68. Gadgeteer

He dropped out of the sky screaming.

The sound of the wind rushing past his ears was deafening as he desperately clung on to the handles of his flying machine. His feet found the pedal, and he pushed hard against it – but found his strength useless against the resistance of the wind against the propeller.

Dusty was 13, and certain that he would not live to see his 14th birthday.

As he approached terminal velocity, he caught a shape in the corner of his eye, and saw another flying machine coming alongside his in a similar nosedive. Typical Dana, always trying to overtake him. At least she will never overtake me in age, Dusty thought as he saw his little sister point towards his machine.

“Pull up the secondary wings!” she yelled over the roar of the wind, “But go easy on it!”

“I knew that!” he lied, and with his legs locked firmly into the harnesses, he reached up to unlatch the lock on the wings directly above him.

“Easy!” Dana shouted, and he ignored her.

The lock came free easily enough, and Dusty took the ropes that controlled the angle of the wings like reins, yanking down hard on them. THWIP! THWIP! was the sound that came as the wings broke free of the ropes, and he tumbled away from it, out of control and headed straight for the ground.

“You need to get out!” came Dana’s voice, “Come on! I’ll catch you!”

“No way!” he shouted in reply, and began to reach for the harnesses that locked his legs to the machine. He wasn’t one of those who would vow to go down with their craft, but neither was he one of those who would receive help from a girl, much less one younger than he was. The ground was zooming up at them fast, and Dana would have to pull away soon if she didn’t want to crash.

“What are you doing?!”

“FLYING!”

Coming free, Dusty reached up and grabbed hold of the wooden frame that attached the primary wings to the rest of the machine. Tumbling out of control as he was, he had to time this just right or he would end up as a messy stain against the grassy hills in a manner of second.

“Dusty!” Dana’s shrill voice was far away, “I’m pulling away! I hope you know what you’re doing!”

Her voice faded away in his head. He closed his eyes, feeling the wind rushing past him. Feeling the tug of gravity. Feeling the weight of the ground that he was zooming towards, and the enormous free space that was the sky.

He gave the machine beneath his feet a sharp kick, and with a cracking sound, the primary wings came loose of the machine, taking him with it. Eyes shut tight, Dusty’s heart sank for a moment as he realized that he was still falling-

And then soared when he felt the familiar tug of the wind pushing up against the material of the wings. He opened his eyes and saw the ground rushing away beneath him as he glided right over it. Far behind him, the heavy machine crashed in tangled mess of wood and rusted metal.

“Look at me, Dana!” he laughed, “Look at me! I’m flying! I’m making this thing work! I’m-”

He saw the trees about five seconds too late.

Stars exploded into his vision as he collided head-first into the mass of entwined branches of the trees, and he vaguely felt the sharp tip of the branches scratching and poking at him as he crashed through them first horizontally, carried by momentum, and then downwards, by gravity, and he finally landed onto the soft grass face-first.

He wasn’t sure how long he laid there like that, but Dana came calling far too soon for comfort. He managed to pull himself to his feet, relieved to find that nothing had been broken in the crash but his heart and his machine.

“I’m alright, I’m alright,” he reassured Dana as she came running towards him, and this seemed to put her at ease. They both looked at the final remnant of Dusty’s flying machine, now suspended above them, held in place by the dense collection of branches.

“I’ll give you a lift home,” Dana said after a pause, and he nodded. He started out of the woods, and Dana came strutting beside him as they walked towards Dana’s flying machine.

There was a silence, but Dana had to be the one to break it.

“I told you the gyroscope was faulty.”

He put a hand on her head.

“Shut up.”

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