Flight School

“Flight School”

by Randall Andrews

I survived for three weeks alone in the jungle wilds of a hostile nation—with a broken leg and no supplies—while being hunted by enemy soldiers. Consider that when I say this physical therapy is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

My therapist is a pint-sized torture technician named Evelyn. It’s a lovely and soft sounding name for the hardest, meanest person I’ve ever met.

“Come on, ten more reps!” she screams at me, her bared teeth inches from my ear. “And not another word about your back. It’s fine. That pain means progress. Suck it up, Buttercup.”

It doesn’t feel like progress. It feels like I’m killing myself fighting against this stupid weight machine. I hear myself gasping as the heavy iron plates slam down harder than they should.


The word throws me for a second before I realize Evelyn is no longer talking to me. I stand up and salute, but it’s a sloppy gesture. I’m sucking air hard, my shoulders heaving.

“At ease,” says General Timothy Hartley, CO of our base. As he gives me a once-over, he asks Evelyn, “How’s our boy doing? Is he ready?”

After a thoughtful pause, Evelyn answers, “He’s working hard, and he’s making good progress. I’m proud of him.”

I think I actually blush. Evelyn’s been making a sport of kicking my ass for weeks, but she’s earned my respect along the way, and I relish her praise.

“Is that a yes?” the general presses. “Need I remind you how much capital we’ve invested in this little science project? Are we ready to move on or not?”

“General, we’re not just strengthening muscles here. We’re training his brain to talk to those muscles. It’s like teaching an infant to walk. We can’t rush this.”

Hartley chews on this for a moment, his eyes locked onto mine, and then says, “Feel like taking a walk, soldier?”

It sounds like a question, but I know better. Without waiting for me to reply, the old man turns and leaves the room.

Three minutes later, we’ve climbed the stairs to the building’s top floor. The elevator is too cramped for me now. Hartley swipes his keycard at a door which, when it opens, lets in a blast of sweltering desert air. I cringe against the glare of the midday sun as I realize where we’re headed. And not just where, but why.

“Sir, the scientists haven’t cleared me—”

“The scientists?” the general says, hoisting one gray brow. “This is a military base, and I’m your commanding officer. My orders are all you need to worry about. So . . . do it. That’s an order.”

I clench my teeth to stop myself from saying anything else. Which would be a mistake.

As I make my way toward the edge of the roof, my heart revs. I’ve imagined this moment a hundred times, but I’m not ready.

“Suck it up, Buttercup,” I whisper as I creep forward, inching the toes of my shoes out into space. I look down to the unforgiving asphalt below. I’ve stepped out of airplanes, I remind myself. This is four stories, forty feet. This is nothing.

I count down from three in my mind, but when I tell myself to go, nothing happens. Damn. I needed a shove the first time I jumped with a chute, but this is a solo mission. “Come on, suck it up—”

Before I can finish the phrase, a flicker of movement catches my eye. Down at ground level, Evelyn has emerged from around the corner of the building. She looks tiny down there with her arms crossed over her chest, but steady. She flashes me a smile, the first I’ve ever seen cross her face, and then she nods like she’s not even worried, like she already knows exactly what’s going to happen. It’s as good as a two-hander in the back.

I lead with my chest as I fall, submitting briefly to gravity . . . and then throw out my wings. I flash back again to my first jump, to the spasm of relief I felt when my chute caught the air. It felt like a miracle, but it pales utterly to this. I can feel the wind tickling each individual feather, straining the sockets where they attach to my new flesh, flooding my brain with sensation.

I’m gliding now, but still not flying. Not really. With the speed of thought, I flex my new muscles and my wings snap down with enough force to lift me ten feet higher in the air. When I stretch them out again, I laugh because I expect to hear the weights slam down.

I know I shouldn’t push myself as tired as I am, but the exhilaration of flying under my own power is intoxicating. I climb a couple hundred feet, which gives me room to glide in slow circles, taking in the view of the base. The sense of freedom I feel is a revelation—the first of two that arrive in as many moments.

The second? I’m not sure I can allow this incredible, beautiful thing to become an assassin’s tool. That’s the plan—that’s what I am. Or rather, what I’ve been. But now I’m so much more!

I could fly away, but what then? In the eyes of men like Hartley, revealing myself to the world would amount to treason. I’d be risking everything, even my freedom. Yet it might be the right thing to do. Just like mankind’s first step onto the moon, these wings could lift us up—all of us. Or they could be just another way to knock each other down.

I’ve passed one test, but now I face another. As I ride the thermals above our desert base, I grapple with the hardest choice of my life.


Randall Andrews is the author of two books, Finding Hour Way, and The Last Guardian of Magic—which won the National Indie Excellence Award. His short stories and poems have appeared in places like Abyss & Apex, Space & Time, Martian Magazine, Sci-Fi Shorts, and Sci-Fi Lampoon. When not writing, he can be found wearing the soles off a pair of running shoes, listening to his favorite John Williams soundtracks, or hand-feeding his loyal flock of wild songbirds.

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One Response to Flight School

  1. Michelle McLemore says:

    That was not the twist I had anticipated! Very nice. And unlike Icarus, he was able to move past the thrill to contemplate cause and effects. Congrats!

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