This story was written a long time ago, and originally posted on 4chan's /tg/ board. A few tweaks and some editing, and now it's up here.
The rain drizzled down, fine drops misting the air, the type of rain that you almost couldn't notice. It never stepped raining here. Never.
An airship drifted through the dark clouds, slow and steady. It was a small ship, with the armoured envelope and mounted guns characteristic of a military vessel. This one was a scout ship, light and fast, designed to scout for enemy air-fleets and report their locations back to the great Carrier Zeppelins and Battleships. But this wasn't a scouting mission. This was personal.
The pilot slowly drifted down, his touch light on the controls. Steam hissed and clockworks ticked, as the drive and steering mechanisms responded to his expert touch. Circling lower and lower towards the dark and muddy ground, shapes began to become evident rising up out of the muck. They looked like the sculptures of a madman: twisting and jutting without rhyme or reason.
The tiny scout ship circled lower and lower, until he was twenty feet above the largest of the 'sculptures'. The pilot sighted through a circle of glass set into the gondola floor, waiting until the time was right. He pulled a lever and the steam-powered anchoring launcher fired.
The anchor crashed through several levels of the 'sculpture', a cross between a heavy naval anchor, a grappling hook, and a viciously spiked anti-envelope warhead. The anchor punched through several layers of metal, before the spiked prongs on the end shot outwards and locked into place, anchoring the tiny airship securely to the huge mass of twisted metal below. The pilot turned off the engines, easing the boiler down to idling power with practised ease. He unbuckled himself from his harness, and slowly got to his feet. He then made his way over to the hatch with his every movement accompanied by the clicking of clockwork mechanisms and the hissing of the miniature steam generator strapped to his back. He opened the hatch and threw down a rope ladder, slowly and carefully lowering himself onto it.
With agonising slowness the pilot made his way down the ladder step by careful step. Finally, he stepped down onto the rusted metal of the madman's masterpiece. His right foot landed with a whisper-quiet thump. His left landed with an echoing clank of metal on metal. Down here, things looked different. What looked incomprehensible from above was revealed to be twisted and rusted wreckage, blasted and melted by immense heat and rusted from the ever-present rain. The outlines of decks could still be made out, sometimes still in place, others collapsed, or melted into a solid mass. Some of the superstructure was still visible, twisted ribs of metal, resembling the skeleton of some huge beast.
The great Carrier Zeppelin Unstoppable. Home of the Devil's Disciples ace squadron. Crew of four thousand. Lost with all hands.
Involuntarily, the lone pilot shivered. He wasn't cold. The black greatcoat that he wore took care of that. No, it was the feeling of restless spirits here that made his skin crawl. The memories and flashbacks that leapt unbidden into his mind. But he needed this. His own ghosts needed to be put to rest.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry to disturb your graves." He whispered, through pale and cracked lips. Nothing answered, save the never-ending dripping of water.
Slowly, his gait limping and shuffling, he moved into the wreckage with one gloved hand running along the rusted and broken metal of the wall. His footsteps echoed throughout the wreckage. Thump. Clang.
Thump. Clang. Thump. Crunch.
He looked down.
He'd stepped on a bone, a femur, crushing the brittle bone under his weight. He stepped back and crouched to look closer. This was familiar. He looked at the walls, trying to find out which part of the ship this was, but the identification marks were long-gone. This was significant. But how? What was important?
He took off one of his gloves.
The hand underneath was not a hand, not truly. The thumb and index finger were flesh, true, but it was cold and dead flesh animated by machinery. The claws were nothing but stumps, all fur completely gone. The rest of the hand was pure metal, masterfully made and polished to a mirror finish. His metal hand whirred and clicked, as he picked up the skeleton's skull. The rotted remains of an aviator's cap clung to it, the flesh stripped away long ago, leaving just stained bone and exposed fangs. The skull had a neat round hole in one side, the other blasted away, completely destroyed by the exit of that tiny projectile after it deformed on it's passage through.
The sirens sounded for battle stations. They were ambushed, in the darkness and the storm. The Devil's Disciples were roused from sleep to scramble. The pilots tugged on their flying gear and ran for the fighter bays as the first rockets hit.
The pilot spied a tiny dot of brightness in the decay and the bones. Gingerly, with as much care as he could, he picked it out. A necklace, a red ruby set in a lump of melted silver. He knew this. He knew it was once a good-luck charm.
Olivia. Fellow ace. Occasional lover. Best Friend. She ran behind him, setting her leather cap on her black fur, her tail thrashing. Then the rocket hit. It blasted through the gondola armour, sending a spray of munitions into the hall. One hit her in the head, killing her instantly. But he couldn't stop. He had to get out and fight.
A single tear dripped down onto the skull in his hand. "Olivia..." he whispered, gently setting her skull back down. He wanted to bury her, but he couldn't. This was her grave now. Silent except for the faint hissing of steam, he offered up a prayer for her. Eventually he rose, tucking the charm away safely. He needed something to remember her by. Now that he knew where he was headed, he walked on, slowly and steadily, picking his way through the rusted hulk. Finally, he reached the fighter bays.
He stopped at the door, tracing his fingers over a barely-visible insignia on the wall. A cartoon Devil. He pushed the door open, the hinges shrieking their protest, and entered. More skeletons. Some he stopped and knelt at, saying his final goodbyes. Others he barely glanced at. One or two, he steered well clear of, not even getting close to them. He went to the rotted remains of a workbench and picked up tools and parts, turning them over and over in his hands, until he understood what they once were.
After missions. He'd come here and talk to the mechanics. He preferred to have a hand in maintaining his ship. His life. Fast and sleek and deadly.
He shuddered slightly and set the tool down, moving deeper. Here and there, smaller hulks were collapsed and burnt, destroyed along with the mothership. He went over to one, walking around the fighter, running his hand over the rusted armour protecting its flammable lift gas. The armour hadn't been enough to stop the inferno that devoured the mothership, and this fighter had gone up with it. He crouched down to look at the cockpit. The gondola on this model was tiny, the pilot flying the craft while lying on his stomach.
'Corsair' interceptor. Extremely fast. Extremely fragile. Almost all were destroyed in the opening moments of the battle. The pilot of this one would have made ace, more than likely, had he not been caught in the fireball.
"Good work, airman. Your mother would be proud." He whispered to the unknown pilot, running his hands over the twisted and ruined barrels of the Corsair's underslung cannons. Moving deeper, he came across other wrecks. This group was huge, dozens of the craft sitting in orderly rows, the anchoring cables secured so well that they'd been held in place even during the crash.
Slayers. Anti-Zeppelin craft. Meant for killing capital ships.
He circled around the ruined Zep-killers, giving them a wide berth.
Never fought in the battle. Slayer pilots quarters hit by a salvo of incendiaries.
The pilot stopped and dropped to his knees, his hands clutching his head. "Nononono!" he whispered softly, desperately. His head was being filled with agonised screams as the memories started to take over. He rocked back and forth, clutching his head, whispering his mantra non-stop. He whispered it like his life depended on it, like it was his only anchor to keep from being swept away.
Came out of the quarters. The Slayers were screaming. Burning. The door, jammed. He tried to budge it, but it wouldn't move. He couldn't unlock it, couldn't get the door open. He could see them, through the view-port, screaming, clawing, their eyes begging for help. They cooked. They cooked, and he could do nothing. The screamed and flailed and burnt, and then they couldn't scream any more, and then he was being dragged away, being told he couldn't help, he had to fight. Couldn't help. Couldn't help.
The pilot didn't know how long he was there for. All he knew was that eventually the screams and the horrific images faded, and he was left alone. On his knees, clutching his face, tears dripping from between his fingers.
He sat there for what seemed like an eternity, shuddering into his hands. The horrific images were seared into his mind. He'd never forget that sight. He couldn't. No matter how much else was gone, the sight of those men, those pleading eyes, boring into his as they burnt. He'd take that with him to the grave.
Hell, he'd brought it back with him from the grave.
Shakily, accompanied by the whirring of gears and the hissing of his backpack, the pilot got to his feet. All respectful movement was forgotten. He ran as fast as his awkward gait could carry him, every second step filling the hangars with echoes. He hurried from that place, through one hangar after another, unseeing and uncaring where he was going. He just wanted to get away from those memories. Finally though, something caught his eye, and brought him to a halt. Another door. Another devil.
His flight forgotten, the pilot slowly walked towards it, reaching out to the door. He didn't notice the remaining organic fingers quivering, as he reached out and traced the insignia. This place...he'd been here before. Many times. It was...what was it? He struggled to find the memories, locked away in his head. It was...it was hard. Everything felt unreal. Ghostly. Impossible to grasp for more than a second. Drifting in and out of his consciousness, out of his control. Most time it was but a tiny notion, like a cobweb. And then all of a sudden, it would come crashing down upon him. He opened the door, struggling for a moment with the rusted latch. Finally, he spun the wheel in a shrieking of tortured metal, all but tearing the wheel away, and forced the door open.
The Devil's personal room. Part briefing room, part private clubhouse. He reclined in front of a heater, idly flipping through a book. Olivia sat opposite, working on a clockwork hummingbird. Their eyes met. She smiled at him, her teeth perfect and white.
He stepped into the room, feet crunching on shattered glass. Like the rest of the ship it had been ravaged by fire, and the crash to earth. Still, he could make out the remains of furniture. Slowly, he walked through the room, looking at everything.
Olivia finished her work, and twirled a key on the tiny creation's back. It came to life, brass wings fluttering. It hovered off of her hand, zipping into the air, zooming over and orbiting around his head for a moment before zooming back to her hand. "What do you think? A replacement for us, perhaps?" she asked, her dark eyes twinkling with good humour, her tail wagging rapidly as it could crushed between her body and the chair she was lounging on.
He circled around, coming to what was left of a chalkboard on the wall. He leant in closer, squinting at the names. Somehow, despite the inferno, the time, and the constant rain, some of the markings were still there.
The tally board. A proud record of kills made by the elite pilots. They came back after a successful mission, chalking up new marks. He went last, chalking in his own. He was running out of room.
He looked at the board, but his own name was gone, obliterated, along with his tally. He shrugged to himself, moving on. That tally didn't matter any more. He came to another door and went through. Orderly rows of chairs, melted down into twisted lumps. What remained of the projector, now completely useless.
The briefing room. Only the best for them. They'd even had one of those new moving-picture machines. They'd taken it apart, but only Olivia could understand the workings of it. She always was good with clockworks.
He shoved the thought of her away, before the full force hit him. Still, he unconsciously clutched the charm tightly in his left hand. A thought suddenly occurred to him, causing him to spin with all the speed that he could manage, steam hissing and gears whirring. He went back into the main room, searching. Where was it? Where had he put it? It was a case, a special case, he made it specially to keep it safe...
He frantically searched through the ashes and twisted metal, until finally, under the ruins of a cabinet, he found it. The wooden veneer had been burnt away, but the metal box was still intact. The box was melted shut, but he wedged a chunk of metal into the lip, levering it until it gave. There. Nestled in the box, was a tiny brass shape. He retrieved the hummingbird, turning it over and over in his hands. The heat had melted it slightly, but it was still a beautiful piece of artistry. He tried to turn the key...but it didn't work. He didn't care. Reverentially, he tucked it back in its box, slipping it safely into his pocket. He'd take the little bird with him. That way it would fly once more. It would fly just like it's creator had made it to, with her nimble hands and mind sharp as a fine sabre. He didn't want to stay in this room any more. He left the room, closing the door behind himself, despite the lack of life. It seemed more respectful that way. Something inside was tugging at him, demanding that he move off to the left. He obeyed, shuffling off down the hallway. Pictures hung on the walls, but they were burnt beyond recognition.
Pictures of the ace's families hung on the wall to the hangar. They would always know what they fought for then, be reminded of it every time they went to their airships. He'd kiss the tips of his first two fingers, then press them to the portrait of his family. It was his good luck charm. That night, he'd run past without doing it.
He went out into their personal hangar. His eyes swept the cavernous room. It was mostly empty, except for the wrecks of four of their personal ships. He went over to the first one, briefly resting his hand on the bomb racks attached to the side.
Nathaniel. He was the youngest of the team, the newest, yet to get a nickname from the others. He was good, damn good. Might have even made it to the top spot, if he'd lived that long. Preferred to carry ship-crackers, as well as guns, just in case he got a chance to bomb a smaller zep during a dogfight. He'd died when he came in to rearm, and the Unstoppable had finally been taken down.
"You were good, son. You always had sloppy trigger control though." He murmured. "Rest in peace."
He patted the bomb racks, then slowly made his way to the next hulk. This one was far smaller than the others.
'Sabre'. Flew a custom Corsair, preferring speed over armour. Used to hang back while the others engaged, then come in high and swoop down for the kill. Hit hard and fast. Never made it out of his bunk.
He remembered, now. He remembered the man, always sitting quietly in the corner, content to distance himself from the group. He wouldn't have appreciated any words being spoken for him. The pilot didn't sully his memory with simple words. He patted the oversized engines of the dead Corsair, then moved on. The next hulk was large, not even the inferno that claimed the carrier strong enough to completely destroy its shape. The envelope was thickly armoured, large-bore cannons slung under the gondola.
Christina. Fire support. Tiny fox woman, barely came up to his shoulder, but she flew the largest ship out of the ace squadron. She couldn't dogfight well...but she didn't need to. She'd stand off, punching holes in the gasbags of enemy ships with precise shots. He still remembered her gentle encouragements. She'd died on the way to hangar, in the same blast that killed Olivia.
"Thank you Christina. You were always our port in the storm." He told the wreck. He couldn't talk to her body. There wasn't anything left. The rocket had directly hit the kind-hearted pilot, completely destroying her body. A tiny smile tweaked his lips. He remembered her saying that she hoped something like that would happen. After all, she didn't want to inconvenience anyone with a burial. He paused for a moment, imagining. He imagined what she'd do if she were alive. She would have hugged him, and told him to stop being silly. He was the boss after all, he was a rough-and-tumble fighter pilot, and more than that, back on the streets of home he was a gentleman. He could more than handle a little sadness. The thought cheered him somewhat, and once more he gently patted the ruined hulk before moving on. He stood before the last ship, looking at the ruined and twisted metal. The Crimson Lady, Olivia's ship.
He sat in his cockpit, thrown from side to side as he manoeuvred. His engines howled, both propellers, and newfangled rocket motors. The enemy pilot was good. He couldn't shake the enemy ship, no matter how hard he threw himself around, no matter how fast he rose or fell. A few times, bullets pinged off of his canopy or envelope, but none penetrated. Suddenly, he spotted a flash of red, and then his ship rocked in the shockwave of his pursuer going up in a fireball. Olivia had come from the side and obliterated his persuer in a hail of cannon fire.
He ran his hand over the ship, the paint cooked off by the fire. Had he loved her?
He didn't know, to be honest.
But he hurt. He ached, deep in his heart, every time a memory of her came back. Maybe that was all the answer he really needed.
He was done here. He was done with these memories.
He went over to the hangar doors, thick slabs of metal that led to the outside world. They had been in place, protecting the hangars from enemy fire, but time and damage had ruined them. One huge door hung from its frame, barely attached. The other had come completely off, and lay almost completely buried in the muck. He made his way to the ruined portal, gingerly picking his way down the wreckage. Whole, this would have been impossible, but the twisted wreckage offered plenty of handholds. It took him a while, but eventually he reached the ground. The rain was coming down harder. It splashed into the swampy ground, little more than puddles and sucking mud. He tilted his head towards the sky, closing his eyes.
The rain was coming down hard. They'd taken shelter in the storm for that very reason, the foul weather obscuring vision. Hopefully enough to hide Unstoppable and her fleet. And their precious charges. It hadn't been enough to hide them. But it had been enough to hide their enemies, until it was too late. Slayers had come in above the storm, flying at their absolute maximum height. He almost respected the enemy pilots for that feat. Until, of course, they'd bombed the Salvation.
He remembered now, remembered why they'd ventured so far from the rest of the air-fleet. The enemy had pushed their forces back in a surprise all-out offensive. They'd lost huge amounts of territory, and Unstoppable's sister ship, Immovable. Many settlements had burned. Others had been occupied by the invading force.
One airship had managed to escape.
The Salvation. Packed with nearly three thousand souls, twice what it was ever meant to carry, desperately limping for safety. They'd stopped just long enough to send a hurried call for help on the telegraph, before starting their dash.
Unstoppable had gone to bring them home.
He could hear the screams. His ship was fitted with an experimental radio, small enough for a fighter. He could hear the nuns on the Salvation desperately trying to keep order, while the captain called for help. They were dead in the air, all engines destroyed. Three gasbags were leaking, but they hadn't ignited yet. Their only hope was having the fighters hold off the enemy ships.
As if in a dream, he moved off into the airship graveyard, slowly, carefully, held back by the sucking mud. Everywhere he looked was twisted wreckage and grinning skulls, all flesh long since rotted away.
The Devils scrambled, along with every other fighter the Unstoppable had available. The defence guns were firing too, hand-cranked Gatlings and huge steam-powered cannons. They headed straight for the second wave of enemy Slayers, guns blazing. The enemy ships hit and tumbled in flames, or simply exploded, incandescent fireballs briefly lighting the battlefield in hellish red.
He walked past the twisted remains of a Slayer, a skeleton clad in rotting flight gear visible inside the mangled cockpit. He held no ill will towards the enemy pilots. Not exactly. They were doing their jobs, just like he had done his when he ended their lives. But their country...that was foul and corrupt. That had to be destroyed.
There were too many of them. They split, half charging for the crippled Salvation for a rocket attack. The other half went up, gaining altitude. Their ship-killers would punch through envelope armour with the added force of height, destroying the stricken airship once and for all. The Devils fought like their namesake, bringing down ship after ship in flames. It wasn't enough.
He came to another chunk of twisted wreckage. This was two ships, twisted and melted into an unrecognizable mass. He rested his half-metal hand on the wreckage, eyes closed.
Jinxy. The second-newest ace. Fiery and impetuous. She'd run out of ammo, and was losing gas fast. She'd decided to go out with a bang, ramming the Slayer group leader. They had kept coming.
He looked back, toward Unstoppable. A ragged line of twisted metal wrecks dotted the muddy ground.
The first group of Slayers closed to rocket range. They fired, a salvo that lit up the sky. The pilots responded the only way they could. Some of them manoeuvred into the path of the projectiles, giving up their own lives to give the Salvation a chance.
He remembered that. Some rockets had made it through, and the screams of dying refugees filled his ears. The rockets had not been successful however - Salvation was still flying, even if only barely. But that was only half the Slayers.
The others had gone high. Corsairs moved to intercept, but there were too few Corsairs and too many Slayers. They flew up directly over the Salvation, then steam-powered cannons launched the ship-killer bombs downwards for extra force. But Unstoppable came to the rescue. The captain ordered all power to the manoeuvring thrusters, and the massive carrier drifted over into the line of fire. It was glorious, the massive flagship taking the hits for her smaller charge, fire blossoming on her armoured envelope. She was damaged, but not broken. She was Unstoppable. He felt pride blooming in his chest.
He looked about, and finally spotted them. Two piles of wreckage, almost unrecognizable as airships. The Unstoppable's cruiser escort. She'd left with two Battleships, five Cruisers, and eighteen Destroyers. Only those two had made it this far, the Comet and the North Star.
The cruisers moved into position, the smaller craft reacting slower to the threat than their mothership as they struggled to manoeuvre with a skeleton crew. They'd taken heavy losses, but the remaining crew fought hard. Guns pounded and chattered, lighting up the sky with projectiles and blossoms of fire. They took down enemy ships by the dozen, and the Devils danced through the stormy sky, making the enemy pay a steep toll for their actions this day. Tank. Christopher. Jinxy. Alexander. Lizzy. He was proud of his pilots.
He moved deeper into the debris field. It was everywhere. Ruined hulks, exploded chunks of metal, unrecognisable shapes. In places it was so thick he had to go around. And still, the rain poured. Lightning was flashing now, thunder booming. He ignored it, as he picked his way through the wreckage. So much death was here.
The Salvation managed to fix her engines. She started to limp away, agonisingly slow, while the three airships tried to hold off the enemy. They had to have come from somewhere, but the storm hid the enemy capital ships from sight. That is, until Comet got hit. Hundreds of rounds tore into the cruiser in one massive salvo, utterly annihilating it in cataclysmic explosion. The light from the detonating cruiser revealed the wickedly sharp shape of an enemy Battleship. Nearly as long as the Unstoppable, but far sleeker, and far more heavily armed, it swooped in ready to deliver a second broadside, this time to Unstoppable.
He stopped next to a huge piece of wreckage, the remains of a mighty cannon. The barrel was more than large enough to fly his airship into, the weapon designed to obliterate smaller enemy ships with a single shot. He shuddered, his eyes closing as yet again he was swept up in a flashback.
The Battleship hove into view, lining up Unstoppable in her sights. The Devils came back around to face the new threat, but there was nothing they could do to counter that monster. They weren't fitted for cap-hunting. Unstoppable fought back, firing at the Battleship, but her weapons weren't meant to take down an opponent of that calibre. Her salvation came from North Star. The cruiser ducked low, underneath Unstoppable, then back up in a ramming attack, almost completely vertical. Every manoeuvring rocket was firing, the bright tongues of flame pushing the cruiser in it's final climb. The airmanship was breathtaking. It smashed into the enemy Battleship, as Unstoppable moved away at maximum thrust.
Looking now, he could see the debris trail. It lead off across the airship graveyard, disappearing into the distance. He remembered.
The battleship was hurt, and hurt badly. It tumbled and peeled off, shedding huge chunks of superstructure and weaponry. Flames spewed from the impact zone, and even over the storm, he could hear the sirens calling for damage control. It was out of this fight. But North Star was gone. Starting at the nose and continuing all the way to the tail, the lift-gas ignited. She kept going up as she smashed into the battleship and glanced away, arcing over. The flaming hulk looped over the back end of Unstoppable, barely clearing the great carrier. She came all the way around before smashing into the ground, burning with a ferocity that the raging storm couldn't match. She was dead, but it was a glorious death. Glorious, but painful.
He stayed well clear of the Star's wreckage. It wasn't his place to mourn for her, or the souls that went down with her. He did, however, offer the distant wreckage a respectful salute, before moving on. He was hurrying now, inexorably drawn forward, something in him tugging him onwards to some unknown destination. His eyes were wide, but unseeing as he stumbled through the mud and the water.
The enemy battleship ran at full power, trailing fire and debris. He hunted down enemy fighters, one after another, shooting them down with short bursts from his cannons. There were so many of them. Where had they come from? Salvation was gaining speed, labouring against the wind and her massive load. A particularly huge bolt of lightning flashed through the sky, lighting up the sky like daylight. In the brief flash, he could see them. Three enemy carriers, surrounded by their escorts, directly in front of the fleeing Salvation. They were outdone.
He stumbled forward, cresting a small hill. There it was. Twisted and broken, the hulk of Salvation. He dropped to his knees, sobbing, as he looked over the shattered wreckage. He didn't need to go into it to know what he'd find. The remains of men, women, and children. Slaughtered. Executed.
Salvation desperately tried to avoid a crash. But she ducked too low, and collided with the ground. Holed and venting gas, she crumpled into the mud with a shrieking of ruined metal. He was screaming without even realising it, flying towards the enemy ships at maximum thrust. The Devils followed him, forming an arrow shape, guns blazing and throttles pushed to maximum. There was nothing they could do. The enemy fleet opened up, pouring fire into the crashed airship. The salvo of fire lit up the sky, utterly destroying the grounded ship. All their fighting, all the lives lost, all for naught.
He got to his feet, turning from the wreckage, blinded in his sorrow, but knowing where to go, inexorably drawn towards his goal. He stumbled and staggering, the whirring of his movements increasing in pitch and volume, the steam generator on his back struggling to keep up. He didn't care.
Unstoppable came about, all her guns firing. She was finished, and she knew it. The gunners pushed themselves beyond breaking point, firing their weapons far faster than they were ever meant to. The gun barrels glowed in the darkness, red-hot from the repeated firing. She was going down swinging. But she was surrounded. The enemy fleet finally revealed themselves, shots coming from all around the great ship. Even as she blossomed with fire, she fought, her guns firing until they were consumed by the conflagration of the dying carrier.
She was beaten, but she took some of the bastards with her. Her fire smashed into one of the carriers responsible for the death of Salvation. It hit something vital, and explosions rippled through the ship, a chain reaction that ripped her apart. She shuddered with each blast, until her main magazine went up. Chunks of hot metal sprayed everywhere, holing her sister ships. They listed, jetting fire as their gasbags ignited, but they began to limp away. Their escorts moved, positioning themselves between the carriers and the few remaining fighters.
He was following a deep furrow in the ground now, splashing through the water-filled gouge almost dead to the world. He sloshed through the water, tripping and stumbling on hidden chunks of wreckage. Sometimes he went down completely under the black water, only to rise once more and keep stumbling in on his way.
The Devils bore down on the enemy in their last show of defiance, guns firing. The enemy ships lined up, and fired a massive salvo in response. The rounds smashed through his windscreen and into his gondola. All he could feel was pain, agony ripping through his body. He was shredded by broken glass and enemy fire. He could feel bones shatter, his lifeblood pump out. He wanted to smash into their ships, take them with him. But he was going down. He was engulfed by fire, screaming until his lungs had no more air. He hit the ground, and blissfully, the pain was no more.
Finally, he was there. The final resting place of his ship.
Ruined and burnt, his baby, the Black Widow, lay in a crater at the end of a long furrow. He was on his hands and knees now, crawling towards the ship, violently spasming as the memories tore through him.
Pain. Burning. Screams. Flesh torn. Blood flowing. Nerves on fire. Death watching, waiting. The Devil grinning, awaiting his favourite Disciple.
He dragged himself through the mud, into the corpse of his beloved Widow. She was twisted and ruined, burnt and broken. She was dead. He wept openly, dragging himself through the wreckage of the gondola. There was the cockpit. It was stained deeply with blood. His blood.
He had died here.
His life had ended in that stormy night, in that hellish battle. But he'd come back. They'd brought him back.
The hissing of steam. The crackle of electricity. The whirring of mechanisms. He was dead. Was this hell? No, it couldn't be. He was alive, they said. They'd brought him back they said, a miracle of modern science. Death itself, beaten by the ingenuity of man. They needed him, they said. He was a pilot, the best pilot they had, and they needed him they said. He couldn't remember. He needed to remember. He needed to remember.
He remembered the long war, all the ships he'd shot down, all the friends he'd made and lost. He remembered the Unstoppable, the Comet, and the North Star. He remembered the Salvation and all of the innocents that had been lost. He remembered Sabre, Christina, Tank, Christopher, Jinxy, Alexander, Lizzy. He remembered the Devils that had come before them, and had been killed in combat.
Most of all, he remembered Olivia, his dear, sweet Olivia.
He didn't remember his name. But that didn't matter. He stared at his reflection in a shattered mirror. That man had died out here, in that terrible battle. A face stared back at him, pale and drawn and ruined. The left eye was gone, replaced with a thing of brass and green glass. The right eye wept, the left unable to. That blue eye, once bright and shining, was now dulled, milky, and bloodshot. His skull on the left side was gone too and replaced with metal. Exposed gears whirred and clicked; the damaged flesh repaired and replaced with the miracles of technology. The rest of his body was the same. A corpse, brought back to life with hissing steam and whirring gears. A shattered parody of a broken man. He'd be their pilot. He'd fight their war. But the man he once was had gone on that fateful night. He looked at the corrosion already creeping across his exposed skull. The rain, mixed with fuel and other contaminants, was accelerating the corrosion of his new metal body.
That would be his new name. It seemed fitting. He was a decaying, dead thing, reaching the end of his usefulness. He wished he had died, so that he would not be forced to live once more with this pain. But he was also grateful. For he would get his revenge. He took the good luck charm from his pocket, and kissed it with cold and cracked lips.
"I'll avenge you. I just wish you knew how I felt." He whispered.
Slowly, Rust got to his feet, and returned to his ship.
He left that graveyard, forever. His old life ended, and his new one began. They would regret killing him.