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CHAPTER 1 - Test chapter

“If Only In My Dreams”

 

“Wouldn’t it be ironic if we were lost?”

Leo looked over his shoulder to find the inscrutable face of Owen Neely, their flight engineer. He’d only known the mountain lion for a week or so—long enough to become accustomed to the man’s dour pessimism. “We’re not lost. Obviously.”

“Flight was supposed to take nine hours, right? Been nearly ten.”

Before Leo could answer, Tom Benson—his counterpart, in the pilot’s seat—let out a coarse growl. “Mr. Neely! Don’t you have some engines to be looking after?”

“They’re doing fine,” Owen said. “Just stretching my legs, sir.”

“Stretch them in the galley, Mr. Neely. Put some coffee on or something.” After Owen took the hint and made himself scarce, Lieutenant Commander Benson shook his head. “It would be nice if we still had a navigator.”

The flying boat was traveling light, because they needed room to take on passengers at their destination. They had no navigator, no electrician—no gunners, for that matter, because they also had no guns. Leo had taken the last sight.

A veteran of the Army Air Corps, the fox was a trained pilot, but it was his status in the Nevada Rangers that “earned” him the copilot’s seat on the Consolidated Catalina. He was the highest-ranking officer that could be spared to sign over title to one of the Rangers’ ships.

With everything else going on in the world—the fighting in Europe, insurrection on the eastern seaboard, rumors that the Empire of Japan had tried to bribe Sacramento into neutrality—Leo had been deputized to handle paperwork. That rankled; he’d taken the sun sight out of a desire to prove that he was more than a bureaucrat.

The same need gnawed at him now. “I’ll check the radio,” he offered.

“See that you do. Find your damn boat.”

“It’s not my boat. It’s a Rangers boat.”

Tom Benson stared pointedly at the sleeves of his flight jacket. “You see any Rangers patches, fox? No, right? Find your damn boat,” he repeated, and turned his attention back to the seaplane’s instruments.

CHAPTER 2 - Another test chapter

Lieutenant Commander Benson was just stressed, Leo felt. When he’d met Benson at Pearl Harbor, the wolf had grinned, offered a paw, and told Leo to call him ‘Tommy.’ But with Project Lodestone behind schedule and every day bringing reports of rising tensions in the Pacific too, Benson was under pressure to get his crew on to the next job site.

Leo didn’t feel the same pressure. His unit—“Nevada” was an anachronism now for the mercenary outfit; the Rangers called Hawai’i home—still owned the Santa Fe Trail, a converted tanker, but only until it could be transferred to the US Navy. Navy sailors would handle the maintenance from then on out.

Lodestone was, after all, their project to begin with. Once we find it. He tapped the radioman’s shoulder. “Anything?”

“Not yet!” The contrast between the scuffed headset fixed to the otter’s ear and the boy’s youthful features was dramatic; he didn’t seem especially worried. “The HF unit’s completely quiet.”

“Can’t pick up anything from Johnston or Midway?”

“Nope. Otherwise we wouldn’t need you, right?” The radio direction-finding beacons that made up Project Lodestone had already been installed at Johnston Atoll and Midway, tiny islands nearly a thousand miles apart. The Santa Fe Trail lay between them, filling in the gap. “Uh. Beg your pardon. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry—I mean, it’s true,” Leo pointed out. And the otter was just having a bit of fun: the Navy and Leo’s Rangers had a good relationship. “There’s no other signals? What about AFPN?”

Now, at last, the otter’s brow furrowed. “Are we lost?”

“No. Just… a bit overdue.”

“We can pick up AFPN, sure, unless we had one heck of a tailwind comin’ over.” He fiddled with the dials on his radio, sweeping through the medium-wave frequencies to find the US Armed Forces Pacific Network, which broadcast from Honolulu. “Just gotta—ow!”

“Ow?”

Scowling, he unplugged the headset, and words rang out, clearly audible under the pulse of the plane’s two engines: —bells in the snow. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas… It trailed off as the radioman turned the volume down. “Close, and a clear signal.”

CHAPTER 3 - Aaaand another one

“If Only In My Dreams”

 

“Wouldn’t it be ironic if we were lost?”

Leo looked over his shoulder to find the inscrutable face of Owen Neely, their flight engineer. He’d only known the mountain lion for a week or so—long enough to become accustomed to the man’s dour pessimism. “We’re not lost. Obviously.”

“Flight was supposed to take nine hours, right? Been nearly ten.”

Before Leo could answer, Tom Benson—his counterpart, in the pilot’s seat—let out a coarse growl. “Mr. Neely! Don’t you have some engines to be looking after?”

“They’re doing fine,” Owen said. “Just stretching my legs, sir.”

“Stretch them in the galley, Mr. Neely. Put some coffee on or something.” After Owen took the hint and made himself scarce, Lieutenant Commander Benson shook his head. “It would be nice if we still had a navigator.”

The flying boat was traveling light, because they needed room to take on passengers at their destination. They had no navigator, no electrician—no gunners, for that matter, because they also had no guns. Leo had taken the last sight.

A veteran of the Army Air Corps, the fox was a trained pilot, but it was his status in the Nevada Rangers that “earned” him the copilot’s seat on the Consolidated Catalina. He was the highest-ranking officer that could be spared to sign over title to one of the Rangers’ ships.

With everything else going on in the world—the fighting in Europe, insurrection on the eastern seaboard, rumors that the Empire of Japan had tried to bribe Sacramento into neutrality—Leo had been deputized to handle paperwork. That rankled; he’d taken the sun sight out of a desire to prove that he was more than a bureaucrat.

The same need gnawed at him now. “I’ll check the radio,” he offered.

“See that you do. Find your damn boat.”

“It’s not my boat. It’s a Rangers boat.”

Tom Benson stared pointedly at the sleeves of his flight jacket. “You see any Rangers patches, fox? No, right? Find your damn boat,” he repeated, and turned his attention back to the seaplane’s instruments.