The cadets await the installation of their implants.
The Academy scheduled implant installation in simple alphabetical order. Being a ‘Cochran,’ I got mine on the first day. Poor Chris, Joy, and Pete—Marlow, Meyer, and Osteen, respectively—had to wait until day three.
I’d love to report I spent those two days adjusting to Boost and doing all sorts of other zing stuff, but I’m too honest to make that claim. All the really exciting options were disabled. The doctors and faculty claimed it was for our own protection, and I believe them. I’ve seen David Boost and that has got to take a lot of practice and instruction to do it right. But, understanding the situation and liking it isn’t the same thing.
I could access the teaching application, at least, and secretly loaded Joy’s native language into my implant. By morning, I spoke it fluently.
Joy swung her feet to the floor and was in mid-stretch when I used her language for the first time. “Good morning, Joy. Only one more day until you get your implant!”
“Yeah,” she replied around a yawn. “I can’t wait.”
With her arms out wide and pulled back a bit, Joy suddenly froze. Her eyes opened wide and she exclaimed, “You’re speaking Eskothian!”
“I ran the teaching program in my implant while I was sleeping.”
“That is so cool, Jade!”
I cocked my head, confused. “What does the temperature have to do with the teaching program?”
Joy shook her head, laughing. “Sorry, that’s more slang. On Eskoth, ‘cool’ means the same thing as ‘zing’ does in the Federation.”
At my request, she didn’t tell the guys what I had done. That night, I learned the language for Pete’s home planet and surprised the heck out of him at breakfast. By lunch time, my three favorite people in the Academy had implants of their own. By the end of the week, we all knew each other’s native languages and were switching among them at will.
Once every cadet had an implant, the real fun began—Boost training! Which the Academy began in reverse alphabetical order, meaning Chris, Joy, and Pete all Boosted before I did. We were restricted to one minute of Boost—enforced by our implants—so I only waited a few hours longer than they did. Still, it was definitely not zing or cool or patchless listening to my three companions discussing how zing and cool and patchless Boosting was.
But, finally, my turn came.
An instructor showed me into a ten-meter cubic room. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all well-padded. From listening to everyone else, I knew what came next, but the instructor explained it all, anyway.
“Cadet Cochran, you activate Boost by simply issuing the command ‘Boost’ to your implant. The implant will flood your system with adrenaline, making you much stronger and faster than normal. Your reflexes, honed to your normal capabilities, will prove inadequate to control yourself while Boosting.”
Ha! I’d show him. Chris, Joy, and Pete gave detailed descriptions of what happened when they Boosted. I was determined to learn from their mistakes and control Boost on my first try.
“You may think you have an advantage because you’ve spoken to cadets who preceded you. Perhaps you will be the exception, Cadet Cochran, but chances are you will encounter the same problems your friends encountered. I am not trying to discourage you, merely recalibrate your expectations. At the same time you activate Boost, a ball will shoot out of the wall before you. Dodge the ball, then see if you can gain control of your actions. Boost will automatically shut down in one minute. Are you ready?”
Nodding, I said, “I am, ma’am.”
“Prepare to Boost in five, four, three, two, one, go!”
A ball shot out of the wall in front of me.
I felt the jolt of adrenaline flooding into my bloodstream and then, just as it said in the David Rice adventure books, time slowed. In reality, I speeded up a whole lot, but it felt like everything else was suddenly super slow.
I watched the approaching ball. With contemptuous ease, I jumped out of its path—and hit the left wall three or four meters above the floor. The padding kept me from hurting myself, but my reflexes betrayed me. I put my hands up to fend off the wall and their little push sent me spinning heels over head back the way I came. A little more prepared for this reaction, I tucked into a ball and rolled when I hit the floor. When I was face-down, I uncoiled, pushing myself up with my arms and straightening my legs.
That was supposed to leave me standing. Instead, I found myself zooming up toward the ceiling. I didn’t reach it—Boost doesn’t make us that strong, but I got more than halfway to it. But, since I straightened out of a roll, I was also heading toward the opposite wall. Tucking again, I spun in mid-air and hit the wall feet first. Trying to adjust my timing, I waited until my body rotated enough to point up and then shoved off the padded wall. I felt like I was flying as I rose the rest of the way to the ceiling.
Cushioning myself with my arms, I didn’t push off at all. Gravity took over, and I dropped to the floor ten meters below. David told me stories about dropping this far, and I knew it hurt when he landed. I had a padded floor, though, and it absorbed most of the impact.
Hoping to show I had some idea what I was doing, I launched myself at the left wall. Once again, I rebounded from the wall and pushed off for the ceiling. This time, I shoved off the ceiling for the right wall.
My implant beeped, telling me I had five seconds of Boost left. I let my legs absorb most of my impact against the wall and then dropped to the floor. Boost cut out right after I landed.
When the instructor opened the door, I grinned and exclaimed, “That was absolutely patchless!”
“That’s a new variation on the same thing all your fellow cadets said,” the instructor told me, smiling. “You did quite well, Cadet Cochran—well enough that Master Scout Young asked me to bring you to her.”
“Um, why, ma’am?”
“She’s the head of Survival Training, which includes Boost training.”
A moment later, the instructor ushered me into Linda’s—Master Scout Young’s—office. She greeted me with a smile. “Did you enjoy your first Boost?”
“Absolutely, Master Scout! It’s almost as much fun as flying.”
“Proper Boost control relies on many of the same reflexes pilots use. Master Scout Engles told me you handled the flight simulator well and predicted I’d be having this conversation with you.” Linda leaned back in her chair. “I’ll come straight to the point, Cadet Cochran. Every cadet class has a few cadets who are naturally good at Boosting. There are nine of you in this class.”
There are over a hundred and fifty cadets in our class, so that’s not many. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“I always take the gifted cadets and work with them individually. Are you willing to accept a heavier class load so we can work one-on-one?”
“I am, ma’am!”
“You’ll be exempted from the beginning Boost training, of course, but will still have to take team training once the other cadets are ready for it.” She stood and motioned to the door. “You may return to your friends, Cadet Cochran.”
“Thank you, ma’am! This isn’t a secret or anything, is it, ma’am?”
She smiled and shook her head. “No. Brag to your friends and betrothed as much as you wish.”
I was closing her door behind me when Master Scout Young spoke again. “One other thing, Cadet Cochran.”
“You’re now a member of a very select group of Scout Corps cadets. Since I’m certain you’re wondering, I’ll go ahead and tell you that David Rice is a member of our little group, too.”
After hearing that news, I’m pretty sure I floated the rest of the way back to Chris, Joy, and Pete. I was a little afraid they’d be mad at me, but they were all honestly happy for me. Joy and Pete gave me congratulatory hugs. Chris gave me a big kiss.
Keeping an arm around me, he added, “Our children are going to be beautiful and athletic!”
I elbowed him in the ribs. “You left out incredibly smart and brave. Which they’ll get from you, so don’t try pretending it will all come from me.”
“I humbly beg your pardon for my lapse,” Chris said, bowing, “and know better than to gainsay a lady.”
All cadets were granted liberty for the evening, so the four of us went out on the town. We ate and laughed and danced and had a grand time.
The next morning, our real Scout training began.
What comes next for our heroes? Find out in Chapter 34, coming Wednesday.