Chapter 35: Reality Check

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Corra was so engrossed in reading that she didn’t even notice when she was no longer alone in the Beacon’s bridge. Even when Finn said a word of greeting and sat down in the seat beside her, she didn’t tear her eyes from the screen enough to pay attention. It was only when she felt a tap on her shoulder that she recognized his existence at all, primarily by jumping in her seat in surprise.

“Woah there, only me,” he insisted, holding up his hands in surrender as Corra scrambled to right herself in her chair. “Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on ya.”

“No, I’m sorry, I just–” She ran her hand through her hair and shook off the moment. Just aren’t used to having other people around again, she almost said. “Just didn’t hear you come in,” she said instead.

Finn tapped his ear knowingly. “‘Cause I’m real quiet-like, that’s why.” Corra lifted her brows at him in interest and realized, as his breath mingled in the air in front of her, why the statement seemed an odd one.

“You smell like liquor and tobacco.” When he just grinned in response, Corra laughed, “I take it the job went well?”

Finn and Alyx had been out running a quick trade gig most of the afternoon. It had been too long since they’d had paying work, Alyx had said, as she arranged the setup. And Finn, who had seemed a bit bored watching Cyrus and Addy run experiments on the Transmitter or watching Corra read every relevant ancient legend and anecdote and record she could find, had readily agreed.

Apparently the task had been fruitful.

“Oh, very,” Finn cooed. “Even walked away with a bit of a bonus for speedy delivery.” He delved his hand into his pocket and pulled out a stack of credits he rubbed between his thumb and forefinger. It was, however, a small stack of credits which must have put some confusion on Corra’s face because he immediately amended, “I mean, there was more than this…But Alyx and I thought we deserved a bit of celebration so…” His voice trailed off.

“No judgment here,” Corra assured him through a chuckle. “Have a good time?”

She saw his glazed eyes frown and then perk up to focus on her. “Oh, yeah! That girl can drink. And talk.” He nodded slowly, his eyes moving to his hands in his lap as he muttered, “We talked about a lot of things…” Corra couldn’t fathom what was going on in that tipsy mind of his, but when he finally flicked his gaze back up to her, he steeled his expression (as best as he could anyway) and changed the subject abruptly, “So what’s so interesting, huh?” He nodded towards her console.

Well that was strange. Briefly, she wondered what Finn and Alyx had talked about. Her, clearly, if his intoxicated body language was to be believed. But she pushed it from her mind for the moment and instead relayed her own news.

“Well. Addy and Cy did some tests, right?” she began. “And they were telling me that they don’t know how the Transmitter can really transmit anything. It doesn’t have enough power.”

“And it’s tiny,” Finn added, trying to be helpful.

“Exactly, it’s tiny!” Corra agreed. “Which leads them to believe that it’s not meant to function on its own. To transmit its message, it needs something else. So I stopped looking for mentions of the Transmitter and instead started searching for mentions of something that could boost message signals. Boost them far enough to send something to the Origin.”

Finn nodded, though he seemed to be straining to pay attention. “To the Origin, right,” he repeated in a mumble, but moments later, a mental light switch must have clicked on. “Wait, so that’s definitely what it does then? Send something to the Origin.”

Corra grimaced and lifted her shoulders in a half shrug. “Not definitely. But it’s where all the stories point. And Addy says the message itself is some sort of generic SOS. The Transmitter doesn’t have any way to program its destination so we’re thinking it’s set to go somewhere specific. Is that the Origin? Maybe. It’s a working theory. And I may have found something to support it.”

Finn’s brows lifted in interest and Corra went on. “I was reading all these documents from the first Division War.” Her fingers tapped the screen of the console. “And in them, there’s records of these ships being used to defend Archeti. Ships they were nervous about using because they were so important, but they were out of options so they had to be risked. Ships that were made from the Ark itself.” To Corra, this was fascinating. Pieces of their entire civilization’s creation actually accounted for and not dismantled and lost like the rest?

Finn, however, didn’t seem too impressed. He blinked back at her emptily.

She kept going anyway, turning back to her console and reading from the screen, “Listen to this. This is documentation of a conversation between two Archetian generals during the war. They’re losing badly and one of them says, here it is, ‘We should consider sending for help’.” She glanced at Finn, hoping to see him sharing in some of her excitement. He wasn’t.

Corra was not deterred. “‘It’s too soon,’ says the other general. And the first one goes ‘it could be too late’– blah blah, whatever, they argue for a bit, but here, this part. ‘Even if I agreed, how could we? All the ships capable of getting the message out are deployed.’ And the other one says, ‘dammit, I knew we shouldn’t have sent them in.’ And then they go on for a while longer, but this–” She pointed at the screen, bouncing a little in her chair. “Do you know what this means?”

Finn didn’t need to say no to tell her he didn’t. He said it anyway. “No?”

Rolling her eyes at the perfectly blank expression on his face, Corra jumped to her feet and started pacing the bridge. “It means, if I’m right, the Transmitter only works if connected to one of these ships, the ships made from the Ark and it probably does contact the Origin, because who else would Archeti call in the Division War? Everyone stood against them. And what else would require a special ship to send for help? And if the Transmitter can only work with one of those ships–” She stopped pacing and nodded firmly in her decision. “Just gotta find a ship.”

Behind her, Finn let out a long ‘hmm’ before finally asking, “And…where would you do that exactly?”

Corra’s excited grin faded a little. “Eh. Archeti would be my first guess, but…” That trail had run cold obviously. She spun back around to face him, unperturbed. “I don’t know yet. But it’s a start. And I’ll find one. I’ve got to.” She’d already gotten this far in chasing this thing’s source. She’d stolen it from a disgusting criminal, she’d traversed an ancient archive and she’d even lead a cult ritual in her honor. She sort of had to see it through at this point. And if she didn’t, the mystery would nag at her forever after.

But then Finn fixed her with a worrisome glance and asked, “Then what?”

Her determination faltered again. “Then–well. I guess I’ll have to figure out how it works.”

“Yeah, but then what?”

Corra eyed him curiously. “If you’re asking me whether or not I’m going to try calling the Origin, I don’t know if I really–”

“No, no, I don’t care about that,” Finn cut her off and though Corra felt a little affronted, she held her tongue as he got to his feet and took a few slow steps towards her. “I mean, what are you going to do after this is all finished? When you’ve figured it all out?”

After? Corra opened her mouth to respond and then promptly shut it again. She hadn’t considered yet what happened after. When all she managed was a, “Uh–” Finn jumped in, “I mean, you don’t have to figure it out right now. Alyx and I were just talkin’. ‘Bout you and the Beacon and all.”

So they had been discussing her. And given the state of things, she was fairly certain she knew why. “Look, Riley, if I’m overstaying my welcome,” she said hurriedly, “It’s okay, you can tell me. I’m incredibly grateful for the help you and the crew have given on this little pet project, but if you need to get back to the daily business, I completely understand. I have my own ship, I have other places to go, it’s fine, really. I won’t be offended.”

Now was Finn’s turn to look dumbfounded. “Offended? What?” Suddenly, he shook his head. “No, god, that’s not what we were saying at all.” Finn took another step towards her, this time looking like he was going to reach out and touch her, but his hand got halfway through the gap between them and then turned around to dig into his hair.

“What Alyx and I were saying was that–” He hesitated. “We were hoping you’d stick around. After–” He waved his hand in a circle at her console. “It’s just–well, y’know–Alyx thinks the ship would be better off if you’re captain again.” Which was not what Corra had expected. Her jaw slackened a little as she considered him and Finn, a little out of character for him, looked awkward.

“So, yeah,” he went on, perhaps just to fill the silence. “We were doing really well with you around and, y’know, you’re a good fit with the crew. Alyx, she missed you like hell. And–Cai! God, Corra, he was crushed when you left. Devastated. So for their sake, it’s really not right to just waltz back into their lives and walk right out again once you’re done with them.” He offered her what Corra would best describe as a shaky sideways smirk.

And still, he rambled on, “Not that I’m implying you’re using us or anything! We’re totally okay with this quest of yours. It’s more purposeful than any of the other shit jobs we work. And if you wanna go back to saving allies after all this is said and done? We’re totally okay with that too! Hell, Daelen would prefer it, he hates the criminal life.”

Corra didn’t quite know what to say so all she said was, “Riley–”

And apparently that was enough to break Finn from his spell of discomfort. “Okay cut the shit,” he said, presumably to himself as he clamped his eyes shut and stepped even closer to her so they were now just inches apart. “Truth is, those eight, nine months or whatever? Back then? When we both captained this ship? That was some of the best times of my life.”

He paused for a moment and then amended, “I mean it turned to shit at the end, but before that? You and me, runnin’ the Beacon, helpin’ the Conduit–And the last few weeks with you? The jobs we ran and just having you on the ship and the dinners and the breakfasts and even the weird bit with that cult. It’s been–Look, I know we’re not just gonna get the old times back. Too much has changed, everything’s different now, but recently, I’ve got to thinkin’ that–some of it maybe–we could?” He was looking down at her now with a sort of intensity that made Corra’s breath catch in her lungs. “If you stay?”

No. No no no, said the reasonable voice in Corra’s head as she met Finn’s gaze. You are not doing this. You were over this man. Completely totally over him and this stupid worthless crush that went nowhere. You swore you wouldn’t fall into this again. But as she looked up at him, so close she could feel the heat emanating off his skin, his jaw firm in expectation and a note of pleading in his eyes that made her heart clench, she knew that she was teetering very very close to the edge and one little push would send her tumbling.

She should just take her work and move elsewhere. Get back to the important things. Figuring out the Transmission. Helping her kin make it to the Conduit. Not getting distracted by boyishly handsome men and the utter temptation she felt to do exactly as he suggested and get back a particular part of those ‘old times’. But even as her mind scolded her for it, she found herself, very subtly, nodding.

Vaguely, she became aware of Finn’s hand coming to rest on her cheek and her eyes half-shut in anticipation, but the universe had other plans as just then, Cyrus came rushing into the bridge, out of breath and heaving.

At once, Corra stepped away, Finn’s hand dropped back to his side and both of them pretended nothing strange was happening. Not that Cyrus even seemed to notice. He was dazed, panicked and in a total state of disarray.

“What–” she began to ask, worry spreading through her, but he spoke over her.

“Something’s happened to Fiear,” he got out, barely. “He’s–dead, injured, I don’t know, he’s on Carthis. Something–I don’t know.”

Corra looked over at Finn, Finn looked over at Corra and then he nodded. “Let’s go.”

—————-

Leta flashed the light on his right eye and watched the pupil dilate. Then to the left again which stared back at her blankly, unmoving, its edges bloodshot and iris clouded. Back to the right which dilated on cue. And to the left. Nothing. No response. To the right, which this time squinted and then snapped shut as Fiearius growled in annoyance.

“Aren’t you done with that yet?” he snapped. “Doesn’t matter how many lights you shove in my eye, I still can’t see out of it.”

Leta shot him a glare as she gently placed the flashlight on the table beside the hospital bed. “Do you want my help or not?”

“Keep it up, you’re gonna blind the other one too.”

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