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Pattern of Infinity - Part VI - Of What Devils Hid the Stars

By J. Kel
Page 2 of 16

I made a solemn promise to get it back in twelve hours (fat chance-I didn't believed it, why should he?). We crawled into the thing, two people is all it could hold and in a few minutes programmed a flight plan - thank God for standard interfaces-and got the motor humming.

I should explain that all navigation done by monitors, ugly garish purple and yellow line displays and even worse color combinations. Only in the most extreme emergencies does a pilot go visual. By that I mean actually looking out a real window.

Slowly, past the empty buildings, out onto the infrared lit field, we bounced along. I waved at the guard as we passed; stupid - he couldn't see us in the slug even if he had bothered to look - and started taxiing down a side runway. For a moment, I felt exhilarated and frankly silly. Don't help a good Auron go bad. Lock your aircar, take your keys.

But I sobered up quick enough. Flying this thing was going to be one of the more interesting gambles of my life. I didn't think I would crash it - one has to have faith, after all - but I was scared. The slug had some kind of magnetic drive which frankly I couldn't begin to understand. How to tell what was a serious problem and what wasn't? Beats me. The only reassuring thing about it I realized, as Franton and I got as comfortable as we could in our seats, was that most of the controls looked and even acted familiar. Barring bad weather, and there was nothing in the weather reports that indicated any, we should make it.

The runway was clear; the glowing purple lines and yellows blinkers lined up. I made and remade some quick status checks as we began to pick up speed. The caution lights cleared and I pulled back the power bars, full throttle. There was the sound like a hum like an angry bee, and we scooted off and up, heading west into the night, a slight breeze the only thing opposing us.

At first, I thought it might be best to keep our flight path low, but we were going over lots of residential areas and I was thinking the citizenry might be getting nervous enough. It was too much of a struggle to keep an even trim at that altitude anyway. I slid my hand forward on the altitude control and surprisingly the response was not bad. We soared upward smoothly after a fashion, the monitors showed the ground dissolving into a sparkling mist. Grace and beauty out of the context of what was happening, yet it steadied me.

 

I fixed my eyes on the horizon, or the glowing green line representing it, and pretty soon I was able to keep it from bouncing or tilting. I relaxed for a moment. The slug was all right. Sure, there was an unfortunate tendency to roller coaster and I thought more than once that Franton was going to be sick (and me along with her) but for the first time since our final meeting with Sarkoff, I fancied this might actually work.

The controls continued to be sluggish (sorry) but the weather was holding steady, just as the reports said, so in the near term things looked nominal. Since by definition landing takes place low to the ground, it was only the upcoming landing that offered a real cause for concern. In the meantime, I had every channel monitored and I kept waiting for a summons to land, but nobody shouted and nobody shot.

As we were now far from the city, I took my first scan of the country below. The imaging computers in the slug, I had to admit were first rate. Down below they assured me, it was all forest, lakes, and occasional roads, all marked in more detail you could ever want this side of reality. For the good reason that no weather could affect them, you were supposed to trust the displays far more than you would have sticking your head out the window (assuming anyone would have been stupid enough to do such a thing at nearly 1000 kilometers an hour). Could there be limits to that trust?

The ground which had now slowed in its movement beneath us to a crawl was as black as a grave and as real as death. The sky was hardly more cheery. A cloudy veil of stars with occasional streaks of light cutting across (meteors?), but mostly the night was shadows dropping down over Lindor like a pall, like devils getting ready for the predawn check-in. A dawn that was still uncomfortable hours away.

The monitors showed we were coming up on a lake, a huge thing stretching narrowly north for miles, like a watery finger pointing to our destination. The monitors gave me the eyes of a god, and, I was discovering, the soul of a judge. I could see the outlines of extravagant houses and incredibly even the lights of boats. That made me angry. As if nothing could be more justified this night then a romantic evening of pleasure (haven't these people heard there is a war on?). The waves must lap for them with the sound of faint and distant laughter . . . and unless these people were Aurons, none of them would be pitched into the tumbrels. A Federation victory, and I held no doubt that it would be, might work out rather well for some! There was no necessity to annihilate Lindor: just bring it into the orbit of the Federation quickly and efficiently. Servalan and her minions could count on forming a collaborationist government with no difficulty! Soon the lucky would go back to their lives as if nothing had happened.

Stop it! But I could not stop. How many would even notice or how many of them would ever care.

Finally, shame overcame my bitterness and the irrationality that spawned it. It was my own guilt feeding the fires of rage. Never deny that. All that would be left would be ashes of pity. Spill it. Tell the truth. I had held out on my companions. I, an Auron, had been less than honest. And here I was pronouncing my judgment on people I had never met. I was furious at people I knew nothing of for what they had not done. A lot easier than facing oneself, right?

Guilt and anger raged on. I thought only of the base, the children, and escape. Everything else was just another source of despair. I never felt lower. I think I must have been feeling more dizzy than usual.

We passed the lake and the country became less scenic, more desolate. For a moment, I managed to move beyond self-recrimination. Franton was trying to sleep but not doing well. She would talk in her sleep in gibberish and then wake up with a start. It was getting on my nerves.

Finally, we were about a half hour from the base, just starting to see dawn light, when Franton awoke once more. Whether it was a premonition in a bad dream or just being overly fitful, I will never know. At the time, I was busy calculating my final approach. I had just picked up the landing beacon. So it was she who saw the Federation weapon first. I am ashamed to admit it, for I already had several clues that something was drastically wrong. I just chose to ignore them. Ace pilot Li at your service. I had done so because in another half hour, why would it matter? It wasn't like I was going to lose my insurance over this.

I was struggling to adjust the trim of the aircar and thinking to myself: why are the automatic controls not responding? Was my flying that bad? Yet I have a reasonable amount of upper arm strength. I could handle it. Not much longer and we're home, consoled the eternal fool.

But the slug refused to act as it should. What was wrong? The computers were not malfunctioning - every diagnostic program was clean and these things have lots of backups. I was pressing all the right buttons. I was frantically studying the instruments and struggling to keep under control, when Franton said quietly: "There's a thunderstorm ahead. You can see it now."


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