Through the windshield of his Arethusa, the GAFA sprawled in all its darkened desert nothingness—the Great African Fuck All. A staccato of shallow flora and fauna along a bare, wind-razored stretch of savannah, pimples on a barren landscape, short grasses scorched by a summer’s fierce sunlight. In the distance, the tendril-like fingers of a fiery-red sunrise crept up behind blackening thunderheads through the pre-dawn East African air, the rising sun illuminating their silhouettes with a background of blood-red sky.
Dallas Ward was running the machine at full thrust, the exhaust from her internally mounted gas-turbine engines actively muffled, cooled, and ducted above her twin-forked tail. He was flying low, as always, metres above the desert’s flat terrain in the camouflaging pink of a Serengeti morning. He glimpsed a curl of compressed water vapour escaping off the tip of the Russian aircraft’s thin, swept-back wing. A coiled ringlet of cloud corkscrewing into the protective darkness of a night sky they were rapidly leaving behind.
She’d be visible in the approaching light, those spinning vortices drawing a direct and conspicuous line to her rear. He felt it, felt the dusk ascending, exposing. He shuffled in his custom-molded seat, lying almost flat, his left hand on the thrust lever, his right resting on the stick. Through his visor’s interface, he watched the sun ascending to meet them. He reached out through the aircraft’s tech into her ailerons, gave her elevator a gentle nudge. A thought brought her rudders close. A glance and he was the engines, the thrust. In these moments he was the jet, the separation of man and mechanism removed, integrated into a 1000 kilometre per hour chimera of low-vis stealth tech riding the soft whisper of a black ghost in flight.
Ghastly ghouls move silent through the night.
The thunderheads would provide some cover through the dawn, till they hit the coastline at least. Rippling sand dunes flashed beneath the canopy, their ridges lit by the rising sun, its burning lip not yet visible on the horizon. It’s so different from down here, he thought, watching the terminator approach, the global divider between night and day, that same strip of brightening planet he’d gazed down on from the edge of space, back in a previous and now distant life.
The aircraft rumbled and shook in the turbulence of the morning’s warming air, the wind flowing over the undulating ground like a river over stones, its roiling eddies bouncing her like a truck down a bumpy dirt road. He coaxed her lower, and she smoothed at his touch.
He wiped a gloved hand along his thigh and looked through holographic optics at the darkening pillars of rain falling ahead. It was rare to see storm clouds on the continent this far east.
Thirty feet below, the savannah awakened. Where lions prowled and gazelle fled.