The future had never seemed less certain. With the Beacon gone, the Spirit destroyed, the Transmission out of her grasp, all the paths that had been open to her were closed. She’d been indecisive before and now she was just — lost.
She was glaring down at her feet when she felt a warm hand slide over hers. “Hey. Talk to me.” She looked up to find Finn watching her closely. “What’s goin on, huh?”
A sigh passed her lips. “I don’t know,” she said again. “I just–don’t know what comes after this I guess.” She looked around at the ships in the docks and then peered out at the refugee camp she was headed back to, full of people who belonged here, whose homes were here, who were trying their damndest to fix it. “No offense to Satieri, but I don’t really want to stay here. I’m of no use to the reparations. I’m just sitting here using resources not even meant for me. There’s no point to my being here.”
“Where do you wanna go then?” Finn asked.
“I have no idea,” Corra admitted. “Nor do I have the ability to get there, even if I did. I suppose I want to go back to helping the Conduit. That was the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done and — god, now’s the time.” She shrugged a shoulder towards the mess that was once the greatest city in the Span. “In the aftermath of a war? Ellegy had our most uncrackable cases. I should be taking advantage of this before they get back on their feet, before the trade gets back under way, I should –”
Corra stopped and looked up at Finn who was tilting his head at her curiously. “What?”
He stuck out his bottom lip in a pout and crossed his arms over his chest in disapproval. “You didn’t ask what I want.”
Despite the accusation of rudeness, Corra couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright,” she chuckled. “What do you want?”
His joking childish frown turned into a bit of an impish smirk. “I wanna go where you go.”
She chuckled again. “Riley–”
But the smirk fell away and suddenly he was watching her far more intensely than she was comfortable with. His grip on her hand tightened. “I’m serious,” he told her, his voice low. “If working with the Conduit was the most fulfilling for you then, great, you should be doing that. But — being around you, being on your team? That was the most fulfilling for me so — if you’re gonna go running off to save all the allies and change the Span, don’t just disappear again. Take me with you.”
Corra opened her mouth to respond, but no words came out. She didn’t quite know how to respond. She just stared back up at him, at that stupidly ridiculously boyishly handsome face of his as it stared back down at her, her cheeks no doubt turning a bright shade of pink.
Finally, she got a hold of herself. She swallowed the lump in her throat and forced an awkward laugh. “Doesn’t matter either way when we don’t have a ship.”
Thank God, the intense stare ended as Finn stood up straight and glanced back at the Beacon, still overflowing with Society agents. He let out a long ‘hmmm’ and then said, “Y’know. We may have stolen the Beacon from the Society. It is rightfully theirs. I suppose. But–” He jutted his thumb over his shoulder. “The Transmitter? Or — what, Ark Assist, whatever the fuck it is? And the Caelum Lex?” He frowned at her knowingly. “They’re ours.”
Corra considered it for a moment. “You’re right,” she decided at last. “We found those things fair and square, we hooked them up, we put all the work into it.”
“They’re ours,” Finn said again, more sternly this time and Corra found herself agreeing.
The two of them stood on the edge of the docks, hand in hand, the wheels in their heads turning in unison.
“Think they found the secret starboard airlock hatch and locked it yet?” Finn asked after a moment.
A grin spread across Corra’s face as she tightened her grip around his fingers and started to head back towards the Beacon, as casually as she could manage.
“I doubt it.”
“Look, change the name all you want, it doesn’t need rebranding, it needs reorganizing.”
“I agree with you.”
“Great, then why are you still here?”
It wasn’t difficult to locate Fiearius in the camp, Leta had found. He was always where the most noise was. Not simply from the construction that he tended to gravitate towards, inserting himself into any effort that involved primarily pushing, pulling, lifting or breaking things, but also from the amount of yelling at people he did while performing the aforementioned tasks.
Today, Leta discovered as she rounded the corner of a shelter to where a group of people were building a more permanent one, at Varris La’aren, former leader of the Satieran rebellion and current unofficial head of Satieran reparation efforts.
Her hands were on her hips and her tone was impatient as she said, “Because you know what you’re talking about. You understand the Society and how it functions better than anyone. If we’re going to tear it apart and rebuild it from the ground up–”
“No,” Fiearius cut her off, turning away from where he was drilling a hole in a wall to point at her with his index finger. “No, you shouldn’t tear it apart. It’s fine set up as it is, you just need to redirect it.”
His argument seemed only to help hers. “See?” She spread her hands in front of her. “You know what you’re talking about. We need your help. We need you on the Council.”
“No,” he said shortly, going back to his work. “Absolutely not. There are plenty of other people who get the Society just fine. Ask them.”
“But you’re the Verdant.”
He shot her a glare. “I’m not. I gave it to you.”
Varris did not seem impressed. “You and I both know owning that chip means nothing. You’re more than just a data center, you’re a symbol.”
“Well I don’t want to be.”
“Lil late for that,” she pointed out. “You’re a symbol and people trust you and we need you involved for people to trust us. If we’re going to successfully restructure the Society, elect a new government, fix everything that is broken, we need you on our side.”
“Okay, I’m on your side, congratulations, you have my full support to carry on as you see fit, go forth with my blessing,”
Varris’ fingers massaged her temple. “We need you involved.”
Fiearius gave her a second of consideration and then, “I’m gonna tell you this one last time, okay?” He grinned. “I’m retired.”
He dropped the drill on the ground and threw his hands in the air. “Not an admiral! You see any ships? No? Not an admiral. Not a Verdant. Damn well not a fucking politician. Retired!”
“Retired!” he said again, stepping away from her towards Leta who hadn’t even realized he’d noticed her hovering off to the side, watching this exchange with growing interest. Varris, apparently, now did.
“Dr. Adler, can you please talk some sense into him?” she begged and Leta let out a nervous chuckle.
“Stop wasting your time, La’aren!” Fiearius continued to taunt back at her as he spun around once he reached Leta and kept walking, gesturing she follow. “Quit bothering me and get some real work done, maybe you’ll actually make some progress, huh?”
Leta watched Varris let out a hefty groan, put her head in her hand and then stalk away in a huff, before she turned to Fiearius and hurried after him as he continued to stalk through the camp, apparently abandoning the construction site he’d been helping with. No one argued. No one ever argued.
Fiearius moved around the camp like a ghost, coming and going as he pleased as the people around him either pretended not to notice him at all, out of respect, or stared wide-eyed like they couldn’t believe the apparition before them. For his part, he seemed not to notice the whispers and gasps that followed him wherever he went. ‘Seemed’ being the operative word, Leta assumed.
“Can you believe that woman?” he asked incredulously when she caught up. “Still on this, really.”
“She’s doing her best,” Leta countered.
“Her best is ‘refusing to take no for an answer’?” Fiearius snorted.
“Probably what she thinks,” Leta admitted. “It’s not easy, rebuilding a whole system.”
“I never said it was. Hell, why do you think I want nothing to do with it?” He shuddered at the thought.
“It does seem odd that you went through all of — everything — only to not care at the very end, to not see it through,” Leta remarked, more curious than accusatory.
“I do care,”he argued at once. “Of course I care. But I’ve talked to Varris. At length. I’ve talked to the Council she’s putting together. I’ve given them my thoughts and they’ve given me theirs and guess what. They’re the same. And, unlike me, they’re actually patient enough to deal with the political bullshit to make it happen. I wasn’t kidding. She has my full support and I trust her to get it done. I’m seeing it through by getting the fuck out of the way.”
Leta could think of no response so she just made a small, “Hm” and left it at that. It was a moment before she realized he was staring down at her, suspicion written all over his expression. “Let me guess. You’re gonna try and convince me to do it, aren’t you? To help her?”
Leta creased her brow in consideration, glancing at Fiearius then over her shoulder at where Varris had disappeared. Finally, she decided, “Nope,” which seemed to shock him. “You’re right, I think. And even so, you’ve done enough. If you want to take a break, you deserve a break.”
She followed him into the shelter he’d claimed as his own. It had to be one of the oldest in the whole camp, small, beat up and falling apart. But it was private as opposed to the other shared units, which she thought summarized his reasoning. No one had argued that either. She pitied anyone who had to be roommates with Fiearius Soliveré.
“Never would have expected that answer from you, but thanks,” he muttered, clearly a little taken aback by her decision as he fell backwards onto the cot he’d secured for himself. “I appreciate the vote of support.”
Leta just shrugged and leaned against the opposing wall. “You’d make a horrible politician anyway.”
The surprise wiped away in an instant and he laughed his barking laugh. “Exactly! Thank you for seeing logic where some people won’t.”
“I can picture the headlines now,” she mused, waving her hand in the air to paint the scene before her eyes. “Satieran legislature erupts into fistfight after someone insults Councillor Soliveré’s bill. Is democracy dead?”
He laughed again and reached under the cot to pull out, to Leta’s surprise — “Beer?”
“Fiear,” she scolded at once.
He gave his best face of innocence. “What?”
“Did you buy those off the looters? We’re not supposed to support them, you give them money, they’re just gonna loot more and–”
“I didn’t buy them,” he cut her off, pulling out two beers regardless and standing up to hand her one. “They gave them to me.” He could likely read the skepticism on her face because he clarified, “Okay, fine, I made them give them to me.” He pushed the bottle towards her hand. “But I didn’t buy them.”
She rolled her eyes, but the idea of even a lukewarm beer right now was more appealing than she could resist. She took the bottle from his hand and picked up the tablet he’d left on the table in the center of the tiny room to skim through the day’s news she might have missed. There were updates coming in every minute, it was hard not to let them pass by. Carthis had retreated into their own system, forced back by a fully united Society fleet, but there was still tumult on Ellegy from the remaining troops, Ascendia trying to reorganize, trouble on Vescent…
But the moment she reached the Exymerian System News Core, she was hit not with updates from around the Span, but her own image. There she was, standing on the edge of the Nautilus’ crash site, torn and battered and bruised and, worst of all, held tight in the embrace of Admiral Soliveré. One of his hands cradled her head, the other held the small of her back while both of her arms clung to his waist and her head was buried against his chest. It was not the embrace of colleagues after a victory. It was not even the embrace of friends. It was perhaps the most intimate photo Leta had ever seen of herself and thanks to the News Core, everyone had seen it.
Still, embarrassing as it was, she couldn’t help but admire it a moment longer. She looked so content, standing there in his arms, and he in hers. It looked right. And it was, wasn’t it?
Things had been a little fuzzy regarding anything resembling ‘relationships’ this past week. They had been busy, both of them, incredibly busy. There wasn’t time or brainspace to sit down and hash out titles and officialities and even if there was, Leta wasn’t sure she’d bring it up. Even now, as she glanced over at Fiearius leaning against the doorframe and looking out into the fading light of the camp, she wasn’t sure how to breach the topic.
It would have been challenging enough under normal circumstances, but this week, Fiearius hardly seemed like himself at all. Sure, he made jokes and teased her and maintained a pretty convincing illusion of good spirits, but she knew him better than that. She saw past the stubborn facade to the quieter moments when he looked positively lost in his own head. And at this point, who could blame him?
So now had not been the time to ask for definitions. All Leta knew was that one night, before they’d come to Satieri, played in her head over and over. Three words that were nothing, really, but felt like so very much. For now, she had been content to let things play out as they were. Leta had her own shelter, one she shared with Corra and Alyx, nearby, though in the week since the battle, she’d only spent one night in it and only because Fiearius had been deep in discussion with Varris La’aren and the new Council til morning. She kept finding herself here, with him, and he was always more than happy to welcome her.
But looking at that picture on the screen, she had to wonder. Did that really mean anything?
“Hey.” Fiearius’ voice startled her out of her thoughts and she quickly shut off the tablet before he could see the image on it. “What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing,” she lied easily, but he didn’t buy it even for a moment.
“Okay.” He sat down at the table across from her. “What’s on your mind?” he asked again.
Leta met his stare and realized she couldn’t keep it from him forever. He had to find out eventually. And soon.
“My dad’s here.”
Fiearius tilted his head at her, genuine surprise rising in his features. He didn’t ask, but she explained anyway, “He was on Vescent until recently. He was there when the Society, when you–we–reclaimed it from Carthis. He’s gathered up what’s left of the Vescentian government and they’re making an effort to rebuild in the chaos. He says it’s not going so great. It’s rough there. Things are…shaky.”
Fiearius was nodding as she spoke, but all he said was, “I’ve heard that.”
So she kept stumbling onward. “The rebels there don’t want to work with him because they don’t trust he won’t just…turn things back to the way they used to be. But they’ve been having talks and he thinks there’s hope, they just need some more convincing. He wants them to feel like they have friends amongst his group, but his group doesn’t want to let any of the rebels in. They say they’re too radical, violent — it’s just delicate.”
He was still nodding. “Sure, absolutely.”
“But he has hope,” she went on. “He thinks they can reach an agreement. He thinks with the right setup, they can get along and make the progress they need to make to get things on track. With the right mediator maybe.”
She didn’t dare look at his face. She didn’t even want to say what she knew she had to say. There was a part of her that just wanted to bury the conversation she’d had with Tritius Adler earlier today and just keep living her life here oblivious to what was going on on Vescent far far away. But there was another part of her that wanted to do the opposite. And Fiearius must have known it.
“So when are you leaving?”
The question startled her more than it should have. She glanced up at him to find his expression entirely unreadable. “I didn’t say I was leaving,” she pointed out.
“But you are, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You are.”
Looking down again, she ran her hand through her hair. “I haven’t decided yet.”
Horribly, he laughed. “Yeah you have. So when is it?”
“My dad’s ship leaves tomorrow morning.”
Fiearius grimaced and sucked in air through his teeth. “Damn, that’s quick. Not a hell of a lot of time to say goodbye.”
“I’m not even sure I’m going yet.”
Again, he laughed. It was beginning to make her angry. “Yes you are.”