Fighting the fiery glow that burned itself into my eyes, flying the Probable Rescue
back and forth, something started to give. To break. Took me too long to realize that it was the voices on the com, the idiocy of automated flight control during times of emergency.
Flying low, avoiding wreckage – “Access violation!”
Barely keeping the ship together after an explosion slammed us into the mail slot – “Loitering. Clear the area or lethal response…”
Sure. You do that. You shoot us down. Way above a hundred refugees on board, but you just do that.
Of course, they did not. But I got tense. Angry inside.
On deck of the rescue ship, a cup of that awful coffee in my hand, I felt my grip tighten, thinking about it. Heard the plastics crack. Then, a hand on my shoulder. Another one, taking the failing cup. “Mike – relax.” A harsh voice. Hoarse. Ann. The flight deck officer, checking my face, looking guarded. “Seriously, stop. Or I ground you.” Her smile without mirth. “Besides: There is someone who owns you some coffee.” She grimaces. “Better coffee than this”, and indicates a direction.
I look up, see the kid from her crew. Remember her name. Jess. Shake my head, just slightly, barely visible, but Ann catches it. “Give her a chance. Despite her antics the last time.” She looks me in the eyes. “And, goddamn, take what is offered.”
Jess walks over, two cups in her hands. My old one vanishes with Ann. I take in her looks, the hair pushed up to show her neck, the coverall that she opened this distinct tad too much, the T-Shirt below that might be this bit too tight, her eyes that seem to shine a jiff too strongly. Then I smell the coffee. “Kitten Brand?” I cannot believe it. “Who did you kill to get that?” I close my eyes to savor the aroma, but not in time to miss her blushing, so we forget the question, as she plays over it with the bravado of the early twenties.
The coffee is heaven. She lets her leg touch mine as we sit, even finds stylish words to apologize for her earlier ruse, but stumbles as she tries to explain what went on as she saw the scars. Then the bravado is back, and she catches me riding the wave of the famous coffee, the thoughts about that shine in her eyes all but forgotten.
But it returns. Betrays the tears that come as she stands there in her small clothes. It takes time until the sobs subside, until she breathes “I just needed to feel safe again” while I hold her. I know it’s the war, undeclared as it may be, hidden from most. But her eyes rest on my rank’s insignia before she closes them. The promise of the few. Broken far too often. But alive for her.
Then the messages came in. No new attacks. No new sightings of Thargoids in the bubble. Even the Eagle Eye systems had gone silent. The string of attacks was broken.
Someone cheered. Most were too exhausted.
The Probable Rescue
took flight again within minutes. The fires were still burning.
But they stopped.
Not much later, I took the ship past repair scaffolds, entering a world of dust and the glare of electro-welding, the hands too tight on the controls, fighting the instinct to go fast, to rush to the safety of the landing pad.
Judging from the reactions, I must have looked like a ghost stepping on deck. But it didn’t matter. Behind me, a T-9 approached, proud words on the side: “We move mountains.”
Operation IDA had arrived. Their first ship touched down on the station’s landing pad 07.
I could hardly imagine a more beautiful sight.