Sonoda switched to a private link. "A billion's not possible. That would be over..."
"The power of a trillion supernovas. Emitting every second. But the intervals are widening. If we wait, we'll lose it."
Sonoda extruded an antenna from his helmet, set its oscillation rate, and scanned the wedge of starlight that the Nomad's vast sweeping curve was slowly devouring off to his right. Numerals flickered steadily across his HUD as he reran them twice.
"Orders, sir?" Thekford said in his ear. Sonoda could tell from his tone that Thekford had done the calculations as well. "Far in excess of anything we've encountered."
"We can relocate it once we're clear," Veska said sharply.
"Too far," he said.
"Sir, engines are still priming. Regardless, it's so far we're talking a one-way trip. Assuming the G's don't tear us apart or it sizzles our instruments to a crisp." An imploring note had crept into her voice. "It's not worth it, Goren." He waited. She went on: "Our mission's to report back."
She was right. But a billion ergs.
He looked at the open hatchway. There was only room and time for a single decompression. He gazed down. Krint's hand groped for the rung inches beneath Sonoda's ankles. The kid was grinning up at him, gap-toothed and relieved.
The Mission, Sonoda thought. Nothing else matters.
As Krint's arm reached for the rung, Sonoda kicked down, his foot crunching into Krint's faceplate. He glimpsed Krint's stunned look of horror and amazement. Then air hissed out, the youthful freckled face turned blue, and his body spun away, off towards the nebula.
Sonoda glided into the hatchway and turned to watch it begin rolling shut. Even through his suit he felt Nomad throb with revving power. "Veska, I'm in. Punch it."
"On it," she said flatly. She didn't ask about Krint. She didn't need to.
Through the viewport he watched the tiny speck of Krint's body disappear amid glittering hurricanes of rocks the size of continents hurtling inexorably towards Nomad.
Then the engines screamed and Sonoda was flung against the wall. The stars through the viewport lengthened into comet-trails. Like arrows, he thought bitterly, charting his headlong descent. Then he blacked out and dreamed for the first of many, many times of Krint's terrified face.