Icy sweat covered the back of Leta’s neck as she hazarded forward in line. She had no idea what she was even in line for, only that it was essential clearance for Society agents. Her mind was a fog of panic, but she tried to invisibly assess the situation: the border patrol clearly believed she was still a loyal Society employee. They believed she was one of them. For now. It was her single, lonely advantage that could evaporate any second.
And it was only because of the librera tattooed on her arm. She had no other safe identity, nothing else to shield her from who she was. What would happen when she reached the end of the line? Up ahead, a security guard was ushering agents along until they disappeared behind a long, white screen. What was it for? And was he going to ask for her identification?
Was it possible that she could just dart off? But no, she couldn’t, especially not when the agent behind her nudged her forward. Shakily, she took another step in line. Around her, Society agents — some in plains clothes, others in uniform — murmured conversationally.
“Can you believe that poor woman? Separated from her daughter like that,” one was saying, shaking his head sadly.
“She didn’t have docks clearance, I don’t know what she was expecting,” said his companion. “It’s sad, but the rules are in place for a reason. Can you imagine what would happen if we loosened security? What kind of dangerous people could get through?”
The woman nodded towards a nearby wall, where Leta recognized the image of an all too familiar face, beneath the words ‘Beware the Rogue Verdant.’ She shuddered.
Blood pounded in her ears. Leta was nearing the end of the line, and she kept her gaze directed ahead of her even as she felt the guard scrutinize her half-hidden face. After a moment, he pointed to a nearby agent and grunted, “Keep moving. The guard will escort you through processing.”
– – – – –
Where the hell were they taking her? Cyrus could only imagine horrific possibilities as he forced his way through the crowd, veering quickly in the direction Leta had been dragged. Addy followed behind him, her hand gripped tightly in his.
But maybe he was being ridiculous, Cyrus thought hysterically. For now, Leta was safe, she had to be — because they thought she was part of the Society. She just had to go through a different checkpoint. She’d probably be fine.
Right up until they realized who she was.
Cyrus’ heart twisted. He thought of Fiearius, and what he would do if something truly terrible happened to Leta. Fiearius’ anger and grief would be unsurmountable; he’d tear apart the whole span in his rage …
Cyrus pressed onward, tightening his hand in Addy’s as he crossed down the docks.
“There’s the back-door of the building she went into,” Addy said in his ear, elbowing him and nodding sideways. Cyrus wanted to sprint towards it, but he forced himself to casually, but purposefully, wander closer. An agent was patrolling nearby, strolling back and forth and eyeing him suspiciously.
As normally as he could manage, he turned to Addy and said, loud enough for the agent to hear him, “Let’s just take a minute to regroup over here before we find the ship, honey.”
Just his luck, the agent sniffed in distaste and turned away, continuing on her patrol and leaving Cyrus to approach the door. There was simply no innocent reason for him to be this close to the building, but luckily, Addy seemed to be better at acting casual than he was.
She leaned against the door as though simply tired and bored. Behind her back, smooth as ever, she tried the control pad. The door let out an unsatisfying beep.
“Locked,” she muttered.
“Figures,” Cyrus grumbled, leaning on the wall next to her and crossing his arms over his chest. “It doesn’t look high security. I can probably get it open.” Another agent passed them, catching Cyrus’ eye. He smiled politely. As soon as the man looked away, he grumbled, “If I can have a few minutes alone with it…”
Addy suddenly let out a melodious giggle, an act he found overly flirtatious given their current situation.
“Haven’t you ever seen a movie?” she murmured, turning towards him and sending him a sultry stare that he would have crumbled under, if it were given under any other circumstances.
“Plenty, but–” Cyrus began blankly, but before he could get a word out, Addy had put her hands on his cheeks and pulled him into a slow, smooth kiss. Dumbfounded, he stood there blankly, his mouth pressed to hers, until she broke away for just a moment and tilted her head towards the door control, just within his reach. Right. A distraction.
“Oh — that movie,” Cyrus said and she nodded, kissing him again. If any agents happened to glance their way in the next minute, they probably wouldn’t have noticed that only one of Cyrus’ hands was on the hips of the beautiful woman giving a heartfelt goodbye to a loved one at the edge of the docks. And they probably wouldn’t have watched long enough to see the door behind them finally crack open.
Cyrus only broke the kiss to glance around and ensure they hadn’t drawn any more attention before carefully slipping inside.
“You never told me you were such a good actor,” he muttered, somewhat short of breath as he shut the door behind them.
They started down the hallway quickly, and Addy cast him a wry smirk. “Well I wasn’t entirely acting.”
Feeling himself go red in the face, Cyrus quickly looked ahead to survey their surroundings. Brick walls, dim lighting — just a hallway. Any old hallway of any old administrative building. Leta could be anywhere in here. Where would they even start? All he knew was one thing.
“We should hurry. If they ask her for any kind of identification…”
“If we head north, it’ll take us towards where that line was headed,” said Addy, quickening her pace.
The building was a maze of hallways and dead-ends. For several minutes they didn’t speak as they opened doors, checked the building map, read directional signs …
Cyrus was about to turn around and start over when he felt himself slow to a halt. Nerves were prickling his skin, as if he were being watched, and he found himself turning around curiously.
What he found was a long glass window, embedded in one of the walls. Cyrus stepped closer, bringing the palms of his hands to the glass.
The window looked downward into a tremendous, cavernous room with a high ceiling and concrete floor. Lining the room were huge vats, each attached to a labyrinth of pipes and hoses, pumping liquid. Some of the vats were still, others bubbling and filling the room with a low hum.
It was a laboratory. Cyrus was familiar with working in labs from his undergrad studies, but something — something was funny here. The hair on the back of his neck was standing on edge, and he could feel Addy watching him.
“Cy, we need to go find Leta –” she said quietly, but Cyrus shook his head.
“Hang on, just … just one minute.”
Cyrus walked the length of the window, staring inside as the vats and pumps churned onward.
“It’s ARC,” he breathed suddenly, full of realization.
“ARC,” Cyrus said again. “It’s that drug they gave my brother back on Satieri. It makes you believe…anything.”
The laboratory could have been a mile long — and there were tubes and tanks and barrels filling every surface. All it took to be effective was a single shot, but there were thousands of gallons of it here. Enough to use on gods knew how many people.
“This must be where they make it,” he realized. “Or store it at least. Right here. Gods, no wonder Vescent has been on lock-down … ”
His mind jumped unpleasantly backwards to the days after Fiearius had been rescued from Satieri. His crazed stupor. His slavelike obedience to the Society. His wish to die …
The very memory made his heart grow cold. Cold and angry. He wanted to smash every vat inside and let this shit run down the drain.
“Cyrus,” Addy prompted, sharper this time.
Of course, there wasn’t time to break inside. There wasn’t time to even think about breaking inside. They had to find Leta.
“Right, let’s keep going,” he agreed and turned to head after her, but not before something else across the hall caught his eye. “Actually, one more quick stop,” he added, and headed straight for a set of lockers.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Groaning, Leta managed to crack open her eyes. Her head felt impossibly heavy, and she sank her forehead onto her shoulder as she blinked, hard, several times. Through the groggy fog of her confusion, she realized she was slumped into a chair. The cold metal tingled her nerves.
She was in a chamber of some sort, she realized, squinting. But where? And why? She had no memory of what brought her to this moment. Pale gray light slanted in through a crack in the door. Her head swam, and the light blurred. She thought she could hear footsteps beyond the door.
She heard herself mutter hopefully, “Fiearius?”
But only long, heavy silence answered. This was not the Dionysian; this wasn’t anywhere Leta had ever been before. I should get out of here, she thought dimly. I need to get out of here. But her whole body ached, like she’d just run for miles.