Chapter 47: Ark Pt. 3

She felt Fiearius’ hand on the back of her chair. “No idea. Just came out of nowhere and started attacking us. So I brought in Aeneas for backup, Carthis followed and now…” He waved his hand toward the window at the flashing clouds of the battle. “This.”

“Well it’s not shooting at us anymore so I’ll take it,” muttered Cyrus in the pilot’s seat who, for someone sitting down, was remarkably out of breath.

Leta frowned. “If Carthis is attacking it too…”

“Not theirs,” Fiearius confirmed. “They probably think it’s ours.”

“But it’s not?” Leta glanced at him. “It’s not some Society thing? Security or–” Fiearius was already shaking his head. As was Cyrus.

“It’s not even the right tech,” he said, seemingly relieved to have a reprieve from the intense piloting. “I’ve never seen anything like this, I don’t even know any planet capable of making something like this, it’s–”

Suddenly, his voice choked in his throat. Leta looked over at him in alarm to find his eyes wide and his jaw dropped. Before she could ask what was wrong, he answered. “It’s not Carthis. It’s not the Society. It’s Corra.”

Fiearius and Leta shared a look. “Corra’s trying to kill us now too?!” he demanded.

“Wha–no!” Cyrus growled. “She’s trying to help! This ship, it’s not something from our time. It’s ancient, it’s foreign, it’s–”

“From the Origin,” Leta breathed, her eyes transfixed on the shadow obscured by clouds. “She used the Transmission.”

“Looks that way…” Cyrus muttered in confirmation.

Fiearius had a frown of confusion upon his brow, but he seemed to decide now wasn’t the time to question. It was the time to act. “Can we get in touch with her?”

“We can try.” Leta spun her chair back towards the controls and activated the COMM. It was fortunate she’d called the Beacon so many times from so many locations that she’d finally memorized its CID number. The screen lit up its connection right away, but it wasn’t Corra’s voice that greeted her.

“The system you are trying to reach is occupied by Origin Ark Assist,” said an other-worldy voice, interspersed with static from the shoddy connection. “Communications are currently on back-up and cannot be–”

Suddenly, it was cut off. “Connect, connect, connect, god, this thing!” And that voice was miraculously familiar.

“Corra!”

There was a gasp. “Leta! Thank god, I didn’t think it was going to let us answer. It’s blocking everything, we can’t even–”

As many questions as Leta may have had about what ‘Origin Ark Assist’ meant, why it was occupying her ship and how it was blocking her communications, there wasn’t a lot of time to waste asking them. “Corra, what happened, what is this thing? Did the Transmission call it here?”

“Sort of,” was her cryptic answer. Another ten questions Leta didn’t have the free seconds to ask sprang into her mind. “They’re arks, they’re empty as far as I can tell, but they have a moral obligation to–”

“Wait, they?” interject Cyrus. “They?”

“I guess you haven’t looked up in a while.” That was Alyx. “There’s three.”

“Great,” Leta heard Fiearius mutter behind her. “Not one, not two, but three giant death machines.” He paused a moment and then presumably looked out of the bay window and remembered the green pulse in the storm. “Sorry, four.”

“We can’t control them,” Corra told them. “Addy’s trying everything, but we can’t override their programming. Not until we get the Caelum Lex back.”

“The–” Cyrus stammered. “Why?”

“Their prime objective is to protect it. I guess being on the Nautilus classified it as under attack. And now they’re under attack which is the second thing and — this doesn’t matter,” Corra snapped impatiently. “We need the Caelum Lex out of danger. Being on the Beacon is out of danger. Then they’ll stop attacking. That’s it.”

Cyrus looked worried, Fiearius frustrated, but Leta, for the first time in days, smiled. She felt the weight in her pocket and thanked the gods she’d done something right at least. Just as Cyrus was saying something about going back, she cut him off. “I have it.”

Both pairs of eyes swung to her. “I took it from the Nautilus.” She reached into her pocket and drew out the sphere. “I have it.”

“Shit,” Fiearius breathed in appreciation. “You fuckin’ genius.”

“Well–good! Get it here, then! We’re just entering Satieri’s atmosphere,” said Corra.

Cyrus gripped the ship controls and started to turn her. “Locked onto your signal and on the way.”

Despite the raging storm outside (and partially inside), despite the ancient ships hanging over the planet, despite the myriad problems still laid out in front of them, as Leta leaned back in her chair, she felt some glimmer of hope that all was not entirely lost. She watched as Fiearius leaned over her to send out a command for all ships to disengage from the ark. She glanced at Cyrus, skillfully navigating them around ship fire from the raging battle. And then she looked out of the window as a Carthian ship lifted into its vision and blocked their path.

“Oh shit,” Cyrus whispered as the cannons started to charge a shot.

“Don’t they have something better to do?” snapped Fiearius.

“Cy?!” exclaimed Leta when it didn’t seem like their ship was moving out of the way fast enough.

And then in a flash of red light, the Carthian ship was gone.

The three of them stared in wonder as they zoomed past the explosion, barely any debris left to speak of. The ship had been entirely decimated by the blast from the ark, a few chunks of metal plating and dust all that remained. The ark had certainly done them a favor. Convenient, Leta thought, feeling a little shocked by it. Coincidence…

Or maybe it wasn’t.

As they continued through the storm, she saw another flash of red and, below, green. The idea struck her straight in the chest.

“Wait, stop!”

Both Cyrus and Fiearius looked over at her in alarm. “We can’t go to the Beacon yet. We still need to take care of the Nautilus,” she argued.

“Yeah, I’m aware of that, but one death machine at a time, okay?” Fiearius grumbled.

“No, you don’t understand.” Leta pushed herself up in her seat, ignoring the sharp pain that ran from her arm through her chest. “We can use one to fight the other.” She lifted the Caelum Lex in front of him, hoping the thought would click in his head.

It didn’t. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Leta groaned and put her hand over her forehead. “Didn’t you see what just happened? That Carthian ship threatened us. And the ark took it down.”

“Its prime objective is to protect the Caelum Lex,” Cyrus muttered, thankfully understanding where his brother did not.

“Exactly!” Leta exclaimed, turning around in her chair to face Fiearius. “And when it tried to shoot you and hit the Nautilus instead–”

“Its blast went straight through the shields,” finished Cyrus. “Whatever it’s using, it’s not tech that we planned for, the shields are useless against it.”

Leta lifted the Caelum Lex even higher in front of Fiearius’ face. He glared down at it thoughtfully and then glanced at her. “You suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”

“If what you’re thinking is crazy and dangerous and based only on a rough understanding of ancient programming and its reactions to things, but just might save your planet from being completely destroyed? Then yes.”

Fiearius considered her for a moment. It was a long shot, Leta knew, but as of this moment, it was still the best shot they had. And since when did Fiearius turn down long shots?

“Alright.” He shrugged. “Cy, land the ship.”

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 47: Ark

image1

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. Continue reading

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 46: Heights

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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. Continue reading