Moses found the walk to the hangars agonizingly slow. Unable to contain himself any longer, he ran for the open doorway and quickly found his plane at the rear of the hangar. Mechanics worked on SE5As in various states of disassembly. A welder fired as he passed, its crackling hiss punctuated by the piercing sound of a striking hammer. His Magpie’s resin skin glistened as always, as if freshly waxed. He recognised her sweeping black and white stripes, but she had additives. Painted on the fuselage and upper wing were bullseyes. Blue for the outer ring, then white, and red at their cores. The rudder had vertical blue, white, and red stripes, much like the French flag.
“I had those added on,” called out Henderson, now entering the hangar. “It’s so you don’t get shot down by mistake.”
Moses smiled to himself. “I like it.”
His attention turned to the nose, mounted with twin vickers guns; that disturbed him. Moses’ trembling fingers traced the mounting bolts as if his child was pierced with foreign objects. Worse still, the guns aimed through the propeller.
“You put in an interrupter gear?” Moses asked.
“It wasn’t that hard, sir. I worked with a couple of experts, making sure not to strip her down anymore than necessary. In some ways, she’s actually simpler than other planes I’ve worked on. The best part was, we didn’t have to open her up too much.”
Moses placed a tender hand on the nose.
“She still starts and performs just as well, sir. You understand, we couldn’t have you up there unarmed.”
“No… that’s alright,” said Moses. “It’s just a bit to get used to; that’s all.”
“Why don’t you try her out, sir? I’ve already fueled her up.”
“I think I will,” said Moses, slipping on his cap and goggles again.
He climbed into the Magpie, grateful that Henderson thought to get out of the way. Mechanics normally had to pull on the propeller to start the engine. Moses jabbed the electric start with his thumb and smiled to himself as the aircraft powered up.
“I’ve missed you,” he said fondly, then began to taxi the Magpie out of the hangar.
Before it passed through the doors, Henderson deftly slid into a seated position on the lower wing, riding the aircraft onto the airfield. As Moses slowed to point the Magpie down the airstrip, Henderson slapped him on the upper arm.
“Fire the guns,” he shouted.
Moses depressed the new trigger fitted to his flight stick. Six rounds chattered out of the barrels to his satisfaction. Henderson nodded then slid off the wing, smoothly finding his feet and stepping back to watch. Moses throttled forward, pleased to note that he crossed the grassy stretch no less swiftly than before. Men ran from the hangars, as did the pilots in the bar as he lifted from the ground. He pulled back on the stick and sped for the clouds, laughing. At the same time, he became aware of another presence in the cockpit with him.
“I know you’re with me,” he whispered.