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The power of voice stunned them. The captain towered over them like an enraged bear, leaned forward, hands behind his back, exposing soft abdomen and not guarding himself. Still, the menace and threat was clear, almost palpable, letting them know he intent to strike back, beating them to a pulp in the process, because their teenage light bodies would not stand a chance against the prevailing mass of a furious adult.

Clenching fists, they drew hands up, hesitating - then, the cadet on the left, handsome dark-haired one with the round face and gentle facial features, managed to punch Gromov's belly, just a few centimeters under the rib cage.

Feeling almost nothing, Gromov instantly grabbed the hand, twist it and subdued the attacker on the floor, while the second one jumped away, too scared to continue.

"How dare you," growled Gromov. "You hit me."

The cadet, struggling to release his neck from the steel grip, panted: "You ordered that, sir."

"It was a wrong order. You were not supposed to punch the officer. Sergeant, you tell him!"

Gromov winked at Andrey, who answered in a grave tone. "I would never hit an officer, Jamal. You should pull your fist before the contact. This one was obvious."

"Was it?" asked bewildered Akane, looking at Captain Chi and Lieutenant Schubert, who were observed the spectacle from behind. Chi just scratched black hair while pale Schubert mumbled: "Isn't he going too far?"

"Let me ask you one thing," continued Gromov. "What if I give you the same stupid order once again? What do you do, Jamal? Remember, hitting an officer is the serious offence. Answer now!"

"I-I'll do it again, sir?"

"Oh, a shrewd one, aren't you?" grinned Gromov and let Jamal go. "You guessed what I preferred to hear. Next time, make it sound less like a question. Show your resolution! Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of blind obedience, but I demand you to do what you were told to. Understood?"

"Understood, sir. Did I pass, then?"

"Quite so. You passed at the moment you've landed a hit on me. Glad you didn't go for my jaw, though."

"Oh, I made sure not to harm you, sir," said cadet, brimming with a confident smile, flashing white straight teeth.

"Jamal, for a moment," Andrey friendly hugged his student. "If your tiny fist had crashed into that mastodon’s jaw, you'd end up with broken fingers. The captain was glad because he didn't need to replace you... You did well, by the way. Congratulations."

The other pilots also congratulated, amongst them Major Milano, who uttered to Gromov: "Colonel Steiner mentioned your unorthodox methods several times. Have to admit it was a sight to observe how Dolzana officer treats newbie."

Milano seemed mildly amused saying that, but Gromov urged correcting him: "It was an exception. Surely you don't imagine I’m bullying rookies."

"But you do!"

All eyes turned towards Akane.

"What?"

"You do, Sava," insisted Akane. "Remember how you paid me the visit in hospital. You patted hard my broken arm and told me not to do it again."

"It was an accident."

"No, you tried to punish me for being reckless."

"Seriously, Akane, do I strike you like a man who would harm an injured person?"

"Yes!"

People howled hearing that, even Major Milano's lips got twisted a tad, but Gromov noticed Akane was serious. "Did I mistreat her," he pondered. Did she expect my sympathy after running into the street gang, fighting a battle she could not win? After being warned countless times before to avoid this? She could get herself killed. I reprimanded her because I cared for her, not because I wanted to triumph over her claiming I had told her so.

"Not fair, Akane, not fair," he complained silently, recalling his horror when military police had informed him about Akane's critical state; the diagnosis comprised fractures, dislocations, and internal bleeding. He listened to her screaming when surgeons were straightening the bones; each time they had stopped for a moment, she was crying and begging them not to continue.

"I'd like to do the probing alike if I had captain's constitution," announced Chi cheerfully. "However, with my body frame I may be the one being beaten."

"Would you?" asked Heinrich Schubert curiously. "I still miss the point."

The explanation came from an unexpected side.

"As expected from you, Heinrich," uttered Major Milano. "To evaluate quickly cadets' capability, Captain Gromov needed to scrutinize them under pressure. Admittedly, his method of how to raise the stress level was direct and not sophisticated, but his gunner obey orders, whatever they may be, fulfilling his duty in a life-and-death situation. Cadet Yoruba's performance had convinced me as well. Much simpler to judge someone than studying an extensive psychological profile. Thank you, captain, for educational event."

Having given his reasoning, Milano turned and left. Gromov deduced these two had a poor relationship. The blonde lieutenant with the miserable face of a whipped dog took his leave, followed by the other pilots.

"What a moron," commented Akane afterwards. "He can't figure out a simple thing."

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A note from Pavel Morava

You are welcome to help me improve this chapter here, given you know how to use github.


About the author

Pavel Morava

Bio: Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.

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