TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 36

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The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #36 (Lost Within) By Earl S. Wynn


Feet stalled against deck plating as Tessa whipped around. Supported by two med-techs, Stone stared back at her, golden eyes dark and half-lidded with a tired, resigned ache that left her looking hollow, broken, as if someone had sliced her soul open and scooped out all that had once made her human, all that gave her feeling and a reason to live. Pangs of sympathy left cold and lingering echoes in Tessa’s soul, filled her heart with a crust of bitter ice that spread like frozen vine to hang low and heavy within her, a weight that felt like it might never melt. Stone swallowed, lips chapped and hesitant, her voice broken, gritty.

“You. . . Looking for your man?”

“Cordova.” Tessa managed, nodding. “He was in Stewart’s rig.”

Stone nodded slowly, swallowed again, looked away for an instant. This close, Tessa could see the dull crimson stains in her ripped uniform, the discolored patches of red and purple skin where frostbite and hypoxia had left their marks. She swallowed reflexively as Stone turned back, eyes dully searching. “He didn’t make it.” She managed, then paused, lips trembling, unable to finish. “Moore’s rig was the only other Athena Seindrive that was recovered.”

“No.” Tessa lost focus for an instant and looked away reflexively, eyes suddenly lost in the unshakable blur. Dead? She shook her head quickly, forced steel into her eyes, into her spirit, forced the clarity to come back, the resolve. “No.” She breathed, half losing the support she’d built, the strength of will she’d propped herself up with. “Dammit!”

“Eisenherz!” Stone tried, but it was too late. Tessa was gone again, stumbling into a broken trot that ended as she collapsed against a nearby bulkhead, fighting with the pain, with the hatred that boiled within her breast. Another wingman, dammit. She cursed, slammed her fist against the wall. Another wingman. She’d lost too many squadron mates to the Coralate, seen too many good pilots blown out of the sky in their prime, written too many letters to too many crying families, saluted too many send-offs at ceremonial funerals.

“Assholes!” She slammed her fist against the bulkhead again, squeezing her eyes tight against the tears that forced their way through her lids and spilled in hot trails down her cheeks. She hated the feeling, hated the frustration, the anger, the sadness, the sense of loss she felt every time she lost another pilot to the Coralate. It wasn’t something that you ever got used to, wasn’t something that ever left you jaded or unfeeling– every time it happened it became less of a shock, it became more real, more expected, and that alone made it hurt that much more.

Tessa sucked in a shaky breath and buried her face into the bulkhead, hunching up against the cold steel as she tried to focus on the dull ache in her hand, using it to blot out the pain in her heart, the ache that losing another wingman had left in her soul. Somewhere in the distance, soft voices gave way to shouting, cursing, angry cries meant for Cygnan ears that would never hear them. More lost pilots, more friends, family, wingmen and squadron leaders lost to the ravages of war.

And then realization hit her, drove its way into her heart like the cold steel length of a quick, impaling blade.


Palms pressed hard into steel, forced her up and away from the bulkhead as she sucked in a harsh, panicked breath. Eyes went wild as she spun around, fighting past the blur of tears and shock to dart back across the cargo bay. It was a long shot, but if there was a chance, if Davidson was still alive. . . She swallowed reflexively, gulped air, then pushed herself away from the bulkhead to stumble headfirst back into the mass of refugees and tech crew, eyes blankly flying from face to face, trying to find Davidson, hoping against hope that Stone was wrong, that she might see Cordova somewhere in that sea of faces, that she might escape the massacre at Tarsis without losing another pilot, another wingman. A handful of paces from her, a young woman in a flight uniform with Zeus Squadron patches dropped to her knees, crying, wailing, and threw up across the floor.

Tessa’s eyes shot away from the mess, the crowd, then rose desperately, mouth working in silent motions. All around her, rigs were disappearing under shrouds of dark, nanoregenerative plexicarbon, their colors, their names, their scorch marks, all lost, all hidden, disappearing. She gulped down a breath, stumbled forward a step. In her mind, she could see their faces, Cordova and Davidson, could hear their voices, could almost feel them somewhere in the mass of bodies around her. They had to be there, had to be in the cargo bay. Suddenly frantic, she tore into a knot of pilots, forcing them apart, searching their faces and grabbing their uniforms, smoothing out their patches as she cried out for her missing wingmen. Artemis squadron. “Cordova?” She yelled. Hands fought to push her away. Hermes squadron. “Davidson? Dammit! Davidson!” Someone screamed back, begged, tried to reason, but it didn’t matter. Another pair of hands reached out to grab her, tried to bring her back, but she fought them off, pushed between a pair of technicians and wrapped her fists in the dark fabric of a tarp, desperately trying to force it back up and away from the name stenciled on the side of the cockpit of a rig painted in Minerva Squadron colors. Someone yelled, hands reached for her, and then, as she forced it back with a sudden, desperate burst of strength, something snapped. Eyes widened, fingers came free, twitching as someone shouted, voice cut short by the sharp, singing twang of a broken cable.

There wasn’t time to move, wasn’t time to react, to dodge– in the instant before it hit her, she saw the elastalloy strap snap loose from a roller on the deck and crack across the rising, reflexively protective arms of a tech, biting through his uniform and lashing into skin hard enough to draw blood. Only in the last fragment of a second did Tessa’s lips part slightly, the barest precursor to a shout, and then she was reeling, senses dull and spinning, every nerve flaring with shock and pain as she flipped backward. Panels and pipes filled her vision with a grey blur of ceiling for a split second before the back of her skull smashed against the deck and sent the world around her spinning into sudden oblivion. Lips twitched in faded memory, and she heard the cable sing again, heard the shouts of techheads, felt their running footsteps pounding against the deck as sound and vibration faded into the distant background and darkness extinguished sense and memory piece by piece.

And then, in the next instant, she was gone.
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #36 (Lost Within)

Author Blurb:Here we are! Sorry it’s so late, I just didn’t get around to it today. Morning was stressful, lunch was Metroid Prime, and dinner was an hour away in Sac with an old friend, so I’m just now sitting down to get this out. I love breaks because there’s no homework, so I can get more done (theoretically) but the truth is that everyone else gets bored and wants my attention, so I get tired quick. About the only way I can justify it is to haul my laptop everywhere and use it to advertise like crazy when I can’t write.

Progress report: 36. Yeah, I don’t know. In my opinion, it’s nowhere near as good as what’s coming, and I’m pretty excited, despite the fact that I don’t feel all that excitable right now with all the tiredness and money stress and worry about starting a new semester. . . I just remembered something else I have to do. Today's the first day of open registration-- just swapped Gay and Lesbian Lit for History of English because G&L required 18 books (ridiculous!) and History of English fits better with my linguistics bent.

Anyway, this is the thirty-sixth installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode will appear on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 (PST)

1169 Words
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