‘How did this happen so quickly?’
Falyn Nyder’s office was the administrative hub of all of Whixby, full now with Thawn, several leading figures of the administration, and Falyn herself. But all Sophia Hale needed to do was take two steps inside and ask a polite but firm question, and there was no doubt who was in charge.
‘I’m not a meteorologist,’ Thawn admitted, tearing her eyes away from the display over Falyn’s desk. From here they had access to the planetary conditions system, or at least anything the Board of Tourism had set up over the years. It was not the most robust setup, designed to do nothing but give weather warnings for a sedate island paradise, but she’d seen clearer horizons.
That went for the literal horizon, the skies now turned to grey and shadow, the distant seas to agitation and froth. For the moment there was no more than the shuddering of windows as high winds pelted Sanditor, but it would not stop there.
Hale looked from the window to Falyn. ‘Is this how it started before? With the rift?’
‘I…’ Falyn worked her jaw wordlessly. ‘I don’t know. The cyclone didn’t hit here. We’ve never had any weather this bad hitting Sanditor.’
Hale regarded her for a heartbeat more, her eyes then dragging across Falyn’s bewildered staff, before landing on Thawn. ‘What does Endeavour report? Doctor Sadek’s team?’
‘I – I can’t raise them on comms,’ Thawn admitted. ‘But the communication system here isn’t the most sophisticated, so I’m having a little trouble identifying why, so I don’t really know what to do about it.’
‘Alright,’ said Hale, and drew a deep breath. ‘Keep trying. We need to know the situation as a whole. Meanwhile, what are we looking at here, Ms Nyder?’ Her voice was gentle yet firm, like hands wrapping around Falyn to trap but not hurt her, force her to confront the situation.
Falyn still flapped her hands. ‘This is already a Category 3 cyclone and it looks like it’s on a path to escalate to a Category 5 soon. That’s wind speeds of two hundred kilometres an hour or more, with a very high chance of spawning tornadoes as well as…’
‘In which case, you need to see to the protection of the islands, Ms Nyder,’ said Hale calmly. ‘Everywhere you can contact. Make sure there are designated shelters and ensure local leaders are getting people to those shelters.’
‘Buildings as far in-land as possible that are least likely to collapse, or have other buildings collapse on them; anywhere with sturdy underground construction.’ Hale hesitated, looking like she didn’t want to offend, then said, bluntly, ‘Wine cellars.’
Falyn swept into a huddle with her staff, and Thawn had to think hard to block out the worry and considerations swarming off them while she focused on the display of Sanditor’s systems. ‘I’ve got it,’ Thawn said at last. ‘The Tekiros, one of the transport ships still in orbit, has a fairly modern sensor and comm system. I’ve managed to connect to their sensor feed, and I’m going to try to bounce a comm signal off them and to the buoy Endeavour left in orbit. That should raise us the ship and the Azure Chain.’
‘Show me the sensors, then,’ said Hale, ‘and get us a line to the outside world.’
Thawn grimaced. ‘You’re not a meteorologist either, ma’am.’
‘No, but I’m definitely not a comms systems specialist, so let’s focus on getting one job done, shall we?’ Then the door behind them was thrown open anew.
‘Okay, it is getting seriously dodgy out there!’ Nate Beckett looked like a drowned rat in a loud shirt as he squelched into Nyder’s office.
‘Where have you been?’ Thawn demanded, not tearing her eyes from the comm systems. ‘I called for -’
‘We were guiding in pleasure yachts from the bay, because they’re crewed by tourists who have no idea how to not die in high winds!’ he retorted. ‘When I got your message I was almost a kilometre off the coast, so excuse me.’
‘Ensign, it’s good to see you,’ Hale slipped in without missing a beat. ‘Help me make sense of these sensor readings.’
Grumbling, Beckett made his soggy way across the office to Hale’s display, only to immediately say, ‘Well, that’s not good.’
‘However you explain it, please set your universal translator to “diplomat.”’
‘This shouldn’t have happened so fast,’ he said, but before Thawn could point out they already knew that, he was gesturing across the sensor feed and carrying on. ‘But from the Tekiros it looks like there’s a new surge of tachyons close to the planet. Those are what agitate the nebula particles and ionise them, and they were already pretty agitated from a few days ago. So the ionic front is forming faster than it normally would. We’ve got a level 1 ion storm above Whixby already.’
‘That’s why we’ve got a cyclone whipping up right away here,’ said Hale with dawning realisation.
‘Yeah, but…’ Beckett leaned back to look at Thawn, making a face. ‘Our new weather control system should be eating the effects of a level 1, right?’
‘It should,’ she said without looking back, then made a noise of frustration. ‘I can’t raise Endeavour; with the ion storm between us and them, even using the buoy in orbit, the signal can’t get through.’
‘Try the Azure Chain,’ said Hale gently.
‘Yes, ma’am.’ There was a moment as the display shifted to connect, and for a heartbeat Thawn thought she had visual – before that collapsed, and all that came through was a reedy audio.
‘Sanditor? Is that you?’ Sadek’s voice was crackly, but understandable.
Thawn swallowed. ‘It’s Thawn, Doctor. What’s your status?’
‘Terrible. High winds, cyclone bearing down on us. Have you heard from Forrester and Harkon?’
They exchanged confused glances. ‘No,’ said Thawn. ‘Should we?’
‘This blasted storm. There was a malfunction in the weather control matrix, the pylon on Starglimmer Isle was out of alignment. They were heading there with the Bedivere to repair when this all started.’
Beckett snapped his fingers. ‘That’s why we’ve got a cyclone kicking off at the slightest provocation.’
‘Except we got a distress call from them just as this all started, and from the control system here, the pylon’s not been touched.’
Hale raised her voice, and Thawn thought it was a lot more comforting for her and Sadek to speak, both of them relaxed even in a crisis. ‘Can you dispatch another repair team?’
‘Flight conditions here are so bad that if anyone else sets off, they’re going to need their own rescue party in about five seconds.’
Thawn looked at Hale. ‘Starglimmer’s closer to Sanditor than the Azure Chain.’ Then her throat tightened, and her gaze snapped back to the display not even showing Sadek. ‘Did Lieutenant Rhade reach you?’
‘Don’t worry, Lieutenant, he’s out there personally saving babies from high winds with his shirt off, or something,’ Sadek drawled. ‘But unless you can raise Endeavour, fix the weather matrix, or magic me a bunch of bunkers, I’m going to have to get back out there.’
‘Stay safe, Azure Chain,’ said Hale, and the comm-line went dead. She drew a deep breath and looked between the two officers. ‘Is there anything we can do to raise Endeavour?’
Thawn shook her head, biting her lip. ‘I assume that something’s happened with the rift, and they’re there. Until the ion storm abates or they get closer, we don’t have the power to contact them.’
‘Then let’s assume that Endeavour will make sure the ion storm isn’t about to rip the entire planet apart,’ said Hale.
‘Because we can’t do anything about that anyway?’ Beckett winced.
‘Precisely. Which leaves us with the weather control matrix. Where is Starglimmer compared to us?’
Thawn dragged up the display giving them the latest from the ships in orbit and their own planetary monitoring systems. ‘The cyclone is more or less between us and the Azure Chain, but they’re deeper into it. On the one hand, it’s heading west, towards us. On the other hand, it’s also growing.’
‘That’s the worst luck,’ Beckett grumbled. ‘But there’s Starglimmer to the north. A little further in.’
‘I can take the Prydwen,’ said Thawn after a moment’s thinking. ‘Skirt the cyclone as best I can, set down at the pylon, realign it and restore the weather control matrix. That should dissipate the cyclone, and keep conditions on Whixby relatively stable.’
‘So long as the ion storm up there doesn’t escalate beyond, say, Level 3,’ mused Beckett. ‘Also we’re going to have to fly pretty deep into the cyclone if we want to get there before this gets much worse.’
Thawn’s head snapped around to him. ‘We?’
He made a face. ‘This isn’t a solo mission, and also, I’m a better pilot than you?’
Hale lifted her hands. ‘All we can do here is batten down the hatches, so to speak. Beckett is right.’
‘Not to mention,’ he added, ‘Harkon and Forrester are somewhere out there on the Bedivere.’
‘You understand,’ said Hale, voice taut, ‘that the weather control matrix must be the priority?’
‘I get it,’ said Beckett. ‘We’ll have an easier time rescuing them not in a storm that could drown all of these islands.’
Thawn sighed. ‘Alright. We’ve got gear and clothes on the Prydwen,’ she said, looking between her dress and Beckett’s sandals. ‘Just fly the ship and watch my back.’
‘Hey,’ said Beckett, opening his hands as they stepped away from the desk. ‘I’m happy to hold your coat and wait in the shuttle while you fix things.’
Falyn detached from the throng of officials, wringing her hands together. ‘You’re going out there?’ she said, casting an eye on the stormy horizon beyond her office windows.
‘To stop this entire island from drowning, hopefully, yes,’ said Thawn, out of sympathy or diplomacy. ‘Do me one favour, Falyn, and listen to Ms Hale.’
‘And remember,’ chirped Beckett at her shoulder. ‘Starfleet’s here to save the day. Uh, again.’ They left, hurrying through the corridors of Falyn’s offices as best they could in highly unsuitable footwear, and he waited until they were in the wide lobby before he spoke again. ‘Does Hale actually know how to run a disaster like this?’
‘I have no idea,’ Thawn admitted, looking through the open doors where the wind howled and raged, and threatened to very soon be more than just a danger to patio furniture. If the cyclone bore down on Sanditor, it could level the settlement even before it drowned it. ‘But I think she has more common sense than everyone else on this wretched island put together. Someone has to get everyone to shelter in case we fail.’
For a heartbeat, she felt the worry come off him like a wave, then as she watched he smothered it with an iron grip inside of shunting emotions to one side and a toothy grin on his face. ‘Come off it, Thawn. Dream team like us? We’ll be sipping mai tais on a dock before you know it.’