Feather and Fire

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The Adventures of Grant McSwain, Man of Intrigue, Daring Do-Gooder and Fearless Explorer

accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O'Daire, the Ginger of Galway and occasional fire demon

A high-pitched whine pierced Grant's ears and a constant thunderous rumble shook him awake. Strong winds battered his face, bearing a strange scent of lilac. He cautiously opened his bleary eyes, and found them safe behind a pair of pilot goggles. A leather cap with ear muffs strapped under his chin offered minimal hearing protection.

Far below him, snow-capped mountains formed a jagged horizon. Oh my God, I'm flying in an aeroplane.

A wide wing above and behind Grant shaded him from sunlight. On either side of Grant, four large piston engines hammered away, spinning propellers in front and behind their shaking frames. Centered above the cockpit, another pair of engines strained with effort. Several bullet holes riddled the engine on the left, and it sputtered smoke. The glass around the cockpit had broken in places, with spider-web cracks across what remained.

The plane lurched to the left, and Grant felt sudden discomfort in his stomach like a punch to the gut. Then a sharper pain struck, and he sucked in air between gritted teeth. Breathing brought agony. Something was wrong.

Teagan's rough-chopped, wispy hair fluttered in the wind, the source of the lilac fragrance. Grant would never admit it, but the hasty haircut of the Atuachan savages gave Teagan a rather fetching new look. How she managed to cling to feminine refinements on their forays into uncivilized lands was beyond his comprehension. Why she bothered also fell in that category. Who wasted valuable space in a rucksack on perfumes and shampoo where a bottle of fine whiskey could fit?

The stabbing in his gut throbbed. He gripped his side and the pain intensified.

Teagan turned her head back and yelled, "Don't touch it! You've been shot."

A foggy memory filled his mind—the German twins laughing over him, the one with the scarred face holding a smoking revolver, the other clutching a satchel full of Ixthacan artifacts and Vallarte's gold.

"He shot me?" Grant winced and shifted to a position he told himself felt slightly more comfortable. "That damn Kraut actually shot me?"

"My skill with medicine is minimal," Teagan shouted. "But I believe you're bleeding inside... and your intestines may have been perforated."

"That sounds like a foul way to go."

"It is. And excruciating as well."

Grant squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, and felt tears well up. "Thanks for the ray of hope."

"We can make it back to Caracas," Teagan said. "Master Roquefort might be waiting for us. Otherwise, we'll have to steal another plane."

Grant opened his eyes. "...Another plane?"

"Look at the markings on the fuselage, you overgrown baboon."

Grant craned his head to see the side of the plane. The black and white cross of the German luftwaffe shone proudly from the gleaming metal.

He settled back into his seat, surprised at a crippling wave of exhaustion from such a small effort. "The twins?"

Teagan struggled with some controls out of Grant's view, then turned to answer. "It's an Italian prototype, actually. Caproni C-A-90. Only one ever built. The twins' exploits on behalf of the Kaiser earned them enough money to get their hands on it, and they've added the latest technology from various aeronautical manufacturers. Synchronized machine guns, variable pitch propellers..."

She said some other terms Grant couldn't make out, and he stared at her through the blurry goggles. "When did you become an aviatrix?"

The plane shuddered and Teagan adjusted some levers. "I went with an RAF ace from the Great War for a couple years. Didn't work out, but I picked up some things."

Grant sat back with bemused chagrin and watched the thin clouds like stretched cotton floating past. "It's strange, Teag, but I never considered that you had a life of adventures all your own before becoming my assistant."

"Well that sword cuts both ways," Teagan said. "You were delirious when I helped you hobble onto the aeroplane. You thought I was some exotic dancer from Batavia. Kept talking to me about a night of cavorting and revelry in the East Indies..."

Grant opened his mouth to speak, then thought the better of it. The plane shuddered again, and he checked the engines, unsure of what to look for.

"Teagan, is something wrong?"

With the rush of wind, he couldn't be sure, but it sounded like she laughed. Then an engine sputtered and belched out black smoke.

Grant realized how much open sky sat between himself and the mountain peaks. At the same time, it hit him how little he knew about aeroplanes. "Should it sound like that?" He tried to keep his voice calm, but his white knuckles gripped the edge of his seat. "What's the problem?"

"Several problems, in fact," Teagan called back. "The cargo hold is too full, the radiotelephone is inoperative, and three of the six engines are damaged from gunfire. But really the issue is we don't have sufficient fuel."


"The crew was distracted with fueling operations," Teagan said. "It seemed the perfect time to sneak you onboard and steal the aeroplane. I'm doing what I can to glide us to Caracas."

She pointed at the smoking left engines. The four blades in back and two in front were turned parallel to the aeroplane's course of flight, cutting through wind resistance like knives. "The Germans installed the newest in variable pitch propellers, so I've feathered the props to reduce drag."

"Oh man," Grant said, racked with another throbbing pain. "The twins are going to be peeved you stole their toy."

"Scarface's brother didn't seem too happy about it after I got airborne."

Grant spun—and suffered another stab of anguish for it—then checked the cargo hold. There was no sign of any other passengers. "Where is he now?"

"The cargo hold was rather over the weight allowance..."

Grant checked the rack of tightly-packed parachutes. None were missing. "You jettisoned one of the twins?"

Teagan gave a sheepish shrug. "My mate from the RAF was an amateur pugilist. It seemed like a useful skill to pick up."

Grant shook his head in wonder. A few silent moments passed as he considered everything his assistant had done for him over their time together. "Teagan," he finally said, "I'm impressed. I realize I've often overlooked your contributions to—is that flame supposed to be there?"

Teagan's head whipped toward the left engine, with its plume of oily smoke.

"No, the other one," Grant shouted.

Tongues of fire flashed out of the right engine, and a thick white smoke billowed behind the wobbling aeroplane.

"I have to cut that engine too!" She pulled a lever, and the high pitched whine and rumbling ground to a halt with a sound of metal shearing on metal. The aeroplane dipped toward the ground and twisted into a spiral, pointed at the snowy slopes of the mountains.

Old habits returned, and Grant shouted, "I thought you were an aviatrix!"

Teagan shot him a glare through her goggles. "I never said I was a good one!"

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