“We’re gonna stick to the plan.”
Fiearius sounded more confident in the decision than he looked, seated on the massive chair with his head propped on his fist, frowning at the floor as if it had offended him.
Leta, from her own couch across the room, didn’t question him though. He’d been torn apart by uncertainty ever since Dez had departed the Beacon yesterday afternoon. If he’d finally committed to something, even something he wasn’t totally sure about, she wasn’t going to be the one to put more doubt in his mind.
He had Quin for that, apparently.
“And how we gonna do that?” she asked, standing behind him and absently massaging his shoulder with her fingers. The ship had arrived in Ellegy’s orbit with the other fleets last night so Leta was unsurprised to find Quin already present when she showed up at Fiearius’ temporary quarters this morning to discuss strategy for the upcoming meeting with Gates. By the looks of them when she’d knocked on the door, however, discussing wasn’t all they’d been doing.
Now, though, she was all business. “I ain’t sayin’ that killin’ that last Councillor o’ yours is a bad idea, but ain’t he still on Satieri? And you still got no idea where on Satieri? Even if we could get there, which we can’t. Sounds like the plan we’re stickin’ to is stalled.”
Fiearius glanced up at her and then groaned, putting his head in his hands.
“Think about it, darlin’, you do what that buddy of yours suggests, you got a whole extra fleet of your own, you can get to Satieri no problem, someone in that damn organization has to know where he is, you can finish the fucker off, good to go,” she pointed out. “And best of all, Carthis don’t ever get to touch that precious planet you like so much. I don’t see the downside to this.”
“The downside,” Fiearius growled, not removing his palms from covering his face, “is that betraying Carthis means extending this war even further, just now I’d be on the other side of it and killing everybody I’ve spent the last five years working with.”
Quin did not seem phased by this. “So?”
Fiearius dropped his hands and shook his head. “I’m not doing it. I’m not stabbing the backs of people who’ve helped me to join a bunch of people whose loyalty is clearly not that reliable.”
“Even if those people who have helped you are also busy tearing apart everything?”
Fiearius hesitated. “No. Because I’m going to stop them from doing that.” If he seemed unsure before, he seemed even more unsure now. “I just need to talk to Gates and explain that–”
Quin stopped massaging his shoulder and slapped it instead, turning away with disgust. “Dammit sweetheart, Gates can’t do shit. He’s just a puppet of their righteous ass of a president and let me tell you, I never met the woman personally, but if I ever do, I’ve got a few choice words for her soggy royal behind.”
Leta briefly considered interjecting that the Carthian president wasn’t royal at all since she was elected, but she decided to stay out of this for now. She’d already discussed the topic with Fiearius at length the day previous, a conversation that had resulted in neither of them having a distinct opinion whatsoever. They just kept going in circles. What Dez proposed, that Fiearius could usurp the absent Council’s power and reshape the Society sounded great, if idealistic, but the consequences were too high, the risks too great. It wasn’t even likely to work.
So she let Quin engage him in the endless repetitive dance as Leta took on an entirely different task.
It wasn’t the first time Leta had dug around in Fiearius’ Verdant database, but it was the first time her searches had lead her to this area of information. She had reached the record on Dorrion E’etan through the records of Fiearius (which she had quietly paused to look at, wondering how she’d never read them before. After skimming the first year of his employment as Internal Affairs Prime, however, she remembered why and moved on.). The man preceded him as Verdant and if the Ascendian Councillor was to believed, he was still alive. And, if Leta had to guess, serving as Satieran Councillor.
His story was eerily familiar. Young boy always getting into trouble, runs away from home, joins the Society, develops a knack for death. Serves in Internal Affairs for a time, promoted to Prime, promoted to Verdant, dies in the ‘24th Verdant Incident’ which was an article Leta regretted tapping her finger on as soon as she did it. Reading about Fiearius’ assasination jobs was hard enough, reading a cold and clinical description of the worst day of his life felt like a full-on invasion of privacy. She returned to E’etan’s service record.
As Quin and Fiearius continued to argue with one another across the room, Leta tuned them out. She felt herself on the verge of something, something that maybe, just maybe, would change the parameters of this discussion entirely. If she could figure out the location of the Councillor, they could develop a real plan for how to proceed. And with a real plan, they could present it to Gates in confidence. And if presented with a reasonable alternative, Gates would have to steer away from whatever rash plan Carthis themselves were considering.
Most of E’etan’s records were irrelevant. He was a true Verdant. He managed departments, fired people, hired people, ran large interdepartmental programs and spearheaded operations that were too sensitive or secret for others to handle. She scoured any of those she could, searching for something, anything, a clue. But there was nothing. Just day to day work.
Except for one.
It was called Project Firestorm. The name stood out to her almost instantly as well as the timing. It was the last project on E’etan’s record before he ‘died’ and fell out of existence. Leta felt her heart beating a little faster for reasons she couldn’t explain as she expanded the project on the tablet in her hand.
The description of it was brief and vague: interdepartmental initiative for the reinvigoration of Society delegation. Whatever that meant. Her eyes flew to the top of the screen where most projects she’d looked at listed the Council members that had approved it. The line was empty. No regions were listed.
True, Leta knew next to nothing about Verdant database protocol, but it struck her as odd. She read on. The article listed a series of dates paired with phases that began and then completed. The nature of these phases was a mystery. No extra descriptions were given. No explanations. Just April 1st 1857 – Phase 4 completed. Phase 5 begins.
Finally, at the bottom of the document was a section titled Participants. Under the header were two names. The first, E’etan himself. The second made Leta double take.
She stared at the screen, her mouth open and her brow creased in a frown. It was too weird of a coincidence to ignore. Something Fiearius had asked right after he’d returned from executing the Ascendian Councillor rose in her mind. ‘What had she not told him?’
“Fiear, what do you know about Project Firestorm?”
The question came out of her mouth in the middle of Fiearius and Quin’s argument, but both of them, mid-sentence, paused to give her their attention.
“What?” Fiearius managed after a moment of confusion.
“Project Firestorm,” Leta said again. “Do you know anything about it?”
Fiearius cast a brief glance at Quin and then leaned forward in his chair. “It’s that weird assignment the last Verdant was on before he died. There’s nothing on it, really, I’d guess it was just the codename for my promotion.”
Leta shook her head. She’d considered that too but, “That’s listed under a different project. Verdant Succession, it’s a separate assignment. This Firestorm thing is something else.”
Fiearius lifted his shoulder in a shrug. “Maybe. No clue what it is then. Anyway–” He turned back to Quin, apparently not finished with whatever point he’d been making to her.
Perhaps Leta shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable. No, truly, she shouldn’t have. But even so, when she interrupted him again, she felt a twist of anxiety wrapping around her. “Did you know Aela was involved in it?”
Once again, Fiearius froze in the middle of a word forming on his tongue, this time, more startled than the last. “Wait–what?”
“It’s right here, at the bottom,” Leta explained, keeping her eyes on where her finger pointed to the screen. “Participants. Dorrian E’etan. Aela Soliveré.” Fleetingly, she glanced up at him, unbearably still and silent, something unreadable behind his expression. Even Quin was regarding him with careful concern.
Leta suddenly felt an urge to fill the room with noise. “We don’t know what this Firestorm thing is, so I’m not sure what it means, but–”
“It means Aela was working with the Verdant,” Fiearius put in, his voice distant and cold as if he was speaking from very far away. “Before they both died.” Looking at him now, she could see the thought process racing through his mind. His eyes flashed confusion, then pain, then, horribly, anger. “Except one of them isn’t dead.”
In an instant, he was on his feet, ripping the tablet from Leta’s hand and scouring through the page. “I don’t understand, I’ve looked through these files, E’etan’s file, Aela’s file, a thousand times, how come I’ve never seen this?”
Leta shrugged and, very carefully, stood up beside him. “Fiear, Aela might have known something that can help us. Something about the Councillor, maybe an idea of where to look for him…”
When Fiearius spun towards Leta, the look he gave her made her want to step a few feet away from him. It was an expression of rage and sorrow all in one and his breath was short as he snapped, “How the hell would she have any idea where to find him? This was ten years ago, it’s worthless,” and threw the tablet onto the couch behind her. “She’s dead anyway.”
Leta involuntarily flinched, but didn’t give up. “Fiear, she was working on this with him for nearly a year before she– You were together then, weren’t you? You must have some idea of what it was.”
“I don’t,” was his immediate response and he must have realized how vicious it sounded because a moment later, he grit his teeth, ran his hand through his hair and spoke more calmly, “She didn’t talk much about her work, okay? I don’t know what she was doing…”
Leta wanted to keep pressing. Surely there was something, some seed of a memory that they could draw out more of this from. Something suspicious or strange or something he never even thought of as weird, but, with this new information, could hint at something bigger. Didn’t he understand? If they had an idea, something, anything, that could lead to locating the Councillor, they could delay Carthis’ attack plans. They could save countless people. If only he could just remember.
She wanted to keep pressing, but when she looked at Fiearius, already tired and stressed and sleepless and saw the utter turmoil going on behind his eyes, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Thankfully, he did it to himself. “But maybe…” he began, speaking slow and quiet, almost so quiet she didn’t hear him. “Maybe I could find out.”
Leta hid the leap in her heart. “How?”
He opened his mouth to reply then dragged his hand across his forehead. “There’s no way it would be in there, it’s a thread of nothing, it won’t lead anywhere,” he muttered, mostly to himself. There was a distinct note of panic streaking his voice. Unintentionally, Leta met Quin’s eyes across the room. The older woman was standing with her arms crossed, watching this whole scene as though it was only a mildly interesting film. When she noticed Leta, she raised her brows and nodded her head towards Fiearius.
Whether the gesture was a suggestion or permission, she wasn’t sure, but Leta knew she was right, regardless. She took a step closer towards the man and gently laid her hand on his arm. “Listen, Fiear.” She kept her voice soft. “Even if it’s just a thread, even if nothing comes of it, it’s worth pursuing. If we can eliminate the last Councillor, there’ll be no central person left to command the Society forces and as far as Carthis is concerned, they’ll win the war in the chaos. Even if we can’t find him, Carthis will go for it and right now? That’s what’s most important.” He finally met her gaze when she finished, “Best case scenario, we dismantle the Society leadership for good. Worst case? We delay Carthis’ plans and have a bit more time to figure out a better move.”
For what seemed like ages, Fiearius just stared at her, regulating his breathing and saying nothing. She saw his left arm twitch a little, still experiencing the aftershocks of his recent injuries. His bad eye looked right through her. Finally, he sighed.
“Aela kept documents. Records. Things that she shouldn’t have had copies of. The idea was that if we ever got off planet, she could use them as blackmail to keep us safe.” He rolled his eyes. “Could have come in handy. They’re probably still under the floor of our apartment where she left them. I don’t know what’s in there. I never looked. But–” He shrugged and trailed off.
“There might be something,” Leta agreed. “Maybe we can find out what Project Firestorm was. They’re on Satieri? We can work with Carthis to get there and find them.”
Fiearius nodded slowly, glancing off at the wall. “Only one problem. Not sure I want to know…”