“We always thought you were special,” she continued, swirling the liquid in her glass in slow circles. “Meant for great things. Though. I suppose if we knew it would come to this?” A humorless chuckle filled the room. “Well, we probably should have left you there, hm?”
Fiearius didn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. This was stupid. He hadn’t come down here to listen to some old woman monologue about her life’s choices. He had a job to do and even if she wasn’t stalling in hopes of being saved, even if she simply wanted to have a casual chat with a man whose life she helped destroy, he didn’t have the time nor patience for this. She didn’t deserve the monologue. She deserved an end.
But just as he resigned himself to lifting his gun again and firing it off before she had a chance to argue, she said something that stopped him.
“I don’t regret it, though.”
Fiearius looked over at her, curious, despite himself.
“Regret recruiting you,” she elaborated. “Or promoting you. Any of this.” She waved her hand at the room around her. “I do regret how many people were caught in the crossfire. Some of them more than others.” She caught his eye with a look so heavy with meaning Fiearius had to look away. “But overall. This? It’s the right way of things, I think. I don’t regret it.”
Fiearius wasn’t sure how to respond. Or if he even should. He’d thought many things of the Society Council over the years. He’d developed unshakeable beliefs about who they were and what they were like. He knew, without a doubt, that they were devoted to their empire. That they would defend it until the bitter end. That they would all be irrational, insane monsters like the Vescentian Councillor Leta had faced in Fall’s End.
And yet here was the Ascendian Councillor telling him, in no uncertain terms, that she was glad he had devoted himself to destroying what they had built. And suddenly, he had to know.
“Why did you do it?”
The question had been burning in the forefront of his mind for days. Ever since he had broken through Ren’s code and uncovered the name and history of the woman before him. Rebeka Palano glanced up at him curiously. “Why did I do what?”
“You were elected to Ascendian office. You were popular with the public, with the legislature, you had plenty of power as it were. But you faked your own death, abandoned your family, your friends, and for what? How could you sell out your own people to the Society? How could you sentence them to that?”
Rebeka’s head tilted against her shoulder as she regarded him. “Sell out my people?” she repeated, turning the words over on her tongue. “I didn’t sell out my people. I saved my people.”
Grasping her glass, she rose to her feet and strode around the desk to lean against it. “You were just a child, Fiearius. I’m sure you weren’t attuned to Span-wide politics at five. But thirty years ago? Ascendia was dying.” She shook her head and took another long sip from her glass. “Not physically. Our terraforms have always been amongst the most stable. But our economy? Our job market? Tanking. If we’d continued down the path we were on? Unemployment would have peaked within three years. Hundreds, thousands of families would have lost their homes. We didn’t have the resources to compete with giants like Exymeron and Ellegy. We’re a small cluster. And we were failing.”
Reaching behind her, she grabbed the bottle of liquor and tilted it towards her glass again. “Now I tried to do what I could in office. I wanted nothing more than to fix my homeworld and I did everything in my power to make that happen.” She drank a long sip of the liquor and hissed a sharp breath afterwards.
“But there’s only so much you can scrape together from nothing. And after three terms with no progress? I could still look out of my bedroom window and see people starving in the streets. I was left with two options. Hand control over to the gangs, take black credit bribes and become the next Archeti to be left to rot. Or reach out to the Society. An organization that had managed to take Exymeron from dried up to the most successful cluster in the Span. The organization that had saved Ellegy from the brink of bankruptcy after the war. The organization that had the resources to save my people.” She drank deeply again. “You can see which option I chose.”
It was big talk, but Fiearius was unimpressed, shaking his head before she’d even finished. “And how exactly have you saved your people? Sure, they have jobs and homes, but at what cost? They vote now for powerless figureheads who couldn’t give a shit about them. They fund a government not devoted to them, but to some empirical dream of controlling the Span. Living in constant fear that someone — someone like me — might show up and murder them if they make a wrong move? Say the wrong thing? How is that saving anybody?”
Now, Rebeka scoffed. “Don’t be naive, Fiearius, you know better than that. There is always a price.”
“A price your people didn’t agree to pay.”
“Because they wouldn’t have dared,” she snapped suddenly, straightening herself up. “It wasn’t an easy choice, but someone had to make it. Someone had to do something and I was the only one willing to make that leap. You think I wanted to die? To leave my family? My daughter? I had to make that sacrifice because no one else would.” She slammed the empty glass down on the desk, hard.
If she was trying to intimidate him, it wasn’t working. “And you want credit for that?” he barked. “You want a pat on the back for taking a personal hit in fucking everything up?”
Rebeka narrowed her eyes on him, seething with anger for a long moment before suddenly, it broke and she, of all things, laughed. “That’s very bold coming from you, admiral,” she mused, venom in every word. Fiearius glared back at her silently. “Passing judgment on me. You do know, don’t you?” Her brows lifted and her lips pursed in vague amusement. “You do know why we chose you for Verdant. Don’t you?”
Of all the senseless things Leta had done in her life, this was probably the worst of them. The Dionysian’s bridge was filled with a mighty roar and shudder as the ship scraped against the cliff face before pulling around the corner of the canyon. It was less of a canyon, Leta had found, and more of a ravine. Steep rock walls cut through the grassy plains like a crack in the planet itself. It wound its way across the surface in sharp turns and jagged curves. It would have been the perfect place to lose their pursuing ship. If their ships had been reversed…
“Give it up,” called the original pirate’s voice over the COMM. “You’re just gonna crash my valuable merchandise. Land her, now, and maybe I’ll let you walk away with your life.”
Leta growled under her breath, but didn’t answer, instead clenching her jaw and yanking the ship controls in an attempt to make an abrupt turn around a stone pillar jutting out of the canyon floor. The Dionysian barely avoided nose-diving into the nearest cliff-face and Leta heard the heavy thump of debris falling onto her hull.
Javier, still in the co-pilot’s seat, let out a shriek, followed by a cough and a more ‘manly’ groan. “Leta–” he began as the ship tumbled around another bend.
“What?!” she snapped, her teeth bared as she pulled the next one even closer.
“Leta, this isn’t–” Javier gripped his chair arms and held on for dear life. “This isn’t working. She’s way more agile than us. She’s still right on our tail!”
A blast of red zoomed past the window and, up ahead, a canyon wall took the hit, sending rocks and rubble flying.
“Yeah I noticed,” Leta growled, slamming the brakes and tilting the ship upward to avoid them. She managed, but only barely and winced as another screech of metal against rock filled her ears.
The Dionysian was a clunker, she knew that. Paired against that fighter, it was obviously less equipped for fancy flying. But even so, it had never seemed this clunky before. Did Fiearius just make it look easy or was she doing something that wrong? Either way, if it didn’t shift soon, it was going to get them killed.
“Maybe–” Javier started again, though he looked like he was about to vomit, “Maybe we should consider other options?”
“Happy to hear them,” Leta answered. Another shot flew past them, only narrowly missing. She got the sense that the pirate was just toying with her now. Playing with her prey.
“Well. We could land?” Javier suggested carefully. “And have Eve just shoot her?”
“Not if she stays in her ship and uses it to shoot us,” Leta pointed out. She glanced sideways at him just briefly to mutter, “That’s what I would do anyway…”
“Well we can’t shake her.”
But they could, Leta knew somehow. If it had been the ship’s usual captain at the controls, they could do it. She’d seen Fiearius do it. He’d had taught himself to fly this ship, he’d told her as much himself. He had no special training, more experience perhaps, but she refused to believe that she was incapable of even coming close to the kind of maneuverability he managed. So what the hell was he doing that she wasn’t?
The answer appeared in her mind a moment later as she plowed the ship ungracefully around another the next corner. And it was ridiculous. There was no way it would work, no way that that made a difference. It was completely illogical.
As another shot from the fighter nearly landed itself right on the ship’s side, however, she was willing to try anything.
“Come on, girl, work with me,” she growled under her breath, feeling stupid. “Help me out here.”
Fiearius often referred to the Dionysian as a woman. A woman that was stubborn and complicated and needed constant attention from him. It was metaphorical, obviously. There was nothing truly alive about a spaceship, and yet, sitting at her controls now, Leta couldn’t deny that flying her felt a bit like having an argument.
So it was worth a shot.