Commandant Schukov addressed the cadets as was his wont, like a general at a review with arms clasped at ninety-degree angles.

“What’s he got to say this time?” Viktor whispered to Pyotr. “Perhaps he’ll unclench and finally let that rifle he’s had up his ass go.”

“More likely a list of floggings,” Pyotr said. “I hear Feodor got it good for daring to talk back to old Lebedev in artillery class.”

“Cadets!” barked Schukov. “As I have said before this time, despite being from some of the finest families in this oblast, you are maggots unfit for service in the Emperor’s glorious army. The strong, proud soldiers of his great-grandfather the late Emperor, they who turned back Napoleon, are rolling in their graves at such a speed it’s a wonder they haven’t been harnessed to generate electricity.”

Pyotr snickered at this. Schukov would as soon beat the freckles off you as look at you, but he did have a colorful way with words.

“Nonetheless, it was my great misfortune to recieve this morning a direct order, which I hereby obey. And that order is direct from Stavka, and thus may as well have been written in the Emperor’s own hand. To free up men who are desperately needed at the front near Riga, effective immediately the Academy’s cadets are to take up anti-bandit patrol duties.”

An excited murmur rippled through the crowd. “Holy shit in an outhouse,” breathed Viktor. “They’re putting us into action!”

“Silence!” bellowed Schukov. “Total silence!” He waited until the hubbub had died to an acceptable level in his one good ear before proceeding. “You will be armed and equipped at government expense, to do something about the deserters that have been causing chaos in the oblast.”

The old commandant thumped a step to the right on his wooden leg and puffed out his chest. “I do not expect that you will be able to perform effectively in this task, but as we have taught you, obedience is key. You will be deployed, and the good men that you free up will serve the Emperor on the front.”

“Real weapons! Real patrols! We’re not even old enough to enlist, and look at us!” Viktor bubbled. “Like real soldiers!”

“TOTAL SILENCE!” screamed Schukov, loud enough to rattle the rafters. He brushed the resulting dust off his white epaulettes. Then, in an affect more akin to his normal bellow: “I requested reinforcements to ensure that you laggards aren’t all killed, as dealing with your angry parents would be more burden that int’s worth. And, as has long been evident to me, I have been put on this earth only to endure the trials of maggots and weasels. As such, allow me to introduce to you your reinforcements…”

“Maybe a Guards unit,” Pyotr whispered. “Or veterans from the front!”

“…the Women’s Battalion of Death, Reserve Youth Auxiliary Division,” Schukov continued, spitting out the title like a bitter peachpit. “Your next instructions, AS ORDERED, will be from its local coordinator.”

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