There was frantic activity at the Naval airstrip on Hessle foreshore. Within the suite of offices that occupied the upper floor of a concrete blockhouse, beneath the concrete control tower, an operator rushed from the radio shack to the desk of his Comrade-Squadron-Leader. Seconds later an adjutant ran along the corridor, down the stairs and out into a surprisingly sunny Indian Summer to ring urgently on a large brass bell whilst shouting, ‘Scramble!’
Boiler suited engineers were already removing the protective quilted jackets from the engine cowlings of three Polikarpov I-16 fighters parked expectantly on the tarmac as the Comrade-Pilots pulled sheepskin flying-jackets over their telnyashkas and clasped their parachute harnesses into place. Each clambered over the wing of his aircraft and into the cockpit. There was an irregular chuck, chuck, chuck as the Shvetsov M-63 9-cylinder (900hp) supercharged air-cooled radial engines fired up and soon settled into an even drone. Props twirled faster and faster. The three planes sang in unison, Comrade-Pilots waved, ‘Chocks away, tovarisch.’ Gathering speed in single file down the runway, they lifted, banked and, forming up wing-tip-to-wing-tip, headed out to sea.
The radioed call for assistance had also reached Consuella Starcluster at the Cirque des Absurdités in The Land of Green Ginger and she immediately headed for the docks, riding pillion behind Snowdrop on her unicycle and with two of the Kittens of Chaos crammed into the sidecar. Now they were standing on the quayside looking at ninety metres of what could be taken for a gigantic flying boat were it not for the wholly inadequate stubby wings. Its white paint was pealing and the red star on its tail was faded. There were two formidable rows of missile launchers along its back. A Kronstadt Starshina stood beside them holding a large cardboard box.
‘The finest ekranoplan ever to take to the air. We bought her on e-bay from a scrap metal dealer in Kaspiysk. He had her deconstructed and shipped flat-pack on an IKEA container vessel bound for Immingham Docks. We’ve followed the instructions to the letter putting her back together, but we’ve got this box of bits left over and some of them look as if they might be important.’
‘¿No iba a estar listos para el combate de cualquier momento pronto, entonces?’ (It will not to be combat-ready any time soon, then?) sighed Consuella.
‘Oh, but…’ from two very disappointed Kittens, ‘…we wanna go in the big planey thing!’
‘With the rockets!’
The Petty Officer smiled down on the pair as if they were cherubs, in their battered straw boaters, micro skirts and laddered black stockings, ‘Not today, little ones. For now, she goes nowhere.’
Snowdrop had wandered over to another large cardboard box sitting on the quay close to a stocky cast-iron bollard. From it she had selected three suitable yet random items of an aeronautical nature and was honing her juggling skills.
Consuella looked concerned, ‘Joost how many beets do hyou haav left oveer, Comrade-Starsheenarrr?’
‘Er… quite a lot.’
‘Hand what exactly does work on thees wonderfool vessel of yoors?’