READ A SAMPLE
A hand gripped the flight control stick inside an enclosure dark as the void of space. Another hand moved about flat switch plates on the panel to the side of the person sitting in the dark. Very little could be seen of the person, except for the hands and sometimes the reflection of a soft light from the instrumental panel on the curved helmet. The pilot sat intently watching the screen for signs of enemy movement in space. On the fighter control panel, a small red light flashed urgently, but wasn't seen by the pilot. The pilot's attention was fixed on navigation and locking the enemy vessel, just spotted, in the target sights. The pilot pressed the firing trigger.
The screen blacked out and glaring lights came on suddenly. Ensign Thompson was startled and turned towards the hatch. The hatch opened and the instructor stepped in.
"Sorry, but you just got sim-killed. Didn't you see your engine warning light?" he asked.
"My engine warning light?" she asked as she came back to reality.
He replied, "Yes, that little red button flashing right there on your panel."
She gazed at the small, flickering red light before humiliation replaced the shock on her face. "I, uh, uh . . ."
"You better practice more if you really intend getting into space fighters, Susan," he said gently to ease the humiliation she was showing as clearly as the tiny red flickering light.
She nodded her head in agreement and waited as he finished the rest of his critique of her simulated mission. Cadet Ensign Susan Thompson thought she was doing well on the simulator until the shock of the black screen and the lights brought her back into reality. As she listened, she realized that she should spend less time on dates and more on the simulator as the sergeant was recommending. After all, she was only two months away from graduation and she wanted her choice of assignments.
Susan's choice was obvious from looking at her room. The models that hung from the ceiling and the pictures that adorned the walls were of nothing but fighters. With Susan's college background of engine mechanics, she didn't want to just work on them, she wanted to pilot them. She even managed to get a roommate who was just as enthusiastic about fighters. Harry, her roommate, was driven almost as much as she was for the quick nimble fighters. His degree in chemistry wasn't for anything he wanted to really do as a career. He simply made sure that he had a degree that the military wanted for one of its highly skilled officers before he enrolled in the academy just as Susan had.
Susan concluded suddenly that she wasn't putting in as much effort as Harry. Yet she was determined to beat him out in everything, including how to pilot a fighter. She hadn't put in almost four years at the academy to wind up as a maintenance officer, even if she was otherwise in the top five of the academy and guaranteed her choice of assignments. Her lack of effort could easily undo that positioning and lose her its rewards. To Susan, any other assignment she could choose was almost as bad as being a maintenance officer because they didn't offer any freedom. In a fighter, she would be in command of her own ship even though she was only an ensign. She wanted that responsibility. As well, she knew she couldn't afford to coast to graduation with her competition breathing hot on the back of her neck, they were so close.
Ensign Everette Dixon took hold of Celia's hand as they walked along the dirt road through the woods. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and his only full weekend off for the month. They reached the sign and stared at it for a moment in disbelief before they looked at each other.
"Did you know about this?" she asked after looking at and reading the sign.
He replied, "Not at all. I'm as surprised as you. I guess we should go somewhere else to fish."
She asked, "But won't that take time to find and get to? You only have a few hours left."
He replied, "Well, sure, but I didn't know about this when it was recommended to me."
"Then we're not wasting a minute of your time," she said as she began removing what she was wearing so that she could enter the private property. It was apparently owned by a nudist and open to all provided they disrobed before entering. "Hurry up, get 'em off! Those fish aren't in the frying pan yet. You can't catch them on this property according to the sign if you're dressed."
Everette acceded to Celia's wishes, setting down the fishing rods and picnic basket he carried before he proceeded to undress.
"I feel strange this way. What do we do with our clothes?" he asked.
"I'll carry them," remarked Celia as she admired his fine physique momentarily.
Everette picked up their gear while Celia took the clothing and wrapped it all into a bundle for easier carrying. They held hands once more and walked down the dirt road toward the lake. They left behind the simple wooden sign that read, "Only nude people are welcome to use this property for recreation."
Upon reaching the lake, Everette prepared his fishing rod and let Celia take care of her own as she had before on other fishing trips. Out in the wide lake sat an island where a home was situated. Obviously, he thought, that was the owner's home. He wondered who lived in the fine house on that tiny island. He wondered, too, if this was some sort of a test since it was the Commandant of the Space Academy who suggested that Everette take his girlfriend here to fish during one of the Commandant's frequent visits among the cadets to see how they were doing. Celia spread out their picnic cloth. Everette and Celia used their clothing to sit on while the basket set on the cloth away from most of the insects. Around them in the meadow, butterflies floated across from flower to flower, taking care of their share of the ecology.
Celia asked, "How's your studies doing?"
He replied, "I'm still tucked in at third. Thought I would move up a notch this week, but I got beat out by a hundredth of a point."
"Whew! That's close! Still time to edge into number two, isn't there?" she asked.
"I can still make it to number one, Celia. I'm only one tenth of a point away from that," he remarked with a smile.
"You can do it, I just know you can," she said with an equally big smile.
He replied, "Somehow, I think so, too. I've felt more confident lately and . . . Hey! You know something, I don't feel so odd anymore! Feels kind of natural all of a sudden being here with you like this." Inside his mind, he pondered if he was supposed to maybe pick up some more self-confidence by being where he was in a natural state. He decided now that whatever the purpose of the Commandant's reasoning was for suggesting this place, he was going to go along with whatever happened and not get embarrassed.
Ensign Mike Chalver studied his credit balance as intensely as some of his textdisks. A shiver ran through him as he saw how low it was. He went over what he had purchased recently and tried to determine what it was exactly that he had wasted credits on. He knew that going through the Space Academy was expensive in keeping up his uniforms and gear, but that couldn't be causing him to spend so much. He set down his glass of bourbon and used both hands to work out the calculations on his old manual terminal as to what was essential and what else the credit was going on.
An hour later, Mike stared at the same glass of bourbon as he contemplated the source of his dwindling credit. He couldn't believe that he was spending that much on drinking. Mike didn't believe that he drank that much. He thought back over the past month since the last credit report and tried to remember whether he drank the liquor or invited friends over and gave it to them.
It was over two hours later when Mike left his room and went to the room of one of the instructors. He knocked quietly on the door lest he cause someone outside or in a nearby room to notice him there. Mike was embarrassed enough as it was. He felt pretty sure that he could rely on the instructor to keep it confidential between the two of them.
Sergeant Maria Delgado opened the door. She was dressed simply in her standard mesh undies. She asked, "Yes, Ensign? What can I do for you?"
"Uh, Sarge, I need some advice about a personal problem I'm having. Will you be able to see me a little later so we can talk confidentially?" he asked.
She replied, "Yes, of course. Give me a moment and I'll dress. Then we can talk here unless you'd prefer someplace more isolated."
"Sure, thanks. This will do fine," he answered before the door quietly closed for a minute.
When it opened again, he walked in and took the seat that Maria showed him to after she closed the door.
"What's the problem?" she asked.
Mike said, "I thought I was having credit problems. When I went over my balance, it suddenly jumped out at me how much I've been spending on alcohol. I think I'm becoming an alcoholic."
Maria looked more closely at his face. He appeared scared and his face seemed paler than usual. She was certain that he was frightened of becoming an alcoholic. She turned to her terminal and entered some codes so that she could validate some information. Maria looked at how much Mike spent on liquor and frowned. She wondered why the system hadn't kicked it out as a warning yet to the instructors. She looked closer at the numbers and saw that if he spent one more credit on his liquor purchases, he would come up automatically. This was a close call, considering. She said, "I'm glad you recognized it first. Because of that, you'll be permitted to complete your training and graduate, provided you enter and live up to a standard agreement for the remainder of your time in the academy. You know what that entails?"
Mike answered, "Yes, I think I do. I think I can live up to it, but I'd like whatever help you can give me during that time so I won't backslide."
"You want your credits cut off from liquor sales?" asked Maria.
Mike answered, "Yes."
Maria looked at the terminal again. She said, "I see that you recycled what you had left. That's a good start. Shows that you have good intentions to live up to the agreement. Okay, we'll see the Commandant and get you entered into the program. It's tough to complete, but you look like you're tough enough to finish it. I glad you recognized it first. I really am."
Ensign Sylvia Barter looked at her schedule and noted that she had a full weekend off coming. She continued on down the list and spotted her fiancee's name. She was ecstatic. He was getting a full weekend off at the same time. Maybe this time they could share themselves with each other as they had planned on doing many times before only to have their schedules collide. It would probably be their only chance before her graduation in two months. Then Sylvia would report to the Navy for her first assignment while he finished his last year at the Academy. She looked forward to exploring his sweaty black body while he taught her the pleasures of the flesh at last.
END OF SAMPLE
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