The next cycle, the two sergeants came into the bunk to shock all the cadets awake, as was mandatory. They were completely surprised to see Eva and Chengli tidying up their spaces, while already dressed and ready.
But that didn’t stop the sergeants from flashing the lights and sounding an airhorn.
“Get up, cadets!” they yelled. “It’s time for your daily run! You got one hundred seconds to gear up. Let’s go!”
Many of them grumbled as they woke, but still suited up rather quickly. Luckily they only had to go on a run for an hour rather than last cycle’s two. Many still stumbled, but they persevered to the end.
At the end, they took a very quick shower then switched into their flightsuits and grabbed their pressurized flight helmets. They then headed towards the hangar bays, eager to get some good training in.
As this was the group’s first cycle doing zero-g training, the sergeants went through every step of training before they even began. They had them wear their flight helmets and seal their suits, after which the sergeants went to each of them to double-check everything.
Anyone who messed up got a serious earful, and just about everyone got one.
Eva and Chengli included.
They all then boarded a training frigate with a second group of cadets, where the first chamber they went to was a rather small area with a number of harnesses that stuck up from the floor. The cadets all secured themselves in the harnesses snugly, which the sergeants also double-checked.
And like before, anyone who messed up got an earful.
But it was all for their own good. The sergeants’ lessons needed to be drilled in the hard way, and every lesson they had was for their cadets’ continued lifespan.
After everyone was deemed solid and secure, the frigate launched up into the atmosphere while its main thrusters blazed with power. The cadets were pushed into their harnesses by the g-forces exerted by that rapid launch.
The sergeants were sure to give them their instructions. They told them how to relax or clench certain muscles to keep their blood pumping towards their brain.
“Muscles, now! Breathe... now! Stay with us. Don’t get G-locked!”
A few started to black out from the pressure, but the sergeant’s instructions helped keep them awake and alert and active.
Everyone always imagined that military training was about shooting guns at targets and running around and jumping over walls while shouting. But it wasn’t. It was about learning how to survive. It was about getting all the little details right.
Sometimes, it was about learning to breathe the right way at the right time.
“Keep your breaths sharp,” yelled Sergeant Elyn. “Don’t strain yourselves! Sharp in... Exhale!”
Eva had been aware of how she controlled her body while under pressure, but hearing Elyn’s instructions still helped her refine her breathing. They helped her realize why she did the things she did, and that fundamental understanding truly made a difference.
What was that term? Growth mindset?
She had made fun of it in the past, but now she understood what it meant. And vowed to keep it a part of her, now and forever.
The frigate then came to a dead stop somewhere in space above Mars, which signaled the beginning of their real training.
The cadets then got out of their harnesses and were led into a much larger, more spacious training area.
The gravity simulator was shut off inside the room, and the cadets suddenly found themselves starting to drift out into the huge room. One of them started to panic, so someone helped them out and grabbed on to them.
But as they pulled on each other, the one who reached out found himself going up as well. Without a way to counteract the forces they put on each other, they would simply keep going.
The sergeants took that opportunity to teach them all Newton’s First Law – an object in motion tends to stay in motion. In space, that meant perpetually. The only way for them to understand it, was to go through it themselves.
So, they told the cadets to move around the room if they could. They all sprung outwards, in every direction, though not very quickly. They didn’t exactly want to slam into the walls or ceiling.
“Stick near the walls,” they yelled. “Keep yourself oriented to something. Or you’re liable to get space sickness.”
Very quickly, many of them lost their orientation, and ended up spinning around or upside down. None of them could stop. Some started to feel dizzy, and their stomachs churned.
But before things could get seriously out of hand, the sergeants instructed them all on the use of their personal jets. They were little thrusters that exerted a small amount of energy, just enough to push them around in zero gravity.
“This is spacewalking,” they instructed further, “and if you can’t master it, you don’t graduate.”
There were physical controls on their suits, but they were only there for emergencies. The cadets had the capability to instead manipulate the thrusters through their DIs.
Eva was absolutely thrilled. She was about to fly around with the power of her own mind!
She quickly had her DI give her the location of each jet on her flightsuit, and fired them one by one in short spurts. This gave her an idea what direction they took her, as well as how fast it did so.
She had already started to zip around with small movements even before the sergeants had finished their instructions on how to control it.
Some of those who noticed were absolutely astounded at how quickly she had figured it out.
By the time the other cadets had figured out how to orient themselves, Eva was already zooming around the room. Soon after that, she was doing crazy tricks, and started to play around with her flight vector by shifting her body in different ways.
The sergeants never stopped giving instructions in the meantime.
“Keep your bursts short. Control your movements. Don’t go too fast – at first.”
It wasn’t long until Chengli had also gotten the hang of things, and had also reached a point where he wanted to experiment.
The two of them met up and started to do light aerial maneuvers, which made some of the cadets’ eyes glitter.
Eva and Chengli had inspired many of the others to work harder, just by their actions alone.
That made them more intent on learning their lessons, so they too could fly just like they did. And though it took varying amounts of time, eventually all of them became familiar with how to move in zero-g space.
By the end of the lesson, all the cadets were zooming around, while the two sergeants hovered in the center. This was the first time they had a group where they all learned to spacewalk in the very first flight.
Both Elyn and Akim’s minds and hearts were bursting with pride despite their long, stony gazes.
After the zero-g and maneuvering lessons, they all strapped back into the harnesses and went back down. They felt a good amount of g-forces during re-entry, and so they practiced their breathing techniques while they had the opportunity.
After they landed, the cadets quickly got to the task of cleaning up, eating, and then sleeping.
Eva and Chengli instead spent that time sparring with each other, and further honed their edges.
Back in the bunk, a few of the jealous cadets had met up in the shadows and whispered to each other in the darkness.
While elsewhere, two secretive cadets continued their clandestine search, determined to fulfill their Father’s orders no matter the cost.
The next cycle, the sergeants came into the bunk and roused the cadets into action. Like the last cycle, Eva and Chengli were ready to go, and many of the cadets dragged their feet a little. They all then went on an hour run, cleaned up, got into their flightsuits, and headed over to the sim pods.
Eva’s heart thumped rapidly.
She loved to pilot. It was the entire center of her being. Even if it was virtual.
When they arrived, they saw that there were huge enclosed rooms each filled with numerous simulation pods. These were similar to the testing booths used at the licensing facility. The difference was that these were much more complex and very closely mimicked a military fighter’s flight deck.
They were even fully enclosed and looked like smaller versions of a piloting core.
The sergeants gave them all the rundown on the pods, and instructed all of them on how to activate it. They then assigned a pod to every cadet before strapping themselves into their own pods.
Eva hopped into her seat, and sealed her pod quickly. She noticed just how realistic all of the controls and MFDs were, as it mimicked one of the most basic cores available. She even flipped a few switches and hit a few buttons, and was pleasantly surprised to find them functional.
She quickly activated the pod and the whole thing came to life.
Lights lit up in sequence as the ‘fighter’ powered on and warmed up.
Its MFDs came online and showed a standard piloting loadout. Because it was only a simulation, the live feed was instead completely digital. Except the fidelity and quality was incredibly high and Eva felt that what she saw was completely real.
The simulation’s ability to mimic reality was beyond her measure.
The sergeants appeared on her comms display, and gave the cadets further instructions on how to launch.
Their simulations showed that they were in a hangar, and as the bay doors opened, they saw Mars on the other side. It was just like how the planet was currently, half ocean, half land, and had an atmosphere that closely matched Gaea’s.
The only difference was that the military buildings were gone, and the planet was completely bare.
The sergeants took the lesson very slowly, and instructed the cadets on how to properly maneuver their lateral thrusters in order to take off.
Many cadets already had their civilian licenses, so they were relatively familiar as to how to fly. But military machines were far more potent and powerful, and they ended up overshooting their thrusters by a good amount.
Some had even accidentally struck the hangar ceiling. Luckily, it was just a simulation so no real damage was done. But it was still marked against them...
Eva and Chengli were already very familiar with flight, so they both pinged their sergeants. They wondered what they should do, as relearning the basics wasn’t going to help them very much.
They quickly did an impromptu analysis of their skills and asked the two to perform some simple maneuvers. They did so quickly and easily, which surprised the sergeants.
These two were prodigious in their eyes!
They hadn’t realized that the both of them had spent countless hours in their old lives playing their own version of a fighter simulation. They were pretty much experts at this point.
So they told them to do a free-fly for this cycle, but they would try to figure out something for them to do next time. They also advised them to continue to keep their lessons in mind, because they might still find a little wisdom they could use.
Eva and Chengli agreed, and kept their lines open. They then zoomed off where the two of them practiced wing formations for the entirety of the lesson.
Meanwhile, the cadets spent a good chunk of the time simply understanding their thrusters, how to apply the right amounts and when. Under the tutelage of the sergeants, they eventually learned how to fly, bit by bit.
Some started to zoom around the planet while others flew more carefully and slowly. They all learned to fly at their own pace.
Of course, many noticed that Eva and Chengli’s fighters were off doing crazy impossible maneuvers in the upper atmosphere. They sighed inwardly at the two of them and wondered if they could hope to be like them.
The jealous few had much darker thoughts, of course.
And throughout the rest of the lesson, the sergeants imparted techniques on how to control their fighters, as well as their own bodies.
“Be sure to breathe properly,” said Sergeant Akim. “Although you can’t feel the g-forces in this simulation, it is omnipresent in the real thing. Every movement you make will result in gravitational forces being applied on your body.”
“And that means,” continued Sergeant Elyn, “that you need to practice proper breathing and muscle control now. Contract your muscles and breathe with every movement you make. Embed those lessons into your mind.”
Eva and Chengli also listened, and did their best to apply the lessons consciously. Sure, they had played Bellum Aeterna expertly, but they never had to worry about g-forces either. Their bodies weren’t conditioned for true flight.
So they took their lessons to heart.
After all the cadets had spent their two hours getting the gist of flying, the sergeants had them all gather up. They then explained basic fighter tactics to the group, and had them all hover in various formations.
At this, Eva and Chengli were enraptured. Flying freely and without restraint was easy. But to fly with a group in perfect synchronization and formation was another skill entirely, and it was something that the both of them were eager to learn.
Although the cadets were still getting used to flight, and the formations were very sloppy, they all made great strides. The sergeants were very pleased with their group. They learned quickly and were far less argumentative than previous groups.
They thought that perhaps the appearance of Eva and Chengli had an effect. They saw that the cadets were naturally drawn to them. And rightfully so. People were always drawn towards those who were stronger or smarter or made of sterner stuff.
After hours of formation and basic tactics, they had the cadets land their simulated fighters. They gave explicit and detailed instructions on how to land without fuss. Landing was always complicated, as it was easy to overshoot your thrusters and hit the ground hard.
Eva and Chengli were the first to land their fighters, and they did so gracefully and almost flawlessly, which many found inspiring.
Although the cadets did their best, their landings were problematic at best. A good many still didn’t have good control over their thrusters and hit the landing zones too hard. Their simulated ships took on a bit of damage thanks to that.
A handful of others came in way too hot and crashed completely, and the sergeants berated and yelled at them relentlessly. Had they been piloting real ships, they would be dead!
Other than that, the cadets learned a great amount about flight, and the sergeants commended them on their efforts. Afterwards, they all went back to shower, eat, and sleep.
And once again, Eva and Chengli sparred each other. They needed to push each other further, keep each other going.
After all, that’s what wingmates were supposed to do.
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