“What’re we going to do?” Javier breathed, hands flying madly over the dashboard controls. The radar screen at his side was flashing: the rogue fighters were on them. “We could — we could try to flee — “
“In this old boat?” Eve grunted. “Not a chance. I say we let ’em board.”
“Let them board?” Javier yelped. “Are you crazy?”
Another screen began to flash, this time with an incoming message.
“They’re trying to hail us,” said Javier, glancing nervously at Leta. Eve was looking at her too. It was clear, now, that Leta really was acting captain while Fiearius was aground: they were waiting on her orders.
“Well. Might as well see what they want,” she said at last. Her hand went to the dial, but then she paused, looking to Eve. “Go get set up with the auxiliary weapons. Just in case.”
A broad grin spread over Eve’s scarred face. “Of course, cap’n,” she said, with the same cadence with which she always spoke to Fiearius, as she marched out of the room. Hoping she would be granted some of Fiearius’ infamous luck, Leta hit the dial to accept the call.
The speakers crackled with static, and then a low voice cut through.
“You move and I swear we’ll shoot you down. Let’s make this easy on everyone, shall we? Surrender and no one has to get hurt.”
Leta and Javier exchanged a look. The Dionysian hadn’t moved product in months — it was too caught up in the war. There was nothing here to steal. Leta hit the button to answer.
“Sorry to disappoint,” she said sarcastically, “but we’ve got nothing to surrender. Afraid you’ve caught us at the wrong time. We just cleared out at the last port.” It was an easy lie, and one that was hopefully buying Eve time to ready the weapons.
“Sure thing,” the woman growled, obviously not buying it. “But it ain’t product we’re after. That ship model you’ve got. Worth a fortune right about now. So be a good girl and hand it over.”
Leta closed her eyes, ready to laugh. Of course this ‘model’ was worth a fortune: it was the flagship of the war. These fools had no idea they’d found the actual Dionysian — they thought they’d found a copy.
“You almost feel bad for these idiots,” Javier said, shaking his head. Then he glanced at the opposite screen and said, “Well, Eve’s ready at the auxiliary weapons.”
“That’s our last resort,” Leta answered quickly. “Let’s see if they believe in honor among thieves, first.” She hit the dial again to answer, voice full of ice.
“You’re not touching this ship. Turn around, fly away, and this doesn’t have to get dirty.”
More static filled the line and Leta could picture each of the pilots hurriedly discussing their next move. After a moment, Javier pointed to the screen. “They’re preparing to land,” he said, looking alarmed.
Fiearius’ voice filled her head. He’d told her to protect his ship and his crew. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.
“Well,” said Leta fairly, “I did warn them.” She lowered into the captain’s chair, taking the controls.
“Fiearius Soliveré. I’ve been expecting you.”
Fiearius’ breath caught in his lungs when the cold voice reached him, but he let it out in a slow sigh, ignored the pounding in his chest and put on his best image of confidence as he turned around to face the woman standing across the room behind him.
“Rebeka Palano, I assume?”
The woman, who was far more relaxed than he felt, laughed, causing her age to peck at the corners of her eyes. “Haven’t heard that name in a long while.” She didn’t look much like a woman who had spent the last few years living in a bunker below the ground. This part of the bunker itself was different than the rest. Well-furnished, warmly lit and almost living up to the mansion-esque image called to mind by the word ‘estate.’ Its occupant matched. Her grey hair was tied into a neat bun at the nape of her neck and her petite form was dressed in proper Ascendian formalwear, freshly cleaned by the look of it.
More concerning than her looks, however, was her attitude. She was facing the man who was about to end her life, but she was acting as though she were simply welcoming a guest.
“Can I get you anything, Fiearius?” she asked, in a casualness that set him immediately on edge. Turning her back to him, she approached a heavy dark wood desk and slid open a drawer. “You’re a gin man, aren’t you? I’ve got a nice Ellegian import here if you’re interested.”
Fiearius gawked at her for a moment, as she placed a few bottles on the desk gently, before remembering himself. His hand gripped his gun tighter, his finger slipping onto the trigger as he marched towards her, solemn and brisk. “You know why I’m here.”
She glanced up at him, seeming surprised. “Oh, of course,” she admitted, shaking him off with her hand and then gestured at the gun. “You’re here to put one of those bullets through my head.” A gentle smile curved her lips as she went about opening one of the bottles on the desk. “All the more reason to have a drink, no?”
Stalling, Fiearius realized. Something he’d learned long ago was that no matter how different people were through life, when faced with death, most reacted about the same. There were those that begged. Those that fought. Those that accepted. And then there were those that stalled. Just waiting for their chance, their moment, to turn things around, find their savior.
He’d also learned, long ago, not to let that moment arrive.
“I’m sorry, I can’t allow that.” He lifted his weapon until it pointed at her temple, his finger tightening on the trigger. But Rebeka Palano simply observed it indifferently, continuing to pour a dose of clear liquor into a glass.
“Fiearius,” she said after a moment’s pause. She took a sip from her glass and then placed it down on the desk and turned to face him fully. “I have no intention of fighting you. I’ve long known this day would come. I’m not foolish enough to think I can avoid what I with my own hands forged.”
His stance loosened a little, but he didn’t drop the gun. “I’m not going to change my mind,” he warned.
To his surprise, a slow smile pulled across the older woman’s face as she fearlessly lowered into the chair behind the desk. “No, Fiearius,” she sighed. “I don’t suspect you will. Now please.” She outstretched her hand towards a row of velvet chairs nearby. “Have a seat. If I am to die, I would ask some courtesy first.”
One good thing had come out of five pirate ships attacking the Dionysian: Leta had no spare moment to worry about Fiearius. Gritting her teeth, she seized the left thruster control and pulled hard, making the floor tip dangerously right, then dangerously left, before righting itself. Behind her, Javier was falling all over himself — she heard him yelp as he was thrown against a wall.
“I can’t believe that y– ” he gasped, seizing the door frame for support as he made himself vertical again. He sounded both exasperated and relieved: they’d managed to get off the ground right as the fighters were landing and preparing to board. Now it was a matter of losing them all. “I can’t believe you learned how to fly this thing!”
“I didn’t,” Leta muttered, almost to herself. She’d watched Fiearius long enough to figure out the main controls for keeping the ship in the air, but it was mostly Eve keeping the fighters at bay with her expert use of the ship’s retrofitted weaponry. Every few seconds, a flash of red light shot across the bay window. She’d already sent three ships into a shower of sparks. Now there were two vessels left, and then, with a burst of red firepower —
“Got another!” Eve roared through the speaker. “That’s it! Just one left, Fiea — er, I mean, Leta.”
She’d have to tell Fiearius all about this later, Leta thought, feeling fleetingly amused in spite of her gripping fear that she was about to kill his entire crew. Grimacing, she grasped the controls tighter and dipped the level, making the whole ship tip forward — she heard Javier skid across the floor again, yelling in alarm.
“Buckle yourself in, Javier!” Leta yelled, just as he cried, “I’m trying!”
“Get in real close, doc,” said Eve through the speaker. “Just a bit closer now, and I’ll –”
The COMM buzzed static and then shut off. Leta threw a look of alarm to Javier just as one of the fighter’s blasts flew by them. She threw her weight into the controls to turn the ship on its side, out of the way of the second shot which followed its predecessor and disappeared into the darkness on the horizon.
Javier, who had, by stroke of luck, fallen into the co-pilot’s chair with the turn, scrambled to hook the strap around himself and went straight for the console. “We’ve lost power to half the ship,” he reported. “COMM’s down, dampeners down, weapons–”
“What? Why?” Leta demanded, gritting her teeth as she made another dramatic swoop to avoid the fighter’s blast, almost brushing the tips of the tall plains grass with the ship’s outer wing. “Is the engine room COMM still up? Get me Richelle!”
Javier painstakingly hit a few keys on the console and a female voice that sounded like it was being filtered through a tin can rang out in the bridge. “I’m working on it, capitaine!” Richelle exclaimed. “The starboard generator’s been on its last legs for a while, I’ve tried to get it fixed, but Fiearius said the parts were too expensive–”
Leta growled under her breath. Typical Fiearius, skimping on repairs and having it come back to bite him in ass later. Or in this case, bite her in the ass. She’d have to have a talk with him about that too.
“Just do what you can,” Leta called back to the young engineer. “I need those weapons up!”
In the meantime, however, there was an agile fighter trying to shoot them out of the sky that wasn’t going to wait.
Leta had seen Fiearius avoid fighters in the clunky old Dionysian long before he’d had the good sense to equip her with basic weaponry. His method usually consisted of some crazed stunts and a bit of luck. Javier seemed to be thinking the same thing.
“Leta,” he said suddenly, glancing over at her with a frown that appeared overly apologetic, even from him, a young man who constantly looked sorry as it was. “There’s a canyon just a mile east…”
Leta spared him only a momentary look of dismay before she had to wrench up on the controls to let another blast pass them by. “No,” she said firmly. “No way.”
“Without weapons,” Javier murmured. “It might be the only way…”
There was a level of crazed and reckless Leta was willing to attempt. She could fly the ship in a basic sense. She had managed to avoid getting hit so far. But that? That. Was not going to happen. She’d crash and kill them all, she knew it. Maybe Fiearius could, but her relationship with the Dionysian was a lot less close than his. The ship purred at his touch but it grumbled at hers. It wouldn’t work.
But when another shot came flying at them and Leta only very narrowly managed to keep it from piercing their cargo bay, she realized Javier may have had a point. She drew in a deep breath and turned east.
Fiearius hadn’t taken a chair, nor had he holstered his weapon, but he had, despite himself, despite all of his experience and all of his carefulness, relented momentarily and found himself leaning back against a wall and engaging hesitantly in Rebeka’s ‘courtesy’. He knew he shouldn’t have, he knew he was only leaving himself open to failure with every passing second. But this woman was no simple mark. She was a Society Councillor for the gods’ sakes. And he couldn’t help it. Part of him wanted to know what she had to say.
“I feel as though I know you so well, yet we’ve never even met before now,” Rebeka mused, propping her chin in her hand as she eyed Fiearius across the desk. “Odd, isn’t it?”
Fiearius’ fingers taped the concrete wall impatiently as he muttered, “You don’t know me at all.”
“Perhaps I don’t,” she admitted, her tone neutral. “But what I do know is that you’ve certainly come a long way from the gutter we plucked you out of, haven’t you?”
Of its own accord, his free hand formed into a fist, but whatever anger was there, he kept it in. For now.