Outside the broad glass window of Gates’ office, snow was falling swiftly on the dark grounds of the military base. Inside, a fire was roaring in the fireplace, warming Fiearius’ legs as he slumped back in the leather chair.
Pulling his eyes away from the window, he watched in bemusement as Gates paced the rug, his face dark and troubled. The man had been on edge since the moment he’d had walked into his office, but as usual, Fiearius seemed to be exacerbating the issue. And as usual, he didn’t much care.
“I’m sorry if it bothers you,” Fiearius lied matter-of-factly, “But I just think it’ll be better on everyone if I take care of this myself.”
“Well, I agree,” Gates grunted, frowning as he surveyed his bookcase. “The Council operation is yours to handle. However.” Adjusting his reading glasses, he glanced at Fiearius seriously. “That does not mean that the intel you garner from Mr. Calimore’s research cannot be shared.”
“Yeah,” Fiearius muttered. “No.”
Gates let out a grumbling laugh, turning back to Fiearius with his arms crossed, but Fiearius cut him off.
“Look, you know as well as I do, if the stuff I’ve learned from that journal gets out, this whole thing is fucked. Why risk it? Why write it down and send it to–who? Some fucking Carthian politicians? Who’ll just look at it and go–” He put on his best exaggeration of poshness. “‘–Ho ho, there it is, how nice, back to our champagne.’” He dropped the act and leaned forward on his knees. “The fuck’s the point? I’ve got good leads, I’m gonna head out tomorrow and I’ll take care of it. They can know about it after. Why the hell do they need to hear about it now?”
“Because they need to hear something to prove that you’re worth investing in, that’s why,” Gates growled, exasperated.
Fiearius narrowed his eyes. “That I’m worth–Okay, so the last five years are nothing then?”
“They’re not nothing,” Gates agreed. “But if you disappear for a few months for the sake of an unspecified operation, the last five years are going to seem very unimportant very quickly.” When Fiearius only continued to glare at him, he went on, “Let’s be honest here, Soliveré, I know your dedication to this cause. I’ve seen it firsthand. The people back on Carthis? The people funding this war? All they see is an unpredictable pirate that commands a fleet of criminals and curses at reporters.”
“Well,” Fiearius said, sucking in a deep breath as though heavily considering this. “Fuck ‘em.”
Gates laughed. “Not that simple and you know it. I need that intel, Fiearius.”
Fiearius fixed him with a stare. Gates seemed genuine about it and part of him did feel bad for the man. Fiearius certainly wouldn’t enjoy being under as much pressure as he consistently was. But while Gates had to worry about Carthis and public opinion and investors, Fiearius had to focus on victory and whatever it took to get there. And in this particular case, the answer was clear.
“Sorry.” He shrugged. “No.”
“You know,” Gates sighed, settling back down into his chair, “Every day I regret contacting you for help.”
Fiearius grinned. “And every day I regret answering.”
“If it’s not you, it’s Arsen pummeling me with reasons we should break away from you. Or captains demanding reassignment. We’ve only just established a foothold in Ascendia and already we’ve got whispers of local rebellion. Ellegy’s still impenetrable. And all the while, I’ve got the president breathing down my neck for updates, for progress, for anything she can relay to the senate.” Gates drummed his fingers on his desk. “And that’s not even to mention the riots here on Vescent.”
Fiearius was nodding along with him the whole time, but the last one gave him pause. “Well. At least one of those is avoidable…” he muttered.
Gates’ eyes flicked up at him, a flash of irritation. “Let’s not.”
He frowned. “Let’s not what? Can’t I point out that you lot should have gotten the fuck outta here a while ago?”
“We’re in the middle of strategizing, Fiearius, gods forbid we don’t share every piece of it with you.”
Fiearius let out a bitter laugh. “You can lie to Leta, mate, but you can’t lie to me.”
“Ah.” Gates sat back, suddenly smiling. “That’s what this is about? You’re speaking on behalf of Dr. Adler.”
The accusation didn’t deserve a response, but Fiearius could not help but grunt, “I’m speaking on behalf of myself, thanks.”
“On a topic you wouldn’t have interest in were it not for her,” Gates assumed and Fiearius scoffed.
“Actually that’s not true, but hey. Appreciate the bid of faith.”
“Dr. Adler has no bearing on your view then?” he mused conversationally. “Her opinion doesn’t affect yours whatsoever?” It was a trap. An obvious one. And one Fiearius had unfortunately fallen into before. This time, he clenched his jaw shut and said nothing, but Gates still snorted a laugh.
“Fiearius, please. I was married. Twice, possibly three times … I try not to notice these things but unfortunately, I do anyway.” He drew his brows together. “We’ve discussed this before. You and Dr. Adler, however you choose to define it, is–”
“I know,” Fiearius said sharply. “And as I said before, it’s not a fucking issue, okay?” As if he needed policing by this man, of all people. He let out a grunt of irritation, but fortunately Gates pulled them back to familiar territory.
He straightened up against the desk. “Regardless, it’s not a lie, Fiearius. It’s just a complicated matter. Pulling out now would leave a power vacuum that–”
“Could easily be filled,” Fiearius cut in. “That woman, the one leading the rebellion? Wasn’t she a senior senator before the Society takeover? She’s perfectly qualified to–”
“She’s a barbarian, Fiearius,” Gates interrupted. “She thinks bombing in the streets and murdering innocents is the path to change.”
“You haven’t really given her much of a choice not to,” Fiearius retorted.
“So what would you have us do?” Gates snapped. “Just hand all power over to her and her violent band and just, what, hope, that they can pull together a government?” He laughed sharply as though this was ludicrous.
“Yes, actually,” Fiearius growled, coming to his feet. “Carthis has been here long enough. The people want their planet back? Give. It. Back.”
“And you’re full of shit.” Fiearius cocked a brow and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not a moron, Kaiser, I know full well that ‘we’re concerned about the government failing’ isn’t the reason this base still stands defended.”
His eyes narrowed upon him. “It is. Do you really think Correllia’s fledgling regime would last? The minute we leave, the Society will be back here, Vescent will fall once more and everything we’ve worked for will be lost.”
“Then work with her,” Fiearius argued. “Give her what she wants, give her a government for her planet, for her people and offer protection, keep the base, help each other out. If you just fucking act like you’re on the same side for a minute, maybe you can work together for the gods’ sakes. Everyone wins.”
“It’s not that simple, Fiearius,” Gates said, a saying that was quickly becoming his catchphrase.
“It could be,” Fiearius snapped. “You haven’t even tried. Maybe she’ll want you gone entirely, maybe she won’t be interested, but you could fucking meet with these people instead of just bombing the shit out of them.”
“They’ve bombed the shit out of us.”
“Well you’re both fuckers, but be the bigger party here and talk to them.”
“We do not negotiate with terrorists.”
“Oh right. Because anyone who disagrees with Carthis is a terrorist.”