Author: Q42 PM
Five years since the Passageway was destroyed, mankind has largely forgotten the Fairy War, and the threat it once faced from the JAM. That is, until a heavily-damaged FAF fighter crash-lands in just off the coast of Antarctica. Its name is Yukikaze...Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Chapters: 16 - Words: 32,589 - Reviews: 22 - Favs: 22 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 12-26-09 - Published: 01-24-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4814992
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Five years since the Passageway was destroyed, mankind has largely forgotten the Fairy War, and the threat it once faced from the JAM. That is, until a single heavily-damaged FAF fighter crash-lands in the Southern Ocean, just off the coast of Antarctica. Its name is Yukikaze….
In Antarctica, nightfall lasts for months.
Far enough south of the Earth's equator that the planet's rotation has little impact on its exposure to sunlight, the southernmost continent's days depend solely on the slow, wobbling tilt of the Earth's rotational axis. Note the occasional dip of the Sun below the Antarctic horizon, as the distance the pale star falls becomes increasingly deeper. Finally, after a long twilight, the dying daystar disappears completely, and an entire continent is plunged into darkness. It will be several long weeks until "morning" arrives.
During this long night, most of the humans who make their summer home here – a few hardy teams of researchers, biologists, and climatologists – leave for warmer climes, leaving only a thousand or so to watch their instruments. They work the longest night shift on Earth.
Once, for a period of years, there were more. Consisting mainly of military personnel, a literal army of human beings stampeded onto the ice when a ten-mile-high pillar of steam and spatial disruption appeared in the sky. The phenomenon called the Passageway was just that: a door between two worlds, linking Earth with an alien planet which would come to be known as Fairy – and allowing its creators, the mysterious JAM, to begin their conquest of Earth. Icy terrain was leveled to build runways for air bases, roads and supply routes were laid down, docks and warehouses built to receive and house war materiel. Only after many hard-fought battles were the forces of the United Nations able to beat the invaders back through the gateway.
With the JAM safely tucked away in their corner, the humans' interest waned. The razor edge of panic was replaced by the dull ache of boredom. Troops pulled out, bases were closed, and even those who remained to watch the Passageway grew lax and careless. Finally, after the humans' attempt to confront the enemy on their own world failed, the Fairy Air Force finally returned to Earth, hundreds of men and women dead or missing. To end the JAM threat once and for all, one lone pilot flew into the maelstrom, breached the JAM air defenses around the portal, and set off several nuclear explosives to disrupt and collapse the hyperspace pathway. The last anyone saw of Lieutenant Rei Fukai and his sentient fighter jet, the Yukikaze, was a brilliant flash of white light just before the Passageway closed.
Once the monsters were finally shut out from Earth, humans were only too happy to ignore the whole affair. The last of the military bases was closed down, leaving only the empty shells of prefabricated barracks and aircraft hangars, most of which were soon torn apart by fierce Antarctic winds and ice storms. Antarctica was left to itself again, and the human race largely forgot about the war that had been fought there, or the lives that had been sacrificed for its survival.
Joshua Lane was bored stiff. Uttering a sigh, he tossed the rubber ball up, heard the thunk as it connected with a ceiling panel, then caught it deftly with his left hand. Throw, thunk, catch. Throw, thunk, catch. The physicist spared a quick glance over at his computer screen, which showed a map of the area around McMurdo base, overlaid with a multicolored representation of local electromagnetic field activity. As usual, the screen was mostly a dull red, with an occasional faint smudge of orange – nothing remarkable.
"You keep doing that, and you're going to break something," a female voice called out. Josh caught the ball again, turning his chair around to face Kimiko Nakamura, one of the few other people dedicated or crazy enough to man their instruments here during the Antarctic winter. Josh grinned at the pretty Japanese climatologist; they'd been going steady for nearly a year now, and one of the reasons they'd both taken the 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift was so that they could work together without too many of the other "inmates" watching over their shoulders.
"Ah, don't sweat it," the American replied, "I've gotten so much practice at this, I doubt I'll ever miss a catch." So saying, he threw the ball up once again – just as an electronic alarm tone sounded from the monitor. Caught unprepared by the sudden distraction, Josh failed to catch the ball, which hit his desk and went caroming around, knocking over his coffee cup and a can of writing utensils before eventually coming to rest beneath one of the tables.
Kim put her hands on her hips, flashing her boyfriend a wry smile. "See? I warned you!"
"Yes, mothe— Holy cow!" Josh exclaimed, suddenly alert, staring awestruck at his screen. Where the EM spectra over the Ross ice shelf had been calm and unremarkable only seconds earlier, an expanding circle of blue-white had appeared just off the coastline, identifying an extremely powerful burst of radiation. "What the hell?"
"What is it?" Kim asked, coming over to stand beside Josh. Then her mouth fell open as she realized what the monitor was showing. "Is … is that …?"
Josh felt his heart jump up into his throat. If part of the ice shelf hadn't broken and melted away two years earlier, this anomaly would have manifested over the very spot where, two decades previously, the Passageway had first appeared.
"Josh," Kim asked, wide-eyed, her voice a frightened whisper, "you don't think that they might have opened another…?"
By now, Josh was fully awake. Grabbing his portable radio, he hit the transmit button. "Mac! Mac, are you awake? Talk to me!"
A moment later, a voice came over the line, obviously groggy from having just been woken up. "Uh, Lane? What's up?"
"Mac, we're picking up some crazy EM activity over here! Readings are off-scale high! It's centered directly over … wait a minute …." Josh trailed off as he watched the display. The anomaly had now resolved itself into an expanding ring of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, but the colors were fading from blue to green, with the inner edge a slowly dimming yellow. Instead of a bright, fixed column of intense energy, it looked more like ripples in a pond, weakening as the phenomenon expanded across the sky.
"Lane? Lane, come back. What's going on?"
After looking at the screen to make sure the "ripples" were really dying out, he called Mac back. "Uh, I'm not sure. We saw some kind of high-energy burst over the shelf, but it's fading out now."
"Out over the shelf? Let me check on tha—huh!"
"What is it?"
"I'm getting an emergency beacon from there. No voice, just an automated distress signal, and I think there's an IFF code imbedded somewhere … B-503. Maybe your EM spike was just the recovery beacon?"
"No way, Mac, that burst was way too powerful. For a second, it looked almost like the EMP from a nuclear blast."
"Yeah, well, the base electronics still read green across the board, so whatever it was, it wasn't an EMP, or at least not any kind I've heard about."
Josh nodded. "Okay. Well, at least our heating systems weren't fried or anything."
"Yeah! This time of the year, that'd be a real bitch! Of course, now we gotta rescue whoever it is that crashed out there before they sink or freeze to death."
"No military ships in the area?"
"Not less than a day's trip from here. Looks like it's up to us. Chalmers is gonna be pissed as hell."
"Yeah, yeah. Just tell the old guy to get the research boat fired up, and make sure the winch is working. If that plane is still floating, the navy guys are probably going to want it brought back."
"Yeah, right, if it hasn't broken up. I'll wake the poor guy, then put something warm on. You guys want to come too?"
Josh looked at his screen, now showing nothing more than the usual background energy, then at Kim, who just shrugged. "Hell, why not? Not like we have anything better to do here, anyway. Besides, maybe I can ask the pilot what that energy pulse was."
There was a laugh from the other end. "Lane, they never mentioned it to us, it goes boom, and obviously something went wrong. Do you honestly think he'd tell you?"
Josh sighed, realizing that Mac was probably right. "Probably not," he admitted. "Still, at least I get to get away from my desk for an hour or two, right?"
Thirty minutes later, the icebreaker was nearing the source of the emergency beacon. Bill Chalmers – "Barnacle Bill", as the other scientists had affectionately nicknamed him – had the searchlights switched on, sweeping the water for any sign of wreckage or survival gear.
After only three minutes, they found it.
The aircraft had deployed bright orange flotation bags from its forward fuselage, under its wings, and on either side of the engine exhaust nozzles. It was obviously a fighter aircraft; the streamlined body and its forward-swept wings made it obvious, as well as the plethora of maneuvering flaps and joints it used to alter its aerodynamic profile. The outer sheathing was a deep blue-gray, with white insignia denoting its individual and squadron designation. As the science vessel approached, the crew noticed that the fighter's long, two-seat cockpit was still closed, though only one chair was occupied. Countless scratches and dents had marred its paint, as though it had flown through a hail of metal shrapnel, yet somehow, the airframe seemed completely intact
Josh stepped cautiously out onto the wing, a steel cable in one hand, looking for an attachment point. When he found one, he clipped the cable into the ring and signaled the others. Once they were ready, Bill could start towing the aircraft back to McMurdo.
"Josh, can you see if the pilot is all right?" Kim called out, climbing over the side of the boat and carefully stepping onto the left wing. Josh had to smile under his waterproof cold-weather gear; typical Kim, always thinking of others. No wonder he liked her so much. The two slowly made their way from the middle of the fuselage up to the cockpit. Josh shone his flashlight in through the canopy. The pilot sat slumped slightly to his left, not moving.
"Uh, Kim, it looks like he's unconscious or something. I'm shining the light, but he's not moving."
Bill's voice crackled over their earpieces. "Better open the cockpit, then. There should be an emergency release somewhere on the port side. It'll be marked with a yellow triangle. Do you see it?"
"There should be a small, recessed slot you can stick your fingers into. Pull up on it, and you'll see a red handle. Just pull that, and the canopy will hinge open automatically."
Following the ex-naval officer's instructions, Josh activated the emergency release, and the cockpit opened with a quiet hiss of pneumatic pressure. Leaning down, Josh unclipped the breathing apparatus and beheld the pale, gaunt-looking face of the unlucky young pilot – or very lucky, depending on how you looked at the situation. There was no blood, at least, though his eyes were shut. One hand was still lightly closed around the stick, as though, even unconscious, he refused to relinquish control of his plane. "Why didn't he eject?" Josh asked over the com line.
"Probably because he knew his best chance was to land the plane intact, rather than ditch in these waters. Pilot g-suits are supposed to be waterproof, but the seals aren't perfect, and in this cold water, he'd have been dead of hypothermia before anybody could reach him."
"He must be one hell of a pilot," Mac commented. "Landing without a runway is tricky to begin with, especially if it's malfunctioning. Looks like she came down all in one piece, though."
Josh looked down at the unconscious fighter pilot. "Well, what do we do with him, then? Should I just close him up again until we reach the base?"
"Better carry him onto the boat. There's still a chance that the plane may sink while we try to tow it, plus it's warmer in here. If anything happens, at least we'll still save the pilot. Kim, give him a hand."
Planting their feet securely, the two researchers, looking like orange-suited Eskimos in their cold-weather gear, lifted the pilot gently, holding him stretched between them. A faint groan escaped the young man's lips, and one arm tensed momentarily. Slowly, making sure not to rock the floating fighter, they made their way over to the ship, where Bill and Mac grabbed the pilot's shoulders, hoisting him aboard. After a few moments, they returned and helped Kim back on board. "Hey, Lane, why don't you head back and close the cockpit back up again? If the plane does start to sink, one extra pocket of air inside wouldn't hurt."
"Right. Just a sec." Josh slowly made his way back to the cockpit, leaning down to grasp the handle he'd pulled earlier. Before closing it back up, though, something caught his eye. In the center of the plane's instrument panel, a message was flashing.
REQUEST STATUS: Lt. FUKAI
"Huh? Hey, Mac, I think somebody's on the line with this guy. They're asking for a status report."
"Tell 'em we've found him and the plane, and they can come pick 'em up at McMurdo."
Josh leaned in and pulled his breath mask down. "Uh, this is Josh Lane from McMurdo base. The pilot's knocked out, but he looks okay. We're towing the plane back, too, so you can come and get them whenever you, uh, want to, I guess."
An electronic tone sounded, and a new message appeared. WHERE IS MCMURDO?
Josh read the message, puzzled. "Er, McMurdo base. You know, here? In Antarctica, where the plane was flying?"
ERROR. LAST KNOWN POSITION: PASSAGEWAY (FAIRY ENDPOINT). THIS IS NOT ANTARCTICA.
Suddenly, Josh realized several things. First, he wasn't talking to some text-messaging CO on a distant carrier or airbase: he was talking to the plane. Second, the plane was apparently smart enough to understand what he said, and was answering back. Third, it didn't know where it was, and if he understood that last message correctly, it seemed to think that it had just recently been on another planet.
And fourth, this whole thing was getting weirder by the second.
"Hey, look," he began, "I really don't know what's going on. The … this … you crash landed on Earth, in the Southern ocean. We're just off the Antarctic coast, so we're towing you ashore until somebody comes to pick you up."
Josh noticed a small camera lens mounted above the screen, and suddenly had the unsettling certainty that it was looking right at him, trying to read his expression, as though to catch him in a lie.
VOICE STRESS ANALYSIS COMPLETED. YOU ARE TELLING THE TRUTH.
The screen was blank for a long moment. At last, another chime sounded.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE JOSH LANE.
Somehow, Josh got the impression that the plane was … relieved? "Err, you're welcome."
As he reached for the handle again, one last message flashed on the screen:
PLEASE TAKE CARE OF Lt. FUKAI.
Something about that brief, simple message – the way it said "please", maybe – struck Josh. It was as though the stricken aircraft was actually showing concern for its pilot. He felt as though it was pleading, its tiny camera eye staring straight at his own.
"Don't worry," he said. "Your pilot – Fukai, right? – he'll be okay. He didn't look too bad. Just a little shaken up."
The canopy closed. Josh's hand hadn't even touched the handle.
"Are you all right, Josh? You look really pale."
The young physicist felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, turning back from the rail. Kim's deep brown eyes held an expression of worry.
"I'm okay, just a little freaked out. I mean, that plane …" He looked back behind the ship, where the fighter plane was trailing along behind them, still floating serenely on its air pouches. "That plane talked to me. Not with, like, a voice or anything, but still … I guess I'm just not used to talking to machines, or trying to calm one down."
"You really think it was worried?"
Josh sighed. "Honestly? I don't know. I just … felt something. Like it was confused, and it was worried about this Fukai guy."
Kim offered him a smile. "Well, if it makes you or it feel better, Mac says he'll be fine. He might have a concussion and some nasty bruises, but he was really lucky, all things considered.
"You know, I once read a quote by Albert Einstein. He said that one day, our technology would outpace our humanity, or something like that." She turned to look at the plane. "Maybe our technology is far enough along that it's developed some humanity of its own to compensate."
"Yeah, or maybe it's got a crush on its pilot," Josh replied, trying to crack a joke.
Kim chuckled politely. After a moment's pause, she said, "You know, they did give it a nice name."
"On the nose, see? That's kanji."
"You mean you can read that?"
Kim gave him a look. "I am Japanese, you know. It's my own language."
"Well, what does it say?"
Kim looked thoughtfully at the remarkable fighter they were towing behind them. The boat's rear navigation lights reflected off its beautiful, aggressive shape. Her eyes followed the sweeping curves and lines of the calligraphic writing that had been carefully, lovingly painted onto its nose.
"Yukikaze," she said, almost reverently.
"Its name is Yukikaze."
Author's Note: I started this fic after ordering the complete series from Borders. I watched the whole thing, and I like to think I'm familiar with modern fighter planes, but if there are any technical details I messed up on, please let me know. Comments and reviews are always helpful. Thanks for reading!