Married by Mistake Chapter 18. Frantic Flight

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Chapter 18. Frantic Flight

“Hello,” The woman behind the counter said as Kaylee walked in. “You shouldn’t come in that way. Just so’s you know, that is access to the airplanes only. It is dangerous to cross that way and if the security were to catch you, they are a serious pain in the neck. They can arrest you or make you walk around.”

“Yeah, I have had a run-in with one on the way over here from the Pacific Wizard across the way.” She had learned that sometimes the dropping of the name would open doors for her in some cases. “So I just ran across.”

“Oh! You’re Kaylee .” The counter-woman did not make it a question. ”I just received a call from a limo company in Sacramento that you needed a flight. I must say, that was a surprise to hear about Tom being married.”

“I thought I was meeting a driver here? And… We are not supposed to be married, it was one of those things that happened when drinking. We are getting annulled in a few days.” She laughed as she said it. “We are just good friends that partied too much and did a bit of a dare game that went out of control.”

“Of course.” Counter-Woman said it in a way that it was something she could not quite swallow. “Considering who it is for and that the flight is an emergency need, our only wait is the crew. No on the driver, I have a plane that is ready to depart when you are.”

From The back room, walked a muscular, petite woman with more stripes on her sleeve than anyone else Kaylee had seen.

“My bird ready for flight?” The pilot asked Counter-Woman. “Fueled and serviced?”

“Yes ma’am.” Counter-Woman seemed to shrink a little. Even if the Captain was smaller than she was, the Captain carried the air of unquestioned authority with her.

“What is the ETA of my right seat?” The Captain said in a matter-of-fact way that she expected an immediate answer. “We leave as soon as they arrive.”

“Your first officer will be Rome Oldman today. He is driving time from his home. He called as he pulled out of the garage of his house.”

“Thank you, advise me when he arrives, leave when he walks in. We have a bonus for getting our VIP to destination in less than an hour.” The Captain looked at the clock. “We are going to push the envelope. Where is my VIP?”

“Right behind you.” The flight agent said.

“Oh. Hello.” The Captain extended her hand in a business like handshake. “I’m Captain R. M. Watson. We will be flying as soon as possible. I’ll walk you to my aircraft.”

As they walked through the door, the Captain continued talking as if she was giving a report. “Follow me, please, let’s step on board while I wait for my right seat driver. I received a call from Lettie Nesmith of the Discrete Limo service in Sacramento, Tom’s been in an accident and I’m hired to fly you to Hayward Executive and have you there to meet her limo at the top of the hour. I trust you packed light, you can store your carry-on where the signs indicate there and there.”

“Yes, I packed light, I brought nothing except my purse.”

“Perfect.” Captain Watson said. “Take a seat and settle in, you don’t need to use the seatbelt just yet and I am going to finish my pre-flight checks.”

Kaylee settled in to the closest seat, someone placed the seat belts for convenience to clip on and she did not wait for instruction to do so. She was impatient to fly out and arrive at the airport in the north and the snap of the clip satisfied her need for action. Kaylee could not recall the name of her destination, other than Lettie had set everything up and she wished they were already in the air when she heard Captain Watson’s voice raise while she verbally mauled her copilot.

“DAMMIT ROME! Stopping for a foo-foo coffee on a mission is not acceptable, we’re scheduled to arrive at our destination in fifty-minutes. We are going to push the envelope as it is.”

Kaylee could hear a male voice asking if the package had arrived.

“Package”? She was a package, not a passenger.

“The package is Thomas Harte’s wife.”

“Bullcrap, he’s not married. We would have heard about that.”

“Let’s go, we can talk on the way.”

“No way Mister Harte’s married.” Rome said as he stepped into the sleek jet. “Oh! Hello. You are a passenger, not a package. I’m Captain Oldman, I’ll be your co-captain in the right seat next to Captain Watson.”

“I’m Kaylee , Tom’s wife. Tom’s has had some kind of an accident and is in the hospital in San Francisco.”

“What happened to Mr. Harte?”

“I don’t know, something with his hand. Lettie, the owner of the limousine company called me and told me that he cut off his hand.”

“Oh no.” Captain Watson said, showing emotion for the first time. “Okay Missus Harte, strapped in? Good, hang on, we are pushing the limits of this jet. Our maximum rated speed is mach zero point eight-one, we will be doing all that.”

Moments later, the business jet taxied out to the runway and lined up. Kaylee could not hear what the pilots were saying, but moments later, it was as if someone pulled a trigger and shot them out of a gun, the chartered jet accelerated faster than either the Pacific Wizard or the Flying Sea Dragon. The wheels came off the ground quickly and it seemed as if the diminutive jet sat back on its tail and climbed steeply into the sky. This was a race car compared to Tom’s sky-yacht.

As the ground fell away, Captain Watson turned and spoke loudly for Kaylee to hear.

“Missus Harte, you have a phone call. The phone is on the wall next to you on a magnet mount so you just need to push the gold button next to it.”

“Thank you.” Kaylee said loudly back. Captain Watson nodded and turned back to her guidance of the winged missile as it banked and headed to a northerly course.

“Hello?”

“Kaylee ! You made it, good. I have Kaikane, one of our newest drivers waiting for you. He’s a tall Hawaiian and is well-trained. He will drive you to the California Pacific Medical Center.” It was Lettie, her voice was uniquely embedded in Kaylee’s memory these days.

“The hospital will tell me nothing of Tom’s injury, but the rumor has it that he was carrying a tv out of the plane when he fell. The tv landed on his arm and broke, the glass cut him up.”

“Lettie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Are you like Tom’s personal assistant or something?”

“Oh heck no, he can’t afford me. But we are good friends, and he is one of my best customers. Probably the best customer we have. All my family thinks the world of him.”

“But how do you spend his money like the chartered plane?”

“Get-Jet, the company that owns the plane you are on, also thinks highly of Tom. I know the company president and I just gave him a call. It seems weird, but we are all pretty friendly, so we watch out for each other. Tom has had a hand in getting more than a few of us in business, so we all owe him.”

“Wow. You are all friends and do this for each other?”

“Kaylee, Tom’s a tremendous person who spends far too much time alone. Even a philanthropist needs to have friends, even if he doesn’t think he does.”

“Lettie, I don’t know him like you do.”

“You will learn about him.” She could almost hear Lettie smile at the other end of the phone. ”He is someone who had his heart torn out and his soul shattered at one time. I don’t know his history except for what he has told me. But I know what he is like now. When we started the company, we had one limousine, he contracted and invested with us and allowed us to buy our next two limo’s in less than a year. We’ll buy out his investment in eighteen months. Not that we want to distance our company from him, but we, my family and me, we want the company to ourselves.”

“Understandable.”

“You have Tom.” Lettie said softly. ”Kaylee . Keep him. Like it or not I’ll put some pressure on you. He is going to self-destruct if he has no muse to show the world he builds.”

“Lettie, you are a meddler.”

“Yes, I always have been, according to my sister.” Lettie laughed. “I’m not proud of it, but I will always do what is right.”

“Everyone’s mother?” Kaylee asked with a laugh.

“Hah! Yeah, but I can’t have my own kids. So I adopt everyone.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Oh no, not that there is anything wrong. I don’t date men.” Lettie laughed. “You’re a good person, too. Compassionate. You match Tom’s spirit, you both are like eagles. You fly together in your souls.”

“I’m not as good as you would think.”

“Well, don’t doubt yourself. You have what it takes.” Then Lettie broke the connection and Kaylee put the phone back in its cradle.

Moments passed while Kaylee looked out the window watching the green of the long state pass by.

*Do I have what it takes to fill the shoes of a wife? The annulment, that’s my goal.*

Then again. There was something about how people stood up to help Tom.

*Maybe.* She pulled at some lint on her shirt. *Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong.*

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Married by Mistake Chapter 13. Alone on a Jet Plane

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Chapter 13. Alone On A Jet Plane

Just as he promised, a limousine drove up the dirt road next to the canal, driven by a woman in her mid-twenty’s wearing a tuxedo and a chauffeur’s hat opened the rear door for her with a professional smile.

“Thank you, but I want to sit in front. I need some girl time.” Kaylee smiled. “You don’t mind?”

“Not at all ma’am. It’s not regular, but the insurance does not prohibit it.”

The ride was talkative with both women lamenting about men being overgrown boys and their wishing to show off.

Lettie, the driver, smiled softly after a long-winded complaint that they flew low over the wine country and hit a flock of birds. Kaylee shook her head and wept over one bird whose life ended smooshed all over the windscreen of the big jet.

“Well, it would have been a pretty view up until then.” Lettie smiled as she drove. “He didn’t do it on purpose. I would love to have a guy to show me the wine country from above. Plus, he put it down safely. Does he ever say he loves you?”

“Naw…” She answered, looking out the window. “It’s a long story. But I’m going home and smoke until I’m stoned out of my mind and wake up by the weekend. It’s been a crazy month.”

“Once in awhile,” Lettie softly laughed. “Crazy is what you need. It has been crazy in this limo from time to time. Occasionally, the crazier nights have been the most rewarding.”

“How crazy?“

“I have been paid to drive naked and pick up girls.”

“Oh my god! Did you do it?”

“No.” Lettie laughed loudly. “He tipped me anyway, we did pick up some girls at a club and they partied in the back.”

“And they partied hard, I found clothing for days after that.”

“Um, ew.” Kaylee laughed. “I’ll sit up front from now on.”

Lettie laughed louder as she wheeled the limo towards the Stockton Airport.

“You have not asked, but my suggestion Mrs. Tom, is to take a few breaths while you are back home without him. He’s slightly old world, but a great guy.” She smiled.

“You know him?”

“Yes, he has hired our company more than once.” Lettie said with a wide smile. “He is a regular customer. Pays in advance, I think he has a thousand hours paid for this year.”

“Does he ask for you?”

Lettie shook her head. “No, but there are only five drivers. Me, my sister and two cousins and a psych-major that goes to UCSF.”

“An all woman limo business?” Kaylee’s curiosity piqued for the moment.

“Yeah. We were all going to school in Sacramento and started driving friends around as designated drivers. We studied in the car while everyone else drank. One thing led to another, now we own a limo service.”

“How well do you do?”

“Pretty good. I own two Molinaxil Harley’s and an Indian now.”

“Two… what?”

“Motorcycles. I have one custom fitted to me, built by a custom shop in Ohio. Molinaxil Metal. He makes custom bikes and cars. His sheet metal work is something out of the movies. THEN! Oh my god, then! The guy who does the work? He used to be a dancer, he looks as hot as the machines he builds.” Lettie laughed like a kid at Christmas. “And oh, he is jaw-drop gorgeous.”

“A dancer?” Kaylee asked while looking out the window. She was a thousand-miles away.

Lettie pressed on, she promised herself to improve the mood of the young woman next to her.

“Yup, like Chippendale’s? Same kind of thing. A rocking body and eyes that you would dream of doing naughty things with.” Lettie smiled at that. “Like Mr. Harte. He’s handsome enough for a church girl think of things. Naughty things. Over and over.” She gave a lusty laughed.

“He’s an ass.” Kaylee said in a wistful voice.

“The plane was in the water in one piece. Lettie frowned. “What happened?”

“He was flying low and ran into a flock of birds.”

“Bird strikes are common around here. We are in a migratory path of so many types. I even hit one with a limo last year.” She shuddered with the memory of it. “It nearly came all the way through the windshield, blew in a hole like it was an artillery shell. Tom saved you both by setting the jet down in the deep water channel.”

“Maybe. But I’m still mad at him.” She shook her head. “He keeps making me mad at him.”

“You can upset about almost dying, that’s your right. I would be, too! Ah, here we are.”

Pulling up in front of the airport. It’s architecture from the mid-seventies was obvious, but it was well maintained and spacious. One professionally dressed security in plain clothes held a sign with her name on it.

Lettie opened the door for her and handed her a business card with a penned in phone number.

“If you need me for anything again, call. That is my private number on the back.” Lettie smiled. “Kaylee, you have a lot going now. Don’t let this change you mind about Tom. He is a treasure, he is a keeper.”

Kaylee hugged Lettie. It had only been a half-hour’s worth of talking but she felt as if she was old friends with the limo company owner.

Walking up to the man with the sign, she smiled.

“I’m Kaylee.”

“Excellent. Come with me, please.”

Passing through TSA Checkpoints, she had no luggage to speak of. Robert, as his name badge stated in gold lettering, was polite but non-talkative.

“Your flight is waiting for you, this way.” Robert said with a slight smile, but showed no other emotion. All business.

The next officer uniform was a dark-skinned woman who had even more of a ramrod straight spine.

“You are Kaylee Harte?” It was almost a statement and not a question. “I’m Captain Adanna Ogechi. I will be your pilot on the plane. We will be setting down in Harbor Bay Airport within an hour of departure.” Captain Ogechi motioned with her hand. “This way.”

All business like Robert and made no comment as they walked to the small business jet that was claustrophobic compared to Tom’s flying yacht. But then, she remembered, it was his home.

*Since after the second day, Tom has hardly written on his notepad.* She realized, *Since I’ve been with him.*

He was always in her business. His “rescue” of her being blackmailed into a compromising position and possibly sex with the professor who the police arrested later.

*I had it handled,* she fumed. *I would not have wrapped my legs around the art instructor, I would have gotten the upper hand on that situation, somehow.*

Still, she had no idea what she was going to do to extract herself from that mess. Between an epic-awful morning on that Friday, getting fired from the restaurant and pub where she slaved as a waitress and tended bar. The day just kept going from bad to worse until she met Tom.

Kaylee laughed at herself. Then life just took a left turn into a surreal universe as she reflected on the last week. The adventures in how his body and hers could merge.

*His hugs are like having a heart hold mine*

How they fit together and things she had never tried in a plane before. Hands on the controls, sleeping on top, diving off the wing.

AND!

Sleep on a boat was wonderful beyond words, even if the boat had wings. She did not even need to smoke any weed to get into a zen mood!

She had an eighth of a kilo of Killer Kai weed at the Wizard that she had not even touched. It was all that good.

Her thoughts drifted back to Glenn, who went to Mt. Mazama University.

*Not as far from home but it’s still an eighteen-hour drive from Ocean Bay, too much of a long-distance relationship. It is so far apart, even with current technology, and not date other people.* She remembered the conversation. *To expect either of us to not go out with other people is a setup for failure.*

A Poli-Sci major, he was honest in they both would make contacts.

*”It is unreasonable to assume we could be faithful to a promise, being so far apart.”* She remembered him saying. *If Glenn only knew how unreasonable I could take it.*

They were “steady” when they were home together, but not when at the remote colleges.

A sigh. *I hope that the papers and annulment will be final before I go home, because Glenn sent that email that he had something important to talk about.*

*Glenn might propose this year. He has been acting strange, like he has something to say and has a shy-bone stuck in his head.* She gave a big sigh, holding her face in her hands in the solitude in the back of the tiny jet. *This is so messed up! This should excite me, but it would only complicate our schoolastic careers. UGH! It will be more complicated if I am still married to Tom when I go home.*

This made her laugh again as the small jet shrieked down the runway then pulled in to a steep climb.

*Tom is a good man.* She was growing fond of him in many ways. *But he has achieved success while I am at the beginning of my art career. I’ll have a gallery in a couple of years.*

Still, his kisses. He was attentive and made her toes curl just to think about it. Her heart skipped and jumped in pleasant ways from his smiles to when he looked in her eyes.

*I wonder what children would be like with him.* She smiled for a moment. *He writes children stories and… OH!*

She surreptitiously had looked them up in her phone, even though the signs at the airport said to turn off all phones.

Leonard the Leafy Sea Dragon had many adventures, most of the stories had an ecological slant to them, some dealt with right and wrong. Leonard’s friend Wendel “Weeds” The Weedy Sea Dragon was a constant companion and sometime hero as Leonard would get into predicaments that needed help.

Tom addressed things that kids would be worried about, bully issues were dealt with in one arc in the series of the little novellas. Scary things that shake the bushes in the night in another arc. Tom was a talented writer and made a living off of his books.

*He did say he was “comfortable”.* She smiled herself at the memory.

Then, she saw a reference online with her smart phone and clicked on the link.

She looked forward to the cockpit of the jet, the pilots had not looked back. No one to check on. She was the only one on board of the chartered flight.

She read the title about the tragedy of Tom’s life. His pregnant wife failed to beat a train at a crossing and died in the accident, there were no other children in the family. After that, he began to write prolifically.

Other searches turned up tabloid comments about that Tom was gay and had his wife murdered.

Another read that she killed herself on purpose since she was gay and was going to leave him, then found she was pregnant.

Many speculations that he no longer dated women. Paparazzi had a difficult time keeping up with him and his flying boat that they had come to call the “Flying Wicked Wizard of Solitude” out of spite.

Images of his plane leaving when they would try to chase him after the accident in speedboats. Super long-range lenses used to image the Pacific Wizard as it floated in lakes or the ocean were all in the trash websites.

Then another picture, taken from shore of two people on top of the Pacific Wizard, one was obviously him and another of a raven haired woman who was impossible to recognize. They were between the engines and, with no obvious clothing.

But Kaylee recognized the mystery woman! It was her! Kaylee knew it by the large sunglasses she wore. It was their first day after getting married by accident in Las Vegas.

The image was grainy and blurred from such a long distance and the rocking motion of the plane.

Another website claimed the unknown woman was a victim “Kidnapped by Alien Author” as the trash tabloid alluded that Tom was now a non-human from space. Possibly a vampire.

She laughed at that. *Well, he does have sharp teeth that he uses in nice ways when he presses his teeth against my neck and hums the song “Star Spangled Banner”.*

She rarely held out past the first stanza before laughing and then the spasms that went through her and she loved that. It still made her toes curl to think of it.

Still the picture of them on top of the plane was obvious they were together, the image taken more than a mile away. Shot from shore and they were not on the top of the plane for any length of time, so she felt that her identity was safe for the moment. No one bothered to chase them with any speedboats. They were old news and boring.

*Except for the bird strike. This is sure to make the papers.* Again she face-palmed.

*I need to call Tom and tell him to keep my face and name out of the news. Damn him! Mom ‘n’ Dad will be sure to find out. Gramma G is a big reader of all those tabloids.*

She flipped through the listings of the conspiracy web-sites.

*Ever since Grampa Grant died, Gramma’s talked about aliens, time travel and immortal beings. She is sure that Grampa was with the aliens instead of the airliner that he was in that went down over the ocean.*

A memory, it did not seem that long ago, but it was over a decade. Not a single distress call from the airliner, it just went off the radar and wreckage was found floating in the water.

There were no survivors. Not even bodies in water that was more than ten-thousand feet deep.

Without a body to say good-bye to was the hardest thing for Gramma to bear as she descended into a fantasy that Grampa was still alive, somewhere.

“Missus Harte, we are landing now.” The Captain called back. “Seat belt on, please put away your phone.” This caused Kaylee to blush like a kid caught with a cookie. She had not asked if she could use it and on commercial airlines, the rules prohibited the use of laptops and phones.

The descent from luxury private jet to the mundane real world had begun and Kaylee was not entirely prepared for what was to come.

*I’m not prepared for anything.* She reminded herself with a heavy sigh.

Shock and Awe Chapter 13. Waiting Room

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Chapter 13. Waiting Room

Choking, face stinging, Leslie Murrie was still trying to catch her breath when the captain of the division walked up.

“Report.” Jevv Smith said in a no-nonsense tone. The eyes of the man glittered in the dark, reflecting the flashing lights of ambulance, fire and law enforcement light-bars.

“The unknown male just kicked our asses. The unsub has booby-trapped the waiting room. There were two grenades on the ceiling we didn’t know about. They are visible through the window now.”

“Why didn’t you see them before?” Captain Smith shook his head. “Do you need glasses?”

“Smoke, sir. The room was full of it.” She felt like a child called to the principal’s office. “Military grade and stun grenades like I have never seen. They kept going off.”

“Seriously? Maybe he tossed more in?”

No sir, definite multiple discharge from a single grenade.”

“Never heard of such a that.”

“Same here, until tonight.” She nodded. “But the casings are in there. There were two kinds of flashes I think, but all were effective.”

“Okay, Sergeant. Head over to the EMS stations and have them check you out, you look like you have chicken pox.” Captain Smith looked her  face over.

“Yes, sir.” She touched her face and winced.

“Officer Holmes.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Find him, I want his ass. Use your dogs.”

“Yes, sir.” Stephanie Holmes said and walked off to her team.

“Cry havoc!” She whispered as she walked with purpose to her mission, then into the microphone of her radio. “Let loose the dogs on this son of a…”  

Listening to the radio, Officers Archer, Easton and Martin brought the dogs to the front door of the lobby and made a quiet entry, the dogs noses sniffing out in every corner of the room for a scent that might help in tracking the unsub.

Bomb specialist Oscar “Os” Greene moved through the K-9 units, declaring  the room clear of explosives. His hand-sized remote-controlled camera, his spy on mini-wheels had discovered one more grenade set to roll out into the middle of the mens room when they made entry.  The unsub did not leave lethal weapons behind, but it was all a delay tactic.

Captain Smith got the report that the waiting room was clear, the teams were making entry into hallways and both directions in the stairwell.

“Report.” The voice of the Chief echoed in the mobile command center. “Where is Captain Smith?” 

“Sir, he will be right here, we called him to the command post.” The blond woman said. Chief Whiting recognized her from the department baseball team. “Crush” If he remembered, for how hard she hit the ball with a bat. 

Captain Smith walked up to the Chief and the two men exited the command post to sit inside the Chief’s car where Captain Smith apprised him of the situation.  Chief Whiting sat and nodded while Jevv described the three layers of protection, the distance they had pushed public and press back. 

“No one that we do not know can cross anywhere without being spotted. He is inside, even if he is hiding on the roof, we will have a helicopter with a mini-sun in a few minutes. There is no way out.”

“Good job, Jevv.” The Chief nodded. “Do we have it narrowed down where he is?”

“Reports of shooting in dispatch, we have three teams, one team each heading down the two elevators, one team making entry from the stairwell. He has nowhere to go. We will get him.”

But despite the best efforts and the arrival of the helicopter overhead, the mountain man with the flintlock was never found. The only evidence he left of his entry was a bar code from a cereal box and tatters of paper from a string of firecrackers he dropped as a diversion during the smoke screen.

No other damage was obvious. The only damage to the building was the massive twin lead slugs that broke the bulletproof barrier and the officer shot by one of their own.

In the days that followed during the investigation, they discovered the hardcopy records destroyed in the most secure area of the department. 

The man was a ghost. The HR Department reproduced new records from the mainframe, no other damage could be discovered.  It was curious way the paper products in the cabinet of Human Resources had become dust over a weekend. 

Lucky they had a computer system to fall back on. 

Lucky, indeed.

 

Shock and Awe Chapter 12. The Shaft

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Chapter 12. The Shaft

He pushed open the vent, the hinges popped with a sound that seemed louder that they were. There were no more sounds of flashbangs going off and sirens were audible. He leaned out over the vertical drop and looked down on a square of light illuminated through the service hatch at the top of an elevator car on the main floor.

They had guessed his secret. But it was not the same car he had been on top of. The flashlights they were using were all pointed down. They were looking with care and were missing nothing. The next one they would open and look down with those lights, they would find footprints.

His method of travel would be discovered. It was time to leave.

They would not observe any disturbance in the air-return vent there. That was early enough in the assault before he modified his plan of attack. It would be a while before they followed the trail.

If they ever looked at the vent he opened. A few days and the dust of operations would conceal the recent openings. Being part of a service, the HVAC techs would open and clean the air plenum often. Twice a year, perhaps more, to keep the different plenum ducts from loading up with dust and posing a hazard to the mission critical data center and dispatch.

It had been impressively clean. So the evidence was that the massive cooling system had just been serviced, top to bottom, but there was a small amount of dust in the system to show his passage to an observant investigator.

Any traces he might have left would be narrowed down to recent activity.

No matter, he had finished. Anything he had taken in with him he had brought out. Except for the grenades and the two lead bullets he used at the beginning.

Still, they would think that was only a matter of time before he ran out of corners to hide.

There were no corners he would hide in, he was just  a phantom. Each person that exited the building would have his or her body scanned, patted down, picture ID checked and verified by a fingerprint scan in the department database.

*So much fun.* He thought. *My fingerprints would be in the employee database in seconds if I needed it.*

Climbing quietly, the straggly beard was itching him mercilessly. He would be taking care of that problem soon enough.

The second elevator moved to the main floor. No cable for traction here, it was a hydraulic-type elevator, meaning the tenants of the building were free to use the spare space for running cable from the different locations as needed. Each group of cables were zip-tied to each other, making a larger group.

He traced cables connected to a junction box— and each connection was clearly marked, this made Radio Check smile.

Perfect!

Unscrewing the box cover plate, he gained access to the internals of each connection. Electricity was passing through the system for radio and data transmission. The odds were in his favor that he would not receive an electrical shock, but he took no chances, keeping his leather gloves on, he bypassed the connections with practiced skill, and placed a new connector of a special design on the antenna, resoldered the connection to the new screw on connector.

Repeating it five more times, a minute on each connection and he packed up his tools.

Stepping to the roof access door from the junction boxes, he looked up and saw the magnetic sensor for the door opening. The lead in wire had long been broken and never repaired, rendering the system non-functional, nodding he scanned around for a hidden sensor. Using his flex mini-camera, discovered another cheap sensor in the frame that he disabled in seconds, then he opened the door and stepped through into the night air.

“Radio check.”

“Five by five. Outer limits.”

“Air traffic?”

“ETA twenty minutes, they were just ordered.”

Radio check laughed. Radio service would have held any requests for air support until the call for a “radio check”.

Sighing happily, he jammed the door shut with cornstarch plastic wedges that would decompose in moist air, one wedge on top and one at the bottom of the door. There was an onshore breeze with a high moisture content. The wedges would become little more than mush in a half-hour.

To help the disintegration along, he poured a few drops of water on the paired wedges. The police could batter the door down, but they would waste their time.

He was almost gone. Going over to the package that the flyer dropped for him, now two hours before, he unzipped it and opened the big bag up, spreading a lightweight sheet and cords attached to a web of flight rigging along the roof. He would be cutting it close, there was not much clearance with the antenna on one side. Getting hung up with the antenna would be a disaster. But the wind was steady at a ten-mile-per-hour on shore breeze with gusts to about twelve.

He could take off almost standing still with the size of the sail. Stepping into a rig of webbing, he pulled the straps tight around his body, then lifted a ducted fan out of the package— itself a light Kevlar cloth made from an out-of-service parachute.

Attaching the fan around his waist like a belt. Securing the straps to mount-points on the frame of the fan, he locked it in place.

He inspected everything with a skilled eye, double checking straps where he attached clips to the mount points. Nodding, and scratching, he sighed.  The whiskers were about to drive him to distraction.

Pulling off his gloves, he dropped them into the transport package and with fingernails, he began to pull at his eyebrows until they came loose. Working down under the skin, he worked his fingers along the latex and plastic cheekbones and lifted the skin away from his own and pulling the artificial face-hair with it. Carefully and quickly, down the nose, he peeled the latex flesh to the tip and, finally, free of the built up face that had no resemblance to his own. Pulling off the wig he dropped it into the delivery package with the double-barreled rifle, deerskin jacket and calico shirt.

He pulled on a black sweatshirt. His fringed pants pulled away without his shoes coming off. Off came the outer skin of sueded polyester covering his shoes.

He was now a clean-shaven, short-haired man with lean, handsome looks and wide ebony-dark eyes from his Italian heritage. His left forearm sported a tattoo of crossed bayonets, the mark of the tenth mountain division.

Pulling on a helmet, he laced the chin strap to a solid fit, then he tucked the helmet’s data plug into a shoulder pocket.

Dropping his ancient-style backpack into the transport package, he pulled all the straps of the big, lightweight container tight, lifted it up and slid his arms through the holes provided for him, they looked like disembodied sleeves of a shirt, but sewn to the package.

Shifting, he got comfortable with the electric ducted-fan on his back and checked to be sure all the cords attached, he plugged the data plug into the data and power port on the handle.

“Air service radio check.”

“You are clear, ETA ten-minutes.”

“Request permission to launch.”

“Permission granted. Your wind is seven knots from west-northwest. Launch at your convenience.”

Testing the speed control, the electric ducted-fan spun up. Contra-rotating blades gave thrust with less than a whisper of noise.

With the extra-wide parawing he had flaked out and attached all the cords to his web-gear, he took several fast steps. A no easy feat as he was carrying over a hundred-pounds of gear, but the wing caught the wind and filled, he could feel the lift before he even twisted the control handle for power.

Radio Check grinned. Steady wind, if he did this right, an altitude of five-hundred meters would be perfect, but he would not sit still for that, he would be putting horizontal distance between the noise and sirens below.

He could hear an amplified voice challenging him to come out and surrender. There was no way out, they had the block secured three layers deep. Surrender now with his hands up and…

Radio check hit the throttle and gained altitude. Nothing left to be foujnd except for what he wanted to leave. The ducted fan was quiet and the soft sound, more of a whoosh, was inaudible from the roof to the ground five stories below.

Into the darkness he glided, the moon was not yet up. No one would have seen anything of interest if they had looked straight up and directly at him. He was a black-on-black gliding shape that vanished into the night sky.

“Eagle is flying.”

“Copy Radio Check, your next stop, The Twilight Zone.”

“Thank you.”

The Golden Hour

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The Golden Hour

The water was cold in the early morning, washing the rescue-ship in the shadow of trees in the hours after sunrise, such is the beginning of any shift in the high mountains with the remote station.

A three-day shift began on Rescue-Medic-10. For two-hundred Terran years it had been the base for rescues in the wilderness of the planet’s northern hemisphere. It was a planet just coming out of an ice-age, giant glaciers still were visible in the distance, miles thick, they still retreated up to one-hundred meters per planetary year. A few faster, many slower, still the settlers from the home world would forge a living in the spreading alpine-forested world.

Once rocky and barren, not so much as a microbe had been found with probes, introducing cyanobacterium and land-plants four-centuries before had caused a spike in oxygen that surpassed that of the normal twenty-one percent Terran air quickly, becoming an energetic twenty-eight percent in the four centuries since humans planted in the carbon rich atmosphere.

The planet, chosen for atmospheric manipulation as the stellar system that surrounded the orange-dwarf star was emerging from a dense cloud of space-debris that had blocked the radiation and heat from the planets sun.

‟Incident assigned.” Came the sound from the station-wide speakers.

‟Long fall, male fell from roof of structure, approximately five meters.”

The crew of three moved to their vehicle, a ducted-fan vertical-lift airship warmed up and lifted off.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten responding.” Justin Timeagain spoke into the mic-boom of his helmet. Long a medic in the wilderness, once he had gone to earth and had spent a few years in the black-paved forests that were the cities before returning to the planet of Sunkissed-two with stories of horrors on man versus man over the price of stale beer.

‟ETA five minutes.” Rajish Coriolis said.

‟Copy Rescue-Medic-Ten.” The disembodied voice came over the earphones. ‟Incident update, victim is on the ground but sitting up, reporting party states that victim has an altered level of consciousness and is not speaking clearly.”

Justin and Rajish looked at each other. Rajish, the best pilot in the out-lands had worked with Justin for nearly three decades, attending each other’s weddings and birth of children.

Good friends that had been together often over the years.

Honoria ‟Honey” Stathatos, a field nurse-in-training assigned to Justin for her orientation to flight rescue. Engineer and communications officer, a polyglot from earth Jose ‟Yak” Herrera, the only one of the crew that spoke as many languages as could be known. His talent for learning a langauge fluently in a week was legendary in the company, but he was dangerous with anything heavy or sharp.

Lifting off, they rose above the rapidly growing forest, trees already taller than the tallest living things on earth sprouted and grew in the high carbon atmosphere and iron rich soils that oxidized, releasing ever more nutrients for the planets new life to live on.

Evolutionary effects changed life forms rapidly. Bees became larger in the dense atmosphere and low gravity of the super-earth.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten, be advised, reporting parties on scene say the victim is impaled in the thorax.”

‟Well, that makes things a whole lot harder.” Justin observed quietly.

Raj just smiled, not wanting to make any inappropriate humor comments that might be picked up by the flight-deck recorders. Where they headed was under a storm-cloud. The small VTOL craft was over-engineered, over-engined and powerful with contra-rotating impellers of the ducted fans, just the machine needed for dependable operations in the overgrown forests that orbited as an emerald jewel around the gem of the orange-dwarf star.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten, this is Bald Mountain Fire Protection Engine-4, Captain Yehn. We have a landing zone for you cleared. Lat and long transmitting to you from my location.

‟Copy Captain Yehn. Our ETA is short, we are vectoring with you in sight.” Raj reported without emotion.

Yak came on the intercom, his voice more baritone since he arrived from earth.

‟Justin, we have a super-cell developing to our south and east, just the direction we will want to go. Weather forecast shows it might go over the top of the incident.”

‟Thank you, Yak. I wonder if the winds there have something to do with that.”

‟Could be.” Raj agreed. ‟I’m showing gusts of greater than thirty-knots around the LZ.”

‟Copy that,” Justin said. ‟Yak, monitor any rotation that develops on doppler and keep us updated, we are going to hot-load, if we take time for tea, we may not get out for a while if there is a rotation.”

‟Justin, what are you worried about.” The female voice of Honey sounded in his ear.

‟Rotating storms in these mountains get a boost from the shapes made by the glaciers, downslope winds compress,  pick up moisture and then sucked up. If it rotates, we could have the makings of a tornado. In this area, they are more-or-less stationary and last for long minutes and some as long as hours. We find bare areas in the forest, trees are not native here and have not adapted to these kinds of storms.”

‟What— how do you adapt to that kind of wind?” She asked. A native Terran, she had arrived on the S-2 planet six months ago.

Justin and the others chuckled.

‟There is no defense other than to go to ground as far as we know. We can build to withstand the wind, but that takes time and money the company does not like spending, and going into a hole is faster.” Yak said over the sounds of the engines.

‟We are on final approach, lady and germs, strap in for a bumpy landing.” Raj said matter-of-factly. ‟We have cross winds that are just at the redline, but we have a wide area to put down in.

‟That… That is a wide area?” Honey said, looking at the thumb-nail sized patch of rock they were approaching.

‟It looks bigger when you are on it.”

‟It better, it is nearly microscopic from here.”

‟Don’t look out the window, focus on the descent speed and altitude readouts. You’ll feel less panic then.” Raj sounded as if he had done this a hundred times.

And he had, more than a dozen times over.

‟Quiet please, emergency traffic only while I put the bird down.”

The group fell into silence, as the contra-rotating blades changed speed and pitch, the HummingBird class rescue airship, agile and fast when need called, set down on the landing wheels.

‟Yak, keep an eye on the doppler and the boilers stoked, old friend, we will be back asap.” Raj said, second in command on the ground, he followed Justin out the back ramp with his backpack and calculators. ‟This is all kinds of farked up to operate in these conditions!” Raj yelled at Justin as they made their way to the linked-treaded construction tank. Brutally spartan in the interior, it was only good for short-range transports of people, in this case, it was a make-shift ambulance.

Technically against any written protocol in civilized areas, here in the wilderness, they did what worked and wrote their own rules without a leader that had any important title. They were Medical Emergency and Trauma Helilift.

‟Justin! Raj! There are some teams we are plain glad to see land.” Lieutenant Robin Wise smiled as the trio of Honey, Justin and Raj walked up with their hardware.

‟Where is our patient?” Justin asked as they entered the tank. ‟And the appreciation feels nice, thank you.”

‟On his way. Justin, he is hurt bad, he fell on a fence post and it has impaled him, they are having to cut the post off for transport.” She said sadly. ‟Justin, it’s the new sheriff. Do every trick you know.”

‟Oh, damn.” The Paramedic in Justin kicked in, the new Sheriff had moved from the southern hemisphere and gotten control of the corruption that had crept in, the area had become a seed of crime that the leaders had decided that the current sheriff that had a drug problem and needed replacing. A decision that backfired, multiple arrests of community leaders, police officers, a minister later, the miniature crime wave came to an end.

The heavy link-treaded tank clanked along the path that served as a road to the sub-rural area, it stopped and lowered the ramp, allowing the flight-crew to enter.

Tomatsu Kia was well liked, an encyclopedic knowledge of the law made him respected by politicians and criminals, and his good looks made him popular with the women when he was on patrol, his manner would have made a doctor jealous.

Today, after falling off the roof of his own house, the pointed post of the gate entered just below his left ribcage and out just on the opposite of his sternum, piercing his left lung in two places and as Justin assessed the Sheriff, he found that Tom’s right lung also sounded diminished.

‟We have an eighty-kilo male, blood pressure has been steadily de-compensating.” The EMT told Justin. ‟We have him splinted as well as possible with vacuum braces, one-hundred percent oxygen by non-rebreather mask, his nail beds blanch and take a long time to come back to color. More than five seconds.”

Justin nodded, more than just lungs were an issue, then remembered the nurse, Honey.

‟Raj, put a cuff on him so we can get an auto-bp on him asap when we get to the bird. Honey, start an IV, I’ll spike the bags. Please reassess the lungs, give me a report”

Honey nodded and as Justin held out to packages of IV tubing he asked which one.

Laughing inwardly, he was making her give orders and she chose the tubing most used in surgery that this patient would need.

‟Let’s get him to our gurney, we do everything on the way after I get the first IV in, Justin, you do the second one at the same time.

Smiling and nodding. Justin knew she had it handled. Her orange-red hair was nearly white in the starlight of the orange-dwarf star, jokingly refered to as Sunkist in stellar traveler circles.

‟Oxygen saturation is down below ninety percent.” Raj said.

Tom was grunting with every breath.

‟Honey, we need to do something. What would you like me or Raj to do?”

‟We need a chest tube placed.”

‟Sorry, fresh out. How about something in protocol that won’t get us put in jail and our license shredded.” Justin pulled out a package and broke open the seal.

‟Thoractic decompression! Yes. Let’s do that.” Honey jolted from her stuck moment.

‟Copy that.” Justin said as he applied a silicon flap-valve to the end of the large catheter he punctured into the side of the Sheriff.

‟I have mine leaking blood.” Honey’s voice was tight and high.

‟Afirmative, Yak, toss us some towels, would you please? Honey, what do you think to begin transport to a definitive care center for Top-Gun Tom here? He is one of my fave souls in this part of the planet, hate to have him bleed out with this fence stuck in him.”

‟Yes, Raj, get us off the ground and to Challenge Medical Center. What is our ETA?”

‟Forty-minutes at conservative speed.”

‟We were en route here for ten-minutes from time of call,” Justin gave a time report of their current call. ‟It was another five to seven minutes for someone to call and another two minutes to get the call to us. We have been on the ground six minutes, twenty seconds. Of our golden hour before irreversible shock sets in, we have now have used twenty-five plus a half-minute of the sixty we need to get him to a surgeon.” Justin nodded to Honey.

Taking his math into account, Honey looked at Raj.

‟What is our ETA on emergency speed?”

‟Twenty-five minutes, but we will be on vapors when we get there and the engines will be too hot to shut down straight away.”

‟Let’s do it.”

‟Yes, ma’am, code-3 it is.”

The jet engines turned up the contra-rotating blades, Raj adjusted the pitch and they lifted off the ground as if the airship was anxious to leave, the machine knowing that a life was in the balance and time was short.

‟Lady and gents, sit down, shut up, strap in and hold on.” As he buried the throttle to the edge of the top if its scale, after a minute of acceleration, Raj pulled the throttle sideways until it clicked and pushed it forward slowly, the sounds of the airship changed from one of ducted fan to one of jets as the fans disconnected and feathered into ring-shaped wings.

Justin directed Honey to call through the recorded communications system to the emergency department at the medical center. Several stuttering starts, Honey hit her stride on painting a picture of the patient’s condition and communicating with the surgical team at the trauma center.

The gentle increase in felt gravity, kept at a perceived vertical by the gimballed treatment area that the team and patient was in. A new feature to the Hummingbird class vessel, during acceleration or deceleration, the treatment area’s perceived vertical did not change. The emergency team would sit, strapped, in moving seats that prevented falling during treatment procedures.

****

A tone sounded after the automatic blood pressure cuff cycled, Tom’s vital signs were diminishing. His blood pressure had fallen below the normal values and he was hypotensive— low blood pressure— and his heart was beating faster at over one-hundred twenty beats per minute. His body was losing the fight to stay alive, even with the fluids that where initially used.

‟Honey, he is leaking faster than we can put in, progressive shock, if we do not increase his body’s ability to transport oxygen to the tissues, he will go into refractory shock.” Justin said calmly. ‟What is your plan of treatment now?”

‟He needs to have vasopressers.”

‟Hm.” Justin pulled at his ear. ‟Something more immediate that we don’t have to measure. Perhaps Syntheglobin? It has balanced electrolytes and a variety of other needed components that he is losing.”

‟And coagulants?”

‟We have that partially covered with the application of Quickclot bandages, we do not administer that intravenously, don’t even carry it. That is a hospital med only.”

‟Okay.” Honey nodded. ‟Hang two bags of Syntheglobin and infuse it wide open.”

‟Bags already spiked, wide open for infusion.”

‟Justin.” It was Yak on the intercom.

‟Yakkity-Yak, please talk back.” Justing gave a wink to Honey.

‟Information only, a wedge tornado touched down right after we left. There are casualties, they are declaring a multi-casualty incident.” Yak’s voice was grim, but professional.

‟Pilot copies.” Raj said. ‟We are unable to go any faster, as it is we have a required cool-down time on the engines of twenty minutes after landing, then we have to refuel.”

‟Ugh, copy that, Raj.” Justin said. ‟Yak, please keep us posted on the incident and weather.”

‟Affermative.”

‟ETA to the Trauma center, ten minutes.” Raj informed the crew. ‟Clear air between us and them.”

‟Copy, Raj.” Justin said. ‟Honey, what is his oxygen saturation reading?”

‟It’s showing only eighty percent!”

‟Correct. Using the artificial blood it has difficulty in picking up the new blood’s oxygen capacity. It is clear and the translumination of the red light on the probe will not pick it up, we have to change probes that are compatible. On the shelf marked ‟Synthe” pick out a probe and let’s place it on his ear, there is a special clamp for that.” Justin nodded.”That will give us a true reading now that he has had…” He looked at the bags. ‟Two and a half liters of Syntheglobin, and this flavor of Synthe is four-times the oxygen capacity, there is another kind of Synthe out now that has double that, so we can use less of the blood replacement for each victim and use the normal saline for the balance. Hospitals are liking it as they can then use different electrolytes without overloading the patient or having some other challenges.”

Honey nodded, getting a little glassy-eyed.

‟How, I mean, where. That is, how do you keep all that in your head?”

‟I wear earplugs to keep it from leaking out.” Justin laughed.

‟He knows all that useless crap.” It was Raj’s voice. ‟We just need to plug holes and run. Only the doctors need to know it by memory, the rest of us have our data pads. But Justin, he is annoying.”

‟Well, keeps us where we are.”

‟ETA 5 minutes.” Raj’s voice changed instantly to all business.”

‟Assess his lungs again.” Honey told Justin. ‟Monitor shows his heart-rate dropping, below one-twenty.”

‟Good, three liters of Syntheglobin in. Sensors on the I.V. catheters show a blood ph of seven-point-four-two, we have slight alkalosis, but in good shape.” Justin said. ‟Tom, are you still with us?

‟Yeah, I keep going to sleep, though. I don’t feel so good.”

‟Well, according to my rule-book, you are not supposed to. You have a hunk of bronze stuck through you, best I can tell, you have missed your heart, spleen and other organs.”

‟But you said it punctured my lungs?”

‟Ah, you weren’t supposed to pay attention to that. Yeah, but you’re in good shape, we are putting down on the tarmac now. You’ll be in and out in no time.”

Justin looked at Honey. ‟Time?”

‟What do you mean?”

‟Of our golden hour, how much is left?”

‟We have, if our time is correct, eighteen minutes.”

‟Awesome, let’s get him out, swap things over to the portable and let us get this show on the road to the Emergency Department.”

Rolling the stretcher to the edge of the Hummingbird, it fit the waiting emergency room gurney tightly with clips that fit into the frame of the wheeled table and they walked quickly through the doors where the surgical team waited them.

Tom lived long enough to make the golden hour and would live to come home.

Reports made, the crew of the hummingbird headed for home, lifting above the clouds of the storm, Yak said it was overcast with showers, but no major storms in the area when the computers on board illuminated with information and a computer generated voice chimed in on the pleasant converstions…

‟Incident assigned.”

Smart Bomb chapter 7. Cold

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Scene 7. Cold

The American south.

The database listed the area warm in the summer, cool and rarely freezing in winter.

Why then, was he walking along a highway looking like a heavily muscled Hispanic woman, the plan would have her picked up by a corrupt American soldier where a trade of favors for a ride would work out well for the android.

But none stopped, stopping at a food-mart and gas station, the Android female stepped into the unisex bathroom and adjusted her size, something darker, black eyes, bright smile. Slimmer and bigger breasted.

Images the android pulled from the worldnet for modeling his next shape and walked out with the, now light-colored shirt and jeans. Shining raven-black almost blue-hair.

Passing by the Air Force Base as the now female android headed north in a slow drizzle from the cloud cover, soaking her over-tight light-colored shirt, her backpack the only thing for insulation.

The android hoped that the plan would work, the heat loss was dramatic and alarming, she would have to turn to the jacket that the android stored in the backpack.

A few cars passed while the civilian employees left the base to head home.

An elegant, official looking car pulled next to her and the middle-aged commander leaned over, his brass decorations glinting in the gathering evening.

“Need a ride, miss? The weather is going to turn nasty here in about a half-hour.” He was official sounding. But his eyes traced over her shape, including the damp breasts of the android.

“Thank you. How do you know of the weather?”

“We have detailed knowledge of anything in the air.” He smiled as she put her backpack in the car.

The android concluded that the offer not only kept the heat loss to a minimum, but that the American male would not be difficult to mine for information.

Sitting there with the pack under her legs, keeping them parted enough for the civilian worker a view of the slightly parted legs of the damp jeans.

“Where are you headed miss?” The officer asked.

“North. Anywhere dry, warm and safe.” A planned response, to a known question. But an unknown event caused heuristic subroutines to rapidly alter the plan.

A voice from the back seat interrupted the plans.

“We have an hours drive north. Roman, I can authorize you another hour of driving after you drop me off, after we secure you a rider.”

Turning around, an entire dictionary ran through the core processors.

“You startled me!” She turned her head rapidly around. “I’m Ann, what do you mean securing a rider?”

“No one travels alone in the equipment, this means he will not be left alone with you or any other civilian. It is protocol. I will secure you a female rider for your comfort. “

The plan was a fail. Only if she was alone with a male, would the plan work to extract the information.

The driver wearing an officer’s markings violated the protocols already, they would not take it to any greater lengths.

“I have money for a hotel, I just need to get there.”

They drove on in silence for some distance when a hotel that seemed near their destination.

Stepping out of the car, then recovering her backpack she thanked the Lieutenant driver and the Colonel. She watched them drive away before she changed shapes to one of a sandy-haired middle-aged male of indeterminate heritage and walked to the office of the hotel in the twilight hours and gathering storm.

Information recorded, the plan failed however it still discovered, even in America’s own country, the military do not travel alone in official vehicles.

Stepping sitting on his bed, the android watched the local news. Weather would become colder in the next few days, this caused alerts to begin processing alternative forms of transportation that would not attract attention.

Checking the roll of non-traceable cash, an alternative method of transportation would be useful.

Ground transport would be preferable, opposed to the hypersonic craft the United States used. Too much scrutiny with facial recognition.

The android knew, there was little chance to pass close inspection just one time, multiple passes would reduce the odds to less than a fraction of one percent.

His program required him to adapt to succeed. He would reach his mission objective.

Deliver the device to the seat of evil.

Destination: Washington, the most responsible criminal for the starving and poverty in the true religion by not sharing with the religious foods and comforts that they kept for themselves.

Except for the sharing the android witnessed.

A contradiction that answered by focusing that donations of equipment and effort all appeared to come from private citizens.

But, where did the sand come from? The officer?

The people he met appeared were inherently kind. From the child in Florida to an officer that refused to handcuff a cold, unarmed and slightly-built youth.

Confict. Subroutines patched, conflict caused potential for failure of mission.

The mission was all important to strike a blow for peace. There would be lessons to be taught by showing that the failure of the United States to pressure Europe magazines from making fun of them or prevent insulting novels from being published.

The way to find through the winter storm, he would walk to the used car lot.

The American love for the automobile would allow him to move north without suspicion.

The plan set, an alternative to walking north the thousand-kilometers north.

Fully stretched out, the android could take one pace per meter.

His core processor measured a new term, a kilopace, a thousand-thousand paces to his target.

One million steps.

A large number that could be reduced by the use of private transportation.

The contact with non-believers would be reduced. A new subroutine, created by the latest update to his operating systems, required contact with the people and the government that reflects the thinking of the masses.

Alternative plan: A seventy to one-hundred kilometer drive each day, then interact with citizens.

Taking on the shape and color, hair and accent, more data would be collected for proof of the glory and required destruction of this horrid…

He deleted the plan process, the prejudging of America seemed widespread in the database.

The android lay on the bed and powered down, a required time for reboot of the entire system for purging fragmented data that took up space in his limited resources.

Setting a power-on alert for seven O’clock, he lay on top of the blankets with the room set to just below body temperature.

If anyone looked through the gap of the window shade, it looked as if he was asleep on his back.

In truth, should anyone try to touch the android, the tactile feeling would make a person believe this was a dead human on the bed.

In the morning, the database cleared of all fragmented codes, would require replenished energy levels.

He would need a breakfast high in carbohydrate.

Not for the first time, he anticipated data input from this strange country.

DragonMaster U Chapter 37. Return of Kolo

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Chapter 37. Return of Kolo

His fourth straight ace on the written tests, Eva also had begun to dance in the shadows of the library, making Summer laugh against her will.

The evening rides were more complex as Eva and Jona prepared for the upcoming spring race. Long rides, through the mountain canyons of the volcanic places in the world.

One morning, after they had studied in the library, Summer smiled and acted as if she wanted to ask something while they studied, debated and joked with each other while they studied human and dragon art history.

Finally, Summer asked the question that burned in her heart.

“Can I ride with you sometime?” She asked while looking down.

Jona and Eva exchanged looks and nodded.

“Yes! We’d be happy to do it.” Eva smiled. “I owe you a lot of rides for the help you have given us to put us back on the team.”

Summer laughed nervously.

The three of the friends walked down to the meadow, chatting as they walked. Summer Set told a joke with a pun in the twisted end. `

Laughing, they stopped by the cave of riders and fliers. Jona and Summer put on goggles and flight helmet. She laughed at herself when she looked in a mirror.

“You really wear these?”

“Yeah, we do. Imagine being hit in the face with a bug at the speeds that Eva uses when she flies around trees and such.”

“Oh.” She backed up a step when Jona clipped on his armor and leather vest.

“Not to worry, I always wear this, it is team colors and shows my awards.”

“I want to know what all these rivets are for.” She smiled and ran her fingers over the decorated, embossed metal studs.

“Training, Distance. Personal best” He went down the different leather panels and studs. “I don’t have any of the good ones of gold or gems. I have only raced house races, first-year students don’t race between schools. Only houses. So far, we have won as a team, lost a few individual competitions. Eva has not lost anything.” Jona smiled as he walked up to Summer and laced the leather strap under her chin. “Keep this snug. If it blows off, you won’t be able to look around.

They walked out of the rider’s ready room where Eva sat with her own helmet.

Even Jona laughed.

“Feeling cautious?” He said to the other half of his race team.

“Yes,” Eva said. “We have some rides that like to get physical flying around today. I’m not worried, but if we get a little bumpy, I want to be ready.”

Jona laughed.

“Um…” Summer looked alarmed. “Should I be worried?”

“No, we will stay slow and close.” Eva answered. “You will have a good time. Have you ever seen the ocean beach from above?”

“But that is so far!” Summer gasped, her eyes wide behind the goggles.

“Eva can make it to the beach and back in less time than it takes you to look up books and sit down for a read.” Jona grinned.

“Wow. Even my brother doesn’t go that fast, and he is a skimmer.” Summer boggled.

“Skimmer?” Jona asked.

“Skimmers are between swimmers and fliers.” Eva answered, Summer nodding. “They barely touch the water, leaping across and gliding on a cushion of air. It is a rare talent.”

“Climb up!” Jona showed Summer where she could hold on to Eva’s scales.

“Hold on to something tight!” Eva said, looking around.

A push-off and her wings extended, with two flaps they were airborne.

Summer squealed with glee that Jona first took as alarm.

Banking around the canyons slowly, Summer looked down and held on so tight, Jona saw her knuckles blanch.

Out over the canyon, the three friends flew, ride and rider with a guest.

Swiftly they descended from the high mountain range to the lowlands.

Summer gasped when Eva flew over a cliff and the white-capped waters of the breaking waves filled her view of white sand beaches as far as she could see.

Slow enough for a walk, Eva smiled and used the wind coming off the ocean for lift, barely twitching a wingtip.

The great wings of the dragon lifted them up while she took them back to the meadow. Snow showed below them and Summer turned to Jona, complaining her nose was getting cold when Eva settled and landed.

“Hello Jona.” A familiar voice sounded behind him when he helped Summer off Eva’s saddle. 

Holding out a dark and sweetened confection, her favorite treat, the sparkling eyes that made Jona laugh like he was a child during the weeks of bonfire lit up his life.

Kolo had returned.

The Golden Hour

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The Golden Hour

The water was cold in the early morning, washing the rescue-ship in the shadow of trees in the hours after sunrise, such is the beginning of any shift in the high mountains with the remote station.

A three-day shift began on Rescue-Medic-10. For two-hundred Terran years it had been the base for rescues in the wilderness of the planet’s northern hemisphere. It was a planet just coming out of an ice-age, giant glaciers still were visible in the distance, miles thick, they still retreated up to one-hundred meters per planetary year. A few faster, many slower, still the settlers from the homeworld would forge a living in the spreading alpine-forested world.

Once rocky and barren, they discovered not so much as a microbe with the wheeled probes that crawled over the surface. After introducing cyanobacterium and land-plants, the following years oxygen levels rose rapidly and surpassed that of the normal twenty-one percent Terran air quickly, becoming an energetic twenty-eight percent since the land plants they introduced in the carbon rich atmosphere grew at record rates.

The planet, chosen for atmospheric manipulation as the stellar system that surrounded the orange-dwarf star was emerging from a dense cloud of space-debris that had blocked the radiation and heat from the planets sun.

“Incident assigned.” Came the sound from the station-wide speakers.

“Long fall, male fell from roof of structure, approximately five meters.”

The crew of three moved to their vehicle, a ducted-fan vertical-lift airship warmed up and lifted off.

“Rescue-Medic-Ten responding.” Justin Timeagain spoke into the mic-boom of his helmet. Long a medic in the wilderness, once he had gone to earth and had spent a few years in the blacktopped forests that were the cities before returning to the planet of Sunkissed-B with stories of horrors on man versus man over the price of stale beer.

“ETA five minutes.” Rajish Coriolis said.

“Copy Rescue-Medic-Ten.” The disembodied voice came over the earphones. “Incident update, victim is on the ground but sitting up, reporting party states that victim has an altered level of consciousness and is not speaking clearly.”

Justin and Rajish looked at each other. Rajish, the best pilot in the outlands had worked with Justin for nearly three decades, attending each other’s weddings and birth of children.

Good friends that had been together frequently over the years.

Honoria “Honey” Stathatos, a field nurse-in-training, assigned to Justin for her orientation to flight rescue. Engineer and communications officer, a polyglot from earth Jose “Yak” Herrera, the only one of the crew that spoke as many languages as could be known. His talent for learning a langauge fluently in a week was legendary in the company, but he was dangerous to himself or others with anything heavy or sharp. Yak defined the image of a walking accident with tools.

Lifting off, they rose above the rapidly growing forest, trees already taller than the tallest living things on earth sprouted and grew in the high carbon atmosphere and iron rich soils that oxidized, releasing ever more nutrients for the planets new life to live on.

Evolutionary effects changed life forms rapidly. Bees became larger in the dense atmosphere and low gravity of the super-earth.

“Rescue-Medic-Ten, be advised, reporting parties on scene say the victim has a penetrating injury to the thorax. Victim landed on fencing.”

“Well, that makes things a whole lot harder.” Justin observed quietly.

Raj just smiled, not wanting to make any inappropriate humor comments that might be picked up by the flight-deck recorders. Where they headed was under a storm-cloud. The small VTOL craft was overengineered, over-engined and powerful with contra-rotating impellers of the ducted fans, just the machine needed for dependable operations in the overgrown forests that orbited as an emerald jewel around the gem of the orange-dwarf star.

“Rescue-Medic-Ten, this is Bald Mountain Fire Protection Engine-4, Captain Yehn.” The voice crackled as he took a breath. “We have a landing zone for you cleared. Lat and long transmitting to you from my location.

“Copy Captain Yehn. Our ETA is short, we are vectoring with you in sight.” Raj reported without emotion.

Yak came on the intercom, his voice more baritone in the professional voice.

“Justin, we have a super-cell developing five-clicks to our south and east, just the direction we will want to go. Weather forecast shows it might go right over the top of the incident.”

“Thank you, Yak. I wonder if the winds there have something to do with that.”

“Could be.” Raj agreed. “I’m showing gusts of greater than thirty-knots around the LZ.”

“Copy that,” Justin said. “Yak, monitor any rotation that develops on doppler and keep us updated, we are going to hot-load, if we take time for tea, we may not get out for a while if it starts a rotation.”

“Justin, what are you worried about.” The female voice of Honey sounded in his ear.

“Rotating storms in these mountains get a boost from the shapes and funnels made by the glaciers, downslope winds compress, warm up and pick up moisture then up into the cloud. If it rotates while this occurs, we could have the makings of a tornado. In this area, they tend to be more-or-less stationary and last for long minutes and some as long as hours. We find the clearings where trees were scoured clean off the ground. Trees are not native here and have not adapted to these kinds of storms.”

“What— how do you adapt to that kind of wind?” She asked. A native Terran, she had arrived on the S-2 planet six months ago.

Justin and the others chuckled.

“There is no defense other than to go to ground as far as we know. We can build to withstand the wind, but that takes time and money the company does not like spending, and going into a hole is faster.” Yak said over the sounds of the engines.

“We are on final approach, ladies and germs, strap in for a bumpy landing.” Raj said matter-of-factly. “We have crosswinds that are just at the redline, but we have a wide area to put down in.

“That… That is a wide area?” Honey said, looking at the thumb-nail sized patch of rock they were approaching.

“It looks bigger when you are on it.”

“It better, it is nearly microscopic from here.”

“Don’t look out the window, focus on the descent speed and altitude readouts. You’ll feel less panic then.” Raj sounded as if he had done this a hundred times.

And he had, more than a dozen times over.

“Quiet please, emergency traffic only while I put the bird down.”

The group fell into silence, as the contra-rotating blades changed speed and pitch, the HummingBird class rescue airship, agile and fast when need called, set down on the landing wheels.

“Yak, keep an eye on the doppler and the boilers stoked, old friend, we will be back asap.” Raj said, second in command on the ground, he followed Justin out the back ramp with his backpack and calculators. “This is all kinds of farked up to operate in these conditions!” Raj yelled at Justin through the howling winds while they made their way to the linked-treaded construction tank. Brutally spartan in the interior, it was only good for short-range transports of people, in this case, it was a make-shift ambulance.

Technically against any written protocol in civilized areas, here in the wilderness, they did what worked and wrote their own rules without a leader that had any important title. They were Medical Emergency and Trauma Helilift.

“Justin! Raj! There are some teams we are plain glad to see land.” Lieutenant Robin Wise smiled as the trio of Honey, Justin and Raj walked up with their hardware.

“Where is our patient?” Justin asked as they entered the tank. “And nice to be appreciated.”

“On his way. Justin, he is hurt bad, he fell on a fence post and it has impaled him, they are having to cut the post off for transport.” She said sadly. “Justin, it’s the new sheriff. Do every trick you know.”

“Oh, damn.” The Paramedic in Justin kicked in, the new Sheriff had moved from the southern hemisphere and gotten control of the corruption that had been creeping in, the area had become a seed of crime that the leaders had made the decision that the current sheriff that had a drug problem and needed to be replaced. A decision that backfired, multiple arrests of community leaders, police officers, a minister later, the miniature crime wave came to an end.

The heavy link-treaded tank clanked along the path that served as a road to the sub-rural area, it stopped and lowered the ramp, allowing the flight-crew to enter.

Tomatsu Kia was well liked, an encyclopedic knowledge of the law made him respected by politicians and criminals, and his good looks made him popular with the women when he was on patrol, his “Bedside” manner would have made a doctor jealous.

Today, after falling off the roof of his own house, the pointed post of the gate entered just below his left ribcage and out just on the opposite of his sternum, piercing his left lung in two places and as Justin assessed the Sheriff, he found that Tom’s right lung also sounded compromised.

“We have an eighty-kilo male, vital signs are steadily decompensating.” The EMT told Justin. “We have him immobilized with vacuum-splints, one-hundred percent oxygen by non-rebreather mask, his nail beds blanch and take a long time to come back to color. More than five seconds.”

Justin nodded, more than just lungs were an issue, then remembered the nurse, Honey.

“Raj, put a cuff on him so we can get an auto-bp on him asap when we get to the bird. Honey, start an IV, I’ll spike the bags. Please reassess the lungs, give me a report”

Honey nodded and as Justin held out to packages of IV tubing he asked which one.

Laughing inwardly, he was making her give orders and she chose the tubing most used in surgery that this patient would need.

“Let’s get him to our gurney, we do everything on the way after I get the first IV in, Justin, you do the second one at the same time.

Smiling and nodding. Justin knew she had it handled. Her orange-red hair was nearly white in the starlight of the orange-dwarf star, jokingly refered to as Sunkist star.

“Oxygen saturation is below ninety percent.” Raj said.

Tom was grunting with every breath.

“Honey, we need to do something. What would you like me or Raj to do?”

“We need a chest tube placed.”

“Sorry, fresh out. Maybe something in protocol that won’t get our licenses shredded?” Justin broke open the seal of a package.

“Thoractic decompression! Yes. Let’s do that.” Honey jolted from her stuck moment.

“Copy that.” Justin said as he applied a silicon flap-valve to the end of the large needle he’d inserted into Tom’s side.

“I have mine leaking blood.” Honey’s voice was tight and high.

“Afirmative, Yak, toss us some towels, would you please? Honey, what do you think to begin transport to a definitive care center for Topgun Tom? He is one of my fave souls in this part of the planet, hate to have him bleed out with this fence stuck in him.”

“Yes, Raj, get us off the ground and to Challenge Medical Center. What is our ETA?”

“Forty-minutes at conservative speed.”

“We were en route here for ten-minutes from time of call,” Justin gave a time report of their current call. “It was another five to seven minutes for the call and another two minutes to get the call to us. We have been on the ground six minutes. Our golden hour, before irreversible shock sets in, we have now have used twenty-five of the sixty we need to get him to a surgeon.” Justin said.

Taking his math into account, Honey looked at Raj.

“What is our ETA on emergency speed?”

“Twenty-five minutes, but we will be on vapors when we get there and the engines will be too hot to shut-down straight away.”

“Let’s do it.”

“Yes, ma’am, code-3 it is.”

Raj adjusted the pitch and they lifted off the ground as if the airship was anxious to leave, the machine knowing that a life was in the balance and time was short.

“Lady and gents, sit down, strap in, shut up and hold on.” As he buried the throttle to the top edge of its scale.

Justin directed Honey to call through the recorded communications system to the emergency department at the medical center. Several stuttering starts, Honey hit her stride on painting a picture of the patient’s condition and communicating with the surgical team at the trauma center.

The gentle increase in felt gravity, kept at a perceived vertical by the gimballed treatment area that the team and patient was in. A new feature to Hummingbird class vessels, during acceleration or deceleration, the perceived vertical did not change. The emergency team would sit in seats that prevented falling during treatment procedures.

****

A tone sounded after the automatic blood pressure cuff cycled, Tom’s vital signs were diminishing. His blood pressure had fallen below the normal values and he was hypotensive— low blood pressure— and his heart was beating faster at over one-hundred twenty beats per minute. His body was losing the fight to stay alive, even with the fluids they were infusing.

“Honey, he is leaking faster than we can pour in, if we do not increase his body’s ability to transport oxygen to the tissues, he will go into refractory shock.” Justin said calmly. “What is your plan of treatment now?”

“He needs to have vasopressers.”

“Hm.” Justin pulled at his ear. “Something more immediate that we don’t have to measure. Perhaps Syntheglobin? It has balanced electrolytes and a variety of other needed components that he is losing.”

“And coagulants?”

“We have that partly covered with the Quickclot bandages, we do not administer that Quickclot enzyme intravenously, don’t even carry it. That is a hospital med only.”

“Okay.” Honey nodded. “Hang two bags of Syntheglobin and infuse it wide open.”

“Bags already spiked, wide open for infusion.”

“Justin.” It was Yak on the intercom.

“Yakkity-Yak, please talk back.” Justing gave a wink to Honey.

“Information only, a tornado hit right after we left. There are casualties.” Yak’s voice was grim, but professional.

“Pilot copies.” Raj said. “We have a required cool-down time on the engines of ten-minutes after landing, then we need fuel.”

“Ugh, copy that, Raj.” Justin said. “Yak, please keep us posted on the incident and weather.”

“Affirmative.”

“ETA to the Trauma center, ten minutes.” Raj announced.

“Copy, Raj.” Justin said. “Honey, what is his oxygen saturation reading?”

“It’s showing only eighty percent!”

“Correct. The artificial blood is transparent and the standard probe  fails, we need probes that are compatible. On the shelf marked “Synthe” pick out a probe and let’s place it on his ear, there is a special clamp for that.” Justin nodded.”That will give us a true reading now that he has had…” He looked at the bags. “Two and a half liters of Syntheglobin, and this flavor of Synthe is four-times the oxygen capacity, there is another Synthe out now that has double that, so we can use less for each victim and use the normal saline for the balance. Hospitals like it as they can use different electrolytes without having other challenges.”

Honey nodded, getting a little glassy-eyed.

“How, I mean, where. That is, how do you keep all that in your head?”

“I wear earplugs to keep it from leaking out.” Justin laughed.

“He knows all that useless information.” It was Raj’s voice. “We just need to plug holes and run. Only the doctors need to know it by memory, the rest of us have our data pads. But Justin, he is annoying.”

“Well, keeps us honest.”

“ETA 5 minutes.” Raj’s voice changed instantly to all business. “Weather is partly cloudy, winds at ten-knots.”

“Assess his lungs again.” Honey told Justin. “Monitor shows his heart-rate dropping, below one-twenty.”

“Good, three liters of Syntheglobin in. Sensors on the I.V. catheters show a blood ph of seven-point-four-two, we have slight alkalosis, but in good shape.” Justin said. “Tom, are you still with us?

“Yeah, I keep going to sleep, though. I don’t feel so good.”

“Well, according to my rule-book, you are not supposed to. You have a hunk of bronze stuck through you, best I can tell, it missed your heart, spleen and other organs.”

“But you said my lungs are cut?”

“Ah, you weren’t supposed to pay attention to that. Yeah, a couple of holes. But you’re in good shape, we are putting down on the tarmac now. You’ll be in and out in no time.”

Justin looked at Honey. “Time?”

“What do you mean?” Honey blinked, not following Justin’s reference.

“Of our golden hour, how much is left?”

“We have, if our time is correct, eighteen minutes.”

“Awesome! Let’s get him out, swap things over to the portable and let’s get this show on the road to the Emergency Department.”

Rolling the stretcher to the edge of the Hummingbird, it fit the waiting emergency room gurney tightly with clips that fit into the frame of the wheeled table and they walked quickly through the doors where the surgical team awaited them.

Tom lived long enough to make the golden hour and would live to come home.

After reports were given, the crew of the Hummingbird headed for home, lifting above the clouds of the storm, Yak said it was overcast with showers, but no major storms in the area when the computers on board illuminated with information and a computer generated female voice chimed in on the pleasant converstions…

“Incident assigned.”

“I hate that voice.” Yak sighed.

©2015 dash mccallen

Dragon Master University Chapter 21. Night Riders

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Chapter 21. Night Riders

Garnet house was late in ending the dinner, after Professor Vale would not dismiss anyone until all students finished eating — that included the newly christened “Slop Eaters” of Stixx, Kelly, Gorm and their small group.

Getting to the meadow, the sun had slipped behind the mountains, the dragons and riders gathered for the night-time ride. Jona laughed with Kolo as they stood with the rides who were now aware of how a slop-filled attack failed and admitted to by one of the clique that had stated that she did not agree with what the leaders had planned. Vale had taken the statement and decided that eating of the slop was punishment enough for this time. Calaise had gotten away without eating the slop that Kelly, Stixx and the others had to consume.

Stixx was looking several pale shades of green as he stood next to his ride. Kanus was looking bemused, still angry at his rider of the collision earlier in the day.  Teva gave instructions about the route in the dark, although it looked like the only thing that Stixx and Kelly were going to do in the dark was some recycling of their last meal.

Mounting the rides, each rider donned their helmets and put on goggles, waiting for the captain of the racer to give the command for the night race to start.

Jona asked “Why do we fly at night?”

Eva laughed quietly “If we can do it in the dark, we can do it when it’s cloudy or any other bad weather, or even at night. The only thing we have to worry about is having other schools running the same course”

“I thought that we had the route.” Jona said “It was on the sly?”

 “The route is not truly secret,” Kolo leaned over and shook her head. “It is up to each school to do with the information that they get. Most of them practice the route for weeks ahead of time.”

“Wow, we could have them in the canyons with us?” Jona asked.

Eva flexed her wings “I hope so, a small unplanned race would give us a clue on how things might stand.”

Qo’noS shook his head. “No, I am not sure about that, that would give the other school a chance to plan how to bump us out or crowd the way into the wining circle.”

“Dragon Lords are notorious for cutting off and blocking racers of other schools, the Drakensberg’s are known to just bump you out of the sky. That’s what happened to Koord.” Kolo said. “Killed his ride. Koord was lucky to land on his ride, but Rhodes was not as lucky he landed on the top of a snag- a dead tree- and a broken branch pierced his heart. It was a very sad day.”

“LAUNCH!” Ordered Teva as he streaked into the sky.

Eva, Qo’noS, Kolo and Jona rose it the sky after Teva, the other riders also flew, but Kanus was off-balance and was struggling more to keep Stixx on her back while Sol had not yet launched, Kelly had gotten off and was on her knees behind a bush.

“Not a great start for them.” Kolo laughed as she flew ahead.”

Laughing Eva and Jona streaked off into the night chasing the Captain of the Racers.

Dragon Master University Chapter 14. Dragonflight

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XIV. Dragonflight

Sprite woke him in the morning, pulling on Jona’s ear clicking and chirping, a new sound for the little one.

“Oww, what?” Jona moaned and brushed his hair out of his eyes and got dressed. Sprite flitted around excitedly as they climbed together up the stairs in the pre-dawn light.

Kolo stood outside and Jona gasped at the chill air that filled his lungs. She looked beautiful, even bundled in a heavy overcoat and a headband.

“You didn’t tell him to dress warm, Sprite?” Kola laughed like violins being played. Jona’s heart skipped beats in the moment she did that.

“What is it? My classes start in a little while, Dragon Lore and Law is my next class.” Jona yawned.

“DLL is not every day, today you get a late morning, your next class is flight , and that is what you were said to be a natural at.” Kolo said, ” So we are going to increase on that, team races are later this year, you and a dragon.”

“Who do I ride? You?” Jona grinned.

“You wish, but no.” Kolo walked in front of him swaying her hips slightly as she giggled softly. “You will be riding a larger athlete this time, you and a dragon together and race among the mountains, the racer, Wivern, said you had a natural sit on the saddle. Better than most humans.”

Kolo laughed softly as Jona looked up and nearly screamed. He drew breath sharply as he looked up at the dark-colored dragon with orange eyes.

“This is one of the best dragons on the race team at the school.” Kolo said as Sprite hid in Jona’s hair, then flitted over to Kolo.

“Hello baby, your mama will be trying out for the racing team.” Kolo said, indicating that she was talking about Jona.

“I remember you, you scream like a baby-cat that gets stepped on.” The big dragon leaned over and spoke softly like distant thunder. ‟I am Eva and I would like to win the Tour of the Mountains race later this year.”

Kolo laughed as she climbed up Eva’s back.

“First we need to get you settled on the saddle, come on up, get comfortable. I will teach you how to fly as a team. Eva is fast, but she suffered injuries last year when she collided with another racer.” Kolo said as she stroked Eva’s wing-root.

Jona climbed up and settled himself in.

“Are there organized teams? I mean, is there a leader of some kind?”

“Yes, but you have to show your ability, most fresh faces here don’t even get a chance, Sprite here has told me you’re in a line of human Dragon Masters?” Eva said. The heat that rose from her scales was comfortable, without burning his skin as he gently stroked her neck.

Sprite clicked and chirped excitedly, his breath puffing out in steam, a hint of what he was going to be able to do as an adult.

“Yeah, my parents both, my grandfather on my paternal side. might have had more.” Jona said as he looked down while getting himself positioned in the saddle, a soft breeze tickled at his hair.

“Eva, your saddle is a different shape, it is a tighter fit than the one on Wivern.

Eva growled slightly. That alone was terrifying.

“That show off, he was the idiot with who I collided last year, I fell into the trees, my rider had gotten torn up and spent a long time in the school hospital. She was a good rider, but now is afraid to get in the saddle. So, I need a new rider— if you are the one, we can win.”

Kolo nodded.

“The problem now is, Eva, you are bigger, the corners are going to give you troubles.” Leaning into Jona where her breath tickled his ear and made the ends of his lips turn into a smile “The race is more for small to medium dragons, large ones have speed on the straight and can even get altitude, but the turns around a mountain? Or on a lake? You have to bank or you have to go slow.”

“I heard that,” Eva humphed, “I have practiced, if I can get enough speed, I can pull the wings in and bank just using the outer quarter of my wingtips, when I level out I can extend and gain speed and altitude.” Eva sighed. “I just have to make sure not to lose too much speed or height. Banking like that takes me closer to the ground. We could hit at speeds faster than sound.”

“I would think that is a bad thing to happen?” Jona blinked.

“Very bad, indeed. It could kill both dragon and rider.” Kolo nodded.

“We would be disqualified then, they don’t allow dead racers to accept trophies.” Eva said with black humor.

“All set?” Eva asked as she turned towards the edge of the lighter part of the sky. “We fly until sunrise and back before you need class.”

“Wait!” Kolo said as she slip in behind Jona, “Okay, now ready. Sprite? You good to go?”

The little dragon shook his head and flitted over to the branch of a tree and settled down. Watching with brilliant blue eyes as Eva grinned. “Smart little dragon, hate to get your scales blown off.”

With that, Eva took a mighty leap into the air and with strokes of the wings that did not seem so big since his recent days at the Dragon Master’s University, they moved ever higher and faster.

Kolo slid her arms around his waist and held close, the warmth of her body soaked through his leather armor as her breath warmed down his neck. Onward they flew, first south around a second lake then banked hard just above the lake surface. Turning due east into the gathering light.

Down they flew, trees the likes of which Jona had never seen, taller than the tallest dragon or even any of the spires of the school flashed by as they gained speed on the down slope of the mountain range. The air grew warmer as the trees became smaller and then finally the numbers of the great trees gave way to  bushes and sand, faster she flew, across a desert, banking low over some mountains that had an updraft she could feel.

“Hang on! We are about to cover a lot of ground very fast.” Kolo whispered warmly in his ear. “This is where big wings work best.” Then raising her voice “Eva! Clear air above and behind, give it all you have!”

The wings did the impossible, they began to stroke the air faster than Jona’s heart beat, Kolo’s fingers dug into his chest as she pressed her body against his back. For the first time he began to think she was not doing it just to hang on, Kolo was enjoying having her arms around Jona.

Speed began make the wind hurt. Faster they went still, the wings nearly blurring in the speed they flew, Eva was creating her own heat that was making a warm bubble of air from around her scales as Jona followed Kolo’s instructions and stretched down behind the scales that covered the wing roots. Here the wind was not even buffeting, a small eddy of warm air came from behind and he could smell Kolo’s scent.

She smelled like flowers and spice.

A flat area, bright white in the near sunrise, shallow pools of water far below as they crossed the area with such speed that Jona thought impossible.

“Faster, riders! Hold on, one last burst before we turn.” Eva roared into the wind.

Jona felt as if he would slide off the back of his ride, Eva did such speed that the eddy that was warming them stopped, it was still and warm, the sound of rushing wind changed to a steady hiss while Jona watched through transparent parts of the scales and membranes of wings.

Covering the distances with a blur, a large line of mountains, up and around the first one. They banked hard and up, the sun was blinding-bright when they cleared the top of the mountain, trailing a shock-wave that knocked pine cones from trees.

“Back into the dark! Now we race the sun!” Eva yelled.

Jona had thought she was fast before, the speed Eva achieved in the dive back towards the clouds below was a whole new experience.

The sun seemed to set in the wrong way as they streaked across the sky towards the west.  A line of clouds that Jona had not noticed before looked as if it was rushing towards them.

“This is the best ride I have had in a long time, ” Kolo yelled as she nipped the base of his neck playfully. “You don’t scream.”

Jona laughed, “I forgot to do that!”

Faster still they moved, the sound of the wind over the scales of the dragon was nearly too high of a pitch for him to hear.

The scales on the edges began to buzz slightly and began to get hot to the touch where he kept his hands. Jona looked back, the sun was down below the horizon again to the east.

Jona moved his left hand down to check the part he sat on, the part everyone called the saddle that grew naturally on the large dragon and put his hand on Kolo’s leg. Her riding pants were skin-tight— or scale-tight as he reminded himself— and he was surprised as she pressed to his body so tightly. Slipping his hand along her leg she laughed lightly, but said nothing.

“Pay attention!” Eva yelled. “I need a spotter when we get into the mountains with the trees again. Tell me when I am getting too close or where other trees might be.”

Diving low along the ground, the speeding dragon caused an updraft of dust and debris behind them.

She began to climb, faster than before.

Higher and higher, into the mountains they had left only a half-hour before.

In reverse of the first part of the trip,  the shrubs and bushes gave way to trees, then finally back into the giants of the land. Up and over the crest of the range of mountains and down a valley with a glacier still holding on from the ancient days.

A cleaned monolith of rock, curved on one side and vertical on the other down to the valley floor flashed by as they flew down the valley and out into a flat landed area, and banked hard over while Eva flew on.

“That was the second leg of the race.” The big dragon yelled.

“How many legs are there?” Jona yelled back.

“Eight legs in all, in each of six races.” Kolo said loudly just far enough from his ear to not hurt. “I looked it up, Eva. “

“SIX races this year? I have a lot more practice to get in!” and with that, the dragon flapped even harder as they streaked back to school.

Circling the mountain, Eva set down in the meadow that they had started from. Jona and Kolo climbed off, Jona noted that a slight amount of vapor came from some of her scales.

“I have been worse, at least I know I have some speed.” Eva said, “Next time, we have to practice communications, you just had the basic flight. I had to find out how well I did with a rider– two in this case and we did great speed. Kolo you need to ride with him more often. I need the exercise and he needs to have training.”

Jona laughed. “Absolutely! How do I make sure my name is in the Racer’s Team? Who do we race?” he asked.

Kolo laughed, “There are other schools. DragonLords College of Wisdom is one, DrakesBerg University is another.”

“We will meet again in a few days, Jona.” The large dragon said, “We need to get you on the team, you have courage and don’t try to dominate while flying.”

“I could send him to Professor Vale, ” Kolo offered. “The Professor knows from both sides of the experience as rider and as ride.”

“Excellent,” Eva nodded, “He will give this new boy a chance.”

Turning to her chosen rider, she addressed him directly.

‟Jona, know this, there have been those hurt and even killed during these races. Dragon and rider both, so be sure if you want to do this, you would be one of the lowest-caste riders, a student that has been here only a month. But, Kolo seems to think highly of you.”

“It was Sprite, his adoptive dragon.” Kolo smiled. “That is what got me interested.”

Jona held up his hand, “Do I get a vote in this at all? Other than if I have courage or not?”

Both females looked at him as if he spoke in a strange language and said “No!” in unison. Laughing as they did so.

“You have a great spirit, Jona, I felt it in you.” Kolo said looking Jona directly into the eye without laughing. “Sprite would not have chosen you, the fates would not have put you in the spot at that time to have a baby dragon looking for its mother and saw you first.”

Jona blushed at his ears. The only thing on his body that he could never seem to control, looking down he kicked at a rock for a moment.

“I will do the best I can.”

“Only if your grades are good enough, ” Eva said grimly, her orange eyes going dark red “You WILL not have poor test grades and you will get your homework done— on time and turned in— correct?”

Kolo nodded, “He will, or he will not like me anymore.” She grinned and socked Jona in the shoulder firmly.

‟He will make the grade. Or else.”

‟Or else what?” Jona said, half-joking.

Then it got serious, and downright scary when Eva leaned down and nearly touched her nose to his.

Smoke came from her scales, some from her nose.

‟Human boy, you will keep your grades up or you will find out how unpleasant life can be.” The big dragon’s eyes focused on him and he felt she could see down inside him.

‟Do not fail me or Kolo, keep us happy, and your life will be happy.”

Jona agreed with this turn of events.

He would not fail them. Ever. Jona had learned about respect, then he shook his head at himself.

Those two scared him!