THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION — snippet 20

 

THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 20:

 

 

            The cramped interior of the cockpit seemed like bedlam to Denise.

            “Jesus, Lannie, you bombed my sister! You bombed my sister!” Keenan kept screeching, in blithe disregard for the fact that he’d been the one who’d actually released the weapon.

            Naturally, Lannie’s response was to shift the blame himself. “She told me to it! She told me to do it!” was his contribution.

            “Shut up, both of you!” was Denise’s own, trying to settle them down.

            In retrospect, she’d admit to her best friend Minnie—nobody else—that she probably should have kept concentrating on the “navigating” side of the business.

            Eventually, it did occur to her that she ought to see where they were going.

            “Lannie!” she screeched.

****

            “Fascinating,” murmured Janos. He’d always wondered how fragile the devices were. Now, seeing one of the plane’s wings partly-shredded by its impact with a mere tree limb—a large tree, granted—his longstanding guess was confirmed.

            As was his determination to remain a cavalryman. Say what you would about the stupid beasts, horses were rather sturdy. Nor did they move at ridiculous speeds, nor did they keep a rider more than a few feet from the ground.

****

            “Jesus, Lannie, you wrecked the plane! You wrecked the plane!” was Keenan’s current contribution, even more useless than the last.

            Shut the fuck up!” Denise hollered. “Just concentrate, Lannie. You can do it.”

            Fortunately, Lannie had left off his own shouting. Now that he was in a crisis, his pilot’s instincts had taken over.

            “We’re going in, guys,” he said. “Can’t do anything else.”

            Even to Denise, it was obvious from the damage suffered by the wing on her side that he was right. “You can do it, Lannie,” she said calmly. “And we got a big wide meadow here.”

            Lannie’s grin was as thin as a grin could get, but she was relieved to see it. “Just better hope we don’t hit a gopher hole. Got no way to retract the landing gear.”

            “There aren’t any gophers in Europe,” she said, in as reassuring a tone as she could manage.

            “Yeah, that right,” chimed in Keenan from the back. “No ground hogs, neither.” Thankfully, he’d left off the screeching.

            Denise saw no reason to voice aloud her firm conviction that there were probable umpteen thousand things that could produce holes in a meadow. All but two of which did exist in Europe.

            They’d be coming down in a few seconds. Lannie did have the plane more or less under control. Hopefully it’d be a crash landing they could walk away from, if nothing caught fire or—

            “Drop the other bomb, Keenan!”

            “Huh?”

            “Drop the fucking bomb!”

            “Oh. Yeah.”

****

            Watching, Janos didn’t wonder for more than an instant why the up-timers had committed the seemingly pointless act of bombing an empty patch of meadow. Judging from the way the first bomb had exploded, the devise had been detonated by a contact fuse, probably armed by the act of releasing it. Not the sort of thing any sane man wants to be sitting atop when he tries to crash an aircraft as gently as possible.

            The plane came down. And confirmed once again Janos’ long-standing conviction that plans and schemes and plots are just naturally prone to crashing.

****

            “Oh, hell,” said Noelle. At first, she’d thought that the plane had come down safely. Almost as if it were landing on a proper airfield. Then—one of the wheels must have hit an unseen obstruction—she saw the still undamaged wing dip sharply and strike the ground. The plane skewed around, tipped up on its nose—please God, don’t let that propeller come apart in pieces and chew anybody up—and seemed to balance precariously for a moment.

            Then it looked as if the plane just more or less disintegrated into its component parts. The newly-damaged wing broke off, the fuselage tipped and rolled, and the plane flopped down on its side. Most of the other wing broke off, as did part of the tail assembly when it hit.

            Still…

            There was no explosion. No flames. People had walked away from car crashes worse than that.

            “Just wait for me, Eddie,” she said. “And don’t move. Your arm’s busted.”

            She got on her horse and headed for the crash site.

****

            Janos pointed to the enemy cavalryman still on the ground by the remains of the wagon.

            “Gardiner, see to him. Keep him under guard, that’s all. Do him no harm unless he attacks you. Gage, follow me.”

            He set off after the other cavalryman, toward the downed plane.

            “What are we going to do?” asked Gage, loud enough to be heard over the sound of the cantering horses.

            “Seize them and take them with us, any who survived. What else can we do? I don’t think this is a reconnaissance patrol from a larger force following them. They wouldn’t have sent just two men for that purpose. I’m not certain, but I think these are operating alone. If we let any of them go—and there’s at least one of them in good condition—they’ll take the alarm to Hof. Two bomb explosions, a crashed warcraft, even the sorriest garrison in Creation will react to that.”

            Gage was silent for a moment. Then, as Janos expected, he raised the other obvious alternative.

            “We could kill them.”

            “Oh, splendid,” said Janos. “Just what Austria needs. Half our army is facing Wallenstein on the north, most of the rest is facing the Turks to the south—and we ignite a new war by committing a pointless massacre.”

            “It was a thought,” said Gage mildly. “Probably not a good one, I admit.”

            Drugeth’s irritation with the Englishman was only momentary. He’d considered that solution himself. But he still had hopes they could complete this adventure without the sort of drastic measures that would trigger off an explosive reaction from the USE.

            Firmly, he ignored his own hard-gained wisdom on the subjects of plans and their likely outcomes.

 

 

About Eric Flint

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