Day One ~ Erynn’s World ~ Korin
Passing out right now would not be good. Pinpoints of bright purple, green, and blue flashing lights swarmed at the edge of Captain Erynn Tara’s vision. A high, brittle, breaking glass sound surrounded her. Is this what it’s like to lose consciousness? Racing along at this speed, 1,500 meters above the ground, definitely, not good.
A deep silence dropped, enveloped her in its thick core. The view outside the canopy of her Interceptor fighter blurred, and then sharpened into garish clarity. The scene no longer showed what it had a heartbeat before. The airfield below wavered in a heat mirage as hungry orange flames reached for the sky. Thick, black smoke billowed from burning buildings.
Erynn’s lungs froze, unable to expand. Explosions followed, raising immense balls of fire. Strange ships filled the sky, attacking. The chaos, the destruction shook her. She clutched the fighter’s controls to steady her hands, heart thudding painfully against her ribs.
With a low pop in her ears, the vision of devastation vanished along with the alien aircraft. The familiar roar of her fighter returned. It had been so real, even though it lasted less time than taking a deep breath. That reminded her, she needed to breathe. Erynn inhaled sharply, forced air through resistant muscles. Squeezed her eyes closed, opened them. The brief suggestion of a lingering, spicy scent caused her nose to wrinkle before the smell too, disappeared.
Erynn worked at slowing her respirations, calming her sprinting heart. “That was a strong one.” She shivered as a chill overtook her. Lately, these episodes occurred with greater frequency and increased strength. They got harder to dismiss, let alone bury. Unlike the insights, the premonitions that always gave her the edge to excel, these were different, dark and foreboding. Is this the future, or nothing more than an overactive imagination? Erynn shook her head to dispel the thought. Imagination. Nothing will happen, it’s impossible. She pushed her unease aside along with the vision.
There wasn’t time to examine the event. Not while flying, in the middle of a test, an exercise. “What the . . .!” Erynn barked. Distracted by the brief vision, she felt energy rushing forward, too close to evade now. The bolt hit the right rear section of her fighter, knocking it hard to the left. The wing dropped. The body of the aircraft shuddered and lurched. Her helmet bounced off the clear canopy. She winced at the sharp stab of pain that flashed across the side of her head. Her father would question her lapse in concentration. “This is all I need.” He would want to know why she allowed her guard to drop. Not good. She didn’t want to tell him about the visions, the momentary gaps in reality. There would be objectionable consequences.
“Oh, no you don’t.” With her attention fully recovered, she searched. Tendrils of blue static charged around, then through her. Another burst closed in, coming her way. It displaced the air, barely changing the electro-magnetic field, but Erynn felt it. She looked out the canopy to the right, her senses sharp, scanning the immense open plain. Where are you?
Energy slammed into the nose of the fighter and the instruments went dark. “Come on, come on,” she cajoled. Her gloved hand patted the wide panel. Flashing, once, twice, then brightening, the lights glowed steady. Her hands tingled, before the electric blue threads withdrew into the heavy fabric enfolding them.
Her head snapped to the left, glaring up at the mountain’s tall peaks, then down, searching the crevices between the slopes. “Feel it.” Erynn demanded. She could redeem herself. Just turn the battle and maybe her father wouldn’t say anything.
She found it. The fighter was a vague, dark mark below her, hidden in the long shadows of the mountains. “There you are!” She heard the relief in her voice. The energy bolt screamed toward her. She could see as well as feel its approach. Ready this time. Grasping the controls, she banked sharp to the left and angled downward. The bright laser bolt shot behind her, a clear miss.
Cutting the air, embracing its resistance, she pushed the Interceptor to its limits. Gravity pulled at her. The ground rushed forward. Alarms blared. The controls shook, vibrating through her. ‘PULL UP PULL UP’, the flat, mechanical warning chanted.
“Not yet,” she hissed, and waited. Time slowed to a measured beat. Now! Adrenaline surged. Erynn exerted pressure on the controls, turned hard, and pulled back. Her right wingtip less than a meter above the ground, she came out of the dive. She exhaled and her breath shuddered out. “That was close.” Maybe too close.
Continuing to climb, vertical, her speed increased. Forced against the rigid seatback, harness and strap buckles dug into her shoulders. Sunlight glinted off the target above her. She smiled, and aimed.
The targeting screen lit up, a steady green against the yellow grid, then flashed, the image blinking red. “I’ve got you,” she whispered. A calm, melodic, female voice chimed from the acquisitioning system. “Target acquired.” A slight pause followed. “Target locked.” Erynn fired. The voice continued. “Target destroyed.”
“You’re done, Caleb. I tagged you.” Erynn keyed the helmet mic, pushing forward on the controls, and leveling her rising fighter. Her respirations evened and heart rate slowed as the high ebbed.
“I almost had you this time.” Caleb’s voice resonated in Erynn’s ears.
She could hear the satisfaction in his tone.
“ ‘Almost’ doesn’t count.” She eased off on the throttle, decreasing her speed. Her mood improved, figuring the damage undone from the . . . premonition? No. She refused to accept that inference.
“Erynn, you’re a little slow today. Caleb had the drop on you for . . . oh . . . half a heart beat, before you turned on him.” Guynan chuckled. The sound carried eerily through her headset. “Someday he might just catch you.”
Erynn’s stomach fluttered uncomfortably and she frowned. Why would his statement bother me? Not his words, it was something else. What? Recognition flitted at the edge of her awareness. Betrayal. The word slid like a dry whisper through her mind. Gone before she could catch it, hold onto it, grasp its significance. No. Not going to happen. Just after effects of that strange, vision?
“No one will ever tag you, Erynn.” Tam’s silky voice, only slightly distorted through the speakers, interrupted Erynn’s thoughts.
Erynn shook off her inattention. “Wait, I want you to tag me. All of you.” She heard the harsh tone that entered her voice, the voice of their squadron leader, their commander. Ease up; they’re not like me. No one is. “Who’s buying the first round of drinks tonight?” Erynn forced a bright tone into the question.
“That would be Koz,” Kyle volunteered, elated. “He got tagged first.”
“I was set up, Caleb saw it.” Koz’s deep, rich voice brought a mental image of a powerful man.
The training session with her squadron ended, and, as in the past, she had prevailed. Time to land, critique the exercise. She would’ve preferred to stay in the sky, feeling the life, the energy from everything below rush up at her, joining in a frenzied dance with the air flowing around the fighter. I love flying and I’m good . . . no, not just good, gifted. She treasured the freedom and power it gave her. Her slight build wasn’t an issue to being an accomplished pilot. It was something she could do independently and still gain acceptance as part of an elite group.
“Captain Tara, you’re cleared for final approach,” the male voice advised, sounding metallic in the small space of the cockpit. “Cut it a little close back there, Captain. The OIC might have a few words for you.”
Erynn thought a moment, who is the OIC today? She groaned. “Major Kendal.” The name pushed past her lips in an unhappy whisper. This could get ugly. “Affirmative, Korin tower.” Nothing had happened. She knew her limitations. Just take his reprimand and go on, she thought. “You’d think he’d be used to it by now.” Her approaching Interceptor hovered.