Category Archives: Part 2-2

Chapter 46: Negotiations Pt. 3

With all the force in her body, she pulled on the door hatch, but it wouldn’t budge. She pulled again, but it had been sealed by someone far stronger than her. Desperate, her eyes scanned the bay for something, anything, until she saw a leftover metal pipe from one of Addy’s projects lying nearby. She seized it and, wielding the battering ram above her head, threw all her might into one final blow that snapped the handle right off.

The door swung open and Corra barreled inside, but she didn’t have to go far. As she stumbled out of the entrance hallway and into the main bay, she got her answer.

“Hey! You’re not supposed to–” shouted a voice. Its owner, a young, skinny blonde man standing in the center of the room, spun around to face her, eyes wide. He fumbled to take his pistol out of its holster and point it at her, but Corra barely noticed him. All around him, lining the walls, were people. Some forty, fifty people, bound together, their left ears still red and raw from cropping. They looked up at Corra with frightened eyes from tear-streaked faces.

“S-shit,” muttered Callahan’s guard before he made a run for it, hurtling down the hallway past Corra who couldn’t even bring herself to look at him. The Beacon had made four of these runs. Four shipments of people. Two hundred people, delivered by Corra’s own hand, into enslavement. She felt her heart crumbling inside of her. And her legs crumbling beneath her. She fell to her knees in the center of the room and she wept.


Finn didn’t exactly relish his meetings with Callahan, but he usually came away with cash in his pocket and a new job for the Beacon, so after a brief stop for lunch (nothin’ like Genisian grub in the whole Span, he always said), he made his way toward Callahan’s warehouse in only a slightly dampened mood. Hell, maybe even if the meeting went quickly, he’d have time to keep playing tourist in his own home city. Only a few miles away was the home he’d grown up in, where his mother and aunts still lived. With any luck he’d actually see them for the first time in months.

Hoping the man was in a generous mood today, Finn crested the stairs to his office. What he expected was the usual: Callahan seated in his slick leather chair, his eyes on his tablet as he muttered a wry greeting. Callahan would be distracted while Finn updated him on the status of their last job, and then abruptly Callahan would fork over a stack of credits that Finn would immediately grab. They’d shake hands and he’d be out the door.

But today, something was different.

Callahan was not seated, but leaning against the front of his desk, his long legs stretched before him and his arms folded, like he was ready to jump up at any moment. His mouth was a thin line. Amusement and cruelty rested in his eyes. Behind him stood a skinny man with blonde hair who was out of breath and flushed. The room was completely silent save for his quiet gasping, and after a moment of blinking in surprise, Finn said,  “Callahan. How are ya? Thought maybe y — ”

“I’m afraid we don’t have time for that, Finn.”

His voice was soft and ice-cold. Coming to a halt, Finn lifted his eyebrows in question.

“Don’t keep a close eye on your ally, do you?” he went on gently, and Finn felt a knotting in his chest.

Abruptly, the light in Callahan’s face went dark. Like an angry animal, he pushed himself away from his desk and snarled, “I told you not to touch the ship, Riley! I told you that you weren’t to touch it, damage it, enter it. But you and your little kroppie bitch couldn’t leave well enough alone.”

“Woah, hang on a minute,” Finn said hurriedly, raising his hand to the man and taking a cautious step backwards. “I think there’s been some kind of misunder–”

“You’re right, Riley. You’re absolutely right,” Callahan growled. “I thought I could trust you. But it was a misunderstanding.” His glare on him narrowed. “You’ve betrayed me for the last time.”

He crossed forward, and it happened far too quickly. A flash of silver, and then Finn felt it: a white-hot, burning pain in his abdomen, intense and throbbing and paralyzing. A rush of crimson.


Blood pounded in Corra’s ears as she sprinted down the streets of Genisi. Adrenaline flooded her veins, and it was perhaps the only thing keeping her moving when she felt like throwing herself to the ground in defeat.

It hadn’t been easy to tear herself away from the horrifying scene in her own ship’s cargo bay. Those faces on her still haunted the forefront of her memory and she had wanted nothing more than to tear apart the binds that held them with her bare hands. But there was no time. She would have to just hope that Fiearius and Quin, who had arrived in the bay minutes later, confused and concerned and completely unaware of what had occurred, would figure out Corra’s vague order of “Help them” as she fled into the city.

They would help. They had to. Because she had to help Finn.

As she ran, she cursed herself for not acting faster. She resented her inability to stop Callahan’s watchdog before he’d exited the scene. If she’d just done something, if she’d shot the man dead on the spot like he deserved, then Finn wouldn’t have been in danger. But if that man reached his boss to share news of what had happened while Finn was still there? Or worse, before Finn even arrived? Corra had never trusted Callahan much to begin with. Now? She wouldn’t put anything past the piece of shit he clearly was.

But she tried to force all the potential horrors she’d find out of her mind. As much as it kept fluttering into her mind’s eye and making her heart clench in pain, she couldn’t handle the thought of the worst outcome, so she tried to focus on better ones. Perhaps Finn had already left by the time Callahan got the news that he had been betrayed. Perhaps the guard never made it. Perhaps she’d burst into Callahan’s office and find the man sitting there, unaware, and she could personally see to it that he never had the chance to affect another human being again.

It was these thoughts that kept her moving and these thoughts that put the force behind her arms as she finally arrived and threw open the doors with a loud crack. She drew her gun, ready to fire it at the first sign of the bastard.

But Callahan was nowhere to be found. No shouts of surprise or protest or anger greeted her. The office lay quiet and empty, except for —

“Riley!” she cried, bolting across the room to the man’s side. Finn was slumped on the floor, propped up against a wall, his shaking hand pressed over his abdomen. Clearly he’d been trying to push himself to his feet and failed. Blood rushed between his fingers, his breathing was ragged and shallow, and his face was shocking white.

But he was alive. He was still alive.

Throwing her gun to the side, Corra immediately pressed her palms to the bleeding wound, trying to apply as much pressure as she could.

“What — what happened? What did Callahan do?” she breathed, though Finn couldn’t muster much of a response: it sounded like he was choking through blood in his throat. Instead of speaking, he looked past her shoulder, and she followed his gaze across the room to where a silver knife was soaked red.

“H — hang in there, Riley, you’re gonna be okay,” she cried, voice shaking, tears pooling in her eyes. She fumbled to take off her jacket and press it against the seeping wound. “Everything’s gonna be fine. Leta’s at the ship, she’ll fix you up real good. Good as new. Okay? Okay? Let’s get you back to the ship.”

Corra thought she saw pleading and apology come to his eyes.

“Corra, look,” he managed quietly. “I can’t make it back t — ”

“Don’t say that,” Corra snapped, tears rushing down her face as she tried to slide her arm under his to help him up.

But as she made the first heave, and Corra felt his blood on her hands, she felt the room around her begin to shake. At first she thought it was her imagination, a manifestation of her shock. But then she realized it was truly happening: Slowly at first, subtly, but growing and growing quickly. After so many years on the Dionysian, she was used to sudden shaking, but she wasn’t on a ship. The very ground beneath her feet had started to rumble.

“What the–” she muttered, looking out towards the window. There was nothing she could see causing the vibrations and the rest of the city seemed to be vibrating along with her. A quake? But unlike any quake she’d ever felt. There was something eerie about it. Somewhere from the street, she heard a chorus of screams.

“Riley, please,” she murmured, staring, transfixed at the shuddering skyline. “We have to go.”


Chapter 46: Negotiations Pt. 2

For the first time in weeks, Corra was in good spirits. She’d managed to spend some quality time with Leta which always helped her mood. Cyrus (and Fiearius, though he was irrelevant) was aboard her ship for their short jaunt to Archeti and although he and Addy had mostly been confined to her bedroom, it was hard not to feel happy for him. And just now, she and Finn had loaded another of Callahan’s shipments into the cargo bay and it hadn’t been awkward at all.

Things truly seemed to be looking up.

Finn had then left to visit to their client to talk numbers, a meeting Corra hadn’t even needed to lie to get out of, leaving her to a quiet afternoon to herself until they headed back to the CORS that evening.

Well, somewhat quiet.

“You could have warned me that my mother was going to be here,” Alyx said, marching into the bridge where Corra was lounging in the captain’s chair.

Subduing her laughter, Corra turned to her navigator. “I told you Fiear and Leta were meeting with her.”

“Meeting with her, sure,” said Alyx as she sat down in her own seat, arms folded over her chest. “But I didn’t realize they’d be bringing her back here. Or that she’d be coming with us. I was just minding my own business in the mess and I look up and suddenly bam. There she is. Stalking through like she owns the place. I had to duck under the table just so she wouldn’t notice me.” She groaned and put her hands over her eyes. “Permission to hide in my quarters the rest of the journey captain?”

Corra laughed. “You don’t need my permission for that ever.”

“And thank god for that,” Alyx mumbled, dragging her hands off her face and glancing down at her console. “Oh, hey, you’re getting a call. Looks like Raisa from the Conduit.”

“Ooh.” Corra sat up straight in her chair. “Put her through.” Alyx nodded and hit a button, allowing the familiar voice of Corra’s old fellow ally to fill the room.

“Corra? You read me?”

“Loud and clear, Rai,” Corra replied, unable to hold back her grin. Though the Beacon had been busy appeasing their paying client lately, it hadn’t stopped Corra from keeping in constant contact with the Conduit and offering as much help as she could give. So far they’d given a ride to a nearby stranded Conduit agent, dug up the location of a few missing allies and even rescued one whose escape attempt hadn’t quite gone as planned. It wasn’t much, but Corra was eager to do more. As stimulating as ship runs for Callahan were (not at all), working with the Conduit actually felt like what she was meant to be doing.

“I hear you’re on Archeti?” asked Raisa, her signal fuzzing.

“Yeah, until tonight,” Corra answered, having a feeling she knew where this was going. Archeti was a known hotspot for ally traders looking for new product. On fancier planets, only the poor street scum were up for grabs and they were often rounded up quickly by the larger trading institutions. But on Archeti, everyone was street scum and no one seemed to notice when their neighbors just vanished into thin air.

“Hm, that’s not long, but maybe you could look into something for me anyway?” she asked. “I’ve been getting a lot of reports lately of an influx of Archetian allies on the market.”

“That’s not really unusual,” Corra pointed out. “Aren’t there always a ton of ‘em?”

“There are, but at this point, we’ve got a handle on all the known traders who collect in masses,” Raisa explained. “There are some small fries that slip through the cracks, but anyone capable of introducing this many to the market all in one go? We know about them and we’re already working on it. This new wave though…”

Corra frowned. “Someone else?”

“We think so. That or it’s one of the usuals changing their methods now that we’re watching. Either way, it’s not good. Whoever’s running it has a tight operation. They’re near impossible to track. All we know is that they’re coming out of Genisi.”

“That’s not a lot to go on,” Corra admitted. “Genisi’s kind of…big…”

“I know and I don’t expect you to be able to figure the whole mystery out, especially on that time frame. I just thought I’d throw it out there and if you know anyone who might have heard something…”

“Yeah, I’ll see what I can do,” she promised, said a word of goodbye and disconnected the call. The bridge fell into a strange, uncomfortable silence for a moment. Something was wrong and Corra couldn’t quite place her finger on it.

Alyx was watching her curiously. Finally, she suggested, “You could ask Quin. She might have heard something.”

Corra nodded, still frowning thoughtfully at the floor as she stood up from her chair. “That’s a good idea,” she muttered as her feet started to drift into the hallway. She kept walking, wondering why she suddenly felt so off. This wasn’t unusual. In Genisi, people capitalizing on the ally trade was as common as people getting mugged. Aside from this newcomer apparently having some good tech behind them, this was just the same old thing.

Then why did Corra feel so unsettled by that conversation?

Regardless, Alyx had a point. If anyone would know anything about the underbelly of Genisi, it was Quin who practically policed it herself. So she headed down to the guest quarters where she easily found the woman in deep discussion with Fiearius about–well, something.

As Corra stood on the precipice of the room, their words didn’t meet her ears. Instead, she just recited her question again in her head: ‘Ms. Utada, do you know anything about a new ally trader in the city?’

But when she opened her mouth, that wasn’t the question that fell out.

“A long time ago, you told me you wouldn’t work with Callahan because you didn’t want his dirty money,” Corra said, her tongue seemingly acting on its own volition. “What did you mean by that?”

The conversation in the room stopped. Both Quin and Fiearius looked at her curiously. Corra didn’t even know where that had come from. The comment, so flippant and many months ago now, had all but left her memory. But it hadn’t. It had stayed there, looming, hovering, hinting at something she didn’t want to even consider. That she’d blocked herself from considering, even. She had passed it off as insignificant paranoia. It was unimportant. But now? Now, suddenly, it seemed more important than ever.

It was a long moment before any spoke or moved. And then finally, much to Corra’s horror, Quin’s face fell into an expression it should not have been making ever: pity.

“Oh sweetie,” she cooed, standing up from where she sat on the bed and taking a few steps towards her. Corra hoped she was imagining it, prayed even, please, let her be imagining it, but she wasn’t. Quin’s eyes had settled just to the left of Corra’s. On her ear. “You don’t know?”

Corra felt her stomach fold in on itself. She couldn’t see the room anymore, nor the people in it. She couldn’t hear the voices nor the sounds of the ship. She couldn’t feel her feet as they suddenly turned from the room and pounded back down the hall.

It couldn’t be true. It really couldn’t be. She couldn’t believe it and she wouldn’t believe it until she saw it with her own eyes. She raced towards the cargo bay where they had not half an hour ago loaded a new ship. One of those common, cheapy ones, Addy had called it. Dime a dozen. But somehow special enough that Corra wasn’t allowed to go near it, to touch it, to open it. Well, it was going to be opened now–

Chapter 45: Slow on the Uptake Pt. 3

“Hey stranger,” she’d greeted, hugging him, her face pressed against his shoulder. Finn muttered a hello, a little distracted by the familiar aroma of her floral shampoo and cleanly pressed military uniform. But evidently he was not the only one with a sense of smell, because when Elsa pulled back, she wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“God, you still smoke? I thought you gave that up.”

“Old habits die hard,” he replied, sending her a knowing look, to which she smirked, somewhat sadly.

“So — been awhile, eh?” he’d sighed, as they sat down and signaled for the bartender. He surveyed Elsa over the rim of his glass as he took a drink, noting all her familiar features: her short chopped blonde hair; her dainty upturned nose; her smirk. The biggest difference was her uniform — it was decorated with more patches and medals of distinction than the last time he’d seen her.

“Look at you,” he said, impressed. “You’re a captain now.”

“And so are you.” She put a hand on his wrist. “So. Tell me about the Beacon.”

It was too easy, Finn thought, to fall into familiar rhythms with this woman. Twenty minutes of small talk passed before Elsa abruptly finished her beer and straightened up, sending him an amused look of accusation.

“I know you’re going to ask me about the wedding,” she said, which was accurate. “So why don’t you just get it out of the way?”

Finn set down his pint of beer, readying himself. “Alright. Here’s my first question. You’re getting married in, what? Three weeks? Why the rush?”

“Because we have no reason to wait, Finn,” she said simply. “We only want a small wedding here on the station.”

“How romantic.”

Elsa’s smirk tinged with bitterness. “I was hoping you’d be mature about this.”

“I’m trying.”

“Maturity was never your strong suit,” Elsa agreed. “Listen, I’m sorry if I blindsided you with this news. I consider you one of my closest friends.”

“I know.”

“But to be be honest,” she said, frowning, “I didn’t think you’d really care.”

Finn went still with surprise, certain he’d heard incorrectly.

“We dated for three years, El,” he said blankly. “And I kind of thought we were still dating. Of course I care that you’re getting married.”

“When I asked you to come back to Carthis, you barely answered my calls for three months. You’ve got the Beacon. You’ve got all these jobs to do. You’ve got Corra.”

“I’ve — Corra? What does that mean?”

“You told me you’re sleeping together,” she said, sounding amused. “Isn’t that still going on?”

“Well, yeah. But … it’s not serious.”

Elsa pursed her lips, like she was fighting back a smirk with difficulty. “You do realize,” she began knowingly, and Finn knew he was really in for it, “that that’s exactly what you used to say about us? ‘We’re just hooking up. It’s not serious.’ And then what happened? We were together for all of school.”

She paused pointedly. Unease was spreading through Finn, but he still grunted, “Just say it, Elsa. Whatever you’ve been sitting on for the past year, let me have it.”


“Really,” he sighed. “I’m a masochist.”

“Alright. Remember the other night when you left that drunk message for me?”

“Vaguely … “

“It was hard to tell because you were slurring so badly, but basically, you asked me why it never worked out between us. And there a lot of reasons, but I can give you one of them, and it’s you don’t realize when something good is right in front of you.”


“You asked for it. Finn, you’ve been terrified of commitment this whole time. If something good is there, you don’t need to run from it.”

In equal measures, Finn was desperate for this conversation to end, and yet he was deeply curious for more.

“So you’re telling me I have feelings for Corra,” he deadpanned, staring at her. “That comes as news to me.” Did she know something he didn’t? He felt cornered, and oddly like Elsa was onto something.

“I didn’t say that,” she pointed out with a suspicious smirk. “But if that’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Maybe you should consider it.”

Finn winced. And yet when he lifted his glass to finish off the dregs of his beer, he found himself wishing this evening had gone differently — he really would have much rather spent it with Corra. A fleeting pang of regret went through him, and he thought Elsa was probably right when she sighed, “You’ve always been slow on the uptake.”

– – –

Tension was filling the war council room like rising smoke.  A dozen Carthian officers crowded the large round table, their faces lit in eerie blue light from the three dimensional projection of Vescent’s capital that rotated between them. It was past midnight, and they’d been at this meeting for nearly two hours, planning out each and every minute detail of Vescent’s liberation.

Standing out as the only person present without a military uniform, Leta stood beside Gates with her arms crossed, her eyes reflecting the map of her home city.

“Well?” grunted Gates, using his cane to quickly move around the table. He seemed to possess an odd amount of energy for someone his age. “We’ve heard a lot, but we haven’t heard from our Chief Strategist yet. What intel have you got for us, Arsen?”

All eyes in the room swung toward Arsen, the latest officer Leta had met. The man was of medium height, sturdy built, and clearly younger than Gates, or at least considerably less scarred. His jet black hair was not without a light touch of gray. Despite the signs of age, he, like Gates, seemed rather eager for this conversation.

“Preliminary recon suggests we’ll face automatic missile resistance, here, here and here,” he said, touching three points on the map, making them flash bright red. “Any air assault is going to need to start by taking them out.”

“They’re likely to be reinforced so I recommend putting three destroyers in the first wave,” he went on. “We can run shields at full capacity and use remaining power to barrage the launchers, clearing the way for the rest of the fleet.”

“How will that impact civilians?” said Leta, throwing a look toward Gates in particular. He stood closest to the table, frowning. The glow from the screens illuminated the deep scars on his face even more dramatically.

“We intend to keep our air efforts limited to known Society facilities to limit civilians caught in the crossfire,” Arsen replied. “How possible that will be given the number of facilities and effectiveness of our weaponry against them is something we’re looking into.”

General murmurs of agreement rippled through the room. Just when Gates said, “Alright, let’s table th — ” a sudden voice cut through the room, bold and irritated.

“That’s stupid. You’ll just be sacrificing your best ships for no reason.”

Leta felt a bolt of shock, but then it did not surprise her at all, to see the tall figure of Fiearius standing in the doorway. Jaw clenched, he strode deeper into the room, his eyes on Vescent’s map.

Puzzled murmurs broke out, but it was Arsen who laughed darkly, “Excuse me? This is a closed meeting, you can’t just–”

Gates held up his palm to silence Arsen. Then he nodded at Fiearius. If he was irritated by the interruption, he did not show it. In fact, something like puzzled bemusement passed through his gaze.

“Those turrets are built to detect ships of that size,” Fiearius went on, crossing into the room. “You send ‘em in there first, you’re just gonna have about ten minutes of ‘who’s guns are bigger? “You’re better off with smaller ship. A fighter, a transport even. Anything small won’t even attract their attention.”

Arsen snorted. “A smaller ship wouldn’t have weapons capable of breaking through the reinforcements.”

“No, but they can slip right through the landing defenses,” Fiearius remarked simply, mimicking a ship with his hand as it flew down into the holographic city. “And then walk right in here.” His fingers walked to a nearby building. “And shut down the power.” He glanced over at Arsen and smirked. His mouth then formed an ‘o’ of realization and he added, “Also, you missed a couple spots, here, here, here and here.” He pointed to various points on the map, turning them red as well.

Stunned silence filled the room for a moment. A twisted smirk touched Arsen’s face, but his eyes were cold.

“So,” Gates grunted. “You’re late to your own meeting. Decided to lend your help after all, Captain?”

Dryly, Fiearius said, “Gotta finish what ya start, or so they say.” Across the table, he met Leta’s gaze knowingly. She shook her head, biting back a tiny smirk that read I knew it.

“Glad to hear you’ve come to your senses,” said Gates briskly. “And your allies? Have you spoken to Ms. Utada?”

Fiearius waved him off impatiently. “I’ll go to Archeti and convince her, don’t worry about that. For right now though, catch me up.” He leaned forward on the table and looked around the room. “What’s the plan?”


Chapter 45: Slow on the Uptake Pt. 2

“You’ve played chess, think about it. Carthis has a powerful military, sure, but it’s restricted. It’s got a bureaucracy, it’s got multiple points of authority, it can’t just act on a whim. You, though, you’re free to move about wherever you like, whenever you like. You have no need to follow rules. You’re the most powerful piece in play, you can act as they can’t. That’s why they need you.”

“They can still sacrifice their queen, Cy,” Fiearius pointed out bluntly before letting out a long groan. “I don’t know. Leta obviously thinks I should do it. You seem to think I should do it. Even I know that I should do it.” He glanced down at his wrist. “I’ve been given an opportunity, maybe it’s a sign, maybe I should take it.”

“Well you wanna know what I think?”


Ignoring him, Cyrus went on, “I think you’re asking yourself the wrong question. Forget what you should do. What do you want to do?”

“I want–” Fiearius began, but what finished the sentence didn’t come to mind. “I don’t know what I want.” But then the words just started barreling out. “I want to be free of the Society I guess. I want to be able to live without being constantly hunted. I want what happened to Aela and Denarian to never happen again…” He looked up to see Cyrus staring at him pointedly. It made his insides churn a little. So he quickly said, “But it’s not just me, Cy. If I pull the Dionysian into this, we all get pulled into this. You too. What do you want?”

Seconds passed. Then he said quietly, “I want to go home.”

Fiearius wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Cyrus speak so sincerely. After a moment, Fiearius admitted, “Yeah. Me too.”

They regarded each other uncertainly. Then, eager to change the subject, Fiearius remembered the message he’d received this morning from Finn. “Oh but, hey, on the note of things you want, I do have some good news for you.” Cyrus looked up at him, perplexed and Fiearius couldn’t stop himself from grinning. “There’s a ship docking near ours in about an hour. One I think you’ve heard of. It’s…what is it called? Is it the Lighthouse? No, Bonfire? Lamp–”

“The Beacon?” Cyrus finished for him, his eyes going wide. “Wait, the Beacon’s coming here? In an hour? Addy’s gonna be here in an hour?

“Yeah, so I’m told, thought you’d–” Fiearius began, but suddenly Cyrus was already pushing himself to his feet. “Hey, what the hell’s the matter?”

“I look like a mess, Fiear!” Cyrus dismayed as he seized his tablet, nearly knocking his plate off the table. “She can’t see me like this!”

“What? You look fine — “

“No I don’t!” Cyrus insisted half-heartedly as he started to flee the mess hall. But he retreated a few steps and added, “Where’s your hair stuff?”

Fiearius let loose a raucous laugh before answering, “Under the sink,” and watching Cyrus scramble away down the hall.


It was going to be a short stop on the CORS, but Corra had been looking forward to it nonetheless. Ever since the Beacon had dropped Leta off here a week ago, she’d been missing the companionship of her best friend, despite how busy things were. They’d already made two more runs for Callahan and were en route back to Archeti to pick up another. It was only luck, masterful scheduling and a little careful rerouting by Alyx that had lead them here and Corra couldn’t have been more glad of it. She was in somewhat desperate need of a friendly distraction.

Corra had tried exceedingly hard to get over her mistake in Finn’s room a week ago. Her brain seemed determined to keep reminding her of how stupid it had been though. In the quiet moments of the day, she’d suddenly turn pink with embarrassment and feel an unbearable urge to bury her face in her hands. And traveling back and forth from Archeti on ship drops left a lot of those quiet moments.

It would have been fine, honestly, if things had just returned to normal. And oh, how she’d tried to return them to normal. Earlier in the week, she’d found her way to Finn’s door, just like she always did, but instead of the fun evening of physical entanglement she was used to, what she got was a whole pile of awkward. He’d just kept offering her drinks (“Whiskey? How about vodka? You must at least want water. It’s important to stay hydrated.”) despite how many time she said no and asking her mundane questions about her day. It was clearly an effort to be nice, but in the end it just made her wish him a goodnight and retreat back to her own quarters alone. So much for normal.

Last night, she’d tried again with substantially more success, but the awkwardness was still there and the fact remained that Finn changed when she walked into a room now and it was her fault and it was driving her nuts. She needed something to take her mind off of it. Some time with Leta seemed just the thing as Alyx too often had the smirk of someone who knew more than Corra would have liked, Addy, the poor thing, was a little too lovesick to ease Corra’s particular ache, and Cai? Well…Cai was a whole other can of worms.

“D’ya think if I ask nicely, the Carthians will give me one of those neat jackets?” he was saying as they strolled through the cargo bay side by side. Corra giggled stupidly and internally scolded herself for it. Somehow it had become her reaction to nearly everything he said, especially over the past few days. She’d giggle and she’d blush and she’d feel an annoying flutter in her stomach and then she’d get mad at herself. The last thing she needed right now was a stupid crush. Well. Another stupid crush. Any crushes. But especially crushes on people who she had no chance of romance with.

“Doubt it, but if you’re careful you could probably steal Finn’s when he’s drunk,” Corra suggested, though he didn’t seem too pleased about the idea.

“Maybe I’ll just ask him nicely,” he muttered thoughtfully. “I’d rather not upset him, he seems pretty attached to it…”

“Where is Finn anyway?” Corra asked, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer. Avoiding Corra by hiding in the bridge maybe? Drinking alone in the kitchen? Moping in his room about Elsa again?

“He said he had somewhere to be and left as soon as we docked,” Cai answered with a confused shrug. “Didn’t say when he’d be back. Did you need him for something?”

“Oh no, just curious,” she assured him as she stepped up to the ramp and stopped in her tracks. At the bottom stood perhaps the last person she expected to see here. Well. Second to last maybe.

“Cyrus?!” she exclaimed, flabbergasted.

Cyrus, who looked a bit like he’d fallen out of the shower backwards, landed on his head and then rolled the rest of the way here, stared up at her wide-eyed. “Corra, hey! Uh–” he began, but before he could continue, she had hurried down the ramp and thrown herself at him in a hug.

“What are you doing here?!” she demanded, holding him back at arm’s length.

“Oh, Carthis invited us or something. It’s a long story,” he muttered, glancing over her shoulder, clearly distracted.

Corra too turned around and realized Cai was standing behind her, smiling that stupid adorable idiotic smile of his. Remembering her manners, she seized his arm and pulled him over towards them. “Cy-Cy, there’s someone I want you to meet,” she said. “This is–”

“Addy!” Cyrus exclaimed suddenly and it became very apparent that he was no longer listening. If he had been to begin with. At the top of the ramp stood the Beacon’s engineer who seemed just as shocked to see her long distance lover as Corra had been.

“Cy?” she asked in disbelief. Cyrus just stood there smiling up at her with all of his usual nerves and unsureness. But then the shock started to fade from Addy’s expression and was replaced instead by the happiness of someone who hadn’t seen their loved one in a month. Annoying as it was to be ignored, Corra couldn’t help but smile as she looked between the two of them. Especially when Addy suddenly decided to barrel down the ramp, throw herself into his arms and kiss him on the mouth. And kiss him. And continue kissing him…Still kissing him.

“Aww,” Cai commented. “Is this Addy’s boyfriend then?”

“I should hope so, the way they’re going at it,” Corra remarked, taking a cautious step away from the pair. She glanced up at Cai. “You can meet him later I guess. Let’s go find poke around this fancy station til Leta’s free, shall we? I bet they’ve got a killer armory.”

– – –

The slick modern bar in the lowest deck of the military station was lonely and empty, and Finn wasn’t surprised: most Carthian cadets were too busy and stressed to sit down for a drink. When he’d been a cadet, he certainly had never had the time to enjoy the entertainment corridor, which held gourmet eating areas, a dance floor, a private theater. Mostly the bar was for distinguished guests, like Fiearius, which was an odd thought.

But the whole deck was empty and quiet tonight. Finn sat at the corner of the bar alone for nearly an hour, nursing a glass of beer, and he only saw one other person approach the bartender: Admiral Gates. The older man appeared from the shadows, rapped his knuckles on the counter, downed a double-shot of whiskey, and then limped away back toward the elevators again. Finn snorted to himself, amazed; he’d always sort of liked that guy, though the feeling had never been mutual.

It was only when Elsa arrived, about twenty minutes late, that Finn stood up.

Chapter 44: The Station Pt. 3

Fiearius paused, clearly surprised. “You know I’m not,” he pointed out, eyeing her with interest. “Daelen’s real serious about that confidentiality thing. You don’t think he didn’t ask permission every time he sent you medical updates? Anyway, no. I’ve been clean for 38 days and I’ve no intention of breaking that streak.”

“I was trying to get off it earlier,” he suddenly went on, to Leta’s surprise. “Months ago. I only took it to get over all the ARC shit, so once that was done, I genuinely tried to quit, but– it’s just hard. Even with constant medical supervision. It’s…really hard.”

Leta found herself nodding. She could think of nothing to say, especially when he edged closer in his chair and set his eyes directly on hers.

“Listen, I’m sorry,” he said, exhaling slowly. “I never meant to hurt you. I made a choice that was right for me at the time of making it. And at that time, I was desperate enough to not realize that my choice about me for me wasn’t only going to affect me.” He shrugged helplessly. “So I’m sorry for that. And I’m sorry I wasn’t honest about it.”

Here, he didn’t seem able to look at her any longer. “I was just afraid of losing you,” he admitted. “What we had always felt so…fragile to me. Like there would come a day when you’d look at me and realize who I am and who you are and know that you’d made a huge mistake.”

Leta didn’t realize how very still she’d grown as Fiearius kept talking. Still, quiet, as if paralyzed by the weight of his words. For several seconds she stared at a spot in the middle of the table, and then at last she picked up her gaze and looked at him — really looked at him, for the first time in nearly a month. Although he looked a little beaten up — circles around his eyes, his cheekbones more stark and gaunt — he was still very much the man she remembered, the man she’d slept next to nearly every night for half a year. And knowing that, she couldn’t bite back her confession.

“It never felt fragile to me,” she admitted quietly.

The words sat in the air heavily for a moment, until she leaned back in her seat, heaving a long, burdened sigh. She crossed her arms and went on, matter-of-factly now, “For what it’s worth, it wasn’t the drugs, Fiearius. I can live with someone who has a problem with addiction. It’s not an accident that I became a doctor — I’ve seen the worst in people and it doesn’t scare me off. That’s not why I left.” A flicker of intensity passed through her eyes. “It’s that you lied … that you thought you couldn’t trust me.”

At that, Fiearius shook his head vehemently. “It wasn’t you I didn’t trust. I–gods if there was just one thing I could take back, it’s that.” He met her stare seriously. “I do trust you. It wasn’t lack of trust that made me hide it from you. Just lack of courage.”

“Well — thank you,” she added, her voice lowering with sincerity. “For apologizing. I forgive you.”

Was their night winding down now? Perhaps it was. Perhaps this was all that needed to be said between them. They’d eaten, they’d talked, he’d apologized, she’d accepted his apology. Perhaps this was when they parted ways.

Somewhat uncertainly, Leta stood to her feet and took their plates to the sink. She wasn’t sure how to say goodbye, even just temporarily. When she turned around and her eyes set on Fiearius standing there, intense and burning with meaning, she sighed.

“Listen. I can accept that it’s — that this — that we’re over. But I can’t accept that you’re hurting yourself. If you use again, please just tell me.”

He cracked a dark, lopsided smirk, one that had won her over a thousand times before.

“Oh come on now, I would never. Only have to make a mistake twice, y’know… ”

As she picked up her bag from the floor and readied to leave, there was only one thing left to do: truly say goodbye. As they lingered near the door, Leta paused, then decided oh, what the hell and stepped closer for an embrace, which he accepted, pulling her into his chest. The warm weight of his hands on her back held her in place like an anchor.

“Don’t be a stranger,” she heard herself say quietly in his ear, a slight laugh in her voice, even though her expression was anything but comical and warm. Her forehead wrinkled with sudden distress as her chin brushed against his shoulder, her arms held his torso perhaps too tightly, one of her hands holding his shirt fabric at the small of his back. Her other hand was still knotted around the handle of her bag.

Finally, with a shaky sort of sigh, she drew away inch by inch, but then it happened: she made a colossal mistake, almost instinctively, as if she had no control over the error. She made the mistake of easing away and moving her face nearer toward his, sliding her eyes up to his, and then down to his lips. Breathing in sharply and softly, she froze.

Leta’s first thought was that Corra was going to kill her for this. But that thought grew dimmer in her mind as Fiearius met her eyes, then moved his gaze down her face. Seconds passed, and then slowly the curve of his mouth leaned in and brushed against hers in a tense, uncertain graze. She could still feel the unease between them, the uncertainty of how to move forward and how quickly. It was a slow burn of a kiss: unneedy, both of them hesitant. Clearly, Fiearius was as unsure as she was about this development.

But with a slow exhale Leta felt the tension melt from her skin. Warmth ran up her spine as the kiss began to build slowly, with more pressure and heat as his fingers curved against her back, pulling her closer. Now, the voice in the back of her mind was at war with itself. This is bad for both of us, scolded Logic and Reason. Nothing good would come of it.

But very quickly, Logic and Reason were no match for how Fiearius’ lips pressed and pressed into hers. Not for the first time, Leta silently marveled at just how good it felt, his hands at her hips and the small of her back, the expert way he held her in place. Her bag dropped to the floor at their feet and her hand went up to his neck, her fingers digging slightly against his neck.

Just as a surge of passion ran through them, Leta managed to take a hiss of a breath and regain some of herself. It took all of her effort to pull back even an inch, and it was then she realized just how entangled they’d become: her forearms rested at his shoulders, her body arched against his, achingly close. Pausing suddenly, Leta rested her forehead against Fiearius’, her chest heaving somewhat as she examined the way she was already intimately wrapped around him. She felt a surge of irritation with herself as she looked down at their intertwined bodies, but she made no motion to move.

“I — ” she stammered dropping one hand away from his shoulder. She pressed her slightly shaking fingertips against her bruised lips, in disbelief of what had just happened. And yet she was not surprised at all. Growing pale in spite of all the warmth and arousal rushing through her, Leta murmured, “Is this alright?” still short of breath.

Fiearius regarded her face closely. Then he shrugged one shoulder, leaned in and reclaimed her lips and hips and all of her and started to gently lead her towards the couch across the room.


Fiearius would have been outright lying if he’d said he hadn’t missed this. Physical desires hadn’t been at the forefront of his mind lately, but the intimacy? The passion? The spark of connection? He’d yearned for it often. Now that he’d lived out the scenario, he released a long, satisfied sigh of utter contentment. This was the best he’d felt in a month. A sheen of sweat covered his skin as he rolled over to catch his breath.

But it was then he found that this couch in the station’s lounge was not quite as wide as he’d thought. With a thud, he rolled over onto the floor.

At once, Leta propped herself up on her hand and laughed at him. “Oh come on, we’ve done it weirder places than this.”

“I’m a little out of practice lately, cut me a break,” he laughed.  Heaving a deep breath, and still chuckling, he pushed himself up on his palms and glanced over at the woman lying at his eye level. But the glance turned into a stare. Maybe it was the month he hadn’t seen her. Or maybe it was the fact that he likely wouldn’t see her like this again. But Gods, she looked beautiful. She had always been beautiful, but something about losing her made him appreciate it all the more. The perfect skin, the bright green eyes, the way her hair flowed in gentle waves around her head.

He couldn’t help himself. He reached out and cupped her cheek in his palm, letting his thumb stroke the side of her face gently. “Should I apologize for this too?” he asked, his tone teasing, but his smile sincere. “I’m getting real good at apologies. I’m so sorry. I’m very sorry.”

“You don’t sound sorry,” she teased. After a moment, she added, “Well I think this one is 50% my fault, so … I’m sorry too, I guess.”

But she was right: he was not really all that sorry. They were both adults, they were not the first recently-ended couple to have break-up sex. It happened, and they would move on from it. This was the final curtain drawing to a close on their relationship.

It had to be.

He watched as Leta reached for her blouse from the floor, picking it up and sliding it on over her head. Sitting on the edge of the couch, crossing her ankles a little nervously, she caught his eye and said, “So. Listen. Not that I didn’t enjoy that … ” A rather knowing pause fell. Considering she’d been writhing beneath him minutes before, seized by pleasure, he knew just how much she had enjoyed that. Flushing slightly, she went on in her usual neutral brisk tone, “But it’s probably not a good idea if we keep this up. I mean, we can’t keep sleeping together. It’s unhealthy, even for us.”

“You sure?” he asked, raising a brow at her. “You sure you wanna give this up? I mean, it really didn’t seem like you want to.” He grinned a lop-sided suggestive grin, but he knew better. He pushed himself up to his feet and stretched his arms over his head.

“I’m kidding, I agree entirely,” he clarified, his tone more serious as he crossed the room towards the kitchen, feeling suddenly hungry again. A few more empanadas sat on the counter, so he grabbed one and shoved half of it in his mouth before returning to her side and plopping down on the couch beside her, still undressed.

“This was a ‘one last time’ sort of thing,” he confirmed, nodding his head and eating the other half. “One amazing last time.” He smirked and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.

As Leta stood up and finished getting dressed, she said, “So. I suppose I’ll see you around the station sometime?”

Fiearius raised a brow at her. “Doubt it. I’ll take advantage of the fancy kitchen a couple more times, but I’m outta here first thing tomorrow.”

Leta folded her arms and took a moment to study him. In a neutral voice, she said, “So you’re really not going to help.”

“No,” he said bluntly. “Are you?”

“I am. I’m providing maps of Vescent and I’m volunteering for their medical team.”

Slowly, Fiearius sat up on the couch. “You don’t — you don’t actually think this will work, do you?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice plain and even. “I do.”

It was unnerving to hear her say the words. He knew Leta: she never said anything she didn’t mean. She was sharp. Unafraid to say no. She’d also been to Vescent and seen the worst of it, and yet she still believed it could be fixed? His mind started to race.

“Look,” he said after a moment. “I’m all for their noble cause, don’t get me wrong, but what makes you think they can do it? Carthis doesn’t have the best track record against the Society y’know. They’ve been fighting–and primarily losing–for decades. The Society’s got better tech, better trained people, not to mention a home-team advantage.”

“I know.” Leta nodded at him, unblinking. “That’s why we need help.”

Expectant silence filled the room. Then she reached for her bag, slung it over her shoulder and headed for the door. Out of habit, Fiearius stood to his feet, pulling his clothes on as he followed after her into the hallway.

“So — back to the pirating business then?” she asked, turning back once last time. “Smuggling weapons? Stealing cargo? Punching thugs?”

Truthfully, Fiearius hadn’t thought that far in advance. But it seemed safe to mutter, “Yeah. I guess so.”

“That’s surprising,” she mused, her voice thoughtful. “Back on the Dionysian, when we were planning those raids on Society ships … I know it really empowered you.”

The way she regarded him then made discomfort stir in his chest, though he couldn’t rightly place why. He forced an uneasy smirk. “Did Gates put you up to this?”

In a plain voice, she said, “No. It’s just a surprise to me is all.” As she adjusted her shoulderbag and walked away, she added, “I’ve just never known you to back down from a fight.”

Chapter 44: The Station Pt. 2

Gates sighed. “Captain, regardless of what you think of us, I need you to consider the ramifications here. You call yourself a traitor, a coward, you say it was all an accident, perhaps it’s true. Perhaps you don’t deserve to be the inspiration of the revolution. But if you join with us, if you stand up and fight now, it would not be an accident. It would not be an act of cowardice or fear. It would be an act of bravery and solidarity, that would change the lives of millions of people for the better. Fine, you’re not a grand revolutionary, I accept that. But with the chance I’m giving you, you can become one.”

Fiearius stopped pacing. His eyes were fixed on his feet. It was like a hurricane had been set off in his head and he couldn’t contain it. He couldn’t see through it. He almost felt like he couldn’t breathe.

When Gates spoke again, his voice was calm, quiet, soothing. “I understand this is overwhelming. Perhaps we should recess for now. I’ve had accommodations prepared for you in the C deck. Take the night. Think it over. We can talk again tomorrow.”

Fiearius frowned. “I have a ship, I don’t need your accommodat –” he began, but Gates cut over him.

“Give me one moment, I need to make a quick call and then I’ll have someone take you to your room,” he said as he turned his attention to his desk.

Suddenly too exhausted to protest, Fiearius numbly drifted back towards the door. It slid open and he re-entered the dim lobby, barely aware of where he was or what he was doing here at all. Everything in his head had just shut off. Stopping the Society, liberating Vescent, symbols of the revolution? It was way too early for this. It would always be way too early for this.

He was so lost in his own head, he didn’t even notice that the man in the center of the room at  the desk apparently had company. And that the company was now staring at him. And then he did notice. And if he’d felt breathless before, he felt practically pummeled now. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped.

“Leta?” said his voice without his consent.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Around them, the lobby continued to bustle with activity: cadets beelined through the room, console screens flashed, an officer barked an order over the intercom. But Leta heard and saw none of it. She felt gutted, her eyes going round as she absorbed the sight of Fiearius. He did not, Leta noticed, look like himself: the usual glimmer of mischief was gone from his eyes. His cheekbones stood out more sharply than usual. His shoulders slumped, and his clothes hung off of him; he’d clearly lost weight that he did not need to spare.

As her shock began to fade (of course he was here, it was only a matter of time before Carthis called on him too), a certain rigidity came to Leta’s stance, as if she were ready to defend herself: her spine straightened and her mouth tightened with distaste.


Slowly he took a few steps towards her, dragging his hand through his unruly hair. Through a deep breath, he said, “You look…well…”

You don’t, she almost said, biting the words back in her mouth. He’d made it through the withdrawals, clearly, but not unscathed.

“So,” he said sharply. “What are you doing here?”

She lifted her gaze to study his face, and it was then she decided to take a stab at being civil. No reason to open hostilities just yet. Actually, she was afraid if she did start to tell him, to really tell him and show him what she was feeling, she would not be able to restrain herself. It would all flood from her, unstoppable and unrelenting, and he would know just how much he’d hurt her.

And she could not allow for that.

“Helping research the lock-down on Vescent,” she said bluntly, shifting on her feet. She adjusted the satchel over her shoulder. “The Beacon dropped me off about a week ago. And Ren invited me. When he found out what the Carthians are planning, he vouched for me. He’s here on the station too.”

“Ah,” said Fiearius, a sudden note of bitterness in his voice. “Ren. Of course.”

Leta paused. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Just…figures doesn’t it?”

Leta narrowed her eyes. “What are you doing here? Never imagined you’d align with the military. You hate Carthis.”

“I do,” he admitted easily. “And I’m not aligned with them.”

“They sure seem to think highly of you.”

“Think highly of me?” he repeated incredulously as though she were a fool for saying it. “Please. They’re just want my resources so they’re playing nice for now. Any other situation, they’d have me hanged, guaranteed.”

“They’re not bad people, Fiearius. They’re trying to help.”

“Sure. ‘Help.’ Carthis just wants to help and everything is sunshine and rainbows. I guess you would believe that wouldn’t you?”

“Excuse me?” Leta hissed. “What the hell does that — “ She halted, and laughed bitterly. “Of course you’re insulting me. You should be apologizing to me like an adult and of course, this is all you can manage. “

“Wait, hang on, be an adult?” he repeated, taking an impassioned step towards her. “You want me to be an adult? I did apologize. I did nothing but apologize, for weeks.”

Leta scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest. But he wasn’t done. “All those messages you never replied to? How about the daily calls you ignored? I tried to apologize to you, but I consistently got the message that you didn’t wanna hear it, so if you’re seriously expecting me to get on my knees and beg for forgiveness now?”

“Yes, actually,” she snapped. “An apology now, now that you’re not high or sick or just desperately trying your hand at damage control would be the mature thing to do, yes.”

“Of course, I’m the immature one, sure. Not like you ran off a month ago or anything. Because that was the mature thing to do.” He groaned and rolled his eyes. “But of course, silly me, you’re perfect and flawless and never do anything wrong,” he muttered bitterly. “I’m the screw up. Everything is my fault.”

“This is your fault!” she cried, clasping her fingers into her long hair in exasperation. All the bitter, acidic thoughts she’d toiled with the past four weeks began to spill forth, like poison being drawn from a wound. Genuine hurt cracked over her face, but she fought it off and instead gritted her teeth.

“You made your choice and now you have to live with it. Of course I left and ignored you. What else was I supposed to? I didn’t want to teach a thirty year old man how to say no to drugs,” she heard herself growl. “I don’t want to clean up after you. Not anymore.”

“No, you’d much rather just leave me right when I needed you most.”

“You lied to me, Fiearius,” she breathed, her voice low. “After everything we’ve been through, you lied to me and listened to Dez. You chose him over me.”

“I didn’t choose Dez,” he snapped, throwing his hand in the air in frustration. “I chose sanity. And it had nothing to do with you at the time. I only lied because look what the fuck happened when I didn’t!”

“What?” Leta gasped. “You really think you — ”

But it was then that a cadet nearby cleared his throat pointedly. Looking sideways, Leta realized they had acquired something of an audience: the room had gone silent, and twenty pairs of eyes were gazing at them in alarm.

“Um…sir?” said the cadet, throwing Fiearius a nervous glance. “I’m supposed to escort you to your quarters?”

Fiearius slammed his palm over his forehead. “Right. ‘My quarters’.” He turned back to Leta and grunted, “Look. I’m sorry. That was–not exactly how I wanted this to go. Can we…talk later? Properly?”

Leta hesitated. Finally she said, “Alright,” and watched as Fiearius walked away with the cadet, disappearing down the hall.


Was she making a terrible mistake?

Steeped in unease, Leta asked herself the question a dozen times as she quietly navigated the metallic maze of hallways later that night. Was she making a terrible mistake, in meeting Fiearius like this? Their first meeting hadn’t just gone poorly. It had gone horribly. His words were ringing in her ears even now, and she burned with anger, shame, worry …

Finally (after making a couple wrong turns, as she was lost in her own head and distracted), Leta found herself glancing down at the numbers she’d inked on the inside of her wrist and slowing to a halt outside a set of double-doors. A keypad embedded in the wall, and to her surprise, an armed guard stood nearby.

“Evening, ma’am,” said the man in uniform, nodding once. “Are you here to meet with Captain Solivere?”

“I — yes,” Leta said, unsure if she should have been amused or alarmed by the decorum now required to talk with Fiearius Solivere. Of all people. These professional soldiers in the military, did they know Fiearius at all? Did they know that he conducted his business from dirty bars and slums in Archeti? That he wore the same torn, dirt-streaked clothes nearly everyday, or at least until Leta made him change? That he spent half his life barefoot? It seemed so unlikely to find him here. For a moment, Leta had the fleeting thought that she was involved some kind of practical joke.

But then the doors opened. Fiearius stood there and gave her a single nod of greeting, his expression tired.

Lingering in place, Leta lifted her eyebrows at him, a mixture of apology and alarm stirring in her green eyes, as she offered a plain, “Hey,” that sat heavily in the air between them. She could feel the guard straightening up and watching her as he muttered sternly, “Sir — sorry to interrupt — is she on your approved visitor list?”

To the guard, he said, “It’s fine. She’s fine. Come on in.”

Feeling rather awkward, she followed Fiearius into the room and considered all the things she wanted to ask him. How could you? was among them. How did this happen to us? was another. But as she followed him inside, the question that sprang forth was, “Holy — is this is where they’ve put you up to stay?”

The lounge was luxurious, like a hotel suite. Leta turned in a circle on the shining wooden floors and gazed over the arched ceilings, the mahogany half-moon bar, the vast console system, the grand piano. What in the world did Fiearius Solivere need with a grand piano? Was this the military’s way of casually bribing him, of getting him on their side? If so — Leta could have snorted to herself — they should’ve known that wealth and a comfortable bed wouldn’t work on him.

“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?” he groaned, weaving his way toward the kitchen. “There’s a master bedroom, a guest bedroom, two bathrooms, one with a bath bigger than a shuttle, dining area, living room, lounging room because apparently that’s different, and the kitchen.” He gestured toward the counters around him. “Which is the one part I actually really appreciate. I haven’t had access to a legitimate grill in years. This Gates guy’s really tryin’ to sell me on this place.”

“Certainly pays to be a criminal outlaw these days,” she muttered to herself, turning around at last to face Fiearius. “Clearly I’m in the wrong line of work, all I got was a mid-range box with a bunk. What’re you — “

Abruptly, she was faced with the sight of Fiearius who was, of all things, holding out a plate full of food for her.

“I made peace empanadas,” he said. “They taste like peace. Or spinach and cheese, I can never tell the difference.”

Slowly she reached out and took one of the pastries, amusement lighting her eyes. “Is this your version of an olive branch?” she asked wondrously.

“Something like that.”

Together they sat down at the long dining room table, quietly eating, stealing stiff and amused glances at one another. Unspoken words sat awkwardly between them for minutes, until at last —

“So about earlier,” said Fiearius suddenly. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, centering his gaze on her. “That was really bad. I think I’ve spent the last month imagining how that would go and how it actually went couldn’t have been further from what I was planning. I’m — really sorry.”

“I’m sorry too,” she agreed, now openly staring at him. There was something achingly familiar about sitting across from him, sharing a meal he’d made. For a moment, her heart tinged with real longing.

But then she remembered herself. Lips thinning out, she lowered her hands from the table. “So. Are you still using?”

Chapter 43: Proposition Pt. 3

“Oh, Cyrus,” Daelen said cheerfully when he noticed they had company. He turned off the sink and started wiping his hands. “Just give me a moment to finish up here and I’ll get out of your way.”

Cyrus, who had accidentally frozen on the precipice of the room, looked up at him in alarm. “Oh no, it’s alright, you don’t have to–”

But Daelen, he’d learned recently, was not someone to waste breath arguing with. “Nonsense, I’m sure you two have lots to talk about, I’ll give you your privacy,” he insisted, patting Cyrus on the shoulder as he marched straight past him out the door. “Come find me when you’re finished!”

As his footsteps died out, the room was left in silence as the two brothers seemed able to do nothing but stare at one another. Cyrus could hardly believe the man he was looking at now was the man he’d seen a week ago seemingly inches from death. Fiearius was alert, responsive, healt– well no, he still looked like shit. His face was pallid, deep circles surrounded his eyes, his already unruly hair had grown into an even more unruly mess and by the looks of it, he’d probably lost ten pounds in the past month. Healthy wasn’t the right description. But ‘not dead’ was enough to soothe Cyrus’ worry.

“So you’re talking now?” he mused finally, at last stepping into the room and making his way toward the bed.

Fiearius let out a laugh that turned into a cough. “Would you rather I go back to groaning my responses?” he asked, his voice wheezy and quiet.

“Maybe.” Cyrus nudged Fiearius’ feet out of the way and lifted himself to sit on the edge of the bed. “It was kind of a fun puzzle, figuring out what it was you were asking for.”

“Yeah,” Fiearius coughed. “A puzzle both of you kept getting wrong. I wanted morphine, not water.”

Cyrus chuckled and shrugged. “Sorry, two syllables, sounds the same. Work on your consonants next time.”

“Better yet,” Fiearius suggested, “Bypass ‘next time’ altogether.” He shook his head and ran his hands back through his greasy hair.

“Good idea,” Cyrus agreed, looking him over. “How’re you feeling?”

Fiearius paused to glare at him. “How do you think I’m feeling?” he grumbled. “I can tell you with absolute clarity that I have no intention of going through this again. Fool me once, shame on the Society, fool me twice, fuck that was a bad decision.”

“No, really? So you shouldn’t have taken Society drugs for six months and lied about it?” Cyrus gasped, putting his hand over his mouth in false shock. “I never would have guessed.”

The glare deepened and then broke away as Fiearius sighed. “I was just wondering how long it would take you to get around to scolding me.”

Cyrus couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. “I’m not scolding you. I’m just pissed. I have a right to be pissed. My dumbass older brother nearly got himself killed because he was too proud and too stupid to ask for help.”

“Sounds like scolding,” Fiearius muttered under his breath and Cyrus battled a powerful urge to smack him.

“Y’know what, shut up,” he said instead, his voice sharp. “You’re lucky I’m even here. I could have just left you to deal with this on your own since you so clearly wanted to. I could have let you choke to death or starve or let your liver fail, but I didn’t. I spent the last month working my ass off to keep your crew together and your ship running and cleaning up your vomit and preventing you from cracking your head open every time you nearly fell on the floor so don’t you dare give me shit for that, shut the hell up.”

The infirmary fell deathly quiet as Cyrus’ words hung in the air. Fiearius was no longer looking at him, but down at his hands in his lap. Okay, it was a little harsh for a man only just recovering, but Cyrus didn’t take it back. He was used to Fiearius’ shitty attitude, he’d had it since he was born as far as Cyrus knew, but now? He was ungrateful now?

But finally, barely above a whisper, Fiearius asked, “Why did you?” His eyes flicked back up to him and now, they were full of guilt. “Why did you stick around? Why didn’t you just leave on the Beacon with the others?”

Cyrus felt his anger crack and start to crumble away of its own accord. He’d thought about it, leaving. For maybe a half second. But it had been swept away as soon as it had appeared. Leaving had never been an option he would truly consider.

“Because you’re my brother,” he answered at last. “And as stupid as you may be and as much as I may have wanted to, I can’t abandon you.” He met his eyes seriously for a moment and Fiearius looked back, all the pain and anguish and despair visible on his face. It was hard seeing him like this, perhaps even more hard than it had been a week ago. At least when he was sick, it was physical, quantifiable, fixable. This though…

Suddenly he felt a need to lighten the mood. “Besides,” he added, a cheerful lilt in his voice. “Your girl left you. Your friends hate you. And you just went through a month of what looked quite a bit like hell. That’s probably punishment enough. I don’t feel a need to add to it.”

Fiearius just stared at him blankly. “Thanks,” he decided was the appropriate answer. “I guess…”

“If there’s anything I’m still mad at you for,” Cyrus went on, shuffling to a more comfortable position on the bed, “it’s keeping me from Addy.”

Passing off whatever awkwardness was left in the room, Fiearius raised his brows in interest. “So that’s a thing then, is it? You and machine girl?”

Even though he’d brought it up, Cyrus felt himself go red with embarrassment nonetheless. It sounded different when Fiearius said it all accusatory like that. Especially with such established terms like ‘thing’. “W-well yeah? I think it’s a thing. I mean we talk every night. And — well I really like her.”

Fiearius cracked him a tired grin. “Good for you. So ya asked her to marry ya yet?”

Cyrus frowned. “No.”

“Ooh, taking this one slow, huh?”

He rolled his eyes. “That happened one time in a bar and I was drunk and I was kidding.”

“Sure, Cy.” Fiearius nodded importantly. “Keep tellin’ yourself that.”

“Y’know what, I changed my mind, I’m still mad at you, I’m leaving,” Cyrus decided, slipping off the side of the bed and turning for the door, but Fiearius let out another cough-laugh and grabbed his arm.

“Okay okay,” he begged, trying to hold down the choking. “I’m sorry. Don’t leave, Daelen only talks to me in really bad puns, I’m dying here.”

Cyrus looked to his brother. And down to his arm. And relented. “Fine.” He sat back down and Fiearius could not have seemed more pleased.

“So what else have I missed?”

Not much, was Cyrus’ immediate gut reaction, but for his brother’s sake, he took another pass at his memory. “Well. Eve beat me at chess. Daelen showed Rhys a picture of liver cancer and he stopped drinking. For two days. Amora started ‘Friday Feasts’ where she makes more food than any of us can eat and then whines at us to eat the leftovers for the next week. I’ve been teaching Richelle and Javier how to work on the Dionysian. They’ve got quite a knack for it actually. When Nikkolai’s not getting in the way. Oh and I made enough credits fixing the other ships in the dock to keep us running for another two months.” He grinned proudly.

But Fiearius, it seemed, was not as impressed with Cyrus’ accomplishments. He was watching him with a kind of anticipation that made him nervous. It occurred to him that news of the Dionysian’s crew was not the only news he was looking for. He almost expected it when Fiearius asked, “How’s Leta?”

At once, Cyrus wanted to change the subject. But despite the pit in his stomach, he knew Fiearius deserved an answer, even if it was, “Eh…she’s good I think. Fine.”

Fiearius nodded slowly. “You’ve talked to her?”

“Yeah, a few times,” Cyrus admitted, feeling a bit like he’d done something wrong. “She’s just helping out on the Beacon. She’s alright.” He wasn’t sure if he should, but he added after a moment, “She always asks about you.”

Fiearius lifted his brows in recognition of the statement, but he said nothing else. Cyrus was left with the distinct feeling he’d somehow just struck him in the chest.

“Oh, also, I’ve been monitoring your messages,” he said suddenly, desperate to leave this topic behind. “It’s mostly notifications that you’re losing your Spaceship War? A few messages from Quin and some others asking what the hell is going on. And there was one this morning, I didn’t get a chance to read through it, but it was from an Admiral?”

Fiearius finally looked back at him, frowning, confused. “I don’t know any Admirals.”

“I didn’t think so.” Curious now what it could possibly be, Cyrus crossed the room to pick up a tablet Daelen had left sitting on the counter. Skimming through it, he eventually found the message he was looking for. “Yeah, here, Admiral Gates,” he read before looking up at Fiearius who just blinked back at him and shrugged.

His brother carefully swung his legs over the side of the bed and reached for the tablet as Cyrus handed it to him. He squinted at the screen and muttered, “Captain Soliveré, I hope this message finds you in good blah blah blah, okay, we’ve heard about your many exploits against the Society and want to commend you in boring boring, ah here we go. On behalf of the Carthian Military Council–” He looked up at Cyrus in alarm and then back at the screen. “–I would like to extend to you and your crew an invitation to our station located at the attached coordinates. We have much we’d like to discuss with you and a cause I think we can both agree is worthy of our attention. Sincerely, Admiral Gates.”

After finishing the message, Fiearius sat in silence for what seemed like ages. Cyrus too, who was leaned over his shoulder to peek at it himself, was stunned by the contents.

Finally, his confusion got the better of them. “Why the hell does the Carthian military want to talk to us?

Fiearius glanced up at him and back at the screen, then shrugged again.

It wasn’t a very satisfying answer. “Well…are we gonna go?” Cyrus wanted to know.

Still, Fiearius said nothing. He seemed to read the message again. And then he looked up at Cyrus, his expression more perplexed as ever, and said, “Considering we’ve got no other prospects right now? I guess I don’t see why not.”

Chapter 43: Proposition Pt. 2

“Well … I’m flattered, Corra.”

“No,” she said sharply, pointing her finger at him. “You’re not. Just — don’t even — ugh.” She suddenly drew her knees up to her chest and buried her head in them.

He could think of nothing to say, nothing to alleviate the awkwardness in the room. It was true that Finn was spending three nights a week in her bed, but she’d always made it clear that was where their relationship stood: the bedroom. They had fun, they laughed, they drank together, and then she kicked him out in the morning. It was an arrangement, casual and easy, and that was that.


“Corra,” he said at last, his chest twisting: was he really about to hurt her? It had never occurred to him that he had that power. “You’ve no idea how much I respect you as a captain. And a friend. But I thought we set ground rules between us, didn’t we? And you know me,” he laughed sourly, “you know I can’t do commitment right now.”

“I know that,” she said into her knees and let out a snort. “Believe me I know that.”

“I’m — I’m really sorry. I had no idea you… you’re not hurt by this, are you? By me?”

Corra snorted again and looked up at him pathetically. “I’m not hurt, I’m just embarrassed.”

She cracked a weak smile, and Finn, glad to follow suit, said,  “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, a lot of people can’t help falling in love with me.”

“I didn’t say I was in love with you,” Corra groaned, rolling her eyes. “I just–look, you’re really fun. And you make me laugh. I like being around you. So I just thought, y’know, if I’m ever gonna learn how to trust someone enough to have a more serious relationship, maybe you’d be a good candidate, that’s all.” She shrugged helplessly.

“Hey, I like being around you too. But … if you want to try out dating,” Finn said, “and you think I’m a good candidate? Oh you — you are just so wrong about that, captain.”

To his relief, Corra laughed. “In retrospect, it was a pretty stupid idea. But, hey, I like what we have right now, really. So if that’s all you want, that’s fine. Please don’t feel bad and please let’s not make a big deal out of this.” She cracked him a lopsided grin. “I can just as easily conduct my great dating experiment elsewhere.”

“Sorry I can’t be of more help,” he muttered, though he meant it. “You deserve a worthy contender.”

“And I will make it my personal goal to find that person. As long as you agree to keep me company on my my many lonely nights in the meantime.”

“That,” said Finn, allowing himself to grin in spite of his guilt as he threw an arm around her shoulders and squeezed, “I can do.”

Corra giggled and stretched out her arms in front of her. Then she seemed to remember something significant and eyed him seriously. “Oh and — I know you don’t think so but… you’re a good guy, Riley. Really good. So forget Elsa. She doesn’t even deserve you anyway.”

– – – – – –

“So you two are really a thing now, aren’t you?” Leta couldn’t help but ask as she smirked at Addy, who sat across from her on the medical bay counter. Although romance was the absolute last topic Leta wanted to discuss these days, even she had to admit how meltingly sweet it was to see Addy flush pink and become suddenly very interested in the stethoscope sitting on the counter.

“I guess we sort of are,” said Addy, nervously tucking her blonde hair behind her ear. She’d come to Leta in the medical bay just for a routine check-up, but ended up staying to visit and gossip.

Leta could only imagine how Cyrus was taking his newly-minted relationship status. When he wasn’t stressing about his brother, he was probably floating on cloud nine.

“Although I’ve no idea when we’ll see each other again. I’ve never done a long-distance thing before. Do you know when we’ll be near the Dion — oh.”  Addy clapped her hand over her face. “I’m sorry, I totally forgot. Here we are, talking about me and the Dionysian when you just went through a break-up — “

“Trust me, I’m glad for the distraction,” said Leta, snorting and waving off her concern. “Besides, I can’t avoid the Dionysian forever. And I don’t want to — I miss Cyrus too.”

 She heaved a sigh. Just then, the doors swung open and Alyx popped her head in.

“Hey, sorry to interrupt, doc, but you’ve got an incoming call. System’s reading it as unidentified so I’ve no idea who it is. Want me to dump it?”

“Unidentified call?”

Considering how many security hurdles Cyrus put the Dionysian through, there was no one else it could be. No one else would know to reach her on the Beacon. And Cyrus always called Addy first, not her. And she’d already talked to Daelen this morning. Which meant …

“No, I’ll take it,” she said at last, feeling oddly decisive about this. Addy threw her a hopeful look. She had to talk to Fiearius again eventually, didn’t she? “Patch it through to my quarters, please.”

Upstairs in her room, Leta inhaled a deep breath, lowered to her chair and reached for the communications console screen. Whatever Fiearius had to say, she would let him say it, quickly and succinctly so they could get this confrontation over with. It was inevitable, after all; he’d tried calling her nearly every hour for the first week she’d been gone, but those calls had petered off as he got sicker. This was the first she’d heard from him since, and there really was no avoiding this man. He seemed to take up more than his share of the span. She switched the dial to take the call.

“Fiearius. Hey. Listen — ”

But it wasn’t Fiearius’ gruff familiar drawl that filled the line. It was another voice, curious and puzzled.


She nearly choked on her tongue. “Ren?” she gasped. “What the hell is — are you alright?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Gods, every time I call you, you think I’m on my deathbed. Though I suppose I can’t blame you for that,” he added, his voice warm and friendly. Clearly he had no idea that Leta’s heart was hammering in her chest, nor that she was experiencing not relief, but a rush of disappointment that it was not actually Fiearius on the other line.

Recovering herself, Leta managed, “What’s going on?”

“Sorry to track you down like this, especially out of nowhere,” he said, inhaling deeply. “But I’ve got a proposition for you.”

– – – – – –

As Cyrus made his way down the stairs towards the Dionysian’s infirmary, he wasn’t sure what he should expect inside. It had been nearly a week since he’d visited his brother. Daelen had assured him that Fiearius was nearing the end of his recovery and insisted Cyrus take some time away from the sickbed. “For your own health,” he’d said. “I’ll tell you when he’s better.”

And this morning, apparently, he was better. Cyrus couldn’t even guess what that meant. ‘Better’ didn’t seem that hard in comparison to the writhing, screaming, delirious mess Fiearius had been for the past few weeks. The echoes of his desperation still haunted Cyrus on quiet evenings sometimes. The fear that this was the end, despite Daelen’s assurance otherwise, still hadn’t quite faded away…

But he was ‘better’. Right. That was something. Finally things could be looking up and Cyrus was starting to be hopeful that they might at last be leaving this planet after their extended stay. Not that it was a particularly bad planet. The tropical city of Kaadihn had actually been quite a sufficient host. There was plenty to do both in work and entertainment, the climate was a nice change from their usual backwater stops and the locals hadn’t once questioned why a crappy out-dated space junker was sitting in their docks for a month. Still, too much traveling had caused Cyrus to grow weary of even the best locations quickly and as he stepped through the door of the infirmary, he couldn’t help hoping ‘better’ meant ‘able to fly the ship elsewhere.’

It only took a moment inside the dim medbay to notice the change since he’d been here last. It was cleaner, for one. The counters were now free of the many bottles of medication that had scattered them before. It was calmer, too. Instead of rushing around the place like a madman, Daelen now stood by the sink rinsing equipment as though he had all the time in the world. And most miraculous of all, it was quiet. In the center of the room, Fiearius was leaning back in the hospital bed, not screaming, not shouting, not flailing nor groaning nor sounding like he was barely crawling his way out of hellfire. No, he was just leaning. And when he saw his brother, he even almost smiled.

Chapter 42: Garden Party Pt. 3

“Oh Gods, Corra, something’s happening,” Leta said breathlessly.  “They’re talking to a security guard. They’re leaving the party. You need to get out of here.”

Corra pounded through the kitchen, rushing out the back door and onto the loading dock. A few shuttles sat in her path and she haphazardly dodged around them straight out onto the main lawn.

Above her, the sky was alight with falling stars, blazing through the atmosphere and burning out, sending shimmers across the grass. Just ahead, moving far too slowly and carefully, she could see the mass of allies making their way out. And just to her right, descending from the side of the house, a security team.

An armed security team.

Panic ripped through her, but action set in only a moment later. She fumbled to grasp her own gun, never stopping her race towards Cai and the others, and lifted it into the air. A decisive bang filled the lawn and all at once, five security guards and sixty four Almost-Frees were looking her way.

She seized the chance.

Run!” she roared at the top of her lungs, and then the scene dissolved into chaos. Suddenly half the guards were barreling towards her and the other half towards the escapees. All of them were on their COMMs calling for immediate backup. A cavalcade of screams erupted amongst the allies as they too tripled the pace, a stampede of legs and desperation all sprinting towards the gate. All except one.

It didn’t take long for the dark shape of people to surpass the one skinny man who couldn’t keep up. Cai’s leg, of course. She’d forgotten. He was clearly going as fast as he could, but it wasn’t fast enough. The three guards who’d gone straight for the allies were gaining on him and quickly.

“Cai! Look out!” she shouted.

One of the guards — so dangerously close — raised a night stick above his head. Cai spun around, but his legs got tangled up and he fell backwards, landing on the grass with a thump even Corra could hear.

“Don’t damage ‘im too much, he ain’t ours!” one of the other guards yelled. “Get after the rest!” shouted another. But all Corra could see in her tunnel vision as she ran towards the scene was her friend about to be beaten by a slaver and it filled her such fury that she didn’t even feel it as her finger pulled the trigger.

Cai scrabbled backwards and stumbled back to his feet as the man with the stick screamed and fell to the ground, clutching his abdomen as it started to seep with blood. Minutes too late, Cai seemed to remember the gun in his own hand and pointed it haphazardly at the fallen man, just as the second approached with a gun of her own.

“Put the gun down, kroppie, or I’ll–” started the guard before she too received one of Corra’s bullets, right in the shoulder.

As the woman reeled back, Cai looked back at Corra in alarm, and it was a second later when she realized why.

A sharp, searing heat tore across her shoulder.  She clapped her hand over her upper-arm and felt warm sticky blood between her fingers. And only moments later, both of her arms were torn back as the guards caught up to her and held her in place.

Her vision grew hazy, and the pain in her arm making her nauseous, but in the darkness she could see Cai’s panicked face. And he was coming closer. At once, she was struck with a panic of her own. “No! No just run!” she shouted to him. One of her captors tried to hold a hand over her mouth, but in her desperate struggle, he couldn’t keep it there. “Get them out, Cai! You have to get them out! I’ll be fine!”

“Sure as hell you won’t be, you kroppie bitch!” growled one of the men behind her and she jerked her body to kick him in the leg. Still, she couldn’t free herself and already, they were succeeding in dragging her back toward the house.

Cai, who had stopped running halfway between the gate and her, was just staring, lost like a deer in headlights. He needed to get back to the group. He needed to get them on the ship. He needed to finish this job.

“Just go!” Corra shouted, angry this time. “Go! Now!”

He was shaking his head when he followed her order. Shaking his head and looking back in regret as he turned and started to run back to where the allies were still being pursued as they fled the gate onto the streets of the city. They’d be okay. He’d lead them back to the ship and they’d be alright. Corra breathed a sigh of relief. As for her…

“Don’t care whose property you are, the boss is gonna have your head for this,” said one of the men carrying her as Corra struggled against his grip. It turned out, though, that it wasn’t her head that was in trouble. One minute the guard was yapping slurs and threats and the next…well, he didn’t have a mouth to yap from.

Again, Corra barely heard the shot. But she swore she saw the bullet as it went straight through the man’s head and out the other side. She also didn’t realize that she shrieked until the second one fell and she was staggering backwards away from two men who barely had faces any longer.

Frantically, she spun around and easily found the source. Finn, his gun raised and his face stone, was marching towards her.

Just beyond Finn was Leta who was sprinting towards them as fast as she could while dragging a young blonde girl behind her. Elli, Corra assumed. Snitch as she may have been, Corra couldn’t hold a grudge and she certainly didn’t want the poor thing to face whatever wrath awaited her now that sixty of her peers were gone.

“Corra!” shouted Leta. “You’re bleeding, are you okay?”

Corra waved her off, “I’m fine, we need to go. There’s probably more of them coming and–”

“I really don’t think so,” said Finn. He flashed her a grin. “There’s enough chaos at that party to keep ‘em busy for a while, we made sure of that.” As Corra tilted her head at him curiously. “He’s not dead, if that’s what you’re thinking. But he’s certainly gonna have a lot to think about for a while.” Finn lifted his other hand which held a knife, a copious amount of blood and–what was that? Corra squinted her eyes at the bloody chunk of — was that — it was — an ear.

At first she was shocked. Nausea swam in her stomach. And then she thought of all the conversations the one-time ally owner was going to have in future where he had to explain that he was not, in fact, the kroppie scum he so loved to abuse, and she felt a grin bloom on her face.

Corra hadn’t trusted Finn when they first took on the Beacon together. He’d always seemed mostly out for himself. That opinion had already changed over the last few months, but never had she respected him or cared for him or trusted him as much as she did that night. Unable to stop herself and despite the searing pain in her shoulder, she threw her arms around him and squeezed.

“Thank you,” was all she could bring herself to say.

Finn laughed, hugging her with one arm. “For cutting somebody’s ear off? You’re welcome? I guess.”

“No, not that,” she scolded, shaking her head and burying her face in his chest. “Thank you for taking this on with me. Even though we’re not getting paid for it. Even though Callahan will be mad. And everything. Thank you. This means a lot to me. I really appreciate it.”

“You two are adorable,” said Leta, “but we need to get out of here before someone finds us.”

“And before you bleed all over me,” Finn added, patting her back. “C’mon, back to the ship.”

Chapter 42: Garden Party Pt. 2

As she walked through the crowd on her own, taking careful steps and trying to smile kindly at everyone who passed her, Corra spotted Leta in the crowd, holding a glass of wine. She met her eyes and they exchanged a silent conversation. Everything okay? Leta asked, lifting her brow. Corra smiled an all good.

Just then, an older gentleman, without even a word of greeting, plucked the last bite-sized concoction from her tray. She resisted the urge to make a rude remark to him and instead took the opportunity to approach the table where a couple of the household allies were arranging more trays to be taken around the garden.

She was about three feet away from it when one of the women working, without even looking up, pointed at a tray at the end and said, “Take that one.” She pointed to a stack of used trays behind her. “Place the old one here.”

Corra hesitated, a little stunned, but she wouldn’t be deterred. Slowly, she did as she was asked, but as she hoisted the new tray onto her hip, she watched the woman a moment longer. She was clearly a ball of stress, just barely keeping afloat as her fingers worked doublespeed placing the — what were those things even? Corra’s understanding of rich-people food was limited — exactly two inches between one another in three columns of five. Corra had brushed it off before when the cranky woman had threatened her with ‘punishment’ but it occurred to her as she watched that this ally standing in front of her knew exactly what the punishment was and was trying very very hard to avoid it. She felt a subtle ache in her chest.

“Tired of doing this?” Corra asked abruptly. The woman snorted.

“Don’t see what that has to do with anything,” she growled, rolling her eyes and continuing her work.

Corra felt a slow smirk spread across her face. “A lot, actually,” she said and felt a beat of hope when the woman looked up at her, her eyes growing wider. “I’m with the Conduit.”

– – – – – – –

In the crowd of mingling party guests, Leta managed to keep an eye on Corra and was pleased to see that her disguise was working perfectly. She flashed her friend a brief smile, then turned around to find Finn again. They were supposed to be watching the other guests, staking out the important figures and making sure anyone who could pose a threat to the operation was accounted for, but the man had seemingly disappeared. Probably to enjoy the open bar and fancy finger food, she assumed.

Leta resisted rolling her eyes. But it was of no matter, she didn’t need him. She could take care of it herself.

Before she could melt back into the crowd, however, a snippet of nearby conversation caught her ear.

“Have you heard what’s happening on Vescent?” breathed a man over her shoulder. Leta froze in place, turning to listen, subtly as she could.

“It can’t be true, can it?” said a woman in reply, sounding terribly worried. “It’s just rumors! There’s simply no way the Society would permit — would permit — ”

“Executions,” the man finished darkly. “Executing their own people. And how are we to know what’s true and what’s isn’t? No media is allowed anywhere near that planet anymore. . . ”

When their conversation broke off, Leta found herself gripping the edge of the nearest table. Executions, media black out — her stomach dropped. It was true, of course it was. She had guessed that things would be growing darker there after what had happened a few weeks ago, the riot that she herself had been a part of. Their words didn’t ring untrue, but they still sent a shiver down her spine and she felt powerless to help. For one fleeting moment, Leta knew what she’d do next. She’d tell Fiearius about this and he’d understand; maybe they could even do something —

But then she remembered. Fiearius was gone to her now.

Her chest gave an ache of longing. Quickly Leta pushed away from the table, determined to get a hold of herself. Around her, interested murmurs and excitement rippled through the garden; the meteor shower was beginning.


In a rush, Cai pushed through the kitchen doors, skidding to a halt in front of her. “It started! It’s time!”

Corra had been waiting there for only a few minutes, but it felt like hours. The word of their planned escape plan had spread like wildfire, reaching every ally on the premises in under twenty minutes and now, she was surrounded by over sixty equally jumpy people who barely fit in the space. Some of them had asked her a thousand questions, others had glared at her with skepticism, but most had just stood quietly nervous, ready to bolt at the very first sign that this was going south.

She could hardly blame them. Misbehaving on the job was bad enough, misbehaving by trying to get away from the job was a sentence she didn’t want to consider. These people were on the verge of either sweet, wonderful freedom or what would likely be very harsh punishment. Of course they were afraid. They had every right to be terrified. The Conduit agent who had visited before must have given a very convincing sales pitch though. They’d all shown up after all. And Corra was determined to get them out of here. No matter what.

“Alright, everyone stick together!” yelled Corra over the crowd as she waited near the doors. “Head straight for the gate and don’t look back. There’s not a lot of time, the shower won’t last long, we need to make the most of it.”

“I’ll lead the way,” Cai volunteered, meeting her at her side. “But if you get separated, the docks are just north of here, a few blocks, can’t miss them.”

“The ship you’re looking for is the Beacon. Big, silver boat,” Corra explained. “We won’t leave until either we have everyone aboard or–”

But suddenly a third voice rang out in the crowd. “Wait!” cried one of the younger allies in dismay. His face shone with worry. “This isn’t everyone.”

Corra froze. Not everyone? That couldn’t be right. She’d done a head count. She’d done a head count eight times. Counting heads was all she had been doing for the last few minutes. There were sixty-three allies total and sixt- three in this room. But the man insisted, “Elli, she’s not here. We can’t leave without Elli.”

A murmur of agreement rang through the room. “She was here a few minutes ago,” someone else pointed out. “Where’d she go?” asked another. “She said she had something to do,” said one more.

Corra couldn’t believe that someone on the verge of everlasting freedom would suddenly feel the need to take a bathroom break. There wasn’t time for this. One loose cog could make this whole machine crash. But they were right. They couldn’t leave without Elli, no matter how bad her timing was.

“I’ll find her,” Corra promised the concerned faces around her. To Cai, she added, “Take them out of here. You know the way.”

His face darkened with worry. “Are you sure? Maybe we should just wai–”

“There’s no time,” Corra insisted as she reached around him to the small of his back and seized the small gun he’d concealed there. Grabbing Cai’s hand, she placed it in his grip and held both for a moment. “You can do this,” she assured him with a smile. “Just remember what I taught you. And hopefully you won’t need to use it at all.”

His hands were still slightly shaking as Corra dropped her own, but he nodded firmly. “Right.” But then he turned those big sad puppy dog eyes of his on her. “But you’ll catch up, won’t you?”

Corra grinned. “Of course. My ship can’t take off without me!” She patted him one last time on the arm before turning to head back out of the kitchen. “Good luck!” she called over her shoulder as the caravan of allies started to make their way out.

Praying to God that this would all go as planned, Corra started to scour the hallways.

She found that the first floor was empty — even the bathrooms were deserted. Then she found her way to the ally barracks in the basement in case this Elli girl had needed to grab some personal possession. But they were also empty. As she continued to search the halls, dead quiet now that everyone was either outside watching the meteor shower or outside fleeing for good, Corra hit the COMM hidden behind her ear.

“Leta, are there any allies out there? We’re missing one.”

There was a brief silence, presumably while Leta situated herself to both look around and talk to herself without anyone noticing. Finally, she answered, “I don’t see any. All the trays are gone. No one by the food table…There’s a bartender, but he seems paid, I–oh! Hang on.” Leta’s surprise called Corra to freeze in place, right on the precipice of the staircase.

“Yeah?” she insisted impatiently. She could still hear the ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s from Leta’s side of the COMM so there was still time — but it was fading fast. As soon as the meteor showered ended, it wouldn’t take long for people to start wondering where all the food had gone off to.

“I think  –” It sounded like Leta was quickly weaving through the crowd. “She’s not working, but–yes, okay, there’s a girl. Young girl. Blonde. I saw her cleaning tables earlier. And she’s with that sour looking woman we left you with.”

Corra groaned. How the hell did that happen? What had this Elli girl done? But then Leta said something that made her retract the question.

“This doesn’t look good…They’re going up to this guy, the host of the party. Corra–I don’t think there’s–she’s whispering something in his ear.”

Corra’s heart thudded. It wasn’t what she’d done. It was what she was about to do. Without even thinking, she started to run.