The Red-eye Shift

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These moments were what he lived for. Drifting beyond the cares of the earth’s surface, the midnight air rushing over his face like chilled, smooth silk sheets. Gentle flickering stars overhead, a wavering atmosphere embracing the war-ridden world, marred with trails of steady, harsh, artificial lights marking the makeshift border separating the two factions, the airborne supply formation passing overhead.

His engine sputtered. He’d have to let the mechanics know once they made it back to the airfield. Probably one of the coils again. You get what you pay for, he scoffed, shaking his head. The biplanes they were using had been built and maintained with a veritable cornucopia of makeshift components, many mutated from original purpose in bafflingly horrendous ways. Hell, last week a supplier came through the area bearing a massive shipment of fireworks, with the sales pitch that they be outfitted as rockets for both air-to-air and air-to-ground engagements, simply using pressure-sensitive blasting caps and a greater volume of explosive. The armorers hastily signed the deal, and within a few days each biplane was carrying it’s own rainbow-colored array of misshapen fireworks. Of all the factions he contracted for, this faction was certainly his least preferred. Then again, most factions couldn’t afford the luxury of high quality components, or adequate components at all for that matter. Still, with all the recently acquired wealth from funding a series of successful skirmishes, one would imagine they could manage to buy a proper coil or two.

He glanced at his watch. 12:55 AM. They were early. The weather report was moderately inaccurate; the cross-winds they had experienced en route were breezy at worst.

The present proceedings consisted of a simple delivery operation for a platoon currently fighting within enemy territory. The large, bulky, over sized supply aircraft in the center of the formation was carrying enough explosives in crates outfitted with parachutes to send every plane in the escort formation surrounding it raining from the sky in fragmented pieces, that is, if the grouping of the planes was several yards tighter, as was standard practice. He’d suggested the greater spread within the formation for this very reason. It made him nervous. Intel on the other faction suggested an absence of anti-air capabilities. Still, you can’t be too careful.

A displaced whistling noise from the surface disrupted the calm of the night, growing louder and louder, approaching their position, until an abrupt blast tore through the velvet sheet of the midnight atmosphere with a thunderous roar in the center of the formation, only a few yards from the supply aircraft, followed by blinding shades of yellow, blue and pink, flickering and crackling with deafening volume. His aircraft shuddered from the force of the blast. The same supplier must have sold fireworks to the other faction as well. Heaven forbid that things should go according to plan.

Two more faint whistles sounded off as the formation unconsciously peeled away from the supply aircraft. Moments later, two staggered explosions punched through the air, one a few yards from the supply aircraft within a wondrous veil of purple and red sparks, the other a mere couple of feet from one of the escorts in the formation, the engine block of which shattered, catching fire as the white and green sparks of the firework mixed with the exposed fuel, sending the plane lurching towards the ground amidst the piercing screams of the burning pilot.

The whistling of four more fireworks of lateral origin was inaudible against the lingering crackling of the previous volleys. Looking to his right, following the trails of smoke from the fireworks, he could see a formation of aircraft from the opposing faction approaching their position.

Visibility was limited, and the obstruction of the smoke and the lingering, flickering sparks of the fireworks wasn’t helping. He took a deep breath, and tilted his throttle back, aiming for the stars. Beneath his aircraft he could hear the other escorts racing towards the opposing formation, loosing fireworks along the way. As his aircraft began to stall, he sent the largest firework in his payload clambering towards the farthest reaches of the atmosphere. As his plane spun around after stalling and began racing towards the ground, the firework detonated, illuminating a mess of aircraft exchanging volleys below, with shades of yellow and white.

Restarting his engine, he shifted his aim towards the path of an opposing fighter, before releasing a firework on a collision course with the aircraft. Moments later the firework connected with the center of the fuselage of the aircraft, next to the cockpit, exploding and splitting the plane in half amidst frolicking streams of blue sparks, sending the lifeless, limp corpse of the pilot tumbling towards the earth.

An opposing fighter joined the tail of his flight path, sending two poorly aimed fireworks racing past the left side of his plane. He pulled up, leveling his aircraft, and glancing back, loosed a firework without triggering the fuse ignition. Tumbling behind his aircraft, the firework bounced atop the upper wing of the trailing fighter, before nicking the rudder of the aircraft and exploding. As the rudder shattered, covered with orange sparkles, the pilot and a parachute were tossed the from the cockpit of the spinning plane, caught in what seemed an endless, desperate dance, each wrestling to become one with the other, disappearing into the fog of darkness towards the ground.

Suddenly a firework exploded a few feet in front of his plane. Jarred, squinting from the blinding pink light, he could see smoke pouring from the engine block. He scrambled for his parachute, and grabbing it, leaped from the cockpit. Securing the harness, falling with his back facing the ground, he witnessed the aircraft explode in a flurry of flames, sending metal shards in every direction, as two aircraft darted, one after the other, dodging the debris. Approaching the surface he released his parachute and maneuvered towards a lake. Misdirected by an unexpected gust of wind and landing in the water, he freed himself from the harness and swam to shore. Standing on the shoreline and catching his breath, he glanced up as a firework detonated overhead amidst the remaining warring aircraft, lighting up the area with shades of red and green. To the tune of shouting in his direction, followed by ravenous canine barking, he started running towards the tree line. Time to move.