Pure relief coursed through Cadet’s body when she saw Terra. A guard had already been by to uncuff her, but every minute in the cell felt like a year. It was small and it was gross and the toilet faced right out into the walkway with zero privacy. Cadet really didn’t want to have to use it.
“Oh my god, I’m so glad you came,” she exclaimed as Terra’s silhouette appeared outside the cell.
“Mhm,” Terra raised a well shaped brow as she stepped into the corona of light shed by the single light fixture outside and cast her enigmatic gaze on the unfortunate prisoner. “You might change your mind about that soon, Cadet.”
Cadet suddenly realized that Terra wasn’t there to save her. She was there to blame her, just like Gray had been. The realization came like a blow to the gut and lead to an immediate outburst.
“Why!? I did what you told me. I went and looked for Jodie like you told me to. She was smoking stuff she shouldn’t have been and she lied about it when the MPs found us. They didn’t even listen to me. I didn’t do anything wrong!” Her voice was reaching a pitch of desperation. “Why am I in trouble?!”
“Because the consequences of your actions led to you being shackled in a cell.”
“This is not fair,” Cadet said, tears glimmering in her eyes. “I’ve been trying my best.”
“It’s not your best when you question your instructors and end up in the company of delinquents,” Terra replied firmly.
“But Gray made me take her home with me! She set me up! And you went along with it! This isn’t my fault! You both did this!”
“No! I didn’t know she was a psycho! Gray did! And Gray set me up and you’re on her side so..”
“Cadet, you need to calm down,” Terra interrupted abruptly.
“No I don’t! You need to stop setting me up to fail and then punishing me for it! I’m not good enough to be in this unit. Everybody knows it. I can see it in Gray’s eyes, and everyone else’s too. Sarah was right, I’m just your whipping girl! So leave me here! I’d rather stay in this cell than go back to that cabin with you!”
Cadet’s temper erupted in a torrent of hurt exclamations, some of which she didn’t really even mean in the moment, but which ejected themselves from her mouth regardless. The sheer frustration and unfairness of it all had overwhelmed her completely, leaving her totally irrational.
Meanwhile, a guard had arrived to unlock the cell. She did so silently as Terra stood back. The door to freedom stood open and for a second, Cadet really thought about not stepping through it. The porcelain looming at the corner of her eye changed her mind though, and she went forward into yet more trouble.
“You’re turning into quite a handful, Cadet,” Terra murmured, her eyes hooded. “I don’t appreciate the screaming.”
Guilt flooded in to replace the anger Cadet had so thoroughly vented. “Sorry,” she muttered. “It’s just so frustrating. I’ve been trying to do everything right. I just wanted to help Jodie. She looked scared and lost and she didn’t have anyone to help her. She was all alone.”
“Is that how you feel?” Terra slid her fingers beneath Cadet’s chin. “Are you scared and alone, Cadet?”
Cadet looked into Terra’s stunning gaze and felt a million miles away from her, even though they were touching. They came from different worlds and even though they shared proximity… they were essentially alone in one another’s presence.
“I’ve been in nothing but trouble for weeks,” Cadet said. “And I know most of it is my fault, and maybe this is too, but I’m getting tired of it. I’m doing my best and I keep failing and…” she bit her lower lip in an effort not to cry.
“It’s simple enough, Cadet,” Terra replied. “All you need to do is as you’re told.”
“So be a robot.”
“That is a lot of what being in the military is like,” Terra said, her cheek dimpling. “But I’ve never asked for you to be a robot. I’ve asked you to follow orders and behave yourself. But for every order you obey, you seem to disobey another one. And there are consequences for that. There will always be consequences for that.”
Cadet drew in a deep breath and nodded. “Yes ma’am.”
“Let’s go,” Terra said, sliding her hand onto Cadet’s shoulder. “You’ve had enough for one day, and so have I.”
They returned to the cabin at a slow stroll just as the sun began to set across the land. With the dwindling of the light and with Terra by her side, Cadet began to relax. She felt her breath draw deeper, her muscles relaxing with every step. By the time they reached the cabin, she was feeling a lot better.
“I really am sorry, ma’am,” she said as they entered their little home.
“Mhm,” Terra took her by the hand and drew her over to the couch. “Sit down, Cadet.”
Cadet sat, not entirely sure what to expect. Terra sat down next to her and turned toward her, resting her elbow on the back of the couch, her leg crooked against the cushion.
“Uhm, about what, ma’am?”
“About you, about what you need.”
“I just… ma’am, I don’t think I was ever going to have an easy time in the Academy,” Cadet confessed. “I don’t come from the same kind of place as everyone else. I’m not used to all this order and classes and… everything that comes with all this. And now…”
“And now you’re thrown into the deep end,” Terra sympathized. “I’m asking a lot of you. Maybe more than you think you can give.”
“And you’re acting up at every turn,” Terra said. “So we’re going to find a way to make sure you get enough support through this. I think you need someone assigned to you more or less permanently, Cadet. Someone who is capable of nurturing you and disciplining you without becoming an erotic distraction. Someone who can accompany you throughout the mission. Grisham is handling Sarah right now. You need a handler of your own.”
“Someone nurturing that isn’t an erotic distraction? That rules literally everyone out,” Cadet said with blunt honesty.
“It does seem to, I admit,” Terra agreed. “I’m thinking about bringing Instructor Gray onto the team for you.”
Cadet snorted. “You’re joking.”
“She’s about as nurturing as a cobra.”
“She cared enough about you not to beat you today,” Terra said. “And she’s strict enough that I don’t think you’d cross her lightly.”
“She’s incredibly strict,” Cadet agreed. “She’s really harsh, ma’am.”
“I have to focus on commanding this unit,” Terra explained gently. “And Grisham and Sarah are likely to be deployed together. That leaves you on your own to some extent, and that isn’t working, and won’t work.”
“Why can’t I have Grisham and Sarah have Gray?”
“Because Grisham can physically handle Sarah in a way almost nobody else can.”
Cadet sighed and nodded. “I don’t think I would survive with Gray,” she said. “I barely last the few hours I spend with her.”
“I think you’d survive just fine,” Terra replied. “And you’ll be dealt with much more swiftly when you’re under her wing.”
“I don’t want to be dealt with swiftly.”
“I think you do, Cadet,” Terra said in warm, knowing tones. “I think you’ll thrive under those circumstances. I think the unit will be much more settled and balanced too.”
“Well Gray might say no. She might enjoy being an instructor.”
“She already said yes,” Terra smiled. “I asked her just before I came to get you out.”
Cadet’s jaw dropped as her anxiety surged. “No. Please. I won’t do anything that I shouldn’t again. I mean it. I’ll obey every order. I…”
“It’s too late for panic or promises,” Terra said. “Go and get cleaned up, Cadet. Tomorrow, Gray will be joining us full time.”
Cadet kept her mouth shut as she got up from the couch and made her way to the shower. This wasn’t fair. This was straight up fucked. Why couldn’t Terra just handle all the disciplinary matters?
“Because she’d never do anything else,” Cadet muttered to herself as she got under the steaming hot water.
Her stomach was twisted in knots at the idea of being handled by Gray. The simple solution was just to do as she was told, to follow orders and be a good little soldier. But it never seemed to work out so easily.
She cast her mind back over the events of the day. What if Gray had heard her yelling at Terra? What if she had quietly added that to the sins she’d accrued with Jodie?
Guilt and anxiety followed Cadet out of the shower.
She got changed into simple uniform and made her way toward the kitchen. She was starving.
“Hello ma’am,” Cadet said, casting her eyes downward.
“Hey, Cadet.” Another voice greeted her.
Cadet turned, saw Grisham standing there, tall and strong and with those warm dark eyes which made her feel that everything was going to maybe be okay. She let out a loud gasp before throwing herself into the woman’s arms.
“Easy, it’s okay,” Grisham chuckled, looking pleased as she pulled Cadet into a hug. “I was only gone a couple of days.”
“A really, really long couple of days,” Cadet said. “Terra’s going to assign me to a monster.”
Someone else was in the room. Someone with a name starting with G.
“She’s here,” she whispered in Grisham’s ear.
“Mhm, she is,” Grisham agreed, patting Cadet’s bottom.
Cadet kept her arms around Grisham until finally Grisham sat down and Cadet sat in her lap and curled up and kept her eyes averted from Instructor Gray. It was not the most mature way of dealing with things, but some ancient part of her brain was telling her that as long as she didn’t actually look at Gray, maybe Gray couldn’t get her after all.
“I see you’ve told Cadet about my addition to the unit,” Gray said to Terra who stood nearby, watching the scene with amusement.
“I have,” Terra said.
“Grisham,” Cadet whispered in her ear. “Get me out of here, please. I can’t take more of this right now. Please.”
She felt Grisham’s arm wind around her waist a little tighter. “Easy,” Grisham murmured back. “Nothing’s going to happen.”
She was wrong. Everything was already happening.
“Cadet, have you entirely forgotten your manners?” Terra prompted. “Greet Instructor Gray.”
“Hello, Instructor Gray, ma’am,” Cadet muttered, raising her eyes just high enough to look at Gray’s chest.
“Hello, Cadet,” Gray replied.
Cadet felt Grisham’s hand begin to rub the length of her back in soothing strokes, but it didn’t help her to relax. She didn’t need a handler. She had Terra and Grisham and that was more than enough. Gray was just overkill.
“We’re going to run over the plans for retrieving our first artifact,” Terra announced. “Grisham and Sarah have come back with some excellent intelligence on the matter.”
“Do I get to eat at some point?” The question escaped Cadet in a sharp, maybe even whiny tone.
“You can cut the attitude out right now,” Gray snapped. “That’s no way to speak to your commanding officer. And since when is Grisham an armchair?”
“Since before you got here,” Cadet replied from the shelter of Grisham’s lap.
“Cadet…” Grisham’s voice came low and warning.
“No! This unit was working just fine! We don’t need her!” Cadet slid off Grisham’s lap and pointed in Gray’s direction. “We don’t need you,” she repeated. “We don’t need you, and I don’t even want you.”
Gray didn’t bother to utter a word. She reached out, used Cadet’s pointing finger as a grip to yank her close then whipped her hand down across Cadet’s full bottom, drawing a yelp of anguish and pain. Cadet tried to pull her hand out of Gray’s grasp, but the woman had it firm and used it to her advantage, swatting Cadet hard and fast across her bottom until she performed a whimpering, wailing jig in front of everybody.
“What do you say, Cadet?” Gray prompted her.
“Fuck off,” Cadet bit out. She was angry with everyone. With Gray for spanking her, and with Terra and Grisham for sitting there and watching it as if it was all okay.
Her words resonated in the silence between the women before Gray once again took action.
“I don’t ever want to hear you talk like that again to anyone,” she lectured, pulling Cadet into the bedroom away from the others. “And you better make sure you have a spare life stored up if you talk to me like that.”
She tossed Cadet down on the bed and pinned her face down on the duvet, all care gone for the state of the poor brat’s bottom as she spanked long and hard until Cadet was sobbing into the bedding.
“Grisham isn’t going to save you from your bad behavior,” she lectured, holding Cadet in place. “And Terra isn’t either. You answer to me now, Cadet. You understand?”
Cadet let out a big gasping sob and shook her head. “I never signed up to serve under you.”
“You don’t get a choice in this.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Cadet sobbed.
There was a moment of cold silence. “You’re going to make me whip you into submission, is that it?”
Gray’s eyes glinted with the challenge. “Little girl, you are offering yourself up on a platter to me, do you know that?”
“I don’t care.”
Gray yanked Cadet’s pants and underwear down and held her there to inspect her even as she wriggled with rage.
“I was going to give you a chance to heal up,” she said. “But you don’t…”
“Shut up! I don’t care what you have to say! Keep hitting me! I don’t care! Then everyone will see what you’re really like.” Cadet exploded again. There was only pain to be had at this woman’s hands, and she wasn’t going to give into it. Grisham and Terra were going to see what a horrible idea it was.
Gray let out a burst of laughter. “You think you can get rid of me by making me whip you senseless, is that it, Cadet? Girl, you are not going to get rid of me, no matter how badly you behave.”
“There’s only so much of me you can beat for so long,” Cadet shot back. “And I don’t even care if it does hurt… OWWWCHCHH!!” She squealed as Gray spanked her bare bottom with a solid swat.
“I’m using my hand on you,” Gray replied. “And you’re crying your eyes out. You think you’ve pushed me as far as I’ll go? We haven’t even started yet.”
The next swat landed on Cadet’s inner thigh and was followed by several more, her shirt riding up as she squirmed and fought, her pants and underwear sliding down until she was hobbled by her clothing, her bottom a bright blushing pink, her face a furious red.