Phoenix Fall

Falling through the sky wreathed in flame. Their mechs twisted about through the air, clinging hopelessly together, propulsion systems down, pieces of their armor scattering across the heavens. For miles they had plummeted, for miles more they would continue to fall; until either the land or the sea would meet them and bring their journey to a stop. Their great machines clung to one another, their hearts to one another, trying to give hope and assurance in their last moments. Yet they each knew the truth. Their suits were not designed for such a violent entry into an atmosphere.

They were both going to die.

He had warned their commander that they weren't prepared, that the enemy was too well entrenched for their small taskforce. The stubborn fool hadn't listened. At once they had been overwhelmed, star fighters dying by the dozen; frigates and cruisers breaking apart in the upper atmosphere or exploding in the lower, their shields failing beneath withering volleys of laser fire or the hulls torn through by deadly railgun shells.

Why had she been there, in the midst of all that horror? He'd been told that she and her mercenaries had been called off elsewhere, somewhere that was said to be winning. Perhaps they were saying the same about this battle too?

The fight for the planet's highest reaches had become a lost cause. Left with but a handful of his mech squadron and their failing home cruiser, they had tried to punch a way out of that zero-gravity hell, hoping to be the ones to survive, to report back on the enemy's true strength here, but more importantly to survive. The admiral's ship was destroyed, he could no longer tell them to stay and die for the glory of the Empire.

All of a sudden the call had come, a cry for them to wait, to let another squad join the survivors. He had been shocked to hear her voice, but not as much as he was when the ship they had been escorting blew apart. Shrapnel and bodies flew faster than the nonexistent sound, ripping through machines and flesh, killing the entire mercenary band at once: all except for her. He had seen at once how little that meant, for her propulsors had been damaged in the metallic meteor storm. Already gravity was at work upon her.

He had broken ranks at once, risked everything to reach out and grab her mech's hand. It had seemed to last eternity, that moment of surreality. Floating effortlessly, his woman dangling thousands of meters above a beautiful world of ice and snow and seas, their peril begun because two groups couldn't agree who had the right to tear that beauty apart for a bunch of rocks.

Then at once, it had come crashing down. An enemy fighter roared silently down upon them, a titanium dragon spitting balls of plasma down upon them. A single shot from his gun was all it took to shatter that ship, but a lucky hit was all it took to send both man and woman plunging into the world's atmosphere.

For a time his ship was like its namesake, wreathed in flame and glory, flying high above the lands, death awaiting. But the flames were flames of death, of reentering the atmosphere, of falling. There was no glory, and there would be no rebirth. The pyre would be of twisted metal and melting plastic instead of myrrh and cinnamon, and it would be shared with one this Phoenix had tried and failed to protect.

Friction and flame tore at their alloy shells, the metal screamed in protest. The lovers whispered false promises of salvation, then apprehensive vows to reconcile beyond. With a screech, an arm of her machine pulled free and for a moment she threatened to depart. He reached out once more, grabbed hold, promised never to let go.

Down below, the enemy was not merely content to let them die in relative peace. Surface cannons filled the sky with flak, intent upon destroying escape pods and all other survivors who attempted to reach the surface. A shell struck the arm of his mech, ripping it apart, the force of the explosion ripping them apart. He screamed as he watched her machine drift away in altered flight path, stretching vainly with his remaining arm as she did so with hers.

He was oblivious to the wall of blue rushing towards him, yelling into his headset for her and heaping curses upon his machine, hoping to make it fly again through force of will alone. His mad eyes were fixated upon the dwindling, burning dot fading away, nearly missing her final words to him as she drifted out of range.

A single word, nothing more: I.

He whispered that final word to himself, knowing what had been her intention, all the weight behind that unsaid phrase. He leaned back in his seat, whispering it over and over again; defeated, broken, lost.

Into the cold hearted sea the Phoenix fell, quenching the flames of its pyre and smothering all will or desire for life.

Deeper, ever deeper the Phoenix sank, the plunge never ending. From heaven's heights he had fallen, now he was destined to witness the abyss' depths.

He closed his eyes, hoping that the Phoenix would spring a leak, would let in the cleansing water that would purge him of his pain. He wished that the ship would sink faster, so that the weight of the sea would crush him and the press of his despair.

Into oblivion the Phoenix fell.

Fin

Author's Note: This is something that I'd been meaning to write for a while, but was finally spurred to do at the possibility of getting some of my work published in the school literary journal. I got the idea for this story while listening to the song "Zaephyr's Skies Theme," from Luca Turilli and Rhapsody of Fire's most excellent album "Prophet of the Last Eclipse." The song always struck me as rather sad and as the perfect backdrop for a tragic scene, and since I'd been adding images and characters for a planned science fiction series of mine while listening to it, this was the result. Please critique me, as I'd like to polish this up a bit before the deadline, and any and all critical reviews will be very helpful towards getting this published.

Thank you all in advance.