“And this is the entrance to the living quarters,” the woman explained. “It’s quite large and can be a tad mazelike, but once you learn your way it becomes second nature.” She drew out her tablet again. “Now, would you two like separate quarters or…?”
Suddenly, Corra realized she had gotten so caught up in seeing this place and their guide was so efficient that she hadn’t even mentioned why she was there. “Oh, no!” she answered hurriedly, shaking her head. “No no no, I–”
Cai was laughing. “Oh, it’d be that bad huh? Thanks,” he teased, but Corra felt herself turn bright red.
“What? I didn’t mean–”
But Cai just squeezed her shoulder affectionately and asked the woman, “Actually I was wondering if my friends had made it here yet?”
The woman smiled. “Sure, we can check.” Her embarrassment subsiding, Corra listened as Cai started to rattle off numbers and the woman tapped them into her tablet. Finally she answered, “They are! All four of them are in F-14 block which is–”
But before she could even explain, Cai had already headed off into the hall. “I’ll find it!” he called back over his shoulder, making their guide crease her forehead in confusion.
Corra, however, felt a little stunned. What, that was it? She saved him from an ally hunter, listened to his whole life story, fed him, bathed him, clothed him, brought him to the Conduit and he was just going to run off into the ship and disappear forever? Without even a word of thanks or recognition or anything?
She couldn’t stop herself. “Well, bye,” she called after him, the bitterness reeking from her tone.
Cai stopped in his tracks and looked back at her, perplexed. It took him a moment to realize his mistake. “I’ll meet you back at the Beacon in a bit, okay?” he called and Corra immediately felt stupid for assuming otherwise.
“Okay,” she muttered awkwardly as he waved goodbye and disappeared. Still trying to battle her cheeks from flushing, she turned back to the woman who asked, “So–to your new quarters then?”
Corra almost felt guilty. Clearly this was her one job and neither of the new arrivals were interested.
“I’m sorry, this place is amazing, but I–I have a ship, a home. I can’t stay.” The disappointment was obvious in her face. Disappointment and especially confusion when Corra added, “I was actually hoping I could meet the First Free.”
The main center of the Conduit was a bustling sea of people, typing away on consoles. Along the wall were neatly stacked books Corra recognized in an instant: Goddora’s record books. She walked along, fascinated. This must have been the hub for those agents Cai had mentioned.
At the heart of the room, a tall, poised woman paced back at forth at a large console, talking harshly into its COMM. A number of other people hovered around her impatiently. Corra’s guide was hesitant, but she lead her closer.
“This could be our only chance to do this,” Corra heard the tall woman say, her voice strong. “We have to make it work. If something else happens before–” She leaned forward and gripped the console in frustration. “Yes, I’m aware of that but–” She groaned. “Alright. Fine. I’ll figure something else out.” She slammed the disconnect button with her thumb and tore the headset from her ear. “Find me someone else to call,” she ordered to a man standing nearby who hurried off at once.
Corra could not take her eyes off the woman. The barking demands, the husky voice, the authority in her walk — it really was her. And when she turned around and scanned the room with that sharpened face of hers, their eyes met across the room and she softened.
“Captain,” began Corra’s guide nervously. “This woman arrived and wanted to see you so–”
But Raisa didn’t need an explanation.
“Corra,” she breathed in disbelief, suddenly crossing over and catching Corra in a loving, almost painful hug. Raisa had always been known by the younger allies for her crushing hugs. The woman had been the reigning maternal figurehead amongst Goddora’s stock. She’d practically raised Corra since she’d first been dropped off there. Although Cai hadn’t told her much of anything about the Conduit’s supposed First Free, Corra wasn’t at all surprised to find Raisa standing here at the center of it.
“Goodness, girl, aren’t you someone I never thought I’d see with my own eyes again,” she said, releasing her to seize her shoulders and hold her at arm’s length. “I’ve had an agent trying to track down that damn pirate that bought you for months, but that ship’s a ghost. And yet here you are anyway!” She pulled her into another hug. “I’m so glad you were able to escape.”
Corra, choking under the pressure, only got out, “Actually, I–” before the man Raisa had barked at reappeared and said, “Captain, none of our other agents are nearby. They couldn’t make it in time even if they weren’t already occupied.”
Finally Raisa released her and put her hand to her forehead. “Dammit,” she muttered. Glancing back at Corra she said, “I’m sorry, girl, you came at a real bad time. Maybe I can get someone to show you around or–”
Corra suddenly sensed her chance. “That’s okay. What’s going on?” she asked, jumping on it.
Raisa sighed and stalked back towards her console. “We’ve located a property on an Ellegian moon with some fifty Un-Frees accounted for. Conditions are bad. Real bad. And security’s tight. Our agent infiltrated a few months ago, but there’s no way those people are gonna be able to free themselves. They need our help.”
Corra hovered behind her shoulder, peering around her at the console screen which showed a roughly sketched drawing of some building layouts. “So how do we help?”
“To extract that many, we’re gonna need a distraction. Something big enough to keep the owners occupied while we clear the buildings. Tomorrow night, we’re getting just that. A meteor shower is passing by the moon. The owners are planning a huge garden party to view it meaning those buildings will be empty, their eyes will be averted and it’s the perfect moment to escort fifty people off the property.”
“But?” Corra pressed.
“But, we have no one to execute it,” Raisa explained. “All of our agents are too far away to make it and the few that aren’t are busy with pre-existing operations. We have no one aboard the Conduit prepared for this sort of thing, nor would any Free be able to pass off as a guest to make it inside the outer gates to begin with. Ellegians have hawk-eyes for notches. They’d be turned away at the front door.”
Corra put her finger to her lips. “So all you need is some people who can pass off as classy to make it into the party and then help the alli–Un-Frees–get out?”
“Exactly. And that is the one thing we don’t currently have.”
Corra felt a sly smile coming to her face. “I think I might be able to help.”
– – – –
Corra couldn’t wait to get back to the Beacon and tell Finn. The plan was already starting to weave itself in her head. It was perfect, practically fool-proof and it would end in fifty more allies freed. How could he say no?
She rushed through the hallways of the Conduit, past the garden, through the market and finally arrived into the cargo bay where she spotted Finn slanted against the wall, smoking a cigarette by himself.
“Riley!” she exclaimed as she bounded up the ramp, breath barely in her lungs. “Riley, there’s a job–well assignment–we can do it! We can totally do it. There’s a party and a meteor shower and some locks, but I can pick those and I’ll need to talk to Leta and–oh, maybe I could–we’ll have aliases, yeah and–”
“Whoa,” said Finn, exhaling a plume of smoke and pulling the cigarette from his mouth. “Slow down there, tiger.”
Corra heaved a deep breath and grinned up at him. “Riley, we can help these people. Really help them. I–I really want to help them.”
“Yeah,” said Finn, his expression shifting between confusion and amusement. “I can see that.” He straightened off the wall, letting the cigarette drop to his feet. “What’s going on?”
“The Conduit needs us for a job.”
Considering Finn’s surly mood the past two days, she expected something of a fight. But to her shock and relief, Finn nodded once and said, “if it’s important to you, let’s do it.”
Corra couldn’t help it: she suddenly threw her arms around his middle, making him stagger backwards in surprise as he let out a snorting laugh. Releasing him, she stepped back and suddenly remembered. “Wait. What about Callahan?”
For a moment, Finn hesitated. But then he unleashed a broad grin. “Eh, he can wait.”
“He can wait.”
Totally not gonna end badly.
I’m sure of it.
That ship just HAS to contain slaves.