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"Hot" Anderson was one of those flyers who
thinks he's a flying circus all by himself; in
which case a mule is worth more than a jackass!

Sky Mule


HOT ANDERSON rolled the dice for a can of hot beer, slapped the Aussie flight lieutenant on the back in mock sympathy and walked to the edge of the thatch-roofed shed housing the post exchange. He looked out at the dusty field—dusty because some Mitchells were coming in—and at the terraced tea plantations on distant hills. This was Assam, and it was still new and interesting country to Hot.

He caught the steady drone of a plane. Now he saw it, coming in from the southwest. At first he gaped at the sight of a P-38 fairly standing still. Then he understood. The fighter plane was towing a glider. He could see the CG-4A’s clumsy shape, riding high on its cable. “For the love of St. Valentine!” he exclaimed. “That’s something. Who invented the idea? And why?”

A technical sergeant, glancing up, answered the question. “Sky mule, we call ’em. We got a dozen P-38’s doing it.”

“I live and learn,” Hot mused. “Are you short C-47’s, or something?”

The technical sergeant looked Hot over carefully, fresh uniform and all. Hot flushed.

“You’ll get used to ’em sir,” the noncom commented. “That way, a fighter tows a glider out to its objective, then sticks around to give protection.”

The rayon tow rope dropped. At once the P-38 bounced ahead. His beer forgotten, Hot stared as the clumsy glider did a lazy 8, then banked into the wind as casually as if it had two motors to pull it on. It came in neatly, sliding on its skids, and three men climbed out. The tow plane followed.

“Sky mule,” Hot reflected. “Imagine sitting in a fast job like that, and crawling through the air. It’s murder, to do a pilot that way.”

Hot Anderson wasn’t conceited. Rather, he was a quiet young man. friendly, trying to learn aerial warfare in Assam; and he was as mixed up as the campaign against the Japanese had turned. It was puzzling, to strafe enemy columns west of the Chin Hills in the morning, and see a couple or more flights hop off in the afternoon, to go to the aid of an allied force on the Chinese side of North Burma. But then, Hot was a new arrival. There were several changes under way, including the transfer of Lieutenant Colonel Warner. A new man was coming up. He was due that night. Meanwhile, Hot was unassigned.

That fact didn’t worry the young man, as he consumed his drink, back under the shed. The sun was settling, and he swatted at flies and mosquitoes mechanically. Hot Anderson wanted to get into the air.

He had judgment enough not to thrust himself upon the veteran pilots. There were men like “Dusty” Gregory, and “Chunk” Lane, for instance, who had flown with Chennault. No, Hot wanted nothing but a chance to go up, and see what was going on. He ached to cross the Chin Hills, sheer into the lofty cumulus heads now painted against the copper sun. Life, to him in the past year and half, was too much time spent on the ground, and too little crossing the sky, in a hot plane which, no matter the job, always seemed to fit, to supplement his very soul and body.

It had been his luck to cross more than halfway around the globe, and yet miss hot action. Hot figured that here was where percentage caught up- with him, and he was glad. Others might swear at the evil ranges of climate in Assam, thrust into the corner of India beneath the greatest mountain range Asia had to offer. Hot didn t mind. He was going to handle P-38’s, and he liked the planes very much.

HE WAS with Higgins, another newcomer, outside headquarters when a jeep brought the new C.O. over from the transport plane which had just come in from Delhi way. Like the others, Hot was curious. He wondered if he had met the new skipper, since he had served at a lot of fields. Then he caught sight of a redheaded major, and there was no joy in Assam.

The new commanding officer was Major “Pig-Iron” Kent, whose last contact with Hot’s sphere of existence had almost resulted in the latter’s washout at a Texas field. In the light from the orderly room, Hot was thrown into bold relief as Major Kent was about to pass.

The major, dusty and with lines in his face, recognized the first lieutenant, scowled. “What are you doing here?” he rasped. “They said Assam was a heluva place—”

Hot told him. “I’ve got a good record, sir,” he said earnestly. This was no time to carry on a feud. That was in the past. “I learned my lesson, after the major left.”

“U’m.” Major Kent sighted Dusty Gregory, shook hands vigorously. “Thank, the Lord you’re here,” he cried. “Who else of the old outfit?”

“Chunk Allen, sir. Hoss Collins, and Pike Allen. You remember Pike?”

“That Arkansas prevaricator! I sure do.” Kent jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Hot. “And I’m going to see we keep this outfit to the same level as you boys. As long as I’m in charge here.” He went on inside. Hot turned away. Higgins had come up, his round face scowling. “Who does he think he is, anyway? I thought this man’s army gave a man a chance—usually.”

“You’re not on his private list, chum,” Hot said. “That was meant for me. It’s a long story. It began when I was a cadet and he was a first looie. I was a little reckless.”

Higgins snorted. “What does he want—mule drivers?”

Hot thought of the sky mules and shuddered. “Suppose,” he whispered to himself, “suppose he does make me one.”

EARLY the next morning, Major Kent rounded up his force. Men of the three flights operating from the base got a short but thorough briefing. There was to be a sortie, a sort of Jap fox hunt below Myedu and back toward Gangaw. Manifestly Major Kent wanted to see what he commanded. Dusty Gregory drew Hot. Higgins went to Chunk Lane’s flight.

Hot lost no time getting over to see his assigned plane. “Good one,” the sergeant in charge grunted. “Swell pilot by the name of Larry Hodge painted six Rising Suns on the side.”

“Where is he now?”

The sergeant didn’t answer at once. Then he pointed toward a knoll outside the field area. Hot glimpsed rows of white crosses. “Sorry,” Hot murmured.

He tried not to look toward that knoll when he had climbed into the cockpit. He saw Major Kent climbing aboard. He was to lead them today. He was flying with Hoss Collins and Pike Allen. Dusty came by on the way to his plane. He grinned at Hot, went on. That made Hot feel better. He was jumpy, but he wanted to get into the air so badly he didn’t feel chilled around the stomach. He couldn’t help lifting his P-38 with a flourish. He wanted to yip as he left terra firma. Dusty’s voice dragged him back. “Easy, kid. We use these planes every day. Keep your eyes peeled and your plane in formation.”

“Roger,” Hot acknowledged. That was easy. Kid stuff, the way they circled for altitude and went streaking across the densely covered Chin Hills, which seemed always to have a bottom of wet mist. The tea plantations faded.

They climbed through an upper cloud layer, emerged to find the Irawaddy Valley entirely shut off. Kent’s flight was curving southward. And presently the clouds began to feather out and below, the landscape began to show. Hot forgot his radio mike. “Pretty,” he observed. “Pretty as a painting—”

“Cut, you damned fool," Major Kent’s voice rasped. With a gasp, Hot obeyed. He closed in now, noting that they were riding at fourteen thousand.

“Enemy formation at ten o’clock,” came Chunk Lane’s calm voice. “I make it sixteen thousand.”

“Climb,” Kent snapped. So saying, he put his plane to the task. That was something Hot liked. Radio silence too was broken. The P-38’s climbed.

Screaming down at them, the Tonys came for blood, nine in each attacking group. They came down the sun path, through a fleecy cloud structure, and struck. Dusty was radioing a calm “Steady,” when three of the enemy planes, sleek-nosed and with 20 MM guns, came at him, the trio in line.

“The instructor said do this,” Hot murmured, as heart pounding, he whipped the P-38’s nose skyward, banking hard at the same time. The Tonys flashed by. They were after Dusty. When Hot levelled off, slanting back earthward again, he was in line with the attacking Japs. The rearmost was in his sights. Mechanically, Hot put the electrically lighted dot on the heart of the Tony and squeezed his firing button. The Tony lost a wing and began to smoke.

As for Hot, he had no elation. He felt sick. “He didn’t see me,” he whispered. “He didn’t know what hit him.”

HOT hadn’t expected to feel this way. Engrossed, he was a mile away from the others before he could turn back. And he saw Jett, Dusty’s other wingman, going down in smoke. The plane went twisting, out of control, down into low clouds. A thin wisp of black smoke streamed through the white mist, faded and was gone.

“Anderson,” Kent’s voice came crisply. “Come back to formation.”

Hot obeyed. To his surprise, the Japs were gone. It was amazing. How they could have disappeared in those short moments was something hard to believe. But there they were, all P-38’s save Jett’s. And the eight of them, at Kent’s orders, circled southward, hunting for whatever those Tonys had been up to protect. But it was no dice. The overcast crept in. Then Major Kent ordered them to swing about for home base.

They slid in over the Chin Hills, to be greeted by a hot, dry wind. By the time Hot landed, Major Kent was out and waiting. Hot climbed out slowly. Maybe he hadn’t made such a grand showing on his first trip. But he had destroyed a Tony. He was numbed by Major Kent’s actions. The red-haired commanding officer halted the pilot. “You got a Jap,” he said quietly. “That goes on your record, Anderson.” He halted. “What the hell were you doing on your own to hellandgone, instead of helping cover Jett?”

“But it was so quick, and everything, and—”

“Jett was a good man,” Kent said, as the others grouped around, remaining silent. “He had a right to expect a man as well trained as you, to obey orders. The Jap came in, and Jett was a sitting duck.”

“But, sir,” Hot protested, “after I got the Jap, I went too far to get back in time.”

Major Kent swung around his group of fliers. He nodded. “They call you Hot Anderson,” he snapped. “You claim you let a P-38 take you out of action, at the time you were needed. Okay, Anderson. Go to your quarters.”

Hot tried to speak again, but Major Kent was leading his men away. With trembling hands, Hot lighted a cigarette. What had he done to get such a dressing down? Did they think he’d deliberately run off after knocking down the Tony? Or what? Hot was hurt. He went to the PX, where Pike Allen and Chunk had hurried. Hot walked up to Pike. “Listen,” he said, “do you fellows think I broke formation on purpose?”

Pike’s grey eyes bored into Hot’s. “How’d I know?” he asked slowly. “Bill Jett was my friend. And Chunk’s. And the ground men. If I were you, Anderson, I’d jump the field. Get the hell out of my sight!” he exploded.

Pale, still hurt, Hot looked Pike full in the eye. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry as hell. You can think any damned thing you please.”

As he walked away, he heard a scuffling sound. Chunk was holding Pike. The latter was flushed. “Why didn’t you let me paste that fresh punk?” he snarled. “He’s got one coming to him.”

“Let the CO handle this,” Chunk advised.

Somehow, an hour later, when he read the new sheet of typed paper on the bulletin board at Operations, Hot couldn’t believe it had happened. But there it was, in military language, which was to the point.

Hot Anderson was a sky mule.

IT WAS a mere matter of transfer. A man from the P-38 group assigned to the glider command at an adjoining air strip, was replacing Hot. There it was, on official orders. Hot was reading it when Dusty Gregory came by, stopped. He read the order too. Hot turned, face miserable. “I didn’t forget Jett,” he said. “I was guilty of— too much thinking, after bagging the Jap.”

Dusty waited. He wasn’t old, but he looked very tired.

Hot went on, “I—well, I felt sick, after bagging the plane.”

“Why? You’re honest, at least.”

“Well, I got him when he wasn’t looking. Somehow, it wasn’t the way I figured I’d knock ’em down. Then, before I realized it, I was some distance away.”

Dusty laid a hand on Hot’s shoulder. “Kid, Higgins told me Kent don’t like you. I don’t think he’s unfair. He’s just convinced you’re not a dependable man. The point is, you left, and it happened to Jett. Nine times out of ten, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. That’s the way it goes. Now listen. You do your job with the glider boys. You’ll get plenty of experience. Don’t worry. Stick it out and you won’t regret it.”

“A lousy sky mule! Look, that’s a job for a fellow with no imagination.”

“You’ll learn differently.” Dusty went on.

A week later, Hot was rounding out a towing mission. With five other P38’s, he was making a practice run down the Brahmaputra River valley. The P38 had an open throttle, but the airspeed was about equivalent to that of a Cub. High above rode the glider, with its full complement of men. Hot knew another invasion toward the headquarters of the Salween was planned. He and the other sky mules would tug the complacent gliders, each with fifteen men, across North Burma, and they would depend upon fighter escort. There he would be, sitting in a hot fighter, tied to a weight and unable to do anything but take it. But in his heart Hot knew what was wrong. He felt as if he were on a truck in the sky. He wanted the freedom this fighter could give. He wanted to fly without a weight around his neck.

He knew, too, that he wanted to dodge restrictions. It was as he clung to formation, in line with cautious Val Schade, formation commander, that Hot Anderson realized his trouble.

From the days he flew a trainer to now, he had been looking ahead to combat, not primarily to fulfill his training, but to be on his own. Self-revelation made Hot gasp. He looked down the vista of memory and began to understand what Major Kent must think of him. “It’s true, and he guessed it,” Hot told himself. “I’m a rebel. Like others. Like Luke, the Sausage Strafer in '18. I’m like that.”

He played with the throttle, with enough gain in revs to net him thirty miles an hour, without the tow. The result was nil. “Sky mule,” he muttered. From Schade came a word of caution. “Roger,” Hot said mechanically. He was a glum young man.

THE new invasion came quickly. The monsoon season was at hand. Hot saw plans being made, saw equipment coming up and being loaded into cargo planes. These cargo planes wouldn’t take off till after the glider-borne men did their preliminary job of carving out a new air strip.

Hot had been at two preliminary briefings already. This flight was to be the final one. And now P-38’s showed high above them. Kent’s men! Dusty and Chunk were up there. He heard Dusty, as he swapped information with Schade over the radio. And when the glider dropped its tow line, and Hot followed it in, he went to Operations, to learn that a big session was scheduled right after mess.

Schade came up with some of the other pilots. “Well, you mules,” Schade laughed, “I guess this is it. My hunch is we take off just before daybreak—tomorrow.”

“We could make almost as good time walking ’em across North Burma,” Hot said.

Schade looked at him curiously. “You’d better do your part delivering your glider force in good order,” he said in his patient way. “You’re not the first pilot to kick on being a sky mule. Just try to remember your job. It’s a tough one. I know.”

A tough job! Hot was boiling, but he held his tongue. Schade’s prediction was confirmed, for at the meeting, the picture was laid out. Hot tried to be interested as the colonel briefing them, showed the route across the Chindwin, north of Myadaung and Bhamo, to the plateau overlooking the Salween, with China beyond. He learned that cargo planes would haul in graders, tractors and mules.

Mules! Hot winced. He sat there rigid for a time. Then he caught the words that Major Kent’s unit would string along. That meant that even Higgins would be overhead, with a belly tank on his plane, ready to have some fun.

THEY took off before the hills were A outlined against the dawn. High overhead, a thin overcast was turning to copper gold. A chill breeze was still flowing in as Hot waited his turn, the CG-4A loaded with airborne fighting men. This was to be one of the allies’ boldest strokes, sheer across Japanese-held territory, to establish the final air base which was to guard the North Burma road. Southward, there was still confusion as Japanese columns, some turned back from the Indian invasion, were meeting fresh trouble from Mountbatten.

Hot thought very little of this. He was cold and without enthusiasm. He was a sky mule, doomed to crawl over enemy territory and depend upon the nimbler fighter planes to guard them. That wasn’t much consolation. Hot felt as if he were caged. At the signal, he started down the strip. Almost at once the glider, urged by the brisk wind, rose, stayed aloft while Hot sent the P-38 roaring with propellers set to grip the maximum at takeoff speed. He lifted slowly, but steadily, and at once set out to make the great circle needed before plane and tow could cross the Chin Hills.

It was while mounting this aerial grade that Hot caught a vision of the sun between two cloud layers. For moments he forgot his role. He ached to head for the sun, roaring between those distant layers.

“Checking,” came Schade’s methodical voice. “Anderson?”

“Okay, as Number Three in line.”

Schade called the others. “Keep silence hereafter, till instructed otherwise. Each plane and tow will be on its own if trouble pops. Try and get through. That is all.”

The perfect morning disturbed Hot. Somehow it wasn’t right, to be flying so slowly, and so far, without a single Jap plane to challenge. Some Warhawks came roaring by to join the fighter patrol. Hot caught glimpses of Kent’s men, a mile above. He patted the instrument board. “Baby,” he said to his plane, “you don’t like this any better than I do. I know. Got a rayon rope tied to your tail feathers and dragging a glorified bus through the sky. You’re no sky mule. You were made to fly high and fight all the way. Some day,” he added, “we’ll get a break.”

When the break did come, Hot wasn't expecting it. He was handling the plane almost automatically, his thoughts lulled by comparative security. He had just looked back at his tow and was wondering what the men, seated on their bucket seats, had to do during the long haul, when his radio crackled. “Enemy craft rising at two o’clock. Twelve Zeros.”

That was Chunk Lane. Almost immediately a strange voice, probably, Hot thought, from the Warhawks, cut in. “Enemy aircraft at eighteen thousand. Twelve o’clock and diving.”

So they were boxed, over the hills north of Bhamo and forty miles short of their goal. The Japs had spotted them long before, and had set up an ambush. The planes above would tangle with the fighters, while those below would try to reach the gliders and tow planes.

Hot saw the agile enemy fighters coming up, as if drawn by invisible strings. “If I had this tow rope loose," he thought.

THE Warhawks came in from the side as the P-38’s squared off above. This Hot caught in a swift appraisal, noting that Schade had not changed course one fraction. Now his voice broke silence. “Keep formation,” he said.

Even with danger shaping up from above and below, Hot cursed the incubus, the clumsy dragon-fly-shaped glider riding on his plane’s power so complacently. But that glider held fresh-faced young men, commanded by a grinning lieutenant.

They had grinned at him in a trusting sort of way, this lieutenant and his men, as he watched them climb aboard the CG. It came to Hot now that they were depending upon him to drag them that remaining forty miles to their objective, and permit their own pilot to get them in, not as casualties, but as pioneer fighting elements.

Now Hot looked back again. The glider didn’t seem such an infliction of his liberties. As one of the Zeros spat tracers into the glider directly ahead—Number Two, Hot knew what Schade meant. He couldn’t help letting out a whoop as a Warhawk, slashing in with the savagery of a cannibal shark, blasted the Jap. But the glider cable was cut. It went into a dive, and the pilot brought it into a glide. The tow plane shot forward and upward. Without hesitation he swung back. And Hot blessed that pilot and his ancestors to the day of Adam. For a Jap Tony, 20 MM guns going, had the glider bracketed. The P-38, still banking from its initial release, drove straight for the Tony. Its .50 calibre guns sent tracers into the enemy’s wings. The Tony slid off a wing, its engine smoking.

Time after time the Japs tried to break through to the glider column. Warhawk and P-38 rode them off, never leaving their charges to pursue. They would make a pass at the Jap, then turn back. Two Tony fighters joined a Zero. Then a Warhawk got it, pilot taking to the silk. And the hills below passed westward in a lackadaisical manner. As two Zeros, breaking through from below, attacked him instead of the glider, Hot Anderson had a bad moment. He didn’t want to be a sitting duck either. He had to sit there, as bullets ate along the fuselage, into the wing, for what seemed an eternity. But the motor was unharmed, and three P-38’s came down as one. They bagged one Zero. The other used discretion and dove for friendly clouds. Schade’s voice came to Hot above the babel of radio chatter. “At one o’clock, three miles ahead. Gliders get ready to cast your cables.”

Hot risked a look back. His tow seemed okay. Schade bad called attention to the flat valley ahead, of peculiar formation. It was in reality, the junction of two valleys. But it was an ideal spot for an air strip, Hot thought. “If we can make it,” he said aloud. For the Tony fighters above were coming down again after departing the scene to gain altitude. They were diving with little regard for long lives back in the Flowery Kingdom when this unpleasantness was over. But most important to Hot was the fact three of the Tonys were headed his way.

Ahead, Schade’s plane turned its nose upward. That meant he was free of his glider. But he gave no order. “The fool,” Hot exclaimed. “If I could cast loose, I’d have a chance.”

Instead, as Schade came tearing back, to circle his glider, Hot had to move on, while two enemy planes came at him, not his tow. They were looming large, holding their fire. Hot’s heart was thumping. His stomach was icy enough now. “Lord,” he whispered, “if I was free, right now—”

THE first shell exploded just beneath, tearing a hunk of metal from the left wing. Hot’s radio went dead at the same time. A plane swept above him. It was a P-38, and it sent slugs into the belly of the Tony which was attacking Hot. Hot’s backward glance told him something else too. The other planes in the column had been released of their tows.

Now Hot knew. He was cut off from radio orders, of course. And then the glider pilot solved his problem. Hot completed the operation mechanically. He couldn’t resist the whoop he let out as he felt his plane jump, as if catapulted in midair. Now he was on his own, and the same Tony which had tried to blast him when interrupted by a fellow tow pilot was banking and climbing for another try. “Okay, little man,” Hot thought grimly, “so I had a heart for sitting ducks. Now I’ve been one.” He whipped over, set sail for the Tony. “And now, brother,” he observed, “Let’s see how it feels to be faded.

There was no radio voice to break in upon his preoccupation. It just came to Hot. He looked back. The second Tony was after his own glider. “Why, you ugly little monkey,” Hot cried.

Back he sped. But another P-38 had turned too, one of Kent’s force. It made a pass at the Jap as Hot turned on the steam.

A Zero, which had flopped over on its back to escape a Warhawk, righted itself, to discover the P-38 after the Tony. Hot caught all this and kicked his rudder toward the Zero. “After some duck soup yourself!” he exclaimed. “Well, let’s see.” He scattered slugs all about the newcomer, and the Zero promptly went away from there.

The P-38, thus relieved of ambush, banked. For a moment they were alongside. Major Kent’s red hair showed, for he was minus a helmet. He waggled his wings, was gone.

Hot stuck to the glider now. If was following the leader, since Number Two had been shot loose forty minutes back. Hot circled, made passes at two separate attacks by Zeros, and felt relieved when a torrent of bullets chewed plastic from here to there. Stung, Hot fishtailed, saw it was a Tony with a P-38 on its tail. “Brother,” Hot murmured, “I hope you get him. For by my gauge, I’m losing too much oil.”

Down went P-38 and Tony. The Jap was diving almost vertically, but the P-38 followed suit. Far below the Tony got its date with fate and went down in flames. And with that, the attack was over.

Hot was riding herd on his glider, a half mile up, when his motor coughed. It didn’t cough much, but gave up the ghost abruptly. Hot saw the first glider almost on the level valley floor. He watched intently. “Brother,” he whispered, “I hope you make it, and with no trouble. For here I come, and if it’s hard on you, think of me.”

The glider seemed to come to a stop all in one piece. Hot’s own tow was dropping rapidly now. The pilot glided past, waved his hands. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Sorry you boys don’t have a tow on me. Be seeing you.”

SCHADE and another pilot came up. Hot saw the other one was Dusty. He waggled his wings, tapped his chute. But Hot shook his head. “I land mine—always,” he cried. Then he laughed. “Idiot. They can’t hear. Go ’way, you, fellows. Here goes a sky mule to his well earned destiny.”

He chose a belly landing. The grass was high, he saw by the way the glider sank in it. Hoping for the best, Hot braced himself, elbow before face, deep down in his seat. The P-38 struck, bounced and then did a series of jolts. The left wing, already damaged by shell fire, went over as the P-38 ground looped. There was a rending sound, and Hot felt himself slung hard against his belt. But he had landed.

Men from the first glider to land came over on the run. When they saw he could crawl out on his own power, they grinned, waved and raced back, for there was plenty of work to do. Hot’s glider came in to a noisy stop, and then the others. But one came at too steep an angle and crashed. But men poured out, with guns, equipment, and they raced out to points where markers were being set up. A couple of C-47's, timed to land behind the gliders, came in for bumpy, damaging landings. But there was precious equipment aboard. Out came tractors, guns, a knocked-down grader.

Hot had some cuts and bruises. But he could help, and did. He joined the radio section. Above, the P-38’s were circling. It was time for them to go. They’d be back, when the strip was finished.

Hot asked the sergeant to contact the P-38’s. At once Major Kent was asking for a report. After the sergeant had finished, Hot got on. “Lieutenant Anderson, sir,” he said. “Motor shot up and had to land. Please report plane can be repaired.”

“Are you all right?” Kent’s voice didn’t seem hostile.

“Sure. Slid in.”

“Thanks for taking that Zero off my back. Huh—what’s that Dusty? Sure. Anderson, Dusty wants to know how it feels to be a sky mule? I’d say you’re doing all right. And—er—if you want to come back, I’ll look into that.”

Hot laughed. “You know, sir, whoever figured out the idea of a P-38 towing a glider to a spot like this, and then sticking around to scrap, had something. Tell Dusty I learned some things this day.”

“Well, be seeing you. I’ll report you in, Hot.”

“Hot.” Now Lieutenant Anderson’s temples pounded. Major Kent had said “Hot.”

“Be seeing you, sir,” Hot replied.

Sky mule! Hot grinned as men alongside the C-47 hurriedly assembled a grader and fueled a tractor. “Not bad at all,” he mused. Not bad at all.”