Exhaling shakily, Leta paused against a sooty brick wall to gather her courage. Just across the street, the jet-black glass defense building arched high into the air, glittering eerily in the night. Inside that building was the missile controls that could end this battle.
She was close.
Unfortunately, Fiearius had been right. The Society had been prepared to defend this very spot from a barrage of Carthian soldiers. A circle of agents surrounded the front entrance, armed to take down any offense. Leta had no options, no way of distracting the guards. If only the crew was here to occupy them like they planned. If only the crew hadn’t been injured. If only the ship hadn’t crashed.
Panic fluttered in her chest. For a moment, she flattened herself against the brick wall, closed her eyes and heaved a slow, deep breath. She could do this. She could find a way past them, surely. She just had to find a distraction or a sneaky way around them, or —
Suddenly, movement to her right caught her eye. The sound of boots on pavement. In one motion, Leta snatched her gun from her hip and directed it at the figure in the alley, cold as ice.
But an odd scene met her eyes. It wasn’t one person; it was a whole circle of men and women, looking dirt-streaked and frenzied, all of them armed with rifles and pistols and swords. But they did not advance. Instead, the group exchanged looks and the leader, a young but sturdy man, held up a hand in surrender.
Still, Leta held her weapon steadily. The figure in front grunted his disapproval.
“Stand down, Sochy, you’re outnumbered.”
Leta’s eyes shifted over the crowd curiously. Each of them wore blood-red bands tied around their upper arms. These aren’t agents, she realized with a jolt.
They were rebels.
“Sochy?” she repeated, lowering her gun an inch. “I’m not with the Society. I’m — “
Someone gasped. Then a young woman pushed forward in the crowd, looking thunderstruck. She had thick dark curls and a familiar heart-shaped face …
It was the woman who had housed her and Cyrus the last time they’d been on Vescent.
“Delia?” she breathed in shock.
Leta could hardly believe it. Delia was a Society loyalist and when Cyrus had (a little foolishly) exposed their less-than-friendly relationship with the organization, she hadn’t reacted well. And yet here she was. With a group of rebels in the streets of a chaotic Vescent.
“What’re you — how — What’re you doing here?” Leta managed, loosening her grip on her gun but not relinquishing yet. She was still desperately outnumbered.
But Delia threw her arms around Leta as if greeting an old friend. “I could ask you the same thing. After you guys left, I don’t know. I couldn’t get what you said out of my head. It just kept gnawing at me and suddenly I started seeing things. Things like you said about the Society. Around the city, on the Titan. And then I met up with these guys,” she gestured over her shoulder, “And that was that. And here I am.”
“Dee, you know this Sochy?” grunted the leader.
“I’m not a Sochy,” said Leta at once.
“She’s with the resistance, Bran,” Delia said, turning around. “She knows the Rogue Verdant.”
At once, a wave of interest rippled through the group.
“The Verdant?” the man demanded, eyes blazing. “Is he here?”
Leta opened her mouth, but hesitated.
“He is,” she said at last. More gasps. “He’s here. We were in the small ship that crashed on the west end.”
“I knew it!” Delia cried, voice thick with emotion. “I just knew you’d all come back. Bran — she’s telling the truth. She’s close with the younger Solivere. She’s the doctor they travel with.”
Leta met the man’s eyes squarely, willing him to believe it. Bran visibly relaxed, but his eyes burned on her face.
“The Rogue Verdant. If he’s really here — can you bring us to him?”
“Yes. I can,” she said, and everyone stirred. Gods, maybe these people could go to his aid — maybe they could help him bring down Ophelia.
“But first, I — I need your help.” She stepped forward, lowering her weapon at last. “See over there? I need to get into that building to shut down the city’s defense systems. Do you think you could provide a distraction? Or maybe just–”
But she didn’t need to finish. Bran held up his long rifle, cocked it noisily, and nodded.
“The defense building. Not a problem. Leta, was it? If you’re really with the Verdant? We’ll get ya in there.”
“Stay back for this part,” added Delia, flashing her a nervous smile as she joined the throng.
All at once, the rebel squad cocked their guns and drew forward around the alley, excitement buzzing between them like they were headed out to a sporting event.
“On my mark, “ Bran said. “Three, two — “
Then, in a flash of motion, yells of mirth and anger exploded into the air as they all stormed toward the agents, guns ablaze.
Leta watched in amazement as chaos flooded the street. Then she tore her eyes away to do her job: she carefully navigated the fight as the resistance battled the guards. All around her, guns were firing, blood was spilling, both rebel and agent alike, but she didn’t have time to watch, to aid them, to help the wounded as her instincts demanded. She headed straight through the fray towards the main entrance which Bran had already reached and yanked open for her.
Forcing herself not to look back, she plowed through them and kept running. She didn’t even realize Bran and Delia had followed until Delia called to her, “Do you know where you’re going?”
Leta knew too well. She spent most her childhood alone in the atrium of this building, waiting on her absent father to take her home from school. And when he didn’t — when he made her wait until past dinner time, until it was dark out, until it was past her bedtime — she took to wandering the halls, lonely, tired and curious. Once or twice, a security guard took pity on her and even gave her a tour.
And even as a child, she’d always wondered what the large metal door on the second floor held behind it. She hadn’t been surprised though when the Verdant’s blueprints had labeled it the defense control room. So she headed straight for the stairs.
Fortunately, it seemed that the building’s defense had mostly been stationed at the doors. No one was around to stop them as the three ran through the clean white halls of the administrative building. They didn’t even see a soul until Leta charged onto the second floor landing. There was the door. Right up ahead. And two guards right beside it.
She had her gun up before the closest one even noticed her. She’d fired it before the second could move. The agent cried out in pain, seizing her bleeding leg and doubling over.
Bran was on the last one standing like a whirlwind before Leta even knew what was happening. He tackled the man to the ground, using his rifle as a battering ram. Delia joined him only moments later, seizing the weapon from the agent’s hands and throwing it across the floor. Leta went straight for the door, praying the CID Cyrus had given her would work. Supposedly it was identical to Fiearius’, save for the extensive database (in case it fell into the wrong hands of course). Still, she found herself holding her breath as she held it up to the keypad and–thank the gods–the door slid open.
In her urgency, she failed to prevent the woman she’d shot from lifting her COMM to her lips. “Code 640, I–I repeat, code 640, there’s–” It was only a moment before Delia had slapped her gun in the woman’s face, knocking her out, but it was enough.
“Code 640?” repeated Delia. “They must know we’re here. They’ll send reinforcements.”
Bran turned to Leta. “Do what you gotta do.” He nodded towards the control room. “We’ll buy you some time.”
Leta looked between them, heart clenching. If Society reinforcements came here? To fight just the two of them? There was no way they could–
But Delia cocked her rifle in her hand and took up position facing the stairs. Bran was swapping the clip of his own. And with the end of this right behind her, Leta couldn’t argue.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
In a rush, she turned and slid inside, pulling the door shut behind her. Darkness plunged the room and it was a moment before her eyes adjusted: windowless and dark, lit only by the bright screens lining the walls. But there was no mistaking the main console screen, brightly lit up in the center of the room.
Leta darted right to it and scanned the CID. In only seconds, the Society’s librera blazed alive on the screen.
Quickly Leta dropped her fingertips to the keyboard, but something made her freeze. The back of her neck chilled. Just as she straightened up, she heard an oily, interested voice break cleanly through the room.
“Well,” said a man, sounding as if his curiosity had been aroused. “I wasn’t expecting you, Leta.”
A yell locked in Leta’s throat.
In a half-second, she threw out her hand to grab for her gun, just as the brawny figure eased forward into the light. He was round as a boulder, his shining bald head nearly touching the slanted ceiling as he walked a circle around her, observing her with glinting silver eyes.
The sight of her seemed to please him: his nostrils flared out, and his face flushed red and oily, like he’d been carved out of wax. Finally, a smile slithered across the Vescentian Councillor, Arleth Morgan’s, face. “I’m so happy to finally meet you.”