It was with begrudging, enormous effort that Cyrus untangled his limbs from Addy’s, put his feet to the floor, and got up out of her bed. He pulled on his clothes and crossed towards the door, wondering what the hell could be going on with her ship. He’d told Addy he’d check and see.
But for reasons he couldn’t fathom, the Beacon seemed to be shaking all around them. Floor to ceiling quivering. Cyrus leaned his head out into the hallway, and in the room behind him, Addy’s voice called out, “What is it?” But Cyrus didn’t know what it was.
“Are we taking off?” he called back to her, but suddenly Addy was at his side, her hand on his hip as she too looked out into the hall.
“No way, her take-offs don’t feel like this. The engine’s not even running. It’s gotta be external.”
For the first time in hours, Cyrus slipped into the hallway and looked around curiously. He’d spent the majority of their trip on the Beacon in the confines of Addy’s bedroom, like a sort of unexpected vacation from normal life. Fiearius had promised that he would repay him somehow for the month of misery at his bedside and if the last forty-eight hours were any indication, he was good on his word.
But then, while they had been lying in bed, everything had started shaking and now Cyrus had the sinking feeling that his short vacation was coming to an end.
He felt Addy’s hand slip into his as the quaking continued and the hall was filled with another sound: pounding, urgent footsteps. Suddenly, Fiearius was rounding the corner into the hallway, Quin right behind him.
“Fiear!” said Cyrus in surprise. “What the hell is going on?”
“No idea, come on, up to the bridge,” he called over his shoulder. Cyrus and Addy shared a look of alarm before starting after them.
Upstairs, the bridge was in a state of confusion. Alyx, Fiearius, Quin and Leta gazed through the bay window overlooking Archeti. Before their eyes was the most perplexing sight: the skyline was shuddering, and twisting in the sky above the buildings was an eerie greenish glow, like a incoming storm, casting dark shadows over the city. It was unsettling and yet — mesmerizing. Addy’s hand still clutched in his, Cyrus slowed to a stop by the main console and stared out at it in wonder.
Stunned silence enveloped the bridge, until —
“The hell are we looking at?” Fiearius barked.
“We’re not sure,” said Alyx, her voice oddly quiet. “There was this blazing light and then the quake started.”
“It’s not a quake,” said Leta, shaking her head. “We had plenty of quakes on Vescent. They were never like this.”
“Nah, that’s somethin’ else for certain,” said Quin, frowning. “We don’t get quakes on Archeti.”
“Well whatever it is,” added Leta, “It’s coming closer.”
Cyrus moved toward the window. Here, the sounds of outside grew louder. Shouting and screaming people were fleeing to their ships from whatever the unknown menace was.
And Leta was right. It was coming closer. Dark clouds swirled towards the source, lit by that same ominous green glow. It was a sickly sort of green. Nearly yellow. And there was something bizarrely familiar about it.
And then the realization hit Cyrus like a freight train.
The light, the quakes, the circling clouds, it all made sense. He knew that color. He knew this feeling. He knew it because he’d made it.
His hand dropped from Addy’s. Suddenly, he couldn’t bear to hold it anymore. He didn’t deserve to. He saw her cast him a worried glance but his stare was fixed on the horizon when he said solemnly, “I know what this is.” All eyes turned to him. He took a deep breath. “It’s Nautilus.”
Of course, the confession didn’t make as big of an impact as it should have. Addy just tilted her head at him curiously, Alyx muttered, “Huh?”, Quin glanced at Fiearius and Fiearius…Well, Fiearius got it.
“Wait, what?” he growled, stalking over to his brother. “Nautilus? The Nautilus? The terraformer you built?” Cyrus felt too numb and stunned to respond. “I thought you said it was broken.”
“I–it was,” Cyrus stuttered. It had been broken. As soon as he’d discovered its purpose, he’d torn it apart himself. He’d dismantled its core systems, destroyed his files, ripped up blueprints and notes and undone months upon months of work, blaming it all on a break-in. When he’d fled Satieri for good for fear the Society would discover what he’d done, the project had been in shambles. It was estimated to take years to get back what had been lost.
Well…it had been years. But even then, they still needed–
“The Caelum Lex…” Cyrus muttered. Which Corra had handed over to the Society a year ago. And they had enabled Nautilus’ final calibration so now–
“Hang on now, terraformer?” Quin, who had been slowly catching up to this conversation, jumped in. “That?” She pointed out the window at the city. “That’s a terraformer?”
“I don’t understand,” murmured Alyx, but the look on her face told Cyrus that in fact she was starting to understand and simply didn’t want to say it. “Archeti’s already terraformed. It’s old, but it’s stable. Who would send a terraformer here?”
“Who do you think?” asked Leta, glancing back at Cyrus. “You built it on Satieri I’m guessing? So this is the Society then.”
“But, Archeti’s populated,” Alyx went on, her voice on the verge of cracking. “There are millions of people living here, the city, it’s–what happens when you terraform over an existing city?”
She was staring straight at Cyrus, wanting an answer. And he owed her an answer, but his throat was dry and empty. He couldn’t even bring himself to look at her.
“Cyrus, this terraformer, here — what does it mean?” she demanded, sounding desperate now.
The room got quiet and Cyrus felt the pressure coming down around him. When he finally found his words, his voice was barely audible over the quaking of the ship. “It means in a little over an hour, the city will be leveled,” he said. Addy put her hands over her mouth. Leta pinched the bridge of her nose. Alyx just continued to stare at him, wide-eyed and stoic, as he added, “Along with everyone in it.”
No one said anything for what felt like years. Until finally, the crack of knuckles hitting metal echoed through the room.
“We’ll shoot it down,” Quin growled, tearing her fist from the dented wall and pacing through the bridge. “This ship’s got weapons right? We’ll shoot it out of the sky.”
But Cyrus was already shaking his head. “Nautilus runs with ECRO-gen layered shields. The Beacon’s guns won’t even penetrate the outer defense.”
“What about your ships, surely some of those–” Fiearius began but Quin slammed her palms upon a console in frustration.
“The whole fleet’s halfway across the Span,” she grumbled. “No way I can call ‘em back in time.”
“We can’t fight it,” Cyrus pressed quietly. “We need to leave.”
All at once, Quin spun around on him, fury in her eyes. “We are not leaving my city defenseless,” she snapped and Cyrus was so certain she was about to rip his face off that he took a step back. “I’m not giving up on these people that fuckin’ easy.”
“We can’t leave anyway,” Fiearius growled, crossing one arm over his chest and running his other hand through his hair. “Corra and Finn still aren’t back.”
“And I’m not leaving without the captains,” said Alyx firmly, finally finding her voice now that the shock was wearing off. She looked out the window. The quaking was still getting stronger and the light still growing, but there was time. Barely. “Where are they?”
“Not a clue. She ran off without much explanation,” Fiearius answered.
“They’re probably with Callahan,” Alyx guessed. “We’ll wait til they get back.”
“And do what in the meantime?!” Quin snapped, still marching in circles around the bridge. “We can’t just fuckin’ let this happen. We gotta take this thing down.”