Chapter 45: Slow on the Uptake

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The mess hall inside the CORS seemed to be miles long, brimming with noise and activity as military officers and cadets took their midday meals. Even in the organized chaos, Fiearius had no trouble spotting his brother across the room: of all the people sat at the long tables, tapping away on consoles and jabbing their forks onto plates, he was the only one not dressed entirely in Carthian green. A vacant circle surrounded him that told Fiearius who the clear outcast was right away.

“There you are,” said Cyrus, looking up as Fiearius approached his empty table.  “I was beginning to wonder if they’d killed you after all.”

Fiearius let out a barking laugh as he dropped into the seat. “You think I’d get killed by one of these Carthian brats? Don’t insult me, little brother.”

Cyrus stabbed a piece of meat on his plate. “You killed any of them yet?”

“I heard some little shits muttering ‘Sochy’ on the way over here and was definitely tempted,” Fiearius admitted, leaning back in his chair. “So how’s your stay so far on the Carthians Only Replicate Stupidity station?”

“Actually, CORS stands for–”

“I don’t care.”

Cyrus’ mouth twitched with irritation, but then he went on, “Well it’s been pretty nice actually. I got a full tour of the core, the generators, talked to some engineers, I mean, they’re doing everything wrong–Carthis has always been about a decade behind Exymeron–but it was still interesting. Everyone’s been surprisingly friendly. Surprising given–” He eyed Fiearius warily. “Well…given who we are.” He tilted his head. “How about you? Figured out why we’re here yet?”

Fiearius couldn’t stop the heavy sigh that escaped his lips. He dug his hand through his hair and tipped his chair onto its back legs. Despite the notion circling his head all evening, all night and all morning, it still hadn’t sunk in yet. He still couldn’t quite process the idea. And it still sounded exceedingly strange when he lowered his voice and said, “They want us to ally with them. They’re trying to liberate Vescent. And they want our help to do it.”

It took Cyrus a few moments, as though he didn’t quite hear what Fiearius had said. But slowly, his eyes widened and his jaw slackened. “Vescent?” he managed at last.

“It’s gotten real bad. The shit with ARC, Internal’s goin’ nuts, riots everywhere.” Cyrus had looked surprised and intrigued at first, but the mention of riots put another expression on his face: guilt. At once, Fiearius wanted to backtrack. Cyrus had told him what had happened when he, Leta and Addy had escaped Vescent. He’d told him about the riot that he himself had incited. And he knew that the weight of that had been haunting him ever since.

“It’s not your fault, Cy,” he added. “It woulda happened anyway, at some point.” His brother didn’t meet his eyes and Fiearius pressed on. “Anyway, they think I have information and resources that’ll help them so that’s why they’re showing off their cores and dining halls and insane living lounges. They’re trying to bribe us into saying yes.”

Cyrus frowned. “Lounges?”

“Don’t ask.”

“So … ” Cyrus prompted slowly, staring at Fiearius with expectation. “Are we going to help?”

It was a question Fiearius had already asked himself many times. So he gave Cyrus the answer he’d been giving himself: a slow, helpless shrug.

Cyrus creased his brow in growing interest. “But you’re considering it.”

It wasn’t exactly a revelation that had occurred to Fiearius. “Yeah?” he admitted. “I guess I am…” He hadn’t been, yesterday. After the meeting with Gates he’d been pretty dead set against it. But as of this morning, his resolve was considerably lessened. And it only took a few moments to realize why.

“It’s stupid,” he confessed at once, dropping his head into his hands. “It’s so stupid. I would never consider working with Carthis, ever, not even for this, but–I don’t know. What Leta said keeps getting to me.”

At that, Cyrus snapped to even closer attention. “Wait — what? You’re talking to Leta again?”

“Just once, I ran into her yesterday.”

“You ran into Leta? Here? On the station? And you talked to her?”

Fiearius cast him an annoyed glare. “Well I wasn’t just going to ignore her…”

But Cyrus’ face had actually softened a little with concern, or maybe pity. “How’d it go?”

“Oh you know,” said Fiearius offhandedly. “We got in a huge fight.”

Cyrus rolled his eyes. “Right. Of course.”

“But then she came by later and we talked. And ate. And I apologized. And she forgave me. It was good.”

Cyrus lifted his brows in genuine surprise, as though Fiearius and Leta exchanging civilities and making amends was the last thing he’d been expecting to hear. “Really?” he asked. “Well that’s great.”

Fiearius nodded slowly. “And then we had sex.”

Cyrus’ surprise dropped straight off his face. “Oh for the gods’ sakes…” he muttered, grimacing in disgust.

Fiearius felt suddenly defensive. “Hey, it’s not that big of a d — “

Cyrus cut him off. “Y’know, I’m genuinely impressed you’ve managed to stay alive this long with how stupid you are sometimes.”

“Well that’s rude,” Fiearius remarked flippantly. “It’s not that bad. It helped actually. It felt like we really…made progress, I mean. Like we’d solidified the weirdness of the last month and it was alright. It was closure.”

Cyrus let out a snort. “Sure it was. Closure. You just can’t let her go can you?”

Fiearius felt himself redden, in spite of himself. His sibling certainly had a way of knocking him down a few notches in one fell swoop, didn’t he? But he wasn’t just going to go down without a fight. “Yeah I can, that’s what this was, letting her go.”

Cyrus just kept staring at him incredulously. “Really. Sleeping with your ex is letting her go? Huh.”

“Sometimes,” Fiearius snapped, but even he realized it was a flimsy notion. He let out a groan and sunk his head into his hands again. “I don’t know, okay? It’s not that fucking simple. I was in love with her, Cy, I can’t just ‘let her go.’ It’s not that easy.”

Pity flickered in Cyrus’ face, but his words hadn’t gotten much kinder. “Easy or not, you can’t do this to yourself. Or to her. It’s bad for both of you. You’re either together or you’re not, this in-between thing doesn’t work with you two, you know that.”

“I do know that.” Fiearius caught his hand in his hair. “And that was the last time, I’m serious. We agreed it wouldn’t happen again. It’s fine.” He looked over to Cyrus to find him still watching him with more skepticism than he thought possible. It was irritating. “Really. It’s fine,” he snapped.

“Let’s hope so.” And then he gave a start and narrowed his eyes warningly through his glasses. “But if she’s the reason you’re really considering helping the Carthians…”

“She’s not,” Fiearius assured him. “I’m not that pathetic. She just..made a pretty decent point, that’s all. She genuinely believes Carthis has a chance to do it, Cy, free Vescent. And I beg to differ, but–I don’t know. Maybe, if we helped? Maybe they really could. And they should be freed, if those reports are true.”

“And they probably are,” Cyrus put in.

“Exactly. So if it’s possible to get the Society out of there? It should be done, shouldn’t it?” He sighed. “But I’d just rather not work with Carthis to do it…”

Cyrus grimaced. “Well. It’s not like we’d even have a chance on our own.”

“No, we wouldn’t, but I don’t trust them, Cy. They’re got motives. Motives I don’t like. C’mon, helping Vescent? Since when does Carthis give a shit about other systems? How many Synechdan planets have they barrelled over without a second thought? Not to mention, contacting us. C’mon, we’re specks of dust as far as they’re concerned.”

“Specks of dust with one particularly valuable CID,” Cyrus pointed out, flicking his eyes towards Fiearius’ wrist.

Fiearius pointed at him. “Which makes me even more nervous. I don’t want to just be Carthis’ pawn, Cyrus.”

“Then don’t be,” Cyrus suggested with a simple shrug as though this solved everything. When Fiearius just glared at him, he went on, “Don’t be the pawn. Be the queen.”

Fiearius’ glare only sharpened. “Come again?”

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