Taking Flight, Part VIII

Dear Readers,

Sorry for the long absence. I’ve been dealing with some unexpected challenges in my personal life, but I’m back on schedule. Thank you for your support.

The hangar was a cavernous building, with mech of all kinds scattered around, in various stages of repair. Workers in white jumpsuits went from mech to mech testing, tinkering, and examining the mech through their astralnet eyepieces. One or two workers whizzed down the aisles between the mech on tiny personal transporters.
Kali gazed about, half in wonder at the assortment of machines around, and half in trepidation. Was she being re-assigned to mechanic? Certainly, the workings of mech were fascinating, but to never be able to actually pilot one would be torment.
Many brilliant student pilots had to be grounded for health reasons, however, and Kali’s endurance scores were pretty lousy.
Ingrid stopped walking abruptly and pointed up to the elegantly curved, white mech ahead.
“Does that look familiar, Cadet?”
“It looks like Seraph,” Kali said.
“It’s the real one- the one and only. Beautiful, isn’t it? And yet- it’s a little dirty. It’s so hard to keep a white
mech in top shape. “
Ingrid turned back to Kali and smirked. Then she reached into a bin next to the mech and fished out a rag and a canister of cleaner.
“I’ll be back in about an hour,” Ingrid said, tossing the rag and the canister to Kali. “I expect Seraph will be shining.”
Kali could almost hear her heart shattering in her chest. Tears stung Kali’s eyes, but she could not let them fall- not while Ingrid was watching. Ingrid laughed- actually laughed- at the expression on Kali’s face, and then she spun on her heel and walked away.
Kali watched Ingrid leave, and then she put the rag and canister on the ground, and took the eyepiece from her pocket.
“Bear?” she whispered after she put the eyepiece on.
“Yes, Kali?” bear said, appearing in his usual shower of stars.
“Delete my current schedule and the file labeled, ‘Bear’s Rules for Self-Control.’ The program hasn’t been effective.”
“Are you sure, Kali? Your academic progress-”
“Just delete it. “
Kali stared up at the mech. For a moment, she considered walking out of the hangar and heading straight home, but the very idea of facing her mother, and explaining her failure, made her want to sit down and cry. She couldn’t decide what else to do, however, so picked up the rag and cleaner, and spent the next hour half-heartedly wiping Seraph down.
#
“What the heck have you been doing?”
Kali continued wiping in circles, ignoring Ingrid.
“I’ve been gone a whole hour, and you aren’t even half-finished. I had thought that, since I must be your instructor, I might as well get a clean mech out of the deal.”
Kali dropped the rag and turned. “My instructor?”
“Trust me; I don’t like this any more than you, but I can’t ignore orders, so we’re stuck together. I expect you to work harder in the future, though. Well, you might as well put away the cleaning stuff so I can show you the controls.”
Kali could only stare at Ingrid as she opened the cockpit hatch and climbed in.
“Come on- what are you waiting for?” Ingrid said. “I’ll be in the back- you sit in the pilot’s seat.”
Kali blinked. Tears were gathering in her eyes again, but it was much easier to keep the tears back than it was to keep her breathing steady, and not hyperventilate.  She took a couple of deep breaths, and then clambered into the cockpit. She squeezed into the pilot’s seat- it was far more cramped than she’d imagined it would be, judging from the exterior size of the mech and how large cockpits seemed in simulations.
Kali strapped herself into the seat and took the yoke. Somehow, the solid feel of the rough vinyl yoke in her hands seemed less real than the simulation controls, which she could never physically touch. The entire situation was so surreal, she barely heard Ingrid as she told Kali the function of each button and dial on the control panel.
“You know,” Kali said when Ingrid had finished, “you’ve managed to tie my brain into a knot, today. I’m not exactly in the best mental state for my first flight.”
“Oh, boo-hoo,” Ingrid replied. “When you’re flying a rescue mission light years from earth, you can’t quit because someone hurt your feelings, so toughen up.”
“But- that’s not the best way to engender confidence in new pilots,” Kali argued. “If we start out with consistent feedback regarding our progress and abilities, we’ll have the confidence to face difficult scenarios later. But if we don’t get consistent feedback, we’ll be prone to anxiety, and-“
“God, Cadet, shut up and do your pre-flight check. You can treat your student cadets any way you want if you become a senior cadet.”
“But I can show you-“
“Shut.”
“-controlled studies…”
“UP.”
Kali sighed, and took the controls once more.
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