Only tense silence filled the bridge as the Beacon began its landing sequence to Satieri. Finn was seated at the main navigation console, putting his military-pilot skills to use as he quickly operated the controls, muttering madly to himself. Behind him, Corra paced the floor, throwing anxious glances in his direction. Meanwhile, Cyrus simply sat in a chair, his eyes on the main window.
At last, a jagged skyline crept into view, as the capital of Paradiex unfolded before their eyes. It was a fast-paced, overpopulated city in the heart of a hot sandy desert, known as the leader in technological advancement and, of course, the proud founding place of the Society. The scenery was so eerily familiar, it was like he’d never left at all.
For the first time in four years, Cyrus had made it home.
Well, unless his plan hadn’t worked. They’d spent the last three days on the Beacon, with the Dionysian parked safely in her hangar. Cyrus had disguised the Beacon, overwriting the ship’s ID to hide its status as hijacked. But it was still entirely likely Society agents would flood the ship the moment it touched Satieri ground. Unless —
“Well, they didn’t flag us,” said Finn abruptly, breathing a sigh as he dropped his hands and spun around in his chair. He patted the control panel affectionately. “Guess this beast still reads as a friendly ship. Nice work, Cyrus.”
But Cyrus was barely listening now. Outside the window, he had a full view of Satieri’s capital city. He could still picture the streets on which he used to walk to school, the central campus of his university, the corner where he’d lived in his first apartment and of course, the massive complex of Sonnete Industries where he’d gone to work every day for years.
Now, it was the most dangerous place possible for him to be. But it was the only place he could be. And while the ship was making its descent, he found himself taking some comfort in the fact that even if he died here, even if both he and Fiearius died there, at least they were dying where they belonged.
Cyrus stood to his feet to depart, but it was then he realized Leta had materialized in the doorway, silent as a ghost. In the two days aboard the Beacon, they had exchanged only a handful of words: he had nothing to say to her. Each time he glimpsed her, he burned with anger — whose fault was this, anyway, that they’d lost Fiearius?
But that was unfair of him. She hadn’t wanted this. She’d gotten Ren back, it was true, but it did not feel like a victory.
Now, she was watching the window too, her hand wrung around her wrist. After a moment, Corra asked quietly, “How’s Ren doin?”
Leta pulled her gaze from the skyline. “He’s — up and down.” She exhaled slowly. “One second he’s fine, acting normal, asking me a million questions, acting like — like himself. His old self. Like when we were together.” Despair tinged her face, but she went on quickly, “Then the next second he’s shouting nonsense. About how we can’t betray the Society. I don’t know what they did to him, but … “
But it worked, thought Cyrus grimly. Leta looked over to him, meeting his eyes for the first time in days.
“I didn’t tell Ren what we’re going to do,” she told him quietly. “He’d be horrified, he’d probably try to stop us … “
“But what are you going to do?” said Finn suddenly, looking between them with concern in his face. “How, exactly, are we going to get to Fiearius?”
All eyes went to Cyrus, who swallowed before explaining quietly, “He’s got to be in the main Society building.” If only because Cyrus was unaware of anywhere else they might be keeping him. “I found some old Society identification codes in Fiear’s CID database. I’ll upload them into our own CIDs and we should be able to walk right through the door. Their security system will think we’re agents. Then we’ll just have to find him inside and get him out and you can Finn can stay with the ship so when we get back–”
“But Cy,” Corra interrupted, her voice shaking, “all of that–it’s based on guesswork. You don’t know any of it will work. You don’t even know he’s there. You don’t even know if he’s still … ” She seemed unable to finish her thought, so Cyrus finished it for her.
“Alive?” His voice was bitter and dark, but positively certain. “He is.” He looked away from her. “I know he is.” Quietly, he added, “He has to be.”
Corra’s eyes were beginning to fill with tears. In the past three days, it seemed like all she did was cry — for him, for Leta, for Fiearius.
“Cyrus … “
But now Leta crossed her arms, full of resolve. “Corra, no. We can’t give up on Fiearius.”
“Look,” said Finn suddenly, rising to his feet. “I get it.” He towered over all of them as he stepped closer, his face dark and serious. “I really do. But, both of you, think about this for a second. It’s been two days now since they captured him. Why would they keep him alive longer than they needed to?” Sadness and apology crossed over his face. “He wouldn’t want you to go after him. He’d — “
“Well we have to try, okay?” Leta snapped, flaring up with emotion. “It’s my fault he got captured at all and I’m not changing my mind, you can’t talk me out of this.”
“But what’s gonna happen if they catch you too?” Corra despaired, tears rolling down her cheeks. “It’s a huge risk. Walking right into the Society HQ? Neither of you will make it back from that and for what? What if he’s already–”
“I said he’s not dead, Corra,” Cyrus growled.
“You don’t know that!” she cried. “And if you were thinking logically, you’d realize he probably–”
“He isn’t,” Cyrus said once more, absolutely sure of himself.
Corra buried her palms in her wet eyes. “Isn’t it bad enough we already lost one?”
Looking pained, Finn sighed, “We understand, okay? You want to do something. And you’ve pulled off crazy shit before, it’s true. But this? This is just a suicide mission.”
Everyone went quiet, save for Corra’s quiet weeping. They were right, of course, said the dark part of Cyrus’ mind. This was insane. They didn’t know what they were doing, they had no proof of anything, this was a suicide mission. And perhaps Leta would agree, maybe she’d stay too . . .
But then Leta shook her head, turned on her heel and started toward the door, cold as ice, full of authority. “Let’s get ready to go, Cyrus.”
At once, Finn threw a hand in the air. “This is ridiculous,” he growled. “So I take it neither of you will believe that he’s dead until you see it yourselves.”
“And what if you get get there and he is?” Corra muttered, wiping tears from her cheeks and glaring at Cyrus through glassy eyes. “Then what?”
“Then he’s dead,” said Cyrus shortly over his shoulder as he crossed toward the door after Leta. “But what if he’s not?” He returned her glare with a sharp one of his own. “I’m willing to take the risk. Because he’d do the same for any of us.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Light and color blurred past the train window as Leta stood hollowly beside Cyrus’ shoulder. They were entering the city of Paradiex by transit, and the scenery was rushing past her eyes before she could see — though she was undeniably curious: this was where Fiearius and Cyrus had grown up. In someone else’s life, in another time, she would have enjoyed the opportunity to see it.
Her eyes drifted to Cyrus, who was shifting uncomfortably inside the crowded train. They hadn’t spoken in nearly an hour. For a moment, he met her eyes, then he looked away quickly. What was he thinking right then, on the way to rescue his older brother? Did he really believe they could pull this off? No, of course he didn’t — Cyrus was logical, reasonable.
Not for the first time, Leta felt the overwhelming urge to apologize to him.
But the words caught in her throat. Now wasn’t the time. She only hoped that later on she would have the opportunity to really do it. Or perhaps he could see it in her eyes right then — maybe she did not need to say it.
Just then, the metal train doors glided open smoothly and its passengers flooded out onto the platform. Leta was jostled in the crowd, and then she stepped out into the main city with more purpose.
“This way,” Cyrus called after a few moments of walking along a city block, but he didn’t need to. The headquarters of the Society was visible a half mile out, the top spires of the building glittering in the fading light.
Of course Leta had expected only the best and most extravagant for the Society HQ, but when they approached, the sight still stopped her quite literally in her tracks. At least twenty stories tall, the building was a half-moon shape of shining, gleaming glass, reflecting the orange-pink sunset. It imposed over an entire block, it demanded respect, reverence, and it exuded brilliance, as though it housed the greatest political minds to ever live in the verse. It was really quite beautiful.
But immediately beyond those doors, Leta knew, were armed guards and their advanced scanning system, both just waiting happily to pick up the slightest stir of misbehavior…
“We’ll just walk straight through the security area,” Cyrus whispered to her, his voice exuding confidence she was sure he didn’t truly feel. “The system will read us as Society agents. We’ll be able to go right in. Just act normal.”
Leta nodded, clenching her CID in her hand, as if that would actually help. Together they walked on and entered the wide, circular atrium.
Inside, a few people mingled around the lobby, waiting to pass through the security area which was adorned with a wall of detectors and a cluster of armed agents, just waiting to weed out those that didn’t belong. Those in line were varied — some in plains clothes, others wearing formal wear with the Society insignia. Did they have any idea there were two impostors among them?
Leta’s heart was beginning to pound as she stepped forward in the queue. Cyrus stood behind her, radiating tension. Her breath shaking in her lungs, Leta began to step forward in front of the detector wall — the fake CID code had to work — otherwise this was over before it could even begin —
She never got the chance to find out. Just then, a strong grip tightened around her arm and wrenched her from the line, steering her away. A yell of surprise nearly erupted from her throat, but then she got a good look at who, exactly, was pulling her.
“D — dad?”
She nearly choked on her shock.
Nearly a year had passed since she’d laid eyes on him, but there was no mistaking Tritius Adler: tall, broad-shouldered with graying hair, and dressed sharply in a formal jacket with the Society librera stitched into the shoulder. He carried himself with absolute confidence and authority, all business-like, as he steered Leta forward through the queue without so much as a glance backwards. Cyrus followed behind, bewildered, while Tritius led them directly into a small, private meeting room.
“What’re you — ” Leta could only sputter as her father slid the door closed behind them. “How’d you — ?”
“You were supposed to land on Vescent two days ago,” he snapped as he turned around. (Cyrus backed up instinctively.) “When you never arrived,” he growled, ”it was easy to guess your next stop. Of course you’d be stupid enough to come here.”
Leta only shook her head. Words failed her.
“I’ve been tracking you since you fled, Leta,” he snapped, like it was obvious. “You think I’d let you board a fucking pirate ship –” His eyes flashed toward Cyrus. “ — And wait around while everyone else hunted you? You’ve always needed constant monitoring.”
He was not relieved nor happy at the sight of his daughter; he was glaring, stone-faced. How many times in her life had Leta seen that very same expression? He’d wore it at after every disciplinary hearing in school, during every piano recital, after every graduation ceremony. Everyday.
“I’m still loyal to the Society, Leta,” he went on harshly. “I can come and go in this building. But you?” His eyes lightened humorlessly. “They realize who you are, they’ll gladly add another person to be executed.”
Fiearius. He was here. They’d never been closer and yet, further away from him.
But that didn’t matter — she would go after him, she would throw herself into the thick of it. There were no other options.
“I’m not going home,” she replied at last, her voice even, measured, even as she awaited her father’s explosion. “Dad, please. We’re not leaving here without him.”
But to her immense surprise, her father did not yell, bark nor did he grab her arm. For the briefest of moments, his expression shifted toward — it couldn’t have been — pride.
“I know.” His voice was quiet. He shifted a look toward Cyrus. “I can get you to where he’s being held.”