It was a new day at the Meadowland.
A day like any other in most ways, with drills and marches and maintenance.
Nestled in a wide open valley with a river running through it, the Meadowland base was one of the largest military presences in the region and the pride of the locals. A contingent of a couple hundred troops were housed and stationed here. This included eighty or so grav troopers, the best equipped and protected soldiers in any military of their kind, along with a couple dozen highly skilled pilots, a few trained and well-maintained boat crews, as well as a bevy of spies and specialists, along with all the officers and administrators overseeing them.
Acting as the staging area and command center for all offensive and defensive maneuvers, the Meadowland was state of the art for its time, and a no-nonsense, no-brainer investment by its progenitor city.
The base itself was a small but spread out compound, and the hills around were littered with radar scanners and laser tracking systems aimed at the skies, diligently on the look-out for any enemy aircraft. Ever vigilant, it would be dire if they were to give away any advantage and the higher-ups dared not grow complacent. A river ran through the base itself, and there were several piers housing small patrol skiffs that would run up and down it.
Nothing was taken for granted, and no expense was spared.
Thus, the ground troops were out on their marches and the maintenance crews were currently riding around on their petras, dealing with the stored weapon systems as well as the aircraft, making sure that the equipment around the base was ready to go at a moment’s notice. The watercraft were out on patrol, as well, watching the river and inlets, and without looking in through the windows, everyone knew that the commanding officers were going over way too much paperwork, as usual.
Everyone on the base was busy trying to keep things up and running, and there was a certain pride in it.
But, there was one very big difference about today.
Today was the day that the Disarmament Act went into effect. This meant that, as of today, the Meadowland was officially in the process of demilitarization. Soon, the troops that wanted to go home would head back to the city, most of their vehicles and then empty buildings would be disassembled for materials or put in mothballs. A lot of them would have to get different jobs, and most of the people left would be purely for maintenance or administration, which wouldn’t be very many at all.
Soon this place would be a lot quieter. Despite the hustle and bustle and the sounds of shouts and marches; despite the constant machinery, noise, and all of the drills and regularity on the base, under the surface, everything was suddenly up in the air.
Of course, Flynn thought to themselves, they liked being up in the air, but that was a bit more literal.
Flynn was a hyena, of mid-twenty somewhere. Fit, confident and dressed in a snug grey uniform with a sleeveless top and a durable pair of marching pants, they walked down the tarmac like they owned the place; the way any good pilot should.
Flynn was a solid, well-liked presence despite having traded their marching boots in quite a few years ago for something that was arguably more dangerous and certainly more glamorous than being grunt on the ground.
They’d gotten to run a skimmer up and down the river a few times, of course, but it wasn’t until they and the rest of their squad at the time had to steal a jumpjet to get themselves out of enemy territory after a failed mission that they really got the chance to experience being in the air.
After that, Flynn knew what they had to do and requested to be transferred right away.
The higher-ups thought they’d just wanted to avoid being sent on another sabotage mission, but being in the air unlocked a whole new way of thinking for Flynn. Not only did they have the talent, but they learned fast and their quick thinking on the ground translated rather well into their maneuvers in the air.
They had the skills to back their talk up and when push came to shove, nobody had served up more info about enemy movement than Flynn had. So, even with the disarmament, it didn’t come as a surprise to them or anyone else when the flight crews were scheduled for several “recon” missions in the upcoming weeks.
After all, it was all just talk for the moment. It probably wouldn’t last.
Heading down the line of hangars, Flynn approached a platoon exercising in front of the one in which their aircraft was being kept.
The routine, as usual, was being lead by a particularly surly and rough cut looking badger who was growling, bearing his teeth and barking orders at grunts as he walked up and down each line, doing his best to light a fire under his troops.
If there was anyone who could put a spring in your step, he could; that was a man that believed in realism, practicality and the strength of will.
Flynn knew him, certainly, as he lead their squad once upon a time, and if hadn’t been for the sergeant, they might not have gotten back from their failed mission in the first place. He told them that the key was in seeing what you needed to do and actualizing it, and knowing where to go to get what you needed to do it. Know yourself, know your squad, and know your limits.
It was that philosophy that pushed Flynn into deciding to become a pilot.
It was a shame they mostly flew alone, really.
The sergeant walked behind the row of troops doing aerobics, nudging the ones that had bad form lightly with his baton the ones that didn’t seem to be paying attention got a slightly harder swat on the arm and a lecture about both attentiveness in less than interesting situations and the need for personal health and fitness. In the end, it was worth just doing your exercises, honestly.
He side-eyed Flynn as they approached, watching them head past the group with a casual smirk and into the hangar just beyond.
The inside of the building was cooler, most of the large empty room shaded from the sun with a small collection of floodlights focused on the craft in the middle.
The AF-37 Dawnchaser mk.III.
It was a pretty machine, long and slender, light on the bottom and dark on the top like a dolphin. It had two long, swept wings with thick engines embedded in the body of each wing, several thruster ports on the top and bottom, their covers visible as they twitched, opening and closing like the gills on a fish. The cockpit itself had a rounded top bubble right behind the nose of the craft and behind it was a large cylindrical section, inside of which the small fusion plant was visibly exposed, the plating open for maintenance, a soft blue green glow emanating from the interior as little flashes of lightning occasionally ran through the channels along its surface.
There were fins near the main thruster on the back and a large one on the spine of the craft, the whole thing unfolded like a flower at the moment as it stood on its narrow stilts, patiently waiting for the mechanic to go about his business.
Flynn liked to imagine that it was about as impatient on the ground as they were.
“So, it looks like we’re going to be sticking to drills and test flights now that the Disarmament Act is underway, huh?” Flynn said in a stage voice, approaching the craft as a long green and brown tail wiggled around underneath one wing.
“You wish. If anything, we’re going to have more work to do around here. Lucky, huh?” the mechanic said with no small amount of snark, peeking out from behind the engine, his tongue flicking out to lick one eye.
Lenny was Flynn’s choice mechanic, Flynn’s craft being one of several serviced by the lanky lizard. They were a little older than Flynn, but had developed a passing interest in Flynn’s abilities since the hyena started flying.
Flynn liked to push their craft, and Lenny liked the data that Flynn brought back, since he was interested in seeing just what his machines could do.
...that and Lenny thought that it was just hilarious to have a pilot without wings to begin with. Most people were scared shitless after being up in the air once, but not Flynn.
“Well, if it keeps me in the air, I’m all for it. Just means one less thing changing around here.”
Lenny hummed softly in agreement, still tinkering with the engine, trying to get it working at peak efficiency and getting progressively more frustrated by the second...
“Dang it, I’m still getting too much exhaust. I haven’t been able to break 86% yet…” Lenny griped, Flynn’s smile unwavering just a couple feet away.
“Still? You’ve been on that for months.”
“I know. That number’s going to be the death of me. I’m tired of seeing it! These new models are good, but I feel like with one or two little tweaks, we might be able to get over nine-oh. Eighty was easy enough, but I’ve hit a wall here… maybe I’ll be able to trim that down with the data from these “recon flights” coming up…” Lenny grumbled and pushed himself out from under the wing on his maintenance platform, sitting up as the small flat piece of metal floated lazily out over the floor.
Flynn walked by and pat Lenny on the shoulder, sitting down on the small folding table next to Lenny’s computer.
“I love how you can hear the air quotes around it when you say it.” Flynn remarked, grinning like a loon at the mechanic, “it really gives it a sense of… authenticity.”
“Well, can you blame me? Everyone knows what they’re for, and the second one of you finds something fishy, we’ll be right back to blasting each other all over again,” Lenny returned, shutting the cover on the wing.
“Do you really think we will?” Flynn asked.
“ Do you think we won’t?” A gruff voice spoke from towards the entrance of the hanger.
Flynn’s grin stayed as they turned to face their company.
The sergeant stood there, his hands crossed over his chest as he glanced back and forth between the two with a searing gaze before approaching at leisurely saunter. He had habit of being as intimidating as possible, even when wasn’t yelling at you. After all, he was a well muscled man and rather imposing by nature. Not a fabled or feared “super-soldier”, mind you, but he was a guy who was serious about his reps, getting enough carbs and fiber, and not having time to slack off or take it easy.
Lenny, however, lacked Flynn’s… comradery the Sarge, and tended to be unimpressed.
“You get bored of babysitting, Roddy?” Lenny said, squeezing a handle on the side of the repair platform causing it to slowly rise upwards towards the top of Flynn’s vehicle.
“That’s Sergeant Roddy to you, Corporal,” he said with some authority, Lenny putting his hands up defensively before returning to his work.
“You seem a bit more agitated than usual, Sarge. Not looking forward to your upcoming vacation?” Flynn couldn’t help themselves, they spat out a high laugh through their teeth, covering their mouth after a few seconds to stifle it. The sergeant sneered.
“There have been ceasefires before. And they’ve been broken before. All this disarmament business is just a pipedream cooked up by some milk cloud politicians that think they can save the world if we all just… get along.” He said, obviously unimpressed by the sentiment, his words full of sardonic bile.
“This is true, this is true.” Flynn choked down their laugh, “But wouldn’t it be nice? I mean, I’d love to be able to fly without the supposition that I’m probably going to be shot at once or twice. It would be… more relaxing than usual.”
“And all it takes is everyone agreeing not to be jerks. I don’t know why we didn’t think of that before.” Lenny remarked offhandedly as he remained bent over the craft, running the last few hardware checks on the main engine.
“Hakuna matata,” Flynn said, recounting an ancient phrase from their schooling.
“As far as I’m concerned, Pilot...” the Sergeant trailed off, stepping between Flynn and the aircraft. Looking down at Lenny’s drab Assignment Manager on the table, he picked it up and began tapping it against the surface of the table, fidgeting with it while he spoke...
“As long as there are people with ideals that conflict with one another, there will always be war. Be it politics, economics, superstition, resources or personal rights… Someone will always decide the best course of action in a disagreement, is to get rid of their opponent.”
“I mean, you might as well have just said “as long as there are people”, because I don’t think we’ll all ever agree on everything. Much less whether or not we should fight one another.” Flynn remarked.
“People are people, and people... don’t change.” The Sarge stated gruffly before Lenny’s tail flicked down and nicked the PAM out of the Sergeant’s hand.
“I dunno about that,” Lenny retorted, tucking his device into his overalls, “we didn’t used to have tails! That’s kind of a change. At least, that’s what they tell us in school.”
“He’s got a point,” Flynn said with that smug grin of theirs, “And I mean… wouldn’t it be nice?
For it all to stop for once? Like… for real?
I mean, sure, it’d be tough on all of us, but… think about what kind of world that would be. Wouldn’t it be better?” Flynn said, sliding off the table and looking up at the sergeant.
“It would, I can’t deny that.” The Sarge returned gruffly.
“And wouldn’t it be better to… say… have a world where Badgy wouldn’t have to worry about his dad getting blown up while he was at school?”
That seemed to strike a nerve and the Sergeant fell quiet for a moment, glaring at Flynn before turning his eyes away to gaze out the hangar window.
“It would,” the sergeant said quietly, nodding ever so lightly, his tone a bit softer. The sergeant quickly steeled again and he turned back to them with his usual hot gaze.
“But we can’t count on that. That’s why we’ve all still got a job to do.” He said sternly, looking between the two of them before going to turn around and head back towards the entrance.
He stopped after a few steps, however, and patted shirt before reaching down into his pocket.
“Oh, I almost forgot.”
The sergeant turned back and tossed a small white object through the air to Flynn, the pilot catching it and looking it over. A data stick, a cheap one, used for distributing news reports and other things in the base. Pulling out their PAM, they plugged it in and a sort of… advertisement showed up on it screen. It was a listing/brochure calling for trained pilots for the space program. Bussing cargo to research stations and transporting passengers to and from orbit. A private venture, of course, but the pay offered was pretty hefty...
“Just in case I’m wrong… You just be careful up there, pilot. You never know what you might run into. Stay sharp.”
The sergeant turned back towards the hanger door and marched out onto the tarmac again, the vague almost feral barking of orders returning a moment later.
Flynn gave a smirk and turned back towards Lenny, looking up at them as they pet the wing of their ship, the chameleon snapping the last bits of fuselage back into place.
“They ready to go?”
“Just give me ten for the diagnostics and you’ll be able to clear out today’s run. I want to make sure it’s up as good as it gets, because it’s going to be a long one.”
“Good! More time for me to catch up on my shows.” Flynn said, giving Lenny a wink before turning away to head into the ready-room.
It was just off the side of the hanger through a small doorway. A rather barren box, all white with a single black stripe painted at about chest height along the wall. It had a bench in the middle that was... less a bench and more a slab of raised foam plastic with rounded corners.
There were lockers taking up one wall, and putting their hand to the front of the locker with their name on it, the front folded upwards and Flynn pulled their flight suit out of the large hanging accordian-style folder inside.
It was a heavy affair, a bit thicker and more snug than Flynn’s breezy Threadlinked uniform, meant to go overtop of it, appearing to be single piece of grey insulated plastic with holes for the hands and feet. There was a pouch for their hyena flop of a tail just above their backside and some.. ports and nozzles, which were less than comfortable but easy enough to manage just to avoid having to make pitstops.
Kind of hard to do that at 40,000 ft.
The suit fit Flynn’s boots well enough and a special pair of flight gloves slid over the ends of the sleeves. There was a small wiring harness inside, running through all the inflatable pressure structures, with a connector for the cockpit computer near the neck that dangled a little bit around the collar. Flynn’s PAM sat snugly in a pocket on their chest along with a canister of emergency oxygen and some medical equipment. Once that was all together, all that was left was the helmet.
Reaching back into the locker, Flynn pulled it out and brushed the dust off the front. It was really about time to clean the locker out, but that was unlikely to happen. It was kind of a superstitious little thing amongst the pilots. Most of them only ever did that once, when they were grounded for good, and they all hoped that they would be the ones to do it.
Flynn could see themselves in the reflection of their helmet once the dust was wiped away, their short kinky hair starting to peek out here and there over their eyes.
The helmet itself was a smooth protective dome, not unlike a personal flight helmet that people used when riding PeTras, with a dark visor that covered most of the face. Underneath that was the oxygen mask which could be slid out of place to allow better speaking and a little projector near the eye that shone pertinent information on the inside of the visor. They were trying to get the visors to have displays in them, but at the moment, that interfered with the mirrored finish, meaning dangerous UV exposure to the eyes at high altitude, so this was the next best option.
Flynn put their helmet on, adjusting the padding on the inside to fit their ears before zipping up their uniform. Once their boots were back on, it was back out into the hangar.
Lenny was arched over his laptop. He seemed satisfied, the chameleon still a bright shade of green as he looked over his computer.
“Everything good to go?” Flynn asked, walking out to Lenny’s little workbench.
“You betcha! Flight Control is uploading the course data to the main computer right now. She’s ready whenever you are.” He responded and gave them a nod, stepping back and starting to drag his table away.
Stepping onto the maintenance platform, Flynn waited, Lenny returning a moment later wearing a set of ear muffs. Hopping onto the platform with them, the two rose towards the open cockpit, Flynn climbing inside and settling down into the familiar seat of their aircraft. Plugging in, the computer lit up and Flynn put their oxygen mask on before slowly lowering the cockpit windshield as Lenny gave them a quick wave and the platform floated him backwards to safety.
Powering up. First the Main Engine. Then Engine 1 and 2 on the wings.
They each roared to life as they began to draw power from the fusion plant in the belly of the craft. It began to vibrate intensely, and switching to hover mode, Flynn pushed the switch to retract the landing gear.
The stilts slowly pulled up and folded into the bottom of the craft as it sat in midair, swaying only a few inches to the side before slowly rotating in place.
Lenny walked to the hangar door, hitting the huge orange button that caused the doors to slide slowly open. They moved in sections, gradually giving Flynn enough room to pilot the craft out as Lenny guided them with a pair of batons. They taxied it out onto the runway, and parked it in waiting as Flynn ran through their pre-flight checklist.
A voice came over the radio a moment later.
“This is Flight Control, Falcon-7 do you copy?”
“This is Falcon-7, I copy. Pre-flight checks are green. Requesting Assignment Code... RR-579130-A. Do you copy?”
“Copy that, Falcon-7. That’s RR-579130-A. Referencing Assignment Code… Approved. Proceed to Sector 93-A. You will be cleared for takeoff in 40 seconds.”
Flynn throttled up the engines, tilting the craft backwards at an angle towards the sky, like a bird perched on a branch. The sun shone brightly in the great blue expanse and there was hardly a cloud up there. It was going to be a beautiful day.
“Fantastic, I always wanted to go there in the summer,” Flynn said, shutting their visor.
“You are cleared for take off, Falcon-7” Flight Control stated.
“Copy that,” Flynn responded and with that, opened the thrusters all the way. They were instantly pushed back into their seat, rocketing up into the clear morning sky with a grin behind their mask. They couldn’t see the ground drop away at that angle but the altimeter spun up at a ridiculous rate and at 20000 feet they leveled off and dropped the throttle back to cruising speed. A moment later Flight Control confirmed their successful takeoff.
“Falcon-7, you have cleared Meadowland airspace. You are good to proceed. Happy flying.”
“Thanks Control, I’ll try not to forget the bread this time.” Flynn responded and settled down into the routine of the flight. Their bearings were set and the coordinates were programmed. It was just a long, straight shot on a beautiful day.
Sitting back, Flynn reached over with one hand and with a few light taps on the computer, their favorite talk program began to play, the dulcet tones of the host of “Take Nothing For Granted” talking into their ear as they settled in.
The first several hours of the flight were pretty uneventful, all told. Aside from taking in the scenery and listening to commentary on Stockweight music revival, there wasn’t much to do but hold everything steady. For the moment, it was just them, their craft, and the sky.
Below were low rolling mountains and the occasional river, the movements of the water and the individuality of the trees barely perceptible at this altitude. A great untapped wilderness stretching for miles. Who knew what lay below?
Ahead, the soft curvature of the earth faded into the mist.
Flying could be extremely exciting sometimes. Flynn’s career had been filled with close calls. Dogfights, near misses, dangerous maneuvers and sudden accidents. It was an amazing thrill that very few people could handle and still maintain their cool.
But sometimes, on days like this, it could be downright relaxing.
And then the console gave a loud beep, and that was the end of that.
There was a blip on the sensors, having just shown up, probably pulling up from a low altitude. Near, and below, but gaining on them quickly. Flynn was moving fast, but this one seemed to be at full throttle. Flynn shut off their player and opened comms to the Orbital Air Control.
“Air Control, this is Falcon-7. Unidentified Aircraft, approaching at high speed, seven low.”
“This is Air Control. Copy that, attempting contact with bogey. Hold position.” There was a moment of pregnant silence.
“No response. Permission to initiate evasive maneuvers.”
“Ah shit...” Flynn said, the other craft slowly pulling up and rising up besides Flynn’s.
It was a dark craft, black or a very dark navy with a tinted cockpit. The engine layout was much tighter and distributed mainly on the wings. It was a bit more compact, all told, and somewhat cramped looking if one was to be honest. They didn’t recognize any sort of sigilry or symbols on the craft itself, either. It looked almost completely barren.
Flynn rocked their craft’s wings, to see if the other one would respond.
The other craft did the same and then rolled suddenly, flipping overtop of their cockpit, upside down, and coming down on the other side playfully.
Flynn laughed, and smirked to themselves.
“Oh! A wiseass, huh? Well, you want to go? Come on!”
Flynn grinned and pushed the throttle forward. Their craft surged ahead, but the other one began to close the gap a few seconds later. Flynn tried to peel off but the other craft followed, the two racing along and curling around each other, the dark craft keeping pace with Flynn’s as they turned about in languid loops and lazy spirals. Everytime Flynn got ahead, it would catch up almost immediately, playfully dropping in front of Flynn and roll or looping around them.
It was a tad irritating after the first couple of minutes.
Unfortunately, the fighter dogged Flynn for a good ten minutes, the two heading out over a massive lake somewhere out in the wilds. It stretched into the distance, the forests peeling off and away, leaving the two of them over a flat, dark expanse of water.
“It’s still on me. It hasn’t engaged… and I don’t think it’s hostile, but they’re kind of being an ass right now…” Flynn responded. It wasn’t that the other craft was faster. It probably wasn’t, but being a recon craft, Flynn’s wasn’t as agile. It was fast, but couldn’t go as tight and down here there wasn’t anywhere the other craft couldn’t follow. The bird was just flying circles around them...
“Alright, let’s see if you can do this.” Flynn said through grit teeth and leveling off for a moment, they suddenly pulled their stick back as hard as they could. This kicked their attack up as hard as the craft could manage, and Flynn punched the throttle back against the casing as they shot almost vertically up into the sky. The force of the climb pushed Flynn back into their seat, the suit tightening around them to keep the blood working through their body properly as the numbers on their console climbed and climbed.
The other craft followed suit, chasing after them as best as it could. It kept pace, climbing up through the sky at that obscene angle, but soon, however, it began to fall behind, the air thinning as the sky grew a deeper and darker blue. Almost at 60000 feet…
After a few more seconds, Its resolve wavered, the craft rocking once more before it banked away, curling off and diving down again.
Flynn whooped, giving a little fist pump before returning their free hand to the controls. Their craft had outdone the mysterious stranger. A victory, for them, their aircraft… and Lenny, why not?
“Control, this is Falcon-7. Bogey’s broken off pursuit. I guess their bird wasn’t built for such high fly-”
It was then that Flynn noticed something out of the corner of their eye.
It was only there for a split second.
A purple shimmer, barely perceivable in a shape that they couldn’t entirely discern. Almost invisible, but somehow seemingly solid, like it was made entirely out of water or glass.
It could have been turbulence.
Or some strange cloud phenomenon.
Any number of harmless things, really.
But it wasn’t.
Because half a second later , Flynn’s craft slammed straight into it at nearly top speed.
The sound was brief and deafening. Their craft spun around, pieces coming off of it into the open sky as it began to tumble, Flynn’s vision going dark for a bare second before Control’s voice snapped them back into the moment.
“Falcon-7! What was that? There was a strange noise! Do you copy?”
“M-mayday! Mayday! I’ve sustained damage!”
“Falcon-7. What’s your situation?”
Flynn fought with the stick, trying to get it to react in some way as it bucked in their hands like an angry viper. The HUD in their helmet was going berserk, half of the lights on control panel were bright red and there were several alarms going off as all the instruments freaked out from the sudden disorientation of the aircraft.
“I think I... hit something,” Flynn said, almost in a state of disbelief at the thought, “I didn’t see what it was- I just-”
Flynn flipped up their visor to get rid of the garble, looking around them and then out the side of their cockpit. In the windshield, there was a long thin crack running up the left hand side of the bubble that caught their attention immediately. It wasn’t a breach, so the cockpit hadn’t depressurized, but the more concerning issue is that just outside the cockpit bubble in that direction was… the absence of a large section of the aircraft.
“Oh, shit. Engine 1 is gone! I repeat! The wing is gone!”
“Falcon-7, can you maintain control of the aircraft?”
“I’m trying!” Flynn growled, their right hand reaching up to rip at the controls as the other one held the stick in a death grip between their legs, trying to wrench it far enough to the side to right it. Finding the toggles quickly, Flynn threw them all and forced all the power now not being used by the absent first engine into the second to try and regain control.
Flynn’s brain threatened to exit through their ear from the sudden resistance as the remaining engine struggled to counteract the death roll the craft had been thrown into. The whole thing rattled like struck wire and then, with a sudden jerk, the cockpit whipped around backwards as the hull gave an agonized screech and the second wing was torn from the side of the craft out into the clear blue sky.
“Dammit! I’ve lost Engine 2!”
“That’s it! Get out of there, Falcon-7!”
The cockpit was whirling even worse now, its tumbling through the blue sped up by the craft’s now rather reduced size as it plummeted towards the deep, dark lake below at now near terminal velocity.
Flynn’s hand moved to a large pull switch, and pushed the key on the side of the handle. It let go with a loud click, and squeezing it tightly, they yanked it towards themselves. There was a hard, metallic clack and the console responded to it with an angry buzz and another flash of red.
“Shit. Shit. It’s not working. Something’s wrong, I can’t eject! I repeat, I can’t eject. It’s not responding… Something must have gotten damaged…” Flynn hissed through their mask, still struggling futilely with the flight stick by instinct as the craft hurtled towards earth.
There was some distant, indistinct cursing over the radio and flight control came back after a worryingly long moment.
“What’s your altitude, Falcon-7?” They said firmly.
Flynn looked to their altimeter, briefly watching the attitude indicator flail hopelessly next to it as the numbers dropped with horrifying speed.
“35000 feet and falling.” Flynn said, their voice as calm as they could make it.
“Okay, pay attention. I repeat, pay attention. You have about two hundred seconds before impact. Look around the cockpit. On the left-hand side there should be a red box.”
Flynn glanced around the cockpit, seeing a small red flipbox, a relatively recent addition to the craft. Flynn realized that they’d never actually opened it before.
“Yeah, I see it.”
“Push it open, inside there will be a lever similar to the ejection switch. DO NOT PULL IT. Put your hand on the switch and rest your thumb firmly on the release key without pressing it.”
Flynn took a deep breath and opened the box. Just as Control said, the lever was there and they rested their hand upon it, taking deep breaths through their mask.
“Okay, my hand is on it. Now what?”
“That is an inertial dampener. It uses a coupled strong and weak field containment device, and it will attempt to cushion your cockpit against the impact. It has a limited power supply, however, so it cannot be activated early. So follow my instructions. Do not look out the windshield, and keep your eyes on the altimeter.”
Flynn was sweating in their suit, the world whirling around in blurs of navy and sky blue just at the corners of their vision as they fixed their gaze upon the instrument’s rolling numbers.
“Okay. I am watching the altimeter; 25000 feet and falling.”
“You will wait until the altimeter reaches 5000 feet. At that point, you will press the release and pull the lever. Do you copy?”
“I copy. Pull at 5000.” Flynn returned, squeezing the grip and squirming in their skin as the numbers counted down, the cockpit rattling from the air turbulence ripping at its exterior.
It was the longest couple of minutes of Flynn’s life.
There was nowhere to go, and nothing to do but wait.
They braced themselves on the side of the cockpit, swallowing hard as the seconds flit away.
The channel with Air Control was eerily silent, just a soft, almost inaudible buzz in the back of their helmet.
“At 5000 feet, depress the release and pull the switch. Communications will end at that time... Go brave, Falcon-7.”
The altimeter finally rolled past the target number and Flynn pushed the release.
“Thank you, Control. Pulling.”
The switch let go and giving it a hard yank, it hit the back of its track just like the ejection lever. But this time, the result was very different.
There was a flicker across the instrument panel and all the lights and instruments went out completely except for a small series of indicators next to the dampener switch itself. The vibrations of the wind ceased completely and it became eerily silent and still as the world cartwheeled around them.
“Please let this work,” they whispered under their breath.
The cockpit rolled again, the sky flashing above one last time as it turned downward and the lake came into view, the shadow of the craft’s presence visible below for a bare second before impact.
The still picture flashed in Flynn’s mind the instant the surface of the lake met the windshield.
There was no noise, just a sudden jolt, the color ripped out of everything as that single moment overexposed itself in their mind, the whites and grays being eaten by blackness.
Then there was nothing.