Better Than Gold

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I love to fly more than anything else in life! And sometimes, I like to write too. "Better Than Gold" is a serial-style short story I've been writing for nearly a year now, purely for fun. A new part will be typed and posted here when I can find the time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Midnight, Part Two

Two pirates were waiting for them on the beach when Fran cut the engines and let Duchess coast into the surf, and into the line of savage looking seaplanes already moored there. A large bonfire whipped behind the pirates; against the flames they were little more than black figures with long black shadows that danced into the water and onto the wings of the aeroplane. She could see that both of them were carrying rifles.

So could Duke. She heard him growl behind her.

“Here comes the welcoming party,” he said. “You’d better leave the talking to me.”

“I know more about- oh.” A memory struck Fran and she grabbed at her chest with the hand that had been resting over the throttles. “Yeah. Right.”

“I told you you should have disguised yourself as a man.”

“It wouldn’t have worked.” Fran unbuckled her belts and heaved back the canopy. “I’d be recognised faster as a man than as a woman.”

“I can’t say I understand the logic in that.” Duke grunted as he stood up in the plane. “Ahoy!” he shouted. “Stand by for the anchor!”

“Remember, we’re with the Rovers,” muttered Fran as she ducked her head and secured the engines. “We just came back from a raid in Port York, that’s why-“

“- the plane is painted in these colours,” said Duke a few minutes later as they stood side by side on the beach, guarded by the two wary pirates. “The fort fires on anything black that flies into the harbour, eh?”

He grinned like a shark. One of the pirates seemed satisfied by that answer and swung his rifle onto his shoulder by its bandolier.

“We haven’t seen any of Johanus’ lads here yet,” he said. “I think you two might be the only ones.”

Duke shrugged. Bits of his outfit clinked at the motion.

“It’s been a bad year,” he said easily. “We had to pull back to the winter camp. One of the old families was killed off in the Glowston fire, Johanus lost a son to the Dogs- you heard about that, did you?”

“Yeah,” said the pirate. “Rough luck. All right, go on up. There’s food and booze by the big fire. Is your woman going with you.”

“I dunno. Can she?”

They all turned to look at Fran, who had picked that exact moment to stop plucking at the laces strapped across her cleavage in favour of heaving open the fur-lined throat with both hands. The leather vest creaked and groaned as taut corsetry swelled against the strain. She was well aware of the fact that thanks to her height her chest loomed at the eye level of the pirates and, unfortunately, Duke as well, whose expression had turned as composed as a portrait.

“It’s so hot out, Rolfie,” she said, throwing back her head to fan at her bare throat with one hand. “Why do I gotta wear alla this leather?”

“’Cos I said so, that’s why,” barked Duke.

“But it’s so hot, Rolfie! Can’t I just sit in the plane?”

“Don’t be daft! I brought us here to have a good time, and you ain’t gonna ruin it for me by sitting in some plane.”

“But it’s horrid out, Rolfie! I don’t wanna sit around some fire all sweaty like this.”

Duke gave the two pirates a long suffering look that said a lot about women and rolled his eyes. “They’ve probably got rum up there, Katie. Rum and fish and lobsters and everything. Go get something to eat and forget about the heat.”

“But I hate lobsters, hon.”

“Then go up and get some rum and get properly drunk! God, you’re no good sober. What about it? Can she go up?”

“God, yes,” breathed one pirate in awe.

“There are some tents up there too, honey,” said the other, staring greedily. “You go sit in one of those tents and get nice and cool, then come out and visit us by the fire, okay? We got lots of rum by the fire.”

“You hear that, Rolfie? Tents!”

“Yes, tents, let’s all get excited about that,” muttered Duke. Then, in a louder voice he added, “We haven’t missed anything yet, have we?”

The first pirate tore his eyes from Fran’s dishevelled laces and gave him a slightly distracted look.

“Huh?” he said. “Oh, the kid? Nah, you haven’t missed nothing. Black ain’t due to get here for another hour. He’ll be taking the kid with him then, so if you want to get a few kicks in before that you’d better get up there now. Just look for the big tent.”

Duke cracked his fingers. “I think I might do that.”

“You should talk to Black when he gets here too,” said the other pirate. “He’ll have a message for Johanus, sure as rain. It was bad luck about his boy.”

“Yeah, it was,” said Duke. He seized Fran by the upper arm and began to drag her towards the fire. “Come on, Katie. Let’s go see the kid, and then you can have some rum. You brought the brass knuckles, right?”

Fran patted her hip. “Right here, hon!”

“Don’t kill him,” said the first pirate sharply. “Black wants this one alive.”

“I ain’t gonna kill him, just mark him up a bit. Come on, Katie, pick up your feet.”

“Are you gonna pour me some rum, Rolfie? I don’t want no lobster, though.”

“Yes, goddammit, I’ll get you a whole god damned pint! Now move!”

“We’ll see you real soon, Katie,” called out one of the pirates as they lurched up the beach. “You save us a place by the fire, honey.”

Fran tried to turn around to wave at them but was jerked off her feet by a rude jerk from Duke.

“I’ll be in one of the tents,” she said breathlessly. “You come look for me in one of the- ow! Rolfie, stop pulling!”

“God damn, woman, I should have left you back at the camp!”

“But Rolfie…!”

Fran trailed off when she saw that they had shambled well out of earshot. Duke’s loud cursing was soon drowned out by the roar of the waves, the snapping, crackling fires and the clamour of the men carousing further up the beach. When she was certain they were hidden from sight by smoke and sparks she let her hand descend onto the scruff of Duke’s neck, where it clamped down hard.

“Katie?” she hissed into his ear. “Katie?”

Duke cringed. He flicked up his eyepatch and grinned out of the corner of his mouth.

“It was the only name I could think of offhand,” he said. “Nice job getting into those tents.”

“It worked. I guess I can’t complain.”

Duke’s grin widened, but then he sobered rapidly. “What’s going on with the kid, though? I thought you said they were going to kill him at midnight, same as the last one. Now Black is picking him up instead?”

“I don’t get it either. Something funny is going on here.”

“I suppose that’s good news for us. The kid is still alive.”

“Seems that way. I’ll search the tents if you keep the path to the plane clear. When I find him I’ll grab him, and then we can both get the hell out of here.”

Duke grimaced. “Just make sure you back at the beach in time, all right? I really don’t want to get shot by Katie, Katie.”

“Yes, Rolfie.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Midnight, Part One

A full moon shone over the miles of open ocean. Where it reflected on the water it glittered in bright shards, like a broken china plate. The sky was fine, clear and cold, deep blue on the horizon and crowned above with black universe. Violet clouds pillowed up here and there, drifting slowly out to sea on the night breeze; they seemed to sail backwards, Kate thought as she gazed out her cockpit and watched them glide past.

Her aeroplane slipped through the night, barely visible save as a dark hole moving against a sky strewn with stars. Its engine rumbled a mellow current, just a texture of sound within a vast rind of thin altitude air.

After a minute or two Kate forced her eyes away from the moonlit view and scanned the sky around her instead. Without any lights turned on an approaching aeroplane could be near well impossible to spot at night, even if the moon were full and the sky flaked with luminous clouds. Even two aeroplanes flying in formation could pass unseen, unless they were polished just right and the moon shone just so to make their glass canopies turn into twinkling stars.

As for any more aeroplanes than that, well, on a night like tonight she really couldn’t give a damn. Tonight, all she needed to find were two aeroplanes in particular, and preferably before their tracers drew a pair of fiery lines back from her tail to the muzzles of their machine guns. Their pilots were, she remembered fondly, exceptionally keen shots.

Far below, the Black Wall slid past her right wingtip. The giant island was as dark as a well, darker even than the ocean, as if it were a long crevasse that sucked water down into its subterranean depths. Only the moonlit surf that rolled up on its beaches and smashed into foam against its cliffs gave it any sort of outline against the ocean, like tinsel washed ashore from the sea. Kate regarded it warily as she edged her aeroplane in its direction, taking care not to draw too close.

Even from six thousand feet she could spot the tiny orange bonfires that sparkled along a small cove on the north-eastern edge of the island. Torches flamed along the beach, smudging the cove with smoke. Judging from the number of fires she could count from that distance, the Brigade appeared to be throwing one hell of a midnight party. She was amazed that the carousing pirates weren’t taking more caution in keeping themselves hidden. Then again, it was true that very few people who weren’t pirates dared to fly near the Black Wall after dark.

She pressed the stick against her left thigh and pushed her foot against the left rudder; Red Rum obediently banked away from the firelit cove and turned back towards the western end of the island, where the rock and water and sky had melded together into an inky darkness. Kate peered through her prop and down into the gloom but could barely make out the edge of the shore in that direction, much less the ashy embers of a dead fire tucked well out of sight on a lonely spit. Duke and Fran were already winging their way to the Brigade camp, she imagined, leaving her to circle at a safe distance and wait for their signal.

Aglow with the lurid red lamp light that backlit the dials on her instrument panel, what little of Kate’s face that was visible between her goggles and her muffled up scarf curled up into a grin. It would be nice to make a big difference while she was here, she thought. And if all of the noise and frenzy she was prepared to unleash were to attract the attention of two pirates in particular, well…!

With one eye on her compass Kate kept the plane's long nose pointed west. The fires burning in the cove behind her tail were ignored for the moment and she stared into the stars instead. Red and green light strobed at the corners of her eyes as she reached forward and flicked the switch for her navigational lights. Christmas-flavoured flashes of her aeroplane blinked on and off against the night sky.

“Come on, boys,” she muttered into her scarf. “I’m lost, I’m alone, I’m not very smart and I’m over here…”