He felt the blood leech from his head as he pulled out of his dive. Faster than his foe could expect he was behind him anew, sights dead-on with the all-too-easily-ruptured fuselage. Again and again he pumped the trigger, sending tight bursts of lethality towards the scared pilot now flailing wildly in a vain attempt to disrupt the exacting aim of his grim reaper. Unyielding, a plume of smoke and flame washed over him as his fate was sealed.

In the air, there were no names, no ranks. Two adversaries with an impossible number of limbs battling for supremacy and for the future. In the air the number of kills one had, the lives of loved ones on the ground, nor even thoughts for one’s country mattered. To reflect, to think, to find yourself distracted was to find another corpse melted around his wreckage. In combat there was only the combat, only the combatants. There was no individual victory, merely an agonizing fall to Earth or a continued struggle. Only when one landed were they afforded the luxury of seeing the world around them return, to remember their lover’s smell, their mother’s cooking in a farmhouse hundreds of miles and dozens of years distant.

Though each pilot had been briefed, all knew there was no mission other than survival. Not of the pilots, for they were only one means, but for the empire to which they belonged. Each explosion they caused prevented their side from losing for just that much longer — long enough perhaps to turn the tides of war and declare victory over all who would stand against their might. They knew there would be no retreat, no recall of arms — there would be no surrender, no armistice. Without looking back towards their homeland and families, each had saluted with all the conviction they felt, a veritable armour behind only which they could make such a decision, and strode towards their planes in silence.

He disregarded his gauges — an altimeter could not tell him when an enemy was circling behind him, the wind speed indicator a poor substitute for visibility. However willfully ignorant of his console, however, his experience screamed at him that every bank, every dip, had to be made with the utmost precision, his remaining fuel supply a pittance of what was required to survive the day, his ammunition dwindling ever faster as he grew more focused, more intent on target after target. One after another the great fighters of the West fell before his cannons, as they had in all battles previous. This crisp morning, however, the dew still weighing down the laden trees, it was folly to believe it would end as successfully as the rest of his campaign had. There had been losses, and failures, but he never returned before satisfying his rage and his hunger for perfection. There would be no failure by his actions, even if the day were not to be won through the actions of others.

A shadow crossed his vision as he turned his eagle gaze skyward; a new entrant to the fray, ignorant to his position and ignorant to his abilities, had flown high in order to engage a damaged wingman. Growling, the plane strained against the forces of gravity and air pressure as he came up from below, rending the soft aluminum belly with the full might of his nation. The wind however was now drowned out by a sound that had caused more than a fair share of pilots to scream in their bunks; the restless opponents had finally done it, the battle had raged too long.

Simultaneously he smelled the searing of metal piercing metal and felt the agony of metal piercing tissue. The inside of his cockpit, instrument panel and windscreen riddled with anti-aircraft rounds and sprayed with blood, his blood, provided no familiar surrounding as the pilot’s vision turned from crystal color to a grey mist. He had felt his left leg burn with a fire only the bodies at Pompeii could understand, the hateful shocks exploding up into his abdomen, and could taste copper as he gasped for breath.

The aircraft, pushed beyond its limits by both pilot and crippling damage, gracefully accepted the direction gravity presented. Bleeding gouts of oily smoke into the chill air, he saw flashes of farmsteads and valleys as his arms hung limp at his side, head lolling back and forth with the plane’s wracked descent. A scream bubbled itself from his lungs’ violent spasms, erupting in a spray of blood as he poured his rage and hate at being so thwarted, so defeated by someone safely out of his reach, on the ground.

As a final show of willpower, an unrelenting dedication to his cause, he forced his one “good” hand onto the stick. With blood-stained lips peeled back from bloodied teeth, he focused everything he had into the controls, firing his last rounds into the earth as he attempted to reduce his angle of impact and soften the patch of land entombed in which they would find his corpse. His will spent, the blood having passed through him as were he a sieve, Johannes Jaegerman felt everything go black.