She should have ignored the texts that were popping onto her screen, but Streem Durum didn’t get many juicy messages and never one announcing the fall from grace of one of her high school’s cheerleader-approved, A-lister, snooty girls. She slowed her steps to a crawl, then stopped, captivated by a flurry of texts about her sophomore classmate Claudia, an oh-so-perfect, top-of-the-social-ladder, popular girl who had been caught handing in a history paper written by a college junior. Did Claudia buy the paper on-line? Don’t think so. Is she seeing a college guy? Bet she is. Why’d she do it? Too busy dating the college guy!
     Ten minutes vanished in a flash, and suddenly, Streem realized she was going to be late. She took off at a run for the Field Administration building and dashed into the pilot ready room, immediately blurting out an apology for being five minutes late. Geena held Streem’s eyes with her own, and, not smiling, pointed to the large clock on the wall.
     “Nine minutes late, not five,” she slowly and sternly intoned.
     “Yes, you’re right. I’m sorry.”
     “When you’re dealing with flying, you’ve got to be full-on responsible. Every detail counts when you’re piloting an aircraft. Understood?”
     “Yes, ma’am.”
     Geena smiled. “Ma’am? I may be old, but let’s go back to calling me Geena.”
     “I guessed you scared me a little. I never heard your scary voice before.”
     “That’s good. I want you to be a little scared. It’ll help keep you sharp. Complacency can get a good pilot killed. Now let’s check the weather, pick a flight path and get up in the air.”
     It was a beautiful afternoon for flying and Streem had always wanted to fly. She was grateful to Geena, and all the other local pilots, who often invited her to tag along on afternoon flights during which she was known for asking countless questions and for catching on to concepts real quick. They all knew her ambition to get her pilot’s license and become an astronaut. Streem had been hanging around the airfield on weekends and after school for years, now splitting three days a week between doing odd jobs for the airport administrator and assisting the head aircraft mechanic. She was saving all her earnings to pay for flying lessons once she turned sixteen, completed her ground schooling and got her student certification.
     Strapped into their seats in Geena’s Cessna 172, they ran through the pre-flight check lists and prepared for take-off in the blue-striped, single-engine airplane. Geena unwraped and removed a very pretty headscarf, then deftly braided her long, silver-grey hair into a single, thick plait before slipping on her headphones. Taking the hint, Streem tamed her own straight, long, chestnut hair with a simple low pony tail and settled her headphones over her ears. With all items ticked off and the motor running, Geena asked Streem to declare their departure. Streem took the microphone in hand and announced their call sign, where they were heading and their imminent departure. They both checked the sky for other aircraft before Geena accelerated the airplane down the runway and lifted off. Through a cloudless azure sky, they flew away from the airfield toward the gently rolling countryside. Down below the landscape shrank as they gained altitude. With the aircraft’s wing stretching out over the pilot’s cabin, the visibility below was expansive and captivating.
     Streem liked Geena, a woman in her early sixties who led her own architectural design firm, and asked how long she’s been a pilot. As they climbed to their cruising altitude of five thousand feet, Geena related she’s been flying near fifty years, and that Streem reminded her of herself as a teen when the flying bug bit her too. But as similar as their love of flying made them, Geena knew there were big differences also. She hadn’t spent much time with Streem before recognizing the girl was exceptionally smart, and not just with her brain, but with her hands too. Geena had seen her tear down an engine and reassemble it better than new. The seasoned pilot knew the girl was special, and, remembering her own struggles as a girl having her dream of learning to fly taken seriously, she very much enjoyed giving Streem informal flying lessons.
     “We’re coming up on our cruising altitude, Streem. What do you suggest for fuel management?”
     “We need to lean out the fuel mixture for a more efficient burn since the air is less dense at our cruising altitude than at take-off.”
      “That’s right. I’ll just pull back a bit on the mixture control.” Geena locked her hand around the big red knob. “Okay, here we go. Now keep an eye on engine RPM. I only need to …” Suddenly, a dark shape blurred Streem’s field of vision and the windshield exploded as a large, black turkey vulture slammed into Geena, bloodying her face, ripping off her headset and knocking her hard against the seat and unconscious.