The Newest Recruit

Islay looked at her pocketwatch. The schedule for today's Blue Sky Union meeting was short and concise, barely even needing half of the thick, fancy paper it was printed on. A small meeting about Captain Tequila and how his sky pirates were to be eliminated from the skies, as well as details on rumoured outlaws, new weaponry for all their biplanes, and the growing trend of nobles bribing members of the Guild.

One specific item, however, intrigued her more than the others. The Blue Sky Union was to accept more pilots into its elite ranks, but with only one unoccupied desk having been added to the wing housing them all, close to Islay's own desk. All the drawers on it refused to open, and outside of the standard lamp and communication equipment, nothing upon it could alert anyone of its future owner.

Everyone in the wing kept speculating who would join their ranks, talking about who they had voted for in the past week and why they picked their candidates. Last week's ballot contained 12 different pilots, with everyone getting to vote for no more than 3 of them this time. Anything above 66% would let that pilot become a member of The Blue Sky Union. For most pilots, it remained the ultimate dream; the ability to avoid restrictions on where to travel in the sky, and the ability to protect the beautiful blue skies up above.

Islay had used only one vote. And the way her candidate spoke over the telephone just one day ago, it seemed she had made it to the ultimate dream, the only one of twelve in the last ballot.

She put the schedule off the side and went back to quietly sipping her morning coffee. Dark and bitter, just what she needed to be able to sit through a morning gathering. Hopefully it would last as short as the schedule seemed, with almost no time for her to either get back to the skies for dogfighting, escorting, or even just trick flying.

A few minutes later, the whispering in the room began to die down. Islay looked up to the stage to see their leader, Malt, walking onto the stage, to his grand podium to speak to everyone. The moment he got himself behind it and stepped up, everyone had got behind their desks, stood up, and gave a salute.

"Thank you. We shall now commence today's Blue Sky Union Gathering," he said. Everyone began to sit down at their desks, eagerly awaiting the first item on the agenda. "As many of you may have noticed, whether from the setup of this hall or from the schedule, a new member has been inducted into our ranks. Of the twelve candidates from last week, she was the only one who successfully made it in. Please come on out, new recruit."

From the left side of the stage came a young girl with her brown hair in two braids, along with a beaming smile that Islay found difficult to resist. Of every person in the room, however, she looked the least like a pilot. Instead of the standard aviator gear, she wore a tan jumper with a frilled collar and frilled cuffs, along with a light red dress that ran down beyond her knees, all topped off with a white apron with pink trim. She looked more similar to a chef ready to cook a meal than she did an esteemed pilot that would protect the skies; the only indication she even knew how to fly came from the tall brown boots she wore and the bulky aviator helmet she had in her arms.

"This is Marc, from this point forward known as Red Barrel. Her induction was not easy, with only one vote putting her over the sixty-six percentage needed for entry. Regardless, it seems that the Guild has little reason to doubt her abilities and qualifications, and I hope you can all welcome her to our ranks," he said.

Whispers immediately began to fill the room. Islay expected it, and yet, she still felt disappointed. No doubt, all the whispers focused on one aspect of her candidate. Not of her qualifications, but rather, of her age. Compared to everyone in the room, Marc would've been the youngest of them all, possibly by far. Islay knew Marc since she started only playing with toy aeroplanes, and she also knew that Marc was only in her mid-to-late teens; the youngest members of the Guild would've all been at least twenty years of age.

It was one thing to hear the whispers. It was another to hear them continue for so long. Islay kept quiet, refusing to join in any of the gossip; just looking at the expressions of others as they reached over their desks, however, gave an idea of what the tone was.

"I-I object to this!" yelled a voice in the wing far from Islay. She turned to see Peat standing up at his desk, pointing at the display in front of him. His voice had been loud enough for everyone to hear, even though he hadn't used his microphone.

"Blue Crow, you should know as well as the rest of us that this vote is final," began Malt.

"I... You said only one vote got her in, right?! I demand a recount!" yelled Peat again. Islay looked to the stage again. Malt kept his calm, yet intense, demeanour up, still standing bolt upright. Marc, however, had swayed slightly and brought her helmet up to partially cover her face from Peat.

"Sit down. We found it hard to believe ourselves, but indeed, a single vote is what got Red Barrel into the Guild."

Whispers had started filling the room again, but instead of completely focusing on the new recruit, it instead focused on Peat. Considered somewhat of a prodigy in the Guild, having been inducted just a few days before his twentieth birthday, Islay couldn't understand why Peat would act opposed to Marc. Outside of that, outright objections like this almost never happened, and Peat of all people lashing out like this had never happened before. She almost expected his cravat to become unwound from how worked up he had become. Despite the spectacle he had created, Peat kept himself standing, and when he spoke again, he continued yelling. "I... I want to submit a challenge for her position!" he said.

"Blue Crow. You should be aware that we cannot discipline, or otherwise expel a pilot until they have taken questionable actions in the skies or on the ground. Unless you have proof that in the few minutes Red Barrel has been standing here, she has been plotting the demise of The Blue Sky Union, I don't believe you can accomplish that," responded Malt.

Peat kept himself standing at his desk, pointing at the two of them on the stage. "Th-this is wrong! A girl this young should not be a pilot in the Blue Sky Union! It's too dangerous!" he yelled, seemingly trying to find just one argument that would let him have his way.

"She has all of the qualifications needed to join the Blue Sky Union, and I have little reason to doubt the validity of her applications. Tell me, Blue Crow, do you have personal reasons for why you are so vehemently opposed to Red Barrel's induction?"

For once, Peat kept himself quiet, but still seemed to struggle to find one more counterargument against the latest recruit. A few seconds later, he slowly and miserably skulked back into his seat, one hand covering his face.

"Now then, are there any further questions about Red Barrel?" asked Malt to the group. Islay hoped they could quickly move onto the next point on the agenda, just to stop all of the animosity and confusion in the hall. Yet another distraction, however, would present itself to her.

"I have to question this induction, as well," came another voice. Islay turned to see Sherry speaking into her microphone, acting calmer than Peat. Islay kept herself quiet, hoping to avoid ending up in a full-on argument with her; the two had a friendly rivalry when they were both accepted on the same day, but they had become nasty to each other when Sherry discovered Islay teaching such a young girl how to expertly, but dangerously, pilot her biplane. "While I'm sure that Red Barrel is a fully competent pilot, given that she's passed her flying exams with near-perfect marks, I feel a pilot this young sets a bad precedent for the Blue Sky Union."

"Can you elaborate, Rose Windmill?" said Malt.

"I feel that with Red Barrel's induction, the minimum age of the Blue Sky Union will only decrease. I do not want to see the Blue Sky Union turn into a machine that relies on child labour, and I also don't want to see it become an arms race of who the youngest in our ranks is."

"Again, the difference between Red Barrel joining us or being rejected came down to only one vote. Ultimately, it becomes the responsibility of all Blue Sky Union members to ensure they vote for candidates they believe are qualified."

Sherry kept herself silent for a few seconds, then spoke again. "I understand," was all she could say. Islay quickly adjusted her tinted eyeglasses and moved her head in hopes of preventing Sherry from even attempting to make eye contact with her. She didn't want to end up in another long, drawn-out argument with Sherry and make the ordeal last longer for Marc, whose expression had started looking miserable compared to her usual self; she still partially kept her face hidden behind her aviator helmet, and from what Islay could see, the smile she had from before had long since vanished.

"Are there any further objections?" said Malt to the group. Not another voice of objection. Instead, there were the quizzical looks and the occasional whisper, everyone still wondering how such a young candidate had made it into the Blue Sky Union. "Excellent. Red Barrel, take your seat."

Marc turned to face Malt, then gave a salute, still keeping her grave expression. She then bounded down the steps to the edge of the stage, then slowly walked to her desk, keeping her eyes down to try and prevent herself from meeting the numerous eyes focusing on her.

"Our next order of inquiry focuses on Captain Tequila. As most of you might have heard, his band of pirates has only become more boisterous in recent days," began Malt before Marc could make it to her seat.

Most of the pilots had already began listening to what he had to say, taking their eyes away from Marc. But there were still a few disapproving looks to her, enough to almost break her spirit.

Islay kept her focus on Marc. Just before she could get herself into her seat, Marc looked up for once, and saw her. Islay gave a small smile to her and an equally small salute, just enough for Marc to see and not enough to raise suspicions. Marc slowly began to show a small smile on her face, just as infectious as her regular smile. Just before she sat down, she gave a small salute back.

Author's notes: Just a repost from my blog. Hard to think it's been about 3 years since I wrote this, but here we are.