Kali gripped the control yoke as she took the mech into the air- slowly, gradually, gently. It would be an easy flight, just so she could get used to the controls…
“Loosen your grip,” Ingrid said. “And punch the throttle, will you? I want you to take us up to speed.”
Kali complied, feeling a bit of a rush as she dared to push the throttle forward more, dared to loosen her grip a little.
“Take her east, and for heaven’s sake, stop flying like a grandmother. This is just like a simulation, and you’ll need all of your focus for your first run through the course.”
“The course?” Kali said. “Are we supposed to-”
“You’re supposed to do what I tell you. Now, punch it.”
At Ingrid’s command, Kali punched the throttle automatically, feeling the compulsion to obey and the desire to argue with Ingrid all at once. Kali frowned and pushed the throttle even further.
Ingrid let out a whoop as they were thrown back against their seats, and Kali smiled a little to herself. In the distance, she could see a circle of floating orbs, glittering and spinning in the sky like a spiral galaxy. Kali turned the seraph sharply east, toward the course.
“Great- that’s more like it. Now, orbit the course and when you see the entrance, dive in. I’ll time you.”
Kali saw a gap in the floating orbs and dove in, feeling an odd tug in the controls as Seraph listed slightly to the left. Kali corrected for this, and spiralled into the course.
She barely had time to get used to correcting for Seraph’s drift before the first set of obstacles were thrown her way- the orbs shifted out of their positions, changing the course’s shape. Some orbs even flew straight toward Seraph, and Kali dodged on instinct.
“This is a way better course than the one on astralnet, isn’t it?” Ingrid said.
The first barrage of obstacles was difficult enough for Kali, but the next barrage hit before she was ready, and she fought the controls to avoid the second barrage.
“Relax, cadet,” Ingrid said laughing. “This isn’t half as hard as the time we raced.”
It was the first time Ingrid had mentioned the race, and Kali gritted her teeth as she remembered the humiliation of that defeat.
“And now, Ingrid is my superior,” Kali thought.
Anger swelled in Kali’s chest, and at once all she could see was the obstacles that lay before her, outlined in red by her eyepiece. Fear vanished, and Kali pushed the throttle with renewed focus.
This time, Kali would win.
Obstacles were now passing her in a white blur, and she picked up a subtle pattern to their movement. She hit the center of the spiral and then spun, spiralling outward to the finish line.
She was almost there, now. The finish line was in sight.
As she crossed the finish line, however, she let go of her focus for just a moment, and that moment was enough. The last obstacle hit the wing, and the seraph spun in wild circles.
“Get it under control, cadet,” Ingrid shouted. “Turn into the spin- don’t fight it. Slow down and land it on that grassy field, by the runway.”
Kali’s whole body was shaking now, with either nerves or the ship’s inertia. She didn’t know how she got the ship down afterward- she thought she must have been running on automatic after all of the disaster simulations she’d run. Finally, though, she was on terra firma, and the rest of the ship was safe.
Ingrid opened the ship’s hatch, and Kali winced as Ingrid tossed her head angrily and jumped down from the ship without a word. Miserably, Kali followed, jumping down to the grassy field as the full force of the sun hit her eyes.
A moment later, the cheers of her classmates erupted around her.