The edge, p.20
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       The Edge, p.20

           Leslie Lee
 
world. Places he'd maybe visit one day. He once figured out the furthest he'd ever been from home was ten miles. That was the day his mom took him to see the sea. It was big. Bigger than he'd ever imagined it to be. The Pacific Ocean. One day, he'd have enough money to go down to the beach. He'd take his mom. She'd looked so sad just staring at the water and listening to the waves through the fence. He'd get money and they'd buy some tickets to walk on the sand and touch the water. She said it was salty. But she didn't really know because she'd never tasted it herself. There were people just sitting or lying around not doing anything. Yeah, one day, he'd go down to that beach and walk in the water and taste it and find out if it really was salty.

  Jump Out was imminent. He and Sha sat in the Blue Box Launch Observation room looking down on Launch Command and the pod bays. The long, bare room extended along the length of the Launch Point. Here, they could watch all the Blue Box pods and Launch Command. Sha hopped around anxiously. He tried to appear calm and exude confidence in Th'han'dra and the rest of the squad. He was pretty sure he wasn't fooling anyone. Blue Box hadn't pulled heavy duty since they were down two pilots. Watching them mount their pods in launch preparation made him feel mad. He wanted to go. His frustration had to be beaten back. Earlier, Sha had gone down to her pod bay to see if she could do something to hurry them up. They'd chased her off with a crow bar banishing them all to the observation room. Looking down and seeing an empty bay where his pod should be made him feel strange. Like a piece of him was missing.

  "We can go up to Ops after Blue Box launches," he told her, trying to get her to stop jittering all over the place.

  "Really, Boss?" she asked, glancing at him quickly then looking away. "I've never been up there before. Is it allowed?"

  "Sure. Any pilot's allowed up there." He'd have to clue Dakota in as well.

  Sha and Dakota made him feel old for some reason even though he had only a few years on them. The feeling weirded him out. Despite himself, he resented being responsible for others. Wishing things were different wasn't going to change a thing. But having to care for more than himself was tougher than he thought.

  Jump Out was in five seconds. Both he and Sha took safety seats.

  There was no lurch or bump. A constant and irritating hum suddenly made its presence known by stopping. The normal space engines immediately cranked up and the ship shuddered as the squads from different parts of the ship all launched. Blue Box blasted out of their bays and were gone. A clean, efficient launch. He tried to stifle his sigh thinking it might not look good.

  "Let's go," Sha said. He grabbed her arm to keep her in her chair a few moments more. If there was going to be trouble, he didn't want them careening off the walls like pinballs.

  He let her arm go and unbuckled but she was faster. He hurried after her. She had broken bones during the crash but she showed no signs of the injuries. Unlike him. His body still harbored a few aches and pains. His Jump Space headache would take days to subside.

  In the corridor, the crew rushed around, hurrying to and fro.

  "What are all these people doing?" Sha asked, looking a little startled. This was the first time she'd been on board after a Jump. All squads always launched after a Jump Out.

  "Important stuff," he intoned, sagely enough to get a smile out of her. It was a mystery to him as well. They had all the time to prepare yet, men and women still rushed around doing their "important stuff".

  They made their way quickly to the Squad Briefing Room.

  Sha stuck close by him, nervous at being there for the first time. He led her to the Briefing Room, but made sure he didn't sit in his usual chair.

  He explained what they were seeing. Working with Telli had been an education.

  BG Cobra had Jumped out in an orderly fashion. There were plenty of horror stories of ships Jumping out on top of each other. He'd never seen it thankfully. Jerry told him a long time ago the X had somehow Jumped out almost on top of a Hammer. There'd been no harm done but he'd heard a lot of uniforms needed cleaning on both ships that day.

  All the squads were away. The Battle Group was splitting into attack formation. One arm was swooping down on SJ-1. The enemy ships orbited the planet. Either they hadn't detected the threat yet or didn't know what to do. No attempt to break orbit was made. One arm of BGC swept around the planet. The X and her entourage kept a close eye on the asteroid belt. Nothing should have been able to hide in there but nobody was taking any chances.

  He could see Suth sitting at the command console, high above the other operation stations. He seemed relaxed, but Mak could tell even at this distance, the Captain was tense.

  Sha glanced in the direction Mak was looking.

  "He would've made a good pod pilot," she observed.

  "Yeah," Mak said a little surprised. He hadn't thought about it. "You're right."

  Mak clicked from the Squad comm channels to the X.

  The Hammers and Raptors were trying to contact the Kyrzal ships orbiting the planet without much success. Either they weren't listening or they weren't talking.

  Mak wondered whether Brenn's walkabout had been reported.

  "We're picking up no life signs from these ships," one of the Hammers reported. "Minimal energy readings."

  Then it came. "Enemy targets detected."

  The X's group swung away from the asteroid belt to face the threat.

  "Enemy is not engaging. We detect two cruisers, and five destroyers."

  They were no threat to the DN's. Such a small force didn't even have fighters. It was no wonder they weren't closing. But they might be calling friends.

  Very quickly, things became really boring. The three arms of the battle group swept the areas looking for enemies but other than the seven ships, there was nothing. The Bridge crew started to settle down, the attack posture was relaxing. He had the mistaken impression the attack would proceed immediately. Instead, it appeared there was some secret timetable which involved a whole lot of nothing. Sha looked like she was deflating right before his very eyes. She slumped into her chair scanning the boards for something, anything, which looked interesting. Waiting at light speed. He could hardly stand it. Sha's fidgeting only made it worse.

  "I'm going to check our pods," he whispered to Sha.

  She leaped up glad to have something to do.

  Again, they found themselves back in the Launch Observation room. The techs had done a fair chunk of the work to get ready to fix both pods. Now they needed to get the bay doors open and push Mak's pod out. Given their preferences, the techs would have liked a nice stationary platform, not a ship going into battle. However, damage happened and repairs had to be made under combat conditions.

  "You know Mak," Chief Pod Engineer Thurber grumbled, joining them to watch the proceedings. "These bays are constructed for one pod."

  She was a little out of breath from the climb up into the observation area. An older woman, with graying hair. A little nervous but with capable hands. She was shorter than Sha, always seemed to be playing with her unruly brown hair. Mak had thought she was a bit aloof but learned, through Jerry of course, that if he kept at her, she'd unwind around him. It was worth getting to know her.

  "I've heard that," Mak said smiling and shaking hands with her. "Thought I'd find out for sure."

  Thurber smiled and shook hands with Sha, who blushed. "We're going to open the bay doors, shove yours out, and re-dock it in the proper bay. Did you get that part, Blue Box Leader? The proper bay? As in your bay?"

  "You mean I can't just pick out any one I like?"

  She grunted. "No, Mak. Or bad things will be happening to you."

  "Yes, ma'am," he said, chastened, but grinning.

  Yellow lights started flashing in the bay holding the two damaged pods. The mechs and techs in the bay closed up their face masks and checked their safety lines. The lights turned solid yellow and air was evacuated, slowly, from the bay. The yellow lights flashed again, then turned solid. Gravity had been zeroed. Most of the techs were in su
its but others were harnessed into giant bots which helped them move something as heavy as a pod. They had already removed all the munitions and fuel from both pods. Sha's looked almost fully repaired. She could fly soon.

  His pod didn't look so good. Undoubtedly they'd do more when they'd maneuvered it into his bay.

  Red lights flashed slowly in Sha's bay, then held solid. The outer doors slid open.

  Normally, there'd be no personnel in the bay during launches and dockings. Watching the techs floating around attaching bots to his pod was definitely weird. Thurber stood next to him watching her crew and listening to their communication. The on site crew commander was running the show, she didn't really need to be there. But it was something new for everybody and, theoretically, they were in combat. Though this had to be the quietest battle they'd ever been in.

  Some of Blue Box Launch Crew hung around below them watching the show from Launch Command. Seeing two pods in one bay was different enough to attract some attention.

  Mak didn't hear the command, the mechs were on a different frequency than the Squads. He didn't want to switch his comm from the pods to the mechs in case something did happen with the pods flying outside the X. All the mechs suddenly pushed off and floated away from the pod. The bots fired their thrusters and slowly, they maneuvered the pod out of the bay. It was a tight squeeze getting Mak's pod around Sha's pod, then out the door.

  "Not even a

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