Category Archives: Part 3-2

Chapter 45: Traitor Pt. 3

His feet had carried him back towards the console before he even knew what he was doing. “What the fuck?!”

“Ah, Admiral,” said Gates, a certain cheer in his voice that made Fiearius want to pick up the desk and throw it across the room. “You’re alive after all.”

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”

“Winning the war, I believe,” was the answer that made Fiearius actually grip the desk in preparation for the toss.

“By fucking destroying the planet you wanted to take over?! Why?!”

“Above my pay grade, I’m afraid. These are orders direct from the president. Though I’d imagine if you asked her, she’d say something about demonstrations and power, influence, showing our strength, etcetera etcetera.”

“That’s the–” Fiearius let out a groan and settled for slamming the table legs onto the ground. One of the cracked. “Turn it off! Now!”

“I suppose I could,” Gates replied simply. “I mean. What difference would it make? My career’s already over. I brought a piece of space debris into the fold of Carthis’ honorable army, trusted him with my life and the lives of millions of our people and he went and got most of them killed. I’ll be court martialed as soon as I walk off this bridge.” There was a pause before he added, “Oh wait. That’s exactly why I won’t turn it off.”

Fiearius laughed a single humorless laugh. “If you’re trying to make me feel bad for you, it’s not gonna work.”

“I would never expect such a complex emotion from you. Goodbye Fiearius–”

A streak of panic ran through him. “Wait–”

“Enjoy the last few moments of your precious Satieri.”

“Kaiser, hang on–”

“And, in your own immortal words,” he paused for dramatic effect, “Go fuck yourself.”

The line went dead. Fiearius was left staring at the screen, his mouth open and the burn of rage running through every one of his veins. It was so intense, that no comprehensive thoughts could even make it to his head. Just anger. Lots and lots and lots of anger.

Then Leta said, “Well that went fucking great,” and he snapped back into himself.

“Aeneas!” Fiearius shouted into the COMM. “Change of plans. No more warning shots, blow them all the hell!” His eyes narrowed on the blank screen of the console. “Start with the lead dreadnought.”

“Wait, wait, wait, shouldn’t we have them attack that?” Leta pointed frantically out of the window where the green light was steadily growing larger.

Cyrus was already shaking his head. “It runs with ECRO-gen shields.”

Leta looked between the two of them, frustrated. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“None of our ships have the weapons capable of even making a dent, they wouldn’t–”

“What about the Society ships?” Fiearius suggested, desperation flooding out of him. “We could call them back.”

Again with the head shaking. “They can’t either, it’s–”

Fiearius groaned and ran his hands down his face. “Why the fuck did you build this thing to be indestructible?!”

Cyrus opened his mouth in protest. “I didn’t know we’d be fighting it one day!”

“It’s a fucking terraformer, it doesn’t need to be indestructible anyway!”

“Are you–do you have any idea what kind of–”

“No because these things shouldn’t even exist anymore so–”

“I was doing my job, Fiearius, I–”

“Hey!” Leta suddenly screamed over them, pulling the brothers out of their argument and their attention back to her. “Focus! We need a plan! What can we do?”

She was looking at Fiearius. Fiearius looked at Cyrus. And Cyrus looked at his feet. He tried to make his voice even and calm as he said, “C’mon, Cy. We can’t just run away and let this happen. There must be something we can do.”

Cyrus didn’t look up from the ground. Not even when the building shook violently again, reminding them of truly how little time they had. Still, he had no answers. It was Leta whose suggestion came first.

“Okay, we can’t attack it from the outside, what if we attack it from the inside? Take out its crew, turn it off ourselves.”

“It’s unmanned,” said Cyrus quietly. “It’s run remotely.”

“So they’re controlling it from up there?” Fiearius gestured to the sky. “Can’t we just blow up the ships controlling it then?”

“If the connection is lost, there’s a chance it’ll shut down, but–there’s a chance it won’t. We never got far enough into the project to test that kind of scenario, if the program’s already loaded and running, it might just keep going and–” He shook his head. “But you might be onto something?”

Fiearius shared a look with Leta. “What, blowing things up?”

Cyrus frowned. “What? No, not you. Her. Attack from the inside. If someone can get inside it, we could disable it.”

It was a start. “Okay, get inside it, is that possible?”

He took a moment to stare, mouth open, at the wall across from him and then nodded. “Yes! Yes, there’s a hatch on the starboard hull, it’ll take you right into the guts of it. We just need to–get to the hatch.” His eyes traveled to the green light on the horizon. “Up there.”

Fiearius followed his line of sight. He heard Leta release a quiet groan at the thought. Okay, it wasn’t an ideal plan, boarding a massive functioning terraformer mid-flight. But damned if he was going to stand here and watch his home get destroyed.

“Do we have a ship?” he asked.

“No,” Leta answered.

Cyrus, however, turned to E’etan’s console and tapped a few keys. Across the room, a wall panel slid aside, revealing an elevator Fiearius hadn’t realized was there before. Cyrus smiled shakily. “But I do.”

——————-

“I still vote no.” Daelen’s arms were crossed over his chest. “We have no idea what it does. It’s far too risky.”

“I vote no too,” agreed Alyx, shaking her head. “It could cause more problems for all we know.”

“How can you say that?” demanded Addy, not even hiding her desperation. “You, of all people, know what that thing can do. What it’s already doing–”

“Hey,” Alyx cut her off with a stern glance. “That has nothing to do with this. I’m not arguing that we should be fine with the Nautilus destroying planets. I’m not. Believe me, I’m not. But this?” She gestured to the device on the table they all stood around. “Is not an answer. It’s not even an educated guess.”

“Cyrus and Leta and Fiear are all down there.” Addy threw her hand towards the bay window where they could see the flashes and lights of the Carthian ships doing battle with Fiearius’ fleet, they could see the smoky surface of Satieri and, even from here, they could see the bright green light of the Nautilus.

“If there is any chance that this thing could save them, I’m willing to take it,” Addy finished sharply.

Beside her, Cai was nodding slowly. “I think we should too.” It was the first time he’d spoken in this argument and all eyes flew to him. “No, we don’t know what it does exactly, but–I think it came to us for a reason.” He didn’t seem to notice Alyx rolling her eyes. “There are a lot of people dying down there. Even more than Archeti. I think maybe this is the reason.”

Well, a half hour of argument had gotten them nowhere. It was still two to two. Corra sighed and looked down at the Transmission she held in her hand. She didn’t have an answer nearly as strong as the rest of her crew seemed to. Both sides of the debate seemed entirely valid to her. Messing around with ancient technology could yield any kind of results. Some good, some that could possibly save Satieri, save their friends, end the war. Yet some…potentially catastrophic.

“Superstition aside, we need to look at the facts,” Alyx went on sharply. “And those are that using this thing is stabbing blindly in the dark when we could be better spending our time coming up with a real plan.”

“And what exactly would a real plan entail?” Addy’s voice shook like she was about to crack from despair.

Alyx’s face wasn’t devoid of sympathy, but no matter how softly she said the words, the message was just the same. “We could take the Beacon down to the surface and find our friends and get them out.”

Addy’s mouth fell open in shock at the suggestion. “And just abandon an entire planet? Let Satieri be destroyed?”

“What other choice do we have?” At any other time, Daelen’s calm tone would have been a blessing, cutting through the chaos and soothing the room, but now even he seemed to have no effect. “Cyrus built the thing and he said before we have no chance against it. There’s nothing we can do.”

“We can do this,” said Cai bluntly, pointing at the Transmitter. “This is exactly what we can do. This is what we’re meant to do.”

“And what if it’s not?” Alyx argued. “What if it makes things worse?”

“Then at least we tried,” he said, shaking his head. “At least we did something other than run away and watch a populated world crumble to dust.”

“Again…” Addy said quietly, so full of meaning that the room went silent. All of them stared down at the Transmitter. Corra swore she felt the tension pressing on her skin. There was no easy choice here and it was one she didn’t want to have to make. The more time they wasted though, the more lives would be lost.

When she finally looked up again, she found four pairs of eyes staring at her.

“It’s your decision, captain,” reminded Daelen and no one refuted him. But there was still one person here who hadn’t given his opinion. The one person who wasn’t looking at her, who had stood silently in the back of the group with his chin in his hand since this conversation began.

“Riley?” His eyes flicked up towards her. “What do you think?”

Addy jumped in to convince him. “Finn, you can’t let what happened to Archeti happen here. We have to do something–”

“Adds, I love you to death, but you need to stop throwing that around,” Alyx growled through gritted teeth.

“She’s not wrong though,” mumbled Cai.

“Archeti isn’t just an argument you can use–”

“It’s part of this discussion–”

“Quiet!” Corra snapped over all of them and the room grew quiet again. She locked eyes with Finn and asked again. “Riley. What do you think?”

Everyone seemed to be holding their breaths waiting for his answer. Corra had abstained, which made him the deciding vote. And frankly, his opinion meant more to her than any of the others. Whatever he decided is what they would do. And by the look on his face, he knew it.

Corra watched as he looked down at the Transmitter again, then the Transmission in her hand. Finally, he turned his head toward the window and the others followed. The green light grew larger by the minute. Corra hadn’t watched Archeti as it was swallowed whole, but she knew it wouldn’t take long. Time was running out.

Which was likely why Finn at last turned back to her, met her eyes and nodded. “Do it.”

Corra didn’t wait for any other reactions. She didn’t need her hand stayed any longer or more indecision to cloud her head. She slid the Transmission into its slot and held her breath as the the circle of light flicked on and started to grow.

Chapter 45: Traitor Pt. 2

Leta, from where she lay on the ground, started to laugh. Quiet and slow, but enough to make the Councillor eye her curiously. “Something funny?”

She just laughed a little harder and glanced at Fiearius who grimaced. “Got some bad news for you, mate. Little bit of a problem with your plan there”

“I’m not with Carthis,” growled Leta, pushing her upper body off of the ground.

Fiearius smiled. “And I’m not the Verdant.”

Confusion passed over Dorrian E’etan’s face. Fiearius saw his eyes fly towards the window where clearly no Society ships had returned as they should have, had the Verdant ordered them to. And to Fiearius who, smirking casually, glanced down at Leta. And Leta, who held up a tiny chip in her hand proudly. The Verdant chip.

There was a flash of realization, the man muttered “What–” and then a loud gunshot filled the room and he collapsed to the floor.

“That was my cue, right?” asked Cyrus from behind E’etan’s body, holding the lightly smoking gun, now aimed right at Fiearius, a little too tensely for comfort. Sneaking around behind enemies without detection he may have mastered, but gun handling, clearly not so much.

“Close enough,” his brother answered, stepping forward and gently nudging the gun out of his direction. He then reached a hand out to Leta. “You alright?”

She took it and he pulled her to her feet. “I jumped into a skyscraper today, Fiearius,” she said which made his brows rise high on his forehead, though she apparently didn’t feel the need to elaborate. “I can handle being shoved by a boy.”

A genuine smile lit his face, which she resisted returning, crossing her arms over her chest, turning away and sticking her chin in the air. She only lasted a moment though before she glanced back at him and smirked.

“Has anyone ever told you you’re a good actor?” Fiearius snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her back against his chest. “Logically, I knew this whole thing was your idea, but you still made me feel really really bad about it…”

Leta shrugged. “It’s not hard to channel anger towards you.” She turned in his embrace and reached up to put a hand on each of his cheeks. “I just think of all you’ve put me through,” she explained sweetly.

Fiearius clapped a hand to his chest as though she’d shot him there. “You wound me, my dear.”

Her hands pulled his face towards her, their noses brushing and their lips a mere inch apart. “You’ve survived worse,” she whispered and Fiearius felt a shiver run down his spine as he leaned in to close the distance.

“Really?” The two of them looked up at Cyrus who was across the room at the late E’etan’s console looking unamused. “Right now?”

Leta turned pink as her arms fell back to her side. Fiearius let out a barking laugh. He had a point. Still, he leaned in to place a very brief, but very forceful kiss upon Leta’s lips before squeezing where his hand had landed on her rear and leaving her (even more pink) to join his brother.

“Tell me it worked,” he pleaded.

Cyrus lifted his head proudly. “What’s it look like to you?” Stepping aside, he revealed the console he’d been working on, displaying the same interface E’etan had been using before. The one only accessible to the Satieran Councillor’s personal CID embedded in his arm and now accessible to the chip held in Cyrus’ hand.

“It looks like I owe you some congratulations, Councillor Soliveré.” Fiearius patted Cyrus on the back cheerfully, but he waved him away.

“Oh fuck off.”

“So the transfer went fine then?” asked Leta, finally returning to a normal color as she joined them. “You had enough time to get it worked out?”

Cyrus made that face he made when he was particularly proud of something he’d done, but it was far too nerdy for anyone else to understand. “I’d already managed to replicate the Verdant transfer system in the gun, all I had to do was find the right target CID to trigger the transfer and he’d left this console connected to it, so really it was easy to–”

“She was asking if we distracted him well enough,” Fiearius cut him off.

Cyrus provided him a frown. “Yes, you distracted him fine. Now we have access to his command system as well as yours. The fleet’s ours.”

“Thank the gods, it was so hard not to kill him.”

“Speaking of which,” Leta put in quietly, eying Cyrus with a hint of worry. “Are you–” Her head tilted just slightly towards the body behind her. “Okay? I mean, with–” The question had also occurred to Fiearius. His brother tended to avoid the more murderous parts of life on the Dionysian and yet he had just shot a man in the head. It wasn’t the first time Cyrus had needed to kill someone, surely. But it was definitely the first time he’d point blank assassinated someone.

But Cyrus just shrugged and said, “I’m fine. He killed my nephew, fuck that guy.”

For a moment, Fiearius wondered if he’d stumbled into some alternate universe. Leta, the innocent, self-righteous doctor coming up with deceitful plans and lying her way through them with ease. Cyrus, the even more innocent, timid engineer, shooting people in the head and cursing about it. There was a time either of these things would have been unfathomable. Now–

A high-pitched whirr followed by a tremendous boom that shook the ground beneath their feet instantly drew Fiearius out of his daze. One part of the plan may have been done, but outside the apartment’s window, Satieri was still being systematically destroyed.

“We should get moving,” he heard himself suggest as he fixed his gaze on where the latest blast landed.

“On it,” replied Leta and, glancing back at her, he found her already leaned over the other console and the COMM already trying to connect. It let out a cheerful ring when it made it through.

“Doctor Adler,” greeted Gates’ stern voice on the other side of the line.

“Admiral, we made it!” Leta exclaimed, sounding younger somehow when she spoke. “We found Fiearius, he’s taken control of the Society fleets, he’s holding them off! Stop attacking!”

The line went dead. No response. When Leta looked over at him, Fiearius was almost sure there wouldn’t be one at all. Had the signal been cut? Did Gates cut it himself? Maybe ‘Fiearius is alive, stop attacking’ was the last thing he wanted to hear.

But finally, his voice came through. “Is that so?”

Fiearius couldn’t help but glance outside again where just then, three distinct blasts rained from the clouds above and exploded into the city’s surface. One in the shipping district. One by the city center. He could have sworn he saw a spark of neon lights when the third hit the entertainment district.

“He killed the Councillor,” Leta continued to explain. “He’s controlling all of their ships now. That’s why there’s no retaliation.”

In the silence that followed, Fiearius could picture Gates with his hand on his chin, frowning thoughtfully and giving that slow nod he always gave. Any second now, he would give the order, the attacks would stop and Fiearius could call in his own fleet to force them into surrender. He had his finger on the COMM, ready to hail Aeneas with the signal the moment the time came.

But Gates didn’t give the order. Instead, he said, “That’s very interesting.” Leta gave Fiearius a look of alarm. Cyrus mumbled something under his breath and Fiearius frowned. Something was wrong.

“Because we thought they weren’t retaliating because you sent them across the Span.”

Leta’s eyes went wide. Her mouth fell open, but she said nothing.

“It was surprising enough to hear from our sources on Ellegy, Vescent and Ascendia that the Society fleets were focusing their efforts on our undefended bases instead of protecting Satieri,” Gates continued, his tone icy. “Imagine my shock to then learn we’d intercepted the very orders to do so coming from a tiny little stealth ship carrying our supposed allies.”

“They intercepted the transmissions out of the Spirit?” Cyrus breathed in disbelief. “How–”

“So let’s say we dispense with the charade, shall we, Doctor? I think you’ve lied enough for one day.”

Fiearius watched Leta as she went from shocked to confused to, finally, angry. Her fingers curled into a fist against the desk. Her jaw clenched. Fiearius felt Cyrus watching him, watching Leta, back to him, a silent urging behind his expression, but Fiearius was still, patient.

“Alright, Admiral. No more lies,” she said at last, the youth in her voice gone. “We’ve killed the final Councillor, we’ve assumed control of the Society, you’ve lost Ellegy, you’re about to lose Ascendia and, I haven’t checked in for a few minutes, but you’ll be lucky if you ever set foot on Vescent again. As for Satieri, we still have the firepower to dismantle your entire fleet.”

From across the room, she met Fiearius’ eye and nodded. “Now, Aeneas,” he said into his COMM. The captain on the other end gave him a noise of confirmation and Fiearius turned around to watch the dark skies as, far far above them, a cluster of lights appeared amongst the neverending expanse of stars. His loyal fleet, Quin’s loyal fleet, arriving in Satieran space.

“And we’re not afraid to use it,” Leta threatened to Gates, looking particularly pleased with herself as she leaned against the desk and watched the window along with the two brothers.

The ceaseless bombing that had started what felt like days ago, slowed. And then it stopped. For the first time in twenty minutes, the constant barrage of noise was gone. Paradiex was peaceful. Covered in smoke and burning, but the skies were not filled with fire and ships and explosions. Fiearius heard Cyrus let out a breath he’d been holding far too long.

But then Gates spoke again. “I see.” His voice from the console was clear and precise without the interference of destruction outside. “So this is where our alliance comes to an end.”

Fiearius refused to acknowledge the pang of guilt he felt in his chest. Before, Leta may have been pretending for E’etan’s sake, but some of her words had rung a little too true. It wouldn’t be the first time Fiearius was branded a traitor. It probably wouldn’t be the last. But hearing Gates himself come to terms with it didn’t do any favors to his ego. The man had pissed him off far too many times, but Fiearius couldn’t help but have a certain respect for him after all they’d been through.

Leta seemed to experiencing the same conflict. “It doesn’t have to be,” she told him, her voice a little less harsh than it had been moments before. “But this is where your siege of Satieri ends. You’re outnumbered, you know it. We don’t want to shoot you out of the skies, but we will if we have to. Surrender, it’s done.”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line. The other noises from the streets below were starting to filter in. People shouting, sirens blaring, a slow build of chaos in some ways far worse than the explosions themselves. A tension gripped Fiearius’ chest. This was the plan, it was going fine, they had almost won, so why did he feel so nervous?

Then Gates spoke again. “I’m afraid it’s not, Doctor.”

The three of them shared one short look of confusion before the ground started to shake. One quick, violent motion that nearly knocked Fiearius off his feet, followed by a sharp but steady rumble. Was the building coming down? was the first coherent thought that passed through his head. Had they been hit? Had E’etan rigged the place?

But Cyrus had the answer long before he did and when his brother, staring out the window in wide-eyed horror, breathed, “Dov’ha ti’arte…” Fiearius knew too.

On the horizon, just where the city met the sky, there was a sickly green light. A light every person in that room had seen before and prayed to never see again. It was bright, lighting up the clouds of smoke across the entire city. Night turned into a nightmarish day. Fiearius felt Leta brush up against his arm as she joined him at the window, but neither of them could speak.

“Corra’s message,” mumbled Cyrus beside him. “It wasn’t–not die, not–It wasn’t ‘not’ it was–”

“Nautilus,” Leta finished for him, swallowing hard. “I thought we blew that thing up on Vescent.”

“We did.” Cyrus’ voice cracked.

Fiearius’ brow creased in a frown and his fingers closed into a fist so tightly they drew blood. They did blow it up. He remembered that day well. It haunted his dreams more often than he cared to admit. Quin had dropped the bomb herself. He’d seen the ruins days later. They’d destroyed it. Nautilus was damaged beyond repair. Or so he had been foolish enough to believe.

The growl came from between gritted teeth. “Carthis fixed it.”

Chapter 44: Arrival Pt. 3

There was a moment then, as her hands desperately gripped the rope above her, that she knew they’d made a mistake. They were falling. They were still falling. The rope was falling with them. They had just jumped out of a falling ship to simply fall on their own. Maybe, she thought, during those impossibly long seconds, they would have been safer inside the Spirit after all.

But then she felt a violent tug on her waist. The rope in her hands went taut and suddenly, instead of falling, they were swinging.

She looked up to see the metal bond thing, distant but visible, securely fastened to the exterior beam of a neighboring skyscraper. It was the same skyscraper that was starting to get a lot bigger. Closer, would perhaps be the better word, she realized. In fact, it looked like in a matter of seconds, she was about to slam right into it.

The rope twisted a little as Cyrus climbed up a few feet towards her, but when she looked down at him, she also saw the Paradexian street seemingly miles below her and that, as it turned out, was the last thing she was able to see.

Crash.

Leta barely felt the window as she plowed through it. What she felt the most was the landing. She felt the little specks of glass dig into her skin. She felt the thumps of her body as she rolled across the grey carpeted floor. She felt the searing pain in her head when it slammed against a flimsy room divider that collapsed on contact. And most of all, she felt the rope seize around her waist when it ran out of give.

For a moment, she lay there, looking up at the strips of fluorescent lights above her and finding she was genuinely surprised to still be able to look up at all. But she could see the lights. She could also see the glass-covered desk beside her, adorned with photos of a young man and a dog. And she could see Cyrus, forcing himself onto his hands and knees and coughing violently.

Leta didn’t notice how much her hands were shaking until she pushed herself upright and reached out to him. “Cy, you okay?”

“Y-yeah,” he answered, sounding surprised at the truth himself. “You?”

Quickly, she took stock. There were cuts all over her, her head hurt, her body hurt, everything hurt. But she was alive and they had made it to Paradiex. Alive.

“I’m good.”

Cyrus looked over at her through a curtain of his dark hair, breathing heavy. And then he released a quiet manic laugh. “Gotta admit though. That was pretty cool.”

Leta returned a grin. “You are a true action hero, Cy-cy.”

As he pushed himself to his feet, his limbs shuddering and his body seemingly barely able to support itself, he mumbled, “Do action heroes feel like this after?”

Leta shrugged and took his offered hand to pull herself up. “Only the good ones.”

He snorted his appreciation and the two of them carefully stepped their way over the shattered remains of their entrance towards the blustery hole they’d made in the building. Holding her breath, Leta peered over the edge to examine the street below them. It wasn’t difficult to see what had become of the Spirit. The black chunk of metal buried in the center of the pavement covered in fire and smoke told the story well enough.

“Guess we’re not leaving anytime soon,” Cyrus muttered.

“After the trouble we went through to get here, why would you want to anyway?” Leta joked in return, trying to stay light-hearted despite the dread seeping back into her system. They were here now. They had a task ahead of them. This was only just beginning and so many more things could go wrong.

As if to punctuate her point, the building suddenly shook as one of Carthis’ blasts hit ground somewhere not too far off. She heard Cyrus audibly groan. This was his home they were destroying. And right now, they were the only two that had a chance to stop it.

They just needed to find Fiearius.

“Do you know where we are?” Leta asked.

“Ehm…” Cyrus scanned the street outside the window, looking for familiar landmarks. “Ah. Yeah. That’s the bank right over there. We’re not far. Ten minute walk. Five minute run.”

“Great.” Leta nodded, took a deep breath and turned away from the window. There weren’t any more moments to waste. “Let’s go.”

———————-

“I’m calling back the fleet.”

Fiearius turned away from the console he was using at the wall to glare at E’etan. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

“This is your plan to save Satieri?” E’etan demanded, throwing his hand towards the window where his usual view of the skyline had turned to a view of only smoke and flame. “Let Carthis destroy it?”

Fiearius’ knuckles turned white as he gripped the edge of the table. “No,” he growled. “But you have to trust me.”

E’etan didn’t. “Yes, trust the man who’s been our public enemy number one for ten years, killed all of my colleagues and now shows up threatening my life and giving me orders. Do you think me dim?”

“You’re still arguing and that threat still stands so yes,” Fiearius snapped, typing a string of commands onto the screen. “Yes you must be quite dim.”

There was nothing about this situation E’etan liked, though Soliveré was right about one thing: he didn’t really have much of a choice. When he’d made the slightest inclination towards counteracting Fiearius’ orders to the Ellegian branch of the fleet, he’d quickly found a gun at his temple. After that, he’d decided to just go along with whatever scheme the Verdant had concocted. At the very least, he was curious to see where it would go.

That is, until his old friends showed up and started mowing down E’etan’s city.

“You launched every ship we have from Satieri. All that’s left of the Ellegian forces, your band of deflectors and the ships you brought with you. They’re all in the skies. If you just call them back, we can destroy Carthis’ entire fleet and end this whole thing.” Reasoning with this fool was a lot like reasoning with a pet, E’etan was quickly discovering. You could tell it not to shit on the carpet as much as you wanted, but it was still going to do what was natural to it. And if the past decade told him anything, what came naturally to Fiearius was destruction.

He acted like he didn’t even hear him. “Any word yet from Captain Otan?”

Rolling his eyes, E’etan glanced at the console on the desk. “Nothing yet.”

“Shit,” Fiearius growled, tapping something else onto his own screen. “Fuck you, Gates…”

“Is this Carthis’ plan?” E’etan mused to himself, leaning against the window and watching Fiearius with vague interest. “Send you here to distract me from simply destroying them? Not a bad plan really.”

Fiearius snorted his disinterest. “Without me, you wouldn’t be able to destroy them.”

With you, I’m not able to destroy them,” E’etan countered. “Since you sent every defense we have elsewhere. Forget Ellegy and Vescent and fucking Ascendia, Satieri needs help now!”

He was met with a sharp glare over his shoulder. “Gods, some kinda shitty tyrant you are. Have you never played chess? It’s part of the plan, are you gonna help or are you gonna keep complaining because the offer still stands.” Fiearius lifted his gun indicatively.

Despite his irritation, getting shot in the head at this point didn’t sound all that appealing. E’etan turned back to his screen to check for any updates. “That’s your plan then? Become a tyrant?”

“Play nice and I’ll teach you how to do it properly,” Fiearius muttered in response.

“Oh I’d be honored.” Still none of the captains they’d sent to the other strongholds had sent in a report. It either meant things were going very well or very very badly. Fiearius seemed to be of the prior opinion, but as far as E’etan was concerned, it didn’t matter. He watched another streak of fire blast across the sky and bury itself in the entertainment district, sending up a plume of grey and black to join the haze. This was ridiculous. The city would be leveled before this ‘plan’ of his ever came through. His fingers hovered over the keys. He could just type the command. Call them back. He’d die, but at least Paradiex might live. If he just–

“I didn’t, by the way.”

E’etan glanced over his shoulder, but Fiearius wasn’t looking at him. “Pardon?”

“I didn’t,” he said again, his tone empty of emotion. “I didn’t kill your colleagues, the other Councillors.” E’etan let out a single laugh of disbelief, but Fiearius was unphased. “I tried, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t kill a single one.”

“Then who did?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Dez. Varisian. Leta killed two. Me though? Not a one.”

“So I’ll be your first,” E’etan remarked, expecting him to turn it towards another threat to get back to work.

But Fiearius’ expression was grim and his voice cold as ice when he said, “Fitting. Isn’t it?”

The image of a small red-haired child appeared in his mind. The boy screamed and yelled and fought as E’etan seized his hand and dragged him away from his mother who cried out in horror. He could still hear the gunshot. He could still feel the blood on his hands. He had never meant to kill the boy. The image, gruesome and heart-numbing, had never stopped haunting him even after all this time. Perhaps, if nothing else, that was one thing he and Soliveré had in common…

A nearby explosion drew him out of his daze and he turned his eyes back to the screen. “Otan’s sent an update.”

“Great, read it to me.”

“No sign of Carthian forces in Ellegian orbit, our forces moved in and–”

Suddenly, the door to the apartment flew open. Both men in the room looked up in surprise. Standing in the doorway was a woman, covered in dust and speckled with blood. Her brown hair, perhaps originally neat and put up, was a mess. Her bright green eyes were wide and fixed on Fiearius who stared back at her in a certain kind of horror and shock E’etan would never have expected from him.

“Leta?”

Chapter 44: Arrival Pt. 2

“I don’t think it should be doing this.” He pointed to a screen next to him which displayed a flashing warning. “And she’s not–” He yanked on the controls, but the ship didn’t change course. “This doesn’t seem right.”

No fucking kidding it didn’t seem right, Leta almost said. She pushed herself to her feet, bracing her hands on Cyrus’ chair as she stood over him, scanning the array of controls. “Can you move her at all?”

He pulled on the controls again. “Nothing.” There was a crack in his voice. “I’ve got nothing.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t fucking know!” he snapped. “There’s something wrong!” He slapped the warning console with the back of his hand. “I don’t know what this means!”

“Okay, calm down,” was Leta’s advice to him, but more to herself. “Calm down, we just need to figure this out, it’s–” A streak of bright fire zoomed past the window, barely missing them and making the Spirit quaver relentlessly. “Just a problem to be solved,” she breathed.

“It’s a problem I don’t understand,” mumbled Cyrus as he finally let up on the useless controls and started furiously scanning through the ship’s data. “There’s nothing wrong with the engines, the steering, the systems are all fine, running smoothly, just–” Another blast narrowly missed them. “Just I’ve lost control of them.”

Leta’s eyes fixed on the warning message flashing on the screen beside him. “Secondary mode active,” she read and Cyrus lifted his hands in a dramatic shrug.

“I don’t know what secondary mode is,” he wailed. “I don’t know how it became active, I don’t know how to make it inactive, I don’t–”

“Did you press anything?” Leta asked, hearing her own franticness in her voice.

“What?! No I didn’t–”

“Well you must have done something otherwise it wouldn’t have–”

“I know how to fly a ship, Leta, I don’t just press random buttons, I’m not a–”

“Well somehow it turned on, so–”

Whoosh. The entire ship shuddered so hard, Leta’s vision blurred. She almost lost her footing before she grabbed onto Cyrus’ chair and steadied herself. That was three very close calls in a row. All around them, fire kept falling from the sky in indistinct patterns as the Carthian ships surrounded the planet. They probably could have been hit no matter where they were, given the frequency of fire. Yet she couldn’t help but ask the question.

“Are they trying to hit us?”

Cyrus gave her a look of alarm. Before he could answer, though, a huge force pushed the Spirit across the sky. The sudden displacement knocked Leta to the ground and Cyrus barely stayed in his seat. The overhead lights switched back on, this time stark red. The alarm began to wail.

Clambering back towards the console, Cyrus was heaving deep breaths when he said, “Well if they were, they succeeded.”

Leta forced herself up, only to feel the ground beneath her feet wasn’t as solid as she would have expected. It was sinking. Fast. And the skyline outside the window, she realized in horror, was rising. Faster.

“Oh gods.”

“Okay, we’re hit, we’re falling, what can we do?” Cyrus’ facade of having it together was shaky, but it was better than Leta’s.

“Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods.”

“She must have some sort of–I don’t know, emergency something?”

“Oh gods.”

“Parachutes?”

Leta heard herself let out a high-pitched whimper, her eyes never leaving the window, the city growing so close and yet so very very far away.

“Oh!” The exclamation was just hopeful enough to pull Leta out of her panic. “Okay, bad news, we are definitely crashing, but good news!” Cyrus whacked the nearby console with his palm and then seized the controls. “Secondary mode is inactive!”

“How is that helpful if we’re crashing?!”

Cyrus’ wild laugh of response wasn’t exactly reassuring. “We can crash with direction?” he suggested as he pulled up on the controls and by some sick miracle, the ship finally responded. Leta stumbled into a seat, holding onto the armrests as the Spirit plummeted (with direction) faster and faster towards the surface.

Beside her, Cyrus grit his teeth and yanked harder on the ship’s control. The descent slowed, but only by a little, her nose tilted upwards so the city swung out of view.

“I’m sorry, this was a bad plan,” Leta heard herself shout over the blaring alarms.

Cyrus’ answer was distracted as he continued to manipulate the ship. “It’s okay.”

She was starting to feel a little frantic. “It’s not. We’re going to die before it’s even done. We’re going to die here in this tiny little ship and we won’t be able to return it to Corra and your daughter’s not going to have a father.”

“Hey–”

“This is all my fault, why did we do this?”

“Leta–”

“Cyrus, I’m in love with your brother.”

Finally, Cyrus looked over at her, if only for a moment. “Yeah. I know,” he admitted shortly. Leta gawped at him.

“Why does everyone keep saying that–”

“If you’re done,” Cyrus interrupted, still holding the controls firmly in place, keeping the ship’s descent even if not steady, but now he stood up and gestured towards them. “Can you take this?”

Confused, but without arguing, and feeling a little more like herself now, Leta carefully shuffled over and took the helm. Cyrus immediately abandoned it and headed for the back of the ship at a sprint.

“What are you doing?” she called back to him, pulling down on the ship as hard as she could.

“I have an idea!” he called back and she heard the sound of a metal panel hitting the floor. “We’re gonna follow Corra’s advice.”

“Wha–” Leta frowned. “Not die?”

“Not die!”

Well, that sounded good to her at least. Impossible, given how quickly they were headed towards being a mere dent in a Paradexian street. But good.

Cyrus returned moments later with, of all things, a rope. Which was not quite as good as Leta was anticipating. “I’m gonna tie this around you, okay?” He started to do just that, looping the rope around her waist and securing it in a knot, then, further along the rope, did the same to himself. This idea was already making Leta nervous, but when she glanced over her shoulder to see him fiddling with some sort of makeshift device at the end of the rope, it made her even moreso.

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s a rope attached to the ship’s bonding core inside the backup release valve,” he answered, as though this was all simple and elementary. “Think of it like a–magnetic grappling hook.”

“A grappling hook?!” She spun around to look at him, but inadvertently loosened her grip on the controls, causing the ship to stumble a little. Hurriedly, she reclaimed it. “This isn’t a movie, Cyrus!”

“I’m aware of that,” he snapped. “But this ship is going down and I can’t fix that so all I can do is get us out of it. And apparently there are no parachutes so.” She felt him tug on the rope attached to her waist. “Grappling hook.”

“This is insane.”

“You got a better idea?!”

Out of the window, Leta was starting to see the tops of buildings in the distance. They had a minute, maybe less. Probably less. And no, she didn’t have a better idea. The lump in her throat went down protesting. “Fine. Just–tell me when.”

Almost instantly, she heard a metal thunk of the door opening behind her, followed by a blast of air, loud and riotous, filling the Spirit’s cabin. The noise was so much, that Leta barely heard Cyrus’ voice when he shouted, “When!”

Heaving a deep breath and trying in vain to direct her windblown hair out of her eyes, Leta let go of the controls, practically fell from her seat and, as the Spirit started to tip downwards again, ran towards the back of the ship. Before she even reached Cyrus, just as she caught a glimpse of the side of a building out of the open hatch and felt more sick to her stomach than before, he pushed a button on the valve and the chunk of bondage-whatever they were attached to went soaring out of the ship, the rope flapping in the wind behind it.

She didn’t see it land, but when Cyrus yelled, “Jump!” she didn’t think. She couldn’t think because if she did she’d only think about how she was committing suicide. So instead, she approached the open door of the Spirit and she jumped.

Chapter 43: Motivations Pt. 3

But when he finally spoke, what he said was, “This sounds an awful lot like our last operation to Satieri. We lost a lot of ships and a lot of people on that mission. We can’t risk another distraction like that.” Leta felt her heart start to plummet. “We’ll move forward with Strategist Arsen’s plan for the comprehensive assault.” As a smug grin pulled across Arsen’s face, Leta started collecting every argument she had. Every reason she could give. She had to change his mind, she had to make this work, she–

“However.” Gates’ voice broke through her concentration. “I’m not going to stop you from seeking him out if you choose.” He met her wide eyes with his own calm stare. “You’ll have to find your own way, but if you truly believe you can do it, I suggest you go now so that you’ll have a few hours headstart.”

Leta didn’t realize her mouth had fallen open, but she shut it immediately and nodded. It wasn’t the ideal plan, but it was something. It was a chance. She’d take it. “Alright. I’ll go right away.”

“Keep in touch,” Gates advised. “If the situation changes, I want to know.” She nodded again.

“I’ll go with you,” Cyrus put in suddenly, straightening beside her.

“Cy–” She wanted to argue. What about Addy? Kalli? Flying to Satieri was going to be dangerous. Finding Fiearius could be dangerous. How could he risk everything like that? But she had no arguments to give when he fixed her with a serious stare and said, “He’s my brother, Leta. I’m coming with you.”

All Leta could do was nod as a thousand things ran through her head. Preparations that needed to be made. Things she needed to take with her. How they were going to get there. Where they were going to find him. What she was going to say to him once they did–

But for now, one thing at a time.

She looked to Cyrus. “We need a ship.”

——————–

“Alright, don’t run her too hard, she can start showing up on monitoring if her power gets too low,” Corra warned, flicking another switch on the Spirit’s control console. “But sail her steady and she’ll get you to the surface without a hitch. Not even the most advanced systems out of Ellegy can pick her up.”

Leta nodded though she wasn’t sure the information had made even the briefest pit-stop in her head as it blew in one ear and out of the other. She hoped Cyrus was paying more attention as he was going to be flying the tiny ship out of the Beacon’s docking port and down to Satieri. He was poised over the console, scanning over the control panels as Corra ran him through them.

Logically, Leta knew this briefing was necessary. Of course, she wanted her pilot to know what he was doing. But each passing second was one more second Fiearius could be in grave danger. Their journey had been made easier by the Beacon ferrying them to the outer edges of Satierian space, a favor Corra and Finn had agreed to before Cyrus had even asked. Still, the Spirit had a ways to go and the longer Corra spoke, the longer that trip would be.

“–eta?”

Leta looked up, startled to be drawn out of her thoughts, to find Corra staring at her, worried. “You alright?”

Alright was not a word Leta would choose. She felt like she was in a haze, as though the past few days were nothing but a strange dream she couldn’t wake up from. From the moment she heard that knock on the door all the way to now, crammed into a ship that was about to fly her back to the front lines of Satieri, none of it felt real. She did not feel alright, but swallowing the lump in her throat, she nodded anyway.

Corra didn’t seem convinced, but thankfully she didn’t argue. Instead, she stepped forward and put her arms around Leta’s shoulders and squeezed. “It’s gonna be fine,” her friend assured her in a confident whisper, but Leta didn’t believe the words, not entirely.

But she didn’t argue either as Corra stepped back and smiled at her kindly. Behind her, Cyrus’ family had somehow managed to wiggle inside to say their goodbyes and good lucks. Kalli was crying, attached to her father’s leg with all of her usual tenacity as he stroked her hair. Addy, Leta noticed, was not. She crouched face to face with him, her hands on his shoulders and a sort of adoring pride in her eyes as she whispered words of assurance Leta couldn’t hear. They kissed. Kalli wailed a few protests. And they exited through the hatch.

Finn peeked his head in afterwards. “You’re gonna do great, you guys. When you see Fiear, tell him ‘fuck you’ for putting us through all this.”

For the first time in days, a smile came to Leta’s face. She waved a two-fingered goodbye to him as he disappeared and Corra drew in a deep breath. “Alright. You should head out. Carthis won’t be far behind us I’m sure. We’ll stay close so if anything happens, if anything goes wrong, say the word and we’ll be there.”

Thank you, Leta wanted to say, but words were dried up in her throat. Corra gripped both of their hands tight before she walked backwards out of the Spirit and shut the airlock door, plunging the ship into silence.

Then, moments later, Cyrus drew in a deep breath, spun around in his chair and engaged the ship. The overhead lights switched off. The engine let out a quiet hum. The Beacon’s airlock clunked as it detached. And outside the viewport, the glowing shape of Satieri swung into view.

Leta didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath until Cyrus spoke.

“Kinda familiar, isn’t it?” His tone had the strain of someone who wasn’t in the mood for jokes or trying to make one. “You and me, heading to Satieri to save my brother from the Society?”

Leta tried to laugh a response, but she was even less in the mood than he was. Her first visit to Satieri, many years ago now, was something that still haunted her nightmares regularly. “Hopefully this part is the only part that rings familiar.”

She watched Cyrus swallow hard and shake the thought from his head. “Just like him though,” he muttered under his breath. “Running off on some crazy plan that puts everyone in danger.”

“Cy–”

“I’m not mad,” he clarified. “I mean–I am, but–” His hand absently brushed through his hair. “I just wish it hadn’t come to this.”

“We all wish that.”

The cabin fell into silence again as the conversation lapsed. Outside, the planet was growing by the instant, starting to fill the entire bay window. It was nighttime on the side they were headed towards and though they were still far off, Leta could just make out a blob of glittering lights in the middle of a vast dark desert on the surface.

“You have an address, right?”

The sudden question threw Leta off, but she recovered quickly. “Yeah, I do.”

“We’re sure that’s where we’ll find him?”

No. Nothing was sure at this point. But she said, “I’m sure,” anyway.

Cyrus released a breath and asked the question Leta didn’t want to hear. The one she’d been asking herself constantly. The one that so neatly and perfectly got to the root of all of her worries in six simple words.

“Do you think this will work?”

Honestly, she wasn’t sure. How could she be? Fiearius was already amongst enemies, Leta and Cyrus were headed in right after him and Carthis was on the way to set fire to the whole thing. The odds were not even remotely in their favor. But Leta steeled herself against the wave of bad thoughts, the barrage of everything that could go wrong and gave the answer they both needed to hear. The only thing that kept her feeling motivated as they sped straight into the lion’s den.

“It has to.”

Chapter 43: Motivations Pt. 2

“Doctor,” came Gates’ booming voice. “While we no doubt appreciate your expertise on Soliveré and his motivations, we cannot, at this point, do anything less than assume and prepare for the worst. You yourself indicated that Soliveré could theoretically take command of some portion of the Society’s forces using his Verdant access–”

“Yes, but he wouldn’t use them to attack you!” Leta ran her hand down her face. How could these people not understand this? “Fiearius only ever has one priority: to keep his people alive. You already blew up the most important ones. If he’s gone to Satieri and if he’s taken command of the Society fleet, he’s done so to stop you from blowing up the rest. That’s it. This is simple.”

Arsen’s eyes narrowed. “Your level of trust is surely admirable, Doctor, but it is not a level we all share.”

“Seriously?” Cyrus barked. “After everything he’s done for you? You’re just going to write him off that quickly.”

“Again, I ask why this man is even here–”

“For all you know, Fiear’s plan is to your benefit,” Leta argued. “Maybe what he’s doing is intended to help.”

“If he’s trying to help, then why wouldn’t he simply tell us the plan before betraying us?” Arsen snapped back.

Before Leta could even open her mouth to reply, Gates added, “Better yet, why wouldn’t he tell you?” and her protests instantly died on her tongue.

Of course, Leta knew how this looked. Fiearius had spent the night with her. He’d confessed his feelings for her. He’d laid in bed with her, tangled in her limbs for hours. And then he’d left. Leta would never think of herself as a spurned woman in any sense of the word, but by the way the Carthian officials had looked at her when she’d claimed innocence of his plans told her quite clearly that that was the exact description they’d assigned her. Even now, as Gates looked at her, she was sure he could see the hurt he expected to see in her expression reflected right back at him.

“If we are done with interruptions,” Gates went on, authority in every word, “I would like to resolve on a solid plan. We’ve wasted enough time already and while I understand that Admiral Soliveré’s motivations are as of yet unverified–” He shot a warning look at Leta. “–I feel we need to assume at the very least that our enemy now has unbridled access to the entirety of our operation’s intel. This leaves us incalculably vulnerable and we must act accordingly.”

Leta tried not to let the smugness in Arsen’s face bother her. “As I stated, before and certainly now, we do not have enough firepower to take on Satieri’s defenses in a head on battle. Our only course of action is a swift attack with everything we’ve got. Approach in full stealth, bombard the surface before they know we’re there. Plunge the ground into so much chaos, they won’t have a chance to meet us in the air.”

“Destroy everything?” Cyrus whispered in disbelief. “That’s your only course of action?”

If Arsen heard him, he didn’t act it. “Phase two, put troops on the ground at various points within the city. Systematically take control of each area, detaining any opposition met along the way. The Society will be too busy scrambling to regroup to put up much of a fight.”

“You’re kidding me.” Cyrus’ voice was louder this time, but still Arsen tuned him out.

“Phase three, storm the Society headquarters. Drop in tech teams to gain access into their main systems, force a surrender.” He almost seemed like he was finished, but then his voice dropped lower to add, “Also in phase three, we should locate and eliminate any remaining enemy leaders including the now identified Councillor E’etan an–” Arsen stopped abruptly. Too abruptly. And, if Leta had really seen what she thought she’d seen — Gates casting him a sharp look across the room — she knew what was supposed to come next.

So did Cyrus.

“And?” He stepped forward to the table, a certain rage in his stance and voice that instantly reminded Leta of his elder sibling. “And who? Who else are you planning on eliminating?”

Arsen gave Cyrus about a half second of attention before looking to Admiral Gates. “As chief strategist, I maintain that the presented proposal is the only course of action that will lead to our victory against the Society’s final stronghold.”

“The only way you can win is to kill my brother and everyone else on that planet.” Cyrus was done making snarky comments in the background. His voice rang loud over the room now. “How exactly is that a victory?!”

“Give the word and we can begin preparations–”

“ — You can ignore me all you want, but–”

“I recommend a comprehensive launch–”

“I’m not just gonna stand here and let you murder my brother!”

Finally, Arsen snapped. “Your brother is a traitor and he will be dealt with appropriately!” Before Cyrus could get another word in, Arsen had turned to Gates and again demanded, “Can we please all agree that Mr. Soliveré has no business being in this council–”

“Mister?!” Cyrus repeated incredulously. “Fuck you, I have a doctorate!”

“Fine, Dr. Soliveré, please leave before we are inclined to expel you by force.”

“Is that a threat?”

Leta watched the two men, poised like lions ready to pounce on either side of the table, shouting in each other’s faces. She watched the rest of the congregation, looking either nervous or irritated or a mixture of both. She watched Gates as his patience slowly started to wear down inch by inch. Her own patience was starting to grow thin. Her fingers absently massaged circles into her temple. This was wasting time. Time Fiearius didn’t have.

Cyrus and Arsen were shouting now, their voices a cacophony of barely intelligible words. A symphony of their nerves and stress and lack of sleep. And finally Gates spoke up.

“Gentlemen.” He didn’t yell it, but somehow the word boomed above theirs, slicing through the noise and cutting it down the middle. Every pair of eyes in the room shot towards him. “That’s quite enough I think.” No one argued. “Strategist Arsen, I am in full support of your plan. I would like to set it into motion right away.”

“What?!” Cyrus gaped. “You can’t–”

“I understand,” Gates cut him off, shooting him a glare so stern that even Cyrus clamped his mouth shut. “I understand that this plan is upsetting to you. I understand why. But I’m going to ask you this once and you’re going to give me a clear yes or no. Do you have a better option?”

Cyrus stared back at him, but he was silent. No, he didn’t have an option. He didn’t know what to do, just not this. That was the only thing that seemed obvious to him. But in the void of Cyrus’ answer, Leta saw her chance.

“Let me talk to him.”

At once, the attention of the council swung to her, but it was only Gates’ stare she met. He raised his brows at her curiously.

“I know it looks bad, it seems bad,” Leta began, “what Fiearius did, I know. But–you have to understand, that’s just who he is. You back him into a corner, he makes reckless, desperate choices. He always has. I’m not saying what he did was right, though I do think maybe you could have seen this coming. Regardless, yes, he’s incredibly reckless, but he’s not unreasonable. I can talk to him.”

Infuriatingly, Arsen snorted his disbelief. “If he wanted to talk to you, wouldn’t he have returned one of your messages?”

So Carthis had been intercepting the Beacon’s COMM transmissions. Leta made a mental note and then pushed it aside. “Messages are easy to ignore. I need to talk to him face to face.”

“And what exactly do you hope to accomplish?” was Gates’ concern.

“If he’s done what I think and just run off to teach you a lesson, I can get him to come back. If he’s done what you think and switched sides in the war, I can change his mind.” Leta was certain her voice was starting to sound more and more pleading the longer she spoke. “I can reason with him. He’ll listen to me. Just let me talk to him.”

Admiral Gates nodded slowly, crossed his arms over his chest and stared solemnly at the table. Please say yes, Leta begged internally. You need to say yes. Say yes.

Chapter 42: Bad Taste Pt. 3

“Because you think you’re gonna die soon,” Leta accused, her tone a touch more harsh than she’d intended. “You’re telling me you love me because you think you’re going to die.” She stared at him blankly and he visibly squirmed beneath her gaze.

“Well, yeah, when you say it like that–”

Leta let out a groan and put her hand over her eyes. “Fiearius.”

“Okay, okay, fine, I get it,” he growled under his breath. “Yes, I should have said something earlier. I should have realized earlier. I should have been less of a coward and made less excuses and said something even though there was never a good time, gods Leta, I’ve not told you up to now because frankly, I always think I’m gonna die soon, this isn’t new.

“But you’re right, I should have said something anyway, I should have fixed things and for that matter, I should never have fucked things up between us to begin with. I should have stayed on Vescent with you, I shouldn’t have gotten involved in a war, I should have listened to Aela, I shouldn’t have gone to Satieri, I should and shouldn’t have done a lot of things, and that’s why I’m telling you now, because I can’t add one more thing to that list.”

Finally, the sharpness dropped from his voice as his arms fell back to his side in defeat. “Well. I’m sorry I dumped this on you. I’ll let you be.” He turned from her and headed towards the door. “You should try and get some sleep. I imagine you’ll need it tomorrow.”

Leta couldn’t tell if she was fuming with anger or something else. Now? Really? Selfish was an understatement. And now he was just walking away? He was walking away. She was watching him walk away as she stood there, frozen by indecision. What the hell was she doing?

The door slid open and Fiearius stepped into the hallway, bracing his hand against the frame. Like she was emerging from water, Leta suddenly pulled away from her shock.

“Fiear–”

By the time he’d half-turned back to her, Leta had abandoned her drink, stepped forward authoritatively, captured the sides of his jaw in both her hands, and pulled his lips down against hers. The kiss was hard, clumsy, full.

For seconds, Fiearius stood still — uncomfortably still — bent at an awkward angle and stunned into place. But finally, he responded to her feverish kiss, orienting himself toward her as though he had all the time in the world to do just this: his hand curved against her face, another at her neck, drawing her closer as she sunk against his arms.

It didn’t matter how long it had been, it didn’t matter how far apart they’d ended up, embracing Fiearius always felt natural. The way they fit together as their mouths attacked one another’s and her hands roamed over his shoulders and down his back was nothing less than synchronized. In a way so unlike anything else she had ever experienced, Leta and Fiearius’ bodies spoke the same language.

When their lips gently parted an inch, Leta found she was short of breath. He drew back, though his hands held her steadfast. Still, there was worry in his eyes until she met his stare and grasped him tighter.

“I love you too,” she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper.

Fiearius’ brows lifted on his forehead in surprise. She felt his hands go still against her shirt. And then he cracked a horribly familiar shit-eating grin and said, “Yeah. I know you do.”

“You — what?!” she snapped, but before she could argue any further, he reclaimed her lips once more, drowning her protests.

In the silence of the hallway, Fiearius expertly eased Leta backward a step so her shoulders were pressed against the doorframe to her room. Meanwhile, his mouth traveled from her lips, down her jawline, to her neck, gently nipping at delicate skin, sending shivers down her spine as her fingers dug into his hair. She felt his hand on her rear, pulling her hips against his and a low moan rose involuntarily from her throat.

As one of his hands moved down, the other moved up, under her shirt, his calloused palms gliding over her side and ribs. She leaned towards his ear and murmured, “Can you stay?”

His voice was muffled against her neck, his breath hot. “Do you want me to?”

It was hard to be annoyed when he was bombarding her with every pleasant sensation he had in his arsenal. Still, she glowered as she said, “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t.”

“Ask me again,” he muttered and proceeded to use his hands to make it more and more difficult to think let alone speak.

But just barely, she managed to whisper between harsh breath and moans, “Stay with me.”

Fiearius didn’t answer with words. Instead, he withdrew his hands from where they were (Leta made a small groan of irritation), put one behind her legs, the other behind her shoulders and in one fell swoop, lifted her into his arms. Leta hurriedly threw her arms around his neck to hang on and laughed raucously as he carried her back into her room.

——————–

Hours later, Leta awoke dimly to the strange feeling of someone manipulating her fingers. At first, she recoiled, drawing her hand to her chest and trying to roll over to fall asleep again. She didn’t want to be awake. She hadn’t slept this well in months. She fully intended to enjoy it while it lasted.

But someone took her hand again and unwound her fingers. She didn’t fight this time and allowed them to place something in her palm then close her hand around it, tight. Exhausted as she was, Leta blinked open one eye and tried to focus on the blurry red shape sitting on the edge of her bed.

“What’re you…” she asked Fiearius, her voice fading away with her lack of consciousness.

“Shh,” he muttered, smoothing hair back on her forehead. “Go back to sleep.” Another blink and she realized he was no longer the Fiearius she had fallen asleep with. He wasn’t the careless, passionate, affectionate man who had kept her awake, writhing breathlessly and twisting against him for half the night. Now, he was dressed, armed with a gun at his leg, and there was a solemnity in his eyes as they stared down at her.

“I gotta go,” he whispered, leaning over the bed and kissing her on the temple.

“Why?” she asked,

“I’ve just gotta go,” was his only answer.

“Are you coming back?”

Fiearius smiled. “I hope so.”

Lest she argue further, he leaned in and kissed her lips, hard, but slow and sweet. She shifted towards him, ran her hand down his chest and arched her back against the mattress. But instead of deepening the kiss, he ended it, breaking away and regarding her with a sad smile.

“I love you,” he said. Leta cracked a tired grin.

“So you’ve said.”

“Just makin’ sure you don’t forget.”

“I won’t.”  but he had already drawn away and was moving across the room to leave.

There was one brief moment of panic that caused her to call out, “I’ll see you again soon,” before Fiearius disappeared out of the door and Leta’s mind, weak and spent, drifted back into sleep.

———————–

The next time she awoke, it was to someone knocking — no, pounding — on her door. First confused, then startled, Leta sat up in her bed, instinctively pulling the sheets around her bare chest. The three thuds sounded again and she looked around to regain her bearings. Fiearius was gone, her clothes were on the floor and — gods, who the hell was making such a racket at this time of morning?

Finally managing to pull on a shirt and pants, Leta stumbled towards the controls and the door slid open. Instantly, she was treated to a barrage of voices arguing in the hallway beyond, Corra’s chief among them.

“You can’t just barge onto my ship and assault my passengers,” she barked at Chief Strategist Arsen who turned his nose up at her.

“As long as you are docked to our dreadnought and, lest you’ve forgotten, siphoning our power supply, the Beacon is subject to any search and seizure deemed necessary to–”

Corra erupted a disgusted exclamation and continued to argue as Leta turned her attention to Admiral Gates, flanked by three other officers. He appeared oblivious to the bickering behind him.

“Good morning, Dr. Adler. May we come in?”

Leta had no doubt Corra would fight all five Carthians on her behalf to ensure she had a choice, but barring fistfights, there was only one possible answer. “Fine.” She stepped aside to allow them entrance. “What’s this about?”

Gates didn’t immediately answer, instead filing into the room and looking around. His silent escorts stuck close behind him. Arsen, apparently finished discussing these matters with the Beacon’s captain, joined him at his side.

Corra herself joined Leta’s. “I’m so sorry, I tried to stop them, but–”

“It’s okay,” Leta assured her and asked again, “What’s this about?”

This time, Gates cleared his throat. “Dr. Adler, do you know the current whereabouts of Admiral Soliveré?”

She hadn’t noticed the pit of discomfort in her stomach until it suddenly grew heavier. “No, I don’t. Why?”

One of the officers tapped something on his tablet. Gates didn’t answer her question and instead stated, “But he was here with you last night.”

Corra bristled. “That’s none of your damn business,” she growled, but Leta held out her hand to her. She wasn’t embarrassed. Though she was curious as to how they knew. Fiearius had often mentioned that Carthis had bugged him with a tracking device when he was recovering from an injury. She had assumed he’d been kidding.

“He was. But he’s not here now.” She gestured around the tiny room, empty aside from the intruders. “He left during the night.”

Gates nodded and the officer tapped another note onto the tablet. “And he made no mention of his destination?”

“None,” Leta answered calmly, staring him down with the same quiet threat he’d been giving her since he walked in the room. “But it’s not unlike Fiearius to disappear for a while. I’m not sure what about it warrants you barging in here and waking me up.”

Gates lifted a brow at her then nodded at Arsen. The strategist seemed a little more pleased than he should have to report, “We have reason to believe that Admiral Soliveré has committed or will very soon commit an act of high treason.”

Leta’s eyes grew wide as her body went very still. “What?”

“This footage was recorded in the C Deck fighter bay early this morning.” Arsen turned the tablet towards her and Leta peered at the screen to watch a tiny image of Fiearius walk across a docking bay, deliver the butt of a gun into a patrolling cadet’s head and board one of the ships. “He wounded three soldiers,” Arsen elaborated. “One is in critical condition.”

“Okay, so he stole a ship,” Leta clarified, regarding them skeptically. “He is a thief, and you did destroy his vessel. I don’t really see why this points to an act of high treason.”

“It’s not,” said Gates calmly. “But the ship is not the only issue and Soliveré is not the only one who has disappeared. Tell me, doctor, have you looked out the window lately?” Her room had no windows. She shook her head. “If you do, I think you’ll find the skies a lot less busy than they were last night.”

“His entire fleet is gone,” Arsen confirmed. Corra’s mouth fell open, a frown on her face that looked to be part shock and part offense. “We’ve lost tracking of Soliveré himself, but our monitoring was able to pick up the trajectory of a number of his flagships. We know where they’re headed.”

Leta’s eyes were glazed over and she was frowning lightly at the floor. She didn’t need Arsen to tell her. She already knew. “Satieri.”

—————-

Dorrion E’etan didn’t need to look up from his console to know that he was no longer alone in the quiet comfort of his home atop one of Paradiex’s sweeping residential towers. When he did glance from the screen to the window overlooking the twinkling city beneath a dark night sky, he could see the reflection of the figure standing in the doorway behind him.

“You finally made it,” E’etan said, still not turning around.

“Your security was pleasantly apathetic,” replied Fiearius Soliveré, stepping into the room.

E’etan shrugged. “I’ve never believed much in others dying to protect me. A person should be responsible for their own survival, don’t you think?”

“Can’t say I disagree.”

“So.” E’etan spun around in his chair finally and came to his feet to address his visitor. “It’s my turn then?” Soliveré cocked his head curiously. “You’ve killed all my colleagues. So it’s me now, yes?”

The man seemed to consider the notion for a moment. Then he ignored it. Fiearius strode forward and joined E’etan next to his console. He gazed out the window at the city and said, “Nice place you got here.”

“Thank you,” E’etan responded, masking his uncertainty by crossing his arms behind his back.

“Must not have been easy to get.”

“I was on a waitlist for three years.”

Fiearius made a noise of surprise and regarded him curiously. “Three years? Even you?”

E’etan snorted. “My job comes with less perks than you might imagine.”

Fiearius nodded slowly. “Good to know.”

E’etan narrowed his eyes on the man beside him. “And why is that?”
“Because,” Fiearius answered, casting him a sideways glance. “I’m not here to kill you. I’m here to help you.”

Chapter 42: Bad Taste Pt. 2

The liquor burned down his throat in a way Cyrus had never quite felt before. It was almost painful and he caught Addy grimacing through his own scrunched eyes as he tried to get it down. Across from them, Fiearius snorted a laugh. “So’ara wine,” he explained. “Rough, isn’t it?”

“Only a little,” Addy murmured, delicately placing her glass back on the table and trying not to look horrified when Fiearius tilted the bottle to refill it.

“The story behind it,” he went on, filling his own glass and plucking Cyrus’ from his hand,” is that to be proper so’ara wine, it has to make a journey to each of the eight Ridellian temples across the Span where they add their own ingredient to the fermentation. Something about covering the whole Span drawing the attention of the dov’ha to hear your request.” He shrugged. “Taste isn’t really a factor.”

“How did you get your hands on this?” Addy wanted to know.

Fiearius nearly smiled. “When I demanded it yesterday none of the Carthians were brave enough to argue. Found it on my doorstep this morning with a condolences card.”

“I guess that’s one nice thing they’ve done,” Cyrus muttered, unconsciously lifting the glass to his lips to take a sip until the smell reminded him and he drew it away.

“We’re not here to talk about Carthis,” Fiearius reminded him, his tone uncharacteristically stern.

“Right,” Addy put in, sounding much softer. “We’re here to mourn our friends.” The room fell quiet for a moment, none of them quite knowing what to say. Finally, Addy tried. “I wish I’d known them better, honestly.”

“You were really only on the Dionysian during the pregnancy though, you have an excuse,” Cyrus said. “I lived there for years and I still barely knew any of them.”

“Really?” Fiearius tilted his head curiously. “Rhys always liked you.”

“He liked me?” Cyrus balked. “I don’t think I ever had one conversation with the man. He didn’t even know my name.”

“He didn’t know anyone’s name,” Fiearius countered. “And what about Maya? She was really into you for a while.

That was news to Cyrus. “She was? When? How?”

“How?” Addy repeated, laughing.

Cyrus nudged her playfully and amended, “I mean — how do you know?”

“She told me.”

Cyrus’ eyes narrowed on his brother. “She told you. Are you sure she didn’t tell you just to make you jealous? Because I distinctly remember her wanting to get with you.”

“Pretty sure she only wanted that to piss off Corra though,” Fiearius muttered. “Well. Doesn’t matter. That nonsense was a long time ago. She became really reliable the past few years. Got us out of more than a few scrapes just by being sharp and paying attention. She really grew into the ship.” He looked up, reminiscing internally for a moment before snapping his fingers and pointing at Cyrus. “And on that note, c’mon, you didn’t know anybody? What about Richelle?”

At once, Cyrus broke into a grin. “Aw, Richelle, of course. That girl was a damn gifted mechanic.”

“Better ‘n you,” he heard Fiearius mumble, but by the time he managed to glare at him, his brother was innocently drinking from his glass and looking elsewhere.

“Regardless, I’m glad she stuck around so long.” Cyrus eyed Fiearius again. “Glad you didn’t kick her off after all that Paraven stuff.”

Fiearius shot him a frown and opened his mouth, but Addy cut him off. “What Paraven stuff?” Immediately, his eyes went wide and he set a pleading stare on Cyrus who laughed.

“You never heard the story of how Richelle came to be on the Dionysian?” She shook her head and Cyrus provided his brother a grin full of malice. “Oh it’s a great story.”

“Please don’t,” Fiearius begged.

Which only made Addy more excited. “I wanna hear it!”

“That was not my proudest moment…”

“I need to hear it,” Addy insisted.

“Cy, come on.”

“Tell me Cy-Cy.”

“Please.”

“Who would you rather make angry, me or him?”

“That’s unfair, you can’t play wife card.”

“Watch me.”

Cyrus held back his laughter as the two of them bickered, but in the end, a vigil probably was not the time or place. Besides, Fiearius just looked so desperate. “Alright alright, I won’t,” he relented and Addy immediately crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him.

“Thank you,” Fiearius sighed as Cyrus leaned over to the woman at his side and whispered, “I’ll tell you later.” It seemed to appease her.

“So,” she spoke up, and Fiearius watched her suspiciously, perhaps expecting her to keep going, but she changed the subject. “Now that the Dionysian’s gone–what happens after all this?”

The lightness in the room seemed to evaporate entirely. Cyrus nervously sipped his wine, braving the awfulness to mask the discomfort. But to his surprise, Fiearius didn’t seem as sensitive to the subject as he was.

“Depends how things play out I guess,” he admitted, spreading his hands helplessly. “Hard to say at this point.”

“Right.” She nodded in understanding and shifted again, her fingers lacing together in her lap. So Cyrus wasn’t the only one who found this uncomfortable after all. “Well. I just want you to know that we’re with you all the way. And whatever happens, we’ll have your back.”

Fiearius leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and fixed her with an amused smirk. “You don’t say.”

Addy turned pink. And then she frowned at him dully. “Okay, you wanna be like that? Fine. I was just trying to be supportive because you never ask for help, but you’ve been through a lot and you’re family so you can and you should, but fine. Be dismissive. I don’t care,” she said in a waspy tone that clearly meant that she cared quite a bit.

Fiearius’ smirk morphed into a grin and he glanced at Cyrus. “This one? You keep her, ya hear me?”

“Oh I intend to.” Cyrus smiled as he took one of Addy’s hands in his. She shot him a glare and mumbled something about not being property to be kept, but she didn’t pull her hand away.

————————-

The knock on the door made Leta jump. It was authoritative and business-like, which was surprising: the hallways had been ghostly silent all day, quieted by grief.

“Hang on a sec, Nikki,” she said into the COMM speaker. “Someone’s at the door.”

“It’s okay,” said Nikkolai quickly. He was in his apartment on Vescent, and though the COMM connection was clear, he sounded very far away. “I’ll let you go.”

“No, I can tell them to wait. I called you, I’m talking to you.”

“Ley, it’s fine, really.” His voice was thick with the tears he’d been shedding just minutes ago. “I need some rest anyway. Go.”

“Are you sure? I can stay if you’d like to talk more.”

“I’ve talked enough for now.”

Her heart twisted in her chest. “Well — I’ll call again soon, alright?”

“Absolutely. I’ll tell the rest of the clinic you said hi.”

Leta very nearly returned her usual response, that she’d say hi to the Dionysian for him. The words stuck in her throat as she blurted out instead, “Right. Thanks. Take care of yourself, Nikki.”

“You too, Ley.”

The connection went dead, and worry rippled through her like an acid wave. No one was taking the recent loss well, but Nikkolai had lost the most dear person he had without getting to say goodbye, all because he was on Vescent running Leta’s clinic in her absence. Logically, she knew she was not responsible for Javier’s death or Nikkolai’s sorrows, but logic didn’t stop her from feeling guilty.

The COMM disconnected and Leta stood to answer the door. When she slid it open, there was no one on the other side, but Fiearius was down the hallway, looking back over his shoulder at her.

“Oh. I thought you were asleep.” When she blinked in confusion, he added, “It’s pretty late…”

“Is it?” She hadn’t even noticed. “I haven’t really been in the mood to sleep.”

Fiearius turned around to face her, a tired smirk on his face. He looked as exhausted as she felt and, she guessed, just as sleepless. Which was only part of the explanation for why he was at her door in the middle of the night.

“Did you need something?”

The question somehow caught him off guard. He opened his mouth, then shut it again, tucked his fingers into his hair, and frowned at the wall next to him as though asking it what it thought. Leta wasn’t sure if the wall helped at all, but eventually he decided on an answer. “Yeah.” He eased a few steps closer. “Can we talk for a minute?”

“Only a minute,” Leta teased, then she moved out of the doorway. “Of course, come in.”

Fiearius lifted his brows as he walked past her into her quarters. “Bad jokes, huh? You really haven’t been sleeping.”

“Told you.”

She closed the door, watching as Fiearius surveyed her room: he made a small circle, looking around at the silver walls like he’d never seen anything so interesting. It didn’t seem to matter that she’d only lived there for two nights and had lost most of her possessions on the Dionysian anyway. A narrow bed, neatly made. A stack of clothes she’d borrowed from Corra sat on a chair. A tablet provided by Carthis was on the table. Nothing else gave any indication that anybody lived there at all.

When he still didn’t speak up after his circle was complete, Leta decided to step in. “About earlier–“

“I don’t want to talk about that,” he interrupted immediately, finally turning to face her.

Leta paused, surprised. “Alright. Then what do you want to talk about?”

Fiearius looked her up and down for a moment as if sussing her out for something. Then he frowned at the wall again. And, most importantly, didn’t answer.

“Fiear–”

“Hang on, I’m thinking.”

“You do that.” She sighed, half-weary, half-entertained. “I’m getting a drink.”

Okay, so there were three things in the room. Corra had been nice enough to store a small collection of Leta’s favorite liquor in one of the cabinets. As she reached for a bottle of whiskey, she called back, “No ice, right?”

“No drink. I’m fine.”

No you’re not, she almost said. The Fiearius she knew didn’t turn down drinks. Or have silent conversations with walls. She finished pouring her glass and returned to the center of the room, taking a sip. He still wasn’t looking at her and he didn’t seem any closer to a solution to whatever problem was floating in his head.

“Can I know what you’re thinking about at least?”

“Words,” he answered without skipping a beat. “I’m not good at them.”

“You can be.” It was meant to be encouraging,it sounded more like a slight. “But you are more of an actions kind of guy,” she added, quieter.

“Exactly,” Fiearius agreed with a small groan. “But I need words for this.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“Is this about–“

“No,” he said before she could even finish.

“You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

“I do, and it’s not that,” Fiearius insisted, shaking his head. He made another circle, but this time, once it was finished, he seemed to have arrived at something. “Okay. Alright. I’m just gonna make this quick and painless.”

Leta wasn’t sure if she should have been amused or alarmed. “That sounds ideal.”

“This is terrible timing, I want you to know that I know that,” were the first words he managed to choose as he turned back to face her. “Finn said there’s no such thing as bad taste right now, but I think he’s wrong and this is incredibly bad taste. I know that. Know that I know that.”

Leta studied his face curiously. “Noted.”

“It’s just. With everything happening, y’know. In case.” He frowned, perhaps realizing he wasn’t making sense, took a dramatic step towards her and declared, “This is stupid. I don’t need anything from you, and, gods–” He barked a laugh– “You already know. I know you know. But I–” He fixed his eyes on hers and the sort of nervous manicness melted away. It was replaced by something far more earnest and Leta swore she saw a hint of — of all things — pleading.

“I just need you to hear it from me.” He took a deep breath and kicked the bomb straight out the side of the ship. “I love you.”

Silence fell over over the room. Slowly, achingly slowly, Leta lowered the glass from her lips. Shock descended through her and she was suddenly very conscious of her hands, of her feet, her skin, and though a thousand thoughts barrelled through her head like a speeding freight train, her mouth felt like it wasn’t interested in ever moving again.

Fiearius, staring at her face, started rambling. “You don’t have to say anything or do anything, really. I didn’t — don’t — expect anything. This is honestly just me being selfish because I can’t stop thinking about what’s gonna happen if–” He seemed to rethink the statement and shook it off. “So I had to tell you. I’m sorry. But–I just never got over you. I tried. I fucking tried, but it was you. All along, it was always you and I fucked it up really badly and I know that, but it’s you and I can’t pretend anymore that it’s not.”

He was talking so fast he almost ran out of breath. He took a moment to recuperate before lifting his hands in defeat. “So there it is. That’s it. I love you.” He stayed like that for a moment, paralyzed by what he’d admitted. Then he squinted at her. “Why do you look so surprised?”

On some level, Leta did not feel surprised. She’d — sort of known. Part of her knew. Fiearius had never gone through great lengths to hide his attraction to her. He’d admitted his jealousy of Liam, he fought for her attention in any room they were in, he seemed to trust her and go to her for counsel more than anyone else. She knew that he liked her. There was an attraction, a spark — she’d felt it, too. But she didn’t know that he loved her. And she sure as hell didn’t expect him to say it.

“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”

Fiearius didn’t seem to have anticipated the question. “Why didn’t I–what?” he stammered.

“Tell me earlier,” she said again. “Of all the times to choose to speak up, you choose now?

He gaped at her for a moment, then clamped his eyes shut and massaged his fingers into his temple. “Bad taste. See? I knew he was wrong.”

“It’s not just bad taste, it’s–” Leta shook her head. “What do you expect me to do with this information? Now?” She gestured her hands to the room at large.

“Nothing,” he assured her. “Absolutely nothing. Like I said, this is purely selfish.”

Chapter 41: Council Pt. 3

There was a murmur of agreement and a few of the assembled personnel practically ran for the door, eager to get away from Fiearius or Arsen or both before they decided to rip each other’s heads off. Fortunately, Arsen didn’t seem interested in disobeying his commanding officer and without another word or even glance in their direction, exited the chambers. Slowly they all filed out until it was only Fiearius, Leta and Gates remaining. Fiearius was looking down at his hand, prickled by a hundred cuts from the table’s glass. Gates was watching Leta patiently.

She said what he knew she was going to say. “We’re not satisfied with your answers. Good people died. Your excuses aren’t enough.”

“I know,” was his somber response. “Regrettable was the word my colleague chose, but unforgivable is how I would describe what happened to the Dionysian. I can’t make it up to either of you, the time for that has already passed. But I would like to discuss what can be done. Tomorrow morning, before the council meets, please come to my office. We should talk through our next steps, just the three of us.”

Leta looked to Fiearius, still nursing his hand and glaring over at Gates in silence. He didn’t seem eager to respond so she did so in his stead. She nodded. “Alright. We’ll be there.”

“Good.” Gates crossed his arms behind his back and headed for the door. “Get some rest,” he called before disappearing out into the Carthian dreadnought’s hallway. “You’ll need it.”

Leta waited a moment after he left before she turned back to Fiearius and took his injured hand in hers. He flinched as she turned it over and examined the wounds. There were still specks of shimmering glass winking out at her beneath the light. “I need to clean these. And you’ll need stitches on a few of them,” she told him quietly.

He let out a heavy sigh. “Let it rot, I don’t care.”

Leta gave him a short glare of annoyance, but it was hard to be annoyed at a man so clearly suffering. It was hard to be annoyed when she herself was suffering along with him. “Hey–” she began to say but he spoke over her.

“Thank you, by the way.” He met her eyes and she felt herself soften at once. “For holding me back.”

“Yeah of course.” She searched over his face. “Threatening them isn’t going to do anyone any good.”

“I know.” He took his hand from her and ran it through his hair, an act that made her wince. Surely that had to hurt, but he didn’t seem to notice. He just stared at the broken table and growled, “I just hate them. I hate them so much.”

Leta couldn’t exactly argue. Still, she murmured, “Fiear…”

“I’m so sick of this,” he growled, grasping the edge of the table with both hands and leaning over it. “I’m sick of being used. By the Society, Dez, Aela, gods, and Carthis? They might just well be the worst of ‘em all. I’m just their little pawn to do their dirty work and draw the media’s attention and prove to the Span that they’re not the assholes they really are. They talk a lot about how important I am, how significant my opinion is, but fuck them, Leta. Fuck them.” He slammed his palm down on the table and Leta couldn’t help but glance up at the cameras she knew were in every corner of this room, recording this entire conversation. “What good is an ally if at the first sign of dissent, they try to off you?”

“You don’t seriously believe that,” she stated rather than asked. “You can’t believe that they were really trying to kill you on Satieri.”

“Is it that hard to believe?” Fiearius growled. “Think about what a story that would be, spun the right way. Beloved war admiral killed on his own home planet. Satieri clearly a cesspool. Better off destroyed.”

“But they need you alive. They need your fleet if they’re gonna win any of the battles still to come.”

Fiearius made a pfft sound and shook his head. “Right, they need my fleet, they don’t need me. I’m just a thorn in their side.”

“But your fleet wouldn’t follow them without you,” Leta argued. Having met most of Fiearius’ captains throughout the years, that much at least seemed true.

“Under Quin, you’re right, it wouldn’t. She would take over and abandon them,” he looked up at her and frowned. “But Quin’s not second in command anymore is she?”

“So you think this whole thing was a giant conspiracy against you?” she clarified, crossing her arms over her chest. “Fiear–”

“No, I don’t–” He groaned and dropped his head again. “I just don’t buy their shit, okay? I don’t trust Carthis. I don’t trust their motivations. And I don’t trust them to not stab me in the back.”

“Well if this war is going to end, they need you and you need them,” Leta pointed out. “What’s your alternative?”

He cast her a serious look. “You know what my alternative is.”

Dez’s alternative, she realized. The dead man’s insane plan for Fiearius to take over the Society. “That’s not an alternative. That’s just more manipulation and lies that’ll end with you dead on some altar in the middle of Paradiex.”

Fiearius rolled his eyes, turned around and leaned against the table. “Probably.” He glanced towards the door and muttered cynically, “I dunno, sounds better than this.”

Leta preferred to assume he was being sarcastic. She put a hand on his back and rubbed her palm in a slow circle. “Come on, we’ll talk to Gates in the morning, we’ll make a real plan. A good plan that works for everyone. You’ve survived this long working with Carthis, you can survive a little longer.” Fiearius snorted at the statement but didn’t disagree. “Let’s just get back to the Beacon, clean you up a bit and get some rest.”

“Right, the Beacon,” he muttered and Leta felt her heart clench. The Beacon. Not the Dionysian. Because the Dionysian was no more.

“I miss her,” Fiearius said under his breath, the weight of the last twenty four hours heavy in his words.

Leta let her arm rest on his back and leaned her head against his shoulder. “Me too.”

Chapter 41: Council Pt. 2

Leta might have cringed had she not been fuming. The rest of the war council didn’t know it yet, but they’d all be recoiling in just a moment. But not from her. Oh, she would gladly tear into Arsen’s entirely short-sighted statement. She would be more than happy to rip him to shreds over it. But she didn’t need to. Sure, it would be satisfying to retaliate herself. But it would be even more satisfying to watch Fiearius do it better.

Beside her, his face had turned to stone. He stared across the table at his opponent, eyes glinting with malice, his knuckles protruding from his fists and his whole body trembling ever so slightly. Leta recognized him instantly. The Fiearius that only came out when a line had been crossed. She’d first seen it in the fighting ring, so long ago now, but still engraved in her memory like it was yesterday. She’d seen it when he fought and killed Ludo. Most recently, she’d seen it with Dez.

Usually, the sight of this particular side of Fiearius, the one that lusted for blood and lost himself in the process, sent a wave of worry straight to her heart, but here, now, for once, she embraced it. She didn’t even flinch when his quiet, poisonous words broke the silence.

“Don’t. You. Dare speak of cost to me.”

Arsen, Leta surmised, had never met this man before. If he had, he wouldn’t have dared to even open his mouth to speak. Not that he got any words out.

“Don’t you fucking dare!”

His fist slammed into the table once more and the room was filled with a horrendous crack. The glass coating the surface shattered beneath his hand and two thick lines extended outward from the impact.

“You want to talk cost?” Fiearius spat, oblivious to the blood speckling his hand. “Let’s forget for a moment that I lost my best captain and commander. And that my own fleet took hits during the battle, just as yours did. That we lost three ships of our own, nearly three hundred women and men. Let’s forget that on that level, at least, we’re even. The cost of war. Unavoidable.”

“But you–” Fiearius’ voice started to crack into a horrible manic laugh. His fist opened and his fingers instead clawed at the shattered glass. “You–” The words choked in his throat and he squeezed the shards against his palm, thick red liquid dripping between his fingers. “I expect to lose people to our enemy. I don’t expect to lose them to our own side.”

Finally, Arsen’s resolve seemed to stumble. His frown didn’t soften, but his shoulders fell ever so slightly and Leta couldn’t help but notice him glance toward the still silent Admiral Gates, perhaps begging for help. Gates, however, never took his eyes off of Fiearius, watching the scene unfold with a guarded interest, but little else.

With no one coming to his aid, Arsen mustered his courage. “The incident on the surface–”

“Incident?” Fiearius snapped, a wild look in his eyes. “Incident?!” And a long, terrible laugh to match. “You fucking destroyed my ship! You killed my crew! Five of the most hard-working, loyal, dedicated people who’ve been part of this cause since day one! And you fucking killed them!”

Arsen’s facade crumbled even further. “As I said, the Society scrambled our tech, what happened was–”

“Oh no, no no no,” Fiearius cut him off. “It wasn’t the Society that killed them, it was you. Or whoever the fuck gave the order to blindly fire full power ship weaponry into a populated city. That person? They took something from me. Something valuable. So I want something valuable of theirs.”

“I’m sure we can discuss proper reparations–” started one particularly brave captain, but Fiearius growled his disinterest.

“Proper reparations, I want their fucking head, you understand me? On a stick. Or a platter, if you fancy fucks prefer. But a head. Now. So who the fuck was it?”

He looked around the room, but unsurprisingly, no one spoke up. “Was it you?” Fiearius demanded of Arsen who lost his nerve and looked away. “You?” He swung towards Gates who blinked back at him, unphased. “I don’t give a shit if it’s your godsdamned president, I want blood for this.”

The mention of the Carthian president sent a ripple through the room. Arsen found his guts again. “Soliveré–”

“If you’re not about to give me a name, you can shut your fucking mouth,” Fiearius barked.

“What happened was regrettable, but–”

“Regrettable?!”

“But it was an accident and we will not be resorting to thuggish violence–”

The words seemed to land somewhere volatile in Fiearius’ brain. Leta saw him visibly twinge, like someone had reached inside him and flipped a switch. Reason was replaced entirely with his grief. For the first time since this conversation started, Leta felt more nervous than appeased. “You piece of–”

“We would be happy to provide you a new ship and a new crew and any other reasonable requests you might have.”

Leta watched as Fiearius bared his teeth and tensed every muscle in his body. “Fiear–” she ventured hesitantly. This could turn very bad very quickly. Leta could see it all playing out before her eyes. Fiearius would leap across the table and fix his hands around Arsen’s throat, throwing him to the floor. They would wrestle, the larger man clawing at the other like an animal. Like he’d done to Dez. Then someone, a few people, would seize him and drag him away, kicking and screaming in a frenzy. Any moment now.

And then Arsen sealed the deal. “Until that time, I ask that you yield the floor to rational discussion regarding next steps.”

Fiearius’ breathing went from being jagged and heavy to slow, measured and smooth. Leta saw his stance change. She’d known, walking into this room, that his rage would get the better of him at some point. It was inevitable. But not like this. She knew now she had a half second to act just as Fiearius growled, “I’ll show you rational.” A half second to put an end to this before it began, as only she could.

Leta still wore the bruise on her eye from when she’d gotten involved the day before. A bruise Fiearius had apologized for in every cognizant moment since. A bruise she prayed would be enough to pull him back just as he readied himself to lunge.

Holding her breath, she reached out and grasped his shoulder. “Fiearius.”

For just a flash of a moment, Leta felt his muscles tense and she nearly flinched, expecting to be brushed out of the way, but his eyes flung to hers, demanding explanation and then — then he stopped. His face fell. She swore she saw yet another apology behind his stare. The switch, thank the gods, was turned off.

Across the room, Arsen barked, “Admiral, if you continue to threaten violence on this council, I’ll be forced to restrain you.”

Fiearius spun back towards him. “I’d like to see you fucking try.” But as angry as he sounded, it was different now. More snippy than outright fury. Leta let out a deep breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

Before Arsen could respond, finally, at long last, the one person in this room who hadn’t reacted to a single thing spoke up. “Council, yesterday was a difficult operation for all of us. I suggest we adjourn this meeting and allow some time for heads to cool off. We can reconvene first thing tomorrow to discuss what comes next.”