“If I can track your ship, so can anyone else.” Adler put his drink down with a heavy thud. “And as of now there are new threats. I don’t care how clever you think you are with your ‘tactics’ — you’re putting Leta in danger.”
“Well sorry, buddy, but we needed fuel. And this port was the safest bet, all there is to it. Don’t know what you expect me to do.”
“Not leave her wandering alone, for a start.”
“She can take care of herself, y’know. She knows how to use a gun. She doesn’t need me nor want me to babysit her.”
“No one’s doubting her abilities,” Adler snapped, his gaze thinning dangerously.
Fiearius frowned. Well, he couldn’t exactly expect Leta’s father to like him, but even this felt unfair.
“So what’s your deal anyway?” he asked suddenly, veering the conversation away from how incompetent he apparently was. “Last I heard, you were helping bust me out of HQ in Paradiex. Which I suppose I should thank you for, by the way.”
“Don’t fool yourself.” Adler nearly smiled. “I didn’t do it for you.”
“I never assumed otherwise,” Fiearius muttered. “Still — that’s an act of high treason. Yet I know there’s a nice thick librera somewhere under that suit that cost more than my ship. So tell me. Whose side are you on anyway?”
Adler glanced at him in annoyance, as if he were a pesky fly. “No one’s side.”
A generic answer, and not one Fiearius found satisfying. “I don’t buy that. If you were at all loyal to them still,” he muttered, “wouldn’t you have just turned around and given me back to the Council again? I’m sure I’d be a nice bargaining chip in getting your daughter out of their minds.”
To Fiearius’ shock, Adler said simply, “Yes, I’ve attempted making that deal. You for her safety. The Council wasn’t interested in the negotiation.”
Somewhat stunned, Fiearius moved his eyes away. “Okay. I stand corrected. I guess you are still with them…”
With a snarl in his voice, Adler said, “I would never work for the Society again. Ever. Not after what they’ve done to my wife and threatened to do to my daughter.”
The comment was so swift and biting, Fiearius almost missed it. Almost. After a moment, he swung his eyes back to him. “Hang on — your wife?”
But Adler had gone suspiciously quiet. He was holding his glass near his lips — it was shaking slightly in his hand.
Meanwhile, Fiearius was stunned. Leta had told him her mother had died when she was sixteen. Of an accidental overdose. Mixed medications. A mistake. A tragic mistake. But now —
“The Society killed her?” Fiearius breathed, hoping to the gods this was untrue.
But to Fiearius’ horror, Adler muttered, “You can’t tell her,” and downed the rest of his glass and swallowed. It occurred to Fiearius, suddenly, that this man must have had a drinking problem. How else could he bear to keep secrets like this from his daughter?
“Leta doesn’t know,” he muttered darkly. “She doesn’t need to. Don’t tell her a goddamn thing about it — “
“No way. I’m not going to be the one who keeps secrets like that from her.”
“I’m certain you keep plenty from her. Just add this to the list. This is for her own good. Her own well-being — “
Fiearius opened his mouth, angry and prepared to argue, but a voice arrived in his ear. It was Cyrus over the COMM.
“Hey,” said Cyrus, his voice coming in over the static. Fiearius touched the piece in his ear, annoyed by the interruption.
“So. I’m in this store. And this woman came up to me and started talking to me about ships and–”
“Cy, aren’t you a little old to be asking for flirting advice?” Fiearius growled. He could feel Adler watching him closely.
“No no no, it wasn’t that — “ Cyrus went on. “No, she started asking me questions. Weird questions.” He hesitated. “About Leta.”
Fiearius’ eyes widened and at once, he looked to Adler. They met each others’ stares for only a moment, both understanding exactly what needed to be done: find Leta. And quickly.
Adler only paused to slide a stack of credits onto the countertop before he too stalked from his seat and the two of them fled for the door. Without even speaking, they headed their separate ways: they’d cover more ground that way.
As he ran down the hallway, he pushed his COMM. “Cy. What did she look like?”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
It wasn’t exactly her favorite errand, but anything to help Amora, Leta thought, as she stood in the aisle of a grocery store, regarding a mammoth-sized wall of canned goods. Hopefully, volunteering for the re-stocking job would prevent Amora from asking more nosey questions about her love life. (“You don’t actually like the captain, do you, dear?” she inquired worriedly that morning over breakfast.)
Just as Leta picked a can from the shelf, a friendly voice chimed in her ear.
“I’d go with the blue label,” said the woman behind her, tilting her head to the side. Her auburn ponytail swung sideways in a friendly kind of way. “Doesn’t spoil as quick.”
“Oh — really?” said Leta warmly. “I don’t know anything about cooking. So thanks.”
Leta piled a few cans in her arm, and the woman continued.
“Sure as hell, keeping food stocked is a problem we all face out here, huh? Ain’t easy to make it to port that often.”
“No, it’s really not,” Leta agreed, and she was just leaving the aisle when she sensed the woman following on her heels.
“You been a spacefarer long?”
Leta spared her a short, sideways look. “Not long, no.”
“It took me a long time to get used to the food,” the woman laughed. “That, more than anything. You miss bein’ on-planet?”
The woman was still following at her side. Her warning instincts were kicking in, so Leta purposely veered toward the front, the busier part of the store.
In an indifferent voice, she said, “Sometimes.”
“I miss it every day,” the woman went on, unphased. “The food, the stability, all of it … “ Suddenly, she stepped forward and cut in front of Leta, her eyes gazing hard onto her face. “But — duty calls.”
Leta stopped short, suddenly on guard.
The woman’s hand moved to her hip — to retrieve a weapon? — but then, a tremendous crash filled the store. In a flash, a bottle of liquor had slammed against the back of the woman’s head, her eyes slid out of focus, and she dropped to the ground at Leta’s feet. Patrons screamed around them and the cans dropped out of Leta’s arm in shock.
It was Fiearius. Of course. He stood there with the unbroken neck of the bottle in his hand over his head, and his expression looked, actually, somewhat guilty.
“My mother always said not to hit people smaller than me,” he muttered, his eyes on the woman. But then he looked up at Leta. “We need to get out of here, c’mon.”
He dropped the bottle’s handle, seized her wrist and turned for the door, yelling “Sorry about that!” over his shoulder to the owner. Patrons rushed out of their way as Leta darted after him, shocked but somehow still unsurprised by what had just occurred.
She knew she was being closely followed. This simply confirmed it.
“That woman,” Leta called, “was she a — “
“Yep!” called Fiearius.
“Looks that way.”
“Are there more?”
One hand still circled around her wrist, Fiearius stalked through the sea of people, parting the crowd for them. His other hand jumped to the device in his ear. “Attention Dionysian crew. Code green. Get back to the ship for immediate take-off!”
“I’m not going to say I told you so,” said Leta darkly, throwing Fiearius a haughty look, which he returned with a small, wry grin.
Together they crested a flight of stairs to get to the docking area. It was only when they’d made it to the Dionysian’s ramp that Fiearius finally let go of her hand.
Confused crew members filled the cargo bay, readying for take-off, including Cyrus, who looked pale and tremendously relieved to see them.
“Seal her up,” Fiearius ordered as he marched past toward the bridge. Cyrus quickly went to the door controls, and Leta crossed over the room to help him — but something over her shoulder caught her attention, and she wheeled around.
Far away in the bustling sea of people Leta saw a flash of gray hair, a stiff black suit, and an aged, familiar face gazing straight at her. His expression was sullen. She only had a few seconds to see him before the ramp doors closed, sealing them inside.
Her heart was beating hard. Shock electrified her veins. Her father?