TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 25

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The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #25 (Aftermath) By Earl S. Wynn

The display was fuzzy.

Izzy blinked. The instruments were dark and silent, but still totally out of focus. She squinted her eyes, frowned, glared at the cracked and fragile lenses of her aviator frame glasses, then pushed them back on reluctantly. Her eyes took a second to adjust, working past the fractured glass to bring the debris field spinning slowly on into eternity around her into perfect focus, or at least as close to perfect as she was going to get. She grumbled, grimaced. Just had to forget your extra pair of glasses, didn’t you Izzy? Just had to leave them on the Von... She sighed, bit her lip viciously. “I swear. I’m getting contacts or nanotreatment or... something the second we get back to a station with a half-decent nano-capable doc. Glasses are a pain in the ass.”

Her eyes flicked back to the control panel. It had gone dark the instant she’d pulled free of the atmosphere, riding an enormous and rapidly cooling wave of superheated air into the black like some kind of crazy thermospheric surfer, holding onto the control stick for dear life and praying to God above the S-vectoring panels didn’t buckle or the wings fold up around her before she could clear the force of Tarsis 12's final dying breath. At first she’d been livid, screaming and pounding on the display, but the lapse in concentration had cost her the only pair of glasses she’d brought with her– the instant her attention turned to the AI, a second, faster-rising thermal caught her tail and dropped her nose into the wave before she could compensate. In the next instant she was spinning ass over teakettle into the stars, eyes blurry, her world full of smashed glass and endless darkness.

She shook her head and bared her teeth against the memory. It didn’t help any knowing that if the AI hadn’t gone silent when it had, the Coralate probably would have picked her up and given her more to worry about than just a smashed pair of glasses. All it did was piss her off more, but she held it in check– there were too many other things to worry about, important things, things like the hole.

She looked up at it again and squinted at it through the canopy glass. She had no idea what it was or how the Coralate had managed to make something that looked like a ragged gash in reality, but there it was, a hole blotting out the stars, just floating there where Tarsis 12's furthest moon had been, with Cygnan battlecruisers shuffling in and out of it like sardines trading places in a family-sized can. They seemed to be testing it, trying it out like a new toy, seeing what its limits were– more of the Coralate rigs had gone through than had come back though, or at least, that’s the way it seemed, so maybe there was a chance it wasn’t working right and they’d all give up and go home soon. Fat chance, Izzy. Keep dreaming. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on– their ships all looked the same, especially when they were over twenty thousand klicks away.

She sighed and let her eyes drift back to the panel. She was trying not to think about the fact that there was no way to tell who else was alive, who else had made it off the planet in time. For all she knew, she was the only one, but she wasn’t ready to stake her life on it. Being the only survivor and knowing it would give her an excuse to do something crazy, something utterly insane. Like shove this Seindrive up the tailpipe of the nearest cruiser and show the Coralate the true meaning of kamakaze. She smiled at the thought, thinking about the appeal of going out in a blaze of glory, just like the hero of some familiar novel, or a handful of familiar novels– a lot of the trash she’d read during her life was full of overblown heroes dying with guns blazing, heroes that almost always followed the same archetype, blurring together into a singular being, a hero with a thousand familiar faces.

“Can... can anybody... hey!” Izzy shot up in her seat, eyes flying wide as the comm call came through and shattered her thoughts like plas-flechettes through cockpit glass. “Can anyone out there hear me? Hello?”

“Idiot!” Izzy snarled. She knew that voice, knew it too well. Phoebe. Her eyes searched the darkened panel tentatively. A response was out of the question– anything that came over the comm would be picked up by the Coralate and... oh my God, Phoebe. You’re a moron. You suicidal fucking idiot! Comm silence! Comm silence!

“I– uh...” Came Phoebe’s voice again. “I’m not sure if anyone can read me, I’m still trying to get the calibration right... I’m not on conventional channels, so don’t try to radio me. I know that the Coralate is still out there, but I don’t think they can pick this up.” There was a long, expectant pause that dragged on longer than it felt like it should have. Izzy bit her lip again, resisted the urge to swallow. “ I don’t think they can pick this up.” Phoebe repeated.

Izzy stared hard at the control panel, trying to figure out what Phoebe had done, what she’d changed. Not on conventional channels... still trying to get the calibration right... Another long pause stretched on, the silence pregnant with suspense. Space stretched on around her like a funeral shroud, silent, unstirred. Chunks of splintered and broken rock twisted on through the endless night.

“Alright, so here’s how it works.” Phoebe finally broke the silence again, breathing a sigh of relief. “I’m going to go over this until I hear from somebody, even though I’m probably just talking to myself here.” She sighed, let her words hang in the pause. “It’s not too difficult to do, you just have to manually override your Seindrive’s safety settings and change the protocol strings in the AI so that it routes communications backward through the chronometric anti-dilation inverter and then shunts them through relays five and seven to project a signal along the cooling jackets of the L-web emitters.” She paused again. Izzy was already at work, leaning forward, hands busy with leads under the console, carefully coaxing the AI out of hiding and keeping her rig dark and silent during the process. The AI seemed to understand, and was only too happy to assist her with the process.

“The signal itself has to be adjusted to somewhere between two point eight-two Exahertz and two-point-eight-four.” Phoebe added. Izzy mouthed the numbers silently, carefully adjusting settings with the tip of a finger as Phoebe continued, droning on in the background “If it’s set any  higher, the vibrations that build up along the axial coolers for the cooling jackets can get strong enough to break something, and trust me–” She laughed an ironic, static-laced laugh “The last thing you want is a liquid helium leak that close to the cockpit.”

“Thanks for the warning.” Izzy craned her neck over, staring into the darkness and quickly swapping a pair of plugs. The AI chirped, and she sat up again, eyes settling on the console, scanning it briefly before her hands were in the air, tensing eagerly.

“Alright, let’s see if this works!” She waited a second, then thumbed the mike. “Phoebe?”

“Izzy!?” Came the excited reply. “Oh my god, someone is alive!”

“Hey Phoebe, have I ever told you that you’re a genius?” Izzy asked quickly, pushing aside the other woman’s comment. “I never would have thought of trying something as complex and hairbrained as that! Where’d you learn to monkey-rig a Seindrive like that?”

“My parents used to send love messages along the cooling jackets for the old BS12 Brackenworth HRL’s when they were stationed at opposite ends of the Ceti-Baker shipyards complex in the Devidia System– it’s the same basic idea, just modified to work with the Argon-Ion equipment.” She laughed. “It seems like this newer stuff is a lot more temperamental than the old HRL’s. The BS12's had a much larger margin of error to work with.”

“And they caught fire all the time.” Izzy reminded her. “The L-web emitters on our Seindrives are more powerful, more reliable, run longer before they overheat, and project a dozen beams a pop instead of just one. I’d say the smaller margin of error is worth it.”

“Yeah, I guess I just have a soft spot for older tech...” Phoebe trailed off, leaving an awkward pause in her wake. The channel they had opened hissed and popped with stellar noise, but there was no other sound, no voices breaking excitedly into the silence to dispel the rising sense of loneliness– no Cordova, no Davidson, no Tessa. A cold knot twisted hard in the pit of Izzy’s stomach, tightening with every silent moment that passed.

Breathing a tired sigh, she pulled off her broken glasses and turned her worried eyes to the stars. Somewhere out there, Tessa was alive– she had to be, had to be.

“Dammit Tess, answer.” It was a vain, whispered hope, and she knew it, but she voiced it anyway. She closed her eyes, knowing Tessa couldn’t hear her, knowing that no amount of restraint on Tessa’s part could have kept events from unfolding the way they had. If she’d stayed behind on the planet, she’d be dead– there was no disputing that fact, not with Tarsis 12's rocky guts spilled all across local space. Izzy breathed another sigh and rubbed her eyes, pushing hard, forcing away the stress and the fatigue with thumb and forefinger. She thumbed the mike again.

“Hey Phoebe?”

“Yeah, Izzy?”

“When this is all over, and I’ve had a chance to kick Hilleboe’s ass for stranding us here, let’s all go on extended leave to some resort world or something. Me, you and Tess. Sound alright? We’ll even bring Cordova and Davidson along.”

“Sounds...” Phoebe choked in the pause. “Sounds great, Izzy.”

Izzy’s eyes turned to the stars again, and they stared back, as cold and distant as the vacant eyes of a corpse. The grainy silence stretched on, lonely, endless.
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #25 (Aftermath)

Author Blurb: Ok, sorry about that! I totally gapped on posting this one. It’s been crazy– I’ve had about .1 second to do stuff (the internet always goes down at that point– it’s been really crappy too) and I’m so freakin’ jazzed about Pink Carbide that I completely forgot to post this week’s episode! Here it is, late, I know!

Progress report: Nothing on Cygnus so far. I’m looking at this coming weekend and thinking: “Well, I could just go full throttle Cygnus or I could pull out all the stops and do the first set of revisions on Pink Carbide: Aluminum Opus.” I’m leaning toward Cygnus, since I don’t have enough money at the moment to make a hard copy even if I did finish revisions on PC:AO, but the idea of pushing it and reading the hardcopy while I’m out of town the next weekend is awfully appealing. More on that later, I guess!

Anyway, this is the twenty-fifth installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode, Frozen Glory, is in process and scheduled to be released first thing next Wednesday. (January 24th, 2007 Pacific time.)

1731 words, 3 ½ pages.
© 2007 - 2022 Durkee341
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