Aina is half expecting to get shot at when she approaches the guarded entrance of the research complex. Galo’s planned insurrection has her jumping at shadows - all the subterfuge, the hushed discussions of rebellion, the growing tension in the settlement as Galo works with Ignis to bring more of the former citizens of Promepolis on board with their plans. Ignis is well respected as the foreman for their sector, and of course people still like Galo - they always have. Many of them still remember him from back on Earth, the young rookie firefighter who’d been the hero of Promepolis. Recently a well-meaning admirer even mentioned his arrest of Lio Fotia, and Aina had to curl her hands into tight fists to control the spike of anger, the desire to shout at them to shut up. She hates the dark look that steals into Galo’s expression when he hears people talk about Lio, hears the way they hated him and often still do. But he swallows it back this time, doesn’t go silent or storm off, and Aina is painfully proud of him. He’s doing everything he can, with Ignis’s help, to convince more of the other colonists that something is terribly, terribly wrong with Omega Centauri, and that Kray Foresight sits at the heart of it. He hasn’t mentioned the Burnish yet, or Lio, and without context it’s a strange position to hear him take - Galo Thymos, the governor’s golden boy. But it doesn’t take much to light the fire. There are still people who believe in Kray - quite a few - but life in the outskirts of the colony is difficult, and the people out here have been hard at work for over a year while the residents of Oversight continue to live comfortably, safe in their pressurized environment while terraforming is underway. Resentment is beginning to grow; it’s a fertile environment for the seeds of rebellion Galo and Ignis are beginning to plant. Most recently, there’s been talk of a strike, to attempt to negotiate for better housing and fairer distribution of rations.
Aina supports her best friend wholeheartedly, but she also sees the things he disregards in his single-minded determination to save Lio: the guns and the armored vehicles of Colonial Security, the impassable walls of Oversight, made from a spaceship’s hull. Lucia has some ideas, but she needs materials before she can bring them into reality, and that’s slow going. Aina knows that Galo hopes to have the Burnish’s support before violence breaks out, if it comes to that, but the Burnish apparently can’t start fires anymore, and Aina’s not sure how much help they’ll be. It doesn’t help her anxiety that she’s the only point of contact between Galo and his inside informant, Heris, though it doesn’t seem as if anyone suspects the Ardebit sisters’ involvement. The security officers have started watching Galo and Ignis a little more closely these days, but as many times as Aina glances over her shoulder, they don’t seem to have zeroed in on her as a target.
If anyone’s monitoring her communications, they must genuinely believe she and Heris are trying to repair their relationship. It makes Aina smile a little, cold. Clearly no one in Oversight knows her very well.
She’s never visited Heris in person before, though, and it makes her nervous to approach the building, a smaller cousin to the massive Colonial Oversight structure which overshadows everything in the colony. There are armed guards at the entrance, but they sound bored rather than threatening when they ask her what business she has in the facility. Aina lifts her chin stubbornly, prepared to fight to get her way, already waving her ID in one hand.
“I’m Aina Ardebit. I’m here to visit my sister.”
She waits as one of the guards heads to his station to check his console, and is startled when he returns and promptly waves her through. “Go ahead,” he says, and turns away. Aina blinks. She hadn’t expected her name to open doors so easily.
There’s number of security scanners and sensors inside, which Aina passes through easily, and then she stops at an automated kiosk to inquire about Heris’s location. The computer brings up a map of the residential area of the complex, directing her to Heris’s residence. It’s strange that it’s so easy - and then she realizes.
The system still has her registered as a resident here.
She tries not to think about it as she heads off to Heris’s apartment. She’s here to get information out of Heris and that’s all. They’ve had no communication from Heris or from the Burnish for several weeks now, and Aina has lost patience. She refuses to let Heris raise Galo’s hopes like this and then disappear.
When Heris answers the door, Aina startles a little at her appearance. Heris looks exhausted; her usually sleek hair is disheveled, and there are bags under her eyes. Heris looks startled too, eyes widening at the unexpected sight of her sister. “Aina…? What are you doing here?”
Aina doesn’t wait to be let in, and barges straight past Heris into the apartment. When Heris closes the door, she rounds on her. “We haven’t heard from you in three weeks. Mad Burnish has gone silent. Galo’s going out of his mind.” Aina stares her sister down mercilessly. “What’s going on?”
Heris pales. “I’m sorry. I’ve been meaning to get in touch, but there’s… a lot has happened…”
Heris swallows hard. “…Lio tried to kill himself.”
Aina feels like she was punched in the gut. “What?” she whispers.
“He threw himself off a balcony in Oversight. He broke his neck, I honestly don’t know how he survived. The Governor has had me working with his doctors in Oversight as he recovers, considering I know more about Burnish regeneration than most—”
Aina’s stomach twists. “He knows you know about Lio?”
Heris laughs nervously. “Oh, no. I don’t think he has any idea I already knew. I think he wanted to give me the impression that Lio is a hostage of some sort. That he’s… he’s being treated well, and being cared for, but…” Her voice drops. “It’s a lie, of course. I know what I saw before.”
“Heris…” Aina is hesitant, and averts her eyes from her sister’s face, looking around at their surroundings instead. The front door to Heris’s apartment opens onto a sitting room, spacious and sterile and bare. It’s a far cry from Aina’s home with the rest of Burning Rescue; the six of them are always on top of each other, and there’s never enough space to go around, but it’s still filled with little reminders of all of them that make it feel a bit more like a home - Varys’s handmade curtains hanging in the window; a group photo of the six of them back on Earth, smiling for the camera in happier times; the battered matoi Remi had thought to grab for Galo’s sake as they’d been on their way out of headquarters for the last time. Here, there’s nothing. Heris has always been a bit of a neat freak, but this goes way beyond neat. This place doesn’t look like anyone lives here at all.
Aina sighs, sits down on the pristine sofa against one wall. “You should have contacted us. Galo should know what happened. And I’m…” She stops, biting her lip, but then decides she’s got nothing to lose by finishing that thought. “I’ve been worried too,” she admits.
“I’m sorry,” Heris murmurs. She sits down on a chair across from her sister. “I haven’t been able to get away. I should have found a moment to let you know he was still alive.”
It’s not quite what Aina meant, but she lets it go. “Do you know what happened to the Burnish? It’s been about the same amount of time since we heard from Meis and Gueira…”
Heris shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I still don’t know anything about what’s happening in the Burnish compound. It could be a coincidence…”
Her words hang in the air, unconvincing. Aina winces. It could be. But it seems terribly likely that the two events are connected, and it’s so much worse not knowing why or how. “We’ll have to try and get in contact with them again,” she murmurs. “Or… or at least find out what happened to them. I told Galo it was too risky to break in again, but…”
“…He’s nowhere near prepared to act against Kray directly, is he?”
“What?” Aina looks at her sister, startled. There’s something terribly heavy in Heris’s voice. “Why? Is Kray planning something?”
“No, but…” Heris hesitates. “Aina, Lio is… breaking. The way he looked at me after he regained consciousness… he let me touch him, this time. He knew who I was, he just didn’t care. I think maybe he’s stopped resisting. I don’t know how much of him is left.”
Aina’s skin crawls. It’s impossible to imagine Lio Fotia not fighting; in her mind, he’s still the flame-wreathed figure she’d scooped out of the sky with Galo, incinerating everything he touched with his grief and fury. But then, it once would have been impossible for her to imagine Galo Thymos ever giving up on anything, and after they migrated, before he’d learned Lio was alive, he had come dangerously close. And Lio’s lost just as much as Galo has - more, even. From the sound of it, there’s precious little Kray Foresight hasn’t managed to take from him by now.
Lio already tried to kill himself once. They are without a doubt running out of time.
Aina scrubs at her face with her hands, trying to think. “We’re trying to work up some opposition to Foresight out here,” she says. “But there’s no way we can stand up to Security, and now we don’t have the Burnish, and even if we did they don’t have their fire. What are we supposed to do?”
Heris squeezes her eyes shut. “There has to be something. There has to be. I… when I was taking care of Lio, I downloaded as much of his diagnostic data into my personal files as I could. I’ve been studying it every chance I get, because I thought maybe I could find a way to- to put his fire back. Give him a way to defend himself again. But now, even if I found a way, I- I’m not sure he’d use it…”
“He’s not the only Burnish on Omega Centauri.” Aina frowns, mulling it over. “Heris. You have to keep trying. If we can give the Burnish a way to fight back, maybe we have a chance.”
“I am trying,” Heris murmurs. “I’m just not sure it’s possible. Whatever the engine took from them, I don’t know if it can be restored.”
Aina blinks, startled. “But it wasn’t the engine. At least, we don’t think so. You… you still don’t know about the Promare, do you?”
It’s Heris’s turn to look confused, meeting Aina’s eyes again with a frown. “Promare?”
Aina fights to restrain her sudden surge of excitement. She can’t get her hopes up, but-- all this time, Heris has been working with a crucial piece of the puzzle missing. “Listen. The source of their flames was inside the Earth itself, and they can’t reach it now. It’s too far away. But Deus Prometh uploaded his research to my jet’s memory back on Earth, and Lucia backed everything up before we left. I can send you everything he knew. Do you think… if you had that…”
Heris leans forward, and for the first time Aina sees a spark of life in her eyes. “Everything he worked on? But I thought I had seen everything - the governor allowed me complete access to all of his research…”
“Trust me. Not everything.” Aina stands up, filled with a surge of energy. “Let me send it to you, and Galo and I will find out if Meis and Gueira are still alive, and… this could work.”
“Just be careful,” Heris says anxiously, looking up at her. “Don’t send it all at once, the file size would look suspicious.”
“Don’t worry. Lucia will secure everything for me.” She starts toward the door, then hesitates, her hand on the doorframe. “The last data packet you sent…”
Heris looks up at her nervously. “Was something wrong?”
“No, just… I don’t know, I forgot to delete the encrypted version. Wound up reading it. Your letter.”
“…I see. I… didn’t think you were reading them. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not. I mean, I wasn’t. But I.” Aina squeezes her eyes shut, already regretting taking the conversation this direction. She didn’t know when she read it how to respond, even if she wanted to, and she still doesn’t. “I just wanted to get one thing straight, okay? I don’t hate you. I still don’t think I can ever forgive you for what you did, but…” Her voice cracks. “I should hate you. But you’re still my sister, and I can’t.”
“It’s okay,” Heris whispers.
“It’s not okay. None of this is okay.” Aina rubs at her face, willing her eyes to stop stinging. “I just didn’t want you to… think that. That’s all.” There’s a short, painful pause, and she can’t bring herself to turn around and look at her sister again. “I need to go. I’ll contact you later.”
Heris doesn’t speak, so Aina leaves, her hands clenched into fists and stubbornly unshed tears blurring her vision as she leaves the compound. When they left Earth, back on the Parnassus, she’d decided that Galo would be the only family she needed from then on, that she was done considering Heris her sister. It’s a shame, she thinks furiously to herself, that it’s never that easy.