<== ==>  

It took Aliza a moment to understand. “Haha, good one Jonny. If you think I’m gonna let you go in there alone-”

“Have you been trained in infiltration and extraction, Aliza? I have- I can even show you my certification.” Jonquil had to get that certification for her old job in the Bentham Group, another one of OPTICA‘s elite units. They specialized in urban warfare and hostage rescue.

Aliza’s face paled when she realized how serious Jonquil was. “That’s suicide. There’s an entire paramilitary in there, they’ll kill you on sight.”

“So I’ll avoid being seen,” said Jonquil.

“C’mon, don’t. There’s one other thing we could try… that UMBRA unit here in Ttlatic that does extractions. Why don’t we ask them to help?”

Jonquil made eye contact- or the closest thing to eye contact that was possible considering the eight-inch height difference and Aliza’s lack of eyes. “I think I’d rather fight all of Drowned Star by myself than ask fucking UMBRA for help.”

Aliza sighed. “…Yeah. Agreed. I just want to make sure: is this an elaborate suicide attempt or do you actually think it’s a good idea?”

Jonquil stared straight ahead, not knowing what to say. Did she sincerely believe that it was the best course of action for the investigation? Or was it some sort of attempt to die in a blaze of glory?

She didn’t know. The idea had popped into her head and she had gone with it. Telly involvement in the bombing still seemed dubious: there was no clear motive for them to do such a thing. The bomber was also clearly intimate with how SPRING arranged their offices. It was still possible though, and even if the tellies were innocent they were definitely part of the puzzle.

At the same time, there had to be safer ways. Jonquil didn’t want to die, she was pretty sure… but the thought of her own death did not chill her either. Was that fearlessness or just a lack of self-regard?

It wasn’t the time for a methodical self-examination to discover the answer. “I’m going in,” she said. “Time is of the essence.”

“Well, nice knowing you I guess.” Aliza sighed heavily. “Bomb maker lives on the first floor, but we can’t get in through the street so you’ll have to sneak from the top down. I’ll try to get closer and monitor the situation. Try to check in with me. If I don’t hear from you for, I dunno, an hour, I’m calling Blackbox.”

Jonquil nodded. “It won’t come to that.” It helped to sound confident. With an affirmative grab of Aliza’s shoulder, she went off alone to The Drowned Star’s building.

The scaffolding entrance was thankfully unguarded, but the door was locked. Jonquil made a hardlight lockpick with her watch and cracked the door open. She carefully crept inside.

Jonquil made her way down the winding stairs, making sure to keep her steps light. Telly floors were always slick with what she hoped was water, so her boots had a hard sole that made sneaking tricky. Rotting garbage floated atop water, explaining the exceptionally odious smell.

The hallway seemed to faintly pulse, an optical illusion brought on by its shape: it expanded and constricted like a snake digesting a mouse. Whenever the hallway expanded, there were two doors on either side- apartments.

Three, no, four tellies were sloshing down the hallway towards her. They could move with great silence through water but were ungainly on land. Jonquil pressed herself against one of the doors and stood still until they passed by. All three were carrying claw rifles.

Jonquil pressed on to a spiral staircase that could take her all the way down to the ground floor. Her heart rate climbed as she sank deeper and deeper into the belly of the building.

<== ==>  

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