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Saltation : That which proceeds by leaps
rather than by smooth and orderly progression.




Shuttle Approach
Anlingdin Piloting Academy


Theo didn't think that the gentle off-center nudge of reaction jets had deserved a sneeze, much less a cuss word. And the shouts and cackles of self-important glee when the second nudge was followed by a firmer push were just mean.

"We're all gonna die!"

Theo resisted the urge to look toward the front of the shuttle, having recognized that voice. Should've known. Sighing, she rested her head resolutely against well-worn padding. She'd drawn a seat without nearby viewports and was just as happy not to be sitting with the three student pilots, their flight wings shiny on their collars, who'd started chancing her back on the Vestrin. They were coming back to Anlingdin from the Short Break, so they said, and were determined to party as long as possible.


At least she wasn't alone. Apparently they didn't much care for . . . Theo squinted at the legend scrolling across the main screen: "Student Pilot Kern Vallee at controls, please strap in." Right. They didn't much care for Kern Vallee, either.

"Conselem!" the ringleader yelled again, to the loud delight of his friends.

"You know," the second-rank snickiot said, sounding way too serious. "Kern flunked his first three landings. Good thing for us he's got Ablestum and the Short Wing sitting with him. We've got a good chance of getting down in one piece!"

There was another cycle of jets then, as if the pilot was testing controls, and then a tremble followed by a push Theo judged to be fairly firm, which brought more cuss words and shrieks from the front.

Eyes closed, Theo tried to ignore the noise and mentally recited her schedule. Landing, free time, then Admin Roundup. She sighed, longingly. In a half day or less she'd be in a quiet bunk. Alone. She hadn't been properly alone since she boarded Vestrin at Delgado Station, weeks ago. At least, she'd only had to put up with the three party-boys since Rooba, two ship-days.

And the descent to Eylot, of course.

She felt the jiggle of acceleration, the twisting on her gut as front and down changed place, guessed the maneuver upcoming, and grimaced.

"Oh, no! We're in for it now!"

The punch came in four distinct bursts of power, each one bringing shouts of fake terror from the three rowdies.

Theo felt her hands curl into fists. She took a deep breath, and deliberately relaxed them, trying to distract herself by imagining Father—or, better, Captain Cho!—shutting them up. Instead, she saw Win Ton inside her closed eyelids, fingers flicking in his own binjali hand-talk rendition of regard them as mere passengers.

That thought led to others closer to her heart, and she regarded those things rather than the noise until the shuttle's very gentle touchdown on the Anlingdin Piloting Academy's own landing strip.


The newbies had been directed to the so-called passengers bay to collect their baggage, while the returning students—among them, the trio of snickiots from Vestrin—rushed off elsewhere. Theo breathed a sigh of relief. Good. That was probably the last she'd see of them—at least until year-end.

Someone jostled her, and she sighed again, this time in irritation. There was a lot of random motion going on, like everybody had a lot of energy to work off after the shuttle trip. She was feeling kind of jittery herself, like she wanted to dance and sleep at the same time. Still, milling around wasn't going to get their baggage out any sooner, so she tried to find a place to stand that was out of the way, but still gave her a good view of the gate.

The room was tall, and voices echoed noisily off of the ceiling, adding a headache-making depth to the nonstop chatter around her. She was apparently the only one among the newbies who didn't have a best friend with them. Well—her and a tall, awkward-looking girl in a bright green jacket, who was standing sort of in the middle of it all, adjusting her jacket with one hand, the other hand under her chin, like she was the only one in the bay, and wasn't too sure what to do next.

A baggage sled came through the gate, piled high with bags and crates. The crowd surged forward. Theo stood where she was, not wanting to get crushed. She could wait.

Another sled came through the gate; the crowds made way and re-formed with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of quick activity.

Theo looked about in sudden realization. This was so unlike either Delgado or Melchiza. On Delgado it felt like everyone older than her was in charge, and on Melchiza there was never any doubt who was in charge. Here, no one seemed in charge but everything was in motion. No one on guard, no one watching for miscreants, or antisocial conditions. It was . . . strange, she thought. And then she thought that she liked it, this tacit admission that they could sort themselves out. She relaxed, and watched, practicing advertency, like any good scholar, or traveler.

Around her were scores of young trainees standing by piles of baggage or looking hopelessly at the incoming field carts, watching for some last item among the confusion of the large hall. There were two large bags where the girl in the green jacket had been standing—and here she came back, dragging two more!

More carts arrived. Theo made herself stand patiently: her bag was well marked and would be easy enough to see once everything was brought in by the quick-moving workers. They all moved so easily, so much like pilots—

She lifted her eyes to the ceiling, feeling more than a little bit dumb. Of course they all moved like pilots: she'd been told that most of the work at Anlingdin Piloting Academy was performed by pilots-in-training; eventually she'd be doing the same thing herself.

Looking around, Theo wondered how some of her fellow students could possibly have moved all their stuff between ship and shuttle. Could they really need piles and piles of whatever it was they'd brought?

True, she had shed some solemn tears in making the first hard decisions for herself, but as time went on she'd thought about the Melchiza trip and the extra carrying she'd done for that, and about how little of what was in her room would be going with her after she was a pilot, so it might as well stay home now. Like Coyster, and Father, and Kamele. They, like her things, would be there when she came home to visit; that would never change.

Kamele's reaction to Theo's first attempt at packing had been an astonished, "Two bags? But you have an allowance for three times that much!"

Father had laughed. "Be gentle—it is her first attempt! She'll soon learn better," he told Kamele, at the same time flashing a bright bit of hand-talk to Theo—pilot to pilot—and she'd laughed, then, though a heartbeat before she'd been ready to cry.

He'd managed to get much of the contents of her second bag into the first with astute repacking, and had eliminated other things with quick questions and comments like, "No library on Eylot?" and, "Outworld is not the same as frontier, youngster: I am almost certain that they will have tea;" and even "This mumu will be inappropriate on Eylot. Perhaps you should take your files with you and turn this back into the Wall for reuse."

She'd checked his face and seen only serious interest there: not a joke. And in the end, she'd copied her files and turned the mumu back to the Tech Department. In the end, she'd whittled things she brought to only the necessary.

Father said that pilots used the Three Pile Rule for deciding what to take with them. The first pile consisted of the things she really needed: ID, money, "your license, eventually, and a keep-safe, if you wish." Those things ought to fit into her jacket, vest or travel kit and always be to hand.

Things that she'd need later went into the second pile, and were packed in luggage.

Those things that she might need, except for extra air or water, went into the third pile—which was left behind.

Theo shifted from one foot to the other. She was getting tired of waiting in all the din and confusion, and was beginning to think longingly of her nice, quiet bunk, soon to be achieved—There!

Yet another sled came into the hall, her bag with its tag clearly visible perched on top of the pile. The gate snapped closed smartly behind it; a student work gang including—to her surprise and regret—the three troublemakers from Vestrin, ran for the cart to toss the last items off.

Ah, she thought, that explains it! The three knew exactly where their luggage was, and hauled it free with a fine disregard for physics. The surrounding bags shifted and tumbled. Her bag slid from its high perch, caught, and fell. Theo jumped forward—

Just before her bag hit the floor, one of the crew caught it, neatly and without flourish, looked down, blinked, and turned to display it to his friends. Maybe he was checking the tags, though she didn't know why they should care.

Theo continued toward them, and was almost knocked down by the tall girl in the bright green jacket, who had been looking lost earlier. She didn't look lost now. She looked mad.

"That box need not be thrown!" She sounded mad, too.

Indeed, the tallest of the three from the ship was hoisting a small box as if he meant to toss it to the floor.

He glared, put the box down hard on the cart, off-handedly caught another bag tossed to him by the stubbier guy, dropped it to the floor, and picked up Theo's bag. He made a show out of reading the tag, and laughed too loud.

"I'll take that, thank you."


Theo flushed; her words had come out louder than she'd expected, and into a lull in the racket of the hall, turning heads and dropping conversation levels all around.

"Yours? It's got a pilot tag on it!" This from the ringleader who'd offered, several times and pointedly, to permit Theo to accompany him—or all of them—to his cabin on the Vestrin. The oversize pilot's wings glittered on his shirt collar, just as it had when he'd leaned toward her conspiratorially on the ship, as if his offer had been some kind of favor.

"My bag." Theo nodded, trying for Kamele's crispest, most efficient voice. "Thank you."

A flick of fingers from the stubby one; quick and with an accent she wasn't sure of, though she caught the sense: Throw me now run catch back toy's bag.

"Don't!" Theo snapped, accompanying that with a slashing STOP ALL! that brought a laugh from an onlooker and a too-loudly muttered, "Miss Purity strikes again!" from the ringleader.

"And I want my box," the girl in the green jacket said imperiously. "You make me late for lunch."

The guy holding Theo's bag sat on the box and looked down at her, ignoring the girl in the jacket.

"This tag—" He held the bag up and shook it at her, like she needed help understanding which tag he was talking about. "This tag is from Melchiza, in case you don't know that. I can read the sight-code, and that's a pilot-rated clearance. I bet you don't have a pilot ID, do you? If you do, now's the time to show it. If you don't, I'm filing this as stolen."

Theo glared, and touched the patch on her jacket, that still carried her Vestrin photo pass-card and—

As if from all the walls at once came a lilting, if loud, announcement.

"Attention. Registration jitney leaves in two minutes from door four. Load now."

"This tag," Theo said, showing the strip she'd gotten at Melchiza Station, "matches that tag. I got them on Melchiza, and they're current for the Standard. My name is on both. My bag. Sir."

She spoke calmly, and the sir was almost gentle, but she couldn't stop herself from dropping into a posture of alert waiting—nor, judging by the murmurs behind her, was that lost on others. She sighed to herself. Father had warned her—

"Oho, Wilsmyth, I think you ought to give the pretty her bag," said someone Theo couldn't see. "Before she breaks you."

"I want my box!" snapped the girl in the green jacket. "Rise, oaf! I must have lunch! I must register!" She moved forward purposefully, jacket billowing.

Wilsmyth hesitated for another fraction of a second. He rose then, fast and sudden, and threw Theo's bag at her, hard. The other girl ducked beneath it to grab the box.

Theo fielded the bag one-handed, feeling a pull in her shoulder, and used the other hand to sign a curt receipt acknowledged, before she turned to seek door four.


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