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TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 21

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The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #21 (Murphy’s Law) By Earl S. Wynn

It took five minutes to get every pilot up and moving.

Five minutes. Five minutes and they were flying out of tent doors like oxygen shooting through a pinhole breach into a hungry void of hard vacuum. It was so sudden, so fast, everyone stumbling, everyone shouting, a mass of half-asleep or half-drunk pilots sprinting chaotically into the night to form a loose line of mixed clothing that surged relentlessly forward across nanocrete and hard dirt, a line where flightsuits were the exception and second-hand or vending machine civilian gear was the rule.

At the front of the line, Tessa pounded barefoot across smooth black roadway, eyes intent on the airfield. Every step felt like it was taken in slow motion, every contact between foot and road too slow, too slow. She pushed herself, forced her legs to move and piston as fast as they could manage, but she was still weak, still tender from the injuries.

Doesn’t matter. She told herself, the words arcing back and forth through her mind, replaying over and over again like the words of some sacred mantra. No choice. She had a plane to fly, a colony to protect– it was her job, rain or shine, injury or no injury, she had to protect the people, her people, her species. Or at least try– and probably die trying, came the unwelcome thought. She closed her eyes, forced out a resolute breath. Doesn’t matter. Stay strong.

Izzy was hot on her heels. She could feel the angst, the fear, the anxiety, all there, all building, exuding outward from the lieutenant in tangible waves. They both knew what the doctor had said– it was still too early, the new tissue was still too fragile, but Tessa pushed herself anyway, ignored the worry, the fear that brewed like a sickly sludge in the pit of her stomach.

But Izzy dealt with it differently. Izzy fixated on it, fought with it like some wicked inner demon, dragged Tessa into the middle of it and forced her to look at it with a worried eye.

Tessa repressed the urge to try and push herself any harder. Thinking about dealing with Izzy at that moment was enough to kick her speed up a notch– the last thing she needed was another emotional battle in the midst of a real one. That’s how good pilots ended up dead.

Behind her, Tessa felt Stone coming up hard off her left, covering ground with the speed and grace of a practiced sprinter– Phoebe was back a dozen paces, Cordova and Davidson stumping along and bringing up the rear. Beyond them hung a mass of bleary-eyed pilots, some still clutching bottles and shaking their heads to try to force some clarity through the drunken fog or the scratchy wools of sleep that still clutched their minds. No one had expected an attack this soon, and no one on Tarsis 12 had carried soberstims, but it didn’t matter– a drunk pilot was still a pilot, and they would need every pilot they had in a Seindrive, ready to take on the Cygnans the instant they were within range. Sure, it went against regs to fly under the influence, and it was dangerous, but in an emergency, in a situation where they were all likely to die anyway, all of that went out the window without a second thought.

...and the Coralate fighters are already so close. Tessa thought. Anytime, the boy had said. There’s a Fuckload of them, and they’re dropping through atmo at crazy speeds!

She shook her head, muttered a silent, venomous curse. Shit. Shhhhhhhit.

The airfield loomed up ahead in the half darkness of city night. Every road and runway glowed, pale light and strobing beacons casting mosaics of color across long swathes of green grass engineered to grow into a closely-cropped lawn that always looked as if some VFW volunteer had spent his sweet time lording over it and ceaselessly mowing it into subordinate perfection. Close to two dozen rigs sat crowded around the long nanocrete runways nearby, some of them scorched, crumpled, flayed– most were airworthy, tired but ready, capable of taking on the Coralate as long as the fighting didn’t get too thick or drag on too long. The colony on Tarsis 12 had compatible fuel, but ammo and heat-jacketing were things they’d have to keep an eye on until a ship came to get them. A rig without functional weaponry wasn’t much more than a fast target in the sky.

“Tessa!” Izzy caught up to her suddenly, shattering her thoughts. Izandra’s anger was just barely reined in– beneath the thin and cracking surface of an expression of forced calm, she was fuming. “What the hell are you doing?”

Tessa gave her a cold glance, a cobalt brush-off that was more warning than anything. Izzy bristled visibly.

Instantly, she was in Tessa’s face, bare feet reflex dancing across nanocrete. “Tessa! No! Did you forget!? Your rig is fucked! F-U-C-K-E-D, FUCKED!

Tessa stopped, eyes hard. Traces of an embarrassed flush blossomed along the edges of Izzy’s face, but she pushed it back, held her ground. Too much, Izzy. Too far. Came the nagging thoughts at the back of her mind. Too much.  She held back an uneasy swallow, and the pause rotted, turned oppressive and sour.

“You got a better idea?” Tessa shot back a moment later, her eyes still locked with Izandra’s. I don’t need anyone to remind me how crazy this is. “We’re going to need every pilot we can get up there, and my rig will still fly.”

“It’ll get off the ground, yeah, but the Cygnans jacked with the grav couch, Tess!” Izzy finished, a growl of frustration rising in her throat as Tessa started moving again, slower this time. “Tessa! Dammit! Listen to me! I don’t want you to get fucking liquified if you have to dodge a fucking missile or accelerate to anything faster than half-speed!”

“So watch my ass.” Tessa shot her a quick, cocky grin.

The sudden, cocky response caught Izzy off-guard. Tessa turned away again, started jogging. “Dammit Tess, will you just listen to me, just this once– ” Izzy shook her head in frustration, sprinted to catch up with the other woman. “Hey! I’m supposed to be the crazy one here, remember? You’re supposed to be the level-headed hard-ass who worries too-fucking-much!”

Another grin played across Tessa’s face as she half-glanced at Izzy. “Well, I can’t let you have all the fun, now can I?”

“Yes! Yes you can!” Izzy immediately responded, her tone a mixture of anger, fear– it was pleading and arguing all rolled into one, a ball of emotion that hit the ears like a bad vibration. “It’s okay to let me have all the crazy-person fun!”

Tessa laughed. Frozen fingers of worry and uneasy dread tingled up Izzy’s spine. The rigs were close now. Tessa’s rig was close now. Think, Izzy, think!

“What do I have to do to keep you out of that death-trap, Tess!?” No answer. Dammit Tess! “Hey! Are you even listening to me?”

“Nope.”

Izzy bit her lip. “Well, you should be, dammit!”

“Why?” Soft grass whispered underfoot. Tessa’s eyes stayed fixed ahead, not even meeting Izzy’s in a glance. The rigs were so close... “I already know how you feel about it, and I already know it’s crazy, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to need every pilot we’ve got up there as soon as things start to get hot.”

“I don’t want you to get killed, Tess!” Izzy shot back immediately.

“And I don’t want to die, Izzy, but it’s a risk we take every time we climb into the cockpit– you know that!” Stone’s words slipped through Tessa’s mind and she closed her eyes against them, against the dark feelings they brought, the sadness, the dread, the cold fear. We’re always ready to die for our cause.

Izzy’s hand landed on Tessa’s shoulder, gentle and concerned, threading worry through channels that normal communication left unused. Her thoughts echoed in Tessa’s mind, refusing to be ignored. Don’t take this risk, Tess. It’s not worth it. Please... for me? There are still things about you I want to learn...

“Getting in my head isn’t going to change my mind.” Tessa pushed forward and dropped her shoulder, moving just a little faster, just fast enough to shake off Izzy’s hand. It was a cold gesture, but Izzy wasn’t getting the point– her fingers slipped away, and the link fizzled instantly.

“Hey, Eisenherz.” Stone came up beside Izzy, yellow eyes searching Tessa’s bobbing cord of midnight black hair. “One of my pilots is unconscious, right-rear, rig says ‘Stewart’ on the side.” She paused, glanced aside in the break. Tessa was slowing. “I want you to take it. It’s less beat-up than your rig, and the grav couch hasn’t been tweaked or toasted yet.” She gave Izzy a wink.

“Give it to Cordova.” Tessa’s dismissive gesture was quick, absent. Izzy’s face reddened.

“Are you kidding? Give it to regs-boy!?” Izzy sputtered. “He’s green, Tess! We need someone with skill in Stewart’s rig. Cordova can sit this one out–”

“Izzy.” Tessa turned. She’d reached her rig. The traces of a soft breeze played with the loose fronds of her hair. “I’m going up in my Seindrive.” Her eyes were hard as diamonds, as dark as sacred ocean depths. “That’s final. I’m done arguing about it.”

Izzy fought for words, but her voice refused to cooperate and left her mouth working through silent syllables like a gulping fish. Tessa’s eyes slid smoothly across to Stone, softening slightly. “Cordova’s rig is out of commission for the duration.” She gestured to a faceless mass that was tarped to a distant stretch of grass like some somber, lurching hillside. “If Stewart’s rig is open, put Cordova in it.” She glanced back at Izzy, arched an eyebrow. “We need every pilot we can get up there.”

“If you get yourself killed, Tess, I swear I’m going to kick your ass in the afterlife.” came Izzy’s immediate response, her voice direct, matter-of-fact.

“What if we go to different places?” Tessa chided, features softening.

“Oh, don’t worry, we’ll both be going to the same place.” Izzy’s tone sharpened. The amused traces of a smirk played across Tessa’s lips. “Heaven just wouldn’t be heaven without a crazy bitch like you, babe.” Tessa’s grin was immediate, amused.

“How sweet.” Stone gave them both a narrow grin and thumbed a gloved hand in the direction of her own rig. Tensions were growing. They could all feel it.

“Can we get in the air now, or do we have to wait until the blue-skins start blowing things up?”
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #21 (Murphy’s Law)

Author Blurb: Looking back, I think I’ve put a fair amount of little, hidden surprises in most of the installments of this series– I know this one’s got some little tiny ones, I’m just too tired to look for them and offer hints. *laugh*

Progress report: FFXII is still killing my time. Slaughtering. Brutally. My time is a bleeding, flayed-open and discarded murder victim.

Also, I’m working through the last hundred pages of final deep revisions on Pink Carbide in preparation for publishing (hopefully) before the end of the year. I’ve decided to self publish, and I found a great place to do it. More on that as things happen.

Anywho, lessee– 23 is pretty much done, I just need to tweak it a little. 24 is probably half-way to two-thirds done... not sure. 24 is tricky because of the big plot change that happens between 23 and 24. (Insert ominous silence here.) Amping up the scale here a little.

Anyway, this is the twenty-first installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode, “Shadow of the Coralate, Part 1” is done and scheduled to be released first thing next Wednesday (December 6th, Pacific time.)
© 2006 - 2022 Durkee341
Comments9
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langsam's avatar
This is as good as anything I've seen in this genre. It makes me look forward to the day when you move on to something more substantial.

My only specific complaint is that you've made your only Hispanic your most contemptible character, and you rub that in hard enough to invite questions about your sincerity when you deal with racism later on. And on top of that, you've picked a city in Venezuela - Coro - to label all your bad guy stuff.

I wouldn't worry about the latter too much, but you really need to do something about Cordova.