As Corra stepped up to the front door of Eriaas Argoatan’s mansion and pushed the COMM button, she was struck with an old familiar thought: she never should have listened to Finn. She shouldn’t have boarded the Beacon. She shouldn’t have allowed him to talk her into ‘just saying hello.’ And yet, simultaneously, this was exactly the reason she was glad that she had.
Up until now, Corra had done just fine assuming that her friends and loved ones were capable of taking care of themselves. She had to, else she’d be sick with worry every minute of every day. The crews of the Dionysian and the Beacon had terrible tendencies to get themselves into constant trouble, but she always reminded herself that they also had the tenacity to get themselves out of it.
But now that she knew about Cyrus and Addy trapped on some Society-occupied moon, she couldn’t stop herself from getting involved.
Finn stood at her side, glancing over his shoulder at the cluster of agents that, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be digging a giant hole in the ground.
“Any thoughts on what they’re up to?” he muttered to her, sounding amused, and Corra shook her head.
“God only knows.”
Then, a smooth, cool voice rose out of the speaker. “Residence of Eriaas Argoatan, how may I assist you?”
“Erm — hi,” Corra greeted, mentally preparing to launch into the elaborate lie she’d plotted out this morning. They were a young couple looking to hire an architect, the same architect that had built this very house. They’d asked to see his work, he’d offered to show them the Argoatan house. Oh? They hadn’t been in touch for years? Well that’s strange. He’d promised to meet them here. Would he mind if they looked around briefly anyway? Oh thank you so much, we really appreciate it, the place is gorgeous from the outside.
But Corra, as it turned out, didn’t need the lie. As soon as she opened her mouth and began, “We’re–” the door swung open.
“Cousin Markis!” cried the man on the other side of it, throwing his hands out dramatically and then seizing Finn in a hug. Finn cast Corra a look of alarm, awkwardly patting the man on the back.
Releasing Finn at last, the stranger turned to Corra. “And Palai!” She received a hug of her own. “It’s so good to see you! Come in, come in!”
Alyx had implied that Eriaas Argoatan would be on their side once he knew why they were there, but Corra hadn’t anticipated him knowing right away. And she certainly wouldn’t have expected him to come up with his own cover story for them. Though, as he ushered them inside the grand foyer, she couldn’t help but internally grumble about it.
Hers was better.
Still, she put on her best smile and pretended to know the man as he walked them
further into the house where, to her mild dismay, more Society agents were milling about. Addy hadn’t been kidding: they really were trapped here.
“–you know, her little redheaded boy. Getting so big these days, you wouldn’t believe it.” Eriaas was saying about somebody, presumably someone a cousin might know as they passed a particularly intriguing room where a number of agents were clustered around a table pointing at a screen Corra couldn’t quite see. She careened her head to try and get another angle.
It didn’t matter, probably, Corra knew. Not to her mission anyway. But for some reason she just really wanted to know what was on that screen or, better yet, what was in that hole.
Suddenly, she felt Finn’s elbow nudge her shoulder. She looked up in alarm as he laughed on cue and said, “Runs in the family, I guess,” before tilting his eyes away from the room in indication.
Right, she thought. Now wasn’t the time.
Fortunately, the upstairs part of the house seemed to be Society-free. So much so that Eriaas dropped the act.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he was saying, dropping down to a whisper. “They’re safe enough for now, but there’s just too much risk, especially with the little one. I’d much rather get them out of here.” He glanced over his shoulder at them. “You are here to get them out of here, right?”
“That’s the plan,” Finn replied, smirking nervously.
“So there is a plan?” Eriaas asked as he lead them up another set of stairs. Were they really hiding up in the attic? “I didn’t even see your ship out there. How exactly are you going to get them past the Society presence without anyone noticing? I’ve gone over it with them probably a thousand times, we were never able to figure out a foolproof method.”
“Don’t worry,” answered Corra, her tone a little grim. “Sneaking people out of places they don’t want to be is my specialty.”
“Oh? Is that so?” Eriaas regarded her with interest, but he did not press her further. Instead, he knocked twice on a door and pushed it open.
Through all of the whirlwind of the past couple days with Finn, on the Beacon and now here, Corra had barely a half moment to consider anything but the immediate task at hand. She had known she needed to help Cyrus and Addy from the moment Alyx mentioned their plight, but she hadn’t once considered what that meant. Not even for a second had she thought to wonder how she would feel upon opening that attic door and peering inside to see two of her dearest friends in the flesh for the first time in years. She hadn’t realized that her heart would stop beating when she saw the tall blonde woman pacing back and forth impatiently or that her breath would catch in her throat at the sight of Cyrus sitting on the edge of his seat, his eyes fixed on the door. Above it all, she certainly hadn’t thought about the tears that started to well in the corner of her eyes at the sight of a little girl, the spitting image of both of them, attached to her father’s legs and staring up at the newcomers wide-eyed.
Hastily, Corra wiped her eyes with her sleeve.
Finn entered the room first. “I’m Finnegan Riley, I’m here to rescue you,” he declared, spreading his arms wide in demonstration.
“Finn,” Addy breathed in relief, already across the room and wrapping her arms around the man in a short squeeze. But her eyes weren’t on him. Her attention was, quite distinctly, on Corra who, not for the first time lately, felt an unpleasant blend of joy and absolute shame.
Slowly, Addy let go of Finn and nudged him aside til she could get a better look at the other arrival. Finding herself more nervous than anything, Corra tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear, her eyes lingering somewhere between Addy’s stare and the wall past her shoulder. Corra and Addy had been close once, as shipmates. And then, right as Addy’s life had started to change in huge, dramatic ways, Corra had abandoned her. It wasn’t something she was proud of and she wouldn’t blame Addy for hating her.
But after a few moments of lengthy silence, hate didn’t even seem to be on the table. Addy’s eyes suddenly welled up with tears and she threw herself at Corra, wrapping her arms around her old friend’s shoulders and squeezing so hard Corra lost her breath. And a bit of her composure.
Wiping her eyes again as Addy stepped back, Corra laughed a little and glanced over her shoulder where Cyrus had stood from his seat and was smiling at her just the way she remembered him smiling. That half-smirk she hadn’t even realized she’d missed. Her best friend for so many years, so different now yet still the same dork she’d always known. Now just a dork with a little girl at his feet.
“Kalli, you need to meet someone,” he told her, gently pushing the curly-haired child forward. Kalli looked up at Corra with Addy’s eyes and Cyrus’ wonder. “This is your a’iya Corra.”
Still fighting tears (god, how many times had she had promised herself she wouldn’t do this), Corra leaned down to look the little girl in the eye as she said, “Hi, Kalli. It’s so nice to finally meet you.”
Kalli glanced back at her father, then her mother, who nodded once, and then grinned widely and seized Corra’s hand in both of hers. “A’iya!” she exclaimed, bouncing up and down in excitement.
“Oh god, Cy, she’s adorable,” Corra said as she straightened up and her friend approached her. As emotional as she felt, she still laughed a watery laugh as she put her arms around him and asked, “How are you her father?”
Cyrus chuckled against her temple as he wrapped her in his embrace. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too, Cy-Cy,” she chimed, moving her hand to his cheek as they broke away.
To their side, Finn cleared his throat. “Not to be cliche, but –” He nodded towards the window where the sun was starting to set over the horizon.
“Right,” Corra agreed, separating herself from Cyrus. “We should get a move on. Not much time.” And if this plan were to go right, the timing would have to be precise.
Cyrus and Addy exchanged glances. “A move on what, exactly?” Cyrus asked. “There’s at least three dozen agents around here, who knows how many more on that ship. They don’t know we’re here, I doubt they’ll turn a blind eye on the two newcomers smuggling out three mysterious cloaked figures.”
“Who said anything about cloaks?” was Finn’s amused response.
Addy rolled her eyes and muttered, “Point being, what’s the plan? How can we leave without anyone noticing? Is there some secret passage we don’t know about?”
“Not at all,” Corra answered, strolling over to the window to look outside. Her eyes scanned over the agents working around the dig site, the few hovering by the path and finally settled on their ship, down in the main docking area. “We’ll walk right out through the front door.”
The answer didn’t seem to calm any fears. “Sorry, let me just clarify this,” Cyrus said, slowly this time. “We’re going out the front door. And there are…no cloaks?”
“None.” Corra tapped her fingers against the wood frame of the window. “You all ready on my mark?”
There was a shuffle of nerves and dismay behind her. “I–I guess, but–” Addy began, just as the grey metal beast parked down the hill wailed an awful bellow so loud the ground beneath the house trembled. Behind her, Kalli shrieked, Eriaas muttered, “What the–” and below, she saw every Society agent look up from what they were doing, abandon their post and take off in a sprint towards the ship.
Corra grinned and looked back at her entourage. “Then let’s go.”
Minutes later, after a scramble to collect as many of Kalli’s things as they all (mostly Finn) could carry, the group was hurrying down the stairs and Cyrus, as always, was questioning everything.
“So it’s a drill? Like an emergency drill?”
“They’re required to run them every so often, whenever their fleet’s higher-ups demand,” Finn explained in Corra’s stead as she crept down the last few steps and peered into the hallway. Just in case. Many years and many escapes had taught her the hard way that it was better to be safe than sorry. Fortunately, the drill seemed to have done the job. The hall was clear. She moved ahead.
“So you just found out when they were going to have one?” Cyrus, ever nervous, checked for himself before following after her. Kalli was clutched in his arms, clinging to his neck. “And planned to rescue us at the same time?”
“No, no, as far as we knew there were none scheduled,” Finn replied. “But this one–” Corra felt him gesturing at her– “Somehow got a message through the channels that they’re supposed to have one.”
For perhaps the first time in history, Cyrus looked impressed at Corra’s ability to use technology. “How’d you manage that?”
There wasn’t time to explain how she’d managed it. How she’d freed the mother of a man who had a connection in the right place to give her access to the right system to allow her to falsify her credentials and request an emergency drill of this particular ship at this particular time to allow just enough of a distraction to execute an extraction mission. So she just shrugged and said, “I have my ways.”
Cyrus didn’t seem satisfied, but they continued through the house, Corra scouting ahead to make sure they were in the clear every step of the way. It seemed the plan had worked. There were no agents in sight. Protocol dictated there shouldn’t be. In the event of an emergency drill, all crew had to be on the ship following their designated emergency duties. In theory, they wouldn’t see a soul until they were safely away from here and back on the Beacon.
But as Corra traversed the last few steps into the foyer, something caught her eye. A brief flicker of movement. It wasn’t, she realized quickly and with a heavy sigh of relief, a living being. No, just a hologram spinning slowly over the long table those agents had been huddled around when she’d come in.
Still, it kept her attention a moment longer than it should have. She didn’t even know what it was. Some bizarre machine unlike any she was familiar with. A long thick tube extended from a series of three domes side by side. Out of the tube were more, skinnier tubes reaching for the sky. It looked ancient and strange, but it struck a chord and she suddenly had to know.
“What are they looking for here?”
Cyrus waved the question off, as though it was unimportant. “Oh just some old legendary machine.” He gestured into the room her stare was fixed on. “The Transmitter or something? Sounds like a load of bulls–” He stopped himself as he remembered that his daughter’s ear was just inches from his mouth. “Bull’s butt?” he corrected hesitantly, earning a devious giggle from Kalli and a glare from Addy.
Corra, however, had stopped paying attention, frozen on the precipice of that room as the word stuck in her head. Transmitter? There was no way that could be related to the ancient device she currently had in her possession, the Transmission. And yet, there was no way it couldn’t be. Either coincidence was too unlikely.
“Finn?” she called, her voice still hushed out of precaution. “Get them to the ship. I’ll be right there.” He probably would have liked to argue, but she didn’t give him, or anyone else, the chance. If the Span was sending her a sign, and surely it must have been, she would be a fool not to look. She slipped into the room and approached the hologram.
It looked even more confounding up close. Intricate patterns entwined around the machine. Wires sidled out from its base. Corra couldn’t tell from the hologram itself whether it was small or massive. But there was something about it that rang familiar to the strange little tube stowed away in the Spirit.
She stared at it a moment longer before finally she was able to drag her focus down to the tablet left abandoned in front of it. Well, whatever was on there couldn’t hurt to have, right? Without second-guessing herself, she slipped her CID out of her pocket, slotted it into the input port and let it do its thing. Data-mining CID functionality was another thing there was rarely time to explain.
The little light on the device turned green just moments later, letting her know it was ready to go. “Thanks, Society,” she mumbled in a sing-song voice as she removed the CID and shoved it back into her coat. “I’ll just take this and–”
Suddenly, a voice broke out somewhere behind her. Corra jumped and spun around, but thank god, there was no one in the room. Judging by how quickly that voice was growing louder, however, there soon would be.
Her eyes darted to the door that she’d come through. Her exit. Just as two others, others she only needed to identify by the thick black libreras on their skin, entered it.
Corra was under the table before the women even had a chance to glimpse the room.
“–you sure they don’t need us on the ship? It is a drill,” one was saying nervously, glancing back at the door.
“Don’t worry,” said the other with an air of authority. “Taigen can run it. He’s done it a thousand times. It’s just bureaucratic nonsense.”
“If you say so…”
The longer Corra stayed here, the more chances she was giving them to discover her. The women had moved all the way into the room, leaving her doorway wide open. If she was quick, if she stayed low, she could slip out. She just had to be fast. And silent. And–
“It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the Transmitter isn’t here,” said the voice above her. “The archives, as a whole, aren’t here. We would have picked up a signature by now. The terraform hasn’t altered enough to cover anything deeper.”
Corra found herself pausing at the edge of the table. She was crouched in position, ready to launch herself out the door the moment the opportunity afforded itself. And it had. Now was her moment. But she hesitated.
“So we’re going to move on then?” the other voice asked.
“No.” There was a pause. “Not yet. If we move on now, our budget for the project will be cut and we’ll be sent back to the frontlines. I don’t know about you, but given a choice, I’d rather be here excavating a dirt pit than on the Ascendian battlefront.” Another pause before she added, “No, we’ll stay here until we manage to figure out our next step in the mission.”
“You think they’ll wait that long?”
The woman laughed. “Of course they will. If we find this thing? If it does what they say it does? If it even exists? It’ll be the most significant machine in the history of the Span. They’ll wait lifetimes as long as there’s hope. I guarantee it.”
Corra felt her heart still. The most important machine in history? It sounded like–well, it sounded like, in Cyrus’ words, bull’s butt. Even so, though, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d just stumbled onto something huge.
Before she convinced herself to linger once again, Corra shook the thoughts from her head, remembering instead the face of Cy and Addy’s little girl who needed to get out of this place and get home. She took a silent deep breath, braced herself and then slipped silently out from under the table and through the door before anyone was all the wiser to her presence.
Corra had never wanted to get back to the Spirit so badly.
“It really wasn’t that bad,” Addy was telling Alyx as they sat around one of the Beacon’s dining tables over drinks and dinner. They’d arrived back on the ship only an hour ago, but already things were starting to feel more normal to Finn than ever. Their old crew back together again. Getting along. Enjoying a meal. This, more than anything else, was what he’d missed.
“More boring than anything else,” Cyrus added, bouncing Kalli on his knee.
Alyx, who had bunkered down to listen to what she’d thought would be a dramatic story, failed to hide her disappointment. “Well I’m glad you’re alright,” she tried and Addy smiled at her. “So we should take you back to Archeti then? I’m sure they’ve missed you.”
But then, Addy hesitated. “Mm yeah, I suppose so.” She shared a glance with Cyrus who, Finn couldn’t help but notice, didn’t look exactly contented by the answer.
“Not that we’d mind keeping you around, of course,” put in Daelen from across the table.
“Oh yeah, sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you have to leave,” Alyx added hurriedly. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. Just, if you want to go back, we can take you, I mean–”
“It’s fine,” Addy laughed, holding up her hand and shaking her head. “I get it. And yeah, I don’t know.” Again, a furtive glance at Cyrus, whose expression had gone suspiciously blank. “Maybe we’ll stick around a little bit? It’s kinda nice being with everyone again. It’s been so long, y’know?” She nudged her stone-faced boyfriend affectionately. “Right?”
Cyrus mumbled something in response, but Finn stopped paying attention to whatever marital troubles were playing out in front of him. Instead, he looked around the table. Alyx, Daelen, Cai, Addy, himself, they were all here, but–
There was one face missing from the scene. It couldn’t be. Corra was gone.
She’d just been here a moment ago, he was sure of it. She’d said something about how nice of an attic Addy’s friend had and then — How did she slip away so quickly? And more importantly, how far had she gone?
“Be right back,” Finn muttered as he slipped out of his chair and headed for the main hallway. He knew where she’d gone without even a second thought. The way she’d been acting the past few days? It was no mystery. He had been fully aware that the moment no eyes were on her, she’d try and make her escape. He just hadn’t thought she’d manage to have no eyes on her in the middle of a crew dinner…But now, the only question was whether or not he’d get there in time before she succeeded.
Finn quickened his pace.
Fortunately, for all of her skills and sneaking, when he rounded the corner into the side airlock, he wasn’t met with an empty room and a sealed door, but the sight of Corra herself leaned against the wall beside her ship, fiddling with some sort of tube in her hands. When she heard him enter, she glanced up.
“That took longer than I expected,” she pointed out with a smirk.
Finn pretended he wasn’t as out of breath as he was. “You were waiting for me?”
Corra lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “I’ve already wronged you enough. Figured leaving without saying goodbye wouldn’t be the best move if I ever want forgiveness.”
For a moment, Finn was stunned into silence. Forgiveness?
“Corra, I –” he began, but she stepped forward and swiftly pressed her finger to his lips to silence him.
“Please don’t,” she said. “Just–It was really good to see you. Take care of the ship. Take care of the crew. Please don’t try and sell her again.” She narrowed her eyes on him. “She’s yours and she’s Alyx’s and she’s all of these people’s, no one else’s. I don’t want to see her with anyone else. Do that for me at least.”
Her finger drew away and he said, “Of course. But Corra–”
“And make sure Cy and Addy are okay,” she went on. “They’re not right now. But they need to be. For that beautiful little girl’s sake at the very least.”
“I don’t really know if I can–”
“And hug Leta when you see her,” she spoke over him. Was she — no, those couldn’t be the slight glint of tears in the corners of her eyes. “And tell her I miss her and I’ll try to be in touch soon. And–”
“Corra.” Finn cut her off, taking her hand in his. “Why don’t you hug Leta when you see her? Why don’t you help Cy and Addy? Why don’t you look after this ship?”
She was already shaking her head and tugging her hand from his grip. He didn’t loosen it. “I have things to take care of, Riley. I have to go.”
“You can take care of those things here,” Finn insisted. “You want to research this, right?” He reached down and plucked the metal tube from her hand. “We can help. We can do that on the Beacon.”
Corra let out a sharp laugh. “And risk those bounty hunters after you? No way.”
Finn rolled his eyes dramatically. “Bounty hunters? Really? You think we’re afraid of a few bounty hunters?”
“They’re pretty nasty…” Corra muttered and he raised a skeptical brow. “Riley, I’m not staying. I have my own life now, my own missions, my own tasks, I’m not bringing those down on the Beacon. What we all had before? The pirating and the stealing and all that? After what came from that? How many lives were –” She shook her head again. “No. That chapter is over.”
“Right,” Finn agreed, releasing her hand at last. “That chapter is over.” She was glaring at the floor now so he reached over and lifted her chin with his index finger til their eyes met. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t start a new one.”
Corra’s eyes went a little wide. Finn’s hand dropped to his side and he smiled at her knowingly. Without another word, he turned from the room and headed back into the hallway. He didn’t need to look back once more. There was no hurry, he knew.
The Spirit would still be here come morning.