Authors: C. J. Hill
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To Guy, who helps me slay my dragons.
T’S ALWAYS THE THING YOU OVERLOOK.
It would be ironic, Brant Overdrake thought as he paced around the cabin of his jet, for a man who could fly to be killed in a plane crash. Life was full of ugly little ironies, though.
Bianca, his wife, sat nearby, clutching a water bottle tightly in her hand. They had come from their plantation on St. Helena, one of the most remote islands in the world, a place hidden away in the south Atlantic. The flight to Virginia took sixteen hours, hours that had taken their toll on Bianca. Her long blonde hair was disheveled. Only hints of makeup remained on her face. Pillows were strewn around her seat—an effort to get comfortable in seats that weren’t meant to accommodate women who were eight months’ pregnant.
She took a drink of water. “Pacing won’t make the storm go away.”
He ignored her. The usual hum of the plane engine was swallowed up by the sound of rain clawing at the wings. Out the windows, the sky was an angry gray. Every few minutes distant slices of lightning illuminated the clouds.
Bianca lowered her voice. “The pilot already asked you twice to sit down and put on your seat belt.”
Overdrake walked to his chair, leaned over it, and peered out the window. “Yes, but I pay him, which means I give the orders, not the other way around.” The seat rattled underneath his fingers as though it were trying to shake off his hand. Storm turbulence. The plane kept bumping and shuddering along.
Bianca let out a high-pitched moan that sounded like a kitten trapped somewhere. Through panting breaths, she said, “Another contraction.”
“How far apart are they now?” he asked.
She held up five fingers.
“Keep drinking your water,” he said. She’d had false labor at six months. The doctor said she’d probably just been dehydrated. Once they had gotten enough fluids into her, the contractions stopped.
Overdrake knew none of his current problems were Bianca’s fault. She hadn’t chosen to have contractions a month early on the day they were moving to the United States. After she lost their first baby, she’d done everything she could to ensure this pregnancy went well. More than everything, actually. She turned into a health Nazi, ordering their chef to cook with organic ingredients, insisting that none of the staff smoke anywhere on their plantation—as if somehow the whiffs of secondhand cigarette smoke would make it through the air filters she erected in their house.
Still, even knowing how badly Bianca wanted this baby, Overdrake felt an illogical annoyance with her. Producing a son was the one task he needed from her, the one thing he couldn’t do on his own. She wasn’t supposed to go into labor early while they were in the sky, waiting out a storm. Why couldn’t she control her body? How hard could it be to carry a child and give birth to it at the right time? Women across the world had managed this task for thousands of years. He didn’t need the extra stress right now.
Overdrake left the window and strode to the cockpit to talk to the pilot. Peter Divers was an older man with a face like a bulldog’s and a temperament that wasn’t much better. He’d fought in the Gulf War and after that did some business for drug lords and arms dealers. Overdrake hired him as his personal pilot for three reasons. The man was cool under pressure, didn’t ask questions, and could keep a secret.
Overdrake looked at the monitors on the instrument panel. He’d flown enough that he could tell the plane was running low on fuel. Waiting out the storm had cost them. “What’s the latest on the weather?”
“Not good,” Divers said. “Just more of the same for the next hour. You’ll have to decide where to land soon.”
decided. We’re landing on my airstrip in Winchester.”
Divers kept his gaze forward. “Well, until the weather decides that’s an option—”
“For the amount of money I pay you,” Overdrake snapped, “you should be able to put this plane down on the White House lawn if I ask you to do it.”
Divers checked the flap settings and the stabilizers. “No matter how much you pay me, I can’t change the weather or the laws of physics.”
“Brant!” Bianca called from the cabin. “The last one was three minutes!”
Great. The contractions were getting closer together instead of further apart.
“Did I mention,” Brant said coldly, “that my wife is in labor?” It was a rhetorical question. Divers had already called for an ambulance to meet the plane on Overdrake’s property in Winchester.
“That’s another factor I can’t change,” Divers said. “But I can call BWI and ask them to have medical staff standing by.” He glanced over his shoulder, looking for Overdrake’s reaction, some sign that he was relenting.
Overdrake didn’t speak.
“Even if we land at BWI,” Divers said, “it doesn’t mean the feds will come aboard and search your plane. As far as they know, this isn’t an international flight. And even if they did search us—what are they going to find? Some boulders. It’s odd, but so what? No law against that.”
The cargo carefully nestled inside seven meters of Styrofoam weren’t boulders. They just looked like boulders and were nearly as heavy. That was how dragons camouflaged their eggs. When the mother first laid them, the eggs were a translucent white with colored, glowing veins fingering across their milky surface. They looked like giant opals—nature’s artwork at its best. Within minutes, the shells took on the color and texture of the rocks around them. The shape of the eggs shifted, too, settling into a form that wasn’t so perfectly oval. The shells became stonelike and would remain that way for the next fifteen to twenty years. After that, the shells thinned and dragon hatchlings the size of lions would claw their way out.
Divers didn’t know the exact nature of what the plane carried, and Overdrake wasn’t about to tell him. “I won’t go to a public airport,” Overdrake insisted. “If you can’t land on my property, then find a private airstrip in an isolated place.”
Divers gestured to the flight plan at his side. “What do you mean by isolated? If you wanted isolated you should have told me to fly to Nebraska, not D.C.”
“The government must have some airstrips away from the populated areas. Make up a story. We’ll land there, wait out the storm, and then fly to Winchester.” Overdrake was grasping at straws. He knew that.
Divers actually turned in his seat to give Overdrake an incredulous stare. “Make up a story? My story is that I don’t go near the feds. You knew that when you hired me.”
Overdrake didn’t push it. He didn’t want anyone from the government checking his papers or his story, either. He just wanted Divers to come up with another solution. One that didn’t involve a place where crowds of people would be exposed to the unborn dragons’ signals.
That was another irony. In the last couple of weeks he’d flown two adult dragons from St. Helena to his compound in Winchester. Those were the trips he’d worried about. It would have been impossible to get around custom agents in England with a forty-ton dragon, so he took a three-day boat ride to Namibia, paid off officials there, then loaded the dragon onto a cargo plane and flew twenty-five hours from there to the States. He only stopped once to refuel.
He’d made that trip twice. Once for each dragon. Trying to contain an adult dragon in a confined space was tricky at best. Trying to do it for days verged on suicidal. Overdrake couldn’t tranquilize them. Dragons were naturally resilient to poisons and drugs, and his vets couldn’t say exactly how much tranquilizer would be needed or what prolonged exposure would do to their systems. So Overdrake had to stay linked to each dragon’s mind the entire trip, putting it in a trancelike state to keep it calm, quiet, and immobile.
Those flights went off without a hitch. But even if one of them had needed to be rerouted to a public airport, it might not have mattered. Overdrake had fittings that covered the diamond-shaped patches on the dragons’ foreheads, blocking the signals that originated there. As long as no one searched the plane, everything would have been fine. No signals would have leaked out into the public.
Overdrake couldn’t cover the foreheads of unhatched dragons. To block the eggs’ signals during their transportation, he would have had to put them behind tons of concrete and steel. It hadn’t seemed practical or necessary to fly that way. The containers would have been so heavy they would have required another cargo plane, and since his personal airstrip in St. Helena wasn’t big enough to accommodate one of those, he would have had to make the long boat trip to Namibia again with its hassles and hush money.
Overdrake wanted the rest of the move to be quick, and Bianca wanted to be settled in the U.S. before she gave birth so their son would have automatic citizenship. Overdrake had packed the eggs in Styrofoam, put them on his jet, and they flew from St. Helena. It was supposed to be a simple trip.
And now this. A storm, dwindling fuel, and Bianca having contractions three minutes apart. Overdrake turned away from the cockpit and went back to check on her. He cursed himself as he did. He should have been more careful. He should have taken the means to protect against every possibility of the eggs’ signals coming in contact with any Slayer knight descendants.
In the Middle Ages, when dragons roamed the sky unchallenged, the Slayer knights took an elixir that changed their DNA to give them powers to fight dragons. The knights passed on those genes to their descendants, but the dragon-fighting genes became active only when a baby in the womb came in contact with the signal a dragon emitted from its forehead.
If the Slayer genes weren’t activated during that nine-month slot, they remained forever dormant and useless—like they should.
When Overdrake got to Bianca, she was gripping her armrest, eyes closed. A sheen of sweat covered her face. The water bottle had dropped to the floor and lay jiggling against the side of the plane.