He swung back towards her. “Why?”
“Yeah, why? Why do you need to do this alone? Why do you need to put yourself in unnecessary danger?”
“Leta,” Fiearius groaned again.
“Fiearius,” she growled right back. “Tell me why. Give me one good reason and I’ll consider backing off. My name doesn’t count as an argument.”
“Because it’s personal, okay?”
“Wha–No! This mission is personal!” he snapped, stepping back towards her in a burst of anger. “Digging through my dead wife’s stuff is personal. Looking for evidence of her involvement with the man who killed our son is personal. It’s personal and I need to do it alone.”
The rare moment of perfect clarity stunned Leta to silence, even though she’d been expecting it. Even though she’d pushed him to it. But as stunned as she was, it was the rest of the crew, still hovering around the bay, looking very much out of place, that had the biggest shock. Richelle’s eyes were wide, Maya’s mouth had dropped open, even Eve looked confused and it only took Fiearius a few moments of hard breathing to realize they were still there.
He grit his teeth. “Did I not fuckin’ give you orders?” His tone was low and voice barely audible, but the rage in it was enough to send the crew scattering. In instants, Fiearius and Leta were alone in the cargo bay.
She spoke gently. “You know what I’m going to say.”
Fiearius, who had been content to try and stare her down, flicked his eyes finally to the floor in what could only be defeat. “That it being personal is even more reason to have someone else there.”
Leta nodded. “I respect your privacy, Fiear, and I get the sensitivity of this. But I want you to come out of it alive. I don’t have to look through Aela’s stuff with you. You don’t have to tell me anything you find there. But I’m going with you. Just in case…you need me to be there.”
His stance, at last, loosened. His tense muscles relaxed. He put his hand on his forehead. “Fine. Fine, you can come.”
“Good.” Leta stepped forward and looped her arm through his, turning him around and leading him through the cargo bay up towards the bridge. “Not that I would have taken no for an answer.”
At her side, Fiearius snorted a laugh. “I know. You really do belong on this fucking ship, don’t you?”
The blast barely missed them, but it still made the Dionysian shudder violently. Leta gripped the edge of her seat in the crowded bridge, her knuckles turning white as she watched the planet out of the viewport spin and sway in and out of view. She’d been on enough ships now and particularly this one enough to not flat out vomit at the sight of it anymore, but she wasn’t totally immune. Her stomach groaned its nausea.
“That was a close one. Runaway, I need more power to my starboard thrusters,” Fiearius shouted into the COMM over the noise of the Dionysian and the Society ships swarming the atmosphere around them.
The descent to Satieri was about what Leta would have expected: terrifying and totally outnumbered. From the moment the Dionysian arrived in Exymerian space, they were under attack. Carthian warships and select dreadnoughts from Fiearius’ own fleet followed after them, drawing in much of the heavy fire from the planet’s defenses, but even so, the barrage was overwhelming. It was as if the entire Society was here trying to shoot them down and it was only Fiearius’ reckless piloting that was keeping them afloat as they plowed forward towards the planet.
“On it, capitaine! More power to starboard!” Richelle called back from the engine room.
“We’ve got a stealth coming up at our five,” Javier from the co-pilot’s chair announced, clutching onto the console, his eyes locked on the navigations radar.
“Harper, you got ‘em?”
“Positive, cap’n.” The ship jolted suddenly, indication that Eve had fired off the Dionysian’s retro-fitted turret. It was followed by a symphony of clanging as pieces of the felled ship met the Dionysian’s body.
Before Fiearius could even ask, Maya, crammed into the seat beside Leta with a monitoring device hooked up to the dashboard, shouted, “Hull’s holding strong, shields at 40%.”
“That could be better,” Fiearius mumbled as he yanked on the controls and the ship barrel-rolled out of the path of a sleek black fighter headed straight at them.
But from where Leta sat, she didn’t exactly see how that was true. Sure, things could always be better, shields could be at 100, they could not be narrowly avoiding an all-out assault, Satieri could be Society-free and full of puppies, but by Dionysian standards, how they were faring was remarkable in and of itself. In the old days when Leta had lived aboard the ship fulltime, there was a constant sense of panic. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and the crew was eternally engaged in yelling matches with one another.
The Dionysian today was practically unrecognizable. They were still barreling towards danger, Fiearius was still barking out orders, but the ship and her crew was adapting to every step like a well-oiled machine.
“Starboard power compensated, capitaine!” came Richelle’s voice over the COMM.
Fiearius hit a switch and the ship gracefully zoomed to the left just as another blast flew past them. “Beautiful. Let’s–”
“Work on shield regeneration next, already on it.” The COMM went dead as Richelle got back to work.
Leta had once teased Fiearius that his new crew were all young and inexperienced in running a ship, but watching them now, she regretted it. Perhaps it was a testament to their captain’s improvement in leadership abilities. Or perhaps being on a boat in the midst of a war just required them to step up their game and learn to function. Whatever the reason, Leta was impressed and she had more faith than ever that the Dionysian would make it to ground.
Unfortunately, the crew’s skills weren’t the only factor and though Fiearius continued to fly them further and further through the atmosphere and the city of Paradiex grew closer and closer, there were still countless fighters they had to avoid and even more countless blasts flying at them from all directions.
One of them hit.
The Dionysian shook violently and her alarm started to blare overhead. “Shit,” Fiearius growled as Maya started to rattle off a damage report.
“Shields down to 10%, no systems affected, minor hull breach in the cargo bay–”
“Decompressing and sealing bay, routing additional life support power to engine room,” said Javier, tapping furiously on the keyboard.
“And rerouting to shields,” called Richelle.
“Shields back to 40.” The alarms switched off.
Leta was glad that she took a moment to look at Fiearius just then and catch the utterly proud smirk on his face. If he hadn’t been in the middle of maneuvering his beast of a boat out of the way of three separate attacks, he probably would have turned to her, gestured to his crew and snapped, “See?”
Good thing he didn’t though, because in the next moment, their triumph was quickly overshadowed by a new squad of fighter ships suddenly drifting into the viewport, these ones even more numerous than the last.
Leta saw Fiearius grit his teeth and clutch the controls tighter. “Stay on ‘em, Harper, I’ll avoid what I can, but–”
“I’ll take ‘em down, cap’n,” Eve promised from the upper artillery, staying true to her word and firing off a round that shattered one of the ships like glass. But just one. The rest, on cue, fired their weapons and all at once, some twenty bursts of light were speeding straight towards them.
“Oh shit,” Fiearius whispered as he yanked the ship controls back even harder than before and the Dionysian spun upwards, the planet and the ships swinging out of view. “Shoot them faster, Harper!”
“Captain, they’re scattering our sensors,” Javier shouted out from next to him as Fiearius swung the Dionysian back around, making a quick sprint towards the planet and narrowly avoiding the much faster, more maneuverable ships.
“What?! How is that even–”
“We got another problem, cap’n!” came Eve’s voice. “Turret’s jammed again, I can’t shoot!”
Javier was still gripping the navigations console and searching over the screen desperately. “I can’t see them!”
Just then, as the Dionysian attempted to power forward, six of those fighter ships Javier couldn’t see zoomed into the viewport again.
“Well I can!” Fiearius shoved the controls forward and the ships swooped downwards, underneath the enemy blasts and zooming straight below them right as two of them inexplicably exploded. The debris rained down on the Dionysian’s hull as they passed beneath, sounding like a storm overhead.
The Dionysian’s weapons were jammed, thought Leta. And even if they weren’t, Eve wasn’t that good of a shot, so how–
“Why am I always havin’ to save your ass, darlin’?” came Quin’s voice over the COMM and Fiearius’ face lit up with a smile.
“‘Cause you love me,” he chimed back cheerfully, swerving around another ship that promptly blew up.
“I was thinkin’ more ‘cause you still insist on drivin’ that piece o’ junk around.”
He shrugged in admission. “That too.”