Once the doctors gave him a clear bill of health, Finn left the hospital and headed for the Ulasomorf. He briefly considered speaking with Xyn again, but decided against it. His concern, however natural for someone like him, is what caused so much trouble in the first place. Besides, he needed to speak with his crew.
Still, his heart felt lighter as he walked through the streets of New Elysia with Jake close behind him. Kyra's pendant rubbed against his chest with every step, its presence reminding him of what she told him at the hospital. His cheeks still burned when he thought of their kiss. He wasn't entirely sure where that put their relationship, but it seemed promising. If only they could be sure their troubles with the mysterious organization were over.
Finn's jaw tightened with resolve; he was going to get to the bottom of this today. It was high time he spent a little time with Billy.
The cargo bay was empty as he and Jake entered the ship. Finn wasted no time in walking over to Billy. He opened the door and immediately froze; Kyra was inside.
She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Good morning, sweetie."
"Good morning." Finn managed, his hand brushing his cheek. "What's going on?"
She let out a sigh. "I was trying to crack the encryption on this ship. No luck though. I can't even make the cloak work."
Finn frowned. "Really?"
"Yeah, yeah, go ahead and brag." She said, glowering at Finn.
"I'm not … I mean, the cloaking function is part of the root command tree. Hardly hidden."
"I can't even access that." Kyra admitted. She suddenly looked at Finn. "Wait, can you?"
"Sure." He activated his omni-tool and held it out so she could see it.
She looked through the code for a moment before nodding. "Ah, that explains it; there's a master key program installed on this."
She glanced at Finn, a little surprised. "You don't know? Basically, a master lock installed over a computer system keeps anyone from accessing systems unless they have a key that allows it. It's kind of like administrator privileges unlocked using a login screen, but this actually works. If I'm looking at this right, you've basically got a master key; complete access to this ship."
"Huh. Must've auto-downloaded to my omni-tool when I opened the ship for Krieger." He mused.
Kyra waved her omni-tool over Finn’s. "There; that should let me crack this ship wide open."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Finn asked.
She glanced up at him. "Other than going away so I can work in peace?"
Hurt, Finn turned away only to receive a sharp pinch on his posterior.
"Ow!" He glared back at Kyra balefully as he rubbed his backside.
She gave him a playful smile. "Don't be so serious. Wanna meet up for lunch later?"
Staring at her made it impossible for him not to smile. "Sure. Just give me a call when you're ready. Say, have you seen the others?"
"Yeah, Darsan and Mannon just took the lift to the upper decks. I haven't seen Eri today, though."
With a final goodbye, Finn left Kyra to her tinkering and rode the lift up to deck three, only to find Mannon and Darsan in the middle of an argument.
"Annoyed; and the Alliance would handle it better?"
"Of course they'd handle it better! If you just put it on the market, all sorts of criminals are going to get their hands on it!"
"Persistant; we are not unscrupulous, Mannon. Screening customers to ensure that only honest merchants and station owners looking to protect themselves-"
"Don't give me that crap! You're going to sell to whoever shells out the money."
"Insultingly; what is worse, a common thug or a conquerer?"
Mannon's face went red. "Humanity is not out to enslave the galaxy!"
"Whoa!" Finn said, quickly moving between them. It was a silly move, he decided later; if Darsan wanted to attack Mannon (though it was doubtful the kind-hearted elcor would ever do such a thing), Finn was hardly going to stop him. "Calm down, both of you! What's going on here anyway?"
They both immediately started talking. Taking a deep breath, Finn shouted, "OY!”
They both stopped, looking a little stunned.
"My head is still a bit fluffy from my concussion." He told them, "So please, pretty please, one at a time."
Darsan and Mannon looked at each other for a moment before Mannon finally gestured for Darsan to start.
"Annoyed; Mannon informed the Alliance that we would be bringing them the ship."
"Billy." Jake said automatically.
Darsan looked down at Jake. "Questioningly; what is your obsession with calling the ship 'Billy'?"
"That's his name." Jake replied without a moment's hesitation. "He's Billy. You can't not call him by his name. That's just rude."
"Annoyed; how do you know his name is Billy?"
"He told me."
Darsan rolled his eyes. "Annoyed; of course he did."
"I didn't say I was going to give it to them." Mannon told Finn. "I said we would be bringing the ship … Billy, I mean, with us."
"Condescendingly; and apparently we're too stupid to realize that she's just going to hand it over. Pleading; Finn, you can't give the ship to the Alliance. Think about it! If we sold the ship to the Dekuuna Trade Commission, we could earn millions of credits, billions perhaps! We could rebuild J-27 even bigger than Omega!"
"It would be blood money!" Mannon said, glaring at Darsan. "Bandits could attack settlements without warning and get away without ever being held accountable!"
"Angrily; the DTC is not in the habit of selling goods to gangs and pirates!" Darsan retorted. "We are not fools; what would stop them from using them against us?"
Turning back to Finn, Darsan continued; "Reasonably; consider it, Finn; merchant vessels could pass through dangerous space with ease. If J-27 had a cloaking mechanism, perhaps it would not have been destroyed. I'm not saying criminals would never get their hands on it; of course they would. They're criminals; but that is just as true if you hand it over to the Alliance."
"They'd be buying it from you." Mannon retorted. "They'd have to steal it from the Alliance."
"And you think that would be a problem? If they weren't already perfectly fine with breaking the law, we wouldn't be calling them criminals."
"But it wouldn't be as easy for them to-"
Finn held up his hands again. Their argument was starting to give him a headache. "We aren't selling Billy or handing him over until we figure out where it came from. When we know more, we'll get everyone together and talk about it then so I can give everyone's opinions my full attention."
"We're hardly qualified to represent the interests of the galaxy." Mannon told him.
"Wrong." Finn told her. "We're uniquely qualified, because we're the ones getting shot at for having the damn thing."
Mannon stared at him open-mouthed, a hurt look on her face. For a moment, Finn was sure she was going to keep arguing, but instead she lowered her gaze and said in a defeated tone, "Yes, sir."
Realizing he might have been a bit too harsh, Finn patted her on the shoulder, saying, "Hey, we're all in this together. We're like a family: Darsan, Mannon, Finn, Jake … even Kyra and Eri."
Glancing at Darsan, Finn commented, "Which means you're the father figure, as alarming as that sounds."
"Jokingly; I've always felt more like a big brother to you crazy kids."
Finn and Mannon both chuckled at that.
Jake looked at them eagerly, asking, "Oh, what am I? The little brother? The crazy uncle?"
Mannon knelt down in front of him and rubbed the sides of his head. "You're like the family puppy."
Jake let out a boyish giggle, his cartoon face blushing.
"We'll figure this out together." Finn told them. "For now, I'm thinking it's time to get moving before our names start popping up because of the fire."
"To Earth?" Mannon asked hopefully.
"We'll talk about it once everyone's on board." Glancing around, he asked, "Speaking of which, where is Eri?"
"Surprised; he's not with you?" Darsan asked. "He said he was going to the hospital to meet you when you were released."
"Huh." Finn scratched the side of his head. "I didn't see him. We must've just missed each other."
Shaking his head, he told them, "If you have any more shopping to do, go ahead and do it now. We'll be leaving after lunch."
"Hopeful; Muonsol Café?" Darsan asked.
"Sure." Finn said, shrugging. “We'll meet up here and head there after we figure out where we're heading next."
Finn walked slowly through the streets, taking in the sounds and smells of New Elysia. After all, he had no idea when or if he'd ever return.
His Omni-tool beeped, signaling an incoming message. Tapping the receive button, Finn said, "Hello?"
"HEY FINN, GODOT HERE. I WAS WONDERING …"
"Whoa!" Finn shouted, quickly turning his speaker volume down. Godot always had a bit of a volume problem while making calls. "Sorry; whatcha need, Godot?"
"Yeah, I was just wondering if you know a turian named Puttyra."
"Puttyra?" Finn's mind clicked. "Jan’Ce?"
"Yeah, that was it. She was here earlier asking about you. You aren't fooling around on that pretty quarian girl, are you?"
"Of course I'm … wait, how do you know we're together?"
"You were holding her shopping. Nothing shows a man is more whipped than when he's willing to be a donkey for the woman he loves."
"Gee, thanks." Finn shook his head, saying, "Thanks for the update, Godot."
"Hey, I gotta watch out for my boy, right?" With a final dry chuckle from Godot, the transmission cut out.
Aria's subterfuge didn't work, which only made Finn’s suspicions deepen. He put a little more speed in his step as he continued towards the hospital.
There was no sign of Eri outside the hospital or inside the lobby. Finn approached the front desk, where a human nurse was busily working at his console.
"Hey there." Finn said, leaning against the counter. "Could you help me out? I'm looking for a friend of mine."
"Uh, mine or his?"
The man flashed him a dirty look. "His."
"Ah, right. Eri Tyzuris."
"One moment." He tapped at his console for a few moments and said. "He's not registered."
Realizing his mistake, Finn laughed and said, "No, sorry; he's not a patient. He probably came in here asking about Finn Cresste."
"Ah, yes; the turian with the green facial markings. He did ask about you, but when I told him you were discharged, he headed to the observatory wing of the hospital." The man pointed to the double doors to the right of the desk. "Keep going straight. You can't miss it."
Finn hurried down the corridor as fast as he could without drawing too much attention to himself. Fortunately, he didn't have to go too far before he caught a glimpse of Eri's face through one of the room windows.
Eri spotted him almost immediately, and gestured for him to come inside. Finn turned the handle and opened the door.
"Hey Finn." Eri said pleasantly. "We were just talking about you."
Finn didn't respond; Xyn was sitting up in her bed, her head bowed.
For a long moment, no one spoke. Xyn just continued to stare at her hands.
Clearing his throat, Eri said, "Maybe I should give you two a moment alone, eh?"
As he left the room, Finn let out a sigh and bowed his head so he didn't have to meet her gaze. "I know it doesn't help, but-"
He glanced up at her, surprised at the firmness of her tone. Nodding in acceptance, he started to turn towards the door.
"I'm sorry, Finn."
"You?" he began, confused. "I'm the one who-"
"You were right to leave." She had the voice of someone who was completely and utterly defeated. "I didn't think so at first; ever since Shien passed into the Beyond, my thoughts echo through our … my mind like the final notes of a sad melody."
"Then there was the note you left me; it filled me with thoughts of fire at first, but as your final words slipped through the emptiness of the void inside me, I realized that they were the truth. I …"
She closed her eyes. "I did not love you. You were my friend, but the feelings of fondness your company brought had no time to take root and grow. The bond Shien and I felt was born of years of unity. Such a thing could never truly be replaced, certainly not so quickly."
"Maybe not replaced, Xyn." Finn told her. "But new bonds can be forged. New … er, cuttings can be …"
Blushing, he muttered, "Crap. I never was good with metaphors."
To his surprise, a small smile crossed Xyn's face. "I understand what you are trying to say, Finn … at least, I do now."
Her smile faded slightly. "It took years for my heart to mend, but for a time I began to feel the warmth of hope shining inside me. As the pain began to grow silent, I found myself reaching out to others; my brother and sister Neukaraans recently separated from their own bond mates. Shien and I never earned a great deal of money, but our meager funds coupled with what you left me allowed me to begin rebuilding the Glendale Apartments. For the first time since the fire, my life was moving forward."
She looked up at him. "Then you returned."
Finn fidgeted in his seat. "I'm sorry, Xyn, really I-"
"After so long, the man who helped me, the man who stood with me through the worst of the pain was again walking among the whispering elders. The void of my mind became cluttered with voices, whispers and suggestions and ideas. Try as I might, the true voice amidst the crowd of emotions within me could not be heard."
She lowered her gaze, a look of shame in her eyes. "So I drank deep from my supply of Nectar.”
“Ah.” Finn fidgeted, not sure what to say.
"The Nectar is not in and of itself a bad thing; it sharpens some senses, loosens others, and gives form to wisps of thought within the mind. When the void within me was too great, it filled the darkness and allowed me to paint."
She blushed, sounding ashamed as she continued, "But when I took the Nectar upon seeing you again, the peace it usually brought did not come. Where before it unified my thoughts, this time it only made my fears and uncertainties louder. I took a larger dose, but the voices grew even louder. Worse yet, one among them began to sound angry. I took more of the Nectar, hoping to silence them, and more, but the voices became deafening."
She looked up at him again, sadness in her orange eyes. "When she appeared and spoke of you, I remembered how she had been with you in the market. The voices within me fell silent, save for one I thought had long departed."
"Ah." Finn said, realizing where she was going.
She blushed again, again looking ashamed. "That such feelings existed within me frightens me, Finn. That I was willing to take a life if it meant getting what I wanted shames me. And yet, when it would've been easier to let me die, you and your friends still came to my aid … and I find the remaining voice in the void asking a simple question that I can't answer: why?"
"Because you're my friend, Xyn." After a moment of hesitation, Finn put his hand over hers. "That's never changed. I can't be the bond mate you want, but I'm still your friend. Friends don't let friends die because they made one little mistake."
"I set Glendale apartments on fire, Finn." She replied, her mild tone tinged with a hint of disbelief. "I almost stabbed your girlfriend. I gave you concussion; we all could've died."
He waved it off. "No one got hurt in the fire …er, apart from us, I mean. Besides, you just admitted you only did that stuff because of a Nectar overdose."
"That's only an excuse-"
"We've all got those voices in us, Xyn." A grin slid over his lips. "We're all broken. It's how we move past our flaws that makes us who we are."
"Finn …" She replied, squeezing his hand. "Thank you. Eri is right to place such trust in you.”
“Ah, yes.” Finn said, glad to change the subject. “You and he were talking before I came here.”
She smiled and nodded. “Indeed. He has a gentle soul too, yet I feel he has not yet come to terms with his own voices."
"Maybe." Finn conceded. "Maybe that's the whole point of life; figuring out which voice is truly who we are."
Xyn let out a giggle. "You just made that up, didn’t you?"
"Yeah, pretty much." He gave her another smile, saying, "It's a nice thought though, isn't it?"
Her warm smile was his only answer.