The low, barn-like structure the tri-motor had been wheeled into was a sham. The rear opened onto an old quarry working that had been roofed over to create a huge hangar. There were another two of Horse’s supply fleet and an old Albo that had been refitted with an arsenal of defensive autoguns. There were other shapes, asymmetrical and vaguely familiar, in the shadows.
An officer approached Horse and Reed, saluted them and made the sign of the Silver Tower. “Welcome back sir. You must be commander Reed.”
“Yes. This,” Reed had felt her appear at his elbow, “is my bombardier, Jayn.”
The officer saluted Jayn. “If you will come this way sir, madam. The rest of your flight will be settled into their billets.”
“We are getting a tour of Dreamland?” Jayn squeaked. “Are we cleared for that?”
“This complex is currently locked down. You cannot leave to tell anyone about it. And your next posting is,” he smirked, “remote, shall we say.”
Lights were coming on in the far end of the hangar, randomly revealing details. “Those are Slender Wasps.” Reed was disappointed.
“No. Those are larger than Slender Wasps. And what has happened to the engine boom?” Jay wanted to rush ahead and investigate.
“Killer Wasps. Not the most imaginative name, I admit. We have built upon the original’s strengths- the strong backbone and excellent handling characteristics- and completely changed the engines. There is now only one cylinder engine, it has been fitted with two stage supercharging, and the pipe coming out of the rear of the boom is an expander motor. You cruise on the cylinders and use the expander for extra power in take off and combat. We have also pressurised the cabin. It can fly higher and faster, and still negotiate narrow valleys just as well. You shall be taking this flight to your new posting.”
Up close, Reed studied his new plane. The crew boom was familiar, though undoubtedly larger, and he could make out the double thick glass. The engine boom had bulges and inlets for the superchargers and a ring of airscoops for the expander engine. He had heard about this new technology, though everyone had claimed it was temperamental and fragile. At least there was a reliable engine to limp home on when the worst happened. The plane was painted a light blue grey on the underside and a broken darker blue- grey on top. This was not any mountain camouflage that Reed knew. “Where is our posting?”
“I cannot tell you that, sir. Come this way and I shall show you some more of the ‘toys’ we have been working on.” A tunnel ran to the next hangar quarry. Cabling and lights hung from nails hammered into the rock. “These will be your escorts on combat missions.” The strange beast was a single seater, painted in a similar scheme to the Killer Wasps. The engine, and a pusher propeller, was behind the pilot, twin tails sprouted from the wing and were joined by a large rear flap. The long nose housed a six-barrel rotating autogun and there were mountings under the wing for bombs, rockets or drop tanks. “This is a Ciccile.”
“Cheecheel?” Jay reddened at her poor pronunciation.
“They are ten legged hunting insects which can jump great distances, are very agile and have a deadly bite. When the Southern army broke through onto the plains, some of the designers flew the prototypes over the mountains and demanded sanctuary on our side. It was better than any interceptors we were working on at the time.”
There were other planes on display, single examples. “Our rogues gallery.” The officer commented. There was a battered metal thing that looked like an arrowhead and had no landing gear, a stubby prop plane with short deep wings and a huge engine, a box with no wings but horizontal windmill blades and a model of a bomber with twin fuselages and eight engines. “Some of them will see production yet.”
Jay had taken Reed’s hand, “I feel quite excited.”
“Military hardware turns you on? I will have to remember that.”