Claire wanted to fly.
It was an overcast day but the clouds were high in the sky and the air was calm when she walked out onto the River City Base tarmac for pilot tryouts.
Claire had joined the Ladies Division of the Avaline Air Guard to work on the hangar deck refueling and towing aeroplanes. Now, working alongside men who flew the machines that sailed among the clouds was the closest she might ever come to flying them herself.
But even that wasn't enough for her any more.
The concrete airstrip stretched out to her left, bright white in the diffused sunlight. The dreadnaught Omnipotent hung in the sky to the west, black and angular. The hangar deck crew were there in their canvas coveralls, but the fly-boys wore their leather flight jackets like badges of pride. None of them knew that the C. Genaille who'd signed up today was a woman, but they would in a moment.
Someone called out names. "Sebastien Sine, Quentin Chevalier, Rene Dufont, C. Genaille."
Three young men stepped out towards the training planes taxiing onto the ramp. Claire steeled herself, held her head high and followed them, flight goggles in hand.
Across the ramp, the first to notice her was the Admiral's bastard son, Michel Prideaux. Ace pilot, call sign Redwing. He liked to play with people like a cat plays with a mouse, for no other reason that he was bored. Claire's stomach turned to ice at his gaze.
But others had spotted her now, and the whispers started. "Hey, that's Thomas's girl," someone said over the beating of props approaching. "Did he teach her?"
She'd cajoled Thomas, a young instructor at the flying club to teach her to fly before he and every aeroplane in the country got drafted into the army last summer.
"Yeah, like he taught his dog to fetch his slippers."
They laughed. But she'd known they would. It didn't matter--she'd make them let her prove herself in the air.
She ignored them and walked on to where Martin stood with the list to direct them to the four training aeroplanes. The others stood a little apart from her, and Martin raised his eyebrows.
"You can't be serious."
"I sure am," said Claire.
Another laugh from the crowd that had gathered closer. Thomas pushed through them and grabbed her wrist. "Come on Claire, honest to Pete, you're embarrassing me," he said, yanking her toward the hangar.
Claire twisted her wrist out of his hand. He made her skin crawl every time he laid his hands on her. He bragged to the other pilots that she liked to do it in the sky, with no end of uncreative puns applied to the word cockpit. The only reason she'd let him take her to bed was for the few hours at a time he let her fly his aeroplane.
"What's the matter," she replied, "are you worried I'm going to show you up?"