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Cyrus came to a halt at the end of the long winding path and squeezed his daughter's hand. "You ready?" he asked with a sly smile, and Kalli nodded eagerly. She tended to be nervous when meeting someone new. Not out of shyness, of course, for Kalli was hardly shy, but he and Addy had told her this morning in no uncertain terms that Eriaas Argoatan was very important and that she would need to be on her best behavior during their visit. It wasn't easy reining in a girl with so much energy.

"Are you ready?" Addy asked him knowingly, hovering her hand over the COMM beside the door leading into Argoatan's house — well, mansion, more like. It was a gorgeous place, he had to admit. An expansive, sleek building built into a hill, overlooking an ocean. Salty wind had blown at their faces as they'd made the trek up the path lined with little twinkling lights just starting to flicker on as the suns made their slow descent to the horizon, painting the sky in orange and pink. Cyrus could hardly imagine what one had to pay to get this kind of view every day.

"Of course I'm ready."

Addy flashed him a look of amusement, then said, "Adrasteia Atelier and Cyrus Soliveré here to see Mr. Argoatan," into the receiver.

A proper male voice responded, "One moment, ma'am," and Cyrus snorted. He couldn't imagine how much one had to pay to get a live-in door-answerer either.

"It's a little ridiculous," Addy muttered in agreement. "Let's just grin and bear this, okay? Endure his charm for an hour or two and we'll get the help we need."

Cyrus grumbled noncommittally, because Addy was right: Eriaas Argoatan's money was vital to rebuilding. A healthy donation from him meant New Genisi could keep expanding on schedule. Homes could be built, infrastructure could be laid, the city could come together. Without a donation? They could be stalled for months…

"Addy!" proclaimed a bright face as the door swung open. The man flashed his shiny white teeth as he spread out his arms in excitement. For as long as Cyrus had known him, Eriaas had always been a handsome man, in the strictest sense of the word. He had a firm jaw, smooth dark skin surrounding eyes that shimmered under the right light and he was always dressed as impeccably as his income suggested. Cyrus wasn't entirely sure what he did to achieve that income. Maybe he just convinced people to hand him piles of credits with his neverending charm.

Frankly, he made Cyrus want to gag a little.

"Cy," Eriaas went on, pointing at him with a wink and speaking with a sly tone that seemed to imply an inside joke between them that Cyrus had never heard. He smiled back. Tightly.

Finally, his eyes fell to Kalli who was now squeezing Cyrus' hand even tighter. "And this must be the little tornado I've heard so much about." Eriaas leaned down, his hands on his knees to get a better look at her. "It's very nice to finally meet you, Kalli," he said seriously, extending a hand for her to shake. Kalli took it gingerly, a little thrown off, but when he overdramatically shook it up and down, she giggled and bounced on her feet.

Eriaas laughed in return and looked back at Addy. "Clearly gets her looks from her mother I see," he chimed and Addy waved him off, but pink flushed her neck. Cyrus wasn't sure whether to be more offended by the fact that he was hitting on her (as usual) or the fact that he'd implied Cyrus bore their daughter the ugly genes…

"Anyway, come in, come in," he insisted, stepping back inside and sweeping his arm for them to follow. "I've got my chef making the final preparations for dinner right now, should be ready any minute. Adrasteia, my dear, can I get your coat?" Before Addy could even respond, he was helping her out of it. A little too eagerly, Cyrus couldn't help but note as he saw Eriaas' hands stay at her hips longer than was necessary.

Cyrus fell into step beside Addy as they followed their host towards the dining room. "Remind me why we're here again," he muttered bitterly and Addy laughed.

"Just play the game, Cyrus."

The dinner, as it always was when they visited Eriaas, was spectacular. Cyrus was by no means a connoisseur of fine food, but when he sat down at the long table beside the seamless glass windows and was presented with a feast on shining platters, he knew what he was looking at was expensive at the very least. The fact that it tasted good seemed to be an added bonus.

The conversation was much less palpable.

" — and I spent most of last month in Ordenon," Eriaas was saying halfway through the meal, after catching them up on his travels through the Ellegian wilderness, fighting off wild animals and nature. Or something. "It was a nice break from roughing it." He laughed. Addy laughed with him. "You've been to Ordenon, haven't you?"

"Ah, no, actually," Addy admitted, twirling pasta around her fork.

"I have," said Kalli at once, her small voice proud and confident. Cyrus snickered and nudged her elbow.

Addy went on to Eriaas, "I've spent some time in Tarin proper, but never Ordenon. Pretty sure we wouldn't be that welcome there…"

Eriaas waved her off, shaking his hand. "Nonsense! Visit with me and no one would dare make you feel unwelcome," he beamed, and Cyrus felt a bristle of irritation. By the way Eriaas was looking at her, he doubted the invitation was for the entire family.

"Though they might be a bit of a bore for you," he went on. "It's all parties and politics, really. Even I can barely stand the place for long. I picture you as more of the adventurous sort, am I right? Trekking the mountains of Uora, paddling down the Lassan river, sleeping under the stars?"

"Under the stars?" Kalli piped up, her voice puzzled. She looked from Cyrus to her mother. "Why?"

"It's called camping, honey," Addy explained, smiling at her. "Like in tents, outside. We'll take you someday."

"Of course we will," said Eriaas grandly, beaming across the table.

Cyrus repressed a snort. He forced his eyes to his plate, stabbing at his food with his fork. Of course Eriaas loved camping and nature and all of the things Addy liked but Cyrus hated. Of course.

Kalli went back to her plate, gingerly taking bites out of each piece, chewing carefully, a look of deep thought on her face, before putting it back down and apparently trying to decide whether she liked it or not.

Well at least one of his girls wasn't impressed by this guy.

"Speaking of uncharted terraform," Addy said suddenly, "I suppose I should talk about why we're here."

"Ah yes." Eriaas leaned back in his chair, lifting his glass of perfectly vinted wine to his lips. "The Archeti project, yes? You're still on that?"

Was that supposed to be a slight? Even if it was, Addy remained unphased. Frankly, she was better at this than he thought. Her willingness to 'play the game' and her cajoling charm was reminding him unpleasantly of his brother.

" — and we've got the infrastructure of New Genisi nearly ready to go," she was saying to him, her voice smooth and light like she could think of no better way to spend her evening. "We're starting to build at last."

"That's fantastic!" Eliaas cried, lifting his wine glass to them. "I'm glad to hear it." He leaned forward on the table and lifted a brow at her. "Don't need my money anymore then, huh?"

Addy opened her mouth, then closed it. "Well — " but Eliaas cut her off with a laugh.

"I jest, I jest, my dear. You know I'm more than happy to help you out."

Cyrus caught Addy's eye briefly as she grinned at him, relieved.

"What happened to that poor planet is awful," Eliaas sighed. "As long as a remarkable mind like yours is on the job, I'm more than happy to assist in any way I can." And then — Cyrus watched it, as though in slow motion — he caught Addy's hand in his.

Cyrus stared fixedly, unable to help himself, as Eliaas' thumb ran over the back of Addy's hand. He probably shouldn't have been mad. He had no legitimate claim on Addy. They had a daughter together, they lived together, they worked together, they were 'together' in the very broad sense of the word, but if she wanted a handsome rich guy to squeeze her palm like that, something that was, in effect, harmless, that was her choice. Right?

And yet when he glanced down at Kalli who, surprisingly, was staring at them too with her usual wide-eyed wonder, he couldn't help himself.

"It might assist if you'd actually visit the planet for once," he said suddenly, breaking the awkward silence. Everyone turned to Cyrus, awed. Addy's hand was freed now and holding the stem of her wine glass. Her eyes narrowed with warning.

Cyrus felt a rush of embarrassment, but he went on strongly, "I don't know, having an actual investor on the ground could help a lot. Help morale, help order, help get things done…"

His voice trailed off as everyone else in the room continued to stare at him blankly. Addy pursed her lips and gave him a stern look that he recognized without question: he was in trouble.

But fortunately, it was Eliaas who broke the silence at last. "Maybe," he said lightly, and then added, "But I'm afraid my schedule is booked for quite some time. I'm a busy man, you understand. Can't just be making visits to all of my benefactors." He grinned his sparkling grin and refilled his wine glass.

The gesture made Cyrus want to punch that stupid grin right off his face.

But before he had the chance, the attention was gone. Eliaas lifted Addy's hand to his lips, said, "Perhaps one day, you'll visit me for a reason other than investments?" and kissed it.

Cyrus suppressed a groan. It was going to be a long night.

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

"We smoked 'em. Smoked 'em good. Cap'n had the whole place locked down in minutes, shoulda seen it." Rhys described the event with all the tenacity of a man a few drinks deep, his hands making grand gestures in the air and his eyes lit with inspiration. "Shoulda been there, Lena."

"Leta," Leta corrected, amused.

Eve, seated at her side, scoffed a laugh. "Don't think our doc woulda cared for it much, Rhys. Not a lot of raids I cared for myself…" She shook her head and took a long sip from her glass. "Good work though. We're doin' good work. Believe that with all my heart." She nodded firmly and Leta smiled.

"That base was turned into a refugee camp. Its housing hundreds of displaced families now, so I've heard. It is good work." Whether or not it would remain good in the long run, she couldn't be sure, but after the past week, Leta was tired of dwelling on politics. For now, she was much more interested in hearing about the heroics of old friends.

"Know what though, doc, cap'n ever tell ya 'bout the first land on Ascendia?" Eve asked suddenly. Leta raised her brows and shook her head. Eve's eyes lit up, she cast a glance at Rhys who squirmed in his chair with excitement, and started to tell the tale.

It was strange, Leta thought, being back on the Dionysian again, lounging around the mess hall as the ship plummeted across the Span, chatting with its permanent fixtures. A lot had changed since her time aboard. Without Cyrus, Corra, Nikkolai, Amora…It was quieter. The crew was small. The air was a little harsher than it used to be, more serious. This ship had seen a lot, Leta knew, in the past five years. Things it wouldn't soon recover from.

But there was still Rhys with his ill-advised drinking. Still Eve, ever vigilant. Richelle, who had blossomed into a capable engineer, was helping Maya who had, of all things, taken cooking lessons from Fiearius in his few spare moments. It was easy to tell, Leta thought as the woman laid a plate in front of her on the table, given just how spicy it smelled.

Leta hadn't realized how much she had missed this place.

"Are you telling the Ascendia story again?" Maya asked as she sat down across the table. "We've heard it a thousand times."

"Leta hasn't," defended Eve.

"They snuck around for a few days and then took over city hall, just her and the cap'n and a couple Carthians, it was very impressive," Maya spoiled with her usual dosage of snark.

Eve growled, "Better when I tell it…"

It was then that the faint sound of approaching footsteps met Leta's ears. None of the others at the table looked up from their meals, this was such a clockwork occurrence to them, but she couldn't stop herself from glancing at the door as the ship's captain and his assistant entered the room.

Javier, as always, was busy reading off messages. "Admiral Gates would like you to put in a word to the Ellegian News Network about the Vescentian riots."

"He wouldn't like the word I'd use. Ignore," said Fiearius abruptly as he crossed the room. His loyal crew gave him a chorus of grunts as greeting and Maya said, "Extras in the kitchen, cap'n."

Leta had found that Fiearius was hardly present on the Dionysian's lower decks anymore. Instead, he was constantly occupied in the bridge, sending out orders to his fleet scattered across the Span. But he did make a point of sharing meals with them whenever he could. She'd been here all of a week and hardly seen him save for breakfasts, dinners and an occasional late night drink before he got back to work.

Still, few as those moments had been, Leta couldn't deny she'd appreciated them.

Unintentionally, she met his eyes as he passed towards the kitchen and he smirked. She returned it with a tilt of her head before going back to her food.

Meanwhile, Javier went on. "Parés is asking for more ships again."

"Ignore."

"Arsen requests you pull your people out of the eastern front on Ascendia."

"Ignore."

"Commander Lirien wants to know if he can see you again."

"Ignore."

"Quin's got a status update on the west Ascendia operation."

Leta heard Fiearius heave a deep sigh. "Alright, hit me."

"Area acquired, ten lost, thirty wounded."

Beside Leta, Richelle sucked in a breath through her teeth and shared a solemn glance with Maya over the table.

"She's awaiting further instructions," Javier finished as Fiearius exited the kitchen and took his place at the end of the table. Leta observed him quietly as he brandished his fork without touching the food. He looked tired, but he always looked tired these days. Now, it was almost as if he was so tired, it didn't phase him anymore.

And in fact, he sounded appropriately numb when he said, "Send a message to the Carthian lead in Ascendia proper, get shuttles out there for the injured. Tell Quin to take a break and head back to the CORS. I'll meet her there when I can."

Javier nodded and made a note on his tablet dutifully before finally sitting down himself and placing the thing aside, face down. An important part of the daily ritual, Leta had noticed. No messages, no contact, no disasters. Just for an hour.

"So," Fiearius began suddenly, his tone a lot lighter, though perhaps forcedly so. "How's my dear crew doing? Being nice to our guest?" He gestured towards Leta.

"Leta's not a guest," Javier flared up at once. "She's family."

Fiearius glanced over at her and upon catching his eye, she raised her brows expectantly. Yeah, she thought, what do you have to say about that?

But Fiearius just grinned and amended, "Of course, sorry. Being nice to our estranged cousin? Distant aunt? Prodigal daughter?"

Leta noticed Maya rolled her eyes, but Richelle was the one who answered, "Just fine, cap'n."

"You forget your crew doesn't have the detriments of your sparkling personality," put in Leta to which he grunted a laugh.

On the other side of the table, Eve was all business. "So we're headed for Ascendia, cap'n?" she asked.

"Not quite," Fiearius answered. "Ascendian cluster, but not Ascendia itself. Got a very important target to take care of." He caught Leta's eye briefly, as though to ensure she didn't elaborate on that any further. Apparently he didn't even trust his mission to assassinate the Society Councillors to his crew.

Though Eve might have not taken that hint. "What's the target?" she asked. "When can you brief me?"

Leta saw Fiearius' awkward grimace before he brushed it aside and told her patiently, "Actually, you won't be coming with me. Sorry, Harper. This one's a little different."

But if he wasn't taking Eve, Leta realized –

"You're going in alone on this?" she demanded.

To her surprise, he made the same expression as before, as though caught in a compromising position. "Not…exactly," he admitted.

Before Leta could question him, a voice rang out behind her that made her jump. "Is this the kind of right moment you told me to wait for?"

She knew who it was before she even turned around to find the bulky shape of Desophyles Cordova leaning in the doorway. Leta wasn't even the only one surprised.

"Where the hell did he come from?" Maya demanded, her eyes wide.

"Boarded when you dropped off the cute little family yesterday," Dez answered. "Your captain didn't think anyone else needed to know, though." He looked back to Fiearius. "So was this it? The right moment?"

Fiearius had his head in his hand looking rather uncomfortable. "Maybe?" He ventured a glance at Leta, perhaps expecting her to explode at him, but Leta didn't explode. She didn't yell. She didn't even feel a particularly strong urge to get up and leave the room.

Instead, all she could manage was a groan. "Are you kidding me?"
"Where the hell is it?!"

Crack.

The man's fist plowed across Corra's face, but she didn't feel much pain. The sharpness had numbed out into a dull throb about ten minutes ago. She coughed as a trickle of blood dripped from the corner of her mouth down her chin and looked up at her captor from the chair she'd been tied to.

"Fuck you," she spat coldly.

The next punch didn't come as a surprise.

In frustration, the man spun away from her and paced angrily back to his colleague. He spoke in hurried whispers she could barely hear through the pounding in her head. "What if the kroppie bitch doesn't have it? It wasn't with her stuff at the estate. What if he was wrong? I mean, it's possible that–"

"Oh, she has it," said the other, nudging his friend aside and stalking towards her chair himself. This guy was a lot more talented than his companion, Corra had come to learn over the past half hour (had it been longer than that? She was losing track of time). He hovered over her for a moment, looking down with more disdain than even Lars could manage towards his allies, and then slammed his hands down on the arms of the chair, his face inches from hers.

"And she's gonna fuckin' tell us where it is or she ain't gonna see another sunrise," he growled, his spit flecking her face.

Unfortunately for Corra, she didn't know where it was. She didn't even know what it was. She had assumed, when she'd woken up in this dark room with two people who obviously meant ill-will, that it was because someone had discovered her identity, that someone had tracked her, that someone whose allies she'd freed wanted payback. But it hadn't taken long for her to realize that these men had little interest in allies or the Conduit. They were here for something else. Now she just had to figure out what.

But first, she had to get this asshole out of her face.

With a growl, she screwed up her mouth, gathering the excess blood on her tongue, and spat it straight into his eye.

The man roared in anger and lashed out, slapping her across the face so hard her chair rocked back and forth. Corra managed to steady it just in time to take a fist to the stomach.

As Corra bent double, or as much as her bonds would allow, she wracked her brain to try and figure out what these fuckers were looking for. What did she have? She kept nothing with her during her implant operations, but there was a stash of personal effects stored on her ship. Mostly clothing, emergency rations, a few souvenirs from her travels. Nothing she'd think anyone would want, let alone torture for.

Apparently she was wrong?

Still, until she could get more of a sense of who she was dealing with and what they were about, she couldn't risk giving them anything. Not for her sake, not for the Conduit's sake and certainly not for the sake of whatever she may or may not have had in her possession. So instead she stayed quiet and waited for one of them to give hersomething. And hoped they did it before she lost too much blood to notice…

"Alright, kroppie," the first man was saying again, presumably thinking the word would affect her. These days, it didn't. "Enough games."He brandished a knife from the sheath at his hip and started to run his finger along it teasingly. "You're gonna tell me where the Transmission is or you're gonna start having crops in more than just your ear."

Transmission? Now, Corra could safely say she was completely lost. What transmission? And what kind of transmission was something that could be hidden in a physical place?

When she didn't answer, the man spun the knife around in his hand and then gripped it firmly, the blade pointed straight at her as he approached. "Where should we start? A finger? Nose? Maybe just–" he reached out and dragged the tip of the blade gently across her face, brushing her skin, "–pluck out an eye."

She was running out of time. But she needed answers. Whatever this 'Transmission' was, if she did indeed have it on her, she needed to know. So she took a calculated risk and asked, "I gotta know, who wants it back so bad?"

It was an assumption that she had stolen it from someone, but it was a reasonable one. Corra had little qualms thieving from the various assholes she met along her path. Fortunately, she seemed to be right.

"Little too late for someone to want it back since you killed the man you took it from," was the response she got. Someone she'd–Internally, Corra ran through the list of men that fit that description. She didn't often find a need to outright murder. There had been a couple ally owners that had gotten in the way and she hadn't had a choice. A few external shits who'd tried to stop her. That guy on Ellegy she had to deal with…

"Don't mean there ain't others that're wanting to get their hands on it. For the right price," the man went on, grinning down at her and running the knife from her eye to her chin, a little harder this time, breaking a stretch of skin on her cheek.

And there was nothing she'd stolen from any of them. Nothing she couldn't identify anyway. No, there had to be something else. Someone else…

"And you're gonna tell me where it is," he concluded, jabbing her a little sharply in the chest and that was when it hit her. The knife. Someone she'd killed, someone she'd stabbed.

"Callahan," she was unable to hold back from saying in shock.

Her captor glowered and slapped her hard across the face. "Don't you fuckin' use that name you ungrateful shit."

Corra recovered from the blow quickly, shaking off the blood from her mouth and looking up at him. "I'm sorry. I'll tell you," she said, her voice dropping to barely above a whisper. "I hid it. I hid it in–" She mumbled something unintelligible and his face twisted in annoyance.

"Louder, kroppie, where is it?" he growled, but leaned in anyway.

"I hid it–" she mumbled again and this time he leaned closer. Just enough.

" — Up your ass," she finished shortly and, before he could react, she rocked back and forward again, slamming her head into his.

The man reeled backwards, clutching his head as Corra shifted forward, landing her feet square on the ground and lifting the chair she was still attached to behind her back. As the other man's shock wore off and he came at her, she spun around and swung the legs of the chair right into his torso. He flew into the wall with a thud as she spun again, knocking the first man off his feet.

"Thanks, I got all I need," she told them cheerfully before jumping as high as she could manage and letting herself (and her chair) fall on top of the one below her. The wood splintered and snapped apart on impact and she easily slipped out of the wreckage. The knife the man had been using glittered enticingly on the ground and she used it to slice away the ropes they had binding her while her captors groaned in pain, immobile for the time being.

Her bones protested as she headed for the door before that changed and her body felt the beginning stages of bruising, but there was no time to worry about her aches and pains. She had to get back to her ship and fast.

—–

An agent of the Conduit had lent Corra the Spirit a few years ago for a single mission to a nearby planet. The ship was just big enough to carry her and just small enough to be hidden easily. Her dull grey exterior which blended in to practically any environment certainly helped. She'd often suspected the agent had wanted the Spirit back, but Corra had fallen in love with the tiny vessel the moment she first laid her hands on its controls. And conveniently, she had just happened to never run into that particular agent again…

Currently, she was parked amongst a heap of retired service shuttles in the city's ancillary shipyard. No one noticed the small woman as Corra silently vaulted over the fence and made her way across the yard, finding easy cover amongst its residents.

She couldn't get aboard the Spirit soon enough. She needed ice for her bruises, bandages for her cuts and more than anything, she needed to find that–that thing.

When she stumbled aboard into the small brightly-lit chamber of the ship, however, after the long run across the entire city, her first desire was to collapse on the cold metal ground in relief. She was safe, she'd made it, everything would be okay. But she forced herself onward to the storage area where she began digging through the cabinets.

When she'd taken care of Callahan and his men a few weeks ago, she had an urge to take something with her after the fact. She'd felt she deserved it, after all he'd done. After the hunt he'd lead her on. The ear was satisfying, she thought, as she found the jar she'd stored it in and pushed it aside. A little grim, but satisfying. Though not satisfying enough. There had been something else in that room that had caught her attention.

It had sat on his desk, glimmering at her enticingly. A deep red cylinder encased in some kind of golden cage, no bigger than her fist. It looked old. Perhaps even ancient. And honestly, it was just shiny. She'd figured she could sell the thing somewhere along the road when her credits ran dry.

But after tonight, she was convinced the thing was more than just the trinket she'd taken it for. Those men had certainly reacted when she'd said Callahan's name, he definitely fit their description and this, she thought as she wrapped her fingers around the object and pulled it out of the cabinet into the light, was the only thing she'd taken from him.

The Transmission? She turned it over in her hand. What did that even mean?

Taking the object with her, she returned to the front of the ship and fell heavily into the pilot's seat. Surely someone knew about this. Surely there was a trail here she could follow. A path to figure out what, exactly, she'd been storing on her ship unknowingly.

She tapped a command into her console and looked up at the screen that projected before her. Admittedly, it wasn't the greatest search term. She scrolled through the results, finding nothing of interest before trying something else.

Well, those men had known what it was.

And sure enough, it didn't take long to find the bounty on her. Corra whistled at the price. Whoever wanted this thing wanted it bad. But any mention of the 'object' that needed 'retrieval' was vague and unhelpful. She didn't want to risk reaching out herself to find out more, but maybe someone else could. Maybe someone amongst her network could uncover more information. Maybe someone already knew, maybe–

And suddenly, a face came to her. A face surrounded by smoke and fire and ship debris, looking up at her with desperation, fear, concern.

Finn.

At once, it made sense. That was why he'd been there. He knew about the bounty. He'd come to the ship preview to warn her. And that meant…

She lifted the mysterious red tube to her eyes. He might know something about the Transmission too.

It was settled then. She wouldn't be able to go back to Lars' estate anyway, not like this. A beat-up ally would raise far too many questions. She'd put in a call to Raisa and have them expedite a rescue without her. It'd be more challenging and a lot more expensive, but she had faith that the work she'd done there and the information she'd gathered would lead it to be successful and her latest family would be free before the night ended.

So instead, she hit the switch to fire up the Spirit's practically silent engines and tapped a few keys to make a call. "Hey," she greeted when the line connected, "Sorry for the late hour, but I need to find someone."

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

Finn tilted the murky bottle against his mouth, then thudded it onto the surface of the bar. It was either his fourth or ninth beer, but he couldn't be sure — he'd let the hours bleed by, morning into afternoon. He knew he shouldn't have been daydrinking, especially alone in a dive bar, but he decided he wasn't just daydrinking alone. He was scheming. And thinking.

He had a lot of thinking time, after all, since he'd been kicked out — or forcibly removed, as Daelen would say — from his own ship three days ago. It was official now: led by Alyx, the Beacon had left without him.

It hadn't been a ceremonious send-off. Finn had grabbed his jacket from his room, found his wallet, and left down the cargo bay ramp.

Still — when he pictured Alyx's face, his stomach twisted into guilt. She'd probably never speak to him again. Now he had no vessel, no bridge to take charge of, no captain's chair. He had nothing but some fraudulent credits to his name and, well, his current beer.

Surprisingly, the thought did not embitter him. He really had no bitterness left. Instead, he snorted an uneven laugh to himself as he swirled the last dregs of his bottle, watching the liquor swish around.

Behind him, the bar's front door opened and shut, letting a warm breeze sweep in, followed by new voices.

" — usual, please, Reggie," a man was saying to the bartender as he dropped into a stool. Finn spared the man a sideways glance and noted, with interest, that his wallet was visible in the pocket of his jacket.

Well, Finn thought, bemusedly, he had to start somewhere. Pick-pocketing wasn't as glamorous was it was when he was in his young twenties, though — really, he should have been stealing ships, not loose change. He hadn't hotwired and stolen a passenger vessel in years, but he supposed he could manage it. Maybe he'd head over to the docks …

The door opened and shut a second time. Another warm, sandy breeze blew through. Finn reached for his beer, ready to polish it off so he could leave and get to work — and then it happened. Mid-swig of his drink, he glanced toward the door and he could do nothing but cough up half his beer.

Eyes watering, hacking up his lungs, Finn could sense the bartender eyeing him oddly, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from the figure who had just walked in the door.

She was petite and curvy, her black hair cut short. There was no mistaking those round doe-eyes anywhere.

"You've got," Finn managed at last, "to be shitting me."

Corra's mouth curved into a tense smile as she slowly made her way towards him, her hands locked behind her back. "Hey there," she greeted through a bit of a nervous chuckle. "Long time no see, huh?"

Finn stared. He was torn between the impulse to laugh and the impulse to yell, and in the end, his voice was toneless. "What're you doing here?"

She broke eye contact with him and glanced awkwardly at the bar. "Getting a drink?" she guessed. "And looking for you of course."

"How the hell did you even find me?"

"I've got people with eyes and ears all over. Plus you're not too hard to track." She slid onto the chair beside him, like they were old drinking buddies meeting up again, like old times, like nothing had changed. "Finn — I need to ask you. Do you know what the Transmission is?"

Finn slid a look toward his near-empty beer bottle. Maybe he'd had more to drink than he thought. "What?"

"The Transmission," she pressed. "It's this old–I don't know, tube thing? I don't know what it does, but that's what it's called and–"

"No. What — are you kidding me?" Finn cut her off suddenly.

Corra looked surprised. "No? I–"

"Tell me you're fucking kidding me," Finn grunted, slapping his palm on the bar. "You disappear. For five years. After — god, the worst day of my life, without a fucking word. And you show up again to ask me a goddamned question about–what the fuck, Corra?"

Corra's mouth fell open in shock, but then she clamped it shut again. Until, "Finn–"

"You're ridiculous. And you came to find me because you need something? Corra." He barked a dry laugh. "Whatever it is you need, you've come to the wrong person."

Silence lapsed for a moment, and Finn wondered if she would get up and leave, disappearing again like a ghost, never to see her again. Then she said, "So you don't know anything about it?"

Finn held the bridge of his nose with his fingers, overwhelmed and suddenly exhausted. He could not believe Corra was sitting at his side, after all this time, let alone demanding information from him.

"What did you say it was called? Transmission? No, I don't know anything about it. What are you up to, Corra? Are you in trouble?"

Corra didn't meet his eyes. "Maybe…" Before he had a chance to respond, she slid off her chair and tucked her arms behind her back. "It's okay, I can take care of it. Thanks anyway. And–" She looked up at him, albeit briefly. "I'm sorry. For bothering you. And…" She swallowed hard and bowed her head a little. "Everything else."

Just as she was turning to leave, Finn reached out and grabbed her arm to halt her.

"Hang on now. It's been years. I know you're some secret Conduit agent who can't tell me anything now–" He ignored her sudden look of alarm at the company around them, "–but we can't at least catch up a little?"

She looked hesitant and she was still poised towards the door, but then a memory flashed across her face and she said, "Oh, right, I wanted to ask. My contact tracked you here, but I didn't see the Beacon anywhere in the docks. Where is she?"

Finn's expression sunk a little. He had imagined a hypothetical situation in which he'd have to explain this to Corra one day, but it had been hypothetical. Now that she was standing in front of him, blinking innocently in his direction, the explanation came a lot harder…

"Yeah. About that…"
Alyx paused in the doorway of the Beacon's bridge, hooking her hand on the doorframe and hanging back. Finn was seated in the captain's chair, his eyes locked on the console before him which was emitting quiet voices. A news feed, it sounded like. She watched the back of his head for a moment, knowing she just needed to step forward and get this over and done with, but the awkwardness of the ensuing conversation made her want to turn back around and forget the whole thing. The two of them had barely spoken since the incident at the ship demonstration. Why start now?

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Finn spared her the responsibility of taking the leap. He glanced over his shoulder at her and grunted, "Need something?"

Yes, Alyx wanted to growl. Yes, the Beacon needed her captain back, needed money, resources, a plan, anything. Yes, she needed a lot.

But in the interest of not exacerbating their already strained relationship further, she just shrugged casually and said, "Just wanted to see how you were doing," as she crossed into the room and took up a seat beside him.

"Better. Just a few bruises. Daelen took care of me." He paused. "Well, I think he did. Hard to remember."

Alyx cocked a brow. "Did he check for a concussion?"

Finn smirked at her sidelong. "Hard to remember."

Awkward silence fell as Finn looked back at the screen and Alyx sat there, wracking her brain on how to proceed. Frankly, she didn't feel like she owed Finn much of an apology. She wasn't even convinced she'd done anything wrong. Through the grapevine, she knew that he was angry about her not going after 'Corra' when his ship had crashed, but to her mind, she didn't even think Corra had been there. And excuse her, there had been the much more pressing issue of her captain's well-being to worry about at the time. She regretted nothing.

And yet she knew that nothing would ever change between them unless she sucked it up and apologized anyway. Alyx may have been stubborn, but she was a lightweight compared to Finn and the Beacon needed to move on from their last mishap. Desperately. If that meant she had to take a hit to her pride, so be it.

But as soon as she began, "So, listen– " Finn also opened his mouth to say, "So have you heard about–"

Alyx clamped her jaw shut. Finn did the same. Then he said, "Sorry, what were you–"

"No, no, it's fine," she insisted hurriedly, gesturing for him to continue. His hand was hovering somewhere towards the console which was still playing news from Vescent. "The riots?"

"Yeah," he said, looking between her and the reporter on screen and back again. "They're uh–pretty bad, huh?" His mouth twisted and he admitted, "I don't actually have anything to add about that…What were you gonna say?"

Despite herself, Alyx smiled. So she wasn't the only one that felt incredibly uncomfortable right now.

"I just–I wanted to say I'm sorry is all. For what went down the other day." She ran a hand through her hair. "It wasn't what I intended. At all. And it just sucked. And I'm sorry."

To her surprise, Finn actually smiled in return. "Hey, it wasn't your fault. I was the one who let my guard down and crashed that ship."

"Yeah, we really could have used that," Alyx said before she could stop herself and fortunately, he took it good-heartedly.

"No kidding. And look, we're gonna get back on track, I promise," Finn said and for the first time in a long time, Alyx felt a hint of faith in her captain. That is, until he added, "Just as soon as we find Corra."

She must have visibly tensed. It took a great deal of willpower to not just snap at him right then and there. 'What the hell is wrong with you?' she wanted to demand. 'We need more help than she does at this point! We can't waste any more time trying to help a woman who doesn't want our help when our ship is on the edge of falling apart!'

But somehow, perhaps by miracle, she managed to contain herself. "Finn, I care about Corra as much as you, but–"

"Knock knock?" came a cool, polite voice by the door, cutting her off mid-sentence. Both Alyx and Finn turned to find someone Alyx had never seen before. He was a short man, a little stocky, but had a certain refined dignity to his stance that made him appear taller than he was.

For a moment, no one said anything until he coughed uncomfortably and said, "Captain Riley? I was told I might find you up here?"

Alyx blinked before gesturing toward Finn. He stood up, looking suspicious. "I'm Captain Riley. What do you want?"

"Ah, it's a pleasure to meet you," said the man, hurrying forward to take Finn's hand and shake it enthusiastically. Finn looked bemused. "I hope you don't mind, I did a bit of looking around on the way up here. She's gorgeous, even more than you described."

Alyx glanced at Finn, but he looked just as puzzled as she felt.

The man went on, "I've got someone drawing up papers in town if we want to move forward today." He walked across the bridge to look out the window. "I'd like to take a look through the engines and ancillary cores first of course, but I'm definitely liking what I'm seeing."

Finn's eyes shifted over the stranger curiously. "Wait, hang on here — "

"We can talk numbers in a bit, I'm still a little hesitant over what we discussed before, but maybe I can be convinced."

"Finn, what is he –" Alyx whispered.

He jabbed his thumb back toward the door. "Shall we take the tour then? I'm excited to take a closer look."

Finally, Finn managed to ask, "I'm sorry, have we–do I know you?"

At once, the man clapped his hand to his head. "Oh gracious, I'm so sorry, I didn't even introduce myself." He seized Finn's hand again. "Taros Lin. I'm the man who responded to your for sale ad? For the ship?"

Suddenly, alarm rose to Finn's face.

Alyx felt her stomach drop. Her jaw followed. She spun around to Finn. "Your what?!" she demanded.

Guilt was written all over his features. "Alyx," he muttered, "listen–"

"You're selling the ship?!" she shouted over him "Are you fuckingkidding me?"

Finn's hand met his forehead. "It was a while ago. I just put up the ad, just to see, I didn't really think–"

"Wait," interjected the would-be buyer, looking stricken. "Are you no longer selling?"

"No," Finn said decisively.

"But two days ago, you said–"

"Two days?!" Alyx snapped. "Oh, it was a while ago was it?"

"Alyx, c'mon–" Finn muttered.

"So what, you sell the ship, take your cash to go off and do as you please, what happens to the rest of us?" she growled.

"Excuse me–" began Taros Lin, but Alyx cut him off.

"You. Shut up. Get out," she ordered sharply. "You're not buying this ship."

The man pursed his lips, but made to do as he was told anyway. That is, until Finn, his expression suddenly shifting from apology and guilt to pure anger, countered, "No. Stay here. It's not your call, Alyx."

"Not my call?!"

Finn's glare hardened. "It it is my ship, you know I could sell it if I want to."

"So you're okay putting eighty people out of work? Out of a home?!"

"If I have to."

"Have to?!"

"Alyx, all you've been telling me is how the ship is falling apart, how we're behind on payment and schedules. I wanted to see what the ship would go for and split with everyone. I was just keeping the option open!"

Keep the option open? Alyx could hardly believe her ears. She didn't even have a response, finding herself only able to stare at Finn in complete disbelief. If he cared so much about Corra, she had to wonder what Corra would think, hearing this? How would she feel knowing that the ship she had worked so hard to build was so easily written off by the man she'd left in charge of it?

Not that it mattered what Corra thought. Corra wasn't here. Alyx was here. And Alyx was angry.

Finn, oblivious, turned back to the Taros Lin. "You want to buy this ship? Make me an offer. A real offer this time. It's good enough, ship's yours."

"Oh no, it is not."

"You can't stop me, Alyx," Finn growled. "The Beacon is falling apart. It's done. Let it go."

Alyx bit down on the inside of her cheek and marched forward until her eyes were even with his. "No, Finn. The Beacon isn't done. You'redone."

"'Cuse me?"

"You wanna leave? You wanna be free of this terrible burden you've had to bear?" Her words dripped with sarcasm. "Fine. But to hell if I'm gonna let you hand off everything we've worked so hard for to thisguy." She gestured to the short stocky man who was now inching towards the exit. "Be free, Finn. Get the hell out. Go live whatever delusional dream you want, I can't care anymore. But the Beacon? She's mine."

An odd expression came to Finn's face — half appalled, half admiring, like he could not believe her daring. "You can't do that."

"Can't I? I've run this ship pretty much on my own for years, Finn. You may have had the title, but honestly, who did all the work? Sure as hell didn't see you helping out ever."

"That's bullshit — "

"Face it, I am the only reason this ship kept sailing after Corra left. I know what happened back then was shit, I know it was hard on you. Losing your home, your parents, your best friend, I get it, it sucked. And I have been so patient with you, I have. Through all of your binges and your alcoholism and every hindering step you took along the way. But Finn I have been too fucking patient for too damn long and I just can't be patient anymore. I can't put up with this any longer."

"So what, now you're kicking me out?!" He sounded like he might laugh, but his eyes were humorless.

"You need help, help I can't give you," Alyx snapped. "Help that you're sure as hell not gonna get here." She took a deep breath and fixed him with a desperate stare. "So yeah, Finn. I am. Get the hell off my ship."

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

Corra's feet landed with a loud thump on the marble flooring — louder than she'd anticipated. Freezing on the spot, she grimaced and peered down the hallway, praying that there were no figures lurking in the darkness to overhear. Or worse, see. She couldn't imagine what someone might think observing Ranson Lars' most obedient ally climbing through one of the mansion's outer windows. She didn'twant to imagine what would happen next.

Fortunately, the coast seemed to be clear, all of the house's staff and residents fast asleep by now. So as quickly as she'd entered, she straightened herself up and started toward the servant quarters as though that was what she'd been doing all along. If anyone asked, she'd simply remembered a task she'd neglected in the kitchen. And ideally, no one would have noticed she was even gone.

Admittedly, a few days before the big escape she had planned was not the best time to go sneaking off in the middle of the night. Usually, Corra wouldn't have taken the risk. But when she'd heard the news feed describing a grim situation on Vescent earlier today while she served drinks to Lars' guests, she couldn't wait either.

It wasn't safe to make a call on the mansion's grounds, but Corra had discovered a quiet public console station only a few blocks away that allowed her to make the call to Leta discreetly. And she was glad she did.

"I know you can't tell me where you are, but you're safe, aren't you?" Leta had pressed.

Corra had laughed grimly as she'd considered her current situation. Embedded as an ally and intent on staging a mass rescue in a few days. 'Safe' wasn't a word she'd choose. Finally she'd muttered, "Safe enough. But I called to talk about you, not me. Tell me about Vescent. The news we heard here was a little skewed…"

"It was bad, Corra," Leta sighed. "We had riots two years ago, but not as bad as this. I won't be making it back there anytime soon … "

"So you're staying on the Dionysian?" Corra couldn't help but smirk at that, glad to know that even after all these years, she could still count on Fiearius to have as much invested in Leta's safety as she did.

"I know what you're thinking and no, I'm not sleeping with Fiear."

"I didn't say anything! Nor would I," Corra laughed. "Just making sure you're okay is all. Are you hanging in there?"

Leta laughed. "Barely, but yes, I am," she said, which was the most assurance Corra could have hoped for. Their calls were infrequent and never more than a few minutes, but she relished them.

Corra wouldn't describe herself as lonely, exactly. How could she have been — she was constantly busy and surrounded by people. She enjoyed the company of the allies she worked to free. With each new 'owner' she situated herself under, she gained a new family of sorts.

And yet, none of her new families seemed able to fill the hole that had appeared in the center of her chest. No one had managed to come close to the kind of relationships she'd used to kindle and she still felt pangs of regret when her mind turned to Leta, to Cyrus, to Addy, Alyx, to Finn…

The image of Finn's face came to her mind's eye, staring up at her from the wreckage of that ship that had plowed into the grandstand. His voice calling out to her. Her sudden need to flee. She still didn't know what he was doing there or how such a coincidence (if it even was one) could have occurred. But as much as she knew she had to get out of there at the time, there was a part of her now that wished she could have answered him…

She shook the thought from her mind as she gently eased open the door to the servant's quarters and slipped into the hallway inside. There was no time to feel remorseful about days long past. She had a job to do and an important one at that. In two days, she'd be leading all of these people into freedom. Slipping up now wasn't an option.

She was almost to the door to her assigned barracks when she noticed that she wasn't the only one awake in this section of the mansion. Hushed whispers were coming from up ahead, but she couldn't make out what they were saying and, in this darkness, she could see little more than featureless figures coming her way.

Corra slowed her pace, peering towards them as they entered into her view. They didn't look like anyone she knew, nor did they hold themselves like allies. Guests of Lars? She didn't like to imagine what some visiting dignitaries or businessmen would be looking for in the servant's quarters at this hour. But they weren't dressed nearly well enough to fall into Lars' usual range of friends. And then, suddenly, their whispers silenced and they stopped where they stood.

Out of instinct, she too stopped. They'd seen her. And then one of them said a word she didn't expect to hear: "Corra?"

They were–looking for her? And they knew her actual name? Lars' people only knew her as Ava. Were they from the Conduit?

The two men were coming towards her as she tried to figure out what was going on. No one other than Raisa knew where to find her, perhaps she was trying to get in touch? Something must have been wrong for them to show up now.

Still, Corra stood defensively as they approached, holding her head high and keeping her hands firmly at her sides. "Corra?" one of the men asked again.

Corra regarded him carefully, unsure what the right answer was. If he was from the Conduit, she could tell the truth, but if not–

Unfortunately, she never got the chance to make her decision. Suddenly, the other man growled, "It's her!"

Before she could think, a dark figure rushed towards her face, lifted his arm, and then everything went black.
Caelum Lex Pt. 3 Chapter 13: Caught In The Act
Caelum Lex, the sci-fi, adventure, action, romance, space pirate serial! Chapter 13 of Part 3! In which Finn and Alyx have a talk and we catch up with someone we haven't seen in a while.

First: Caelum Lex Chapter 1: Medical Attention
Previous: Caelum Lex Pt. 3 Chapter 12: Agreement
Next: Caelum Lex Pt. 3 Chapter 14: Interrogation
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When Alyx had suggested stealing a ship, this wasn't what she'd had in mind. She'd pictured a clandestine deal in the black of night, in an alley, amongst whispers and hurried footsteps. That's usually how it went.

But this could not have been more different. Sweating beneath the summer heat of an Ellegian moon, she adjusted the skirt of her high-fashion dress. An elaborate hat that cost more than a small ship shaded her face. Ridiculous as she thought it looked, Cai, who had attended many of these events during his time as an Ellegian ally, had been correct in assuring her it was a necessity to blend in. They'd only been at the 1868 Lars Technologies Preview and Demonstration for ten minutes and already she'd seen an array of headwear that deserved far more fascination than the ships performing tricks out in the arena.

Cai himself was tagging along behind as she gradually lead the way through the throngs of mingling socialites in the grandstand. Unlike her and Daelen who strode by her side, he wasn't dressed in Ellegian finery, but the dull garb of those that flitted between the guests serving drinks, offering food, attending to the inevitable moments when one woman's hat got caught in another's and generally blending into the background. And he wasn't very happy about it.

"Do I always have to play the ally?" he grumbled under his breath, quiet enough that only they could hear.

Alyx glanced back at him and tilted her head. He'd expressed his dissatisfaction with that particular part of the plan from the get-go, asking if he could instead play the part of the husband or brother or even the estranged cousin. She couldn't blame him for finding the notion unappealing, but as bad as Alyx felt about it, the logic was infallible. Which he surely realized as she unintentionally stared at his cropped ear.

"Sorry, Cai, but-" she began but he cut her off with a sigh.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, need someone to check behind the scenes, I get it," he mumbled, clearly irritated.

Alyx shared a glance with Daelen who just grimaced and shrugged. "Hey," she said, cracking him an apologetic smirk. "Next time you can wear the hat, I promise." He eyed her for a moment and then returned a smirk of his own.

"I'm holding you to that," he mused. "But in the meantime, I'll go sniffing around out back."

"And we'll see if we can hunt down this Ranson Lars fellow," said Daelen.

"Stay safe," Alyx told Cai who just laughed off her worry and disappeared into the crowd with expert skill. Then she turned back to Daelen and took a deep breath. "Shall we, Mr. Orsada?"

"Of course, Ms. Orsada," Daelen replied, dutifully taking her arm and strolling onwards. As they walked, Alyx scanned the face of every dully-dressed serving girl they passed. She'd just wanted to steal a ship to pay for the Beacon's fuel. And yet here she was, dressed to the nines searching for Corra. She could only hope Finn was carrying out his end of the bargain.

-----------

Far from his companions in the grandstands, Finn slipped through the ship hangar toward his target. Excitement outside was mounting as ships zoomed through the air in spectacular feats of piloting, the crowd was roaring in the distance - no one was watching as he crested the metal ramp of a ship and boarded the vessel like he owned it.

Which, if this all went to plan, he soon would.

The ship was small, a convenient state-of-the-art transport vessel. It had no cargo bay to speak of, just seats lining every hallway, and it probably held twenty people total, compared to the Beacon's two-hundred. But it was a beautiful little bird, fitted with the highest tech on the market, fast, and all slick silver metal, which Finn admired as he strode down the hallway toward what would soon be his bridge. Alyx wanted him to steal a ship to sell off on the black market? This one would certainly fetch a high price.

In the bridge, the poor, unsuspecting pilot was readying for her performance. Seated in the captain's chair, she had one hand on the COMM button, and the other adjusting dials.

"Checking in, this is Allerion 2, ready for take off."

"Confirmed Allerion," said a voice on the other end of the line. "Cue coming in 30. Remember to stay in formation with Pyka's 3 and 4."

"Got it, boss, ready and-"

But before she could finish the message, Finn crossed through the room, hit the dial to silence the call, and pulled the gun off of his hip.

"Sorry, mate, but hand over the ship," he growled, resisting the urge to smirk - this hadn't lost his fun. "And I won't pull the trigger."

The end of his gun was centered at the woman's forehead. Her mouth fell open in shock.

"W - Who the hell are you?" she breathed, standing up to her feet.

"The man who'll be taking over this flight if that's alright by you," he answered simply. "And for your sake, I hope it is."

In a shaky voice she breathed, "Just - fuck - alright, take it. I don't get paid enough for this."

"I figured as much," Finn said agreeably. He jerked his head amicably toward the back of the cockpit, indicating she move away, though he didn't pull the gun from her forehead just yet. "Back off, alright? Nice and easy and I won't have to blow your head off - oh, and give me your jacket, would ya?" he added, as casually as if they were trading clothes for fun.

Wide-eyed, the woman shakily slipped the jet black pilot's jacket off of her shoulders. Holding up her palms in surrender, she backed away from the bridge just as Finn shrugged on the jacket and dropped into the chair. Now he really looked the part.

"Right," he said brightly, surveying the controls.

It wasn't the first ship Finn had ever stolen, but it was certainly the prettiest. And the newest. He hadn't seen a control panel like this - well, ever. He stared at it in silence for a few moments, his eyes searching over the controls for some semblance of familiarity. "Right…." he muttered again, scrunching his face in concentration.

After a moment, he felt his unfortunate guest's eyes on the back of his head, but when he spared her a glance over his shoulder, she was looking straight past him out the window at a green light that had flicked on above the open hangar door.

"That was your cue," she pointed out, sounding a little bitter. "You missed it."

Finn frowned at her. And frowned at the light. And then frowned back at the control panel.

Finally, she said, "It's the blue switch. There? On the left? That's what you're looking for."

It was, he realized, as he reached over and flipped the switch, causing the whole ship to hum as the engines began to rev up. "Thanks," he mumbled, not feeling very thankful as he took hold of the steering and lifted the ship off the ground with ease.

"You're welcome," she answered. And then a moment later, "You're not very good at this, are you?"

Finn scoffed. "I'm trained in Class-A's, specializing in the 750's. Little more intense than this overpriced luxury liner."

The woman let out a thoughtful, "Mmmm," and then a moment later, "Military then, huh?" and the comment, mixed with the flood of daylight as the ship picked up speed and soared out into the open air, made him wince. "So this is how Carthis funds its misguided war. Interesting."

Part of him wanted to argue. No, he had nothing to do with Carthis' war. Nor was this how that war operated. In fact, some of his best friends were part of that war and - but he stopped himself. Why should he defend himself to some half-rate day-hire pilot?

"Well whatever you're trained on, Carthy, see those people over there?" She pointed towards the grandstands. "They still think I'm flying this ship so try not to embarrass me with your sloppy sailing alright?"

Finn let out a sharp laugh. "Sloppy? Excuse me?"

Suddenly, she was no longer in the back of the room, but at his side looking out the window. "Hey," he snapped, letting go of the controls for just a moment to reach for his gun, but she didn't make any aggressive motions.

"As far as they're concerned, I missed my first cue, and…" She waited a beat and added, "Now I missed my second. You're screwing up the Pykas, clearly." She pointed upwards where Finn could see two smaller ships wavering awkwardly, unsure. "This thing was choreographed to every detail and now here you are, here I am just plowing across the field like an amateur."

"Look, lady, I ain't really concerned with your image right now," Finn grumbled, picking up speed a little. "Now get back to-"

"Not concerned about your image either I guess," she muttered indignantly. "You Carthy's are all the damn same. All talk, no flair."

"I'm not a-" Finn began, but shut his mouth, clenching his jaw. He narrowed his eyes and gripped the controls tighter.

-----------

Cai didn't want to pick up a serving tray and start handing out tiny sandwiches to the Ellegian elite, but when he'd approached the back of the event and an older ally had shoved it into his hands, he didn't really have much of a choice. There was a time when this had come terribly naturally to him. There was work to be done, he would do it, without even a second thought. But five years into his freedom, that was no longer the case and his urge to drop the thing and walk away in a huff was strong.

Still, he had a job to do. Even if it was a shitty job. A shitty job exploiting his somewhat painful history. At least this time he was behind the cause. Helping Corra wasn't the worst reason to assume an identity he'd rather not be associated with any longer. No, stealing a crate of what turned out to be protein bars. That was the worst. The very memory made his spine tingle with unspoken resentment. He didn't offer Alyx a sandwich when he passed her in the crowd.

Only when he'd done a full pass through the thoroughfare did he get the chance he was looking for. He hadn't spotted Corra herself. Who knew if she was even here? But if someone had any idea, it would be Ranson Lars' help and one particular young woman with a cropped ear and plain brown-grey dress was just the kind of source he needed.

Casually, he strolled up to where she stood by the far wall and leaned against it. She was watching the crowd dutifully, a little nervous he could tell. She seemed new to all this, fresh-faced and scared that any moment something terrible might happen. Which was why he kept his tone cheerful when he said, "Fun party, huh?"

She cast him a sideways glance, confused. When he smiled back at her knowingly, she let out a short-lived chuckle. "Yeah. Fun."

"You working for Lars?" he asked as though simply curious. The terminology wasn't right, he knew. She knew it too, by the look on her face, but Cai refused to use phrases like 'belong to' and 'owned by' anymore.

"Yeah," she answered, the weight of what that meant heavy in her voice. "You're one of the guests'?"

Cai let out a short bitter grunt. "You could say that." And then, he decided to take his chance. He tilted his head at her and asked, "Hey, do you know about the Conduit?"

At once, he saw her tense and too quickly, she blurted out, "The what?"

"You know, the Conduit," he said again, quieter. "I heard they sent an agent to help Lars' people."

Now, she looked downright terrified. "I have no idea what you're talking a-"

Cai turned against the wall to face her. "Listen, I need to talk to her. The agent. It's really important," he insisted, but she was starting to move away.

"I'm sorry, sir, I really don't know what you-"

Before she could slip back into the crowd, Cai reached out and grasped her wrist. "Please," he begged, giving her his most desperate expression. "Please, I need her help. I need your help. You have to tell me where she is if you know. I'm begging you."

The woman looked conflicted. Almost as conflicted as Cai felt for lying to this poor woman about his situation. But his guilt was something he'd have to face later as finally, thank god, her expression changed from scared to questioning to pitying.

"Okay, okay," she relented, stepping closer to him and lowering her voice to a whisper. "She's here. She usually hangs around Mr. Lars though, does the bigger tasks, she doesn't wait tables or anything like the rest of us." Her eyes darted behind her for a moment before she added, ever lower, "She has a plan. She's gonna get us out and to the Conduit. Soon, she says. Very soon. I-I don't know if she can help you, but-" She looked him up and down and frowned, apologetic, "Good luck."

As if he didn't already feel terrible about his fabrication, she seized his arm and squeezed it in solidarity before she slipped away. Cai was left standing with his empty tray, feeling awful. Why had he agreed to do this again?

Right, because Corra was here and she was in danger and he was going to find her. He drew a deep breath, tossed the gold-plated tray into the nearest garbage bin and marched back into the crowd, but not before glancing out at the arena where a compact transport ship was pulling elaborate flips through the air.

-----------

Wisps of white cloud flew past the window as the ship careened into the bright blue sky. Below, the crowd in the grandstands looked like miniscule, colorful dots. Really, it was a fantastic day for flying, and under normal circumstances, Finn would have really enjoyed the chance to show off before he flew away with this fancy prototype.

But he could barely enjoy himself. He had something of a nag barking orders behind him.

"Now pull her back and give 'em a good roll," said the pilot, leaned over him, her arm on the back of his chair.

Finn grumbled his annoyance at her, but it wasn't a bad idea so he did as he was told, yanking the controls back and holding on tight as the ship hurtled itself through the air. But just to prove his point, immediately after, he pushed the controls the opposite direction and flipped her around in a dramatic turn to add some flair.

Beside him, his flying companion let out a raucous laugh, clapping her hand on his shoulder. "You're better than I thought, Carthy! Got some skills after all."

"I already said," Finn muttered as he tilted the ship once more, "I'm not a-"

"Double-check the radiator settings," she interrupted suddenly. "Or you'll blow out the gas line. And then you'll need to - "

" - engage the thrusters, yeah, yeah, I know," Finn snapped. It was just like being back in school, he thought sourly as he stood up from his seat. He turned to hit to the proper dial on the wall, though before he could hit the button -

Slam. White-hot pain shot through his head and he staggered sideways, emitting a gruff "ergh!" as his hand jumped to the back of his neck. He sank against the wall, his vision swimming.

Blinking dully, he saw the pilot standing over the dashboard, holding a long silver pipe in hand - a decent weapon choice, judging by the throbbing in his head. She threw him a sideways glare and started to take over the dials on the dashboard.

"Hey!" he yelled in surprise, as if she'd said something foul and offensive and not just tried to knock him out. "What the hell? I thought you said you weren't getting paid enough for this."

"If I take the ship back from a thief, I'll get reimbursed plenty, don't you think?" Smirking, she leaned over the field of controls, taking back the main steering. With difficulty, Finn dragged himself up to his feet and then took advantage of the distraction: clumsily, with a groan of alarm, he lunged at her.

He'd never really learned how to fight cleanly.

But she wasn't giving up the helm without a fight. "Give me back - my - ship!" she growled, as they wrestled for control of the dashboard. She kept one hand on the navigation as she threw her fist sideways against his chest. Finn seized her thrashing wrist and pinned it behind her back. With his other hand, he fished his gun from its holster, but it was knocked away by her elbow to his chin.

Meanwhile, the ship was zig-zagging through the air, tilting the floor dangerously beneath their feet.

-----------

What the hell was he doing? Alyx had been watching the flight of the ship Finn was supposed to steal since the moment it flew out of the hangar. It had started out alright, making a clean swoop across the massive field, but then things had gotten funny. He was supposed to just fly right out of here and take the thing back to the Beacon, but when it hit the end of the field, it had flipped around and started pulling elaborate stunts.

The way the surrounding ships flew, it was clear this wasn't the intended show so Alyx was certain either the pilot they'd chosen was particularly bad or it was indeed her pilot at the helm. And he was ignoring the plan.

But just when she was about to write him off as the cocky show-off he was and swearing to herself that she'd give him a piece of her mind later, things took a turn for the worse. The stunts got a little...jagged. Something started to feel legitimately wrong. A chorus of confusion and wonder started to rise from the crowd around her. And then, all at once, it changed to panic as the transport changed direction midair and was suddenly headed straight at them.

Alyx unconsciously seized Daelen's arm as though she was going to escort him to safety, but she found she couldn't take her eyes off the ship as it barrelled towards the grandstand, seemingly gaining speed. Fortunately, her physician had a better reaction time. Just before the hull sliced its way through a support beam as though it were made of butter, Alyx felt a harsh tug on her arm and her whole body was yanked out of the way as the entire grandstand was swept up by a cloud of debris and an enormous crash.

-----------

Before Finn opened his eyes, he could hear the horrified gasps of the crowd, the pounding of feet, flooding his ears. Every part of him was aching dully. He forced his eyes open to mere slits and glimpsed white clouds and a slice of bright blue sky, blurry and wavering above his head.

A long, low groan rolled from his throat. From somewhere nearby he heard the pilot staggering to her feet. "Hey. You alive?"

"I think so," Finn mumbled. Then he muttered earnestly, "Hey, nice job pulling the emergency mechs," and she answered, "No, it was all you. We'd be goners if you hadn't adjusted the lift at the last second. That was pretty amazing."

Voice barely above a groan, he grunted, "That's true. I am amazing."

Wincing with pain, he sat up, feeling blood and debris across his face. The ship was crumbled in pieces all around him, emitting black smoke. Crowds of people were circled around the ship, staring in awe.

Coughing, and feeling that he better get out of here before the authorities realized what had happened, he started to stand up to his feet.

But then he saw her.

In the front line of the crowd stood someone he recognized at once. Her hair was shorter, her stance was weaker and she was wearing a dull grey dress that barely fit her, but she had the same wide puppy-dog brown eyes, currently gazing straight at him and looking thunderstruck. Finn would have recognized her anywhere.

" - Corra?"

He meant to call for her, but he barely choked out her name, hoarse as he was. He tried again, squinting his eyes at her, as if seeing a mirage - but somehow, he knew it wasn't.

"Corra!" he yelped.

Her expression suddenly folded into - sadness? Apology? And then she turned on her heel and fled, melting back into the crowd. Disappearing.

Finn started to climb out of the debris to follow after her, but then he felt a hand seize his shoulder.

"Finn! Finn, are you alright?" It was Alyx. She'd pushed her way through the crowd and took him by the arm. "You're okay? Here, don't try to stand - "

"No, no, I'm fine - Alyx, look - Corra's here! I just saw her, we have to go after - "

"Did you hit your head then?" Alyx asked worriedly, looking him over. "It's gonna be okay, Daelen's on his way."

"No, I'm fine! Alyx, Corra was just here! Go after her!"

Alyx looked stricken with confusion. She glanced over her shoulder and then back at him. "Finn, what are you- I'm not going to-"

Why was she not understanding this? "Alyx!" He seized both her arms and looked her straight in the eye, standing as still as he could. "If you don't go after her now, we'll lose her. This could be our only chance. You need to go find her."

Her eyes searched his face, but she didn't move. She wasn't even going to try? How could she not realize what she was doing? How important this was? Did she not even care?

But then her stare found something else. The woman, the pilot he'd flown with, was talking to someone on the other side of the crash. She was pointing over at Finn and stern expressions came over her audience. And then, Alyx was grasping his wrists. "No, Finn, I need to get you out of here," she said and started to pull.

Finn didn't have the strength to fight her. As she started to lead them out of the area, away from the crash and the crowds, he tried desperately to find that face again, to pick her out amongst the staring eyes, but there was nothing. She was gone. And as Alyx dragged him down the steps towards the docks where the Beacon's shuttle was waiting, he wondered if he would ever see her again.
Dream by khronosabre
Dream
Baby Leta!

Honestly I forgot this was how part 3 opened until I saw this image again haha. Anyway, in't she cute? Children are really difficult to draw...Tiny freaks.

I have nothing of value to add to this so. That's it.

Caelum Lex: A Sci-Fi Web Serial. Action, adventure, romance and rowdy space pirates.
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VOTE FOR US PLEEEASE

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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khronosabre
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:iconduvell:
Duvell Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2015
^^ I deff need to say that I love your gallery. that are some damn nice arts <3 such nice story inside it.
And thats why I got intrested in your story..What I will read in the future :)
(usual I need to take my time for that because English is not my native language.)
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:iconkhronosabre:
khronosabre Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2015  Professional General Artist
Aww man that is so nice thank you ; ; I'm so glad you like it! If you do check out Caelum Lex, let me know what you think :D
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:iconduvell:
Duvell Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2015
^^ you are welcome!!
And I sure will let you  know what I  think about it :)
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:iconarteaus:
Arteaus Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
How often do you get around to the Western united states comic cons (if at all?) My wife and I live out in Tucson and there are three just in Tucson, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City alone. The reason I ask is I got my wife interested in you're stuff and I thought it would be a good venue for you to promote Caelum Lex (that and so I can fanboy right in front of you...)
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:iconkhronosabre:
khronosabre Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2014  Professional General Artist
Aww that's really sweet.  I'm actually a purveyor of the even more western comic cons. SDCC, Wondercon Anaheim, Comikaze (LA). I don't table, just attend (because I have nothing to sell except a website haha) , but I try and hand out cards for CL when I can. But if I ever do hunker down for a table (and believe me I consider it every year...) and you happen to make it out to the southern California area cons (and you should, they're great), I'll definitely let you know :)

PS thanks so much for reading and spreading the word, you're the best!
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:iconarteaus:
Arteaus Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I try my best. We sci-fi junkies need to stick together. If I ever do end up at one of those cons (very likely) I'll look for your table ;)
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:iconjupiterblossem:
JupiterBlossem Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2014  Student General Artist
Thanks for the fave! Heart Love 
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:iconfreelex30:
freelex30 Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Student General Artist
Thank you for the Fav! Feel free to watch me to, really appreciate! La la la la 
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:iconwoltz:
Woltz Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
:iconsayhiplz: Thank you so much for the fav!
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:iconhoshinodestiny:
HoshinoDestiny Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the fav!
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