He smiled at her around the rim of his glass. Briefly, Leta noticed (rather uncomfortably) that Gates looked more aged and weathered than ever. How old was he now, Leta wondered — nearly seventy? Lines filled his face, his eyes sagged. And he wasn’t exactly lean and fit, either.
“I shouldn’t tell you this,” he said suddenly, putting down his glass. “But clearly, you need to hear it, or you’ll never leave me alone.” He flashed her a dark look and went on, “This morning was the first meeting we had that’s focused entirely on leaving.”
Leta didn’t know what to say. Shock hit her and she blinked slowly.
“Carthis is on our way out, Leta. It’ll be a slow process — it might not be pretty … ” The older man shook his head before aiming his eyes at her meaningfully. “But soon your city will be yours again. Alright? You can build all the damn doctor’s offices you want, I certainly don’t give a shit.” He reached for her full glass, since she hadn’t drank from it, and grunted, “Now please. Get out of my office.”
Alyx stalked out of the Beacon’s bridge, leaving her companions staring at her in confusion. Without a backwards glance, she marched straight down the hall, purpose in every step, her mind racing. They needed to move quickly. If they waited, it could be too late. But it wasn’t far, the Beacon was fast as ever, they could be docked by morning.
Her steps quickened.
The command deck was silent, save for the thump thump thump of her boots on metal grating. Most of the ship’s meager crew was below, lounging and relaxing as the ship made its way from their last supply drop on the edge of Synechdan. There had been a lot of lounging and relaxing as of late, with work becoming more and more scarce. Even the work they did take on barely provided a pittance. To the crew, Alyx blamed the ongoing war. Import and export business had stalled while clients were preoccupied fighting the Society, she told them. War-related supply runs were rarely granted to outside ships. There was just no work to be had. That’s why things were slow.
Though she, and probably everyone else, knew that wasn’t the only reason.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Alyx hit the door controls to Finn’s quarters and stalked inside. The stench of cigarette smoke hit her nostrils, with an undertone of whiskey. Cheap whiskey. Emptied bottles sat on the table, on the floor, the night stand.
She couldn’t really say she was surprised.
These days, Finn wasn’t the man she once knew as her captain. His injury, Corra’s fleeing, and then, worst of all, the loss of Archeti had destroyed part of his spirit. Apathetic, emotionless, and grumbling, he’d largely lost interest in finding jobs for the Beacon, and most of the unpaid and frustrated crew had dismantled and left. He never showed up for meals and was rarely found in his captain’s chair. Once upon a time, he’d swaggered around the ship like the best pilot the span had ever seen. These days he only emerged from his room begrudgingly, like a surly teenager. Alyx had largely taken helm of the Beacon, and more than once, Finn had insisted she take the captainship officially. “Just go ahead and have the ship already,” he groaned. “You want it, I can tell.” Alyx had refused.
Sometimes, a glimpse of the old Finn came back — he’d get an unusual burst of energy and plan out the next few weeks of work, a long-lost glint in his eyes. But then he’d slip back into his habit of sleeping all the time, smelling strongly of stale drink, haggard and annoyed. Quite simply, Finn had been in a bad mood now for years.
In his room, Alyx was unsurprised by the display of alcoholism, and even less surprised to find a new woman in Finn’s bed. She shrieked and scrambled to cover herself with the sheets. Alyx recognized her as one of the passengers they’d brought on only a few days ago. Well. It certainly hadn’t taken long for her to end up here.
Alyx watched dully as Finn sat up, his hair a mess, a murderous look in his eyes. But then his anger fell away and he simply groaned. “God, Alyx, you could knock y’know?”
“Can I have a moment, cap’n?” said Alyx innocently. Then she looked his naked form up and down in judgment. “And some pants please?”
Without waiting for his answer, she turned and stepped back into the hallway, ignoring the ensuing argument between lovers that went on behind her. Part of her wondered if Finn would emerge at all.
But today he must’ve been in decent spirits, or at least, too tired to argue. He pulled himself into the hallway, fully dressed in wrinkled clothes, an unlit cigarette already in his mouth, muffling his voice as he grunted, “The hell is it?”
“Isn’t she married?” Alyx mused, glancing at the doorway. But then she said, “Come with me, I need to show you something,” and started off back towards the bridge. Perhaps it wasn’t appropriate for a first mate to be barking commands at her captain. But ever since she’d taken the job after Corra left, she’d found a lot more got done if she did.
Finn followed her all the way to the bridge where Daelen and Cai were waiting. Daelen’s arms were crossed over his chest and his stare stern as the two of them entered.
“Wait.” Finn halted in the doorway, suddenly suspicious. “Is this an intervention? Again? God, you three, you need to lay off, I’m fine — ”
“You’re not, but we’ll discuss that another day,” Daelen interrupted steadily. “Alyx,” said Daelen, turning to her and pointing accusingly at her console, “please explain this. And please tell me you’re not really suggesting–”
“Hush,” Alyx scolded him. “Finn, c’mere and look at this.”
She pointed at the glowing console screen.
“You know how I feel about this,” Daelen went on in that fatherly disapproving tone that drove Alyx up the wall, but before she could argue, Finn said, “Wait. “Is this–this is legitimate? You’re sure?” as he stared fixedly at the screen.
“I trust this source,” Alyx confirmed. “If he says Callahan’s on Tarin, he’s on Tarin.”
And knowing that was more satisfying than Alyx was willing to admit. She had never even met the man personally, but when Finn told her of him, she’d learned to loathe him all the same. For pulling the Beacon into his ally-trading scheme. For nearly killing Finn. And whether he was a contributing factor or not, for chasing Corra away.
They’d had their tendrils out in all manner of places for the past five years, searching for him. At first, Alyx had thought Finn’s obsession with the hunt was mad. There was no trace of him. No whispers. No clues. Callahan had probably died on Archeti when the planet fell. But Finn had refused to believe it and sure enough, pieces started to fit together. Hints started to pop up. She, like him, began to believe that he’d made it out.
Most of their leads in the past had turned out to be false. Pranks, on occasion. Or worse, traps. But this time, Alyx had a good feeling. This time, they had found him.
“Look, I understand this man is scum,” Daelen said, less scolding and more concerned this time. “But what good could come from this? Every time we’ve gone after Callahan before, we ended up in trouble and no closer to your goal. Which, by the way, is not really a healthy goal to begin with…”
“You don’t get it,” said Finn bluntly. “You don’t understand what he’s done. What he’s still doing. There are dozens of shipments of allies from all across the Span to the same guys we took them to every month. They’re his. I know they’re his.”
“You don’t know they’re his. You’re assuming,” Daelen replied shortly. “And holding onto it, hunting him like this, it’s not hurting him. It’s hurting you.”
Finn just shook his head. “It will hurt him,” he spat bitterly. “If we catch him.”
Suddenly Daelen turned back on Alyx. “I can’t believe you’re supporting this.”
“I can’t believe you’re not,” Alyx snapped back. “He’s a slaver. He needs to be taken down.”
“Then we should report him to the Conduit and they can send proper force to deal with it,” Daelen insisted. “You may be a fighter, but the rest of us are not. And what if this is just another trap? We can’t afford any danger right now and you know it. If we don’t make our meeting with the supply warehouse? They’ll give it to someone else and we’ll be out of credits, out of fuel and grounded with no work for who knows how long.”
Reasonably, Alyx knew he was probably right. The ship’s coffers were running dry as is and if something did go amiss, it would only set them back further. But they were so close. After five years, she could feel it right beyond her fingertips.
Flustered, she turned to the fourth voice in the room: Cai. “What do you think?”
These days, the Beacon had been running less as a dictatorship and more as a committee. It wasn’t that Alyx didn’t trust her captain, but–well actually she didn’t. But in place of strong leadership, they had a balanced trio in the three long-term crew members. Alyx was the capable force of action, Daelen was the logic and Cai brought the heart. The morality. And more often than not, his voice was the tie-breaking factor.
Now, he sat in his chair with his legs crossed on the seat, his chin in his hand and a thoughtful frown on his face. At first, he didn’t answer. So Finn cut in.
“Why are we even arguing this?” he demanded. “We’ve been looking for this asshole for years, we found him, let’s go.”
“It’s irresponsible, risky and could bring down the entirety of the Beacon,” Daelen said shortly.
“But if we don’t get to him now, he could move and anyone else could be too late,” argued Alyx.
Finn looked straight across the room and met Cai’s eyes. “He’s an ally-trader. You know what your answer has to be.”
Cai met his stare firmly, but he was still quiet. The wheels of calculation could be seen turning behind his eyes. The others waited with bated breath. Until finally.
“We should go after him.”
“Finally!” Finn exclaimed and marched across the bridge to the pilot’s seat.
No one asked for an explanation, but Cai gave one anyway. “We should go after him for Corra,” he said and even Finn grew quiet. “It’s what she would have done.”
Alyx felt a sharp pang in her chest. They had all lost a friend with Corra’s departure. She’d left a hole in the ship that was never again filled, not for any of them. Finn had been focused on the notion that eliminating Callahan would manage it. Or alcohol might do the trick. Or burying himself in mundane tasks or simple pleasures. But Alyx knew it wouldn’t. Nothing could. Corra hadn’t been seen by anyone in five years. She’d sent a grand total of four messages to Leta and Leta alone, mostly to assure her that she still lived. But as much as Alyx and the entire crew hoped otherwise, after five whole years? She wasn’t coming back.
But even now, people got still when her name was mentioned. And this time, no one, not even Daelen, argued when Finn said, “Alyx. Set the course for Tarin.”
Cyrus’ palms hit the floor and he squinted into the dark space beneath the bed. A sock sat crumpled in the corner. A few candy wrappers littered the edge. From the back wall he caught the glint of plastic eyes on a fluffy teddy bear’s face staring back at him. Not what he was looking for.
With a tired groan, he pushed himself to his feet and swung his eyes around the room. Clothes spilled onto the floor from the dresser he’d already torn apart. The closet was in shambles. He’d rummaged through the packed baggage twice. Where the hell were they?
Frustrated, he marched from the room. On the way out, he caught an unfortunate glimpse of himself in a mirror and barely recognized the man looking back at him. When had the circles beneath his eyes gotten so dark? When had his hair gotten so shaggy? Probably sometime between installing New Genisi’s first energy core and his seemingly neverending search for lost footwear.