Tag Archives: fiction

Chapter 45: Traitor

image1

Silence blanketed the room as Fiearius stared at the sight before him. Leta, here, on Satieri, standing in E’etan’s doorway, hand grasping the frame to support herself, breathing heavily and looking like she’d been trampled on by a surging crowd. Her clothes were ripped, half a sleeve entirely torn off. Her braided hair stuck out at all angles. Tiny streaks of blood covered her skin.

Leta stared back at him, her eyes wide and filled with worry, maybe relief and behind them, a thousand questions. Gods, it was good to see her. But at the same time–

“What the hell are you doing here?” he finally breathed. Continue reading

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 44: Arrival

image1

This felt terribly familiar. Corra’s fingers tapped against her cheek nervously as her eyes scanned the expanse of black out beyond the Beacon’s bay window. Nothing looked back at her but the dark shape of Satieri, silhouetted against the light of its neighboring sun, but that didn’t calm the ocean of worry roiling through her veins.

She’d only been to Satieri once and the circumstances were eerily similar. Leta and Cyrus mounted a dangerous mission on the planet’s surface while Corra and Finn sat stagnant on the Beacon, waiting for them to return, useless and powerless in the outcome. That time too, she had whittled away the time in prayers that all would turn out as Leta hoped.

Finn also seemed to be using the opportunity similarly. He paced the floor of the bridge relentlessly, back and forth, back and forth, silent and stoic. An unlit cigarette sat between his fingers, a desperate lifeline he was at least coherent enough not to partake in. Continue reading

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.