2 Apr 1916.

Kolb landed at Vivaise and steered his Eindecker toward the canvas hangar where his rigger and fitter Werner and Klaus were waiting, he switched off the engine and sat staring blankly at the instrument panel. Werner and Klaus could tell something was wrong, usually Kolb couldn't get out of his machine and in front of a stove quick enough but today he just sat there, not moving. Werner and Klaus shared a concerned glance and approached the machine to see if Kolb had been injured or if he was ill.

"Are you ok sir?" Klaus asked.

Kolb said nothing, just stared forwards.

"Sir?"

Klaus placed his foot into the stirrup of the machine and swung himself up alongside Kolb, placing a hand on his shoulder and shaking him gently. Kolb flinched and stared at Kaus, his eyes slightly unfocused.

"Sir! We thought you might have been wounded, are you alright sir? Where's Leutnant Laack?"

It hadn't even occurred to Kolb on the flight home that he would have to be the one to announce the bad news, Laack was dead, hit aircraft had been hit by flak while attacking a balloon a few miles SW of Soissons, it had all been over faster than it takes to draw a breath.

"Was hier passiert?" called an approaching, authoritative voice. It was Hauptmann Meinecke, he'd seen Kolb land alone and ridden a bicycle across the field to ask Kolb what had happened.

"We don't know sir, he seems to be-- frozen."

"Step down."

Meinecke produced a silver flask from his hip pocket and fumbled with the lid, he proffered it up to Kolb, waving the opening beneath his nose. Kolbs blue eyes slowly wandered down toward the flask and then his hand reached for it. He took a draught and handed it back to the Hauptmann.

"Where's Laack Kolb?"

Something uncoiled in Kolb, his frozen, upright posture relaxed as he spoke as though ice were sliding from his veins.

"He's dead Herr Hauptmann, flak got him."

They'd taken off together early that morning, accompanied by the usual grey clouds and rain. It had been a day just like any other . It had even looked like it might clear up at one stage of the flight with the sun peeping through the overcast at broken intervals but it was all an illusion. The sun only wanted to watch the show. After reaching Soissons Kolb had led them both down through an opening in the clouds, they were hunting a balloon which had been directing a particularly troublesome artillery exchange to the north. The balloon was reported to be alongside the road out of Soissons by about 5 miles and the pair were following the road at 4,000ft to find out if it was still there. It was there alright, Laack saw it first. Kolb had been too high to attack but Laack was in perfect position, he dove for the balloon and Kolb watched as the dirty grey clouds of flak appeared around Laacks machine, one of them materialised near enough to touch Laacks Eindecker and Kolb gasped, the Fokker twitched and then plunged headlong and uncontrolled toward the grey gasbag with Laack slumped at the controls. The machine and the balloon merged and a brilliant orange glow momentarily lit the underside of the overcast in the immediate area while Kolb watched, horrified, circling above and staring in disbelief as the tangled remains of the balloon and Laack made their way earthward, entangled perversely like a pair of doomed, blazing lovers. Kolb was reaching the end of recounting Laack's demise when the sound of an inline engine made them both pause and be silent.

"Ours or theirs Herr Hauptmann?"

"I'm not sure Kolb, there is a unit of Aviatiks over at Sissonne, maybe one of them could have gotten lost. Stay in your machine, with A Flight still away you might have to take off again and chase it if it turns out to be French."

Kolb nodded and they waited, along the front to the south some cannons began roar but the engine noise was still audible between the screech and boom of the shells. Among the increasing din Kolb fancied he heard the distinct 'Thwack-thwack" of flak shells, Meinecke also heard it and he glanced sharply at Kolb.

"Start her up!" he cried to Werner and Klaus who had been waiting at a polite distance, hoping that they would be allowed to wheel the machine in out of the rain before lunch. Now their thoughts of lunch were forgotten as they rushed to restart the engine. The engine should have started immediately, it was still warm from the morning's use but, for some reason, it refused to roar into life no matter how they cajoled and cursed it. The drone of the inline receded and, a few minutes after that the cannons fell silent again. Werner and Klaus were already probing at the engine.

"Bad luck Kolb, it seems as though you won't see your first French machine today." sighed Meineck. "Come on down and get something to eat, I'll need your report on Laack by this afternoon."

Kolb nodded, he dismounted and helped Werner and Klaus push the machine back into its' canvas hangar. He lingered while they clambered over her, manufacturing excuses to keep him on the field while he waited for A flight to return. Kolb knew he was putting off writing the report, he was hesitating because he knew that, once the report was written, it would be official. Kolb wanted a few more moments with Laack, remembering his long beak of a nose dripping with condensation over a steaming cup of coffee, his wry grin and especially the gentle and patient tone that Laack used when explaining something perfectly obvious to the neophyte Kolb.

The report, breakfast, Meinecke...

They could all wait until A flight returned.

[Linked Image]

Kolb above the clouds, returning alone from Soissons.

Last edited by Ace_Pilto; 04/19/17 10:50 AM.

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Wenn ihr sieg im deine Kampf selbst gegen, wirst stark wie Stahl sein.