<== ==>

“Will you two just make out already?” asked someone behind Jonquil. Her voice was loud and raspy… Aliza. “It’s waaay too early for this kind of sexual tension.”

Aliza’s outfit was disheveled, her blouse rumpled and her coat in need of dry-cleaning. Her hair was frizzy and uncombed. She still looked fantastic in hip-hugging jeans and boots… it was annoying how effortlessly great Aliza looked every single day. She walked over to Jonquil’s side. “Seriously, you gotta forgive Jonny. She gets really gung-ho about these investigations. She’s a good kid though, so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t beat her face in. It’s a nice face.”

Scar backed down- egos aside, there was no profit in them fighting and they both knew it. “Aliza,” she nodded. “A degenerate clone of a Mater and a robot-eyed freak. What a pair you two are.”

Nobody in OPTICA minded Aliza’s eyes much, but that was because it was Aliza. Most in TORCH were deeply distrustful of cybernetic implants. Aliza smiled the insult off. “They’re ugly, but they have their advantages: x-ray vision, for instance. Cute undies.”

Scar grinned. “I don’t wear underwear.”

“The cutest kind.” Aliza winked.

With the commotion over, the peanut gallery dispersed. Iris got to her feet and dusted herself off, and Aliza tossed Jonquil a meaningful glance. “Sorry about that,” Jonquil told Iris, trying her best to keep her voice even. “I’m high-strung. You okay?”

Iris stood up and pushed past. “If you ever do that again, they’ll never find your remains,” she spat.

“Don’t try to touch me and I won’t have to do it again,” Jonquil replied. “I still haven’t gotten an answer to my question.”

“We’re partners now,” said Scar, grinning viciously as Iris stood at her side. “neo_SMOKE terrorism is our specialty. You OPTICA skanks have done okay but this is heavyweight stuff. That means heavyweight solutions.”

“Heavyweight is right,” Aliza said appreciatively. “Damn, you must work out night and day. Can I feel your bicep?” 

Scar’s expression actually softened. “Sorry, I’m spoken for.” She pulled Iris closer to her. “I won’t forget what you did, Jonny. One day.”

“Looking forward to it,” Jonquil said coldly, striding past them. 

Aliza followed behind, her face contorted in worry. “Well that was a catastrophe,” she muttered. “I was trying to smooth things over, but now we’ve got an enemy for life. Let’s try to play nice with the wights, c’mon.”

“No way,” Jonquil spat. “You know who they are and what they do. They’re nothing but a pox on TORCH, a big ugly tumor that’s killing the whole body a little bit more every day. The least I can do is call them out on their bullshit. And can you please not hit on any more of them?”

Aliza chewed on her lip. “Sorry! I’m not even turned on. When I get nervous I just sort of do that. It’s not my best trait.”

Jonquil grunted in frustration. “We need to find Sepia. There’s no way she’s okay with this.”

The Senior Investigator was in her office, which was sparse and minimalist save for three shelves filled with complicated coffee-related machines and apparatuses. Sepia had busied herself with a siphon coffee maker… any coffee machine that involved a wick and a vacuum was too complicated.

There was already someone in here, a stranger in glaring UMBRA white. Her hair and eyes were a cheery purple, and she wore the former in a pair of almost girlish pigtails. She was unsettlingly adorable, with big dark eyes like a doll. “Ah, they showed themselves,” said the UMBRA agent. Her voice was a happy chirp. “See, I told you!”

“Mrrg.” Sepia didn’t look up from her carafe. “Aliza, Diakon. Have a seat.”

Aliza sat in the middle, Jonquil on the left, and the stranger on the right. “Chief, we need to talk about this,” Jonquil said sharply. “I don’t see why UMBRA needs to be involved in our investigation. We’ve been handling it so far-”

“Let me stop you right there,” said Purple Hair. “Missss… Diakon, I understand your concerns. If you’ll excuse my lack of political correctness, our branches are like oil and water. Rather than benefit from the cooperation, we’ll just step on one another’s toes and clash with each other while heinous terrorists go scot-free. Yes?”

“Exactly,” said Jonquil with relief. 

Purple Hair smiled sweetly. “Which is why, effective immediately, your friends at UMBRA will be assuming control of the investigation into the SPRING_ToMind bombing.”

<== ==>

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