"Dan, look at this. You were right: they're falling in order. Counterclockwise, circular."
Dannion's expression told Illyana he'd much rather have been wrong. "Order of what, though? There's no reason the spheres should fail in sequence. They're autonomous, with dedicated parallel systems. The only connection they share is us."
Illyana looked at the order again and recalled Raynolds's words: Like the lights just went out.
"Sound full alert. Dan, call for that planet-hopper. Dr. Callins, please assemble your staff and ensure all evac prep is carried out. You have four hours."
Callins protested, spluttering, "What —? But... you can't —" She shooed him out of the room, still protesting. Illyana knew she was the least-respected member of staff on the planet, but security technically outranked non-combat personnel, so he could suck it.
Dannion's fingers hovered over the console. "Illyana... don't go out there. Please."
She smiled sadly. "Dan... there's nothing I'd rather do than stay here and just wait for evac. But I can't. It's my job." Deep down, even after the horror and trauma, Illyana Jorres was still a soldier. A marine. And she couldn't just stand by while... while...
She didn't even want to think of the word.
* * *
"Krakulv Base, this is the marine Destroyer Victory. We have visual; please respond."
Five minutes ahead of schedule. Lee switched her headset to the outbound channel. "Victory, this is Krakulv Base, Major Lee Treicher speaking. Good to hear you. We're just about cooked down here. I have approx one-zero-zero to one-five-zero survivors for evac; please advise."
"Looking kind of crowded down there, Major. Can we land a Destroyer in your bay?"
Lee swore under her breath. Krakulv hadn't been designed to handle a ship the size of the Victory. Nobody had thought it would be necessary. "Negative. Can you set down outside the walls?"
"Negative back at you. There's a blanket of zerg for half a klick in all directions."
"Did you already pick up our medivacs?"
"Affirmative, all present and accounted for."
"Then listen up. We have one medivac remaining here. Send three more down empty, then move into position over the base and give us air-to-surface artillery fire to buy us time."
The line went silent. Lee knew the ship's captain would be weighing her suggestion, but it was the only sensible option. Even a basic Destroyer like the Victory was loaded out with enough artillery to make the zerg think twice, and had enough armor to withstand counterattacks.
The line crackled back to life. "Copy that, Major. Sounds like a plan. ETA to firing position is three minutes. We'll launch the medivacs from there."
Lee spent the next three minutes coordinating her marines. She directed injured troops to the base's remaining medivac, and ordered everyone else to fall back inside the building. Then she sent the remaining centcomm skeleton crew to the medivac bay. They argued, but backed down when she hit them with that cold glare that worked so well on Brach. They filed out... and ran into her husband, pushing his way through in the opposite direction.
"Lee! Come on; let's go!"
A green light on the main console signaled the medivac pilot was ready. Lee opened the hangar blast doors. "You go ahead, Brach. I'm staying until final evac."
"This is final evac! The Destroyer's leveling into position. This base is not a starship, Lee, and you're not the captain! You don't have to go down with it!"
"I don't intend to. But we can't risk the zerg getting our intel, and there's no time to wipe everything."
"So set the self-destruct nukes, and let's go!"