Still a little dumbfound from what had just happened, it took Mathew a few moments to realize where the slow clapping was coming from. Behind him, Pierre and Jon where applauding, their helmets under one arm.
"Bravo." Said Pierre, "You really earned it, that was amazing how you didn't end up just a charred black stain on the Scipio's hull plating."
Jon extended his hand to a smiling Mathew, "Thanks Matt, seriously, I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for the crazy shit you just pulled."
Mathew shook his head. "You'd have done the same."
"No." Pierre interjected. "We may have attempted the same, but succeeding is another thing altogether."
A whisk of blond shimmered in the corner of Mathews sight, he turned.
Ismaly stood, narrow lipped and silent.
Mathew nodded to her.
She was staring down at the Lieutenant insignia resting in his hand. A black ashen claw rose up from within her soul, stretching out toward it in her mind's eye; a hunger, echoing from deep within her. "I'll have mine soon enough." She said, walking away without ever having made eye contact with anything but the golden Lieutenant bars.
Jon shook his head. “I'm starting to think she's going to be someone I go out of my way to avoid as this tour drags on.”
Pierre sighed. “This tour just started Jon, I'd suggest you put your differences aside. She may be a bitch, and annoying as hell, but in the end she's one of us and we're going to have to deal with her; like it or not.”
Thousands of kilometers away, Sophine watched the dark sphere of Terra slide slowly above her, revealing in its wake, an ocean of stars. When Flash had gone silent, after reading the whereabouts of the Hounds, McKeen had instructed them all to enter a specific orbit. The apoapsis, the highest point of their orbit, would bring them only a few kilometers from the Hounds. Looking up, she waited for Terra to be directly above her, that would signal their arrival. Until that moment, she drifted in complete silence. It was eerie, her instruments were dark and in the shadow of the planet, only the absence of stars let her know where Terra was above her. An alarm sounded, her suit was telling her that external temperatures within the cockpit where dropping significantly. She moved her hand to the annunciator panel which housed a mute button to silence the alarm. The skin of her suit crinkled as she moved her arm, what little moisture existing in the cockpit had frozen, clinging to everything as a thin frost. She looked up again, and saw that it was very near the time to act. A flicker of light caught her eye, and she saw the dim glow of a cockpit light up only a few feet from her. It was Subtext ripping through an amended startup procedure as quickly as his hands could manage. She took in a deep breath and glanced over her controls, visualizing what she was about to do. The tasks past through her mind in a flash, and before she knew it, her hands were on the move, along with her lips as she mouthed each step of the process.
“Battery power, on. Inverter, on.” She listened for the hum, and continued when it came.
“Lamp test.” With the flick of a switch all the lights in the cockpit shimmered to life, her eyes inspected every one.
“Fuel indicator.” The electronic dial flickered a test code and then returned to the previous reading.
“Oxygen supply, skip external lights, internals-” She set them to dim.
“Canopy's already taken care of. Fuel pumps, flow, main breaker to starting coil.” She grasped a handle behind the throttle and pumped it, priming the breaker, then slammed her palm against a large red button. Behind her, a loud crack could be heard, followed by a whining sound. The coils were energized and ready to go.
“Reactor startup.” Pulling a panel toward her from her right, her fingers tapped against the blue screen, igniting the reactor.
“Main engine startup.” Another screen pulled toward her from the left by automated sequences once the reactor reached peak performance. She tapped a few more commands into this screen before a low rumble shook the frame of the Hornet.
“Mic, means, freaks and IFF.” Her hand wrapped around the throttle, tapping the myriad of buttons hidden all over its curbed surface. She whispered into the mic on squadron comms. “Check.”
“Check.” came a voice on the other end.
Looking up, she saw Subtext had drifted above her, he was giving her a thumbs up, and testing his thrusters; he was a few steps ahead of her.
McKeen sounded off. “Listen up while you're finishing your checklists. Once we go hot, our signals will be large enough for the sensors to pick up. We're within four hundred kilometers and closing, so keep your weapons cold until I give the order, otherwise we'll light up their scopes like a Christmas tree. No burns, we're coasting in, so leave your engines at neutral throttle. When the bolts start flying, then we'll kick it. Radio silence until we're in visual range, keep sensors to passive. Over and out.”
Sophine's heart was pounding in her chest, she could feel the vibrations of her pulse against the steel airtight ring around her flight suit collar. Ahead, a pinpoint of light emerged along the dark crescent of Terra's horizon. It shimmered and then suddenly shot out on either side, extending with lighting speed into a white sickle. The stars in the distance fizzled out from the brilliance of what crept beyond the horizon. As the atmosphere soaked in the light, it's rays turned the black sky beyond into a dark gray. She squinted her eyes, for within this gray haze, almost none-perceptible, black pillars shot downward; two dozen or more from somewhere beyond the horizon. The cogs in her mind seized, she knew what these dark pillars were, for in that moment their source glimmered in the sunlight like a line of bristling diamonds falling from the bright arc that was Terra's atmosphere.
The radio sprang to life.
“Energizing Capacitors now!”
The voices bombarded her as she followed suit, their cacophony often intelligible as they all spoke over one another.
“Watch your six.”
“Translate left, Translate left.”
The first spears of light sizzled across her bow and she pulled the control stick, slamming the throttle forward.
The battle had begun.