"UCAC: United Cybernetic Air Core" - Chapter 6

The remainder of us stood before the giant wind tunnel. It was about three hundred feet long and filled with plush obstacles. The drill sergeant stood before us.
“You are to navigate the entire length of this course,” The sergeant said, “...without Wingsuits.” Everyone looked on in complete horror wondering how this was even possible. Not even gonna lie, I was wondering how the hell this could be pulled off too.
The sergeant walked over to me.
“You’re up boy…” He said, wishing my failure. My heart pounded so hard in my chest I could feel it in my throat. If I wanted to I could dance to the bass rich pound of my heart like it was a Soca rhythm, the beat was so loud. Nonetheless, I stepped forward, now or never. The sergeant opened the wind chamber door with this smile that was upsetting to my stomach. As he closed the door, the fans turned on eventually suspending me in the air.
Remembering what I learned during the free falling course, and the general dynamics of flight, I positioned myself so that I could catch as much air as possible. The little tick movements one made were really responsible for forward, backwards, sideways, roll, pitch and yaw. I tilted ever so slightly forward causing the air to blanket over my back to send me forward.
The amount of speed I gained frightened me. I eased out of it, not wanting to overcorrect. The next time, I made an even slighter tilt. This time, the speed was much more controllable and navigating the obstacle course was no different than riding an updraft in a Wingsuit and making slight variations in the wing and tail shape to allow for fine control adjustments.
I reached the end of the course, still panicked. A grunt was there to open the door for me. Upon touching down with my feet, he smiled, patting me on the shoulder.
“You nailed it on your first try…” He grinned. I looked back at the course seeing the next trainee in the cage going into an uncontrollable spin. The fans turned off, sending him crashing to the floor. I cringed, hoping he’d get the hang of it.
“Go line up on the wall.” The grunt who opened the door for me said. I did so, standing at parade rest. I watched as the young man inside the windtunnel tumble and crashed, eventually making it to the end. He received a pat on the back, told to line up as well. He was very, very angry.
The remainder of the guys performed a mixed bag of success as well. We all lined up, having to run the course again, and again, and again. It was exhausting. Some learned from their mistakes while, other’s not so much. One guy, close to the rear was really down on himself.
“...The hell can I do…” He said to himself.
“Try tiny tick movements. Think, riding an updraft.” I said. The guy behind me just scowled, the one who struggled so much in the wind tunnel.
“You think you know everything, don’t you?” He said.
“I don’t pride myself on it, but sure.” I said back, hoping to strike a nerve.
“Denver, you’re up!” The drill sergeant said. I navigated the course,  it becoming easier with every trial. I lined up in the rear, getting another pat on the back. The trainee before me turned, perplexed.
“How do you not lose control?” He asked.
“Try to move very slightly. If you tilt forward, you move forward. Tilt backwards, you move backwards. It’s all fluid dynamics. Roll, yaw and pitch are a bit different than your Wingsuit. To go up, spread your surface area, to go down pull your arms and legs in closer. Roll is pretty much the same. Yaw is the trickiest….can’t really describe it. I’d say your hands control it best, I don’t know.” I said, thinking hard.
“Really?” A dude listening further up the line asked.
“Yeah.” I responded.
“Oooou, he’s up again. I hope he gets it this time!” The guy in front of me said. We watched as the dude failed the course once again, having to grab onto the obstacles to navigate it.
“You’ll do best to learn from what he’s doing wrong.” I said.
“What’s he doing wrong in particular?” The dude asked.
“Thinking he’s too good for advice and wanting to look like a fool.” I sighed, shaking my head.
The dude came out of the wind tunnel, still very frustrated. Eventually everyone got it right...all except for him. It was clear that we’d stop when the rate of success was one hundred percent. As long as he failed, we’d all have to do the course over. I was growing more and more upset with this dude, the same with everyone else. I had to do something.
“Ya know, if you keep your body firm, you’ll be more….” I tried to say, trying to at least help.
“I don’t need your help…” The dude refuted, quick to shoot me down.
It was my turn to run the gauntlet again. My frustration was beginning to reach the point of no return. After receiving probably the twelfth pat on the shoulder, I had reached my fill. I went to the end of the line, waiting for this prideful fool to fail once again. He did so, having to start the line all the way over. Not a single soul was pleased, all except the drill sergeant who got off on this shit.
As this frustration inducing fool received his pat on the shoulder, I eyed him scaldingly as he made his way over.
“Look…” I began, “I’m not running this course again because you want to be an idiot and flail and kick your way through it. You’re gonna get this shit right…”
“You think you’re better than everyone else here don’t you,” He said, getting face to face with me, “You’re a fucking douche bag…”
“I’m a douche?” I asked, “But am I the one keeping everyone else here because I’m too stupid to take advice?”
“You have one more thing to say to me before I… ” He began to say through the grit of my teeth. I gave him no time, drawing my hand back ready to test and see if he had a glass jaw. However, a firm hand grabbed my arm right as I was about to strike this fool. Startled, I turned to see it was Malcolm. The drill sergeant made his way down the hall, obviously pleased that there was an altercation but not willing to admit it.
“There seems to be a problem?” He asked.
“This idiot is the only one who hasn’t gotten the form right yet! It’s like he hasn’t realized that he’s messing us all up!” I snarled.
“Who’d want to take advice from such a douchebag knowitall? I sure as hell don’t want to!” The boy retaliated.
“Well this douchebag knows when he needs help and isn’t afraid to get it! The real douchebag is the idiot sitting here acting like he doesn’t need any!” I fired back.
“You know what,” The boy said angered, rushing me, “I’ll knock all the teeth out your head! Keep talking to me like that…”
“Nah, boy I’m done talking!” I said, struggling to get free of Malcolm’s powerful grip. I could do nothing with this giant. He picked me up, turning me away from the aggressive idiot as he came within striking distance.
“Chill, Denver…” Malcolm advised. Those warm pools of honey he had for eyes know they could soothe me. I said nothing but still seriously wanted the beat that guy into a shitty pulp. I sighed, slowly beginning to come to terms with how immature I was being.
The drill sergeant walked back to the entrance of the wind tunnel. He stood at the door, looking at both me and the idiot standing at the end of the line.
“Denver, Chase...get here NOW!” He demanded. Malcolm and I looked at each other knowing this was going to get interesting
I walked towards the drill sergeant, Chase, the stubborn idiot followed. We stood before the drill sergeant waiting for the tortures he’d have in store for us.
“Both of you,” He began, “Are horrible little shitty cunts who think that they are the best thing to grace this God forsaken world. You, Denver, need to understand that just because you master stuff quicker than most, notice stuff quicker than most and are an overall better performer than most of the excuses here, can’t rub it in! The berrates and belittles the men you have to work with!”
“I didn’t rub it in!” I said in my defense.
“Say another god damn mother FUCKING WORD and I’ll take this shock ‘n drop out this holster and taze your ass until you finally look like a black person. You did rub it in and there’s no denying it!” The drill sergeant said to me, “Now for you Chase… I know you don’t like any of these excuses here, don’t want to interact socially with any of the excuses here and cringe in disgust at the excuses here, but you can NOT let it be to your detriment! You two have had the highest rate of success here… Why let this little task be the reason you fail?”
“But I didn’t fail it!” I said, growing agitated. The drill sergeant looked at me with those cold beady eyes.
“You really want me to taze you, don’t you?” He asked.
“No sir…” I said, frustrated.
“Since both of you are two stubborn boulder-for-brain idiots, I feel that the only way you’ll learn the important lesson is by a spontaneous team exercise! You two will navigate this course…  TOGETHER!!!” He said.
My heart sank hearing the news.
“Get ya’ll asses in there!” He said, opening the door. Chase and I reluctantly entered the wind tunnel. The fans started, lifting both of us off the ground. As soon as Chase’s feet left the ground, he lost control. He slammed into me as he grasped for anything with leverage.
“DUDE!” I screamed. I was thrown all off whack, it taking every ounce of skill to regain balance. He clambered for any and every thing, tumbling wildly as though he was in free fall.
“Shit…” Malcolm said, watching tensely as he hoped Chase and I could make it out of the tunnel. It was nerveracking.
I didn’t want to proceed without Chase but he wasn’t listening. He continued to tumble, over correcting trying to gain balance in the high windspeed. Suddenly a foot careened into my face. Everything became silent as the compressed frustration rekindled into rage. I lost every ounce of restraint I had left in my body. It was time to fuck this dude up! I ascended, grabbing the boy in my hands. Using every ounce of skill, I sent us both careening into the glass, the impact producing a massive thud.
I whipped him away, both of us spiralling to the other side of the windtunnel. I slammed him into the hard metal grating ducts with a my might, producing a cringe inducing clank. We then tumbled into a plush coated pylon. I drew my fist back, ready to strike the disoriented boy. As I did, jolts of electricity ran through us both. It forced us to separate, ending the altercation.
“Work together!” The drill sergeant said into the intercom. I swallowed my pride, not wanting to spend another minute in this wind tunnel. Making my way over to Chase, I held his chest and back steady, stabilizing him. I positioned his arms and legs in the proper free fall position so the poor idiot wouldn’t tumble anymore.
“LISTEN TO ME!” I screamed, the roar of the fans beneath the floor combined with the buffeting winds wrapping us being nearly deafening, “IT’S THE LITTLE MOVEMENTS THAT COUNT! THINK UPDRAFT IN YOUR WINGSUIT BUT WITH MUCH, MUCH SMALLER WINGS!!!!”
“OK!!!!” Chase said back, finally giving into the the advice I’d been trying to give him all along. I felt a sigh of relief. We navigated the course effectively enough, touching down on the other side of the wind tunnel in due time. The same officer who opened the door for us the previous dozen times, did it again.  He pat us both on the back.
“Good job fellas!” He said.
Chase and I looked at each other. He gave me the most enraged gaze he could. He then turned his nose up, continuing forth towards the end of the line. I shook my head, sighing. We were met with applause but it felt so ill placed. Malcolm stood there laughing until he looked at me closer.
“Shit, you got a shiner…” He said. He rushed over to me to inspect my bruises. He looked at my eye then grabbed my lower lip which stung a lot. I seized in pain, consequently baring my teeth.
“Oooou, you mouth is bleeding…” He said shocked. My gaze fell upon Chase, rage filling my body. Feeling I was about to do something stupid, Malcolm grabbed me. But it was too late. I had already closed the distance between Chase and I, landing one lucky fist on his jaw. The boy fell from the rattling blow.
“Glass jawed ass mother….”
“DENVER!!!!!!!!” The drill sergeant shouted as he rushed over. Malcolm already knew what was going to happen to me, wasting no time in letting me go. He didn’t want to be ahold of me with what the drill sergeant was about to do.  The drill sergeant took out his shock n’ drop, not hesitating to send debilitating jolts of electricity up my spine. I fell to the floor, jittered by the shock.
“Now that this little course is over, let’s talk about it’s purpose,” The drill sergeant said, prowling around as he usually did, “When you get on the battlefield, sometimes your men will freeze, panic, not be of much use. Still though, you’ll have to work beside him in the heat of the most intense moments. You, as our leaders, can not leave him behind. This was a test to show you that you leaders, innately want to help those you see struggle… help in your own poor excuse of a way, but help nonetheless. I am proud to see you all succeed this trial… despite complications,” He looked directly at me, “Now for your next trial… I like seeing you all work together so I’m going to think of something very special.”
Indeed the drill sergeant did think of something special. The fifteen of us stood in a big white training dome, terrified. We wanted to know what this wicked man had in store for us. The drill sergeant prowled amongst us, his gait methodical and as predatory as ever. It struck fear in us all.
“Surprise…” He said, “I was told not to do this because of how dangerous it is. But fuck it! I’m afraid I have no choice with you bunch. How are you going to be the leaders of this organization if you can’t play nicely amongst yourselves? This is the zero gravity augmented reality room….” Everyone looked around, wondering how could such a drab white training dome make them break down into a poor, battered soul, wishing they never came here. I knew I was beyond terrified, “Today will be a trust exercise…  Ten of you will be wearing gravity gauntlets while five of you will be wearing gravitational field generators. These five will be tossed back and forth between the ten, ‘juggled’... Sounds easy right? We’ll I’m picking the five trainees to get juggled. Denver, step forward; Malcolm, step forward; Hillshire, step forward; Jonathan, step forward; Chase, step forward…”
Technicians came, strapping us in to the gravity vests. My heart pounded, this being probably the most terrifying trail we ever faced. The technicians handed out the ten pairs of gravity gauntlets, quickly fleeing the training space. The drill sergeant too left, fleeing to the control room overhead. This must was gonna be bad…
Suddenly the floor began to quake, opening, the terrain turning into a cliff-like setting. I suddenly felt very heavy, it becoming increasingly hard to stand.
“The exercise has begun.” The drill sergeant said, as late as ever. Everyone looked panicked, unsure what to do. The environment continued to shift, more hills and gullies forming from the malleable composite floor.
“Hey you…” I said, pointing at a trainee with gravity gauntlets. He stood there as the land rose around him. He turned, looking at me in terror, “Get to the top of that bluff! Dallas, get over here!” Dallas, the closest person I knew, ran over to me. He tripped over himself, the gravitational field around him losing density.
“Yeah?” He said.
“Get me off the ground!” I said. He looked at me, lost, “The gauntlets!”
“Oh” He said, aiming them at me. Suddenly, I was flung across the lab, tumbling to a halt.
“Shit!” Dallas said, running over to me, “So sorry!”
“It’s fine,” I said, trying to get to my hands and knees, “Those gauntlets are cybernetic. You have precise control over them like you do your Wingsuit! Think…”
He extended out his hands, aiming his palms at me again. I cringed, thinking I was going to get flung around the training room again. No, instead I lifted off the ground slowly. Dallas took several laboured steps back, clenching his teeth.
“Shit!” He groaned, this obviously being very strenuous on him.
“OK, walk me back to the bluff.” I said. Dallas did so, straining the entire way.
“This is heavy!” Dallas said through the grit of his teeth.
We neared the base of the bluff. Dallas was exhausting fast, the gauntlets taking all of his strength. I looked at the dude standing lost at the top of the bluff.
“Hey,” I said, “I have a plan! I’m going to need you to listen and listen closely! We are dealing with forces against and with gravity. Do not fight against the pull. Use inertia and momentum to aid you! Do you understand?”
The boy stood there, absorbing what I said.
“I think I do…” He responded.
“OK,” I said, looking at Dallas, “Stand stationary and swing me around. Toss me up to the guy up there!” Dallas stood there, thinking about it.
“Wow…” He said, seeing how the plan could work.
He planted his feet firmly on the ground as I hovered under the power of the gravity gauntlets. Like a tribal dancer, he began to wave his hands around his body in a circular motion as he squatted. I began to move around his ridiculous form, following the path of his hands. Not long after, I was traveling at quite a pace.
“Hey!” I said to the dude at the top of the bluff, “You see what Dallas is doing? He’s going to toss me up there with you and you’re going to catch me with your polarity! Keep me spinning to maintain the forward energy then toss me back to him!”
“Alright!” The young man said.
“I’m going to toss you…. are you ready?” Dallas asked.
“Sure…” I said, utterly terrified.
“Here...we…” Dallas said, spinning as fast as he could, “GO!”
He released me, sending me hurtling inches above the cliff face. I screamed, thinking I would face plant into the hard synthetic limestone of the fake cliffs. But no, I was caught. The young man on the bluff top pulled through with his gauntlets, sending me around and around.
“You ok?” He asked.
“...Yeah…” I said, finally realizing I was in good hands.
“Alright, um…” The dude said with the faintest amount of strain in his voice, “Just toss you back down?”
“Yeah.” I responded, growing nervous again.
“Ok, here we go…” The young man said, whipping me around. I was flung back to Dallas who had braced for the strong polarity this suit produced. With the added momentum from coming from an elevated perch, it took all of Dallas’s strength to keep me from hitting the floor. I squealed, closing my eyes thinking I was about to crash.
Upon opening them, I was whipping around in circles, as though Dallas had an invisible rope around me. Now that I was getting more comfortable, I could say this was one of the coolest things I’ve done.
The two boys tossed me back and forth between each other like a giant game of tennis. Neither of them tired as they tumbled across the grounds to make sure I wouldn’t crash. A crash at these speeds would certainly end my life. I truly was dependent on these two.
“Hey, how are you doing that?” A trainee asked Dallas as he anticipated me being slung back down to him.
“Just stand and watch… I can’t speak!” Dallas said as he leapt to make sure his polarity field caught mine. He began whipping me around to build centripetal force before slinging me back to the top of the bluff.
The guy watching, backed away, learning fast. He turned to Jonathan who was struggling to get above his hands and knees.
“Pullock, stand over there!” The young man said, pointing to a ridge on the hill. The dude presumed to be Pullock did as was told, “Ok, JonJon, brace yourself…”
“Alright, Tyson.” Jonathan said back, full of strain.
Unsure what he was doing Tyson extended out both of his hands, ever so cautiously. As he did, Jonathan began to rise off the ground. Jonathan looked on shocked, unsure why he was rising up. He looked up seeing Dallas and the young man on the cliff top juggling me. The sheer horror in his eyes spoke for his silence. The disoriented boy then looked around, wondering why he was hovering. He saw Tyson straining to provide lift. Tyson’s face was flushed red, veins popping in his neck, arms and face.
Dallas tossed me to the young man atop the bluff once again.
“Don’t toss me back down this time!” I said.
“Ok…?” The young man said, unsure why I gave such a request.
“Dallas, go help out the others!” I shouted from the clifftop.
“OK!” Dallas yelled back, quickly running over to them.
“You think you can keep me like this?” I asked concerned.
“No...” The young man said, sweating heavily, “...problem!” I sighed a sigh of relief as I continued to be juggled.
We watched as Dallas reached Tyson and Jonathan.
“You got to use your weight to center yourself and use his weight to propel himself!” Dallas said, demonstrating. He sent Jonathan around and around and around.
“WOOOOOOUUUAAAHHH!!!!” Jonathan screamed, tumbling over and over.
“KEEP YOUR BODY PARALLEL!”  The young man juggling me shouted. Jonathan then began to correct himself as Dallas whipped him around.
“Now I’m going to hand him to you. Your polarity will pick him up but the force will try and knock you off your feet,” Dallas said to Tyson, full of concentration, “You ready?”
“Yeah…” Tyson said, planting his feet firmly on the ground. Dallas made Jonathan’s arc wider and wider, giving Tyson the leverage to catch him. Tyson’s polarity picked up Jonathan and he did what was demonstrated. He and Pullock got the hang of it rather quickly, tossing Jonathan back and forth between each other.
The remaining guys had came to watch, learning quickly how to use the gauntlets and gravity vests. Not long after, everyone had gotten the hang of it. The juggling lasted for several agonizing minutes. Everyone grew frustrated.
“Why isn’t the trial over?” The boy on the bluff top asked.
“Because, the ones in the vest are supposed to be juggled between all of those with the gauntlets…” I said.
“Man what the fuck? How the hell are we supposed to do that?” He asked, daunted by such a huge challenge.
“I don’t know, stand in a circle?” I said, perplexed as well.
“Yes…. YESSSS!” The dude said. I was expecting him to send me hurtling towards Dallas but he kept arcing me around, “Dallas, tell everyone who is wearing a gauntlet to go to the flat area of the testing range and form a circle!”
“OK!” Dallas said, with no question about it.
“Denver, you are a fucking genius you know that, right?” The boy whipping me around asked. I didn’t even know his name.
“I just want this to be over…” I laughed.
As he sent me circling around him, he began to walk down to the lower levels of the testing facility. We reached a flat area where the remainder of the guys eventually had flocked to. We were very spread out, some juggling a man, some not. The distribution of who was juggling and who wasn’t juggling was not even.
“Everyone,” The young man juggling me said, “There should be one person in between a person juggling a person wearing a gravity vest. If there is not, get there!”
Everyone conformed, steadily looking lost.
“Now we’re going to juggle everyone one around, counterclockwise! Concentrate on the man to your right when someone is juggling a vest wearer and concentrate on the man to your left when it’s time to transfer the person being juggled!” He continued. The trainees did as was told with no fault. We, the ones in the vests, were sent around counterclockwise. Upon returning to our starting position, the gravity was completely turned off in the training yard. Everyone began to rise off the ground, those being juggled going on high speed trajectories.
“DA FUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCKKKKK!!!!!!!!” I screamed as I tumbled over my self. This was getting crazier and crazier. I prayed for this to be over.
Suddenly, the gravity was turned back on. Everyone was sent falling towards the hard training room floor. Just as I braced for the impact, the floor once again opened up. This time it formed a plush cushion that caught me, lowering me back down to the floor. I just lied there in shock. This really had happened. I just wanted this week to be over. It was too much torture. All of this weightless training made it clear we were getting our suits back.
Indeed we were. By the start of the next week, we were in the main hangar, the Cybernetic Wingsuit hangar. The drill sergeant prowled amongst us, hands behind his back, the same sickening predatory nature.
“Today,” He began, “You will be reunited with your Helms. You will notice, things will be a bit different with them…”
Technicians brought us our Helms one by one. I was number seven in the line so it didn’t take long for me to get it. But it was different, painted over white with the mouthpiece being painted black. It used to be a very shiny gunmetal with a bright ruby mouthpiece. I didn’t get this…
Putting the Helm on led to more horror. The connection process caused me to jolt, understandably because it had been a long time since I connected with my cybernetic extension. However, this was no longer the Merlin I was connected to. The boot name was Elanid, the name of a group of raptors known for slow, wafting flight and hovering, not extreme speed like the falcons. That meant I didn’t have the Merlin suit anymore and that I would have to adapt to flying in a new, different way.
I was not pleased at all! Now I had to resync data and this was never fun. My internal servers had to be updated to this new Helm. Upon completion, I played with the interface seeing what horrors awaited me. To be honest, it was nothing too bad. I had a bigger more aerodynamic suit, upon detailing the schematics, one designed for great agility. It also detailed greater gravity countermeasures so my wing loading would be less. That mean I wouldn’t even have to flap to stay aloft and had a very low stall speed. Not to mention, the entire plume of the suit was an elegant white with black primaries and over-wings. It was a big contrast to the silver of the Merlin suit.
There also were more changes in the HUD itself. I still had the dual pulse beams in the helm as well as the upgraded sensor array. But somehow, they managed to cram a new weapon in here, a sonic resonance buffet. It was a very deadly weapon, one that matched the harmonic resonance frequency of the matter it detected and blasts a deafening wave of sound at it, causing it to disintegrate. Even better, it was far more suitable for close range targets than the pulse weapons.
Also, the quill launcher was now an explosive quill distributor. It was like what the Kestrel and Hiero Wingers used. Quills would come out of every opening in their armor, homing into pre designated targets. I couldn’t say I was happy to have this, but nonetheless, it was a nice addition to the suit.
It was quite a bit of firepower for such a relatively small frame. However, the lower wing-loading did allow for additional payload. Everything else was virtually the same as the Merlin. It made me wonder did they scrap the Merlin and make it anew. I hoped not because the Merlin had so much history and it was too beautiful to be dismantled and rebuilt for some new mission. I wanted to keep it the way it was.
It was a problem that bugged me throughout the day. It wasn’t made better when it came time for the first suit up. The drill sergeant stood on the end of the platform watching as the actuators swarmed each one of us. We stood with legs shoulder width apart, arms outstretched. The actuators placed rings on each of my fingers, tight wrist couplings and the spinal extensions. The robot then added on the two silver pectoral plates, plates I recognized from Merlin, before adding on the white, monopiece breast plate. I had to tell myself that the pectoral plates were simply modular and hot swappable between any Wingsuit, not salvaged from the Merlin. It would kill me to know otherwise. The pectoral plates, afterall, did have the majority of the electronics required for the Wingsuits.
Then came the shoulder sockets which connected to the pectoral plates and a portion of the spinal extension. It connected the wings to the rest of the armor, right over my actual shoulderblades. The actuators then snapped on the black wing sheaths, made out of a very light weight, soft to the touch material. It was confusing, considering it clicked in place upon the actuator’s pressure. The wing sheaths were what contained the liquid flesh, the bionic power.
The wing scutes came hovering in under their own power, connecting with the wing sheaths. They had tiny counter-rotating solenoids that charged the gravitanium alloy blades which was why these blades could fly under their own power. I never had seen anything like it, the wings of the Merlin being preconstructed and easily attachable. This had thousands of autonomous parts, each one intelligent enough to know which part of my body to attach to. I bet the rings on my fingers had something to do with that.
Several white scutes attached to the very end of the spinal column, forming a tail. I opened and closed it like a fan, dropping one side then dropping the other. I could already tell by how this felt that the sheer amount of agility I had would induce a blackout. It made me excited. The actuator added more sheaths, this time encompassing my back, thighs and shins. The robotic arms brought down step-ins, placing them before each of my feet. It also brought down the gorgeous, white back plates which snapped seamlessly into place with the rest of the armor. I placed each foot into the step-ins, the plush material wrapping around my feat, merging seamlessly with the leg sheaths.
The robotic actuators dropped down two light weight boots, holding them open so I could step in. Then the machine brought the grappling gear, the heavy duty talons! I never thought I’d be so glad to see them but I was! This process of suiting up was more nerveracking than the old process and it felt like it lasted forever. Now that it was over with, it gave me time to appreciate the new suite.
I must admit, white looked good on me but white looked stunning on Malcolm. With his grappling gear on, her stood well over seven feet high. His armor had much more bulk than mine and his wingspan was twenty eight feet and were surprisingly high profile. To me though, those talons were no joke, huge and definitely the most lethal talons of all the other Winger’s standing on this platform.
Suddenly, the hangar’s sky gate began to open. The trainees looked around, unsure why it was opening.
“GO, GO, GO, GO!!!!” The drill sergeant said, pointing up to the sky. Everyone took off on powerful wing beats, flying out of the hangar. There were falcon based Wingers, buteo based Wingers and accipter based Wingers all around.  I was the only one based upon a kite and and Malcolm was the only one based upon an owl. He also was the largest of us. There also was a guy based upon a harrier which I must admit was damn cool!
Considering we were flying for the first time, many guys went into tail chases, trying to see who was the most nimble and formidable suit of them all. I was having no part of it. I hitched a ride on the nearest thermal and circled above them all, just incase I had to drop out of the sky at a blinding pace. It was enjoyable cruising around in a circle at only thirty miles an hour.
Malcolm began to ascend up to me. A private radio connection request was sent to my HUD. I accepted it, eagerly, glad to hear anything he had to say.
“So you’re no longer Merlin?” He asked.
“I will always be Merlin!” I laughed before getting serious, “No, I’m now Elanid… There are some pretty significant changes.”
“I can tell. Merlin’s primaries were slightly longer than his secondaries but now your primaries and secondaries are the same length. You also have a longer tail. You look...bigger.” He said with a chuckle.
“Yeah, these new wings feel too...light. I miss Merlin’s heft.” I said.
“You haven’t pushed Elanid to the limit yet. Get down there and join the tail chase!” Malcolm said.
“I don’t see the point.” I laughed.
“Dude, don’t be such a downer! I know you miss Merlin but Elanid probably has some cool tricks to test out.” Malcolm said, trying to reassure me.
“No, I mean I don’t see the point when at any given moment, we can be radioed a drill. I just wanna be ready.” I said.
“Oh, well if that’s the case, I’m with you.” He said, circling below me. He had about eight more feet of wings than I did and about four more feet of length. He was just massive.
“So how do the new wings fly?” I asked.
“They’re surprisingly powerful but it wofts too much. You’re right, the frames do feel too light. I’m not to big a fan or narrower wings. It’s very easy to go too fast with them.” He said.          
“Well, both of these frames are built for hovering for extended periods so maybe we’re being a bit too hard on em.” I said.
“How fast do you think you can push the new wings?” He asked.
“I feel like since there’s less wing loading and a more aerodynamic frame, my flat speed will be near three hundred fifty miles an hour. Diving, I’m not so sure because this frame is so light. I doubt it can get above five hundred.” I sighed.
“Still, that’s fast. I pushed two twenty six in a flat burst. I can definitely go faster but this thing isn’t meant to be pushed like that. I do like how it handles this wind though compared to Steppe… Very stable!!!! I can’t turn worth a shit.” Malcolm laughed.
“Curl your wing tips down when you’re trying to turn. It’ll give you added agility.”I advised.
The boy entered a steep glide, his pace increasing substantially. He dropped his wings in an anhedral and began to bank. His turns were sharp, but it looked like his control was laboured. He was definitely not meant for extreme aerial maneuvers. He stopped quickly, ascending back up to me.
“Nope!” He said.
“You alright?” I asked.
“Snow ain’t built for turning.” Malcolm laughed.
“I see!” I said, “It’s capable though…”
“It’s no more capable than Steppe. One thing Steppe had going for it was speed though. That thing could go three thirty and dive near supersonic. But this, it feels fragile, light… I’m scared to push it.” Malcolm said.
“What kind of weapons do you have?” I asked.
“Incendiary bombs, pulse beams, a strange sonic weapon and the ability to launch all my scutes in a furry, you?”
“Explosive quills, pulse beams, the same sonic weapon and that’s about it.” I responded.
“I saw how the scutes attached to you. You have the scute attack too.” He said.
“Really?” I asked.
“I’m mostly certain…” He laughed.
“Attention all trainees,” A voice said on the radio, “The first one to bring down a mammoth gets the rest of the day off.”
Every single trainee below us began to power through the sky pushing their top speeds. The interceptors took the lead, getting to their top speed swiftly and able to maintain it. I looked at Malcolm who was waiting on me.
“You ready?” I asked.
“Hell yeah!” He said. The two of us entered a steep glided, boosting it with a few wing beats periodically. We both pushed four hundred miles an hour, passing over the speeding trainees powering along below us.
“What’s the plan? We got about twenty miles before we reach the tundra.” He said.
“I’m going through my interface. I found the blade barrage you were talking about. At the same time, we’re taking down a mammoth of our own. We deserve this day off!” I said.
“Ok.” He said looking back, “We got a good start on everyone else.”
“Yeah! I don’t want anyone to close the distance…” I said, scanning the horizon ahead.
“Trust me they won’t. I’ll knock em’ out the sky!” Malcolm said fiercely.
“Mmmm.” I smiled, living his aggression.
We were fast approaching the tundra. I powered along on rowing wing beats, the sheer flat speed being unreal. Three hundred fifty miles an hour was just crazy to be traveling at, especially fifty feet above the ground. Surprisingly, Malcolm was keeping pace beside me. These new wings were no slouches.
We picked targets, two large bull mammoths equally far apart.
“You ready?” I asked.
“I surely am…” He said. As we neared the bulls, the scutes that controlled our flight, unmounted taking their own paths. The blades traveled at blinding speed towards the bulls. They pierced through the mammoths, connecting back with us before we stalled. The scutes formed wings again, allowing us to regain control. Both mammoths fell to the ground, their blood pooling around them.
We circled around, dissipating our speed. We landed on our respective kills, standing triumphantly. By that time, the other trainees had arrived, very upset.
“Thank you for slaying your dinner… You two have the day off.” The drill sergeant said over the radio.
“WOOOOOOOO!!!” I exclaimed, taking off in a swift vertical climb. I wanted to slowly loop around but forgot I had much more tail surface area to work with. Instead of gently looping, I inverted at a neck breaking force, spreading my wings and tail to catch myself.
“Bastard!” A trainee said, probably jealous Chase. All I could do was laugh. Awards like this were commonly given out but Malcolm and I never took them, not until now.  
Looking over to Malcolm, he continued standing on the mammoth, looking down at his talons. They punctured deep into the mammoth’s flesh under his sheer weight alone. He tried taking off but his talons were tangled in the creature’s fur.
“SHIT!” He said.
“I got you…” I said, flying by gracefully. I banked to the side, using the razor sharp wing blades to cut his talons free. He entered the air, quick to make pace with me.
“OK, I just thought about it,” Malcolm said, “What the hell are we going to do here because this place is fucking too dangerous to go on foot and the base is simply a training facility. There’s nothing fun to do…”
“I was gonna go back to the barracks and catch some extra hours of sleep.” I said.
“Sounds like a good enough plan to me.” He said.
By the time we made it back to the bass, it was noon. We unsuited and made our way back to the barracks. It was empty, we being the only ones free for the day. I guess I was exhausted because it didn’t really connect at first. I just went to my bed, sitting there, staring at the ceiling.
“Man…” Malcolm begin.
“What?” I asked.
“We struck lucky didn’t we?” He laughed.
“I guess so… We got some alone time… finally.” I smiled.
“I just wanna kiss you.” He said, looking over at me.
“There are no cameras in here… The trainees won’t be back four hours. We can do anything.” I said.
“Anything?” Malcolm asked, leaning up.
“Anything…” I said, lustfully. He crawled onto my bed. He spread my legs, climbing on top of me. Gently caressing me, those massive hands felt up and down my narrow frame. His lips came closer and closer to mine, finally until we kissed. It was like his lips were charged with  cosmic energies because it got got me super heated. The energy began to spread through my body, his touches giving glimpses of his true power. I was getting more and more aroused and I wanted to take this further.
I began unzipping his his jumper, feeling his muscular chest underneath. Slowly, I reached down, further and further. It was then I learned of the monstrosity between his legs. I couldn’t even make my thumb and middle finger connect around it. That was scary… But  if there wasn’t something to place fear on my soul, then I wasn’t doing something to challenge me.
I wanted to see this monster in it’s full glory. As I whipped it out, Malcolm withdrew, shaking his head.
“We haven’t graduated yet…” He smiled, teasingly.
“God, dude…” I said pushing him off of me, “You’re a big ass tease, you know that…”
“I just need to make sure you’ll stick with me to the end…” He said.
“Of course I will!” I said, reassuringly. He truly didn’t know what he meant to me.
“I’m just asking because, this thing,” He said looking between his legs, “Is no joke, and when it goes down… I’m going to fuck you like it’s the last time we’ll ever see each other because it probably will be. We have two different paths ahead of us and  after the final test...we graduate.”
I walked over to him, seriously upset. He could tell it.
“Do you want me to rape you?” I asked.
“Rape me?” He asked laughing.
“Yes,” I said crawling back on the bed, “All you keep doing… is teasing me...and teasing me. And I want you… SO BAD!!!!!”  He smiled, caressing my face.
“And you will have me… just you wait!” He said. He kissed me again and again. I don’t think he knew what he was doing to me. I was falling for him, faster and faster with each kiss. I didn’t know if this was love yet but I did have some very strong feelings for him.
He just held me against his chest, rubbing my head. I didn’t have hair to play in since we had to be shaved bald for training. It was kind of funny.
“Denver…” Malcolm said.
“Yeah?” I responded.
“You’re not afraid of it?” He asked.
“Do I ever run from challenges?” I asked in response.
“No but… I can’t have nearly as much sex as I want because of it…” He sighed, “I had eventually given up when I came to the UCAC. I was lucky enough to lose my virginity at all.”
“Well, you’re in my top three. Growing up, I’ve had similar…. It’s been a while but….” I laughed.
“I wish it was smaller…” He sighed, not pleased with his member.
“I say embrace it… One day you’ll find the guy who can take a kick from a third leg to the ass and not claw your eyes out trying to get away from that ass lashing.” I teased.
“Who?” He asked, knowing it’d be tough to find someone capable of taking it all. I know he was hinting at me.
“America is a big place… You have a much better chance here than back in Scandinavia.” I said.
“Maybe so. Just don’t be the only human in the world capable of taking this dick then leave me hanging when you have to be shipped across the country.” He laughed. I could hear the concern in his voice, a hint that the feelings he shared for me were just as strong as what I was feeling for him. The realization would forever be engraved in my mind.
We truly had an odd relationship, made odder by the fact that we were now doing much more extensive field training. We both knew that the time we had with each other was winding down but treated what we had like we’d be with each other forever. It was the same old same old, the two of us seldom having time to see each other, cherishing the briefest moments we could have together. Maybe it was a way of coping with how things were never concrete in this world. I just knew we’d go out with a bang.  
We had to fly two hundred to ones which were basically flying two hundred miles within one hundred minutes. That meant each one of us had to cruise along at a minimum of one hundred thirty miles an hour and we couldn’t glide at all… All and all, it was the equivalent of an effort felt jog considering how these cybernetic suits functioned. We did this extensive training for about a week before being sent on actual training missions.
With two weeks to go, we were shipped all about. Our first tactical training mission was in the ruins of Atlantic City. We were to lure out basilisk mechs that hunted down the locals. It would be my first time facing off with battle mechs. The beauty of this though was that we got the shittiest briefing ever. The drill sergeant simply said, “Go out to the Atlantic City, lure out the basilisk mechs, and destroy them.” It seemed simple enough but there were no details given at all about this Atlantic City
Everyone just sat in the airship like this would just boil over, all except Dallas. Being from the Southern Remnants, I know he had quite a bit of experience with battle mechs. I looked over to Malcolm, summoning him over. We sat next to Dallas, the boy doing his best to hide his distress.
“What can you tell us about mechs?” I asked.
“We have crab scorpions where I’m from. Basilisks are different...much faster and can fly short distances. They look like a cross between a chicken, a scorpion and serpent. They will spray you with caustic acid that will solidify you where you stand. We can’t simply just do the drop without a plan. Someone will die...” He said. Everyone around us continued socializing, a little too complacent with how relatively calm things had been lately.
“I can’t believe these fools are just sitting around like this shit isn’t real…” I said to myself, before voicing up, “You all do realize that despite this being a training mission...this is very, very real?”
Everyone looked at me, wondering how I had the nerve to speak. They looked at me as though I was some arrogant and pretentious jerk. Despite their rightful feelings, I had a goal to keep the remaining fifteen alive.
“Yeah, we know…” Someone said, before turning back to resume his conversation.
“So what’s the plan?” I asked.
“Every man for himself…” Chase said.
“That’s so damn stupid!” I quickly retaliated.
“That undermines the entire scope of the training ya know. You expect us to…” The young man who teamed with me in the gravity dome started.
“Look, why don’t you and your little boyfriends all work together while everyone else does what they think is best for them. It’s not as big of a deal as you want to make it out to be…” Chase sighed. I shook my head, having nothing to say.
“This is ridiculous. If we fail this mission we’re gonna get so destroyed by Sergeant McKinney…” Dallas said, very worried.
“Eeew you actually learned his name?” I asked.
“I try to learn as many people’s names as possible.” Dallas laughed.
“I don’t.” I laughed before getting serious, “So what does Swainson have?”
“It’s nothing spectacular. It’s a recon specialist.” Dallas said, shaking his head.
“Same with mine…” I sighed.
“Well while everyone behaves on their own accord, you two survey the entire city. Get detailed scans, make maps and understand how these basilisk mechs function. We can’t quite face off with a threat we haven’t faced before without knowing it.” Malcolm suggested.
“I know basilisk mechs…” The guy from the gravity lab said, sounding frustrated, “I’m with you guys...fuck the rest of these dumbasses…”
“What kind of Winger are you?” I asked.
“Cyberaeros, whatever you wanna call it!!” I hissed, growing agitated. Malcolm and Dallas laughed at me.
“I’m a Scout.” The young man said. I shrugged, unsure what he was talking about. Malcolm placed a hand on my thigh.
“A Forest Winger.” He laughed.
“Oh…” I sighed, “What kind… Sharp-Shinned, Cooper’s...can’t be a goshawk because you’re not too tall.”
“Cooper’s…” He laughed.
“Good...We’ll call you Coop. How ya doin’ Coop?” I asked, being really obnoxious, I know. Sometimes I couldn’t help it. I already was on a bad mood…
“I’m fine with that.” He said sitting down.
“So…?” I began.
“Oh, um...I’m from Atlantic City. I grew up having to avoid basilisk mechs and I know how they work. They’re very predatory machines but have a pack mentality. Alone, they’re not much of a threat but you bring them together and they are lethal! They are very flight capable, very agile in the air but can’t fly for too long. Not to mention, they are smart… They never fall for the same trick twice. Um… they do think they are creatures and not all get along. Some packs of basilisk mechs have territorial disputes with others… We could formulate a plan to lure them out to one area and bomb them.” Coop said turning to a very small young man, sitting alone with his arms folded, “Shinny!”
The young man came over, looking both unpleased and unsure. He stood before us with his arms folded.
“What?” He asked. I looked at him in disgust.
“Eeeew.” I said, wondering why he was pouting. He looked at me menacingly, the little guy probably being toughest of us all.
“We got a plan…” Coop said discretely, grabbing his friend so he could sit among us, “Um...we’re going to run decoy with the basilisk mechs… get them to meet all in one area then...boom!”
A smile came across Shinny’s face. This was a boy who loved danger, it was just plainly obvious. He was like me but only, smaller.
“OK…” He began, nodding slowly with the same smile, “I’m in.”  Coop turned to me.
“So what shall we call you oh gracious white one?” He asked.
“Elanid.” I said.
“And you oh powerful white one?” Coop continued, not able to stay serious.
“Snow.” Malcolm laughed.
“What about you rugged warrior?” Coop asked, pointing at Dallas. It was hard to contain my laughter.
“Swainson…” Dallas chuckled.
We looked at the clock, it being about forty seconds before it was counted down to zero. We wasted no time in marching up the stairs, entering our designated tuckaways. The whole time, other trainees looked at us feeling we were being excessive and pretentious. We may have been but again, these dudes failed to see the true motive behind every mission so there was no point in sparing expenses. The point of this mission was to unite us without having to tell us to unite. I seriously hoped no one would get hurt. With so many idiots in one area, I’m pretty sure someone would get hurt.  
We suited up, ejecting from the chutes into the air. We fell into close formation quick to soar on a rising wind current. The Atlantic City ruins were grand, the biggest ruins I ever laid eyes on on. The red hues of the rust combined with the green hues of the overgrown vegetation made for a glorious sight. The pristine blues flooded the buildings lining the coast. The metal frames of the buildings were covered in white ocean salt, eventually fading to pink then back to the rusty reddish color.
It was now time to get this started.
“Snow,” I began, “Armament ready?”
“Yes.” He responded.
“Swainson,” I said, “Sensor array ready?”
“Yes.” He said back.
“Scouts,” I started, “Stilts ready?”
“Yes.” The two boys said.
“Then let’s do this.” I said, “Swainson, you take the outer city I take the inner.”
I remembered from the Babylon book I read. Atlantic City became the biggest city in all the United States six hundred years ago. It was one of the vertical cities, along with Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo. When too many people crowded the city borders and they couldn’t expand out, they had nowhere to go but up. Some of the most impressive buildings were built in the wake of this expansion but now, the only thing left were ruins.
It was now time to put this advanced radar to the test. I flew well over the inner city, scanning in a wide arc as I quartered around. The return pings not only showed where the mechs were but allowed the IPUs in the Helm and pectoral plates to put together a cohesive three dimensional map of the city. The constant quartering was a tedious process but one that had to be done. It took about twenty minutes to finish an entire sweep.
Swainson and I reunited, linking our hardware wirelessly to combine the data. Snow and the Scouts flew near as well. I sent the data to them to review and it was daunting.
“There are a lot of fucking basilisks…” I sighed.
“I see… There’s no way we can take out that many.” Snow said.
“I wouldn’t count us out.” Shinny said. I looked at him intently.
“How fast are you on those stilts?” I asked. Shinny and Coop looked back and forth between each other.
“We’re pretty damn fast.” Shinny replied.
“And how much artillery do you have, Snow?” I asked.
“I have enough bombs on me to knock down one of those rust towers.” Snow said back.
“We can lure them to one area.” Shinny said.
“What area will that be? The city is flooded in this high tide.” Snow said, unsure of the plan.
“The cast balcony on the northern side if the city.” Shinny said, looking at the broad open space.
“Ok.” Snow said, comfortable with that decision.
The scouts were off, both boys heading in separate directions. They had a daunting task ahead of them. The sheer number of basilisk in this cities numbered in the very high hundreds, if not the thousands. They’d have to be quite some badasses to pull this off but I had faith in them. These two knew what it meant to be in a Cybernetic Wingsuit! You could tell by how they flew. When they flapped, it wasn’t the endless rowing to accomplish command but the flicker of wing beats accustomed to changing variables, wings that knew how to cope with struggle.
The first to land was Shinny. He perched on the beams of a tower, looking down at something. He and those powerful matchstick stilts crept along the beam, literally making him look like a giant mechanical raptor. He hopped down to a lower beam, vanishing out of sight. I ascended, wanting to see every moment of this.
He was stalking a pack of basilisk mechs, congregating on the elevated base of a ruin. They were oblivious to the threat above them. Suddenly, Shinny dropped down in the midst of them, stretching those legs out. With his talons, he grabbed a mech sending a jolt of electricity that arced through the buildings. The flash of light produced was blinding, able to be seen from miles away.
I knew every single basilisk mech in the city saw it. It was Shinny’s plan. He fled on foot, using those stilts to his advantage. He sped through the ruins with the nimbleness of an arboreal bird. Right on his tail were basilisks pouring in by the minute. Shinny kept running and running though, seeming without a path. It felt so frantic, as though escape was all he could think about. He headed deeper and deeper into the city… towards another pack of basilisks. It looked grim.
“What is he doing?” Snow asked.
“He’s trying to get as many on his tail as possible. It’s part of his plan.” I reassured, watching with my stomach in knots.
Shinny continued to run and leap nimbly through the city. He lept into a suspended building foundation, uprooted by the countless hurricanes that pounded this place. It was teeming with basilisk mechs. With those powerful talons, he attacked one, the attack being shielded behind arcs of light.
When the light died down, Shinny was being pursued by countless amounts of basilisk mechs. He was the real deal…
“How you holdin’ up Coop?” Shinny asked, panting.
“Great!” Coop said, he too having countless amount of basilisks on his tail.
“Ok, lets bring em’ on home!” Shinny said.
“Alright!” Coop responded, running through the ruins with the same agility as Shinny. The two scouts were based on the leggy accipiters, true hawks. These hawks were known to be capable sprinters amongst raptors, chasing down prey on foot if they had to. The UCAC spared no details, designing the scout suits to do virtually the same thing. Coop and Shinny utilized this to the finest of expertise.
“We got to time this right!” Coop said.
“I got your location! I’m heading east and you’re heading north. We’ll converge just as planned!” Shinny said.
“You ready up there Snow?” Coop asked.
“I’ve been circling over this drop zone waiting for you guys…” Snow responded.
Suddenly an explosion from behind Coop caught him by surprise. It was several Cybernetic Wingers shooting down the pursuing basilisks.
“WOOOOOO easy pickings!” One said.
“No, what the fuck are you’re doing! You’re gonna make them,” Coop growled, watching as the chasing basilisks began to break away, “Scatter.”
The plan was foiled. More and more Wingsuit pilots flew in, shooting quills at the basilisks. It was infuriating to watch.
“This is too easy!” Another pilot said.  As more and more Wingsuit pilots began to destroy more and more basilisks, the machines began to take extreme evasive actions. They spread their wings, dispersing into the air. The interceptors wasted no time in picking off as many as they could, flying on pompous wings, swift and low.
“You idiots!” Coop said.
“You were the one being chased by a thousand of them!” A pilot said.
“These idiots have fucked up everything… Snow, don’t bomb these, I’m bringing them to Coop!” Shinny said, now running along the docks.
“Ok.” Snow responded.
Suddenly the scorpion like tail of a basilisk mech whipped a pilot out of the sky. Blood curdling screams rang in everyone’s ears peice as the young man was dragged along the boardwalk, swarmed by dozens of basilisks.
“You idiot!” Coop said, finally taking wing. He came to the young man’s rescue, diving in. He collided with several basilisks, frying their circuits in blinding arcs of electricity.
“AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Someone else screamed. Coop scanned the horizon, searching for who screamed.
“I got you…” I said diving in to free the young man. A basilisk had wrapped it’s tail around his neck when he flew by, attempting to suffocate him. However, his dense armor prevented this from happening. It was crazy how these machines knew were alive.
I charged up my pulse beam, frying the mech. The young wingsuit pilot was freed, quick to take to the air again. Coop, at this point was beyond frustrated.
“I was leading them to a converging point so we could bomb them without anyone being in any real DANGER!!!!” He said, full of fire, helping the young man up on the docks, “And you all just had to fuck that up!”
“Get in the air now!” Shinny said. Coop looked back, seeing a surge of Basilisks coming down the docks.
“Oh shit, dude,” Coop said, pushing the fallen pilot, “Get airborne, NOW!” The two took off just as the basilisk mechs converged into one mass on the docks.
“Everyone clear out now!” Snow advised. He came in on a screeching dive, releasing his entire payload on the docks. All the basilisk mechs caught in the midst were obliterated by the flash fission bombs. Only a handful of dozens of basilisk mechs remained after the assault. Somehow this mess still managed to be a success. I truly didn’t know how we pulled this out of our unified ass. It was surreal.
“Is everyone ok?” I asked. There was a hesitation before a response was given.
“Yeah…” Someone finally said back, “Is it over?”
“It’s over…” I sighed.
We flew back to the ship, happy to take these suits off for the day. Upon entering it, we were horrified to see the drill sergeant waiting on us. He did not looked pleased. He said nothing, watching as we flew into the airship, walking up the stairs into the tuckaways. We unsuited and walked back down to the waiting bay. We sat, no one wanting to look at the drill sergeant.
“I think you all should count yourselves lucky you have pilots like Elanid, the Scouts, Snow and Swainson with you all. These seem to be the only five out of the entire fifteen of you who can actually make it as leaders...as tacticians.” He sighed. It was then we realized he knew everything. This was all a test to see how well we played with others. As a whole, we failed.
“I’m surprised,” The drill sergeant said, beginning his infamous pacing, “No one died! I bet you think just because you have these suits now, that your life is guaranteed at this stage in your training. You may have one more week but that last week will rule out the weak. So I’m telling you all now, it won’t be easy… The only way this mission was easy was because someone formed a plan. May I ask who formulated this plant?”
No one budged, everyone sitting as still as a statue. Suddenly, Coop pointed at me. Then, Swainson and then Snow. Shinny continued to sit still, his eyes wondering what all this meant.
“It’s not like I didn’t already know…” The drill sergeant chuckled, “You seem to always be one step ahead. You think you’ll be a step ahead on your last training exercise?”
“I don’t know. I don’t really view it as being a step ahead. I view it as doing what I need to do. After you’ve lost so much, you learn how not to lose it and this is what I call NOT losing it.” I responded.
“Well I would suggest to you all that you take this as seriously as Mr. Elanid. He comes from a place where things aren’t as cut out as they are over here. He has had to pave the way for himself and for others and has lost far greater than any of you all can imagine. He knows how perilous this world is and doesn’t take it for granted, as if tomorrow is guaranteed. I could lecture you all on how you should take this serious, that you could all die. I’ll just leave it at we’ll see on this final exercise. We’ll see who can truly be a leader and who can’t.” The drill sergeant said, disappearing up the stairs.
The loading bay fell silent. Eyes of frustration and rage constantly scaled me up and down. It was beyond a doubt one of the most intense moments of my life. Sitting amongst people who have worked hard to get to this point, only to have their credibility yanked from right underneath them. However, I didn’t rob them of it. It made me realize I wasn’t the only headstrong and arrogant person here. Everyone had a desire to be the top of the class but they didn’t do what was required, the simplest task of it all...to sit and observe. They lacked an eagerness to learn, to gain information. That alone could make or break them.
Chase got to his feet, heading towards my direction. His fists were curled, face bloodshot red, scowling. I didn’t know what this idiot was going to do. As he came closer, I could see Malcolm easing up out his seat, ready to pummel the idiot if he dare made the wrong move.
“How do you do it?” The boy asked.
“Do what?” I said back.
“How do you end up on top of everything! Ever mission we’ve had so far, you’re the one who finishes first! HOW!” Chase demanded.
“I’m always sitting and watching, wired to spot anything out of the ordinary. I just,” I said, shrugging, “I don’t know, I just pay attention to everything around me...the slightest details.” Chase seemed to calm down, but he obviously was still frustrated.
“So you just… watch things?” He asked.
“Yeah, I guess. I um… I try not to think anything will go one way, either. It keeps me on my toes. Not to mention, I am a big fan of research, so before hand, I try to learn as much about what I’ll be dealing with as possible. I say the biggest mistake one could make is to limit themselves on what they could possibly learn. Never think anything will blow over smoothly or that you’ve learned all of what you possibly can.” I smiled, not wanting to come across as condescending as I did before.
“That’s not the important question.” Someone else said, coming over to both me and Malcolm, “How long have you two been together and how the fuck did you both manage to make it into retraining camp...like… really.”
Malcolm and I looked at each other, blushing.
“We’re not really together,” I said shamefully, “It’s a long story about how we know each other but the gist of the story is that we both left a place that had us down for the count. This is pure heaven compared to where we came from.”
“Wow… So you two are not together?” The dude asked, confused.
“I mean, we live each day like it’s our last...like tomorrow won’t come. After this, we’ll be splitting ways and will never see each other again,” Malcolm smiled, “You just don’t meet the person of your dreams and not pounce on the opportunity to spend all the time with them you can.”
“That’s so sad! You two can’t be together so you spend all the time ya’ll can together.” The dude, said.
“This is so strange…” Malcolm said, looking at all the guys, “Back home, we could have never had a conversation like this with our comrades. They were too homophobic and too backwoods…”
“Oh no, it’s instilled in us at basics to embrace our brethren no matter what race, gender, sexuality, religion...etcetera. We never know who we may need so…” He said back.
“Wait, gender? Are there girl Wingsuit pilots here?” I asked, astounded.
“Yeah, some total badasses too! But they’re kind of stuck up… They don’t deal with us men.” Someone on the far side of the cargo bay chimed in.
“I remember when I tried to ask this girl named Pamela out…” Dallas said laughing, “She shot me down so hard.”
“Welp, I have a girl. Candace, the Swallow-Tail.” Chase said. I smiled at him.
“I wish you and Candace the best of luck.” I said.
“Same with you two!” Chance said back, returning to his seat, “Oh and sorry for kicking you in the head a few weeks ago… I didn’t mean it.”
“Eh, sorry about punching you out right after. I mean, I meant it but… I kinda didn’t mean it but I did… nah mean?” I asked. Chase laughed, our conversation drawing to an end.  
Dallas looked at both Malcolm and I. I could tell he had a lot on his mind.
“My parents sent my brother away because my grandparents wanted him killed for being gay. His lover wasn’t so lucky and was beheaded for his ‘sins’... Everyone in that town is fucking brainwashed… Count yourself lucky Denver...your parents got you out of the hell while they could…” Dallas said.
“What?” Malcolm asked.
“Ok,” I began, “Check this out. Dallas’s mom, is my mom’s sister! That makes us… first cousins.”
“Wait, what?” Malcolm asked, laughing.
“My mother was from the Brunswick Confederacy, one of the many daughters of the founding family. His mother is another daughter of the same family…” I smiled.
“Wait, so on your maternal side, you have an entire nation you belong to?” Malcolm asked.
“So what about on your dad’s side?”
“I don’t know. He never talked about his past much, always about the future… my future.” I said.
“Damn…” Malcolm said, sounding a bit disappointed. He probably wanted to know more about him.
“Since my father was the second son born, he can’t get the seat when my granddad dies. My eldest uncle will and he’s a very corrupt man…” Dallas sighed.
“God, I bet you’re glad you left.” I said.
“I am so glad I left! My parents were angry as hell though… well they fronted like they were. They eventually told me to get the fuck out of the city and make something better with my life.” Dallas continued.
“DENVER!” The drill sergeant shouted from the top of the stairwell. Unsure what this was about, I got to me feet, heading up the stairs. He lead me into the conference room. General Aquil was on the live feeds, pleased to see me. Standing behind him was Captain Wallace, his face harboring no feelings.
“How’re things?” General Aquil asked.
“What happened to Merlin?” I asked.
“Since you wanted to go so badly, I changed your wingsuit into something more...updated…” Captain Wallace said, still holding on to the feelings of resenting my decision to come across the pond. I was upset, not able to come to words.
“Well it’s winding down. You have one more tactical training exercise to do before you graduate. We’re both flying over to see you graduate… Afterwards, we’ll have important business to handle.” General Aquil said.
“How are Marcell and Milan?” I asked.
“They are coping. Things have changed a lot in the past three months. We’ll catch up when I arrive in the coming weeks.” Genera Aquil responded. It was such a vague answer, further fueling my upset.
“...Alright…” I sighed, truly disappointed. The video feed ended. The drill instructor looked at me.
“A lot of strings have been pulled for you. They have things running like a shanty operation over here and it’s all because of you. In my briefings, all I hear is, Denver, Denver, Denver, Denver,” The drill instructor said, “And I see why! You’re one rare Cyberaeros pilot. No one even comes close…”
“Thank you.” I said, before leaving.
“Don’t thank me.” He responded.


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