The squeak of rusty door hinges was the first sign he was about to be awakened from a sound sleep. The second was a small band of light from the corridor outside, searing his eyes like a Thorn blast. The third, and least possible of the three to ignore, was the sound of RazorX’s shout right beside his head….
Rix groaned, mumbled something that sounded remotely like a string of curse words, and rolled over to shade his eyes from the light. No good. His pillow was yanked out from underneath his head, swung around, then brought back down. Hard.
More swears. Then, “By Hannalzah…that better not be Ixholla because I’m about to…
Razor grinned. “About to what, Rixiepoo?”
Rix growled and sat up, shielding his eyes until they could adjust to the light. “About to kick your sorry excuse for a fighter pilot’s ass!”
“Sorry man, orders!”
“What are you, my damn nurse?”
“Not quite, but I can — ”
Rix waved off his reply. “Don’t answer that. What time is it?”
“Oh-three-fifteen, Quantar Standard Time.”
“So, by all accounts, I should still be sleeping, right? This better be important — and don’t say you brought in a transport full of Octavian women either, because I’m not buying it this time!”
Razor laughed again and tossed Rix’s pillow back at him. “We’re on a mission, dude. Emergency supply run. Ix figures we’re gonna need more ammo in a few hours’ time.”
“So let him get the damned missiles himself!”
“Tried it. He isn’t having any of that. We leave in two hours.”
Rix stood up and stumbled towards his locker on the far side of the room. “Sure, so let the little worker bees lose sleep, right?” Razor just nodded once, still grinning. “And what the hell are you so happy about?” It took three tries to open the locker. “Y’know, I was having the best dream, too.. .1 was in my Typhoon, and we were on a Wake raid, and our mutual buddy TTelephone was there, Honor Guard and ready for combat, in a tow full of uranium…” Rix sighed, then swung the locker wide open and pulled out his flight suit, which he tossed unceremoniously onto his bunk.
He had just stepped into the flight suit when RazorX spoke up again. He had moved over to Rix’s opened locker, and was staring at a single photo taped to the inside of the locker door. “Hey, who’s she?”
Rix sat down on his bunk, stepped into a pair of combat boots, then shook his head at RazorX. “No one you’d know.” He started fumbling with the laces, which seemed to have grown minds of their own and refused to wrap around each other.
Razor was not put off by his answer. “No kidding,” he continued, still looking at the photo. She was tall and lithe; short brown hair framed a pair of jade green eyes. “That’s why I asked who she is. Girlfriend? Sister?” Razor’s eyes narrowed in mock seriousness. “Wife? Rixie, you’re not married are you? Oh your god, tell me not…”
Rix growled and swore once. “Razor, I’m locked in mortal combat with these boot laces, can this wait until later? I haven’t even had a coffee yet. Would you just drop it?”
RazorX put on an air of innocence. “Alright, alright, so it’s a touchy subject! Man, some people… damn! Is that a two-piece?”
Rix looked up again. Razor had flipped the picture over — and found a second one taped to the back of the first. “Damn it Razor, would you get out of my stuff!”
“Dude, I’m just saying!…whoever she is, she fits that swimsuit pretty well –”
In two steps, Rix had cleared the space between bunk and locker, stepping infront of RazorX and slamming the locker door closed. A glare stopped Razor from saying anything further. “I said drop it. Meet me in the hangar in ninty minutes. Have whoever’s running the cargo ready to go. And stay out of my sight for the next hour
and a half until whatever coffee I can find sinks in. And!”, he held up a hand to forestall anything else, “you better hope I find coffee at all, or I’ll be bitching at whoever comes in range the full length of the trip!”
Ninty minutes later, Rix was in the Evening’s End flight deck performing the first of a battery of pre-flight checks. The walkaround yielded no physical damage to his Typhoon fighter. Hopping into the cockpit and lowering the canopy, system powerup also showed all systems at 100% efficiency. He donned his microphone and activated his fighter’s engines. The canopy muffled the roar of the gravity drives as he contacted flight control.
“Echo echo zero one, this is Alpha one, radio check, over…”
EE control came back immediately. “Echo echo zero one, loud and clear. You’re up
early, alpha one, over.”
Rix snorted without keying his mic. “You funny bastard…” He mashed the PTT key.
“Alpha one, roger, I have Sunray to thank for that, over.” Sunray, being EE command — Ixholla.
He could almost hear the grin from the voice on the other end. “Zero one, roger, alpha one. Skies look clear for the next few hours, you are cleared for launch on your mark, over.”
“Alpha one, roger. Have a good one, zero one. Out.”
Rix hit the Launch button on his console, activating the lift his fighter rested on. In a moment, he had been lowered into the launch tubes. Five seconds later, his Typhoon was hurled into space. Though the mission wasn’t slated to kick off for another half hour, there was no harm in flying a few loops around Evening’s End until then. And if an errant Solrain ship might happen to pass into the sector, so much the better…
Rix’s quiet flight was finally interrupted by the voices of RazorX and Venom over the station frequency. Both sent in requests to launch, and both were spat out of Evening’s End soon after. The mission was underway.
Razor and Rix took up escort positions around Venom’s tow as they made their way towards the Gurge jumpgate. “So,” asked Rix, “exactly where are we going?”
“Quantar Core”, replied Venom. “We have enough Morning Stars, but our Purgatory supplies are getting low. Ix wants that fixed, so here we are.”
“Great.” The sarcasm in Rix’s voice wasn’t lost over the microwave broadcasts.
The trio carried on through the Gurge in silence for the next few minutes. Then RazorX’s voice sounded in Rix’s cockpit. An indicator on his console told Rix it was a tightbeam private transmission. “Hey man, you had your coffee yet?”
Rix laughed to himself before replying. “Yeah, sorry about that, Raz.”
“Not a prob, dude. Touchy subject, I guess.”
“You could say that.”
“So, urn….wanna fill me in?”
Rix hesitated a moment. “Not much to tell, actually.”
He shrugged, forgetting Razor couldn’t see the gesture from his fighter. “Her name’s Katya. I’m a fighter, she’s a miner. She didn’t want me to sign on with EEA, said I was likely to get killed over something stupid. Some words were exchanged.. .we parted on bad terms. That’s about it.”
RazorX didn’t sound convinced. “How long?”
“About month ago.” Rix laughed to himself. “Thing is, she’s probably right. These escape pods aren’t foolproof. One of these days, I’m gonna go into battle and not come home, if you know what I mean.”
“Yup, I got it.” There was a pause. Then: “Is she worth it? Dying over, I mean?”
An even longer pause. “I guess if she wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here, would I?”
“Suppose not. But it gives you a reason to carry on, right? We all have something to fight for. Tesrend’s here for the glory of Quantar. Ixxie’s got his reasons, shrouded as they are.. .and you’ve got your girl.” Razor’s grin could be heard over the comms.
“Ah, l’amour… so hey, if she’s available, would you mind if I..y’know…”
“Stow it, Razor!”
A laugh. “You got it, dude. Hey, for what it’s worth, I’m sure things’ll turn out for
you. They always do.. .somehow.”
. . . continues