“Doctor,” came Gates’ booming voice. “While we no doubt appreciate your expertise on Soliveré and his motivations, we cannot, at this point, do anything less than assume and prepare for the worst. You yourself indicated that Soliveré could theoretically take command of some portion of the Society’s forces using his Verdant access–”
“Yes, but he wouldn’t use them to attack you!” Leta ran her hand down her face. How could these people not understand this? “Fiearius only ever has one priority: to keep his people alive. You already blew up the most important ones. If he’s gone to Satieri and if he’s taken command of the Society fleet, he’s done so to stop you from blowing up the rest. That’s it. This is simple.”
Arsen’s eyes narrowed. “Your level of trust is surely admirable, Doctor, but it is not a level we all share.”
“Seriously?” Cyrus barked. “After everything he’s done for you? You’re just going to write him off that quickly.”
“Again, I ask why this man is even here–”
“For all you know, Fiear’s plan is to your benefit,” Leta argued. “Maybe what he’s doing is intended to help.”
“If he’s trying to help, then why wouldn’t he simply tell us the plan before betraying us?” Arsen snapped back.
Before Leta could even open her mouth to reply, Gates added, “Better yet, why wouldn’t he tell you?” and her protests instantly died on her tongue.
Of course, Leta knew how this looked. Fiearius had spent the night with her. He’d confessed his feelings for her. He’d laid in bed with her, tangled in her limbs for hours. And then he’d left. Leta would never think of herself as a spurned woman in any sense of the word, but by the way the Carthian officials had looked at her when she’d claimed innocence of his plans told her quite clearly that that was the exact description they’d assigned her. Even now, as Gates looked at her, she was sure he could see the hurt he expected to see in her expression reflected right back at him.
“If we are done with interruptions,” Gates went on, authority in every word, “I would like to resolve on a solid plan. We’ve wasted enough time already and while I understand that Admiral Soliveré’s motivations are as of yet unverified–” He shot a warning look at Leta. “–I feel we need to assume at the very least that our enemy now has unbridled access to the entirety of our operation’s intel. This leaves us incalculably vulnerable and we must act accordingly.”
Leta tried not to let the smugness in Arsen’s face bother her. “As I stated, before and certainly now, we do not have enough firepower to take on Satieri’s defenses in a head on battle. Our only course of action is a swift attack with everything we’ve got. Approach in full stealth, bombard the surface before they know we’re there. Plunge the ground into so much chaos, they won’t have a chance to meet us in the air.”
“Destroy everything?” Cyrus whispered in disbelief. “That’s your only course of action?”
If Arsen heard him, he didn’t act it. “Phase two, put troops on the ground at various points within the city. Systematically take control of each area, detaining any opposition met along the way. The Society will be too busy scrambling to regroup to put up much of a fight.”
“You’re kidding me.” Cyrus’ voice was louder this time, but still Arsen tuned him out.
“Phase three, storm the Society headquarters. Drop in tech teams to gain access into their main systems, force a surrender.” He almost seemed like he was finished, but then his voice dropped lower to add, “Also in phase three, we should locate and eliminate any remaining enemy leaders including the now identified Councillor E’etan an–” Arsen stopped abruptly. Too abruptly. And, if Leta had really seen what she thought she’d seen — Gates casting him a sharp look across the room — she knew what was supposed to come next.
So did Cyrus.
“And?” He stepped forward to the table, a certain rage in his stance and voice that instantly reminded Leta of his elder sibling. “And who? Who else are you planning on eliminating?”
Arsen gave Cyrus about a half second of attention before looking to Admiral Gates. “As chief strategist, I maintain that the presented proposal is the only course of action that will lead to our victory against the Society’s final stronghold.”
“The only way you can win is to kill my brother and everyone else on that planet.” Cyrus was done making snarky comments in the background. His voice rang loud over the room now. “How exactly is that a victory?!”
“Give the word and we can begin preparations–”
“ — You can ignore me all you want, but–”
“I recommend a comprehensive launch–”
“I’m not just gonna stand here and let you murder my brother!”
Finally, Arsen snapped. “Your brother is a traitor and he will be dealt with appropriately!” Before Cyrus could get another word in, Arsen had turned to Gates and again demanded, “Can we please all agree that Mr. Soliveré has no business being in this council–”
“Mister?!” Cyrus repeated incredulously. “Fuck you, I have a doctorate!”
“Fine, Dr. Soliveré, please leave before we are forced to expel you by force.”
“Is that a threat?”
Leta watched the two men, poised like lions ready to pounce on either side of the table, shouting in each other’s faces. She watched the rest of the congregation, looking either nervous or irritated or a mixture of both. She watched Gates as his patience slowly started to wear down inch by inch. Her own patience was starting to grow thin. Her fingers absently massaged circles into her temple. This was wasting time. Time Fiearius didn’t have.
Cyrus and Arsen were shouting now, their voices a cacophony of barely intelligible words. A symphony of their nerves and stress and lack of sleep. And finally Gates spoke up.
“Gentlemen.” He didn’t yell it, but somehow the word boomed above theirs, slicing through the noise and cutting it down the middle. Every pair of eyes in the room shot towards him. “That’s quite enough I think.” No one argued. “Strategist Arsen, I am in full support of your plan. I would like to set it into motion right away.”
“What?!” Cyrus gaped. “You can’t–”
“I understand,” Gates cut him off, shooting him a glare so stern that even Cyrus clamped his mouth shut. “I understand that this plan is upsetting to you. I understand why. But I’m going to ask you this once and you’re going to give me a clear yes or no. Do you have a better option?”
Cyrus stared back at him, but he was silent. No, he didn’t have an option. He didn’t know what to do, just not this. That was the only thing that seemed obvious to him. But in the void of Cyrus’ answer, Leta saw her chance.
“Let me talk to him.”
At once, the attention of the council swung to her, but it was only Gates’ stare she met. He raised his brows at her curiously.
“I know it looks bad, it seems bad,” Leta began, “what Fiearius did, I know. But–you have to understand, that’s just who he is. You back him into a corner, he makes reckless, desperate choices. He always has. I’m not saying what he did was right, though I do think maybe you could have seen this coming. Regardless, yes, he’s incredibly reckless, but he’s not unreasonable. I can talk to him.”
Infuriatingly, Arsen snorted his disbelief. “If he wanted to talk to you, wouldn’t he have returned one of your messages?”
So Carthis had been intercepting the Beacon’s COMM transmissions. Leta made a mental note and then pushed it aside. “Messages are easy to ignore. I need to talk to him face to face.”
“And what exactly do you hope to accomplish?” was Gates’ concern.
“If he’s done what I think and just run off to teach you a lesson, I can get him to come back. If he’s done what you think and switched sides in the war, I can change his mind.” Leta was certain her voice was starting to sound more and more pleading the longer she spoke. “I can reason with him. He’ll listen to me. Just let me talk to him.”
Admiral Gates nodded slowly, crossed his arms over his chest and stared solemnly at the table. Please say yes, Leta begged internally. You need to say yes. Say yes.