|The Tooth Fairy War and Other Tales|
|The Dreaming Fire|
Time Laughs At Everything
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
Read more stories by this author
Sixbears - wow. even the heros are forgotten.
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. :)
Things endure. And sometimes, an action in one place and time has profound consequences. Interesting story.
Didn't really get it. What's the point? Why should I care?
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