Die Writing

The void at the end

Posted in Neuropilot by erdaron on February 1, 2012

Aside

Some details might not match up with a previous version. Sorry?

To the skies!

I’m holding this pamphlet in my hands again. I’ve kept it with me this whole time, for some reason. It’s kind of worn and beat up now. “Defend the Future. Take the Fight to the Skies!” I remember the recruiter who handed it to me, his firm handshake, steely eyes, confident smile. I remember bantering about the Fleet, and how he got hurt in boot camp and that kept him out of the cockpit. He never got his wings. A few months later, though, I did.

I run my hands over the paper. It feels rough and odd. It feels jagged under the fingertips. Paper’s rustling sounds like a bucket of broken glass. It’s all turned up too loud, colors over-saturated. That’s normal, though, everything seems weird and unreal for about an hour after you get out of the cockpit. All that stuff they inject into you to keep you flying… it’s like they took the whole 24-hour day and squeezed it into a five-minute firefight. The rest of the time comes off bland and empty after flying.

The brochure features a young pilot posing in front of his craft. He is handsome, with his pressed dress uniform and movie-star smile. That’s Jake. Around here, everyone knew this guy. A fighter pilot superstar, the best of the best, all talent, all hard work, with a list of kills that’s a mile long. I couldn’t believe my luck when I was assigned to fly in his wing. That was literally the best day of my entire life.

Jake’s dead now. Crashed his machine. He wasn’t shot out of the sky. Nothing failed in his craft. He didn’t run out of fuel. He fried his brain.

A moment before his starfighter went belly up and spun out of control into the ground, I happened to open a comm channel to him for a status check in. His face appeared on my screen. Normally, you’d see the face of a focused pilot. Everyone’s got that hunter’s look on them.

Jake looked absent. He seemed to be looking out a side port at something far, far away. There was zero concentration on that face. Jake looked relaxed, and there was something like an absent-minded smile on him. I called out, but he did not respond. His craft began to spin, spiraling into the moon below. His head rolled onto his shoulder. His lips seemed to move, but I could not hear any words. Then the video cut out.

Advertisements

Some last advice

Posted in Neuropilot by erdaron on September 22, 2010

The cadets sat silently in their seats. It was the last day at the Academy. It was Transfers Day. Later in the afternoon their first field assignments would be handed out and everyone would start packing for the deep space stations. Needless to say, every cadet was euphoric, totally and absolutely. But no one dared to show any signs of it in front of the Combat Psychology Instructor.

It was an academic title, but the Instructor couldn’t be farther from the ivory towers. Unlike other instructors here – pilots, engineers, doctors – he started out his service as a marine. In the branch of service where fighting was done by machines, he was the only one who’s killed with his bare hands. He almost always chose fatigues over dress uniform, even on this special day. His skin wasn’t so much scarred as calloused. Large stiff hands that could crush bones. A stare that had a palpable, frightful weight. He talked slowly, with few, sometimes too few words.

“Last advice,” he said after a lengthy pause, patiently staring down the class. “Same as I’d give to your enemies. Kill. Kill fast.”

The gates

Posted in Neuropilot by erdaron on August 11, 2010

Aside

Thanks for reading, y’all. This is related to the Pamphlet.

Inside

A needle pricks your finger. A couple of neurons fire off in panic, signaling to the brain that something is wrong. The brain acknowledges, and commands the finger the shirk away from the needle.

A billion needles prick your entire body. Every neuron now fires off in panic, signaling to the brain that something – everything – is wrong. The brain tries to acknowledge, but there is just too much pain. Shock. Blackout.

That’s the trick they pull on us. The starfighter’s control network jacks directly into my spinal column. In combat there is not enough time to pull levers and push buttons most of the time – a mere thought, a raw reflex will have to do. So they jack the control network right in. They actually did a good job of picking which pathways to hack, so that the system’s inputs make sense to the brain. For this reason, the machine’s distress signals go into pain receptors.

When a shell hits the jet, I actually feel it. I feel every bit – the concussion, the shrapnel, the burn. It’s all right here in my brain, and it hurts like hell.

Combat is an intense place and there is a lot of pain. So much pain in fact, a normal person shouldn’t be able to handle it. So they install a few chips, spray some chemical into the blood, and voila – the safety floodgates that would normally allow the brain to go into a blackout are now fixed open. No matter how much pain there is to handle, there is no release of unconsciousness. After all, lose the pilot – lose the machine. Can’t have that.

We are not allowed to have painkillers. They all work by either slowing down or completely shutting down some neural pathway or other, and that means that some part of the machine will either be shut off or slowed down. In a situation where every nanosecond counts, that is unacceptable. Instead we are trained in how to disassociate ourselves from pain. We feel it, but simply don’t care.

There is a reason for the floodgates. There is a limit to how much intensity the brain can handle before, quite literally, burning out. That’s the rumor, anyway.

Over the edge

Posted in Neuropilot by erdaron on August 8, 2010

This is where it ends, where everything ends. The space goes on – but things don’t. Only complete and utter emptiness as far as we know. As long as we’ve had detectors pointed that way we have not received a single blip of anything.

To look over the edge is to look into the most absolute darkness imaginable. There is absolutely nothing for the eyes to lock on to. There is no contrast, no subtle changes in the shadows, no part that is darker or brighter than any other part. The eyes freak out a little bit, unable to accommodate. There is nothing to accommodate to. There is nothing.

It is a maddening experience. Such profound absence of anything is unthinkable. Some say that looking out over the edge is the closest thing to dying.

Which is probably why almost all of the starfighter pilots spend time here, at The Last Station.

The pamphlet

Posted in Neuropilot by erdaron on July 8, 2010

Aside

Cliff, if you’re reading, this a thing from that thing we talked about.

Take flight

The pamphlet feels rough on my hands, almost like sandpaper. Hypersensitivity from the combat cocktails must not have worn off yet… Its edges are starting to rip, and the glossy finish is no longer all that glossy. It’s in poor shape, but the words and the pictures are clear enough still. While the sensation is harsh, it’s pleasantly reassuring to feel something as simple and real as a piece of paper.

The picture on the front cover features a young fighter pilot standing in front of his craft – gray armor, hulking engines, glistening cockpit – saluting and beaming a movie star smile. His Expeditionary Fleet uniform is perfectly pressed. He is surrounded by a small gang of children, all radiating smiles and mimicking his salute. “Protect our future!” The pamphlet implores, “Take the fight to the infinite skies!”

As the pamphlet unfolds, it reveals more inspirational pictures and messages. There is a wire diagram of the fighter craft, with neat pointers identifying its awesome weapons systems, engines, and armor. The star pilot is there again, this time in a closeup giving thumbs-up near his cockpit. Over his shoulder are two rows of stenciled stars, indicating an impressive number of kills. A photogenic family having a picnic in the park is followed by a burning enemy ship, its sides shredded by shells from a strafing fighter. As more enemy ships come alight in the background, a fighter wing sweeps across the scene in perfect formation.

The final picture features another wing of the fighters parked on the tarmac on a bright sunny day. The pilots are in front of their machines, standing at attention. “Join the fight,” the pamphlet here proclaims. “Join the ranks of history!”