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​​​​Eighteen

When you groggily emerge from what must have been much-needed sleep, your first thought is to wonder what time it is. Not that there's anything resembling a day-night cycle on a spaceship, even one as huge as the Genesis.

Judging by the flurry of activity in the bunkroom, though, you figure it's probably the shipside equivalent of morning.

"What's going on?" you ask.

"All pilots have to report to the flight deck for a briefing at 0800, so rise and shine, newbie, unless you want to be scrubbing the flight deck with your toothbrush for the next week," the nearest person says, before hurrying off.

Yet another reason you want this war to end. Military life and its petty punishments to enforce discipline are not your thing at all.

Nevertheless, you're zipping up your flight suit within the minute, and cramming your helmet over your bed hair as you follow the other pilots.

You're one of the last to arrive, and the only seats left are in the front row. You consider sneaking away – after all, it's not like you've met the flight commander yet, so you can't possibly be part of today's plans – but you'd rather hear some battle plans than risk scrubbing floors.

So, front and centre it is.

A girl walks up to the lectern, her crisp uniform making you feel even more out of place in your rumpled flight suit. There's something familiar about her, but you can't for the life of you remember where you've seen her before.

"Good morning, Before I start, I must stress that none of what I am about to tell you can leave this room. Anyone who breaches the security of my flight deck will be grounded for a month, minimum."

She pauses briefly to glance at her audience, but she meets only silence.

"Most of us have seen Omega, either on the viewscreens or when flying patrols. Rock and ice and no sign of life," she continues, and a picture of the planet in question appears on the screen behind her. "Until yesterday, when footage of an aerial battle between two unknown craft revealed this."

The screen shows a blurred image of the city you thought you saw yesterday.

Gasps and muttering come from the people behind you.

She waves them into silence. "I know none of you have seen it before. Jenny's been through all the footage from every flight recorder, and all she could find is a few seconds when one of the unknown craft passed near it on its uncontrolled descent to Omega."

When you saw it.

Then again, why would a city drop its protective shielding when a fireball was hurtling toward it?

Unless someone had been trying to offer you a safe place to land.

What if the city had uncloaked itself because of you?  

You had to go back, to see it again. Get back in your shuttle, and fly down to the planet.

"Now, there are still reports of a Titan ship in the area, so the captain wants us to step up aerial patrols, and stay stealthed. We can't fly proper search patterns over the planet, and it appears we can't use stealth, because it only appeared to an uncloaked vessel," she says.

"The captain has authorised a reconnaissance mission. One pilot, one vessel. We can't afford to lose more than that, so it's strictly volunteer only. Any volunteers?"

On the one hand, you're dying to go out there to see the city again. To be the one to discover it. But on the other hand, you know there are Titan ships out there – just one of their fighters nearly killed you. They only want volunteers because this is likely to be a suicide mission.

What do you do?

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