"Goshdarn!" exclaimed Rupert suddenly.
I froze in my checking of the auxiliary knobs on the backup knob panel, astonished at the exclamation I’d just been witness to. I was not the only one open-mouthed at Rupert’s outburst.
"Now steady on Rupert old chap!" said Mitchells, removing his pipe to point it most pointedly in Rupert’s direction. "One of the reasons we’re fighting this war is so we don’t have to use language like that!"
"I’m sorry chaps," said Rupert hurriedly, "but you simply have to see this!" And with that he gestured through the cockpit window using his head. In the midst of whatever astounding event had gotten Rupert so excited you had to admire his discipline in keeping both his hands on the control stick, making sure the plane flew level and true.
One by one we all stood up and craned our necks forward to gaze at the view outside. I can only speak for myself when I say that I had been expecting to see the white cliffs of Dover pass by underneath us but what I observed instead sent a shiver down my spine.
"Goshdarn indeed," whispered Bombardier Smythe standing to my rear.
A vast, dense, lush, tropical jungle spread out beneath us in all directions as far as the eye could see. The sky – previously a perfectly-formed cloudbank ideal for bombing the Hitler’s ladyboys into last week – was clear and of the most vibrant blue. The sun from somewhere high above and behind us cast a rippling silhouette of the Lancaster on the carpet of treetops.
"I say, Rupert," murmured Mitchells, "was the compass damaged in the raid?"
"I’m afraid not Captain," Rupert replied tapping the dial in front of him with his knee. I made a note to commend our pilot for such dedication to keeping his hands on the stick. "We’re flying northwards, straight and true. Either Mr Fuhrer’s planted a jungle in Kent or England’s sailed off somewhere sunnier."
"Do you suppose this is connected in some way to that slightly darker cloud we flew through this side of Antwerp?" I asked. I’ll admit that I was scared. Mitchells puffed lengthily on his pipe before replying.
"You might have something there Jenkins. Top brass have long-suspected there might be a way of travelling through time given the metal frame of our aircraft and the unknown properties of clouds. It’s just possible that electrical charges in raindrops have coated the outside of this plane in a fluid sheen that has propelled it and us far into the future or the past."
"Then I might never see my Mary again!" came a trembling voice from behind us. Tail-gunner Terry Chaplin had slipped into the crowded cockpit while Mitchells was talking.
"Steady yourself Chaplin!" ordered Mitchells. His pipe pointed at the young lad from the West Country. "This might be nothing more than the Chelsea Flower Show run amok."
Chaplin forced a small smile and nodded but he wasn’t convinced. None of us were. For a few moments more we stood in silence watching the unending and unchanging sea of jungle sweep by underneath the fuselage. Rupert finally broke the silence.
"Captain, I’ve been thinking about what you said, about the cloud and time travel and everything."
Mitchells exhaled a blue cloud of sweet-smelling pipe tobacco smoke. "Go on lad," he urged.
"Well sir, and I mean no disrespect sir, but it’s just, it’s just that, well, I think that’s probably a load of old claptrap."
Smythe stepped forward and jabbed a finger into the shoulder of Rupert. The plane trembled ever-so-slightly as the pilot was knocked. "You watch yourself Rupert" said the bombardier.
"Easy Jimmy," said the Captain. "Let him speak."
Rupert shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He wasn’t the only one sweating.
"Well sir," he continued, "it just seems far more likely to me that Jenkins accidentally pressed the Alternate Universe knob on the auxiliary knob backup panel during his routine checking over the Channel."
And suddenly all the eyes in the room were on me. I gulped and swivelled around to check the bank of knobs behind me. Sure enough, the knob was depressed. I clicked it back into the Off position and the light in the cockpit dulled noticeably as our plane suddenly found itself in the leaden sky over Sussex, right where it should have been.
"I do apologise chaps," I offered meekly. "Must have brushed it with my elbow."
"You know, I understand why we have to have a pilot and a bombardier and a tail-gunner and a navigator and a belly gunner," said Terry forcefully, "but what is the purpose of a knobber on a bombing run exactly?"
The recent fright at the thought of never seeing his Mary again had turned to anger directed at me. Smythe and Mitchells gazed in my direction too, thoughts visibly creasing their brows as they pondered what the young tail-gunner had said; a most distressing situation to be in! I turned and pressed the Remove Terry Chaplin From History knob once. Both he and it vanished.
Mitchells pointed his pipe in my direction. "Well, no harm done Jenkins but do be careful around your knobs in future. You frightened tail-gunner Roberts to death there for a moment."
Roberts looked at me briefly and then swung back through the fuselage on the bomber-vines.
"Dashed fine gunner ape," continued Mitchells once Roberts was out of hearing. "And awesome between the sheets," he added, winking.
The Bestiality Reality knob was playing up again. I made a mental note to get that looked at once we were down on the ground.