Dogged John, the old blind man from Cloone, walked a slow walk into town. It was one of those rare August days. Blistering hot, no wind and hardly a sound on the heavy air.
About two miles from town, Dogged John heard a tractor start up in the meada to his left. He stopped walking and concentrated on the sound. It sounded off. The tractor growled and ground like an off-tempered pig rooting in the soil. Then the tractor coughed once and fell silent. The only sound now the hum from the overhead wires.
“Barney McLoughlin,” Dogged John called out, “your tractor sounds off.”
“Dogged John,” a reply carried from the meada, “you're dead fucking right. Find the gate, come into me.”
He found the gate and went into Barney McLoughlin.
“You're at me now,” Barney said as the blind old man approached.
“Start up the off tractor,” said Dogged John.
Barney did so. Dogged John listened. A poor sick tractor. Without help, the blind man sat into the cab. Gently he revved the engine, listening. Up the rev a little, down the rev a little, all the time listening.
And so fifteen, twenty minutes, a half hour went by. Barney McLoughlin attending to the acoustic treatment of a poor sick tractor by Dogged John, the blind old man from Cloone.
A different type of tractor
Skin closed the throttle and the Raven stopped accelerating.
It stopped flying altogether for a dangerous moment, a stalled target. Skin killed the engine entirely. Gravity then took over and the Raven started to fall back. Skin saw tracers fly past the cab – the attacker almost had her. Skin teased the stick a little and her Raven slowly turned on its back, tipping over. With a suddenness, the Raven flipped over and Skin was facing downwards, her attacker gunning for her, spraying rounds. The Elephantine never had the same supply of ammunition (or anything else) as their more illustrious enemy so Skin wanted her kill with as little shot as possible.
She gently played with the stick, the Raven was an unpowered glider by now, and got the enemy Punisher in her X. The Punisher escaped so Skin realigned. They were fast approaching each other now, either the enemy's fire would hit Skin or the two fighters would smash. Skin coaxed the Punisher back into her X, got him, held him and squeezed the trigger. One burst, then another. The Punisher's belly flared a little and that was enough for Skin to know she had him. For the hell of it, she dove on towards the now stricken enemy.
The Punisher exploded just before impact and Skin's Raven burst through the debris. Just as well that Skin's engine was still off or it would've chocked on the Punisher's mess. The smoke cleared as it does and again the battle below revealed itself to the flyer.
Skin's climb to evade the Punisher had taken them far above the fight below so now she had a perfect overview of what was happening. And she saw the bohemiath Battler ploughing the field of Ravens and Punishers and other small crafts and in front of the Battler was the line of pods. The precious pods were being guided towards the Gate where they, one at a time would exit out of here, ending up gods know where.
Skin's knew it was ridiculous to take on the Battler in a single Raven but the pods exit needed to be stopped. She also knew that the Battler was using three tractor lines to guide the pods; the main line was the strongest, used to drive the pods and two ancillary lines to keep them in line. Skin only had to remove one of the ancillaries to stop the pods' march to the Gate. That's all, she thought, just destroy one tractor line on a Battler.
Her Raven was slowly gliding back to the battle plain proper, building up speed as it fell. Skin slammed on her engine and opened out the throttle full. She was pushed into her seat with the sudden acceleration. Without knowing what she was doing, Skin let out a whoop. She knew that right now her Raven was moving faster than anyone else. The mass of flaming crafts and flaying shot approached her almost instantaneously, the churning Battler in the midst of it all. She needed to get under the Battler, where its defence would be weaker – here she would knock out the ancillary tractor. Her bullet speed brought her through the battle almost unnoticed. The Raven rocked a little from stray fire but Skin dove on. Within three seconds she was through it.
Just as the Battler flew past her flat line, Skin pulled back on her stick. The Raven levelled out. Skin cheered. She'd done what so few did; she'd gotten under a Battler. Now to find the nose and that tractor transmitter.
Almost leisurely, Skin flew under the Battler, heading for the front. She loaded up three Arrow missiles in the tubes; two on her port, one on starboard. As the Battler's nose approached, Skin pulled back on the stick in order to get the tractor's transmitter in her X. one more second of flight and... with an imaginary click, the Tx was the bullseye.
Skin thumbed the tubes switch on the top of her stick. Her arrows flew – port then starboard then port again.
Then the Battler lurched down. Skin had never seen one move so sudden. She swiped her stick to the left and fully down, slamming her thrust to full in a crazy attempt to get her Raven away. But the Battler kept coming down on top of her. Skin sighed, not only did the Battler's evasives mean the probable end of her but her Arrows would now miss. Fuck it, Skin thought, the Battler won't hit me, I'll hit it. So she pulled back on the stick one last time and flew her Raven into the enemy's hull.
© John Rogers 2009