((64 — Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun))
June 14th, 802 AT.
Two weeks since the Devourer Swarm attacked Sector Four, destroying the Roost and killing an estimate six hundred people.
Two weeks since the formation of the refugee fleet, two hundred survivors, clinging to whatever hope they could find.
Two weeks since people started hailing the crew of the Quinn as heroes, for rescuing as many as they did, including Coordinator Ammon, still in a coma.
Two weeks since Spider, Skunk, and Owl went missing.
Two weeks since Kasby started visiting every ship in the fleet, looking for his lost crew members, to no avail.
Two weeks since the rest of the crew took over the positions of their missing comrades. Giraffe on the HAVOC, Zebra tending the engines, Goat helping Kasby in the cockpit.
Two weeks since any sign of the Swarm.
Two weeks to go before arrival at Sector One.
The Quinn drifted, silently passing crystal after crystal. Here, the crystals were far closer together, mere miles apart, and the fog much thinner. They had set out ahead of the main fleet to find a communications relay. With things this dense, long-range radio didn’t work, but a relay system had been set up to maintain contact.
Kasby guided the ship steadily, eyes directly ahead. His leather-gloved hands gripped the controls of the ship with the cold confidence of experience. Ahead, the small outpost drifted into view. It was basically a large metal radar dish, maybe thirty meters across, attached to a small box of machinery atop one of the crystals.
Goat stepped out onto the main deck of the ship. “I’ll, um, scout.” He launched himself at the outpost, out through the Void.
His landing was easy enough--the crystal was chiseled flat around the outpost. An area nearby looked like a landing pad, but for ships far smaller than the Quinn.
Overhead, Kasby began to pull the ship into a circular motion, keeping it in the air while Goat figured things out.
The box itself, about twice as tall as Goat, was mostly solid faded gray metal. Rivets stuck out along its edges, and wires sprung up from the top, spooling into the dish above. The dish was on a gimbal, and a control panel at the base looked like it would probably control rotation. There was a large array of connection ports, for various types of communications cables.
Goat put his hand to his thinly-goateed chin, puzzled. Getting an idea, he jumped the dozen meters back up to the Quinn.
"What's up, Goat?" Kasby asked. He seemed more anxious than usual since they left Sector Four, but he had been covering it up for most of the time.
“What we need,” Goat said to Kasby as he re-entered the cockpit, “is a cable. We have cables, right? For making sound jump from point to point?”
“Yeah, over by the Communications Panel," Kasby replied, gesturing with a free hand.
“Ah!” Goat leaped to it, and extracted a cable. He unwound it, trailing it out onto the deck, and shot back to the machine. The thick cable dangled behind him, unspooling in the air. After finding what he hoped was the right port, Goat connected the Quinn’s radio to the machine.
Aboard the Quinn and on the relay, a matched pair of connection lights blinked an affirmative green.
The teen leaped back to the ship. “Okay!” He called to Kasby from the deck. “Communications online!”
“Good job, Goat,” Kasby said briefly, before flipping a switch and pressing the talk button for the radio.
He cleared his throat. “Sector One, this is Captain Kasby Bellwood of the Quinn, do you copy?”
There was a long silence.
Then the radio crackled. “Captain Bellwood, this is Sector One, reading you loud and clear.” The voice was a calm, male one.
A smile tugged at Kasby’s lips, if only for a moment. “Glad to hear it, Sector One. We have a bit of a situation on our hands—big time.”
“Understood. How can we help you?”
"It's a bit complicated to explain in full, but there's been a demon attack of tremendous scale on Sector Four." Kasby hesitated before proceeding. "The Base was destroyed. At least a third of the people managed to get out alive, and are tailing my ship a good distance back hoping for some shelter." Kasby waited for a reply with bated breath.
“…I…I see. Um.” The voice faltered. “Hold on a moment, Captain Bellwood.” The radio crackled off.
“Encouraging,” Zebra said sarcastically, from where she was standing by the door.
After a few seconds, the radio buzzed on again. A new voice came through, an elderly female one. “Captain Bellwood?”
“This is Mercuria Barrett, of the Inner Chamber Council. You say Sector Four base has been destroyed. Can you explain your situation in more detail?”
“I think it’d be easier to explain in person.”
Barrett grunted, clearly audible over the radio. “How far out are you, Captain?”
“About two weeks out, ma’am.”
“I see. And you said you have refugees with you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’d estimate around two hundred.”
“Two hundred… Hmph. Alright. We’ll see what we can do about setting up to provide for them.”
“Much appreciated, ma’am.”
“What about the demons that hit Sector Four? Are they still following?”
“They are indeed,” Kasby responded grimly.
Her voice took on a solemn tone. “Alright. We’ll prepare for a full siege, then. This isn’t the end of the world. We’ve lost bases before.”
“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” replied Kasby. “I think you need all the information before you go and say something like that.”
“…where are you from, Captain?”
“Sector Seven, ma’am.”
“Heh. Then I guess I’ll forgive you this one time, as I take it you’ve never been as far in as Sector One before.”
“I have not.”
“Sector One is a fortress. It’s a city. It’s not like the other bases. They might fall. The Center will not.”
Zebra raised an eyebrow skeptically, but said nothing.
Barrett continued. “You may be noticing on your way in how much denser the crystals are here. More crystals means more demons. We can handle anything the Void can throw at us.”
Kasby let out a quiet breath. “I sure hope so, ma’am.”
“Hope? Hope’s got nothing to do with it. We’ve got something far better than hope, here.”
“And that is?”
“We have guns. A whole lot of guns.” The Councilwoman paused. “Anything else, Captain?”
“No. That’s all, ma’am.”
“Very well. Thanks again for the information. See you in two weeks. Sector One over and out.” The radio crackled and faded.
Kasby switched the Quinn’s radio off. “Go down and unplug that, if you will, Goat.”
The boy did so, leaping back after a minute. “To the Center, then.”
Zebra scoffed, still leaning against the door. “Wow. Guns. I guess there’s nothing to worry about, now.”
“Wait,” said Goat. “Can’t the Devourers eat bullet?”
“My point,” said Zebra sharply.
Kasby remained mostly quiet. “Maybe they have better guns.”
Zebra raised an eyebrow at him. “Right. Of course they do. How could I possibly have doubted?” She shook her head. “I’m going back to the engines.” She headed for the ladder at the back of the cockpit, and climbed out of sight.
Kasby shrugged and continued to stare straight ahead through the Void. He pulled a lever from the floor, and the boosters of the Quinn kicked to life. With her wings unfolded, the ship soared forward again, weaving its way between the dense crystals.