12:00 Shadow (Ch 4)
Shadow fell back heavy with exhaustion into the co-pilot seat next to Artimis. He shook his head trying to clear it. We should be dead. He thought to himself, referring to the wild base jump he had made onto this very rescue plane.
It seemed that everything that could go wrong did. The parachute Artimis had dropped during the first fly by was not quick open. He'd strapped Dual in first then strapped himself in front of her. And as the large cargo plane made another pass, this time low above the valley tree tops; Shadow had pulled the rip cord and jumped. All he had felt and heard in those moments was the gulping throb in his chest as he waited for the chute to unfurl. He pulled the pack tight squeezing Dual into his back, bracing and praying for the wind to catch and slow their descent.
But the wind never did catch. They had fallen through the German sky and Shadow had wished he could kiss Dual just once more.
The rest had been a tangle of twitch reactions and quick thinking by Artimis. She was able to speed the lumbering plane up enough to catch the waffling parachute on the front edge of one of the forward swept wings. Shadow had pulled and pulled lugging Dual and himself into the plane through a side hatch.
"Make this thing move!" His voice was urgent and breathless.
annoyed, tossed her flame red hair from her eyes. "Tis PORP not
"I don't care…" Shadow looked over at the seat adjacent to him. Dual lay there, moving every now and again as if enveloped in some heated dream. The Skintec system had already closed around her amputated arm. By now the spliced muscle fibers were probably being weaved into a knobby membrane. You will fight again, Shadow thought to himself, not sure if he was promising himself or Dual.
The giant screen at the front of the PORP served as the planes HUD and viewfinder, it was a completely digital system. The PORP was 100 solid reinforced steel, with not a single window to compromise the hulls integrity. Shadow watched the top right corner of the screen as it cycled through different camera views. One, two, three, four, five, there were five cam-oars which independently followed and hovered around the plane.
Artimis looked across her shoulder analyzing Shadow's gaze. "Intriguing the cam-oars system yes?" He watched her fiddle with the translucent voyage pad which wrapped over to hovered just above the flight stick. The large central image shifted from first person, to a third person perspective of the plane from the rear. "Tis like the SimCades no?"
Shadow waved his hand dismissively "Well in the Scades you get an extra guy for a few hundred creds." Shadow couldn't remember the last time he had been in a scade. The scade machines at J-i were collecting dust. He and none of the other agents had any times for games.
"Did ever jou ah, play Jet Slalom?" asked Artimis.
Shadow rode a surge of fond memories. Memories which seemed to sop up much of his nervousness from the near death experience. He told her how he held the high score at the Tokyo Scade for a year. How he was nine then and never dreamed he would be requisitioned by J-i, It just didn't happen often; talking on new agents for the holy war. He asked her about her home and smiled when she said she had none.
"But every one has a home" Shadow mused.
"Tis not so for this oun."
"Well, it is what it is." Shadow felt comfortable with Artimis; this was the first time he had met her in person. She had made quite a name for herself in J-i, being the only pilot to make ace four times over. She was beautiful and wonderfully youthful but clearly older than he was. She had to be in her thirties at the least.
But as he thought his heart ached in guilty pain; here it was not even twenty four hours from his wife's tragedy and he was already ogling another woman.
"Forgive me Yuki." Shadow said aloud as he pulled his goggles to the top of his forehead. His eyes widened and focused as he took in the real world. Not a digital interpretation but the real thing.
Artimis turned her head asking "What was Tiss? Sa engines sare loud up he-… Jour eyes!" She released her safety belts and moved in closer.
Shadow leaned forward where he sat closing one eye. He knew what she saw, deeply black iris shadowing a pitch pupil. The pupil and iris distinctly different never blending or bleeding but both definitively black.
"Jour eyes sare like black houles."
Shadow blinked and pulled the fabric down away from his mouth. "Yeah I know, my family grew up really close to the coal mines. Dad used to take me down there with him to work, said it would make me strong."
Artimis leaned in closer. Her face wiped with awe.
"I'm KIDDING, lighten up Artimis. It's been this way since I was born. I don't even know who my dad is."
She punched his shoulder, a light jab that said "you suck." Shadow sat up straight.
"Sare you ok?"
"I'm fine." His back was sweating. "I'm fine."
The radar alarm screamed without mercy.
"Computer sidentify threat!"
Shadow pulled the goggles and fabric back into place.
The female computer blared, "Five Drakin SU-29's closing in at mach 2.3."
"Four minutes fifty two seconds and counting."
"Shav you heard of the T-Cat redesign?"
"Yes" He thought he had, he remembered something about 3 cam-oars and mid-flight deployment.
"Scan you fly oun?"
"Of course." He wasn't sure he could, but he sure as hell couldn't pilot a PORP.
"Only thing is I really don't like… Ah…"
"Swhat the hell?"
"Never mind, never mind. Just open the belly. I'm coming out hot."
- ┼ -
The controls were straight forward enough; a small voyage pad just above the flight stick. Shadow pulled the entry hatch shut. One tap of the voyage pad and all the electronics came to life. Another tap and the dual turbines went blaze. The PORP's belly was already open and air rushed in glad to fill the depressurizing space.
"Sengaging the Slint Effect in ten, nine, eight…"
The screen switched to a third person view. He could see the spring coils growing tighter and tighter. The rear facing cam-oar showed the launch platform glowing crimson from the jet flames.
The coils released launching Shadow and the T-cat out of the PORP with crushing G-forces. Shadow's hands laid flat in his lap as he struggled to reach the flight stick. The G's leveled off and he popped the missiles fire cap. Shadow shifted the main view to first person. Three fighters were closing low in a pointed triangular attack formation while two others flew level with the PORP.
Five targets… Six missiles… no mistakes. Shadow steadied his trembly hands on the flight stick. The onboard HUD locked on, pulsing red.
He had caught them by surprise, one of the advancing fighters exploded in a shower of twisted debris. Sheets of metal were still falling to the earth as Shadow roared past.
"Sit behind them." Artimis' voice buzzed.
"I'm going to 'GET' behind them, stop talking."
Shadow barrel rolled the T-cat, narrowly avoiding a nose to nose collision with the other Drake fighter. As each plane passed through the others sonic space, the aircrafts caused a thunderous sound breaking boom.
The T-cats wings spread wide as the jet turbines flamed out. Shadow looked at his hands puzzled and panicky; he had only pulled back on the flight stick.
The plane plummeted a few hundred feet before facing nose skyward. He suddenly realized it; it was a new way of directional shifting… he thought. He hoped. He looked for any type of engage button. And there pulsing green on the Voyage pad were the words,
"What the crap!", Shadow tapped the pad.
The engines bawled, the wings closed tight and the jet blazes tripped fantastic. Shadow's head went fuzzy as he pulled on an oxygen mask. His vision tunneled into darkness.
"Not sokay, what are yous doing?"
"Crighfttt." Shadow couldn't respond, he couldn't even think.
He thought he heard the computer, "15 Seconds to stratosphere. Not equipped for sub-space combat. Disengage. Disengage."
Someone said, "dou something!"
Shadow weary and blacking reached up to the side of his goggles.
Way Point Generator Engaged
In the center of his tunneling vision a button glowed, highlighted by his goggles. He pressed it.
"Normal Flight Control Activate." The computer said.
Shadow pulled back hard on the flight stick. The T-cat opened its arms and arced backwards towards the ground. Vapor contrails extended from the wing tips and a cloud wrapped across the wings.
Numbered lines connected in Shadow's vision matrix. This would all be over in a matter of minutes.
The planes drew contoured lines across the midday sky. Some lines were finer than others, but they all ended predictably... explosions. All except two.
"Be scareful yes. He is good no?"
"He is trash." Shadow said grinding his teeth. The T-cat shook violently as Shadow and the fighter danced upward, around and around, as if racing into space.
Lynpadic Shifter was highlighted in his vision matrix.
"Stupid crazy goggles," Shadow mouthed.
He pressed the button and the afterburners dropped away. Shadow maneuvered the T-cat with the fins and airbrake. The onboard targeting reticule flashed. And…
Shadow's plane moved past the shrapnel as the engines retriggered.
"Everything ok in there?" Shadow said softly, a little worse for wear.
"Yeah every thin is sok."
"Good, open the belly I'm ready to land."
"There sare no landings."
"No landings. You speak sa English, yes?"
"Yes…" Shadow turned to crack his back and quickly whipped his head; his neck chinked loudly.
"Lock onto this tracer signal. Frequency 808.11A" Artimis said tiredly.
"Yeah yeah." Was there a limit to the amount of things that could be so horribly wrong in one day? Shadow frowned.
The T-cat soared behind the PORP adjusting itself through an auto-pilot.
"How do you suppose they found us?" Shadow asked.
"I am doing checks now."
"Well to be safe I think we should implement a radio silence. Is Dual okay?"
"She is not among the dead"
"Thanks…" Artimis was patronizing him, and he didn't like it.
"Initiating radio silence." He quipped.
"Yeah Se la vi." Shadow said almost laughing. He slouched deep into his chair, and stared at the screen and laughed to himself. He was flying a 3rd generation T-cat, and yet he badly wanted to play Jet Slalom.
The only game Shadow could access remotely was Sario. A little running and jumping game from the early 20's. It'd been awhile since he had been alone long enough to play. He tapped the side of his goggles.
Way Point Generator Disengage…..
Access .exe unit Twilight?
Is it safe to submerge?
He couldn't think of any other way to kill a few hours.