Chapter Four: Partners
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
“I wish they would only take me as I am.”
—Vincent Van Gogh, Dear Theo: Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh
MONDAY, APRIL 19, 6118 AD V.E.O ACADEMY, NEO TOKYO, JAPAN
“I’m telling you, you do this and you sign the death warrant for every person in this school!” Maientra insisted angrily. “If Jaegar finds out about Lethya, nothing will keep him from unleashing every force he has on this school to destroy her!”
“He may have heard about it by now, Maia,” Principal Emelath said wearily. “Many of the boys could have already told their parents, and the rumors spread.” As principal, he was in a very uncomfortable position: the school was the best place for Lethya, certainly, and there was no denying she had skills they could use. However, no amount of talent was going to change the law, and the minute word of her existence got out, her talent was as useful to them as her memory.
“The people have a right to know,” a small, thin man added self-righteously, scowling as he tugged on the edges of his sparse mustache. “You have no say in this matter, Commander.” The way he’d said ‘Commander’ made it sound like a filthy name. “The people will be informed.”
“The people aren’t the ones who are going to hear about the revival of someone who could be the key to winning this war and try to kill her and the rest of the school!” Maientra shouted, getting nearer to losing her temper by the second. “Already we’ve gone through almost three millennia of war with Jaegar! She could end that, and the people will know later, but for the time being Jaegar can’t, and if that means hiding her existence from anyone who doesn’t need to know, so be it!”
“Our readers depend on the Neo Tokyo Times to deliver news as soon as we hear it,” he returned, sniffing. “And we will publish stories as we see fit.”
“Not this one, you won’t!” growled Maientra.
“Commander Rensaris and Mr. Kindall, you will cease this at once.” The Arch Psymancer gazed imperiously down on them from the VidScreen, eyes narrowed. “There is one obvious solution, and that is to notify the Emperor, the Master Psymancer, and the Representatives of each planet. The gravity of this situation is beyond dinner table talk, Mr. Kindall, and so I am sure you will understand if I forbid you and your newspaper from printing and publishing any stories concerning young Lethya, and spreading the word of her existence. If the Grand Council gathers here, you may cover that, but with no mention of why, where, and when. Commander Rensaris is right in that this situation is a serious matter and must remain in absolute confidentiality. The knowledge of Lethya’s residence may be a matter of life or death for everyone in the Academy, and it is our duty to not allow the students to be put into harm or a potentially deadly situation.”
There was a loud boom behind them, and everyone looked to the glass wall in time to see black smoke billow up. A second later, several students staggered past, thoroughly charred.
“That was awesome!”
“I told you not to set off that one!”
“Good going, idiot, couldn’t even wait until we were out of the room!”
Far down the hall, Thorald’s creaking bellow echoed menacingly, and they all swore and bolted away. Boys crowded closer, trying to look through the smoke.
“What’d they set off?”
“Wish I’d thought of that!”
“We can light something else, you guys!”
“Yeah! Something bigger!”
“What if it, like, knocked down a wall?”
“That would be so cool!”
“That is,” Lady Iaren added dryly in the stunned silence afterward, “assuming they don’t kill themselves first.”
9:11 AM, MONDAY, APRIL 19
Lethya stepped out of the Nutrition Scanner, tray fully laden in what she assumed were breakfast foods, still feeling rather odd in her new clothes. Then again, she wasn’t about to refuse them—she had no money and no way to make any, so until she did she would live with what the school gave her. It wasn’t a bad look, just one that she’d have to get used to.
The boys either silently stared at her or kept their eyes on their food until she had passed, a restless quiet dulling some of the sound in the cafeteria. She ignored them and sat down at the same table from before, noticing with a twinge that is was empty. Well, Jerik had to have his own friends, and same with Ander; she couldn’t expect them to keep her company every day.
“Hey, Lethya!” She looked up to see Jerik waving from another table. “Come eat with us!”
She hesitated and was opening her mouth to respond, when she saw Ander elbow Jerik in the ribs, muttering something. A shadow crossed Jerik’s face and he said something back, then shouted, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”
This time she could hear Ander quite well when he turned to face him and hissed, “Shut up, Jerik! I’m not eating with her!”
Lethya stared down at her breakfast until she could trust herself to speak. “It’s okay, I’d rather eat over here.”
She nodded, a lump in her throat. “I’m fine.” Before he could say anything, she shoveled a bite into her mouth, eyes cast down.
“Her eyes change color, right?” Jerik asked slowly, voice low and face unreadable.
“Yeah,” Ander said gruffly around a mouthful of apple, “they do.”
“You ever seen ‘em that color?”
Ander quickly looked over to where she sat alone, picking at her food, now-silver eyes expressionless. The only other time he’d seen them that shade was when she’d first found out how long she’d been asleep. No, not then—it had been while she was in shock. What had she said? “I have nothing! I should be dead right now with the rest of my family! I remember nothing except my name and little pieces that mean nothing to me! Don’t bloody tell me to calm down!”
Her eyes had been dark indigo, silver, pale purple, and silver-purple then. The silver-purple was confusion, he’d figured that out before; dark blue was anger, pale purple fear.
So silver was sorrow. Emotional pain.
“No,” he lied. “Never.”
9:31 AM, MONDAY, APRIL 19
Lethya nervously approached Ander’s table after clearing away her tray, her food barely touched. Jerik noticed her standing there right away, but either Ander didn’t or he was ignoring her. “What’s up, Leth-master?”
“Well, um…” She shifted uncomfortably, wishing Ander would look up at her. “They haven’t told me which classes I’ll be going to, and I don’t know where to find out…”
“Ander’s your partner,” Jerik said, sounding as if that should explain everything.
“What does that mean?” If Ander wouldn’t keep ignoring her like this, it wouldn’t make her feel nearly so much like she was on trial.
Ander stood up abruptly, his expression flat. “It means you’re going to be following me,” he snapped, walking away and leaving his tray on the table. “Everywhere.”
“Same classes,” Jerik elaborated, sending an irate look at Ander’s retreating back. “Ignore him. I’m investigating the rumors that there’s an entire playground up his rear right now.” Lethya tried to smile. “He did fail to mention that class is in half an hour and your first one’s Advanced Mechanics with none other than Sakfas the Merry Little Sunshine,” he continued. “We meet in the Mech Shop.” She blinked, trying to remember where that was. “Rear wall of the hangar,” he informed her, reading her look correctly. “Take your book bag, three notebooks, and at least five pens and pencils—not to mention the Dragonship Manual. You’ll be assigned a set of tools, and heaven help you if you damage or lose any of them. Depending on his mood, he’ll either let you work on a damaged Dragonship or make you take notes and read. His homework generally leans towards assigned readings and study questions, with the occasional essay. Stuff he knows is boring and makes you do anyway. It’s my first class too—in fact, I’m in every class of yours, now that I think of it. Of course.” He frowned, rubbing his chin absentmindedly. “‘Course, you’ll be doing different stuff in our AFT class—Advanced Flight Training. I think both the Head Commander and the Head Psymancer work with you then.”
Lethya’s mouth pulled into a half-frown. “How many people do they do that with?”
“Before now, it was just Ander.” Jerik stood, picking up both his tray and Ander’s and depositing them in a bin nearby. “Now I assume it’s both you and Ander.” They left the cafeteria together, pushing through the masses, and Jerik yelled over the chatter, “Don’t be late! Try to get to the hangar ten minutes before class if you can!”
He vanished into the masses and she looked around, then shoved out into a gap in the crowd and ducked down a hall, trying to remember where she needed to go. Her room was only ten stories from the roof…the C level of the rooms…she’d need to use one of those tube-things to get up there. The ones outside the cafeteria would be crowded, and she was near the library, so she’d take the ones there. She set off at a jog, hoping she’d be able to make it to class on time.
10:04 AM, MONDAY, APRIL 19
“Thank you for joining us, Miss Fanyathe,” Professor Sakfas said, tone biting. “Fashionably late, I presume? You are aware that you are four minutes tardy.”
“I got lost,” she mumbled, turning beet red and staring at the ground. “I—”
“Exceptions are not made for anyone, Fanyathe,” he snapped. “Not new students, not old ones, not ones that conveniently get lost, and not ones that really don’t belong here. You have detention tonight.”
Lethya was going to die of shame, right then and there. It was bad enough that no one was saying anything, just looking at her. What was worse was that Ander wasn’t even looking at her, just making a pencil float absentmindedly above his open palm, his back to her. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, eyes locked on the now fascinating ground.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he corrected tightly.
Jerik stared at Sakfas, completely blown away. Not only did he never antagonize anyone like this, but he’d never made any of them call him ‘sir.’ The boys exchanged glances, some gleeful, others surprised, confused, or uneasy at the professor’s actions.
Lethya struggled to keep her face blank as she shuffled to an empty seat in the back of the room, nervously fingering the blue sash in her hair. She hadn’t missed his comment on students that ‘really didn’t belong there’ and knew exactly what he was saying: just because he allowed her in his classroom didn’t mean he had even come close to accepting her yet.
“Now if we may continue?” He pulled a battered copy of what she’d dubbed The Manual out and dropped it on the desk. “The plan for today was to get to work on repairing some of the Dragonships—” At this everyone sat up a little straighter, looking interested. “—but since not everyone now is as… experienced, it’s time for a little pop quiz. And then we’ll be reviewing the past few lessons to make sure everybody is up to speed.”
She wanted the ground to swallow her up as some of her classmates turned and glowered at her. Her face was rapidly turning brilliant red now, and she shrank in her seat, head dropping a few inches. In the back of her mind, a nasty little voice was pointing out that even though Sakfas was making no attempts to disguise his…well, disgust, with her, he didn’t have to flaunt it in class. She wasn’t the one making the decisions right now; if she had her way, she’d be back with her family, three thousand years before then, with all of her memories.
“I doubt you will ever be on the other students’ level, Fanyathe, but you may as well try.” Sakfas’s harsh voice cut through her dark thoughts. “Unless you are somehow able to absorb information without taking the time to study it like these boys have. If that is not the case, I suggest you take notes.”
Someone raised his hand: Jerik. “Professor Sakfas, if I help Lethya—”
“No.” He crossed his arms, the look in his eyes as he glanced at her saying loud and clear: If you’re going to pretend you’re as good as us, you’re going to have to prove it, and you’re going to have to do it the hard way. “All my former students have passed this class with no need of assistance or special favors. I’m sure Miss Fanyathe will do just fine.”
“We’ve had years to study the manual, though,” Jerik pointed out. “I didn’t think it was against the rules to help someone study.”
“Enough!” Sakfas scowled at him. “Do you want detention, Schyler?”
“Why, sure,” he said cheerfully. “8:10 sounds good—my place or yours?”
Sakfas was bewildered, but recovered well enough to sentence Jerik to an hour’s detention, which made Lethya miserable. After all, one of her few allies had just gotten punished for standing up for her, and that was not helped by Ander’s sideways glare, among others. Clearly it was her fault Jerik had detention.
She closed her eyes, trying to remember everything she’d pulled from The Manual, and feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. It was going to be a long, long time before she’d won acceptance; there was no telling if she’d ever win respect.
12:37 PM, MONDAY, APRIL 19
She had gotten about half of the answers on the quiz right, but the others had been miserable failures and had been pointed out to the entire class by her new favorite teacher. The history teacher, Professor Tanek, had presented her with an enormous textlog—a book that had been transferred to a computer file; the more pages, the bigger the box that held the reading screen and the actual textlog itself—and informed her they were about halfway through already, so she’d have to catch up somehow. She’d spent the class taking notes on a time period thick with people she’d never heard of, events she’d never heard of, and devices she’d never heard of. Apparently these were the events that started to lead up to the Hundred-Year War.
And Jerik had told her she had five more classes to go.
She was doomed.
The sandwich on her plate had too few bites taken from it to warrant an early sendoff to the garbage bin, but it was callously deposited there anyway. Lethya wasn’t hungry and wasn’t going to force herself to eat. Maybe it would be better to starve herself to death, rather than put herself through this. She had no friends, no one on her side, no memories, no family, nothing but raw, uncultured ability that wasn’t doing a whit to help her. She was expected to keep up with other students who had a three-thousand-year head start on her; she was expected to do what they told her to do; she was expected to fight when they wanted her to; and yet nobody bothered to ask her what she wanted. And it didn’t seem to be getting better.
An ache began to gnaw at her heart, a lump rising in her throat. Who was she kidding? She could never belong here. Everywhere she went, eyes followed her, and she could almost hear the thoughts behind every pair: Fake. Pansy. What does she think she’s doing in a boy’s school? Next thing we know, they’ll be making us play dollies and have tea parties.
She walked out of the cafeteria, dragging her feet, head down. She had another thirty minutes until she had to get to her math class; she might as well go to her room and pick up her practice clothes for Physical Combat Training after that.
“Hold up a sec, youngster.”
She turned around to discover Commander Maientra lounging against the wall outside the cafeteria, stormy gray eyes on her. “Me?”
“You,” she confirmed. “Saw your first period class. Are you planning on letting Sakfas humiliate you every day of class for the next four years until you graduate, or was today just special?”
Lethya closed her eyes, opened her mouth to mumble a diplomatic reply, and found herself speaking her opinion instead. “I can’t help it if he’s slightly deranged when it comes to girls, but I’m not really in the position to verbally smack him right now. If I even could.”
Maientra nodded slowly, lips tight. “He was not happy when I was put in command, among other things.” Her voice was somewhat distant. “I’d give him a reprimand, but he’d blow it off and come down on you harder.”
Lethya didn’t know what to say, so she stuck her hands in her pockets, waiting for Maientra to continue.
“Try to stay out of his way, if you can help it,” she finally advised. “Everyone here has been raised with the notion that girls are weaker than boys instead of us being equals, and not very many of them are going to be easy to win over. Sakfas’s no peach, that’s for sure, and he’s going to discourage you any way he can. Not that I’m saying you should just roll over and let him pick at you, but he sees you as having an advantage with your psymantic powers and he’s the type who instinctively resents people with an advantage over others. In his mind, any female holding a man’s job has to have an unfair advantage over men. I’ve put up with a lot of crap from him, I know. He’ll accuse you of using your powers to cheat, he’ll make sure everything you do is flawless, and if you mess up he’s going to make sure everyone knows. All you can do is try your hardest and don’t let him get to you. I can bail you out on a bad day, but only every once in a while.”
“Why are you telling me this, ma’am?” Lethya asked tiredly, knowing she sounded rude and not caring.
“Let’s just say that I can relate.” She pushed away from the wall, then paused and added, “And call me Maia.”
Then the Commander ambled down the wide hallway, and Lethya was left standing there, watching her and wondering what exactly she meant. All she knew about Maientra—Maia—was that she was the only other woman to fly a Dragonship and that she was related somehow to whoever Laise was. What did she mean, she could relate?
Shaking her head, Lethya left for her room.
2:29 PM, MONDAY, APRIL 19
Narrowed brown eyes studied her, measuring her up. She met that gaze with neutral blue-gray eyes, stance neither challenging nor defensive.
“How much do you know, girl?” Professor Arakawa asked, tone guarded.
“I…don’t know,” she confessed. “I studied something, but I don’t know what and I don’t know how long.”
He saw her shifting uncomfortably, and remembered Maia had told him she’d had Sakfas first period. If she was still in one piece, she had to be a tough little thing, though at the moment she didn’t look like the person he’d pictured. After all, this was the girl who, according to multiple people, took out more than thirty Muterans on instinct and nearly destroyed a hospital room, and he’d been presented with a girl a bit shorter than normal, with wide, slanting blue eyes and long blonde hair, one who was knotting her hands behind her back, one who looked as if she’d rather be anywhere else. She seemed about as dangerous as a dust bunny.
Oddly enough, she also reminded him of Maia when he’d first met her—he and she had both been around twenty and she’d just been taken in by the Rensaris family. No memories, very lonely, no one to watch out for her but her new family, who she hardly knew. This Lethya didn’t even have that.
“Give me a high kick,” he suggested, moving into a fighting stance. She glanced up and obeyed, but the blow didn’t carry much force and wasn’t very fast. What he could see as he blocked it was that it was a half-hearted attempt, but one that was done with control. There was more to her than what either of them knew.
He sighed, standing straight again and meeting her eyes squarely. “I want you to have a go against… Hairo, over there.” He pointed to a boy of about fifteen and of moderate skill, and gestured for him to come over. If she was any good, she’d beat him. If she wasn’t, Hairo would defeat her fast enough without embarrassing her. “Just do whatever you want.”
She nodded hesitantly as the boy came over and nodded to Professor Arakawa, who explained quickly to him. He agreed.
Lethya stared at the boy a few feet away from her, trying to remember if she knew anything about martial arts and not noticing that she’d shifted into a fighting stance when he did.
Professor Arakawa stepped back, ordering, “Begin.”
She waited for Hairo to make the first move, her mind instinctively emptying of emotion so they wouldn’t be betrayed in her eyes and face. He paused, then swiftly kicked at her knees. She stepped to the side and seized a forearm, twisting in a way that would force him to the ground or risk breaking his wrist. He managed to break free, eyes widening, and she shifted back into her stance, wondering where on earth this was coming from.
This time he had no qualms about charging her, and he was faster than before, her legs swept from underneath her. Caught off guard, she was knocked to the ground, but instead of lying there, she let her ears tell her where Hairo had gone—he was on her right—and twisted, scissoring her legs to catch his behind the knees and sending him to the ground himself. Her muscles at least remembered how to roll her back to her feet, even if she did not.
Arakawa studied her moves, somehow not surprised. She was better than Hairo, or she had been—he could tell she was acting solely on reflex from the masked bewilderment on her face. If it came down to her and a Muteran, without her infamous psymantic powers she’d be able to dodge attacks until help came. With her powers… He didn’t even want to think about it. She had to have amazing reaction times if she’d flown the DA-001 and not killed herself in the process.
She was holding back, and he could tell. Maybe she didn’t even notice, but she wasn’t attacking, only defending, and not actually going after Hairo. She was probably about a year or two beyond the standard for her age, but a few of his students were. If he wanted a real estimate, though, he’d have to find a way to witness her giving her all, and that wasn’t going to be easy.
“Stop,” he finally called. “Good job, both of you. Hairo, go back to your exercises. Lethya, come here.” She came. He pointed to another boy of considerable ability and some acting skill, and silently apologized to him. “That’s Narren. I’m going to have you fight against him, because he seems more to your level—but Lethya?” She nodded. “He’s …well, not exactly a feminist. You’re going to want to beat him, and fast, or you may get hurt.”
“Doesn’t he answer to the Commander?” she asked, confused.
“Oh, sure he does, and he hates every minute of it.” That set her off, and he knew it—her brow lowered, eyes shifting, a barely concealed scowl on her face. “Narren, would you mind coming over here?”
Narren nodded, and Arakawa pulled him aside, telling him in a low voice exactly what he needed. It took the offer of twenty points extra credit to get the poor boy to agree, but once he did, he settled into the role of the sexist bully quite perfectly.
This time, Lethya’s opponent had a cocky, snide grin on his face. “You want me to fight her?” he asked, yawning. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“No joke, Narren,” he said sternly. “Get to work.”
They both shifted, his feet planted firmly on the ground. He was going to be tougher than Hairo, that was for sure.
His fist was wrapped around her arm before she could duck out of range, but she turned until they were side by side, stances mirror images of one another, and brought her elbow up towards his throat. When he leaned back, she helped him fall, backing away and watching warily. She didn’t avoid his next attack, and was dumped on her rear, but made it to her feet quickly enough again.
They watched each other, guarded, and then he sneered, “Why are you even trying? You don’t belong here, girl.”
That was a high kick, Professor Arakawa reflected with a cringe on Narren’s behalf. At least the boy had managed a decent block, so it wouldn’t hurt him so much. The knee to the stomach—that had to be painful… So did that upper cut… That punch was going to leave a bruise…
“Stop,” he ordered, taking a mental note that he owed Narren far more than twenty points extra credit.
Lethya had just landed a kick in his stomach that sent him thudding into the wall a few feet feet behind the boy. Straightening, she glowered balefully at him as he in turn glowered balefully at Professor Arakawa, nursing a swollen jaw and cheekbone and other bruises in places he couldn’t see. “For the record,” Narren told Lethya, voice distorted from a swiftly numbing jaw, “the teach asked me to provoke you.”
Fifty points, he decided with a mental sigh. “Very good, both of you… Narren, you can take a trip to the nurse’s office if you want… Lethya, I’d like you to follow me…” He ran a hand through his hair, wondering what they were going to do with this girl. Memories or no, she’d had training as a fighter—that only fought when she was severely provoked and appeared to have the emotional fortitude of an earthworm. If she didn’t want to be verbally kicked around like a sack of flour at this school, she’d have to learn to stand up for herself, which seemed fairly doubtful. But by the Emperor, could she fight! With practice and more training, in a few years she’d be almost as good as Maia herself!
Here they were, in the middle of a multi-millennia war with Jaegar, and then the human equivalent of an atomic bomb, or so it seemed, had just been dropped into their laps. It didn’t get much better than that.
He turned, only to find his human atomic bomb staring at the ground, silver eyes seeing another time. And from across the room, resentful orange-red eyes were locked on her as well.
3:41 PM, MONDAY, APRIL 13
The hangar echoed with the footsteps of not just the Head Commander but the AFT class as they followed her inside. “Everyone get into a battle simulator,” she barked, crossing her arms and adding in lower voice, “Over there, Lethya.”
She nodded quickly and trailed after the boys. Maia had to hold back a sigh of exasperation when she noticed that most of them, with the exception of Jerik, were doing a remarkable job of giving her the cold shoulder. Including her partner. This could be an issue…
Lethya slid into the last booth, the metal sides coming down around her, and picked up the helmet on the dashboard in front of her. The controls were different than the ones she’d used but identical to the many illustrations in The Manual. She swallowed, sliding the helmet over her head and wrapping her hands around the single steering lever. There was no way for her to do a psymantic analysis on a simulation, and the advantages the DA-001 had had in the cockpit alone were more than obvious.
It’s a challenge. A very…ugly-looking challenge.
“Five seconds,” Maia said crisply.
Lethya took a deep breath, reminding herself that she’d flown a decidedly more complex machine and not gotten herself killed. This couldn’t be too bad.
The visor on the helmet flickered to life, showing her position in the hangar. The other pilots began to take off, and she hit the fuel switch. Or it had been the fuel switch in the DA-001. This was the missile launcher, which she recalled an instant after she’d flicked it. Red lights began flashing and she hurriedly shut it off again, trying to remember where the real fuel switch was. No, it was a button—she found it and gave it a jab, the Dragonship roaring to life underneath her. Her free hand seized the steering lever and frantically pushed it forward, only to hear gears squall all around her, the craft lurching forward and nearly colliding with the one in front of it. Yanking back made it nearly stop in its place.
Now flustered, she brought up the speed again, but it wasn’t going very fast. She mentally reached for the boosters under the wings—
But they weren’t there. This was a simulation, and a simulation of a normal Dragonship at that. There weren’t any boosters and they wouldn’t be there on any ship other than the one she’d flown.
She was going too slow—if she continued, she’d plummet when she came to the opening. Swallowing, she pushed forward, ignoring the fact that most of the boys had long since gotten their aircrafts out. Her hands shook a bit, and in response the ship swerved slightly, throwing her off balance.
She knew she didn’t have the same advantages she’d had, where she’d been able to see where everything was on the ship and knowing how it would work, but this was humiliating. Gritting her teeth, she pushed forward on the throttle.
The engine grated in response, and a bitter blaze spewed from the main thruster. She rocketed forward, shooting into open air, and dropped for a moment, then rose unsteadily.
A Muteran jumped on her tail. Her arms ached to use both steering handles on the DA-001, instead of the one handle here—she could use those, and twice as well as this! Nevertheless, she tried to whirl around.
Instead of an abrupt turn, she ended up going in a broad arc, which accomplished nothing other than leading the Muteran in a circle. An idea came to mind, and she drove the Dragonship into a dive, slowing a bit, and then pointed the nose up again as the Muteran passed overhead. Where was the laser gun on this thing? The firing latch wasn’t where it had been…
By the time she located it, the Muteran was out of range, so she sped up and opened fire.
Something hit her right wing, making her spin crazily, and only when she righted and regained control did she realize that she had not turned off the guns, putting quite a few holes in the other boys’ ships.
She was flying up to get clear of the current battles and try to get a hold of herself when another Muteran charged towards her. She dodged left—
And flew straight into someone else. There was an explosion, and everything shook, and then it all came to a halt.
She was very grateful this was just a simulation, but that didn’t change the fact that she had gotten herself ‘killed’, along with someone else, just as Sakfas had predicted. Pulling her helmet off, she set it wearily on the seat and slid out, standing up.
To her mortification, not only were the simulations being shown on a screen above each of the fake cockpits, but Sakfas had come out to watch, conveniently ignoring the fact that his current engineering class had followed him. Only one other person was ‘dead’, and that had to be the person she’d flown into. She looked over to find none other than Ander giving her a look that could have shredded sheet metal, leaning on the simulation cockpit with his arms crossed.
Sakfas smirked, saying cuttingly, “And this is how you normally fly, Fanyathe? Because I’m just curious.” Most of his students sniggered or grinned.
“You’ve got a class, Sakfas,” Maia snapped. “Teach it.”
Lethya stared at her feet, wondering if it would have been worse if she’d died along with the rest of her family.
6:17 PM, MONDAY, APRIL 19
Dinner started out as a quiet affair for Lethya. It didn’t stay that way though, thanks to Jerik plunking his tray down across from hers and settling in with a big, bright, cheerful grin on his face. “Nothing preps you for dinner like dissecting some unborn alien fetuses, eh?”
She automatically made a face, recalling the class they had after AFT. Paraterrestrial Biology, a.k.a. PT Bio, was something she knew nothing about and, if they continued cutting up things on a daily basis, a way to lose weight because she’d never be able to eat afterwards. Then she remembered the breakfast scene. “Why aren’t you eating with Ander?”
“Well, for one thing, he’s a big boy and I can stop spoon-feeding him now,” Jerik replied brightly. “Aside from that, he’s being a cranky little bundle of sunshine, and if my two options for dinner partners are both equally able to bash my brains out, frankly, I’ll eat with the one who’s less likely to do it.”
“Don’t be so sure,” she muttered, stabbing at a lukewarm asparagus spear. “I seem to be particularly skilled at bashing up things, intentionally or not.”
“So your first classes were pretty rough, not to mention Sakfas having a wrench or two up his rear. Arakawa likes you, and so does Maientra.” He shrugged. “You’ve always got to keep in mind that until they’ve seen what you can do, a lot of these kiddies are just going to see you as a girl coming into their all-boys-club. They’re not half bad; they just need to see reality.” A scowl crossed his face as he took a generous bite of a roll, and he didn’t bother swallowing as he added, “And Ander’s just jealous of you. He’ll get over it eventually.”
“Jealous?” Lethya nearly choked on her food. “I’m in a place I know nothing about, with no memories of what my life was like before this, stuck in a school where, so far, a grand total of three people out of ten thousand don’t see me as a sissy girl, a sex toy, or the equivalent of something on the bottom of their boot! If Ander wants to trade places, I’m more than willing!” Why was it that she could stand up for herself now with no hesitation, but at other times she’d hide behind whatever was nearest?
Jerik shook his head. “He isn’t thinking of that. He’s thinking of the fact that you have powers as strong, if not stronger, than his. He’s thinking of how you climbed into an aircraft you’d never seen before and used it better than the rest of the school. He’s thinking of your combat skills when you get pissed. He was the best at everything, including being the one to stand out. Now you’re the—the—the Big Bad, as it were.” He took another bite of the roll and swallowed after a moment. “He thinks that if he isn’t the best at everything he’s not going to be as good as his father, and after losing his parents and—” He cut off abruptly, then closed his eyes. “Sorry, not my place to say. He’s just… had a lot of trouble in his life, among other things, and he’s…not handling this like I’d hoped. After all, his own grandmother’s the Arch Psymancer.”
Lethya blinked. “I didn’t know that.”
“Now you do.” Spearing a foreign vegetable on his fork, he wagged it at her. “Now, when it comes to food, for the most part we eat what’s been seeded, grown, and harvested here on Earth, or at least in our solar system. This, though—this’s from a planet in a little solar system a couple hundred light years from ours. Nice little place called Evabelan. The people there’re all kinda short.”
“Really.” She searched for one on her plate, found it, and popped it into her mouth. The taste was strange, similar to a tomato but not as sweet.
“Fortunately, they aren’t like their cousins on Ykareol, who mainly survive off of a liquid so acidic that they’re the only race that can ingest it.” He grinned. “Burns through metal slabs three inches thick in about seven seconds. They say it’s got a good flavor, but a so-so aftertaste.”
She shuddered. “I’ll bet.”
“Eat up, though. We’ve got Psymantics after this and even if you’ve got enough power to level the school, old woman Sanzhe’s gonna work you about as hard as she can.”
She blinked. Another female teacher, apparently. So women weren’t allowed to fight, but they could teach. Given that, as far as her experiences with other people her age, the mortality rate for combat flying and teaching were probably about the same, it didn’t make much sense.
7:25 PM, MONDAY, APRIL 19
Psymantics was fine. Professor Sanzhe was duly impressed by her raw strength and the theoretical psymantics she could remember, but apparently she was lacking in some areas, which Lethya actually relished. Now that she knew why Ander had a problem with her—other than that thing where she’d killed him in the simulation—she knew that excelling at anything else was going to piss him off even more, even if she couldn’t help it. He’d been decent enough to her until she’d started…well, doing well. And shame on her for that, of course.
Psymantics was her last class, and she left it with a heavy heart. If it hadn’t been abundant enough, Ander’s newborn dislike for her had been fairly well-conveyed in every little thing he did, such as glaring at her until she actually looked at him, cutting in front of her on his way out, and so on. She didn’t bring it up, though part of her was loudly protesting that if he ever wanted to get anywhere in the way of reproduction with a member of the female population, he was going to need serious reform. But things were different here, and she’d have to get used to it.
When she got to her room, she collected the three textlogs she needed and some pencils and a notebook, then headed to the Mech Shop. A few other boys were there, also apparently Sakfas’s detention victims. He glanced up, frowned, and barked, “What do you want, Fanyathe?”
“I was late, sir,” she answered, trying to keep her voice steady. “I have detention.”
Sakfas blinked, narrowed his eyes as if he was trying to recall something, then finally nodded. “Sit down. You leave at ten past nine.”
That was sixty minutes. She sat in a desk and pulled out her History textlog as Jerik arrived, switching it on and waiting for the screen to clear. You couldn’t add or delete information on a textlog, and there was no way to take notes on it except for by hand. Only the Dragonship Manual was produced as a book anymore, mainly because it was absolutely huge. Drawing out the notebook and a pencil, she began reading, taking down names, dates, and events. Her eyes were either on the screen or her notes, not paying any attention to either the clock or anyone else in the room. After about half an hour, she shut off that textlog, tucked it into her bag, and pulled out the PT Bio one, opening to another section in her notebook. She didn’t see the other boys glance at the clock, seeing that it was 8:40, and leave with Sakfas’s nod; her head was bent over her notes and her textlog. Jerik excused himself to go to the bathroom, and silence filled the room.
“Nice job with the flying today, Fanyathe,” Sakfas said sarcastically once everyone else was gone.
She glanced up, unsure how to reply, eyes turning silvery lavender, and finally mumbled, “Thank you, sir.”
“It wasn’t a compliment.”
A small flare of obstinate anger reared up in her. “I know that, sir.”
“Care to explain why you completely tanked it?” he asked dryly.
She held back a sigh, wondering which deity had decided to bring a joy like Sakfas into her life. “It wasn’t the same machine, sir.”
“Nonsense. It was a Dragonship.”
Lethya had to keep herself from lifting him in the air like she’d done before, and instead said slowly, “When I flew the DA-001, it had two steering handles and other features I adjusted myself to when I psymantically familiarized myself with the ship. The simulation I was in was of a regular Dragonship, with one steering handle, without the extra boosters and artillery, and more. I wasn’t used to it and I couldn’t take a mental analysis of it because it was a simulation, not a real ship, which had made it easier to fly the DA-001. I realize that the boys have had to train on the simulators before being allowed in a Dragonship, which is why I’ll train as hard as I can to adjust to the standard model. When it’s a simulation, I can’t manipulate anything psymantically other than the switches directly in front of me, and I don’t know how the ship is engineered to an extent that I can locate, say, a booster circuit, at any arbitrary moment. With the DA-001 I mentally scanned it so I could, which makes a world of difference, but the simulator wasn’t the DA.” She paused, then added shortly, “Sir.”
He wasn’t sure how to react. She’d just given him an explanation that fit perfectly with the two contrasting flying expeditions she’d had, but it was an honest, professional explanation and not what he wanted to see in this girl. What he wanted was a nasty, bratty girl, one he could easily pin blame on, one he could easily dislike. And she hadn’t said it like she had been greatly wronged by having to fly something not worthy of her; she’d told it as if it was something that she needed to work on. Either she was an incredible actor, or she wasn’t the flouncing drama queen he needed if he was going to have some leverage to get her out of his class and preferably the school.
God, did he hate this girl.
“You’re dismissed, Fanyathe,” he said wearily.
“Sir?” She turned to the clock to find it was only 8:49. “I thought I was in detention until—”
“Out. Don’t question orders.” He folded his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, and after a moment he heard her collect her things, then leave.
To Be Continued! (See notes below.)