Chapter 19: Safe and Sound

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“Look, I’m going as fast as I can, there’s nothing more I can do right now,” Cyrus was saying as he typed furiously on his console, his glasses sliding down his nose. “This protocol is airtight. Whoever wrote it knew what they were doing.”

“If they’re so good at it, where the hell are they?” Fiearius growled, hovering over Cyrus’ shoulder. He dug a hand into his hair in frustration. It had been almost twelve hours since Leta and Dez had been locked inside the Mariah. Twelve hours. At first, Fiearius had been ready for an all-out offensive. The ship was clearly a planned trap, a classic pirate technique. The distress call served as the bait and the lockdown, the hook. It should have been no time before whoever set it returned to claim their prize.

But as the hours wore on and the radar still showed only the Mariah itself and the Dionysian, carefully suspended beside her, Fiearius eventually holstered his weapon, stripped off his spacesuit and returned to the bridge to help Cyrus instead.

“Hard to say,” Cyrus replied as he bit his lip in concentration. He’d been trying to crack the lockdown since the moment the doors slammed shut. Most of Fiearius’ ‘help’ had been in bringing him coffee to keep him going. Still, there were dark circles under his eyes and Fiearius had almost considered offering him a dose of his own personal solution: Flush. Almost.

“It’s the perfect trap,” Cyrus sighed. “Seems like a waste to set it up and just abandon it once it snaps.”

Fiearius glanced down at him skeptically. “Are you saying you want them to come back?”

“What?” Cyrus blinked up at him. “No, no, of course not, it’s just–” He broke off, mumbling, “It’s just impressive that’s all.”

“Impressive isn’t the word I’d use,” Fiearius muttered, dropping tiredly into the pilot’s seat. The radar in front of him still showed two slow blinking circles in a sea of blackness.

“Maybe whoever planted the trap just decided it wasn’t worth it,” Cyrus suggested. “We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere. Maybe they realized it wasn’t working so they left. Maybe they’re out of range.”

“Or maybe they’re dead,” Fiearius countered thoughtlessly. After a moment, he felt Cyrus watching him with that sort of worried stare he had whenever Fiearius said something that particularly offended his upper class Satieran innocence. “What? It’s possible. Maybe they didn’t have fancy stolen spacesuits so they caught that nasty disease and it wiped ‘em out.”

“Or maybe they’re just out of range,” Cyrus muttered again, turning back to his console. “I’m just grateful I don’t have impending doom hovering over me while I work on this. For once.”

Fiearius laughed once, sharp and bitter. “Oh really?” He picked up the nearest COMM device. “You wanna call her this time? Why don’t you tell her that? Tell her you have no idea how long it’s going to take to get those doors to the creepy space graveyard open, but hey, you’re pretty happy because at least no one’s coming to kill us. C’mon.” He leaned forward to push the device towards his brother. “Tell her.”

Cyrus furrowed his brow with an air of dignity. “I’m sure she’d rather hear it from you.”

Fiearius rolled his eyes. “Coward.”

Your girlfriend,” Cyrus shot back.

Shaking his head, Fiearius pushed himself up to his feet. He wandered out of the bridge into the hallway and pressed the button on the COMM. “Hey, you read me?”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Loud and clear,” said Leta tiredly, touching the speaker near her ear. Fiearius had been checking in every twenty minutes, and each time Leta’s heart leapt with hope that they could soon be out of this mess.

In the meantime, she was attempting to keep her rattled mind occupied. The Mariah’s medical ward was, for lack of a better word, a morgue. It was also something of a puzzle. How had these people died? Their decaying faces, the rotting smell — something had gone terribly wrong here, and now Leta could not help but investigate.

As Dez stood hollow and silent in the doorway behind her, Leta looked through a medical cart, picking through a set of tools — though she suddenly went still with hope at Fiearius’ voice.

“Please,” she groaned eagerly, “tell me you have some good news.”

A crackle of static filled the line, and then Fiearius’ voice. “Not just yet. Cy’s gettin’ close, though. I can feel it.”

Dread sank through her, straight to her bones. Leta shut her eyes in defeat. Then, with a heavy inhale, she went back to looking through the cart.

Fiearius seemed to be read her distressed silence. In a kinder voice, he asked, “How’re things over there?”

“About as well as they could be. Since I have nothing but time, I’m trying to figure out what happened to this crew. Some of them died as recently as a week ago. Whatever this infection is, it’s nasty.”

“Then maybe you ought to stop poking around,” Fiearius suggested, though he sounded amused. After a moment, he added, his voice forcibly casual, “Dez still with ya?”

And, of course, he was. After their first few hours aboard, Leta had taken to looking around the ship  — her nerves and roiling energy prevented her from sitting still — and Dez had followed her through the halls like a silent, eerie shadow. He’d said nothing, but simply held his gun calmly at his side. It was more unsettling than it was a comfort.

In this moment Dez leaned in the doorway, gazing past her shoulder, arms folded.

“He’s still here,” Leta mumbled. She slid Dez a pointed glance and addressed him for the first time in hours. “You don’t need to watch over me like that, you know.”

Dez moved his gaze back to her. He may have been amused — his expression was so sullen, it was impossible to tell.

“I believe Fiearius would prefer it if I did,” he said at last, readjusting his arms.

This time, Leta pressed the button in her helmet again, pausing her connection to the Dionysian. It occurred to her she’d never talked to Dez alone before. She had never wanted to.

With sudden curiosity, she asked, “You really do everything Fiearius says, do you?” with a note of challenge in her voice.

“I followed you onto this ship, didn’t I?”

He certainly had. The dead bodies in the room were less of a mystery than this man. Suddenly putting down a scalpel with a clank, she turned around.

“Why did you come back for me anyway?” she demanded, shifting her hips to the side and cutting him a glare. “You could have left me here and easily made it back aboard the Dionysian.”

Dez barely blinked. “As I said. It’s my duty to stave off–”

“‘The consequences of poor decisions’? Yeah, so you’ve said. But this was my mistake, not Fiear’s.”

“True, but since you are one of his mistakes, I believe it falls under the same jurisdiction.”

Leta blinked slowly in surprise. She wasn’t sure whether to be deeply insulted or deeply amused.

“Please, tell me how you really feel,” she said dryly. “I suppose you’ve told Fiearius your opinion of me?”

“Of course,” he replied, shrugging one broad shoulder. “If it’s any consolation, he didn’t appear to care. Not that he ever does.” Dez snorted haughtily. “No amount of warning or observation or experience will deter him from a pretty face telling him what he wants to hear. Not yours, not Aela’s, not anyone’s.”

Unpleasant shock ran through Leta: the mention of Fiearius’ deceased wife gave her reason to pause. Most would not have been so bold as to say her name.

After a brief, tense silence, Leta recovered. She pushed herself away from the medical cart and lifted her bag, readying to leave the room — and this conversation — behind.

“What a surprise,” she murmured through tightened lips. “You dislike me just as you disliked Aela. And you don’t care for Cyrus, either. Seems like you hate anyone that is good for Fiear.”

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