Taking Flight- Part II

The arena was a large, flat dais suspended under a dome of stars.
On the dais, two fighter ships awaited their pilots, side by side. One ship was small and black, with a pointed nosecone and two wings that jutted straight back, making it look like an obsidian arrow. The other ship was larger, with a nose that curved downward and two white wings that swept dramatically to each side, making it look like a crane.
Kali observed the ships with a critical eye. Her ship- the black arrow- was agile, and would be easier to maneuver around tight corners. The other ship, however, would have far more raw power. Kali looked up at the course- which was marked by stars arranged in an intricate series of spirals- with satisfaction. A larger ship would be at a distinct disadvantage.
After observing the course, Kali took a deep breath and stepped out onto the dais to face her opponent. Immediately, she became aware of the crowd, though they were invisible. She could see their comments scroll past her, around the edge of the edge of the starry field.
~Go Ingrid! You’re AWESOME!
~Crush her, Kali-3!!! Knock that b**** down a peg.
~!!!!!<3<3<3<3DON’T IGNORE THIS COMMENT INGRID I LOVE YOU<3<3<3<3!!!!!
~!!!!!<3<3<3<3DON’T IGNORE THIS COMMENT INGRID I LOVE YOU<3<3<3<3!!!!!
~!!!!!<3<3<3<3DON’T IGNORE THIS COMMENT INGRID I LOVE YOU<3<3<3<3!!!!!
~!!!!!<3<3<3<3DON’T IGNORE THIS COMMENT INGRID I LOVE YOU<3<3<3<3!!!!!
~ ^This^
~Can you guys believe that I make $1000.00 a day working from home?? Ask me how I did it!
~!!!!!<3<3<3<3DON’T IGNORE THIS COMMENT INGRID I LOVE YOU<3<3<3<3!!!!!
~Wow, this is lame :/
~This is going to be a boring match.
“Bear, turn off the comments window,” Kali said, as she approached the ship.
“Sure thing!” The teddy bear materialized by Kali’s side once more, spun around, and the scrolling words disappeared.
Kali stepped further forward, until she reached her opponent- or rather, her opponent’s avatar.
It was a simple avatar, nothing very beautiful or elaborately dressed. Kali thought she must have been rendered from photographs of Ingrid herself. She was small, a head shorter than Kali’s avatar, and she wore a simple, blue flightsuit. Her hair was dark, and dressed in a simple braid. She smiled wryly as she bowed to Kali.
“You must be Kali-3. You don’t belong here.”
Kali took a step back. “I’m sorry, but I got a challenge letter- arena 3 at 1:45…”
“I don’t mean the arena; I mean brave sector. This used to be a little, unknown corner of astralnet, where student cadets could train. Now you ‘hobbyists’ are coming in, and treating this as though it were a video game. I’m here to prove that you don’t belong.”
She turned away before Kali could respond, and boarded her ship.
Kali stared after Ingrid for a moment, and then smiled to herself. She reached out and touched the side of her ship, and it opened up, allowing her access to the cockpit.
The seat automatically adjusted itself, and she was sitting at the controls. She did her initial flight check, and then said, “Bear-“
“Yes?” Bear’s voice cheerfully replied.
“Add this message to the chat; ‘thanks for coming to watch my race. I’ll do my best.’”
“That’s it?”
“Yes. Thank you. The race is about to start.”
Bear disappeared once more, and Kali stared through the cockpit window, at the course above. The words “pilots, get ready for takeoff” appeared above. Kali powered the engines and took the control yoke.
Get ready,
3
2
1
Takeoff!
Kali pushed the throttle and lurched forward, gaining acceleration until her ship lifted off, and through the window the stars that marked the course spun into view and then steadied as the followed. The race was on.
As expected, Ingrid’s ship had soared ahead of her’s with ease, but Kali refused to be intimidated by the growing distance between them. She pulled tight into the first curve of the course, preparing to overtake Ingrid from the inside of the spiral, but Ingrid was too quick- pulling tight into the curve with an agility that Kali would have thought physically impossible.
Kali let out a small growl, and kept her pace, trying to at least stop the gap from widening further as she flew. She focused on the course, anticipating each curve, easing the ship into each bend and then letting it follow the spiral. When she looked up at Ingrid’s ship, she was surprised to find that she’d narrowed the gap a bit. She gritted her teeth, redoubled her efforts-
And it was over.
Kali didn’t have to turn on the comments window to know what was being said. She focused on the race results, which flashed on the screen where the instructions had been before.
1st place- Mech7 3:45
2nd place- Kali-3 3:49
Kali could feel her cheeks grow warm as she realized her mistake- her overconfidence. Certainly, Ingrid’s ship should have been at a disadvantage on a complex course, but its pilot- the shining star of the Mech Pilot Academy- was not.

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