Excerpt: The Factory

“Why’d Leigh have to go and call her the Gray Lady,” Jenkins observes, “ and not something sweet like Foxy Lady or Minnie Mouse? Gives me the heebie-jeebies.”

We sat and froze some more against the metal cargo hold while we waited another hour to clear. It was mute as a church, but nobody slept. Then we got the ok to head to our positions. Jenkins took his at the tail to make sure we didn’t get rear ended as we made formation for takeoff. We hit our throat radios in succession to say we were in position. My position was to wait.

“In position,” I gurgled. That was that, position-wise.

Leigh got the call that said we were clear, and the engines roared, and off we went bumping and clattering down the taxiway.

No one even breathed at 100 mph, when the landing gear came up, with 5,000 tons of TNT in the bay. Our stomachs lunged, and we shuddered skyward. It felt like the temperature dove ten degrees with every hundred feet we gained. At 10,000 feet, we put on our masks.

McDowell at the waist has his heated suit on beneath the sheepskin, and the rest have heat coming through the ducts to the top and tail.

The sheepskin jacket they gave me worked good enough at ground level. That, and gloves, and coveralls, and women’s stockings, two pairs of socks. I don’t think any of us had ever been so cold in our lives. I beat my gloves together when my hands started to burn like fire.

I checked all my gear over, then checked it again. I wouldn’t bring the chute with me into the turret. If we had to bail and I was down there, it was most likely over. Better not to think that way. It could fail to retract, but I could crank it up by hand. If I was too hurt, someone would get there to crank me up. I hope. They say hope is a dying man’s dream.

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