home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
Luck of the Dragon: Upping the Ante© 2006 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
Miss Wildford glared at the four members of Red Dorm. The annual military exercises were over, and apologies had been offered for the treatment that two Tillamook privates had received at the paws of the four girls. A request by one soldier to see Shin in her fur again was politely, but firmly, denied.
The bumps and bruises given out to several other members of Cohort B, First Battalion of the Tillamook Army were another matter.
“You were instructed merely to observe and report,” Miss Wildford snapped as the morning sun climbed a bit higher into the sky. The rest of the second year students had already returned to the school, leaving four exhausted young women to face their tutors’ wrath. “Instead you took prisoners, and set traps for the invasion force. Fortunately, no one was injured seriously. Now, would anyone care to explain to me just how your instructions included those two things?”
Shin put a paw up, and the strangely patterned feline nodded to her. “Miss Wildford,” the red panda said, “I admit we exceeded our instructions. But,” and she stifled a yawn, “we’re taught to defend ourselves, and . . . take advantage of situations we find ourselves in. We’re also te’hnic’ly – technically - Spontoon citizens while attending Songmark, so don’t we have an obligation to help defend the islands?” She stopped abruptly and swayed on her feet a bit. Her words had been slurred, and she was failing to keep her eyes open. Brigit looked to be asleep while standing, and Liberty and Tatiana were holding each other up.
Miss Wildford tapped one foot irritably. None of the soldiers caught in the traps had been really hurt, and the snares had been set up that way very deliberately. And, she was forced to admit, even though all four girls had gone without much sleep in the past three (now almost four) days they’d still managed to act as a single unit and do something constructive. She glanced at Mrs. Oelabe, who nodded. “Very well,” she said in an angry tone, “get back to Songmark, get cleaned up and get some sleep. We’ll discuss this later.”
Wildford and Oelabe looked at each other as the water taxi headed back to Eastern Island. “They did a good job, you know,” Oelabe said.
“I know,” the feline said grudgingly, looking at the four sleeping girls. “I looked at some of the traps they’d set – if they’d been serious about stopping that unit, they could have.”
“I saw the same traps, Jayne,” Oelabe said, “and they could have killed several members of that cohort. And how many times have other dorms gone beyond what we’ve told them to do?”
Wildford snorted. “Don’t remind me.” She looked at their four charges and suddenly smiled. “You know something? This must be one of the few times Red Dorm’s actually not plotting anything.”
A day later Red Dorm and most of the other second years still looked tired, and sessions of paw-to-paw combat and testing on the Naval Syndicate’s Link trainers proved to them all that missing sleep had more far-reaching effects than bloodshot eyes or drooping tails.
After their evening meal all four of them were again in Miss Wildford’s office, and they stood still as the older woman fixed them with a stern look. “None of you can deny what you did, but on the other paw no one can deny that your plans, had they been used in an actual invasion, would have been effective.” She resolutely did not say that similar snares were part of Spontoon’s defense plans. “Therefore, we are going to give you a passing grade, and your dorm will receive a weekend pass. And I don’t need to remind all of you that you need to finalize your travel arrangements. You are dismissed.”
The four blinked and looked at each other before filing out of the room. When the door had closed Miss Wildford grinned to herself. They would learn from the experience, and they were coming together as a team – whether they liked it or not.
Hao entered the warehouse on Casino Island, followed by Lu Ting. The larger panda passed Hao a cargo manifest, and as he read it Ting said, “There seems to be quite a lot there. Are you sure that your plane can hold it all?”
“Well, it can carry about five hundred pounds of cargo,” Hao said, “so it should be able to. I might have to take the trip in hops, though, especially with cross- or headwinds.” He signed for the merchandise, and added his clan chop with a grin. “Pleasure doing business with you, esteemed Lu,” he said, bowing before grinning cheekily.
The giant panda laughed. “And with you, honored Ni,” he chuckled. “Remember, I can recall when you were not too far out of diapers – “
“I was eleven!”
“Like I said, just out of diapers,” the black-and-white furred Ting said jovially. “Come, would you like a drink before you go?”
“I’d like one, but I have to get over to the terminal and file an actual flight plan,” Hao said. “I get the sinking feeling that Father’s trying to get me into legitimate lines of work.” The two furs laughed as he left the warehouse. Ting would have the cargo readied for transport, and some hired paws would bring it to the plane the next day. Hao headed over to the seaplane terminal to file his flight plan.
To his surprise he saw a familiar face there. Brigit was standing in front of the passenger terminal with a timetable in her paws, grumbling. One of her ears twitched as she heard footsteps, then she looked up and smiled as she saw who it was. “Hao! Good afternoon ta ye.”
“Good afternoon, Brigit,” he said, his banded tail wagging. He tried to restrain it with one paw as he asked, “What’s going on?”
She giggled as she watched him try to keep his tail still. “I’ve ta go t’New Penzance, o’ all places, fer m’pilot’s exam,” she explained, “an’ I’m tryin’ ta get th’ trip sorted.”
“When do you have to leave?” he asked.
“About three weeks from now,” she replied. “I can get there, but ‘tis a number o’ steps, an’ I might not have enough cash ta make it back.”
The red panda grinned boyishly. “I could take you there.”
He nodded. “I have to make a cargo run to New Penzance tomorrow, but I’m sure I can be back here in time to take you down there and – hey, you’ll have your license by then. You can fly us back.” He smiled as she thought it over.
As she thought, her eyes narrowed. “An’ what’ll it be costin’ me, so?” she asked.
Hao laughed. “Oh, it will cost you,” he assured her. “It’ll cost you exactly one dinner with me, and maybe a movie.”
“The Grand,” Hao replied. “Some of the best food on Casino Island, if you ignore the Marleybone and Shepherd’s.”
“Really? Well, ye can take me there fer lunch now, an’ I’ll be happy ta take ye up on yer offer,” she said, having weighed the pros and cons of the offer before accepting it.
“Great. Let me file my flight plan, and we’ll go,” and he headed for the cargo terminal.
Hao finished his meal and smiled across the table at the red-furred woman as she set her glass of chilled water aside. “I’m expected back ta th’ School before too long,” she remarked, “an’ though I’m old enough now ta drink I’d best not be caught drunk comin’ in.” She winked. “’Twould look bad fer me.”
“Okay,” he said. “So I’ll see you in a few weeks, then?” He had enjoyed his meal with the Irish setter, and had listened carefully to her stories of Ireland and the few things she’d managed to do since coming to Spontoon. Her story of the ambush at Wexford impressed him, and she seemed impressed by his story of how he’d dealt with Wu Tang.
She got up from the table and gave him a gentle peck on the cheek before walking out, and he sat there for a few moments, smiling foolishly to himself. Finally he roused himself enough to sign the check the waiter offered him, and he went upstairs to his room.
The next day the Garza-Huacatl lifted off and spiraled upward, moving slowly because of the full load of cargo it carried. As he struggled with the sluggish controls, Hao realized now why his father had required him to fly this trip alone. It allowed more things to be packed aboard the Mixtecan plane. He leveled it off and set his course to the southwest as he slowly gained altitude.
As he flew, listening to Radio LONO, he started thinking about Brigit. She was very different from Anna in certain ways, and not just her appearance. He hoped that he’d get the chance to know her better when he flew her to New Penzance later in March.
The provincial capital of the Gilbert and Sullivan Islands was a smudge on the horizon several hours later, and Hao was able to pick up the BBC World Service on his radio. He corrected his course and after a few minutes picked up his microphone. “GFK-3 to New Penzance Control, come in,” he said.
“We read you, GFK-3,” came the distant voice.
“Inbound from Spontoon, about ten miles from you,” Hao said. “Request landing clearance and instructions.” He felt rather silly asking for permission. After all, the GH-2 was a seaplane; he could land literally anywhere.
“Understood. Winds from the northeast at ten, waves a bit choppy in the lanes. What’s your bearing to us?”
Hao rechecked his DF bearing and said, “I’m on course two-one-seven magnetic, estimating ten miles out.”
“Roger.” There was a pause. “Yes, one of our lookouts sees you, GFK-3. Stay on that heading until you hear from us again. New Penzance out.” Hao sat back, listening to the drone of his plane’s twin engines before tapping the fuel gauge with a claw. Yes, he should still have enough fuel to make it in.
The Garza-Huacatl set down in the busy seaplane lane and was met by a waiting towboat. As it was unloaded, a fur from the harbormaster’s office walked up to Hao. “Mr. Ni?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Hao said as he helped unload the plane.
“Message for you,” the fur said, offering a slip of paper.
Hao took the message and studied it briefly. The message read, ‘Chang Shi-an will meet you at Wangchung. Father.’ He crumpled up the note and stuck it in his pocket. Chang was one of his best contacts, and had been instrumental in helping him and Anna get Wu Tang nearly two years ago.
After accepting payment for the cargo, Hao left the port area after ensuring that his plane would be refueled and serviced for the flight to Wangchung. He walked to the ‘Asiatic’ section of this outpost of British civilization and checked into a small hotel.
He ate in the hotel’s restaurant, and after making a few discreet inquiries with the manager made the acquaintance of a scrawny canine who sold him the services of two of his girls for the night.
It was late in the day when the GH-2 settled into the harbor of Wangchung. Hao found that the cost of the ‘squeeze’ required to keep his plane unmolested had gone up, but he paid without an argument. The ‘squeeze’ and the unobtrusive Tong symbol on the plane would guarantee the plane’s security. As he saw to his small suitcase a feline came up behind him. “You want-ee girl for eevnin’, sah? She virgin, you betcha,” he said, and leered as Hao turned and laughed.
“Chang!” he exclaimed, and the two shook paws, then embraced. The feline looked a bit drawn, as if he had been losing sleep. “You’re selling your sister again?”
The feline laughed. Chang had five brothers and no sisters. “No, you randy little fellow,” he snorted. “I’ve been told why you’re here,” he added as the two of them walked into the teeming city, “and we’ve got an appointment to see the Governor in the morning.”