Leta grit her teeth and steadied her hand as she pushed the needle through the flesh and expertly tied it off. “There you go, all done,” she told the little girl who opened one tear-filled eye to peer down at the stitches in her arm. “You were very brave.”
The child sucked in a breath, her father provided Leta a word of thanks and the two of them headed out of the shelter into the camp just as Daelen, carrying a huge box of supplies that covered his face, walked in.
“You should be resting,” he told her, not for the first time, as he slid the boxes on top of the spent ones.
“I’ve rested enough,” Leta shot back without hesitation, already hovering over the crates before he even opened them. “Did you bring me more gauze? I’m running low.”
“I brought whatever they could spare, which wasn’t much,” Daelen replied, nudging her away as he tried to organize. “I’ll check some of the other locations later. There’s bound to be a surplus floating around somewhere.” Standing up and stepping back, he put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “You’d think there would be a more central system by now. It’s been over a week, someone must be looking to organize.”
Leta snorted her disbelief. Satieri was in such disarray, she hardly thought organizing medical supplies was on anybody’s short list. Of course, there were plenty of wounds to treat and plenty of injuries that needed attending, but the pop-up ‘clinics’ (if they could even be called that) dotting the many refugee camps spanning the city were substantial enough for now. People went to whichever doctor was closest to where they were. And where they were was wherever they landed.
Shuffling past Daelen, Leta peeked out into the daylight. For her part, she’d somehow ended up in the camp at city center. It was no doubt the largest of those she’d visited so far, although she’d heard rumors about one at the edge of the packing district that spanned for miles upon miles.
Exymerian neighbors had shipped in temporary shelters within the first 48 hours of the attack, essentially long metal tubes with some dividers and a door on each end, to house the millions of Paradexians that had been displaced by the battle. It was a bit of a sad sight, the rows of grey boxes lying among the rubble of a once great and powerful city, but spirits had seemed surprisingly high since day one. Despite everything these poor people had been through, Leta still saw smiles and heard whispers of optimism for the days to come.
But as positive as the refugee camp may have felt, there was one dark spot on the Satieran skyline. A literal one, even, that Leta’s eye couldn’t help but be drawn to every time she walked outside. The sky was clear except for there, where the clouds were dark and swirled menacingly over a chunk of the city.
The Nautilus Void, they were calling it. A strip of half-terraformed land that had once been homes and cafes and shops, now uninhabitable and highly dangerous to even approach. Researchers had quelled fears that it was growing early on, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying to look at. Especially not to Leta who continued to relive the Nautilus’ fall any moment she wasn’t otherwise occupied…
Which is what she should have been right then…
“Next,” she called out to the small gathering of patients waiting on her. A young man with heavy gauze over his eye hobbled forward. “Hey Nial,” she greeted as she stepped out of the way for him. “Time for new bandages, huh?”
“Might be the last time you change ‘em,” Nial said, sitting down on the kitchen table Leta had been using as an exam bench.
“Oh?” She went to work unwrapping the soiled gauze from his face.
“Heard they’re opening up access to my district tomorrow,” he went on cheerfully. “All secured and everythin’. I’m goin’ home.”
“That’s great,” she told him and raised a cleaning cloth towards his eye. “This’ll sting.”
The man winced, but perhaps not from the pain. “Thought you might be a lil more upset…”
“Why?” she asked without thinking, putting the cloth aside and digging into the last remaining gauze stock. “The sooner they can clear the areas that aren’t gone, the sooner they can start rebuilding those that are and get all these people back to normal lives.”
Nial gaped at her for a moment then promptly shut his mouth and turned his good eye away, his cheeks flushing pink. Behind her, Daelen chuckled and Leta looked between them, confused. Until it hit her. Why. Gods, maybe things really were getting back to normal. She couldn’t remember a time in the recent past when someone had the time, guts or good mood to actually hit on her.
So she couldn’t help but smile as she told him, “Oh I see. Well yes then, I will definitely miss treating the big hole in your face.”
Nial seemed unconvinced. “Don’t have to lie to me, Dr. Adler. We all saw the picture in the news last week. I get it.”
Now it was Leta’s turn to flush for she knew exactly which picture he was talking about. Apparently someone in the crowd of onlookers following the Nautilus’ crash had fancied themselves a photographer. Every media network in the Span had run the photo, at least it felt that way.
“Hush,” she scolded, pushing aside her embarrassment. “Now whether you’re going home or not, keep cleaning this alright? We don’t want it to get infected.”
“‘Course not, doc.” Nial slid from the table and headed for the exit. On the precipice, he turned around and gave her a dramatic wave. “May our paths cross again, Dr. Adler. You are, as always, a sight for a sore eye.”
She didn’t resist the laugh and called, “Good luck, Nial,” after him as he walked out into the camp.
Leta took a moment to pick up the dirty bandages and rearrange her medkit for the next patient. “Now I really need gauze,” she reminded Daelen who groaned.
“Give me a few more minutes, I’m exhausted,” he complained. “I had to carry all those crates here from all the way on the other side of camp. To get more I’ll have to go to the Business District. Do you know how big this city is? None of the PIT trains are up and running yet, the shuttles are too crowded for cargo, it’s a very long walk to–”
“Do you want to switch?” Leta interrupted suddenly, crossing her arms over her chest and raising a brow at him. “You treat the patients, I get the supplies.”
“Yes, I’d love to,” Daelen replied, “But then you wouldn’t get this great opportunity to work on your bedside manner so–” He shrugged. “Here we are. Give me a minute.”
Leta rolled her eyes. “Fine, a minute, but if this next one has to settle for paper towels to stop the bleeding, I’m blaming you.” She strode to the front of the shelter, leaned her hand on the door and was about to call for the following patient when she realized there was already someone standing immediately in front of her in the doorway. He looked older and more tired, but she knew him right away.
Her mouth dropped. “Dad?”
A few days ago, Cyrus would not have thought he could feel nervous about anything ever again. He had braved a secret mission to reclaim Satieri. He had jumped out a ship. He had killed a Society Councillor and flown a cruiser through a horrendous storm and stood below a terraformer. Surely that meant that Cyrus was no longer the cowardly engineer he once had been. He was brave and courageous and a hero now.
Yet when Addy told him that after a week of searching, she had finally tracked down her father and they were headed to meet him, his knees shook.
Otra Atelier had not been easy to find. Though Atelier Industries had miraculously been untouched in the chaos, the Atelier home had taken a direct hit from a Carthian bomb early in the conflict. Addy had been convinced, though, that her father had not been inside when it had happened. Cyrus didn’t know what made her so sure, but who was he to argue? He’d just done what he could to help.
In the end, it was Corra who had pulled it off though. Through contacts, she explained without much elaboration, she’d discovered that Mr. Atelier had been staying in the refugee camp by the southwest docks, supervising the construction of temporary housing for displaced citizens and organizing an effort to provide transport to off-worlders and Satierans with family elsewhere in the Span.
Of course he was, Addy had beamed with pride. Otra Atelier, as she described him, was the most generous and giving man she knew. Of course he was helping his people. He was amazing.
Which only made Cyrus even more nervous as they rode in the crowded public shuttle towards the camp. Sure, Addy had always kept in touch with her father over the years, so Otra Atelier already knew all about him and about the little girl Cyrus currently held in his arms, but it didn’t seem to change anything. There was still something very terrifying about meeting the man whose daughter he had accidentally impregnated…
When the shuttle landed at the edge of the camp and the passengers spilled out of it into the equally crowded square, Cyrus put Kalli down on her own two feet and grasped her hand in his. The southwest dock district had never been the nicest area of the city, but now, it was barely a city at all. It had been hit hard by the initial bomb wave and as it was close to the Nautilus Void, it was in even rougher shape than most places.
It wasn’t raining now, but it had been recently. The metal awnings made of whatever salvage they could find dripped from their edges into the puddles that filled every indent in the ground. One of which was now spraying him in the leg as Kalli jumped in it and laughed.
“Iss’yen!” Cyrus scolded, tugging on her hand and casting an apologetic grin to the woman on her other side that had taken a full splash to the thigh. “No jumping in puddles, okay?”
Kalli looked up at him, confused, but before he could elaborate that it was rude, there were lots of people around her, people who had recently lost their homes and their loved ones and were sad and didn’t want to be covered in dirty rain water, Addy seized his arm.
“There he is!” She pointed somewhere through the crowd and ran off before Cyrus got the chance to see exactly where he was. Still, he clutched Kalli’s hand tighter and hurried after her, following only the flick of her blonde ponytail.
The nerves were starting to worsen now. What was Otra going to say when he saw him? Suddenly, another thought struck him. Did he remember that meeting they had way back when Cyrus was right out of college? Did he remember that he turned down the job he’d been offered? Cyrus had nearly forgotten that had happened at all, but it was all flooding back to him. Gods, as if the child attached to his arm wasn’t bad enough, Otra had every reason to hate him.
Cyrus steeled his expression, took a deep breath and reminded himself of that day a week ago. Jumped from a ship. Killed a Councillor. Fought a terraformer. Brave. Courageous. Hero.
But as brave or afraid as he was, when he finally caught up to Addy to find her embracing an older man with greying hair tied back behind his neck, a Ridellian hood looped around his shoulders and his traditional Satieran garb ripped and torn and dirty, he tried his very best to appear as normal and unterrified as possible.
When Otra looked up at him and smiled, it became a little easier.
“Well well, if it isn’t Cyrus Soliverè!” he exclaimed, releasing his daughter who was grinning from ear to ear and, without any further ado, walking over and throwing his arms around Cyrus as well.
Cyrus, cursing himself for his awkwardness, patted the man on the back and immediately wondered why. “It’s — eh — great to meet you again–” He stumbled over his words. “Sir?” This wasn’t the first time they’d met. “Again.” Wait, didn’t he already say that?
But before he could figure it out, Otra laughed heartily and released him. “Please, I know it’s been a long time, but you’re family now, my name is fine.”
“Right, of course, sir–uhm…Mr. Atelier?” Cyrus cringed as Addy chuckled quietly and looped her arm in his. Fortunately, Otra had already moved on to the main attraction.
“And you, oh my.” He crouched down to be on level with Kalli who blinked back at him, her eyes wide and curious. “Look how big you are! From the pictures alone it was hard to tell. But here you are!”
The look on Kalli’s face Cyrus recognized instantly. Fortunately, she first glanced up at her parents for permission. Addy grinned and gave it to her. “Iss’yen, this is your ippa.”
Her eyes grew even wider. “Ippa?” She looked back to Otra. “I have an ippa?” He nodded and her grin broke out. “I have an ippa!” She seized his hands and bounced them up and down. “Ippa ippa ippa!”
Otra’s laugh was warm and friendly and for a moment Cyrus forgot how nervous he was. How could he be when his daughter, always the charmer, was busy winning him over on his behalf. How could he hate Cyrus when his mistake had lead to such a bundle of energy and excitement? Yes, they should have used protection that one time they forgot. But come on, the end result was pretty good, right? he prepared the joke in his head.
Just as he was starting to feel relaxed, Otra got back to his feet, or tried, given that Kalli was still clutching his hand and pulling him down, and gestured to the main overhangs of the camp. “Come with me, I’ll give you the tour.”
Addy fell into step beside her father and Cyrus behind them as they made their way through the crowd towards the cluster of rooftops and salvaged ship hulls that made up the shelters. “I’m sure the camps you’re used to seeing nearer the city center are more robust than this one,” Otra commented, hopefully not because he could see the mild disgust in Cyrus’ face as he watched a young man shoveling human waste out of a pit they had dug for a latrine.
“We were still waiting for the emergency shelters to make it here days back, but it was storming every few hours. We couldn’t wait any longer so we made our own. This area was hit hard. People here were poor. Not much to work with, but we’re doing our best,” Otra went on. “And not just here. I’ve been reaching out to anyone who’s good with their hands. We just need people working together to build and rebuild and just keep going. It’s fortunate we’re a city so full of engineers.”
“All the people from the shop are helping with this?” Addy asked him as they walked past a crudely fashioned pile of junk that, Cyrus realized a moment later, was serving as a generator. Well that was something the fancier camps didn’t have.
“All from Atelier, definitely, but more even. Sonnete’s people reached out to me after it all happened, said they had a lot of people wanting to help but didn’t know where to start. Even Society engineers if you can believe it.” Otra gestured to a group of people underneath an overhang leaning over an array of blueprints. Cyrus counted two libreras among them. “The whole organization’s a little lost until the big restructure happens, but they don’t want to sit on their asses in the meantime. All in all, we’ve got some two hundred planners ready and willing to start redesigning this city.”
They finally entered one of the makeshift shelters where Otra had apparently been staying. The makeshift walls were covered in drawings, pictures, plans. They were so crammed full, it was hard to imagine he’d only been living here less than a week and not years.
“Wow, that’s amazing,” Addy was saying, stepping up to a wall and admiring some of the sketches. Kalli let out a squeal as Otra finally let go of her hand and she ran a full circle around the shelter.
“It is,” Otra agreed, carefully taking a seat on a block of ship metal he’d turned over to serve as a chair. “But…we could always use more. Especially two people who’ve already been so vital to rebuilding New Genisi. Their expertise would certainly come in handy.
Cyrus met Addy’s eyes and neither of them needed to question the other on their stance. It was obvious. They had disagreed about many things over the years, but this was the one thing they were unequivocally united on, always and forever.
“Of course we’ll help,” Addy answered for them both as Cyrus nodded his agreement. “This is home. We’re here, we made it, we’ll do whatever we can to make it work.”
Corra watched, expressionless on the docks, as the horde of Society personnel carried crates of supplies down the Beacon’s ramp. Or ex-Society. Or still Society? Leta had loosely explained a plan to keep the organization in tact and simply revamp their entire mission statement, but she hadn’t absorbed the details. Whatever they were, in her book, they would always be one thing: the people who took her ship.
Crossing her arms over her chest, she turned away, unable to watch this any longer, only to come face to face with Finn. She stumbled back a step and wondered briefly how long he’d been standing there before he said, “This sucks.”
Corra snorted her agreement, but couldn’t help providing the same argument she herself had been given. “We did steal it from them to begin with.” He lifted a skeptical brow at her. “And they do need it more than we do right now.” The Beacon had been on a constant ferrying schedule to and from nearby planets for whatever they could spare. She was feeding half of the entire Satieran population on her own. Her medical supplies went straight into the clinics that needed them. She was serving an important purpose.
Not to mention the fact that she had become the command ship for the three massive arks hovering in Satieri’s atmosphere ensuring no second attack.
Finn shook off the logic. “We stole her fair and square. Years ago. She’s ours now.”
“Was ours.” Corra glanced back over her shoulder at the Beacon once more before shaking her head and walking away. Finn hesitated then followed after her, a mischievous smirk already lighting his face.
“Well…” he fell into step beside her, taking long strides for every two of her short ones. “Y’know….we could always take her back.” Corra’s eyes widened and he threw up his hands in defense. “Not yet! Not now, obviously. They can use her while they need her of course. But when things cheer up a bit? When this place gets back on its feet?” He nudged her with his elbow. “What does it need one more frigate for?”
Corra gaped at him a moment longer then shook her head and rubbed her temple with her fingers. “Plenty, I’m sure…”
“C’mon.” He nudged her again, but no matter how much he grinned at her, she didn’t feel his enthusiasm. If anything, the suggestion made her anxious rather than excited.
Gradually, his smile dropped from his face. “I thought you’d be into this idea.”
“Yeah, well–” She shook her head. Maybe she should have been, but at that moment — “I don’t know.”