Home > Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)(9)

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)(9)
Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff

I remember the conversation that happened next. Every word. I can hear it right now in my head, like I’m there all over again.

“AIDAN, this is Prophet. Patch me through to General Torrence.”

“Major Hawking. Proceed to designated grid coordinates at assault speed.”

“Roger that, AIDAN, we are en route. Patch me through to General Torrence.”

“Unable to comply.”

“Say again, AIDAN?”

“Unable to comply.”

I squinted at my instruments, glancing up through the blastspex to confirm what my readouts were telling me. A tiny flare was blooming on the Copernicus’s skin. I saw nearly a dozen small scarab shapes dropping from the heavy freighter’s belly, one after another. Thrusters flaring. Twisted metal glittering in their wake.

“Prophet, something just blew through the Copernicus’s launch bay doors,” I reported.

“Why was the launch bay locked in the first place?” Carlin asked.

“Shut your fucking blowhole, Chatter!” Dreadnought barked, “Prophet, I’m detecting multiple shuttle launches from the Copernicus, acknowledge?”

“Roger that, I see them. No comms from Copernicus. No launch permit on the shuttles. Lead craft ident: Osprey.”

AIDAN’s voice crackled over comms.

“Major Hawking, you are ordered to intercept Osprey Group two thousand kilometers from Copernicus hypocenter. Acknowledge.”

“… Hypocenter?” Prophet repeated.

Hypocenter. From the Greek, chums. Literally means “below the center.” It’s a term used to describe the origin point of an earthquake. Or a nuclear explosion.

That got our attention. No fucking doubt.

I saw warning lights flashing on my HUD. Radiation spike. At that point I was nothing but adrenaline and sweat. And then I realized the Alexander had arced up its assault batteries. Missiles were heating, firing solutions feeding into our nav comps, a dozen LEDs flashing on my consoles now. The Alexander had armed its nukes.

And it was aiming at the Copernicus.

I asked Prophet what the fuck was happening, only to get howled at by Dreadnought for clogging comms. We were closing on the Copernicus at full burn, about 3,000 klicks away now. My hands were shaking so bad I could barely hold formation. The freighter loomed in my viewshield. Metal gleaming in the light of Kerenza VII’s atmos. Swirling blue and bloody red and copper-flavored gold.

Prophet was shouting into comms now. “AIDAN, we have detected nuclear armaments being spooled in your silos. Patch me through to General Torrence now! Acknowledge!”

“Transmission acknowledged, Major Hawking. Unable to comply.”

Prophet ordered me to raise the Copernicus on comms while he kept trying to get through to anyone human on board the Alexander. Copernicus was transmitting nothing but white noise. I did what I was told anyway.

“Heavy freighter Copernicus, this is Second Lieutenant Mason from Battlecarrier Alexander, do you copy?”

I got hissing silence for a reply. Maybe they couldn’t hear me.

Maybe they weren’t transmitting.

Or maybe they were being jammed.

“Copernicus, this is Alexander Cyclone Flight Group Echo. Do you copy?”

And then it happened. Inbound alarms screeched in my cockpit and the Alexander let loose. Just like that. There’s no up or down in space. Everything is relative. Funny how it can still feel like the entire universe has flipped on its head. My HUD was pretty much all red at this point. Prophet was yelling into comms, demanding an explanation from AIDAN. He still pulled up at the two thousand klick point like he’d been ordered, though.

Copernicus was armed with anti-inbound batteries and ghost tech that might fool a missile’s targeting computer on a good day. But the ship wasn’t running up its defense solutions. It looked fine from the exterior—they still had power, engines, nav. The lights were on, but nobody was home.

I watched the missile speed across the black. Lipstick-red tip, pristine white flanks, serial number stenciled in neat black lettering along its belly: URD:00M.

“Your doom”.

I wondered if that was some spanner monkey’s idea of a joke.

I wondered if the fucker was laughing now.

Sound doesn’t travel in space. There’s no atmos to carry it. All those old school Terran future flicks we laugh at on retro night in the amphitheater got it wrong. But when that missile struck the Copernicus and burned blue, I swear I heard it. Felt it in my chest. The compensators on my visor dropped into sudden black against the flare, but I could still see it—Copernicus being blown to pieces within a perfect sphere of blue. Chunks tumbling like thousand-ton jigsaw pieces across the black. Two thousand plus lives snuffed out in an instant. Dismantled by the blast or frozen into people-shaped icicles.

All of it happening in perfect, absolute

silence.

Debris was speeding toward us on the edge of the blastwave, pattering on my blast-shield like rain, colliding with Kerenza VII’s atmos and burning through every color of the rainbow. I could still hear Prophet’s voice on comms, but I can’t remember what he was saying. Maybe he was still asking for an explanation. Maybe he was praying. I honestly can’t tell you.

I could still see the shuttles streaking toward us, came to my senses, like someone turned the universal volume back on. I could see other Cyclones popping up on my spatials—more flight groups scrambled from Alexander. I’d tried hailing the lead shuttle on open comms, on the day’s secure frequencies, on universal. Nothing. But someone had to be flying them—they’d been moving too erratically for autopilot scripts. And then AIDAN spoke again.

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