"What the hell, what the hell, what the hell," Gryphon chanted,* using it like a mantra as he evaded what appeared to be some sort of plasma beam fire with all the dismay-infused aerial agility at his disposal. Luckily, that was considerable, even if he had lost his helmet on the way through - whatever the hell that was - and so had to rely only on shifts of his body weight and the X-15A-2's limited thrust vectoring capabilities to steer. A less experienced rocketeer might've been ashed instantly; so far he had survived 47 seconds, though he hadn't been able to take any one of those to check his watch.
"Oh come on!" he cried, addressing the spaceliner-sized black-and-red aircraft that was, for no readily evident reason, trying to disintegrate him. "What did I do to you? If it's just that this is your piece of sky, fine, you win, I'm leaving! I could do that faster if you stopped shooting at me!"
There was no response, but then, he hadn't really expected one. This thing - no windows, no obvious hatches or portals, no visible engines - had robot deathship written all over it. He didn't recognize the design language or the energy signature, but some things were just universal.
"All right, all right, fine!" he said after another scarlet plasma beam nearly vaporized him. Wheeling, he hauled his .45 from its holster and let fly a couple of rounds, which, as he expected, had absolutely no effect whatsoever. "I'm shooting back, does that make you happy?!"
A moment later, the beams stopped coming. They didn't stop emerging, but the gigantic aircraft seemed not to be aiming at him any more; instead, it was spraying them into the air above it and off to the sides. Gryphon halted, hovering in puzzlement, to consider this curious development. Now that he was no longer being bracketed by sizzling streams of raving red death, it occurred to him that he could hear... piston engines?
A swarm of small aircraft swept past him then, coming from the direction he'd just been trying to flee in, bearing down on the black-and-red whatever-it-was in what his practiced aeronaut's eye immediately recognized as an attack formation. The muzzle flashes of weapons twinkled as they opened fire, some with chattering machineguns, others with the slower, deeper thump thump thump of old-fashioned aviation cannon, and the sweet scent of gunsmoke mingled with the acrid tang of ozone that the red beams had left behind, creating the unmistakable bouquet of aerial battle.
"What," Gryphon repeated for the nth time that day, as he got a closer look and realized that the tiny aircraft weren't aircraft at all...
... they were women.
Except... they appeared to have propellers instead of feet.
"What," Gryphon said. He resisted the urge to rub his eyes like a character in a Merrie Melodies cartoon and looked more closely still. Yes, he hadn't imagined it, unless of course he was full-dress, no-fillers hallucinating, which at this point he could not in good conscience rule out. The attackers appeared to be women from the waist up and airplanes from the waist down, with stubby wings like the hip flares on jodhpurs and propellers where their feet belonged.
They're like... fighter plane mermaids, he mused.
"Hey!" a voice cried from behind him. Turning, he saw one of the flying women approaching, a scowl on her face. She looked to be in her late teens or early twenties, with longish, untidily chopped orange hair, her buxom upper body crammed into what looked for all the world like a World War II-vintage U.S. Army Air Force brown serge uniform blouse. She was even carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle, which rather completed the picture - and, incongruously, she appeared to have white rabbit ears, which rather didn't.
Now that he got a really good look, Gryphon realized that she wasn't a human-airplane hybrid after all. Rather, she appeared to be wearing two tiny airplanes, one on each leg, like very tall boots. Their engines hummed, props growling, as she balanced on them a few yards away and glared at him - the look of a woman who is confounded by what she sees and does not like being confounded.
"What," said Gryphon once more.
"Who the hell are you?!" the woman demanded, then examined him more closely and added, "... And what is that?"
"What's it look like?" Gryphon replied, feeling oddly defensive about it. "It's a jetpack."
She blinked at him. "Shyeahright?" she said. "That's impossible."
Gryphon gave her a slow down-and-up look of his own and replied dryly, "Says the woman wearing propeller-driven pants."