OPTICA #2

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Cinnabar turned back to what she had been doing. Jonquil ground her teeth in frustration. Suspicion of witches was high in OPTICA, as usual, but there was no justice in grouping Jonquil in with dangerous and unstable living weapons.

Ordinarily the site of an explosion stunk to high heaven, but the wreckage was curiously sterile. No melted metal or plastic… in fact, what scant remains of the building were still in good shape. An entire office chair lay on the floor, dusty but in perfect condition.

Something was definitely off here. Jonquil wasn’t a bomb expert, but if Cinnabar was here then so was her partner: Oxford, who knew more about bombs than anyone else in the precinct. Plus, the bookish, shy Deputy Inspector always treated Jonquil decently.

Oxford sat on a chunk of rubble, looking at her watch with a frown. “Good morning,” Jonquil said as she walked up. “Find anything interesting?”

“Diakon.” Her voice was cold. “Nothing of interest.”

Jonquil returned the frown. “Is everything all right?”

“Just tired,” Oxford mumbled, her eyes flicking back to the screen and her posture receding. She wasn’t usually so cold…

“You seem very interested in your watch. Something related to the investigation, I hope-”

“Your Mater killed my girlfriend,” Oxford said suddenly.

“W-what?”

She turned the watch around and projected a holographic casualty listing from BEACON, the military branch of TORCH. They had made landfall on some planet Jonquil had never heard of. BEACON forces suffered “light” casualties, and the names of the dead were listed in a scroll.

“Your Mater did this, Diakon,” she said, spitting the last name like it was something foul stuck in her throat. “Grace Diakon sent Yocheved to die on some stupid, forgotten backwater. She died for nothing.”

Jonquil was at a loss for what to say. “Oxford… I’m sorry. I-I am, really. But you can’t blame me for what someone who happens to share my last name-”

“Shut up. Just… shut up. I have to work today, and tomorrow, and every day. I don’t have the time or the energy to talk to you.” She looked back down at the watch, her eyes glistening with tears.

Jonquil could say nothing, do nothing but walk away. Even at a time like this, people obsessed over what she represented instead of who she was. There was nothing she could do about that, either.

The only thing she could do was investigate.

The offices consisted of ten workrooms on each of the three floors, plus restrooms and coat closets. There wasn’t much to be found in the first floor workstation Jonquil searched. The roof had caved in across half the room, crushing anyone inside. The intact work stations were password protected, and Jonquil had little doubt that SPRING would protest any investigation of the work done here as irrelevant to the bombing.

The only things she did manage to find were the personal effects of workers: photographs of them with friends or lovers, keepsakes from previous assignments, coffee mugs and diaries and expired coupons. That made her bad mood worse.

A business card left in a desk told her that this was the Quality Control room. That got her wondering, what did SPRING_ToMind actually make that needed its quality controlled? She had been in such a rush to get here that she hadn’t actually checked.

Pulling out her watch, Jonquil plugged their name into OPTICA_Cyber’s database. It told her that SPRING_ToMind worked on ways to allow TORCH agents to communicate in nonconventional methods: optical telepathy, atomtronic implants, biometric information wafers… such work would have to be careful not to violate the bans on artificial intelligences.

The company was founded right here on Porropelin in the year 45 AJ, making them six years old. Although small they were well-funded and employed some high-level talent. They were also squeaky clean, with all their paperwork in order at first glance and no citations to their name. Their record was spotless enough to be slightly suspicious.

A few quick web searches did not reveal any major controversies or incidents involving SPRING_ToMind. She’d take this up again later: Jonquil could look at her watch at any time but only search the site at the actual site.

It was slow, methodical police work of going room by room and hunting for irregularities. After about two hours of unproductive searching, her watch went off. The caller ID read “PIMA”: Pain In My Ass. “Hello Aliza,” Jonquil said wearily, holding the watch up to her mouth. “Let me guess. You’re running late?”

“No, you’re just running early. I’m pulling up now- where are you?”

“Already inside, and I’ve been at work for a few hours now. Left the moment I got the call.”

“You know they don’t pay extra for that, right? A good night’s sleep is crucial to a good day’s work!” Aliza’s voice was throaty and strong, like she was always coming down from a laughing fit.

“Only if you’re drunk on a weekday. How’s the hangover?”

“Joke’s on you, stiff- I’m not hungover.” Aliza paused. “Wellll, maybe a little. I’m more fun hungover than you are drunk.”

“We look at dead people for a living. Will you get in here already?”

“Coming, coming! Jeez. Stepping out of the metro… and… hey Gainsboro, how you doing? You’re looking particularly cute today… oh, why thank you! Say, if you aren’t too busy tonight, why don’t we meet up for some more private lessons? Your flexibility is really coming along nicely…”

Jonquil hung up the watch rather than listen further. A few minutes later, Aliza wandered into the lobby.

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