"Lucrezia? Lucrezia! Are you daydreaming again?”
“Hm? What?” She looked up, automatically taking a step back, and bumped into the table behind the counter, setting several carafes of milk and juice wobbling. Somehow, she managed to save them from toppling. “I'm sorry, mama,” she said.
Her mother sighed, smoothing down her apron. It was already perfect, but she wasn't a woman to keep her hands still. “Lucrezia, you must pay attention. You're almost old enough to take over the register. So you must learn now!”
“Yes, mama,” Lucrezia said. She did her best to watch as her mother greeted customers, laughing at their jokes, her fingers always in motion over the register's keypad. She stepped closer so that she couldn't be distracted by the window.
The sky outside was so blue, with perfect white clouds drawn across it like candy floss. There was a squadron of prototype mobile suits, conducting exercises. They were only visible as small black specks and vapor trails, weaving this way and that. It was more than enough to captivate her.
Lucrezia did her best to put it out of her mind. Being a pilot was not a reasonable ambition for a good girl, let alone one from a middle-class family. She had heard that often enough – her mother was big on reasonable.
She sighed. “Yes, mama, I see.” But in her mind, the keypad and her mother's dancing fingers became vapor trails and missiles in a death-defying dogfight.
“Lucrezia, how did things go with your mother today?”
She looked back at her bedroom window, opened to let her out onto the roof. She liked to sit out at night, to look at the stars and the lights that moved across the sky, coming and going from the nearby military base. Her father's head poked out from between her light green curtains, his white hair wild and clinging to the fabric with static.
She shrugged. “It went okay.”
“Which is to say that you wanted nothing more than to dramatically hang yourself with your own apron strings. I know my daughter.” He laughed, then climbed through the window to sit next to her.
Lucrezia giggled. “Well yes. But... you and mama need the help. I don't want to complain.”
“I know, I know. You are the best daughter that any parent could hope for,” he said, patting her arm.
“You don't want to be here,” he finished. “Lucrezia, do you remember when you were little, and I would swing you up through the air. Even when you were just a baby, you loved to fly. You dreamed of it.”
Lucrezia shrugged. “You need me here. And the academy wouldn't take me anyway. We can't afford the bribes.”
His eyes twinkling, he drew a folded slip of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. When she unfolded it, it was a recruitment pamphlet, for a special military force of pilots, open to all. The training grounds were at a place called Lake Victoria Academy. “Organization of the Zodiac,” she read quietly.
“I'm too old to lift you up in my arms any more,” her father said. “But I still wish to see you soar.”