Chris activated his data pad’s audio recorder before the beating began. He and the others listen to it, hoping his attackers will speak.
Listening to yourself getting pounded into unconsciousness is more fun than the actual pounding, but not much more. But, Jade was with me and watching her listen to the recording shredded my soul. No woman should ever have to hear what Jade heard. I prayed to God that my assailants were foolish enough to speak.
God heard my prayer and He answered.
“He’s no fun, he passed out too soon.” The voice was unmistakable. It belonged to Cadet Anton Berela, the leader of the Fatuous Four. “You two, hold the elsie up so I can beat on him some more.”
We heard rustling sounds and grunts of effort, followed by the sound of fists striking flesh. Everyone else in my room winced with each punch. I kept my face impassive, though my gut clenched painfully every time a fist slammed into me.
One of the minions said, “Okay, Anton, that’s enough. We need to get out of here before his roommate comes back.”
The pounding stopped and I heard myself fall to the floor again. Berela all but crowed, “That ought to show these elsies what happens when one of them aspires above his station.”
The door opened and closed, leaving my labored breathing as the only sound. I stopped the playback.
“Shall I have Cadet Berela locked up, Sir?” Master Scout Young—Linda—asked.
“It’s going to cause no end of problems, but I see no other way,” the Commander answered in a weary voice.
Jade spoke, anger tinging her voice. “Berela beat Chris into unconsciousness, and you’re worried about Berela?”
“No, Cadet Cochran,” the Commander responded, “I am worried about its impact on this Academy. Cadet Berela’s father has a seat in the Federation Parliament and is a member of our oversight committee. I believe Anton was admitted to the Academy in exchange for his father’s support. We will lose that support if the boy is expelled from the Academy—even with such incontrovertible evidence as this recording. If the senior Berela convinces enough other MPs to join him, it could spell the end of this Academy.”
“Sir, you cannot Cadet Berela get away with this!” Linda exclaimed, her voice filled with dismay.
“I have no intention of letting him get away with anything, Linda,” the Commander responded. “I just wish I had an alternative.”
“You could let me deal with him, Sir,” I suggested.
“What?” Jade cried.
“Don’t do it!” Joy blurted.
“I agree with these young ladies,” Linda added.
“How can I help?” Pete asked.
All three women glared on my roommate. Rather than wilt under their gazes, Pete shrugged, “It’s a guy thing. Besides, Chris would have my back if our positions were reversed.”
The Commander eyed me for a few seconds. “What do you have in mind, Cadet Marlow?”
“Sir, this is an Academy matter,” Linda protested. “Punishment must flow through proper channels!”
“Not always, Linda. Surely, you’ve heard of barracks justice?” the Commander asked. “Sometimes that is far more effective than the official variety. Also, I have not agreed to let Cadet Marlow handle the matter. I have simply asked what he would do.”
All eyes turned to me. “I think a little extortion will take care of things. Berela doesn’t know you’ve heard the recording. I can threaten to release it to you if he doesn’t behave himself.”
“What if that doesn’t work?” Jade asked. “Berela is just like the Supercilious Six back home. He probably thinks his father’s position will make Commander Mills bury it.”
“Jade, we can’t cover every possibility in advance. I just want to try my approach. If it doesn’t work, Commander Mills can always bring the full weight of the Academy down on Berela.” I turned to look at the Commander. “The Academy grounds are subject to the Sescagan legal code, aren’t they? And the Academy faculty cannot interfere in Sescagan legal matters?”
“You are correct,” Commander Mills admitted. His eyes narrowed. “Why do you ask that, Cadet Marlow?”
“I just want to make sure my proposition is framed so that Berela accepts it.”
The Commander stared at me for a long moment. Then he gave a single nod. “So be it.”
After that, the doctors shooed everyone out of the room. Well, almost everyone. Jade wouldn’t leave. Realizing they’d have to drag her from my side, the doctors gave in to the inevitable and let her stay.
Once everyone was gone, she climbed onto the bed and carefully snuggled up to me. “You aren’t going to threaten to expose Berela, are you?”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because I know you, Christopher Marlow.”
“I am going to give Berela the chance to confess to the Commander.”
“Which you know he won’t do.”
“It will surprise the hell out of me if he does, but I’ve got to give him the chance.”
“Because?” Jade prompted.
“Every other choice will end in blood.”
What will happen when Chris confronts Berela? Find out in Chapter 23, coming Friday.