Excerpt from Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

The moment before impact isn’t a moment; it is an eternity. Time full of wishes – another way, another moment, or just another wish. An infinite number of images – some memories, others thoughts, a few dreams – fill Vespa’s mind. Then all she sees is the hulking mass of peristeel, once burnished, now burned, that skins the behemoth they called the Wayland. The beast is halfway to dead. In a matter of heartbeats she will seal its fate, and hers too.

Boomers away. Flares follow. Everything has gone according to plan. It takes every last measure of her skill, plus some measure of sheer will, to hold her course. The Current is madness at the mouth of the Gadi Strait, swirling around the floundering cruiser, lapping hungrily at its death throes. Winds buffet the airblade, shaking it so violently Vespa’s teeth chatter. They might not make it; they might break apart.

A voice, though, calmly talks through the storm. Wisper, who minutes before Vespa had cursed to the Hells, offers unfazed updates. She locks down systems that are failing, bolsters ones that can be saved. Vespa begins to feel confident they will make this work. She glances to the range countdown icon – and suddenly it’s time to go it alone.

Vespa opens her mouth to order Wisper to download to the pod, but before she can speak the soothing female mechanized voice says, “Downloading.”

For an instant, Vespa wonders if Wisper sounded worried. Really, it sounded more like melancholy.

A hiss, then a pop. Air begins to seep into the cockpit. A breach when they’ve almost succeeded?

“Pilot, brace!” barks the airblade’s default warning system. Trained well past mind-numbing boredom as a child, her instincts follow orders. Vespa’s hands release the stick and her arms cross over her chest. She has already sucked in a breath before realization strikes.

She screams an outraged protest as the canopy blasts upward. Words are lost in a dissonance created by the brutal rush of wind, velocity, and the Current smashing together. The Wayland is so close now that all she sees is a swath of smudged grey through her tears. Her seat rockets upward, hanging for an instant in the bliss of weightlessness.

Then the world turns red and hot. Instead of falling, Vespa is flung backward in the draft of the explosion. Tumbling so violently everything goes black. So too goes her heart, shrouded in darkness at being summarily dismissed from her fate.

There isn’t time to experience anguish or anger. The braking thrusters on her seat engage, flipping her upright, but Vespa doesn’t have far to fall. Her left hand, closest to her body, clutches for the harness release located above the void that was once her heart. Before she can release it, impact. She missed the water, must have landed on some part of the fractured Wayland.

It feels like hitting crete.