Taking Flight, part VI

Bear’s Rules for Self-Control

  • Visualize yourself piloting a real starship every morning. Imagine yourself reaching your goals.
  • Time on astralnet is a reward- Bear will unlock access when you have completed your daily goals.
  • Follow your daily schedule to build good habits.

Kali turned off her eyepiece, and the list, along with the accompanying schedule, disappeared. She shoved the eyepiece in her pocket, and gazed at the world around her with unhindered vision.

To Kali’s right there stood a white marble building. The building had a square shaped base, and the above floors were stacked on top of each other, each a little smaller than the last, so that it resembled a step pyramid. A wide, square door was carved into the front of the building, with the words Welcome to Flightcorps gilded just above.

To her left there was an expansive field of short grass and parallel strips of black paved runway.

Above Kali was the biggest, bluest sky she’d ever seen. She looked up and squinted into the sunlight just in time to see a grey fighter streak overhead, leaving a trail of white against the blue sky.

“Miss Chaudry?”

Kali turned and saw a blonde man with a small frame. He wore a senior cadet’s uniform, complete with stars and badges. He smiled- a little smugly , Kali thought- and offered his hand.

“I’m Cadet Miller. You must be Kali Chaudry.”

“Yes,” Kali said, not asking how he knew her name. “Nice to meet you.”

“Welcome to hell, Cadet Chaudry,” The senior cadet said as they shook. “You ready?”

Was she ready? Kali hesitated a moment as she considered the bare two weeks of preparation she’d had. She was getting used to her strict schedule of exercise, study, and flight simulations, but she was still dreadfully out of shape. Her legs and back were constantly sore from the relentless exercise regime that a lifetime of long study sessions supplemented with snacks hadn’t prepared her for. She hadn’t finished reading all of the preliminary course material, either, so she wouldn’t be academically ahead as she’d hoped.

Would her newfound dedication be enough to get her through hell?

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps pounding the pavement. She turned to see Alex running toward her, already dressed in a freshly pressed and starched cadet uniform, complete with the white beret perched on his messy mop of hair.

“Sorry- am I late?” he panted as he skidded to a stop.

Kali turned back to the senior cadet. “I’m ready.”

#

“Are you really Kali Chaudry?”

The question was not so much asked as announced, loud and shrill, to the entire barracks. Kali looked up from her footlocker, where she’d been arranging her few possessions, to see a small crowd that was gathering around her bunk. In front of the crowd stood a skinny girl in pigtails, who Kali didn’t think could be any older than twelve years.

“Yes, I’m Kali. You are…?”

“I’m Sunny Owens- I’m going to try to be your main rival,” the girl said with a wide grin. “I’ve never really had a rival before, so I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say something antagonistic right away, or try to make friends with you. Do you think a friendly rival or an enemy is a better motivator?”

Kali stared at the kid, certain she was joking, but not quite able to bring herself to laugh.

“Don’t be stupid, Sunny. I’m going to be Kali’s rival. I did better on the exams than you,” a tall brunette shouted from the back of the crowd.

“Who cares about test scores?” another girl added. “I’m higher rated on Brave Sector. We’re here to be pilots, after all.”

“Sure, but simulations aren’t the same as a real starship,” Sunny countered. “A lot of people completely choke their first time flying. Me though- I never balk in the face of a challenge. I have a fighting spirit!” the girl finished by striking a pose, her fist upraised.

“Are you- are you old enough to be here?” Kali managed to choke out.

The tension in the room seemed to break, then, as the crowd laughed appreciatively. The tall girl from the back stepped forward and wrapped her left arm around Sunny’s neck, while offering her right hand to Kali.

“Don’t let this kid fool you- she’s 18, and she’s pretty ruthless. I’m Jenna, by the way.”

“Hi- I’m Kali. This might be a dumb question, but how does everyone seem to know who I am?”

Sunny pulled her head from under Jenna’s arm, slid down, and hopped up on Kali’s other side. “Word on campus is that you’re the one to beat. You go by Kali-3 on Astralnet, right?”

Before Kali could respond, Jenna interrupted. “We all saw you race Ingrid. It was amazing- you came in just seconds behind, on the hardest course we’ve seen yet. No one thought a hobbyist could do it.”

Sunny put her hand to Kali’s ear, and spoke in a loud, harsh whisper.

Mumble mumble INGRID mumble.”

“What?” Kali whispered back.

I HEARD THAT INGRID RECOMMENDED YOU TO FLIGHTCORPS!!!!!” Sunny repeated, this time shouting in Kali’s ear.

The barracks door slammed open just then, and the girls sprung apart as Ingrid herself strode into the room.

Ingrid smirked, placing her hands on her hips, as the girls all scrambled to their own bunks. Then she walked up to Kali and gave her a withering stare.

“Listen up, peons,” Ingrid said, still staring at Kali. “Welcome to hell.”

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Taking Flight- Part V

At 5:00 am, Kali logged off of astralnet, but kept the crescent over her eyes when she unplugged it from the computer. The crescent became transparent, but for the current time and day’s schedule that glowed blue in the corner of Kali’s eye.

Kali pulled on a pair of sweatpants and pulled her hair into a messy bun.

“Bear, play some music- something upbeat.”

“Okay!” Bear’s cheerful voice replied, and then the sweet voice of Kali’s favorite pop singer seemed to resonate through the room, though Kali was the only one who could hear it. Kali stretched a little, and then jogged out of her room, past her mother- who stared after her with a befuddled expression- and out the door.

Kali was in terrible shape. Her heart was starting to pound not a few steps from the curb. Nevertheless, she ordered Bear to turn up the music, and kept running.

At the end of the block, as she passed under the bridge that separated her neighborhood from the city park, her body seemed to resign itself to the fact that she wouldn’t stop. She breathed a little easier when she emerged from under the bridge to the path, and a fresh breeze swept over the crystal clean river and filled her lungs.

Her eyepiece lit up and outlined one of the trees that draped the river’s bank.

“These trees are called Bald Cypress , or Taxodium distichum, ,” Bear’s voice spoke. “The moss that hangs from the branches is called Spanish moss- an epiphyte, not to be confused with a parasite.”

“That’s… nice,” Kali said. “Bear, did mother upload some sort of educational program to my eyepiece?”

“That’s right,” Bear said. “You can’t delete it without the correct password.”

Kali groaned and turned up her music, again. She tried to ignore Bear as he pointed out every tree, bird, and flower that they passed. She closed her eyes, and concentrated on the cool breeze that hit her face and the music that seemed to lift her feet.

Kali did not run fast, but she ran long. By the time she’d completed her circuit, 45 minutes had passed. She’d just stopped to catch her breath when the eyepiece beeped.

“You have an incoming call from Alex,” Bear said. “Should I answer?”

“Yes, please,” Kali panted.

A few moments later, Kali heard Alex speak. “Hello, Kali?”

“Hi Alex. Sorry I’m out of breath.” Kali leaned over to stretch her calves. “I’ve been jogging.”

“That’s awesome. I just got out of bed,” Alex said. “So- I assume this means you’re already training for Flightcorps?”

“Yeah. I haven’t told Mom about the offer yet, though. She won’t like it. I have a feeling that she wants me to become a biologist. How about you? Are you going to accept the offer?”

“I talked it over last night with Dad- he’s thrilled, of course. He’s a pilot himself, and though he always said that I could be anything I want, deep down, he wants me to be a pilot, too.”

“What do you want to do?” Kali asked.

“I don’t know. This is an awesome opportunity. I’d be stupid to pass up the chance to be a pilot to sit in an office all day.”

Kali laughed. “I agree. Sorry- I’m nearly home, now, and I need to psych myself up to talk to Mom. No offence, but this conversation is-“

“I get it. Sorry if I’m making this worse,” Alex said. “I’ll see you at the banquet tonight.”

Alex disconnected, and Kali took one last, deep breath and stood up. She could see her house just ahead, and her mother stood in the doorway- her arms crossed over her chest. Kali straightened her shoulders, stood as tall as she could, and strode forward.

#

That afternoon, in the aftermath of her talk with her mother, Kali stared at her banquet gown in disgust.

Kali was going to a school banquet tonight to receive an award in recognition of her academic success, and she’d just been offered a much-sought position in a prestigious military academy, yet her mother seemed to think she was a failure.

“Are you sure you want to accept?” her mother had asked. “I’m sure it seems exciting now, but it’s a lot of hard work. You hate hard work.”

“But if it’s to become a pilot-“

“You always get bored and give up, Kali. Remember dance camp? Remember the violin? In less than two weeks, you’ll get sick of the training regimen and come home.”

Kali could feel a small flame of rage ignite inside of her.

“Bear?”

“Yes, Kali?”

“I want to make a new daily schedule for the next two weeks. I’ll get up every morning at 5:00 to run, have a quick breakfast, and then do calisthenics until noon. Then after lunch I’ll be reading the junior Flightcorps curriculum.”

“Roger that- downloading the Junior Flightcorps manuals.”

“Thanks. After dinner, we’ll log into brave sector and run simulations. Don’t schedule any time for sleep.”

“Anything else?”

Kali looked over her new schedule, and began to feel a slight sinking sensation in her stomach.”

“Bear- are there any ways to keep myself motivated- any ways that are proven to help? I want this- I really do- but…”

“I’ll research motivation techniques and find ways to optimize your schedule.”

“Thanks, Bear.”

Kali took off her eyepiece, threw it on the bed, and stretched out her muscles- already sore from her morning run. Then she dragged herself to the bathroom to do her hair and makeup for the banquet.

Taking Flight, Part IV

When Kali arrived in the headmaster’s office, she was certain she had stepped into a dream.
The office didn’t look any different than it did the last time she’d been there. It was still a large but windowless room, with walls covered in bookshelves containing elegant leather-bound tomes, and a wide, clean, desk containing only a sleek tablet computer and astralnet eyepiece. However, a girl in a plain blue flight suit, with a dark braid thrown over her shoulder, was standing by the headmaster’s desk, next to a gentleman in a military dress uniform. Kali blinked several times to clear her vision, and even touched her face to see if she was wearing her astralnet eyepiece, but the scene before her remained stubbornly clear.
If Kali hadn’t been in the headmaster’s office, she might have pointed an accusing finger at the girl and shouted, “what are you doing here?” but as it was, she could only gape like a moron. She girl in the flight uniform turned to Kali, looked her up and down, and then winked.
Kali couldn’t stop the indignant sound, which escaped from her throat.
The headmaster- a balding man with kindly, crinkled eyes- looked up from his desk at Kali.
“There’s no need to look so frightened, Miss Chaudry. You aren’t in trouble- quite the contrary. I’m quite happy with your test scores. All three of you made top 10% of students, nationwide.” The headmaster stood, then, and offered Alex his hand. “And a special congratulations to you, Mr. Goldberg, for making the top 5%.”
Kali sighed.

“Of course, each of you will be recognized at tomorrow’s honors banquet, but that’s not why we’re here. I’ll let my friend, Commander Schumann, explain.” The headmaster gestured to the man in uniform.
Commander Schumann stepped forward and cleared his throat. “Good Morning, students. We’ve called you here because your test scores were not only impressive, but over the course of you schooling, you’ve shown an aptitude for certain subjects that indicate you would do well in the military pilot training program- Flightcorps.”
Kali rubbed her eyes again, and checked her ears for good measure.
“If you wish to join Flightcorps, junior cadet traiting will start this summer. You’ll have to pass a series of grueling mental and physical trials in order to become a senior cadet.” He stopped and nodded toward the dark-haired girl. “Cadet Sansloy, here, is our top-ranked student cadet. She, along with some of her fellow seniors, will be in charge of junior cadet training, this year.”
Ingrid stepped forward, her heels clicking smartly on the linoleum floor.
“I won’t lie to you- Junior cadet training is hell,” Ingrid announced without preamble. “A lot of cadets never finish. If you want to pilot a starship, you have to be the best. I’m going to be tough on each of you, so you’d better think long and hard before accepting your place in Flightcorps. If you can’t cut it, you might as well make room for a cadet who can.”
She took a stack of pamphlets from her back pocket, and handed one to Alex and Maria before turning away, ignoring Kali’s presence.
“Wait-“ Kali heard herself say. Before she could stop herself, she’d reached out and snatched the last pamphlet from Ingrid’s hands.
Ingrid turned back and gave Kali a withering glance, and at that moment, Kali felt as though she’d been doused in cold water. The pamphlet in her hands was real.
“This isn’t a game, you know.” Ingrid said to Kali. “It’s not just something fun to do on a Friday night. If you want to pilot a real starship, you have to earn that right with your blood, sweat, and tears.”
Kali hesitated for a moment, staring at the image of the black fighter ship- similar to the one she piloted on astralnet- on the cover of the pamphlet.
Then she looked up at Ingrid, shivering slightly, but wide awake.
“I intend to earn it.”