Flight and Fight

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Chapter I, Stan
                         
                           May 5th 1917 Allied western front.

Stanly sat up so fast he knocked his head into the bunk above him, for the fourth time this week he found himself rubbing his head while his above bunkmate muttered inaudible curses into his pillow. As he wiped away the cold sweat that had started to run down his temples he tried to shake the image of the burning wreck from his head. He had been having nightmares like this almost every night since he had joined the flying corps over a week ago, but tonight had been especially bad which he assumed had something to do with what he had witnessed the day before. He sighed and rolled out of bed. As he stood up he was painfully aware of the empty bunk to his right and tried to avoid looking in its direction as he walked out of the barracks and into the mess hall. After a quiet breakfast of baked beans and bread, Stan started walking towards the well hoping a cold wash would clear his head when he heard an unfamiliar voice shout his name. “Yes i’m Stan” he replied turning to see a lanky kid that couldn't be much older then 18  jogging towards him. “Hi i’m Cash” the kid said holding out his hand, Stan took it trying to remember if he’d seen the boyish face before. The kid seemed to read the puzzled expression on his face and quickly supplied an answer “I was heading to the trenches and they pulled me of the truck, said they needed a replacement observer”  Stan suppressed a sigh. He’d known this was coming but he wasn’t ready for it, and he doubted he would be. A fresh wave of sadness threatened to wash over him as he reached the well and lowered a bucket down it “How long have you been here?” Cash asked gesturing at the low buildings and camouflaged tents that surrounded them. Stan pulled the bucket up and out of the well before answering “only a week or so” he said wearily choosing not to elaborate so as to avoid unwanted questions and painful memories. There was a silence as Stan splashed his face with refreshing water and Cash looked around at the barracks in apparent wonder. “Is this your first time in the flying corps”? Stan asked. Cash nodded, “then what's your part in the war?” Stan quired. “Well….. I’ve never fought before” cash confided hesitantly. Stan winced inwardly realizing he would be the one training this kid and giving him his first glimpse of the horror that was war. Cash explained how he had been training to be a medic, while Stan ran a comb through his wet hair. “But then are HQ was bombed and i was moved up here” Cash finished with a shudder. “Well believe me when i tell you you're better of hear then the trenches” Stan said as they started walking back towards the barracks, “That's not saying much” cash said “I’ve heard the trenches are hell”.  “if not worse” Stan agreed “that's why i moved up here, couldn’t take it anymore”.
As they entered the barracks Stan had expected to find bleary eyed stares and maybe a couple questions about the newcomer instead as he pushed open the sheet metal door he was met with shouts and barked commands. His immediate thought was the they had been found and were being bombed, but without any sirens to support that idea, Stan quickly found a familiar face and asked what was happening. “They’ve found one of our ammo depots and there sending one of there dump trucks with enough German trash to wipe it of the map” his squad leader shouted back in a angry, and slightly southern drawl. A dump truck, Stan had learned soon after arriving at the base over a week ago, was one of his squad leader Fred’s favorite nicknames for german bombers. And Stan had a pretty good guess as to what type of “German trash” Fred was talking about. Then in an even louder and angrier voice Fred shouted “Stop dilly dallying, everyone suit up and get out to your Birds now”! Stan ran over to his bunk motioning for Cash to follow, and started pulling on his boots while Cash dumped his suitcase on the bunk next to Stan and started rifling through it. “No time for that now” Stan shouted over the noise, tossing him a cap and goggles “what you’re wearing now will have to do”. Cash nodded wide eyed and followed him out the door. Once they were outside Stan gestured towards the airfield and they started jogging towards it. When they got close enough Stan pointed out his plane and shouted over the coughing of engines  “This’ll be what were flying today it's a Sopwith one and a half strutter and it's got a rear facing gun so you should be well protected” cash looked both relieved and scared as he asked “so all i have do is shoot.. i don’t need to control the plane or anything?” “Well let's hope not because we sure don’t have time for a flying lesson” Stan replied as he jumped up into the pilot's seat and cranked the engine to life. He looked expectantly at Cash for a moment before remembering that this was his first time flying. “You’ll need to spin the prop a couple times to get it started” he supplied gesturing towards the nose of the airplane. Cash hurried to obey and when the propeller caught on the third turn, Cash sprang back looking startled. Stan laughed remembering the first time he’d had to prime an engine. As he helped cash up into the observer's c***pit behind him,The rest of the 88th Squadron started arriving in small groups, the new recruits looking scared and excited it while some of the more experienced pilots shouted out jokes and commands interchangeably. Stan hopped out of the c***pit and started the preflight check shouting out the name and function of each part as he checked it so cash could at least have a basic understanding of the plane. Once he was certain that everything was in working order he pulled himself back into the c***pit and called for ground crew. As they kicked away the wheel chocks and started to guide the aircraft towards the airstrip, Stan turned and asked Cash if he knew how to use the rear firing gun. Cash shook his head “No sir, I was only trained with a pistol” “well these are pretty straightforward you just line up your Target in the sights and pull those  to index triggers on the hand grips” cash nodded but Stan could see the doubt and fear in his partner's eyes.


                               Chapter II, Cash  
                            May 5th 1917 Allied western front.
Cash unclenched his fists and glanced to the right Where another sopwith was flying in perfect formation, The observer saluted him and cash nodded back before turning towards the rest of their squadron who were all flying smaller single seaters. He started to count them hoping to take his mind off of what they were about to do.
He was counting them for the fourth time when his world was suddenly turned sideways as they banked right. Cash gripped the handles of his MMG and glanced over his shoulder as his stomach shot into his throat , He could just make out a group of planes clothed in the pastel camouflage of the german air force steadily flying towards them. As they got closer Cash saw a squadron of enemy fighters peel out of formation and turn towards them. “Ok Here's the plan!” Cash heard stan shout, “Once we get enough altitude were going into a dive i'll try and get us to pass in front the bombers and when you've got a clear shot light it up, you're gonna want to go for the engines but you'll have to shoot a little short to take the plane's trajectory into account… Cash tried to listen but the fear was numbing, consuming his senses like a heavy shroud. His vision was starting to distort, and the thwomp thwomp thwomp of the propeller was starting to beat a deep distorted rhythm, that reverberated through his head like a hellish drum… CASH  to Cash tried to shout back but nothing came out so instead he glanced over the side of the c***pit. The fighting had already begun bellow, and he could see tracer rounds as they streaked over the landscape underneath him. Sundly they pitched forward as Stan nosed towards one of the bombers. Cash grabbed the foregrips as they flashed by the front of the bomber then as they started leveling out Stan shouted “NOW”! Cash aimed as well as he could and squeezed the triggers, the bullets went low he strafed upward but they were already climbing for another attack. “Did you hit any-” Stan was cut of by a deafening crack as a black cloud erupted a few meters in front of them. Cash was temporarily deafened, it felt like his head was imploding, the complete silence after the blast was pressing in on him, in a suffocating insidious calm.
The first sound he was able to comprehend was the flapping sound of torn fabric, he had just enough time to grab the side of the c***pit before the entire left wing instalment was wrenched from the aircraft. 

                                                     Chapter III, Stan.
                               May 5th 1917 Allied western front.
The plane pitched starboard, Stan still too shocked to move, was thrown against the right side of the c***pit. He slumped in his harness in a half conscious state, his hearing was all but nonexistent, body numb, and his vision blurring. He had felt this before, had lain in a comatose like stance after being thrown into a trench by an enemy shell, back then he could see everything, the tracers skipping off the sandbags lining the trench, the flares erupting from the muzzles of the rifles... “STAN”! Stan was jolted back to reality by a sharp pain in his side, he grabbed at it and felt a warm viscous liquid seeping through his suit, he ignored it figuring he  should concentrate on the more pressing concern of trying to avoid a fiery collision with the fast approaching ground. He glanced back toward Cash who appeared to be paralyzed in fear,knuckles white on the leather fore grips of his MMG. Stan knew the feeling and also knew cash wouldn't be much help even if he wasn't incapacitated with fear. So he turned towards the controls and flipped the propeller off. They were now completely vertical spinning in tight spirals towards the ground, Stan fumbled at the controls and found the stick for the tail flaps, he jerked it to the right and they unfurled into a slightly more controlled descent. The ground was approaching fast and Stan couldn't see any means of survival. They were close enough to the ground now that Stan could clearly see a pair of ducks rise from behind an old dilapidated barn. At first he didn't think anything of it but then it hit him, if there were ducks there was likely water and if he could maneuver above the water... He pulled the stick towards him while keeping the rudder and flaps all the way to the right to counteract the torque from the all but non existent left wings. the nose slowly started to pull up but stan new it wasn't fast enough. Thinking fast he pulled out the Colt pistol he kept under his seat and released half a clip into the floor of the c***pit, he heard the heavy metallic wrenching of a bullet piercing metal and knew he’d hit his mark. As the gasoline drained from the tank Stan could feel the nose start to rise and in a few seconds they had pulled out of the dive and were heading straight for the barn. Stan desperately jerked back on the stick but it was already as far back as it would go he had just enough time to catch a glimpse of a small pond covered in duckweed before there was the unmistakable sound of splintering wood and Stans chin slammed into his chest as the tail of the plane plowed into the side of the barn.

                                               
                                                      Chapter IV, Cash
                             May 5th 1917 Allied western front.
Cash hit the mud beside the pond with a solid thud, skidding through the reeds for a few feet before coming to a squelching stop a few feet from the water's edge. He lay there the breath knocked out of him, the right side of his face pressed into the mud. Gingerly he pushed himself onto his knees and when that didn't cause him any immediate pain he stood and turned shakingly towards the barn. The crash had effectively leveled the barn, splintered wood was strewn across the barnyard like the feathers from a great downed bird. Cash stumbled towards the wreckage terrified of what he might find buried there. As he drew nearer he noticed one of the big barn doors shift atop the rubble, Relieved at the sign of life he picked his way over and heaved the door to the side. At first he couldn't tell what it was, then he heard a deep labored breath as the bloodied flank of a horse strained against the support beam that had it pinned to the ground. Wounded horses were probably one of the most common and gruesome task medics had to deal with during the war, and taking care of them was one of the first things cash had been forced to learn when he joined the AMC. Kneeling, he stroked the horse's brow using his thumb to gently shut its eye as he pulled the knife from his belt, then muttering a quick prayer, drew the blade swiftly across the horse's jugular. He stood up slowly not wanting to look, yet not able to look away. As he watched the thick, dark blood pulse out of the dying horse he realized this was the first life he had directly taken during the war, and wondered if it would come easier now that he had.






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