“We’re being ordered to turn back,” Bessler reported from the pilot’s seat as she steered the thopter toward the stratosphere and the waiting Medici beyond.
Captain Equinox, strapped into a padded bench at a work table in the passenger cabin, glanced up from his holo display – he’d begun reading an article about hydroponic gardening, specifically for growing a particularly stunning violet abutilon. “Ordered by whom?” he asked. For a moment, he fostered the hope that the Enclave had changed their collective mind about the threat posed by the doomed statue and how to address the issue.
The scout frowned, then tapped a sequence of commands into the pad on her console. “Transferring the communication feed to you, sir,” she said.
The plant’s image morphed into the face of General Nucci. “Captain,” she said. “Congratulations on surviving your encounter with the Enclave.”
“Thank you, General,” he said, straightening out of habit. “Bessler tells me we’re supposed to return planetside?”
“More accurate to say *you* are returning planetside,” Nucci said.
His stomach sank. Immediately, he hated where this could be going. “Why?”
“I regret to inform you that the Da Vinci Exploration Service must dismiss you from its ranks,” the general said.
“What?!” Equinox tried to leap from his seat to stand, but the strap held him securely in place, leaving him to look as powerless as he felt.
“The Enclave took another vote in your absence,” Nucci said. “They conditioned further funding of the service on your dismissal.”
They shot the messenger, Equinox fumed. “That’s not fair, General. I have devoted two decades of my life to the service. I presented an honest assessment of a dire situation to the Enclave. That they did not want to hear what I had to say or, worse, act in the best interests of the inhabitants of this colony, is not by any measure my fault.”
Bessler muttered over her shoulder: “It’s also a death sentence.”
The captain’s mouth fell open as the pilot’s words sank in. Someone in the Enclave wanted to make sure that Equinox suffered the fate he had predicted for everyone else. Xebec, probably.
“It is out of my hands,” Nucci said.
Equinox shook his head. “No, General, it is not. It is *entirely* in your hands. Tomorrow, if Saint Kanye destroys the surface of this planet, the church will no longer exist to fund the service. That vote was just a last vindictive slap at me from a group of zealots who want me to share their fate.”
General Nucci considered the captain’s plea. Eventually, she said, “Captain Equinox, are you there?”
“I…” He looked puzzled. “Yes, General, I’m here. We were just…”
“Captain Equinox?” she repeated. Her brow knitted. Her jaw set. She mouthed, but did not say: “Lost contact.”
“Oh,” Equinox said, understanding. He felt the warmth of hope returning. “Bessler, see if you can do anything about the general’s transmission. We’re losing signal.”
“Is that right?” Bessler asked. She tapped on her console. The holo image blurred with static.
“Cap…nox?” Nucci said between glitches.
And then her image flickered out.
Just like that, his life was spared. But he had to wonder what he had really gained beyond the opportunity to see the astrometrics projection play out within the next twenty-four hours. He would have a front-row seat for the Da Vinci apocalypse, the end of the world he had known, and the demise of a proud civilization.
What happened next?
Now, at least, it seemed he would have the chance to find out.
“Get us on the Medici, Bessler,” Equinox sighed. “Before the general changes her mind.”
Continued in Da Vinci Colony Installment Four.