Summary:— This is an Uberfic set in Great Britain in 1942. Zena Mathews, a young New Zealand woman, and her navigator Gabrielle Parker work as pilots for part of SOE—Special Operations Executive, where all operations are top secret. On a flying mission they meet an enemy aircraft.
Warning: — There is quite a lot of general, but not extreme, swearing in this story; so anyone who might be offended should not read on.
Disclaimer:— MCA/Universal/RenPics own all copyrights to everything related to ‘ Xena: Warrior Princess ' and I have no rights to them.
“Bandit at two o'clock!”
Zena jerked her head up from the chart she was studying spread out on her knee, and leaned over to stare out her side-window. For a moment she saw nothing, then brought into focus the object her pilot had seen.
“Where? Oh, got it.” Zena wriggled into a more comfortable position and glanced to her left at Gabrielle. “Uh-oh, it's a plane alright. Better rig for grapeshot! Can't make out if it's friendly or not yet, though.”
“Let's say not , Zena.” The blonde pilot knew which was the safest course in these circumstances. “You squeeze through to the forward gun, an' get ready for action. And don't forget to strap yourself in with the safety-harness. If I have to bank steeply, I don't wan'na see you flying out.”
“Don't worry, Gabrielle.”
Zena was already crouching down in order to negotiate the short tunnel leading to the open bay where the single Vickers gun was mounted. This being positioned in the bow of the aircraft, a couple of feet in front of the Walrus's enclosed cockpit.
“How much ammo have you got, Zena?” Gabrielle shouted this question above the increased roar of the Bristol Pegasus engine as she changed course slightly.
“Ten circular drums of a hundred rounds each.” The reply was distorted by the tunnel, as Zena began to crawl through. Gabrielle would need to kick the small flap-door closed behind Zena in a second, to stop the outside air rushing into the cockpit as she reached the open gun. “But the Vickers fires a thousand rounds a minute, remember.”
Gabrielle spent a moment in mental calculation, and had just concluded that Zena would need to change ammo-drums every twenty seconds if she fired constantly, when the New Zealander popped up in front of her in the gun-bay. She had her flying-helmet tightly strapped on, but a stray strand of black hair was already flicking wildly in the high wind billowing around her. Zena's grip; manoeuvring of the gun; and unshipping and re-loading of fresh ammo-drums would all also be inhibited by the need to keep her thick gloves on.
If both women had concentrated on nothing else, while they spent long un-occupied hours in their Nissen hut back at Scapa Flow, it was aircraft recognition sheets. They could each, by now, tell a wide spectrum of British, American, and German aircraft apart. Though the distant speck high up in the blue sky was still too far away to make out any recognisable details. It did however, appear to be flying directly in the opposite direction to her own course, Gabrielle had noted; which would make its origin somewhere over Denmark; which, in turn, would probably make the plane German.
As Gabrielle watched her forward gunner preparing the Vickers for action Zena suddenly turned round and fixed the blonde pilot with a steady stare through the goggles she wore for protection from the violent airflow. Then Zena raised a gloved fist and gave a slow decided thumbs-down signal. This being their agreed sign for an enemy plane. Gabrielle leant forward to look up through the glass panel which formed the cockpit roof. She could see the approaching plane clearly now. It was about fifteen hundred feet above the Walrus, flying at pretty much her own speed; so both planes were rapidly converging. Still it was too far away to identify, though. Gabrielle wondered what had grabbed Zena's attention, to make her so sure it was German.
Time, in these circumstances, is always relative; thereby elucidating the still obscure theory of a famous foreign scientist. Zena and Gabrielle both knew about the theory, though, because of an article in ‘ Time & Tide ' which had rather valiantly tried to explain the concept to ordinary British working women. Zena herself had spent an exorbitant amount of time, Gabrielle had remarked at the time, sniggering over the pages; making fun of its convoluted text. Now, in what to Gabrielle appeared to be no time at all, the Walrus had advanced half a mile or so, and made identification of the distant plane possible. And Gabrielle did recognise it. Those hours of study had not been in vain, after all—it was clearly and definitely a Dornier Do18. A German flying-boat of, say, one class above the ungainly Supermarine Walrus.
Gabrielle released her breath, which she suddenly discovered she had been holding for an unknown period, and gave a preliminary sigh of what might be called relief. The German plane was certainly physically larger, with two engines that were decidedly more powerful than her single Pegasus; but it was just as weakly armed, for its size, as the Walrus. Gabrielle reflected back on the plane's recognition sheet. Two engines in tandem, one propeller facing forward and the other facing to the rear, in a nacelle behind and above the cockpit; though unlike the Walrus these engines were held by a solid-framed vertical neck rising from the centre top of the fuselage, with the engine nacelle built into the top wing of the biplane. It featured a very long slim fuselage with an ordinary tailplane and for attack or defence had, most importantly, only two machine-guns; one in the waist and the other in the bow, ahead of the cockpit, similarly to the Walrus.
All this time Gabrielle had been closely watching the enemy, and now realised with certainty it was losing height towards her; obviously intent on engaging in battle.
Gabrielle could swear to herself, though this would make no difference to the thought which had just come to her. The Walrus usually contained four crew, of whom two could man the bow and waist guns. But as a result of their necessarily top-secret operations Zena and Gabrielle always flew alone, making them essentially a one-gun plane. The Dornier, on the other hand, would have a full crew, and would be able to bring both its guns into play at the same time; giving them, effectually, twice the fire-power of the Walrus.
The German gunners also, similarly to Gabrielle's plane, stood in open bays without armoured protection. So they were both equal in this, possibly crucial, aspect. Gabrielle heaved another sigh. It was going to be down to superior flying; better gun management; and a damned great slice of luck. She just wondered which of the planes was going to be the recipient of these delights.
Zena had recognised the German Dornier as soon as it became clearly defined against the blue sky; this being a very good day, weather-wise, for early August in the mid North Sea. She immediately also understood that, though the German plane was optimally more powerful, it was only equally armed with the Walrus. She felt no fear as she breathed in through the folds of the thick woollen scarf she had pulled over the lower part of her face, as protection against the speeding air-currents. This, coupled with her goggles, made her face pretty much indistinguishable. She clicked the safety-catch off; tapped on the horizontal top of the round ammo-drum to make sure it was tight; and crouched slightly behind the unwieldy gun, gripping the single open vertical spade-handle with both hands.
The one good point that might work in the Walrus's favour, Zena knew, was that the Dornier Do18 was generally used as a reconnaissance or air-sea rescue machine. It was not primarily a fighter. That meant that the German gunners probably wouldn't be highly trained in their role, and would therefore not be as accurate or deadly as a fighter crew. Another point that Zena had come to understand, through long talks with a friendly sergeant-mechanic in Scapa, was the essential need to shoot not at the opposite gunner behind his weapon, but at the centre of the enemy plane; and, most importantly, the engine and top wing where the fuel tanks were situated. She was also strongly aware of the fact she had never yet fired at an enemy aircraft in anger; this would be her first time. She had not even been instructed in the proper responses and methods required; having only taken part in a quick 3 day course on using the Vickers, Browning, Sten, Bren, and Thompson machine-guns. It had been so compressed a course, with so many types being thrust into her hands, she now found herself fiddling with the Vickers trying to remember exactly how to get it properly ready.
What she did remember about this Vickers K gun was its voracious appetite; it had a rate of fire between 950 to 1,200 rounds per minute. Which meant, she gloomily realised, the necessity of changing the circular 100-round ammo-drums about twice a minute if she kept up an intense fire. Barely thinking about it, she decided to restrain herself from firing wildly at long range. She meant to hold fire till Gabrielle brought their craft within what might respectably be called medium-range; and even then only fire carefully at the centre of the enemy's plane. It was all going to be, she realised, a damn sight more difficult than unwitting ground based observers might think.
The thought suddenly occurred to Gabrielle, as she banked slightly, of what kind of fight this was going to be? Would it be a duel, with all sorts of unwritten gentlemanly rules; or a knife-fight, where you went for your enemy's soft spots with a screaming cruelty? And who was going to open fire first? Who, in fact, was the aggressor; and who the defendant? Should she just give Zena a signal to blaze away, uninvited? Or would it be the thing to await the first onslaught by the Germans? If she—
Pwhiing! Craaang! Sceechh! Taang! Thaang!
A small circular hole, surrounded by fractured glass cracks, appeared in the right hand side-window; and something hit the co-pilot's seat-cushion, where Zena had been sitting only a few minutes before, with a metallic clang and a cloud of dust.
“Shoot, Zena! Shoot!”
Gabrielle vented her shock and rage in a few more choice adjectives. But they were lost, as Zena kept her gaze rigidly on the distant plane. It had fired its waist gun as it passed, at what Gabrielle had imagined was too far a distance to be effective. Now she found herself wondering if the German gunner was really that good; or if it had merely been a fluke, by a jittery amateur. It was one or the other.
The Dornier had passed by on the Walrus's starboard side. To prevent it snapping at her tail Gabrielle veered to port, in a wide turn which should bring the enemy back into view to her rear. This is what happened; and Gabrielle saw Zena stand up to swing the machine-gun round to face the opposite direction. Because of the Dornier's wide turn Gabrielle was now cutting across the diameter of the imaginary circle the Dornier was executing; and would cut across its bows at short range within seconds. The Dornier was slightly below the Walrus, so Gabrielle pushed her joystick forward to descend a trifle and also to allow Zena a clear view of her target.
All this occurred in the space of a few seconds, and it seemed hardly any time at all before Gabrielle suddenly heard the zirr-zirr-zirr-zirr-zirr of the Vickers firing and saw the brief orange muzzle-flashes as Zena let fly. She only fired off a short burst, and Gabrielle peered narrow-eyed through the windscreen looking for any effect on the silhouette of the distant Dornier; but nothing obvious happened, and she saw no visible evidence that any of Zena's bullets had hit home.
By this time the two planes had crossed paths and headed off in different directions; Gabrielle to port, and the Dornier to starboard. As the German plane was heading in the opposite direction to Gabrielle, and could be up to anything, she dragged the joystick hard over to come round. Her intention was to get on its tail; but she saw the German pilot had recognised this danger and was gaining height, heading slightly to port again. Gabrielle steadied her plane, turned to follow the German, and hauled her joystick back to gain height also. She was determined not to let the German escape without getting its ass whipped, if she had anything to do with it. Pulling the joystick back between her knees, and grabbing the throttle lever, she banked to port and put the nose up in a steep climb.
“God! What's that girl doin'?”
Zena grabbed the spade-grip of the machine-gun with both gloved fists, and slid her boots across the cartridge-case littered floor of the gun-bay to wedge her toes against both sides of the fuselage. Her waist safety-belt was closed and bolted to the fuselage, so there was no danger of being thrown clear of the plane in any steep bank; but that didn't mean she wouldn't be thrown around like a rag doll, possibly even losing control of her gun at a dangerous moment.
“Come on, Gabrielle, level out.”
After a moment Zena saw the plane was gaining height more or less smoothly now, and took the opportunity to release the used ammo-drum from the top of the gun. She retained the sense to simply drop it at her feet and not throw it overboard, where it might be caught by an air-current and dragged into the propeller's blades. She pulled a fresh drum from the cloth sleeves screwed into the fuselage at her feet, and used both hands to position it against the shoulder of the now vertically pointed gun and clip it into place. Re-loading a Vickers K while in the middle of an air-fight in an open gun-bay was by no means easy, and took precious time; as well as having her lose eye-contact with her opponent while doing so.
Ziing! Ziing! Craacck! Ziing!
As she finished loading and pulled the gun barrel down, a series of holes magically appeared in the metal of the fuselage just forward of her position and two metallic bangs sounded at her feet. She also felt the drag, like someone pulling hard on her trouser leg, as a bullet passed through the loose cloth just behind her left knee.
“Oh, so it's personal now, is it?” Zena snarled in rage at the German plane visible on her starboard side, at almost the same altitude, and around two hundred yards distance. “OK, see how ya like this!”
Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr!
Empty cartridges were flying everywhere, caught by the airflow. Several bounced off her thick flying-jacket, and one hit her full in the face. It did no harm, because of the tightly wrapped scarf round her lower face, but it hurt as it banged against her cheek-bone; and she jerked sideways involuntarily, losing her grip on the gun handle as she collapsed in a heap in the gun-bay. As she struggled to grab onto something, anything, to haul herself upright the metal gunring around which the gun swivelled erupted in a shower of sparks and hideous metallic screeching noises above her head.
Craang! Zhaaanngg! Scleeech! Whrang!
“Goddam! Goddam! Goddam!”
Finally scrambling to her feet Zena saw several more holes had appeared all round the sides of the gun position. Part of the gun-ring was torn to shreds; and the spade-grip handle along with most of the shoulder of the gun was mere twisted metal and torn wood. The ammo-drum was gone, and the clip-socket where it had engaged with the gun was torn to pieces and obviously unusable. The forward gun was out of action and, as Zena only too well realised, if she had still been standing there she too would have been ripped to shreds. The German gunner was obviously not an amateur after all.
“Hi Zena, gettin' hot, ain't it!” Gabrielle moved her right leg aside to let her co-pilot negotiate the hatch back into the cockpit. “Any luck?”
Zena didn't stop to sit beside Gabrielle, though she noticed her own empty torn seat. Instead she immediately crouched to slip through the hatch into the fuselage of the Walrus.
“I'm all shot to pieces.” Zena's tone was bitter, and coldly furious. “My forward gun's dead. An' my seat's been de-commissioned. I ain't happy. See ya later, Gabs, I gott'a date with a waist-gun!”
A second later she was gone, and Gabrielle was alone once more. She pulled back on the joystick and opened the throttle. The idea had taken over her mind that height and speed were the answers. Get far enough above the Dornier and she would have some sort of advantage; and superior speed would be good too. It was at this point she remembered the Dornier had two high-powered engines to her one; speed was on their side. Ah, she thought, but they were just programmed Nazi's; she, on the other hand, had a mind like an angry hyena. Or so Zena had told her, when Gabrielle had once lost her temper over who should take their dirty linen to the laundry. And she, of course, had the over-riding advantage of being a woman; and thereby being in every way superior to the sausage-eating swastika'd slobs in the Dornier!
She had been intent on climbing and had lost sight of the enemy, but now it swam back into view on her port side. It was a little beneath her and around five hundred yards away. Gripping the joystick Gabrielle brought the Walrus's nose round. Everything was now up to Zena and her waist-gun.
The trouble with the waist-gun, as Zena had been aware already but now found out in reality, was its restrictions. Having reached the gun-port and strapped her safety-belt on once more she was faced with all the negatives of her position. She stood just in front of the high tailplane, which cut off her shooting range in that direction. If she faced forward her eyes were met by the wide lower wing assemblage, various wing spars, and sloping fuselage roof rising to the high cockpit, cutting off her aim pretty much across the whole 180 degree view forward. She couldn't fire upwards facing directly forwards, because all that would accomplish would be shooting the engine and propeller blades to shrapnel. So, with the waist-gun, she was restricted to firing upwards, across, or down only immediately to her port or starboard; and even then only in a restricted tight arc on either side. If the Dornier wasn't within the small window of opportunity supplied by these limited horizons, then she and her gun were more or less useless. The Dornier definitely had the advantage.
Zwhiip! Zwhiip! Zwhiip! Zwhiip!
The German gunners had decided to take pot-shots at long-range, Zena realised, as she swung her gun to port. The bullets had zipped through the air somewhere close to her, but had apparently done no damage this time. She levelled the barrel, took careful aim, and let rip with a short blast. She had to take note of the Dornier's speed, and therefore fire in front of it to be sure of hitting it, but hoped she'd made the right calculation. Looking up from her smoking barrel, the cool air temperature at this altitude making the hot metal steam, she saw no sign of damage to her prey. She wondered if it was just bad luck, or if she was really a bad shot.
Ktaang! Ktaaang! Ktaang! Ktaang!
Sparks and splinters of wood flashed and whipped through the air all round her exposed position as a salvo ripped into the top of the Walrus's fuselage, from two directions. Both the German gunners had clearly now got the British plane's range.
“God dammit!” She crouched and swung the gun round a little further, conscious of the edge of the starboard wing in the corner of her left eye. “Come closer. Closer, so I can see ya, dammit!”
Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr!
The Vickers let rip with another short burst. Zena was not quite sure how long she could fire the gun, without its barrel over-heating. She recalled vaguely the instructor being quite serious about this problem; but the details of what he had said escaped her at the moment. Anyway, the drum was empty; time to re-load, dammit.
When she crouched back behind the spade-grip of the gun once more Zena took a concentrated visual sweep of the sky, but saw nothing; the Dornier appeared to have vanished. She could not look at Gabrielle for information, because the sweeping back of the cockpit was just an inclined plane of bare aluminium, with the shoulder of the lower wing coming across right in front of her. The mighty Bristol Pegasus radial engine roared above her head, its propellers thrusting an unbelievable hurricane of wind against her body. Her clothes were plastered against her chest as if pushed by an invisible hand; and it was terrifyingly icily cold. Zena rubbed her goggles with a free hand and peered around again. Gabrielle, at this moment, chose to bank to starboard and put the nose slightly down. Immediately Zena saw the Dornier to her right, coming up from a little behind and below. If Gabrielle hadn't somehow realised this, the Germans would have had a clear run to shoot the Walrus to pieces from the rear.
Grasping the handle-grip of the gun firmly with both hands Zena waited till the Dornier was close enough to make out every detail on its fuselage. She saw orange flashes from the distant bow gun, but nothing seemed to come anywhere near her. Then flashes from the German's waist-gun flickered briefly; though again with no apparent damage to the Walrus. Zena aimed just a touch ahead of the Dornier; pressed the trigger firmly; and held it down for a long sustained burst.
Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zi—
Her gun had jammed. Gods, she thought, how do you fix this? Letting go the hand-grip the barrel and body of the gun swung into the vertical. The circular ammo-drum was immediately against Zena's chest. Nothing visible seemed to be wrong.
Kraang! Kraang! Kraang! Kraang! Kraang!
Splinters of wood from the top wing, and pieces of metal shrapnel from the surrounding fuselage whipped through the air with a deadly whine. Zena felt something slice through her flying-jacket just above her left elbow; then an excruciating pain followed. Glancing hurriedly at her arm she saw a long tear in the leather and dark blood coursing from it.
She grasped her arm and bent low to get a closer look. Thankfully this cursory inspection showed the wound to be not as bad as it first appeared. A long cut, but not too deep, and not bleeding profusely; at least not dangerously so, as yet. Turning to the gun again, and bracing her booted feet against the side-walls of the gun-bay as Gabrielle banked steeply to port, Zena examined it for damage. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the barrel; the ammo-drum could possibly be the source of the problem. She used both hands to wrestle with the unwieldy circular metal container, finally freeing it from its clip. Dumping it unceremoniously at her feet she peered into the chamber and saw a bullet lodged there. It was too cold to remove her gloves, so she took refuge in hitting the side of the gun's body with a closed fist. To her amazement the cartridge jerked free and fell at her feet. Not losing another moment Zena dragged a fresh drum up from the floor, clipped it in place, and crouched behind the gun, lowering its barrel into firing position.
“God! Come on, Zena! Shoot the buggers! What's stopping you?”
Gabrielle was feeling the strain. Over the last period of time, however long that might have been, she had felt the vibrations and heard the evil screeches and whines as the German bullets hit home on the Walrus. Her main concern was the engine, but there was nothing she could do except keep banking and climbing to give Zena the best chance to return fire. A choice Zena did not appear to be taking up with any zest. Alright, Gabrielle told herself, she had heard a few random short bursts of return fire from the waist-gun, but nothing in the way of sustained animosity towards the damn Germans in the Dornier; so what the hell was Zena up to?
“Come on! Are they your cousins over there or something, Zena?” Gabrielle was rapidly losing her grip on calm lady-like manners. Could you have lady-like manners in a war situation? Gabrielle decided not. “Right. You asked for it, now you're goin' t'get it. You black-hearted bastards!”
Gabrielle pulled the joystick firmly back between her knees, thrust the throttle lever forward, and banked steeply to starboard as the Walrus groaned in agony as it climbed at speed. She had caught a glimpse of the enemy far off heading across her bow, and had determined this was the chance she and Zena had been awaiting. She aimed to intersect the Dornier's course about six hundred yards ahead and, having reached the same altitude, headed towards her enemy with clenched teeth.
“You're going to get it this time. You made me angry, an' you're goin' t'pay. Come an' get it. An' if you make it back to base, tell Goring he can stick his air force up his—whoops!”
Whraang! Zkreech! Krtaang! Scteeng!
Both side-windows of the cockpit erupted in fragments; two holes appeared in the co-pilot's front windscreen to Gabrielle's right; dust erupted all round her where she sat; and Gabrielle heard what sounded like a whole swarm of bees whining around her as splinters flew everywhere: then she felt the pain as something punched into her lower right ribs with immense force.
“ Graaugh! ”
Zena re-gained her feet after staggering when the plane took an unexpected bank and climbed like an angry eagle after its prey. She grabbed the gun's spade-handle; gasped for breath through the folds of her thick scarf; tried to wipe the dust from her goggles; and peered around the sky, locating the Dornier in the distance now on almost the same level as the Walrus: and the distance was diminishing rapidly as the Walrus headed straight for the enemy.
“Ha! So, Gabrielle's lost her temper. Was wondering when that'd happen.” Zena let out an evil chuckle that would have terrified the German aviators, it they had heard it. “ Now all your butts are history. Go on, Gab! Fly this thing right through their windscreen!”
Only seconds intervened, then Zena found herself the centre of a raging storm of debris and shrapnel as bullets hit the fuselage and wing-shoulder all round her position. Both German guns were firing with astonishing accuracy. The distance had shortened to only a couple of hundred yards; Zena thought she could almost see the colour of the eyes of the man who stood erect in the Dornier's waist-gun position; then she lowered her Vickers a trifle and let rip.
Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr!
For a moment she thought she saw splinters and dust rising round the enemy waist-gun; then the Dornier banked away, and all she could see were the lines of its slim hull and the underside of its wide wings as it disappeared out of range. A quick recce showed the top fuselage of the Walrus was shot to pieces. Tears in the fabric of the wings were evident on both sides, and the aluminium shoulder of the plane, between Zena and the cockpit, showed jagged rips of various lengths. The blood from her left arm seemed to have decreased, though the leather of her jacket was stained with dark patches. The pain seemed to have gone away for the moment, also. Taking a deep breath she looked out across the sky again; and, dammit, here was the bloody Dornier coming round for another try.
“God, don't they have anything else to do?”
Gabrielle must have seen them too, for the Walrus banked and headed on an intercepting course without a moment's hesitation.
“That's my girl, Gabrielle. We can take these bums.” Zena snorted with determination, patting the body of the Vickers with appreciation. “Let's get close, again. Come on, ya goddam Krauts. Say hello to my big friend!”
This time Gabrielle had clearly decided on a suicidal approach. Head straight for the German, and damn the consequences. In an appallingly short space of time, mere seconds, the two planes finally found themselves coming within wingspan distance; and, surprisingly, the advantage was on the Walrus's side. With Gabrielle's determined piloting Zena found herself crossing the bow of the Dornier at only a hundred yards distance or so. She could see the bow-gun; the windscreen; and even the shapes of the crew in the cockpit.
She opened up with a short burst, to get the range and distance; then let rip with a whole drum-full.
Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr! Zirr!
Zena saw, over the now steaming barrel, what seemed to be a cloud of dust envelop the silhouette of the forward gunner; who then crumpled down out of sight. The Dornier's windscreen dissolved in a spray of shattered glass; fragments appeared to flick away from the fuselage around the forward gun, cockpit, and then back towards the huge slab-like metal stem supporting the gigantic engine nacelle. For a fraction of a second she saw sparks flying from the circumference of the spinning propeller; then the enemy plane disappeared under the Walrus's tail as the two planes sped on their divergent courses. Before Zena had time to draw breath she was suddenly surrounded by grey blankness as Gabrielle took precautionary cover in a nearby cloud.
Zena used this opportunity to release the used ammo-drum; drop it amongst the others gathered round her ankles; then let go of the gun-handle. It slipped into its vertical position, with the body of the gun near Zena's waist and the barrel sticking vertically in the air. The barrel was steaming, and merely by putting her scarf-enshrouded face near, she could feel the heat radiating from it.
“Don't fancy firing you again. Might blow up in my face. God, wonder where Jerry is now. How many more ammo-drums are there?”
As she crouched in the gun-bay, trying to see which drums were empty and which full, the cloud dispersed silently and with frightening speed; they were back in clear sky. Zena jumped to her feet and scrutinized the surrounding sky with narrowed eyes; but they were alone: of the Dornier nothing was to be seen. She leaned out over the starboard side of the fuselage to check below the Walrus; then did the same on the port side: but all that was visible was blue sky, a few clouds, and the greyish rippled surface of the North Sea several thousand feet beneath the aircraft. The German machine appeared to have vanished without trace.
Twenty minutes later Zena had re-joined her pilot in the battered, and now very uncomfortable, cockpit. She had taken a small loose hatch-cover from the interior and managed to cover the smashed side-window at her elbow. Gabrielle had done much the same with her own side-window, though there were still stiff breezes blowing all through the cockpit. Not to put too fine a point on it—the Walrus was a wreck.
“We need a new plane, Zena.”
“We need a bigger, a much bigger , new plane, Gabrielle.” Zena gave her repressed emotions free scope. “Preferably with ten guns, several big bombs, and six engines. Six engines enough, Gabrielle?”
“Oh yeah. It's so difficult to get eight these days, ducks.” Gabrielle looked across at the dark-haired woman, a touch of tiredness showing in her voice now. “Zena, I've been shot!”
There was a stunned silence as Zena took in this casually offered remark; then she came-to and gazed at her friend.
“You—where?” Zena gazed at the lower part of Gabrielle's flying-jacket, where a small hole could be seen. There was no blood visible. “What? That? Are ya sure?”
“Yeah, I'm sure.” Gabrielle had unbuttoned her jacket, and now carefully reached to open it slightly. “Y'can see the blood inside. I think it was a ricochet. There's a long tear at the back of my jacket; where it went out, I suppose. I don't think it's bleeding much.”
Zena crouched beside the slight form of her friend, gently folding the edge of the jacket out of the way. Then she took time to examine Gabrielle's shirt, and below this the ragged line of torn skin over her lower ribs.
“Yeah, probably a ricochet, like you say.” Zena smiled comfortingly, she hoped. “It's a tear in the skin. Pretty nasty, but it hasn't penetrated. Maybe a broken rib or two. It ain't bleeding much either. I'll get the first-aid box an' patch you up. Shall I take over flying?”
“Nah!” Gabrielle shook her head firmly. “I'll be OK. I don't feel bad. Hey, you've got blood on your sleeve. What's that?”
“Just a scratch, Gabrielle, nothing exciting.” Zena shrugged off her own wound, as she bent to clamber back into the fuselage to hunt for the first-aid box. “Looks like we'll both be using up Scapa's supply of bandages for the next few days. What happened to that Jerry son-of-a-bitch, by the way?”
“I lost him in the cloud.” Gabrielle tried a smile, found it didn't hurt, so broadened it to a grin. “Wonderful things clouds, for hiding in. Think I'll do more of it in future. How'd you get on shooting at the Dornier, then? Pretty hit and miss to begin with, wasn't it?”
“Ha, more miss than hit, Gabs.” Zena shook her head at the memory, as she climbed back into the cockpit. “I'm a God-awful shot, that's official now. Here, lean over a little—I wan'na wrap this linen bandage round your ribs. Gods, this'll be interesting. Can ya fly one-handed, Gabs?”
“I can fly with my feet, if necessary, Zena—as you well know!” Gabrielle looked somewhat apprehensively at the bottle of iodine in her co-pilot's hand. “Zena, is that going to sting? I heard it does, you know.”
“Like a swarm of angry wasps, darling.” Zena had decided on the strong, virile, be-a-woman approach. “Scream, if you need to; I won't mind.”
“But I will mind, Zena. Be careful. It's only a surface wound. You don't need all that much iodine, surely? Aaaaargh! ”
1. Rig for grapeshot. This was a form of ammunition fired from cannons in sailing-ship days. It consisted of lots of small round metal balls, similar to the bullets used for flintlock-pistols, held in a canvas bag and fired from a cannon.
2. Time-relative. Einstein's theory.
3. ‘ Time and Tide '. A British weekly magazine which supported feminist causes; edited by the owner, Margaret, Lady Rhonnda.
4. Dornier Do18. A real German flying-boat.
5. Krauts. A derogatory term for German military personnel much used by Allied forces in both WW1 & WW2.
6. ‘ Say hello—friend '. A partial quote from ‘ Scarface ', starring Al Pacino. He is attacked by a crowd of enemies and faces them off with a huge machine-gun cum grenade-launcher yelling ‘ Say hello to my lil frien'. ”
7. Iodine. This was once widely used as an antiseptic, and for treating minor cuts or scrapes.
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