How George Met Chaucer
It was after the Kingstown Classic back in 22'. I can't remember who won that year, but I think it must've been Lance Cody because all of the locals were pissed. Islanders are real territorial and they don't like it when us mainlanders show them up at their own national sport. All of the bars on Port Street closed down like there was a funeral or somethin', and of course, there was no place on the Boardwalk that would serve a city boy like me a drink.
Which was a damned shame, ya see… because I was on vacation and if there was one thing I really wanted to do, it was to kick back in the sun and drink those fruity things that guys can't order unless they're on the beach.
Regardless of what you've been told, there ain't a lot of difference between Etone and Islanders, strictly speaking. The main pastimes down south besides thievin' are drinkin', gamblin' and fightin', all of which are time honored traditions in the Brotherhood. Even our cant sounds enough like Badowin that I figured I could easily convince anyone I ran into that I was from a neighboring rock… just out spear-fishin' or something like that. Only a real good ear can tell the difference between a Badowin accent and gangster talk. Of course, that's because everybody thinks soundin' Etone means soundin' like Mad Mack… and he was an Islander.
My buddy Stoner told me to try flyin' north a little ways, maybe to Caspia or someplace closer to civilization, but I was young and stupid back then. I thought I could pass for a local, and I wanted to experience the 'authentic' Badowin lifestyle… so I went south instead.
It was the smartest dumb thing I ever did.
Come to think of it, if I had taken my Stoner's advice, I might not be standing here now. And even if I had somehow made it through all the trials and tribulations of my life on my own… well, you wouldn't recognize me. I wouldn't be near as famous.
Yeah, you guessed it. This is the story of how I met Chaucer.
I'll never forget the first time I saw Katunwe. Out of the corner of my eye, there it was… the most perfect beach in the South Sea, white sands, crystal clear blue water and a little bar with a grass roof just on the edge of the jungle. There were a couple nicely-tanned ladies lying with their feet almost in the surf, and when one of them got up and took off the top of her swimsuit, I knew I'd found the place I'd been looking for all my life.
It was paradise.
Landing was tricky. The weather was fine as could be, and I gladly would've just gone right down in the ocean… but I was carrying my duffel bag with all of my clothes in it in my teeth. As a second choice, the beach would've been ideal, but I knew from experience that there were a few islands where the locals weren't too keen on dragons, mostly because of Vaeshinu, one of the Queen's sisters who'd gone a little crazy and started burnin' villages like it was the thirty-fourth century all over again.
And so I went for the trees, hoping to disappear as quick as I could dive out of sight. This was a bad idea for two reasons. One, I didn't have no room to slow down, and two, it made a lot of noise as I wound up plowin' a half dozen trees over. A lumberjack couldn't have felled em' better. Truth be told, I ate a ton of dirt and cracked my head real hard on the rock that finally stopped me… but don't tell nobody that. Us dragons are real particular about our flyin' ability, y'see. It's a matter of personal pride.
But just between you an' me, with the way that I crashed onto that island, I was real glad that I'd left my guitar back at my buddy Stoner's place in Kingstown. I would have smashed it into kindling for sure.
It took me about ten minutes to find all my shit, which was stuck in just about every tree that was still standing. I made myself a sort of non-descript human shape and then dug a little mirror out of the pocket of my coat and spent a long while workin' out exactly what I wanted to look like. I figured "big" and "local" would be smartest.
One of the weirdest things about being a dragon is that you actually get to choose what you look like. Most dragons don't go out as their real selves, since cities aren't really built for the big and scaly. Usually we make up one average two-legger appearance and stick with it. Two-leggers tend to be more comfortable when you look the same all the time, and they're way easier to deal with when they're comfortable. And as you can probably imagine, us dragons aren't in any hurry to get back to the old days of getting slayed by knights and having our homes busted into by angry peasant mobs with pitchforks. Even the few of us who were around eight hundred years ago are much happier living in the world of microwaves, radios, and indoor plumbing. Now that don't mean we're totally okay with pretending to be two-leggers all of the time, but it's sort of a cost-benefit kinda situation, if you catch my drift.
I was in pretty good spirits as I headed down to the beach. My coat and all my stuff was shoved into my duffel bag, which made it a little bulkier than I was used to, but I didn't care. I had a song stuck in my head that I'd heard on the radio and the air smelled like salt spray and fresh pineapple. Nobody looked at me funny until I walked into the bar. There was a stack of wanted posters on a table in the middle of the room thicker than an East Quarter phone book with a saber stickin' right through the middle of them – and through the table too.
A lot of Islanders are sort of indifferent about piracy, but that was the first time I'd seen something so blatantly anti-Imperial… and so I kinda stared a little longer than maybe I should've.
"Can I getcha somethin'?" The bartender asked. He was an old man with only maybe four teeth in his entire head. He had the look of someone who'd spent his whole life out on the waves, just fishin' and divin' for pearls. His dark skin was like tough leather, and his eyes had a certain glow to them… almost that True Brother look, the one that says "I've seen shit you wouldn't believe, not in a million years".
I liked him right away and I figured maybe I could coax a few good pirate stories out of him before I headed back north.
"Somethin' cold," I nodded. "You know how to make a painkiller?"
"Tch!" The old man laughed. "You want I should crack open one of these?" He held up a coconut for my examination.
"That'll do," I smiled slightly and closed my eyes, taking in all the sounds and the smells. I could hear birds and monkeys in the nearby trees and the distant sound of a steel guitar being played by somebody who knew at least the first part of "Margaritaville".
There were some people in the bar but not too many. I counted three young guys near the back who looked like local fishermen and two ladies by the window wearin' just bikinis and a lot of gold jewelry. There was no door on the building, which mean that the mosquito nets on the windows didn't do a damn bit of good. A big-ass green bug landed right in front of me… but the bartender didn't jump, so I tried not to look too surprised myself.
To be fair, I must've seemed a little nervous anyway. I fucking hate bugs.
Still, the weather was so nice I couldn't get too upset. The inside of that bar was sort of like outside, a seamless transition of sunshine, salt air and jungle green. It was exactly the kind of place I'd envisioned when I'd first decided to come down to the Islands. Even the rickety old ceiling fan whapping against the ceiling sounded like music to my ears.
I would've been perfectly happy stayin' right where I was until the sun went down but as you've probably guessed... that's when things got interesting.
A little goat hopped up the steps and came right inside the bar. The bartender waved it off. "Git, git out!" He ordered. The goat put its front legs up on the stool next to me and made a loud, indignant bleating noise.
"I think he wants somethin' from you," I observed.
The bartender sighed in defeat and gave the goat a piece of fresh mango.
"You from the big island?" He eyed me suspiciously.
"Yeah, Kingstown. Why?" I asked.
"Thought you looked familiar. You're not a Le Roi, are you?" He pressed.
"Name means nothin' to me," I admitted.
He looked surprised at that, holding onto the glass he was passing me for maybe a minute longer than he needed to. "Do you know what rock you're on?" He whispered.
I took a sip of the painkiller he'd mixed. It was dead-on, the best I'd ever had. "Good drink," I replied, not answering his question.
"This is Katunwe, stranger," The bartender informed me.
I damn near spit my drink across the bar when he told me that. See, Katunwe's got a certain reputation. Namely, if most Islanders "dislike" city boys, the people of Katunwe outright hate em', even to the point where there's stories about tourists heading too far south and never coming back.
I guess that's not surprising. Among other things, Katunwe is supposed to be swarming with pirates. Taking a second look at the "fishermen" I'd spied earlier, I noticed that two of them were carrying guns. One had an older model Maglock and the other carried a nasty-looking dinged-up Beretta.
Pirates. I was surrounded by pirates.
"All right!" A woman's voice shouted. A shadow blotted out the sun coming in through the doorway. "Which one of you bastards took my boat?"
I could feel someone standin' right behind me, the cold steel of a sabre blade wavering a little too close to my neck for comfort and so I turned around real slowly.
The girl that was pointing her sword at me couldn't have been more than twenty, but she had the look of an old professional. The first thing I noticed about her was her eyes. They were so dark brown that they were almost black, the same color as the big, loopy curls that went all the way down her back. Her skin had that island gleam from lots of sun and cocoa butter and she was dressed in ratty cut-off jean shorts, and a Kingstown Classic t-shirt from 17' tied up in a knot. She was showing almost as much skin as the ladies on the beach, but while they looked sort of soft around the edges like most Island women… the girl who'd just walked into the bar looked like she could knock the ever-livin' snot out of anyone.
A lot of Brothers get sort of defensive when it starts looking like a woman is about to kick their ass. But being a dragon, that kind of thing doesn't really bother me. It's not that I'm not afraid of women. It's just that I'm used to being afraid of women.
After all, most female dragons are real bitches.
"Look, I got no idea what this is about!" I protested.
"You're not Luther," she observed, seeming surprised by that revelation.
"My name's George." I waved slightly. "Nice to meet ya."
"You from Kingstown?" The girl pressed.
"Yeah," I lied again.
"The hell you doin' down here?" She demanded.
"Looked like a nice place to stop," I admitted.
"You fuckin' blind?" She wondered. "This rock's a hellhole."
"I like beaches," I shrugged.
"Well, you picked the wrong damn beach. Where'd you tie up your boat?" She asked.
"On the far side of the island," I replied. Seemed like a safe lie to me.
"Heh. That's Cavendash territory. You'll never get it back," she informed me.
"Why Mackenzie Le Roi!" A man in the back laughed. I hadn't seen him before, but when he stood he was impossible to ignore, at least as tall as I was and dressed in real, authentic pirate garb – a red silk sash around his waist and a necklace of shark teeth around his neck. "Are you suggesting that we Cavendash brothers would sink so low as to steal the only means of transportation away from a visitor to this here fine rock?"
"I'm suggesting, Luther… that you and all your brothers are scum!" The girl, Mackenzie replied. Taking a good look at the one she called Luther, I kinda understood how she could mistake me for him, at least from behind. "You stole my boat or you scuttled it, and I will cut of your fingers one by one if you don't tell me this instant where the hell it is!"
"Shut up, woman!" Luther snorted. "You've got no right to go making accusations like that! And anyway, I don't have a clue what you're talking about!"
The tone of his voice made it pretty obvious that he was lying.
"I got no right? I'm a goddamn Le Roi! My da was outrunnin' the Imperial blockade while your ol' man was still cleanin' toilets back on the big island! I'd be out sailing with him right now if someone didn't have to stay behind an' protect our docks from you and your shitbag crew!" Mackenzie snapped. "I know you cut the rigging on my Sea Urchin and now Mickey tells me my Banshee is missing!"
"Sea Urchin's your da's ship," Luther replied. He was clearly stickin' a knife in a sore spot, and the expression on his face said that he was lookin' forward to twisting it a little. "Banshee belonged to Gordon Price, as in the past tense. You ain't got no ship and you'll never have one! You just fix em'."
"I got my Holiday," Mackenzie paused. She was calm, and at the same time so determined, like nothing I'd ever seen before. Like a rock. When push came to shove, that girl was an immobile object. The rest of the world would just have to flow around her, because she wasn't about to back up one step.
Like most Brothers, I'd thought about starting my own pack once or twice before. I've always been a good fighter and I make friends easy… but I'm not the kind of guy that people just believe in, and faith is what you need more than anything else riding way out on the Waves. Sometimes I think that at that moment I caught a glimpse of the future, just out of the corner of my eye. I knew there was something to Mackenzie, nothin' I could put my finger on, but something real rare.
As my old buddy Cyrano might say… "The force is strong with this one."
"Fine, you got a piece of shit ship.," Luther spit on the floor. "You'll never get it running, and even if you do… there ain't no way your da will let you keep it. He'll sell it for less than what the parts are worth, don't think he won't. There's never been a bitch captain from this rock." Luther spit on the floor. "Never been no Spellcraft pilot neither!"
"That so?" Mackenzie snarled, shoving him up against the wall. She had the sleeve of his shirt in the same fist as the hilt of her sabre and held the other right in his face, her knuckles about an inch from his nose. I had no doubt that she'd punch him if he opened his mouth again. After what I'd heard so far, I kinda wanted to hit him myself.
"Well I got news for you, Luther! I'm gonna be the most famous Captain ever to sail out from this rock and you're gonna live to see it! Now where is The Banshee?"
"Freeport," he answered without hesitation.
"Freeport?" She lowered her fist. "Freeport?" She blinked in disbelief and raised her voice, almost yelling but not quite.
"Got a good price for it," Luther smirked. "Better than I expected."
"You sold my brother-in-law's ship?" Mackenzie demanded.
"It was my ship first," Luther replied.
"You bet it, and you lost it!" Mackenzie protested. "You can't just steal it back!"
"Of course I can. What are you going to do?" Luther sneered. "Call the Knights on me? Didn't think so."
Mackenzie didn't answer, not with words anyway. She punched him good, right in the face. Luther flipped his chair over backwards and landed with his back flat on the floor. Like a wildcat the girl leapt right on him and got in another two good hits in before the other guys pulled her off their boss. Luther gagged and spit out a tooth. His nose was bleeding and he looked real pissed.
And damn, that girl could fight! She kicked the one guy who grabbed her between the legs and busted the other one's face into the table… but by that time, Luther was back on his feet. He hit her good in the jaw and she fell over a chair. That was when I decided I'd seen enough.
I started to stand up myself, but the bartender stopped my hand. "Cavendashes and Le Rois. They've been fightin' over this rock for five generations. Ain't none of your business." He warned.
"It's three against one! That ain't fair!" I protested.
"Don't I know it. Poor, dumb bastards," the bartender sighed heavily. "Chaucer will whup em'. She always does."
Before I got the chance to ask him what he meant by that, I saw Mackenzie go for her sabre. Luther seized the sword that had been stuck through the wanted posters on the table and their blades clashed in a shower of sparks. She parried every attack he threw at her and then with a dramatic feint and a swift flick of the wrists, she caught Luther across the cheek with the tip of her blade. She was a damn good fencer.
Mackenzie bowed dramatically as he touched the blood dripping from his cheek. "You're cut, Cavendash. And since we're on neutral ground, I guess that means I'm done kicking your ass today. But when The Nick of Time gets back into port, I'm gonna tell Ol' Tigershark what you've done and make no mistake… you're going to pay for it!" She hissed, turning to walk out the door without a backward glance.
"Fucking whore!" Luther swore. He threw down his sword and grabbed his friend's belt, pulling the Maglock out of its holster and…
Well, that's when I did the smartest, dumbest thing I ever did in my life.
"Down!" I roared, shoving the girl out the front door just as a burst of fire blew out the bar's front windows.
"Shit!" I cursed. "Those are restricted-level shells!"
Mackenzie blinked at me in surprise. "What just happened?" She demanded.
"That Luther guy just shot at you when your back was turned. I pushed you out the front door," I said.
"Ya probably shouldn't have done that," Mackenzie paused.
Right behind me, I heard the distinct ka-click sound of something I hadn't heard in a real long time, not since the last Nakhet raid on Tributary City. All three Cavendashes were standing on the front steps of the bar. Luther had the sword from the table and the Maglock he'd stolen from his buddy, the other guy had his Beretta… and the third pirate was pointing a plasma rifle directly at my head.
"Run!" Mackenzie ordered, grabbing my arm and dragging me after her into the jungle. She was damned fast too, and I'm not exactly quick on my feet in human form.
As it was, I barely kept up with her, plasma bursts and fireball shells taking out trees behind us as we ran. We must have made it a mile by the time she decided to stop, only a little out of breath and still looking over her shoulder. I collapsed to my knees.
"What the hell is that about?" I demanded, pointing back in the direction we had come.
"Cavendash versus Le Roi. Oldest rivalry in the Badowins," Mackenzie replied proudly.
"He has a plasma rifle!" I protested.
"Yeah, and it's my plasma rifle!" She scowled.
"Your plasma rifle?" I stared in disbelief.
"Unhunh," Mackenzie nodded, climbing up a tree and looking out over the road below us. "I bought it broke and I fixed it. I shot out the windshield of Denny Cavendash's jeep with it last summer." She explained. "It must have been still on The Banshee when Luther stole it back. Y'know, you're pretty good at dodgin' plasma bursts for a tourist."
"I'm on vacation! I don't wanna dodge plasma bursts while I'm on vacation!" I protested.
"Don't be a sissy!" She snorted, hopping out of the tree and landing in front of me.
"I ain't a sissy!" I growled. "You're a lunatic!"
She grinned like I'd just told her how good she looked. I couldn't think of nothin' else to say and so I sighed and followed after her. We hiked about another quarter-mile without sayin' anything and then the trees opened up ahead of us.
Words don't really do the Le Roi compound justice. You think you've seen one pirate hideaway, you've seen em' all, right?
Not a chance. This was one serious operation. I'd been expectin' maybe one or two boats but there was seven or eight of em' in port, half of em' with pretty serious damage. I'm talkin' about boats that ain't goin' nowhere, not a million years… a whole junkyard of schooners, sloops and clipper ships. The main house was huge. It sorta looked like it had been a trailer once, and then maybe another sort of trailer on top of the first one and another one on top of that. Come to think of it, it kinda looked like a whole trailer park just stacked up. Different colors of paint too, and all sorts of garbage, tires… stuff like that.
I mean, there's hellholes and there's hellholes, right? Lemme tell ya, that place was a hellhole with a capital "H".
There was a big metal shed out around the back that looked like a Spellcraft shop, but there was no boat in it. It reeked like fuel when we passed it, and as we headed down the hill I saw why.
There was a river of blue running from the shed all the way to the middle of the yard where lyin' on its side in three or four feet of mud was a real old Da Vinci model Spellcraft. Now, I'm not a connoisseur of ships like some Brothers are, but I could tell that one was a beauty. They don't make boats with that kind of fancy work on em' anymore, and that's a damn shame. Of course, The Holiday didn't give quite the impression that she could have, lyin' on her side in the mud, but I took a good long look at her anyway.
"This, mate… is The Jack Robinson's Holiday. She's a Da Vinci 1560," Mackenzie grinned. "Love of my life." She added, running her fingers along the side of the ship's mana converter with a slight smile on her face. "Someday she's gonna fly me outta this dump."
"I bet. Ship like that needs a little TLC, but she'll take you anywhere you want to go," I paused. "How'd she get over here?"
"Broken fuel line. She went down on my first test flight out of the shed, and I ain't been able to get her up since. Don't know how it happened, but I'm bettin' Luther had something to do with it." She gritted her teeth.
"That guy's a real dick," I snorted, my nostrils burning just a little as I contemplated breathing fire. Strictly speaking, it ain't a safe thing to do in human form, but that don't mean the thought ain't sometimes tempting. "I'd like to fuckin' toast him."
Mackenzie gave me a look, and that's when I remembered that she didn't know I was a dragon. I just shrugged and she laughed.
"Never met an Islander like you before," she remarked.
"Yeah, well… that's cause I'm actually from Zenith," I admitted.
"Zenith? That's a helluva ways off!" She blinked in surprise. "I thought you said you came in from Kingstown."
"I lied about that. I kinda figured I wouldn't get a drink if I said otherwise," I laughed slightly. "I was at the Classic and I wanted to… kick back a little. Experience the authentic Islands."
"Heh. You got a drink Sam's, the Cavendashes shot at ya, and you just stepped in Spellcraft fuel." She pointed to my foot. "Looks like you have now had an authentic Badowin experience."
"Spose I should be thankin' you for that," I admitted.
"Yeah, well… I'll tell you how you can thank me," She paused. "Luther's probably already on his way up here and he'll be bringin' friends. I'm all alone right now. My old man and his crew are all out on The Nick of Time and my sister Mickey's working over on the big island."
"So you need help holding down the fort?" I suggested. "No problem."
"Can you shoot?" Mackenzie asked.
"Not for shit," I admitted.
"You a magic-user then?" She pressed.
"Nope," I replied, grinning slightly.
"Well, hell! What are you smiling about? After you knocked me out the door of Sam's place I was under the impression you could fight." She glared at me.
"Oh, I can fight all right!" I laughed, reaching into my duffel bag. If I was going to bust a few skulls, I had to put my coat on first. It's a matter of pride, see. Anybody who gets their ass kicked by a genuine Brother needs to know it.
My duffel bag was still looped over my shoulder as it had been since I dove out the front door of the bar, but it suddenly felt a lot lighter than it should have. Sure enough, when I looked down I saw that the zipper had come open.
"Goddamnit!" I cursed.
"What, what's wrong?" Mackenzie demanded.
"My zipper broke. I musta dumped all my shit while we were running." I pointed to my empty bag. "Hang on, I gotta find my coat." I shook my head, turning back the way we'd come.
"Hey! Luther will be here any minute and he will shoot you!" Mackenzie protested, following after me. "It's just a coat… whoa!"
I grinned when I saw what she was staring at. Sure enough, lying in a puddle of Spellcraft fuel was a familiar hunk of black leather. The only tag you could see with how it fell was the blue skull and crossbones of The Coven of Darkness… which was one of the most notorious packs in the multiverse back then. Some would say it still is.
"Yup, that's the one!" I picked it up. It was a little frosty, but the liner hadn't gotten wet and the rest would dry out eventually.
"You're Etone?" She stared. And of course, she said this like Robin might say "Holy fuckin' frosty coat, Batman!"
"Damn straight," I put my coat on, making sure the Coven's blue skull and the Gambit's ace-of-spades were real obvious. Even as hot as it was, I wasn't about to take the chance of losing the only possession I owned besides my guitar that was worth anything. "You really set on fighting these guys?"
"You got a better idea?" She demanded.
"Yeah. We run," I replied.
"Where to? There ain't nothin' in port here that'll sail. Not since Luther stole The Banshee." She shook her head. "Hey, wait! What about your boat? Didn't you say it was over on the Cavendash side of the island?"
"I kinda lied about that too. I don't have a boat. I flew in," I turned around so that she could see the back of my jacket.
"The Dragon?" She observed. "Really? No shit. You breathe fire?"
"Well, that's a little harder than you humans seem to think it is," I admitted. "Yeah, I can breathe fire… but I'm not bulletproof and if I'm gettin' shot at, I don't wanna accidentally torch your house or nothin' like that. I was thinkin' I would just fly us outta here. You'd have to hang on tight and wear my coat for me, but I'm fast enough in the air and I know I can get as far as Kingstown."
"It's a bad idea," Mackenzie shook her head. "Not that I don't appreciate the offer, but if we ain't here guardin' it, Luther will trash my ship again. I've been piecing this thing together for five years! It's almost done now, it just needs…" Mackenzie trailed off into silence and then grinned. "Heh. Hell, we can do without that! You pull the shipout of the mud and I'll do the shootin'." She ordered, loading a Maglock that she seemed to have pulled right out of thin air. I didn't ask what the shells were, but I figured they were explosive, and probably restricted-level.
"I don't know what you've been told, but I'm not that strong!" I shook my head. "And even if I did get some good wind, I still can't fly very far with nothin' weighing more than a thousand pounds!" I informed her, thinkin' that she expected me to carry the Spellcraft to Kingstown.
"Yeah, and my Holiday weighs a lot more than that!" She laughed. "I didn't mean you should pick her up, dragon! What I meant was, can you drive a truck?" She dangled a set of keys in my face.
Three minutes later, I was in the driver's seat of an old pickup, revving that engine for all it was worth, a couple of chains wrapped around the frame and hooked to the side of Mackenzie's ship. The Spellcraft pulled free of the mud just as the first couple plasma bursts came over the top of the hill.
"Yeeeeehhaaaaaaaa!" One of the Cavendashes shouted. Luther was driving an old primer-gray Camaro with a Jolly Roger on the hood, and behind him was a jeep with no windshield and eight more guys in it. One of em' had the plasma rifle, a couple had Maglocks and the rest were carrying shotguns. A bullet took out the one remaining side-mirror of the truck I'd been using to pull up the Spellcraft and I dove out of the driver's seat as a plasma burst followed.
Mackenzie fired six rounds of incendiaries, missed with all of em' and then hopped right up onto her ship. Following her lead, I scrambled up onto the deck of The Jack Robinson's Holiday and the two of us pulled down all of the sails. I'd been on the deck of a Spellcraft before, but only once. Dropping sails was the extent of what I could do without instructions.
"You know how to fly?" She demanded, grabbing me by both shoulders and shaking me real hard.
"No!" I stared at her.
She laughed at me, and then I realized what was so dumb about what I'd just said.
"No, I don't know how to fly a Spellcraft!" I corrected.
"Well then. This'll be real fun," she hopped into the Captain's seat. "Now I'm gonna count to three. And when I say three, I want you to pull that red lever." She pointed.
"What's it do?" I asked.
"Look, we don't got time for this! One!" She counted.
A plasma burst shot right through our mainsail. The mana converter kicked up with an angry sort of rumble, blowing stinking raw fuel everywhere. The Cavendashes stopped firing and just sort of stared up at us like they kinda figured we were about to blow ourselves into orbit. That was about what I thought myself.
I gripped up on that red lever, not knowing what it would do, waiting for her to make the call and praying we weren't about to die.
"Three! Pull it! Pull it now!" She ordered.
The force we took off with knocked me flat on my back, and Luther and his buddies were doused in so much fuel that they looked like a bunch of snowmen standing on the beach and shootin' guns in the air. Katunwe disappeared behind us and we shot off across the water with a speed that was definitely not legal.
When we were clear of the plasma bursts, I heaved a sigh of relief.
"Holy shit, we did it!" I laughed. "So… where to, Captain?"
"Anywhere we want," Mackenzie grinned. "Maybe I'll drop you in Zenith. We got enough fuel to make it to Caspia without a pit-stop. Which is a good thing, cause it'll take me about four hours to get us some brakes."
"Hold on. We don't have brakes?" I stared.
"Nope. And no hover gear either. We can't land, and right now we got less than a fourth a tank of fuel." She grinned wickedly. "What are you givin' me that look for? You're Etone! Don't you got a sense of adventure?"
"Jeez, you got more than enough for both of us! How many times have we almost been killed today?" I demanded.
"Oh, come on! Have a little faith! We'll be fine!" She elbowed me. "There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will." Mackenzie recited, looking out over the horizon.
I was impressed. "You know Shakespeare?"
"Heh. I know Shakespeare, I know Spenser… I know all of em'. My ma kept all sorts of books and she taught me how to read em' when I was small. I memorized the first part of The Canterbury Tales when I was eleven. That's how I got my nickname," she explained.
"Oh?" I was genuinely curious.
"Yeah." She grinned. "Chaucer."
"Nice. Never would've pegged you for somethin' like that," I smiled slightly. "Y'know, I'm a big fan of Shakespeare myself. I used to do some theatre when I was in high school. And I got a friend who goes by the name "Dante" I think you oughta meet."
"Dante and Chaucer, hunh? Sounds like we oughta start a club!" Chaucer laughed.
She'd been joking, but I'd heard something else in those words… something I hadn't heard in a sore long time. It was the glorious sound of possibility.
"Well, I also know a "Cyrano" and a "Kiss-Me-Kate". Y'know, like in "Taming of the Shrew"?" I added. "And there's a Brother who runs with The Gambits who calls himself "Quixote". How many people do you need to fly this thing right? Eight? Ten? I could get you six right now if that'd be enough." I tapped my link.
Chaucer blinked in surprise as she saw that the "wristwatch" I was wearing was runnin' in reverse and then she smiled, maybe remembering that all Etone "watches" are actually "links" used for trackin' dimensional flux and talkin' to folks in-between realms, not keepin' time. "Should I have em' meet us in Zenith?"
"You serious about this?" Chaucer grinned.
"Ain't you?" Our eyes met. "Whaddya say? Still set on bein' the best pirate in the Islands?" I asked.
"Y'know… I'm startin' to think a little bigger. How about "best pirate"?"
"In this Realm?" I suggested.
"Best pirate ever," Chaucer replied.
I've known a lot of Etone in my time, a lot of Brothers and Sisters who just seem to make the world bend around them in a way that would make ol' Mad Mack proud. I've been a lot of strange places and seen a lot of crazy things. But right before I met Chaucer I'd started to feel like I'd used up my share of "the magic", like nothin' could ever remind me of why I started runnin' in the first place. But Chaucer made me remember, and out there flyin' with her, I felt like I was just startin' out all over again.
There's an old saying us dragons have. I don't think anyone knows who said it these days, but that don't make it less profound.
"Live each day, not as your last, but as your first."
Let me tell ya, that's the only way to live!