PYRAMID POWER – snippet 32:



            They did, after a while, settle down to sleep that night in their jury-rigged bedrooms in Tremolo’s offices.


            Well, most of them. Bes, the protector, sat like a gargoyle, silent and unmoving on the roof of the building. Cruz felt genuinely sorry for any Pissant who might try anything during those dark hours. Bes would just take them by the scruff of the neck and give them a shake. It was a quick and efficient way of dealing with rats.




            But the night passed with no untoward events. So, the next morning, the dragons on flat-beds (“don’t want them flying in city limits”) and the rest in appropriate vehicles were whisked off to meet their airplane. The Air Force cargo plane would be landing at Midway airport instead of O’Hare, since that was closer. Nobody—certainly not the drivers—particularly wanted to be hauling two dragons all the way across the metropolitan Chicago area.




            Cruz was dead right. Once they got there, the dragons were not impressed. Not impressed to the point of open rebellion.


            “If the gods had intended us to fly in one of those devices they would have given us hand-luggage, not wings,” said Smitar, so convincingly you might almost think that he knew what hand-luggage was.


            “Besides, I want to accumulate those frequent flier miles. I can’t do that if I’m not flying,” said Bitar, showing that he too could eavesdrop without understanding a word.


            “It flies. You don’t have to,” said the misguided fellow they’d sent to organize this flight. “Now please get your animals in the plane, Sergeant.”


            “With respect, sir,” said Cruz. “They’re not my animals. And even if they were how do you expect me do that? I can’t carry them on my back.”


            “Soldier, if I needed your cheek…” He stopped because Bes had stepped between them, reached up, and pulled him down to Bes height.


            Bes had a plane wheel-chock in his other hand. He let go of the air force officer, took it in both hands and squeezed it flat. “I don’t think I can carry a dragon that doesn’t want to go either,” Bes said, “and I’m fairly strong. So why don’t you show us how it is done, eh? You get Bitar in and we’ll follow with Smitar.”


            He twisted the steel wheel chock into a pretzel. “Now. We’ll watch.”


            The officer stepped back.


            “Piece of advice, sir,” said Mac. “The dragons are a rare and protected species. And don’t argue with Bes. He’s got no respect for rank. No real understanding of it, in fact.”


            That, thought Cruz, was the understatement of a lifetime. Bes was a genu-ine god—so what did he care about the difference between a captain, a major and a colonel?


            But all he said was “Bitar, don’t eat him.”


            “Phtt. Too small and smelly,” said Bitar, tasting the fellow with his tongue.


            Now looking nervous instead of belligerent, the officer took a walkie-talkie from his waist-band. “Look. I’m just doing my job. But if you want to make it difficult, I’ll need some heavy equipment.”


            Cruz kept his face impassive and said nothing. When the low-loader device came trundling along, along with a team of burly loaders, the officer said: “Now get on, beast.”


            “Why?” asked Bitar, curiously.


            “We need to move you. Or we can hoist you on with a crane.”


            Bitar brightened. “Cranes are biggish birds. Do you mind having it plucked first? The feathers get stuck in my teeth.”


             He leaned over and took a small nibble at the lowbed-forklift thing. “Terrible flavor. Anyway, you’re supposed to carry me. Not put me on that thing. And I am not going into that flying machine. Not into its mouth.” He swung his tail, putting a twenty foot long six inch deep dent into the hanger’s steel door. Then he tipped the lowbed-forklift onto its side with negligent ease. The operator had to hurriedly clamber out of his little cubicle, onto the ground.


            Cruz took pity on the man. “Sir, can I suggest something?”


            The officer took a deep breath. “Besides telling me that I have just made a fool of myself? But it can be done, Sergeant. I’m not beaten yet.”


            “Yes, sir. It probably can be done. But Smitar will probably also knock the airplane apart if he doesn’t want to be in there. And they haven’t got a tranquilizer that can deal with the dragons either.”


            “Oh.” The officer studied the dent in the hangar’s steel door and the tonnage of his loader.


            Cruz cleared his throat. “Generally the dragons are pretty fond of food, sir. And you can reason with them. You could try bribery.”


            “You said ‘food’,” said Bitar. “Don’t tell me you didn’t, Cruz. I heard you!”


            “Yes, I did.” said Cruz. “You were just going to tell me about in-flight catering, weren’t you, sir?”


            Smitar licked his lips “Do you serve maidens?”


            The officer took a deep breath. “We serve nearly anyone, as long as they’re over twenty-one, and on the airplane. And I hear you’re going first class. Food and drinks on the house.”


            “Now can you put the drinks trolley back on its wheels?” said Cruz.


            Bitar did, nearly effortlessly. “Is it normal to eat on a house?”


            “Of course,” said Smitar. “Bigger than a plate, isn’t it? How do they get the house inside the plane?”


            It took a lot more cajoling and a substantial menu, with ketchup and hot sauce in industrial quantities, before the two dragons were persuaded aboard. And there was no way they were staying there without the others for company.


             The dragons filled up a lot of floor-space, and persuading them that they could not leave their tails out, and then strapping them down took even more diplomacy. It would have taken the dragons a few days to fly to Washington under their own steam. But it might have been easier.


            The rest of them were at least co-operative about getting on and strapping in, but finally they and a small mountain of dragonish delicacies parted with a sweating officer, and taxied onto the runway.


            “I need to go to the bathroom,” said Priones.


            “Tie a knot in it and pray the dragons didn’t hear you,” said Medea, nervously. “Otherwise they’ll want to go too.”


            That wasn’t a pretty thought. But it was only when they were coming in to land at the end of their journey that Cruz realized that there was another ugly thought he hadn’t had. Dragons need to eat to fly. They produced huge volumes of lighter-than-air biogas which made them bulge like oversize balloons. Liz De Beer said that was the only possible way they could get airborne. It was a smelly if effective solution to getting something really big to fly under its own muscle power.


            Only now they were stuck in an airplane with them. And not only was it not going to be nice to be here—that gas was flammable. It was also toxic.


            And by the looks of it, their in-flight greed had seen to it that the dragons were not likely to fit out of the cargo bay. Cruz, his mouth suddenly dry, ignored the seatbelt warning and went up to talk to the pilots.


            The co-pilot came and had a look. And then there was some very hasty consultation with the flight-controllers.


            It was not a text-book landing. But it was a wise one. So was opening the nose cone and the tail bay… and retreating a long way to a fire-truck while the C-5A rocked…