Chapter 3: Departure

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Leta had never moved so quickly.

The moment Ren made his confession — I contacted the Society, I told them where we are — she shot up to her feet, threw open the door and dodged into the hallway, leaving Ren sitting on her bed. “Stay here, don’t move,” she heard herself bark over her shoulder as she sprinted toward the cargo bay, heart pounding in her throat.

Her feet pounded down the metal ramp and out into the dirt road — she had to get to Cyrus. She had to get him and then they had to leave — they had to go anywhere, it didn’t matter where —

She’d only made it fifty yards from the Dionysian when suddenly, a sharp wind gusted past her ears, followed by a roar of noise. A shadow passed over the ground around her feet. And then she looked up: in the air, blasting overhead, were three sleek, jet-black fighter ships, low to the ground, readying to land mere miles away.

On each ship was the shining Society librera.

Before Leta could move, Cyrus’ voice jolted her.

“Leta! Leta!”

He was hurrying toward her, short of breath, horror masking his face. “The Society — they’re here — how did they — ?”

“Ren,” Leta breathed shakily, turning back toward the Dionysian. “He contacted them. I don’t know how — “

“We need to leave.” Shock filled his eyes. “We need to get out of here.”

“How?” Leta ran after him toward the ship. “We can’t get far enough away. They’ll catch up. Easily. We don’t have enough fuel.”

“No, we don’t,” Cyrus agreed as his feet pounded up the ramp into the cargo bay. “So we won’t use ours.”

In the bay, Javier, Nikkolai, Richelle and Maya were sitting on the floor, playing a game of cards.

At once, Cyrus started shouting orders at them. “Get over to the Beacon. Open up the docking bay entrance. Ready the system for intake.” When the four of them just stared at him with vacant eyes, he snapped, “Now!” and they hurried to their feet and scrambled off the ship, scattering cards in the air.

Then he turned and shouted up the stairs, “Finn!”

The man appeared in the upper platform moments later, his eyes narrowed curiously.

“Start up the ship,” Cyrus ordered at once. “Override the warm-up sequence, just get the engine running. The Society’s here, we don’t have time.”

“Where to?” Finn asked, rather remarkably calm, Leta thought. “The Dionysian’s runnin’ pretty low on gas.”

“I know. Put her on the Beacon. It’s our only way out of here. I’m heading there now, I’ll get her prepped for takeoff as soon as the Dionysian’s secure.”

“But where are we going to go?” Leta demanded.

An expectant pause filled the room. Leta looked at Cyrus, Cyrus looked at Finn and all three seemed to have the same realization at once.

“Carthis,” said Cyrus quietly.

“The Society won’t risk following us there,” Finn agreed. “Not with the military presence as it is. They’d be starting an all out war. We’ll be safe. They won’t follow.”

“But you said they didn’t want us there,” Leta put in. “They didn’t want to risk harboring fugitives.”

“Then they just won’t know,” Cyrus muttered, sparing her a worried glance. “We’ll hide on the Beacon. They’re already expecting her. They won’t know.”

“Let’s hope not,” said Finn, grasping the railing in readiness as he said. “So, Dionysian to the Beacon, Beacon to Carthis?”

“Do it,” Cyrus confirmed and Finn ran off. To Leta, he added, “Stay here. Find your fiance. And make sure he doesn’t do anything else.”

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Cyrus was alone with his panic inside the Beacon’s bridge until Finn rushed through the door and crossed straight to the main console. “Dionysian’s secure, this girl ready to go?” he asked as he dropped into the pilot’s chair, his hands jumping over the field of controls.

Behind him, Cyrus stood over the navigation console, his knuckles whitened and his eyes locked on the screen that showed the incoming ships. Three. There were three of them. They’d never make it out of here. But they had to try.

So all he said was, forcing bravery into his voice, “She’s ready.” Moments later, Corra rushed in after them.

“The crew–crew’s all aboard,” she heaved, struggling to catch her breath. “I double-checked we have everyone. We’re good to go.”

At once, Finn leaned over and deftly hit the launch sequence, then gripped the controls. All around them, the Beacon’s walls began to vibrate. The low hum of the life support filled the cabin, and the view outside the great broad window began to change as they lifted off the ground. Cyrus could practically hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. But it wasn’t just his heart he heard.

Suddenly, a calm, but forceful beep began emanating from a nearby panel.

“What the hell is that I wonder?” asked Finn conversationally over his shoulder.

It was Corra who got to it first. “It’s an alert — we’re being hailed,” she realized in shock, her eyes widening. “Message from the other ship.”

Bile jumped into Cyrus’ throat. He had no doubt in his mind that whatever they had to say, he wouldn’t like. Nonetheless, he ordered, “Put it through.”

Corra hit the command and the entire bridge fell silent in expectation. For what seemed like hours, there was nothing. Just the quiet din of the Beacon poised to lift off. Then a cold female voice arose from the speakers.

“Beacon, this is The Imperium. By command of the Society Council, you are ordered to stand down. I repeat, stand down. Abort launch procedure. Failure to comply will result in a full-force assault. We have our weapons locked on to your position. You have two minutes to cut power to your engine or we will fire. I repeat, we will fire.”

The voice cut out, and the bridge went stunned and silent. Finn arched his eyebrows in surprise. Corra stared at Cyrus. And Cyrus had his gaze set on his clenched fists against the console.

After a moment, Finn prompted, “So, cap’n … ”

When Cyrus said nothing, Corra tried, “Cy…what do we do?”

Still, he was quiet. He knew he had to make a decision and he had to make it fast. Risk being recaptured by the Society? Or risk being blown to pieces by the Society’s ships? Briefly, he wondered what Fiearius would do. And that’s when it hit him. Fiearius.

“They’re bluffing,” he said suddenly, looking up from his hands at last. “They’re bluffing. They won’t do it.”

“Really?” Finn asked, eyeing a nearby console that was flashing orange. “Because they’re, uh, definitely aiming at us…”

“No, they won’t do it,” Cyrus assured him, ignoring Corra’s look of disbelief. “They need us alive. Or at least they need one of us alive…They won’t risk losing their precious Verdant CID. They won’t fire on us.”

Corra and Finn exchanged a look of alarm until finally Finn let out a sigh and grasped the controls again. “Well, if you’re sure … ”

Cyrus nodded firmly. “I’m sure. They’re bluffing,” he said again. “Go.”

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