Torn by indecision, you stop running and just look at the pair, your eyes going from the tearful Jodie to Instructor Gray.
“You’re not done with your thirty laps,” Gray says, her voice like steel.
“She’s… she’s not okay,” you say. “She’s not ready for this.”
You find yourself on the wrong end of a withering stare. “How would you know, Cadet? Have you trained anyone before?”
“No, ma’am,” you say, trying your best to be respectful. “I’ve never flown a helichopter before either, but I know if I see it in a tree, something has gone wrong.”
Gray’s lips thin and Jodie lifts her head from her hands to look at you with watery, miserable eyes. It’s a quick glance of gratitude that makes you wonder if anyone’s stood up for her at all since she got here. Probably not. Rebels get hard time. You give her a sympathetic smile.
Gray has extended her disciplinary rod. She points the tip of it at you.
“Are we going to have a repeat of yesterday, Cadet?”
“No ma’am,” you say quickly, backing away.
“What are you doing!?” Jodie breaks in, her voice holding a tone of horror. “Are you going to hit her with that?!”
“We have discipline here,” Gray informs Jodie coldly. “When I am disobeyed, there is punishment.”
“You’re fucked up,” Jodie says bluntly. “She was just trying to be nice to me. Is that a crime? To actually treat me like a human being?!”
“Cadet, start running before I whip your butt,” Gray growls at you.
You start running again, performing a circuit of the gym. You’ve probably earned yourself some kind of trouble, but Jodie has stopped crying and has even gotten to her feet, so maybe it was worth it.
“You can start running too,” Gray tells her. “Try to keep up with Cadet.”
You’re pretty sure that Jodie is going to refuse and you’re going to watch her get whipped, but to your surprise, she actually joins up with you as you come around the corner toward her.
It’s soon obvious that she’s not fit. In less than one lap she’s panting, but she’s working to keep up with you. She even gives you a little smile as you glance over at her.
Your thirty laps end around the time she’s done ten. By that stage, she’s bright red in the face and panting heavily with big sweat marks down the front of her shirt.
“Get some water, Jodie,” Gray says. “Good work, Cadet.”
You notice that Instructor Gray has put the rod away at some point in your run. She steps closer to you and lowers her voice. “Don’t disobey me again this session, Cadet,” she hisses. “You used up your one and only chance, you got it?”
“Yes ma’am,” you say quickly.
You take her seriously. Gray does not mess around. You already know that. For the rest of the afternoon, she drills you hard. Jodie does a few basic moves too, but for the most part she sits at the side of the gym panting and sipping water and watching you and Instructor Gray train. There’s no more screaming, and there’s no more talk of leaving either.
“Good work, Cadet,” Gray says as the sun starts to set outside the gym. “Go on back to your cabin and rest up for tomorrow.”
“Yes ma’am, thank you, ma’am,” you say. You wave to Jodie as you leave. She waves back and you start dragging your tired butt home. You’re surprised when, just a few steps out of the gym, Jodie catches up with you and tugs on your sleeve. You stop to see what she wants.
“You’re really good,” she says, her blue eyes lit with admiration. There could be a blush on her cheeks, but it’s hard to tell because she’s still flushed from working out.
“Thanks,” you say. “But I’m just starting out.”
“You don’t look like you’re starting out,” she smiles. “I think you’re almost as good as Gray.”
You know that’s not at all true, but it’s sweet of her to say.
“JODIE! Get your butt back here!” Gray calls from the gym.
“She’s screaming again,” Jodie sighs, rolling her eyes back at Gray. “Thanks for, you know… today. Everyone here is such a hard ass. They’ve been screaming at me since I got here. You’re the first one to be nice to me even a little.” She looks at you with big puppy dog blue eyes which hold gratitude and trust. “You’re really, really nice, Cadet.”
“JODIE!” Instructor Gray shouts her name, louder this time.
“Listen,” you start to say. “You’ve got to follow orders, at least a little, because…”
You trail off as Gray starts striding toward the pair of you. Your heart sinks and your stomach churns at the thought of what she’s going to do to Jodie, let alone what she’s going to do to you.
Just as your angry instructor arrives, Jodie takes cover behind you. “Save me, Cadet!”