It was difficult for Cyrus not to think about Satieri. As busy as he made himself, as deep as he delved into his own work, ever since the Dionysian departed the Beacon a few hours ago, it just kept floating back. He found himself bent over, staring at the monitoring console, trying to read the numbers he needed for the operation, but all his brain wanted to focus on were thoughts of Fiearius and Leta traversing the streets of his hometown.
He imagined what those streets might look like now. Maybe changed by the war or simply the passage of time. Maybe entirely the same. All at once he was relieved to be away from there, safe from whatever dangers they were facing, and horribly envious. What he wouldn’t give to go home again.
Cyrus was busy speculating what would have happened if he had accompanied them when he realized Addy, seated behind him with a tablet in hand, was talking to him. “–ing a response from the relay?”
Blinking away his daze, he glanced back at her, caught in his inattention. “Uh–” he stuttered, having completely lost track of what he was doing. “What?”
“Are you getting a response from the relay?” she asked again, patient as always. She nodded towards the console he sat at which was sitting embarrassingly dormant.
“Eh–no,” he mumbled, shaking his head and tapping a few keys on the interface. “Because I forgot to try…” Addy chuckled in a polite, dismissive sort of way as the console ran through the checks he should have been running all along. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me, apologize to Corra, it’s her project.” Addy shrugged and turned her attention back to her tablet. Cyrus grimaced. Corra had been rather eager to get this Transmitter thing up and running now that they knew how to do it. Well, sort of knew how to do it. In theory, anyway. Deep space communications weren’t really Cyrus or Addy’s specialties, but given the basics, connecting the Transmitter to the Beacon and connecting the Beacon to the Conduit which could boost the signal to wherever it was meant to go? It made sense.
It was just taking a while.
“Yeah, I know, it’ll happen, I just–” Cyrus clenched his eyes shut for a moment, blocking out the progress bar in front of him and instantly his mind flooded with Paradiex, Sonnete, a great battle in the sky, the downtown cityscape crumbling–
“Hey.” He felt a hand on his shoulder, pulling him out of it at once. When he opened his eyes to look back at Addy, she was smiling sadly. “It’s okay,” she said, presumably about their project being delayed by his lack of focus, but he got the distinct feeling it wasn’t the only subject she meant it of.
Which made him feel like an ass. Sitting here, moping about Satieri like he was the only one suffering over it. It was Addy’s home too. She’d grown up there just as he did. She wanted to go home just as badly. And she, unlike him, was holding her shit together.
In what he hoped looked like an act of solidarity rather than his own patheticness, Cyrus reached his hand out to hers, laced their fingers together and squeezed. “Yeah, it will be,” he agreed. They’d be back in a few more hours. Everything would be fine.
Both of them were turning back to their screens to check the status of the connection when the door to their quarters slid open and Corra’s voice called out, “How are my favorite engineers doing?”
She marched into the room, her hands on her hips and Finn on her heels. She smiled wide, but there was a hint of something else in it that Cyrus couldn’t quite place. Sympathy maybe? Pity? He half wondered if Corra had specifically asked that they finish the project today just to get their minds off of what was going on elsewhere.
“Everyone in good spirits? Need anything? Snacks, drinks, Kalli?”
Okay, she was definitely trying to keep their minds off it…
“We’re good,” Addy chimed. “Just setting up the relay now. Cy?”
“Yeah, it’s responding, just needs a few minutes to lock in the connection.”
Corra hovered over his shoulder, looking at the screen as Finn leaned against it. “And once it does that, we can use the Conduit’s signal boosters anytime?” she asked.
“That’s the idea.” Addy turned her tablet towards Corra to show her the wireframe of the setup they’d made this morning. “If you ever activate the Transmitter through the Beacon, it’ll pass the signal through the Conduit’s relay and then hook into their fancy ancient booster and it’ll be like you’re right there. Without ever having to be there.”
“Raisa was pretty intrigued when we told her the old wreckage she’d taken over is actually some rare ancient ship from the Origin,” said Finn.
“It’s not from the Origin,” Corra corrected. “It just has pieces of the ship that came from the Origin.” She shot him a playful glare and muttered, “I told you that.”
“I wasn’t listening,” was Finn’s flippant response. He smirked. “If it’s so old, how come it’s got such better transmitting power than us though, huh?”
“Well that’s a whole can of worms,” Cyrus said through a single breathy laugh.
“There are a lot of theories,” Addy explained, “that point to the Origin and the original colonists having much more powerful technology back then than we do currently. They must have, after all, say the theories, to have built a ship to carry as many people across such a huge expanse as the Ark did. They built a fleet of terraformers that could alter any terrain into the exact living conditions they needed. It’s been said that the Origin itself had its climate regulated down to every square mile. But when they colonized Archeti, there were more challenges than they expected. They had to sacrifice most of their technology in order to build their civilization. They lost even more in the First Division War. And since they’d just brought it with them from the Origin generations ago, nobody knew how to rebuild it. We started again.”
“Which leads us here,” finished Cyrus as the progress bar on his console filled to completion. “Trying to retrofit ancient technology into our modern evolution of where the colonists left us.”
Finn blinked back at them, clearly having not expected or even wanted such a comprehensive answer. “Fun,” was his sarcastic response.
“It actually is sort of,” Addy muttered, sounding a touch defensive.
Corra, meanwhile, had noticed that Cyrus’ console had finished what it had been doing. She was hovering closer now, standing on the balls of her feet and waiting for Cyrus to announce something had happened. When he didn’t, instead scanning over the results and double-checking that it had, indeed, done what he’d asked, she prodded him in the shoulder.
“Is it done?”
Addy slid off her stool and looked down at the screen. “Yeah, that should do it. If Raisa put in the code on her end–”
“She did,” Corra confirmed and Cyrus rolled his chair away from the console to make room for her.
“The test went through seamlessly. It’s all yours.” He waved his hand toward the Transmitter that he had wired up to the console. Next to it, the Transmission sat innocently, inviting her to proceed. And for a moment, Cyrus almost thought she might. He could see Corra’s fingers ever so slowly gravitating towards it, to pick it up, to slide it into place and finally answer the mystery he knew had been plaguing her all this time.
But just as her hand started to rise, she caught Finn’s eye. His expression was blank. If they were having some sort of silent conversation, Cyrus certainly couldn’t interpret it. But whatever was said between that long stare, it ended with Corra’s hand dropping back to her side.
“No need to do this now.” She nodded firmly. “But you guys did a great job. What do you say we celebrate, huh?”
Cyrus winced as Corra slapped him on the back a little too hard and started off towards the hallway again. Finn pushed himself from the console and sauntered after her as Cyrus got to his feet and felt Addy slide her hand into his.
“Just a few hours,” she reminded him kindly. He nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. A few more hours and they’d be back and maybe, just maybe, this weight could start to be lifted from his chest.
Technically, it wasn’t the first time Fiearius had returned to Satieri since leaving it, although he hardly counted the first time, so strung out on ARC he couldn’t have told you what his name was let alone his location. Even if he hadn’t been, seeing the inside of a Society containment unit was a little different than walking down the street on which he used to live. The street he’d run every morning before the crack of dawn. The street he’d come stumbling down, laughing with friends after a night at the pub. The street he’d decorated and celebrated on during the annual festivals. The street he’d taught Denarian to play K’aiko on.
Even a decade on, it was much the same. The same beat-up old apartment buildings, the same laundry lines hanging between them, the same pavement, barely cared for, covered in colorful chalk drawings from the local kids. The dry desert heat that radiated from the cement still warmed his skin and bones in the familiar way it always had.