Relief dripped from Lieutenant Athaka’s voice as he said, ‘The weather control matrix on Whixby is activating, sir. It’s beginning to dissipate the cyclone threatening the inhabited areas.’
That’s one less calamity to worry about. Rourke still glanced at the display on his armrest, at the ion storm roiling in the heart of the system, at the subspace rift still oozing tetryon radiation to agitate the nebula particles. ‘Any idea how much damage?’
‘My scans aren’t that precise right now,’ Athaka admitted. ‘But I estimate only mild.’
Mild might still mean dozens dead, and they weren’t out of the woods yet. Graelin put a voice to that fear of Rourke’s as he said tensely, ‘If we don’t close the rift soon, that ion storm will intensify and there’ll be nothing the weather control system can do against those sorts of atmospheric conditions.’
Rourke stood, hands on his hips, glowering at the viewscreen showing the drifting hulk of the Odysseus at the mouth of a now-visible tear in subspace. It was like if someone had taken a bloodied knife and slid it through the space between the stars, and now it oozed a purple pus that rapidly dissipated. ‘What’s our status there, Commander?’
‘The same as it ever was.’ Graelin managed to not growl this. ‘The rift is open. Our dekyon pulse has stopped it from growing, but the tetryon emissions are continuing. We’re not capping the situation, sir, we’re only making it become a disaster slower.’
Rourke grimaced, and looked to Lindgren. ‘Any response from the Odysseus?’
‘No, sir. But my readings have begun to clear up and I’ve just managed to pick up the King Arthur; it looks like it’s docked at an emergency airlock.’
‘Athaka, boost power to comms; Graelin, help Elsa work through the interference. If nobody’s answering on the ship, someone has to answer on the runabout.’
‘And if they don’t?’ said Graelin archly.
‘One step at a time.’ I’m not promising to kill them all just because nobody picks up a ringing comm.
Athaka was no Thawn; Rourke saw the inelegance in his work as the power allocation across the ship fluctuated. The dekyon pulse diminished for just a heartbeat before full power returned, but then the systems levelled out, and there was a victorious chirrup from Lindgren’s console.
‘Connected, sir. Putting you through now.’
‘King Arthur, this is Endeavour,’ Rourke called, heart in his throat. ‘Report.’
There was silence, then Graelin sucked on his teeth. ‘They’re out of temporal alignment with us; Lieutenant, I’m sending you an equation to modulate your signal so they can pick it up.’
‘Are we going to have to wait ten minutes for each response?’ said Rourke.
Graelin shook his head. ‘The delay’s on their side. They’re experiencing time much faster. We just need to be comprehensible if they haven’t figured it out.’
‘Implementing the calibrations and repeating your message, sir,’ called Lindgren.
Quickly, almost too quickly, came the fraught voice of Lieutenant Arys. ‘Arys here, sir. We’re evacuating most of the crew from a disaster shelter in the mess hall. What’s going on?’
‘The rift’s trying to crack open and rip you apart; we’re stopping it from doing that, but every second it’s open is a second the ion storm forming in the system gets worse,’ Rourke warned. ‘Where’s Commander Valance?’
‘Valance, Cortez, and Kharth are – it’s a long story, sir, they’re trying to retake Main Engineering. They’re with Commander Airex. Commander Aquila’s still on the bridge.’
‘Are there any other crewmembers unaccounted for?’
A hesitation. ‘A handful. But we have most of the crew on the King Arthur, Captain; I was waiting on the others.’
Graelin leaned forwards. ‘If most of the crew are on the King Arthur, they should get out of there,’ he urged, voice low.
‘And leave the others behind?’ Rourke snapped.
‘We might have to close this rift with very little warning. There are shuttles on the Odysseus; they have other getaway routes.’
Rourke scowled and turned back to the viewscreen. ‘Can you contact the others, Arys?’
‘Negative, sir. Do we wait for them?’
Five lives. Five lives at the least, three of them – four of them – his own. Against the hundred souls on the King Arthur, the hundreds of thousands of souls on Whixby. Rourke glared at the deck, before he rumbled, ‘Get the King Arthur out of there.’
Because Tar’lek Arys was a dutiful young officer, he barely hesitated when he said, ‘Yes, sir.’ But there was a hesitation.
‘They have Cortez,’ Lindgren said softly as the line went dead. ‘And Commander Airex. If anyone’s going to get them out of a tough spot…’
‘I know,’ Rourke said quickly. ‘We have to trust them. Tell me when the King Arthur is clear of the rift.’
Graelin nodded. ‘We should consider intensifying our dekyon pulse once the runabout is clear.’
Rourke turned to him, chin up. ‘That will bring the rift shut on the Odysseus. That’ll kill everyone aboard.’
‘And save everyone in the system.’ As if fate agreed with him, there was a fresh rumble through the hull of Endeavour, the distant and nascent ion storm’s effects making themselves felt.
‘It’s not time yet.’
‘Sir! This isn’t like turning a tap on and off; even if we shut the rift now, the tetryon radiation already in the system is going to agitate and ionise the nebula particles, and the storm will keep forming for possibly as long as another hour before it disperses.’
‘The weather control systems on Whixby are designed to see the planet through mild storms.’
‘And every minute we delay, the more intense the storm will become and the longer it will take for it to disperse before -’
Rourke rounded on him. ‘I don’t need you to explain the science to me, Commander. I do not misunderstand you; I disagree with you.’ Graelin looked struck, and out of the corner of his eye, Rourke could see a guarded expression fall across Lindgren’s face. He swept his eyes around the bridge, at Juarez at Tactical, at what were largely relief officers manning their posts, and drew a sharp breath. ‘A year ago, Commander Valance risked this ship to save my life at the Azure Nebula, even against my orders. Six months ago, Commander Cortez locked herself behind blast doors to protect the ship while she repaired an EPS conduit, and if she hadn’t succeeded, she’d have been killed. Lieutenant Kharth has protected all of you over and over again, against the Wild Hunt, against the D’Ghor, against the Star Empire. We will show them the same courage, loyalty, and trust they have shown us.’
And Dav Airex saved us all – saved Teros – from Omega. But none of you can ever know what he came so close to dying for.
Expressions were set in conviction across the bridge; all but the gaze of Graelin, glaring and stewing. Rourke knew what he was thinking; that this had been an appeal to emotion over reason, that willing the day to be saved was not the same as saving it. The most damning thing was that he knew he was right.
Rourke sat back in his command chair, gripping the armrests tight. ‘Maintain the dekyon pulse, Athaka,’ he called clearly. ‘Bring the King Arthur aboard as soon as possible. For now, we hold this line.’