“I would hardly say Aela was good for him. Aela was toxic from the day she walked in the door,” Dez chuckled. “As for you, Dr. Adler, that remains to be seen. Though by how many close calls the Dionysian has had since you came aboard, evidence isn’t exactly tilting in your favor.”
Leta slung her bag over her shoulder and smiled bitterly. “You’ll forgive me for saying your judgment means absolutely nothing.”
“Need I remind you that Fiearius and I have a history longer than you have even been alive, let alone known him. Your naivete might appear cute to others, but I assure you, it is nothing but what it is. Naive. I have only Fiearius’ best interests at heart and always have. Merely my understanding of what those interests are have changed.”
Leta let out a dry laugh. “How is turning him over to the Council in his best interests, exactly?”
“I no longer have any intention of turning him over to the Council. My loyalty towards serving them is, shall we say, shattered.”
Rolling her eyes, Leta walked past him into the doorway. His gaze followed her and he kept talking evenly.
“In fact, I have made quite some effort to do the opposite, if you recall,” he went on, speaking over his shoulder to her. “The breakout on Satieri. The acquisition of the Archetian frigates. The intel on the Society expansion plans. Fiearius may have access to a great deal with that Verdant chip, but there are some things that only the Council themselves can reveal. The Council and now, myself.”
Leta was on the verge of disappearing down the stairs when she felt herself slow in place. Curiosity halted her feet, and she turned around in spite of herself.
“You’ve spoken with the Council?”
Dez did not look surprised at her inquiry. “I used to, often. Not face to face, of course. No one speaks with them face-to-face.” Silence descended between them, and then Dez prompted, “You have questions for me.”
Leta wanted to keep walking. She knew she should have. But her curiosity got the best of her and she turned around fully.
“Ren told me he’s picked up some information. He believes he knows who the Vescentian councilor is — that he’s discovered his identity.”
For the first time, genuine curiosity came to Dez’s face. “Interesting. Ren Calimore was put away for breaching high-level intel, though I wasn’t aware what, specifically, that intel was.”
“So you think it’s possible,” said Leta bluntly. “Possible that Ren knows who the Vescentian councilor is.”
“To end up on the Baltimore rather than an unmarked grave, whatever he found would have had to be…special. Something worth investigating so that the hole he found in security could be filled. So what was it? Who does he think he is?”
“A man named Arleth Morgan. Do you know anything about him?”
Dez pursed his lips in a frown. “The name is not familiar, no.”
Leta walked a few steps closer. “Fiearius and I looked at the Verdant database. It said Morgan was in Internal Affairs.
“Not exactly a key identifier, but it would fit.,” said Dez, rubbing his chin in thought. “The Vescentian Councillor I’ve spoken to was a little less than…civil. An ‘ends justify the means’ sort of man. He has a lot of sway with the Council though as he was instrumental in the acquisition of Vescent. In nearly every conversation, he found a way to remind his fellow Councillors just who got the Society’s politically opposing candidates out of the way.”
“He — what?”
“The Wellian outbreak. That spread through the Vescentian Parliament,” Dez said simply. “Ten years ago. You were fourteen at the time, I believe? Perhaps you don’t remember.”
“No, of course I remember,” said Leta, swiping her hand impatiently. “It was all over the news. Half of parliament died from it. One of the diplomats got it when she visited Archeti, and she spread it through all of — “
But Dez was shaking his head. “The virus was planted. At a dinner party, I believe.”
Leta did not want to believe it, but she felt odd, shaky — somehow, she knew Dez was telling the truth.
She started to pace the floor, her nervous habit. “So Morgan was responsible for those deaths. All those politicians. Their families.” She shot Dez a look of alarm. “That outbreak went on to kill hundreds of people! ”
“As I said,” Dez sighed, “the ends justify the means.” After a pause, he looked at her and added, “There’s something else I recall about the man. He had a particular interest in you.”
Leta halted. Slowly, she lowered herself to sit on a bench in the hallway. “What do you mean?”
“Once you boarded the Dionysian, he was insistent that I focus my attention on returning you to Vescent, rather than my primary objective of recapturing the Verdant. The Council disagreed. But he continued to press the matter.”
Leta snorted, though she found no humor in the situation. “Well, Ren said he’s after me now like he never has been before,” she said quietly. “That he’s using a network of bounty hunters.”
Dez lifted his eyebrows wryly. “Interesting. Contracting independent bounty hunters. You must be worth a great deal to deserve such a diversion from protocol.”
“But I’ve been wanted in Vescent since I left,” she mumbled. “Don’t suppose you have a theory as to why this is happening now?”
Dez directed his gaze at the ceiling. “Perhaps he thinks you, too, hold the knowledge that put your fiance behind bars.” Ex-fiance, Leta corrected silently. “Perhaps he was right. In any case, if the Vescentian Councillor is still set on your return, it could prove problematic to our own operations. Combatting the Society is one thing. Simultaneously fighting off a network of bounty hunters is something else.”
Leta gave a dark, twisted smile. “So you’re saying I’m putting everyone in danger.”
“I’m saying perhaps Fiearius needs to reevaluate the risks of his situation.”
In this case, Leta thought, the risk was her. Leta did not want to think it, but she could not help herself: perhaps going after the Society was a bigger mistake than she’d thought.
– – – – – – – – – –
The hours bled on. It may have been hour fourteen — or eighteen? — when Leta slumped in a corner of the cargo bay, knees drawn up her chest, her head slanted against the wall as she drifted in and out of restless sleep. Nightmares punctuated her mind — swirling, dizzying images of bounty hunters, the stone landscape of Vescent, and a figure whose face she could not quite see, no doubt that of Morgan —
“Hey,” said Fiearius’ voice in her ear. “You awake?”
Leta cracked open her heavy eyes. Around her, the cargo bay lay still and silent. Dez was sitting against the opposite wall across the room, but besides that, absolutely nothing had changed.
“I’m here,” she managed, her throat hoarse with dehydration.
“Good.” Fiearius’ voice became sly. “So … what’re you wearing?”
For the first time in hours, Leta almost felt herself laugh. “Still a fucking spacesuit, Fiear.”
“Good. Keep that on, you’re gonna need it in a minute.”