Hi all! Well, real life happened again... trying to write original work and fanfic all around a PhD while family drama goes on in the background isn't conducive to getting things done! But, like the Silvites of Soltis, I will fight on! Updates are probably going to stay unpredictable for the foreseeable future, so my advice is to put on a story alert if you want to be sure to catch what happens next. Hope you enjoy, and don't forget to let me know what you think!
The night passed much as the previous one had, albeit indoors in the familiarity of Source Thirteen. Very few of the engineers were willing to go back to their homes in the crisis, the few who did almost entirely those, such as Meredin, with young children. Like most people his own age, Castiel lived alone: there was nothing to go back for, no-one to reassure or seek reassurance from. In the comfortably controlled environment of Soltis, the worst he could expect from a night spent sleeping at the Source was a little stiffness from the hard floor. Though there were a few foldaway beds in a back room, designed long ago to cater for emergency situations that might see the need for a constantly cycling shift of engineers, they were by no means enough to serve the number of people who were actually there. The Sector Prime had been given one, but most of the engineers were simply sleeping wherever they could find space, when they could sleep at all.
It was a chime from his slate that woke Castiel early that morning, calling insistently for his attention and making him sit up. For a single, brief, glorious instant, he thought that the rain of Moon Stones might have stopped... only to be called harshly back to reality by yet another rumble reverberating through the city. He pulled the slate from his belt with one hand, rubbing his eyes with the other. It wasn't a duty chime, nor the morning alarm that he'd suspended in this terrible disaster. No, someone was calling him, the identification automatically appearing as Spire Engineer Irides. He ran a hand quickly over his unbrushed hair, suddenly acutely aware of how dishevelled three days without a wash had left him, and answered.
"Engineer Castiel." Irides didn't actually look much better than he himself, narrow features drawn, eyes shadowed by strain. "About your request for the main grid data."
"Yes?" Castiel said after a moment, when it seemed that Irides was waiting for something. The other engineer went on.
"Some of that information is classified to the level of Spire First. I can't release it in full."
Castiel's eyebrows lifted, unguarded surprise clear on his face. Irides continued before he could think of the right question to ask. "I can give you the unlabelled grid data. The demand spike that you were concerned about was a legitimate request, and I have received assurances that it won't happen again during this crisis." Pale green eyes met Castiel's through camera and screen, and he saw his own fears reflected there. "I tried to find out some additional information, but I don't have that level of access, and Silver Source Thirteen's 'supply failures' were apparently insufficient for a discretionary clearance." Irides was frustrated, he could hear it. "I sent the unlabelled data alongside this call." A moment's hesitation. "Sector Prime Celesia gave you her priority authorisation. Perhaps she'd have more luck requesting the information from the Elders than I have from my First Engineer."
Castiel nodded. It was likely – in all the parallel chains of command, Celesia was second only to the Elders who governed the whole of Silvite civilisation. "I'll pass it on. And... thanks."
Irides smiled, harried and faint, but there. "I want to know what all this is about too, Engineer Castiel. I don't like not knowing things – doubly so in a time like this. I can't work with insufficient information. I don't expect you to be able to either. If you find anything... I may not be cleared to know it, but at least let me know when your Sector Prime finds out what happened. Keep me informed."
"I'll do my best," Castiel replied. The other engineer nodded.
"Take care, Engineer Castiel." With that, the call ended, and Castiel's dataslate showed only the compressed data packet that Irides had sent alongside his message, containing the limited main grid records for the period of interest. If nothing else, Castiel thought, he could at least get started analysing them. He doubted he'd find much, not without the all-important labelling data, but perhaps something would stand out. Standing and brushing himself off, he left the room, stepping around the handful of other engineers who were sharing the same space, and headed for the observation room Celesia had semi-commandeered the day before. As he'd expected, there was nobody there. There were, of course, engineers working in the main chamber, though: he could see them through the window, checking relays, testing components on inactive columns, monitoring the central column and its feed to the Dome of Light. It had never before faced a sustained assault of such magnitude.
A long, drawn out shudder rolled through the city, and Castiel startled, alarmed, his dataslate and its contents forgotten as below him, many of the duty engineers did the same. As it continued, he was all but frozen, waiting for a couple of minutes that felt like hours until the end finally came with a last, violent jerk. What had that been?! He snatched up the slate again and spun its contents into the background, feverishly searching through reports, checking and double-checking until he was as certain as he could be that the Dome still held. Somewhat reassured, he started cycling through the newsstreams, searching for any information he could find.
The quiet voice from the doorway made him jump again, familiar though it was becoming, already aware who he would see as he turned around. Celesia walked in quietly, unmistakeable worry clear on her face.
"I don't know what that sound was," he told her, "but it wasn't the Dome. It's still up, and the demand on our Source hasn't changed, so I don't think any of the others can have failed."
She shook her head. "I know. It's not that..." Once again, he saw the hesitation that marked her trying to decide what to tell him, and this time interrupted it.
"What was it? What happened?"
Celesia looked down. "The Arkena Peninsula." Castiel knew the place at once, a spit of land on the continental edge, near to Soltis' perfectly geometrical borders and once, a world away, a favourite destination for overworld travellers, nearby as it was. "It... the Moon Stone impacts must have been too much. It's sheared off completely."
For an instant, he could barely breathe. He'd never been to the place himself, but it was as familiar as any Sector of Soltis. Just like that... it was gone? Not even blasted to rubble, new life to return one day, but utterly gone? All at once, the Dome of Light felt a thousand times more fragile, every artifice of Silvite power all but futile in the face of this utter destruction, raining down from the Moon that had once protected and served them as their civilisation grew. Was it now to be the instrument of their death?
"I shouldn't have told you," she said quietly, and he shook his head before thinking about it.
"No... I needed to know."
He wasn't at all sure that was actually true.
For a short while, there was only silence. Castiel broke it first, in the end.
"I got a response from Third Spire Engineer Irides." Celesia leant forward reflexively as he gestured with his dataslate. "I have some of the main grid data... but none of the labels indicating what was for which purpose. Whatever was happening to cause that power drain, it was too highly classified to warrant discretionary clearance even to a Spire Third."
"So it was intentional, not an accident or sabotage?"
He nodded. "That much I could be told, but that's all I know. Maybe you'd have a better chance of getting that information – you could ask the Elders to grant you discretionary clearance. I was given an assurance that it wouldn't happen again, not while the- the Moon Stones are still falling."
"Hmm." She frowned. "Maybe they were testing our response capability. I wasn't informed, though." A brief pause. "I suppose that does at least make it less important that we learn precisely what it was. As long as it was under our control, we can guarantee there won't be a second time."
"It seemed a bit much for a response test," Castiel said. "I mean, you saw those readings... that kind of power drain is completely unprecedented. The systems weren't built to handle it, certainly not in this Source. It's just... strange."
Celesia was quiet for a little, thinking about it. Castiel watched her, little else he could do. If he was honest, though, he had to admit that his motive could only be curiosity in the end. Horrifically ill-timed though the power drain had been, it had to be a coincidence. There was nothing, nothing under any of the Six Moons, that could have caused this utter calamity. Whatever was happening, it was outside human control.
"Well," she said eventually, "I'll submit a request and see what I get. I may never be cleared to tell you, though."
Despite himself, he smiled at her. "As long as I know someone I trust is taking care of it, I think I'll be fine with that."
Celesia lifted her eyebrows slightly, but she didn't seem displeased. "Then I'll keep you informed." A pause, and the Sector Prime was back again, the dull thudding of the Moon Stones weaving their rumbling counterpoint to her words. "I'm commissioning a report on the structural integrity of Sector Six as part of a Soltis-wide study, after what happened to the peninsula. I didn't think about it until now, but even though the impacts don't touch us directly, the shock waves could be causing damage throughout Soltis' superstructure. I'll be asking the First Engineers of each local grid to assign teams to the task. How long do you think it would take?"
Castiel frowned, thoughtful, and pulled up the block diagram of Source Thirteen's district on his dataslate, finding the total volume covered. His particular duties tended to keep him in and around the Source itself: below Vandin himself, the engineer ranks split into Source, District, Drone, and so on. Meredin was one of the four Source Seconds – one per six-hour shift – and the other Seconds were split similarly. As a result, he never had much need to look up the volume of the district itself, and a slow breath was his reaction as he saw the numbers against his memory of the ones he did know, finding himself reminded of just how big Soltis truly was, innumerable legacies built one atop another... and all, now, under threat.
"It'll take a good-sized team," he told her, "and even with the automated monitors on the structural supports, it'll be a long while if you want everything checked. I'd give it a couple of days to get the data on the primary structural columns and walls, as long as we can spare all the engineers it'll take, and after that you're looking at weeks for the main stuff – boulevard bulkheads, secondary supports, all that – and months for everything, even with full drone assignment."
Celesia nodded. "I see. Thank you. Having at least the main structural skeleton will be a great benefit to us... and I may have to warn our citizens to be alert for any signs of weakness in the rest."
It could only help, he supposed. He wasn't sure he'd have thought of it, but Soltis was full of people, and while they might not be able to actively test every piece of material they passed, it didn't take any expert knowledge to report a cracked pillar or a warped wall plate. "It'll help." Perhaps he was just too tired, because once again, he found himself speaking without thinking. "You always seem to think of everything. I don't know if I'd even have thought to check on the supports at all."
Thankfully, Celesia didn't seem to mind, her response light and said with a faint, tired smile. "I do have my office to help me, you know. That said, that was my idea... I suppose it's part of what it means to be Sector Prime. I may not know that much in detail about any individual profession, but I have to understand when to call on all of them." She walked up to the window, looking down into the Source chamber, shining with its brilliant light. "After that, I must trust you to know what you're doing." She shot him a glance, and Castiel smiled.
They stood there for a little in silence, watching the work below, the rumbling sound of the Moon Stone impacts a dull counterpoint to their determination, until Seren chirped.
"What is it?"
The liqueform slipped from her hair at once, forming a compact screen showing an incoming message. Castiel backed off as she accepted, no part of her duties now.
He'd heard that name a lot over the course of the past three days. Vian was Celesia's primary secretary, handling incoming requests, filtering the unimportant, scheduling elements of her day, and carrying out the thousand and one administrative tasks required to keep the Sector Prime's office running smoothly. If Celesia needed to appear on a non-emergency broadcast, it was Vian who sorted out the televisual arrangements, negotiated the correct amount of airtime, and set everything up to put her in front of the world.
"Sector Prime," Vian said, as tired and harried as the rest of them. "I'm getting a lot of requests at all levels about that last... event, far too many to answer individually. I think our best course of action would be to send out another broadcast. I've already been in touch with my counterparts in the other Sectors – they're getting the same queries, and Prime Azith is already preparing a 'cast." She paused. "Is that the core chamber of Silver Source Thirteen behind you?"
Celesia nodded, glancing over her shoulder. She'd turned her back on the observation window to answer the call.
"It's a good backdrop... I'd suggest you use it for this situation." She sighed, slowly. "Let them know you're still there, where it matters. Just seeing you there will help morale a little."
Castiel frowned slightly as they went on talking. He hadn't thought of that. Celesia had almost every function of her office with her in the form of Seren, other than the physical presence of her staff, currently filled in for by a single overstressed Fourth Engineer. He knew it didn't matter much to her where she was, but it hadn't occurred to him that others might benefit from seeing her out of the enclosed environment of the office. Yet where could be closer tied to the ongoing crisis than a Source, its radiance a reminder of the power that protected them all?
"...do it simply, then," Celesia was saying as he tuned back in to the conversation. "If we have any additional information, tell me."
"Nothing, Sector Prime," Vian told her. "I... I don't think there's much else to say."
"All right." She looked up, over the top of the liqueform's screen and directly at Castiel. "I'll be running through my statement a couple of times before I send it out. Could you seal the doors for me?"
"Of course," he answered, seeing the sense in it. She didn't need other engineers wandering through. "Call me when you're finished... I'll get to work on the data Irides gave me."
A faint smile touched Celesia's expression again. "Thank you. Oh, and would you pass on my message to the First Engineer, about checking the structural integrity?"
"You wanted the primary structure done, right? I'll tell him."
Castiel let himself out, locking the door with his generic authorisation as it closed. Anyone above his rank could unlock it, and it wasn't an engineer-specific seal, so Celesia would be fine. Focusing on his twin tasks, he headed back to the control room. Once he'd told Vandin Celesia's message, then he could study the information Irides had sent him, restricted though it was.