The Agent and The Smuggler – Steampunk Flash Fiction by Damon Garn

The Agent and The Smuggler

Help Damon win the Blank Page Challenge by voting by midnight Eastern US time July 4

“You shot me down!” Annie cursed into her radio as her tri-wing flier spiraled toward the dark mountains of the Rockies, trailing steam into the cold night air. “You bastard!”

“Well, I warned you. And you are running illegal alcohol to California,” Michael responded.

“But you’ve never shot me. We had a good thing going. An understanding. Now I’m going down!”

She struggled to keep the flier level and prevent the engine from stalling before impact. The crash bounced her against her harness and slapped her head against the headrest.

“Annie? Annie! Talk to me. Are you all right?” Michael’s voice was worried. She heard his flier circling over her crash site. The steam whistling from her engine told her the core was cracked. She could also smell an oil fire. She wouldn’t get the flier in the air again.

“Shut up and let me check my plane!” she snapped into the radio.

It wasn’t until she tried to scramble out of the cockpit that Annie discovered her leg was trapped. The fire was spreading toward the plane’s cargo compartment. Toward the seventy five gallons of pure alcohol she was running.

“Michael! Michael I’m trapped! There is a fire. Near the cargo bay!”

“Get out of there, Annie! It’ll blow!”

“I know. My leg is pinned! I can’t pull loose.”

“I’m trying to land near you somewhere.”

“You won’t make it.”

“I know.” His voice was forlorn.

“We had such a good thing, playing in the air together. I really loved it.”

“So did I. And we will again.”

She kept pulling at the heavy cloth of her flight suit as the fire spread.

***

Michael’s bi-wing flier bounced to a stop on a small fireroad a half mile from Annie’s crash site. He leapt from the cockpit, grabbed his first aid kit and switched on his battery light. He took off toward the glowing steam cloud on the mountainside. Five minutes later he crested a small rise, just in time to see Annie’s flier explode. The white steam was transformed into a cloud of black smoke with heavy flames engulfing the fuselage.

He stopped, all hope pulled from him by the flames. She was gone. No one could survive that inferno.

They’d started talking and flirting in the night air while she eluded him on her smuggling runs. When he couldn’t find her in the dark mountain air, they’d chatted about their lives and their dreams. It took an hour for her flier to get out of radio range. He tried to follow her and told himself it was because that was his job, but really he’d just wanted to talk. He lived a lonely life and she put some joy into the dark nights when he patrolled the Front Range.

He knew she made a fortune on her flights to the California speakeasies. Prohibition had made a lot of people wealthy. Career Bureau pilots like him weren’t included in that success, of course. She was one of the best and he’d get an medal just for shooting her down. Another for killing her.

Somehow the recognition didn’t seem important anymore.

Ironic that they’d never even met in person.

When she stepped out of the trees to his right, her pistol was leveled at him.

“Annie? How -?” he gestured toward the fiery remains of her flier.

“I pulled free.” Blood and torn fabric ran the length of her lower right leg.

“Um… Is that gun really necessary?”

“I don’t know. Is it? You’re a federal agent. Isn’t it your job to bring me in?”

“Well, yes.” He’d thought she was dead, but he had to consider what to do with her now that she was alive. “You are my prisoner,” he declared.

“Really? I’m the one with the gun.”

“Good point.”

“I will not go to prison, Michael,” she said quietly, her eyes and her hand steady.

He looked at her closely. Her dirty blond hair was cut to her shoulders, but flattened by her leather flight helmet. She stood tall and slender. Her leather jacket was open and her flight suit was dirty, but she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. She had a natural wildness about her. An animal that wouldn’t be tamed. He knew the explosion from her crash would be seen and someone would arrive soon. She’d be captured and imprisoned. Or worse. The government wanted to make an example of smugglers.

“No, I suppose you won’t,” he sighed. “Come with me, quickly!”

Believing she wouldn’t shoot him in the back, he turned around and began to hike down toward his flier.

After a moment he heard her following, her footsteps shuffling with her injury.

When they stepped onto the road near his Bureau bi-wing, he finally looked back. She’d holstered the gun and her face was screwed up in a grimace of pain.

“What are we doing, Michael? That’s a single seater.”

“Yes, but you don’t have to leave right now. I have land in these mountains.” He pulled his survival pack from the fuselage storage. “Take this. And this water.”

Michael spread a map across the wing. He marked waypoints and quickly explained the route.

“The plane was so badly burned that there is no evidence. The Bureau will believe you were killed in the crash. They won’t even check the site.” He handed her the map and his spare compass. “I’ll combine some of my leave and return in a week or so. I have a cabin nearby not many people know about. I’ll meet you there.”

“Why are you doing this, Michael?”

“You were pointing a gun at me.”

“I’m not pointing it now,” Annie noted.

“Ah, true.”

“I will just get another flier. I’ll be back in the air a week after returning to Chicago. So why are you helping me to escape?”

“We had a good thing going.”

Help Damon win the Blank Page Challenge by voting by midnight Eastern time July 4

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