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The triplane started moving slowly at first, then as the engine drank in the open throttle it started picking up speed. At the end of the tunnel the soft yellow light of the sky got bigger, faster and faster. The landing gear hovered off the ground, landing gear that included pontoons for sea landings. Alfred had to make quick adjustments to avoid hitting the roof as the plan started to lift.
“Where in the asteroid belt did he learn to fly a triplane?” Cried an astonished Kimberley.
Harold laughed, “Red Baron 2037,” he answered simply.
The plane zipped out of the launching tube and into a sky filled with hot air balloons. Alfred yawed, pitched, and banked to avoid colliding with them. He was sloppy at first but within minutes started to show confidence in his handling of the aircraft. From the gloftoons children could be seen pointing at them and making excited ‘o’ shapes with their mouths. The city of Pearl was shrinking away much faster than it is appeared to them when travelling there earlier that morning.
“Ok, now we’re escaped, where do we need to get to, Kimberley?” Asked Alfred.
“We need to reach a Vegani settlement, they live on the ocean surface. So fly down and look for one, preferably with a floating runway! They have some big trading ships that can accommodate an aircraft like this one.”
Alfred pitched the triplane down and started towards the ocean surface below. The floating city was beginning to look small in the sky when a burst of machine gun fire flashed by. A moment later another burst flashed by the other side. Harold looked behind to see two biplanes rapidly gaining on them.
“Uh oh… we can’t outrun those planes!” called out Harold.
“Oh can’t we?” Laughed Alfred, “make sure everything is secure and buckled in!”
Alfred waited only a few seconds before he pitched the plane into a nose dive. For the first time in weeks the trio experienced a brief moment of weightlessness as though they were in space again. Alfred guessed this sensation would be too uncomfortable for their pursuers and he was right, they pulled out early and he waited until the last possible moment. The triplane’s wings cried out in metallic screams from the strain of arresting the downward momentum, but they held firm nonetheless. The plane was so low that it was now skimming across the waters.
“Wow! That was terrifying!” cried Kimberley with a mixture of awe and displeasure in her voice, “but seriously, how did you learn to fly like that?”
Harold explained, “You alluded to it earlier. Because we lived in the asteroid belt we hardly ever got exposure to gravity. Thus we all needed to exercise every single day. The way we exercised was in rotating capsules with virtual reality sets in them. We had an extensive library of games which included Kung Fu Master 2050 where we had to fight our way to the top of an Asian castle to rescue a kidnapped girl. The game actually hurt us if we got hit, but didn’t teach us any combat moves. So we just made up our own fighting moves in order to over power the guards and rescue the girl.”
Kimberley made a ‘uh-hah’ sound when she realised why she hadn’t recognised their eccentric fighting moves. “So, a computer game actually taught you two how to fight and fly?”
“Yes, and to speak German too, Reichcraft was awesome. I’m the only person I know who managed to crack the one thousand years reign!”
Kimberley was still not sure, “but surely flying aircraft are different? How does Alfred know how to fly one manufactured on Proxima Minor?”
Harold smiled, “This particular triplane is a design produced in the year 2035 on Earth. During the 2030s there was a fascination with rebuilding old vehicles with modern technology and materials. From brand new steam engines, to paddle steamers, and to triplanes. A three seater triplane is rather distinct, and this was Alfred’s signature plane in our air battles. The Firefly One it was called in the game. It’s slow but very manuerveable and has a sturdy frame. We used to make jokes about how obsessed he was playing with this particular plane. Well, I’m still laughing now, just not at him anymore!”
“But why is a plane from a 2030s computer game here on Proxima Minor?”
“Good question, my guess is that when the planet started flooding the Aerons needed small, easily manufactured, lightweight, and efficient designs immediately so instead of developing their own they just duplicated the neo classical designs of 2030s aircraft.”
Kimberley nodded, it sounded reasonable, “I am just surprised that you two are actually useful for anything!”
Harold and Alfred both momentarily discarded the smiles from their faces, as Kimberley was sincere in what she had said. Then, the two of them simultaneously remembered the money and possibility of getting off the planet for helping Kimberley succeed. Alfred spoke first, “don’t worry Kimberley, we’ll take care of you,” and gave her a wink.
Harold nodded, “yeah, we might just be farm boys but we have a few tricks up our sleeves for you yet.”
Kimberley completely missed the playful tone of their voices and gave a simple smug, “Yes,” in response.
The plane moved rapidly over the ocean, for it was far faster than any 1920s era triplane. Staying so low to the surface of the water was making it difficult for the biplanes to spot them and pursue. However, by chance one of the pilots on the biplane had seen them and the two pursuers were moving into the trio’s six. Getting ready to strike. Meanwhile, Alfred had spotted what looked like a series of small metal boats in the distance. Figuring these must have been the Vegani he headed directly for them.
Machine gun fire buzzed passing the triplane on either side like angry wasps.
“They’ve found us!” Cried Kimberley, “do something!”
“Like what? They’re firing so often on both sides that if I swerve I’m likely to get hit by accident!” Shouted Alfred.
“Well you can’t do nothing!”
“Can’t I? They are just firing warning shots, what are the odds they don’t actually want to kill us? That they are too conflicted morally to just shoot us down? I reckon there’s a good chance they don’t have the stomach to shoot three people dead even if we stole a plane from them.”
“Oh my stars! You’re an amateur psychologist now too!” Kimberley squeeled nervously.
Immediately afterwards the next vollies of machine gun fire ripped into the wings on either side, the air was full of shrapnel, and Alfred had to clasp harder onto the controls.
“I don’t think you realise how much more ruthless people have become on this world since the calamity!” Shouted Kimberley.
“Just like you didn’t,” shouted Harold back at her.
Kimberley frowned, but before she could say anything more machine gun rounds slammed into the wings. This time a whole section of one of the right wings was blown off completely. Alfred struggled to keep control of the craft. Instinctively he cut the engine in the hopes that there was enough time and momentum for a soft landing on the sea before the wings came off completely.
More machine gun rounds buzzed past them.
They waited for the next burst which they were certain would be their last. When it came though it sounded different and from another direction. Kimberley thrust her index finger forward and pointed up ahead: the strange metal boats they were heading for had lines of bright yellow light emanating from them. Harold grinned, “it’s the Vegani, they’re firing at the Aerons!”
Sure enough, the gun fire from the Vegani boats was aimed exclusively at the biplanes shooting at our trio. Alfred turned down the thrust and proceeded to attempt a landing among the Vegani boats. The Aeron biplanes weaved and dodged in the sky unsure if they should return fire or retreat. However it was decided; the two pilots turned and flew away back in the direction of Pearl. Harold, Kimberley, and an exhausted Alfred cheered and praised the Vegani as they glided in amongst their boats.
The Vegani boats were far less uniform in design than the Aeron gloftoons. Most of the boats were large circles, sometimes squares, with a core about half an acre in size with two or three layers of garden beds full of crops. Each boat had several petals, which radiated from the core section. The square boats had four, while the round ones had between three and six petals. Each petal was supported by a pontoon underneath and often a rope net between the petals that people could crawl over. The petals appeared specialised for a particular function: solar power arrays, luggage storage, farming equipment, shelter, and defence. Solar power and shelter were the only specialisations every boat had at least one petal for.
As the plane pulled up next to the Vegani boats the adventurers were well aware of having multiple machine guns trained on them. Kimberley threw her hands in the air and shouted to them that we were all unarmed and had important news to share with them. The plane was tethered to a boat and the adventurers searched before being offered a seat around an electric campfire to explain what had happened. Kimberley retold her lengthy presentation to the Aeron guild masters, and several Vegani fell asleep listening to it. The sleepers were woken up when she got to the impossible part about how the Aerons wanted to stop her from sealing the rift. A suitable amount of gossip took place among the Vegani as food was shared with the newcomers.
Harold noticed that the Vegani food was of a higher quality than the Aeron food and the helpings larger. The Vegani explained to them how they were expert homesteaders and survivalists. They grew far more food than they needed and used it to trade with the other guilds who struggled to feed themselves. They joked how they sold their food too cheaply because they wanted to grow the populations of the other guilds and thus increase the market size for their produce. They had genetically engineered crops, and no weeds or pests lived on Proxima Minor, so they were able to grow enormous amounts of food. The Vegani showed off their crops which included tomatoes that grew potatoes on the same plant, and lettuce that grew parsnips and carrots as well. All the vegetables were fortified with minerals and protein allowing them to eat a vegan diet but still be in perfect health without too much meal planning.
What really impressed the adventurers were the stories they told. Reading, writing, story telling, conversation, and debating were the primary passtimes of the Vegani. They joked that they were part of a cult Epicurus had established over two thousand years ago on Earth. They were a jolly and fun group to converse with, even their children seemed remarkably precocious in terms of conversation. In the evening they closed up their boats; the petals closed in and they used them to cover their crops and belongings from the elements. Apparently storms were rare in this part of the world but heavy rains at night time could still cause incalculable damage. Harold, Alfred, and Kimberley were gathered together one more time before bedtime. There were no guild masters on board, but a group of Vegani elders wanted to say something to them before they retired.
“We have listened to your tales and story, and have concluded that you are people of good heart who mean to ease the suffering of this world. While we can appreciate that the investments the Aerons have made put them at odds with the interests of all our people. We, however, are unanimous in our support for your mission, indeed, we believe all Vegani share an interest in the success of your mission as we long to settle down as farmers again. Please fulfill your promise and close that rift for us!”
Kimberley blushed and didn’t know what to say, so it was Alfred who stepped forward and proclaimed they would not stop until they had closed the rift. Much cheering followed this pronouncement by the young man.
“Very good, we have radioed for a Vegani trading vessel to rendezvous with us so they can take you to meet the Comptoni, who we believe will give you all the assistance you require for the next stage of your journey. They should arrive here in the next two days. Until then you are our honoured guests.”
The adventurers thanked their hosts and then each retired to a different boat to sleep in it, as no one boat had enough room to fit them all. As each adventurer felt asleep they felt renewed courage thanks to the moral support of the Vegani.