You The Weapon
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Smoke.

HALF A KLICK ABOVE

The gentle caress of shifting inertia.

THE FROZEN GROUND BURNING WINGTIP

Broken glass tinkling as it taps on chromed augments, behaving without the input of gravity.

SCREAM ENGINE DEATH

Free-fall.

WAKE UP PILOT. THE FIRE LIGHTS AS BULLETS SERENADE AND YOUR PURPOSE

Adrenal shot. Automated. Fed by the tube to your forearm, another vein blurring the connection between plane and pilot. Buzzing. Biology singing in perfect pain.

IS

Oxygen feed clamped to your face. Cold. Rushing. Lungs static as O2 flows.

NOT

Awareness.

DONE

Your gunner is screaming. Begging you to wake in the voice of one mourning. She could have flown the plane. She could have forced through the narrow tightness of the cockpit and jettisoned your corpse, ripping feed lines and interface wires from your needle ports and clamped the thick suckling tube of the breather to her own waiting mouthparts. She should not be screaming your name. Not here. That is a name for another time, another place, when other time means the cocoon of the jet, and the feeling of awful speed.

There is a bullet hole in your side. Wetness on the seat, floating in globules around your head. But you are not dead yet.

You fight the ailerons, the scream of the wings as they bend in the broken agony of free-fall levelling out as you find the angle at which you slip through the air like a bayonet through meat and begin to rise, rise, the throb of the jet behind you waking into a scream from a thousand lungs, ragged sibilance devouring empty air with hunger that tears away the wetness on the inside of the fuel tank’s cheeks and becomes motive force, impure and violent. She is screaming again. You cannot make out the words but you can hear every emotion from catharsis to the fear of death. You Blink a message back.

[status update]

[the assault failed,] she replies, her syntax clean, crisp even as you hear her shaking, see her through the rear remote ocular lurching as if trying to vomit. She cannot. Our digestive systems are not capable of digesting enough food to spit back up. [half the squadron got downed by the mopresphedax and the few that got close enough to deploy payloads had them shredded by interceptor rounds. and whatever hit us gave up the chase.]

[contact with the others?]

[i had visuals on three of them before we got tailed,] she replies. [but with the radio jammer still up i don’t know for sure.]

[well they’re shooting at something.]

You can see the ground below you, the topside of Kharapten a bleak endlessness of dark blocks looming through the pale meniscus of smog.

[i’m keeping watch,] she says. [ready for visual Blink contact.]

[for emtu-rafich,] you say.

[for the combine cities,] she replies. [let’s burn some bugs.] She finds desperate amusement in it. You do not.

There are flashes in the clouds above as you bring the jet around. We are coming back.

The gravities climb, wind hissing in through the bullet hole in the canopy, pressure fluctuating like the syncopated beat of a broken heart. The force would crush you if there was enough meat on you to crush, enough of you that was not hard graphite and ceramite and tungsten-carbide woven into geometric cavities like the honeycombed nest of an insect, flesh rendered as fractal hollows. You wanted this. You wanted this honour, and with it a body that would be buried as spare parts or illicit salvage. Waste not, want not. You are expensive. You are a military investment and the result of cyberthaumics so advanced they stray into paratechnology. You are the best pilot in the best airforce under the ring.

You are scared and going too fast to cry out.

Through the haze the burgeoning shape of the Mopresphedax looms, a bulbous structure wreathed in gaudy ornamental brass that belies the thick, dark functionality of the armour below it. There are solemn faces hung around the gun ports and scanner clusters, gleaming metallic yellow against the airship’s cancerous mass like whiteheads, mandibled and bearded mouths retching anti-aircraft cannons that burst dark lead into the ravening hunger of the dogfight around them. And below, right at the heart of Kharapten’s topside, sits the launch silo, blast doors marred by the marks of their failure to break the citybreaker slowly grinding open. You imagine dislodged ash and snow falling into the gap, dusting the nosecone and its paratech payload. Spatial distortion warhead. Big enough to kill a bandcity.

[visual contact with jets two and five. jet two already fired their second missile. jet five too damaged for max speed. requesting orders?]

It’s just you, then.

Finally, your childish fantasy of heroism. If through the gloss mirror of your memory that younger reflection of yourself, lit with the light of presumed innocence and neonostalgic happiness, could look back and see your red-slicked black plastic and fevered, calloused eyes maybe they would chose a different path, and die slowly and quietly in mediocre humanity.

[get as much firepower drawn away from me as possible,] you reply. [jet five to attempt if i fail.]

The engine’s whistling call grows higher as you push the jet into a climb, targeting oculars already settling on the fat, slow aerial gun platform in your way, a huge bastardisation of aerodynamics, all wings and gun sponsons and propellers, its silhouette tinselled with the sparks of its gunfire, steel skin waiting for the ragged holes you will leave as your central railgun sends a dotted line of magnetised rounds cutting through the air like a garrotte, a razor-edged whip run like a chainsaw belt between you and the heavens. Speed increase, another drop of power, readouts creaking towards the red felt as pain through synthesized nerves. The gun platform notices, rolls left to avoid the manic arrowhead aimed for its gut, and you watch in satisfaction as the gambit pays off and you bite into a wing straight down the axis, an engine bursting into light. No celebration. You trigger the inertia modulators in the chassis and fight the very structure of the plane as you pull an impossibly sharp turn and dive past its tail, too fast for the rear gunner to fire. We see him through the hull ocular, an inhuman mess of insectoid pragmatism made all the more vile by the few attempts at humanising the distended augments.

They look young. The flash-frozen image clings to your forebrain. Their eyes are organic, articulated brows and mandibles frozen in an expression that digs at where your soft core would be.

[focus, bitch.]

She has read you.

You always loved to hate that.

[you’re not-]

[i am not dead yet,] you snap.

[bloodloss?]

Readings checked.

[within parameters.]

She tenses, listening to a message stuttering through the radio as you nail the buzzing filigree of an aerial drone with the anti-munitions needler, the shrapnel tumbling over the wing and the explosive charge the thing carried detonating uselessly in the empty air in your slipstream. Closing in, but the Mopresphedax has noticed you now. Your eyes flick to the readout on the little terminal screen, confirming what your exosenses tell you. A single cluster of conventional flares. A third of the grav wells. The last missile clamped to the port wing. You are living in the dragged-out moments after the final charge.

[this is suicide,] she says, and appends it slowly with the emotion coding for acceptance.

[this is sacrifice,] you reply.

For who, though?

[i love you.]

You wrench around a patch of air suddenly full of bullets, sending the jet into the chaos of a corkscrew dive as your target reveals itself to you below, a spray of jettisoned grav well projectors pulling the bullets out of their paths as the steady pump of your heart pushes blood and adrenaline through your veins and sterile plastic-and-synthmeat biotech.

Do you love her? She swivels the tail guns to track the flitting of a drone and is already focusing on the next target as it shatters, seizes, spasms as it tumbles towards concrete that will not bury it. Or is that something they engineered?

You remember the psychological profiling. The tests. Experts behind one-way glass. A component inspection for your psyche. Fingers tightening on vinyl chair arms. Slightly damp, slightly below skin temperature. Question after question. You had to fake the coldness then, didn’t you? The mechanical obedience? Not any more. You could feel the whorls of your fingerprints. The grease in the folds of your skin. Questions.

They had the means to match you with a partner you would form a bond with and the power to manipulate your environment so you would. Another component to fit into your body, into their design.

Do you love her?

She is the only thing that stays still. Of course you cling to her.

A glow is building below the rocket. Not enough time.

The Mopresphedax is before you, missiles questing out from disgustingly pore-like ports, drifting, spiraling towards you, waiting for your next play. They follow the path of your flares, some not even making it that far as your gunner opens fire, lighting the way ahead with the premature explosions of enemy ordinance. Then you are below it, weaving and turning and by some huge cosmic joke coming through the cloud of firepower with all major systems intact.

[planes in pursuit.]

Two jets rip through the cloud cover, wurmlike and too dark, a single wing tourniqueted around them as they fall after you. Their bodies are a glistening, gaudy black that leeches the colour from the air and they make a horrible whistling, roaring scream that leaves whorls in the cloud and in your mind, twisting fractals spitting brutal branching angles across your occipital. It hurts, but as the first bullets slam into the fuselage and your exosenses light up with the synthoid mockery of pain, adrenaline pump increasing dosage by .2% (standard dosage increase memorised along with every scrap of material tolerance data and ammunition capacity, a pool of stagnant decimals accumulated on the floor of a dual-habitation flat in the collapsing habitation district of a dead bandcity, greygreen moss crawling over a greygreen plasti-weave carpet, dripping sounds staccato though sealed air, tectonics grinding slowly above as the wound that once was a city closes under the weight of time) it fades. Fight reflex flood. Breakdown. Breakthrough.

Wrench the jet round with an angle that forces it against the air, slipping out of the path of your perusers. Too fast. Temporary solution. Aft ocular shows your secondary guns sparking against the nosecones. Cosmetic damage. Higher calibre required.

[brace for extreme manoeuvre.]

[affirmative]

The fuselage will either take it or be shorn in two.

Angle the jet. Lock the ailerons as the inertia manipulators charge. Shut the air intakes for the ramjet.

The jet spins a hundred and eighty degrees widdershins like a record twisted by the hand of god.

It is travelling backwards at two hundred clicks per hour and, as your body thrums with warnings like a bell rung with a hand grenade and you see with your own eyes the Kharaptei jets swinging into the path of the main railgun you fire, not caring about ammo efficiency, cast free on the winds without will to exert, nimble jet turned leaden leaf wilting outwards in the heat of a reclamation furnace, but the gambit pays off as the slugs met their target. Shrapnel. A spray of oil and lubricant and blood and bone and fire. The first jet falters and dips, whatever device that had been scrabbling at your mind filling with organ suspension fluid and falling silent with a panicked gurgling as the railgun continues to core it like a head. It drops from the sky like a sick dream. Falteringly, then all at once.

The last jet learns. It dives to your port side, trying to force you to turn and send yourself into a fatal spin, to be torn apart by sheer atmospheric friction. Your eyes blister with frustration as you jam the tail ailerons as far up as they can go. The plane shifts back, for a razor-thin second slowly, then flips backwards, the top fuselage of the plane suddenly playing heat-shield-

But before you can get it pointed the right way the jet in pursuit takes aim at your underbelly and cold panic spreads through your chest as your one remaining missile is turned to dead metal.

The fact that the jet is in front of you when you complete your vertical roll and explodes into jagged metal as you nail its fuel tank is no consolation.

The rocket has left the silo.

You speak.

[we were never getting out of this.]

[i know.]

The jet is already turning to follow. Climbing to intercept.

Fast.

Whistling air.

You hurt.

She blinks at you, fast, both aware of how little time there is left for talking.

[fuck me if that wasn’t some mad fucking flying]

[language]

[loosen up, missy. can’t get court-marshalled now]

[suppose not]

[you know what you just did. we just did]

[i do]

[backwards]

You smile.

[we’re something.]

[that we are]

There is a pause. Barely half a second but it feels like geologic ages.

[you didn’t say i love you back]

You didn’t.

It is easier to listen to the last moments of the rushing of the air than Blink back a response.

[unreservedly]

[what?]

The rocket is close now. You imagine you can feel the heat from its engines as you climb, outpacing it even as it accelerates.

[no matter what you are]

Closer.

[what you do,] you continue, frantic, [who we become. i love you like fire loves oxygen. i am burning both of us and i will not stop]

[in another life i would find a place for us]

[there is no other life,] you reply, [just this.]

[and i’d burn up with you again, cunt]

[and i’d do the same, you ugly bastard]

[we have the same face, moron]

You turn your head, pulling the harness off and twisting to look her dead in the eyes, pulling the oxygen tube off your face as if this was a tenderer moment.

It ends two seconds later but for you it ends just then, the illusion of that endless moment built from the dagger of shrapnel that enters your brain from behind. The last thing she sees is what they left of your face, and behind that the nosecone of the jet impacting the rocket’s primary fuel tank.

But you are remembered only by the fire, the same fire that leaves you unrecognisable slag strewn across a stranger’s city.

You, victor. You, maker of glory.

You the weapon.

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