<== ==>

Alizarin (nobody called her by her full name, not even Jonquil) would have been beautiful, even by TORCH standards. Her figure was hourglass perfect, healthy and fit and curvaceous. She had this impossible ability to perfectly fill out anything she wore and make it look runway-ready. Her glossy cherry-red hair was always endearingly tossled, and her makeup was always impeccable.

But it was impossible to ignore her eyes- or more specifically, her lack thereof. They were mechanical implants, wide luminescent red spheres with no pupils. Her eyelids were also artificial, and so they made a faint clicking noise whenever she blinked. Aliza had lost her organic eyes in some sort of incident, she had never explained how- but the long scars on her temples and nose suggested that they had been violently destroyed. Jonquil had never pried.

Aliza made her way over to Jonquil and winked. “Hey Jonny, how’s it coming?”

“How are you? Hitting on the beat cops? Seriously?”

“I’ve already hit the beat cop, babe. Oh, and… don’t tell anyone, but Officer Gainsboro squeals like a rutting hog when you put enough fingers inside her.” She wiggled her right hand. “She’s a sweetheart, though, realll affectionate. Needs a boring type to settle down with- you interested?”

“What the- no!” Jonquil’s face burned hot. “Sapiens, you’re foul.”

“Oh, pull the stick out of your narrow ass, Astra knows you don’t have the space for it up there. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Other than fuck one of your subordinates?”

“Subordinate! I barely know her. We met at a club- I didn’t find out we worked at the same precinct until I was basking in her post-coital glow.” Aliza’s smile widened. “I happen to take my job seriously.”

“And flying monkeys will fly out of my ass, dislodging the stick in the process.” Jonquil found herself smiling in spite of herself. Aliza was crass and utterly disgusting but also somehow endearing. And she was a good detective- Jonquil couldn’t deny that. “And it’s firm, not narrow.”

“I’d need to see it to believe it.” Aliza stared at her with a smile, and Jonquil realized her partner was just trying to get a rise out of her as usual. Was there anyone she didn’t hit on?

Jonquil turned around. “Can we get to work?”

“Sure, Jonny. What’ve you got?”

Jonquil had a longstanding policy of not telling Aliza that she didn’t like the nickname, as Aliza would just think of something worse. She hoped Aliza would get sick of it in time, but it had yet to happen in the two years they were partnered. “Not much to show so far,” she said. “We’re sweeping the first floor, then what’s left of the second and third. So far the only things here that shouldn’t be are corpses and rubble.”

“This is beneath us, isn’t it? A patrolwoman could search this place just fine, why do they want Inspectors to do it?”

Deputy Inspectors. And the patrol women don’t have bionic eyes.”

“I guess.” With a sigh, Aliza reached into her hair and fiddled with a little knob. “Gonna switch to infrared and see if I can find the bomb casing.”

They worked in general silence, Aliza scanning and Jonquil following a few steps behind. Aliza led Jonquil into what used to be a first floor bathroom but was now a smoldering crater. “Here we go,” she says. “Sensors go cuckoo in this room. Analyzing the heat signature… survey says it’s a rabbit bomb.”

As Jonquil suspected. A rabbit bomb, one of TORCH’s favorite tools for when someone really pissed them off. Officially called a reproducing nanoparticle bomb, the device started with a tiny explosion… and then one twice larger, and one twice larger than that, and on and on until the nanoparticles ran out of new matter to agitate into exploding. The blast multiplied just like, well, a rabbit.

A well-placed and sufficiently sized rabbit bomb could wipe out entire cities, but they were prohibitively expensive, very rare, vigorously monitored, and left a massive smoking calling card behind. Was the bomber was trying to brag that they were able to acquire such a terrifying weapon?

Jonquil frowned. “But if the rabbit bomb was detonated on the first story, the entire building should have collapsed. Destruction is more or less consistent across levels.”

“Yeah. So… must have been multiple smaller bombs.” Aliza grinned. “Am I the first one to figure that out?”

“You may well have been. Any idea where the others are?”

“Depends on if the staircase can still hold weight.”

It couldn’t, but Jonquil was athletic enough to climb the building anyways while Aliza stayed on the ground floor and guided her. Over the next hour, Jonquil found three more bomb casings: one in a second story maintenance closet, another in a second story coat room, and the final bomb underneath the stairwell leading to the third floor.

“Is that it?” she called down to Aliza. Jonquil had snapped pictures of the casings and was eager to log them into evidence.

“Still one more signature. It’s fainter than the others, though. The room to my left, your right… farther… keep going… yeah, there!”

It was one of the offices, this one with an intact sign: “Photonics R&D”. While the first floor was dedicated to offices and the second to administration, the third was laboratories where SPRING_ToMind developed their experimental technologies. This lab was filled with the remains of strange machines. Jonquil had no idea what any of them did.

Explosive damage here seemed minimal. Part of the ceiling had collapsed and grey sunlight streamed in, but probably everything else was intact. Jonquil didn’t see any signs of a bomb. She swept the room, quickly inspecting it as she walked, but saw nothing.

When she reached the pile of rubble on the far side of the room, she spotted something amiss. A dark oblong object stuck out of the bottom of the pile. Experimentally, Jonquil prodded it- and it twitched.

It was a shoe. On a foot. Of a person. A breathing one.

The next fifteen minutes were a blur. Jonquil pulled stone after stone off, working as quickly as she could to uncover the body. She was strong for her size, but some of these rocks had to weigh almost as much as she did. There wasn’t time to call for help, and every second was crucial.

Finally, she unearthed the person buried under the mass. A tall, lithe woman with a dancer’s build and silky sky-blue hair. Sharp chunks of rubble had stabbed into her, her nose was obviously broken, and Jonquil didn’t like the way her right arm was twisted. But she was definitely alive.

<== ==>

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