“Maybe because guests showing up and then sneaking around is gonna look a little suspicious,” Alyx argued.
“Anyone sneaking a couple and their daughter out of a house onto a ship is gonna look suspicious,” Cai shot back.
“Not if the Society brass are occupied with dinner elsewhere.” Alyx stared right back at him knowingly. “C’mon. This works. We’ve done it before. Dae and I distract them. You slip off into the shadows and get them out. It works. It’s a good plan.”
For a long moment, Cai said nothing. He glared at her from beneath his dark bushy hair, silent and stoic, as statuesque as she’d ever seen him. And then he said, “It’s a stupid plan. Get a new one.”
As he spun around on his heels and continued to stalk down the corridor, Alyx released a hopeless groan and shouted after him, “I’m trying, Cai!”
Not that trying seemed to be getting her anywhere. In all of her time as leader of this ship, short as that was, she had brought in exactly zero jobs and zero credits. Strange how, when she’d only been doing Finn’s job without the title, she’d been amazing at this kind of thing. But now, she was facing mutiny on all sides. Her crew suddenly hated her, her contacts wanted nothing to do with her and the ship’s coffers were becoming daringly thin. The Beacon, as they’d known it, was falling apart and Alyx didn’t know how much longer she could scramble to pick up the pieces.
Suddenly, a voice behind her said, “Being captain isn’t as easy as it looks, eh?”
“Not at all,” she grumbled in response before realizing that no, it was not her subconscious having a conversation with her but an actual living person standing in the hallway. She spun around and immediately her eyes went wide.
“Finn?” she sputtered, not even trying to hide her shock. “What–? How–?” She shut her eyes and opened them again to confirm that she had not simply lost her mind. It wouldn’t have surprised her if she had. “What are you doing here?!”
“I made a mistake. And I’m here to fix it.”
Alyx narrowed her eyes at him. “Fix it? You mean, fix how you tried to sell the ship out from under our feet? How you betrayed us? How you stopped caring about the Beacon and its crew ages ago and pretty much abandoned us to fend for ourselves while still calling yourself captain?”
Finn’s lips pursed and he glanced sideways as though in thought before he looked back at her. “Yep. That. I want to fix that.” When Alyx said nothing, he sighed and ran a hand through his messy hair. “Look, I screwed up. I lost sight of what was important and I was a terrible captain. I owed you better. I owed all of you better and I know that. I may not deserve another chance, but I’m here asking for one nonetheless. Let me fix things, Alyx. Please. If you’re willing to let me back aboard.”
Alyx fell silent. She had spent a long time being angry at Finnegan Riley. So long, in fact, that a spurt of irritation had become her default reaction to his presence. Yet now, as angry as she knew she should still be, as unforgiving as she wanted to appear, after their time apart, it wasn’t anger she felt upon seeing him, but genuine relief.
Still, she gave him a hesitant glare as she muttered, “I don’t know…You really don’t deserve another chance.” But she couldn’t keep the charade up for long. Her lips started to pull back into a smile before she couldn’t contain herself and marched forward to pull the man into a crushing hug. “Of course you can come back. This place just isn’t the same without you, captain.”
Finn released a grateful sigh and squeezed his arms around her. “Nor is drinking at the bar the same without you.”
Finally, Alyx pulled away and held him at arm’s length. “But I still don’t get it. How the hell are you here?”
Finn smiled back at her with a glint of mischief in his eye before tilting his head over his shoulder. Confused, Alyx followed the direction until she noticed another figure behind Finn, peering up at her with a mixture of relief and, Alyx thought, a bit of sadness. If Finn’s sudden appearance had been a shock, his companion was even moreso.
“Corra,” Alyx breathed in disbelief. The woman looked a little different than she remembered, but those deep brown eyes and freckled face were unmistakable even under the mask of age. For a fleeting moment, she thought perhaps she was dreaming after all, for both the Beacon’s captains to be standing before her for the first time in years. But there was one way to test it.
Practically shoving Finn aside, Alyx brushed past him and leaned down to seize the shorter woman in her arms. The way she felt and the way she laughed in her ear certainly sounded real enough to convince her.
“Oh God, Corra,” Alyx exclaimed, choking back a sudden need to weep. “I can’t believe you’re here. And you’re okay! God, I’m so glad you’re okay. It’s so good to see you.”
Corra chuckled appreciatively and squeezed her arms around Alyx’s back before breaking the embrace and stepping backwards. “It’s really good to see you too,” she mumbled, looking up at her, her brows creased downward in apology. “You can’t even imagine…”
“You have to come down to the crew lounge,” Alyx insisted, taking her hand and already starting to yank her down the hall. “So many people will want to see you and hear about what you’ve been up to.”
Alyx caught sight of Corra glancing up at Finn nervously, as though hoping he’d rescue her somehow. But whatever she was hoping for, Finn didn’t seem to comply. Corra glared. Finn lifted his brows. Corra jabbed her head toward Alyx. And Alyx looked between the two of them, oblivious to the content of the silent conversation going on between them.
Finally, she’d had enough. “Alright, you two are cute and all, but just tell me what I need to know.”
Corra caught Finn’s eye one last time in a last ditch attempt for help which he didn’t provide. So she heaved a deep breath and said, “Alyx, I–I can’t stay.” Alyx felt her spirits droop and her smile drop slowly off her face. “I have people after me. I have missions still in the works. I wanted to get Riley back and make sure everything here was okay, but I need to head out again.” She looked back over her shoulder. “I’m sorry. I wish I could stay. Really, I do.”
None of this was surprising, Alyx realized, but that didn’t make her any less likely to argue it. “Corra, c’mon. We haven’t seen you in ages. At least stay the night. Talk to the crew, we all miss you. One night can’t hurt.”
“She’s right,” agreed Finn. “You owe us that much, don’t you? As friends?”
But Corra was already shaking her head. “I can’t,” she mumbled under her breath. “I have to go.”
Alyx reached out and laid her hand on Corra’s shoulder. “But–why? What’s the hurry?”
A bitter laugh escaped Corra’s lips before she muttered, “The longer I stay, the harder it’ll be to leave…” She swallowed hard and met Alyx’s stare firmly. “I’d rather just go now, okay?”
Alyx wanted to keep contesting it. It didn’t make sense, as far as she was concerned. She wanted to talk to her old friend, that seemed reasonable enough. But something in the conviction of Corra’s words made her unable to conjure any more arguments. She looked up at Finn hopefully, but he too seemed to have resigned himself to her wishes. So Alyx would have to consign herself to say goodbye almost just as soon as she’d said hello.
But then Corra spoke up again. “Before I go though.” She tilted her head suspiciously. “What was it you were saying about Cy and Addy?”
Addy sat on the edge of the guest bed, watching in exhaustion as Kalli dragged blankets and pillows across the room to “build a fort.” Her daughter was making a mess of the room that wasn’t even theirs, but Addy did not have the energy to scold her. Nor, she’d found, could she blame the girl for having too much energy to contain. A few more days of this and Addy would likely be on the floor building forts of her own.
They had been confined to Eriaas Argoatan’s attic (if this furnished loft area could even be called an attic) for nearly a week. They’d moved up here when it had become obvious that hiding in the guest rooms left a little too much risk that one of Eriaas’ Society houseguests would hear the tiny pitter patter of five year old feet.
Those same houseguests, much to Cyrus and Addy’s dismay, didn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. Whatever their expedition was, it wasn’t going well and it showed no signs of stopping.