Empty Skies Over Tokyo – WBWW runner-up
This story got a lot of praise from one of our judges, Aimee the winner of this year’s First Person Fortnight competition.
The strengths of the story that spoke to me most, aside from the expected “good grammar/punctuation/understanding of storytelling”:
1) Great demonstration of “Show, don’t tell.” It’s probably the only story that didn’t do this to a fault. It was narrating but it was describing what the characters were doing and how they were interacting with their environment and thus communicating “this is good/exciting/something I’m proud of” to the reader.
2) A clear format made to show the intended style; well-chosen names of places and dates. Very striking in their military/future origin, but not over-explained.
3) It comes full circle and leaves this reader with a simple feeling of family identity and pride in one’s place in the world, but doesn’t get more complicated than that. Vocabulary is tight and story feels focused.
4) Mature and sophisticated world outlook and a writing style to match it.
I also liked the detail that the “ancestor” was from 2003. 🙂 That makes great sci-fi.
Here’s the story in full.
Empty Skies Over Tokyo
Tokyo Airfield, Japan, Stardate 238912.29
The cold night air made the slim Starfleet Captain pull the old Russian military jacket closer as she left the shelter of the empty pilot’s lounge and made her way out onto the tarmac. The runway lit up the darkness in the distance, but only the moon above offered light by which she could make her way out to the sleeping beast that sat waiting. The barely used airport, a remnant of a time long before transporters and shuttlecraft, was desolate and silent. But for the raven haired command officer, nowhere else in the world felt so much like home.
Ahead, only the hard edges of the metallic creature shone in the paleness of the moonlight, reminding her of many nights when she was a child. The simple trek from the building to the exposed tarmac where the plane sat was one she’d made many times as a child, always with one hand gripping her helmet, and the other pulling excitedly on her grandfather’s much larger hand. In the silence, she could almost hear his deep laugh on the tendrils of winter wind that whipped around her as she pulled her fur-lined hood down and replaced it with a helmet eerily reminiscent of days long gone.
In the darkness, she walked up to the sleeping beast as if intimately acquainted with it and, without sight, pulled off one glove and reached out a hand to touch the tip of the wing. Beneath her bare fingers, the metal was ice cold and quiet. None of the telltale vibrations moved through it as they did when the beast was brought to life. For now, it slept, silent, but it wasn’t always that way…
Somewhere Over the Persian Gulf, March 20th, 2003, 03:24 UTC (10:24 PM EST)
It was still early in the morning, local time, but he’d already been awake for well over three hours. With orders that had been pending, John was just one of the many pilots that would be leaving the Abraham Lincoln aboard their steel birds on a mission that would change history that day. The President of the United States had given an ultimatum to the leader of the oil rich nation, an ultimatum that gave only 48 hours for the man and his sons to leave the country, or face war. That 48 hours came, and passed, without word from the tyrant that it had been destined for.
And so, about an hour after the deadline was gone, John found himself in the air with his brothers, in a tight formation heading straight into the teeth of the Middle Eastern monster.
The morning had been unlike any other, and as they throttled towards the landmass in their state of the art F/A-18F SuperHornet fighters, they each had a chance to run through the briefings, and their own thoughts, in their minds over and over again. As for the cogitation in his head, he found himself looking at the small picture of his newborn child that he kept in the cockpit. She was the future and his entire reason for doing what he did. A small smile appeared on his face as he looked up at the HUD and saw the edge of the sand fast approaching. It was only then that the words of their commander and the orders given at the briefing came to mind. Seconds later, his radio burst to life.
They were here and it was time to rain hellfire down on the nation that defied the world. For freedom, for life, and for the safety of his and many other children like her around the world. Giving her one more glance, he switched his mind into ‘go’ mode and followed his team lead in a banking maneuver that would take his group to their specified targets.
Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida, July 10th, 2025
The world was quickly descending into chaos.
Following the little known battles fought on the frontiers of science over genetics and the very soul of human beings, governments from nations around the world were taking stands on various belief platforms and arguing over questions that would have no clean answers. It was those questions, and the lack of flexibility in belief sets, that would ultimately lead the world into chaos. Indeed, it was a fight that would come to a head only a year later, but even then, in 2025, the man in the flight suit could see it coming.
Making his way out to the tarmac, and looking at the jet that sat there waiting for him, he wondered what it had been like to live even twenty years prior. Was the world a different place then? What about twenty years before that? Was there ever a time when the threat of war didn’t loom over them all? Pulling the helmet over his head and climbing up the ladder of the jet, he finally answered his own questions; perhaps not. If the war machine he was climbing into now was any indication, then the threat of war had always been present.
The only difference was that now the battle had been taken to a global scale. It was no longer black against white, or nation against nation. The lines had been drawn in the figurative sand and labels had become ambiguous. Where once it had been simple to see the uniform and identify which side a person was on, this new battle would be waged where there was no clarity. It was human against human, with the reasoning lost somewhere within the indeterminate ideals of the flawed, human mind.
But what could be done? Ultimately, humans would always be humans. As the jet powered up around him, he thought of the days long past when this machine struck fear into the hearts of its enemies. Now it was bound for someone’s private hangar. Time marched on, and the tools changed, but it would always be the same. Fear would always be used against humanity and war would always loom; it was just the face of that war that changed. What once was a weapon that would cause death by the hundreds became what caused death by the thousands. Thousands became millions, and now, as humanity gained a solid foothold in science and learned how to split atoms at their core, millions became the whole damn world.
Throttling into the air, he couldn’t think about it any longer. With a global community armed with nukes, the next war would be the last war. The next war would be the end of it all. With the knowledge he had, though being reduced to a transfer pilot for old, retired aircraft, he was well aware that the next war, ever looming on the horizon, would bring humanity to its very knees.
And yet, no matter how horrible the picture warned society, it would come.
Severomorsk, Former Russian Republic, November 9th, 2155
The dust still covered the box, and the paperwork within, that represented the greatest birthday present that the young Alexi could ever remember getting. He had just turned twenty-one and had graduated from flight school just a month before. One hundred twenty nine years after the horrific war that had wiped out entire countries and entire generations, things certainly looked different than they had when this paperwork had been signed. But the fact that it had survived changed his life. Having a mild obsession with anything that flew for as long as he could remember, Alexi had a special place in his heart for the ancient flying machines of Earth before the war tore the planet apart.
Now, he actually found himself owning one.
It had been a surprising turn of events that had led him to the knowledge of the jet fighter that had almost been lost to time. An old box somehow made its way into the hands of a family friend, whose family had lived near the Polyarny District since before the third world war. The box had been kept safe, far from the chaos that raged in more ‘civilized’ places in the world. Now that there was peace, it was time that it was remembered. And remembered it was; as if fate had destined for this moment to come, the box was discovered in a wall during the renovation of the oldest part of the house.
Quickly, the box was opened as if treasure lay within, but the treasure was something no one ever quite expected. Inside, a few sheets of old, browned paper that was falling apart was all that was found. Carefully, they were unfolded and a name appeared.
Now, as Alexi Nicholotti, the descendant of the man who had come to the frigid north to escape the chaos and the war, ran through the snow towards the dilapidated building that was supposed to house the great machine, he found himself thanking both the past and fate for bringing this into his hands. Still unbelieving, he couldn’t wait to actually see if what was on the paper was reality, so when he got to the door and found it rusted closed, he began to throw himself against it until it began to move. Again and again, with his adrenaline pumping and keeping him far warmer than should have been possible, Alexi put everything he had into breaking down the door.
Then finally it came clambering down, with Alexi on top of it, kicking up a ton of dust in its wake. Immediately he broke into a rather nasty fit of coughing, which ultimately caused tears to form in his eyes, but his excitement was too great for him to stop and recover. Still coughing, and waving the dust from the air directly in front of him, the man stepped further into the hangar. To his dismay, light was streaming in through the roof, having partially collapsed. It rested on the vertical stabilizers of a dark grey plane just like those he had read about in history class. The light filtered through the dust, which began to settle, and soon he could see the outline of the beast.
A huge grin appeared on his face and he was unable to stop himself from moving forwards. It was, even with the damage done to the aft end of it, the most amazing thing he’d ever seen. He’d have to have it restored, but it would be worth everything he put into it. Even now, covered with a thick layer of dust and missing parts that had deteriorated over the years, Alexi couldn’t help the childish excitement from welling up inside. How many of these existed in the world was anyone’s guess, but he figured it couldn’t be many. Now, one of them was his.
Walking up to it, he pulled a glove from his hand and ran his fingers along the cold, dust covered metal. Making his way to where the cockpit was, he took his index finger and wrote his name as high as he could reach in the dust under the front seat, just below the name of the last known pilot, Salvatore.
Later, that name would become permanent, but for now, this was enough.
Star City, Moscow, Former Russian Republic, October 21st, 2308
Like his grandfather, who had gotten the gift of his lifetime on his birthday, Mikhail Nicholotti would also be getting the gift of his lifetime on his special day. Though he was only ten, when his grandfather was twenty one, the plane remained the same. Sitting in a place of pride within the hangar in Star City, where the cosmonauts of old used to train, the American fighter had been restored and brought completely back to its former state of glory. It was always with pride that Alexi brought his grandson with him to see the amazing machine, but today it was going to be different. Today, Mikhail would become just as addicted to the freedom of flight as his grandfather was.
For now, the young Mikhail knew nothing of what was to come. With one hand gripping the gloved hand of his grandfather, he followed the path they often took to the hangar, and deserted airfield, to where the pride of the family was housed. Many hours were spent in that hangar, playing with old altimeters, radios from a time before subspace communication, and toys from another era. As most days, the young boy found himself planning a mission to take, never realizing what was coming would change his life forever.
Before they knew it, the pair reached the hangar and stepped inside. There, where it was warm, the elder man removed their jackets and gloves and hung them near a small office in the back. Taking his grandson’s hand, he led him to the back where he presented a small flight suit. It was with a joyous response that the boy took it and donned it, never realizing that today he would not be flying on the ground. But, ready to fly from his cockpit in the corner of the room, it wasn’t until Alexi took him and led him up the ladder, strapping him into the rear seat of the plane that things finally started to click in his little mind.
And that was all it took for Mikhail Nicholotti Sr. to be completely hooked on the magic of flight.
The years that followed were filled with hours spent between home and the hangar. As the boy grew into a man, the plane was passed from grandfather to grandson, who maintained her in pristine condition and never lost the love for flight. He grew, joined the Starfleet Marines, went off to war, and returned, but never lost the passion for the ancient machine that sat in the darkness of the beloved hangar. He grew up, and had a son of his own, living proof that you were never too old for adrenaline, but it was a lesson that his son never followed.
No, it wasn’t until that son grew and had children of his own that Mikhail found a channel for his passion and a home for his beloved plane.
Starfleet Medical Asia Region Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan, Stardate 236012.29
The early hours of the morning were slipping away as Mikhail Junior and Senior sat silently looking down into the eyes of the newborn child. Unlike some children, namely her older brother who was at home sleeping, this child didn’t cry. Instead, her blue-grey eyes searched the world around her inquisitively in a way that left the men to look on with amazement of their own. A few feet away, her mother slept, after a difficult morning of labor, as everything else around them lay still. And for a time, everything seemed right with the world.
Grasping the older man’s finger with a seemingly otherworldly grip, the child met his eyes with her own and a connection was made. The elder Mikhail smiled down knowingly as the younger one looked on with already growing disapproval.
“You are not even thinking of teaching her to fly that deathtrap,” he glared at the older man as he spoke. In response, the older man just smirked and mumbled in the heavy Russian accent.
“Oh no, of course not.”
But they both knew it was hopeless from that moment on.
Tokyo Airfield, Japan, Stardate 238912.29
It’s been thirty years since my grandfather first knew that I would follow him into the sky. It’s been seven years since he left me. I miss him daily, but I know that he’s up there. The sky is where I first learned of the concept of freedom and of the endless nature of what ‘out there’ really was. Tonight, I plan to find him up there too. Alone, I will spend my thirtieth birthday with the man who changed everything. He made me, molded me into what I am today. His morality, and stern reactions to when I made bad choices, and his willingness to lead by example, showed me this path that hasled me to Captaincy.
I can’t help but look out and up, into the dark night sky, as I run my fingers knowingly across the slightly raised paint where the names of the pilots of this plane rest in immortal glory. Though it is dark, I already know what they say.
John ‘Boomer’ Alexander
Salvatore ‘Flipside’ Nicholotti
Alexi ‘Screecher’ Nicholotti
Mikhail ‘Hawk’ Nicholotti
Kalianna ‘Viper’ Nicholotti
And perhaps one day, I will be able to add one more. But for now, it’s time to go. For now, I have a date with the speed of sound and the empty airspace over Tokyo.