On the flight deck, Almitt was finishing the walk around of his Hornet when he saw Ismaly making her way out to her own fighter. His eyes narrowed and he marched toward her.
Stopping just shy of running into him, she looked up. "What're you doing?"
With unsuspecting speed, Almitt's hand reached up, gripped the corner of her flight suit and tugged hard.
Ismaly was pulled off balance by the ferocity of the action, her suit's clasp tore open.
Almitt peered down and saw that she was indeed wearing the liner, albeit unzipped enough for her cleavage to be the vast majority of what had been exposed. “Why are you so difficult?” he asked, reaching down her flight suit and pulling the liner zipper up so quickly that Ismaly had to raise her chin, lest it be caught in the teeth. He grasped the corner he had originally pulled and flopped it over her chest.
“I should file a sexual harassment complaint.” Ismaly said, smiling that same smile she had nearly a month ago, back on Terra.
Something climbed into the nook of Almitt's mind and wrestled the reigns away from him. He leaned forward, grabbed her arm and brought his lips so close to her ear that his nose was buried in her hair. “If you're going to do that, I might as well do something to you that's worth the trouble.”
Ismaly recoiled as far as she could, until his grip on her arm stopped her like a dog snagging the end of its leash. Her hair waved in the arrested motion, falling haphazardly across her face. Their noses were centimeters apart, eyes locked. She felt his breath on her lips, followed by the pounding of blood rushing into them. For what felt like an eternity, they stood there on the flight deck, saying nothing, staring at each other with what must have seemed like the most aggressive glares either of them could muster.
Then, as if nothing had happened at all, Almitt let go of her arm, turned about, and left toward his Hornet.
Ismaly stayed in place, her arm still up where he'd clung to it, her hair still fallen diagonally over her eyes. A freight train was rumbling through her rib cage, breathlessness gripping her throat like a garrote. She closed her eyes and licked her lips, sating the moment in delirium. “God damn it,” she said out loud, as she turned toward her Hornet; realizing that as much as she despised him, every part of her body was yearning for his touch. She sighed, wondering how she'd grown to be such a social outcast and outright deviant.
On the bridge, the Captain watched four Hornets from the Hundred and Fifteenth fire out from the mouth of the Scipio. He looked over the railing and down a level to the traffic controllers, eavesdropping as they spoke to each other.
“The two from Alpha flight have checked out.”
“Roger that, Delta's right behind them.”
His gaze returned to the holographic display for a moment; watching the icons and their vector paths. Then he re-focused beyond the translucent screen and on to the four blue specks of light in the distance as they arced into a banking maneuver. “Richard,” he said, turning to Admiral Jameson. “I've got a few things I need to take care of.”
Jameson smiled. “Don't worry Michael, I can handle things here.”
The Captain walked by the chair, put an hand on his old friends shoulder and then continued aft, toward the lift. He got in, turned around and watched the doors narrow his view of the bridge until, with a light thud, all he saw was steel. “Deck seven.” The lift began to move, lines of light rose from below to indicate each level as they went by. It slowed and stopped with a dull “Ding” from the speakers before the doors split open. The Captain walked out, returning the salutes of a few young crewmen who stopped in their tracks, obviously not expecting him to be on this deck. Continuing down the hall, he took a right past some offices. At the far end of an obscure corridor, he stopped at a closed door. The panel shone red and emitted a low buzz, indicating the door would not open automatically. He tapped in a code and entry was granted. Walking into the room, three men spun about and shot to attention, saluting the Captain.
“Lieutenant Pierce, relax. I see your team has grown.” The Captain was looking at Mathew who had stood up from the table in the center of the room.
“Yes sir, I have a few more people that aren't here at the moment as well.”
“You're that young pilot who burned the paint off my ship aren't you?”
Mathew swallowed. “Yes sir.”
The Captain turned to Lieutenant Pierce. “What have you got?”
“Actually sir, I think we might have something pretty huge. I can't prove anything without being there myself, but look at this.” Pierce moved beside Mathew and they sat down at the table, focusing on the Glas that Mathew had been working on. “I asked Lieutenant Dionne to help me because he has an extensive background in matrices and algorithmic mathematics. With his help, I was able to find a pattern that had been eluding me from the beginning.” Pierce dragged his finger in a semi-circle along the Glas to spin the image so that the Captain could read the information.
“What am I looking at?” He asked, “You'll have to excuse my lack of knowledge in this field.”
Pierce nodded, pointing to the wave forms and equations on the Glas. “This is a regular jump gate signature. There's a whole lot of different kinds of radiation pulsating from it, but you can see an overall stability to the functions when considering the conservation of energy.”
Pierce looked to Corporal Sheamus Green, a technician from the Ancillary Squadron, electronics Flight. “Basically sir, it means that normally a gate is emitting just as much energy as it's receiving from the other end. There's a small loss, but that's generally due to matter being transformed into different types of energy within interspace and getting trapped there for a time.”
Pierce nodded, flipping his fingers across the Glas to show a different set of graphs and equations. “This is the Terra anomaly.”
“Overlap them.” Mathew said.
Pierce nodded and peeled back the pages, sliding the other graphs over and entering the menu to change transparency options.
With both graphs overlapped, the Captain could see that one had sharp upward curves. “Is that an exponential expression?”
“It is.” Mathew said.
Pierce was visibly excited. “This means, something else is feeding the anomaly. It's not just another gate. It's unstable and -” He looked to Sheamus, then Mathew, then back to the Captain. “It's growing.”
“Can you tell me why the team in Terra hasn't noticed this yet?”
Pierce shook his head, “The information we've put together is based off of complex mathematical extrapolations based off of the information the site is gathering. They wouldn't be able to get these readings on their instrumentation alone. So little is known about how the jump points work that we're really on the bleeding edge here. This is very theoretical stuff. Basically though, something is powering this anomaly.”
“There's more.” Sheamus interjected. “The patterns that Mathew isolated are uncannily similar to energy output patterns in generation techniques we use every day.”
The Captain frowned in contemplation. “What exactly are you trying to say?”
“This anomaly sir? I believe it's man made! Banu maybe, or who knows, maybe even Vanduul?”
“What sort of risk assessment can you give me?” asked the Captain.
“Well, if it continues to grow, it's going to severely disrupt travel through Terra, and eventually it's going to start consuming material; moons, planets. Left unchecked for a few hundred years, it'll consume the entire system.”
Sheamus piped in again, "Not to mention the possibility of it stabilizing, and then who knows what will come through it?"
The Captain leaned back in the chair and took his chin in his hand. “The entire system,” he repeated. “What are our options?”
The two others glared at Mathew, who sat staring at the Captain with his arms crossed.
“Navigate it,” Mathew said, matter-of-factly.
The Captain stared into his eyes, trying to rationalize the possibility, when red lights lined the ceiling. An alarm rang and the door behind them hissed open. “Get to your stations!” yelled the Captain.
All four men rushed out of the room and into the corridor where dozens more were already pouring through.
Mathew split from the group, running for the stairs that would bring him down a level to the flight deck catwalks. As he ran along the catwalk, he could see others scrambling into their Hornets. He didn't know what was going on yet, but he knew it was big.
The Captain burst on to the bridge which nearly looked unrecognizable as the calm blue lighting had been replaced with tones of harsh red; the alarm still blaring. As he stormed toward the holosphere, he shot his hand out, pointing to the officer at the comms station. “Rice, shut that damn thing off, I can barely hear myself think.”
The alarm went silent.
“Admiral, bring me up to speed,” he said, standing by the sphere.
“The four elements of Alpha and Delta flights from the Hundred and Fifteenth just came under contact a few thousand kilometers, just outside of our sensor range.
“We can't say at the moment, the transmission was very weak and broken, we did however record weapons discharge.”
“Yes, just before they left our sensor range.”
“Send the Prospero.”
The Admiral glared at him. “Excuse me?”
The Captain looked at him in a double take, realizing what he had done. He sighed. “I think that it would be a good idea to send the Prospero in support sir. That is my suggestion.”
The Admiral's face was flat and stern. “I'll take it into consideration Captain. As for now, I've scrambled Bravo and Delta flights from the Hundred and Sixteenth, along with Alpha flight of the Greyhounds so they can relay information if we can't get them back into sensor range.”
“Do you intend on moving out?”
“No, I don't want to leave this position if I don't have to. It's by far the most defensible in the system and they could be drawing us out into a volley of torpedoes.”
The Captain sighed, “They're farmers Rick, I don't think they have that kind of firepower.”
The Admiral walked back toward the chair, “If Greyhound Alpha returns with a request for backup, we'll send one of the frigates. For now, we'll let our fighters do their jobs.”
The Captain turned to the large windows to see six Hornets slipping into the darkness beyond the Scipio's maw. The last one was slightly behind, its holographic display read “W-B1”, the Hornet that Michael knew was carrying Lieutenant Mathew “Martyr” Dionne; flight leader of Bravo flight. “Godpseed,” he whispered as the blue flame of its engine flickered before disappearing into the darkness beyond.