Emma tugged her harness tight over her chest, then made sure her Webley-Fosbery revolver was snug in its holster. Outside her cockpit was the darkness of Inconstant‘s hangar, pierced only by a few widely-spaced red lights. One of the mechanics made a vaguely man-shaped outline in the gloom. Emma leaned over as far as her harness would let her and called to him, “I’m closing up.” He waved a red flashlight in reply, and Emma slid the canopy forward until it clicked into place.
The Faucon—Falcon, as nearly everyone but Cannon called it—was an odd-looking aircraft, a stubby cigar-shaped fuselage with a rear-mounted engine and long, graceful wings. Two delicate-looking booms sprouted aft from the wing roots, each one bearing an abbreviated vertical stabilizer. A crosspiece a few yards behind the propeller connected them. Like every plane the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés and Française Impériale Constructions Aéronautiques built, it was rugged and well-armed. Emma had a great deal of fondness for the type. She got more than enough of fighting with speed and agility on the ground. In the air, it was nice to be able to take a punch.
She tucked her preflight checklist away and watched as the ground grew pulled the safety pins out of her rockets. The mechanic flashed his light at her twice, and she flipped the starter switch. The engine behind her coughed to life, then settled into a smooth purr. Emma turned on the cockpit lights, bathing the panel in a red glow. She looked over the engine gauges carefully, but she saw nothing out of place. Satisfied, she plugged her headset into the radio and said, “White One.”
“Two,” a voice crackled in her ear.
“Alright,” Emma said. “No chatter from here on in, and shoot straight when we get there.”
Her wingmen knew better than to acknowledge an order for silence. The mechanic blinked his light three times, and Emma gave a thumbs-up. Her fighter rocked, swinging on its arresting hook as the hangar rails carried it to the aftmost skyhook, then jolted once and settled as the skyhook locked around its arresting hook. Emma checked her harness one more time, then the skyhook operator in front of her plane held up a fist, illuminated by a flashlight. He opened the fist, then counted down on his fingers, and Emma put her hands on her controls. At zero, the skyhook released, and the fighter plunged out of the zeppelin’s belly.
Emma rammed the throttle forward to the stops, and banked out from under Inconstant. She shook her head. After three years, she thought she’d have got used to that sensation. She put it out of her mind, though, and scanned the sky ahead. There they were: two dark shapes against the brightening northern sky. She pulled even with them, then slightly ahead.
It was a five-minute flight to Pitu. Cannon and Joe had decided the air attack should come from the south, avoiding any defenses the Nazis might have landed in the city, so Emma’s flight approached up the slope of the mountain. Emma caught sight of the Nazi zeppelin, stark silver against the gray of the dawn sky and the dark bulk of Mount Soendoro. An almost imperceptible turn lined her up with the forward third of the zep, and a glance to the side showed her wingmen setting up for their own attack runs.
They closed quickly, and Emma’s wingmen opened fire first. Rockets leapt off their hardpoints on pillars of white smoke, and explosions rippled across the Nazi zep’s flank. Emma watched rockets hit the aft two engine gondolas, then looked through her gunsight. Her hands were absolutely steady on the controls, her reticle centered precisely over the zep’s remaining engine, and as she drew nearer, her instincts said, “Shoot.”
Almost without conscious thought, she thumbed the trigger twice. A pair of rockets streaked out ahead of her plane, shattering the gondola’s windows. For a moment, they shone red-orange, and then a fireball blossomed from them. That was all Emma saw before she shot under the zeppelin, throwing her plane through a roll as she climbed out on the far side.