“Elena?” she asked, daring to let a little hope seep through her voice.
“Yeah?” was the immediate response and Corra felt a gracious wave of relief. Finally, they’d found her. Soon enough she could get out of this junky part of town and get on with finishing the job.
But as the woman straightened up and turned to face her, Corra’s relief evaporated. She felt a wave of shock.
Elena, as it turned out, was more familiar than she had imagined.
“Alyx?!” Corra gasped, her eyes widening on the teal-haired, tattooed woman who Corra recognized at once.
Immediately, Alyx — Elena? — grimaced and clapped a hand over Corra’s mouth with one hand.
“Elena,” corrected Alyx with a sharp, pointed look. “It’s Elena.” She glanced sidelong to ensure no one else had heard and slowly lowered her hand from Corra’s mouth.
“Sorry,” Corra muttered carefully, feeling bewildered. “Elena.”
Corra certainly had never known her by this name. Years ago, Alyx had been a deckhand aboard the Dionysian. Corra had always been fond of her (although not quite as fond as Cyrus had been), but then Alyx had disappeared off the ship entirely. She’d left without explanation.
Later, Corra had found out exactly why. Alyx had been among Ludo’s victims. It had been heartbreaking to learn. Thank the gods Leta had uncovered Ludo for what he was. And thank the gods Fiearius had ended him for it.
In this moment, Corra felt too shocked to make sense of what Alyx was doing in a Genisian bar with an unfamiliar name. “How — why — what?” she said blankly.
“C’mon,” Alyx said quickly, nodding toward a door. “We can talk out here.”
Alyx — Elena — led them out the back door of the bar and into a narrow, dark alley.
As soon as the back door fell shut behind them, Corra couldn’t contain herself. “What’s going on? Who’s Elena? What are you doing here? Why are you working in a bar?Last I heard you were halfway across the Span. What happened?”
Alyx shook her head and held up her hands. “Whoa there, slow down, tiger. One thing at a time.”
Corra pursed her lips seriously. There were so many questions flooding through her head. Finally, she settled on, “Okay, why are you on Archeti?”
Alyx regarded her for a moment sadly before finally she released a sigh and started to explain. “It started after the ‘incident’.” The way she emphasized the word made it clear just what incident she was talking about. Or rather, just who had been incidentally murdered when the Dionysian had last been in Alyx’s vicinity. “Shortly after you left, people started coming by my work asking about the Dionysian. I don’t know who they were. Just…people. I wasn’t that worried until one of them showed up at my apartment.” She shook her head. “It spooked me so I decided to leave. Come back to Archeti. I was born here, raised here, I thought I could get my bearings and make a new plan.”
Her expression grew dark. “Unfortunately, I got on the wrong passenger ship. I thought choosing a fake name to travel by would keep me safe, but it turned out it didn’t matter. As soon as we landed, they rounded us up, took everything we owned and handed us over to the Ministry.” She cast a dirty glare at one of the red gang signs painted on a nearby wall.
Corra’s eyes grew wide. “Handed you over? To bus tables at their shitty bar?”
Alyx shrugged. “It was this or end up with an ally trader.” Fleetingly, she glanced at Corra’s ear but looked away at once. “This seemed the better choice.”
Of course, Corra would have to agree, but only barely. Most of her wanted to turn back into the bar, find whoever had done this to her and introduce their face to the end of a stool. But she had a task to do and beating up Genisian gangs wasn’t part of it. At least, not yet. “So you’re stuck here? What’ll happen if you try to leave? Just sneak out when no one’s looking? Can’t you just go?”
“Probably, but if I’m gone too long, if someone notices?” She shook her head sadly. “I’ve got another three months left ‘til I’ve ‘earned’ my freedom according to the Ministry. They’ll come after me. I’m sure of it. They may not look like much, but I’ve seen what they can do and it’s not pretty. If they catch me running off? I really will end up with an ally trader.”
“Then we won’t let them catch you,” Corra insisted at once.
Strangely, Alyx laughed. “Hang on, step back a minute. You can’t expect me to believe you’re actually here to rescue me. You didn’t even know I was here! You were looking for Elena. Why?”
“Honestly, I don’t know exactly. We were just sent here to look for her–you–and–”
Alyx’s eyes had narrowed in suspicion. “Sent? Who sent you?”
“Quinida Utada. Do you know her?” But Alyx was already rolling her eyes, her hands on her hips.
“Of course it was her,” Alyx sighed. “Of course. Let me guess. She wants you to take me back to her?” Corra nodded. “Pretend she’s the knight in shining armor, saving me from the terrible gang? And dragging innocents into the mess to do it for her.” She groaned in frustration. “The nerve of it.”
At this point, Alyx started pacing the width of the alley, looking angry and mumbling to herself. Corra, for her part, was confused.
“Sorry,” said Corra carefully, “but I’m lost.”
Finally, Alyx stopped and the frustration in her expression faded into apology. “God, Corra, no I’m sorry.” She took a step back towards her. “You shouldn’t be here. These people are dangerous. This isn’t your problem.”
“Actually, it is my problem,” Corra corrected, frustrated herself now as well. She would never have predicted convincing Alyx to escape indentured servitude would be difficult.
“It’s not,” Alyx insisted. “Why are you helping Quin anyway? What happened?”
Feeling somewhat exposed, she shrugged. “I just need something from her, that’s all. But it doesn’t matter. I’m not leaving you here.”
“I don’t want her help, Corra,” Alyx snapped.
“It’s not her help you’re getting, it’s mine.”
Alyx met her stern stare, finally softening. “Oh Corra…” she muttered sadly.
“I’m not stepping out of this alley without you, understand? Sure I only came because she told me to, but I’m here now, you’re my friend and I’m invested. I’m taking you with me. End of story.”
Alyx lifted a brow and crossed her arms over her chest. “You always were stubborn, weren’t you?” Corra grinned proudly. Finally, she relented. “Fine. Since I know there’s no way I’m getting out of this. I accept your brave and daring rescue.”
Satisfied, Corra smiled and then turned back for the door, slipping inside to retrieve Finn.
Except Finn wasn’t at this post at the bar. The woman he was with was gone, too. Had they left together?
This time, Corra decided to let him have his fun. She could handle the rest of this without him, surely. She turned back to Alyx and nodded down the alley.
“We don’t have to go see Quin,” she told her carefully, rather hoping they would anyway. “If you don’t want.”
“Nah, I’d hate for you to go through all this trouble and not even get what you need out of it,” Alyx sighed. “I’ll go with you. As long as we make it quick.”
Well that was a relief. But she had to know. “Why does she want to rescue you so much anyway?”
Alyx looked down at her with a dark sort of smirk. “Because she’s my mother.”
– – – — – – — – – — – – — – – — – – — – – –