Category Archives: Part 2-2

Chapter 48: Bombs Pt. 2

Hiding. But the words dried up in his mouth when he came to look at Addy. Even in the dim light, he could see sudden raw pain shining in her eyes.

“What is it?” he pressed, stepping towards her. “Is it Finn? Is everything alright?”

“I feel like I should be asking you that,” she replied softly. “No, it’s not Finn, I haven’t heard anything new. It’s … are you avoiding me?” she added suddenly, and his mouth fell open.

“N — no! No of course not. I mean–okay, maybe a little, but it’s not you. I’m just avoiding — well, everything. I’m sorry, Gods, I’m so sorry, I’m–” He knotted a hand into his hair. “I’m kind of a mess right now.”

She nodded, just once. “Archeti.”

He dug his palms into his temples. “Every time I close my eyes…” He glanced up at her, sure that he looked just as desperate and pathetic as he felt. “I’m not avoiding you, really. Gods, I would never.”

He hoped the storm would clear from Addy’s face. But instead, she continued to gaze at him, looking thunderstruck and shaky, and Cyrus could sense it: danger was looming.

“I need to talk to you about something,” she said at last, an odd tremble in her voice. “You might want to sit down.”

Cyrus’ chest seized up. As he sank to the edge of the bed, he knew what was coming: she was done with him. The long distance thing was never going to work out. Or maybe the past few days without him made her realize she just didn’t care for him after all. Or worse, she just didn’t want to be with someone who’d caused a genocide.

They were all valid reasons and he was holding his breath waiting for which she chose when she sat down beside him and said only two words.

“I’m pregnant.”

Like an icy wind, silence descended over the room. Addy gazed at his face, waiting for him to say something. White noise was filling his brain, and all he managed was, “You’re what?”

————-

With a long, torturous yawn, Fiearius lifted himself to his feet, stretching his arms over his head as he left the bridge alone. He’d spent the last few hours making final preparations for Leta, for Quin, for the other ships of his other allies he’d called in to assist. Everything was set. Everything was ready. Maybe tonight he’d manage to sleep for more than twenty minutes, but first he had to talk to his crew. They were all waiting in the mess hall.

He was about to head for the stairs when he found Cyrus was climbing down the ladder from his quarters. He hadn’t seen Cyrus since they’d landed on the station, and he forced cheer into his voice when he said, “Hey, lil brother.”

“Quiet,” was all Cyrus said, gesturing at the hatch above him. “Addy’s sleeping.”

Fiearius searched over his brother. Darkness circled his eyes, his hair was disheveled, his clothes wrinkled. His eyes were glazed, like he was in a constant daze. Like he wasn’t even here, but just walking around in a dream.

“Have you been sleeping?” he asked, continuing down the hall and gesturing he follow.

Cyrus fell into step beside him. “No.”

Fiearius waited for a typical Cyrus-style explanation or justification, but he received none. Not that he needed one. He knew what was plaguing him.

“Cy, it wasn’t your fault,” he insisted. “It wasn’t you who killed those people.”

Cyrus didn’t even skip a beat. “But it was me who built the device that did it,” he said simply, his tone flat. Clearly, he’d had this conversation in his head many times before.

“But not you who used it.”

Cyrus shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. The whole thing was my idea. If I’d never pitched Nautilus, Archeti would still be there.” He said it with such even confidence, like there were no other facts in the Span as true as these, that Fiearius barely even knew how to fight him on it.

But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t try. Fiearius took him by shoulder, pulling him to a stop.

“Cy, how could you have known how that would end up? You pitched something you thought would help people. You never meant it to be used this way.”

Cyrus’ stare was hollow and unending. “Good intentions don’t negate fault, Fiearius,” he muttered coldly. “You, of all people, should know that.”

The words felt like a knife in the chest, especially from Cyrus, but Fiearius forced himself to overlook them. His brother was going through something horrible. The last thing he needed was a fight. So instead, he said simply, “What I know is what it’s like to be used by the Society.”

Cyrus grew quiet and looked away. And then suddenly he asked, “How’s Finn?”

Fiearius had been trying not to think about his best friend and how he was likely laying on his deathbed. He’d visited once only to be shooed away by medics and told there was no news. He’d just have to trust Finn to pull through in the meantime.

“Not good.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“He’s not dead yet,” said Fiearius with wry amusement. Eager to change the subject to something lighter than death, he added, “How’s Addy doing?”

It wasn’t immediately apparent that his plan had backfired. But then Cyrus looked up at him, still with those same dazed, wide eyes, took a deep breath and said, “Oh, she’s pregnant.”

Fiearius felt his jaw practically hit the floor. Cyrus regarded him, unenthused. “Yeah that was pretty much my reaction too,” he pointed out.

“She’s — is it yours?” Fiearius finally managed to ask.

Cyrus scowled. “Of course it’s mine.” Then he let out a crazed, tortured laugh and started to walk away down the hall. “First I’m a mass murderer, now I’m going to be a father. Funny, isn’t it.”

Fiearius found himself too stunned to even follow after him. Cyrus. Knocked someone up.

But at last he forced his legs forward and followed after his brother. Cyrus went on, “We figured out when it happened, y’know.” His voice had been empty before, but now there was a slight manic edge to it that made Fiearius nervous. “The second time we had sex. Which was the morning after the first time. One night. That’s all it took. Twice.”

Fiearius frowned. “Technically all it takes is once.”

But Cyrus wasn’t listening. “Most people — most people seem able to, y’know, date someone for a while, maybe move in together, consider marriage and then have children. It’s a process. It makes sense. But me? No. No, of course, I get a long-distance girlfriend for two months and skip a few steps right to the end.”

“It happens,” Fiearius muttered, but Cyrus almost seemed like he wasn’t even in the same room anymore, like he was a madman talking to himself. Fiearius grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop. He looked over at him as though just realizing he was there. “Hey, are you alright?”

“Am I alright?” Cyrus repeated faintly, clearly growing more and more hysterical. “Am I alright? Am I–? No! No, I’m not alright!” he cried, with a fresh bout of frenzy that was shocking to hear. His features marred with disgust and disbelief. “No, I am not alright! I destroyed a planet full of people, Fiearius! I haven’t slept in days! I can’t think, I can’t breathe, I can’t focus. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to come to terms with it! And then! Then! Just to add onto my plate of fun, I’m going to be a dad! A dad! Me! I just spent the last hour telling my girlfriend that everything will be alright and we’ll work it out and it’s all fine while she wept on me until she fell asleep. But it’s not fine! What the fuck am I gonna do?! I don’t know how to raise a kid!”

The sheer desperation in his voice was alarming. It was a rare sight to see Cyrus so very worked up. And it was a sight Fiearius didn’t find comforting in the slightest. “Cy,” he began, trying to mend it, “Look, it’s not–”

“I don’t even like kids!” Cyrus yelled, digging both hands into his hair. “I mean, yeah maybe I thought I might have one eventually, but now? Now? Now, when we’ve basically just started a damn war.”

“Cy –” Fiearius tried again.

“And what about Addy? We’re not even on the same ship, how are we going to have a baby?! Do we get a house somewhere? Should I marry her?” Finally, Cyrus seemed to realize Fiearius was still standing there. He looked over at him, panic in his eyes. “Shouldn’t I marry her?”

Fiearius grimaced. This whole scene was starting to seem a little familiar. Too familiar. “No. She needs your support, Cy, not a ceremony,” he answered evenly. Fiearius moved towards him and dropped a hand on his shoulder. “Alright listen. Do you love her?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do…”

“Good.” Fiearius patted him on the shoulder cheerfully. “Then you two’ll be fine.”

Cyrus looked up at him, dumbfounded. “What? How is that helpful?”

“Cy, no one is prepared to be a parent, you know that? Even the most prepared person isn’t prepared. But have you ever noticed that we’ve been figuring it out as a species for some hundreds of thousands of years?” Cyrus eyed him skeptically. “I was 22 when we had Denarian. You think I wasn’t terrified? You think I had any idea what I was doing? Of course not. But let me tell you, they put a baby in your arms and tell you to go take care of it? No matter how clueless you may be, you figure it out.”

“That’s your answer?” Cyrus deadpanned. “Instincts? Instincts will make everything okay.”

“Actually, yes,” Fiearius agreed. “Instincts and the fact that you are one of the smartest people in the damn span. And you’re having a baby with one of the other smartest people in the damn span.”

Chapter 47: Quake Pt. 3

The hum was followed by screams as the ramp began to lift. Fiearius stepped forward through the crowd and started shouting. “There’s no more room! I’m sorry! Find another ship! Find a shuttle! Get out of the city!” he called, but his voice was lost amongst the panic.

Cyrus tried to look away as the division between those that would live through the night and those that would not widened, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. He absorbed every inch of the image, the outstretched hands, the sobbing faces, the clambering bodies as they struggled to stay on the right side of the line. He had to see. This was his doing. He had to look.

And suddenly, he was very glad he did.

Amongst the despairing faces, there was one that suddenly stood out to him. One that was familiar. His heart stopped in his chest as he caught sight of it right before the lifting ramp blocked it from his sight.

Corra.

“Stop!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “Stop!”

Fiearius had been forced away from him, but nothing, not people not the quakes, could stop Cyrus from reaching his brother and shaking his arm furiously. “Stop! Corra’s out there!”

Fiearius’ eyes widened and at once, he signaled to Leta. Thank the gods, she got the message. The ramp stopped rising and before Cyrus even knew what was happening, he and his brother were sprinting out to the edge of it to look down at the sea of people below.

“There!” Cyrus shouted, finding her face again, now sobbing with relief. Or was that relief? An arm was hung around her neck, but it was loose, unmoving.

“It’s Finn!” she called up to them, still being jostled by the ground and the crowd. “He’s hurt! It’s — it’s bad — “

Cyrus caught Fiearius’ eye and the both of them laid down on their stomachs and reached down to her below them. With all of her might, Corra heaved Finn’s body towards them until they could each seize one of his arms and lift his unconscious form onto the ramp. As soon as they’d laid him flat, it was clear exactly what she’d meant by ‘badly hurt.’ His entire front side was soaked in blood, his face was pale, Cyrus wasn’t even sure if he was breathing.

But there wasn’t time to examine him. He reached down again, this time, lifting Corra upwards until she was able to crawl onto the relative safety of her ship. She too was covered in blood, though it didn’t seem to be hers. Her eyes were wide and red-rimmed and she looked like she’d just seen a ghost. Or a hundred ghosts…

“What happened?” demanded Leta who had materialized at Finn’s side and was checking his pulse. Corra didn’t seem able to answer. “We need to get him to the infirmary, there’s not a lot of time,” Leta went on and within instants, the man was hoisted over her and Fiearius’ shoulders, a gun was in Fiearius’ hand to clear the path and they were on their way.

“Get it closed and get her in the air!” Fiearius shouted to Cyrus over his shoulder and he didn’t need telling twice. Scrambling to his feet, he bolted towards the ramp controls and started them up again. Corra, dazed and confused, hurried after him.

“What’s going on, Cy?” she asked, out of breath. “What’s happening out there?”

He almost didn’t want to tell her. Whatever she’d been through today, he could see quite plainly on her face that it was enough. Did he want to add that a machine she had inadvertently enabled was now destroying the very city, maybe even the whole planet, that they were docked on?

But she’d find out eventually. “It’s Nautilus,” he informed her solemnly. All the color drained from her face.

When Cyrus headed off towards the bridge in the path Fiearius, Leta and Finn had left, she did not follow.

————–

Cyrus’ stumbling sprint through the Beacon showed just how crammed full of refugees she was. People lined the walls of every hallway, filled every room and spilled out of the larger bays, not rioting like their comrades in the cargo bay, but quietly despairing as they resigned themselves to their fate. The only place that was not swarming was the bridge, where Cyrus couldn’t help but pause in the doorway when he arrived.

Cyrus had always seen Quin as a woman who was fearless, unwavering, untouchable. But now, she sat defeated in one of the pilot’s chairs, her face in her hands while Alyx kneeled before her, clasping the woman’s shoulder in encouragement. It was a strange thing (Cyrus wasn’t even sure they’d met before), but hardly strange compared to the view behind them.

He could see it now. Nautilus. The great arching shape of the ship he recognized all too well peeked out from above the crumbling skyline. Its massive metal supports, its graceful curving lines and the green glowing beam of destruction spouting out from below it, mowing down everything in its path. Once upon a time, he’d dreamed of a day he’d see Nautilus in action, but in creation. Not like this. Never like this.

He tore his eyes away. “We’re ready to go,” he said hastily, grasping onto the doorframe as the ship lurched again. At once, Alyx released Quin’s shoulder and stepped back, looking over at Cyrus in alarm.

“The captains?” she asked.

“They’re aboard,” Cyrus confirmed as he swung himself into the pilot’s seat.

“W-well where are they?” Alyx demanded, staggering towards him and holding onto the console for support. “Can you fly this thing? Where’s Finn?”

Cyrus glanced at her only briefly. “In the infirmary,” he muttered and her face went white. Cyrus hit the COMM button. “Addy, you there?”

“Cy!” came the voice on the other end of the line. “Yes! Yeah, I’m here, what’s going on up there, are–”

“No time, the engine’s ready to go?” he cut her off as Alyx fell back into her seat.

“Yeah, she’s fired up,” Addy answered nervously. “Cy, is everything–”

“It’s fine,” he answered before she asked, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. “We just need to go…”

Cyrus put his hand on the controls. He wasn’t sure if the shaking was from the ground or simply his own hands, but he struggled to grip the take-off thruster. And then he found his eyes being drawn across the room to Quin who was watching him with the face of a statue. She wasn’t crying. In fact, she had no emotion on her face at all, her eyes stony, her mouth terse. He met her stare for a long, heavy moment until finally, she looked away.

He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath, but he let it all out as he pulled back the thrust. The ship vibrated even more intensely for a moment, but then stopped vibrating entirely as she pulled away from the shuddering ground. She rose up and up and as Cyrus carefully monitored her systems lest her great weight be pulled by the thrashing atmosphere around her, he couldn’t resist taking one more look at his greatest and worst creation as it soared into view. As she lifted, Quin rose to her feet and moved to the bay window where she could look out upon her home. One last time.

They had reached the upper atmosphere when Fiearius ran in. He slowed to a disjointed stop in the center of the bridge and stood staring at the scene before him in quiet awe. As the ship made the final push out into the smooth edge of space, Cyrus released the controls and stood up. Alyx, too, was compelled to her feet. And slowly Fiearius moved to join Quin at the window where, without even looking at him, she reached out and clutched his arm with a shaking hand as the green and black clouds of Nautilus swallowed up Archeti for good.

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Chapter 47: Quake Pt. 2

“We can’t–” Cyrus began again, but this time she physically lunged at him. Fortunately, Fiearius grabbed her arm and held her back.

“Let go, Soliveré!” Quin raged. “I swear I’ll–”

“It’s not his fault, Quin, don’t–” Fiearius argued.

“If we stay here, we’ll all die–” said Cyrus.

But then Leta’s voice, calm and steady, broke out above the argument. “Alyx, the Beacon’s not at capacity, is it?”

Alyx shook her head. “Not even close.” Realization dawned on her face. “We can fit another hundred at least, maybe even two.”

Quin finally stopped struggling in Fiearius’ grip. “Evacuate…?” she muttered in disbelief.

Leta nodded. “We’ll grab as many evacuees as we can fit, put them anywhere there’s space. If we can’t bring down this terraformer, if we can’t save the city, we can at least save as many of these people as possible.”

Alyx turned to the console. “I can hail the other ships docked and encourage them to do the same.”

“I’ll go get the engine fired up so she’ll be ready to go,” Addy offered, taking one last glance at Cyrus and hurrying from the room.

“What about the allies in the cargo bay?” said Fiearius suddenly and both Alyx and Leta looked at him in confusion. He blinked back at them. “I don’t know,” he snapped. “There are a bunch of allies in the cargo bay, Corra didn’t say why. That curly-haired guy is down there right now letting them go.”

Alyx just shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Keep ‘em here, whatever, just fill the ship.” She hit the COMM and started speaking into it. “Hello? Y’saris? This is the Beacon–”

Cyrus tuned out as Leta and Fiearius shared a look and ran out the door, presumably to go round up people to cram into the ship. Quin, whose anger seemed to have devolved into pure shock and despair, couldn’t tear herself from the room and simply stared out the window as Nautilus approached, taking her beloved city down.

Cyrus watched the back of her head for what was probably minutes but felt like hours. Finally, he couldn’t bear to be in the same space as her any longer, his shame burning at all his edges and his guilt at his core. He turned for the door and headed off to help.

—————

Arleth Morgan was seated alone in the comfort of his dimly-lit office, watching the feedback from Archeti scroll down his screen when the call from his fellow Councillors came in. He took his time in readjusting himself in his chair and squashing the butt of his cigar in the ashtray before he hit connect.

“I trust the operation is proceeding as planned?” asked the voice of the Satieran Councillor almost at once.

The Vescentian Councillor grinned. “Of course. Genisi will be dust before nightfall. The rest of Archeti by morning.”

“I have to hand it to you, Councillor,” said the Ellegian woman with some measure of skepticism. It was rarely missing from her tone these days. “I was doubtful of the decision to entrust Nautilus with Vescent, but this was quite an impressive motion from the likes of you.”

“From you, madam, I’ll take that as a compliment,” Morgan replied.

The Ascendian spoke up. “I understand the need to test the device, but I have to wonder, why did you choose Archeti? It bears no strategic power. It’s a dump.”

“Which is exactly why it’s perfect,” guessed the Satieran. “We lose nothing in its destruction. We send a warning to those who would oppose us, but make no sacrifices in the process. No one will miss that rock, but once Carthis or Paraven or any of our enemies see Nautilus’ power wrought upon it? They will do everything within their power to avoid becoming it. Is that not your reasoning, Councillor?”

Arleth Morgan let out a grim chuckle that his fellows probably couldn’t hear. “It is,” he answered, but it wasn’t the whole truth, was it? Of course, strategically, sending Nautilus to Archeti was, as the Satieran said, an ideal choice for the success of the Society as a whole. But while Morgan of course cared for their continued prosperity, he had a personal goal of his own to achieve. His eyes ventured across the room to a wall scattered with images of a girl. A girl who just so happened to be on Archeti at that very moment.

His fellow Councillors did not need to know that Leta Adler’s arrival had been inspiration for Nautilus’ timing. They had disapproved of his efforts to eliminate her before. But now that their goals just happened to coincide with his? Arleth grinned to himself. No harm in that.

————–

The Beacon’s cargo bay was swarming with people and panic. Everywhere Cyrus looked there were families crying, children screaming, desperate souls pushing through the crowd searching for lost love ones. It didn’t help that the quaking had grown so vigorous that it was getting difficult to stay upright. The crowd in the bay swayed and stumbled over one another.

Cyrus himself struggled to force his way through, nearly tripping on a wailing three-year-old and running straight into man whose tear-streaked face turned on him in horror. Hastily apologizing, Cyrus pressed forward, slipping through what little empty space there was and trying to stay afloat as he hopefully headed towards the right destination.

Finally, thankfully, he saw the flash of red hair he was looking for and a few moments later, heard the voice that paired with it.

“Look, you can go grab whatever or whoever you want, but I can’t guarantee we’ll still be here when you get back,” Fiearius was shouting over the crowd of people staring at him with pleading eyes.

“But my father!” a woman wailed at him. “I have to get my father!”

Fiearius’ face twisted into a pained grimace. “I know, I know and I’m sorry, but–” He gestured out the bay door at the city beyond. It was the middle of the afternoon, but the sky was pitch black with clouds save for the eerie green light. Some of the older buildings had started to collapse with the quakes. Long, ever-deepening cracks could be seen stretching across the ground. The city was crumbling. “We can’t stay much longer…I’m sorry.”

A general outcry of protest erupted, but Fiearius looked away from them just as Cyrus arrived at his side, grasping his brother’s arm to keep himself from falling forward in a particular violent shake.

“Ship’s full, we can’t take on many more,” he shouted over the noise and Fiearius nodded grimly, staring down the ramp at the crowd of people still pushing to try and board. Cyrus glanced down at them, but couldn’t bear to look for long. Instead he asked, “Any sign of Finn and Corra?”

Fiearius shook his head and Cyrus felt a spike of worry. The quakes had started over a half hour ago. Surely they’d felt them too, wherever they were. They should have been back by now.

Just then, Leta appeared beside them. Her expression didn’t give him much hope either. “It’s no use, I’ve asked everyone on crew, no one knows where this Callahan guy might be or where we could even begin to look for them. Not even Quin.”

Fiearius ran his hand through his hair. “Shit…”

Cyrus’ spike of panic deepened. “You think something happened to them?”

Fiearius met his eyes solemnly, but didn’t answer. Leta spoke over him. “They’ll be back,” she said firmly. “They’ll be back soon.”

Just then, the ship gave a tremendous shake, nearly knocking the entire bay off their feet. A great collective scream rose as those on the ramp put in a massive push forward, desperate to get aboard. Those already in the bay started to shout in protest. Further back, a cry went out, “We have to take off!” which only incited more tumult. “There’s no more room!” shouted another. “We can’t take any more! We have to leave!”

The air became a cacophony of voices. Angry, desperate, pleading and afraid. And for good reason. Their time was up.

Another violent shake overtook the ship and Cyrus barrelled forward into a woman who was screaming at the top of her lungs. He staggered backwards, but the ground was rocking like a boat on choppy water. He could barely get a foothold and he could feel himself giving way to the pressure of the masses around him. A shoulder rammed his chin, an elbow stabbed his stomach and someone’s flailing forearm hit him square in the forehead. This was it. He was going to be sucked down to the floor and trampled to death by the people whose lives his own invention had endangered. It was fitting, really.

But suddenly he felt a firm hand seize his arm and drag him skywards. Gasping in a deep breath, Cyrus looked over at his brother who was shouting, but he could barely hear him among the din. “We can’t stay here!” was all he made out. He turned to Leta. “Close the ramp!”

Leta stared at him in horror. But Fiearius was right, Cyrus realized. They couldn’t stay. They couldn’t save everyone. Corra’s face flickered into his mind, but he had to force it out. Leta had somehow managed to reach the ramp controls and the familiar hum rose under their feet.

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.”

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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?”

“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.”

“Ouch.”

“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?”

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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?”

“No.”

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.