High above the olive groves and blinding white roofs of the village, Aris danced. She twisted and dove, guiding her wingjet straight out over granite cliffs and the glitter of the ocean. As she did, she imagined its wings were her arms, reaching far out into the blue. Her fingers would knife through a wisp of cloud, and the moisture would linger against her skin, like a kiss.
Her father wouldn’t approve of such thoughts. To him, flying was a practical pursuit, for dusting crops or traveling from place to place. Their village was built high on carbonate stilts, so wingjets were the easiest form of transportation unless you were working the land or hiking down the steep paths leading to the narrow beach below the cliffs. Most everyone here could fly. But no one flew like Aris did.
At least Calix understood what flying meant to her.
She pressed the pedals under her feet and twisted the hand controls, diving in a last tight pirouette before nosing the tiny two-seat wingjet toward home.
A flicker of light caught at the edge of her vision. She glanced out to sea and steered the wingjet in the direction of the movement.
Suddenly, the flash became a speeding wingjet. It hurtled toward her, its silver sides reflecting the sun. Aris hovered just off shore, the beach a golden crescent beneath her, waiting for the wingjet to change course or slow to land. Instead, it grew larger, advancing quickly. Surely the flyer saw her? Her hands tightened on the controls. She moved farther from the cliff. The other wingjet shifted too, keeping her directly in its path.
Aris nearly waited too long. She jerked the controls down, the force of the other wingjet’s passage rattling the bones of her machine as she locked into a downward spiral. Heart beating wildly, she waited until the last second before pulling up and skimming the water. Beneath her, waves rolled from deep blue to white, ruffled by her jet wind.
The other flyer followed, matching her move for move. Her stomach twisted as the wingjet drew up alongside, giving her a clear view of its needle nose and the Atalanta flag decal stretched across its sloping tail. No solar panels curved above its wings like on her wingjet. Instead the whole thing shimmered a silvery gold, the hallmark of new-tech solar material. Aris had only ever seen Military wingjets on news vids, never up close.
What was it doing here, so far from the front lines of the war?
Without warning, the jet shot upward, piercing the cloudless sky like a shining arrow. She slowed to watch its progress, waiting for it to disappear. But with a flash of reflected sunlight, it dove again, straight for her.
What is he trying to prove? Her apprehension shifted to annoyance. She darted out from under the jet and flipped through the air to face him. It had to be a him. All members of the Military sector were male.
For a moment they hovered in a strange standoff. Then the other wingjet rocketed forward, forcing her into a series of evasive spins and loops. At first Aris dipped and whirled away in anger and frustration. But gradually, his movements lost their aggression and she relaxed into the dance, pushing farther and twisting faster until it was suddenly her chasing him across the sky. She, who flew the most intricate patterns, she who nipped at his jet wind, whooping as she tumbled toward the flashing waves below.
Eventually, the other flyer slowed and headed back to the cliffs, tipping his wings in a “follow me” gesture. She watched him land, her heart still hammering, then followed suit.
As she touched down, the tall, yellow-flowered grass beneath her swept in wild circles. She wrenched the hood-release lever twice before the glass slid back. It always stuck a little—the hazards of a second-hand machine. Not that she was complaining. Her parents had given her the wingjet three months ago for her eighteenth birthday. It was hers, and the only thing she owned that she really, truly cared about.