The hum was followed by screams as the ramp began to lift. Fiearius stepped forward through the crowd and started shouting. “There’s no more room! I’m sorry! Find another ship! Find a shuttle! Get out of the city!” he called, but his voice was lost amongst the panic.
Cyrus tried to look away as the division between those that would live through the night and those that would not widened, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. He absorbed every inch of the image, the outstretched hands, the sobbing faces, the clambering bodies as they struggled to stay on the right side of the line. He had to see. This was his doing. He had to look.
And suddenly, he was very glad he did.
Amongst the despairing faces, there was one that suddenly stood out to him. One that was familiar. His heart stopped in his chest as he caught sight of it right before the lifting ramp blocked it from his sight.
“Stop!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “Stop!”
Fiearius had been forced away from him, but nothing, not people not the quakes, could stop Cyrus from reaching his brother and shaking his arm furiously. “Stop! Corra’s out there!”
Fiearius’ eyes widened and at once, he signaled to Leta. Thank the gods, she got the message. The ramp stopped rising and before Cyrus even knew what was happening, he and his brother were sprinting out to the edge of it to look down at the sea of people below.
“There!” Cyrus shouted, finding her face again, now sobbing with relief. Or was that relief? An arm was hung around her neck, but it was loose, unmoving.
“It’s Finn!” she called up to them, still being jostled by the ground and the crowd. “He’s hurt! It’s — it’s bad — “
Cyrus caught Fiearius’ eye and the both of them laid down on their stomachs and reached down to her below them. With all of her might, Corra heaved Finn’s body towards them until they could each seize one of his arms and lift his unconscious form onto the ramp. As soon as they’d laid him flat, it was clear exactly what she’d meant by ‘badly hurt.’ His entire front side was soaked in blood, his face was pale, Cyrus wasn’t even sure if he was breathing.
But there wasn’t time to examine him. He reached down again, this time, lifting Corra upwards until she was able to crawl onto the relative safety of her ship. She too was covered in blood, though it didn’t seem to be hers. Her eyes were wide and red-rimmed and she looked like she’d just seen a ghost. Or a hundred ghosts…
“What happened?” demanded Leta who had materialized at Finn’s side and was checking his pulse. Corra didn’t seem able to answer. “We need to get him to the infirmary, there’s not a lot of time,” Leta went on and within instants, the man was hoisted over her and Fiearius’ shoulders, a gun was in Fiearius’ hand to clear the path and they were on their way.
“Get it closed and get her in the air!” Fiearius shouted to Cyrus over his shoulder and he didn’t need telling twice. Scrambling to his feet, he bolted towards the ramp controls and started them up again. Corra, dazed and confused, hurried after him.
“What’s going on, Cy?” she asked, out of breath. “What’s happening out there?”
He almost didn’t want to tell her. Whatever she’d been through today, he could see quite plainly on her face that it was enough. Did he want to add that a machine she had inadvertently enabled was now destroying the very city, maybe even the whole planet, that they were docked on?
But she’d find out eventually. “It’s Nautilus,” he informed her solemnly. All the color drained from her face.
When Cyrus headed off towards the bridge in the path Fiearius, Leta and Finn had left, she did not follow.
Cyrus’ stumbling sprint through the Beacon showed just how crammed full of refugees she was. People lined the walls of every hallway, filled every room and spilled out of the larger bays, not rioting like their comrades in the cargo bay, but quietly despairing as they resigned themselves to their fate. The only place that was not swarming was the bridge, where Cyrus couldn’t help but pause in the doorway when he arrived.
Cyrus had always seen Quin as a woman who was fearless, unwavering, untouchable. But now, she sat defeated in one of the pilot’s chairs, her face in her hands while Alyx kneeled before her, clasping the woman’s shoulder in encouragement. It was a strange thing (Cyrus wasn’t even sure they’d met before), but hardly strange compared to the view behind them.
He could see it now. Nautilus. The great arching shape of the ship he recognized all too well peeked out from above the crumbling skyline. Its massive metal supports, its graceful curving lines and the green glowing beam of destruction spouting out from below it, mowing down everything in its path. Once upon a time, he’d dreamed of a day he’d see Nautilus in action, but in creation. Not like this. Never like this.
He tore his eyes away. “We’re ready to go,” he said hastily, grasping onto the doorframe as the ship lurched again. At once, Alyx released Quin’s shoulder and stepped back, looking over at Cyrus in alarm.
“The captains?” she asked.
“They’re aboard,” Cyrus confirmed as he swung himself into the pilot’s seat.
“W-well where are they?” Alyx demanded, staggering towards him and holding onto the console for support. “Can you fly this thing? Where’s Finn?”
Cyrus glanced at her only briefly. “In the infirmary,” he muttered and her face went white. Cyrus hit the COMM button. “Addy, you there?”
“Cy!” came the voice on the other end of the line. “Yes! Yeah, I’m here, what’s going on up there, are–”
“No time, the engine’s ready to go?” he cut her off as Alyx fell back into her seat.
“Yeah, she’s fired up,” Addy answered nervously. “Cy, is everything–”
“It’s fine,” he answered before she asked, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. “We just need to go…”
Cyrus put his hand on the controls. He wasn’t sure if the shaking was from the ground or simply his own hands, but he struggled to grip the take-off thruster. And then he found his eyes being drawn across the room to Quin who was watching him with the face of a statue. She wasn’t crying. In fact, she had no emotion on her face at all, her eyes stony, her mouth terse. He met her stare for a long, heavy moment until finally, she looked away.
He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath, but he let it all out as he pulled back the thrust. The ship vibrated even more intensely for a moment, but then stopped vibrating entirely as she pulled away from the shuddering ground. She rose up and up and as Cyrus carefully monitored her systems lest her great weight be pulled by the thrashing atmosphere around her, he couldn’t resist taking one more look at his greatest and worst creation as it soared into view. As she lifted, Quin rose to her feet and moved to the bay window where she could look out upon her home. One last time.
They had reached the upper atmosphere when Fiearius ran in. He slowed to a disjointed stop in the center of the bridge and stood staring at the scene before him in quiet awe. As the ship made the final push out into the smooth edge of space, Cyrus released the controls and stood up. Alyx, too, was compelled to her feet. And slowly Fiearius moved to join Quin at the window where, without even looking at him, she reached out and clutched his arm with a shaking hand as the green and black clouds of Nautilus swallowed up Archeti for good.