Back inside they finalised their plan. Dark Flo had assumed command. “Ferdy, you’d better co-pilot Beryl, make sure she doesn’t drop out, turn on, or whatever it is she’s inclined to do. Once we’ve found the carrier I’ll go first and take out the defences. Then the rest of you parachute drop onto the deck.”
“Me? Parachute?” cried Zelda.
“It’s a buddy sky-dive for you,” continued Flo, “in tandem with the bear.”
“I might need a spot of that stuff Beryl’s on,” said Ginsbergbear.
“Me too,” said Lady Augusta, “What exactly does this para-thingying involve?”
“No one’s going to be on anything until this op’s over. It’s serious. You all heard the Analytical Engine. It’s a matter of life or death. Now, get kitted up and let’s be off.”
“I’d better get back to my regiment,” said Aunty Stella. “When Les Chats get wind of what you’re up to they’re bound to make a move. Good luck all of you.”
“And I’ve got to see a man about a dog,” said Slasher. “Want a lift in the Duesy, Mrs S?” They walked together out into Narrow Street.
The cumbersome Dornier was lumbering above Tiger Bay when two radial engined fighters caught up with them and took up station off the flying boat’s wing tips, Polly’s scarlet replacement Rata to starboard and an off-white I-16 with a red star on the tail to port. The DoX’s radio crackled:
“We’re your escort, Mr Boz,” said wing-Comrade Polly Karpova.
“Fab,” replied Beryl, “this beano could well turn toasty hot.”
Flo grabbed control of the radio, “Stay frosty, Pol. We’ve only a vague idea what we’ll be up against.” But they had to find the drone ship first, in a very large ocean.
They had been stooging around the North Atlantic for more than an hour and had investigated two targets that turned out to be innocent container vessels before Phoebles showed signs of over excitement, bouncing about and pointing out of his allotted porthole.
“I can see another wake,” he shouted, “down there.”
Boz grabbed up the big binoculars (Kronos 20x60s) from their box by the chart table. “Looks like her. It’s huge.” As they closed in on the ship he could make out the flight deck, the bridge and air traffic control towers. She was dazzle painted in the red, yellow and silver grey beloved of Les Chats Souterrains, with the Uber logo on her superstructures and CSS ÜBERKATZEN stencilled in large capitals along the sides of her hull.
“We’re on. Take us up to ten thousand feet,” said Dark Flo, zipping into her wing suit. “I’m going to bail. Keep out of range of her defences till I call.”
They climbed slowly, and then…
“We’re at 10,000 feet,” reported Ferdy. Without another word Flow flung herself head first out through the hatchway.
Almost immediately three of the Sea-Whizz pods rose up out of the Überkatzen’s deck and began to pan around, unable to get a fix on the tiny blue avian. One of the pods fired a short burst from its M61 Vulcan cannon. The Polikarpov I-16s instantly broke formation.
“We’ll cover you, draw their fire,” Polly called over the radio. “Let’s demonstrate some soviet aerobatics Tovarishch Lilya, show them what our Ishaks*8 can do.” The pair of Ratas barrelled and looped around the azure sky whilst Flo spiralled in towards the carrier. Moments later a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper launched from the Überkatzen. It locked onto Flo almost immediately. She banked hard, but could not shake it, so she tucked her arms into her sides and went into a steep dive. The drone followed. Flo opened her wings and slowed. The Reaper passed her, pulled up, and she crashed onto its back, clinging on to the fuselage with arms, legs and sheer willpower. Bracing her knees against the robotic beast and freeing an ugly, heavy bladed bowie knife from the sheath strapped to her thigh she began to prise open a maintenance flap on top of the drone. It gave way suddenly and flew off in the slipstream. Flo peered into the interior, pulled out two wires, one orange the other striped purple and yellow, and cut them both. The confused drone began to waver. Next Flo stripped back the insulation off the wires, swapped them over and twisted the ends together. The Reaper steadied, turned and headed back to the carrier.
The Kronstadt Ratas were still dodging bullets, but with Dark Flo out of immediate danger they broke off and returned to the flying boat. Comrade Lilya performed a quick barrel roll, just for the hell of it. Flo hung on to her mount.
As the drone lined up, somewhat erratically, with the carrier flight deck Flo leapt to her feet and rode the Reaper like a surfer. At the first uncertain bounce she sprang back and landed with a forward roll. The drone tipped nose down and flipped, toppling head over heals along the deck and over the side.
“I think she’s alright,” cried Boz, still hogging the binoculars. “She’s up. She’s out of her wing suit. She’s heading for the bridge.”
*8 – The Polikarpov I-16 was nicknamed Rata (Rat) by the Spanish Nationalists, Mosca (Fly) by the Republicans, and Ishak (Donkey) by the Soviets.