Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck© 2010 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The plane had none of the lines of the KV-3 seaplane, or the lean menace of a fighter, but what it lacked in aesthetic appeal it made up for in sheer firepower. The Fletcher F-2 Osprey emerged from a cloud bank as its pilots surveyed the ship seven thousand feet below it. One Naval Syndicate officer, a weasel, kept her paws on the controls while her raccoon copilot looked through high-power binoculars.
“What do you make of it, Charlie?” the pilot asked as she wrestled the plane out of its bank. The big attack plane was about as easy to fly as a heavily loaded truck.
“Hmm . . . yeah, the funnel blazon looks like Oceanic . . . sloppy work, though.”
“Not a professional job, huh?”
“Nope. That means it isn’t Oceanic.” Rain Island’s various businesses prided themselves on perfectionism, mainly as a defense against other countries disparaging them. “Not enough people on deck, either. Not a full crew.”
“Think it’s that mystery freighter?” A ship matching the description of the freighter below them had been spotted by a maritime patrol plane. After that initial contact, the ship had apparently disappeared.
“Yeah. Take us a bit lower, Maggie. I want to get a better look.”
Maggie slowly moved the plane into a descent angle, finally coming at the freighter from astern so that Charlie could read the name on the fantail.
“Okay, hold her steady,” Charlie said, “I can just make – what the hell! Pull up! PULL UP!”
Maggie hauled hard on the control yoke as puffs of smoke erupted from the ship. “They’re shooting at us!” the weasel yelped.
“Yeah. I’ll let the guys in back know to get the guns ready.”
“Right.” The raccoon got out of his seat and headed aft as Maggie adjusted the frequency on the radio.
“Pillow to Bedstead, come in Bedstead, over,” she said, feeling rather silly.
“Bedstead here,” came the distant voice from Spontoon. “Go ahead.”
“Follow up to initial contact with freighter believed to be pirated,” she said. “We were fired upon. Taking evasive action now.”
“Roger, Pillow. Give us your estimated position.”
Maggie studied the chart in her lap and recited the position of the ship as well as its speed. “We’re planning on slowing them down a bit. You got anyone coming out?”
“We called up Blefuscu as soon as you made contact. Southwest are sending the Reclus to intercept but it’ll be a while. We’re sending Quilt to help you out. Roger your idea of slowing them down. Keep us advised.”
“Roger, Bedstead.” She leaned over in her chair and yelled aft, “Get the big gun ready! Attack mission!” She went back to her controls as the rest of the crew whooped and cheered.
Shin dragged herself into the room and threw herself down on her bed with a groan that was definitely not theatrical. She had been the last one in the room, and the other three were equally exhausted. Liberty was almost asleep already, and Brigit and Tatiana were still displaying just enough energy to roll over onto their backs.
The rather euphemistically named ‘accelerated schedule’ the Tutors had them on entailed twenty-hour days (or longer) as Red Dorm caught up with the rest of the third year students. Some kind of word had apparently gotten around, and all four of them had had to endure snide remarks and outright insults concerning what might have happened to them in the preceding four weeks.
Flight training on the Tiger Moths and the Junkers, spending what little time they had to sleep out in the cold overlooking the school, classroom instruction and physical training all added up to a grueling pace.
Of course, they still had to do what the other third years were doing, which included breaking up fights between the first year students. Two of them in particular had made Shin wonder what the Tutors were up to. Afet Gokcen was a caprine from Anatolia, while Zoe Papadopolis was a canine from Crete. They had hated each other on sight.
Two more were Beryl Parkesson’s younger sisters, Coral and Pearl. Beryl had intimated that the identical twins were ‘trouble,’ a statement that had Red Dorm immediately on guard.
And this was only Friday; they still had three weeks to go to get completely caught up.
Just in time to join the rest of their class on the trip north to the Aleutians.
They had studied the reports filed by preceding classes concerning that trip, making notes on how to improve things to maximize their own chances of survival. One thing was certain, however; the trip would require a collective effort, something that Red Dorm was getting very good at.
“Shin? Liberty?” Tatiana said.
“It is almost time for supper, I think.”
Shin squinted at her clock. “Yeah, it is.” She heaved herself up off the bed.
The doorknob turned.
Everyone tensed instinctively.
The door opened a bare crack.
Nerves already strung taut from exhaustion stretched tighter still.
A small object with a lit fuse was tossed in.
Without thinking the four members of Red Dorm threw themselves off their beds, seeking cover and groping for weapons as the small firework – a simple firecracker - went off with a bang.
Miss Wildford walked in before the echo died away. “Just wanted to see if you were awake,” she said crisply as the four younger women peeked warily from behind various items of furniture. “Supper is in ten minutes. You are expected downstairs, after which you will collect your cold-weather gear and report to the hillside.” She walked out, leaving the door open so the smell of gunpowder could waft out of the room.
Shin tucked the sharpened length of bed slat back into its hiding place (it was much easier to hide a weapon in plain sight) and stood up, followed by the others. “You heard her,” she muttered. “Let’s go.”
Three more weeks of this, the red panda reckoned, and muttered a curse under her breath. “I don’t know why we need extra cold-weather training,” she said.
“Why’s that?” Brigit asked.
“We have all the training we need – just by sitting next to Liberty.”
Any doubts that the New Havenite had learned enough Spontoonie to swear were dispelled as the canine growled a few very choice epithets at her Chinese dorm-mate.
The two Ospreys orbited the freighter as the Naval Syndicate destroyer Reclus drew to within one hundred yards of the ship. Smoke and various holes betrayed where the two attack planes had used their heavy machine guns and cannon to convince the crew to heave to.
As the destroyer approached and brought its main battery to bear, the two planes waggled their wings in acknowledgement and headed back to their base.
One of the pilots was determined to have a long talk with her flight leader about the radio call sign assigned to her plane.
Two of the Reclus’ boats were lowered over the side and, guns at the ready, boarding parties approached the ship. At fifty yards the boats paused and orders were given through a megaphone in four languages, in hope that at least person aboard would understand what was being said.
A rating worked the bolt on her Mouser rifle and said to the petty officer leading her party, “Looks like the planes really chewed her up.” She pointed at the pattern of bullet holes stitching their way across the sides of the ship and onto the weather deck. The wheelhouse was peppered with holes, and smoke still oozed from the perforated funnel. “Hope this ain’t no false alarm.”
“It ain’t,” the petty officer said. The sheep dog brushed her bangs out of her eyes. “Anyone shoots at us is just askin’ for it, Janie.”
“True, Alice,” Janie said.
Rope ladders were thrown up, their grapnel hooks catching on the rails as the crew lowered the boarding ladder. The RINS parties made their way aboard, rounding up and pawcuffing the crew. Several were injured by the gunfire that had finally convinced them of the futility of further resistance.
“Hey Boss!” a badger sang out, and Alice looked up at him as he waved from the wheelhouse. “C’mon up here. You gotta see this, um.”
“What’s up?” she asked as she started up the ladder.
“You’ll see,” he said.
She entered the wheelhouse and the junior petty officer waved at the deck. “See what I see?”
The planks of the wheelhouse deck were stained a particular shade of dark brown, with more of it in the joins between the wooden planks.
The sheep dog knelt down, scraping a claw over one stain before bringing her finger to her nose. Her frown drew into a grimace of distaste. “Blood.”
“That’s what I thought it was,” the other fur said. “It ain’t fresh, that’s for sure. Think it’s from the real crew of this tub?”
“Probably. Pass the word; have the guys look around for more signs of a fight or anything.”
“Will do.” The badger left the wheelhouse.
More blood had been found in the cracks of the planks at the fantail after an hour’s careful search, and the two boarding party leaders compared notes. “Best bet is that these guys slaughtered a couple members of the crew,” Alice said.
The other leader, a tall weasel, grunted and added, “Everything here’s written in Nihon-go – but none of these guys is Japanese.”
“So we got piracy, an’ maybe murder,” the weasel said. “I say we put a prize crew aboard and get this tub back to Blefuscu, an’ clap these guys in the brig.”
“You betcha. Hey, we got shot at, didn’t we? We need a reward for that, at least.”
Alice nodded, the sheep dog’s grin widening.
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