The wind was blowing landward, so the first flight had taken off toward the rear of Heavensent. Everything Reed had read about runway ships had emphasised the necessity of launching into the wind, for increased airspeed, but the planks didn’t have the length of the ice ship and needed every advantage they could grab. Out of sight in the dark, the planes stacked in a series of ovals to the west and waited.
A rumble grew from the southeast, where there were two growing glowing yellow clouds. The thickening tower of smoke under the rockets crept up until it caught the rising sun and took on a pink tint. Any crew who could afford the time stopped to watch. After only a few counts the rumble began to die, being replaced by the buzz of aero engines as the first flight followed the rockets into the attack. Reed tugged at Jayn’s sleeve and they headed for the briefing room.
There were several large maps on the wall, including a weather chart and breakdown of enemy units. Centrepiece of the room was a large relief map of the coast all the way inland to the glacier. The twin cities were irregularly outlined wood blocks painted grey with pins to show landmarks. The flight crews gathered around the model. Serena was on a small gantry above the terrain, placing white metal ships in the docks behind Stran island. When she dismounted she started conferring with the intelligence officers.
Reed was second flight leader. His crews formed a crescent behind him as he stared at the relief map. Serena and an intelligence officer stood across from them. At the nod from Reed, she began. “Ladies and gentlemen, you all know what we are about to do. It is possibly the single most audacious attack since…. No, actually, this is the single most audacious attack ever.
“There have been some minor changes to the plan for your flight. The first wave is on its way now to follow the rocket attack on Stran island. They have an open remit to hit anything military on the freshwater lake inland from the island and particularly up these tributaries.” Serena used a pointer to trace the fjords carved by long gone glaciers that spoked out from the lake. “They are also tasked with the initial attack on the barracks, which are here, outside Cora, too close to the city to risk an attack as inaccurate as the rockets.
“Your attack is to strike first up the main channel of the fjord toward the twin cities bridges and the glacier. Intelligence tells us that gas filled balloons are being used as flying cranes. A flight of Cicciles has been loaded with incendiary rounds, they will take out the balloons. We are hoping the explosions will also knock some of the cliff face gun positions out of action as well. Half your bombers and ground attack aircraft shall then attempt to destroy the guard huts at either end of the bridges. We believe the structures are set to be exploded. The other half of the flight will turn north over Cora itself. We have received intelligence this morning that there are troop movements into the town for reprisal attacks. They will be in the open, tightly grouped and likely without anti air support. If you can, tear them apart.”
Serena studied the map again, checking she had not forgotten anything. “Full details are in your flight plans. Any questions?”
Silence. “Very good. The best of fortune to you all.” She made the sign of the Silver Tower. Reed realised many in his flight repeated the motion. He resisted, giving a simple salute before turning and walking through his men toward the planes. They all pivoted and followed.