City of Rangda — Central Rangda
Over the skies of Central Rangda the old Stork biplane transport flew unmolested. Not a round of flak soared to meet it as it headed for its destination. Even as the 8th Division began to spread, taking up positions around Ocean Road and encroaching on their old base, they did not intercept the Stork flying over their heads. Rangda was still locked in a state of phony war, despite the blood already in Madiha Nakar’s hands.
Until a tactical unit of the 1st Motor Rifles Regiment fought a real 8th Division counterpart it seemed the city would remain silent in the night. Neither side had achieved the correct conditions to make war on the other. There were leadership disruptions on both sides that exacerbated this.
Madiha had to get to her base and make her preparations.
But she found her body betraying her. As she tried to escape Sergeant Agni’s ministrations she found her arms jelly-like and her legs unstable. There was no way she could stand on the plane by herself; perhaps not even on solid ground. Her eyes were still hazy, and her thoughts muddled.
“Colonel, I’ll help you sit up. Move with me.”
Sergeant Agni helped Madiha slide away from the side-door of the plane and toward the opposite wall of the hull. She sat her up, and administered a syrette of morphine before cracking open a medic’s bag. There were bandages and gloves and shears and dozens of packets and bottles of medicines inside. Madiha breathed deep in regular intervals and tried to remain conscious and to occupy her flagging mind. Even before the effects of the morphine she had already lost the feeling of pain; she was too dizzy and exhausted to feel the shredded flesh in her shoulder too strongly.
She felt eerily disembodied, hovering into and out of reality.
“Colonel, are you doing alright?”
From the door to the cockpit the pilot stuck out her head briefly.
Logia Minardo, wearing a pair of goggles.
Her appearance gave Madiha a needed jolt of outside stimulation.
“I thought you were airborne assault?” Madiha strained to shout.
Minardo cracked a little grin and returned to the pilot’s seat.
“Well, that doesn’t mean I can’t fly!” Minardo shouted back. She had to beat the sound of the rattling hull and the thrumming engine in order to be heard. Despite her casual attitude she had a great command of the plane. They were flying steadily, and the daring maneuvers Madiha witnessed during her rescue where nothing short of masterful.
“So did you start out as a pilot or as infantry?” Madiha asked.
“We’ll discuss it some other day!” Minardo replied. “Get some rest!”
She waved her hand out of the door and turned her attention fully back to flying the plane. Madiha smiled to herself, feeling strangely cosseted. Minardo could take care of things; she had proven herself very reliable.
After minutes of picking through a pack, Agni returned.
“I have gauze.” She said, holding up a roll.
From her clumsy grip it unfurled and trailed around the floor.
Madiha shook her head. “Give me a stimulant. I’ll handle the rest.”
“I don’t follow.”
She would have to do without the stimulant then.
Without warning the Colonel lifted a hand to her shoulder, and with her teeth grit and her eyes wincing, she thrust a finger into her own wound, causing blood to gush and flesh to rip. Agni was alarmed, and reached out to stop her, but Madiha was not rummaging in the wound. She imagined the lead that had to be embedded in her body, and pulled on it mentally.
She felt pangs of cutting pain as she clumsily led the metal to the surface.
Blood seeped from the wound, inadvertently pulled on by her thoughts.
Even through the warming haze of the morphine she felt terrible pain.
Soon as Agni’s arms seized Madiha’s own and forced her hand free of the wound, the gloved, bloody fingers that came out carried a deformed lead penetrator between them. Madiha dropped the artifact on the floor, and felt a subdued, cold pain in her now more terribly mutilated shoulder.
“Now you can close it up.” Madiha moaned. Her breath started to leave her lips at involuntary, irregular intervals, her injury causing her to gasp.
“That’s easier said than done now.” Agni replied.
She started cutting Madiha’s clothes open with the shears, and then applied a clotting powder, compress and bandages. Madiha saw the world then as if through a waterfall, and could hardly make out Agni’s shape wavering in front of her. Her arms grew heavy, and her whole body felt the effects of gravity much more strongly than before. She was growing weak.
“We will need a medic to sew it. I dare not do so.” Agni said.
“Thank you, Agni.” Madiha whimpered.
“Never tamper with your wounds again.”
Despite her monotone voice Agni was sounding brusque and angry.
Madiha nodded weakly. “I promise.”
She could not truly promise it; if the situation required, she could even burn the wound closed. She could have done it then, had she trusted herself with the task. And had Agni turned away from the sight. Madiha was not sure how much she wanted anyone to know about her power.
Von Drachen knew, but the less anyone else did, the more he looked crazy.
“Base is in sight! Prepare for a rough landing!” Minardo called out.
In Madiha’s ears those words gained an echo and became distorted.
As the Stork started to drop altitude, Madiha’s world turned black.
She felt the pull of gravity on her body in a way she had never experienced.
Her head felt empty and her whole body tight.
Though she had hoped to leave the plane walking upright and among her troops, heartening them for the battle ahead, her body had just been too tortured that night to continue. Without warning, she closed her eyes, and could not thereafter open them of her own volition. Madiha blacked out.
On the ground below, some of Agni’s engineers played the role of landing crew and waved signal flags for Minardo to descend. Between the aircraft’s departure and return, the crew had stamped out another improvised runway in the middle of the tank course, one longer, softer and farther away from any collateral objects than the strip they previously used.
A series of reflectors on the ground gave Minardo something to aim for. She gradually began to cut her speed and altitude and maneuvered the Stork into position, aiming it like a lumbering bolt to the target below. Winds buffeted the craft, and it shook and protested as its descent began in earnest. Minardo grabbed hold of the flight stick with all her strength.
She had not flown in years, but that had neither given her pause nor impeded her. Colonel Nakar needed her to fly and she had flown.
Minardo never forgot the sense of being in the air. She would dream of flying, of feeling again the weight of her craft as it sliced through the skies, of sensing the response of the vehicle to her various instruments. Now in the cockpit she was drawn back to those years of innocence, when the plane felt like an extension of her body, a limb regularly stretched.
It was not flying like a bird would fly; Minardo could not imagine what that could be like. Nor did she want it. There was something unique about flying a plane that gave her a thrill, coursing through her body, lighting a fire in her chest unlike anything. There was a sense of weight and strength amid the clouds that flying under one’s own power would likely lack.
Flying a plane was defiant — humans flew in the face of God.
It was awkward and laborious and, she discovered, still part of her nature.
All of the muscle memory returned. She expertly aligned the craft with the makeshift runway, gauged her altitude and speed correctly, and within minutes she felt the bump as her landing gear hit dirt. For a moment the friction startled her, but soon it passed, and the craft gently slowed.
There was a moment when the forces around her abruptly stopped.
She felt such a stillness then, such a sense of peace. She had landed.
In her duel with the sky, she had won.
And she had brought everyone back safely.
Not bad for a washed-up biplane ace in the age of monoplanes.
She turned around from the instruments and waved at Agni.
“Agni, cover up the Colonel with a bag or something! We don’t want gawkers finding out she’s hurt!” Minardo cried out. Behind her, Agni nodded her head and searched for a rain tarp and threw it over the Colonel’s unconscious body. It rose and fell with her breathing.
Minardo unbuckled her safety harness, too tight around her full belly, and picked her goggles off her head. For now the joyride was simply over.
After years on the ground, Logia Minardo had taken to the air again.
She had defied the wishes of someone very special to her.
She had flown and she had landed. The Stork may not fly again soon.
Certainly not with her at the helm.
Minardo stared in a trance at the controls before her, and at the lenses on her goggles. She thought she could see her, reflected in the glass. For so long, she had sat behind her in the trainer, and then in the liaison plane, and then in the two-seat light bomber. On the stork there was no partner seat behind her. There was just the hull cargo storage. She was alone.
Minardo stared at her own reflection in the goggles, waiting expectantly, waiting to hear her praise, waiting to have her affection. Waiting still.
“Did I do good?” She muttered to herself. “I landed her right.”
Behind her the side doors opened.
She shook her head. Those were fancies that had to pass.
Medics arrived from off the landing strip and brought a stretcher on wheels. Agni and Minardo carefully set the Colonel down atop the stretcher, covered up with the rain tarp. They ordered the medics to be discrete. Vitals were carefully taken, morphine administered, and the medics then covertly took the Colonel away to the base hospital.
“Go with them. Make sure she’s guarded.” Minardo said.
Agni nodded her head and ran after them.
Moments later, flanked by a pair of military policemen for protection, Acting Commander Parinita Maharani arrived on the runway. She stared at the Stork with a small smile on her face, and turned a congratulatory grin on Minardo. She stretched out her hand and Minardo gratefully shook.
“I have to admit, I doubted for a second.” Parinita said.
“I doubted too. That’s why it was a stupid idea.” Minardo replied.
She had feared she would enter the cockpit and lose all sense of what flying was like. But she soared over Rangda; she flew circles over the hapless men of the 8th Division. Flying had never left her even after her wings were taken from her. It felt reassuring, and oddly validating.
Parinita turned around and waved away her escorts. Both men complied.
Once they were out of earshot she leaned close with a cute little smile.
“Minardo, I wanted to thank you, before I went to see her.” Parinita said.
“What for? I’m just doing my job.” Minardo said, grinning like a devil.
Parinita waved a dismissive hand. “Oh don’t give me that, you.”
There was no use being coy; but Minardo just liked acting difficult.
That, too, was as much part of her nature now as flying. Maybe more.
“Listen, I just I want to steer naive young girls like you right.” She said.
“Well, you listen too: we’re only a few years apart! I’m thirty years old!”
“Yes, but I’ve lived a life twice as rich in experience as you, my child!”
Minardo pointedly laughed. Parinita stared sharply at her.
“Well then; anyway, like I said, thank you. If it means anything, I think that when you stop goofing around so much, you’ll make a great mother.”
Parinita put on a warm, innocent and friendly smile.
Minardo’s fiendish grinning intensified.
She shrugged in an exaggerated fashion.
“I’m not planning to be a mother, really.” She said.
Parinita stared at her with concern, looking at her belly for a moment as if there was something wrong with it; Minardo grew exasperated, took her by the shoulders and pushed her in the direction of the base hospital.
“Oh, forget me, Maharani. Go visit your girlfriend.”
“Minardo, are you really alright?”
“I’m more alright than the Colonel! Go check up on her.”
After that bit of prodding, Parinita glanced at her one final time before going on her way. Soon she disappeared into the gloom of the base, many of its lights shut down to prevent it from becoming too bright a target.
Minardo stood against the Stork and tried to savor the air a bit more.
She was grinning not like a devil anymore, but like a young girl herself.
She had flown! She had flown again, despite everything.