As you may have noticed, I didn't have a blog post up yesterday. I was going to try to get one up, despite the days' craziness (it was my birthday), but it didn't end up happening, and I'm actually okay with that. I gave myself a break from non-stop blogging for my birthday, and I'm feeling refreshed and ready to get back into it.
So, today is Monday, and that means it's story time! This week's piece is a short story I wrote called Annoyance In The Air. It's about a world with World War era technology (and lots of wars, just like that era), and a pilot who doesn't take any crap. I'll let you enjoy the rest of it without my spoilage. Enjoy! :)
"My grandfather gave me this plane," someone was saying from Hangar B. The speaker was male, and Freia thought that the lilting sadness in his tone was a load of crap. She was right outside the back entrance; hand on the door knob, wearing her Special Officer uniform, as she always did. Her red hair was done up in a ponytail, and she frowned to herself as she heard the voice. "When he..." the man continued, pausing for dramatic effect. "...passed on, I took it upon myself to see that his legacy would not be forgotten. He was an amazing dogfighter--once co-pilot to Jem Barsoon himself!" Freia doubted that. She had known Jem, and he had told her that he had only ever had two co-pilots, both female.
"Oh, that's fantastic!" said a bubbly female voice, almost dripping with idiocy. What the heck were these people doing in her hangar? And how did they get here?
"Yes, fantastic," a third voice repeated, also female, but instead of excitement, there was a dry humor in the way she said the words. Freia could almost see the eye-roll, and that made her smile. Okay, maybe she wouldn't kick them all out on their butts. Just the first two.
Freia opened the door, trying to calm herself before she flew off the handl--she looked down at the doorknob and chuckled. Off the handle. She shook her head, smiling, and tiptoed in, taking care to be stealthy. Her mirth was quickly replaced with annoyance, however, as she noted that there was indeed someone else's plane in the middle of her dang hangar. It was a Vallen G-1 Dogfighter, grey and sleek. The G-1 was an older model, back maybe about forty to sixty years, so the part of the man's story about the grandfather might be true. It had the standard logo of any Vallen Dogfighter, an angry bear, claws raised to strike.
Freia narrowed her eyes as she scanned the room. There was no plane scheduled to be in here during this night-cycle--her own dogfighter had been blown to scraps in that last run a week ago--and she didn't recognize any of the three young upstarts standing in front of the G-1, so either this man and his plane were in here against protocol, or he was high enough in rank to bypass chain of command altogether. Freia hoped it was the first. She hated dealing with hotshot officers.
The threesome still hadn't seen her yet, weaving in and out from among the boxes in the back, and so she stepped out from behind a stack of airplane parts, walking towards them with a skeptical expression. The man was still blabbering on about an award he had won last year at the National Air Show when one of the two ladies with him, a brunette who was staring off at nothing, noticed Freia and seemed to smirk.
"And then the judges presented me with--" he was saying. He trailed off as he saw Freia, and then his eyes lit up, and he flashed what some might have called a dazzling smile in her direction. "Why, hello there! What brings a beauty like you to this neck of the woods?"
She raised her eyebrow, coming to stand beside the plane. The man was blonde and handsome, to some extent, but the stupid look in his eyes and the arrogant way he talked made Freia want to puke. He was wearing a Vallen uniform, and from the stripes on his jacket, it looked like he was only a sergeant. Good, Freia thought. The last thing I need is some higher-up flirting with me. I should be able to sock this guy in the throat if he gets too grabby.
The two women standing beside him were beauties, to say the least. The first, the one that had noticed Freia before the others, had dark brown hair and a flowing blue dress, and was tall and lithe. She looked bored, and so Freia assumed she was the second of the voices she had heard, the one who had been sarcastic. The second was a blonde like the man, and though still lithe, was a bit shorter than her companion. She had a dreamy expression as she looked at the sergeant, and a red dress that showed way too much skin. That was definitely the bubbly girl.
The man was obviously waiting for her reply, so Freia looked him in the eyes, not softening her demeanor in the slightest. "What are you doing in my hangar?"
Now it was his turn to raise an eyebrow. "Your hangar?" he said, glancing at the G-1. "Darling, that's my plane there. It only makes sense that I would keep my plane in my hangar, don't you think?"
Freia cussed him out, using the vilest epitaphs she could muster. "That's what I think, pretty boy."
To his credit, he only paled for a moment before regaining his composure. "I...see." He looked to his companions. "So, uh, ladies, how about we retire to the lounge?"
"Oh, but things were just getting interesting, Tan," the brunette whined, playing with a strand of her hair, and pouting at him. She had a glint in her eyes that betrayed her sarcasm, but the sergeant, Tan, obviously didn't notice it. "Can't we stay a few minutes longer?"
"Tell her who you are, Tan," the bubbly blonde said, grabbing his arm and grinning. "Go on, tell her!"
Given a boost of confidence, Tan puffed out his chest and gave Freia a look. "The name is Tanis Berzig II, sergeant in the fifth squadron, woman. And I would appreciate being treated better than that."
Freia glared at him. "Then you can get your freaking plane out of my freaking hangar."
"Commander Bauer himself said I could use this hangar," Tan said, angry now. "So, even if it was yours, dirtmouth, it isn't now. So, now that we got that out of the way, leave me and these lovely ladies alone, if you will."
Freia didn't even look at him, turning away and going straight for the phone hanging on the wall. She dialed the number for command and brought the speaker to her mouth and the receiver to her ear.
"This is command, what do you need, Special Officer?" A voice said on the other end. Mullen, Bauer's secretary.
"Yeah, I need to speak with Commander Bauer, Mull," Freia said, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice. Her three "guests" stood where she had left them, watching her.
"I'll put you right through."
A moment later, the commander's voice came through the receiver. "What's going on, Freia? Why are you calling during sleep hours?"
"Some stuck-up sergeant just left his plane right in the middle of my dang hangar, commander. He says you told him he could. Please tell me what the heck is going on, sir."
There was a pause. "Umm...yes. Sorry about that, Freia. But Tanis is sort of a special case."
"How so, sir?"
"You don't know?" The commander sounded puzzled, but then apparently remembered who he was talking to and continued. "Tanis is the son of Kass Berzig, head of Berzig Industries, one of our primary supporters. He's been climbing in the ranks, and he asked to be given a good hangar for his dogfighter while he visited the base. Yours was the best we had available."
Freia tried to keep herself calm, but inside she was a tumult of emotions. What gives anyone the right to let some arrogant snob keep his plane in my hangar? "I understand, sir." She was about to hang up, when she had an idea. "Would you mind, Commander, if I requisitioned a fighter for a quick practice run? While my new plane is being built to specs, I should get used to flying one of the standards again."
Another pause. "You're taking this extraordinarily well, Freia."
"May I requisition the fighter, sir?"
"Yes, of course... Stay out of trouble, Freia. I don't want you getting involved with the Berzigs."
She hung up.
"You see?" Tanis said from behind her. "I told you the truth. Now, please, leave us."
She turned to give him a death glare. "I'm not yours to order around, sergeant. This is still my hangar, whether or not your rusty old plane is sitting in it. I will dang well leave when I feel like it."
The brunette at Tanis' side seemed to be enjoying every minute of the confrontation, while the blonde was getting nervous. Tanis coughed and looked at his companions apologetically.
Then Freia did something stupid.
"Tanis Berzig II, I challenge you to a dogfighter spin," she said, holding out her arms in a welcoming gesture. "If I win, you get your plane out of my hangar. If you win...name your prize."
Tanis seemed startled for a second, and then he smiled, walking over and taking her hand. "When I win, you get to take me out to dinner."
Freia pulled her hand away, disgusted. "The only food you're getting out of me is a knuckle sandwich."
He laughed then, and she cringed. "This is going to be so much fun."
Yes, punching you in the face is going to be the highlight of my evening too.
She flew into the wind, crying out with joy.
This was what she lived for. This feeling. She was born for the air, and she hadn't been truly alive until she had first gotten into the cockpit of a G-3 Dogfighter and challenged gravity itself. Her name was Freia Hel, and she was the Special Officer of fifth squadron, a ragtag group of pilots, technicians, and tacticians that made this war possible.
Today, however, she was simply Freia, and Freia was going to put a cocky aristocrat in his place.
She wore the goggles and helmet that were every pilot's outfit, and sat in her G-3, hands on the controls. With a lurch, she dove into a spin, crashing through a group of low-hanging clouds and misting her face. Once she punctured the cloud cover, she saw Tanis' old G-1, cruising smoothly northward. For a refurbished plane sixty years old, it ran incredibly well. And Freia had to admit that Tanis was no amateur when it came to flying. Unfortunately for him, Tanis Berzig II was not Freia. And Freia was the best.
"Nice one," Tanis' voice crackled on the radio in her cockpit. He sounded anything but impressed. "A real doozy."
"Look who's talking, pretty boy," Freia said. "Do you even spin? Ever?"
A dogfighter spin was an old tradition among pilots, going back even before the Ash War. It was a way to settle grudges and arguments without--well, hopefully without--killing either side. The two pilots would take off, set a course about fifteen miles or so away from base, and then proceed to make as many spins and aerial maneuvers as they could. There would be someone on the ground watching with binoculars, recording the total number of spins and maneuvers and awarding points based on daring and skill. Freia had asked her friend Dewel to record for them--he wouldn't rat her out to Bauer before it was too late to matter.
So far, Freia thought she was winning. She had made the most daring and skillful maneuvers, and Tanis hadn't really done anything all that impressive. He was good at flying, but not at showing off. Kind of ironic, actually. He was the son of one of the richest men in Valle. But they still had about fifteen, twenty minutes left before the spin was over, and Freia had a feeling that Tanis was saving up for something big. Hopefully it would end disastrously.
"I can't wait to see you crash that piece of junk straight into a tree," Freia said, taunting.
"I can't wait to see the look on your face when you're paying for my dinner," he said.
"I'd rather die."
Below them both lay the Hudragen Forest, stretching for miles in any direction, a vast, untamed wilderness that had become the battleground of a seventy-five year-long war. Freia took her plane in for another dive, spinning a few times for good measure, and ended up just below the G-1. What are you waiting for? Freia thought, growing anxious. Do something already, dang it!
A few minutes passed, and they flew on, circling around the area a few times, both doing a few spins here and there, but nothing too extravagant. Freia was in front of Tanis now, cruising. If the dogfighter spin continued like this, Freia would win hands down. She shook her head. Too easy.
His G-1 just disappeared from her vision. One moment he was there--she could see his plane from her mirror--the next he was gone, diving and spinning like a reckless madman towards the forest a thousand feet below them. Freia cursed and dove after him, spinning as well. She would not get outdone by some jerk rich kid. Not now. Not ever. They spun downward, and finally Freia pulled out, getting too disoriented. She looked, and Tanis was still spinning, still diving, straight towards the ground.
"Pull up, you idiot," Freia said through the radio, cruising at a more safe altitude. "You're going to crash. Pull up!"
No answer. A horrible image flashed through Freia's mind. A dead sergeant, a ruined antique of a plane. And Freia to blame for all of it. Tanis was descending still, only a few hundred feet from the ground. He would hit the tips of the trees in--
"PULL UP!" She screamed into the radio.
Tanis pulled up at the last possible moment, coming out of the dive and the spin so gracefully that in made Freia gasp. She had never seen someone do something that bold in a spin, ever. She had heard stories, of course, but no one wanted to risk certain death just to settle a grudge. But apparently, Tanis really wanted her to take him out to dinner.
"And that is how it's done," Tanis crackled. "We'll be going to a restaurant in Urlin, two hours south of the base, next leave. I'm sure you'll love it."
Freia did a mental count, trying to figure out if that last move had been worth enough points to put him over the top. It was. There were only five minutes left--she had to come up with something fast, or she would be spending an evening with Tanis in two weeks.
She focused. She was Freia Hel, Special Officer of the fifth squadron. She could beat anyone in a dogfighter spin, especially an idiot like Tanis. She dove, not spinning, but heading towards a spot she knew well. She could just make it, if she pushed her plane hard enough.
"Watch and learn, Berzig," Freia said. "And get ready to move your freaking plane out of my hangar."
There were two minutes left. Ahead of her was a rock outcropping, two pillars of stone on either side of each other. There were distanced just enough apart to allow a plane to squeeze through, if you knew what you were doing. Freia started spinning, flying straight towards the gap.
Tanis swore on the other end. "Are you crazy, woman?"
Of course, I am. She always had been, always would be. The distance to the pillars closed dramatically, and she focused her mind, with all the strength she had, on making sure that she didn't die from this. Not that it would matter. The commander was going to kill her, anyway.
She flew right between the rocks, and a jolt on the left wing made her gasp. But then she was through, and the plane was intact. She had won. Holy crap, she had won!
There was no sound on the radio. Not. A. Word. Freia brought the plane around to head back towards base. Tanis' plane followed, cruising behind.
And then there was another jolt on the back of her plane, accompanied with the sound of puncturing metal. Gunfire. "Dewel, fighter at our--" she started to say. Wait, no, she wasn't in combat. This was not a dogfight. It was a spin. Who was...
"Did you just fire at me?" Freia said over the radio, all emotions suddenly vanished.
"I said, did you just fire at me?"
"Yeah, what of it?" Tanis. That idiot. That cocky, no-brained, lazy, aristocratic jerk.
HE HAD FIRED AT HER.
She set the plane's controls to keep going forward without her assistance, and unbuckled her straps. Then she climbed into the gunner's seat, took aim with the large rotary gun mounted there, and started blasting away at the G-1 cruising behind her, going for the wings and underbelly.
There was a lot of swearing on the other end.
"What are you doing, you crazy witch!" Tanis howled as he took his plane into a dive. "You're going to get me killed."
She smiled and climbed back into the pilot's seat, buckling herself, grabbing the controls, and then the radio. "Tanis, let me offer you a few words of advice: first, don't ever put your plane in my hangar again. Second, don't ever talk to me again. Third, don't ever look at me again. And fourth...get over yourself."
Tanis' plane started sputtering as they reached base, and finally caught fire just as they were about to land. He was forced to jump out and open his parachute, and Freia could almost imagine the horror on his face as his antique G-1 crashed straight into the lake just outside camp.
Freia hoped the water was as shallow as he was.
She put down her plane--well, at least the one she had requisitioned--on the landing strip next to her hangar, and rolled the machine in with a smug expression on her face. She exited the G-3 and saw spindly, bald Dewel walking up, shaking his head.
"What's wrong, Dew?" she asked as she pulled off her helmet and goggles.
"You're in really big trouble, Freia," he said, wringing his hands together.
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever, I'll deal with it when the sun comes up."
"Commander Bauer asked to--"
"I'll deal with it later," she repeated, setting down her gear on a crate.
"I really think--"
"Dew, shut it. It'll be fine."
Dewel left, chewing on a nail.
A few minutes later, Freia was walking up to the small lake where the G-1--or what was left of it--lay submerged, eating an apple. Turned out, it was every bit as shallow as Tanis, and the plane was absolutely ruined. Too bad, Freia thought with sarcasm. Tanis and his two companions from before stood on the shore. Tanis was in a state of shock, and the two women were almost as surprised as he was.
"What's the matter?" Freia said as she strode up, taking a bite of her apple. "Lake's got your plane?"
Tanis looked at her, not really angry...just shocked. He didn't say anything, and then turned back to look at the debris in the lake.
The brunette looked at Freia, and then at Tanis. "Looks like she shot you down, Tan," she said, grinning. "In more ways than one."
Freia laughed, taking another bite of her apple.