Read Storm Dreams (The Cycle of Somnium Book 1) Online
Authors: Jeb R. Sherrill
Jeb R. Sherrill
Copyright © 2016 Jeb R. Sherrill
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. No dreams were harmed in the writing of this novel.
Cover Art copyright © 2016 Dave Groshelle
All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Don’t you think a dream would be shy if it were seen walking about in the waking world?
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Cassidy rolled from the burning carcass of his downed fighter. The crumpled bi-wing lay in ruins, its propeller impaled in the burnt soil. He stumbled to his feet, gripping his chest. A rib or two must have fractured on impact, but he couldn’t remember the crash. He couldn’t remember much about the battle at all, just a rage of gunfire followed by an uncontrolled plummet to earth.
A clap of thunder brought his gaze skywards where a grey Zeppelin broke through the billowing clouds of smoke. Crackling green energy forked around the airship, cutting the sky like an alien storm. That ship doesn’t belong, he thought. The craft was from outside, but outside
he couldn’t say.
Glancing around, men slumped in the twisted wrecks of burning fighters. More blazing hulks plummeted from the sky. Brits. Krauts. Frenchies. Dead and dying. Pilots on fire. Cassidy stood in the middle of a war to end all wars examining his clothes for the first time. Flight cap. Goggles. A long, thick leather jacket. He jerked back the lapel to expose his shirt and the wings above his breast pocket. Eagle wings. American. He was an American pilot.
American? He knew the word, but not the meaning. It was a country of some kind. Perhaps a kingdom.
He looked up again as the Zeppelin sliced through the fire and turmoil, parting the atmosphere as if pushing reality itself aside. It stood out against the rolling clouds even though its colour looked as grey as its surroundings. Cassidy’s mind fogged with wisps of memory. Planes. Gunfire. Nothing before the battle.
But, my God, what a craft, he thought, as the gigantic dirigible plummeted towards him, a wingless bird diving for prey. It levelled out twenty feet above the ground and headed for him. How could such a craft fly so low and fast?
A lone figure climbed down an extending rope ladder, his slender body silhouetted against the fire and smoke. Cassidy stood transfixed as his world erupted. Cannon fire tore gashes in the soft landscape. The crashing hulks of biplanes and Eindeckers filled his ears with the crunching of metal and the whip of canvas, but he couldn’t see the planes anymore.
He snapped his mind around as if he were seeing reality for the first time. The muted colours. The constant screams, gunfire and explosions even at moments nothing seemed to be causing the sounds. It felt fake.
Cassidy looked at his own aviator fatigues. Was he a downed pilot? He’d known a moment before, but the information had slipped away. American. Something about being American.
The mass of the grey airship looked
above him as it flew towards him, its rounded bulk skimming the ground like a low-flying storm cloud. The gondola, with windows reflecting the fire and storm, rode just above the burning grass now. The ship’s nose passed over him, dizzying his senses as it blotted out the sky, turning the scene above into a rushing moving swath of grey tarp and shadowy ribs.
Clipped images of airships flashed through his fractured memory, but nothing ever this close. How could anything be so huge? It was a flying building. A nudge down and the craft would crush him like a sparrow.
He fell to his knees, shielding his head with both arms against the monstrous Zeppelin. Glancing beneath his arm, he saw the dangling figure snap into focus. It was definitely a man, an officer in flight uniform. The uniform looked American like his own, but Cassidy still couldn’t picture what that meant. The officer’s leather coat flapped wildly in the gusting wind. The twin straps of his unbuckled aviator cap whipping the sides of his chin. Goggles gave him huge frog eyes, and his grey scarf tore at the air, switching directions like a weathervane oracling the wind’s destination.
“Hurry, man,” the officer yelled. “Jump on, damn you.”
Cassidy stumbled to his feet. The rope ladder neared. The man’s arm stretched out like the snatch hook of a mail train.
“Grab tight, or die,” the officer hollered. “He’s waking up.”
Who’s waking up?
Cassidy shouted in his mind or to the wind, who could tell the difference?
The world erupted as Cassidy ran. Fire. Rifles. Cannon. Shreds of dead soldiers and shards of mangled planes. The silhouette of a dark castle rose in the distance. The structure felt like a distant memory, something altogether separate from the rest of the world.
Beneath his feet the ground shimmered and hazed like ice about to break. He raced hard to catch the airship. Staggered as he neared the rope ladder. Regained his balance and sprinted.
The ladder swung past and Cassidy leapt. His hand slipped, but the extended arm caught his wrist in a steel grip and hauled him to the rungs. He wrapped his left foot around the backside of the ladder, holding tight with the boot heel as his other foot caught the front side. Instinct told him how to balance.
The officer grinned, his pencil-thin moustache forming a straight line. He saluted and began to climb. Cassidy followed as the ground beneath became translucent, and the sounds of war stuttered.
The Zeppelin nosed upwards as a mechanism cranked the ladder into the gondola. The officer already stood aboard as the blasting air whipped Cassidy like the tail of a kite. “Haul him in, boys,” the officer hollered. “Heave it.”
Two men wound the crank as Cassidy passed into the square opening of the gondola. Two others grabbed his arms and hauled him aboard. Outside the huge windows the world shuddered and vanished. For a moment, the Zeppelin appeared to be flying through open space. Giant bulb-like pods floated past. They looked like tiny worlds floating in blackness.
“They’ll be on us, boys,” the officer shouted. “Man the guns.” He snapped another salute, turned and ran through the door.
The men who’d pulled Cassidy in clapped him on the back. “I’m Jayce,” said a young-looking pilot, in a breathless tone. “This is Karl,” he said pointing to an older man. “That’s Ned and Franz on the crank.”
The two men waved as they dropped the handles and followed their captain out the door.
“Franz? German?” Cassidy asked.
“We’re all friends here,” Jayce said, as Karl followed the other two. “Captain’s name is Banner. He saved your ass. You owe him.”
Cassidy nodded and tried to keep up as Jayce made for the door as well. “Yes,” Cassidy said, trying to keep up, “but saved me from what?”
“Your dreamer was waking up,” Jayce said, as they made their way between cabins and past the galley. “Once your dream is gone the Armada finds us fast.”
Dreamer? His dream? Cassidy struggled to remember where he’d just come from. “What’s the Armada? Is that bad?”
“Better believe it,” Jayce said as they reached the bridge where Banner stood spinning a large spoked wheel like the helm of a Spanish galleon.
“Can you pilot a Fokker?” Banner asked over his shoulder.
“I don’t know. Can I?”
“You’re a pilot, aren’t you? Doubt they’re much different from the Sopwith you were flying,” Banner said, spinning the wheel sharply to the left as the outside scene shifted to pink and yellow clouds.
Cassidy shrugged. “I don’t know. Fokkers are Fritzie planes.”
“It vill keep you in ze sky,” Franz said, with a mock salute and exaggerated German accent.
Jayce tugged Cassidy’s arm. “Come on.”
Cassidy stalled. “Look, I’m grateful. I
I’m grateful, but what am I supposed to do?”
Banner turned from the wheel. “You’ll earn your keep like every other man. Get out there and shoot planes down.”
Cassidy let himself be dragged down the corridor, trying to force his fragmented memory to catch up. Nothing processed fast enough. What had the captain’s name been again? This was a sea vessel. No, an airship. He was being pulled along through a series of cabins. Yes, it was some kind of airship.
A staircase in the rear of the gondola led them up to more cabins extending along the belly of the main cell. “What am I?” Cassidy asked, as they rushed down the narrow hallway, his mind only catching bits and pieces of information.
Jayce shrugged. “You’re a pilot.”
Cassidy tried hard to get his bearings, and even harder to keep them. “Am I?”
Jayce laughed as they approached a hatch in the deck. “I guess we’re gonna find out. Time to do your thing,” he said, pulling up the hatch and exposing a cloud-coloured Fokker dangling beneath the Zeppelin’s belly from a steel U-shaped arm.
“How?” Cassidy hollered over the roar of wind that rushed up through the open hatch.
“It’s just a one-seater,” Jayce yelled, trying to overcome the roar as well. “You won’t have a gunner. The good news is, she’s fast and you have two Spandaus made to fire between the props, so don’t worry about shooting yourself down. Latest stuff.”
Turbulence jostled the little craft. It looked like the arm could snap any moment. “You can’t start a plane like this.”
“Just wind the booster magneto. Can’t miss it. If it won’t start, armstrong’s the only way to go. You’ll have to reach over the guns and spin the prop yourself.”
“Don’t I get a chute?”
Jayce shook his head. “No point. If you go down, you’re lost. It’ll be impossible to pick you up in a fight.” He shrugged. “Besides, the ground won’t last. We’ve fallen into another dream bubble, but it won’t last long.”
The ground won’t last? Dream bubble? Cassidy tried to slow his racing heart. “I can’t do this.”
“You will or we’re all going to die.” Jayce handed him a flight-cap and a pair of goggles. Cassidy stretched the cap over his head, buckled the straps beneath his chin and pulled the goggles over his eyes. He hardly noticed what he was doing as he flexed his fingers into leather gloves, tied his scarf and tucked it into the front of his jacket. He’d done these things a thousand times, but couldn’t remember a single instance.
The savage wind rushing up through the hole excited him, even through the terror. “Why can’t I remember anything?”
Jayce shook his head. “You’ll have to come up with some of it yourself. We’re not supposed to exist like this.”
Cassidy’s chest tightened. “What do you mean I’m not supposed to exist like this? I exist because I say I exist.”
“That’s the spirit. Just remember to stay close to the ship. If we gate between dreams or anywhere else you’ll be lost if you don’t stay in our slipstream.”
“How will I know?”
Wind whipped around Cassidy’s legs as he dangled over the edge and Jayce steadied him as he climbed into the cockpit. The rushing air felt so good. It reminded him of—
“What’s your name?” Jayce shouted as Cassidy stood on the seat, bridging the gap between the plane and the Zeppelin’s belly with his body.
“Cassidy.” He knew that.
Jayce nodded. “Don’t get shot down, Cassidy. This is our only fighter.”
The hatch closed and latched with a harsh clack, shutting Cassidy out. He was alone again, with nothing but the sound of blasting air gusting in his ears. The controls looked familiar. Stick. Pedals. Magneto and dials. Everything in German, but he could read it perfectly. He must have flown one of these before. Had he been a spy?
The drone of multiple propellers buzzed in from his six and Cassidy twisted to see three bi-wings broaching the rear horizon.
… Where had he heard that word? Damn, he thought, realizing how much time he’d wasted thinking. The distant flashes of mounted guns already tore at the Zeppelin’s tail rudder as the fighters tried to cripple the airship. They looked like old German Albatrosses, the ones that resembled birds spewing hellfire from their beaks. But, no one used those anymore. They were outdated craft.
Bullets tore past, fracturing the sound barrier. Cassidy pumped pressure into the tank, revved the magneto for a few seconds and hit the switch. The engine started, turned the prop a few times and choked out. He tried again as bullets skimmed his top wing, but the engine only clicked. He glanced back. One of the fighters had closed in, intent on taking Cassidy’s Fokker out before he could catch air. A large purple shape loomed in the distance behind the Albatross. Another airship? No. It looked more like a separate sky.
The Albatross opened fire again. “Oh hell,” Cassidy shouted as he gripped the latch to his Fokker’s support ring and pulled hard. For a moment nothing happened, then the steel arm clicked in two places and the Zeppelin shrank above him. His fighter dropped like a lead weight. The Fokker’s wings tried to grab air, but without the aid of the engine’s pull it plummeted into a nose dive.
Flashes of dogfights erupted in his head. For a moment the sky was filled with fighters. Fifty perhaps. Sixty. He hated the enemy. The Germans. Hated them so much. Needed to blast them all out of the sky.
Cassidy pulled himself back from his memories as the ground rose to meet him. The landscape looked misshapen, as if a child sank his fingers into a lump of clay and twisted it. He revved the magneto again. The engine choked out a second time. The warped ground moved closer.
“Damn,” he shouted into the wind and climbed out over the guns, pinning his body between the wing and fuselage. The air rushed so fast it was hard to breathe as he reached out and grabbed for the slow spinning prop. It spun into his hand. He gripped a strut to steady himself and gave the prop a hard snap. The blade whirled inches from his face, engaging the engine. The Fokker caught air.