“We’re not acting like normal people,” Leta growled. “We’re completely dysfunctional around one another.”
“Look, if your lil’ shark buddy’s jealous, just tell him not to be. There’s nothin’ here anymore.” He waved his hand between the two of them.
Leta growled under her breath, “Isn’t there?” with her face full of challenge, which rooted Fiearius in place.
“I heard the recording of your interview,” she went on fiercely.
Fiearius’ mouth fell open. At last, he grunted, “So this is about the interview.”
“You think you’re some kind of martyr, don’t you?” she snapped.
“Excuse me?” He grasped for words. “I’m not–I never said that I–gods, what the fuck? I’m not a martyr.”
“But you’re going to be,” she said in a sing-song voice, angrily mocking him. “Because it’s all you’ve got, remember? Everything leads to it.”
Fiearius could hardly even work up the stamina to respond to her. “I don’t think you understand,” he tried anyway. “I never meant it’s some work of destiny or whatever, but I’m doing what has to be done, regardless of–”
“If you’re planning to die in this war, I want no part of it.”
Fiearius was dumbstruck into silence. Just that morning, the two of them had been laughing about something Gates had said in the war council meeting over breakfast. Getting along great. Better than they ever had before, really. He’d been really starting to enjoy Leta’s friendship these days. And now all of a sudden, she wanted nothing to do with him?
“Alright,” he said, short and terse. “Whatever. You want space?” He did laugh this time, harsh and humorless, then threw his hands toward the door. “Take some space. Take all the space you need. I don’t care.”
“In fact, the further the better.”
Leta’s eyes narrowed on him, but she didn’t respond. She just sucked in a breath and began to push past him headed straight for the door, but she didn’t make it far. Suddenly, a massive boom echoed through the room and the entire ground beneath their feet shook so violently that Leta stumbled backwards, losing her footing and falling towards Fiearius who caught her in his arms.
For a long moment, she leaned back on him in silence as they both looked up at the ceiling, expecting a follow-up. When none came, Leta collected herself.
“Don’t touch me,” she said quietly, pushing out of his hands.
Fiearius rolled his eyes. “Oh, sorry. Next time I’ll just let you fall on your ass.”
No sooner had she righted herself, though, another boom sounded and the station shook again. This time, they were ready for it, though Leta still braced her hand on Fiearius’ arm. “Are we under attack?” she breathed quietly.
Another short succession of booms followed.
“Let’s go find out,” Fiearius muttered, already expecting the worst, as he led the two of them out into the hall.
The war room was crowded, soldiers and leaders all talking loudly at once, a sea of confusion. Though there had been no more thunderous trembles on the run over here, screens were still flashing and warning lights circling as Fiearius pressed into the room. He couldn’t make sense of what was happening, and when he glanced sideways at Leta, he could see in her face that she understood as well as he did.
They pressed through the crowd toward the center table, and just when Fiearius was about to yell to get some answers, Admiral Gates beat him to it.
“Quiet!” barked the older man at the head of the table. The room went suddenly, coldly silent. Gates’ paused, his jaw tightened, his face drawn in shadows. “The Society has located the CORS.”
A shocked gasp went around the room. Bursts of “What?!” and “How?!” could be heard briefly before focus returned to Gates. “We picked up their stealth scouts nearby. Our artillery core engaged. The shudders you felt were the scouts’ limited retaliation before they were neutralized.”
“So they’re gone? We’re safe?” Fiearius heard someone breathe beside him.
“Unfortunately, we have confirmed that they were able to broadcast our location to the Ellegian stronghold before we managed to eliminate them.”
Panic started to stir around them. The CORS had managed to stay hidden throughout the entire war, despite the Society’s efforts to find it. If they’d finally succeeded, if they’d managed?
This whole station was now looking straight in the eyes of its endgame.
“We should anticipate Ellegy launching an attack within hours,” Gates went on. “They will come swiftly and they will come hard. We need to be ready to defend the station with everything we’ve got. Recall every ship in range. Recall those outside range too. We’ll need all the firepower we can get.”
“How long do we have?” someone in the room shouted out.
“It’ll take them at least half a day to reach us,” Arsen answered, standing firm beside Gates.
“We should evacuate all non-combat, non-essential personnel,” Gates suggested.
“In as few ships as possible,” Arsen added. “We need to maintain a supply of lifeboats here in case things turn south.”
“All captains should return to their troops immediately and prepare them for battle. Everyone else, start the evacuation.” Fiearius felt Gates’ eyes upon him. “Admiral, you and I can discuss fleet formations.”
Fiearius heaved a deep breath and nodded, stepping forward as the crowd started to shift, but Leta’s voice stopped him. “Wait,” she said. He looked down to find her staring straight ahead, her eyes wide. “Wait,” she said again, louder this time. “Wait!”
The crowd stopped moving and all eyes turned towards her. Fiearius saw her swallow a lump in her throat before she sputtered out, “We should abandon the station.”
Predictably, it was Arsen who first spoke up. “What?!” He scoffed indignantly. “To your posts!”
But Leta wasn’t finished. “No, listen!” she snapped. “You’re certain they’ll attack from Ellegy? And soon?”
Gates was watching her curiously as Arsen, impatient as ever, growled, “Certain as we could be. They’ll know we detected their scouts. If they’re to have a chance, they have to mount a large attack quickly before we can recall the entire fleet and Ellegy’s the closest planet to do so from. Which is exactly why we don’t have time to waste.”
Fiearius cast the man a glare, unsurprised to find Gates was always eying him with distaste. Leta didn’t seem to mind either way. “We’ve been looking for a way into Ellegy for months. Years, even. But it’s too heavily defended. The Ellegian fleet never leaves port.”
Slowly, the realization of what she was getting at dawned on Fiearius. “Except for now,” he muttered.
She pointed at him and smiled. “Exactly. If they send the Ellegian fleet to destroy the CORS, it’ll leave Ellegy, for the first time, less defended. We’ve been waiting for this chance. We could launch our attack while they launch theirs. They’d never expect it.”
“Of course they wouldn’t,” Arsen spat. “Because leaving the CORS undefended is insane. This station is far too valuable to sacrifice.”
“More valuable than our only opportunity to assault the Society’s secondary holding?” Leta argued. She turned to the people around her. “I know, losing the CORS would be devastating, but even if we stayed, there’s a high chance we could lose it.”
“And if we attack Ellegy, we could lose both the CORS and our entire fleet,” was Arsen’s quick response.
Leta grit her teeth and Fiearius saw her fists clench at her side. “This could be our only shot at Ellegy. We’re ready. We’ve prepared for this. We just need to take it.”
Fiearius was still watching her in interest when Gates caught his eye, his brow raised in curiosity. It was a look Fiearius knew well. He shrugged in response. “It’s your station.”
Gates released a small puff of breath from his nose. At his side, Arsen was incredulous. “Sir, you can’t seriously be considering this.”
Fiearius could tell Leta was ready to launch into another stream of justifications any minute. She was, as always, willing to fight this to the death if need be. But she didn’t have to. Gates nodded just once.
“Captains, change of plans. Restock as much artillery as you can carry and prepare to depart the CORS immediately. We’re headed to Ellegy.”