Fiearius’ arms dropped back down to his sides as he stared at him in disbelief, “You did what?” Shocked, he spun to Leta. “But–you had the CID when–”
“He had it for a while,” Leta admitted, not quite meeting his eyes. “You were dying, I had to focus on that, not–”
“So you let him borrow it?!”
Now, she did meet his stare, angry and defiant. “I didn’t have a choice, Fiearius, he didn’t give me a choice.”
“And even if I had, you made the right one,” Dez put in, pulling attention back his way. “Without my intervention — well, your intervention — the battle would have turned very quickly away from any side we favored. It would have turned into a slaughter. As it stands, Ellegy is liberated from outside clutches both Society and Carthian. The Rogue Verdant finally stepped up to his role and commanded the Society forces that have long looked to him for guidance, leading to the betterment of an entire planet.”
“You commanded the Society forces to join with the rebellion?” came Addy’s quiet demand. “You?”
“Technically he did.” Dez pointed to Fiearius.
“And they just….listened?” Corra asked, skepticism dripping from every word.
“Many of them, yes.”
“Why?” asked Finn. “Why suddenly switch sides just because you–Fiear told them to?”
“Because I gave them compelling reasons.”
Finally, Fiearius, who had been massaging the part of his temple that began hurting as soon as Dez started talking, snapped his eyes open. “What did you tell them?” There was an unfortunate note of panic in his voice.
Dez regarded him with what he could only assume was pride. “That the Council was decimated, that Carthis is closing in on their empirical endgame and that if they followed me–you–we could stand up and bring in a new age of the Society.” He shrugged. “Pretty straightforward.”
Fiearius, for quite some time, could do nothing but stare at the man standing before him. This fucker, who he’d known since the days of playgrounds and scraped knees, now trying to, once again, manipulate the course of his life to fit into his agenda. New age of the Society? Straightforward? The longer he stood there, stunned into silence, the more the anger boiled within him until at last, it exploded.
“Are you fucking crazy?!” He felt Cyrus jump away from him in surprise. “What the hell, Dez?!” He felt like hitting him. Hard. Very very hard. “Of all the fucked up things you’ve done–” He raised his fist and was about to give into his rage and lunge towards him, but a hand caught his arm and held it back.
It was Leta. She was staring up at him, her eyes ablaze and it gave him a moment’s pause. Only a moment’s. “Let go.”
“Hear him out,” she countered at once, and for a second he knew he must have heard her incorrectly.
“Hear him out?” he repeated incredulously. “Hear him out. You. Are telling me to hear him—HIM–out? You?”
“Fiear, have you looked around lately? We’re in an impossible situation here. With everything that’s happening on every planet we’ve touched, things are not good and our outlook is even worse.” She swallowed hard and he got the feeling she was swallowing her pride too to even say this. “So you need to hear him out. Because we need to know every option we have.”
Stunned as he was, Fiearius stared back at her. Then he looked around. Corra was thoughtful, Cyrus looked nervous, Addy, worried. Finn gave him a helpless shrug. And Fiearius let out a sigh.
“Fine.” He turned back to Dez, his eyes narrowed into slits. “What’s your plan here? Make your point and make it quick.”
Dez, who did not seem even the slightest bit concerned at any of these proceedings, did just as he was told. “You take your place as Verdant and command the Society forces that will listen to overthrow Carthis in the regions they’ve invaded and free Satieri from Council rule.”
It sounded so simple like that. So easy. So, as he said, straightforward, that Fiearius was laughing quietly when he said, “You want me to betray Carthis.”
“I want you to not betray the Society,” Dez corrected and Fiearius frowned at him.
“Little late for that.”
“It’s not. You’ve betrayed the Council. You’ve betrayed the system. Perhaps you’ve betrayed your planet, but you’ve not betrayed the Society because that’s not what the Society is.”
“Sure, it’s really just a bunch of sunshine and rainbows, not like they kill innocent people or use drugs to indoctrinate populations or destroy planets or anything,” Cyrus mumbled.
“Under order of the Council, yes. In the current system, absolutely. But the Society isn’t those things, the Society is a network of citizens. Ordinary people. People like us.” He gestured to himself and Fiearius. “People like you.” He waved towards Leta. “It’s a body of people doing what they think is right or people doing what they think they have to in order to survive. They don’t need to be invaded and killed, they don’t even need to be liberated. They just need new leadership.”
It was a fancy speech, perhaps the fanciest he’d ever heard Dez give. So much so that he wondered if someone had coached him in it. Varisian maybe? Or one of his other followers? But fancy as it was, it didn’t put him at ease.
“And you think I should be that new leadership?”
“Absolutely. You’re the Verdant.”
“Not anymore I’m not,” he argued.
“Doesn’t matter. The people know you as their Verdant. You’re the most qualified. You’ve successfully commanded a fleet for half a decade. You know the intricacies of this conflict probably better than anyone. And they look to you already. Carthis made sure of that.”
Fiearius snorted in disbelief. “If you’re trying to sell me as the new leader of a free Society, I’m pretty sure joining up with Carthis and killing them all did the opposite.”
But Dez was shaking his head. “Carthis recruited you precisely because you’re sympathetic to the Society. They’ve used your image to prove that they’re not the merciless conquerors they are. Why would the Verdant, a man who understood what it was like on the inside of the Society, how hard it is to get out, team up with a government that didn’t have their best interests at heart? Then they put you in situations to prove that. How many times did you show mercy to agents who stood against you? How many did you save despite being on opposing sides? Whether they know it or not, they built your reputation for you.”
There was a part of Fiearius that thought maybe he was right about all this. Maybe this really was an option available to him, that he could control the good parts of the Society, the parts that weren’t brainwashed into servitude, and fix everything he’d done. Everything that Carthis had done.
And then there was the logical part.
“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Dez rolled his eyes. “Fiearius, what happened when Society defectors on Vescent surrendered to Carthis after the battle?”
Leta was the one who answered. “They were captured and imprisoned. Offered forgiveness and then locked away to be forgotten.”
“And how much of Vescent was part of the Society? Maybe eight percent? Ten max? They were still new there, still growing.” Dez fixed his stare on Fiearius and for the first time since he’d known him, he actually looked like he believed in something when he said, “What’s going to happen when Carthis takes over Ellegy? Or Satieri? Where that number is closer to sixty percent. What happens to a planet after sixty percent of its population is deemed criminal and disappears?”
Silence fell over the room and every pair of eyes was on Dez, but his stare was locked onto Fiearius, his jaw clenched and his fists balled at his side. “Things are coming to a head now in this war, we all know that,” he went on, his tone low and quiet. “There’s not much time left. You need to consider who you are and what you stand for. And if I can’t convince you, so be it. But you said it yourself. Under slightly different circumstances, you and I could still be back there on Satieri, getting assassination orders every afternoon and being home in time for dinner.” He lifted his hands helplessly. “Take the time you need. But there’s a flock of our kin and a fleet of ships awaiting your orders.”
Dez raised his hand to his forehead in a half-hearted salute before taking a few steps backwards and then turning back towards his ship, leaving the group in a hushed, hurried discussion of what he’d said. All except Fiearius, who could do little more than stare at the black ship as it rose off the hangar floor and sailed out into space.
He couldn’t hear what those around him were saying, whether they agreed, whether they thought the whole thing was crazy. He didn’t really want to. He only remembered they were still there when he felt a hand brush against his softly, a fleeting touch of warmth.
Leta was watching him, intense and serious. She asked the question he didn’t want to hear. The question he had no idea how to answer. “What are you going to do?”