It was the worst terror attack in the 18-year history of the Porropelin protectorate. A single glance told so much.
The culprit was either careless or wanted to draw attention on purpose. Most of what had been the SPRING_ToMind headquarters was now a blasted zit scar on the planet’s surface. All that remained of a business that employed 100 was a charred wreck in a smoking, hissing crater. Clouds of grimy black smoke belched into the gloomy grey sky.
The attack had just been hours prior, and yet it had already circulated through the entirety of TORCH space. It was on the front page of every newsbite, the first time in memory anyone outside of the system cluster cared about this drowned little world.
The time was early morning, but the crime scene was already buzzing with activity. OPTICA first responders had been on the scene for hours, securing the area with movement sensors and searching the remains of the building for survivors.
After them came the investigators, who would commence their efforts to discover who had done this. Among them was Deputy Inspector Jonquil Diakon, who got here as fast as she could. There was little time to waste. OPTICA were the first ones here, but soon the auditors and bureaucrats and journalists would descend like carrion flies and impede the investigation at every step.
The first responders had set up a checkpoint at what used to be the pathway to the building’s main entrance. One girl with silver curls and a navy blue patrol uniform saluted Jonquil. “Mater Pro-” she stopped herself. “Deputy Inspector Diakon.”
Jonquil’s reputation preceded her. She had spent years of her life working the beat as this girl did, and wasn’t going to bust her chops for misspeaking. “What’s your name, hound dog?” she said, looking up at the much taller woman.
“Gainsboro, ma’am. Officer Gainsboro.” Just a puppy, then. Not a full-grown hound like Jonquil.
“You doing okay this morning, Gainsboro?”
“Yeah, ‘spose.” Gainsboro was uncomfortable talking to Jonquil- most people were. “Well, I’ve been awake for thirty hours now. This shit happened right at the end of my shift.”
“That sucks,” Jonquil said. “Make sure to get overtime pay and time off- come talk to me if someone tries to deny it to you.” The rank-and-file were always the ones who got shit shoveled into their laps- and girls like Gainsboro had shown great professionalism in securing this scene. “Give me the facts.”
“Yes ma’am,” said Gainsboro, brightening at Jonquil’s sympathy. “The attack was reported at 0514 this morning. The explosion was extremely loud and heard as far as seven city blocks away. OPTICA first responders were on the scene at 0521, but found nobody fleeing the scene. We secured the perimeter, alerted all the proper authorities, and received authorization to use deadly force.”
The girl gestured to the destroyed building behind them. “First sweep was authorized at 0524. Twenty-three corpses, all SPRING businesswomen, have since been uncovered. There is nothing to suggest any of them were killed by anything besides the explosion.”
“What about the security footage?” Jonquil asked, checking her watch. It was 0741 now. “There should be CCTV of the street as well as SPRING_ToMind’s own tapes.”
Gainsboro shook her head, her silver curls bouncing. “We’ve already submitted a requisition request, but…”
Jonquil groaned. “Tied up in the bureaucracy?” They probably would get the footage eventually, but it might take a few days- especially the latter. SPRING would administer the cameras there, and they were notoriously cagey with what went on in their buildings. “All right. I’m going in,” she told the beat cop. “Try to keep anyone who’s not a hound out.”
The girl saluted and Jonquil walked through the floating yellow circle that surrounded the blast site. It chimed and turned green as she walked through, signifying she had the proper clearance to inspect the scene.
The building was three aboveground stories (Porropelin’s high water table made it impossible to build underground) and looked a bit like a giant had taken a bite out of it. The outer walls were crumbling inwards… meaning the blast had come from inside. The east and west wings of the trapezoidal building were the most intact.
Before starting her search, Jonquil decided to coordinate with the two DI’s who had beaten her here, Oxford and Cinnabar. Jonquil had been out the door less than ten minutes after receiving news of the attack, but she lived on the other end of town.
She approached Cinnabar, who was digging through a pile of rubble with her hands. “What are you looking for?” Jonquil asked.
“Bodies. Could be one under he-” she glanced back. “Oh. Diakon.”
Cinnabar was a slim woman with orange hair, and she always reminded Jonquil of a reptile with her deliberate, faintly cruel movements. They didn’t get along particularly well, but Jonquil couldn’t deny Cinnabar’s investigative talents. “Found anything besides corpses?” she asked innocently.
“Go look yourself, witch,” said Cinnabar with a sneer.
Jonquil rolled her eyes. “What does that have to do with anything? People are dead.”
“And who’s the most likely culprit?”
“Impossible to say. We barely know anything-”
“Wrong. Witches. I see a TORCH base turned into a crater, I think witches. It’s where the smart money goes.”
With an angry grunt, Jonquil took off her glove and pressed the thumb and forefinger together. When she removed her hand, the fabric clung together as though it had been glued. “That’s my magic power. I’m a ‘witch’ in name only. I don’t even wear an Arcane Suppressor-”
“Fuck off and let me do my work, witch.”