“So I ask again. I’ve built a good relationship with the rebel leader.” Fiearius brought his forearms against his knees, leaning in. “They’re on our side, they’re ready to take our orders, you signed off on this course of action, so why are you trying to hire a Vescentian tourist as our strategic team’s Ellegian expert?”
Gates met Fiearius’ stare coolly. “Unfortunately, the president–”
“Oh, fuck,” Fiearius growled preemptively, dropping his head in his hands.
“–has deemed the rebel forces on Ellegy too risky of an investment.”
“Of course.” Fiearius slapped the arm of his chair dramatically before rising to his feet and starting to pace again. “Of course, they’re too risky. Because they might pose a threat to your little expanding empire.”
“We’ve been ordered to cease contact with them immediately and any further relay of confidential plans is prohibited.”
“I can’t believe th–no, actually–no, I can believe this. I can completely believe this. I knew you would pull this shit before the time came.” He clenched a fist and somehow held off on punching a hole in the wall with it. “Gods forbid there’s anyone at the end of this who you owe anything to.”
Leta watched Fiearius as he tore across the room, a barely contained tornado of rage, but when she spared a glance at Gates, feeling her own spike of anger (it was going to be just like Vescent, like Ascendia, all over again, wasn’t it?), she didn’t see the man she expected. She thought she’d find Admiral Kaiser Gates, stern, resilient and, as always, uninterested in his counterpart’s opinion of Carthian policies. Instead, she saw Admiral Kaiser Gates, hesitant and thoughtful, like he didn’t really think cutting off the rebels was a very good idea either.
“–waiting for the day it’s my turn,” Fiearius was still ranting across the room. “When’s that order going to come from the president? Put Soliveré on the chopping block, he’s ‘too risky’, he’s–”
“Fiear,” Leta interrupted, softly, but he heard her. His fists were still clenched in frustration when he turned to look at her, but his anger lessened in her gaze. He glanced at Gates who met his eyes firmly, then back at Leta whose mouth tightened a little at the corner, and then finally he turned away entirely.
“This is ridiculous,” he declared. “The assassin’s probably long gone by now. He failed his mission over an hour ago, I’m not waiting here any longer.”
This time, no one argued as he marched towards the heavy security door, unlocked the bolts, swung it open and walked out.
Leta stayed where she was another long moment, watching the man still beside her, unflinching and unmoving. She released a small sigh before rising to her feet and following Fiearius back upstairs.
Fiearius stood on the edge of the party, jaw tightened, expression unreadable as he leaned his shoulder against a pillar. Leta stood beside him, silent for several minutes as she watched couples glide through the dance floor, though she wasn’t really seeing them. Her mind was back in the panic room, considering what Gates had said.
“What do you think changed their mind?” she asked finally, her voice an undertone.
“They found out,” Fiearius answered. He didn’t look away from the dance floor as he spoke.
“About the rebels meeting with Dez?” Leta guessed. “How?”
“Who knows? They’ve got spies everywhere. On Ellegy, surely. Could have planted one inside the rebel cell itself. Hell, maybe even my pretty you-clone watcher’s been digging through my messages when I’m not looking, what difference does it make? If they know, that alliance is dead,” Fiearius growled under his breath. “I told him not to. I told him it was too big a chance.”
“But he met with them anyway,” Leta sighed. “And now Carthis thinks the Ellegian rebels are in league with terrorists.”
Fiearius groaned. “How many times do I have to tell you, Dez and his people–”
“Aren’t terrorists, I know,” Leta cut in. “Weren’t responsible for the bombings, didn’t cause the transit meltdown, are just easy scapegoats, I know, I know. But you told me yourself what they have done.” She raised her brows at him pointedly. “And none of it Carthis would approve of. So I’d venture a guess that the Ellegy meeting–”
Fiearius was already shaking his head and sighing. “Not good. Yeah. I know.”
They fell into a thoughtful silence again before Leta mused, “Do you know what they’re planning?”
“Not a clue.”
Leta paused. Then a smirk twisted her lips. “Well, maybe when we get back to the ship, we should call the rebel leader and ask.”
Fiearius shot her a look of amazement. “Call the rebels? Despite Carthis’ very clear prohibition on contacting them? You, newest member of the strategic team, breaking the rules? Already?”
Leta blinked slowly, full of innocence. “Prohibition? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never got any messages mentioning a prohibition, did you?”
Fiearius barked a laugh and then wound his arm around her, drawing her to his side warmly. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.”
Leta grinned, dropping her eyes to the floor. After a moment, her brow creased and she ventured, “About that me-clone spy. You haven’t…?”
Fiearius glanced down at her wryly. “Just who do you think I am?”
“Well then, that was a nice break.” Leta glanced back at Gates just as Fiearius let his arm drop to his side and took a step away. The older admiral looked between them, a little too knowingly, Leta thought, before walking straight through the space Fiearius had left beside her. “Back to work then?”
“Back to work,” Fiearius sighed in agreement as he and Leta followed the man back out of the hallway. Still standing by the entrance were the guards they’d had posted there before secluding themselves.
“Anything weird happen while we were gone?” Leta asked the woman and she dutifully shook her head.
“Nothing out of the ordinary at all, miss.”
“And isn’t that a relief,” Leta muttered under her breath. Fiearius snorted his agreement and held out his arm for her to take as they walked down the steps towards the main ballroom.
“I suppose I’ll have to look into the who’s, what’s and how’s of this little ordeal, but for now I’m thinking a drink is in order,” he said, faking a posh nobleman’s accent as best his working-class Satierian tongue could manage. “Do you concur, dear lady?”
“A drink wouldn’t go amiss,” Leta admitted though she paused halfway down the stairwell to peer out over the crowd. “I should probably find my date though.” Fiearius made a sort of disgruntled noise, but fell obediently silent as she searched the room for a sight of Liam. Hopefully he would forgive her for abandoning him for so long in the middle of a gala. Maybe he’d be more willing if, as soon as she found him, she told him they could leave the gala.
She had just thought she caught sight of a familiar face when a voice behind her slowly drifted into her conscious awareness. “–whole schedule’s off now,” the voice was saying. One of the guards she’d just spoken to. “Admirals need a lot of protecting I guess so the first rank’s gonna be pulling overtime to accommodate. And you can guess how happy Lady Illusán about that.”
“Not,” said the other guard with a snort.
Leta didn’t understand why she suddenly felt a need to listen in on this conversation about the budget and schedules of the hired security. It certainly wasn’t interesting, but something compelled her to pay attention when the first guard went on, “Precisely. I mean the lot of them were supposed to be let off-duty when Gates slipped out in the last course, but now–”
And just as suddenly, Leta was very glad she did.