In the rear cockpit of the Jenny, Neville worked furiously, loading a glass plate into his camera, readying his flash bulbs. In the forward cockpit Reggie was busy trying to prevent their immanent and nasty deaths. It was going to take some tricky flying, he decided.
It is a measure of his loyalty to his employer that he gave some thought to not turning the Jenny over into a sudden loop, so as not to spill all of Neville’s expensive photographic equipment over the fallow fields below. Then again, he didn’t give it much thought.
He banked hard, the control wires of the ‘plane singing with stress as he broke two or three of Newton’s laws of motion, specifically those about objects in motion wanting to stay moving in the same direction. He wheeled about and dove for the trees below, intending to outfly the dragon that was already plummeting toward them. Like a matador executing a particularly desperate véronica he swung out of his bank and threw open the throttle, lurching forward and leveling out as the dragon burst through the air where they’d just been.
The dragon dropped into the treetops and Reggie thought perhaps he’d tricked it into crashing into the ground. One imagines such a thing is possible, in a work of non-fiction. In reality flying things crash all the time. Given the style and nature of the story that you, gentle reader, have come to expect—no. The dragon did not crash.
In a storm of leaves and broken twigs it rose again, its wings whirring around each other in a distinctly improbable way, more reminiscent of an autogyro than a bat. With a powerful heave of its flying muscles it veritably leapt up into the air and powered after them again, holding its stinger high above its back.
“Yes, that’s very good,” Neville said.
Reggie, mouth agape, turned his head to look at his employer. Neville, he saw, was standing up in his cockpit, holding a camera on a monopod. The black cloth hood of the camera was draped over Neville’s head and shoulders.
“Just like that, please,” Neville said. “Just thirty more seconds—it’s so dark out here we need the longest exposure we can get.”
Reggie, who was feeling very exposed just then, focused on flying away from the dragon as fast as he possibly could.
The dragon gave chase. It was clear to Reggie right away that it could fly faster than the Jenny. He gave it his best shot anyway, diving a little to gain momentum, racing along with his landing gear brushing the treetops until he couldn’t descend any more, then pulling up hard in a zoom climb just as the dragon flashed by underneath him, its stinger lashing at thin air.
Behind him he heard Neville grab on tight to the sides of the fuselage.
“Boss!” he shouted. “Are you okay?”
“Terrible,” Neville answered. “I almost had my picture! I just needed a few more seconds. Oh, it’s alright, Reggie. I’m sure you did your best.”
Reggie leaned over the side of his cockpit, looking down to try to see where the dragon had gone. He pulled out of his climb, banking around a little to the left, just trying not to be too predictable.
“Let’s level out again so I can set up another shot,” Neville said.
At exactly the same moment, of course, nearly a ton of hellish flesh came rocketing up past them and Reggie stared in terror at that one enormous insectile eye. He saw the stinger flail toward him and he ducked but the whole ‘plane rocked in the air and he nearly lost control. When he managed to straighten out he heard the specific flapping noise that an entire generation of aviators had come to hear in their nightmares. He looked back and saw canvas snapping in the wind. The stinger had torn right through a section of the Jenny’s fuselage. The edges of the tear hissed and smoked as if they’d been dipped in acid.
“I’ll use my flashbulb this time,” Neville promised. “I completely forgot it before. It’ll give us a much quicker exposure.”
Behind Reggie, deep inside the plane, something shifted and groaned. The stinger must have broken through one of the support spars inside the fuselage, the wooden skeleton that gave the ‘plane its shape.
Another hit like that might snap the Jenny in two. Aircraft, of course, are more than the sum of their parts. A bisected biplane is not two separate aircraft. It is, to use the traditional metaphor, two rocks.
Reggie looked around in fright and saw the dragon about half a mile off. It had distanced itself from the Jenny, though not because it was running away. Reggie knew exactly what it was doing. It was giving itself a long run-up, so it could gather speed. It quite clearly intended to ram them.