Leta gripped the edge of the chair and held on as Cyrus banked the late Councillor’s ship right to avoid a stray blast from the firefight above them. Standing over him as he twisted the controls, she’d seen it coming. Fiearius, however, in the navigator’s chair beside him, his eyes locked on the console he was using to send out commands to the various fleets he was juggling, didn’t.
“Dov’ha ti’arte, Cy, could you fly this thing any rougher?” he growled as he righted himself from where he’d slid off the chair.
“Sure,” Cyrus snapped right back, turning the ship again, hard and fast as another blast flew past the bay window. Leta grimaced as she watched it fall into the city below them, already a mess and bound to get messier. The Carthian bombings had been bad enough, but now, with Fiearius’ fleet locked in a battle with military ships that seemed to be coming ever closer to the surface, Paradiex was getting a fresh set of injuries.
None of them would matter though soon enough if they failed to disable the terraformer that Cyrus was painstakingly flying them towards. It still loomed like a shadow over the city, a storm circling around it and basking in its own green glow, so bright that Leta wasn’t sure if she couldn’t see what was beneath it because of the light itself or because what was beneath it was simply gone…
Fiearius shot his sibling a glare, just in time for Cyrus to pull another sharp roll which would have sent all three of them flying had they not been holding on for dear life. “Do I need to define sarcasm for you?”
“Forgive me, brother,” Cyrus forced a false patience into his voice. “I’m trying–” Sudden dip. “To keep us–” Abrupt turn. “Alive.”
“So am I,” Fiearius grumbled, waving to his own console, a gesture Cyrus had no chance of seeing as he focused on a hard brake to miss a small fighter that, irreparably hit, was plummeting towards the ground before them. “But it’s getting a little difficult with your–” Cyrus let out a yelp as another fighter barreled down after it, so close their ship shuddered. “–shitty flying!”
“Oh I’m sorry!” Cyrus grit his teeth and punched it forward in the brief clearing left by the failed dogfight. “Do you wanna fly this thing?”
“Well you can’t! You do your thing, I’ll do mine, now shut up and just hold on!”
Fiearius rolled his eyes and groaned his annoyance as he seized the sides of his chair just in time to hold himself steady for Cyrus’ dramatic barrel roll around a flash of blue. His eyes were still shooting daggers at the back of his brother’s head when Leta gripped his shoulder.
“How’s Vescent?” she asked, half to stop the two of them from fighting and half because the question had been weighing on her since they’d first landed on Satieri.
Fiearius gave Cyrus one last moment of his anger before his glare softened on Leta. “Better than here,” was his less than enthusiastic response. He held on for one more jolt of the ship then turned to the command console and typed a message into it. “Not that that’s hard…”
Leta felt guilt roll through her chest. Vescent was her home. She should be there, she should be helping, but — she shook the thought from her head. There wasn’t time left for doubts.
Fiearius didn’t meet her eyes when he lied, “Not bad.” But moments later, as they tumbled to the left unexpectedly and she nearly fell on top of him, he told the truth. “Not great either. Ellegy they were losing anyway, Ascendia they’d barely touched, but Vescent?” He shook his head.
“Carthian roots are in pretty deep now,” Leta mumbled.
“You’ve got a lot of rebels on the ground which is advantageous. But it’s tough.” Another message slid onto his console screen and at once his fingers were flying across the keys to form a reply. “I’m trying to pull resources their way as soon as they’re available. We’ll get it, don’t worry.”
It wasn’t so long ago, Leta could remember, that Fiearius was not the kind of man to sit behind a screen sending orders to people across the Span. He wasn’t much for trusting others to get things done regardless. The Fiearius she knew the best liked to run in and solve problems with his own two hands. And yet here he was, commanding his own fleet, Dez’s rebel fleet, the Society fleet and numerous bands of rebels with ease.
All for one hare-brained idea Leta had two nights ago.
Her fingers, which were still resting on Fiearius’ shoulder, squeezed. “Thank you…” she felt the need to say.
She felt him shrug. “Only fair. You’re here with me for this, aren’t ya?” His head tilted towards the window. Leta glanced up at it and took a moment to swallow the lump in her throat. Rain from the storm now slashed at the small vessel as it hurtled onward. The interior of their ship grew ever darker the closer they got and the deeper they delved into the sickly green clouds. She couldn’t see much out of the window, but the one thing she could make out was the Nautilus itself. They were almost upon it. Yet as huge as it was, it just kept getting more so.
Massive was probably the better word, Leta realized. Or vast. The terraformer was one of the strangest ships she’d ever seen. There were no windows, no doors that she could see. It was all smooth metal in great swooping curves leading into a flat bottom. If it was inactive, not currently plowing over miles of occupied civilization, it might have even been beautiful. As it were, the sight of it made her stomach churn.
“Cyrus,” she said as the very designer of the damned thing flew them towards it. “How do we disable this thing?”
“There’s a hatch right up on the side,” he answered, his voice far less strained now. The stray ship-fire and falling debris was behind them now. No other ship dared come this close to the storm and the blinding green light. “We used to use it for testing. It’s a narrow hallway that leads straight into the main terraform core.”
“So get in, follow the path, find the core,” Leta repeated and he nodded once.
“In the core, there’s a couple options, but the quickest is to run emergency shutdown. It’s a big red button on the main console, can’t miss it.”
“What are the other options? Just in case that doesn’t work?” asked Fiearius.
“Well, you can override the remote navigation to pilot it internally. Then manual shutoff. You can cut power to the generators. You can just remove the Caelum Lex…it won’t work without it.”
Fiearius took a deep breath. “Lots of ways, got it.”
“So I’m just gonna get this thing as close as I can to the hatch,” Cyrus went on, sounding relatively calm until he said something insane. “Then can you take the controls, Leta?”
Her eyes went wide and, nearly in unison, she and Fiearius both asked, “What?”
“So I can go shut it off,” Cyrus explained as though this was obvious and their ignorance was annoying him. “I can’t fly the ship and disable the Nautilus.”
“No one’s asking you to,” Fiearius snapped.
Cyrus shot him a glare. “Wha–Wait, do you really think you can do this?”
Fiearius snorted. “Of course. You just told me how.”
“Fiear, the Nautilus is a very complicated piece of machinery and we don’t even know what adjustments Carthis made to it, you can’t just run in and press buttons–”
“Look, I may not be able to fix things like you, but breaking things, I can do.”
“It’s not just breaking it, if you do the wrong thing, you don’t know if–” Cyrus was shaking his head. “This was my project, Fiear. My idea, my creation, I made it. I have to stop it.”
“Sure, and your best bet for that?” Fiearius spread his hands. “Is letting me do it.”
“Seriously? I can do this. I have to do this.”
“I don’t care. Stay on the ship.”
“No, I need to–”
“I can do it, Cy.”
“You don’t understand–”
“I’m doing it, Cy.”
Leta, scrunching up her face, finally snapped. “You’re both wrong. I’m doing it.” The two brothers, suddenly drawn out of their squabble, looked up at her in surprise. She could see the beginnings of an argument on Fiearius’ tongue so she cut him off. “Fiear, you need to stay here and command the fleets. Cy, you need to fly the ship. You’re both needed here. I’m going down there. I can disable it.”
“Leta–” Cyrus began, shaking his head.
“I’ve flown a ship once, Cy. You have to do it.”
“Fiear can fly it!” Cyrus argued.
“Then who’s going to handle the air battle?” Before either of them could nominate her, as she was sure they were about to, she added, “Both of you are doing what you need to be doing. Let me do what I need to do. Let me handle the Nautilus.”
“But you’re afraid of heights,” Fiearius pointed out, an entirely unhelpful statement.
“Only a little.”