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.”