Deirdre looked around. All officers who had not yet been here when the incident occurred had gathered on the bridge of the Tuatha De Danann, or what was left of it. The midsection of the ship was heavily damaged, with walls destroyed and rooms being exposed to open space, which included the briefing room, so their options for conferences like this were very limited.
Deirdre stood next to the display that now showed Brilann’s face again and, looking around the bridge, was waiting for Captain Thornhill to open the meeting.
The captain frowned. He had recovered quickly after the incident and taken initiative immediately. This didn’t surprise her. He had made a very determined impression the first time they met, when she came on board.
“So we rammed an asteroid. Thankfully, not heads on. It could have been significantly worse. However, we grazed it, and it sliced us open like a can.”
Disconcerting news. Hitting anything in an asteroid field was almost impossible. The distance between rocks, and what other matter there might be around, was astronomical. Deirdre shook her head. Had it been her fault? She was the one who had jumped them into the system. Of course, she had seen no asteroids in her navigation console’s hologram. Earth’s telescopes just didn’t have that kind of range, but still.
“We lost three of our four reactors, our primary drives are damaged beyond repair, most of the laboratories are unusable, complete loss of atmosphere on most stations of the inner deck.”
The captain looked around. It was clear he was not happy with this, but it was what it was.
“The outer deck is intact. No damage to the ring. We should be able to survive quite a while like this, but we’re a lame duck.”
The captain cracked his knuckles. His jaw muscles worked.
“So, what’s the plan?” Brilann’s voice from the display was low.
“Lieutenant Fionnlagh, what can you tell us about our position in the system?”
The faerie looked up, raised his palms, then stared into the distance. His fingers moved, as if typing on a virtual keyboard, which was probably the case. He nodded again.
“We are at the fringe of the system. The landing point was exactly as planned. Our distance to the outermost planet is close enough for us to get into an orbit if need be, but I doubt we will be able to move the ship much further into the system, with only the secondary drive and the directional thrusters remaining.”
Thornhill nodded again. He furrowed his eyebrows, but stayed silent for a moment.
“We lost part of the science crew,” a tall man in a lab coat said in a hoarse voice.
The captain looked at him, gesturing for him to continue. The man took the hint.
“None of the laboratories survived without damage. The walls are ripped open. All the interior is destroyed, most of the equipment floating in space. A physicist, a geologist, and one mathematician are missing. If I had to guess, I would expect to find their bodies outside the ship, somewhere in the belt.” He clenched his hands into fists, the knuckles protruding, then shoved them in his pockets.
“Thank you, Mister Adams.”
The captain nodded again. It seemed as if he had expected this kind of bad news. If he was surprised, he didn’t show it.
“Mr Schultz, can we perform repairs, and if so, to what degree?”
The middle-aged chief engineer stood next to Fionnlagh. He looked as if he didn’t even breathe. Completely static. His face showed distress, but his voice was devoid of emotion. Deirdre felt a fiery ball in her stomach. They all were suffering from shock.
“It is certainly possible to install auto factories and build an emergency space dock to repair the ship. If we can find everything we need in the system. Our drones are fully functional. However, I would like to have a talk with you when this meeting is over.”
Thornhill nodded, then turned to Fionnlagh again, with an unspoken question in his eyes.
“The second planet of the system is a gas dwarf. It has several of the resources we will need. Sending drones for the harvest should be possible. However, the distance means our harvesters will take several days both ways. As for the asteroids in this belt, we are lucky. Most of them are metal rich. In fact, the very rock we collided with would do as a temporary base. It’s large and contains mostly iron. There is an inner belt, too, between planets two and three, probably the remnants of a moon. However, most of the rock there is worthless for us. Planet Gliese 667 Cd has a ring, but those rocks are mainly ice. Very little we can use to set up a repair dock.”
The captain looked at Schultz again.
“I will prepare everything as fast as possible, but this will take time. Weeks at least,” the engineer said.
“Please work with Lieutenant Fionnlagh and locate the resources you need.”
He combed his hair with his fingers, stared at his slightly trembling hand, then put it down.
“Now, what do we know about the planets in the habitable zone?”
The faerie stared into the distance again, floating in the air, without moving his wings. A perfect statue, ignoring the laws of physics.
“The data we can gather from this distance does not say if it’s feasible to colonise any of them. All three planets in the goldilocks zone have an atmosphere. The outermost is certainly too cold for humans to settle, at least on the surface. It might be possible to support stations on it, though, and it seems to comprise mostly liquid water under a thick layer of ice. It has only a tiny landmass and large ice shelves at the poles are covering land, like the Antarctica on Earth. The second planet looks more promising. However, it is tidally locked. The atmosphere is thick enough to protect the planet from the worst heat on the daylight side, spreading it around nicely, and the habitable zone around the terminator seems promising enough. It might be worth sending an expedition to find out if we can use it. The innermost of the planets, Cc, is the most inviting among the three. It rotates slowly around its axis, the atmosphere is thick and the composition seems breathable, although… its gravity might be on the high side.”
Thornhill’s expression was unreadable. He rose from his captain’s chair and stretched his back, as if to buy himself some time to think.
While it wasn’t possible for them to complete their mission anymore, at least they could do something while in this system.
“I would like us to send crews down to check both planets for viability. We still have the lifeboats and one transporter, so we should be able to handle this.”
“We can only do one at a time,” Brilann said. His connection cut out, but stabilised again a moment later.
Everyone turned their heads around to look at him.
“In order to colonise, we have to open a permanent gate to the Otherworld. For that to happen, we need to find out if the planet in question has a place of power.”
This was the first time Deirdre heard this term.
“Place of what?” Thornhill asked in her stead.
Brilann sighed and stroked his beard.
“Under normal circumstances, I would have landed on the surface, found out if the planet is connected to the…” He shook his head. “All these explanations aren’t even relevant. Fact is, we need a druid on the ground, and I cannot leave the ship. I can’t even leave my room right now, or several systems will stop.”
Even the captain seemed to not know about every aspect of the mission, which was more than unsettling. Judging by the look in Thornhill’s eyes, he had a firm opinion on this, too, but he didn’t speak about it here, which was probably a wise decision. The timing would have been less than perfect.
“Why can’t you leave the ship?” He asked instead.
“I’m maintaining several spells to keep functions going. Shielding, artificial gravity, and a few more. They would persist for a while in my absence, but I have to renew them every so often. That means I can’t leave the ship at all, and even my room for long.”
Thornhill’s eyebrows shot up.
“All right. Lieutenant MacBreen it is, together with…” His voice trailed off for a moment.
“Do you think you can go with her, Mr Adams?”
The scientist looked at Deirdre, then back at the captain.
“Yes, I will accompany her. I’d like to do the measurements in person. Do we have scan equipment on board the transporter, and can we bring a ground vehicle and equipment to build a temporary base?”
Boots on the ground, to find a ‘place of power’, whatever that was. She glanced at Brilann, who now turned his face towards her and smiled.
The engineer walked over to the captain, and the two men wandered off toward the exit.
Getting back to Deck One had been a challenge. Outside the bridge, everything had sunken into chaos.
Not only were parts of the corridors without atmosphere or gone completely, other sections were still on fire. Deirdre had to wear a protective suit just to leave the bridge.
Another problem had been the elevators themselves. They had shut down automatically, and had to be reactivated manually, which had cost time, too.
However, both had been dealt with relatively quickly, and they had reached the outer ring.
“What is it you didn’t tell me? About those places of power?” Deirdre asked.
The old arch druid leaned against the wall. It didn’t flicker right now that he was in direct physical contact with it. The tree on the other side of the wall didn’t become visible.
“It is what it sounds like. Places of power are spots in a physical location, where our universe overlaps with Tech Duinn, which creates a data feedback, which you can draw from, in order to produce stable gates to the Otherworld. Those sources are… let’s call them sources of magical energy. Explaining this in detail would take a while and isn’t necessary for your mission. To make this short, it’s where the power originates.”
“How come you didn’t tell me earlier?”
Deirdre wasn’t sure what to think about the oak seer anymore. Keeping this kind of secret from his mentee didn’t seem what a mentor would do.
“Opening a permanent gate to Tech Duinn leads to an exchange of strangeness. This is certainly not desirable if it’s being performed without consent by the two courts, because this means unwanted effects on both sides that have to be reigned in. Certain information is on a need-to-know basis, and you didn’t have to know yet.”
Deirdre raised her eyebrows.
“That sounds like something a faerie would say.”
Brilann laughed in his dark, voluminous voice.
“That’s quite a sharp observation, Deirdre MacBreen. Things are more complicated than that, though.”
He continued to chuckle and wiped a tear from his eyes.
“You must have been surprised when you found out that not even the captain knew about this. Well, the existence, and of course the handling of places of power, is a closely kept secret, and information is only being given out when there’s no other way. Now you need to know, though, so there’s that. There are things about the true nature of our magic you haven’t been taught yet, but this is not the time.”
Even though he had no iris and pupils, his white eyes stared straight into her soul. She shivered.
“Shouldn’t at least the captain of the ship know, especially if it’s part of the mission, and he carries responsibility?”
“That is where you are mistaken. While the captain handles the ship, the one responsible for the mission itself is me, or one of the other mentors, for the other two ships. While Captain Thornhill makes sure we can perform this mission in as much safety as possible and organises the logistics, the one responsible for the actual legwork on the planets is me.”
Not knowing all these details, while she could understand the reasons, didn’t sit right with her. Their lives were on the line on this mission. Shouldn’t they know what they were doing, at least?
“I can imagine what you’re thinking, but things are not as clear-cut as it seems. You already know that humanity, the AI and the two courts are not one unit. We are acting as partners. Who do you think I represent?”
This was an unsettling revelation. Deirdre could imagine, but she didn’t want to. She had had the impression that they were on the same team. This had turned out to not be the case, and she didn’t like it. However, it was too late to even think about it. They were underway, stranded in a star system over twenty light-years away from home.
“It doesn’t really matter anyway, because we all have the same goals. Finding a new home for humanity has direct consequences for all parties involved. We are all connected, and in the case of the Tuatha De Danann, literally sitting in the same boat.”
“Well, I guess you are right, and it can’t be helped now. What’s next though?”
“After you land, you need to find the location of a place of power, since only such spots are suitable for the construction of a gate. The principle is very similar to the jump ritual, only that the source of energy will be far greater, and you won’t move through the gate you produce. Instead, you will connect it to the destination and stay where you are. This means the image you will hold will be in Luna City on Earth’s moon, so the actual connection will be to a place at home, just using Tech Duinn as a medium of transportation.”
“How will I find such a place of power?”
“This is where your Cu Sidhe comes into play. He will pick up the scent of magic, much as he can pick up other things we don’t even truly know. He is uniquely equipped to lead you to such places, which is what you will depend on, since you cannot find them on your own. I spoke with Cailean before we left Earth. He has his instructions, and he will lead you right there when you call him after you land.”
“My Cu Sidhe, Cailean, has instructions from someone else than me?”
“I wouldn’t call it instructions. I explained the problem to him. He knows what’s at stake. If we cannot find a new home for humanity, we will die. When that happens, the Otherworld will be cut off from this universe, trapped in their own plane of existence.”
“And what would that mean?”
Brilann looked at her, or at least he turned his head her way, with a serene expression on his face. She didn’t like his secretive manner. Secrets upon secrets. No, she didn’t like it at all. But it was just as he had already said. It couldn’t be helped. They were trapped here, and these were just technicalities. The general principle of the mission had not changed: Travel to the places on the list, check for viability, clear for colonisation. That they could connect these new worlds with Earth was fascinating, and she could not find a flaw in this plan.
After a short, but awkward period without an answer, she moved on.
“Tell me about the ritual. How do I tap those places of power, and how do I construct a gate that doesn’t collapse after I leave?”
Brilann looked satisfied, as if he had calculated her reactions correctly. Was she this easy to read?
“It’s really not that difficult once you know that the amount of power you are dealing with is on a whole different level from what you have been using so far. All the same rules apply. However, first we have to check if this planet is indeed worth connecting and settling. Now, let me explain to you how to conduct the ritual.”
She sat still and listened intently.