“Oh thank God, you’re finally awake,” she breathed, tossing her magazine to the floor and standing to her feet. “They said it would be any time now, they said it would work and you’d wake up but I didn’t really–y’know–believe them.” She reached around his head to straighten out his pillows. “How do you feel? Are you comfortable? Can I get you anything? Food? Water? Well I guess that’s what the IV is for–”
With a great effort, Finn held up a hand to silence her. She clamped her mouth shut and he managed, “What happened?”
“You don’t remember?” She tilted her head and smiled sadly. “Oh, Finn. You’ve been in and out of surgery for nearly a month. Unconscious the rest of the time. We almost lost you.” Apparently feeling this story was worthy of some gravity, she sat down on the edge of his bed. “You got stabbed. Callahan. He got you real good.”
“Bastard,” said Finn absently, his voice was hoarse, like he’d been out all night in a smokey bar. Now that she mentioned it, the story felt familiar. The man’s face flashed in his mind’s eye. The knife. The blood. It was all coming back to him. Except …
“How’d I get here?”
“Corra found you and dragged you back to the Beacon.”
“Corra,” he repeated quietly. His vision was coming in more clearly now, and he realized the room was absent the person he wanted to see most. “Where is she? Please tell me she’s giving Callahan what he deserves.”
Suddenly, Alyx’s expression fell. Apology stirred in her eyes.
“Maybe?” she guessed, and Finn was instantly suspicious.
“What do you mean, ‘maybe’?”
She averted her eyes and fiddled nervously with the edge of the blanket. In a quiet voice he’d never heard Alyx use, she began, “Finn … ” which made worry bolt through him.
Grimacing through the white-hot pain in his middle, he lifted his head and sat up. “What happened? She — she’s alright?”
“Maybe. I don’t really know. I think she’s alright, I hope–”
“Alyx,” Finn cut her off sharply. “Where. Is. Corra?”
“I’m sorry, Finn,” Alyx whispered. “She left.”
Her words hung in the air heavily.
“She wouldn’t say where to. Just that she had to go. And then–she left. Caught a ride on a Carthian cruiser and — look, I’m sorry, she just completely disappeared.”
“So she’s not with the Beacon,” Finn finished, trying to wrap his head around this news. “She left the Beacon. When — when I was like this?!” he growled. “I can’t even get out of bed! What about our ship?”
Alyx’s forehead creased in confusion. “Finn, the Beacon’s fine. It’s just docked for now and the crew’s–”
“Who’s taking care of it?”
“I am,” Alyx hurriedly explained. “Just until you’re better. You really shouldn’t get so worked up, in your condition –”
But Finn was already shaking his head. “This is insane. We have to find her. Contact her and make sure she’s alright and bring her back here.”
“She doesn’t want to be found, Finn.”
“Why did you let her leave?!” he demanded.
“I didn’t let her leave,” Alyx snapped. “She told me she was leaving and she left, I wasn’t exactly in a position to stop her.”
“Did you even try?!”
“Of course I tried! But she’d already made up her mind. She–she said she had to go. That she–” Here, Alyx inhaled shakily. “That she couldn’t face you after what she’d done.”
“What she’d done?” he repeated, sitting up straighter. “What does that mean?”
Alyx shook her head. “I don’t know exactly. I think she blamed herself for your injury. But–there was something else. She–did something or, I don’t know, gave something to the Society? Something that lead to–Archeti…”
“Archeti,” Finn interrupted, closing his eyes. A wave of sickly nausea made his head swim. “What happened?”
The look on Alyx’s face said it all. As did the reluctance in her voice when she mumbled, “They’re already planning to rebuild … ”
“How many?” he pressed quietly. His voice was growing thin. “How many people were lost?”
Alyx’s voice — he could not believe it, he’d never seen her like this — cracked and splintered with emotion. “There are only estimations,” she said. Tears threatened her. “Too many. Far too many, Finn, they–” Her eyes clamped shut and she clenched her fists. “They say millions…”
“Millions?” he heard himself mumble, feeling lost and numb. What was she even saying? He wracked his memory for some understanding. The stabbing, he remembered. Corra finding him, that was coming back. Then–the earthquake?
“It’s gone, Finn,” Alyx croaked, shaking her head and brushing tears from her eyes. “Archeti’s gone.”
Finn had no words. He couldn’t even think. Corra was gone, Archeti was gone, his home, his family. He’d been stabbed and nearly dead for a month and now that he was finally awake, everything had changed. Everything was different. More empty.
In that moment, he felt none of the pain that was plaguing him, no sorrow for his losses, no despair. He was merely a husk of a person, a shell, and he fell back on his pillows with a soft thump as Alyx quietly took his hand and squeezed.
“So! What do you think of the new facilities, then?” Gates asked briskly, surprisingly energetic for a man his age, and a man who had just led a huge memorial service. Fiearius followed him down the long narrow hallway, looking around the new space.
Soon after the attacks, the Carthians had begun to build a makeshift base in the old Society docking complex. It hadn’t looked like much then, but as they walked through it now, it was beginning to look a little more sturdy.
“It’s…nice,” Fiearius commented as he peered through the doors they walked by to see what was inside. Lots of green fatigues and Carthian tech by the looks of it. “I guess.”
“This section is being converted into offices for those assigned to the rebuilding of Vescent,” Gates explained, either oblivious or purposely ignoring Fiearius’ skepticism. “We’ll move the barracks from the east wing out to the subsidiary building and there’ll be a whole new meeting room where they are now.”
Fiearius could only nod in vague interest. Frankly he wasn’t that concerned about Gates’ decorating plans. He was more concerned at the moment with the young cadet busy painting a stencil of the Carthian insignia on the wall. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.
“This is all starting to seem very permanent,” he pointed out dryly.
Gates cast him a look. “As permanent as it needs to be,” he replied, his voice even. “Vescent is in shambles. You’re aware of that. We may have liberated the planet from the Society but it still has a ways to go in terms of recovery. The least we can do is oversee and help them through that process.”
“Sure, of course,” Fiearius agreed, still nodding slowly as they continued on through the complex. “Just thought it might be nice to get some Vescentians in here. They might have some opinions. Since it’s their planet and all.”
Gates stopped walking and regarded Fiearius with a kind of amused curiosity. “Captain, we have every intention of bringing in a chorus of Vescentian voices in the coming days. This is their home and Carthis intends to keep it that way. We’re here to help. Nothing more.”
Fiearius paused a few yards down and looked back at him. “And I’m sure Vescent being a key strategic position against Ellegy and Exymeron have nothing to do with it,” he mused, tilting his head at him. Gates, however, just laughed.
“If we’re going to continue to work together, we’re really going to have to work on those Satieran biases of yours,” he remarked as he joined Fiearius and they matched their strides again.
“Nah,” said Fiearius with a lopsided grin. “Keeps ya on your toes.”
“Indeed it does,” he agreed. “And on that note, now that your ship is back in order, we’ll have to soon discuss next steps.”
Fiearius nodded. “The Society’s probably already got something cooking. I’m sure there’ll be little doubt what comes next if we wait long enough for them to put it in action.”
“I’m afraid you could be right. We’re at war now. A sloppy start to one. But a war nonetheless.” Gates pushed open the door and Fiearius was met with a gust of cold wind as they stepped back out onto the streets of Fall’s End. The rain had finally let up, but the ground was shiny and wet and the air smelled like the salty sea. Together they stood looking out at the skyline, hazy and cloudy as it was.