From the Author
Sweat trickled down my back, sending an icy chill up my spine. Winter was definitely coming. I ignored the cold and focused on the smack of my vintage Converse on the tarmac. I was almost there. The airplane hangar was like a beacon in the darkness, the shiny white metal brilliant against the backdrop of night. The red and white flag on the domed roof furiously flapped in the wind, an ominous reminder of where I was.
Tires squealed just behind me, and I dove behind a stack of wooden crates. My breath came hard and fast. Now that my footfalls weren't drowning out the sound, my panting was all I could hear. Relax, Solaris! I inhaled slowly, forcing my out of control heartbeat to slow.
The camo-colored Hummer came into view under the dim lamppost. The dark tinted windows made it impossible to see how many soldiers were inside. That was probably a good thing. The car slowed, and my heart leapt into my throat. I ducked further down and held my breath. A second later, it drove right by me. I checked my watch - eleven o'clock on the dot.
I closed my eyes and slumped back against the crate, wrapping my coat tighter around me. No time for a break. I hauled myself up and peered over the edge of the wooden box, ignoring the bold black lettering stamped across the top. The Collective. Malcolm would be so pissed if he knew what I was doing. Too late to turn back now.
I raced the last few yards across the tarmac and darted behind the hangar, golden wisps of hair whipping across my face in the frosty breeze. The cold metal siding seeped through my faux fur coat, chilling my bones. I checked my watch and waited a few more seconds to make sure the coast was clear. The next guard shouldn't come around for another ten minutes.
I had to move now. According to the diagram I snagged from Malcolm's desk, the back door should've been just around the corner. I tiptoed the remaining distance, hugging the wall as I went.
Bingo! I stared up at the thick steel door. It would have been the end of my adventure if I hadn't brought this bad boy. I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the badge. Another treasure from Malcolm's desk. I swiped it across the keypad, and a computerized voice rang out in the dead silence. "Malcolm Levant: level two clearance. Please proceed." I almost peed my pants at the unwelcome noise.
The lock clicked and the door swung open, and all my fears vanished. In the middle of the enormous space was theCessna CJ4. My breath caught. It was the fastest single pilot plane in the world. Only The Collective could own such a luxurious vessel. Tonight it was going to be mine.
I stepped closer, barely breathing. The hangar's halogen emergency lights reflected off the smooth surface, giving the jet an ethereal glow. My arm shot out, my fingers itching to touch it. I traced the blue insignia of two interlocking hands over the wing as excitement rippled through my veins.
I ran around to the pilot's side and pulled my sneakers off. I hauled myself up onto the wing, stepping lightly not to damage it. I sidled up against the body of the jet and stretched across to the engine, weaving my hand through the propeller blades. Cold metal grazed my fingertips, and I snatched the key ring. Malcolm had been right!
I hopped down onto the retractable stairs and swung the cabin door open. The smell of leather wafted up to my nose as I took a quick glance in the passenger area. Six large sumptuous tan leather seats each with personal home entertainment systems filled the well-appointed cabin. It was lavishly designed in dark wood and gold accents. I could almost see Turstan, the Head Minister of Equality, smoking his cigar with that snide grin on his face. So much for equality for all. I shook my head and pushed the unwanted vision to the far corners of my mind. I wasn't letting him ruin this for me.
I turned toward the cockpit - where the magic really happened. I slid into the bucket seat, my jeans squeaking on the new leather. Inserting the key into the ignition, a rush of adrenaline hemorrhaged through my veins. The feeling was addictive. It was the reason I did stupid stuff like this all the time and spent half of my life in trouble. If Malcolm hadn't been a prominent official in The Collective I would've been in jail instead of just grounded.
The engine rumbled to life, sending a mad swarm of butterflies aflutter in my stomach. I pulled out the pre-flight checklist and went through each point like my instructor, Gavin, had taught me. I may not have been a fan of our government, but if I wanted to fly that meant enlisting in AirComm. And I wanted to fly more than anything in the world...even more than I hated Turstan.
I fastened my seat belt and performed a quick brake test, my heartbeat thumping in time with the vibrations of the engine. I flipped the avionics master switch on and pumped the throttle a few times. I checked for fuel flow, pressure and temperature. All good.
I stared out through the front canopy at the massive thirty-foot metal hangar door. Fudge. How was I going to get out? I swiveled around in the captain's seat but didn't feel anything under my butt. The side panel on the door held nothing but a half-empty water bottle. I dug around under the seat, and my fingers landed on a familiar rectangular shape. I yanked it out. It looked just like our garage door opener - must be it. I pointed it at the door and held my breath.
A crack of light filtered in from the bottom as the enormous door rose up. I glanced at my watch - only three more minutes until the guards came back around. I didn't have a second to waste.
I advanced the throttle half way and pulled back on the control wheel. The jet lurched forward, taking me along with it. I sat back and adjusted my posture, more firmly gripping the yoke. Once I cleared the hangar, I fully opened up the throttle.
The engine roared, igniting a trail of goose bumps over my skin. Relax, Solaris, you've done this hundreds of times with Gavin. I took a deep breath as the dark buildings of the AirComm base sped by me in a blur. The airspeed indicator climbed to 50 knots. Almost there.
Neon headlights flashed across the windshield. I squinted, momentarily blinded by the bright lights. A Hummer raced down the runway straight toward me. Blast it.
I tilted the nose up and yanked back on the yoke harder than I should have. The jet pitched forward, the engine spluttering. My sweaty palms nearly lost their grip, my knuckles turning white from the effort. The thundering of my heart almost drowned out the blaring horn as the car raced closer. The window was down, and a soldier was madly waving his arms for me to stop.
"Pull up! Pull up!" I yelled out loud.
The soldier's faces were so close I could make out the color of their hair through the canopy. This was so not good. "Come on, baby!" I smacked the control panel and as if the magnificent jet had heard me, the nose angled up. My stomach dropped, and the earth fell away in an instant. I glanced down and caught an up-close and personal view of the top of the Hummer.
I let out a long breath. That had been waytoo close.
As the jet climbed higher in the night sky, I engaged the stealth mode button. Try and track me now suckers! I switched on the autopilot and took a minute to enjoy the view. The twinkling lights of New Isos shimmered below, the dark mountain range of Hesperia forming a natural barrier on the eastern side of the capital. Beyond the treacherous terrain was nothing but black. The Shadow Lands were deserted, had been for nearly a century. Their only purpose was to strengthen the divide between Imera and Draconis. I stared across the expanse and not for the first time wondered what life was like in nocturne territory. Too bad I'd never get to find out.