Chapter Five—First Year: The Beginning
Well, first day of school. Buffy looked over the bright beautiful grounds of the Air Force Academy. From the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Building, one of the loveliest on any campus, to Arnold Hall, it was an amazing sight. She was still uncertain how she'd managed to get there. But Whistler had been right. Her senator, Robert Kinsey, had been more than willing to recommend her. He'd actually even given her his full sponsorship. And since he was chairman of the Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee, he had been able to pull strings to get Buffy one of the handful of slots that were kept as back-ups. The first few weeks had gone by in a blur of tests, followed by five weeks in BCT. Buffy had passed with flying colors, although she was constantly worried about not saluting or forgetting to call someone 'sir'. Intellectually, Buffy knew she wouldn't get tossed out on her ear for forgetting once or twice. Her worries probably had something to do with the feeling of not belonging.
Buffy still remembered the look on the face of her first interviewer, a captain, who wore pilot's wings. He'd taken one look at her and only saw her petite size, blonde hair, and attractive appearance. Buffy didn't think he'd ever quite understood why someone who looked like her would want to serve her country. Her next interviewer had been completely different. Near retirement, he had looked past Buffy's slender, almost fragile appearance, and seen more of the inner person. She'd apparently impressed him. She'd definitely impressed the noncom who conducted the fitness tests, conducted during one of her visits earlier in the summer. Buffy had done her qualifying run at what felt slow to her, but was probably a five-minute-mile pace. She stayed just behind one guy, who pushed himself extra hard because of a girl pacing him. Buffy'd deliberately forced herself to slow her pace, allowing him to beat her.
Buffy probably could have finished the run in around half of the time she'd done it. But she didn't want to get identified as a freak, just a suitable candidate. None of the guys had been freaked out by her, but she'd gotten one or two odd looks as well as the usual check outs. All from the guys. The girls' looks had mostly been a mix of admiration and intimidation along with a couple of jealous looks as well. The other calisthenics had been easy and she'd breezed through them. Buffy had actually been surprised by just how easy it had been. She'd been expecting a drill sergeant barking orders and driving them until they dropped. Instead it had been about leadership, self-reliance, and teamwork. She especially like that aspect.
Reminiscing, Buffy contemplated the day her mom dropped her off at the Academy for BCT. It had been an emotional day. As Buffy gave her mom one final hug goodbye, she thought Joyce was going to break down. Somehow she'd kept it together, which had kept Buffy from joining her. After all, they wouldn't speak again until Parent's Weekend, taking place in the middle of the Fall semester. After one more goodbye, Buffy hefted her small bag, carrying it towards Vandenberg Hall. As a Fourth-Class Cadet, she was only allowed the smallest amount of personal possessions. She saw other new cadets doing the same thing. After carrying it inside, she was given directions to her room, and a mark was made next to her name on a list. Once inside the room she would share with one roommate, Buffy grabbed one side of the room, carefully putting away her few things. She found the uniforms she ordered a couple of weeks earlier, already in her room. After trying on her uniform for the first time, she'd discovered that she looked pretty good in Air Force Blues or even Battle Greens. As long as they fit properly. And she had spent several fittings doing just that. So Buffy had been relatively satisfied with her appearance.
Buffy had met her roommate, Conchita Perez, who was from South Florida, a couple of hours later. “Call me Connie,” the tall, dark-haired pale-skinned, Hispanic girl had said. Connie was tall, athletic, and looked every inch an Air Force recruit. Towering six inches over the petite Buffy, they looked like Mutt and Jeff standing together. The one girl, petite, blonde, green-eyed, while the other girl was tall, brunette, and dark-eyed. A marked contrast if ever there was one.
After Connie's breezy introduction, Buffy had done the same herself. “I'm Buffy. Buffy Summers.” She still remembered what the other girl had said, although the sting had long faded.
Laughing, Connie had looked at her and said, “Seriously, what's your name really?” Her laughter had faded at Buffy's cool look. “Oh my god, I'm so sorry. You're the first 'Buffy' I've ever met. Forgive me?” She'd grinned cheekily at Buffy.
Buffy had smiled back. “It's cool. I'm from California. We're home of the flower-child names.”
Grabbing her arm, Connie had guided her out of the room. “Cali, you and I are going to be good friends.” That was how Buffy had gotten her nickname. She had been 'Cali' to everyone at BCT, well except the instructors. That was also how she and Connie had become friends. After BCT, they were set to be roomies at least through the end of the Fall semester. For the Spring semester, they'd have to play it by ear.
Smiling, Buffy headed off to her first class. She had calculus, engineering, chemistry, and English this morning, in that order. Then she would fall in to march to lunch at Mitchell Hall. In the afternoon, she had computer science, military theory and PE. Then she would be off to participate in fencing and unarmed combat.
Hopefully, nothing would happen in any of her classes...Later that day...
Okay, the poop had definitely hit the fan. Everything had gone great today, up until now. All of Buffy's classes had been understandable. Not easy, but not nearly as intimidating as she'd expected. Chemistry appeared to be the hardest, at least so far. Buffy had even enjoyed PE. She'd ended up taking racquetball this semester for her PE elective. Buffy had briefly toyed with the idea of joining the Track Team, but ultimately decided it would be unfair to compete with her advantages. That didn't stop her from cleaning up on the racquetball court. No one could match her speed. And the things she could do with the ball were, well, slayery. The only thing Buffy'd worried about was being too good. She didn't want someone to try to get her to join the Racquetball Team. So she'd deliberately been careful not to blow anyone out.
Buffy had decided to try out a couple of intramural activities. First, she joined the Fencing Club. That had turned out to be fun, although the fencing they practiced wouldn't actually allow you to defend yourself. Buffy had easily cleaned the clocks of the first several people she'd faced, earning the admiration of the instructor, Major Sherman. The Unarmed Combat Club had been her downfall.
When Buffy had arrived, she'd seen all of the tall, athletic people gathered for practice. At five feet, two inches tall, Buffy had been the shortest one there by at least five inches. That hadn't been a big deal since she was used to being the shortest girl around, especially since joining the Air Force. She'd gotten a few funny looks from the others when she joined the warm up. Nothing overt or hostile, but it had made a lump form in her throat. It hadn't helped when Captain Billings, the instructor, had pulled Buffy aside afterwards and asked her about her experience with martial arts. He'd apparently been worried when he'd seen her fragile appearance. It had taken a few minutes to assure him she wouldn't break. By the time she had, everyone was involved in some one on one sparring, leaving Buffy the odd man out.
Captain Billings had taken the place of her sparring partner. He had taken it very easy on her. At first. Buffy hadn't exactly enjoyed being treated like china and had let slip she was more skilled than her appearance suggested. Before she'd known what was happening, the sparring had sped up. As Buffy had blocked or countered every attack made by the captain, the expression of pleasure on his face had deepened. She hadn't been sure when everyone else had stopped sparring to watch them. But she'd become aware of the fact about ten minutes in. It hadn't been good for her concentration. Instead of completely pulling the kick she'd used as a counter-attack after she'd blocked Captain Billings, Buffy had hit him almost full speed, although thankfully not full strength, blowing right past the partial block he'd had in place. The resulting kick had struck him squarely in the chest and sent him flying ten feet through the air, right into three of the watching crowd, sending all four of them crashing to the ground.
“Oh my God!” Staring at the heap of bodies in utter horror, Buffy hoped she hadn't broken anybody. Quickly, Buffy rushed to the captain's side. “Captain Billings, sir, are you all right?” She took the resulting wheeze as assent and quickly checked the other cadets out. Each of the three scrambling up from the mat looked okay. Then it struck her. Earlier, Buffy had noted that everyone present had seemed taller than her. Now she realized looking around, that all of the other cadets there appeared to be older as well, obviously all First-Class and Second-Class Cadets. Then she overheard the whispered conversation behind her.
“Did you see that? I was surprised to see a smack show up to an advanced class. Now I can see why she's here. Those were some sweet moves.” The guy's voice was full of admiration, which was good. The bad was that Buffy had hoped to be a bit more normal and fit in. Not even in school for one day, and I'm already slipping up, Buffy thought despondently.
“Cadet, ah, Summers.” Buffy looked down when she heard the wheezing voice. Uh oh, she thought, the captain doesn't look too happy. Struggling to sit up, Captain Billings finally made it. He appeared to be getting his wind back.
“Cadet Summers, that was an excellent demonstration of skill. I think you got a little carried away at the end, but that was as much my fault as yours. I don't often get cadets of your skill level even here in the advanced class and got a little carried away with the sparring. Tell me, where did you study? What dojo?” Tom Billings was still feeling the effects of the kick Cadet Summers had landed. It had been stunningly powerful, especially coming from his petite opponent. When Tom had first seen the young woman come in, he'd intercepted her, trying to find out why she was attending the advanced class of the Unarmed Combat Club. He'd figured she had come to the wrong class by mistake. When his subtle questions had fallen on deaf ears, Tom had been glad to see everyone paired off for sparring, leaving the Fourth-Class to him. The last thing he'd wanted was for the girl to get injured. He figured he could let her down gently after a short spar, and direct her to the beginner class, meeting later that day.
As they started to spar, Cadet Summers' technique had more than surprised him. She was amazing. Probably at least a black belt. He had smiled in pleasure as the pace of their bout had continued to increase, receiving an answering spark back from the green eyes of his opponent. He'd been aware of the other cadets stopping to watch them, but had been enjoying the workout too much to stop and get them back to work. Tom still wasn't a hundred percent sure what had happened. He'd actually seen the moment Cadet Summers had noticed they had an audience. Her eyes had gotten enormous. Then her riposting kick had flashed right past his block and had impacted his chest. The next thing he knew, he was lying on his back trying to get his wind back. At least he didn't think he had any broken ribs.
Dojo? Buffy couldn't think of anything that sounded remotely feasible. What am I going to tell him, she wondered?
“Uh, sir, it wasn't so much of a dojo as a friend. Err... family friend. A family friend taught me. A British family friend. Martial arts are kind of my calling, you might say.” Smiling nervously, Buffy hoped the captain would believe her.
Tom frowned. He half-remembered an odd memo coming down from the mountain. Something about watching out for any 'weird' activities around the school and reporting them immediately. Then catching the deer-in-the-headlights look he was still getting, Tom inwardly chuckled. He somehow doubted that Cadet Summers was what they were talking about. She was so obviously horrified about knocking an instructor down, that he felt the need to reassure her that everything was okay. With a warm smile, he proceeded to do so. “Cadet Summers, I didn't mean to grill you. Your family friend must have been quite skilled to be such an excellent teacher. Now, I want you to show me that move again. I think it will come in handy when we go up against the best from the other services in our annual grudge match. It's for inter-service bragging rights. I'm sure you'll be happy to join the team. Hopefully, we'll be able to fit you into a weight class.” He waited for her dazed nod. Tom paused a moment, noticing that everyone was still watching them rather than working out. “All right Cadets, back to sparring. We've got a long way to go and I know no one here wants to be humiliated by the jarheads.” Turning his attention back to Cadet Summers, he saw the panicky look in her eyes. “Don't worry Cadet, you'll do fine. We'll make you into a fine representative for our beloved Air Force in no time. Now follow me.”
Head spinning, Buffy followed the captain across the mat. What had she gotten herself into? Joining the Unarmed Combat Team, even the unofficial one, was not on Buffy's agenda. Now she was picked to take on the best martial artists from the other services, even if it was for an 'unofficial' set of matches. I am so screwed, she thought. And I agreed to it, essentially volunteering. Buffy tried to remember what Xander had said about volunteers in the military, taken from his soldier memories. She couldn't pull it up. Whatever it had been, it hadn't been good. Dodging a spinning back kick thrown her way at full speed, Buffy realized Captain Billings was no longer even trying to go easy on her. How was she going to get out of this one?