Into Thin Air: the Fliers Gather

As we’ve seen, sorta, it’s 1 May at the school, which means it’s Beltane, which means it’s time to celebrate summer coming.  It also means the coming of a normal event that’s been going on for, as of this school year, eighty years.

Time for the Mile High Flight.

Kerry gets into a little detail on that in the scene, but pretty much it’s get on your broom and fly a mile into the air.  And before you say, “Well, that doesn’t seem that difficult,” keep in mind you’re riding upon a piece of carbon-carbon fiber that’s little more than a bike frame without the wheels, and the only thing keeping you in the air is your willpower to want to fly.  So when you get up to a mile in the air, you look down and there’s nothing but a mile of emptiness below your dangling feet, just waiting to suck you down to that ground oh, so far away . . .

No, there’s almost no pressure there at all.

It’s another of those school traditions, and one of those designed to push the students to the edge and beyond.  And we’ve seen just how much they do that here–to the point where they throw you into combat with bad guys and monsters.  So getting a bunch of kids on brooms and taking them a mile into the sky isn’t that big of a deal.

I needed to do a little research on this first, however, before writing, because I knew Vicky would do metric conversions–and have a few witting comments about that–and I wanted to know who was flying and what the weather was like.  I mean, you know, it’s necessary to have these things down . . .

Writing here

But I have my list as you can see.  I’m hardly ever unprepared.

So what is running through young Kerry’s might right this morning.  Fortunately, we can look in.

 

All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, 2015 by Cassidy Frazee)

Kerry stood in Selena’s Meadow, about twenty meters from the Flight School. To his left the bonfires he’d help ignite were burning; to his right the forest was frosted with haze; directly before him the meadow was damp from the light rain that had started about one and didn’t stop until about an hour ago. Even now, there was a light mist in the air that limited visibility to about three or four hundred meters.

He zipped his flight jacket up half way at he looked up into the slate-gray overcast sky and wondered why the weather couldn’t be better for flying today.

One of the events of Beltane was the Mile High Flight, where A Levels who decided they wanted to try their skill and nerve assembled outside the Flight School, mounted their brooms, and flew upwards into the sky until they were five thousand, two hundred and eighty feet above base-line ground level, and then performed five minutes of maneuvers at altitude: this was the Mile High Flight. And anyone who completed the flight successfully was enshrined in the Mile High Club, and would join a very small group of A Levels that had been performing this flight off and on since 1932.

 

Stuff that was already stated.  One thing that does get mentioned a few times is that this is a volunteer flight:  no one can make you do it.  Which is why there are only seven fliers.  Why so few?  Because–

 

There were only seven of the thirty-two A Levels who’d started the year participating in the Mile High Flight—though the pool was much smaller than that. Two students had washed out before Yule and six hadn’t yet moved off the Covington Trainers. Another nine had been unable to complete the test where the class had three successive classes to clear a five hundred meter ceiling, and made themselves ineligible to even ask to join the fight.

That left fifteen students who were eligible to volunteer and eight did. Vicky mentioned during the pilot’s briefing after dinner last night that that having half the eligible members of an A Level group decided to sign up for the flight was slightly more than the one-third who usually applied. She also mentioned that it was a good sign and that maybe, after three years, Vicky could take one or more students to the top.

 

After a year there are a couple of students who couldn’t fly at all, and a few who never advanced to the bigger brooms–which means most people are probably flying Witchy Poos or better.  And there’s some who couldn’t handle going up five hundred meters–just a bit higher than Kerry did that first day following Vicky when he checked out on the broom he’s flying.  And he is flying that again . . .

 

He looked down at the broom at his side. It wasn’t the one Annie bought for his birthday: this was one from the cabinets. Vicky told him it was the original Espinoza he checked out on after the first week of school and the one he’d been flying since that day—which included his wreck with Emma and the Day of the Dead attack. He ran his hand over the nose and thought about everything that had happened to him on this broom, and what was going to come next. I hope the weather isn’t that bad; I hope you’re gonna help me get to the top

“Hey, Kerry.”

 

How would you feel about flying “The Death Broom” a mile into the air?  He killed someone with this broom and fought off a monster–and almost died a few times on it.  But, hey:  time to fly, right?  One could say after all that, he’s sure to get this into the air with little problem.  Or you might say, “It’s bad juju, you should stay home.”

Kerry’s going.  Along with someone else . . .

 

He smiled. How’d I know she’d be the first out of the locker room? He turned, keeping the smile on. “Hey, Emma.”

The girl did the same thing he did when he first came out: looked around before peering into the sky. “Pretty miserably day.”

“Yeah, well—” Kerry shrugged. “Could be a lot worse. Could be blowing real hard.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” Emma looked as if she wanted to talk, but didn’t know what to say.

 

How’d he know?  Because he probably figured she’s get out on the flight line and

 

Kerry had felt the dynamic between them change since returning from Yule holiday. As Annie had pointed out when they were planing for the Kansas City operation, Emma seemed a lot more distant from him than she had before. He wasn’t sure if “distant” was the proper word: “cautious” seemed more true. She still teamed up with him during class—when Annie wasn’t his assigned wingmate, naturally—and she was pleasant when they chatted. But she was always careful speaking when she was around Annie, as if she were worried she might say something wrong.

He figured it all stemmed from the day they were leaving, and what she did—or more, what she tried to do. Kerry found himself changing around her as well: he, too, was cautious, in that he didn’t want to give her any impression that there was a possibility she could be a part of his life . . .

 

Nothing has been seen of Emma since that day, and for good reasons:  she’s touched the main character’s lives, but she’s not a major part of it at this point.  Not to say she ever will be, though . . . needless to say she’ll be around for a while, though probably not trying to make small talk with Kerry like this–

 

Emma leaned upon her broom. “You nervous?”

“Yeah, a little.” He’d tried not to think about being nervous, and had deliberately not eaten much when they had the traditional morning breakfast in the ready room. “Going a mile up in the air, that’s kind of daunting.”

“Well, in a way, I’m used to being a mile in the air—” Emma chuckled. “Living in Bolder.”

“Yeah, well . . .” He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I’m more a near sea level boy myself—”

“Which means you’ll do fine.” Annie strolled out into the meadow, the Espinoza she’d been flying with all year in her left hand, and stood on Kerry’s left as was the norm. “After all, we were just up over nine hundred and fifty the other day—from there it’s just a little more to go to reach sixteen hundred.” She turned to Emma. “I’m more of a fourteen hundred meter girl myself, ‘cause just like you, I live in the mountains.” She gave the Mórrígan student a coy smile. “I can handle the altitude.”

 

And not being said is, And little soul mate stealing bitches, too.  Annie knows and she doesn’t forget, and she’s got her radar out to know when Emma is trying to set something up.  Not that Emma’s doing it here:  it really is small talk.

Because flying a mile into the sky is serious business, and you want to keep that light . . .