Night of the Dragon
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
“Is everyone in position?”
Sheng looked out over the rooftops of Shanghai, searching for signs of his companions. Small lanterns were lit throughout the city, only to be extinguished once more. Everyone had understood the briefing well. Perfect silence, perfect invisibility. The enemy was not to know anyone’s location.
The pyrotechnician turned to check his rockets one last time, his heart filled with a grim sense of pride. His fireworks had never been designed for war purposes. Yet, tonight, they would be used as the city’s single line of defense. The war was won. The armies were due to arrive home any day. Yet the enemy had vowed revenge and intended to assault Shanghai with its remaining air force. The city would have been defenseless, if not for the celebratory fireworks Sheng and his team were preparing.
Bound by honor, the man had set to work immediately, reinforcing his vast supply of beautiful rockets with all the gunpowder he could get his hands on. His team was informed and positioned strategically on various rooftops. They would catch the enemy by surprise.
Sheng reached the final piece of fireworks, the only one he hoped not to use. The ‘Dragon’ was still a prototype, so grand in its design and so loaded with gunpowder, that it would fill the night sky with mighty streaks of fire. Designed for the victory fireworks, it hadn’t been tested nor balanced, and Sheng feared using it in its current military state.
He rolled a cigarette, lit it and crouched down, peering out at the dark ocean. The sounds of the metropole below slowly died, its citizens heading for beds they might never rise from again.
The radio at his side suddenly croaked. “They’re coming.”
Sheng’s senses peaked, his hearing attuned to the sounds of distant propellers. They were coming, alright. “Sit tight,” he said into the communication device. “Wait for my command.” He deftly rolled a couple more cigarettes, which would serve to light the fireworks, then saw the first plane emerge from the clouds. As stated, it was heading far into the city, not to draw any premature attention.
More aircrafts poured out of the clouds, thirty in all, gliding swiftly over the bay, closing in on their target.
“Men,” Sheng said, pushing his cigarette against the first of his fuses, “light them up.” He carefully aimed, then watched as the first of his rockets took off with a high whistle, plunging itself into the first plane’s metal casing, ripping it apart in a mighty display of sparks. Almost simultaneously, rockets launched from all other posts, effectively filling the sky with colors and falling metal.
Many of the remaining fighter planes abandoned formation, rolling out of the way of incoming rockets, some colliding with others in the desperate manoeuvre. The rockets kept coming, destroying any hope of visibility. Still, in the midst of all chaos, three attackers managed to keep a straight line, dodging rockets as if they were one. They came dangerously close to Sheng’s location, dangerously close to leaving the bay.
“Focus fire on the forward planes!” he shouted into the radio, firing the last of his normal rockets. A few attempts were made, none of which hit their target. Bombs would fall, and many civilians would be killed. The country’s morale would be reduced to ashes.
Sheng lit the Dragon’s fuse, aiming its heavy body, praying for it to work, running over the calculations one last time. It had to work. The spark crawled slowly to its end as the planes prepared to fire. There would be no more dodging. Only death.
With a furious roar that threw Sheng back, the Dragon took off, flames dancing on its bright red casing. The pilots made one final futile attempt at rolling away, but it was already too late. The Dragon unleashed its fury, and the night sky became hell incarnate, fire reaching into every corner. Sheng, dazed at the effect of his invention, crawled to his feet and watched the fire settle into a wide screen of dark smoke.
The sound of propellers had disappeared. It had been replaced by a roaring applause. Sheng looked at the sight of destruction in the bay, then at the city below. The streets were overflowing with people, many still wearing their night gowns. They had come out of bed to examine the source of all the commotion. They had seen the greatest display of fireworks to ever grace the city’s night sky. And, when the smoke cleared and they saw the burning metal carcasses floating in the bay, they gasped in awe. The Dragons had returned to protect the people of China.