The Hornet shuddered as its landing gear made contact with the Scipio's tarmac. Mathew gave a thumbs up to the traffic technician who had ground guided him to the parking space and then continued with shutdown procedures. He powered down the primary systems as the engines whined in diminuendo, and then decoupled the main power breaker which resounded with a low thud. He kept auxiliary power active, pulling the canopy release lever to hear a hiss of air as the pressures equalized. A red light aggravatingly ignited on the annunciator panel, followed by a warning buzzer.
Something was wrong.
Mathew's head swiveled around as he searched for the problem. Before he could determine the source of the alarm, he was startled by a knock on the canopy.
“Jesus!” He exclaimed, taking in deep anxious breaths.
“The uni-rail is seizing from the impact damage.” The technician's words were muffled. He was screaming into the glass while hanging off the boarding ladder that extended to the Scipio's flight deck from the left side of the Hornet's canopy.
“So what, you're saying I can't get out?” Mathew replied loudly, his throat coarse with the effort. Suddenly he found himself concerned about the possibility of being trapped in the cockpit for who knows how long.
“For now, yeah. You'll have to give us a minute to assess the damage. We'll give you an estimate for how long it'll take us to free it up. Sit tight and turn off auxiliary power.”
Mathew nodded, reaching down and disengaging battery power. All lights in the cockpit were extinguished, save one. The orange flashing pinprick was letting Mathew know that his emergency suite was still active. If he were to spontaneously combust, the automated fire and explosion suppression system would kick into action, dousing him and the components of the cockpit with a neutralizing powder, subsequently assessing his suits seal to decide whether or not to vent the cockpit's atmosphere in order to completely remove the possibility of fire. An older system lacked the neutralizing powder stage, and so in the event that a pilots flight suite was ruptured, he would decompress along with the cockpit when the fire evacuation system engaged. Although it is possible to survive vacuum for short periods of time, the effects on the body are still quite undesirable. He was glad that, so far, he had not been unlucky enough to witness the system in action other than in training videos.
A clatter on the hull made him jump out of his seat as far as the harnesses would let him; his mind still on the thoughts of fiery demise. The technician was back, and apparently in the day and age of unhindered space travel, the most high tech solution for a seized Hornet canopy uni-rail, was to apply excessive force with what seemed to Mathew like an oversized crowbar.
“Really?” He yelled through the glass. “You don't have any better ideas?”
The technician shook his head indignantly. “You want to do it from the inside? How 'bout I just let you sit in there until you figure out a better way. Sound like a plan?”
Mathew sighed. “Go ahead, ape it all you want, I'm sure there's a cutter or spanner or something more useful then a giant can opener.”
“Listen, I'm not the one that just damaged a multi-million credit asset of military hardware.”
Mathew furrowed his brow and sucked in air before yelling through the windscreen once again. “You aren't doing much fixing at the moment though are you. I could imagine each time you pry with that thing a few dollar signs are popping out of the paint.”
“Trust me pal, from what I heard you're going to be scrubbing toilets for the rest of the tour. The Captain himself is on his way down to talk to you.”
Mathew let his head fall back, slamming limp against the seat. “Great. First impressions are the greatest, and I'll be known as the guy who plays bumper Hornets.” He gritted his teeth and turned back to the technician. “Hey, where's that time assessment?”
The technician gave him the finger.
“That long huh?” Mathew said, shaking his head. “Asshole.”
In high orbit, Mittens and his Dread Hounds watched the sun rising over the black disk that was Terra; bright fingers of light streaking across space to activate the auto-tinting properties of the Hornet's canopy.
“What are we even doing?” Asked Drenix, tapping his navigation screen on one of the multi function displays. “We're literally just going in circles.”
Mittens keyed his mic, “We're waiting for information Drenix, be patient.”
Ribs, the second in command, took his turn to speak. “Patience is over-rated, and so is blind obedience. We need to act with initiative. If they aren't giving us any information we should go get it ourselves.”
“What would you suggest?” Mittens asked, sincerely open to the possibility of alternative action.
“Wait, what was that?” Songbird said, interrupting the conversation.
“What was what?” asked Mittens to the bomber pilot.
“You didn't see that just now? I swear I saw a signature light up on radar.”
All of the pilots peered down at their scopes. Nothing was visible.
“I don't see a thing.” Mittens said. “Are you sure?”
Songbird keyed in again. “Positive.”
Amon Almitt's eyes narrowed. He peered into the darkness beyond his canopy and willed himself to sense the presence of the enemy. “Hounds …” he said taking in a deep breath, “Ready up.”
The Hornets in orbit around Terra extinguished their formation lights and charged capacitors.
Beyond, in the emptiness, dark hulks drifted silently toward their prey.