The jagged skyline of Vescent’s capital city began to sink into view. The Dionysian descended toward the docks, and Leta leaned her palms against the bridge’s console, trying to steady her shaking sweaty hands. This was where she’d grown up with her mother, where she’d gone to university and accepted her first job in a clinic. Where she’d met Ren in a noisy little tavern in the city square. Where she’d first laid eyes on a riotous pirate ship captain, shouting over the sound of the waves on the harbor docks ….
Gray clouds twisted around the top spires of the buildings. The sky lit with flaming red-orange bursts as the ships in the upper atmosphere battled. Carthis’ fleet — flanked by Quin’s and an assortment of Fiearius’ old criminal friends — had descended into Vescentian space first, drawing out the planet’s defensive barrage and engaging them in what was surely a spectacular sight of space weapon technology. Leta had caught only glimpses as the Dionysian swerved through the front lines and went straight for the planet. It was the Dionysian’s responsiblity — her responsibility — to get onto the ground and shut down the missile defense turrets so that the bombers could get through and take out their targets.
Everything was planned to the very last minute detail. The ship would land in the square adjacent the defense department headquarters and the crew would handle the initial wave of foot resistance, clearing the way for Leta and Fiearius to sneak in through the east entrance. They’d head to the control room, they’d use Fiearius’ Verdant CID (or Leta’s stripped down copy of it) to shut down the defenses and Carthis would use the clear skies to swoop in and finish the job.
That’s how it was supposed to go anyway. But when was anything ever that easy?
“Dionysian, come in,” came a cool clear voice over the COMM. “Dionysian, do you read?”
In the captain’s chair, Fiearius jerked the ship controls to the left just as a fiery blast jetted through the air. “Loud and clear,” he shouted back. “Fucking hell, Finn enjoys this shit?”
Thinking of Finn — still incommunicable in the station’s med bay — made her heart twist, so Leta ignored the remark as the speaker exploded a second time. The windows suddenly shook with trepidation.
“You’ve got two bogeys on your tail,” said the Carthian on the other end of the line. “They’re charging to fire.”
Another shot blasted past the window and Fiearius only narrowly managed to avoid it. “No fucking kidding,” he growled. “Thought you lot were supposed to prevent this!” He pulled the ship to such a hard turn that Leta felt the floor tip sideways. She grabbed the wall for support.
“They made it through our initial barrage, we were unable to–” the cadet began, but he was cut off as the Dionysian shuddered and the debris of two Society fighters, engulfed in flames, plummeted past the bay window.
“Got ‘em for ya, darlin’,” said the COMM.
“Thanks, Quin,” Fiearius said, leveling out the ship and continuing descent.
Leta glanced sideways and saw a red dot flashing on the radar. “We’re not out of the water yet. Another one’s right behind us.”
He pulled back on the controls and the ship lurched, but only just as the Society fighter sped right past their window. “It’d be nice–” He yanked it again. “–if my ship–” And again “–would fucking do–” Once more. “–what I ask!”
Frustrated, he slammed down the internal COMM. “Richelle, I need more power to the secondary thrusts! What the hell is going on down there?!”
“I’m working on it, capitaine!” the poor girl cried. Supposedly Fiearius had had a good reason to leave Cyrus behind on this mission. Leta had seen first-hand how deep his depression over Archeti had sunk him, but even she would not have made that call. Richelle may have been taking lessons from the Dionysian’s engineer, but she certainly had not been prepared for this kind of reckless flying.
“Well you need to work on it faster,” Fiearius snapped and hit another control. “Cyrus, walk her through this, now!”
“I am!” groaned Cyrus’ voice from where he was safely stationed back on the CORS. “But you need to stop flying like that, you’re running her dry!”
“Oh I’m sorry, would you rather she get shot?” Fiearius demanded. “Figure it out.” He shut off the COMM, and just in time to pull out of another pass from the fighter.
Leta, gripping onto every surface she could to stay upright, moved towards the window. They were through the clouds now and the city was fully in view below her. Fall’s End. Splayed out before her in blue and grey lines and blocks. She narrowed her eyes and searched the array, following roads from landmarks she knew until finally–
“There it is!” she shouted back to the pilot. “The defense building. And the square. That’s where we need to land!”
“One thing at a time,” Fiearius groaned. And as if it was a prophecy or a cue of its own, suddenly the ship let out a monstrous roar that ripped through Leta’s ears. The emergency lights snapped on, making the whole room flash red.
“What the hell was that?!”
“That was my thrusters running on delay and that fucking ship blowing us a new entrance,” Fiearius snapped between his teeth as he continued to wrench the controls.
“We’re hit? Are we going to–”
“Shit!” Fiearius leaned sideways and grasped one of the controls. Then he slammed his fist upon the metal. His expression shifted from anger and frustration to genuine worry. “She’s not responding.”
“What do you mean she’s not responding?!” Leta’s eyes swung back to the window. It was a long way down to the ground. Icy fear gripped her.
Fiearius shot her a glare and then grabbed for the COMM again. “Richelle! We–”
“I know!” she shrieked. “I know, the hit took out the connection, I’m–”
Suddenly Cyrus cut in. “What the hell happened?!”
“The connection,” stumbled Richelle, “I can’t get her to–”
“Get me some fucking thrust before we crash!”
The maze of the city was coming in faster than ever as the ship fell towards the ground, nose first. Leta had never liked heights, but she’d become accustomed to ship landings and take-offs. There was something different about being inside a massive flying machine that made the outside world all the way down there seem much more like a painted picture than an actual stretch of distance.
“You’re gonna wanna strap in,” Fiearius said over the roar of the falling ship, pulling her from her daze. He didn’t have to tell her twice. Leta clambered up to the co-pilot’s seat and fastened her seatbelt with shaking hands.
“Can you land this?” she dared to ask.
Details of the buildings below her were coming into focus — they were that close. And then she could see the shapes of moving people through the passing fog. The dark evergreen trees. The rolling green-gray waves of the bay.
Over the roaring and Fiearius yelling curses as he desperately attempted to regain control, Leta heard Richelle’s voice crackle through the speakers, “It’s back up!”
Then her vision went black.
With a rough, rasping cough, Leta awoke. She gingerly lifted her heavy head and realized she was sunken in the co-pilot’s chair. And she was alive.
Heavy dust swirled in the air. Shattered glass littered the floor. Cuts covered her arms and hands, and her neck ached, but otherwise she seemed unharmed. With shaking fingers she fumbled with the belt of her chair and staggered out of it. Her senses were off-kilter, her vision hazy, until she focused on the figure slumped in the captain’s chair.
Thank the gods, when Leta crossed over and grasped his shoulders, he coughed and winced. She brushed her thumb across the gash in his temple. It wasn’t terribly deep, but blood flowed freely down the side of his face — one of the overhead consoles must have fallen and hit him during the crash.
“You’re alright, you’re alright, Fiear,” Leta breathed, crouching down to the floor. She reached for the end of Fiearius’ shirt and with a great rrrip, tore its edge and folded it.
“Hey, I’m all for you ripping my clothes off,” Fiearius muttered, his voice hoarse, “but is now really the ti — ”
“Hold this against the cut. And shut up,” she said, pressing the fabric to his temple. It stained bright red immediately.
“How close did we get?” he asked. He gestured to the cracked window; he must’ve meant their landing.
“Only about a mile or two from the defense building,” she guessed, based on what she could see of the city. It wasn’t a good enough answer for him it seemed as he groaned and put his hand on his head. Or perhaps that was the pain.