Of course, Leta hadn’t expected a different answer. It hadn’t changed before, why would it change now? They still argued about this for hours, sometimes late into the night. But that didn’t stop her from pointing out, “We can’t trust him. His motives are unclear, or they don’t seem genuine. He’s hiding something, Fiear, I know it. He could play you any second and it could end with you dead.”
But Fiearius held up a hand to her. “I know. I know…And I’m not asking you to trust him.” He took a few steps back towards her and grasped her upper arm. “But trust me, okay?” Leta met his stare, not feeling any more comforted than she had a moment ago. But she sighed and nodded agreement anyway. What other choice did she have? She’d been fighting this battle for years, it was clearly one she wouldn’t win.
“And I will trust you to take care of my ship while I’m gone,” Fiearius went on, his tone lighter as he let his arm fall back to his side. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, alright?”
Leta couldn’t quell the worry that was rising in her chest, but she forced her best knowing smile. “That’s not narrowing it down very much,” she muttered as he headed for the door, laughing down the hall.
The Harrowden family’s Second Division War bunker looked like it hadn’t been opened in decades. Centuries, maybe, Fiearius thought as he watched Dez skillfully work on the great metal door buried into the ground of the desolate plain of a forgotten Ascendian moon. But that was exactly what someone hiding down there would want someone to think, from the outside, wasn’t it?
“Want me to take another turn?” Fiearius asked, reaching for the tool in Dez’s hands, but Dez didn’t move.
“I can handle the rest.”
Fiearius eyed him skeptically and glanced back at the seemingly endless expanse of darkness around them. They’d been out here for nearly an hour now, patiently etching away the lining of the sealed hatch. Not that it mattered. Fiearius had never set foot in a place more lonely than where he stood then. The Society couldn’t post agents here, that might draw attention, give something away. This place had to seem deserted in its entirety. There was no one around for hundreds of miles.
His attention was drawn back to Dez when he heard a clunk and a satisfied, “Ahh.” Fiearius stepped forward to help him wrench the thing open, but Dez brushed him off and heaved the heavy metal door out of the way himself.
“Show-off,” Fiearius muttered.
“Jealous,” Dez countered as climbed backwards into the hole he’d opened in the ground.
Fiearius just rolled his eyes and followed down after him, taking the rusty rungs of the ladder one at a time and trying to be as silent about it as possible. Now that they were inside, they were running blind. He knew about the bunker, but he certainly didn’t know the layout. He didn’t know where their target might be hiding. And he certainly didn’t have as much of a plan here as he would have liked.
He felt the ladder’s tension change as Dez presumably dismounted below him. It was only another few moments of climbing before Fiearius felt solid concrete himself and turned around to get a look at what they’d descended into.
It wasn’t exactly what he was expecting.
“You’re sure she’s down here?” Dez whispered, his tone dry as the two of them peered into the dark, musty space. It, much like the door, didn’t seem to have been touched in generations. Dim generator lights kept the narrow room from being plunged into complete blackness. Shelves lined the walls, empty save for a few cans of food Fiearius likely wouldn’t open with a ten foot pole. A few mattresses had been leaned up in the corner. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust.
“I was,” Fiearius answered, but he was beginning to doubt himself too. Ren’s research had all pointed to one Rebeka Palano as the Councillor of Ascendia. An upstart politician herself, Palano was heir to the massive Palano estate before she had “died” of illness thirty years ago. But the Palano estate hadn’t always been called Palano. Two generations ago, it had been the Lorna estate. And before that, the Ori estate. And before that, during the Second Division War, the Harrowden estate.
“This is her family’s long lost bunker,” Fiearius mumbled under his breath. “We’re at war, she’s in danger, where else would she go?”
Dez narrowed his eyes through the darkness. “Yes. Where else would she go?”
“You were the one who told me this was definitely right, that this had to be the place, you were sure of it,” Fiearius snapped quietly.
“Because you told me it was definitely right, it had to be the place, you were sure of it,” Desophyles growled back, but Fiearius just shook him off and stalked further into the room. There was a hallway through a door on the other end that, upon peering down it, he realized lead to more hallways and more rooms and more hallways. Gods, this place was a maze.
“Let’s at least look around,” Fiearius suggested. “There’s still a chance I’m right.”
Dez didn’t look pleased, but he didn’t argue as he followed after Fiearius into the hall.
How long ago had it been — six years? It seemed like a whole lifetime had passed since the very first day Leta had first stepped aboard the Dionysian. The day Cyrus kidnapped her and Fiearius yelled at her and she realized, in horror, that she was on a ship filled with criminals. What would she have thought, back then, if she’d known one day she’d be sitting in that very ship’s bridge as the acting captain?
She was about to settle in and get some work of her own done to pass the time when she heard footsteps behind her. Swinging her head around, she found Eve wandering into the bridge to join her, a couple of beer bottles hanging in her hand.
“Enjoying the view, doc?” she asked, nodding toward the pitch-black horizon filling the bay window. She settled down in the co-pilot’s chair and held out a beer for Leta to take.
Leta almost smiled. “Not sure I should drink on the job.”
“Cap’n does all the time. Looks like you could use it too.”
Leta hesitated, then accepted the bottle, cracked it open on the edge of the dashboard, and took a long swig: it was true, she was tense. She was trying to not think much about what was happening down in that bunker. Apparently, her unease was written all over her face.
“You’re worried about him,” said Eve, frowning at her in a thoughtful sort of way, and Leta thought: of course I am. She spent half her life worrying and wondering after Fiearius, although she wasn’t willing to admit that aloud. But she couldn’t help but voice the question burning a hole in her heart.
“Do you really think they can pull this off?”
To her surprise, Eve barked a laugh. “You kiddin’, doc? This is the cap’n we’re talkin’ about. Course he can pull it off.” Leta arched her eyebrows, both comforted and confused by her positivity. Either she really believed in Fiearius, or Fiearius had done a fantastic job of convincing her to believe in him. Or both. Eve’s expression did sour slightly when she added, “Wish I coulda gone with him though.”
“Yeah,” Leta muttered, returning her attention back to her bottle of beer. “Me too.” Though even as she said it, she wasn’t sure if she meant Eve or herself.
They lapsed into silence. Leta sipped her beer quietly, propping her feet against the dashboard as she tried to avoid imagining all of the horrible outcomes of this mission. She tried to focus on the good ones. Fiearius returning triumphant, the whole crew celebrating, the war beginning its end …
“It’ll probably be awhile,” Eve said, glancing at her knowingly. “You should get your mind off him.”
Perhaps the beer was already going to her head, because Leta smirked and muttered, “I’ve never been able to do that.”
“Yeah, funny, ain’t it?” Eve sighed. “How some people, you just can’t shake. I know he means a lot to you. But we’re not gonna worry about him, now, doc,” she told her simply. “Cap’n will be back. These things can take a while. But he’ll be back.”
Leta wanted to believe it as much as Eve did. She would try to.
Just then, another set of footsteps pounded up the stairs, and then Javier rushed into room, headed straight for the console screen. “Scuse me, Leta — sorry — I need to check something,” he apologized in a rush. “I got an alert.”