Leta hissed out a pained breath and seized her throbbing arm. It was badly bruised already, probably broken and, like the rest of her body, hurt like hell. Two times today she had fallen out of a moving ship. Two times she had crash landed with nothing but her own body and surprising luck to protect her. Gods, who had she become these past few years?
But existential crises weren’t important right now. She’d survived the fall onto the surface of the Nautilus by some miracle (or perhaps the will of the dov’ha? She was on Satieri now. How did the Ridellian gods work again?), and damned if she wasn’t going to use it. Leta allowed herself a few seconds to fill her lungs before she kept moving down the Nautilus’ hallway again, one hand on a railing for support.
The interior of the Nautilus was not what she would have expected from the outside. The exterior was an optically seamless construction of arcs and curves. It looked more like an expensive building than a ship.
The inside, however, looked more like a ship than any ship she’d ever been on. Cyrus had said it had never been designed to be occupied which, she supposed, was why he’d felt it appropriate to leave all of the machine’s guts and innards right out in the open for her to see. Every hallway was lined with pipes, wires, blinking control panels. Fleetingly, she wondered if ripping out some of those wires would do her any good. Surely there was some significance to all of them. She figured Fiearius, had he been aboard, would be doing just that. But Leta stayed focused. The core was just ahead. That’s where she’d do her damage.
When she finally reached the core, however, it looked like most of the damage had already been done. In her journey from the hatch, she had been minimally reminded that at some point, this beast of a construction had been blown up and then restored. There were some beat up panels, a few loose wires, small signs that not all was well.
But then there was the core. Cables ran haphazardly across the floor from chipsets that were strewn randomly through the dome-shaped room. Tools had been left out. Nothing had been secured. Leta imagined this was what Cyrus’ teenage workshop would have looked like — right after he’d gotten into a fight with his brother in it.
She took a mental picture of the place, pledging to tell him about it once this was all over. She could hear his indignation already.
“Alright Cy, red button, can’t miss it,” she muttered to herself, barely able to hear her own voice over the dull screech and drone of the Nautilus. The noise wasn’t nearly as deafening inside as it was outside, but it still filled the air and pounded against her ears. She tried not to think of how it sounded to people on the ground right now…
“There we go,” she exclaimed, distracting herself from the grim thought with the solution to it. Emergency shutdown, big red button. For once, Cyrus’ instructions had been accurate. Leta didn’t hesitate to dash towards the panel as fast as her aching bones could carry her and slam her palm down on the button. It contracted, she heaved a deep breath and — nothing changed.
Leta looked around her. None of the hundreds of system lights had shut off. The noise still powered on. The metal still vibrated beneath her feet.
Feeling a spike of desperation, she pushed it again. Still, nothing. What the hell is the point of an emergency shutdown button if it doesn’t work? she asked herself just as she noticed the stray wire protruding from the back of the panel. Disconnected? Really? Never before had she felt so inclined to agree with Cyrus’ opinion on the quality of Carthian engineers.
Okay, that option’s out, what were the others? She racked her brain to remember what he’d said. Had it always been this hot in here? She could feel beads of sweat rolling down her temples and under her shirt. Focus, how to fix this. Shutdown button not an option. Manually pilot it? That wasn’t going to happen. Reroute the power…
Gripping her arm again as another spike of pain ran up it, Leta headed for what she could only guess was the main control panel. It had a console anyway which was a step above all of the other unspecified, unlabeled controls scattered around the core.
Standing over it, she hastily ran her arm over her forehead to wipe the sweat from her brow and took a deep breath as she tried to read what was on the screen. The words and numbers looked a little fuzzy. Everything looked a little fuzzy actually. Gods, why was it so hot in here?
She blinked her eyes once and shook the haze out of her head. The screen came into focus and she felt the disappointment before she even really knew what she was looking at. At the top of the UI, she’d expected to see the Society librera. Or maybe the logo for Sonnete Industries. Something Satieran, something sensible, something she could use.
But instead, she saw a band of Carthian green followed by a string of unintelligible numbers. They reprogrammed it. Shit.
Franticness was starting to set in. Her breaths were coming in harsh and sporadic. Her clothes felt constricting and hot. Directly below her, a giant green death beam was destroying a populated city. And she had no idea how to turn this damn thing off.
She was just considering taking Fiearius’ route and tearing whatever she could find to pieces when her eyes rested on something she actually recognized: a fist-sized sphere sitting atop a pedestal across the room. She’d seen it before, in Corra’s hand, many years ago. She’d called it a paperweight. And finally, she recalled Cyrus’ last suggestion. Just remove the Caelum Lex.
There wasn’t time to waste thinking about it. Leta darted towards the pedestal and without a moment’s hesitation, seized the sphere and ripped it from its place.
For a moment, nothing changed and Leta internally cursed Cyrus for being wrong or Carthis for making him wrong, whichever was the case. She was out of ideas, out of options until–
“Warning,” said a calm voice from the overhead speakers as every light in the core turned red. “Critical system failure.”
“Yes!” Leta couldn’t help herself from shouting, but her voice was still drowned out by the noise of the machine which, if anything, had gotten louder. And a lot more violent…
A yelp leaped from her throat as the Nautilus jerked out from beneath her and she tumbled to the floor, right onto her injured arm. Pain seared through her and she grasped her elbow as her mind reeled in dizziness. The Caelum Lex she’d been holding rolled out of her fingers and across the metal floor.
“Warning. Instability at forty-eight percent,” said the Nautilus and the floor shifted dramatically again.
Leta wanted to pass out. She was nauseous, her head was swimming, there was nothing she’d like more than to just curl up right here and fall asleep. Everything would be okay if she could just fall asleep, she knew it. If she just closed her eyes–
“Instability at sixty-two percent.” The third jerk was just sudden enough to pull her out of shock. She didn’t need to sleep, she needed to get out of here and quickly.
As she forced herself to her feet, Leta barely heard the scream that ripped out of her lungs. The machinery below her had heightened to a blaring wail of its own, so intense she wondered how she’d ever considered the previous noise bad.
Just leave, she told herself. Get out of here before this whole thing collapses or crashes or implodes or whatever it’s going to do. Her body still fought her every motion, but she made for the hallway only to look back, just for a second, to see the Caelum Lex roll across the tilting floor and hit a misplaced wiring panel. She paused, for just that moment, thoughts she barely had the time or capacity to interpret speeding through her head.
Not worth the risk, was her final decision before she sprinted back, grabbed the sphere and then plowed onward into the hall just as the ship threw her against the wall.
“Fiear?” she choked into her COMM as she pushed herself forward. “Cy? Do you read?” It hadn’t worked before, but maybe, just maybe, something had changed. By the lack of response, she guessed not. Just please be there, she begged to them internally. Please don’t leave me stranded on this awful awful thing.
It was with a mix of relief and dread that Leta finally reached the hatch she’d climbed through. Who knew what would await her on the other side? She thought she could hear the rain still pounding against the metal and, what was that, ship fire? Had the Carthian battle come that much closer or was she just hearing things amongst the Nautilus’ own racket of noise?
In response to her question, the Nautilus itself rocked dramatically to the side, providing her just the right amount of motivation to reach out her hand and tear open the hatch.
At once, she was drenched in two things: an excess of rainwater and, gods no, green light.
It hadn’t worked?! Leta leaned her head out of the hatch and peered downward through the dark storm clouds at the light below her. The giant green death beam? Definitely still activated. It wavered and flickered and swayed, but it was still blindingly bright and screaming.
The thought of going back inside, of traversing that hallway again towards the red-lit room and trying to shut it off made Leta feel even more nauseous than she already did. But it had to be done. She’d failed. She had to keep trying.
But just as she had resigned herself to the task, she looked up and realized the giant green death beam wasn’t the only giant problem anymore.
“What the–” she felt herself mouth as she watched the huge rotund black-metal ship that dwarfed even the Nautilus launch round after round of bright red fire into the Satieran sky as a small fleet of ships, Society and Carthian alike, buzzed around it like flies. It was difficult to see through the raging storm, but there was one ship, a mere speck of dust in comparison, breaking away from the flock and coming towards her. E’etan’s ship.
Leta was flooded with relief. They were alive, they were still in the air and they were coming to get her. But as she watched, in the backdrop, the massive beast’s cannon redirected itself to chase after them. As it lit up with red flame, Leta felt the bile rise in her throat and her nausea finally got the better of her.
“I’m sorry. Ark Assist does not contain that functionality.”
Corra slammed her fist on the control panel. “Seriously?! ‘Stop’ doesn’t compute?”
“It needs something more specific,” Alyx suggested frantically. “Stop attacking the planet?”
“I’m sorry,” began the voice again. “Ark Assist does not–”