A soft bristling noise, like an atonal chime, kept Jane awake. Every time she dozed off, the noise woke her up again.

She tried to calm herself by recalling it was just small debris from the Dhrakal, the patriarchist Harpy ship the Horizon had destroyed. Occasionally a larger piece bumped against the hull, interrupting the chiming noise with a loud “dong”.

It had been that way for days now, thankfully the debris had kept the momentum of the Dhrakal, and onky slowly rushed against the hull of Horizon, instead of hitting her with the speed of a bullet, since the capacity of taking damage from impacts was significantly lower after the suicide impacts by Dhrakal’s fighter pilots.

Tossing sround on the bed she looked at Wolfgang, peacefully sleeping. Snoring from the other room told her that at least one of her children was fast asleep as well.

Giving up on the idea of sleeping that night, Jane slipped out of bed, got dressd and left the quarters. The big Admiral’s quarters were gone, taken out by a suicide pilot. Even if they hadn’t, she probably would’ve given them up to other families.

One couple from alpha had not only to take care of their own children since the attack, but of their nieces and nefews, since both the husband’s sister and the wife’s sister and their respective spouses had died in the attack.

Jane’s son Wolfgang junior had gotten away with a broken arm and a few scratches, her daughter hadn’t sustained any injuries at all.

Late night strolls always were interesting to Jane, as she turned up places she hadn’t expected. Laying her eyes on an open mess hall, that hadn’t been converted to a shelter for the now homeless, Jane sighed.

Exhaustion weighed heavily on her, she sure could use a dose of caffeine, or two.

Inside there were plenty of people, in uniform and in casual outfit. None seemed to take notice of her, for a change she was glad for that.

She got up to the vendor, who looked into her face, nodded before she could say anything, and served her a cup. The smell alone seemed to increase her pulse, she took the cup with a thankful nod and trod off.

“Mum?” Wolfgang seemed astonished to find her in the mess hall, he too held a cup of the caffeine laced drink. “Wolfgang. What are you doing here st this hour?” Teenage boys out after midnight, not uncommon, but she didn’t like it if it was her son.

“That noise. Constantly it sounds like a shower of nails on metal plates, occasionally interrupted by a bell being tolled by an evil sadistic hunchback in some tower close by!” He drank from the cup.

“Too many movies for you it seems.” Benind smiling she too took a sip, she had heard that Wolfgang had a blog somewhere in the Horizon net, where he published stories and poems, but had never found it, hearing these words from his mouth, she however knew that it must be good.

“Mum, it’s driving me insane. Can’t I sleep over at Jackie’s place? They live on alpha, in the wake of subalpha, no noise!”

Ah. The infamous Jackie. Jane wanted to meet that girl for what seemed like ages now. “If her parents agree, who am I to stop you? Obviously you can sneak out in the middle of the night without me noticing, although I couldn’t sleep either.” Winking she felt only little effect of the drink, longingnfor another one.

“Thanks.” He was stunned by her reply, apparently he had thought she’d be a little less linient.

“Now, young man. I believe there is a relatively quiet spot for you to rest your head, after all, it’s a school night.” She tucked her arm in his and pulled him out of the mess hall.

In the aft section of subalpha, in a crew bunk room she sent him to bed. Not very comfortable, and three men already slept in the other bunk beds, but compared to the constant bristling noise in their quarters, it was relatively quiet.

Pondering about the possibility of taking a bunk bed herself, Jane found herself wandering the hallway outside the command centre.

“Admiral! Didn’t expect to see you here for another four hours.” Julia Dimarco, night shift’s commanding officer greeted her.

“I’m just,” distracted by the bristling noise Jane looked around, seeming a little spooked, “wandering around.”

“Kept awake by that noise, Ma’am?” Just by looking at the other woman Jane knew that Julia was plagued by the same thing.

“Doc gave me tranquilisers. I must say, they work just fine.” The man at the post of the first officer said with a docile smile.

Suspecting that they had an effect on him even while awake Jane raised an eyebrow, but decided not to launch an investigation into that matter. A crew deprived of sleep was less functional than a crew that needed medication to sleep, even if that influenced their awake performance.

“Either way, I think I’ll try to get some sleep now.” Jane greeted them, turning on her heel.

“Ma’am?” Julia called her back as she almost had reached the door, over the bristling noise she had overheard the beeping of her console. “There is an incoming call from beta.”

Beta.

That could only be an engineering crew, since that ring was shut down completely.

“We have dismantled the suspensions in the faulty section.” Immediately Jane recognised the voice as Jake’s. “Better get me the Admiral.”

“I’m here Jake. Couldn’t find any sleep with the hailstorm of debris banging against the hull. What do you need me for?”

“Better take a look at this Jane.” Squinting her eyes at the small screen Jane sighed internally. Not enough sleep always had a negative, although temporary, effect on her eyesight, she laid the image on the large view screen. “What am I seeing here Jake?”

“The worse case scenario.”

The camera followed a trace of weakened material. For years on end the magnetic suspension of the unevenly rotating beta ring had worked on the material, wearing it out.

“We will attempt to patch this thing, but I nust say, I have little confidence in the success of that.”

Jane closed her eyes. For a short moment her exhaustion played her dreams before her eyes, she opened them gasoing for air, trying to snap out of it. “See what you can do, but don’t forget to take breaks and get some sleep in beween.” The line dropped.

Should she too pay a visit to the infirmary?

No, she decided, her shift began too soon. “If someone would be kind enough to go to the barracks and wake me up at 0530?” Whirling around on her heel Jane headed out of the command centre.

Sleep came easily. Simpky lying down and closing her eyes. No tossing and turning, later Jane attributed it to the lack of the bristling noise.

Deep sleep with confused and confusing dreams soon engulfed her mind, relaxed her body.

“Admiral?” Julia’s voice woke her from the hailstorm of images. “It’s 0530. I’m here tonwake you up.”

“Aye.” Jane grumbled, feeling less relaxed for a moment than a few hours before she rubbed her eyes. Light was stinging them.

Before the weakened material and shodded suspension had been detected, Jake had suggested a redistribution of mass from the alpha and gamma rings to beta, so the ship would resemble less a dumbbell, mass wise, and thus would be less vulnerable to wobbling if the gravitational tides of ES-p296 and its moons influenced the ship.

She had dreamt of that.

Pods that flew from the alpha and gamma rings to beta, but as they wanted to dock a magnetic surge flung them off into space. After which the ship began to woble until it broke apart.

“Thank you, any news from Mr. Khaku?”

“No, Jake hasn’t called again. I assume he’s too busy fixing the ship.”

Again thanking her Jane stretched. She needed coffee.

Badly.

Thankfully she accepted the lab produced caffeine drink from Julia, who had forseen the Admiral’s need for it.

Half of the day passed by without word from the engineering crew working in beta. Going through the fifth cup by noon, Jane decided to take some action, instead of waiting for Jake or his people to contact her.

Soon after sitting down in the maintenance cab the weightlessness set in. For once in her life the feeling of it didn’t make her sick, after a few minutes she arrived at the beta ring sections of the tubes, opened the hatches.

“Admiral! What brings you here?” Jake floated towards her cab from his. The tubes were pressurised, working in a spacesuit was not his speciality, and he soon enough would have to, in order to assess the damage on the outside of the spine, where the beta ring ended.

“Your lack of updates.” She smiled. Pointing at a box near her in a seat. “I brought snacks and coffee.”

“You’re a lifesaver Jane.” Jake entered the cab with little difficulty. Working in zero G for a long time now he had gained a lot of experience in doing so. “We’re working hard, but as I said, I have little confidence in the outcome. We also have to work on the putside of the spine. Let me tell you, the gardens are not as pretty as they used to be, without gravity.” Snickering Jane admitted she could only imagine.

“What else needs to be done?”

“Too much. We can repair a human’s broken spine with our technology, but for Horizon, it’sit’sa different story. We can patch it together, but that creates a blockade in the tubes. If we don’t, she’ll tear apart. On the outside, gardenwise, we would seriously weaken the sustainability of a stable gardening environment.”

Jane raised a hand, floating at the door of the cab, lookingnout at the work crewsin the tube. “Loosing the ability to travel through beta, and losing the beta gardens, or all of beta for that matter, is a small price to pay, compared to the alternative. I theory the ship could make it to its destination if it breaks apart, but it would take a lot of work.” She turned around lookimg at her chief engineer. “And luck.” Her mouth was a narrow straight line in her face.

“I’ve let you down before, Admiral, so you have no reason tontrust my words, but I believe we should separate the ship on purpose.”

Stunned Jane opened her mouth but found no words.

“We can patch her up, it is possible we go through the solar system relatively unscathed. But entering and maintaining a stable orbit with Horizon? The ships own inertia could tear off one section, breaking her apart and sending one, or both parts, into an unstable orbit, possibly into damnation.”

Still unable to find words Jane turned her head to face the tube again. “I am not prepared, or willing, to tear this ship, this crew apart. At least not yet. We will cross that bridge when all else fails.”

Drinking his coffee from a sack with a straw Jake nodded. “As you wish, Admiral. I’ll install special sensors, that measure the stress the spine is under. That way, we’ll know when it’s time to, cross that bridge.”

Slowly the door of the maintenance cab closed. Jake had disembarked with the food and coffee for his crew.

Jane was alone again.

Alone with her thoughts, and memories of the nightmare. Doors opened, revealing the hallway outside. People wandered by, the doors closed.

A nagging thought kept Jane seated. The thought that she was being irrational. The possibility of Horizon breaking apart was very real.

Admiral Grienberg would’ve severed the ship in half at the blink of an eye if it meant saving it, while trying to keep it patched together, like a badly sewn on trouseleg, could spell disaster for one or both parts of the ship.

Jane didn’t notice the cab moving again, traveling to it’s default position in a recess in the tube network, as she was following the other nagging thought.

It could spell disaster. Not necessarily meaning it would.

It was quiet in the cab.

Sitting in its waiting position, it was sealed off from sounds reaching it, by the vacuum in the tube. Soon Jane dozed off.

Jake looked at the work he had completed. Satisfaction filled his chest, heaving with every breath he drew.

Slowly his gaze wandered down the tube. There was a lot of work to be done, his satisfaction withered, exhaustion replaced it. Too much work.

He need more hands.

More hands than the engineering crew could provide him with.

More hands than were on the ship. And those weren’t qualified.

“Maybe we should use automated welders?” Stefanie, his colleague and love of his life followed hia gaze. “We could modify the maintenance cab, or cabs, to do it. Scan after them to find spots that need special attention, and go oly on those manually?”

Wrinkling his forehead Jake exhaled audibly. “Maybe, get to work sweetie, go forth and make us a welding bot.” Winking at him she pushed off in the direction of the rear of Horizon. Modifying a maintenance cab would take her a few hours.

He returned his attention to the walls. Maybe he could modify the device that was used to clean and maintain the exterior of the spine inside Beta, so the artificial light could shine brightly, to a similar end?

Basicall it was a huge ring, moving slowly across the spine. Cleaning was fully automatic, but there was room for peple there to replace faulty parts? A warning chime from the front of Horizon drew his attention.

After a few moments the gate opened, slowly a maintenance cab floated in, stopped right behind the gate.

Curiously he continued staring at the door, until it finally opened.

“What do you need to do, to separate the ship?” Jane appeared in the open door.

Actually, Jake had not prepared any detailed plans for that, as the Admiral dismissed the idea right away.

“Cutting it apart at the joints of beta is the best course of action I guess. Keep a bit of beta around for the rear to act as deflector.”

“Prepare what you can, we’ll do that.” In her voice a tone of regrett was unmistakable, but Jake didn’t pick up on that. “Aye. I’ll have it ready as fast as I can.”

After the Admiralhad left again, Jake contacted Stephanie, informing her of the change of plans, and that she needed to outfit the maintenance cab with something more powerful.

With a feeling of dread Jake entered the control room inside the subalpha ring. Ever since the launch, the entire ship had run on the main reactor in subgamma. A giant fusion reactor.

For successful separation the forward section needed to provide for their own power. Each of the five rings had come with a backup power reactor.

Fission reactors.

The consoles in the control rooms were littered with switches, buttons and instruments, none of which were a digital display on a touchscreen like the rest of the ship, in case of a power failure, they needed to remain operational.

“Maybe we should reconsider. I might be wrong about the breaking apart theory.” Quesy he refrained from powering up the control panels. “You may also be right.” Jane closed her eyes. For three weeks Jake had worked hard to prepare everything for the separation.

From the beta ring he had taken the laser canons, designed to shoot debris, later used to shoot harpies out of the sky. Dived into four sets, one was set in the ring structure around the spine inside the beta gardens, aiming forward, to cut through the spine, as the ring slowly turned.

The others were in the tubes just outside alpha. So they could cut away the spine there. From inside the central tube in the affected areas, all people in cryogenic chambers had been revived and situated.

There was no going back now.

“Do it. That’s an order.” Jane grumbled, seldom had she to tell people that an order was an order. If she had to, she hated it.

“We still need names. We won’t call it Horizon fron and back, are we?” Trying to win some time Jake still hoped there was something that would allow him to not push that button. “Well, sticking with the name of Horizon, let’s go with Dawn and Dusk. Now, fire this thing up.”

Not musing at all in that moment Jane urged for the activation of subalpha’s reactor. Already, in the nights of constantly hearing the bristling of debris, she had deciddd on the names, agreed on them with the governors.

She was just glad there was no Harpy ship around that could get hit by a stray laser beam. Right after the beta ring was shut down, the ambassadorial ship disengaged and positioned itself at a safe distance, Ambassador Hylia was on subalpha.

“Aye Ma’am.” Hesitantly Jake pulled the lever. Fully automated the system came to life. Pumps engaged, fuel was lowered out from casings. After a few minutes the system was fully operational. “We will have to wait for the system to reach operational levels, but this looks good.” A sigh of relief from Jake, was mostly a good sign.

“Of course it does, the people who built this were no amateurs.” Stephanie commented, the situation they were in was unforseen, thus the people who had built the Horizon were not to blame for the broken spine in, and around beta. “I did a little reading, but I need verification, we are having a Thorium reactor here, not the kind of reactor they used on earth?” Jane wandered down the rows of control panels. She had no idea what any of these controls did, or showed.

“Well, not entirely. Subalpha and subgamma have Thorium reactors, alpha through gamma have conventional fission reactors. It was believed that for some unforseen reason there might be the need to make more nukes, which could relatively easily be made by using those kinds of reactors. The more stable reactors were reserved for the heart and the brain of the ship.”

Mildly unsettled by those news Jane nodded. The governor would not be happy about having a reactor under his chair that was possibly a timebomb.

Suddenly beeping signals from one console alerted Jane, rushing to the station Jake and Stephanie checked the instruments, then the contol panel. “This is a display of beta’s reactor!” Jake cussed, he checked the other consoles for the reactors on the other rings. “Alpha and gamma have begun working as well. It must be some sort of fail safe, if this reactor is turned on, the others follow.”

“Subgamma is dead. Probably because the fusion reactor is still up and running.” Quickly Stephanie returned from the subgamma panel to the beta panel. “Pumps aren’t working. There is a pressure build up. Failsafe is not engaging, shutdown is unresponsive.”

Jane had joined them at the control panels. “How much time do we have before it goes critical?”

Shrugging his shoulders Jake could only guess. “An hour? Maybe a bit more.”

Throwing her hands in the air Jane turned around to the door. “Time to cut the ship in two?”

“Two hours, if we hurry.”

Of course. “Get to it, now.”

Nodding Jake sent Stephanie to do it, as he remained at the controls to try and win some time. “I will lose comtrol over the reactor when the lines are severed.” Although the wiring was in the center of the spine, Jake knew that the spine would not hold out long against the lasers, cutting would continue after the spine was severed to cut away most of beta ring, so Dusk Horizon would not carry a lot of dead weight in front of it, on a weak spine.

Terrified he looked up from the control panel. “Fuck! The reactor is in beta’s aft section!”

“Mulgrew to Gruber, abort separation, but stand ready.” A swarm of engineering staff entered the room, taking the controls, Jake stepped back, Jane mustered him.

“Dusk Horizon will have to deal without a deflector.” He took out a tablet punched in amfew commands, while rushing out of the room. The hallway outside the reactor control room was dusty, as it was seldom in use. Srill there was a tube entrance, a cab was waiting for Jake, Jane followed on his heels.

Over the glasses she had been informed by Stephanie that the modified cabs had moved from their position to just outisde gamma, and began firing their lasers, cutting off gamma and subgamma. “What are you intending to do?” Jane asked as they entered the spine, lost gravity.

Jake remained silent for a few moments until the cab came to a stop and opened the doors to a hallway, still there was no gravity.

“Buying you some time. Now, I have realigned the lasers in the maintenance cabs, the ring is another bargain, they’re fixed in position, but the cabs can be retrieved and will go to their original positions.” He plunged himself out of the cab, leaving Jane paralysed.

“Good luck, Jane.” Doors closed and the cab moved away automatically.

“Good luck, Jake.” She finally mumbled as the cab entered subalpha again.

Devastated Stephanie awaited the Admiral in the command centre, where the controls for the maintenance cabs had been rerouted to. “Status?” Jane took her seat, grinding her tears. She had known Jake for years, and knew that, what he was doing, was suicide. Still, she had more lives to consider than just his,

Upon leaving the cab, she had sent it back to where Jake had taken off, with the express order to only leave if Jake was inside.

“He is working the manual controls.” Her fist officer Derek commented, as Stephanie sat in a corner sobbing.

“Admiral!” Jake’s voice yelledout of the speakers. “Some of the fuel rods have begun melting, I can’t contain the situation, sorry.”

“Get your ass in the cab.”

“But if I release the water into space there is a chance to prevent a catastrophe.” Glancing to Derek who shook his head Jane grew angry. “Jake, listen, the venting pipes are jammed, you jeed to get back. I parked the cab where you left it, get back. Now.”

Silence filled the line to Jake for a moment. “I can do it Admiral. By releasing the contaminated steam into the hallways and direct it into the gardens.”

Again Derek shook his head, Stephanie jumped to her feet. “No! Jake, that’d be your death!”

“You know sweetie, my favorite classic SciFi movie? At the ending?” Jake’s voice trembled, by a look at her display Jane saw that the maintenance cabs were moving into position again, cutting Jake off from a way back.

“Don’t, please.”

“I must. My life is a small price to pay, for the lives of all of you.” Derek stated that the lasers had been turned on remotely from Jake’s tablet. “Who knows, my love? We’re amongst the stars, and if this was science fiction, I could return. No one truly dies in science fiction.”

Instead of a repky Stephanie sobbed, sinkingnto her knees at Derek’s console.

Maintaining his professionalism Derek informed Jane that Jake had successfully vented the steam into the hallways and gardens.

Which made Stephanie sob harder. “It’s getting quite hot in here. Admiral, I’m switching to wireless, the spine should be severed soon. If radiation interferes too much, let me just say, live long and” transmission ended.

Static filled the line, for a few moments there was not a word uttered in the command centre. Except for Stephanie’s sobs, the bristling noise of debris and the static noise, the room was filled with silence.

“There is too much interference, Admiral.” Slowly coming to terms with what just had happened, Jane nodded.

“Radiation leaks detected!” Woken to action Jane looked up from her console. A stream of vapor shot out from the beta ring’s center.

“Reading multiple fissures on beta’s aft section.” The engineer replacing Stephanie, Matthias Lehner, stated dryly.

They had waited an hour.

An hour without word, or sign from Jake.

“Get it out from in between Dusk Horizon and us.” She finally sighed, the remote comtrols for the pods remaining on beta, would soon be affected by the radiation too.

Simultaneously the pods fired their engines, without disengaging from the superstructure, pulling the beta ring away, thrusters had been aligned sonthe pods wouldn’t try to pull the ring in various directions, breaking it apart, thus creating a new debris field.

Farewell, Jake. You did fine. “I’ll be in my quarters. If anyone needs me, wait for tomorrow’s shif to tell me. Unless the ship is on fire.” She winked at Derek, who took her seat.

Inside her quarters she was greeted with just the bristling noise, but otherwise silence. Her family was not home, feeling blissed, she sat down.

Opened her tablet, flipped through her library, until she found a book she wanted to read. Something that would take her mind off of Jake and his sacrifice.

Light reading.

After a few pages her mind drifted off.

Jake’s last words to Stephanie haunted her mind. Curious she wanted to know which movie it was that he was referring to. Could she ask Stephanie?

Deciding against it she used her Admiral’s privileges to gain access to Jake’s viewing habits on the on board movie databases.

Mirrored systems were stored on all rings, hence it was no problem that his former quarters were on subgamma, on the now Dusk Horizon.

Soon she found what she had been looking for, turned her attention to the screen in the room, loading the movie.

It was in the middle of the night when Jane was gently awoken by her son. “I didn’t know you watched Star Trek.” He smiled. “Normally I don’t.” Jane stretched. “What time is it?”

“Three in the morning. Dad sent me since you didn’t show up at aunt Maggie’s, remember?” Actually she had forgotten.

The family wanted to sleep there since she and Wolfgang jr. couldn’t sleep at all, and Wolfgang and hptheir daughter slept only badly. “Couldn’t sleep there either?”

Her son made a painful face. “Not after dad woke me.”

Typical for her man, not to come over himself but wake up and send his son. “You look horrible Mum. What’s up?”

“Friend of mine is MIA, probably dead by now.” Calmly Wolfgang sat down too, turned the movie back on. “Wanna talk about it?”

Suspiciously Jane squinted at her teenage son. “You’re the weirdest, yet kindest teen I know of.”

“You’re the one who raised me, so whose to blame for that?” The grin in his face was loveable.

“Nice try young man. There’s not much tonsay. He was on beta trying to contain a catastrophe, succeeding in doing so, but also to his presumed demise.”

Wolfgang glanced over to the movie. He connected the dots. “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. He watched Star Trek.” Slowly Jane nodded. When did her son watch this? Had she missed it?

How could she?

“In that respect mum, he’s a true hero, and if he truly is dead, and not floating out there in a sealed container, he deserves to be remembered with all honor.” He yawned, got up.

Cupping a hand behind his ear he pounted at the walls, winked and went to bed.

Thinking about his words Jane watched the movie again, without dozing off this time, so she could see the ending.

“Scan for faint energy emissions in the beta wreckage!”

Stomped by the sudden order Derek looked at the Admiral with awe. Her hair was a mess, she looked as if she either hadn’t slept the night before, or hadn’t dressed and brushed that morning.

Or both.

“Ma’am?”

Explaining she had an epiphany from watching the movie that Jake had been referencing, she again ordered him to scan for the faint signs of an active cryogenic chamber.

“Got something, it barely registers through all that radiation.” With a wrinkled forhead Derek turned to her. “Now we need to get him out.”

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