A Grey Moon Over China

A Grey Moon Over China by A. Thomas Day Read Free Book Online

Book: A Grey Moon Over China by A. Thomas Day Read Free Book Online
Authors: A. Thomas Day
only ones off-line, so listen close. Torres is going to eyeball the finished runway and take off the rough spots. But there’s going to be about a million tons of dust in the air, and the pilots aren’t going to be able to see. So Tanaka’s going to sweep the range with her heaters and draw the crap off. She doesn’t look too bright, Polaski. You watch her close.”
    “Lay off her, Cole,” said Elliot, a dim shape behind his own digger. He was fiercely protective of his platoon at the best of times, and today, already edgy about the operation and refusing from the very outset to give quarter to Cole’s abuse, he’d been at Cole’s throat all afternoon. “House nigger with airs,” Elliot had called him, “who don’t know shit about real people.”
    “Sir,” said the tiny Tanaka to Cole through her headset.
    “Hurry it up. What?”
    “When do I stop sweeping the runway with the heaters?”
    “When I tell you to, damn it! Listen, you people, this is a billion-dollar bird and it’s my ass, and I’m not going to let a bunch of piss-ant wireheads blow it for me. Now shut up, all of you. The clock’s running.”
    “Two minutes to braking,” said Bella, reading his mind.
    I was listening to all this with a kind of numb disinterest, my hands sweating on the digger’s controls.
    “Rather be reading, Torres?” It was Polaski, off in the darkness.
    “Who the hell said that?”
    “Piss off, Cole.” Even Polaski had had enough.
    “Chan! Systems.”
    “Yes, sir. Clock’s stable. Handshaking, no faults. All machines polling—one skip on number six, single retry. RPM’s in spec across the board. Ready, sir.”
    “I don’t want another skip—anywhere. Is that understood? Paulson, are you backing up Chan?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Fifty-six seconds to braking.”
    “Goggles on.”
    “I want all the digger crews to switch their ranging lasers on manually,” said Cole, “so I can see if anyone’s paying attention. Now!”
    All the way up the island, thin red beams shot out from the diggers to measure the distance to the slope, lighting up in a herringbone pattern pointing away from us. After an instant’s pause, one last laser flickered on way up on the left.
    “Who the hell was that? Who the hell’s the useless piece of crap that can’t pay attention for a whole minute? Well?”
    “It’s on now, sir.” The voice was that of the woman who’d heckled Bolton in the briefing.
    “Ten seconds to braking,” said Bella. “I have timing.”
    There was a moment of suspense, then in perfect unison all of the ranging lasers winked out. It was dark and quiet for several heartbeats, then the ground shook with a powerful jolt. I felt sick at what was coming.
    Still nothing.
    Then all at once the noise hit us, a wall of howling and clanging, even through our headsets, as all the diggers surged in unison through their frequencies, looking for a hit. The noise came screaming out of the blackness, swelling even louder as the farthest sounds began to reach us. Parts of the island began to glow and heave upward.
    “Heaters—now!” shouted Cole.
    The night erupted into searing white light as bolts of lightning shot out from the heaters and stayed lit, burning off the mass dislodged by the diggers. A single, ripping curtain of thunder pounded us for twenty seconds and then stopped, leaving just the snarling of the diggers and a roar as hurricane-force winds rushed into the vacuum behind the blinding white beams of the heaters. Cole was screaming something into his microphone—then a new voice came on.
    “Thunder Island, this is Thunderbird on slope, two-niner miles. We have your lights, thank you. They’re mighty pretty.”
    “Chan! God damn it—”
    Bella cut him off. “Thunderbird, I have you at three-zero. I have data channel negative—are you automatic or pilot?”
    “Colonel Alice Rajani at your service, with a crew of fourteen of the Air Force’s finest. Advise your timing on those lights, please,

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