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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!)
“No, you can’t come in here,” the corporal said in a thick accent that was hard for Hao to understand. The tailless feline was speaking English, that much he was sure of; but it was hard to follow what he was saying. “’Ere, get off with you, you wog. Go back to your own kind,” and the Manx corporal closed the gate and walked back to the guard shack.
Hao stood there for a few minutes as he concentrated on releasing his anger at the callous treatment. It was no wonder his father hated Americans so much, he thought, if they came from British stock somewhere in their history. He had tried to explain that he had a friend at the base, but the guards hadn’t been interested in his explanations.
The red panda’s shoe scuffed at a rock, then he turned and started to walk the dusty miles back to the town of New Penzance. There was what the British called an ‘Asiatic’ quarter in the colonial capital, and he knew he could find a room and a place to eat there.
As he walked, he took his light jacket off and draped it over one arm as he thought back to what Brigit said to him on the flight down here. Well, maybe it would be a good idea to get some real training and an ‘honest’ pilot’s license. The thought of him attending ground school and learning to fly all over again while some busybody sat behind him and told him what to do almost made him laugh out loud.
He made his way back into the city, carefully avoiding the local police until he disappeared into the cramped, teeming section. As he ate dinner, he wondered how Brigit was doing.
“Would you like some more butter, Miss?” the mess attendant asked. The Irish setter he addressed made a curiously gentle gesture with a paw and he bowed and walked away as Brigit Mulvaney quietly seethed. Other second-years who had traveled to the Gilbert & Sullivan Islands for their pilot examinations were quietly betting on how long the Irish girl would last before she started taking direct action against the British on the base.
So far, though, the setter was on her best behavior, with not even a sotto voce growl about her surroundings or the occasional comment they knew that she could hear.
As she buttered a roll to within an inch of its life, Brigit held a quiet and only slightly profane conversation with several of the saints. Saint Brigit, she thought earnestly to her namesake, give me strength an’ I swear ta ye I’ll no’ ask fer another favor as long as I live.
Happily, the meal ended and she made her way back to the small room that had been set aside for her. She was due to start her exams promptly the next morning, so she pulled her books from her satchel and started studying again.
While she studied her aerodynamics text her mind drifted to her trip to the British colony. Hao was such a fine-looking lad – it still amazed her that Shin had a brother who was good looking and so unlike the red panda girl.
She caught her tail wagging hard at the thought of the young man, so she shook herself and concentrated on her studying.
Tatiana Bryzov finished a meticulous preflight inspection of the aircraft she was supposed to fly for her examination and climbed into the cockpit. The Polikarpov R-5 was a six year-old reconnaissance biplane with an impressive fifty-foot wingspan. It had two open cockpits, one for the pilot and another for the observer.
She adjusted her flying helmet and put her goggles on as her examiner climbed into the observer’s seat. “Ready, Comrade Bryzova?” the captain asked.
“Da, Comrade Captain,” she replied, and at his signal she started the 12-cylinder engine.
The plane was a great deal larger than the De Havilland Tiger Moths she trained on at Songmark, as well as having a more powerful engine and a higher top speed. The distinction was lost on her examiners; she should be able to fly anything no matter the size. The engine caught with a sputter and she waved at the ground crew to pull the chocks away from the wheels. She advanced the throttle, eyeing her gauges carefully as the plane jounced its way down the grassy airstrip.
Following the officer’s instructions she slowly climbed to ten thousand feet and as the air grew colder she found herself wishing that she had taken the Captain up on his offer of a slug of vodka before the flight. He had shrugged when she politely refused and drank her portion.
Carefully she followed the approved flight plan, always aware of the silent presence behind her. Finally the captain said to her, “Return to the base, Comrade. You have passed the test.”
The sable sighed in relief as she jockeyed the plane around and lined it up on the airstrip. As the R-5 slowed and came to a stop, Tatiana shut down the engine and looked back to see the Air Force officer grinning at her. “Well done, Comrade Bryzova,” the captain said as he stood and started to climb out of the cockpit. “Now, refuel and inspect the plane and do the exact same things solo, please.”
Tatiana blinked, then nodded curtly. “Da, Comrade Captain.” She knew better than to argue with the man.
Shin stepped off the bus that morning, a small suitcase containing her books and a change of clothing in one paw and wearing her Songmark uniform. She had had an excellent breakfast before taking the bus from Seathl to the RINS base.
So far she was impressed – no, awed - by the size of the major city and what she could see of the sprawling base. She couldn’t recall whether the family had a branch office in Seathl, so she promised herself to take up the matter with Peng-wum when the opportunity presented itself.
Her ears went down slightly as she saw a half-coyote girl wearing a Songmark school uniform and carrying a small rucksack standing at the gate. Liberty was talking to the guard, and she smirked as Shin walked over to her. “You’re late,” the New Havenite growled.
The Chinese girl refused to be baited – for now. “No, I’m not,” she riposted. “You’re early.”
Liberty’s eyes narrowed, but she turned to the gate guard and said, “She’s here now. Can we both sign in, Comrade?” The enlisted fur at the gate looked a bit nonplussed at being called ‘Comrade,’ but checked both girls’ examination letters against the list of people he was allowed to admit. He finally nodded and, after both girls had signed in, opened the gate for them.
“You both need to report to the Administration Building to check in and get billeted,” the guard offered, pointing at a small billboard that displayed a map of the base. After reading it and orienting themselves, the canine and the red panda started walking.
“Get any studying done?” Liberty asked as they walked. “Or were you too busy wallowing in decadent comforts?”
Shin smiled. “I studied on the plane, and after I got to the hotel in Seathl,” she replied. “How about you? Or were you too busy ‘educating’ those sailors?” Her sneer and eyebrow wiggle insinuated that Liberty might have done more than work on her passage to Rain Island.
The red panda ducked the half-coyote’s swing and said reasonably, “Look, Liberty, we need to be on our best behavior – at least until after we pass our exams.”
“Hmmph. Fine, until then – but I’ll get you back for that, you little criminal,” Liberty said, her ears back.
“That reminds me. I saw a quaint little spot named Sledgehammer Phil’s as I was coming here,” Shin said. “I think that’d be a nice proletarian place for our little drinking match. Of course,” she added with a wink, “I do plan on winning.”
“Hah,” the New Havenite snorted.
Tatiana sat alone at a small desk cluttered with papers as she struggled through the navigation portion of her exam. So far she had passed the aerodynamics, flight planning and loading sections of the test, but the problems that the examiners had given her had gotten progressively worse. Finally she put her pencil down and sat back, running a paw over her headfur.
The RAF Tiger Moth’s engine started, and Brigit made a last check on the instruments before starting down the runway. The others were already in the air, as was the observer who would grade them. The Irish girl joined the formation and started through the exercise.
As she flew, she glanced down at the base from time to time. That looked to be the armory there . . . port facilities . . . antiaircraft batteries . . . she smiled as she banked the little biplane around. So far she had passed all of her examinations, and she was so used to the Tiger Moth by now that she was confident she could fly it in her sleep.
Being in the air also gave her a little time for thought.
Most particularly what to write home about, in hopes that certain friends of friends might want to come out to the Gilbert and Sullivans.
Shin puzzled over a meteorology test that was part of her flight planning exam. She and Liberty had both passed the actual flight test part of their pilot’s exams, taking turns inspecting and flying a Consolidated PT-3 biplane. The plane, one of several bought from the Americans and used to train Rain Island’s Air Arm pilots, was a close match for a Tiger Moth, so neither the red panda nor the half-breed coyote had any real difficulty.
The written parts of the examination were more than making up for the ease of the flights, though. However, neither Shin nor Liberty would concede defeat, and both girls sighed in relief as the completed papers were collected.
The news that they had both passed was greeted by Shin with a broad smile and by Liberty with a confident smirk. They were assured that their completed certifications would be mailed to them, and they were directed to one of the mess halls for supper.
They ate a little apart from the sailors, and as Shin drank the milk she had gotten with her supper she cocked an eyebrow at Liberty. “Starting early?” and she nodded toward the mug of Naval Issue ale by the New Havenite’s plate.
“We drink beer in New Haven all the time,” Liberty said. “This stuff’s pretty tasty. Try some,” and she jerked her chin toward the serving line.
“No thanks,” the Chinese girl said. “We have a bet to settle.”
They signed out of the base and made their way down the road to the bar that Shin had picked out. As they walked, Shin studied the signs on the various bars and sporting houses, and Liberty asked, “What are you doing? Studying the competition?”
“Of course,” Shin replied. “I’ll tell my mother about what I’ve seen here, and maybe she can improve things at the Lucky Dragon.” They reached Sledgehammer Phil’s, and pushed their way in.
The place reeked of stale tobacco smoke and spilled liquor, and Shin flagged down the bartender. “Two bottles of whisky, and two glasses, please,” she said, placing a few Rain Island dollars on the bar.
“Sure thing, Missy,” the huge boar rumbled, whisking the money away. The drinks followed, and both Songmark girls squared off, the bags containing their books and clothes at their feet.
Shin poured both glasses and picked hers up. “Mud in your eye,” she said, and downed the nearly-full glass.
Liberty eyed her drink and looked at Shin. “And in your fur,” she said, knowing how Shin hated to get too dirty.
“So, it’s like that, eh?”
“Okay . . . Your mother swims toward troopships,” Shin said, downing her second.
“Your mother’s already there servicing them,” Liberty shot back. The two students glared at each other, and their insults soon coincided with the slow draining of each glass full of whisky.
“Your father . . . has mange,” Shin said carefully several minutes later, looking at the New Havenite closely. Liberty, it appeared, was having a bit of trouble holding her liquor, and the red panda looked forward to gloating about it back at Songmark.
“Your father would sell you for profit.”
“Your father invests in the stock market.”
“Your brother would sell you for profit.”
Shin bristled. “New Haven’s a pesthole.”
Liberty’s hackles rose. “Krupmark’s a garbage dump.”
By this time, the first bottle was nearly empty, and Shin uncorked the second. As she poured the drinks for the next round, she stiffened and glared as another denizen of the bar came up behind her. Liberty couldn’t see where he had his paw, but it was clear that the red panda considered it most unwelcome.