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On the Deck of the Flying Bomb
by David Redd
Aboard the great Flying Bomb on its wartime mission, a stowaway schemes to bale out...

Science Fiction, 7 pages.
Originally Published in Interzone, 1982

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As a stowaway, hidden like an unseen parasite, I can use the lifeboat cameras to observe the workings of the Flying Bomb and its crew. My lifeboat is one bead in the necklace of three hundred lifeboats strung along the rim of the upper deck: no inquiring crewman will think to examine my little hermit cell until I lift it from the deck and glide away. This is a strange behemoth that I shall be leaving: a creature so vast that on its deck there is no sensation of motion. The Flying Bomb is four miles long and two miles wide, and its curving underbelly is over a mile deep. On its upper deck the buildings form a large town where the crewmen live and work. On the lower deck the maintenance staff move like pale ants in caverns, tending the machines which keep this artificial world airborne. And further below is the unstable cargo which will explode novalike when the Flying Bomb reaches its target.

I shall reconnoitre through the nearby buildings like an enemy spy – not that I am an enemy – and through my espionage learn the best moment to escape. The lifeboat supplies include several one-size uniforms, so I can imitate the chameleon and change my disguise to suit my surroundings. However, on this first day exploration in person would be too dangerous. I have studied the deck through the monitors. These well-spent hours have rewarded me with a full knowledge of the nearer buildings – the sick bay, kitchens, dormitories and married quarters, recreation rooms, chaplain’s cabin, and so on. Tomorrow, armed with this knowledge, I shall venture out.

Second Evening

Today I learned the location of the bridge, the nerve centre from which information and commands radiate to all parts of the Flying Bomb. Emerging from my lifeboat, I walked through a sector appropriate to the hour and to the uniform I wore. The buildings were like holiday chalets, with timber panels and shining windows in standard metal frames. The brown decking planks were solid under my boots: the polished sun-darkened bones of an entire forest.

Crewmen passed me about their business, or came to life momentarily behind windows, but they did not query my presence. One man seen in the lifeboat would have demanded attention: one man seen in the crowd was nothing. I followed an unsuspecting officer who might lead me to the bridge, but he entered a restricted zone and only my careful researches of yesterday saved me. Turning away, I wondered how the crewmen could avoid the myriad pitfalls inevitable in so complex an organisation. In my journey I had passed signs, notices, training halls, even a squad on a shed construction exercise, but although I had seen these things I had learned nothing. My learning began when I watched a private take something from a wall dispenser labelled information. I followed him and picked up three colourful booklets. An adjacent poster reminded me: do your duty. the penalties are severe. I retreated.

In the sanctuary of a nearby recreation room I examined the booklets. location. organisation. procedure. So this was how each crewman of the Flying Bomb was kept fully aware of his part in the system. All men had to keep themselves informed of their rights and restrictions: failure was punished by loss of benefits or worse. These booklets gave me a complete knowledge of the basic organisation. Every crewman, however newly recruited, was given the same knowledge, and theoretically could make himself master of the Flying Bomb.

By studying these guides I have prepared my route towards the bridge, the captain and the navigational data I require. I am amazed that this information is freely available. Most amazing of all, the booklets describe the Enemy which the Flying Bomb will destroy.

Third Evening

Today I gained admission to the bridge. At first I roamed the adjoining corridors as a waiter, bearing beakers of coffee from one room to another. In this role I watched the rituals of relationship among the superior officers, and I memorised their undocumented gestures and procedures until I could mimic the symbols of power. In an empty washroom I became a lieutenant.

On this stage there were set formulae for entrances and exits: the cues which I had to learn. I found a lecture theatre opposite the bridge, and by joining some officers for a training session I obtained a window seat overlooking the glass-sided central control room. While the other students took notes on the control of subordinates, I took notes on the bridge and its inhabitants. The navigating officers were extremely busy. During the session I also studied the lecturer and officers: they appeared unconcerned about their approaching doom when the Flying Bomb will destroy itself and its target. Perhaps they to -- [End of Preview.]