Joe watched Inconstant‘s Vultures launch. The British captain knew his game, to have tracked the Long Nines for a week. He had to know he wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of keeping pace with Inconstant if he lost even one engine, and now that the pirate pilots had an edge in numbers—Joe saw a third British plane fall away from the fight with Takahashi’s flight, and a pair of Long Nines break off to help Robber flight finish off its opponents—he couldn’t plan on winning the dogfight before dealing with Inconstant‘s bombers. Sending his pilots around the pirate zep at any real distance would expose them to her flak guns, and to repeated attacks from the pirate fighters. That left him with one good option—gun for Inconstant‘s bombers as quickly as he could.
Almost in unison, the remaining British fighters broke from the dogfights, careful to do so when their opposite numbers were off-balance, gaining a few thousand yards before the pirates could turn after them.
Joe keyed his microphone. “Chase them, but leave room.”
The British fighters bore down on Inconstant, aiming to run close along her flanks, so that she couldn’t bring her guns to bear before they were past. A respectable play, against most zeps. Unlike most, Inconstant could answer it. Panels opened all along her stern to reveal hundreds of stubby tubes. Smoke erupted from them, rippling down the rows of launchers. Joe could just see dark blurs as projectiles flew up and behind Inconstant. Puffs of smoke dotted the darkening sky, and a cloud of parachutes descended all around the British planes.