cloth from him. He sprinted to the other end and ripped it down completely.
"Now we'll burn it." He cackled.
"Then let's stuff it in a trash can."
At dinner that night, a Navy cadet stopped by to talk to everyone in our dining hall. He described how someone had vandalized the wrestling camp. They suspected the culprit had come from the Gifted and Talented camp because, well, who else was there? As the young man lectured us, Dave kept laughing and punching me under the table. He was totally not playing it cool.
But then the cadet swept the crowd with his gaze and described the vandalism. Partway through, Dave and I realized it wasn't us. No one had cared out what we'd done, it seemed. A wrestling coach had found the banner we'd stuffed into the trash can. No big deal. The wrestling camp was mad about much more serious damage.
After a while of listening to the list of property destruction, Dave whispered, "Holy shit."
There were other vandals in the Gifted and Talented camp. And they were more hardcore than us.
Navy Camp, Day Three:
At breakfast, someone older and more serious than a cadet strode in. The other staff in the room saluted him.
"Someone has changed the master password in the Naval Academy computers," he announced. "Those computers are networked to the actual Navy computers. About a third of the Naval Defense Network is down."
He harumphed at his own statement.
"Well, not exactly down. But we can't access our own network. And you know, we'd like to do that."
"Why are you talking to us?" asked one of the girls near the front.
The officer barely glanced in her direction.
"The time frame for the master password change is closely associated with the tour this group took yesterday. So I'll tell you what we are going to do. We are going to take your entire group on another tour. We are going to walk through the computer center together. All of us. And I hope someone is going to change the master password back to what it was."
"Yes, my staff thinks it's funny, too. But you know who won't? Anyone at Naval Command. They would want to prosecute whoever did it. Here at the Academy, we would rather treat it was a prank. It was a prank, right?"
His tone insisted that it was going to be a case of high-spirited hijinx and easily corrected, or else.
"It was your roommate," Dave from Boston whispered to me.
"He went back to the computers after we took you away from him. I saw it. He's rubbish."
"Who the fuck says 'rubbish?'"
At the computer center, a bunch of the cadets who had ignored us during the previous day now stared openly at the collection of high school juniors who had apparently caused them trouble. Deliberately, they all turned their backs.
"No one is going to see what you do," the officer in charge explained. He also carefully turned his back to us. "But it's still going to get done."
Such was the finality of the officer's tone that we walked the first leg of the tour in silence. After a minute, though, Dave started talking about how he had idears (of all the r's to pronounce, why his accent chose an imaginary one I've no idear) about who done it. I could actually feel the cadets wincing, doing everything but covering their ears as they tried not to overhear him. Fortunately, the other students took a cue from Dave and started chatting, not only about the possible culprit among us but about everything they were doing in the camp. I don't think the computer staff heard from Dave how my roommate had a programming book and diagrams on his dresser (actually, 'dressa').
Navy Camp, Day Four:
In the morning, we ran an abbreviated obstacle course. It was fun. We also reported for a physical, during which a medical corpsman measured me while I was waiting in line, leaning my shoulder against a wall. Since I hadn't been standing straight, I came in at less than 5'5". As a self-conscious teen, I protested and demanded the staff re-measure me. The doctor in charge laughed.
"You're tall enough for the Marines," he said. He swept a white-coated arm around the room and the certificates hung up around the walls. They bore military insignia. "Marines and Navy, that's all we care about. Move along."
At lunch, we sat at the mess benches and I noticed the groupings were different. Dave was no longer hanging out with all of his vandalism buddies. You would think I'd wonder what that was about but, mostly, I didn't. I was more preoccupied with the discovery that I'd offended some of the young women, who I liked and who I wanted to like me back. My problem was that I had tried to come to the defense of my male friends. We had already had a handful of heated arguments over whether women belonged in the military. To me, it was a non-issue because:
1) They were already in the military
2) They had been in it for ages
3) Their presence made it slightly more appealing
There was no point in bickering. It's not like anyone was going to change anyone else's mind. These teens were smart and fairly tough. They had volunteered for a Navy camp.
Nevertheless, it was apparent that some of the young men thought they could harass young women into changing their minds. My instinct had been to play peacemaker but that got me hated on all sides. About the young men, I found I didn't care. They weren't even fellow vandals. They were rule-followers and seemed to want to join the Navy. I cared about the young women, though. I didn't know precisely what I'd said to them that was wrong but I wanted to fix it. But I still felt I had to defend the idiocies of my male friends.
At lunch, Dave bragged about our Gifted and Talented harassment of the wrestling camp. One of the girls at our table threatened to report me to my father. She had already told me she was a student at his school.
By dinner time, I had made a sort of peace. A couple girls smiled at me. We had all together decided to ditch some of the worst young men even though I considered them fellow rebels. For sure, it made our conversation easier.
Dave cut the women out of our conversation, though, as we picked up our dinner trays.
"They ain't gonna kiss you," he remarked.
I sighed. We tossed out the trash and headed for our dorms.
"You know what?" he said. "We should break into the pool and swim."
"Sure," I replied sarcastically, because this was obviously bullshit. I was used to other teenagers talking about things they couldn't do.
Myself, I spent a lot of time resentfully doing the worst I could with what I'd been ordered to do. A lot of the time, I avoided taking the initiative because that led to fights and punishments and general life hassle. And as someone who had spent a long time doing nothing that I wanted to do, I found people who didn't follow orders and instead did what they wanted to be fascinating.
"Great! I'll get you up at around two in the morning," Dave said. "We'll break in tonight."