The glow of the console screen pierced the dark room. The Satierian Councilor sat before it, hands folded calmly, but his eyes were blazing with alarm.
It was late in Paradiex when the ringing sound from his console had roused him from his deep sleep. It was a sound he did not hear often anymore — a persistent chime that had dug him from his dreams and forced him from his bed and to the console in the other room. Middle of the night or not, if fellow Councillors saw reason to call, you answered.
He hadn’t even needed to hit connect to know what the call was about. The screen was already alight with warnings, alerts and a stream of emergency messages.
“You’re seeing this too?” was the first thing out of the Ellegian Councillor’s mouth. She sounded as uneasy as he felt.
As he absorbed the information before him, the more stunned he felt. Blackwater, one of their most secure bases, their prime staging ground against Carthis — under attack?
“How the hell…?” he muttered in disbelief.
“The Carthians must have locked in on it,” another Councillor suggested, a third voice on the call. “They’ve been looking for years, they must have gotten a lead and–”
“It’s not the Carthians,” cut in the familiar gruff voice of the Vescentian Councillor. The rest of the line went quiet as they waited for an explanation. “Take a look at this.”
Just then, the screen filled with what looked like a security feed inside the base. At first, there seemed to be nothing unusual. It showed only a hallway and an open door, but not a single body in sight. But then, in the corner of the screen, there was a flash of motion, two figures slipping into frame, two familiar faces looking straight at them before the feed shut off.
The Ellegian was the first to speak. “Soliveré and Cordova?” she demanded, incredulous. “What the hell–”
“Okay, so they could find it, sure, but these damage reports, what’s happening, there’s no way they could do this,” another argued. “Even with all of Soliveré’s crew, there aren’t enough hands to cause this kind of chaos.”
“Ah, but they’re not alone,” the Vescentian man grunted.
The image on the screen changed, showing hordes of people marching down hallways, threatening unarmed agents, destroying equipment. And in the middle of the fray, two more recognizable faces. One was Leta Adler. The other —
“Utada,” he said. “Quinida Utada. From the looks of it, she’s lent a good chunk of her people to this. Stealing our ships wasn’t enough for her I guess.”
“Why’re they–they’re just destroying everything?” one asked carefully. “What about the agents?”
“Keeping them alive. They’re rounding them up and sealing them off in secure lockdown areas. They were in the middle of morning training when the attack happened. They were completely caught off guard.”
“And now they’re crippling the base,” the Ellegian muttered, pure venom in her voice. “Making fools of us.”
But the Satieran Councillor was less concerned with reputation. A bigger mystery was revealing itself here. “This doesn’t make sense,” he stated suddenly and all the others went quiet. “Soliveré’s had this information for years, but he’s never done anything like this. He’s never staged an attack before and now two in a row. Why?”
The Vescentian scoffed a humorless laugh. “‘Cause we pissed him off.”
“I’ve said it before,” said the Ellegian, “And I’ll say it again. This is why having a Verdant is dangerous. This is why we need to end the chain here.”
“That hardly seems important now,” argued the Ascendian Councillor. “Forget what to do about the Verdant. First thing’s first, what are we going to do about the base?”
“It’s already lost,” said the Satieran. “We should focus on limiting what they come away with. There’s a fleet of warships in that hangar. If they get away with those–”
“He’s right. The last thing we need is to equip them with our own technology,” the Vescentian said and there followed a general murmur of agreement until he followed up with, “We should send in a fire-ship and level the entire thing.”
“What?!” gasped the Ascendian.
“There are hundreds of valuable agents on that base!” said the Ellegian.
“And a hundred valuable ships we need to immobilize,” he snapped. “This is the easiest way and it’ll rid us four particular nuisances.”
“It’ll also rid us of irreplaceable intel on the Carthian forces,” the Satieran pointed out. “Intel we can’t afford to lose.”
“You got a better idea?” the Vescentian growled. “Maybe it’s only me, but I’m getting real tired of these traitors being allowed to roam free and wreak havoc. And the rest of you underestimating them.”
Ignoring the slight, the Satierian plowed forward. “We’ll send in a dreadnought. The Legacy isn’t far off. We’ll send them over immediately to flush the intruders out.”
“I agree,” said the Ellegian. “The Legacy should be enough to take care of it. With as little damage to Blackwater itself as possible.”
“You’ve got my vote,” said the Ascendian and the other Councillors murmured their agreement.
The Vescentian was suspiciously quiet, but majority was the rule, so the Satieran said, “Very good. I’ll send the order.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Fiearius could hardly believe it: the job was going smoothly. Every job he’d taken on the Dionysian had gone badly in some way — sometimes irreversibly — but this mission seemed to be unfolding with success.
The main doors to the base had opened without a hitch. And just as they had planned, the swarm of Quin’s gunhands had swept in and surprised the base personnel, forcing them into surrender. They had stormed the armories, barricaded the agents into holding cells and completely destroyed any critical base equipment on their half of Blackwater. When Dez and Fiearius had slipped away from the main horde to seek out the control room, he had never felt more confident that things would still be under control when he made it back.
So that was a nice change.
Still, the job wasn’t completely finished and although Leta had briefly assured him that things were all well on her half of the mountain, he hadn’t heard much from either her or Quin since. He was hoping they were simply preoccupied. He could not consider — he would not consider — any alternative explanation.
The Flush wouldn’t let him. This morning, when they’d spotted the base, he’d thrown back half a pill when Leta had scouted ahead. He felt justified in taking the pill, since he and Leta would soon be splitting up. And it was just a half pill, that was all — just enough to give his reflexes a bit of a jump.
He felt focused as he crept down the main hallway against the wall, Dez a few steps behind him. It was strange, working so closely in tandem with him again. Fiearius had almost forgotten how easy it was, how compatible they were and how even after all these years, they seemed to always know what the other was thinking.
As the two of them stopped inches from the door, Fiearius strained his ears to listen. A faint murmur of a voice mumbled through the concrete wall. Only a single voice, from the sound of it and mostly just cursing to itself.
Slowly, Fiearius drew his weapon from its holster and gripped it firmly in his fingers. He glanced at Dez. Dez nodded. He nodded back. And in one swift motion, he slammed the door control and spun into the room. In front of him was a vast window looking out into the hangar where nearly a hundred fighter ships were currently docked. Along the walls were an array of control consoles for the whole base. And right in the center was a man wearing a commander’s uniform. Fiearius trained his gun on him at once.
“Hands up!” he ordered as Dez moved around his back to get a different angle, his gun too on the stocky middle-aged man who reluctantly did as he was told.
At first, his eyes were wide in surprise, but slowly, a frown of thoughtfulness creased his brow. “You…” he muttered in realization, narrowing his stare on Fiearius. He swung his eyes to Dez. “And you.”
“Oh, you recognize us?” Fiearius mused, taking a few steps closer. “How flattering.”
“I should be the one who’s flattered,” the man replied, surprisingly calm for someone who supposedly knew the two men pointing guns at him. “The Rogue Verdant and High Traitor? In my base?” He let out a fearless laugh. “I’ll take it as a credit to our success.”
Fiearius grinned. “Don’t.”
“Then I’ll take it as an opportunity instead.” Carefully, he brought a single hand down and started to reach for something in his uniform.
“Fiearius…” Dez muttered, adjusting his grip and awaiting the order to fire.
Although his gun was held aloft, Fiearius had no intention of killing this man. But if he had to …
“You’re not gonna want to do that,” Fiearius growled, taking another few steps forward.
“Not be the man to save Blackwater?” asked the commander, a grin of reckless stupidity on his face. “Oh I think I would love to–”
But before he could finish, before he could act, a gunshot blasted through the room, vibrating off the walls. In the blink of an eye the commander’s face twisted with blood and he crumbled to the ground with a thud.
At first, Fiearius’ eyes swung to Dez, accusation written all over him. But Dez was looking past him.
It was Quin. She stalked into the room with her shoulders held high, the end of her gun still smoking trails of grey. Leta followed in behind her, horror masking her face.
“You killed him,” Leta breathed, her eyes widening on the victim sprawled on the floor. “Why? You didn’t need to — we didn’t need — “
“You didn’t,” Fiearius growled in agreement, lowering his gun to his side. His other palm came briefly to hold the small of Leta’s back — he could feel her trembling. His eyes shot to Quin. “We were just going to knock ‘im out. We had it under control.”
“Sure ya did, sweetheart,” Quin mused, reaching down to examine what the man had been reaching for. “He was about to–” Her words stopped as what she revealed was the smallest hunting knife Fiearius had ever seen. Quin laughed. “Pick your teeth I guess. No matter.” She tossed it aside. “One less to deal with.”
“That’s not what what we’re here for,” Leta said, and this time she sounded less horrified and more angry. A storm filled her face. “We all agreed on that. We’re not here to slaughter anybody, we’re here to take the base! Otherwise we’re no better than them!”
Quin glanced back at her with a dull stare. “Honey, if we weren’t better than ‘em, we wouldn’t be winning right now.” Leta opened her mouth to argue, but Quin had already turned her back.
“And what have we here?” she asked, moving to the window and looking out of it upon the small untouched fleet that sat there in waiting. She whistled. “Now ain’t that a sight for sore eyes. Makes all that jungle trekkin’ worthwhile.”
“They’ll be yours soon enough,” Fiearius assured her. “But first, are we done here?”
It was Leta who answered. She was still glaring at Quin when she said, “All the personnel on our half are contained. When we left the main group, they only had a few more rooms to disable. Should be good to go now.”
“Ours too,” Fiearius replied, just as Dez, who was looking over a nearby console, read off, “Communications down, shielding down, security down, it’s all off.”