“You do realize you’re going to have to jump from here–” Fiearius pointed to the metal grating that served as the floor of the ship, “–to there.” His finger traveled to the window where the hulking shape of the Nautilus was just outside. “And then run across the hull to the hatch, open it, climb into it–and then come back! — all while miles above the planet’s surface…”
Leta unintentionally caught a glimpse of the city below them. Miles, she thought, was an understated way of saying it, but even so, her stomach churned violently. Her head felt a little dizzy, her eyes momentarily glazed. But her voice was steel when she said, “Yes.” Less so, when she added, “But you don’t have to remind me…”
She met Fiearius’ eyes then and she could see mountains of worry behind them. Her fingers squeezed his shoulder again and she promised, “I can do this.” Before he could argue further, she leaned in and captured his lips in hers, brief but warm. “I’ll be fine.”
He watched her a moment longer, his expression becoming unreadable as he scanned her face. Finally, he grasped her hand and muttered grumpily, “You fuckin’ better be.” To Cyrus, he called, “Get us in as close as you can.”
Cyrus drew a shaky breath, but he sounded confident when he returned, “On it!”
As Leta withdrew herself from Fiearius’ grip and moved into the back of the cabin towards the airlock door, it occurred to her that maybe she was making a mistake. The Nautilus was a long way up from the ground and that metal looked very smooth and probably slippery from the rain and it would be so very easy to fall off and just keep falling and falling and–
Abruptly, she shook the thoughts from her head. She’d be fine. Everything would be fine. Her hand found the edge of the airlock hatch to support herself as her breaths started coming in jagged. Fortunately, her other shipmates couldn’t hear it. The noise of the Nautilus was growing ever louder as they approached it. It was a deafening sort of screech playing in symphony with a horrible, gut-wrenching bass and punctuated by the cracks and thuds of Paradexian architecture being crushed as easily as a boot crushed a blade of grass.
“I can’t get much closer!” she heard Cyrus yelling from the cockpit. Leta could feel the ship swaying more violently now, as though it was being pushed by an invisible force away from the Nautilus’ surface. Heavy rain battered the metal walls. The winds around it were chaotic and vicious, retching and flailing as they were torn asunder by the great beast of a machine. E’etan’s little cruiser barely stood a chance.
But when Fiearius yelled back, “Well do it anyway!” and Cyrus pushed the ship as hard as he could, she felt it lurch in the right direction.
Well it was now or never. She could do this. Gods, she’d better be able to do this. Leta dragged in a deep ragged breath and hit the airlock door control. It didn’t slide open so much as it fell open and then, to Leta’s horror, fell off, ripped from its hinges and tossed into the open air.
A cacophony of sound, violent winds and daggers of raindrops filled the ship instantly, tearing at Leta’s clothes and skin so hard it stung as it ripped past her and pounded into the opposite wall. Cyrus hadn’t been prepared for it, she realized too late. He didn’t have chance to compensate. The wind hit the wall and the ship, barely able to hold its own on the outside, lost the battle against the storm.
Leta’s hand was still holding fast to the edge of the hatch, but it wasn’t enough. When the ship tilted onto its side and she was suddenly looking straight ahead at the far too distant surface of the Nautilus and the even further surface of Paradiex, there was very little she could do in the face of gravity itself.
In her shock, she didn’t realize she was falling until she felt the pressure on her fingers as they slipped on the metal, one by one, until they weren’t touching metal at all and she was no longer looking down at the Nautilus but up at E’etan’s ship getting further and further away. She thought she heard the far off sound of Fiearius’ voice calling her name and saw a flash of red in the ship’s hatch before her back hit a hard surface with a thud.
No one breathed as the Transmission’s light slowly filled. Alyx’s fingers tapped her elbow. Addy bit her thumbnail. Cai and Daelen were perfectly still. Finn wasn’t even watching, his back to the Transmitter and his attention locked on the green-lit storm spreading over the planet.
Corra herself could only focus on how fast her heart was pounding in her chest. She couldn’t help but wonder if she’d just made the biggest mistake of her life. Wouldn’t that be ironic? While trying to fix her previous biggest mistake of giving Dez the Caelum Lex to begin with, she did something even worse. Worse than destroying Archeti. Worse than destroying Satieri. For all she knew, she’d just brought on the destruction of the Span in its entirety.
Or perhaps, the thought crossed her mind when the circle of light on the end of the Transmission was finally complete, she’d done nothing at all.
She heard Addy’s gasp as soon as the final stretch of white finished, but the gasp was followed by…more silence. Even Finn turned back around to observe the results but there were none. The light was on. The Transmitter was letting out a quiet hum. But nothing had changed.
Corra’s heart started to drop. Nothing was coming to save them…
Addy broke the silence first. “Hang on, let me see if the relay with the Conduit is working.” She hurried to the nearest console and started to tap the keys furiously. Corra watched her back curiously, but Alyx caught her eye and raised her brows.
“We should start thinking about heading down there,” she said quietly, perhaps hoping Addy wouldn’t hear her. Cai gave her a cold stare. “We can find Cy and Leta and Fiearius and we can ferry people off the planet.” She swallowed and her voice dropped even lower. “Just like we did in Genisi.”
Corra took one more fleeting glance at the device on the table and realized she was probably right. It was a long shot, sending an unspecified SOS to an ancient culture. One that she’d gotten a little too worked up over the past few months. But Alyx was right. They had a ship and they had a problem they could at least partially solve with it.
She nodded. “Do we know how to get in touch with them?”
“We should be able to get through to their COMMs, shouldn’t we?” asked Daelen.
“Not without Carthis listening in,” grumbled Alyx, but Finn let out a bitter laugh.
“They can listen in all they want at this point. Look out the window.” He jutted his thumb towards Satieri. The terraformer. The battle going on in orbit. The Carthian destroyers firing blast after blast. “I’m pretty sure the jig is already up.”
Corra joined Finn at his side and crossed her arms over her chest. “Certainly looks that way. Only a matter of time before they begin firing on us. Anyway, if I know those three, and I do, I don’t think I need a COMM to tell me where they are.”
Finn glanced down at her. “They’re right in the center of it, aren’t they?”
Corra sighed. “Definitely.”
She was in the middle of speculating whether or not the Beacon could even make it down there (would Carthis’ ships try to shoot them down? Would they lose control in the Nautilus’ storm? Could they even find the Spirit, assuming that was the ship Leta and Cyrus were flying, in that mess?) when behind her, Addy exclaimed, “Oh!”
Both Corra and Finn turned back to look at her. Her hands were raised off the keys of the console and she’d taken a step back, looking down at it in alarm. “Something’s–I think something’s happening–”
Corra moved closer to get a better look as Cai, still hovering around the Transmitter hopefully, called out, “The light changed.” He pointed at it. “It’s yellow now.”
One thing at a time, Corra thought, peering around Addy’s shoulder at the console. It displayed no interface that she’d ever seen on the Beacon before. Instead of her ship’s cool blue and dark green, the screen was lit up in a bright orange and displayed a few words in a language she didn’t recognize. Whatever it said, the looping circle in the center of the screen, a little reminiscent of the Transmission itself, indicated it was processing something.
What that might be, however, was what worried her.
“Can anyone read that?” she wanted to know and now all of them, clustered around the console, shook their heads. Except for Finn who was across the bridge.
“Well, whatever it says, it seems to be taking over the whole ship,” he muttered curiously.
“What?!” Corra looked back to see every console in the bridge displaying the same orange. “Addy–”
“I know, I know.” The blonde woman was already scrambling with a monitoring tablet. “I can’t get past it, but — it seems to be scanning — well, everything. All of the Beacon’s data, every COMM line it can reach, everything.”
“Well make it stop!” Alyx demanded. “We don’t know what it is, we shouldn’t just let it–”
“I would if I could, but it’s not–I don’t know how to access it, it’s–”
“Maybe we should just let it run,” Cai suggested, stepping forward towards the group.
“What? No we absolutely should not–,” Alyx began.
“We don’t have much of a choice anyway,” said Addy.
“But maybe this is what’s supposed to happen, maybe–”
“No, Cai, some other entity taking over our ship is never supposed to happen, it–”
Suddenly, a calm voice spoke over them all through the Beacon’s speakers. “Language bank acquired.” The bridge went silent all at once, all five of them looking up and listening carefully. Corra couldn’t tell if the voice was male or female and there was something strange about the way it spoke either way.
“If this is accurate, say ‘yes’.”