“Pilot Officer Christopher Moran?”
The orderly clerk still addressed him with his rank, Kit noted, wondering for how long. “Yes,” he answered.
“You’re in room 24.” The clerk turned to remove a key from the wooden pigeonholes behind him. He handed it to Moran across the reception desk without looking him in the eye.
People had been avoiding eye-contact ever since he’d been posted away from the squadron. The station commander told him to depart as rapidly and discreetly as possible, while his squadron leader reinforced that message with instructions not to say good-bye to any of his former comrades. His orders were to report “immediately” to this mysteriously designated NYDN centre.
It was, however, disorienting to be in what had evidently been a hotel. Although now outfitted with RAF standard-issue furnishings, remnants of its former grandeur lingered in the ceiling mouldings and gracious, bay windows. If it hadn’t been sleeting, there might even have been a view down to Torbay. Instead, visibility was so bad that everything beyond the windows was just a blurry white and grey. That backdrop highlighted the gloomy interior. The lobby furnishings were run-down, and four years of war marked the inhabitants, too. Unremittingly dressed in Air Force blue, their averted faces were strained and prematurely lined.
Kit took the key, shouldered his kitbag, and found his way up two flights of stairs to room 24. While the lobby had been overheated, the hall was bitterly cold. He unlocked the door and found himself in a modest room with two twin beds. He was taken aback to find one of the beds already occupied by a man wrapped in blankets.
“Sorry! I must have the wrong room!” Kit started to back out.
“No,” a voice rose from the bed. “They double us up like this.”
“Oh, of course,” Kit nodded to himself. Why hadn’t he expected that? He’d expected far worse. He entered and closed the door behind him before introducing himself. “I’m Christopher Moran, but I go by Kit.”
“Oliver Huckle, and if you don’t mind, I don’t want to talk.” His roommate rolled over, offering his back.
“Fine by me,” Kit muttered. He didn’t particularly want to talk himself. He tossed his kitbag on the vacant bed and started unpacking his things. He’d done this countless times on countless RAF Stations for almost four years now. This was just one more move, one more posting. Except it wasn’t.
Kit went to the window. Sleet pelted the glass, making a high ticking sound before melting and slithering down the slick surface. His breath rapidly steamed up the inside. Kit raised an index finger to write in the condensation: LMF — for Lack of Moral Fibre.
Everyone knew what happened to aircrew who “earned” that label. They were publicly stripped of their flying badges, their rank insignia, and any ribbons they may have been awarded. Officers were officially court-martialled and lost their commissions. They were shipped off to do menial work, transferred to the infantry, or discharged to work in the coal mines. Their records were stamped in large letters: “LMF” or “W” for “Waverer.” Their discharge papers stated the same thing, ensuring problems with civilian employment for the rest of their lives.
Everyone knew of someone who had disappeared down this road to infamy, and no one ever saw them again. What Kit hadn’t known about were the NYDN centres, the gateway to LMF hell.
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