They had been hand cranking the motors every day, turning them over to keep the internals coated in oil. It would have been better to fire up the engines for a few hundred counts each day, but fuel was too precious. They had managed to brew up a sort of moonshine that worked well enough in marine engines, but aeroplanes were much more temperamental beasts.
From all the debris scattered around after the Battle of Big Lazy, they had been able to patch together a flight of six planes. Tem had crash landed his Mima fighter on a spit of land and run like a mad thing for the old growth trees on the bank. He had been reunited with the engine in the airframe of Betra, the plane he had named for his wife. Almost a Mima, albeit one stripped to the minimum, it was not a weapon to be used lightly. The wheeled carriage it sat upon would drop away on take off and it could not be landed without incurring great damage. But today was the day it would see action again.
The old growth trees in this part of the forest around Big Lazy were thousands of seasons old, and hundreds of spans around. Hangars had been carved out of the tree trunks and runways built on stilts out toward the great lake. Whether the planes gained air speed or not, they would drop off the end of the ramp a few hundred spans above the water and have to fly or splash. Tem calculated ways to hit the right speed, adjusted his goggles and made to pull the canopy closed. When his hand grasped at air he remembered they had not been able to recover any of the formed plastic glass.
Word came down through the wires from the spotters hundreds of spans above. The big silver bombers were back and, as on previous runs, seemed ready to dip low over the forest workings before releasing any ordinance.
In its prime, the Mima had possessed an auto starter, but this reconstituted version had to be manually turned over. After three goes, the engine coughed black smoke and fired up. In the hollow of the tree it was too loud to think. Tem eased the throttle up until he could feel the plane tugging at the wire that restrained it. He gave a signal and the wire was released.
The plane jumped forward, slowed a little, then started accelerating. Tem hadn’t expected the surface to be so rough, or for it to be so frightening that the trees rushed past on either side. He felt the wings starting to lift, but pushed forward on the stick to keep the plane down as it gained more speed. He pulled back again as the gap above the lake filled all his vision.
For a moment, the plane faltered. It hung in the air, halfway between flying and falling. The throttles were pressed to the maximum, and the propeller’s pull soon became enough to lift the plane. He banked to the left, South.
Other planes had launched at the same time. Four of them had reached the end of their ramps, the last hadn’t started or had crashed off its runners. One of the biplanes had crashed straight down to the water. It was made mostly of wood, but the weight of the engine was slowly pulling it under. The pilot released his straps and pushed away for the shore.
So four of what might have been the Hidden Army’s only six aeroplanes headed down the Big Lazy toward the narrow valley at its southern end. They hung back to the speed of the slower biplane. If their calculations were correct, this would bring them out over the logging camp just as the silver wings did their fly past. The lumbering bombers would be at their most vulnerable then and could probably be shot down. If they were wrong, the loss to the Hidden Army would be huge.