TTC: The Cygnus War, Part 50

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The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #50 (Sky of Memories, part 1) By Earl S. Wynn

“EPU, O2, 100%. Check.”

“PFL, R-AI... No faults, check.”

“Suspensors, locked. S-Vectoring panels dilated into dark.”

Phoebe thumbed a knob, keyed a sequence into the resident AI’s touchscreen console, clicked the radio. “Departure control: permission to depart, vector pad thirty-six right.”

“Roger Minerva 1.” The response came clear, professional. “You are green for go, thirty-six right. Good luck out there, good hunting.”

Gloved fingers flexed, tightened across the dual wing throttle. “Roger control.” Panels on the underside of her Seindrive dilated into N-space, thrusters vectoring, tensing, anxious to fly. All around her, the rig seemed to come to life, lighting up, warming to a hot standby and begging to be released into the endless blue. Her tongue pushed absently between her lips as she flicked down her helmet’s shaded visor, eyes already on the invisible horizon.

Five seconds later, she was in the sky.

High atmosphere was the environment they’d agreed on, earth standard at 100,000 feet. In the distance, she could see his launch point, a Naval Wallace class like the Von descending into the airspace over a simulated sprawl of California cityscape. Light glinted cool and sterile off the silver-filament cities that stretched across the waves like some massive titanium network, a web so huge it almost seemed built to restrain the entire body of the Pacific in its ancestral cradle.

Somewhere down there, she thought, on the real earth, mom and dad are watching this same sky from their condo on Cuidad Tranquilo, halfway between Oahu and Palmyra Atoll.

Can’t disappoint them.

Her eyes lifted to the hazy line where there was no horizon but the heavens and sky seemed to divide and separate on their own, one above the other, both dissolving into white and blue where the nose of her Seindrive pointed. Seeing the skies of earth like this again, being in the perfect atmosphere of the planet that had given birth to the star-spanning megacivilization of the Terran Commonwealth made her miss home, made her miss the planet she’d left behind to fly rigs like her Blasterchild against the Coralate. In a way, she was glad that she’d followed her parents’ footsteps into the service, but she still held her own secret reservations, regrets, thoughts that she would never allow herself to share with anyone, thoughts she swallowed against, forced herself to ignore every time they rose to swell in her throat and quietly reminded her that they would never go away.

She swallowed in that moment, reflexively, and forced her eyes to focus on the Wallace class in the distance. Her rig’s PAT array had picked up Mac’s Slashdriver at 238 kilometers distant, closing in on a full burn of a few km/h over 1800 with the massive bulk of the starship hanging in blue nothingness another handful of kilometers behind him. Her own throttle was notched near half in conventional drive, 1522 km/h. 5, maybe 6 minutes out. Briefly, she considered inching up her own throttle, then abandoned the idea as her thumb played idly with the caps for a line of Rapier A5 rockets. Too soon, she decided. Better to let him close to range, show him that she knew how to maneuver, then swing in and dice his rig to burning splinters with her L-web emitters.

“You know, I haven’t seen Earth in at least a decade.” Mac’s voice crackled over the active comm channel, picking up static in a way that made the entire experience feel more authentic, more real. “Not even in a simulator.”

Phoebe clicked the mike. “Really? I was born here... there.”

“No kidding?” Came Mac’s response, distracted, almost absent. “Didn’t have to go far to get your training, eh?” He laughed. “I was born in Cydonia Prospect, father was Cavalry, momma was an archaeologist.” He paused, added. “Not a long jaunt back to Earth for training, but once I got there, I sure as hell felt every mile of the distance between me and the folks.”

“Yeah.” Phoebe admitted. “I know how that is.”

“I’m sure you do. Everyone in the Navy knows what it’s like to be a long-ass way from home.” He paused, added: “But then again, all the interesting stuff’s way the hell out here. All they’ve got back there in the Sol system is a lot of corporate-image perfection. No frontier, no character!”

No blueskins. Phoebe thought, and her eyes strayed again to the sky. Way in the distance, barely visible, she thought she saw a tiny crimson dot riding the blue like a surfer on the wake of a wave. Mac. In some ways, he reminded her of the grandfather she’d barely known, a man who was little more than shadows and fragments in her memory, a blurred image of a gruff and smiling holograph, long patches of silvery, unshaven stubble, a casual smile, the helmet of an ancient EV suit tucked into his arm. He’d died when she was very young, four or five, sucked into space when a hatch with a faulty seal blew on an ice freighter on its way home from Saturn. Now, he was all but forgotten, a faded memory that never surfaced in conversation anymore. Just another soul lost to the stars. She closed her eyes, just for an instant, and sighed.

A high-pitched squeal from the AI was the only warning she got.

Eyes flew open reflexively, shot to the sky. Even at this distance, she could feel the shocks in the air from the pounding of inky flak as she passed into range of the underslung cannon the stock configuration of Slashdriver had carried into battle in the skies of planets like Toliman during the Centauri Uprising of 2245. In a sudden, desperate movement, she shook the wings, scissored the throttle a fraction of an inch, and dropped her rig through the trailing end of a cloud of oily black, sliding out of the way of another burst that reached out to rock her airframe even as she passed out of its deadly grip and darted again for open air. Vicious monowire shredders and ragged shrapnel ripped past, whistling overhead in scorching lines and tumbling violently across fuselage like fragments of hot and angry caltrops. Debris shields flared green, spat in angry protest. Grinding her teeth, Phoebe dropped her rig a handful of meters, spun it left, wing over wing, then flattened out as Mac’s Slashdriver burnt past, scorching the sky and rattling her rig in its wake.

“Yeehaw!” He shouted. “Bet you’re awake now!”

Phoebe’s thumb jumped to the radio. “Anyone ever told you that you’re an asshole!?”

“Plenty of times.” He laughed. “I’ve probably been called every nasty word under the stars, and then some!”

“Must be good at earning them.” She shot back.

“Could be.” He bit off. “Think fast!”

The resident AI lit up with a chorus of a thousand colored lights, throwing open screens and flooding the HUD with warnings that indicated a loose and hasty lock from a hot-launched rocket. Phoebe’s eyes flicked back to the display, but in the time it took to cross the distance, the rocket had closed to a critical, unavoidable range. Alerts, suggestions, corrections flashed, and in a sudden, desperate move, her fist tightened across the stick.

One shot. One chance.

Don’t blow it.
Full title: The Tessa Chronicles: The Cygnus War #50 (Sky of Memories, Part 1)

Author Blurb: Linguistic Activism! [link]

Progress report: I’ve been working on essays, projects and teaching myself photoshop this week, so no new work on TTC, but don’t think that means I’ve given up– I’m just far enough ahead that I’m focusing more on school work for the moment! This summer I hope to push through a whole mess of episodes and maybe even finish out the series (writing wise) so I only have to worry about posting during the school year and I can pick up the Pink Carbide series again before I start graduate-level coursework about a year or a year and a half from now. Busy busy busy! Haha.

Anyway, this is the fiftieth installment of TTC: The Cygnus War. You can find the previous episode here: [link] The next episode will appear on Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 (PST)

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