“Refuel procedure for Alpha initializing.”
“Decreasing Alpha output...95%...73%”
“Increasing output on Golf by 7% to stabilize the right wing.”
“Increasing output on Bravo by 13% to stabilize the left wing.”
“Alpha output successfully reduced to zero.”
There was nary a moment of silence in the command room, at any hour of the day. Always filled with the buzz and hum of machines and feeds tracking, mapping and modifying the course of the spaceship and the automagods, not to mention the voices of engineers and leaders relaying vocally the next steps to take whenever a new maneuver was to be taken.
Even if the combination of all three automagods was enough to break free into the cosmos they couldn’t spend a moment not actually advancing forward.
It has been days and they are only halfway the distance needed to reach the moon.
Around the seventh hour, well after they left the shackle of gravity, a new issue arose in the eyes of those observing the vitals of the pilots.
When were they supposed to rest?
Even if piloting them was less taxing than previously theorized, there was no way they would survive days without food or water, much less sleep and rest.
This was the answer to that conundrum.
Eustace’s eyes locked onto the prone form of Alpha’s pilot and the minute twitch of fingers product of the gradual recovery of physical feeling.
“Status.” His voice was quiet but clear, startling an engineer monitoring atmospheric conditions. She does a double take from the monitor to Eustace and back, before nervously pushing up her glasses.
“Yes! Alpha pilot is in the midst of disengaging from Automagod Pyet-A. The load has been successfully transferred to the remaining pilots without issue, and is set to continue that way until the next rotation at zero seven hundred and thirty seven.”
Eight hours and 18 more minutes.
Eustace nods, before looking at the pilot a few steps away from him. Their gloved hand forms a fist slowly, before relaxing it completely. The visor lets out a low hum as it powers down and the pilot reaches up to rid themselves of the contraption, squinting slightly at the change in lighting.
Endless darkness, faint spots of light warped by distance and yet appearing almost close enough to touch.
The sky below, vast, endless. An unfathomable distance between them.
Like the surface below the sky to us, he’d described.
They stop squinting, blinking rapidly away tears borne out of the overstimulation before wiping them away with the back of his hand.
It is then that those brown eyes look up and meet with icy blue, brightening in an instant.
“Eustace! Are you done with your patrols?”
“Yeah. All clear.”
The captain had gotten the night shift, most of the time coinciding with the end of his rounds. There was no sense trying to keep an eternal vigilance without rest, just as they couldn’t sustain the entire trip without breaks.
At least, that is what he tries to tell himself.
Gran smiles blindingly, slightly wobbly once on his feet, but Eustace makes no move to steady him. There is no need to, as the captain regains his gait after a few minutes.
There’s surprisingly a good quantity of people milling around; keeping the interfaces up and running consumed a ridiculous amount of resources and yet what could be stored near the command room was enough but for a brief hour or two.
Soldiers carrying materials, engineers inspecting crates, even the mess hall was not silent- a few night duty soldiers eating and some night owls who couldn’t sleep nursing their preferred poison.
More than a portion vanished in the blink of an eye. Even with the resources powering the automagods, they still took energy from the pilots themselves.
He looked like he could give Lyria a run for her money.
“Wshs-...what's so funny?”
“You’ll get nightmares if you eat so much right now.”
“Sorry.” But all Eustace gets is a sheepish smile and a slower pace. He doesn’t press it further, poking at his own rations efficiently.
This has been his routine for the past few days, and there is some comfort to be had in the fragile stalemate they found themselves right now.
Eustace enters the command room at 7 o'clock sharp. Some of the engineers have been relieved of their duties by the next shift, while he spots Ilsa nursing a fresh mug of coffee; eyes closed but attentively listening to the report by her cadet if the unnatural stillness of her ears was to be believed.
She opens her eyes slowly, taking another sip of the stained mug before dismissing the cadet as the report ends. Her sight meets Eustace in the next moment, expression completely clear and neutral.
And yet the subtle bristling of her ears tells him what she thinks about his recent actions.
It doesn’t bother him one bit. If there is someone who understands what needs to be done, it is her, no matter how she might personally feel about it.
“Sorry! I got a bit caught up.”
Gran dashes his way inside, barely a few minutes after the turn of the hour, already dressed in the pilot suit-transmission diadem almost buried in the mess of his still damp hair.
“You’re still in time, don’t worry Captain.” As if on cue, her ears droop ever so slightly in tandem with the softening of her expression.
It was a bold-faced lie, as she’d have chewed out already to tears any of her cadets who dared arrive but a minute later, instead of seven. The uncomfortable expression of some of the engineers and aforementioned cadets hauling things around betrays exactly what they think about it as well.
And yet, he finds himself agreeing with her wholeheartedly.
He’d rescued Vaseraga out of all people from drowning into his food a few days ago, and seen Gwynne passed out in a corner more than once, or unceremoniously carried by a pitying soul.
A few minutes of lateness, a disheveled but clean appearance was more than they dared demand from him right now.
“I see, still, i don’t want to keep Gwynne awake for too long if I can help it.”
Gran accepts a fresh cup of coffee from an errand boy with a quick thanks, watching with curiosity as the intensity of the room increases to reconnect him again and switch out the next shift.
“Docking procedure for Alpha on stand by.”
All too soon, it is time. The captain downs the last of the coffee with a large gulp and wipes his mouth, sitting and settling in place comfortably for the next eight hours.
There is no need to say parting words, not to him, not to the staff, not to Ilsa. It is contained in the individual looks he gives them, a smile and a nod.
“Docking procedure for Alpha initiated.”
The visor comes down on his eyes and Eustace watches with growing strain as his muscles relax little by little, until it looks he is asleep, peacefully resting in the midst of that nest of wires.
It’s an uncomfortable reminder of the part he has been forcefully thrust upon to complete, and the powerlessness Eustace has in aiding any of them in this leg of the journey.
“I’ll be going.”
He doesn’t wait for Gwynne to detach from Arianensa, only offering a quick departure to Ilsa.
It is not Ilsa who answers him. Incredulous, he turns to look at Gran, smiling faintly even as immobile he appears to be, then to Ilsa, who has a wry, tired smile in her face.
Knowing too much.
“Mahira tuned up the comms system earlier. Now we can communicate by sound instead of just typing instructions in their interface.”
There is now a small smile on the Erune’s face, steps slightly lighter and ears a little taller.
“You too, captain.”
He exits the command room with no further delays.
This is something only he can do.
There is also something only Eustace can do.
If it’s for the sake of protecting what is most dear to him, now that he can.
Flamek slumbers, awaiting for its handler.