I've lately been inspired to work on a dieselpunk piece, and I was hoping to get some feedback on the opening. General comments, advice, or editing, whatever you all think about it.
Flying was a joy.
He was crammed into a tiny metal box, reinforced glass less than two inches from his head, each hand on a lever, each foot on a pedal, yet he was freer there than anywhere else. The fighter was light to the touch, flicking in one direction, then another, doing just as he willed it to, as the rush of air across the control surfaces fed back into his hands and feet and he reacted to it, like a skier to the feel of the snow. He began a gentle climb at half-throttle, letting her warm up and gain altitude before he really put her through her paces.
At ten thousand feet, he leveled out and made a slow roll until he was inverted, hanging in his straps above the French countryside. At that height, the autumn colors formed a patchwork stretching out toward Paris, seamed by rivers and highways. He rolled back upright, blinking as the sun flashed off the bare aluminum of the wings, and gently eased the throttle forward.
The sixteen-cylinder engine growled and, careful though he was, the acceleration prodded him in the back, warning of more to come. He eased the throttle open farther, feeding the roaring beast under the glare-proofed cowling, as the airframe hummed with added energy. He dropped a wing, throwing the fighter into a wide curve to the right, then back to the left, then right again, tightening the turn each time until the airframe groaned and popped. With each flip to the right, then the left, he was flung back and forth in his straps, as the fighter’s clipped wingtips allowed quicker rolls than he had ever experienced. On about the fifth or sixth turn, he allowed the roll to carry him around three hundred-sixty degrees, then hauled back on the stick, climbing two hundred feet in a perfect Immelman turn and rolled upright. He throttled back and glanced across the instruments, watching the gauges sink back to normal in time with his heart rate.
As he closed his eyes, listening to the thrum of the aero-engine and the whistle of the air passing over the wings, he suddenly became aware of a growing drone from somewhere behind. As he opened his eyes, the drone rose in volume until he was immersed in the roar of it, and his head snapped to either side, seeing the grey-blue aircraft that were cruising just off each wingtip.
Adrenaline squeezed his whole body in the vise of panic, and his heart seemed to throw itself against his ribs as he looked in the rear-view mirror on the cockpit rim, seeing a tiny circle of the airplane behind him. He thumbed the transmission switch on his radio mike, and tried to speak through a throat parched by fear. Finally, after a couple attempts, “Bleroit Control, this is X-ray Easy Fox Five Niner, I have unidentified aircraft in testing airspace, appear hostile, please advise.”
He thought he heard the beginning of a response before a welter of squealing, crackling static drowned it. Jammed. As he twiddled the dials on his radio, an airship in the same blue-grey as the fighters descended in front of him, ghosting out of the cloud bank above with its stern pointed in his direction. He throttled back further, trying to buy some time while he found the emergency channel.
A voice burst from his earphones, wreathed in a rush of static. “Please remain on your current heading and extend your docking gear. You are under our guns, so don’t attempt to escape.” He automatically shoved the lever forward, watching his skyhook rise from behind his cockpit to form a loop above the plane’s center of gravity, the drag from the extended hook slowing the aircraft slightly. He glanced in the mirror again, weighing his odds of escape. The airplane at his six o’clock position was a big bastard, with two engines and at least half a dozen guns of .50 caliber and larger pointed directly at him. He gulped painfully. Not the best odds, then.
He continued his docking approach, lining up with the guide markings painted on the zeppelin’s underside. As the arresting hook caught on his plane and he throttled back, the voice spoke again, its tone almost friendly.
“Please refrain from doing anything rash. We aren’t in the practice of executing prisoners, so if you are armed we would all appreciate it if you would leave your weapon where it is.”
His plane was raised into the hangar bay of the zeppelin, and carried forward toward a maintenance cradle. Crewmen swarmed around it, some of them cradling rifles and shotguns, and the voice crackled in his ears once more.
“I do hope you’ll enjoy your stay with us. Welcome aboard the Nocturne, Mr. Forster.”