Category Archives: Part 3-2

Chapter 50: Eighteen Months Pt. 3

“Have a good trip.” Fiearius waved him off, yawning.

Cyrus frowned and gestured towards the outside world. “Come on.”

Fiearius blinked back at him. “What?”

There wasn’t time for this. “Come. On,” he said again, gesturing more dramatically.

But Fiearius didn’t budge. “Why?”

“Just come with me, please,” Cyrus snapped before marching back into the living room, grabbing his brother’s arm and yanking it towards the exit.

“Where the hell am I going?” Fiearius wanted to know, only just letting Cyrus pull him along out of the door.

Cyrus didn’t answer as he turned around to make sure the apartment was sealed and locked. Satisfied it’d be safe in their absence, he spun around and came face to face with Fiearius glowering at him. Unphased, he looked the man up and down, his clothes wrinkled from sleeping in them, his hair pointed in all directions and an unflattering gauntness to his features.

“I wish you’d taken a shower or something…” Cyrus muttered in distaste and Fiearius’ glare only deepened. But there wasn’t time. “Come on, let’s go.”

————————

It was still early enough in the day that the PIT trains were empty. Most of Paradiex was enjoying a sleepy Sunday morning as Cyrus and Fiearius rode the R line train east, seated across the empty cabin from one another. Fiearius looked like he was having a sleepy Sunday morning of his own, yawning every few minutes and his eyes continuously drifting closed despite the constant rattle of the train.

He had stopped asking where they were going a few stops back, apparently accepting the fact that Cyrus was not going to tell him. Which was for the best because if he had continued and Cyrus had become annoyed enough, he probably would have.

At last, the train rumbled to a stop at a station Cyrus knew all too well. “This is it,” he said, grabbing the railing to pull himself up and hitting the button to open the doors. Fiearius stretched his arms over his head and sauntered after him, stepping out of the train onto the platform and squinting into the sunlight.

It took him a second, but he recognized it soon enough.

“You’re taking me to your work?” Fiearius asked, looking up at the Atelier Industries sign adorning the massive shipbuilding dock in front of them.

“Sort of,” Cyrus answered, not stopping as he walked straight from the platform and down towards the main gates. “C’mon, hurry up.”

It was a short walk from the PIT station to the entrance and Addy was there to meet them, Kalli glued to her leg. “Did you find it?” she asked as soon as she saw the two of them approaching. Cyrus held up the tablet and her face lit up. Until she was close enough to grab it from his hand and examine it. “This is the wrong one.”

“What?!”

Addy waved him off. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’ll do.”

They fell into step together. “Sorry, it was the only one I could find.”

She regarded him skeptically. “I told you, it’s on the kitchen table.”

“Shit.”

“This is the one from under Kalli’s bed.”

“Can’t we just keep them all in one place?”

Behind them, Fiearius coughed. “Morning, Adds.”

She glanced back and smiled. “Oh morning, Fiear.” He received a distracted wave before she returned her full attention to Cyrus. “This one can still link up to the auxilliary core, right?”

“I think so…”

As they walked through the complex and out into the main docking area, they passed every ship Atelier currently had in production. Huge ships of all shapes and sizes and at all levels of completion. Cyrus was intimately familiar with the progress of each and every one, but there was one in particular that he’d been involved in more than the rest. While he and Addy continued to work on city reparations and vessel contracts under Atelier Industries’ name, they had simultaneously pushed this ship through as quickly and efficiently as they could and in only six months, a record, Cyrus was sure, it had come to fruition.

It was that very vessel that they headed towards now, parked between two huge freighters that dwarfed the little cargo ship. If someone wasn’t looking for it, they probably wouldn’t have noticed it was there at all.

“So I checked the nav system, it’s still getting that little glitch when I try to reroute, I think it’s a code error–” Addy said.

“Oh, that was on purpose,” Cyrus told her. “Leave that there.”

Addy groaned. “I told you to make a list of all your ‘intentional imperfections’ so I could stop trying to fix them.”

“I did!” Cyrus defended, “I mean…I may have forgotten to add that one, but–”

“P’ahti!” Kalli suddenly called and Cyrus felt a tiny hand tug the bottom of his shirt. When he glanced down at her, she was pointing back towards the main walkway, towards, Cyrus realized, where Fiearius had stopped following them.

He was standing some hundred feet back, his expression empty as he stared at the ship in front of them. Cyrus, feeling rather proud of himself, smirked. “Hey!” he called and waved his brother forward. “C’mon.”

Fiearius at first didn’t seem to hear him. He just continued to stare, stunned, at the ship until finally Cyrus saw him breathe, “What the fuck….”

Addy nudged Cyrus’ arm and muttered through a forced grin, “Not exactly the enthusiastic response we were hoping for…”

“Give him a minute,” Cyrus mumbled as he watched Kalli run to her uncle and seize his hand. Stunned as he may have been, even Fiearius didn’t resist when she pulled him onward after her parents. As he rejoined the group, doubled over by the tiny girl’s grasp, his eyes never left the ship and he never stopped looking like he was being harassed by a ghost.

Which, in some sense, he was. Before them, was the spitting image of the Dionysian. From the top of its dented hull to the base of its crooked ramp, it looked exactly as it had the day it had departed for the very last time.

Cyrus had poured practically all of his free time into making it as perfect (or, as Addy pointed out, imperfect) as he could. Given the results, he was pretty impressed with himself. He could only hope ‘impressed’ was also an accurate description of whatever was going on inside Fiearius’ head as they approached the ramp.

“In retrospect, maybe we should have thought the presentation method through a bit more,” Cyrus whispered to Addy and she hissed an uncomfortable sigh.

“I told you I didn’t think it was a good idea–”

“Well she rushed us, we didn’t have time, what were we supposed to do–”

Not spring potentially traumatic memories on people maybe–”

“It’s not,” said Fiearius suddenly from behind them, finally released from Kalli’s hold and gazing up at the hull above them. “It’s not my ship…It can’t be.”

Cyrus and Addy shared a look and Cyrus coughed. “It’s not,” he confirmed. “Not exactly. We found the wreckage and salvaged what we could from it. Mostly interior subsections were intact, some of the outer hull. The rest we had to piece together. Got a new engine, cannibalized some other cargo ships, retrofitted new plates and –” He gestured to the ship. “Here we are. The Dionysian Mark II.”

Ever so slowly, Fiearius edged around them and took a few steps up the ramp towards the cargo bay. Even now, Cyrus wasn’t sure what to make of him as he let his fingers trail down one of the support beams. But finally, after such a long period of confusion, Cyrus saw his face start to light up and a breathless laugh tumbled out of his throat. “I can’t believe you rebuilt my ship…”

“Well. It’s not your ship,” Addy pointed out and Fiearius shrugged her off.

“Okay, but basically.”

“I think what she means isn’t just that though,” Cyrus felt the need to explain and Fiearius looked back at him, already frowning. “This was not a cheap undertaking. The parts from the original Dionysian might have been yours, but the re-fitting pretty much nixed the value of them. And then there was the new parts, the junked ships, the manufacturing. And all the time of all the people who worked on it. It was really expensive actually. We couldn’t just pay for it ourselves…”

The frown deepened. “What exactly are you saying?”

Addy grimaced. “We had to get an investor…”

Fiearius’ jaw dropped. “You sold my ship?!”

“That’s just it, it’s not your ship anymore,” Cyrus told him. “The investor commissioned it, paid for it, it’s legally theirs.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.” Fiearius shook his head in disbelief. “You can’t just — why would you even show it to me then?!”

“Well–”

“Who is this person?” Fiearius snapped, holding onto one of the ramp’s beams defensively. “What kind of ‘investor’ would spend their money on fixing someone else’s ship?”

“The Dionysian’s model has been pretty popular since way back when the war first started,” Addy reasoned with a shrug. “Resale value skyrocketed.”

The logic didn’t sit well with Fiearius. “But the Dionysian itself?” he demanded. “What the fuck?!”

Addy’s brows creased at once and she gestured at Kalli who had her hand clamped over her mouth. “Language please.”

Fiearius let out a groan. “Why?”

Cyrus cast Addy a sideways glance. “Maybe they wanted to own a piece of history?”

Addy grinned playfully. “Or maybe they’re a fan of your work.”

“Well I don’t care who they are, they can’t have her,” Fiearius decided firmly. “I’ll buy her back.”

Finally, Cyrus could no longer hold it in. He started to chuckle and no amount of covering his face was able to hide it. “I doubt you could afford it,” he sputtered as Addy grabbed his arm in attempt to calm him, but ended up joining in.

Fiearius, meanwhile, stared at the two of them laughing in disbelief. It was hard not to feel bad at the look of absolute hurt on his face for dangling a gem in front of him only to take it away, and surely Cyrus would owe him an apology later, but for now —

“You can’t afford it,” said Leta, descending the ramp behind Fiearius. She was dressed all in black, her hair tied up in a knotted braid behind her head and a wry smirk danced across her face. “And she’s not for sale even if you could.”

Cyrus watched in amusement as Fiearius went from shocked to confused to understanding and at last, he let out an irritated laugh. “It’s you,” he stated. “You’re the investor.”

“Sure am,” cooed Leta cheerfully, leaning against the opposite support beam. “What do you think of my ship? Real beauty, huh?”

Fiearius ran his hand through his hair. “Yeah, she certainly is…” He took a step towards her and tilted his head. “Thought you had to go back to Vescent this morning.”

“Oh, I do,” Leta confirmed and lifted her hand towards the ship. “It’ll be her maiden voyage. But we’re already behind schedule because someone is out here on my ramp causing a fuss.”

Fiearius nodded in somber understanding. “Might want to blame those two for that.” He gestured towards Cyrus and Addy, who put her hand over her chest and feigned offense.

“Well. Let’s stop wasting time, shall we?” Leta suggested before throwing her hand towards the cargo bay. “Coming aboard, or no?”

For a moment, Cyrus saw Fiearius’ confidence flicker. The flirty, smug attitude faded and internally, Cyrus felt a moment of panic. This whole plan, the entire project, six months of work and his brother could let it fall apart just like that. But he wouldn’t, right? He couldn’t.

But his tone didn’t sound promising when he looked away and muttered, “Leta–”

“That’s Captain Adler,” Leta corrected at once, seemingly unphased by his negativity.

Fiearius snorted a laugh. “Oh, Captain Adler, is it? So, what, you need a first mate?”

“Oh, no.” She looked surprised. “I already have one of those.”

Fiearius tilted his head. “Pilot, then?”

“Got one of those too.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Gunhand?”

She lifted her finger thoughtfully. “Hopefully won’t need one of those much, but definitely covered if we do.” She smiled mischievously. “Hearsay tells me you’re a pretty good cook though.”

Fiearius released a barking laugh and shook his head until Leta stepped forward and took his hands in hers. “This is the Dionysian Mark II,” she said as he grew quiet. “She’s not the original. She never could be and she won’t try to be. But she’s something new. I don’t know where she’ll take us or where we’ll end up, but I, for one, am willing to take the risk. Hell, I need it. And Fiear — I love you. I still love you. It’s a problem, apparently, I can’t stop.” Her hands gripped his tighter. “And I couldn’t imagine going out into the Span without you. I don’t think we’re made for planet life, you and I. Not anymore. I want to sail the stars again and I want you with me.”

They stood staring at one another for a long moment until at last Leta said, “So! I–” One hand rose to her chest dramatically, “–Captain Leta Ella Adler. Would like to formally invite you, Fiearius Soliveré, to join me and my crew on whatever adventure or danger or horrible peril awaits us.” She smiled hopefully. “What do ya say?”

Fiearius looked down at their hands and opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. Cyrus felt his breath halt in his chest and Addy’s grip around his shoulder tightened in anticipation. Even Leta, through her confident captain-ly smile, showed nervousness around the edges.

And then finally, Fiearius took a deep breath. “For you, Captain?” He lowered himself to one knee. “For you, I would sail to the very end of the Span.” Bowing his head, he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the back of it and even as in-character as she was, Leta’s cheeks flushed pink.

But only for a moment.

Then, completely unabashedly, she yanked him up to his feet, seized the sides of his startled face and kissed him so forcefully that he stumbled backwards a step before they settled into a warm embrace.

“Aww,” Cyrus heard Addy coo from beside him. “I knew they’d get a happy ending.”

Cyrus snorted indignantly. “Ending?” He cast her a skeptical glance. “Adds, it’s the beginning. Tell me that again when they’re arguing over breakfast tomorrow morning…”

She scowled and elbowed him in the ribs as Leta finally released Fiearius from the kiss and declared loudly, “Alright, my faithful crew, let’s get moving.”

Taking Kalli’s hand, Cyrus started up the ramp as Leta ran off into the ship. He passed Fiearius who still looked a little stunned and seemed even more so to see his brother and sister-in-law climbing into the cargo bay.

“Wait, you’re coming too?” he asked, chasing after them.

“We’re stop number two,” Addy explained.

“We’re still taking a honeymoon, you know,” Cyrus informed him. “And you’re still babysitting the tornado.” He waved Kalli’s hand and she giggled. “The location’s just changed a little.”

“Besides, someone’s gotta monitor the first voyage.” Addy squeezed her husband’s shoulder and took a turn for the engine room.

“Don’t worry, you’ll have help,” called a voice from up above on the catwalk. Both brothers looked up to see Corra hanging over the edge. “With Kalli, I mean. Not the engine, good luck with that.”

“First mate?” Fiearius guessed as they climbed the stairs to join her.

“I can’t believe you thought she’d choose you over me,” Corra laughed, shaking her head. “Besides. I’m the one with all the work for us. You like freeing allies, don’t you? Brings back good memories, right?”

“Oh, the best,” Fiearius agreed, rolling his eyes at her. “What about your other crew?”

“The Orion? I sent them on a mission out in the far reaches of Paravien space,” Corra answered carelessly as she lead them up towards the command deck. “We’ll be joining them in a few days.” She spun around and walked backwards through the hatch to the bridge. “That’s stop number three.”

In the bridge, Finn sat in the pilot’s seat, fiddling with the control panel as Leta stood over him. When he noticed they had company, he glanced back and glared. “I can’t believe you intentionally broke this thing.”

“It’s not broken, it’s character,” Cyrus argued flippantly, leading Kalli to the co-pilot’s seat.

“It’s broken,” Finn said again. “This isn’t in my contract.”

“You don’t have a contract,” Leta pointed out.

“Well I should,” he muttered under his breath.

Leta hit the COMM button. It sizzled in that ever so familiar tone. “We all set down there, Addy?”

“Sure are!” came Addy’s distorted voice. “Firing her up now.”

Standing up straight, Leta put her hands on her hips and looked around at her crew. For a brief moment, she locked eyes with Fiearius who, leaning against the back wall, smiled at her knowingly and nodded towards the bay window. She glanced at Corra, huddled behind Finn’s shoulder, a grin spread across her face. And then she looked down at Cyrus, seated in the co-pilot’s chair with Kalli bouncing excitedly in his lap.

He felt her hand on his shoulder. “We did it,” she said.

Cyrus smirked back at her. “Barely. But…we did it.”

“Alright, Dionysian,” Leta called to the bridge and Finn hit the command to start up the take-off sequence. Beneath their feet, the ship started to rattle. The vibrations shook the walls and filled the air with a cacophony of metal against metal. All eyes turned to Leta and she heaved a deep breath.
“Let’s go.”

END

Chapter 50: Eighteen Months Pt. 2

Ah, so that’s why. Fiearius tried not to internally gloat to himself and instead found the woman in question. “Oh, her. That. Is Teah.” He couldn’t stop himself from pausing for dramatic effect, taking in every moment of Leta’s anticipation. “She’s my cousin,” he explained at last. “Last time I saw her, I poured gravy in her hair. Twenty years ago. So…y’know. We had to figure that out a bit.”

Leta snorted a laugh. “This must be a fun day for you.”

He grimaced. “It’s interesting, that’s for sure.” As if to punctuate the point, at that very moment, he noticed one of his uncles staring at him as he explained something to Addy’s grandmother. He couldn’t hear what the man was saying, but he saw his father’s name mentioned twice. Turning back to Leta, he gestured towards the darkness beyond the party. “You wanna — go talk somewhere else?”

Leta blatantly hesitated. Of course, she wouldn’t want to go walking off into the dark with him. What a stupid question. Why would she–

“Sure,” she said at last and even started to lead the way. Fiearius, reeling in relief, stepped into place behind her and they were quiet as they shuffled through the crowd and out onto the path that lead to the shuttle station.

They hadn’t gone far, the noise and light from the party still following after them, when Leta asked, “So. How’ve you been?” She asked it like she already knew the answer.

“Alright,” Fiearius replied instinctively and then only a moment later caught himself. “I don’t know why I’m lying to you. I’m — I’m better. Actually.”

She glanced back at him, in the ever dimming light, her face becoming unreadable. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He put his hands in his pockets and took an extra step to catch up, falling into stride beside her. “Cyrus finally convinced me to talk to this therapist person and — I don’t know, it’s been helping. I think. At the very least, she helped me figure out something I could stand doing. So I have a job now.”

“Oh, yeah? What are you doing?”

It felt embarrassing to even say it. “Well, I’m the night cook for a little diner by the PIT station…”

Leta, however, seemed thrilled. She smiled up at him and, possibly in support or possibly because the further they walked from the party, the more the desert cold set in, she took his arm in hers. “That’s great!”

“Yeah,” he answered at first, looking down at where their elbows were looped together. And again, he caught himself in a lie. “Actually no.” He let out a barking laugh. “It’s pretty shit. It’s a lot of work and I get paid pretty much nothing and I always smell like old oil now.”

Leta chuckled under her breath. “I wasn’t gonna say anything…”

“Thanks…” he grumbled. “Anyway. It is what it is. And I am better. I’m just a little…” Lost was the word that came to his mind, though he didn’t want to say it. Freeing Satieri, defeating the Society, returning home, that had been his goal for so long. And he’d done it. And now that it was done, he was left feeling like there wasn’t a heck of a lot left to do. Everything wasn’t what he imagined. Nothing felt meaningful or purposeful anymore. And everything he’d wanted was–gone.

“I’m just figuring things out still, that’s all,” he finished at last with his best impression of a careless shrug. “It’s fine.”

But Leta, of course, didn’t look convinced. She eyed him for a moment, the distant light from the hanging lanterns reflecting skepticism on her face. And then her expression changed. She looked away and crossed her free arm over her chest. “I know what you mean. It’s weird, isn’t it? ‘Winning’ I guess.”

Now it was his turn to eye her. Of everyone who’d come out of this, he had thought Leta had been taking it the best. She certainly made it seem that way. But she went on, “Every day, Vescent is starting to feel closer to what I remember, but — I don’t know, it still doesn’t feel any closer to home.” She glanced up at him, a hint uncertain. “This is what I wanted, but…it’s still weird.”

Fiearius couldn’t help but agree. “You’re still working at the clinic right?”

“Yeah,” she answered at once, running a hand through her hair. “Yeah I’m working at the clinic and that’s good. It’s good to be back, but it’s not–”

“Satisfying,” Fiearius finished for her and she nodded.

“Exactly. I used to love the thrill and dangr of the ER, but it just doesn’t have that appeal anymore.” She laughed grimly. “I guess a broken arm pales in comparison to raiding Society bases.” They fell silent for a moment as they came to a stop on the path, both simply watching the lights dance around their shadows. Finally, it was Leta who cracked first and groaned dramatically, “Why is this so hard?”

At that, Fiearius let out a genuine laugh. “What, adapting to normal life? Probably ‘cause we’re not normal.”

“No, you’re not normal,” Leta barked back. “I’m supposed to be the image of normality. Classy doctor, remember?”

“Oh I’d never forget,” Fiearius chuckled. “Maybe we just need to find some new massive power structure to derail.”

Leta pointed at him excitedly. “Ooh that could work. Let’s conquer something else.”

“Where do ya have in mind? Carthis? Paraven?”

“How about Tarin? I always loved Tarin.”

Fiearius looked up at the sky thoughtfully. “Tarin’s just a rotating democracy. Wouldn’t be that hard. Could probably take it with a few well-timed assassinations and some underground support I’d think.”

“Perfect, let’s do it,” Leta declared, turning towards him, seizing his forearms and lifting them up in her passion. “Let’s conquer Tarin and claim it as our own.”

“I can see it now,” Fiearius mused dramatically, dropping his arms over her shoulders as she put her hands on his waist. “Fiearius Soliveré, Supreme King of Tarin. And at his side, Ultimate Queen Leta Adler, the most fearsome and benevolent and classy Queen to ever rule.”

She laughed in agreement and despite the bravado, Fiearius looked down at her curiously. Somehow they were standing in a strange sort of loose hug. How that had exactly happened, he wasn’t sure. But now, he was a mere foot from her and privy to examining all those new little spots that had formed on her face. She looked different. Older, more mature, more weathered by everything she’d gone through. But at the same time, nothing about her had changed. Not since that very first night he’d held her a little too tight and admired her a little too closely. Her face that had never strayed too far from his thoughts was still just as he remembered it.

It seemed her line of thinking had gone a similar way and finally it was time to address to elephant in the room. Her expression had softened by the time she muttered, “Why didn’t you talk to me?”

Fiearius’ voice caught in his throat and she went on. “Why didn’t you answer? Anything? I–how many messages did I send you? How many times did I call? And–and nothing…” Leta looked away from him.

Slowly, he shook his head. “Gods, Leta, I’m so sorry, I –”

“I just want to know what happened.”

“Nothing, I just — I couldn’t…”

Her arms dropped away from him and her face was wrought with hurt. “Why?”

He opened his mouth and nothing came out. “Why?” she pressed again and suddenly the dam broke.

“Because I couldn’t. I can’t explain it. I just couldn’t. I was embarrassed and ashamed and — I wasn’t me anymore,” he said, the words flowing from him like a waterfall. “It felt like someone had taken over my body and I could remember what it was like to be me, but I couldn’t remember how to, and then I got all these messages from you and I knew. You wanted to talk to me, but I wasn’t there so you’d call and call and I just couldn’t answer because this — this — wasn’t who you wanted to talk to.”

“Fiearius–”

“No,” he cut her off, taking a step back. “I fucked up, I know, okay? I joked about it, yeah, and then I actually did it because–” He let out a grim laugh. “I always do. I’m really good at fucking things up. And I’m sorry. Gods, I am so sorry. I don’t know what happened to me, I don’t really understand why I did what I did, I know, I should have just talked to you. Hell, you were probably going through the same fucking thing, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. And I’m sorry and I don’t expect you to forgive me, but –”

“I do,” Leta interrupted suddenly and he frowned at her. “I do forgive you.”

For a moment, the words stopped again. “Well — you shouldn’t.”

“But I do,” she said quietly, stepping towards him. “I understand.”

“What? No.” He stepped back again. “No you don’t.”

“I do,” she insisted again, once more closing the gap. “I mean, I won’t lie to you, I was heartbroken. It really fucking hurt when you shut me out like that. But — I get it. You needed to deal with something really hard and you needed to do it your way which — is a way I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s kind of a stupid way.” She frowned accusingly. “But recovery takes what it takes and — I’m glad you found your way out of it. I just wish I could have helped.”

Fiearius stared at her, lost for words. Of course, he could think of few better outcomes than this one, but it still left him feeling troubled. Why did he deserve such an easy clean slate? It didn’t make sense until —

“And what happened to us wasn’t entirely your fault,” Leta admitted, looking down at her feet. “I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t do anything about it. I just called you and sent messages, two forms of communication I know full well you’re not comfortable with.” She glanced up at him furtively. “I should have come back. I could have come at anytime, but I didn’t. I just buried myself in work and pretended I was doing all I could. But if I cared as much as I should have, I would have come back.”

Fiearius stared at her and then asked hesitantly, “Is this your way of telling me you’re over me?”

After a moment of incredibly tense silence, he smiled and she laughed and shook her head. “No, gods, no. Not at all. The opposite, even.” Her eyes fell back to the ground and she knotted her fingers together. “I was afraid. Of — I don’t know, that it wouldn’t work. Even if we called each other every day and talked all the time, that it still wouldn’t work. Me on Vescent, you on Satieri, even if we did everything right, it couldn’t have gone on that way forever.”

Fiearius released a long breath. “The thought had definitely crossed my mind…”

“I didn’t want to think about it,” she admitted, “I didn’t want to accept it. And with the clinic taking off and Vescent seeming to get better, I didn’t want to change it either. So…I don’t know. It was just…easy. To let it fall apart. To say there was nothing I could do, it was just Fiearius being Fiearius. And that was that.” Her shoulders lifted in a tiny shrug and finally, she looked back up at him. “So it wasn’t all you. We both built walls in our own ways…And I’m sorry too.”

“You don’t have to be…” Fiearius mumbled.

“Then you don’t have to be either.” She closed the gap between them and put her arms back around his waist. “We screwed up. Both of us. Let’s call it even.”

“It’s not,” Fiearius began to argue but Leta put a finger to his lips.

“It’s even,” she said again, more sternly. “And anyway, it’s in the past.”

Fiearius sighed and shook his head. “We never could get the timing right, could we?”

“We certainly couldn’t.”

“Something I’ll always regret,” he mumbled, suddenly finding her lips incredibly distracting.

Those lips curved towards a sad smile. “Me too.”

Her hands slid up the plane of his back, his moved down to rest on her hips and ever so slowly, the space between them closed until Fiearius felt the warm familiar wonder of her kiss. It was a slow kiss, a soft kiss, a kiss culminating in all the years of their strange tumultuous relationship. But here on this dark path, kissing Leta, it was the first time since the war ended that Fiearius felt…right. Right like he hadn’t been in so long.

But all good things had to come to an end didn’t they?

“O’rian! O’rian!” came a sudden shrill voice, barreling towards them down the path. Fiearius let out a good-natured groan as he separated himself from the beautiful woman in front of him and turned his attention to the tiny little woman running straight at his legs.

Kalli, as she was wont to do, stretched out her arms and, on cue, Fiearius swooped her up into his where she giggled incessantly. “O’rian, why were you kissing A’iya Leta?” she demanded cheerfully and it took a moment’s effort to not be embarrassed by the accusation of a six year old.

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” Fiearius assured her as Leta blushed red and stifled a laugh.

“I’m telling ti’hma” Kalli said and Fiearius passed Leta a fake worried grimace.

“What’s your ti’hma up to right now, huh?” he asked the little girl.

“Oh, she told me to tell you it’s my bedtime and you have to take me home now,” Kalli relayed importantly.

“Is that so?” cooed Leta curiously. “And you want to go to bed?” Kalli shook her head vigorously.

Fiearius chuckled. “She just knows that if she’s good today and does everything ti’hma says, she’ll buy her the big purple dragon from the toy store, isn’t that right?” Now, Kalli nodded. Well who was he to deny his niece a big purple dragon? He looked to Leta, “I guess I better be taking her home then.”

“I wouldn’t want you to piss off a bride on her wedding day,” Leta chuckled.

And now he was supposed to say goodbye. It was good seeing you. Maybe I’ll see you again someday. But the notion just seemed so–well he didn’t want to say goodbye, frankly. So instead, he said, “Hey, I’m just babysitting this little monster at my brother’s place all week while they’re on their honeymoon. If you’re still around, I mean…you could stop by sometime. Have dinner with us or…watch a movie or something? If you don’t have to head back to Vescent right away.”

Leta’s face at once was struck by a certain disappointed sadness. “I’m afraid I’ve got to catch the first ship back tomorrow morning. One of my patients relapsed and–.”

That disappointed sadness was contagious. “Ah yeah, I figured,” he muttered. She was right after all. It would never work. One here, one there. What was the point of dragging it out? All that would accomplish is more pain for the both of them. Best just to let it fade…

“Well.” He shifted Kalli in his arms as she looked between the two of them curiously. “Have a good trip then.”

“Thanks.”

He started to turn away from her before he stopped and took one last look. “It was really good seeing you.”

She smiled back at him, the lanterns above the party catching the lights of her eyes. “Yeah, you too,” she said. “And Fiear?”

“Hm?”

“We’ll see each other again soon,” she promised. Wasn’t that the same thing she’d said a year and a half ago? Fiearius smiled back and nodded like he was supposed to, but as he turned and walked away, he had the feeling it would be the last time for a long while.

——————–

Cyrus swung open the door to his apartment and stepped into the hallway. Where did she say it was again? Damn, he should have been paying better attention.

He marched down the hall and past the living room where he saw the shape of his sleeping brother on the couch. Cyrus paused for a moment to consider him, one leg propped up against the wall, the other flayed off the edge and his spine making a bit of an ‘L’ shape. The pose seemed far too mangled to be comfortable enough to sleep in and yet there he was, still in the same clothes he wore to the wedding the night before, eyes shut, snoring lightly.

Maybe they should get a bigger couch…

But that was a problem for a later date. For now — “Hey, wake up,” Cyrus barked, smacking the wall above Fiearius with his palm. The jolt was enough to send Fiearius flailing to not fall off the edge of the cushions and tumble to the floor. He managed, but only barely. Cyrus stifled a laugh.

“W-what?” asked the weary man, blinking himself furiously into consciousness and desperately grasping at an understanding of his surroundings.

“Get up,” Cyrus ordered, smacking the wall again and turning on his heel to head towards the bedrooms. Surely, if it was anywhere, it would be there. Behind him, Fiearius stumbled to his feet and stood in the center of the living room, looking completely lost. But finally, he woke up enough to follow.

“What are you doing here?” he pressed as Cyrus ripped the sheets off of their bed then crouched down to look under it. “Aren’t you supposed to be on your honeymoon?”

“Yeah, on our way there,” Cyrus answered, finding nothing. Seriously, where the hell did it go? He checked the drawers next. “Just need to grab something first.”

Fiearius hovered in the doorway, running his hand through his messy hair. “What is it?”

“Diagnostics tablet.” Not in the drawers either. He spun around and made a rectangle with his fingers. “Just a regular looking tablet, about this big, should be around here somewhere.”

“Okay…” Fiearius glanced around the room as if his apathy might actually help locate it. Then he frowned and asked, “Why the hell do you need a diagnostics tablet on your honeymoon?”

Cyrus slid the closet door shut. “When do you not need a diagnostics tablet?”

Fiearius opened his mouth to argue, but as Cyrus brushed past him and headed towards Kalli’s room, he decided against it. It seemed unlikely that their six year old had need of the tablet last, but then again, it seemed incredibly likely that Kalli had taken the tablet anyway. He stood in the doorway and did a visual sweep of the room. The unoccupied room, as Fiearius noticed when he arrived moments later.

“Wait, where the hell is Kalli?!” he demanded with the kind of panic only possible from a man who had just lost his niece.

But Cyrus waved him off. “She’s with Addy. She came by earlier when you were still asleep.”

Fiearius gaped at him as Cyrus got on his hands and knees and put his head to the ground, squinting into the darkness beneath the bed. “I thought I was babysitting her while you’re gone.”

“Yeah, you were,” Cyrus answered, seeing a suspicious black shape near the wall under the bed. He grimaced as he reached for it. “What kind of babysitter lets someone just walk in and abduct their charge while they’re sleeping?”

“The door was locked,” Fiearius pointed out, sounding more than a little confused and still a tad too asleep to process what was happening. But when Cyrus sat up, unsuccessful, he too got on the ground and reached under the bed, his longer arm making contact and pulling the shape out from underneath it.

“Ah, there it is!” Cyrus took the tablet from his hand and rose to his feet. “Alright, that’s all we need, let’s go.” He stalked from the room and headed for the front door. Fiearius, albeit slowly, followed. Until he stopped. Cyrus had already opened the door and stepped out onto the landing when he looked back and saw his brother lingering in the living room, looking down at the couch as though contemplating whether it’d be worth trying to sleep on it again.

“Hey,” Cyrus called.

Chapter 49: Refuge Pt. 3

“Maybe I won’t.”

“You will.”

“It’s not up to you.”

“It’s not,” he agreed. “It’s up to you. And you’re gonna go.” Before she could argue further, he raised his hand and started listing things on his fingers one by one. “It’s your home. You haven’t been back in ages. It needs your help. You can work with your dad. You can work with the rebels. You can fix it. You’re gonna go.”

Leta snorted indignantly. “Last I was there, the rebellion hated me.”

“That was before you betrayed Carthis and freed them all,” he pointed out with a dull stare. “You’re gonna go. It’s Vescent we’re talking about. Why wouldn’t you?”

The stress and indecision finally got to her. Frustrated, Leta slammed her palm on the table and stood up so fast that the chair she sat in was tossed backwards against the wall. “You know why I wouldn’t,” she snapped. “You know.”

His confidence faltered a little towards apology. “Leta–”

“You know or are we just pretending that didn’t happen?” she demanded. “Just back to normal, dancing around the fucking obvious because gods forbid we’re honest about something. Is that it? Do you want me to leave?”

“What–no!” He too stood up now and reached out to seize her hands. “No, of course I don’t. I want you to stay, of course I want you to stay, but I also want you to do what you need to do. And for fuck’s sake, I know you, you can’t just sit here while Vescent needs your help. You can’t. Not for me, not for anybody. You have to go back and to hell if I’m going to try to stop you.”

“Then what about us?” she wanted to know, taking her hands from his and crossing her arms over her chest. “I go to Vescent, you stay on Satieri, what happens to us?”

His delayed answer was hardly reassuring. Finally, he grimaced and muttered, “Well…we have, what, twelve hours?”

“Fiearius–”

“Okay, okay, I don’t know,” he admitted, throwing his hands up. “I don’t know what happens to us, but — we’ll figure it out.”

“Figure it out?” she repeated incredulously. “That’s all you’ve got? Figure it out? Fall’s End and Paradiex are on completely opposite time maps. You can barely keep in contact with your own fleet, let alone friends or anything else. Have you ever maintained a relationship without the physical part of it? Can you handle that? Do you have any idea how hard long distance it? I–”

“Leta,” he interrupted suddenly, reaching out to drop his hands on her shoulders.

“No, Fiearius, this isn’t just some simple thing you can write off as–”

“Leta,” he said again, gripping her tighter. She frowned at him, but her anger was hard to maintain as he gently massaged his thumbs against her collarbone, just as he fucking knew she liked it.

“Look.” He spoke plainly and calmly. “You’re going to Vescent tomorrow. Come on, we knew this was gonna happen at some point, didn’t we? Vescent was always your goal just as Satieri was mine. And you’ve gotta see it through. You have to. You know that, I know that. So you’re going. And sure, that’ll put a strain on what we’ve got and that sucks because fuck, we finally got somewhere and, yeah. That really sucks. But–” He shook his head. “You have to go. So..we’ll just have to figure it out.”

Leta looked down at her feet as she let him rub away the anxiety in her shoulders. “And what if we can’t…?”

“Then we can’t,” he admitted. “Maybe it won’t work. Maybe I’ll fuck it up again. Maybe you’ll fuck it up, that’d be a nice twist, huh?” He squeezed her shoulder and she couldn’t stop herself from chuckling. “But I have a feeling,” he went on, sliding one hand under her chin to lift her face to his. “Even if we do go out in flames or out in a pathetic puff of smoke…it won’t matter in the long run. We’ll find our way back. We always do…”

Leta wasn’t entirely appeased. She didn’t feel nearly as sure of this plan as Fiearius sounded. And she wasn’t convinced even he was. He was just saying words, providing comfort because it was what he felt he should do, keeping up the confident facade that she saw cracking at the edges, he didn’t mean it.

But she didn’t argue either when he tilted her chin upwards and drew her lips against his, soft and warm and inviting. For just that moment, her worries left her. She felt he was right. They had all the time they could ever want. Nothing could change that. No span of space could truly tear them apart. For that moment, she believed. They could figure it out.

When he drew back, he was smirking. “So. Twelve hours?”

Leta’s eyes were still shut, but she opened one and pursed her lips. “We could probably push it to thirteen.”

A grin spread over his face. “That’s what I like to hear.” But instead of deepening the kiss, instead of pulling her towards the cot and sliding his hands under her shirt and down her back as she’d expected, he drew away and started rustling through a sack of his meager belongings.

“What are you doing?”

He turned back to her, brandishing a rather alarmingly large pair of wire cutters. His smile was impish when he said, “Did I tell you I know how to get into the closed districts of the city? This may be our last chance. Want a tour?”

—————————

The tour went on through the night and into the early morning. True to his word, Fiearius had no trouble traversing even Paradiex’s strictly locked down regions, though it had more to do with reluctant guards than any feat of his own.

“Of course they’re not going to stop us,” he had boasted proudly as he helped her climb over a hastily erected fence blocking off the city’s silent Entertainment District while the handful of volunteer guards watched from nearby. “We saved the fuckin’ planet, a blind eye is the least they owe us.”

Or perhaps they figured it was their right to put themselves in danger if they so chose, Leta thought but didn’t bother correcting him. Nonetheless, nobody made even the remotest attempt to get in their way as they spent the night exploring deserted casinos, dancing in silent clubs, ‘borrowing’ liquor from empty bars and reliving Fiearius’ past through one outlandish story after the next. It was only after they’d watched the Satieran sun rise over the crippled skyline from atop a huge sign high above the street, that, exhausted and still a little tipsy, they hobbled back to the camp and spent some time exploring each other instead.

Leta was asleep when there was a loud knock on Fiearius’ door and she barely stirred to consciousness when he rolled out of bed and engaged in a hushed shouting match with whoever had disturbed him. The word Carthis came up twice, then she’d felt a warm kiss press against her lips followed by silence. She’d woken up an hour later to find herself alone.

So thirteen hours with Fiearius hadn’t quite been right, but she didn’t mind. It gave her the time to bid a tearful goodbye to Cyrus and Addy, to say farewell to Corra who, looking far more positive than she’d seen her in — gods, years — assured her it was more like a ‘seeya later’, to check in with Daelen and her patients and finally to return to her metal tube to pack what little possessions had made it this far.

It didn’t take long. One bag was able to hold everything. She lingered for a moment on an empty liquor bottle from Tarin, a small grotesque clay sculpture of — was it a bear? A deer? — and an ornate fitted mask she’d nearly forgotten she had, but soon enough she swung the bag onto her back and headed out of the shelter for the last time.

Leta had to consciously fight off the heaviness in her chest as she sought out Fiearius to say goodbye. It wasn’t goodbye, she kept telling herself and continuously failed to believe it. It wasn’t goodbye, it wasn’t an end, just a pause. Another pause in their long history of pauses…What would one more be, in the grand scheme of things, right? Just a little pause…

“Am I supposed to feel bad about that?”

As always, Fiearius was easy to locate.

“I don’t give a shit what happens to that guy,” he was telling La’aren and another member of the new Council whose name Leta constantly forgot. The three of them were huddled around the table of Varris’ shelter and makeshift meeting room and none of them appeared to notice when Leta shuffled into the back.

“So you don’t care if we do it then?” Varris confirmed, a glint of hope lighting her eyes.

“No,” Fiearius growled, “I don’t care what happens to him, but I don’t want him here.”

The other member of the Council put his head in his hand. “Soliveré, Gates is a popular figure in Carthis. No one wants to see him executed, but Carthian law is strict, he’s a traitor, there’s nothing they can do. But! If we offer him asylum, problem solved.”

“It could be an important step towards peace,” Varris went on. “Peace we desperately need. The gods know we can’t take another war right now.” She threw her hand out towards the city, decimated by the last one. When Fiearius didn’t seem to be convinced, she added, “Need I remind you it’s your fault he’s a traitor?”

“It’s his fault,” Fiearius shot back without skipping a beat. “For being shit.”

“Compelling argument…” the other Councillor muttered.

Though there was certainly a part of Leta that wanted to butt into this conversation, to say her own piece, for once she was too preoccupied. Her opinion was buried beneath the bundle of nerves that knew what she had to do and what she didn’t want to do. But she just had to get it over and done with.

“Fiear–” she spoke up, cutting him off from whatever snippy comment was already waiting on his tongue. When he glanced back at her, she took a deep breath and got out with it. “I’m leaving now.”

He stared at her for a moment as though he didn’t even understand what she was talking about. And then he said, “Okay,” and turned back to the table to continue ranting at Varris.

Leta waited a beat for surely that hadn’t just happened. He was just getting the last word out and then he’d turn back to her and he’d escort her to her father’s ship and they’d say goodbye and she wouldn’t get upset because it wasn’t really goodbye, it was just a pause, a little pause, but —

But Fiearius didn’t turn back to her. He didn’t stop ranting. The exchange around the table continued as though Leta hadn’t ever interrupted it at all. She didn’t even hear what they said, too absorbed by what was going on. Or wasn’t going on, rather.

After a solid minute of waiting, it hit her. It made sense, didn’t it? Fiearius was never very good with these kinds of things, was he? They’d had a wonderful night together, he’d kissed her when he left this morning, what more could she ask for, really? She may have been willing to brave the hard farewell, but he clearly wasn’t and it was probably selfish of her to force him, wasn’t it?

“Alright, see ya around,” she muttered mainly to herself as she looked away from the table and headed out of the shelter, trying not to let it get to her. But it did. It really got to her.

She wasn’t being selfish to want to get a proper goodbye from the man who supposedly loved her. He was being selfish by not giving it. What, it hurt him too much to accept it? As if it didn’t hurt her as well? He was the one who told her to go! He was the one who’d been so sure yesterday that it was fine, that distance couldn’t end them, that this was nothing. And now he wouldn’t even look her in the eye before she left?

Well, fuck him.

In a flash, Leta turned from sad to angry as she stalked through the camp towards the docks. Fuck him. She was so tired of this stupid dance. How long had they been doing this? One moment hot, the next colder than ice, what was even the point anymore? Hell, maybe this was his plan. Make her so furious that she wouldn’t even miss him when she was gone. So far, it was working.

“There you are,” Tritius greeted her as she approached his ship, a slim shiny black thing with the librera still emblazened upon its bow. “We were supposed to head out two hours ago. Are you ready yet?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” she snapped. Though she’d dreaded it this morning, now, in her frustration, she couldn’t wait to get off this damned planet and as far away from here as possible.

“Is that all you have?” her dad was asking her, taking the bag from her shoulder. “Do you need–”

“This is it, let’s go,” she said again, impatient. “Let’s just get home. I don’t want to–”

“Hey!”

Leta spun back to glare at the figure racing across the docks towards her. Oh, now he wanted her attention? Really?

“What?” she yelled back as he closed the gap between them, seemingly running as fast as his legs could carry him. Only feet in front of her, he slowed to a stop, doubling over, supporting his hands on his knees and heaving in shallow breaths.

Between the gasps, he managed, “Did you–really think–you could leave–without–saying goodbye?” He peered up at her from beneath a sweaty brow and windswept messy red hair.

Leta gaped at him. What the hell was wrong with this man? “I did say goodbye,” she snapped, indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest. “I came to say goodbye and you just fucking ignored me so to hell with you coming here and asking that! I’ve said my goodbye, so you can just–”

Before she could tell him just what he could do, Fiearius rolled his eyes, stood up straight, seized the sides of her face and pulled her lips against his. Her protests lasted just a moment, her palm slapping his chest in frustration, and then they were blown away on the wind as she sunk into the embrace and gave in.

The kiss was a shock to her system, a lightning bolt down her spine. Then it settled into something that was slow, warm, relaxed.  Fiearius took his time roaming his lips against hers, then slowly, achingly, easing away. She didn’t open her eyes until she heard him mutter, “That wasn’t a goodbye.”

She pressed her hand against him again in a last ditch showing of defiance and then leaned her forehead against his chest. “You’re an ass,” she sighed.

She felt the warmth of his breath as he laughed against her hair.

“You’re in love with an ass. Which is worse?”

She lifted her head to tell him to ‘shh’ when she accidentally locked eyes with someone whose very face, stern and skeptical and full of judgment, served as an instant mood killer. Without even thinking about it, she dropped her hands to her sides, her face flushing red.

Fiearius regarded her curiously and then followed her line of sight. “Oh,” was his only comment when he realized the issue. Then he smiled cheerfully. “Good to see you again, Mr. Adler.”

“Soliveré,” was Tritius’ only response. “Leta. We’re already behind schedule.”

“Right,” she mumbled and, fighting her instincts to show no emotion in front of her father, took Fiearius’ hand. “Please take care of yourself, okay? Don’t do anything stupid.”

Fiearius barked a single laugh. “Why would I–”

“And watch over Cy too, don’t let him turn back into the cocky jerk he used to be, his words, not mine.”

“Okay, but –”

“And if you get injured or if something crops up, please go to a doctor, I know you hate them, but please.”

“Leta–”

This time, she lifted herself up and placed a quick kiss upon his mouth. “I’ll miss you,” she whispered, clamping her eyes shut.

She felt his fingers gently tuck a stray hair behind her ear. “I’ll miss you too.”

Taking a deep breath, she turned around towards the ship, not opening her eyes until she was sure he was safely out of sight. If she saw him again now, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to walk up that ramp with her father. Her feet would refuse to carry her. It was only when she reached the top that she dared to look back at the man still standing on the docks below and it took all of her determination not to run back to his arms.

“Are you sure you can’t come with me?” she asked one last time, already knowing that he would shake his head.

“I can’t.”

“But we’ll see each other again soon, right?”

Fiearius smiled, but it was a sad smile. It gave her no comfort, not even when he called, “I love you, Leta.”
“I love you too,” she whispered, feeling hopelessness suddenly flood around her in all directions as her father lifted the ramp and she watched through watery eyes as Fiearius Soliveré disappeared from view.

Chapter 49: Refuge Pt. 2

The future had never seemed less certain. With the Beacon gone, the Spirit destroyed, the Transmission out of her grasp, all the paths that had been open to her were closed. She’d been indecisive before and now she was just — lost.

She was glaring down at her feet when she felt a warm hand slide over hers. “Hey. Talk to me.” She looked up to find Finn watching her closely. “What’s goin on, huh?”

A sigh passed her lips. “I don’t know,” she said again. “I just–don’t know what comes after this I guess.” She looked around at the ships in the docks and then peered out at the refugee camp she was headed back to, full of people who belonged here, whose homes were here, who were trying their damndest to fix it. “No offense to Satieri, but I don’t really want to stay here. I’m of no use to the reparations. I’m just sitting here using resources not even meant for me. There’s no point to my being here.”

“Where do you wanna go then?” Finn asked.

“I have no idea,” Corra admitted. “Nor do I have the ability to get there, even if I did. I suppose I want to go back to helping the Conduit. That was the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done and — god, now’s the time.” She shrugged a shoulder towards the mess that was once the greatest city in the Span. “In the aftermath of a war? Ellegy had our most uncrackable cases. I should be taking advantage of this before they get back on their feet, before the trade gets back under way, I should –”

“Hey.”

Corra stopped and looked up at Finn who was tilting his head at her curiously. “What?”

He stuck out his bottom lip in a pout and crossed his arms over his chest in disapproval. “You didn’t ask what I want.”

Despite the accusation of rudeness, Corra couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright,” she chuckled. “What do you want?”

His joking childish frown turned into a bit of an impish smirk. “I wanna go where you go.”

She chuckled again. “Riley–”

But the smirk fell away and suddenly he was watching her far more intensely than she was comfortable with. His grip on her hand tightened. “I’m serious,” he told her, his voice low. “If working with the Conduit was the most fulfilling for you then, great, you should be doing that. But — being around you, being on your team? That was the most fulfilling for me so — if you’re gonna go running off to save all the allies and change the Span, don’t just disappear again. Take me with you.”

Corra opened her mouth to respond, but no words came out. She didn’t quite know how to respond. She just stared back up at him, at that stupidly ridiculously boyishly handsome face of his as it stared back down at her, her cheeks no doubt turning a bright shade of pink.

Finally, she got a hold of herself. She swallowed the lump in her throat and forced an awkward laugh. “Doesn’t matter either way when we don’t have a ship.”

Thank God, the intense stare ended as Finn stood up straight and glanced back at the Beacon, still overflowing with Society agents. He let out a long ‘hmmm’ and then said, “Y’know. We may have stolen the Beacon from the Society. It is rightfully theirs. I suppose. But–” He jutted his thumb over his shoulder. “The Transmitter? Or — what, Ark Assist, whatever the fuck it is? And the Caelum Lex?” He frowned at her knowingly. “They’re ours.”

Corra considered it for a moment. “You’re right,” she decided at last. “We found those things fair and square, we hooked them up, we put all the work into it.”

“They’re ours,” Finn said again, more sternly this time and Corra found herself agreeing.

The two of them stood on the edge of the docks, hand in hand, the wheels in their heads turning in unison.

“Think they found the secret starboard airlock hatch and locked it yet?” Finn asked after a moment.

A grin spread across Corra’s face as she tightened her grip around his fingers and started to head back towards the Beacon, as casually as she could manage.

“I doubt it.”

——————-

“Look, change the name all you want, it doesn’t need rebranding, it needs reorganizing.”

“I agree with you.”

“Great, then why are you still here?”

It wasn’t difficult to locate Fiearius in the camp, Leta had found. He was always where the most noise was. Not simply from the construction that he tended to gravitate towards, inserting himself into any effort that involved primarily pushing, pulling, lifting or breaking things, but also from the amount of yelling at people he did while performing the aforementioned tasks.

Today, Leta discovered as she rounded the corner of a shelter to where a group of people were building a more permanent one, at Varris La’aren, former leader of the Satieran rebellion and current unofficial head of Satieran reparation efforts.

Her hands were on her hips and her tone was impatient as she said, “Because you know what you’re talking about. You understand the Society and how it functions better than anyone. If we’re going to tear it apart and rebuild it from the ground up–”

“No,” Fiearius cut her off, turning away from where he was drilling a hole in a wall to point at her with his index finger. “No, you shouldn’t tear it apart. It’s fine set up as it is, you just need to redirect it.”

His argument seemed only to help hers. “See?” She spread her hands in front of her. “You know what you’re talking about. We need your help. We need you on the Council.”

“No,” he said shortly, going back to his work. “Absolutely not. There are plenty of other people who get the Society just fine. Ask them.”

“But you’re the Verdant.”

He shot her a glare. “I’m not. I gave it to you.”

Varris did not seem impressed. “You and I both know owning that chip means nothing. You’re more than just a data center, you’re a symbol.”

“Well I don’t want to be.”

“Lil late for that,” she pointed out. “You’re a symbol and people trust you and we need you involved for people to trust us. If we’re going to successfully restructure the Society, elect a new government, fix everything that is broken, we need you on our side.”

“Okay, I’m on your side, congratulations, you have my full support to carry on as you see fit, go forth with my blessing,”

Varris’ fingers massaged her temple. “We need you involved.”

Fiearius gave her a second of consideration and then, “I’m gonna tell you this one last time, okay?” He grinned. “I’m retired.”

“Admiral, please–”

He dropped the drill on the ground and threw his hands in the air. “Not an admiral! You see any ships? No? Not an admiral. Not a Verdant. Damn well not a fucking politician. Retired!”

“Soliveré!”

“Retired!” he said again, stepping away from her towards Leta who hadn’t even realized he’d noticed her hovering off to the side, watching this exchange with growing interest. Varris, apparently, now did.

“Dr. Adler, can you please talk some sense into him?” she begged and Leta let out a nervous chuckle.

“Stop wasting your time, La’aren!” Fiearius continued to taunt back at her as he spun around once he reached Leta and kept walking, gesturing she follow. “Quit bothering me and get some real work done, maybe you’ll actually make some progress, huh?”

Leta watched Varris let out a hefty groan, put her head in her hand and then stalk away in a huff, before she turned to Fiearius and hurried after him as he continued to stalk through the camp, apparently abandoning the construction site he’d been helping with. No one argued. No one ever argued.

Fiearius moved around the camp like a ghost, coming and going as he pleased as the people around him either pretended not to notice him at all, out of respect, or stared wide-eyed like they couldn’t believe the apparition before them. For his part, he seemed not to notice the whispers and gasps that followed him wherever he went. ‘Seemed’ being the operative word, Leta assumed.

“Can you believe that woman?” he asked incredulously when she caught up. “Still on this, really.”

“She’s doing her best,” Leta countered.

“Her best is ‘refusing to take no for an answer’?” Fiearius snorted.

“Probably what she thinks,” Leta admitted. “It’s not easy, rebuilding a whole system.”

“I never said it was. Hell, why do you think I want nothing to do with it?” He shuddered at the thought.

“It does seem odd that you went through all of — everything — only to not care at the very end, to not see it through,” Leta remarked, more curious than accusatory.

“I do care,”he argued at once. “Of course I care. But I’ve talked to Varris. At length. I’ve talked to the Council she’s putting together. I’ve given them my thoughts and they’ve given me theirs and guess what. They’re the same. And, unlike me, they’re actually patient enough to deal with the political bullshit to make it happen. I wasn’t kidding. She has my full support and I trust her to get it done. I’m seeing it through by getting the fuck out of the way.”

Leta could think of no response so she just made a small, “Hm” and left it at that. It was a moment before she realized he was staring down at her, suspicion written all over his expression. “Let me guess. You’re gonna try and convince me to do it, aren’t you? To help her?”

Leta creased her brow in consideration, glancing at Fiearius then over her shoulder at where Varris had disappeared. Finally, she decided, “Nope,” which seemed to shock him. “You’re right, I think. And even so, you’ve done enough. If you want to take a break, you deserve a break.”

She followed him into the shelter he’d claimed as his own. It had to be one of the oldest in the whole camp, small, beat up and falling apart. But it was private as opposed to the other shared units, which she thought summarized his reasoning. No one had argued that either. She pitied anyone who had to be roommates with Fiearius Soliveré.

“Never would have expected that answer from you, but thanks,” he muttered, clearly a little taken aback by her decision as he fell backwards onto the cot he’d secured for himself. “I appreciate the vote of support.”

Leta just shrugged and leaned against the opposing wall. “You’d make a horrible politician anyway.”

The surprise wiped away in an instant and he laughed his barking laugh. “Exactly! Thank you for seeing logic where some people won’t.”

“I can picture the headlines now,” she mused, waving her hand in the air to paint the scene before her eyes. “Satieran legislature erupts into fistfight after someone insults Councillor Soliveré’s bill. Is democracy dead?”

He laughed again and reached under the cot to pull out, to Leta’s surprise — “Beer?”

“Fiear,” she scolded at once.

He gave his best face of innocence. “What?”

“Did you buy those off the looters? We’re not supposed to support them, you give them money, they’re just gonna loot more and–”

“I didn’t buy them,” he cut her off, pulling out two beers regardless and standing up to hand her one. “They gave them to me.” He could likely read the skepticism on her face because he clarified, “Okay, fine, I made them give them to me.” He pushed the bottle towards her hand. “But I didn’t buy them.”

She rolled her eyes, but the idea of even a lukewarm beer right now was more appealing than she could resist. She took the bottle from his hand and picked up the tablet he’d left on the table in the center of the tiny room to skim through the day’s news she might have missed. There were updates coming in every minute, it was hard not to let them pass by. Carthis had retreated into their own system, forced back by a fully united Society fleet, but there was still tumult on Ellegy from the remaining troops, Ascendia trying to reorganize, trouble on Vescent…

But the moment she reached the Exymerian System News Core, she was hit not with updates from around the Span, but her own image. There she was, standing on the edge of the Nautilus’ crash site, torn and battered and bruised and, worst of all, held tight in the embrace of Admiral Soliveré. One of his hands cradled her head, the other held the small of her back while both of her arms clung to his waist and her head was buried against his chest. It was not the embrace of colleagues after a victory. It was not even the embrace of friends. It was perhaps the most intimate photo Leta had ever seen of herself and thanks to the News Core, everyone had seen it.

Still, embarrassing as it was, she couldn’t help but admire it a moment longer. She looked so content, standing there in his arms, and he in hers. It looked right. And it was, wasn’t it?

Things had been a little fuzzy regarding anything resembling ‘relationships’ this past week. They had been busy, both of them, incredibly busy. There wasn’t time or brainspace to sit down and hash out titles and officialities and even if there was, Leta wasn’t sure she’d bring it up. Even now, as she glanced over at Fiearius leaning against the doorframe and looking out into the fading light of the camp, she wasn’t sure how to breach the topic.

It would have been challenging enough under normal circumstances, but this week, Fiearius hardly seemed like himself at all. Sure, he made jokes and teased her and maintained a pretty convincing illusion of good spirits, but she knew him better than that. She saw past the stubborn facade to the quieter moments when he looked positively lost in his own head. And at this point, who could blame him?

So now had not been the time to ask for definitions. All Leta knew was that one night, before they’d come to Satieri, played in her head over and over. Three words that were nothing, really, but felt like so very much. For now, she had been content to let things play out as they were. Leta had her own shelter, one she shared with Corra and Alyx, nearby, though in the week since the battle, she’d only spent one night in it and only because Fiearius had been deep in discussion with Varris La’aren and the new Council til morning. She kept finding herself here, with him, and he was always more than happy to welcome her.

But looking at that picture on the screen, she had to wonder. Did that really mean anything?

“Hey.” Fiearius’ voice startled her out of her thoughts and she quickly shut off the tablet before he could see the image on it. “What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing,” she lied easily, but he didn’t buy it even for a moment.

“Okay.” He sat down at the table across from her. “What’s on your mind?” he asked again.

Leta met his stare and realized she couldn’t keep it from him forever. He had to find out eventually. And soon.

“My dad’s here.”

Fiearius tilted his head at her, genuine surprise rising in his features. He didn’t ask, but she explained anyway, “He was on Vescent until recently. He was there when the Society, when you–we–reclaimed it from Carthis. He’s gathered up what’s left of the Vescentian government and they’re making an effort to rebuild in the chaos. He says it’s not going so great. It’s rough there. Things are…shaky.”

Fiearius was nodding as she spoke, but all he said was, “I’ve heard that.”

So she kept stumbling onward. “The rebels there don’t want to work with him because they don’t trust he won’t just…turn things back to the way they used to be. But they’ve been having talks and he thinks there’s hope, they just need some more convincing. He wants them to feel like they have friends amongst his group, but his group doesn’t want to let any of the rebels in. They say they’re too radical, violent — it’s just delicate.”

He was still nodding. “Sure, absolutely.”

“But he has hope,” she went on. “He thinks they can reach an agreement. He thinks with the right setup, they can get along and make the progress they need to make to get things on track. With the right mediator maybe.”

She didn’t dare look at his face. She didn’t even want to say what she knew she had to say. There was a part of her that just wanted to bury the conversation she’d had with Tritius Adler earlier today and just keep living her life here oblivious to what was going on on Vescent far far away. But there was another part of her that wanted to do the opposite. And Fiearius must have known it.

“So when are you leaving?”

The question startled her more than it should have. She glanced up at him to find his expression entirely unreadable. “I didn’t say I was leaving,” she pointed out.

“But you are, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You are.”

Looking down again, she ran her hand through her hair. “I haven’t decided yet.”

Horribly, he laughed. “Yeah you have. So when is it?”

“My dad’s ship leaves tomorrow morning.”

Fiearius grimaced and sucked in air through his teeth. “Damn, that’s quick. Not a hell of a lot of time to say goodbye.”

“I’m not even sure I’m going yet.”

Again, he laughed. It was beginning to make her angry. “Yes you are.”

Chapter 48: Beam Pt. 3

“Cy, please,” she begged, feeling her emotions starting to get the better of her. “Please, we can’t stay here. We need to go. We need to find the Beacon, we need to deal with the arks, we need to finish with Carthis–” He didn’t respond. He barely even reacted. Leta’s desperation grew. “Fine, I need to leave, Cy, I can’t–” The words were choking in her throat, her eyes watering heavily now. “I can’t wait here — I can’t –”

“Look,” he interrupted suddenly, his arm lifting and his finger pointing to the skies. Leta did as she was told and her breakdown was momentarily paused as she watched hundreds of ships, Society ships, Fiear’s ships, lowering out of the clouds towards the city. They were landing? And then there was the bulbous shape of the ark. Or, gods, there really were three arks?! They too, seemed to be lowering, their cannons finally quieted despite the Carthian ships still hovering in the air around them.

That is, until one of those Carthian destroyers ventured a little too close to the surface, chasing after a Society vessel. The ark barely charged up before a flash of red light burst across the sky and incinerated the Carthian instantly.

“They’re protecting us…” Cyrus muttered and when one of the others arks fired upon a different Carthian ship, Leta realized he was right.

Gasps of awe reached her ears and she glanced back to find a whole flock of Satierans on the remains of the street behind her. She hadn’t even noticed them, but there must have been a hundred at least and more flooding in, all of their attention on the skies above them. All of them wondering what the hell was going on.

Again, Leta tugged at Cyrus’ arm, though with no real purpose. She didn’t know what she wanted anymore. To leave, to not have to look at this mess, this decimated city, this end so opposite from what she’d wanted. And yet at the same time, she wanted to stay. She wanted to never leave. Just in case…

Cyrus seemed to still be in a daze, staring up at the sky emptily when Leta spotted a ship separate from the others. It was coming their way and she recognized it instantly. The Beacon.

Leta took a few steps back as it hovered over them, whipping up the winds so tumultuously she had to block her face with her arm. The ship’s landing mechanisms extended and it slowly began to descend upon the flattest spot of the Nautilus’ corpse, but before it was even close enough to touch ground, the ramp began lower.

It was relieving, sure, to know there was a ship here with friendly faces, but Leta couldn’t relish in the Beacon’s presence as much as she would have liked to. They were going to ask. And she was going to have to answer. She was going to have to put into words what she didn’t want to say because if she said it, it meant it was true. It meant he wasn’t coming back. And just thinking of how to say it to Corra, to Finn, to Addy and Alyx and all of them…

Her chest felt like it might implode and she clamped her eyes shut, willing the tears out of them as best she could. Had she not done so, she might have seen the spectacular leap from the edge of the ramp, still far too high in the air, rather than just hear the thud of feet on metal that followed it. She would have seen the figure that sprinted across the torn hull and made Cyrus gasp. She would have known that it wasn’t Addy who had seized him in a bear hug so tight he coughed.

When she finally opened her eyes, Leta’s breath left her lungs in a hurry as Fiearius haphazardly dropped his brother and scooped Leta into his arms, lifting her off her feet and spinning her in a dizzy circle.

The warmth of his hold sent Leta into a shock. She couldn’t react, she couldn’t think, she couldn’t even gauge the emotions flooding her senses as she stumbled back onto her own weight and buried her head in his chest.

He was alive.

Alive and breathing and covered in dirt and scrapes but seemingly unharmed and she was so relieved and so thankful and yet at the same time really really — angry?

“Where the hell were you?!” was the first thing she managed to get out of her mouth, pulling back to look at his face which grimaced in apology.

“Right, well–funny story, that…” he muttered.

“What happened?” she demanded again, stepping backwards, nearly enough to break his embrace.

“Well, see, I was following you and Cy, but then, y’know…” He shrugged. “I realized why you didn’t just throw the damned thing to begin with.”

“Because that was stupid?” Leta pointed out.

“Right and–”

“Because we needed it to control the arks,” she finished.

He pointed at her. “That’s the one. And that’s why I kinda–went back for it.”

“You what?!” Cyrus rejoined them now.

Fiearius cast his brother an uncomfortable glance and explained, “The big green death beam had moved, y’know? Cuz it was hit and all. It was falling. And I knew where the little ball was and where the beam was and I figured it’d–be fine?”

Cyrus did not looked like he agreed. “You’re insane.”

“I’ve been told that,” Fiearius admitted. “But I got it. And I’d already lost track of you two so I just–ran. Wherever. And the thing crashed.” He waved at the Nautilus. “And then the Beacon tracked the orb, found me, we got the arks, landed the ships, threatened Carthis, found you.” His arms around Leta’s waist tugged her closer. “And here we are.”

She must not have looked satisfied. She didn’t feel satisfied. She continued to gape at him, a frown creasing her brow and a rage burning in her stomach. His list was so cheerful, sing-song even, like everything was alright. Like nothing had even happened. Like she hadn’t been standing here crying and feeling empty and, gods, mourning him.

“P’ahti!” a voice cried out as the Beacon finally landed properly and over Fiearius’ shoulder, Leta saw Kalli and Addy running to Cyrus who caught them in an enthusiastic embrace.

“Hey,” Fiearius’ voice cooed in her ear. “It’s okay. Everything’s fine. It’s–”

“Don’t,” she cut him off, her voice harsh as she glared up at him. “Don’t ever. Do that to me again.” He opened his mouth to respond, but she slapped her open palm against his chest to silence him. “Ever!”

He frowned down at her seriously, but slowly a smile started to pull across his face. “Okay.”

“I’m serious,” she said, her very serious voice starting to crack. “Never.”

He nodded. “Right.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“I’m not though,” he pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter! Don’t ever do it again!”

“Okay.” He smiled softly at her. “I won’t.”

She slapped his chest again and stared at the back of her hand, sniffing heavily and using her other forearm to wipe away the water that she hadn’t even realized was streaming down her face. “Good,” she muttered, tapping each finger at a time against his shirt and heaving a deep breath, determined to get a hold of herself. “Just…good.”

She ignored him as he chuckled quietly, but she didn’t fight when she felt his hand on the back of her head, pulling her against him into his warm embrace. Her body ached, her mind was tired, but for the first time today, something felt right.

“Carthis is leaving,” Fiearius told her as he looked up at the skies.

“Of course they are, we have arks now,” Leta mumbled against him, her eyes closing as exhaustion started to take hold of her.

“Leta,” he pressed. “I think this means we won.” Without looking up, she pulled him closer and her eyes filled with tears.

Chapter 48: Beam Pt. 2

Her argument with Cyrus was cut abruptly short when Fiearius ripped the Caelum Lex from her grasp. But she’d anticipated that.

Instantly, Leta spun around, prepared to fight him for it. But, to her surprise, she didn’t need to. Fiearius didn’t go sprinting off towards the Nautilus’ beam. He didn’t run to some poetic death among the ruins of his home planet. He lifted the Caelum Lex and with all of his might, he threw it.

“What are you–?!” Cyrus began as Leta watched the tiny shape disappear into the distance, seeming so insignificant as it bounced off a pile of rubble and rolled away to be blown out by the blinding light.

Cyrus’ mouth was wide open. Leta was stunned. And Fiearius turned to them and spread his arms impatiently, as if to say ‘why didn’t you geniuses think of that?’ But he didn’t have much time to gloat and she didn’t have time to explain why she hadn’t. Suddenly, there was a boom so loud and a blast of air so strong, it brought Leta to her knees.

With her eyes sealed shut and her hands over her horribly ringing ears, Leta tried to right herself, to look up, but a pressure rained down on her so heavily she couldn’t move. Every inch of her felt pinned to where she’d fallen and no matter how hard she fought, she only barely managed to turn her head just enough to see the thick green beam of light flickering and, gods, was it falling?!

The pressure lessened or perhaps her panic just gave her strength enough to look straight up to see the black shadow of the ship itself immediately above her, a glowing red wound just barely visible in its side. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped just as another explosion forced her to look away.

When someone grabbed her wrist and yanked her to her feet, she didn’t question, she didn’t fight. She just ran.

Her feet stumbled over the pavement, the toes of her boots catching on debris, but she stayed upright and moving forward as more explosions went off far above them. Her ears rang, her mind reeled and she’d already run for blocks before she even thought to look up and take stock of what was happening around her.

It was Cyrus who had grabbed her hand and he continued to lead her onward as fast as his legs could carry him. He was bleeding from his shoulder and he stumbled every few steps, but his grip was strong and he seemed to have more sense of direction than she did. She held his hand tighter.

But as relieved as she was to know she had Cyrus leading her, when she looked back, expecting to find Fiearius where he had been, where he was supposed to be, following after them, her heart stilled in her chest. He was nowhere in sight.

Frantically, she looked around them, eager to catch sight of that familiar flash of red, but all she saw was dust and debris, flickering in the fading green light.

No way. No way were they leaving him behind.

Leta yanked on Cyrus’ hand and he turned back to her.

“Where’s Fiearius?!” she yelled, but she couldn’t even hear her own voice.

Fortunately, Cyrus was able to read the question anyway. First he looked confused, then worried as he too looked around them. “He was right behind us!” she read him shout.

Well he wasn’t anymore.

Leta tried to rein in the panic starting to take over her mind. Did they go back for him? Did they keep pressing forward? She had no idea even where he was, but she couldn’t stop imagining him laying in the street behind them, knocked out by a flying piece of debris or trapped beneath a collapsed building.

When she looked at Cyrus, she saw the same questioning running through his eyes. And though Leta never arrived at an answer, he did.

He seized her hand tighter and kept running.

Dread plunged through Leta’s chest. Were they really just going to leave him behind? Injured or stuck or, gods, please gods, not dead. They were just going to abandon him? Cyrus, sure, he had a family to get back to. He had obligations to look out for himself. But Leta? She could go back, she could look for him, she could drag him out of this mess, the mess that was her idea. Maybe they could go on to end the war and save Satieri and fix the Span without him, but right then, she wasn’t sure she wanted to see a Span without Fiearius Soliveré strutting about it.

“I’m going back for him!” She ripped her hand from Cyrus’ and turned around, but he grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back just in time.

She stumbled backwards as a chunk of metal taller than a building suddenly buried itself in the pavement just feet in front of her. Another slammed onto the ground to their left. A deafening creak filled the air and Leta looked up in horror as the shape of the Nautilus tilted and writhed as red light continued to hit it again and again and again.

The green beam, just barely staying on, was nearly horizontal, throwing a streak across the city skyline. Leta ducked as it arced over their heads and then swung back, drawing figure eights in the air and burning anything it touched.

The creak grew louder and the beam curved upwards, away from the city entirely, facing straight up and finally, at long last, flickering into nothingness as the machine creating it, seemingly in slow motion as Leta looked up at its blasted, burnt out shell, still being pounded by ark fire from every direction, started to fall. Fall, she realized as she stared up in wonder and terror, straight towards them.

All sense of nobleness and logic died in the forefront of her mind as self-preservation kicked in and all it said was ‘don’t get crushed’. This time, it was her who grabbed Cyrus’ wrist and pulled him out of his stupor and into a sprint.

The groan of the Nautilus’ fall grew ever louder by the second and though Leta didn’t dare look back, she knew it was nearly upon them. Pieces of it were starting to land all around them, alight with red flame and only creating more obstacles for Leta to avoid.

She had no idea how much more they needed to run, how far away they needed to get, but she just kept running and praying inside her head, focused on one thing and one thing alone. Stay alive. Get out of the way. Stay alive.

And then suddenly, she felt Cyrus’ arm twist in hers. He made a noise, one she couldn’t hear above the horrific screech, and then before she knew what was happening, she was being pulled backwards. Her back hit metal with a thump, Cyrus’ hands gripped her shoulders and pushed her to her knees before her head was buried in his chest and then the blast came.

It was the worst noise Leta had ever heard, but she only heard it for a moment before her ears decided they couldn’t process it. The wailing scrape of a megaton of metal boring into the planet’s surface turned into a dizzying ring. She felt the wall at her back forced forward as the impact cloud of debris, rocks and fire drove past them, filling the space and making her cough against Cyrus’ hold. She clamped her eyes shut as they were filled with dust and held on as she felt her whole body being pushed by the sheer force of the air around her making room for the massive new addition to Satieri’s landscape.

It went on for what felt like hours, a constant stream of sound and motion that seemed to never end. But finally, slowly, it started to fade. The pressure, the noise, it became gradually more bearable, until Leta felt Cyrus loosen his grip around her. Tentatively, she opened one eye and saw his mouth move, but didn’t hear the words. Then he shakily rose to his feet. Leta joined him, at last taking in all of what had happened.

They were standing behind a huge chunk of the Nautilus’ exterior which had embedded itself in the street and had shielded them from the brunt of the crash. The crash which made her breath catch in her throat when she peered around the barrier at it.

The sight was barely recognizable. The street they’d stood on was gone, replaced instead by the vast twisted hull of the ship, dotted with flames and open gashes. The clouds above had dispersed, blown away by the monstrous falling object, leaving the air finally clear to see the ships still occupying the sky above.

Now that the winds were dying down, the scene was eerily quiet. It felt — dead. Like she and Cyrus were the only living things for miles, though surely that couldn’t be true. She hoped with all her heart that the Satierans here had fled before Carthis’ death machine ever arrived. She hoped with all of her being that one in particular wasn’t lying beneath the mess before her…

Leta’s hand was shaking when it reached out to rest on Cyrus’ shoulders. Her knees felt like they were going to buckle beneath her. Her eyes were watering, though she wasn’t sure if it was from the dust particles still floating around or the flood of emptiness she felt suddenly in her chest. But there was no reason for that emptiness. He wasn’t gone. He couldn’t be gone. Not like that. Not just — there one moment, gone the next. There was no way. Not Fiearius.

There was a noise behind her, a voice calling out words she couldn’t quite understand. Her heart leapt in her chest, but when she turned, she didn’t see who she was hoping for. Instead, a woman was climbing over the remains of a building, shielding her eyes from the light and peering out at the destruction they stood on the precipice off. She waved her hand and a few others joined her. Satierans, Leta realized. Satierans come to inspect the aftermath.

But it wasn’t over, was it? The arks were still in the air, Carthian battleships still swarmed the planet. It wasn’t over. Leta couldn’t just stand here and do nothing. Do nothing and wait for something that wasn’t going to happen.

If he was back there, if he was at all behind them, if he was on that street when the Nautilus hit — There was no way he survived that–

She swallowed the lump in her throat, ignored the plunging feeling spreading through her and turned to Cyrus. “We need to find the ship,” she said without even thinking. Of course, the ship was probably gone, decimated by that impact. “Or the Beacon. We should get in touch with the Beacon.”

Cyrus didn’t look at her. He stared straight ahead at the wreck, his mouth slackened and his eyes glazed. She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Cy, come on.” Her voice was cracking. “Cy, we need to do something.”

Finally, he turned his attention to her and clamped his jaw shut. For a moment, he seemed to agree with her. She needed him to agree with her. She needed him to be his logical self and tell her they had to leave, standing here was a waste of time, there was nothing here for them. There was nothing left…

But he didn’t. He hesitated. He looked out at the Nautilus and seemed as reluctant to leave it as Leta felt.

Chapter 47: Ark Pt. 3

She felt Fiearius’ hand on the back of her chair. “No idea. Just came out of nowhere and started attacking us. So brought in Aeneas for backup, Carthis followed and now…” He waved his hand toward the window at the flashing clouds of the battle. “This.”

“Well it’s not shooting at us anymore so I’ll take it,” muttered Cyrus in the pilot’s seat who, for someone sitting down, was remarkably out of breath.

Leta frowned. “If Carthis is attacking it too…”

“Not theirs,” Fiearius confirmed. “They probably think it’s ours.”

“But it’s not?” Leta glanced at him. “It’s not some Society thing? Security or–” Fiearius was already shaking his head. As was Cyrus.

“It’s not even the right tech,” he said, seemingly relieved to have a reprieve from the intense piloting. “I’ve never seen anything like this, I don’t even know any planet capable of making something like this, it’s–”

Suddenly, his voice choked in his throat. Leta looked over at him in alarm to find his eyes wide and his jaw dropped. Before she could ask what was wrong, he answered. “It’s not Carthis. It’s not the Society. It’s Corra.”

Fiearius and Leta shared a look. “Corra’s trying to kill us now too?!” he demanded.

“Wha–no!” Cyrus growled. “She’s trying to help! This ship, it’s not something from our time. It’s ancient, it’s foreign, it’s–”

“From the Origin,” Leta breathed, her eyes transfixed on the shadow obscured by clouds. “She used the Transmission.”

“Looks that way…” Cyrus muttered in confirmation.

Fiearius had a frown of confusion upon his brow, but he seemed to decide now wasn’t the time to question. It was the time to act. “Can we get in touch with her?”

“We can try.” Leta spun her chair back towards the controls and activated the COMM. It was fortunate she’d called the Beacon so many times from so many locations that she’d finally memorized its CID number. The screen lit up its connection right away, but it wasn’t Corra’s voice that greeted her.

“The system you are trying to reach is occupied by Origin Ark Assist,” said an other-worldy voice, interspersed with static from the shoddy connection. “Communications are currently on back-up and cannot be–”

Suddenly, it was cut off. “Connect, connect, connect, god, this thing!” And that voice was miraculously familiar.

“Corra!”

There was a gasp. “Leta! Thank god, I didn’t think it was going to let us answer. It’s blocking everything, we can’t even–”

As many questions as Leta may have had about what ‘Origin Ark Assist’ meant, why it was occupying her ship and how it was blocking her communications, there wasn’t a lot of time to waste asking them. “Corra, what happened, what is this thing? Did the Transmission call it here?”

“Sort of,” was her cryptic answer. Another ten questions Leta didn’t have the free seconds to ask sprang into her mind. “They’re arks, they’re empty as far as I can tell, but they have a moral obligation to–”

“Wait, they?” interject Cyrus. “They?”

“I guess you haven’t looked up in a while.” That was Alyx. “There’s three.”

“Great,” Leta heard Fiearius mutter behind her. “Not one, not two, but three giant death machines.” He paused a moment and then presumably looked out of the bay window and remembered the green pulse in the storm. “Sorry, four.”

“We can’t control them,” Corra told them. “Addy’s trying everything, but we can’t override their programming. Not until we get the Caelum Lex back.”

“The–” Cyrus stammered. “Why?”

“Their prime objective is to protect it. I guess being on the Nautilus classified it as under attack. And now they’re under attack which is the second thing and — this doesn’t matter,” Corra snapped impatiently. “We need the Caelum Lex out of danger. Being on the Beacon is out of danger. Then they’ll stop attacking. That’s it.”

Cyrus looked worried, Fiearius frustrated, but Leta, for the first time in days, smiled. She felt the weight in her pocket and thanked the gods she’d done something right at least. Just as Cyrus was saying something about going back, she cut him off. “I have it.”

Both pairs of eyes swung to her. “I took it from the Nautilus.” She reached into her pocket and drew out the sphere. “I have it.”

“Shit,” Fiearius breathed in appreciation. “You fuckin’ genius.”

“Well–good! Get it here, then! We’re just entering Satieri’s atmosphere,” said Corra.

Cyrus gripped the ship controls and started to turn her. “Locked onto your signal and on the way.”

Despite the raging storm outside (and partially inside), despite the ancient ships hanging over the planet, despite the myriad problems still laid out in front of them, as Leta leaned back in her chair, she felt some glimmer of hope that all was not entirely lost. She watched as Fiearius leaned over her to send out a command for all ships to disengage from the ark. She glanced at Cyrus, skillfully navigating them around ship fire from the raging battle. And then she looked out of the window as a Carthian ship lifted into its vision and blocked their path.

“Oh shit,” Cyrus whispered as the cannons started to charge a shot.

“Don’t they have something better to do?” snapped Fiearius.

“Cy?!” exclaimed Leta when it didn’t seem like their ship was moving out of the way fast enough.

And then in a flash of red light, the Carthian ship was gone.

The three of them stared in wonder as they zoomed past the explosion, barely any debris left to speak of. The ship had been entirely decimated by the blast from the ark, a few chunks of metal plating and dust all that remained. The ark had certainly done them a favor. Convenient, Leta thought, feeling a little shocked by it. Coincidence…

Or maybe it wasn’t.

As they continued through the storm, she saw another flash of red and, below green. The idea struck her straight in the chest.

“Wait, stop!”

Both Cyrus and Fiearius looked over at her in alarm. “We can’t go to the Beacon yet. We still need to take care of the Nautilus,” she argued.

“Yeah, I’m aware of that, but one death machine at a time, okay?” Fiearius grumbled.

“No, you don’t understand.” Leta pushed herself up in her seat, ignoring the sharp pain that ran from her arm through her chest. “We can use one to fight the other.” She lifted the Caelum Lex in front of him, hoping the thought would click in his head.

It didn’t. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Leta groaned and put her hand over her forehead. “Didn’t you see what just happened? That Carthian ship threatened us. And the ark took it down.”

“Its prime objective is to protect the Caelum Lex,” Cyrus muttered, thankfully understanding where his brother did not.

“Exactly!” Leta exclaimed, turning around in her chair to face Fiearius. “And when it tried to shoot you and hit the Nautilus instead–”

“Its blast went straight through the shields,” finished Cyrus. “Whatever it’s using, it’s not tech that we planned for, the shields are useless against it.”

Leta lifted the Caelum Lex even higher in front of Fiearius’ face. He glared down at it thoughtfully and then glanced at her. “You suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”

“If what you’re thinking is crazy and dangerous and based only on a rough understanding of ancient programming and its reactions to things, but just might save your planet from being completely destroyed? Then yes.”

Fiearius considered her for a moment. It was a long shot, Leta knew, but as of this moment, it was still the best shot they had. And since when did Fiearius turn down long shots?

“Alright.” He shrugged. “Cy, land the ship.”