The basement fell into tense silence. Too tense. Even fuzzy as his vision was, Cyrus could see clearly through the dark that he had crossed a line. The woman before him had been angry before, but now she was much more than that. Much worse. He got the sense that if he said another word, he would be slapped straight across the face.
So he let her speak first. Rather, shout first.
“How dare you, Cyrus! How dare you put me in that position.”
“You put us in this position remember?” he shouted right back, thus beginning a volley of vicious words and expletives so loud and booming against the basement walls, Cyrus didn’t hear most of them, even the ones expelled from his own mouth. It was a fight that had been building for months now, possibly even years and now that their lives were so close to ending entirely, it had to come out. It always had to come out at some point.
But Cyrus hadn’t considered the consequences of shouting in the basement of wherever they were, nor would he have cared if he did. He was too full of despair and frustration to give even half a thought to other occupants. That is, until one of those occupants, a young woman by the look and sound of her, barged in through the door and shouted, “Would you two quiet down in here?!”
“No!” Addy shouted right back, resilient, but by some miracle, Cyrus experienced a brief stroke of genius. Or at the very least, cleverness. An opportunity had presented itself, one he hadn’t expected or even considered, but to hell if he wasn’t going to take it.
He couldn’t see much, but he could see the light from the space beyond the door and anger or frustration or rage be damned, he was going to get there.
Before anyone else in the room had a chance to act, Cyrus seized Addy’s wrist, yelled “Run!” and dragged her towards the light, not hesitating to shove the intruder aside on the way.
There was nothing there. Nothing left of what was once the great Ellegian Consulate Archives, save a dramatic set of stairs and a small maze of hallways with very well-made, if aged, tiled floors. Corra stomped down one of those halls, her heavy footsteps echoing through the entire chamber.
“I can’t believe this,” she growled under her breath as she passed another room with rows of shelves that had been stripped clean. “Not even a scrap page of a book.”
“Weird that Eriaas guy didn’t have the sense to think this place would be raided as soon as his team left,” Finn commented, sounding far less angry than she felt. “Or he didn’t care…”
Corra groaned. “I can’t believe this,” she said again. She didn’t even bother peering into the next room they passed. It was dark and spacious and completely devoid of contents. Like everything else down here.
“I guess the bright side is that the Society won’t find it here either.” Seriously, Finn was way too cheerful. His positivity was grating on her nerves. “If it was here at all. Seems like it’ll be lost to time. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yes,” Corra snapped and then corrected, “No. Nothing’s lost to time. It’s out there somewhere. Somebody has it.”
“And you have the Transmission,” Finn noted. “So as long as you never meet, it’ll all be fine.”
Corra looked back at him, a glare set deep in her brow. Somewhere inside her, she knew he was probably right. Whoever had the thing, at least up to now, seemed content keeping it a secret. It was safe to assume they’d continue to do so and with any luck, the device was useless without Corra’s puzzle piece anyway. It was logical.
But Corra wasn’t feeling very logical right then. A stroke of anger mixed with frustration mixed with despair had overtaken her and logic from Finn was the last thing she wanted to hear.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” she barked, turning back to face him.
“No, actually,” Finn admitted with a casual shrug. He was examining a rock he’d picked up between his fingers.
Corra’s jaw dropped half an inch before it tightened. “Seriously? I dragged you out here to look for this thing and we find–” she waved her hands around them “–nothing! And you don’t get why I’m upset.”
“It was a longshot anyway.”
“It wasn’t a–” Corra ran her hands down her face then stared at him, feeling fury behind her eyes. “Why aren’t you angry?”
Finally, he met her gaze, but it wasn’t with the determination and hatred she was expecting, or that she craved. He simply looked confused. “Why would I be angry?”
“Because it’s my fault!” Corra despaired, without hesitation. “It’s my fault we’re in this stupid cave and there’s nothing here and I wasted your time and your crew’s time and–”
Finn’s face screwed up and he made a ‘pfft’ sound. “We were already here anyway. It didn’t take much time. And it’s not your fault we didn’t find any–”
“It is my fault!” Corra argued at once, marching back down the hallway towards him. “It’s completely my fault! So why aren’t you angry, huh?” She growled and then, without thinking, put her hands on his chest and pushed him.
“Wha–hey!” He stumbled backwards and she followed, a storm brewing inside and over her head.
“I brought you down here for nothing. I hijacked your whole ship for a stupid wild goose chase.” Her fingers curled and she pushed him again.
“You should be angry. You should be resentful. Why aren’t you mad?!”
When she reached out to push him again, this time he seized her arms and held her back. “Corra,” he said sternly, but not sternly enough. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“What the hell is the matter with you?!” She ripped herself out of his hold. “Why don’t you hate me?!”
A strange silence fell in the echoing hallway. Corra searched over Finn’s face, desperate to find what she was looking for there. Desperate to see the rage and the fury, even disappointment, but she found none. He was just watching her with confusion and, god forgive, sadness.
Corra’s hands clenched into fists and she rubbed her knuckles into her temples. “Why don’t you hate me?” she asked again, calmer this time as reality set back in. She’d lost her sight of it for just a moment.
And Finn put her fear into words. “We’re not talking about the Transmitter anymore, are we?”
Well, this conversation was going to have to happen eventually, right. It had been gnawing away at her from the inside out all week and perhaps they had reached the point where she could no longer avoid it. Slowly, her fists fell back to her sides and she drew in a deep breath.
“I don’t get it, Riley.” Her voice was quiet when she spoke, barely even a whisper. “After everything I did–all that I did to you–God, Riley, I spent years believing that if we ever met again, you wouldn’t even look me in the eye. As you shouldn’t have. As I deserved. But–I come back and–and you want me to stay? You ask me to stay.”
She could feel Finn’s intense gaze upon her, but she couldn’t bring herself to return it. “Corra–”
“No,” she cut him off harshly because she wasn’t sure she could bear to hear what he had to say. “I nearly got you killed. I acted stupidly and put your life in danger. I risked our ship, our livelihood and our lives.”
“What? The whole thing with Callahan? Corra, he was transporting allies, I wouldn’t expect you to–”
“No, that’s not even it,” she interrupted again. “Even if I hadn’t done all that. Even if–” She shook her head. “I mean Archeti…”
Now, Finn immediately jumped in. “I don’t blame you for that. No one blames you for that–”
“Well they should,” she barked sharply. “You should.”
“Cyrus told me everything. You didn’t know what you were doing, you didn’t know–”
“I did know,” she snapped. “It took me a long time to realize that and come to terms with it, but I did know.” She expected him to interrupt again, but he’d gone quiet, watching her patiently. “Cyrus told me what the Caelum Lex was, what it could be used for. And I gave it to a man who I knew would do bad with it. It was a mistake, but it was an informed mistake. I’m done claiming ignorance.”
Finn was still staring at her, more stunned than anything else, which only made the frustration in her core deepen. He didn’t get it. He wasn’t going to get it. She had to make him get it.
“You’re right, I never had any bad intentions. I never meant any of it to happen.” She started towards him. “But it happened because I made choices and I took risks that I shouldn’t have taken. And I nearly destroyed you in the process.” She stopped just inches from him and prodded her index finger into his chest as she spoke. “So. Where. Is. Your. Anger?”
Finn looked down at her finger for a long moment, saying nothing, but she could see by the way his shoulders lifted and fell, his breathing had become heavier. His jaw was clenched. And when he finally met her gaze, she saw it. The rage and the fury she’d been craving. The retribution she deserved. When he seized her hand and threw it aside, she didn’t resist.
“You want anger? Fine,” he growled, lowering his face to glare at her. “Fine, I’m angry. I’m angry you left.”
It wasn’t quite what she was expecting, but the force of it was about right. “That I left?”
“Yeah! You left,” he said again, his tone cold and harsh. “When I needed you most. Injured and dying and having just lost–” He let out a crazed laugh. “Everything! My home, my family, my friends, everything that mattered to me. Do you know how miserable that was?!”
“Yes! And I caused that!” Corra wasn’t sure if what she was feeling was relief that she was finally getting the backlash she was owed or fear at seeing Finn like she’d never seen him before. Regardless, she barely noticed the water forming in the corners of her eyes.
“No you fucking didn’t!” Finn snapped. “Callahan stabbed me. The Society destroyed Archeti.”
“Neither of which would have happened if I–”
“No!” Finn groaned loudly. “No, just stop. God, you want me to yell at you? You want me to get mad and scream and shout so you can feel punished and seek redemption? Fine. Whatever. If that’s what you need. But I’m not going to just read the lines you want to hear. You want my anger, you can have it, but only for what you actually did.”
Corra braced her fists sternly at her side. “I know what I did.”
“And that’s easy isn’t it?” Finn growled. “It’s easy to assign yourself blame for a knife you didn’t wield and a terraformer you didn’t pilot.”
“Easy?!” Corra repeated indignantly. “You think that’s easy to admit my fault for that? Do you know how many people died?!”
It was the wrong question. Finn’s glare intensified instantly. “Oh I fucking know how many people died.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Then how can you say it’s easy?!”
“Because it’s all distant causality! You were one of many factors that lead to something terrible. So was I for working with Callahan to begin with. So was, God, Cyrus, for letting us take the Beacon at all. So was the fucker who first thought ‘hey wouldn’t building a spaceship be neat?’ Fuck all that, you want to make amends, admit to the one crime you actually did commit.”
“And what the hell is that?”
His tone was colder than she’d ever heard him speak. “Abandoning your friend when he needed you at his side.”
No matter how many times Corra had dwelled on this inevitability, she wasn’t prepared for it. Instantly she felt like all the air had been knocked from her chest. She couldn’t breathe. Certainly couldn’t speak. She just stood there, staring at him, completely dumbfounded, with lines of silent tears streaking across her cheeks.
It felt like ages before she was able to manage, “I–I had to–”
But Finn was already shaking his head in distaste. “You didn’t have to do anything. You wanted to. Because you thought it would be easier.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you.”
“You didn’t want to hurt yourself. You didn’t do it for me. You left for you.”
“I had to make amends–” Every choked word sounded like a cheap excuse even to her own ears. “I joined the Conduit — I– I wanted to save people to–”
“And you could have done that anyway.” He was still watching her as though she was a disappointing child and he her father. “You could have told me. You could have said goodbye. You could have kept in touch. I could have helped, Corra. You didn’t have to disappear.”
Her mouth opened as she hoped a response would come from it, but none did. She didn’t have any excuses left. She’d made a choice that day and she’d made a vow to stick with it. But she had no defense for it, no offering to make up for it.