Perhaps she looked as poorly as she felt; when she sat down, a warm voice greeted across the table, “Good morning, Leta. Sleep alright?”
It was Aiden, the so-called ‘human resources’ director that Cyrus had introduced her to her first morning aboard. As far as Leta could tell, he was among the oldest aboard, late thirties perhaps, with flecks of premature gray in his light-brown beard. He also seemed polite and normal, which made Leta wonder what the hell he was doing aboard the Dionysian.
Without asking, he poured her a mug of coffee and slid it over. Leta considered answering his question the polite way, but something in his voice made her falter. “Not particularly,” she admitted after a moment.
“I wouldn’t either, after what happened yesterday.” He did not look surprised. In fact, he looked a little upset, a furrow in his brow. “I wouldn’t blame you if you demanded to be let off at the next port.”
Leta managed a small, wry smile. That same thought had occurred to her in the middle of the night. “Not just yet. First I need the captain’s help with something. Maybe you could put in a good word for me,” she suggested, but only half-heartedly. Her voice was a tired mumble.
“Sure. Fiearius is no stranger to odd favors. And jobs. And he even listens to me sometimes.”
Leta lifted the steaming mug to her lips, and then paused. She couldn’t help but ask, “Do these jobs always involve so much bloodshed?” She thought he might laugh, but instead, he smiled in understanding.
“I wouldn’t be here if they did.”
In the middle of the restless long night, Leta had felt like swearing off the ship forever. But now she was actually feeling a bit curious again. “So why are you here then?” she asked, not unkindly.
He frowned in thought. “It’s funny, really,” he mused, leaning back in his chair. “Everyone’s got a different reason for being aboard. Like Niki — “ He nodded toward the younger blonde boy about twenty years old, sitting nearby, chatting animatedly over breakfast. “He came aboard to sidestep some gang trouble on his home planet. And Javier, sitting next to him — he just wanted a job on a ship; this is his first time away from home.”
“And Corra,” Leta interrupted, unable to help herself. She couldn’t help the surge of protectiveness she already felt of the other woman aboard. “She’s here because Fiearius bought her.”
Aiden looked briefly surprised, but not unpleasantly so. “Yes, that’s right,” he said. “Corra was once an ally. Now she is no longer enslaved, in any sense of the word. That was three years ago now.”
“Three years,” Leta repeated quietly, and then she remembered more of what Cyrus had told her the first night aboard. “Is that when Fiearius fled Satieri then? Why did he have to flee, anyway?”
For the first time in the conversation, she saw Aiden hesitate. A subtle pause passed between them in which the lines framing his eyes wrinkled slightly. Possibly he had not expected her to be so sharp.
Sounding genuinely apologetic, he said, “Well, I don’t know that whole tale, I’m afraid,” which meant Leta was getting the runaround even from him.
“Uh huh,” she agreed sarcastically, but with some amusement.
Aiden looked briefly amused at her candor. “And the reason I came aboard — unemployment, mostly,” he laughed. “I ran into Fiearius accidentally and needed a lift out. I was a professor on Acendia before I was let go.”
In spite of herself, Leta felt a touch of interest. “You were a professor? My mom was as well. She taught science courses for years.”
“Is that right? I taught mostly philosophy, some general psychology. Which — let me tell you, has really come in handy with this crew,” he said and grinned, an effect that made him fleetingly years younger.
Out of the corner of her eye, Leta caught a glimpse of a familiar mess of black hair in the entryway. Cyrus. He was glancing over the room urgently, and it quickly became clear what he was looking for: her. As soon as their eyes met, his stance relaxed, albeit forcefully, and he strode towards the table where she and Aiden sat.
“Morning,” Cyrus greeted. Dark circles hung under his eyes and his smile was strained to the point that it almost seemed to be a grimace. Clearly, Leta was not the only one who hadn’t slept last night. “How are you two doing?” he asked. “Hope I’m not interrupting…”
“Of course not, Cyrus, have a seat,” said Aiden, pouring him a mug of coffee, which Cyrus accepted as he lowered into a seat rather hesitantly, as if he wasn’t so sure breakfast was a good idea after all. “How fares our fearless leader?”
Distractedly, Cyrus said, “Oh yeah, he’s eh, he’s alright. I think. Just resting.”
Leta wanted to ask him if he’d talked to him at all about Ren, but something in Cyrus’ face — exhaustion and stress — told her it wasn’t the time. “His arm can begin to heal properly now, he’ll be fine in a few week’s time,” she assured him. “Especially once we re-stock on med supplies.”
“Right,” Cyrus agreed, all too quickly. His hands suddenly jumped around his mug as though he were about to say something, but had to brace himself first. After an uncomfortable pause in which Aiden and Leta glanced at one another, Cyrus blurted out, “About that. We think we have a plan. We’re heading to Genisi.”
Leta blinked. She was surprised (although maybe she should not have been), by Cyrus’ sudden plan and even more so by his choice of destination. Archeti’s capital city was gang-ridden and filthy. “So, another job?” She stared at him. “There?”
Cyrus nodded. “We can trade there. Our guns for their medical supplies. Fuel too. If this goes well, we’ll finally be back on our feet again,” he explained, though there was a distinct note of skepticism in his voice. “I’ve already reached out to one of our trading partners in the city. Fingers crossed he gets back to me by the time we land…”
Leta found herself nodding, though she wasn’t feeling particularly enthused by this plan. But at least she wouldn’t have to go with him this time. She had no intention of repeating yesterday.
Across the table, Aiden noted curiously, “Sounds like you’re our fearless leader at the moment then, Cy. You taking the lead on this?”
Cyrus met Aiden’s eyes with a distinct pang of despair. “Afraid so,” he muttered. “I don’t think Fiear’s in any shape to…you know…be Fiear. So I’ll handle it. But…” His voice trailed off and he looked down at his fingers tapping on the table. “I need some help.”
There was a pause in which Leta looked between Cyrus, who pointedly avoided her eyes, and Aiden, who looked politely curious. Suddenly feeling alarmed, Leta almost laughed aloud. “Wait. Like, to go with you?”
Suddenly seeming just as alarmed as her, Cyrus looked up and defended, “Well I can’t very well go alone. Even Fiearius doesn’t walk into these places solo. If it’s me? It’s suicide. And…well…” Again, he averted her stare. “I would take Corra, but she’s not really in any mood right now after yesterday. And Rhys doesn’t listen to me. Most of the deckhands have never held a gun in their lives. I wouldn’t trust Ludo to make the situation any less dangerous than it already could be.” He turned to Aiden. “Don’t suppose you’d do it?”
“Afraid not, Cyrus,” said Aiden. He smiled apologetically, but his voice was firm. “You know I’ve quietly retired from off-ship jobs.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” Cyrus grumbled before swooping his pleading eyes back to Leta. “You’re my only option here. And more importantly, what I need to trade for is medical supplies. Medical supplies I know nothing about. I need some expertise at my side.” He let out a hopeless sigh. “I know it’s not ideal. I know yesterday was terrible, but it won’t be like that. This should just be a simple in and out business. If you really don’t want to, I understand. I’m not gonna force you into anything.” The begging in his widened eyes grew intense. “But I’d really feel better if you were there…”
Already, Leta was shaking her head no, ignoring the desperation written all over his face. But, horribly, he wasn’t totally wrong about needing her: for Fiearius to really heal (and thus, to really help Ren), that infirmary of theirs needed an overhaul. And it was a bit unrealistic to ask Cyrus to learn pharmaceutical knowledge in a day’s time …
Angrily, she said, “And you swear it’ll be nothing like yesterday?”
Instantly hopeful, Cyrus declared, “I swear. Nothing like yesterday. That was just…stupidity. There’s no way this can go wrong. We just go in and trade the stuff and get out. Simple.”
Leta could hardly believe she was going on another one of these; really, she was becoming exactly the kind of stupidly reckless person her father had always feared. Though if she were being honest with herself, she knew why she agreed: these days, it wasn’t like she had much else left to lose.