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Champions 7 of 28

Snapdragon

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War was declared between the British Empire and Germany in 1941, but by January 1942, hostilities have not truly commenced. While the RAF drops leaflets calling for peace, the Snapdragon fighter planes are put through test flights, and Lady Elspeth Cornish leads the search for Lord Duncan, a certain Champion known for her white coat is noticeably excluded from any action. Lady Alex Smith, Second Lieutenant Stephanie Shylock, and Sergeant Mike Strong are eager to do their bit, but it isn’t until a severe blizzard visits Newfoundland that they’re assigned a new mission… and an unprecedented threat is revealed.

Available in print as part of the omnibus Harm’s Way.

Series The Champions of 1942 - Part 1

EISBN 978-1-926817-60-6
Published 2014-01-01 (ebook)

According to The National Post:

“Tam’s decade-long pioneering experience in this new, no-rules publishing world shows that small presses can invent themselves as they evolve. Iceberg just launched a new series, The Champions, which will release novella-length installments as ebooks throughout 2013, a latter-day take on the typical Victorian custom of monthly cliffhangers in magazines. Again, a merge of journalistic strengths — rapid writing to deadlines, and creativity.”

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Excerpt

Vanier Cross had learned to adapt to the occasional dusting of snow in places like Fort Eustice, but that really hadn’t prepared him for a whiteout. As he let his Land Rover grind to a stop outside a building that was only visible because of its bright exterior lights, he was awfully glad that he could stay off the road, even for a little while. He’d recover his wits while inside, then hope that his truck wasn’t too heavily buried upon his return.

Of course, because he’d been the one to insist on driving out in the midst of the storm, he wouldn’t admit to just how glad he was to be parked up –– that’d be asking for trouble from his partner. Vanier just had to play it cool, and hope that no one noticed if he looked a bit worse for the weather.

“Still convinced this is a good idea?”

Vanier’s partner’s face was suddenly in front of the truck, his eyes narrowed against the wind and his synthesized voice just barely audible over the howling gusts.

“Yes!” the hospitality man sounded more defensive than he wanted to, then nodded because his own voice wouldn’t carry as well over the storm.

With a quick breath to fortify himself against the cut of the wind, he then levered the handle of the Land Rover’s door, and pushed his way out into the blowing snow. It hit him like a sledgehammer made of razor blades and coldness –– a feeling that he, being a Georgia-born-and-raised man simply wasn’t built for. He nearly muttered something about how lucky Constance Cormack was to be out of the country, but kept himself from actually voicing that sentiment as he advanced around the Land Rover’s front fender to stand before a glaring young dragon –– his partner.

Had anyone ever suggested to Vanier Cross that he –– or any negro American –– would be partnered full-time with a Saa dragon, he would have thought it impossible. Working with Saa technology was typically a privilege reserved for the elites; to actually be partnered with a dragon made Vanier the envy of just about everyone. But such was the way of things now: the black hospitality man had been teamed up with Sass’s son Ciaran, and most of the time they got along famously.

Today, the storm had made Ciaran slightly… grumpy.

“See, that wasn’t too dangerous,” Vanier tried to shrug off the death-defying drive through deep snow and up and down steep hills on icy roads.

Ciaran’s eyes narrowed further as he swung his head to point directly at his partner, “Two things: first, I had to catch your truck twice, to keep it from falling off the road. Second, you were inside the truck.

To Vanier, that sounded more like one ‘thing’ in two parts, so he said as much: “That’s really just one thing, in two parts. Why so grumpy?”

“I’ve spent the last two hours roaming naked through a Newfoundland blizzard. You expect me not to be grumpy?” the young dragon glared back, which was both unsettling and endearing.

“You’re always naked,” Vanier shrugged in reply.

“I’m proud of my body, yes, but that’s not relevant,” Ciaran shook his head, then pushed himself up off his front legs, so he could stand upright in the wind. “I’ve got so much snow between my scales they crunch. I’ll be spending all night under the heat lamps.”

As the dragon rose into the air, the upper two-thirds of his small-whale-sized body were quickly obscured by the storm, and worse, the wind he’d evidently been blocking hit Vanier with extra force. The hospitality man winced and grunted at the onslaught, and then just barely heard Ciaran add: “See!”

Admittedly, it might have been ambitious to try driving in this weather, but the reason for the two mile trek from Jimmystown was sound. Their purpose was no less than the security of the Champion base –– they wouldn’t have ventured out otherwise.

“I’ll go around back and see if there’s still a big tarp for me to hide under,” Ciaran called from high above, the speakers in his translation collar again proving almost supernatural in their ability to make his voice clear despite the blizzard. “Come get me when you want to be carried back to Jimmystown.”

“You should pile up some snow into a wall, for a wind break,” Vanier called out the suggestion, but even as he said it Ciaran was moving off –– it was impossible to know if the young dragon had heard the words, and it didn’t matter.

Saa were massive, robust creatures, and even though they were cold-blooded by some definitions, their alien composition made them quite resilient in all sorts of weather. Sass had assured Vanier several times that even the most extreme Earth climates were well within their normative tolerances… they just weren’t immune to being grumpy when they were pelted by wind and snow.

Then again, few people were.

Alone and with only the beacon of the building’s lights to guide him, Vanier set aside that thought and began trudging through the storm. He was wearing a suit made of heavy flannel, topped with a peacoat, but even those winter layers weren’t doing much to stop the cut of the blizzard’s winds. His boots were cold and wet as he kicked his way through the heavy drifts, but he didn’t let his pace slow at all. There was no point being outside for any longer than was necessary.

As he struggled towards the building’s front door, the hospitality man vaguely made out the shape of one car parked close to the wall, and another Land Rover, though it was mostly buried. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen to his own truck, but if it did, Ciaran could literally just pick the vehicle up and shake it off.

The hard wind gradually lost its edge as Vanier got nearer the building; the structure offered shelter, and as the blowing snow subsided, the hospitality man could see that a sign had been affixed over the door: Dominoes.

Cappy had gotten his sign up, which meant he’d be ready for business as soon as the weather was more conducive to travel. Of course, there was little chance of anyone coming to check out the newest addition to the St. John’s club scene when this sort of storm was on… or, for that matter, while the men of the 25th United States Infantry were still billeted aboard their ship.

But within the week, American servicemen would be moving into their new temporary accommodations on the grounds of Fort Pepperell, and when they settled in and started looking for a friendly place to drink and dance, they’d discover that their favorite haunt from Newport News had followed them north. The Domino Club of Virginia had become Dominoes in Newfoundland, and Vanier had no doubt that it would become the center of activity for many of the soldiers, both from Jimmystown and the new American base.

Indeed, the Georgia-born spy was counting on Dominoes to draw that sort of attention –– that’s why he’d made such efforts to bring the proprietor to Newfoundland. Perhaps due to the promise of blizzards like the one Vanier had fought through, Capulet Davis the Third –– just Cappy to his customers –– hadn’t wanted to move out of the United States… so Vanier figured this might be an awkward meeting.

At least the weather guaranteed that they’d be alone.

Vanier Cross grabbed the door handle with his gloved hand, then pushed his way inside. The lights within the massive club were on, so the hospitality man had to squint for a moment while his eyes adjusted. Then he stepped through, slamming his feet down on the mat within to try to eject some of the snow as he shut the door. The air was warm and it actually felt a little too thick as it first hit him, so he immediately looked down and began unbuttoning his peacoat.

Only after he dragged his hat from his head and shook some of the plentiful snow from it did the former-soldier look up, and open his mouth to call out for Cappy… and stop.

“Lovely weather today,” a Briton seated at the bar raised his cup of coffee towards the Vanier, then looked to one of the doors behind the bar, “Cappy, another customer for you!”

“I’ll be there!” the proprietor’s familiar voice sounded distantly, and Vanier was left standing confused. He wasn’t the only madman out in this weather?

Of course not: Flight Captain Douglas Bader feared no storm.

Though they were only very distantly acquainted, the man from Georgia knew a great deal about the legless RAF pilot… but why he’d come to this place in the middle of a blizzard was a mystery. Quickly shaking off his surprise, the hospitality man gradually began to advance towards the bar to investigate in his typically unobtrusive way: “Good morning, Flight Captain.”

“Not the best morning, but still a good one,” the usually-irrepressible Briton replied with a sardonic smile before shaking his head. “Not as good for us as for your fellow hospitality agents, and my colleagues. I suppose the sun is just rising on them in Alberta… what a fine day it will be.”

With that, he took a long draw of coffee from his mug, and Vanier Cross felt his eyebrow climb. The Flight Captain clearly knew about the mission to Lethbridge –– where the other half of the Hospitality department, and a selected group of RAF flyers, were doing flight trials. But was he supposed to know? And how much did he know?

Those questions in mind, Vanier took a seat at the bar, then spared a thought to wonder just how good daybreak in Alberta might be.