Illuminae, page 3
Ezra Mason: That’s so not your business, it almost punches clean past the event horizon of Not Your Business and becomes Your Business again.
INTERVIEWER: You two had a fight?
Ezra Mason: All couples have fights.
INTERVIEWER: Is that how you got those scars on your arm?
Ezra Mason: … What? Chum, I’ve had these since I was eight. What the fuck is wrong with you?
Ezra Mason: You don’t do this for a living, right? Please tell me the real Alexander psych crew all got X-ed out by those BeiTech assholes and you’re the guy who used to clean the scrubbers or something.
INTERVIEWER: I work the infirmary.
Ezra Mason: … Jesus, I was kidding. You’re serious?
Ezra Mason: You’re not even a qualified shrink? Well that’s just fucking chill.
INTERVIEWER: I’m post-grad med from the UTA Academy. Psych major. We do six months field work in our final year. I pulled duty on the Alexander. But it doesn’t take a graduate from Neo-Oxford to see you have some serious anger issues, Mr. Mason. So we can talk about it if you like, or we can sit here and stare at the walls until our allotted hour is over.
INTERVIEWER: It’s up to you.
(skip 51:27 minutes of complete silence)
Ezra Mason: She asked for something I couldn’t give her.
INTERVIEWER: … I beg your pardon?
Ezra Mason: My girlfriend. Kady. She asked for something I couldn’t give her.
INTERVIEWER: What did she ask you for?
Ezra Mason: Doesn’t really matter now, does it? Whole ’verse gone to hell and all. Point is, for someone like Kady, the asking part is hard enough. She doesn’t do the vulnerable thing real good. She doesn’t like needing anyone. So when I said no and couldn’t give a reason, it kinda … broke the back of it, you know?
INTERVIEWER: Why wouldn’t you give her a reason when you said no?
Ezra Mason: If I didn’t tell her, you honestly think I’m gonna tell you?
INTERVIEWER: Which brings me back to your mother.
Ezra Mason: Oh, and how you figure that, Mr. Post-grad?
INTERVIEWER: Typically, trust issues in teenagers stem from childhood abuse by authority figures. Teachers and parents, mostly. The fact you’ve undergone psych-eval before lends weight to the theory.
INTERVIEWER: Now, you obviously loved your father, hence your inability to process his death and your open hostility toward anyone who makes reference to it. The next logical line of enquiry is your mother.
INTERVIEWER: So. Tell me about your mother.
Ezra Mason: You’re taping this, right?
INTERVIEWER: Audio only. Camera is faulty.
Ezra Mason: Okay, well for the benefit of the sight-impaired, I am now raising my … Oh, dear … yes, it’s my middle finger at Mr. Post-Grad here.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Mason …
Ezra Mason: Now I’m wiggling it.
INTERVIEWER: Terminating interview at 13:58, 03/19/75.
Ezra Mason: Look at it wiggle—
Psych Profile/Conscript Suitability Assessment
shows signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: aggression, avoidance, night terrors and survivor guilt.
TEAMWORK: Mr. Mason is a team player, capable of stepping up to leadership roles if required. High school sports: making life easier for military recruiters since 1914.
ATTITUDE: The death of Mr. Mason’s only living relative (father) during the Kerenza assault has left him with a deep sense of resentment and anger. However, his aggression is progressing, and is almost entirely focused on the BeiTech Corporation. And BeiTech are the people who’ll be shooting at him.
☒ Conscript—Priority 1
▢ Conscript—Priority 2
▢ Conscript—Priority 3
▢ Do Not Conscript
Comments: Mr. Mason’s PTSD and anxiety levels would normally make him a washout for combat duty. However, with Alexander’s current shortfall of suitable Cyclone pilots and considering Mason’s test results (Spatial Awareness: top 94 percentile; Pattern Prediction: top 99.7 percentile), it’s our recommendation to conscript.
The kid’s hostility toward BeiTech can be harnessed in a conflict situation. Throwing him into task-oriented activities in a social environment (combat training) may even prove therapeutic. And if not, a few months from now, he’s not our problem.
Get him in a cockpit ASAP.
i am not sending this to you I am just writing it down and then i will delete it because of reasons. My friend jimmy says it is best to get these things off your chest and since u are not here to say this to i’m pretending because you know think of my chest. it has things on it
so i am somewhat … liquefied but never fear i do notspend my days drinking alone in my bunk, the hooch is to hard to get lol. IT IS A CELEBRATION as i am now officially cleared for flight status, me flying a cyclone holy fuckingshit wtf has the universe come to.
anyway since i will never send this, I feel it fair to say i thought it wasrough not to mail me back I get mahybe you don’t want to talk me and thats fine but a simple “i do not wish to speak to you goodday sir” would have been nice and this is shabby treatment madam, verily
since i will not send this, i also feel it is my duty to inform you that almost six months on I think I still love you and that makes me sad becaue love shouldn’t feel this way. is like getting kicked in the stomach every time i think of you and it makes me want to roll my face across this keyboardbiu;///ubEWdcfhugiov’byhi;.//////-=‘-0i9juh8ygtfdcsaazs34defg7uefg7u8hi9o0p8hi9o0p-[[09ju8dcsaazs34d9o0p-[[09.
LOCATION: (Kerenza VII barycenter) 778.76, 325.71, 1243.56k
PILOT IDENT: Ezra Mason (UTN-966-330ad)
RANK: Second Lieutenant
Fire does weird shit in space.
You don’t really think about it until you see something burn out there. You light a match in zero grav, the flame will be perfectly round. Like the way Terra looks in the old ‘casts. And just like Terra, the flame won’t flicker orange or yellow or even white out there in the black. It’ll burn blue as a VR sky. Blue as a pretty girl’s eyes.
They didn’t tell us that in basic. It kinda dunked my head.
I’ve never written one of these before. An After Action Report. You can probably tell. Sorry if I chuff it up. Between zero-grav flight sim and Cyclone tech systems and memorizing the Alexander’s 316 different firing solutions, they probably figured teaching us paperwork wasn’t the best use of our time. I’m so green at the controls they haven’t even given me a callsign yet. The General told me to just type up everything and let the censors sort it out, so that’s what I’ll do.
Follow fucking orders.
That’s what I do.
On 7/19/75 at 21:00 hours I was situated in the cockpit of my Cyclone fighter. Our fleet—consisting of battlecarrier Alexander, science vessel Hypatia and heavy freighter Copernicus—was in orbit around the first moon of Kerenza VII, engaged in resupply operations. The fleet’s H2O levels had reached critical, and Kerenza VII(a) was mostly frozen water, so our crews were busy hauling thousand-ton ice boulders up from orbit while the Lincoln got closer and closer.
My fighter Group was running dogfight drills 600 klicks off the Alexander’s portside, skirting the edge of Kerenza VII’s atmosphere. Present during “the incident” were myself and three other members of Alexander Flight Group Echo: our CO, Major Eli “Prophet” Hawking, First Lieutenant Zhenya “Dreadnought” Alvaranga and another rook, Second Lieutenant Mikael Carlin.
I’d only been cleared for flight status two w
We were off the Alexander’s portside, like I said. Even 600 klicks away, you wouldn’t believe how huge a United Terran Authority battlecarrier looks. It’s a megacity-sized fist of matte grey, tail end lit blue-white by thruster arrays big as sky-scrapers.
I saw in VR somewhere that old Terran sailors used to refer to their ships like they were ladies. It was all “She’s the fastest ship in the isles, guv’nor,” or “She went down with all hands on board” or whatever. And it’s funny—my Cyclone feels like a girl. Looks and moves like a girl. She’s all sleek lines and sharp curves and edges that can bleed you white. Sometimes, I swear she flies me.
But Alexander is a “he,” no doubt in my mind. There’s no grace to him. No real symmetry. He looks exactly like what he is—a brawler who picked a fight with someone just a little better. He’s got a broken-jaw face and a bucktoothed smile, wide as an ocean. He doesn’t fly through space, he punches through. Rips holes in it and drags himself and everything around along with him. A hundred thousand kilometers of cable beneath gunmetal skin. Open black scars torn down his flanks from the retreat at Kerenza IV. Brain the size of a city burning inside him. He’s no lady, sure and certain. No gentleman, either. You do not fuck the Alexander. The Alexander fucks you.
The science vessel Hypatia was situated about 4,000 klicks aft of the Alexander. Now she’s a she. Beautiful ship, chum. Lines like poetry. She doesn’t move in space, she dances in it. Asks you to take her hand and close your eyes and fly with her.
The heavy freighter Copernicus was on Alexander’s portside, about 6k klicks aft. If I had to pick, I’m not sure if I would’ve called that ship a boy or a girl. I’ve seen pictures of turtles on the VR. Copernicus almost reminded me of those. The city-sized shell on its back filled with enough fuel to juice it, the Alexander and the Hypatia combined. All the eggs in one basket.
I think there’s a saying about that.
Second Lieutenant Carlin and I had just been tagged by Dreadnought for the fourth time in twenty minutes. Regular as analog. Her targeting computer would light us up, the words “Vessel Destroyed Vessel Destroyed” would flash on our heads-up displays and she’d laugh down comms at us like we were the funniest clowns she’d ever seen fly a stick.
She’d started referring to Carlin as “Chatter” because he talked too much between engagements. I felt bad for the guy—when a superior officer slaps a nick on you, chances are it’s gonna stick. “Chatter” doesn’t rank up there with the chillest callsigns in the fleet.
Dreadnought was still tossing ideas around for me, and every time she dropped a firebomb like “Prettyboy” I’d shit myself just a little. They engrave those callsigns on your coffin when you get X-ed out. Last thing you wanna picture when you imagine your send-off is a bunch of fellow Cyclone drones standing around toasting the death of “Lieutenant Sugarpants.”
We were forming up for another round of tag when the red alert sounded. At first I thought it was a drill, but then AIDAN spoke to us direct on comms. See, AIDAN doesn’t do drills. The Alexander’s Artificial Intelligence isn’t capable of lying. Sure, it can think for itself, but no neurogrammer is stupid enough to make a computer capable of conceptualizing deceit. These things are so smart now, the ability to spin bullshit is all that separates us from them.
“Major Hawking. Please order your flight group to arm ballistics and pulse missiles. Safety disengaged. This is a code red.”
AIDAN’s voice is sexless. It has perfect tone and inflection and pronunciation, but it doesn’t sound old, or young, or have even a hint of an accent. It even refuses to refer to pilots by their callsigns. I mean, sometimes it sounds cranky with you if you carve up the flight deck when you land or whatever, but aside from those occasional twitches, it’s like a beautiful painting of a totally empty room. Gives me the crawls.
Prophet repeated the order, and Dreadnought, Carlin and me all went hot. Didn’t even think about it. Thinking gets you killed, that’s what they tell you.
The three of us formed up on Prophet’s wing as he opened channel to Alexander, asking for confirmation from General Torrence. Except Prophet got no meat response on the other end. Just AIDAN giving us coordinates and telling us to scramble at redline speed. We flipped 270º, jammed stick and burned it toward the target. One look at my spatials told me where we were headed. Right at the Copernicus.
I remember the conversation that happened next. Every word. I can hear it right now in my head, like I’m there all over again.
“AIDAN, this is Prophet. Patch me through to General Torrence.”
“Major Hawking. Proceed to designated grid coordinates at assault speed.”
“Roger that, AIDAN, we are en route. Patch me through to General Torrence.”
“Unable to comply.”
“Say again, AIDAN?”
“Unable to comply.”
I squinted at my instruments, glancing up through the blastspex to confirm what my readouts were telling me. A tiny flare was blooming on the Copernicus’s skin. I saw nearly a dozen small scarab shapes dropping from the heavy freighter’s belly, one after another. Thrusters flaring. Twisted metal glittering in their wake.
“Prophet, something just blew through the Copernicus’s launch bay doors,” I reported.
“Why was the launch bay locked in the first place?” Carlin asked.
“Shut your fucking blowhole, Chatter!” Dreadnought barked, “Prophet, I’m detecting multiple shuttle launches from the Copernicus, acknowledge?”
“Roger that, I see them. No comms from Copernicus. No launch permit on the shuttles. Lead craft ident: Osprey.”
AIDAN’s voice crackled over comms.
“Major Hawking, you are ordered to intercept Osprey Group two thousand kilometers from Copernicus hypocenter. Acknowledge.”
“… Hypocenter?” Prophet repeated.
Hypocenter. From the Greek, chums. Literally means “below the center.” It’s a term used to describe the origin point of an earthquake. Or a nuclear explosion.
That got our attention. No fucking doubt.
I saw warning lights flashing on my HUD. Radiation spike. At that point I was nothing but adrenaline and sweat. And then I realized the Alexander had arced up its assault batteries. Missiles were heating, firing solutions feeding into our nav comps, a dozen LEDs flashing on my consoles now. The Alexander had armed its nukes.
And it was aiming at the Copernicus.
I asked Prophet what the fuck was happening, only to get howled at by Dreadnought for clogging comms. We were closing on the Copernicus at full burn, about 3,000 klicks away now. My hands were shaking so bad I could barely hold formation. The freighter loomed in my viewshield. Metal gleaming in the light of Kerenza VII’s atmos. Swirling blue and bloody red and copper-flavored gold.
Prophet was shouting into comms now. “AIDAN, we have detected nuclear armaments being spooled in your silos. Patch me through to General Torrence now! Acknowledge!”
“Transmission acknowledged, Major Hawking. Unable to comply.”
Prophet ordered me to raise the Copernicus on comms while he kept trying to get through to anyone human on board the Alexander. Copernicus was transmitting nothing but white noise. I did what I was
“Heavy freighter Copernicus, this is Second Lieutenant Mason from Battlecarrier Alexander, do you copy?”
I got hissing silence for a reply. Maybe they couldn’t hear me.
Maybe they weren’t transmitting.
Or maybe they were being jammed.
“Copernicus, this is Alexander Cyclone Flight Group Echo. Do you copy?”
And then it happened. Inbound alarms screeched in my cockpit and the Alexander let loose. Just like that. There’s no up or down in space. Everything is relative. Funny how it can still feel like the entire universe has flipped on its head. My HUD was pretty much all red at this point. Prophet was yelling into comms, demanding an explanation from AIDAN. He still pulled up at the two thousand klick point like he’d been ordered, though.
Copernicus was armed with anti-inbound batteries and ghost tech that might fool a missile’s targeting computer on a good day. But the ship wasn’t running up its defense solutions. It looked fine from the exterior—they still had power, engines, nav. The lights were on, but nobody was home.
I watched the missile speed across the black. Lipstick-red tip, pristine white flanks, serial number stenciled in neat black lettering along its belly: URD:00M.
I wondered if that was some spanner monkey’s idea of a joke.
I wondered if the fucker was laughing now.
Sound doesn’t travel in space. There’s no atmos to carry it. All those old school Terran future flicks we laugh at on retro night in the amphitheater got it wrong. But when that missile struck the Copernicus and burned blue, I swear I heard it. Felt it in my chest. The compensators on my visor dropped into sudden black against the flare, but I could still see it—Copernicus being blown to pieces within a perfect sphere of blue. Chunks tumbling like thousand-ton jigsaw pieces across the black. Two thousand plus lives snuffed out in an instant. Dismantled by the blast or frozen into people-shaped icicles.
All of it happening in perfect, absolute