Thursday, September 6, 2012

School Begins

by H. A. Titus

"C'mon, Cog, I said eight sharp! Where are you?"

Cara muttered the phrase for what seemed the thousandth time. Pieter turned away from tinkering with the navigation console.

"Maybe he decided not to come."

"He has to come. How will anyone take us seriously if the only one you ever teach is me?"

"Then you'll be the only orphan to ever fly a ship, and everyone else will wish they'd taken advantage of it while they could." Why was she making this into such a big deal? Pieter turned back to the console before he snapped at her.

He'd woken up in a grim mood, thanks to his continuing dreams about Amaris. He had no idea why her memory continued to dog him, and it was enough to make him dread sleeping.

"Oh, there they are!" Cara darted out onto the dock.

Pieter stood and looked out a porthole to assess his two new students. Cara was shaking the hand of a girl perhaps two Foundings younger than her. The girl had kinky-curly blond hair and seemed just as chattery as Cara, though she used big gestures on top of it.

A boy several Foundings older than Cara hung back behind the two girls, fiddling with the welding goggles pushed back in his shock of red hair.

With a shock, Pieter realized the boy's other hand, hanging down at his side, was metal. How had an orphan come by an expensive prosthetic like that? Of course, it wasn't covered with synthetic skin, but Pieter doubted anyone other than the richest Aristocrat could afford skin grown in Avenir's nano-factories. His own father certainly hadn't been able to afford the skin for his prosthetic.

What were the odds that there were now two non-cyborgs in his life that had metal prosthetic limbs?
The trio came up the gangway, and Pieter stepped away from the porthole. The blond girl's gasp was loud and amazed as she entered the Anchor.

"We get to learn to fly this?" she squealed.

"Eventually," Pieter said.

The girl helped and jumped, spinning in mid-air to face him. Her face was bright red.

"Pieter." Cara stepped up. "This is Clock." She nodded to  the girl. "And her brother, Cog."

Pieter tried to keep from staring at Cog's metal hand. "Welcome aboard the Anchor."

"She's a pretty little ship," Cog offered.

Pieter smiled. "Thanks."

"So, what do we get to do today?" Cara asked.

Her impatience made Pieter shake his head. "What positions would you eventually want?"

Clock cocked her head to one side.

He explained. "I can teach you a lot about piloting and maintenance, enough to get into a ship's position, but I don't know enough about navigation to get you on a ship--you'll have to start as a different position and find someone who is willing to mentor you."

"What about gunner?" Cara asked.

"I could teach you that, if you really want to know. It's fairly basic."

"Well, I know what I want," Cog said. "Anything you can teach me."

Pieter raised his eyebrows.

"Maintenance sounds the best choice for me, but the more I know about the ship, the easier I can fix it. Not to mention that it makes me more valuable as a crew member."

"Maintenance," Pieter said dubiously. Hardly the most glamorous choice, one he'd expected.

"It'd be perfect for him," Clock piped up. "He already knows a lot of the basics and has taught me. He even built his hand."

"Cloooock!" Cog moaned, his face turning a shade that clashed with his hair.

He'd built the metal hand? Pieter rubbed his jaw. That meant Cog knew a lot more than the 'basics', whatever his sister claimed. He could very well have a genius on his hands. The thought made him wince.

Before he could say anything, Cara said, "Cog makes sense. Maybe you should teach everything to all of us, Pieter."

Clock nodded, her curls bouncing every which-way around her head.

Pieter stared at the three. What had he gotten himself into? These kids were asking for knowledge that had taken him several years to acquire. Were they up for that? He knew orphans. They were usually content to slide by on the smallest amount of effort. That's why so many of them stuck to the streets, ignoring the orphanages' offers of education and jobs.

But Cara had already stuck with him for several weeks. And Cog--that metal hand didn't speak of someone who was content with sloppy work. If Clock was anything like her brother...

"It could take a long time to learn all of that," Pieter told them. "Several years at the least, if you work hard and are diligent about coming every day."

All three kids bobbed their heads.

"Okay then." Pieter gave them a small grin. Maybe everything would work out. "Then let Avenir's first Orphans' School of Flying begin!"

The kids surprised him by giving loud cheers and jumping up and down, their fists pumping. Pieter watched them celebrate and felt his grin stretching wider. For the first time since he'd met her, he had a feeling he was doing something that Amaris would approve of.

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