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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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Sand. There was always sand. It got into your flight suit and itched like hell. It got into your respirator and made your lungs feel like they were full of ground glass. It got into every lousy piece of equipment and made you waste half your days sitting around the base, drinking lukewarm Coke and flipping through magazines that might have been interesting if you could read Arabic.

Some of the mechanics were starting to spin tall tales about djinnlins, nasty little creatures that were half-djinn and half-gremlin. They were supposed to look like sneering leprechauns dressed in turbans and burnooses. Green-skinned, hook-clawed monsters that stank of gasoline. They were the ones who cut your fuel lines, then laughed as they watched your plane smash into the dirty, rotten sand. Some days you almost believed it, as you had to watch the charred body of a buddy being hauled away in a plastic bag.

Somebody was shouting at you in schoolboy French, heavily accented with the flat, nasal vowels of an American farmer. They never learned that Flemish was your first language, or that you could speak English like an Oxford don. Half of them thought Belgium was part of France anyway. The rest thought that the EU was just like the USA, and that the difference between a kraut and a frog was less important than the difference between a hoosier and a cheesehead.

The Yankee greasemonkey grinned at you. "Avion bon, Commandant Van der Wyck," he said. You thanked him profusely, adding a comment about the amatory activities of his female ancestors in a perfect Parisian accent. He kept smiling.

The avion wasn't particulary bon, but it would fly. You watched the transport 'bots haul the Flexwing fighter out of the hanger with all the speed and grace of drunken sloths. Their fat wheels creaked under the weight of the fighter as they crawled forward. You wanted to shout at them to be careful, but the only words they understood were Stop and Go.

You hurried to suit up as the fighter underwent her final inspection. The flight inspector was a good man, a methodical Swede who never let a pilot go up in a plane that wasn't fit for service. By the time you got back you watched him walk away from your fighter. She was ready. You were ready.

You hauled yourself into the cockpit and strapped yourself in. The seat adjusted itself to your body. It felt good, like a comfortable old chair in your favorite pub. You didn't need the respirator today; you were going on Low Patrol, as part of a three-man flight team. You didn't expect much in the way of action. Jacobs, the lanky British lieutenant who was sitting in the fighter to your right, called Low Patrol "showing the flag." It was supposed to impress the civilians and scare away the bandits. You didn't know much about Corelli, the pilot on your left, but you knew she was good. Nobody got into a Flexwing who wasn't good.

The fighter closed her canopy over your head with a low whine. You attached your earphones and throatmike. "Let's go," you said. Jacobs grunted some kind of reply, and Corelli was singing. She had a pleasant voice.

The fighter's jet turbine roared into life at your back. The vibration rattled your teeth. The Flexwing raced down the runway, then shot up into the sky. You never got over the thrill of feeling your body pressed back into the seat by the sudden g-force as you escaped the Earth and were free.

After the routine launch, the internal AI gave you control of the fighter, although it kept a close watch over the Flexwing's movements to make sure you didn't make any stupid mistakes that might get you killed. You slipped your hands into the waldoes at your sides, each one like a fat glove with pressure-sensitive slots that fit your fingers perfectly. They gave you full control over the fighter's multi-position wing flaps, allowing you to make quick, precise changes in how you flew.

You bent your right index finger down slightly, pushing against the slight resistance of the waldo. The resistance kept you from moving your fingers by accident, and probably saved your life every time you flew. The Flexwing went into a lazy turn to the right, giving you a better view of Jacobs and Corelli ahead of you. Their wingflaps moved now and then, repositioning their fighters. There was no real need for it; they were skylarking. It was one of the joys of being a pilot.

You flew out of the desert southeast of Cairo and headed for the city. You and your team made a wide loop over the metropolis, turning back south to follow the deep blue of the Nile. As usual, you decided to end your patrol by flying over Giza. You never got tired of soaring over the Pyramids and the Sphinx.

You were over the Zoological Gardens when you got the first report from Corelli through your earphones. "Unidentified craft headed this way," she said. There was a pause. "It's fast, Commander. Tearing across the radar."

"I see it." The blip was moving too quickly to be manned. You had to assume it was a missile. It had been more than a year since the last attack, but there were still a lot of people who resented having the EU as peacekeepers in the region. Some of those people had money. Worse, some of them knew how to build machines whose only function was to kill.

You took the lead, heading right for the thing. Despite the cockpit's powerful air conditioning system, you were sweating inside your flight suit. The canopy was at full UV shielding, but the sun still hammered at you and made your head throb. All you could see ahead of you was the blue-white sky and the pale brown sand.

"Got it on visual," Jacobs said. His Flexwing pulled ahead of you and made a hard left turn. Then you saw her wings flatten into thin lines for maximum speed. She was heading for the intruder like a bullet.

You turned to follow, the g-force slamming you into the right side of the cockpit. In a heartbeat or two you saw your target, above Jacobs and slightly to his right. From here it was just a small circle, gleaming in the sunlight. By the time you caught up with Jacobs it was a sphere covered with knobs and dents. It looked cheap and dirty, a kamikaze weapon without any ability to maneuver. That didn't mean it wasn't deadly. Chem or bio or just an ordinary explosive; you had to stop it.

Before you could give Jacobs the order to fire you saw his Flexwing split into two halves, sliced neatly by a unseen knife. Before you even felt the shock of losing him, you knew that meant the intruder had an automatic X-ray laser, ready to destroy anything that got in its way. That meant it had a lot of power, and that meant that this was no ordinary terrorist weapon. Maybe a nuke.

Before Jacobs smashed into the sand you gave Corelli the order for evasive maneuvers. You started moving your fingers inside the waldoes in the complex defense patterns you had practiced so often. Sky and sand swung wildly around, sometimes swapping places, as your Flexwing spiralled toward the target.

Corelli's fighter swept by, low in front of you. A blast of scarlet light burst from her, hitting the intruder from below. The gray metal sphere started to glow like a burning coal, but it kept coming. That meant it had damn good shielding.

You gave the target a long burst from your forward laser, then forced your Flexwing upward at maximum speed. The intruder must have scored a glancing blow on you with its invisible X-ray laser, because you suddenly felt as if you had the worst sunburn of your life, and your canopy darkened into full blackness.

You circled back around, cursing as you waited for the canopy to clear enough so you could see. It took a couple of seconds; much too long. By that time Corelli's fighter was a smoking ruin on the ground.

The intruder was glowing yellow-white now, but there was no change in its relentless approach to the city. You were outgunned, and you knew it. You pushed the Flexwing to her limit, not caring if the enemy scored another hit on you. Just before you collided with it, your last thought was that the goddamned djinnlins had gotten you at last.


*********************************************************

This particular group of tourists was a very interesting one, Sarden thought to himself. They were all rich and powerful, of course. Sarden was one of the most experienced tour guides in the Middle Eastern Confederation, and he was only assigned to lead the most expensive and luxurious excursions. Still, this group was unusual.

There were the three Lunarians, for example. Like everyone born on the Moon, they were very tall and thin, and had to wear full exoskeletons to walk around comfortably in full Earth gravity. They wore very little else except a rainbow of skin dyes. Like her two husbands, the woman was completely bald.

Then there was the holostar who called herself Medusa. She was nearly as famous for her exotic singing style as for the symbionts that were permanently attached to her scalp, writhing like so many earthworms as they fed her bloodstream with the chemicals that kept her young. There were much easier ways to get one's anti-aging treatments, but none so stylish.

When all the members of the tour group were standing on their hoverdisks, and had activated the force fields that would keep them cool and comfortable (and from breaking their necks), Sarden began the excursion. Even at this distance, the Pyramids were an impressive sight. Sarden gave them his standard lecture about their history as they approached.

The hoverdisks flew low over the desert, heading west as they approached the Valley Temple. Soon the tourists were all oohing and aahing over the Sphinx. After some time on the ground exploring the ancient statue, they jumped back on the hoverdisks and headed for the Pyramid of Khufu.

Floating above the pyramid, they had a magnificent view of the smaller Queen's Pyramids, close to the east, and the Pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure, farther off to the southwest. Sarden made sure that he paused often in his lecture, allowing them plenty of time to be silently awed by the majesty of these ancient monuments.

As he led them in a slow circle around the Pyramid, about halfway to the ground, Sarden asked if there were any questions.

"What's that big dent?" said one of the two Lunarian men. He pointed with his slender finger to a place below them.

Sarden smiled. Someone always asked about that. It was impossible to miss the place where the Pyramid had been damaged.

"About two hundred years ago, the remnants of two colliding aircraft crashed into the Pyramid. The spot is still slightly radioactive."

"Radioactive?" said Medusa. Her symbionts seemed to wriggle more quickly.

"Oh, there's no danger at all after all this time. The real danger around here is walking around in the sun without a field." There was polite laughter. "One of the aircraft was a drone, history tells us. It was carrying a dirty bomb in the direction of Cairo. Of course, it never got there."

"What about the other one?" asked the Lunarian woman.

"It had a human pilot, we believe, name unknown. A true hero, who saved the city from disaster, and kept the Lukewarm War from heating up."

"It's hard to believe that such a crash left the Pyramid still standing," Medusa said.

"There's an old saying around here. Time laughs at everything, but the Pyramids laugh at time."

He led them back over the eternal sand.


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2011-10-04 11:23:42
Sixbears - wow. even the heros are forgotten. good story

2011-09-30 17:33:23
Qbabe here, I very much enjoyed the story and I do "get it". I think it is relevant enough to our current times too.Thank God for heroes. :)

2011-09-09 20:12:07
Things endure. And sometimes, an action in one place and time has profound consequences. Interesting story.

2011-09-03 22:05:36
Didn't really get it. What's the point? Why should I care?




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