Em and I raced up to the topdeck even as the klaxon’s finished their blaring. The cockpit itself was a storm of contention, even as the lights of the ion storm before us flashed across the viewport.
“How did you not see this coming, Gator?” Mearr was screaming as she took her seat at the controls and strapped herself in. “I thought you plotted us a clear course.”
“Nothing is perfect, especially space navigation.” Gator’s voice was still mechanical and controlled, but I thought I could detect a hint of fear under his measured tones.
“Yeah, well it’s a good thing I’m in the mood for a challenge,” said Mearr with a wry grin. “Sys, how long until you get the shielding angled and under your control?”
“It was ready as soon as you said ion storm.”
“Good. Now strap yourselves in, folks.”
Guhle settled in next to Mearr in the copilot’s chair. Not so much because he was needed, more in case he would be.
The viewport flashed and went dark as its autocorrecting panels dimmed to block out the glare of the oncoming storm. The ship rocked as bolts danced across our front, but even I could tell that this was but the edge of the storm.
“I need that shielding angled on our port side,” said Mearr. “It’s looking dense over there.”
“On it,” came Sys’s terse reply.
I turned to Em, who stood with her hands grasped tightly on the back of a passenger’s chair. Eyes wide with fright.
“What’re they doing?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. Ion storms could fry the whole system. Life support. Power. Engines. Everything.”
“They are riding its currents,” said Gator, turning just slightly enough away from the viewport to make certain we heard him.
“How?” I asked. “How’re we supposed to survive this?”
“Neutron shielding,” said Em automatically. “Thick plates of ablative armor that’ll slide across any external port. Blocks any way in or out of any conductive surface. Total protection.”
“But we would rather avoid that, if possible,” said Gator before my inevitable question could escape my lips. “The neutron shielding would cover all external viewports, preventing us from effectively navigating. We would have to float our way through the storm, which could take months.”
“So instead we’re trying to ride our way through? How?”
Gator nodded to the forward viewport, where I could now see the flashes of the ion storm dancing on our forward bow.
No. Not on it. Against a point not so far away from it.
“They are angling our deflector shields in order to stave off the brunt of the electrical discharge,” said Gator. “Provided they keep it up, we will come through the storm with little damage to our core systems.”
“Uh-huh,” I said skeptically as I watched another violent flash dance across the viewport. “And how long is that going to take us?”
Gator hesitated. “Depends on how big the storm is.”
I stepped up to Gator’s side. “Do you have a guess?”
“A few days. Maybe a week.”
“And they have to keep this up the whole time?”
“Not if you lot keep talking, we won’t,” growled Mearr, wrestling with the controls. “We can all call it quits if you keep distracting us.”
The entire cockpit fell into a tense hush then. Obviously not wanting to disturb the only two people who were doing any actual work.
Hours passed. Sys and Mearr continued to press forward into the storm while the rest of us watched in tense anticipation for something to go horribly wrong.
Eventually, it did.
“Damn it,” said Mearr as an especially violent flash of ion danced overhead. “Tell me that didn’t fry something.”
Sys scrambled across her system readouts, all six arms flying across switches and levers. “We’ve got a starboard maneuvering jet malfunctioning.”
“I can feel that,” said Mearr. “Is there anything important missing?”
“Hull integrity intact,” said Sys, still poring over readouts while simultaneously adjusting shielding systems. “We’re experiencing some power fluctuations, though. On deck three. It might compromise my ability to adjust shielding on the starboard side. Impossible to say without-”
“Em!” screamed Mearr. “Get down there and get it working again. Now!”
“Take hatchling with you,” said Gator. “You might need the help.”
“Yeah, maybe he can do something useful for a change,” said Mearr as we turned to go.
I couldn’t help but notice the jab. But I decided at the time to attribute it to her present frustrations, rather than any overall attitude toward me.
At any rate, I didn’t have time to worry about Mearr and my relationship. Em was beckoning me toward the service lifts and I had to race to keep up with her surprisingly long strides.
Em and I made our way down to deck three and found ourselves confronted by one of the Farseers.
“What is happening?” he said.
“No time,” growled Em, pushing her way past him.
He wouldn’t budge.
“Destabilization. Power fluctuations. There is something wrong with the ship.”
“You know, for a so-called Farseer, you sure aren’t paying attention, are you?”
The Farseer did not respond.
“We’re flying through an ion storm,” said Em. “And I’ve got to make sure this baby holds together, or else we’re all so much positively-charged vapor, all right?”
“I see no storm…” said the Farseer, and I thought I detected a hint of fear in his voice. But Em and I didn’t have time to stick around and contemplate it. We had a ship to fix, so we finally pushed past the Farseer and raced toward the starboard side of the ship.