It didn’t help matters that he could barely make himself focus. Three days had passed since he’d last taken one of those tiny white pills. He’d been wrong — he should have just given in this morning. He would’ve been on top of his game, but he’d felt moral obligation to resist, rather stupidly, he thought now. He’d congratulated his choice at the time. Now? Now his vision was blurring, his ears were ringing, his response time was delayed and people were dying. Now, he damned his choice to hell.
“Just hang in there,” he growled, clenching his fists around the edge of the console screen. “I’ll get back-up to you as soon as there’s bodies to spare.”
“May find nothing but bodies by the time they get here,” Rax snapped.
“How’s your brother doin’ with the blast doors?” came another voice — Quin’s. Judging by the background din, things were not faring well on her end, either. “Could sure as hell use ‘em right about now.”
Fiearius took a deep breath. “Status report, Cy?” When no answer arrived, he growled, “Cy? Cyrus, come in. Leta? Where the hell are you two — ”
“The command center’s blocking their transmissions,” Dez explained. “I was just there. He’s having trouble, the system appears to be predicting his actions and blocking him.”
“Sounds familiar,” Quin grunted. “This lot’s been predicting our actions and blocking our movements since we fuckin’ boarded.”
“It’s probably not a coincidence,” Dez added smoothly. The line went momentarily silent.
“Well of course it’s not a damn coincidence, ya genius, it’s–” said Quin, but Dez cut her off.
“They knew we would come.” His voice was cold, unsurprised. “And they were ready for us.”
Fiearius opened his mouth, then shut it quickly. “No way. No way they could have known. We were halfway across the Span last time they saw us. All the ships involved have the Society’s own damn stealth technology. They couldn’t have seen this coming.”
“No,” Dez agreed, his voice oddly calm. “Unless they put the ship here to make us come.”
Fiearius wanted to feel disbelief. He wanted to refute the insulting idea. But what he felt was a terrible, twisting shock in his chest.
The logic slid into place. They’d been winning so often. So easily. They had taken so many ships, downed bases, stations, remote checkpoints, of course the Titan seemed the ultimate prize. Of course they’d go straight to it. And of course the Society would put it right within their grasp.
“Shit — it’s a set-up,” Quin breathed, reading his mind. “They’re just planning to wipe us all out in one fell swoop — “
“And they’re fuckin’ succeeding,” added Rax angrily.
Dez’s voice cut through the others like a knife. “We need a plan.”
“Soliveré, the fuck do we do now?” shouted Quin.
“You’ve got that special chip thing,” said Rax, his voice rising with panic. “Can’t you do something with it?”
But Fiearius could barely grasp their voices. They were coming at him like waves, and he could feel himself sliding away from the moment, drowning in his own head. How — how — had he let this happen? Cyrus and Leta were on the ship, and he was here, and —
“Soliveré!” Quin shouted again.
“Fiearius, a course of action.”
Course of action? He could hardly plot the course of his finger as he moved it to press the COMM button. “Uh –”
“That’s not a fuckin’ answer, Soliveré, don’t you go still on us now!”
Answers. Solutions. Of course. Finally, the fog started to clear.
“Retreat,” he barked. “Back to the ships. Undock and fire at will. We need to get the hell out of here.”
Leta paced across the command center floor, her figure periodically appearing and disappearing from Cyrus’ peripheral vision as he furiously tapped away at the console. “Please tell me you’re getting somewhere with this,” she begged.
Cyrus twitched in irritation. No matter what he did, no matter which method he tried, he just kept getting error after error after error. Every trick he knew kept yielding the same negative results and despite Leta’s hopes, he really was getting nowhere.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” he admitted as he hit the return and got the same blinking red screen. “It’s too secure, I can’t break into it. It’s–”
Abruptly, the floor beneath him began to tremble — slowly at first, then more urgently. Then the console screens flashed, the lights on the ceiling brightened, and a tremendous sound of electricity — like it was seizing and surging, powering up — overtook the room.
“Cy.” Leta grabbed onto a wall as the floor rattled below. “What’s happening?”
“It’s — it looks like — “ His eyes flew over the screens. He could barely answer her. “This ship, it’s about to make a jump.”
“What?!” Leta’s voice was shrill and horrified. “With us on it? Cy, stop it, you have to — “
“Stop it?! I can’t even access the basic oxygen recycling functions, let alone navigation!” he cried, one hand digging into his hair as his other flew over the keyboard.
Just then, a cool, calm female voice erupted over the intercom, making them both freeze. Please take your seats and prepare for jump. Please take your seats, and prepare for jump. Please prepare for …
“We need to get out of here,” Leta breathed, pushing away from the wall and grabbing Cyrus’ wrist in one motion. Together they flew into the hallway, which was mercifully empty now.
As they ran, Leta shouted into her COMM, “Fiearius? Fiear, are you there? We need you!”
The speaker crackled, and Fiearius’ voice broke through. “Leta? What’s going on?”
“We’re in the B-deck of the Titan and it’s about to jump out of this system, you need to guide us to one of Quin’s ship’s — “
Fiearius’ voice crumbled in disbelief. “One of Quin’s–but you’re on one of Quin’s ships. They saw your team board the Lagartha, Eve and–’
Cyrus and Leta exchanged a look of naked horror. “Fiearius,” he yelled, “Eve’s not with us!”
“Then where the hell are — ”
But then, Fiearius’ voice began to fade in and out, dissolving into crackling, hot static. Leta kept calling his name desperately into the COMM, but Cyrus felt himself going numb, enveloped by shock: around them, the dark metal walls of the ship gave a warm rumble, the floor seemed to jut out below them, and bright starlight streaked in long, horizontal lines past the nearest window. In one second, Fiearius and the Dionysian and Quin’s ships had become galaxies away.