Buffy stopped, reversed direction, and ran back up the stairs. “Wait, Gator!”
He stopped, turned around and frowned. “Yes, Cadet Summers?”
Uh, oh, Buffy thought. Maybe she shouldn't have called him by name. Well, she knew how to deal with that. Taking the last step, she moved in and kissed him again. Yep, that brought out a smile. “If you just wanted to kiss me...”
“No, si... Gat... Okay, this is weird. I am going to stick with calling you Gator for right now. Gator, this is the situation. I was in Cadet Sheridan's room to search it. I need to come clean because I'm taking what I found there to the Powers That Be. So feel free to report me. But please don't indicate what time you saw me leave. I have a reason for stopping you beyond the entire kissing thing. Please trust me.”
Gravely, Gator looked into her eyes. With a sigh, he said, “I'm probably going to regret this, Cali, but okay. I'll back your play. I'll report you first thing tomorrow morning. That's the earliest I would have anyway. And I won't say I saw you afterwards. I'm going to want an explanation at some time though. Got it?”
“Thank you, Gator. You'll get one.” Buffy started to turn around, but Gator stopped her. He pulled into another kiss that again curled her toes. Wow, she thought, I think I see stars...
Buffy slipped into her room, her heart still beating fast. It was odd how climbing icy walls in the middle of the night didn't affect her pulse, but getting kissed by a cute boy did. Okay, maybe not that odd, still...
Connie greeted her. “Hey, Cali. So?”
“Don't say so what to me. Tell me what happened with Sher. Dish, girl!”
“He kissed me.” Buffy knew she had a dreamy expression on her face, but she couldn't help it. Gator's last kiss had rocked her in a very good way.
Connie's eyes widened. “Sher
kissed you? Yuck!”
“No... I mean, yes, I did make out with Sher. I had to seal the deal. But... what I mean is that Gator
If anything Connie's eyes got even bigger. “Wait. You made out with two
guys? Daaamnnn, Cali, you really get around.”
In exasperation, Buffy tossed her pillow at Connie. This lead to a little back and forth wrestling that Buffy won by dint of Slayer strength.
After a moment, Connie spoke again. “So give me the play by play.”
With that, Buffy launched into what had happened with Sher. She explained how he had hit on her, invited her to his room, and tried to steal second base. Buffy told Connie what she had done to him, then how the two of them had a date on Saturday. A date which Buffy wasn't planning to make since hopefully both Sheridan and Merryman would be long gone.
Connie said, “You never really told me what you're going to tell Colonel O'Neill about how you found out about Sheridan and Merryman. I mean, he's not going to be convinced if you just call him and tell him that there's a big cheating slash rape ring. You know?”
Buffy calmly met Connie's eyes. She could tell that the other girl was nervous, despite their discussions on how best to handle this. But she deserved the truth. “I'm going to tell him the truth...”
Connie almost choked as she heard what Cali had to say. Trying to get herself under control, Connie wondered what truth Cali was going to tell Colonel O'Neill? The truth about how the two of them had taken it upon themselves to try to get two utter bastards out of the service of their country, no matter what it took?
“Uhh... Cali, what do you mean? If we tell the truth, they're going to get rid of all four of us.” Connie watched Cali as she spoke, looking for a reaction.
There was a brief flash of amusement, then Cali spoke in a reassuring tone, “Don't worry, Connie. The worst thing that'll happen is that I'll get Boarded. I actually expect to. But all you did was bring to my attention something that you overheard. That's all you have to testify to. Okay?”
Connie frowned. So Cali was going to take on all of the risk. Typical. Not this time, though. “No, it's not okay. You're not going to make yourself the patsy for this. I'm in it up to my eyebrows and I'm going all the way with it. That means, as far as Colonel O'Neill or General Kerrigan's concerned, I was in on the planning on how to deal with those two, I was involved in the execution of said plan, and I have supported you completely. Got it?”
Cali's eyes glowed. Connie could tell she was touched by what she'd said. Still, the next words out of her mouth were, “I can't let you do that, Connie. I...”
Connie interrupted her. “You can't stop me. You need me to testify about what I heard in the library. Or you'll have no basis for your suspicions and why you did what you did. So zip it, Cali, and let's take those two assholes down.”
Cali stared at Connie consideringly, as if she were a beagle that had jumped up and started to quote Shakespeare. The look faded into respect as a slow smile grew on her face. “Okay, if that's the way you want it.”
“I'm going over to call Colonel O'Neill then. Wish me luck.”
“Good luck, Cali.”
Connie watched as Cali headed towards the door. Then something occurred to her. “Wait!” Cali turned back towards her. “You didn't tell me anything about what happened with Gator. I'm going to want all of the juicy details when you get back.”
Cali flashed a smile. “Sure thing.” Then she was gone.
Connie sat in front of her desk thinking about what the next few days would bring. She knew there was going to be hell to pay over this. She just hoped that whatever happened didn't result in the two of them getting the boot as well for conduct unbecoming...
Jack sat at his desk, throwing balled up pieces of paper at a trash can he'd set up on the other side of the room as a make-shift basketball goal. He was bored with a capital “B”. There weren't any missions for another four days. There hadn't been any emergencies for two weeks now. It was making the adrenaline junkie side of himself a little stir crazy. Or maybe just crazy, Jack thought, before getting up and picking up the thirty or so wads of paper that he missed the trash can with.
The thirty or so wads of paper that should be the last five months worth of reports, but weren't. Or rather, they each were a sentence or two's worth of report. That was where he'd stopped with each of them. Writing reports was just so damn boring. On the other hand, helping those young soldiers who had been training to fight to the death for Apophis had been the opposite of boring. Jack wondered how Rogers was doing now.
Just then, the phone rang. Saved, Jack thought gratefully, although with his luck it would be Hammond calling him in for another raking over the coals for not finishing his reports. Then again, he deserved a break after the last few days of boredom.
“Colonel O'Neill? This is Cadet Summers. I... uh... need to talk to you.”
His cadet had called him. That couldn't be good. Jack hoped that she wasn't going to try to get out of the assignment he'd given her. If so, she was going to be in extra trouble for waiting until the last minute. Jack already regretted sponsoring her. If Summers hadn't done the assignment he'd given her, Jack was going to drop her. Best to get it over with quickly. He leaned back in his chair as he contemplated his reply.
“Cadet Summers, is this about the work I assigned you? Because that assignment is non-negotiable.”
“No, sir, it's not. I've already finished the assignment you gave me. It's about something else. Something I found out. About a fellow cadet, or rather two fellow cadets. I didn't know who else to tell what I'd found. So, I wanted to talk to you, since you told me to call if I ever needed anything.”
The girl's voice was stressed. It was also a sign of just how upset she was that she'd lapsed back into speaking with contractions, a big no-no for a smack. Something was wrong. Jack sat up straight and asked, “I did tell you that, so let's have it. What happened?”
Jack sat there in growing disbelief as Summers spoke. Finally, he interrupted her. “Hold on. I'll be there in a couple of hours or so. In the meantime, I want you to go grab dinner at the mess, then go back to your room. You and Cadet Perez wait for me there. I'll be bringing someone with me. Then we'll all go talk to General Kerrigan. You got all that, Summers?”
Jack could practically hear her come to attention over the phone. “Yes, sir!”
“I'll see you in one hour, Cadet. O'Neill out.” Jack hung up the phone, then silently cursed. He had thought he was making a mistake sponsoring Summers. Now, he knew he hadn't. Still, it was going to be a huge mess to straighten out. And there was going to be fall out. For everyone involved...
Major Samantha Carter sat in her lab working on her experiment. That she'd done this particular experiment twice already didn't bother her. Running a naquadah reactor to its limits never got old. Even if the reactor in question was old, small, and surplus. Just then, Colonel O'Neill came striding into her lab, obviously in a hurry.
“Saddle up, Carter, I've got a mission for us.”
Sam was mystified. “Sir? P4X-3997 isn't until next week. Has something happened? Have one of the SG teams run into problems out in the field?” If so, she'd better get ready, Sam thought, already starting to shut the reactor down. Then she stopped at Jack's words.
“No, no, nothing like that. Everyone here's fine. That was why I was bored. I'm not any longer, though. I just got a call from Cadet Summers.”
Carter stared. Where had she heard that name before? Right. “That sma... err, that fourth-class cadet you were sponsoring. What happened? Is she all right?”
“You can call her a smack, Carter. After all, you graduated from the Zoo just like I did. Anyway, my smack, Summers, is in trouble.”
Carter felt frustrated, but managed to stop her initial, borderline insubordinate reply. After a second, she spoke, “Sir, I don't see what this has to do with me. You
chose to sponsor a 'smack,' not me. You may have roped Daniel into helping you with her, but I'm not biting. I...”
Jack sighed. “For cryin' out loud, Carter, this is important. And
something you'll be interested in. She...”
Screw insubordination. “With all due respect, sir, I still don't see what this has to do with me. I...”
“Summers found a date rape ring and an organized cheating ring, both operating out of the Zoo. Both being run by Firsties.”
Sam, who had been about to speak, stopped. A date rape ring? A cheating ring? Either was a horrible situation. Together they raised it from horrible to catastrophic. To both the reputation and the effectiveness of the Academy. With the Goa'uld threat looming, the Air Force was even more in need of talented young officers. If something detrimental happened to the Academy, the pipeline of those needed officers into the ranks of the Air Force could be disastrously diverted. It galled her that Jack was right, but Sam didn't waste any time on recriminations.
“I understand, sir. Give me five minutes to shut the reactor down. Then I'll be ready to go.” Sam hit buttons and switches numbly, while thinking about what Jack had said. In the meantime, she heard Jack on her phone, trying to reach General Kerrigan.
“Colonel O'Neill here, Airman. I need to set up an appointment with the General immediately.
“I know what time it is.”
“This is an emergency, Airman.”
“Yes, I know that the General is probably eating dinner. I would like to as well, but I can't. So call him up. He'll want to hear what I have to say.”
“Son, the last thing you want to do is stall me. It's 1830 hours right now. I'll be there by 2000 hours with the emergency in tow. Am I clear?”
“Thank you, Airman.”
Carter was done and grabbed her jacket. “You were a little hard on that airman, weren't you, sir?”
Jack ran his fingers through his hair. “Maybe. But I don't have time for his CYA attitude. Worse, I can't call a national emergency and pull rank that way. I mean, just because the reputation of the Academy is under a severe threat...”
Jack looked stressed as he trailed off. Moving alongside him down the corridor, Sam tried to reassure him. “Sir, I'm sure it can't be that bad.”
Jack bit off a harsh laugh. “No, Carter, it can be exactly that bad. Summers found a large supply of GHB in a cadet's footlocker along with incriminating files on that cadet's computer. His roommate had similar files on his computer and a large supply of tests with answer keys in his
footlocker. Those incriminating files contained names of customers. There was even a...”
They hit the elevators together. “What, sir?”
“There was a list of female cadets with asterisks next to them. Summers didn't draw any conclusions, but the answer is obvious and disturbing. Those are certainly rape victims.”
The elevator doors opened. “I don't understand, sir. How did Summers get involved in all of this?”
Together, they moved through the various security checkpoints. Sam knew Jack was waiting until they got in the car to answer her question. Finally, though, they were inside and speeding away from the Mountain.
Jack sighed. “Her roommate, a Cadet Perez, overheard the two cadets engaging in a crude discussion about Cadet Summers.”
Sam hid her frown. She knew firsthand about the 'boys will be boys' attitude of the Zoo and the Air Force in general when it came to male/female relations. That some of those relations bordered upon or were flat out sexual harassment was a fact of life, one that any female officer had to be prepared to face. The Air Force's attitude was still far better than that of the Army, Navy, or Marines. However, that didn't make it right.
“Sir, that doesn't explain how Cadet Summers found out about the GHB.”
Watching the road as he drove, Jack stared straight ahead. Finally, he replied, “Some of the things Perez heard were pretty bad. Enough to make Summers and her suspect that there was more to the situation than two male cadets boasting. So Summers suckered the one who wanted to scr... err, sleep with her into letting her into his room. She convinced him to let her watch television for a while. He left her alone after a while and she searched his room, finding the evidence.”
Carter started. “Sir! She'll be disciplined.”
“Yes, she will. It's an honors infraction, but she didn't do it to steal or anything else underhanded. That's what I'll argue with Kerrigan. Still, she won't be coming out of this smelling like a rose.”
Carter asked, “Will you still continue to sponsor her, sir?”
Jack's eyes gleamed. For the first time since they'd gotten in the car, his face was alive with emotions. Sam just wasn't sure what those emotions were. Then she found out. “Are you kidding me, Carter? Hell, yes, I'm still sponsoring her. Short of her getting kicked out of the Zoo completely, which I won't let happen, there's nothing that could stop me.”
“Sir, I thought...”
Jack smiled crookedly. “I know, Carter. But, even though Summers did something pretty stupid searching their room, she's still exactly what I want for the SGC. She acted quickly. She acted decisively. And
she didn't shy away from making a hard choice. Nor did she choose to follow the easy path. She could of kept silent, but she didn't. She did the right thing. More to the point, her roommate supports her completely. I got that much from our conversation, reading between the lines. It's not easy to teach the kind of leadership that Summers has. She comes by it naturally. And I want it for our command.”
Sam considered what Jack had said, and brought up something that was bothering her. “Still, sir, she did illegally search their room...”
“Yeah, right. For cryin' out loud, Carter, we've all done worse since joining the SGC. I've done far, far worse back in Special Ops. And we're the good guys. Also officers, who are supposed to know right from wrong. Not something a smack should have that good a handle on. But my smack does.”
His smack. Sam mulled over a wide range of responses to what Jack had said. One by one, she discarded them. Ultimately, she agreed with him. Not that the ends justify the means, that way lay tyranny and chaos. Rather, that sometimes you had to take a shortcut or two with the rules. To resolve an issue that threatened a lot of people. If there was a list of names of women who had been raped, which Sam didn't really doubt, then for their sakes, what Summers had done had its justification.
Finally, Sam said, “I agree, sir. Let's go take care of 'your' smack...”
Buffy jumped at the sharp knock on her door. She leaped to her feet. Exchanging a worried look with Connie, she went to answer it. She'd prepped Connie on how she had come by the information, basically searching Sheridan's room while he left her alone to watch television. Still, Buffy was worried.
Opening the door, she saw Colonel O'Neill. “Atten-Hut!” Buffy snapped rigidly to attention. Behind her she could hear Connie do the same.
Colonel O'Neill walked by her into their room, followed by a female officer wearing the insignia of an Air Force Major. Both stood there for a moment before the Colonel finally said, “At ease, Cadets.”
Buffy fell into the parade rest position. She wasn't going to chance underestimating how 'at ease' Colonel O'Neill meant for her to be. Apparently, she'd gauged it correctly since he nodded in approval.
“All right now, Cadet Summers. Why don't you give me a few more details before our appointment that I arranged with General Kerrigan comes due?”
Nervous, Buffy started, “Sir, it started like this...”
Sam stood watching as Buffy recounted what she'd found out and how she had gone about it. She had to admit it wasn't what she would have done, but then not everyone had a general for a father. It was daring, decisive, and completely the wrong way to deal with the situation. Summers should have gone to one of her teachers who was also an officer and started an investigation that way. There would definitely be repercussions. How bad, depended on whether they were able to keep her name out of it. Of course that would be up to the general. How he would feel would be very interesting.
Cadet Summers finally reached a stopping point. And Jack finally seemed to remember that he had someone with him. “Thank you, Cadet. By the way, this is Major Samantha Carter. She's smarter than all three of us combined. That's why I brought her along. I figure that even if I miss something, she'll be sure to see it. Major Carter, this is Cadets Summers and Perez. I think you can tell them apart since Summers is the one in trouble. Major, if there's anything you would like to ask them before we go see General Kerrigan, now's the time.”
Sam watched amused as Summers gulped, but stayed silent. “I would like to say it's nice to meet you both and under other circumstances, I would. But this is a serious situation. Cadet Summers, how did you know to look for the passwords where you found them?”
“Ma'am, I had a friend back in high school who was a ge... skilled with computers. She told me of an old trick that lazy people use to hide their passwords. That is how I found Cadet Merryman's password, ma'am.”
“And Cadet Sheridan's?”
“Dumb luck, ma'am. I opened the computer case to look for contraband and spotted them inside the case.”
“Dumb luck indeed. And the footlockers? Why look there?”
Sam watched as Summers' face reddened. This should be interesting, she though. “Ma'am, I ... ah... had a similar hiding place myself back in high school. Theirs was more complicated, but still worked similarly enough that I was able to find them, ma'am.”
“For what, cadet? Drugs?”
Sam raised her eyebrows, waiting.
“My diary, ma'am. Some weapons I used in my night time activities.”
Sam glanced at Jack, wondering what that was about. He shrugged. “I'll tell you about that later, Major. Cadet Perez.”
Sam watched as Jack grilled Perez the same way he had grilled Summers. She listened while glancing over the room. It was neat and tidy, identical to every other cadet's room, including her own when she had been a cadet. The only non-reg item Sam spotted was a pink pig poking its head out from behind one of the cadets' computer cases. Amused, Sam decided not to make an issue of it.
“So Cadet Perez, you thought that it was a good idea for Cadet Summers to mislead Cadet Sheridan, giving herself access to his room? Is that right?”
Buffy interrupted. “Sir, Cadet Perez did not know what I had planned. She only reported the initial conversation, sir. I take full responsibility, sir.”
Sam watched as Jack's eyes narrowed. “Don't interrupt again, Cadet Summers. Now do I need to repeat the question, Cadet?”
“No, sir! You do not need to repeat the question, sir! I knew that Cadet Summers had planned to search Cadet Sheridan's room, sir! I did not know how she would do so, sir!”
“Thank you, Cadet.”
“Permission to speak, sir!”
Sam raised her eyebrows at Perez's request. The girl was only going to get herself in deeper by volunteering more information. She could tell from Jack's quick frown that he agreed. It was up to him as to what he would do.
“Cadet Summers is a fine, upstanding member of the Air Force Academy, sir. I have nothing but respect for her, sir. I support her one hundred percent in the actions she has taken in this situation, sir.”
“I see, Cadet. Anything else to add?”
“Let's go. We need to be at the General's office by 2000 hours.” With that, he led the way out the door, followed by Cadet Summers, Cadet Perez, and Sam...
Buffy groaned. It was going to be bad. Very, very bad. She lay in bed thinking about the meeting. The meeting with the General had not gone well. General Kerrigan, on hearing their stories, had gone ballistic. Without so much as raising his voice or using one single cuss word, he had made both her and Connie feel about three inches tall. Then he had grilled them both. What had they seen? Why had they done what they did? Why had they drawn those conclusions from the conversation they'd overheard? Next, he had gone over in detail what the repercussions would be to the Academy and to them personally. Finally, he had dismissed them and told them to report back to his office at 0700 hours for more questioning.
Both Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter had stayed behind to speak to him more. Throughout Buffy's inquisition, she had been aware of the silent support from the Colonel next to her. No matter what he had said to her or what he thought about what she'd done personally, he had only supported Buffy when he spoke about the situation.
When the General had used “scatter-brained, unthinking children” to describe their reaction to the overheard conversation in question, the Colonel had responded with “calm, analytical, and emotionless analysis of the pertinent data.” When the General had used “impulsive, reckless behavior” in describing Buffy's search of Sheridan's room, the Colonel had called it “a daring, decisive counter.”
Still, she had days of this to go at the least and then there were still the consequences to deal with. General Kerrigan hadn't pulled any punches. He'd basically told her that even if she wasn't bounced from the Academy by an Honor Board, she would be lucky to last a semester once everyone found out what she'd done.
Buffy hadn't really given all that much thought to how the rest of the Zoo would behave once the story was out. As she had stood there listening, she'd realized that Connie hadn't either. The idea that every single first, second, and third class cadet knew that she and Connie had been responsible for as many as seventy-five of their fellow classmates leaving the Zoo was daunting to say the least. There would be hell to pay.
She was just getting to sleep when a voice rose out of the dark. “Cali?”
“Do you think we're going to get bounced?”
Buffy considered Connie's question seriously. Would they get kicked out? It wouldn't be fair, but Buffy had learned the hard way to the tune of over five hundred dead, that life wasn't fair.
“I don't know. I don't think we will, but the General was pretty mad. I liked him a lot more the first time I met him.”
“I would have just as soon not met him. Know what I mean?”
Buffy dryly laughed. Connie's comment wasn't that funny, but at least it relieved the tension. After a moment, she said, “I know. But at this point, it's in the wind. Even if this costs us both our spots, it's a small price to pay to stop what was happening.” Buffy hoped Connie was too angry at her for all of the trouble they were in. Ultimately, she wished Connie had just listened to her and stayed behind. Connie's next words were surprising.
“I agree. I want you to know I don't regret what I did. Not any of it. Well, maybe I shouldn't have interrupted the General when he was comparing you to a particularly loathsome type of scum found in cesspools...”
Buffy couldn't help it. She started giggling. Once she started, she couldn't stop. Then Connie joined in. It only made it worse. Finally, after several minutes, they were both able to stop.
Buffy started to doze again, her tension somewhat relieved.
“You never did tell me what happened with Gator. I'm going to want details...”
“Colonel, you are very close to insubordination. I know the value of what you do up in the Mountain, so I'm giving you a warning. Back off.”
“With all due respect, General, no. Not until I get you to agree to keep Cadet Summers name out of the media. She doesn't deserve that.” Jack wasn't backing down. He knew his smack was going to have take her lumps, but he wasn't going to let her get a deal this raw.
“It's not a penalty, Colonel O'Neill. I just don't see how I can do it. The media are going to find out that we punished a cadet for searching another cadet's room. We're not going to be able to keep that a secret.”
“You're going to throw them Cadet Summers, sir. You know she'll be hounded right of the Zoo if the other cadets find out she was the source of this. Hell, you should
be thanking her. How much worse would it have been if this didn't break for another three or four years? And it would have gotten out eventually. Stuff like this always does.” Absently, Jack ran his fingers through his hair.
“Colon... Jack, I just don't see another way.”
“Could I make a suggestion, sir?”
Both men turned to the other person in the room. Major Carter looked back, a serious expression on her face. At the General's nod, she began, “What if we try the following? General, the main reason you don't think the matter can be kept confidential is that Cadet Summers must be disciplined for searching Cadets Sheridan and Merryman's room, correct?” She waited until General Kerrigan nodded before continuing. “What if, instead of punishing Cadet Summers for searching their room, she get punished for the lesser charge of fraternizing with a cadet in her chain of command? If you went with the maximum punishment, which is seldom done, it would carry the same consequences. Would that satisfy you, General Kerrigan?”
“I believe it would, Major.”
“Would it satisfy you, Colonel?”
“Well...” Jack backed down at the look on Carter's face. The one that said, “Don't be an idiot, sir.” “Yes, that would satisfy me.”
“Then can we agree, sirs?”
Jack eyed General Kerrigan from across his desk. Then the General surprised him by suddenly grinning and saying, “Thanks, Major. Don't look so surprised, Colonel. Just because I raked her over the coals doesn't mean I want her out. The way she took down that damn Jarhead was beautiful. I'd hate to lose her.”
“I wasn't aware that the General was there.” Jack smiled as he thought rapidly about whether he'd seen General Kerrigan at the fight.
“I wasn't. But General Bradshaw of the 1st Marines had it taped and sent to me. Intending, I believe, to taunt me with our loss. But then Cadet Summers challenged his cadet and whipped his ass. Fortunately whoever he told to tape it and send it taped that too. So I have a complete copy.”
“I'm sure that General Bradshaw wasn't too happy with his aide who did the taping.”
“No, I imagine he's not.” The two men shared a look then both grinned again.
“So I would like to see Cadet Summers stay. Now as far as punishment goes, I think it would be appropriate to confine her to base for the rest of her time as a smack. She can get out for the two-week summer break.”
Jack was outraged. “No way is that right, sir! Cadet Summers...”
Carter interrupted, “Sirs, if I may offer a suggestion?”
Jack sighed, “Go ahead, Carter. You might as well stick your nose in here, as well.”
If she was offended by his brusque tone, she gave no indication as she said, “Take away her Christmas and Spring Breaks. Give her extra drill twice a week. If you want to be generous, give her Christmas Day off-base. I know her mother lives in Colorado Springs, so that way she could spend Christmas with her family, then be back on base by 2230 hours.”
“Gee, Carter, why don't you draw and quarter her, too.” Jack's sarcasm was wasted as he saw General Kerrigan nodding his head.
“I like it, Major. Colonel, I'll tell you what. I won't even make your cadet testify. We can call it an anonymous tip.”
“You sure that'll fly, General?” Jack was surprised. He hadn't expected that much leniency.
“Just make sure she's at the next Unarmed Combat Championships. I plan to attend and bet on her to win. Maybe I can drum up another match with a Jarhead. You never know.”
“No, you don't, sir.”
“Well I for one am ready to call it a night. I would say thank you, but the two of you have stirred up a hornet's nest for me to deal with. So I'll just say good night.”
“Good night, General.”
“Night, sir.”The next day...
Buffy walked out of the administrative building in a daze. She wasn't testifying. Why wasn't she testifying? For that, there had been no explanation. Just a quick note from an overworked captain informing her to report to an Honor Board at 1500 hours. Otherwise, she was to attend her remaining classes like nothing happened.
Buffy was aware that something was going on as she headed towards her second class. Pockets of cadets were clustered all around the main thoroughfares in hot debate on some topic. Catching sight of a familiar face, Buffy hurried over.
“Billy, what is going?”
Cadet William Burnet, Billy to his friends, ran a smoothing hand down his overcoat. “You didn't hear, Cali?” His voice was low as if he didn't want to be overheard.
“They ran a drug dog through Vandy last night. It caught a whiff in Sheridan's room. So they tore his and Merryman's stuff apart. They found all kinds crap. I mean I heard they found guns, drugs, booze, you name it, they found it. They're on their way out. Merryman and
Sheridan. The Powers are coming down on everyone. They had lots of people going in to be grilled about stuff. They're searching lots of room. This is heavy stuff.” Then Billy leaned close to Cali. “Like rape and murder stuff.”
Buffy's eyes goggled. What? What kind of rumors were flying around? “You have got to be shitting me.”
“No way. It's the real deal. I heard it from Boozer, who heard it first-hand from his squadron sergeant. Heads are going to roll. How did you not hear about this? And where were you to, Chem?”
Buffy grimaced. She might as well get the story out. “I got called in for being in a Firstie's room. They're Boarding me this afternoon”
Billy whistled. “That's fast. I bet it's because they trying to clear out all of the small fry before this deal goes down.” Then with a grin, he said, “Sheesh, Cali, I always got the impression you weren't into guys. I only see you hanging with Connie.”
Buffy shot right back at him, “What makes you think it was a guy's room I was in?” She let him drool over his fantasy for about ten seconds before cruelly finishing, “Actually, though, I do like guys, just not dweebs like you.”
Billy shrugged. “Too bad. Now that would have made a good story. Probably provided whack material for the next month, too.”
Buffy smirked. “So sorry I couldn't help.”
Billy headed off, with one parting shot. “Trust me, Cali, you already have, lots of times.”
Buffy felt herself turning red. Damn, but that was embarrassing, thinking of a bunch of lonely, horny guys masturbating while fantasizing about her. Not that it surprised her in the slightest after what she'd heard during her period of telepathy back in high school. If these guys were anything like those guys... Buffy shuddered at the thought. Then glancing at the time, started to jog to class...
Connie heard the door open. Turning around, she watch Cali walk in with a dazed expression on her face, walk over to her bed, and flop down on it face down. Then she didn't move. Wow, Connie thought, it must have been bad.
“What happened, Cali?”
“Idontwannatakabotit.” Cali's voice was muffled by the pillow she'd pulled over her head.
After a couple of minutes, Connie decided the best way to deal with Cali was to let her wallow in self-pity for a while. She'd talk when she was ready. Turning back to her computer, Connie went back to typing her report.
Connie was just finishing up the table of contents, when Cali's bed erupted. Startled, she turned to see Cali jump up and throw her pillow across the room. Then she grabbed her bedspread and tossed it into the floor, followed by her sheets, then the mattress itself. She jumped up and down on the mess, then turned and eyed Connie's bed.
“Don't even think about it! Cali, what happened. It couldn't have been that bad, could it?”
Cali turned and stared at Connie like she was insane. Then she sat down in the middle of her messed up bedding and burst into tears. Connie stared in disbelief. Cali was crying? Cali, who had gone through BCT without a single complaint, was crying? Who had fought a marine more than twice her size and had the black and blue ribs to prove it? What had they done to her. Connie quickly sat next to her and hugged her, murmuring comforting words into her ears. “There, there. It's going to be okay.”
After a few minutes, Cali pushed back from her. Connie looked with concern at her tear-stained face. Self-consciously, Cali wiped her eye with her uniform sleeve and smiled ruefully. “Not too tough now, am I?”
“I met with the board today. They raked me over the coals. They accused me of all kinds of stuff. Pretty much called me a slut. I took it. I mean, what else could I do? They kept me out of the investigation, which I wasn't expecting, so I figured this was my penance. Then they got to the punishment phase.”
“What did they do? I mean it was just some time spent in his room.”
“They pretty much let me know that they thought I was sleeping with Sheridan.” Ignoring Connie's “What!” Buffy continued, “So they hit me pretty hard with penalties. I have to do two days of extra drill twice a week. I have to write a paper on why it's a bad idea for smacks to date first class cadets. I also lose my Christmas and Spring Break privileges. I won't be able to go with you back to Miami in March, Connie. I'm sorry.”
Connie hugged her. “It's cool, girlfriend. You won't be missing much.”
“Just the ocean, warm enough to actually swim in.”
Connie frowned. “Well... yeah.”
Cali slowly got up and started to put her bed back together. “You know the thing I'm going to miss the most is spending Christmas break with my mom. No offense.”
“None taken. I'm going to spend it with my dad and brothers. Plus whatever aunts, uncles, and cousins show up. Actually, there'll probably be thirty or forty people there.”
“They did say they would let me out Christmas day. Like they were throwing me a bone. At least I get to spend that with Mom.”
“See? That's not so bad. And you still have Sundays to receive visitors, right?”
“Yeah. They didn't mess with those, although that asshole Brueller wanted me to lose those as well.” Buffy looked so woebegone that Connie knew there was more.
“What else happened, Cali?”
For a second, Cali looked like she would burst into tears again. Then she nodded. “I ran into Cadet Pierson on the way back. He wasn't too happy. Apparently, he got a visit from Brueller, who asked him about his relationship with me. He basically thinks I told the Board about him kissing me. And Brueller apparently told him that I was probably sleeping with Sheridan.”
“Jesus Christ. What an asshole. So Gator was pissed?”
“I think you can safely say that. I don't know what's going to happen with him now. I wasn't exactly looking for a boyfriend, you know? It was just that he was so nice and normal and sweet and...”
“Had a great ass?” Connie exchanged a look with Cali, then both girls laughed.
Nodding her agreement, Cali smiled and said, “Yeah, that too.” She finished putting her bed back together in silence.
“You feel like grabbing some chow?”
“Sure. I'm starving.” Cali grinned as she said it.
“When are you not?” Connie dodged Cali's playful swat. “Did you hear the latest rumor? Sheridan and Merryman were Iraqi spies and were going to blow up the Zoo...”Two days later...
“Did you hear, Cali? Burns, Weinstein, and Blackmon are gone. They got the boot. That makes like over fifty now.” Billy's face was flushed and worried.
“I didn't know that. Did you, Connie?” From next to Buffy, Connie shook her head. That actually made fifty-eight, Buffy thought. But it was winding down, now. She doubted anyone else was going to be gone. It left at least another forty-five unpunished for the cheating. Buffy still wondered if they were going to get any rape convictions. Somehow, she doubted it. Anyone brave enough to come forward would probably have already done so. And after so long, it made convictions difficult to obtain. Combine that with lingering doubts as to the effects on their careers was going to keep a lot of women from reporting.
“You hear how Merryman tried to escape and they had to taser him? Sheridan got pepper-sprayed.” Connie's eyes showed dark amusement as she told the latest rumor of asshole one and two.
“Oh, yeah, I did. They both heading to Leavenworth, according to my source.”
Yeah, right, Buffy thought. They were both going home to nice families and probably off to another college so they can do it again. If Anyanka were still around, Buffy probably could have wished some vengeance on them. Buffy wondered if anyone had taken over as the patron saint of scorned women...Two days later...
Numbly, Buffy walked along, trying to avoid thinking. Well it was mostly over. Everything but the consequences that is. Sheridan and Merryman were gone, both having requested to leave the Zoo, said request granted. They could still find themselves facing criminal charges as the investigation into the sexual assaults continued. Not that Buffy expected many women to come forward. Not those who wanted a career in the Air Force. Still, maybe enough would come forward to put the two men away.
No matter. At least they had lots of company. Of the names on Merryman's 'buyer's' list, all but two had also resigned from the Academy. Those two, both third-class cadets, had been bounced for 'conduct unbecoming.'
There were going to be sweeping changes in the Zoo. Over the next few months, they were implementing mandatory sexual harassment and sexual assault reporting, part of the “Agenda for Change.” Those changes had been pushed through in advance of a more solid detailed recommendation to be made at the end of the investigation, which probably wouldn't finish until sometime late next year. Buffy felt that she had accomplished something at least.
Of course, they had whitewashed most of the whole cheating scandal. All of the cheaters who had also been on Merryman's GHB list were gone, of course. Of the remainder, the cheaters who were not also rapists, only a quarter of the names on the list that Sheridan had on his computer were gone. It had infuriated Buffy that they were going to get away with it. She knew why the Powers had done it, or thought she did, but it still burned her.
“Penny for your thoughts, Cadet?”
Buffy looked up at the person asking the question. She met the eyes of her companion, who had been walking alongside her as she thought over what had happened. “Colonel O'Neill, sir, my thoughts would be overpriced at the cost of a penny.”
“Just spit it out, Cadet. Tell me what's eating you.”
Buffy burst out, “They didn't do hardly anything to those cadets who cheated. I mean, none of the ones still here are even going to get so much as a note in their jackets about what happened...”
Jack looked down into the face of the young woman walking beside him as she talked about what was bothering her. Truth be told, it bothered him too. Still, the consequences were just too grave to start a witch hunt at the Zoo. Jack wished he knew how to explain that to his cadet. He took a stab at it. “Cadet Summers, I know that it doesn't seem fair or right that those cadets who participated in cheating are going essentially unpunished.” Jack ignored Summers' muttered “No, sir,” and continued, “That's because it isn't fair or right. I'm going to let you in on something that I think you already have a handle on: Life's not fair.”
Jack could tell that Summers wasn't buying what he was selling, but he need to make his point. “Life's not fair. It's not fair when some kid in Somalia gets shot by crazy militia and it's not fair when you receive more punishment than people who did things that were far worse than what you did.”
Summers nodded and said, “I understand that, sir. I am not complaining about what happened to me. I broke the rules and accept the consequences. But those cadets cheated and...”
Jack broke in. “Should also accept the consequences of what they did. I agree, they should. In a perfect world, they would. Of course in a perfect world, they wouldn't have done it to begin with. The thing is, Cadet, that the Academy can't go around punishing people without some burden of proof. They kicked all of the people out that they found corroborating evidence on.”
Jack decided to let her know how he felt about what she'd done. “I just wanted you to know how proud of you I am.”
Good, he'd startled her. “Proud, sir?”
Jack smiled. “Yes, proud. I can't tell you how glad I am that I made the decision to sponsor you. Cadet Summers, you are a credit to your squadron and to the Academy as a whole. I have absolutely no doubt you'll be an exemplary officer. I look forward to serving with you when you graduate.”
“Thank you, sir. I... thank you, sir.”
“Don't mention it.”
The two of them walked a little farther along. Finally, Jack asked, “Have you told your mother about the situation?” Amused, Jack watched as Summers visibly gulped.
“You're going to have to tell her.”
Buffy sighed. “I know, sir. But I don't want to hurt her.”
Stopping, Jack put his hand on Summers' shoulder, halting her. Turning her towards him, Jack said, “It'll hurt more if you don't tell her. As quickly as possible. Besides, it's only one Christmas break, and you will at least see her Christmas day.”
Jack watched as his cadet's face underwent a gamut of emotions ranging from sadness to extreme anger. Ultimately, she just looked resigned. “You are right, sir. I will call my mother and tell her on Sunday. I cannot place a call any earlier than that.”
Jack smiled. “Instead of doing that, how about this Saturday when we meet for our monthly dinner, I drive you down to your mother's house before we eat? That way you can let her know in person. How does that sound?”
Summers' eyes lit up. She practically squealed in her excitement. “Ohhh, thank you, sir!”
“Well, here's my ride. Why don't you head back and get ready for phys ed? I know you have unarmed combat this afternoon.”
“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!” She came to attention, did a snappy about face, then hurried off. Jack watched her until Carter pulled up alongside him. Opening the door, he got in.
“So how are you feeling, Colonel?”
Jack sighed. “Pretty crappy, actually. She got a raw deal.”
Carter snorted. “She got off pretty light actually. An Honor Board...”
“Honor, smonor, Cali got a raw deal.”
Jack smiled crookedly. “That's the nickname bestowed upon her by her roommate. They all call her that, even her unarmed combat coach. Nothing complex, the kid's from California.”
“Ahh, I see, sir. Still...”
“Not a word more, Carter. Say what you want, you're not going to convince me. More to the point, Cali knows she got a raw deal. And you know what?”
“What is that, sir?”
“She never squealed about it even once. I expected it, mind you. I was ready to pretty much give her the 'Speech.' But I didn't have to. She's not a whiner. I should have known she wouldn't be. I read her jacket and everything. After what happened last spring, the kid knows life's not fair. She knew that before I said anything. She also knows that sometimes you get handed a pretty crappy situation and just have to do your best with it. She'll be fine.”
“I'm sure she will, sir.”
They drove along in companionable silence. After a time, Carter spoke again. “Colonel?”
“I just wanted to say, I liked her.”
“I know I only just met her, but from what I saw, I liked her. I think she's a credit to the Zoo and will make a fine officer.”
Jack smiled at Carter's earnestness. But then she was always that way. It was one of the things he liked about her. If things were different... But they weren't.
As they parked, Jack had a sudden thought. Stopping, he cocked his head at Carter.
“You know, in all of the excitement, I just realized that I hadn't gotten back to Danny-boy about the paper that Cali wrote. I don't even know if he liked it.” Damn, Jack thought, he should have checked with Daniel earlier. Now he was going to have to run around and find Daniel as quickly as possible before his meeting with Summers.. He didn't want her to think he wasn't reading those hellish papers he was assigning her after all.
“Daniel loved it.”
“He did?” Okay, that was a surprise.
Carter smiled mischievously. “Yes, sir. To quote Daniel, he said something like this: 'If it were for a graduate class on history, he would award the person an A minus, but seeing how it was a college freshman writing it, he would up that to an A plus with extra credit as well.' He also said that for a school like the Academy that produces 'neo-barbs' it was an excellent analysis of how non
-military causes sank the Roman Empire.”
Jack grinned in satisfaction. That was his smack. Then he frowned. “Hey, who's he calling neo-barbs, anyway? Damn pencil-pushing geek...”Author's Note:
The events that took place with the rape 'ring' that involved Merryman and Sheridan are completely fictional. However, there was a very real problem with sexual assaults going unreported at the USAFA, which culminated in a scandal in 2003. Because of this, they instituted several reforms, some of which I included in this story. You can read more about it here: USAFA sexual assault scandal