TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 4

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The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #4 (Minerva Squadron) By Earl S. Wynn

“Lieutenant Commander!”

Tessa blinked suddenly, startled. She’d hardly had time to strip off her flight suit, change into her on-deck uniform, trip over a stack of Izzy’s books and get out the door of her quarters before she’d run into one of her wingmen, the youngest member of Minerva squadron, Lieutenant Phoebe Jenkins. She smiled, only half feeling it, and Phoebe beamed back in response, practically bouncing with excitement.

“How did it go? How many Coralate fighters were there?” Phoebe grinned, anxiously tossing the scroll-like bulk of a rolled up notepad ‘puter from hand to hand. “I bet you took down a whole freaking squadron again, didn’t you!?” She slugged the air enthusiastically. “Take that you Cygnan cheese suckers! Didn’t even know what hit ya! Tessa just came out a nowhere and BAM!” She struck a quick pose and blew a kiss at a burning Cygnan rig spiraling through skies only she could see. “Kiss your blueberry butts goodbye!”

Tessa laughed. Lieutenant Jenkins was like a bottlerocket with the soul of hyperactive schoolgirl; thin and bony in the white silk of her on-deck uniform, she was more cute than beautiful, waif-like and fragile looking, with wild, platinum blond hair that hung down in soft, pale fronds, tips brushing her face and ears, each little streamer reaching for her narrow shoulders but none quite managing to touch them. Pale blue eyes peeked out from beneath her unruly hair, almost silvery against the lightly tanned skin of her face.

Despite her appearance, she was a crackshot ace in the cockpit, a girl with incredible reflexes that could do things with ordnance that most people immediately brushed off as being impossible. All that, Tessa reflected, and she was still only seventeen, the youngest pilot ever to serve in Minerva Squadron.

The cunning paperwork to get her there had all been Admiral Virek’s doing; after a series of amazing performances in the simulators at an Earthside training station, Phoebe outmaneuvering and outshooting veterans and AI-controlled Cygnan rigs alike with incredible ease, the Admiral had made her an offer– emancipation to adulthood and immediate promotion to Lieutenant, with a seat in her own Seindrive 4 Blasterchild on the Von der Tann IV’s premier fighter wing, Minerva Squadron. The latest series of engagements with the Cygnans had left the Von hurting for pilots, and Tessa’s left advance wingman had bit the dust during a skirmish on a little swamp planetoid aptly known as backwater, leaving an opening in the prestigious unit that had to be filled. Now Lieutenant Phoebe Jenkins was the youngest crew member serving aboard the Von, only two months into her assignment, and already undoubtedly the best pilot in Minerva squadron, if not the whole fleet.

But the girl was so modest about her skill in the cockpit that it almost hurt– she was always looking up to Tessa and her right rear wingman, Izandra Copperfield, as if they were heroes or legends of some kind or another. Funny, since Tessa was sure that someday Phoebe would probably be leading the squadron –she was that good– though in a lot of ways, she was still very green, still had a lot of growing up to do.

“Actually,” Tessa began, smiling gently at the other woman as they turned and started down the hallway that ran vein-like past her quarters to larger hallways and arteries of foot traffic beyond, pulsing through the ship with the movement of over a hundred crewmen. At the end of one of those veins, near the fore of the ship where the gravity was lighter, there was an officer’s mess, complete with a bar tended by a grizzled old, half-cybernetic ex-Seal who knew how to mix a stiff drink, if nothing else. “There was only one Cygnan fighter.”

“Just one?” Phoebe looked bewildered for a moment, then let her arms drop to her sides, frowning slightly. “Well that’s boring.”

“He was pretty good, if it helps.” Patting her shoulder gently, Tessa gave the young lieutenant a soft smile. “And there was a civilian in an old K-8 Slashdriver who kept getting in the way...”

Phoebe looked up and opened her mouth to say something, but the voice of another woman cut in before she could speak. “...but you know, when it comes to Cygnans, there’s never just one. They’re like ants that way. Or bees.”

“Izzy!” Phoebe’s smile returned full force. “Did you finish your shift in the range already?”

“I left those holo-targets with a couple dozen good-sized holes for you, kid.” The newcomer grinned back and ruffled the young lieutenant’s platinum hair in a genuinely sister-like gesture. Her gaze met Tessa’s and she nodded, smiling as she absently pushed a pair of large, silver aviator frame glasses back up to the bridge of her sharp, gently sloping nose. “Welcome back, Tess.”

Tessa nodded and cracked a smile of her own. “Thanks Izandra.”

Lieutenant Copperfield had been in Minerva squadron almost as long as Tessa, and had survived every skirmish Admiral Virek had ever sent her burning hard into the heart of, flying out of dead and cooling warzones wing-to-wing with the Lieutenant Commander countless times, even when all three other wingmen had been toasted by the cruel heat of Cygnan weaponry. They’d attended the funerals of friends together, trained new wingmen together, tested experimental new rigs together, and spent hours holding each other in the secret darkness of Tessa’s quarters, showing one another the soft parts of their souls that no one else had seen before, parts that they could show to no one else. On the outside, they were just two strong women with an even stronger bond between them, but on the inside, through all the otherwise long and lonely nights, they were in love. Izandra hadn’t slept in her own bed in over six months.

Phoebe was completely oblivious to their relationship. Even after Izandra had managed to  convince the young lieutenant to gimmick the communication system so that all messages originally routed to the console in her quarters were relayed to Tessa’s instead, Jenkins didn’t seem to have the slightest inkling of what was going on between the two women, she was just glad they were all such good friends. Izzy and Tessa shared a secret smile behind the other woman’s back; what Phoebe didn’t know couldn’t hurt her.

Izandra slipped an arm across Phoebe’s shoulders and grinned at the other two women. She had a beautiful smile, a perfect crescent of pearl beneath warm brown eyes and hair that was almost as long as Tessa’s, though Izzy’s was chestnut brown and smoother, with twice the body of the Lieutenant commander’s. Her glasses seemed to add to her charm, as old fashioned as the addiction she blamed for needing them– as rare as it was in the twenty-fourth century, Izandra was an admitted bibliophile, and always seemed to have a paperback somewhere in her uniform or her flight suit, or wedged under a pillow where she could easily pull it out and read in the late hours of the night while Tessa drifted off to sleep in her arms. Back home on Earth, Izandra had been a child genius, earning three doctorates –one in Experimental Cyberpsychology, another in Earthside Judicial Science, and the third in Industrial Nanodesign– before the age of sixteen. Three months before her eighteenth birthday and the beginning of her career with the Navy, she’d even been awarded a fourth, honorary degree as a Master of Sacred Theology from the Fifth Papal University in the city of Benedict, Mars for her work on a software package that contained every biblical text translated into flawless Cygnan, from the bible itself to the collection of public apocryphi and Dead Sea scrolls. Izzy still wore the little silver cross Pope Vultaggio had given her as a personal gift of thanks for her work, and kept it close, tucked against her heart beneath her uniform.

Sometimes at night, Tessa would wake to find Izandra holding the little crucified Christ in the palm of her hand, staring into his silvered face, strikingly detailed by nanomachines, and praying silently, asking for forgiveness for choosing to fly a fighter instead of putting her mind to more constructive uses as a sister of the faith. In a way, the little crucifix was as much a charm for her as it was an anchor, a guardian that pulled at her, kept her looking back, tied her to the Vatican and its tangible sense of holy antiquity. Twice now, she’d carefully closed Izzy’s hands over the crucifix and kissed her, a tender reminder that she wasn’t alone in her misgivings. Tessa wasn’t Catholic, hadn’t had the same upbringing, but had still left things behind, things that she missed terribly, things that burned like hot coals deep within her heart, things like the love of her life before Izandra, Alan Harrodin. War wasn’t something anyone wanted to get tied up in, but Tessa didn’t think God would disapprove of what Izzy had decided to do with her life; the Navy was fighting for the continued survival of the human race, even if it did have it’s fair share of sinners, and if that wasn’t a worthy cause in the eyes of God, then what was?

“Even if he was a scout, the Cygnans wouldn’t just send one fighter.” Izandra offered, and Tessa smiled, shaken out of her reverie. They were still walking together, three sisters-in-arms practically hanging off one another as they went. “There’s more of them nearby somewhere, a transport or a warship, something big just waiting...”

Izandra was brilliant, there was no question about it, but she’d also gotten a near perfect score on the RRH bar of ESP tests, and that made her a talented precog as well. Tessa had learned to trust the woman’s intuition– Izandra had always seemed to have a knack for picking up on things that others missed, or reflexively saying things that later came true down to the smallest detail.

“But Izzy,” Phoebe began, “command hasn’t picked up any cruisers within range...”

“And how would you know that, Phee?” Izandra laughed, jostling the young lieutenant playfully. “You know, one of these days Admiral Virek or that hardass Captain Hilleboe is going to find your little spy-toys in Ops and put you on toilet-duty for a month!”

“No they won’t!” The other woman shot back. “I’ve tested them with every scanning device on the ship and–”

“Lieutenant Jenkins?”

The three women broke apart and turned; a young man in the black uniform of a junior Operations officer saluted, and Phoebe returned it almost reflexively.

“Admiral Virek would like to see you in his office immediately.” He unrolled a notepad ‘puter of his own and made a quick note. Phoebe paled instantly.

“Spy-toys.” Izandra whispered, chuckling quietly. Phoebe thanked the Ops officer quickly, then turned back to the other two women, getting a wry smile from Izzy and an almost concerned look from Tessa.

“I... I guess...”

“We’ll be in the officer’s mess for a while.” Izandra made a dismissive gesture, then ruffled the young lieutenant’s hair again. “Come on by and have a drink with us when you’re done if Hilleboe doesn’t have you cleaning toilets.”

Phoebe swallowed nervously and forced a grin.
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #4 (Minerva Squadron)

Don’t you just love the little things life throws at you?

I’m going out of town tonight and I’ll be gone for the bulk of Wednesday (because of an interview) so I decided, instead of waiting until Thursday to post, I’d get it out of the way early.

This is the fourth installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode, “Men” is done and scheduled to be released first thing next Wednesday(August 16th, Pacific time.)
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langsam's avatar
Good description, particularly paragraphs 3-4 (counting the first line as one).

sp: bony ordnance