It was the most terrible, beautiful thing Sky had ever seen. The city was no longer burning and the wind had taken with it all the plumes of unhealthy smoke, leaving just the blackened body of the city behind, calm and still. Nothing moved but occasional ebony dust devils, tiny storms of ash and sparks enjoying brief lifespans between the corpses of once-majestic buildings now gutted, disemboweled by fire and flame. What was left of NIDHOGYR stood in front of the gridwork remains of a once towering skyscraper, quite destroyed. It would take a miracle to get it working again, as Monster or Leviathan: like a wounded animal, it was backed up against the wall, bleeding gouts of electro-conduit fluid and gasoline and antifreeze, all of its many tanks punctured. Huge rents in the metal plates presented rough razor edges to the slow approach of morning. Weak sunlight glistened in the blue and black pathways of slick liquids dripping down battered metal plates.
The cockpit of the dead Leviathan was open at a weird angle, dented somewhere so it couldn’t open all the way and allow light into the cockpit. None of the instruments inside reflected onto the roof of the cabin; all of them were still and silent and the only light Sky could see was a single red blink by the radio. A gust of ash wind buffeted the side of the robotic corpse. Sky already knew that the city and the Leviathan would not be the only casualty as he walked GU!NEFORT in closer. The wind howled terrible laments past the sides of his once-white Leviathan and even as GU!NEFORT’s muzzle was close enough to NIDHOGYR’s cockpit for Sky to attempt to jump from one to another, the sun dawned completely over the black outline of the cityscape. Sharp rays of light lanced every detail and the globe of our solar system’s star formed a stylized halo behind NIDHOGYR’s head as Sky opened his own cockpit and, apprehension in his chest feeling like its gravitational mass should be about equal to that of the star, stepped out towards NIDHOGYR’s cockpit.
The metal under him was still cool from the disappearing night and slick with black dew. Sky paused in front of the narrow gap of darkness that lead into Dusty’s cockpit. He closed his eyes and turned the pink noise of his headphones all the way down before climbing into the gloomy cockpit. Shafts of abrupt light pierced the dark interior through huge bulletholes in the cockpit’s metal cover. Sky had to step over bullet shards the size of watermelons.
Dusty lay up against the rear wall of the cabin. There was nothing peaceful about him: death for him was not like sleep at all. Shrapnel from exploding bullets had torn through his clothing and
he lay in a pool of blood that had dripped down the slightly inclined plane towards Sky’s feet, bright red where it passed through shafts of light and swirled around Dusty’s discarded controller. His eyes were still open but they saw nothing in this world. He had his hands in his lap, holding the teddy bear Jack had given him, stained with blood. Sky walked over and closed the dead pilot’s eyes and laid dollar coins on his closed eyelids.
Sky’s eyes tingled with unwelcome tears but he bit his tongue to stop them from coming. He didn’t need his vision blurred by tears, not yet. He looked around the ruined cockpit. The lump of apprehension in his heart had collapsed into utter despair and hurt the more for it, but he could do nothing about it yet, so he turned to the interfaces in front of him, reaching for the device at his belt so he could record the last data the Leviathan had gathered. The red, blinking light caught his eye again. There was a message still in the machine. He knew even before he pressed the appropriate buttons that he would hear Dusty’s familiar voice, his badly Spanish Patchwork.
The recording started with a crackle of static and noise. The machine had been damaged and when the mechanical echo of Dusty’s voice filled the cockpit for the last time, it was broken and distorted by unworldly breaks and hums, filtered through a digital hell. < I---I. L—o—love-ee- yo—o-oooo. A- ll. Of yooo-u. Do-n’t forget meee. > The recording stopped. Sky played it again twice, and then his eyes were too full of tears for him to see the play button. He stood there with Dusty’s body behind him and the sun rising regardless, feeling like the entire world must be ending. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he heard a slurred mumble of some incomprehensible language, followed by Weft’s voice low and translating: “on the wings of the dawn come the wings of true seraphim”. The angels had come to take Dusty away. Dusty, who had died alone, in a city already too far gone to save.
Sky felt like the world was ending. He didn’t know how Jack would feel – couldn’t even begin to imagine the sheer agony. He unplugged his combox and did not turn to look back at Dusty’s body. He climbed out into the sunlight, cursing the weather for being so good: the sun for being so bright, the sky so blue, when it should have been raining. The streets should’ve been running with ash-laden rainwater. The sky should’ve been crying for Dusty, too.
It took Sky a long time to finally patch to the others.
< I found him. > Sky said softly. He did not have to say anything more than that. Jack started crying: pathetic, total and abject sorrow like a small child, unashamedly, rocking in her chair. Sky glanced at Weft’s portrait. The mad pilot said nothing, but he removed his glasses and closed his eyes. His mouth moved, and although Sky knew that Weft didn’t believe in any religion he knew that the man pilot was praying.
< He left a message, > Sky said, finding it difficult to talk though the lump in his throat. He connected the multimedia drive at his belt to GU!NEFORT’s computers and played Dusty’s last words through to the others. Jack listened intently. She blinked away tears and seemed to be making an effort not to break down. She was trying to be strong, Sky realized, but he knew he had heard something break when the message ended, and it wasn’t anything on his side of the line but on hers. Maybe it was a heart. Maybe it was a spirit. Maybe it was nothing at all.
< Tell him I love him too, Weft, > Jack said. Weft opened one eye, then when he continued speaking it was no longer under his breath. In what Sky now recognized as Enochian, Weft continued. It wasn’t a prayer or a sutra for Dusty, Sky concluded, as Weft’s nasal sneer was replaced by something different and moving, it was for those left behind.