Chapter 7. The Wild Blue Yonder



Kelly Aviation Facility

Near Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia


            Denise stared at the object that was the center of the proposal Lannie had just advanced.

            “No fucking way,” she pronounced.

            Yost shook his head lugubriously. “You really oughta watch your—”

            “Don’t fucking start on me, Lannie. Just don’t.” She pointed an accusing finger at the aircraft. “There is no fucking—or flibbertyjerking, if that makes you happier—way in hell I’m getting into that thing.”

            Lannie frowned. “What does ‘flibbertyjerking’ mean? And what’s the matter, anyway? It flies. It flies just fine. I’ve taken it up plenty of times.” After a two-second pause he added, “Well, maybe three times.”

            Denise scowled at him. “You said yourself. It’s a prototype, remember?”

            “Well, sure, but…”

            He let that trail off into nothing. The truth was, except for being a boozer, Lannie wasn’t a bad guy. And he did have the virtue of being a very loyal sort of person, even if Denise thought he had to be half-nuts to give his loyalty to Bob and Kay Kelly.

            Kay was a harridan, and Bob was… Well. Impractical. Not hard to get along with, but the kind of guy who simply couldn’t control his enthusiasms and seemed to have the attention span of a six-year-old.

            She looked around the big hangar. There were no fewer than four planes in evidence, all of them in various stages of construction—or deconstruction, in the case of two—and every one of them bore the label “prototype.” It seemed like every time Bob Kelly got close to finishing a plane he decided there was something not quite right about it and he needed to redesign it. Again. The slogan of his company might as well be The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good Enough—and We Can Prove it to You.

            The only reason he hadn’t gone bankrupt three times over, since the Ring of Fire, was because of his wife. For reasons Denise couldn’t begin to fathom, Kay Kelly seemed to have a veritable genius for drumming up investors and squeezing money out of the government.

            “I’m not getting into it,” she repeated.

            Alas, some trace of uncertainty must have been in her voice. The third party present detected it and pounced immediately. That was Keenan Murphy, the mechanic who was the only other person in the facility that day. The Kellys had gone up to Magdeburg to lobby the government for more funds, and apparently the office manager had decided to take the day off.

            “C’mon, Denise,” said Keenan. “We gotta help Noelle. I mean, she’s my sister.

            Denise almost snapped back, “half-sister,” but she restrained herself. First, because Keenan was giving her such a sad-eyed, woebegone look; second, because he was a sad-sack, woebegone kind of guy; but, mostly, because whether or not Keenan Murphy was a loser he was another one who had an exaggerated, irrational sense of loyalty.

            As did Denise herself, and she knew it. In her own personal scale of things, the way she judged people, that counted for a lot.

            She stared at the plane again, trying to imagine herself in it up there—what? maybe a mile high?—with a souse for a pilot and a low-achiever for a…

            “Hey, wait a minute.” She glared at the two of them. “I thought you said Keenan didn’t know how to fly.”

            “He don’t,” said Lannie. “He’s the bombardier. He’ll ride in the back.” He pointed toward the rear of the cockpit. Now that she looked more closely, Denise could see that there was a third seat there, behind the two side-by-side seats in front.

            Her eyes widened. “You have got to be kidding. You want me to be the co-pilot? I don’t know fuck-all about flying!”

            Keenan Murphy shook his head. “Naw, not that. We need you to be the navigator. I can’t see well enough, back there, and Lannie… well…”

            Yost gave him a pained look. Keenan shrugged. “Sorry, Lannie, but it’s just a fact. You get lost easy.”

            “Oh, swell,” said Denise. She ran fingers through her dark hair, starting to wind it up into a bun. No, hell with that. She’d just put it in a pony tail, like she did riding the bike.

            “Gimme a rubber band,” she commanded. With a sneer: “I’m sure you got plenty around here, for engine parts.”

            “Hey, there’s no call for—”

            “Leave it, Lannie,” said Keenan, chuckling. “I’ll find you one, Denise. It might not be real clean, though.”

            She looked around the hangar again. Bob Kelly followed the Big Bang theory of design and manufacture. Out of chaos, creation—and, clearly enough, they were still a lot closer to chaos. The area was completely unlike her dad’s weld shop, which was as neat and well-kept as he wasn’t.

            “Never mind,” she said, heading for the hangar door. “My bike’s right outside. I got some in the saddlebags.”



The Saale river, south of Halle


            “I ought to have you arrested!” shouted Captain Knefler.

            “For what?” demanded the burly boatman. Clearly, he was not a man easily intimidated by a mere show of official outrage. Not here, at least, while he was still within Thuringia-Franconia. In some provinces of the USE, not to mention the districts under direct imperial administration, he might have been more circumspect. But the laws concerning personal liberties were strict in the SoTF—and, perhaps more importantly, were strictly enforced by the authorities.

            The real authorities, which did not include any cavalry captain who thought he could throw his weight around.

            “You are part of a treasonous plot!” screeched Knefler.

            Watching the scene, standing behind the captain where Knefler couldn’t see him, Sergeant Reimers flashed a grin at the two soldiers with him. None of them had any use for their commanding officer. This was entertaining.

            “Oh, what a pile of horseshit,” jeered the boatman. He waved a thick hand at the three rafts now drawn up to the river bank. “Your evidence, please?”

            No evidence there, since the rafts were quite empty, except for some parcels of food and a few personal belongings. Unless something had been dumped overboard, the crude vessels obviously hadn’t carried anything down from Jena except the boatmen themselves and their travel necessities.

            Reimers’ amusement faded a bit. To be sure, there was no chance the boatmen had jettisoned anything, since they couldn’t have spotted the cavalry troop coming up from Grantville until it was almost upon them. Whereupon, Knefler had ordered them—with the threat of his soldiers’ leveled carbines, no less—to bring the rafts immediately ashore.

            Still, the captain was furious enough—he was certainly thick-witted enough—to order his men to start dredging the river for miles upstream. As useless as such a task might be, given their small numbers and lack of equipment.

            The problem was that while Knefler was thick-witted, he was not a complete dimwit. He knew perfectly well that he now faced a major embarrassment. Probably not something that would get him cashiered, more was the pity. But certainly something that would not enhance his prospects for promotion.

            The young American girl had told him the culprits had fled to the south, in language that was still a delight to recall. But Knefler had dismissed her arguments and insisted on following his own reasoning.