Chapters 1-5 can be found here.
Upon her arrival at the G.L.E.E. Academy, Taz had been swept away by a small legion of personnel in crisp green uniforms, asked a thousand questions she didn’t know the answers to, and stripped down for a full physical examination in what was the single most embarrassing experience of her life. The G.L.E.E. personnel seemed skeptical about her size and age, but the Commander had gotten her a letter signed by the Admiral himself that was as good as gold, and soon enough Taz found herself handed three smartly folded cadet uniforms and directed to the nearest bathroom.
Staring at herself in the bathroom mirror, Taz turned from side to side to get the full effect. The cadet uniforms were a plain beige, not as impressive as Up’s camouflage, and even the League’s smallest size was swimming on her. She pulled her belt tighter, smoothed the front of her shirt, and wove her hair, which needed a good wash, into a tight braid.
“Cadet Taz, at your service,” she said aloud, and immediately felt silly.
When she emerged, Up was waiting, and she hadn’t realized how much she’d missed his comforting presence until she felt a rush of relief.
“Have you been discharged yet?” he asked.
Taz cast a glance at the nearest green uniform and shrugged.
“Come on,” Up said. “I’ll show you to your new quarters.”
“Where have you been?” she asked as they entered the labyrinth of hallways that made up the Academy. He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Paperwork. There’s a lot of red tape involved when you get reassigned.”
“Do you know-”
“Where I’ll be transferred to?” Up shrugged. “That’s for the Admiral to decide. They’ll put me wherever I’m most useful.”
“But it might be lejos,” she said.
She wasn’t sure if he knew the word, but he seemed to get the idea. “I’m a Starship Ranger, Taz. I don’t stay in one place for very long.”
A knot settled in her stomach. She didn’t say anything, and after a while he continued. “Things will be a little different here, Taz. You must know that. You’ll be bunking with the other cadets, and I – I’ll be your superior officer.”
She knew it was true, but that didn’t stop her fists from balling up in anger. Up stopped in front of a solid metal door and checked the number.
“This is you,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, as coldly as she could.
He looked hurt. “Listen, I’ll be here for a while. There isn’t another starship due for over a month. I’m not going anywhere yet.”
Taz raised her arm in the best imitation of a salute she could muster. Up sighed, and returned the gesture.
“At ease, cadet,” he said, and turned to leave.
Later that night, Taz lay in her new bunk, listening to the breathing of eleven other cadets, mostly boys but a few girls too, and all older than her, of course. She found herself wishing instead for the familiar sound of Up snoring – the idiota did snore, for all he insisted otherwise. She should be happy – she was here, at the Academy, finally a real G.L.E.E. cadet – but she felt more alone than ever.
Up figured Taz just needed time to adjust to her new life at the Academy. He did try to talk to her whenever he’d see her at mess hall or on the quad, but she was unresponsive to the point of blatantly ignoring him. Unused to dealing with the misdirected anger of a fifteen-year-old girl, he eventually stopped trying to get her to acknowledge his existence, though reluctantly. Maybe he shouldn’t, but he missed having her around.
The Academy instructors were impressed with Taz, and Up couldn’t help but feel a rush of pride anytime he overheard them discussing her progress. She could beat anyone in her class in the ring and was keeping up fine in the athletics tests. He didn’t get a chance to see it for himself until the day he was asked to teach a few classes for an instructor who’d had a little too much to drink the night before. The second class of the day was Taz’s.
Up surveyed the group of freshman cadets before him. Most looked uneasy, tugging at their uniforms and casting nervous glances at each other. Perhaps his reputation preceded him. Taz stared straight ahead, not looking at him or anyone else.
“All right, cadets,” he barked. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
He started them off the way he always did: laps, pushups and no mercy. The first one broke after twenty minutes, and that seemed to stiffen the others’ resolve, as it often did. He stole a glance at Taz, who was halfway through her third set of pushups. Her arms were shaking, nearly imperceptibly. Her pace didn’t falter.
When the cadets were shining with sweat and breathing heavily, he set them to sparring. He could see who had experience prior to coming the Academy, and who didn’t. Most still had a long way to go. When Taz had put her third opponent on the floor, Up sighed. There was no one here to match her.
He took off his jacket and stepped up to the mat. One of the cadets whistled, and the class gathered to watch.
They circled each other, as they had many times before, but something was different this time. Taz was a whirl of fury as she threw herself at him and he had to put his full attention into blocking her blows. Left jab, right hook, knee, elbow – he was on the defensive. The cadets started to catcall.
He managed a hit, a sideswipe that sent her to the carpet, but before he could blink, she had rolled to her feet and they were circling again. This time he moved first.
She blocked him, and they sparred at a pace Up hadn’t reached in a long time. He rolled to avoid a well-placed roundhouse kick. She was actually trying to hurt him.
Just as he got to his feet, Taz leapt at him, arms raised overhead and a wild look in her eyes. Throwing his hands up, he caught hers and held them tightly, forcing them backwards over her head. She struggled to break his grip. Their faces were inches apart as he leaned over her. Their eyes locked, and she stopped fighting.
They stood there, nose to nose and breathing hard, until after a long moment the cadets started to applaud. Up released her, and she stumbled back, rubbing her wrists.
“That’s enough for today, cadets,” he said, trying not to let his fatigue sound in his voice. Taz looked back at him as she filed out with the rest of her classmates. He wondered if her heart was racing as fast as his.
Taz knew she was forgiven for her awful treatment of him when Up sat down next to her in the mess hall and peered over her shoulder at the book she was banging her forehead against.
“Calculus?” he asked.
“They said I have to get my high school credits before I can officially qualify to be a Ranger,” she said. “I have to sit the exams for English, Science-” she gestured hopelessly at the meaningless disparates in front of her. “And this tema estúpido.”
“Let me see that,” he said, and pulled the book over to him. “Ah! Optimization, that’s cake! All you have to do to optimize a function on a closed interval is find all the places the derivative is zero of does not exist and compare the values of the function at these points and the end points of your interval.”
She blinked, and blinked again, and he chuckled. “Okay, okay. Calculus is tough. But I’ll make you a deal.”
She eyed him with suspicion.
“I will help you out with calculus – if you promise that the next time we fight, you won’t try quite so hard to kill me?”
She blushed to the roots of her hair, but he was smiling, and she knew they were going to be okay. “Es un acuerdo. It’s a deal.”
Read Chapter 7 here.
Credit where credit is due: I don’t know the first thing about calculus, so Up’s explanation of optimization was lifted in its entirety from this website.
Thank you once again for reading! Comments?