Two airjets dominate the hangar, their wings spread wide and dark. One is smaller than the other, built for a single occupant, with a silver body and orange-tipped wings. Snapdragon, I remember, thinking back to Naercey and the swift, lethal jets that rained fire down upon us. The bigger one is pitch-black, menacing, with a larger body and no distinguishing colors to speak of. I’ve never seen anything like it, and dimly wonder if Cal has either. After all, he’s going to be the one to fly it, unless Farley has yet another skill in her bag of tricks. Judging by the way she stares at the jet, her eyes wide, I doubt it.
“What are you doing in here?”
The voice echoes strangely in the hangar, bouncing off the walls. The man who appears beneath the wing of the Snapdragon doesn’t have the look of a soldier, wearing gray coveralls instead of a Lakelander uniform. His hands are black with oil, marking him as a mechanic. He glances between us, taking in Kilorn’s bruising cheeks and Shade’s crutch. “I-I’ll have to report you to your superiors.”
“Report away,” Farley barks, looking every inch the captain she was. Next to her scar and the tense cut of her jaw, I’m surprised the mechanic doesn’t faint on the spot. “We’re on strict orders from the Colonel.” She gestures quickly, pointing Cal toward the black jet. “Now get this hangar door open.”
The mechanic continues to stammer while Cal leads us to the rear of the jet. As we pass beneath the wing, he reaches up a hand, letting it drag against the cool metal. “A Blackrun,” he explains quietly. “Big and fast.”
“And stolen,” I add.
He nods, stoic, reaching the same conclusion as me. “From the Delphie airfield.”
A training exercise, Queen Elara had said at a luncheon long ago. She brushed aside the rumor of stolen jets with a wave of her salad fork, humiliating the now dead Colonel Macanthos in front of her trove of ladies. I thought she was lying then, covering up more of the Guard’s actions, but it also seemed impossible—who could steal a jet, let alone two? Apparently the Scarlet Guard could—and did.
The back of the Blackrun, beneath the tail, yawns open like a mouth, creating a ramp for loading and unloading cargo. Namely, us. Shade goes first, leaning heavily on his crutch, his face damp and pale with exertion. So many jumps have taken their toll. Kilorn follows, dragging me along, with Cal right behind us. I can still hear the echo of Farley’s voice when we clamber inside, navigating through semidarkness.
Seats line both curved walls, with heavy-duty straps dangling from each one. Enough to transport two dozen men at least. I wonder where this jet flew last, and who it carried. Did they live, did they die? And will we share their fate?
“Mare, I need you up here,” Cal says, pushing past me to the front of the jet. He drops heavily into the pilot’s seat, facing an unfathomable panel of buttons, levers, and instruments. All the dials and gauges are pointed to zero, and the jet hums with nothing but the beating of our own hearts. Through the thick glass of the cockpit, I can see the hangar door—still closed—and Farley, still arguing with the mechanic.
Sighing, I take the seat next to him and begin to strap myself in. “What can I do?” The buckles click and snap as I tighten each one in turn. If we’re going to be flying, I don’t want to be bouncing around the inside of the jet.
“This thing’s got batteries, but they need a kick, and I don’t think that mechanic’s going to give it to us,” he says with a bit of a glint in his eye. “Do what you do best.”
“Right.” Determination floods through me, strong as my sparks. It’s just like switching on a lamp, or a camera, I tell myself. Only a lot bigger and more complicated—and more important. Briefly I wonder if it can be done, if I’m enough to jump-start the massive Blackrun. But the memory of lightning, purple and white and powerful, streaking out of the sky to strike the Bowl of Bones, tells me I am. If I can start a storm, I can certainly bring this jet to life.
Arms outstretched, I put my hands on the panel. I don’t know what to feel for, only that I feel nothing. My fingers dance along the metal, searching for anything to latch on to, anything I might be able to use. My sparks rise in my skin, ready to be called on. “Cal,” I mutter through gritted teeth, reluctant to let the cry escape.
He understands and works quickly, reaching under the control panel to something beneath. Metal tears with a biting screech, melted at the edges, as he pries away the panel casing. He reveals a mess of wires, crossing in woven bundles, and I’m reminded of veins beneath skin. I only need to get them pumping. Without thought, I plunge a hand into the wires, letting my sparks pulse out. They search on their own, looking for somewhere to go. When my fingers brush a particularly thick wire, a round, smooth cord that fits my hand perfectly, I can’t help but smile. My eyes fall shut, allowing me to concentrate. I push harder, letting my strength flow into the power line. It carries through the jet, splitting and branching along different paths, but I force my sparks on. When they hit the engine and the immense batteries, my grip tightens, nails digging into skin. Come on. I can feel myself pour into the batteries, flooding them, until I brush against their own stored energy. My head dips, leaning against the panel, letting the cool metal calm my flushing skin. With one last push, the dam inside the jet breaks, bursting through the walls and wires. I don’t see the Blackrun power to life, but I feel it all around.
“Well done,” Cal says, sparing a second to squeeze my shoulder. His touch doesn’t linger though, in accordance with our agreement. No distractions, least of all now. I open my eyes to see his hands dancing across the panel controls, flipping switches and adjusting knobs seemingly at random.
When I lean back, another hand takes my shoulder. Kilorn lets his hand rest, but his touch is strangely gentle. He’s not even looking at me but the jet, his face torn between awe and fear. With his mouth agape and eyes wide, he looks almost childish. I feel small myself, sitting in the belly of an airjet, about to do what we never dreamed possible. The fish boy and the lightning girl, about to fly.
“Does she expect me to ram this thing through a wall?” Cal mutters under his breath, his own smile long gone. He looks over his shoulder, eyes searching, not for me, but my brother. “Shade?”
My brother looks liable to faint, and reluctantly shakes his head. “I can’t jump things this big, this—complicated. Even on a good day.” It pains him to say such a thing, though he has no reason at all to be ashamed. But Shade is a Barrow, and we do not like to admit weakness. “I can grab Farley, though,” he continues, his hands straying to his buckles.
Kilorn knows my brother as well as I do, and pushes him back into his seat. “You’re no use dead, Barrow,” he says, forcing a crooked grin. “I’ll get that door open.”
“Don’t bother,” I spit out, my eyes fixed outside the cockpit. I push my power outward, and with a great screeching groan, the hangar door starts to open, pulling up from the floor in a smooth, steady motion. The mechanic looks puzzled, watching the mechanism controlling the door grind away, while Farley bolts. She sprints out of sight, racing the rising door. A blaze of sunset follows her, cut with streaking, long shadows. Two dozen soldiers stand in silhouette, blocking the opening. Not just Lakelanders, but Farley’s own Guardsmen, marked by their red sashes and scarves. Each one has a gun aimed at the Blackrun, but they hesitate, not willing to fire. To my relief I don’t recognize Bree or Tramy among them.
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