by Vixyy Fox
©2010 Vixyy Fox

Home -=- #30 -=- ANTHRO #30 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-

   In commercial flying, the really good pilots don’t have any stories; there’s nothing to tell but the boredom of safe takeoffs and even safer landings. I would grumble something which might, or might not, include the words ‘cow poop’. (No offense meant to the Tarbh race, though you need a pretty large craft to haul—to carry them as passengers.) So the captain I’m flying with? It's obvious he isn't much good, since he hasn’t shut up since we made altitude. I can’t wait for our approach to roll around so he has to be quiet by law. God help me, but I’m stuck with a merry old Royal Bulldog—and a Bristol lad at that, from the sounds of his accent. Somehow I can’t picture his bulbous frame in the seat of a fighter; but that’s what he claims he was, a fighter pilot. Guff!
   “Excuse me, sir, but you said you flew a Buford Blueberry? Wasn’t that a transport?”
   I suppose I shouldn’t have goaded him, but I was pretty well fed up with his fanciful war stories. The War was long since over; these are modern times we live in, and this is a modern aircraft with about as much pep and zeal as a rail car with wings.
   “You best watch your mouth, pup,” he shouts at me, turning bright red. His pushed-in-looking face actually wears a snarl, and for a bare moment I think perhaps he might strike me. Apparently cargo transports are quite the insult to the fighter types.
   “Know your place, you wet-behind-the-ears diapered little snot. Close your ears and open your mouth is apparently all you're good for, ya egotistical little brass-balled shithead! I flew fuckin’ Belmont Pissers—the best damned aircraft in the war, bar none, and fuck anyone who says different!”
   Apparently I’d touched a raw nerve with a 2000 volt magneto wire. I should have kept my yap closed, but being a Corgi, I just had to have the last word. “Really? I’ve always heard the Badbladder E Type could fly rings around the Belmont Pisser. Statistics don’t lie, Captain. As I recall, the Wolves’ engineers had it balls on and the performance data collected after the war clearly shows the superiority.”
   Giving me the most disapproving look I’d ever seen, the old bastard flips the autopilot off and tells me to take the wheel so he can go have a squirt. “Keep your oxygen mask on while I’m gone,” he instructs me, as if I don’t know to do that. “It’s for safety, though I suddenly find the cockpit stinking of unpolished brass green.” When he gets back, he’s sipping a coffee (none for me, thank you very much), and he doesn’t speak another word except for what was required. I had no idea silence could be so cold.
   We landed in Stonenpassen right on schedule. The old boy personally takes us in, and the landing was glass-smooth, I freely admit. The wheels didn’t so much as squeal when we touched down, and there we are on the ground taxiing in. The crew has a three-day required rest here. I’m rather looking forward to sitting by the hotel’s pool by day, and maybe do a little clubbing with the stewardesses at night. We had three onboard, and I knew at least two of them were good for it…

   A small Fox with very large ears turns from the airport terminal’s window where she’d been watching the four engine silver tube with wings taxiing in to the gate. There is a large clock on the wall behind her which is slowly turning backwards and she carries herself with the air of one who has a secret. She holds a cigarette in one paw, the smoke of which curls up around her head.
   “In every occupation,” she says in a deadpan expression of seriousness, “there is the fledgling, and there is the seasoned veteran. Nowhere else in the world is the meaning of these two words so self evident as in the cockpit of an aircraft.
   “Such is the situation for George Corgi, hatchling flyer of the first degree, wearing his bright new wings on the front of his crisp new uniform, who has found himself serving as First Officer to one Captain Henry Badcock. George has made the mistake of forgetting the very first rule of aviation: Respect experience. Since the veteran is still alive, he obviously did something right. In the words of His Lordship Colonel Wilber Rightwing, KIA: ‘Learn from those who have survived the sky, that you, too, will continue to live. Learn, too, from those who have died, that you will not repeat their mistakes.’
   “Though he has three days off in a city that lived through the last war, it is doubtful that First Officer Corgi will find any rest. Inadvertently, and through an ego never before touched by the lethally harsh reality of war, he has crossed the line that separates his everyday reality from… The Fur Side.”

   OK, so I screwed up.
   Yes, this is my first ‘for real’ commercial flight with the big boys.
   Yes, I had an inside connection that got me on board with the company and placed into training so I could sit right seat on milk runs like Stonenpassen. It’s all about building your hours so someday you’ll get to pinch the Stewardess’ bottom while going for a squirt.
   As it was, Stonenpassen had been so bombed-out during the war that almost the entire city was new construction. That means the airport has the latest and greatest of everything—including top-notch air traffic controllers. I was warned well in advance by my peers not to joke with them over the radio, and to never ever crack wise about incoming bombers. That warning was understandable and I held to it, but at this point I desperately wanted to get my paws on the crew scheduler who’d let Old Pisser Badcock muscle his way in to take the flight as captain. He should have warned me off on that one too, damn it!
   Badcock, still grumping like I’d stolen his favorite toy, leaves me with the final checklists—securing the aircraft and closing it up—while he takes off with the stewardesses in tow, all of them Collies, and not a bad-looking one among them. Apparently they knew more about his reputation than I did, and are quite taken with the pug-nosed old bastard. Perhaps I deserved this for being cheeky. With a sigh, I chalk it up as another lesson learned the hard way. I’ll catch up to them later; it’s an easy guess I’ll also have a long hike to the hotel, as the crew bus would come only once. No bother, really; a Corgi’s legs are short but they’re stout. I figure after such a long flight, the tramp would be good for me.
   Striking out on my own, duffle in paw, I pad along until I’ve built up a pretty good thirst. Well, Stonenpassen is renowned for two things: First, its beer gardens were among the best in the world. Second, it was also the home of the largest porcelain toilet bowl factory in the world. There was true irony here. I wasn’t all that sure the two should be thought of as walking paw in paw, but why let an opportunity like beer pass you by? Spying one of the gardens, my eye was drawn to the sign above the door which bore the likeness of an old Wolf fighter aircraft.
   So be it,
I remember thinking to myself, the Fates have spoken.
   As in most bars, the lights were low and the air cool with more than a hint of stale beer; perfect for dodging the day and unwinding. In my uniform, I stood out from the locals like a brass nickel in a pocketful of silver. I was used to this, actually, and rather enjoyed it. Making my way to a quiet booth, I threw my duffel in first, sat, and then signaled for some service. The place was pretty incredible actually. Pictures of all sorts of Wolf aircraft from the war hung on the walls. Some bore the autographs of the pilots standing next to them; others hung with individual medals below them—obviously awarded to pilots who no longer had a use for them.
   The waitress, a pretty young thing wearing a traditional dress, paused to light my cigarette before taking my order. Her lighter bore a strange emblem: A heart-shaped falcon, inside of which was a spider impaled upon a fencing sword. It didn’t take me long to notice the barkeep watching me as he dried a huge stein. He wore an eye patch and one side of his neck, the side with the patch, was bare of fur as if it had been touched by fire.
   “Did you fly?” I called over to him.
   “Ja… Badbladders,”
was his only reply. He then filled the stein and handed it to the barmaid for delivery.
   How unfair the world was, I reflected as I gazed upon the fellow. Here he’d been horribly maimed while fighting for his country, and his only reward was to linger among his memories in this bar, while His Royal Arse Henry Badcock was allowed to lord it over my cockpit.
   After that I drank in silence until I was ready to leave. Surprisingly, there was a cab waiting for me outside. The uniformed driver stood quietly at the curbside, wearing a very old-style uniform and holding up a small sign with my name on it. Perhaps, I reasoned, Badcock felt guilty about how badly he’d treated me and sent this fellow to bring me to the hotel?
   Too many Stonenpassen beers had gone down the old hatch while I looked at the pictures on the bar’s walls and I was much too tired to ask any questions. As the driver opened the door for me, I simply climbed into the back seat and dozed off.

   “Wake up!”
   The scream was right in my ear, and my eyes popped open. As usual for me, that was all; my nervous system seemed to have a buffer zone that kept me from jerking and jumping during times of shock. ‘Nerves of steel,’ my mum would say. ‘Stupid id’jut child,’ my Da would say. Of course I was up and swinging when the bucket of water hit me—followed by the coarse laughter of at least five Wolves. Damnation! I’d know that accent anywhere. The strange thing was, I understood every last word they spoke…
   “Look there, Fritzi! Herr Brass Balls arises like a real fighter, ja?”
Howler, mitt der vasser komm’n zie fists of…”
   Fritzi never finished whatever he’d been about to say because my right paw connected. It flattened his nose with a satisfying thud. Next my foot swept the feet out from under the one holding the bucket; he went to the floor with a jarring thump. Picking up the wooden chair at the table next to me, I was about smash it over his head when there was a shout of, “Stillgestanden!”
   Where everyone else immediately snapped to rigid attention, I was left holding a chair over my head, blinking at what my mind was finally recording. The five individuals who apparently anticipated some fun at my expense were all wearing the same black and gray uniform: Two white lightning bolts decorated their collars, and each bore an arm patch of a spider impaled on a fencing sword inside of an almost heart-shaped outline of a falcon.
   “Was geht hier vor?
” [What goes on here?] asked a very civil sounding voice edged in ice.
   “Ve are dancing, Herr Commandant,” the one named Fritzi replied a little too calmly. Had we not been interrupted, I’m sure I would have bashed his brains out, so I was just a little bit stunned that he’d make excuses for me. There was a mumbled chorus of agreements.
   “Und vhat, exactly, is this dance called?” the Wolf asked, looking directly at me. His uniform was exactly like all of the others except his collar was done up tight around his neck, and he wore a short tricolor ribbon culminating in what I recognized as the Wolfen Medal of Meritorious Valor—their highest decoration from the war. Two gold lightning bolts dangled below the medal, indicating he’d been awarded the decoration three times.
   “Die Messing Farren,”
[The Brass Bollocks],” I muttered, not being able to come up with anything better. My mouth tasted like mud, and even I could smell the vomit on my breath.
   “You flew vell yesterday, Lieutenant,” the Commandant replied, his countenance an unreadable poker-face. “But that is no excuse for you to drink yourself to stupidity. Vhat if ve had to scramble?” He left that hang in the air for everyone’s benefit, and then, when the timing was perfect, continued, “If this happens again, I will have you and your messmates digging latrines for the mechanics, am I clear? You all have a responsibility to each other—it is how you will survive. Fly alone; die alone. So… like a good Staffel, you will be punished together, no?”
   In the distance there was an explosion, but no one seemed to notice. As for me, all I could see was the Wolf’s eyes, through which he willed me to abeyance. “Jawohl, Mein Herr,” I replied softly, setting the chair slowly to the floor.
   “At ease,” the Wolf gently commanded and the room loosened up considerably. To me he said, “Sit in the chair, Herr B. B., before you fall over.”
   As bad as I felt, I didn’t question the order. I mean, this was as odd as it could get, you know? And sure enough, when I checked, I found I, too, was wearing a black-and-gray uniform. Some things, I also noticed, are able to be changed and some things are not. Though I wore the uniform, I still had the build and coloring of a Corgi, perhaps a third less large than any of the Wolves in the room. If this was some kind of practical joke, it was a well-planned and -executed gag. Pity I felt too ill to have a good laugh over it.
   “Yesterday,” the Commandant began, “Our Royal friends doggedly tried vunce again to force us to submission.”
   The whole group chuckled at this comment. I looked up at our apparent leader from where I sat with my head almost between my legs. He seemed vaguely familiar; it was as though I’d seen him before… somewhere… but my brain still wasn’t firing on all of its cylinders.
   “I vould like to say that ve showed vell for ourselves, having shot down three Pissers to the loss of only one Badbladder. However, the loss of anyvun or any aircraft is a matter of somber reality. It is true they left vith tails between their legs… but ve lost Jeffry.”
   There was a quiet pause as the Wolf began to slowly pace among his pilots.
   “As you all know,” he finally continued, “I claimed but vun Pisser, vhile Herr B.B. shot down the other two.”
   To my amazement, everyone applauded loudly. Looking up, I found the Commandant smiling at me and leading the applause. For some reason I felt I should stand, which I did, nodding to him and then sitting back down again before I fell over. Coming to me, he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a handful of grass. Holding it out to me, he said softly, “Eat this und go puke behind the barracks. You vill feel better.”
   I took it from him gratefully, after which he told the room, “They vere here yesterday, und that means they most assuredly vill be back tomorrow to extract their revenge… but this time ve shall be vaiting for them. Beginning at dawn, ve shall sally two aircraft at a time to cover the field. Conserve your fuel as much as possible. You vill have drop tanks and fly to half of the internal tank. Vhen you get to this point, you vill buzz the field, vhereupon the next two vill take off. When the Royals come in it vill be at treetop level—a fast pass to strafe und bomb. Those flying cover vill attack, vhich vill scatter them. Those on the ground vill then take off and attack. Engines vill be started and idled every 30 minutes to keep them varm. Are there any questions?”
   No one had any.
   “Goot. Get your heads straight, und report to your aircraft in one hour. Go over them vith your mechanic, and then ve vill make flights of two. Vatch for targets, hit and come back.” Looking to me, he said, “Herr Brass Balls, you vill be my vingman. Now go eat your grass und puke… best to get it over vith.” Placing a paw on my shoulder, he told me, “I remember how it vas vith my first kill. You vill get past this.”

   As I walked towards my aircraft my mind was in a steep dive, its wings stuttering and on the brink of breaking off. If this was a dream, it was the most detailed and realistic dream I’d ever had. I even had flashes of my of my old philosophy teacher grinning at me and asking, ‘What is reality?’ If he’d been real I would have punched him, and damned if I didn’t think he knew that, too.
   “Herr B.B.?” my mechanic called to me as I approached. (At least I assumed he was my mechanic, and apparently my nickname was the Royal expression—‘Brass Balls’.) “I have your aircraft ready for you, sir.” And he snapped to attention as I walked around the craft. On both sides of the hull, in extremely large red letters, were back-to-back B’s rather than the cock-and-balls look of the d and b (from Badbladder) symbol painted on the other aircraft.

   Right below the cockpit I saw two freshly painted Royal flags. As I finished my walk-around, the mechanic saluted me: “It was Herr Oberst’s orders, sir. He believes you deserve a special recognition symbol.” The little Skunk smiled at me then and said in a lower voice, “Three more kills, sir, und you become an ace; then I can paint your aircraft’s nose yellow.”
   The hairs on the back of my neck suddenly stood on end. I’m not sure if it was the idea that I’d actually killed someone—pilots do tend to bail out if shot down—or if it was the fact that I was falling into this dream hook line and sinker. I decided to test something. “Tell me… ahhh… how shall I address you, old sport?”
   The mechanic gave me a sidewise glance and a strange smile.
   “What is it? What’s wrong?”
   “Nothing, Mein Herr. Except… you sounded rather ‘Royal’ for a moment. I am Sergeant Aloysius Skunk, Mein Herr… but you knew that.”
   “Of course I did. And why do you not fly? I can see the love of it written on you clearly.”
   He looked down a bit, his eyes suddenly not meeting mine. “Because I am not a Wolf,” he replied. “Thank you for reminding me, Mein Herr.”
   “And what am I?” I asked. Certainly my jaw must have dropped as he made his last statement.
   “A Wolf, sir,” he told me as if by rote. He then got this boyish smile and glanced up at me. “A Wolf with two kills, und a very good flyer. I’ve watched you, sir… you are not ham-fisted like the others in your group.” Placing a paw on the aircraft, he said, “For you, Mein Herr, she flies; it is as if you were her lover!”
   He was very earnest. I looked at my paws and saw a Corgi’s paws, and yet there I was in a Wolfwaffen uniform. I fished a pack of smokes from my breast pocket, motioned for the Sergeant to walk a distance away from the aircraft, and then offered him one. Stuffing a paw into one pocket, I came out with a cigarette lighter emblazoned with the squadron’s emblem—‘the spider on a stick’, as I wanted to call it. I held the lighter for both of us.
   When we’d both inhaled and let out a cloud of smoke, I mimicked flying through it with my paw, much to the Skunk’s amusement. “So you would like to be a pilot, then?” I asked him.
   “Very much so,” he responded. “Perhaps later in the war I will be given a chance, ja? Right now we need to win; to do that, you need a good mechanic—und that would be me.”
   I nodded, and then, keeping an eye open for anyone’s approach, I grilled him on the aircraft. I asked him what did he think, what did he know, how in heck you even raised and lowered the landing gear. The last thing I needed was the Commandant’s name, and then I felt I could bluff my way through most anything.
   “Aloysius, I’m afraid I drank too much last night, and though my stomach feels better, I’m having a brain fart.”
   “Brain fart, sir?”
   “Yes… brain fart… I, for the life of me, cannot think of Herr Oberst’s name. Imagine my embarrassment, should he call me on the radio and I didn’t know how to respond!”
   The Skunk chuckled as if he had been expecting this question.
   “You find that funny?”
   “No, sir,” he responded, dropping the cigarette butt on the ground and grinding it under his heel. “It is just that Herr Locke said you had been so drunk last night you would probably forget your own name. However, he said nothing about forgetting his…”
   “How many kills does Herr Oberst have now?” I asked.
   “Sixty-five. I dare say there is no one his equal in the air.”
   “I dare say…” I repeated, grinding my own cigarette under heel and letting the expression dribble away to nothing. Walking back to the aircraft, I inspected the name under the cockpit. It glared back at me in stark Wolf: Oberleutnant Georg Wolf.
   “Fuck me,” I muttered, and then from the other side of the aircraft I heard an engine roar to life, followed by several others.

   Locke was beyond good, and his patience with a rookie was incredible. We flew west over a vast countryside of farmland. As we climbed to altitude I saw the channel ahead of us, though we didn’t venture out so far. Taking off in the Badbladder was a bit of a trick. Damned if I didn’t almost roll right over and barrel into the ground as soon as I was airborne; the huge engine and propeller exerted an incredible amount of torque.
   “Too much throttle, Herr B.B.,” I heard over my headset just as the roll began.
   In a panic I chopped power and almost nosed in while working the stick and rudder pedals like a madman to recover from the roll. Only then, after finally gaining control of the aircraft, did I point her nose to the sky with a howl of happiness.
   “Vhere is that fighter pilot I flew vith yesterday, hm?” asked that same voice with a chuckle. “Climb to ten und continue east at two hundred. I’ll catch up, then take the lead. Stay on my tail, und do not lose me.”
I responded calmly. The word felt strange and correct, all in the same moment. My mouth was obviously speaking Wolf, but my brain was still thinking Canine. Yes, they had their similarities, but…
   “The proper response would be ‘jawohl’, Oberleutnant. Then again, I prefer calm und steady rather than exuberance when flying. In the air I am simply your lead, und you are my vingman. Keep the radio chatter that simple. Ve are formal on the ground because the military dictates ve must be. After the var, if ve are both still alive, you may then address me by my first name of Dierk.”
   Pulling my throttle back and leaning out the fuel mixture with an eye on engine temperature, I watched the altimeter wind around and around, mindful that I still needed to see everywhere around me. It was a chore, to be sure, but one that I was finding enjoyable. Even with the bulbous drop tank on it, the aircraft had such an incredible feeling of power! Touch the stick and she responded like a ballerina; so unlike the lead sled I was used to sitting right seat in, and so unlike the trainers I’d spent hours and hours flying. I soon became lost in just the sensation of it… the engine noise, the glint of the sun off of the glass, the sound of the air rushing past, the sensuous feel of the stick in my paw…
   With a jarring thump of disturbed air, a yellow-nosed Badbladder overflew me in a dive that left a bare few meters between my propeller and his underbelly.
   “Vas that the stick or your penis in your paw, Oberleutnant B. B.? I flew upside down above you just now trying to figure it out before diving upon you. You are quite dead, by the vay.”
   Before I could stop myself, I pushed the throttle forward and was diving after the other fighter—or at least I thought I was. Within seconds, we’d both punched a hole in an errant cloud and when I came out on the other side he was nowhere to be seen.
   “Are you behind me?” Locke asked calmly.
   “No, Mein Herr,” I replied, trying to keep my voice steady. I was pissed to be sure. If I’d known we’d be playing silly games I would have…
   “I have just killed you again,” he said in that deadly calm voice. “You have now paid back the two kills from yesterday. Shall I have the flags taken off of your aircraft?”
I replied a little too strongly. Fucking bastard!
   There was a chuckle over the radio set. “Did you just call me a ‘fucking bastard’?” he asked in his deadpan voice. “I can assure you my family is quite pure in its breeding; all vell documented, all Volf.”
   I strained my neck looking for him, trying to remember if I’d actually spoken the words. Finally I found him by holding my thumb up to eclipse the sun. “No, sir,” I responded nosing the aircraft upwards. “I did not say that.”
   “Mind your engine temp und conserve your fuel, Oberleutnant. Leave the throttle at full for too long, und things begin to go badly.”
   Mentally cursing myself, I inched the throttle back from ‘full power’ down to ‘climb’, and then jettisoned my drop tank to reduce drag. Even in the lead sled we had to watch out for extra drag. I eased off of the stick, then banked into an easy, rising spiral to join my lead. Obviously climbing into a fight was not the optimum way to attack; score one for the teacher. This time, I bloody well kept my eyes on him, though he made no effort to evade me.
   The rest of the patrol was pretty boring. We spotted nothing, and pretty much all I did was just practice staying on Locke’s tail where I would range left and then right; always watching and looking for an enemy aircraft. Later, my messmates told me this was, indeed, a rare day, as none of them saw anything while in the air, either. If nothing else, they also told me, in empty skies like this we could give some of our own bombers a cautious flyby… and if the crews were relatively new, a mock dogfight might ensue so everyone could practice tracking with their guns.
   Coming back, I was the first to land even as I’d been the first to take off. I ranged in gently, having been given the ‘all clear’ flag during my fly-by. Landing the Badbladder, I found, was not so easy. Maneuverability wasn’t a problem—with the flaps and slots down, it handled well enough at low speeds—but as soon as the wheels touched the earth, things got dicey. Let’s just say the feeling was similar to riding a bicycle on ice. I had to fight to keep my body from tensing as my hackles stood on end. Where all the trainers I’d ever landed were gentle and stayed on a straight line ‘paws off’, the Badbladder kept jinking left or right on its own accord due to its narrow landing gear. I kept the tail in the air as long as possible so I could use the rudder to good effect, and stayed off of the brakes. When the tail finally settled, I then (very carefully!) tapped the brakes for extra deceleration. Being a tail dragger, I was immensely aware that if I pushed on the brake too much, my airplane’s nose would flip down to bury itself in the dirt. Touch one side or the other too hard and you could also spin out in a ground loop, collapsing the gear. Either accident would end the same way, putting you out of action.
   Opening my canopy, I taxied to my ready spot, near blind from the nose-up attitude, and choking on exhaust fumes. This called for a lot of rudder and brake work, as I occasionally slewed to the right to see what was ahead. I worked my controls with sweating paws and grumbled curses, wondering if I’d ever wake from this dream. If—when—I ever did, most likely I’d be sitting in the booth at the beer garden with drool running down my chest…
   Then a red flare flew across the field and people began running everywhere.
   Before I could even contemplate what I was doing, I’d pulled my canopy shut and punched the throttle, rolling in the only direction available: Straight ahead. At that point I had no idea who or what might be directly in front of me. In twenty feet my tail was back up and I could see again—and what I saw was a hanger taking up the area I needed to go through in order to get airborne. Mechanics and Wolves were running out of the building, more than a few waving their arms at me.
   Nothing I could do at this point but pull back on the stick and pray. With the engine howling and the prop literally chewing through the air, I barely cleared the roof. The wind sock mounted there was not so lucky as it was instantly shredded. Eat or be eaten, I thought as yellow material sprayed outwards…
   …and just then, a burst of tracer fire flew just over me at a diagonal!
   I quickly found out that during high-stress moments of combat, reality slows down considerably. You just react, because you haven’t time to think. That’s why your training is so crucial; when you’re going by reflex, you need to make sure you’ve got the right reflexes. In my case, you could say my training was a big fat nil, but at least… well, I can’t take any credit. Things just happened the way they happened.
   Reality: If I’d banked to either side, the upturned wing would have been riddled. As luck would have it I pushed down on the right rudder pedal as hard as I could and the craft’s nose swung just as the Royal Pisser over flew me. “Bollocks!” I swore and mashed down on the firing button. There was a mechanical stutter, and the aircraft shook as my two machine guns and single cannon hammered out in blind retribution for a well-executed sneak attack. There was an enormous explosion—apparently my rounds found the fellow’s fuel tanks—and in the split second I had to see what happened, I watched the unlucky bugger pinwheel into a large oak tree. Instinctively I banked away, keeping my throttle full on to avoid flying through any debris. Black smoke poured from my exhaust as the fuel injection system did its job to perfection, pumping an overly-rich mixture into the cylinders. I climbed then, looking left, right, above, below, behind, over and over and over, until I saw a Pisser at treetop level screaming in towards the airstrip. He had Locke full in his sights, and though the ace was trying to climb back up I knew the Royal pilot had him cold.
   Purely by reflex—not even thinking that I could be killed—I rolled into a powerdive, screaming as loud as my engine’s howl as my gauges went redlined. Not even aiming, I punched the fire button and tracers reached out at the Pisser. My cannon was first to run out of ammunition, but the machine guns continued rattling as I overflew the Royal, then banked left as tight as I could to get back on his tail. My leading edge slots fell out, indicating I was very close to stalling, but I wasn’t concerned with ‘close’. I had him… he was mine… he was—
   To my surprise, the fellow’s landing gear popped down as he, too, banked to the left, trying to reverse his direction.
   As a boy and listening to every story available about flying, the one thing I knew for certain was that when a pilot lowers their landing gear in a combat situation, it means the same as when an infantryman raises his arms and waves a white flag—surrender!
   That was when I saw Locke bearing in from my right with a vengeance. “He has surrendered, Mein Herr!” I called over the radio. “He is my prisoner!”
   All I heard in response was, “Das ist mir furzegal! Er ist ein fucking bastard ohne Ehre!” [I don’t give a fuck! He is a fucking bastard with no honor.]
   Obviously Herr Locke had forgotten his own admonition about getting angry. Leaving my throttle full on, I followed the Royal, stuffing my aircraft behind his, blocking my Commandant’s shot.
   “Royal Dog, Royal Dog,” I called over the radio. “I accept your surrender, land immediately or be shot down.”
   Herr Locke must have calmed down a bit; he translated my words to Dog. The thought that the Royal pilot might not understand Wolf hadn’t even occurred to me.
   There was a stream of expletives that colored the radio waves red, and then the pilot’s gruff voice said something about “bloody Hades freezing over”.
   “Your landing gear is down,” I called out. “You cannot gain speed to escape.”
   Locke, now flying to my right, kicked left rudder and fired off a volley of tracers directly across the Pisser’s path. He followed this with what I took as a translation of my words.
   Too low to bail out, the Pisser dropped speed and his canopy rolled back. A paw came out into the slip stream and waved. We were dead on to the airfield, so landing would be in and simple. Seeing that my fuel warning light was on, I checked my fuel gauge. I saw we weren’t a moment too soon; I had only about ten minutes left in the air.

   To say pandemonium broke out when we landed would be an understatement. No sooner had the Royal switched off his engine then he was surrounded by a multitude of pilots and mechanics. More than a few pistols were pointed at him as he climbed out of his cockpit, seemingly oblivious to any of it. He had a scarf around his neck and a leather flying helmet with his goggles pulled well up onto his forehead. He was a Bulldog to be sure, as obstinate as they come.
   “I want to speak to your Commander!” he bellowed at those gathered around his craft. “I did not surrender!”
   My mechanic came forward and cordially relieved the fellow of his pistol. This he handed to me as I walked up, fresh out of my own aircraft. The crowd parted when they noticed my presence, as if I was some sort of ancient deity and they were the ocean. Word spread quickly of what had transpired, from those who had witnessed the miracle of clearing the hanger, the snapshot kill, and then the dive that had saved Herr Locke… but I was totally unaware of everything except for the fellow who now stood before me.
   Standing at attention, he saluted me and said, “Lieutenant Henry Badcock, 61st Royal Bulldogs at your service, sir. There seems to have been a mistake; I did not surrender. I did not put my landing gear down. Damnation, the wheels came down all on their own! You should have shot me down; I sure as shit would have punched your ticket.”
   For the life of me, I didn’t understand a word he said, except for the name. It was Captain ‘The Belmont Pisser’s The Best Aircraft Ever’ Badcock—a much younger Badcock, to be sure, but it was him. Either my dream had just gotten better, or it had become a true nightmare. Gor… if he ever even suspected I was flying for the Wolves…
   “Aloysius,” I said to my mechanic, “What the devil is he saying?”
   “I think he is complaining we did not offer him a beer upon landing,” my mechanic said with a smile. “He’s doesn’t know how lucky he is that no one has shot him yet.”
   “He claims he never put his gear down,” said one of the other pilots, the one we called Fritzi. I nodded my thanks to him for this information.
   “There will be no shooting,” I called out loud enough for everyone else to hear. Turning my attention to my mechanic, I then said, “Do me a favor, Aloysius; be a good lad and check his landing gear handle. Tell me if it’s up or down.”
   The little Skunk pushed past the surprised Bulldog and climbed up into the cockpit. “The handle is up, sir,” he said loudly after a second’s inspection. “Fuel is just over half.”
   “Sprecken zee Dog?” Badcock tried, and everyone around him laughed.
   “I speak Dog very vell,” Commandant Locke said as he approached. The men separated for him as they did for me, and I suddenly found myself standing next to the tall Wolf. Returning the enemy flyer’s salute, he nodded to me and said in Dog, “This is Oberleutnant Georg Wolf. You owe him your life because I vas going to kill you.” He quickly translated for everyone else present. There was a murmur amongst the troops.
   “I think he was saying he never put his gear down, Mein Herr,” I told Locke. “My Sergeant has confirmed his lever is in the up position.”
   “Vhat a pity,” the Wolf told me. His voice was like ice and I wasn’t sure if he was angry with me or Badcock. Finally he said, “He’s your responsibility, Herr B. B. Your actions today obviously lived up to your Staffel-Spitzname, so I should not be too upset vith you. You are a competent vingman, and as it turns out, you saved my hairy ass vhen it needed saving.”
   He thought about this for a moment, or perhaps about something else… I can’t be all that sure. When he was done thinking he told me, “Get Herr Royal Dog cleaned up und bring him to the mess hall for dinner. He shall be our guest for at least the night, und then ve shall send him on to be processed as a prisoner of war.”
   Looking to Aloysius, who was still sitting in the Pisser’s cockpit, the Commandant said, “Paint two more flags on Herr B.B.’s aircraft. Ve shall give him credit vhere credit is due.”
   As the Wolf calmly walked away, my Staffel pounded my back loudly congratulated me; Poor old Badcock was left standing by his aircraft in total confusion. Walking up to him, I extended my paw. “Oberleutnant Georg Wolf,” I said, introducing myself. “Beer, ja?”
   To his credit, old Henry shook my paw, though I could see he was still very angry. “Lieutenant Henry Badcock,” he replied, “Beer, nein… tea, ja.”

   All went well, considering the wartime circumstances. We were all pilots, and as pilots we held ourselves to a higher code than the ‘ground pounders’—or so we thought. It was just an illusion, as without a doubt, there was as much compassion and good intentions among the regular soldiers as anywhere. In our case we had a cleaner, more viable playing field called the sky. In some respects we viewed our side, and their side, much as opposing soccer teams. On the field anything went and then some; any dirty trick you could dream up was perfectly acceptable. On the ground, however, we were all ‘gentlecreatures’, all full of polite manners and solicitudes. Only two rules had to be followed during such events. One must never insult another’s wife, and one must never, ever insult another’s aircraft.
   Of course, Lieutenant Henry Badcock just had to go and break that rule.
   “And I say the Belmont Pisser is the best aircraft ever built,” he told our group over dinner. Herr Oberst Locke translated for him, his eyes watching each of us for our responses. “The Pisser’s done right well against the Badbladder, thank you very much. I mean, honestly, I don’t know for the life of me how you chaps can stand to fly such an ugly little machine like that one.”
   We were dining on sausages, boiled potatoes, and sauerkraut, all washed down by gallons of good Stonenpassen beer. It was a special occasion for us, so our cook had pulled out all the stops. As soon as our Commandant translated the Royal’s words, I felt a knot in my stomach and knew the fabulous dinner was a wasted effort.
Locke has sixty-five kills,” Fritz countered, sitting up very straight and nodding to Herr Oberst. “Many of them were Pissers. Not to mention Herr B.B.’s fantastic shot which felled your brother pilot.”
   Locke seemed hesitant to translate this exactly, but he did, whereupon Henry sallied forth with, “Gerwalt Lank was shot down just yesterday by a Pisser. His Lordship Wilber Rightwing got him right enough—Lank tried to turn inside the Pisser and got shot up pretty bad. He was lucky; bailed out and got captured by the ground troops.”
   This caused quite a stir. Lank was the Commandant of Staffel 32 and two hundred miles to our north; this was the first we’d heard about it. He was last known to have eighty kills. There was much discussion, and then I had a thought. “Who is this Wilber Rightwing?” I asked and Locke translated.
   Henry pointed his fork at me and said, “Only the fellow you shot down yesterday. He’d insisted we split up, to maximize the surprise. Bad decision, that; had I stayed on his tail, I’d have nailed you before you buggered him.”
   Henry’s bad language had a telling effect on our Commandant. Yes, it was true he was known to curse a mechanics’ blue streak when provoked, but in fairness, he always carried himself like the Alpha Wolf he was. I could see the tightness in the corner of his mouth. Since I was the one who captured the goat and brought him to the dinner table, I would most likely receive a very telling reprimand and penalty, such as digging latrines.
   After a few more beers, Howler banged his paw on the table and cursed the Pisser’s rounded lines. “The airplane looks like a fat strudel-stuffing baker’s wife,” he remarked.
   Locke laughed hard and then translated.
   Badcock countered with, “She’s got the metal of a good stiff cock, and she’s pushed it up the Badbladder’s arse more than a few times. But if you want to talk about ugly: Your aircraft has all the beauty of a proctor’s idea of truth, and all the elegance of a right angle.”
   It quickly went downhill from there, until finally Badcock stood up, knocking over his beer, and demanded that we prove the superiority of the Badbladder. “Come on, now—where’s your Wolf brass balls now? I say we match our planes from takeoff to twenty thousand feet: The first one there begins the dogfight. No shooting until you get there, either, just like an Irish duel.”
   That one raised all of our eyebrows, and when asked, Badcock gave us a contemptuous look as if we were all uneducated clods. We Wolves, who match cut for cut in Schlager duels! Even my blood was boiling at this point.
   “What do they teach you Wolves, that you’ve never heard of an Irish duel? So you fight with a cudgel and a top hat, right?” he explained, his paws doing a lampoon of the fight. “First you have to knock off the other fellow’s hat before you can hit him on the head. He knocks yours off, he’s free to beat you to death while you still have to knock his hat off. So I say you have to get to twenty thousand before you can fire—and if you can keep the other fellow down, it’s all yours.”
   “Bollocks,” I muttered, tipping back my beer and missing the rest of what Badcock said.
   Suddenly I found all eyes on me.
   “He asked where our brass-balled Wolf was,” Locke told me with a strange smile. “You brought him here, Herr B.B. Are you feeling up to his challenge?” There was a chorus of voices egging me on to accept.
   Herr Locke leaned forward, so only I could hear him, and said coldly, “Und this time, kill the uncouth bastard.”
   That pretty much settled it. When we were done I called for Aloysius, and instructed him to have his mechanics fix the Pisser. He didn’t question my orders, but there was a lot of curiosity in his eyes, so I told him: “It’s a long story, but I fly against the bastard in the morning.”
   Then the skunk asked, very softly, “How exactly do you wish me to fix the Royal’s aircraft, sir?”
   “I expect it to be rightly and properly repaired, Sergeant. What kind of person would I be if I did not win this contest on my own merit?”
   “Jawohl, Mein Herr,”
he said with a smile and a salute. “As you say, it will be so.”

   I stood with Badcock towards the rear of our aircraft, watching the sun come up. The aircraft silhouettes in this early light were remarkably different. The Pisser’s lines were smooth and rounded, whereas the Badbladder’s were lean and sharp. Where the Royal’s underbelly was clean, the Wolf’s was marred with an egg-shaped fuel tank which was a necessity for gaining any reasonable amount of time in the air. With a mere seventy-six gallon internal capacity, you learned early on to nurse every last ounce when it was possible.
   Taking out a pack of cigarettes, I thumbed one up for Badcock and one up for myself. He accepted it in a quiet, humble sort of way, so very unlike the Bulldog of the night before.
   “I know you don’t sprecken Dog,” he says to me, “But before we begin, I want to apologize for last night.” He winked. “It got me a chance to fly the old Pisser at least one last time.”
   I looked at him, and no translation was needed. Without a doubt, the blustery exterior was nothing more than a cover for what was really underneath. I returned his wink and smiled. “Is goot morning,” I managed. “Fly goot… bail out wenn schlecht.” [when bad]
   We both came up with lighters in the same instant, flicking them and holding them out for the other. Closing mine with a metallic click, I leaned forward and let him light me up. He then lit his own, and we both took deep drags, letting out a cloud of smoke.
   Thumbing my lighter over in my paw, I saw it had the squadron’s emblem engraved on one side, and the back-to-back ‘BB’ on the other. Motioning for him to follow, I led the way to the side of my Badbladder. Pointing to the red BB on its hull, I next pointed to the same initials on the lighter, and then to my chest. “Herr Brass Balls,” I told him and smiled. “Es ist mir, du dumme alte Bastard.” [It’s me, you silly old bastard.]
   With that I pressed the lighter into his palm, pointing to myself and then to him. He smiled in return and pressed his own lighter into my palm. I looked at it and saw that it, too, bore his squadron’s emblem. On the reverse side were the initials H. B.
   “It’s me, you silly young fool,” he says in perfectly accented Wolf. “Good luck, and may God protect you, because I will shoot you down if I get a clear shot.”
   I looked at him for a second, and then chuckled. “You’re a cagey old fellow,” I told him and then shook his paw firmly. “I’m glad to have met you.”
   “Likewise,” he told me.
   When we’d finished our cigarettes, we walked to the front of the aircraft where all but two of our pilots were waiting. Two engines roared to life nearby, and a moment later two Badbladders taxied out for take off.
   Herr Locke pointed at them and said in Dog, “If you try to run, Herr Badcock, they vill shoot you down. The rules are exactly as you stated them to be. When I give the signal, you vill both take off and climb to twenty thousand feet. You cannot fire until you attain altitude. If you shoot Herr B.B. down, you vill be allowed to fly back across the channel. This Staffel, at least, vill not hinder you; I cannot vouch for any of the others, so for that you vill be on your own.”
   Badcock executed a perfect Royal salute, “Sir!”
   Locke motioned that I should walk with him for a moment.
   “I vill be on the radio at all times,” he told me softly. “I think perhaps I vas rash in taking this wager. Ve have a perfectly good captured aircraft to play with; ve should use it to our advantage.”
   “We cannot back out now, sir,” I told him.
   “Why not?”
   “Honor, Mein Herr.”
   “Of course,” he responded. “How could I have forgotten? Is there anything you vish me to hold for you?”
   Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the lighter Badcock had given me, along with my cigarettes and identification papers. These I handed over without comment. It was simply something we did for each other. In this case, Herr Locke was more a father figure than a Commandant.
he said, accepting them. “I vill give them back when you land. Do nothing stupid, ja?”
   “Ja, Mein Herr,” I responded. To say I had mixed feelings was an understatement. I now knew the pilot I was to try and kill. He was no longer just an enemy machine in the sky. Turning back to my fighter, I climbed onto the wing and into the cockpit.

   The engine noises from both aircraft were strikingly different: The Badbladder had a much throatier sound than the Pisser. We were given a moment for warming up, then Herr Locke held up his flare pistol and made a circular motion with it. We were exactly wingtip to wingtip and at the ready. Badcock slid his canopy closed and I pulled mine down over top of me, finding the close confines of the small cockpit both familiar and comfortable.
   Over the radio I heard someone ask if we were ready. Henry was immediate with a gruff, “Ready.” I responded in kind, and a moment later a green flare illuminated over the runway. With the signal, our engines advanced. My tail came up as it had the day before, in twenty feet. I was clearly airborne first and ahead by two body lengths at the end of the runway. The morning was glorious, the sun just coming up on the horizon so that the countryside was still shrouded in shadow. I didn’t opt for max climb power, but left the engine at full takeoff for as long as I dared, keeping an eye on the engine temp as well as the Pisser flying behind me.
   At 8,000 feet I went on oxygen, securing the mask to my snout with one paw. Turing in my seat, I vaguely saw the Pisser behind and below by a good thousand feet. The one thing the Badbladder did not have was good visibility.
   Remembering to be cautious, I checked the fuel mixture and engine temp again. When I reached altitude, I clicked the clock’s stop watch function and saw it had taken me exactly seven minutes from takeoff to twenty thousand feet. It was a wonderful feeling… but at present I didn’t have time for wonderful feelings. Pushing the radio button I called out my altitude, jettisoned my drop tank, and then banked around to begin my attack. The sun coming up in the east, I noted without even thinking, was neither a hindrance nor a help. I could see Badcock just below me as I was sure he could see me. He must have been furious that I’d beaten his wonderful Pisser to altitude. Keeping the power on I dove; lining him up in my sights and thumbing off the safety at the same moment. It would be a straight-on shot, so I didn’t even have to adjust for tracking. It couldn’t get much easier.
   With my burst, the Royal Bulldog broke right and then came back left again in an exaggerated ‘S’ maneuver to throw off my aim. I streaked past and now it was my turn to curse as I lost valuable altitude recovering from my dive. I heard him call out twenty thousand as I pulled out and began climbing again. Our positions were now reversed.
   My engine howled in protest as I kept the power on. At altitude, the Badbladder’s fuel injection worked much better that the Pisser’s carburetor—but now I was low Dog in the pile, and for the moment I lost him in a small cloud. As I approached, he punched back out again banking well over and coming at me from broadside. I imitated the turn, pulling bodily on the stick for all I was worth. Unlike the lead sled I was used to, there was no hydraulic boost on any of the aircraft’s controls. Strictly speaking, it was the pilot’s muscle and the machine’s mechanical heart melded together, each one being an organic extension of the other. As in the battles of armored knights, guts and intelligence were not enough… you needed true strength to win a dogfight.
   This maneuver was a mistake and I knew it from the beginning. The Pisser’s pleasingly rounded wings had much less load on them than the Badbladder’s, and Badcock easily turned inside of me. The moment I saw his tracers, I dove with full military power on and dropped like a brick. Even at that I caught at least five rounds through the wings. My fighter’s engine had no problem with the inverted G force maneuver; Henry’s Pisser, on the other paw, burped and stuttered momentarily as fuel floated upwards in the carburetor when he tried to follow. This allowed me a greater lead in the dive, which most likely saved my life.
   The airspeed indicator climbed into the red, well over four hundred twenty knots. My controls stiffened to the point of non-responsiveness, and recovering from the dive became my primary task. I was now riding a shooting star and did not wish to be a crater in the ground—which is precisely what would happen if the wings ripped off. Chopping the power, I pumped the rudder and ailerons to slow myself down. The altimeter was winding down like an out-of-control clock, and by now I noted my fuel was down past half. As I looked, the fuel warning light blinked on, indicating I had only twenty minutes left. Getting back on an approach to the airfield was now mandatory… but I pushed the thought away so long as Badcock was above me.
   When my speed was down to three hundred I ripped my oxygen mask off and rolled to the right, flying into a convenient cloud. My altitude was now at just under ten thousand, and I continued in a tight turn, doing three full circles before coming back to my original course and going back to full power. If I was lucky, and if Badcock had followed in the dive, this would put him directly in front of me and most likely hightailing it to the coast. As part of the wager, we’d fueled him full up; this was far more than enough for a dogfight and escape, which would have been on the forefront of his mind. In doing this, my mind had already figured in the possibility of landing at the Staffel next up the coast to refuel. It was something I had to do—it was honor—it was expected by my Commandant—it was—
B.B.,” called our ground controller, “Return to base. Flight oversight; return to base.”
   I saw him not more than a mile ahead, throttle obviously pushed to his safe power limits to be sure. Just as I’d expected, he was heading straight to the coast. True to our mutual agreement, Badcock had fought and fought well; so this was allowed, and the two covering fighters were no longer there.
   I pushed my throttle to Emergency Power, determined to catch him. He wouldn’t be looking back, and it was a dead-on run with no gun deflection or windage to figure into the mix. Having nothing else to worry about, I simply hung on, riding my aircraft like a horse at full gallop.
B.B.,” Locke’s voice called over the radio, “Break off und return to base.”
   I did not respond. Something inside me was incensed at missing the retreating Pisser. A voice inside my head told me I was Wolf! That inner voice spit out an entire series of words that I did not understand… words with a Wolf accent. A different voice inside my head then called to me. Let it go, Corgi Dog… let it go!
   My indicated airspeed pressed at three eighty and froze there while my engine temperature rose to well over the red line. I smelled heat and exhaust fumes and pulled my oxygen mask back on. Badcock’s Pisser grew in my gun sights, from a small dot to something where I could now make out the details.
B.B., return to base! This is an order!” demanded Locke. When I didn’t respond, he shouted, “You vill return now! Return—”
   Flames sprouted from under my engine cowl and smoke swept into the cockpit. I would have been blinded but for my goggles. Pulling the canopy’s jettison handle on the right, I felt the wind sweep in, pulling at my harness as it attempted to pluck me from the cockpit. Three more seconds, and I’d fire and then chop power… Two… one…
   In the air, strange and terrible things happen when an engine seizes. The dramatic stoppage of force, coupled with the incredible torque of the huge spinning propeller, literally tore off the front off my fighter. This ripping action, in turn, flipped what remained of the fuselage end over end over end, streaming flames from the ruptured fuel line. I did not cry out; I did not howl. There was no time to do anything… except die.

   I wake up in the booth at the beer garden. The place is empty, except for me and the barkeep. The only light is from a single overhead incandescent bulb inside a tin hood.
   “I vas vondering vhen you might vake,” he calls to me from behind the bar. “I think you drink too much, ja?”
   “Sure,” I manage. My mouth tastes like something dead, and my eyes feel as if they have sand in them. “What time is it?”
   “It is three thirty of the A.M., First Officer Corgi. Perhaps you go home now, eh?”
   “Where is home?” I ask stupidly.
   “I have asked that same question many times,” the Wolf responds as he comes around the bar. Sitting down across from me, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out some grass. “Eat this,” he tells me, “and go puke. You vill feel better. When you come back, I give you a large glass of tomato juice so you have something in your gut, ja?”
   When I look skeptical, he shrugs his shoulders. “Wolves do it, Dogs do it… it is a time-honored tradition, because it vorks. Go ahead, I vill fetch the drink.”
   What can I say? The toilet stinks like all toilets in beer gardens stink, but he was right; when I’m finished, I do feel better. Washing my face in cold water, I look at myself in the mirror. Besides being one huge body ache, my uniform shirt looks like I’d slept in it, and my eyes are bright red.
   Making my way back into the bar, I go back to the booth and sit across from the strange Wolf. The tomato juice is sitting on the table waiting for me. Drinking it straight down, I extend a paw and say, “Thanks. My name’s George Corgi, what’s yours?”
   He shakes my paw warmly. “The war is over, so you may call me Dierk.”
   “I was four years old when the war ended,” I tell him. “It lasted six.” I don’t know why this seems important, but it does.
he says quietly, digging a pack of cigs and a lighter out of his breast pocket. “This, I know.”
   Shaking one out of the pack for me, he next thumbs the lighter open and lights me up when I’m ready. As I breathe in a grateful lungful of the rich tobacco, he snaps the lighter closed again and then places it on the table top. Taking a small leather folder out of his pocket, he puts it alongside the lighter and slides them both over to me. “You asked me to hold these for you. I am pleased to now return them.”
   “I must have been some drunk,” I mutter, picking them up and sliding them into my pants pocket, “because I sure don’t remember doing that.”
   The one-eyed Wolf laughs a strange laugh. “How do you Royals say… you vere really pisser?”
   “Pissed,” I correct with a smile.
   “Amazing that vun vord can carry so many translations, my young friend.”
   There’s a car horn outside the door, and I turns to look, my attention temporarily diverted.
   “Ah: That vould be your ride,” he tells me, rising from the booth and picking up my duffle. “You are to have a goot life, ja? That is an order.”
   “Jawohl, Mein Herr,”
I reply automatically; not even realizing I had done so.

   When I get to the hotel, the sun is just coming up. I’m actually met in the lobby by Captain Badcock. He was down trying to have his breakfast, but none of the kitchen staff had arrived at such an early hour. Seeing me walk in, he motions me over.
   “Where the bloody hell have you been?” he asks acidly.
   “You left me to walk,” I explain. “I stopped at a beer garden and apparently had too much to drink. It happens sometimes.”
   “For three days?” he asks.
   I blink, his statement hitting me like a fighter’s slash attack. “I was… three days?
   “We leave this afternoon,” he tells me with an look of absolute disapproval.
   “If you vill follow me, Mein Herr,” the desk clerk says, coming back to the desk, “I can give you coffee, but the cook vill not be in for another hour.”
   “Fine,” he says, turning to her. “Please make it for two; my First Officer has finally decided to show up and I’m sure he needs it.”
   When we’re seated, old Henry takes out his pack and thumbs up a cigarette. Not bothering to offer me one, he puts it between his lips and then finds my outstretched paw thumbing a lighter to flame. He leans forward to take advantage and then spots the emblem on its side. Two things happen: He turns quite pale, and then, blowing out the flame, he snatches it away from me.
   “Where did you get this?” he asks in a near whisper.
   “The barkeep at the beer garden gave it to me,” I tell him. “He said I’d given it to him to hold for me.” Fishing into my pocket, I pull out the small leather wallet. “He gave me this, too, come to think of it. The guy had just one eye and looked like he’d been burned; said he’d flown Badbladders during the war.”
   Together we open the wallet and we’re looking at the picture of a young pilot standing in the cockpit of a Badbladder. The view is down the aircraft’s nose, and the Wolf is quite handsome. On the other side is an official-looking identification paper stating the fellow’s name to be, Oberleutnant Georg Wolf.
   Henry reaches into his pocket and takes out his own lighter, placing it on the table and pushing it over to me. “Does this mean anything to you?” he asks.
   I pick it up and examine it closely. One side bears the outline of a strange-looking falcon, inside of which is a spider impaled on a fencing sword. Turning it over, I see the back-to-back B’s.
   A cold chill sweeps through my body. At that moment, as I look up and meet the eyes of my old adversary, the desk clerk brings us our coffee.
   My reaction is answer enough for the old Bulldog. “Tell me everything you remember,” he says plainly, “And do not leave out one bloody fucking thing.”
   By the time I’m done, breakfast has come and gone. There’s a quiet moment, and then Badcock says, “I never told anyone that story… not even command. I was far too embarrassed at having let my Pisser be captured. That, and if I’d told them Rightwing and I had split up, they’d have had my balls for breakfast. Still, my report was accurate through the raid on the airfield, and then I told them I had engine problems and set down in a field. That night a farmer helped me fix a fuel line that’d come loose, and managed to steal me some fuel from the Wolves. I looked for Herr Locke after the war, but the best I could do was, ‘Missing in Action’.”
   Pushing back in his chair, he says, “Take me to that beer garden.” I’m more than happy to do so, as I desperately want some answers of my own.
   But when we get there, the only thing we find is an old, bombed-out ruin. Above the door, still hanging from one mount, is the beer garden sign that had attracted me on my walk. The picture of the fighter is still on it, but it’s full of bullet holes; probably from the invading Allied army. The aircraft’s tail has seen flames, and for a moment I feel them washing over me again.
   Before I can stop myself, I’m leaning over what used to be a window, puking my guts out. When I’m done, I find Captain Badcock standing close with a fistful of grass and a sad expression.
   “Go ahead,” he tells me, “Eat it and puke again, it’ll settle your stomach. Wolves do it, Dogs do it… it’s tradition because it works. It’ll help you get past knowing it’s not a game—that you’ve killed another living, breathing being. My final count was fifteen.”
   All that I’d experienced flows over me like an ocean. When I finally can speak, I ask him one word: “Why?”
   The old boy just shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he replies. “It was just something we had to do. Kill or be killed, eh?”

   As the camera pulls away, showing the two uniformed figures in front of the bombed-out ruin, the small Fox’s voice is again heard:
   “First Officer George Corgi has discovered the madness surrounding the age-old question that has haunted warriors as long as there has been war upon the face of the planet. Where there is more than one Alpha there can be no rest, and so all the games ever played in youth are bundled up and burned as sacrifice to the highest game of all: The game of survival, in which to win is to live, to lose is to die.
   “‘Kill or be killed’ is but an excuse proclaimed by those who would have them fight for a cause that might or might not be so very honorable… turning a vibrant and living world into a cemetary.
   “That this excuse is false does not matter. To remember that it is false is important.
   “‘The moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers; something to dwell on and something to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God’s earth.’*
   “Because of this… and as a reminder to the living in times of peace… occasionally we are required to take a trip: A trip to the far reaches of… The Fur Side.

* Rod Serling—Deaths-head Revisited—November 10th, 1961

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