By Edward M. Erdelac -
The boom of the fighter bursting into the atmosphere at an inexpert entry trajectory jarred Considine out of ecstatic fanaticism and back into harrowing reality.
The wind roared and buffeted the craft, and directly in front of him, quivering on the shell of his helmet, the pilot organism writhed, having been dislodged by the violent fall into the stratosphere.
Now the black ash and flame winds of Eclectia rocked the ship, already a kind of apocalypse of its own.
He saw the thing up close, the thing that had been in his mind, or rather its slimy antenna. It had a star-shaped pink head and a gummy, counter-rotating maw. Its spotty, slithering body glistened with slime and sloshing seawater.
With a roar of effort, Considine drew back his head and flung himself forward, smashing the faceplate of his helmet on the instrument panel and sending the hissing monstrosity flopping down into his lap along with the gush of seawater.
He gave up trying to fight the rocking controls and gripped the pilot organism in both gloved hands, squeezing it as it thrashed and curled about his wrists, throttling it and driving in his fingers until they burst through, and a thick, yellowish ichor bubbled over his thumbs.
He ripped the tubing from his chest pump and felt beside his seat for the ejection lever.
With a wrench he blew open the fighter canopy, feeling the hot, ashy wind of Eclectia scorch his face and eyes, choking his lungs. It stank of sulfur and burning.
Then there was a second explosion and he was jettisoned from the hopelessly spiraling fighter. He tumbled end over end through the black and red sky until the chair jets began to fire, dropping him toward the planet in a sporadic rocking motion, violent enough to make his bile rise.
He remembered to open his hand and let the dead eel thing fall away, but he was unconscious by the time the chair fuel, not quite designed to bring a pilot to safety all the way from the upper atmosphere, ran dry, and he crashed heavily to the ground.