“The battery is dead sir, but I have a visual on the blimp.”
“Let off some flares so they can take a bearing.”
The radio operator headed back onto the wing. The co-pilot cradled his gun and headed for the hatch. “Spike it. We can hardly take it with us and they should not get it.” The co-pilot stripped the gun and took a hammer to the firing mechanism. To be doubly sure, he packed the breech with explosive and laid it amongst the trip bombs he had primed.
There were destruction charges packed behind instruments and around anything deemed proprietary technology, all ready to be detonated after they abandoned the wing. Or by the first interloper through any of the hatches if the crew didn’t last that long.
They pulled the bombardier out of the cabin onto the top of the wing. The radio operator had taken a hammer to his equipment and was pulling down the aerials, removing anything that might hinder their rescuers.
Framed by blue sky, the scale of the blimp was hard to determine. The barrels protruding from the pods under its belly could be small autoguns or large cannon. It didn’t seem to be moving any more. Indeed, some of the propellers were no longer turning. If those blades were the same size as the ones on the wing, then the powered balloon was truly enormous.
A shape rose from the top of the blimp. Indistinct at this distance, it trailed another, smaller object that swayed with the movement. After a while it became recognisable as a hoverer, carrying a cargo basket. This was longer than any hoverer Mirl had seen before, with blades at either end of a slender fuselage rather than the usual stacked contra rotators.
The co-pilot headed back to prime the destruction fuses. The cargo basket touched down. There were autoguns on mounts on two diagonally opposed corners. The airman at the nearest gun stepped down and headed to help lift the bombardier. And fell, blood spurting from a wound on his neck.
The other bullets hit the basket and the skin of the wing. The radio operator grabbed the bombardier and started dragging him toward the basket. Mirl turned and crouched, his shot pistol at the ready.
Five figures had jumped out of the branches on the far edge of the wing. They were all cocking and reloading their ancient long guns. Between the cargo basket and the attackers was the co-pilot, frozen at the fuses. He turned to Mirl, pulled the pin from the fuse and grinned. A volley of three shots cut him down.
Another bunch of attackers leapt from the branches closer by, screaming as they charged. Mirl levelled his shot pistol and fired at the mass. The incendiary shell exploded just short of the group, coating them in flame. Still they kept coming. Mirl grabbed the bombardier and helped heave him into the basket, following immediately behind.
As the basket lifted off, yet more attackers appeared from the trees. The radio operator pulled himself up to the autogun and began strafing them. Mirl cocked his shot pistol and fired at an attacker making a leap for the basket. The incendiary ignited inside the body as it cartwheeled away.
The basket was hardly a safe distance away when the charges started going off. The few figures still standing on the wing ran toward the trees again, too late as explosions collapsed the plane and detonated fuel. The fireball that had once been the pride of the Southern Air Army dropped to the forest floor.