<== ==>

They made their way down from the walkways and turned into the alleyway the three youths had just turned into. Because the predominant building shape was cones, alleys were wide at the ends and narrow in the center. The youths stood at that narrow center, one using a long metal stylus to draw an elaborate pattern on an empty patch of wall.

As they approached the tellies, Aliza toyed with the settings for her eyes. She could indeed shoot lasers from them- harmless light constructs. This allowed Aliza to communicate with the tellies, although her sentence construction was apparently childish and her “vocabulary” highly limited. “I’ll handle this,” she told Jonquil.

The youths started at the approach of TORCH agent, but Aliza beamed a silver-and-blue wavy line. “Calm down,” she translated. “My friend and I have questions.”

One of the tellies beamed back orange-and-green triangles clashing into one another. “He’s telling us to fuck off. Says he has nothing to say to us… his friends are beaming agreement.”

Jonquil hesitated. On the one hand, there wasn’t much profit in harassing the locals. On the other, tellies harboring anti-TORCH sentiments were exactly who they were looking for.

Plus, Jonquil took shit from everyone she worked with save Aliza- and Sepia, mostly. She wasn’t going to take shit from some filthy fucking xenos as well. “Ask again,” she said. “Tell them they’re not in trouble, but they will be if they don’t cooperate.”

The leader of the three replied with a yellow circle being pierced by a black spear. Aliza gasped. “He… says he doesn’t know anything about the dead girls, only that he’s glad they died and he wishes we were caught in the explosion too.”

Heat rose in Jonquil’s throat as she took a step forward, but the telly was quicker on the draw. It reached into his own napsack and yanked a curved dagger free, slashing at Jonquil. She saw the glint of metal and ducked, the blade shearing a few butter-yellow hairs off her head.

Aliza moved to aim her sidearm but the other two tellies swarmed her. A mistake. Aliza’ might have been bigger than Jonquil, but her background was in academics… she was a transfer over from LUX, where she had been a scholar of xenobiology.

Jonquil meanwhile had been in OPTICA almost her entire life. Before her deployment to Porropelin, she served on a counterterrorism taskforce that was regularly deployed to warzones. She was the fighter of the two.

While Aliza evaded their attacks, the telly swung his knife at Jonquil again, this time diagonally. Jonquil leaped into its guard and planted a sharp elbow into the telly’s sternum, then swept her knee into the joint of its skinny leg. As it hobbled to the side, Jonquil popped her hip to break its crumbling balance.

She grabbed the telly’s arm and sent it over her back and shoulder, throwing it into one of the other two. They fell in a heap. The third and final telly turned its attentions to Jonquil, starting for her- but she had time to train her sidearm on it.

That would be her standard- issue concussive shock bracelet, usually called a propulsor. It was a simple black bracelet with an opening the size of a marble over her right palm. A headshot would cause serious injury, so Jonquil elected for a body blow instead.

All Jonquil had to do was point her hand, spread her fingers, and think about firing. The propulsor then interfaced with her neural chip and a cannonball of compressed air burst from her wrist. It spun through the air and slammed into the telly’s chest, taking it off its feet and leaving it twitching helplessly on the ground.

The third telly pulled itself from underneath the one Jonquil threw and made a run for it. Aliza took aim with her own propulsor but she missed, the telly sliding out of the way of the blast.

“Let it go,” Jonquil said disdainfully. “We have two, what use is a third?” She headed over to the telly she had thrown and pointed the propulsor at its head. “Ask it if it’ll talk to us now.”

Aliza beamed two lines, one black and one red, snaking out of a yellow rectangle. The telly replied with a white triangle with two red ovals in it. “Says he doesn’t know anything,” Aliza replied. “I’ll handle this, hold on.”

She beamed several images in succession at the telly, who hesitantly replied with a dark orange circle. “He says that the tellies are angry with TORCH. He says that the elders call for peace but nobody is listening to them anymore. He says that others- not him, but others- are gathering weapons and getting ready to fight.”

“Fight us?” Jonquil asked.

They exchanged more images. “Just… fight. ‘A reckoning approaches’, that sort of thing. He says he doesn’t know anything about the bombing, and I think he’s telling the truth.”

<== ==>

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