“Ughhh,” groaned Corra, her fingers grasping at her scalp and pulling at her hair in frustration. The mood wasn’t helped when the Beacon suddenly made such a sharp turn, Cai lost his footing and knocked his head on the back of Finn’s chair.
“Sorry!” called Finn as he pulled up again, but Corra didn’t need his apology. He was doing his best piloting them towards the planet and somehow avoiding the mass amount of ship fire flying in every direction. No, she was grateful for Finn. It was her questionable life choices she was angry at. And that fucking orange screen that had taken over her ship.
“Ark Assist is really good at not assisting.”
“Probably because we’re not an Ark,” muttered Daelen from where he held on near the back of the bridge, but Addy was shaking her head.
“As far as it knows, we are though. Just a very broken one.” She was still chained to the console by the tablet in her hand, searching for any relevant information. So far, she hadn’t found much, but she did seem to be gaining more of an understanding of what they were dealing with. Slowly. “Unfortunately, vocal commands barely even make its system priority list. We’re lucky I was able to get our own navigation back, but anything else? It’s got it way below ‘protecting the Caelum Lex’.”
Corra shot Addy a glare and then threw her hand toward the window. Outside, as they approached the upper atmosphere of Satieri, the sky was alight with red fire from the most ghastly spaceships Corra had ever seen. The swarm of battleships that surrounded them dropped one by one, Carthian and Society alike. “How exactly is this protecting the Caelum Lex?” she demanded.
Addy opened her mouth to answer, but her eyes went wide as the entire bridge quickly grew more and more bright until — the Beacon banked suddenly to the left. “That was a close one,” said Finn through a manic laugh that told Corra it was far far closer than he even made it sound…
“It’s not,” Addy admitted. “But the other ships attacked the Arks. And protecting the Ark–”
“Right underneath protecting the Caelum Lex,” Alyx guessed with a sigh.
Of course it was. The blood in Corra’s head was pounding against her skull. This couldn’t happen. She had to fix this. She couldn’t be responsible for even more death than she already was.
“Okay, how can we get this to stop?”
“We can’t,” was Addy’s unsatisfying answer. “It thinks the Caelum Lex is in danger, it’s going to stay in defensive mode until that changes.”
“Can we convince it that it’s not in danger?” Daelen asked.
Addy shook her head. “I’m barely able to convince it I have access rights, no way am I going to be able to trick it into false data, it’s –”
All eyes but Finn’s turned to the bridge’s door where Kalli, dressed in her pajamas and hugging a large plush purple dragon to her chest, stood hesitantly in the frame. “What’s going on?” she asked, fear apparent in her tiny voice.
“Oh iss’yen,” Addy cooed, for the first time since this ordeal began tossing the tablet aside and running to scoop her daughter into her arms. “You’re supposed to be in bed. It’s okay, everything’s alright.”
Everything was not alright, Corra thought, though she certainly wasn’t going to tell a five year old that. She turned her attention back to the front of the ship and leaned against the console. There had to be a way out of this. There had to be something they could do.
Behind her, Addy continued to console the girl and Cai stepped in to help. “Hey, it’s okay, little one.” His voice was soothing and sweet. “We’re all safe. We’re always safe on the Beacon.”
Corra’s brow creased into a frown. She asked the question before she knew entirely what she was getting at, the thought only half-formed in her head. “Ark Assist, the Caelum Lex is in danger because it’s in the wrong place, correct?”
“The Caelum Lex is currently under attack by foreign entities aboard a hostile vessel,” chimed the mysterious voice.
“And where should it be?”
“The Caelum Lex should never be removed from the safety of its originating ark.”
“Your ark ID number is 0047.”
Corra’s eyes grew wide and she found herself automatically looking over at Finn. He didn’t look back, too focused on steering the ship out of the way of another stray Carthian blast. But he didn’t need her prompting either. “Towards the storm, then?”
The red light powering straight towards her was so bright Leta had to look away, but she felt it when the giant ship’s blast skimmed the top of the Nautilus. The ship shuddered from the pressure and Leta held on to the edges of the hatch, her eyes still clamped tightly shut. Praying to whichever gods or dov’ha would listen that E’etan’s little cruiser would still be there, she slowly opened them again and heaved a breath of relief.
It had missed.
But as good as it was to see her getaway vessel still flying her way, the cannon in the backdrop was glowing red again. It missed this time, but maybe it wouldn’t the second. They wouldn’t have time to slow down to pick her up. But mission failed or not, Leta wanted off this terrible ship and damned if she was going to miss her chance.
Shoving the Caelum Lex into her pants pocket, she clenched her hands once in preparation and then seized the edges of the hatch to push herself through. The storm outside slashed at her relentlessly, the rain so powerful it felt like a burn against her skin. She brushed aside her wet mat of hair, got as much of a grip on the slippery exterior of the Nautilus as she could and began to climb.
This particular slope of the ship wasn’t very steep, but there was little to hold onto. Her fingers sought the tiny cracks between metal plates, her feet finding any nook or cranny they could tuck themselves into to get a grip and though she tried to stay careful, she knew haste was just as important.
The Nautilus quivered once, violently enough that she nearly lost her footing, but managed to regain it by pressing her entire body against the surface. Only a moment passed in waiting before she continued to clamber up the side of the ship, the final stretch spurred on entirely by momentum over nimbleness. She didn’t stop, she didn’t hesitate, she didn’t look back until she staggered the last few steps onto the top of the Nautilus, almost slipping on the rainwater that coated it.
Righting herself, she stuck her uninjured arm in the air and spun around just in time to see the little black cruiser without a door and haloed in a red glow heading straight at her. There was a silhouette half hanging out of the side and as Leta took a deep breath and stood on tiptoes for any extra height she could manage, she hoped Fiearius would get the hint.
The red light grew brighter by the instant, coming closer at a far quicker speed than the ship which still only barely outran it. If this didn’t work, there wouldn’t be a second chance. That blast was going to incinerate her. You better not fucking miss, she growled internally to the cruiser as it drew close.
Leta couldn’t see when it made it to her. The light was so strong she had to squint and she was half convinced that it was about to win the race. But as her breathing slowed, her head pounded and she tried to imagine all the good times, all the positives, all the reasons that made the past few years leading up to this worth it, she felt it: Fingers touched hers, a warm hand gripped her wrist and then a horrible, painful yank and she was airborne.
Leta didn’t even realize she was shrieking until the sound of the red blast hitting the Nautilus at full speed drowned out into the storm. She didn’t want to look down, but hanging from the side of a ship in full motion miles and miles above the ground, it was a little hard not to. For reasons she couldn’t explain, she had to see the gash that had been left across the cold metal surface where she had been standing just moments before.
“Leta, give me your other arm!” she heard from above her and finally, she looked up at Fiearius who was the only thing right now keeping her from falling to her doom. By the scrunched expression on his face, it was clear he wouldn’t be able to do so much longer. Without even considering her other arm’s state, she reached up to him, seizing his other hand and trying to hold in a scream of pain as he yanked her upwards.
As terrible as the effort was, it was counteracted by the overwhelming feeling of comfort as she was pulled into Fiearius’ arms. The two of them collapsed on the floor of the ship, dripping wet and breathing hard.
She felt his palm against her temple, brushing her hair out of the way for his eyes to search her face desperately. “You okay?”
Not really, would be the honest answer. The physician in her was already listing off every diagnosis. Broken arm, broken rib, likely internal bleeding– But all she answered was, “I couldn’t do it.” She shook her head. “I tried everything Cyrus said, it didn’t work, I couldn’t shut it off–”
“Hey, it’s okay,” he assured her, his other hand now joining the first in holding her head steady. “You slowed it down, that’s something. For now–” With a grimace, he pushed himself to his feet, careful not to lose his balance as the ship swayed and rocked, then reached down to help Leta. As she rose, acutely aware of just how sore every inch of her was now that she was in (relative) safety, her eyes were drawn to the cockpit window and the huge black mass beyond it. “We’ve got a literally bigger problem…”
“What the hell is that thing?” Leta breathed, taking a few shaky steps towards the cockpit and shamelessly sitting down in the co-pilot’s seat. It too was wet and cold and swirling with wind, but at least marginally less so.