The conference room of the Calypso was packed, and almost everyone there was taking advantage of a fresh cup of coffee from a pot in the corner. Carthage was waiting for the room to settle down before beginning the mission briefing that he, Iain, and Velez, the Calypso’s security officer, had prepared. The caffeine was most appreciated by the crew of the host ship, as from their perspective they had been awake for over 16 hours. Once all the seats at the conference table were taken, and the others standing on the periphery had stopped talking, Carthage activated the large screen on the wall and brought up the first slide, a photo from low orbit. Visible on the west side was the main building and some support structures, and toward the southeast was a large circular object.
The bridge of the Calypso was cramped with six people there, but work needed to be done. Carthage and Iain were working with Ulbrecht and Weber on modifying the ship’s sensors to detect anomalies, while Logan and Marston attempted to repair the SRC system. Siobhan and Rebecca were on board the Afternoon Buzz, parked nearby, and were in the process of topping off its weapons.
The mood among the crew of the Calypso was somber, after learning that four years had passed back home. It was difficult for them to think about their friends and family, knowing that they likely had no idea what had happened to them. Most of the crew had expressed a desire to head home immediately, but the ship was not a democracy. Captain Logan was committed to helping Carthage, although she was keenly aware that time was of the essence.
The bridge of the Calypso was thrown into sudden and violent chaos. One moment they were on a leisurely descent from orbit to Edinburgh, and the next moment the crew was picked up and tossed toward the bow, slamming into either the forward consoles or into the back of the pilot’s chair. The captain’s mug of tea shattered against the viewscreen. Only the pilot herself was spared injury as she was strapped snugly into her seat. For the captain, navigator, and communications officer, it was a much more painful experience. Still reeling on the deck, Captain Logan spoke.
It was a clear, cold morning south of Edinburgh. Iain and his new friends had enjoyed a satisfying breakfast of homemade bread, goat cheese, and fried tomatoes, before venturing out to where Carthage had parked the dropship. Iain had put out extra food for his livestock and packed a bag, but he wasn’t interested in accompanying the mission for more than two days. Though Carthage wanted him to go with them to Dun Ringill, now that they knew where it was, he hadn’t yet asked him directly. For now, getting the Calypso out of limbo would be enough of a contribution for the scientist turned farmer.
Siobhan was in a good mood as the group made the short trip through the woods to the dropship. She had been offered a bed in one of Iain’s many guest rooms, and once she shook the dust off of the blankets, she found it quite serviceable. Rebecca and Carthage also reported feeling refreshed, though this might also have been due to their renewed sense of hope.
There was a chill in the evening air as Carthage and his team approached the cottage on the outskirts of what had once been Edinburgh. The house was a rough-hewn combination of stone and wood, and rambled itself across several sections that appeared to have been constructed at different times. Most of the place was dark except for the stone section at the southern end, where a soft light shined through the windows. Smoke rose from the chimney there, lazily wafting up to a sky filled with bright stars. When the team had approached to within 75 meters, Carthage signaled for them to stop, and spoke softly.
“Okay, Connor, you’re up. I’d go stand by that elm tree and announce yourself. If we take fire, hide behind it and NicKennon and I will try to dissuade the occupant.”
Rebecca passed her shotgun to him. “Sounds easy enough.”
Siobhan said, “We’ll be right behind our scopes. Remember what we talked about.”
Nodding, Rebecca headed down the brick path until she was beside a large tree. There wasn’t a sound coming from the house, but she was sure she heard some goats bleating from the other side of the building.
“Hello in there!” she began. “Anybody home?”
On the flight deck of the Buzz, Siobhan was alone. After teaching her the basics of flying, and engaging the autopilot, Carthage had sneaked off to one of the bunks for a catnap. Rebecca had claimed a bunk of her own for the same purpose. Expecting to be relieved in one hour, Siobhan had been instructed to slow the ship down and alert him if anything came up. She was looking forward to a nap of her own, but when the subject came up she was still too wired from her near-death experience earlier that day. So, she had volunteered to stay behind the stick.
Sitting on the flight deck with the engines droning had a hypnotic effect, and she could see why the others chose to get a bit of sleep. She was having trouble preventing herself from nodding off, and tried to keep herself awake by reviewing the ship’s various technical manuals that were stored on its computer. Still, when Rebecca rejoined her 45 minutes later, she was glad to have company.
When Siobhan regained consciousness, she was met by the sight of Carthage calmly flying the Buzz straight and level. The virtual cockpit was automatically shading the mid-morning sun to their six, and the Eurus Ocean shimmered a few thousand feet below them. Other than a slight headache, she felt fine.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” he said. “It got a little hairy back there, didn’t it?”
“I thought we were dead. What happened to the Tucano?”
“He augered in at nine hundred miles per hour. Must’ve got himself into compressibility lockup.”
Siobhan looked over her shoulder. “Is Rebecca okay?”
“She’s in the head getting cleaned up. The G-forces were too much for her.”
“Oh, man. I almost puked too. How is the ship?”