by Edward M. Erdelac -
The bed had been overturned and blown against the opposite wall, and Considine had to worm his way out from under the debris.
He heard Dressler in the next room shouting for his daughter, and heard her anxious reply.
Considine pushed himself to his feet, rubble sliding off his shoulders, as Dressler appeared in the doorway again with a long rifle.
“You alright?” he demanded more than asked.
“Fine!” Considine managed.
Dressler nodded and leapt through the hole in his home, into the whirling ash and cinder blowing outside.
The girl scampered out behind him, a breathing mask on her face and another dangling from her fist. Considine limped along after.
Dressler rushed straight for a stand of rocks a few yards from the smoking house, and dove down behind as the Morgenstar fighter roared and banked overhead, coming around for a second pass.
They must have tracked him to the house somehow.
Considine could barely see or breathe. He clenched his eyes against the horrendous air and breathed into the crook of his elbow, but his eyes streamed tears.
When he joined them behind the rocks, Dressler already had the spare mask on and was priming the powerful-looking rifle.
The girl looked at him and grabbed his elbow, pulling him close to shout in his ear over the wind.
“Pull your shirt over your head!” she shrieked through her breathing mask.
He did so. The relief wasn’t total, but it wasn’t negligible either.
He heard the whining engine of the fighter droning closer. If the pilot could see them through the clouds of ash, he would vaporize their position with an eruption of his cannons.
Considine pulled the shirt down and scanned the area for another place to flee, but they were in the middle of nowhere.
Dressler was climbing on top of the rocks.
“What’re you doing?” Considine yelled. “Get down!”
Dressler ignored him and put the rifle to his cheek, aiming it at the sky expectantly.
Considine saw the fighter then, coming in low, flying through the ash like a great winged hunting beast.
Dressler saw it too, and fired.
The rifle bucked against his shoulder and the end of the barrel flamed, spitting out a heavy shot with a loud crack.
The fighter passed just over their heads with a roar.
Considine saw the wings waggle, and suddenly the nose dipped sharply and the bird went down, ploughing earth with its face, flipping radically end over end, and coming to an explosive rest directly in the center of Dressler’s house, which blew apart, sending chunks of permiform in all directions.
Dressler lowered the rifle.
Lyn, her blonde curls whipping around behind her facemask, stood up and slapped her father’s leg with the back of her hand.
“You should’ve let it pass!” she scolded.
“Nice shot, Dress!” came a new voice, a woman’s, but muffled by a face mask. “But bad timing!”
A decidedly female form, masked and robed, stood nearby, a long hunting rifle cradled in her arms.
Parked a few yards behind her was a bulky six-wheeled rover.
“Yulaura! The girl squealed, and rushed over, pointing angrily back at Dressler, who was coming down off the rock somewhat less heroically than when he’d ascended it. “Didja see what Dad did?”
“It was a great shot,” Considine offered, as Dressler inspected the inferno where his house had once been.
“Nothing in there that can’t be replaced,” Dressler muttered. “But who the hell was that?”
“Nothing you need concern yourself with. I can’t ask you to take me to Zirconia now that I know they’re after me. Just lend me a breathing mask and…”
“The hell with that,” Dressler said. “Yulaura, fire up the rover and let’s get going! How do you expect me to collect compensation for all this if you’re dead, Inspector?”