She stepped over the fence, a turnstile placed conveniently next to the rest area. The roar of the motorway traffic was muted by the small grove of trees that bravely withstood howling slipstreams, taxi fumes and liberal doses of grey skies.
She continued into the field despite her limited knowledge of all things agrarian though a quick glance for flaring nostrils of mythical crazy bulls paused her for a second.
“I should get out into the country more often,” she said to herself.
Her sensible Marks and Spencer’s shoes coped well with the mildly grassed mud.
Her head down, watching how best to place her feet, she only noticed the change when the mugginess of the drizzle became the cold snap of a mist. She looked up and stopped. She was surrounded by a dirty white cloud. And she couldn’t see a thing but her sensible shoes.
“Then why the hell have you brought me here?” she said to them. “This is peachy. Just peachy.”
But as she had done all her life, to the amusement of those who knew her and frustration of those that wanted to be close to her, she remained still. She paused, contemplated, considered. She didn’t ever panic. The slight, slim brunette was always together. Cool. Aware. Remarkably though she wasn’t distant nor reserved and liked company and solitude equally.
Walk back to the road.
Only logical choice.
She turned back. Or at least she thought she did.
Where was the noise from the traffic?
Foot tracks. In the mud. Should be easy to follow where those out of character shoes had led her…
No. She stopped again.
She tilted her head toward a sound. Traffic? No… it was a ..train whistle? She slowly turned her head hoping to hear it again. Yes there! She fixed a line through the mist and began walking toward the train. Well at least the train line, because unless the train that was whistling was stopped it wouldn’t be there when she got to that point.
The voice in her head finally broke through. “Why the hell are you here?”
Ok, she surrendered. I’m going nuts. I drive down the hill before the exit to Winchester and I see someone, in the field waving. But not waving ‘hello’, but beckoning. Okay? She said to herself. Shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. It’s not as if your schedule is that full.
“Yep. You’re nuts.” replied the voice.
She felt the ground becoming firmer under feet and the pair from M&S was happier with that. The grass was winning the ratio war with the mud and she could swear it was getting warmer. The dirty white cloud had changed and looking up she caught glimpses of blue sky.
Good she thought. The sun will disperse this fog and-
“I wondered when you’d finally show.”
Naturally the suddenness of the voice surprised her, but she still registered its meaning. And considered it.
“I’d like to say ‘I know what you’re thinking.’ But I’m looking at you and I don’t even know if you have heard what I said.” The voice again.
The mist fell away with the last dying cry of the train whistle and there he was.
Strange things and people in her life she had seen, so a man in costume was not something by which she would be shocked. What stirred her was the completeness of the scene.
The blue sky beyond and above him were streaked white with trails, marking tears of the air. The used parachute, carelessly lying in a heap on the ground, the crumpled, grimy yellow life vest. Everything was genuine. Everything was real.
She…She felt out of place.
“I’m not meant to be here.” She said to him.
“Yes you are. And you’re late.”
A smile, but serious too.
He walked toward her, confident, knowing she wouldn’t be frightened; as if they were friends.
He stopped a pace away from her.
“It’s our time again, Arthur. We have been called.”
And he put his hand on her chest. Not provocative; professionally detached yet following an imperative. His hand was on her heart.
Her disorientation, her weirdness faded. Her need to know disappeared. She knew. She understood.
“What happened? Why did I have to do the time travel thing? And why am I female?”
They were walking in sunshine now, through grass and clover that smelled of country.
Merlin laughed. “I can’t be sure why you have actually come back in time. That’s a first for us I believe. I can only guess at something in your future history causing a rift in our link. Not surprising since we’ve been apart since the great fire.”
“Ah yes. They call it the ‘Great Fire’. Fairly drastic way to rid the place of the plague.”
“Well if I hadn’t, London would have been a stinking hole of decay. England would have had the Spanish doing the burning for them, in a much less strategic way. Mind you, I was surprised with your letting the Americans win their independence. Old George was not happy.
She smiled. “An independent America would be a strong ally. What year is this?”
“1940. August, 1940. And the yanks are not anywhere in sight.”
“Not yet, anyway.” She closed her eyes in thought for a moment. “How’s the U-boat situation?” One of his eyebrows raised in surprise. “Bad and getting worse. Winston’s worried.” She nodded.
“Look, there is an issue that we must deal with right now. It’s to do with time which we don’t have a lot of…” His voice trailed off and he grimaced.
“I hate ending sentences in a preposition,” he said.
She looked at him and shook her head. “You were speaking of an issue? To do with time?”
“Yes. Simply this. The future you know may never happen. You cannot act in a way that relies on the future’s certainty, because it isn’t.”
“Yeah, I understand. Don’t muck around with the time continuum. I always backed Carter, but wanted Jack O’Neill to do it anyway.”
He looked at her blankly. “It’s ok.” She said. “I get it.”
They crested a rise and she said “And the female thing?”
“I believe it’s got something to do with chromosomes near the end of the alphabet,” he said smugly.
She punched his arm.
He stopped and stood still. From the top of the crest she looked around and got her bearings.
“There’s supposed to be a shopping centre there” pointing “and over there a housing estate and …”
She lowered her arm and stared.
At two Spitfires.
Paused. Not parked, not sitting. But paused, resting for a moment from their natural state.
She knew her appreciation of flight and of things that flew were more commonly found in males. But she didn’t feel less feminine for it. She knew that what she had, rose above petty gender stereotyping and that she was among a few whose spirit and soul knew fulfillment above the Earth.
The planes drew her to them and her hand sought their skin. A child reaching for a parent’s hand, a painter in front of a blank canvas.
Merlin grunted at her side.
“So. It doesn’t look like I’ve much persuading to do.”
Reluctantly she withdrew her focus.
“Merlin, how is it that we can fail when we can create things of such beauty?”
For a moment, Merlin was gong to answer in terms of air superiority and policies and resources. But then he realized her question was framed at a much deeper level.
“Because, my friend, we have to deal with the balance. As always when there is beauty there is ugliness. Ugliness of greed, of lust for power.”
“Nothings changed. Nothing changes.”
“Oh yes it does. As we become smarter, we become better at what we do. Both good and evil. Do you remember the Crusades? The Christians massacring the followers of Mohammed ?”
She nodded again. And her thoughts dwelt on her on her own time where in some ways the tide was turning.
“Yes. I remember.”
“Well imagine how horrific it would have been had the Soldiers of Christ had access to such weapons as these.”
Arthur turned again to look the Spitfires and shuddered to think of their being used for such a heinous purpose.
“So what is it we must do?”
“In a nutshell? We have to rescue Keith Park.”
BAYSWATER ROAD HOTEL. March 1940.
Harold Melrose was trembling. In his hands he held large black and white photos of his sister’s children playing in a park in Frankfurt.
Harold was a weak man and had been lured to the hotel with the lure of a young attractive girl who was actually an aide in the German Wermacht, recruited for the sole purpose of destabilizing the British military leadership.
The girl was long gone and before him stood a man whose outward appearance was bland and non-descript. Perfect for a Gestapo agent.
He looked at the next photo and it portrayed the children in care of their Nanny entering their modest house in Stralaeur Strasse. The next, walking to school. Alone.
The implication, the threat was clear.
“What do you want?”
He tried to be brave but his voice squeaked and he hated himself for his weakness. He had gained his position as second in command of the 11th Group through insinuation and sycophantic manoeuvering. He knew deep down he would always be ‘second’ but for him that was enough.
“Well, Air Commodore Melrose, what we want is simple. Give an order. One order and your sister’s children will be forever safe.”
“So where is he?”
“At the moment? He’s probably at Chequers sharing a whiskey with Churchill.”
“So we bust in and save him from a Churchillian hangover?”
“Funny. The truth is I don’t know when exactly he is going to need us. I just know that when the time comes you and I- and these beauties have to do our thing.”
She looked at him quizzically.
“I know who I am…was…meaning a woman from 70 years in the future. Who are you?”
“I am who I am. It has to be that way. I didn’t know WHO I was until about six months ago. And I knew I had to wait.”
“For the right time. For you.”
“How did you find out?”
“Cricket? Silly game.”
“Well a cricket ball to be precise. Right there.”
Pointing to his forehead, between the eyes.
“Well, you must be getting used to it.”
“Never mind. Old joke. What happened?”
“Well I was knocked unconscious- was out for two days. It was long enough for me to emerge.”
“What like in a dream?”
“In a way. I – the body I was inhabiting - experienced a chronicle of our participation in history that was not in the third person. I was remembering.”
She turned and gazed the planes.
“Do you think we’ll ever have to stop doing this?”
“ ‘This’ being?”
“Awoken when England needs us.”
“Let me answer your question with another. Can you see a time when there will be no such thing as England?”
She faced him saying nothing.
At times in her own time she had been perplexed at the human condition. The good versus the evil. The haves and the have-nots, the smart and the not so…
She shrugged her shoulders.
“What I am sure of is that the writers of history come from the conquerors and that the conquerors always fall. The superpowers change and usually they forget that fact. What I wish I could live to see is the Earth united.”
“The whole Earth?”
“What could possibly do that?”
“Not ‘what’ –‘who’! The Vulcans, Klingons, Borg the Go’auld…take your pick. Just ask Stephen Hawkin”
Merlin looked at her curiously.“You know when this is finished, I think you might have some interesting stories to tell me.”
“I may” she said.” But the point is if my wish comes true then our job is done.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because then there will be no England.”
Merlin smiled at her.
“What?” she asked slightly annoyed.
“We could always change its name.”
“O.K. So how does this work. I can’t imagine that there were too many of us with the enhanced chromosome in the Few?”
“I don’t know for certain that there weren’t. Not officially anyway. There were women pilots who ferried planes to and from the factory strips. And what do you mean by the ‘Few’?.
“Hmmm. I guess you’ll just have to listen to honourable Winston on the radio.”
Merlin screwed up his face.
“Do you have any idea how long his speeches are?”
She smiled. And looked at him querulously. “The woman thing?”
“This is what I do. What people will see is what they expect. A young man. They’ll talk to you, drink with you… just another bloke.”
“Bloke? Now you’re sounding Australian.”
“I played cricket remember.”
She considered what he was saying. “Am I taking someone’s place…oh no! I’m not…” as she saw the look of concern on Merlin’s face.
“What? No you’re not being a ghost if that’s what’s worrying you.”
“Then why the face?”
“I’ve forgotten something. Something critical.”
He paused to gather himself. Mentally crossing his fingers.
“I don’t suppose you can fly can you?”
Her right hand was gripping the throttle, her left hand was strangling the control column. The little Cessna was accelerating along the runway.
The instructor smiled and waved his finger at her white knuckles.
She forced herself to loosen her grip.
Through the soles of her feet she could fell his gentle guiding input into the rudder pedals.
He was letting her know he was with her, not controlling, supporting.
“OK. Now pull back gently until the nose of the aircraft comes up to the horizon.”
It wasn’t her first time in the plane and she had heard the words many times before. But this time she was in control. She was flying them off the ground.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see his hands. In his lap. Resting. Suddenly, she felt calm.
Gently she pulled back and the machine responded. The nose came up. She stopped pulling as it leveled with the horizon.
And they flew.
Some people she knew, remembered their first solo as their best moment. Later she knew that this first time – her instructor calm and confident in her- was the best. The solo was good. But this, this answered the question, fuelled the passion. I want to fly.
She smiled at him.
“Actually, I can.”
“Oh splendid!” His face lit up. “Splendid indeed!”
“Of course, I haven’t flown one of these,’ her hand caressing the Spitfire’s flank. He laughed and shook his head.
“Yes you have. You just don’t remember it yet. Come.”
He led her around to left side and motioned for her to climb the wing and sit in the cockpit.”
“Is there something missing?” She said pointing. “Like a seat?”
“Sorry-here. Normally this would be strapped to you.” He handed her a packed parachute. “You sit on it.”
After she had the parachute pack secured under her she inspected the control panel, with its familiar, yet old-fashioned instruments.
Then to side with the throttle and prop controls, the joystick with its curious circular handle.
“OK I know these-and this,” pointing around at different dials and levers, “but the rest of it is new to me.
“Remember this is a war machine. A fighter with things that make you go faster, make noise and shoot down other aircraft.
He stood on the wing and watched her as she metamorphisized her previous flying machines with the Spitfire. Then he saw her body stiffen. Her hand had come up to the control column with THE button.
“I –I – can’t do this.”
“Don’t worry. I will show you.”
“No you don’t understand. I can’t kill.”
He looked at her. Over love and life he had no power. Only that of mortal man. He had killed before; indeed so had she. And he knew the decision to kill had to be made now. It couldn’t be left to the moment when indecision could lead to disaster. He also knew that commitment was made on reason and on faith.
Faith that it was the right thing to do.
“It won’t be pleasant.” He said.
She folder arms, her hands isolated from the machine. And shook her head.
“I can’t kill. I know Germans. I have German friends, even relatives. They might be arrogant, but I can’t hate them for that.”
Merlin was at something of a loss. He was beginning to understand that this was a creature from the future. More complex, more sophisticated, more educated than he had encountered before. And she was a woman to boot. He scratched his head.
“Arthur. Look at me.”
He had to talk to Arthur. Arthur the king.
“Why did you kill Mordred, your son?”
The response was immediate. “Because if I hadn’t he would have killed me and then ruined England.”
“The Germans have immense air power. Ours is not immense, but we have other things like RADAR and the Channel and God forbid Churchill which puts us on an even keel. But if we lose to their Luftwaffe, then they control the skies which means they control the channel. Our navy won’t be able to stop their invasion fleet and then we’ll have Nazis ruling England. Not Germans, Nazis. Europe will be completely under Hitler’s control and then possibly even Russia.
“You don’t understand. This is history for me.”
“YOU don’t understand that’s it’s a history for Stephanie that will never be if you and I fail.”
She unfolded her arms. She clamped her hands between her knees.
“You mean what we are doing is that important?”
“It is. It must be. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
One hand. Tentatively reaching for the control column.
“There’s something else.”
“Remember who you are.”
Her face set, her lips pursed in a grim straight line, she gripped the column fully. And suddenly she felt an energy. Merlin had put his hand on her forehead.
She wished she could be outside herself and be a spectator. The trust for Merlin was her safety net…no not her safety net…her bungee cord. At one time she was exhilarated at flying such a beautiful machine and on the verge of panic when the reality of what she was doing hit her. She knew that her free fall would continue but at the end she would be safe.
Arthur couldn’t decide if it was the terror of such exhilaration or the exhilaration of such terror.
A pilot’s 360. Looking in the sky, checking above, in front, below and behind including a check of the instruments in each sweep. Airspeed ok, gentle pressure on the stick, coordinated with rudder and the Spitfire gifted her with her first aileron roll.
“OK that was nice” voice crackling in her ears. “Now fly straight and level for a count of five then push the nose forward into vertical dive. I’ll stay above and behind you.”
She thumbed the mike. “OK.”
“…three, four, five.” She pushed forward, felt the straps biting into her shoulders as the negative ‘g’ lifter her from her seat and then she swore as the engine coughed and died.
Instinctively she began to pull up.
“No. Select full coarse, stay in the dive and let the air start you again.
Chilled now, she put the propeller level at full coarse and watch as the blades began to spin and then with the equivalent of a clutch start the motor came back to life.
“Good. Get yourself sorted and climb back up to me.”
“You knew that was going to happen, didn’t you?”
Of course he did. And from somewhere she recalled his impatience with redundant questions. While she sorted out the aircraft back into its best climb she tried to figure out for herself why the engine had stopped. Stephanie knew why he had done it. Merlin believed fervently in experience being the best teacher.
Then it came to her. Negative ‘g’s. The early model Spitfires had an antiquated float carburettor that allowed the engine to be starved of fuel when pulling negative ‘g’s.
She stopped the climb and leveled out. …three, four, five. She flicked the machine on its back and pulled the control column hard between her legs, pointing the nose at the ground.
Three thousand feet lower she pulled out of the dive, soaring for altitude, gritted her teeth in a growl as the positive ‘g’s tried to drain the blood from her brain.
“Do you know where I am?” voice in her ears.
“No.” She grunted.
“In about two seconds I’m going to be in a position to fire at you.”
“Take evasive action.” She tried to smile at his redundant words as she had already slammed her right foot against the rudder and pulled the stick hard to the right. Shoving the throttle through past the little notch that indicated an illusory step-up from full power to military power she turned her head and expected to see empty sky behind her.
Annoyingly she was able to the crinkles around his smiling eyes. He was that damn close!
She leveled out and pulled the throttle back to a sane setting. He pulled up alongside her. At least she had a chance to look at the beautiful machine in its element as the lesson continued.
“Most people are right-handed. And physiologically it’s quicker and easier to pull rather than push. The cunning dog-fighter will anticipate your right turn and be waiting for you.”
Arthur considered this and reflected on its similarity to the curved stairwells in castles. They ascended clock-wise, giving the retreating defender an advantage over the ascending, right-handed attacker.
“Good,” she said. “Anything else?”
“Just two more things for today. When you are flying straight and level, which you should never do in a combat zone, input a little off-balance with your rudder trim. You won’t suffer much performance loss and the aircraft will be skidding slightly. Someone coming at you from behind will miss if he’s not skidding the same.
She leant forward, slid the rudder trim slight to the left. She felt the imbalance but it barely noticeable and her airspeed had dropped by an insignificant amount.
“I’d better remember to put that back before I land.” She had meant to be speaking to herself but she got a response.
“Very true, Arthur, Very true.”
“What’s the second thing?” She was getting used to him calling her Arthur.
He was going to tell her about the trick of tilting the head on its side to slow blood flow from the head under high ‘g’ but he thought she’d covered enough. Instead-
“Its time to go home.”
Which meant landing.
At first it was a terrifying experience in her own training, but eventually it became one of her favourite things to do. Because a good landing didn’t always follow a recipe, it was a challenge to make each one perfect.
So now the enormously long nose of the Spitfire pointed at the grass runway.
“You’ll have to let your hands and feet do the work. Just watch where you’re going and let them do it for you.”
She slid the canopy back, and let the aircraft take on a little crab so she could see past the long engine.
So far so good.
She looked back inside the cockpit, checked her rate of descent and airspeed. Flaps were down and the undercarriage was down. That was the third time she had checked her wheels.
She looked at again and cursed.
The aircraft had begun to climb and track away from the runway.
Merlin couldn’t help her. Their radio would be monitored on the ground. What was important was to relax. Relax and not panic. She keyed the mike.
“Blue Two - going round.”
“Roger Blue Two.”
Quickly cleaning up the aircraft, she gained the circuit height again and settled onto the downwind leg.
“Smart.” One word of approval from Merlin. She watched as he touched down and taxied clear.
Sliding back the canopy again she did her pre-landing checks then kept her eyes out side the cockpit.
Only when she felt the gentle satisfying rumble of the wheels trundling along the grass did she look back inside, select flaps up and , pleased with herself looked for her park.
The reality of a wartime crewroom hit her. Literally.
As she stood stunned from the impact of the leather soccer ball’s connection with her forehead, all eyes were on her. She looked around from face to face and didn’t understand. They weren’t judging, scrutinizing or appraising. They were waiting. Expectantly, like puppies for a stick to be thrown. Or a ball…
Ahhh she understood.
She picked up the ball and raised an eyebrow.
“Scarves!” Someone prompted. Tossing the ball up she struck it in an overhand volleyball serve aiming it at the furtherest pilot who had a scarf around his forehead.
Instantly the game resumed. Someone thrust a scarf into her hand and ran off.
The rules were unclear, indeed except for the freeze on headshot rule, she didn’t think there were any rules. And by the state of the disarrayed furniture, the field of play had nothing to do with territory. Curiously, she had fun. And she learnt something about these young men. Sometime later she collapsed into one of huge leather armchairs that someone had restored to normal and relished a breather and the memory of scoring a head shot on Merlin who had taken side with the dark forces of those who wore no scarf. Trying to catch her breath, she was crushed as Merlin flomped down beside her. He managed to pant “Thou art evil, sire.” And chuckled. The game quickly subsided around them and the players assumed positions similar to Arthur and Merlin.
After a while she could feel Merlin’s eyes on her, watching.
“Don’t” he said.
“I can see what you’re thinking. How young and innocent these boys are and you’re becoming protective. Maternal.”
“Maternal! Give me a break! I’m not a grand-mother yet.”
“”Give me a break.’ That’s an interesting turn of phrase. Nevertheless the most you can think of these young men is that they need the steel of comradeship. Not a mother.”
“Who’s a mother? I hope you’re not talking about me?” This came from a tall sandy-haired man who had perched himself on the overstuffed arm of the chair. He poked at a hole from where some of the stuffing was beginning to escape.
“Where do these things come from? I swear there’s a little factory somewhere –probably in Wales- that makes these things.”
“What, holes in chairs?” asked Merlin.
“Ahh no! That’s a Nazi spy doing that. No I meant the chairs. Every mess I’ve been in has these. Never new, just old and fat and worn. I wonder if the Air Ministry has them as a design specification.”
“No, that would be the Boulton-Paul Defiant wouldn’t it?” said Arthur. Merlin looked at her in surprise.
“Why yes I suppose you’re right, Flying Officer-…”
“Avalon. Arthur Avalon, Sir” She hadn’t taken much notice of the stripes on her jacket sleeve but saw that he had two more than her. Probably didn’t hurt adding the ‘Sir’.
“Avalon. Good show.” And he stuck out his hand. “I’m the CO – Mark Scott – Scotty – inevitably” She shook his hand with the firmest grip she could muster. His hand was strong and wiry. A bit like the man himself she thought.
The contact seemed to focus him and she worried that she had blown it already.
“Avalon? Avalon – I don’t remember any paperwork coming across my desk…From where did you post in?”
“Yes, you do Sir. I saw it on your desk myself. Arthur has come down from Middle Wallop, off Hurries to join us.”
She heard the words, but more, she sensed the power. She knew what he was doing and smiled to herself as the CO’s face cleared.
“Hurries eh? That explains it. Good show on the go-round. Others more intent on making a good impression would have forced the landing and probably pranged the kite. Or worse. Would’ve been a stack of bloody paperwork for me and the squadron down one plane.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Good to have you on board, Avalon. Merlin here will show you the ropes. Normally you’d have a couple of weeks of orientation but I can’t afford two my chaps off-line for that long. I’ll give you two days to get up to speed as best you can. Good luck.”
He looked at them both and nodded as he got off the chair. He poked at it again. “I’m going to have chat to the adj about getting some more of these. I daresay they’re not long for the scrappers.” He walked off.
So the next couple of days were long and tiring. Merlin, at times by himself, at times with others pushed her hard. Moving her through evasive tactics, finding her limits and the limits of the aircraft.
At times she forgot what she was, what she was doing, becoming so involved with the task at hand. The joy of flying had to be put aside and the stark reality of her purpose was at the forefront.
An hour before sunset on the end of the second day, they were standing on the grass watching a group return from patrol. Merlin looked at her and saw how her face was bleak and drawn, her shoulders sagged and even in that short time she seemed to have thinned.
“Time for one more,” he said.
“Righto.” And she picked up her chute and moved forward. Resigned.
She had gone a dozen paces when she realized he hadn’t moved. She came back to him.
“What’s the matter?”
“I want you to go up by yourself, head to the coast and come back.”
“By myself? Why?”
“Remind yourself why you fly.”
As she looked at him her tired eyes tried to read his face. She shrugged and walked off. She was still slow to learn that when Merlin had finished speaking, further queries were futile.
Merlin watched her walk off and contemplated this calling. He had seen much change in the centuries and was glad to be lucky to be able to see it. Yet at times he felt cheated in that he was only called to consciousness in times of crisis or catastrophe. He wondered if there would be a time for him that was the rewards of his contemporaries. A quiet, normal life. But as he watched her do her walk-around he felt a deep curiosity and would regret not knowing the future from which she came. In their talking he had come to recognize the passion the 21st century part of Arthur had for flying. He smiled to when she recalled his bringing up his accusation of maternalism and countered with a sovereign’s right to show concern for his subjects. Arthur was there alright. And while the form was female, the being was both. A timeless King and a 21st century woman.
She did the walk around wondering if it was to be the last time she would be able to do this mundane task so leisurely, if at all again. She strapped in.
There were different styles of take-off despite the often rigorous and rigid procedural demands of Standing Orders.
Her preference was based on knowing that with speed you had control. Therefore the quicker had speed the sooner you were in control. The tail comes off the ground, rudders to correct the yaw- the turning effect created by a force known as gyroscopic effect from the tilting to vertical of the big propeller. Holding the machine on the ground to 10 mph above take-off speed, then a gentle but firm pull back on the stick to get unstuck. Wheels up. Flying level. Accelerating. The tips of the prop only inches from the grass. Accelerating. Drag from the undercarriage now gone- accelerating more.
And the rush. The ground hurtling past her peripheral vision and then…
David Gilmour baring your soul with his guitar, Pavarotti holding forth in Nisan Dorma, the first sip of a long overdue cup of tea, the open armed laughing embrace of a child. Soaring up … zooming for altitude. The sheer bliss…
But – there was something wrong. An ugly noise. A chattering. The zooming manoeuvre saved her. The shells from the barking cannon flew under her belly and struck dirt beneath her. From out of the low sun came a roaming bandit intent on the quick kill of an aircraft at its most vulnerable: lined up for landing or just after take-off.
Initially confused, mostly pissed off she quickly realized the danger of her situation. She had traded speed for height and was now at that point where her next decision would save her machine and probably her – or not.
What comes natural to pilots is a picture. Putting herself outside the aircraft in a perspective was mirrored in the post operation: “There I was…” hands showing relative positions, she made up her mind.
She rolled on her back and pulled both power and stick. She had pictured the bandit lining up on her, confident of a kill shot and had not hit her because she had soared. Thus he would have gone underneath her and pulled up himself. Her manoeuvre then should have her pointing at him, albeit inverted.
And there he was.
Arm the guns. Roll upright. Shoot. At this range she couldn’t miss. Shoot. If it hadn’t been her, it would have been one of those silly buggers from the mess. Shoot. In a tangled bloody mess on the runway. Shoot.
She fired. Just above his canopy. He tried to turn right. Naturally. He’s right handed then. She fired her bullets streaking past his engine cowling. Left. He tried the other way. Left rudder and fire. A few splinters off his left wing.
He couldn’t get away. She fired to the left of him- turn right. She fired to the right. Stop turning. She fired above his canopy. Go Down. She fired in front of him. Slow down. The bandit realized he was stuck and knew what the demonic Britisher hounding him wanted.
By the time she threw back her shoulder harness the MPs were bundling the German pilot into a van and the Bf-109 was surrounded by the pilots of the squadron clambering to get a closer look. She wearily pulled off her mask and tried to get out of the cockpit. But she had no strength. She sat back and in the dying light of late summer day to the sound of her engine ticking as it cooled, she burst into tears.
Eventually she clambered out of the cockpit.
“The blokey thing to do is throw up. Not Cry.
Merlin, leaning casually against the tail plane.
“What a bastard.” She said.
“Sorry, it was just a bit of advice.”
“No, not you. That German fellow. “
“Ahh, on of those German fellows who you are paid to shoot down. You know you’ll have to refund your next pay.”
“It was my take-off, my time. And the bastard ruined it.”
“Well, I suppose you could get a job as a sheep herder. You seem pretty good at that.”
She folder her arms and looked at him. He looked at her back and said “You’re not going to kill anyone are you?”
“Not if I can avoid it.”
“Hmmmm. Well I have to say your approach is somewhat different but you’re bound to get a damned good blast from the CO and then a gong.”
“Gong? What am I going to do with a toilet?”
Merlin laughed. To a medieval person, a ‘gong’ was a hole in the ground that served as a toilet for the common people inside the castle. “No, a gong is a medal. For bravery.”
“I didn’t do anything brave. That bastard pissed me off and I wanted him. You wait till I get my hands on him!”
“That’s not going to happen.”
She thought for a while. “What sort of medal?”
“Well, you don’t get to choose. But I suspect a cross shaped one with a nice bit of purple ribbon to hang it from…”He grimaced.
“Preposition?” she asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Yes. I’m spending too much time with the uneducated.”
“Purple. Isn’t that the colour of royalty?”
He looked at her.
“Ohhhh, right. Stupid question.”
They walked off to the mess.
Arthur stood at attention in front of Scotty’s desk. He sat, the formality underlined by his hat, sitting per regulation on his head. He hated hats and hated the placement by orders even more. His mind, apart from dealing with the hat issue was blank. He was overwhelmed by Avalon’s achievement, immensely proud that a member of his squadron had achieved such a coup. Yet there must have been something wrong with what she had done. He had purposefully avoided the pilot until now hoping he would be inspired. Hoping he would know what to say.
It hadn’t happened.
So now here she was, here he was. He had a piece of paper in front of him, its content beyond her focus. His hands held a capped pen. They twirled the pen. He looked up at her.
“Well, Avalon. Explain yourself.”
It was a cheap move. Let the condemned, condemn themselves.
“Generally, when you are behind an enemy aircraft you shoot at it. Not around it. It’s not in any rule book or regulation – but it’s the general idea.”
“It just happened. The situation just seemed to follow its own path. Sorry, Sir.”
He twirled the pen a moment more, then dropped it on his desk. He took off his hat and tossed it onto an old filing cabinet.
“Good. Official bollocking over. Here,” picking up the pen and scrawling his signature at the bottom. “Take this, and head off to stores. You’ll need to show it to the sergeant there or he’ll dock your pay for the stripe.”
She took the paper and read it.
“Congratulations, Avalon. You’ve just been promoted. Can’t have you going to the palace as a bog standard Pilot Officer can we?”
“HM himself is going to pin a DFC on you. Seems like your situation continues down that path of which you spoke.”
“Right. Now clear off and get yourself airborne. Jerry’s building up for another crack at us.”
She turned and walked out, forgetting to salute. But he didn’t seem to notice. Or care. As she got to the door he said “Arthur.”
She turned. “Yes, Sir?”
“Thank you Sir. Just one question.”
“The DFC. What colour ribbon does it have?”
Scotty pointed a single ribbon on his chest. A purple and white one.
She smiled. “Thank you, Sir. You’ve served your King well.” And to his perplexed face she smiled and left.
They flew what was to have been her first combat patrol that afternoon. There was a mix-up with the levels and they were too low when they saw the enemy. By the time they had gained altitude the ground below was showing signs of bombs and their escort was beating up the ground with targets of opportunity before closing back on their charges.
They landed and received the stand-down. The frustration was apparent on all their faces but the consolation was, that they had all returned. The talk was that it was Hawkinge that was hit but the only casualty was the runway. It would have its holeS filled and be ready to fly off again by morning.
“Take me to a pub.” She said to Merlin.
“Sounds like a good idea,” he replied.
The pub was the nearby village and was a warm cosy place in the colder months. And in these long days it was pleasant to sit in its garden and watch the ducks in the river, sipping a pint.
It was surreal. At times the line between the two people she was became distinct. She had no problems assimilating the two personas. In fact she didn’t feel like two people- more-so she felt like someone who had two distinct facets to their life. In her case it was the 4th dimension.
At this point her awareness of herself in this place confused her. In parts of England very little changed while as in others parts of the world the environment was changing constantly.
But for the uniforms of the pub’s customers and the crystal blue sky, she could have been in 1940 or 2009. Suddenly she felt guilty. It was absurd but it didn’t feel right to be sitting here in such peaceful pleasant surroundings while her subjects were suffering and dying in this terrible war.
Her subjects? Where did that come from…?
She fidgeted uncomfortably.
“Oh for Pete’s sake. Be still woman!”
That stopped her. Woman? For almost two weeks she had been Arthur. The man. Why the feminine?
“Why did you call me that?”
For a moment Merlin was perplexed. Looking at her.
“That is curious. The shroud you wear I also see. So that in company I don’t make an error.”
“Well you slipped up right now. What gives?”
She knew it was childish, but she did like to seem him confused and indecisive. Even if it was a cheap shot using 21st century vernacular.
“Yes, it does appear that I slipped off-” she smiled to herself- “but that is only because at this moment your shroud has fallen. I see you as a woman. Your previous persona is coming to the fore, as it were. Your musings are decidedly out of context with the present.”
Now s/he was confused. Stephanie was certain her mental conflict was centered on her existence as a fighter pilot in 1940 enjoying herself when it didn’t seem right.
“You’re not saying that my morality is out of time; that my 1940 counterpart is ethically inferior are you?”
“Morality and ethics are based on knowledge. What we see in history as morally corrupt even criminal is for its time, acceptable. Based on knowledge- or lack of.
“And what’s written by the victors” she muttered.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Please, go on.”
He sipped his beer and continued.
“The problem here is the time travel business. This is new for you, Arthur, and I. You know what is going on in the rest of the UK. You know what horrors are being perpetuated by the Nazis. You however as 1940s pilot wouldn’t know these things.
“Ignorance is bliss” she said softly.
They sat silently pondering their own thoughts idly watching the ducks gliding on the water.
With a grunt so masculine that it surprised her, she grabbed the empty pint glasses and stood to return to the bar for refills.
“Want some food to go with this?” she asked holding out the empty.
“That would be splendid. And it’s a relief to see you back to your normal ‘now’ self.
She just nodded and turned away. Then the words he said played back in her mind. Funny tone. She turned back.
“Why is it such a relief?”
“Because my dear fellow, when your shroud falls you are entirely naked.”
Blushing, Arthur turned and went inside.
She loved the trip to London. She couldn’t stop herself. Everything was the same yet everything was different. Not quite a museum trip as everything that was old to her eyes was still relatively new. Especially the trains. New brass, new wood, new seats. Not ingrained with decades of soot and grime. And certainly not the vandal-proof soullessness of stainless steel and reinforced polyester. She did miss the cosmopolitan mix of people. Here everyone was white. And pale. There were no Asians, Africans, Indians. Stephanie felt a certain pride in that in her world Britain was a nation of the world. Troubled at times, yes, but embracing the diversity and growing.
She marveled at her navigation and then realized that the credit went to the geniuses
who had built the city’s public transport. She arrived at the gates of the Palace and was directed around to a side door. A guard took her name, ticked it off on a clipboard and she waited with a dozen other military types whose uniforms shone and cut the air with their scything creases.
To a man they seemed shy. The chatter was subdued but not morose. No-one asked and no-one volunteered their cause celebrè. All of them were excited at being where they were. As she gazed around the room she tried to avoid the obvious conclusion of irony that existed. Recipients of awards for bravery in nightmarish circumstances almost giggling at the prospect of meeting their King in person.
Suddenly she felt faint. She was feeling that funny feeling in her head when Merlin first put his hand on her. But this was different – approaching the tunnel-like sensations of blacking out when she was doing high ‘Gs’ in the Spitfire. She tried to hold her breath and tense her body. It didn’t work.
She passed out.
The next day on the train going home sitting next to a boy and her mother she gazed out the foggy window, her DFC tapping her breast lightly with the swaying of the train.
“I’m doing my best, but I’m glad you’re here too, Sire.”
The words had been relayed to her by one of the palace men-in-waiting. When she woke she found herself stretched out on a palace bed, a man in a servant’s uniform sitting quietly, reading, in the corner. He looked up and smiled at her wakefulness.
“Hello,” he said. “Would you like some tea? I’ll be back in a minute.”
She hadn’t had a chance to reply but minutes later she was sipping tea from a rather ordinary cup. She looked around the room. There were rectangles on the walls outlined by their differences to the faded wall around them. He saw her curiosity.
“Sorry about the cup. All the good stuff has been sent to Wales. Along with the paintings. Right ol’ convoy it was full of the palace treasures. Good thing Jerry is a rotten shot.
She took a moment to register this information. “Wales? Why Wales?”
“Ahh… the coal mines, you see. Well, disused ones anyway. They thought about the Dover tunnels, but it’s awfully busy down there. And if Jerry got a foothold, Dover would be on of the first places they’d take control of. So they buried it somewhere on South Wales all ready with charges to seal the caves in case of the worst.”
“What’s the point in doing that?”
He looked at her with a strange smile. “You don’t think it would be forever do you? Germans in the palace I mean. Someone would help us get rid of them eventually. ‘Come to England’s aid’ and all that.”
Listening to him she felt comfort in hearing such optimism. And then a pang of guilt that she herself seemed to be doing so little. Her head sagged and it was then she noticed the medal hanging from her tunic. A beautiful, squarish cross, embossed with a propeller hanging from a purple and white striped ribbon. He saw her look.
“But if we get chaps like you doing that sort of thing all over the country, we shan’t need to worry about Jerry landing at all.”
Her guilt vanished and she felt immense gratitude to this simple man.
“How – I mean – what happened. How did this get here?”
The man smiled broadly. “Pinned it on you while you were out to the world, he did. He was awfully impressed by what you did. And he spoke so differently. Trips over his words usually, our King. Gets all worked and has to practice his speeches for hours. But he was moved by something.”
King. That word again. A buzzing this time - not light-headedness. But this time she understood.
She was a King too. In the capital of her Kingdom. She grinned inwardly. I must be wreaking havoc with the space time continuum.
“Thank you Samantha Carter.”
“Oh- um thank you for the tea.”
“My pleasure, sir.”
“What did the… His Majesty say?”
“Well they brought you in here and the palace doctor said to just let you be. I have to say he wasn’t looking too good himself. When he came out he was as white as ghost He went straight to the King and they had a long chat. An argument really, it seemed. His Majesty then came to see you himself after he had done all the other presentations. He stood there for a while and pinned the medal on you. He picked up your hand to shake it and…”
“And? What happened?”
“Well, he sort of held your hand. He ordered everybody out except me and sat next you on the bed. He looked deep in thought and then leant closer to you and said something. He put his hand into your pocket and pulled out what looked like a coin.
The penny. Merlin had said she might need to spend a penny one day.
“Well, the look on his face was amazing. He seemed to lose ten years and he smiled. He said “Elizabeth?” and you nodded. Then I hear him say something I’ll never understand.
“What was that?”
“He said ‘I’m doing my best, but I’m glad you’re here too, Sire.’”
“I’ll never forget those words. He sat for a while longer and you fell asleep again. He instructed me to stay with you until you woke up. And here you are.”
“Do you fly fighters or bombers?”
The woman next to her spoke softly.
“Fighters. Spitfires, actually.”
“Oh yes I know them. They did some flypasts trying to get people to buy War Bonds. They’re a beautiful machine. Wish I could fly.” She smiled and rubbed her large belly. “But that’s not going to happen, now.”
“When is the baby due?
“October.” She gazed out the window. “I worry what sort of a world I’m bringing this child into. How do you cope with terrible things you have to do.?”
Stephanie was struck by the depth of the question.
“The plane I fly is a thing of beauty. I keep telling myself that it is a bringer of peace.”
The woman looked at her, thinking. Just as she was about to respond, the train pulled into a station and on the platform a Salvation Army band was playing.
She gasped and held her stomach. “Oh it’s got to be a boy.” She said. Stephanie asked why.
“He has such a powerful kick, and whenever there’s music its like he’s dancing inside me!”
Stephanie looked out window at the band. She didn’t recognize the music, but it came through the glass quite clearly. She looked back and saw sadness in the eyes of the pregnant woman. She asked “How do you deal with – “ she waved her hand “- all this?”
“I try to picture a world where we’re all living in peace and that this is a hiccup on the way.”
Stephanie nodded. “Sounds good.”
They sat in comfortable silence until the train pulled in again and Stephanie stood.
“This is my stop. Good luck with the boy.”
“Good luck to you too. Thank you for what you are doing. You and that beautiful plane of yours. It will help me believe in that world. You just have to imagine it.”
“Yes. Its easy if you try.”
Stephanie leaned over to shake her hand. “Good bye, Mrs - ?”
“Lennon. Mrs Lennon.”
By the time she reached the sentries at the gate it was dark and she went straight to her sleep quarters. A Nissen hut that differed only from the other ranks’ in that it had screens between each bunk.
As her head hit the pillow she recalled stories of officers being woken by some fictitious batman with boots polished and a cup of tea. As sleep took her she giggled with the inanity of that fiction…
A shove on the shoulder.
“Cup of tea?”
One eye opened. It was still dark outside, but there was light enough to see Merlin grinning and holding out a mug of tea.
“Thanks.” She grunted.
“So how did you like your antecedent? Is the throne in safe hands?”
“…but I’m glad you’re here, Sire.”
“Of course. He comes from good stock, doesn’t he?”
“Absolutely. Some of the best German blood flowing through his veins. Though of course you and he are aren’t technically related.”
“Of course he is. You just can’t figure out the family tree.”
“More likely I’m afraid to. Heaven’s knows what I’d find. For all we know he might be part American!”
“What would be wrong with that, unlikely as it is?”
“Can you imagine what some colonial court might make of that? They’d argue that some American would have rightful claim to the throne of The United Kingdom. Next thing you knew we’d be driving on the wrong side of the road, playing baseball and chewing gum.”
“At least they speak English.”
“Well that’s true. They do speak English after a fashion, but they can’t spell.”
She said “Would you pull that screen across, there’s a draft coming through?”
“Don’t you mean a draught?”
“That’s what I said,” she said with a smile.
Later as they walked out to the aircraft the early morning grass was damp underfoot and the whole field was shrouded in a thin layer of fog. The voices and tinkering of the ground crews were muted, giving the whole atmosphere a sense of serenity. “Nice day for flying,” she remarked sarcastically.
“I wonder how much longer we have to sit and wait for this to lift?” She was strangely impatient to be airborne. She looked at the sky. “Wait here.”
She strode off to the van that served as the aerodrome control. She returned to find him sprawled on the dry grass under a wing.
“Sector control wants a patrol up as soon as possible. No activity from the continent but they’re worried if the Germans find out we’re fog bound they’ll come over in swarms.”
“So they think two aircraft will fool them? France is probably fogged in too.”
“Who cares? Let’s go.”
“What? We can’t see a thing!”
“Trust me. Form up on me at the threshold and follow me through the take-off run.”
Merlin shrugged. “I don’t know what your rush is – what if I lose you during the take-off run?”
She looked at him sternly. “Just don’t. Let’s go,” she said again.
The strange thing about fog is that looking though it horizontally, it seems as thick as soup. But looking up or down it can appear as just a fine mist. Hence the danger from airborne attack.
In the cockpit she glanced over her shoulder and waggled her ailerons to let him know she was applying power. Then she looked ahead and up. At the moon. Keeping it in precisely the same spot in her windscreen she let her hands and feet control the aircraft. A slight linear shift as the tail came up and then just holding it straight until the Spitfire flew off the ground. Accelerate – no zoom this time. Don’t want to lose Merlin. Nose up into a gentle climb, everything balanced by instruments and…
Sunshine. She checked her rear-vision mirror and marveled at the sight of her companion’s aircraft so close and beautiful behind hers. She keyed the mike.
“Grey section, airborne.”
“Acknowledged, Grey One. Acquire angels five and head zero-niner-zero.”
“Grey One, angels five, zero-niner-zero” She chuckled to herself. I bet Merlin is looking a little grey at the moment.
She watched as Merlin slid away from her so that he could maintain a look-out without worrying about colliding with her. Strictly against standing orders, but the rules hadn’t caught up with the reality of combat flying as yet.
The countryside below looked magical with a soft white blanket pierced here and there with a church tower and trees on high ground. They flew east.
Toward the enemy. Arthur was content.
At Hawkinge, sixty miles to the south-east, Keith Park, the New Zealand-born Air Commodore in charge of Sector 11, strapped into his Hurricane. A chilly sea breeze had kept the airfield free of fog but he knew the rest of his sector was fog bound. His controllers had told him that there was absolutely no enemy activity. Park didn’t believe it for a second, but at least no visible activity gave him this opportunity to get some air time. After days of frenzied combat his pilots were tired and so too, Park wanted to believe was the enemy. He dared not gamble on the Luftwaffe being grounded by the same fog, which the weather boffins were saying should be covering most of Western Europe. But he was proceeding on the presumption, that for once the gods were favouring the RAF. His standing orders were to allow the stand-down state of readiness to be upgraded only when the inland airfields’ visibility improved.
So he took the opportunity to clear his mind with some flying. His plan was to fly to the French coast and return to Biggin Hill.
“They’re not going to catch us snoozing.” he said aloud to no-one in particular, giving the thumbs up to the ground crew who pulled the chocks from his wheels allowing him to taxi out.
While his aircraft carried no distinguishing callsign, even the casual observer would be foolish not to recognize the trade-mark white overalls the pilot wore or indeed the red and blue striped pendant painted on the fuselage beneath the cockpit window. Park didn’t like surprises and he liked to ‘catch’ his people doing well. He believed surprise inspections were childish and demoralizing and that the job his charges were doing were more important than adherence to the trivial and banal regs that often were fabricated by the hierarchy.
As a consequence his command worked hard at doing the important things well. For their respect for him was mutual. Idiots, he would not tolerate. Young men trying, difficult and sometimes impossible tasks, he had all the time for.
And anyway, he thought as he tightened the straps on his lanky New Zealand frame, it was a great day to fly.
“White Section, airborne.” Even though there was only one aircraft in his ‘section’ it didn’t pay to let any Jerries listening out that there was only one aircraft in the sky.
“Roger, White section. Mother Hen advises two friendlies at your six, angels 5.
“Acknowledged.” He was impressed. Two of his fliers made the break through the fog. “Say their ATD.”
“White Section, Grey Sections wheels up was at zero-six four zero.”
“Copied. White Section out.”
Ten minutes ago. They probably wouldn’t catch up. Park settled into a cruise climb conserving fuel and enjoyed the ride.
Arthur was up to something. Merlin knew it. He also knew that Arthur didn’t know it. From the bullying he got to get airborne to the dash to height and fast cruise, Arthur was on a mission. To where or what neither of them knew, but Merlin could read the signs. They were going somewhere. And it made him feel uneasy. Despite his faith in their curious part in England’s history, nothing was ever for certain. Failure was always a possibility. Whoever was the great Architect of their purpose, knew the burden was impossible to carry without pause. Maybe it was the silent pleas of the common people that called he and Arthur. Whatever it was, the care of England’s future was not a responsibility to be carried in un-ending consciousness. At times things were left to unfold themselves or steered by the hands of a capable few. Like Nelson. Merlin wished he had met him. He did meet Drake, and despite his obvious skills, Merlin thought he was a pompous arse. He recalled a conversation with Arthur where they argued the hypothetical scenario of their presence in 1066. Merlin had argued that if Arthur had been around to advise Harold the outcome would have been different. Surely it had been a time when England’s existence was in peril. Arthur maintained it was just a step, albeit a painful one, in England’s evolution. The Architect had shown wisdom in letting things play out.
So now he sat back and assumed his role as wingman in both this flight and into whatever it was Arthur was leading them.
They flew on, to the east.
As he crossed the coast, Park confirmed by radio the lack of activity. He turned the bug of his gyroscopic compass and banked the plane to follow the new heading. He noted the time on his pad and basically implemented a navigational phase check that, in time of war tended to become irrelevant for the radar-controlled, single engine fighter.
He finished his checks and focused his attention outside.
“Where are you taking us?” mused Merlin.
Merlin’s probably wondering where we’re going, mused Arthur. And she smiled. He must be so frustrated not being able to vent his concerns.
She banked gently and changed their heading by five degrees. She couldn’t resist checking over her shoulder to confirm he had followed suit.
“Grey Section. Report Biggin Control.”
“Grey One, acknowledged.”
Switching frequencies, she spoke to the sector controller at Biggin Hill.
“Biggin. Grey Section, angels five, heading zero nine zero. Negative activity.”
“Roger, Grey Section. Be advised, Persil King Size three zero miles ahead of you.”
“Grey Section, understood.” Persil King Size: Sir Keith Park. Arthur had heard the alias, everyone expected the man to be knighted and most of the air force called him ‘Sir’ anyway. Arthur wondered how he felt being identified with a laundry detergent. “Did you copy, Merlin?”
“Indeed. So the game is afoot.”
So it would seem, thought Arthur as she inched her throttles forward.
The Germans didn’t take long to figure out what ‘Persil King Size’ meant. Nor did it take long for the listening post outside Cherbourg to relay the information that Keith Park was airborne. Minutes later a pair Bf-109’s lifted off a grass strip and turned on an intercept course.
Staggered at four minute intervals, two more pairs of Gustavs took-off, each pair assigned different altitudes. With the sun behind them it shouldn’t be too hard to spot his aircraft, knowing his heading.
Individual fliers were generally ignored by the espionage ring that was spotted around the coast and in villages adjacent to airfields. However a highly risky message was sent by one such spy when he received an order via telephone. A code word had been included in a random propaganda broadcast. The plan was beginning to take shape.
He’ll climb and orbit the coast, Merlin decided as their two aircraft had the English coast slide under their wings. He adjusted himself, getting ready for the manouevre.
It didn’t come.
He pursed his lips and frowned. Another check on the fuel. Then looking out again. Ahhh! There it is! A slight shift in the perspective. Arthur was climbing. Gentle back pressure. Hold the attitude…too much…climbing above the leader.. back off a bit. There. Roll back the trim wheel. Unnecessary at this point- we’ll be turning soon.
Waiting. Still climbing…
He checked the climb rate. Two hundred feet per minute. Another cruise climb? Conserving fuel.
The turn didn’t come.
While altitude is a good thing, further from land, over water AND closer to the enemy - wasn’t.
O.K. I’ve had enough. He had seen tenacity and courage in no greater degree than in Arthur. But he was also a romantic. He moved his thumb over to the transmit button. It was time to end this foolishness…
“Biggin Control. Persil Section under attack.”
That was all they heard. It took Merlin a few moments to gather his thoughts and to catch up with the plane which had started to wander as Arthur’s aircraft was dropping out of sight. Then he realized that his plane hadn’t changed attitude at all. Arthur was drawing further away, losing height.
Again he was bemused. His first reaction would normally have been to slam the throttle and aim wildly toward some guessed point in the distance where the fight was happening. Arthur’s reaction was controlled. And wise. He followed suit and calmly closed on her machine.
They were too far away. What did the controller say? Grey section. That’s right. And if they had followed SOPs they would be orbiting the coast. Good thing too. He didn’t want to be putting others at risk for his own stupid folly. The two one-oh-nines had him pegged and while the Hurricane he was throwing around the sky was a match for the German opponent, he recognized a team play in the two aircraft that were stalking him. Keith Park knew that his aircraft was doomed. Whether or not he was doomed or ended up in the water or as a POW was not yet to be decided. Park was not one to give up, and he planned to at least put some credit on his balance sheet.
Contrary to every rule in the fighter pilot’s handbook, he rolled wings level and flew straight. And waited.
Park had heard about the pigeons. Those ancient message carriers that were still being used even in this current war. Like many things it was top secret. Mostly from their own side. He knew the Germans knew. And the Germans had countered. With peregrine falcons. Another ancient practice revived in this most modern of wars. The Germans had their falconers attached to most of the frontline armies Their job was to take down any pigeons being released by Allied spies that would take information home to their roosts in England. Against the killing talons of the falcon the pigeon stood no chance. At least not a fighting chance.
Park made himself the pigeon. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand as he knew the 109’s cannon would be lining up on him. Without looking he could picture the staggered pattern of the two hunters. The leader suspiciously, but resolutely closing on his target. His wingman above and behind him ready to take out the prey after its expected evading manouevre - the climb.
Timing was everything. Get it wrong and he was wet. Or dead. In all likelihood, the latter. He took one last look over his shoulder, judged the distance, then counted.
Park became the pigeon. He slammed the throttle closed, dropped the undercarriage, flaps, turned the blades of the prop to full coarse and jammed his right foot on the rudder. He pulled back on the stick and put in full aileron. Aerodynamically the Hurricane was now as suited to fly as a New Zealand outhouse. In effect, as near as possible for an aircraft, he had stopped in mid-air.
Like the pigeon, the aircraft went down. In fact dropped like a stone, tailfirst. The German flew right through the airspace Park had been occupying a few seconds before. Park registered the shadow passing above, released the rudder and pressed the button on his guns. Holding it, he pressed the left rudder and the leading edges of the Hurricane’s wings sprayed the air with .303 rounds. The 109 was holed from left wingtip, across the belly down to the right tailplane. Chunks of metal, cable, wires and rubber were ripped off the machine and the pilot, mentally checking his person for injury, pointed the nose of his shredded machine to the east, and flew away.
Hans was both elated and really pissed of. He had been shot down. It’s just that the ‘down’ hadn’t happened yet. And he wasn’t hurt. Not even scratched. So he felt great. His Commanding Officer rewarded those who survived being ‘shot down’ with a week-end’s leave in Paris. He’d pick a nice flat piece of farmland and crash. Gently. If the plane started to break up, he’d simply bail out, but Hans had some sense of propriety. At least a 109 that had been brought down in one piece had some chance being restored. Not that they had to worry about shortage of aircraft. Not like the English.
But he was kicking himself that he had been fooled by that sole English pilot. He had been suckered. He didn’t know how, and for now, didn’t care. Franz would have to tell him what happened, later. Hans wasn’t looking forward to that. Franz would enjoy it immensely.
In the meantime, Franz had to deal with the Englishman. Well- New Zealander- to be precise. They had been briefed on the target. Even to the point of the New Zealanders being called ‘Kiwis’. A diminuitive, flightless bird of their homeland, wherever that was. Franz frowned. I guess that comes under the definition of irony.
The pigeon’s defence was to drop out of the sky leaving the falcon flustered and clawing at empty space.
Park watched as the torn German aircraft staggered off to the east. The pigeon was now floundering. Falling, as Park rapidly restored the aircraft to its proper flying condition. His path through the air was still erratic and unpredictable. Franz bided his time circling above, watching, amused. Finally Park cleaned up his Hurricane. His anticipation of cannon shells was counted in seconds but he wasn’t about to let himself be used as a drone for target practice.
Franz prepared to dive after the Hurricane. His prowess as a fighter pilot now came to the fore as he simultaneously predicted various paths the RAF pilot could follow and his own consequent attacks.
Mechanically he set the aircraft up in the best position to utilize the energy, i.e. height advantage he had. The problem he had which was not unusual for him was his surplus. He had time, full ammunition, flying over friendly territory, and aside from Park himself, no threats.
It should be easy.
Franz’s flaw was his ambition. He pictured himself in the Officers’ Club later telling his story. A simple tail chase was not glorious enough. There had to be a challenge. And he wanted to see the British aircraft blow-up. No mud slugging army type was going to get credit for capturing the Luftwaffe’s foremost airborne opponent. Franz wanted an heroic kill.
With a half smile he flicked his control stick and Franz, inverted, began to stalk the prey.
Park was now flying again. Not falling. However he was low and slow; too much of both to gain altitude. The more he dodged and weaved, the less his acceleration. If he didn’t have height, his only friend was speed. So he chose to stay low and fly straight. At least by doing this he deprived the German of a fatal belly attack. A broadside attack would require maximum deflection and only the best pilots would attempt, and be successful at that. Therefore, Park expected, knew, the German would come from the rear. A game of tag Park wanted to see ending with the German flying into the ground…
Franz had observed Park’s actions and knew what he was doing – going for speed. It’s what Franz would do. It took courage to not try to turn and fly away. The German pilot also knew that Park would expect a tail attack, hoping he would make a mistake, get fixated and fly into the ground. As he pulled out of his dive he leveled his wings and aimed the aircraft at a point some distance in front of Park’s. Franz was one was of the best. He was going for the broadside.
One of the hardest things in the world to do is to sit and wait for danger. Park’s only saviour would be error. Somewhere behind him was someone intent on killing him. He needed that pilot to make a mistake and Park was trying make every opportunity for him to do just that. And while he forced himself to just sit, every agonizing moment that he had to accelerate, increased his chance of his survival. He hunched down in his seat and despite everything he knew about war time flying he did not look for his protagonist. Instead he focused on flying as low as possible, skimming the tree tops and dipping down where it was clear. Farms, haystacks, grain houses, animals blurred past him and despite his predicament there was an element of sheer delight that can only be achieved flying fast and low.
He just wished it would hurry up and be a lot faster. Franz felt good too. His machine purred and bore down to his aiming point. He was now level with Park and driving at him from his starboard side. He set the trims and power and took his hand off the stick. He carefully watched the horizon and was satisfied when his aircraft slowly began to climb. It was better to fly away from the earth if he lost focus.
Park was off to his left. Franz smiled as he could see in his mind’s eye how their paths were converging. He judged it would only take slight rudder inputs to fill the space that park would fly into, with metal.
He did a routine instrument check and felt just a little smug that even in the pressure of the moment he was good enough to do the necessary yet mundane. He tightened his straps and focused on his target. The RAF fighter was now close enough. He could read the letters on the side. The side which was now going to rip open. He was ready. He put his thumb on the firing button and… pressed.
Suddenly everything was dark. He checked the fire. Then swore at his stupid arrogant self, as the shadow of a Spitfire blackened his cockpit. He wasn’t the best after all as he viciously thrashed the firing button. The best would have kept a look-out. His instructor’s words came into his head. “It’s better to run out of fuel and glide home, than be shot down with a half-full tank.”
Angry at himself he persisted with his shot and in frustration stamped his foot on the right rudder, his plan to strafe enacted. The front of his 109 erupted and spewed shells and bullets in a flat arc.
In a saner situation, an experienced pilot would be able to teach a lesser one the consequence of yawing an aircraft is: the outer wing, because it swings faster through the air, creates extra lift.
His aircraft rolled. Just a little. Franz reacted, too much. His right wingtip went low. Telegraph wires, recently erected by his ground based compatriots snagged his wing, then sliced off a good third. Franz had failed, and he cursed as his aircraft flew into a copse of trees.
The first Park knew of the attack were the flashes from the guns and cannon. They came from his right! The realization that his hunter had purposefully gone for the broadside attack made him break out in a cold sweat. Yet it was more warning that he would have had from a rear attack. He stamped his foot on the rudder in an attempt to present a smaller and retreating target to the hot metal flying toward him. He cringed and gritted his teeth as he felt thuds impacting the Hurricane. By some miracle the hits stopped and he mentally checked himself. He had not been hit. But as the prop in front of him slowed, relaying visually what the coughing engine was telling him he knew he needed height. Gingerly he pulled back on the control column and… hmmmm. It was mushy. The elevators’ normally crisp response wasn’t… crisp. Park knew that whatever control he had wouldn’t last. He had to put down. Quickly.
He held the climb till he reached as good a height as he could without getting too slow. He wondered if the German would let him land or blow him out of the sky. God, he was scared and didn’t care admitting it. Right now, he was dog-tired and just wanted to get down. He looked around, his eyes passing over a smouldering wreck of something, and the pilot registered in him that the smoke was rising straight. No wind. Damn. No - good. It didn’t matter which way he landed and didn’t have to worry about a low sun blinding him either. About a mile away he saw a field. It looked narrow. And short. Too short. Damn the French and their archaic inheritance rules. Then he saw the road. Narrow, dirt, but long and straight. Probably an old Roman road that the French hadn’t had time to put a roundabout on yet. Decision made. The road it was.
Gently banking, he lined up and bit his lip as he pushed the landing gear lever down. He felt the aircraft slow and become heavy, but the indicators showed nothing. Damn. He should have thought of that and gone for a belly landing. At least the road was dirt, less chance of a fire. Bitumen or concrete was better as it was smoother and there was less chance of things digging, in causing the aircraft to swing off to the side into the trees on worse, flip. But now Park had to worry if the gear was down AND locked and that both were down together. One leg collapsing meant a ground spin and certain death on such a narrow landing strip. Park decided that wasn’t worth thinking about. He’d just land the thing.
So now he had once again, nothing to do but wait. The point he had chosen to land on was now his sole focus. To pilot the Hurricane which had now become a glider to a safe touch down all he had to do was to keep that spot in the same place in the windscreen. Then bring the nose up and - land.
A thousand feet above, Merlin was watching as the two aircraft below him took their part in the destiny that he now understood. Arthur had brought them to this point. It often worked that way. His job seemed to be the rallier and then Arthur would consummate the task.
The Spitfire, almost in formation with the Hurricane leap frogged the crippled machine and landed on the road in front.
Park was genuinely stunned as the roar and prop wash hit his rolling machine. He pushed hard on the brakes praying he would stop before running into the interloper as at the same time not tipping the tail up and flipping over. At least the undercarriage stayed locked down.
So the German was going to capture him with his damn Luger and march him off to ignominy. He thought briefly about letting the brakes off and letting the Hurricane roll into the German and at least crunch his aircraft.
Then, with a shock he realized it was a Spitfire. He almost cried with the realization that this was a friend. And it was such a beautiful machine.
Arthur was cutting the engine and allowing the Spitfire to coast to a stop. She sighed and slid back the canopy. There was an empty feeling in her stomach as she recalled the German machine ploughing into the ground. She wasn’t to know that Franz was alive. The 109 had ploughed through the trees which had stripped the wings, and the fuselage, drained of its kinetic energy slid to a stop on a French field with somewhat chagrined occupant.
Merlin thought only briefly about what he should do. A lone British aircraft circling would attract the wrong sort of attention. And he was mindful of his fuel. Arthur had been fuel miserly and the aerial combat he had witnessed had been brief. Typically, Arthur had not fired a shot, and there was now a German aircraft in pieces on the ground. He even saw one of the Luftwaffe’s finest get out and kick what remained of his machine.
Although fuel was not a major worry, it was a long way home. He landed behind Keith Park.
Park was flummoxed. He was at a loss for words as the two other pilots walked toward him.
“Good evening, Sir.” She was smiling and trying to think of something nonchalant like ‘Spot of bother?’ but felt it would have been too clichéd.
“Yes. Good evening, Sir. Seems like you’ve been in a spot of bother.” Merlin. She grimaced. But Merlin’s knack proved fruitful again as it was just the right levity to get Park out of his somnambulism.
“Err…yes gentlemen. However I see that I have a pair of guardian angles. What’s the plan?”
Two hours later they crossed the white cliffs and made a rapid descent to Hawkinge. The tail wheels had only just touched the grass when an old battered Austin bumped onto the runway and began to shepherd them to another small group of vehicles, the occupants of which were standing expectantly beside their cars. A Group Captain drummed his fingers in impatience on the bonnet of his Wolseley.
Arthur and Park disentangled themselves and stumbled out on to the wing and then stood shakily beside the Spitfire.
“Well done Harrison.” He looked around at the gaggle of officers and armed MPs. “I didn’t expect such a welcoming. There’s a problem?”
“Yes Sir. Air Commodore Melrose has ordered half the sectors on full stand-down and the other half to patrol the south over IOW.”
“When did he do this?”
“About five minutes after your departure. He strode into Sector Control and started issuing orders. He would brook no discussion, either.
Sadly, Park shook his head. “Get them up Group Captain. Get every one of them into the air now.”
“And I want the patrolling aircraft returned, refueled and ready to take up the slack when the first wing begins coming back.”
“Aye, Sir.” He stood, knowing that there was more to come.
Park took a big breath and sighed.
“Have Air Commodore put under arrest immediately. Make sure he has no contact what-so-ever with anyone. Especially, no phones or radio.
“Understood, Sir.” He saluted. He turned to leave, then paused and leaned closer. He spoke quietly nodding in Arthur’s direction. He turned and walked off.
Park looked at Arthur in surprise. “That was you?” He smiled and shook his head. First you capture a German aircraft and its pilot and now you capture an Air Vice Marshall.” Again he shook his head. “Right. I’ll see you two in the mess in a couple of hours. I think things are going to get a little sticky very soon.”
Arthur looked at Merlin. It was almost as if they could read each other’s mind. Merlin nodded once. Arthur spoke.
“If you don’t mind Sir, we’ll pass. If what we saw was any indication of how busy things are going to get, then every – pilot – and plane is going to be needed.
Park nodded. “Well said, Flying Officer.” He turned to another officer. “Get these two a bunch of sandwiches and have their aircraft readied.”
“We’re already on it, Sir.” A sergeant in faded overalls herded his men to re-arm and refuel Arthur and Merlin’s machines.
“Well done, Sergeant.”
He turned to the two pilots. “I hope you’ll do us the honour of joining our squadron for the next couple of hours. A temporary arrangement with which I’m sure your CO will be happy to concur.”
“It will be our pleasure,” replied Merlin.
“Right. Don’t forget to get yourself a new cushion,” He said with a smile, meaning a parachute.
“I will, Sir. I’m sure it won’t be anywhere as comfortable!”
Park could feel himself beginning to blush. He cleared his throat. “Uh-hm. Righto.” He looked at her seriously. “And Arthur Avalon, when this is all over, ring me.”
“I will Keith Park. I will.”
As Merlin slotted in behind Arthur on their intercept climb he reflected on the afternoon’s events…
Arthur had got them all working to scavenge as much fuel from the wrecked Hurricane as possible. Using hoses from under the engine cowl and various containers gutted from the fuselage the aircraft provided the means for its own demise.
Park disconnected and retrieved the gunsight. While he knew the Germans probably had plans of it, to his knowledge they didn’t have an intact example. He had had a good look at the 109 captured by some incredible piece of flying by one of the pilots in his Sector, and knew their aiming mechanisms were not up to the British standard. That pilot had well deserved the gong they had received. Park promised himself that he would meet him one day.
And as far as Park was concerned, they weren’t going to get much of a Hurricane either.
Removing her parachute, Park became the seat cushion. Keeping his feet to the side, Arthur was able to move the rudder pedals. The most restricted movement was the joystick which was prevented from being fully pulled back. It didn’t matter - they were in no position to be doing any acrobatic manoeuvres anyway. The straps were too short to be buckled.
Merlin took off first, leaving a trail of dust as he accelerated to being airborne and circled gaining some height. However he kept reasonably low to make it difficult to be seen from above against the trees below.
Arthur, jamming one brake hard, turned the plane 180 degrees. She was now facing Park’s Hurricane. The Spitfire, under normal circumstances would not have any trouble handling the extra weight of the extra passenger. However the road’s length was not a runway’s and the sooner the aircraft was airborne the better.
It was Park’s idea to use Arthur’s ammunition on the Hurricane. Destroying it completely was his intention. He did not want to be responsible for it, a reparable British aircraft being made available to German engineers. Let alone the propaganda meisters.
This presented two problems. It had to be done on the ground and it had to be done efficiently. They could not be operating in and over enemy territory with impunity. Patrols, returning aircraft, local ground forces would soon be investigating a burning aircraft where one shouldn’t be.
They had each dropped their Very flares into a wing tank and Park had jammed his next to the battery. It was an incendiary bomb. Arthur just had to hit the wick.
A Spitfire is a tail-wheeled aircraft. When stationary and taxiing its nose points to the sky. Some had said it’s in a perpetual state of desire, pointing to where it wants to be. So too therefore does its guns. Arthur would have to approach take-off speed, keep the wheels on the ground, fire the guns, explode the Hurricane and take-off before being consumed by the fireball.
“Are you ready, Sir”
“Yes. Let’s get it over with.”
Arthur began her roll and fought the controls as the wheels bounced over the uneven road. It was actually easier for her to see as she was sitting taller in the cockpit. One consolation at least. Smoothly the tail came up and Arthur sweated. The clearance between the tips of the huge triple bladed prop and the ground was a matter of inches. The final fate of the Hurricane came into a British gunsight and she pressed the fire button. The plane chattered and bellowed as the guns fired and the shift in inertia actually slowed it down. All too soon Park’s plane came into an all together unpleasantly close detail.
“Pull up, Flying Officer.”
They soared over the holey, but stolidly unburning machine. She heard Park grunting as they accelerated to height. Merlin would have to do it.
Merlin swooped down to a low arc and lined up along the road. The Hurricane came into sight and he pressed the trigger.
He swore (later ) that he counted four single bullets before something went clunk and he was flying down a French road with his thumb getting numb with impotence. Guns jammed.
He climbed up next Arthur and shook his head at to two others. Thumbs down.
They, all three were frustrated. Arthur knew she had to do it with a strafing pass which was fraught with inaccuracy. She was impressed that Park had said nothing, leaving the obvious decision to her. Her aircraft, she was in command, despite his rank. But there was no question as to her course of action.
Arthur followed Merlin’s path and began her firing run. The wingtips slashed at branches as she sought the optimum level. Again she fired.
Suddenly a bright light filled the Hurricane’s cockpit. The Very flare had been hit!
“Oh no! I can’t believe how stupid we’ve been. If one of those flares goes skyward it will be a beacon. Worse it could-“
Park was interrupted by a boom as the Hurricane passing beneath them blew up. It threw Arthur forward and she automatically put her hands up to the instrument panel to stop herself slamming into it with her face. The aircraft was pointing at the ground. Park reached one hand around and grabbed the joystick and the other he put on her chest to pull the joystick and her back.
She felt the pressure on her breasts.
“Oh my God. You’re- !”
“I have control!” She forcibly wrested the control from Park, before his pulling back stalled the aircraft. She put the nose of the aircraft back to a safe attitude and banked looking at the fireball below.
“OK. We’re done here. Let’s go.” And she looked for Merlin.
Her mind was struggling with the turn of events. Merlin had told her the avatar would hold until there was physical contact. She wondered if Park saw a naked woman in her twenties sitting on her lap. Then she saw Merlin, startlingly close, gesturing wildly.
He was pointing. Both Arthur and Park followed the direction of his gesticulation.
The sky to the East was filling with black dots. German aircraft. Hundreds of them.
“We need to get back. Fast.”
Arthur looked at Merlin. Nodded and thumbed over her shoulder in the direction of the channel and saw him acknowledge. Then banking the aircraft she silently thanked their refueling and opened the throttle.
She pointed the Spitfire at the England she was born to save. And could possibly lose in the next few hours.
Park spoke. “Avalon, pass me the radio lead and dial-up four-four-six.”
Arthur unplugged her microphone and handed the lead back to him.
“Sextant, this is Rinso. Do you copy?”
She could only hear one side of the transmission but she still felt a chill.
“Roger. Understood. Imperative you send Harrison to meet me. Will be at Bird’s Nest in two-zero minutes.”
“Affirmative. Harrison, Bird’s Nest Three zero.”
He passed the lead back to Arthur who plugged it back into her mike and switched the frequency back to the general broadcast channel. Merlin might still need to talk to her.
“I could tell they were suspicious. Rightly so. I’m overdue and who knows what Jerry knows about me.
She said “I gathered as much. All I need to know is where is Bird’s Nest.”
“Hawkinge. Closest base with someone of high enough rank to verify me and get things moving.
Arthur understood that Park couldn’t transmit his information over the radio. That they knew about the impending attack, was their only advantage. It gave them time. That could be lost if the Germans abandoned their forming up and just attacked. Worse, Park didn’t know how the squadron sectors had been dispersed.
“OK Flying Officer, you have some explaining to do.”
There it was. The answer was in her head. I am a traveller from the future where I’m really a woman but I have come back because I’m really Arthur, King of the Britons, destined to be awoken when England needs me. I look like a man, because that’s what you expect to see, but if you touch me, you touch the woman I was. Am. I’m two people in one, or one person with an immortal soul.
Yeah, right. He’ll buy all that. And I’ll be locked up in a padded wagon as soon as we land. I need Merlin, she thought. I need Merlin to do his thing with Park.
She had an idea.
“I can explain, Sir. But first I need to speak with Merlin. He knows my – er- condition and he can better explain the technical side.”
“Technical side? Condition? Do you what you must Flying Officer but make it fast. We’re running out of time. And my legs are going numb…”
She clicked the mike. “Blue Two, go Channel X.” Channel X they had decided was a free frequency that just they knew about. Anyone else would be listening to them only through random channel scanning.
“Yes. What’s Park doing about the whole Luftwaffe about to descend on us?”
“He’s got a plan. Just follow me. We won’t be landing at our home base.”
“I figured as much. Good thing we topped up on the fuel. Flying at this rate of knots we’d be swimming by now otherwise.”
“There’s something else. He knows.”
There was silence as Merlin digested the information.
“I can’t do anything from here. He’s got to be completely relaxed and he’s hardly susceptible to suggestion in his current situ- oh my – I wonder if you are – if he sees - … oh dear.”
“Yes. I already thought of that. I don’t think he’s seeing me in that state.”
“Hmmmm. I suppose you’ll just have to tell him the truth.”
She pondered that for a while.
“I’m going to try something. When I give you the word, do your stuff with Park.”
“Alright. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to relax him.”
“This will be interesting. Good luck.”
She took a deep breath and tightened every muscle in her body. Then without warning she rolled the Spitfire into is back and pulled on the joystick as hard as she could.”
“Wh-“ was all she heard from Park as she kept the pressure back, grunting as the blood tried to drain from her head.
She felt a slight bump on the back of her head and she knew that Park had blacked out. She gently eased out of the loop and flicked the mike.
“Can you see him?”
“I’ll plug him in. Good luck.”
She fumbled over her shoulder to find his microphone plug on his mask. It clicked home. She held up her thumb to Merlin.
It was barely five seconds before she felt the head lift off the back her neck. He might be old, but he must be fit she thought.
She heard him mumbling.
For the next minute she held the aircraft steady and looking down saw that they needed to descend. Come on Merlin, she urged. A glance at the fuel gauge - the needle just starting to nudge the ‘E”.
Startled she felt a tap on her shoulder and the mike lead was dangling in front of her face. Taking it and plugging it in, she switched back to the correct frequency. If it didn’t work, it didn’t matter now.
“Blue Section. Clear to land.”
“Blue Section, roger.”
The rapid response to their attack must have surprised the Germans, notwithstanding their expectation of a negligible response from the RAF. But it didn’t diminish the fury of the last hours of that day.
With precision and dogged determination Arthur flew closer than anyone else enacting her plan to destroy aircraft, not men.
Hurricanes and Spitfires threw themselves at the aggressors, emptied the guns and fuel tanks and landed at the nearest possible aerodrome to be re-fuelled and re-armed to be airborne, fighting, as quickly as possible.
There were many heroes that day. On both sides. Young men finding new depths to their courage to match the gut churning fear of the presence of flesh tearing metal.
On the ground, men, tired, weary men, pushed back the pain of fatigue and fear, barked and bleeding knuckles, limbs burnt by the hot metal of the aircraft they worked on. Faceless pilots sitting in their cockpits, holding the fate of their country in their youthful hands. An unending procession of demanding chicks needing to be fed and watered. Even nurtured. “You’ll be alright ,Sir. You go and give Jerry one for us.” Words that gave courage and purpose. Simple, yet earnest.
Together, they saved England.
But not Arthur.
At the Sector Controller’s bunker, Park watched the tally as the numbers were chalked up. He sipped a mug a cup of tea to keep his hands busy. The huge table in front and below him bore the little models of the good and bad guys in sterile representation of the life and death furor that was taking place in the air above them.
He watched the numbers, they meant most to him. He reached for his mug and absently sipped empty space. Then he stopped. The controllers were still. The numbers had plateaued.
He put the cold, empty mug down.
It was over.