“Just turbulence,” said the co-pilot. “She’s fine.”
The pilot heard a voice over the intercom, but the words were indistinct.
“Was that you, Dusty?”
“Sorry, nothing,” said the navigator. “Coming up on the coast now.”
“What was the nothing? Spit it out.”
The pilot found himself desperate to know. No man should leave a thought unvoiced at a time like this.
“Really, nothing,” said the navigator.
“Come on, Dusty. It’s all between us. Not much chance of anyone else hearing about it.”
“Thanks for reminding us,” said the electronics officer.
“Oh well,” said the navigator. “I was just wondering why we call her a ‘she’. She’s an Avro Vulcan, serial number XH five two nine. Not a curve on her. she’s practically triangular. My wife, she’s feminine.”
The navigator had the sense to stop talking while his voice was still level. The pilot tried not to think of his own wife. He focused on the instrument panel, but dials and gauges could not counter the sense that part of him had been ripped away. He’d told her to put the kids in the car and head for Cornwall if she heard the bombers take off. They should be somewhere in the Midlands by now.
“Over the coast now. Five minutes to target.”
The navigator’s voice was scoured of emotion. It purged the pilot’s sentiment. He could never tell the navigator how grateful he was for bringing him back to the job. It was damn hard to wipe your eyes with gloves on your hands and an eyepatch under the visor.
The sky blazed white, searing the pilot’s eye. He stifled a yell of pain. Yelling wouldn’t be professional. The blast wave hit the Vulcan like a sledge hammer. The yoke bucked under his hands.
Oh Christ, that hurt.
He wasn’t sure who that was.
He blinked, but saw nothing but spinning white dots. He flipped up his visor and moved the patch over to the other eye. The dots still danced but if he squinted, he could see the green glow of the instruments. The altimeter was unwinding, but the horizon wasn’t toppling. He eased the wings level and the nose up.
“There goes the first one,” said the navigator. “That was Kalingrad. Must have been Johnny’s kite.”
“Kaliningrad,” said the electronics engineer. “Not that it matters now.”
The pilot put a hand on the co-pilot’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I was looking the other way.”
“Good. Another one that close and she’s all yours. Jock, are we armed?”
“Yes”, said the electronics officer. “I think I know why we call her ‘she’. She’s Kali. The devourer.”
“Very scholarly,” said the navigator. “Two minutes.”