Part two in the Brangxi Airship serial. A follow-up to Brangxi Airship.
The orange-skinned elder bobbed his too small head. The slurring clicks gave the elder an impenetrable accent and although Terrance knew these might be important words for his article, his mind wandered. The natives had proven to be better at learning his language than he had at deciphering their confusing tone-based speech. He always said success came to those who envisioned their futures. As the elder droned, Terrance imagined basking in C.P. Scott's editorial admiration for this blockbuster story. He'd call the elder a Taoiseach -- an alien enough word for his readers but at least it was spellable compared with the Graklii native's mouthful.
The elder finished speaking, his head continuing to bob. Terrance pulled at his collar, the humidity combined with the oppressive heat made this place unlivable. The elder waited. "Yes?"
"Good, good." The elder handed a pair of goggles to Terrance. "Our Brangxi brethren fly not with the goggles. It is said they do not like the vision blocking. They mistake; the sun burns their eyes and the wind forces the squint. They do not see. In that, as in many things."
Terrance turned the goggles over in his hand, he didn't see an easy way to lengthen the strap. He shrugged and donned the goggles, which cut into his forehead. At least, they wouldn't fall off. He wiggled his head feeling goofy as he accepted the leather wings and steam-filled canister that the elder helped him strap to his back.
Terrance nodded one last time at the elder. He promised to return home, to end the munitions. Or at least he'd try. The pen was mightier than the sword.
He pulled the pressure-release on the nozzle and the force flipped him end over end before he managed to lock his elbows and begin his ascent. He paused, banking over the Graklii city as he cut the steam -- he didn't have much power, had to conserve it. Bombs, his people, had carved out black scars in the city. He didn't know why they fell and exploded like bombs, but it wasn't the joyride his compatriots expected. He leveled out gliding down towards the torso-sized flat leaves of the jungle surrounding the Graklii city. A touch of steam helped him rise upwards on the air currents as he followed the coast south towards the Brangxi portal.
The beauty stole his breath. White caps on a turquoise sea beating against black cliffs. An undulating forest where the trees towered above the floor in many layered levels with the tips of the trees flowering sweet sap dropping from the lips of their petals. No farms, no people. A no man's land.
He approached the steel-girder portal that levitated over the jungle. A Brangxi airship hovered in the sky with ant-sized wingmen flying around it like gnats at a holiday party. Terrance pulled the lever all the way open and the nozzle squeed with the edge picking up a crystalline chill. He zoomed through the air thankful for the goggles.
The Brangxi airship fired cannons at him. Black balls that flew through the air, falling past him to land in the jungle cracking against the trees and plowing paths through the vegetation. He rolled as he shot upwards.
A dozen Brangxi wingmen dropped into formation as they dived. Their line led directly towards him, cutting him off from the portal. Men twice his size with at least as much speed as they dove downwards. He shrugged to rub the goggle's amplification dial against his shoulder. The awkwardness of the motion caused him to wobble as he flew upwards while his precious fuel expelled behind him. Zoomed in, he noticed the Brangxi wingmen didn't wear steam tanks. He closed the nozzle turning the climb into a descent. Leading them in a chase.
The Brangxi wingmen closed, but as he swished over the leaves of the jungle he'd built up nearly as much speed as they had. He lowered himself so that he flew beneath the jungle's canopy twisting around a tree. He heard a crash behind him, but couldn't look as he concentrated on a barrel-roll to avoid a tree. The trunks flashed past and he hoped the crashes he heard behind him decreased the Brangxi's numbers.
When his speed slowed, he released the nozzle and leapt into the air climbing again, but this time no Brangxi appeared to engage him. His steam cut out as he neared the portal. He slowed. Silence replaced the whistling wind. A little farther and he'd be home.
A whisper of crackles. Terrance looked over his shoulder and a rope mesh fell over him. So close to home. The portal's opaque window just out of reach. The rope trapped him. He shrugged an arm out of his wing and grabbed his Swiss Army knife to saw at the rope's edge.
Part three: Imprisoned