The edge, p.1
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       The Edge, p.1

           Leslie Lee
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The Edge
The Edge

  Leslie R. Lee


  Copyright 2012 Leslie R. Lee

  Dedicated to my wife: Patie Johnson.

  The Edge


  Leslie R. Lee

  Mak's eyes snapped open.

  Something was different.

  He didn't hesitate. He slammed his eyelids shut. Sleep, he didn't want to wake up. Sleep, he didn't care what was different. Sleep, that's all he wanted. He willed his breathing to slow, his body to draw away from consciousness, his heart to match the rhythm of his ship. Orbiting a planet, exploring a star system, engaging the enemy, the ship's personnel carried out their duties in well-known, orderly patterns. Rhythm. Military rhythm. It was a good thing. Changes in rhythm, not so good. Could be something obvious like alarms shrieking all over the damned ship. Or subtle. Like now. What the hell had yanked him awake? Maybe a slight quickening of some activity he wasn't quite aware of. Or a slight slowing. Maybe more noise or less noise or the wrong noise. Nothing his conscious mind could lock on to. A part of him argued that it didn't concern him and besides, what could he do? The responsibility for whatever hell was breaking loose lay with the rest of the ten thousand plus crew.

  Sleep, come on, sleep, he told himself.

  He punched the pillow and cursed. Something, some stupid little thing, had disrupted the rhythm of the giant ship.

  Wearing just his shorts, he stumbled out of his cubicle. He hopped from one foot to the other as he crossed the chilly floor of the dorm. His cubicle was a private one. One of the few perks of an officer he could really enjoy. The other perks included meetings, reports, meetings about the reports, then more reports on the meetings. He yawned. My brain, he thought, where's my freaking brain? Waking up wasn't one of the things he did really well. Blearily, he realized Th'han'dra was gone. The curtain was drawn back to show her well made bed. Her absence irritated him for some reason. Had she felt the 'difference' before he had? It'd be just like her to tune in to whatever the hell was going on before anybody else had a clue.

  Mak, the missing Th'han'dra, and the six snoring, farting, mumbling bodies in the dorm constituted Blue Box Squadron. Their semiprivate cubicles surrounded the common area of their quarters. He used to be in one of those beds until he got bumped up to Leader. Heavy black curtains separated the personal areas from each other. With all the thick privacy curtains closed, almost none of the walls could be seen. The military approved, noise reducing, fire resistant, stain repelling fabric reached from ceiling to floor. They were crap. Everyone thought so. Custom dictated that personnel draw back the curtains when vacating the personal area. With most of the curtains closed, the cramped quarters felt even smaller. Dull grey, textured metal plates covered the floor. The ceiling was metal as well, grey with only the light fixtures and vents to break up the monotony. The odors of the different bodies permeated everything despite the whiney exertions of the air conditioning.

  Mak didn't bother looking at the clock glowing above the door leading to the rest of the ship. Day, night, it had no meaning on board. Shifts were the only important measures of time. Three. Eight hours each. Each shift had a name which reflected military imagination. First, Second, Third. And there weren't any days on board. Officially, they were called Tri's. But everybody called them days. For each shift, the crew were either on duty, off duty, or asleep. Somebody told him once they'd get more efficiency out of the crew if they simulated a real Earth day. But then, when did the military ever listen to 'somebody'?

  He slid open the door leading to the bathroom. The dim convenience lamp was all the illumination he could stand. The metal floor chilled his bare feet as he used the facilities. He mumbled his least favorite mantra. "Wake up, dammit. Wake up, dammit. Wake up, dammit." He padded over to the sink and splashed cold water over his face. Cold water was free. And it wasn't really that cold. More tepid, lukewarm, almost bearable. The thumb print pad on the hot water faucet flickered, inviting. Hot water cost just a token or two. Maybe he could spring for a shower instead. A nice, hot shower. Standing under a stream of steaming water, letting it flow over his chilled skin, washing away the aches and pains. Tempting. So very tempting. Just a few tokens. His account would hardly miss it.

  He stared into the mirror. His sodden reflection looked old. Older than his... He thought for a moment. Twenty-two or was it twenty-three Earth years? Cobwebs clogged his brain. He was pretty sure his Chinese features shouldn't have so many wrinkles. He especially didn't like the deep groove between the sparse eyebrows hovering almost nonexistent above almond shaped, bloodshot eyes. Grim lines surrounding his mouth emphasizing the thinness of his lips. He thumbed a token to get a cream to remove what little stubble grew from his gaunt face. His pale brown skin was scarred. A souvenir from the engagement responsible for his promotion. That battle had almost killed him. It had killed the squadron leader. He had enough med tokens to pay for a fix to the scar. His fingers traced the ragged healed cut running from his right cheek, down along his neck, to just under his left pectoral muscle. It didn't look that bad on his skeleton thin, almost hairless body. At the end of his tour, he would trade the med tokens in for money. Maybe if he grew his hair longer it would cover the scar a little. His straight black hair reached his shoulders. Not military style by any code he knew. Pilots, though, were given a little more latitude thankfully.

  He looked around to make sure he really was alone then took a quick whiff of his armpits. The shower tokens would be saved. He hopped back to his cubicle. His bed looked really good. Still warm. Easy to just flop into. Then again, there was that little something which had woken him up. Cursing again, he threw on his flight suit. Blue Box squad wasn't launch due for another shift. Still, never hurt to be prepared. Hate to be unable to fly because of a fashion faux pas.

  The sleepers slept on as he made his way out of the dorm and towards the Bridge. The crew he passed in the dimly lit, narrow corridors weren't rushing. There was the right number of personnel for the current level of operations. No flashing lights or clamoring alarms. Normality. Completely mundane. He quickened his pace.

  The Bridge was off limits to him. As far as the ship's crew was concerned, he was just a passenger. That was fine with him. Squad Ops was his destination. It afforded the best view of the Bridge anyway. The security door recognized and allowed him onto the Bridge threshold and from there he went straight into the Squad Ops area.

  Squad Ops Chief Telli stood alongside the duty Squad Ops Commander. That wasn't normal. The SO Chief rarely joined the duty SO Commander on the deck. She usually preferred to observe from the Briefing Room. He nodded in acknowledgment when Telli caught sight of him. Her mane of grey hair was pulled back tight. Her dark brown face was clear but her eyes squinted with concern. She wasn't bad looking. True, she was a bit on the old side, but she was trim and lean. He turned his attention to the display tracking all the in-flight squads interacting with the fleet. He didn't need to ask what was going on. The Big Board said it all.

  Gold Ghost squad was missing.

  Gold Ghost squad was one of ten squads assigned to Mak's ship, the DreadNought Exeter. Or just the X as the crew called her. Each squad had eight pods. A pod was a fighter, an extension of the massive firepower of the DreadNought.

  DN X was a brutal sight. Somebody had described a DN as nothing more than a giant two by four with a bunch of engines stuck on one end. That was about accurate. The Hammer class cruisers and Raptor class destroyers supporting the X looked, as their crews were quick to describe them, sleek and sexy. Their sharp and shiny architecture, bristling with weaponry and instrumentation, defined how space ships should look. The X, on the other hand, was almost featureless. A long, black, brick bullying her way through space. No windows. No turrets. Nothing extraneous. Five of her six surfaces wer
e dull and smooth, the sixth bulged with engines. She was a troop carrier, a platform for pod squads, and most of all, a dealer in violence. Her armor barely concealed weapons fully capable of destroying a planet. The X was an instrument of death bludgeoning her way to war. She dominated her Dime Group. Ten ships. The X and her nine ship escort. They were one of three Dimes that constituted Battle Group Cobra. BGC was a big fleet. Rumor said this was an invasion. The Unity was taking it right to the Kyrzal home world.

  The Kyrzal War was a mere one year old. Initially, it was hardly a war at all. The Kyrzal had suddenly attacked the Unity, annexing three systems in a matter of weeks. The systems, easy targets, were not important.
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