Rin's ship was small and patchwork, hardly more than a couple engines and a saddle, but it handled the flatland winds beautifully. She had built it herself; at fourteen, she was no doubt a green warrior, but she had flown just as soon as she had walked. She knew everything about flying, and though her ship was rough-looking and puny, it flew silently and without fail. She sat astride it like a horse, though flying felt little like riding. Riding was rough and dirty and unpredictable, and Rin had no love for it. She had love for very few things on the ground. Up here, where her ship cut smoothly through the unrelenting gusts of wind, was home to her.
She stayed out late nearly every night. Rin was notoriously anti-punctual during the summer. Her parents told her she had a nine o'clock curfew, but they all knew it was really eleven o'clock. Tonight was no different. She had been alone today, but that was no surprise; her one close friend, Iris, was being cruelly forced to amend her sleep schedule by her parents before school started. That meant she was not allowed out with Rin past four o'clock, because when Rin was let out in the evenings, she would not be found until all the normal people were asleep. She would just fly and fly until she couldn't see her shadow anymore.
Left to her own thoughts, Rin had spent the day pondering things like school and her father's aircraft designs and raids while her little ship purred beneath her. It was solar-powered, of course, and as usual she made sure to spend an hour or so just drifting above the moors with the cell panels open behind her seat. She used this time to let her mind wander.
Rin dreaded the upcoming school year. Their school was so small, and would be even smaller this year. Everyone was moving to the cities and their big, fancy schools, leaving Rin and her parents part of only a handful of people left out in the country. Soon Rin would be moving, too, and she dreaded that even more than school. People like her father were needed all over the place now, as the cities began to build up. You couldn't just keep stacking building stories up and up and up without a bunch of engineers to direct the project. Rin knew a little about how it worked, and the entire concept of vertically expanding cities interested her greatly, but she wouldn't be able to fly in the city, and nothing was interesting enough to make her give up flying.
She tried hard not to think about that. She had begged, but her father had gravely insisted they take this opportunity, over and over again. Rin sighed, feeling hopeless. The sun was beginning to set, and she watched the sky bleed for a while, holding her breath and silently praying the sun wouldn't go down all the way. If it did, she would be one night closer to the school year and the move.
Of course, the sun ignored her and sank into the horizon anyway. It had bigger and more important things to do than humor the whims of insignificant little girls, Rin thought bitterly. She swung around and started home, distracting herself by admiring, for the millionth time, her little ship. Rin often took comfort in the machine, and the pride she held for building it herself. She thought it was beautiful. Not pretty, perhaps, but its sleek shape, much like the lean body of a big cat, had a certain graceful quality to it. She pretended it was a cat sometimes. Letting the ship sink down to the ground, she zipped just above the tall yellow grass, imagining herself on the back of a lion.
When the splotch of her house grew big and clear enough to see the separate window panes, Rin sat up and slowed. The last shades of daylight were draining away, but there was enough light for her to maneuver her ship into the garage without turning the lights on. She let it gently down onto its pad before shutting it down and climbing off. Rin thought it looked in the dark like a motorcycle as she pulled the door down with a loud clatter. It's way better than a motorcycle, though, she added to herself.
The house was dark inside, though it was only ten; her parents shouldn't be asleep just yet. Maybe there had been another raid nearby. Rin didn't turn the lights on; their house was a simple, one-story block on the edge of a huge expanse of field. In the dark, it was easy to miss, but once they so much as lit a candle, the house could be seen from miles into the field. Whenever there was a raid nearby, Rin and her parents spent the evening in darkness.
With raids in mind, Rin locked the door behind her as she came inside. She heard a hiss from down the hall, and turned to see a dark smudge peeking through the doorway to her parents' room, waving her over. Rin shuddered; it was her mother, but in the dark, her figure was creepy and misshapen. She tiptoed over, the hair on the back of her neck prickling. It must have been a close one.
"They hit two families a mile down the road," she heard her father whisper as she slipped into the bedroom and sat down on the bed with her parents.
She had been right. This was the closest bandits had ever come. Rin shuddered. "I hope they're okay," she said, but her words trailed. There was light flickering in the window. Her stomach lurched.
Her father barely glanced at the window before grabbing Rin and her mother and shoving them off the bed. "Get under!" he snarled, and they fearfully obeyed. Rin squeezed her wiry body into the darkness below the bed without hesitation, but when she squirmed around to face the open room again, she was seized with panic. Her mother had begun to crawl in behind her but had stopped and was wriggling out again.
"Mom!" Rin hissed, but her mother did not respond. She was speaking with Rin's father in hushed, desperate tones, her voice coming out of its whisper at the peak of every syllable. Rin could not tell what she was saying, but before she could squirm out and convince them to join her in safety, a sickening smash silenced them as the door was broken down in a single hit.