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Spectra Plaza was a tall, octagonal building with lights running up and down the sides, highlighting its sheer size. Never known for their subtlety, OPTICA had chosen to decorate the top of the building with their symbol: a stylized gigantic eye. Leadership insisted it represented the watchfulness, vigilance, and commitment to truth that were OPTICA‘s founding principles. Jonquil thought it was creepy. The motto of the organization was emblazoned on a rain-spattered plaque next to the door: “OURS IS A VIGIL THAT NEVER ENDS”.

Jonquil’s office was more of a glorified cubicle, but she kept it tidy. Rain spattered the windows as she sat down, preparing her short presentation on the locations of the bombs and what they could learn from that.

After finishing her report and tidying herself up, Jonquil headed to Conference Room Sigma. About half the DI’s and Inspectors assigned to the case were already here, chattering amongst themselves. Most of them ignored Jonquil.

The one person she could rely on to not ignore her was Aliza, but to her chagrin her partner was busied in the strong arms of the rugged and good-natured Deputy Inspector Cordovan. Aliza whispered something into his ear and he laughed, before burrowing his face into her neck to lustfully kiss her. It was a disgrace how they carried on.

It hurt doubly because Cordovan was her type… the reliable sort. As a male he was in very high demand and had seemingly dated half the Major Crimes division, but had never said much to her.

It was just a fantasy. She was too busy to date anyone. Against her better judgment, she went over to them. “Hey Jonny!” Aliza chirped.

“I thought you were going to stick around the crime scene a bit longer,” Jonquil said, trying to sound casual.

“Yeah, I thought I might, but then I got bored.” Aliza shrugged. “Too many cooks can spoil the broth. Why don’t you share your findings with me? You were only able to discover it thanks to my awesome laser eyes.”

“Do they…  actually shoot lasers?” asked Cordovan. His voice was rich and earthy with a pleasing timbre.

“A lady doesn’t disintegrate and tell.” She smiled, taking his hand and putting it on her waist. He gave her meaty hip a squeeze.

Jonquil wanted a cigarette.

The last of the investigative team filed in, including Senior Inspector Sepia, the head of Major Crimes. The chief had most of her edges sanded off after decades of police work, but in exchange she had developed elegance and thoughtfulness. Her voice and movements and thinking were all deliberate. There was a cup of coffee in her hands, Jonquil would guess to be her fourth or fifth of the day.

“Okay ladies,” she said, her voice low as she walked to the podium at the front of the room. “Settle down, settle down, you’re not schoolgirls. C’mon, tons of work to do and the faster we finish here, the faster we can get back to it.”

Cordovan, the only man in a room of two dozen, shifted uncomfortably at the mass noun “ladies”. That was typical in TORCH, and Jonquil doubted anyone but her noticed. “You’ve all been briefed on the basic facts of the case and have gotten a crack at the crime scene,” Sepia continued. “Now we’re going to play show and tell. Who has something they’d like to share with the class?”

This was how things were done in newer branches like OPTICA. Every investigator was given an opportunity to pursue their own angle, with the higher-ups stepping in to prevent overlap but otherwise keeping their hands off. Jonquil didn’t mind it most days, although it engendered a competitive atmosphere that sometimes impeded work.

Several hands went up, including Jonquil’s. Sepia glanced around. “Ehhh… Cinnabar, Oxford, you’re up.”

The pair walked to the front of the room. Oxford’s eyes were rheumy and her posture sagged, so Cinnabar took the lead. “We focused on the casualties,” she said, pressing a few buttons on her watch. Photographs of corpses, TORCH girls blown apart in explosions or crushed to death under falling rock, were magnified onto one of the walls. It didn’t bother any of the hardened hounds in the room, save for Aliza who surreptitiously glanced away.

“My first instinct was that most of the girls who worked at the facility would not have been present after 5 in the morning, but this was not so,” Cinnabar continued. “Almost the entire staff was present- and ergo, almost the entire staff was wiped out.”

“Why’s that?” someone called.

“Apparently, SPRING_ToMind was in permacrunch,” said Cinnabar. “The company is six years old but hasn’t actually sold anything. All they have to their names are dwindling venture capital and a handful of patents, and a few prototypes that BEACON passed on. Leadership were pushing employees to work without rest, most of them were sleeping at their desks. Over ninety percent of the staff was present at the time of the bombing.” Cinnabar paused. “That’s 71 confirmed fatalities, by the way.”

The room was set to murmuring. So many deaths… and on a planet with a mostly-pacified xeno population. Porropelin had more than its fair share of crime, but no massacres. Never anything like this.

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