The soldiers reached me. They aimed their guns and fired before I could even turn around.
I thought I couldn't feel more pain. That I'd maxed out the human capacity to endure.
I was wrong.
The bullet of fire entered my body and moved through me, leaving a trail of burning agony in its wake.
I slumped over the crystal box, my blood seeping out of me, staining the opaque quartz.
Red. Scarlet. Evie whispered the color of my own name into my ear as I slowly died.
My last vision was of scarlet blood—still just grey to me—spreading into the cracks, into the intricate carvings that decorated the encasement. It almost seemed to glow, and I smiled and closed my eyes as the crystal shattered and darkness took me.
Shades of Grey
I've spent my life in shades of grey. It wasn't until I died that my world filled with color.
But that day I still lived in black and white, and my future, my dream of becoming a pilot, rested in my ability to see past my two-toned world and into the nuances of shades that would help me pass this test.
I stood in the middle of the airfield in Helena, Montana, surrounded by airplanes, some taxying, some grounded, all of them beautiful. I longed to be in the cockpit of one of them, to feel the power and thrill of controlling a 300,000 pound metal tube with wings amongst the clouds.
Dr. Crayton stood beside me, his glasses perched on the end of his nose, clipboard in hand, as we waited for the controller in the air traffic control tower to flash the first light from the light guns.
I would have to identify which lights were green and which were red. If I passed, I'd get an exemption for my color-blindness and would be allowed to start flight training.
If I failed, my dreams would end.
I wouldn't fail.
I'd been dreaming of flying since I was a child, since the first time I went up in a Cessna with my dad. It was love at first flight, and I haven't looked back.
When my parents realized I was color blind, they tried to dissuade me from this career path, but I refused to budge. When my parents told my doctor the severity, and rarity, of my condition, he insisted it would be a waste of time. I insisted we try.
Somehow, someway, I would fly.
Dr. Crayton, the FA Medical Examiner responsible for issuing me a Second Class Medical Certificate—something I needed before I could train for my pilot's license—texted someone on his phone and then looked up at me. "Miss Night, are you ready to begin?"
I took a deep breath, reining in my nerves, and nodded. I could do this. I'd tried to make a case that these restrictions were outdated rules from a bygone era that lacked the technology of today. I had my e-Glass, and Evie—the most advanced artificial intelligence. She guided me through this colored world I lived in grey by telling me what I was seeing. I'd never be a danger or risk to passengers. But they persisted, convinced that I had to navigate the sky without the aid of AI, just in case we ever lost it. But we were as likely to lose the ability to fly, so I failed to see the sense in this. Still, I'd been training without Evie for weeks to pass this one test. I was ready. I nodded and focused my sight on the horizon.
"Very well," he sighed, a resigned look of smug knowing on his face.
I wanted to kick his kneecaps but that wouldn't help me get his stamp of approval. Instead, I closed my eyes, controlled my breathing, and let my body relax. I imagined a world of color, a world denied to me since birth, and I willed the lights in the sky to tell me their secrets, to give to me their truth so that I could see beyond the grey.
When the first light flashed from the tower, I hesitated. Red or green? Red or green?
Dr. Crayton cleared his throat. "Red or green, Scarlett?"
Oh the irony that my name would represent such a vibrant color I could never see. "Red," I said, sure that the shades I saw hinted at what I'd learned to be red.
The next light gun flashed. Red. Then green. That one was different. I was sure of it. Red again. Three more greens. We continued this way for an eternity that was likely not more than twenty minutes. The heat from our warm Montana summer beat down on me. Sweat pooled under my arms. I ignored it and stayed focused.
Finally, he texted someone, then clasped his pen to the clipboard. "Very well. We're finished. I'll message you with your results, once I've spoken to the Controller."
"Can you give me any hint as to whether I did okay?" I wasn't above begging to stop this pain in my gut as my future hung in the balance of his decision.
"I'm afraid not." For the first time, his brown eyes softened and he almost smiled. "I'll let you know soon, though."
As I walked across the airfield alone, I couldn't decide if his change of tone was good, or very, very bad.
The Helena Airport is small. Really small. Which is why I was glad I lived close enough to hang out there regularly. My dad rented a hangar here for his Cessna, though he kept a second plane at our house as well, and being the homeschooled geek that I was, I spent most days in the hangar with him, learning about ground control, pre-flight check-lists, airplane maintenance and flying.
I pulled my e-Glass from my pocket and slipped the small device around my ear. It turned on and Evie's voice spoke in a clipped British accent. "Hello, Scarlett. How did your test go?"
"No idea. Any chance you can hack into their system and get my results for me?"
"The hacking skills you've programmed me with are likely sufficient. I can try if you would like."