<== ==>

OPTICA moved slowly when uncertain, but there could be no uncertainty after the discovery of TORCH-manufactured high explosives. Jonquil sent the photos to Sepia, who immediately contacted Blackbox, and soon a strike was authorized. The counterterror unit came in fast and hard, taking the Drowned Sun by surprise. Jonquil managed to exfiltrate herself in the midst of the chaos.

Blackbox took no prisoners when it came to xenos, but at least they were surgical about it. They hit the bomb maker’s cell, took what they wanted to take, and got out of there before a response could be organized. Nine Drowned Sun were killed and a score more injured. No injuries to anyone in Blackbox. The bomb maker and his guards were taken into custody, and the contents of his lab were seized.

An hour after Jonquil discovered the rabbit bomb, she and Aliza sat aboard a Blackbox hovership. Jonquil had stripped out of her ruined clothes and instead cocooned herself in a thermal blanket. There was silence aboard the ship as the Blackbox hounds covered their faces in sheer dark masks and didn’t speak to outsiders. That suited Jonquil just fine: she stared out the window at the flooded city below and listened to the pitter-patter of evening rain hit the windows.

“Hey Jonny,” said Aliza. “Do me a favor: never do anything that insane ever again. That was not good for my heart.”

“Right. This was very hard on you,” Jonquil said. She was so, so tired. How was she going to conduct an interrogation when she could barely keep her eyes open? “Mrrg… I need a stim.”

“What you need is a good night’s sleep.” There was concern in Aliza’s voice… something Jonquil wasn’t used to hearing. “And two or three long, hot showers. You’re dogshit at interrogation, we both know, so I’ll take care of it.”

“I-” Jonquil stopped mid-complaint. Aliza wasn’t wrong. Interrogation was easily Jonquil’s worst skill, and she’d be doubly bad at it in her current state. “… Thank you. But I can’t go home, not at such a crucial time. I’ll shower at the precinct.”

“Suit yourself. But I’d say you’ve earned a real rest: we cracked the case. neo_SMOKE gave tellies the bomb. Why they wanted SPRING_ToMind destroyed, I’m not sure, but that’s a minor thing. We know the who, what, where, and when, and it didn’t even take a day.”

Jonquil stared back out the window, saying nothing. This was all wrong. She was too fatigued to articulate why exactly, but no part of this sat right with her. It was like she had found the missing jigsaw puzzle piece was actually three-dimensional. Like she had been focusing all her attentions on one tree in a massive forest.

Immediately after they arrived back at Spectra Plaza, Jonquil went to take a nearly hour-long shower in the precinct gym. Viciously scrubbing her skin with soap was the only way to get all the grime off, but rote mechanical tasks like that helped to clear her mind.

After that, she tried to take a nap at her desk- but her sleep was restless and troubled. A great big shaggy beast bit her right arm off. Stone and metal rained from the sky, trapping her in a field of debris, until she realized they were the remains of a great colossus disintegrating around her. The planet of Porropelin came to life and swallowed her, swallowed everything in a cataclysmic storm that destroyed star system after star system. Someone reached out to protect her, but they only fell into the vortex themselves as she screamed-

Jonquil started awake with tears in her eyes. More nightmares… they never ceased. Sitting up, she realized she had fallen asleep in a bathrobe. Jonquil reached into her desk, examined her four sets of back-up clothing, and eventually chose the double-breasted rust waistcoat with matching pants.

She had only slept for about an hour. It was now the middle of the night. The precinct was eerily quiet, although there were always a few girls at work no matter what the hour. Jonquil grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to the interrogation rooms to check on Aliza.

The map told her that Aliza was having words with the bomb maker in Examination Room 4. Sepia sat behind the one-way mirror in the observation deck, her feet on the table. “Diakon,” the boss said, raising her coffee cup. She looked even more exhausted than Jonquil. “Aliza told me what happened. Great work. Never do it again.”

Jonquil smiled tiredly. “When am I going to be debriefed?”

“When things calm down some. I doubt I’ll be able to pin a medal to your chest since you absolutely should not have done what you did.” Sepia did not return the smile. She was… not angry, but frustrated, and not with Jonquil. “It’s gonna cause a lot of problems.”

“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” said Jonquil, not sure what Sepia meant. “And I’d like for it to be known that Aliza tried to talk me out of it.”

“You’re not in trouble, Diakon. Like I said, great work. It’s… complicated.” Sepia sighed in a way that only someone very old could sigh, like a bit of her life force escaped with it. “I can’t say much more.”

“Oookay.” Jonquil looked in the interrogation room, where Aliza was beaming a shapeless pink-and-teal mass at the bomb maker. It replied with a rounded black rectangle dotted with green and blue holes. “How’s the interrogation going?”

“How the fuck should I know? I don’t speak shapes.” Sepia sipped her coffee. “But I think she’s almost done. She’s been in there by herself for a while now.”

Sure enough, after a few more shapes exchanged, Aliza came to join them in observation. Fatigue was starting to get to her: she had been awake for nearly 20 hours now, all in constant activity. “He wants to talk to you,” she told Jonquil.


“You specifically.”

<== ==>

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