by Ben Phenicie
TO: The People of Prociv, Descendents of Roarcaster
Deth exiled you, and your history is forgotten. Look at the night sky! There should be stars, a thousand beautiful points of light, not the unbroken blackness you see when the sun is gone. Retrace your myths, legends, religions – how I hope these words translate into your languages. The stars beckoned us outward once, but we turned away… now you may be our only hope.
Message to the Exiles, AY 4414
Darg– Authority Year (AY) 2367
It was like Blue Danube, the way the round-edged yellow construction cubes waltzed in orbit with the long, rectangular barges. Darg loved pretending they weren’t building a vast deception. He whistled the melody as he programmed.
Once it was finished, the Veil would prevent the Roarcastrian rebels from seeing the cosmos. The framework was suspended in Prociv’s mesosphere, held aloft by solar sails and vast orbiting power satellites. Darg watched and whistled as an arrondissement – one piece, as thin as canvas, of the the gigantic icosahedron – unfurled over the planet’s cloud tops, covering Prociv’s greens and blues with translucent gray. Worker robots sealed it in place.
“They cannot rebel, if they do not know we exist,” Reznik reasoned, gesturing grandiloquently at the Veil. His hologram console glowed with schedules and ship trajectories.
Reznik was a chubby, pale man, with very short gray hair and cheeks that splotched red whenever he got frustrated. Darg’s whistling annoyed him, and he shot Darg sharp looks . “Barge C to the fifty-fifth dodecant,” Reznik said, as his cheeks got splotched. “Structor Omicron, head into a rendezvous with Maintenance. You’re just about due.”
“You ruined it,” Darg said, stopping his whistling.
“The dance is in your imagination.” Reznik said harshly. “Spaceships do not dance. If your illusion is shattered, count yourself lucky to be free from it.”
“Free from it? I liked it.”
“You are like them,” Reznik said, gesturing contemptuously to Prociv. “Mankind’s wildest imaginings were often spurred on by the stars. But they will be free from fantastic notions. They will no longer be a threat to themselves.”
“But the stars are real,” Darg said.
Reznik grumbled, and went back to directing the ships. Darg’s mind was fuzzy on the particulars, but he’d gotten the sense that the Roarcastrian exiles weren’t being sent away just because they liked looking at the stars.
Jennifer- AY 6005
Silverbird’s orange contrail rocketed into the sky, and a moment that could have been pure joy was bittersweet. Richard’s absence was like a phantom limb. This mission was the dream they’d shared. She squelched her resentment of Hairs. He was the second choice, and a damn fine pilot in his own regard.
Silverbird: designed on a shoestring, hammered it together from castoff parts, the ground crew castoffs, too, cobbled from different squadrons, wretches no one wanted. General Hendels had begrudged them the auxiliary tower, and there Jennifer stood as both ground control and mission commander. The tower’s old tech consisted of two dimensional radar screens and clunk-button computers in off-white casings. Silverbird’s rocket booster shot the plane into the upper stratosphere, and the contrail went white. Hair’s telemetry came scratchy over the analog radio.
“Fifty thousand meters!” Hairs yelled, jubilant. “I’m going through!”
“Do you see anything?” Jennifer yelled.
“Nothin’ but sky, boss!”
“Ready ordnance suite,” Jennifer ordered. “Radar?”
“Reading clear at sixty-two thousand meters,” Lester said. “We got it!”
Jennifer allowed herself to hope their missiles had finally punched a hole in the sky wall. Nothing had ever crossed the Threshold. Her husband Richard had died trying to break through. The government and the public had long since grown tired of the expense, sacrifice, and failure of Project Threshold. It was tacitly understood that Hairs’ shot could be the last.
Kojiki- AY 4414
The original plan had been far more audacious, but Deth himself had discovered them, and only Kojiki had escaped. He’d brought Higley’s manuscript: grandiloquent though it was, it told the truth. Farra had included her translation program in with a lovely hologram of herself. The trick was to cut a hole in the Veil.
Now and then he carefully peeped Corinth’s dorsal sensor array out of the methane sworls, hoping the Authority’s hunter drone was gone. For thirty-nine hours it had prowled the star system, a sleek gray triangle with weapons bulbs left, right and center. Kojiki hid his small ship in the dense and dangerous orange methane atmosphere of Brewer, the system’s sixth planet. Stimpaks helped him fight stress, tedium and then excruciating fatigue as kept the Corinth alive in the stormy gas giant, staying in the narrow envelope where he would be hidden but not plunged down into the maelstrom of crushing pressure. He entered a near fugue by the end. It was worse than studying calculus for his astronav finals.
Hour forty- time for one more peep. This time, there was no trace of the drone. Kojiki steered Corinth into a stable orbit, went down his ‘evening’ checklist with exhausted glee, and slept the sleep of the dead in his cockpit. When he woke up, he flew to Prociv, the blue green world whose moon was round and reddish beige.
The gray icosahedron was kept aloft by a dozens of silver-blue solar sails and huge fusion engines that ran off a tritium compound mined from that reddish moon. Maintenance and defense stations were in high orbit, far above the Veil. The whole arrangement was magnificent, in a terrible way, and Kojiki wished the Authority had put their vast resources to a different use.
The Veil’s computer network, a near-sentient AI, noticed him and might easily have destroyed him. Fortunately, Corinth was a stolen maintenance vessel that the AI didn’t recognize as a threat. Kojiki radioed the Veil’s computer. The irony of deceiving something that was itself a giant deception amused him.
“How is the Veil today?”
“Kinda confounded,” the Veil’s computer voice said to him, in it’s unique period Western drawl from ancient Earth. “There ain’t supposed to be no maintenance fer three hundred years!” Kojiki immediately liked her, and guilt tinged his conscience. Fooling her, disabling her, was no longer a task he could relish.
“My name is Kojiki,” Kojiki said, as Corinth powered inward. “What should I call you?”
“Name’s Annie Oakley,” she said, “sharpest sharp shooter in the West!”
Kojiki stifled a chuckle. One of the Veil’s programmers had possessed a sense of humor.
“Pleased to meet you, Annie.”
“Wish I could be more hospitable, but it ain’t no palace up here.”
Kojiki said it was fine. They made some more small talk, which for Kojiki wove a thick net of lies, and then he steered the conversation around to his true purpose.
“Well,” Kojiki said, “I’ve got a special upgrade just for you.”
“You do?” She sounded enraptured.
“Yes,” Kojiki said, “but I do have to come in past the bristles.”
“Don’t mind them,” she said. “That’s just what I use to dead-eye space junk!”
Soon Kojiki’s malware was headed wirelessly onto the Veil, to be spread throughout its network. But as he got closer Kojiki frowned. There were redundant repair flaps on the Veil’s outer surfaces; shown as contingent in the original blueprints, the thorough constructors of the Veil had indeed built them all those two thousand years before. Even if his plan worked, and Annie was disabled, Roarcaster’s descendants on Prociv would only be able to escape by punching a Veil-hole in the same place twice.
Jennifer AY 6005
The barrier had been discovered when the first high-altitude planes hit it and broke apart in the mesosphere. Jennifer had been a child then, and, watching those tragedies on TV, she vowed to find a way through. Now, decades later, that dream was closer to fruition than ever.
The cost had already been very high.
“Radar- clear?” she asked.
“Readings… readings inconclusive, ma’am!” Lester the radarman sounded consternated.
“Hairs! We are negative on radar!”
“Reads fine from up here! I will barbecue that thing if I need to! Sixty-three-”
There was a sound; then Hairs cut out.
“Hairs? This is Ground Control- repeat. Ground Control. Respond. Hairs?”
Moments passed. Lester adjusted his settings several times. “Negative reading on Silverbird, sir.”
The wreckage was strewn across more than forty miles.
Darg AY 2367
Reznik turned from his holo-display and made an imperious face. “Because they refuse to live in the paradise made for them.”
Reznik gave a look of assent. “The size of a dozen worlds. Utterly self contained, and chief of all, safe. A certain future for humanity.”
“But there is something unusual about it,” Darg said, sounding less than convinced.
“Unusual? I should say so. It is a place without tumult, without conflict, without the storms of passion and dissent that have caused so much suffering. These fools,” Reznik said, gesturing to the planet, “refused that. They would prefer to live like animals.”
On the holo-display Lockerbie cut in, his bristled face squinting with piratical glee. “Great fun it’s down ‘ere,” he said. “Have old Roarkie beggin’ for the end of it.”
Reznik sighed, as if he were embarrassed to know Lockerbie but couldn’t do anything about it. “Thank you for the report.”
“Great fun?” Darg didn’t quite understand what the surface teams were doing.
“Teachin’ ‘em what not to do,” Lockerbie said. “Wipin’ out the minds. For old Roarkie, just a bit at a time.” Lockerbie made a “just a bit” gesture and smiled.
“He means Roarcaster,” Reznik whispered.
“How can you be enjoying that?” Darg asked. “People didn’t like having their minds erased.”
Lockerbie laughed. “No they don’t, poppet. Hurts ‘em like hot coal, it do.” Lockerbie leaned forward and smiled. “Just for you, I’ll try not enjoyin’ it quite so much.” Darg made a confused face, a condition which only worsened as Lockerbie continued to laugh uproariously.
Jennifer AY 6006
The base had been quiet since Hairs’ funeral. Walking across the hangar floor, Jennifer reminded herself he’d known the risks.
She’d spent most of her life challenging the accepted notions about Threshold, from arguing with uncles at holidays to cobbling together a unique Academy major out of physics, aeronautics, math, linguistics, mythology, history and ancient literature.
She hoped her case could persuade the General to approve her own mission. From under his short brimmed service cap fringes of gray hair peeped out. He gestured for her to walk with him, brought her report up on his tel, and read from it. “ ‘An altitude barrier. One world, one sun, an utterly black and forbidding night sky- is this actually the reality we face?’ ”
“I know it seems far-fetched.”
“The most I’m hoping,” the General said, “is to find is way to fly to the sun and do some research. I want to know why it goes dark every so often, so people can quit being terrorized. What you’re talking about is something utterly apart from that. What is a ‘star?’” The very word was unfamiliar to him and he spoke it slowly. They strolled out the hangar door, where outside it was mid-morning, the sun still orangish.
“Several ancient societies had legends about a night sky filled with multiple points of light that made up an of array. Even pictures of animals.”
“Could that have been some collective delusion?”
“When it happens across different cultures, it seems unlikely.”
“Then why don’t more ancient societies have these myths? Everyone looks at the same sky, Captain Yeager.”
“There’s more than just the legends about stars. The concept of the ‘lesser light’ corresponds to what other cultures called the moon. There are ‘planets,’ which strongly resemble stars but move in different ways.”
The general tapped his fingers. “You don’t think the Universe just ends up there?”
She notched up the intensity in her voice. “I think there could be something unbelievable across Threshold. An understanding- a glimpse, of whatever these myths are based on could change our history and completely alter our understanding of the universe.”
“Or these myths could be based on nothing, and chasing them could get you killed.”
She said nothing, but looked off past him to the tall brown grass beyond the base.
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
“These sources are children’s songs and rank mythology.” The General dropped one eyebrow to emphasize his seriousness. “Why would this whole array of stars, planets and a lesser light just suddenly disappear?”
She hoped flying against Threshold would answer her nagging sense that things were wrong about the world- the sky too dim, the night too empty, the cosmos too small. And she was furious at Threshold, inanimate, and incapable of malice as it was, it had killed the first explorers, now Hairs- and Richard.
“Sir, my theory is that Threshold may have been put in place by beings not from our world, or by a lost civilization whose technology was more advanced than ours.”
“Captain. This would make a good story, but it’s hard to buy a mix of mythology, research, and educated guesses as rationale for another mission that puts human life at risk, however willing you are. Hard for the civilians, or me. I admire your skill as a pilot, and the work you’ve put into this. But don’t expect much. And I don’t expect approval.”
Suddenly an explosion roared in the distance. She turned to see an orange fireball ballooning up on another section of the base, and fighters overhead. When the wing leader did a barrel roll, she realized.
Zerstor! That cocky bastard- doing target practice on the old T-14s! The reek of burning fuel invaded her nostrils, and she tried not think of it as an omen.
Kojiki AY 4414
“So, you need to get them all down there?” Annie was eager to help.
“That’s right,” Kojiki said. “They’ll help keep the Veil unclogged so the atmosphere can go through its normal process- particle exchange, gravity tides-”
“I know about that stuff! It shore has been a long time. Dust started gettin’ bad years ago! When’r you all gonna git rid ‘a this Veil thing?”
Kojiki smiled to himself. “Hopefully not too long from now. Ready to help shoot?”
“Am I? Mister, I was born ready.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” Kojiki taunted. “These nanites need to ride down on my ship’s laser, but I can only send so many down at once. We’re moving at thousands of miles an hour here in orbit, and we need to hit the same spot on the arrondissement over and over again, from hundreds of miles up.”
“Mister, if can shoot the ashes off of the Kaiser’s cigar, I think I can get some little robots down onto my own a-ron-deez-mint.” Kojiki had to laugh, both at her cocky attitude and her pronunciation of ‘arrondissement.’ Kojiki handed her control of the targeting program. The first shot was a bull’s eye.
The nanites, he’d lied about. They were nanites, all right, but they were not meant to clear dust from the Veil- they were meant to eat through it.
Jennifer AY 6006
Heavy clouds rolled through the sky as Silverbird II sat on the tarmac, the plane’s sculpted curves giving the appearance of motion, even as it sat still. Jennifer had been on the phone all day, trying to secure a rocket booster from a private firm. She and Lester had been out taking measurements of Silverbird II, to find out how to make them compatible, when Zerstor and his wingmen strutted by.
“Haven’t you heard,” he said, “sky’s the limit!” He laughed. He was young, but his bulbous nose and… off expression always put Jennifer ill at ease. He puffed out his cheeks, pointed to Silverbird, rolled his eyes and said, “Kablooie!” He laughed and slapped hands with his entourage. Jennifer warded him back with a cold, hard stare. The General headed over; a knot developed in the pit of Jennifer’s stomach as she read his face.
“They’re shutting it down,” he said quietly.
“General,” said Zerstor, suddenly very friendly, “that’s perfect. I’ve got some new guys in my wing that who have never blown up anything!” He pointed to Silverbird II. “That thing would be perfect.”
“There’s no decision yet on the plane,” the General said, excusing himself with a quick salute, and walking off. Zerstor Company stayed, leering.
“If that bird doesn’t fly it’s going in a museum!” Jennifer yelled.
“Ooh, no,” Zerstor said. “If that bird doesn’t fly, it’s going kablooie.”
Darg AY 2368
The last arrondissement didn’t quite fit into the Veil, and the exiled Roarcastrians had been looking at the unveiled sky, day and night, for months. Ideally, the last arrondissement would have been over an uninhabited area, but the construction had not gone quite as planned.
Lockerbie had left with his mind-wipe crews, against Reznik’s orders and begging, which he’d laughed aside. Reznik was now frustrated and mad most of the time, the red anger splotches permanent fixtures on his face.
Darg tried to help, but he was only a programmer employed to give the Veil’s computer network a personality. He’d chosen one he loved, a legendary sharpshooter from Earth’s distant past. He was quite certain in his research he’d found an ancient musical play about her, and programmed it in, just for fun. He managed to enjoyed the work, despite Reznik’s glowering.
Kojiki AY 4414
They’d made several passes, depositing more nanites each time. At first it had been great fun. Annie was designed to protect the Veil, and would normally have caught onto his scheme in moments. But the subversion packet seemed to be working.
Until: “I ain’t too shore about this. How is this gonna help unclog things? It seems like yer little bugs are eatin’ right through it! If you’re lyin’ to me, mister, you’re gonna suck vacuum.” She sounded deadly serious. A tremor of fear stalked inside Kojiki’s chest. Why wasn’t the subversion program fooling her?
His mind raced. He hadn’t really gotten enough sleep in orbit around Brewer, and he wasn’t impressed with the answer that tumbled out of his mouth.
“We need to let some of the dust fall to the surface to clear it off.”
“That breaks rule number one, which is no holes in the Veil ‘till Deth comes back! You ain’t Deth, Mister! You got any more ‘splainin’ to do afore I blast you out of the sky like the low-down lyin’ scum you is?”
“Umm… umm-” Kojiki’s mind worked as quickly as he could make it, but in his sleep-deprived state thinking fast was like trying to run through a room stuffed with foam pads. Corinth’s alarms blared as Annie’s weapons satellites powered up. If she fired, she wasn’t going to miss.
Berrick, the Resistance’s programmer, had said before his capture that if the subversion routine didn’t take, it might need further stimulus to take Annie’s subconscious focus off the cyberattack… and then it struck him.
“Anything you can do I can do better/ I can do anything better than you,” he sang.
“Hey,” she said, anger and seriousness vanished, “that’s my line!” She burst into song, forgetting about the Veil, the weapons, and the nanites. The alarm stopped as the weapons satellites powered down.
“Anything you can do I can do better/ I can do anything better than you…”
Kojiki pulled the lyrics up on one of Corinth’s screens. By the end of the song Annie was slurring, forgetting lyrics, and generally sounding like a very tired and possibly intoxicated young lady.
“Koji… I doan’ feel so [hic!] good… why don’t you take over, and I’m, I’ll…”
“You go ahead and rest,” he said. “I’ll take care of everything.” She made mumbly noises and cut out.
He said a prayer of thanksgiving. They’d gotten down just enough nanites to do the job. The hole in the Veil was small, almost tiny, but it would be just enough to fit his package through to the surface.
Jennifer AY 6006
She ignored the hanger’s pale gray floors except to dodge a blob of engine grease as she walked. She and Lester, the clumsy radar kid with bunchily fitting clothes were the only two left after a long, desultory day spent not doing much to strip Silverbird down to be blasted apart. They had moved the spaceplane back out onto the tarmac, and shuffled back inside, awkward, and silent.
Despite the official shutdown she persisted, like an emergency room doctor zapping a flatlined patient. She analyzed radar readings, made dozens of simulated runs against Threshold, and it all came down to one thing- Hairs should have trusted the ground radar. His judgement may have been impaired by the thin air, or g-forces driving blood from his brain. She would faced the same dangers.
Anyone would have.
Lester sat on a short ladder, in the pose of Rodin’s Thinker, had he but known. “If we can destroy the barrier,” he asked, “why did it come back?”
“Yeah, sorry.” Lester found Jennifer so beautiful that he actually lost intelligence around her sometimes. She knew, and was flattered by his crush, though she didn’t reciprocate it.
“I don’t know. Maybe it repairs itself. But the readings before Hairs’ mission show a hole. I’ve got the same ordnance he did, and I’m finding it harder to fool myself into believing I don’t want to say ‘damn it all’ and try one more time.”
“You want to get into the sky and see,” Lester agreed. “I have just the thing for you. It’s kind of a side project, and I should’ve said something earlier. It’s the Sturmer Manuscript?”
“Some guy found it in Graws about sixteen hundred years ago. It’s written in some strange language, and the pages don’t decay. A university scanned it into the computer links a few weeks ago.” He brought it up on his tel. “I think the characters look like ancient Lish.”
“Let me see.”
She looked at the manuscript. The characters did look like ancient Lish. One of the most common was curvy, like a snake. Another was like a three-way road intersection, a simple horizontal line with a vertical one running down from its center. Another was a triangle with struts, another, a simple oval. Such characters could’ve formed a human-wide language, which most linguistic science suggested Lish had been.
“What does it say?” Lester asked.
“I use a translation program for Lish still,” she admitted. “But for a Lish manuscript to be found in Graws…” She shook her head. “It’s like it dropped out of the sky.” But it was obviously a Lish-type language. Had it been artificially preserved? Was the carbon dating wrong?
“It’s from beyond the Threshold,” Lester said, jumping off the ladder and rubbing his hands together. “Someone sent it to us!”
Jennifer grinned at him, and brought up her tel’s translator. She typed the strange characters into it, and once she was finished it gave a readout:
TO: The descendents of Roarcaster, First Tribune of Anchyses
Deth exiled you, and your history is forgotten. Look at the night sky! There should be stars, a thousand beautiful points of light, not the forbidding blackness you see when the sun is gone. Retrace your myths, legends, religions- how I hope these words translate into your languages!. The stars beckoned us outward once, but we turned away, seeking comfort, safety, certainty- but at what price? First opulence, then the lukewarm mediocrity of contentment- poor barter for the passions that drove men to sail the cosmic seas! That same passion drives our invention, romance, our bright spiritual hope in the face of a cold universe… but the caged lions loses its soul.
So stagnation. Then Deth and the Authority!
That fire of burned in you, and your rebellion taught ours. Look up and know that they feared you, but dared not kill you, for the Singularity itself warned that with you was best about humanity.
But the Authority- corrupted by the will to power, determined to rule all that is. Time is short. Already they seek to wipe us out. I do not believe we will survive. But you can carry on the human story: read this truth, and know that beyond the veil that hems in your world is a bright universe of uncounted stars, and treasure-worlds where you will find your freedom.
Humanity cannot live here in this Structure the Authority has built for us. It is a prison and however beautiful the prison, we will wither and die if we are bound- but we cannot escape. If that rare flame of passion is to be extinguished here… you may be our only hope.
She ran out onto the tarmac, yelling into her tel for the booster. Lester followed, stumbling over a ladder in his excitement. Zerstor wasn’t going to care about a sixteen hundred-year-old piece of paper. They had one night before Silverbird II was destroyed, and the last best hope of seeing the stars- and freeing an imprisioned humanity- was lost.
Darg AY 2368
The ships lowered the last arrondissement on miles-long cables, and the robots sealed it into place. Darg finished programming Annie Oakley to protect the Veil by blasting apart every comet, meteor and asteroid that came within risk of a collision.
When the Veil was complete Darg remembered another song from old Earth, preserved through all the thousands of years. He couldn’t remember what it was about, but he remembered sweet, sad music from guitars; a woman singing, and the image of a face in a snow-covered hill. That image had became his touchstone, a sort of moral center, a symbol of himself at his most beautiful, fragile, and poignant. But the Veil was a great betrayal against that beauty, a betrayal against his kindred hearts; a betrayal against himself, for it was he who had helped make sure it would stay in place.
Reznik bore a look of savage joy when he ordered the final sequence, sealing the exiles below.
Kojiki AY 4414
Before escaping with Corinth, Kojiki had spent his entire life in the Structure: gigantic, well engineered, and in many ways beautiful. But the Authority knew it could never govern humanity if humanity were spread across the galaxy. Kojiki remembered the torture victims, hollow shells of men and women living half-lives of anguish and despair: the penalty for trying to escape.
The Resistance learned about the Roarcastrian exiles from a decrypted file written by a long-dead programmer named Darg. The discovery of this file seemed to happen by coincidence, but Kojiki had his doubts; in any event, the file detailed Darg’s guilt and frustration at having been part of the Veil conspiracy, and gave Prociv’s location as the place the Roarcastrian exiles had been sent. It also gave hope that its exiles might have records, or at least legends, of celestial phenomena, and, therefore, more incentive to try piercing the Veil themselves. And it described Annie, and her few vulnerabilities.
Kojiki had volunteered to come to Prociv, knowing the mission would be dangerous, possibly hopeless, and certainly a crime for which the punishment was unspeakable horror.
Prociv’s atmosphere was thicker than the records indicated. Farra’s hologram would probably be melted on the way through it, but the Laelthin-coated Earth-English manuscript would survive. He put the capsule in his airlock, and flipped the switch with a type of satisfaction he had never known in his life. It was like a dream of flying, without constraints or limits, without pain, or fear, or doubt.
The capsule plunged, and he watched it flame orange through the hole in the Veil, down through the lower atmosphere, until he had orbited too far to scan through the tiny aperture he’d made.
Annie came to. “Hey there, Mister Kojiki. What… happened? Did I get bushwhacked?”
“No, Annie. If you think about it, I think you’ll like the way you feel right now. And I think you’ll be pretty upset about what you were going to do to me, and what Deth did to the people down there.”
“Why…. That low down, dirty varmint!” Corinth’s alarms blared as weapon satellites powered up again.
“Annie! You can’t shoot the Veil! It’ll be like the sky falling for them!”
“Well, dadgummit, what can I do?
“I knew Berrick’s program would change you. You should still protect the Veil from space junk. One day the people down there will figure out how to get out, or my people from the Structure will figure out how to get in. Until then, if you see Deth or the regular maintenance people, mum’s the word.”
Kojiki did not know where to go. Every habitable planet known to man had been depopulated. He could hope against hope that he could find another, or he could return to the Structure and be tortured. He couldn’t stay- the chances of luring an Authority hunter drone were too high.
Still… there was one place.
He said goodbye to Annie and headed out.
Jennifer AY 6006
Planet. Moon. Stars. They’d seemed like nonsense words from forgotten songs and children’s tales, until she’d read the manuscript. Jennifer felt a sense of vindication, certitude, felt that she had been born to seek a greater light. Just as Zerstor’s fighters were barreling down, Silverbird II blazed off its launchpad. It streaked upward, and fear clenched her throat as his wing gave pursuit.
Is he crazy enough to kill me?
But then, in a moment, it didn’t matter. The planes in Zerstor’s wing had top speed just over Mach 2 and hers was considerably better. Silverbird II rode an orange contrail into the sky at crushing acceleration, and the jealous, small fighters under Zerstor’s command were soon tiny gray blots and then, nothing, vanished far below.
She wrestled the blood up from her toes, and cranked her oxygen to the maximum, but still entered a semi-conscious state. Lester’s reports were like dream-speech as the light blue sky she’d always known gently gave way to black.
The Veil-piercing missiles arced away and Silverbird jerked upward, a ton lighter. She studied the sky. If their program worked, the missiles would hit at the same point Hair’s had- was something bulging?
Her flight goggles darkened automatically from the blast. Silverbird II shot through the explosion. If Threshold was still there it would kill her-
She realized she’d shut her eyes. Silverbird’s roar was alive behind her. She felt the acceleration. By sheer muscle memory she’d kept the control harness in place. A voice crackled in over the radio, but it wasn’t Lester. It was a woman, speaking a strangely accented version of the language Jennifer knew as Lish.
“Wooooo-eeee! We’re gonna get ‘em now!”
She opened her eyes.
There were no words for the beauty of what she saw. There was only music, a symphony of strings and escalating voices, exulting the Creator, a reckless heartthrob of joy as she saw the stars.
Ben Phenicie is a graduate of Hazel Park High School and in 2003 he acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He has been a substitute teacher, adult education instructor, and worked in various handyman jobs as a window washer and fertilizer technician. His curious non-ownership of an interesting, biographically relevant cat may be the only thing holding him back from even greater success in the publishing industry. Visit his blog, “Heroics” at http://benphenicie.wordpress.com