Pilot Candidates are chosen by a combination of chance and deliberation. All children with a psychic in their immediate family are placed on a watch list and carefully monitored for psionic ability. If they prove to be psychic, they are drafted into the Pilot Candidate program.
Those psychics who slip through the cracks (perhaps because they had no immediate family with the gift and were thus not placed on the watch list, or perhaps because they had managed to keep their abilities hidden) are often discovered during casual screenings at health clinics, but not all psychic phenomenon is easily detectable. Some forms are more subtle, noticeable only to a Pilot. Once a psychic is found, they are evaluated to determine if their abilities warrant entrance into the program. Those who do not qualify are drafted into lesser roles or, if especially weak, allowed to go on their way.
Candidates come from all over the place, from all different backgrounds and ages and castes, but in the Pilot program all are made equal...which means all have the same fifty-fifty chance of either passing the program and becoming a Pilot, or being sent to TRIM.
All candidates are paired up with a Pilot mentor upon entering the program, to receive extra training and guidance with things that the classroom and drills can't teach. Candidates are matched to Pilots based on a variety of factors and are generally matched based on personality and skill, given to the Pilot who can best reach them, motivate them, and/or help them with any unique challenges they might face.
Training is brutal and unforgiving and often results in serious injury, but candidate death is rare and is taken very seriously. It is also considered to be a failure on the mentor's part, for Pilots are directly responsible for their candidate's well-being and should all know their limits. Pilots bear the responsibility for a candidate's suicide as well. Leading a candidate through the merciless reality of the program without allowing them to give in to despair takes skill, and any Pilot who fails in this and loses a candidate to suicide would be considered grossly incompetent. In either case, a Pilot whose candidate dies would never be allowed to mentor again.
Only a small percentage of Pilots are cleared to train candidates, as they are considered valuable resources. It takes a keen grasp of psychology and behavioral analysis to successfully train candidates. Candidates are all individuals with different strengths and weaknesses, and to be a mentor the Pilot must realize that a "one size fits all" training approach simply will not work. The Pilots have a keen, unspoken understanding that a candidate is the responsibility of their mentor and that the mentor alone has the right to guide their instruction. Other Pilots do not interfere or undermine that relationship.
The youngest age at which a psychic can be entered into the Pilot Program is thirteen. The oldest age at which as psychic can be drafted into the Pilot Program is twenty-one. A minimum of four years is required to graduate, and the Pilot must be at least eighteen to do so.
In addition to raw ability, the Program also seeks minds that it can easily mold. For that reason, it is believed that this age range is ideal.
Rules and Expectations
A candidate's drill fatigues consist of a white, short sleeved t-shirt, a short gray coat with long sleeves, cuffs, a medium collar, and matching gray pants. Candidates are expected to be in uniform at all times, save on special, rare off days where they may dress in civilian clothes, though the activity is confined to their dorms and rec. halls. Candidates are required to keep their uniforms, shoes, and living spaces spotless and fastidiously clean, their beds made each and every morning and free of wrinkles. They wake at 0500 each day, and they must be dressed and ready for the day by 0530.
No candidate can leave the ATC without the written permission of the Director of Candidate Affairs and a Pilot escort. Literally, they cannot leave; their chips do not have the necessary authorization to open any ATC exit door. Candidates are allowed no pets, and they may only receive visitors on designated days, when they are permitted to meet with them in the public lobby of the ATC.
When they arrive, candidates cell phones are confiscated, as well as any other technology that can communicate with the outside. Their phones are replaced with phones issued by the program that can only call or text phones of other candidates and Pilots. Candidates are allowed to call outside phones during their rec times and phone privileges can be revoked when candidates misbehave. Even when phones are silenced (and they are expected to be silenced during all classes and drills), if the phones are sent a special alert message from a Pilot (typically their mentor or Pilot Rosales), it will sound and candidates are allowed to answer those alerts.
Unlike regular military trainees who live in barracks, Pilot candidates live in dorm rooms. They live two to a room and have their own bathroom, which must be kept as spotless as the rest of their living space. Each room contains two twin beds, two desks, and one terminal. They are allowed minor personal affects and decorations.
Candidates must also follow proper military protocol. Pilots typically address them as Candidate + Last Name (for instance, Candidate Smith), and they are expected to address Pilots by their rank and last name and to show them, and other military officials, the highest respect. Insubordination is not tolerated and is met with harsh consequences. Adherence to chain of command is drilled into them from day one.
Within the first two stages of candidacy, bullying and hazing is unfortunately common and largely unreported. Pilots do not usually intervene except in very serious conflicts with the general expectation being that candidates learn to fight their own battles early on. A candidate that breaks under the pressures of candidacy is a Pilot who wouldn't last long after graduation.
A popular past time of higher stage candidates is betting on which of the newer candidates will pass or be trimmed.
Candidates go through a standard training program designed to cull the undesirables and ensure only the best and most loyal become Pilots. The following is the basic framework of the candidate program, however a candidate's experiences and training tend to be highly individualized, especially if they have the benefit of a Pilot mentor. Stage 1 is the only stage with a specific time frame. Candidates will pass the other stages when and if they are deemed fit. The responsibility of deciding who passes to the next stage and when falls on the Director of Candidate Affairs, though the recommendations of the Pilot mentors are taken into account. Stages are denoted by colored stripes on the collar and cuffs of the candidate uniform.
- A six-month grace period that all candidates receive. During this time, "gracies" participate with the regular military recruits in the physically demanding Aedolan Basic Training program and cannot be sent to TRIM for reasons short of treason or murder. Little to no psychic training occurs during this stage, save what may be necessary to ensure candidate safety, as Stage 1's purpose is to determine who is even worth psychic instruction in the first place. Weaker candidates can expect excessive and vicious torment from other candidates, with little policing from the Pilots. This stage exists to weed out the truly hopeless cases. Its color is green, and on average 80 percent of candidates pass to the next stage. Ways to get trimmed include: psycopathy, sociopathy, apathy, excessive violence, treason, or unceasing insubordination.
- Having finished Basic Training, candidates will move on to Intensive Training, which is more physically and mentally demanding than Basic. Candidates will also have to pass classroom work consisting of basic subjects such as Aedolian history, the sciences, and mathematics. They will also be required to pass courses on psychic theory and brain anatomy, the goal of which is to give them a knowledge foundation upon which to build their psychic abilities. The severe bullying continues into this stage and may even intensify. With increasing frequency, candidates will begin to receive instruction and training apart from the regular military personnel. Pilots make intensive appraisals of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses during the course of this stage. This is the most difficult stage to pass, and the criteria for moving on is vastly more challenging than in Stage 1. Pilots are far less forgiving of faults in this stage, and are looking specifically for candidates with the potential and desire to become loyal, useful Pilots. Only an average of 50% will make it through this stage. The color is sky blue. Ways to get trimmed include: all the reasons mentioned in Stage 1, incompetence in any one of a number of areas, lack of motivation, lack of genuine desire to be a Pilot, and flippancy toward the program.
- Sometimes referred to as the Team Stage because of a dramatic shift that occurs in the training regimen. Beginning with this stage, candidates will now be required to think and act as part of a team. Group exercises replace individual instruction, and bullying among the Stage 3 candidates is no longer tolerated, though the tormenting of lower candidates still occurs. Candidates receive instruction on the histories of Edanith and the space stations, plus classes on Aedolian government and politics. They take extensive courses on the anatomy and functional biology of the brains of over a dozen sentient species. There are psychic theory courses coupled with practical application of powers. At this point, candidates are almost fully separate from other military personnel in their training. As the number of candidates has greatly decreased by now, they receive much more one-on-one training from their Pilots and the Director of Candidate Affairs. An average of 60% of candidates pass this stage and the color is white. Ways to get trimmed include: all the reasons mentioned for previous stages, inability or unwillingness to work in a group, disrespect toward candidates Stage 3 or higher, and inability to master their psychic abilities to a level of competence.
- This stage focuses almost entirely on the psychic aspect of being a Pilot. Candidates are expected to adhere to a physical fitness regimen to maintain their bodies and combat skills, and this regimen is almost identical to the one Pilots themselves are held to. Most of the candidate's time will be spent putting the knowledge they gained in previous stages to work as they apply what they know to controlling and utilizing their psychic powers. They work closely with the Pilots throughout and receive personal instruction to overcome their difficulties. The time necessary to pass this stage varies greatly from candidate to candidate, and some have been known to skip it completely if their mastery over their psychic abilities is considered adept enough. This is also the stage where candidates start to go on real missions with Pilots. The only candidates likely not to pass this stage are those who, for whatever reason, are simply unable to learn to control their abilities. The color for this stage is yellow.
- The final stage. Candidates who reach this level are moved out of the Advanced Training Complex and required to live in the the Citadel where they will act as personal assistants to the Pilots. This is to immerse them in the life of a Pilot so that they may acclimate themselves to the lifestyle and learn things that just cannot be taught in a classroom. In addition, it allows the dragons to familiarize themselves with the candidates at their leisure and get to know them as potential Pilots. Candidates in this stage receive their own room and are second in rank only to the Pilots themselves, and a large part of their duties entail teaching lower candidates. Their color is red, and they pass this stage and graduate when a dragon chooses them as a Pilot.
After graduating, the new Pilot gets a week of leave to go and do whatever they like, a sort of vacation after all their hard work...before they have to get back to work.
As a tradition, Pilots often celebrate the anniversary of their graduation. It's also a tradition for the Pilot's former mentor to give them a gift.