short stories

The Unstrung Zither

“They don’t look very dangerous,” Xiao Ling Yun said to the aide. Ling Yun wished she understood what Phoenix Command wanted from her. Not that she minded the excuse to take a break from the composition for two flutes and hammered dulcimer that had been stymying her for the past two weeks.

Through a one-way window in the observation chamber, Xiao Ling Yun saw five adolescents sitting cross-legged on the floor in a semicircle. Before them was a tablet and two brushes. No ink; these were not calligraphy brushes. One of the adolescents, a girl with short, dark hair, leaned over and drew two characters with quick strokes. All five studied the map that appeared on the tablet.

Science fantasy: five teenage mechanical dragon pilots with a secret, an incendiary glider corps serving an imperialist agenda, and applied musical aesthetics. Thanks to Sonya Taaffe, Alex Kay, Oyce, Keilexandra, Andrew Plotkin, Marissa Lingen, Helen Keeble, Rachel Brown, and Rilina. This one’s for Oyce. Published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Mar. 2009. Reprinted in Year’s Best SF 15, ed. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer.

At this point I have to confess that this entire story was an in-joke based on the anime Gundam Wing.