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It was still early when Leta drifted down the Beacon’s empty hallways towards the docking bay where the Dionysian was parked. Early in the morning, but late to the party, it seemed, as most of the crews of both ships were bustling about in preparation. Of course they were. There was a lot to do. The Dionysian set sail for Satieri today.

She brushed past Maya who was unloading the ship’s unnecessary cargo into the care of Cai, past Eve who was arguing with Rhys over which guns to bring, past Richelle in deep discussion with Addy and straight towards the Dionysian’s captain, solitary and focused on the side of his ship, a panel open and a monitoring tablet in his hand.

“Everything alright with her?” Leta asked as she approached, mainly to announce her presence. Fiearius, she’d found out, still hadn’t quite adapted to his new lack of peripheral vision. Leta had never seen him as startled as he’d been the night before when she’d accidentally snuck up on him in the bridge.

“Define alright,” Fiearius mumbled, casting her a glance and then frowning at the tablet as though it had offended him.

“Not going to explode on takeoff?” was Leta’s guess and Fiearius snorted a laugh.

“You know I can’t promise that.”

With a sigh, he slammed the panel shut, delivering a swift second hit when it started to swing open again, and strode past her. “Need somethin’?”

“Nothing in particular.” Leta followed after him, tucking her arms behind her back. “Just checking--” Before she could finish her sentence, a chunk of metal plating zoomed past her face, right into the narrow space between her and Fiearius, landing on the Beacon’s grated floor with a horrific clatter.

Her mouth still poised to form the ‘in’ she’d meant to say, Leta glanced up to see Cyrus and Finn leaning over the edge of the ship’s upper hull. “Sorry!” Cyrus called down to her before casting Finn a glare and growling, “I told you not to hold it like that.”

They continued to argue about the matter, but Leta stepped over the plating and continued after Fiearius. “Everything ready to go?”

Fiearius’s face flashed a grimace, but his answer was positive. “Almost.” It wasn’t much of a secret that he wasn’t looking forward to this mission. Not only was it the most dangerous yet, landing on Satieri, the very home planet of the Society, but the task had taken an unexpected personal turn. Leta hadn’t asked how Fiearius was feeling about revisiting his old apartment and looking into the strange mystery his wife had left behind. She didn’t need to ask. It was apparent all over his face.

“Pigeon!” he called suddenly and, almost like magic, Javier appeared instantly at Fiearius’ side, alert and ready. “What’re we lookin’ at?”

The young man started rattling off information at once. “Final adjustments are being made to the on-board weaponry. Scans of internal operations complete and positive. Beacon docking mechanism is being powered down for takeoff. The Carthian escort is assembled and awaiting your signal. Admiral Gates is already on the line in the bridge. We’ll be ready in a few minutes, on schedule, sir.”

Fiearius nodded, a little impatiently Leta noticed, through Javier’s speech and then gestured towards her. “There’s your answer. Few minutes. Shouldn’t you be--”

“Cap’n, watch out!”

No sooner had Corra’s words rung out across the bay did a blur of bushy hair and purple pajamas speed towards the two of them and whole-heartedly attach herself to Fiearius’ legs, nearly tripping him.

“Sorry!” Corra exclaimed, breathless as she ran towards them. “I turned my back for one second and she slipped out.”

“Yeah, she has a habit of doing that,” Fiearius mumbled, ruffling his niece’s hair and trying to pry her grip from him, but she didn’t budge. She buried her face in his pant leg and refused to move even when Fiearius gently shook her. That was when Leta noticed the quiet sounds of sniffling.

“Hey now, iss’yen, what’s a matter?” Fiearius asked, giving up on detaching her that way and crouching instead, giving her no choice but to back away. She continued to sniffle, her head down, so he put two fingers under her chin and lifted it to face him. “You got somethin’ funny on your face.” His thumb wiped a tear from her cheek.

Kalli just looked back at him, water streaming from her eyes, and whispered, “Don’t go.”

If the demand hit Fiearius as harsh in the heartstrings as it hit Leta, he managed to hide it. “Don’t go?” he repeated incredulously. “What’s this? You’re not scared of a little adventure are you? You? Not my fearless little monster.”

“I-I’m not scared,” was Kalli’s defiant retort, but her tone didn’t match the confidence of her words. “But--you have to come back.”

“Of course I will,” Fiearius assured her. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Promise?”

“I swear.”

Kalli’s sniffling lessened and she looked up at him in wide-eyed wonder. “We’re not supposed to swear…”

Fiearius gave her a grin and whispered, as though letting her in on a secret, “Rules are more fun if they’re broken.”

“Oh please don’t tell her that, I still have to watch her for a while,” Corra groaned above them as Fiearius patted Kalli on the head and stood up. With the little girl soothed, she regarded Fiearius herself. “She’s right, y’know. You gotta come back this time. No more of that reckless martyr nonsense, alright?”

“Trust me, I’m totally willing to take this one as easy as I can,” Fiearius promised, absently rubbing the spot on his chest where he’d been shot.

Corra smiled and stepped forward to throw her arms around him in a tight hug. “Just better not be lying to me.”

“Never, princess, never.”

Corra released him and turned to Leta. “Same with you,” she ordered and before Leta could even respond, she was crushed in a hug of her own. “Safe as possible, alright?”

“Of course,” Leta agreed as over Corra’s shoulder, Addy had arrived in their little cluster and was using her finger to mark a few points on Fiearius’ chest.

“I know you’re not much for religion,” she was saying, “but I strongly believe in stacking the deck anyway, okay? So dov’ha la meni’a si farranus.”

Whether Fiearius believed in whatever Ridellian ritual that was or not, nonetheless he bowed his head to her and replied, “Ta’ini se,” which seemed to satisfy Addy well enough. Before she could step away though, Fiearius had pulled her into a massive bear hug. She laughed and laughed and returned the favor.

Finn was next in the train of well wishes, though his came in the form of a pat on Leta’s back, a wide grin and a cheerful, “Don’t die, everybody!” which earned him a nasty glare from Corra and an ever nastier glare from Addy who covered Kalli’s ears.

Finally, there was Cyrus, still wiping ship grease from his hands and looking just as nervous as his brother did, despite not even going on this particular mission. He stood next to Leta and shifted pensively on the balls of his feet, struggling for the right words. Leta hadn’t had the chance to talk to Cyrus about any of this with how fast it was all happening. Now, she kind of wished she had. Once upon a time, he would have done anything to return to Satieri. He would have braved his fear and boarded the Dionysian and flown straight into battle with her crew. But he had to put his family first now and while she didn’t doubt part of him was relieved, she got the feeling another part of him was disappointed.

“Be careful down there,” he muttered at last, locking eyes with his sibling. “Just--be really careful.”

Fiearius smiled back at him, projecting every ounce of confidence and assuredness he’d been lacking a few minutes ago, then reached out and grasped his shoulder in a sort of silent agreement between the two of them. Cyrus didn’t look any more convinced, but he did seem less nervous as Fiearius turned away and called out, “Pigeon, rally the crew, we’re gettin’ outta here!”

Leta released a deep breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and pulled Cyrus into a quick embrace, gripped Corra’s hand for another instant, smiled and waved at Addy and Kalli and hurried after the Dionysian’s captain as he climbed up the ramp onto his ship. The small crew piled up behind him and were already going about takeoff preparations before Fiearius even began barking orders.

“Curls, let’s get that ramp up.” He turned one by one to address each of them. “Runaway to the engine room, Harper I want you on artillery, Rhys--just stay out of the way, Pigeon with me--” He finally completed his turn, his finger pointing directly at Leta who, clearly, he wasn’t expecting to be standing there. “Le--what the hell, get to your ship.”

Letat just blinked back at him, clutching her bag at her side and not budging. Fiearius stared back at her patiently, expectantly. The rest of the crew waited, their eyes flicking between the two of them in discomfort.

Eventually, Fiearius got the hint without a single word. He let out a groan and ran his hand down his face. “No,” was all he said.

“No what?” Leta asked, an image of innocence.

“No, this isn’t your ship,” Fiearius growled impatiently before stepping forward, putting his hands on her shoulders and turning her around. “You’re going on one of the Carthian ships to help their medical team.”

“No, I’m not,” Leta responded promptly, turning back around to face him. “I’m going with you.”

“You’re really not.”

“I really am.”

He let out another dramatic groan. “Leta.”

“Fiearius,” she shot back without missing a beat. “I’m not letting you do this alone. Do you seriously not remember what happened last time you had to do a mission on your own?”

“T--that was different,” he argued. “It wasn’t recon. And it wasn’t as if someone else being there would have changed anything.” Leta provided him a skeptical frown that made all the point she needed to make. Someone being there couldn’t have stopped Ophelia from getting the best of him and shooting him in the chest? Really? His frown deepened. “It doesn’t matter, I don’t care, you’re not coming with me. I need to do this alone.”

As if he had somehow miraculously won this argument, he turned on his heel and marched away from her, but she was hardly finished.

“Why?”

He swung back towards her. “Why?”

“Yeah, why? Why do you need to do this alone? Why do you need to put yourself in unnecessary danger?”

“Leta,” Fiearius groaned again.

“Fiearius,” she growled right back. “Tell me why. Give me one good reason and I’ll consider backing off. My name doesn’t count as an argument.”

“Because.”

“Because why?”

“Because it’s personal, okay?”

“Your reason?”

“Wha--No! This mission is personal!” he snapped, stepping back towards her in a burst of anger. “Digging through my dead wife’s stuff is personal. Looking for evidence of her involvement with the man who killed our son is personal. It’s personal and I need to do it alone.”

The rare moment of perfect clarity stunned Leta to silence, even though she’d been expecting it. Even though she’d pushed him to it. But as stunned as she was, it was the rest of the crew, still hovering around the bay, looking very much out of place, that had the biggest shock. Richelle’s eyes were wide, Maya’s mouth had dropped open, even Eve looked confused and it only took Fiearius a few moments of hard breathing to realize they were still there.

He grit his teeth. “Did I not fuckin’ give you orders?” His tone was low and voice barely audible, but the rage in it was enough to send the crew scattering. In instants, Fiearius and Leta were alone in the cargo bay.

She spoke gently. “You know what I’m going to say.”

Fiearius, who had been content to try and stare her down, flicked his eyes finally to the floor in what could only be defeat. “That it being personal is even more reason to have someone else there.”

Leta nodded. “I respect your privacy, Fiear, and I get the sensitivity of this. But I want you to come out of it alive. I don’t have to look through Aela’s stuff with you. You don’t have to tell me anything you find there. But I’m going with you. Just in case...you need me to be there.”

His stance, at last, loosened. His tense muscles relaxed. He put his hand on his forehead. “Fine. Fine, you can come.”

“Good.” Leta stepped forward and looped her arm through his, turning him around and leading him through the cargo bay up towards the bridge. “Not that I would have taken no for an answer.”

At her side, Fiearius snorted a laugh. “I know. You really do belong on this fucking ship, don’t you?”

---------------

The blast barely missed them, but it still made the Dionysian shudder violently. Leta gripped the edge of her seat in the crowded bridge, her knuckles turning white as she watched the planet out of the viewport spin and sway in and out of view. She’d been on enough ships now and particularly this one enough to not flat out vomit at the sight of it anymore, but she wasn’t totally immune. Her stomach groaned its nausea.

“That was a close one. Runaway, I need more power to my starboard thrusters,” Fiearius shouted into the COMM over the noise of the Dionysian and the Society ships swarming the atmosphere around them.

The descent to Satieri was about what Leta would have expected: terrifying and totally outnumbered. From the moment the Dionysian arrived in Exymerian space, they were under attack. Carthian warships and select dreadnoughts from Fiearius’ own fleet followed after them, drawing in much of the heavy fire from the planet’s defenses, but even so, the barrage was overwhelming. It was as if the entire Society was here trying to shoot them down and it was only Fiearius’ reckless piloting that was keeping them afloat as they plowed forward towards the planet.

“On it, capitaine! More power to starboard!” Richelle called back from the engine room.

“We’ve got a stealth coming up at our five,” Javier from the co-pilot’s chair announced, clutching onto the console, his eyes locked on the navigations radar.

“Harper, you got ‘em?”

“Positive, cap’n.” The ship jolted suddenly, indication that Eve had fired off the Dionysian’s retro-fitted turret. It was followed by a symphony of clanging as pieces of the felled ship met the Dionysian’s body.

Before Fiearius could even ask, Maya, crammed into the seat beside Leta with a monitoring device hooked up to the dashboard, shouted, “Hull’s holding strong, shields at 40%.”

“That could be better,” Fiearius mumbled as he yanked on the controls and the ship barrel-rolled out of the path of a sleek black fighter headed straight at them.

But from where Leta sat, she didn’t exactly see how that was true. Sure, things could always be better, shields could be at 100, they could not be narrowly avoiding an all-out assault, Satieri could be Society-free and full of puppies, but by Dionysian standards, how they were faring was remarkable in and of itself. In the old days when Leta had lived aboard the ship fulltime, there was a constant sense of panic. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and the crew was eternally engaged in yelling matches with one another.

The Dionysian today was practically unrecognizable. They were still barreling towards danger, Fiearius was still barking out orders, but the ship and her crew was adapting to every step like a well-oiled machine.

“Starboard power compensated, capitaine!” came Richelle’s voice over the COMM.

Fiearius hit a switch and the ship gracefully zoomed to the left just as another blast flew past them. “Beautiful. Let’s--”

“Work on shield regeneration next, already on it.” The COMM went dead as Richelle got back to work.

Leta had once teased Fiearius that his new crew were all young and inexperienced in running a ship, but watching them now, she regretted it. Perhaps it was a testament to their captain’s improvement in leadership abilities. Or perhaps being on a boat in the midst of a war just required them to step up their game and learn to function. Whatever the reason, Leta was impressed and she had more faith than ever that the Dionysian would make it to ground.

Unfortunately, the crew’s skills weren’t the only factor and though Fiearius continued to fly them further and further through the atmosphere and the city of Paradiex grew closer and closer, there were still countless fighters they had to avoid and even more countless blasts flying at them from all directions.

One of them hit.

The Dionysian shook violently and her alarm started to blare overhead. “Shit,” Fiearius growled as Maya started to rattle off a damage report.

“Shields down to 10%, no systems affected, minor hull breach in the cargo bay--”

“Decompressing and sealing bay, routing additional life support power to engine room,” said Javier, tapping furiously on the keyboard.

“And rerouting to shields,” called Richelle.

“Shields back to 40.” The alarms switched off.

Leta was glad that she took a moment to look at Fiearius just then and catch the utterly proud smirk on his face. If he hadn’t been in the middle of maneuvering his beast of a boat out of the way of three separate attacks, he probably would have turned to her, gestured to his crew and snapped, “See?”

Good thing he didn’t though, because in the next moment, their triumph was quickly overshadowed by a new squad of fighter ships suddenly drifting into the viewport, these ones even more numerous than the last.

Leta saw Fiearius grit his teeth and clutch the controls tighter. “Stay on ‘em, Harper, I’ll avoid what I can, but--”

“I’ll take ‘em down, cap’n,” Eve promised from the upper artillery, staying true to her word and firing off a round that shattered one of the ships like glass. But just one. The rest, on cue, fired their weapons and all at once, some twenty bursts of light were speeding straight towards them.

“Oh shit,” Fiearius whispered as he yanked the ship controls back even harder than before and the Dionysian spun upwards, the planet and the ships swinging out of view. “Shoot them faster, Harper!”

“Captain, they’re scattering our sensors,” Javier shouted out from next to him as Fiearius swung the Dionysian back around, making a quick sprint towards the planet and narrowly avoiding the much faster, more maneuverable ships.

“What?! How is that even--”

“We got another problem, cap’n!” came Eve’s voice. “Turret’s jammed again, I can’t shoot!”

Javier was still gripping the navigations console and searching over the screen desperately. “I can’t see them!”

Just then, as the Dionysian attempted to power forward, six of those fighter ships Javier couldn’t see zoomed into the viewport again.

“Well I can!” Fiearius shoved the controls forward and the ships swooped downwards, underneath the enemy blasts and zooming straight below them right as two of them inexplicably exploded. The debris rained down on the Dionysian’s hull as they passed beneath, sounding like a storm overhead.

The Dionysian’s weapons were jammed, thought Leta. And even if they weren’t, Eve wasn’t that good of a shot, so how--

“Why am I always havin’ to save your ass, darlin’?” came Quin’s voice over the COMM and Fiearius’ face lit up with a smile.

“‘Cause you love me,” he chimed back cheerfully, swerving around another ship that promptly blew up.

“I was thinkin’ more ‘cause you still insist on drivin’ that piece o’ junk around.”

He shrugged in admission. “That too.”

Overhead, a great metallic mass was just visible through the window, blocking out the sun and plunging the bridge into darkness as it passed over them. It was an impressive ship, at least impressive compared to the Dionysian, though that wasn’t hard. She was about four times in size, for one, made within the last century and equipped with actual weaponry integrated with her systems rather than a single turret Cyrus had welded on when the war started.

“Our friends upstairs are holdin’ their own, how bout I lend my talents to gettin’ you lot planet-side?” Quin asked as her ship sped off in front of them and started firing in all directions. The swarm of fighters tried to regroup to attack her, but one by one, Leta watched them turn to flames in the atmosphere and burn up into dust. At the very least, the new ship was drawing more fire away from the Dionysian, allowing their shields a break to regenerate. At best, it was clearing out an entire path that would lead them to Satieri.

Fiearius seemed to relax a little as the Dionysian settled into Quin’s quiet wake. “You gonna hold this one over me too, then?”

Quin’s laugh could be heard through the COMM. “‘Course sweetheart. Your debt to me ain’t ever gonna shrink at this rate. You can win this war and free whoever, won’t matter, you’re gonna be workin’ for me til the day you die.”

Fiearius shrugged. “I can think of worse fates.”

“Your optimism is misplaced, I’m puttin’ you on whichever latrine duty I can find.”

“My cruel mistress,” Fiearius chuckled.

Leta tried not to laugh herself at what this had turned into. From a panic-stricken descent with danger flying at them from all sides to a calm pleasure cruise for Fiearius to flirt with his colleague. True, there were still fighters barraging them, but Quin’s ship was blasting them down one by one while barely taking a few hits that bounced right off her superior shields. They were nearly to the planet’s surface which was when the ground defenses started acting up.

A blast from the city below flew right past Quin’s ship, barely missing its hull and Fiearius had to roll the Dionysian out of the way to spare their own.

“Alright, I’m gonna take out these shitty turrets for ya,” Quin promised, redirecting her ship’s weapons towards the surface. “These fuckers are scrambling our radars so cover me?”

“Our gun’s down, but--” Fiearius began only to be cut off by another laugh. He ignored it and continued, “I’ll let you know if you’re in trouble.”

Fortunately, the immediate area had been completely wiped of life. If nothing else, Quin was thorough and though Fiearius kept his eyes locked on the viewport, the skies were clear. And they were truly in the skies now. The city was now laid out in front of them, finally within grasp. They’d made it. Thank the gods, they’d made it. All at once Leta was both relieved and more nervous than ever.

The last turret on the surface erupted in a burst of flames and smoke, which was Quin’s cue.

“You’re all clear, love,” she called to them. “Take care o’ yourself down there, alright? You die and your debt transfers to next of kin and I’ve met that lil brother o’ yours. Don’t think he’d like that much.”

“For Cyrus’ sake alone, I will survive.” Leta couldn’t help but notice how hard Fiearius swallowed before he said, “See you in a few hours, Q.”

“Countin’ on it, hotshot.”

The great ship before them turned away from the planet and started to make its ascent back into the atmosphere to rejoin the rest of the fleet, which was when Leta caught sight of something in her peripheral vision. Something moving fast. Very fast. That ground turret hadn’t been the last, she realized, just in time.

“Fiear--” she got out just barely, sure that he was seeing it too, sure that he would warn Quin, tell them to reroute frontal shields to the rear, surely he would--

Boom.

The impact shook the Dionysian as a blast of fire and metal from Quin’s ship exploded out into the sky. There was smoke, so much smoke, Leta caught a glimpse of the ship’s front drifting through it just before the second shot hit.

“Quin!” Fiearius shouted into the COMM, his voice cracked in desperation. “Quin, do you read?!”

There was no response. A third explosion.

“Quin, come in! Anyone, please, come in,” Fiearius tried again, his hand that gripped the COMM was shaking. Still, no response. Leta felt her chest grow both heavy and empty at once. There would be no response. Three direct hits from ground artillery? There would be no response.

“Quin!”

Leta didn’t feel like she could speak or move. The smoke was starting to clear and the ship that had saved them minutes ago -- rather the wreckage of what little was left of it -- floated helplessly in the sky before them. She could barely stand to look at it, but she couldn’t look away either. Neither could the rest of the bridge crew. She could hear Maya, her wide eyes locked on the viewport, breathing shallow breaths beside her. Javier had finally looked away from the nav console and collapsed into the co-pilot’s seat. And Fiearius--

“No, no, no, no,” he was muttering under his breath, gripping the edge of the console with quaking hands. “No.” He shook the dashboard. “No!” His fist rammed into the metal. As he drew it away, Leta saw the dent and the speckle of blood.

As shattered as Leta felt, she knew she couldn’t fathom what Fiearius was feeling. He stood hunched over the dashboard, his head down, his chest rising and falling in jagged motions, his arms barely holding him up. But as much as it pained her, now was not the time for grief. Now, they didn’t have time for sorrow.

“Fiearius,” she said, her voice sharp and an equally sharp spike of guilt rushed through her. He glanced back at her and the look on his face almost changed her mind. But she steeled herself and stared straight back at him, face stony. They had to keep moving. They had to finish the mission regardless of loss. And he knew it.

It was a long moment of silence. She didn’t want to say what had to be said, she didn’t want to speak the words, and thank the gods, he didn’t make her. At last, he released the breath he’d been holding in his lungs and turned back to the console. It was another moment, his eyes clenched shut, before he got his focus back.

“Right.” His hands gripped the controls. “All power to front shields.”

“You got it, capitaine.”

“Weapons still jammed?”

“Working on it, cap’n.”

“Get it running. Pigeon?”

Javier tapped a few buttons on his console. “Signal’s coming back strong, captain.”

“Great. Keep an eye on that turret for me.” Fiearius heaved another deep breath. “Making our final descent.”

In one swift motion, the Dionysian sped forward. Javier barked something, Fiearius dodged a blast, Maya relayed the shield power and they soared straight through the wreckage and towards the Paradexian skyline, but all Leta could focus on was the back of Fiearius’ head. She wanted to comfort him. She wanted to put a hand on his shoulder, pull him into an embrace, soothe the turmoil that was surely rifling through him.

But she stayed in her seat and let him fly the ship. She said nothing, did nothing, as he and his crew expertly navigated the last few thousand feet to the planet’s surface. She kept her urges to herself as the Dionysian leveled itself and lowered between the buildings and touched down on Satieran ground for the first time in over a decade.

It was only when the shuddering of the ship stopped, the engine powered down and Fiearius rose from his seat that Leta acted at all. He didn’t meet her eyes as he headed out of the bridge and told her, “Let’s go.” At once, she was on her feet, following him through the ship. Javier hurried past them, getting the door to the cargo bay unsealed before they arrived and the outer ramp down. Rhys was there too, with Eve, handing Fiearius a gun, a second gun, patting him on the back. Richelle and Maya rushed in after them, but Fiearius moved through them all like a ghost, perhaps not seeing them at all.

It wasn’t until Fiearius was halfway down the ramp, Leta on his tail, that he looked back at his faithful crew, hovering awkwardly at the top of it in a row. “Take care of the ship,” he managed and they nodded fervently.

“You got it, cap’n,” promised Eve.

“Aye aye,” said Rhys.

“Don’t worry ‘bout a thing,” said Maya as Richelle nodded.

“Good luck, captain,” said Javier.

Fiearius provided them perhaps the weakest smile she’d ever seen grace his face before turning back out and continuing slowly down the ramp. Leta still followed in silence until he stopped again, right at the base of it, staring down at the Satieran ground in front of him like a challenge he wasn’t sure he wanted to take.

“Fiear…” Leta touched his elbow gently.

“I should have seen it,” he said and Leta didn’t have to ask to know what he meant. The shot. The shot that took her down. “I should have seen it coming.”

Horribly, she had thought the same thing when it happened. She had seen it from further back in the bridge. It was right in front of him and he’d done nothing. She had seen it though. She’d seen it--it hit her suddenly--on the left. Unconsciously, she looked over at Fiearius’ glassy left eye.

“It’s not your fault,” she assured him, gripping his arm now. “It’s not your fault at all.”

Fiearius heaved a sigh. “Sure.” He hesitated just one more moment before setting his foot down in the dirt of his estranged home. “Be on your guard,” he warned, drawing his gun. “We’re not far.”
“We’re gonna stick to the plan.”

Fiearius sounded more confident in the decision than he looked, seated on the massive chair with his head propped on his fist, frowning at the floor as if it had offended him.

Leta, from her own couch across the room, didn’t question him though. He’d been torn apart by uncertainty every since Dez had departed the Beacon yesterday afternoon. If he’d finally committed to something, even something he wasn’t totally sure about, she wasn’t going to be the one to put more doubt in his mind.

He had Quin for that, apparently.

“And how we gonna do that?” she asked, standing behind him and absently massaging his shoulder with her fingers. The ship had arrived in Ellegy’s orbit with the other fleets last night so Leta was unsurprised to find Quin already present when she showed up at Fiearius’ temporary quarters this morning to discuss strategy for the upcoming meeting with Gates. By the looks of them when she’d knocked on the door, however, discussing wasn’t all they’d been doing.

Now, though, she was all business. “I ain’t sayin’ that killin’ that last Councillor o’ yours is a bad idea, but ain’t he still on Satieri? And you still got no idea where on Satieri? Even if we could get there, which we can’t. Sounds like the plan we’re stickin’ to is stalled.”

Fiearius glanced up at her and then groaned, putting his head in his hands.

“Think about it, darlin’, you do what that buddy of yours suggests, you got a whole extra fleet of your own, you can get to Satieri no problem, someone in that damn organization has to know where he is, you can finish the fucker off, good to go,” she pointed out. “And best of all, Carthis don’t ever get to touch that precious planet you like so much. I don’t see the downside to this.”

“The downside,” Fiearius growled, not removing his palms from covering his face, “is that betraying Carthis means extending this war even further, just now I’d be on the other side of it and killing everybody I’ve spent the last five years working with.”

Quin did not seem phased by this. “So?”

Fiearius dropped his hands and shook his head. “I’m not doing it. I’m not stabbing the backs of people who’ve helped me to join a bunch of people whose loyalty is clearly not that reliable.”

“Even if those people who have helped you are also busy tearing apart everything?”

Fiearius hesitated. “No. Because I’m going to stop them from doing that.” If he seemed unsure before, he seemed even more unsure now. “I just need to talk to Gates and explain that--”

Quin stopped massaging his shoulder and slapped it instead, turning away with disgust. “Dammit sweetheart, Gates can’t do shit. He’s just a puppet of their righteous ass of a president and let me tell you, I never met the woman personally, but if I ever do, I’ve got a few choice words for her soggy royal behind.”

Leta briefly considered interjecting that the Carthian president wasn’t royal at all since she was elected, but she decided to stay out of this for now. She’d already discussed the topic with Fiearius at length the day previous, a conversation that had resulted in neither of them having a distinct opinion whatsoever. They just kept going in circles. What Dez proposed, that Fiearius could usurp the absent Council’s power and reshape the Society sounded great, if idealistic, but the consequences were too high, the risks too great. It wasn’t even likely to work.

So she let Quin engage him in the endless repetitive dance as Leta took on an entirely different task.

It wasn’t the first time Leta had dug around in Fiearius’ Verdant database, but it was the first time her searches had lead her to this area of information. She had reached the record on Dorrion E’etan through the records of Fiearius (which she had quietly paused to look at, wondering how she’d never read them before. After skimming the first year of his employment as Internal Affairs Prime, however, she remembered why and moved on.). The man preceded him as Verdant and if the Ascendian Councillor was to believed, he was still alive. And, if Leta had to guess, serving as Satieran Councillor.

His story was eerily familiar. Young boy always getting into trouble, runs away from home, joins the Society, develops a knack for death. Serves in Internal Affairs for a time, promoted to Prime, promoted to Verdant, dies in the ‘24th Verdant Incident’ which was an article Leta regretted tapping her finger on as soon as she did it. Reading about Fiearius’ assasination jobs was hard enough, reading a cold and clinical description of the worst day of his life felt like a full-on invasion of privacy. She returned to E’etan’s service record.

As Quin and Fiearius continued to argue with one another across the room, Leta tuned them out. She felt herself on the verge of something, something that maybe, just maybe, would change the parameters of this discussion entirely. If she could figure out the location of the Councillor, they could develop a real plan for how to proceed. And with a real plan, they could present it to Gates in confidence. And if presented with a reasonable alternative, Gates would have to steer away from whatever rash plan Carthis themselves were considering.

Most of his E’etan’s records were irrelevant. He was a true Verdant. He managed departments, fired people, hired people, ran large interdepartmental programs and spearheaded operations that were too sensitive or secret for others to handle. She scoured any of those she could, searching for something, anything, a clue. But there was nothing. Just day to day work.

Except for one.

It was called Project Firestorm. The name stood out to her almost instantly as well as the timing. It was the last project on E’etan’s record before he ‘died’ and fell out of existence. Leta felt her heart beating a little faster for reasons she couldn’t explain as she expanded the project on the tablet in her hand.

The description of it was brief and vague: interdepartmental initiative for the reinvigoration of Society delegation. Whatever that meant. Her eyes flew to the top of the screen where most projects she’d looked at listed the Council members that had approved it. The line was empty. No regions were listed.

True, Leta knew next to nothing about Verdant database protocol, but it struck her as odd. She read on. The article listed a series of dates paired with phases that began and then completed. The nature of these phases was a mystery. No extra descriptions were given. No explanations. Just April 1st 1857 - Phase 4 completed. Phase 5 begins.

Finally, at the bottom of the document was a section titled Participants. Under the header were two names. The first, E’etan himself. The second made Leta double take.

She stared at the screen, her mouth open and her brow creased in a frown. It was too weird of a coincidence to ignore. Something Fiearius had asked right after he’d returned from executing the Ascendian Councillor rose in her mind. ‘What had she not told him?’

“Fiear, what do you know about Project Firestorm?”

The question came out of her mouth in the middle of Fiearius and Quin’s argument, but both of them, mid-sentence, paused to give her their attention.

“What?” Fiearius managed after a moment of confusion.

“Project Firestorm,” Leta said again. “Do you know anything about it?”

Fiearius cast a brief glance at Quin and then leaned forward in his chair. “It’s that weird assignment the last Verdant was on before he died. There’s nothing on it, really, I’d guess it was just the codename for my promotion.”

Leta shook her head. She’d considered that too but, “That’s listed under a different project. Verdant Succession, it’s a separate assignment. This Firestorm thing is something else.”

Fiearius lifted his shoulder in a shrug. “Maybe. No clue what it is then. Anyway--” He turned back to Quin, apparently not finished with whatever point he’d been making to her.

Perhaps Leta shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable. No, truly, she shouldn’t have. But even so, when she interrupted him again, she felt a twist of anxiety wrapping around her. “Did you know Aela was involved in it?”

Once again, Fiearius froze in the middle of a word forming on his tongue, this time, more startled than the last. “Wait--what?”

“It’s right here, at the bottom,” Leta explained, keeping her eyes on where her finger pointed to the screen. “Participants. Dorrian E’etan. Aela Soliveré.” Fleetingly, she glanced up at him, unbearably still and silent, something unreadable behind his expression. Even Quin was regarding him with careful concern.

Leta suddenly felt an urge to fill the room with noise. “We don’t know what this Firestorm thing is, so I’m not sure what it means, but--”

“It means Aela was working with the Verdant,” Fiearius put in, his voice distant and cold as if he was speaking from very far away. “Before they both died.” Looking at him now, she could see the thought process racing through his mind. His eyes flashed confusion, then pain, then, horribly, anger. “Except one of them isn’t dead.”

In an instant, he was on his feet, ripping the tablet from Leta’s hand and scouring through the page. “I don’t understand, I’ve looked through these files, E’etan’s file, Aela’s file, a thousand times, how come I’ve never seen this?”

Leta shrugged and, very carefully, stood up beside him. “Fiear, Aela might have known something that can help us. Something about the Councillor, maybe an idea of where to look for him…”

When Fiearius spun towards Leta, the look he gave her made her want to step a few feet away from him. It was an expression of rage and sorrow all in one and his breath was short as he snapped, “How the hell would she have any idea where to find him? This was ten years ago, it’s worthless,” and threw the tablet onto the couch behind her. “She’s dead anyway.”

Leta involuntarily flinched, but didn’t give up. “Fiear, she was working on this with him for nearly a year before she-- You were together then, weren’t you? You must have some idea of what it was.”

“I don’t,” was his immediate response and he must have realized how vicious it sounded because a moment later, he grit his teeth, ran his hand through his hair and spoke more calmly, “She didn’t talk much about her work, okay? I don’t know what she was doing…”

Leta wanted to keep pressing. Surely there was something, some seed of a memory that they could draw out more of this from. Something suspicious or strange or something he never even thought of as weird, but, with this new information, could hint at something bigger. Didn’t he understand? If they had an idea, something, anything, that could lead to locating the Councillor, they could delay Carthis’ attack plans. They could save countless people. If only he could just remember.

She wanted to keep pressing, but when she looked at Fiearius, already tired and stressed and sleepless and saw the utter turmoil going on behind his eyes, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Thankfully, he did it to himself. “But maybe…” he began, speaking slow and quiet, almost so quiet she didn’t hear him. “Maybe I could find out.”

Leta hid the leap in her heart. “How?”

He opened his mouth to reply then dragged his hand across his forehead. “There’s no way it would be in there, it’s a thread of nothing, it won’t lead anywhere,” he muttered, mostly to himself. There was a distinct note of panic streaking his voice. Unintentionally, Leta met Quin’s eyes across the room. The older woman was standing with her arms crossed, watching this whole scene as though it was only a mildly interesting film. When she noticed Leta, she raised her brows and nodded her head towards Fiearius.

Whether the gesture was a suggestion or permission, she wasn’t sure, but Leta knew she was right, regardless. She took a step closer towards the man and gently laid her hand on his arm. “Listen, Fiear.” She kept her voice soft. “Even if it’s just a thread, even if nothing comes of it, it’s worth pursuing. If we can eliminate the last Councillor, there’ll be no central person left to command the Society forces and as far as Carthis is concerned, they’ll win the war in the chaos. Even if we can’t find him, Carthis will go for it and right now? That’s what’s most important.” He finally met her gaze when she finished, “Best case scenario, we dismantle the Society leadership for good. Worst case? We delay Carthis’ plans and have a bit more time to figure out a better move.”

For what seemed like ages, Fiearius just stared at her, regulating his breathing and saying nothing. She saw his left arm twitch a little, still experiencing the aftershocks of his recent injuries. His bad eye looked right through her. Finally, he sighed.

“Aela kept documents. Records. Things that she shouldn’t have had copies of. The idea was that if we ever got off planet, she could use them as blackmail to keep us safe.” He rolled his eyes. “Could have come in handy. They’re probably still under the floor of our apartment where she left them. I don’t know what’s in there. I never looked. But--” He shrugged and trailed off.

“There might be something,” Leta agreed. “Maybe we can find out what Project Firestorm was. They’re on Satieri? We can work with Carthis to get there and find them.”

Fiearius nodded slowly, glancing off at the wall. “Only one problem. Not sure I want to know…”

Leta provided him with a weak smile. She didn’t have any words of comfort or reassurance to give. This wouldn’t be easy or pain free and given the subject matter they were investigating, it had the likelihood of being quite awful for him. But as unenthused as he was and as guilty as Leta felt for pushing the matter, if the alternative was watching Carthis finish their war the most uncivilized way they knew how, she knew it was for the best.

“We should go tell Gates.”

“Right,” Fiearius agreed, swallowing the lump in his throat and hardening himself. “Let’s go get this over with.” He headed for the door and Leta made to follow him, but Quin spoke up.

“Actually, ya mind stayin’ a spell, doc?”

Leta paused in the doorway to look back at her. Then she looked at Fiearius who just shrugged anad said, “I can handle it, don’t worry,” and headed off towards the airlock. Leta watched him go before reentering the room.

She’d known Quin for a long time now. She’d had meetings with Quin, conversations with Quin, she’d even drank with Quin, but she had never, not until this moment, been alone with Quin. It was only just now, in this room, that she realized just how much of a presence the woman had. It was Fiearius’ quarters they stood in. And truly, they were on the Beacon so they belonged to Corra and Finn. But right now, Quin stood in it so confidently that Leta could not imagine this whole ship belonging to anybody but the woman before her at any point in time in its history.

“Sure, what do you need?” she asked, feeling more self-conscious than she liked to.

Quin didn’t immediately answer. She looked Leta up and down. She unfolded her arms and clasped them behind her back. And then she said, “I need you to go to Satieri.”

Leta frowned. “I--Well I was already planning to, but --”

Quin held up her hand and Leta instantly closed her mouth out of some strange survival instinct. “I need you to go to Satieri with Soliveré. To find this whatever it is he’s looking for and get him through it.”

“I--I don’t disagree,” Leta muttered, confused as to why this conversation was even happening. “But--why?”

“Because with all due respect to our dear admiral, brave and intelligent as he may or may not be, let’s not pretend that without a bit of steering every so often, he’d run himself right into the ground. And from what I’ve seen so far, you’re the best candidate for the job. You might even be the only one pointing him in a direction he actually agrees with. So. I’d like you on the ground with him for this one.”

Nothing Quin was saying was news to Leta, though she’d never heard it said so frankly before. Still, the question remained. “Why are you telling me this?”

There was a momentary twitch of irritation in Quin’s brow, but nonetheless, she explained, “Because the damn fool has it in his head that you want nothing to do with him. And look, honey, I don’t know what the state of your relationship is at the moment, nor, honestly, do I give two shits, but now ain’t the time for squabbles and I couldn’t care less about your pride, either of ya. He ain’t gonna ask ya to go with him, but you’re gonna go anyway, alright?”

There was a lapse of silence as Leta gazed at Quin, finally understanding what this was about and finding herself at a loss for words. Fiearius was still bitter that she’d asked for distance weeks ago? So much so that he’d told Quin about it? So much so that he thought, even after Ellegy, that Leta wouldn’t have his back in the upcoming crux of this whole war?

She didn’t know whether to be offended or amused.

Finally, she decided on the latter. “It’s funny,” she mused in a breathy laugh as Quin narrowed her eyes on her, “that you think him not asking was going to stop me from going.”

It took a moment, but slowly, a smirk twisted into Quin’s lips. “I always knew I liked you, Adler.”

Leta chuckled and replied, “Thanks, I always liked you too.”

To which Quin shrugged indifferently and said, “I ain’t here for your approval.”

Leta nodded in appreciation. “Exactly.”

----------------

“Oh no! Look out!"

Cyrus gasped and ducked under cover as something went flying over his head and hit the wall. “We’re under attack! Where’s our ammunition?”

Addy, to the left of him, looked over in alarm. “We gave it all to the enemy!” she despaired. “What are we going to do?”

Another projectile was launched right over them. They were doomed, backed into a corner and out of options. “We’re going to have to surrender,” Cyrus told his lover grimly and she provided him a horrifying look of sorrow. “We have no choice. We’ll have to give ourselves over to Great and Powerful Dark Wizard and--”

“Darkness Wizard!” came a shrill correction from the other side of the room.

“Sorry, Great and Powerful Darkness Wizard,” Cyrus reiterated in total seriousness, “And hope for the best.”

“Oh my,” cried Addy, leaning against the couch she hid behind, surrounded by the plush toys that had been viciously lobbed at her. “If only we had someone to save us.”

Both of them waited for a moment in silent expectation, but the room was quiet. Cyrus frowned. Addy glanced over her shoulder. Cyrus said it again. “If only we had someone to save us!”

This time, there was some muffled noises, pattering feet, the sounds of cloth being moved about and finally, a tiny person clambering up onto the furniture above their heads.

“I’ll save you!” shouted Kalli, her hands on her hips and the purple and silver shambles of a costume haphazardly wrapped around her.

Addy gasped and threw her hand onto Cyrus’ chest, looking up in admiration. “The Mighty Dragon of the North! She’s here to rescue us!”

“Go Mighty Dragon! Defeat the Darkness Wizard!” cried Cyrus as Kalli, nay, the Mighty Dragon, leapt off the couch and ran across the room to tackle the bear dressed loosely in Cyrus’ clothing that had presumably been behind the attacks.

“Yes, go fight the wizard,” Addy whispered in Cyrus’ ear, sidling up to his side and letting her hand slide south from his chest. “And I’ll take the prince.”

“Doesn’t the hero get the boy in the end?” Cyrus asked, turning himself towards her and looping his arms around her waist.

Addy shrugged her shoulder towards where their daughter was still furiously wrestling a stuffed bear. “Ya snooze ya lose,” she cooed and closed the distance between their lips.

The kiss, warm and sultry and ever so enticing, however, only lasted up until Kalli was suddenly above them again grimacing. “Ew, gross.” She stuck out her tongue and Addy laughed as she broke the kiss to look up at her.

“Did you win?”

“Of course!”

“Know what to do now then?”

Kalli let out a long dramatic groan, dropping her head and her hands in utter defeat. “Clean up…” she grumbled, kicking a misplaced couch cushion as she retreated to pick up the array of toys and clothes and miscellaneous furniture she’d thrown across the room in the heat of battle. “But I saved you!” she tried, a note of desperation in her tone.

“And we’re very thankful,” said Addy, standing up and helping Cyrus to his feet. “But does the Mighty Dragon of the North want her people to live in squalor?”

The little girl sighed heavily. “No…”

“Then?”

“Clean up…”

As Kalli resigned herself to her task, Cyrus started to lend a hand and Addy sat back down in front of her console, where she’d been when this whole attack had begun. Over her shoulder, Cyrus could see images of ships on the screen. Very very old ships. Ever since Corra had found a hint that the missing puzzle piece in the Transmitter mystery was a ship made from the Ark, they’d been reading everything they could to locate one. Ships didn’t just disappear, after all. Even if they were torn apart, those pieces went somewhere. It was just a matter of finding out where.

But right now? After everything that had happened yesterday with Dez and Fiearius and Leta and the hours long discussion about the state of the war, the Transmission wasn’t exactly on Cyrus’ mind.

Pushing one last couch cushion into place with his knee and leaving Kalli to finish the rest, Cyrus sauntered over behind Addy and wrapped his arms around her, leaning his chin on her shoulder.

“Found anything?” he asked, just because it seemed like the right thing to say. Of course she hadn’t. She would have told him if she had. But it was easier than bringing up what he actually wanted to talk about.

Addy shook her head. “Nothing yet.”

“Hm.” Cyrus squeezed her a little and tried to form some words. Just a couple. None came.

Fortunately, Addy knew him far too well. “What’s on your mind, Cy?”

“Satieri,” he blurted out before he could second-guess himself. Addy turned away from the console and looked up at him, curious. “I mean. Going to Satieri,” he continued. “Since I guess that’s on the agenda. Maybe. From what Fiear was saying last night. They might be going to Satieri soon.”

“Yeah, he did make it sound that way,” Addy admitted, shifting her body beneath his arms to face him. “You thinking about going with him?”

Cyrus swallowed the lump in his throat. “Yeah?” was his first answer. “Well, no,” was his second. “Thinking about it, yes. But--going to Satieri? It’s dangerous. Really dangerous. And--I don’t want to dictate any of this or force us to--not that I’d force us to--”

“Cy?” Addy smiled at him kindly. “Use sentences.”

He chuckled nervously and met her stare. “I just--I know this is important. And a free Satieri is what we wanted all along. And you said you wanted to be more involved and I don’t want to hold you back from that. If there’s any point to be involved, this would be it, right? So--about Satieri. It’s dangerous. And honestly it scares the crap out of me. But if you want to help, if you want to be a part of it, we’ll do it.”

Addy watched him as he stumbled through his explanation, quiet and pensive and patient. She continued to do so even after he’d finished. But finally, she smiled and lifted her hands to his cheeks. “Oh Cy-Cy. You are sweet and adorable and you heard me and that means so much, but--” A light chuckle passed her lips. “Marching into the midst of battle with your brother to free Satieri was definitely not what I meant.”

Cyrus couldn’t deny the relief that flooded through him. “No?”

“We’re nerds, sweetie,” Addy laughed. “Not warriors. I want to be involved, I want to be present and aware and doing something that helps if possible, but I don’t want to be dead. I trust Fiear and Leta and the others to do right by Satieri. I believe in what they’re doing. But I’m perfectly happy to root for them from the sidelines over here.” She gestured to the room around them. “If something comes up, something that caters to our specific talents, then by all means, let’s help where we can. But for now?” She leaned forward to kiss him briefly. “We’re all good where we are.”

Cyrus took a moment to let his emotions catch up to where his head was at. Finally, he exhaled heavily. “Thank the gods.”

Addy let out a long chuckle and turned back around towards the console. “No, thank me, for not being as delusional as you to think we could handle covert ops to home. Now get a console and help me find this signal booster.”

Cyrus didn’t need to be told twice. He sighed again, his contentedness meter filling back up, and turned around to get back to work. But instead, he turned around to find Kalli standing at his feet, looking up at Addy’s screen.

“Freeship!” the girl exclaimed, pointing at it.

“What?” He glanced at Addy who shrugged and reminded, “Did you finish picking up your toys?”

Kalli ignored her and said again, “Freeship, freeship!”

“Both of you and your lack of sentences,” Addy muttered.

“What’s ‘freeship’?” Cyrus asked her and Kalli rolled her eyes and groaned.

“Freeship! With the trees that hang from the sky,” she explained in entirely uncertain terms. “The trees and the sharp bits I can’t touch.”

Cyrus stared down at his daughter, completely at a loss. When she’d been too little to talk, he’d wished she could master words to tell them what she wanted or needed. He’d been foolish to hope that would help…

Addy looked just as lost as he did, but just as he was about to give up and assume Kalli was just playing one of her games again, a spark of memory. A memory of hanging gardens that Kalli had been fascinated by and a lot of debris that Cyrus had warned her to steer clear of. He swung his attention to the console in alarm. It couldn’t be. How the hell would she even recognize it anyway? They’d visited once many months ago.

But as he looked at the screen and tilted his head, he too recognized the shape of the ship Addy was researching. “Holy shit…”

“Cyrus!” Addy scolded at once as Kalli laughed and muttered, “P’ahti said a dirty word.”

“S-sorry,” Cyrus apologized quickly, but waved off his girlfriend’s anger. “But look at this. Adds, we know where this ship is.” She frowned at him, but he was on the verge of laughing. “It’s the Conduit.”

----------

Fiearius was running over what he was going to say all the way through the Beacon’s airlock, down the halls of the Carthian warship and right up to the door of Gates’ office. The plan was still shaping and morphing in his head, but presumably by the time he spit it out, it would make sense.

Hopefully.

“Admiral.” The door slid open, catching Fiearius off-guard as he was halfway through the speech in his head again.

He looked over at Gates’ tired eyes and felt a touch of pity for the man. Or perhaps just solidarity. He’d come here preparing for a fight, but now that he saw his counterpart, just as exhausted and run down as Fiearius felt (though perhaps a little less bruised and beaten physically), he didn’t feel quite so combative.

That is, until Gates said, “Late as always, I see.”

Fiearius’ brows snapped together into a frown as he pushed past the man into the room. Of Gates’ offices, it was the smallest he’d seen yet with a desk barely crammed into the tiny space and only a few boxes of personal items still unpacked.

“Bet you’re missing the CORS right about now,” Fiearius muttered as he looked around for a chair. There was only one, a rickety-looking metal thing with one of those boxes on it. He’d stay standing instead.

“It was an unfortunate loss for the greater good,” Gates admitted which was verbatim the Carthian press release about it. Closing the door, he shuffled past Fiearius and leaned his palms on the desk. “How are your injuries?”

Fiearius glanced down at the bruised scar that was forming from where he’d been shot, a nasty looking thing. “I’ve had worse,” he lied.

“And what about --” He gestured vaguely towards Fiearius’ face. The eye, of course, which people couldn’t stop commenting on.

“Doctor said the nerve got fucked up from the electrical shock that brought me back. There’s some surgery they could try, but it’s basically gone.” Fiearius shrugged. Of all the things he could have lost over his lifetime, an eye hardly seemed the worst of it. “Doesn’t bug me much.”

“Does it affect your performance though?”

The question gave Fiearius pause and he couldn’t stop himself from shooting a glare at the older man who probably hadn’t fired a gun or raided a base or headed an operation of his own in over a decade.

“No.”

Thankfully, Gates didn’t argue. “Good, because we’re definitely going to need you for the next phase.”

“Right, I heard you lot were holding meetings behind my back,” Fiearius grumbled good-naturedly, though Gates may have thought he was serious considering his response.

“With the aftermath of Ellegy, we couldn’t wait for your recovery to convene the council. We needed action and we did extend an invitation to Ms. Utada in your absence, but she did not attend any of the meetings.”

Fiearius snorted a laugh. “Yeah she hates you.” Gates provided him a glare that read ‘the feeling’s mutual,’ but he kept the thought to himself.

“Regardless, we’ve decided to move forward with an action I hope you and your fleet will get on board with,” Gates went on, sitting down now and tapping the screen of his console to power it on. “We’ve tracked the Ellegian fleet that took down the CORS. About half of it reported back to Satieri, the last remaining Society stronghold, but another half seems to be holding point in the wreckage for reasons we can’t determine.” Fiearius was busy thumbing through a stack of papers, but he flicked his eyes towards the admiral briefly and held his tongue. Carthis didn’t need to know that the reason was Dez. At least not yet.

“We have reason to believe both the Ellegian fleet and the Satieran fleet are regrouping as we speak to launch an attack on our occupation of Ellegy. With the Society and now the rebellion joined forces on the ground, an air assault would end us entirely. With nowhere close by to retreat to anymore, we need to launch an offensive and quickly. We’ve got enough bombers to--”

“Alright,” Fiearius cut him off suddenly, dropping the papers back in the box and turning to face the desk. “Let me just stop you right there. We’re not bombing anything.”

Gates had paused with his mouth open and his hand in the air. He watched Fiearius, neither surprised nor irritated by the interruption, but curious. He lowered his hand. “I assumed you might say as much. We’ve weighed our options, admiral. Sacrificing the safety of the civilians of Ellegy or Satieri is hardly ideal, but with no other course of action, we must--”

“No,” Fiearius interrupted again and this time Gates laced his hands together in front of him and waited patiently. “We’re not sacrificing anybody. We don’t need to.” He took a deep breath and stepped towards him. “I found the final Councillor.”

Gates’ brows lifted in interest. “Oh?”

Fiearius considered amending the statement. Well, not exactly found. More like figured out something that may help to find him. A possible clue. But that was hardly very convincing, was it? So instead, he nodded.

“And where is he?"

“Satieri.”

Gates stared at him for a moment and then looked down at his console and shook his head. “We can’t breach Satieri’s defenses. We’ll have to move forward with our plan and you can deal with the Councillor afterwards--”

“No.” Fiearius stepped forward again and put his fist down on Gates’ desk. “We don’t have to breach it. Not entirely. I just need to get the Dionysian on the ground.”

“Which would require the rest of the fleet to clear out a path in the air defense. Which we can’t do. We don’t have enough firepower to battle the Satieran barricade head-on, we--”

“I’m not asking you to battle them.” Gates flicked his eyes back towards him and Fiearius could see just the hint of interest behind the mask of skepticism. “I just need you to cover me. Distract them, don’t engage, just enough for me to slip through. When I’m done, you warp out of there to safety. You don’t have to win, you just have to survive.”

That hint of interest, Fiearius could tell, was starting to inch towards belief. But then he asked, “How long do you need?”

Fiearius grimaced. “A few hours.”

Gates dropped his head and stood up, leaning on the desk again. “That’s a long time to survive a superior fleet barraging us.”

“I know, you’re just gonna have to get creative,” Fiearius countered. “But you can do it. We can do this. I can do this. And once it’s done?” He lifted his hands in a shrug. “The Society can’t function as a unit without a commander. That superior fleet?” He dropped his hands again dramatically. “It’s gonna fall apart. I didn’t just start out on this stupid mission for my health, Kaiser. Dismantle the Council, dismantle the Society, dismantle the war. It’s still the best plan and you know it. We can make it work.”

Gates stared at him, his jawline tight and his fists clenched against the wooden desk. Finally, he sighed and growled, “Fine. I guess you haven’t let us down this far.” Fiearius opened his mouth to express his gratitude, but Gates spoke over him. “But! You’re gonna have to convince the war council yourself.”

A smirk danced across Fiearius’ face. “My pleasure.”
The moment felt -- a little bit -- like going back in time.

Inside Corra’s quarters on the Beacon, Leta slumped into the tremendously comfortable couch with her feet propped up. Her head leaned on Corra’s shoulder warmly, although it was Corra who was requesting advice and comfort at the moment. Leta did not mind: she’d nearly talked herself hoarse in the last week, catching Corra up on Fiearius, his injuries. Liam …

“I’m just not sure, y’know?” Corra was saying in regards to the daunting topic of future plans. “I know Riley and Alyx want an answer if I’m gonna stick around or not, but I don’t know. I can’t make up my mind.”

Leta nodded in solidarity. The Future was a terrifying notion for all of them. Currently, with Fiearius discharged from the hospital and operating at about 70%, they were headed towards a Carthian warship in the orbit of Ellegy to meet with Admiral Gates to find out what might be their next steps, but Leta didn’t expect much. She felt just as up in the air as Corra did.

Still, she tried to be helpful. “Well maybe you should weigh out the pros and cons.” Simple advice from a simpler time, she mused internally. “Why would you want to stay on the Beacon and why would you not?”

“Well.” Corra sucked in a breath. “I feel like my time away from the Beacon was really good for me. I can take on the jobs I want to do, the important ones, without having to worry about supporting a whole ship full of people. I can move more freely, more easily, more stealthily. I was able to do a whole lot of good out there on my own and I want to continue to do that.”

Leta waited for more, but Corra went silent so she prompted, “So why do you want to stay?”

She stayed suspiciously quiet and, Leta couldn’t help but notice, her cheeks turned just the slightest bit pink. Finally, she shook her head and said harshly, “Stupid reasons. You’re right, I should go.”

“I didn’t say that,” Leta laughed, nudging her with her elbow. “No reason’s stupid if it’s important to you. What is it?”

Corra opened her mouth to answer, but before she got the chance, the doors slid open -- without a knock of warning -- and footsteps marched angrily into the room. Leta was not surprised to look up and find they belonged to Fiearius.

“Good, you’re here,” he said sharply, locking his remaining good eye on her as he strode her way with purpose.

“You could have knocked,” Corra muttered, but didn’t press the matter when Fiearius shoved a tablet at them in lieu of an explanation.

Leta sat up a little to get a better look at what was on the screen, but as soon as she saw the familiar headline and byline, she lost interest and settled her head back into the crook of Corra’s arm.

“Have you seen what your damned boyfriend wrote?” Fiearius demanded, all frustration and fury. It was about all he had been since he’d gotten back on his feet and started paying attention to his war again. As pissed as he constantly was about the slew of bad news he’d been catching up on, Leta wouldn’t deny that she was glad to have him back in the arena, at the very least to feel like there was someone on the same page as her. Someone to share her anger. There was certainly plenty to be angry about, with Liam Andrews’ Carthian-commissioned article only one amongst them.

Leta, however, didn’t much have the time nor willpower to focus on that particular grievance any more than she already had. So it was with a calm sigh that she admitted, “I have. And he’s not my boyfriend.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Fiearius’ demeanor falter from anger to confusion. He mumbled, “Wh--” and then Leta felt Corra make some sort of gesture behind her. Telling him to drop it, she assumed. It was a sweet sentiment, but unnecessary. She had only lingering, distant sadness now -- Corra had coaxed her through most of her anger earlier this week. Now, Leta felt mostly at peace about what had happened. Especially now that he’d actually published the atrocity apparently.

“I read an early draft of it,” she explained, swinging her feet back to the floor and sitting up finally. “We haven’t spoken since so I didn’t know he went through with it.”

“Oh,” was all Fiearius could manage. He furrowed his brow, looking a little taken aback, probably having at least briefly planned some scathing speech about how terrible of a person Liam was that was now rendered moot. It took him a moment to regroup.

“Well this is fuckin’ shit,” he finally said, throwing the tablet on the cushion beside Leta. “Does he have any idea what this kind of crap’s gonna do?”

“He knows,” Leta said. “He definitely knows.”

Corra snaked her hand around Leta’s back to pick up the tablet and look over it herself as Fiearius paced back and forth in front of them. “I knew this was gonna happen. They don’t want to deal with it. They don’t want to fight, but they don’t want to retreat, they’re just gonna get the public on their side and bomb the hell out of it ‘till it’s clear enough to stick a flag in.”

“That’s probably the intention, yes.”

“God, ‘the people of Ellegy have been swept up in the Society’s systemic hatred of Carthis and its people and seem to stop at nothing to riot against them even if it means dismantling their planet piece by piece,’” Corra read from the article with a grimace. “This is nasty.”

“It makes it sound like the rebellion fuckin’ tricked Carthis into invading just to attack them,” Fiearius groaned. “That they were Society all along and we walked into their trap.”

“I doubt it’s just Liam who’s writing things like this,” Leta added. “Maybe not yet, but just watch the news feeds over the next few days. It’ll all come out and it’s only a matter of time before Ellegy’s in real trouble.”

“Ellegy’s already fucked,” Fiearius said bluntly. “I’m more concerned about Satieri.”

Leta felt herself go still. “Satieri? We haven’t even won Ellegy--”

Fiearius was already shaking his head. “And yet Satieri is what Gates wants to talk to me about tomorrow morning. This?” He gestured to the tablet still in Corra’s hand. “Just confirms it to me.”

“They--we--can’t win Satieri,” Leta said slowly.

“Not strategically, no,” Fiearius agreed. “Not like we won Vescent or Ascendia or how we attacked Ellegy, but if we’re not attempting to preserve what we’re attacking? If we’ve decided the entire populace is terrible and against us--” he waved at the article again, “--and can be sacrificed for the greater good? Well.” He shrugged helplessly. “Becomes a bit more possible, doesn’t it?”

“That can’t happen,” Leta said at once, a note of desperation in her voice. This conversation was starting to feel familiar. She’d had it with Liam. Everything was going wrong and no one was fixing it. “That can’t happen--”

“It can’t,” Fiearius interrupted sharply. “And it won’t. Not while I’m still fuckin’ standing, that’s for damn sure. They’re gonna wish they left me on Ellegy to die.”

Leta felt herself smiling, despite herself. “Well, they might have wanted to. I didn’t really give them a choice.”

Fiearius grinned back. “Gonna wish they left you behind too then.”

Leta felt Corra watching her curiously, all the knowingness of a friend in her eyes, and her cheeks grew a little too warm. If Fiearius noticed, he didn’t show it.

“Don’t worry, Carthis ain’t gonna touch Satieri with their grimy greedy fingers,” he said. “Not my home. They’re just feeling backed in a corner. I’ll think of an alternative. We’ll figure this out.”

Leta was about to express her trust that they could find a solution when Corra’s COMM beeped once and Finn’s voice emerged from it.

“Cap’n? Beacon’s givin’ me some funny readings. Could be a stealth ship. Wanna check it out for me?”

Corra cast a glance at each of them in turn before replying to Finn’s message, “Yeah, I’ll be right down.” She sidled off the couch and headed for the door, leaving Fiearius and Leta alone for the first time since he’d managed to drag himself out of the Carthian hospital.

“So, ah -- ” Fiearius glanced toward the door, probably wondering if he should follow Corra out. Something, however, made him stay. And then ask, as awkwardly as always when discussing feelings of all things, “You alright?”

It was always a funny sight, the great fearsome space pirate showing hesitant concern for her. “I’m fine.” Amusement colored her tone. “My pride’s a little wounded, but I’m fine.”

Thankfully, this seemed to bring Fiearius -- the normal Fiearius -- back. He provided her a skeptical frown. “You let that asshole wound your pride? Bullshit. That doesn’t sound like you.”

Leta laughed. “He accused me of being too self-righteous.” Leta paused. “He’s not wrong,” she had to admit.

“Well--” he began, but then seemed to think the better of it. “He’s a piece of shit anyway. Good riddance.”

A silence pooled between them, full of uncertainty. She could think of nothing she wanted less than to talk to Fiearius about her failed relationship. At the same time, though, despite all of her misgivings and perhaps thanks to the lack of sleep she’d been getting lately, she couldn’t help but begin --

“It’s funny though, isn’t it? Ren and I fell apart because he thought I’d lost my way amongst pirates and criminals. That my sense of right and wrong had slipped. But my last two significant relationships ended because of the opposite.” She snorted a laugh at the irony of it. “So I don’t know. Am I self-righteous? Does it matter? No, probably not.” She looked up at him to find his eye trained on her, watching every movement with what looked like careful scrutiny.

Well this had been a mistake. Could he possibly make her any more embarrassed for her brief moment of weakness?

“Sorry, you can go, you definitely don’t need to listen to me rant.” She waved him towards the door. “I’m fine, really.” But Fiearius didn’t walk away. Instead, he sat down next to her.

“I know you are.”

“I’m not upset about him,” Leta told him affirmatively. “Or anything he said.”

“Didn’t think you were.”

Leta clenched her hands in her lap and let out a sigh. “The whole thing just got me thinking too much. About the things that are really important to me. The things that matter and the things I can’t compromise on. Things like --” She picked up the tablet Corra had left beside her and tossed it onto the furthest cushion, her expression crinkled in disgust. “That. And then--things I can compromise on, things I can forgive. Or things I should have forgiven.” She glanced over at him, feeling more nervous than she cared to admit, though he only gave a thoughtful nod as he propped his chin in his hands and stared off at the wall opposite them.

Before she could consider the implications, she asked, “Did I do the right thing?” Now, he glanced over at her, questioning. “You know, back then. When you and me--” She hesitated and shook her head. “I know, it’s ancient history now. It doesn’t matter, but I can’t stop thinking about it. When I left. Should I have stayed?”

Fiearius considered her for a long, almost uncomfortably long time. She found herself watching his clouded eye because it was easier to meet than the one that searched her intently. Finally, he drew a deep breath and said, “Well. I wish you had,” which was an answer that threw Leta off not because she hadn’t thought it was true but moreover that he wouldn’t say it if it was. But only moments later he met her gaze again and said firmly, “But no. No, you shouldn’t have.”

When Leta just stared at him, lost for words, he sighed again and said, “Look, you want my opinion? You always expect the best out of people because you always give the best out of yourself. And sometimes, for a lot of us, myself definitely included--” He grimaced. “--it’s really hard to meet those standards. But. That’s on us. Not you. Stick to your guns, they’re all you’ve got in this shithole of a Span.”

Catching Leta a little off-guard, Fiearius brought his fingers up to her chin and lifted her head to face him. “Don’t you ever change for anybody, okay?”

She provided him a weak smile, but couldn’t conjure an appropriate response. She wasn’t even sure what an honest answer would be. She couldn’t place what she was feeling in that moment, let alone vocalize it. So he stepped in for her, reaching past her to grab that tablet again. “Oh and fuck this guy. He doesn’t deserve you.”

Leta snorted a laugh as Fiearius got to his feet. “So I shouldn’t fuck him then?”

Fiearius paused and looked down at her curiously before letting out a sharp laugh and shrugging dramatically. “Who am I to tell you what to do?”

Suddenly, the COMM on Corra’s wall lit up and its owner’s voice asked, “Hey is Fiear still up there?”

“Whatcha need, princess?” Fiearius called back.

“Not sure, but this hail we’re getting? We--uh--think it’s for you?”

-------------------

As it turned out, the strangely masked signal was for him and once Fiearius got to the bridge and heard the message himself, he was unsurprised. “Bit of a rude way to say hello,” Finn had remarked and Fiearius had simply shook his head. It was just like Dez.

The whole lot of them (Leta, Corra, Finn, even Cyrus and Addy who they’d passed along the way) joined him as he watched Dez’s sleek black ship dock in the Beacon’s hangar from the viewport above, curious as to what this was about. Leta knew, Fiearius got the feeling. She’d mentioned she had spoken with Desophyles briefly when she’d given him the Verdant CID back, but insisted he hear the rest of the story from the man himself. Fiearius hadn’t sought him out on purpose. He’d show up on his own eventually.

And here he was, marching down the ramp into the pressurized hangar with all his usual pomp and circumstance, acting as though nothing was out of the ordinary. Fiearius and his entourage met him halfway across the bay and gave no word of greeting. He crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

Dez stopped a good three meters away and seemed to size Fiearius up with his gaze. “You’re looking better than when I last saw you,” he surmised at last.

Fiearius responded with a tight, humorless smile. “No thanks to you.”

If Dez cared, he didn’t show it. Instead, he moved on, business-like as ever. “I have much to catch you up on.”

“I bet.”

“Shall we speak privately?”

Fiearius glanced to his side at Leta. She looked straight back at him and frowned dully. Don’t you dare try and send me away, he imagined her saying. So he turned back to Dez and shrugged. “Nope.”

Dez hesitated for a moment, examining the gathering one by one, perhaps wondering how each was going to affect whatever it was he had to say. If Leta didn’t shut him down immediately, Cyrus probably would. Finn and Corra were notorious for pointing out anything that was illogical and Addy, though typically polite and kind, didn’t have the time or patience for bullshit. He was outnumbered and he knew it.

Still, he didn’t have a choice so finally he relented. “Very well. I suppose I should start by clearing up what happened on Ellegy.”

“You somehow convinced the rebellion to betray Carthis and blow up the city for you,” Fiearius put in helpfully.

“Blow up the city for them,” Dez corrected. “But yes. Essentially. We needed leverage to bargain the return of the planet once Carthis’ invasion was complete.”

“Sure, sure, stupid plan, but I got that part.” It was all over the news, how could he not? They didn’t know it was Dez behind it, of course, but putting the pieces together was easy enough. What he cared more about was the incident that had gnawed at him for the past two weeks. Those two words that had been the last thing he’d heard before he slipped into the cold embrace of death.

“Tell me about Varisian.”

Dez’s stony exterior faltered for only a moment. Had the question surprised him? Had he forgotten about that piece of the puzzle? Or was the sound of her name just something he wasn’t prepared for?

A half second later, his answer was typically collected however. “She wasn’t meant to kill you,” he clarified. “That was an unfortunate side effect of bad timing. You weren’t supposed to even be there when she arrived. Her mission was to gain access to the Councillor’s chambers under the guise of protecting her and--”

“So I was right,” Fiearius cut him off. “She was working with you.”

Dez blinked at him. “Yes.” As though this was obvious and required no additional explanation. Fiearius barely stopped himself from gaping.

“What. The fuck.”

“Yes, she was working with me,” he confirmed again, apparently confused by the apparent need for elaboration.

Fortunately, Leta stepped in before Fiearius’ frustration got the better of him. “Since Vescent, right?” It sounded like a guess. “The two of you captured her on Vescent and you took her--somewhere. And convinced her to work with you?”

He nodded. “I had her in my custody for some time. We found that we agreed on many things. But we both knew she was still more useful in her current role, staying close to the Council. We parted ways, but remained in contact to collaborate on operations from either side.”

“Wait a minute,” put in Cyrus, stepping forward from behind his brother. “If she was working for you, why the hell did she keep trying to set everyone on fire?”

“She wasn’t. Her tasks were to assist the missions. She lead us to the Ascendian Councillor in the bunker. She convinced Calimore to provide his research. She--”

“She burned half my arm off!” Fiearius snapped suddenly, raising his gnarled forearm for all to see.

Dez just shrugged. “She didn’t know you were going to stick around once the base was burning down. She was just trying to direct you to where you needed to be. The fire thing was her idea, I don’t know where that came from.” Fiearius eyed him skeptically until he admitted, “Alright, I may have told her the Pieter Roland story. And she still never liked you.”

“Hell of a way to show it…” Finn muttered behind him.

“She was, however, somewhat singular in that opinion,” Dez went on briskly, which was perhaps the weirdest way anyone had ever told Fiearius that he was likeable, a strange statement in and of itself. “Amongst defectors and doubters, you are quite popular.”

“Well,” Fiearius snapped, unimpressed. “I’m flattered.”

“You shouldn’t be. It has little to do with you and more to do with what you represent,” Dez corrected and it was all Fiearius could do to keep himself from slapping his palm to his forehead. “Regardless, those amongst the Society are looking to you. Which is exactly why I did what I did on Ellegy.”

Finally, they were getting to the meat of it. “And what, exactly, did you do?”

“I used your Verdant chip to send out a message in your name to anyone within the Society willing to listen and consider joining the defectors.”

Fiearius’ arms dropped back down to his sides as he stared at him in disbelief, “You did what?” Shocked, he spun to Leta. “But--you had the CID when--”

“He had it for a while,” Leta admitted, not quite meeting his eyes. “You were dying, I had to focus on that, not--”

“So you let him borrow it?!”

Now, she did meet his stare, angry and defiant. “I didn’t have a choice, Fiearius, he didn’t give me a choice.”

“And even if I had, you made the right one,” Dez put in, pulling attention back his way. “Without my intervention -- well, your intervention -- the battle would have turned very quickly away from any side we favored. It would have turned into a slaughter. As it stands, Ellegy is liberated from outside clutches both Society and Carthian. The Rogue Verdant finally stepped up to his role and commanded the Society forces that have long looked to him for guidance, leading to the betterment of an entire planet.”

“You commanded the Society forces to join with the rebellion?” came Addy’s quiet demand. “You?”

“Technically he did.” Dez pointed to Fiearius.

“And they just....listened?” Corra asked, skepticism dripping from every word.


“Many of them, yes.”

“Why?” asked Finn. “Why suddenly switch sides just because you--Fiear told them to?”

“Because I gave them compelling reasons.”

Finally, Fiearius, who had been massaging the part of his temple that began hurting as soon as Dez started talking, snapped his eyes open. “What did you tell them?” There was an unfortunate note of panic in his voice.

Dez regarded him with what he could only assume was pride. “That the Council was decimated, that Carthis is closing in on their empirical endgame and that if they followed me--you--we could stand up and bring in a new age of the Society.” He shrugged. “Pretty straightforward.”

Fiearius, for quite some time, could do nothing but stare at the man standing before him. This fucker, who he’d known since the days of playgrounds and scraped knees, now trying to, once again, manipulate the course of his life to fit into his agenda. New age of the Society? Straightforward? The longer he stood there, stunned into silence, the more the anger boiled within him until at last, it exploded.

“Are you fucking crazy?!” He felt Cyrus jump away from him in surprise. “What the hell, Dez?!” He felt like hitting him. Hard. Very very hard. “Of all the fucked up things you’ve done--” He raised his fist and was about to give into his rage and lunge towards him, but a hand caught his arm and held it back.

It was Leta. She was staring up at him, her eyes ablaze and it gave him a moment’s pause. Only a moment’s. “Let go.”

“Hear him out,” she countered at once, and for a second he knew he must have heard her incorrectly.

“Hear him out?” he repeated incredulously. “Hear him out. You. Are telling me to hear him--HIM--out? You?”

“Fiear, have you looked around lately? We’re in an impossible situation here. With everything that’s happening on every planet we’ve touched, things are not good and our outlook is even worse.” She swallowed hard and he got the feeling she was swallowing her pride too to even say this. “So you need to hear him out. Because we need to know every option we have.”

Stunned as he was, Fiearius stared back at her. Then he looked around. Corra was thoughtful, Cyrus looked nervous, Addy, worried. Finn gave him a helpless shrug. And Fiearius let out a sigh.

“Fine.” He turned back to Dez, his eyes narrowed into slits. “What’s your plan here? Make your point and make it quick.”

Dez, who did not seem even the slightest bit concerned at any of these proceedings, did just as he was told. “You take your place as Verdant and command the Society forces that will listen to overthrow Carthis in the regions they’ve invaded and free Satieri from Council rule.”

It sounded so simple like that. So easy. So, as he said, straightforward, that Fiearius was laughing quietly when he said, “You want me to betray Carthis.”

“I want you to not betray the Society,” Dez corrected and Fiearius frowned at him.

“Little late for that.”

“It’s not. You’ve betrayed the Council. You’ve betrayed the system. Perhaps you’ve betrayed your planet, but you’ve not betrayed the Society because that’s not what the Society is.”

“Sure, it’s really just a bunch of sunshine and rainbows, not like they kill innocent people or use drugs to indoctrinate populations or destroy planets or anything,” Cyrus mumbled.

“Under order of the Council, yes. In the current system, absolutely. But the Society isn’t those things, the Society is a network of citizens. Ordinary people. People like us.” He gestured to himself and Fiearius. “People like you.” He waved towards Leta. “It’s a body of people doing what they think is right or people doing what they think they have to in order to survive. They don’t need to be invaded and killed, they don’t even need to be liberated. They just need new leadership.”

It was a fancy speech, perhaps the fanciest he’d ever heard Dez give. So much so that he wondered if someone had coached him in it. Varisian maybe? Or one of his other followers? But fancy as it was, it didn’t put him at ease.

“And you think I should be that new leadership?”

“Absolutely. You’re the Verdant.”

“Not anymore I’m not,” he argued.


“Doesn’t matter. The people know you as their Verdant. You’re the most qualified. You’ve successfully commanded a fleet for half a decade. You know the intricacies of this conflict probably better than anyone. And they look to you already. Carthis made sure of that.”

Fiearius snorted in disbelief. “If you’re trying to sell me as the new leader of a free Society, I’m pretty sure joining up with Carthis and killing them all did the opposite.”

But Dez was shaking his head. “Carthis recruited you precisely because you’re sympathetic to the Society. They’ve used your image to prove that they’re not the merciless conquerors they are. Why would the Verdant, a man who understood what it was like on the inside of the Society, how hard it is to get out, team up with a government that didn’t have their best interests at heart? Then they put you in situations to prove that. How many times did you show mercy to agents who stood against you? How many did you save despite being on opposing sides? Whether they know it or not, they built your reputation for you.”

There was a part of Fiearius that thought maybe he was right about all this. Maybe this really was an option available to him, that he could control the good parts of the Society, the parts that weren’t brainwashed into servitude, and fix everything he’d done. Everything that Carthis had done.

And then there was the logical part.

“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Dez rolled his eyes. “Fiearius, what happened when Society defectors on Vescent surrendered to Carthis after the battle?”

Leta was the one who answered. “They were captured and imprisoned. Offered forgiveness and then locked away to be forgotten.”

“And how much of Vescent was part of the Society? Maybe eight percent? Ten max? They were still new there, still growing.” Dez fixed his stare on Fiearius and for the first time since he’d known him, he actually looked like he believed in something when he said, “What’s going to happen when Carthis takes over Ellegy? Or Satieri? Where that number is closer to sixty percent. What happens to a planet after sixty percent of its population is deemed criminal and disappears?”

Silence fell over the room and every pair of eyes was on Dez, but his stare was locked onto Fiearius, his jaw clenched and his fists balled at his side. “Things are coming to a head now in this war, we all know that,” he went on, his tone low and quiet. “There’s not much time left. You need to consider who you are and what you stand for. And if I can’t convince you, so be it. But you said it yourself. Under slightly different circumstances, you and I could still be back there on Satieri, getting assassination orders every afternoon and being home in time for dinner.” He lifted his hands helplessly. “Take the time you need. But there’s a flock of our kin and a fleet of ships awaiting your orders.”

Dez raised his hand to his forehead in a half-hearted salute before taking a few steps backwards and then turning back towards his ship, leaving the group in a hushed, hurried discussion of what he’d said. All except Fiearius, who could do little more than stare at the black ship as it rose off the hangar floor and sailed out into space.

He couldn’t hear what those around him were saying, whether they agreed, whether they thought the whole thing was crazy. He didn’t really want to. He only remembered they were still there when he felt a hand brush against his softly, a fleeting touch of warmth.

Leta was watching him, intense and serious. She asked the question he didn’t want to hear. The question he had no idea how to answer. “What are you going to do?”
Corra was so engrossed in reading that she didn’t even notice when she was no longer alone in the Beacon’s bridge. Even when Finn said a word of greeting and sat down in the seat beside her, she didn’t tear her eyes from the screen enough to pay attention. It was only when she felt a tap on her shoulder that she recognized his existence at all, primarily by jumping in her seat in surprise.

“Woah there, only me,” he insisted, holding up his hands in surrender as Corra scrambled to right herself in her chair. “Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on ya.”

“No, I’m sorry, I just--” She ran her hand through her hair and shook off the moment. Just wasn’t used to having other people around again, she almost said. “Just didn’t hear you come in,” she said instead.

Finn tapped his ear knowingly. “‘Cause I’m real quiet-like, that’s why.” Corra lifted her brows at him in interest and realized, as his breath mingled in the air in front of her, why the statement seemed an odd one.

“You smell like liquor and tobacco.” When he just grinned in response, Corra laughed, “I take it the job went well?”

Finn and Alyx had been out running a quick trade gig most of the afternoon. It had been too long since they’d had paying work, Alyx had said, as she arranged the setup. And Finn, who had seemed a bit bored watching Cyrus and Addy run experiments on the Transmitter or watching Corra read every relevant ancient legend and anecdote and record she could find, had readily agreed.

Apparently the task had been fruitful.

“Oh, very,” Finn cooed. “Even walked away with a bit of a bonus for speedy delivery.” He delved his hand into his pocket and pulled out a stack of credits he rubbed between his thumb and forefinger. It was, however, a small stack of credits which must have put some confusion on Corra’s face because he immediately amended, “I mean, there was more than this...But Alyx and I thought we deserved a bit of celebration so…” His voice trailed off.

“No judgment here,” Corra assured him through a chuckle. “Have a good time?”

She saw his glazed eyes frown and then perk up to focus on her. “Oh, yeah! That girl can drink. And talk.” He nodded slowly, his eyes moving to his hands in his lap as he muttered, “We talked about a lot of things…” Corra couldn’t fathom what was going on in that tipsy mind of his, but when he finally flicked his gaze back up to her, he steeled his expression (as best as he could anyway) and changed the subject abruptly, “So what’s so interesting, huh?” He nodded towards her console.

Well that was strange. Briefly, she wondered what Finn and Alyx had talked about. Her, clearly, if his intoxicated body language was to be believed. But she pushed it from her mind for the moment and instead relayed her own news.

“Well. Addy and Cy did some tests, right?” she began. “And they were telling me that they don’t know how the Transmitter can really transmit anything. It doesn’t have enough power.”

“And it’s tiny,” Finn added, trying to be helpful.

“Exactly, it’s tiny!” Corra agreed. “Which leads them to believe that it’s not meant to function on its own. To transmit its message, it needs something else. So I stopped looking for mentions of the Transmitter and instead started searching for mentions of something that could boost message signals. Boost them far enough to send something to the Origin.”

Finn nodded, though he seemed to be straining to pay attention. “To the Origin, right,” he repeated in a mumble, but moments later, a mental light switch must have clicked on. “Wait, so that’s definitely what it does then? Send something to the Origin.”

Corra grimaced and lifted her shoulders in a half shrug. “Not definitely. But it’s where all the stories point. And Addy says the message itself is some sort of generic SOS. The Transmitter doesn’t have any way to program its destination so we’re thinking it’s set to go somewhere specific. Is that the Origin? Maybe. It’s a working theory. And I may have found something to support it.”

Finn’s brows lifted in interest and Corra went on. “I was reading all these documents from the first Division War.” Her fingers tapped the screen of the console. “And in them, there’s records of these ships being used to defend Archeti. Ships they were nervous about using because they were so important, but they were out of options so they had to be risked. Ships that were made from the Ark itself.” To Corra, this was fascinating. Pieces of their entire civilization’s creation actually accounted for and not dismantled and lost like the rest?

Finn, however, didn’t seem too impressed. He blinked back at her emptily.

She kept going anyway, turning back to her console and reading from the screen, “Listen to this. This is documentation of a conversation between two Archetian generals during the war. They’re losing badly and one of them says, here it is, ‘We should consider sending for help’.” She glanced at Finn, hoping to see him sharing in some of her excitement. He wasn’t.

Corra was not deterred. “‘It’s too soon,’ says the other general. And the first one goes ‘it could be too late’-- blah blah, whatever, they argue for a bit, but here, this part. ‘Even if I agreed, how could we? All the ships capable of getting the message out are deployed.’ And the other one says, ‘dammit, I knew we shouldn’t have sent them in.’ And then they go on for a while longer, but this--” She pointed at the screen, bouncing a little in her chair. “Do you know what this means?”

Finn didn’t need to say no to tell her he didn’t. He said it anyway. “No?”

Rolling her eyes at the perfectly blank expression on his face, Corra jumped to her feet and started pacing the bridge. “It means, if I’m right, the Transmitter only works if connected to one of these ships, the ships made from the Ark and it probably does contact the Origin, because who else would Archeti call in the Division War? Everyone stood against them. And what else would require a special ship to send for help? And if the Transmitter can only work with one of those ships--” She stopped pacing and nodded firmly in her decision. “Just gotta find a ship.”

Behind her, Finn let out a long ‘hmm’ before finally asking, “And...where would you do that exactly?”

Corra’s excited grin faded a little. “Eh. Archeti would be my first guess, but…” That trail had run cold obviously. She spun back around to face him, unperturbed. “I don’t know yet. But it’s a start. And I’ll find one. I’ve got to.” She’d already gotten this far in chasing this thing’s source. She’d stolen it from a disgusting criminal, she’d traversed an ancient archive and she’d even lead a cult ritual in her honor. She sort of had to see it through at this point. And if she didn’t, the mystery would nag at her forever after.

But then Finn fixed her with a worrisome glance and asked, “Then what?”

Her determination faltered again. “Then--well. I guess I’ll have to figure out how it works.”

“Yeah, but then what?”

Corra eyed him curiously. “If you’re asking me whether or not I’m going to try calling the Origin, I don’t know if I really--”

“No, no, I don’t care about that,” Finn cut her off and though Corra felt a little affronted, she held her tongue as he got to his feet and took a few slow steps towards her. “I mean, what are you going to do after this is all finished? When you’ve figured it all out?”

After? Corra opened her mouth to respond and then promptly shut it again. She hadn’t considered yet what happened after. When all she managed was a, “Uh--” Finn jumped in, “I mean, you don’t have to figure it out right now. Alyx and I were just talkin’. ‘Bout you and the Beacon and all.”

So they had been discussing her. And given the state of things, she was fairly certain she knew why. “Look, Riley, if I’m overstaying my welcome,” she said hurriedly, “It’s okay, you can tell me. I’m incredibly grateful for the help you and the crew have given on this little pet project, but if you need to get back to the daily business, I completely understand. I have my own ship, I have other places to go, it’s fine, really. I won’t be offended.”

Now was Finn’s turn to look dumbfounded. “Offended? What?” Suddenly, he shook his head. “No, god, that’s not what we were saying at all.” Finn took another step towards her, this time looking like he was going to reach out and touch her, but his hand got halfway through the gap between them and then turned around to dig into his hair.

“What Alyx and I were saying was that--” He hesitated. “We were hoping you’d stick around. After--” He waved his hand in a circle at her console. “It’s just--well, y’know--Alyx thinks the ship would be better off if you’re captain again.” Which was not what Corra had expected. Her jaw slackened a little as she considered him and Finn, a little out of character for him, looked awkward.

“So, yeah,” he went on, perhaps just to fill the silence. “We were doing really well with you around and, y’know, you’re a good fit with the crew. Alyx, she missed you like hell. And--Cai! God, Corra, he was crushed when you left. Devastated. So for their sake, it’s really not right to just waltz back into their lives and walk right out again once you’re done with them.” He offered her what Corra would best describe as a shaky sideways smirk.

And still, he rambled on, “Not that I’m implying you’re using us or anything! We’re totally okay with this quest of yours. It’s more purposeful than any of the other shit jobs we work. And if you wanna go back to saving allies after all this is said and done? We’re totally okay with that too! Hell, Daelen would prefer it, he hates the criminal life.”

Corra didn’t quite know what to say so all she said was, “Riley--”

And apparently that was enough to break Finn from his spell of discomfort. “Okay cut the shit,” he said, presumably to himself as he clamped his eyes shut and stepped even closer to her so they were now just inches apart. “Truth is, those eight, nine months or whatever? Back then? When we both captained this ship? That was some of the best times of my life.”

He paused for a moment and then amended, “I mean it turned to shit at the end, but before that? You and me, runnin’ the Beacon, helpin’ the Conduit--And the last few weeks with you? The jobs we ran and just having you on the ship and the dinners and the breakfasts and even the weird bit with that cult. It’s been--Look, I know we’re not just gonna get the old times back. Too much has changed, everything’s different now, but recently, I’ve got to thinkin’ that--some of it maybe--we could?” He was looking down at her now with a sort of intensity that made Corra’s breath catch in her lungs. “If you stay?”

No. No no no, said the reasonable voice in Corra’s head as she met Finn’s gaze. You are not doing this. You were over this man. Completely totally over him and this stupid worthless crush that went nowhere. You swore you wouldn’t fall into this again. But as she looked up at him, so close she could feel the heat emanating off his skin, his jaw firm in expectation and a note of pleading in his eyes that made her heart clench, she knew that she was teetering very very close to the edge and one little push would send her tumbling.

She should just take her work and move elsewhere. Get back to the important things. Figuring out the Transmission. Helping her kin make it to the Conduit. Not getting distracted by boyishly handsome men and the utter temptation she felt to do exactly as he suggested and get back a particular part of those ‘old times’. But even as her mind scolded her for it, she found herself, very subtly, nodding.

Vaguely, she became aware of Finn’s hand coming to rest on her cheek and her eyes half-shut in anticipation, but the universe had other plans as just then, Cyrus came rushing into the bridge, out of breath and heaving.

At once, Corra stepped away, Finn’s hand dropped back to his side and both of them pretended nothing strange was happening. Not that Cyrus even seemed to notice. He was dazed, panicked and in a total state of disarray.

“What--” she began to ask, worry spreading through her, but he spoke over her.

“Something’s happened to Fiear,” he got out, barely. “He’s--dead, injured, I don’t know, he’s on Carthis. Something--I don’t know.”

Corra looked over at Finn, Finn looked over at Corra and then he nodded. “Let’s go.”

----------------

Leta flashed the light on his right eye and watched the pupil dilate. Then to the left again which stared back at her blankly, unmoving, its edges bloodshot and iris clouded. Back to the right which dilated on cue. And to the left. Nothing. No response. To the right, which this time squinted and then snapped shut as Fiearius growled in annoyance.

“Aren’t you done with that yet?” he snapped. “Doesn’t matter how many lights you shove in my eye, I still can’t see out of it.”

Leta shot him a glare as she gently placed the flashlight on the table beside the hospital bed. “Do you want my help or not?”

“Keep it up, you’re gonna blind the other one too.”

“For a man who recently died twice and underwent three surgeries, you still have enough energy to be an ornery old ass, don’t you?” she couldn’t help but point out.

Fiearius snorted his indignance. “I’m not old.” Apparently he didn’t feel the need to contest the other two accusations.

By all accounts, it was miraculous that Fiearius was even alive, let alone awake and feeling well enough to argue just a week after the Battle of Ellegy. Sure, he looked and sounded like he’d been hit by a freight train, but even exhausted and confined to a bed, after everything that had happened back in that tower, if he was already a fraction of the Fiearius she knew, Leta would take it.

Certainly the medical facilities and staff on Carthis proper had been a major contributing factor. From the moment Fiearius had arrived on the planet, there had been a constant barrage of people working their hardest to get him stabilized. Admiral Gates himself had apparently issued an order to the chief of staff that Fiearius’ treatment was the hospital’s highest priority. Their top physicians checked on him regularly, the nurses were constantly bringing him anything he asked for and Leta was certain he had the best view of the city in the building. Carthis clearly wanted him to survive this war more than he gave them credit for.

But as well as Fiearius had been doing and as grateful as Leta was that her calculated risk had paid off with the revival device she’d installed in him, his recovery was not without its side effects.

“Unless you can fix this.” Fiearius lifted his hand and waved it in front of his face. As he did, a surge of some sort overtook him, starting in his hand and a shudder that rolled up his arm, through his shoulders and made him grit his teeth uncomfortably. It lasted just a moment before he took in a deep breath and shook it off. “Or that. I’d rather not with the poking and the prodding.”

She sighed as she leaned against the table, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Are the twitches getting any better?”

“Not as painful anymore,” he admitted. “Just as irritating.”

“What about frequency?”

“Still once every hour or so.”

She tugged nervously on the stethoscope around her neck and crossed the room to pick up the tablet that displayed his chart. “I’d like to prescribe something for them, but I think it’s too soon to risk it,” she mumbled, mostly to herself as she scanned down the screen. “With the way your body reacted to the drugs I had to give you, I’d be hesitant to add more into your system…”

Fiearius, as he usually did when she tried to talk to him about serious medical issues, stopped paying attention. “All I wanna know is if this shit is permanent,” he groaned, dramatically dropping back against the pillows.

Leta looked up at him, feeling an ounce of remorse. It was her device that had caused the troubles that plagued him now that the bullet was removed and his wounds sewn shut. She’d hoped and prayed that it would keep him alive which it had, just barely, but she hadn’t known it would also cause blindness and regular muscle spasms…

“I can’t say for certain.” She could hear the apology seeping through her tone. Her fingers fiddled with the switch on the tablet. “We never tested that amount on a live subject. I’m not sure what the longterm effects are. If the twitches don’t stop on their own with time, there might be something we can do pharmaceutically. In regards to your left eye, I can get you in touch with an opthalmologist, they’d have a better idea of what we’re dealing with and what your options are, but--”

“Hey.” She looked up at him across the room and he was watching her with a frown creasing his brow. “This isn’t your fault, y’know? Well--” He cut himself off and shrugged. “It is, but I’m only lettin’ you take credit for the fact that I’m still breathing at all. The rest of this crap?” He rolled his eyes and lifted his hands helplessly. “My own damn fault for gettin’ killed to begin with.”

Leta felt a smile come to her face. “I did tell you to be careful.”

“And I never listen,” he replied with a grin himself.

“So I’ve been keeping tabs with Javier,” Leta changed the subject swiftly, laying the tablet back on the counter and leaning against the counter. “You have about a thousand messages waiting for you once you’re ready.”

Fiearius’ grin slackened into disappointment. “You have to remind me?”

“Hey, I’m the one who’s fielding everything from Gates for you.”

“I told him to go through Quin, she’s handling the fleet ‘til I’m back in action.”

“Yes, well he doesn’t like Quin’s answers so he goes to me. And I tell him to go to Quin and he just asks for you. And since you’re stuck here--”

“--and not even keeping up with what’s going on out there--”

“It’s a good thing you’re not actually dead, this whole effort would fall apart without you,” she mused. “Anyway, point being.” She crossed the room and patted the edge of his bed cheerfully. “Enjoy your break while it lasts.”

And a true break it was, Leta knew. The Carthian doctors had, in fact, ordered that Fiearius be told next to nothing about the aftermath of the Ellegian battle to keep his stress levels down. For once, he had actually agreed with medical advice. Of course, when it benefitted him, he was the perfect patient. Still, Leta was having a hard time not discussing the situation with him. Especially the piece of information she couldn’t share with anyone else.

Desophyles, to Leta’s surprise and true to his word, had contacted her shortly after she’d landed on Carthis to check on Fiearius’ condition and arrange to return the Verdant CID to her. Not sure how long his good spell was going to last, she snuck away from the hospital the very next night and convinced Eve, Richelle and the rest of the Dionysian crew to take her to the nearby moon to retrieve it from him. It was there on that desolate battle-torn wasteland Carthis had won from Exymeron years past and then promptly abandoned that Dez uncharacteristically provided her an explanation. Or half of one at least. She presumed only Fiearius would get the full story out of him.

But as Leta absently thumbed the tiny chip in her pocket, thankfully removed from its previous owner’s wrist, she forced herself to keep her mouth shut. Fiearius didn’t need the stress. Especially that stress. Not while he still had recovering to do.

“Yeah because sitting in a hospital is my definition of enjoyment,” he grumbled, waving his hand towards the window. “Really enjoying this break from the monotony of--” He cut himself off dramatically and put his fingers to his chin. “Wait…”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be back to it soon enough and there’s plenty to do.” Leta grimaced and Fiearius tilted his head, curious, for just a moment, before he seemed to remind himself that he didn’t care, wouldn’t care, shouldn’t care, and shrugged. “Anyway. I’ll let you get some rest, but maybe I’ll swing by--”

Suddenly, down the hall, but loud enough to be heard by likely the entire floor, came a mighty yell. At least, as mighty as a five year old girl could manage.

“O’rian!” echoed through the hospital, followed by the hurried patter of tiny feet running at full speed.

“Kalli, wait!” came a second shout, then the crash of a body meeting a medical cart, a curse and a woman’s laugh.

Leta met Fiearius’ glance and he grinned. The footsteps were coming towards them so Leta stepped out into the hallway and put her hands on her hips as the bushy haired girl plowed towards her. In her wake, papers had scattered, equipment had been dropped and a few nurses looked shell-shocked. Still back by the elevators, Addy was helping Cyrus back to his feet. She glanced up and waved at Leta. Leta waved back just as Kalli slammed on the brakes and jumped in front of her. “A’iya!” she shouted in greeting.

“Right this way,” Leta cooed and swept her arms towards the door. Kalli looked up, met her uncle’s smiling face and burst straight into the room, leaping onto Fiearius’ bed and throwing her tiny arms around his shoulders.

“O’rian!” she shouted again as Fiearius laughed loud and more cheerful than he’d been all week.

“There’s my little monster.” Carefully, he pried her arms from him and held her back to get a good look at her. “L’asi de foriniso p’ahti na?” he asked. She nodded enthusiastically. “Ti’arim!” Then he held up both hands and she slapped them excitedly.

Watching Fiearius with his niece had always been something that Leta found both adorable and, for reasons she couldn’t quite explain, or perhaps just didn’t want to, uncomfortable. Uncomfortable somewhere very deep inside of her and in a way that made her cringe at herself. Why was it that humanity had come so far in evolution and technology and yet she still couldn’t fight off such a simple thing as primal maternal instinct?

Regardless, she felt her cheeks flush as if she’d done something wrong when suddenly Cyrus was beside her asking, “How is he?” Addy joined him moments later.

She didn’t look at them, determined to hide her embarrassment as she answered, “See for yourself.”

Kalli had seized Fiearius’ hand and was jumping up and down with it like it was a prized toy while Fiearius laughed heartedly.

“Issyen,” Cyrus scolded and she looked over at her parents in alarm. And then glee.

“O’rian, p’ahti told me you died!”

Cyrus put his hand on his forehead as Addy asked him, “You told her what?”

But Fiearius just laughed it off and told Kalli as though imparting a mysterious secret, “Oh, I did. I am the living dead.” He raised his hands threateningly and made a monstrous face, but the little girl seemed unimpressed.

“You don’t look like a zombie.”

“Yeah well, just wait til my flesh starts to rot off.”

“Wh--don’t tell her that,” Cyrus finally stepped in, marching into the room and swooping Kalli off the bed into his arms. The siblings continued to bicker as Kalli squealed in delight and wriggled her way out of her father’s arms. Perhaps it was the sudden excess of noise or simply her own exhaustion catching up to her, but Leta tuned them out and turned to Addy.

“I’m gonna take a bit of a break, leave you all to catch up. I’ll be back at the base if you need to get in touch with me.”

Addy just smiled at her. “Take as much time as you need.” She took a deep breath and looked into the room with a determined grimace. “I can handle this lot.”

Leta let out a chuckle, pat her on the shoulder and wished her, “Good luck,” as she retreated down the hall.

------------------

Icy rain pounded the windows of Leta’s temporary room on the base where she’d chosen to retreat for a few hours. Summer in Carthis, she thought absently as she sat on the sofa, scrolling through headlines on the glowing tablet in her hand. The weather made her wonder how long she would be on the base -- if she would see another famously brutal Carthis winter. If Fiearius would.

A knock made her blink and sit up. The door slid open, and Liam appeared, offering a watered-down smile through the scruff on his face.  “Well, Gates is just as strange as you said he would be,” he said by way of greeting, shrugging off his rain-soaked coat. “He was drinking whiskey, too. You were right on all fronts.”

“As usual,” Leta agreed, just as Liam bent to give her a kiss hello. “I’m surprised he even agreed to the interview, Gates is particularly tight-lipped this days.”

“Let’s not talk about Gates while I’m kissing you, hm?” Liam mumbled against her mouth, then drew away. He dropped onto the edge of the sofa, and Leta thought she saw a shadow pass over his face: he was not entirely at ease. In fact, his voice was a little too casual, too light-hearted, when he asked,  “How’re you? How’s the other admiral doing?”

“His vision hasn’t fully restored, and he’s still having muscle spasms ... “ Briefly, the horrible image of Fiearius twitching came to her mind, but she pushed it away. “He’s recovering more and more though and his family just landed today so I left him in good spirits.”

“That’s great,” Liam said, though his tone hardly matched his words. “That’s really great.”

This wasn’t like him. Liam was always talkative and enthused and interested in any and all news Leta had for him. At the very least he paid attention instead of absently flicking the top of his shoe. “Are you alright?” she had to ask.

Liam opened his mouth, then closed it again. “A lot on my mind. Like everyone else around here.”

Leta grimaced. “Did Gates give you any updates on the Ellegy situation?”

“Nothing you didn’t already know.” Finally, he leaned back against the couch and threw an arm loosely around her shoulders. “Carthis defeated the Society’s air forces, but the rebels on the ground switched sides to rejoin the Society and amassed in too large a number, forcing them to retreat,” he recited. “They’re still calling it a victory though, y’know? I think they might need to look up the definition of the word.”

“It’s the media calling it that, not the military. Not behind closed doors anyway,” Leta corrected, leaning against him as she sighed. “If the war council meeting we had yesterday was about a victory, I’m worried what it would look like if we lost.”

“So what’s their plan?”

“Right now they’ve got Fiear’s fleet holding the skies above the planet, not that anyone’s contested it, while Carthis is organizing more troops on the ground for a systematic battlefront like they did on Ascendia.”

Liam shot her a grimace. “They’re willingly comparing it to Ascendia? So bloodshed, bloodshed, and more bloodshed.”

“From the sounds of it. The whole operation turned into a mess.”

“What I don’t understand,” Liam posed thoughtfully. “Is why the Ellegian rebels who have spent, gods, years fighting the Society, would suddenly rejoin them in the midst of battle. I know Carthis kind of screwed them by leaving them out of the plans, but that doesn’t sound like a reason to completely change their tune.”

Leta regarded him sideways, her lips pursed and a frown creasing her brow. She couldn’t tell Fiearius what she had uncovered about the battle of Ellegy, not yet, as much as it was killing her not to. But she could tell Liam, couldn’t she? He’d proved enough times over that he was trustworthy with information and frankly, she needed this off her chest before it burst. So though she knew she probably should have stayed quiet, she instead said, “They didn’t. The Society did.”

Liam turned to her and tilted his head. “How do you figure?”

Well she was into it now. No going back. She took a deep breath, swung her legs up onto the couch and turned towards him entirely. “You know about Desophyles Cordova?”

“The terrorist?”

“He’s not--” Leta faltered. Gods, she was sounding like Fiearius. “Yes, him. He was on Ellegy during the battle. Fiear--” She cut herself off suddenly and narrowed her eyes. “This is off the record, by the way. All of this. This can’t get out, I--”

Liam waved off her concern. “Of course, it always is. I’d never publish anything you told me in private. So go on. Fiearius....?”

She drew in another breath. “Fiearius invited Dez to help him with the Councillor mission. They met up on the planet and he went with him for a while, but Dez had this other agenda. One that included blowing up half the city…”

Liam’s mouth fell open in shock. “I thought that was the rebels.”

“It was. Sort of. When Carthis cut them out, they teamed up with him and his followers. The explosions were all part of this convoluted plan they had to distract Carthis and the Society enough to take prisoners as leverage against each.”

“Oh yeah, I heard something about that. They’re in negotiations to get them back.”

Leta nodded and muttered, “Yeah, update on that, Carthis isn’t willing to give them anything they want...So that’s not looking very promising.”

“Great plan.”

“It wasn’t the only plan though,” Leta confessed, her voice getting even quieter. There was no chance anyone was listening, but she could never be too careful. It just didn’t feel right to say any of this so loud. “Dez was working with this woman, Ophelia Varisian, I think I told you about her?”

“The blonde psycho arsonist?” Liam put in and Leta couldn’t help but smirk a little.

“They’ve been working together for a while, though with the shit she pulls, you’d hardly know it. She’s been still following the orders of the Society Council all this time, but I guess collaborating with Dez as well, passing him intel, helping him out where she could. She was supposed to reach the Ellegian Councillor before Fiearius did and use her to gain access to the system and call off the Society’s attack. Which was coming. Quickly. The Ellegian fleet destroyed the CORS and turned right around. If they’d arrived, Carthis would have been overwhelmed and lost the air battle too. Our forces would be decimated.”

“But you told me this Varisian was killed,” Liam pointed out hesitantly. “And the fleet still didn’t return…”

“Because there was a second contingency.” Now, Leta glanced over her shoulder. Just in case. “He used Fiearius’ Verdant chip to command the fleet and tell them to turn around.”

Liam’s eyes grew wide. “And the ground troops? He--”

Leta nodded. “Ordered them to join with the Rebels.”

The news had hit her just as hard as it hit Liam now. He stood up from the couch and started pacing back and forth, his hand on his head. “Are you telling me...that that terrorist...is in command of the entire Society arsenal?”

“No no,” Leta assured him, leaning forward. “Only those that listened. A lot are still loyal to their Council over their Verdant of course, but I guess whatever he told them was compelling because the half that didn’t head immediately to Exymeron on the remaining Councillor’s orders did as Dez asked.” Before Liam could rephrase his question, presumably to ask if that terrorist controlled half of the Society’s fleet, Leta added, “And he doesn’t have the chip anymore anyway.”

Liam stopped pacing to look at her. “Who does?”

Leta grimaced uncomfortably and raised her hand a few inches in the air. “But I’m not using it. I’m giving it back to Fiearius as soon as he’s on his feet again.” It was Dez’s only condition to returning it to her caretaking and one she had little trouble agreeing with. Despite Fiearius losing the CID, it was still his as far as Leta was concerned. As for what to do with it--

“Then you have to give it back now,” Liam said suddenly. “Give it back and make him put it to good use. He can call off the Society troops on Ellegy and end the bloodshed before it begins.”

But Leta shook her head. “In his current state, I’m not risking that. The wrong stimuli and he could destabilize, go back to the seizures. We’ve already lost him before, I’m not contributing to that happening again. Even so, he would never do what you’re suggesting. Calling off the Society would mean Carthis plows through the rebels and takes Ellegy for themselves. For once, Dez actually did something kind of helpful.” The words tasted bitter in her mouth even as she praised him.

“Gods.” Liam gazed into the middle distance, looking so struck that Leta reached out to take his hand. He sucked in a deep breath, his eyes glassy. “I wish you hadn’t told me this.”

It was not the response she expected. “What?”

He started to laugh, quiet and strained, a little manic. “It’s just gonna make it so much harder.”

“Make what harder?”

Liam looked down at her and tightened his jaw, as though he was considering something very serious indeed. Finally, he nodded to himself and drew a tablet out of his bag. He switched it on and handed it to her. “Read this.”

Leta took the device, curious as to what this was about, and began to read the document open on the screen. It was a news report about Ellegy, but none of it was right. It described the battle that had taken place a week ago, but it read so wrong Leta barely recognized it, painting Carthis as saviors from on high and the Ellegian rebellion as treacherous scum out to get them every step of the way. The article ended abruptly, like it hadn’t been finished yet, on a line that outright blamed the people of Ellegy for the noble Carthian lives that had been lost.

The words left Leta stunned.

“What is this?” she breathed.

“My latest piece,” barked Liam bitterly. “What do you think?”

She looked up at him, her eyes round. “You’re joking,” she said flatly, not even as a question. Of course he was joking. There was no way this was real. No chance that this was truly his work.

“I wish I was.” He turned away from her and made a circle around the coffee table. “Obviously not done though. Just wait til I put in Gates’ interview.” He laughed again, even more panicked this time. “It really puts the nail in the coffin, you’ll see.”

Leta got to her feet. “You’re not publishing this.” He didn’t meet her stare. Perhaps couldn’t. “You can’t publish something like this. We need peace between Carthis and Ellegy. Not--” She shook the tablet towards him. “This will just give people another enemy to hate.”

“Oh yes,” Liam agreed, spinning around to face her finally. “That’s entirely the point.”

This didn’t make sense. None of this made sense. Liam knew the delicate balance of politics in this war. He and Leta were on the same page. They agreed. That’s why they had gotten along so well in the first place.

“I don’t understand.”

He met her gaze sadly for a moment and then sighed. “The outlook out there is bad right now. Ellegy was a series of mistakes and everyone knows it. The upper Carthian brass want the media to turn public opinion in their favor. They contacted my editor who contacted me and now--” He gestured towards the device in her hand. “Well you can see the results.”

But Leta was already shaking her head. “You can’t publish this,” she said again.

Liam let out an exasperated laugh. “I don’t really have a choice, Leta.”

“You do. You could not write it.”

His eyebrows shot up on his forehead. “Oh I can just not do it? Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” He rolled his eyes and paced around the coffee table again.

A spike of anger ran through her. “You can just not do it. You should just not do it! Why are you doing it?”

“Because they’re forcing my hand!” he snapped. “It’s not that easy, Leta. Even if I didn’t do it, somebody else would.”

“Fine, but it doesn’t have to be you!”

Liam let out a groan and put his hands over his face. “You don’t understand. This is my job. My career. I can’t just not do it. My editor asks me to write? I write. I don’t write, I don’t get paid. It’s pretty non-negotiable.”

“Non-negotiable?” Leta couldn’t believe her ears. “Liam, these are lives at stake here. This whole war is hanging in the balance right now, one little tilt and everything could fall apart. Everything we’ve worked for. You can’t just let that happen, gods, contribute to it because,” the words fell out of her mouth dripping in spite, “your editor told you to.”

He groaned again, louder this time and tore his hands away to look at her squarely. “Yes, actually, I can. And I will.” Leta opened her mouth to argue, but he cut her off, “Look, it’s all nice that you can stand up on your moral high horse and tell me what’s right and what’s good, but those of us on the ground don’t have that option, okay? At the end of the day, I need a paycheck and a promise of more paychecks so I can just survive.”

“So you’re just willing to completely sell yourself out,” she accused, crossing her arms over her chest and regarding him with disgust. “Sell out all of Ellegy. So you can get paid.”

“Yeah, Leta, I am,” he spat back. “Because some of us still have to actually work and get on with our lives through this war. Not all of us are lucky enough to just get taken in and taken care of by the Carthian military because their ex-boyfriend is an admiral.”

Leta’s mouth fell open in shock. The anger she’d felt suddenly turned to rage. “Excuse me?!”

“You know what, just forget it,” he growled, reaching out and seizing the tablet from her hand and turning towards the door. “I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh I understand.” It was pure fury keeping her going now as she chased after him. “I understand that you’re a coward. I understand that you’re willing to sacrifice your integrity at the drop of a hat. I understand that--”

“You--” he snapped suddenly, turning on his heel and pointing at her. “You really need a reality check, you know that? Or actually--you know what? Maybe I’m the one who needs a reality check.” He barked a single humorless laugh. “I thought you were passionate and caring and focused. Turns out? You were just self-righteous.”

Before she could get another word in, he swung open the door and walked out. It slammed shut behind him, leaving Leta alone, her mind racing, her chest heaving and her hands at her sides trembling.
Leta grit her teeth and ripped off another strip of bandage, then quickly rolled it around the man’s injured arm. The dark green color of his uniform, torn and smoke-stained as it was, told her this one was Carthian. She’d lost track some twenty patients ago who it was she was treating: Carthian, Society, civilian, she’d even located one of Dez’s people who’d been caught in a blast. With the way the streets of Ellegy looked, it was hard to imagine anyone who hadn’t been.

The smoke had grown so thick now that the scenery had actually darkened, and it was difficult to see how much of the city skyline was even left. Leta and her team had navigated through it mainly by following the sounds of distress. From the time they’d left the rebels’ hideout, it hadn’t taken long to find a slew of people in need of assistance and from there, a trail of decimation to follow. There was no shortage of work to be done.

Unfortunately, there was also no shortage of danger for it to be done in either. Once the dust had settled from the rebels’ distraction, Carthis had apparently reacted by putting more troops on the ground. The Society had reciprocated in turn and Leta was unsurprised to hear the sounds of gunfire rising up again as she tied off the bandage and shoved the roll back into her bag.

With him stable, Leta looked up for her next task. Across the street, a member of her team was shouting for help with a patient who was slipping away more quickly than he could manage. She was about to move over to assist him when the sharp bang of a rifle being fired went off behind her. A terrible groan and thump followed as Dez’s target hit the ground and Leta glanced back at him in frustration.

“Every time you do that, you’re just giving me more people to help,” she snapped.

“Not if they’re dead,” he pointed out dully, not tearing his eyes from the direction of the firefight. Leta couldn’t say she would have ever chosen Desophyles as her bodyguard, but he had followed her, gun in hand and seemed intent to provide silent cover as she worked and who was she to deny something she truly needed? Even if it came from a questionably motivated source.

Still, she thought she was starting to figure it out.

“So your Plan A for ‘solving’ Ellegy involves keeping me alive and unharmed,” she recounted thoughtfully as she crouched beside her teammate and held the woman’s legs steady as he hastily applied stitches to the gaping abrasion in her thigh. “Plan A is Fiearius, isn’t it?”

The accusation was met with nothing but Dez’s usual silent stoicism as he stared off at the end of the street, gun at the ready. He did not, she couldn’t help but notice, refute it.

“Or at least Fiearius’ cooperation,” Leta corrected herself, taking the needle from her colleague’s hands and finishing the stitching herself. “What do you need him to do?”

Again, Dez didn’t respond. Leta shoved a roll of bandages in the direction of her teammate and stood up to face the man. “What are you planning?”

This time, at least he broke his stare to glance over at her. “I need to keep you alive, I don’t need to keep you informed.”

Leta rolled her eyes. “No, but it’ll be a lot easier to convince him if you’ve convinced me first.”

She thought she saw the tiniest twinge of a smirk in Dez’s expression as he muttered, “So you’re aware of it.”

Though the comment made her bristle uncomfortably, Leta ignored it. “You really think he’s going to help you? He barely trusted you before, now after what you’ve pulled here today?” She gestured at the crumbling skyline of Ellegy. It may have been the rebels who executed the task, but it was Dez who had put the idea in their heads. Leta had no qualms blaming him for the entirety of it.

“Not to mention,” she remembered suddenly, marching down the street towards where one of her people was helping a sobbing woman. “Weren’t you supposed to be with him to help with his mission?” She glanced back at him as he followed her obediently. “Which clearly you’re not.”

“He won’t need me,” was Dez’s matter-of-fact excuse. It didn’t ring as particularly comforting to Leta, knowing that Fiearius was out there alone. Even as capable as she knew he was, he almost always made a point to bring along backup for a reason. Her hesitation must have shown on her face because Dez followed up with, “By the time he arrives, everything will be taken care of.”

If it was meant to be reassuring, it wasn’t.

“And regardless of my actions, Fiearius will approve of Plan A,” Dez went on, oblivious or simply uncaring how unsettled Leta surely looked. “Though he may not realize it at first.”

“Sounds familiar,” Leta grumbled.

“Fiearius will help,” he said with an unshakeable certainty. “With or without your approval.”

Leta opened her mouth to retort, but suddenly her COMM made a noise in her ear that she didn’t immediately recognize. Her mouth snapped shut and she furrowed her brow in confusion, tapping it, but it continued the odd low-pitched hum. It came through clear and strong, unlike any of the Carthian signals she’d received. It didn’t sound like it came from Quin or anyone else in the fleet. It didn’t sound like Fiearius–

The thought of his name was enough to jog her memory. The noise. She did recognize it. Hurriedly, she scrambled through her bag til she found her tablet, its screen lit up and displaying an alert she was expecting but praying not to see, matched perfectly to the noise she had hoped to never hear.

Leta felt her heart plummet, her breath catching in her throat. The tablet in her hands was shaking and her eyes, fixed onto it, grew blurry. She looked up at Dez and found him equally difficult to make out in the haze.

“He won’t help you,” her voice didn’t even sound like her own, rather the voice of someone else from far far away. “Fiearius died.”

———

Fiearius’ eyes shot open and all at once, he was bombarded with more sensations he’d ever felt simultaneously. None of them were good. Every muscle in his body tensed to the point of pain, his lungs gasped for breath, fire burned through his veins. Every inch of him was screaming out in protest to whatever was happening and on top of it all, he felt a very powerful urge to vomit.

But what the fuck was happening?

His vision was blurry, one eye even more than the other, and everything he could see held a sickly green tint. When he tried to lift his hand, it shuddered, unwilling, and his fingers were locked into a sort of claw, stiff and unbending. His heart pounded in his chest, his chest which felt like someone had taken a torch to it and though most of this was unfamiliar, the way he could feel his arms, legs and back twitch at intervals reminded him of one very specific incident when he’d been seven years old and taken on a very stupid dare involving an electrical outlet.

Seriously, what the fuck?

Images of what were supposed to be the last few seconds of his life flooded into his brain. He’d been shot. Killed. Ophelia had killed him. He died, he could remember dying and though Fiearius didn’t believe in any particular story of an afterlife, he was sure as hell none of them included waking up in your final resting place feeling worse than you had when you passed. And if that’s what this was, damn, would the religious nuts of the Span be disappointed.

Gradually, as he lay flat on his back on the cold marble floor, the fire in his senses started to dull. Whatever violent electrical charge had gripped him started to loosen its hold, he began to catch up to his breath and the vision in his right eye inched towards clarity. His blood still burned as it flooded through him, but even that was beginning to numb when he first heard the voices down the hall.

“Confirmed, ma’am.” It was Ophelia. Shaking off a particularly violent twitch, Fiearius tried in vain to look over in the direction of the voice. He could vaguely make out two blurry shapes by the door. If either of them saw him moving in the background, they didn’t appear to be concerned by it.

“The Verdant database has been transferred to my CID.”

“Good,” was the Councillor’s nonchalant response. “And good riddance. Curse the man who proposed Soliveré’s appointment to begin with.”

Fiearius wondered vaguely where his gun was. If he was alive, somehow, miraculously or cursedly, he wasn’t sure which, he still had a mission to complete. But before he could even begin to reach around for it, he heard the sounds of footsteps approaching him. At once, he forced his body to relax, his eyes to close and he played it as dead as he could manage. The fire in him raged stronger for a moment, but he fought it back. When the footsteps stopped, he was still.

“I warned them, you know,” said the Ellegian woman, bitter and resentful. “He was a bad choice. Too unpredictable. They said ‘flexible’, I say ‘fickle’. They were naive, Varisian. They liked to think that the function of a Councillor is selfless, that our main trait is making difficult choices for the greater good. They wanted to believe that we are adaptable, focused and free, but they forgot one thing. They forgot the hunger. The greed.”

Beyond her, Ophelia muttered, “Ma’am?”

“Just reminiscing, Varisian,” the Councillor replied. “A post-mortem, if you will.” Fiearius felt the sharp pain of a pointed woman’s shoe ramming into his ribs and spent all his effort to not react.

“Of course,” was Varisian’s quick response. “May I inquire as to next steps?”

Fiearius felt the woman turn away from him. “Absolutely. I suppose I’ll wait here until my fleet returns and wipes these invaders from existence. Shouldn’t be long now.”

“And what of me, ma’am?”

The Councillor could not have sounded more surprised. “You? What about you?”

And Ophelia could not have sounded more confused. “In assuming my place as Verdant, ma’am? I’m ready to serve and await your orders.”

“Ah yes.” The footsteps moved away from Fiearius and made a small circle nearby. “Our new Verdant, of course. Well.” There was a long pause as the Councillor seemed to consider her options. Finally, she decided, “You can just stay here with Soliveré, can’t you?” Before Ophelia could voice her concern, a quick succession of noises filled Fiearius’ ears. The sound of metal sliding out of a sheath, the same metal sliding into flesh, a horrible groan followed by the thump of a body hitting the ground.

“Like I’ve always said,” the Councillor remarked, calm as ever considering she’d just murdered a woman by her own hand. “The Verdant is a weak link. Regardless of who bears the title.”

The woman’s clicking footsteps began to move away and tentatively, Fiearius opened his eyes. Beside him, barely holding herself up, was Ophelia, her hand clutched over her chest, trying to keep in the blood that was spilling from her onto the marble floor. It pooled outward, Fiearius could feel the warmth of it as it met his arm. Varisian’s eyes were glazed over, her breathing was shallow and shaking. But just for a moment, she looked up and her stare met Fiearius’.

Of all the things Fiearius would have expected from the woman who had murdered him, relief was not it, but relief was what was written into all of her features. Her final words to him rang in his head, again, ‘I’m sorry’. None of it made sense. Ophelia had been trying to kill him for years. She was pure loyal Society. Her allegiance to the Councillors was clear.

Wasn’t it?

But as she kneeled there, bleeding out, dying at the hand of the woman she supposedly served, clearly the tables had turned.

Weak and growing weaker as she was, Ophelia frowned in what must have been determination, but looked a lot like pain. “Where is it?” he saw her say, more than he heard it as her voice was too weak to carry the short distance between them. Fiearius stared back at her, lost, until she snapped, “Gun. The–gun–where–”

The gun, of course, there was still a chance to finish this. Though it sent a terrible surge through his left side and across his middle, Fiearius forced his body up onto his elbows and frantically looked around for the weapon he knew he’d dropped somewhere around here. It was difficult to see, his vision was still a haze, but finally he saw the dark shape of the pistol just out of reach.

Bracing himself for the consequences, he stretched his arm out towards it, gritting his teeth as what felt like lava inside him rumbled and burned in protest. He could still hear the Councillor’s footsteps down the hallway. He had to get to her before she got away. Before he slipped away again. This had to happen. Desperately, he reached even further and his fingertips mercifully touched cold metal.

In an instant, the gun was in the air and his finger pulled the trigger. Where he’d aimed it, however, was another story entirely. Though Fiearius could make out a shape in a direction, his aim was hardly on point. The gunshot echoed off the walls, but there was no shout of impact, no collapse of a corpse. Just footsteps ceasing and a distant, “How’re you–”

Before Fiearius could even begin to try and line up another shot, he felt the gun being wrenched from his hand. Ophelia. She seized the weapon and with what looked like all the strength left in her, rose to her feet, aimed, and fired.

This time, the distinctive sound of bullet meeting body hit Fiearius’ ears. And then again. And again. Ophelia kept firing the gun over and over, all of her shots hitting her mark until the pistol clicked uselessly beneath her fingers, empty and spent. She dropped it and it clattered to the floor in unison with its victim who, from what Fiearius could make out, slumped to the ground ungracefully and went still. Ophelia, only moments later, did the same.

For a moment, Fiearius just sat there, barely propped up, taking in the silence and trying to wrap his hazy mind around what had happened here. A mission gone badly, no doubt about that. And yet the Councillor lay dead and defeated, as he had planned. Thanks to Ophelia, of all people. He glanced over at her where she lay, heaving in shallow breaths, her face pale and her eyes drooping. Maybe someone could save her. Maybe whatever miracle had saved him would reach her too. But if something was going to change, it would have to change soon because she was fading and fading fast. And Fiearius was in no condition to be that miracle she needed.

“Thanks,” he managed, his voice hoarse and rough. He wasn’t even sure she heard him until one eye from beneath her messy blonde hair flicked up towards him.

“It wasn’t for you,” she sputtered.

“I know.”

She gasped in an awful breath. “If you get out of here–” she coughed, “–save Satieri–”

Fiearius snorted indignantly, a gesture he regretted as soon as the spike of pain shot through his chest. “That’s the plan.”

But Ophelia was weakly shaking her head. “Not from–Society. From Carthis.”

Fiearius looked down at himself, unable to look elsewhere, mostly unable to look at her. “I will,” he mumbled, but when he glanced back at her, she wasn’t moving any longer. Her heaving breaths had stopped. Her eyes stared emptily at nothing. She was gone.

Feeling a strange urge to move away from the body, Fiearius clenched his jaw and pulled himself a few feet backwards to lean against the wall. His finger raised to his COMM weakly. “This is Admiral Soliveré, addressing all channels. Need medical assistance in the Capitol Tower ASAP. Repeat, medical assistance to the Capitol Tower.” He waited for a moment, but the COMM made no noise, not even a buzz of recognition that it was even on. He tried again. “If anyone can hear me, I need medical assistance.” Still nothing. “Hello? Anybody?”

He was starting to feel weak. Too weak. Whatever force had awoken him from death was starting to wear off now that his task was done. He was slowly becoming more and more aware of how much blood he no longer had, how much of his life was still smeared across the floor. He swore he could even feel the bullet still lodged in his chest, grating against his slowing heart.

“I think I’m dying,” he said into the useless COMM. “Again.” If only he’d let Javier find him one that wasn’t broken like he’d offered. Maybe the pigeon would find that funny. In the end, after everything, it was only him that could have saved Fiearius’ life. If only Fiearius had let him.

The chuckle that escaped his lips was barely more than a sharp breath. He was so tired. He’d never been this tired before. Sleep had never sounded so good. “Sorry, pigeon,” he muttered, letting his eyes close and his head roll back against the wall. “For not listening. And sorry, Harper. For leaving you behind. And Cy. For not calling you before all this.” His voice grew quieter and quieter as his mind started to drift towards unconsciousness. “Sorry Leta. For…well, everything.”

Save Satieri, Ophelia had said and he wanted to do that, of course, but right now? All Fiearius wanted to do was rest. “Sorry to you too,” he mumbled as he felt the sweet relief of blackness envelop him. “I tried.”

————

Although Leta had indeed prepared for this moment, she’d never felt less prepared for anything in her life. Her whole body shook like she was outside in freezing air as she forced her legs to jog up countless flights of stairs toward Fiearius. Behind her, Dez followed.

“I’m still not sure I understand,” he said, his breath coming short as he raced up the tower. “You remotely monitor Fiearius’ life signs?”

Explaining why and how Leta had gotten such a morbid alert to Dez was not particularly something she was in the mood to do in her current state of duress. On the other hand, explaining it, acknowledging the science and fact and logic of it, maybe was exactly what she needed to make her breathing even out, her heart stop pounding and her head stop reeling.

“Not always,” she managed to get out. “Just a–dramatic change in them.” Like when they stopped, she added silently.

“It’s something my team back on Vescent developed,” she went on, trying to ignore how much her voice was quavering. “You inject a microscopic device into someone’s bloodstream and it can sense when their heart stops. Then it’ll release an electrical impulse and a small cocktail of chemicals to reinvigorate the nervous system and speed up blood clotting in a wound.” She hesitated, before muttering, “Theoretically anyway.”

“You never tested it,” Dez concluded, his tone flat.

“We never had the chance or the budget. I installed the prototype in Fiear right before we lost Vescent. It was just….just in case…A last resort. To give him enough time to–” To get help. Help from her. Which she would have been able to administer had she not been across the city and he thirty floors up an Ellegian spire. Even having sprinted here as fast as she could manage, so much time had passed since that alert had gone off. Too much time.

Gods, why hadn’t she gone with him?

“So he was killed, but this device–brought him back?” Dez attempted to clarify, but when Leta didn’t answer, wasn’t able to answer, he muttered, “Theoretically.”

The device went off, that was all she knew. It went off and sent her the alert that it had gone off and, yes, theoretically, administered the procedure to revive him. The science was there and it had worked in the chemical tests. It had done what it was meant to do to the collection of cells they had tried it on. There was no reason it wouldn’t work on a whole human being.

But even as she assured herself, the scientist in her knew there were a million reasons it might not work on a whole human being.

But she had to believe that it had worked as she forced her exhausted legs up yet another set of stairs. It had worked and she would find him alive because the very thought of the alternative, of being too late, of having to tell Cyrus what had happened, of a somber funeral and detached media speculation, of a Span without Fiearius in it –

She halted at the top of a stairwell in a hallway. The hallway, if the massive hole in the exterior wall was to be believed. The wind lashed at her violently as she took in the scene: Smoke, debris and lifeless bodies strewn across the ground. The rusty tang of blood filled her nostrils as she counted off four younger people with librera tattoos, an older woman she didn’t know, Ophelia? And finally, slumped against the wall beside her, his eyes closed –

“Fiear!”

Leta slid across the room and was on her knees beside him in an instant, pressing her fingers to the pulse in his neck. He lay unnaturally sprawled, his neck at an odd angle, his long limbs covered in soot. Unmoving. Her other hand pressed against his chest, wet with thick blood. If the device had worked, why wasn’t he responsive?

“You’re alright,” Leta informed him, her voice shaking so badly she could hardly move her lips. “You’re alright, Fiearius, you’re going to be alright, you always are.”

Fiearius did not stir.

“What’s your blood type?” Leta barked, throwing her eyes toward Dez who was standing over Ophelia’s lifeless corpse, looking down at it with empty eyes. “He needs a transfusion, I have some things in my bag, I can probably rig up– “

“Doctor,” said Dez, “I think it’s too late for — “

“No it’s not!” Leta growled in a voice so violent, so vicious, she hoped she’d never hear herself use it again.

After a moment of blank shock, in which Dez only stood staring at her curiously, Leta relented. Obviously he was going to be no help. But she could fix this without him, she knew she could. And suddenly, her memory jumped in and she knew how. Leta fumbled in her satchel, tossing aside vials, bandages, gauze, until her hand closed around a cold piece of metal: a syringe. In it, the very same cocktail of drugs the device carried. ‘Wake up juice’ they had called it in the clinic. Hardly a pleasant concoction and one they only used if nothing else worked. It was painful and probably harmful, but if it kept someone alive when they would otherwise be dead? it was worth it.

Taking a deep breath, throwing one last look at Fiearius’ face, she plunged the syringe directly into his neck. The needle sank and sank into his flesh, and Leta sank too; trembling with worry, her forehead fell against Fiearius’, and she squeezed her eyes shut. If you leave me with this war, she thought, I’ll never forgive you.

Still, the man below her didn’t move. Maybe Dez was right. Maybe it was too late. The tears started to well in her eyes before she could even consider the words: maybe she’d lost him.

Just as her chest started to clench in despair, though, Fiearius jerked awake, gasping in a deep breath and struggling in alarm. Leta drew back, water now streaming down her face as she grasped his shoulders and tried to calm him, “Fiear, it’s okay, it’s alright!” His body had gone tense and stiff, a reaction to the drug she’d given him. “I gave you something, it’s gonna hurt for a few minutes, but it’ll be okay. Just try and relax.”

Despite the clear confusion on his face, he seemed to try and follow her advice, forcing slower, more even breaths with each passing moment. Desperately, she searched his face as he blinked furiously and tried to focus on her. “You’re okay,” she said again, half laughing, half crying and she realized she was saying it mainly for herself. “You’re gonna be alright, I’ve got you. Everything’s gonna be fine.”

But as relieved as she felt, things weren’t fine just yet. He’d been shot in the chest, sustained massive blood loss and had to be given two heavy doses of questionable drugs just to keep his heart going. He didn’t need a field medic, he needed a hospital. So as much as she wanted to simply throw her arms around him and weep, she instead steeled herself and raised her fingers to her COMM. “Emergency channel, this is Dr. Adler, I need an extraction vessel to my location immediately. Priority level 1. I repeat, extraction vessel to my location, priority –”

Suddenly, Fiearius grabbed her arm. His grip was weak, but it was enough to give her pause. When she looked over at his face, it was twisted in pain and he was shaking his head.

In her ear, a voice came through the COMM. “That’s affirmative, Dr. Adler. Extraction vessel on its way.”

Unsure what Fiearius was trying to tell her, Leta simply replied to the operator, “Thank you. There’s a break in the tower wall, that’s where we are, the vessel should be able to–” she began but Fiearius’ grip tightened and he let out a groan of protest. A surge of anger rippled through her. “Fiear, no. Don’t you dare try and pull that sacrificial bullshit on me, I am getting you out of here and you are living through this so don’t you dare–”

“No–” he finally managed to choke out, “No, the –” He coughed violently. “The chip–”

Leta’s brow creased in confusion. “I don’t–”

“The Verdant database,” said Dez suddenly from behind her. “He was killed by a Society ID-ed gun. It transferred.”

Fiearius swallowed hard and nodded. “You can’t–let Carthis find it. They can’t–know.”

“Who has it?” asked Dez and Leta watched as Fiearius searched around the room, his eyes still glazed over and unfocused. Finally, he squinted and raised his index finger at the body of Ophelia Varisian. The look on Dez’s face changed, just by a fraction, Leta noticed. She had never seen the man hesitate on anything, but looking down at the dead woman, contemplating the CID in her wrist, for the first time, Dez showed a moment of reluctance.

But only a moment. Before Leta could even say anything, Dez had kneeled beside the body, drawn his blade and in one swift motion, expertly severed Ophelia’s hand from her arm. Leta’s mouth fell open in shock, but by the time she’d caught up enough to protest, he was already on his feet, hand in hand and stalking away from them towards the doorway at the end of the hall.

She wasn’t about to let this, let him, go though. Leta too stumbled to her feet and demanded, “What the hell are you doing?”

Desophyles paused in the doorway to look back at her. “Fixing Plan A.”

Leta marched after him. “Oh hell no. If you think I’m just going to let you walk away from this with the Verdant CID to do whatever the hell crazy plan you’ve concocted–”

Dez glanced down at Fiearius, presumably for help, but he seemed entirely focused on ensuring oxygen made it in and out of his lungs. So Dez sighed. “Doctor, you have to trust me.”

Leta crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t.”

“I know.” Dez frowned. “I know. But you need to. Any minute, the Ellegian fleet is going to return and Carthis, your friends, are going to lose this battle. Let me go and I can stop that from happening. I can end this.”

“If you’re suddenly so noble, then I’ll come with you,” Leta seethed. “I’d love to see this great save-the-world plan of yours in action.”

Dez’s clenched fists told her just how much he was losing his patience. “You have a more important task to attend to.” He gestured at Fiearius lying against the wall, those breaths of his coming shorter and shorter. “Doctor, please. Get him out of here, keep him alive. I swear to you, upon whatever you need me to swear on, what I do here today is nothing you yourself would not do, and as soon as I’m able, as soon as we can ensure Carthis’ ignorance of it, I’ll return the chip to Fiearius. You have my absolute solemn word.”

Leta didn’t like this. Of all of Fiearius’ colleagues and criminals, even those who she’d seen firsthand do terrible, brutal things, Dez was still the one she trusted least. He was the man who, no matter what side he seemed currently aligned with, appeared likely to jump to the other at any moment. How many times had he betrayed Fiearius? How many more would he? And yet as Leta stood there across the hall from him and growled, “Your word doesn’t mean a hell of a lot,” she realized he was right when he shrugged and replied, “What other choice do you have?”

As if on cue, a blast of wind swept through the hallway, so strong that Leta had to shield her face from it. When it died down and she looked up, a small Carthian shuttle was carefully hovering in place just outside the wall, its ramp already open and an emergency team rushing out into the hall. And Dez? Gone.

Praying with every ounce of faith she had left that just this once, Dez was telling the truth, Leta turned from the doorway and hurried back to Fiearius’ side to help the medical team get him aboard and get him to safety. After all, if she wanted Fiearius to live, if she wanted Carthis to stay in the dark about the CID and about Dez, if she wanted this alliance to continue? What other choice did she have?

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Hey friends! Do me a favor and click that voting link right there? That would mean a lot to me thanks :)

So hey, I'll do a little kiriban thing for the heck of it, if anyone catches a screenshot of the 50k marker. Don't promise anything fancy, but I'll do you a quick doodle at the least. Cuz why not. Tradition. All that.

How are you all doing? Tell me about your lives, I always like that. Me, I'm pretty good. Kinda just...working and stuff. I'm starting a new cosplay! My second. That'll be fun. Is anyone watching Star Wars Rebels? I frickin love it. I'm gonna dress up as Hera for Celebration since it's in Anaheim this year and I'm kind of forcing my boyfriend to be Kanan, but he gets a lightsaber out of it, so he's alright with it. We'll take em to Wondercon and SDCC too so hey, threefer, huzzah.

I actually don't have anything else! But tell me about you!

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mimmime Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2015  Hobbyist
Happy birthday!!! :squee:
I was thinking of drawing something for you, but things happened... I will make something as a late birtday present! And I need to read the last few chapters I've missed!
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khronosabre Featured By Owner 1 day ago  Professional General Artist
Awww you're so sweet! Don't need to do anythin for me :) But thank yoU!
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:iconmimmime:
mimmime Featured By Owner 1 day ago  Hobbyist
I will make something as soon as I can get to it...:XD:
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:iconriotpilot:
RiotPilot Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2015
riotpilot.deviantart.com/art/T…
Featured a easter egg! 
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:iconmimmime:
mimmime Featured By Owner May 31, 2015  Hobbyist
Hey... I like the new banner on Caleum-Lex.com...:XD:
It really brings out the mood...:la:
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:iconkhronosabre:
khronosabre Featured By Owner May 31, 2015  Professional General Artist
Aw thanks :D I started it nearly a year ago, but it just kind of fell to the wayside. Glad I finally managed to get it up there.
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:iconmimmime:
mimmime Featured By Owner May 31, 2015  Hobbyist
I'm sorry I've been so slow in reading!! Something has always come in the way and I curse myself every time I remember it after forgetting...^^;
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:iconkhronosabre:
khronosabre Featured By Owner May 31, 2015  Professional General Artist
Hey, whatever :D You read at your own pace, we'll still be around when you've got time
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(1 Reply)
:iconk-zlovetch:
K-Zlovetch Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2015
Héhéhé, thanks for the watchback :love:
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