The bridge of the Dionysian rarely held so many people at once — but this, Cyrus felt, was the only place they could meet to talk privately. Without Fiearius taking the helm of the ship, the leadership had spread between four people: Corra was in the co-pilot’s seat, Leta sat cross-legged on the dashboard and Finn was lounged in the captain’s chair. True, it was undeniably unsettling to see anyone but Fiearius sitting there, but this was hardly the oddest thing Cyrus had witnessed in the past month.
“Well, today hasn’t been a total wash,” Finn was saying to the room at large. “Managed to nab a few paying passengers. One of whom is a pretty ace gunhand, from what I hear. Said she’ll work with us for awhile.”
“Unless we let some deckhands go hungry, we can’t afford to pay a gunhand right now,” Cyrus pointed out, leaning in the doorway with his arms folded. “
“Nope, we sure can’t,” said Finn, grinning at him. “But she said she’ll work in exchange for room and passage. I figure it can’t hurt to have another gunhand on our side considering it’s just Corra and me. And Dez, I guess,” he added, arching his eyebrows in question.
“Dez isn’t a gunhand,” said Leta at once, her expression darkening. “And he isn’t on our side.”
“Yeah, about Dez,” said Corra, frowning. “What exactly are we gonna do with Mr. Grumpy?”
Leta didn’t hesitate. “We can’t trust him. He’s going to turn on us the first second he can.”
“Maybe so,” Cyrus agreed, “but I’d rather have him here, where we can keep an eye on him. At least when he’s locked in the brig I know he’s not out stabbing us in the back.”
Finn heaved a sigh. “Don’t s’pose Fiear’s got an opinion on what to do with his ol’ buddy?”
“Most days I’m not even sure Fiear knows where he is,” said Leta quietly, her eyes on the floor. “Let alone who else is here.”
“And Ren?” prompted Corra, although Cyrus wished she wouldn’t mention him. It was bad enough seeing Leta like this. “Not much better, huh?”
Leta looked up and shook her head. “He’s struggling right now. He really thinks we’re all being wrongly disloyal to the Society and he can’t understand why we’re acting this way. It’s like they wiped him clean with that ARC treatment.”
“And we still know next to nothing about that ARC treatment,” Cyrus grumbled, rubbing his palm on his temple. “Much less how to reverse it. Or if it even is reversible…”
“Of course it’s reversible,” Corra scolded, reaching across from where she sat and thwapping his arm with the back of her hand.
To everyone’s surprise, Finn suddenly went rather serious, furrowing his brow in thought. “You know — back on Carthis, I used to hear people talking about a mental condition the soldiers had when they came back from border scuffles with the Society,” he mumbled thoughtfully. “Soldiers who had been prisoners especially. I didn’t pay it much attention at the time, but it could be what we’re dealing with here. It could be ARC.”
Cyrus thought this was perhaps too convenient to be true, but Leta looked so happily astonished, he couldn’t argue.
“How did they treat them?” she demanded quietly.
“The military base on Eridan City has a rehab center for POWs ,” he replied. “At the very least, they’d be more equipped to deal with this than us. I could call in a few favors, see if they’re willing to help us out.”
Leta’s mouth hung open in shock. Even Cyrus couldn’t deny the blossom of hope in his chest.
“That’d be — anything they can tell us–anything could help,” Leta stammered. “Can we reach them now?”
Cyrus watched as Leta slid from the dashboard and followed Finn out the door. Perhaps one thing, at least, had gone right today.
Corra moved to follow, but before she could make it to the door, Cyrus remembered with a start he had to speak with her. It was a conversation he’d been avoiding for days.
“Corra,” he began uneasily, and she paused in mid-step. “Could you–stay a minute?”
“Sure, Cy-cy.” Corra settled herself back into her seat. “What’s up?”
As she sat there, staring with those big brown innocent doe-eyes, it became just that much harder to get out what he needed to get out.
“I really hate to ask you this,” he began, hoping that would spur his confidence, “I know you have other plans and the last thing I want to do is get in the way of those, honestly. I just–” Cyrus sighed inwardly. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Corra tilted her head curiously, waiting for him to go on. Taking a deep breath, he did. All at once. “Could you loan the Caelum Lex to me? I know you wanted to sell it and buy your own ship, but if I could just–I’d pay you back. As soon as I can, I swear.”
Corra blinked slowly. “Cyrus,” she said, but he was too far in to stop his explanation.
“I just need some credits to get us back on our feet, especially if we need to get to Carthis, like Finn was saying. We just don’t have the funds and if I could just get a boost and the Caelum Lex could do that so–”
“Cyrus,” she said again, harshly this time, putting a hand in the air.
“–if I could just borrow…it…” he trailed off, looking down at her awkwardly as she waited for him to slow down.
When he finally did, she took a breath of her own. “Of course I’d give it to you,” she said matter-of-factly and he felt an instant wave of relief. With that cash behind him, they really could get moving again and get off this rock. But that relief vanished when she added, “But I don’t have it anymore.”
Cyrus blinked, dumbfounded. “You — what?” His eyes narrowed on her. “You sold it already?”
Corra bit her lip and her eyes changed from innocent to quite clearly guilty. “Yes. But also no. I traded it.”
Cyrus was perplexed. “With who?”
For just an instant, she looked up at him, but just as quickly, she stared down at the floor. “With Dez.”
Cyrus’ jaw dropped, but words couldn’t escape him. She didn’t. She couldn’t. In his lapse of shock, she hurried on, “It was just a month ago. When we landed on that planet to meet with him. Leta told me Fiearius was going to get himself killed so I — I offered the Caelum Lex if he’d leave us alone. He accepted and — well. That was that.”
Cyrus’ senses were returning. And they were returning engulfed in flames. “Well he clearly didn’t hold up his end of the bargain,” he spat bitterly, making Corra flinch. “Damn, what a surprise, he’s untrustworthy.”
“Cy, I was just trying to help,” she said in despair, her expression crumbling. “And he didn’t do anything that time, did he?”
“No, he didn’t, because he didn’t need to,” Cyrus growled. “Because he knew we were going to be on the Baltimore, wrapped up like a Concordia gift a few days later.”
“How was I supposed to know that?!”
“What you should have known is not to trust the Society!”
Corra groaned and pushed herself from her seat, making for the door, but Cyrus wasn’t finished. “Well at least he’s here now, we can just take it back from him.”
Corra froze in the doorway. “No. We can’t.” She slowly turned around. “I asked him about it. He already handed it over. The Society has it.”
An icy chill ran down Cyrus’ spine. The Society had the Caelum Lex? The Department of Technology had it? All they had to do was fix the Nautilus and–he could see it now. Its great churning engine. Its huge sweeping form. And with the Caelum Lex it could do it. What it was always meant to do: destroy.
“Cy?” Corra asked quietly, taking a step back towards him. His face had gone pale, his bones rigid and whatever hope had been there a few minutes ago had turned to despair.
“You have no idea what you’ve done,” he breathed at last.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Like clockwork, Leta descended the stairs to the infirmary, pushed open the doors and crossed toward the counter. She certainly didn’t expect a greeting from Fiearius — or even any form of acknowledgment — but that did not prevent her from simply beginning to speak in his direction, as she always did. It was the kind of forcefully cheery bedside manner she had always found silly. Until now.
“Well, we made a decision on what to do next,” she informed him brightly, pulling latex gloves up her wrists. When she approached the edge of his bed, Fiearius cast her a dulled, sidelong stare. Then he returned his gaze to the row of cabinets.
“Finn thinks he can get Ren help,” she went on, shifting Fiearius’ legs to the side to examine their deep cuts. “On Carthis. In their rehab facilities. It might be risky, given your status, but maybe they can even help you.”
Speaking of Ren’s condition was painful — it made her throat ache — so Leta shifted directions.
“Our fuel situation is still a problem,” she explained quickly, “but Finn also found us some paying passengers. So — that will help.” She moved onto his other wound. “And we pulled together enough credits to restock the pantry, so you’ll be glad to know your crew won’t starve.”
Leta paused her examination and looked up at his face. He simply sat there, as empty as a toy on a shelf.
“Your crew, remember?” Leta prompted, unable to stem the sudden impatience in her voice. “Remember them, Fiearius? The crew? And your little brother? They’re all pretty eager for you to get back on your feet.”
Fiearius did nothing but center his eyes on the wall. All at once, Leta found that she could take no more. Day four of his unending, infuriating silence was too much. Unfinished with the examination, she abruptly ripped the gloves from her hands and turned around.
“Now I’m talking to myself,” she muttered heatedly, returning to the counter. “Because you clearly aren’t listening so I’m just talking to thin air, like you don’t even want to be helped, and I must sound fucking crazy — ”
But then, to her immense shock, a voice interrupted her and halted her in place. The gloves dropped to her feet when Fiearius, sounding hoarse and familiar, suddenly grunted an answer.
“You are crazy.”
Leta spun around, slack-jawed. Fiearius was sitting up straighter in the bed, scratching his hair like he’d just awoken from a nap.
“Which must sound pretty funny coming from me right now… ” he mumbled. Then he flicked his eyes to hers and pinned her in place. “Anyway. You were saying?”