<== ==>

Aliza didn’t wait for Jonquil to speak, she started to exchange excited messages with the bomb maker. “Oh gosh, Jonny, how did I never see it before?! Sacrifice Caste wanted to be sacrificed! When TORCH banned it… they stole their livelihoods. Now we have a new generation who grew up with their destiny stolen from them- of course they’re gonna be angry and lash out!”

“But… why? Why do they want to die?” Jonquil asked faintly.

“It says… that in the before, there was only one people. The princes would light their great torches and all the world would bask in the light. It says that the long cruel ones- the Neighbors- were hard masters but they contented themselves to steal the riches of this world. TORCH… we stole their souls. We brought darkness to this world and left only splinters.”

Jonquil put her hand over her forehead, not following any of this. “Is this just their religion? ‘We want to kill each other and you won’t let us?’”

“There is no telegaeic word for ‘religion’. They all seem to practice the same faith.” Aliza turned to the bomb maker. “He says that when the sacrifice is done properly… a telegaeic’s body… explodes forth in color. A priest can shape that color into messages that can be seen from great, great distances. He says that without these messages, a short distance becomes impassable.”

She let out a long sigh. “Of course. Auditory communication is so crucial, especially in a pre-digital world, but the tellies can only use visuals. So they communicate from afar by… sacrificing one another. They don’t value life in the same way we do, sacrifices were a crucial component of their civilization. Without them, every telly city became completely isolated overnight.”

“…I guess I understand why they’d be pissed,” Jonquil said distantly. Too many conflicting thoughts had entered her mind, battling for supremacy. Just a moment ago, her stomach roiled at the monster that sit before her. Now she felt a bit bad for the poor dumb thing. “But we gave them video phones, they don’t need to kill each other anymore.”

“Phones designed for our hands, not theirs.” Aliza pointed at the four-fingered hand of the telly, banana-yellow with fingers nearly a foot long. “And besides… it’s tradition. Their way of life. Even if it’s wrong, they can’t just accept it being taken from them.”

Jonquil crossed her arms. “What does this have to do with me?”

Aliza hesitated before speaking. “it wasn’t just TORCH… it was you personally, apparently. He says most of the others don’t remember because it was in a different city, but he was there. He saw what you did.”

This time, the confusion only lasted a moment. “Aliza, was Grace Diakon ever here on Porropelin?”

Aliza pressed a few buttons on her watch. “Umm… yep. Was one of the signatories of the Articles of Protection that made Porropelin part of TORCH space. She… err… she’s the one who pushed for a ban of telegaeic sacrifice.”

Jonquil sank into her chair, and the fatigue rolled back in. Of course. Of course, of course, of course she couldn’t escape. Not even here, on this waterlogged backwater of a world, was she free of Grace Diakon’s looming shadow.

By the time Jonquil looked back up, Aliza was staring at her in concern. “Jonny, are you-”
“I’m fine,” she said, a little more forcefully than she intended. “What’s he say?”

“Says he wants to know if we can undo the ban.”

The telly stared at her with its bulbous yellow eyes, leaning towards her. Jonquil hesitated. This was crucial. No, she wasn’t Grace Diakon- but the alien didn’t know that. Was it right for her to lie? To give this creature a hope for a better future that didn’t exist?

“Tell him… if it cooperates with us, then I’ll do my best to repeal the ban,” she finally settled on. That was the truth- sort of.

Aliza beamed the telegaeic two interlocking yellow shapes. The telly replied with a mirror of the same. “He says he’ll cooperate,” she said softly.

He told them everything. The bombs were given to him by a TORCH woman who he didn’t know. He described her as black-clad, with a mask that covered the bottom of her face… an outfit of a typical neo_SMOKE operative. She told them to use the bombs however they saw fit. That had been only a few days earlier- they weren’t sure what to do with them.

He had been thinking of using them against his enemies in Commerce Caste, as they were traitors who had cooperated with TORCH, but he hadn’t decided yet. He said that they never wanted all-out war with Commerce, or even with TORCH. He completely denied using the bombs against SPRING_ToMind, and doubted that any telly was involved in the attack. 

Jonquil left the room with a heavy stone in her stomach and stiffness in her joints. She didn’t know what to do or what to think. She sat still and breathed deeply while Aliza reported to Sepia.

“So the tellies didn’t blow SPRING_ToMind,” said Aliza thoughtfully. “Who did? If neo_SMOKE wanted to use them as a proxy, why not just use them as a proxy?”

“You can’t say for sure the tellies are innocent.” Sepia had replaced the cup of coffee with a fresh one. “Could be another bomber. Or your guy could be lying.”

Aliza shook her head. “I really doubt it. He has no reason to lie.”

“Regardless, even if this particular one wasn’t involved then there are still a million other tellies in Ttlatic,” Jonquil heard herself say.

“How many of them have access to rabbit bombs?” asked Aliza.

neo_SMOKE gave him two, perhaps they gave them to others as well?” Jonquil sighed. “We can’t let them have rabbit bombs- homemade explosives are worrisome enough.”

“What can we do?” Aliza asked, furrowing her thick brows. “Go after all of sac-caste? There are hundreds of thousands of ‘em in Ttlatic alone.”

“They’re not the problem. neo_SMOKE is handing out high explosives to xenos.” Jonquil’s cool yellow eyes met Aliza’s mechanical red ones. “This goes way beyond drug smuggling and tomfoolery. This is high treason.”

At this, Sepia turned and left the room. She had barely said a word to them. That wasn’t like her.

Urgh, she was too weary to pore over Sepia’s behavior. “What now?” she asked Aliza.

“It’s… after midnight, right?” Aliza checked her watch. Porropelin had a 30 hour day. “I’m too amped to sleep, I think I’m gonna go clubbing and dance myself into unconsciousness. You?”

Jonquil had taken a nap, so she wasn’t particularly sleepy… but she certainly had no interest in a club, particularly not the scuzzy sort that Aliza frequented. “I’ll stay in,” she said. “Get a bit of reading done.”

“You absolutely pathetic nerd.” Aliza grinned, but the exhaustion was apparent on her face. “You think they’ll give us the day off tomorrow for cracking the case?”

Jonquil studied the floor tiles for a while. “I don’t think we cracked anything,” she said finally. “I think this is at best a lead and at worst a red herring. But I just don’t see anywhere to go from here… maybe the results of the other’s investigations will be helpful.”

“Yeah, maybe. See ya tomorrow?”


<== ==>

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