Finally, Finn’s expression softened a little. “I think that hurt the worst, by the way,” he admitted, quieter now. “When I heard you’d reached out to Leta, but not even a word to me.” He grimaced and shrugged. “I know you two are closer than we’ll ever be, of course you’d talk to her, but–I don’t know. I thought we had something too, you and I. More than just a friendship. A–well, partnership.” His eyes had been locked onto her through this whole revelation, but now they looked away. “You’d really come to mean a lot to me then, y’know. I really cared about you.”
For the second time, Corra felt the wind had been punched out of her. “I–I really cared about you too,” she admitted quietly.
A tiny smile curled into Finn’s lips. “Then why didn’t you ever contact me?”
Corra heaved in a deep breath. “Because I needed to be alone.” It was an admission she hadn’t even really considered until it came out of her mouth. “I’d always been surrounded by people. On Kadolyne, the Dionysian, the Beacon. And I just…needed to be alone for a while. I don’t know, it doesn’t really make sense maybe, but–”
“It makes sense,” Finn interrupted and he shrugged again. “Soul searching. Been there done that.” He nodded slowly before tilting his head at her. “Did it help?”
“I think so,” she muttered, brushing a nervous hand through her hair. “Maybe. I hope so…” She looked down at her feet before finally saying in a hurry, “Riley, I’m so sorry, I didn’t ever mean to hurt you even more, I just–”
“Hey, it’s okay.” He came towards her and put his hands on her shoulders. “You gotta do what you gotta do, I get that. Just one thing.” She looked up at him, trying to wipe her crying eyes with the back of her hand. “Are you done? Can you come back now?”
She sniffled a laugh and her vision blurred as it filled with tears. “Yeah. I think I can.” She only got one quick glance at the smile that broke over his face before he pulled her into a hug that threatened to crush her.
“Good. We missed you.”
Tears were still streaming down Corra’s face when Finn finally loosened his hold on her. But they dried quickly when suddenly he said in a tone she hadn’t been expecting, “What’s that light?”
Startled, she whipped her head around to see what he was seeing over her head. There was no light that she could make out, but when he let go and headed forward down the hall, she followed. It wasn’t until he pushed open a heavy door that had only been cracked open that she saw what he was talking about.
The archive was deserted entirely. Except, it seemed, for this one room. There were a couple of folded chairs, a table with some cards on it and a wall of console monitors. “Is this–” Corra began and Finn nodded.
“Security monitoring, looks like.”
The whole thing was shut off for now, the room dark, but it didn’t have the layers of dust the other areas had. This place had been occupied and not too long ago at that. But empty as it was now, there was one singular light on one singular console in the corner. It was tiny, red and flashed insistently, begging for attention.
Finn got there first, turning on the screen and examining its contents. An incoming message, Corra realized as she peered around his shoulder.
“All members,” Finn read, mumbling through some parts of the message, “emergency meeting…town hall…intruders? Looking for–Transmitter. The Holy Origin must be protected at all costs?”
Corra’s eyes grew wide and she swallowed as Finn whipped his head around to look at her. “What the hell? Who are these people?”
“I don’t know,” Corra answered, feeling suddenly short of breath. “But they found Cy and Addy.”
The grand escape plan might have worked, had a few conditions been different. If the Gatekeepers of the Holy Origin had been fewer in numbers, for instance. If the basement Cyrus and Addy had been in wasn’t directly underneath their meeting hall. If Cyrus had been able to see well enough to not run them straight into the middle of a meeting.
“Well it was a good effort,” Addy mumbled behind him. She had her back to him, and his back to her, all four of their wrists tied together and attached to a pole in the center of the group’s hall. The blurry shapes of crazed people surrounded them, still debating how exactly they were going to dispose of the fugitives. One woman thought they should be burned because it would be cleaner. Another man wanted to simply shoot them. A more creative cultist thought something with knives would be more meaningful.
Cyrus couldn’t bear to listen to it anymore.
“Would have been better if I’d found the exit,” he found himself saying, voice hoarse, as he turned to look at her. “Hey. Addy. I–I’m really sorry. All that stuff I said–”
“I know.” Vulnerability shone in her wide, round eyes. “I know. I’m sorry too.”
“You and Kalli, you’re–you’re everything to me,” Cyrus admitted. “And I can be an ass sometimes, you’re totally right, but it’s only because I am absolutely terrified of losing either of you.” Carefully, so as not to pull something the wrong way, he twisted his hand around to squeeze hers. “I love that you’re adventurous and brave, really.”
Addy released a sad chuckle. “And I love that you’re logical and dependable even when everything else has gone to hell.” He felt her fingers lace through his and squeeze even tighter. “There’s no one I’d rather raise our daughter with.”
“Me either.” Cyrus looked up at the people still hovering nearby and swallowed. “I love you so much. If I ever gave you a reason to doubt that, I–”
He could feel Addy shaking her head. “No, don’t. Cy, I know and–gods, I love you too, don’t ever think otherwise.” Her voice was starting to shudder. “I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry…”
Around them, oblivious to their discussion, it seemed the Gatekeepers of Whatever had made their decision and that decision looked a lot like a double-barrel shotgun. Cyrus squeezed Addy’s hand tighter as a blur approached them and the man from the library spoke. “I promise this’ll be real quick,” he assured them. “Won’t feel a thing.”
Cyrus heard Addy choke down a sob. Her hands were shaking. Or were those his? He’d been near death before, especially living on the Dionysian, but never had it been presented as such a clear, unavoidable reality. He couldn’t say he was afraid exactly. It wasn’t fear that struck him then, as the clicks of bullets being loaded into a gun sounded by his ear. It was sadness, pure and simple. Sadness that he wouldn’t finish his work on Archeti. Sadness he’d never see Satieri again. And especially sadness that he’d never see the woman beside him again. He’d never get the chance to make up for the past few years. He’d never get to lay around with her in his arms in the morning. Never raise their daughter together. Never grow old together.
His own life didn’t feel like that big of a loss. But losing Addy’s? Losing Kalli’s? The very thought made his insides feel like they were imploding in on themselves.
“Which one of you wants to go first?” the man with the shotgun asked. Now, Addy wasn’t holding back her weeping, it was coming out in sharp, hoarse breaths.
Cyrus swallowed the lump in his own throat. “Me,” he managed, only barely.
“Cy–no,” Addy sobbed, pulling against the bonds.
“Better me than you,” Cyrus grunted, fighting back the water from his own eyes.
“You–I can’t–” she stuttered, but suddenly her sadness turned to anger. She twisted towards the man with the gun. “You can’t do this! We have a daughter! She needs us! You can’t do this! You can’t just–kill us!”
“Sorry, miss,” he replied, sounding a bit taken aback. “Don’t really have much choice.”
“You do have a choice!” Addy snapped, but her voice was already cracking. “Please! Please don’t do this.”
“The Holy Origin must be protected at all costs,” the man said and Cyrus yelped as he felt the cold barrel of a gun press against his forehead.
“The others–the people on our ship–they’ll come for you,” Addy bit angrily, but her heart was only half in it. He could practically hear the tears streaming down her face. “You won’t get away with this.”
The man with the gun sighed and applied more pressure. “The Holy Origin must be protected at all costs,” he repeated and Cyrus could hear the others in the room whispering along in unison.
The gun’s safety clicked. Addy let out a horrifying wail. Cyrus just drew in a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut. And then, there were two loud bangs. And a shout of, “Wait!”
Cyrus snapped open his eyes and looked around at the blurry shapes frantically rushing about in surprise. “Who–” began the man with the gun who pressed it even harder against Cyrus’ head.
“Wait, don’t!” said the interruptor again and Cyrus finally got the relief he was craving.
“Corra–” he heard Addy breathe.
He strained his neck to get a better look at the short brown blurry shape flanked by the tall brown blurry shape marching into the hall. “Don’t kill them. I have something you want.” She raised something shiny in the air, catching the light and flashing brightly in her hand.
All around them, the Gatekeepers gasped. “The Transmission” — “It’s the Transmission” — “How does she have–”
“Let them go, now,” Corra ordered, “Or I’ll destroy it. I swear to God, I will, don’t test me.”
“No!” shouted one of the Gatekeepers, lashing out towards her, but her companion, Cyrus assumed was Finn, seemed to raise a gun that stopped them in their tracks. And that was when things got weird.
“Look! Look at her ear!” someone else shouted.
“She has the mark!” said another.
“The mark of the slave,” gasped someone else to which Corra snapped, “Hey! I thought I said–”
But the man with the gun spoke over her. The gun fell from Cyrus’ temple and he lifted his hands into the air. “Friends! Gatekeepers! Release these captives at once.”
“Well–thanks,” Corra said, though she sounded less sure of herself than she had a minute ago. And for good reason.
“A great day is upon us,” the man went on. “The day we have long awaited. The slave has delivered unto us the Transmission. The prophecy is complete!”
As Cyrus and Addy were forcefully untied and raised to their feet, everyone in the room erupted into a chorus of cheers and celebration. Cyrus couldn’t see Corra’s face across the room, but he had a feeling it displayed the same emotion he himself was feeling just then.
He turned to Addy beside him. “What the hell?”