Chapter 294: Redline
The safety restraints did just what they were intended to do. They gave the students a sense of support. But, wait, that means…
“Full speed!” The Accountant called out, and everyone felt the ship shudder as it’s main engines engaged.
The terrifying forces pressed them hard against the seat, and the skin of their faces flapped as inertia took it’s toll. They felt like the acceleration was threatening to tear the skin from their bones.
The scenery outside the cockpit screen blurred, and everything took on a dream-like quality. The speed played with their perception, too, and made it hard to think. They could only sit there and let it happen.
Zeus-1 continued to quadruple its speed until it neared sub-light speed. The closer they got, the more the scene within the cockpit warped until everything around them was a mess of strange lines and colors.
Of course Lan Jue wouldn’t be so kind as to give them a true rest. his was a special combat class, it was silly to expect anything else. They were here to grow stronger, not have a good time. This wasn’t an etiquette class!
About ten minutes later, the ship began to slowly decelerate. As they reached a more normalized velocity, the ship’s stabilizers were able to kick back in as well. By then the students were like sacks of wet noodles. Where it not for their safety harnesses Lan Jue feared they’d collapse.
It was a good judge of one’s Discipline as well. The stronger their Talent, the better they were able to sustain the bearing g-force of sub-light speed. Tan Lingyun, for instance, sat stoically upon her chair like nothing had happened. Wang Hongyuan’s face had blanched, and his head was full of particularly choice curses for Lan Jue and this deathtrap.
Tang Xiao was pleasantly surprised by how well he’d managed to hold out. Now that his Discipline had broken through to eighth rank, he was much better equipped to deal with exogenous stressors. Moreover, though he’d lost a fair amount of weight he was still hefty, and the excess girth had protected him from some of the force. Of all the students, he had fared best.
Although several of them looked worse for wear, they were much better off than most. A normal person had a significant health risk if they had tried to go that fast without stabilizers. But these were Adepts, and mecha pilots no less – this wouldn’t cause any lasting harm.
Tell that to the poor students, though, whose pale faces and wide eyes showed precisely what they were thinking.
Lan Jue’s calm, cold voice filled the cockpit. “You just experienced the sensation of going several times the speed of sound – nearly sub-light speed. Remember these sensations. Throughout this trip you will be expected to adapt and maintain in the face of many environmental changes. If you can’t handle that, you’ll never be strong enough to contribute to society. Continue!”
“Simulated evasive techniques against enemy fire!” The Accountant called out the situation as the ship’s stabilizers were inexplicably cut.
The students were squashed to the back of their chairs as Zeus-1 began its maneuvers. It took turns at break-neck speed, tearing up in to the black, then quickly changing directions and hurdling back toward Skyfire. The students swung and jerked and shuddered with each movement of the ship, never knowing which way was up. Under constant assault from the rapid movements, the students could swear their insides were being shuffled around.
Lan Jue’s attention never left Zhou Qianlin. He watched her head flail around, sending her hair cascading in every direction. He was a little worried for her, but at the same time he knew that – while she wasn’t in the best shape – she was strong enough to handle it. His respect for her grew as he continued to watch.
Ever since the beginning of the ARC classes there had been no end to the complaining, from everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except Zhou Qianlin. No matter what was thrown at her, she kept her piece and did as she was told. Never once did she use the spirit caller gem, to speak or to whine.
She was not a mecha pilot, but she held just as well as they did, and her progress was astounding. This was one tough woman! It didn’t matter that she was specialized in research and development, because she took everything on without hesitation.
Still Lan Jue found it hard to watch. She hadn’t been a large girl when they started, and like the others she had lost a great deal of weight through the course of the training. There were more than a few times Lan Jue had to force himself to keep going, instead of telling her to leave.
So they went on, because this training wasn’t for one person. This was for the benefit of all. Not to mention, if he did let her leave, what it would do to the psychology of the other students.
Lan Jue did recognize that many students who earlier were unable to keep up had by now learned to adapt. Part of it was certainly the presence of Qianlin and Tang Mi, venerated as the two most beautiful girls in school. Men were built with the innate need to appear strong in the eyes of women, much less women as stunning as those two. A secret hope lived in the hearts of every one of them, the hope that their strength and determination would earn the girls’ attention. In a way, Qianlin was the very mascot of adaptation and struggle.
After all, if a woman from the R&D department can handle all of this, what excuse did they have? That was something Tan Lingyun loved to remind them about.
And so, so long as Qianlin was able to hang in there, what right did Lan Jue have to pull her out?
Time after time she surprised him. This was especially true for the Gob program, which she completed despite his expectations. It had taken here longer than the others, but what was her training? What was her mecha experience? Practically nil. Even completing the task without any basic training was almost inconceivable! More than talent, she had willpower.
Ten minutes later the ship returned to normal operation. The students found out what the plastic bags were for.
“Yeeeuuhh!! Egghrrghh!” No one knew who the first to lose it was, but it took only a few seconds for the chain reaction to begin. The sound of violent vomiting filled the cabin, and n the end more than half of the fifty students were clutching bags to their faces.
This was their life, for four days. They would fly steady for roughly an hour, then the stabilizers would turn off and the worst roller coaster of their lives would commence.
Lan Jue made sure that these students understand all the different ways a human could suffer.
From beginning to end, Lan Jue held his tongue. Except for the evasion maneuvers, things happened without warning and out of where so far as the students were concerned. Lan Jue, naturally, didn’t care.
The vast emptiness of deep space was broken up when a large planet appeared within Zeus-1’s field of vision. They shot toward it.
The young pilots held on to the armrests of their chairs, only remaining seated because their harnesses wouldn’t let them curl in to a ball. When the planet came in to view, a few openly wept for joy. They’d earned a new appreciation for solid ground.
A few dreams of combat had been crushed by the experience certainly. They never wanted to live through something like this again.
Two patrol boats, silent as specters, suddenly appeared off the bow of Zeus-1.
“Warning. Warning. Weapons lock, recommend engaging shields.” That was the ship’s mainframe, its thoughts given digitized voice by the computer.
Mika reacted right away. Her fingers danced over the control board in front of her, and a cipher appeared on her screen.
The two ships turns around and took up position on either side of their ship. The harsh sound of the ship’s alarm ceased as the weapon’s lock was canceled. The three ships proceeded in formation toward the planet below.
Meanwhile the students were given a moment to recover. They’d all lost count of how many plastic bags they’d gone through. Even Tan Lingyun couldn’t hold back. Torment didn’t begin to describe what they’d gone through.
“Clean yourselves up and put on a straight face. You’re making it look like I’m mistreating you. The second part of our little excursion is about to begin,”Lan Jue said.
The students stared at him in disbelief. OF COURSE YOU’RE MISTREATING US, they wanted to howl.
Someone please kill me!
Of course no one dared voice their misgivings.
Lan Jue rose from his seat and made for the exit. He passed Zhou Qianlin but paid her no mind.
But the soul caller gem warmed.
Lan Jue: How are you? Holding there?
Zhou Qianlin: Fine.
If you can’t handle anymore, tell me.
Zeus-1 quickly pierced the atmosphere, revealing the kakhi-colored earth below. Their surprised faces peered through the windows set within the fuselage. Their shock wasn’t due to any inherent beauty the planet possessed, but rather because it was hideously ugly.
It looked like a ruined mass, destroyed by some forgotten cataclysm. Their eager eyes scanned the horizon, but there was no water, no life anywhere. Nothing, stretching endlessly to the horizon.
An undeveloped planet? The same thought ran through everyone’s mind.
Lan Jue’s voice called them back to the ship’s interior. At some point their drillmaster had returned to stand in front of them.
“So what do you think, looking over this place? Tang Xiao.”
The large pilot sputtered his answer immediately. “It musn’t be suitable for human habitation. No signs of vitality, no water, no plants… but judging by the size it’s definitely a planetary body and not a meteor. Judging by the time it took us to get here, this place is probably within the Eastern Alliance, but right on the boundary.”
Lan Jue nodded. “Well done. You’ve got a solid foundation. It’s more than likely this is your first visit to the planet. You only get allowed in with special permission. However, I’m sure you all know it by name. An Lun.”
It was the natural guardian of the East, the stellar vanguard, An Lun? Home to the legendary Prometheus?
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