OPTICA #15

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Sac-caste’s buildings looked to be the telegaeic equivalent of a shanty town. The conical buildings were crumbling and unpainted and the murals that covered the street-level walls were smaller and simpler.

The scaffoldings were more extensive, but also narrower and less well-maintained. There were even some planks missing that Jonquil had to hop over- Aliza was able to stride across without issue.

The sac-casters were made distinct by their dress. Ordinary tellies wore nothing, or robes if they were people of import. Sac-caste wore dresses made from animal skin or a plant fiber. More significant tellies wore more elaborate skirts, with a few trying to move around in like 30 layers.

They were also far less accommodating than Labor Caste. They shoved, jostled, and harassed the OPTICA duo whenever they passed by. One tried to push Aliza off the bridge, but she ducked its thrust. Jonquil pointed her propulsor at it and it thought better of trying her.

“Why do they hate us so much more than the others?” Jonquil asked. They were both fairly new to Porropelin, about two years each, but Aliza seemed to know everything about the tellies.

“That’s a big mystery,” Aliza said, scratching her chin. “When TORCH arrived, sac-caste lived in a walled prison. They were only taken out to be killed.”

What?!

Aliza smiled back at her. “Sure. Why do you think they’re called Sacrifice Caste? They’d take ‘em to the top of the towers with the decks on them and kill ’em and… pray, we think. TORCH put a stop to that.”

Jonquil relaxed. “Well… good. So we freed them from enslavement and random murder and they hate us for it?”

“Xenos, man. They’re just as weird, complicated, and infuriating as humans are.” Aliza glance at a particularly large telly with a wriggling youth on its shoulder. “We just have a few centuries of tech on them. Swap the tech and they’d be imposing their will on us, finding the stuff we do weird and creepy.”

Jonquil shook her head. “That’s bullshit. We tested the tellies- they’re not as smart as us, they haven’t got our lateral thinking or creativity or organizational skills.”
“Of course an alien race isn’t going to beat TORCH in a contest TORCH designed,” Aliza replied. “I wouldn’t underestimate ’em, Jonny. You of all people should know how dangerous something can be when it’s underestimated.”

“So what do you advise? Leave this planet? Fuck off back to Earth and let the xenos do whatever they want?” Jonquil tapped her foot. “Don’t forget why we’re here. To prepare this planet for eventual mass human colonization. We study and tolerate the locals, but we’re not here to uplift them. We’re here to get them used to us.”

“How conservative of you. I don’t care about any of that, honestly- rule ‘em, kill ‘em, fuck ‘em, whatever. But if we’re going to rule these things, we may as well try to understand ‘em.” Aliza slid past another aggressive telly, and Jonquil mirrored her movement. “I’m no xeno-fucker, y’know. I’m interested in ‘em, but that doesn’t mean I have any affection or disdain for ‘em.”

“So we finally found something you won’t try to have sex with.”

Aliza grinned. “Their genitals are all internal, dude. Ain’t looking to get eggs laid in me… although I know for a fact there’s a girl at the precinct who’s into exactly that. Wanna guess who?”

“No!”

The towers grew both larger and more rundown the farther they went into the district. Tellies sat in the streets, their legs folded underneath them, begging for food or money. Beggars were transplanetary.

“Bomb maker lives on the bottom story of that building over there,” Aliza said, pointing to a cone with a garish lime green and pink mural around the top. “But that symbol is a gang sign… shit, it’s gonna be infested with members of The Drowned Star.”

Finally, an aspect of the tellies Jonquil knew about. Drowned Star was a well-armed paramilitary that recruited disgruntled young sac-caste members. They mostly fought other tellies, but sometimes were brave enough to clash with TORCH. And sure enough, no less than a dozen telegaeics patrolled the building. Each was armed with the claw-shaped rifles they favored. “Not getting in there easy,” she said.

“So what do you wanna do?” Aliza asked. “Requisition a Blackbox team?”

Blackbox was OPTICA’s elite military unit. They were more like soldiers than cops, and they were happy for any opportunity to kick xeno ass. Jonquil partook in joint training exercises with them in her old job… Blackbox girls were trained to always be agitated, vigilant, and ready for battle. They were excellent at their jobs and absolutely awful in conversation.

Jonquil could imagine it. “If a Blackbox team hits a Drowned Star building, it’ll be a massive firefight that won’t end until everyone on one side is dead- and that side will be the tellies. If we’re unlucky, it’ll draw the rest of sac-caste into the fight too… or enflame the tensions and send the tellies into revolt.” She swallowed dryly. “Hundreds or thousands would die… and maybe whoever bombed SPRING_ToMind would cover their tracks in the meantime.”

Aliza nodded grimly. “So what’s the alternative?”

“Leave, call it in. Hope that what we’re looking for is still here when OPTICA figures out what they want to do.”

Aliza shook her head. “No way. Nothing happens quickly in OPTICA once it goes past the street level, you know that. It’ll be weeks before any move is made.”

Jonquil nodded gravely. She didn’t understand it: almost every Senior Inspector, Chief Inspector, and Commissioner she had ever met was good at what they did, competent and intelligent and motivated. And yet OPTICA as a whole was always slow, vacillating, and ineffectual.

They couldn’t pass the buck to anyone, so that left one other option. “We can also go in there without being noticed. Extract the bomb-maker and question him, but don’t kill anyone. Surgical and quiet.”

“Can we do that?” Aliza asked.

Jonquil sighed. “We can’t. I can do that.”

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