Chapter 51: The Long Goodbye

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“There can be no victory without sacrifice. For everything gained, something must also be given away. It is the natural order of the Span we live in. No success comes without loss …. ”

Hazy gray rain fell to the ground in sheets, flooding the cobblestone walkway. Watery-cold wind rippled through Leta’s hair and tossed her black dress around her knees. Around her, Fiearius’ old pirate crowd, families and citizens of Vescent, and soldiers and pilots from Carthis all filled the courtyard. Leta planted herself in the back of the crowd, rigid as a statue, as Gates’ rough, hoarse voice carried over the audience. Sounds of people crying, sniffling and wiping their eyes, punctuated his words.

“ … we stand here now in the aftermath of a great loss indeed. Much greater than perhaps any of us could have known. Here, in this moment, we are all united. Vescentian, Carthian, Exymerian, Archetian. All of us have suffered to come to this point. All of us have lost. And in our solidarity, we mourn for those that couldn’t be present today. For those that will never be present again. A great loss. A shared pain … “

Fiearius stood beside her shoulder, holding a dripping umbrella over their heads. Leta thought Gates wanted Fiearius up front — he was probably supposed to give a speech too. Nearly half the ships involved in the battle for Vescent had fought under his name — but he made no motion to leave her side. She didn’t look at him, but she guessed his expression was empty and tired. These days he always looked empty and tired.

“ … In the wake of pain and loss, however, we find hope. A menace has been defeated. A planet, this planet, has been loosed from its shackles of dictatorship and control. The Society influence has been wiped out and Vescent is free. Many lives have been lost, our hearts are broken, our spirits battered, but it is not in vain. Freedom comes at a cost and the price this time was high. But freedom, true freedom, is what we have achieved.”

But they didn’t ask for this, Leta thought to herself, with a burn of anger. Vescent was liberated of the Society. But the rebels had done only as she asked them; they didn’t know they were going to their death …

And then there was Amora. Everytime she thought of her, Leta felt as if a gaping ragged hole punctured her heart. Amora had been the first person to truly welcome Leta aboard the Dionysian. The person who made all the breakfasts and all the dinners, who required that everyone gather twice a day; the person who unabashedly barked at Fiearius to be quiet; who mothered Cyrus and fussed over his hair; who baked Leta a cake and her favorite Vescentian meal on her birthday.

She was dead? How was that possible?

Finally Gates’ speech ended, and the memorial ended with a chime of ringing bells. Slowly the crowd retreated indoors where it was warm and dry.

Leta lingered, sliding a glance to Fiearius. He looked back at her, saying nothing. It had been nearly a month since the day the Dionysian had crash-landed on this planet. A month since the two of them had sprinted for their lives through the streets.

Fading, still-healing cuts marred his face and hands. But even as his body healed, with each passing day, Fiearius was looking less and less like his old self. He looked…older somehow. Quieter. More somber. It was a transformation Leta recognized. She saw it in herself every time she looked in a mirror.

“Do you believe that?” she had to know suddenly. “What Gates was saying? About the dead being the necessary sacrifice for freedom?”

Fiearius didn’t answer at first. He eyed her with a curious thoughtfulness. “Everything has a price,” he said at last. “Do you not believe it?”

“It sounds like bullshit,” she decided. “Something people say to try and make me feel better.”

“Didn’t work then, I guess.”

“No,” she said abruptly. “It didn’t. The rebels didn’t need to die for Vescent to be free. Neither did Amora. Or the people of Archeti. Or Finn — “ Her voice halted in her throat. “There’s no big important spiritual reason for why he’s suffering right now.”

He nodded, in what she thought might be agreement. Then he sighed, bowed his head and started down the path, gesturing she walk with him.

“Do you know what Ridellians say about death?” he wondered, and Leta admitted that she did not. “They say that when you die, your soul ascends into space. All the souls of the recently passed form a nebula. And that nebula one day, with time, will become a star. A dov’ha. A god. And in that way, each generation takes its place in the pantheon of the skies and continues to shape the future of the Span long after they’ve left it.”

Leta couldn’t help herself. “You die and you become a Ridellian star god?” she muttered, and she could hear the derision in her voice. Fiearius cast her a sideways glance that made her regret her tone. He was, she realized a moment too late, dressed entirely in the Ridellian mourning color and discussing the very culture he’d been raised in. “I thought you weren’t religious,” she added in apology.

He let out a quiet chuckle. “I’m not. And you’re not wrong. It’s ridiculous. And probably made up to make people feel better about the inevitability of our mortality. But.” He shrugged. “There’s something comforting about imagining my cranky chef as a god up there scolding me for my choices for all eternity.”

Leta felt herself smile for the first time that day. “Maybe you should start praying.”

“Maybe you should too.” Fiearius looked up at the sky and touched two fingers to each of his shoulders. “Better safe than sorry,” he agreed. When his eyes met Leta’s again, his smile faded. “My point is. Maybe bullshit isn’t all that bad.” His stare fell away from her again as he muttered, “If it gets you through the day.”

Leta wasn’t quite she was making it through the day. At least not this day.

“Maybe,” she said quietly.

They stood in silence, save for the rain hitting the umbrella above their heads. For a moment Leta thought he was going to reach out to her — he was watching her closely and expectantly — but all he did was clear his throat.

“Anyway. Gates won’t let me hear the end of it if the Dionysian leaves tonight without me having a chat with him first.” He handed her the umbrella. She took it, but he didn’t let go just yet and caught her eye. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

Leta nodded, watching over her shoulder as he retreated from her. Quite simply, she had no idea what to do next; no clear inclination of where to go or who to see. Perhaps she’d head to her old room in the Dionysian? Or find her childhood home on Fall’s End? For several seconds she stood alone blankly, the rain drumming on the umbrella, until she blinked and realized Cyrus and Addy were watching her from beneath an overhang.

Cyrus looked worried as she approached. “Does he seem alright to you?”

“About as alright as can be expected.”

Cyrus didn’t look appeased, but then Addy broke in, her voice gentle, “And how about you, Leta?”

The question caught her off guard. Was she alright? The bruises that had covered her neck and arms were gone. Her wounds had faded toward scars. There were few physical indicators left that she’d been in a battle at all. But that hadn’t prevented the chronic nightmares that haunted her whenever she shut her eyes. Dark visions of a burning city, rivers of blood and the looming face of Arleth Morgan. And that was only when she could sleep at all.

But all she said was, “I’ll be fine.” And as Cyrus nodded at her second unsatisfying response, Leta was pressed to fill the silence with something less personal. “So the Dionysian’s all fixed now? I’m surprised, that was quite a crash.”

Cyrus grimaced and Leta thought she saw a touch of guilt in his face. Fortunately for him, Addy responded on his behalf. “Oh, it wasn’t so bad actually. The hull took some brunt force, but the engine was mostly intact. She’s stable enough to limp back to the CORS to get her body refitted.”

Leta muttered something about that being good news, Cyrus nodded his agreement and long silence lapsed once more. It seemed to be happening a lot lately. Moments when no one knew what to say. Uncertainty dominated. Until finally someone broke.

This time it was Cyrus. “What’d you think of the service?”

“It was fine,” said Leta vaguely. Then she cracked a wry smile. “I liked ours better.”

The night before, they’d had one final dinner together in the mess hall of the Dionysian. Candles had been lit, Fiearius cooked a tremendous meal and Maya opened a bottle of bourbon and led a toast to the lost member of their crew. It was a somber affair that had ended with unexpected news: as she held Cyrus’ hand and smiled nervously, Addy announced that she was pregnant.

The whole room erupted in happy gasps. Cyrus looked like he was about to faint from anxiety, but he was also grinning from ear-to-ear. For the first time in days, Leta smiled, too.

Staring at the soon-to-be-parents, huddled together beneath the flowing gutter, Leta asked, “So — what’s next for you two then?”

Cyrus cast Addy a furtive look, but she smiled at him which seemed to be his cue to answer. “We’re not really sure,” he admitted, but didn’t sound all that bothered. “For now, we’re just going to get the Dionysian back to the station. And from there?” He looked over at Addy and slipped her hand into his. “Just…figure it out I guess.”

Leta couldn’t help but mirror their smiles. But it was wiped away the moment Cyrus turned to her and asked the one question she’d been dreading. “What about you?”

Luckily, Leta was saved the trouble from answering: just then, a Carthian officer approached, entering their fold.

“Dr. Adler, Mr. Solivere, Ms. Atelier. I apologize for the interruption, but I have good news. We’ve received word from the station’s med team.” The man smiled. “Finnegan Riley’s latest surgery was a success. They’re reporting that he’s finally stable and in recovery.”

—————————-

The bright white room was blurry, and it slowly swam into view, as if he were coming up from underwater. Finn opened his eyes and found himself lying against the stiff pillows of a hospital bed. His whole body ached, but his abdomen was absolutely throbbing with a dull, pulsating pain that made his face twist into a grimace.

The light grew less blinding and he began to survey his surroundings. An infirmary. Not the Beacon’s. A Carthian insignia formed a dark blur on a nearby wall. And beside it, seated in a plastic chair with a magazine in her hands, was a woman with turquoise hair he recognized instantly.

“What the hell happened?” he tried to ask Alyx, but his voice came out as more of a groan. She looked up at him at first in wide-eyed surprise, then overwhelming relief and finally, a wide grin broke over her face.

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