Lucas groaned under the pressure of his spine compressing, his guts squeezing down, blood rapidly draining from his skull as ejection rockets propel him into blackness. Then nothing, rockets wink out as the last of the fuel is spent; giving way to silence, his pain ebbs, and zero-g takes hold.
He was alone in the vastness of space.
“Ground school?” Lucas scoffs, his voice resonating off the plastic surfaces in his helmet.
He quickly turns his head and the laws of physics reminded him that for every action, there is an equal and opposite. Now, not only is he sailing along unimpeded in the direction the ejection rockets fired him, but also rotating slowly along his vertical axis, stars slowly rolling past his vision as he rotates.
Lucas considers trying to correct the rotation, but decides against it. The rotation is slow enough as not to generate any disorientation. After another moments thought, he decides it beats looking at the same field of stars. He was going to be out here a long time. He checks an indicator just left of his field of vision to ensure that his beacon was pinging out his location. Satisfied, he carefully arranges his arms across his chest, and lets his mind wonder.
Today’s exercise was a test, a test to determine two things. First, if he retained anything he learned in class about post ejection survival, and second, whether or not he would lose his mind after spending countless hours drifting aimlessly through the vacuum of space. The first part was easy; he pretty much completed all the steps that followed a violent shot into space.
“Oops,” he commented as he checked his oxygen, and then verified the cloaking system is active.
It was all about surviving to fight another day. The cloaking system did its best to emulate the field of stars opposite of the side an observer was looking at. It was not very affective if there were large planetary bodies in the area, but a field of stars is easy to fake.
For observation sake, Lucas ran down the checklist, “Pressure, oxygen, beacon, and cloak. Keep limbs stable, and avoid tumbling.”
Throwing up in your suit was not fatal, but it was sure a nasty way to spend the next eight to ten hours. Lucas was sure, for him, one puking episode would instantly lead to another. If the contents of his stomach did not run out, he would eventually drown in his own vomit. As he often did when the puking subject arose, he wondered how the janitors in his school cleaned that nasty shit up almost daily without losing their own lunch.
“What if it was lunch time,” he said aloud as he tossed the thought around in his head for a bit, and then dismissed the subject all together.
With the technical stuff behind him, the second part of the test will go on for hours. The Galactic Confederacy, Gaff, as his classmates started to call it, will let him drift aimlessly through space for an undetermined time, all the while monitoring his vitals. If it appears as though he will not suffer any psychological issues, they will come out and collect him. His instructors offered no hint as to how long the test can last. Lucas was settling in for the long haul, confident he will remain a cool cucumber. Especially since his slow rotation was not upsetting his stomach, and so far, he did everything right.
“They could have given us something to read,” he lamented, “or maybe a video game.” He finished with as he looked at the myriad of displays reflecting back at him from strategically located HUDs.
Already boredom was settling in. Using just his eyes, he scanned the endless field of stars, but nothing jumped out at him. The Gaff must have found the perfect spot in space to drive a cadet nuts. He was not a student of the constellations, and would not recognize Leo if it swatted him out of space, but he also did not see anything he was familiar with, no Big Dipper, no Little Dipper, no North Star…just stars. Some in clumps so tight they looked like clouds of light, while other fields shown vast areas of black betwixt pinpoints of light, but none of it offered something to occupy one’s mind.
Lucas found his attention flicking to the time display off his left peripheral. After several minutes of that, even the seconds seemed to hang for an eternity between increments.
“Okay Lucas, enough of that,” he chided himself.
There really is not much difference between this, and sitting in the passenger seat of his grandpa’s old GMC cabover. Instead of endless fields of wheat and corn as the old truck trundled along highway 2 in North Dakota, there is an endless field of stars. Instead of focusing on what was not, Lucas used that quality time with his grandfather, weary of his endless questions, to explore his own thoughts. Never mind that the inside of his grandpa’s truck was not quite as hostile of an environment that his current situation offered.
Current situation…yes…careful what you ask for Lucas.
Deep down, this whole beat the Dark Empire training thing was the thrill of a lifetime. Yet, a deep current of fear ran under everything he did now. Whether he was training, delivering papers, or playing baseball with his classmates on the weekends, there is fear, at times bordering on terror when his mind dredged up images from the Dark Empire classes.
Not a single instructor or Galactic Federation personal has mentioned whether this strategy of training locals to fight off the Hoard was successful in the past. And it appeared, neither he nor his classmates had the nerve to ask. Three hundred cycles have passed since the Dark Empire appeared along the edge of the galaxy, so maybe technology and strategies evolved enough to keep them at bay. Only time will tell, Lucas decided.
What has changed is Lucas’s view on life. No longer was he going through the motions, instead, every moment mattered. Everything he did was in hopes that he would survive his time in the defense of Earth and grow old.
Maybe grow old with Sarah, the thought flashed into his mind, almost unexpectedly.
Sarah, yes, maybe.
Hopes of a life with Sarah were still just that…hopes. She walked into his life in an arranged meeting. A meeting setup by his friend Chris Halls. Sarah is the best friend of Chris’s girlfriend at the time. Chris went through so many; it was hard to keep track of which one is which. Which may explain why her name slips him now. He dwelled on the lost name for a moment more, before refocusing his thoughts on Sarah.
What Lucas does remember is that when the two girls walked through the door, he hoped like hell that the beautiful brunette was his Sarah. When Chris introduced the strawberry blonde as his girlfriend and the brunette as Sarah, Lucas was ecstatic. Sarah was available, and there to meet him!
That was over a year ago, and still Sarah was not his. Yes, they met that day, and within two hours of meeting her, Lucas’s mother grounded him. His crime…not coming straight home after school, his sentence…thirty days. It would be months before he saw her again. Then, only in passing. Now, he was actively courting her. Running up to her when seeing her in the streets, and showing a genuine interest in what her day holds. Occasionally stopping by her house, and hoping she has a few minutes for small talk.
Too bad she is going out with that douche Giovanni! The prick was not even a Minneapolis dude. He lived in some snooty suburb. They met at the roller rink and that is the only place she can spend time with him.
Often, when Lucas would stop by her house, she would confide in him about the struggles of maintaining a relationship with someone whom lived so far away.
“Lucas, we don’t even go to the same school, and I see you more often.” She once said to him, giving his hopes new life.
It was true, the closing of Nokomis Junior High school prevented him and Sarah from becoming classmates. She was bussed to Folwell, whilst he, and now his sim, rode a bus in the opposite direction to Sanford. If not for Chris, he may never have met Sarah.
“If I survive this, maybe one day I will thank him.” Lucas said aloud noting the still present echo of his voice off the helmets faceplate.
Now Giovanni on the other hand, he deserves something else. Lucas met him once at Roller Gardens, the roller rink of choice for kids in his part of Minneapolis. Giovanni was one of those kids who wore the most fashionable clothes, and his hair was always perfect, comb ready, usually blue, sticking out his back pocket. His black hair, so stiff with hairspray, Lucas, and his friends were certain it could stop a bullet. He was also certain that the most painful beating Giovanni could receive was to pour a bucket of water over his head.
Unfortunately, Sarah likes him, and Lucas, always the nice guy was not going to jeopardize a future with Sarah by beating up her current boyfriend. Still, with the physical training he is receiving, he was confident it would take little effort to show Giovanni who the real man was. Lucas was easily a half a head taller than Giovanni, ten to fifteen pounds heavier and getting thicker across the chest and shoulders.
“It worked for other men in the history of courtship, show a woman who the dominant male is.”
Even though Lucas was developing a warrior’s heart, when it came to Sarah, he was taking no chances. His nice guy approach will eventually prevail, and she will be his.
“I hope,” Lucas said, wondering if he was sealing his fate as just friends.
There were other girls pursuing him, so why is he so stuck on this one. Lucas was more of a blonde guy, and Tammy, the pretty blonde he shares a few classes with was showing interest. In fact, she was actively pursuing him, and admittedly, Lucas was allowing himself to be pursued. It was flattering, but alas, his heart steadfastly belongs to Sarah.
“I suppose I am not being fair to Tammy.”
He thinks about that for a few moments, then decides, she will probably move onto someone else, or acquiesce to Mike White’s advances. Either way, his nice guy reputation will prevail.
“Not sure I like that reputation.” Lucas says to the field of stars that slowly drift past his faceplate.
His mind is quiet for a few moments as he contemplates that last statement. His eyes glaze off to the very edges of the galaxy, and for the briefest of moments, his mind is quiet. Then it snaps back into its million threads of thought routine.
“God this is boring,” he says as he looks at the time displayed in his left periphery. “Great, twenty minutes have gone by.”
Tired of his slow rotation, he twitches his right arm in an effort to stop it. After a few seconds, he sees that he was too successful and is now rotating the other direction, but at a much slower rate. With an even gentler twitch in the opposite direction, he attempts arrest all spin. His breath held, he holds his head still watching the field of stars in front of him. It is almost imperceptible, but he is still rotating along his vertical axis. Yet, he knows any further attempts to correct it further will likely exacerbate the current spin, or send him back the other way.
A part of him wants to test his zero gravity skills further. Try some tumbles, somersaults, and maybe something even more elaborate, but the thought of spinning uncontrolled for hour’s tampers the impulse. Images of vomit splashing his faceplate flash into his mind, tempering the impulse further. If his instructor was clear about anything before today’s exercise, it was not to expect a quick pick up. It can be just another hour before the Gaff comes and gets him, or several more hours.
“Wish I had some damn music. A Bone Fone, or a Walkman would be great out here.”
“Hell,” he finished with, “why didn’t the Galactic Federation just put speakers in this damn helmet.”
Why didn’t they?
All this technology, you would think they would provide some type of entertainment. Something to keep your mind occupied. Was that not what this exercise was all about, seeing if you will lose your mind as you drift aimlessly through space.
How far have I traveled? Lucas wondered as his last thought reminded him that he started this test strapped to an ejections seat, and rocketed into space. As best he can figure, he is traveling hundreds of miles an hour, without anything to slow him down. For the briefest of moments, terror gripped him as he considered the thought of the Federation not being able to locate him.
“Not their first rodeo,” Lucas said to calm his nerves.
Lucas forced his thoughts to something more calming…Sarah. Within minutes, his heart rate slowed, his breathing calmed, and to his surprise, he felt his mind shutting down. He might actually be able to sleep. He chuckled quietly at the thought, and then a little louder as the thread continued to the idea of him waking up to the high intensity work lights of a dust off shuttle as spacesuit clad arms grapple for him.
“Beats getting woke up by your mother calling from the top of the stairs.” Lucas mumbled as he succumbs to dreams of a peaceful life with Sarah.