Prologue

Allan Falkirk looked into the crowd. Graduating day was not an easy day to find anyone, or anything, for that matter. The campus of Allan’s high school was flooded with not only all of the graduating seniors, but more than twice as many parents, relatives, and well-wishers also. As Falkirk scanned the crowd, he quickly realized that it was useless to look for his friends. Likely, they were all fully intent on showing up “fashionably late”.

“Allan!” an unknown voice shouted. Falkirk spun around, his sight fixing on a pair of familiar faces, the first that he had seen this morning. Tom Simon and Nate Dunn, his two friends, had a physical disparity between them that made seeing both of them together awkward. Simon was tall and thin, the past few years of adolescence had seen him develop thin bands of muscle, but they seemed far and few between. He was a giant, and still growing at 6’6”.

Dunn was another matter. He was short and stocky, with so much muscle mass that he looked like a tank. In the locker room, Falkirk and Dunn competed to see how much the other could lift. Falkirk was barely ahead in the bench press, but Dunn would always show him up in the leg press.

“Gentlemen!” Falkirk shouted, pleased to see them. “How’s graduating day been for you guys?”

“I guess I can’t complain,” Dunn stated flatly. “Although I really think that the parents blow it out of proportion.”

“No kidding,” Simon said. “It seems so weird to be graduating this soon.”

“So what’re you guys doing after the ceremonies?” Falkirk said, quickly changing the subject. He didn’t like the memories and nostalgia that would likely come flooding back in a session of reminiscing. He wanted to move ahead with his life.

“Nate and I were going to hang out, over at my house.” Simon said. “You want to chill with us?”

“Yeah, of course. Can I bring some friends?” Falkirk inquired.

“No problem. Ought to be right after the ceremonies, up until Grad Night.” Simon replied.

“It looks like they’re starting this thing. Come on Allan, let’s get to the honor row.” Dunn stated.

“You go on up there, I’ve got to find someone.” Falkirk said, as he quickly ran from the scene.

Falkirk scanned the rows of graduates in black robes, but he couldn’t find Melody Martinez.

Melody had been a good friend throughout high school to Allan, but recently, they seemed to be growing apart. She was a smaller young woman, but had a pugnacious personality. She had always been like that, and although her last name implied a Hispanic descent, she was actually only ¼ Hispanic. Falkirk wondered where she was. He felt the need to talk to her.

Her loss, Falkirk thought. Or perhaps not.

The ceremonies began quickly, and caught all of the graduates rushing to their seats. Falkirk jumped into his seat next to Dunn, just as the valedictorians began to give their speeches. Falkirk knew almost all of them, had been in their classes, but had never managed to achieve the goals that they had. The academics, although he worked through them as hard as he could, managed to always trip him up in the end. Falkirk wished that he had the natural intelligence of those on stage in front of him.

Dunn was fidgeting. Falkirk sighed loudly. It was clear that both wanted the ceremony to be over as quickly as possible. The honor roll graduates were called on stage, Dunn and Falkirk among them. They smiled for the cameras, but as soon as the applause began, the two strode hastily off stage.

“Let’s go to my locker.” Falkirk said to Dunn, a glint in his eye. “Why do we need to do that?” Dunn replied, wearily.

“It’s a surprise. You’ll see when you get there.” Falkirk retorted.

As soon as the two arrived, the black robed graduates went up to receive their diplomas. Simon came running over just as Falkirk had opened his locker, with a grunt.

“I swear to God, this old thing is going to be rusted shut for some poor freshman next year.” Falkirk grumbled.

The locker was basically empty, except for a small stack of papers and a CD. He pulled these out, and showed them to Simon and Dunn. They quickly responded to the schematics of a fighter jet.

“Isn’t that an F-22?” Dunn asked.

“Yeah, but it’s only got one engine, it looks huge! What is that thing?” Simon demanded.

“In hacker lore, my friends, this would be called a score.” Falkirk stated. Although he might not have achieved the academic and athletic heights that his friends had, he was not without extracurricular activities.

“To the rest of us, though,” Falkirk continued, “that is the X-37, a prototype jet, undergoing final stages of testing to become an experimental fighter. From what I understand, they’ve been developing this thing for five years, and it still hasn’t seen the light of day.”

“You mean to say that you hacked in to a restricted prototype database?” Simon asked incredulously.

“You guys are looking at a master.” Falkirk stated. “Now read this.” Simon and Dunn quickly scanned the piece of paper.

“Allan, you aren’t seriously thinking of becoming a test pilot, are you?” Dunn said.

“Nate, you know me too well. Of course I am! Isn’t that cool?!” Falkirk exclaimed.

“Allan, you are absolutely insane! That plane doesn’t use jet fuel, it’s got a nuclear reactor, built right into it! It’s like flying an atom bomb with wings!” Dunn yelled.

Although Falkirk realized that Dunn had a point, he understood that he had been given an opportunity to see the future that very few people had. He didn’t want to leave that alone now.

“Well, what else do you want me to do? Now that I’ve found this, I can’t possibly leave it alone. Wouldn’t you do the same?” Falkirk quickly responded.

“No.” Dunn and Simon stated, almost simultaneously.

“Well, I’m going to. I’ve always wanted to do something like this, live a life full of adventure and fun. Now is my chance. What else would you want me to do?” Falkirk said exasperatedly.

“I don’t know, but people are starting to finish the ceremony. Let’s get out of here.” Simon quickly said.

The three sprinted for the parking lot, in an effort to avoid the traffic. Simon and Dunn hopped into their car, since they had come together. Falkirk jumped into his Trans Am, which he had just done an engine replacement on a few months ago.

Poor old car, Falkirk thought to himself. As soon as I get out of here, I’m going to find something new, like a convertible. Or a motorcycle! Nothing could beat that.

The two cars tore out of the parking lot, with Simon and Dunn in the lead. They drove fast, left, right, right, left, and after many more turns and intersections, they arrived at Simon’s house ten minutes later. They quickly went inside, up to Simon’s room. The music was pumping, and the chips and salsa were a boon to the atmosphere hanging over the three boys. Less than an hour later, they went to lunch.

Again, screaming down the streets, the two cars arrived at the local fast food burger joint. The line was out the door, but looking in, they could see Melody Martinez, waiting in line with her parents.

Wow, Falkirk thought. She sure does look unhappy.

Without another thought, Falkirk called “Hey Melody!”, and the three jumped ahead of the line to meet her.

Melody said “’Sup”, in her usual laid-back style. She was always in a great mood, and Falkirk felt that he needed that right now.

“Come with me and the guys. We can hang out together.” Falkirk pleaded. “Alright, sounds great.” She quickly replied. “Mom, if I’m not home by 2, then I probably won’t be coming home.” She joked.

After getting their burgers, the group hopped back into their two cars, Martinez riding shotgun with Falkirk. They returned to Simon’s house, basking in the taste of grilled meat and overcooked French fries.

“So I guess that we’re supposed to decide what to do with our lives now,” Martinez said, dejectedly.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Falkirk responded. “What are you all thinking of doing?” “College, probably,” said Dunn. Falkirk nodded, but he noticed a hint of displeasure from both Simon and Martinez. Neither of them had the success in academics that Dunn and Falkirk had.

“I’m thinking of the Marines, maybe,” said Simon. “They need people now more than ever.”

“What about you, Melody?” Falkirk asked.

“I don’t know, I guess I’ve never really thought about it before,” said Martinez. “What about you?”

“Oh, we’ll see,” said Falkirk, looking out the window into the clear blue sky. “I guess the sky’s the limit.”