Beyond the Sky: Chapter 38

Chain Reaction

  The atomic flash made her squint, prickled the back of Velli’s shirt with heat. She tried to look—too intense! All she glimpsed was her free hand, illuminated so bright she saw the bones inside.  
Down!” Selva shouted, shoving her to the ground with head facing away.
The blast hit like a hammer—a smack of air, hot as an open oven, knocking free bricks, scattering garbage, and toppling walls. Wind roared, then died—Selva’s deflectors. The flash began to fade, shockwave retreating back the way it came.
Velli rolled over and looked. A roiling pillar of nuclear fire loomed upon the horizon, drawing up as it faded from white, to yellow, to burning orange. Its smoke drew inwards and up, spreading out into a familiar shape.
Even Selva seemed frightened, Velli saw her eyes through the visor. “Any closer, and we’d be fried.” They helped Abdul into the scoutship, it appeared undamaged.
“There’s a bed in the rear, folded into the wall.” Selva pointed, and handed Velli the nullifier box. “Get him strapped in, and stow this.” She rushed to the cockpit, and the craft began to lift off.
Captain Julan ducked just in time. One of his officers screamed, blinded by the flash. The superskimmer Radiant Fulmination lurched and pitched as the shockwave hit, then slammed back down. He bashed against the consoles.
“Damage report!” he ordered, regaining his senses.
“Major hull damage!” an officer shouted. “Reactor One has scrammed, and is leaking coolant! We’re running on half-power.”
“Increase to flank!” he ordered the steersman. There’d still be residual steam in the crippled powerplant’s turbine, enough for a few moments at least.
“Fire on the flight deck, fire on the flight deck!” the intercom crackled.
Half his escorts were dead in the water, wings bent or control surfaces sheared off, the fleet left them behind. “Get me the War Room!
“Radios are scrambled, sir!” a Cepic said. “It’s the blast!”
Reaching into his jacket, Julan produced a thin steel key. “I’m ordering use of the Special Weapon.” A brief lull came over the command deck. “Note it in the log, we have just suffered an Amalgamation first strike. Half my fleet is out of action, and I can only assume, as of this moment, we are at war.”
“Something’s not right.” Undercommissar Drevik put a hand over his launch key, then went to the radio station and took a handset. “Fulmination to Flight One lead.”
“Go ahead,” a male Flyer’s voice responded, cracking with interference.
“Did you have visual on launch of that weapon?”
“Negative, no contacts prior to flash. It came out of nowhere!”
“Status of the Malgie fleet?”
“Still in formation, sir. May be beginning to disperse.”
Fulmination reads.” He hung up the device.
“Your key, Commissar,” Julan demanded.
“Negative, Captain, I cannot concur with launch.”
Your key.”
“You cannot launch without my agreement, sir.” Drevik remained unmoved. “And I say we wait! That blast was right by the Malgie position; why would they fire there? Why not on us, with more weapons, after dispersing their fleet? This may be an accident, sir.”
Some accident,” Julan growled. “I am asking you one last time, Undercommissar. Authorize the launch.”
Drevik straightened. “I cannot do that, sir.”
The Captain gave him a death-stare, then went to the radio. “Flight One lead, confirm radar contact with Malgie fighters.”
Drevik’s eyes widened. He did not have authority to countermand this.
“Affirmative, sir,” the pilot replied, eager.
“You are authorized to engage and destroy.”
The Skyspear fighters streaked high above the ocean, residual glow from the atomic blast shining below.
“You heard him.” Flight Lieutenant Orrel keyed his microphone, checked his scope: Malgie jets, almost due west. His wing-arms adjusted their grip on the controls. “Vector two-four, walk your targets, stand by.” The scope sounded a long tone. “For the King!
The scoutship powered upward, near-vertical. In the sky were contrails, fighter jets. Two formations, the one on the right turning to close. Mespreth.
“I’m picking up radio signals and trying to amplify them.” Selva worked the touchscreens with one hand while the other flew. “With any luck we’ll act as a relay, bounce them back home.”
“They’re going to fight.” Velli watched the planes, just barely visible as sleek deltas. Mespreth’s wore streamlines, Royal yellow, along their wings.
Selva side-stepped and leveled out, heading for the centerline between the two formations.
“What are you doing?” Velli asked.
“Saving the world.”

Cover image: by Arek Socha


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