Growing up, Fiearius had often imagined himself having adventures across the Span. Haggling in the markets of Tarin, playing poker in a shady dive bar on Archeti, exploring the streets of the Ellegian capital city — he’d dreamed of it all, and everything had seemed possible. But if someone had told him then that one day he would find himself taking a tour of a Carthian military space station? He would have laughed in their face.
“To the left, you’ll see the fitness facilities,” said the cadet who had apparently been tasked with leading him through the enormous, cavernous station in the dead of space. The station was miles long, all slick glass and metal, and it was bustling and noisy like a small city.
The cadet had already lead him through the armory, the med bay, and the fighter hangar when she said, “We have a full track, a field, game courts as well as your usual fitness equipment, machines, weights, the like. All recently renovated.”
Which was probably fascinating, Fiearius assumed. To someone who cared maybe.
Fact of the matter was, he still had no idea what he was doing here. He’d received an invitation from an admiral he’d never heard of, so he’d flown the Dionysian to the CORS (Carthian something something Station, he forgot the middle two), with no idea what to expect and now he’d arrived. Cyrus had been escorted off to meet the engineering staff and Eve and the rest of the crew had been shown the mess hall and staff lounge. Meanwhile, Fiearius was following around this girl, learning about the station’s brand new shield generators and exercise bikes. He’d come looking for answers, but not to these particular questions.
It just didn’t make sense. Walking around the crowded, long curved halls, it was clear how much he didn’t belong here. Everyone they passed was dressed in their crisp clean Carthian fatigues which made Fiearius stand out oddly. The Carthian insignia was everywhere: on the walls, on the doors, on the backs of the uniforms and then in sharp contrast, there was the librera on his arm which earned him more than his fair share of passing glares. He felt as though he’d stumbled into this station on accident, he was so out of place. Satierans hated Carthians. And Carthians hated Satierans.
But here he was, over an hour into this ‘quick tour’, his feet aching, his mind tired and his resolve fading. It certainly made him wonder about the man who’d invited him here. Finn had said Admiral Gates was a well-respected man throughout all of Carthis but if this mandatory preface to their meeting was any indication to his character, Fiearius wasn’t impressed. Was he playing him somehow? Was this just a negotiation technique? But what benefit would the guy have by leaking all this information to some space pirate he didn’t even know he could trust? This whole thing didn’t feel right.
But at last, this tour, charade, whatever it was, was coming to an end.
“And finally, the command center,” said his guide as they entered a lobby filled with couches, desks, and console screens. Overhead, the ceiling was curved and entirely transparent, giving the illusion that there was nothing above them save the vast expanse of space. The room seemed to be a hub to five different doors. A singular young man sat quietly at a desk in the center of them.
“Here, you’ll find access to CORS main controls, meeting rooms and offices of our leadership,” she explained. Despite his exhaustion, Fiearius perked up. Perhaps he was about to get his answers at last. “Including Admiral Gates,” she finished. “Right this way please.”
They marched through a set of large metal doors. Despite himself, Fiearius felt strangely eager as he found himself stepping into a warm, circular office, the door closing behind him.
“Admiral, Captain Soliveré here to see you, sir,” said the woman. She clapped her hand over her chest in salute, bowed her head and departed, leaving Fiearius alone with the man before him, who was standing up to his feet behind his broad mahogany desk.
The first thing Fiearius noticed was the man’s scarring. Cutting diagonally through from his brow to his neck was a long jagged scar. What the hell had caused that, Fiearius had to wonder. Supposedly Gates himself had once been a renegade mercenary, but here, now, he was hardly threatening: he was a portly man, shorter than Fiearius by a head, with kind blue eyes like someone’s grandfather. It was a jarring juxtaposition, and it took Fiearius a few moment’s delay to realize the man had said, “Captain. A pleasure to finally meet you,” in a low gravelly voice.
He came out from behind his desk, and Fiearius noticed a slight limp to his back leg. “Admiral Kaiser Gates,” he introduced, holding out his hand, which Fiearius shook with some hesitation. “Thank you for coming on such short notice. Please, have a seat. I trust you found the tour to your liking?”
Fiearius didn’t sit. He dropped his hand to his side and eyed the man skeptically. “It was fine,” he responded at last. “Little long…”
“Ah yes, it’s an expansive structure, isn’t it?” said Gates, ignoring Fiearius’ cue and sitting back down at his desk. “Damn waste of money if you ask me, but what do I know. In any case, takes time to see it all.”
“The abridged version would have been nice.”
To Fiearius’ surprise, Gates barked a rough laugh. “Please, sit down, put your feet up. Tell me what you think of the place.”
This time, Fiearius obliged, hesitantly lowering himself into one of the seats. “A real marvel of engineering I’m sure. But I’m guessing you didn’t invite me here to critique your decor.”
Gates chuckled again, bridging his fingers in front of him on the desk. “I’ve heard that about you. Straight to business. No patience for small talk.”
“Not much time for small talk when you’re on a plethora of most wanted lists,” Fiearius pointed out, lifting his brow accusingly.
“And a biting sense of humor,” Gates went on, nodding. “I’ve heard that too. Well. Here’s some good news: your Carthian record has been expunged. No one here is looking to arrest you, Captain. You’re welcome aboard the CORS for the foreseeable future. There is no need to rush things. But I take it you weren’t impressed with what we’ve built then?” Gates went on seamlessly. “Did you know that we’ve kept the existence of this station entirely secret from outside forces?”
Fiearius frowned. “Swell.”
“We’re hoping to make it the hub for our efforts against the Society. We’re in the process of moving our base of operations from Carthis itself to this very structure.”
“It’ll provide us with greater mobility, farther reach. We’ll be able to stage–”
Finally, Fiearius had had enough.
“Alright, what the hell is going on?” he said, standing up so forcefully that his chair slid back behind him. “I don’t give a damn about your station. Why am I here? What are you stalling for? Are you doing something to my ship? My crew? If you think I’m just gonna sit here quietly while you play games with me, oh you have another thing coming, and I swear, if you even go near any of my–”
“Fiearius,” Gates interrupted, standing up himself. His voice was forceful but calm, and it cut through the room like steel. Fleetingly, Fiearius was reminded of Aiden. He also had the ability to quiet a room. The similarity stunned him into silence, and Gates went on, even more gently, “Captain. No one is going anywhere near your ship or your crew and we bear you no ill will whatsoever. I’m not playing any games. I don’t like games.”
“If it’s not a game,” Fiearius growled, “then what the hell is with the tour and the guide and the ‘station this’ ‘station that’ bullshit?”
Gates watched him for a moment with the attentive curiosity of someone watching an exotic animal in a zoo. And then horribly, frustratingly, he laughed. “Oh Captain, it’s not a game. It’s a sales pitch,” he admitted through amused chuckles. “I’m trying to convince you to join us.”
Now, Fiearius was truly stunned. He could do nothing but stare at the man in front of him, completely lost for thoughts and words.
“As a pirate we thought you’d respond to wealth. Clearly, I went about this entirely the wrong way,” Gates went on, shaking his head and sitting back down, adjusting himself comfortably in his seat. “I beg your pardon, I’m not used to working with people so…” He eyed Fiearius cautiously. “Prone to mistrust, I suppose. Around here, people take my word as gospel, imagine that. But I see now why you are so suspicious. Please, sit down and perhaps we can start over.”
Fiearius felt a particularly strong urge to just turn around and leave. But he felt another urge to actually hear whatever this man had to say. Carefully, he lowered back into the chair.
“Alright, here’s the honest sales pitch,” Gates began. “As I’m sure you’re aware, Carthis has been making strong advancements in our fight against the Society. We’ve regained a lot of lost territory and have been making a hefty dent in their forces, thanks in no small part to you. Your raids on Society ships and the destruction of Blackwater in particular have altered the odds of this fight in our favor.”
“It was unintentional,” Fiearius muttered and Gates’ mouth twisted towards a smile.
“Even so, the efforts of yourself and the fleet you command have been vital to our success and we thank you for it. From what I understand, your role as, Verdant, is it? Allows you access to intel we could never dream of obtaining. Not to mention your familiarity with Society inner workings certainly put you in a more advantageous position than us.” Fiearius lifted his brows in admission, but said nothing. Gates went on.
“With our territory back in Carthian hands, the military council is looking to make a more decisive move against our enemies. Much consideration has gone into determining the most appropriate target for an acquisition. It’s important to us to choose a planet that is both vital to the Society’s infrastructure and in great need of freedom from its rule. Ever since the riots started a month ago, the answer became quite clear.” The words that came out of his mouth next made Fiearius’ heart stop. “We’re going to liberate Vescent.”
Seconds of silence passed.
“You’re going to what?” Fiearius managed finally.
“Vescent is the Society’s base of ARC operations. You know firsthand just how devastating that program is. It’s not only prisoners of war being affected now, nor even solely Society agents. Since the riots broke out, they’ve been testing possibilities of its usage on the entire population. Making it airborne.” Fiearius only barely managed to swallow the lump in his throat. “They intend to use it to quiet the protesters, but if they manage, do you doubt it will end there? A systematic brainwashing of a civilization seems able to accomplish much more than suppressing a rebellion, don’t you think? And if it works on Vescent, they’ll certainly take it elsewhere. Before long, every Society planet in the Span could be subjected to mass ARC dosing. The Society needs to be stopped before their control can go that far.”
Fiearius was inclined to agree, in a general sense. The thought of ARC becoming a widespread control tactic was terrifying and he certainly wouldn’t put it past the Council to implement it. But stop them? Go down to Vescent and…stop the Society?
“You can’t do that,” he choked out.
“You’re right,” Gates agreed. “We can’t. Not alone.” He met his stare evenly. “That’s why we need you.”
After a moment, Fiearius released a loud, crazed laughed. “You’re fucking kidding me.”
“You have intel,” said Gates. “You have resources, allies, ships. And you have a name, Soliveré. A name that is slowly becoming synonymous with rebellion against Society rule. Exymeron, Ellegy, they’re not looking to Carthis, their age-old enemy, for help. They’re looking to you. The Rogue Verdant who has escaped them again and again and is fighting back for freedom.”
Fiearius gaped at him. And then dropped his head in his hands. “You are fucking kidding me.”
“I’m not. I’d rather not waste more of your time, or mine. If we are to have any success in freeing Vescent, we’ll need firepower in the sky, certainly, but we’ll also need manpower on the ground. Dissenters are already rallied there. All we need is a unifying symbol. You can be that symbol.”
Fiearius’ hands dropped back into his lap and he stared at the man emptily. He felt like he was trapped in a strange, waking dream.
But Gates wasn’t finished. “It’ll be difficult, but we’ve been planning this attack for some time now. With you, we can finally move forward. The sooner, the better. The longer we wait, the more at risk these people will be. The more they’ll suffer. The more they’ll die. They need justice and we can bring it to them.” He fixed his stare on him seriously. “What do you say?”
Fiearius didn’t even look up. He just blinked slowly at the ends of his fingertips as though he couldn’t believe they were real. And finally, he said, “No.”
Gates expression shifted. “No?”
“No,” Fiearius said again. “No. Sorry. Not interested.”
“It’s not a matter of interest,” said Gates evenly. “It’s obligation. It’s duty.”
“Look,” he cut him off, standing up again. “It sounds real noble what you’re doing. Saving the poor people of Vescent and all. If that really was your motivation which I doubt.” Gates opened his mouth to protest, but Fiearius continued, “But fact of the matter is, it has nothing to do with me.”
“I’m afraid it has everything to do with you,” said Gates, almost sadly. “You inspire these people. You’re an example that they can be beat. You–”
“I’m am space trash,” Fiearius barked sharply. “I’m a traitor and I’m a coward and I’m just fucking lucky that I was able to run when I did.”
“You fought back. The raids. Blackwater.”
“Blackwater was an accident. It was all an accident! And I nearly lost everything in those raids. I wasn’t fighting back, I had no idea what I was doing, I was just so damn desperate, I’d do anything to keep my ship afloat.”
“Desperate, yes. Like the people of Vescent.”
Fiearius groaned and pulled his hands down his face. “Even if I was some grand revolutionary and I’m not, what the hell makes you think I’d want anything to do with you? Why would I agree to be your puppet?”
“You wouldn’t be. You’d have complete autonomy of your own actions. And we can provide equipment, weapons, troops.”
Fiearius just shook his head, pacing in a small circle. “Just what I always wanted, to be part of Carthian imperialism,” he muttered through a bitter laugh.