Word Count – 2138
It was two weeks of his usual life before there were any major changes. One day he walked down to breakfast and there was another person there. He recognized her from the jump class, though she seemed far less vital this morning. The dark circles under her eyes were even deeper than they had been then. She didn’t move to speak with the recruits until after breakfast though.
“I’m Master Caemor, I’ve been placed in charge of your training from now on. Doan, Ella, you two are the closest to getting on your own gliders. I’ll be spending my mornings with you two. After breakfast and until lunch. Jace, you’ve got my afternoon. Jonathan you’ll be my evenings. Friday we do combined flight training in the mornings, ride alongs in the afternoon. Saturday are my remedial, right now that’s Jonathan.” She rattled off the information without inflection.
Jonathan swallowed, “Remedial?”
“You’ve been given too much free reign. Tell me, can you even do a dive into a headwind?” She asked him as though annoyed he were wasting her time.
“Well… no I guess I don’t really know how to do that. Can’t you just-” He began.
“Just find yourself without options.” She cut him off. “You’re my student, you learn the basics. Know the basics by heart, then you can build the rest.”
The other students shot him commiserating looks, but stayed silent. He looked down blushing.
“Doan, Ella, simulators. You two,” she pointed to them, “Are reporting to Journeyman Renolds for your daily chores.”
Jonathan was set to glider cleaning while Jace was set to more mundane cleanup. He couldn’t help but feel disappointed that it was going to be a much more lonely chore today. To his pleasant surprise, though, Joseph and Elizabeth were there making last minute adjustments to a pair of gliders he hadn’t seen before.
One was a two seater. He could tell from the smaller elements of the design that it had been built within the last few years. They’d probably shipped it in new. The other though was far more fascinating. It’s design was classic, at least a hundred years old, but the parts were all polished to look brand new. It’s base color was a decadently dark purple, with minimalist golden trim. There was something about it that spoke to him. He couldn’t help getting a better look at it.
“A real beauty, isn’t she.” Elizabeth said walking up next to him.
“She’s… amazing. Is this Master Caemor’s glider?” He asked.
“It’s what she rides when she goes solo. It was a family heirloom. Three generations of her family were all in the Delivery Guild. It saw it’s first tour of duty in the skies of Loremond, with her grandmother. Then her father brought it to Andora back when they were first getting the colony established. Around here she’s considered good luck. Been in the skies for every major disaster and saved a lot of lives in each of them.” Elizabeth said. “This was the first glider in service with the Stormriders, back when it was more Stormrider.”
He ran his fingers along one of the stabilizers. For a second he could have sworn it hummed under his touch.
“I’ve never been one to believe in machines having souls, but you know… I get the distinct impression that it likes you.” Elizabeth smiled to him. “You know, she hasn’t been given a proper washing since she arrived. I think you can prioritize giving her a scrubbing.”
He smiled back to her, openly grinning like an idiot. “I’ll go grab the soap rags.”
Isabella walked around him inside the simulator, floating in midair. It would have been absurd, but she’d set their course for an ultra low altitude run through the Grand Canyon. He was far too busy reacting to the unpredictable flows of icy air to care where she was.
“Use your flaps! The winds are not your friend, they are a beast to be harnessed!” She shouted.
He careened around a curve too fast and found himself facing the wall. He turned hard and slid sideways looking for an updraft, but instead he got stuck in a downdraft and pulled down into the wall. The room turned dark.
“What did I just say!?” She shouted.
“Use my flaps.” He said glumly.
“You’ve made it this far by trusting your instincts, but they won’t always be right. You’ve got to know the right thing, not just feel it.” She said. “Look you know everything I’m going to say, just keep running this until lunch. Use your flaps, know what you’re going to do before you do it!”
The door slid open and she walked outside, into the false brightness of the hallways lights. She heard the door close behind her but didn’t turn around. Looking around for company she slid a small vial out of her pocket and downed the contents, the clear vodka burning her throat as it went down. She shook her head to bring herself back to attention then slid the vial back into her pocket.
“Is that your first for the day?” Margret said, surprising her.
“Second, if you’re keeping track. It’s stressful being back here six days a week.” She said. She gave Margret a defiant look. “Little enough I can still fly if I want to.”
“Do you want my applause for getting it down to a fixation from an addiction?” Margret said. She then shook her head, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. You get me saying a lot of things I don’t really mean.”
“Like till death do we part? Yeah, noticed that a long time ago.” Isabella couldn’t help the dig. The pain in Margret’s eyes made her immediately regret it though. “Look, before we rip each other to shreds, was there some reason you came down here?”
“Seems to me like you’re being too harsh on him. Conditions up here can be pretty bad, but Grand Canyon? We don’t have anywhere around here he’ll face that kind of obstacle course.” Margret said.
“People who don’t know the fundamentals make mistakes when the time comes. Mistakes that cost lives.” Isabella stared off into nothingness for a moment, but soon felt Margret’s hand on her arm.
“It wasn’t your fault! If they had followed your lead and rolled with the cross wind all three of you would have made it.” She said.
“And if I’d stuck to my basics like they did, they both would have lived.” Isabella shot back.
“And YOU would have been smashed across the side of the colony and killed. Nobody asked you to make that kind of sacrifice.” Margret said.
“I did.” Isabella replied. “Look, either way, the kid is going to know all those things I skipped over because they weren’t as fun.”
“Well let’s just hope you aren’t also destroying something unique and beautiful in the process.” Margret said, casting a worried gaze at the simulation chamber.
“Let’s hope.” Isabella repeated.
Jonathan lay spread out across his covers staring up at the ceiling. Even as he lay there he couldn’t get the layout of the Grand Canyon out of his mind. Briefly he wondered how much the Big Freeze had actually changed it’s topography. Very briefly. The entire last two weeks had all been Grand Canyon runs. The winds were fundamentally different, requiring a more active hand. He still hadn’t gotten to the point where he wasn’t using the winds, but he was getting better and disengaging before a wind became dangerous.
“What the hell am I supposed to be learning from this?” He wondered aloud.
“How not to die a horrible death.” Samantha said walking out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. For some reason it no longer effected him to see her naked or nearly so.
“Not sure I follow. Seems like all I’ve been doing in the simulator is dieing a horrible death.” He said.
“There’s a lot of sense in what she’s saying. People like you act without thinking. You just figure there will be a draft there to catch you, hell you can feel it in your bones. But that’s not always the case, sometimes the wind works against you. This can lead to you staking everything on your instincts, only to find that this time you were wrong, and this time it matters.” Samantha said.
“I don’t get it, the wind’s not my enemy.” Jonathan said.
“It’s not your friend either. That’s the point she’s trying to get across.” Samantha said.
When he bothered to look back over she was already fully dressed in her uniform. “You have a route tonight?”
“Official function, everyone Journeyman and up who isn’t working a route will be there.” Samantha replied.
“What’s it about?” He asked.
“Oh same old stuff to me. The importance of safety, the role of the various guilds in the safety of the colony. A little award show at the end. Stick with the guild and you’ll see a million of them, not much to get worked up about.” She said.
“So that’s why you’re putting on your best perfume and doing more than a few seconds of make-up?” He retorted.
“Well, just because the occasion isn’t much doesn’t mean the company is boring.” She said.
“So you’re going with somebody?” He asked.
“More like I’m trying to attract someone’s attention. Wish me luck!” She said.
“Good luck!” He said.
He settled into the silence after she left, pulling out the toy rabbit. He wasn’t entirely sure why he kept it, but he knew it was important. When had he gotten it? Had his parents given it to him? No, that didn’t seem right, so why couldn’t he remember when he’d gotten it?
He remembered the antiseptic halls of the hospital. It had been such a long time ago. He remembered now, he’d gotten really sick when he was six. They’d taken him to the hospital, his mother had cried the whole way. Was it an illness? He didn’t remember, he’d just felt so bad.
Why had he forgotten that? Maybe that’s just what it meant to get older. He couldn’t remember the faces of the children he’d played with as a child, maybe it was just one of those things.
He shoved the rabbit back under his pillow and lay there staring up at the ceiling. The training course played through his mind again. Swinging around tight corners and barreling through straightaways. No matter how he tried, he always crashed somewhere on the course though. It frustrated him.
The open sky always seemed so free. Is this what Stormriders had to face? Those skid marks returned to his mind. Something had happened, and two people had died while Master Caemor had lived. Was that really what this was all about, making sure he never wound up as a skid mark.
Distracted he let himself slide mentally in his run of the course and something clicked. He finished the course once, then twice, then three times. He shot out of bed and rand down to the simulators. It may get him in trouble, but he had to see if it would work. See if he was right.
Samantha wandered out onto the covered opening, looking down the precipitous tower side. She looked to Isabella, “Get too hot for you inside?”
Isabella looked up at her, “Open your link to the guild’s intranet and check the latest simulation recordings.”
She did as she was told, though she had no idea what the older woman was getting at. Looking at the time frame she groaned, “That idiot, he knows it’s logged.”
“It doesn’t matter, just watch.” Isabella told her, leaning comfortably against the railing.
The personal computer projected the recording directly into her eyes. She watched as the boy began the course, riding roughly in the harsh winds. He kept at it though, sliding into the turns with a strange lilt. She almost dropped the wine glass she’d been holding though when he made the most difficult turn with a twisting roll. He controlled himself so that he sliced downward through the crosswinds catching the draft he wanted on the other side.
“That’s… I mean, I’ve seen a few professional racers use that trick. How did he even learn that?” Samantha asked.
“He’s a natural whose been pushed to the edge of his ability to learn.” Isabella said.
“Was this what you were trying to get him to do?” Samantha asked.
“No… But I can’t talk about the training wheels anymore after this. At the very least, it’s proven he’s finally grokked the basics.” Isabella looked at the ground and shook her head. “What am I going to do with that kid, Sam…”
She chuckled and threw a friendly arm around the older woman, “You’ll make him shine.”