OPTICA #14

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The building in question was a broad tower with slightly different architecture. It was a tapered cone like all the others, but it had a huge circular deck on top of it as wide as the base of the building. You could fit a few thousand tellies up there, no problem. “What is it?” Jonquil asked.

“Not totally sure. Somewhere between a church, meeting hall, factory, apartment complex and bar. Like most telly stuff, it doesn’t have a direct equivalent. I’ve had good luck finding elders willing to talk to me there before, though.”

They entered the building from one of the scaffold-level entrances and found it awash with activity. Juvenile tellies chased each other around on all fours in the halls. Some tellies slept on the floor with their limbs folded under their bellies. Some were hard at work making what looked to be ceremonial robes. A few were wildly dancing- in prayer, maybe. They all took notice of Jonquil and Aliza’s arrival but none of them stopped what they were doing. The entire place smelled like the dumpster behind a bad seafood restaurant.

“If this goes sideways, we’ll be fucked,” Jonquil said. “I can’t possibly fight this many.”

“You won’t have to. Just stand there and look tough. I’ll do all the, uh, signing.” Aliza led Jonquil up the stairs towards the top floor. The crowds thinned out up here until they reached a room that, disturbingly, was flooded up Jonquil’s calves.

There were a few tellies in here dressed in ceremonial robes. Aliza took on a subservient posture, bowing her head. “These are the elders,” she muttered.

They looked exactly the same as all the others. Huge bug eyes, screens, technicolor skin covered in a secreted film. Nevertheless, Jonquil mirrored Aliza as one of the tellies approached them. It beamed a black-and-pink checkered cube at Aliza, who replied with a teal-and-lilac cube of her own.

“I’m expressing proper respect and deference,” Aliza explained as she beamed several more images from her eyes. “Now I’m going to ask about the unrest.”

It was all inscrutable to Jonquil, but Aliza understood well enough. “The elder says that the unrest has started in Sacrifice Caste and has spread to Labor Caste,” she said. “He says that it’s an internal matter, and that he’s in communication with Warrior Caste to ensure it stays that way. They don’t want us involved in their affairs.”

Jonquil nodded. “Ask if it knows about the attack.”

“He does- but denies that any telly could be responsible. I’ll tell him that I believe him, but my superiors may not and could connect the unrest to the terrorism… and he replies that if such a bombing was done by tellies, it certainly wasn’t Labor Caste.”

Jonquil raised her watch and showed the elder the footage of the three tellies spotted in SPRING_ToMind. “Ask if it knows them.”

The elder stared unblinkingly at the screen, no emotion in his face or posture. He turned back to Aliza and beamed a blood red leaf. “He says that these are sac-caste, and that Labor Caste has nothing to do with any of this. He says we should be investigating them instead.”

Sacrifice Caste, or sac-caste for short, was the most bizarre and mysterious aspect of the tellies- which was saying something. They were the only tellies to wear clothes besides robes and loincloths, and they did no work besides breed. They were also highly aggressive towards TORCH agents, to the point that agents were advised against going to their part of town.

“Ask it if it can point us in the right direction,” Jonquil prompted.

“Kay… he says there’s a sac-caste bomb maker. A scoundrel who hates TORCH and makes weapons to use against us. If he’s not behind the bombing, he knows something about it- so says the elder.” They exchanged a few more images. “I have an address. Let’s hit it.”

“That was easy,” Jonquil observed as they left the tower. “I was expecting something tougher.”

“He was very ready to help us, yeah,” Aliza mused. “And very ready to pass the buck to sac-caste. He seemed pissed with them. So, maybe the tellies did do it after all.”

To that, Jonquil had no answer.

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