Authors: Daniel Ottalini
“Thanks for the rescue,” she said sarcastically, holding out her hand. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen. Alexandros grabbed the hand and was hauled to his feet. Around them, the last of the pirates were rounded up. Most had died, a pitiful few had surrendered.
“Who are you?” he asked, unable to keep the surprise from his voice.
“Air Pilot Delia Lucenzo Tarmini, at your service. I take it you are from the
?” she asked, scavenging in the dead pirate leader’s pockets.
“Yes, I’m Cadet Captain Rufius Tiberius Alexandros,” he offered. His curiosity got the better of him, and he blurted out the question, “How old are you?”
“I’m thirteen and seven months,” she replied. “And how old are you? Someone without the brains to know this was a horrendously risky operation. Only a cadet would lead his men down into this type of death trap.”
She’s got one tough tongue,
Alexandros thought. “Well, this cadet just helped you escape,” he retorted.
One of his airmen came up, wiping his sword with a piece of cloth. “Um, sir? What should we do with the ship?”
“The cargo hauler’s crew is locked up belowdecks and near the docks inside. I daresay they’d be happy to steer this ship out of here if you free them,” Tarmini informed the cadets.
Alexandros nodded. “See to it, Airman.”
The cadet nodded and left them. A short time later, a victorious Alexandros led the remainder of his men, one female skimmer pilot, plus Lykonius the Scourge and four pirate prisoners out of the tunnel and back to the
. Behind them, the rescued
steamed out of the hidden sanctuary, blowing its horn in gratitude several times.
Alexandros’s battered company was cheered as it returned to the airship. The men under Cadet Porux beat their swords against their shields in recognition of the victory. With the prisoners secured and the gangplank withdrawn, the
fired its engines and lifted off. Alexandros stood on deck, letting the breeze cleanse him of the smell of death and singed clothing.
Tarmini joined him at the railing. “It’s a nice break, standing up here on an airship instead of lying down in a skimmer.” She saw the curiosity blazing in his eyes and sighed.
“I know what you’re going to ask. How did they let a girl like me into the airfleet? It’s because I’m a better pilot than half the boys that tried out, plus I weigh less than them, so I can fly longer and be more experienced
.” She explained, not the least bit abashed.
“When did you start flying?”
“I was nine when I left my family to join the academia. By ten I was flying in the practice skimmers, and by eleven I was running recon missions.”
Alexandros was very impressed. It was unheard of for a ten year old to be admitted to an academia. “Which academia
did you attend?”
. Not quite as fancy as your academia, but it was home to me, for a while,” she stated.
Alexandros detected a faint whiff of homesickness. “Where are you from, originally?” he probed further.
“Creta—a small town outside of Cydonia called Ilos.”
Alexandros smiled at this news. “Well, we are actually supposed to be heading there to meet up with our convoy. Surely you could take some time to visit with your family?”
Tarmini smiled. It was the first time that Alexandros had seen the expression from her, and he felt himself smile involuntarily in return. He offered her his arm.
“Would you like the tour of the airship? Or perhaps something to eat?” he asked in his most proper and dignified voice. “It has been a very long day.”
“I’d love to, Captain Alexandros,” she replied gamely, placing her small hand on his arm, leaving Alexandros wondering what she was agreeing to.
The seventeen year old guided her away from the railing, leading her to the mess hall, just to be safe. Behind them, the sunset reflected off the warm waters of the sea, guiding their way home.