Category Archives: Part 1-2

Chapter 52: Homecoming Pt. 3

The digital clock in the Beacon’s med bay read 4:07 AM when Leta, both wide-awake and terribly exhausted, finally closed the double-doors and locked them behind her — lest Fiearius get any ideas for escape. After monitoring his vitals for hours, coaxing him out of panic, witnessing his violent thrashing, she managed to take her first real breath of the night.

Mercifully, thanks to a heavy dosage of melatonin, Fiearius was now asleep. Leaving him alone in the med bay caused a protective, worried tug in her chest, but she wouldn’t be gone for long, she told herself:  she just needed a few minutes, that was all. She just had to see Ren. Even if he was asleep too, she had to know he was really here.

But when she eased open the hatch to her room, she found Ren very much awake, sitting cross-legged on the floor. A half-circle of notebooks and papers were spread around him and his head was bent over a book. Her heart tinged: in their old life together, she frequently found him like this.

“Hey,” she said gently, closing the door behind her. She tried to gauge what frame of mind he was in. “What’re you still doing up?”

When he lifted his eyes, Ren almost smiled at her. The corner of his mouth curved. “Just reading. You’ve got a whole library in here, where’d you get all these?”

“Most of them are — well, were — Aiden’s. He — he was a passenger not too long ago. He’s not aboard anymore,” was all she said, feeling that a true explanation of what happened to Aiden would take hours. And her heart couldn’t take it.

She lowered herself to join him on the floor. Automatically, just like old times, he oriented himself toward her, shifting closer so their legs brushed.

Leta almost softened. Almost. But then she saw what particular notebook Ren was holding in his lap, and she gave a start.

“That’s your research, Ren,” she informed him, throwing him a quick, searching look. It was the work he’d planned to publish about the Society — the work that would expose them. The work that landed him in prison.

“I kept it with me after you were taken,” she explained. “So no one could steal it. See?” She leaned over, flipping the notebook to its cover, which bore his name in small, neat handwriting.

“I know. I know it says that,” said Ren quietly, knitting his brow, as if frustrated. “But that can’t be right. Why would I write — all of this?”

Leta felt her heart sink toward her stomach. Somehow, the Society had taken two years of work from him and so much more. “Because it’s the godsdamn truth, that’s why,” she said forcefully. “You were doing research on the Society and found out the truth about them. All the propaganda, all their lies … how they dispose of people … “

“So you had this,” said Ren, scrunching his forehead in puzzlement. “It was with you the whole time? And you believe it.”

“And Fiearius — he’s the captain — he was able to confirm it,” said Leta quickly. “All of it’s true.”

Ren paused, shifting his lips thoughtfully. “The captain. Right. Fiearius. He’s your friend.”

It was not a question. Momentarily stunned, Leta only nodded her head. ‘Friends’ was not how she’d describe her relationship with Fiearius. It was another beast entirely, indescribable and confusing, infuriating and heartening all at once.

Ren was quiet as he went back to flipping through the pages with his thumb, glancing over his own words. Swallowing in her throat, Leta prompted quietly, “If you read it, you’ll see. You’ll see that you didn’t belong in that cell, Ren. You belong with me.”

Ren paused, then slowly eased the notebook closed. “I don’t know,” he mused thoughtfully, looking up at her in earnest. “It seems like you belong more on this ship.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

It was nearly dawn, planetside, when the Beacon and the Dionysian touched ground a few hours later on what would hopefully become their temporary hiding place. With Finn’s help, Cyrus managed to pick a location for them to land: a cold, isolated planet in Carthian territory with only a few small quiet towns. They would stay here a few days, protected by the Society-hostile military patrols, Cyrus decided — they would stay here until he planned their next move.

Whatever that could possibly be. He was pretending the Dionysian had a direction; it had no direction at all.

Because he needed something to do now that the ships were landed, because he couldn’t sleep, because he had to keep busy, Cyrus decided abruptly that he would go for a walk. Dropping the map in his hands, he peeled himself from his chair, drifted down the silent hallways of the Dionysian and made it as far as the cargo bay before he changed his mind; where did he think he could go, anyway?

Instead, he lowered to the cold metal floor and sat, bracing against the icy breeze that tossed his hair over his forehead. Below him lay empty, rolling fields that stretched for miles. Everything was quiet.

Were it not for the aching knot in his chest, he might’ve found it peaceful.

Of course, he shouldn’t have been here, just sitting. He should have been checking on his brother. He knew that. Cyrus had tried a handful of times throughout the night to see how he was faring, but he made it as far as the lower deck before he was overwhelmed with the urge to bolt back upstairs. He found he couldn’t do it — he couldn’t go inside, he physically couldn’t see Fiearius this way. Not after what had happened with Leta.

Just then, soft, hesitant footsteps approached over his shoulder and broke Cyrus from his thoughts. A half-glance toward his side told him he was not the only one awake at this hour: Quiet as a mouse, Leta lowered to the floor beside him and hugged her knees.

Cyrus couldn’t decide if he wanted her company or not.

“Any improvements to report?” he muttered at last, knowing full well she had no good news to offer.

Leta exhaled slowly, her breath turning white in the icy air. “Fiear’s about the same. He’s resting again. I gave him something to help him sleep.”

Cyrus nodded slowly.

“And Ren?” he asked.

This time, Leta’s voice faltered. “He’s a little — a little better. Mostly, he’s confused, and he doesn’t understand why I brought him here. He doesn’t trust what we’re — what I’m doing. And he definitely doesn’t like the Dionysian very much … “

Cyrus grunted, “Wonder why.”

“But I guess I didn’t like it much in the beginning either, did I,” Leta added in a mumble.

Sounding more bitter than he intended, Cyrus grumbled, “Guess not.”

Then, tense silence spread between them. Cyrus made no effort to fill it. At long last, Leta said, unexpectedly, in a small voice, “Cyrus. I’m so sorry.”

Cyrus looked at her and saw, to his shock, tears were flooding her eyes.

“Leta — “ he began, but she went on.

“I never meant for this to happen,” she murmured, gazing at him steadily. “I just wanted Ren back, I wanted that so much. And now it’s like I didn’t get him back at all.” Now tears streamed down her face, a slow, steady rainfall. He’d never seen Leta like this, not ever, not even close. She was all steel, always.

But not in this moment. “You have to understand,” she said weakly. “I never meant for Fiearius to get hurt.”

It seemed, then, Cyrus was not the only one who was quietly suffering. He looked away and swallowed the lump in his throat.

“I know,” he said quietly. “I–I know. And it’s not your fault. What happened, it was–it was just– It wasn’t your fault.”

“I wish I could fix it. All of it,” she breathed, the words stumbling out of her mouth. The rainfall was a storm now, tears splashing down her face. “I wouldn’t have asked Fiearius. I wouldn’t have asked him to help. I swear, Cyrus, I wouldn’t have. I–“

She wore a look of such begging, it was unbearable: Cyrus couldn’t take it anymore.

“Stop. Just stop,” he breathed. “This was Fiearius’ decision. He knew what he was doing. It was his risk to take. You don’t need to apologize to me.”

Drawing in a shaky breath, Leta wiped her eyes on her sleeve, and to his enormous relief, she went quiet — she relaxed, taking in slow, deep breaths. Then, with an air of defeat, she lowered her head onto his shoulder. At once, he wound his arm around her shoulder and drew her in close to his side.

Both of them were quiet for minutes, watching as the horizon lightened from twilight-green to the faintest grey.

“Cy,” said Leta finally, sounding deeply exasperated. “What now? What’s next? I mean — what’re we going to do?”

“Honestly?” His voice was plain and blunt. “I’ve no idea.”

He could sense her smiling at his side. Then she released a heavy sigh. “Okay. Then what’m I going to do?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I can’t stay, and Fiearius wouldn’t want that anyway. And I can’t go back to Vescent, it’s not safe there.” She paused, and after a moment admitted, “A few hours ago, Ren said — something weird. He said he thought I belonged on the Dionysian.”

Cyrus pretended to consider the matter. “Well let’s see,” he posed thoughtfully and started counting off on his fingers. “Exiled from home, on the run, nowhere else to go and basically in deep shit always and forever?” He smirked down at her and hugged her shoulder tighter. “Sorry for being the bearer of bad news, but I think he’s right.” Cyrus sighed as he dropped his hands defeatedly and glanced over at her. “Hate to say it, but you’re one of us now.”

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END OF PART I.

Chapter 52: Homecoming Pt. 2

“Captain!”

Corra was rushing down the stairs, her eyes ringed with red.

“Oh god,” she gasped, clasping her hands over her mouth. “How did you–is he–?”

But before anyone could answer her, Corra suddenly spotted Desophyles as he stepped onto the Beacon’s deck behind them. At once, her expression hardened. Cyrus knew that look. He’d seen it dozens of times before, and it always ended the same: with someone in a heap on the floor.

“What the hell is he doing here?” she snarled, and in one motion, she unholstered the pistol at her side and held it up, fury and fear storming in her face.

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“Corra, no — he helped us,” Cyrus muttered distractedly as he struggled with Finn to get Fiearius further into the ship. Dez followed, apparently unafraid of Corra’s wrath.

“The ship’s prepped to go,” said Finn, leading Fiearius toward the elevator.

“No way!” said Corra, her gun still trained on Dez. “No way is he coming with us. Off.”

“That’s unfortunate,” noted Dez lightly, pausing to wait as Leta signaled for the elevator. “Since I was willing to help with Fiearius’ recovery from the ARC.”

Abruptly, Leta spun around, her eyes round. “What? What do you know about ARC?”

“More than you do, I’d wager,” Dez replied.

“What the hell does that mean?” Leta demanded, flaring up at once. “What do you know about the recov — “

“Not to rush anyone,” interrupted Finn, his voice straining under the weight of holding Fiearius, “but that docks officer is probably a little unhappy with us. If I had to guess — “

Corra looked around at them all, appalled. “Cyrus! You can’t seriously be thinking of letting him stay?! He’ll kill us, Cy, he’ll–”

“Shut up!” Cyrus roared suddenly, so loudly that even Fiearius, delusional as he was, looked over at him. “Just–” he panted, “Shut up. All of you. Just shut up.” The room went silent and Cyrus, breathing heavily and trying desperately to quell his panic, looked to Dez. “ARC. What can you tell us about it?”

“Accelerated Rehabilitation Course,” Dez replied crisply. “Subjects are administered a round of drugs that heightens their susceptibility to suggestion. Researchers then use vocal and visual cues to shape what that suggestion is. Mostly, they’ve been using it in Internal Affairs as an alternative to traditional Solutions.”

“You mean killing,” Cyrus said bluntly, in no mood for pretense.

Dez paused thoughtfully. “Yes. Fiearius was administered a very large dosage over a short period of time as the only intention was to keep him under control. It will take some work to reverse the effects.”

Cyrus glanced at Leta, who was listening intently. “And you know how to do that?”

“Of course.”

If he was lying, Cyrus couldn’t tell. There was a short, sharp pause, and then, whether it was a mistake or not  —

“Corra, take him down to the brig,” he ordered. “Lock him up.” Corra opened her mouth to protest but he silenced her with a quick glare. To Dez, he added bitterly, “Drop the rifle or I’ll change my mind. I’m sure you understand.”

Fortunately, Dez nodded and calmly placed his gun on the ground as Corra, more rough than necessary, jabbed him in the side with the end of her pistol.

“Finn, get the ship in the air in the next five minutes, whatever it takes,” Cyrus went on. Finally, he turned to Leta and nodded towards the elevator. “Med bay,” he sighed, suddenly more exhausted than he could ever remember. “Let’s go.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

As the Beacon lifted from the ground, Cyrus didn’t get a chance to see the last of Paradiex as it swept out of view. He didn’t have a second to consider when — if — he’d ever see the city again. Some homecoming this had been. Instead, he hurried downstairs into the dark, quiet medical bay, the lights flicking on automatically as they entered.

The Beacon’s medical bay outstripped the Dionysian’s infirmary so tremendously, it was almost embarrassing. The med bay took up nearly an entire deck and boasted a chemistry lab, a waiting room, as well as gleaming clean exam benches, shining white counters, new equipment; it resembled a small hospital. Maybe this ship, Cyrus thought to himself, would make the difference in fixing this mess.

Fiearius was slouched on the edge of an exam bench, his glassy eyes set on a far wall. Meanwhile, Leta dodged from cabinet to cabinet, shelf to shelf, gathering supplies. Cyrus simply backed himself up to a wall and watched, unsure of what else to do. He knew he had no reason to be here — he didn’t know how to help.

But he couldn’t bring himself to leave, either.

“Need me to do anything?” he asked, wringing his hands. Leta looked up quickly from the counter.

“Help me straighten out his legs, will you?”

Cyrus didn’t see how this would be possible, but mercifully, Fiearius didn’t protest as they grasped him by the shoulders. When they straightened out his bloodied legs, he exhaled a hiss of pain and started muttering under his breath.

Finally, Cyrus couldn’t take it anymore. He had to know.

“Leta,” he muttered, “is he going to be alright?”

Leta paused in the middle of cleaning the cuts. She looked up, her face white with shock. But her voice was reassuringly even.

“Whatever drugs they put him on, they’re still in his system. Once they’re flushed out, he’ll be more like himself.”

“What about his injuries?”

“More than likely,” said Leta, more quietly now, “it’ll be awhile before he can walk properly.”

And until then — then what? thought Cyrus blankly. What was he supposed to do with Fiearius out of commission again? At least when he’d been injured before, he still had his senses. He could still bark orders, he could still fly the ship. But this — this Cyrus wasn’t sure he could handle.

Suddenly, Cyrus was quite sure he couldn’t be in the room any longer. So when Leta said, “He needs stitches,” and rolled up her sleeves, Cyrus nodded weakly and turned for the door, mumbling something about needing to check on the bridge. Leta cast him a look of pity but did not refute.

But before he could escape for the hallway, Fiearius’ voice stopped him in his tracks.

“You’re one of them,” he said, in a scratchy, rough voice quite unlike his own. Cyrus turned around and realized he was talking to Leta — and holding her wrist tightly, gazing at her librera mark. Leta went very still.

“You’re one of them,” he said again, his eyes glassy, “so you can do it. You can get it out of me.”

Now, Leta looked startled. “What? Fiearius — “

“You can take it, you can have it.” Fiearius’ grip tightened and slowly, to Cyrus’ horror, he brought Leta’s hand towards him and placed it calmly around his throat. “Just do it.”

Leta’s eyes went wide and she jerked her hand away, but he caught it and pulled her back. Instinctively, Cyrus started forward.

“Don’t you get it?” Fiearius asked, his tone growing more tense. “I need it gone. I can’t be the Verdant anymore. I’m in the way. I’m screwing it up.”

“Fiearius, let her go!” Cyrus snapped warningly as Leta tried to tug her hand out of his grasp to no avail.

“No!” Fiearius shouted, sounding more alive than he had since they’d left the Society headquarters. He sat up straighter and in one motion, seized Leta’s other wrist. She struggled to release herself, but Fiearius held her in place. “You’re the only one!” he begged, his voice cracking and his face more pleading than Cyrus had ever heard it. “You have to do it.”

Torn between horror and anger, Cyrus moved to fight him off, but when he looked at Leta’s face, he stopped himself. If she was afraid, she didn’t show it.

Slowly, she stopped struggling and stared at him solemnly. “I wont,” she said coldly. “I won’t do it.”

“You have to,” Fiearius growled, forcing her hands to his neck again.

“I said, I won’t,” she said sharply.

They stood there like that for what seemed to Cyrus like hours, Fiearius glaring furiously at Leta and Leta glaring calmly right back. Finally, like a breath of fresh air, the tension weakened, as did Fiearius’ grip and he let out a low groan before despairing under his breath. “Gi’ar ni arr’ouat…” Have mercy.

Cyrus was paralyzed by what he’d just witnessed. And then, all at once, he couldn’t bear to look at either of them any longer. If there was such a thing as hitting bottom, this was it and he couldn’t bear to see any more of it. The last thing he saw before he turned away was Leta gently moving her hands away from his throat to rest on his shoulders.

“You’re going to get better, Fiear,” she said behind him as Cyrus fled out the door. “I promise you that. And never tell me to do that again.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Chapter 51: Saving Fiearius Pt. 3

“Found by her husband and seven year old son,” Fiearius went on, his half-lidded eyes on the floor, “on the balcony of their westside apartment at 3:26 am, October 11, 1853.”

Leta stepped closer, confusion in her face. “What’s he saying?”

“I don’t know –” Cyrus breathed, surveying his brother in alarm. But then, Cyrus realized there was another voice in the room: not Fiearius, not Leta, but a robotic, mechanical voice from the speaker in the wall, quietly droning on in the background.

As if giving a lecture, the speaker said, “A trail of blood was recorded leading from the balcony inside the apartment to the dining room. Based on the spatter pattern on the dining room table, it can be assumed–”

“–that this is where the first shot was fired,” Fiearius finished, reciting along with the speaker, his voice cold and empty. “The trail indicates Ms. Sana survived the first shot and crawled to the balcony where she was shot again.”

Cyrus was aghast. Fiearius was saying each sentence in unison with the voice from the speaker, word for word, as if in a trance.

Cyrus looked up to Leta for explanation, but she looked just as horrified. She didn’t move for several seconds until Fiearius — in time with the overhead voice — began, “Pentin Quet, age 43, was — “

With that, Leta seized his shoulder.

“Fiearius come on, we’re getting you out of here,” she barked as she reached down and unwound the bonds around his wrist.

Without hesitation, she started to try and lift him up. Cyrus immediately went to her aid as Fiearius prattled on deliriously, apparently oblivious to what was going on.

“Suppose we can’t take the elevator back up,” Cyrus grunted as they struggled to drag Fiearius’ mostly dead-weight into the hallway.

He glanced frantically around the corridor, knowing that any direction could just lead to a maze. Or a dead end. Or worse, a Society agent. It was bad enough walking through here with just the two of them, but with Fiearius hanging weakly between them, there was no chance an encounter would end well.

“This way,” Leta decided and offered no explanation. Perhaps she had none, but Cyrus was appreciative of the direction nonetheless. Together, they hobbled as quickly as they could as Fiearius continued to read off — what were they? — police reports? Homicide records? Cyrus tried not to listen, but even so, the gory details he described seemed to slip through.

Which was why he was grateful for the distraction when Leta suddenly said,”Cy — Cy, I think I’m getting a better idea of what this ARC thing is.” She looked over at him, grimacing. “It’s what they did to Ren. I found traces of a mild hallucinogen in his system. I think they use it to mess with their minds, I bet that’s what they’ve been doing to Fiear for the past few days too. Remember that shot they gave him on the Baltimore?”

Cyrus regarded Leta with a concerned stare. “What, like — mind control?”

“No, no, more like, amplifying the power of suggestion. Propaganda. Brainwashing. Making them believe — these horrible things. And we all know the Society’s not above employing drugs to get people to do what they want.”

Cyrus still couldn’t stop staring at her in shock. How long had they been doing this? Manipulating prisoners to their will? It sounded cruel at best and inhumane at worst. Though despite that, Cyrus could not say he was that surprised. All he really wanted to know was, “Is it reversible?”

But it wasn’t Leta who answered.

“No,” said Fiearius quietly from between them. “No no no,” he went on, his voice growing stronger as he looked around at them, steadied his feet, and started to pull his arms away. “What are you doing? What are you doing? I need to go back.”

Cyrus exchanged a worried look with Leta and suggested hopefully, “Yeah, back to the ship.”

“No,” Fiearius said again, trying weakly to pull his arms out of their grip. “I need to go back. Take me back.” His voice was growing louder as his legs scraped pathetically at the ground, desperate to stop them.

Leta circled Fiearius’ arm around her neck and gritted her teeth. “No, Fiearius. Back to the ship.”

Fiearius groaned at her, pained. “Why can’t you ever do what I ask?”

“We’re getting you out of here, Fiear!”

“Don’t you know what I’ve done?!” he shouted. “What I’m still doing? I’m holding the Society back, don’t you get it? I need to give back what I took! I need to give it back. I have to!” His voice echoed down the hallway.

“Would you quiet?!” Cyrus whispered, gripping Fiearius’ arm tighter. “Someone’s going to–”

“Hear the ruckus?” came a slow voice from behind them as a tall lanky man with a long face and crooked nose approached them calmly, two armed guards flanking him.  “So this is the famous rogue Verdant, hm?” He glanced to Leta and Cyrus. “Isn’t he supposed to be in his cell?”

“Doesn’t matter, do it here,” Fiearius answered quickly, wrenching his arm from Cyrus’ grip and nearly falling over. “Just take it. Do it now.”

“Fiearius, what?” said Cyrus, horrified. “Do what now — ”

“The Society needs a Verdant, Cy,” Fiearius assured him, breathing hard. “This is him.” He gestured to the lanky man who was watching this with interest. “I just have to give him the CID. And everything will go back to normal.”

Cyrus was speechless. Back to normal? If normal meant — dead.

Abruptly, as if snapping back to life, Leta side-stepped in front of Fiearius, threw out her arms, and yelled, “No!” Fear and anger filled her face, like a roiling storm, even as both guards cocked their guns and directed them at her chest. “No, I won’t let you kill him — this can’t go on — “

Seizing whatever seconds Leta had afforded them, Cyrus grabbed Fiearius’ arm and moved backwards, but Fiearius protested madly.

“Don’t you people understand?!” he yelled. “This needs to happen. It’s inevitable.”

“Shut up, Fiearius!” Leta yelled desperately, but Fiearius roared over her.

“You don’t understand! I need this! I need it out of me! I need it gone — just fucking do it,” Fiearius demanded, glaring at the guards, “Just fucking kill me and be done with it!”

The man — the new Verdant? — raised a brow thoughtfully and shrugged. Calmly as ever, he pulled his gun from its holster and aimed it at Fiearius’ head. “As you wish,” he said and a gunshot filled the hallway.

Cyrus’ heart halted in his throat.

And then there was another gunshot. And another. Blood spattered on the wall. And the Verdant-elect and his two guards were on the floor.

Fiearius was the first to spin around. “Wha–” he began before taking a fist to the gut. What energy he had left him and Cyrus and Leta only barely managed to catch him as they both looked up, terrified and confused at the face of Dez, his pistol still smoking lightly.

Cyrus didn’t know if he should have been relieved or horrified at the sight. “What’re you doing?!” he cried, and Dez regarded him calmly.

“Changing my mind,” Dez remarked shortly, and then nodded down a corridor. “This way. Follow me.”

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Chapter 51: Saving Fiearius Pt. 2

Cyrus didn’t know what to believe. He’d known Leta’s father was entangled in the Society bureaucracy, and he’d known Leta hated him for it. But here he was now, offering them safe passage through the headquarters, aiding in the release of a most-wanted prisoner. Stoic and business-like, as if they were all headed toward a late afternoon meeting, Leta’s father walked briskly down the hallway toward a set of busy elevators.

One set of doors slid open, admitting a handful of people, some of whom nodded greetings.

“Tritius!” yelped a man, staggering back in surprise. “Haven’t seen you on Satieri in months! How’s Vescent? What brings you here?”

“Tidying up a few loose ends,” came Tritius’ curt reply as he passed him and swept into the elevator. Cyrus purposely kept his eyes down as he followed in after Leta, who looked just as confused as he felt.

Calm and silent, Tritius reached to hit the correct floor — the one labeled ‘ARC FACILITIES.’ Cyrus narrowed his eyes curiously, but it was Leta who spoke up.

“What’s that mean?” she demanded. “‘ARC facilities.’ Dad, what is that?”

But Tritius only gazed at the closed doors, perfectly ignoring her.

It was quiet for several seconds until Leta asked her father, in a small voice, “But you’re sure — you’re sure he’s still alive?”

“Yes.” Tritius did not look at her. “For now. They can’t kill him yet. They’re waiting for his executioner to arrive.”

For the first time, Leta showed a crack in her armor: her expression dissolved toward grief.

Cyrus glanced over at her and hesitated. Fiearius had often warned him not to tell anyone this particular piece of his history, but now, he was certain, would have to be an exception.

“The Society has a position called the Verdant,” he explained quietly, “who’s a liaison between the Council and the Departments. They have access to all Society records, a whole database, everything. The Council made Fiearius Verdant before he left Satieri. That’s why they hunt him, he stole their database. And the only way to get it back–”

“Is for the next Verdant to kill him,” Leta finished, nodding at him, exhaling sadly. “I know. He told me about it. A month ago.”

Cyrus could only gape at her. Fiearius had told her that? One of the most personal, dangerous, darkest secrets of his existence? It was unreal, and clearly, he was underestimating how much Fiearius trusted, and cared, about her …

Leta turned to her father. “Who’s this executioner? When will he be there?” but Tritius had gone back to ignoring her.

Finally, the elevator lurched and halted. The doors slid open, revealing a dark, empty hallway. Cold and metallic, it felt as sterile as an asylum.

Leta immediately pushed out of the elevator, looking around frantically for any signs of Fiearius, but Tritius did not move. In fact, he remained in the elevator, reaching to hit the button for another floor.

“I’ll leave you here,” he said quietly, his eyes on his daughter, who looked alarmed.

“But where do we go from here? And how do we get to Fiear? Is he in a cell? How do we get out?”

“I re-wrote the passcode into his cell,” Tritius replied as the doors closed between them. “The numbers to get in — are your birth date.”

For several seconds, the words hung in the air as Leta stared after him, agape. Cyrus came to his senses and nudged her forward, and at once, they started down the hallway.

Adrenaline flooded Cyrus’s veins now as they half-jogged down the dim, empty corridors. He had the sense they were close, and as they turned a corner, Cyrus felt his lungs freeze up.

In the glass cell, not ten meters from them, sat the figure of his brother on the white sterile floor. He appeared mostly unharmed, except for the unnatural way he sat: his back against the wall, unmoving except for the subtle rise and fall of his chest. So he was alive. Oh gods, he was alive.

But Cyrus only caught a glimpse of that familiar rust-colored hair before he saw who was standing directly in front of that glass window. Then, his heart stopped for a very different reason. Dez.

Immediately, Cyrus seized Leta’s arm and staggered backwards around the corner. Fortunately, Dez didn’t seem to notice: he was conversing quietly with a man beside him, both of them regarding Fiearius curiously, like a science experiment, or a specimen in a zoo.

“Seems like a waste,” the man was saying conversationally, tapping a note onto his portable console. Dez glanced toward him and raised a brow in question. “Putting him through the ARC I mean,” he clarified, gesturing towards the window. “They’re just gonna kill him, what’s the point?”

For now, the  two men seemed to have no idea they were being eavesdropped upon. In response, Dez just shrugged absently.

The man went on, “Can’t really say I understand what we’re waiting for anyway. That guy, right? What’s his name–Lawry?”

“Yes,” mused Dez. “I believe so.”

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“See, I don’t get it,” the man continued. “Why do we have to keep this asshole here, taking up space, scaring the crap out of the research staff just waiting for some director from Ri’en to show up and kill him?” He nudged Dez with his elbow. “You caught him, Cordova. Why can’t you just do it?”

“I’m not allowed,” Dez replied shortly, though his tone had become rather tense. Bitter, even.

“Bet that’d be satisfying though, huh?” The man remarked, stretching his arms out in front of him as he watched the figure beyond the window curiously. “After everything you two have been through.”

Dez said nothing. The man at his side let out a heavy sigh. “So this Lawry guy then.”

“He’s to be the next Verdant.”

“So it’s true then? This shit.” The man gestured toward Fiearius.

“Is the current Verdant,” Dez confirmed coldly.

His companion let out a low whistle. “Crazy. The new one’s gotta kill the old one? Is it punishment for Soliveré killing the last one? Or is it symbolic or something?”

Dez was silent once more until finally he muttered, “Something like that.”

“Well, still,” the man finished bitterly. “I don’t know why I’m having to waste all this ARC testing on him when I could be using it on someone who’ll actually be around next week to study. And they’ve got my entire team on it, you know that? As if we don’t have anything more important to do. It doesn’t make sense.”

“It does make sense,” Dez replied at once. “It’s needed. To sedate him.”

“Sedate him?” the man repeated incredulously, laughing “He’s wounded, bound and locked in a cell. How much more sedative does he need?”

Dez frowned thoughtfully at him, and then back into the window. “You’ve never met Fiearius, have you?”

The man raised a brow at him, spent another few moments watching Fiearius and finally shrugged his shoulders. “No offense, Cordova,” he said at last. “But he doesn’t seem all that impressive to me.”

Dez tilted his head thoughtfully. “No,” he agreed. “But that,” he nodded towards the man behind the window, “is not Fiearius.” The man looked over at him, perplexed. “Not after what you’ve done to him.”

The man continued to stare at him until at last he let out a barking laugh and asked, “Cordova, you’re not feeling sentimental, are you? I know he was your partner and all, but c’mon. The guy’s a nutcase.”

Dez just watched Fiearius a moment longer until he muttered, “So they say,” and turned to leave. His colleague, shaking his head, followed after him. They disappeared down the hallway.

And now was their chance. Perhaps the only one they’d get.

In a rush, Cyrus dodged around the corner and went straight for the glass, pounding on it to get Fiearius to look up, to move — anything. Leta was at the console, hurriedly typing in the passcode.

Suddenly, with a hissing release of air, the glass barrier slid out of the way, allowing entry. Cyrus immediately crossed toward Fiearius, crouched to the floor and began to shake his shoulders.

In a voice very much unlike his own, Cyrus found himself begging.

“Fiearius, Fiear, c’mon, please — we have to go — “

It was moments too long until his brother stirred. Only an inch, but relief flooded over him.

“Fiear — “

“Orlé Sana, age 31,” Fiearius muttered in return. His voice was hoarse, barely audible, but he continued as if he were reciting something he’d memorized. “Two shots to the parietal lobe. Both bullets shattered on impact. No exit wound.”

Cyrus stared. Dread was returning to him slowly. “What?”

Chapter 50: Defeat Pt. 3

Hope leapt in his chest. There was still time. Without a second thought, he cocked his gun and began down the hallway only to have Leta snatch his arm and draw him back.

“Cyrus,” she hissed. “What’re you doing?”

“We have to take the bridge,” Cyrus answered at once, looking back at her. “We have to stop the ship.”

“How?” Leta pleaded, her eyes shining with horror. “There are at least four agents in there.”

Cyrus glanced back towards the bridge door. She was right. What the hell was he thinking? He couldn’t just walk in there, he’d be captured or killed instantly. But what else could they do? They were outnumbered regardless and if they didn’t act fast, they’d take off and be on the way to Satieri and they’d never find Fiearius and get back to the Dionysian like they planned.

Cyrus had never felt quite like this before. Reckless desperation was unfamiliar to him, but it was enough to give him a sudden confidence he’d never before had.

“We’ll just rush in and take the ship,” he told her, his voice hardly sounding like his own. “We’ll catch them by surprise. We’ll take it and we’ll stop it and we’ll get my brother back and everything will be okay.” He heard the hysteria in his words, but he still went on, “Everything will be fine. Everything will be normal.”

“Cyrus….” Leta breathed, her voice cracking. But just when he felt she was going to back away or tell him to give it up, she too lifted her gun, cocked it and nodded at him.

“Ready,” she whispered quietly.

“Stay close,” he told her and, in perhaps the stupidest move he’d ever made, he hurtled towards the open bridge door with all the speed and momentum in his entire body before he burst into the room and found six surprised crew staring back at him.

For a moment, just a moment, he panicked. What was he doing? Fiearius could shoot six men before one could even draw their weapon. Corra could shoot a thimble off a finger from 500 meters away. Cyrus couldn’t even hit a single unmoving target on a wall without five minutes of aiming first. If anyone was suited for this, if anyone could save Fiearius, it wasn’t him.

But he was all there was. So he fired. Right into someone’s chest. And he fired again into someone’s arm. And as a bullet from Leta’s gun embedded itself in another’s head, the other three in the room hastily reached for weapons of their own and panic ran through Cyrus. A yell ripped out of his throat and he fired again. Again. Again. Unthinking and uncaring and relentless.

He was still shouting to his own deafened ears when his finger pulled the trigger and his gun clicked uselessly in his hand. Empty.

But just when he expected gunfire straight to his chest, he vision cleared and he saw Leta: breathing hard, gun in hand, one foot pressed into an agent’s chest as he sprawled on the floor. Ren was behind her; she’d thrown herself in front of him protectively.

“Are you okay?” she asked Cyrus, short of breath, eyes blazing.

He almost nodded. But then he looked around the room. One, two, three, four, five bodies. Five? Where was–

A quiet whimpering sounded from the far end of the room, and a few stray strands of hair stuck up from behind one of the front consoles. One left. He glanced at Leta. She nodded and carefully crept forward.

“Hands up, drop your weapons,” she ordered when she was close enough, holding her gun to the young man’s head. Immediately, the whimper turned into a wail and two skinny hands shot up in the air.

“P-please, I’m unarmed,” his shaky voice declared, tears running down his face. “I’m just the pilot, please–please don’t kill me.”

Cyrus marched over towards them and held his own gun to the man’s head, useless as it was. “Where’s Dez?!”

Confusion flashed over his face. He blanched. “Who?”

“Dez!” Cyrus barked, hardly sounding like himself. “Desophyles Cordova. Where is he?!

“C-Cordova? H-he’s not on this ship!” the man despaired.

Cyrus shook his head. No, it had to be this one. It had to. One of his hands dug into his hair and he yelled, “Are you carrying a prisoner to Satieri?! Fiearius? Fiearius Soliveré? Is he — “

“N-no! We’re headed to Ellegy for a pick-up!” he cried.

Dread knotted his stomach. “Cordova’s ship,” Cyrus said at once, his eyes growing distant. “Is it still docked on the Baltimore?”

The man looked up at him with watery eyes. “I–n-no. We were delayed so it could take off. J-just a few minutes ago.”

With a raw, angry growl of loss, Cyrus suddenly shouted and threw his spent gun across the room, making it crash in the corner. He stalked away, digging his palms into his eyes. This couldn’t be happening. This had to be a mistake.

“This isn’t over,” came Leta’s trembling voice from across the room. She was standing there hollowly, her eyes wet. “We’re not losing Fiear. They can’t have him.” Cyrus could barely look at her when she ventured, “So what’s our next move?”

Cyrus turned away. Fiearius’ words echoed in his mind. ‘We lost’. ‘It’s over.’ But no. It couldn’t be. After all they’d been through, everything they’d overcome, all that had happened, it couldn’t end this way. He wouldn’t let it.

“We go to Satieri,” Cyrus said before his mind even caught up. He dropped his hands from his face. “We go to Satieri and we get him back.”

In a rush, he stalked to the main console and furiously tapped the screen until the COMM channel opened up. “Dionysian, this is the Beacon, come in,” he shouted into the receiver. “Corra? Finn? It’s Cyrus. Come in. Please, fucking please, come in — “

It was only seconds, but it felt like hours, until the speakers crackled and a familiar voice filled the room.

“Cyrus?! What’s going on? What happened?” Corra sounded panicked, even from this distance. “What—you’re on another ship?!”

“Corra, I’m going to bring down the barrier from here,” he told her matter-of-factly. “You’re going to need to synchronize your exit with ours. Take the Dionysian back to where we left the crew. Wait for us there.”

“Wait, what?! You’re staying on another ship?!”

“Yes,” he said bluntly. He glanced at Leta, who nodded for him to continue, “Get the bridge door sealed. There are still other agents aboard, it’s only a matter of time before they figure out something’s wrong.”

“Cyrus, what the hell is going on?”

“You,” he addressed the young man still cowering behind the console. “Pilot? Get her ready for take-off.”

“Cyrus?!”  Corra cried, but Cyrus talked over her: “Finn, don’t forget you need to disengage the forward throttle immediately after the first push in takeoff or you’ll stall the engine–”

“Cyrus! Explain what is happening right now!

At last, Cyrus mustered a sigh and lowered his head.

“Fiearius was taken,” he informed her, his voice hardened. “I’m taking this ship — “ He caught Leta’s furious glance and corrected, “We’re taking this ship to Satieri. We’re going to get him back.”

Stunned silence filled the other end of the call. Cyrus could just imagine the horror on their faces.

But he could not imagine their response.

“Right,” said Finn finally. “We’re coming with you.”

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Chapter 50: Defeat Pt. 2

“He’s lying, Fiear!” Leta’s throat was raw from yelling. “He’s lying, don’t you fucking believe him –” But Fiearius said nothing. His expression was empty, his eyes boring onto hers, stunned into silence.

“Say goodbye though, Fiearius. We’ve got a long journey back to Satieri.” Dez nodded to the guards who moved over to lift him from his chair.

As they lifted him from the chair, finally Fiearius seemed to lose his sense of shock. The confusion on his face swept away, his expression darkened. A storm arrived in his eyes as words ripped from his throat.

“You,” he began, sounding breathless, his eyes fixed on Leta and filled with fire. “You fucking lying bitch!”

Leta could hardly breathe. “It’s not true! Dez is playing you, Fiear!”

“Fiearius — “ Cyrus interrupted meekly, but Fiearius roared over him.

“This?!” he went on, struggling against the grip of four men as though he wanted to lunge across the room at her. Something strange was in his eyes. A haze, of sorts, one that he seemed unable to break through. “After–dov’ha pe’stieren ti dah hes’ziah! After everything! After all I did for you?! This is what I get in return?!”

“I don’t work for them,” Leta cried as muddled Ridellian curses continued to spit from his mouth “– not anymore, I didn’t lead you here, I wouldn’t turn you in — you know me, Fiearius!”

In a pleading voice, Cyrus broke in. “Fiearius, you can’t really believe this shit?”

Fiearius’ fury swung towards him. “You–you knew, didn’t you?!” he growled, malicious masking his face. “You were in on this too?!”

In the corner, Dez observed with curious interest, his eyebrows arched.

“What are you talking about?!” Cyrus gasped. “There’s nothing to be in on!”

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“Bullshit,” Fiearius growled as the agents tugged on him again, finally on the threshold of the door. “I trusted you!” He turned back to Leta viciously. “I trusted you.” With one final heave, the agents wrenched him through the door, but his voice still carried down the hallway as he shouted, “I hope you’re fucking happy! I’erna le si ca’edie fi’et!”

Stunned silence enveloped the room for several long seconds, punctuated only by one dry sob heaving from Leta’s chest.

Cool as ever, Dez cocked a brow and muttered, “Effective…” After a moment, he turned back toward his agents in the room. “I’m sure they’ll want to send the girl back to Vescent soon,” he instructed calmly. “Under careful monitoring, of course. And the brother, we’ll send him wherever he’ll be most useful. For now, secure the three of them in temporary cells. An agent with the proper jurisdiction will follow up with instructions.”

With one cursory glance over the room, he turned and followed Fiearius’ fading yells.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Leta was screaming, screaming her lungs out, but Cyrus could barely hear her. Numb with shock, he watched, transfixed, as Fiearius was pulled through the door, struggling and wrestling the whole way, his guttural yells echoing down the hallway as he was torn from view.

He’d never seen his brother so desperate. He was, quite literally, fighting for his life.

Unthinkingly, Cyrus jackhammered out of his chair. To do what, he didn’t know, but it didn’t matter: an agent grabbed his arms at once. Two more did the same to Leta and Ren and in a flash, they were all being marched into the hallway.

Leta was not going quietly, even as Ren assured her, his voice pleading, “they won’t hurt you, Leta, I promise it’s okay — “

But he was right, thought Cyrus. They wouldn’t be harmed, they couldn’t. Dez said it himself: Leta would be sent home to Vescent, to her father, to be watched and monitored and scrutinized by a team of therapists. He himself would be assigned to some engineering team, forced to continue the work he’d abandoned four years ago. They wouldn’t be hurt. But they would be imprisoned.

Fiearius, however, would not enjoy the same fate. The Verdant CID embedded in his arm. They would want to reclaim it. He wasn’t useful alive like Cyrus or Leta. If he was going to Satieri, he was going to be —

“Executed,” Leta breathed at his side, wrestling the agent at her back. Her voice shaking so badly she could barely form words. “They’re going to execute him, aren’t they?”

The words shook something within Cyrus’ chest. Something dark, something — alarming. Before he could think to do otherwise, he let out a growl, pivoted on his foot, wrenched his arms away and slammed his bound wrists into the agent’s face.

Startled, the agent stumbled backwards and Cyrus went in for another hit, adrenaline rushing through him, and then another, and then another. His wrists may have been bound, but they weren’t useless. They pounded into the guard’s neck, his knee found his stomach, his elbows rammed his side.

Bleeding and shouting, the agent scrambled for his gun, sending panic flying through Cyrus. He lowered himself, braced and rammed his shoulder into the man’s stomach downwards. His back collided with the metal ground with a thump and Cyrus at once pinned him there with his knees, reaching his tied hands for that holster on his hip desperately.

But before he could even lay a finger on it, he felt a rough hand dig into his shoulder and drag him upwards. Still clawing at the gun’s grip uselessly, Cyrus was lifted back to his feet and spun around to face the woman who’d been leading Ren just as her disapproving frown gave way to a distorted cry of pain and she crumbled to the ground, blood spurting from her leg.

She’d been shot — but how? Cyrus wheeled around, half-expecting to see his brother towering there, in all of his heroic glory.

But it wasn’t Fiearius, it was Leta, holding aloft a stolen gun. It seemed his scuffle had given her just the distraction she needed to arm herself and turn the situation in their favor, at least fleetingly.

While he stood in place dumbly, feeling stunned, she rushed over to him and hastily untied his wrists, then did the same to Ren.

“Leta,” said Ren, carefully, watching her as if he’d never met someone so insane in his life, “Do you know what you’re doing?”

“No.” Leta crouched down, retrieved another gun from the floor and passed it to Cyrus. “No, of course not, now let’s go.”

Blindly, gun in hand, Cyrus turned and bolted down the hallway and kept bolting until his feet found the metal floor of the airy open hangar once more. All around him, enormous ships the size of houses were parked side by side and Cyrus dodged beneath their wings and pillars. It wasn’t too late, he told himself desperately — it wasn’t too late to get to Fiearius.

Only dimly aware of Leta and Ren running behind him (Ren was protesting, Leta pulling him along), Cyrus suddenly stopped short at the sight of one vessel in particular. Larger than a cathedral, it must’ve been half a mile wide — but that wasn’t what suddenly made Cyrus’ heart stop.

He recognized this ship. It was a Satierian ship. And Fiearius was headed to Satieri.

He must have been inside.

Gripping his gun with determination, Cyrus shot forward, ran up the ship’s ramp and into the large, open cargo bay. It was empty and quiet, at least five times the size as the Dionysian’s.

“What ship is this, Cy?” said Leta desperately, her hand circled around Ren’s wrist, leading him forward like a confused child. “Is Fiearius aboard, are you sure he’s aboard this one?”

“It’s the BKN-550,” said Cyrus as he rushed through the bay, his eyes flitting back and forth for signs of movement. “But they call her the Beacon. A Satieran frigate.” The ramp was beginning to close behind them and he could feel the low vibrations from within the ship radiating out beneath his feet. She was getting ready to leave. “Fiearius has to be here,” he gritted out, though it was more an assurance to himself than it was to Leta.

Without looking back, Cyrus ducked into one of the Beacon’s smaller hallways, determined to reach the bridge and stop the ship before it could leave the Baltimore. He couldn’t let it. He didn’t exactly have a plan yet. March right into the bridge and demand Dez let Fiear go didn’t sound like it would work all too well. But he had to do something. Cyrus wouldn’t even humor the notion of losing him and what that would mean. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t.

His heart was pounding in his chest as he slunk through the maze of cold metal hallways as quickly as he could, Leta and Ren on his tail. The ship was mercifully quiet enough to avoid confrontation with the few Society agents he caught a glimpse of. It seemed to only be running with a skeleton crew. Well, how much crew did the frigate need to simply transport a passenger to an execution? he thought grimly.

What the Beacon lacked in crew, however, it made up for in size, an obstacle in itself. Cyrus wasn’t convinced he would ever find the bridge at all let alone make it on time until he turned a corner into a hallway and laid eyes on it.

Chapter 49: Finding Ren Pt. 3

As Cyrus, Leta and Ren fled the interrogation bay, one thing, at least, was unfolding in their favor: the further they traveled from his cell, the more lucid Ren became. He seemed to be emerging from the haze and move with more strength, though there was a slight unsteady catch in his legs and hips — it was heartbreaking to see, as Leta realized he had not done much walking in the recent past, let alone half-running. It was like his body had forgotten how.

Following Cyrus, Leta swung Ren’s arm around her neck, holding him upright with her. She was moving as quickly as logistics would allow, panic and determination burning in her chest: forget everything else, forget herself, she simply had to get him as far away from this hell as possible and then deal with the consequences.

” — we just have to get to the hangar,” she was explaining in a breathless undertone to Ren, who hadn’t taken his eyes off her once yet, “the ship’ll be ready — “

“Ship?” Ren repeated, his voice less gravely now, and sharpened with confusion. He regarded the back of Cyrus’s head shrewdly, and then looked at her in alarm. Leta could just imagine what he was thinking: the pistols at her hips (his doctor was armed?), the tears in her dirty clothing, the general, sweeping unkemptness of someone who had not seen real ground in months . . .

“A pirate ship,” he muttered darkly, his voice tightened. “I’ve been hoping for months that wasn’t true.”

Worry drenched his voice, and Leta hurried to say, “I — oh gods — it’s not, it’s not like that,” she breathed quietly, her eyes showing alarm. “At least, not totally. It’s — “

But there was no way to explain the Dionysian at all, let alone in this urgent moment.

” — a long story,” she finished, softening and feeling a rare smile pass over her face. And in spite of it all, even as Ren shook his head at her in utter bewilderment, he started to smile slightly, too.

Ahead of them, Cyrus paused at the cross-section of hallways and ducked beside a wall, readying his gun in his hand. “Here, the hangar’s just up here.”

Hope exploded in Leta’s chest.  Noise and chaos reached her ears, but the edge of the Dionysian’s rusty exterior was visible. They were so close.

Leta circled her hand more tightly around Ren’s wrist and stepped forward, but it was then that Ren went suddenly very rigid against her.

“Leta, listen,” he stated, his voice eerily calm. “Listen to me. I can’t leave.”

“Of course you can,” Leta said sharply, stepping forward, determination in her step. The Dionysian was a hundred meters away. “And you are. Okay, on three we’re going to — “

“No. I can’t. I won’t.” Ren slowly slid his arm away, and his voice became cold, robotic when he stated, “Leta, the Society needs me.”

Leta froze. She turned to gaze at him. Even Cyrus looked over his shoulder.

“What?”

Ren’s eyes were wide and sincere. “The Society needs my help. I’m here to help, Leta.”

“No,” said Leta quickly, shaking her head, trying to quell the panic in her chest. “No, Ren. You weren’t helping. You were their prisoner.”

“It was a sacrifice I had to make,” he explained calmly, as if she were a child. “I was happy to do it. I am happy.”

Bile was burning in Leta’s throat. “Ren, no — what — what did they do to you?” she breathed, failing to keep her voice low as she looked him up and down. He was too weak to stand, he was positively gaunt from malnourishment, and now he was talking like he’d been brainwashed.

“The Society needs me,” he said again, his eyes growing glassy and distant. “The Society needs me. I’m going to stay. The Society — “

“Help me pull him,” said Leta sharply to Cyrus. She never thought she’d ever have to use force on her fiance, but they were running low on time. “Get his arms — “

But Cyrus wasn’t listening. He wasn’t even looking at them anymore.  He was turned toward the hangar entryway, one hand  tightened around his gun, his face gone pale.

“Something’s wrong…” he murmured and Leta followed his line of sight towards the ship. She hadn’t considered it at first, but now it hit her. They’d left the ship in a state of violence, surrounded by agents and defended by their captain. Now? The violence, the agents, the captain–they were nowhere in sight. Instead–

“Ah, there you are,” came the sudden voice of Dez, as he casually traipsed towards them across the hangar. Armed agents circled around him and began to train their guns on the three of them. Fear plunged through Leta, and before she could move or speak, Cyrus stepped in front of her, a protective shield. Ren stood there numbly.

Dez eyed him for a moment like a giant might observe an ant. “Let’s not, shall we, Cyrus?” he asked. It was technically a question, though it sounded a lot more like a statement. “I’ve no interest in hurting you,” he clarified calmly, glancing between the three of them. “Any of you. But surely you understand that I can’t let you leave either.” He nodded his head towards the guards and they instantly swarmed towards them. “Nothing personal.”

He had a sword, Leta realized — a sword held loosely in his hand, and it glittered with shining blood. Leta felt sick. Did he have Fiearius already? Hoping to death that the captain was still freely out there on the Baltimore somewhere, waiting to pull off a particularly reckless and amazing asshole move, Leta immediately stepped to Ren.

“Stay close to me,” she breathed softly as guards seized them all by the arms, removed their weapons, and dragged them to the containment unit below.

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