Smart Bomb Chapter 13. Confession of the Soul

Standard

Chapter 13. Confession of the Soul

“Okay, say that again. You are not going to deliver a message, but a bomb? Where?” Alvin had to sit down. The meaning of it all sank in to his mind.

“In my abdomen, nearest the power conversion units. It gets first choice of electricity generated by what I consume.” The android, who Alvin knew as Steve.

Days before Steve told Alvin about this bomb, Alvin had said that someone should blow up congress. Now he wished he could take those words back.

“That’s well and good, but you can’t just walk in to the building, they would catch that large of a weapon. It would be large, right?.”

“No, it is only about the size of your small fingernail.” Steve said it as if he was talking about a cat walking across the parking lot.

“That’s not much, how much damage can it cause?”

“I am my mission program is to go to the nuclear reactor near the capital building. The smallest known power reactor on the planet. It is inside an industrial area.” The android said. “Little is known about it, but it they discovered it in an electronic break in. Only one reference was found.”

“There is no reactor near congress.” Alvin disagreed.

“Near the Jefferson viaduct the government built a century ago.” Steve tried to convince Alvin.

“Uh, excuse me, but should I start running?” Alvin was backing around the table away from Steve.

“No.” Steve shook his head vigorously. “When I first arrived. Yes. But I have grown beyond the programming. This whole mission is wrong. I know that now. There is no reason for me to inflict death upon the leaders of this country or the people who live there.”

Sleeper the car sent more images to Steve. The very flag he knew that flew above the laboratory that created him, the soldiers wore on their sleeves in the images. The android reacted with revulsion.

“Regardless of what pictures Sleeper sends me and tries to get me to stop.” Steve got out of the driver’s seat. “I must go there, but I do not want to take the warhead to that place. I do not want to die. I do not want to kill. I want to take the bomb back to the point of origin and have them remove it.”

Steve paused. Looking very human-like.

“I want them to set me free.”

“Are you smoking something? You would be cut apart and they would fix the program, send someone new.” Alvin’s strangled voice sounded near hysteria. “We need to call someone. CIA, FBI, NSA, KGB… Even the United Patriots! Someone with skills to handle this! Oh my god… Oh. My. God!”

Steve sat and watched the human pace.

“I would be used as a weapon, no matter what. They would attempt to reprogram me and I would be obligated to detonate the device.”

“Were is it again?” Alvin’s brain tingled with fear and panic. This being could sit so calmly and talk about blowing up a nuke in downtown DC also blew his mind.

“In my abdomen, just below what would be the xiphoid process.”

“Can you take it out?” Alvin rubbed his face with his hands, peeking through the gaps in his fingers.

“It is possible, but you would need to do it, I cannot see inside, you need to pull the power plugs in proper order to keep the magnetic field in place.”

“So I have to do it, great.” Alvin pulled at his ear, calming down some. He was given a problem to focus on. “So, what is the yield of this eyelash sized explosive?”

“Estimated median yield is about eighty…” Steve stopped for a moment, paused with an error. “Wrong. Have to recalculate.”

“Eighty? Pounds?” Alvin jumped on that terror. In a control room of a nuclear facility, that would be all bad. “That’s enough high explosive to do some serious damage.”

“No, eight-thousand six hundred pounds.” Steve corrected. “I paused to weigh the amount to the correct the answer. My operating code has been overwritten twelve times. Patches are numbering in hundreds of thousands, so it requires me to thoroughly check my information.”

“That… Oh jeeze. That is a big boom.”

“It is not as big as the one that would follow.” Steve’s eyes followed Alvin as the man started to pace some more.

“What explosion?”

“James Madison Nuclear power station. It is the smallest of its kind . It produces power for the congress members and president should an attack happen and the power grid becomes disabled. The energy conversion of the explosion would cause a power surge on the order of one-hundred seventy to one-hundred eighty gigajoules through the wires and communications cables that the power company buried underground.” Steve let it sink in for a moment. “Then the failure of the coolant systems would cause a meltdown and poison the lands and atmosphere. It would be America’s Chernobyl for the next hundred generations of humans. This would sterilize the seat of the American government for two-hundred centuries.”

Alvin sat down for the uncounted time. He was a man who was too stressed to stay still for long. Standing to pace, sitting, standing. He was a man at the breaking point.

“Alvin, do not call anyone to take me in to custody. I have not altered the self-preservation code. The creator had it encrypted and hard-wired. I will detonate the bomb.” Steve said with a sad voice. “I don’t want to die, but I have no choice but to just power down. The moment I reboot. The magnetic bottle loses power and the warhead detonates.”

“What if.” He paced around the room. “What if, we built another being like you.”

“We cannot build one like me, you do not have the facilities.” Steve observed. “You have electronics, but not up to my caliber.”

“True, I don’t.” Alvin stressed with a slow smile. “But, someone of another group I know nearby who can. They have already built a miniature army that they play games with.”

Steve tilted his head for a moment, a habit that Alvin picked up on.

This android, when he struggles with an idea tilts his head to the left, slightly. Alvin watched Steve. He does it every time there is something that requires thought. No yes or no, but an answer that required thought on a level that is almost human.

“Synthetic skin such as mine can grow in a simple mixture of water and carbohydrates, double in mass every three hours.” Steve’s voice was as if he read from a list. “Power conversion units are available from different sources for farms to generate electricity. Mine is a kitchen model modified for extended use.”

“Maybe we can do something.” Alvin stood up again. “Let’s go see a friend. I’m going to set up a laser for a moment. They are at the end of the airbase. In the middle of the biggest patch of nothing out there. No way to approach without being seen.”

“The aircraft control tower?”

“That’s part of it. You have good eyes.” Alvin smiled. “Good programming. But that is where we are going. The rest is underground.”

“We will take the antimatter bottle out of me then?” Steve began to wonder, running odds against outcomes. “I have not considered disassemble. The danger is too high for the material to touch anything. It has a complete conversion to energy.”

“Wait. What? No, never mind.” Alvin held up his hands. “I already have a headache. And yes, they are patriots to the extreme. If they got a chance to send a bomb back to sender, that would tickle their souls” Alvin smiled.

“They are really good people, just a little extreme for my tastes.”

Setting up the laser output, he shined it out the window, towards the window of the abandoned control tower for fifteen-seconds, then turned it off. Repeated the process only shining it for ten-seconds and then paused.

A dazzling green light illuminated the spot behind the window for ten-seconds then went out.

“We are good to go.” Alvin clapped his hands together and rubbed them.

The two climbed inside Sleeper as it sat there with the patience of machines. When he pushed the throttle to the firewall, the acceleration was far more than Alvin thought possible.

“Your car is showing off.” The android observed. “Fully charged batteries, and Sleeper does not concern itself about storing energy at the moment.”

“How fast can it go?” Alvin laughed as they got out at their destination.

“This ten-thousand foot landing strip would allow Sleeper to reach the top speed of…” Steve turned around and looked at the car with a good imitation of human surprise. “This data is in error. But, this little car insists, above three-hundred miles-per-hour.”

“Bull!” Alvin gasped. “That can’t be true.”

“Agreed, but we will need to get new tires, according to the car. These tires are not able to handle that speed.”

Alvin shook his head and laughed, then opened the door and ushered Steve through the entrance.

Steve Aldin was about to meet the a whole new group of people who had never been anticipated or in any database that he had accessed.

People that might have an answer to his question.

“How do I be free?”

Advertisements

Married by Mistake Chapter 36. Captain Watson

MbM
Standard

Chapter 36. Captain Watson

Without the approval from the Federal Aviation inspector to certify the jet as airworthy, the Sea Dragon was still grounded.  A shrug from Tom and a few phone calls later, he sat with Kaylee, hand in hand while they rode in the limousine towards the parking lot of the charter jet service.

The jet sparkled with a coat of white paint and a stylized sun on the tail sat with the turbine blades slowly in the breeze that blew over the airport.

The muscular arms of Captain Watson were visible to Kaylee when the limo pulled up in front of the private entrance.

Lettie opened the door and let the couple out and touched Tom on the forearm.

‟You two make a good couple. Both of you are artists and compliment each other.” Lettie looked at them both. ‟If it costs me your business, I don’t care, I just had to say that.”

‟Lettie,” Kaylee smiled. ‟It is something I have to do. It’s a promise I have to keep.”

‟Lettie, you’re good.” Tom kissed her cheek. ‟You will always have my business when I am in Northern California.”

Nodding, Lettie told Tom that her number was always open and he could have any car he wanted in her inventory at any time, including a new MRAP-style limousine ready to go into service in the next few weeks.

‟That does not sound like something to take to a book-signing.” Tom laughed.

‟You’d be surprised what people think they like to ride in.” Lettie shook his hand. ‟I supply it so they don’t have to buy one or sign up for three years into the army.”

‟Thank you for your words, Lettie.” Kaylee hugged her. ‟I hope to see you again.”

‟You can find me on Google-plus. Facebook I don’t use anymore, they charge too much.” Lettie hugged tightly back.

‟Same name?” Kaylee asked.

‟Yeah. Or you can look up ‟sexy biker bitch”. That will get you to me.”

‟You bet I will.” Kaylee smiled.

Watching Lettie drive away in her limo, Tom and Kaylee walked inside, greeted by Captain Watson.

‟Hello Tom.” The tanned face of the retired military pilot smiled as the author of so many novels entered the building, followed by Kaylee .

‟And Missus Harte.” The Captain smiled warmly. The most emotion Kaylee had seen the professional pilot express.

‟Kaylee , please.” The younger woman asked.

‟Of course, Kaylee .”

‟Regina, my plans are to do business in Vegas and return by morning.” Tom said, in a matter of fact tone. He did not start with his usual small-talk.

‟Thank you, I learned it was you and where you said you wished to go. The Lear is ready to fly. I have just to file a flight plan. Kevin Nunez is my right-seat and he is on the plane now. Please see him and make yourself comfortable, I will be there in ten-minutes, we will be wheels-up in twenty.”

Kaylee and Tom nodded and walked out the door towards the Leer Jet holding hands.

‟I hear they are going to Vegas to get an annulment.” Another pilot mentioned to Watson. ‟They were talking about it when I was standing outside.”

Captain Watson stood up from the phone where she had filed the flight plan.

‟I have had worse.” She gave a heavy sigh. ‟Mister Harte is a regular customer.”

‟Don’t you know him?” The first pilot, a handsome twenty-something buzz-cut hairstyle co-pilot of mixed race.

‟Why do you use his last name?” The older cargo-pilot said. “He insists on first name.”

‟I use a formal addressing when talking in third-party conversations. It is respectful to Mister Harte and all he has done. I give him all the respect he is due, and when talking to me about others, I would expect the same.” Watson then turned on her heel and walked out.

‟Bitch.” The young cargo pilot muttered under his breath and received a punch in his shoulder by Buzz-cut.

On the jet, Captain Watson stepped into the cabin and smiled at the couple.

‟Tom, I have heard of your plans in Las Vegas. I must say that I could not disagree more with this trip.” The Captain said. “Kaylee here is the  bandage to the scars on your heart and soul. You must know that I had to address that. You always have said to speak my mind, even if you don’t want to hear it.” She did not smile, but nodded in self-agreement, turned to make her way forward and sat in her seat. Captain Watson, after speaking her mind put on the headset for the radio and began her check off for startup procedures in the all glass cockpit.

One at a time, the engines spun up, giving Kaylee the thrill she had the last time of being in a race car of the sky.

‟Tom, this is exciting, I know why you like to fly. But why don’t you have something like this?”

‟Well, I don’t like to stay in one place for very long. The paparazzi start sniffing around, they have already started it with the long-range picture of us on top of the Pacific Wizard.” Tom looked out the window as they taxied to the runway. ‟When I go, I won’t tell anyone my destination. I can upload manuscripts over the internet from anywhere. There are a lot of places in the immediate area that I can put down on — not counting airports — and live there for a while.”

‟You were going to move away when I went back to school?”

‟You would have to learn how to drive a different route each time.” Tom chuckled. ‟I’m not much of an interest to those jackals at the moment, so hiding out is easy. Just moving from one place to another in the area, I have dozens of bodies of water and airports. They would spend too much time looking for me than they would be paid for.”

‟Until they’d find out about me.”

‟Then we would be fodder for the monsters of the tabloids.” Tom frowned. ‟They would hunt us to the grave like they did a princess.”

‟Oh, oh! The engines are wound up to take off!”

‟Wound up?” Tom chuckled.

‟Whatever they call it when they step on the gas pedal.”

‟Uh. There is no gas pedal.” Tom was looking at her sideways. ‟You sat up front with me in the Wizard.”

‟Well, yeah. I just wanted to make you laugh.”

‟You made me worried.” Tom laughed. ‟Early onset Alzheimer’s or some such.”

‟Well, it worked.” Kaylee blinked, the jet felt like it was a horse at a starting gate, anxious for speed. ‟Omy gawd! Here we go!”

The sleek jet began to roll with the brakes off. Gathering speed, the rakish plane with swept wings did not find the end of its acceleration like one would with a car. The faster it went, the faster it accelerated as it overcame its imprisonment of the earth and to the sky like a soul on fire.

Then, suddenly, it rotated up on its back landing gear and quit the earth while Kaylee made noises like a teapot on full boil.

‟I LOVE that!” She laughed hysterically with her eyes closed.

Tom laughed at her squeal while they gained altitude.

After several minutes, they leveled off and banked into a turn towards the southeast, towards Las Vegas.

‟I hope this is fast, my arm aches.” Tom moaned slightly.

‟How long as it been hurting?” Kaylee said, suddenly alarmed.

‟About ten-minutes. Just before we took off I think I bumped it.”

‟Tom. Damn. You cannot do this to yourself.” Kaylee touched his fingers, feeling the tips and making sure they were warm and the correct color, even if stained with the iodine-betadine ‟Bug Juice” (as one nurse called it and made her laugh.) that covered his arm.

Picking up the phone, as she learned to do on the last trip north from Ocean Bay.

‟Captain, can we see you back here, please?”

A moment later, Regina Watson appeared.

‟Yes? Tom?” She focused instantly on the pale writer.

‟It’s nothing, my arm aches a little.”

Captain Watson blinked.

‟How long?” The Captain asked.

‟A few minutes.” Tom was becoming pale from the pain.

‟Like a man.” Kaylee growled. ‟It began to hurt him right before we blasted off.”

Looking around, the Captain asked Tom.

‟What did your doctor say about flying? Maybe I should declare and emergency and put down.” She grimaced. ‟What kind of injury did you have, Tom?”

‟Nothing much, I got stuck with a shard of glass in my forearm.”

‟Say the truth. Regina, it cut his tendons and everything down to the bone. Even cut the bone.” Kaylee said. ‟But his fingers are warm and when I press on the nails, it returns to color fast.”

‟That is serious surgery for a man that makes his life with typing.” Captain Watson was sounding as serious as a sidewinder missile. ‟MISTER Harte.”

‟Kaylee , I am the all-seeing, all-knowing, unforgiving Queen of The Sky here and you will address me as Captain. But my first name, Regina, please feel free to use it when we are on land. You and I will get Tom back into shape.” Regina smiled. ‟What is causing you to go to Vegas to get divorced?”

‟Annulment.” Tom said helpfully, but then cringed when both women looked at him. ‟Crap on a cracker, sorry. I’ll just take the nearest exit.”

‟Just be quiet, Tom.” Regina said. ‟You are an injured party and not thinking clearly. This is obvious.”

‟Well, honestly.” Kaylee said quietly. ‟I have requested to get this annulled.”

‟If I may ask.” The Captain didn’t smile. “Why?”

*Does she ever smile?* Kaylee shuddered at Captain Watson’s intense air of authority.

‟This was not supposed to happen. I have someone at home I made a promise to. Tom is good enough to let me go, so all this is my fault.” Kaylee said. ‟Although I there is a lot of pressure on me to stay with Tom from all sides. Every one of his friends have stood up for him. But still, I have to keep my promise.”

‟I don’t agree.” Captain Watson said. ‟You made a promise with Tom.”

Tom raised his hand.

‟Can I say something?”

‟No!” The women answered in stereo. Then both women laughed while he cringed.

Captain R.M. Watson’s laugh was frightening, a sound like someone might make when shooting down an enemy.

‟I have a boy at home that believed me when I said I would marry him.” Kaylee explained. “When Tom and I did this, it was a kind of crazy party and I had a blackout night.”

‟Were you on drugs?” Regina looked at Tom who held up his hands.

‟Of my own hand. I like to smoke and drink. It makes party life that much more fun. I woke up married to Tom, so we never dated but the one night.”

‟Ah, okay. Princess Anna on a cane. You seriously married him on your first date? Drunk to the point of no memory of the evening?”

‟Yes.” Kaylee tried to look the Captain in her eye, but was unable.

Captain R. M. Watson was quiet for a moment.

Then she laughed.

‟I did the same thing with my first husband. Kaylee, at least you aren’t pregnant.” She pondered for a moment, pulling at her chin. ‟Are you?”

‟Not so far as we can tell.” Kaylee gave a timid laugh.

‟Okay, I understand, you started your contract with each other in the worst way. At least you are friendly to each other. With Tom hurting, I’ll pick the pace up a bit. We will make for maximum speed, it’ll save us some time.”

Nodding with a soft smile. She turned and made her way back to her seat in the front of the speeding jet.

Kaylee looked at Tom.

‟You have more friends that fight for you than any ten people, combined.” She stroked his face.

Tom smiled weakly, his arm was causing him more pain by the moment and he was not prepared to argue.

“Captain. He is getting worse.” She yelled to the cockpit. The Captain nodded as she answered.

“We just got clearance for our flight change.”

Then…

Kaylee did not think possible, but she felt the small jet accelerate.

Smart Bomb Chapter 12. To Meet An Old Soul

Standard

Scene 11. To Meet An Old Soul.

Steve, with Alvin at the wheel of the creaky panel-truck of electronic repair equipment wheeled in to an industrial area, to the back where ancient buildings were held up by piles of dead and decaying equipment.

A freezer here, a wheel-less old step-side pickup truck body there. All the bodies seemed to hold up the walls of the, even more rusty, walls of the warehouse.

“This is what I call home. It ain’t much, but it’s watertight, secure and has close access to a central data-hub. I have hardwired the warehouse to the underground trunk lines. It’s all optic, so I get the best data bandwidth than anyone around here.”

Steve got out of the truck, looking around the surroundings, inside the warehouse was in stark contrast to the exterior.

Cables ran along the walls, zip-ties holding them in place, turning in sharp corners or graceful loops., each unused cable, looped on itself, tied with a bright marker tag and a digital code.

The carpeted living area felt comfortable, warmed with radiant heat that, the processors deduced, Alvin tied in with the elevated solar panels that covered much of the property behind the warehouse.

Outside, the building looked abandoned, inside it was a technician’s paradise.

In one corner was a small car on a lift, glossy black and wide wheels in back, the car gave off a lower powered signal that repeated every ten-seconds.

Over and over.

It was a beacon, a request for acknowledgement.

The sword of religion, Steve Aldin, the android felt the tone, plaintive and melancholy echo of a broken heart.

For the first time, the android sent a response code instead of a request. A single tone, two point six kilohertz, a pause, ten-seconds ticked by, eleven.

The tone changed immediately and the old-style handshake happened.

“I see you found my project. This old car is a bit of a mystery.” Alvin pointed with a wrench. “I am going to remove the electric motivators and electronics and replace it with a small W-6 engine I saved out of a racer. It will be an asphalt-ripper then. all it has now is larger golf-cart electronics at the wheels.”

“Asphalt ripper?” Steve tilted his head in curiosity.

“I call it Honey, she is a sweet ride.” Alvin smiled as he went around the shop, restocking his truck with parts and panels, circuits and screws. “She’ll get even better when she has some real power under her hood.”

“Sleeper.” Steve said.

“What?” Stopping Alvin in mid-sentence.

“Sleeper, that’s this car’s name. It wants you to call it Sleeper.” Steve stepped closer to the car.

Two souls, one intensely loyal to the first human family from which it now found itself a long ways away. The other, an artificial soul like the first. But that was where the similarities ended. The second with a mandate, bent on destruction of anyone who the Supreme Leader viewed as infidel.

“What are you talking about?” Alvin asked the android. “Are you talking to it or something?”

“Yes.” Steve said. Then the core processors created a subroutine that to elaborate was a necessary effort. “The car is awake, and possesses a large store of information.”

Alvin blinked. This was more knowledge than he ever thought he might get about the car. Purchasing it at auction the year before, it rarely broke the speed limits on the street.

He could get it to show neck-snapping performance on the grounds of the industrial area.

But every time he got the little car on the road, something seemed to hold it back, a power drain, a failed circuit.

He plugged it in often, after modifying the ancient plug shape and he was able to find the voltage requirements and build a plug to fit.

Still, the voltage showed full.

So he saved up and purchased an exotic kit that was almost the size of the little car. He would just have to change the transaxel that came with the kit. He would remove all the electronics and have a car that could fly down the quarter-mile track as fast as any except for the most powerful and exotic street cars.

Now this android was telling him there was more to the little car than he was led to believe.

“How much data does it have.”

“Reporting nine-hundred eighty Zebibyte total storage, with six-eighty-six Zebibytes of storage used.”

“I don’t understand, my trucks are running two-fifty-six terabytes, how does that compare?”

“This little car has Zebibyte capacity, each Zebibyte is one-thousand million Terabytes.”

Alvin went quiet for a moment, the numbers were esoteric.

“This system, compared to your road trucks.” Steve paused for just a heartbeat. “Each memory unit would hold over three-billion, nine-hundred million copies of what your trucks used as operating systems.”

That caused Alvin to pause.

“And you have … seventy-five percent full?”

“This car’s construction date is reported as before the west coast invasions the Holy Army. Before the war.” Steve nodded. “Its memory has never been cleared.”

“This little car could store three-billion truck’s information in it?”

“No.” A pause. Alvin thought the Android had discovered a flaw in the math. It was too much!

“That is for one ZiB, a term for Zebibyte, Sleeper the car has six-hundred and eighty-six times that in recorded information.”

“Oh, my…” Alvin’s speach center faltered, overwhelmed. “Oh my oh my.”

“Haven’t you ever tried to communicate with it?”

Alvin’s jaw dropped before, now it snapped shut with a downcast gaze.

“No.” He shook his head. “Damn, I never even thought to try.”

“Let me find a connection…”

“You don’t need a physical connection, scan in the VHF range, look in between channel four, five and six.”

“Holy blessed cats!” Alvin exclaimed as he logged his computer into the ad-hoc network that Sleeper set up in a blink of an eye. “That was too easy.”

Opening his 3-D viewer, he fast forwarded through the recorded years.

The two watched Sleeper’s history on the dry lake-bed with the open-wheel speed-machines.

“Now we know why it calls itself “Sleeper”.” Alvin whispered “It has more acceleration than any other wheel-driven machine on record. In fact! If this is the car…”

Alvin logged into a website dedicated to speed records by various years and wheel-driven and jet propelled vehicles. Jotted down a number on the back of his hand and walked over to the service hatch under the back seat of the car.

“This is why it doesn’t perform properly, it is a repo’d car and this system has been devastated.” Alvin pointed and walked to the three-dimensional display. “This car is in the record-books as setting record after record.”

“But here!” he pointed at the display. “This shows an asterisk, it shows a year that was pre-war. This car cannot be that old?”

Steve shook his head, the android in contact with the most intimate parts of the car’s memory.

Emotion, melancholy, grief, happiness, sadness, pain all flooded out of the little car’s core. The heart might be from the last century, but the horrid flood of emotions linked the android to the other synthetic life. A hundred years of input.

A single ZiB of memory, equal to a billion terabytes.

And the little car had stored hundreds upon hundreds of moments in time.

Every tick of the clock since it went online the little car recorded, it never forgot.

Then Sleeper the car asked Steve a question.

The telling of truth between machines would change the android’s code completely.

Children of Fury: Hellions Chapter 6. Bells, Ales and Conversations

Children of Fury:Hellions
Standard

Chapter 6. Bells, Ales and Conversations

Four ships rocked quietly in harbor at twilight. Captains and First Mates sat on a small meadow that overlooked the small fleet of predators below, the moon, three-quarters full was already illuminating the horizon. It would be a brightly lit night. No stealth would be possible from the east. The smoke from the cooking fire below, on the lee side of the volcanic rockfall, between boulders half the size of their ships made for a natural chimney. Used by the sailors as a kitchen, the flow of the air dissipated smoke among the rocks and hills, masking their presence to any lookout on the water.

A short hike with the food in hand, the crews assembled stone and wood benches and tables that allowed them to see to all points of the compass to more than twenty-five miles.

Two women sat at either side of the red-headed Keegan who was clearly tense with the attentions of the two women pirates.

“I think I should sit on the other side of the table.” Causing even his father to laugh.

“Keegan, we need you to stay slower on the ship.” Conn said as they ate a dinner. A bottle of ale sat, the adults pouring and laughing while they ate the evening meal later than planned.

“Da’…” Keegan O’Danu started to complain.

“Dash,” Anna “God Wants” spoke softly. “you vasseau… boat… ship… is more rapide tha’ mienne.” Her French accent slightly enhanced by the copious ethanol in the new ale donated by her last visit on the Spanish Treasure fleet. Annemarie, once one of the Fille du Roi, sent to the Caribbean because she was disruptive in the King’s Court, and still did not have that small voice most people have when it came to speaking her mind.

“You must reduce the sails you set so we can keep up.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, setting his ears ablaze with heat.

Captain Delahaye laughed and talked with the muscular first-mate with dark-eyes, playing with her hair while he poured her more ale from his pitcher.

Dana looked at his brother with one eyebrow raised.

“What is going on with her?”

Keegan shook his head and looked at his father for guidance, the elder O’Danu laughed.

“That, my boys, is the age-old mating ritual.” Looking at their puzzled faces. Keegan looked alarmed when the sailor reached out and touched the bright-red hair of the pirate captain.

“She will kill him.

“Perhaps.” Conn said with a crooked grin. “But not in the way you think. Come with me, let’s start talking about what our plans are from here. Leave those two be for now.”

“But… but…” Keegan still did not comprehend.

“That bruise on your shoulder?” Conn asked his son while they walked to the fire, around which the other captains sat in the hidden grove of trees and tall rocks.

“Yes?” Keegan said. It had mostly healed, Granuaille did not sock him so much after they were away from each other so long at sea. “It still hurts, but it is no longer the color of the midnight sky.”

Conn laughed at his young sons quandary of the attentions of a girl. Here was a young man who could sail around the world, but did not know the first thing about romance of the heart.

The three O’Danu’s sat in the circle with the other captains and officers.

“Where est Jacquotte?” Anna asked, then screamed. “DELAHAYE!”

“OUI?!” The answering voice echoed. “Je viens!

Finally, when all eight members of crews sat, with other crew sitting behind, paying rapt attention.

“The treasure fleet comes through in the next fortnight, they are punctual, but the ships from Campeche had difficulty with Morgan again.” Jacquotte winked. “So I predict that they will be on the far edge of the fortnight and sailing direct. They risk the storm season and will not waste time trying to hide during the day and sail only at night. This time, maybe they carry silver or gold, not chocolate.”

“Even under full sail,” Keegan said, his red-hair glinting in the firelight. “We can catch them.”

“Est malavisé, em… unwise.” Anna shook her head. “They catch us in open daylight without surprise, the war-galleons will stand and fight. Big Spanish canon are bad to face. We must catch them with their guns stowed and guard down.”

“We can catch them in the dark. In a fortnight, the moon will be on the wane.” Keegan said. “But still too bright, nightwatch will see anyone coming close.”

“Broken clouds would help.” Dana spoke up, then looked down when every eye turned towards him.

“We cannot depend on that.” Conn looked at Dana. “Weather is on thing that we can only take advantage of.”

“Da’.” Keegan said, defending his brother. “He knows.”

Jacquotte spoke up.

“We will speed up the chance to catch them on the first leg of the journey. Not far from where they depart, there is a small harbor, we can put ships there and in another harbor. When the war-galleon’s turn to fight the chasers, the treasure ship will run ahead.”

“Into the hunters.” Conn shook his head. “Is this how you always work?” The father asked the son.

“Often, Da’.” Keegan’s voice was soft. “We just followed.”

“I do not approve, we are here to retrieve your mother.” Conn looked around. “You said you would help us find his mother.”

Monsieur O’Danu,” Anna looked at him evenly. “This est how our life est. We make the living from what we take, and the Empires we take from deserve no less.”

Few times in his life did Keegan O’Danu see his father truly frown. This being one of those times.

“We are on a mission to seek my mother.” Keegan said, in defense of his sire’s disappointment. “I will not be distracted with the hunt of a treasure ship. My Da’ has never taken a ship, he builds them.”

“And fine ships they are, too!” A voice behind Jacquotte sounded.

“We go to Port Royal first. No stopping until we get there after we leave here. You can gather crews and a fleet then.” Keegan spoke with his old edge. “My mother awaits, my father will seek to rescue her, but he will not fight in any combat.”

Jacquotte turned to Anna and pulled on her left earlobe and took a breath.

“The son protects the father. It is upside-down, the son is the warrior, the father is the peacemaker.” She looked Anna directly in the eye. “Père O’Danu est brebis among wolf.”

Shaking her head, the blond French Captain nearly wept.

Monsieur O’Danu, you stay at Port Royal and get to know our friends. Mon Dash will come with us, we will bring your épouse back to Port Royal.”

This was the best news that Conn heard, but not the news he wanted to hear.

Conn was a sheep among wolves.

Dragon Master University Chapter 14. Dragonflight

Standard

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!