“X-Ray Three is first on the hook, then Ace flight’s damaged planes.” Joe searched the sky for the British fighters which had survived the aerial minefield, and caught the sun glinting off of them as they winged their way back toward the ailing British airship. “Yankee flight will fly rear guard. Everyone else lands in takeoff order. Yankee One, out.”
Joe led Emma mile behind Inconstant, then banked into a lazy turn. After a few minutes, Emma’s voice came over the radio. “I’m gonna be right miffed if I have to land in the dark again.”
As much as his harness would let him, Joe shrugged. “Don’t want to write off another Kestrel. Can’t always get what you want, though.”
Emma did, at least—the rest of the air wing got aboard in good order, and Emma and Joe hit the skyhooks just as the sun dipped below the horizon. Sparrow fell further back with each passing minute. Already, between the dark and the haze, she was hard to spot. As the winches pulled Joe’s Falcon into the hangar, he felt the zep turn. If he knew Cannon, they’d be turning again after an hour or so, once full dark settled in, to put the last touches on their escape.
The deck crew moved Joe’s fighter toward its parking spot, and Joe felt the tension going out of his shoulders. Even in this line of work, wilder weeks were few and far between. The Long Nines hadn’t lost a single one of their number, and the payday would do to replace the planes too far gone to save.
Joe cranked his canopy open and waited for the deck crew to put his ladder up. Unstrapping and climbing down, he headed forward amid the lively bustle of the hangar. First, he had a report to deliver to the boss. After that, he had an appointment with some down time.