Liam was nodding. “Exymeron’s failing economy post Division War.”
“And they did a great job. But their entire function is reactionary. When things are good? Thriving? They’re worthless. So they need to make problems to solve in order to keep their power. Make people believe that without the Society, things would descend into chaos. And who’s better at that than a whole bunch of–”
“Scared teenagers,” Liam finished for him, his tone heavily thoughtful. “Interesting.”
Fiearius sat back in the chair and shrugged. “Just my theory anyway.”
“Pretty good one, I think,” Liam admitted. “So. What’s it like now that you’re facing all this from the other side?”
Fiearius shuffled in his seat and propped his head in his hand. “How do you mean?”
“Well, there aren’t a lot of defectors–” Fiearius coughed. “–eh, alive anyway. At least none that would speak out against them publicly. So your views on the Society are rather unique. I was just wondering what it feels like to be fighting something that was, at one point, in your own words, a refuge.”
Fiearius went quiet again as he considered the question. “I don’t know,” he admitted at last. “It doesn’t really feel like an ‘us vs. them’ sort of thing. I’m totally committed to dismantling the Society as a whole, but the people in it? It’s–it’s difficult sometimes. Fighting them. Because I know them. I know what it’s like to be them. Hell, if a couple things had gone a little differently, I could have still been one of them.”
“What things are those?” Liam wanted to know.
But Fiearius’ silence this time was different than before. More intense, deeper. It was no surprise when his answer was, “I’d rather not dwell on that if it’s alright by you.”
“Ah, right, sure no problem. But I have to wonder, defining yourself as just narrowly on the other side of this war, does that mean you consider yourself still connected to the Society?”
Fiearius lifted a brow. “No, not at all.” When Liam just watched him patiently, he went on, “But I have a connection to the Exymerian people. And the Ellegians, the Ascendians, the Vescentians and anyone else who’s lived under Society rule.”
“And you want to–free these people? The way you were freed?”
Fiearius barked a laugh. “Hopefully not the way I was freed, no. But do I want them to live in a place where their choices do matter, where they don’t have to be afraid of their own neighbors and kids aren’t being offered assassination training as their only way out of a bad situation? Fuck yeah, I do.”
“So to you, this whole war is kind of personal.”
“It’s entirely personal,” Fiearius answered without hesitation. “If by the end of this, I’ve put the Span any closer to not containing any more shit like me, then it will have all been worth it.”
Liam sounded a touch confused when he muttered, “An…interesting way to phrase a noble prospect. Would the translation to ‘better place for my kids to grow up in’ be correct?”
Fiearius snorted. “No kids in my short lil future, but sure, whichever cliche floats your boat.”
“Short future?” Liam asked. “What do you mean?”
“What do I mean?” Fiearius repeated incredulously. “I dunno how long you’ve been reporting on this particular war, mate, but if you think I’m gonna come out the other end of it, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
“Seems a little morbid…”
“It’s not morbid, it’s realistic.” Fiearius couldn’t have sounded more casual about the idea of his own death. “Carthis will handle a lot of crazy shit, don’t get me wrong, but they have self-preservation in mind at all times, as they should. These people, the soldiers? Fighting for someone else’s freedom? It’s not in ‘em. They have families and lives to get back to and more power to ‘em for it.”
“But me?” he went on. “This is what I’ve got. Everything in my life leads to this. So while they’re busy calculating losses, I’ll take the risks. They’re how we’ve gotten to where we are in this war at all. And it’s a damn miracle the odds have thus far tilted in my favor. But I’m not fool enough to think that’ll last forever.”
Liam’s pen tapped gently on the edge of the table. “And you’re alright with that? The dangerous missions, the high risks, inevitability of failure?”
He shrugged. “We all die eventually.”
The recording ended abruptly with a scratch of static and Leta’s finger on the dial. She could not listen any longer. Silence unfolded in the room, and kept unfolding for seconds longer, and she felt Liam watching her.
“There’s…a bit more actually,” he ventured carefully. “I asked him about the Baltimore and we talked about life on the Dionysian and–” Leta was shaking her head silently. “Hey.” His hand touched her knee. “You okay over there?”
No, not at all, she thought. Something about the way Fiearius spoke about the war, Carthis, his inevitable death…It hit her hard in the gut. Talking of having nothing else and his whole life leading here, gods, he was starting to sound like Dez. Fear leaked into her heart, and she felt suddenly ice cold.
Leta nodded. “I’m fine,” she heard herself say, but she was already on her way toward the door. “I just — there’s something I need to do. I’ll be right back.”
He would never admit it aloud, but Fiearius found that he was, privately, starting to enjoy the comfort of his quarters on the CORS. The extravagance of the lounge, dining room, and master bathroom were obnoxious, but he had to admit the space was a nice reprieve. At least it was quiet. In this moment, Fiearius sat on the couch, balancing a plate of eggs and potatoes on his knee. He ate with one hand while his other hand held a tablet, which blared the headline: Society Forces Flee Ascendian Ground.
A pounding on the door broke him out of his thoughts. Frowning, he slid the plate to the coffee table and hit the switch to slide open the door, surprised to see Leta standing on the other side.
“Leta. To what do I owe this — ”
“We need to talk.”
A storm clouded her face, and her eyes were shifting over him uneasily.
“Okay,” he said blankly, stepping sideways and closing the door behind him. Leta slid past him and immediately began to pace over the shining wood floor, wringing her hands together while pointedly avoiding his gaze.
“What is it?” He was baffled. “You alright?”
“No. Not really.”
He waited, but when she did not elaborate, he asked, “You need a drink or somethin’?” He started to cross toward the fully stocked liquor bar. For some reason, this made her face darken.
“Definitely not.” She shot a nasty look toward the decanter of bourbon in his hand.
“Well, that’s unlike you,” he commented, almost grinning. “What is it we need to talk about then?”
“You.” She suddenly halted. “Me. Us. Look, I think I need some distance.”
Fiearius stared at her. Then he lowered the decanter back onto the bar. “Distance.”
“Yes. Distance. We’ve been seeing a lot of each other lately and I think it’s been too much for both of us.”
“Hang on.” He held up a hand. He felt like laughing. “I’m confused. What the hell did I do?”
“Nothing. I’ve just — decided it’s time we move on with our personal lives, and right now I’m letting you know I need space.”
“You need some space,” he repeated slowly. “So you came here. To my quarters. To tell me you need some space.”
“Yes. Now if you’ll excuse me.” She veered back toward the door and while some part of him thought it’d be easier to just let her walk out, he couldn’t help himself.
“No, hang on, I won’t excuse you.” He held up his palms, stepping into her path. “What the fuck is going on? Is this about the interview? I was perfectly nice to the guy.”
“You were fine,” Leta agreed, a hiss of a breath.
“I was helpful even.”
“You told me to do it. So why are you pissed at me? I don’t get it. I did everything you asked and now you’re punishing me for it?”
“I’m not punishing you, I’m trying to be realistic. I’m with Liam, you have Quin, and all this time together on the station isn’t good for anyone.”
“Not good for anyone? Yeah, sure, people getting along and acting like normal people is terrible,” he groaned.