Cyrus didn’t need to be told twice. He sighed again, his contentedness meter filling back up, and turned around to get back to work. But instead, he turned around to find Kalli standing at his feet, looking up at Addy’s screen.
“Freeship!” the girl exclaimed, pointing at it.
“What?” He glanced at Addy who shrugged and reminded, “Did you finish picking up your toys?”
Kalli ignored her and said again, “Freeship, freeship!”
“Both of you and your lack of sentences,” Addy muttered.
“What’s ‘freeship’?” Cyrus asked her and Kalli rolled her eyes and groaned.
“Freeship! With the trees that hang from the sky,” she explained in entirely uncertain terms. “The trees and the sharp bits I can’t touch.”
Cyrus stared down at his daughter, completely at a loss. When she’d been too little to talk, he’d wished she could master words to tell them what she wanted or needed. He’d been foolish to hope that would help…
Addy looked just as lost as he did, but just as he was about to give up and assume Kalli was just playing one of her games again, a spark of memory. A memory of hanging gardens that Kalli had been fascinated by and a lot of debris that Cyrus had warned her to steer clear of. He swung his attention to the console in alarm. It couldn’t be. How the hell would she even recognize it anyway? They’d visited once many months ago.
But as he looked at the screen and tilted his head, he too recognized the shape of the ship Addy was researching. “Holy shit…”
“Cyrus!” Addy scolded at once as Kalli laughed and muttered, “P’ahti said a dirty word.”
“S-sorry,” Cyrus apologized quickly, but waved off his girlfriend’s anger. “But look at this. Adds, we know where this ship is.” She frowned at him, but he was on the verge of laughing. “It’s the Conduit.”
Fiearius was running over what he was going to say all the way through the Beacon’s airlock, down the halls of the Carthian warship and right up to the door of Gates’ office. The plan was still shaping and morphing in his head, but presumably by the time he spit it out, it would make sense.
“Admiral.” The door slid open, catching Fiearius off-guard as he was halfway through the speech in his head again.
He looked over at Gates’ tired eyes and felt a touch of pity for the man. Or perhaps just solidarity. He’d come here preparing for a fight, but now that he saw his counterpart, just as exhausted and run down as Fiearius felt (though perhaps a little less bruised and beaten physically), he didn’t feel quite so combative.
That is, until Gates said, “Late as always, I see.”
Fiearius’ brows snapped together into a frown as he pushed past the man into the room. Of Gates’ offices, it was the smallest he’d seen yet with a desk barely crammed into the tiny space and only a few boxes of personal items still unpacked.
“Bet you’re missing the CORS right about now,” Fiearius muttered as he looked around for a chair. There was only one, a rickety-looking metal thing with one of those boxes on it. He’d stay standing instead.
“It was an unfortunate loss for the greater good,” Gates admitted which was verbatim the Carthian press release about it. Closing the door, he shuffled past Fiearius and leaned his palms on the desk. “How are your injuries?”
Fiearius glanced down at the bruised scar that was forming from where he’d been shot, a nasty looking thing. “I’ve had worse,” he lied.
“And what about –” He gestured vaguely towards Fiearius’ face. The eye, of course, which people couldn’t stop commenting on.
“Doctor said the nerve got fucked up from the electrical shock that brought me back. There’s some surgery they could try, but it’s basically gone.” Fiearius shrugged. Of all the things he could have lost over his lifetime, an eye hardly seemed the worst of it. “Doesn’t bug me much.”
“Does it affect your performance though?”
The question gave Fiearius pause and he couldn’t stop himself from shooting a glare at the older man who probably hadn’t fired a gun or raided a base or headed an operation of his own in over a decade.
Thankfully, Gates didn’t argue. “Good, because we’re definitely going to need you for the next phase.”
“Right, I heard you lot were holding meetings behind my back,” Fiearius grumbled good-naturedly, though Gates may have thought he was serious considering his response.
“With the aftermath of Ellegy, we couldn’t wait for your recovery to convene the council. We needed action and we did extend an invitation to Ms. Utada in your absence, but she did not attend any of the meetings.”
Fiearius snorted a laugh. “Yeah she hates you.” Gates provided him a glare that read ‘the feeling’s mutual,’ but he kept the thought to himself.
“Regardless, we’ve decided to move forward with an action I hope you and your fleet will get on board with,” Gates went on, sitting down now and tapping the screen of his console to power it on. “We’ve tracked the Ellegian fleet that took down the CORS. About half of it reported back to Satieri, the last remaining Society stronghold, but another half seems to be holding point in the wreckage for reasons we can’t determine.” Fiearius was busy thumbing through a stack of papers, but he flicked his eyes towards the admiral briefly and held his tongue. Carthis didn’t need to know that the reason was Dez. At least not yet.
“We have reason to believe both the Ellegian fleet and the Satieran fleet are regrouping as we speak to launch an attack on our occupation of Ellegy. With the Society and now the rebellion joined forces on the ground, an air assault would end us entirely. With nowhere close by to retreat to anymore, we need to launch an offensive and quickly. We’ve got enough bombers to–”
“Alright,” Fiearius cut him off suddenly, dropping the papers back in the box and turning to face the desk. “Let me just stop you right there. We’re not bombing anything.”
Gates had paused with his mouth open and his hand in the air. He watched Fiearius, neither surprised nor irritated by the interruption, but curious. He lowered his hand. “I assumed you might say as much. We’ve weighed our options, admiral. Sacrificing the safety of the civilians of Ellegy or Satieri is hardly ideal, but with no other course of action, we must–”
“No,” Fiearius interrupted again and this time Gates laced his hands together in front of him and waited patiently. “We’re not sacrificing anybody. We don’t need to.” He took a deep breath and stepped towards him. “I found the final Councillor.”
Gates’ brows lifted in interest. “Oh?”
Fiearius considered amending the statement. Well, not exactly found. More like figured out something that may help to find him. A possible clue. But that was hardly very convincing, was it? So instead, he nodded.
“And where is he?”
Gates stared at him for a moment and then looked down at his console and shook his head. “We can’t breach Satieri’s defenses. We’ll have to move forward with our plan and you can deal with the Councillor afterwards–”
“No.” Fiearius stepped forward again and put his fist down on Gates’ desk. “We don’t have to breach it. Not entirely. I just need to get the Dionysian on the ground.”
“Which would require the rest of the fleet to clear out a path in the air defense. Which we can’t do. We don’t have enough firepower to battle the Satieran barricade head-on, we–”
“I’m not asking you to battle them.” Gates flicked his eyes back towards him and Fiearius could see just the hint of interest behind the mask of skepticism. “I just need you to cover me. Distract them, don’t engage, just enough for me to slip through. When I’m done, you warp out of there to safety. You don’t have to win, you just have to survive.”
That hint of interest, Fiearius could tell, was starting to inch towards belief. But then he asked, “How long do you need?”
Fiearius grimaced. “A few hours.”
Gates dropped his head and stood up, leaning on the desk again. “That’s a long time to survive a superior fleet barraging us.”
“I know, you’re just gonna have to get creative,” Fiearius countered. “But you can do it. We can do this. I can do this. And once it’s done?” He lifted his hands in a shrug. “The Society can’t function as a unit without a commander. That superior fleet?” He dropped his hands again dramatically. “It’s gonna fall apart. I didn’t just start out on this stupid mission for my health, Kaiser. Dismantle the Council, dismantle the Society, dismantle the war. It’s still the best plan and you know it. We can make it work.”
Gates stared at him, his jawline tight and his fists clenched against the wooden desk. Finally, he sighed and growled, “Fine. I guess you haven’t let us down this far.” Fiearius opened his mouth to express his gratitude, but Gates spoke over him. “But! You’re gonna have to convince the war council yourself.”
A smirk danced across Fiearius’ face. “My pleasure.”