“There!” hollered Denise, pointing across Lannie’s chest out of the window on his side of the plane. “It’s them!”

            He looked over and spotted the wagon immediately. “Yup. Gotta be. Keenan, you get ready to unload when I tell you.”

            “Both bombs?”

            “Better save one in case we miss the first time.”

            Denise wondered if they actually had the legal right to bomb somebody, without even giving them a warning. No way to shout “stop, thief!”, of course, from an airplane doing better than a hundred miles an hour.

            “Why don’t we just call in their position on the radio?” she asked. “That way… you know. We could ask somebody up top how they want us to handle it.”

            “Well,” said Lannie.

            Behind her, Keenan cleared his throat. “The radio don’t exactly work. Bob took some of the parts out of it so’s we could—”

            “Never mind,” she said, exasperated more with herself than anyone else. She should have known better than to get into the plane without double-checking that all the details were up to snuff.

            She’d once hitched a ride with Keenan Murphy into Fairmont, just a few weeks before the Ring of Fire. First, the tire had gone flat. Then, after borrowing a jack from a helpful driver passing by, which Keenan needed to borrow because he’d somehow or other lost his own jack, he discovered the spare was flat. Then, after the still-helpful passerby drove him to a nearby gas station where he could get the tire fixed, they’d continued the drive to Fairmont until he ran out of gas. Turned out the fuel gauge didn’t work and Keenan had lost track of the last time he’d filled up the tank. She’d wound up walking the last three miles into town.

            As for Lannie—

            But there was no point in sour ruminations. Besides, what the hell. She had expansive opinions on the subject of “citizen’s arrest.” Why should the lousy cops get special privileges? If she’d heard her dad say it once, she’d heard him say it a million times.


            “Now,” commanded Janos. While Gage and Gardiner got off the wagons and untied their horses, he looked down from the saddle at the up-timers gawking up at him.

            “Wait here,” he said curtly.

            “I got a gun!” protested Jay Barlow. As if that needed to be proven, he drew it from the holster at his hip. “Way better than that ancient piece of shit you’re carrying, too.”

            Janos looked at the weapon Barlow was brandishing. It was what the up-timers referred to as a “six-shooter,” a type of revolver, which the man had drawn from one of those holsters Janos had seen in the so-called “western movies.” The ones slung low, for the “quick draw,” tied down to the thigh.

            Naturally, it was pearl-handled.

            With his soldier’s interest in weaponry, Janos had made inquiries during his weeks in Grantville. The man named Paul Santee had been particularly helpful on the subject of up-time firearms. On one occasion, when Janos had asked about “six-shooters,” Santee had explained the careful distinctions to be made between serious revolvers and the sort of “Wild West bullshit pieces” that some of town’s more histrionic characters favored.

            As for the wheel-lock Janos carried—he had two of them, actually, one in each saddle holster—the weapons were quite good and he was quite good with them.

            “Wait here,” he repeated firmly. The last thing he wanted was someone like Barlow involved. Janos still hoped the problem could be handled without open violence. Barlow was the sort of man who would lose control in a confrontation—and then miss what he shot at.

            Gage and Gardiner were ready. Both of them, from their long stay in Grantville, with up-time firearms. The weapons called “pump-action shotguns,” which were much favored by soldiers. They’d be loaded with solid slugs, not pellets.

            “Let’s go,” he said.


            “Abandoned,” Eddie pronounced. Given the broken axle and the goods strewn around the wagon, Noelle thought that as redundant a statement as she’d ever heard.

            She didn’t tease Eddie about it, though. She knew he’d really said it just to steel himself for the inevitable. They’d have to continue the pursuit into the forest.

            Feeling more than a little nervous, she studied the terrain ahead of them. The Fichtelgebirge was not only a low range of mountains, it was an old one. Erosion had worn its peaks down to round forms, with not much rock showing. As a barrier to travel it wasn’t remotely comparable to the Rocky Mountains, much less the Sierra Nevadas. It was more like the sort of terrain in most of Appalachia that Indians and early white settlers had never had too much trouble passing through.

            But as ambush country, it did just fine, thank you.

            Hearing a familiar and quite unexpected sound, she twisted in her saddle and looked up behind her.

            Eddie had already spotted it. “Look!” he shouted, pointing toward the oncoming aircraft. “The Air Force has arrived!”

            Her sense of relief was brief. She couldn’t really see what good a warplane would be in the situation. There couldn’t be more than one plane available. In fact, she’d thought the air force had all of their few craft stationed in Magdeburg or points north. Jesse Wood must have detached one of them to Grantville when he got news of the defection.

            One plane would be almost useless trying to spot a small party in the forest, and even if it did spot the defectors it couldn’t maintain the patrol for very long before it had to go back to refuel. By the time it returned, they’d have vanished again.

            As the plane got closer, what little sense of relief remained went away altogether.

            “That’s not a warplane,” she said. “It’s got to be one of the Kellys’.”

            Eddie squinted at the oncoming aicraft. “You are sure? I didn’t think any of theirs were operational yet.”

            Noelle shook her head. “Define ‘operational.’ Nobody ever said Bob Kelly didn’t know how to build airplanes. The problem is he doesn’t know when to quit. At any given time, he’s got at least one plane able to fly—until he starts tinkering with it again.”

            The aircraft was heading straight for them, no longer more than a hundred yards off the ground. By now it was quite close enough to recognize the details of its construction. The USE’s air force had a grand total of two—count ‘em, two—models of aircraft. The Belles and the Gustavs. Even someone like Noelle, who’d never been able to distinguish one model of automobile from another unless she could see the logo or it was something obvious like a VW bug, could tell the difference between either one of them and the oncoming plane.

            “No, it’s one of the Kelly’s. Couldn’t tell you which model, except it’ll have a name like ‘Fearless’ or ‘Invincible’ or something equally bombastic, but it’s one of theirs.”

            Eddie was still squinting at it. “You’re positive?”

            “Yes, I’m posi—”

            “The reason I ask,” he interrupted, pointing his finger at the plane, “is because it’s carrying bombs.”

            “Huh?” Noelle squinted herself. Her eyesight wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as Eddie’s. Still, now that she looked for it—the plane was close, and coming pretty fast—she could see two objects suspended underneath the fuselage.

            Those did look like bombs, sure enough.

            And now that she thought about it, the oncoming plane’s trajectory…

            “Let’s get out of here!” she yelled. “They’re going to bomb us!”