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Cordovan smiled dashingly at the gathered women, and at least one of them replied with a wistful sigh. “Our investigation focused on who would have access to the building,” he said, his voice warm like a campfire. “We managed to get our hands on the security footage. Here’s what we know so far.”

He pulled up a video clip. “The offices of SPRING_ToMind on the day before the bombing.” Most of the girls were dressed in the chic, modern styles that served as the unofficial uniform for SPRING girls: unbuttoned longcoats, short fringed pencil dresses, bodysuits with silicon skirts. Jonquil thought it bold but tacky.

There were others, too. Girls dressed in uptight, formal fashion, pantsuits or long dresses and jackets. A few were sporting Arcane Suppressors themselves… witches. Judging from their clothes they seemed to be members of LUX, the science and research branch. That was no surprise, SPRING often relied on LUX‘s scientific knowhow to develop new technologies. There were also girls in practical outfits and labcoats. Those would be MIRROR… probably biomedical technicians.

“As you can see, SPRING_ToMind employed many contractors from outside the branch,” said Cordovan. “Unlike the full-time employees, they would not have been present during a crunch in the wee hours of the morning.”

“So witches worked in the base?” Cinnabar frowned and stared daggers at Jonquil. “Why the hell aren’t we investigating them?”

“Because we haven’t rounded them up yet,” Cordovan said patiently. Jonquil felt her heart sink. She had hoped Cordovan would say that OPTICA didn’t investigate the LUX witches because they hadn’t done anything suspicious. “It’s harder than expected to find these contractors. The accounting department was totally destroyed in the explosion, so we’re trying to retrieve the back-ups… haven’t had much luck so far, SPRING isn’t being helpful and LUX is ignoring us.”

“What a shocker,” said Aliza, and the others murmured in agreement. OPTICA and LUX did not get along whatsoever. LUX never passed up an opportunity to make their lives difficult. “What about Arcane Suppressor registries?” She pointed at one wearing the headband. “She has to register that thing if she wants to work in a non-LUX base.”

“I already asked: LUX refuses to turn over Arcane Suppressor info unless we can prove some witch involvement in the attack. I doubt we’ll ever see anything from them.”

“What about public transit logs?” Sepia asked.

“Ahead of you, boss. SPRING_Forth sent over transit information but it’s 19 terabytes of data, the techs will need some time to parse it. It’s pretty unlikely the bomber would be dumb enough to take the bomb onto the train with them.” Cordovan’s resigned smile did funny things to Jonquil’s guts.

Aliza was less distracted. “Well, that sucks! You’d think SPRING would want this solved more than anyone else. How come you’re not showing us the footage before the explosion? Too hot to handle?”

“You’re the one in charge of that kind of footage, DI.” Cordovan got this roguish look on his face, and a few of the younger hounds giggled. “No… we haven’t actually acquired it yet. SPRING wants to vet the footage themselves before they send it to us for ‘liability reasons’.”

“They’re impeding the investigation!” someone called, and the rest of the room seemed in agreement. “They can’t do that!”

“’Fraid they can,” Cordovan said. “Their base, their footage. All we can do is ask nicely… while they have to turn it over to us, nobody can stop them from dragging their feet.”

Nobody wanted to get on SPRING’s bad side. They controlled the majority of TORCH’s economy, and could put enormous financial hurt on anyone who upset them. OPTICA had a pretty good relationship with the businesswomen, and the leadership was intent on keeping it that way- which meant kowtowing to SPRING interests.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get it in time. That’s not what I found most interesting about this footage, actually.”  Cordovan fast-forwarded a bit until something new walked down the hallway. It wasn’t a SPRING businesswoman, or a MIRROR curator or a LUX scientist. It wasn’t even a TORCH agent.

It was a xeno.

Specifically, a creature halfway between a frog, a shrimp, and a human that padded down the hallway gracelessly. It had long, thin limbs but large hands and feet with puffed up appendages. The creature was pretty short, about Jonquil’s height, and wore nothing but a slick loincloth. Its yellow eyes were the size of baseballs and featured cross-shaped pupils, and when it blinked it did so with both horizontal and vertical eyelids.

It was purple and had no mouth, no visible nose, no throat or chin. Instead, that entire area was covered with a huge scaled screen the size of a beach ball. A flickering yellow-and-orange pattern danced across the screen. The TORCH agents gave the creature a wide berth.

Three others followed soon behind it. Each was a different color, both their skin and what was displayed on the organic screens: one was silver with a flashing green circle with two red ones inside, the second red with a yellow-and-green spiraling zig-zag. The final one was sea blue and had no pattern, then three red flashes, then nothing again.

The creatures were telegaeics- TORCH called them “tellies” for short. The native species here on Porropelin. As a general rule, TORCH left them alone to their telly business and they returned the courtesy.

What the hell were they doing in a SPRING base?

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