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LAST RUN By E.S. Wynn
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, locales, etc. is entirely coincidental. THE CYGNUS WAR: LAST RUN ISBN: pending Copyright © 2005-2010 E.S. Wynn Cover Art by E.S. Wynn First Edition: 2010, Thunderune Publishing www.eswynn.com All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed, in whole or in part, in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. For information address: Earl S. Wynn, ATTN: The Cygnus War P.O. Box 3902 Sonora, Ca, 95370 PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author or the publisher has received any payment for this “Stripped Book”
For all the readers and supporters of The Cygnus War, You bring the power to the words I lay upon the page.
S. WYNN: THE CYGNUS WAR: (Session 1) CTARSIS CRESCUE CDOWNFALL CWEAPON CAWAKEN (Session 2) CEREBUS CLAST RUN PINK CARBIDE: CPINK CARBIDE CALUMINUM OPUS CCARBON ARIA LITERARY: CA MODERN CREATIVE WRITER’S WORKBOOK CBEYOND OBLIVION --4-- .OTHER BOOKS BY E.
orange-red hair.” She looked up.” “Sounds good.” Tessa’s eyes drifted up. The other woman caught it reflexively. “Good. palm open. “Any care --5-- .” “The biotank does good work. let me know. TCV-X: Hephaestus (Groombridge 34 System) “Flex it for me again.” She stashed the sphere in her pocket. olive eyes under bobbed. collapsed into a glassy ball of chrome before it even touched her hand. glanced back at her silicon pad as Tessa nodded absently. half smiled.” The major said absently. 09:27 (ES/GMT) Location: Medical Bay.Episode 23: Deeper Wounds Date: 8th November.” She glanced up again. “Well. “What time is your meeting with the people from Seindrive?” “Ten AM. opened again. tingling. She grinned. turning the liquid lump over in her hand and then tossing it to the doctor. formed a soft fist.” Tessa reached out. the look of a tired parent watching a child build a tower out of pots and pans. and caught a laser scalpel as it flew toward her. “Sorry about the scalpel. “You do good work. gracefully. crossed her arm. strange pains. 2311.” The doctor sighed.” The doctor studied the sphere for a moment longer before she looked up. pushed off the table. The doctor made a silent scratch in her silicon pad. Fingers folded in easily.” “It’s nothing. glossy surface of the solid metal sphere as she held it between her fingers. Doctor. I think we’re done here. “If you have any problems. “I’ll just fax up another one. Major.” She grinned back. almost marveled at the cold. held Tessa’s eyes for a moment. sudden failure in implant functionality. watching Tessa turn the hovering ball of liquid chrome into a dozen playful shapes. regarded Tessa with a soft smile. “And the implant lacings?” “All seem to be working fine. I just feed it the variables.
” She turned back. excited about meeting with a representative from Seindrive. pulled absently at the fabric of her grey tanktop. “Hey. of gold or chrome that went into her uniform.” “That’s a bad thing?” He grinned back quietly. so I’ll tell Ben its on. Eyes met as they broke away a little after th contact. sighed. “How late are you thinking? My shift ends at eighteen hundred. “You truly are beautiful.” She kissed him gently. turning in the mirror. crossed to the nanofax module that printed up all the disposables. The other woman waved in silent response. eager to impress. Ben and I were wondering if you would be up for a drink later in the officer’s lounge?” “Maybe. the elite.” “Always good advice. made her into a monolith of authority. set the notepad down. “Eighteen thirty.instructions besides plenty of bedrest and fluids?” “If it hurts. “Never. “Mmm. Nodding. if you can make it.” --6-- . eyes closing as a sultry smile crawled across her lips. I wish there was time for it now. her hands rising to connect behind her lover’s neck as he kissed her back. hands coming to rest on her shoulders.” The major grinned again. chuckled quietly as she tucked her head in against his chest and closed her eyes.” Tessa’s grin turned wry. Buttoning up the uniform that marked her as Ultima Thila.” She turned toward him. Tessa hurried through her dressing.” Back in the quarters she shared with Dimitrov.” “I was going for authority and responsibility. worlds. she grinned at herself.” Dimitrov smiled softly. “Later. Doc.” The doctor grinned. all the needles and tools medical went through during the course of a given day. “How do I look?” She asked.” Came Tessa’s playful response. someone with the power to move fleets. his voice a pleasant vibration in her ear. don’t do it. the doctor turned away. careful.” She placed a finger on his lips. Tessa. smiled softly. “Gorgeous.” “There’s always later. stretched. flexed bare toes. “Okay. checked every edge of flash. merged into a soft kiss. flickered as she moved. well I’m off to change back into something more formal than these regulation skivvies anyway. “I can wait. “Unless it’s a good hurt. smiled. the best of the best. passionately. worked quickly.” “Great.” He hugged her closer.” “Eighteen thirty then. grinned. Light caught the golden sigel rune pinned at the neck of her dark uniform. “Get me too excited and I might be late for my meeting. but that works. “Believe me.” The doctor smiled back.
He knew Tessa’s heart. “I love you. the way she reacted to everything. All he could do was close his eyes and sigh. knew the ways that Tessa chose to deal with the pain.” Dimitrov closed his eyes. feeling the pulse there. He knew how much it hurt. about humanity. “I– I have to go. nodded. hand pressed against his heart. She smiled. soaked in the moment. Dimitrov caught some of the chill in her eyes. spiking into her personality. He knew intimately. watch from the sidelines and be there.” “I love you more.” He grinned.“You’re so perfect.” Tessa turned and kissed him gently. smiled back. Hands touched. “I know. all the innocents. sighed. chilled her to her core and left her almost gasping for air. and he knew what his part in the equation was. squeezed. This is good. all the people the Commonwealth had lost to the Coralate. hurrying on into the corridor beyond without another word. Tessa forced a smile. She told herself. the noncombatants eviscerated by Cygnan weaponry. when she truly needed him. Tessa resting her head on his chest again for a moment. This was worth coming back for. and they laughed together quietly. Tessa swallowed as a familiar cold settled into her again. eyes suddenly wide. to radiate out through her. the damage and the pain that festered deep within her. the pain. He knew how often she thought about Izzy. rolled across each other. Her spine stiffened. --7-- . Ben. allowed it to fill her. be there when the walls broke down. the civilians. tentatively. without a goodbye. He did know.” She looked up. the things she did. and as she pulled away. staring. Ben’s words echoed true on so many levels. then turned away again and crossed to the door. But it isn’t Izzy.
“Same. but as she reached out and shook his steel fist. Pleasure to meet you.Episode 24: Stormfury “Major Eisenherz.” Tessa couldn’t help the smile that crossed her face then. chrome-metal hand. Sharp lines of chrome swept back.” She nodded. dialed sleek to razor-edged points --8-- . amused at her slang. took it in stride.” She met his eyes evenly. it became immediately clear that the suit was as solid as she was. “This way. “Ready to see Seindrive’s latest product?” “Sure. “I take it your recovery is going well. slick-haired suit extended one articulated. the main body of the new rig hovered almost five feet off the ground. In the center of the bay. It was corporate’s equivalent of a uniform.” When the hangar door opened.” Delaware said quickly.” Everything about Delaware was facade. “Lets see what kind of rig Seindrive has cooked up this time. it was a tragedy. another grin crawled across her face. suspended in air like a foil fan of folded wings. then pushed a smile into her lips. lingered. Nerodyne systems. a handful of paces from the door to the Hephaestus’ auxiliary hangar bay. grin. Light caught the silver edge of the flash field-suspended against his chest. flickering and shifting quicksilver logo displaying Seindrive’s trademark razor lines overlaid with the shimmering letters that labeled him as part of the butchered and castrated company’s most promising research cabal. “I heard about what happened on Oridius. then grinned widely. nobody else got out of that mess alive.” Delaware’s grin turned wry.” “Yes. chrome and plastic. fakely as he gestured toward the hangar bay.” “Not bad. Tessa nodded. sure and genuine. flash. “Johnathon Delaware. considering I was the only survivor.” Standing in the open corridor. “I was lucky. with the Erebus complex.” The grinning. the Seindrive representative looked more like a nanoprojection holo-ad than a real human being. You got used to seeing it.
” --9-- . the way it just floated. “The entire product has been optimized to work with the Kvasir interface. “So how does it fly? Wire?” She glanced back at Delaware. vague and basic looking. right here. made an all encompassing gesture. “You designed this rig to work exclusively with the Kvasir mindmachine interface?” She stood. voice rich with the announcer tones of a sales pitch. “For the moment. “What do you think?” “She’s beautiful.” He grinned. took it in.as they crawled across every inch of fuselage. but not for long.” Another grin. Delaware caught her grin. stared back at him for a moment. leaving no room for controls. “We plan to have at least six squadrons online with Kvasir and the Stormfury within six months. half confused. The whole thing was still gunmetal gray and signed at the nose by a team of designers– all so new that they hadn’t even put squadron paint on it yet.” Tessa crossed the distance between herself and the rig. consoles.” Tessa blinked. instruments.” The wing was warm to the touch as she swung up onto it. grinning. She frowned slightly. Pilots like yourself are the future!” He closed to within a foot of the fighter. yes. It’s still in clinical trials. and the headset is used as a neural booster to improve speed and feedback quality. Not even the S-vectoring panels had a visible spread or flex to them. so data transfer will come with a speed and ease that makes pilot handling seamless and reflexive. dropped straight to within a foot of the ground at their points on the bottom. gestured. “Where are the controls? The instruments?” “Completely internalized. indicating the entire rig. “Only a couple of people have undergone the procedure. “Everything is routed through the synth-neuron gel harness you see in there. She turned back to Delaware. half hesitant. “You won’t find a semiatmospheric with better response capability than the Seindrive five Stormfury. stepped gently across to the canopy and hunched down to peer inside at the snuglooking humanform socket of chrome and light that seemed to fill the entire space. Only a single thin headset sat in the center of it all. gently ran a hand along the side. “By all means. marveled at how little it disturbed the air around it as it sat in idle hover.” He gestured expansively. eerily still and stable.” She tapped the side of her head in soft emphasis. “Mind if I take a look inside?” The suit grinned back. an ironic smile playing across her face.
” --10-- .” He grinned. “Stormfury: slim profile.” She crossed along the side of the fuselage.” She grinned. “I’ve heard about the sublayer warheads.” She nodded soberly. the Stormfury is capable of a complete configuration change with no macroscale moving parts. They punch through to N-space and emerge periodically to orient themselves until they emerge at or within their target and explode. you don’t get all the up-to the minute loss data that we do. four heavy accelerated plasma repeaters with a one hundred-percent increase in the size and yield of the plasma slugs and a total rate of fire as a quad that outperforms single PD cannons mounted on older Seindrive models.” “The demos I’ve seen for the sweep cannon technology is impressive too. sleek. leaving only a slick. “The majority of the fuselage is self replicating composite nanotechnology. “What else has it got?” “Back-up suspensor landing systems.” Delaware stated smoothly. as a civilian. smiling confidently as he continued his pitch. and enough countermeasure security to make it virtually invulnerable to Coralate data infiltration attacks. but we’re still human. gestured. Tessa swallowed. “She’s also equpped with a pair of overwing N-space sublayer warhead racks.” She made a casual gesture. “You said the control surfaces are NOACA?” “That’s right.“Six months. dropped back to the deck. Daedalus X ico-bypass quantum hotcoil pods with spacialtranslation/transition matrices. the fan-wing design had collapsed in on itself. “True.” She swallowed. Major Eisenherz.” The response was reflexive– in an instant.” “Maybe. turned toward the fighter. grinning. boosted intelligent nanite self-repair systems. “As you can see. blade-like fuselage that seemed improbably thin. grinned. “The very same. speechless. laughed.” He gave her a vaguely optimistic smile. “I know that.” Tessa raised an eyebrow. the newest in M-FAID argon ion sweep cannon technology. squatted on the edge of the rig’s fuselage.” “Impressive. right?” Delaware nodded. ran one hand across the smooth surface of the fighter’s nose.” He paused. Nano-organic amorphous ceramic alloy control surfaces. “We have to try. “But even the most disconnected colonist these days knows we could very well lose the war before then.
keying through a holographic display that sprung up in his palm. grinned. “Re-entry dispersal. “We’ve scheduled a test flight for tomorrow morning.The Wu Ang Hok.. Just like old times.” She nodded approvingly.” He pushed through another couple of keystrokes. that kind of thing.” Just like old times.” He grinned. “The Stormfury’s systems have been rigorously tested in all kinds of environments.. dark chill came back. I bet. Tessa swallowed.. “You’ll be flying a demo for the entire mid-forward fleet. a few others you’ve flown with. Looked away from the suit’s eyes as the familiar. met his eyes.. Just like old times.” “Of course. Foreign Nodule Syndrome. Soon. “So when do I get to fly it.” He grinned. sank into her spine.” “Mid-forward. including the nanomechanical components. and every inch of ivory he showed was salesman perfect. when the Hephaestus meets up with several other warships in the area. --11-- . yes. eh? That’s pretty reassuring. ran a hand along the blade-narrow edge of the fuselage. soon.” “Ninety-nine.” He lifted his metallic arm. closed his palm on the projection. “So the Grandbois.” She looked back at the rig. and I can say with a ninety-nine percent assurance that there will be no problems with any of the onboard systems. “It’ll be a regular homecoming for you.” “Uh.” “. the Von der Tann IV.“I take it your people solved the cohesion problems of the older Nano Organic control surfaces” Tessa turned back. the Luguvalium.
” And then he was gone.” Dimitrov hesitated. then quietly said her goodbyes and slipped off for the night.” He smiled again. For a long moment she just sat there. stood. ironically. “I have a handful of maintenance reports I should look over anyway.” Tessa blinked. “You coming?” “Yeah. --12-- . I just need to be alone with my thoughts. concern touching his features. kissed her cheek.Episode 25: Lights in the Darkness The officers’ lounge hung quiet and empty. “You really are perfect. gently squeezed Tessa’s shoulder. steepled her fingers in front of her. soaked herself in it. have a seat. yet deep and regal. it a little bit. In the silence. “You okay?” “Yeah. Dimitrov grinned at Tessa. and Tessa was left in the semi darkness. relaxed into the cool nothingness and let her mind hang blank in the pause.” She smiled softly. the hanging silence. closed her eyes. feminine. rich and dark.” “I understand. “I’ll catch up. but the silence in her mind was almost as welcome as the silence that hung on around her in the lounge. “Admiral. “Well. The doctor finished her drink among laughs and the straggling ends of traded tales. stretched. Thought came blank as she sighed. that’s all. “See you in a little bit. “Major Eisenherz.” She laughed quietly. Ben downed the rest of his glass. automated bartender silent in one darkened corner.” She reached out.” He grinned. It’s quiet. and she grinned back.” She smiled softly back. tables bare. Please. sat.” Blavatsky grinned back. squeezed his hand gently.” He smiled back gently. hands wrapped around her glass. “It’s not you. I just. gestured. Ben. “I was just finishing my drink. a voice Tessa recognized even before she opened her eyes– Admiral Blavatsky. made a weak gesture. I’m going to head back.” “No more perfect than you. but it didn’t stay. Take as much time as you need. “I’m just going to take a few minutes here.” “Thanks.” A voice dropped into the silence.
” She managed. The silence stretched. butched edges. incredible– the technology looks and seems sound. weak booze. the tiny edge of creamy tan still lingering there.” She glanced at the glass.” Tessa set the glass down. almost imperceptibly as her eyes dropped away. became almost awkward. why didn’t you take steps to prevent it. “How does it unfold? The future. “If you knew about everything that was going to happen to me at Erebus. that’s exactly what I mean. “It’s gorgeous. . I dunno.” “Standard line. . why did I allow all those researchers to die when I could have sent you with orders that would have kept everything from playing out the way it did? Why did you have to go toe to toe with Gilgamesh and be the only one who escaped?” Tessa looked up slowly. realistic about things.” “We all have challenges in our lives which define us as we endure them.” Tessa nodded silently. you should know --13-- . “You are a person of many admirable qualities. smiled again. about Oridus. a little sweetener. running a hand over her hair. there was no choice but to let it unfold exactly as it did. “Until I’ve got it out in the black and flying.” Tessa looked away.” She hesitated.” “There are rules which prevent me from telling you. and reasonably cautious with the lives of others. I mean. weak coffee. Admiral. hung on darkly.” “Understandable.” “I see. “Yeah. and every path requires some degree of pain and sacrifice for all of us. and then Tessa looked up again.” “You mean. just a little pick me up. pushing through sharp. Major. Major. “I have seen the way the future unfolds. “So tell me.” Came Blavatsky’s simple response.” The admiral nodded silently. rubbed at them with anxious fingers. to break through the sudden frost. stuck. tentatively.” She shook her head. nearly lost it on the points of Blavatsky’s piercing stare. what do you think of our new rig?” “Hard to say. found the resolve to speak. “You’re also a visionary precog. “Hey. angle for a better outcome. “They call it a ‘Kona Canoe’. In the case of the events at Erebus. closed her eyes. You’re methodical.” The admiral grinned conspiratorially.“What are you having? Anything good?” “Nah. “Yeah. lingered. met the admiral’s eyes easily. roved vaguely toward her glass. amazing. or even try and. but. I won’t sign off on the order for it. and the pause thickened.” Came the admiral’s level response. Eyes met the admiral’s.
all about the restrictions that are placed on us. but it doesn’t mean that you can see everything at once.” She glanced at Tessa’s drink.” “Like what. suicidal tactics that they employ without reserve. No less than the complete annihilation of the human race. We look at all of the options. “There are too few high tier VPs to keep track of all the details that sprawl on endlessly around us. met her eyes again. Is this perpetual backing off thing that we’re doing going to go on forever? Are we going to kick the blueskins back so hard at some point that they don’t recover. We have to choose our battles. tired. and act to minimize losses of manpower and material. . “We are not supermen. Every day there are dozens of skirmishes. especially among civilians. “If I told you either way. or are they going to drive us back to Earth and wipe us out?” The edge of a smile crept across the admiral’s face. managed the edge of a laugh. Fourth and above are bound by oath. “It just seems. shook her head.” “Doesn’t mean I agree with them. “Like the ultimate weapon. if only it were to be in the hands of someone like you?” She grinned again as the major looked up. and suddenly her features become strained. Major Eisenherz. breathed --14-- . “It certainly does not help that the Cygnans outnumber us something like ten-thousand to one and seem to lack the reverence for life that keeps us from matching them in the swarming. Let that be the thought that guides you every time you pull the trigger to silence another Coralate soul. consider their impact on possible futures. “Knowing the future means that one has the ability to change that future’s past.” “Then be glad that you’re only seventh tier. . “Just know that the cost of defeat is steep. made a loose gesture. took another sip of her drink.” She blinked. “Being a high tier Visionary Precog means being a guide. you wouldn’t fight as hard. “Then why are we losing the war?” Blavatsky sighed. dozens of advances on Commonwealth-held worlds and tens of thousands of individual pilots whose destinies go unseen by us. finishing off her drink. “Well. “I’m sure you’ve looked.” She said simply. allow time to flow as it wills. and bend it slowly toward the best outcome.” Tessa swallowed. Major?” Blavatsky pushed softly into the hanging pause.” The major managed a grin of her own.” Tessa looked away. The admiral smiled again. completely at least.” Tessa’s gaze sharpened.” “So what happens in the end?” Tessa asked bluntly. nodded soberly.
andthen she turned. started for the door. studying her features. “Sleep well. There will be plenty of time to be alone later. no hint of grand future or unraveling pain haunting her lips. --15-- .” She managed. finding nothing in the soft smile there. Major. shook her head. offering more of a smile and then letting it fall back to another tired curve. Enjoy the time that you have between skirmishes and spend more of it with the man who loves you. The admiral’s smile widened again. “Put it out of your mind for now. “I know these answers are hard and that they leave rather painful questions unanswered.a sigh as she stood. but this is the way it must be.” Tessa looked up at her carefully.” She closed her eyes.
sated pleasure. skin slick against skin as they moved. they leaned in. traced a loving line across her cheek. softly kissed her.” “Mmmmh.” he laughed. fingers clenching skin. blurred together. “You’re big where it counts. “You should see this. The fleet is gathering. down her back. smiling in the warm darkness rich with his smell. sculpted line of a shoulder blade. Dimitrov smiled. “Where there are no admirals. . Ben kissed Tessa’s neck. She nuzzled deeper. felt Dimitrov chuckle as she continued. nuzzled there as she smiled.” Chuckling. came to rest in the jasmine-sweet skin of her sweaty neck. chuckled again. bodies melting into one.” “I’m a little too small to fly a Seindrive around in. no stars.” “No sky. the soft and strong sanctuary of his chest. “Who needs stars when I’ve got you?” She bit him gently. let her hand explore along his back. blinding sensation. burying herself in his darkness. face sliding across wet chest as he collapsed against her. relaxed into deep. Tessa gasped. “You are my sky. I’d rather be here. let it fill her. foreheads touching. . no Cygnans. hands meeting. “but I appreciate the sentiment. snuggling in deeper. hand sliding along her hair.” She managed. When she awoke again. Lips sunk into her hair. “How long do we have?” --16-- . “They’ll see me soon enough.Episode 26: Soul to Skin The flex came fast. looked up to meet his eyes. trace the hard. the steady heave and fall of breathing as they relaxed into each other. muscles.” She laughed.” He teased back. the burst of light. closed her eyes. “Hey” he whispered. for a moment. darkness and sweat that blasted over and through both bodies. stretched. grinned. grinned as he flinched. wash through her.” She grinned.” “Of course. pressing her face against his chest. there was only the warm. Ben’s breath came in a sweet blasted sigh. interlacing. it was in his arms. across the curve of her neck. Lips slid. the frame of his elbows. and then. spasming against Ben’s back as she rose into the sensation.
I think so.” He breathed. Tessa. and then she grinned.” Ben tried. “Let me check. gaze slipping vaguely away from the window as she withdrew into herself. she was left staring. . “Well. watched the shapes of cruisers. maybe long enough. . felt the sudden spike of memories that rose to lash into her mind.” He managed.” “You’re a beast. . and he could see the pain there.” Dimitrov began.” Came Ben’s soft response.” “I know. Reaching over the edge of the bed. grinning. a soundless orchestra of steel nine ships in size– all that was left of the once massive mid-front fleet. originally twenty seven starships strong. and the word came thick with meaning. Ben. rigs and smaller ships drifting through the silence. gestured loosely. . Looking up. let it hang in the pause. “I’m sorry. saw the sleek bulk of the Wu Ang Hok slide into view. so–” And then she looked up. suddenly shattered. Inhales came shaky. swallowed. pulled in a shaky breath. She closed her eyes. isn’t it?” She looked away. In the pause. but I feel like. if it was going to go any further than the time it would take either one of them to get fed up and request a quarters --17-- . saw it.” She managed. knowing that there was only one thing to say.” She managed. caught the sheet of silicon nestled there and paged quickly through the itinerary. . “That’s the Hok. “So.” “Your old ship. “I love you. Shocked into silence. She breathed. let her mind go elsewhere. “It’s Izzy.” She said blankly. words carried on a sigh. the frontier patrol. isn’t it?” “Yeah. gently pressed his hand against her back. pulled away. “I don’t report in for another hour or so. to feel his lips. closed his eyes. eyes downcast. wishing that there was something he could say that would smooth it all over again. the flash of pale in her skin. gently cupping his hand as she bent up to kiss him. “Yeah. glanced back at his.“Never long enough. “Tessa?” He reached out. she breathed her own weak sigh. she met his eyes again. one thing that Tessa truly needed to hear more than anything else if their relationship was going to have a future. the soft sharing of mingled breath. “Everything alright?” “Y. reaching out to touch her again. yeah. shivered as he ran a hand down her back. Tessa pulled at the heap of her discarded uniform. She turned away again. He swallowed reflexively.” She traced a line down his chest. .
. . the way we supported each other.transfer. . There were so many things she hadn’t told him.” He made a finite gesture. He sighed. She opened her mouth to say something. I know. wondering. and every time you think about her. the sound of finality hanging heavy in the echo of every other time he’d taken her pain in stride.” He gestured at her. I. disengaged the static clamp that kept it folded and pressed. “It hurts for me to see it. “Maybe I just need a break. “I keep running it over in my head. she watched him as he pulled a clean uniform out of the cleanser drawer. he stared back at her. generous woman I fell in love with to this. rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. every other time he’d been her pillar of strength. I just can’t stop thinking about it.” “Ben. As his hands drifted away from his own eyes. someone you love more than you could ever love me. “Izzy was. almost desperate. came back to his side. breathed. then managed: “there’s coffee here. . --18-- . in the kitchen module. a response that would determine whether the suddenly fragile thread at the core of their relationship would snap or not. Tessa. the depth of our bond.” Blankly.” All at once. tried to orient or foreground themselves only to fall away again just as quickly. anything. A thousand broken responses bubbled up in Tessa’s mind.” She squeezed the edge of the mattress with whitening hands. she looked away again. The connection I had with Izzy. . she glanced back at him.” “Yeah. sensitive. “I feel like I’m always sharing you with someone else. . you clam up and apologize and become this broken. pain. sharp and bleeding wounds into his already scarred heart. would tear new. confusion. . fixed him with a stare that was part shock. waiting for something. . so much to me than you realize. looking. part fear.” “Tessa. studied her face. “Sometimes I wonder if it might be better to just cut my losses now and give you your space for however much longer you need to pull yourself back together.” “No. all the truths that would hurt him. but when the words didn’t come. “I need to get it somewhere else. . found her strength among the patterns in the floor. Ben.” His hand hung there. cold shadow of yourself. She blinked. then tugged it on. the way we held each other. dropped back onto his back. I’m going to get some coffee. knew each other. slipped past her and off the bed.” He said simply. thinking ‘if I’d only done this’ or ‘if I’d only known that’” She bit her lip to let the shaking pass. to see you go from this strong. hesitated. “I’m sorry.” He said softly. let the silence lapse back in his wake. things she couldn’t tell him. voice on the edge of breaking. .
never did tell me about Seventh Yorkshire. We may be airmen. . She swallowed. Now or never. of a painful running and straining. another memory came back to her. but we’re still soldiers. let her eyes drift slowly across steel. and in the tear-moist haze. our issues. We’ve all been through hell. the exchange– Ask me about the campaign for Seventh Yorkshire sometime. breathed. a memory of darkness. we all have our skeletons. “You. across the body of the Hok.She looked away. .” --19-- .
the Von. my parents and Simon. and he smiled softly in response. the Folkvangr and the --20-- . fourth planet in the Carridan system.” She tried. . when the alignment between Sol and Gamma Yorkshire was close enough to patch a signal through on the standard comm frequencies without a lot of interference. just on the rim of Brijyo. there was a new pain in his eyes.” When he turned back to her. a few other inhabited systems. the shattered glass of a broken man’s soul. met Tessa’s eyes. The colonists had a chance to fire off one mayday before the orbital bombardments began and all comms traffic in the system went dead. “When we were on the Hok. Epsilon Augustus. . breathed a broken sigh. pulled in a shaky breath. She made a tender gesture for him to sit. almost reluctantly. turned away. Dimitrov pulled in a shaky breath. Carridan. He looked away again. to turn and walk away. “I remember. Seventh Yorkshire. the Hok drifted steadily by. When I joined the Navy. He closed his eyes. teary silence like an ebony headstone.” He paused. a Coralate warship bent space into the Austerlitz system. By the time the Hok. The name hung in the cold. “I’m from the Brijyo sector originally. flattened his hand against it. Gamma Yorkshire. turned back and slowly. I talked with Simon and dad about once every three weeks. For a moment he simply stood there. unable to move. “I grew up on Davies’ World. and then I took my first assignment onboard the Hok. Beyond. hand almost shaking as it hovered over the static clamp that would seal his uniform. unable to press the button. then crossed to the silicon window. “Three weeks in.Episode 27: Seventh Yorkshire Ben hesitated.” He swallowed. my little brother. hands rising to cover his eyes. but most of my family were colonists on Seventh Yorkshire. moved back in with the rest of the family and set up their own ranch on the largest continent. Everything was fine. a monolith of thought and reality merged in the endless darkness.
” She whispered. gentle. their entire race burnt from the cosmos by the callous hand of the Coralate armada. There has to be a way. no seindrives. My squadron was flying guard duty for the civilian transports that we were taking on and directing to the cargo bays and hangars when the Coralate fleet arrived. No war. okay? Just you and me and no one else. “The admirals all agreed that it was too late for anything but damage control. pulled her in closer. forced the thoughts from her mind. closed his eyes. Just us. buried her face into Dimitrov’s chest. no Cygnans. “After this is all over. opened her mouth as he pulled her closer. His face dropped. fought the cracking in her voice. to save humanity before it’s too late. A way. no admirals. met Tessa’s eyes as she swallowed. they might both be dead. --21-- . voice soft. “We got eight hundred and forty three people off the surface of Seventh Yorkshire. Then we jumped.Julius arrived. “left everyone else on that planet to die.” He pulled in a shaky. kissed her hair. . “I couldn’t. “I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. burrowed into him. “I love you. There has to be a way to beat the Coralate. kissing his shoulder. but he nodded. her hands moving up along his back. slipped across her neck to her shoulder.” She whispered.” “Shh. fifteen more Cygnan warships had arrived in the sector and burnt everything living out of every system except Gamma Yorkshire. okay? Lets find a beach or a hillside or something and just forget about everything. after the war is over.” He paused. lets go somewhere nice together. . “Just us.” She breathed. Left my entire family to die. lips quivered. Tessa pulled in her own shaky breath.” He closed his eyes. when the war was over. There has to be a way. hugging him.” Ben’s eyes squeezed tighter. She closed her eyes. breathing with him as reluctant tears carved tiny trails across his cheeks.” He turned back. Eight hundred and forty three– out of millions. the knowledge that. a caress in sound. desperate breath as Tessa crossed the distance between them and took him in her arms. Ben. mingled with her own. Neither one put words to the thoughts that were rolling through their minds.” he made a dismissive gesture. the doubts. That will never change.
dropped to hot standby.” “Suspensors. Priming the throttle and releasing the mag locks on the S-Vectoring panels was as simple as willing it to happen. You are green for go. she was in the sky. pulling her in. powerful. felt it sink into the layers of programming architecture like a stone in a massive pool. a wash of light and sound rushing past her as she shot slick as liquid silver into the night. vector pad clear. and being alive in a way that felt like a constant rush. the warm afterglow of orgasm. locked. felt as natural as life.Episode 28: Flights of Mind and Body “EPU. the interface was impossibly wide.” Tessa exhaled. wings shifting. and her new body responded in turn. “Immersion complete. Everything came at the speed of thought. enhancing everything in a line of sight that stretched 360 degrees around her. fully engaged. 100%. Flight felt amazing. Reality blurred as she sank into her new body like a soul. seeing everything.” Wings flexed. S-Vectoring panels at minimal fade. Nanoorganic skin quivered and flicked. “Let’s see what this bird can do. condensing around her.I. “Kvasir. feeling everything. cleaned it to crystal clarity with impossible speed. sublight drives flared. check. the strength of Seindrive. O2. felt the lines between living nanite composite and flesh fade to nothing. hungry for the sky.. ready. departure control. reorienting. It was like being God. Resident A. Her body flexed nimbly around her. “Roger that. No faults.” She breathed. alive. “This is departure control. entire fuselage alive..” The radio burst alive with a flash of static. eager. forced her influence further into the rig. Have a nice flight. Check. control.” Five seconds later. a digital feed that overlaid reality. --22-- . the voice of John Delaware crackling into the distances even as her mind filtered the signal. In her mind. Sensor readings were an ever present hologram in her mind. Major.” She grinned. deep– and then all that distance snapped back into place like an elastic suit.” “PFL.
the time differential without the displacement field would be significant. One of the unfortunate side effects of building such a quick ship is that not only can she break through the Einstein/Hawking barrier. Lips parted. her eyes on the stars. “We had to install a limiter on the drive on this thing. forced her mind to focus on flying. almost eager to please its new master. “She can hug the line. invisible on the all too near edge of Commonwealth territory. “Even at the speed you’re traveling.“Wow. “This thing is amazing. point nine nine nine. “Feel free to --23-- .” Somewhere. speeds where time actually begins to go backwards. on the simple movements of her rig. she can do it and hold it for a measurable period without flying apart.” Delaware’s voice crackled into her mind.” She said softly. Breath came shaky as she forced herself to speak despite suddenly dry lips. “How fast can she fly?” Tessa asked almost absently. or does she have a limiter?” “Oh. she withdrew into herself. Major. between her and the Coralate armada lurking. “Impressive. grew suddenly anxious. Major. Meaning she can punch through to hyperspace and achieve super-relativistic speeds.” “Flies like a dream. Tessa swallowed. Any requests?” ”You’re the pilot. Inside her mind.” Came the grinning response. eh?” Delaware’s corporate-grade grin was clear in his tone. inside the rig that was her body.” “Right. the distances between her and open space. almost absently. Delaware.” She managed. “Any instability problems at that speed. “Better than that. steady march of normal space/time. “I’m thoroughly impressed with this ship. but when she tried to access it. are you kidding?” He laughed. “I wouldn’t try to access those systems. some part of her mind hunted for the subroutines that controlled the density of the field put off by the rig’s tachyon displacement unit. the part of the system that kept her tied to the slow. The system yielded itself up to her easily.” Some part of Tessa blinked while her eyes stayed locked on the stars. spun out and dropped to level flight a handful of meters off the Hephaestus’ hull. cruising. and her voice came loud and clear across the channel.” Deep within her steel body. tightened. so get the forms ready for me to sign. she found her shaky fingers locked out. Deep within her. I think I’m just going to do a quick fly-by for the brass and then hang it up. something tightened.” Tessa breathed.
“The Stormfury is a fighter without parallel.” “Whatever feels natural?” She grinned.take the fighter through whatever maneuvers feel natural to you. Admiral.” Came Delaware’s grinning. “In that case. “We should have a full report for you in an hour. distinguished tone. That rig of yours has some nice moves.” Tessa grinned into the mike. then shot away from the hull of the Hephaestus at a sharp angle.” She spun the rig again. “I’m sure Mister Delaware will be pleased that his product has made such an excellent first impression. and the familiarity of it caught Tessa off guard. She could never forget that strong. flipping herself end over end into the stars. we should be able to produce enough of them to show the Coralate that you don’t mess with Earth or her colonies without getting more than just a little bloody nose.” Came the static-bitten response. . “The compensation factor is incredible.” “We’re definitely putting a squadron or two of these things on order. spun it wing over wing back toward the Hephaestus. blurring.” “I like the way you think.” Tessa grinned again.” “I like your optimism.” “An hour?” Another voice cut in. confident response. spun the rig playfully. amused. Delaware. and when the new Seindrive Earth Orbital Fleetyards are fully operational. “We’ve got you on the main viewer.” The admiral smiled again. the voice she’d come to associate with authority– the voice of her old C/O. You’ve got some old friends down there who would like to say hello. are you reading this?” “Yes major. veered in and buzzed the nose of the Hok before peeling away again.” Another grin. left her hanging for a moment in memory as she pulled the rig out of a spin and brought it around to straight and level flight. “This rig is so damn nimble it might just win us the war. her rig spinning faster and faster. “I heard you’ve run into a few scrapes since I left.” “I knew it would. control surfaces flexed and hardened. Admiral Virek.” “One of the benefits of a full body neurogel harness. Glad to see that you’re --24-- . . you should make your way over to vector pad thirty-six here on the Von.” S-Vectoring panels dilated.” “It’s good to hear your voice. Admiral. “Admiral Blavatksy. “Hephaestus control– how much data did you get off my run?” “A mountain. sir.” The smile in her voice was strong. and the grav couch. punched the throttle. “This rig handles so smoothly that every maneuver feels natural.” Tessa flipped the rig sideways. Major. “Whew.
” “Nothing we couldn’t handle. pulled in a deep breath. Bringing her in now. Old times.” Tessa nodded.” The smile came through in his voice. Major.” --25-- . soft and careworn.alright. “Roger. “Thirty-six right on the Von.
the darkness in and around her eyes. sometimes darting away. . “You left big shoes to fill. Tessa noticed the differences in the way the younger officer held herself. showed in the deeper lines that had worn themselves into her face.” She shook her head against the wetness. reached out to pull at and play with the edges of Tessa’s flight suit in absent movements. I miss you.C. almost blubbering into her shoulder. She looked experienced. Major. “I try to do.” Tessa smiled. I miss Izzy.C.” “I’ve missed you too. eyes sometimes fixed on the other woman. and it brought a moistness to Tessa’s eyes that she couldn’t shake. let her gaze meet Tessa’s. whatever it is that I think you might do. deeper. pulled Phoebe into a hug.. hands in her pockets. like she’d been through hell. “Ultima Thila been treating you well? You look good. moved in a gentle caress. L. then shuffled forward in the lower gravity. “Me too. Phoebe. touched the younger woman’s arm in a tender gesture. I just pretend you’re there. as if tarnished by time. wiping fiercely at her eyes as she sniffed. she watched as Tessa climbed from the cockpit. her hair. “Phoebe. Tessa’s hand went to the younger officer’s hair.” “I know. blinked. Waiting.Episode 29: Touch of Sun Phoebe was on the deck even before Tessa touched down. . closed her eyes as Phoebe hugged fiercely back. like she deserved to be an L.” She smiled. As they got closer.– uh. but every time I think that I might not be able to fill them.” She shook her head. “I miss those old days. She looked stronger. leaned --26-- . The last four years had been hard on her. a spot of tired white and dusky gold among the cold gull gray of the hangar bay.” Phoebe smiled past the tears. only darker. the way she shined like sunlight. closed her eyes. There was only a moment of hesitation beforeTessa reached out. closed her own eyes against the building buds of tears.” Phoebe managed. “I’ve missed you. y’know?” She sniffed. “How’s Minerva squadron treating you?” “Great. hugged harder.” Tessa swallowed. looked away again. no longer the green recruit she had been when she’d flown as Tessa’s wingman all those years ago.
“It’s going to be okay though.” “Nice uniform. . smiled. “I don’t even know anymore. . kissed the younger officer’s forehead. to argue.” Phoebe said hurriedly. She glanced back at Phoebe.” She leaned down. gently broke away to reach out and hug the newcomer. “It’s been a while. then whispered.” Phoebe opened her mouth to say something. “No. Phoebe blinked. I promise. pulled at his collar.” She bit the inside of her lip. a voice they both knew. “I can’t. am I?” “We need an edge in the war. Tessa. Jose. both smiled softly at as it caught their ears.” “I’ll encode a link-up between my quarters and yours tonight. I might have a few technical questions for you when I start rewiring systems and bypassing security limiters. struck her soul like a cold. . really?” Tessa swallowed again.” Phoebe squeezed the other woman softly. .” He grinned back as they broke apart. “How?” Her eyes followed the other woman’s as Tessa looked to her rig.” “Cordova” Tessa grinned. . “What you’re doing though. swallowed against the lingering edge of Phoebe’s expression.down to kiss Phoebe’s dirty blond hair. seemed ready to beg. I’m not going to like the answer. Phoebe. “Back?” Phoebe swallowed. then glanced back again.” Tessa looked away. “I’d give your old seat back at the top of the squadron if it meant having you as LC in Minerva again. Pheebs. I.” Tessa chuckled quietly. “It wouldn’t be right. smiled playfully.” She looked back. . met Tessa’s eyes again.” Hands tightened on the synthleather padding of Tessa’s flight jacket as Phoebe forced herself to meet the other woman’s eyes. you two. but before the words could come. gently. whispered: “are you sure about this? I mean. You’re Minerva’s LC now. “The truth is. Keep in touch. “Its good to see you. Major. “Hey.” The major pulled in a shaky breath.” She reached up. shook her head. closed her eyes. looked away herself. “I. Phoebe. No one should take that away from you. resounding chord. I’m going to find a way to get her back.” “Come back to us. concern brewing under the firm strength in her misty blue gaze.” “Same here. “You’re tech savvy. another voice broke the teary silence. met the other woman’s gaze with a tired smile on her lips. opened her eyes. “I can rig a pair of portable QE transmitters.” She held a breath. --27-- . and then the realization hit her. shook her head. shook hands.
Who are you hotdogging with these days?” She grinned again. caught Phoebe’s tired nod.” She nodded.” He smiled back. almost soberly as he and Phoebe parted. stepped up and hugged Cordova. “Yeah. “ Phoebe swallowed.” He grinned again.” “Everybody’s lost something. . “And the kids?” “Safe on Earth with their mother and her family. he taking them both in. “After the battle for the Seindrive shipyards in Sirius. swallowing.” “For sure.“Those aren’t Minerva Squadron colors you’re flying though. I’ve. “Should we hit the officer’s mess. for old time’s sake?” “Yeah. sounds good. “Well.” --28-- .” He laughed.” “Sulus Squadron. eh?” “Definitely.” He breathed a relieved sigh. . I’ve got a little time–” He gestured loosely.” He nodded softly. both of you. “It’s definitely a whole different experience leading your own squadron. Jose. she taking up a position next to Tessa. glanced at his rank insignia.” Tessa grinned. “They caught one of the few transports back before the military started enforcing refugee lockdowns. I was offered a promotion and a transfer to the Luguvalium. “It’s been too long. “Lieutenant Commander. “Good to see you again.
the tightness in her expression became like a wince. There was only a moment of self conscious hesitation before the major licked her lips. and as she paused. somber eyes moving across tired gazes. “These kinds of losses are unacceptable if we’re going to win this war. she watched as the officers averted their eyes.Episode 30: At The Edge Date: 29th November. “I just got a report on the way here that the Freeman is crippled and drifting in open space fifteen lightyears from Earth.” She closed her eyes. God speed. TCV-X: Hephaestus (Gliese 105 trinary system) “I assume that by now you have all heard about the attack on the settlement on Eta Cassiopeiae that occurred at oh-five-hundred hours this morning. hands gripping the podium as eyes reached out to meet those of each pilot in turn. watchful eyes. 12:00 (ES/GMT) Location: Pilot Briefing Room. closing them or letting them fall to the deck as silence rose to fill the briefing room. Captain Kongar-Ool. she pulled in a shaky breath. She closed her eyes.” Pulling in a breath.” Tessa surveyed the faces of Odin and Freyja squadrons’ pilots from behind the podium. “I’d like to take a moment before we begin to observe a moment of silence for the men and women that were lost today. let her eyes drop to the podium.” She pulled in a deep. a genuine expression of pain. shaky breath. “I also assume that you are all aware that we lost the Feynman. 2311. So very many others. all three ships with all hands aboard. every single one of her pilots dead or missing.” She said suddenly. the Banneker. “The Crazy Horse is fighting a losing --29-- . shouldering aside the silence and staring hard at the pilots as their eyes came slowly back to her. soul-deep. So many others. her thoughts moving through the names that had been on the list. brave fallen. We’ll see you soon on the other side. Captain Montgomery. When she finally opened her eyes again. and the Normandy there. swallowed. quiet. Captain Winslow. breathed a sigh that was tired.
This makes it a priority.” Lights flicked off. in Gliese 105.” “This war has already claimed too many dead heroes. “I know we can handle it. They’ve cut us down to just a handful of worlds at this point. “The good news is that we might just have a chance to do that today. with the target being Golimowski station. pulled at the sleeves of his dark uniform. shook her head. in this very system.” Turning back. Just don’t get cocky out there. and it’s the only refueling and refit capable post still left this far out. wait for our chance. at Tessa’s pilots. “The Coralate is ripping us to shreds. Any questions?” Silence. “Command has reason to believe that the next strike will come here. and then hit them hard. caught the eye of the man who stood off to one side. stared hard at his pilots. one dark hand gently squeezing Tessa’s shoulder in a gesture of support.” Tessa spoke up --30-- . “Major Esquer. spun silently like a mass of rock and ice caught in a slow motion blender. All we know is that a small task force of Coralate ships will bend space into this system.” “Of course. “This isn’t going to be easy. strong and imposing as he watched her carefully. and we have to fight hard if we’re going to keep them from reaching Earth. “The size of the attacking force is unknown. and they aren’t stopping.” She bit her lip. Our job is to hide in the radiation wash of the Alpha star.” He nodded once. held it. turned to face the wall.” Breathing a tired sigh. He pulled in a breath. here’s the scoop. right now. We have to fight back. Behind him.” He paused. but we’ve all been caught in worse at some point in our careers.” She turned.battle against seven Coralate warships intent on eradicating the colony at 36 Ophiuchi right now. “It’s the only thing of any strategic value in this god-forsaken patch of irradiated rock that command calls a system.” Red crosshairs picked out a tiny speck of steel and struts in the middle of the stellar morass. of friendship as he crossed to the podium. he breathed a tired sigh. she forced herself to get control again. and that they’ll do it soon. if you will. stood up to his full. stepped up. The time of its arrival is unknown. here. The stations defenses are in automatic mode. so command thinks we can handle it. imposing height. forced her anger back into its cage. hopefully before they can do any real damage to the station. Esquer set his jaw. took in the eyes of each pilot in turn. and the crew has been evacuated to the Hephaestus. a realtime map of the Gliese 105 trinary rose out of the wall. barely managed a gesture. “Alright people. gripped the podium. silently.
helmets and masks. “Alright. The frontier is getting too close to home. then turned back to the pilots. and watch your squadron mates. smiled as he gave her a slow. “That’s it. Already.from beside the podium. triggering the lights. calculations and checklists loaded into their screens. “Dismissed. somber nod. “I need everyone ready to fly the instant the Coralate shows up in system so we can hit them fast and hit them hard. See you on the hangar deck. “Watch yourselves. Lets win this one. sectionals.” --31-- . people. pulled in a deep breath. Esquer gripped the podium.” She nodded once.” When the cheers died down. got me?” She glanced at Esquer. silicon sheets and noteputers with charts. pilots were gathering their gear. I want everyone to come back from this one alive. I want everyone on standby and I want all rigs prepped to fly at a moment’s notice. Tessa grinned.” Esquer snapped his fingers. let her hands come together behind her back.
elbows on her knees. what’s up?” “The latest calculations from Phoebe. Crouching down. she grinned. clipped the ‘puter to his side. the young lieutenant pulled the clunky maintenance noteputer at his side and slotted the data instantly. Lieutenant. repulsehovering. pulled in a deep breath.” He tabbed through a handful of displays on the noteputer. “Its unstable. I wouldn’t risk flying with the bridge in play at this point unless you want to take a chance on being thrown into a ten thousand year relativistic stasis or ripped apart by temporal stressing. Tessa stood.” “Glad to hear it. Young eyes stared back. “Got anything new for me?” “Nothing much at this point. hesitating and holding the edge of a nervous breath as another technician walked by. “I’ll get a working model eventually. nodded to him. glanced up at the cold. The rig sat propped up on the deck and stripped to the frame. “I’ve rigged a bypass.” She handed him a strip of silicon. “Got a minute?” “Huh?” The lieutenant pushed off. Glancing at the thing for an instant. “Keep up the good --32-- . dead husk of the Seindrive IV. but its not ready.” He wiped his hands. got to his feet. added: “in the end. eyes glancing through code sequences.” Tessa stopped beside a pair of greasy workboots poking out from beneath a beat up Blasterchild. and the cushion between his back and the deck responded slickly. torn open and left in the throes of a full overhaul.” He hesitated again. He swallowed. sure. equations. rolling across steel like oil.Episode 31: The Way “Panem.” He whispered. Just keep feeding me these calculations and I’ll rig up something that will do the trick. blinked as he came free of the fuselage. “Major? Yeah. It keeps snapping back and overcompensating unexpectedly as the AI tries to sort through and override what it sees as a problem.” Tessa smiled sharply. I dropped the idea of a hard bypass and imported the settings into a chip taped under the Resident AI that you can slot into the system anytime you want before you fly if you’re feeling lucky.
. aren’t any orders. a way to put my life back on track. and I’ve spent enough time on the deck that I know a thing or two about navigating the command systems on a starship. then glanced back. then dropped it suddenly. “Its not every day that a pilot asks me to bypass the safety protocols on their rig. well.” “I know. the thoughts into words. looked away. You see.” “And I believed you for a while. save the commonwealth and stop all of this–” she --33-- .” He hesitated.” “I thought you wanted my help.” She swallowed. swallowed as she fixed him with a solid.work. “Not really. “I may have to use the bridge.” “Uh.” He sighed. “How did you. “You know that. you. Nothing has changed. . Major. hesitated.” He grinned. glanced down for a moment before meeting her eyes again. . ?” “Give me some credit. .” She paused. I need. It was hard to continue. Major. . hard to put the feelings. almost pushed ahead with the farce. Lieutenant. I’m hoping I don’t have to use the bridge. Lieutenant. “That.” Tessa swallowed. “You’re working alone on this one. “But then I cross-checked your orders in the system and found out that there. Well. “If you don’t mind me asking– what are you planning to do with a bridge that overrides your rig’s speed limiter and monkeys with the tachyon field settings?” ”That information is classified. . “How can I design a specialty piece of equipment to do something if you won’t even tell me what it’s supposed to do?” The major swallowed again. “The truth is.” She shook her head. it’s a way to stop this war before it even starts. Panem.” She said softly. . Major.” He grinned again. . aren’t you? Not even the admiral knows about the bridge. I may. added: “This is already between you and me. hesitated.” She half turned. Major. . and you’re the best mechanic on the deck.” “Thanks. Panem gestured. there are things. “It’s a way. fixed him with a look that was all iron. . careful stare. “That’s why I chose you for this. me and your friend Phoebe. You know I’m not the kind to talk. “So do you want to tell me why you’re having me modify the tachyon displacement profile of your rig?” Tessa bit her lip. She closed her eyes. “Honestly.” She hesitated again.” Another grin. strong and uncompromising. a way to.” He tried.” He smiled. smile slipping to wry.
Tell your friend to keep feeding me the tracking and differential equations. “Will do. looked away. “You’re going to punch through the light barrier.” “You’re going to use the Stormfury to go back in time. Make it first priority.” He said slowly. fixed him with an eye suddenly moist with tears. swallowed in the pause. He swallowed. it could save billions of lives. hesitated.” Panem grinned again. Panem. wider. She looked away. Major.” --34-- .” She said solidly. watching her.” She nodded once. but keep it quiet. Panem. “Okay. I’m in. “Anything else?” “A six pack?” He grinned. almost warily.” “You’ve got it. “If I do this right.” “It’s a way. use the tachyon displacement settings to modify your movement through hyperspace and change the past at some specific juncture in the hopes that the war doesn’t turn out as badly as it has.” He nodded. “I can do that. unsure and hesitant. whole-heartedly this time. and the grin was echoed on the major’s face.” Tessa swallowed. “Get it done.” “I know. but I’m going to need to spend some more time working on the bridge in order to get it stable enough to do what you need it to do.gestured expansively “before it even happens.
don’t you?” Tessa swallowed. eating at the transmission. she’s also the only way I have of going back and making the changes that might save billions of lives. then closed her eyes. the shelving in the quarters she shared with Dimitrov. “Yeah. “God.” She looked away again.” “There’s no guarantee that if you go back.” “The bigger the impact I’m likely to make on the timeline. I do. stillborn.” She shook her head. dragged out into the open and abandoned. The Stormfury is an amazing plane. . shook her head. but I still have my doubts. She might just give us the edge we need to win the war. “I’m going through the motions. “But I know. “You love him. grainy image shaking across the vidscreen. “But then again. the more time you will have lost. I know what you mean.” Came Tessa’s quiet response. met Phoebe’s gaze again. uncertain.” Phoebe said quietly. . Phoebe.” “I mean. I don’t know.” Tessa pressed her fingers into her eyes.” “Isn’t that reason enough to stay here. looked up. eyes flicking. the more you’ll end up giving up. nodded. “Yeah. Tessa hesitated. “Billions of people may still die. and things might turn out worse for you.” Tessa breathed. almost painful.” Phoebe said shakily. eyes half absent as they roved across the bed. Phoebe. I don’t --35-- . looked up. met Phoebe’s eyes through the hazy. your changes will make any real difference. aren’t you?” Tessa sighed.Episode 32: Optimism and Desperation “You’re really going through with this. the patchwork entanglement signal lancing into her words. watching Phoebe with tired eyes before she managed a quiet breath. squeezed the bridge of her nose. “The further you go back.” She swallowed. scratched weakly at the back of her head. Words came slow.” “And there’s Ben. almost meekly. “I. “It’s the doubts that are killing me.” Phoebe hesitated. gestured dismissively. Yeah. in your own time? To not take the risk?” “It should be. let her hand fall away from her face.
What are you two girls up to?” “No good. I’ve got the package on silicon here. but this close.know. just a second. blinking in teal. offered a tired smile.” Phoebe paused. we should be able to recoup enough ships to beat them.” Tessa nodded. let her chin come to rest in her hand. Tess. “If Delaware and his people can just get the new Seindrive fleetyards up and running. “Troop movements.” Phoebe said absently. “Still no sign of the blue skins. “So. “The usual. reached out. letters thin. detailed reports of battles. “Hey Jenkins. all the classified and declassified files I could hack out of the command mainframe without catching a court martial. “It’s desperation. touched functions on her screen that were mirrored only in the form of translucent frames popping up across Tessa’s screen and fading away again. busied himself with the static clamp on his uniform. weakening smile.” Phoebe grabbed something.” He dropped back out of sight of the camera. Tessa’s response was immediate. grinned at Phoebe. “Hey.” Tessa gave him a wry smile. you said earlier that you had something for me. glanced back for a moment to meet Tessa’s eyes. hands finding her shoulders. . “I’m sending some files through that you might find useful if you go.” “You’ll be the first to know. Phoebe. “Uh. working casually at knots as he leaned in. but before Tessa could respond. eyes half-lidded as she sank into the warmth of his hands. glanced across at edges of desk Tessa couldn’t see.” He tossed off his flight jacket.” “I wish I had your optimism. gave the other woman a genuine. traced the edge of the screen.” Tessa turned back to Phoebe. Ben glanced back at her as he entered.” Phoebe nodded. “Let me know if you need a hand.” She glanced away.” She gave the ghost of a smile. drive them back. Incoming data package. I feel it. “Any word?” Ben shook his head.” “It’s not optimism. Phoebe. the sound of a door whispering open cut her off. I know that we can do this. breathed. turned and came up behind Tessa. some equipment schematics. .” Lips parted. sighed.” “Yeah. Major.” Tessa shook her head. slotted it into the terminal. Every day the Coralate gets closer. “I appreciate it. shucked the entire thing into the autowasher as it came free.” “Whatever you decide to do.” “Sounds fun. back to --36-- . “You have my full support.
--37-- .what we were talking about. this is the Captain. eyes wide. LC!” “Be careful out there. shock hot in her face. to meet his eyes again. tried to avoid the sea of silver dropping in on them at high speed. Report to duty stations and stand by for further instructions. darkness.” Phoebe colored instantly. warships carved by violent light as they spun. “All hands.” She winked. planetary surfaces bombarded. It took a force of will to glance up at Ben. Images of stations burnt to slag.” Alpha Centauri.. Home to humanity’s last fleetyard station. mind lost in an attempt to form words. “They’ve. . orbital snapshots of cities that were little more than patches of hot glass and fire. dropped away. mouth working at the edges of sounds. keyed a quick sequence. Phoebe’s soft.” She swallowed. “My god. triggering retinal videofeeds of fighters blasted into fiery hail. the yards. The second most heavily defended system in the Commonwealth. This is a priority one alert. drawn and waxen. Gateway to Earth. Her mouth drifted open.” Phoebe looked breathless. Proxima. “Proxima. Phoebe!” Static lanced into the signal. All nonstandard communication channels are now subject to lock down. and then there was nothing. “Everything. silently passed her a silicon ‘puter scrolling through the latest newsfeed of military data. all hands.” She managed. They’ve wiped out Alpha Centauri. He glanced back at her. Augustus Octavian Orbital Complex.” “What’s going on. “Cute boys on the Von. “Catch you later..” Ben’s voice dropped into the silence. .” She glanced back at the ‘puter. eyes scanning quickly across the data. his expression hanging worried. worried smile hanging in the dead silicon. but we’ve got to cut the link for now. Toliman. caught Tessa’s attention. “My god. see the shock clinging there. Phoebe?” “Not sure. everything. then blasted into silence as the sound of Hilleboe’s voice came garbled and broken with static through the hazy screen.
sighed.” “So they’re just going to abandon everything from here to Luna?” He stared back. maybe some of them will be evacuated. put his head in his hands.” She met his eyes again. “Everyone is being ordered back to Earth. “Nine more systems have reported the appearance of Coralate forces since Command issued the recall of the fleet. how can they. . turned back. more footage.” Swallowing. Ben!” Tessa all but shouted. eyes only meeting hers again after a long. her voice coming weak but building steel slowly. hardening to a point of immovable strength. hands going up in frustration. eyes dropping blankly to the floor as the ‘puter hung limply from her hands. sighed. . “How.” “We’re what?” Ben asked hurriedly. Ben. “They’re just going to abandon all those colonists. They took out seventeen ships and burnt everything in the system. “It’s a crime. then the retro and refit stations at Procyon.Episode 33: Shatter’s Edge “Seventeen ships. men and women who can’t even defend themselves from the local wildlife. leaning over to glance at the ‘puter in her hands. . “First the fleetyards at Sirius. she managed a quiet: “I know it is.” Shifts of her retina picked up by the silicon triggered more images.” Ben shook his head. silicon note ‘puter shaking in unsteady hands. Command knows that the homeworld and the yards there are our only chance to save what is left of the species. “Ben. then broke away. . We’re abandoning the colonies. much less even one Coralate warship– ” “I don’t know. nodding weakly. “My god.” “And what if the Coralate shows up at Earth?” He sat on the bed.” She swallowed. We have the civilians from the station– I’m sure we’re not the only ones with noncoms on board. . stalked off.” “The Coralate has proven that they can hit us hard anywhere and at any time. met her eyes.” Tessa shook her head. Tessa.” She managed. Toliman is a cinder. hesitated. more headlines. there isn’t enough of a fleet left anymore to defend anything but Earth. looked up. --38-- . “Look. .
“We aren’t going to make it. to meet his gaze. broken.” He glanced up slowly. “I’ll be going back in time.” He breathed another sigh. Tessa.” “Your plan?” “I.” She hesitated. to break and drop down her cheeks.” He said quietly as she let her head come to rest on his shoulder. when nothing else matters. offered the edge of a smile. “Sometimes. when we first met. but first I have to see. Seventeen. looked away. sat up slowly. Tessa buried her face in his neck. .” --39-- . hesitated.. “I saw Izzy’s wake before it even happened.” Ben swallowed reflexively. “I’ve seen things in the past. Lips trembled. “I have to know how this war ends.” She swallowed. feeling him reach out to hold her. looked away. Tessa.” She hesitated. breathed against the fear rising in her chest. see things. but I have to know. . then turned away. like that day when I ran into you. “Ben. breathed a broken sigh. twelve ships left in the entire fleet? Twelve. sat down next to him. “Then I’ll bug out. if everyone makes it back to Earth without hitting one of those blueskin bend-mines. I’ll be taking the Seindrive V back to a time when it will make the most difference. I have to make sure.” She paused.” She closed her eyes. “We haven’t got a prayer. “And if it works this time. I’m predisposed for VP. if you see. I can punch through.” Dimitrov swallowed. broken. nodded almost imperceptibly. arms finding his shoulders. “We lost seventeen ships at Alpha Centauri. . pulled in a shaky breath.” He shook his head. eyes red and wet as she pulled away along his shoulder just far enough to look up at him. eyes finding her hands as words came hoarse.” She swallowed. shook her head. “What do you have in mind?” “I. “I have a plan.” she swallowed “and we’ve lost. “There is a way. . Holding him.” “If I see the outcome of the war. . she– she wouldn’t tell me. “The admiral.” She managed.” She looked up at him again. locked eyes with him. . “When it will make the most difference to m e. “We have what. Ben. when I push myself. struggled with words that felt false. .. followed Tessa with his eyes as she crossed the distance between them. or in the wire chambers when I was in the TALENT program.frustrated pause.” Tessa closed her eyes against the tears that threatened to grow there.” She managed. to you and to the way the war turns out. I’ll go through with my plan. .
swallowed.” The look in her eyes was as hard as steel. “Okay. Ben.Dimitrov hesitated.” She swallowed. forced resolve into her tone.” “Yeah. Lets do this. “It’s the only way. What do you need?” --40-- . “You’re serious.” He said shakily. “It’s the only way.
” Ben’s eyes were blank. Tessa had already started to sweat. flashed red three times. but that didn’t change the reality of the hell she knew she was about to throw herself into. slowly gained confidence. hands sorting again. someone who was suddenly being asked to lose more. left. “You’re going to have to help me with the needlework too.” The needles went in as easy as could be expected. spreading into her body on nano-active wires which tapped into nerve centers one by one. Leg. she set the harness on her chest. 1 of 2. lower right. It only took ten minutes. pressed it into Ben’s hand. punching through skin rubbed down with analgesic disinfectant. waiting for the final wires to sink into place. bridged lines and foci in the body with silent connections. eyes locking with his. looked away.” Lying down. Temple. 1 of 3. --41-- . laid them carefully across the sections of body they were labeled for. Her expression was blank. the worried. but by the time all twenty four leads had been plugged into her flesh and another thirty seconds had been spent holding Ben’s shaking hands. “Help me.” Tessa tossed the straps and insulated cables of the wire harness onto the bed. refusing to budge even as he took it. knew she could handle it. back. “Okay. Tessa smiled softly. Tessa’s eyes returned to the tangle of leads on her chest. reluctantly plugged it into the fusion cell. started sorting though leads. turned back to Ben and held out her hands for the dual core fusion cell he lugged into the room like a heavy toolbox. shaky breath. “Jesus has nothing to do with it. She knew what to expect. right. Tessa breathed a silent. Hand. to find their targets and connect with them. uncertain shock of someone who had lost so much. Ben’s hands came hesitant at first.Episode 34: Three Seconds “Jesus. Ben’s voice came cracking. then turned green. left. She handed off a thick line labeled Power. lifted and checked each cable. Tess.” Ben swallowed reflexively. almost wryly. glanced at each masking tape label in turn. hard as iron. Check lights came online. Chest. weak.
” She glanced at the fusion cell. “Give her a chance. something deeper. felt the familiar. Move. You like that? You like knowing that humans are a fuckin’ endangered species now?” He growled again. Tess. held them for a moment in hesitation. oppressive crash of depression. bitch. “Flick it. everything dropped away in a spastic haze and left her hanging in the gray void between sleep and death. but a harness is the next best thing.” She licked her lips.“It’s not a wire chamber. wincing. Her mind urged her. Dropping out of the haze. All at once. solid. The scene unfolded slowly.” She managed. caught her in the ribs. snapped closed around her with all the suddenness of an elastic suit. spun her onto her chest. the sound of heavy boots pacing on deckplating. Light came from nowhere.” The pace quickened. for some edge of what she had come there for. the harsh. he says. the harness. She couldn’t help it– the scream ripped itself from Tessa’s body like a hungry spirit. sharp pain of loss. should have stuffed you out the airlock the instant someone saw you playin’ with metal that way. staining her uniform with the life that drained away around her. but also the edge of something more. left her sprawled out on the greasy deck of a noisy freighter. heavy screams of gunshot wounds. stomped across the --42-- . something that swirled dark and full of stars. “Fuckin’ captain should have listened to me. The heavy tread of a boot connecting with her cheek knocked her sideways. Muscles spasmed. Fingers traced the edge of the switch.” Someone sneered. met Ben’s eyes again. give her a fuckin’ fair trial. another boot sped in. burning through skin as reality flared with hot pain. reeling as time and space opened like a bubble. Check lights flashed yellow. the pain washed over her. tried to calm her breathing. the hot.” A sniff. soaked into her. pinching her into some edge of something that didn’t make sense. Tessa stepped into a body she knew was hers. give her a blood test. broken. Thoughts were scattered. “Ok. every nerve in her body catching fire. Her eyes flicked to Dimitrov’s. Focus. left her panting. Focus. boiling until there was nothing left. and found it an instant later. “My brother was there. “W e’ll start with three seconds.” Ben’s nod came quick. “Fuckin’ freak. And then the hell began. deep and bleeding. until the room. he says. he says. jammed it. She reached out for reality. bleeding. And then she was somewhere else entirely. Focus. making those fuckin’ creepy weapons so you could kill us off just like your fuckin’ blue buddies did all the colonists on Luna.
the tortured scream that built and built in her chest. her mouth working for words. “Old bitch thinks he can run the show? I do things my way.” He paused. ?” Talking came difficult. the debris stretched on impossibly. abandoned all the colonies. silicon viewport. . Captain said bullet and airlock.” “Did I say you could talk!?” He yanked cruelly at her hair and slammed her against the ground again. smashed against the back of her head. . the only thing that registered in her hot.” Darren said solidly. crossed the deck to Tessa. the boot came again. “What the fuck is the point. bored. and right now I say this piece of shit needs to suffer. the quivering lip. Terra burned. felt like chewing broken glass. the cradle from which humanity had so recently crawled. We’ve still got supplies to stow. . “We. “We’re wasting time.” “Fuck the captain. was the image of Earth. Darren. --43-- . scratching at her raw throat. bitch? You fucks have won! You’ve won!” He kicked her again. The only thing that mattered.deck. pressed her face against the cold.” “What. left her to stare. but there were none.” She whispered. I want her to see what she’s done. You happy. cruel and bitter. “Let her bleed out all over the fuckin’ deck before we pump her into space. . “Uhh. Spinning silently. angry speech dropped away in a silent haze as he pounded the deck with his industrial boots. you’ve had your slaughter. . voice cold.” Someone else said. endless. tear-strained eyes. bitch? You fuckin’ happy!?” Tessa’s eyes widened. Mary. “They fuckin’ grow you in a tank? Stick you in a fighter that looks like Seindrive but isn’t. spat at her.” A laugh.” “Well. unable to look away. It was clear who had won. I want her to regret it. “Bitch!” “Just shoot her. left her spiraling through crimson-tainted darkness. . but it didn’t matter. “Look at what you did! Look at it! I bet clones like you are the reason HQ pulled back the fleet. we lost. An instant later. the fires of a dying world. slowly in the mass of stars below her. Darren’s line of broken. and all around it.
mouth opening in silent. but there were no words. “Tessa! Breathe!” Gasping against lungs already full to bursting. He looked away as she vomited again. “What did you see?” Ben urged. then throbbed dimly across burning skin as she swallowed. His hand came to rest against her back. “It’s okay now. closed her eyes. hands reaching hers. checking eyes as they rolled away. it’s not okay. Dropping back into her body was like falling into a sea of ice. vomiting. hurled it onto the floor and shot to her unsteady feet. shook her head. She shivered. “Wait!” In one frantic move. breathed. and then she spun back. Ben was there. lingered lightly. broken. Hands spasmed. panted. yanked free of Ben’s hands. quivered. abandoned her on the shores of a void-cold reality. swallowed again. her side. coughed. hands coming up flat against it. supporting her as the vestiges of the vision left her. to focus past dangling. her cheek. clawed at the leads jutting from her skin. tried to help her with the cables. You’re okay. touching her cheek.” She managed. coughing against bile. the needles. sweat-soaked knots of hair and hold back the urge to vomit again. pushed across skin. eyes flew open.” “No. “Hey. left her reeling.” Ben opened his mouth to say something. fought the light. fought the tangles of the harness. “Tessa. All at once. against the harness. struggling motions. “Tessa!” He fumbled for the harness.” Dimitrov tried.” He breathed. bleeding as she careened toward the wall. She struggled against him. a whirlpool of pain and emotion that surged blindly around her on the vicious currents of spastic muscles. Pain flared. Ben’s hands were like cool pads against her arms. She screamed. strained against the needles wired into her very being.Episode 35: Cutting Line Reality came crashing back on the edge of a scream. ripped the harness free. to lose herself in an eternity of vicious dry heaves. and then she was on her side. but before he could find the --44-- . “No. It took a force of will to center herself. Sweat and shivers shook through her.
but before he could finish. caught his eyes in the mirror. Ben was at her side again. hesitated. stared at the silver blades in her hand. fought. vicious edges. Ben. Ben stirred uncomfortably behind her. opened. Ben breathed. scalp. cutting edges of hair that had grown too long down to sharp. folded his arms.” “It’s.” She grimaced. tracked across synthpanels. the ironic smile crawling across her face.” For the first time in what seemed like an eternity. each stroke butchering hair. watching. Ben’s eyes lit with concern. Her hands shook as she touched them..” “Not until you tell me what you saw. breathed. tasted air. raising every hair on the back of his neck instantly. caught the scissors. He turned. watching the scissors as they worked. eyes on the shelving.words. steely. refused to move. she pulled away again. “What are you–” He tried. “I have --45-- . that same twisted. the scissors laying in the center of the old German flag emblazoned there. the drawers tucked up under the bed where they slept. stumbled toward the opposite wall. a knife-edge divider that stuck. One hand reached out.. flicking the bathroom light. stayed until she turned away again. struggled– and then they were face to face. relaxed a little. Teeth came free of lips. “Ben. “Let. broken smile. Cold dropped into his stomach like a heavy brick. “I’m not going to let you hurt yourself. Tessa’s hard. She met his eyes slowly. Go. resolve clear.” She shot back. “Talk to me. Tessa. Their stares locked as hands fell away. the look in her eyes triggering a shiver in him. the word Deutschland faded. she was gone. and she smiled back at him again. bit into midnight. The scissors flashed in the mirror. voice shaky.” She growled. “We have no choice. eyes moving. “Tessa?” Ben followed her with his eyes as she stood up to her full height. yanked one of them free.” She locked eyes with him in the mirror again. yellow against scuffed black. brushed across skin. eyes only wavering slightly as he let her go. “Tessa! Wait!” Hands found wrists. brushed against skin. She wiped her lips. Between them.” “Good. Scissors clicked open.” He shot back. the scissors jutted in air like a chrome omen. bared vicious in the pause. staring into the mirror at a face smeared with blood and bile. “Because I don’t plan to. confused as Tessa stared blankly at the leather jacket folded into the drawer. In an instant.
I have to go back and change the way things turn out. forced himself to nod as arms folded again.” “Your.” She said slowly. I need to know about it and I need to fix it or its going to be a real short trip and a real expensive waste of Navy resources. met his eyes again. but the words wouldn’t come. Ben.” She said absently. eyes falling back to the sink. eyes somber. Can you cycle the floor while I’m gone?” “Sure.” She looked up.. “Sorry about the mess. He nodded once.” Tessa swallowed. there was nothing to say. nodded. then squeezed her shoulder in response. “I’ve got a couple of things to nail down before I leave. “Are you. --46-- . “Wasn’t it?” “Yeah. waited. watched severed bits of sweat-soaked night fall away into the sink. hand shaking as he reached out. “I love you. Tessa met his eyes for a moment. glanced across the bathroom at the shower.” Their eyes met again. squeezed her shoulder. . Eyes rose in the mirror as she set the scissors down and ran a hand through rough hair.” Dimitrov’s mouth drifted open. “Yeah. Just need a shower and a change of clothes. “I– I’ll be in the officers’ mess if you need me. the utter dread. “If there’s a problem. “I’ve got data to prepare. I’ll set the room to autocleanse itself automatically after you leave. going to be okay?” “Yeah. . cold and wet as they met his in the reflection again. the fear.” She said softly.” He smiled sadly. “And I saw what was left of the fleet. turned away again. “If I’m going to be doing this.” She said softly.” She swallowed. I can’t imagine what kind of stresses this trip is going to put on me. met his eyes in the reflection again.” She paused. it would be good to know if I’m going to have a hemorrhage on the way or something. He couldn’t help it– beyond the shock. a few other things.. I saw it burning. Ben. “I saw Earth.” Ben swallowed.” “It was bad. I’ll be fine. then looked away again. my flight physical. sadly.to do it.” He hesitated “Your physical?” “Yeah.” he swallowed as she looked away again. wetting the edge of a towel and wiping at her mouth. hands hesitating.
She swallowed. studied the griptile on the floor of the medical bay. In another fifty-seven hours. “The screening should only take a few seconds.” She offered another small smile.” The doctor nodded. The doctor stepped up to the exam table and took a quick sample of blood. “Usually I’m notified before anyone runs a wire session. keyed her way to the test results. “Some of our people had families on the colonies that were abandoned. the concealed marks of an improper wire harness removal. glanced at the panel.” She ran a hand through her rough-cut hair. Everything’s alright. held. crossed the room to a medical panel set up to sweep blood for anything that wasn’t kosher– pathogens.” “Everybody is talking about the withdrawal. Tessa nodded blankly. met the other woman’s gaze. “Lets see how you did. warm on the wings of a soft smile. “Thanks Doc.Episode 36: Little Things “I can’t believe we’re going back to Earth. “Oh. Alpha hit a lot of people hard. Is everything alright.” Tessa’s eyes tracked the doctor absently as she crossed to the panel.” Tessa’s eyes dropped a little lower. added another spot adhesive to the collection already dotting every inch of the major’s exposed skin. had left her almost uncaring of where the Hephaestus went or what it did. Major?” “Hmm?” Tessa looked up. I hope Panem has the bridge working by then. Fifty-seven hours.” Olive eyes glanced back. and wait with the rest of humanity for the Coralate to make its move.” The doctor said softly. --47-- . narcotics. and anything else that might indicate there was a problem. take their place in the middle of the fleet. signs of organ damage.” “Anytime. “I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. they would drop out of bent space and into the Sol system. yeah. pulled them off onto a sheet of silicon. There was nothing to say– the vision had numbed her to the present. turned suddenly green. Lights flickered yellow.
She swallowed. loving smile coming back as she stared at the tiny mass of cells. . “What is it.” She breathed.” The doctor shrugged. . to react. . tabbed the magnification on a section of scan dominated by a fuzzy blob. they don’t usually. .” She blinked. “Congratulations.” “Doctor. forced calm into her voice.. okay. doc?” “I.” The hair on the back of Tessa’s neck prickled suddenly. pulled in a breath. no trace of substance. “My dermaceptive. I had biology in primary.” The doctor smiled again. the soft. “Sometimes. Major.” Tessa blinked. I haven’t done anything.” She smiled again.” The doctor looked up. . multiplying.” Her smile turned to an excited grin. .” Tessa checked the underside of her arm. “Blood chemistry looks good.” Tessa held up a hand. I’d say.” “But how did it. “Major. “I don’t need the whole breakdown. crossed back to the side of the exam table and passed it quickly over Tessa’s body. tabbed through the results. eyes rising to meet Tessa’s in the pause. I–” “It’s nothing to worry about. concerns darting into her mind. “Just a second. worries.” She picked at the display. . “The Navy has a complete temporary service leave --48-- .” She glanced at the display again. . doctor. Blood screenings don’t usually check for DNA tags. . I don’t know what to say. confused eyes. blurry edges of a scan to show up on the silicon. orange-red hair. “Less than a month along.. rubbed at the fingernail-sized subdermal patch there. followed the doctor’s silent study with concerned. breathed.“Pathogen screen came up clear. . You’re pregnant. I know how pregnancy works. crossed to Tessa’s side. “Chromosomes say it’s a girl. hesitated. hesitated. I. to do anything more than stare at the doctor in blind shock. one hand going to her chest.” “These things happen. Major. unable to respond. mouth working silent in the pause.” “There are a lot of support programs. turned back toward the major.” The doctor’s excitement was almost sickening. “Pregnant?” “Do you want to see the zygote? It’s really new. Fingers worked silently as Tessa looked on. taken anything. organ function nominal. “Dermaceptives aren’t a one hundred percent guarantee. ran a hand through her bobbed. too quick for anything other than the hazy. “Oh. closed her eyes. one of his little swimmers gets through and–” “Okay. . just stop. .
if you want. “This should be a happy time.” Her hand fell away. pushed her fingers into her hair. touched the major’s shoulder lightly. the doctor switched off the sheet of silicon.” --49-- . eyes drifting up to meet the doctor’s again. “Thanks.” She breathed a shaky exhale.” Nodding..” “If you’re thinking about aborting–” “I don’t know what I’m thinking.” Tessa pushed off the exam table. I need some time to think about this before I tell him. you know where I am.” “No. studied the floor in quiet shock. Tessa shook her head.. I have to talk to him about it. “If you need anything.” The doctor nodded somberly. “Have a baby in the middle of a war? Jesus. Doc. gave the other woman a reasonable smile.” “I can pull some off-duty psych time for you and the lieutenant commander. “I.package–” “Do you think I’m actually going to just go through with this thing?” Tessa looked at her evenly. palm against her face.” Tessa nodded. silicon sheet coming up against her chest. “I have to tell Ben.” She reached out for emphasis. “Jesus. stuffed it in the pocket of her labcoat.” “Yeah. I need some air. caught the doctor’s eyes so suddenly that her smile faltered. I’m here for you. looked back. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Tessa slumped sideways. fell into the movements as she drove each sweaty jab into coarse fabric. no way to let go of it. punching harder. knees weakened. crouching. it didn’t matter– the pain that came with the knowledge of the way things were. Memories of Izzy came back. the way they were going to turn out. opening for a silent shriek. Water burned across raw knuckles. Each hit came in a sharp staccato that left her knuckles raw and red– and still she fought it. the pain lingered. In the end. squeezing eyes against tears. palms coming up flat against the cold tile wall. still hung on in memory. she collapsed in on herself. lips peeling back over bared teeth. like an animal. unyielding tile. every move she made. She made it as far as the shower before the tears came. injured. her womb. and then she was on the floor. Jesus. almost cradling the shape of a form that had yet to make itself seen. and as the walls of her resolve buckled. a gasp of souldeep pain that refused to come. stalked it. she attacked the punching bag at the far end of the bay. was growing. and there was no grand future to hide in. afraid. memories of the wake. tingled through skin. Gloves hadn’t mattered. no reset button to reach for. Alone in the washroom. worsening. One hand brushed across her cheek. Because now she was fully in the moment. There was no relief. the way they had to turn out. struggling for support on cold. through her chest. she had to face it. a blade that twisted and twisted with everything she saw. pressed in against the wall. Now. Even when the throbbing and the burn had left her thoughts scattered. she was in the gym. drowned. palm spreading out across the skin there. came up hard against the wall outside of medical. She closed her eyes. the thoughts she had been trying to keep at bay came rolling back like a tide. inescapable. of the pain that had lain in her heart for so --50-- . to drop the tightness from her shoulders. snarled. and the sound that welled up from somewhere deep within her came broken.Episode 37: Final Solution A baby. dropped to follow her shaky eyes to her abdomen. Ten minutes later.
glanced back at Tessa. to rein in what was left of the pain. cradled the phantom shape again. Turning back to the other two technicians. nonchalant. and snapped off the water. clean up the buggy mods he’s tacked in. and as she hunched into herself. go ahead with the AI wipe on Morgan’s rig. lost on the curves of her rig as her hands went unconsciously to her womb. “Everything okay? You look like hell. run a couple of simulations and sweep the calculations through an integrity algorithm. “How soon before its stable?” “Soon. “What have you got for me? Any progress with the upgrades on my rig?” “Yeah. Fifteen minutes later. “Panem. “I almost trust the AI bridge at this point.” Eyes rose.” She met his gaze.” He tabbed through a manifest. “I’m close. as the door to the washroom whispered open. he gestured. “I want to give it another quick go-over. uh.long. “Hey. almost casually. hesitated. enfolded her in its hazy wings.” He almost whispered. “And. Steam rose around her like a blanket. let the heat and the water drain away her pain. nodded back. she let it take her. she forced herself to stand. never really gone. --51-- .” “Thanks. Her eyes were somewhere else entirely. “You two. then slowly. gave him the edge of a wry grin. An eternity later. changed back into her uniform. uh. I’ve got a report here of a strange noise in the hardware. the emotion. eyes as nervous about meeting those of the unfamiliar technicians as they were about meeting the eyes of an unfamiliar major. never fully dormant.” He turned. Came the thought as she dried herself.” Came the firm response.” Tessa swallowed.” He said. and the word came casual.” Both technicians glanced at each other. but I can pretty much guarantee it will work the way it’s rigged up now.” She managed. and double check the consistency of the logics on Odom’s bird. I’ve got to see Panem. Panem. He watched them as they turned away. growing and festering. I’ll handle the firmware installs for Freyja. The hand with the note ‘puter dropped to his side as he turned back to face her. glanced past him. picking through a series of firmware updates and upgrades with another pair of technicians who looked up unsteadily as she approached.” “Major. she found him on the flight deck. “I’ll remember that when your next evaluation comes up. take a look at Chartrand’s rig while you’re at it. words coming weak. glanced at his note ‘puter.” He hesitated.
“You uh. “This is a one way trip. stared up at the chrome hull of the Stormfury.” Tessa swallowed. a star or even deep space. “Okay. but if you want to talk about it–” “No. her eyes drifted back to his. “There’s a manual override in case the flight gets too bumpy or the stress on the hull gets too high. Best to avoid that option if you don’t want to risk punching back into the middle of a planet. Hold that speed. iron in her moist eyes.” He called up a spacial reference on the note ‘puter. it’ll dump you at some random point in time and space between here and where you want to go. “and the throttle will cut automatically at two hours and twenty seven minutes relative and dump you out in Earth orbit the week before the first Coralate attack on record.” She hesitated. “You’re the boss. couldn’t tell him about the remains of the --52-- .” Panem shrugged. “Give me the run down on how it works. she walked with him. . forever. looked up at him. like skin across flypaper. almost hugging herself.” “I know the hangar deck is a far cry from a counselor’s office. . seeking hers but never catching them. To Ben. right? Once you’ve changed the past. “The inverter is designed to kick off at what we’re calling L+2.” “It’s mostly automatic. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind right now.” He swallowed. She couldn’t tell him about the vision. You know that. but we’ll never see you again. eyes never leaving the Seindrive. you’ll be gone.” Tessa nodded.” She shook her head quickly. gestured. “Let’s just” She pulled in a deep breath. you’ll be attached to a completely different timeline. nine years ago. I. the future you’ll reach won’t be the future you left behind. a struggle of emotions tossing.” He turned back to her.” “One other thing.” He pulled in a deep breath as they stopped beside the rig. touched on his concerned stare. eyes searching. Major?” Panem swallowed. folded her arms. you seem distracted. Major. “We’ll still be here.“You sure you’re okay. “No.” “Distracted?” Slowly. she pushed the remark aside.” He turned. fighting beneath the surface of her features. to everyone on this ship.” he gestured. handed it to her. “Just remember– if you kill the engine early.” Pulling her arms in tighter. tabbed it closed as she handed it back. and as he started toward the rig. “Let’s just focus on this right now. Even if you disable your rig’s tachyon field and jump forward by pushing the throttle right up to the barrier.
Just know that the cost of defeat is steep. Lieutenant. wry smile strong. Let that be the thought that guides you every time you pull the trigger to silence another Coralate soul. “I know.” “It’s not too late to back out. She blinked.” “Yeah. you wouldn’t fight as hard. If I told you either way. knowing. No less than the complete annihilation of the human race. set her jaw. nodded. The admiral’s words echoed in her mind.” She said solidly.fleet that she’d seen spread across space like a blanket over a burning Earth.” --53-- . taunting. “It is.
baby.” Dimitrov pressed the bone-conduction receiver of the telestrip against his cheek. breathing. the worry. his face a placeholder for the emotions. the realizations that the words would bring.” At first. “Talk to me. alone with her thoughts. it almost didn’t matter that there was no link between their minds– his strength was different. lips coming up against his. paced like a prisoner awaiting her executioner. kissing.” He said softly. brushed against her hair. of souls so intimately close they blurred when they were together. his ability to soak up emotions and study them internally. breathing. the fear. Tessa’s mind ran on and on endlessly. She hugged her arms against herself. and his natural penchant for empathy. the thoughts that tumbled --54-- .” The message came strong across his jaw. “I’m pregnant. squeezed them against the pressure building there. the way she would react to Ben’s responses. lost themselves in the movements of lips and touch. “Something’s happened. With Ben. the things she would say. almost wished she could trade her TK or VP for. “I’ll be right there. staring.” She whispered. As they drifted apart. buried her face in his shoulder. And then the door to their quarters whispered open and she was in his arms. needing. pulling. He just stood there. the caresses of lovers. “Where are you?” “Our quarters. the terror of the changes. darting from point to point. they fell into each other. filled herself with his scent. gave him something that she almost envied. shattered resolve. the lieutenant commander didn’t react. his lips rose.” “Nothing. the way she would say them. In the moment. deep breath. “I–” She looked up at him. “I” She closed her eyes.” Tessa swallowed. “I need to talk to you.” Waiting in the silence. Ben. his strength.” She managed.Episode 38: Last Hours “Ben. “Tell me what’s wrong. pulled in a long. a private vibration cut with static.
“You’re still going?” She pulled in a shaky breath. Eyes closed. resting her cheek on his chest.” Dimitrov swallowed against a dry throat. and his eyes caught on Tessa’s.” Hesitation pulled at his mind. “Trust me. glanced down at her. I’ll have to live with the fact that. “Tessa. . .” His voice cracked.” He looked back.” “I have to do this. Tessa. .” “Our daughter. never know.” “I won’t lie to you and tell you I’m not scared. Ben. and then she did the only thing she could think of to do. reached out and caught his hand. .” She said softly. scratchy.” --55-- . pulling him closer. half statement.” She tried. “I have a chance to save billions of lives. . looked away.” She sniffed.” He managed.” He hesitated. uh. There were no words– he was as stunned as she had been. voice hoarse. pressed it in against her womb. and I’m never going to know if you made it or not. putting as much resolve into it as she could. but he looked away. dragged at the words before they could form. I. . and her hands spread out on top of his. “It’s the end of the world.” She said. “Now. a child I’ll never see. not only did I let you go. breathed.” “Yeah. Ben. . as they still were. “Feel it. .. words coming quiet. Remember our daughter.” He sniffed. and in the middle of all of this.” She whispered. “You’re.” Ben swallowed. shook his head. “I won’t ask you to stay. hesitated. . his emotions as mixed as hers had been.together through shock in the numb distances of his mind. “The timing is. “I know. I’m getting ready to save hum anity by blasting off into the past and risking my ass on an AI bypass that might get me there or might spread me across space. but things will be better if this works.” “I know. I can’t turn my back on that.” “You’re. “Christ. half question. Doc said these things happen. .” She blinked. “I’m going to miss you. .” “Ben. “But I thought. Tessa. snared by the iron and the ice in her stare.” He swallowed. but now I have a child out there somewhere. “I thought so too. “Remember this. “Dammit. “Remember this moment.. managed a quiet: “Yeah. an ironic laugh trickling from her tear-moist lips.” He forced himself to nod.” “Why tell me about this?” He breathed. voice cracking. . I’m carrying our child.
Breathing across her rough-cut hair. she let her gaze fall away.” Tessa didn’t respond. gently caressed it. but we haven’t got much time before we reach Earth.” The edge of a chuckle lost itself on Dimitrov’s lips.” He tried a smile. turned back. settle down or something.” She hesitated. but the attempt faltered and fell away under the force of tears almost immediately. .” He paused again. “You’ll be going back to a better time. Ben. she gathered herself into his arms again. uncertain. A better world. “Well my mother’s name is out. tracing his hands. if I can swing it. “Our daughter. I–” He swallowed. spotted with traces of irony. .” He swallowed. kissed his cheek. unable to break their stare.” Ben blinked at tears.” She all but whispered.” He hesitated.” He paused. he pulled her in closer. and the time sounded like minutes. “I can’t think of any names that would fit. he touched her cheek. .” She hesitated as he looked away. tone teary.Reaching out with his other hand. “Our next deployment. “We should. Words came again almost out of fear of the silence. “I don’t think either one of us would be able to stand that. She’s probably going to be a little warrior just like her mother. she. . she’ll be in good hands. I guess. “I don’t know. shaky. “Unless you think Alicia is a strong. pick a name for her before I go. “Maybe we should name her after you. she simply smiled. “Then we only have a handful of hours left. as the tears gathered at the edges of his eyes and dropped in lines down his cheeks.” Reaching out. warrior’s --56-- . Find a quiet planet and uh.” He managed. “Tessa. moments. “I do. closed his eyes again.” “How soon?” “Soon. Help the war effort.” Tessa breathed. “I never thought I’d be counting the hours like this.” “A name. .” Breath came deep. and as Ben spoke again. “Not enough time to say goodbye. “You’ll cover for me if things get hot out there. breathed. pulled in a shaky breath. swallowed. .” “Two days.” She managed. “Disappear into the woodwork. right?” “Of course. “I honestly haven’t given it much thought. closed her eyes. hesitated.” “And have her called ‘Junior’?” Tessa managed the broken edge of a smile. Not when its forever. “What will you do once you’re there?” “I. “I’ll cover for both of you. and found a place for herself in the curve of his neck. squeezed his hands.” She swallowed.
name.” “Hmm.” She almost smiled, pretended to consider it, then lost the smile again as a thought struck her. “How about. . .” She hesitated. Say it. “How about Nemea” She swallowed. “After my grandmother.” “Nemea. . .” He said softly. “Okay. It’s decided then.” He drifted down to his knees, reached out, gently kissed her stomach. “Hello, little Nemea,” He closed his eyes and fresh tears dropped in lines across his cheeks. “Child of love.”
Episode 39: Moments
The next two days passed in silence. Tense, on edge, the crew lost themselves in their duties, their own personal darknesses. Time felt strange, strung out, at times fast, at times painfully slow. Tessa spent as much of it in Ben’s arms as she could manage, and the sounds of their soft, gentle lovemaking brought a certain hazy lightness to the time spilling out before them, slipping away into memory behind them. Packing her bags in the last five hours before their arrival in system, Tessa played one last strain on her saxophone, something sad and soulful, something fitting as the last notes she would share with it, with the world, with Dimitrov, before leaving it all behind for a past where she didn’t belong. Two hours from Earth, a short blip came over the QE transmitter, was announced quietly, somberly, by the admiral herself. Twenty-seven ships spotted by Deepglass five. Contact lost with Jupiter station. Ships holding at Mars and the homeworld. Godspeed, Hephaestus. Aiming for a spot several thousand kilometers outside Mars orbit, the Hephaestus popped back into normal space right in the middle of a firefight between Coralate forces and the crippled remains of a Commonwealth armada that was trying to retreat, trying to regroup closer to Earth, closer to the reinforcements HQ had promised were coming. It took fifteen seconds to charge the Hephaestus’ ship to ship cannons, but even that wasn’t enough, didn’t come soon enough. Before the admiral could even get off a shot, before her pilots could be called and rallied to deploy in rigs that wouldn’t have stood a chance against the heavy fire of the Coralate fleet, the Hephaestus was burning, venting atmosphere and struggling to escape with the rest of the Terran forces, struggling to stay alive against ever widening odds. In Operations, the admiral bared her teeth, set fingers hard into paneling, knuckles whitening. Systems designed to compensate for inertia shuddered, blew, and then everything was in the air, spinning, crashing. Fire rolled across deck plating, shot through open hallways, lashed and caught at the edges of furniture, crates, doors, and still the admiral held her ground, rode out the rolling, the bucking and the shifting --58--
of the ship until her navigator had a chance to lock the flailing systems down and put the Hephaestus into more level flight. Suppression systems kicked online, and then the husk of the ship was moving again, fighting to clear the maximum range of the Coralate weapons while there was still a ship to fly. The admiral cursed, breathed. “Dammit! Push her harder!” She yelled. “We will make this! I’ve seen it! Where the hell is the Von?” There was no time to ask for clarification– in an instant, space bent, and then the battered shape of the warship popped out of nothingness and into the middle of the battle. The sound of a grin came clear across the frequency as the Von pivoted, slid in sideways against the Coralate offensive, ship to ship emitters already flaring, burning hot lines across acres of scorched silver hull. “Hephaestus, this is the Von der Tann IV.” Hilleboe. “You look like you could use a hand.” “Don’t think we don’t appreciate it, Captain Hilleboe.” The admiral’s response came tired, eaten by static, words she had rehearsed a thousand times in her mind. She licked her lips, cleared her throat, forced herself to face the inevitable. “But there’s not much left of my ship. I’m declaring a 7700 and ordering all hands to abandon before the drive goes critical.” The pause hung in the void like a glacier, solid and cold, chilling. “I trust you’ll be around to pick up the pieces?” “Yeah.” Came the loose response. The admiral looked up, glanced through the battered viewer to the bulk of the Von, watched as it burnt under the Coralate’s harsh rays, spun silently, presenting fresh sides to the enemy. “Roger that, Hephaestus.” Hilleboe managed, losing himself in another, more final pause. “Godspeed, Admiral Blavatsky.” “And to you as well.” She breathed, then glanced at her tactical officer, nodded once, firmly. “Set the self destruct, then get to the pods.” She hesitated, watched as he swallowed, nodded. “Get everyone to the pods.” “Lets give the Coralate something to remember us by.”
stared on in shock. their hands parted. became separate. silicon displays. Between the labyrinthine passages of the residential deck and the high-ceilinged expanse of the hangar bay. there was no one. then you get the hell out of here. nodded back. the bay opened to space.” He said stoically.” Hallways went fast. wouldn’t break the stare.” “We all have to die someday. I want you to live. boxes. the ruins of two squadrons of fighters and the entire technical infrastructure required to maintain them. wouldn’t move.” Ben smiled softly. looked away. and then the final lock ground open. research and gear over her shoulder. --60-- . Tessa shook her head.” “Then we fly. “I’m not leaving my rig. disappeared as they shot through abandoned corridors and rooms where fire had burnt across the furnishings and left long black stains in the floor. ragged and burnt edges scattered with crumpled fragments of rigs. glanced at Ben. And next to it. broken-faced awe.” Tessa grabbed her jacket the instant the call to abandon ship went out. “Until I jump. slung the satchel full of data. Air pressure was thin but holding. Not now. the wall. nothing but scattered piles of upended furniture. All around them. bent outward only at the center where an independent generator that someone had lugged out to the shattered end of the vector strip sat maglocked into place.Episode 40: Final Farewells. hesitated as both pilots stopped suddenly. “We need to move. “Together.” “Together. Not this close to the end. part 1 “Screw the pods. a fragile envelope kept reined inside the bay by a flickering Mitarashi field that stretched from one end of the gaping wound to the other. squeezed her hand.” She caught his hand. tied to the deck with cables taut in the nearly zero G.” Ben said solidly. Ben. “I want you to stay safe. the ceiling. and in the pause.” Her eyes locked with his. We don’t have much time. “Don’t talk that way. The doors to the hangar bay passed as they ran.
” She said.” Tessa hesitated. There are escape pods in the corridor --61-- .” Hesitating. “Here. . pulled her into one last.” He smiled softly. undeniable. but the instant she looked up and opened her mouth to speak. tight hug. “Listen. Go and don’t ask questions. “You’ve been playing me from the beginning. “Don’t think about it. to say something. almost dismissively. How could she not know exactly what I was planning. but close. turned toward her rig and the empty gulf of stars that yawned beyond.” Turning back to Ben. “What does it do? When the time comes.” Tessa hesitated. . Yours and Nemea’s. Tessa turned away. “I’ll be fine.” Blavatsky’s voice was firm. A hand reached out. primed. her answer came back strong. “Just in time. met the admiral’s eyes carefully. wiped a tear from her eye. anything. she looked down.” The admiral said suddenly. . fought the edge of a stammer. . “Shhh. There isn’t much time. She’s a visionary precog. you’ll use this to focus your thoughts on the drives of the Coralate warships and use your connection to their technology to make them do whatever you want. and in the pause. the only rig intact. Tessa sniffed. but it’s designed to interface with both your Kvasir and Horus lacings. and I can’t tell you what’s going to happen without risking damage to the timeline as I have seen it unfold. smiled as Tessa turned to meet her eyes. uncertainly. And then the realization– the point in history she was bound for was nine years ago. The amplifier is unsteady. a position in Earth orbit that would put her dozens of lightyears away from any Coralate attack that might put warships in her path. Part of her wanted to say more. I just need you to go. “Not from the beginning.” She flashed the edge of a smile. “This is your flight. online. gestured toward her fighter. haven’t you?” The admiral grinned. “I wish my rig had room for two. The only rig ready to fly. iron. “I know.” Hesitating.Tessa’s Stormfury sat open. pushed something against the younger woman’s chest. How could she know? She swallowed.” He breathed. reached out. opened her mouth. This is the way it must be.” The admiral stepped up behind them. but the admiral cut her off. “Coralate. Ben pressed a finger against her lips. reached out and caught his hand. a package of hardware and silicon data storage that felt heavy in her hands. then glanced back. “You’re going to need this.
“Stay alive. the generators powering the field sputtered. died. she met his lips with one last kiss. “Go.” Reaching up. “There isn’t much time.” “You too. and that’s all that matters now. almost seemed to anticipate each action and kept her on track even as her mind tried to wander back to Ben.” Pulling in a deep breath. --62-- . blinking against a warm tide of new tears.” She managed. “Stay alive for me. he pulled back.” He hugged her tighter. flattened. ragged with his own tears. are we Admiral?” “No.above this deck. Already running and ready to fly. kissed her forehead. As her rig tore free of the deck and punched through the stuttering light of the Mitarashi field into the black of space. gave her a soft smile. satchel and package in hand. “I’ll never forget you. Ben. Do what you need to do to save Earth. she tried a smile. she punched the throttle. she turned away and sprinted for her waiting rig. “But she will. glanced back across her sleek. swallowed the bay and everything in it. then strapped on her flight helmet. to the fears and uncertainties that ate at her concentration. and as the field fell.” Ben’s response came broken at the edges. caressed. back to all they had. her eyes never leaving the engine burn of Tessa’s rig. for Nemea.” She said softly. met her eyes evenly.” In the next instant. Do it. hard vacuum rushed in. “Take care of yourself. it reacted fluidly. Thirty seconds later.” “I love you. then. metallic body to take one last look at the two figures standing on the edge of the hangar bay. glancing across at the admiral.” One hand went to his chest. guided her mind through an abbreviated form of a pre-flight checklist. “We’re not going to make it out of this one. keyed it to activation. She found the bridge almost immediately. that the other was Ben. winced a little knowing that one of them was the admiral. As she moved within the system. Dimitrov turned to the admiral.” Breaking the hug. the Stormfury yielded itself to her. Tessa.
Episode 41: Final Farewells, part 2
The instant she saw the field fail, Tessa closed her eyes, half disconnected from her rig on the wave of pain that seized her, left cheeks wet with tears. The degen drive at the core of the Hephaestus followed the systems crash almost immediately, the alignment of the superdense matter spinning out of control, eviscerating the sleek little warship from within with knife-like waves of undampened gravity. Whole sections pressed in on themselves as she watched, the skin of the hull cracking, buckling, exploding outward before bending back and collapsing in on the hot center of the ship, fragments spiraling in, leaving nothing but empty void in their wake. Piece by piece, the Hephaestus gathered itself up into a tiny sun, and then the ship that had been her home for four years spread itself across the sky, pelted the Von and the nearest Coralate warships with hot debris. Only the escape pods hung untouched in the void, streaking toward the massive Wallace class on autopilot guidance. Soon, only she would remain, a lone testament floating in the void, the footnote of a warship that had reduced itself to cinders at the edge of a sea of silver. Standard protocol would have been to radio in, to call tower and land in the bay with the pods, but Tessa had other plans. Plotting a course to a location in the moving flux of space time that met the requirements for the jump as Phoebe and Panem had calculated them, Tessa’s Stormfury moved slowly, quietly, half-visible in the haze. In the construct that allowed her to interface with the machine, she could see the variables lining up like crosshairs, searching, searching, targeting. 1522 km, three quarters burn, seven point two second window upon arrival. Hit it. And then, as if by cue, the fighters came. There was only one at first, a single dash of silver that came blasting out of the stars and haze to drop in behind her, railcannons heating up late, flaring at the same instant her thrusters did. Movement came reflexive– throttle dashed forward and back, her mind giving control of coordinate --63--
tracking to the AI, glancing into it periodically as she whirled and dashed, dodged the Coralate’s fire as nimbly as a dancer. He was good, but she was better, and the second he filled the night with his plasmatic payload, she banked, darted, spun, primed and in one smooth movement triggered her rig’s own plasma repeaters, hammering the Cygnan with a salvo of hot slugs that beat and butchered his rig before he could even react. Thrusters flared again, hotter this time, and before the Cygnan’s drive even destabilized, she was gone, hot after her target. Unfortunately, so were the Cygnans, and her momentary tangle with the lone pilot had given the closest twelve rigs enough time to close with her, to get a swarm of crosshairs lined up on her backside. Numbers ticked down, distance to target. Closing, closing. Too slow, too slow. Shit. And then a voice: “Keep going, LC! I’ve got your back!” The sound rang out clear across Tessa’s radio, brought a momentary grin to her mind. Phoebe. A glint of light flashed across canopy as Phoebe’s rig came darting in, hot as a rocket, weapons live, warheads already detaching from racks, intent on Coralate targets. Words came reflexively, delivered even as the younger woman burnt three chrome rigs out of the sky, blasted through the rest as they peeled away from her in waves like silver fish. “Major, Phoebe. You’re the lieutenant commander.” Tessa shot back, almost grinning, ignoring the edges of fear that pulled at her, silently grateful for the assistance another pilot could bring to the fight. “What are you doing out here? Isn’t your squadron supposed to be closer to the Von, scraping up damaged pods or queuing for the bays?” “My squadron is.” Phoebe shot back, and Tessa could hear the grin in her voice. “But when I saw you out here with no backup and burning hard, straight into Cygnan city, I sent them ahead and jammed out here to cover you.” “This is a one way mission, Phoebe.” Tessa managed. “You know that.” “Yeah. I know.” Phoebe’s response came quieter, softer. “At least let me escort you as far as your jump point.” “Fine,” Tessa hesitated, forced iron into her voice. “But then you get the hell out of here, okay, Phoebe? Minerva squadron needs its LC.” “I know.” Said Phoebe. “I remember when she left.” --64--
“I’m sorry, Phoebe.” A pause, the sound of a long, deep breath. “Don’t worry about it, Major. In a few minutes, it won’t matter.” Tessa hesitated, opened the channel to speak, but before the words would come, could even form, the Coralate rigs were in their midst again, lining up sights, railcannons heating up. Cursing, she swung back toward Phoebe, ducked under the younger woman’s rig as it passed, then triggered the sweep cannon on the nose of her fighter with a flick of the eye. The beam cut smooth, lashed into chrome, and her eye followed each fragment of Coralate confetti as it ripped free under the force of the blistering column of energy washing over and through the fighters, leaving only hot slag in its wake. Only the spidery-shape of a hunter-killer rig had enough warning and grace to dance nimbly out of her way, spinning, darting out of her crosshairs until the system could no longer compensate for the heat of the cannon and killed the beam reflexively, flooding the firing chamber with a burst of liquid hydrogen. Plasmatic shards rolled up and across her fuselage, catching, spun off by debris shielding as the hydrogen haze blossomed all around her, hung heavy against cockpit glass. Phoebe said something unintelligible into the radio as she swung in behind the Coralate hunter-killer, caught the wicked, spindly little rig in the crosshatch of her argon-ion L-web emitters. Coasting through the flames, she shouted, cheered. “We’re clear!” And then a single contact flared on Tessa’s scopes, hot after Phoebe’s rig and dropping fast toward her position from the rear. “Phoebe!” Jesus Christ. “Behind you!” There was a half second’s hesitation, and then Phoebe’s rig twitched, shifted. Behind her, the single Cygnan fighter blasted into view, railcannons hot, leaking streamers of plasma held too long, eager for release. Tessa tore open the channel, mouth biting in on the edge of a yell, but Phoebe was quicker, more nimble, thumb jamming the radio even as she spun away, rotating fast and flat in the hopes of getting behind the sleek little rig as it passed. “I’ve got him! I’ve got him!” “He’s right there, he’s–” The Coralate rig cut throttle suddenly, spun and darted even as Phoebe swung out to meet him. Fingers mashed triggers, and as Tessa watched, the sleek little silver ship fired, filled the sky with vicious light. There was no time to move, no time to react– Phoebe punched the throttle, blasted hard through the cloud and bounced off the --65--
“Tessa.” “Don’t talk that way. words her augmented mind picked up clear. strong. ice punching through the fuselage of Phoebe’s rig as liquid helium spread through the systems. “I love you.” Then. pressed gloved fingers against the glass of her cockpit. almost reaching. Before Tessa could even blink. “I’m hit. she knew Phoebe was right. she watched as Phoebe smiled. her mind hesitated on the controls. that there was nothing she could do to save her. opened her rig from the inside like a viscous knife and spread its innards for the hungry depths of hard vacuum. The admiral had said. Deep within. In her magnified vision. “Go. hang on. I’m coming back for you. save the commonwealth. and the look in Phoebe’s eyes as her canopy suddenly darkened and decompressed into open void bit into Tessa’s soul like a jagged razor. left her staring. shattered lines. while you still have a chance. that her best bet. solidifying into columns in the endless night. a tender gesture that came on the wings of words almost whispered across the channel. That’s the end of the runway for me. massive flooding. but even as her gaze swung back. the throttle. you can’t do that. broken.other rig so quickly that it lost control just long enough to take one of the lieutenant commander’s rockets square in the closest thing it had to a cockpit. focused on Phoebe’s cockpit with a single. “Oh man. expansion corruption in the drive. And then a single thought rose up within her.” She swallowed. “I’ve got a leak in the liquid helium coolant lines for the hotcoil pods. the best chance the commonwealth had.” “NO!” Static jumped into the channel as Phoebe pulled in a sudden breath of rapidly cooling air. it was too late. there was a sudden flash of bladed movement. was to bug out now before the rest of the Coralate wave caught up with her.” She shivered suddenly. lanced through the ice that kept her paralyzed– Go and don’t ask questions. It’s too late for me.” “Phoebe. she caught the sudden plumes of white-hot brilliance trailing from struggling drives. all at once. internal systems. Riding the blast of the Cygnan’s destabilizing reactor was like surfing a tidal wave and then getting dashed against sand just in time to be snared by a sudden undertow. forced herself past the pause. reflexive movement. and as the older woman’s eyes chased digital magnification to her friend’s rig. Tessa.” Phoebe managed. This is the way it must --66-- .” Tessa managed. Save Izzy. You have to go now.
she had a chance to bring it all back. Save Izzy. the colonies that the Coralate had burnt down to barren earth would be final.be. hesitated. catapulted into the nothing-realm between the present and her future. all the deaths. Here. Save the commonwealth. unshakable. LC. and then she was gone. hesitated. Close behind her. the Coralate armada spun hungry. purpose. Mind-fingers hovered at the edge of a virtual throttle. Floating slow into the coordinates the AI had picked out to use as a starting point for acceleration. You’ll be going back to a better time. eager. in this moment. Somewhere deep inside the metal body of her rig. This was it. At least this way. reality seemed to flex. now. she felt each tick of the timer dropping away into slow oblivion. there was nothing left. Punch it. between the now and the then. vicious. engines howled. to give humanity the edge it needed to overcome the Coralate and prevent the loss of billions upon billions of lives. Go. A better world. the losses. Space hung on around her. blood spilt without meaning. too close. Phoebe. Ben. then all the sacrifices. she swallowed. this shot. jammed the throttle. to fall away in a cascade of light and vibration. Thought compressed. --67-- . and then for a moment. She swallowed. with this rig. If she didn’t go now.
unwilling fingers. Part of her smiled in spite of the deadness of the greater whole. optical units sifting through sensory data as light and sound coalesced into one in Tessa’s mind. attempting to compensate. drew back as the warnings coalesced across tortured mind. Groping through systems with half of the interface down and the AI assist totally offline was like fumbling through an endless black sea for a life preserver that might never have even been there. heard. as if half her mind had suddenly vanished. a labyrinth beyond the labyrinth of her mind. Everything dropped away. cauterized numb neurons for an instant. struggled with the darkness and desperately turned each corner. her sensors became like numb. disjointed submission. but even with the assistance. All of reality came back to her with the intensity of the surface of a star. Enough of the navigation software oscillated between action and oblivion to keep her rig on course through it all. left her mind lost and floundering in a world that was all swirling. her flight like a sudden hard dive into the halo of a sun’s corona. Tessa felt hollow. A harsh flare of burning everything shot through senses. . Flight disturbance detected. --68-- . a puzzle in passages dwarfed by the greater reality that stretched on endlessly into the greater maze of the outside world. beating rhythm across the hull in high energy waves that she felt. broken. blasted her with words she could barely understand. An impossible flight. She blinked reflexively. Rig systems were like a maze within a maze. could barely focus on enough to make sense of. As impossible as this drop through hyperspace and into a wholly different intersection of time and space. In the haze. directionless abyss. the AI flickered into sudden.Episode 42: Into The Unknown The second the stars closed up behind Tessa’s Stormfury. colliding. but she wandered through the morass anyway. then flashed into her mind’s eye. Panem had installed failsafes designed to keep the rig on course. leaving nothing. waves meshing. . fluttered into nothingness. leaving only a childlike husk to pick its way through a maze of sensation that had all the order and openness of shattered glass.
And then she saw it. for a way to tear herself free. limiters snapping into place. her senses flopped through the darkness one last time. mixing through sensor-streams with the screams of tortured fuselage as she felt it. but in the end. at the shoulders. Flooding back. Space came a second later.touching the dead sigils of the machine mind in the hopes that triggering or adjusting one might fix the problem that was lurking beyond the wings of her rig. as she forced herself to seize onto anything for support. Abort. . and in the sudden pause. unable to pull her eyes away from its tortured hull or the two Cygnan behemoths bleeding chrome lines into it. the echoing shriek of living steel shearing off against vicious waves of gravity and vacillating entropy caught her. the Stormfury hesitated. assist synced with the ship.I. desperate for survival. her limbs ripped away at the joints. spun crazily. scattered to the abyss. mere inches from the brink of collapse. Compensating. blindsided her with such ferocity that her mind shot out of the system. found the one edge she had over eternity. In the span of a breath. She cried out. came half-conscious for an instant. seemed to wait. The full awareness of the machine mind came back to her. Fuck it. forced herself to ride out the pain of catapulting face first into the narrowing unknown. there was only one choice. . one way. Failure. triggered by the return of full AI control. For one split instant. All around her. unresponsive. the AI gently enfolded her in its augmentation software and guided steel and flesh into something approximating straight and level flight. Failure. struggling to orient herself as the void shifted sickeningly across her field of vision. she was in the stars. filling her. With all the broken impulses of a dying bird. of the machine and the flesh that hung dependent upon it. came separate from the system. Over and over again in her mind. Hands came alive. one-winged spin that left her lost in waves of stuttering light. time itself almost seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. the world of the mind. aggressive. she pulled an IFF --69-- . saw the shape stretched out below her like a burnt and beaten monolith. a Wallace-class warship strung out between twin columns of untarnished silver. Compensating. and as her A. Failure. the system cried out in pain. All at once. then dropped into a shuddering. Seeing the thing there left her shivering. and the sound hung corrupted and broken in the machine mind. The request went out fast.
Systems on her rig shivered and twitched as her mind disengaged fully. bounced back and forth between computer control and the fleshy passages of her mind. She’d replayed Izzy’s death over and over in her mind since that day. isolated in the cockpit of a rig that no longer felt like an extension of her body. this one for local date and time. the data she did get became less and less encouraging. fear. picked through the injured systems. a scar that had branded itself into the skin of her very soul. Analysis came slow. as terror. metallic body. what wasn’t. what she would do different– and now she was here.ident from the thing’s own shaky A. too slow. cold hand across her shoulders and left her frozen. planning out each step she would make. Somewhere deep within her injured. the meaning– it was all that mattered. system that shocked her almost to the point of silence. doubting. APR 6. numbness. and the response that bounced back carried so much weight in her subconscious that it was all she could do not to pass out under the force of it. the realizations that came with it. of her mind. something broke. her self. hesitated. her mind found its way back into the machinery. The day I lost Izzy to the Coralate. had lived with it burnt into her brain for years. April sixth. she forced herself to jam a second aggressive request. Fear had lain its cruel. this day. it was clear that her rig would barely fly– there was no way she was going to be able to burn back into hyperspace and aim --70-- . In a matter of moments. She knew that date. and it didn’t matter. vaguely cataloging what was working. her opportunity to put things right. made it her world. Lazar. She swallowed. wouldn’t let it go. Earth Standard Notation. and even as the numbers trickled in. 18:31 Zulu. spent hours. When control came again. lost focus. The moment. left her gasping for air. her do-over. weeks. Sliding back into her rig’s systems and dropping into the control interface was like trying to slide back into sleep with the fresh dread of death pulling at her heels. anxiety gripped her suddenly. a wound that had refused to heal. c/o ADM. working her way through intricate “what if” scenarios. the time. And then. Her mind latched onto the date. she opened her mouth. now she’d been given her chance. Minear. Sluggishly. She couldn’t move. couldn’t act. paralyzed her. 2307. TMV Wu Ang Hok.I. CPT. her whole focus. Control didn’t come back all at once.
Now. frozen for a moment with fear. and it was almost as dangerous as running the gauntlet of argon-ion web emitters and aggressive Mitarashi response grids that would flare up if she went for any obvious openings. Skin flared golden and green as she drifted weightless. flattened out as the Stormfury modulated its S-vectoring panels enough to melt struts into the hull. Beyond that. especially not as an unidentified rig broadcasting an obscure friendly code that the Hok’s own AI might mark as hostile the instant it got too close to a bay opening. the wonder of everything held in cold --71-- . make full use of her implants and find a spot in the hull where the metal was weak enough for her to punch through. somewhere she could tie it down until salvage teams could recover it during the clean up. steadying breath. the weight of inevitability. Shouldn’t be a problem. hope that whatever energy reserves she had left to work with bound up within her body would be enough to augment and. pulled in a deep. Popping the canopy took a force of will. and even as she did. one chance to make her changes and save the human race. an impromptu tethering that stuck solid. she’d have to work fast. strong enough for her to be able to seal it up after her. let it out again. she was struck for a moment by the beauty of the cosmos as it stretched on around her. Even with her Ninsar implants balanced at maximum conscious input. but that was as far as it was going. she was on her own.vaguely for a point closer to her original destination. soaked up the meager light of distant stars. The rig would take her as far as the hull. That damaged. She told herself. gave her just enough of a window to drop to the hull of the Hok. not with a third of her structure gone. Tessa. take over for the power assemblies of all three implants for long enough to get her where she needed to go. if necessary. but even as the air in her cockpit rushed out. she wasn’t even going to make it into the bay. and fed a trickle of energy into the halo of fire and light that protected her from exposure. licked her lips. one way to get into the ship. but the emphasis had remained on short term. She closed her eyes. The resolve to open her eyes came slowly. she didn’t feel the cold of the sudden vacuum. The hull of the Hok rose up to meet her. left Tessa cold. The lacings and subdermal emitter chains she’d been given as part of project Amaterasu had been specifically designed with short term EVA in mind. She was going to have to ditch her rig. Move. There was only one option.
stared at it. and dived into the cold sea of steel that opened for her as she moved. And then she turned back to the hull. into it. . closed up again as she passed deeper into the belly of the half-dead warship.collusion.
angry vibration that bit and throbbed in every bone like the vicious. knocked her shot wild and carried her to the ground with all the force of a concrete wall. and then something hit her. the instant she saw that phalanx of bladed steel separate. Effective stun zone. Full yield. each spike unwavering and cruel. terrified minds. kindling her resolve. no time to think– in the click-broken silence. Tessa’s eyes shot for Izzy’s. one thought passed between them. crossed the impossible distance of air and absence of touch to burn brightly in open. ten inches or less. half plunging hard for the woman she loved. locked with a stare that snared and bored back into hers. its cries drowning out the . Ten inches from internal organs. thirty feet. rocketed up from crouched positions into adrenaline-fueled charges. howling pain of a fracture. half of it splattering harmlessly in midair as it reached for her. the nagging uncertainties. Fingers wrapped solidly around the grips of handguns. Part of Izzy died the instant she saw the shards dart for Tessa. but the resolve was there. Fingers pulled triggers reflexively. her heart set. More steel leapt into the air. The instant Izzy’s feet left the ground. and then it was the Cygnan that was screaming. Izzy swallowed as Tessa’s eyes shot to the Cygnan. and as they both pushed off. Effective kill zone. In the pause. a subtle flicker of blades near the Cygnan– and then there was steel in the air. “You with me?” In the darkness of the silver-mottled corridor. facts drilled into minds years ago. pinned her. reacted almost as if by instinct. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. something happened. The shards of chrome hesitated mid-air.Episode 43: Old Faces Izzy grinned. Eyes registered a change in the globes. the Cygnan rent the air with a shrill. There was no time to react. filled her with a fiery strength that seemed to cross the distance between them. popped the clasp on her holster. She cried out. burning away the fears. Tessa gave her a quick nod. Izzy’s Stunner came free almost at the same instant Tessa’s did. but the weight held her. Solomon Mark VII Compressed Energy Stunner. shouted. just the sharp edge of a movement that conveyed complete understanding and complete agreement. major organ failure. shifted. screamed. minds rattling quick through specs at the touch. crashed into her.
playing impossibly across her senses. turned and stared open mouthed at what was an impossibility. tore a fissure in her soul. Shhh. shaky breath. . she dislodged the shape that had pinned her and rushed to Tessa’s side.” Strong hands came to a gentle rest on her back as Tessa tried to speak. Relax. and in one sudden blast of adrenaline. dropped into a crouch beside her.sound of Tessa’s agony as blood blossomed into the corridor. and at the sound of the voice. .. And then the vision came. Izzy. Izzy started. panted words past lips speckled with crimson.. “Jesus. fought with the shape. There was something of Tessa in that touch. baby.” “You. the woman who . thought. the sudden touch of life and passion and fear and relief that overwhelmed her senses and terrified her to the point of madness.” The shape said. that rush of sensation. as if in that instant of lapsed concentration she had lost hold of the thread of life and didn’t have the strength to recapture it. unwavering. “Shhh. quickly brushed the tears from her reddening eyes. she stopped breathing. the voice. She heard Tessa’s voice. unwilling to release– and then the shape behind her gently shifted her away.. and emotion. “No. unmoving.” Izzy leaned in. reached as far as Izzy and the shape that was covering her. still it reached into her mind. mixed crimson and blue. oh god. .. Izzy’s own breath held. lit with the intensity of the last bright flash of a dying light. Izzy closed her eyes reflexively. met Izzy’s and locked. “I can stop the round before it does any more damage. vicious tears as they came. I’m here. quiet. reached for her lover’s hand. It’s okay. what couldn’t have been real.zy. “No. fought against the burning. unsure of what to do. no. what had to be a hallucination. “Get off me!” Izzy shouted. It’s okay now.” Teeth came clear. Tessa. holding her. Its okay. couldn’t– she recoiled in fear. drawing endless... sucked in on the broken edges of a shocked and wet. struggled to throw it off. but still it held her. but it couldn’t have been.” “I–” Tessa’s eyes flicked suddenly to the side. For one terrible instant. baby. I–” “Baby.” Izzy shook her head. reached out and moved a loose strand of obsidian hair out of Tessa’s face. frightened.” She choked. the familiar tones reaching into her mind. her body fighting an internal struggle for survival. bared as pain ripped through her. watched as the shape. filled her with its thoughts. wide and terrified. “I can stop this. covered them with one hand. gasping breaths.” She tried. Tessa’s eyes stared on. “Iz. “Oh. . unable. hesitated. gently cupped one blood-spattered cheek. splashed the Cygnan.
“That’s all you need to know. ominous. the one who was and yet couldn’t be. “Ultima Thila. moved her hands over the dying Tessa’s chest and caught each tiny slug of living steel as they crawled out of wounds one by one. drawing themselves up into a sphere of swirling chrome that hung suspended. “Who are you?” Izzy managed.” . and for a moment.had saved her life. tossed the ball of chrome lightly over to her. lifting as if drawn by a magnet. seemed to grasp just enough of what had to be the terrifying truth to understand. who she couldn’t be. And then Izzy looked up. the extra years. Like liquid. they rose in rivulets and coalesced together in the center of her hand. the butchered hair– it was clear who the woman was.” The older Tessa smiled. None of the changes mattered. The other woman smiled softly and Izzy’s mouth dropped open. caught the eyes of the woman. she seemed to understand.
“The safest place right now is here. unprotected. drove dozens of tiny. keep the one that had taken out the Carl Sagan in her timeline from blowing its drive in this one. feeling the link that they had shared flooding back across her mind and into her very being had been like a fix too long denied. leading deep into systems that had been left open. let her eyes slip back to the younger Tessa’s features. Izzy looked away. the cool of rain brushing against a desert’s parched heat. suddenly lost.” The older Tessa looked over at her. The Coralate had no reason to fear infiltration– they --76-- . fumbled for words. sweet. the older Tessa pulled the device Blavatsky had given her from her belt and set it on the floor. of touching her. roving. looking beyond. . eyes lost. Baring teeth. Reality coalesced.” Izzy managed. she pressed her hands against the box’s interface points and reached into it with her mind. the more likely she could stop the warships cold. but gone too soon. keep them from moving away. reached back. almost mechanical precision. There wasn’t much time– the sooner she dived into the device. Izzy. looking in. swimming in a sea of the unknown. the shallow gasping of a body suspended at the edge of death. its systems came alive. “I’ve come too far to let you die again. glancing back at the younger Tessa. a refreshing release. Working quickly.” She hesitated. forced it to yield up its secrets. with me. grasping for control in a subset of mental reality where the reins of everything had been snapped suddenly into her hands with a quick. “We have to get out of here. All at once. and. . studied it with tired eyes. The memory of reconnecting with Izzy. a map of alien neurons tangled in the body of the Hok. solid. each set leading back to its respective ship.” Swallowing. each seeking out their own connections so fast that she was left reeling. dropped away and then reformed as a solid network. felt the smile drop away from her features. interfaced with it and let it do whatever magic was locked up inside of it. digital tentacles into her brain. “We have to get her to medical. smiled softly.Episode 44: Love and War Tessa closed her eyes and turned back to her younger self.
Slowly. the destruction a few simple thoughts had wrought– everything Cygnan that had once been living. blinked away the edges of tears as his gaze lingered on her spattered face. “We’ve got to go.” He swallowed. shook his head.” He glanced at Dimitrov. and their technology was so alien that humanity had never had even the slightest inkling of how to interface with it. tired legs all but gave out beneath her.” Murphy shot back. cerulean-stained hamburger. gasping body. they worked as one. collapsed back against wall as shaky.” A voice caught Tessa’s ear as she came back.” Tessa stumbled as she forced herself to stand. “The drive isn’t going to blow. Not today. she’s hurt.” “No time. crossed back to the younger Tessa. but that was four years in the future from the when she was stuck in now. almost didn’t care enough anymore to try. now. long veins of liquid steel slowed. became sluggish. “Copperfield. There would be no more death. “Come on. part of her smiled a smile of relief. left nothing living in their wake.were a group organism. Somewhere.” --77-- . now. “The admiral has the ship set for self destruct. Only the link that bound Tessa’s mind to the Hok’s drive stayed active and vital.” “Wait. everything they’d brought to the Hok. we’ll get you to your rig. Everything will be fine. but she couldn’t place it. like arteries hardening under the force of age.” Izzy stood. Until the Horus project. locking reactors. eyes coming back to meet Izzy’s as he offered her his hand. I’ve fixed it. she triggered the internal autonomic defense systems. Here. was dead or dying. The cavalry is coming. giving her total access. and that only long enough for her to bridge the connection the Coralate had been trying to make and disable the ship’s auto destruct. everything they’d infected the warship with. hurried words– the voice seemed vaguely familiar. watched impassively as they shredded every Coralate spread between the three ships into wet. the Coralate systems had laid themselves open for her. her tattered.” Ben’s eyes crossed to the younger Tessa. hung with her as she withdrew from the device and slumped weakly into herself. complying immediately as she shut them down one by one. “Ben. killing life support. One quick check revealed the extent of the devastation. sealing doors. stopped. “I need your help– we’ve got to get her to medical. Snatches of conversation. As the final coup de grâce. “She’s too far gone.
” But Dimitrov didn’t move. We’ve got minutes. Maybe. Dimitrov had pulled the trigger and hit her square in the chest with a blast that washed through her body like paralyzing light.” Izzy said suddenly. to move.” “That’s convenient. “I’m on special assignment. “We’ll sort this out later. “Ugh.” She managed. “Orders were issued. Before her lips could so much as open. his stare level. hesitating. “Experimental technology.” “Don’t trust her.” Ben said smoothly.” Ben shook his head. she reached out for Izzy. He stood there. let her disappear into another endless. to speak. coughed. and as darkness closed in. dropped her in an instant. “She can do things– I saw her move metal the way the Cygnans do. eyes flicking between the two officers. didn’t catch her. I’ve seen how this turns out. “How’d you get on board? I haven’t seen anything Gray Society on the Hok in over a year. begged silently. glanced over at Dimitrov.” Murphy again.” Murphy stared at her.” She made a gesture. “Who are you?” “Ultima Thila. . “I plan to live.” She shifted. glancing back. If she wants to chance it. Fingers spasmed. let her stay here. “Experimental my ass. struggled. immovable stare. firm. grabbed the wall with flat-palmed hands to catch herself. but you’re wrong. I’ve been through this before.“I don’t know where you’re getting your information. swirling abyss. --78-- . tried to make sense of what suddenly didn’t make sense. “No offense. sighed as he drew his stunner.” He locked the older Tessa with a firm. lost her balance for a moment. only turned away and let her fall into nothingness. eyes narrowing as he studied Tessa’s face in the half-light. “Come on. put a hand on his shoulder.” Murphy sneered.” “Trust me.” He swallowed. didn’t run.” There was no time to react. .” “We don’t have time for this.” “You’re crazy. but the other woman didn’t respond. Ben. Ben.” “Its an implant.
stunned. jamming her back up against the nearest wall.” Someone was saying. nothing– and then one of the leg-pairs she’d caught closed the distance. smiling softly. assessing.” Tessa swallowed. a familiar face dropping in.” Tessa blinked. One hand splayed out across the floor as she drew her other arm to her chest. picking up furniture and feet. assessing. touching.” Phoebe tried a smile. Above her. half hurt. . tried to force her mind toward calm. just relax. Lost. “Did you see. pivoting. .” “Then who is she?” Dimitrov stepped up. his mouth hanging open. . bending. put her hand out a little further. gathered up the open fabrics of the hospital gown that hung in place of her uniform and squeezed them in the ball of her fist. dispelled the initial shock in the space of a moment. . something moved. “H–hey. struggled to get a grip on who she was. half terrified. cocked his head. “Just.Episode 45: Losing Everything “She’s awake. She had nothing. “W hat? That thing isn’t who you think it is. Steel frames bent and parted like mist in her wake as she dropped to a crouch on cool deckplating. . Eyes flicked right to left. okay?” The younger woman swallowed. “My god. glanced at the silicon sheet in his hand. struggled with the fog of half-sleep. but it faltered as Tessa stared at her. she was on the floor. crossed her arms as Phoebe glanced back at her. It can’t be. where she was. movement of something chrome– and then. . “You’re among friends.” Izzy grumbled. Four people. almost seemed to study her as she stared back. “Physically. hand frozen over the ruined berth. feet moving.” “That’s debatable. gasped.” The doctor raised his eyebrows. the flash of white. the doctor stared on in mute shock. she’s Tessa Eisenherz. a handful of breaths. A hand reached out timidly. and left only the tattered edges of fear and confusion to whisper in its wake. one hand going absently to her lips. within the space of a blink. “Just with a few more miles and a --79-- . vision hazy at the edges. Four.
fighting to get to her feet. Phoebe swallowed. confusion. the edge of one eye twitching in the pause. Where am I?” “You’re in Medical. met the stare that flicked up to lock with his. “Where. “They’re both GMOs illegally serving with the Navy. hands going out as she put herself between them. “I haven’t seen anything like most of this. It’s beyond me. her eyes full of worry. Sucking in a broken.” Tessa’s voice came hoarse. met Tessa’s eyes solidly.” He paused. “One of the tests I did was a code integrity and telomere length screening. “Both the major and the lieutenant commander. something they both have. both Tessa Eisenherzs. teeth bared.” Phoebe tackled Tessa as the older woman lunged for the doctor. slapping a low-dosage cool-down patch against her arm. Eyes darted up. frothed and spat. “You bastard! You bastard!” “Careful with her.” “Pregnant?” Izzy shot back. screaming.” He let it hang.” The doctor was beside her a second later.” “I’m right here. Izzy and Dimitrov were there. Doctor?” Ben crossed his arms.” “You bastard. our older Eisenherz. . do you understand me?” “What is it. frightened breath. screaming.” “There’s something else. In an instant. catching --80-- . She swallowed as old memories crashed through her mind. .” The Hok. “But instead of discovering that this. staring at the doctor. “Ben. Aboard the Hok. hands flexing. biting. Tessa bit her lip. stared.” He shrugged. “God only knows. I found something else.” Tessa all but growled.” The doctor’s brows knit as he looked at Tessa.C. mixed with the currents of newer memories. “You leave her out of this. standard procedure on the core worlds to protect the government from infiltration and espionage by clones of politicians and aides with their own agendas. half losing her grip for an instant. “There’s something else– She’s pregnant. . L. Eyes flicked up to Dimitrov’s. each working to pin the major as she fought them.” “Is the techware what allows her to manipulate metal like that?” Phoebe asked. locked. clawing as the lieutenant struggled to hold her down. hugged her flimsy clothing against her chest. she swallowed. shrieking.lot more techware in her. was a copy as I originally assumed. are marked. Both of them have DNA coding tagged with crossover-proof ownership idents. . turning back to the doctor. shaky. locked with Phoebe’s.
. carefully measured waves. “But who–” She glanced back at Tessa. Slowly. standing. bloodshot eye. let her curl up on the floor.” Izzy sneered. this thing. I stopped the shards.” She tried.” Tessa hesitated.” “I couldn’t.” She swallowed past the shakiness. . shivered a --81-- . “We’re still waiting to get back the results on the paternity test. she struggled back against the wall. . rubbed at his eyes. “Izzy.” the doctor managed. I. . .” “Shut up!” The other woman shouted back.” “She’s going to be on life support for the rest of her life. lost and broken. stared back. “Are you sure?” The doctor nodded. . collapsed in on herself. became weak.” Phoebe tried. “Why?” “I. How could she. Tessa. “Yeah. . righted herself and hugged her knees against her chest. “If it wasn’t for this.” Think.” “There’s no question that they were stopped. . . Tessa’s eyes flicked between each gaze as it fixed on her. Within seconds.” “But I.” He swallowed. stood. tried to force steel into her voice. killed the major’s anger in cool. “No!” Izzy knocked the other woman’s hands away. ? I remember stopping the shards. thanks to you. .” The doctor managed. glanced at the doctor with one wet.” Izzy growled. . . Tessa wouldn’t be fighting for her life right now. After you died. . “I don’t know yet.Tessa’s arm again and holding her as the patch took hold. I’m so sorry. “It’s a matter of when they were stopped. carefully. teeth coming free of lips.” Tessa tried. “I’m her next of kin. . brushed a hand quick across moist eyes. flashing white as they let her go. working her way up the wall.” “And. “Okay. tired sigh. “Can I see her?” The doctor glanced at Izzy. She wouldn’t be hooked to a fucking army of life support machines. . back against cold tile. and you know it! You should have stayed where you came from! You should have stayed out of my life!” “Izzy. . . and there are a lot of men in the Commonwealth. We’re starting with members of Ultima Thila.” The doctor breathed a long. “She. reaching out. since privacy is out of the question. “Unless she tells us. but we might not find our match there. . I. “It should have been me! It should have. it could be hours before we know. swallowed. “She’d be here. stared viciously at the crumpled form laying weak at her feet. saw the moistness in eyes as tears budded suddenly. . eyes worried. . let his eyes flick back. Tessa went limp. grew. She’d be here.” He gestured loosely.“Since. gibbering into her hands.
“Can I at least have my clothes back?” --82-- .little as it caught in her throat.
” The younger Tessa managed. that need to be said. . “Can we have a moment alone?” She asked reflexively. opened her mouth to say something. then turned her eyes to the woman she loved. whispering: This could be you. that bizarre mirror of a self that almost seemed to taunt her. . nodded once. “P-lease. okay?” “Yeah. baby. “There are things. kept her waiting. Tessa swallowed. . if you need me. her younger self stared back. eyes seeking her older self. . the pain. looked away.” She looked up. The major swallowed.” “Okay. there was something other than hatred in her gaze. but before the words would come. the confusion. squeezed her lover’s hand again. sniffed past the tears. eyes moving to stare at the floor rather than look too long into that cybernetic nightmare. . “I. This is you. “I love you too. Turning away. --83-- . .” Izzy smiled past new tears. Izzy’s eyes caught against the older Tessa’s for an instant.” “I love you. and for that bare moment. need this. breathed a tired sigh. “Are you sure about this?” “Yeah. the Tessa who lay broken and gasping against tubes and machinery on the hospital berth.Episode 46: Future Introspection “My god. the half smile. The younger Tessa met her eyes. Sucking in each wet breath with the gasping rattle of the dying.” Came the tired response.” Izzy swallowed. the years that had etched themselves that much deeper into her face. Izzy. reached for the younger Tessa’s hand as the major closed her eyes.” The other woman tried a smile.” Words caught in Tessa’s throat as she stared down at a bleary-eyed reflection of herself that looked somehow older. somehow more feeble and aged than seemed possible. something other than the blame. Izzy was gone. Izzy grimaced. watched her from the tomb of tubes and chrome that kept her alive. Hang in there. lingering on her butchered hair. Izzy. “I’ll be right outside.
the changes.. --84-- . “A lot’s happened in the past four years. wet at the edges with new tears. She talked about her training. The major’s smile softened a little. As she talked.” “Hey. coughed. . or something. squeezed the other woman’s hand. Tell me about how you ended up with the Gray Society.” She coughed again. “Even if I was going to live. the spider-like legs of the apparatus clinging to her younger self’s chest and throat.” The younger Tessa coughed. gone in the whisper of a door. I. “I heard them say. breathed. eyes squeezing against the pain. sputtered an apologetic laugh. considering I’m from the future and all. the lacings. just touching.” The major managed a broken smile. The major swallowed. reached out. Tessa’s mind went back to the years she’d stumbled through after losing Izzy. eyes working silently.” “You’ve already changed the way things turn out. “Yeah.” Her younger self croaked back..” The major shook her head.” The younger Tessa shot back. . You’ve got a lot to live for. the younger Tessa stirred. turned back. .” The younger Tessa hesitated. “Ben Dimitrov?” “Yeah.” “Yeah.” “Dimitrov?” Her younger self coughed again. “Okay. Her older self crossed her arms. .. you’re pregnant. and as the older Tessa glanced at her.. “Want to know who you eventually hooked up with?” The younger Tessa bit her lip.” The older Tessa smiled softly. pulled in a shaky breath.” “Just. hey.” She sighed.. “We’re alone. there came a moment of relief. the major looked away again.” “Don’t lie to yourself. “Our grandmother told you that. of understanding. “Who.” Sitting lightly on the edge of the berth. her work within the TALENT program.. eyes wandering toward the ceiling. the highlights. moving at the speed of memory. but I guess.the wall of her emotionless back disappearing behind a corner. seeing Ben again. she ran through the years like a blade across ice. . who’s the father?” Chuckling. Beside her. framing the edges of her face. the transfer to the Hephaestus. none of that. .” She managed. worked the folds around the tubes. “Tell me about some of it. “Long story you probably shouldn’t hear. still bleary with blood. being there for him as he suffered through his own loss. absently tucked the edges of the blanket into the berth. “You’ll get better. “It’s Dimitrov. sputtered against the equipment. she did.
“Do it. about Panem. “Don’t make us suffer any longer. and for the barest space of an instant. She talked about playing the saxophone. the self that had looked back on these days and the person she had been with a sort of acceptant nostalgia. her younger self reached out. Izzy and Phoebe hot on his heels– and even then she kept squeezing.” “Yeah. caught her hand. “We both know that I would never want to go on living this way. locked eyes with hers. crossed her chest to stare down at a spot between tear-wet lids. snapped into her older self’s open hand. --85-- . The muzzle rose. her triumphs. kept putting lead into the ruined face of her younger self. “They won’t wait forever. The single edge of a tear-trail traced its way across her cheek. laughing. “Tessa. and the lock on the emergency case across the bay where regulations required a handgun with a full clip of twelve rounds to be stored turned to putty. about the admiral. hesitated.” Was all her older self could say. the major. You know what you have to do. met Izzy’s terrified. The younger Tessa closed her eyes. tear-wet stare. about Myyaelae and a thousand other things until. sometimes smiling.” Came her younger self’s hoarse whisper. She looked away. to push words into the air. emotionless. When the first empty click came.the strength he gave as she suffered endlessly through hers. dropped to spatter on the collar of her black uniform.” The doctor came rushing back into the bay before the third round had even cleared the muzzle. One gesture with her hand. Tessa dropped the gun.” She managed. sometimes crying. swallowed. into the support equipment. rolled off onto the floor. leader of Freyja squadron and hardened by years in Ultima Thila. “It’s done. No one knew Tessa better than her older self. finally. almost whispered as her eyes darted across the bay and back again. swallowed as the weapon cleared the distance.” She fought to breathe. reliving her mistakes.” She swallowed. and the words came flat. They’ll be back soon. the berth. hesitated.
but for who? The soft and familiar hands of a Phoebe so young it hurt passed off orders to a guard at the door. Everything took a firm backseat to the data and hardware Tessa had brought back. hesitated. Tessa cocked her head a little. or at least some vision of it.” she tried.” She said softly. the questions it all raised. it didn’t matter that she’d saved Izzy or knocked out two Coralate warships and handed them over to the Commonwealth in pristine condition– the brass were still arguing about what to do with her. . nodded. and everyone was terrified.” “Mm. “It was your idea. wrapped her hands around them. . pulling in a shaky breath.” “Yeah. half expecting a messenger for the brass. “Hey. the intel they’d found in the satchel she’d brought back with her. “Yeah. then crossed to the bars. watched the other woman out of the corner of a single tired eye. Phoebe sniffed.” Looking away. “You’re a major now. Everyone knew the future now. smiled feebly. “They pulled the.” “Ultima Thila too.” Phoebe swallowed. barely functional rig had been dragged into the bay for the techs to crawl over and pick apart. “So. A better world. the hardware. actually. “Hey. . sure. . The whole ship is --86-- . Even her beaten. the recording from medical. turned to regard the other woman with both eyes.Episode 47: Always Darkest Night found Tessa sitting in the far corner of the Hok’s dimly-lit brig.” Phoebe nodded. Ben had said. about what to do with the data. the edges of a soft smile. an armed guard with orders to shoot her or drag her away for questioning. It didn’t matter that she’d saved the entire crew of the Carl Sagan from the death that had caught up to them in her own timeline.” Tessa shifted. leaving the mine still jutting out of the Hok’s side like the shattered edge of a knife. Yeah. hesitating before she forced the words that were hanging like tattered flags from the edges of her soul. Tessa looked up as doors whispered open. arm laying limp across one raised knee.
and now there are two of you. . she reached for her old lover. I changed things here. but the one I feel like I know is dead. in your timeline. didn’t even look up as the door whispered open again.talking about it.” Tessa swallowed. its weird. We’re all dead. in your timeline. like a child. Tessa got to her feet. pressed a hand against hers. made a loose gesture. “I’ve fixed things. It will set things right. stare as hard as iron.” She trailed off. “The information I brought back will win us the war before we lose all of the people that the Coralate butchered in my timeline.“Izzy.” The younger woman said softly. I really hope you are. “I still don’t understand how you’re alive. the Cygnans will change tactics and we’ll be in the dark again. everyone. then fell silent. “y’know.” Tessa’s eyes dropped to the floor. Slowly.” She hesitated. “It’s good to see you.” “You’re right. half afraid to put thought into words. met the major’s eyes carefully. Izzy. . “I heard that. . her voice caught. In the quiet pause.” Tessa’s voice came quiet. . Izzy. “I’m sorry. It was hard to hold the other woman’s gaze. that wasn’t me.” “The future is meant to be uncertain.” “I hope so. you’ve changed things. blinked past fresh tears. “For me. “When my Tessa died.” “You read too much science fiction.” Tessa smiled softly. smile fading to darkness. now. . You’ve been here all along. “She wasn’t you. Phoebe. the woman she’d never forgotten.” --87-- . .” Phoebe managed. the woman she’d given everything to save. Phoebe. but that’s all.” Tessa swallowed past the edges of tears. . I’ve changed things for the better. the fierce hatred stabbing from her eyes.” “Maybe. half sneered as she looked the major up and down. I left my timeline behind. .” “Yeah. held the other woman’s stare even as she looked away. Me. “When I came back here. “But as you said. then looked up. “The other Tessa. eyes flicking back.” “I know. but everything after that is still up to us. timidly.” She made a frustrated gesture.” Izzy said flatly. “Hey. crossed to Phoebe’s side.” Izzy stepped up to the bars.” She crossed her arms. .” Tessa glanced back up. The minute we act on your information.” She swallowed again.” Came the hoarse whisper. “It won’t happen that way this time. shouldn’t you have disappeared or faded away or just. .
struggled with words that refused to come.” Another pause. The tears came silent. Tessa’s mouth drifted open. “Did you really think you could just waltz back into the past with a body full of futuristic techware and make everything all better!? Just cozy up to your old love and live life like nothing’s happened!?” She all but spat.” Izzy stepped out of reach. The major closed her eyes. no– you had to take it a step further. the blueskins have slaughtered billions. hero of the fucking Commonwealth!” She made a harsh gesture. one hand hesitating on the bars. to Earth. Major. “Huh!? Did you!?” “Izzy. concern. “Dust. the strength she associated with her LC.” Izzy shot back. glared at her. cold. and even that has been burned to a cinder. the lieutenant shot Tessa one last vicious look. You weren’t happy with being born an abomination.” She snarled. Izzy!” “And doesn’t that just make you such a fucking hero!” Izzy shouted. left it to hang frigid and bitter as she turned away. uh. arms dropping back to her sides. tried to find something to say. might give Tessa the strength Phoebe had come to love in her. eyes touched at the edges with a moistness. “I don’t know you. “Big damn Major Eisenherz. I’ve read your file. hands tightening to wet.” Phoebe tried. unable to form words even as Izzy stomped off. confused. thick. tone hard. an affront to God’s design. tears dropping free across cheeks. desperate fists. anything that might fix the damage that had been done. slammed a fist against the retreating door before it could open completely. . turned away. and --88-- .” She pressed herself against the bars. hid her eyes with her other hand. “It’s me. billions! Humanity has been pushed back to one planet.” She whispered. “I watched you kill her. “You’re worse than she ever was. Phoebe’s own mouth worked in the silence as her voice tried to find words. the one in the database they recovered from your rig. lips hesitating. the woman you love!” “The woman I love is dead.” Half turning away. y’know. didn’t you? You had to change yourself more! You had to become a machine filled with alien parts that pervert your body in ways that are offensive beyond words!” “Izzy. “She’s hurt. Tessa. wiped desperate at tears. “That’s right. “In my timeline. Your Pope’s cathedral is dust in my timeline!” She shouted. . Not even the Martian Vatican still stands. crouching beside the bars.” Tessa’s own arm returned to the bars. dropping as Tessa collapsed into a crouch. “She. She just watched you die.” She hesitated. for all of us. it’s me. For us. “I did this for you. “She doesn’t really hate you.“Don’t touch me.
When they finally broke away again. glanced sideways at the younger woman. it was slow.” She swallowed again. depthless and staring.” She swallowed. . and then their lips met. . shook her head.” She swallowed. caught the other woman’s hand. . Phoebe shook her head. struggled. breathing into each other.” --89-- . died as she sniffed. The younger woman closed her eyes. though. reaching. . “Yeah. “And yet. gently pressing. . “Tessa.” Phoebe swallowed. left her breathless. this place. locked.” The major glanced back again. nothing really ever turns out the way we plan. stood again. . reluctant. fingers weaving into Tessa’s fingers. . unable to do anything but caress the other woman’s cheek. tried again. carefully. Phoebe closed her eyes.” Tessa whispered. wrestled with herself. sucked in a sudden. “There is one thing I’d like to know for sure. I wasn’t even aiming for this point in the timeline. gently tracing a finger along the line of Phoebe’s jaw. “That’s life.” “How close?” Phoebe breathed. tasting the sun. . hesitated.” There was no answer. to put her thoughts into words. . Her heart caught in her throat. she moved back to the bars. isn’t it?” The edge of a laugh snuck past her lips.you’re so different from the Tessa we know.” She trailed off.” Phoebe closed her eyes.” “No.. so clear and blue. tried to mask tears as they flooded in. palms touching. Phoebe hesitated in the pause. met the younger woman’s eyes as she hesitated. you’re so similar. “And yet. locked in a kiss that held them both immobile for an instant. “It’s not a stupid question.” Tessa stood. . you and I. I. desperate breath. . forget it. Slowly. “When Izzy died. poured suddenly through tight-held lids.. “I’m sorry. “This close. found herself unable to speak again. put an end to it before any of this could even happen. but. . . “Did we. wiped at her eyes. ? Did we ever.” Tessa turned away again.” She shook her head. Phoebe. pulled in a long.” Tessa sniffed. if Izzy. coming up against the bars. “I didn’t plan for any of this to turn out the way it did.” “I know. “I mean. “That’s.” She swallowed. ?” “You mean. “W e got a little close. looked away. closed her eyes. lost suddenly as the other woman opened her eyes. . . . tired breath. it’s a stupid question. came up against them. I was trying to get to Earth before the war even started. only silence as Tessa looked away again. hesitated. wiped at her own eyes. Phoebe. necessary. “You know what. .
” Tessa managed the barest smile. turned back to face Tessa fully. . it’s.“It’s okay. shaky.” She wiped at her tears. nodded once. “I can. . right?” “Right. .” She swallowed. “The future is meant to be uncertain. . managed the edge of a glance.” “Okay. “So where. hesitated. “Where does this leave us?” “Right here. .” --90-- . I can live with that. voice coming hoarse. .” The younger woman tried. “Just this.” Phoebe tried a smile of her own.
“I’ve done my duty. “Major Eisenherz. and she smiled accordingly.” Tessa nodded immediately. I’ve set things right. felt right. brown and harsh-edged face darkening quietly. If this was a court. breathed.Episode 48: Final Inquisition. a useless formality. not end more of them. fingers steepled. treason and intent to undermine the structure of command within the military. the six captains of the six warships that had come together in the system sat like a tribunal. Lieutenant Commander Tessa Eisenherz. shifted into a more casual position. let them lead her. breach of the conventions of New Arahal prohibiting temporal displacement with intent to modify the course of events. That’s all that matters. it was a joke. She was up and on her feet before hands could grab her. Above her. The man she recognized as Kongar-Ool.” Several of the captains glanced at each other. sleepless monotony of laying on the scratchy cot. and theft of experimental military technology in the form of the Seindrive V Stormfury. No one told her where they were taking her– she simply walked. Part 1 It was morning when the guards came for Tessa. “You can only kill me once. “You have been accused of murder in the first degree of one.” Tessa’s stare stayed strong.” --91-- . Admiral Virek sat quietly at the head of the table. leaned back in his chair. each shuffling through their own set of files on silicon. hardly even looked up as they crossed the ship. didn’t fight her captors.” The admiral met her stare levelly. captain of the Feynman. How do you plead? “Guilty. admiral. She’d come back to save lives.” She bared teeth in a half-grin. but she went along with it anyway. crossed his arms. catch her shoulders and twist her hands into synthplastic cuffs. the rattle of composite and boots as they opened her cage almost a welcome change from the dim. hesitated. refused to waver. brought her to a conference room and pressed her into a seat. “You realize that the penalty for being found guilty of even one of these charges is death. “On all counts. Locking eyes with him came natural. Virek blinked.
and even more that we could learn about the major’s own enhancements.” The look Kyme shot her was half stunned. “I’d rather die than be one of your lab rats. half furious. pushed her resolve back into place. Virek sighed. openly and willingly defying the laws passed in council over fifty years ago. do you have anything to say in your own defense?” Tessa’s lips parted on the edge of words.” He glanced at the door. “I move that this court stop dodging the point and pass sentence now. “The instructions. gestured. crossed to the door and keyed it open. “There is still a lot about the Stormfury that we don’t know. “With all due respect. Virek glanced at one of the guards standing behind Tessa. Yuuki Kohta. Tessa hesitated under the force of his stare. The sergeant moved like clockwork.” He paused. another Captain slammed down his packet of silicon sheets and crossed his arms. Before she could speak. a woman was shouting. glanced at his stack of silicon. . She shook her head. Virek glanced at her. everything you would ever need to know is in the files I brought back with me. the research. “The laws as they stand hold that an unborn child shall not be condemned along with its mother in the case of a death sentence. met her gaze evenly. “Sergeant Dougherty. but the sound was cut off by a sudden scuffle outside the conference room.” Another captain offered– Kyme of the Constantine. “I say we grant its wish and put it out of its misery before it can bring the abomination it is carrying into our world. She recognized the captain. Major Tessa Eisenherz is a genetically modified organism that has been serving in the Navy illegally for years.” “Fuck that. two voices struggling to overpower one another. Captain of the Carl Sagan.” He gestured fiercely.” “There’s also the matter of your child. the stares of the assembled officers. “Major Eisenherz. “Do you really want your daughter to grow up an orphan?” Tessa hesitated.” Tessa swallowed under the force of his words.” Virek added suddenly. . swallowed. something vague and angry that ended with “–you --92-- . Bastard. admiral. lips parting for words that wouldn’t come. even as he stared back at her with a look somewhere on the edge of pure hatred. It’s clear that this thing wants to die.” Tessa said evenly.“The sentence of death could be commuted for an indefinite period of service at one of the Navy’s experimental research facilities. Shouting lanced into the silence. so different from the easy smile of his file photo.” He looked directly at Tessa. Beyond the threshold.
She breathed a tired sigh. and there are things the brass in there need to know before they pass any kind of judgement on her.” Izzy shot back. and the two people ready to crucify me before anyone else are the captain whose ship I saved and the woman I loved enough to go back in time for. Ma’am?” “Thank fucking. “Virek?” The old admiral nodded. there most certainly is. “What seems to be the problem. finally. . voice as hard as iron. but this is a closed. I’m sorry. .” The woman spat back.” Dougherty shifted. Tessa closed her eyes. met Izzy’s smoldering brown eyes as she crossed to the center of the room. . .” “Let her speak. steeled her heart against the coming storm. watched the woman for a moment. turned to stand before the assembled officers. took it in stride. “Is there something you would like to say. Just what I need. pressed back into his seat. smooth as an hiss. Tessa closed her eyes. Here I am about to die for saving the human race. Lieutenant?” “Yes. . --93-- . “Agreed.” Kyme glanced at the admiral even as Yuuki crossed his arms. let herself sag forward in her seat.” “Ma’am. . I know Eisenherz better than anyone else on any of the ships here. Admiral.” Kongar-Ool insisted suddenly.fucking white-glove command assholes. She looked up as Virek made a gesture. The admiral was the first to speak. “I need to get in there.
both as a friend and as a lover. As a friend. “I fell in love with her because of the person she is. “In the years that I have known her.” Izzy glanced at each captain in turn. someone I could see spending my life with. One thought blasted through her. She is an officer who genuinely cares about her squadron. addressing the officers seated around her. watching her. Behind her. a lover. Tessa breathed a quiet sigh. she is unparalleled. and her support staff. hung on in her mind even as the other woman continued. “Suffice it to say. in this room. I have always been an advocate for genetic purity and a devout Catholic.” She paused. No way. one of the most hardened critics of GMO rights have been convinced.” She cracked the edge of a smile. tried to lose herself enough to dull the blade she knew Izzy’s words would drive into her heart. I am the last person you might expect to take a stand for someone like Major Eisenherz. that to condemn someone based solely on their ancestry is the only true abomination here. tried to lose herself in memories of happier times. Tessa is a friend.” --94-- . and it wasn’t until very recently that.” She looked down. the way her hair fell across it as she spoke. Virek steepled his hands again. Part 2 “As you may or may not know.Episode 49: Final Inquisition. I discovered she was a person of genetically modified ancestry. the person that is Major Tessa Eisenherz.” Izzy began.” Tessa’s eyes snapped open and she looked up reflexively. No way. glanced back. stared at Izzy’s back. the firmness of it. fingers touching lips as the lieutenant continued. like you. that she was the very thing I had crusaded against for so long and called abomination in front of so many people. “As a soldier. breathed a sigh in the pause. challenges us on the beliefs we hold and urges us to question the things that we do in His name that are not in the spirit of His teachings. “I have come to see the person beyond the flesh. “The Lord works in mysterious ways. she is loyal and more supportive than anyone I have ever known. as even I. but I hope that the conviction with which I defend her humanity will convince you. her subordinates. and she keeps a cleaner house than I do. To me. He tests us. bit her lip lightly.
. Jewish. tears forming at the edges. .” “You’re right. but found a new target in Izzy.” Izzy paused again. Only Kongar-Ool was smiling. at the very least. levelly. “But the validity of the major as a person does not address the other charges that have been brought before this court. as so many of us can. Yuuki’s stare of hatred had softened. made a soft gesture. half smiling. “Treason and intent to undermine the structure of command– that comes entirely from the fact that the major willingly lied about her heritage and served with the Navy illegally for six years in her own timeline. “While other genetically modified citizens of the Commonwealth have been content to be barred from military service. of course. someone who deserves our respect even now. “Captain Kongar-Ool is. “As a woman who has the right to vote and as a person who comes from a family which claims. Captain.” She paused. African. this woman stood up in the tradition of so many rights activists that have come before in our checkered history as a species and defied the unjust laws of the past century. and that indeed we still have work to do if we are ever going to come together in a society where everyone is truly equal. risking her very life to serve the Commonwealth to the best of her ability in any way she could manage. her strength to persevere and show us as citizens of the Commonwealth. breathed. “To you. and his was a thin line of respect that curved slightly at the edges.Eyes moistened.” Izzy paused. glanced at the ground. for her service to the Commonwealth and in the light of her recent actions. and I’m glad you brought that up. two by our reckoning.” A few of the captains glanced at each other. The very fact that she has ascended to the rank of major within Ultima Thila is a testament to her value as a soldier. referring to charges such as the theft of experimental military technology. an act which some may condemn but which I believe to be courageous on the level of bonafide heroism.” Izzy began again. she is a soldier without parallel. clearing her throat. pulled in a shaky breath. Irish. roots in cultures and ethicities that were once discriminated against. “If you’ll check the transcript records on data article 227 slash B among the materials --95-- .” “Your point is well made.” Kongar-Ool said firmly. Native American.” She breathed a sigh. namely the Stormfury which everyone is so excited about and Seindrive is already suing for control of. that we are not so enlightened as we might like to believe. whispered quietly among themselves for a moment. I applaud Eisenherz for her bravery. “I’ve read the charges as they stand.
The other Captain sputtered. locked eyes with her.” Izzy smiled again. dated March first. Virek tapped his steepled fingers against his lips.” Silence dropped in to fill the pause. giving up a life and several years of her existence in order to save all of us. especially the last piece. hesitated. “That still leaves the matter of the murder.” He turned back to Tessa. thanks to Major Eisenherz?” KongarOol grinned sharply. “Admiral. “Our major was under orders to do everything she has done. approved and confirmed by the deceased’s next of kin. making it a private matter and dismissing the need for an investigation. is it not true that the historical records brought back by the major show that your entire ship was destroyed by its proximity to a detonation of the core of a Coralate warship. indeed one of the warships that is now safely in our possession. I move that this court be dismissed and the major be exonerated of all charges. “It is the least we can do after the sacrifices she has made. which states. “I’d say that wraps up the charges of theft and of breaking the conventions with intent to modify the course of events.” The edge of a smile pulled at her lips. yet again. glared.recovered from Major Eisenherz’ person when she was admitted to Medical yesterday. fought for words. Kongar-Ool’s smile softened. it falls under voluntary and acceptable suicide as witnessed. indeed the entirety of the --96-- . and I quote: ‘I hereby order the pilot Tessa Eisenherz to act outside the conventions of New Arahal and cross over into the past in an attempt to avert or significantly improve our chances in the war that history will come to know as The Cygnus War. but his rebuttal didn’t come fast enough.” “In cases of extreme disability where the quality of life of an individual is significantly reduced.’” She paused. 2308. “Of course. I move that the court dismiss all of this evidence. that individual has the right to request and be administered euthanasia. you’ll notice that there is a copy of a signed order made by Admiral Blavatsky herself.” “This is ridiculous!” Yuuki made a sharp. wet her lips anxiously. curt gesture. as having no relevance to the situation at hand. and since it was Tessa Eisenherz herself who did it. “I can’t think of any form of euthanasia more effective than twelve nine millimeter rounds administered to the brain. became almost proud. and she has performed her duty with distinction. is that not correct?” The admiral nodded. “Admiral. Glancing up at the admiral. It is clear that–” “Captain Yuuki.
” He made a quick gesture to the guard. “Do you have anything to add.” Virek nodded at both Yuuki and Kongar-Ool in turn. her smile. “Very well. please. Izzy.” “I appreciate your enthusiasm. This court is adjourned until tomorrow at 08:00 hours. the tears there. “No. a soft acknowledgment. love. regarded Tessa carefully. “But I think that it is still too early to make a final. --97-- .” Was all the other woman could manage to say. return the prisoner to her cell.Commonwealth as it stands.” He paused. No sir. even in the light of Lieutenant Copperfield’s rousing speech. at which point we will have our decision. Major Eisenherz?” Tessa swallowed. “Thanks. Tessa caught Izzy’s eyes. offered the most loving look she could manage. then dropped his stack of silicon sheets against the table. formal decision. the burning hatred mixing with confusion. Tessa smiled back. Captains. Tears had left thick trails across her cheeks.” “You’d do the same for me.” Standing. fear. the conflicting emotions.” Virek nodded once. “Sergeant Dougherty.
. “Tessa. shuffle. The voice tried again: “Tessa. “I couldn’t believe it when they pulled it off the audio in medical. Beyond the cage.Episode 50: Life and Death “Eisenherz. I know the medications she’s on. wishing you could see her again. Jesus. “Look. shook his head. Dimitrov sighed.” Her eyes narrowed. “I mean.” She stood.” “It’s just–” “I know all about Theo. gave one last twitch outward. Ben?” Beyond the composite bars of the brig. if my fiancé ever found out about this.” Tessa didn’t react.” Ben stepped up to the bars and wrapped his hands around them. Ryan if it’s a boy. how she used to tell you who you could see. Laying on the cot. half the time cursing the day you met her. then balled into a loose fist. picked absently at the blanket. “You told me all about Theo when we were together. began to pace. we need to talk.” She looked away again. Tessa. half the time worshiping her. Ben. smiled softly. “When things first started getting serious between you and I. Tessa’s fingers stopped moving. she stared at one hand. I know.” “Why not. A baby?” He looked away. just continued to watch her hand. “Right?” She looked up. crossed to the bars. how she’s already picked out names for the children you’ll have some day. “Tessa. I know about the baby. don’t do this. hesitantly. “I saw what she did to you.” “What is there to talk about?” She managed. she heard the man hesitate. but after the doctor confirmed it with a paternity test. who you could talk to or smile at when you were living together. the anti--98-- .” Ben finally said. I. “You decided you wanted to talk about it. “Yeah. but didn’t meet his eyes. . Courtney or maybe Debra if it’s a girl. Slowly. you couldn’t stop talking about her. .” He hesitated.” “She’d be livid. Tess. Ben. didn’t respond.” Tessa sat up slowly. .
jabbing his finger at her. Everyone has problems.” He looked at her firmly. “That was someone else. I fixed your wing. “You can’t know that!” “I’m a good listener. “Dammit.” “This isn’t.” He shot back.” She said flatly. but if they work at it. “How do you think we got together? You were a wounded bird.” he gestured.” “I can tell you his name.” “Not Theo. they can overcome them. “Never Theo. as we speak.” “I’m not aborting. multiple times. fine. Tessa!” He spun back. Geoffrey Chambers is the ass that is going to steal her away from me. “Us. “She’s going to break your heart. hesitated.” “No you won’t. he doesn’t even exist in this timeline! There’s just this. just stop it!” He broke away from the bars. “Tessa.” He said firmly. pulling one of the old mothballed Slashdrivers out of long term storage and dropping orbital. the anti-psychotics–” “Stop. Look him up. “Theo and I will overcome them. “We had sex. but she won’t leave me.” She pressed herself against the bars. “The guy Theo is already falling for.” He stopped. we had some great sex.” He shook his head. .” “Tough shit. okay!?” He shot back.depressants. shaking his head. Right now he’s supervising the construction of a bypass about fifteen miles from where your wife is currently living.” he shot back. . .” He shook his head. “I have a doctor outside the --99-- . You want to hear it?” He hesitated. fine.” “You want to talk about failed relationships. “Sure. fine!” He pointed at her. glanced at the floor. to respond.” She laughed. “You used to talk about transferring to the station there. “She won’t. “You don’t have a choice. me. “I’m not here to talk about Theo!” He shook his head. Ben.” “That wasn’t me. Theo may have left him.” She said. the guy she’s probably fucking right now. . “Enough. then accidently putting a couple of rounds of flak–” “Enough. Ben. Ben. she has her problems. and I’m not going to break that promise. unable to move. “I still don’t want the baby.” Tessa said flatly. “Theo is going to leave me. gesturing fiercely. “Geoffrey Chambers.” He threw his hands in the air. “I already promised a more stand-up version of you that I’d bring her into the world.” “Jesus. burying his face in his hands.” He hesitated. He works as a civil engineer on Carridan IV.” She shot back. crossed the room.
” “She’s a baby.” “I won’t let this go. and I have the baby anyway.” She said softly. There was one thing she could do for him. Tessa. you’re young. one way to make him happy again.” He said firmly. “It’s not.” He shook his head. it will destroy me. the disgust.” Dimitrov shot back. as the co-contributor to the fetus’ genetic template. crossed out of the room to the door and called in the doctor. the doctor outside has the pills you need to put an end to this. “If you have this baby. “This just isn’t the time. but only because I love you.” “Equal rights doesn’t mean full rights.” “At least it’s a future. “You’re right.” Tessa shook her head. my relationship with my family. “Fine. .” She tried. “Just.” She gestured.” He swallowed. Everyone from here to Proxima is going to want to get their hands on you or her because of who you are.door that says. the fear.” She shot back.” She tried a smile. “Look. okay?” “And if I refuse?” “Don’t do this. but his point had left her softer. It’ll destroy my relationship with Theo. pulled a synthplastic case of pills from his breast pocket. “I don’t want things to get nasty between us. then slipped away. shook several into the palm of his hand. blinked as new tears broke. “It means we agree to disagree. --100-- . “Not a curse.” He shook his head.” She looked away as he continued. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it. looked into his eyes and saw the iron there. to solve things so they could go their separate ways and never see each other again. the techware you’re carrying. Tessa. “Bring him in. The man smiled lightly as he stepped up to the bars. I’m just not the right father.” Ben managed.” He shook his head.” She looked up at him then. . not really. “Jesus Christ. “She’s the daughter of a gene-freak that slipped back in time with a body full of crazy technology. and I swear I’ll leave you alone. You’re not. triggered the moistness of tears at the edges of her eyes. Tess.” “Look. breathed a sigh through his nose. at least think about the screwed up future she’s going to have. This won’t be your only shot at having a kid. I have equal rights. dropped in thick trails across her cheeks.” “Yeah. Ben.” “She’s genetically modified. just take the pills.” “Good.
” Ben swallowed. “I need to stop pretending that you are. met the doctor’s eyes again almost reluctantly. hoarse. nodded. As she looked up again. Ben swallowed apprehensively. “That easy.” “Yeah. “You’re not him. “These things are never easy. Words came shaky. slipped the case back into his pocket as she let them roll around her own palm.“Take three of these. half iron. one in four hours.” She looked at him pointedly. breathed through the pause. “Sure. I’d like a little privacy. turned away. The pills disappeared into her fist.” “Save it. huh?” The doctor looked at her pointedly.” He handed them to her. “Sorry.” She made a vague gesture. features tinged with sympathy.” Tessa glanced at the pills in her hand. “I’m about to kill our child. shifted.” --101-- . and the other tomorrow morning with breakfast.” He managed. fixing him with a stare that was half hurt.” She looked down. “Do you mind?” She said finally. the doctor nodded once softly. “One now.
“You are hereby exonerated of all crimes.” Virek began.” An exhale escaped Tessa that she didn’t even know she’d been holding. and no mention of time travel will be made in any of the associated reports.” He let his eyes drop to the silicon sheets in front of him. her smile already fading. “In the light of the value of the intelligence Major Eisenherz has provided. Izzy glanced at her from the sidelines. almost tinged with concern. “Officially. our own reviews of transcripts and a recent communique confirming Admiral Blavatsky’s input code on the orders to breach the conventions of New Arahal. 2307. Biting her lip once. the silence rising to meet him. but only got a careful nod back in response. 08:01 (ES/GMT) Location: Officers’ Conference Chamber. please. you are --102-- . this incident will be filed in public record as a military flight test accident involving the failure of the experimental drive of a top secret prototype on lease from Seindrive.” Guards helped her to her feet. her features blank. she turned back to the admiral. She smiled reflexively. and all mention of the charges brought by this court will be stricken from the record. The Stormfury will be ‘returned’ to the fleetyards at Sirius immediately. glanced at Izzy. the members of this court have decided to drop all charges against you as they currently stand.Episode 51: Among Soldiers Date: 8th April. Seated at the center of the room with a guard off each shoulder. Tessa regarded the old admiral silently. “Rise. falling away. the testimony given by Lieutenant Copperfield. absently. met her eyes loosely. almost touched at the edges with the iron built through years of service. cut free her synthplastic cuffs with a gesture from Virek. TCV: Wu Ang Hok (Frontier Space) “Major Eisenherz. As lieutenant commander of Minerva Squadron.
Ben had said. her face empty of the fleeting smiles that had tugged at it before. his sudden grimace harsh enough to fade her smile. and your termination will be listed as a discharge for medical reasons. “Major Eisenherz.” Virek paused. firmly. “As such. you are effectively guilty of perjury for knowingly providing false information on your entrance forms. “Yes sir. A better world.” A fresh smile caught on Tessa’s features as she nodded again. tore her eyes from the floor. You will be required to register with the Department of Licencing for Genetic Constructs within seven days.” Tessa swallowed. “Yes --103-- .” Tessa managed. “Do you understand?” She nodded once. you are ineligible for military service of any kind. let the curve of lips break to almost hesitant white. as well as providing false samples to and or bribing the medical examiners during standard health screenings. Do you understand?” “Yeah. She glanced at Izzy. The breach of the conventions of New Arahal will be acknowledged only on a single report which will accompany all transcripts we’ve generated during your stay. fixed Tessa with a meaningful stare. “The sentence that this court has ultimately decided as punishment for this crime is immediate discharge from service and a loss of all rank and benefits you would otherwise be eligible for. “That leaves only one matter still to be addressed. including members of the judging panel. It is your duty to familiarize yourself with this version of events so that any questions which may come up can be answered without casting doubt on the story as it stands. as a citizen of the Commonwealth with confirmed GMO ancestry. Any mention of the events which actually transpired here by any of the parties involved. breathed. refusing to meet her eyes. Your service will be noted. I can see it now. and the entire data package will be handed over to Ultima Thila as maximum eyes-only classified status materials scheduled to remain so indefinitely. but the other woman had already looked away. along with a copy of the official story that is being fed to the media. features paling as the admiral continued. will be grounds for immediate seizure and execution without trial under charges of treason. Yeah.hereby recognized for your valor in the situation and have been granted induction into Ultima Thila with the rank of Major.” Virek shifted in his seat.” Virek began.” “Confidentiality agreements will be circulated within the hour.
We support the whole. “You may not have won the war yet. stand proud.” “I want you to know that this decision did not come easily.” He smiled. no matter how much we might disagree with them. “I understand.” Tessa swallowed. Tessa’s smile returned. we owe you a debt of gratitude. “The loopholes in the system that people such as yourself exploit are left open precisely because we realize how valuable soldiers with GMO ancestry are to the service. less formal. have set an example that we could all learn from. our nation takes one step closer to becoming a military dictatorship where no one can be truly free. Your service to the Commonwealth both as a major before this moment and as a citizen forever after. but it was unanimous. “As soldiers. and the risks that you’ve taken to ensure the safety of the Commonwealth. Eisenherz. As soldiers. folded his hands in front of him. but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the laws that the people have enacted. “Given the nature of your sacrifices.” Slowly. we pledge ourselves to protect the Commonwealth and all that it stands for. It is such moments which the people remember.sir. we are the thin line that exists between chaos and order.” “Major Eisenherz. your service record. and which stand as important steps forward in struggles of rights and social change.” “No. Admiral.” The old admiral said. because the moment our practice breaks from the policies of the people.” He pulled in a deep breath. held his eyes.” --104-- .” Virek added. thank you. tone softer. “Thank you. but make no mistake that this moment marks a decisive battle for the rights of citizens with GMO ancestry. whether we agree with the decisions that have been made by the people or not. Ms. spread. the edges of a smile tugging at his face.
and a thick leather eyepatch emblazoned with a leering jolly roger that bit into her scarred features. Tessa’s eyes dropped back to the table. With mottled and burnt skin traced by lines of brushed steel.” “Laws are harsh on constructs. Tessa looked broken. Stone or any of the others for becoming suddenly distant. what to say. gesturing at the seat. In her own timeline. absent beat. uncertain about how to act around her. the shadow of an officer. “Former Major. couldn’t blame Phoebe. she had her life. tapped out a quick. but that’s the price paid for genetic security. an ideal. a free ticket to any world she wanted to settle on.” Tessa managed. the Chief Marshall was a person whose face was hard to forget. She was someone wholly different from the Tessa they had all known.” Imalda said. hair as sharp as chrome bristles. Major. “Tough breaks. Her hand dropped loosely to her drink. her Ultima Thila uniform stripped of tags. anyway. face in her hands. she’d met the Chief Marshall of the Ixion Condottieri years before at Izzy’s funeral.Episode 52: A Better World It was three AM when Imalda found Tessa alone in the officer’s mess. but this time around would be Imalda’s first.” Imalda’s hands came together behind her back.” “Fine.” Tessa looked up. Sure. what not to say. actually. Cordova. “I’ve always been partial to standing. Hunched over an untouched drink. for choosing her career over their relationship.” --105-- .” Tessa glanced up. brass and rank insignia. a husk discarded in the name of a cause. “Thanks to the gratitude of our enlightened Commonwealth’s completely unbiased public policy. She didn’t blame Izzy for breaking things off. caught the older woman’s eyes. fixed the older woman with a sharp stare. but she’d lost everything else she’d ever had. “I do mind. “Mind if I sit down?” “Yeah. someone trapped in a past as painfully perfect as she remembered it being. ever loved. her freedom. and a modest-sized check from the military to help her start her new life. unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
” Tessa managed.” Imalda eyed her carefully. “Y’know.” Tessa shook her head. “Besides.” Tessa shot back suddenly.” Imalda managed. cut with a darker depression.” “Funny. . anger jumping across her features. “It was a police action. I’m vaguely impressed. a drafty shack. turned back to her drink. “But then. campfire songs.” “History is written by the victors.” Imalda said levelly. maybe you’ll get lucky and some brass or CEO will get a wild hare up his ass and decide the fact that you’re from the future makes you valuable enough to hunt down and turn into a lab --106-- .” Tessa met the other woman’s stare levelly. “Even if that ‘warm body’ is a GMO freak?” “Like I said. sighed.” Tessa scoffed. eyes flicking as she leaned back. eyes dark and steely. Eisenherz.” Imalda’s stare smouldered as she stood upright again. “Tell that to the lawmakers. “The police action was over fifty years ago. “I didn’t come down here to debate social policy with you or take your shit.” “Look. I came down here because I’ve seen your combat record. She rubbed at her face.” Tessa shook her head.“Can I do something for you.” “Yeah. folded her arms.” “So just like that. the simple life. “A plantation might be the only other choice you have besides taking me up on my offer. huh?” Tessa asked.” “No it isn’t.” She shrugged. sarcasm crawling through her voice as she looked away again. and I’ve got an empty rig in my squadron that needs a warm body to fill it. A war for survival that the oppressors won and the oppressed keep losing. it was a war. you got anything more spectacular planned?” “Oh.” Imalda leaned over suddenly. Chains. “Forgive and forget?” “You never forget. Eisenherz.” She made a vague gesture. It ended decades before you were even born. “I’ll probably catch a transport out to a farm world and sign up to work on a plantation with my own kind. . “or did you just come down here because you forgot what the people you killed during the war looked like?” “Centauri wasn’t a war. “There aren’t many jobs in the civilian fleet for pilots with GMO ancestry.” Imalda’s features darkened at the edges. yeah. tone dark. the steel edge in her voice softening. brought herself eye to eye with the other woman. gnarled hands flat on the table. “From where I’m sitting. “Call it whatever you want.
Looking up. so you have until then to pack up your gear. letting the pause linger as she picked up her drink. gave Tessa a level stare. her own grin spreading slowly across her face. “It’s the only part of working for the Ixion Condottieri that is. held it over her glass and dropped the pills into her drink. she looked at it for a moment before her fingers uncurled. The other woman smiled softly. she crossed the room. “Spare me. made for the door. met the other woman’s eyes blankly. stow your demons and report to the primary overhead umbilical. she reached into the breast pocket of her uniform and wrapped her fist around something that stood in her mind as the emblem of a choice. Holding her fist out in front of her. “Look. Eisenherz. leaving Tessa alone again in the officers’ mess. leaving only the three little pills the doctor had given her rolling in her palm. Not to end them. The Karkadann breaks from the fleet tomorrow at twelve hundred hours. Glancing down at her glass. opened.” “Sounds so easy when you put it that way. “The seat’s yours if you want it. “Hey.” The Grand Marshall made a vague gesture. “It was his idea. “How do you think I got your files?” She turned toward the door again. her eyes caught on a poster tacked to the wall at the far end of the mess. the word “FLY” flickering beneath it. “I have connections. a new ship to serve on. stuck.rat. a simple silicon image of a Seindrive II Ignus burning hard through the brilliantly colored atmosphere of some nameless gas giant.” Imalda turned back. Grande.” Imalda smiled briefly.” Tessa managed. splashed the untouched drink into the --107-- . ready to be walked. “What does Mac think of all this?” A grin played across the Grand Marshall’s face.” And then she was gone.” She shrugged. turned away. Tessa’s eyes milled across her drink as the Grand Marshall crossed the room. a path that lay waiting. the first step down the path to a future whose door was still open to her. Standing. swirled it. A better world. I came back here to save lives. and a chance to keep flying.” Tessa said softly.” “I’m not from the future.” Tessa looked up again. Smiling. Tessa closed her hand again. I know what’s going on. All I’m saying is that I’m offering you a way out.
recycler. heard the pills clink against glass on their way out. --108-- .
Upsilon Constantinus (HD 126614) “You were in the war. bright orchids swaying in some digital breeze with distant ocean stirring quietly behind them. After a moment he looked up again. but I hear the VFW guarantees a job and luxury living for veterans on both of those worlds. When her response came. Only their hair bore even the slightest resemblance. “Yeah. his skin was like asphalt. I’ve never been to Earth or Alpha C. paused thoughtfully.The Cygnus War. vest and sleeveless shirt. She studied the neon flowers on his shirt as she waited. Epilogue (Minerva Destiny) Date: 21st August. “Record makes you out like a real war hero. sunblasted to the same dark color as the local brew that sat thick and heavy in their cured leather cups. 2316. perched in a face full of heavy lines that seemed to bend under its own weight into a flat. considering breath. “Now. ran one finger thoughtfully over the weak stubble on his lip where a mustache was trying to take root. 12:27 (ES/GMT) Location: Kamm’s World. “Flew Seindrives against the Coralate?” “For the better part of a decade. His own eyes were sharp and serious. untouched. both shades of midnight.” He looked up at her again. the kind of print you never saw on the frontier. the cup propped reluctantly between them. and a sharp contrast to Tessa’s own simple outfit of jeans.” He glanced at the sheet of silicon in his hands. Her eyes dropped back to her hands. right?” Tessa glanced up from her drink.” She nodded. hers cropped back to a short cut. they contrasted perfectly– where she was lean and sleek.” He gestured --109-- . In a way. greying frizz and curlicues clinging like resolute soldiers on the perimeter of smooth and barren brown. as direct and serious as his features. direct expression. it was as no-nonsense. Piercing eyes like deep sapphire rose to meet the careful stare of the man watching her from across the rough surface of a fibreboard table. It was unusual. coal black. his all but gone. leaned back in his chair and pulled in a deep.
set down the sheet and steepled his fingers. glanced back at the cup. scratching around on the frontier?” “I guess I’m just not your typical war hero. “Carniva?” “Yeah.” She hesitated. and you’re out. “let you go. “Why’d you dodge the question?” “Don’t push me.” She looked up again.” She paused.” She stood up suddenly.” He paused. half ready to turn away. bam. “So then. rundown bar on this backwater world.” “And I don’t want to bring on crew with secrets. no benefits. “That’s an understatement. I figure you’d be flying a desk in some corporate stratoscraper.” “Fine. cracked the silicon sheet. “Especially big military secrets that people in government are keen on keeping classified. leaned forward. “You’d think. but I can’t track down a reason why for love or carbon bonders. maybe playing captain on some fancy cruise ship for a legacy carrier like. Grant. “Why is that?” Eyes never wavered.. but I guarantee --110-- .” “Tessa. “I’ll find another ship to fly. nothing but a cut check and a ticket to nowhere that’s never been cashed. flying a stint with the Ixion Condottieri.” The man blinked in the long quiet pause. outlasted your fair share of wingmen–” “Is there a point to this?” Tessa’s eyes hardened. “Somebody with your record. “I don’t want to talk about it. “Your performance record in the war is off the charts. what exactly is someone like you doing all the way out here.” Tessa shrugged. It’s like they just.lightly. I don’t know” He made another gesture. No correspondence. Grant pulled in a careful breath. Just wham. “Now you may walk out that door and you may find another quick job in another dusty.” Eyes dropped to reading again. wait a minute.” “Then don’t hire me. “There’s always a point. “We’ll come back to that one. thank you ma’am. eyes finding his again.” He made a futile gesture.” He thumbed an emphatic gesture. “The records I got a hold of say you were given a medical discharge.” Grant said flatly.” The man let his eyes wander back to the silicon sheet. Hundreds of confirmed kills. fixed her with a careful stare. “Thanks for the beer.. half ready to walk out on him in that stretching instant.” He shifted. the barest edge of steel creeping into her voice.
but she’s been modified for speed. He had a secret too– turned out he was somebody’s pet.” She shot back. it reminds me of this mechanic I brought on for a stint ‘bout six months back. “I’d hate to see a pilot of your caliber blow off an opportunity like that just because you don’t feel like answering a few sensitive questions. A Genetic Construct that had spent a --111-- . gestured to her empty seat. “Real pretty boy. it’s gonna come back to bite me in the ass before this run is over. like a ghost at the edge of civilized space. and that makes me kind of nervous.” His hands slipped back to the sheet of silicon. so the pay starts the moment you sign. Grant blew out a quiet. instead of after the job’s done. “You know what it looks like to me?” He paused. yeah.” He shook his head as she looked away again.” She looked away. letting it sink in. “Sounds like a lot of the people I bring on for jobs. floaters and artifacts of possible historical interest– it’s the kind of low profile job most pilots would kill a man for.” “So I tell myself every day.” He gave her the edge of a patronizing smile. “But I still can’t shake the feeling that if I let your particular secret slide. I’m just watching my assets here. watching as she turned the chair around and straddled it.” He paused. “Every time I look at your M.” “It shouldn’t. exasperated sigh. arms crossed. and it’s served on an open-ended contract. disappearing off government networks for months at a time. but you’re a war hero. doing everything under the radar.O. Grant. “The Junkyard Queen’s a salvage freighter.” He shrugged.” came the quick response. There a problem with that?” “Never had a problem with freedom. She deals strictly in legal finds. When she turned back again. slouching almost reluctantly into the back.you won’t find a ship as clean or reliable as mine.” His eyes dropped back to the sheet. “I like my freedom. “I hope you understand that it’s nothing personal. so she flies like nanowire through hydrogen fog. “Secrets? That’s another story. “You’ve got a history of flying real low.” “Everyone has secrets. eyes solid. “Besides.” She said levelly. Grant gave her his softest smile. how long has it been since you were able to afford a decent meal?” Tessa stood silent. over the last few years. she watched him for a long time. It’s the rim. unreadable. strong arms. real quiet about his affairs. shot her a questioning stare.” He paused. “Especially out here.
“I’m not a clone. “That’s what they want people to believe. She escaped during the pre-colonial upheaval and ended up riding steerage on one of the first ships to head for ‘Ceti.” “So you’re a non-person.” “So you’re just unlucky. “Imagine that. When she spoke. alone. Seems he belonged to some fat Duchess on one of the planets as far in as Tau C.” “Yeah. “So do I get --112-- . “What happened? What did you do. holes– you’d have to bribe all the right people. unconscious. Grant. “Least. Tessa?” She watched him for a long moment. “But that wouldn’t be anything like your secret. then.” “I guess.” She said flatly.” “Boy. hesitant.” He smiled. “Whatever you want to call it..” All the steel came back.. it’s enough to justify discrimination as far as most people are concerned.” “Yeah. The doctor discovered the tags while I was out. “There something you want to tell me. “What model are you? Spend any time in brothels before the war?” She gave him a dark look. it came quiet. watch your step..” He laughed. He smiled.” She fixed him with a careful look. A Derivative. “It’s.” “That’s too bad.” Her eyes met his again.” She said flatly. Tell me about it. “I know it’s possible for a GMO to get into the system. “There are.” He gave her another soft smile.” “Yeah.. bribe the wrong doc?” She looked away again. complicated.” “But you know otherwise?” He asked carefully. I was injured.” Tessa’s hardness faltered– she looked away. eyes unable to meet the intensity of Grant’s gaze. There was nothing I could do. studying her face. “One of my ancestors was a prototype for a high-performance vatgrown soldier some corporation was developing in the second half of the twenty-second century.. untrusting.” She managed. would it? I mean. eyes making little movements. “Well imagine that. I bet that rashed some Colonel’s coolant sleeve.” He paused.couple years dodging the law. all the strength. the military physical checks for Construct markers as soon as you join up.. all the resolve. “That’s what I’ve been told. right? They never would have let you within a hundred clicks of a Seindrive if you were somebody’s love doll. work with sympathizers in the underground.
“I can’t stand the beer here. “A soulless automaton taking good jobs from hardworking transport pilots?” “Look. “But if you’re lying to me and we start getting shot at because my pilot’s a fugitive or made some dangerous enemy in the military or somewhere else. As long as what you are doesn’t get my ship into trouble.” He gestured loosely. I won’t hesitate to push you out an airlock or hand you over to the powers that be.” Miss any of the previous episodes? You can check out the entire series of The Cygnus War online (for free) at http://www. “Crystal. then. I know a better place where we can catch dinner. Makes you a better pilot in my eyes.com --113-- .” He smiled back. “Come on. shook out stiff legs.” He stood.” He pulled a grimace.the job?” “With a flight record like yours. how could I say no?” “You don’t care that I’m a ‘dangerous hybrid’?” She tried.” “Good. Clear?” The faintest edge of grin touched her face. gestured half-heartedly. you can hang onto it.cygnuswar. I’m not a racist. “Welcome aboard.
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