Into Thin Air: On Their Way

Here it is, almost eleven hundred words written last night, and nearly seven hundred and fifty this morning–yeah, some times I get up around five AM and start writing–and I’m still not finished with this scene.  Maybe because a lot is happening.  Maybe because I’m taking my time with interaction.  Or maybe I have no idea in hell what I’m doing.

Naw, I know what I’m doing.  Writing it out, though:  that’s another story.

But since I do have it written out, let’s have Vicky step in here and start explaining things.

 

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

The children looked around, trying to figure out where they were. They all knew the name: Mount Katahdin was where the school’s major cross country race, three hundred kilometers long, was held each year at the beginning of March. Kerry watched it in the Dining Hall with Annie and cheered on Nadine as she won the long race. But even though it was called the Mount Katahdin Cross Country Race, the course never touched the peak: the closest it came was kilometer and a half where it climbed out of the Great Basin between Mount Katahdin and Hamlin and passed within a hundred meters of Saddle Springs before turning northward back into Baxter State Park. No one ever raced to here—

Though it appeared they often flew from here.

“Okay, fliers, on me.” She waved them back from the railed edge of platform. “We’re perched on the northern flank of the mountain just below the Knife Edge, situated at an altitude of sixteen hundred and ten meters.” She looked at Emma and winked. “That’s five thousand feet for you, Selene.” Emma blushed, because she was still trying to figure out Metric to Standard conversions in her head. “All of you know this place; probably all of you watched the race two months ago. Not a one of you thought you’d stand here before we took off on the Mile High Flight.

“See, there’s a little catch in the rules for the flight: the objective is to fly a mile above the surrounding land. Nearly everyone believes we’re going to fly from the school, and all the pictures of the take off and landing take place in the Ready Room and Selena’s Meadow: we never show where we state—and we never start from the school.” Vicky grinned broadly. “Last year we started from Clingmans Dome in North Carolina; the year before we started from the base of Block Mountain in New Mexico. The only stipulation is we also start from the same elevation: one thousand, five hundred and twenty-four meters, or five thousand feet.

 

Now, since I’m crazy, let me show you where they are–

Looks real pretty when you see it like this.

Looks real pretty when you see it like this.

Their platform is where the little “A” marker is located.  And I know that’s at five thousand feet because . . .

I check the terrain here first.

I check the terrain here first.

The race course, by the way, is by the campground in the upper half of the picture, skirting above the road and trail until it hops to the right and follows that little northern notch to Saddle Springs before turning to the north–just like Kerry said.

Oh, and because I love doing this stuff, here were the last two flight locations.  First North Carolina:

Hello there, Smokies!

Hello there, Smokies!

But it looks less nice this way.

But it looks less nice this way.

And then we have . . .

Welcome to the Land of Hot Enchantment.

Welcome to the Land of Hot Enchantment.

No Sky Blue Meth was used in creating this picture.

No Sky Blue Meth was used in creating this picture.

And there you have it:  the last couple.  Do not ask for all of the sights, though I might actually put a list together someday.

Vicky tells her students what they’re doing here.

 

“This means that when we fly, we’ll end go up a mile—sixteen hundred and ten meters—above this point; that will put us at a final altitude of three thousand, one hundred and fifty-five, or ten thousand, three hundred and fifty feet. But don’t let that last number fool you: you’re still going to be sixteen hundred meters above this point. No matter what, you’re still a mile above the take-off point.

“This is something that you can all do. All of you have cleared five hundred meters; a few of you have cleared seven hundred and fifty meters; three of you have cleared eight fifty, and two of you—” She looked at Annie and Kerry. “—have cleared one thousand meters. For everyone here, you’ve flown at least half the distance to the top: today you can do the rest. And we will.”

Vicky set her broom to hover and indicated a spot on the underside of the frame right in front of the saddle. “All of your brooms have been fitted with a panic button, though these are different from the ones normally used: they operated by touch and nearly all of you are unable to activate an enchantment on your own. Each button is designed to places you over a different spot one hundred and fifty meters above Selena’s Meadow, after which you can glide in for a landing.” She smiled, the right corner of her mouth curling upward. “But none of your are gonna need that, ‘cause we’re going all the way.” She patted the saddle of her broom. “You ready to do this?” Everyone in her group returned a “Yes” or a smile and nod, but she could tell from they expressions and body language that the nervousness they’d had before coming here was either gone or suppressed enough that it wasn’t bothering them. “Let’s mount up, fliers.”

 

“Let’s mount up, fliers.”  She’s just as excited as the others–probably more so because she’s done this many times, though according to her, she’s not completed the flight in a while.  She’s hoping for better results this time.

They get ready, and Annie sets up the layout, more or less–

 

Kerry’s broom was on the hover in a second and he was on it moments later. Annie mounted hers on his left while he waved over Daudi. “Set up on Annie’s left; we’ll go two-three-two to the top.”

The boy looked to the space to the left of Annie. “You sure?”

“Of course he is.” Annie fastened the snaps on her helmet. “Loorea and Dariga are gonna follow Vicky, and Kalindi and Emma will bring up the rear.” She nodded to her left. “Two-three-two, just like Kerry said. We’ll be the solid center that will hold the flight together.”

Thanks.” Daudi moved into place and started getting ready.

“You’re welcome.”

Kerry zipped his jacket the rest of the way up and gave his gloves a final tug as he brought up his HUD. He was ready to go when he heard the quiet voice of his girlfriend in his helmet. “Kerry?”

He looked towards Annie. “Yeah?”

“I want you to promise me something.” The HUD on her broom came up.

“Anything.”

“Whatever happens, I want you to keep going all the way.”

Kerry turned a piercing stare upon his soul mate. “Nothing’s going to happen.”

“But if it does—”

He nodded. “I’ll keep going—all the way.” He lightly touched his heart. “I promise.”

Annie smiled. “I’ll hold you to that.”

 

What is Annie talking about?  Is she not going to make it?  Is she just trying to rattle Kerry?  Or is she trying to get him to keep a promise this time, since the last one of not letting Emma talk him into anything failed?  Hard to say, though I know what she’s up to right now.  You will too, eventually.

 

Vicky rose about three meters off the platform and floated out over the drop-off that was the north flank of Knife Edge. “All right, girls and boys, give me a go/no-go as I call your sign.” She said the call sign of each flier, and ever response was a “Go”. She was pleased: she half-expected at least one person to say “No-go” and press their panic button. Not this time: it’s gonna be seven-of-seven. Her biggest regret was that Coraline wouldn’t release Takara for the flight, but rules were rules, and she was the first one to stand behind Coraline in these matters. I’ll take her this weekend; maybe I can get the others to fly with us, too.

She pointed at the group. “On my mark—” She raised her hand and pointed towards the sky. “Lift off and hover; hold position at fifteen-thirty meters.” The students lifted off as one and hovered at their new altitude. Vicky didn’t see any hesitation among her kids: in the clouds, the wind, and the light rain, they hovered, waiting for her command.

Vicky brought here broom around and waved them forward. “Follow me.” She brought up the nose and ascended into the gray, cloudy sky.

 

And they are off, making their way slowly into the clouds and sky.  And as they climb, they talk to each other.  Because it’s better than keeping it all locked up inside . . .

 

They were no more than a hundred meters over the peak when Kerry felt the first gust of wind buffet him. He’d flow in wind before, but this was wind that was cold—maybe just above freezing—and rain. Having all the clouds around them added to the feeling of utter disorientation . . .

“This is bad.” He saw Loorea look to down and to her left into nothingness. Already the summit of Mount Katahdin was fading.

Vicky said nothing, but Loorea’s wingmate Dariga spoke. “We have a lot of weather like this in the mountains near my town.”

“Are they this high?”

She nodded. “Higher. Maybe three thousand meters at the border with China.”

Loorea chuckled. “A lot higher than where I live.”

“It’s flat around me.” Kalindi laughed as they flew higher. “We’re only about eighty meters above sea level. All the mountains in Sumatra are to the west.”

Kerry looked front and back. “Yeah, I’m at sea level, too.” He stared at his HUD and watched the altimeter as they passed sixteen hundred twenty-five meters. “If anyone’s watching, we just passed our first mile.”

Annie looked away from her HUD and at Kerry. “Half-way there.”

“Just about.” He called Vicky. “Nightwitch, we gonna be okay on air?”

“Sure thing.” She looked back over her shoulder. “There’s enough at three thousand meters to keep you from passing out. Plus, there’s enchantments on the broom that will keep a bubble of air around you so you won’t pass out.” She turned her attention back to the gray ahead. “We’re going to be on-station for less than ten minutes. It’ll be fine.”

 

Of course they’ll be fine:  they wouldn’t do this trip every year if they couldn’t breath.  And handing out oxygen masks would probably scare the hell out of everyone.

 

They continued climbing, with few people saying anything. Every few seconds Kerry was glance to his left to check on Annie and Daudi. Annie was watching her HUD as he was, focusing not on the emptiness around her, but on her progress. Daudi was doing the same, but he’d glance down every few seconds as if he expected to find something. “You doing okay, Luangwa?” Daudi’s call sign was that of one of the longest rivers in Zambia, and the name of the rift valley that ran through his country.

“I’m doing okay.” He glanced down once more, then back straight ahead.

“Don’t look down, man: there’s nothing to see.” Kerry popped up over Annie and pulled into position to the left of Daudi. “Stick to IFR; watch your HUD.” He reached over and tapped him on the arm. “It’s gonna work.”

“Is that what you’re doing?”

“You know it.” He winked. “Otherwise I might lose my nerve.” He popped back up over both and returned to his normal position in the formation.

Emma’s voice rang out. “Just passed two thousand.” Almost everyone let out a cheer, with a few pumping their fists in the air.  Just then a huge, steady gust hit them almost head on. Loorea jerked on the frame and almost fell out of formation. “What’s that?”

“You’re gonna get all kinds of wind shear up here.” Vicky’s voice was smooth and calm. “We’ve talked about this, pilots: don’t let it rattle you.” She looked up over head. “Just keep in mind we’re flying upward in a big circle, so in a few it’s gonna be on your left, and then you’re gonna pick it up as a tail wind—”

“I can feel it now.” Daudi turned his face into to gust. “I love the feel.”

Dariga chuckled. “That’s because you’re balmy.”

“That’s because you don’t live where it’s hot all the time, my Khan.” He chuckled at his covenmate. “Come stay with me for a few months and you’ll see.”

Vicky laughed. She kept her mind on the flight, but listened closely to the banter between the pilots. As long as they’re joking, they happy and keeping their minds off how high they are. The moment they get quiet, then I gotta worry.  She checked her own altimeter as the steady gust from behind faded away only to get slammed by another from above. “Don’t worry about that one—” Her anxiety kicked up a couple of notches as a few students exclaimed when pushed downward. “It’s a microburst; we’re going to hit a few of those here and there. Don’t let it shake you up.”

 

Yeah, don’t let it shake you up–I certainly won’t.  For right now I’ve got them in the air . . .

Now let’s see if they get to the top.