Chapter 4. Getting Into the Swim of Things
I was up early and learned that the rest of the house was already up and about. I cleaned up and went into the kitchen for the buffet on the countertops, choosing from fruits, fresh bread, and jam spreads that looked homemade.
“Well, sleepy head,” Poppa smiled broadly at the American girl, “not quite ready to keep Danubian farmer hours yet?”
“Sorry, Poppa,” I used to be familiar with Ivan knowing that as a guest, she was considered one of his children, “I must still be shaking off jet lag. “In the States, this time of the morning I would have been in the pool for two hours, stretching and doing laps,” I said.
Kaleen offered, “Well, the pool is just out back.”
Martina countered, “She needs a real pool, silly, the kind that the military and the National Police have at their academies, not a tiny family backyard affair.”
Kaleen almost whispered, “I forgot” The enthusiasm and happiness drained from her voice.
“About that, Marcia,” Ursula offered, “we can arrange for Ivanka to take you on your first day and introduce you to the academy instructors at the Military Academy of Danubia. Unfortunately, the academy is just outside the yellow line, beyond which Ivanka may not travel.
Poppa and I have other commitments and cannot go, but we have written directions for you with the trolleys to take and the stops to transfer if you do not mind going by yourself. Poppa has also written a letter of introduction for you to show the guards at the gate. The look she gave was sorrow that her daughter’s actions had again impacted the life of her American guest.
I looked at Kivar and the twins, then at Ursula Siminov, and offered, “Momma, is there any reason why Kivar and the girls cannot escort me today? I would be glad if the company keeps me from getting lost knowing of a pastry shop where I could buy a nice dessert for tonight’s dinner.” Ivanka looked at me and explained that the twins were too young to venture into the; outer reaches of the city during their period of public penance. “For them, it is home, school, temple activities, and play within the neighborhood unless a parent is escorting them,” Ivanka concluded.
She then continued, “Kivar, on the other hand, has passed his fourteenth birthday and is considered a pre-adult under Danubian law. He has slightly more freedom of movement than the twins. If you desire an escort, I’m sure Kivar would be willing.” Ivanka suggested in a way that Kivar had no wiggle room in the matter; he would smile, volunteer his services, and make no fuss. I wondered what the older sister held over her brother’s head to gain such compliance.
“So, what do you say, Kivar?” I asked cheerfully. “Would you do that for me, at least for today until I get to know the routes to take?” Giving a look that suggested he’d rather have a root canal done without anesthesia, Kivar muttered, “Sure, fine, whatever.”
‘Yep,’ I thought, ‘He is one moody teenage brother with this passive-aggressive attitude.” I asked him, “Do you have a friend you would like to come along with, Kivar?”
“None whom I wish to see me dressed the way I am,” Kivar admitted ruefully, “Particularly not Lydia.” Kaleen risked her life to mutter, “Kivar likes Lydia, and she is in his class at school and is quite the curviest girl in his grade level. She did not see the sweet roll Kivar launched at her. Martina said, “Duck,” and she did so instinctively.
Momma decided to let the punishment fit the crime, “Kaleen, please do call over to Lydia’s and see if she is free to help our guest find her way in the city.” Kivar was stuck, two females to escort, both of whom stirred teenage yearnings in his loins and nothing to hide his reactions behind. “Ah, too bad, well maybe another time,” Kaleen spoke into the phone and hung up.
“She cannot go with you, Kivar” Her family is doing an outing at the lake north of the city today. She was going to invite you to go, but I told her you were busy with family duties.” If Kivar did not retaliate against Kaleen in the future it would only be because she never left herself alone long enough for him to get his hands on her.
It took almost ninety minutes to get from the Siminov home to the National Military Academy of the Danubian Republic. Kivar handed the letter of introduction to the guard at the gate. The officer came to the gate he asked, “You are the American swimming athlete, Marcia Shevat?”
“Yes, sir, I am.” I responded and then went on, “The son of my host family, Kivar Siminov, was kind enough to escort me on the unfamiliar public transportation system. May he be allowed to wait for me while I train?”
“Of course, though I’m afraid the pool is not set up for athletic spectators in your homeland.” The young lieutenant, Drakov, as I read the name badge correctly, escorted them about seventy-five meters inside the perimeter fence to a building that looked, from its exterior, like a former palace. A marble entryway with names and dates etched into the floor clearly showed that ‘Fallen Defenders of Danubia Memorial Hall’ had a reason for its existence. “Come,” Lt. Drakov directed, “the natatorium is one level down.”
They arrived at the pool level in time to witness the final moments of a defensive combat training exercise. Male and female cadets struggled in shallow water to apply and break various hand-to-hand combat holds on one another. Lt. Drakov remarked that as the cadets became more proficient. The class would move into deeper water and wouldn’t be able to touch the bottom as they fought.
The Danubian budget for combat simulation training in the pool had not been used for recreation or athletics. For that reason, the cadets were in the water in their battle dress uniforms.
Combat training and the mandatory nudity for swimmers were for them. Only I would swim laps, as an athlete swimmer would do so in the nude. Two lanes of the pool had been roped off for me. The one closest to the wall, where the most turbulence existed, would be empty. I would swim one lane in the five spots in most Olympic-size pools. Kivar found a post out of the draft and was relatively dry to sit.
He watched me stretch on the starter block provided. I stood upon it and crouched into my starting position. When I launched myself torpedo-like from it, dolphin kicking beneath the surface to rise in a steady freestyle stroke a third of the distance down the pool, I did not realize that all activity in the cadet class had ceased. All eyes in the natatorium were on me as she cut through the water, perfectly timing myself at the end of each length of the pool to flip and turn back the way I had just come, my breathing coming rhythmically with every third stroke.
I repeated the process lap after lap until I had done my requisite three kilometers. I then pulled myself out of the water at the deep end. I shook my body to get the excess water as a wet dog might. Then walked from the deep end to the shallow, barely breathing hard. I neither expected nor knew what to do with the applause that broke out; nor why the chant, “Doc-Doc Marcia,” echoed loudly from the pool.
While she was swimming her laps, Lieutenant Drakov had spoken to the training officer and the class about who I was and her reason for using the pool. Later, Lt. Drakov explained to me that while all Danubians expected to swim. There were no competitive sports venues in Danubia where one could train to be a swimmer such as me. He was sure that many cadets and instructors would be asking questions in the coming months, looking to improve individual performance and perhaps even challenging me to informal competition.
I responded that it was always better for a swimmer to have others against whom to pace. I would be happy to spend time in the water with those who wished to learn how to breathe, turn and time themselves as repayment for the favor of the use of Danubia’s fine aquatic center.
“We will see you tomorrow at about this time, then, Marcia Shevat?” Lt. Dracov asked. “If that is convenient with you, Sir, then yes,” I responded. “You respond as one who has served in the military, Marcia Shevat,” Lt. Drakov stated, “Are you a veteran of your armed services?”
“No, Sir,” Marcia responded, “My father was career military, a Staff Sergeant in the Infantry branch of our Army. I grew up on military posts and learned military courtesy as part of my childhood education, Sir.” Draco nodded, “I see, and are you also familiar with other aspects of military training and discipline?”
“My father was fond of saying I was born with the eye and hand of a sniper,” I responded, “I believe I can still put a grouping into the Q on a Quantico qualification target that would look like a single round passed through the paper.”
Dracov smiled as he led Marcia and Kivar down a different corridor than which they had used to enter the building. They passed through a thick door where a Sergeant handed them safety glasses and hearing protection. Dracov unholstered his sidearm in the lane of the firing range and leaned over to me, “Show me” you can fire this weapon.
The Gun she was handed was beautifully maintained for a post-World War Two Walther P-38. I dropped the magazine and checked to see if eight rounds were loaded. I drew back the weapon slide and saw Drakov carrying a round in the chamber. ‘Not a practice of which her father would have approved,’ she thought.
She checked the action one last time as Drakov added five more magazines to the tray at her shooting position. Gripping the weapon in a modified Weaver grip and waiting for the range master to turn the targets, Marcia drew a long breath and exhaled slowly.
The target swung was a ‘no shoot’ of a woman holding an umbrella and a weapon. Another breath and the next target presented a hooded male with an AK-47. I quickly fired four rounds into the target, two into the chest, one into the groin, and one between the eyes. Simultaneously the last round fired target pivoted away another popped up. Another bad guy, another of the spent magazines, I reloaded it.
The process continued until she shot one hundred rounds of ammunition at targets varying in distance between seven and fifty meters. The range master quickly flashed results back to Drakov, ninety-nine out of one hundred perfectly on target. He also informed Drakov that the last round ‘may’ have entered through a keyhole-type hole caused by a misshaped bullet. Entering the weapon target I would be given credit for perfect scoring.
“Very nice,” Draco said, with a straight face hiding the fact he did not believe the girl could shoot as well as she swam. “You shall indeed be an asset to this school on many levels, Marcia Shevat. Tomorrow you will have your identity photo taken for your official duties here.” Draco continued, “You shall be an Apprentice Aquatics Instructor.”
I was stunned. On my second day in the country following being stripped of everything that resembles clothing by accepting her host family’s violation resulting in full nudity and now has a job with the Danubian military. This country is indeed a strange new world, I thought to myself, not a bad one by any means, but nonetheless.
Kivar was, for the first time in his life at a loss for words and attitude. He had never seen anything as cleanly athletic as me slicing through the waters of the military pool. Nor had he ever seen anyone, male or female, handle a handgun with the proficiency Marcia had shown at the pistol range. I had elevated myself from an embarrassing lust object to a warrior goddess in a single afternoon. He could not wait until he could tell his family and friends what happened in that pool and on the firing range.
Kivar burst through the front door of the Siminov home four steps ahead of me when we finished the walk from the trolley stop. I found him and realized he had cornered his mother and was gushing forth factoids faster than the parent could comprehend the child’s words.
Ursula asked what seemed to be the problem and responded, “I went to the academy. Kivar was a great help with directions and transfers. I met Lt. Drakov, who escorted me to the pool and swam my laps, impressing some cadets who offered me a job.”
I had to repeat the story as Ivanka arrived home from her job, as Ivan returned home from his, and finally, for the twins who had played soccer all afternoon, he was tired and took a nap, awakening just before Ursula called everyone to the table for dinner.
“Well, congratulations, Officer Marcia Shevat,” Ivan said and threw her a very sloppy salute, sitting at the head of the dinner table. “Poppa, I do not understand,” I replied.
“Marcia, even an Apprentice Instructor at a military academy has rank. It would be considered the lowest level officer but would still outrank the cadets you would train. That means you will be the equivalent of a Signet, subaltern, ensign, or a rank like that in your military system. Perhaps, not officially on the books for the Danubian military, but your title would carry the weight of such a rank.”
After dinner, I excused myself to go to her room and study some Internet sites concerned with water safety training and swimming instruction. Then it was early enough to get to the military academy and to get her photo identification processed along with a short employment form. At the deep end of the pool, another class assembled to jump into the water with full packs and uniforms and swim to the surface as part of survival training.
Day three passed quietly. On day four, I began demonstrating water safety techniques to a class of military instructors. Those instructors would then teach the swimming techniques to the cadets watching to assure the correct methodology. Day five through day twenty-two passed almost as day four had, except one event toward the end of the twenty-second day changed Marcia’s direction again.
A female cadet had done the survival portion of her test perfectly, except she had lost her identity tags from around her neck. She had remained behind while her class went to change into dry uniforms. Then jumped back into the pool to search for her tags. Finding them, she put them around her neck and tried to push off toward the surface. Her battle dress pant laces got sucked into the drains in the deep end she could not surface.
I was up top walking to the doors when Kivar yelled and waved, “She did not come up, Marcia, she did not come up,” and pointed to the middle of the pool, deep end. I dove back into the pool at the bottom and located the girl.
Putting my mouth on the cadet’s I blew air into the other girl to give a few more seconds to her rescue. Working the belt and buttons on the girl’s pants, Marcia helped her to kick free of the bottom of her uniform and pulled her to the surface. The cadet’s classmates, noticing she was missing, had returned to the pool to witness the cross-chest carry of their classmate by the Apprentice Aquatics Instructor.
“Play along,” I whispered when the girl nodded. Marcia said, “Okay, cadet, that is how you extract a victim who has become entangled in an underwater obstacle, any other questions?” The Cadet wisely answered, “No, ma’am,” followed by, “Just one, ma’am, can you get my pants back for me before they get sucked into the drain?”
In seconds the pants were in the grateful hands of the Cadet. I was on my way, still drying off, to pick up my identification. It looked like a dog tag of two metal discs hung from a chain. One contained a microchip with data concerning the wearer and a locator that used satellite technology to pinpoint a military member’s location.
The other had my image laser engraved on one side, an electronic chip embedded that will allow me access to several buildings and offices on the academy grounds, including the pool, 24/7.
As not considered jewelry necessary for her employment, the tags didn’t break my vow of public penance. Instead, they had become my uniform. I left them with the building guard as I entered and gathered them from the guard when she was done in the pool and going to other areas of the post.