OPTICA #21

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Sepia raised her eyebrow. “Huh. Is that… all you got?”

“Listen, this is an alien race. You guys take me to be an expert on them, but I’m not. I understand a tiny shred of the intricacies of their culture, rites, history and tradition. In some senses, they’re fundamentally different to us- so much so that I can’t even grasp what that difference may be. It’s like asking a Chinese grade-schooler who’s picked up a few words of Spanish from the TV to interrogate a Colombian drug lord.”

“So no, you don’t have much?”

Aliza sighed the sigh of a methods-oriented scientist talking to a results-oriented cop. “A few things. He denies being part of the bombing. Says it’s just a coincidence that he has the same kind of weapon as was used to destroy SPRING_ToMind. Refuses to say where he got the bombs or what he wants them for. He’s a hardened criminal and he isn’t afraid of us. I think he assumes he’s already dead, seeing as how Blackbox killed a bunch of his friends right in front of him earlier today.”

“Can you assuage his fears?” Sepia asked. “Make him feel safer?”

“I tried to- he said he wants to see Jonny.” Aliza glanced back over. “Wouldn’t say for what, but he was insistent about it. He’s pretty much turtled up.”

Compared to swimming in a sewer, talking to a confrontational telly would be a vacation. “C’mon.”

They went inside, with Jonquil taking a seat from across the bomb maker. The loathsome frog thing’s yellow skin was a brighter shade than it had been earlier, and its leg was wrapped in the hardening sap tellies used to treat wounds. It blinked stupidly at her, and she returned eye contact.

Aliza stood between them. “I’ll translate,” she said, and beamed a message of a multicolored screen with a red circle above it.

“Ask it why it wanted to see me,” Jonquil said.

Aliza sent a yellow circle that split into four smaller ones. The telly replied with a lime green cloud around a blue oval. “It wants to know why you hate him.”

“Hate it?” Jonquil blinked. “I don’t hate it. I just want to keep my people safe. What makes it say that?”

“It says… it wants to know why. It says you have brought so much suffering and pain to his caste, and for no profit to you. He says the only explanation is that you hate him and all of Sacrifice Caste.”

Jonquil sat back in her uncomfortable metal chair, a sharp frown on her lips. She had no idea what this thing was on about. “Ask it… what pain I’ve brought Sacrifice Caste. Is it talking about today?”

This time, Aliza and the telly had to exchange a series of messages of decreasing size before Aliza turned to her. “He says today was the latest in a long line of cruelties and indignities. He asks if you’ve forgotten, or if you’re trying to insult him.”

“Aliza, I have no clue what this toad is on about. Do you?”

Aliza gave her a sideways smile and shrugged. “Not a clue.”

Jonquil studied the telegaeic for a moment. This wouldn’t get them anywhere. To understand what it was saying, she had to understand what it was thinking. “Tell it… tell it that there are great differences between our people. Tell it that TORCH does not wish to fight Sacrifice Caste. Tell it that whatever offense I dealt was accidental, and I don’t know what I did wrong.”

The bomb maker clicked a few times in agitation and sent multiple symbols in rapid fire. “He says he’ll explain to you like you’re a child,” Aliza translated. “He says you stole the… um… it doesn’t translate. Maybe like the ‘precious thing’ from Sacrifice Caste. He says without this treasure, only doom awaits his people.”

“What did I steal? Other than some muck from its sewer.”

Again, Aliza and the telly exchanged a volley of messages. “Hmm.” Aliza put a finger to her lips. “Well, that’s interesting. It says Sacrifice Caste is nothing without their treasure. Purposeless. It says the treasure was taken to keep the tellies weak and helpless, so that TORCH could do as they liked to not only sac-caste but all the peoples of this world.”

It hit Jonquil like lightning striking a tree. “The practice of sacrifice? Wait… members of Sacrifice Caste want to be ritualistically murdered?”

Aliza beamed another message. “It says… ‘yes, of course we want that. Why do you not want that?’”

Jonquil’s mouth fell open. A moment ago, she imagined the tellies to be a strange race, but in her ken. Not fully understood at this time primarily out of a lack of interest on TORCH‘s part.

In an instant, she changed her mind. The tellies were beyond her or any TORCH agent’s understanding. Sacrifice Caste were not coerced slaves. They desired to be ceremonially butchered, and were willing to use guns and bombs to get that right back.

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