One Less Challenge (1100 words)
Since earliest memory years, I was entranced by birds of the air.
Free and eager to catch the winds of chance, floating upon breezes which we land-dwellers can only dream about.
When the fishing boats brought their catches back to shore, I would neglect my studies for the sight of their daring acrobatics stealing prey which others had obtained, skilfully evading the sailors’ grabbing hands and jabbing pikes.
Soaring majestically past my house on the beach, invisible currents carried them aloft and I wanted to be like them more than anything.
Home-made attempts met with no success and several broken bones. Punished and chided by my parents and peers, my reply was always the same:
“When I take to the skies, I shall have no need of broken bones or scolding.
Eventually, they were all glad to see the back of me –as much as I was of them- when the men in iron helms came to take me away.
The newcomers worried many, for they brought machines to the village, smoke-belching steel monsters of some arcane artifice that it was unsafe to ask questions about.
Yet nobody argued their demands of “tithe”. As a teenager, I knew not of such things. As an adult looking back, I cared not, for it proved my salvation.
One saw my terror-struck gaze and mistook it for interest. Crudely grabbed, I was hauled away into the belly of some such device. But shock gave way to intrigue as I saw through glass the machine leaving the earth. This was no monster to gobble me up into it’s cavernous maw...no, it was Man’s poor noisy attempt at impersonation!
Although frequently shushed by others, my avid questioning nevertheless continued. Clearly these captors were not men of the air, they were merely slaves to it’s direction, like I was.
Yet I could not be chained to the earth, for my spirit sought freedom amidst the bluest skies and my future lay not with these faceless ranks.
A push off a ledge here, or a sabotaged engine there; my ambition burned brighter than those around me and was soon noticed by the guiders of these strange things called “aircraft”.
Separated from the others, we began “aeronautics”, yet it was nothing more than the motions I had practiced upon the ground, mimicking every avian turn, climb and dive.
Of course, the mental lessons came with harsh physical ones, for how else was I supposed to learn?
Time and again they would ask: “What do you think of the birds upon the ground?”
The beatings ceased when I finally learnt the reply: “They are clumsy, their legs and feet are vestigial, a waste of good DNA.”
Oddly, the first implant was the easiest: a needle into my spine which made me feel the sky-steed at my fingertips, it’s every shudder and flex indistinguishable from my own.
When someone gives you the dream you have wanted your whole life, what will you give them in return? The answer is ‘anything they want’ and I gladly indulged their every whim, even when my fellow pilots blanched at the very idea. I did not see them again, but I cared not, for these joys were everything.
In homage to my idols, my toes were the first to be removed, followed swiftly by my legs.
I was glad to be free of them; they were only slowing me down, or so my teachers advised.
Who was I to argue with these Men (?) who allowed me my heart’s desire?
It was easy to transition to taking prey on the wing; first my colleagues, then opposing pilots in other squadrons. Many fell silently beneath my guns, their end-silence a fitting tribute to their unworthy lives.
In time, I have come to share these pleasures with a co-pilot. I know he is always present, but I have never seen him, for neither of us leaves the aircraft.
Why would we wish to? All of our needs are provided for by the machine and my arms were replaced by advanced cabling last year. For want of better phrases, I term him the Other.
Targeting overlays sweep down across my eyes as easily as breathing: missiles 1 and 2 locked and away.
As always, the Other suggests close quarters combat, yet I ignore his calls ringing in my ears...or they would if I had any left...those organs has been ripped out over a decade ago in favour of direct feeds from outside. Although there is no sound in space, the Other likes to hear the claws-upon-chalkboard screeching of lasers and bullets across my skin. I endure such things because it calms him, thus allowing me to live out my dreams.
A drop in pressure, a momentary lapse of reasoning has sent me diving into enemy guns.
By degrees they strip my flesh, holing my wings and shearing off an engine. There is no turning back: the dream dies tonight. The Other howls in mania at my loss of control, never seeing that it caused our demise.
Held in the sodium-yellow glare of a tractor beam, life-systems failing, the child I once was resurfaces and wonders if they too will allow me to float amongst the stars I have called home for the last 25 years?
Blackness envelopes me, and I am left alone with my thoughts...thoughts...though...
Removing the captured memory crystals from a reader, Captain Hermass railed furiously against his chief Tech-Priest.
“This devil had killed a hundred pilots in three centuries and brought down five of my squadron today. I ordered this...’Shard’...captured intact and THIS is all that could be salvaged?!”
The cloaked addressee, a man of more wires than bones, gestured to the fighter’s open canopy.
The pilot is no more than a pathetic mewling meat-stump that once called itself human.
One cogitator crackled into life: “It asks for you, milord” and the Tech-Priest hurried others out of his way to hear the last breaths of a once-man.
“They....told me I could soar...and I have. There are none like me. Didn’t I do well?”
The Tech-Priest gave only the slightest blink of a camera-eye in acknowledgement. Bending forwards, his robe opened to reveal the hidden bone necklace carved in a serpent’s form.
Had the pilot still been able to see, he would have instantly recognised the pendant from similar designs worn by his own twisted masters.
“You shall fly again one day, for you shall be ‘Other’... but none may challenge Tzeentch for His mastery of the skies.”
The laspistol burns brightly and the pilot’s dream -in this body at least- is at an end.
Urgently trying to trace any living relatives of Private Sam/Samuel "Jock" Wilson (Black Watch, No. 6 Commando, UK Army Service ID 2764432, died 10.06.44). Any info/suggestions gratefully received.
"Mockles! Pent on silpen tree, blockards three a-feening. Mockles! What silps came to thee, in thy pantry, dreaming?"
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Last edited by andygorn; 12-31-14 at 11:10 PM.