Chapter 1:

I Was An Aerial Menace

888 Triple Eight: Welkin Sovereignty

War is for the weak; peace is for the powerful. Humanity has yet to achieve eternal peace——true peace.Bookmark here

There never existed a ‘peace of mind;’ it was just complacency, laziness, or worse, acceptance of defeat. The acceptance of the lie that you can’t do anything——a sickness that plagues humanity.Bookmark here

What is hard work? What was hard work? Did it ever exist? It always had, and always did. Yet, most people choose to slack.Bookmark here

As for why war existed, it was laziness——a reluctance to solve their own problems. A hesitancy to reconcile with former friends and new enemies. Instead of meticulously defusing problems, they used brute force in a hope of victory. And there was this one country that did just that. The Merral Federation.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

I was flying with my aircraft operator, my friend, Dylan Lonair, for a classified exercise of a double-seated, experimental aircraft——codename ‘Fly.’Bookmark here

Its wings could ‘flap’ like a bird——called Extreme Wing Reflex——and it had two of them in addition to the traditional elevators, which controlled the aircraft’s pitch.Bookmark here

The advantage of such a feature was the customizability of the said wings, which gave increased maneuverability. In theory, we could use the wings to fly vertically without the use of a Vertical Takeoff and Landing engine, VTOL for short. This resulted in more compact aircraft with increased takeoff weight payload allowing for longer and stronger air assaults.Bookmark here

Five thousand feet above an isolated forest, our aircraft flew. The nearest airport was the military airbase we took off from. The aircraft felt like a novelty every time we flew even if we had tested the same model about a hundred times. It was every pilot’s dream to have such an advanced craft. It was bound to replace every gunship and jet in existence.Bookmark here

We were flying at the standard speed of three hundred knots and started to decrease speed. We started the preparation for the mid-air vertical transfer, which was the process of flying horizontally to vertically using the EWRs.Bookmark here

Dylan was a talkative guy. Our protocol was to not chitchat unnecessarily during flights, but Dylan could never stop himself, so he ended up talking. And I could never refuse him.Bookmark here

“We’re living the dream!” he said excitedly. “It’s like having the first gold in the entire world. The unreleased phone from the company!”Bookmark here

“That’s one too many metaphors,” I replied. “Also, the radio’s on…”Bookmark here

“Ah, don’t worry about that,” he snickered, and I heard him switch off the radio from his side.Bookmark here

“There will be a time when we’ll get court-martialed.”Bookmark here

Dylan laughed at my remark, “Don’t worry. We’ll be in it together!”Bookmark here

“No crap, smarty boy.”Bookmark here

Two hundred knots——at the optimal speed of transfer, we adroitly started the process.Bookmark here

“Say, let’s chat for a bit. We're about fifteen minutes early,” Dylan proposed.Bookmark here

“We can talk after this.”Bookmark here

“Come on, we barely ever have a conversation at the base. Those nosy and chore-throwing superiors always ate up our free time! Now’s our chance!”Bookmark here

“I say, let’s get court-martialed instead unless we complete our mission.”Bookmark here

“You’re always a hard-on for objectives. Do you like objectives more than girls?”Bookmark here

“You shouldn’t take it that way.”Bookmark here

“If you treated your girls like your missions, I bet you would accomplish it perfectly.”Bookmark here

“What happens if I die?”Bookmark here

“You’re going dark again, man.”Bookmark here

Dylan tapped a button and flicked a switch before the wings flanking us started to flap. The growing vibrations of the main wings slowly transferred to the cockpit.Bookmark here

“Feels like a massage chair, doesn't it?”Bookmark here

“Switch on the radio, now”Bookmark here

“Aye aye, sir.”Bookmark here

“This ain’t a ship.”Bookmark here

After he flicked another switch, the static came into my headphones. That was normal, but this static was louder than usual. It was as if there was chaos on the other end.Bookmark here

“Hey, hey. Say, if you get married, will you make me your ring man?”Bookmark here

I looked back at him, “Hell no—” but something choked me.Bookmark here

Behind Dylan’s smiling face was a pillar of light. It was coming from the base and was fast expanding. My face turned pale; my hands grew cold. I let my instincts control me.Bookmark here

While Dylan was speaking, “Come on, man. I’d do great!” my hands have taken control of the stick. I would have switched to horizontal flying, but Dylan was the one controlling the mode. So, I had no choice but to fly at a slower pace.Bookmark here

The shockwaves of what I realized was an explosion had reached our ears.Bookmark here

“W—what was that?” Before he could finish that sentence, a storm of dust and dirt overtook us, disabling our sight. Before we knew it, the aircraft was spinning out of control.Bookmark here

“Dylan, eject!”Bookmark here

“What? No, I’mma switch modes.”Bookmark here

“Dylan, eject!!” I repeated, but he refused.Bookmark here

We were stumbling fast to the ground. The aircraft was telling us to pull up, but the flight was impossible to recover.Bookmark here

Hoping that Dylan would follow, I pulled from under my seat and ejected.Bookmark here

It felt like the earth was pushing down on me, refusing me to fly; I almost passed out. It was the sensation of gravity suddenly increasing. All of my body except for my legs felt numb. When I recovered consciousness, I opened my eyes and saw below me a massive dust storm. The never-ending green of the forest was overtaken by the destructive dust. The plane along with Dylan was nowhere to be seen.Bookmark here

I still had my air helmet that had a radio in it. Usually, it was connected to the aircraft, but I opted to make my radio independent of the aircraft because Dylan always switched it off.Bookmark here

So, I used that radio to call Dylan, “Dylan! Dylan!!” I was shouting for help, but not for me. “Dylan, where are you!? Did you eject!?”Bookmark here

What returned was static, but I can barely distinguish his voice. He was struggling. It seemed like he was desperate, almost crying.Bookmark here

“Dylan?”Bookmark here

“M—my, eject… it’s not working.” No, it sounded like he was passing out. Then, I heard him sniffle. “I’m going to die, today.”Bookmark here

“Dylan, don’t say that! Try again! Try again!!”Bookmark here

“Two thousand feet and going down. I’m not going to make it.”Bookmark here

“Your plane, your plane!!” I said that to remind him that he could take control of the aircraft.Bookmark here

“It’s beyond recovery. I’m not as skilled as you are. I’m sorry; I should have paid more attention.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry! I’ll find you at the crash site. Do everything you can!”Bookmark here

Dylan didn’t return a response, and I heard the noise of the alarm blaring, ‘Pull up! Pull up!,’ then arrived his painfully pretentious, happy voice, “Make me your ring man, won’t you?” before the radio became silent.Bookmark here

“Dylan? Dylan!”Bookmark here

The minutes felt long when I slowly descended from the air. I didn’t care about what just happened——the sudden attack, the military airbase, this mission. Nothing else mattered, except for Dylan. I wanted to see him alive. There was no way such a positive man would die. A positive attitude means a positive life. That’s what I thought; that’s what he taught. I rejected his philosophy, but now, I clung to it, desperately.Bookmark here

Before the ejected seat could even touch the now-shaven trees, I unfastened myself and jumped causing me to land on prickly branches and the scattered rocks. A pain surged from my lower leg. I lay straight up and inspected it. It was bleeding profusely from a newly-opened wound. From it stuck out a metal fragment. That fragment was unmistakably from the aircraft. It was nearby.Bookmark here

The dust hasn’t settled, but the visibility has increased. I ignored my leg and rushed in a random direction calling out to Dylan. Unfortunately, I didn’t find him immediately. It took me a long time before I found the crashed aircraft. Fortunately, the dust settled revealing the aircraft which was in shambles. It was pitiful seeing an aircraft in this state——its wings bent and broken, its rudder gone. It seemed that the aircraft had lost its life. But what was more depressing was the pilot it contained safely inside it.Bookmark here

Through the broken glass cockpit sat Dylan, who had his face covered in blood. His eyes closed; his mouth smiling. It was like he was sleeping peacefully. Perhaps, he was now, but for eternity.Bookmark here

I refused the sight. I refused the apparent fact and came over to wake him up. I shook him vigorously, but I didn’t attempt any revival. It was in the back of my head: Dylan is dead.Bookmark here

Finally, I fainted from my bleeding wound.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

I opened my heavy eyes after a memorable dream. Perhaps it was because of the recent events that I dreamt of every memory I had with Dylan, from childhood until the last flight. I woke up believing he was still alive as the dream implied. Unhesitatingly, I got out of bed but instead fell because of a malfunctioning leg. A nurse came over to assist.Bookmark here

“Sir, you must stay in bed. You are—”Bookmark here

I suddenly grabbed her, “Where is Dylan!?”Bookmark here

“Dylan? Sir, I—”Bookmark here

“Bring me to him right now!”Bookmark here

“Sir, I can’t,” she pushed me back forcefully while trying to put me on the bed. But I was still stronger despite my leg. Soon, male nurses came to restrain me while I shouted hysterically.Bookmark here

“Dylan! Dylan!! Where is he, damn it!!”Bookmark here

After they forced me to drink a pill, I calmed down. But my mind was scattered with many thoughts. I perhaps thought this was a dream. I also thought the sight of Dylan dead was a dream. I believed that the dream was real, thinking he was on a bed nearby. Finally, an officer came into the room. I realized he was my commanding officer for my flight. But I couldn’t bring myself to salute him, but I at least gave him a bit of my respect.Bookmark here

“Dylan,” I started as he stood over me, “where is he?”Bookmark here

He started at me with pitying eyes. I was pretty sure it was sympathy. He probably had run out of empathy. I saw it as mere, degrading eyes that said, ‘You still don’t accept reality?’Bookmark here

“M-1, report,” he ordered.Bookmark here

“Sir, I—” I stopped. Why was I supposed to report to him when he should do it first? “No, you report. Dylan, where is he?”Bookmark here

“Merry One,” he repeated, mentioning my full codename, “report.” His tone grew impatient.Bookmark here

I knew this was bad. Angering a superior was trouble. A big mistake. I hesitated, but I was growing impatient too. “Dylan,” I gritted, “where is he?”Bookmark here

“Merry One, stand down and report, immediately.”Bookmark here

I swiftly raised my body from my bed but realized that chains withheld me. “Dylan!!” I spat. “Where is he!!?”Bookmark here

With no remorse, he punched me in my gut, silencing me. “Merry One. I could only ever tolerate such behavior. Rebel as such again, and you will get court-martialed.Bookmark here

How annoying. How impudent! Didn’t he get it? Was the mission far more important than my friend’s life!? But I failed.Bookmark here

Until now, I always obeyed with all my abilities, all my heart, and all my strength. Even if a comrade was hurt or dead, I wouldn’t be fazed. I even scolded and mocked their the dead’s friends for mourning over them. We’d get in a brawl, but Dylan would mediate. Perhaps that was heartless of me. Now, I realized how they felt.Bookmark here

And I can’t seem to stop myself. In the last effort to resist his authority, I simply answered, “I failed.”Bookmark here

“You’d better add a ‘sir,’ there. Merry One, report!” he hissed.Bookmark here

“I failed, sir.”Bookmark here

“Expound on ‘failed.’”Bookmark here

“I failed, sir.”Bookmark here

“Don’t make me repeat myself.”Bookmark here

“You too.”Bookmark here

Then he struck me in the face. “Don’t get cocky with me. You’re lucky that you’re an important asset to the Air Force, or else you’d be dismissed right here and now and court-martialed.”Bookmark here

It might be just me, but he kept using court-martials as a threat; it was getting tiring.Bookmark here

As he turned to leave, he spoke another word, “It was your fault that he died.”Bookmark here

My eyes flamed at his remark and wished that there were no cuffs that restrained me. When I was about to shout, ‘How dare you! You don’t know anything!!’ I considered his words.Bookmark here

Perhaps it was my fault. No, it was my fault that he died. Thinking back, why didn’t I warn him? I let my instincts take over me. I should have given him my seat so he could eject. I was selfish. In the end, I valued my life over his. The end justifies the means. I took my commander’s words to heartBookmark here

He slammed the door closed as I sunk into my bed. I decided to change my philosophy, my mindset, and how I shall fight from now on.Bookmark here

Xan Ti
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