TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 26

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The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #26 (Frozen Glory) By Earl S. Wynn

Stone spent the next hour and a half after Phoebe’s call went out trying to reboot her rig’s toasted AI.

It was quick, desperate work, each dead-end attempt to bring even the barest of primary systems online earning the stars and her Seindrive both a quick, vicious curse. Only the life support suite still functioned, and she was glad for every minute that it kept her warm and breathing, but it wouldn’t mean much if she couldn’t get word out to someone that she’d actually managed to cheat certain death and survive.

Survive was about as far as it went for her, though. Her rig was crippled, and a thousand faces of unpleasant death leered at her from the future, starvation the least among them. Slowly, steadily, she was losing blood, bleeding out through a mangled artery in her leg that refused to give up, refused to acknowledge every attempt she'd made to staunch the flow. In the end, her only recourse had been to tighten the knots in the makeshift tourniquet she’d built from everything and anything she could scrounge from the cockpit and her uniform, steadily cutting off circulation more and more until everything beneath her knee had turned deathly pale and bruised like soft fruit. She tried not to look at it, tried to ignore it, and winced unconsciously every time she had to, every time she had to tighten the knots, hoping that the bleeding would stop, hoping that, if rescue came before she bled to death or died of infection, she wouldn't lose the leg and be forced to take a prosthetic or a regrow.

She shook her head in disgust at the thought. Both meant months in a hospital bed and weeks upon weeks of physical therapy and nerve retraining before she could sit behind a desk and file reports for some lazy old Admiral. She'd probably never even see a Seindrive again, much less the inside of one– the navy rarely let pilots unlucky enough to lose an arm or a leg fly again, unless they were desperate to fill seats on the front line and the pilot was well known, a regular ace that might cost the navy more than it was willing to give up if they stuck him behind a desk instead. She shook her head again. She didn't want to be one of those forgettable vets, didn’t want to be an old lady reminiscing about her short career flying Seindrives for the Navy during the last “great war” and hobbling around on a fake leg, the only part of her body that wouldn't age, wouldn’t decay at the same rate as the rest of her, just stayed strong and virile while the rest of her body rotted away around her like cheap plastic paneling.

A shock from carelessly handling a pair of stripped leads brought her suddenly out of reverie and worry and back to the searing hell of the present. Phoebe was talking again, going over the instructions again in the hopes that someone besides Izzy might answer– she didn’t sound too hopeful, didn’t sound too enthusiastic, and it didn't sound like anyone else was alive, which meant Stone had probably lost not only her LC and Boehler, but the only two other pilots left in Athena Squadron as well...


She squeezed her eyes shut, pushing away the sudden, rising tide of pain that threatened to overwhelm her. They'd all been slaughtered by the Cygnans, thirty pilots just abandoned by the Von and picked off a few at a time until only a couple of them were left scattered among the debris of Tarsis 12 like fragile gnats, floating on the flotsam and jetsam of electromagnetic currents with little hope for escape or rescue, if any at all. It wasn't fair, not even slightly, not even in the most twisted view the galaxy could indulge on a rare, sadistic whim. She shouted a frustrated curse as the spilled innards of the Seindrive's AI shocked her burnt fingers again.

The interior glowpad lights on the armrests flickered and dimmed suddenly, prompting a growl that was half irritation, half fearful, a growl that cut off suddenly as the 02 recyclers began to whine in tired protest. Stone looked up quickly, eyes wide– the circulation fans were struggling, choking, getting worse without the AI to regulate them and correct the problem Stone had set in motion by switching leads and routing systems through places they were never meant to go in her attempts to bring the AI back online. She dug her teeth into her upper lip apprehensively, waited, mentally trying to retrace her steps, to consider where the problem might have started and how she could fix it before other systems started crashing, critical systems like life support and the energy shields that kept ice and debris off the Seindrive’s fragile hull.

And then the pads went dark. She held her breath, and in the sudden, impenetrable darkness that filled the pause ominously, the circulation fans in the 02 recyclers sputtered out.

Stone dropped the leads she was holding and sat slowly back in her seat. Already, the barely visible lines of ice that were kept at bay by specialized shielding were crawling up across the canopy glass and turning a deep, deathly shade of blue as they hardened in fractured sheets. Already, she could feel the cabin temperature dropping, and she hugged her arms against her chest reflexively, eyes drifting to the stars shining cold beyond the long, sprawling fields of ice and debris. A couple dozen kilometers away, the silvery, whale-like shape of a Cygnan battlecruiser slipped elegantly through Tarsis 12's remnants like a silent monolith, as frigid and cruel as the stars beyond it.

Stone shivered and exhaled sharply, watching the mist of her breath hang idly in the air. Look on the bright side, she thought. At least you won't have to wait for rescue or waste any time writing a report for the top brass-- you won't even have time to bleed to death, much less feel the onset of infection or even old age.

She forced a smile, trying to keep cool until the bitter, strangling end. She'd heard that freezing to death wasn't a bad way to go, that you could just go to sleep and let death take you quietly and painlessly, but it still pissed her off. It pissed her off that she couldn't go out in a blaze of glory like she'd promised herself so many times before that she would, that her rig wouldn't even fly, couldn't even drift fast enough to ram anything but rocks... and even that was a big, improbable maybe.

She gave the stars another curse and flipped off the Battlecruiser with a cocky smile. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. Didn’t matter; she'd be getting her kicks on the other side with Susan and Bohler before long, and probably Tess and the rest of the Von's pilots too, comparing death stories or... whatever it was that dead people did for fun.

She laughed at the thought, then sucked in a shaky breath that dropped her smile with the cruel, prickly numbness of a shiver. I’m going to die here. She thought suddenly, mind quieting with the onset of the realization.

Peaceful numbness settled across her shoulders and she sunk back in her seat. She’d run out of options, and soon, she’d probably run out of time. There was nothing left but to watch the distant sun rise over Tarsis 12's closest neighbor, and in a way, she didn’t care, couldn’t care, if it ever managed to clear the hazy line of that far-off atmosphere and stab her eyes with it’s harsh rays.
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #26 (Frozen Destiny)

Author Blurb: I feel kind of bad about this, but I’ve got to put Cygnus War on hold until further notice. I’m not done– I still plan to continue the series, but I need the time right now to work on writing and promoting the Pink Carbide series.

Progress report: Been focusing on the book.

Anyway, this is the twenty-sixth installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode will appear at some future date as yet to be announced.

1311 words, 2 ½ pages, for those who are interested.
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