TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 40

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The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #40 (Strains) By Earl S. Wynn


The resident AI blinked a light in a peevish shade of yellow as Cordova leaned back and smiled proudly at his victory. On the console, a mostly empty chess board spun slowly around the triumphant king, score and time blinking, frozen at the instant the final piece had fallen. A dialog box popped across the console, asking simply: Rematch?

“Yeah, sure.” Cordova grinned, gestured lazily. “That’s the eleventh game I’ve won, ese. If you haven’t beat me yet, what makes you think you’ve got a chance now?”

Change difficulty? The console flashed suggestively, highlighting the hard setting.

“Yeah, you wish.” He laughed. “This is the first time I’ve played chess in ten years. I know better than to risk my winning streak by playing on anything other than ‘easiest’.”

Soft blue light blinked placidly back in response, and the console cleared itself, leaving the chessboard spinning in the center of the display again. Cordova mulled it over for a moment, considering, then gave the AI a vague gesture. “What else did Stewart stash in your memory? Anything else? Anything fun?”

The AI strobed a soft rainbow of colors back at him, and a moment later the chess game fell away, replaced by a simple directory window, file names highlighting. Games, personal, music.

“Personal?” Cordova sat up slowly, suddenly curious. “What’s he got stashed in there?”

A dialog box opened, showed off pixelated icons, highlighted labels. 28 images, 3 videos, 1 simpletext entry.

“Pics and vids?” Cordova grinned. “Hey, hey. Anything good?”

The AI blinked a noncommital blue. Cordova waited for a moment, shrugged. “Nothing better to do. Open up one of the images.” He chuckled. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll be porn.”

The AI flashed a single red light back at him in irritated response, then cleared the display, filling it an instant later with another picture of Stewart’s family– two kids and wife sharing some kind of meal at a picnic table under the shady branches of an alien tree with a sprawling hillside of soft green behind them. They were all smiling, or at least trying to– every one of them had that ‘put the camera away already’ look on their face that Cordova knew all too well. He’d smiled like that before, taken pictures under fire from looks like that before, and seeing it brought back the memories, memories of his family, his wife and daughter– family he might never see again.

Cordova looked away reflexively, suddenly uncomfortable. He thought he’d come to terms with it, thought he’d pushed it all away under the drive and the resolve he’d built up to make his will unshakable, to give him what he needed to take the chances that would widen the narrow margin of survival he clung so fiercely to.

All around him, the scorched and blasted hull of the Coralate warship stretched on, as silent as any monolith or monument to destruction ever could be. He’d entered what he guessed was Coralate space a handful of hours ago, figured from the number of warships and oddly organic chrome complexes that floated by, wholly unlike anything he’d ever seen before, that he was somewhere deep within Cygnan territory. It didn’t help– seeing the military and industrial might of the Coralate sprawling through the stars just beyond the fragile little window of his cockpit reminded him just how hopeless his situation was, threw doubt into his resolve, left the nagging feeling in the back of his mind that he might never see his little girl again, that he might never see his wife again.

“Close the image.” He breathed. “Please.”

The AI blipped gently, filled the cabin with a soft blue light. After a moment, Cordova tore his eyes away from the stars, away from the shiny hulks and complexes of the Coralate war machine, and let his gaze wander back to the display panel. Soft words beckoned from a window propped in the center of a mercifully blank screen. Would you like to play a game?

“Not now.” Cordova managed. “I–” He hesitated, eyes snared by the stars again, lifting to stare up through the canopy as a smaller strike vessel rocketed past. It was burning hard back toward the hole in space, and as it went, it passed close– less than fifty meters from the hull of the massive warship. Cordova swallowed reflexively, watched it as it slipped away, carving its way through the stars, slowly becoming one of them, a point of light in all that blackness.

“Play something, play. . .” He hesitated, tongue caught between words, holding him on the edge of a pain that had nested somewhere deep inside of him, rising slowly, eating away at his soul. “Play whatever song Stewart used to listen to the most.”

A soft chime was the AI’s only response, and a moment later, a slow, soulful jazz led by a lazy, sad saxophone floated into the cockpit. Hanging in the air like a heavy fog, it played along the panels and tugged at the strings of his heart with a bayside feel that made him think of San Francisco, made him think of cities like it he’d visited before, cities on other worlds with that same seaside blues ambiance quietly clinging to their red brick facades, their long, worn wharfs, the stalls and street vendors peddling clam chowder steaming from sourdough bowls.

Cordova folded his arms silently and leaned back into the seat, eyes never leaving the stars. He had to get back to all that, had to live to see San Francisco or New Frisco on Eberbuer again someday, but most importantly, he had to get back to his people, had to get back to the TCGND alive and in one piece so he could let his wife and his little girl know he was okay.

Let them know he was resigning his commission and coming home.

He swallowed slowly, forced down the knot of pain, pulled in a shaky breath.

He had to get back alive. Had to.

“Te amo, Maria.” He whispered.

I love you.
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #40 (Strains)

Author Blurb: Busy busy busy. Reading a lot of Borges and Kafka lately, and I think it’s affecting my writing in interesting ways. Also thoroughly obsessed with Metroid in a way that I haven’t been for a long time, and revisiting a lot of old stuff and old ideas. The culmination of all this is probably most visible in the stuff I’m working on right at the moment, which is always kind of funny and ironic to me because it’s stuff that won’t see the light of day until probably some time next month, when I’ll likely be somewhere else entirely, psychologically speaking.

Progress report: #41 and #42 are done, and #43 is coming along in a way that is oddly both easy and hard. I think it’s the depth I’m digging to with the piece, that straining for something better. Funny, since I told myself I was picking up TTC again because it wasn’t as deep or full of twisting meanings as Pink Carbide, but oh well, haha. Nothing wrong with quality.

Anyway, this is the fortieth installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode will appear on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 (PST)

1031 Words
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purpleduckling's avatar
<nitpicking> Third paragraph: ese. Is that a typo'd see?</nitpicking>

It's good to see Cordova again.
That AI is a real personality.