When Hannah arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia, she was ready for Hell. She was the only woman in her class, but not the first to have attempted it – and failed.
Failure is not an option, Devotshka, the voice purred. You will fight, or you will die, and nobody will regret your loss. You are only useful to me while you are strong.
In the meantime, she stood at attention in her formation, staring holes into the back of her classmate's head.
“All right, you lousy sons of bitches!” the instructor roared. “My job is to make you hate me. My job is to put you in so much pain you regret the day you were even born! My job is to make you beg to quit!” He grinned. “Your job is to prove me wrong. I'm coming in here, knowing for a fact that more than half of you are going to fail, and I'm going to laugh while you do it. Pass this class, and you will be the strongest men in the Army. Fail, and you'll prove to me that you're just worthless pieces of shit.”
The recruits stood there in silence.
The instructor turned to Hannah with a grin. “Then, of course, there's you, sweetheart.” he spat the word with such acidity it could have killed. “Tell me, Solomon, do you think you're any better than us?”
“No, sir,” she said.
“Do you think this'll be easy for you?”
“Do you think we'll cut you some slack just because you're a woman?”
“Good,” he said. “You will be tested just as the men are, no exceptions. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied evenly.
The man nodded and moved back to the front of the ranks. “Solomon is your teammate,” he said in a hard tone. “You will treat her with the same respect you give anybody else here. She will eat, room, and live with you, and if you have a problem with that, you had damn well better get your heads out of your asses or leave. I hear about anybody giving her or anybody else a hard time, I will PT your asses until you beg me for mercy. Got that?”
“YES, SIR!” they all shouted back.
“You will do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it. I will not tolerate backtalking, I will not tolerate mistakes, and I will, under no circumstances, tolerate tardiness. If you fail to do anything at precisely the appointed time, I will make sure you do not sleep at all for the next week. Is that understood?”
“Yes sir!” the men called.
“Bullshit, I can't hear you! Sound off like you've got a pair!” he grinned at Hannah. “Or don't, depending on your situation.”
“Good. NOW MOVE OUT, YOU FILTHY SCUMBAGS!”
Their instructor was loud and unforgiving: he expected perfection and wasn't afraid to admit it. Hannah thought he was terrific. That night, exhausted and filthy, Hannah filed into the barracks with the rest of the men, hoping against hope that they would be too tired to make any disobliging comments.
They weren't: as soon as their instructor left, a sandy-haired man approached her with a snarl on his face.
“What do you think you're doing here, Solomon?” he sneered. “You think you've got something to prove?”
“Not at all,” she answered.
"You stay out of our way," the man snarled. "Or we'll make life a living Hell for you."
“And your name is?” she drawled back.
“None of your damn business.”
“All right, Bob,” she said casually.
He spluttered indignantly. “What?”
“You didn't give me your name, so I made one up. Please, go on.”
“It's Merek Michaels,” he said shortly. “Call me Bob again and I'll break your arm.”
Hannah nodded. “That's nice,” she said breezily. “Will you do that before or after you make my life a living hell?” She rolled her eyes as she turned away. “Pridurok,” she muttered under her breath. She pulled her long blonde hair out of the tight braid she’d kept it in.
He snarled and grabbed it, yanking her head back hard and far enough for her scalp to burn uncomfortably and for her throat to constrict. “The fuck did you say to me, bitch?” he growled.
“I said pridurok,” she said louder, glaring at him. “It means moron, in case you’re too dumb to understand basic language.”
“So you’re a Ruski, too?” he snarled. “Fucking perfect, they’ve sent us a Russian bitch. Why’re you here, huh? Trying to stab us in the back?”
“Hey, leave the woman alone,” growled another voice.
Merek whirled around to find two men, who Hannah guessed might be twins, staring him down. “Yeah?” he growled. “What, you going to make me? You’re really going to defend this Ruski slut?”
“Maybe we will,” the one on the left answered. “Two against one, seems like the odds are in our favor. Now back off.”
Merek threw up his hands. "Fine, let her go. Why don't we let her into Delta and get it over with." He turned his head to Hannah, spitting at her feet. “You're going down,” he snarled. “Just wait.”
Hannah rolled her eyes, smoothed down her hair, and quite calmly pulled her shirt over her head, standing completely shirtless as she changed for bed.
The other men, who had been watching the altercation the whole time, stopped short in shock and surprise.
Hannah arched her back slightly, turning to them, seeming completely unconcerned at the set of eyes trained on her chest. “You got a problem?” she asked them harshly. “Funny, I can’t see anyone else wearing a shirt. Why’s it me you’re staring at?”The men quickly averted their eyes and went about their business.