Agnon’s father Caliphnon coughed so violently that orange spittle flew from his gray lips to the screen he stared at so intently.
One of the four elderpriests gathered with him in the observatory handed him a towel, and all ignored the interruption. They knew Caliphnon was very sick, and there was little they could do.
More important was whether the ships landed safely on this new planet the priests called Aquavia.
The rickety transports had been slinged at full warp speed to the green-blue planet and were the latest and most desperate of the escape attempts thus far.
Ships with little maintenance. Rushed takeoffs. No time to double-check calculations of landing coordinates.
Caliphnon held his cough back with the towel in his fist as he watched the red, flashing pins on the screen. They showed, at least, that most transports had landed on Aquavia, that most were not destroyed. But, the pins also signaled a problem: the transports were not moving. The smugglers had planned to drop the refugees and get back in the air for a return trip, quickly.
They were grounded. They must have crashed. Damage was impossible to tell without communication lines. And there were none.
The ships were also not as close together as hoped. It could take days for all those aboard to reunite, those that lived at least.
The priests did not speak often in the observatory. Most of their race conveyed simple, basic, emphatic thoughts through touch. When they did speak, like ventriloquists, it was the old language, tossed in the air at different heights and breadths, depending on the seriousness of the message.
“But the ships’ sensors add certainty to our calculations,” one priest said loudly, and as broadly spaced as he could muster. It echoed in the high-ceilings of the observatory.
“Our people can breathe there. And the largest of the poolfluids at the landing site is neither too hot nor too cold.”
Caliphnon patted this priest on the back with a shaky, long, gray hand, saying:
“Yes there is hope. We have no choice. We must send the remaining ships to the same coordinates.”
“There is no time.”
He bowed deeply to each priest and each saw — but did not mention — the orange that now stained much of the front and back of their leader’s long white robes.
They watched quietly as he retreated from the observatory, a dark-pillared dome streaked with shimmerstone reflecting the steady flashing of the red pins.