The Tacuary frantically maneuvered in the water, trying to avoid being trapped against the Bahía Negra dockside. The flight of biplanes, emblazoned with the red-yellow-green roundels of Bolivia, wheeled around for another pass. Heavy machine gun bullets picked up dust and splinters quayside, while the water chopped violently at the impact. A smaller motorboat, ferrying Paraguayan soldiers from a deeper-draft transport anchored offshore, keeled over and sunk when it was caught in the crossfire.

Alvarez judged that the attackers were CW-14 Ospreys, made in the USA just like he had been, probably fitted with surplus synchronization gear from the Great War. If they’d been in combat in a European or American sky they wouldn’t have stood a chance, but over Paraguay and the Gran Chaco, they were state of the art.

“Get down!” Alvarez’s river pilot Benegas grabbed him by the hair and pulled him back behind the Tacuary‘s gunwhales. Having brought his gringo charge this far, Alvarez figured, he wasn’t about to let him get shot. It seemed pointless to argue that the beefy .306 bullets would cut through the gunwhales all the same.

On their next pass, the Bolivian Ospreys dropped a series of small bombs, blowing up a quay and blasting apart another boat ferrying troops from their transport. This time, though, the Tacuary returned fire with its 37mm cannon and a pair of mounted machine guns. One of the Ospreys was caught dead-on by a cannon shell, tearing its tail off. Streaking fire, the Bolivian crashed into a warehouse onshore in a considerable fireball fueled by its unspent bombs.

The other Bolivian Ospreys, their bombs expended and low on fuel, peeled off from the attack in the face of their comrade’s destruction and increasing defensive fire from the Tacuary and the Humaitá further offshore. The air raid sirens died down gradually afterwards, and Alvarez stood up to help as his transport launched boats to try and rescue survivors.

“This is why we need pilots like you,” spat Benegas. “Because we, having so little, must protect what we have from the Bolivians. We lost nearly everything we had in the war with Argentina and Brazil, and they would take what the others could not.”

Alvarez listened to the fading sound of airplane engines. “The Bolivians lost a lot around the same time,” he said. “I think they might see things differently.”

“Luckily, my government is not paying you to think, American,” said Benegas. “One would hope that Boliva, having lost land themselves, would know better than to inflict the same heartache on others.”

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Jainkoa had never explained to Deabrua why he preferred to meet on the Salar de Uyuni salt pan after a rain. Deabrua had a few inklings; Bolivia was a country of strong faith and clean air, and the salt flats were like a giant mirror of the heavens after a rain.

Perhaps that beauty was all the explanation that was necessary; Deabrua himself was not particularly anxious to find out.

They met near a graveyard of ancient and rusting trains, reflected in a few millimeters of clear and reflective water. While either Deabrua or Jainkoa could have appeared as anything they chose, or nothing at all, they met by mutual consent as winged humanoids in roughspun cloth.

“What is the occasion this time, my friend?” Deabrua asked. He had arrived to find Jainkoa staring blankly over the reflective expanse.

“Something has been troubling me of late,” said Jainkoa. “I thought I might parley with you about it for a moment or two.”

Jainkoa hardly ever asked for advice; that was the cause of their long-ago rift, after all. And if they were able to agree to disagree for an informal chat every now and again, the old wounds still remained fresh and strong.

“What is troubling you, then?” Deabrua resisted the temptation to add a little snark, if only so that Jainkoa’s next words would be honest.

“How can the same world contain such beauty as this and such despair?”

Deabrua was taken aback for a moment, but considered for a moment. Jainkoa had the power to influence much if he chose to do so, so the question was almost nonsensical. Still, there was a sincere gleam in his old sparring partner’s eye.

“Without despair there can be no true happiness, I suppose,” Deabrua answered. “Without something to compare it to , or contrast it with, the concepts would be meaningless. To you, to me, to all the things on this rock capable of feeling.”

“You think so?” Jainkoa said with a strange note in his voice. “Even with all our disagreements?”

“I think so, even with all our disagreements,” said Deabrua. “After all, what is rebellion without something to rebel against, hatred without something to hate, or selfishness without altruism to reject?”

“A wise answer, my old friend,” said Jainkoa. “I think this may be the rare thing you can I can agree on.”

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