“More tea, Harrison?” Gregor asked as he filled his weathered cup with the weak brown fluid.
“No, thank you. I’ve had my fill,” Harrison replied.
Maddie shuffled around the tiny kitchen and gathered up the dishes from their lunch. She chatted to Harrison about the state of Surgard, how many of their neighbors had moved topside when they got the chance. But they liked their shop, felt too much at home to ever try to find another place.
“The revolution was about respect,” she laughed, “not housing problems.”
“Tell us about your problem with the ship,” Gregor asked after they had grown tired of pleasant conversation.
“There’s not any kind of damage I can find. She’s just sluggish, losing power. Nothing so drastic I’m afraid of stalling, just a little catch in her spin.”
“Have you opened her up? Looked at her engine?” Maddie asked as she squeezed into the seat next to Gregor.
“Half a dozen times. Can’t find a thing.”
They continued to talk about the plane. They asked questions, and he answered what he could. They proposed theories then dismissed them. At some point, Harrison realized Frankie had joined them. He had held Frankie when she was just weeks old, and she’d grown up with him as a regular occurrence in their home. Now she was twelve years old and sharp as a prop. She crouched in the doorway of the kitchen, scribbling on a scrap of paper. The Burmann’s were debating the possible reasons for his engine trouble, so Harrison turned to Frankie.
“What are you so intent on, kiddo?” he asked.
“Your engine,” she replied.
“Really? What do you think?”
“I think your F-33 is a slick and spinning lady with one major catch in her gears,” Frankie said without looking away from her sketch.
By this time, Gregor and Maddie had stopped talking. Harrison looked over to them and found huge grins on their faces. Maddie met his eye and nodded. Frankie jumped up and slammed the paper down on the table. It held a detailed rendering of the Harrison’s engine. Frankie had circled several parts and scrawled illegible notes all around the page.
“Those wrenches in the Bans ain’t half bad at designing ships. But they can’t think three ticks into the future. They build for speed and maneuverability, to longevity. Here’s your hitch,” she said, pointing to one of the circled areas on her schematic.
“What’s the problem?” Harrison asked.
“Those square cogs didn’t consider the natural wear and tear inside your engine. You’re losing pressure, not so much to put you in danger, but enough to slow her down. We’ll have to break her heart and rebuild the whole Nulled thing.”
“What are the other notes you made?” Harrison pointed at the other circles on the schematic.
“The rest of the changes I’m going to make. I can up your speed a few ticks and get her sucking up less fuel.”
She continued to talk about her plans, and Harrison couldn’t follow half of what she proposed.
“That’s my girl,” Gregor mused.
Santos dropped into the cockpit of the P-22 Cloudfire and grinned. It was a Ban Altian ship, one of their first twin prop designs. The model had it flaws and hadn’t been produced in a decade, but older pilots talked about these ships in reverent tones. He’d seen a few fly back in Qullo, and he always thought they were beautiful.
“What do you think?” Captain Harrison called from below the plane.
“She’s amazing,” Santos replied. A few seconds later, Harrison climbed up to stick his head in the cockpit.
“Amazing. Looks like somebody retrofit most of the controls, though.”
“I did. They’re better like that,” a female voice came from the hangar door.
A young girl in a blue coverall jogged across the hangar toward them. She had red hair and a pale, round face streaked with engine grease. Harrison dropped to the ground and picked her up in a hug. She seemed embarrassed at first then smiled and hugged him back.
“When did you get back?” Harrison asked as she stepped back.
“Been a few ticks. The tour finished and I didn’t re-up,” as she spoke, a dark looked crawled over her face then dissipated.
“Santos, this is Frankie Burmann, the smartest mechanic you’re likely to meet. Frankie, this is the new man on my crew, Santos.”
Santos waved from the cockpit and Frankie flashed him a smile. She launched into a discussion of the Cloudfire, the changes she’d made and the things she wanted to tweak. Santos let her and the captain talk while he examined the controls. At first, he didn’t understand why she had moved things around in the cockpit. Then he started running through maneuvers in his head and everything clicked.
“This is fantastic,” he exclaimed.
“I know,” Frankie called from the floor slid right back into their conversation.
“I need a favor, Cappy,” she said after the tech talk had wound down.
“Anything for you, Frankie,” he said as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
“Take me with you.”
“Wait. What? You just got home…”
“I thought joining the army would get me in the air. I could fly fighters for Heimdurn because being a Cog isn’t a bad thing anymore,” she spoke in a whisper meant just for the two of them.
“You were wrong?” Harrison asked.
“Just traded one under city for another. They stuck me in the engine room on one of the carriers. Said I was too valuable a mechanic to waste in a ship. Buncha cracked gears, all of them.”
“Well then, I guess we’ll have to find Santos a different ship,” Harrison laughed.
“Oh, he can have her. The Cloudfire was just a way to keep me ticking. Wait til you see my ship.”
Harrison waved to Santos, and the pair of them sauntered out of the hangar. Another stick on the crew, Santos thought. He and Lori were finally starting to get along, At least they weren’t yelling at each other as much. Baggar had decided to stick around after that Nulled fight with the pirates and he was fitting right in. Now they had a mechanic, and Frankie seemed like one of the best. Santos smiled and dreamed of flying.
Frankie was born during a time of great unrest in Heimdurn. Her parents were Cogs in the Surgard under city during the darkest days of Leopold the Mad’s reign. The Committee on Progress called her parents and half the adults in Surgard to help build Drohnenstadt, the King’s flying fortress. Rather than give up their lives, the Cogs of Surgard revolted and an army of fellow workers ready to follow. Frankie grew up in hidden back rooms, listening to revolutionaries plan a new society.
When Ban Altia declared war on the weakened nation, Frankie enlisted without a second thought. She dreamed of flying a fighter in defense of her homeland. In reality, little had changed in the military. A Cog was still a cog to the old guard. She never got a chance as a pilot and took the first opportunity to leave the service. Disappointed but undeterred, she found another way to land in a cockpit. The Rogue Winds needed a mechanic, and she needed a squad worthy of her skill.
Written By Paul Dodson
Illustrated By Vince Medellin
Story by Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin