TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 23

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The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #23 (Shadow of the Coralate Part 2) By Earl S. Wynn

“Check the scopes– check the calibration– I–” Faith’s jaw worked soundlessly. No Way.

Tarsis 12 stood out among the stars, a rich smudge of blue with the system’s sun shining yellow and basic beyond the faded edges of its soft lavender halo. Faith stared. The scope refreshed. The same result played across the display again, the same string of blue letters flickering across a dull stretch of green-black.


No sign of the Coralate. No sign of anything. An orbital marker satellite sent back a tiny IFF blip. Welcome to Tarsis Colony, population: 3,578. Have a nice day.

Muscles tensed in the Admiral’s shoulders. This is wrong. Something’s... She shook her head. This is wrong.

“Where are the blueskins?” That was Harrison. Faith’s gaze flicked to him– he stared at the display, shook his head quickly. “I don’t get it.” He turned in his seat, eyes flicking from the Admiral to the Captain and back again. “Didn’t the Von report that there was at least one cruiser in the system when they took off?”

“That was over two full days ago.” Captain Lazar reminded him. “Maybe the Cygnans jumped the system. Maybe the Von spooked them and they slipped back out right about the same time Virek did.”

Faith blinked, her eyes sliding past Harrison and Lazar. “Get closer, Anderton. I want us in a high orbit.” Her eyes flicked back to meet the other officer’s gaze. “Harrison– try to get a reading on anything that could be a piece of a Seindrive or a chunk of hull from a cruiser– anything at all. Get Horus and Osiris Squadrons out there and send Anubis tailing as an escort– have them spread out and fly alongside the ship in a tight recon pattern with their sensors tied directly into ours. If there’s even a scrap of metal from a Blasterchild or a Coralate rig out there, I want it logged.”

Faith paused, drew in a quick breath. Her eyes flicked back to the display, back to Tarsis 12, steadily growing in its nest of white-speckled night, and lingered there for a moment before she continued again. “...and let them know that we need full sweeps, Harrison. Slow and steady, long and short, by the book, got that? I don’t want to see any shortcuts.” Faith’s eyes darted to the left, meeting those of another officer. “Kerrigan– put all weapons on warm standby with confirm-deny on the AI targeting. Shunt just enough power to the tactical banks to keep them warm, but not too much– If the Coralate still has a ship here, I want us to be able to take the first shot, but I don’t want it to cost us anything we’d have to have replaced in dock.

There was a pair of “yes ma’am’s” and a quick “roger” that echoed in the wake of her orders before uniformed backs turned on her, quick fingers coming alive, threading neon lines through projection control matrices and weaving her orders into the fabric of the Hok’s systems. Captain Lazar gave her another careful glance. She swallowed, forced herself to ignore it, kept herself from glancing back. It took an effort to keep the steel in her expression, to keep the hard, resolute confidence she didn’t feel slathered thick and visible through her every movement. I know, I’m doing your job. Sorry, Jared. I guess I really am as bad as Virek. Just another backseat-Captain, queen of the Blackpants.

The Comm officer glanced tentatively at the Admiral and other woman met her gaze immediately, grateful for the distraction. She was mousy and small, with a sheaf of feathery platinum hair that played across her forehead and brushed idly at the edges of her ears. The dark lines of a skingraft headset threaded their way down the side of her face, bending along the curves of her jaw and showing up in cold, pulsing veins of indigo under her smooth, clear, cappuccino skin. Pale green eyes peeked out at Faith, wavered under the other woman’s sudden attention– her gaze was so uncertain, so reluctant, refusing to light on the faces of any of the other operations officers for more than the barest fraction of a second and utterly avoiding the Admiral’s eyes altogether, preferring to bounce warily off the Captain’s steady blank stare instead. Her voice came quiet, timid, the soft tones of someone used to being wrong whenever she opened her mouth. “Uh– Admiral, Captain– should I put out a call to Tarsis 12 control?”

“No, not yet.” The Comm officer all but quailed at the steel in Faith’s voice– it was probably the response she had been expecting, but Faith gave the officer the barest of reassuring smiles anyway, something to soften the blow to the younger woman’s already negligible confidence, to show her it was still okay to speak up. “It feels too much like we’re walking into a trap– don’t signal until we know what happened to the Coralate.” The Comm officer’s nod was immediate, emotionless. “I don’t want to risk giving away our position if there’s still a ship in the area.” And if they don’t already know exactly where we are... Faith swallowed, looked away. What the hell is going on? This isn’t right.

Tarsis 12 grew steadily in the display, now a fist-sized blotch with a spot of dull grey  where one of its moons slid in a slow arc across the largest continent, stark against purple haze. Faith squinted at the stars around it– any one of those bright points of light could be one, could be a Coralate cruiser just floating out there, running silent, a tiny silver dot against all those white pinpricks–

“Captain– I’m– I’m picking up a signal,” The Comm officer paused, jaw working in tiny twitches as she pressed her thumb and forefinger against the side of her head, index finger playing across a glowing subdermal nodule. She looked up, and her eyes darted away again immediately, unwilling to meet the questioning eyes of Faith or Lazar. “It’s coming from the far side of the furthest out –uh, from the planet, that is– of Tarsis 12's, uh, two moons. It sounds like–” She looked up, forced herself to meet the Captain’s eyes. “I think it’s binary– yeah, it’s binary, it’s a– it looks like some kind of repeater– but definitely a Cygnan energy signature.”

“Is it some kind of Nav beacon?” Faith crossed the command module to the other woman.

“N-No...” The Comm officer bit her lip, forced her eyes to the tangled weave of the comm station’s holographic console, glowing neon lines crossing, flicking luminescent numbers at her. “I mean, it doesn’t look like one, it–” Her eyes focused, squinted. “Wait a second...”

“What is it?” Faith leaned closer.

“It looks like...” The Comm officer blinked, eyes darting. “It looks like the coding for a recursive fractal encryption algorithm... an algorithm that degenerates in complexity on the half-life of an unstable isotope of... of an unknown element–” She looked up, face full of half-restrained excitement. “I remember working on something similar during my time at the Earthside academy” She gestured quickly. “A kind of time-relative coding line–“

“Spare me the technobabble, Lieutenant Baker.” Faith leaned close, glanced at the display. “I’d rather have it in English, if at all possible.”

“Yes ma’am.” The Comm Officer swallowed quickly, her excitement and the shreds of her confidence buckling. “It looks... it looks like a countdown– a really complex one.”

“Any idea what it’s counting down to?”

“I...” Baker fumbled, forced herself to meet the Admiral’s eyes.

“If it’s Cygnan, it can’t be good.” Faith glanced quickly back at the central display. “Can we stop it?” The Comm officer watched her for a moment, pursed her lips, and managed a timid shrug.

Faith breathed a quick sigh, turned back to the other officers. Lazar was watching her again– his glance made her want to swear under her breath, but she resisted the urge. “Harrison, get a fix on the source of the signal. I want whatever you can get. Tell Osiris and Anubis Squadron there’s been a change of plans– I want them in orbit of the moon as soon as they can manage it, but I want Horus to stay here. Get Bast squadron out there to cover them instead. Anderton–  get us in orbit pronto. Push the Hok up halfway to the barrier if you have to–”

Harrison cut her off before she could finish. “Admiral! I’m getting a lot of interference from the moon– I’m picking up large amounts of Brahlanite and something–”

“Captain, the signal, it’s–!” The comm officer swivelled quickly in her seat, eyes darting for the display, face paling suddenly.

Anderton’s eyes widened incredibly. All at once he was shouting, jamming his finger at the display. “Great Goddess! The moon!”

Faith looked up and her mouth dropped open. Lazar choked. Someone tried to stifle a gasp, failed and sputtered instead.

Tarsis 12 dominated the display. The moon’s passing across the face of the planet had stopped, improbably frozen halfway through its arc and spinning slowly in place, grinding against the pull of gravity in a sickeningly unnatural fashion that sent dust and rock boiling up from the surface on harsh waves of vibration and crushing, visible distortions of gravity. The planet was getting closer, so close, the purple radiance blotting out the stars and moving to fill the screen with the pockmarked face of the defiant moon, centered amidst it all like a grisly front-page headline. Bits of grey debris hung hazy, undulating in broken waves like some stony vapor that steamed up from the moon, caught in gravity and concentrated near the center, spreading steadily outward into cold void. Each chunk trembled somewhere between freefall and rapid, blurring escape, tumbling end over end in place like fragments of broken pottery drifting through thick, syrupy mist.

Faith’s eyes were riveted to the display– and then she realized the moon’s rotation was slowing, kicking off steadily larger and larger chunks of debris as it slipped toward its improbable, inexorable halt. A shiver passed through the Hok. Faith swallowed uneasily.

For one terrible instant, the moon seemed to quiver, shaken by lines of force so strong they bent light, bent the very fabric of reality in terrible ripples that raced outward in harsh and sporadic, pulsing cascades, blossoming up from a point somewhere deep beneath the surface of the moon, deep within the Brahlanite. For the briefest instant, the trembling moon shivered one final time and then quieted, almost obscured by the cloud of rock and ice it had shaken off as it spun down to a standstill, grinding to a sudden halt on its axis– it was incredible, unnerving, a moment that sunk its claws into the soul, as if witnessing the moment when the very mechanisms of the clock of the universe had finally reached their zenith and stood waiting, ready to click over, ready to sound the chime that would herald the end, the end of it all, and the beginning of something new, something terrible. The Hok was silent as a forgotten grave, everything stilled, breath arrested by the cold fingers of shocked anticipation.

There was some kind of exchange between the frozen moon and the planet, neon flashing, burning rings of flourescent light that fell in insubstantial sheets like cascades of aurora light and bounced back, lost in the haze and the void.

And then the moon split across its equator and burst open like a ripe boil.

They felt the crack immediately, the shockwave blasting out like a vicious tide the instant the moon flew apart and scattered its ragged debris off into the endless night. Behind it, Tarsis was already glowing, lines of crimson and teal and shimmering gold threading viciously across continents and burning cruel colors into the sky– Faith swore under her breath. Even the planet was going up. It was like watching the birth of judgement day. And we’ve got front row seats, courtesy of Virek and the Cygnan Coralate.

Someone was mumbling, then shouting, trying to snare her attention. Lazar’s eyes were like the stunned eyes of a lamb struck by lightning, unmoving, too shocked to even blink. His mouth twitched in absent attempts to process thought into sound fragments, however rudimentary, but only wet sounds, half-gasps and quiet clicks slipped from his lips.

Nearby, someone was sobbing. Dumbstruck, Faith’s eyes swivelled sluggishly toward the noise, caught and lingered briefly on Harrison’s lunch as it came up and splashed across the deck in a thick slick of orange and brown. A dozen paces away, the Comm officer was panicking, all but digging her fingers into her cheeks, her wet eyes wide and unwavering, taking in every horrific detail as Tarsis 12 cracked open like a fragile egg, consumed by rising flares of raging fire. Faith tried to say something, anything. You’re an Admiral, dammit! Say something! Screams and violent static vibrated through Baker’s subdermal implant, chaotic and cruel. Lazar choked again.

“An– Anderton.” Faith forced sound from her throat, stumbled forward, hands dropping onto the back of his chair. “What the hell is going on? What... what just happened?”

“I don’t know, Admiral.” His response was direct, almost absent– he was shocked, hell, they all were, but of all of them, Anderton was the only one really holding it together. He glanced at the screen, made a quick, half-dismissive gesture. “But I think we’ve got bigger problems to worry about right now– we’ve got company out there, a hundred fighters or so, and distortions indicate cruisers closing fast–” He paled suddenly. Faith looked up. “My god, there’s–” And then Tarsis blew itself apart in a brilliant flash of blinding flame.

When the darkness returned, the sky was full of silver.
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #23 (Shadow of the Coralate, Part 2)

Author Blurb: Whew– sorry for the lateness in the day on posting this one. It’s the second week of finals and my mind is dithering between exams and girls... well, one girl in particular. I’m in the process of writing her a poem for her birthday... *happy sigh*...

Anyway, erm– Cygnus. This is the last episode of the Tarsis Arc. What did you think of that ending, eh? ZOMG! The planet exploded! Did Tessa and Izzy and Phoebe and Cordova and Stone and... etc. get out in time? ...And what about the Coralate fleet!? The next run is going to be fun.

Progress report: I got nothing. 24 is still in process. Last week was literally a blur– every day was like “BAM! ESSAY” so I didn’t get much done besides laundry.

Anyway, this is the twenty-third installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode, which is as yet untitled, is in process and scheduled to be released first thing when the Cygnus War resumes. (January 17th, 2007 Pacific time.)
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M4dLeprechaun's avatar
Hah! I'm all done with finals! I'm a happy child indeed. So now, at least, I'm beginning to get more done than laundry.

Good luck with the poem and things! I'm sure it will go over nicely.

Damn, the planet did es'plode. If you're gonna die in a book, that's certainly the way to go! But I betchu they didn't die. Psh. .__. ::denial.::