The door swung open with a slam, spooking the nanny out of train of thought while she was making her routine afternoon snack for Audrey. Muffled thumping reached her ears as she heard someone rush up the stairs. She didn't need to ask who had come in.
The nanny quietly stepped away from her work and followed the noise up the stairs. When she opened the bedroom door, her heart sank a little when she saw her favorite girl crying into her pillow.
"Oh, Audrey…." She ran over to her, soothingly rubbing her back. "What's wrong? Did something happen, sweetie?"
The little girl slowly sat up and the nanny gasped. Her right eye had developed a patch of purple and unless there was some airborne disease that had just arisen in Whoville that she didn't know of, the nanny knew exactly how she got it.
"Who did this to you?"
Audrey sniffed, "Some kids at school…. I was telling them about Solla Sollew and they didn't believe me. They said I was being silly... that it doesn't exist…." The child began sobbing as she fell into her nanny's arms.
The nanny held her closely as she spoke, attempting to soothe her, "Some people can be ignorant to what they don't understand. But don't worry, kid. One day, someday soon, they will understand."
The following evening, Audrey trudged her way to the training room after dinner, internally wishing that something would happen to end her oncoming misery.
She didn't have to open the door to hear the fast-assorted sounds of fists hitting a punching bag. For maybe a second, her stomach lurched and she debated on whether she could just run back to Schmitz's office and convince him to make her clean bathrooms instead as a punishment. In the end however, she took a breath and pressed forward.
He didn't notice her at first. He seemed intensely focused on the punching bag and nothing else… That is until she came closer and nearly took a punch to the nose.
She was relieved to find that he had stopped a mere few inches from her face, quietly letting out all of the oxygen she had held in that moment.
"Hi there," she said, still in shock from the sudden reflex.
He straightened his posture and took a breath, "You're late."
She looked over at the clock, "It's only just after seven! Dinner ends at seven!"
He walked over to a nearby water bottle and quickly drank some of it down, "If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late." He threw down the water bottle.
"Well I'm at least somewhat grateful that you didn't actually hit me in the nose," she snapped sarcastically. He turned towards her, ignoring her previous comment.
"Being on time shows discipline and respect. It means that you want to take this seriously."
"And you think I don't?"
"Judging by the amount of time that has passed from you being on time to you being late shows that either you believe that there is no real purpose in what I am going to teach you…." He scanned her up and down before smirking, "Or you're scared."
Something tugged at her gut, but she let out a hearty laugh in spite of it, "I'm not scared!"
"Oh, really?" He lifted his left hand and motioned towards her. "C'mere." She obeyed, following him to a more open space in the center of the training room. She recognized it as the area usually reserved for the Cadets to practice hand-to-hand combat. "Fight me."
"You heard me." He stepped into a fighting stance.
"But you're the most experienced person here! There's no way I could do it!"
"Do it or I'll tell Schmitz that you'd prefer Ross teaching you instead."
Her eyebrows raised, "You're kidding?"
Audrey sighed and lifted up her hands to her face… and closed her eyes.
WHAM! She felt her body fall onto the floor and her already sore muscles screamed out once again.
He hit me, she thought. That bastard just hit me!
"First of all, never close your eyes in a fight. The moment you take eyes off of your opponent, you lose focus and they immediately have the upper hand." He offered his hand for her to stand up, but she scoffed and hopped back up on her own. He shrugged as if to say, "okay then," before continuing, "Secondly, never keep both hands to your face. Keep the hand farthest away from your opponent near your stomach."
"You still haven't explained how these prove that I'm scared," she said through clenched teeth, her eyes glistening.
He walked over to a corner and grabbed a thin, wooden club from one of the racks, "Closing your eyes shows disbelief and lack of focus, which is usually exemplified by fear." Suddenly, he whacked her in the stomach, causing her to bend over with a groan. "That is why the other hand is near your stomach."
"What the hell was that for?!"
"Demonstration. Be glad that I am at least merciful and know how to use my own strength. If I used full-force, you'd be rushed to the hospital right now. In a real battle, there is no mercy. So be grateful that I'm going easy on you." Audrey could feel the anger and frustration bubbling inside her. That was merciful? This pain was merciful? She felt ready to throw up her dinner which was already doing a number on her stomach as it is. Why would he still be so cruel, especially to her?
Suddenly, something clicked in her mind and she growled at the Master Sergeant.
"I see why Schmitz picked you to be his head boy. You two are the same. Looking down on Thinkers just because they're not afraid to speak their minds." She expected him to hit her like Schmitz did the other day, but he only turned away to replace the club.
"If you really knew me and anyone else in this place, you'd realize just how alike we are." Audrey didn't reply. This was something to expect from the General's lackey, to try to relate to her when they really had nothing in common as far as she was concerned. What she wasn't prepared for was the following response, "But answer this question for me: are you afraid now?" Audrey silently shook her head. "You should be."
"Why? 'Cuz you'll report me and we'll have to spend even more time together? Save me the torture."
He folded his arms, "You are very closed-minded for a Thinker." She clenched her hands and a smirk rose on his face. "Being angry won't get you anywhere."
"Can we just get this over with?" she snapped.
He nodded, "Alright. Lift up your hands. Let's begin."
When Robert Korbich realized that no one was downstairs, he heard soft sobbing coming from Audrey's bedroom. He ran upstairs and paused to compose himself before opening the door.
His daughter laid there crying on her bed, a shiner around her eye. The nanny was rubbing her back and quietly shushing her before meeting eyes with her boss. Audrey had not noticed that her father had come into the room and didn't even hear him leave a few seconds later. The nanny watched him exit with sad eyes as the father slowly walked into the bedroom he once shared with his wife and sat on the bed.
"No more," he said to himself. "This can't go on."
Audrey was homeschooled from then on.