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Red Sand

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If there was one thing that the Garrison excelled in, it was their ability to find the roughest and most barren places to build their bases and surrounding air zones. Far from their home base located in sunny Southern California, the Garrison’s best used zone was right in the middle of burning dirt and rocky mountains, devoid of green and movement but full of red sand and red rocks that crumbled into red sand. It was a place that made many a pilot question their reasons for becoming a Garrison pilot but ultimately the empty skies, colored a refreshing blue, won over their hearts. And it was here in these skies that the pilots learned to focus as this particular Garrison zone was home to the testing of their latest aircrafts.

Any pilot worth his or her salt dreamed of being one of the Garrison’s test pilots. It was one thing to train to become pilots of commonplace fighter jets. It was quite another to train to become the first pilots of top of the line jets not yet seen before, all risks and dangers of death and injury aside. Here in the sapphire skies, test pilots flew new marvels of gravity defying crafts and hoped that they would soar above to blue instead of down to red. Wonders of Garrison engineering aside, this story takes place on a particular day. A very particular day that many waited years to come because on this day, the brand new HoH-3 Kerberos was taking to the skies for the first time. Sleek and stunning and utterly terrifying in her deadly beauty, the Kerberos was the height of human engineering. She was aptly named the Hound of Hades, a weapon created to end wars, not fight them. She was the product of a dream’s dream, fast and responsive with nearly endless capabilities and very low maintenance. Her little team of three was all that she required to soar.

Samuel Holt was the first in her line-up, the ground control techie who acted as the middleman between the pilots and the base she flew in and out of. Today Sam was analyzing the data that she was transmitting to his computers, ensuring that her first flight would be as smooth as could be. Next on the list was Matt Holt, the co-pilot and communicator who relayed information to ground control from the cockpit of the jet. And seated in front of him was the last of their team, the pilot himself. Takashi Shirogane, the Garrison’s very own Golden Boy, and the only man to have ever flown the Kerberos both in real life and in prior simulations. In his hands, the jet exceeded all expectations.

The flight test was only an hour underway but it was still enough time that the scientists who were helping Sam analyze the mass of data were left scratching their heads. Math and science were supposed to be the basic blocks of life, sound and nearly immovable. But nobody had bothered to tell the Kerberos that. Takashi Shirogane, despite his own knowledge that math and science were fact, was swept along in the rush. The Kerberos didn’t just fly, she soared above and beyond. Shiro was already half convinced that she was semi-sentient, the Kerberos responding to every whim almost before he even thought of it. His co-pilot however, was less pleased to the responsiveness of the jet because if there was one thing that Matt Holt knew about his best friend, it was that Shiro loved the adrenaline rush of near death maneuvers. The fact that Shiro now had access to a jet that would let him do those kinds of stunts without any problem, was most definitely a problem for Matt.

“So fucking help me Shirogane, if you do one more barrel roll, I will not be responsible for the vomit that’s going to line this cockpit.” Matt growled as his stomach rolled in mock imitation of the Kerberos. Shiro’s response was to give a deep chuckle but he held the jet steady instead of doing anymore moves that were not on Matt’s List of Approved Maneuvers.

“Come on Holt, we’re supposed to be testing the jet.” Shiro teased. “And that means testing her capabilities.”

“Yeah, testing her capabilities! Not seeing how far you can take her before g-force catches up to you!”

“Boys, save the banter for another time. Matt, you can complain all you want but you’re the one who asked to be co-pilot. One would think you’d have learned from your past experiences flying with Shiro but I guess not every Holt is as well versed in common sense as they are in STEM. There was a squawk of dismay from Matt but his father just raised his voice to speak over him. ‘And Shiro… please stop terrorizing my son. I know it’s fun but I don’t think the Garrison would approve of the cleaning bill for the cockpit.”

“Yes sir, whatever you say sir.” Shiro responded. Matt could practically hear the shit-eating grin, the bastard.

“Just you wait Shirogane… I know where you sleep. Retribution will be swift and terrible.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” Shiro responded easily. Matt could still hear that awful smug grin.

“I’m thinking of shaving cream in the hands while you’re asleep, clothes and towels disappearing from the bathroom while you shower, painting your bike hot pink. Hey, who knows, maybe I’ll even get Katie to help-”

The Kerberos made a sickening lurch and Shiro felt the controls pull in his hands, listing to the right. He steadied them and the jet leveled off again. Matt was silent behind him and Shiro chuckled, albeit a little nervously.

“You were saying, Holt?”

Matt opened his mouth to retort but a pop of sound and color off the right wing rocked the Kerberos and sent her flailing through the air. Matt grabbed onto an oh, shit handle, a feature he had made the engineers install when he found out Shiro was going to be the pilot and squeezed his eyes shut. Shiro immediately tried to correct the jet and steady her but he already knew, deep down, that something was very, very wrong. He looked to his right and the white and steel gray of the wing was interrupted by the black of smoke and the orange flickering of fire.

Another explosion, larger than the last, and the Kerberos was back to performing barrel rolls that Shiro had earlier just been doing for fun. Behind him, Matt had started screaming, frozen in his seat. In their ears, Sam and other distant voices were yelling about several system failures. Shiro hung onto the controls and tried to hold them steady once more, the Kerberos pulling out of the rolls but still barely in his control. Shiro’s arms ached with the effort of holding on and out of the corner of his eye he could see the right wing half missing. His right side felt hot and stuffy and he caught the flicker of flames again, outside the glass of the cockpit.

“I’m going to try and land her!” He called through the comms, already doing his best to angle the Kerberos into a controlled descent towards the endless stretches of sand, but then a third explosion rocked the jet and now the right wing was completely gone. The controls were yanked out of Shiro’s hands and the jet went into a tailspin. “Matt! Eject!”

“What?! This jet is worth-”

“I don’t care! I am the commanding officer here and I’m telling you to eject! She’s lost!” Matt fumbled for his lever and then pulled. The top of the cockpit came free and Matt soon followed. Shiro waited to see his parachute deploy before fumbling for his own lever. He pulled it and nothing happened. He yanked it harder a few more times and still he was stuck in the out of control jet. The flicker of flames was now much closer than before and the rush of wind filled his head.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Shiro continued to pull on the lever as hard as he could.

“Shiro! Get out of there!”

“I’m trying! My seat’s stuck!”

Abandoning the damaged lever, Shiro gripped the controls once more and held on with all his strength as he pleaded in his mind for the jet to at least stop its spinning. Shiro didn’t have time to wonder as the jet faltered and steadied somewhat, enough to see which way was up. His body froze for a moment, staring straight down at the ground, then Shiro yanked hard at the controls, the Kerberos pulling out of the nosedive. It was still too fast and too out of control for Shiro to do anything other than hold on tight as the belly of the jet hit the sand, the force of it causing the Kerberos to creak and then shatter around him. Shiro’s head snapped back and he felt his helmet fly off, then he was jerked forward and he saw the controls rush to meet him. Pain exploded in his head as it met the dash and then it was mercifully black.