“I am sorry, you have ARGOA!” said the figure in white.
“I have what?” replied Annie rubbing her eyes.
“I said you have AROGA!”
AROGA! AROGA! Screamed the horn mounted above Annie’s berth on-board the Arc Royal as it blasted out a called to battle stations, a wave of nausea passed through her as she sat up in her bed. The screaming horn was replaced with the gravel bass tone of Captain Mansergh verbally calling the ship to arms and for all flights to launch. She shook her head knocking the last of the cobwebs out as she realized it was a combat alert.
“What the hell could it be? We are not due to make contact for another three days yet. If this is a drill I’ll have someones head.”
She jerked to her feet groping for the cabin bulkhead as her head swam, she swallowed hard and fought to clear her head. The vertigo finally faded and she pulled open her locker, stepping into the battered leather flight suit that hung against the door. She busied herself fastening the front of the garment up trying to ignore her reflection in the stained mirror in the back of the locker. Her ice blue eyes stared back at her, and she pushed back her short bobbed blonde hair before snapping her flight boots. Taking a deep breath she grabbed her gloves and stepped out into the corridor, pulling the metal shuttered door closed behind her.
The corridor was packed with the other pilots from her group as they raced towards the launch bays of the carrier. Annie seeing the bottleneck of pilots and technicians heading towards the service ladder and main elevator, turned around pulled on her gloves and cut into a service tunnel taking the narrow John ladder down to the next level. Just as her feet lighted on the deck she tumbled, the Arc Royal rumbled and shook around her as the Newtons dropped to bring the old carrier up to combat speed. Annie held onto the deck plating as the tremor passed over the hull and the ship let out an angry growl. When the moment passed she sprang up and ran down the catwalk that strung across the hanger deck, almost halfway across she grabbed the support rail, and swung off sliding down the metal support landing firmly on the carrier deck. The ship lurched one more time as it finally hit its top speed making Annie stumble as she ran towards her waiting Victoria, a sleek mono-winged fighter.
The ground crew was already busy making the airwing ready; Robert, her Scottish Flight Engineer helped her into the cockpit and strapped her in. She flicked on the Victoria’s tin speaker linked to the carriers internal wireless, the sound was scratchy, but she recognized the voice of Flight Captain Philips as he gave the mission brief.
“Three dozen, repeat three dozen Große Class Cruisers on high intercept. At least one dozen Dominata Frigates with one confirmed sighting of a Leviathan Battleship. This must be the flag ship and is the lead target for this flight.”
“Oh crap, great, just great,” thought Annie. “Don’t fight them when we are in top shape in Belgium when we had the Ironclads to support us, we do it now when we are half frazzled.”
Annie shook her head, “No, act now, survive and complain later.”
Robert tapped her on the shoulder, grinned and handed her leather flight helmet to her, “Good luck Miss Annie.”
Annie, smiled and gave him the thumbs up, pulling the helmet on as the Engineer dropped down to crank start the smaller Newton engine. The engines pitch increased as it reached full power and the Victoria started to shudder. With final checks to her flaps and tail rudder, another thumbs up from her Engineer; Annie pressed the throat speaker tube to her neck fastening it into place on the collar of her suit.
“Phoenix one, ready to launch… Request go.”
“Roger Phoenix one, tube two is clear,” said the distant voice of the flight bridge.
Annie dropped her hand out of the cockpit, made the two gesture with her fingers and felt the Victoria being wheeled to the launch tube. The airwing shuddered as it was clamped into the catapult, a final tap on the hull signaled her flight crew was clear and Annie spoke into the tube again.
“Phoenix one ready for go”
“Go granted, God speed and good hunting Phoenix one.”
She glanced to the right to see the Catapult Chief in his control box, she gave him the thumbs up, pulled her flight goggles over her eyes. She felt the catapult crank up under her and then was thrown backwards as the Victoria was launched down the tube. The walls around her blurred becoming a solid metallic gray as the square blue hole at the end of the tunnel grew into a mouth intending to swallow her whole. She cranked the throttle to full as her knots indicator climbed to 120, the Newton screamed behind her as she shot free of the Arc Royal.
To be continued…