Molly fyde and the parso.., p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue, p.1

         Part #1 of The Bern Saga series by Hugh Howey
 
Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue
Page 1

  Part I – The Tchung Affair

  “It started with a nightmare.

  And the nightmare became a dream.

  Then the dream became real. ?. ?. ”

  ~The Bern Seer~

  1

  Molly floated in the vacuum of space with no helmet on—with no protection at all. In the distance, a starship slowly drifted away. It was her parents’ ship, and they were leaving her behind.

  She swam in the nothingness, trying to keep them in view, but as always she spun around and faced the wrong direction. It was the only torment the old nightmare had left. After years of waking up—screaming, crying, soaked in her own sweat—she had whittled it down to this.

  She gave up fighting for one last glimpse and tried to relax, to find some breath of peace. They were out there, even if she couldn’t see them. And as long as she stayed asleep, suffocating and alone, her parents remained among the stars. Alive.

  “Molly. ”

  A voice pierced the dream. Molly cracked her eyes and blinked at her surroundings. Beyond the carboglass cockpit loomed a scene similar to her nightmare, but filled with a fleet of Navy ships. The fire of their thrusters blended with the stars beyond, little twinkles of plasma across the stark black.

  “Gimme a sec,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyelids before snapping her visor shut. She scanned the constellation of lights and readouts across the dashboard and over her head. She could see at a glance that everything was in order. This spread of twinkling indicators and glowing dials were as familiar to her as any starchart, as recognizable as a loved one’s face.

  “Take your time. Your shift’s not up for another ten. ”

  She turned in her nav seat to face Cole Mendonça, her pilot for the last two years. Molly sat to his right in the Firehawk’s “girlie” seat, a term meant to motivate the boys from flunking out of flight school and ending up as lowly navigators. All the insult did for Molly was infuriate her—she’d never even been given the chance to fail.

  “Another ten? Drenards, Cole, then why’d you wake me?”

  “I wanted you to see something. I just sent it over. Check the first tab. ”

  Molly frowned at her pilot and pulled the reader out of its pouch. She resented not being able to fly, but she had a hard time taking it out on Cole. Partly because he had earned his position, but mostly because she considered him a friend. And in the male-dominated galaxy in which she lived and operated, those were as rare as habitable worlds.

  She yawned and tried to stretch as much as the flight harness would allow. If only civilians knew how boring space flight truly was. All they ever saw were the buzzing battles on the Military Channel, the great swarms of spacecraft darting through torrents of laser fire. In reality, flying for the Navy mostly meant dull chores: astronavigation and chart plotting, taking turns on flight shifts while your partner grabbed precious few winks, and digital paperwork. Lots of digital paperwork.

  “What exactly am I looking at?” she asked. She assumed Cole was going to have her perform some more clerical heroics.

  “It’s our system update log. Read it. ”

  She turned to Cole, her fears confirmed. “You woke me up for an update log?”

  “Read it,” he insisted, facing her. With his mirrored visor down, only his lips were visible, pursed with worry. Molly heard the AC unit in her flightsuit whir to life, whisking away her excess body heat. She glanced up at the reflection in his visor. Both helmets repeated themselves over and over in a series of infinite regressions. She tried to follow herself as she receded into the indiscernibly diminutive.

  “Firehawk GN-KPX to Molly Fyde, come in,” Cole said mockingly. “Can you read me? Over. ”

  Molly pulled her gaze away from the familiar illusion of reflections and focused on the reader.

  “Well?” he asked.

  “Gimme a sec, would you?”

  She skimmed the report, not sure what to look for. It was standard stuff from the IT department: a software upload to their ship four days ago by Specialist Second Class Mitchell and signed off by Commander Hearst. A few bugs fixed, some navigational data updated. None of it warranted the worry in Cole’s voice.

  “I don’t see the problem,” she said.

  “That’s because I haven’t shown it to you yet. I just wanted you to see that before I presented this. ” With an unnecessary flourish, Cole pulled up the Firehawk’s diagnostic information on the main screen of the dash.

  It took a second for Molly to see it. She gaped at him in disbelief and annoyance. “Are you serious? You’re worked up over this?” She jabbed a finger at the time of their computer’s most recent update. It said the 14th. Yesterday. Two days later than the maintenance report suggested. She groaned. “I’m sure it’s just an input error, Cole. ” She flipped the tab shut on her reader and stuffed it away. “And I was having such a good dream, too. ”

  “First of all, you don’t have good dreams. I know because you mumble in your sleep. Secondly, the reason I tracked down the report was ’cause I was already suspicious. I saw someone tampering with our Firehawk this morning. You’re looking at the confirmation, not the clue. ”

  “And why would someone tamper with our ship?”

  “Now that’s the mystery,” he agreed. “Hopefully just someone messing with us. Jakobs, maybe. Whoever it was had his build. Man, I should’ve suspected something and taken a closer look. Still, what in the galaxy would someone be doing updating our ship’s programming? Who even knows how to do that outside of IT?”

  Cole’s voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. He was enjoying this entirely too much. “And what if it isn’t a practical joke?” he asked. “What if it’s something . . . worse?”

  Molly nearly burst out laughing. Once Cole’s brain concocted a good conspiracy theory, there was no stopping him. She’d seen it play out dozens of times, him always jumping to conclusions with the barest of facts. It used to bother her, but then she figured out that this habit of his—playing connect-the-dots without bothering to read the numbers—was better than any game of Drenards or Dare. When Cole drew what he wanted to see, rather than what was actually there, that’s when Molly learned the most about him.

  “Hey, it’s my shift,” she said, too tired to egg him on or argue. “Why don’t you take a nap and try dreaming in your sleep for a change. ”

  Cole opened his mouth to launch a witty comeback—but he never got the chance. Because that’s when the long tedium of astronavigating from point A to point B came to an abrupt end.

  And the part people see on the Military Channel finally began.

  ••••

  Intelligence reports had projected an enemy force of a dozen, tops. The fleet had subsequently planned for two dozen, just to be safe. What winked out of hyperspace was several times this. So many that Molly didn’t have time to count them visually. Even her SADAR unit had difficulty teasing the clusters into individual targets. Fifty fighters? Half a dozen heavy bombers?

  Cole slammed the Firehawk to full throttle, and Molly felt her chest constrict as the flightsuit struggled to compensate. Millions of tiny pockets pushed anti-grav fluid wherever it was needed, offsetting the shift in acceleration. With the suits and their conditioning, Molly and Cole could tolerate forces that would normally tear the human body apart. Which was precisely how it felt at times.

  “We have three fighters breaking off for a flanking maneuver,” she noted. Keeping her gaze locked on the targets, her gloved hand pressed buttons by her thigh. The representations of all three enemy ships blossomed with an orange glow for Cole to consider.

  “I see ’em,” he said, peeling off
to intercept.

  Riggs—their wingman in the neighboring Firehawk—locked in as well. The two ships coursed across the formation to head off the threat, even as the acting fleet commander barked orders for all craft to engage in a full-frontal attack.

  Molly watched as Riggs’s Firehawk wavered on SADAR, their wingman torn between two duties, two disparate layers of command. Cole’s hand never twitched on the flight controls. He ignored the fleet commander in favor of Molly’s threat assessment, and the two Firehawks continued to barrel after the trio of enemy fighters.

  “We’re gonna come in pretty hot,” he warned, his voice calm and soothing considering what they were up against. Riggs answered back on their private channel, his choice made. Meanwhile, along the front line, streaks of plasma jolted across the gap between the two fleets. Fired by the jittery and eager, these premature tendrils lanced out with no chance of inflicting damage, not at such a vast range.

  The three targets Molly had chosen were trying to get around the fleet. The combination of superior numbers and crossfire would end the fight before it ever truly began. Glancing at her SADAR, she saw two other enemy groups pulling the same maneuver on opposite sides of the fleet. None of the other Firehawks were responding. She broadcast a warning on the emergency channel, more concerned with the threat than she was with violating rank and protocol. A chorus of male voices shouted her down, all of them insisting the main fleet body remain in formation, some of them telling her to shut the hell up.

  Molly ignored the insults. The threat of encirclement was there. It had to be taken seriously, even if this meant thinning the formation before the first casualties were suffered.

  Cole and Riggs seemed to agree. They closed in on their targets, still out of effective laser and missile range, but the gap was rapidly decreasing. Thanks to the quick response, they had a great angle on their enemies’ trajectory. They would easily cut them off.

  The trio of enemy pilots realized this as well. The craft nearest them altered course, whirling around with incredible speed and precision. It darted for Cole and Riggs, one ship bearing down on two in a suicidal gambit designed to buy his partners some time.

  “Lock missiles. ” Cole’s voice hinted at the first sign of strain.

  Molly’s fingers danced across the targeting console; the orange triangle around the attacker turned red. “Firing,” she said, pulling the trigger.

  Nothing happened. Confused and flushed with heat, Molly looked at her controls and checked the safety overrides. Everything was green. It took a moment for her brain to go through the reasonable explanations. When it ran out of them, it considered Cole’s silly conspiracy theory—and how it didn’t seem quite so silly anymore.

  “We’ve got a problem!” she yelled.

  The first volley of enemy laser lashed out at Riggs on their starboard side. At this distance, it was easy to avoid. Cole rolled away to give his wingman more room, his foul language suggesting a similar problem with the lasers that Molly was having with the missiles. Without weapons, they’d be useless out there. Defanged. Flying nothing more than a scout ship in the biggest naval engagement of their young lives. Molly tried in vain to comprehend the nightmare they were in.

  And then it got worse.

  The fighter bearing down on them spun away from Riggs and launched a volley at Cole, and he was too distracted with the malfunctioning lasers to respond. Molly nearly got out a warning before the glancing blow struck the nose of their ship.

  The cockpit flashed for a moment, then went dark. The Firehawk fell into a flat, lifeless spin—its nose slowly pointing back to the fleet. All three thrusters were knocked out and off-line. And as the entire dash descended into darkness, the other lights around them became vivid and bright. The stars and pink nebulae beyond the fighting glowed with intense beauty, the laser blasts directed at their wingman blooming far more sinister.

  The next volley flashed by their cockpit, illuminating the interior with a red pall of death, before slamming into Riggs’s Firehawk head-on. His ship blossomed silently into the glowing cloud of debris and flaming ash that Molly had come to associate with a Navy death.

  So quick.

  The enemy craft flew past the carnage it had created, whipping the fine particles in its thruster’s wake. It seemed impossible, but Molly swore she could hear the ship screaming across the vacuum of space as it circled around—preparing for a run on her lifeless and useless ship.

  ••••

  “Cole!” Molly shook his arm, but there was no response. She leaned forward and initiated a cold boot of every system, hoping some of their defenses would come back on-line. Anything.

  To Molly’s astonishment, the entire dash lit up. The laser blasts had locked up the computers and knocked out Cole, but the ship was coming back to life. Even the thruster control indicators winked from red to amber. In ten minutes she’d have propulsion again—if she could just hold out that long.

  She took a deep breath and wrapped her left hand around the flight controls. Situated between her and Cole, the controls catered to the 82 percent of pilots who favored their right hand. Incredibly and unfortunately, this was one area in which Molly could be considered “normal. ” Despite hours of practice from the nav seat, she would never fly as well from that side of the cockpit as she could with her dominant hand.

  The large propulsion thrusters at the rear of her Firehawk were still warming up, but she had control of the maneuvering jets. Molly used them to swing the Firehawk around, squeezing the trigger as she did so, hoping the reboot had fixed the weapons glitch.

  Nothing. And now she knew this was no accident. Cole’s conspiracy theory had grown legs—they kicked her for not listening.

  Ahead, the enemy craft completed its victory lap around the dispersing nebula left by Riggs’s Firehawk. The first bolts of red laser winked from the sleek fighter and raced her way. Molly used the maneuvering jets to shift sideways. Her right hand flinching as her left hand worked, the dominant side of her squirming to help, to take over for its feeble partner. Molly screamed Cole’s name once more, hoping to rouse him, but he didn’t respond.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll