<== ==>

Something was amiss at the precinct. Jonquil could instantly tell.

The vast majority of OPTICA inspectors didn’t bother with cars. The roads were in such laughably bad condition that most preferred public transit or automated flying taxis. Spectra Plaza still had a huge parking lot around back for patrol cars, but the lot was less than half full on a normal day.

But today, the parking lot was filled with automobiles: dull, featureless, blocky cars that were trying too hard to be forgettable. Jonquil gave them a once-over for logos, but found none.

The weather was chaotic, minutes-long bursts of heavy rain followed by periods of quiet, so Jonquil hurried inside with her guard up. She scanned for anyone she didn’t know, anyone who didn’t carry themselves like OPTICA. The lower levels of the precinct were filled with beat cops, mostly bleary-eyed puppies finishing up their night shifts. Jonquil approached one of the less haggard ones. “Good morning,” she said. “Do you know the story behind the cars outside?”

“Oh, hey DI.” What was this one’s name, again? She was tall and solid with leaf-green hair… Jonquil saw her around all the time but they rarely spoke. “Was a commotion about an hour ago. All those cars arrived together, filled with wights.”

Jonquil sighed. “Damn. Thanks.” As she feared. She hoped that the cars would be the procession of some Mater or other muckity-muck. Hell, she would have even taken a terrorist invasion of the Plaza. Those were things she could deal with.

Wights, what most in OPTICA called the agents of UMBRA, were another story. If they were here, that was because they had already won and were here to gloat.

Taking her hand off her disruptor, Jonquil headed to the upper floors, the offices of the investigators. Since most of the women on the morning shift had yet to arrive, the UMBRA wights outnumbered them.

Sapiens, were their outfits ugly. Glaring white with needless gold decoration, no regard for skin tone or hair color. And of course, they thought themselves soooo clever to wear something else when they were afield, while sneaking some white-and-gold onto their outfit as a cheeky hint of their affiliation- again without any concern for how gaudy and clashing those accessories could be.

One of them, a woman far too pale for her white turtleneck, approached Jonquil. “The woman of the hour,” she purred, her voice thick and sickly sweet. “Look ladies- it’s Jonquil Diakon, sewer-swimmer extraordinaire.”

Several of the UMBRA girls laughed. “At least I was doing something useful,” Jonquil snapped against her better judgment. “Trying to solve the deaths of seventy TORCH agents. Not that any of you give a shit about that.”

Another girl, tall and lissome with copper hair and a long diagonal scar bisecting her face approached them. “How can you say that, ‘Jonny’? We’re all in the spirit of sisterhood just as much as you. See, I’m missing most of my nose and you’re missing most of your height.”

“‘Jonny’? Did you-” she gritted her teeth. Aliza was the only one who called her that. They were spying on her. “What the hell are you doing here? Don’t you have blacksites to run, girls to torture, taxpayer digits to waste?”

Aww, did some mean old wights do you wrong, Jonny? So sorry. Most of us are real nice, honest.” The pale woman reached for Jonquil’s face-

And Jonquil grabbed her arm, broke her balance with a hip thrust, and threw her to the floor. The surprised UMBRA girl squawked as she went down hard. Jonquil grabbed her wrist- but stopped at the hum of a disruptor.

The scarred girl had pointed the blob-shaped gun at Jonquil’s head. “Unless you want to be turned into a miniature smear on the wall, I suggest you let Iris go,” Scar said hoarsely.

She meant it. She’d reduce Jonquil to a puddle of disrupted molecules in front of a hundred witnesses and not lose a wink of sleep- or see a day in prison. “So wights talk tough, but act like scared little bitches when someone stands up to them?” Jonquil raised her chin and met the eyes of Scar. No doubt in her eyes. “Go ahead and shoot, trash. This is OPTICA turf, so you can’t just kill anyone who bothers you like normal. I’d see you in hell soon enough.”

Several UMBRA and OPTICA girls had gathered around the scene, and the room was mostly silent. With a scowl, the scarred girl pointed her disruptor upwards instead. “Careful how you talk to me, Jonny,” said Scar with soft menace. “You won’t always be so safe as you are here.”

Jonquil released Iris’ arm and stepped over her. “You will never scare me,” Jonquil breathed, refusing to be intimidated by the twelve or thirteen-inch height difference. “I asked you a question, scum. Why are you here?”

Maybe her boisterousness was ill-advised… Scar was huge and had the look of a combat expert. Jonquil didn’t favor her chances in a straight fight.

<== ==>

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