Early release of episode 6, as I’m away at the weekend.
Some research on my readers … please answer a question or two: 🙂 (Or leave a comment)
Who do you visualize for these characters? (Or for non-visual people, which well-known book characters do they most resemble?)
Name other books you’ve enjoyed in the genres (i.e. SciFi, Adventure, Romance).
Which is your favorite scene or part-scene so far?
Are the non-standard names distracting?
If you flicked back through previous episodes, which scene/detail had you forgotten?
Thank you! Enjoy!
They leave, and anger drives out the fog of sleep. I cannot stand this. It’s not my fault the broker provided no contact information for me to call ahead, and that there were no buses because the roads were destroyed. It’s not my fault I look like a tramp from all the walking, and I’m so tired I spilled the brandy.
There’s not much I can do to tidy myself. My hair’s too short for a pony tail, my clothes in the duffel will still be wet from the rain, and besides, they’ve already seen me. I comb the hay out of my hair with my fingers and limp into the inn, following the sound of angry voices. There has to be something I can do.
The scene in the bar room stops me dead.
There’s an unconscious man lying on the floor, head and chest swathed in new bloody bandages, arm in a splint. A woman is kneeling alongside him. She’s cleaning blood from her hands with the fixed determination of someone suffering from shock.
Warwick is standing at the bar, arguing with a man and a woman. The man’s the one who just called me a drunken tramp, and I piece together that this is Gaude, and he’s the manager for Cardu, which is an estate, not a town. The woman’s a doctor, and her patient lying on the floor is the worst injured victim of an accident. He’s near death and they need to get him to hospital urgently.
There are hospitals along the coast, but damage to the coastal roads means the only way to get to those hospitals by car is to divert inland to a central highway. There’s a major hospital inland, in the Central District, but that’s even further away. All the roads are rough and the long journey is likely to be fatal in any case.
There’s an airfield and an aircraft at Cardu, and the hospital in the Central District has an airfield right next door. Unfortunately, the pilot of the aircraft is somewhere near Bandry and there’s no easy way to reach him directly.
Gaude wants someone to ride a horse down the coastal path at all speed to fetch the pilot. Warwick urges him to wait a couple of hours when the fishing boats start putting out to sea, and harbor radios get switched on—a message can be passed on rapidly once that happens.
All of it sounds like a long time for a dying man. Too long.
My anger evaporates. There is a chance of saving this man’s life.
Heart racing, I clear my throat. “I can fly.”
Gaude, Warwick and the doctor ignore me.
I don’t even know what aircraft it is, but I can’t just stand there like a dummy while a man dies because I couldn’t make myself heard.
There’s a bell above the bar for calling time. I jerk the lanyard and all of them turn shocked faces to me at its clear ting.
“I can fly. Maybe. Tell me what kind of aircraft it is.”
“You’re drunk!” Gaude roars. “Get out of here.”
He’s not going to listen to me, but the woman kneeling next to the patient rises to her feet and joins us. She looks about thirty, well dressed, dark red hair done up in the sort of complex style that needs someone else to do it, and probably looked stunning a few hours ago. She’s beautiful, but her face is blotchy from crying.
“Stop,” she says. Her voice is low and strained, but they both pay attention to her. “We have to try everything. Send a messenger on horseback and radio the harbor masters. And we can at least listen to what this woman says. She doesn’t look drunk to me.”
“Lady Roscarrow,” Gaude says. “I can smell the drink on her, and look at her! She’s—”
“Someone who claims to be a Dancing Mistress. Yes, I know. She looks like any of us would look if we walked all the way from Bandry. It was your idea, Gaude, to advertise for a Dancing Mistress from places where the title might still mean something, even if you’ve changed your mind. We have to find out if she can do what she says. My brother’s life may depend on it.”
Which is how, an hour later, still in filthy clothes and reeking of bad brandy, I’m doing an external check of an aircraft by flashlight.
It’s an 8 seater, twin engine, Peyraud Industries Delphine II, and I have better than half a chance of being able to fly it. Peyraud are a huge, pan-system company, and they supply the majority of atmosphere aircraft in this sector of the Inner Worlds and Margin. I’ve flown smaller models from the company, and the instruments and controls are standard.
Gaude is snapping at my heels, trying to get me to hurry up, but only holovid stars take off in a plane they haven’t checked. He’s also assigned someone to sit with me in the co-pilot’s seat. A quiet man named Moyle, who has done some preliminary training on this type of plane. Gaude says it’s for safety. I know it’s actually to make sure I don’t fly away with 500,000 dynare of aeroplane belonging to his boss.
My future boss, I can still hope. I’m about to fly his plane without his permission, essentially on the insistence of Lady Roscarrow. I trust he and the Lady are on the very best of terms.
And he’s not just any boss.
I’ve found out that he’s a Duke, a title they use here for the foremost of the Founding Families. They go the distance here; he’s even got a coat of arms. It’s a snarling wolf’s head. I see it everywhere: painted on the nose and tailplane; embossed on the dashboard and seats; printed on the damned rudder pedals.
Duke Bleyd Tremayne, owner of Cardu Estate and the governor of Welarvon. My job, if I secure it, will be to tutor his daughter.
My stomach is twisting in knots, but I can’t allow myself to be distracted.
Finally satisfied that everything is in order outside, I climb in to the pilot’s seat and power up systems.
The internal checks are automated and listed, each item scrolling up the screens. The most important come first. I follow them as the statuses roll. Everything is in the green.
I’ve left the door open and Gaude has his head inside, watching me suspiciously.
“Do you want me to do a circuit first?” I ask. “Check out the handling?”
“No time, Miss Esterhauze,” he says.
Huh? Esterhauze? Where did that come from? We’ve got more to worry about than him being corrected about my name, so I leave it for now.
Cardu Estate employees have stripped out the right hand side passenger seats and are loading Lady Roscarrow’s brother in, on a stretcher. The doctor has returned to the other victims of the accident, who weren’t so badly injured, but still need her attention.
Lady Roscarrow is in the back too, obviously intent on coming with us. She earns her place by clearly having some medical training; she’s checking fluid drips and connecting up some kind of monitors for his pulse and breathing.
The Tremaynes are a Founding Family. So are the Roscarrows.
Wonderful. I’ve borrowed the Duke’s plane without his permission and I’m carrying two of the local aristocrats, one of whom is seriously injured and whose death will probably be blamed on me unless I get him to a hospital in time. It’s the middle of the night, I’ve never flown this plane before, let alone any plane on Amethys, and I’ve no doubt my job prospects will dive even lower if I take it back damaged.
The storm has died out, the wind has dropped, and we take off smoothly.
Goddess be thanked.
The flight is straightforward. A journey that would have taken six hours on the roads is nearing completion after barely forty minutes. Moyle is handling navigation and Air Traffic Control requests. The plane itself is a joy; light and precise in controls. I’m in a quiet bubble that happens to me in flight sometimes, a feeling of calmness and serenity as the dark ground slides swiftly by, a kilometer below us, a passage marked only by the occasional lights of a farmstead or small town.
Everything is good until I start to descend. I’m focusing on a well executed flight path right down to the runway.
Too good to last.
Moyle’s been asking for landing confirmation from the airfield next to the hospital. Our callsign is Flight ME-766, and this is what comes back:
“Negative, Flight ME-776,” a voice squawks over the comms. “Airfield M-VHTR is closed for ground training purposes from 02:00 to 07:00 as documented in AV-NOTE 5766. Vector your course 080 for Airfield M-PJKL. Change frequency to one-three-five decimal two-two-six.”
My quiet bubble pops. Yes, the aviation notices the controller is referring to no doubt clearly state the airfield is closed. We didn’t have time to look them up. But ground training? Five hours of it? That smacks of an excuse to get out of bed late.
The diversion airfield is not a long flight away, but it would mean a far longer journey by road to the hospital. I want Lady Roscarrow’s brother in the hands of medics as soon as possible.
And we’re already established on the descent. I can’t see the airfield, but the instruments are giving me a simulation view that I should be able to fly right down onto the tarmac. It’s possible, but terrifying to think of doing that. There has to be a better way.
I override Moyle on the comms. Pilot’s privilege.
“Negative, Airfield M-VHTR,” I say. “Flight ME-776 has a severely injured person on board. Diversion unacceptable. We are vectoring straight in to land on runway two-one in…” I check the instruments, “zero-four minutes. Repeat, zero-four minutes. We are on final to land. Notify your emergency services. We require a medical vehicle immediately on landing to convey our passenger to Biscome Hospital.”
“Negative, Flight ME-776. Negative. Divert to M-PJKL.”
“Negative, Airfield M-VHTR. Declaring code HX.” I swallow, hoping that Amethys emergency codes are the same as Newyan. A glance at Moyle, he gives me a nod. “I say again, code HX. Flight ME-776 is a medical emergency. Get your ambulance rolling now. On final for two-one. Landing in zero-three minutes.”
Moyle enters codes into the transponder system. The Traffic Controller’s screen will be pulsing with a red emergency symbol now. One that he can’t ignore.
Code HX should be initiated by a doctor. I guess we can argue about it when our patient is in hospital.
There’s a long silence. Then in the distance, I see the runway lights come on. I let a lungful of stale breath sigh out of me.
“Affirm, ME-776,” the controller says. “You are cleared for standard descent and landing on runway two-one. Wind at 05 from 020. Emergency vehicles in attendance.”
From his tone, I don’t expect a bunch of flowers from him anytime soon.
I repeat his clearance back as required, keeping my voice neutral.
“Thank you,” comes over the intercom in a female voice, startling me. I’d forgotten Lady Roscarrow had a headset. She’d listened to the whole exchange.
“Pleasure, milady,” I murmur back and exclude everything else while I concentrate on putting the Duke’s plane down in one piece.
At least there’ll be an ambulance chasing us if I get it wrong.
It’s not my best landing, but it’s good enough to get us on the ground in one piece and minutes later, paramedics are closing the doors of the ambulance behind Lady Roscarrow and her brother.
The paramedics had given me some looks as they worked to move him. I guess the pilot of the plane is not supposed to look as if she walked a whole day, slept in her clothes on a pile of hay, and then spilt brandy all over herself before getting in the pilot’s seat. On the other hand, it could just be as I suspected, that their ‘ground training’ was only an excuse to sleep late, and one that I ruined.
I put it out of mind and go around checking the aircraft carefully again to see if my landing has damaged it. Moyle follows me, not speaking but nodding in satisfaction as he completes the checklist on an infopad. As he does, he has to juggle that task with answering a call of thanks from Lady Roscarrow. Her brother has gone straight into surgery, and it’s her opinion, which the doctors appear to share, that he owes his life to me.
It’s very welcome news, that there was justification for this night’s craziness, all of which is starting to sink into me. Landing an unfamiliar plane, in the dark, at an airport I’d never even seen. Adrenaline after the event makes my hands shake. We’ve been lucky.
We complete the checks. I’m still walking gingerly with my sore feet, but that stinking brandy did more or less what Warwick claimed for my blisters and abrasions, so at least I am walking. Small mercies.
When we finish, I sigh.
“Okay, let’s go do the paperwork with the nice gentleman in ATC.”
I’m not looking forward to our conversation with Air Traffic Control. I filed no flight plans, didn’t inspect the obligatory aviation notices prior to the flight, don’t have the permission of the owner to be flying the aircraft, and don’t have the medical qualification to pull a code HX. That’s before we get into handing control of the radio over to Moyle, who doesn’t have a license at all, and the even more thorny issue of my Newyan flying license, which I don’t have proof of, and which may not apply here on Amethys.
That’s just the list I can think of, off the top of my head.
We enter the ATC building, and I know all my fears are justified as soon as I see the face of the controller.
He’s so angry, he can barely speak.
He shouts a long list, with all the regulation references, every violation of the flying laws that I have broken, and starts to wind up with what he thinks tops it all: “You’re clearly not in a fit state to fly, as required by—”
I’d listened without interruption, but I’ve had enough at that point, and lose control of my mouth.
“I understand,” I cut across him. “You’re terribly, terribly upset. Tell me, to whom should I convey your disapproval? To Duke Tremayne, the governor of Welarvon, who owns the aircraft? To Lady Roscarrow, who is currently at the hospital? To her brother in surgery, only alive because we flew here and didn’t divert?”
The controller’s eyes bulge.
From his tirade of grievances, I gather he hasn’t got around to investigating issues of ownership and the actual medical case that caused the flight. He probably assumed something trivial that we’d overblown for convenience.
He now looks like someone who wants to retract some of his actions this morning, but, as it happens, he’s too late. His eyes look over my shoulder as the door opens behind me.
I glance around.
The uniforms may be different on different worlds, but there’s something common throughout human occupied space that just shouts police about the pair that come in.
An hour later, I’m in a police cell. I’m under arrest for being in control of an aircraft while intoxicated, flying without a license, failing to produce identification when asked, it’s in my duffel bag in Stormhaven not being a defense, declaring an aviation medical emergency without appropriate qualification… and on and on, until I lost track. I don’t think they’ve charged me with theft of the aircraft, yet.
Moyle’s under arrest as well, held separately. His comms have been taken away. We’ve not been allowed calls yet.
The Duke’s aircraft has been impounded. They’re classifying it as evidence in a crime. Massive fines are threatened, and the way the law works apparently, the Duke is liable.
I have no funds to pay any fines. They’re well aware of that.
What they’re threatening me with is deportation back to Newyan.
It’s impossible to sleep in the cell block. The ‘bunk’ is just a board. It doesn’t even have a piece of foam as a mattress. It’s daytime but the harsh lights are on full. It’s noisy, with the sort of echo you get off concrete and metal. And the smell, some of which is down to me, is overwhelming.
They’ve taken a blood sample, so I’m guessing the intoxication charge will be dropped. Great. One down.
When they get around to contacting the hospital, maybe I can hope for mitigating circumstances.
Enough not to deport me?
No one has spoken to me all day, apart from the prisoners in other cells, and their conversation is coarse, limited and unpleasant.
All in all, not turning out to be the best day of my life.
Then in late afternoon, I witness a force of nature.
It starts small. A couple of my jailors rush in and handcuff me, before dragging me out. From terse comments between them and the guard on duty, I gather the Duke is here, and this is not a good thing.
Death would be so much easier. The person I’m applying to for a job meets me for the first time at the police headquarters, where he’s had to come to regain access to his aircraft, because I borrowed it. I’m under arrest, dressed in clothes I’ve lived in for two days and I stink.
Except as it turns out, it’s not the first time we’ve met.
Duke Tremayne is none other than Mr Lead Stallion. He’s still in his uniform, apart from the gleaming helmet and long lance. He looks tired and dusty, which is about right; to get here he must have been on the road from Bandry for hours. There are two of his troopers with him, a man and a woman, also in uniform. All three of them are over six foot, and together they make the room feel crowded.
The police superintendent they’re talking to definitely feels that; he’s trying to argue jurisdiction when I’m dragged in. He’s backed up against the wall and he looks as if he wishes the wall would swallow him.
The Duke turns to look at me. Yesterday, when I saw him sitting on his horse with his helmet perched on the top of his head, I’d thought his face bluff and arrogant. Today, the word I’d chose would be brutal. His face is actually expressionless, it’s just that underneath, there’s a sense of rage, or even violence, barely contained. What I’d assumed yesterday was a crease in his cheek turns out to be an old scar, giving him a sinister air.
“Uncuff her,” he says brusquely.
The officers don’t even look at their own superintendent. My cuffs come off.
He turns back to the superintendent.
“So,” he says. “Let me summarize. I have a document from the airfield manager retracting most charges relating to aviation. I have a document from the head physician at Biscome Hospital stating that the flight was a medical emergency, and any delay, including an airfield diversion, would most likely have resulted in the death of Lord Marik Roscarrow. You have the pilot’s blood tests revealing no significant levels of alcohol present. The use of my aircraft is entirely within my discretion. All of that, and you continue to maintain there is a case to answer?”
“The judicial aspect of the case is not within my power, sir,” the superintendent says. He hides his hands behind his back and shifts his weight uncomfortably. “On the majority of charges, there is clearly nothing to answer, but once the charges have been filed, they need to be dismissed through due process in the courts. They can’t do that until next week.”
“Then I will hold her until you can arrange for a hearing,” the Duke says. “She is an off-worlder who has applied for employment in Welarvon, not Central District. That is where she will be held, under my authority as governor.”
The superintendent doesn’t need reminding that he’s talking to the governor, but he gamely tries to hold out until Duke Tremayne offers to call the Central District Police Commander.
At which point, I’m transferred without further delay. It’s a nominal sort of improvement. I get a peek at the paperwork as it’s handed over; instead of being in the custody of the Central District Law Enforcement Service, I’m now being held by the Welarvon Mounted Police. It seems the governor is their commander and it’s obviously considered normal for them to canter along the coast path dressed up as pre-space cavalry.
Moyle is released without charge and we’re taken outside, where there’s a dusty truck waiting. The Duke goes into the front cab on the passenger side. One of his troopers drives and I sit in the back, squashed between the other trooper and Moyle.
I’m not sure it’s appropriate to thank the Duke, and besides, he hasn’t even looked at me since ordering my cuffs to be taken off.
I’d sit in silence, but the trooper speaks very quietly out of the side of her mouth.
“Well, the boars didn’t get you, then.”
If I start laughing, it will be inappropriate. And manic, to the point of sounding like a lunatic having a breakdown. I bite my cheek for half a minute before I answer.
“I didn’t see any sign of boars,” I whisper back. “Almost made me think they were a complete invention, made up to frighten a stranger.”
“Nah. We must have scared them off. That’s how we hunt them, you know. Horse and lance.”
The Duke glances over his shoulder and she shuts up.
I’m not sure I believe her, but just that exchange of words has relaxed me. I guess she’s just a trooper, but she has a cheerful, open face I feel I can trust.
My situation isn’t good, but it’s better than being in a cell at the Central District police lockup.
I wake up when the truck stops, jerking my head off the trooper’s shoulder, to her amusement.
I check I haven’t been dribbling while I slept.
We’re back at the airfield, alongside the Duke’s aircraft.
Gaude’s there, in another truck, with a couple more people from Stormhaven. He must have driven up today as well. He looks daggers at me, like it was all my fault. I am such a popular girl.
What does Gaude think? That I caused Marik Roscarrow to have an accident? I planned to fly an aircraft under dubious legal circumstances and pick arguments with traffic controllers and lazy airfields just to upset him?
I want to stand in front of him and scream Roscarrow would be dead.
And I need to keep a lid on all of that. I’m not a member of the elite. At best, I’m a lowly employee of these people. At worst, I’m a tramp, just as he named me.
“Pre-flight checks,” the Duke says. He thrusts out the infopad that Moyle was using yesterday.
“Huh? Me?” It slips out.
“Who did you think I was talking to?”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
I really need to bite my tongue. The double-sir sounds sarcastic, and I know he hears it. But he moves away to speak to Gaude. Moyle shadows me and I run through the checks again. Much more of this, and I’ll get familiar with it.
After the external checks, the Duke is still busy talking with Gaude. I am not going to interrupt, so I shrug, climb in the cockpit, and start the internal checks.
At least he’s giving me orders. Does that mean I’m hired? Or does he give everyone orders anyway?
Gaude has brought the aircraft’s seats in his truck, the ones they removed to get Roscarrow’s stretcher in, and the Stormhaven staff refit them while I complete the checks.
The Duke and Gaude get in the back, still talking. The Duke is fuming about the delays to repair the coast road, which could have cost the life of his neighbor if there hadn’t been an alternative method of getting him to hospital.
Point for me.
Moyle and my Amazonian trooper friend get in the back as well, while a small, dark guy with a big moustache and beady eyes gets in alongside me, in the co-pilot’s seat.
He glances at the infopad with all the checks on it, nods.
“Start the engines and plot a course to Stormhaven Cardu airfield, via these waypoints,” he says, handing me a scribbled list.
I don’t reply immediately. I turn to look at the Duke.
He makes a curt gesture—get on with it.
I check that the trucks are clear and start the engines, then busy myself with setting up the course on the positioning system under the watchful eye of the stranger.
It’s like my flying exam, I think. Exactly like it.
We take off and it turns out, I’m right. He’s a flight examiner, and I’m doing a certification flight.
Does this mean I might be hired? As a pilot?
“Starboard engine failure,” the examiner says calmly, closing the throttle on that side.
Two hours later, in the gathering evening gloom, we land at Stormhaven airfield and I’m sweating, despite the cabin air-conditioning.
The flight has been a relief in one way; there was no chance of dwelling on all the problems I’d had over the last few days or the situation I’m in. On the other hand, the examiner kept me within a hair’s-breadth of meltdown the entire time.
“Pass,” he says, getting out. “Certificate attached in email to you, sir.”
“Thank you, Venner,” the Duke replies.
There’s a truck waiting to take Mr Venner back to wherever it is they keep demons in between torturing students who want a license to fly.
We get out and Moyle takes the infopad. He begins the post-flight checks without speaking.
Which leaves me, the Duke, Gaude, and the trooper.
Stormhaven is an unattended airfield. There’s nothing but a hangar, with a small office and utility building beside it. The Duke leads us to the office.
The trooper remains standing next to the door. The Duke and Gaude pull up chairs at a large briefing table.
“Sit,” he says.
I obey; he has that voice. I resent its power deeply, and I have to put that to one side. I’m here applying for employment, unappealing as he seems as a boss. It’s not the way he looks that concerns me; he’d be considered handsome by some, in a brooding sort of way, even with the scar. But I can still feel the sensation of him inspecting me on the coastal path yesterday. There’s a sense of entitlement and ownership he gives off.
I don’t know where the boundaries are, here in Welarvon.
On the other hand, my options are limited and I need to mind my manners; I’m officially still under some sort of arrest, for a start.
I open my mouth to speak, but he stops me with a gesture.
“Before you thank me, you need to be aware that little of today’s effort was intended for your direct benefit.”
I swallow, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“You are due thanks, and I take this opportunity to pass on Lady Emblyn and Lord Marik Roscarrow’s sincere thanks for your actions, without which Marik would almost certainly be dead.”
Their thanks, not his. Okay.
I just nod.
“I travelled today to the Central District solely for the purpose of reacquiring my aircraft, which is needed for personal business this week. During the long journey from Bandry, I was advised of a legal loophole that could reduce the level of fines I potentially face over this incident.”
I had hoped he’d got everything squashed, but it sounds like I’m going to cost him a lot of money. This is not good.
Gaude takes over, voice dry as dust: “It turns out that being able to prove you are qualified pilot, albeit unlicensed at the time, negates one set of charges with their substantial fines. In order to take advantage of this, it was necessary to extract you from the jail and submit you to an examination. This does not in any way indicate that an arrangement exists between us.”
Nothing to do with concern over my welfare. Or my situation that came about entirely from trying to help. As much as I attempt to control it, I cannot stop the anger.
I stand and lean over the table. “Thank you so much, I’m touched by your concern. I really don’t understand you people. You’re acting as if I’ve gone out of my way to cause trouble for you.”
Gaude blinks in surprise at the way I’m talking to him. Did he expect me to just sit there and take it? With that no arrangement comment, he’s just admitted there’s no chance of employment for me here now, so there’s no reason to keep myself in check.
“On the contrary,” I say, warming up, my voice rising and rising. “I found myself in Bandry with no easy way to get to you because your authorities can’t even keep the roads in good repair. Instead, I have to walk the entire way. Star’s sake! What year is this? Then I get here and save a life by flying Lord Roscarrow to hospital and the thanks I get is to be arrested and treated like a criminal. I can understand the police in Central are doing their job, as they see it, but you—you’re treating me like a criminal as well.”
Now Gaude’s standing too, and we’re nose-to-nose over the table.
The Duke has a look like thunder on his face, and I belatedly remember that he is the ‘authorities’, and I’ve just insulted him about the state of his roads.
Well, with good reason.
“We’re treating you like a criminal, are we?” Gaude yells.
He throws ID cards down on the table as if we’re playing a bizarre game. It’s my ID, credit and employment cards that I left in my duffel bag here at Stormhaven when I flew to the hospital.
“How appropriate!” He emphasizes every sentence by stabbing at my collarbone with his finger. “What do you think Central Police would have done if they knew you had fake ID? Eh? You think we’d have been able to get you out then? Who the hell are you, really?”