It was nearly sunset when the Dionysian touched down on Alcatan, a quiet, sparsely-populated foresty planet far on the edges of Synechdan. There was no main city to speak of here: just a few cottages and cabins, miles apart. Per Ren’s directions, Leta led Fiearius along the dirt road that curved deep into the woods. Thick evergreens lined the path, a river gushed nearby, birds called overhead, and they saw only a few hikers along the way. Leta had never seen a more beautiful or lonely place.
At last, a tremendous A-frame cabin came into view. It looked more like a mansion built into a rocky hillside, its broad glass windows glittering in the early sunlight.
“He lives here?” Fiearius demanded in surprise.
“It’s a recovery facility,” Leta explained. “For people who need less intensive care than places like Carthis provide. He’s lived here for years. Getting healthy, staying out of the war … “
“Must be nice,” Fiearius grunted. Leta thought she sensed some bitterness, but decided not to comment. In fact, she’d been coolly distant from Fiearius since they’d departed Vescent. She hadn’t quite let him forget their last argument, and they’d been rather stiff and cordial as they’d carefully avoided one another on the Dionysian (Leta made a point of picking sleeping quarters far away from Fiearius’). Still, if they were going to successfully convince Ren to join their cause, Leta suspected they might have to work together.
A friendly woman greeted them at the door, then led them through the warm, clean lobby toward the staircase. She offered tea, then a snack and finally a tour of the common grounds, but Leta (and presumably Fiearius) was hardly in the mood for niceties. She was anxious to get on with this, however it may turn out. So she politely declined and insisted their business couldn’t wait.
The woman seemed disappointed but grimly unsurprised. “Ren Calimore lives on the second floor,” she told them.
Upstairs, they’d found his front door (it was like an enormous apartment building) and when she raised her hand to knock, Leta hesitated, suddenly nervous: this was her ex-fiance, after all. A lifetime ago, this was the man she’d been intent on marrying. They spoke about once a month, but she hadn’t seen him face to face in years.
And then there was the man beside her…
When Fiearius caught her eyes, he frowned. “Don’t worry,” he said sourly, apparently reading her mind. “I’ll be nice.”
“Fiear…” Leta warned, letting her hand fall from the door. “Please, he’s been through a lot.”
“Well who fuckin’ hasn’t?” was Fiearius’ immediate response, but as Leta opened her mouth to argue, he cut her off in a more reassuring voice. “Listen, it’ll be fine. This is my job, remember? I’ve got more on the line here than you even know and I’m not about to ruin it over some ancient grudges, alright? I can handle this.”
Leta didn’t know whether or not to believe him. But in the end, she didn’t have a choice, as the door swung open suddenly and there stood Ren, an uneasy but genuine smile on his face.
“I thought I heard voices out here. Hey, Leta,” he greeted, pushing his glasses up his nose before pulling her into a one-armed hug. When he drew back, his eyes flickered toward Fiearius and his smile shrank — not out of unkindness so much as surprise.
“Thanks for letting us come, Ren,” said Leta. “I know you’ve wanted to stay out of all of this.”
Ren lifted his shoulders carelessly. “I figure if Leta Adler is at my doorstep asking for help? It must be important.” He stepped out of the doorway. “Come on in.”
Twilight had fallen in the city of Tarin Proper by the time Finn, tired but pleased with the day’s work, returned to the Beacon. Lost in thought, he walked up the ramp and was startled to find three people waiting at the top.
Cai, Daelen and Alyx formed an angry little semi-circle around him. It was Alyx who spoke first, forcing calm into her voice.
“Finn, where the hell have you–”
But he cut them off. “I’m glad you guys are here. I need your help.”
Alyx’s mouth dropped open. All of them stared at him, and then she snapped, “Help? Finn, you fucking bolted out of that apartment and disappeared. We’ve been looking for you for nearly two days. Do you have any idea how worried we were?”
“We thought you’d been taken by Callahan’s people,” said Cai, his eyes narrowed in a bitter way that was unfamiliar from him.
Finn looked between all three of their startled faces and — he couldn’t help it — laughed. A loud, slightly hysterical laugh.
“Callahan’s people? God, no. No, they left already. Scattered. Good thing, too, Corra picked off the few that didn’t get out of here in time. At least I assume it was Corra. The ones I found had been–” He made a scissor motion with his fingers at his ear.
“That’s what you’ve been doing for the last twenty four hours?” said Alyx coldly. “Hunting corpses?”
“Corpses? No. I mean, I found some, but no.”
“Then dare I ask, what were you doing?” said Daelen, looking the very image of skepticism.
“Looking for Corra,” answered Finn as though this were obvious. His three crew members exchanged looks amongst themselves, but Finn didn’t care to interpret them. “I know she was here. Recently. She didn’t respond to my message, as usual, but if she was still here, I had to find her.”
“And is she?” It was Cai who’d asked and despite himself, there was a glimmer of hope in his eyes. “Is she still here?”
“Well, no,” Finn admitted. “But –”
Alyx groaned. “Please don’t. Finn. No — ”
“ — but she left a trail,” Finn went on. “I’m onto something.”
“No no no, we are not doing this,” Alyx said, shaking her head and raising both hands. “We are not going on some wild goose chase right now.”
“It’s not a wild goose chase. Alyx, she was here. We have proof of that and — ”
“And nothing,” Alyx interrupted hotly. “Finn, it’s bad enough we came to Tarin at all. I agreed at the time, but now we’re here and nothing’s changed and we’re days behind schedule, still broke, still low on fuel, on food. We need to think of the crew right now.”
“I am thinking of the crew,” Finn argued, laughing again.
“No, we are not going through this again!”
“–I have a lead that we need to look into–”
“Is this really going to happen? Callahan’s gone so you’ll just start obsessing over finding Corra instead?”
“–if Corra’s out there, we have to–”
“Finn, NO!” Alyx yelled at last, her voice louder than Finn had ever heard it before. Ringing silence filled the room. Daelen ceased his pacing, Cai winced, and Finn blinked.
“Corra is gone, Finn,” Alyx growled, pointing at his chest. “She left. She doesn’t want to be found, don’t you get that? That’s why she doesn’t answer your messages. That’s why she doesn’t contact us. Because she doesn’t want to be here.”
Finn’s expression was blank as Alyx glared at him. Softening, she took in a shaky breath and said, more quietly, “It sucks. It really sucks. And I miss her just as much as you. But this is just the way things are, Finn. It’s been years. You–we all–need to accept that.”
For a long moment, the bay was tense and perfectly silent. No one breathed. And then finally, Finn growled, “Oh, knock it off with the lecture! You’re not in charge of this ship, I am. You don’t decide what we do next. If you don’t like it this way, then consider this your last stop.” He jerked his head to the open door behind him. “The rest of us are going to the Conduit.”
Cai looked downright alarmed, Daelen’s eyes were wide, and Alyx’s face crumbled into a portrait of hurt as Finn stalked past her towards the bridge.