TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 14

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Literature Text

The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #14 (The Last Hurdle) By Earl S. Wynn


Phoebe blinked, quickly brushed the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. Cordova sounded frantic, his voice practically exploding across the frequency. “We’re already in atmo! We– We can’t just swap out rigs now!” There was a pause, just the briefest slice of silence jammed between desperate yelling. “Lieutenant, I really don’t want to die! Not like this, I–!”

“Shut up!” Izzy’s voice was fire, sharp and razor-edged, snapping with all the ferocity of barbed leather. “Your commanding officer is down and out! At least show some fucking respect!” Phoebe thought she heard desperation in Izzy’s voice, the precursors to tears. No, not Izzy. Izzy would never cry.

A moment of dead silence slipped across the frequency. Izzy shifted in her seat, sniffed against worry, and quickly flicked controls, thumbing the mike. Her voice was strong, rich with cold-burning anger. “Phoebe, let’s do this.”

“Roger that!” The young lieutenant’s response sounded almost relieved. It was hard to do much else–  trying to push cheeriness past the shimmering walls of teary concern was like trying to squeeze a steel brick through a tiny rubber hole. Breathing a shaky sigh, she bit down, teeth digging mercilessly into her bottom lip.

“Alright.” She finally managed, nodding with the effort. Her mind was spinning a mile a minute. Tessa’s going to be on the ground soon. There are doctors down there. Stop worrying. Izzy probably isn’t worrying. Everything is going to be okay. “Coordinating resident AI’s...”

Izzy’s display lit up, half defensive, then surrendered to Phoebe’s Seindrive; it took less than a full second for the AIs to chat leisurely about the situation and tie the necessary functions together over a QE data channel. Phoebe gave it three seconds just to be sure, then thumbed the mike again. “Okay, go.”

Tessa’s resident AI chirped acknowledgment, then spun gracefully away, punching the throttle and roaring straight for the surface. Cordova’s rig wobbled uncertainly with the absence, slipping, shifting. Phoebe bared her teeth, squeezed hard on the flightstick, fought the rig. It felt too much like trying to juggle a bowling ball one-handed. Izzy! Hurry!

“Almost there, kid.” Izzy’s voice crackled across the frequency, strangely softer, as if concentrating on the task had smothered her anger. Her rig was inverted now, slipping carefully into the gap left by Tessa’s fighter. “Almost...” There was a click, happy chatter from the AI’s. “Alright! Let’s land this bird.”

Phoebe nodded silently, fingers flying across the controls. The resident AI devoured the input, and then the three Seindrives dove suddenly, seemingly as one.

The change in velocity and angle kicked up flashes and turbulence all around them– quick corrections orchestrated by the AI lined up the three-rig formation and the target airfield from within a few microns as they dropped, all three Seindrives bucking like mad cattle. The meters clicked by quickly, rapid descent kicking up flames that flared and licked against hull plating, giving the nanoregenerative skin coating a chance to warm up and come alive. Engineers back on the New Adelaide Station in the Alpha Centauri system had designed the nanomechanical goo to be eager, efficient and effective, reacting to extreme temperatures by excreting a microscopic shell of clear, superdense matter wherever flames, lasers, or practically anything else tried to touch the hull. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much good for anything beyond reentry or warning shots from plasma cannons, but it was better than nothing.

Wispy, translucent blue gave way to Tarsis 12's more vital colors, cerulean and visceral purple brewing in the steadily thickening atmosphere. The turbulence kicked up a notch, rattling everything. Cordova thumbed the mike.

“I don’t think Seindrive designed these rigs to do this sort of thing Lieutenant!”

Phoebe glanced at the display. “Just another hundred and twenty-five kilometers to the mesosphere, Cordova. Hang in there!”

“Think happy thoughts.” Izzy interjected. “Think about sex. Takes your mind off the turbulence.”

“I’m sure it does.” Cordova managed, brushing her off.

“What’s your favorite position?” She pushed ahead anyway. Phoebe could practically hear the grin in her voice. “Missionary? Doggie style? Maybe something exotic like the piledriver?”

Stunned silence filled the channel. Cordova’s thumb quivered over the comm button, his mind trying to construct a response. “I... uh... I’m not–”

“How about reverse cowboy?” She continued suddenly, cutting him off. “Yeah, you kinda strike me as the kinda guy who likes being on the bottom, the kinda guy who likes to be forced into sexual submission.”

“Lieutenant, I’m... I’m married, and I don’t think–”

“I didn’t say I wanted to fuck you, regs-boy.” She laughed. “Just trying to give you something else to think about.”

“Well, I mean, I, er...” He stumbled. “That is, if I were single, well, y’know, I uh...”

“Ha, like I’d even touch you with a sharp stick.” She laughed again. “You don’t really strike me as someone who’s very experienced, Cordova.”

“Eighty kilometers to the mesosphere.” Phoebe cut in suddenly, severing the line of conversation, and quickly jamming in another transmission before Izzy could restart it. “Hey Izzy, what’s the Papal University on Mars like?”

“Not enough sex.” She shot back, playing off Phoebe’s reaction. “Too many old priests with hard-ons.”

“And other than that?” Phoebe prompted. God, Izzy.

“Other than that?” Izandra paused for a moment, considering. “The library had a lot of good books, most of them on holodisk, but some on paper.”

“Yeah,” Phoebe sounded preoccupied. “Like what?”

“Sixteenth century erotic poetry.” Izzy responded immediately. “Apparently the Vatican confiscated a lot of it back then.”

“Sixty kilometers to the mesosphere.” Cordova broke in. Phoebe couldn’t help but smile. “Another couple of minutes and we’ll be out of the Thermosphere.” He paused. “I’m still nervous about the landing.”

“Me too.” Izzy admitted, voice suddenly softer, less playful. Silence followed in it’s wake, a poignant pause that hovered somberly across the channel. Finally, Phoebe thumbed the mike.

“I’m worried about Tess.”

Izandra closed her eyes and breathed a tired sigh. “Yeah. Me too.”

“Do you think–?” Phoebe began.

“I don’t want to think about it right now, Phee.” Izzy cut her off. “Let’s worry about it once we get Cordova on the ground.”

There was another pause. Phoebe breathed a sigh. “Okay.”

“Ten kilometers to the mesosphere.” Cordova managed.

The next fifty kilometers went easy, sky lightening steadily around them, filling out with rich colors while the fluffy-white tops of wind-whipped clouds grew beneath them, getting closer with every passing meter of hot air. The mesosphere gave way to the building pressures of the stratosphere, flashing tongues of flame dying in favor of intense, buffeting winds. Cordova’s rig shifted with the sudden, deadly gusts, and resident AIs in all three Seindrives struggled to compensate, triggering wild bursts of overhead thrusters and careful N-space bendings of S-vectoring panels. It seemed to work, seemed to be just enough to keep the formation stable. The kilometers clicked by steadily.

Then the big one hit.

Four hundred and twelve km/h. The display flashed the numbers at Phoebe the instant before the gust hit them, peeling away both inverted rigs and flipping Cordova’s into a harsh backflip that immediately turned into a straight dive. Phoebe fought the controls, Izzy spun wildly off to her right, Cordova dropped like a rock.  

“Ohhhhhh shit!!!” He was already screaming, hyperventilating, his panicked voice blasting across the frequency with enough volume to force static. “Lieutenant!!!” Speed increased, clouds roared past. Cordova’s voice picked up an octave. “OhshitohshitohshitohshitSHITSHITSHIT!”

Wrestling with her Seindrive and diving into the winds, Phoebe jammed the throttle and went burning hard after Cordova. “Hang on!” She fought against the current, struggled to maintain control of her rig. “I’m coming!”

“Oh my god I’m going to die!” Cordova’s voice echoed across the Comm. Driving hailstones came rushing out of chasm between thick clouds, blinding Phoebe, and then she saw his rig again, plunging earthward, close to 500 meters away.

“Hey, hey!” She had to keep him talking, had to try to get his mind off death. “Focus on the sound of my voice, okay? It’s gonna be alright.” No response. He’d gone silent. “Cordova?” Still nothing.

“What’s your name, Cordova? Tell me your first name.” She tried. “Mine’s Phoebe. You can call me Phee or Pheebs if you want.”

There was another pause, another dead silent gap, then the sound of a wordless, gulping swallow.

“Jose.” He finally managed, voice shaky. “My name’s Jose.”

“Nice to meet you, Jose!” She forced cheeriness into her voice again, then bit down hard, holding back a grunt as the gravity couch in her cockpit fought against the raging g-forces. “Don’t touch anything, alright? We’ve got you.”

“Yeah, everything’s gonna be A-ok, regs-boy.” Izzy laughed sardonically, her rig darting in from the right, punching through a cottony cloudbank. “Even if you burn up in the atmosphere, they’ll find some part of you to ship back to your parents Earthside.”

“Shut up, Izzy.” Phoebe bit off, instantly regretting it. She’d never talked to Izzy like that before, but... oh god you’re stupid, Phoebe. The mike clicked. Here it comes. Now she’s going to give you a piece of her mind, she’s going to ream you from here to Proxima. Just what I need right now. Izzy laughed.

“Damn Phee, you almost sounded like an honest-to-goodness woman just now.” Another laugh. Phoebe’s face reddened.

“Can you cut the chatter? I’m really trying to concentrate here!” She shot back, bending in close to the display. How embarrassing!

Izzy laughed again, just a quick burst. “Sure, no prob. Don’t strain anything.”

Phoebe was already forcing herself to ignore Izzy– Cordova’s rig was close now, fifty meters ahead and closing fast. A quick glance off her right wing showed the other woman coming in hard beside her, thrusters blasting, her rig ready to slip in under Cordova’s wing as soon as Phoebe’s did. “Here we come!”

The recovery was smooth as nano-spun silk– AI’s triggered overhead maneuvering thrusters in a dance of blue flame that ended in a gentle pirouette of S-vectoring panels and hover systems. Magnetic fields touched like hands, gentle guides supporting Cordova as the heavens dropped away beneath them and the soft browns and greens of Tarsian soil spread out above their canopies, getting closer, every craggy detail intensifying into mountain ranges and fields, lakes and deserts, forests and rivers. With cohesion reestablished, Phoebe breathed a sigh of relief. The numbers on the display clicked by silently. Thirty-one kilometers to the surface.

Those last few kilometers slipped past easily, smoothly– as the airfield loomed up beneath them, AI’s ran through the final checklists, preparing Izzy and Phoebe’s rigs to slip away and leave Cordova to perform the landing, the final movement in a grand orchestra of atmospheric descent. Meters ticked away, less and less– at seven they let him go, pulling out and into level flight just in time to see him grind to a halt on the black stretch of nanocrete, suspensors bursting with green flame beneath his rig as it etched long grooves into the runway. Phoebe was cheering, Izzy smiling, shooting off a few encouraging words, but her mind was elsewhere.

Thoughts of Tessa came creeping through her mind, souring the moment. She circled lazily above the airfield, eyes searching, lighting on her lover’s Seindrive, parked and silent on the grass beside the runway. An ambulance was burning toward it, lights flashing frantically. She had to land, had to get down there, had to know.

Please, Tessa. Don’t you dare die on me.
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #14 (The Last Hurdle)

Long, but filling, in my opinion. I love the dialog between Izzy, Phoebe and Cordova in this one. Probably could have been expanded out into two episodes, but I crammed it all into one.

Progress report: Finally finished 18. I’ve laid the basic framework for 19, allowed 20 as a sort of spill over chapter and/or resolution chapter for the little thing that’s going on there, and left 21 to percolate on it’s own. Been hitting Pink Carbide stuff pretty heavy lately, so my progress has been slow.

...I got like the cruelest rejection letter ever today. (For Pink Carbide) It was like: There is no market for new fiction writers. Some smaller presses take new writers, but they won’t sell action/thriller/sci-fi epics.

...So basically: You fail, your book is worthless, please give up now.
Screw that. I’m not going to let some stodgy old pessimistic arseloche tell me off when all I sent him was a 1-page letter telling him about my project. Besides, 90% of the authors I buy fall into the New Writer/Large publisher/action-thriller-sci-fi category, so I know there’s a market. Heck, look at S.L. Viehl– She’s published six or seven books in the STARDOC series through ROC, and she’s pretty much a nobody, definitely a new writer!

Anyway, this is the twelfth installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode, “Regrets” is done and scheduled to be released first thing next Wednesday (October 18th, Pacific time.)
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M4dLeprechaun's avatar
This was a really amusing installment, roffle. The dialouge, I agree, was hilarious--And awkwardly that's the first place my abnoxious classmate decides to lean over and go "Watcha doo-ooing?"

Can't win.

.. but Phoebe did.