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The Kindness of Strangers WW2 Campaign - Prologue 2 (A New Day)

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1 May 1940. A small airfield just outside Berry-au-Bac, France.

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To be honest, the France of 1940 struck me as somewhat less impressive than the one fondly remembered by my mother. True, much of her time here had been spent in turn-of-the-century Paris, but this was ridiculous. Slightly more than eighteen hours old, my relationship with the country that was to be my home for the foreseeable future was getting off to a rocky start.

The light, steady drizzle that had greeted me upon my arrival in France, and proceeded to soak me to the skin, did its best to drown out the sounds of the night. Darkness had come quickly to the French countryside, masking details of my new home. Standing in the rain, with the rather damp reality of my situation at odds with half-remembered stories of “The City of Light,” I imagined what might greet me once dawn’s first light lifted the shroud of night. One of those bucolic little villages, I thought, smoke curling from chimneys as its citizens rose to greet the day.

Farm maids, I smiled to myself. There should be farm maids. Fresh-faced, healthy lasses…each and every one. My mind continued to drift as I shook the rain from my forage cap. And cows. Can’t have farm maids without cows, can you? That’s right. On the eve of the beginning of greatest adventure of my life, I was mulling over the various merits of farm girls.

“Enter.”

One word. Spoken softly, but in a voice that brooked no argument, that one word pulled me back to the present. I paused long enough to draw a deep breath, calming my nerves, and stepped through the door and into the small, lantern-lit cottage. I closed the door behind myself, I turned to face the man who would decide my immediate fate.

The man, solid of frame, dwarfed the small makeshift desk that sat between us. I knew little of the officer sitting before me, but what I knew fit: Squadron Leader PH 'Bull' Halahan was a blocky, solid-looking chap whose sharp eyes missed few details.

Moving forward with what I hoped was an air of purpose, I came to the position of attention, my eyes focused a foot above the Squadron Leader’s dark hair. The wall of the cottage was covered in a plaster-like substance, cracks running across its surface in a crazy spider-web pattern. The rain outside now muted by those selfsame walls, I couldn’t help but notice the sound of the water dripping off my battledress and onto the cottage’s floor.

“Good morning, Sergeant,” S/L Halahan offered.

Having been addressed, I snapped off a crisp salute and response, “Sergeant-Pilot Raymond reporting for duty, sir!”

Smiling, the squadron leader waived me out of attention. “From the looks of you, you’ve had a time of it.” Rising from his seat, he extended his right hand in lieu of a salute. “We’re up against it here, so we’ll not be standing on ceremony.” Motioning towards a pot brewing on the small stove I had failed to notice upon my entry, he asked as he refilled a cup retrieved from his desk, “Interest you in a cuppa?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” I nodded in affirmation as my ears heard my lying mouth provide a response to his initial question, “Not so bad, sir.” The squadron leader’s lips quirked into a smile as I added wryly, “except, sir, maybe the rain.”

“Well, there is that,” he conceded. “Your given name is Christopher?” he added offering a steaming cup of what only could be described, under the circumstances, as heaven. “We’re an informal lot, so don’t be surprised if you hear the lads referring to me as ‘Bull.’ My tea delivered, he returned to his seat. “Canadian?”

“Right on both counts, sir.” I responded, the lie comfortable on my tongue. Sipping carefully the warming liquid, I waited for what I knew was sure to follow. Damn, I thought, I was so bloody close.

Nodding, he continued as if nothing were amiss, and he was ticking off a list. “Received your wings -- but not your commission -- two weeks ago. Interesting point, that, but of little import in the here-and-now. Expected to be posted to a squadron as needs demand, but certainly not to France, nor so soon?” I nodded once as he continued. “A sharp young man who’s been spoken of highly by his instructors…” he paused, then finished, “…so it’s no wonder that you've probably figured your presence here has something to do with the fact that you speak like a native?”

“Yes, sir,” I responded, “that thought occurred to me.” Silence, again, as I omitted that other nagging thought… the quiet voice that I refused to acknowledge openly: that I’d come so far, only to be relegated to maintaining the kites I so desperately wanted to fly. Instead, I offered some nonsense about my mother’s Parisian French and her insistence that I learn it.

Halahan listened politely, then motioned me to sit. “As useful as that may prove to be, Christopher, it’s the least of my concerns.” Sitting in the proffered chair, I didn't have to wait long before he continued. “Operations against the Germans have increased over the past couple of weeks, this front is moving through, and I need all the bodies and machines I can get my hands on.”

I blinked once in surprise as his next words washed over me, “So you can relax, Sergeant.” Interesting. “Though I’m familiar with your past, and… particular skill set," he added, "I need qualified pilots more than I need another fitter or rigger.” His smile matched the one I failed miserably at hiding. “Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to Billy Drake…” The twinkle of merriment in his eyes now openly betraying the fun he was having at my expense, he added after what seemed to be a damned dramatic pause, “He’ll get you squared away and introduce you to the lads in ‘B’ Flight.”

Standing, he once again extended his hand. “Welcome to No. 1 Squadron, Sergeant.”

“Thank you, sir.” I responded, genuine relief loosening the knot of tension that had been steadily growing between my shoulder blades.

The door to the cottage opened as Squadron Leader Halahan explained “Corporal Walker will show you to quarters.” I nodded to the Corporal as I returned my cup to the stove.

Turning back to the squadron leader, and not knowing exactly what to say, I instead snapped off a parade-worthy salute, turned on my heel, and followed Cpl. Walker out into the night. That significant hurdle overcome, the fatigue I had been ignoring began to make its presence felt with renewed vigor. Sleep. Sleep would be good, I thought to myself. As such, more than a few seconds had passed before it registered that it was no longer raining.

A good omen.

I couldn't help but smile a smile that refused to wilt in the face of the corporal’s suggestion that “The day starts early around here, Sergeant, so you've not much time for more than a kip.”

No matter. Tomorrow was a new day.

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Updated 12-31-2013 at 08:25 by fast.git (Amended Title)

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Comments

  1. Blackronin's Avatar
    Excellent. Perfect begining.
    Waiting for the first mission.
  2. Flying Officer Kyte's Avatar
    Well done that man.
    Kyte.
  3. gully_raker's Avatar
    Nice into!
    Looking forward to his first action.
  4. flash's Avatar
    You are a wordsmith of the first order Chris !
  5. Gotham Resident's Avatar
    A full story to go with the game? Very nice!