On a bright day in the middle of the dry season, the eighth of the Third of Eldest Sister, I looked in from my realm as the sisters of the convent took their charges out for their exercise. The aircraft children in particular needed their time off the ground, and one in particular bounded around like a river-deer in spring fever as she approached the airstrip – a jet of fighter lines, twin-engined, twin-tailed, silver fawn with black top-mask and side markings. Her eyes were the bright, soft blue of a sky at the time of Blossoming, and her face was growing out of its infant roundedness, becoming longer, leaner, foxier. She had been found as a toddler, foraging alone in the wastes beneath the foothills of the Khalidri mountains. No sign of any parents had been seen, but she did have a few cuts and bruises as if she’d been involved in a struggle. The heli-hunters who had come across her brought her back to the oasis town, and the sisters of the mission named her “Anzia”, which in Old Tavoran means roughly, “Rain shadow”, for it was in the shadow of the mountains that she was found.
Anzia had grown rapidly in her three years at the orphanage, almost bigger than Sister Nathisa, the single-prop woman in charge of the handful of flyers in the mission’s care. A fast jet needed her nourishment as much as her exercise, and Anzia’s minders would have let her have as many mulefruit as she could pick off the trees if they hadn’t had such an energizing effect on her. They were already starting to ask themselves, “What are we going to do with Anzia as she grows?” A few more years, and she’d outgrow the largest of their accommodations! The Gold Moon mission didn’t have an excess of money and resources at the best of times, and a larger hangar just wasn’t in the picture right now. So, they worried and prayed that some satisfactory solution would eventually come about. The doctors would come in and out, and take notes of her growth, and of the apertures on her engine casings that were possibly ports for vectored thrust. But even if they were, they would still take time to develop fully, so everyone figured.
This day, Anzia had just turned six. She was now twenty forearms from nose tip to the trailing edges of her rudders. She weighed as much as three small cars. The mulefruit she’d snacked on at mid-morning were now becoming fuel, and the sugars that were still moving through her system had her capering, spinning and chattering as the sisters strove to keep her in line with the others. In all the centuries I’ve been watching since the sentient races colonized this world, I had never seen a youngster with more energy to spare.
“Easy, little sprite.” Sister Nathisa laid a wingtip on Anzia’s own. “You’ll be in the air soon enough, once Kelz and the littles have their turn.”
Anzia knitted her brow and pouted. “They always take forreverrrr!”
“What did Mother Genri tell you?” Nathisa admonished, though gently. “Little ones need patience. You were just as small when you came to us.”
Anzia fidgeted at the single-prop sister’s words. “I guess so.” With a sharp exhalation and shrug, she settled to watch the younger ones, all piston-driven like Nathisa, go through their banks and figure-8’s. The scents of sand, mulefruit and the oasis spring reached her on the southwest wind, mingled with those of human, taurcat, and both classes of living machines. Now and then, there was a whiff of the small creatures of the desert. Maybe a fork-tail lizard would show up, and relieve her boredom, but there was too much activity on the airstrip today. Some visitors had come from the south – very important ones, telling by the livery the helicopter wore, and the apparel of his human passengers. Anzia’s eyes followed them for a bit, until Nathisa once more tapped her . “That’s the Marquess Dellenrass and his escort, dearlove, don’t stare at them.”
“Who’s the “markiss ?” Anzia’s gaze continued to follow the nobleman and his small retinue as they parted company with the helicopter and proceeded on into the mission hall. “Why’s he here?”
“Hush!” Nathisa’s voice took on a firmer tone. “We can’t speak that way around nobles, and we must always be respectful of His Lordship, as he supports our mission. Come over here, now.” the small plane guided the jet girl further away. “Look, the duskflower bushes are starting to bud. We’ll be smelling them very soon.”
Anzia took a sniff. She could just about scent them already. When the duskflowers bloomed, in the sunset hour after the heat of the day, their fragrance rivalled the mulefruit. They were also heralds of the time that the winds would shift and the seasonal rains would come. But before long, the fighter child had her eyes fixed skyward again. It would be a while before her turn on the runway would come; it seemed like an eternity going by. Her ailerons and stabilators flexed; her rudders flicked like the tail-tips of two restive cats. She knelt slightly on her foregear, as if already on the runway. The louvers on her sides also flicked, and the exhaust cones in back angled downward. They had always articulated, but the Sisters told her they hadn’t yet grown enough to see if she could actually use them. But they seemed grown! She backed off from the others slowly, until she was at least fifty catlegs off…
The next thing Sister Nathisa knew, she was enveloped by a cloud of dust, a tide of wash, and a roar that shook her struts. The nun whirled about to see Anzia rising slowly off the dirt… but still rising, with Nathisa’s assistant novices shrieking and waving their arms. The human and the taurcat could do naught but scramble back as the fighter child did what most airplanes were never supposed to do… hover in place.
Nathisa sputtered for a beat, then strove to raise her voice above the keening of the engines. “Anzia, come down! Right now! Anzia!” But her words were swallowed in the noise, which was now making heads and eyes turn all the way to the mission hall. Anzia, now full of adrenalin-analogs to match her engine thrust, wasn’t hearing any of it as her forward louvers angled out and moved her backwards, clear of the throng of “walkers” and vehicles. Her minder, however, lunged forward, nose prop starting to spin to pull her out faster than her undercarriage alone could manage. Finally, Nathisa’s frantic actions seemed to register on the child, and a gradual reduction in thrust, governed by instinct, slowly lowered Anzia back to the sand.
“Child, you could have gotten yourself killed!” Nathisa scolded, “You also put other people in danger with your reckless little stunt! Why, you’ve never even used those vents before!” As the upbraiding continued, with further elaborations, variations and codas, Anzia lowered her head, and her cheeks flushed dark. She was now acutely aware of the audience she now had, standing and staring in their several dozens, and more peering out of windows and doorways. Her sides heaved, and she swallowed hard, then stammered out a reply, her voice fading and trailing off. “I-I’m so sorry, Sister, I just… wanted to… go.”
The single-prop woman regarded her, sighing. At this point, what Anzia was getting for exercise and training was not sufficient for her type, but what could they do? The chapter had already sent out inquiries to other institutions in the marquenate, to see if they could find a better placement, but that was taking time. It might be another season or two before they got an affirmative reply. “Come on, child. We’ve had enough excitement for this morning. Maybe later you can go up, but no more stunts. It’s a miracle that you didn’t seize any engines or stop any hearts just now.” The sister turned, flipping an aileron. Anzia followed as she was bid, to join the rest of the children who were with the novices.
From across the field, the marquess and his retainers watched for another long moment, before attending to their business in the mission hall.