Twilight Patrol #4: Dragon God Over the Western Front

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“Congrieve kicked his rudder, turning a hard left, trying to make a run at the beast’s eyes. Pockets of hot gas continued to toggle his wings. Honorati rose to cluster defensively. Rather than trying to shoot them down, Congrieve zigzagged through their gauntlet, knowing their sights and aiming would be as impaired as his own. Even though he was able to cruise past the Honorati protectors, it was still a struggle to get within firing range of the beast’s gigantic eye. As Congrieve approached, the vast pupil dilated. Large as a lake, the pupil exposed its Stygian fathoms, staring at directly at Congrieve, assessing him. He saw himself and his plane reflected in the shimmering pools of the inferno. An orgasm of flame erupted from the gargantuan mouth, and the air around the dragon’s head grew impossibly hot, forcing Congrieve to halt his approach.”

Operations aboard the dragon were extraordinarily well coordinated.  It was obviously all rehearsed, endlessly, resulting in people who performed like machines.    Wootin sensed a relationship between the movements of the workers and the rolling motions of the dragon’s train.  The continual loosening and tightening of cables, the intricate ganglines, the diamond shaped couplings, combined with the rhythm of the beating wings reminded Wootin of something very familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it.  It lay just beyond his grasp.    

Even within the heat of battle, feeding the dragon had been given a high priority.  Scrawny workers were farming rats, packing them into carloads of huge squirming bags, and moving them toward the beast’s mouth.  Now and then they threw in sickly old cows.  Even though the dragon was constantly being fed, it was obviously crazed with starvation. 

Hollister Congrieve flew frantically around the catastrophe, dodging the collapsing coils.  He was caught in the downdrafts caused by the raining dead weight.  It was like being in the center of a solidified cyclone.  All of that tonnage in the grip of gravity.  Miles of belly were falling atop miles of spine.  Loop after loop fell and crashed and collided in midair.  The bat-like wings flapped and fluttered uselessly, like ripped and broken standards.   All that sheer weight and momentum sucked the oxygen from the air. 

Congrieve dodged pier after falling pier.  It was like the end of the universe.  He flew very close to the falling coils, his wheels rolling over the bumpy surfaces.  It was as if he were riding a downward rolling runway.  There were brief apertures that promised an avenue of escape, but these would slam shut quickly.  He would be crushed if he failed to make it all the way through. 

He felt an unexpected torque, a hard shift to his right.  He went off the coil he was riding.  He was in freefall for a moment, his engine stalled.  He hit the windstorm in the middle of the maelstrom. 

“I wouldn’t be talking like this if you hadn’t said you love.  I would have been gone by now.  But you said it, and now you have to accept the consequences.”

“It is just a word, Hollister.  A complex word full of many meanings and many deceits.”

“It isn’t.  It’s very direct.  It’s like the word ‘bullet’.”

 “Yes.  It depends on who does the shooting, and who it strikes and where, and who dies, and who is merely wounded.”

“Good-bye.”  He rose to his feet.

She was on the ground, holding another skull between her hands, carefully inspecting it.  She was quiet and contemplative, as if she was close to finding what she was looking for.  He started to walk away.

 “Wait.  I won’t say yes, but I won’t refuse you either.  I’ll promise to consider the possibility.  Such is my prerogative.”

“Not good enough.”

She stood and turned to face him.  “I’ll concede to not saying never.”

“I would follow you anywhere.  I would do anything you ask.  I would desert and abandon my friends and countrymen.  Betray all my ideals… But damn it, Cassiopeia, I need more, or I’m gone.”            

She slid out of her full-length dress.  She flung aside her petticoats.  Her flesh looked strong to him.  He knew how tightly she could grip, when she wished to.  There was sureness and certainty in the way she moved, a dancer’s, or a fencer’s grace.  The quality of her sinews belied her claims of being close to death, but her pallor did not.  Her teeth were chattering.  Her jaw trembled.  She strode forward, and took him in her arms.  He wanted to escape her grasp, but his passions were overwhelming him.  And at that moment, the warmth of his body was the only thing that could keep her from freezing to death.

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