Chapter Three: Dogfight
“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”
“Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.”
—Latin: “Seize the day, put no trust in tomorrow.”
12:03 PM, SATURDAY, APRIL 17
Boys. Everywhere, there were boys of every age—making dirty jokes, jostling each other, scarfing down food—all being so…gross. Obviously, not much had changed over the course of three thousand years. With a nervous gulp, Lethya picked up a tray and headed for the nearest metal box that they called a Nutrition Scanner, its occupant stepping out as she arrived. “NEXT.” A door slid open and she hesitantly entered; once inside, a horizontal line of light ran from her head to her toes. “PLEASE IDENTIFY.”
“INVALID. PLEASE SCAN IDENTIFICATION CARD.”
She scowled and fished it out, sliding it into the slot. I hate being the new kid.
“STUDENT IDENTIFICATION FOR ALETHYIS FANYATHE. RESCANNING.” The horizontal line flashed over her again, and a moment later there was a thunk as food landed in front of her. “MORE PROTEINS AND CALCIUM REQUIRED. LUMATIN VITAMIN ADDED FOR PSYMANTIC ABILITY. THANK YOU. HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Lethya picked up her food and stepped out, looking hesitantly around and tugging on her hem. From the extra clothes she’d pulled a long-sleeved white shirt bordered in black, dark pants and shoes. She’d kept her own shirtcoat, wearing the knee-length silver-edged blue wrap over the school’s clothes. The indigo sash that had secured it wasn’t practical enough, though, and now was tied around her long ponytail, replaced by a sturdy brown belt.
It didn’t take long for all ten thousand pairs of eyes in the cafeteria to turn to her. Some boys looked apprehensive, some resentful, some fearful, others merely curious. But almost every boy in the school was looking at her.
Near-silence descended for a long, long moment. Then someone yelled, “Wrong school, moron!”
“Shut up!” In the tense quiet, everyone could hear his companion’s harsh whisper. “That girl practically destroyed a hospital room without touching a thing! She’ll kill you!”
“Bull,” the first one said flatly as mutters swept around the vast hall. Lethya swallowed, rooted to the spot, her mind and limbs frozen.
“No girls!” another boy jeered after a second. Others joined in.
“We don’t want you!”
“Go back to your girl school!”
“She couldn’t even lift a wrench!”
“Hey girl, I’ve got a dollar!”
“Get out of here!”
The lights began to flicker in response to her whirlpool of emotions, her nerves frayed. First waking up in this time, then Sakfas, and now this…It wasn’t like she’d asked to lose her memories and have them replaced with the stupid psymantic powers…
She closed her eyes and counted to ten; all it did was steady the lights. She would lose control at this rate, and while a large smoking crater in the floor would silence her opposition, she didn’t think it would go over too well with the principal.
Perhaps this was the best time to show them all she wasn’t going to be pushed around, though. An idea came to mind and she took in a deep breath, closing her now dark purple eyes again and blocking out the jeers. This wasn’t going to take as much power as it would precision, or she could end up with fairly nasty results.
The spell wove in her mind, spreading quickly over the room in invisible wires, like an immense net of incorporeal silk. Any psymancers felt it, and an uneasy undertone ran throughout the muttering.
Lifting a hand, she snapped her fingers sharply—and immediately every sound in the room halted. Every sonic vibration was caught and stilled by the wires, bringing the dull roar of the cafeteria to an abrupt, unnaturally dead silence. Mouths moved, boys looking frantically at each other, and she waited for a beat, then strode down the aisle between tables, chin high. There was no clack when she set her tray down on the surface of an empty table, no creak as she sat down, and nothing at all until she let a second or two pass, then looked up and snapped her fingers again.
Noise flooded back in, though by now very little of it was coming from any vocal cords.
It was lunchtime, Lethya was hungry, and she wasn’t going to put up with whatever nonsense that they had apparently gotten into their heads. She picked up what looked like a fruit and bit into it experimentally, staring ahead as she chewed. What bothered her most right now was how little she knew about this time, coupled with the fact that she really was the only girl her age in the entire school, and no self-respecting male was going to want to speak with her. Ander had been polite enough to show her around, but he was nowhere in sight now and he would most likely have nothing to do with her.
She knew too little now, far too little, and she was at a disadvantage because of both her sex and her raw inexperience. And it didn’t look like she was making any friends from the rest of the school’s population. The future in front of her was not one particularly rich in social activity, that was for certain.
There was a clatter, and the table shook. Startled, Lethya looked up, only to find Jerik across from her, almost obscenely cheerful. “Mind if I sit here?” he asked, an honest grin on his face. “Nice move with making those clowns shut up for once, by the way. You’ve got to teach me that sometime.”
“…Um…thanks?” she slowly replied, taken aback. “And sure—you can sit—I mean—do you want to sit here?”
His grin widened further. “Nobody sits with me and Ander, so it’d be nice to have some company. Besides, if you can keep those idiots quiet for more than ten seconds, I wouldn’t care if you had oil dripping out your nose and a fetish for—” He paused and raised his voice. “—eating raw fish!”
“Hey!” someone at another table protested. “For the last time, just because it’s raw doesn’t mean it’s wrong!”
She blinked for a moment, then switched subjects. “You know, we’ve never been actually introduced. I know you’re Jerik because Ander told you to shut up, and I heard you say he was a mommy, but that’s about it.”
“You don’t say.” Jerik stuck out his hand and she shook it briskly. “Jerik Schyler, human power generator and resident comic relief.” After a moment, he added hopefully, “And most eligible bachelor in the entire school.”
“I’m…happy for you?” She didn’t pick up on the hint. “Lethya Fanyathe, human bomb and resident…girl, I guess. What was that bit about being a generator again?”
He sighed. “Long story.”
“I’ve got time.” She took another bite out of the fruit-thing.
“Fine by me.” He rested his chin on his hand. “Man, where you start? Well, let’s bring you up to speed in general. Here’s the history of the past three thousand years in a nutshell. You’ve heard the name ‘Jaegar’, right?” She nodded, feeling a twinge in the back of her mind. The name rang a bell, though she couldn’t quite place it. “He’s a Muteran commander—the Muteran commander—absolutely brilliant, and…well, bad.” Jerik rubbed his fingers together out of habit as he talked, sparks flickering around them occasionally. “He’s been around since before your time, we think. Somewhere around when you were put in that capsule-thing, there was something we call the First Apocalypse. Jaegar basically took out ninety percent of the human population on Earth and all the information banks and libraries. There are virtually no records of anything before then, but we haven’t been able to search every place on Earth, so there’s still speculation. Mars was just as bad.
“The one thing is, something hit him hard enough in towards the end to not only stop his attacks cold, but almost kill Jaegar himself. We know that his vris turned to ash and his forces disbanded, but we don’t know why. Then he was gone, doing who knows what for fifteen hundred years after that.
“There are still places on Earth violently charged with both psymantic energy and Rintyran from battles in the First Apocalypse. Those places have such extreme concentration of energy remaining that it will overwhelm anything that takes one step onto the land it’ll kill you. If a Muteran steps on psymantically-charged land, they disintegrate, and if a psymancer steps onto that land the energy tries to drain into them and they…well…explode. Same applies for the Rintyran spots, just in reverse. It isn’t pretty, and since everyone now has at least a fragment of psymantic blood they can’t go in, even if they have no real powers.” He shook his head. “Hokkaido—all of it—is one of those places. Same with Northern Russia, Mali in Africa, Taiwan, most of the South Pacific Islands and the Philippines, parts of Australia and New Zealand, old cities in North America, and Brazil and the Andes Mountains.”
Lethya took that in for a moment, eyes pale blue in thought, then asked, “So what happened after the First Apocalypse?”
“People rallied under the provisional government and the Recovery began, where every country agreed that for a hundred years they were going to keep from war at all costs so we could regroup. Beyond that…well, let’s see… There was a joint effort with Mars and Earth’s combined remaining psymancers where they pulled all the planets onto Earth’s orbit and merged them with a lot of the natural space debris over the course of years and played with gravitational pulls and plant life and such. Eventually we had enough terraformed planets that population control wasn’t going to be an issue—but then ownership was a problem. That was the Hundred Year War…
“Oh yeah. There was a law passed before then by some blockhead barred women from fighting entirely. It’s illegal for women to learn fighting, or for them to use fighting psymantics for anything other than self-defense. It was supposed to keep them out of fights and ensure procreation.” He rolled his eyes. “Now women aren’t taught to fight at all. Completely pointless and all it’s got us is a prejudice that women can’t fight. I’ve seen both the Arch Psymancer and Commander Maientra in action—I know better. Anyway, there’s a war, it ends and leaves all the planets in a mess, and then this woman comes up. Her name’s Valiandessa Eve Obrieun, and she’s got psymantic ability like crazy. She manages to pull everyone together and establishes the system we have today: every landmass is divided into Districts—ours is Neo Tokyo—and governed by the strongest Psymancer deemed acceptable, called the Arch Psymancer. Right now our Arch Psymancer is Sacia Iaren and—” He paused, as if debating something, then said, “—they tend to run in families.
“The people also elect a Senator for their District, and there’s a Senatorial President for each ten to twelve Districts. The Senatorial Presidents of each planet meet once every five years so they can elect a Representative for the planet and two Candidates. One is for Ambassador of our planetary system to act as diplomat to other planetary systems—and the other is for the Emperor. The last big position, Master Psymancer, goes to the strongest and best-educated Psymancer who’s lived past thirty. The Representatives and Candidates from every planet meet every five years and choose the next Emperor, Master Psymancer, and the Ambassador of Sol.
“Anyway, this Valiandessa lady, she makes the system, and then she’s elected first Arch Psymancer, then Senator, and rises through the ranks until she eventually becomes the Empress and then later the Ambassador. She rediscovered the translation spell, and that helped a lot.” He glanced at Lethya, who was looking away, biting her lip. “You know it already, don’t you?”
She winced, embarrassed. “Not on purpose. My powers just sort of… did it on their own. Maybe I learned. I don’t know.”
He laughed. “Go figure. So a few centuries after Valiandessa dies, Jaegar comes back, but Earth’s no cupcake now. Still, we get hit pretty hard, and people realize we need to be better trained. They open up this school, name it after Valiandessa, and open another one for girls and name it for the last Arch Psymancer. There are a few battles, and for the past 1400 years or so, we’ve been fighting him. Right now, we’re in a bit of a slump—he hasn’t attacked in a few months.” He sighed, and sat back a bit. “My great-great-great-great—you get the picture—grandmother came in a couple hundred years ago. She had this genetic fluke that let her kind of control the weather. Over the years, it’s been less weather control and more—well, control over electricity in general. The trouble was when that also turned into being able to produce lightning and electricity. It’s very handy in case of a power outage, I’ll tell you that. The downside is that it’s really, really hard to control. As in the ‘make-too-much-lightning-and-get-lots-of-pain-and-maybe-death’ kind of ‘hard to control’. And it got Jaegar’s attention, so he’s been picking on my family almost as long as he’s been picking on Deimons. “ He grinned widely. “Gives me an excuse to get married early. I’m the only one left.”
A small smile appeared on Lethya’s face after a moment. “Us last survivors have to stick together, huh?”
“Yep.” He looked around. “Speaking of survivors, where’s Ander?”
Right on cue, a figure in the familiar black shirt and sleeveless jacket walked over, a scowl on his face. “Wander off, why don’t you?”
“I was just talking with Lethya here,” Jerik said innocently. “You know, getting her caught up.”
Flame-orange eyes flicked over to her, then back at the green-eyed young man. “Hitting on her, you mean?”
“No, actually, she shot me down,” he said regretfully. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we have classes.”
The scowl deepened a little, but nevertheless Ander sat down next to him. “How’s your first day been going?” he asked Lethya, eyes shifting to a gold-shot orange.
“Standard,” she said lightly, “I think. I haven’t got much to compare it with, though.”
“Oh yeah!” Jerik turned to Ander, excited. “She can actually make them stop talking! She completely shut down all the noise in the room! It was great!”
She took another bite, this time of a roll, as Ander glanced at her again, and she shrugged, flushing. “Could you do it again?”
She nodded, mouth full, and held up a hand. Swallowing, she said, “I could, and really, anyone could—it’s just more a matter of being careful and knowing what you’re doing then just brute force.”
Something sticky and wet hit her in the back of the head, and she let out a startled yelp. Putting a tentative hand to whatever it was, she found a large, oozing blob, and when she pulled it back she found clear goo on her fingers.
Ander leaned forward and peered at it, eyes burning orange-red, his face dark with anger. “Muteran spit,” he announced. She bit her lip and scrubbed at her hair with a napkin, eyes turning silver.
Jerik looked over Lethya’s shoulder to see a student of obvious Muteran descent laughing, his friends snickering as well, and nudged Ander. Ander got to his feet, tray in hand, and muttered to Lethya, “Duck.”
The tray was expertly thrown over her head, spinning in air and striking the boy in the chin, sending him skidding down the table, knocking other trays off and onto his friends. They stared at him, then at Ander, who calmly dusted his hands and sat down.
“Another one bites the dust,” Jerik said, just as calmly. Grasping his fork, he shoveled a load of noodles into his mouth and slurped them up, humming in satisfaction.
Lethya blinked at Ander and at Jerik, turned to look at the boy on the table, turned around, and after a moment picked up her fork and scooped up some of the rice. This was going to take time to get used to.
12:43 PM, SATURDAY, APRIL 17
“Flying a Dragonship’s dangerous business,” croaked the old Thorald, hobbling down a hallway with Lethya trailing behind. “The combination of fuels they run off of is explosive enough that four Dragonships flown into the school will level it, and I know you haven’t been outside yet, but it’s a two hundred story building. They’re stocked with weapons, and there’s a prototype here that’s even more deadly. Even the wings are sharpened by a laser to cut an atom. They’re the only thing that can really fight Jaegar’s Muterans, so they’ve got to be strong.”
Lethya nodded, following him past doorways and windows. “Flying is absolutely the most difficult thing to master at V.E.O. Natural ability will only take you so far; it takes fast reflexes, the ability to multitask, and knowing what you’re actually doing, among other things.” He turned to her, aged eyes narrow. “Needless to say, it’ll be a long time before you’ll actually be setting foot in one of them. We’ll run you on the simulation until you can do decent, then take you out with an experienced co-pilot and get the basics down. If you’re any good at it, maybe in a year you’ll start the battle simulation, and if you manage that, you’ll probably be allowed in a battle two or three years from now.”
Lethya nodded again, hiding her disappointment as best she could, but Thorald could tell. “You know, most boys come here at age eight or so, but they aren’t allowed to begin flight training until they’re eleven,” he said kindly. “They aren’t allowed to even enter the hangar until they’re twelve, and they are only allowed in battles after fifteen. It takes most of them four years to go through what you’ll be covering in two or three.”
“I know.” She smiled a little. “It’s just…really…”
“You’re handling yourself pretty well,” he said gruffly. “Heard about the lunch thing. That was smart, showing them not to push you around.” He pushed a door open. “We’re here.”
They were in a huge room, lined from wall to wall with helmets, all identical. “Everyone has an assigned helmet,” he said, moving down the room. “And they know which one is theirs. We’ll get you one for now and adjust it later if need be.” Pausing at a cabinet under a shelf, he yanked the door open and seized a helmet from inside. “Maientra was a little older than you when she got caught in a battle—she had to pull her hair back so it wouldn’t get in the way. You’re going to want to do that too.”
“Alright.” She pulled a hair tie from her pocket and wound her hair into a bun at the back of her head.
“Now put this on and see if it fits. Shouldn’t be too loose, but shouldn’t pinch your head either.” He thrust the helmet at her. She took it and settled it on her head, the visor sliding down automatically over her eyes.
“It fits,” she said finally.
“We’ll start out with the simulation.” He had just turned towards a door when a siren began wailing.
The old man straightened, eyes widening, and swore vividly and turned back to Lethya. “Stay here until I get back, girl!” Moving faster than she had thought he could, he tottered out of the room, and seconds later, another set of doors burst open and boys began flooding in.
“He hasn’t attacked for—”
“Right after lunch, too!”
Someone seized her wrist, someone she recognized vaguely as one of the teachers. “What are you waiting for, kid? Get in a ship!”
He thinks I’m a boy, that I’ve done this before—Oh, crap!
She was shoved along with the rest of the crowd, eventually coming to an enormous hangar as a metal door at one end rattled up, boys scrambling into the parked aircraft. Once someone was inside, the windshield flipped down over them, and one by one every shield slammed shut until only one was left in the back and to her right.
“Get in!” Someone roughly pushed her towards the empty one and she took off at a run, hastily climbing in. The hatch shut over her as she thudded onto the seat and righted herself, and straps flew over her, crossing in an X over her chest.
Near paralyzed, she stared at the panels with wide eyes. Think, Lethya, think—this is just like the diagrams in the manual! They told you everything you’d need to know! Of course, the problem with using that particular psymantic trick was that the information had a tendency to get paraphrased a lot…
Just keep your mind clear and you’ll be alright. What do I need to—Find the fuel switch, that’s it. I’ve gotta hit that first.
She did a quick psymantic check of the ship and found a few differences than what had been described in the manual, but they made it more maneuverable and with better ammo. Instead of a single steering stick, there were two handles protruding from either wall of the cockpit. The thrusters were in sockets that allowed them to be rotated rather than stationary, too… Strange, but easy enough to psymantically manipulate.
Looking up, she realized most pilots had already taken off, and swallowed, pushing the fuel switch and counting to ten like the book had said. With another flip of a switch, the side thrusters roared to life, the Dragonship slowly rolling forward. Her hands settled on the two steering rods that protruded from either side of the seat, guiding it straight towards the open deck, and she slowly brought up the speed by using her mind to push up the lever that controlled the power level of the main thruster.
Just before the opening hit and the ground dropped away, she hit full speed and shot out. The sensation of flying was strange, very strange, but somehow familiar.
Focus on the fight, Lethya! The goal here is not to get killed!
Most of the Dragonships ahead were in a wall-like formation, heading for the huge cloud of approaching Muterans. It was a strategy that, while safe, wasn’t as effective as it could be—their enemies needed to be scattered and broken up, or else the Muterans would ram into them and it would just be like banging two same-sized rocks together—no result.
Then Lethya discovered the boosters that lowered from the underside of the wings, and an idea formed in her mind. The laser whiskers—lasers set into each side of the cockpit that had adjustable length—were set to a thirty feet radius. She kicked on the extra thrusters and soared beneath her fellow students’ formation, then yanked back on the steering rods until she was almost flying vertical, and righted. Plunging into the mass of Muterans, she jerked the steering handles and the craft spun into a corkscrew, boring through the Muterans and creating a gaping hole in the solid block they had once been. No longer safe in numbers, they scattered, some jumping on her trail. Lethya wheeled into the sharp turn known as a chandelle, bringing her head-to-head with her pursuers. They were handled with the blades of her wings, but more took their places, haring after her. She didn’t stop to think, instead pulling into what she’d find out later was called an Immelman turn, putting her over the Muteran’s heads and in a better offensive position overall. Adrenaline shot through her veins and her heart pounded, wondering if she was going to get killed at any second.
More Muterans attempted to take her down, but they weren’t having any luck; each was quickly eliminated, whether it was by bullet or wing-blade. This is too easy…If this Jaegar guy’s all he’s cracked up to be, there’s more to this than the obvious. She dropped clear of the flock of Muterans and navigated past the individual battles to get a clearer view.
The vicious aerial battle involved an overwhelming number of the Muterans, but her senses were picking up something on the other side of the school, as well as something on the horizon. “Activate sighting grid,” she instructed the CPU. Thin white lines appeared over the hatch’s front panel and she added, “Magnify sector…35-24 to ten times.” The black dot she’d been watching swelled into another hoard of Muterans approaching from behind. Muterans carrying weaponry and fire starters flew alongside others burdened with explosives. They were headed for the school.
Not if I can help it. A flick of her power sent the extra thrusters roaring to life once more and she hurtled towards them. The Lumanex Cannons lowered from either wing between the regular thrusters and the extra boosters, and she started locking on the targets.
“Switch on your communication link already!” crackled a voice in the cockpit, carried by psymantics.
Eyes widening, she realized it’d been off and flipped the switch. “Got it.” The transmission would distort her voice past recognition for the moment.
“I’m on your left. I don’t know what you were thinking breaking formation and what you think you’re doing now, but last time it worked. You’d better hope you can pull something like that again.”
“There’s another group of the Muterans headed for the school from the rear,” she said shortly. “And your ‘formation’ would have accomplished nothing. I’m taking on that mess over there since no one else seems to have figured out it exists, and I could use your help.” Pushing the Dragonship to go faster, she opened fire, then powered up the whiskers again. Pieces of a Muteran rained down, and she glanced over to see her companion up and to the left. Whoever it was, he was good at flying, very good. At least one person was going to help her out, which was better than
A huge maggot writhed in front of her, appearing out of nowhere, and she let out a yelp. All her mind came up with was, Big fat maggot move or fire or something! This of course was no help whatsoever, and had the other pilot not shot it to pieces, she would have flown into it and done significant damage to the ship. As it was, she had to pull away to right to avoid the corpse, losing speed but keeping the ship intact.
Maybe having a partner was a good thing.
Ander leaned into the thrusters himself, absolutely mystified about the new pilot. Had to be one of the new students; whoever it was, he had to have had one heck of an extra-curricular training course in piloting Dragonships. Or maybe it’d been one of those video-game wonderkids, the ones that had mastered the glorious, mind-bending moves through virtual reality but was a novice at basic dogfight sense—that maggot would have been the death of the wonderkid if not for him. He didn’t care where the boy’s abilities came from, though; all that mattered was keeping Jaegar’s Muterans from getting to the school. Until they found out everything that Lethya girl wasn’t telling them, he was going to keep her in one piece, since she didn’t seem all too lethal herself. Sure, she’d shown decent reflexes and plenty of psymantic power for her to defend herself with, but so far she looked more like the type to watch from the sidelines. Who knew if she could even use her psymantic powers to fight? She could levitate things fairly well, and the silence thing was infamous now, but he’d never seen her attack anyone directly with them. It wasn’t as if he had any particular attachment to her, but somewhere in that blank little brain of hers, she had to know what had knocked Jaegar out of play, and that was what he wanted to find out.
Ahead of him, the pilot dropped a few hundred feet, sped up until he was right under a bunch of Muterans, turned on his whiskers, and shot straight up in the air; moments later they were Muteran jerky.
Ander was really going to have to find out where that kid had learned to fly like that.
Maientra’s voice rasped over the common transmitter frequency, the one everyone could hear in their cockpits. “Pilots of D-921 and DA-001, state your names. Over.”
D-921 was him. “Ander Tientas, ma’am,” he drawled. “Over.” He heard a mutter of “surprise, surprise,” and then there was a tense pause as everyone waited for the identity of the other pilot.
“Oh, there’s that switch—Lethya. Um, Alethyis Fanyathe. Ma’am…Oh. Over.”
For a split second there was only dead silence. And then everyone started talking at once, hurting his ears, so he blocked the common transmitter and set the one-to-one communicator to her frequency. “Lethya?!”
“Yes?” She sounded almost as calm as if she was in class, despite the bloody scraps of Muteran plummeting to the ground in her ship’s wake. Missiles from her Dragonship hit a clutch of Muterans, leaving nothing but smoke, and she shot a bundle of explosives in the arms of one Muteran, which burst into a huge fireball, setting off a chain of blasts. Most of the explosives headed for the school also ignited and exploded prematurely, painting the sky in fiery blossoms and billows of black smoke. “Can I help you?” she inquired politely after a beat.
“What are you doing up here?” he demanded.
“I’ve been asking myself that, actually.” She wheeled around and started picking off Muterans locked in battle with other pilots. “From all appearances, flying a Dragonship around and shooting things. How am I doing, by the way?” Her voice shook more than a little, betraying her seeming confidence.
This was not happening to him. In a moment, he’d wake up and take comfort in the knowledge that this was all a crazy dream.
What appeared to be a vital organ of some kind landed on his windshield with a bloody splat. He hit the incinerator switch, flames racing over the hull and burning it off. It was all real.
And Lethya was a freakishly skilled pilot.
Ander began swearing a blue streak just as Jerik’s voice came over the transmitter. “Ander, tell me I did not hear that. Please.”
“I will if you will,” he said darkly. “Because I heard it too.”
“What’s the matter?” By now he could just barely recognize Lethya’s voice on the transmitter. “Is there something wrong?”
“No,” Ander said, voice dry, “nothing’s wrong, Lethya.”
“I’m not doing really badly, am I?”
“No, no you’re not.” He watched, dumbfounded, as she cut in front of an ogre bearing a load of explosives, deftly fired a shot, and pulled free in time to escape the blast, then flew over to where a bat-Muteran was chasing a pilot and sliced right through it.
“This should be illegal,” Ander muttered.
“I think it is,” Jerik replied. “But if she keeps on flying like that, I’m not tattling.”
She could fly like nobody’s business, she obviously had some relative fighting skills, and then there was the fact that she had psymantic ability and power to an unknown degree. With the beginnings of irritation, Ander wondered if there was actually anything she couldn’t do and gritted his teeth, firing vindictively at a pair of Muterans flying towards him. It wasn’t fair that a girl could just hop in a Dragonship with no real training and fly like the best students at V.E.O. Academy.
Jerik watched the violence from his cockpit and wondered what was eating Ander’s nerves. It couldn’t have been clearer that there was going to be trouble ahead if Muteran innards had spelled out “Psychological Apocalypse!” on his windshield.
“The attack’s been headed off,” scratched Maientra’s voice in every Dragonship. “All units return to the hangar in standard formation, except for D-921 and DA-001—dock at the roof. Over.”
Lethya swerved up, glancing around and sending out her senses to find anything, but all of the enemy Muterans were gone, either running away or with little left of them other than flecks on her windshield. There was the roof… She slid to a neat halt, Ander’s ship pulling up beside hers a moment later as the hatch lifted and she climbed out, pulling off her helmet. Her knees shook violently, heart still pounding. She wasn’t sure if she ever wanted to do that again.
Commander Maientra marched over, eyes narrowed but speculatively locked on her. “Old Thorald says you hadn’t run the simulation yet,” she said briskly. “In fact, Old Thorald here says you were instructed to stay and wait until he returned, instead of finding the prototype for the Dragonship Advanced Model, climbing in it, and taking off.”
Lethya swallowed, stomach knotting. She had really screwed this one up, hadn’t she?
“The DA-001 is the first and only Dragonship with the defense, maneuvering capabilities, and artillery it has. It was designed to be flown by a psymancer already highly trained and experienced in flying a normal Dragonship, one who could manipulate all the controls and draw out its potential, and not to be used in a fight until another one was made.” She paused significantly. “It was not designed to be flown by a sixteen-year-old girl who had never set foot in a Dragonship before, in her first battle, while it was still the only one of its kind. Particularly as flying a Dragonship in battle is considered fighting and thus, by the Elgor Karginski Act, very illegal.” By now, Lethya was desperately wishing the ground would swallow her whole. “However, nothing changes the fact that the sixteen-year-old girl handled the DA-001 better than the previous test pilots, all of considerable experience and ability.”
Startled, Lethya looked up. Commander Rensaris wasn’t going to dismember her? What was going on?
“To be blunt, Lethya, you kicked ass,” Maientra said frankly. “It was your first battle, and you did more damage than any other pilot out there. You did have the advanced craft, and the added plus of psymantic skill, but in raw aptitude, we’ve never seen anything like it. For the moment, I’m adopting the ‘it’s not illegal if you don’t get caught’ attitude, especially since nobody outside the school is supposed to know you’re here anyway. You’re going to be authorized to fly in battles and start flight training. You don’t need the standard training course, though; what you need is experience and fast, thorough combat lessons.”
“Mind mentioning what this has to do with me?” Ander was leaning against the side of his Dragonship, tone irate.
“Certainly,” she replied, unruffled. “Lethya needs hands-on experience. Everyone else has an assigned partner on their level, but you’ve out-flown all the other students. You need a partner. She needs experience. Put it together, boy.”
He blanched, and Lethya looked over at him, trying to hide a grimace. Partners? What exactly did that all entail? Would they be fighting as a team as they had in the battle a few minutes before? Or would it mean more? And this meant she had to engage in more aerial combat? She wasn’t sure if her stomach was up to it.
Ander, on the other hand, was having substantially different thoughts, ones that involved quite a few obscenities. He didn’t need a partner. He didn’t want a partner. He didn’t want a girl for a partner. He didn’t want Lethya for a partner!
Next time Jerik gets a hunch that there’s something to be discovered in some unseen part of the school, I’m knocking him out and dragging him far, far away, he mentally vowed.
Lethya was watching him with those anxious silvery lavender eyes, looking remarkably small and alone for the same person to take out untold numbers of Muterans on the battlefield. He’d released her into this world; as much as it hindered him now, he’d have to take the consequences. “Fine by me,” he sighed, closing his eyes before his inner irritation could surface in their hue.
8:37 PM, SATURDAY, APRIL 17
Lethya walked down the hall, counting the door numbers until she came to C-682, and pulled her student ID from her pocket again, sliding it into the slot by the door. She rubbed a finger over the black panel, and a voice chimed, “Genetic Scan Confirmed: Alethyis Fanyathe.” The door’s panel whisked to the side, and she took a hesitant step inside.
Lights were automatically turned on in the small flat, throwing back shadows in each of the three rooms. The hallway led past the bedroom door on her left to a small living room, perhaps fifteen feet by ten, with a small couch, a table, a chair, a bookshelf, a lamp, and a cabinet in the wall that opened to a fold-out screen and that was some sort of audio-visual device. She’d figure how to work it when she wasn’t quite so tired. There were a few flecks of dust left here and there, and something very uniform about the furniture, but that was to be expected. The empty bookcase seemed to reproach her for its barrenness, though, and she resolved to amend that—once she found out where a bookstore was, or if they were still even in existence. With that not-so-reassuring thought, she hurriedly shuffled over to the bedroom.
It was nice enough. There was a desk in one corner, a machine of some sort perched on its surface; a small, low table with a clock on top squatted beside a twin bed with a dark blue comforter and white sheets. There were doors for the closet and bathroom, and a mirror, as well as a chest of drawers. On the bed was laid out a sturdy-looking satchel, several pens, paper, and notebooks, as well as other supplies for classes. There was a short letter as well that briefly explained the purpose of the desk’s machine and how to use it, and underneath it a stack of clothing.
She walked out, slowly pacing over to the sliding door in the living room and pushing the curtains aside. The clear panel slid aside with a slight hiss, letting in a cool, fresh breeze, and she took a step outside, feeling the air curl around her face. The balcony was one of many that dotted the side of the building; hers was a mere ten stories from the roof.
Beyond the balcony, millions of lights stretched on and on, a vast infinity of skyscrapers and buildings dotted in light, the night making them stand out brilliantly. She rested her weight on the railing, staring out at her second night here.
A tiny memory flashed through the back of her mind, and she frantically clung to it, desperate for any knowledge of her life before she’d awoken. The recollection of the same view, over three thousand years before then, from a time and age she had once known: night in some great building, gazing out from another balcony at another city that had once stood where this one stood now, so like another sea of stars, forever out of reach.
She’d been given a place to live, and for that, she was grateful. What she wanted, though, was her home.
Someone else was looking out at Neo Tokyo from their balcony, wondering how much more his life was going to change from awakening the young woman from beneath his school. She’d already challenged most of the traditions that had been indefinitely in place; how much more was she going to overturn?
She was just a girl—a strange one with unknown powers, true—but a girl all the same. And everyone knew girls couldn’t fight. Well, that they weren’t supposed to fight. And there had to be a reason for that—he just had to look it up. She was only causing more trouble.
His life had had a nice, sensible routine before now: take his advanced classes; spend free time either practicing, studying, training, or with Jerik; eat; sleep; occasionally get in a battle; wake up and repeat, with the occasional joke about girls added as needed. Lethya was changing all that, making it abundantly clear that she didn’t fit into their ‘girl’ category, and he didn’t like it. And then there was the fact that she was now his partner and would be going to his classes, following him around like a puppy. Who knew what was going to happen now? All the important military leaders were men, and they weren’t going to enlist a soldier whose partner had been a female, no matter how skilled either were and how unfair it was. So there went his plans for a military career—he’d never get hired, never follow his father’s footsteps, all because of one girl. And she was a stronger psymancer than he was, so it wasn’t like he’d hold the position of the Arch Psymancer here; there was no way he’d leave because of some girl.
I want my memories, Lethya thought longingly. I want to remember how to fly…I want to know who I am…
I want to be as great as my father, Ander reflected, staring at the city. I want to live up to his reputation…prove to everyone that I didn’t kill anyone…
I want to belong…I want wings. Lethya closed her eyes, leaning heavily on the rail. But I’ll never have them.
I want to belong…I want respect. Ander’s fists clenched. But I’ll never get it.
Unbeknownst to each other, both Lethya and Ander let out a long sigh, only three balconies apart, both feeling defeated for different reasons.