Chapter Nine—First Year: Multiple Threats
Connie Perez checked the stacks in the library for the book she needed. No dice. It was either not there, or it was misfiled, an unfortunately all-too-common happenstance in the dear Zoo library. Mother fucker, she thought, I still have to finish that damn report for Military Theory! Not getting it right was going to result in yet another reduction in the grade she received for the military part of her schooling. Academically, she was doing solidly, while her physical training grade was close to the top of her class. Of course Cali's physical training grade was at
the top. Cali was doing great. Sometimes, Connie envied her roommate.
Connie had struggled to fit in from day one. The constant in-your-face screaming of Firsties was something she could do without, along with the endless drill. The other day, they'd drilled for hours, just because their training officer was on the rag. But while Connie was struggling, her roommate, 'Cali' Summers, seemed to be thriving. The pressure the Zoo put on 4-digs was infamous, but Cali just went through it without even a blip. No matter how much extra running, drill, or push ups she was assigned, Cali just did them as if they were nothing. Oh, she bitched just like every other smack at God's Academy, but that was all Cali did. She never went out of her way to try to figure out a way around it.
By, for instance, cheating. Connie had struggled with the balance of the physical, military, and academic life since the day she arrived here. So far she'd avoided cheating, despite all-too-numerous opportunities. Cheating was a fact of life at the Zoo. Especially among Fourth-Class Cadets who had neither the true understanding of the honor code of the Air Force, nor the discipline to handle the workload. Connie had been her high school valedictorian, while at the same time, participating in both student government and lettering in three sports. Not bad for a Cubanita. That had been high school, but the Zoo was different. The pressure on her was enormous. So Connie found herself tempted to take shortcuts, especially on things that didn't really matter. Like her Military Theory Exam. Except that Connie didn't think Cali would see it that way.
One thing Connie had figured out about Cali within the first few days of knowing her was this: Cali was what she was and wasn't going to be significantly changed by the Zoo. However, she'd make it through the Zoo with clear skies because she already shared so many of the core values. Cali did not waste time on meaningless bullshit. However, to her, the Zoo's honor code was anything but that. Cali had a sense of honor like some damn medieval knight. It was like she'd kill you while saying a prayer for your soul. Connie had seen her stand up under a screaming rant from some one-dig without even batting an eyelash, her eyes cool and serene. But more importantly, Cali's eyes evaluated the Firstie, judging him or her against some standard in her head. All too often that faint sense of contempt touched her eyes as she found them wanting. Oh, she didn't display it overtly, but it was there. It was as if Cali had already gone through something harrowing and couldn't dredge up the energy to either respect or feel threatened by someone who hadn't. Maybe that damn Take Back The Night program she'd joined back in high school was the reason.
Connie had entered the Zoo with all the confidence in the world. She'd thought her high school background had prepared her for whatever it could throw at her, allowing her to not only survive, but excel. She'd been mistaken. Whatever Cali had gone through in her own high school days, had not only prepared her for the worst the Zoo could hit her with, but seemed to give her endless reserves. An example was how easily she'd fit in with the older cadets of the Advanced Unarmed Combat Class. Having gone through a variety of such classes, you would think they'd be even more arrogant than a normal First. Connie had met a couple of the Second-Classers Cali practiced with. Met as in had them screaming in her face right before doing the same to Cali.
But there'd been a difference in how they treated Connie versus how they treated Cali. With Connie, there had been a concentrated effort to push her into a mistake, along with the absolute contempt any smack was held in until at least Recognition, that time-honored, one-week-long rite of passage that combined aspects of every nightmare a smack had ever had. When it came Cali's turn, the two cadets had repeated Connie's inquisition, with one subtle difference. Despite the screaming and attempt to pressure her into a mistake, it was clear that they'd already accepted her. They didn't hold Cali in contempt. If their demeanor didn't show it, their eyes did. And the questions they'd drilled Cali with were the ordinary ones that any smack could and did answer daily.
Cali had her weird hang ups. Like how she always wore a cross, even though she wasn't even remotely religious. When Connie asked her about it, she'd just said, “I believe in God. But just because I believe in Him, doesn't mean he needs me to kiss up to Him. He leaves me alone and I leave Him alone.” Except if that was true, why the cross? Probably the oddest thing about Cali was that the girl didn't sleep. Oh, she hit the hay at lights out, but was up by 2:30 am every morning. Reading her books. Ironing her uniforms. Polishing her shoes until they were like mirrors. Practicing some damn esoteric martial art. She never woke Connie up, moving around the room like a cat. Except a cat was louder. Connie had been prepared to find out Cali was a closet junkie, amped up on meth. No such case. You couldn't live with someone for months on end and not find out most of their deep, dark secrets.
Not that Cali had many. For instance, she was the healthiest person Connie knew. Nothing physical phased her. Not the drill. Not the running. BCT was a breeze. She'd finished at the top of all female cadets on her PFT and AFT. Cali had actually finished third overall including the men
, a fact almost no one realized. There had been a couple of guys who'd given Cali funny looks, but then had shaken their heads, lulled by her appearance. She was also some kind of savant when it came to martial arts. Connie had awoken one morning to find Cali going through some kind of slow motion form that had been both beautiful to watch and impossible to duplicate. Connie knew cause when she'd tried, she'd almost ended up pulling something. And when Cali ate! If Connie had half the metabolism of her roommate she'd walk off campus to Church Row and kneel at every alter there giving thanks to the Lord. Seeing Cali at chow was awe-inspiring. In between giving News Reports and filling out Form 0-96, Cali still managed to wolf down at least double what Connie ate. Every time. Where she put it was a subject of debate among the other smacks. Speculation ranged from a hollow leg to serious bulimia. Of course, Connie knew that was B.S. Cali didn't suffer from any of the problems of a normal person.
Except for one thing. The nightmares. Connie wouldn't trade for anything, even the metabolism, if the nightmares came along with it. Especially near the beginning of term, Connie had woken on more than one occasion to the sound of someone choking back screams. She'd gotten up and turned on the light to see her roommate tossing and turning, tangled in her sheets, sweat matting her face and torso. The sounds she'd made were tortured. Agonized sobs and cries. The cries had sounded like the torments of the damned. Almost always, Cali would eventually wake up on her own. However, the first time this had happened, Connie had tried to wake her up and almost had her head taken off by a flashing kick that had completely twisted Cali's body around. This while she was still asleep! The only thing that had saved Connie was that she'd grabbed Cali's foot and shaken it, not somewhere higher. Cali had been apologetic, but had asked Connie not to touch her when she was asleep. She said if it got too bad, just toss a book at her. Connie never did. Fortunately, over time, the frequency and severity of the dreams had slackened. It had been over a month since the last one.
Connie continued to check the shelves, hoping against hope that the book was somewhere. She'd just about given up when she found it, a depressingly thick tome, bound in a lovely shade of olive green. Dragging its substantial weight off the shelf and into her arms, Connie was about to head back to her table, when she heard the two male voices talking quietly on the other side of the stack. She was starting to move away, when she caught a name she knew. She stopped and listened.
“I tell you, Lloyd, that Summers is one hot
smack. Out of all the little chickies in the so-so Class of '03, she's out and out the sweetest piece of ass, hands down. She may very well be the hottest piece in the entire Zoo. Or you are going to propose another candidate?”
“Fuck, Sher, maybe she is. At least she's not another butter.”
“Yeah, look at that body, but her face... Ohhh!”
The two First-Class cadets shared a coarse laugh. Connie should have been pissed, but couldn't gather the energy. That kind of attitude was all too prevalent at the Zoo. Maybe someday it'd change, but as of today, it hadn't. Fuck, she thought, I need to get out of here. The last thing she needed was to be busted listening in on two Firsties. Then she heard something that froze her in place.
“I'm going to tap that ass before Recognition, I kid you not. Imagine her ankles around her ears. Or around mine.”
“Whatever. I can pretty much guarantee that little slut won't be around for you or anyone else to hit when I'm through.”
“Ohhh, Lloyd, you're acting all manly. So I take it you figured out she was responsible for the sign you had on your back?”
“Fuck if I know, but if she didn't do it, she saw it and didn't say anything about it. That's enough in my book. I'll bust her out whatever stops I have to pull out.”
“You'd better be damn careful. You know they look close at wash-outs, especially of the female gender.”
“Fuck that. Smacks wash out all the time. You know it. I know it. And so do the Powers That Be. It's not like she'll be around to defend herself.”
“Dammit, you couldn't find a dog to bust out? I was seriously looking forward to seeing how many shots it took to get her on her back. She's got such a tight little body. The little ones are always the sweetest rides.” This last was accompanied by one of those laughs that boys do when they know they're talking about something nasty that they shouldn't be. Connie felt icy sweat running down the back of her uniform blouse, but she stayed put.
“Shots, huh? Do you even care if she's conscious?”
“Conscious is overrated. As long as it's female and breathing, I'll hit it. Besides, it's a lot harder for someone to say no if they're out of it. Like last Spring. You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know. Still, like I said, she won't be around.”
“Fuck. I'll tell you what. I'll bet you I can tap Summers's sweet spot before you can get her out.”
“You serious? You know you're going to lose. She can't even go off-base yet without asking for a pass. And she gets what? Three or four this Fall? Kind of hard getting her drunk if she's stuck in the Zoo.”
“Yeah, so you hold off on working your angle until next semester. Then we both start at the same time, say, January 15. How's that sound?”
“What are the stakes?”
“Shit, you've got a bet. You're going to lose.”
There was a few seconds pause.
“I just realized I'm protecting the little bitch's virtue by busting her out. The things I do to win a bet...”
Connie felt the voices start to fade as the men walked away from her. She stared at the book in her hands. Connie had to tell Cali about this. One of the cadets was definitely Lloyd Merryman. Connie shivered. Remembering the look in Cali's eyes last week when he called her out, Connie couldn't help but wonder how Cali was going to react to this. She just hoped Cali didn't go ballistic...
Buffy strode into her room. She had a few minutes until evening chow. A chance to unwind and and relax in the one place of no salutes and no tension. Then she spotted Connie, who sat in her chair staring at Buffy, obviously waiting for her. Great, something was up. So much for the no tension. When you're the lowest of the low, anything going on was all too often not of the good.
“Okay, Connie, out with it. What's the what?” Might as well find out right now before she had to head out into the world of no contractions.
“Pardon?” Connie was startled. How did Cali know that Connie needed to speak to her? If that was what she'd meant by that. Sometimes Cali really was all too Cali.
“You were sitting and waiting for me. So you must have something to say. So out with it. What horror has the Zoo decided to visit upon lowly us.” Buffy smiled. Could Connie have been any more obvious?
“Not the Zoo. Just two members. A couple of Firsties. You're familiar with one of them. You put a sign on his back.”
“Not Merryman?” At Connie's nod, she exploded, “Shit! It's Merryman! What is he up to now?”
“I was in the library when I heard him and someone he called 'Sher' talking about you.”
“What did they say?”
“Which one? Sher thinks you're the hottest girl in our entire class. He wants to bang you.” Connie had to admit he had a point. Buffy was extremely attractive. If Connie swung that way, she'd probably have been all over her. Fortunately, Connie was strictly hetero. Tall, dark, and handsome was her battle cry. She didn't have to worry about 'don't ask, don't tell.'
“Should I be flattered?” Buffy wasn't too sure she wanted to have the label of the hottest girl in class. She'd already seen how guys behaved here. So far it hadn't bothered her, but she'd seen other girls become increasingly freaked out by cadet life and the attitudes they sometimes received. Maybe all that practice ignoring Snyder was coming in handy after all.
“Not if you heard him talk. Let's just say he doesn't care if you're conscious. Just warm and breathing. At least I think that's where he draws the line.” Connie didn't particularly enjoy reliving that part of the conversation. It made her ill thinking that bastard had actually assaulted some girl. Maybe both of them.
Buffy was aware of the things that boys thought about her and other girls, having at one time read the minds of all too many of the breed, so didn't ask for further explanations. “And Merryman?”
“He wants to kick you out of the Zoo.” Which would suck, Connie thought. The Air Force would lose a great officer and she would lose a friend. And her life would be poorer for that loss.
“Sheesh, I wonder why? Did he find out I put the sign on his back?” Buffy was aware that if he had, she was in trouble. No one held a grudge like a Firstie who'd been dissed by a smack. They could get Old Testament when it came to vengeance.
“No, thank God. The guy's an ass. He probably has a hundred people who hate him enough to do it. But he suspects. Besides he figures you didn't tell him about the sign, so you're fair game.” Connie would not have done what Cali did for all the tea in China. Cali just didn't seem to have the normal fears of most people. Maybe it was because of what she'd lost last spring. Living through an event like that had to change a person. Maybe it was just one more of the things that made her who she was.
“Great, neanderthal man wants to mate with me, and cro-magnon man wants to expel me. Could it get any worse?” Buffy was annoyed. The last thing she needed to have piled on top of her current load was a couple of psychotic jackasses looking for score or for payback.
“Well, yeah.” Connie was reluctant to tell this last part, but figured she might as well get it over with.
Buffy stared, then made a circular gesture with two fingers. “Spill.”
“They made a bet.”
?” Cali's eyes flashed as she spoke, anger darkening her irises from their usual sparkling green to a darker shade. Dangerous things lay in the depths of her gaze.
“They bet on whether 'Sher' would bang you before Lloyd got you expelled.” Connie felt better after having the last of it off her chest.
Cali slowly smiled. It wasn't a very nice smile. Watching her, Connie felt afraid of Cali for the first time. The look in Cali's eyes could only be described as merciless. Connie had seen looks like that in the eyes of predators she's seen in the Miami Zoo where her parents had taken her as a child. The ones with the L's in front of their name. Like lion. And leopard. Connie was glad she wasn't anyone named Merryman or Sher. Maybe I'm being fanciful, she thought. After all, what did a girl from California have in common with a predator? After a moment, she asked, “You have a plan?”
“I have something. So, did they say when this bet starts?” Wheels were turning in Buffy's head.
“Not until next term so that it would be more fair to Sher. Merryman said he would back off until then.”
“Good.” Buffy knew her voice was flat, without inflective. She was trying to hold onto her composure. She hadn't been this angry since arriving at the Academy. She was almost, but not quite, Angelus-angry.
Connie waited. When no explanation was forthcoming, she asked, “What are you going to do? Go the the Commandant's Office?” If she did, Connie doubted anything would happen. She'd heard too many stories of actual rape victims whose cases had been whitewashed to believe that a smack would be believed over a couple of Firstie's.
“No.” Buffy kept her answer short. She didn't want to involve her roommate in what she was going to have to do. Better to deal with it herself. That way, she would be the only one facing the axe.
Connie burst out, “I want to help.” She felt surprised at her own offer. While she liked Cali, Connie had not planned to get involved beyond warning her. After all, if Connie was caught, the best she could hope for would be working off demerits at drill for months. At worst... well it didn't bear thinking about. Except now here she was offering to help Cali. Connie didn't understand what was driving her to follow the other girl. But she wouldn't back off now.
Connie felt Cali's gaze like an actual weight upon her skin. She was being measured. Her character. Her commitment. It wasn't a very reassuring feeling and made something deep inside Connie tighten. The feeling was just like the one she'd felt the first time she'd gone past the glitzy recruitment officers and actually met a combat veteran who'd grilled her on her reasons for joining the Air Force. His eyes had weighed and measured her, trying to see into her heart. Trying to put a value on her integrity. Just like Cali's were doing now.
“I need to ask you something first.”
“Go ahead.” Connie's mouth was dry as she replied. Her heart was starting to beat faster.
“Do you think Lloyd Merryman and this Sher are worthy of becoming officers in the Air Force? Don't answer right away. Think about it for a second.”
Something that had been dancing in the depths of Cali's gaze was now at the surface, visible to all. Icy and cold, it looked a lot like judgment. Connie closed her mouth, her first impulse stopped in its tracks. She took a moment and thought about it. Were those two officer material? By any definition of the word, they weren't. One was an all-around asshole, while the other was an admitted rapist. They were filth and would sully the character of the United States Air Force. Lloyd was in the bottom third of his class. Connie doubted that Sher was doing much better, although she had no basis for comparison.
Connie hadn't known at first what Cali was after when she'd first said to 'think about it for a second.' Now she did. Cali was asking Connie if she was willing to help with a plan to drum the two of them out of the Zoo. That was beyond serious. If it had been anyone other than Cali suggesting it, Connie would have laughed. Two smacks up against two Firsties? On the surface, it appeared ridiculous. Staring into Cali's cool eyes, Connie felt any inclination to laugh die an early death. Still, this was not something to be undertaken lightly. Not just because of possible ramifications if they were caught, but because by doing this Connie would be walking a fine line of conduct herself. Could she justify the things she might have to do to get those two bastards out of her service? The only answer was “No, they aren't worthy of being officers. If I let them graduate and gain commissions, they will demean everything that I took an oath to uphold.”
Green eyes met dark brown. “I agree completely. Merryman wants to get rid of me. Well I want to do the same to him. And his friend. I have an idea how to accomplish this, but the first step is to find out exactly who 'Sher' is. Once we do that, we know both our enemies. How does that sound?”
“Well, Butch, I think that sounds just fine.” Connie's eyes danced, to be met by an answering spark in Cali's.
“Butch, huh? Well I guess that makes you Sundance. Let's just hope we're more successful than they were. I, for one, am not looking forward to getting shot full of holes...”Following Saturday, 6:30 PM...
Jack O'Neill pulled up to the Visitor Center of the Zoo. Getting out of his staff car, he looked around for his smack. There she was. She was hanging out around the front doors, out of the wind, her greatcoat buttoned to the neck. Gotta love Colorado, Jack thought. Even though it was only early November, winter had arrived with a vengeance. He waved at the bundled figure, getting her attention. I wonder why our coats look just like a Nazi's from the last war, Jack mused silently as he watched Cadet Summers come to rigid attention in front of him, her feet at a perfect forty-five degree angle, her salute held perfectly straight with her palm canted just slightly downward. Her face was flushed by the wind and her eyes danced. Jack let her stand there a moment, then finally decided to let her relax.
He returned her salute. “At ease, Cadet Summers. How are you enjoying our fine weather?”
“Sir, the weather is good. I have never felt anything like it, though.”
“I bet, since you're from California.” Jack checked his watch. “Let's get this show on the road.”
Jack moved to the other side of the car, letting his cadet open her own door. Prior to arriving, he'd felt a bit of trepidation over what he was doing. He'd never
sponsored a cadet. And here he was sponsoring a smack at that. Oh well, he thought, she won't be a smack after Recognition. But he would still be sponsoring her. Jack smiled sardonically at his own thoughts. Coward, he told himself. Look at it this way, he thought. The worst thing she could be is a plant. And what are the odds of that?
“Sir, may I ask a question?”
“Certainly. But first, drop the extra formality. Sir or Colonel is fine, but you don't have to ask to ask question. Just speak your mind.” Jack ruthlessly suppressed amusement at the wide-eyed stare he got in return. At his patient expression, Cadet Summers stammered out a reply.
“Yes, sir! Uh, sorry, sir.”
“So what was your question?”
“I was just wondering where we are going to eat, Colonel?”
“There's this little bar slash steak house not far from here. My team and I blow off steam there occasionally. They make a mean steak. I'm sure you wouldn't mind a nice steak, would you?” Jack smiled at the positively lustful look Cali wore at his statement. Then her face fell.
“Sir, I don't know the etiquette for ordering when eating with a superior.”
“Order what you want. I'll let you in on a little secret. I made a bundle betting on you against that jarhead. The odds against you were thirty-to-one. Probably because I was the only one betting for you, other than Captain Billings. If you want two steaks, that's fine. I think I can afford it.”
Buffy felt her eyes widen at Colonel O'Neill's revelation. He bet on her. Wow, Buffy thought, it's cool that he had that much confidence in her. Now that he'd mentioned it again, Buffy remembered him saying something before about winning a bundle on her. It made her feel less guilty about sponging off of him.
She enjoyed the ride to the steakhouse, making idle chit chat with Colonel O'Neill on subjects ranging from the weather to the finer points of Shotokan katas. As they pulled into the parking lot, Buffy read the name: “O'Malley's”. Sounds like a good name for a steakhouse, she thought. Getting out of the car after Jack parked, Buffy followed him in.
Jack signaled the hostess for a table. As he and Cadet Summers followed the swaying hips of the hostess, he looked over the room. Uh oh, Jack thought, as he spotted SG-1 sitting at a table farther in. Daniel gave him a wave, inviting him to join them. Conscious of Carter and Teal'c's stares, Jack made a gesture towards his back, indicating that he was here with someone. Daniel nodded, letting Jack know he got the message. Of course, he was going to be grilled tomorrow, but he'd deal with it then...
Dr. Daniel Jackson leaned closer to Major Samantha Carter and whispered, “Who's that with Jack, Sam?”
Sam smiled and shrugged. “Dunno, but it might be the cadet he said he was going to sponsor. I know he was supposed to meet with her soon, so that soon might be tonight. Have you heard anything, Teal'c.”
“I have not, Samantha Carter. O'Neill has told me about the young warrior's skill. I believe he compared her favorably with Master Bra'tac. I was surprised at someone so young being so proficient.” You couldn't tell from the impassive expression on Teal'c's face whether he truly believed what Jack had said or not. The slight glint in his eyes belayed his serious expression.
Sam raised her eyebrows at this. Considering that the old Jaffa was tough as old boot leather and twice as mean, that was saying something. Sam studied the girl as she took off her greatcoat. She was dressed in the standard uniform of the Zoo, navy skirt and jacket, with a lighter blue blouse. The girl was tiny, standing barely two inches over five feet. Her face was lovely and animated as she described something to Jack, her hands moving in a series of fast gestures. I wonder what she's saying, Sam thought...
“Then I pulled in tight and hit my best Dorothy Hammill-esque spin. I got a silver, but I still think the judges were paid off, sir.” Buffy had just finished describing the high point of her figure skating career at the tender age of thirteen, when she'd sported the haircut of her idol. She'd so deserved gold, especially since she was the only one there who could do a double or a reverse double.
“It sounds like it. So do you know what you want?” Jack gestured at the menu Summers still held in her hands. He figured she hadn't even looked at it. And the waitress was on her way.
“I know what I want. Anything, right sir?”
At the waitress's expectant look, Buffy ordered eighteen ounces of smoked sirloin, a baked potato, a Cesar salad, and chicken nachos for an appetizer.
Jack shrugged. It sounded good. “Make that two, except I'll take the bacon and cheese smothered french fries instead of nachos. Thanks.” He handed back the menu and turned to Cadet Summers. “So while we're waiting, how about you tell me what you're thinking about majoring in, Cadet.”
Buffy quickly pulled her notebook and pen from the pocket of her greatcoat. “Sir, I'm currently considering Geospatial Science or Space Operations. I'm interested in both. I'm leaning more towards Space Operations. I want to see space.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “You know about the cutbacks in the shuttle program, Cadet. What makes you think you'll be able to make the grade. They want the best of the best for astronaut training.”
Buffy's face fell. “Yes, sir, you're right. I don't know that I'll have the grades. I'm in the top third of my class academically, but not the top two or three. I am number one in Physical Training and number two in Military Training. I know that's good enough to get me into pilot training, which is my second choice.”
“Fighters?” Jack grinned. That had been his choice once upon a time. He still enjoyed the occasional flight, despite the satisfaction of commanding SG-1.
Buffy's eyes gleamed. “Yes, sir. The thought of flying an F-22 is... exciting. I would still like space, but that would be great as well.”
“Well if your military and physical grades stay that high, you can count on graduating near the top of your class. That would put you in the running for your choice of assignment. However, I would like you to consider my command.”
“Deep Space Radar Telemetry, sir?”
“Yes, it's quite interesting. And you would get the chance to earn your wings there as well.”
“Sir, it sounds interesting, but I'm not sure...”
“Think about it, Cadet. I would like you to consider spending time there Second-Class Summer term. I can't let you see any of the really interesting stuff, but you'll get a feel of the Mountain. What do you think about that?”
“Well, sir, I can do that.”
“Good, good. What are your plans for this summer?”
“Parachuting and sailplane, sir.”
Jack frowned. “You're considering taking on both?”
“Yes, sir. I know it's hard, but Major Harriman said I could do it if I was up to the physical challenge.”
“Cadet, are you aware of just how strenuous the physical demands are for para-school?”
“Sir, I am. I feel confident I can do it. I'm sitting third overall in the PFT and AFT. I'm not afraid of the physical demands. I'm more worried about the intellectual demands of learning to fly a sailplane.”
Jack caught something odd. “I thought you said you were first in your class in Physical Training.”
“Yes, sir. I am. I'm third overall at the Zoo. Among both men and women.”
Jack raised his brows. Okay, he thought. Captain Billings had not been joking when he'd described just how physical Cadet Summers was. If anything, he'd underplayed the matter. Third was no joke, especially when you factored in the older male cadets. “How did you manage that?”
Buffy shrugged. She couldn't tell the truth, that a smirk from one of her classmates as he'd passed Buffy had made her pick up her pace to beat him handily during their latest Physical Testing. It was only later that she'd realized that she'd beaten the guy ranked number one in her class in Physical Training, who was a bona fide high school track star to boot. He was also joining the Air Force Track Team. Buffy had downplayed the run and somehow dodged all attempts to get her to join the track team. Now though, she got even more odd looks from her classmates. “I guess I'm just good at the tests, sir.”
“Uh huh. Well I feel better about you doing both schools this summer. I'm impressed by your initiative. Ahh, here's our food.”
The waitress had brought their appetizers and salads. Buffy and Colonel O'Neill agreed to share their appetizers, splitting each down the middle. Buffy could barely suppress sighs of pleasure as she chowed down on cheesy, melty nachos and cheesy, bacony fried potatoes. The potatoes even had sour cream on them, while jalapeños topped the nachos. Buffy alternated sips of her ice tea, barely able to get her hand around the huge glass. I wonder why they bring tea in quart-size glasses only in steakhouses, Buffy thought absently.
Jack paused a moment and watched Summers eat. My God, he thought, I can't believe how much food she can tuck away as she devoured yet another nacho. So far, he figured she'd eaten about two thirds of the two appetizers versus his one third. And she still had over a pound of sirloin coming as well as a baked potato. Not to mention they were on their second loaf of bread, he thought, watching as Buffy cut off another large slice and liberally buttered it.
Jack decided it was time to mention Kinsey. He'd been thinking about the situation for some time, and figured he needed to clarify Cadet Summers' status. “So, Summers, I heard you applied late. I was curious how you got in.”
Buffy froze for a second then focused on acting normally. Luckily the large bite of buttered bread she'd just taken gave her several seconds to think. After a moment, she swallowed. “Sir, I asked my Congressional sponsor, Senator Kinsey for help. He was able to provide assistance in getting in despite the late entry date.”
“What did you think of the senator?”
Buffy was figuring that whatever Colonel O'Neill was after, it wasn't about her past or any irregularities in how she'd made it in. He was interested in Senator Kinsey. Unfortunately, she was going to have to disappoint him, having never met the senator. “I'm sorry, sir, but I never met Senator Kinsey. I spoke with him over the phone and a nice man from his office interviewed me. But the senator was in DC at the time, so we couldn't meet personally. From my own experience with him, he was very helpful.”
Jack was both elated and disappointed. Elated that Buffy wasn't a spy, at least as far as he knew. Disappointed because she hadn't been able to provide him any intel on Kinsey. Ever since the senator had tried to shut the SGC down, he had made Jack's short list of people for whom he had no love. Jack decided he needed to be ready if or when the good senator came back after the SGC.
“My mom didn't vote for him.” Buffy blurted out the last, obviously interrupting Colonel O'Neill's thoughts from the puzzled expression on his face.
Jack figured out what Buffy had said and held back a grin. “She didn't?”
“No, sir. She thought he was 'a slimy, jumped-up toad.'”
Jack laughed out loud, startling the nearby diners and getting all-new interested looks from his team. “Your mother seems like a great judge of character.”
“I told her about you, sir.”
Jack wore a quizzical look as he asked, “What did you say? Something good, I hope?”
“Yes, sir. I told her about you wanting to help guide my career. She was cool about it, sir.”
“I see. So, Cadet, what does your mother do?” Jack asked the obligatory question out of politeness.
“Sir, she owns an antique shop in Colorado Springs, 'Joyce's Antiques.'”
“Colorado Springs? I thought you were from California.”
Buffy's eyes grew sad. “I am, sir. My mom sold off our house and her shop after what happened at graduation. She decided that the town held too many bad memories to stay. Plus that way I could come home for all holidays and some weekends.”
Jack thought it a little odd for Summers' mother to follow her across the country, but shrugged it off. He'd seen odder things since joining the Air Force. “There's yet another reason to work at the Mountain. Your mom would be just a few minutes away.” He wore a 'butter wouldn't melt in your mouth' expression as he said this last.
Buffy eyed Colonel O'Neill suspiciously. Yes, he had just gone there. Did he think she was so easily manipulated? Even if he did, she shouldn't say anything. After all, he was a colonel, while she was a smack. Smack = Soldiers Minus Aptitude, Coordination, and Knowledge. And the sound shit made when it hit a wall. Buffy smiled as she contemplated the gross analogy.
Jack smiled at Summers' expression. He knew she knew he was manipulating her, but didn't care. If it worked, it was cool. If it didn't, it was minimal effort. And there were the entrees. Jack looked over his medium-rare smoked sirloin appreciatively. It had that salty, peppery stuff on the outside that made it taste extra good. He cut off a piece. It was every bit as good as it looked. From the ever-so-faint moaning noise Cadet Summers made, she agreed. The baked potato was equally good, loaded down with butter, cheese, bacon, sour cream, and chives. Jack mashed his up, mixing all of the ingredients inside the skin, before taking a bite. Yep, he thought, delicious.
All too soon the food was gone, leaving Jack feeling more than replete. He watched Summers finish off the last half of yet another loaf of bread loaded with butter as she waited for desert, some kind of double-fudge brownie covered in Jack Daniels sauce. It had sounded good, but if he ate anything else, he'd puke. The loaf of bread slowly disappeared, consumed bite by bite. Okay, Jack thought, Summers is definitely an alien. No one, not even a smack missing home-cooked meals, can eat that much. Especially if they weigh barely a hundred pounds.
Buffy was aware of Colonel O'Neill's gaze as she finished off the last of the bread. She hadn't been that hungry, but hated to see it go to waste. Besides it was sooo good. She turned an inquisitive look his way. He was obviously going to speak.
“Cadet Summers, I would like to officially become your officer sponsor, effective today, with the idea of you working for me upon graduation in my command in Cheyenne Mountain. Towards that end, I wanted to recommend you take Space Operations as your major. That will help prepare you for your duties. In six month or so, during your Second-Class Summer, I would like you to take a turn in the Mountain, working on one of the upper floors in logistics. You'll need your SECRET clearance to work there so we'll start the process early next Fall to make sure you clear in time. First-Class summer, I want you to do a full turn in the main part of the base, working in operations. You'll need your TOP SECRET clearance. If you apply fall of your third year, that should be plenty of time to get it. In the mean-time, I want to meet with you every month so you can update me on your classes and bring me up to speed on any challenges you taken on. I'll also answer any questions you might have. I'll be making suggestions periodically regarding any classes I think you should take, especially among the electives. Do you have any questions about what I've just outlined?” Jack enjoyed the flabbergasted look Cadet Summers wore as he basically made her an unheard-of offer. She was unlikely to believe he was serious, especially not understanding just how much carte blanche he had as a member of the SGC, leading SG-1.
“Sir, I'm flattered. Very much so. But I do not understand how you can make me this offer. My understanding of the way the system works is that I have to put in my preferences for what I would like upon graduation and if I'm very, very lucky, I might get my second or third choice. But you're saying you can guarantee my being assigned to the Mountain. I do not understand how that is possible.”
“Is there a question in all of that?” Jack asked jokingly. “The thing is, Cadet Summers, that I do have some clout with the Powers That Be, especially when it comes to recruitment. I don't use it very often, but it's there. I believe you will be a great asset to my team. Don't think though that I won't bounce you in a heartbeat if you get lazy or don't put in the effort. But you work hard and follow my plan, and I'll get you in. How does that sound?”
Buffy hesitated for one second. This must be Whistler's doing, she thought, ignoring the fact that he'd said that at best he could give a nudge here or there. The idea that it could be Cadet Buffy Summers who so impressed a full bird colonel that he offered to do whatever was necessary to get her on his team was anathema to her. Well, if the real Powers That Be want me in Cheyenne Mountain, Buffy thought idly, then that's where I'll go. “That sounds great, Colonel O'Neill, sir. I look forward to having you as my officer sponsor. I also look forward to working with you up in the Mountain. Thank you very much for this opportunity. I will not disappoint you, sir.”
“I'm sure you won't. Now is there anything I can help you with or answer for you before you dig into that sinful concoction the waitress is about to drop off at our table?”
Buffy hesitated, thinking about asking him for his advice on the situation with Cadet Merryman. Ultimately, she decided not to. Buffy knew she had to learn to handle difficulties using just herself and whatever resources she had. With Connie on her team, helping her out, Buffy was confident she could deal with Merryman and his mystery friend. They would both be going down in flames. “No sir, I do not have any questions.” With that, she started in on her desert. Unfortunately, it didn't have nearly the taste it should have, especially with her mind so distracted by the bombshell that had been dropped on the table.
Jack noticed her hesitation, minor as it was. Well, he thought, if whatever she's thinking about becomes big enough, she'll come talk to me. It was probably just a personality conflict of some kind. The Zoo was notorious for those, some officers almost coming to blows years later over problems that started there. It was still one of the best ways to separate the wheat from the chaff and in the majority, produced superior officers. There were always a few scumbags that made it through, but they were the minority, most leaving the Air Force after their mandatory hitch.
“Okay, then, finish up your desert and I'll give you your assignment to turn in next month when we meet.” Jack ignored the momentarily horrified look that appeared on her face before she schooled it to attentive interest. He knew the idea of more assigned work on top of what she was already doing wouldn't be taken kindly. But he had a plan for what Summers needed to do to gain the skills that would best serve the SGC. She would just have to suck it up.
Buffy hurriedly ate her desert, aware of the aforementioned assignment hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles. More work. Yay, she thought sarcastically, already regretting taking Colonel O'Neill up on his offer. Oh well, how bad could one assignment be...