I crawled forward from the cargo hold after the plane stopped throwing us around. I made sure to find handholds at each point in case the plane jolted again. Only when I reached the cockpit did I pull myself upright, grabbing the door frame for support.
Lieutenant Robert Jones, our pilot, smiled when he saw my reflection. “Glad you came up, Lieutenant Bowman. Sit there.” He motioned to make sure I heard him over the grating noise. The engine must have swallowed a huge amount of sand as we went through the storm, which would explained why it was now so much louder than when we’d left Malta.
I twisted into the other seat, behind a half-wheel like the one he gripped.
“Find the two ends of the seat belt and fasten it around you.”
A belt held him to his seat. Ah, ‘seat-belt’. I found the ends of mine and fitted the prong into an eyelet.
“Take the yoke.”
“That half-wheel in front of you.”
I threw up my left hand between us as if it could block his words. “But. But I can’t fly an airplane.” I shouted as loud as I could although he wasn’t much more than a foot away. I wanted to be sure he heard my objection.
“Can you drive a car?”
“Well…” I didn’t want to admit it, but I could hardly lie.
For some reason, he took that as a yes though few women had driven before the war. “The yoke moves in more directions than a steering wheel, but you’ll just be keeping it steady. You do have to remember not to move it forward or back while you keep it steady side to side. I’ll be here to make slight adjustments.”
He took one hand off the yoke to hold up a swollen finger, looking at it accusingly as he continued to speak loudly. “I jammed my finger between two levers as I flew through the sandstorm. My own fault. I’ll be fine, but I want to take my hands off the yoke for a few minutes. So, if you’ll hold it.”
I swallowed stomach acid, put my hands on the half-wheel in front of me, and tried to suppress my worry about making some mistake that would kill us all. I still believed—even though I was on my third flight within the last two days—that the laws of physics would reassert themselves at some point since these machines were obviously too heavy to really fly.