“We can’t–” Cyrus began again, but this time she physically lunged at him. Fortunately, Fiearius grabbed her arm and held her back.
“Let go, Soliveré!” Quin raged. “I swear I’ll–”
“It’s not his fault, Quin, don’t–” Fiearius argued.
“If we stay here, we’ll all die–” said Cyrus.
But then Leta’s voice, calm and steady, broke out above the argument. “Alyx, the Beacon’s not at capacity, is it?”
Alyx shook her head. “Not even close.” Realization dawned on her face. “We can fit another hundred at least, maybe even two.”
Quin finally stopped struggling in Fiearius’ grip. “Evacuate…?” she muttered in disbelief.
Leta nodded. “We’ll grab as many evacuees as we can fit, put them anywhere there’s space. If we can’t bring down this terraformer, if we can’t save the city, we can at least save as many of these people as possible.”
Alyx turned to the console. “I can hail the other ships docked and encourage them to do the same.”
“I’ll go get the engine fired up so she’ll be ready to go,” Addy offered, taking one last glance at Cyrus and hurrying from the room.
“What about the allies in the cargo bay?” said Fiearius suddenly and both Alyx and Leta looked at him in confusion. He blinked back at them. “I don’t know,” he snapped. “There are a bunch of allies in the cargo bay, Corra didn’t say why. That curly-haired guy is down there right now letting them go.”
Alyx just shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Keep ‘em here, whatever, just fill the ship.” She hit the COMM and started speaking into it. “Hello? Y’saris? This is the Beacon–”
Cyrus tuned out as Leta and Fiearius shared a look and ran out the door, presumably to go round up people to cram into the ship. Quin, whose anger seemed to have devolved into pure shock and despair, couldn’t tear herself from the room and simply stared out the window as Nautilus approached, taking her beloved city down.
Cyrus watched the back of her head for what was probably minutes but felt like hours. Finally, he couldn’t bear to be in the same space as her any longer, his shame burning at all his edges and his guilt at his core. He turned for the door and headed off to help.
Arleth Morgan was seated alone in the comfort of his dimly-lit office, watching the feedback from Archeti scroll down his screen when the call from his fellow Councillors came in. He took his time in readjusting himself in his chair and squashing the butt of his cigar in the ashtray before he hit connect.
“I trust the operation is proceeding as planned?” asked the voice of the Satieran Councillor almost at once.
The Vescentian Councillor grinned. “Of course. Genisi will be dust before nightfall. The rest of Archeti by morning.”
“I have to hand it to you, Councillor,” said the Ellegian woman with some measure of skepticism. It was rarely missing from her tone these days. “I was doubtful of the decision to entrust Nautilus with Vescent, but this was quite an impressive motion from the likes of you.”
“From you, madam, I’ll take that as a compliment,” Morgan replied.
The Ascendian spoke up. “I understand the need to test the device, but I have to wonder, why did you choose Archeti? It bears no strategic power. It’s a dump.”
“Which is exactly why it’s perfect,” guessed the Satieran. “We lose nothing in its destruction. We send a warning to those who would oppose us, but make no sacrifices in the process. No one will miss that rock, but once Carthis or Paraven or any of our enemies see Nautilus’ power wrought upon it? They will do everything within their power to avoid becoming it. Is that not your reasoning, Councillor?”
Arleth Morgan let out a grim chuckle that his fellows probably couldn’t hear. “It is,” he answered, but it wasn’t the whole truth, was it? Of course, strategically, sending Nautilus to Archeti was, as the Satieran said, an ideal choice for the success of the Society as a whole. But while Morgan of course cared for their continued prosperity, he had a personal goal of his own to achieve. His eyes ventured across the room to a wall scattered with images of a girl. A girl who just so happened to be on Archeti at that very moment.
His fellow Councillors did not need to know that Leta Adler’s arrival had been inspiration for Nautilus’ timing. They had disapproved of his efforts to eliminate her before. But now that their goals just happened to coincide with his? Arleth grinned to himself. No harm in that.
The Beacon’s cargo bay was swarming with people and panic. Everywhere Cyrus looked there were families crying, children screaming, desperate souls pushing through the crowd searching for lost love ones. It didn’t help that the quaking had grown so vigorous that it was getting difficult to stay upright. The crowd in the bay swayed and stumbled over one another.
Cyrus himself struggled to force his way through, nearly tripping on a wailing three-year-old and running straight into man whose tear-streaked face turned on him in horror. Hastily apologizing, Cyrus pressed forward, slipping through what little empty space there was and trying to stay afloat as he hopefully headed towards the right destination.
Finally, thankfully, he saw the flash of red hair he was looking for and a few moments later, heard the voice that paired with it.
“Look, you can go grab whatever or whoever you want, but I can’t guarantee we’ll still be here when you get back,” Fiearius was shouting over the crowd of people staring at him with pleading eyes.
“But my father!” a woman wailed at him. “I have to get my father!”
Fiearius’ face twisted into a pained grimace. “I know, I know and I’m sorry, but–” He gestured out the bay door at the city beyond. It was the middle of the afternoon, but the sky was pitch black with clouds save for the eerie green light. Some of the older buildings had started to collapse with the quakes. Long, ever-deepening cracks could be seen stretching across the ground. The city was crumbling. “We can’t stay much longer…I’m sorry.”
A general outcry of protest erupted, but Fiearius looked away from them just as Cyrus arrived at his side, grasping his brother’s arm to keep himself from falling forward in a particular violent shake.
“Ship’s full, we can’t take on many more,” he shouted over the noise and Fiearius nodded grimly, staring down the ramp at the crowd of people still pushing to try and board. Cyrus glanced down at them, but couldn’t bear to look for long. Instead he asked, “Any sign of Finn and Corra?”
Fiearius shook his head and Cyrus felt a spike of worry. The quakes had started over a half hour ago. Surely they’d felt them too, wherever they were. They should have been back by now.
Just then, Leta appeared beside them. Her expression didn’t give him much hope either. “It’s no use, I’ve asked everyone on crew, no one knows where this Callahan guy might be or where we could even begin to look for them. Not even Quin.”
Fiearius ran his hand through his hair. “Shit…”
Cyrus’ spike of panic deepened. “You think something happened to them?”
Fiearius met his eyes solemnly, but didn’t answer. Leta spoke over him. “They’ll be back,” she said firmly. “They’ll be back soon.”
Just then, the ship gave a tremendous shake, nearly knocking the entire bay off their feet. A great collective scream rose as those on the ramp put in a massive push forward, desperate to get aboard. Those already in the bay started to shout in protest. Further back, a cry went out, “We have to take off!” which only incited more tumult. “There’s no more room!” shouted another. “We can’t take any more! We have to leave!”
The air became a cacophony of voices. Angry, desperate, pleading and afraid. And for good reason. Their time was up.
Another violent shake overtook the ship and Cyrus barrelled forward into a woman who was screaming at the top of her lungs. He staggered backwards, but the ground was rocking like a boat on choppy water. He could barely get a foothold and he could feel himself giving way to the pressure of the masses around him. A shoulder rammed his chin, an elbow stabbed his stomach and someone’s flailing forearm hit him square in the forehead. This was it. He was going to be sucked down to the floor and trampled to death by the people whose lives his own invention had endangered. It was fitting, really.
But suddenly he felt a firm hand seize his arm and drag him skywards. Gasping in a deep breath, Cyrus looked over at his brother who was shouting, but he could barely hear him among the din. “We can’t stay here!” was all he made out. He turned to Leta. “Close the ramp!”
Leta stared at him in horror. But Fiearius was right, Cyrus realized. They couldn’t stay. They couldn’t save everyone. Corra’s face flickered into his mind, but he had to force it out. Leta had somehow managed to reach the ramp controls and the familiar hum rose under their feet.