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1. Setting Out

April 2008

“Where's this one headed?”

Jay looked around, trying to spot where Melissa's voice was coming from. He spotted her legs, sticking out from under the lower wing of the plane.

“Up in the high country, this time,” he said. “Some rich old hermit.”

“That'll be a bit of a flight then,” Melissa said, sliding out from under the plane. “Good thing we have big tanks.”

“Sure thing.” Jay grabbed Melissa's arm and pulled her to her feet. “All set then?”

“Sure.”

Jay planted his foot on the wing step, then bounded up and over the edge of the cockpit, landing in his seat with a thump. While Melissa gave the plane a final once-over he pulled on his goggles and hat, and perused the map. It was a long way; it'd take most of the morning to get out there, and they'd be pushing dark by the time they got back.

“Alright, let's go,” said Melissa, climbing into the forward cockpit and strapping her flying cap down. “Chocks are out, tanks are full – let's get this puppy in the air. You do have the message?”

Jay patted his chest – yup, the cylinder was still there. He gave Melissa a thumbs up, then pulled out the throttle and hit the starter switch. The engine coughed, spluttered a couple of times, then caught and wound up to a steady throb. He reached out of the cockpit and slapped the side of the plane. “Here we go!”

He pulled the throttle wide open, and the small biplane pulled out of the hangar and onto the airfield. A quick check for other aircraft (unlikely to be anything at this time of the morning) and he was taxiing to the end of the runway. He didn't even stop to line it up – just turned to face the right direction and jammed the throttle wide open. Another hundred meters and the plane lifted off, a sudden quiet falling even through the roar of the engine as the wheels left the grass strip. Pressed back into his seat, he banked to the right just far enough to see the hangar they'd just left. See you tonight, he thought.

The plane continued to climb, and pretty soon they were up through the clouds, the only people in their vast bright world.

“Got the headings?” His helmet radio clicked into life with Melissa's voice.

“Yeah, all set. It's a pretty straight flight today – we head for the hills, no other directions needed until we're a lot closer.”

“Sounds good.”

Jay could see Melissa looking out and down, looking at snatches of town and country showing through the patchy cloud. She looked up, saw him watching, and smiled.

“Oh, did I tell you my mother invited us for tea tomorrow night?” she said.

“No, don't think you did,” Jay said. “Wish you hadn't,” he muttered.

“I heard that,” Melissa said. “I know she gives you a hard time, but I'm sure she likes you, really, and it'd be a help if you could try to get along.”

“I know, I know, but why does she gotta be so mean?” He wasn't really moaning – not yet, anyhow.

“It's because she wants only the best for her little girl,” Melissa giggled. “She really doesn't like that I'm all grown up now. And I think she'd like me to wear more dresses.”

“I can get behind that,” said Jay, doing his best to leer through his goggles. “How about we make a deal? I won't complain about your mother if you wear that hot little number your old boss bought you?”

“You FIEND!” Melissa squealed. She twisted round in her cockpit and did her best to reach back and swipe Jay, but there was just enough distance between the two to make it impossible. He was safe until they reached the ground, at least.

“Okay, okay,” Jay chuckled. “That was a bit mean.”

“Hmph.” Jay could see Melissa slumped down in her seat, and the set of her shoulders suggested her arms were folded. Then she glanced back with a grin. Jay grinned right back.