“THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED”
Ahneevah settled into the StarStream’s biotech flight seat and as she ran through her pre-departure checklist she could feel the first penetrating surge of heat on the back of her neck from …
… the dragon-breath thermal gusts churned up by the primary blast-rays. Recognizing that the enemy spearhead had already advanced well inside the borders of the mainland, it crossed one of her profuse mental conduits that within the near day-part her entire planet would be saturated with lethal radiation, deadly poisons and the dank, hopeless smell of death. It was clear to her that the StarStream’s onboard respiration system would serve as her final environment. Fully reconciled to her fate, she paused for a brief moment, slowly inhaled one last, long, deep breath of the yet uncontaminated morning air and opened her large, jade eyes to their optimum panoramic view to take a final look at a world she had no hope of ever seeing again. Then, with great resolve, the combat-hardened flight-leader brushed back her shining amber hair, set and secured her omni-vision helmet in place, activated the flexible-plasma visor and slid the palm-sized logic unit into its flight-dynamics interface slot in the starboard-side armrest.
In a nano second her departure parameters were streamed into her Helmet-Mounted Display, immediate take-off authorization was granted by the Aero Guidance Control Officer. Ahneevah activated the particle sequencer which triggered the StarStream’s muon-catalyzer and initiated the low-temp fusion process. With an almost imperceptible hum, the craft’s inner frozen-gas canopy slid forward and sealed itself into the bio-magnetic capture system. In succession, the outer clamshell slowly and silently lowered, locked down into position and the ionized-plasma view-portal materialized in its transparent mode. Upon reaching maximum thrust, Ahneevah launched skyward to rendezvous with her battle section already on station in orbit.
High above the planetary day-night terminator, Ahneevah joined her Air Arm. She would lead them to intercept their enemy as they had done so many times before, but this time their adversaries would number in the millions—without soul and without conscience. A force bent solely on terror and obliteration—instigated by a malicious horde that had inexplicably and inexcusably lost its sanity in a world that had now irretrievably lost its way. However, Ahneevah also knew that her own people had not acted as they should have to stem the wave of destruction before it grew to uncontrollable proportions. On various occasions she tried to convince her leadership of their intransigence. “We are becoming our enemy.” Ahneevah would warn. “Their tactics have become our tactics. The land of my birth is no longer the land in which I was born, it is no longer the bright beacon of hope that it had once been. We must be better. We must find our way safely through the maelstrom and cease our aimless march toward the end of time itself. We can once again set an example and follow the guide points of those who eons before began the journey on the Path of Illumination—the earliest Time-Spanners—the First Prophets of Integrity and Reason.” But even with her status as a global hero, her pleas fell on deaf ears and narrow minds. The unavoidable truth was that road to progress is not always paved with wisdom.
The mission profile for Ahneevah‘s Air Arm was straightforward. Kill as many of their adversaries as possible despite the fact that there was no logical chance of a tactical or strategic gain or any hope of a positive outcome. Even though there was nothing left but mutual annihilation, she would carry out her assignment and heroically face her end knowing that she was keeping her oath.
Ahneevah’s extraordinary and extremely gallant career was filled with missions that were considered to be of the one-way variety but somehow she always managed to turn them into round trips. Her heroism under fire during the previous two wars was legend. She flew against and destroyed more enemy craft on orbit than any other pilot in Air Wing history, and after the last war she was detached from her combat division, advanced in rank to Air Arm Commander and assigned to the Space Exploration Corps. As a flight-leader, test pilot and scientist, she made six glorious trips into the cosmos. Four of her missions took her to a series of lunar sites where she supervised the establishment of the initial Planetary Excursion Support Bases. Ahneevah almost perished on a daring and desperate mission to stop a double-barreled rogue comet from wiping out all life on her planet and its near space neighbor. No one in the Tactical Planning Authority of the Space Exploration Wing believed she would succeed and make it back home.
This time, however, she would not make it back to the home she knew. Her extraordinary abilities would be unable to overcome the crushing destructive power she was about to face … a power that was driven by the fearsome necessity for those with divergent views to exterminate their rivals rather than seek a compromise to resolve their differences.
The final confrontation raged vertically from the lower atmosphere to the orbital ellipses and horizontally over vast distances across the entire super continent. Wave after wave of the enemy’s highly superior Flank Bombers came under the firepower of Ahneevah’s squadron, and wave after wave were decimated. But Ahneevah knew full well that her rapidly escalating air-kills were short-lived and hollow victories, and even with her battle group’s extreme courageousness and sacrifice, she eventually found herself the last StarStream pilot left in the fight. An entire tactical wing of rival ships was spitting a relentless barrage of wide-beam pulse waves at her lone craft. Again and again, the seasoned combat aviator masterfully darted out of harm’s way. Each defensive shift brought a tactical advantage and each was used to counter-attack. Though she finally vanquished all those who challenged her, the countless detonations of her antagonist’s aircraft and ordnance turned the air itself into a radiation-ridden inferno. Below, most of the surface of her planetary home had become a burgeoning sea of flame, dust and debris.
In the last agonizing stages of the battle, Ahneevah lost all on-board tracking data. She found herself at the top of her dying world fighting to hand-maneuver her stricken craft through the conflagration that was now amplified a thousand-fold in the wake of the chain-reaction of the exploding enemy air armada. Intense magno-thermic waves started to finger their way through the ionized titanium-silicate sections of the StarStream’s organic composite skin, and the power immediately started falling off. In response, the fire suppression system robotically triggered to counter the ultra-high temperature acceleration by temporarily altering the subatomic matrix in selected sections of the ship’s component parts. This action elevated their melting point and resulted in the hungry tentacles of superheated gas being forced to subside from their feeding frenzy. Nevertheless, the outside temperature was now spiking up toward stellar surface levels which were far beyond the maximum limit of the StarStream’s heat-resistant molecular barrier. The onset of catastrophic structural failure was imminent in various sectors of the multi-carbonized and organic-composite materials forming the shell of the craft. This was an unusual situation for Ahneevah. She had never lost a single air vehicle in her entire military career. There was, however, little she could do to delay the inevitable. All that was left to her in this moment was to precisely follow her training which called for her to broadcast a distress call over the com-link. She did so even though a standby level of her varied layers of consciousness knew that the carrier wave would have only a minute chance of penetrating the pulse oscillations caused by the persistent salvo of the anti-particle based weaponry. The constant electromagnetic discharges emitted by the endless fusion-pod explosions had ionized the air surrounding the StarStream, further impeding the signal strength of the transponder pulses emitted by her onboard navigation and communications platforms. Worst of all, her intuition told her that there was no one left on the ground to receive her transmissions.
In spite of the critical reality, Ahneevah continued to follow procedure by recording her final thoughts into her logic unit and removing it from its slot. With a verbal command, the device separated into two sections and she jettisoned one of them along with the flat, circular Photonic Emergency Transducer location tracking module. Both pieces of equipment were whipped away in the fighting craft’s slipstream and then caught in its wake.
The ancient swampland below stretched out over half of a hemisphere and almost into the last sunset. Over this most desolate region of the continent the air continued to be shattered by the massive chain-reaction explosions vaulting the outside air temperatures well beyond those found on a solar body. Subsequently, the tera-degree heat began generating severe turbulence of an unprecedented magnitude. Violent, vertical fire plumes and fierce wind-shear turned the StarStream into a superheated, out-of-control projectile plummeting from an altitude at the limit of the suborbital gravity effect down through a blazing hell-storm. Ahneevah was aware that she had only a negligible sliver of life remaining to her but simply giving in and waiting for the inevitable plunge into the nothingness of the roiling furnace below was not an option—not by any means. She deftly reduced the power and lowered her breathing rate to a barely perceptible level—just enough respiration function to allow her to stay alert and retain control. When her carbon dioxide recycling unit failed, she shut down her own active breathing system altogether—fully confident that the energy-oxidation components stored in her body would serve her through the completion of her final tasks.
As a result of the tornado-force convection currents, the cooler air that surrounded the virtually endless stretch of wetland vegetation was being vacuumed skyward. This action carried the oxygen-rich surface air to higher altitudes and gave the flames new life. The heat inside the StarStream’s inner flight compartment had risen beyond the maximum operating limits of the reserve cooling unit. Finally, the scorching super-heated plasmic inferno won its battle against the fire-suppression system. The tentacles of scorching ionized gas began to crawl through the internal bio-structure of the teardrop air vehicle, making it impossible for the nucleonic regeneration process to continue. Although it was manufactured, the StarStream contained numerous biologic components and Ahneevah could, in a real sense, feel her ship dying. The control-system initiators were destabilizing and the resultant thermic oscillations made the craft aerodynamically unstable causing its entry into a wildly gyrating downward spiral. The voice coming from her logic unit announced that the automatic abort sequence was in its final phase and that the safe ejection window was about to close. Safe ejection to where? She calmly deduced. The whole world is burning.
By this time, any thinking being would have been resigned to the inevitable and surrendered to it. But this particular aviator still refused to give in. Ahneevah was determined that she would not submit and simply give up her life-force—it would have to be taken from her.
“Terminate abort procedure … cancellation code XEL-EBR-09Z,” she ordered and instinctively, in a last-ditch effort to reign in her runaway craft, overrode all of her automatic systems, opened the secondary weapons pod-bay doors and fired her remaining ordnance aft. Then she raised the outer clamshell slightly and deployed the rarely used auxiliary air brakes to add some aerodynamic drag. This action, plus the initial forward-aimed neutronic thrust from the missiles’ power cores, effectively acted against the over-speed component and slowed the StarStream’s velocity and rate of descent. The canopy remained intact and held solidly onto its central attach points, but she could hear and feel the grinding and tearing noises, shudder and scream throughout her flight vehicle as the extended air-brake panels and weapons pod-bay doors were blasted away from the main structure by the hypersonic slipstream. However, the structural sacrifices bought her an additional fraction of time before she would become the final casualty of a pointless, psychotically motivated war.
Gradually, as the StarStream’s speed began to bleed off and drop below supersonic, Ahneevah stabilized it and regained some control. Though the ship was inverted, Ahneevah managed to lock down the outer canopy and, after descending through the escalating inferno, the huge, dark droplet—followed by the still-intact ejected data processors, corkscrewed in toward the expansive everglade below. The power automatically shut down when the flight vehicle crunched through the fiery crown of the bayou’s flaming, moss-draped, giant trees. The hard contact with the thick, resilient foliage sufficiently decreased the teardrop craft’s velocity so that when it finally impacted with the steaming, highly-irradiated sea of muck, it did not disintegrate. Due to its engineering and design qualities it immediately rolled upright. With the power off, the superheated plasma rapidly cooled, but the slimy bog water poured in through the exposed air brake wells and pod bay. With the world collapsing around it, in a cacophony of bubbling and crackling reverberations, the normally buoyant StarStream sank down to the hypothermic depths of the marsh, with its undertow tugging the trailing ejecta behind it. The coming nuclear winter would permanently freeze the swampland and seal the legacy of the pilot. As her cognizance faded, her last sensory perception was of the vibrations and sounds of the convulsive, muffled explosions thundering relentlessly above the quagmire’s surface. Then—nothing.
In a distant epoch, far beyond Ahneevah’s comprehension, the choices she made and her inexorable heroic actions would have profound ramifications for a yet-unborn civilization—on a very different world.