Chapter Nineteen: May That Be Your Last Battlefield

Practically mummified in bandages and gauze, Joe stood on the flying platform and looked out over the aerial battlefield. Hundreds of blazing airships were crashing into the ocean, leaving behind thick scars of acrid black smoke to mark their final flights. There were still small pockets of enemy resistance, but Jolly Roger and her troops skillfully tore through and reduced them to fireballs that flung about madly in the sky.

Rock stepped out onto the polished steel deck of the flying platform and stood next to Sky Captain. For several minutes they stood in silence and watched the final embers of battle with contentment. It was a tradition they'd shared over the years, a way of celebrating yet another safe return from danger. Rock scratched the back of his head and rocked back and forth on his feet, slightly nervous.

"Listen, Sullie. You answering my distress call like that, and finding Jolly and nearly getting' yourself killed for me…well, I just wanted to say that I'm grateful."

Joe smiled knowingly.

"You didn't think I was going to let you die alone, did you?"

Rock chuckled and slapped him on the back. "Nah. Not really."

Neither man noticed the dark shape flying towards them, darting through the falling debris and dogfights like an angry bee. The shape revealed itself to be another flying platform similar to that stolen by Rock and Polly. The vessel paralleled their own flight path, but never took action against them. Finally, a figure stepped out of the cabin and onto the deck, coolly observing Rock and Joe.

"Damnit," Joe growled. "Bai-Ling. Lady, don't you ever die?"

Bai-Ling smiled cruelly and flexed her leather clad fist. Joe knew she was a robot, he had seen the circuitry under her flesh, but there was a cold humanity to her now that he found deeply disturbing, like a mannequin pretending to be human.

"As you will discover, Sky Captain, I have countless lives to spin my web of power. Can you say the same for yourself?" She walked up to the edge of her platform until the tips of her feet dangled off the side. All the while Joe could feel her eyes trying to dissect him from behind her black goggles.

"Humanity must be erased before Totenkopf's new race can be grown and allowed to take over. I will not let you live to foil his plans again."

"Thanks for the warning."

Bai-Ling had barely finished speaking when her head was blown off her body. Rock and Joe spun around. Polly stood before them, balancing an industrial boltgun on her hip, a plume of smoke rising from its barrel. Bai-Ling's body stood there for a moment, not quite knowing what to do. Suddenly there was a painful crunching sound. Bai-Ling's titanium spinal column crawled out through the jagged hole in her neck.

Each vertebra cracked and popped until the spine straightened out into a kind of antennae, the end of which emitted a pulsing red light and insectile chirping sound. Scrunching her brow in frustration, Polly stomped up to the edge of the platform and pumped three more bolts into Bai-Ling's body. The spine exploded into three pieces; the body hit the deck with a metallic thud.

"This is stupid and weird. Let's go home, boys. I have a story to write."

Laughing, Rock and Joe were inclined to agree. As they flew off into the sunset, to intercept the City of Lost Souls and hitch a ride back to the Flying Legion, Joe smiled, ever grateful for the strangeness and adventure Life threw his way.

Epilogue

Bai-Ling awoke encased in a tomb of metal. Detaching herself from the data spike lodged in the base of her skull, she slid open the curved glass door of her pod and stepped off the platform.

Her movement in the cool, quiet, darkness triggered hidden sensors. Overhead, great floodlights burst to life, illuminating her environment. She stood in a vast hall, each side lined with hundreds of pods like the one she emerged from. There would be time to examine them later. For now, there was work to do. His work.

She would locate the master's children, grow and nurture them like they were her own. And, when they were matured, she would unleash them on humanity, silencing the strange voices that whispered in her mind. Not knowing why, Bai-Ling had dreamed of death and vengeance. And of a man called Sky Captain. He would die soon, but not yet. For now she would stay here and spin her web. She would wait, and plan…