Corra had never seen the eastern side of Genisi before. Somehow, the streets here felt grittier than the rest. The crumbling apartment buildings with cracked windows looked ready to tumble at any moment. Men and women sat on their stoops with empty eyes and scowling faces, smoking cigarettes or drinking from beer bottles. Around them, barefoot children ran from house to house, playing tag and hopscotch.
Although she had visited Archeti many times (particularly in the early days of the Dionysian, Fiearius was always doing business here), she’d never stepped onto a block quite like this. Bright red cross symbols emblazoned every wall. Gang territory. This area belonged to a gang called the Dockyard Ministry.
With any luck, she and Finn wouldn’t be in their territory long. She hoped this errand would be easy.
“Excuse me,” Corra asked, coming to a halt in front of an older woman, who was dumping a bucket of water into the street gutter. “Do you know someone named Elena? I think she works around here.”
The woman glared at her for a moment, his lips sealed shut, before she turned around and walked back inside a building without a word.
Determined not to let one person get her down, Corra tried again. This time with a group of men across the street. “Hi,” she ventured as she stepped towards them. Finn stood behind her with his arms folded. “Do any of you know El–” but before she could even get the name out, one of them scoffed loudly and the entire group turned away from her.
Releasing a sigh, she glanced down at her feet to find a small child standing just a foot from her, looking up in wonder. “You don’t know Elena do you?” she asked hopelessly. The child blinked up at her silently before a woman seized his arm and dragged him away.
Corra looked up at Finn. “So this is gonna be harder than I thought.”
“Yeah, but Quin knew it’d be hard,” said Finn at once, ever the optimist. “If it was easy, she’d have done it herself. What I’m wonderin’ is — why’s she want this Elena person so bad anyway?”
Corra didn’t know. And she didn’t particularly care, either. All she knew was that she couldn’t fail Quin. They needed her to sell Callahan the ship he lusted after.
But she’d only agree once they did something for her. The job had seemed simple enough: find some girl named Elena and bring her back. In practicality, the job was not quite as easy as it appeared.
Corra clasped a hand to her forehead and looked around, desperate for a new person to speak with. Meanwhile, Finn was busy, unhelpfully lighting himself a cigarette. He stuck it in his mouth and said, “Listen, cap’n. You can’t approach these people the way you approach strangers in a port or on the docks. People from Genesi — they’re assholes.”
Corra wasn’t sure whether to be amused or not. “You’re from Genesi.”
Finn grinned around the cigarette. “Exactly. Which means I know how these people act toward strangers. And you? You don’t sound like you’re from here. You don’t look like you’re from here. People who live in Archeti are going to be either jealous of you or intimidated. Honestly,” Finn laughed, breathing out a plume of smoke, “you’re too fancy for ‘em.”
But that, Corra couldn’t believe. “What?!” she laughed. “Fancy? Me?” She looked down at herself and then gestured dramatically. “Have you seen me? I’m not fancy.”
“Oh yes you are. You’re well-traveled and experienced. Nobody likes an outsider, y’know? If you’re lucky enough to get off this rock, you better not show it. C’mon, I’ll show ya how to deal with these people.”
Finn inhaled sharply on the cigarette, then threw it to his feet as he started purposely down a narrow alley. He did not stop until he approached a man leaning against a grimy brick wall who appeared to be counting a few coins in his hand.
When Finn approached, the man closed his fist quickly and looked up, eyes narrowed.
Finn held up a hand. “Relax. I ain’t here for your cash.” He did not hesitate in asking, “Elena. Ya know her?”
Corra couldn’t help but notice that Finn’s accent was suddenly more noticeable, like he’d turned it up just for this. There was a new Archetian twang, a drag in his vowels, that she’d never heard before. She tilted her head in amusement from her spot a few feet away.
The man looked over Finn shiftily, as if considering his options. “Maybe,” he said after a moment’s pause, and Finn smirked. He slipped his hand into his side pocket and withdrew a handful of credits. The man straightened up, interest in his eyes, and spoke more warmly than before.
“She works at a bar down the way. The Torch. If we’re thinking of the same Elena, anyway — “
“Good enough for us,” said Finn, and Corra watched as he dropped the credits into the man’s hand.
Finn walked back to Corra, satisfaction in his face. She scoffed.
“That’s your plan? Just pay ’em off?” She fell into step beside him as they headed back towards the street. “I could have done that.”
Finn shrugged. “True, but you didn’t, did you? Like I said.” He raised his brows at her knowingly. “Fancy.”
Corra rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Let’s just go find this girl so my ‘fancy’ ass can get outta here.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The Torch was loud and smokey. Corra edged her way inside after Finn and felt her heart sink: it was so crowded that patrons and waitstaff inside stood practically shoulder-to-shoulder.
And Quin’s only description of the woman was that she was a “waify little thing.” Quin had said she’d have tattoos, but could not name any in particular and she said Elena was likely to have her hair a different color than she remembered. Basically, Elena could have been anyone in this crowd.
“Maybe we should split up and ask around,” said Corra, practically shouting over the din.
Finn nodded. “I’ll take the bar, you take the floor?”
Corra started to head off, but paused to turn back and warn, “Don’t get distracted.”
“Me?” Finn scoffed, comically affronted.”Distracted?” He shook his head, then turned and melted into the crowd.
Corra too slipped into the fray. Ignoring the stares she could feel burning into her back (she was getting used to feeling unwelcome on this stupid planet), she sought out the first woman with a tray of drinks and asked, “Elena?”
The woman looked taken aback. And then she looked angry. “No. Outta my way,” she snapped, brushing forcefully past Corra. Well, Corra thought bitterly, ain’t gonna get a lot of tips with that attitude.
So she found another. “Are you Elena?” she asked as a waitress hurried by her. The girl just ‘hmph’ed and marched on by to deliver a drink.
There was one more working the floor of the bar, but Corra knew exactly what her answer would be when she approached. “Elena?” she asked, already hopeless.
The woman just stared at her blankly. “Ya want a drink or something?” she barked. When Corra just sighed and shook her head, the woman rolled her eyes and walked away.
Maybe one of them was lying. Maybe they were Elena. Or maybe they were just very very protective of Elena. Regardless, she was getting nowhere and it didn’t seem like that was going to change any time soon. Elena, so it appeared, didn’t want to be found. Maybe Finn was having better luck.
But when she glanced over at the bar, she saw the figure of Finnegan Riley leaning casually against the counter like he owned the place, a drink in his hand and a smile on his face as a woman (who didn’t even seem to work here) laughed beside him.
Annoyance shot through her. Had he even tried to help? But before she could begin to conjure the best way to saunter over there and embarrass him in front of his new friend, someone caught her eye.
In the corner of the room, a woman was bent over cleaning a table with a dirty rag. She was skinny and petite and, just perhaps, a little waify?
Determined, Corra approached her table.