As promised, the training begins. Emrys has found himself an apprentice.
Location: Argyros Base - Flight Line
Related Scenes: None
Scene Number: 525
For the first lesson, Emrys has brought Astraea to an observation point near the flight line. Somewhere they can watch the birds coming and going, without being in the way. "It's easiest, at first, when you're in the air." He had told her. "To become one with your machine. You learn it there, really, and then slowly get beter at it on the ground."
This training, more than any other, is what Astraea has been seeking. She watches the Vipers and Raptors alike as they take off and land. There's a sidelong look to the older pilot, then back to the skies. There's a slight twitch at the corners of her mouth. "It's diff'rent in a Raptor. Been that long since you been in one, Puppy? Lot more noise, lot more-" she considers, then waves a hand in the air around her. "Space. It ain't like an extension of yerself, like I hear you jocks say. That... time I got to fly a viper, back on Picon? I know what yer talkin' 'bout, I cold feel it, but a Raptor's... not like that."
"It can be, though." Emrys lets Puppy go, concentrating on the lesson. "It's harder, because there is more. And there's another person in there. But it can be. Your self..is just bigger than ours. And includes a person, sometimes. A living talking DRADIS, of a sort, that can respond to commands, if you want to think about it that way. I urge you, by the way, to apply this only in the air. It's cold, and lonely, and contrary to our natures."
Biting at the inside of her lip, Astraea is quiet for a time. "I don't need it only in the air," she says finally, looking to all the planes arranged on the tarmac. Just waiting for occupants to fill them. Some -- many -- more battered than others. "I feel worst on the ground. Th' only time things seem... sane some days is when we're fightin' an' I can't live like that."
"Well, it works in either place. And what you do with it is up to you. Only you know what is best for you, but I feel obliged to mention it." Emrys nods. "Close your eyes, Nova. Somewhere deep down inside of you is a place that is very quiet and calm. No emotions. Merely you in what some would say is your purest form. Knowledge and skills, distilled into instinct. You tap into it when you fly, every pilot does without realizing it when things get bad enough. But you...you must be conciously aware of how to reach it. So you bring it out like a protective shell."
Being told to close your eyes is somewhat anathema to a combatant. Astraea, however, takes a deep breath and pushes past it. She hooks her thumbs in the pockets of her duty slacks and leans back on her heels as she closes her eyes. The woman takes in a deep breath through her mouth and lets it out slowly through her nose as she listens. She's trying to find that place, letting her brows furrow. She is, largely, a being driven by emotion. Working against that is a new and very different thing to her.
"At first, you will struggle to find this place." Emrys continues as they go through the exercise. "You will sit in your bird waiting to take off and close your eyes just like this and reach for it. But the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. Until you have essentially turned yourself inside out, and it is your feelings that are deep down inside you and difficult to reach." A pause. "But...wheneever you are in this place, you must be constantly on your guard against the world around you."
At the very least, because of PT and other exercises, Astraea is able to find a steady breathing pace. Just in and out. She doesn't rock on her heels or anything. She's working on it- finding that place. She listens to Emrys' words and instructions, though that furrow between her brow persists as she does. There's only one word -- one question -- for his final warning: "Why?"
"This is an ability that is...unnatural." Emrys explains. "It is not the way we were meant to exist. And so the world will constantly challenge you. You will run into all sorts of things that test your shell and pull your emotions right back out of you." A pause, to allow this to sink in. "You might arrive at a new duty station, for example, and there she is. The girl you never thought you'd see again." Another pause, before he slowly, slyly, smiles and casually says "Or the way Razor flew across the sky when you took that nasty headwound. Disregarding common sense, his training, and, I might add, a number of SOPs out of concern for you. That sort of thing." The smile is gone, and his face is once more a mask as he stares out at the flightline.
"He did. I was there. And though I am old, I am not so old my memory is failing me." Emrys assures Astraea, though some sympathy comes into his voice at her latter words. "That is a difficult situation, and one this will indeed allow you to deal with more easily. But he clearly values you as a friend, to show such concern for your fate."
"I don't care! I don't-" Astraea closes her eyes, hands balling and unballing from fists at her sides. She takes a deep breath and when she releases it, her shoulders shake. "He's in the bunk over mine. We almost always fly t'gether. We've been workin' on projects t'gether. It doesn't matter if he values me as a friend." She spits those three words as if they were an epithet. "He- he told me last leave that he can only focus on th' war. So I need to... to be able to do th' same."
"Yes you do. Or you wouldn't be acting this way." Emrys notes, before nodding. "And if you master this skill, it will allow you to do the same. But you see the problem, now I think. How easy it is to lose your control in a moment. Potentially fatal, in the air. Humiliating, on the ground."
Lifting her hands to scrub at her face, Astraea sighs into them in frustration. There's a slight growl at the end of it. "I know," she says finally, once it's out of her system. "I know. That's why- why I need this. I don't want to be this way. I want control. I want to... to just disconnect and shut it all off. I want, so badly, to be one of those people who... feels nothing."
"Well, you will be. Or close to it. Remember, the feelings will still be there. Just buried." Emrys notes. "Now. Again. Try and find that place. You'll notice it's harder to find after an emotional flare-up."
"All right." Astraea takes a slow breath, smoothing the jacket of her duty uniform. There's another breath. "All right," she repeats, closing her eyes. Shutting out the world, at least visually. She drops her arms to her side, curling her fingers slowly, but not into fists. Her breathing at least slows again, but that furrow is still there. This time from that outburst less than the prior frustration.
Emrys gives Astraea some time to try and find that place before speaking again. "It's much like learning to fly. At first every little thing will disturb you and break your concentration. But eventually it becomes much, much easier. And then eventually automatic." A pause. "Unlike flying, however, you can practice this anywhere."
It at least gives her time to find a steady, even pace to her breathing. That's good: it helps. Astraea just lets Emrys' words roll over her. She nods, slowly, with them. There is a faint smile to his final comment. "How long," she asks, finally, "did it take you to learn?"
"Oh, a long time." Emrys answers without even a pause. He does add, however. "In my case I was sort of learning it as I went. It wasn't even a conscious thing, at first. I certainly didn't have anyone explaining it for me, or teaching me. I imagine you will make progress much faster than I did."
"Good," Astraea affirms, relief sounding in her voice. She has a need for results, yes. In war. In her own life. The woman lets out a slow breath; trying to release that, as well. Already aware that even that flare of pleasure and relief is something she's not meant to be holding onto. "Did it really make you a better pilot?"
"It did, yes." Emrys answers, sincerity in his tone. "Because it taught me to be more in touch with my own instincts and allowed me to act as one with my bird. It cut my reaction time and took away emotional considerations such as fear, hesitation, pride." A pause, before he notes "I have found I can still enjoy such improvements, having learned how to get them, without sacrificing my emotions at all times, however." A hand is held up to forestall argument. "I know you want to do things differently, but that's still good information for you to have for the future."
"I wanna be able ta... enjoy hings for th' sake of others," Astraea decides finally. "Like when one of our new pilots makes ace for th' first time with th' Fleet. I don't wanna let go of that. But I ain't gonna worry 'bout... my own achievements. Jes' a Raptor pilot, after all." She takes a slow breath, her eyes opening to look across the tarmac again. "I jes' wanna not... hurt all th' time. Wanna... get through th' day easier."
"That seems a much more reasonable goal." Emrys agrees with a slow nod. "This will certainly help you meet that goal, and if you find yourself a little dealier in the air? Well, that's a very good side-effect."
"It is," Astraea agrees, letting out a slow hiss of breath in a sigh. She turns to look at Emrys. "Thank you," she says finally. "I know y'were... hesitant about this." That's putting it mildly. "But I need this. I... I need ta be a part of this wing an' I'm afraid of losin' m'self iff'n I don't disconnect."
"I understand." Emrys assures Astraea. "And you're welcome, you really are. I was only...hesitant..." Yes, definitely putting it mildly. "...because I'm afraid to see you end up in the same place I wasted years of my life. It's not natural to exist in such a state constantly. But in the Air, and the more restrained usage on the ground that you've now decided on? Nothing wrong with that. It can definitely provide benefits."
That she's decided on? Astraea's eyelids flicker, briefly, but she says nothing on that point. Perhaps she's still debating. Perhaps there's only specific circumstances. "It's war," she says softly. "Not a time of peace. Th'... needs change. Th' circumstances change. It ain't flyin' for a job or for trainin' or th' rare uprisin'." In places like Scorpia. "It's war, across all th' colonies. It's more a necessity now."
"Very true." Emrys agrees with a slow nod. "Let's just sit here in silence, a little longer. Let you practice it a bit more. And then we'll head back. That's enough for today, I think." And that's exactly what happens.