“The system definitely has a numeric pad to the right of the pilot’s terminal, just like you describe, Captain,” said Ensign Trell, speaking into her communicator.
Captain Ortega looked at the console curiously, furrowing his brow.
“Input the numbers, then,” said Calen from the other side of the communicator. “Let’s not keep our dear pilot from his duty a moment longer.”
“Hang on a second,” said Ortega. “I was all over these computers earlier… that pad doesn’t do anything.”
“That pad is standard on most terminals like this,” said Trell.
“I know,” said Ortega. “That’s why I tried using it. I had to settle for the other numeric input along the top of the controls when the pad didn’t work.”
“You probably just had the number lock function disengaged.”
Ortega looked over the console more carefully.
“The button for that isn’t here,” he said. “I couldn’t engage or disengage it.”
Trell looked over the controls carefully before nodding her head.
“Captain, he’s right,” said Trell.
“What does that mean, then?” asked Calen.
“Stand by,” said Trell, kneeling beneath the console and removing a panel. Ortega prepared for a lengthy investigation, but was startled by a surprised gasp.
“There’s definitely a change here,” said Trell. “Definitely not standard.”
“What do you see?” he asked.
“It’s a rerouting,” she said. “Ordinarily I’d be spending minutes looking over the circuitry, but there’s a secondary circuit board here, it looks like it’s fed directly into the numeric pad. It also looks like there’s some rudimentary broadcasting components, probably capable of generating a low-power signal over a short distance.”
“Curious,” said Ortega.
Trell pushed her way out of the panel, smiling a more genuine smile than Ortega had ever seen. He stepped back so that she could stand up.
“One last thing,” she said. “You’re going to like this, Captain. The secondary circuity board that plugs directly into the numeric pad? It’s using the Phoenix Circuitry. The same style of circuits and materials used in this ship’s alternate systems are definitely being used in that one board. I think we’ve just found the Phoenix Circuit’s user interface.”
Ortega smiled and almost confirmed that he did, in fact, like the information, before he heard Calen’s low, rattling laughter from the other side of the communicator. He wasn’t the captain she’d been speaking to.
“That is delightful, Trell,” she said, amid triumphant chortles. “Hear me now: we’ve uncovered the weakness of Dyson’s impregnable defenses, the weakness that will lead to our final victory. I don’t know how, but this is the key to the Vaults of Vengeance. Input the numbers, Trell. Input the numbers and reveal the first true treasure to be pulled from the Cypulchral Cloud!”
Trell eagerly tapped Tan’s sequence of numbers into the panel. Quickly, and thankfully, the chiming alarm finally, finally stopped, prompting a relieved sigh from both Trell and Ortega. For a moment nothing happened, leaving the room in silence and stillness. Then, one of the screens over the console activated.
LAST COMMAND: 00:10:48:48
VIRELLIUM WAVE ACTIVATION: -00:01:12:12
“Virellium wave?” asked Ortega. “That seems… unlikely.”
“All Virellium functions through a wave,” said Trell. “Allegedly, at least. Morcalla’s never had much to work with. Most people talk about it like it’s a form of matter, but it’s actually a form of force energy, like in most energy weapons.”
“I know,” said Ortega. “The rarity’s why it seems unlikely, though, not that Virellium would have a wave.”
“It may be a small wave,” said Trell. “It wouldn’t require much to cover a system with a low-effect or no-effect field.”
“What are you two blathering about?” said Ortega over the communication channel.
“The numbers activated a console, Captain. It’s registering a command that came through almost eleven hours ago, and saying that something called a Virellium wave will activate in… one hour, eleven minutes, and twenty-nine seconds.”
“Oh, that’s intriguing,” said Calen. “For the record, sensors are indicating that the Phoenix Circuitry you’ve uncovered is beginning to activate. It’s… glowing. Under certain scan images you even look like a bird’s skeleton, surrounded by a halo. It’s quite poetic, I think. These are the ashes from which Morcala will rise.”
“We need to die first, Captain,” said Trell. “I don’t think we’ve hit that point yet.”
“Agreed,” said Calen. “But it’s nice to know there’s an option.”
“I think you two are overextending and mixing the metaphor a little,” said Ortega. “Either way, it looks like we’ve got an hour to prepare for… something. This is probably a signal that’s been sent to the entire Dyson fleet, or at least a large subset of them. This may allow us to figure out what their next move is, but… if it requires the ship’s other features to function, we may be out of luck since we’ve not had time to repair the ship’s reactor since the scuttler’s Neutrino Load neutralized it. Can we repair the reactor in an hour?”
“If we’re lucky,” said Trell. “Probably not, though.”
“Work on getting it up and running,” said Calen. “If we can reactivate Tan’s vessel without it blowing up on us, it will be more useful. Assuming you’ll need more than an hour, though… if I activated the scuttler’s retrieval functionality, I think I would be within the field of energy that the Phoenix Circuitry is activating. Trell, can you calculate an appropriate point of attachment that won’t puncture the circuitry itself? Ordinarily I wouldn’t be concerned, but we may be able to let the scuttler’s engines guide Tan’s fighter, albeit clumsily.”
“Brilliant plan, Captain,” said Trell. “I’ll have that calculated in minutes.”
“Wait, what’s happening?” asked Ortega.
“The scuttler’s about to engage in some actual scuttling,” said Trell. “Scuttlers rarely use this function these days… and almost only use them to tear another ship apart in combat when it comes up… but due to the slow precision required, it’s an awkward combat maneuver, and has more use as a means for tugging deactivated ships around.”
Twenty minutes later, Captain Calen input Ensign Trell’s calculations. The scuttler closed in on Tan’s fighter vessel, and activated twelve drill-like lasers. It slowly drifted toward the fighter, matching its velocity and spin, and carefully punctured areas of the hull that would be more or less unimportant for the near future. As the laser drills twisted to more accurately cut into the ship, the field of phoenix circuitry energy enveloped the scuttler entirely.
Once the drills cut their holes, the beams stopped. Twelve metallic pincers dug into the side of the fighter, like a tick attaching to an animal. Usually a scuttler would flex, unflex, and twist its pincers at this point, causing it to shred and bring down most enemy ships, but Calen belayed that protocol before it became an issue.
“We have connection,” said Calen. “I think we’re good to go.”
“Understood, Captain,” said Trell, from the other side of the communicator. “I’ll begin the repairs to the reactor now. With luck it should be back online in two hours.”
“Hopefully we won’t need it before then,” said Calen, leaning back in her chair. “Keep me updated.”
Calen felt good for the first time since hearing Admiral Cresh’s announcement that Morcala was surrendering. She didn’t know what would be happening when the countdown ended, but she was certain that it was the next step to victory, and the next chapter in her glorious career.
Emperor Dyson steepled his fingers and smiled as he read the latest report. The Morcalan resistance was staying strong, but it was settling into a predictable pattern. They were causing damage… but it was all superficial and easily repairable. He felt they were probably enjoying the chance to play act as members of a resistance fighting against an oppressive regime. It was an annoyance, but as long as he didn’t try to stamp them out entirely, their acting could be a powerful asset.
The door to his throne room opened, and Harold Zamona crouched to make sure that he could enter without bumping his head. It was the closest that Harold ever came to bowing. Dyson was always cheered by Zamona’s willingness to be on equal terms with him.
“We are ready, sire,” said Zamona. “We can move on. Enough troops will be staying behind to keep up the defenses while the attack continues.”
“Wonderful,” said Dyson. “You know, it occurs to me that with the gathered energy we’re finally overcoming Alexander’s problem. There will never be an end of worlds to conquer, at least not in my lifetime.”
“Don’t spread yourself too thin,” said Zamona. “The ancient Romans had their conquered slaves whisper that victory is fleeting to their generals, and even that reminder didn’t keep them from collapsing in due time. And besides, conquering these regions is only a fringe benefit for our real job.”
“Of course,” said Dyson. “It is time to begin our primary work. As usual, I imagine that the components of The Emperor’s Eye have a different destination than the fleet?”
“Naturally,” said Zamona, smiling.
“Perfect. Would you care to do the honors?”
The Emperor gestured to the massive red and orange device at the edge of the throne room. Zamona smiled and approached the monolithic machine, opening the deceptively small cover over the circular input device. He reached into his shirt and pulled out the medallion he’d worn ever since entering Dyson’s service. He cracked it open and removed the colorful, curiously hot coin of Virellium energy from within.
He placed the single Virellium coin into the input device before closing it, briefly thinking to the moment of the coin’s acquisition. He pulled a lever at the side of the machine and heard the snaps of electricity from the internal diodes, the rumble of thunder within the crystalline orbs that surrounded the device, and the powerful energy within the coin cascading from the machine as it generated a wave that would affect Dyson vessels across the system.
The scent of ionization filled the throne room, and the sensation of a great fire surrounded everyone in all of the ships touched by the wave, Dyson and Harold included. The fire was hot, but strangely without pain…
…and then the moment passed where they ceased to exist…
…and then, in a cloud of plasma, the fleet reappeared at its next system.
“This is strange, folks,” said Mark Matthews, continuing his color commentary. “Long-range scanners keeping tabs on the race’s final stragglers are picking up a huge energy signature just outside the system! Technically out of bounds, but pretty close to the race track. Well, the race began with a party crasher, maybe it’s about to end with another. Just a few minutes before we get a good visual on the far side of Mandrake, though, so I should have news for you on that end soon!”