Lucas sat across from his instructor Fartan, his weight supported by a utilitarian stool generated from the nano tech that seemed to dominate the Galactic Federations space station. Fartan on the other hand, rested on a low perch generated from the same nano. Not even Lucas’s wild imagination can drum up a chair that was suitable for Fartan. Terran birds are something he often studied, but until he started sharing time with the Avian, he never gave much thought to what kind of chair was suitable for a bird.
Lucas surmised that the perch was for comfort and to bring Fartan eye level with Lucas. At fourteen, Lucas was just over five feet tall. The Avian, when standing at full height looked him about mid chest. Aside from being much larger, Lucas marveled over the Avain’s striking resemblance to the Red Tail Hawks that pervaded the Minnesota landscape.
He often thought birds, with their flight skills, and nest building abilities have the tools for sentience. However, on Earth, they missed the evolutionary boat. A boat they most certainly caught on Fartan’s home planet. According to the little bit of information Lucas could gleam from Fartan, his species came in all varieties of sizes, colors, and shapes. Not to dissimilar to humans, or Terran based birds. And yes, all birds on his planet are sentient. The planet name, Lucas cannot pronounce, and there is no human translation, according to Fartan anyway.
“You are still distracted,” Fartan was saying, pointing to Lucas’s score on a data pad with the longer of the three forward facing claws of his right foot.
Again, something Lucas could not help but marvel at, how dexterous they are using one foot and their beaks to manipulate things. Unlike the Hawk creature in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, there was nothing humanoid about this being. Fartan was all bird. Super intelligent, and very adept, despite wings designed exclusively for flight.
“I am no longer flying into other objects,” Lucas says after a moment.
“No, but your maneuvers are sloppy, your response slow. I can only tolerate this level of performance for so long. You are a better pilot than these scores show. If you were a crap pilot before, I would be more patient, but your better than this.”
Lucas no longer had any difficulty understanding the lisping clip of his instructor’s speech. The screechy tone still grated on his nerves a bit, but the message was clear. He was ten days into a thirty-day grounding, and every day that passed was one more day that Sarah did not see him. One more day without any explanation for his disappearance.
“I am finding more ways to clear my head before climbing into the cockpit,” Lucas finally replies.
“How about the prospect of death,” Fartan responds with, then activates video a replay on the datapad. “Here, here, and here,” he says as he points to moments in the replay of his latest combat maneuvers exercise, “are all places where a Dark Empire ship will atomize you.” Fartan stares at him with those sharp unforgiving eyes set back under feathered ridges. “The Hoard does not care if you are love sick. You will not get a second chance with one of their fighters.”
“Understood Fartan,” is all Lucas can say knowing he needs figure out how to get his heart out of his head.
“A warrior must be in the present, his head and heart both engaged in the battle. The heart for passion, a passion for victory. The head to show the way to victory. One without the other is defeat…is death.” Fartan said, looked deeply into Lucas’s eyes, tucked his datapad under a wing, and walked from the debriefing room.
Lucas sat there a long time, Fartan’s words echoing in his mind. As he replayed those parting words over and over in his head, he felt thinks click into place. He felt as though everything from the moment of his abduction until now was coming into line. All his reading life, he wanted to be the warriors, the heroes in his books, but never knew if he has what it takes.
Now, he felt he knew what it was, and with Fartan’s guidance, he was finding it within himself.
* * * *
Lucas could not get over how nervous he was. Just this morning his mom asked the question that brightened his whole day, “How long has it been?”
“How long has what been?” He responded, truly unsure what his mom was asking.
“Since you got yourself grounded.”
Lucas hesitated for a moment and assumed a thoughtful pose before responding, “about a month if my math is right.”
“Well, based on your report cards, there is no guarantee of that,” she retorted, “but I think your right. You’re grounding ends today, call me after you get home from school before you go anywhere.”
Lucas was both elated, and a bit apprehensive, because calling her was more than a check-in to make sure he came straight home after school. It was an opportunity of her to assign a ton of chores before he could do anything. Sometimes those chores can burn up all the available time between when he gets home from school, and his mom home from work.
“Thanks mom, I will call you as soon as I walk in the door,” Lucas replies, looking at the phone hanging on the kitchen wall, just above the corner dining nook. The cord a tangled mess. Something he spent to many grounded afternoons trying to sort out, but it was a lost cause.
Now, after a day out in the cold of space, phone call made to his mom, and to his surprise, no chores, Lucas was soaking in the early summer sun as he walked to Sarah’s house. He was not nervous about showing up on her doorstep unannounced. Prior to his grounding, he did it all the time. What he was nervous about was how things may have changed in the last month.
Was she still with Giovanni? Did she finally send the suburban douche bag packing? His biggest fear is that she did kick Giovanni to the curb, but is now spending those rare afternoons that her parents let her “hangout” with some other douche bag, maybe one more local.
“If that is true, I will hate my mom forever,” Lucas mumbled to himself knowing that it was probably already too late for that.
Though the walk to Sarah’s house was only six blocks or so, it was long enough for Lucas’s overactive imagination to send him into a sea of doubt. Therefore, to pass the time, Lucas toyed with the clever way the Gaffed dealt with Sim interaction with his classmates.
Prior to his getting grounded, it was a bit more challenging. If a fellow classmate asked his sim something about after school or weekend plans, a chime issued from the datapad he carried while on the Galactic Federation space station. The chime told Lucas, and his classmates that they need to monitor the interaction. Visual and audio feeds from the Sim displayed on the datapad. If the person talking to the sim asked a question, the datapad presented a yes/no choice, or a list of options for open ended questions.
This type of interaction may be why his classmates thought he was acting kind of weird shortly after his abduction. Initially this type interaction was odd for him, and based on conversation with his classmates, they found it difficult as well. But as the weeks went by, it became easier, and now almost seamless.
However, during his time in solitary, his sim just simply answered, “No, I can’t, I am grounded,” to any questions about after school plans. Today was the first-time Lucas had to deal with this scenario in several weeks. Even though he learned just this morning that he was ungrounded, his Sim knew, and an alert came in about a QA session with his buddy from the other side of the neighborhood, Eric Alken.
Because Lucas hoped his mom would not saddle him with a ton of chores, he lied to Eric, via the Sim about being off grounded. He was not going to spend his first day off grounded doing something that will get him grounded again. Eric wanted him to join the usual group down by the river to have a bike jumping contest. Nothing alerted his parents to those kinds of shenanigans than coming home with road rash and covered in black dirt.
Nope, Sarah was just a couple of blocks outside of his allowed territory, and the safer bet for continued freedom. Besides, she was much prettier than Eric, and hopefully offer him a warm reception after not seeing him for the last twenty-eight days.
Yes, at one point today, he checked a calendar, and his mom miscalculated. That is one for team Lucas, Lucas thought as he stood at the entrance of the alley leading to Sarah’s house.
He paused there, looking down the valley of garages and telephone poles. Sarah’s house was about two thirds of the way down from this end of the alley. Her house, a white two story. White was Sarah’s color. It was the one color he associated with her. Not only was her parents’ house white, but it was the color Sarah seemed to wear more often than not. As Lucas came to know her, one of the qualities that attracted him beyond her stunning beauty was her innocence.
“Purity,” Lucas said aloud as he started down the alleyway.
Sarah is the epitome of white, Lucas decided as the gap between himself, and the white garage that was her house drew closer. His chest tightened and he could feel his pulse in his ears. Part of him almost hoped she was not home, then he would not have to explain himself.
You are a coward, Lucas thought, chastising himself. Willing to go up against the Hoard, but not face the one person you are most fighting for.
Lucas reached Sarah’s garage and stopped. The garage shielding him from view of the house. He looked towards the house, as though he could see through the garage, and contemplated his next action. Quickly he looked around to see if anyone was paying him any heed, then looked down at his tennis shoes.
“Just go,” he said aloud, took a couple step towards the front of the garage, and then stopped. Again, he looked towards the house, then turned around. “Maybe tomorrow,” Lucas mumbled as he took a couple of steps the way he came. Once again, he stopped, then looked around to make doubly sure no one was watching him pace about like a fool.
Lucas took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He repeated this two more times, bunched his hands into fists, and willed himself to walk the half a dozen steps to the front of the garage. He turned at the driveway, and walked across it to the sidewalk that angled across the yard toward the side of the house.
He realized as he walked up the sidewalk, part of his consternation with seeing Sarah was how uneasy it was stopping by her house in the first place. Her dad was this stern quiet figure that never said more than a couple of words. Her older brother worked nights, so there was always a need for quiet when he could stick around and chat. Sarah’s mom on the other hand was much more talkative, and it was her who often passed on the message that he needed to be more mindful of Sarah’s older brother’s peace. Sarah’s mother was always polite, but stern.
It was a crap shoot whether he was going to have direct access to Sarah, or if he was going to have to go through one of the other family members. The direct route was always much less stressful. Yet, this time he almost wished her brother was standing in the driveway working on his car and running interference.
Now that he stood at her back door, he peered up into the kitchen through the pain of glass that comprised the upper half of the door. Everything looked quiet, as it usually did. Lucas raised his right hand, made a loose fist, and aborted his first attempt at knocking on the door.
No one has seen me, I can just walk away and do this anther day. Maybe bring some friends so I don’t feel so alone.
His shoulders slumped as he resigned himself to the idea that it was now or never. Again, he raised his right knuckles to the door and knocked gently. Seconds passed without any signs of movement inside the house. Lucas decided to give it a couple more seconds before turning and leaving. Just as he was about to exhale, and turn a very familiar figure appeared in the kitchen.
The sight of Sarah took away what little breath Lucas had left. At first, she proffered him her usual ready smile, then her features set into a stern expression that caused her eyebrows to furrow slightly.
I am cooked, Lucas immediately thought.
She stood there for what seemed to Lucas an eternity before she crossed the kitchen and down the short flight of steps to the landing that joined the back door with the stairs going into the basement. Without taking her eyes off him, Sarah grasped the door knob, gave it a twist, and pulled the door open.
She opened it just enough to slip her slender frame though it and join him out on the sidewalk.
“Well howdy stranger,” Sarah said with no humor in her eyes.