Somewhere in France
Now that the Americans have finally admitted that, yes, there is a war going on (did they honestly think that the total neutrality thing would work any better with the Kaiser than it did with Napoleon?) they have started sending American pilots in to fill up the squadrons. The first one arrived today; he was difficult to miss, considering that the stupider half of the staff in the aerodrome were gathered around him, laughing like giddy schoolboys. And he looked as if he had come the whole way here in a hay wagon.
(Right, it turns out he did come half the way in a hay wagon, after the engine on the Nieuport he'd insisted on flying in failed and he had to make a forced landing on somebody's muddy cabbage field, and isn't that just a wonderful omen for American aerial fighting skills? Brilliant, taking off without _checking to make sure your engine works first_. And then he, and I quote, "charmed a lovely French maid into giving him a lift." Because if charm is the skill that keeps you alive against the Flying Circus, he's going to be an ace in a week flat.)
So. He saw me and he drawls out, "Well, if it isn't Major Meredith McKay, the famous Canadian Ace," and seriously, considering that six months ago Wilson was still trying to weasel out of the War he has no justification saying "Canadian" as if someone just dropped a dead beaver in his Coca-Cola. (Also, who crashed one machine today already?) "What is it, thirty-three kills?"
"Thirty-eight," I corrected him, and if he's always that sloppy in his math I expect to hear reports any day now that he's been spotted lost and flying over Denmark, and he grinned at me and said never mind, give him a month or two, which hah, if the War even lasts long enough for him to get near my score that'll be final evidence the Americans are as incompetent as we've all been expecting. "We've got a report that there are red scouts over the Lines; my squadron's going up to chase them back." I stomped halfway across the grounds then turned back and raised my eyebrows at him. "You coming?"
It was beautiful, Jeannie. He had no idea what to say; he just stared at me with his mouth hanging open until he managed to pull together a rather weak-looking smirk and said, "Sure, why not," and introduced himself, sticking out his hand like an imbecile.
As if I actually cared about his name. Well, I mean, not that I've gotten too big for my britches since the VC or anything, but it's like Matty and her baby rabbits: it's a waste of time to bother to learn their names until you have at least some indication that they're going to survive long enough to grow up. "The aeroplanes are _that_ way," I told him, when he just kept standing there with his hand out like a halfwit.
Anyway it probably had still had chicken manure or something on it from the hay wagon.
But I will say one thing, the man can fly. If flying is a song, he's bloody Jenny Lind (nearly as daintily pretty, too, once somebody made him comb the straw out of his hair.) The Boches being obstinate and refusing to appear for our entertainment, I had ample opportunity to watch him fly, swooping around and doing rolls for apparently no purpose other than that there are not already enough reasons to make bits fall off our machines. It was a lovely day for a patrol, too, with calm air and just enough cloud to make things interesting; I had the squadron disperse, myself staying just close enough to the new kid to keep an eye on him.
It got even more interesting when a pure red Albatros Scout appeared out of a bank of clouds, apparently completely unaware that we were there. The American, being closer, swooped after him, and as usual the Hun turned tail and fled back over the lines as soon as he realized he was outnumbered. But instead of taking victory when it was handed to him, the idiot turned and chased him, three miles back over the lines. By the time I found them again they were circling down nose to tail like two dogs trying to say hello, which is not usually a guarantee of long life for the idiotic beginner who lets himself get trapped in that deadlock, no matter how well he can fly.
Well, I may not be an artist of the air, but le petit Rouge is practically a machine, and on my worst day I can predict his tactics a mile off. I swept in from the side before either of them realized I was there and got a good line on the Albatros; didn't manage any major damage but it got his attention on me and not the idiot, which was the idea. I signalled the kid to head back to base, but either he hadn't bothered to learn the signals or he was deliberately ignoring me. I didn't have time to worry about it because the German set me up for a head-to-head duel. That was fine with me, I have as many head-to-head kills as any Allied pilot, and I like being able to see who's shooting at me.
Of course, given my luck, that's when two more red-nosed Albatroses appeared out of nowhere and started shooting at me from behind. I dove and tried for an Immelman to get above them, but all three were waiting for me in formation when I leveled out, so I made the best of a bad situation and shot right through them, both guns spraying lead all over, and nearly collided with the idiot, who was trying the same thing. It scattered the Germans and we managed to avoid killing each other long enough to get back to Allied territory. I'm almost certain that at least one of the Germans went down behind us, but the idiot hasn't tried to claim a kill, and I'm not saying anything about it unless he does, Grodin rags on me enough about Captain Billy's Famous Magnificent Solo Raid as it is.
Not that the idiot has said much of anything. I took some damage and landed at the airfield leaking petrol and about ten seconds away from the entire machine going up in flames, and by the time I'd overseen the crew's patch jobs and looked over the engine and controls myself, somebody mentioned that the idiot's Nieuport had finally been dragged in, and I had to go check that, too. And, by the way, there was nothing whatsoever wrong with it except the cracks he put in the landing gear on the way down; he probably just wanted an excuse to roll in the hay with the "flower of French maidenhood".
By the time I trudged into the mess, nearly everybody was done, except look there, the idiot was sitting in a corner all by himself playing with a bowl of soup and reading, of all things, a copy of Garnett's translation of Anna Karenina that looks like it spent a year sitting in a mud puddle getting stomped on by army boots. And he was only on chapter two.
I was tempted to haul him outside and belt him a good one, but I decided to go easy on him since it was his first time in real combat, so I slammed my meal down in front of him and screamed at him for awhile instead, about how you listen to your squadron leader and don't go flying into an obvious trap over enemy territory and squadrons work better as a team and not individual idiots going out and trying to get killed on their first day in combat, and it was all very satisfying.
Until he came up with this little smirk and said, "Oh, this must be the famous Major Meredith McKay leadership speech! That's real swell!"
At which I asked him what exactly he thought he'd been doing out there today, and he drawled out, "Well, sir, I thought I was destroying the enemy, sir."
"Do you even know who was in that scout you were chasing?"
He sprawled back and shrugged at me. "Nah, no idea. Somebody German?"
"That was Baron von Richthofen. The most dangerous aerial fighter in the war. He's killed more cocky young Allied fliers than you have total in-flight hours."
"Oh, good, no need for me to worry then," he said cheerfully. "Remember the US hasn't technically joined the Allies. So I bet I'm safe."
I may have used slightly indelicate language then when I informed him that this war was not, in fact, a game.
And he marked his place in his book with a wilted cabbage leaf, and stood up, and looked me in the eye and said "At least I'll die clean."
So, Jean, you wanted to know how your adopted countrymen are fitting in over here? If ours is any example, they're all going to get themselves killed before we have a chance to get used to them.
Meredith R McKay VC
Post Scriptum: Zelenka says I should ask you how things are at home, which honestly I don't know why that would be any of his business in the first place. He's probably homesick again. It's been a couple of weeks since I've had to haul his sorry carcase away from that nasty potato vodka he keeps getting from someplace, he'd better not be too hung over to go hunting with me tomorrow.