It was midnight, one week from the final exam, and Kali and Ingrid lay side by side, staring up at the stars.
The girls remained silent, because this had been a day for speeches- from morning, when the cadet’s visiting families were welcomed to the academy, to evening, when everyone had filed out to the field to watch the cadets’ graduation.
“It had been decades since we’ve seen a class with such promise,” Commander Schumann had said to the assembled crowd, as the Flightcorps banner clanged against the flagpole once more. “Every single cadet who remained in the program passed the final exam, and this was due to the leadership of several cadets.
“Cadet Goldberg, during the mock battle you took a hit for a fellow cadet, and for that show of courage, as well as for getting the highest test score on the written exams, you have earned the title of Senior Cadet, a place at the officer training school, and the Flightcorps blue medal. Please step forward.”
Glenn went to the podium, where he shook the commander’s hand and accepted his medal. Kali clapped so hard, her hands stung.
“Cadet Milgram, after several cadets were involved in a crash at the edge of the Red Forest, you landed your mech and attempted to administer first aid, and you stayed by the radio afterward to make sure that everyone else was safe. For this you have earned the title of Senior Cadet, a place at the search and rescue training academy, and the Flightcorps blue medal. Please step forward.”
As Jenna stepped up to the podium there was a deafening cheer from the crowd- Jenna’s very large family was cheering her from the front row.
“The last award is shared by two cadets. The first Cadet, Cadet Owens, encouraged her fellow cadets to break protocol and protect a village of civilians. During the ensuing battle, she assumed the role of commander and had the presence of mind to issue orders in the heat of battle. Cadet Chaudry, in addition to fighting one of the most impressive battles ever seen in the history of Flightcorps, was also the first one to break protocol and go to the rescue of the villagers. Cadet Chaudry and Cadet Owens have shown remarkable valor, as well as remarkable wisdom- the wisdom to act when they knew they must act.
“Cadet Owens, Cadet Chaudry, please step forward.”
Kali could hardly hear the crowd as she stepped to the podium. Her ears seemed to be buzzing.
“For your valor, for your wisdom, and for your excellence as pilots, you have both earned the title of Senior Cadet, a place at the officer training school, and the Flightcorps medal of honor.”
“So,” Ingrid said as they stared up at the stars.
“So,” Kali said.
“I haven’t congratulated you.”
“No, you haven’t.”
“The Senior Cadets graduate tomorrow,” Ingrid continued, “but it’s just a formality. I already have my orders.”
“So we aren’t equals now, after all,” Kali said.
“No- I’m a Lieutenant,” Ingrid said. “And by Monday, I’ll be at the Titan base.”
The two lay in silence again. A sudden flash of silver streaked across the sky, near Cassiopeia, and for a moment Kali thought it must be a meteor. Then she remembered where she was, and recognized it as a mech, leaving atmosphere.
“Will we see each other again?” Kali asked.
“I’ll try to keep tabs on my trainees, but you know how those things go.”
Kali sat up and stretched her back. “Why are you here with me, then?”
“I dunno- I’m trying to get used to not hating you anymore. I haven’t had that much time.”
Kali laughed. “Why did you hate me?”
“Just stupid pride. I set out to prove that you didn’t belong on Brave Sector- you remember our race. I chose to race you because if I could humiliate the very best ameteur, the others would see that they were hopeless and leave. Instead, you almost won, and Commander Schumann was so impressed that he gave you a place here. And he was right- Miss Medal-of-honor.”
“I’m sure you have a shelf full of them.”
“Damn straight I do.” Ingrid stood up and stretched her own back- and in the dim light, she looked almost the same to Kali as Ingrid’s avatar had the day of their contest.
Kali opened her mouth to promise to write, to beg Ingrid to write to her, to swear that she’d try to get stationed on Titan when she graduated…
“Well, keep practicing. The next time we meet, I’ll slaughter you.”
And then Ingrid turned and walked across the field, to the barracks.