Necessary Sacrifices, or, How Do You Look At A Blind Spot
Lorenzo walked on a level plane above Cornucopia, his arms crossed behind his back.
Below, time progressed, rewound. Altered, progressed, rewound.
Lorenzo paced, his bare feet padding on void.
He was thinking.
Song leapt down the red-lit halls of the August, using the subtle grip features built into the padded bulkhead to maneuver herself through the microgravity.
They were falling. Slow, but unstoppable. No engines left, a core shaken and unstable.
The August was dying.
//Aug, how’s Arkady?//
//Will he make it?//
//It’s a coin toss. He lost a lot of blood, Commander//
Song grimaced. If she’d flown better counterfactuals, if she’d focused the dagger--
No. She made the right choice, no matter the cost.
Lorenzo sat crosslegged and watched.
The three daggers came about, slow. His skip drones slammed into two of them, atomizing the ships in a moment.
Why not the third?
He peered closer, slowed time to a fraction. Held his drone in the palm of his hand.
//Commander, we don’t have time//
//Can it, Aug, we have time//
//If you don’t head for the shuttle--//
//I’ll go down with the ship, like a goddamn commander should// Song cast, a red edge to her thought.
Aug’s silence filled the null of microgravity.
//Your call. I’m ready to go//
A straight leap up the spinal bore. She had Arkady’s keyspike. Thirty seconds was all she needed.
The August was sinking, imperceptible but inevitable. The dagger had caught their aft, torn the ship in two.
The Aun only wanted to cripple them.
//Two landers closing. Hurry, Song//
He had pulled the moment up to his plane. Built for himself a near-perfect rendering from every angle and presumed subjectivity.
At the one: an actual problem for him to solve.
At the other: he couldn’t solve it.
Something… different occured. He ran it again.
Song clung to a bulkhead feature, tucked into shadow. A hundred meters of spinal corridor between her and where she needed to be.
Two landers of Aunic marines were somewhere behind her.
She could feel strain in her arm. They were falling faster now.
//Aug, fire the shuttle//
The shuttle needed a clean entry window or the atmosphere would shred it into white-hot slag over some distant Cornucopian ocean.
Song watched it, a dim waypoint in her HUD. Arkady and the others aboard.
Vibrations against her palm. The Aun were coming.
//Just us now, Aug//
Lorenzo saw Aug’s ping, waved his hand and turned his remaining bombers into an escort for the shuttle.
There was an absence. An abscess. A thick void where the skip drone had been. A tangle of manifolds contradicting and confirming. How many other ways did it end like this?
Song’s PDW tore the first marine’s legs away, sending it spinning into the middle space. She fired another long burst, catching two more as she kicked and dove down.
Hardlight bolts cut clean holes in the vacuum, utterly silent.
The door slammed shut. Fifty yards to go.
Song skipped off the corridor. Shit. Gravity. She scrambled up, fired blind back down the hall, and ran -- the ship tilted up, which meant they were falling.
//Aug, how long?//
//Where’s my suit?//
//Ejected. I can call her back//
//Do it, be ready to catch//
An aspect of Lorenzo watched the little drama unfold below.
In many fates, she died.
He overrode this ship’s NHP and slammed doors down on the borders, ruptured pipes to provide a screen. He found a pair of subalterns and ordered them to aid.
He did the least he could do.
Song slid, staggered as the ship started to list.
Arkady’s keyspike was in the door. She hooked an arm around a nearby hold, undid a pouch on her chest carapace, and pulled out her own.
//Is she close?//
Song slammed her keyspike into the door panel.
The door to Aug’s hardcopy opened just as the Aun burned through the last panel. At their head, a blinding wall. Song turned and fired from the hip, no point in aiming.
An arm around her neck. Something hauled her back into the hardcopy chamber.
“STAY CALM. WE ARE FRIENDS.”
Here it was. He’d found it.
Lorenzo watched in machine awe, playing and replaying the scene.
His skip drone leapt to nearlight, bolted towards the last dagger --
And then it was gone. No radiation ghost, no gravitational wake -- it was gone.
Something had blinked it away.
“YOU ARE SAFE,” the subaltern shoved Song behind it and pointed to Aug’s hardcopy panel. “PROCEED, COMMANDER.”
//Thanks, Aug// Song cast. She hustled to the panel.
A mystery for later. //Ready?//
Song pulled Aug free.
The NHP’s black box was big, a long crate the size of her leg. One handle, one port on the opposite end, which Song plugged with an accompanying rubber stopper.
Now, time to go.
Lorenzo pushed the intel to all of his aspects, all command units.
The Aun had something that could pierce the blink without a gate. Attend.
At one level, he registered a looping, repeating scenario, a frantic search for a solution where there was none.
Fear. He was afraid.
Song had reached the cloven edge of her ship.
Space, and a world below it. The vast, yawing sea.
“Where are you,” she muttered, searching the scape.
There, a flash of light. Running silent to avoid detection.
Song, with one look back at her command, leapt into the void.