Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The first day of the new term had begun as usual, and after the strenuous early-morning run the students had sat down for breakfast. And, as usual, breakfast consisted of hot breadfruit mash and milk.
“And Crusader Dorm!”
As Miss Devinski’s voice echoed in the dining hall, all of the students fell silent and looked in the direction of the eight young women. The yellow-furred canine said crisply, “When you are finished with breakfast, report to my office.” She walked out of the room as Crusader Dorm looked mystified and Red Dorm started feverishly bolting their food. Brigit was cramming down her last mouthful of breadfruit as they stood and practically ran from the room.
“Red Dorm reporting, Ma’am,” Brigit said a moment later, still swallowing hard. The quartet of second years entered maybe a minute later and stood a short distance apart from the senior students. That netted them a glare from Miss Devinski.
She sat down and gazed at the two dorms, drumming her fingers on the desk. Finally she said, “I have a math problem for you: Given the surface area of the landmasses of the Spontoon Atoll – not counting Sacred Island - how far apart do you have to be put in order to avoid arguments, friction or arrest for disturbing the peace?” Her gaze flicked from one girl to another as the silence started to lengthen. “Well?”
“They started it,” Maureen accused, pointing a finger at Liberty and Shin. The red panda and the half-coyote held their peace.
“Maureen,” Miss Devinski said patiently, “I didn’t ask who started it. I asked how far away I must keep your two dorms apart.”
Shin raised a paw. The Labrador glanced at her and the red panda said, “Twenty-five feet, Miss Devinski.”
“Twenty-five feet. Why?”
“It’s as far as Maureen can throw a rock accurately.”
The Ulster bulldog growled.
“I see,” Devinski said. “All eight of you will report to the airfield in flying gear – yes, Nancy?”
“Miss Devinski,” the squirrel said, “we’re scheduled for classes in a few minutes.”
“True. You will be expected to make up whatever you miss. You will also start at the bottom of your years, as far as points are concerned. And no weekend passes for two weeks. Now, report to Miss Wildford, in flying kit. Dismissed.”
Shin shrugged at the glares from the younger women and left to get dressed in her flying suit.
Miss Wildford was waiting for them, and waved a paw at four waiting Tiger Moths. “Crusader Dorm, along with the rest of the second-year students, will be taking their pilot’s exams later on this term. You will be broken into two-girl teams, and take turns flying an assigned course,” the curiously-patterned feline said crisply. “You will also be responsible for preflighting your plane for the person piloting it.
“Shin, you’re with Nancy.” The red panda and squirrel both looked startled before glaring at each other.
“Isabella, you and Liberty. Tatiana, with Svetlana.” The sable and the wolverine merely looked more stolid. The Mixtecan mole and the half-coyote merely looked glum.
“Brigit, you and Maureen. I remind you that crashing your plane deliberately is grounds for instant expulsion – even if you don’t die in the crash. Now, get to it. You will all fly at least one circuit each before lunch.” Wildford looked on impassively as the two dorms reluctantly separated into their assigned pairs and began to inspect their planes.
As usual, parts were deliberately loosened or out of place, requiring maintenance before the aircraft could be considered airworthy. The red panda looked for the flaws automatically, while the blond squirrel still managed to overlook things. Shin and Nancy Rote worked without speaking until the red panda said in a soft tone, “This isn’t going to work.”
“What?” the squirrel asked peevishly.
“I can’t ask you for a tool when we’re not speaking. Give me that seven-eighths wrench.”
“I need to tighten this up, or we don’t fly. Look, we don’t like each other – “
“I think that may be the first time you’ve ever told the truth.”
“Brace yourself, here’s another, Rote. I’m a third year student here, and will graduate – despite Maureen, despite you, despite anything that gets in my way. Now, we have to get through this little exercise. Give me that wrench. Please,” and the red panda twisted the word into a snarl.
The squirrel hefted the metal tool, obviously considering giving it to the panda by slamming it against her skull, then dropped it into Shin’s waiting paw. “Thank you,” and Shin attacked the offending part.
Once they had finished their maintenance, troubleshooting and preflighting the planes they were called back to the tutor. Miss Wildford said, “Very good. Now, you need to choose who will fly first.”
Liberty turned to Isabella. “You first,” she said in Spanish. The mole looked startled, then headed for her plane with the half-coyote two steps behind.
“After ye,” Brigit said in a very quiet voice. Maureen gave her a look as if she was about to argue with her, then simply turned on one heel and marched off.
“You first,” Nancy said to Shin in a tone that suggested she was inviting the red panda to an execution, as guest of honor. The Chinese girl shrugged and trotted over to the plane, the squirrel forced to keep up as Svetlana and Tatiana headed for their aircraft.
The sound of engines coming to life startled shorebirds near the runway, and the planes started to taxi to takeoff positions.
Shin had flown the basic Tiger Moth route so many times she thought that she might try flying it with her eyes closed just this once. She refrained, however, and stuck scrupulously to the flight plan. She knew that Miss Wildford was watching each plane’s progress.
When all four landed, the eight refueled and checked the planes again before switching pilots and doing it again. When they were finished the feline Tutor checked the grading papers.
Her ears perked.
Crusader Dorm had, perhaps not surprisingly, found fault with everything the members of Red Dorm had done. All four had received failing grades, although Wildford had observed no faults.
In contrast, Red Dorm had graded their juniors mercilessly but completely fairly. That would have surprised her twelve months ago, but the members of Red Dorm were third years – they would be objective. The grades for Nancy and her compatriots indicated the same problems Miss Blande had noted in Crusader Dorm’s last flight.
She lowered the papers to see them waiting for her expectantly. “Crusader Dorm.”
The younger women straightened a bit and the feline said, “I see here signs that all four of you are ill. You appear to be suffering from a malady known as observer bias. It’s a difficult and often embarrassing social disease, but it can be cured. One thing you are taught is to be objective – and I see that you all have a great deal of room for improvement. Red Dorm.”
Brigit said, “Yes, Miss Wildford?”
“Well done. In fact, so well done that I have an assignment for you all. As you know, the second years will be sitting their pilot’s exams this term.” The women nodded, and Wildford turned her attention to Crusader Dorm. “One hour each day, after lunch and starting today, you four will tutor the members of Crusader Dorm on the subjects they will have to know for their pilot’s exam. That includes flying in the Tiger Moths. You will continue these sessions until they leave to take those exams. Remember that we have never had a Songmark student fail to pass their pilot’s test.” She didn’t have to go on, as the members of Red Dorm were already nodding their comprehension.
“Good. Get cleaned up and report to your next class. Dismissed.” Shin watched the others go, then stepped up to her. “Yes, Shin?”
“Miss Wildford, my younger brother’s getting married on the thirty-first.”
The red panda’s tail swished. She surmised that it was possible the Tutors already knew that Hao was getting married. “It’s to be a traditional ceremony – “
“I would think so, considering your own wedding.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’ve been asked to be the good luck woman.”
Wildford frowned. “Isn’t it traditional that the good luck woman be one that has children?” Her eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t be hiding something, Shin?”
“No, Ma’am. I’d never be able to hide anything like that, although I do plan on having children – after I graduate.”
The feline nodded. “I’ll let you know at dinnertime, Shin. Dismissed.” She watched the red panda run off.
Nancy Rote hadn’t stopped fuming as she finished changing her clothes. Svetlana growled, “I do not see why we suffer, when it was Maureen of all of us – “
“Collective responsibility,” Nancy said, running a brush through her tail. “One of us is at fault, we all get punished. It’s in the manual, Svetlana.” She set the brush down on her bedside table.
Isabella remarked, “Si, es verdad, but I cannot but wonder what the Tutors are doing by this.”
“Givin’ us all headaches, they are,” Maureen growled.
“But it gives us an opportunity,” Nancy said suddenly. “They’ll be where we can keep a close eye on them. And, like it or not, they’re going to be tutoring us – we may as well go along with it.”
“Yes, Miss Devinski?”
“Shin, we have decided to allow you to act as the ‘good luck woman’ for your brother’s wedding. However, you will continue your tutoring assignment during the week leading up to the wedding day.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Um, about that – the tutoring, I mean.”
“They hate us.”
“I’m aware of that. But you four did well with Patricia.”