Chapter 4 – The Simulation System

When Livy returned to Zone Z, he could sense a palpable change in the atmosphere.

Even the taste of the air felt completely different to that which he had remembered from his last visit. Now, when he walked past the floor-to-ceiling windows, those scholars who had been previously burying their heads in their respective tasks all looked up in unison. Their eyes followed him for a long time.

Within their gazes was a sense of scrutiny, as if Livy himself had become their latest test subject. It seemed everyone was eager to conduct research and experiments on him. Feeling a chill, Livy shuddered.

Livy took the route Claude had shown him the night before, and by the time he reached the end of the corridor, he saw there was already a person waiting for him.

It was a young man about thirty years old, who sported a military uniform that looked to be meticulously ironed and a pair of rimless glasses which made the edges of his eyes appear sharper and even more intellectual. Seeing the rank slide on his shoulder strap, Livy concluded he was most likely a major.

Taking in the appearance of the young major, Livy laughed softly to himself.

He only needed one look at the other party to know he was dealing with the same type of b*st*rd as Claude Sien. Except, unlike Claude Sien, who was much better at putting on a façade for himself, the person in front of him didn’t even bother to conceal the condescending air of indifference which emanated from him.

“Yo.” Livy flashed an easy and carefree smile. He was just about to enter the premises when he was blocked by the other party’s outstretched arm. And glare.

“Can’t you see that my rank is higher than yours?”

“Ah, I apologize. Hello, Major.” Livy enunciated each word clearly for the other party to hear.

“Haven’t you learned basic military etiquette?”

“Ah… how long has it been since I last saluted?”

Raising his right arm, Livy half-heartedly flourished it in the vicinity of his ear, “Sorry. Forgot how.” One messy salute later, he brushed past the major and entered the room without even glancing back.

As Livy walked deeper into the facility, he noticed that there were many people in the room. Individuals wearing lab coats and carrying holographic display computers circled the Pure-Hued Lady with great interest. It seemed they were in the middle of inspecting it.

Among the busy crowd, Livy managed to lock eyes with Claude; it seemed the latter had already noticed him entering.

“Good morning, Sergeant Livy Van Perle,” Claude greeted him with a smile.

As soon as Claude spoke these words, each and every pair of eyes started to turn in Livy’s direction.

“Aha.” Livy felt a sense of déjà vu. “Once again, I have become the object of scrutiny.”

By this time, Claude had already handed over the holographic computer in his hand to the person next to him and started walking towards Livy.

Under the eyes of the crowd, he reached out and undid the first three buttons of Livy’s shirt. In stark contrast to the ambiguous atmosphere brought about by his actions, the movements of his hands were easy and natural.

Though he was a bit surprised, Livy did not show his discomfort or recoil from Claude’s touch. Instead, he remained frozen and looked down at the latter’s fingers with disinterest. Claude calmly redid Livy’s buttons one by one. After redoing the top-most button, Claude lightly leaned down to whisper in Livy’s ear; the latter could feel Claude’s hot breath against his neck as the former spoke in a low tone, “Next time, please be mindful of the dress code, Sergeant.”

Claude then stepped back and gave Livy a teasing look. In response, Livy shook his hands off him.

“Thank you for the reminder, Major General.”

“So, this is the kind of man you’ve had your eyes on?” The major who Livy had just jilted walked over to their group.

He sneered before stating in a low voice, “He has absolutely no regard for us! Everyone in here is his superior officer, but did he give any of us a single salute? Today is his first day of training at Zone Z, but he can’t even dress properly. Is he even serious about piloting the Pure-Hued Lady?”

Claude let out a small chuckle. He looked at Livy, “Livy, do you have an explanation for this?”

The other scientists also stared at Livy expectantly. Livy sighed.

“This is why I hate academics,” he said, “they’re always wasting time and energy on superficial matters.”

Sticking his hands in his pockets, Livy turned towards the major who was currently giving him the stink eye, “Tell me which you would prefer; that I stand up straight and salute you, while mentally calling you a four-eyed frog; or would you rather have a genuine salute after you’ve proven to me with your own abilities that you really are deserving of that rank slide on your shoulder strap?”

**

After hearing this, the onlookers could practically see the steam coming out from the major’s nostrils. Miller glared coldly at Livy, while Livy stared disinterestedly back. Claude let out a light snort and broke their little staring contest, “Allow me to introduce you, Livy, to Major Miller, a mathematician at our air base. Though I could also provide a couple of adjectives to give you a better understanding of him, if I were to summarize it all, I would say that he is, by far, the best mathematician in our entire K11 Air Base.”

Claude introduced the bespectacled major like so. However, even after hearing the latter’s accomplishments, Livy was still unimpressed, “I’ll be the judge of that title. Once I fly the Pure-Hued Lady, I’ll know for sure if he’s really the best mathematician.”

“Alright, then I won’t waste any more time on meaningless trivialities.” Claude clapped his hands together, and everyone turned their attention to him. “I’ll go straight to the point… the reason why we are all gathered here today is to see if you really have what it takes to master and pilot the Pure-Hued Lady.” After announcing this, Claude gave Livy a meaningful look, “If you get dizzy and come out of the cockpit in less than five minutes, I want you to apologize to Major Miller. Do you understand, Livy?”

“Fair enough…” Livy answered with a shrug, “However, if I don’t, I hope Major Miller won’t make any more fuss over the little matter of my not saluting him.”

Miller cast Livy a look of disgust, which the latter ignored, “No problem. If you can do it, then I’ll even salute you.”

Saying this, Miller turned around and headed towards the adjacent control room and sat down at his station. He had been tasked with recording and analyzing the statistical data while Livy operated the simulation system.

Livy situated himself inside the cabin simulator; Claude’s voice broke out from his in-ear monitor.

“Sergeant, this system is called the two-way system. What makes it more advanced than that of the Blue Crisis is the addition of a curve system.”

“Will it take me half my life to learn what this curve system is?”  Livy had already entered the simulation environment and was ready to start it.

“There’s no need for you to learn how to use the curve system because its operation is completely dependent on a person’s sense of space. How you are able to visualize your movements in your head and the way you move the steering wheel in your hands determines how you’ll be able to navigate within the entire 3D space.”

“Then, basically, it’s like riding a bicycle. Once you find the feel for it, you can operate it easily?”

“Yes. For today, we’ll set aside the other auxiliary systems and simply see if you have the gift of piloting the Pure-Hued Lady.”

Claude’s voice from the in-ear monitor became more subdued, like a quartz sinking into the water.

Livy said nothing. The air in the simulation room was deathly silent, and in the silence, the mien around him turned serious.

Claude had only finished raising his hand to signal Major Miller to begin calculating the data when Livy suddenly violently activated the simulation system. The hologram positioned in front of the Pure-Hued Lady switched on, displaying a fighter jet rushing viciously down the runway before bursting recklessly into the skies.

Everyone was shocked.

“What just happened?”

The startled murmurs of the scholars watching from the sidelines began to echo inside the premises.

Major Miller grunted coldly while his fingers typed in a few lines of codes on the keyboard. As soon as he finished, several enemy aircraft appeared on the screen of the hologram and began to fiercely attack Livy.

All of a sudden, beams of light exploded in all directions, momentarily blinding everyone in the room. The enemy aircraft had all fired at once.

“Whoa… whoa… whoa…” Livy gave a cry of alarm as he struggled to make sense of the shapes he was seeing. Since the speed was so fast, everything started looking like various shades of light and random flashes. Livy’s head was also starting to ache. However, he knew that he needed to focus.

Getting a grip on the Pure-Hued Lady’s controls was harder than he had initially anticipated. He had never flown an aircraft with such incredible speed; not even his previous jet moved that fast, and his senses still couldn’t fully grasp just how quickly the aircraft was moving. It was impossible to think and react when it seemed as though he had left behind his soul at the station while his body traveled a million miles away.

Despite his disorientation, Livy was mindful of his grip on the steering wheel since he knew that even a small nudge in any direction could send him flying off course and farther than where he wanted to go. Each and every rotating motion and the speed of the up-and-down maneuvers were frying up his senses; he felt as though he was standing on the last fiber of a splitting rope that was ready to snap at any second, and he could taste the first wave of bile rising up his throat.

Outside the simulation room, the audience stared at the hologram anxiously. Obviously, the alien attacks on the screen weren’t real, but it didn’t stop the crowd from holding their breaths in nervous anticipation of how their newest pilot would fare, especially when the scene on the screen looked so intense.

Merely dodging was already overwhelming. Livy was like a child who had been thrown into the water before being taught by his parents how to swim. If one were to describe how he was faring, one word came to mind: ‘tragic’.

Miller raised his chin and stared at the screen. After a few seconds, he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and entered a few more lines of code into the system. Thereafter, two more enemy aircraft emerged and flew to join the siege against Livy.

By this time, Livy had already let out a miserable scream.

“D*mn—using this cheap trick to bully the weak! This must be the work of that four-eyed frog!”

“Do you think there is fairness on the battlefield?”

Miller’s voice was deadpan.

“D*mn it! Just when I thought moving the steering wheel couldn’t get any more annoying… how do I fire this?!” Livy didn’t want to waste time arguing with Miller, especially when he needed to quickly eliminate his enemies to increase his chances of survival. If his current situation didn’t improve, he was going to lose the simulated battle. He needed to survive for at least five minutes.

“Do you see the button on your right…”  Claude didn’t even get to finish his sentence before Livy pressed the button.

The missile that was launched didn’t fly in a straight line as Livy had expected; rather, it curved like a parabola and indifferently bypassed its target. Then, it headed straight back in Livy’s direction like a boomerang. Fortunately, Livy was able to react fast and dodged it, or else he would have been dead in less than two minutes.

“What kind of a f*cking missile is this?!”

Livy fulminated inside the cockpit. Just then, before the surrounding people could react, the enemies launched a series of attacks towards him. In a split second, Livy pivoted the airship out of the way. The Pure-Hued Lady circled the skies and made everyone’s heart skip a beat. The move was impulsively done by Livy, but his quick reflexes saved his life as the enemies’ lasers missed his left wing by only a hair’s breadth.

“What a shame that it didn’t finish you off.” Miller muttered under his breath as he flexed his fingers and prepared to type down a few more codes and commands on his computer. However, before he could hit compile, Claude’s hand covered his and held it down. Miller threw him a quizzical look.

“Are you sure you want to blow off steam in this way, Major Miller?”

The corners of Claude’s lips sported a shallow smile, but something deep inside his eyes instantly made Miller hesitate. They were doing this test to evaluate Livy’s capabilities, but here he was purposely trying to finish him off. This test had more at stake than his pride, and Miller was perfectly aware of that.

“He is a genius who has already lasted for over three minutes in the simulation system.” Miller’s voice was cool and objective.

Suddenly, Livy fired three more parabolic missiles. Although they all missed their targets, Miller’s computer showed that the accuracy of Livy’s third missile had increased by twenty-one percent compared to that of his first launch.

“Parabolic missiles are more difficult to master than normal missiles, not to mention he’s doing quite well in his high-speed flight.” Miller spoke while looking at the data on his computer screen. It was clear that he had already abandoned his earlier prejudice and was now focused on analyzing the results of their current test.

“Most importantly, he hasn’t said he’s going to throw up yet.”

When Miller informed Claude of this, the two exchanged knowing glances. This was the longest anyone had ever gone without vomiting. Just then, Livy’s voice flowed out from the communicator furiously, “Do you guys not have normal missiles or do you not know how to make them?!”

“We actually have them, but you were so eager to press the button before I’d even finished speaking.”

There was a hint of amusement in Claude’s voice. “Push that button forward, and not downward.”

Without even bothering with the consequences of his actions, Livy mindlessly sent out seven or eight missiles which flew in a disorganized fashion. None of the missiles were able to hit a target due to Livy’s unsteady flying; he only managed to create chaotic explosions in the air.

“This sh*tty system! It’s not user-friendly at all! Plus, it’s completely flawed, with no redeeming features except for speed!”

Livy complained like an angry and disgruntled customer giving a review on a faulty product.

Claude spoke into the microphone, “Be that as it may, I’m happy to inform you that you’ve already lasted four minutes.” He then turned towards Miller and asked in a low voice, “What is the longest time we’ve recorded?”

“The longest time was three minutes and twenty-four seconds. When it was set, the enemy planes during siege numbered five. This is the best result we’ve recorded since the record set by the elite pilots who trained for six months in the Gaze Space Station.”

“And now, this best result has been surpassed by Livy.”

Claude patted Miller’s shoulder as he said this. The former then gestured towards the wall clock hanging from the corner of the room. The time showed that Livy had already been in the simulation system for more than five minutes. The people of Zone Z quieted as realization dawned on them. There was an ecstatic restlessness in the air.

At exactly five minutes and forty-one seconds, Livy was finally hit.

The cabin doors opened, but Livy remained glued to his seat.

“Well done.” Claude put his arm around Livy as he said this, but a hint of mischievousness still leaked out from his tone. Livy quickly brushed Claude’s arm off, and the sudden movement caused him to stumble out of the cockpit. His limp body violently crashed onto the floor, and he started to vomit.

“Blegh…”

Claude then began talking to Livy, even though the latter was still in the midst of spilling out his guts.

“This is a normal after-effect of high-speed flying. I think you’ll have to get used to it later.”

Livy couldn’t even throw back a sarcastic remark because his energy was drained by his incessant puking. After one final screech, the young pilot finally fainted.

Miller walked over to where Claude was standing and looked at Livy’s sleeping form, “Do we need to call a doctor for him?”

“To be honest, I didn’t think he’d throw up.” Miller added as he scrunched up his nose at the sight of Livy’s breakfast on the floor.

“I reckon he’ll be light-headed for a few more days.” Claude told his companion before turning around on his heels.

There was a faint smile on his lips as he walked away; though the rest of his face remained unchanged, something deep was awoken within Claude. A passion that had always been inside of him now overwhelmed his senses. The light in his eyes grew ardent1The original Chinese was 振翅欲飞 (zhèn chì yù fēi), a phrase used to describe a person with clear goals who is willing to endure countless hardships in the pursuit of something higher (e.g., knowledge). 振翅 (zhèn chì) and 飞 (fēi) mean to flap one’s wings and fly, respectively, while 欲 (yù) means desire. as he thought of the possibility the Pure-Hued Lady would fly into the skies now that his team had someone like Livy.

※※※

The situation unfolded as Claude had predicted, and Livy was so dizzy he couldn’t leave the bed. Since he didn’t have an appetite, headquarters sent medical specialists to administer him with an IV and to check on his health.

When the team arrived at his quarters, the medics found the young pilot was still delirious.

“Oh, thank God! I know you have the medicine to relieve this headache! Give it to me quickly! I don’t want the IV; I just want the d*mn ceiling to stop spinning!” Livy used the back of his hand to cover his eyes as the medical team started to check up on him. He also resisted as they tried to put the IV on him.

“We can’t do that, sergeant. Major General Claude Sien specifically instructed us not to give you anything but TPN (total parenteral nutrition) because you are supposed to get used to this feeling by yourself.”

“Oh, God — is he the doctor or are you the doctor? Why are you following his orders? What does he f*cking know?” Livy’s anguished cries continued on.

 


**Special Note: Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay
To access the unedited version of Chapter 4, please click here.
  • 1
    The original Chinese was 振翅欲飞 (zhèn chì yù fēi), a phrase used to describe a person with clear goals who is willing to endure countless hardships in the pursuit of something higher (e.g., knowledge). 振翅 (zhèn chì) and 飞 (fēi) mean to flap one’s wings and fly, respectively, while 欲 (yù) means desire.

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4 thoughts on “Chapter 4 – The Simulation System”

  1. Lol I know Claude is at least partially trying to help Livy, but it feels like he’s just playing with him!

    Thank you for the chapter!

    Reply

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