The fourth cycle was virtually the same as before. An hour run, followed by five hours of training, an hour for food, and three hours of sleep. The pattern and the habits were slowly being absorbed by all the cadets, Eva especially.
She had never had such a demanding schedule in her entire life.
In her old life, she woke up whenever she felt like it, and went to sleep when she got too tired to keep her eyes open. She ate, played, and lived to no-one’s beat but her own. It was incredibly hedonistic, but ultimately damaging.
That lack of care or discipline made her soft, lazy, and apathetic. It didn’t help that she didn’t have anyone who uplifted her.
But this new life, these new experiences, new friends, this academy... They all helped her break out of that old mindset. Everything that happened after she respawned helped shape her, but it was the academy that gave her the tools to sculpt herself.
Initially, she had thought to just ride it out so she could get her license and get out asap. But now she saw the value in it, and decided to launch her whole being into it.
The sergeants led all the cadets back into the simulation pods, however instead of fighters, they were to learn in mechas.
And to everyone’s abject shock and surprise, Eva lit up enthusiastically. Previously, she had been rather quiet and mostly kept to herself. She was very much unlike Chengli, who made a point to go socialize with the others when he could.
So everyone found it odd that Eva had become a lot more excited and talkative. She was practically drooling at every mention of the word ‘mecha.’
She was literally the first one to hop into a sim pod, and started it up before anyone else could even get settled.
The sergeants were going to yell at her, but realized that she wasn’t being insubordinate, and that her enthusiasm was infectious. Some of the cadets were inspired by zeal, and approached the lesson with similar gusto.
They ultimately went back to the lessons and promised themselves they would approach her later to talk about her unruly enthusiasm. In truth, they were just unsure what to do.
The sim was different from the flight version. This one was still set on Mars, but it was heavily populated and multiple civilian cities existed all over. There were many military bases scattered around as well, all of which had a fair amount of space that surrounded them.
The sergeants came out in their own mecha, and had the cadets line up in formation.
The cycle’s lesson was planetary-based, so that they could get used to their mecha’s movements easily. Functionally however, they behaved very similarly to the fighters. They still moved with six degrees of freedom, and their thrusters could exert as much energy as the fighters’ thrusters, albeit in much smaller and tighter bursts.
The sergeants instructed all of them to do simple lateral maneuvers at first. Left, right, forward, and back. Once the cadets were comfortable with those movements, then they added more complicated maneuvers, such as boost dashing and jumping.
And while they grasped the movements and maneuvers rather quickly, their movements were course and rough. They often collided with each other, or lost their balance and fell.
All while the cadets were struggling, Eva was practically dancing and sliding all over the place.
The rest of the world had melted away for Eva. At first she had wanted to better understand the limitations of her mecha’s movements. However, she ended up getting lost in the moment, and simply performed riskier and more complicated moves one after another.
All just to see if she could do them. And if she couldn’t, she’d do it again until she got it right.
Chengli was impressed. Although he had some experience with mecha, he had never seen anyone as proficient as Eva.
It was as though she was born for it.
Once everyone became much more comfortable with their mecha, the sergeants called them back in. Like the cycle prior, they discussed tactics and formations, then got everyone into position to practice.
They did much better than the previous cycle in terms of coordination and teamwork. Although the majority of them were still getting used to the controls, they were able to stay in formation. Most of the time, anyway.
Eva and Chengli once again got a feel for moving and behaving as part of a unit, and absorbed all that they could. It didn’t matter how great they were as individual pilots. Their worth was determined by their ability to be a part of a squadron.
By the end, most of the cadets were exhausted. Unlike the fighters, mecha were much harder to pilot. They required much tighter control and a greater degree of mental discipline. They all felt physically and mentally exhausted!
They looked at Eva and wondered just how she seemed to perform all those maneuvers so effortlessly.
Both she and Chengli were beyond human, they decided.
The jealous cadets thought they weren’t human at all.
During the shower/food/sleep portion of the cycle, Eva didn’t clean herself up or do any sort of practice. Instead, she got into her uniform and ran around the compound by herself. She wanted to clear her head so she could fully process all of the things she had learned in the past forty hours.
It didn’t matter if she was more capable or skilled than the others. What mattered most was if she was more capable and skilled than her past self. Any of her past selves, whether it was her old life or this new one.
She never wanted to stagnate ever again.
So she ran through everything she had seen and heard and experienced once again in her mind. She filtered through all of it, well, what she could remember anyway, and tried to sort out any truths behind it all.
But as she was going through her experiences, she saw a blur of motion in the corner of her eye.
She inadvertently stopped out of curiosity – she was sure she saw two cadets in the shadows again. It was just like that first cycle, when she thought it was just training. But having seen them again, she was certain that there was more than meets the eye.
She shook her head and went back into her run. It wasn’t like she really cared. What they did wasn’t any of her business anyway.
After Eva had gone, the two shadows dared to move again.
“You think she saw us?” asked the male.
“It doesn’t matter,” answered the female. “Now that we’ve got the module, we just need to proceed with the rest of Father’s plan. Everything else is a distraction.”
The next four cycles pretty much repeated the previous four. They even followed the same pattern of physical conditioning, zero-g training, fighter maneuvers, and mecha drills.
This pattern and repetition slowly ingrained the lessons into every cadet, which gradually shaped them all towards becoming a hardy and disciplined force. Some took to the lessons with plodding strides, while others seemed to ascend gracefully and effortlessly.
Eva and Chengli had pretty much shown all of the cadets what it was like to be beyond human.
They were a cut above, in many ways. But they never rubbed it in anyone’s faces, and many of the cadets looked up to the both of them. More importantly, they were still just regular people. They had their weird or endearing habits, just like everyone else.
And the two were a rather interesting contrast to each other. Chengli was rather friendly and welcoming to everyone. Meanwhile, Eva mostly kept to herself, and never bothered any of the other cadets.
It was easy to assume that she was haughty or arrogant due to her aloofness, but she never lorded her superiority over anyone. In truth, even though she was aware that she had advantages, she didn’t believe she was that much better than anyone else.
Perhaps it was because of a deep-seated inferiority complex that came with her from her old life. Perhaps it was because she believed that they were all just swimming along in a vast ocean. Because there, even the most vicious sharks were obliterated by a swarm of piranha.
She might have been a big fish, but in the end she was just another fish.
The sergeants however, saw the both of them as far more than that.
They had figured that Eva and Chengli’s piloting experience was just too valuable to let sit idle. So they quickly put in the paperwork and had them assigned as the group’s squad leaders. While this was at least two cycles too early, it was absolutely necessary for their continued growth.
The first thing they had them do was help instruct the other cadets during their piloting simulations. They especially wanted them to give extra attention to the most problematic cadets; the ones who had difficulty grasping six degrees of freedom.
Chengli quickly took to the task.
He approached the other cadets warmly, and explained every move with great detail. He even went back to the basics when necessary. If a cadet messed up, he simply smiled with patience and explained the techniques from another angle, in order to help them understand.
This surprised everyone, as he seemed to be a natural teacher.
Eva on the other hand, was the exact opposite.
She had never instructed anyone anything in her entire life, and was rather clueless as to how to approach it. She took from Sergeant Elyn’s cue and was rather harsh in her instruction.
Her approach to anyone who messed up was to simply have them start over from scratch until they got it right. Over and over and over.
It was grueling and exhausting and brought them to the very edges of their capabilities. Some of the cadets grew to fear her a little.
One of the jealous cadets that she was instructing had hit his physical limits and had enough of her harsh and demanding style of instruction.
How were they supposed to handle it? They were only human!
He resolved to lash at her with his tongue and take her down a notch.
“Squad leader Freya,” he snarled, “you’re way too demanding! You tell us to do this or do that, but we haven’t seen you do a single maneuver yourself, and yet you expect us to do them until we break! Maybe you should do what you’re talking about and practice what you preach, hmm? How about you do maneuvers until you break instead!”
She just looked at him quizzically after his tirade, but then realization swept across her face.
“You’re right,” she said.
This astounded all of the cadets she was instructing. They thought that perhaps she was going to be softer with her lessons now. That she would be more like the ever-patient Chengli.
“I’ve been lazy,” she continued. “From now on, I’ll perform each maneuver, and you’ll all follow, alright? I’ll keep going until everyone here can do it exactly like I do.”
The cadets fell into despair as she launched into her maneuvers, their faces pallid and fearful. They had already seen what Eva was capable of, and knew she wasn’t going to stop.
They were doomed...
By the end of those five hours, the handful of cadets she trained looked like corpses. The color of their skin was pasty and pallid, and their muscles were so sore that they could barely walk.
And they leaned on each other as they stumbled back to their bunk. None of them wanted to clean up, or even eat. All they cared about was to get into their beds and sleep.
They had also hoped to never have to wake again.
“Don’t you think you overdid it with them?”
Chengli had walked up to Eva after the sergeants dismissed everyone. His students had fared rather well, especially when compared to Eva’s near-dead cadets. A good amount of them had learned much from him, and were very happy with their progress.
She thought about it before shaking her head.
“I’m only teaching them the same way I teach myself. Ain’t harsh to me.”
Shocked, Chengli’s eyes went wide. She actually taught herself with such unrelenting fervor?!
In the past, Eva had spent hours upon hours practicing her flight maneuvers. Although she had a simulator control deck at home, and not some professional or military setup, it was still a physically torturous ordeal to use them.
There were many times when her palms had become blistered, her muscles ached from overuse, and her head pounded from exertion.
She drove herself to the very brink countless times, repeating the motions over and over until they were ingrained into her muscle memory. That was the best way she could learn, and it resulted in her absolute dominance in most of her duels.
“Shall we?” she continued.
He nodded with newfound deference and led the way to the courtyard.
There, they sparred with each other until their muscles burned, just like in cycles prior.
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