As Dani stood on the Academy athletic field during the graduation ceremony, she was reminded that Emma Shale hadn’t been the only one who had given her a difficult time during her tenure at the Academy. There’d been a certain instructor that had given her hell…
“Way too slow, Cadet. Ten laps around the track.”
That’s impossible, Dani thought. She had shaved seconds off the time it’d taken her to assemble her rifle.
Dani looked up at her prep squad instructor, Commander Nimembeh.
“When I give an order, you follow it immediately. That’s fifteen laps,” Nimembeh ordered.
“In my uniform and boots?” Dani asked.
“Make that twenty.”
Dani stood. Nimembeh had been on her back since prep squad training had begun almost two weeks ago, and she wasn’t going to stand for it any longer. “No, sir,” she said defiantly.
“What did you say, Cadet?”
“I said no sir,” Dani repeated. “I will not comply.”
“30,” Nimembeh said, increasing the number of laps Dani was supposed to run. But Dani didn’t move, so he increased them again. “40.”
“Are you just going to stand there adding laps? If you are, then you’re wasting your breath.”
Nimembeh stepped up to Dani and nearly placed his eyeballs on hers. But Dani didn’t even blink. The other cadets in the room watched on nervously. They all knew that their classmate was walking a thin line, openly defying an order, and it looked to them like she was about to fall off that line.
“Is that so, Cadet?” Nimembeh asked Dani. “Meet me at the track at 2400 hours, Cadet.” Nimembeh stepped back and started to walk away. “If you value your prospective career in Starfleet, you’ll be there.”
At midnight, it was pouring down rain in San Francisco. Commander Nimembeh circled Dani like a hawk.
“I’ve seen plenty of your kind in my time as a prep squad instructor, Cadet,” he began. “Starfleet brats flanked by the brass.”
Dani stared straight ahead while Nimembeh continued. “Your mother may be a captain. Your father may be a commander. Your boyfriend may be a commander. But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care who your parents are. To me, you’re just another cadet.” He stopped walking. He was boring a hole into the side of Dani’s face. She wanted to look at him. She wanted to push him away. But she just kept staring at the nothingness in front of her. Dani was going to have to give this up. She wasn’t going to win this one.
“On the ground, on my mark,” Nimembeh ordered. “Since you don’t want to run laps, let’s see how pushups suit you. Mark!”
Without hesitation, Dani fell to the ground. Nimembeh began counting as Dani began pushing herself up. “One, two, three…”
Dani trudged into her room, wet, tired, and sore. After she’d regained feeling in her upper body, her arms had taken on the characteristics of dead weights. She looked across the dark room and her roommate, sleeping soundly in her bed, and envied her. Dani pulled the soaked jacket she’d donned in a feeble attempt to deflect the rain. She realized just how feeble the attempt had been when she found that she was wet through and through despite the jacket. She tossed the jacket to the floor, pulled of her soggy boots and socks and fell into bed, soaked and all.
The next day at lunch, Dani could hardly keep her eyes open. She may have fallen into bed soaked, but she knew she couldn’t sleep in that state. She’d had to get up and change. By the time she’d actually fallen asleep, it had to have been well after 2:00 in the morning.
Emery sat down across from Dani. They were seeing each other for the first time since the night before.
“What time did you finally get in last night?” Emery asked.
“This morning,” Dani corrected groggily. “I got in at about 1:30. I couldn’t get to sleep until after two.”
“You didn’t get in until 1:30?” Emery asked. “What did he have you doing?”
“The whole time?”
Dani nodded. “Yep.”
“Yeah. Right now, my shoulders feel like they’re about to fall off.”
As if the fact that Dani was sleepy and sore weren’t enough, Emma Shale and her little clique surrounded her and Emery at their table. “Damn it,” Dani muttered.
Emma and Dani had had a short but colorful history during their prep squad training at the Academy. Almost from the very first day of training, Emma had found it her duty to make Dani’s life a living hell. It was now the last day of training, and apparently, Emma wasn’t showing any signs that she was going to let up any.
“Hello, Dani,” Emma said, sweetly. As an afterthought, she added, “Emery.”
Dani didn’t give Emma the satisfaction of an answer. She didn’t even want to look at her, but she did glance at her for a few moments before continuing her meal. Emma continued just the same.
“I, uh, I heard that Commander Nimembeh worked you pretty hard last night,” Emma said. Dani continued to eat. Emery looked at Dani and then at Emma. She looked back down at her lunch and continued to eat also.
“You just love those commanders, don’t you?” Emma continued. “Aren’t you the naughty one? And greedy, too. You’ve already got one all to yourself. Do you really need another?”
At that last comment, Dani dropped her fork and looked at Emma. “Are you implying something, Cadet?” Dani asked with an air of authority.
“No,” Emma said. “Not at all.”
Dani picked up her fork again and was about to continue her lunch when Emma added, “Just stating the facts.”
Dani stood, picked up her tray, and started to walk away from the table all in a single movement. Emery rose and followed. So did Emma. Dani slung her tray into the recycler in the wall. Emery followed suit. They turned around and found Emma.
“Look, what do you want?” Dani asked. She was getting pretty fed up with this, and she didn’t exactly want to spend the next four years putting up with any of it.
“You’re not going to make it, Dani,” Emma said. “People who get in on the merits of their families and…friends never do.”
“I took the tests the same as everyone else here,” Dani said.
“That doesn’t mean jack,” Emma insisted. “You’re going to fail, Dani, and I’m going to be here to watch when you do.”
“If anyone here got in because of their family and is going to fail, it’s you. I think you’re the one who should be called into question here, Miss I-Should-Get-Special-Treatment-Because-My-Father’s -Brass. Now when you earn something on your own merit, then you step to me with a case. Until then…”
Dani watched Emma and friends walk away from her and Emery.
The remainder of Dani’s first semester had gone by somewhat uneventfully. She had still suffered her occasional bouts with Emma, but nothing too serious had transpired.
Thinking back, Dani realized that not everything that happened at the Academy had been bad. She remembered that at the end of the first semester, she and a group of friends had celebrated by going camping…