London in a month.

-Werner

Dieter Wolfgang Eichmann sat at the bar in a dirty, run-down tavern, moving a small piece of paper through his fingers. It was a letter from his older brother- his idol. He had made ace over Spain about three years back, shortly before he sent the letter. Dieter received it the day the English shot him out of the sky. The incident had opened his eyes to the war- how close it was beginning to hit towards home. He had joined the Jagdwaffe- the fighter wing of the Luftwaffe. He felt it was time to serve, time to win the war, time to avenge his brother. However, that was a long time ago. It was April 1945, and Hitler's Thousand Year Reich was finished. The Americans and British were closing in from the west- the Soviets to the east, destroying all opposition as the moved towards Berlin. Dieter would not stop yet, though. He would not fail Deutschland. He would protect the Fatherland at all costs.

"More beer, mein comrade?"

"No, I'm fine," Dieter quickly put away his brother's letter, folded neatly into his uniform's breast pocket. He looked up to see the young girl that ran the place, smiling at him cheerfully from behind the bar. "Thank you, Emma."

"It's no problem for me, you know I hardly get any customers nowadays."

Dieter nodded in acknowledgement, pushing his beer glass aside with one hand as he fished a black and gold cigarette out of a crumpled package with the other.

"So, what's new with Jagdgeschwader 300?" She was asking about his unit again. Everyday she would want to know the details, even though they were mostly negative.

"I downed one Russian Fighter, Rich-Rich got two Soviet tanks..." Dieter reached into his overcoat and brought out his lighter, fighting with it to get it to ignite. "...we lost two planes, and three men."

Emma's mood instantly changed. Dieter had no idea why she always insisted on depressing herself like that.

"We haven't lost yet, have we Dieter?" She asked quietly.

"No, not yet." He knew it was a lie- but for her sake- he told it anyway.

He could her someone running up the steps to the building. A young messenger burst through the door suddenly, breathing heavily.

"Oberleutnant, sir! You are needed at headquarters immediately!" The soldier said between breaks for air as he snapped to attention.

"Wonderful...been on the ground for half an hour and the sons of-" Dieter stopped himself, knowing his anger accomplish nothing. "How much do I owe you, Emma?"

"No charge, soldier. It'll be my birthday present to you."

Dieter stood and brushed himself off, stamping out his cigarette on the floor. He smirked a bit, turning towards the door, "I almost forgot my own birthday."

"How old will you be?" She asked.

"Seventeen."

Tegtmeier Air-Base was located on the out-skirts of Magdeburg, a small city in Northern Germany nestled on the Elbe River. It's location just south of Berlin left it right in the middle of the Allies' advance towards the capitol. It was the perfect staging point for raids on the enemy. Eichmann had been there for about a year- ever since the Wehrmacht pulled out of France. It was a mess now, not enough crewmen left to maintain it. All of the pilots were novices; most of them had little combat experience- some were even younger than he was. They all flew outdated aircraft- mainly Messerschmitt 109's from the beginning of the war. They were more often than not more lethal to themselves than the enemy. Since the allies began the invasion of Germany they had been mounting short sorties against enemy aircraft and bombers, most without much results- with the exception of more Luftwaffe pilots lost. The time between missions was becoming longer and longer- there simply weren't enough pilots left- that is why Dieter had been somewhat surprised by the messenger's sudden intrusion on his R&R.

"Any idea what H.Q. wants with me?" Dieter asked, looking to the young Flieger in the driver's seat of the battered Kubelwagon they were riding in.

"No, sir. My orders were to find you and bring you back to the base as soon as possible. I was not given any further information." The private kept his eyes on the road; Dieter couldn't help but notice that he probably wasn't even old enough to drive during peacetime.

The gates of the base loomed ahead, not surprisingly there wasn't a guard at the sentry post. The private didn't bother to slow down as he sped through the gates. To their right, a Stuka burned out of control on the runway- left from their earlier mission; to their left, Unteroffizier Lemke was stuck with burial detail. The Kubelwagon screeched to a halt in front of the Headquarters building, the dim lamplight inside indicating the command staff was busy with something or other.

"Thank you, private. Make sure and bring it back to the motor pool." Dieter said as he climbed over the door, long since rendered incapable of opening. The Private sped off again as he entered the H.Q.

"Oberleutnant Eichmann! You made it back faster than I expected...come look," Major Peters stood behind his desk, motioning to something laid out on its surface. "This is a wonderful opportunity."

Dieter stepped up to his desk and took a glance at the objects the Major was pointing to; he looked somewhat puzzled for a minute.

"They're just photos of bombers, sir."

"They're more than just bombers, Eichmann. They're your new targets."

"Excuse me, sir?"

Major Peters smiled, holding up one of the photos of a British Bomber.

"Long Range RAF Bombers...took off yesterday...without escort." He added with a grin. "It should be perfect to get these new pilots some combat experience."

"Sir, I don't think-"

"What's the matter, Dieter? Never thought of you as the type that would back out of a fight," A voice from the corner of the room cut in.

Heinrich Lotar Dietrich. "Rich Rich" for short. He had been Dieter's best friend for as long as he could remember. He had made ace before Dieter, thus fueling their extremely competitive nature.

"That's not it, Heinrich. I just don't think we're in the position to be losing anymore men."

Dietrich stood up and moved towards the door, waving back at Dieter.

"Sure," Heinrich said with a smirk. "See you on the Tarmac in thirty."

"Status?"

Sergeant Lemke came to attention before Eichmann, offering a brief salute before sinking back into his dismal self.

"Seven, and enough fuel to get 'em there and back. 's the best I can do."

Dieter shivered slightly in his Leather Flying Jacket, not because of the cold, but because he already knew what was to come.

"Thank you, Sergeant. You have completed your duties for today."

Sergeant Lemke quickly dismissed himself, almost running into the approaching form of Heinrich as he left.

"How many?" Heinrich asked as he moved up towards Dieter.

"Seven."

"That's enough," Heinrich said hopefully glancing towards the battered planes on the runway. "Let's get 'em up there."

A few more minutes and they'd be on them. Dieter could see them now, black spots on the horizon, getting slowly closer. The setting sun made their awkward shapes stand out; it turned them into perfect targets.

"All units report." Dieter said coldly over the radios, almost mechanically out of instinct.

"Heinrich."

"Wilcke."

"Wiese."

"Gratz."

"Graf."

"Sterr." Sterr was the newest member of the unit. He had never been in combat, and Dieter hadn't had a chance to see him in the air. Now fate would be testing his abilities.

"Targets in range, engage and destroy." Heinrich shouted as the young pilot's battle cries sounded over the radios.

Flak from the bombers' gun crews began to erupt around the fighters, soon followed by sporadic bursts of heavy caliber machine-gun fire. Eichmann watched as the lead bombers pulled ahead, leaving several aircraft back towards Heinrich's section.

"You take the obvious. We'll break off and go after the head of the column."

"Affirmative." Heinrich replied.

Dieter increased his aircraft's throttle, sending him ahead of the pack. His wingmen slowly began following his example.

"Split up. Mark your targets."

A trio of positive replies came over the radio simultaneously as the group branched out and moved in for the kill. The weapons fire from the bombers was becoming frantic now as the planes approached. Dieter jinked his plane to the left, his trigger finger locking over his 30mm's firing switch. His steady stream of return fire cut through the side of the bomber, eventually reaching the cockpit and shattering the windshield. Dieter was distracted momentarily as thousands of tiny bits of glass shot through the air, sparkling as the sun was caught by them. The bomber began to moan as it entered its death-throes, its nose plunging down as the now-pilot-less craft descended towards the Earth. He brought his plane back around as he completed his arc, firing repeatedly into his second target. He let up off of the trigger as both engines on its left wing caught fire, spewing a long trail of white smoke out behind it. The bomber pitched violently to its side, its pilots un-able to control it. Dieter watched as it arced up momentarily, in one last effort to remain flying, before spiraling out of control towards the countryside below.

"Sir, I can't make it out of-" Sterr's transmission was cut short as his plane was torn apart. Flaming debris scattered in all directions as the gunners of the bomber Elizabeth finished off their attacker. Sterr's comrades shouted in anguish, releasing streams of expletives as they were worked into a frenzy by the loss of their friend. Fire from the ball-turret of the Elizabeth raked Dieter's wing, punching several holes in its flimsy material. He brought the plane around to bear, the aircraft itself voicing its reluctance as its engine squealed. Dieter gripped the control stick with both hands, each index finger pulling down on the trigger of his 30 cal. Machine-gun fire clipped his wings again, a stray bullet passed through the glass of his cockpit. The rapid decompression stabbed at his eardrums, taking his mind off of the piece of glass imbedded above his eye. His vision began to turn red as blood from his wound seeped into his eye.

"Break off, Dieter. You're going to get yourself killed!"

Dieter couldn't tell who said it; all his thoughts began to run together. The pain in his brow, temples, ears, and eye all went away. He was intent on the destruction of his target. His rage was being let out; he was so tired of the war, so tired of the loss. It was time for it to all end. And for that short time he truly believed that destroying the doomed bomber would do it. His ammo counter dropped drastically as his high caliber shells moved continuously into the British Bomber. Flames consumed the wing and half of the plane's side as the engines exploded. Dieter watched with grim fascination as the flames spread, his cannons tearing through the fuel compartments. The bomber was instantly engulfed in a bright light, flames consuming the entire craft. Several dark shapes fell from the aft doors, burning uncontrollably, parachutes tangled behind them. Suddenly, there was a massive explosion, the mid-section of the bomber blasting apart. Dieter stared agape in awe as the plane practically disintegrated, bits of flaming rubble trailing off of what remained of the frame.

"Dieter! What are you doing? Are you all right? Answer me!"

Lieutenant Eichmann slowly began to regain his senses as Rich Rich shouted at him over his radio.

"I'm fine." He responded hazily, fumbling with his oxygen mask.

"Well your plane sure as hell isn't! You're burning up! We're all running low on fuel and ammo, Wilcke has been hit, break off back to base."

The remaining planes disengaged from the remnants of the Bomber Squadron, starting on the long-quiet flight back to Tegtmeier.

"Very well done, men." Major Peters stood behind his desk and marked the notches on the unit's 'kill board.'

Seven in all. Seven bombers and their crews no longer existed. However, the unit was now short another man.

"How about our casualties?" The Major asked, turning to face the two pilots.

"We lost Sterr, sir. And Wilcke might not live through the night." Heinrich managed to speak up first.

"Oh, that's too bad. It's acceptable though." Major Peters showed a slight sign of remorse before looking to Dieter with a cheerful smile. "Oberleutnant Eichmann, I was informed you took down three of the enemy yourself? And suffered a few wounds as well?"

"Yes, sir." Dieter replied quietly.

"Excellent, keep up the good work. I will keep you informed on the current situation. We will be very busy from now on."

"Sir!" Heinrich and Dieter both snapped to attention and voiced their acknowledgement of the Major.

"Dismissed."

The base came alive with activity at dusk. Everyday the ground crews would scramble to fulfill their duties- always cautious of the fact that the squadron might be called up for a night mission. Mechanics patched up planes as assistants and line crew put new coats of paint on burned out aircraft. Dieter sat by his Messerschmitt, the events of the day still fresh in his mind. He watched as Sergeant Lemke scrubbed down the inside of Wilcke's cockpit- removing the blood and brain matter that had been sprayed over the glass. Heinrich had been right about Wilcke. He died shortly after they made it back. Dieter found it remarkable that the young aviator found the strength to fly back to base, land his aircraft, and shut down the engines while half his head was missing.

"Watch it!"

Dieter's quiet moment of reflection was shattered as Heinrich approached. He watched as his friend berated a young painter for dripping paint on his uniform. Dieter smiled slightly, Heinrich could have avoided it if he simply hadn't walked under the boy's ladder- on which he was painting a new swastika and kill marks for Dieter's plane.

"Room for one more?" Heinrich sat down beside Dieter on the cold ground of the runway, offering him a beer with one hand. "Suit yourself," he replied as Dieter declined his offer.

Dieter sighed loudly, slumping back against his plane with his hands resting on his knees.

"I'm tired of it, Rich-Rich."

"Tired of what?" Heinrich replied, pivoting slightly to face Dieter as he opened his first bottle.

"The war. All of it. The loss especially," Dieter reached over and took one of the bottles from Heinrich's hand. "I can't deal with it anymore. It seems like such a waste. These young cadets are dying as soon as they get here...without meaning or purpose. Think of all they could have contributed to society...doctors, teachers, scientists...all of them lost to future generations! And who mourns for them? No one. We are statistics, Heinrich. We do not matter as long as their losses are greater than ours. I begin to wonder if anyone even cared when Werner died. How could they? So many people are lost each day...it's impossible to keep up," Dieter dropped the bottle back and swallowed half of its contents in one swig. He wiped his mouth with the back of his uniform's sleeve and looked to Heinrich. He had been awfully quiet during his long tirade- most unlike him.

"Why do you continue to fight, Heinrich?"

Heinrich's eyes were fixed on the ground, his blank stare transfixed on some non-existent point.

"Aufgabe, Dieter. Duty. Duty to our country, duty to the Fatherland!" He turned to Dieter, a newfound fury in his eyes, anger apparent in his voice. "Yes, war is hell, Dieter, but it is necessary. We are fighting this war to regain what is ours- to stop the oppression that was pushed upon us. Why do you think those kids are so eager to fight? Because they want to do something...they want to help the country that has raised them! You are wrong about how their deaths have no meaning...they died for what they believe in...that is meaning enough."

"And what of you, Heinrich? Can you truthfully say that you wish nothing more of yourself than to die in battle? What if you were killed tomorrow...what if the enemy was too great?"

Heinrich stood, turning his back to Dieter.

"I can only hope that I shall be so lucky as to die in such a way. With honor." He added. "At least then I would know I have accomplished something with my life. Good night, Dieter."

Dieter watched him as he walked away. He had angered his best friend. He was losing everything. He was losing his mind.

In the distance streaks of lights tore through the night sky as brilliant reds and oranges danced wildly among the shadows. The ground shook as a loud drone sounding of thunder was repeated over and over. They were bombing Berlin again. He couldn't help but think of all the families trapped in the city.

"Madness..."

The Sirens. There was nothing Dieter hated more. The loud claxons rousing him out of his peaceful slumber. It was 6:30 in the morning; Dieter had barely managed three hours of sleep.

"Get up! All of you! We have a mission. Quickly, suit up and get to your planes!" Dieter noticed that Hauptmann Reinart was in his flight suit.

"Let's go, Dieter!" Dieter felt Heinrich's strong hands on his shoulders, shaking him violently.

"I'm awake," He said groggily, slowly opening his eyes to see that Heinrich was already in his flight suit. "What's the matter? Why is everyone going crazy?"

"The Fuhrer himself has given us orders! We are to attack a Russian Armored Convoy and halt its advance. The very safety of the Reich depends on us!" Heinrich shouted excitingly, his speech barely recognizable as he spoke at a furious pace. "Get your gear on."

Heinrich tossed Dieter's heavy jump suit onto his bed as he raced out the door.

"Form up, two squads," Captain Reinart surveyed the hastily assembled ranks of pilots. Captain Reinart was the highest-ranking Company Grade Officer in the unit. He rarely went in to battle, but when he did it was almost always because Major Peters wanted to make sure everything went according to plan. Dieter, from his point in the column, was able to spot over twelve aviators. This was the largest number he had flown with since he had first arrived at the base.

"This mission is of the utmost importance, men. The Fuhrer has personally asked us to assault the enemy. Our orders..." The Captain paused; Dieter assumed it was for dramatic effect. "...are to eliminate a Soviet column moving towards Berlin. We are to expect troop transports and armored vehicles with little to no resistance. Any questions?" Reinart paused for a moment before moving on. "Good, fall out to your planes."

Dieter quickly moved to his plane, climbing into the cockpit. He glanced over to his wingman, Heinrich, as the ground crew strapped him in. Heinrich met him with a smile.

"Sounds like you won't have to worry about losing any of us today, eh Dieter?" He shouted over the drone of the squad's engines warming up.

"Seems that way. See you when we get back."

Dieter gave his friend a thumbs-up and promptly sealed his cockpit hatch.

"Targets spotted, directly below, break formation and take out the enemy, Jagdgeschwader 300, attack!"

Captain Reinart shouted over the coms as the squadron of planes began to drop altitude, moving towards the shapes below.

"Looks like I'll be earning my Tank Combat Badge after this," Heinrich said jokingly.

"Cease communications, Lieutenant. Keep the channel open for emergencies." Captain Reinart cut in.

The moving shapes below began to shift and break as the enemy spotted the planes. Dieter cut the throttle as his engines began to scream, pulling his plane out of its dive. The squad's machine guns and cannons opened up as they each began strafing the column on the road. Dieter was so low he could make out the faces on some of the soldiers below. Clouds of dust and smoke billowed into the air as the German planes' weapons tore through the Communist vehicles and the earth around them. Small arms fire erupted from below as the Russian troops attempted in vain to hit the planes with their rifles. Further down the line, gunners in T-34 tanks opened fire with their pintle-mounted heavy caliber machine guns. The column of fighter-planes jinked to opposite sides of the road as they began to attack the tanks. Small fragments of shrapnel rebounded harmlessly off of Dieter's canopy as a tank below him exploded. The unit continued down the road, leaving a trail of burnt out vehicles and dead bodies in their wake.

"First squad, continue with me. Second squad, move back after the troop transports."

Dieter followed closely behind the Captain's plane, his machine guns cutting a swathe of death through the flimsily armored Russian tanks. Two tanks, burning highly flammable diesel fuel, pitch black smoke seeping out of every hatch, crashed into each other. The sound was tremendous as both tanks slid off of the road and crashed into the ditch below. Dieter let up off the trigger, looking to his ammo counter. He had a little over one hundred rounds left, barely enough to take out an enemy unit.

"How're you doing up there, Lieutenant?" Heinrich asked over the COM.

"Decent, I'm running low on ammo...I only have enough to take out at least one enemy figh-" Dieter was cut short as one of his wingmen began shouting over the radios.

"Enemy fighters! Coming out of the cloud cover, twelve o'clock high."

Twelve YaK-1B's, a formidable group of attack craft, all bearing down on Dieter's position. The tail gunner on the Stuka Dive Bomber in front of Dieter spun around and began firing wildly at the approaching target. Incendiary rounds streaked down from a point above his view and punched through the plane, the gunner's head hanging lifelessly over the rim of his gun-hatch. The aircraft began trailing thick smoke as it slowly lost altitude, eventually crashing into the ground and tumbling forward, completely tearing itself apart.

"Take evasive maneuvers, break formation and split up!" Someone yelled frantically.

Dieter pulled back on his stick and sharply gained altitude, becoming vertical in a few moments, to his left and right his wingmen did the same. The Soviet fighters quickly became disorganized as they closed in for the kill, giving their targets the upper hand. Dieter moved his control stick to the left and cut the throttle, his aircraft pulling off a 180 as it continued to climb.

"...They're on my tail. I can't-" The transmission was cut short by a guttural scream as one of Eichmann's wingmen was destroyed, fragments of his battered plane impacting against Dieter's canopy.

One of the YaKs came in close, buzzing directly overhead. Dieter pulled back on the stick and pulled the plane all the way up and over, executing a perfect reversal. He increased the throttle and closed the gap between his plane and the enemy fighter, his cannons firing short, controlled bursts into the aircraft's body. He released the trigger as the Russian plane emitted a sudden puff of smoke and flame, quickly followed by a stream of white smoke as it descended towards the ground. Two other Soviet fighters quickly fell in behind Dieter, anxious to avenge their comrade.

"Hartmann, move right, draw one of the YaKs after you. Go!" Dieter shouted to his remaining wingman.

The two planes separated, their identical movements almost paralleling each other. Just as planned the two Soviet aircraft split up and moved after each of the German pilots. Hartmann veered in to the left and then back out to the right, keeping the pilot trailing him on the edge of his seat. Suddenly, he pulled his aircraft into a steep climb, almost stalling before he pulled into a loop and leveled out behind the Soviet. Hartmann's machine guns opened fire and cleaved a path straight through the enemy fighter, blowing it clean in two.

"Good job, Hartmann." Dieter said calmly as he pulled his aircraft to the right sharply, moving in a circle around the lone Soviet pilot.

He watched his ammo counter continue to drop as the enemy plane began to break apart, letting off of the trigger as the Russian pilot opened his canopy and slid out, free-falling rapidly.

"Jagdgeschwader 300! To me!" Captain Reinart shouted the rally call, fear apparent in his voice.

Dieter and Hartmann turned towards the others, a mass of dark shapes weaving in and out of each other, tracer fire moving back and forth amidst explosions and falling debris. Static overcame the radio as a sudden burst of light indicated that another German pilot was lost.

"Did you see a parachute? Did you see a parachute?" Dieter repeated, watching the descending aircraft as he increased his throttle.

"It looks like he's still piloting the-" Heinrich stopped himself as the young aviator's plane careened into the side of a Soviet YaK fighter, the two masses of metal and steel almost disintegrating as they met.

"Crazy son of a...Jesus!" Heinrich jinked his Messerschmitt to the side as a Russian fighter flew past him, weapons fire damaging his wing and fuselage.

"More enemy units! Coming up on our flank at 9 o'clock."

"There's too many of them...we're all low on fuel and ammo...fighting withdrawal back to the base!" The Captain shouted.

The eight remaining German fighters withdrew from the battle, following close behind Reinart as he sped back in the direction of Tegtmeier.

"The Soviet forces are pursuing us, at this rate we won't be able to make it out of here alive." One of the escort pilots said frantically.

"Obergefreiter Haffner! Lead the rest of the squad back to the base. Oberleutnants Dietrich and Eichmann and I shall stay behind and buy the rest of you some time." The Captain said quietly.

The remainder of the Luftwaffe pilots all voiced their concerns and opposition to the Captain's plan, obviously not having any effect on his decision.

"Haffner, get them out of here now!" The Captain yelled.

Corporal Haffner followed his orders and led the rest of the unit away from the three lead pilots, as Captain Reinart began to loop back towards the enemy.

"How many rounds do you have, men?"

"73." Heinrich replied.

"60." Dieter answered almost simultaneously.

"That's enough, split up and engage the enemy. Take out as many as you can, then move back to base."

"Sir!" Heinrich and Dieter both shouted their acknowledgement in unison, Dieter's enthusiasm shocking even himself as he realized he was almost certainly flying to his doom.

The Soviet YaKs moved closer, the mass almost too large to count. Tracers began to buzz past them, the Russian's aim not even coming close. Dieter and Heinrich broke formation and veered to the left and right, opposite of each other, the Captain moving up the center. Reinart instantly opened fire, his controlled fire completely destroying one fighter and damaging another, it's propeller sputtering to a stop as thick smoke poured out of the engine compartment. The Russian pilots responded in force, concentrating their fire on the Captain's plane. Reinart's battle cry sounded over the radios as he began taking hits, his plane rocking from side to side as enemy rounds impacted on his wings and fuselage. He continued to fire rapidly as his wing caught fire, his plane losing altitude as it tilted slightly to the side, white smoke trailing from its 'wound.'

"Captain, pull out!" Heinrich shouted as he flew in to the enemy mass.

Dieter watched in horror as the Captain continued to fly towards the enemy, his guns blazing, as his plane took damage; his plane lurched to the right as the wing separated, falling away from the aircraft. Reinart's Messerschmitt began to scream as it spiraled rapidly, dropping from the sky as fragments were torn from the body, ripped away by its insane speed.

"Captain!" Dieter shouted as he watched the plane disappear into the clouds, followed by a flash of light.

Heinrich released a stream of obscenities as he out-maneuvered the Russian pilots, occasionally firing short bursts of his cannon into approaching aircraft.

"We've got to get out of here Dieter! There's way too many of them...I'm almost out of ammo," Heinrich said frantically, circling around and attacking a Soviet fighter from the side.

Rich Rich fired repeatedly into the YaK, the pilot inside desperately beating at the hatches on his cockpit as high-caliber shells tore through him.

"Heinrich! Watch your six! Fighter on your tail!"

The Soviet plane came in fast, already firing as it completed its loop. A few rounds struck the tail and left wing of Heinrich's plane harmlessly, but one round managed to find its target.

In the Messerschmitt 109 the auxiliary fuel tank was located directly beneath the pilot's seat. A single round of tracer was all it took to ignite it. The fire from the burning fuel would raise the temperature in the cockpit from normal to three thousand degrees in ten seconds. If you weren't out by then, you weren't getting out at all. Heinrich was still screaming after twenty.

"Gott in Himmel, Heinrich! Get out!" Dieter pleaded, moving his plane alongside Heinrich's as is struggled and fell.

Heinrich's violent screams continued as he flailed frantically within his cockpit restraints, the burning airplane fuel clinging to what remained of his flesh and clothes and consuming all of the oxygen in the cockpit. Dieter watched as almost skeletal fists pounded against the glass of the cockpit hatch, without success. The flames became too great, and the view of the inside of the cockpit was clouded by smoke and fire. Heinrich's screams ceased. The plane, trailing burning fuel and smoke, pitched forward violently and dropped through the clouds.

"Heinrich! Heinrich!" Dieter shouted in vain, choking back the tears that filled his eyes. "You monsters! I'll kill you all!"

Dieter brought his Messerschmitt around to bear, facing the oncoming horde of enemy aircraft. He sought out the pilot that had killed Heinrich, overcome by the most primal of urges. He pulled back on the firing switch with both of his trigger fingers, the roar of his cannons echoing his emotions. He shadowed the enemy fighter, following its every move as he fired again and again. The Russian pilot pulled back the hatch on his aircraft, standing as he tried to lift himself out of his cockpit to bail out, his aircraft fixing to explode. Dieter moved in closer, concentrating the remaining rounds he had on the Russian aviator. The pilot disappeared in a mist of red spray as the shells literally tore him to pieces, blasting what was left of him over the side of his aircraft. The YaK fighter finally exploded, hampering the advance of the pilot's wingmen. Dieter dropped altitude and flew under the Russian pilots, moving back in the direction of the Tegtmeier Air Base. He was out of ammo, and his fuel gauge indicated that his plane was running on fumes. Two fighters dis-entangled themselves from the mass of soviet planes and flew after Eichmann, their weapons already beginning to fire. One round shattered the top of his canopy, sending shards of glass into his face and hands. He tried to keep his plane steady as he desperately tried to remove a shard of jagged glass from his left wrist with the aid of his teeth. The enemy fire continued, striking the engine and wings. Smoke poured out of the engine compartment, moving up and over the cockpit, blinding Dieter as he tried to breathe through the thick cloud. He coughed and gasped as he strained to see through the oily smoke, more enemy fire continuing to strike his fighter.

"They need me..." He said silently to himself.

Dieter rolled the aircraft over, flying upside down over the distant ground below. He quickly moved to un-fasten his harnesses and safety straps, as his plane broke apart around him. As he got the last strap un-done a Soviet machine gun round punched through the cockpit and cleaved through his shoulder. He screamed in pain as blood sprayed out of the deep wound, the pain giving way to fear as he felt himself falling out of his plane and towards the ground. He moved faster and faster, the ground quickly coming closer and closer. He reached for his parachute release, the feeling in his arm beginning to slip away. Then, Dieter lost consciousness.

Dieter Wolfgang Eichmann awoke floating in the waters of the Elbe River, starring up at the brilliant canopy of stars above the German countryside. As he lay there he struggled to make sense of his life as a German Fighter Pilot, and all the events that had recently unfolded. He thought of his brother, Werner, and his glorious stories of the Luftwaffe and their victories in France and Spain. He thought of the news Heinrich had given him while they were still in the Hitler Youth; that the Fatherland was in need of brave young men to fight, brave young men to die for their country. He had been so anxious then. Now Heinrich was dead. His longest friend-his only friend- was gone. He reflected on their conversation the night before the engagement, and of the words they had shared. Dieter couldn't help but think that he was somehow responsible. That his vehement statements had somehow jinxed Heinrich, that he was responsible for his very death. The tears welled up in his eyes again; he realized he must look like a mess, battered and broken-covered in blood-and sobbing like a child. As he continued to fight his devastated emotions he thought of his part in the war. His future in the war. It was obvious that Germany would be defeated; it was now only a matter of time. However, he was still uncertain of what he should do. It would be simple for him to leave. To simply pack up his things and escape the country, no one would notice at a time like this. He could fake the papers, smuggle himself into one of the neutral countries and then take a ship to London, or even America. The possibilities were endless. There was something stopping him though. He had seen the true face of war. He had experienced the loss and the sorrow. He had grieved among the comrades of the fallen. He had seen things that no child should ever be forced to see, but he still felt he owed something. Deep within his soul he still felt that surge of patriotism. That feeling that the greater good of the country and the people came first. What right did he have to ponder escape while thousands of families were being butchered in Berlin? It was beginning to become clear. Heinrich's words were forming meaning. He was a warrior now. He would die a warrior's death.

"Oberleutnant! Over here!"

Dieter was startled from his sleep by shouts from the shore. It was Hartmann, his wingman. He managed to survive the battle after all. He was on the bank, jumping up and down, waving his arms frantically.

"Oberleutnant Eichmann! I'm so glad we found you! You're still alive!"

Dieter dragged himself up onto the shore, his arm throbbing terribly from his wound.

"Lieutenant, you're wounded!"

Dieter nodded to the young Corporal, almost collapsing into his arms as exhaustion overtook him.

"Unteroffizier Lemke, sir! Help!"

Dieter slowly slipped away again as the two shapes lifted him up and began carrying him away.

"It's amazing, isn't it? No one else could have survived that battle. The Lieutenant has the devil's luck, I tell you."

"Watch the road."

Dieter was laid out in the back of the Kubelwagon, slowly regaining his consciousness as he was thrown back and forth as the vehicle made it down the bumpy road.

"Oh, which one is that?" Hartmann asked, looking off towards something in the distance.

"Lieutenant Heinrich, I believe. Either him or the Captain. Either way we won't find out till the morning...when that fire dies down." Sergeant Lemke responded.

Ahead of them, a bright glare illuminated the area, the distinctive sound of a burning fire filling Dieter's ears. He propped himself up on his good arm and managed to turn his head and look over the side of the door. In the middle of a field, burning uncontrollably was Heinrich's plane. It had smashed dead-on into the ground, completely flattening the whole front section of the aircraft. The tail section has broken off and fallen down over the nose. The fire from the fuel tank still showed no sign of letting up.

"You boys must have had one hell of a fight up there, eh?" Sergeant Lemke said in his usual cold manner.

"Oh, yes, the Reds were everywhere. I'm surprised any of us made it out." Corporal Hartmann replied.

"How many did you get?"

"Oh, a lot. I can tell you that much."

"...That's good."

Dieter sneered; he had grown tired of the conversation. Slowly, sleep overtook him again.

"Tell me again what happened after Hauptmann Reinart ordered the rest of the unit back to base." Major Peters asked, strolling back and forth in front of his desk; Dieter sitting almost lifelessly in a chair in front of him.

"Captain Reinart engaged the enemy, both Heinrich and I supported his flank. The Soviet fighters poured all of their fire onto him and destroyed his plane. Well, to be more specific he lost a wing and spiraled out of control. Then, Heinrich was taken out," Dieter paused for a moment, his gaze lowered to the floor as he suppressed the vivid images in his mind. "I used the rest of my ammo on Heinrich's attackers, and then I bailed out after my plane was damaged to a considerable degree."

The Major turned and walked behind his desk, looking out the window at the airfield, his hands fixed behind his back.

"You realize it's over, don't you?"

"Yes, sir."

The Major glanced at the date on his watch, and then looked back out the window.

"April 24th. It's all over. The Reds are circled around Berlin. Nothing is left. The remnants of the Wehrmacht are running to surrender to the Americans, deserting, escaping the Russians, or leading massive suicide assaults. The Luftwaffe is gone. The remainders of our planes were thrown away in a pathetic attack on Allied Bombers. It's only us now. Five Aviators," The Major turned around and faced Dieter, "Including you. That's all we have. I'll give you a choice, Dieter. It's up to you. Do whatever you see fit. If you want to run...if you want to live...I will not stop you. The choice is yours."

The Major took a step over to his chair and sat down, removing something from his drawer, a ceremonial Luger.

"I wish to fight, sir. I will do whatever I can up until the moment Berlin falls."

The Major smiled, looking to Dieter with a new kindness in his eyes.

"That is a very honorable decision, Lieutenant. The others are waiting."

Dieter stood and came to attention, saluting sharply.

"Make me proud, Dieter."

As Dieter left the room he heard the familiar sound of the slide on a gun being pulled back, and a round being chambered.

"Fall in!" Dieter shouted, taking the position of senior flight officer for the first time during his military career.

His four wingmen came to attention, in order from tallest to shortest. Sergeant Lemke, Corporal Hartmann, and Privates Wolf and Landers. The rest of the base had been deserted. Most of the ground crews had left to return to their families, if they were still alive, and the remaining aviators had been evacuated to Aid Stations further north.

"Are you sure you are ready for this?" Dieter asked, looking to the pilots questioningly.

"Sir, yes, sir!" The squad shouted in unison.

Dieter turned and looked back towards the headquarters building. Suddenly, a loud gunshot was heard.

"What was that?" Hartmann asked.

"Escape. Let's get to our planes."

Berlin. The once great city now lay in ruin, reduced to rubble by massive allied assaults and bombing raids. The squad was approaching it now, coming up fast, searching for any unit great enough to fight. Below, the forces of Soviet Russia were looped around the city, artillery emplacements laying constant barrage as tanks and platoons of men skirmished with the remaining defenders of the city.

"Lieutenant, sir. RAF Spitfires, straight ahead, bearing down on us." Lemke said calmly.

"Stay in formation, break once we are in range. Five on Seven," Dieter grinned, tightening the grip on his throttle, "This 'outta be fair."

The group increased their speed and closed in on the group of British fighters, staying in formation the entire time.

"Break formation on my command."

The enemy fighters grew closer and closer, tracer fire erupting from a few of them.

"Now!"

The unit split up, weaving through the Spitfires and looping back around. Private Wolf acted first, firing rapidly into a British 'Spit from behind. Within a minute the revered fighter plane was sent crashing back down towards the Earth. The squad split up, every man for himself as the remaining six Spitfires came into the fray. Tracer fire zipped past Dieter's canopy as he closed in on two enemy fighters, each taking notice of him and closing in for the kill. Dieter pulled back on the stick and arched into the sky, cutting the throttle and dropping back down towards to the two enemy fighters as they flew under him. He pulled back on his firing switch and moved his stream of fire directly over the two fighters. One Spitfire ignited and caught fire, veering from side to side as he struggled to stay in the air. In it's final movements it dipped to the left and crashed into its wingman, completely destroying the two planes.

"How are the rest of you doing?" Dieter asked.

"I've taken a few hits, but I'm ok." Private Wolf responded.

"One enemy fighter downed." Replied Lemke.

"Having trouble with this one..." Hartmann said nervously, his plane dipping out of the way of an approaching Spitfire, it's guns fixed on the young pilot.

"Hang on, Hartmann." Said Landers, bringing his Messerschmitt around to face the Corporal's attackers.

He flew his plane forward, drawing away two Spitfires as Hartmann managed to duck under and destroy the other.

"Good work, squad." Dieter said calmly as the pilots closed in for the kill, completely destroying the last two British fighters.

"Flak from the ground."

"It's getting heavier now."

"That's not just anti-air...those are full scale air defenses." Sergeant Lemke said.

Anti-aircraft fire from the ground shot up through the sky, individual bursts of fire moving towards their targets. Private Wolf moved his plane left and right, trying to avoid the enemy, but he failed. A burst of AA tore through his left wing and fuselage, starting a fire and stripping away most of his plane. The young pilot veered sharply to the right, arcing up towards the sky as the smoke began to pour from his engines.

"Bail out, Wolf!" Landers cried, his aircraft flying overhead.

"Get out!" Shouted Lemke.

The plane continued to fall, eventually disappearing into the clouds.

"Did anyone see a chute? Anyone?" Dieter's worry turned into panic as a group of menacing dark shapes moved up from below.

There were six enemy fighters, all in formation, moving down on them. Judging by their shape and speed they were Soviet YaKs. The unit markings on their tails indicated that they were the same squadron that had been responsible for Heinrich's death.

"Alright, men. This is it. Conserve your ammo and fire in short, controlled bursts."

The four Messerschmitts increased their throttle and sped up in the direction of the enemy, the anti-aircraft fire from below becoming more frequent as they made began to fly deeper over enemy territory. One of the YaKs broke formation, coming in low in an attempt to jump up from underneath the German pilots. Landers angled himself and fired, the Russian pilot's decreasing altitude giving the young pilot the perfect target. Landers' 30mm ripped through the top of the Soviet plane, splintering metal and steel as it worked towards the cockpit. The glass shattered out, mingling with blood as the Soviet pilot's life ended.

"Good shot, Landers. Squad, break formation."

The German planes split up and moved into the mass of Soviet fighters. Cannon fire struck Dieter's wing and fuselage but he continued on, firing non-stop into the nearest enemy. The images of Heinrich burning alive continued to play over and over in his head. He couldn't stop picturing his friend desperately pulling at his safety harness and clawing at his throat as he was robbed of oxygen. His friend's suffering was brought on by these men, and he would make every last one of them pay for it.

"Sir, I-" Landers was hit as he attempted a roll, his aircraft stalling and becoming vertical in a matter of seconds as it began to fell. The plane moved into a spin that was almost completely uncontrollable, and impossible to escape.

"Landers!" Hartmann shouted.

"There's nothing that we can do for him now, keep your mind on the battle!" Dieter shouted in response.

Sergeant Lemke downed another Russian fighter, continuing to fire upon it as the plane began to scream in agony, 'bleeding' its smoke and fuel into the stratosphere. He pulled off, jinking to the left to avoid enemy fire, as he opened fire with his cannons on the nearest unit. There were only five Russian fighters now, and three German planes. They would make it through it. They still had a chance to make it out of this with their lives.

"Increased enemy flak from the ground. I'm hit! I've lost my control systems!" Hartmann screamed over the radio.

"Bail out! Don't do anything stupid, bail out now!"

Hartmann's plane, trailing a thin layer of smoke from the hole in its mid-section, continued to fly level. Hartmann moved the stick to the side, easily rolling the plane upside down. Sergeant Lemke engaged the enemy fighters, holding them off as Hartmann attempted to eject. Dieter watched as he pulled back his hatch and moved for his harness. He was just about ready to free-fall when an A.A. found tore right through the nose of his plane, instantly killing him.

"This ends now!" Dieter found himself screaming, speeding towards the enemy with his 30mm and his cannon firing rapidly.

Sergeant Lemke ducked out of the way, pursued by two enemy fighters. Dieter managed to destroy one, but the other out-maneuvered him, and found his target. Sergeant Lemke was dead before he even had time to make one last transmission. The three remaining YaKs closed in on Dieter's plane, two of them letting their streams of fire cross. Dieter took their mistake to his advantage and dived underneath the center-most Soviet fighter. The two escort planes did the same, moving directly underneath their squadron leader and after Dieter, with their guns blazing. As they completed their arc, theirs lines of fire found each other. Both pilots were instantly killed as their own wingmen's weapons tore their way through their cockpits. The last Soviet fighter came up fast behind Dieter, his shooting more controlled than the other pilots. Dieter realized that he was either a senior officer or an ace of some kind, his skills far superior to that of the average Russian pilot. Dieter tried to loop around to attack him from behind, but he was too fast for him. The soviet pilot began firing on him as he started his maneuver, machine gun rounds punching through the top of his craft and his cockpit. A strip of his cockpit dis-lodged and slammed back into his face, shattering his aviator goggles. Dieter screamed as the glass was pushed into his eyes, blood almost completely clouding his vision. Dieter leveled out his plane, facing the oncoming fighter head-on. He pulled back on the firing switch, and nothing happened. Dieter gazed upon his ammo counter, its numbers reading 000. The incoming fighter began firing, striking Dieter's aircraft in several places. A fire erupted in the aft section, the heat in the cockpit beginning to rise. Suddenly, the multitude of thoughts in Dieter's mind seemed to disperse. All of his questions became answered. He knew what he had to do. The Soviet fighter continued his approach, firing wildly as he flew straight towards Dieter. Dieter increased the throttle and held his plane steady, increasing speed as he desperately tried to see out of what was left of his eyes. The Russian pilot realized what Dieter was doing, but all too late. Dieter pulled up on the stick at the last moment, increasing the throttle one last time and driving his plane straight into the enemy.

At the last moment, before everything went black, a single thought played over and over in Lieutenant Dieter Wolfgang Eichmann's mind.

"Escape."