“The hell are they doing?”
Fiearius watched in horror as another blast from above crashed into the city and shook the ground beneath their feet. Another, a few more miles away, set off a plume of black smoke, marring the iconic view of his home city that he’d admired out of this very window for years.
“I don’t get it,” said Leta at his side, just as shocked as he felt. “They’re supposed to be distracting the air forces, not attacking. Why are they attacking?” She looked over at him with a hint of desperation in her eyes, as though he could fix this, he could stop it. She needed him to stop it.
Maybe he could? Fiearius lifted his hand to his COMM. “Come in, Gates, what the hell is going on up there?” He waited, but there was no response but the quiet hum of his COMM and the distant sound of screams and devastation as another Carthian shot plummeted into Satieran soil. “Gates? Do you read?” he tried again, but to no avail. He caught Leta’s eye and tried not to mirror the alarm he saw in it. “Anyone up there, this is Soliveré, someone fucking respond.”
“What did you really expect?”
It was the last voice and the last opinion he wanted to hear right now. As if Carthis making rash decisions about blowing up his planet wasn’t bad enough, he had to deal with Dez of all people? A familiar streak of heat ran from his chest in all directions outward and he spun around on the intruder and stalked forward with such ferocity that even Leta stumbled backwards out of his way.
“What the hell are you even doing here?”
Dez didn’t even flinch. “Hey, it used to be my apartment too.” He shrugged. “Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic.”
Fiearius grit his teeth into a snarl. “If you don’t–” he began, but he was quickly cut off.
“You know why I’m here,” Dez said seriously, pushing himself off the doorframe and stepping forward to meet his old partner in the middle of the room. “Making sure you don’t do something stupid.” He peered over Fiearius’ shoulder just as another of Carthis’ attacks hit land. “Too late for that though, it seems. Pray tell, Fiearius, what part of ‘bring Carthian warships to Satieri’ sounded like a good idea to you?”
Ten years ago, in this very apartment, Fiearius would have taken that as a challenge and launched himself at the piece of shit standing in front of him. He couldn’t count how many times the two of them ended up on the floor, pummeling one another until someone (usually Aela) dragged them apart. At this very spot, even, they had the fight that had ended them. The one no one had been there to hold back. The one that had left a mark so deep Fiearius now saw it every day when he looked at himself in the mirror. Maybe Dez really was feeling nostalgic.
But Fiearius liked to think he wasn’t the same person he had been a decade ago. He wasn’t the same fool who’d not even noticed his wife’s massive secrets that she held just out of his view and he wasn’t the same thug that would get into fights with his partner over a few taunting words. He had too much pride for that now.
So he held his chin high and ignored Dez entirely. “They’re only here to keep the attention off of us. Something must have happened up there, the conditions must have changed,” he told the room with as much conviction as he could manage, internally praying that he was right. Praying that the conditions had changed and these were not simply Carthis’ conditions all along.
“They’re waiting on us,” concluded Leta. “If we leave, they’ll leave with us. They’ll retreat, this’ll end.”
Of course, the plan was to retreat after Fiearius had eliminated the Satieran Councillor. But as of this moment, he still wasn’t entirely sure how to do that. Retreat now and Carthis would very quickly find that out. Find out he’d lied…
Still, another blast on the skyline made the decision for him. He could handle the political fallout far better than Paradiex could handle more of this onslaught.
“Right. Let’s go.” Fiearius spun back towards the door and Leta was already hurrying alongside him, but Dez planted his feet firmly and blocked the way.
“Let’s go?” he repeated incredulously. “That’s it? You come all the way home to listen to a voice recording and then just leave again? Are you kidding me?”
Fiearius was in no mood to argue with him, but the way he was standing, it was increasingly clear that he wasn’t leaving this room until he did. “Things have changed,” he said again, not even trying to mask the impatience in his voice. “I’d rather ‘just leave’ now and not see this city leveled if it’s all the same to you.”
“And that’s the only option you see? Running back to Carthis?” Dez snorted his indignance. “I know you’re blind now, but I didn’t think even you could be this short-sighted. With all that’s laid out in front of you, you still prefer playing Gates’ pawn.”
Fiearius could sense where this was going before it ever got there. His fingers were already on his temple, his mouth already forming the word, “Don’t–” when Dez said it.
“The dov’ha have bigger plans for you, can’t you see that? Everything has lead up to this point, they’ve laid the path down, all you have to do is take it, but you continue to resist.” Dez stepped forward, looking more passionate now than Fiearius had ever seen him. “How can you not realize yet that this is what you’re meant to do? Each step of the way that has lead you here, Rohlan kicking you out, my brother taking you in, Pieter Rowland, Aela, E’etan, it all lead to this. Don’t rejoin Carthis, fight Carthis, defend your planet, defend your people.”
There was nothing Fiearius wanted to hear less than this bullshit speech again. He’d still been hearing it in his head replayed again and again from the first time Dez had delivered it, haunting his conscience every moment of every day. But it was bullshit. Happenstance wasn’t purpose, life’s twists and turns weren’t a planned path. And he was about to tell this delusional nutcase as much when something else occurred to him.
“Wait a minute.” He wasn’t sure how he was certain, but somehow there was no doubt in his mind when he stated, “You knew about Aela’s recording.”
For just a moment, Dez was taken aback. But his confidence, although altered, returned quickly. “I did.”
Of course he did. “You listened to it.”
Dez’s jaw tightened. “I did.”
His eyes flicked away, but returned just as fast to fix onto Fiearius’. “When she recorded it.”
Fiearius felt his throat close and a pang of pain slammed his chest. “When she–” he stuttered, finding himself suddenly at a loss. ‘Last week’ was what he’d assumed the answer would be. Or even ‘a few years ago’. But–
“I overheard her when she was making it,” Dez clarified, still stoic and calm which, in Fiearius’ mind, reeling through his memory ten thousand miles a second, seemed impossible. “The day it all happened. She didn’t know I was listening. She left right after.”
“So–” He was trying to wrap his head around this and failing. There were too many questions, too many floodgates that had been opened. But out of all the noise, one thing came through. “You knew. You knew what was about to happen.”
Apologetic was rarely a word that described Dez. The fact that it could be applied now, even barely, was disconcerting. If Dez was sorry, Dez, of all people, it was something to be very very concerned about. “I did. But it was too late.” Finally, he broke eye contact, finding interest instead in the window over Fiearius’ shoulder. “It was already happening. She couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t stop it. You were already at that dock. Denarian was already — I had no way to warn you. It was already in motion.”
Fiearius felt like his legs might give out on him, but at the same time like he was a statue made of solid rock, unable to move at all let alone fall to his knees in defeat. He was vaguely aware of Leta standing beside him, her hand over her mouth and her breathing slow and forced. There was some part of him that wanted more than anything to just reach out and take that hand in his to make sure she was real, he was real and this wasn’t just some weird dream he couldn’t wake up from.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he had to know. “If not–” Back then. Back when Fiearius had returned here, covered in blood, shame and grief, begging for help. “Then later? Recently?” They’d spent the last 5 years working together. How many conversations had they had in which he could have, should have told him. And didn’t. He slowly felt himself change from stunned to angry. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you?” Dez met his stare again, his confidence returning. “Tell you that your wife was manipulating you? That she was working with the man who killed your son? That her actions lead to his death?” His fists balled at his sides. “How exactly was I supposed to tell you that she’d played you worse than anyone else and lost more for it? You wouldn’t have even believed me if I had.”
It was no excuse. “You could have tried,” Fiearius snapped, throwing his hand to his side as a substitute for not reaching out and hitting him.
“Yes, I could have tried and you’d have turned around and branded me an enemy,” Dez said sharply. “Again. So no, I didn’t tell you. What good would it have done? The woman was a liar that used you for her own motives from the day she wandered into your life.”
Fiearius scoffed. “What fucking motives? She lied but she was trying to help me.”
“Of course you believe the pretty little picture she painted.” He gestured towards the tablet on the floor. “You really believe that’s the whole story? Why did E’etan reach out to her to begin with? How did she find out what his plans were? Why was he so willing to tell her? If she wanted to save you so badly, why didn’t she just tell you the truth so you’d have left?” Dez took a few slow steps towards him, his brow lowered and eyes fixed on Fiearius. “Aela was a talented Information agent, Fiearius, but while she apparently was able to hide things right under your nose, I was paying attention. She wasn’t helping you.” He prodded him in the chest with his index finger, hard. “She was fucking you over on the way to the top.”
Fiearius didn’t look away from the man, as much as he may have wanted to. He didn’t plow his fist into his face either and he really wanted to do that. But somewhere in the depths of his brain, puzzle pieces were starting to click together. His lungs felt dry and heavy and he spoke slowly when he finally managed to get the words out.
“I’m going to ask you this just one more time. Once more and then never again. This time, I want the truth.” He stepped forward right into Dez’s finger, unflinching, so he was staring him down from a mere foot away. “How did she die?”
Dez returned his stare, but it was there. The flicker of panic. The moment of decision. And the answer, quiet and hesitant.
In an instant, Fiearius lost feeling to his hands, his feet, his head felt light and weak. He heard Leta gasp quietly behind him
He’d always sort of known, hadn’t he? Who that first gunshot belonged to. The one that startled E’etan and caused the domino effect that had lead to three bodies in a room with only two guns. The gunshot that killed Aela and effectively killed Denarian and may have well have killed Fiearius for that matter as it destroyed the very foundations of his life as he knew it. He’d always known, deep down. But hearing it didn’t provide any relief. Nor did the lie he’d wrapped it in. The gross fib that made Fiearius’ stomach twist.
“You don’t miss,” he whispered. “I’ve seen you shoot a gun out of someone’s hand a mile away. You don’t miss.”