I’m all blogged out lately. I’m just worn out from all the opinions on the internet – even those with which I agree are exhausting at the moment. So here’s a break from all that with another chunk of a story. And THANK YOU to all my facebook friends who helped me find the name of my main character. Although I didn’t use any of the names specifically mentioned, the brainstorm sent me down the right path. Here, you’ll get to know her a little better. (And I’m not proofreading anything here, so forgive (or let me know of) any typos.)
“Ella, right? Can I join you?” I looked up from my books to see Blaze pointing at the chair opposite me.
“Uh, sure. But it’s Aella, not Ella.”
“Eye-uh-la?” He sounded out slowly, sitting down.
“Almost, but the first sounds are almost one syllable.”
“Close enough.” I said.
He shook his head and started paging through his book, “You don’t make it easy, do you?”
“Some of my friends call me Sky. That might be easier for you,” I offered with attitude.
“Sky? As in the air above us?” He asked in a way that pissed me off even more.
“Yeah. So? You’re named after fire. How is that any better?”
“I’m just not sure how you go from Aella to Sky.”
“You don’t,” I said shortly, “I like to fly and it’s a nickname from my mother that just stuck.”
“Hmm…” he mumbled, staring over my right shoulder. I thought about punching him while he wasn’t looking, but that would probably be frowned upon during study hour. “What’s Coach’s real name? Does everybody really just call him Coach?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. I tried to think what his real name was. Surely at some point over the past four years I would have heard someone call him by name. But I couldn’t think of it, he was just Coach to everyone who knew him.
“Sky for someone who flies, and Coach for someone who coaches. Huh.”
“So, what, a descriptive nickname is no good?” I was seething. “We should all just pick nicknames that are practically the same as our real names? From Blake to Blaze is the only way to go?”
“Blakely is my middle name. My first name is Zinan,” he said, turning his attention back to me, locking his eyes onto mine.
“Oh,” I said lamely, not sure where to go with that and feeling trapped again by his gaze. “Coach said your name was Blake.”
“That’s what all the paperwork says. Very few people know my real name.”
I swallowed hard. Why was he telling me something that very few people knew? Between that and the stupid eye-trance, my anger was quickly deflating. “So then Blaze is because…you like fire?”
“I like the rebirth that happens after fire burns away everything rotted and decayed. Phoenix would have probably been more representative, but that seemed a bit much.” He smiled.
I smiled back. “It’s a bit ironic that your name means fire when your eyes are the color of deep water.”
“It’s all part of my mystique,” he said with a wink.
Shit. Did I say that out loud? I frowned, trying to get a grip on my thoughts so I could change the subject. “And where you learned to fight – is that part of your mystique, too?” I could see his jaw clenching as he looked away from me. “Because, ” I continued, “that’s not machine sector street fighting, that’s serious training.”
I waited for a response but he just shrugged and then went back to his book without looking at me again. “You know, ” I said, “being evasive is not exactly the same as being mysterious.”
He sighed and looked at me. “You know,” he said, mimicking my tone, “being curious is not exactly the same thing as being friendly.”
My face burned. “I wasn’t trying to be friendly. And I am curious where you learned to fight like that.” We glared at each other for a few moments. Then he shrugged and closed his book. Without another word, he stood, gathered his things, and left me staring after him. Steaming from the emotional roller coaster he had just put me on, I shoved all my books into my bag and stalked off in the opposite direction, heading straight to the flight lab.
I closed my eyes to mentally replay my third and final simulation, as was my ritual. What could I have done differently? Would that have affected the outcome? Could I have achieved victory more quickly than what I recorded in this session? I relived and considered each moment of the flight
So I didn’t notice that he was standing right behind me.
“Wow,” he said, “I thought you were good on the mats, but that was — wow.”
I nodded without turning around, instead I watched my hands as they slid across the controls. “This is my center,” I replied. Whenever I flew (or fake-flew in a simulation), everything around me fell away. There is nothing but me, my aircraft, and my mission. No hurt feelings, no questions, no complications of day-to-day life; only what is in front of me. The adrenaline during the flight energizes me, sharpens my reflexes, and focuses my thought. But after the flight, everything subsides to an all-encompassing calm. That calm could last for hours following an exercise, or days if everything is going well. If he left right now, I could keep my calm; it hadn’t been disturbed yet.
Then he pulled up a chair and sat next to me. I frowned, wishing he was just a figment of my imagination, hoping that if I closed my eyes and opened them again, he’d vanish like a puff of smoke. When I turned, he was still there. His eyes were glowing with excitement, and he was sitting on the edge of his chair, looking at me.
“Seriously, Aella, where did you learn to fly like that?” He asked.
“My father taught me.”
“Is he a pilot here on Gemini?”
I tensed, as I always do when I have to say it out loud, “He died when I was thirteen.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said, and I could see in his eyes that he really was.
I shrugged, “It was a long time ago.”
“So, if he was your teacher, you must have started early.”
“I’ve been flying for as long as I can remember. My mom always used to say that when I was a baby, the only time I wasn’t crying was when I in the sky.” I smiled at the memory.
Blaze smiled back and asked, “Was he an instructor?”
“No, a pilot. He could fly anything. Huge cargo planes, military transports sometimes. But mostly he flew chartered passenger flights.” He nodded but said nothing, somehow compelling me to continue. “My mom worked long hours at her hospital, so whenever it made sense, my dad would take me with him. I sat in the jump seat, absorbing everything I could, until I was old enough to sit in the copilot seat – if there wasn’t already a copilot. As soon as I turned eleven, I got my license. After that, we’d go to the airfield together and he started to teach me more complex maneuvers and patterns. He was never an instructor, but, man, he was the best teacher.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, how did he die.”
The familiar sting pierced my heart. “One day he chartered the wrong people and someone shot them all down.” After all this time, it was still nearly impossible to get through that short explanation without my voice wavering. I cleared my throat and looked at him again.
“So,” he asked, “how did you end up here?”
“About a year later, Fleet came to the house to recruit me. My mom resisted for a while, but there weren’t a lot of options for fourteen-year-old to fly, and she could see how it was killing me being grounded for so long. Fleet promised live flights and simulations would be part of my daily education. So finally she said ok, just so I could get back into the sky. I came up on the next transport after my fifteenth birthday and I’ve been here ever since.”
I wanted to ask him what his story was. How did he end up here? And why did he go to the machines first? But he spoke again before I summoned the courage.
“Can you teach me to fly like that?”
“You can’t teach me to fly?” He sounded disappointed.
“Oh, I can teach you to fly,” I said. “I can teach anyone to fly. I just can’t teach you to fly like this.”
“I see,” he said, “because you’re so amazing I couldn’t keep up?”
“Your words,” I smiled.
The bells for first dinner seating echoed in the hall. “We should go,” I said. “First seating always has the best desserts.”