You are less than nothing without a partner.

The words of the resistance leader

echoed in Raiden Akira's head along with the rattling of anti-aircraft fire outside his

plane. He slid the yoke to the left and then to the right, weaving in the air.

Stargrazer missiles. All the Strike Pilots hated them. They came out of nowhere,

hit too fast for you to use a countermeasure, and exploded after punching a hole in your

plane. Your only hope was to fly in groups and make sure all three darts didn't hit one

aircraft. Solo, you were as good as dead.

Raiden's hands grew damp with sweat and he struggled to hang on to the yoke.

He had to get out of here, before he-

Bang! "Sore wa chodo subarashi kotoda*," Raiden muttered. He looked back

quickly to see what the missile had hit. The left wing tip had been completely sheared off,

and flames already began to climb across it. He tried his hydraulics. Nothing. He'd have

to land her.

He flipped the thrust levers down and brought the plane into a downward

plummet. The wind coming in through the hole in the wing whistled around his head

as the aircraft plunged toward the base. Dimly he noticed that the aircraft fire had

stopped. They're probably just waiting until I get out and then they'll kill me.

A few minutes later the trees and the rectangular brown buildings of the base

came into clear view. Raiden raised the nose of the plane several inches just before the

wheels hit the ground.

Immediately the plane skidded across the concrete, sliding left toward one of the

buildings. Raiden slammed his foot down on the brake with all the strength he could put

behind it. No good. The plane slowed but did not stop, the energy left from the descent

propelling it along its path to the building.

In only seconds the plane smashed into the building. The impact threw Raiden up

against the control panel, pinning him against the controls, then just as viciously thrust

him back down onto the seat.

He stayed in that position for a few seconds, trying to breathe normally. Every

breath made his chest hurt worse, but he forced himself to inhale deeply. He reached

up and pulled his helmet off. The crown had been split from the force of the blow.

Dark sticky blood dripped down from his hair and into his eyes. He must have cut his

head on the broken edge of the helmet.

He rose to his feet slowly, clutching at his ribs. Got to get out of here. He

jerked at the door latch. The door only opened a half inch. Now what?

Raiden tried the passenger door. Locked. It looked like he'd have to do this the

hard way. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed the helmet by the straps and swung it

into the glass.

The glass shattered around him, spraying him with a thousand small shards.

He raised his arm to protect his face from the shower of glass fragments, but pieces

still cut his bare hands.

Once the glass had fallen, he climbed through the jagged hole. The edges

of glass still remaining in the door tore at his arms and legs and back, but he kept

going until he had made it out of the plane and onto the ground.

Raiden looked back at the wreckage. The fire continued to crawl across the

body of the plane, inching its way up to the nose. It wouldn't be long before the

whole building caught fire.

He staggered away from the twisted heap of metal, holding his side as he

with every step, and the blood trickling into his eyes made it difficult to see where

he was going. He felt so dizzy...

He grabbed onto the top rail and hauled himself up onto it with his right hand.

He tried to hoist himself over the edge. A sharp spasm of pain shot through his chest

as he put his weight on the arm. He gasped in pain and fell from the fence, his fingers

slipping off the rail.

He hit the ground hard, knocking the air out of his lungs and doubling the pain

in his ribs. Panting for breath, he lay there, exhausted, too sore to move. Let them find me.

It's not worth it anymore.

He stared up at the sky and the freedom that lay behind

the fence, just out of his reach. Finally, unable to bear the pain, his body shut down and

he lost consciousness, closing his eyes as blackness rushed over him.

*Sore wa chodo subarashi kotoda = That's just great.