She felt four sets of eyes on her, anticipating her response. Seriously? She had to talk to the weird console program? Great.
The voice took a moment, if the screen was any indication, to process the information. Then finally, it said brightly, “Greetings travelers. Thank you for using Origin Ark Assist. Please provide your Ark ID number.”
Briefly, Corra wondered if she was having a strange dream. Her fingernails dug into her arm for a moment just to check. It hurt. Probably not a dream.
When no one responded, the voice said, “If you do not know your Ark ID, I can scan for it.” Still, none of the Beacon’s crew spoke up which seemed to be answer enough for the program. “Scanning for Ark ID.” The same looping circle appeared on the screen for twenty seconds. “Ark ID located. Ark 0047. Location: unknown. Last check-in: 676858 days ago. Status: missing.”
Corra stared at the console screen, feeling more lost than she’d ever felt before. She could barely begin to fathom what was happening, what this thing she’d sent for was saying. A system from the Ark, or the days of the Ark anyway. Picking up the ID signal from whatever little piece of the Ark was left in the Conduit. And it was one of at least 47? She had a thousand questions for this strange relic of software, but when it said, “Ark 0047, how may I be of assistance?” she knew she had a responsibility to hold her tongue.
“We need help,” was what she managed to get out. “There’s–a weapon. It’s attacking.” She caught Finn’s eye to notice he was watching her like she’d gone a little nuts. Feel free to jump in any time, she internally snapped at him. “We need to get rid of it.”
“Ark 0047, my scans indicate your Ark is irreparably damaged,” said the voice which was not an answer to her request at all. “Please hold while I calculate population estimates.”
“What? No,” Corra snapped impatiently. “Forget the population, we need to destroy the Nautilus!”
“I’m sorry, ‘Nautilus’ does not appear in my databanks,” said the voice, completely oblivious to Corra’s frustration. “Population estimate acquired.”
“We need weapons,” Corra continued to insist. “Or ships, we need to fight.”
“Ark technology is not built for offensive maneuvers. Please refer to Ark Mission Guidelines for a complete summary of internal capabilities.”
“Okay, how about defensive then?” she tried again. “We’re being attacked, help us.”
“I will scan for threats. One moment.”
The orange screen displayed the loading circle.
Alright, so maybe this wasn’t Corra’s biggest mistake ever. But she was beginning to get the feeling that this was a regular sized mistake. What the hell was this thing even talking about? How was it supposed to help them? It just took over the Beacon and ran pointless scans. What had she been thinking, that some stupid ancient who-knew-what could save Satieri? She was just wasting time.
But just as she was about to order Addy to somehow figure out how to wipe this thing, the voice said, “Alert. Caelum Lex detected upon foreign vessel. Threat level assess imminent.”
For just a moment, Corra saw a glimpse of hope. “Yes! The Caelum Lex, it’s on the Nautilus, we need to destroy it.”
“Destruction of Caelum Lex inconsistent with Ark Mission. Forming action plan.”
Corra’s hand found her forehead. “God this thing is annoying.” She felt Finn approach her side.
“I have a bad feeling about this…” she heard him mutter and the spike of irritation grew even larger. Very helpful, thank you, Riley, she thought and very nearly said it, but the Origin Ark Assist finished its processing and spoke up.
“Ark 0047. In response to catastrophic Ark failure and massive rise in population numbers, Origin Ark Assist will provide replacement Arks 0230, 0231, and 0232. In contingency with Ark Mission Guidelines, Origin Ark Assist will maintain control over replacement Arks until Caelum Lex threat is nullified.”
“Replacement–” Alyx breathed, looking over at Corra. “Is it really saying–”
Cai’s eyes were wide as he stared out of the bay window. “New Arks…”
“Wait,” said Finn suddenly. “If it’s protecting the Caelum Lex. And the Caelum Lex is in the Nautilus. Then the threat isn’t the Nautilus.”
Corra caught his eye and realization hit her just as three new ships appeared on the Beacon’s radar.
Fiearius’ voice barely made it out of the ship before it was carried away on the currents that swirled around the Nautilus. “LETA!” The abyss of green cloud, wind and rain between them devoured the word.
“Fuck this, I’m going down there,” Fiearius growled to Cyrus in the cockpit, readying himself to jump out of the side of the ship.
“What?! Hang on a second!” Cyrus called back to him, struggling against the controls to keep the ship level.
But there wasn’t a second to waste. The ship had swayed further away from the Nautilus, but he could still barely make out the shape of Leta against the slick metal as she scrambled up the hull from where she’d landed and slipped. He could still see when she lost her footing and slid a few feet down the side, hands grasping at anything they could seize. He could still see how close she was to being swallowed by the green light just below her.
He couldn’t just fucking stand here and watch this.
“I have to help her!”
“You’ll never make that jump!” Cyrus shouted. “We’re too far!”
“Then get me closer!” Fiearius snapped, roiling with nervous energy. He could feel the ship fighting against the wind to do just that, but Leta didn’t appear to get any closer. The wind continued to stab at him, he was drenched from the rains and the Nautilus’ deafening cacophony pounded in his ears, but all he could focus on was every painstaking step of her journey towards the hatch she was still so far from.
Gods, why had he let her go?
“Can’t you get this thing closer?!”
“I’m–trying!” his brother cried back.
“Try harder or she’s going to die!”
Letting out a growl of frustration, Fiearius sought out Leta again, a mere speck on the vast metal surface. She was getting closer to the Nautilus’ entrance, but one wrong move and it would be over. She couldn’t die. He couldn’t let her die. He couldn’t lose her too.
But he wouldn’t, he told himself, fighting through the panic that was threatening to rip his chest in two. She could do this. Leta could do this and she’d make it back safely. Afraid of heights or not, she could do this. Hell, she was almost there. Fighting against rain and wind and gravity, he saw her as she reached out and seized the handle of the Nautilus’ starboard hatch.
Relief flooded through him as he watched the hatch open and her form scramble through before shutting it tight behind her. “Leta?” he called into his COMM, hoping this time it would go through. There was no response. “Leta?! Do you read?”
Satisfied that at least she was no longer in any immediate danger of falling to her doom, Fiearius ran back to join Cyrus in the cockpit, clinging to any piece of the ship he could on the way. His brother didn’t seem to be faring much better against the elements. His hair was soaked and he was shivering against the wind. Or perhaps he was simply straining too hard to keep the ship under control.
“I can’t reach her, the shields must be blocking the signal, but she made it, she’s in!” Fiearius announced, but Cyrus wasn’t paying attention.
“Great, ‘cause we have another problem on our hands.”
Fiearius looked out the window just in time to witness the largest vessel he’d ever seen descending into view. It hovered for a moment and then fired a shot.