Christian realized he was running only when he was halfway there. The smell of burning fuel hit him in the face. He kept running, blinking to wet his eyes as dust from the careening plane filled them. He was beside the cockpit before the ambulance or fire truck, Dieter and the others just a few strides behind him.
For an instant, Christian thought all the occupants of the Heinkel were dead. There didn't seem to be any movement inside the cockpit. The windshield was shattered, nothing but fragments of crumbling white glass clinging to the bent metal frame. Lying just beyond the ruptured windows Christian could see the pilot, one half of his face swathed in bandages. He was just sitting there motionless. Then something moved inside the cockpit, and Christian realized that the observer/commander was getting up and learning over the pilot, trying to help him.
Christian made a move to help as well, but the ambulance had arrived and the medic irritably pulled him out of the way. Christian found himself with the other fighter pilots in a useless gorup off to one side, while the ambulance crew with serious efficiency extricated the three living crewmen and brought out the dead gunner's body.
The pilot, a very young-looking Unteroffizier, was laid on a stretcher. Blood was soaking through the bandage over his left eye and running down his face, but he was still conscious. His observer, a Feldwebel, was holding a shattered arm as if only subconsciusly aware of the wound. He limped beside the stretcher, looking down with an unreadable expression at the pilot who had saved his life.
Just as the ambulance crew went to lift the stretcher into the waiting vehicle, the pilot caught sight of the cluster of fighter pilots still in their flying gear. His good eye widened and he reached out an arm to them. The stretcher-bearers hesitated and glanced over their shoulders.
"Why did you leave us like that?" the young bomber pilot asked collectively of the fighter pilots. "There were English all over the place." His tone was uncomprehending, hurt. "They kept coming and coming, and not one bloody Messerschmitt in the whole God-damned sky! One gunner dead over England and the whole Channel to cross, with swarms of Spitfires eating us alive like maggots on a carcass. How --" He broke off, overcome by his own emotion or the pain. He sobbed or gasped, a dry, wrenching intake of breath. His observer signaled for the stretcher-bearers to load him into the waiting ambulance and climbed in after the stretcher, turning his back on the fighter pilots without so much as a glance.
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