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?”


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 - 2021 Durkee341
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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.
Durkee341's avatar
*laugh* Thanks!

Dang! I never really realized the whole angle with questions of racism being raised due to the Hispanic being the most contemptable character in the story-- I was just kind of going for the irritating character that (later) blossoms suddenly and saves everyone's butt by doing something totally against the grain. When I first wrote him into the storyline, I knew I needed a guy (to keep Minerva squadron from being all girls or four girls and one guy,) and I wanted to make him the opposite of Izzy-- kind of an irritating, slightly shy, regs-happy newbie. Unfortunately, (or fortunately?) It reminded me alot of a flight instructor I had a while back. *laugh* That's where the name came from.

But hey, thanks for pointing that out. I'll keep it in mind.

Oh, and Coralate-- it's actually a term I came up with to indicate social structure more than anything, "Coral" being the operative word. I had no idea there was a city in Venezuela named "Coro."
langsam's avatar
I figured you probably planned to rescue Cordova's image, or else you wouldn't have made him such a sap. But I really think you've waited way too long for that by now. Wouldn't it be easier and closer to your intent to give him the most generic and anonymous name possible, like "Doe" maybe?

I must not have been paying enough attention - I thought you were writing "Corolate" instead of "Coralate," or I wouldn't have mentioned Coro, which is too much of a stretch in any case to worry about, at least if you get Cordova fixed.

And no matter what you do with all that, you'll fer sure be a hero to all the pubescent girls who read it.
Durkee341's avatar
Maybe. I'll keep the anonymous and generic name in mind next time I write a character like that.

I know I've waited a while to rescue Cordova, but this is an ongoing epic and making him into a long-term contemptable character makes it that much more fulfilling when he does come around and steal the limelight from Tessa and Izzy

...and that point really isn't all that much further off-- probably 3-4 episodes.

Also, look at it from this perspective: One could say I have something against bikers because of how I portray Harley Evinrude Davidson-- I mean, yeah, he doesn't have to get his butt saved by Tessa or Izzy, but he's pretty contemptable in his own way. Putting Cordova into a role like Harley's sets me up for even more questions about racism, with people likely insinuating that I was being crude by making the "lazy" pilot hispanic. etc.

...And consider the fact that Cordova is treated as a character who is worthy of saving-- his rig gets toasted and it's touch and go for a while, but he doesn't crash and burn in the end-- he's lucky, and scrapes closer to death than anyone else in Minerva Squadron throughout the story (also looking at future episodes,) which makes him more heroic in a way, and definitely the crux for a number of important instances of story-furthering suspense.

As for being a hero to pubescent girls-- well alrighty then. One of my themes as a writer seems to be strong women-- I was raised by a feminist, so that's probably bled through into my writing, but personally, I can't stand how many women there are in the world who are afraid and see themselves as inferior to men in one way or another, even if only unconsciously. That's probably why my protagonists are almost exclusively bad-ass and female. *laugh*

Thanks for your input, by the way. I enjoy these sessions.
langsam's avatar
It's not too late to rescue him as far as the story is concerned, of course. Maybe I should have been more specific about that. And I wouldn't presume to tell you how to develop your characters or plot lines. You do that very well on your own, and I really have nothing to offer in that regard. And of course you're right about readers' options for offense if that's what they're looking for. You can't eliminate them all and still have much of a story.

You're stretching it to say you've made him a character worth saving, though. The fact that the real heroes went to the trouble for that isn't much, considering their attitudes about it. He is a pilot, after all, and no one would expect them to just dump him. But he certainly seems to be at the bottom of the value list.

My perspective may be a little different from yours, since I've been living in strongly multicultural communities for the past 35 years. And based on that, and what I know of my many Hispanic friends and acquaintences, I think you'd antagonize and lose most of them as readers or supporters by now. And that seems pointless to me, since there seems to be no reason so far to make anyone culturally identifiable, in today's terms anyway. I wasn't suggesting you put Cordova in a different role, just that you give his role a different name.

Hey, there's nothing wrong with being a hero to pubescent girls. And badass women are still a big rage in pop culture. But that's only the surface of the problem, which is one reason I hope you move on someday toward more substance. I think you have the right inclination - your sentence "I can't stand ... unconsciously" made me laugh because it's an uncanny quote of what I've said hundreds, maybe thousands of times to others over the past 20 or 30 years. I still feel that way, but being married for 15 years to one of the most agressive and flamboyant badass feminists of all time has tempered my views some. But that's another story.
M4dLeprechaun's avatar
Wow, Izzy screaming profanities at a defiant Tessa. Can't go wrong there and the exchange was amusing! Lots of things happening at once, but easily registered, even for slow people like me.

Speaking of which, the title of this peice just registered, haha. I like that.
Durkee341's avatar
Hehe. Thanks! Glad you liked it. It really helps to build for the big... moment that's coming up. I'll leave it at that. *laugh*
M4dLeprechaun's avatar
Yeah, yeah, I know.. big moment than I have to wait for that will slowly drive me insane. lmao.
Durkee341's avatar
I love hearing things like that!

I don't think you'll be disappointed when the big moment comes around.
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