a projected end to an old project
Gary Baker, November 2013
Gusts of air caress the lobes, singing of truth beheld in weeping fallacies and of lost hopes in the dying age of the modern man. With our feet so high above us we plummet like jettisoned matter expelled from crumbling masses as the heat breaks apart the teeniest particle and disrobes the faith we once had that this might all end up with smiles and cheery grins.
Not this time. No, certainly not this time.
Siv was falling. From so high and far from any terrestrial surface that nothing seemed to indicate that he had ever so much as looked at this globe before. And here it was coming at him like a godly marble shot from an even godlier cannon, wondering just why he had come here at all.
Condensation pressed against the facial visor of the jumpsuit, Sivs breath cleaned and re-oxygenated by nanos in the sealed space around the skin, just a centimeter, but one that spanned the whole head minus the ears. The ears were the crucial part, it had turned out, able to sense the most minuscule change in vibrato as the jet-stream mounted passed as if on a cavalry charge into space.
A translucent blue marker flashed across the visor, indicating the next level down in the thousands of kilometers from the point of origin. Tinny clicks resounded within the ear canals from the bubble-like plugs attached over the outermost entrances to his ears. Each one slowly synced closer and closer to the blue flashes, though just then they were still eons apart in terms of microseconds; and this mission would be written in such terms later on.
‘He was just three microseconds too late,’ they would report. ‘Had he only activated a mere seven microseconds later he might have made it,’ others might claim. Neither was something he wanted to hear about when this was all over, when it was all said and done, though just hearing such nuances were sure-fire indicators of him having succeeded, and would thus sound more like ‘nailing the mark, the activation was dead on with a surgeon’s precision’.
Muscles taut against the strain of pressures both external and imagined, he swept through a thin cloud and felt the reappearing awe of all this as he came out the other side still intact. His eyes fluttered open again and he found himself back where he knew he would be: high in the sky, drifting through the jet-stream over a forest. He almost wished he’d fallen asleep, that this would have been the other side of things in a future where he failed so miserably and archaically primate-like.
Then a buzzword moved passed in a blinding blur, sending him throttling the core of a man-made cyclone before he caught himself by snapping out his right palm facing his back and his left palm facing his front in perfect unison. The small motion of his fingers hesitatingly brought the world back to one solid fixture ahead of him again, when another passed by.
Siv closed his eyes, inhaling deep only to exhale slowly through his nose, his heart racing as the moment came nearer. More raptors arced across his visor, only the mechanisms in his self-mounted AI to bring up color trails and superimposed names that glimmered over each that his eyes connected with, telling him who was who and which bird had something to do with his own side.
“Siv, do you copy?” Came the muffled echo from the earplug speakers.
He let the condensation fog up the inside of his visor again, turning the dense forest below into a misty cloud with numbers, names, specs and course routes overlaid in blues and pale reds. In a way, this was far more beautiful than the marble itself was. In those lines and figures, Siv could tell the outcome of the battle, could place his bets on who would be most likely to falter next.
“Siv,” the voice came again, “this is Meiry, do you read?”
Again he let his eyes flutter open while his hair, as long as a wine glass was deep, tousled like a mad man in the wind of a hurricane. Immediately they were drawn to a point where three lines came together with only two leading away.
Another one down. Damn.
Siv switched to all channels and found himself intruding on the wails of fellow comrades crying out for the one who’d just been tag-teamed. The black ball still dripped molten metal and fiery breaths as it, too, was brought earthward.
“Siv wake up!” This time it was Ori, the loud-mouthed bastard from base whom everyone knew acted far tougher than he really was. Inside, the man was all fluff, something Siv had only discovered when he’d volunteered for this mission. “The rain’s a comin’ big guy!”
Suddenly Siv snapped back to attention. The sound of the cue words bringing his blood to a boil and his heart into his throat. It was coming. In less than three full deep breaths, he’d be facing an enemy fighter jet head on with nothing to protect him other than the AI in his visor to tell him the proper trajectories and actions to follow.
He saw O’Leary’s colors converge over the canopy and hitch the pursuit of the lead enemy ACE, flying a whopping F-67 enhanced with an antimatter cannon at it’s base, along the hull where it could take down any land target without so much as aiming the aircraft nose. Since the enemy had overlaid it with the best of energy shielding along the base, and had given it the engines to out fly unmanned missiles, it was virtually impossible to hit it. Thus it had to go down, and there was only one way to do it.
Not even the overly optimistic O’Leary had expected this to work until it had been explained by a physicist from Boston in the most articulate of possible ways. Even now, he barely expected this to work.
Siv checked his pace, found it right on cue with predictions made beforehand, right on the line that indicated the need of assistance for the to work right. “Meiry,” he snapped into position, becoming a human dart with toes outstretched and nose forward, hands firm against his hips and back rigid as a bolt of steel. “I need a flyby pronto. Make it a good one, we only have one chance at this.”
“Sir, yes sir!” She responded just moments before he felt the vibrato of her craft coming on behind him. In a blink she was passing him, her gray class-7 Hornet bringing him just meters from her cockpit.
“Bring on the thrusters, hun,” he pushed through grit teeth, readying for what was to come.
On command she pushed hard on the thrust-lever and her craft launched forward like an even-larger meteor, bringing him along in her wake, sending his rate of declination to a soaringly impossible number. Surely he couldn't be going this fast, could he? The AI brought out a red alarm flash to indicate top human-bearing speed, nearly the speed of sound and all without anything but a suit and physics to get him there.
Finally the last timed-breath came, a slow time-bendingly awkward inhale as though he were about to plunge deep into the ocean, and an even slower exhale, one two three four five six…. Siv made it to seven before O’Leary shot passed like a bat out of hell, just as he snapped his right hand out and forward with the low-atmosphere hand cannon.
The enemy craft came at him, the nose like a spear meant only for him, and he felt the sting of heavy air resistance trying to keep him from success as he brought the heavy pistol in line and drew back on the trigger.
He didn’t even hear it as the projectile was loosed, only felt it as his momentum altered just so right before the F-67 sailed passed inches beneath him, and he discovered the AI had utilized the auto-shielding feature for him just in time to save him from the searing heat of the fighter jet’s engines. It was just enough, together, to keep him from becoming a bug on the cockpit of the fighter just passed. For a full inhale he thought he’d missed, but then his eyes caught the glimmer of broken glass and he watched as his AI statically ended the pilot’s trajectory arc trail.
He glanced over and watched it for a moment as it descended, then went wide-eyed as the craft lurched back toward the heavens and sped up without a red tail anymore. “Computer: what happened?!” Siv snapped.
“Target destroyed,” the AI responded.
But it wasn’t. It was anything but destroyed. That much was obvious as the craft slowly turned around to catch onto the trail of Meiry’s jet. Something was different, however, something minuscule, something… there. The usual green glimmer under the hull that protected the cannon was gone.
As impossible as it had been, Siv had hit the mainframe of the shield-drive intelligence. The man probably didn’t even realize he’d been compromised. There would only be one more chance at this before the pilot figured it out and fled to be fixed up again to undo everything that Siv had come out here for, to remove the reason for him having abandoned his own jet high above and allow himself complete invisibility to the enemy aircraft.
“Meiry!” Siv shouted. “To me! Bravo is on your tail, I repeat: Bravo is on your tail!” Her jet swiped this way and that, avoiding hail-fire as the infamous ACE pilot brought his machine guns into use, and finally she aimed her nose toward her commander, still falling, though now with his feet toward the ground. Siv brought up his pistol again and aimed it right at her. “On three you climb, Meiry.”
She ducked under the red line of close-range laser use, and back across as the wasps almost took out her right wing.
“One…” One hundred meters.
She increased her thrusters to avoid a distance-based explosive.
“Two…” Fifty meters.
He gripped the butt with both hands, lacing his fingers through each other for stability. He watched as her numbers hit sixteen meters from his own point in space. “Now!”
With perfect timing, the belly of her craft turned to the belly of a whale above him just as he fired three shots into the space where she had been. The 67 didn’t have time to react and suddenly there were two bullets burrowing into the cannon itself, one into the fuel canister where--
Siv found himself floating in white, an ever-expanding existence of every color reflected. His ears felt as though they were bleeding, but he couldn’t so much as see his own fingers, let alone the blood that he knew must be coating them. His head felt crushed, his limbs raw, his very bones as though they’d been mashed into dust.
And yet everything felt so very, very numb.
Seconds later, Siv’s eyes fluttered against the white draw, an incessant pain in the backs of his eyes the only thing to tell him he still truly existed.
“You’re awake,” came several, innumerous echoes of one altered voice shattered like broken glass upon the pavement. He felt his hand lift to guard against the light, but nothing happened, no change took upon him, only the gentle squeeze of a palm against his forearm.
He wanted to exhale but felt his tongue hit something between his teeth, a plasticky object lubed with saliva and warm copper-flavored oxygen. He began to panic, a heart of his somewhere in space beating a tattoo to the resonations within the bleary expanse of endless white. He wanted out, he wanted reprieval… he wanted answers.
“Commander Siv, be calm,” came the altered vocals that could only come from Ori, himself. Just then Siv felt a palm press into his own… again somewhere beyond the white, out there in those kilometers of space where his limbs had ended up in this postmortem limbo existence. “Commander, please stop thrashing!”
“We need to give him another dose of sedative morphine and epinephrine to keep his heart from stopping,” came the sounds of a voice he’d never heard before. “Hand me that canister of needles.”
Siv felt a prick and the tense grip of Ori all in one instant.
“Are you sure he’s going to be okay?” The echoes of Ori asked.
...but there was no response.
Siv opened his eyes again to find a beautiful short-haired red head leaning over him from a chair beside a medical bed back on base. It took him a second, but after some thought it came to him that this was Meiry, officially his second in command and unofficially the first in his heart.
She glanced over as he tried to lift off the pillows and placed a heavy hand on his chest to pin him down. “Hold on there, Siv,” she ordered, “you still haven’t healed fully yet. Not after that blast, at least.”
He felt his brow furrow as he bore his eyes into her own. “What happened?”
Siv watched her wince slightly as though pained, “well first of all you hit your target. Nice shooting, by the way, especially with such antiquated weaponry. Anyways, the flare that came next knocked us both out of the park, turning your AI into chars and forcing me to eject right before the burst wave crashed my jet mid flight.” Meiry sighed and leaned her chin onto her elbows on his stomach, covered in soft blankets and fluffy throws. “After that it was all a matter of finding you in the trees after your backup drive initiated the emergency parachute that ultimately saved you.”
A small grin appeared on her cheeks as she rolled her head to look him in the eyes. “But congrats, by the way. Base is giving you a full month’s leave, more if you want it, and has several medals in the works for you, too.”
He sighed. “I’d thought I was dead.”
She was silent for a long time, then perked up and grinned again. “No, there’s no way death can take you after that act. Just thinking about it should have given you a heart attack, but you went through with it, faced worse extremes than anyone else in the entire armed forces, and somehow survived without even being conscious for the last part.”
Siv scowled and let his head relax back into the pillow where he could begin counting the specks of black in the vermiculite ceiling. “And how long am I bedridden for?”
He felt her rise off of him and heard her chair creak as she, too, leaned back. “For the better part of two weeks, so says the nurse. You broke three ribs and fractured several vertebrae with that little stunt, though officially none but the armed forced know what, exactly, it was that you did.” Meiry shrugged lightly, “and that alone should be enough fame for a lifetime, in my opinion. The forces want to raise you up a level and make your pseudo known across the globe, they say ‘MOTH’ will be forever known as the greatest pilot alive, some even claiming you have insect wings that let you do that without a parachute.”
Siv twitched his lips into a faint smile, “do you think it would be too much to ask for a three month vacation, Meir?”
“Huh? Why, where would you even go?”
The smile became a toothed grin spanning from ear to ear, “Barbados,” he sighed. The pilot rolled his head to watch her sit there, breathing through her nose with her head dropped against the wall, also counting the ceiling specks. “And you’re coming, by the way. All of us are.” Seeing her sudden cheer, Siv rolled to stare at the ceiling again with a contented exhale. “Just you, me, Ori, O’Leary, and Beth.”
“Barbados, here we come,” she tried out for size.