Tales from Norlandia, Part 6

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Here is the fifth teaser from “The Rocks of Aserol.”



Engine burbling contentedly, Ralf’s flying machine burst out into the bright sunlight. Below him the clouds stretched out like a woollen blanket, hiding the ground. Underneath him and miles behind was the runway and the testing ground, it had not occurred to him yet to worry that he might have a problem in returning safely to earth. That was in the future, he had enough fuel for an hour or more of flight and who knew what would happen by then. And he loved to fly.

This version of the plane was even better than the one he had flown up to a week ago. Working tirelessly the engineers and artificers were making improvements to the design of the machine on a daily basis, helped in no small part by reports of the flying tests made by Ralf and his colleagues. What a difference from the early days, when lifespans were measured in seconds, when the first attempts at flight were an almost guaranteed death sentence.

Ralf had survived the first gas-powered aircraft and his remarks and suggestions had helped him reach the point he was at now. Instead of the open cockpit and the constricting woollen suit, helmet and goggles he was warm and comfortable in an enclosed glass bubble. Mounted atop a machine of wood, steel and canvas, he hurtled through the bright skies over the Northlands faster and higher than anyone had ever gone before. And unlike the balloonists, hung in baskets under their bubbles of gas, he was in control of his fate.

He looked at his instrument panel, a new innovation based on the scientific advances of his countries industry. Where before there had only been a compass, now there were gauges and clockworks of bright brass and silver that told him many things. According to their dials, he was five thousand feet above sea level and travelling eastwards at one hundred miles per hour. His gas guns, mounted on each wing were fully loaded and his fuel supply was at three-quarters full.

Movement to his left caught his eye; he was being joined by a Drogan. One of the fearsome flying beasts had spotted him and come for a closer look. Its body and long neck was vividly scaled in iridescent colour and the leathery wings flapped effortlessly as it kept pace at his side. Ralf had tried before to get the beasts in his gun sights but despite their size they were much more nimble than his plane and seemed to know by instinct to keep away from the position in front of the wings. Much though he had come to admire the creature, he was only too aware of its propensity for attacking people and animals.

He had an idea for a new tactic to get the Drogan into his sights, pushing the control column forward he descended until he was just skimming the top of the clouds. Checking, he saw that he was still being followed, the Drogan was thirty yards away to his left. He dove into the clouds and counted to five, pulling up again into the light he saw that the beast was still in the same place. Had it followed him into the clouds or had it merely waited for his reappearance?

He repeated the manoeuvre several times with the same result, the position of the Drogan never changed each time he popped out into sunlight it was there.

Next time, Ralf dropped into the clouds and as soon as he was enfolded in the murk, increased speed and turned to his right. He watched as the compass needle swung and as he approached the heading he had started from he lifted out of the cloud. As the last tendrils of cloud fell away he saw that his plan had worked. The Drogan was in front of him! Its head was turned to the right as if it was looking for the plane. As the distance decreased Ralf lined up the gunsight on the plane’s nose and pressed the red button on his control stick.

The craft shuddered as the guns fired and the Drogan flapped at the air as the bullets struck. Ralf could see them strike the scales; they made no impression as the beast stopped and hung in the air. Ralf flashed past and as he did it struck at him.

The jaws with their rows of sharp teeth closed on the tail of the plane. Ralf fancied that he heard them snap shut; in an instant, the hunter had become the hunted! His forward motion faltered and he started to rotate, his body slumping sideways. He thought he felt the plane’s tail stretching and wondered if it would rip away. He was now upside down and pointing at the clouds, the plane was in the grip of the Drogan and he was helpless.

In desperation he opened the gas supply and the engine howled. The sudden acceleration jerked the Drogan’s neck and it released its mouthful of wood and canvas. Ralf raced away and rolled the plane upright. As he returned to level flight he saw in the mirror that the beast was gaining on him and wished he had a gas gun facing aft. The approaching Drogan was large in his mirror and he was at full speed. He was flying away from land and safety with a diminishing amount of fuel.


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