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Vocation

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Jenna joined the Star Pilots' Guild at nineteen, right before her first solo from Temab to Eyn, half a system away. The last thing her instructor taught her was the oath, which was long and peculiarly phrased and too dangerous to write down. Even now she still hears it in Laren's voice, especially the beginning: "I swear to guard and honor this, our mystery . . ."

For years, she thought mystery just meant that the Guild was secret; the Federation had banned it in the Temab annexation treaty, along with trade unions and political parties. Later, someone told her that "mystery" was an old word, well pre-atomic, for a craft or a trade. But the oath wasn't old. Before the ban, there'd been plain, sensible contracts on long-storage datachips. Still, Jenna decided, there was a mad kind of consistency to it. The sort of person who thinks an oath will make a difference is also the sort of person who'll wrap it in outmoded romantic nonsense.

Jenna's not that sort of person. She laughed at Vila once, not long after she met him, for trying to flatter her by going on about bold, brave smugglers, free and defiant in the lawless depths of space. He couldn't have been more wrong. Piloting was just a job, after the first few runs anyway. And smuggling was the job she took up after Space Command muscled in on civilian shipping.

So she has to laugh at herself, now, for taking up revolution. And she does laugh, but she's still here, just as though she believed in Blake's dreams. If Blake invented an oath, if he used the oldest and deadest words he could find in that paper dictionary he paid a six-carat diamond for on Prackel, she'd probably swear it. And not only because she fancies him.

It's because of the flying. When she's at the controls, pragmatic Jenna Stannis brightens into something wondrous. Into mystery. Zen settles at the back of her mind and she opens. The engines thrum with her heart, yaw and pitch and roll echo in her muscles, and high-energy protons brush her metal skin.

She is Liberator, and she soars.