Jeremy’s War: Chapter 34 “Dawn Patrol “
Posted on November 9, 2008
Ch.34 DAWN PATROL
That magical time.
Perfect stillness. Quiet.
A world asleep. Not a breath of air.
Somewhere, far away, a hesitant tremolo.
Hush. The world is asleep. Dead perhaps.
The lone musician…
Be quiet. Let the world sleep.
Another tremolo. Won’t go away, this one.
An answer. From the distance. Different song.
If God was to choose this moment, to walk through the fields, alone, pondering the heart of Man…
what would He think…?
* * *
Just so bloody cold…
They stamped their feet, and slurped their hot drinks gratefully, and cursed a bit as a matter of form. Jeremy wished Mac and Tiny would hurry up. Only Dillon, fresh and eager to fly, had turned up so far.
Hurry up, guys… Anything, even freezing to death in the open cockpit of an SE5, was better than this.
He turned and looked away to the East.
Towards Germany, and the enemy. Towards where there were people who would unhesitatingly kill him that morning, if they got the chance. He wondered…
Was some German pilot waiting to get airborne to meet him, and was he cold as well? Was he stamping his feet in that same helpless primitive rhythm, quietly cursing his comrades, and wishing for his warm soft bed? Wishing for his Anna? Anna?
He sighed from the heart.
Do you want to call it off today, chum? I’m game if you are… Anna. Heidi. Gertrud. Wilhelmina. Ingrid. How often did they think of their German flier boyfriends?
He shook himself again, and gazed at the horizon. Although the sky above him was clear all the way to the moon, in the distance he could see a band of level, unbroken cloud stretching all along the Western Front. Dead level. Almost as if somebody had taken a ruler, and drawn the top of the clouds as a geometrically perfect straight line. Left to right. North to South. Dead level. Not very high above the horizon either. But there was enough there to worry him. Weather front coming through? Ground mist?
Shouts from behind him.
‘Clear prop!’ Somewhere, a Wolseley engine coughed, sneezed, rasped and clattered into life. The mechanics were making a last minute final adjustment.
Funny old sky… If you looked along the top of the cloud, you could tell where the sun was intending to come up. Although the entire sky behind the cloud was quietly beginning to illuminate, almost equally all the way along the top of the clouds, there was one area that stood out. There you could see no rays or increased intensity, but you could see a thin gold lining. Gold? No, it wasn’t gold. It was…
He shrugged his shoulders. He was hopeless at colors. He fumed quietly for his companions. Stared balefully at the sleeping quarters.
Are you coming you guys, or what?
No, not gold. Bright, very bright. Not yellow. What? A bright cheese color?
No, you can’t describe sun on cloud in terms of your favorite Edammer. What color IS that then? Must be a word for it. Amazing that cutting edge. Just a thin, ever so thin, dazzlingly bright edge trimming to the dark pinky purple clouds.
Pinky purple? Oh, Gawd.
Tiny arrived with a coughing explosion and a mouthful of obscenities. One of the mechanics wisecracked. Something about the cold air aloft sterilizing the bugs that live in lungs.
“Do you good, Sir, bugs can’t survive below zero! ”
Tiny appeared to give the matter very serious consideration. Then his face brightened.
“You mean the higher I go the better the chance of freezing their little balls off? Great! ”
Jeremy sighed. He felt the prognosis was dubious.
Pinky purple? He would have to look up some better words. Some fancy description would capture it scientifically exactly. Indigo or something.
What the hell is indigo?
He squinted his eyes, and stared intently at the distant cloud layer. If you looked quickly, you would say it was just gray. But if you looked closer, there was a lot more to it. There was a hint of blue there. Hint? Trace. No. Shade…
And purple. Even pink. Violet. The longer you stared, the more you realized it was not just a boring old gray cloud bank. How did you describe something like that?
Yes, that was it.
Still no Mac. He debated walking over to the mess to chase the lazy clot up. There was no point in everybody getting dressed on time, and then standing around freezing because of one useless pimple faced Jock from Glasgow, who couldn’t recover from the party. Jeremy disliked exerting authority, but this was getting ridiculous.
The sun was coming up. The very tip of the red orb was just beginning to show above the horizon. Interesting. You could see it quite clearly. That meant the cloud was well above ground level.
No ground mist. Good.
The ruler straight cloud top stretched unbroken, high above the peeking top of the sun.
A gentle voice cut in. Soft. Almost whispering.
“God’s playing games again this morning… “
It was the Old Man. Tim turned around and eyed him. The Old Man was leaning against the cowling of Jeremy’s SE5, waiting to swing the propeller.
Not often the Old Man spoke. Jeremy knew he was honored. He said nothing, staring momentarily at his mechanic.
“Fancies himself as a bit of a painter, you see… ”
The Old Man sighed, and slowly took his pipe out. Painfully, he exercised his rheumatic, aching shoulders. His eyes were alive and bright though, Jeremy noticed.
The top of the sun was clearly visible now, a deep red. The edge trimming of the cloud directly above had now increased in brilliance tenfold, and the width of the band had deepened. The cloud above the sun was now more purple. But if you looked away from the vicinity of the rising sun, the cloud in the South now looked more uniform gray. A boring gray.
Where the hell was Mac?
“Sergeant Smiley! ” The fat little sergeant turned around sharply, and marched smartly over to Jeremy.
“Go and find Mac… Mr. Farquart, and tell him to move his bloody arse. If he’s not here in five minutes, I’m coming with a gun! ”
The sergeant’s countenance remained impassive, he saluted with a sharp ‘Sir!’, and marched off on his errand. Secretly, he was quite pleased. It was better than standing around, and it was nice hounding the spoilt little officer kids out of their beds.
Pity he’s not serious about the gun… I’d love to shove a barrel right up Farquart’s…
He marched along grimly, pleasing himself with fantasies involving young officers court-martialled and shot for reluctance to get out of bed and go and fight.
The top of the red sun had entered cloud now. Quite noticeably. Only just a bit above the horizon, it was as if the top had been surgically removed.
That cloud was thick… But at least it was above ground level. Strange how intense the sun was below cloud. You couldn’t possibly stare into it for more than a few seconds at a time. But once into cloud, it was effectively snuffed out completely.
One of Emmy’s favorite verses… what was it?
“Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun;
But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. “
Too true, chum…
He made a wry face, and kicked a tire for comfort.
Was some Bosch pilot looking at that same sun? Was some bastard German at that same time looking at the sun disappearing into cloud? What was HE thinking?
I’m going to get me an Englishman…?
What sort of a guy was he? Maybe he wasn’t the sensitive type. Maybe he couldn’t give a damn about the sunrise. Maybe he was a typical Kraut who loved beer and sausages, and who had no feelings. Thick and ignorant.
It was easier for Jeremy to imagine his Germans like that.
He preferred it that way. It was easier killing them if you regarded them as… gross.
The sun was well up into the cloud now. More than half so. The bottom of the sun would soon be showing above the horizon.
Mac staggered up, unshaven, unkempt, and obviously nursing a cracker of a hangover.
Serve you bloody right, Jeremy thought unkindly, ignoring as much as he could that he felt far from good himself.
He glared as hard as he could at his errant wingman, and climbed in.
So here we jolly well go…
Why? He strapped in, and wondered. Why? He didn’t want to go and fight the Germans. So why go?
Because they’ll flaming well shoot you for cowardice if you don’t, chum…
It was a potent reason, he decided.
* * *
Through 1000 feet. Circling round towards the east.
Check behind: how are the boys? All tucked in nice and tight. Dillon’s fitting in well. Good sort. Bit green, but soon sort that out. Better start the look out. We need to climb like buggery, we’re late off. The other side’s bound to be upstairs already. Cold. Airspeed’s good. Face is cold. Eyes watering. Shouldn’t be. Goggles not fitting properly? Look back at formation. Not bad. Dillon’s floating out a bit. Engine sounds good. Sun shining through propeller disc. Illuminates whole thing. Looks good. Happens when light comes from just the right angle.
Good look out. Nobody about? Bet they’re up there all right. Somewhere. Have they seen us? Tough if they have.
Ten lil’ fokkers, riding thru’ the sky,
ten lil’ fokkers, quietly passin’ by,
and if ONE lil’ fokker, were to come to fall…
there’d be nine lil’ fokkers, sittin’ on the wall…
He giggled quietly to himself.
We’re all a bit the worse for wear this morning. Good party though. That idiot Thompson flat on his face hugging the bog…!
It’s going to be a nice day…
He turned the formation northwards.
Look at the Sun peeping up above those clouds now. Brightening up the whole sky. All those little houses. People fast asleep. Tucked up in bed. Don’t know we’re up here…
He spent a second or two longer than he knew he should have contemplating the peaceful scene below. He knew why.
Her face smiled at him, tossed her head slightly, so that the hair fell over her shoulder, away from her face.
His stomach gave that familiar kick, that tightening feeling. Genevieve…
I miss you, kid.
2000 feet. Let’s hit a gentle turn, so I can see past the nose. Formation? Quick look. Not bad. Dillon again.
Anybody up high? Any dots? Hard to see. In the sun? Beware the Hun in the sun. Can’t see. Scary. Gentle turn. Look behind. Funny the way your skin crawls.
A man is waiting in the sun,
his soul is fierce but scarred
He trusts the power of his gun,
his eyes are blue and hard.
Soul? That man has no soul! The Blue Albatros is just a killer, devoid of emotions…
That feeling in the stomach again. Butterflies this time.
Is that sod up there? Where then? Keep looking!
Engine good, climbing well, formation? Not bad. How’s your head, Mac? Better? Keep your eyes skinned…
God’s playing games again this morning… fancies himself as a bit of a painter, you see…
The Old Man’s theory… Certainly beautiful out there, if I had time to admire it. If…
Sod! Is that something? There! It’s gone… In the sun!
I knew it! They’re waiting for us!
He’s waiting for me…
The others seen anything? No, you haven’t have you? Dozy sods! Right. Fire the guns, and jab a finger at the sun, fortissimo!
Got the message, boys? Yes, you’re damn right. They’re waiting for us.
This’ll cure your headache, Mac.
Lord knows what it’ll do for your stomach…
Sixty yards away, Paul Dillon warmed his guns nervously, licking his lips. His mind was racing, and he knew he was frightened.
Where are they? Hell, Sir, I can’t see a soddin’ thing! In the sun? WHERE in the sun? What are we going to do now? I’ve not been in a dogfight yet. How can you guys see them? My eyes just fill with tears. Stay close to me, he said. Stay close to me…
Here we go again. What a way to spend a lovely morning…
He was humming ‘Oh when the Saints go Marching in’, and he had also seen the brief tell tale specks before they slipped back into the sun.
He was frightened, and willing to admit it.
Mac burped, farted, and shuffled uncomfortably against the straps.
My bum is numb already, and we haven’t got half way yet. I’m going to be bloody sick all over this cockpit, and it’s going to be all your fault, Mr Smart Alec Jeremy Armstrong. Why the hell I volunteered for this caper, I shall never know. Need my brain examining. Where are the soddin’ Krauts anyway? I can’t see a thing.
He was frightened, but not willing to admit it, even to himself. Instead he channeled anger and frustration at his flight leader.
Jeremy wheeled the formation round, peering intently into the sun.
They’re going to jump us, any second. I can bloody feel it. He’s looking at me, right now. I know. I bloody know.
* * *
The cold, blue eyes that stared down from a very great height narrowed slightly. The mouth tightened into a thin line of lips. The jaw was set.
He’s clever, this one. He knows we’re here…
I wonder is it our friend Yellow Scarf…
For half an hour he had watched and waited. Freezing cold. Hurting with the pain of twenty degrees below zero.
Aware that his body craved more oxygen. Determined…
Then they had appeared…
The four little dots, late off the ground, unable to avail themselves of any cover of early morning low-level darkness. He had smiled grimly, and the cat and mouse game had begun. They had wheeled and climbed in the sun. Always, always, keeping their formation between the sun and the climbing British scouts.
It was not easy. The unknown British flight leader was clever. He had many times abruptly changed heading, for several minutes at a time, trying to search the sky above as thoroughly as possible. In reply, the man with the hard blue eyes had been forced to maneuver just as adroitly, turning quickly, and following every move of the British. Once or twice, they had come close to blowing their cover. Like when young Steinbeck had turned to steeply, pulling hard, failing to allow for the rarefied atmosphere. Idiot! He had spun off, and lost several hundred feet in seconds. He had climbed back as quickly as he could, but it had taken long minutes.
Had the British flight leader spotted that little farce?
Possibly. But he was still coming…
Mentally, the man with the hard blue eyes worked out the odds. He had five wingmen with him. That made six Fokker D. VII’s versus four SE5A’s. Good odds. However, the British in that sector still had some very good fliers.
Like the Yellow Canary…
His mind went back to the strange duel they had fought before, and the reports of his pilots. Kurt Wolff’s comment:
For a little canary he packs a nasty peck…
Still, the odds were good. Pity about the fuel. They had been stooging about waiting for a while.
Why were you so late this morning, my fine British friends?
It was strange being so far over the British lines. Strange, but satisfying. The war was going very badly indeed, that was obvious. But… while there was a will… He found himself longing for the rattling fire from his guns, the vibrating kick of the recoil, the smell of cordite.
Oh to drill them all into the ground!
Yes, that was the Answer. The whole purpose of life.
Drill every last one of them six feet into the ground…
* * *
It was Tiny who got a positive sighting for a moment on
the spinning D. VII. His heart thudded into his throat, and his stomach seemed to turn over.
He fired a short burst, and gesticulated emphatically as Jeremy’s head turned.
His index finger stabbed at the sun.
He could see Jeremy nod briefly.
Tiny shivered, and wondered what was going through his flight leader’s mind.
Jeremy, how many Huns ARE there up there?
We’re playing it THEIR way at the moment, aren’t we?
Unbeknown to Tiny, Jeremy’s thoughts were working along a very similar line.
This won’t do… we’re already at 14000 feet. What height are those guys at? 18000? They obviously know what they’re doing, because they’ve done a good job of keeping out of sight, despite all my weaving and changing course. But they’re a long way over OUR side of the lines. How long have they been here? How are they for fuel? Can’t be too healthy. Why not sucker them? Break north, climbing all the time, and let them run thin on fuel. Then turn back east, at height, and maybe clobber them when they have to split for home. Right!
The man with the hard eyes swore quietly when he saw the result of Jeremy’s thinking, and knew immediately that the British flight leader’s action was prudent, and held in it a concealed threat. His lips pulled back from his teeth in a snarl, and he knew he had to abandon the hunt. Fuel was going to be a problem otherwise.
He wondered if the leader was the Yellow Canary.
Probably. The devil is cunning. But what else can I do?
He had to take the formation home.
The germ of an idea blossomed in his mind, and again the lips pulled away from his teeth. This time though, his mouth wore something that resembled more of a smile.
* * *
Jeremy and Tiny saw them first. The tiny, ominous dots, that appeared out of the sun, and rapidly fell towards the German lines.
So there you are…
Automatically, Jeremy counted.
One, two, three…
Mac had noticed them now as well. Only Dillon, bemused and quite innocent of the stealthy game being played, was wholly unaware of the dangerous dots in the far distance.
Jeremy wheeled the formation onto a south easterly track,
and pushed the stick forward gently. His airspeed increased smoothly. His scarf flapped a bit harder, tugging gently at his neck.
Carefully he studied the enemy, mentally working out time and distance. He thought back to the large German map they had studied, in Baxter’s office. If this lot came from where he thought, then he could well give them a nasty surprise just when they were low on fuel.
This could be interesting…
Baxter used to say that…
Poor sod Baxter. Dead as a doornail. Dying with a message on his lips. A message that was however just gobbledygook. A dying man’s nonsense. It meant nothing…
What had he said?
Every man just has to reach out…
You’d never get every man to do anything. Life just wasn’t like that. Poor Baxter.
Airspeed. Good. Formation?
Not bad. Tuck up, Dillon! Fuel? That’s okay. Engine sounds great. Descending now. Might get a bit warmer!
Warmer?? You mean less cold, don’t you?
Poor Baxter. Sun’s really up now. Thin blue sky. Indigo? No, brighter. Lighter. Azure? No! Much, much thinner, colder, more… fleeting.
Fleeting…? As in ‘passing by’?
For God’s sake, Jeremy, concentrate on what you’re doing!
Lookout. Search everywhere. Look, watch, wait.
Look, watch, wait…
Where had he heard that before?
It rang a bell somewhere, deep within.
Something to do with Emmy. No time to dwell on it.
Those guys are below ten thousand feet now. Hungry for breakfast, eh? Don’t count on it just yet. Not just yet.
Flying wires are howling now. That’s called speed. We’re really going now. Poor Baxter. Poor Baines. Poor sods.
And Dek. And Mortimer, Hayes, Clifton, Meredew, Swords, Beaton and Johnston. All poor sods.
How many funerals have I been to? Does it matter?
All that matters is this stick in my right hand. This throttle in my left. The fact that I’ve still got plenty of petrol in my tank. At least half. The fact that my guns are ready. Plenty of ammo. That’s what matters.
That’s real. Nothing else. If I waggle the rudder pedals, the tail kicks. That’s my world. The smell of oil, the smudges on my goggles, that’s the truth.
There is nothing higher. Nothing greater. Nothing that matters more…
A shadow fell over him.
It was so unexpected, so unreal, so ghostly, that his breath froze. The hairs on the back of his neck rose up, and he felt the blood drain away from his face.
* * *
It was the Old Man who heard it first.
The unmistakeable sound of an SE5A engine. He moved quickly to the hanger entrance, and stood there, head cocked on one side, listening. An unlit pipe in his right hand pointed oddly upwards.
“There they are “, somebody said.
There was a pause.
“It’s only one “.
A shudder of concern passed through the waiting watchers.
Only one? What about the other three?
The mess emptied out; somebody had gone in and announced that there was only one machine coming back.
They all came running.
Where was the rest of ‘A’ flight?
The lone machine flew over the airfield, circled around into wind, and landed carelessly, untidily, the wings rocking from side to side, as if the pilot had held off too long, and then simply allowed her to mush onto the ground.
It was Mac. He taxied in, and the machine showed all the signs of having been dragged through several hedges backwards. Great rips showed in the fabric, the rudder was sieved, and the elevators were all but shot away.
The pilot’s face, grimy and blackened, and looking desperately tired, reflected his relief at being back on the ground. He switched off, and people gathered around him.
An unmistakable smell greeted them. Mac had been sick in the cockpit.
Mac climbed out swiftly, peeling his gauntlets off in disgust, and flinging them away. His right hand was bleeding profusely, and was obviously causing him pain. He wrapped his handkerchief around it.
He eyed them gloomily. “The Blue Albatros… ”
Something stuck in his throat, and he coughed it up.
Then, aware that more comment was required, he searched the horizon from where he had come.
“Tiny should be along in a second. He’s got some kind of trouble, and he’s flying very slowly. He’s all shot to hell as well. Dillon… ”
He shook his head, and started to peel his flying jacket off.
“Dillon’s dead “.
The Old Man sighed, and thought of poor little fresh faced Dillon, all eager and keen.
What about Jeremy?
He couldn’t have got Jeremy? Best pilot we’ve got. The Blue Albatros got Jeremy? Never…
“As for Jeremy… I don’t know what’s happening. He…
I thought he was dead. Knocked off at the first pass. He just sort of slumped forwards and rolled away. I thought he was dead. Then… Dillon went down. Blew up. Flamer. That left me and Tiny. He just… ”
He paused, and shrugged his shoulders helplessly.
“He just ran rings around us. Just… played with us.
He got me through the hand, turned the machine into a sieve, and I’m sure Tiny’s the same. I couldn’t even get a decent shot off at him. Then… ”
A distant noise turned several heads. Somebody said:
“Here’s Tiny now. ”
The Old Man listened carefully.
“Sounds rough. Sounds hellish rough. ”
He peered hard at the approaching dot, which was just beginning to resolve itself into a biplane silhouette.
He could hear Mac clear his throat, spit, and then carry on.
“I didn’t know what to do. There were two of us against just him, but we just couldn’t hack it. He was picking us off at his leisure. Next thing… ”
Somebody was bandaging his hand now, and he winced in pain.
“Next thing, blow me down, there comes Jeremy, going like a bullet, right back into the fray. Hanged if I know where he’d been. Anyway… ”
The second SE5a sounded appallingly sick, and seemed to be trailing smoke. Everybody looked, including Mac.
“Anyway… he went for the German like he was mad. Like… he was raging. Shot bits off the blighter’s aileron. Then… ”
The second SE5a was turning onto finals. Something was hanging crazily from the wing.
The Old Man winced.
What in heaven’s name is that? And where is Jeremy?
Still nobody had interrupted Mac.
“Then… the German decides to quit while he’s ahead. Pushes off home in a hurry. Jeremy… ”
The second SE5a was now touching down. It was a poor landing. The ship bounced high in the air, hung there unhappily, and then crashed down hard. Somehow, the undercarriage survived, although one wingtip seemed very close to the ground. Tiny taxied in slowly and slightly oddly, the Old Man thought.
There was a pause while the noise of Tiny’s engine drowned out conversation. Tiny pulled up, and switched off the fan.
Silence returned. Everybody looked at Tiny. His face seemed very white.
“Hullo, chaps! ”
Nobody was fooled by the attempt at lighthearted jocularity.
“Think I’ve copped a few! ”
He smiled apologetically, and fainted dead away.
Willing hands lifted him out of the cockpit, and discovered that he was bleeding severely from his stomach. The medics went to work immediately, applying field dressings, and examining him for bullet wounds.
They carried him away on a stretcher in a hurry, looking grim.
Everybody watched the procession.
“Damn! “, somebody said.
The Old Man finally could contain himself no longer.
Ignoring rank, he spoke up for everybody:
“Sir, what happened to Mr Armstrong? ”
Mac turned a tired gaze on the groundsman. If he was surprised at being quizzed by a non-officer, he didn’t show it. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know “, he said helplessly.
His voice rose slightly in perplexed bewilderment.
“Last I saw he was chasing the Blue Albatros right into the middle of Germany. Tiny and I were in no shape to follow… ”
* * *
It was a funny dream.
Ever so funny.
Why can’t they let a man sleep?
It wasn’t fair… He was tired, and he wanted to sleep.
He had jolly well deserved some decent sleep.
There they go again! They’ll wake me up in a minute…
He fought against surfacing. He did NOT want to wake up. It was nice and cool lying in bed, and he wanted to sleep on. But they were making such a racket…
He decided it was a motorbike. Why on earth were they revving it up outside his bedroom window?
He was slowly surfacing, and he didn’t want to. There was no way of fighting it.
He was conscious of bed now. Bed,bedroom, sheets, and…
Light… shining in the window.
It was only very vague. Obviously early in the morning.
Not a motorbike. Car? No…
Aeroplane? Outside his bedroom window? Who on earth…
something not right…
He tried to raise himself on one elbow, peering at the vague outline where the window was, pale moonlight shining through the curtain.
Thought was accelerating. Faster and faster. With increased thought came increased worry.
He tried to surface faster now, reversing his previous efforts. What was the aeroplane doing outside…this time… Other sensations came rushing towards him.
This bed’s awfully hard…
I can smell the oil off that engine…
Something hitting his face. Ruffling his collar. Jerking gently at his neck. Cold water. Somebody had showered him in cold water…
My God! Oh, my God…
A gigantic explosion of panic sledgehammered his mind.
Adrenaline surged through his system…
I’m flying, I’m in the aeroplane, but I can’t SEE…
I CAN’T SEE I CAN’T SEE I CAN’T SEE…
The moonlight, shining through the curtains, outlining the window, was not moonlight at all!
He realized he was screaming at himself.
WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!
The ground! Where was the ground? His right hand reached and, searching for the stick, and found it. His left hand reached and searched for the throttle, and his knuckles touched the black knob.
But I can’t SEE! How can I fly? I can’t SEE!
Still the voice was shouting, ringing in his ears, panic raising the note higher.
Concentrate… I must concentrate…
Slowly, the indistinct image of pale moonlight, swimming in front of his eyes, started to resolve itself into something more substantial.
Instrument panel!… windscreen…!
But it was all blurred. He could not read the altimeter, or the airspeed indicator. He could see only the round faces of the dials. Frantically, he looked out, but he could only see a vague horizon, and was completely unable to judge height.
It’s coming back… vision is slowly coming back… I’ve been out cold… but it’s coming back… a few more seconds…
Did he have a few more seconds? Was the ground about to obliterate him? There was no way of knowing.
With his heightened state of mental striving, everything was occurring in slow motion. Slowly, very slowly, color and features were coming back…
That’s the ground, fields… wings are level… going down… ease back, ease back!…
He eased back on the stick, and sat there whilst his vision repaired itself to normality. He realized he had been in only a very slight nose down attitude, with wings level…
wings level?… an aircraft with no pilot that falls out of the sky and recovers itself to an almost level attitude? That’s impossible!
Memories were crowding his brain now, clamoring for attention. He could remember a shadow spreading over him… a massive blow to the back of his head…
and rolling over, falling away, powerless to prevent himself disappearing over the cliff edge… being aware, yet not been able to prevent the falling… falling…
Mac! Tiny! Dillon!
There was blood trickling down his face. He wiped impatiently at it. Twisting his head around, searching the sky, he winced in pain as his head throbbed. He was just in time to see, about a mile away, a vicious yellow and black sheet whipping up viciously and hungrily from a falling aircraft. Even as he watched, his stomach turning over in empathy, he saw a tiny figure falling away from the main body of fire. This shape too trailed its own, much smaller sheet of fire.
He guessed the answer. Movement caught his eye, and he turned the aircraft hard round. To the north, and above him, some fifteen hundred feet higher, three aircraft fought furiously. One in particular seemed to be having things all the pilot’s way…
Jeremy swore softly, and slammed the throttle wide open.
* * *
The word was that Tiny was badly hurt. One or more bullets in the stomach. He was still unconscious, and had lost more blood than had been at first realized.
The Medical Orderly was arranging a transfer to the field hospital.
Mac’s hand was smashed. He was now in great pain, but trying to put a brave face on it.
There was no sign of Jeremy Armstrong.
People spoke and moved in a subdued manner.
The Old Man was quietly distraught. He looked on Jeremy with the affection of a father on a son, and frequently went outside to listen. No Jeremy. The hours went by. He was long out of fuel now.
The Old Man reflected on how much Jeremy had risen in everybody’s affection.
Weird… when he came here first, nobody wanted to know him. They shunned him even. Just because he was unusual.
Now… in a squadron conditioned to death and destruction, they mourn him. But they’re wrong… he’s not dead. He’s not… I know.
He would walk out, illogically, and listen.
Where are you, young Jeremy?
You’re not dead, are you?
Only the silence answered him.
* * *
The man with the hard blue eyes pressed the trigger viciously, exerting far more thumb pressure than required to operate the simple trigger mechanism. His first choice had been the straggler, almost certainly the novice, but then he had reflected carefully.
Get the leader first… if that’s the Yellow Canary, he’s dangerous… and I have a score to settle… then pick off the novice, then assess the other two…
He had grinned as he had seen the short end of the yellow scarf flapping gaily, just as he completed his successful stalking approach from out of the sun.
Good decision… good choice…
Fire had poured forth, and the Flight leader had rolled away slowly, almost lethargically, demonstrating with absolute proof that the pilot had been hit. The surprise was complete, and the rest of the flight scattered in confusion. It was the work of seconds to half loop, roll off the top, and swing round onto the tail of the correctly identified novice, who offered no evasive maneuver at all.
He aimed carefully, and seemed to see something red erupt from the flier’s head and spatter against the inside of the windscreen.
He did not wait to see the results of his handiwork, but turned to attack a third aircraft.
They were coming at him now, their senses recovered, but they were no match for him. He easily evaded the first attack, kicked upwards, gaining height, and fired off a snap burst that went home. He could see pieces fly off his enemy. He almost laughed out loud.
He was beginning to enjoy himself.
I can take these two. Both of them. Just don’t rush it. Take your time, go for quick bursts, and slowly cut ’em to pieces…
He thought of Lothar, and how he had sworn revenge.
Here it was. His turn.
A song entered his head. It was an old Prussian cavalry song, and he imagined he could hear the music playing.
This was the life! With his Spandaus doing the talking, barrels glowing, he was alive and happy!
The clarion calls, the bugle sounds,
the heros charge, the horses foam;
’till Death does come upon the plain,
we sing the laughing, loud refrain.
It seemed to him that he had never been happier. Perhaps he had been more worried about the Yellow Canary than he had realized. Well, it no longer mattered. The Yellow Canary was dead. He feared no other man alive.
He managed another deflection shot at one of the remaining machines, and grinned as he saw his aim was true. The pilot seemed to writhe, and he suspected that the man had been hit.
Next time, my friend, next burst, and you die…
He only just saw him coming. A glimpse out of the corner of his eye… a violent evasive kick on the rudder…
and the bullets meant for between his shoulder blades missed by inches. His windscreen shattered, and a fragment ripped through his cheek, causing a flesh wound that stung, causing his eyes to water. A trickle of blood became wind blown and smeared across his face.
His surprise was absolute.
The Yellow Canary! Impossible! Has he arisen from the dead?
He peeled off, and dived flat out for home.
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on November 9, 2008, 3:18 pm