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Rated: E · Short Story · War · #2071936
Prompt: WWII with dragons and robots. Had to be under three pages.

It's different up there, in the air. Not like a plane, with the noisy engine and the exhaust to sting your lungs. It's so quiet, so still. It's just you and your thoughts, and yet, you know it isn't. The beast beneath you, it thinks too, it breathes with you. It knows you, secretly.

I remember my first day of basic training. They brought us to the stables where they keep the dragons straight away. Our sergeant was the type to believe in learning through experience. He told us to mount the first dragon we could get to. Naturally, none of us moved a finger; we were petrified.

I had never seen one in person up to that point, and I'm pretty sure most of the guys in my unit hadn't either, or if they had, it had been a novelty more than anything. You saw them all the time in the short films and the posters, but it was nothing like real life. In the movies, they always seemed so big, so majestic, and yet, so far away, like a dream. Up close, you can hear them breathing. You can see the pain in their eyes, the terror. They were just as scared as we were. I think that is why I stayed with it for as long as I did; I felt like I was one of them.

I always wondered, as a child, you know, how the gunner piloted the dragon and fired the gun at the same time. I didn't take into consideration the fact that the dragon was just as adept, just as at-ease- probably more-so, to be honest- than any pilot. The dragons could fly just fine without our help, but something about leaving total control in the hands of the dragon was unnerving, so most guys preferred to be behind the reigns.

The first time I took a dragon into the air was also the first time I felt what it was like to be completely helpless, and completely at peace, all at once. The dragon glides coolly, almost like an ice skate, through the air. The helmets they gave us, the ones you see the guys wearing in the adverts from those times, were so uncomfortable that many of us took them off and let the wind flow through our hair. It was cold up there, don't get me wrong, and windy all the same, but it was better than having your face pinched for the sake of "aerodynamics".

One night, in the bunks, I heard some guys complaining. They were talking about how completely outmatched we were, which was true to some extent, but not as much as I think they would have liked to have believed. The Nazis, you remember, piloted huge mechanized tanks with crushing, hydraulic arms and guns in every available recess. They were, quite literally, war machines built for slaughter. They belched black smoke into the sky, cranked and slashed and screamed at the air. The red insignia was the worst part. It was almost cartoonish, that symbol. To us, anyway. It had become the sole representation of evil in its purest form, a perfect embodiment of all we stood- or, in my case, flew- against. And now it was coming to get us.

The war machines weren't invincible, of course. We had guns too, plenty of them, and the dragon's fire, of course, we had that. Some said the fire was hotter than the sun, others say it was the hottest thing imaginable. Indeed, I had seen it turn lead to slag in seconds, turn steel white-hot effortlessly- not to mention, strip flesh from bone and then turn the bones to dust. I was never sure about the sun thing, though. All I knew for sure was that when those Nazi tin-cans got so hot you couldn't look at them without squinting, it had to be hell for the guy inside.

I ran three tours over there. You probably knew that already, though. Killed me some Nazis, plenty of Nazis.

I remember my first engagement vividly. There were five of us in that platoon. It was an overcast sky, which was our first of many blessings that day. The enemy was camped in the woods, concealed under a canopy of sparse leaves. It was difficult for them to hide, though, since their heaviest and best defenses spouted black smoke and betrayed their position.

Of course, dragons are the ideal air support, because, apart from the occasional outburst, they were entirely silent, which meant no warning. We held the complete element of surprise.

This was early in the war- also a blessing- and the enemy had not yet developed the decoy smokers. I'm sure you've read about them, the cylinders of thick smoke that were planted about the countryside. Any man flying above the clouds who couldn't tell the difference would either have to fly below to get a better look, or fire blind from above, at which point he would give his position away. It was a dark and ingenious piece of engineering which, thankfully, I did not have the pleasure of dealing with.

Once we had pinpointed the enemy encampment and were sure of our actions, we began our descent. We came down a mile west of the encampment, and silently approached.

Our first pass destroyed the foliage and likely roasted anyone on the ground as well. Unfortunately, we were not able to sustain the attack long enough the completely destroy the heavier artillery. Our second pass was met with considerable resistance. Two gunners in the camp and a third to the left a bit that we had not noticed on our first run opened attempted to repel us.

The man to my left- a guy in my barrack- went down almost immediately. I watched the dragon's eyes as it died. It was surprised, astonished at first. Then it was sad. I could see it get visibly angry, almost indignant as it neared the ground. It did not deserve to die this way, and it knew it. It became a cloud of debris when it hit the ground all the same, though, and our numbers became one less.

Our platoon leader drove us up, and we doubled back. We returned to our initial position, making ourselves scarce above the clouds once more. However, the plan was only just beginning.

To avoid the heavy fire, using the smoke as a marker, we positioned ourselves above the camp. At the leader's signal, we dropped straight down like bullets, reducing what normally would have been a remarkably large target to a spot difficult to see even with a spyglass.

With finesse, we decimated the two mechs. The gunner in the woods attempted surrender, but there was no surrender when it came to dealings with dragons. The man, his red armband trembling, was turned to ash before our very eyes.

We got a medal for that strike. I think our platoon leader received a promotion as well.

Anyway, I don't want to bore you with the ramblings of an old soldier. I'll be on my way.

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