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The Freaks Come Out At Night

by craig s 5 months ago in science fiction

Fly by night

The Southernmost of the Twin Suns was beginning to set when the crew stepped onto the hard surface of the flight line. The four men walked without ceremony toward the large, sleek shape that loomed in front of them at a distance. They wore flying suits comprised of synthetic weaves which were designed to be lightweight and fire-resistant, and flying helmets which carried a visor that was coated with FibroDiamond dust which would whiten instantly and protect the eyes of the wearer in the event of an explosion. On their bodies they carried a utility vest and maps, charts, lunchboxes, and other personal effects in their tanned Synthleather flying bags. Most carried the latest Holonews cassettes or InfoTablet books as well, they knew it was going to be a long flight. As they came closer to the craft, they could read the text displayed upon the starboard tail fin. Night Freakers. Hull Number XYB46. Accompanying their unit name was a stylized, cartoonish rendering of a ghoul emerging from behind a crescent moon. The craft carried an odd paint scheme of black for the bottom part of the hull, and Three Fin Shark Grey for the top. While the paint scheme would do them no favors in the event of an encounter with an adversary in the air, it was well suited for their current mission. The sole purpose of the existence of the 37TH Royal Reconnaissance Aerial Wing Regiment was not to launch armed incursions into enemy territory, or to engage in brutal combat against light and nimble fighters. Their mission was to watch over what remained of the Kingdom, their former adversary. The remnants of the various city-states that were the heart and soul of the Kingdom were now in what were termed Dead Zones Located on the most spinward part of their continent and the site of 286 simultaneous Thermofusion attacks which decisively ended the last Regal Genocide War over two decades ago. They were to observe and record, to speak for those still in the Zones.

The Pilot, Navigator, and two SynthSensor Operators conducted their own individual pre-flight checks, both out of tradition and professionalism. Once satisfied with the condition of the craft, the Pilot ordered start up sequence condition two, non-combat. Deep inside the bowels of the craft, electricity buzzed and hummed across wires and cabling. Variable displacement pumps whirred to life as if stirred angrily from their slumber. In the Flight Bridge where the Pilot and Navigator sat next to each other, expensive equipment made from the most flawless of Barian Crusted Jewels started aligning in perfect synchronicity. Accuracy on long flights such as these was paramount, the slightest deviation could cost the crew their lives as there were no emergency airfields in the Dead Zones. Display units came to life with wavy, hazy outlines showing multicolored test patterns before they warmed up and the image suddenly became as clear as one of the great Abyssal Oceans. Once the craft was conscious, the crew needed to get its heart flowing. At the flick of a switch the Port propulsion engine was ignited, followed slowly by the Starboard unit. As soon as they reached optimum start temps, the Pilot opened the throttles and waited for them to roar to life. The Navigator had his hands inserted into the Computing Cabinet interaction ports just above each of his knees, his head buried into the HoloDisplay tube which jutted out from the console in front of him. He was busy talking to the Computing Core and laying out the mission parameters into the aircraft. The two SynthSensor techs were aligning the crystal sets and ensuring that the various weather filters were displaying correctly. They had all practiced the familiar routine hundreds of times before, like a well-rehearsed ballet. Soon, it was time to launch. The craft lumbered to the edge of the Aerial Pathway and opened its lungs, Propulsors roaring to life. With a well-practiced flick of the Guidance Column towards his lap, the Pilot made the craft ascend and its wings bit into the air.

The Southernmost Sun was almost touching the horizon when the Pilot positioned their craft behind the gigantic Aerial Tanking craft. Resembling a Giant Gullwing with two large puffy jellyfish hanging underneath each wing, the Tanking craft carried vast amounts of Propulsor Fluid and would serve as their own flying gas station before the Night Freakers would hit their third steerpoint, over the border with the first Dead Zone. Once they detached from the Tanker, the craft began a lazy turn into a dark horizon. The setting Sun was behind them, and they would not see it for another 12 hours. “He’s here.” The Navigators voice crackled over the Flight Bridge communication set. A sensor alert from the Computing Core had appeared in his display tube. The crew trained their sensors and eyes to a position behind the Starboard wing. “Pilot, S.O. Alpha, I see him behind Starboard wing.” The first SynthSensor Operator saw the outline of the other craft in the dim glow of his screen and was reporting it to the Pilot. It was their escort, a smaller, nimbler fighter with attached tanks to extend its range, carrying no weaponry except for its formidable cannon. It was there to offer a bare minimum of protection for the Night Freakers as they conducted their mission, the pilot of the escort fighter was signal silent for the duration of the entire flight unless otherwise contacted by the crew of the reconnaissance craft. Both shapes sped through the night sky towards the Zones, towards the cities of the dead.

After the end of the last Regal war, the victorious nations and kingdoms had set forward a policy of containment for those left inside the Dead Zone. The crimes of the now defunct Kingdom government were too great, too numerous, and too unspeakable to go unpunished. This decision while harsh was not without blame, for the countless countries and peoples that were lucky enough to survive the war did not do so without experiencing hardship in the process. Over the course of an entire generation whole populations had been decimated or subjugated, once sprawling cities leveled, and entire sections of the Great Northspin Archipelago forever destroyed with Toxic Warfare. Economies were set back decades to pay for the war. The ones who enacted the Policies of Isolation into law had in their minds fresh images of gigantic missiles soaring over their homes or schools, spraying Toxi-Fuel into the air. Indeed, many still remember the day the 286 Warheads were detonated over the Kingdom that had been the cause of all their anguish for so many years. They all remember that day with apathy. The name of the Kingdom had been struck from official records, refugees denied transit or sympathy. The land where it once existed now a rotting hulk of ash, destroyed city-states, contaminated great lakes, and irradiated forests. At home, the rebuilding of society and infrastructure was proceeding at a slow pace and conciliation with former enemies was not an easy concept to grasp, perhaps by choice. The Observation Flight Program had been designed to give the victor governments firsthand knowledge of life in the center of the Zone. “In case some rogue military elements had survived the attack and were banding together for an offensive” had been the popular reasoning thrown around in the Holonews. That was the theory, but the reality was that the program existed to give those in power the smug satisfaction of seeing firsthand how utterly decimated their opponent had been. Many factions within the governments argued that shipping aid and technology to the Dead Zones would show sympathy and compassion, and in a moralistic sense that it would be the correct approach. After all, the idea that forgiveness might be bestowed upon those in the Dead Zones who were not involved in the old war was becoming a new trend in contemporary popular discourse on the CommNets. Those voices were always silenced by uncensored holotape footage from the Observation missions themselves, of some chaotic scene within the Zone followed by a swift reminder that less than half a century ago the same people were responsible for genocide on a GigaContinental scale. They were responsible and they must be punished was the preferred mantra. The rest of the world had turned their backs to what was left of the Kingdom, they were too tired, too traumatized, too busy, and too poor to care. The war had ended what they now call the Age of Innocence and Prosperity, everyone knew the next era would not be so kind

The craft flew high and fast over the next Dead Zone, its escort two leagues behind and to the Starboardmost side. Inside the hull, the two Sensor techs were peering down into the remnants of Koroharsk, one of the Industrial Megacities that the Kingdom had used during the war. Their precision instruments capturing what the naked eye could not see, they peered into the decimated city streets and empty alleyways. The city was dimly lit, but this relatively early in the evening foot traffic was prevalent. They saw car chases in the heart of the city streets, night markets where the vendors sold everything from contraband to human flesh, drugdens where junkies could gather and smoke Bulbroot together. The apartment blocks which once housed the ruling military elite were now urban crypts, taken over by gangs and used as strongholds. Long convoys of slave trucks trudged through the main highway on their way to neighboring areas. In former park areas crowds gathered for some sort of cultic ceremony which involved human sacrifice and strange symbols displayed on makeshift banners, the second Sensor tech trained his display cursor over the symbols and pressed a trigger on his control pad. In the corner of his eye on the upper right of the display, an icon of a Holotape Recorder flashed and animated to indicate the imagery was being recorded. The Seers at the Optical Intelligence Ministry had seen the iconography in different cities before, and the techs had been briefed to pay special attention for them in Koroharsk. The Primary Sensor tech put his hand to his Display control pad and felt for the rotary switch with his thumb, refining and realigning the crystal sets to get a better display. He was busy observing a small flotilla of boats exiting from the city sewers into the nearby river.

The Pilot had two items of value on his person which he cherished dearly, one was his Mark X wrist Analog Chronometer which his father had given him upon his graduation from flight academy, and the second a Fractal Locket which contained a Digirender of him and his mother. He carried both items religiously on each flight, almost to a fault since weight optimization was calculated down to the smallest item. He flicked his wrist to feel the weight of the airtight wrist chronometer against it. It was a popular model among Aerial pilots, being extremely water, gas, and radIsotope resistant. Yet its toughness was not all for sacrifice of looks as it was a handsome watch as well. It had seen action in wartime as well as the drunken nights on port calls in the Northern Abyssal Plains. It even survived being thrown by a chastised partner and emerged unscathed. He felt naked without it. When the Navigator unstrapped himself from his seat to take his prescribed rest period the Pilot brought the locket out of his flying suit by lifting it above his chest. It was a high res renderscene in Holo of his mother pushing him in a stroller, it was captured by his father using the family Recorder. It looped for 10 seconds; he loved seeing his mother and him both being happy together. His parents had perished in the last year of the war. The craft flew on towards the other Dead Zones, towards the night and away from the Suns

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craig s

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