Spring Before Summer

Spring Before Summer

A Story by Heretic

This is a short fan fiction I wrote for a blog entry that is hosted by a great writer by the name of Paul Cornell.

March 2129

Squadron Leader Douglas Leyton dreamed of golden statues. Four romanesque statues of men floating through space with no concern or consciousness on their faces. And why would they? They were statues. Leyton’s eyes wandered to find that he was floating beside these little golden men through a tunnel or wormhole that stretched across the entire Solar System. Leyton couldn’t control the direction he went in or even the speed that his body rotated. Occasionally, one of the statues would bump into him, then bounce in the opposite direction. When they got far enough away, he swore he could see a look of malice on their metal faces, but when they were closer there was only that expressionless face.  His dream took a sudden turn for realism when a heavy sensation of vertigo overcame him.
    He had felt vertigo before, especially in his early years at the flight academy, but training and repetition taught him to overcome this feeling. This felt different, accompanied by a new and disconcerting feeling of deja vu. Odd to be getting deja vu in a dream, he thought. A crescendo of annoying beeps erupted through the vast darkness of space and forced Leyton to open his eyes, bringing him back to reality.
    The vertigo was gone, but the beeping remained. He silenced the alarm clock and rose from his bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Once in the bathroom his reflection stared back at him. Being in his line of work made bizarre dreams a common occurrence. He’d stopped trying to understand them long before he was promoted to Squadron Leader, but there was something about this dream. Something that resonated with him physically and mentally. He shook it off, and proceeded to get ready for the day.
    Thirty minutes and one shower later, Leyton exited his quarters in full flight gear with a duffle thrown over his shoulder. He made his way through the hallway, nodding and saluting when appropriate, maneuvering through the crowd of soldiers and pilots while making his way for the mess hall. He pushed through the swaying doors with a shoulder and joined a group of fellow pilots that awaited their morning chow. Leyton, not being in the mood for a heavy breakfast, grabbed a bagel at random, then continued to follow his mental map toward the hangar housing the Crimson Dragon.
    Inside the hangar, the Crimson Dragon and several other crafts were being serviced before their designated flights. Leyton was the first pilot of the day to enter the hangar, eager to get into orbit and conduct his patrol. This eagerness came from his new orders that had him making a run all the way out to Titan to patrol the surrounding sector. Titan’s garrison had reported nearby rock bombers and it was Dragon Squadron’s duty to handle the situation. Leyton was eager to see some combat.
    “Good morning, sir. Had a hearty breakfast, I presume.” The voice came from within the Crimson Dragon’s cockpit as the hatch opened.
    Leyton climbed the ladder and took his seat behind the controls. “Good morning, Toby.” He looked at his navigator with a smile that was contagious.
    Toby, Leyton’s head since he graduated from flight academy, knew Douglas better than Douglas knew himself. He knew that smile. It was a smile that said today is going to be a good day.

“Are we absolutely certain of this date?” A stern, aged voice asked from behind an oak desk.
    “Yes, sir. Nineteen forty-seven.” This voice was much younger and less intimidating, but just as stern and confident. “We have a team of historians and physicists that confirm that year and the probability of success.”
    With the blinds shut, only slivers of light broke through the threshold, allowing him to see the silhouette of his commanding officer. He stood at ease on the opposite side of the desk from his much older superior, looking past him out of respect and discipline, awaiting further orders in the same capacity.
    “Do we have any volunteers?” His superior asked as he flipped through a stack of dossiers on his desk.
    “We didn’t quite know how to approach any of the pilots on this matter, sir. We did, however, select the pilot that we best thought fit for the mission.”
    “His name?” He began scanning over the names of each file, preemptively looking for the pilot.
    “Captain Joseph Luthor. Pilot of the Onyx Dragon.”
    The commanding officer found the appropriate file and began reviewing the Captain’s list of accolades and achievements. “How long will it take to have his craft outfitted properly?”
    “A week. Maybe less.”
    “And Jocelyn? How’s she coming along?” He closed the folder, focusing all of his attention on the subordinate now.
    “Her training is nearly complete. She should be ready well before the ship.”
    The commanding officer stood from his seat to open the blinds. An initial flash of blinding light erupted from the window, forcing the two men to squint until their eyes adjusted. They now looked over the airfield in Borneo, home base for Dragon Squadron and other numerous military units. Below flight crews rushed from here and there, conducting last minute maintenance checks for all outgoing crafts, planes taxied onto the runways and pilots hurried to their jets.
    “Understand, Paul, that if we fail this mission, life as we know it will be ruined, and all that we have achieved as a united planet will be for naught.”
    “I do, sir. I will have our team run some final simulations and calculations.”

The Crimson Dragon sat at the edge of the runway with its dual engines idling at a low hum, awaiting its pilot to push the throttle forward and allow it to spread its wings. Toby was informing Leyton of their current task -nothing he didn’t already know- and how he’s always liked Saturn’s moon, Titan. He was more or less talking for the sake of making noise. Leyton, on the other hand, was tuning Toby out while he jotted down some last minute notes on his mission parameters. Leyton looked up from his writing and glanced over at the open hangar where the Crimson Dragon had been berthed. He saw the Onyx Dragon sitting alone with no pilot or flight crew.
    “Where’s Luthor?” Leyton asked.
    “You haven’t listened to anything I’ve had to say, have you? Captain Luthor is on medical leave for the next week.”
    “Thought that didn’t start until tomorrow?”
    Toby’s casing turned a notch, allowing him to look his pilot in the eye. “For Squadron Leader, you sure don’t pay much attention to your squadron.”
    “I have a nagging head that feels the need to fill the void of silence at any given moment.” His fingers hit a sequence of buttons that made the engines go from a low rumble to roaring life. He firmly held the throttle, gradually pushing forward until it couldn’t move anymore.
    All throughout the Borneo Airbase heads turned in response to the Crimson Dragon’s deafening race down the tarmac. The craft quickly ran out of runway with both engines at maximum output, lifting off the ground with the nose aimed up at the stars, followed by the landing gears vanishing under the hull. The G-forces made Leyton feel like his skin was going to be pulled from his bones if he went just one kilometer faster. His favorite moment of being a pilot approached when he inverted the Crimson Dragon at an angle that allowed him to pierce the Earth’s atmosphere and escape into the freedom of space.
    Toby announced that they were now in orbit and had the dreaming in range, ready to dream their way to Titan. The dreaming hovered several hundred meters in front of the Crimson Dragon with its gold rim and distortion of stars ready to transport the Dragon squadron to their destination. Navigating a dreaming was an innate ability that heads had, a unique understanding of the universe that allowed them to travel long distances in short spans of time. There was too much science involved for Leyton to understand how it was done. It was simply the way of the world.
    The Squadron Leader hit the TALK button on the transmitter once the remainder of his squadron was in formation. “Okay, chaps, we have our orders. This is a simple patrol mission out there around the Titan garrison. Stay alert, though. If we run into any resistance, we’re permitted to engage. But I don’t want to see any heroics out there. Stay safe.”
    Leyton gave a nod to his navigator, and just as usual, before he had time to flip the radio on, the nose of the ship broke the threshold of the dreaming, pushing Mars and thousands of kilometers of unmeasurable space by like Toby hit a fastforward button on life. He was now humming to the tune of the music being played through the radio while Toby ignored him with his eyes closed, concentrating on getting them to their destination. It didn’t take long for the orange orb of Saturn’s moon to come into view.
    All six ships of Dragon Squadron reverted to a cruising speed and remained in a V-formation with the Crimson Dragon at the head. The orbiting space-station Perseus was in plain sight for the pilots. Interior lights showed them that the crew was awake and working, keeping to Earth standard time.
    Leyton muted the music before turning multiple dials in search for the garrison's frequency. “Perseus tower, this is Squadron Leader Douglas Leyton of Dragon Squadron reporting for duty and requesting permission to enter surrounding airspace.”
    There was a moment of white noise before another voice replied. “Affirmative, Squadron Leader Leyton.” It was a stern male voice. Almost demanding. “Transmit mission codes to the current frequency. Maintain current course and await further orders.”
    Douglas relayed the orders to his men. “Everything gets so official and intimidating out here, doesn’t it.” He remarked to Toby without averting his eyes from the cockpit window.
    “It certainly does. But with current threat levels, is it any surprise, sir?”
    Leyton wasn’t allowed to reply. “Mission codes are verified. Perseus counter-measures have you marked as friendly. Welcome to Titan, Squadron Leader.”
    “Thank you, sir.”
    “Our radars had picked up unsettling readings last week. We’re almost certain it was rock bombers, but we’ve never seen them be this bold.”
    “Send me those readings and my men and I will take a look.”
    “We’re not here for ten minutes and already it’s work, work, work. You’d think they’d at least invite us in for tea.” Toby remarked with no real conviction behind his words.
    Leyton turned on the monitor at his side. The radar data nearly instantaneously appeared on the screen. He and Toby surveyed the information, but they knew what they were looking at the moment it appeared on the monitor. They had seen it before.
    Leyton changed frequencies to a channel that only his men would receive. “I’m sending you boys the radar readings that the garrison picked up last week. It should look familiar. Similar situation we had last month.”
    “We going to be proactive about this, sir?” The pilot of the Blue Dragon asked.

Dragon squadron remained at a cruising speed as they approached the enemy from behind. A short patrol revealed the rock bombers using one of the outer rings of Saturn as cover. Damn clever of them, Leyton admitted to himself as he gained a little insight into this enemy. He was always surprised when he came across an enemy as intelligent and resourceful as the human race.
    All exterior lights from the Dragons remained off and the engines maintained minimal use until they were in range to initiate the attack. They had even decided against using verbal commands to communicate until the battle began because they had no knowledge of the rock bombers systems. Since they were able to test the limits of the Titan garrison’s defensive systems and radar, they may also have something to monitor transmissions bounced between spacecrafts.
    Leyton stared at the rock bombers formation through his canopy. They were grouped tightly --an obvious attempt to keep their signature off of any radar-- with seven of them at the center and four acting as sentries that circled the pack, monitoring the exterior.
    “Sir, I believe we are about to be spotted,” Toby whispered when he saw one of the sentry’s looking in their direction longer than normal.
    Douglas nodded in agreement.
    A sequence of three beeps echoed throughout the squadron’s radios. Blue Dragon did not hesitate once the green light to engage was given, sending off the first missile as a welcoming gift. The rocket propelled from the wing of the Blue Dragon, into the ring, guiding itself around each passing rock formation until it missed its intended target, colliding with one of the hundreds of icy particles that orbit the planet. Another benefit to their hiding spot, Leyton realized.
    In unison with the barrage of missiles to follow, the rock bombers broke their formation and maneuvered deeper into the asteroid belt. Explosions erupted from all directions with the launched projectiles crashing into either clumps of frozen particles or rock bomber hulls. Leyton and his squad forced their engines to life and made chase without delay. It had been some time since any of them had to navigate through the confines and dangers of an asteroid belt. They were aware of the danger, but the adrenaline got the best of them, throwing out any rule against heroics they had to the back of their minds.
    Leyton kept his eyes on the targets, his hands --like second nature-- continued to punch in appropriate buttons to maneuver around each obstacle, never losing sight of his objective. Displays of proper trajectories to take and calculations emerged on the numerous monitors the cockpit held, but he never took his eyes off of the canopy. Toby remained silent to allow the vigilant Douglas to do his job, however, his eyes were bouncing between the real-time action and what was popping up on the monitors.
    Out of the group of rock bombers, Leyton chose one as his primary target. It didn’t really matter which one, just one to pick out of the herd. It was hard to keep an eye on the target, however, because of all the enemy crafts being identical with their shoddy craftsmanship, no visible distinguishable markings, and narrow design. Leyton flipped on the auto-locking system with his thumb. A deep monotone beep began sounding throughout the cockpit to alert the pilot that the guidance system was attempting to lock on.
    Just as the beeping went from several short beeps to one long sustaining tone, the monitors and interior lights erupted into red warning signals caused by a near collision. Leyton pulled the trigger, sending a rocket off to its target, then pulled back on the joystick to evade the incoming asteroid. The Crimson Dragon rolled up and to the right, ending up on the opposite side of the icy rock in time to see its missile make contact with the intended rock bomber.
    Toby released his breath he held just before the maneuver over the asteroid. “I recommend we exit the rings, sir, before you aren’t able to dodge the next hazard.”
    “Agreed,” Leyton said.
    The Crimson Dragon aimed its nose upward to escape the asteroid belt. By Leyton’s surprise, the squadron of rock bombers went on the offensive and began to follow. Leyton alerted his squadron of the status and they appropriately slowed their speed to allow the rock bombers to position themselves between the Crimson Dragon and the rest of the Dragons. Within seconds they were out of the ring of floating debris, and on course towards Perseus.
    “We just need to get the b******s near the garrison and the defensive systems will take care of them,” Leyton barked through the radio.
    What looked like purple blasts of sound-waves flew towards the Crimson Dragon.
    “Pulse weaponing?” Toby said. “Haven’t seen them use that before.”
    “Might be something new. Maybe that’s why they’ve gotten so bold this past year.” Leyton said.
    Leyton slammed the throttle forward, pushing the Dragon into a high speed B-line  arching through the orbit of Saturn towards its garrison. He pulled the joystick side to side, evading each attack from his pursuers until his plan went to hell and the rock bombers broke off their chase, turning to face the Dragons behind them. The Crimson Dragon made a wide turn to get its targets back in its sights. He heard the same tone from before and sent two more missiles at its target. Both missiles made contact with the same ship, bringing the rock bombers numbers down to nine.
    Leyton watched his men bank to the left and right, evading the incoming blasts of purple. Unfortunately, the Golden Dragon was unsuccessful and the pulse made direct contact with the cockpit. Any sign of the ship being alive went away at impact, and the Golden Dragon floated above the planet in silence. The cockpit was dark with no electricity running through the ships veins.
    “D****t, Toby! Those pulse weapons are electro-magnetic!” Douglas shouted.
    “Frying all electrical systems, including life-support.”
    Douglas hit the TALK button on the mic. “Evade their attacks at all costs, men. Those are focused EMP blasts.”
    A series of “affirmatives” came through the intercom.
    Another set of missiles were launched from their berth on the wings of the Crimson Dragon, Blue Dragon, and Emerald Dragon. And three more rock bombers were removed from play. The remaining six broke off into three separate directions at high speeds, forcing Leyton to split up his men and delegate who goes where as fast as his mind could process what was happening. Having only five Dragons active made this harder, and he knew two of the rock bombers would make a clean escape because he wasn’t willing to send off any of his men on their own.
    Almost without thinking, Leyton shouted his orders. “Davidson with me, the rest of you follow the group heading back to the rings.” The Crimson Dragon and White Dragon broke off from the other three, chasing the pair that made their way toward the edge of the system.

Leyton wasn’t comfortable with how much time had passed by the time they had caught up with the rock bombers, and by the time they did there was only one in plain sight. Before Leyton could shout his warning to his wingman, that purple tint made itself visible in the corner of his eye as it impacted with the White Dragon. Douglas Leyton instinctively banked to the left, removing himself from the enemies crosshairs and brought the engines to maximum power.
    “Hold onto your head, Toby. This is going to get uncomfortable.” Douglas pressed all the way forward on the throttle controls, closing the gap between him and the first enemy that had come in sight.
    He received the tone to fire a missile. Just as he did, the rock bomber attempted an evasion, just as he predicted, and immediately switched to guns to riddle the hull with holes. His aim was off, only hitting the rock bomber with one or two rounds and now the Crimson Dragon was down to one missile. Leyton double checked the monitor for confirmation and it was as he feared. One missile.
    The Crimson Dragon passed under the evading rock bomber and allowed some time between before it arched around for another pass. By now the pair of bombers had grouped up, side by side, with the Dragon in their sights. The rock bombers mimicked the Crimson Dragon’s velocity, initiating a game of chicken that Leyton wasn’t willing to lose. The space between them was closed in a matter of seconds. With the Crimson Dragon getting closer, the rock bombers unleashed their focused EMP blasts only to watch the human ship, in all its glory, sway left and right, up and down, escaping each oncoming attack.
    Leyton slammed his finger against the trigger, releasing immeasurable amounts of bullets into the first rock bomber that was placed in his crosshair. His finger still on the trigger, Douglas tapped the joystick to the left, tilting the wings of his ship up, allowing him to pass through the rift between his enemies unscathed.
    When he came around for round two, only one of the enemies was facing him to defend itself. The one filled with lead floated beside its wingman with no sign of life. A smile filled Leyton’s face while he lined up his final target with the nose of the Crimson Dragon. He flipped the switch, making the missile his primary weapon. Toby looked at Leyton’s face and noticed he didn’t blink as they neared the enemy. The lock-on tone sounded through the cockpit's speakers, but Leyton refrained from pulling the trigger until the last possible second. He wanted to see the face of this enemy and the fear that came with it.
    The trigger was pulled and the missile and spacecraft nearly flew parallel for a few seconds before the rocket reached its maximum speed and pulled out in front. Toby could almost see the moment of impact on Leyton’s face when his smile grew wider. He turned to look at the wreckage only to see half of the rock bomber’s craft hurl towards the Crimson Dragon just as fast as the Dragon’s missile hurled towards its target. Leyton’s expression of gratification was quickly replaced with fear and regret.
    His reaction to bank out of the way was not quick enough to dodge the molten piece of metal with the Crimson Dragon in its trajectory. Without comprehension of what was taking place, the last thing Douglas Leyton saw of Toby was a piece of his enemy wedging itself between them.

April 2129

There were those golden statues again. Uncommunicative statues that did and didn’t show any emotion on their faces. He was traveling through the same funnel as before, this time with a light at the other end. Then in a flash there was no longer a single flowing dream with the four golden statues. It was now a series of glimpses and flashes of recognizable people and places. In a flash he saw Perseus, and in another flash was Toby with that condescending smile of his, followed by the Crimson Dragon exploding into a hundred different pieces. Now he was back in the funnel and at the end, where the light was, there was the silhouette of a person. He couldn’t make out any features, except that it was a female.
    Squadron Leader Douglas Leyton awoke one week later in a hospital bed located at the Borneo Airbase Medical Center to the sound of a machine monitoring his heart and brain functions. There was no one by his side when he came to, and he accepted that. He glanced around to get an idea of his whereabouts, but the sound of jets flying overhead was enough for him. Minutes later a nurse walked in to check on his status. She instantly saw that he was awake and examining the many wires that were attached to his body.
    “You’re awake. I’ll let the doctor know,” she said.
    “How long have I been here?” Leyton asked in a confused daze.
    “One week.” She jotted down some notes on the clipboard at the end of his bed. “The doctor will be right in.” And now she was gone.

Paul stood at ease on the opposite side of his commanding officer's desk once again. The commanding officer was finishing with some work that he had been putting off until the last possible minute.
    “How are preparations coming with the Onyx Dragon, Paul?” the commanding officer asked.
    “That’s actually why I’m here, sir. We may have an alternative that won’t take much effort to put into effect.”
    The commanding officer looked up from his computer. “An Alternative? Isn’t it a little late in the game to be implementing an ‘alternative’?”
    “Allow me to explain, sir. With the Onyx Dragon, we would have to take it apart to make the necessary modifications and give the pilot a different navigator all together. This would raise too many questions that I’m not sure we can keep contained.”
    “You assured me everything was taken care of.”
    “However, the Dragon squadron leader was in a recent accident with his ship and his head was killed in the blast. With the ship damaged, none of the modifications would raise awareness and giving him a new head is standard protocol. It’ll set us back a bit, but if things ever happen for a reason, this is it.”
    The commanding officer closed down the applications on his computer. “And who is our new candidate?”
    “Douglas Leyton.”
    “And Luthor hasn’t met Jocelyn yet?”
    “No, sir.”
    “This does seem rather auspicious.” The commanding officer stood from his desk. “Make it happen. Where is Douglas Leyton right now?”
    “He’s just awoken from a week long coma. He’s meeting with the doctor now. Shall I get the doctor to sign off on him being cleared for active duty?”
    “Yes, and then inform Mr. Leyton that I would like to meet with him.” The two exited the office.

Just as the doctor was leaving, Leyton noticed him speaking with another military officer in the hallway. He couldn’t make out anything they were saying, but he caught them looking at him several times. As soon as the two were done speaking, the officer entered Leyton’s room and stood at the foot of the bed.
    “Douglas Leyton?” Paul asked.
    Leyton nodded.
    “I’m Captain Paul Crenshaw, head of the Interplanetary and Planetary Missions Committee. Liaison to General Grayson of the Borneo Airbase.” Paul held his cover between his arm and body.
    “It’s a pleasure, sir.” Leyton saluted from his bed.
    “That’s not necessary. I’m just here to offer my gratitude for your recent work at the Saturn garrison and apologies for the loss of Toby. I know pilots grow close to their navigators and can’t imagine how difficult it will be to overcome your grief. However, if you feel fit, the General and I are ready to reinstate you back to active duty.”
    “So soon?” Douglas was confused and it showed in his tone.
    “Well, it wouldn’t be official until your craft was repaired and capable of interplanetary flight, of course. So you’d still receive some time off.”
    “I guess the sooner the better then, sir.”
    “That’s good to hear, son.” General Crenshaw entered the room and stood beside Paul. “I know this all seems unorthodox, but I’ve read your file and I’m not comfortable putting anyone else in command of Dragon Squadron. If you get back out there as soon as your ship is cleared for take-off, you’ll be able to pick and choose your missions.”
    Leyton suddenly felt uncomfortable. Here, in his hospital room, was the highest ranking officer at Borneo and Leyton was laying in a bed in a hospital gown. He desperately wanted to stand and salute, but he was afraid he couldn’t stand and if he tried, he’d just fall to the ground.
    “Absolutely, sir.” Was all he could muster to say in his squeamish state.
    The general nodded. “Good. Now, we already have a head lined up for you. Would you like to meet her?”
    Leyton quirked a brow. “Her?”
    “Yes, ‘her’.” A third voice emitted from the hallway.
    “Bring her in, please.” Paul said, and before he could finish his command, an orderly wheeled in a head atop a cart. It was an older female head with its eyes locked on Leyton.
    “You don’t have a problem with a female head, now do you?” She said.
    Leyton shook his head.
    “Douglas Leyton, this is Jocelyn.” General Crenshaw introduced the two of them.
    “He’ll do,” she said, as if she were the one doing the choosing. “Just let me choose the music and we’ll do just fine.”

© 2010 Heretic

Author's Note

You know how I love critiques. Hope you all enjoy.

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Added on December 1, 2010
Last Updated on December 14, 2010
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