“Pardon, cap’n,” he chimed, seizing her arms before she could collide with him. “Where you off to in such a hurry?”
“Riley, I’m not going–I need to–” Corra began, her words coming out too quickly. She heaved a deep breath. It didn’t help. “Look, you’ll–will you–I’ve been thinking about what to do–I know you said–but maybe–I don’t know if–”
Finn squeezed her arms, cutting her off, and smiled. “Cap’n, you know. No matter what, I’ve got your back all the way through this.”
Corra felt a warm relief flood her chest and her face lit up. “Thank you. ‘Cause I think I might do something rash…”
Exhausted, Alyx slumped on the floor and did nothing but watch with widened eyes as Kalli danced around the room, nearly knocking sideways into furniture. The little girl had already torn excitedly through Alyx’s trunks, pulling out things she found interesting: books, shoes, knickknacks …
Now draped in layers of clothing around her neck (she insisted on wearing “scarves like A’iya Leta”), Kalli spun in circles, belting a song at the top of her lungs.
“Hey, lil tornado,” Alyx called, over the noise. “Mind keeping your voice to a dull roar? Some people like to nap on this ship.”
“I don’t,” Kalli cried happily. “I hate naps!”
“I’ve noticed,” Alyx snorted, watching as Kalli already abandoned her singing and went onto her next task, which was climbing up Alyx’s bed.
Behind her, the door slid open and Alyx looked up to find Daelen hanging on the frame and looking down at her in pity.
“You doing okay in here?” he asked, smiling at Alyx. Kalli jumped on the bed and yelled, “O’rian Daelen!”
“We’re surviving,” Alyx replied. She never thought she’d become a babysitter, but she had to admit she was growing a soft spot for Kalli’s spunk. Still. “I get that Cy and Addy need some time to patch things up, or whatever they’re doing–”
“I think you know what they’re doing,” Daelen chuckled, leaning against the wall and sliding down to a sit beside her.
“–And I’m happy to help them out, of course,” Alyx went on, but not before nudging Daelen with her elbow scoldingly. Across the room, Kalli reached the top of Alyx’s loft bed, stood up as tall as she could, wielded a hairbrush she’d stolen from the bathroom as a sword and shouted, “I am queen of all the land!”
Alyx could do nothing but sigh and drop her head onto her chest. “But at some point I’m gonna need a break.”
Daelen nodded along in agreement, his fingers gently tugging on his beard as he watched the little girl battle an unseen force threatening her rulership. “You know, I brought up the curiosity of two very reserved people such as Cyrus and Adrasteia producing such an energetic child to Admiral Soliveré.” Alyx lifted her head to see Daelen frown in thought. “He told me about a supposed ‘Soliveré Curse’ in which the first born child in all of their family’s history is always a little…odd, for lack of a better word. I’m not usually one to believe such ridiculous superstitions, but looking at him versus Cyrus and looking at little Kalli here–”
“I believe it,” Alyx said at once, the mere sight of Kalli now making her eyes feel tired and her temples ache. “I totally, hundred percent believe it.”
Suddenly, the door behind them slid open again and though Alyx hoped it would hold Kalli’s parents, here to take the little monster off her hands, she was just as relieved at the new arrival.
“Cai! You’re back!” she exclaimed, clambering to her feet. “Did it work? Did they let you in?”
He looked reluctant to admit it, but in the end he nodded. “Fine. Just this once. You were right, it worked. But this is the last time, I’m serious.”
“And it’s the last time I’ll ask, I promise.” Alyx clutched her hands in front of her anxiously. Corra had managed to send the Beacon messages insisting that she was fine, they need not worry, don’t bother with a rescue mission, she’s got this under control, but Alyx had remained unconvinced. She wanted visual proof and an actual plan of attack. “So. What’s going on?”
Cai shrugged and leaned against the doorway, his eyes lingering on Kalli’s one-woman show for a moment before answering, “Not much. They seem fine. The cult is weird, but they treat them well.”
Alyx waited for more but it didn’t come. “And?” Cai lifted his brows at her. “And what now? She can’t stay there forever right? Does she need us to come bust her out yet?”
“No no, she wants to stay and get more answers about the whole–” He waved his hand in the air vaguely. “–Transmitty thing. But there’s some ritual tonight–”
“Ritual?” Daelen asked, just as skeptical as Alyx herself felt.
“Basically they want her to fire the thing up, send the message to the Origin or whatever they’re doing,” Cai explained. He acted like the explanation would soothe their worries. It did the opposite.
“What happens when they do that?” Alyx demanded.
Horribly, Cai again shrugged. “That’s what Corra wants to find out.”
Daelen finally stood up now too. “So she’s going to do it?”
“There’s more reason than that, but yeah it sounded like she was considering it.” Cai looked between the two of them. “I’m guessing you two don’t agree…”
Daelen’s face had gone dark. “Messing with ancient technology haphazardly doesn’t seem safe for any reason. Especially if no one has any idea what will come out of it. They believe it contacts the Origin? That directly opposes one of the critical declarations of the Caelum Lex. The law was written that way for a reason, is breaking it something we really want to do?”
“It’s something the Gatekeepers want to do,” Cai argued. “They think it’ll save the Span. And imagine they’re right, imagine Corra, our Corra, is the prophesized savior of all of us. Think about how much good that could do.”
“Imagine they’re wrong, think about how much bad it could do,” Daelen replied. “She’s really considering this? After–well…” He shot a furtive glance at Alyx. She didn’t need him to say the word. She didn’t need to hear the name of her lost homeworld.
“It’s a risk, sure, but think about all that’s lead to this. Her stumbling across the Transmission, Cy and Addy stumbling across the Transmitter, this whole cult who’ve been waiting for her, her specifically, to show up and put all the pieces together? How could it not mean something?”
“It’s coincidence,” Daelen shot back, logical as ever. “And imposed patterns change nothing. It’s dangerous and the whims of some religious fanatics do not make me feel any better about what’s going to occur when she turns on some ancient machinery.”
“Probably nothing,” Alyx interjected, earning both of their stares. “Come on, let’s be realistic here. It’s ancient. It probably doesn’t do anything. It probably doesn’t even work.”
Cai nodded, as though the argument helped his case. “Where’s the harm in that then?”
Alyx rolled her eyes. “The harm in that is what happens when the crazies who’ve been keeping her captive, the crazies who very nearly killed two of our friends, realize she isn’t their holy prophet there to save them after all.” Both Cai and Daelen grew very quiet for a long moment. The only noise in the room was Kalli’s sound effects from the bed battle.
Until Cai asked, “Okay. So what do we do?”
“We get her and Finn out of there before the whole thing goes to hell,” Alyx answered without skipping a beat.
Alyx frowned and found herself looking around the room as she worked it out in her head. Her eyes rested on the little girl, wrapped in scarves and play acting a dramatic scene with all of her heart and energy poured into it. Alyx watched as she stabbed the air with the hairbrush, killing the monster she battled, and raising her hands to the sky for her beloved subjects to cheer for her victory.
Alyx started to smile. “I have an idea.”