We are coming down to the finish of these snippets. There is a cover ready, we’re waiting on the printer’s approval of files for the trade paperback version of the book, and the ebook versions are all ready to go. I’m getting pretty excited about it, but I don’t know what I will do with my Sundays when there are no more snippets to post! Suggestions?
Tex meandered in, something I was learning was his speed. “You two ready?”
We turned and answered “yes” in unison. He grinned, and gestured toward the rear. “Ladies first.”
“No.” They both looked at me in surprise, that must have come out pretty firmly. “I go first, always, Bella. Part of my job.”
I was walking as I talked to her, and went into the back hall with a glance around, then motioned her to follow me. Tex trailed behind, a very amused look on his face. I was guessing the Alaskan princess was used to ruling this part of the world with velvet gloves. None of the men in her life let her pretend to be a delicate flower, but they all treated her like a jewel. I approved. The more I got to know this family, the more I hoped they weren’t part of this nasty business. But I couldn’t trust just yet.
Once we were onboard, I relaxed. Tex had the engine going and the plane preflighted. I was going to trust that part. I have no idea how to fly a plane of any size.
Bella buckled up, then looked over her shoulder at me. “Need help?”
I shook my head. I might not be able to fly one, but I had flown in one many times. She handed me a pair of headphones and I put them on, just as the engine whine rose to a higher level.
“On our way,” Tex announced and we began to roll across the tarmac, bouncing gently.
“So, where is Haines?” I asked. I hadn’t wanted to talk about it before we were in the air. You never knew when ears were perked in your direction. But the clatter of the plane ought to keep them from prying too much.
Bella answered. Tex seemed to be ignoring us. “Southeast Alaska. I have a great-aunt there. I’m not sure why Raven is sending us to Aunt Min, but I am sure we will find out soon.”
“How soon is soon?”
“Well, if we drove, it would take about eight hours. Up here, we can go the path the, er, Raven flies. We’ll be there in about four hours.”
“At least we don’t have to walk.” I find that my short stature sometimes has advantages, as I curled up in the seat. “I’m going to take a nap. If you can, Bella, you might want to sleep. Tex, please don’t.”
The tall man chuckled in response to that sally. I closed my eyes and let my mind drift, sleeping might not be an option, but I could probably achieve a drowse. My mind was going a mile a minute, like it always did, and sleep was difficult on a good day, which this was not.
I was awakened by a jolt. “Huh, wha?” I asked, sitting up. I had fallen asleep, remarkably.
“I don’t know what it was.” Bella answered me, even though she couldn’t have understood the words. I looked out the window. It was clear and bright, we had flown into the dawn.
“Not turbulence.” Tex was looking down at the instrument panel. “Should be smooth sailing. Bella, can you see if we still have a tail?”
Now I was really awake. “What?”
Tex laughed. “It’s a joke, greenhorn.”
I bared my teeth at his back in an angry grin. He couldn’t see me, I knew, he was looking out the window. Bella was looking out her side.
“What, did we run into something, up here?” I asked, looking out the window myself. The same direction as Bella, which meant neither of us were looking in the direction of the attack. One minute we were more or less straight and level, the next I was looking straight down at the frozen Alaskan landscape below us. Bella shrieked, and I let out a strangled grunt as I hit the end of the tether that was my seat harness.
Tex was silent, but once I had myself righted, I could see the look on his face as he wrestled the little plane back under control. Scared half out of his mind. I closed my eyes and opened the Sight. It was big, and close.
“Put us in a dive!” I shouted without opening my eyes. Tex didn’t hesitate. Good man.
“Bank left.” Bella gasped as he did that maneuver, and I guessed she had finally seen what was attacking us. I was more concerned with anticipating the big bird’s moves, and keeping us out of its reach. Without opening my eyes to look I couldn’t identify it, but I knew it had to be a bird, we were too high, and it was too big, for it to be anything else.
It overshot us badly. “Take us back up. Tex, get as much altitude as you can.”
I was still studying it with my eyes closed. I had seen this before in a lifeglow. Tendrils of black penetrated the light from the outside edges, clouding it completely in places. This was a creature with a parasite. Hag-ridden, they used to call it. Nothing I could do about it, that was irrelevant… But it might slow the natural reflexes of the creature.
“Dive!” I yelled as it looped back around and above us. I opened my eyes and grabbed the back of Bella’s seat. My gorge rose and I swallowed, hard, trying not to let the pizza come back out. In retrospect, stuffing myself was a bad idea. Tex added his own little fillip to the maneuver, twisting us around to the right tightly, almost throwing us into a spin before he straightened back out.
Bella gasped and pointed. I looked, and identified our enemy.
“Tex, do you have a gun? That’s a Roc. He’s bigger than this damn plane, and right now he’s toying with us. When he wants us down, we will go down.”
Bella twisted around and pointed. “There’s a box under your seat, Tex’s pistol is in it, and it’s loaded for bear.”
The Roc, looking like an overgrown Golden Eagle, glided alongside us. I could see him watching us. Birds aren’t equipped to smile, and still I could see his smirk. I fumbled under the seat for the box with one hand and unlatched my harness with another.
“Why isn’t it attacking?” Bella’s voice was shaking. I didn’t blame her. We were flying over lovely, snowcapped mountains right now, and there was a limit to how high we could go. Which meant the ground was coming up to meet us, and there was not a lot of room for error, much less a dogfight with a big bird.
“He’s toying with us. Roc’s tend to be sadistic SOB’s. How far out are we, Tex?”
“About thirty minutes.” The man’s knuckles were white on the yoke. I sympathized, and admired his fortitude in flying straight despite the bird keeping pace with us.
“So we don’t have long, and neither does he.” I looked back out at the bird. “How do I open the window?”
“You don’t open that one. Only the door windows open, and not very far.” Bella’s voice was more in control already.
“Ah. I’m coming up there, then.” I didn’t give them time to object before I abandoned my position, ripping the headphones off.
I scrambled over the seat, trying not to kick Tex, who grunted and leaned out of my way. This left me in Bella’s lap, as she squeaked a little in surprise. She flipped one latch and I got the other, and then realized this was going to be a challenge. The little plane was not designed for offensive purposes, the window opened at the bottom and swung out a few inches, then stopped. I could get the gun through it, but any visions I’d had of hanging out like a helicopter gunner were dashed.
“Tex, want me to shoot forward, or aft?” I could get the pistol out, but couldn’t bend my arm and hold it steady to shoot the bird, who was looking even more amused. The looks he was giving me were pissing me off.
“Aft,” he replied after a long second of thought. “Less chance of prop damage. Let’s do this quick, you’re throwing my trim off.”
“You have an idea?” I asked him.
“Yup. Brace yourself.”
I glanced at Bella. I was straddling her lap so I could aim out the window, my knees on either side of hers. She nodded, and grabbed me around the waist, holding on for dear life and essentially burying her face in my midsection. Damn, life was unfair. I didn’t have time for a reaction before Tex put us into a steep climb.
I held on tight to the gun, hoping this didn’t break my wrists. The bird peeled away and looped below us. I lost sight of it, then watched it rising rapidly up at us. I held my fire. The big revolver only gave me six shots. “What’s the plan?” I yelled to Tex, hoping he would hear me. The headphones were on my seat in the back, and the noise and cold with the window open were becoming overwhelming. I needed to get a shot, fast.
“Put it into a spin, and hope the wings don’t fall off.” He grunted and twisted the yoke, throwing us up and around. Only Bella’s arms kept me in place as the plane went over. The bird missed us, and I fired twice into the massive breast as he brushed our wing. The third shot went through the wingtip of the plane.
“Oops.” I muttered, eyeing the neat hole in the aluminum. The bird was spiralling towards the ground, a few feathers drifting in his wake.
Tex couldn’t hear me, he was focussed on pulling us out of the danger of slamming into a mountainside. I pulled the gun back in. My hands were so numb I was afraid I would drop it.
“Bella, close the window.” I managed, my teeth chattering.
She didn’t hear me. I shuddered and dropped the gun in between us as she looked up. “Sorry…” My hands just weren’t working properly. She grabbed the window latch and pulled it closed. Tex cranked the heat up. I was shaking now. I hadn’t thought about not having my coat on, I had taken it off to use as a pillow. Bella hugged me close, now that I wasn’t kneeling, we were face to face, and I could see the concern in her eyes. I was sitting fully on her lap at this point, and her body heat was delicious.
“Is it gone?” I could feel the warmth of her breath and hear the concern in her voice, even without headphones. I nodded, trying to control the chattering of my teeth.
“I don’t see it.” Tex was looking out his window, below us. “Not in the air, or down there, either.”
“I don’ think I killed it.” I managed through stiff lips.
“Well, as long as we scared it off.” He looked over at us. “You two gonna canoodle, or let me get back in trim?”
“I could go for canoodling.” I said before I could stop myself. Bella laughed out loud. She let go of me and carefully picked the gun up from between us. I blurted out, “Dear lord, that was a joke, you don’t need to shoot me.”