Into the Silence — Chapter 21

The lights were going haywire. First it was too dark to see, then a flash would nearly blind me. I could hear gasses escaping from some containment nearby, but I couldn’t see where in the flickering light.

It was also very cold.

“Damn. If I can feel that, I’ll bet you’re a popsicle, aren’t you, hatchling?”

I didn’t bother replying. I knew Em wouldn’t listen. She was too focused on finding the source of the problem.

“Go retrieve the deck’s toolbox,” she said, waving vaguely in the direction of the lift. “Hopefully I’ll find this bastard before you get back.”

The ship rocked as I made my way back toward the lift. Why Em hadn’t grabbed it on our way in, I had no idea. Maybe the Farseer had distracted her. Maybe she was hoping there was nothing wrong.

Another crashing noise and the lights died completely on our side of the ship.

“Damn it!” I heard Em shout. “Can you see anything?”

“No,” I said.

“Figures. Useless human vision.”

I granted her that, assuming that her species could see in infrared or some other useful-in-the-dark spectrum. As I stumbled about, I thought about how nice it would be to have a suit like Gator’s. He not only probably had infrared vision, but he also probably had a toolbox secreted about his person. Why hadn’t he come down to help Em?

I managed to find the lift as the deck below me rocked again. The comm came alive and I heard Guhle’s voice on the other end of it. Staticky.

“Mearr wants to know how’s it coming?”

“Peachy,” I growled through the comm.

“Glad to hear it. Any chance of getting the power back on soon?”

“Any chance of not hitting anymore bolts anytime soon?”

“Sorry. Power fluctuations are interfering with shielding control. You need to get that power rerouted fast.”

“Well then you’d better stop bothering me,” I said, switching the comm off.

Truth was, though, I didn’t have any idea what I could do. Sure, there was supposed to be a toolbox somewhere around here. But I didn’t know where it was and even if I did I doubted my ability to navigate my way back to Em in this darkness.

I had failed. And we were all going to die. I just knew it.

Of course, we didn’t. But that’s almost a small consolation in the face of what happened after.

In that moment, however, I was convinced that we were all goners. Without the toolbox, Em couldn’t repair the power. Without power, Sys couldn’t angle the shields. And without the shielding protecting us from the ion storm, Mearr wouldn’t be able to pilot our way through to the other side.

We would die. Systems surging with ionic electricity, overloading them, shutting them down. Impossible to repair.

If we even lasted long enough to care. I didn’t know much about ionic storms, but I knew about regular storms, with regular lightning, and how it would fry your nerves and cook your flesh if you were hit by it for any prolonged period of time. If ionic lightning was anything like that, well, I figured I could look forward to a quick and maybe painless death.

My attention was drawn away from my morbidity by a clatter and a scraping sound like something heavy being dragged across the floor.

“Is this what you seek?”

The Farseer stepped into view, recognizable only by the blinking lights on his chest panel. He switched on an exterior light when he no doubt noticed that I couldn’t see him, and I saw a large metal box held in his hands.

I sprang to my feet, flipped open the lid of the box, and beheld layers and layers of tools inside.

“Yeah,” I said, a well of elation filling up inside me. “That’s it.”

We hurried to Em, the Farseer’s lights guiding my steps as we went. She was grumpy I had taken so long, but pleased nonetheless.

With my task complete, she muttered that I should stay out of the way until I was needed again.

I turned to the Farseer. “How did you know what we needed?”

“I am a Sentinel,” he said. “One of the waking ones. We see all that is, but not what was or what will be.”

“I see…” I said doubtfully. They had used the explanation before. But it still seemed like so much mysticism to me. “Then why couldn’t you see the storm?”

The hesitation in the Farseer’s demeanor was impossible to misread.

“I do not know,” he said at last. And again, that hint of fear.

Twenty minutes later, the lights were back on and Em was back to her peppy self.

“Alright,” she said. “Our work is done here. But we should probably stick around in case it doesn’t hold. Always impossible to tell with patch jobs like these.”

“Em, hatchling, get up here,” came Gator’s voice on the intercomm. “The network is overloading. We need you in the cockpit, now!”

“So much for that,” grumbled Em as she stalked past me toward the lift.

The Farseer accompanied us as we rode up to the cockpit. I wondered privately if he wanted to see the storm for himself. Confirm that it was, in fact, real.

There could be no doubt of it as the lift doors opened. Lances of brilliant green and blue lightning danced across the forward viewport, and I could even see some violet sparks flying up from couplings on the floor.

“Shit!” cried Em, rushing forward, pulling on gloves as she went. “This is why you don’t patch together a data stream using retrofitted electrical cables. What were you thinking?”

“That we wouldn’t be flying through an ion storm,” said Sys, still scrambling across her controls.

Mearr was still staring determinedly out the front viewport, clutching the controls as they rocked in her hands, and the ship buckled beneath our feet. I could see lines of tension in her neck and forehead. Had she been hairless, beads of sweat would no doubt have been gathering on her forehead.

That’s how I remember her best. The right combination of haired and hairless.

“Sys,” shouted Mearr after a few more moments of frenzied maneuvers. “I need you up here, I can’t keep shouting back angles at you. Come take Guhle’s seat.”

Guhle pushed himself up and out of his chair as Sys scrambled down in a flash before adjusting the shielding angles yet again.

“This is insane,” said Guhle to Gator, keeping his voice low enough to avoid Mearr or Sys hearing him. “They’re good. But they can’t keep this up indefinitely.”

“They do not have to,” said Gator evenly. “They only need to keep it up long enough.”

“And how long is that? How long is it before we lower the shields or the ship gets fried? Will you be able to see the moment of decision?”

Gator hesitated. In that hesitation, I felt the same fear that I had heard in the Farseer below.

“Why didn’t you see this coming?” said Guhle. “It’s too big to have come up at random. Why wasn’t it on the charts?”

“The charts are not a perfect guide,” said Gator. “Anomalies happen all the time. They simply tend to happen in areas that we are not. This time-”

“Bullshit!” And this time Guhle spoke loudly enough for Sys and Mearr to notice. “The reason you’re on this ship is so we can avoid these random, freak accidents. So we don’t drift near a premature supernova or an enterprising pirate fleet. What good are you if you can’t see an ion storm the size of a nebula coming from half a lightyear away?”

“You exaggerate the anomaly’s size,” said Gator. But there was no fight in his voice. It was barely above a mutter. He knew he didn’t have a good answer for Guhle, but he did not have the stomach to admit it. He alone among us really knew what this storm meant.

A blindspot in Farseer dreaming. Such a thing was more dangerous than all the fleets of the galaxy.

But we didn’t have the time to consider those implications at the time. No doubt Gator dwelled on them in the aftermath of the storm. We all had a lot of time to think during the aftermath. But most of us had other things to worry about.

Gator? He would worry over his failure for months. That’s likely why we didn’t see him much during the lockdown.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A flash of the storm brought all of our attentions back to the forward viewport, as Sys and Mearr simultaneously cursed, and Em let out a howl of pain.

“Come on!” screamed Mearr at her new copilot. “If you can’t get those shields up in time then tell me and I’ll move the ship to somewhere you can!”

“It’s not a question of angle, Mearr. The storm is too big. We can’t stop all of it. We just don’t have enough power.”

“Em! I need more power!”

“Em’s down,” said Gator, kneeling as he was beside her on the deck. “She was hit by a power surge after that most recent flash. I need to get her to the captain’s medical bay immediately.”

“Fine. Guhle, see what you can give me. Get on the operations panel over there.”

Guhle stood in the center of the cockpit and stared sadly down at Mearr’s reflection in the viewport.

“Don’t just stand there, get on that panel.”

“You’re done,” he said. “It’s over. Lower the neutron shields.”

“Not yet. We can still hold out. Sys, angle seventy percent of shields to the forward bays, surround our approach. Pull power from life support on decks five through three.”

Sys began following Mearr’s instructions, but then Guhle took two long strides forward and pressed a switch on the pilot’s control bank.

“What the hell!”

Heavy, black panels lowered over the viewport, obstructing our view of the outside world.

“It’s over, Mearr,” said Guhle, standing above her. “We’ll have to drift the rest of the way.”

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