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Guava #3 - Icebreaker piece

Author: Regret
Rating: PG
Story: Chime
Challenge: Guava #3 - So nice of you to join us
Word Count: 1,171
Summary: It was supposed to be an easy recon, something to get Chime back into the swing of it. It never works out that way.
Notes: This was my icebreaker piece, but edited and then re-edited to add and then remove words. (Talk about indecisive...) The start of a story I've had in my head for about a year that I'd like to actually manage to carry on writing! Which means this is probably all I'll write. :p

“Chime, it’s yours.”

Startled, he jerked his head upwards to focus, wide eyed, on the lean figure in the doorway that returned his stare with grey eyes and an unreadable expression. “What?” It was lame; it was the best he could manage.

The figure gestured over their shoulder with their thumb and gave the man seated behind the desk a look that promised if not death, then a significant amount of pain should he choose to repeat that word. “Recon. Area five. It’s yours. Now.”

“Oh.” Chime stared down at the papers haphazardly scattered across the matte plastic without seeing them, their neat figures and facts invisible to his wandering mind. Finally he raised his gaze to the figure, who hadn’t moved a muscle. “Thanks.”

“I don’t know why you’re thanking me,” the man snapped, dropping his hand from the stone frame. He paused momentarily, eyes locked on Chime without betraying his thoughts before turning sharply on his heel. Almost drowned by his footsteps, his voice echoed back through the high-vaulted corridor; “I wouldn’t have brought you back.”

Chime scooped the stray papers into a single, rough pile without paying any heed to trivial matters such as order, fiddling with the corners of the sheets idly and bending them this way and that, pretending that the data laid out in precise boxes was the most fascinating thing in the room. Anything rather than rise and abandon his so recently-invaded sanctuary and face up to the real world. Anything rather than follow DellaRosa to the briefing room.

There’d been talk in hushed tones about Chime’s reticence, the kind of talk that always found its way back to its subject. The retrained soldier, the pilot who wouldn’t pilot and instead hid behind his desk day after day with his nose buried in numbers and streams of text. Whispers ceased abruptly as he passed people in the corridors. He pressed clammy fingers to the cool sheets and closed his eyes.

“I do hope I’m not disturbing you, Lieutenant Chime?” The deep voice from beyond the desk startled him upright, one hand flying to his throat. In the doorway occupied only a few minutes before by DellaRosa, the Captain stared at him with a hint of a smile playing about his lips. “I thought Controller DellaRosa had been sent to fetch you half an hour ago?”

“Oh...”

“You’ll be late if you don’t leave now.” The smile creased the lines around his eyes into deep folds. Not so much crow’s feet as crow’s Doc Martens.

Chime pressed his fingers down hard against the paper. “Yes sir,” he nodded, returning the smile.

The man nodded a final time, cool eyes resting for a moment longer on the seated soldier. If a stream of sympathy ran beneath that assessing stare, it didn’t bubble to the surface; Chime lowered his own gaze and the retreating click of well-shod heels on the stone floor signalled that his superior officer had left. Signalled too it was time for him to follow.

***

“I thought you’d never grace us with your presence,” the voice drawled through the headset as Chime slid into the seat, cursing quietly as the fabric of his flight suit snagged against the metal and hitched around his knees. He tugged it free and was rewarded with a laugh just on the edge of hearing.

The mechanical process of strapping himself in was done without paying any heed to the movements: between then and now the procedures had become rote. “How could I stay away from you, Danny? You know my every waking moment is devoted to pleasing you.” The fake smile came easily now, directed at the in-cockpit camera.

A short laugh containing no traces of humour whatsoever barked through the headset. “Clearly, Fel. Clearly.” Sliding the visor over his face, the smirking features of DellaRosa came into view, a square at the bottom corner of his left eye. A smile guaranteed to make Chime’s fists clench; with effort he kept them relaxed, flexing fingers before he let them dance over the diagnostics panels. All cockpit-controller interactions were recorded, of course – the last impression he needed to give was that he hated the man. For one brief second his nails dug into his palms. Suddenly close to the camera, obviously leaning forward to whisper into the microphone, DellaRosa’s voice filled his ears. “You think you can come back from this one without screwing up?”

They were recorded, yes, but Danny clearly didn’t care. Chime felt the smile leave his face without his permission. “All systems a-okay, DellaRosa,” he intoned, breathing suddenly becoming remarkably difficult for someone sitting so still.

When the other man’s face came clearly back into view, it was with the widest and most self satisfied smile Chime had seen in weeks. It was all he could do not to punch something in lieu of that frustratingly smug face. “Received and understood, Chime. You are now cleared for takeoff.”

“Takeoff initiated,” Chime said with a calmness he didn’t feel, settling instead for taking out his frustration on the controls. The craft lurched forward, its engine whine briefly protesting the rough treatment. A finger-swipe across his visor consigned DellaRosa’s laughing face to nothing more than a text bar.

With more force than would ever be necessary, he shoved the sticks forwards and the shuttle screamed into its backbreaking acceleration, crushing the air from his lungs until, in the instant he loved and hated and always just a little feared, felt his stomach try to part ways with his body as the craft’s nose lifted and the runway fell away. Heart soaring, guts sinking, hands shaking just fractionally over the controls and terror pressing insistently against the back of his brain, Chime watched the clouds fold and part for him and the sheer, blinding blue turn to pinprick-flecked black.

***

Recon area five: a distant, safe and secure politically-stable dustball with two moons and some remarkably useless asteroids starting to form an infant ring, bunching together like lost children. An easy patrol to ease a fragile pilot back into the fold. One of those jobs where someone could look at the mission sheets and say what could go wrong?
Whichever idiot uttered those fateful words, Fel Chime could happily kill them.

***

“Control! Do you read me, control?” He screamed into the headset, hands dancing from stick to grips to switches. “I repeat, do you read me?” The craft rolled gracefully sideways, the detonation shockwave rattling his teeth together. Static and a painful buzzing in his skull his only answer, he screamed again, wordless and furious, slamming the ship into a second roll. The second shockwave jerked him against the straps and jolted his breath and fingers both away. “Fu—!”

The third impact hit the tail, sending him into a cockpit over booster spin, and Fel Chime got a much better view of the planet than he would have liked as his ship decided that now would be a good time to get to know it far more intimately.

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