Category Archives: Part 3-2

Chapter 47: Ark Pt. 2

“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 –”

“T-tih’ma?”

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.”

“Which is–?”

“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.

Chapter 46: Heights Pt. 3

She felt four sets of eyes on her, anticipating her response. Seriously? She had to talk to the weird console program? Great.

“Yes?”

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.

———————

“Leta!”

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.

Chapter 46: Heights Pt. 2

“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’.”

Chapter 45: Traitor Pt. 3

His feet had carried him back towards the console before he even knew what he was doing. “What the fuck?!”

“Ah, Admiral,” said Gates, a certain cheer in his voice that made Fiearius want to pick up the desk and throw it across the room. “You’re alive after all.”

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”

“Winning the war, I believe,” was the answer that made Fiearius actually grip the desk in preparation for the toss.

“By fucking destroying the planet you wanted to take over?! Why?!”

“Above my pay grade, I’m afraid. These are orders direct from the president. Though I’d imagine if you asked her, she’d say something about demonstrations and power, influence, showing our strength, etcetera etcetera.”

“That’s the–” Fiearius let out a groan and settled for slamming the table legs onto the ground. One of the cracked. “Turn it off! Now!”

“I suppose I could,” Gates replied simply. “I mean. What difference would it make? My career’s already over. I brought a piece of space debris into the fold of Carthis’ honorable army, trusted him with my life and the lives of millions of our people and he went and got most of them killed. I’ll be court martialed as soon as I walk off this bridge.” There was a pause before he added, “Oh wait. That’s exactly why I won’t turn it off.”

Fiearius laughed a single humorless laugh. “If you’re trying to make me feel bad for you, it’s not gonna work.”

“I would never expect such a complex emotion from you. Goodbye Fiearius–”

A streak of panic ran through him. “Wait–”

“Enjoy the last few moments of your precious Satieri.”

“Kaiser, hang on–”

“And, in your own immortal words,” he paused for dramatic effect, “Go fuck yourself.”

The line went dead. Fiearius was left staring at the screen, his mouth open and the burn of rage running through every one of his veins. It was so intense, that no comprehensive thoughts could even make it to his head. Just anger. Lots and lots and lots of anger.

Then Leta said, “Well that went fucking great,” and he snapped back into himself.

“Aeneas!” Fiearius shouted into the COMM. “Change of plans. No more warning shots, blow them all the hell!” His eyes narrowed on the blank screen of the console. “Start with the lead dreadnought.”

“Wait, wait, wait, shouldn’t we have them attack that?” Leta pointed frantically out of the window where the green light was steadily growing larger.

Cyrus was already shaking his head. “It runs with ECRO-gen shields.”

Leta looked between the two of them, frustrated. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“None of our ships have the weapons capable of even making a dent, they wouldn’t–”

“What about the Society ships?” Fiearius suggested, desperation flooding out of him. “We could call them back.”

Again with the head shaking. “They can’t either, it’s–”

Fiearius groaned and ran his hands down his face. “Why the fuck did you build this thing to be indestructible?!”

Cyrus opened his mouth in protest. “I didn’t know we’d be fighting it one day!”

“It’s a fucking terraformer, it doesn’t need to be indestructible anyway!”

“Are you–do you have any idea what kind of–”

“No because these things shouldn’t even exist anymore so–”

“I was doing my job, Fiearius, I–”

“Hey!” Leta suddenly screamed over them, pulling the brothers out of their argument and their attention back to her. “Focus! We need a plan! What can we do?”

She was looking at Fiearius. Fiearius looked at Cyrus. And Cyrus looked at his feet. He tried to make his voice even and calm as he said, “C’mon, Cy. We can’t just run away and let this happen. There must be something we can do.”

Cyrus didn’t look up from the ground. Not even when the building shook violently again, reminding them of truly how little time they had. Still, he had no answers. It was Leta whose suggestion came first.

“Okay, we can’t attack it from the outside, what if we attack it from the inside? Take out its crew, turn it off ourselves.”

“It’s unmanned,” said Cyrus quietly. “It’s run remotely.”

“So they’re controlling it from up there?” Fiearius gestured to the sky. “Can’t we just blow up the ships controlling it then?”

“If the connection is lost, there’s a chance it’ll shut down, but–there’s a chance it won’t. We never got far enough into the project to test that kind of scenario, if the program’s already loaded and running, it might just keep going and–” He shook his head. “But you might be onto something?”

Fiearius shared a look with Leta. “What, blowing things up?”

Cyrus frowned. “What? No, not you. Her. Attack from the inside. If someone can get inside it, we could disable it.”

It was a start. “Okay, get inside it, is that possible?”

He took a moment to stare, mouth open, at the wall across from him and then nodded. “Yes! Yes, there’s a hatch on the starboard hull, it’ll take you right into the guts of it. We just need to–get to the hatch.” His eyes traveled to the green light on the horizon. “Up there.”

Fiearius followed his line of sight. He heard Leta release a quiet groan at the thought. Okay, it wasn’t an ideal plan, boarding a massive functioning terraformer mid-flight. But damned if he was going to stand here and watch his home get destroyed.

“Do we have a ship?” he asked.

“No,” Leta answered.

Cyrus, however, turned to E’etan’s console and tapped a few keys. Across the room, a wall panel slid aside, revealing an elevator Fiearius hadn’t realized was there before. Cyrus smiled shakily. “But I do.”

——————-

“I still vote no.” Daelen’s arms were crossed over his chest. “We have no idea what it does. It’s far too risky.”

“I vote no too,” agreed Alyx, shaking her head. “It could cause more problems for all we know.”

“How can you say that?” demanded Addy, not even hiding her desperation. “You, of all people, know what that thing can do. What it’s already doing–”

“Hey,” Alyx cut her off with a stern glance. “That has nothing to do with this. I’m not arguing that we should be fine with the Nautilus destroying planets. I’m not. Believe me, I’m not. But this?” She gestured to the device on the table they all stood around. “Is not an answer. It’s not even an educated guess.”

“Cyrus and Leta and Fiear are all down there.” Addy threw her hand towards the bay window where they could see the flashes and lights of the Carthian ships doing battle with Fiearius’ fleet, they could see the smoky surface of Satieri and, even from here, they could see the bright green light of the Nautilus.

“If there is any chance that this thing could save them, I’m willing to take it,” Addy finished sharply.

Beside her, Cai was nodding slowly. “I think we should too.” It was the first time he’d spoken in this argument and all eyes flew to him. “No, we don’t know what it does exactly, but–I think it came to us for a reason.” He didn’t seem to notice Alyx rolling her eyes. “There are a lot of people dying down there. Even more than Archeti. I think maybe this is the reason.”

Well, a half hour of argument had gotten them nowhere. It was still two to two. Corra sighed and looked down at the Transmission she held in her hand. She didn’t have an answer nearly as strong as the rest of her crew seemed to. Both sides of the debate seemed entirely valid to her. Messing around with ancient technology could yield any kind of results. Some good, some that could possibly save Satieri, save their friends, end the war. Yet some…potentially catastrophic.

“Superstition aside, we need to look at the facts,” Alyx went on sharply. “And those are that using this thing is stabbing blindly in the dark when we could be better spending our time coming up with a real plan.”

“And what exactly would a real plan entail?” Addy’s voice shook like she was about to crack from despair.

Alyx’s face wasn’t devoid of sympathy, but no matter how softly she said the words, the message was just the same. “We could take the Beacon down to the surface and find our friends and get them out.”

Addy’s mouth fell open in shock at the suggestion. “And just abandon an entire planet? Let Satieri be destroyed?”

“What other choice do we have?” At any other time, Daelen’s calm tone would have been a blessing, cutting through the chaos and soothing the room, but now even he seemed to have no effect. “Cyrus built the thing and he said before we have no chance against it. There’s nothing we can do.”

“We can do this,” said Cai bluntly, pointing at the Transmitter. “This is exactly what we can do. This is what we’re meant to do.”

“And what if it’s not?” Alyx argued. “What if it makes things worse?”

“Then at least we tried,” he said, shaking his head. “At least we did something other than run away and watch a populated world crumble to dust.”

“Again…” Addy said quietly, so full of meaning that the room went silent. All of them stared down at the Transmitter. Corra swore she felt the tension pressing on her skin. There was no easy choice here and it was one she didn’t want to have to make. The more time they wasted though, the more lives would be lost.

When she finally looked up again, she found four pairs of eyes staring at her.

“It’s your decision, captain,” reminded Daelen and no one refuted him. But there was still one person here who hadn’t given his opinion. The one person who wasn’t looking at her, who had stood silently in the back of the group with his chin in his hand since this conversation began.

“Riley?” His eyes flicked up towards her. “What do you think?”

Addy jumped in to convince him. “Finn, you can’t let what happened to Archeti happen here. We have to do something–”

“Adds, I love you to death, but you need to stop throwing that around,” Alyx growled through gritted teeth.

“She’s not wrong though,” mumbled Cai.

“Archeti isn’t just an argument you can use–”

“It’s part of this discussion–”

“Quiet!” Corra snapped over all of them and the room grew quiet again. She locked eyes with Finn and asked again. “Riley. What do you think?”

Everyone seemed to be holding their breaths waiting for his answer. Corra had abstained, which made him the deciding vote. And frankly, his opinion meant more to her than any of the others. Whatever he decided is what they would do. And by the look on his face, he knew it.

Corra watched as he looked down at the Transmitter again, then the Transmission in her hand. Finally, he turned his head toward the window and the others followed. The green light grew larger by the minute. Corra hadn’t watched Archeti as it was swallowed whole, but she knew it wouldn’t take long. Time was running out.

Which was likely why Finn at last turned back to her, met her eyes and nodded. “Do it.”

Corra didn’t wait for any other reactions. She didn’t need her hand stayed any longer or more indecision to cloud her head. She slid the Transmission into its slot and held her breath as the the circle of light flicked on and started to grow.

Chapter 45: Traitor Pt. 2

Leta, from where she lay on the ground, started to laugh. Quiet and slow, but enough to make the Councillor eye her curiously. “Something funny?”

She just laughed a little harder and glanced at Fiearius who grimaced. “Got some bad news for you, mate. Little bit of a problem with your plan there”

“I’m not with Carthis,” growled Leta, pushing her upper body off of the ground.

Fiearius smiled. “And I’m not the Verdant.”

Confusion passed over Dorrian E’etan’s face. Fiearius saw his eyes fly towards the window where clearly no Society ships had returned as they should have, had the Verdant ordered them to. And to Fiearius who, smirking casually, glanced down at Leta. And Leta, who held up a tiny chip in her hand proudly. The Verdant chip.

There was a flash of realization, the man muttered “What–” and then a loud gunshot filled the room and he collapsed to the floor.

“That was my cue, right?” asked Cyrus from behind E’etan’s body, holding the lightly smoking gun, now aimed right at Fiearius, a little too tensely for comfort. Sneaking around behind enemies without detection he may have mastered, but gun handling, clearly not so much.

“Close enough,” his brother answered, stepping forward and gently nudging the gun out of his direction. He then reached a hand out to Leta. “You alright?”

She took it and he pulled her to her feet. “I jumped into a skyscraper today, Fiearius,” she said which made his brows rise high on his forehead, though she apparently didn’t feel the need to elaborate. “I can handle being shoved by a boy.”

A genuine smile lit his face, which she resisted returning, crossing her arms over her chest, turning away and sticking her chin in the air. She only lasted a moment though before she glanced back at him and smirked.

“Has anyone ever told you you’re a good actor?” Fiearius snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her back against his chest. “Logically, I knew this whole thing was your idea, but you still made me feel really really bad about it…”

Leta shrugged. “It’s not hard to channel anger towards you.” She turned in his embrace and reached up to put a hand on each of his cheeks. “I just think of all you’ve put me through,” she explained sweetly.

Fiearius clapped a hand to his chest as though she’d shot him there. “You wound me, my dear.”

Her hands pulled his face towards her, their noses brushing and their lips a mere inch apart. “You’ve survived worse,” she whispered and Fiearius felt a shiver run down his spine as he leaned in to close the distance.

“Really?” The two of them looked up at Cyrus who was across the room at the late E’etan’s console looking unamused. “Right now?”

Leta turned pink as her arms fell back to her side. Fiearius let out a barking laugh. He had a point. Still, he leaned in to place a very brief, but very forceful kiss upon Leta’s lips before squeezing where his hand had landed on her rear and leaving her (even more pink) to join his brother.

“Tell me it worked,” he pleaded.

Cyrus lifted his head proudly. “What’s it look like to you?” Stepping aside, he revealed the console he’d been working on, displaying the same interface E’etan had been using before. The one only accessible to the Satieran Councillor’s personal CID embedded in his arm and now accessible to the chip held in Cyrus’ hand.

“It looks like I owe you some congratulations, Councillor Soliveré.” Fiearius patted Cyrus on the back cheerfully, but he waved him away.

“Oh fuck off.”

“So the transfer went fine then?” asked Leta, finally returning to a normal color as she joined them. “You had enough time to get it worked out?”

Cyrus made that face he made when he was particularly proud of something he’d done, but it was far too nerdy for anyone else to understand. “I’d already managed to replicate the Verdant transfer system in the gun, all I had to do was find the right target CID to trigger the transfer and he’d left this console connected to it, so really it was easy to–”

“She was asking if we distracted him well enough,” Fiearius cut him off.

Cyrus provided him a frown. “Yes, you distracted him fine. Now we have access to his command system as well as yours. The fleet’s ours.”

“Thank the gods, it was so hard not to kill him.”

“Speaking of which,” Leta put in quietly, eying Cyrus with a hint of worry. “Are you–” Her head tilted just slightly towards the body behind her. “Okay? I mean, with–” The question had also occurred to Fiearius. His brother tended to avoid the more murderous parts of life on the Dionysian and yet he had just shot a man in the head. It wasn’t the first time Cyrus had needed to kill someone, surely. But it was definitely the first time he’d point blank assassinated someone.

But Cyrus just shrugged and said, “I’m fine. He killed my nephew, fuck that guy.”

For a moment, Fiearius wondered if he’d stumbled into some alternate universe. Leta, the innocent, self-righteous doctor coming up with deceitful plans and lying her way through them with ease. Cyrus, the even more innocent, timid engineer, shooting people in the head and cursing about it. There was a time either of these things would have been unfathomable. Now–

A high-pitched whirr followed by a tremendous boom that shook the ground beneath their feet instantly drew Fiearius out of his daze. One part of the plan may have been done, but outside the apartment’s window, Satieri was still being systematically destroyed.

“We should get moving,” he heard himself suggest as he fixed his gaze on where the latest blast landed.

“On it,” replied Leta and, glancing back at her, he found her already leaned over the other console and the COMM already trying to connect. It let out a cheerful ring when it made it through.

“Doctor Adler,” greeted Gates’ stern voice on the other side of the line.

“Admiral, we made it!” Leta exclaimed, sounding younger somehow when she spoke. “We found Fiearius, he’s taken control of the Society fleets, he’s holding them off! Stop attacking!”

The line went dead. No response. When Leta looked over at him, Fiearius was almost sure there wouldn’t be one at all. Had the signal been cut? Did Gates cut it himself? Maybe ‘Fiearius is alive, stop attacking’ was the last thing he wanted to hear.

But finally, his voice came through. “Is that so?”

Fiearius couldn’t help but glance outside again where just then, three distinct blasts rained from the clouds above and exploded into the city’s surface. One in the shipping district. One by the city center. He could have sworn he saw a spark of neon lights when the third hit the entertainment district.

“He killed the Councillor,” Leta continued to explain. “He’s controlling all of their ships now. That’s why there’s no retaliation.”

In the silence that followed, Fiearius could picture Gates with his hand on his chin, frowning thoughtfully and giving that slow nod he always gave. Any second now, he would give the order, the attacks would stop and Fiearius could call in his own fleet to force them into surrender. He had his finger on the COMM, ready to hail Aeneas with the signal the moment the time came.

But Gates didn’t give the order. Instead, he said, “That’s very interesting.” Leta gave Fiearius a look of alarm. Cyrus mumbled something under his breath and Fiearius frowned. Something was wrong.

“Because we thought they weren’t retaliating because you sent them across the Span.”

Leta’s eyes went wide. Her mouth fell open, but she said nothing.

“It was surprising enough to hear from our sources on Ellegy, Vescent and Ascendia that the Society fleets were focusing their efforts on our undefended bases instead of protecting Satieri,” Gates continued, his tone icy. “Imagine my shock to then learn we’d intercepted the very orders to do so coming from a tiny little stealth ship carrying our supposed allies.”

“They intercepted the transmissions out of the Spirit?” Cyrus breathed in disbelief. “How–”

“So let’s say we dispense with the charade, shall we, Doctor? I think you’ve lied enough for one day.”

Fiearius watched Leta as she went from shocked to confused to, finally, angry. Her fingers curled into a fist against the desk. Her jaw clenched. Fiearius felt Cyrus watching him, watching Leta, back to him, a silent urging behind his expression, but Fiearius was still, patient.

“Alright, Admiral. No more lies,” she said at last, the youth in her voice gone. “We’ve killed the final Councillor, we’ve assumed control of the Society, you’ve lost Ellegy, you’re about to lose Ascendia and, I haven’t checked in for a few minutes, but you’ll be lucky if you ever set foot on Vescent again. As for Satieri, we still have the firepower to dismantle your entire fleet.”

From across the room, she met Fiearius’ eye and nodded. “Now, Aeneas,” he said into his COMM. The captain on the other end gave him a noise of confirmation and Fiearius turned around to watch the dark skies as, far far above them, a cluster of lights appeared amongst the neverending expanse of stars. His loyal fleet, Quin’s loyal fleet, arriving in Satieran space.

“And we’re not afraid to use it,” Leta threatened to Gates, looking particularly pleased with herself as she leaned against the desk and watched the window along with the two brothers.

The ceaseless bombing that had started what felt like days ago, slowed. And then it stopped. For the first time in twenty minutes, the constant barrage of noise was gone. Paradiex was peaceful. Covered in smoke and burning, but the skies were not filled with fire and ships and explosions. Fiearius heard Cyrus let out a breath he’d been holding far too long.

But then Gates spoke again. “I see.” His voice from the console was clear and precise without the interference of destruction outside. “So this is where our alliance comes to an end.”

Fiearius refused to acknowledge the pang of guilt he felt in his chest. Before, Leta may have been pretending for E’etan’s sake, but some of her words had rung a little too true. It wouldn’t be the first time Fiearius was branded a traitor. It probably wouldn’t be the last. But hearing Gates himself come to terms with it didn’t do any favors to his ego. The man had pissed him off far too many times, but Fiearius couldn’t help but have a certain respect for him after all they’d been through.

Leta seemed to experiencing the same conflict. “It doesn’t have to be,” she told him, her voice a little less harsh than it had been moments before. “But this is where your siege of Satieri ends. You’re outnumbered, you know it. We don’t want to shoot you out of the skies, but we will if we have to. Surrender, it’s done.”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line. The other noises from the streets below were starting to filter in. People shouting, sirens blaring, a slow build of chaos in some ways far worse than the explosions themselves. A tension gripped Fiearius’ chest. This was the plan, it was going fine, they had almost won, so why did he feel so nervous?

Then Gates spoke again. “I’m afraid it’s not, Doctor.”

The three of them shared one short look of confusion before the ground started to shake. One quick, violent motion that nearly knocked Fiearius off his feet, followed by a sharp but steady rumble. Was the building coming down? was the first coherent thought that passed through his head. Had they been hit? Had E’etan rigged the place?

But Cyrus had the answer long before he did and when his brother, staring out the window in wide-eyed horror, breathed, “Dov’ha ti’arte…” Fiearius knew too.

On the horizon, just where the city met the sky, there was a sickly green light. A light every person in that room had seen before and prayed to never see again. It was bright, lighting up the clouds of smoke across the entire city. Night turned into a nightmarish day. Fiearius felt Leta brush up against his arm as she joined him at the window, but neither of them could speak.

“Corra’s message,” mumbled Cyrus beside him. “It wasn’t–not die, not–It wasn’t ‘not’ it was–”

“Nautilus,” Leta finished for him, swallowing hard. “I thought we blew that thing up on Vescent.”

“We did.” Cyrus’ voice cracked.

Fiearius’ brow creased in a frown and his fingers closed into a fist so tightly they drew blood. They did blow it up. He remembered that day well. It haunted his dreams more often than he cared to admit. Quin had dropped the bomb herself. He’d seen the ruins days later. They’d destroyed it. Nautilus was damaged beyond repair. Or so he had been foolish enough to believe.

The growl came from between gritted teeth. “Carthis fixed it.”

Chapter 44: Arrival Pt. 3

There was a moment then, as her hands desperately gripped the rope above her, that she knew they’d made a mistake. They were falling. They were still falling. The rope was falling with them. They had just jumped out of a falling ship to simply fall on their own. Maybe, she thought, during those impossibly long seconds, they would have been safer inside the Spirit after all.

But then she felt a violent tug on her waist. The rope in her hands went taut and suddenly, instead of falling, they were swinging.

She looked up to see the metal bond thing, distant but visible, securely fastened to the exterior beam of a neighboring skyscraper. It was the same skyscraper that was starting to get a lot bigger. Closer, would perhaps be the better word, she realized. In fact, it looked like in a matter of seconds, she was about to slam right into it.

The rope twisted a little as Cyrus climbed up a few feet towards her, but when she looked down at him, she also saw the Paradexian street seemingly miles below her and that, as it turned out, was the last thing she was able to see.

Crash.

Leta barely felt the window as she plowed through it. What she felt the most was the landing. She felt the little specks of glass dig into her skin. She felt the thumps of her body as she rolled across the grey carpeted floor. She felt the searing pain in her head when it slammed against a flimsy room divider that collapsed on contact. And most of all, she felt the rope seize around her waist when it ran out of give.

For a moment, she lay there, looking up at the strips of fluorescent lights above her and finding she was genuinely surprised to still be able to look up at all. But she could see the lights. She could also see the glass-covered desk beside her, adorned with photos of a young man and a dog. And she could see Cyrus, forcing himself onto his hands and knees and coughing violently.

Leta didn’t notice how much her hands were shaking until she pushed herself upright and reached out to him. “Cy, you okay?”

“Y-yeah,” he answered, sounding surprised at the truth himself. “You?”

Quickly, she took stock. There were cuts all over her, her head hurt, her body hurt, everything hurt. But she was alive and they had made it to Paradiex. Alive.

“I’m good.”

Cyrus looked over at her through a curtain of his dark hair, breathing heavy. And then he released a quiet manic laugh. “Gotta admit though. That was pretty cool.”

Leta returned a grin. “You are a true action hero, Cy-cy.”

As he pushed himself to his feet, his limbs shuddering and his body seemingly barely able to support itself, he mumbled, “Do action heroes feel like this after?”

Leta shrugged and took his offered hand to pull herself up. “Only the good ones.”

He snorted his appreciation and the two of them carefully stepped their way over the shattered remains of their entrance towards the blustery hole they’d made in the building. Holding her breath, Leta peered over the edge to examine the street below them. It wasn’t difficult to see what had become of the Spirit. The black chunk of metal buried in the center of the pavement covered in fire and smoke told the story well enough.

“Guess we’re not leaving anytime soon,” Cyrus muttered.

“After the trouble we went through to get here, why would you want to anyway?” Leta joked in return, trying to stay light-hearted despite the dread seeping back into her system. They were here now. They had a task ahead of them. This was only just beginning and so many more things could go wrong.

As if to punctuate her point, the building suddenly shook as one of Carthis’ blasts hit ground somewhere not too far off. She heard Cyrus audibly groan. This was his home they were destroying. And right now, they were the only two that had a chance to stop it.

They just needed to find Fiearius.

“Do you know where we are?” Leta asked.

“Ehm…” Cyrus scanned the street outside the window, looking for familiar landmarks. “Ah. Yeah. That’s the bank right over there. We’re not far. Ten minute walk. Five minute run.”

“Great.” Leta nodded, took a deep breath and turned away from the window. There weren’t any more moments to waste. “Let’s go.”

———————-

“I’m calling back the fleet.”

Fiearius turned away from the console he was using at the wall to glare at E’etan. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

“This is your plan to save Satieri?” E’etan demanded, throwing his hand towards the window where his usual view of the skyline had turned to a view of only smoke and flame. “Let Carthis destroy it?”

Fiearius’ knuckles turned white as he gripped the edge of the table. “No,” he growled. “But you have to trust me.”

E’etan didn’t. “Yes, trust the man who’s been our public enemy number one for ten years, killed all of my colleagues and now shows up threatening my life and giving me orders. Do you think me dim?”

“You’re still arguing and that threat still stands so yes,” Fiearius snapped, typing a string of commands onto the screen. “Yes you must be quite dim.”

There was nothing about this situation E’etan liked, though Soliveré was right about one thing: he didn’t really have much of a choice. When he’d made the slightest inclination towards counteracting Fiearius’ orders to the Ellegian branch of the fleet, he’d quickly found a gun at his temple. After that, he’d decided to just go along with whatever scheme the Verdant had concocted. At the very least, he was curious to see where it would go.

That is, until his old friends showed up and started mowing down E’etan’s city.

“You launched every ship we have from Satieri. All that’s left of the Ellegian forces, your band of deflectors and the ships you brought with you. They’re all in the skies. If you just call them back, we can destroy Carthis’ entire fleet and end this whole thing.” Reasoning with this fool was a lot like reasoning with a pet, E’etan was quickly discovering. You could tell it not to shit on the carpet as much as you wanted, but it was still going to do what was natural to it. And if the past decade told him anything, what came naturally to Fiearius was destruction.

He acted like he didn’t even hear him. “Any word yet from Captain Otan?”

Rolling his eyes, E’etan glanced at the console on the desk. “Nothing yet.”

“Shit,” Fiearius growled, tapping something else onto his own screen. “Fuck you, Gates…”

“Is this Carthis’ plan?” E’etan mused to himself, leaning against the window and watching Fiearius with vague interest. “Send you here to distract me from simply destroying them? Not a bad plan really.”

Fiearius snorted his disinterest. “Without me, you wouldn’t be able to destroy them.”

With you, I’m not able to destroy them,” E’etan countered. “Since you sent every defense we have elsewhere. Forget Ellegy and Vescent and fucking Ascendia, Satieri needs help now!”

He was met with a sharp glare over his shoulder. “Gods, some kinda shitty tyrant you are. Have you never played chess? It’s part of the plan, are you gonna help or are you gonna keep complaining because the offer still stands.” Fiearius lifted his gun indicatively.

Despite his irritation, getting shot in the head at this point didn’t sound all that appealing. E’etan turned back to his screen to check for any updates. “That’s your plan then? Become a tyrant?”

“Play nice and I’ll teach you how to do it properly,” Fiearius muttered in response.

“Oh I’d be honored.” Still none of the captains they’d sent to the other strongholds had sent in a report. It either meant things were going very well or very very badly. Fiearius seemed to be of the prior opinion, but as far as E’etan was concerned, it didn’t matter. He watched another streak of fire blast across the sky and bury itself in the entertainment district, sending up a plume of grey and black to join the haze. This was ridiculous. The city would be leveled before this ‘plan’ of his ever came through. His fingers hovered over the keys. He could just type the command. Call them back. He’d die, but at least Paradiex might live. If he just–

“I didn’t, by the way.”

E’etan glanced over his shoulder, but Fiearius wasn’t looking at him. “Pardon?”

“I didn’t,” he said again, his tone empty of emotion. “I didn’t kill your colleagues, the other Councillors.” E’etan let out a single laugh of disbelief, but Fiearius was unphased. “I tried, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t kill a single one.”

“Then who did?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Dez. Varisian. Leta killed two. Me though? Not a one.”

“So I’ll be your first,” E’etan remarked, expecting him to turn it towards another threat to get back to work.

But Fiearius’ expression was grim and his voice cold as ice when he said, “Fitting. Isn’t it?”

The image of a small red-haired child appeared in his mind. The boy screamed and yelled and fought as E’etan seized his hand and dragged him away from his mother who cried out in horror. He could still hear the gunshot. He could still feel the blood on his hands. He had never meant to kill the boy. The image, gruesome and heart-numbing, had never stopped haunting him even after all this time. Perhaps, if nothing else, that was one thing he and Soliveré had in common…

A nearby explosion drew him out of his daze and he turned his eyes back to the screen. “Otan’s sent an update.”

“Great, read it to me.”

“No sign of Carthian forces in Ellegian orbit, our forces moved in and–”

Suddenly, the door to the apartment flew open. Both men in the room looked up in surprise. Standing in the doorway was a woman, covered in dust and speckled with blood. Her brown hair, perhaps originally neat and put up, was a mess. Her bright green eyes were wide and fixed on Fiearius who stared back at her in a certain kind of horror and shock E’etan would never have expected from him.

“Leta?”

Chapter 44: Arrival Pt. 2

“I don’t think it should be doing this.” He pointed to a screen next to him which displayed a flashing warning. “And she’s not–” He yanked on the controls, but the ship didn’t change course. “This doesn’t seem right.”

No fucking kidding it didn’t seem right, Leta almost said. She pushed herself to her feet, bracing her hands on Cyrus’ chair as she stood over him, scanning the array of controls. “Can you move her at all?”

He pulled on the controls again. “Nothing.” There was a crack in his voice. “I’ve got nothing.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t fucking know!” he snapped. “There’s something wrong!” He slapped the warning console with the back of his hand. “I don’t know what this means!”

“Okay, calm down,” was Leta’s advice to him, but more to herself. “Calm down, we just need to figure this out, it’s–” A streak of bright fire zoomed past the window, barely missing them and making the Spirit quaver relentlessly. “Just a problem to be solved,” she breathed.

“It’s a problem I don’t understand,” mumbled Cyrus as he finally let up on the useless controls and started furiously scanning through the ship’s data. “There’s nothing wrong with the engines, the steering, the systems are all fine, running smoothly, just–” Another blast narrowly missed them. “Just I’ve lost control of them.”

Leta’s eyes fixed on the warning message flashing on the screen beside him. “Secondary mode active,” she read and Cyrus lifted his hands in a dramatic shrug.

“I don’t know what secondary mode is,” he wailed. “I don’t know how it became active, I don’t know how to make it inactive, I don’t–”

“Did you press anything?” Leta asked, hearing her own franticness in her voice.

“What?! No I didn’t–”

“Well you must have done something otherwise it wouldn’t have–”

“I know how to fly a ship, Leta, I don’t just press random buttons, I’m not a–”

“Well somehow it turned on, so–”

Whoosh. The entire ship shuddered so hard, Leta’s vision blurred. She almost lost her footing before she grabbed onto Cyrus’ chair and steadied herself. That was three very close calls in a row. All around them, fire kept falling from the sky in indistinct patterns as the Carthian ships surrounded the planet. They probably could have been hit no matter where they were, given the frequency of fire. Yet she couldn’t help but ask the question.

“Are they trying to hit us?”

Cyrus gave her a look of alarm. Before he could answer, though, a huge force pushed the Spirit across the sky. The sudden displacement knocked Leta to the ground and Cyrus barely stayed in his seat. The overhead lights switched back on, this time stark red. The alarm began to wail.

Clambering back towards the console, Cyrus was heaving deep breaths when he said, “Well if they were, they succeeded.”

Leta forced herself up, only to feel the ground beneath her feet wasn’t as solid as she would have expected. It was sinking. Fast. And the skyline outside the window, she realized in horror, was rising. Faster.

“Oh gods.”

“Okay, we’re hit, we’re falling, what can we do?” Cyrus’ facade of having it together was shaky, but it was better than Leta’s.

“Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods.”

“She must have some sort of–I don’t know, emergency something?”

“Oh gods.”

“Parachutes?”

Leta heard herself let out a high-pitched whimper, her eyes never leaving the window, the city growing so close and yet so very very far away.

“Oh!” The exclamation was just hopeful enough to pull Leta out of her panic. “Okay, bad news, we are definitely crashing, but good news!” Cyrus whacked the nearby console with his palm and then seized the controls. “Secondary mode is inactive!”

“How is that helpful if we’re crashing?!”

Cyrus’ wild laugh of response wasn’t exactly reassuring. “We can crash with direction?” he suggested as he pulled up on the controls and by some sick miracle, the ship finally responded. Leta stumbled into a seat, holding onto the armrests as the Spirit plummeted (with direction) faster and faster towards the surface.

Beside her, Cyrus grit his teeth and yanked harder on the ship’s control. The descent slowed, but only by a little, her nose tilted upwards so the city swung out of view.

“I’m sorry, this was a bad plan,” Leta heard herself shout over the blaring alarms.

Cyrus’ answer was distracted as he continued to manipulate the ship. “It’s okay.”

She was starting to feel a little frantic. “It’s not. We’re going to die before it’s even done. We’re going to die here in this tiny little ship and we won’t be able to return it to Corra and your daughter’s not going to have a father.”

“Hey–”

“This is all my fault, why did we do this?”

“Leta–”

“Cyrus, I’m in love with your brother.”

Finally, Cyrus looked over at her, if only for a moment. “Yeah. I know,” he admitted shortly. Leta gawped at him.

“Why does everyone keep saying that–”

“If you’re done,” Cyrus interrupted, still holding the controls firmly in place, keeping the ship’s descent even if not steady, but now he stood up and gestured towards them. “Can you take this?”

Confused, but without arguing, and feeling a little more like herself now, Leta carefully shuffled over and took the helm. Cyrus immediately abandoned it and headed for the back of the ship at a sprint.

“What are you doing?” she called back to him, pulling down on the ship as hard as she could.

“I have an idea!” he called back and she heard the sound of a metal panel hitting the floor. “We’re gonna follow Corra’s advice.”

“Wha–” Leta frowned. “Not die?”

“Not die!”

Well, that sounded good to her at least. Impossible, given how quickly they were headed towards being a mere dent in a Paradexian street. But good.

Cyrus returned moments later with, of all things, a rope. Which was not quite as good as Leta was anticipating. “I’m gonna tie this around you, okay?” He started to do just that, looping the rope around her waist and securing it in a knot, then, further along the rope, did the same to himself. This idea was already making Leta nervous, but when she glanced over her shoulder to see him fiddling with some sort of makeshift device at the end of the rope, it made her even moreso.

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s a rope attached to the ship’s bonding core inside the backup release valve,” he answered, as though this was all simple and elementary. “Think of it like a–magnetic grappling hook.”

“A grappling hook?!” She spun around to look at him, but inadvertently loosened her grip on the controls, causing the ship to stumble a little. Hurriedly, she reclaimed it. “This isn’t a movie, Cyrus!”

“I’m aware of that,” he snapped. “But this ship is going down and I can’t fix that so all I can do is get us out of it. And apparently there are no parachutes so.” She felt him tug on the rope attached to her waist. “Grappling hook.”

“This is insane.”

“You got a better idea?!”

Out of the window, Leta was starting to see the tops of buildings in the distance. They had a minute, maybe less. Probably less. And no, she didn’t have a better idea. The lump in her throat went down protesting. “Fine. Just–tell me when.”

Almost instantly, she heard a metal thunk of the door opening behind her, followed by a blast of air, loud and riotous, filling the Spirit’s cabin. The noise was so much, that Leta barely heard Cyrus’ voice when he shouted, “When!”

Heaving a deep breath and trying in vain to direct her windblown hair out of her eyes, Leta let go of the controls, practically fell from her seat and, as the Spirit started to tip downwards again, ran towards the back of the ship. Before she even reached Cyrus, just as she caught a glimpse of the side of a building out of the open hatch and felt more sick to her stomach than before, he pushed a button on the valve and the chunk of bondage-whatever they were attached to went soaring out of the ship, the rope flapping in the wind behind it.

She didn’t see it land, but when Cyrus yelled, “Jump!” she didn’t think. She couldn’t think because if she did she’d only think about how she was committing suicide. So instead, she approached the open door of the Spirit and she jumped.