<== ==>

Jonquil returned to interrogation to find Aliza had come out just a moment prior. “I think UMBRA is trying to pin this on neo_SMOKE,” Jonquil announced to her partner.

Aliza still had her eyebrows, and she put them up. “…I hope I’m the first one to hear you say that,” she said, glancing around to make sure they were alone..

“You are. Think about it: what evidence do we really have of neo_SMOKE’s guilt? Two words on a bomb. Anyone could have put that there. Anyone could have given the bombs to sac-caste. UMBRA could very easily pin the crime on neo_SMOKE with a few scant pieces of evidence, then take over the investigation themselves to ensure the illusion is sold.”

Aliza’s response was to grab Jonquil’s arm and hurry her to the side, ducking them into a corner. “You wanna get killed?” she hissed. “This whole building is crawling with wights, and you’re gonna accuse them of terrorism? Without a shred of evidence?”

“Not terrorism, obfuscating the culprit of terrorism,” Jonquil fired back. “UMBRA and neo_SMOKE have that big rivalry, they hate each other’s guts. There’s no way UMBRA would be impartial in any investigation- and you know what these women are capable of.”

Everyone did. UMBRA had been founded by Belladonna, the Mater Sanguinis- the most infamously brutal black ops agent from TORCH‘s early days. For fuck’s sake her official title was “The Mother of Blood”.

Little had changed since then. During the Snuffing of SMOKE and the Red Riots, UMBRA agents had ruthlessly butchered their fellow TORCH agents, and reportedly tortured captives to boot. Brutality and outrageousness was just how they rolled. 

Aliza shook her head. “It’s pointless, Jonny. I don’t like it, but we can’t do shit.”

“We have to. OPTICA needs to continue the investigation, otherwise the truth will vanish. If Sepia won’t let us, we go over her head to Deputy Chief Inspector Kobicha.”

“You saw the situation with Sepia and Pennyroyal. You think the boss lady would act like that otherwise?” Aliza shook her head. “Nobody in OPTICA can stop this short of the Mater Custodes herself- and she’s a dozen systems away.”

“Then we investigate without OPTICA,” insisted Jonquil. “Show them the truth so clearly that they can’t avert their eyes. Come on Aliza, this is important, you know it is.”

“I know it’s no longer our problem. So what if UMBRA buries the truth, Jonquil? It won’t make all those dead girls alive again.” Aliza’s voice was permeated with a deep weariness. “You and I aren’t in any position to stop them.”

Jonquil frowned. “What sort of defeatist nonsense is that? You were a scientist, weren’t you? You LUX bitches don’t care about anything but discovering the secrets of the universe, and you spit in the eye of anyone who gets in your way.”

“That’s a stereotype,” Aliza muttered. “And I’m not LUX anymore.”

“No, now you’re OPTICA. That means you swore an oath to defend TORCH‘s values and laws with her life- and you’re telling me you don’t want to know the truth?”

“Of course, I want to know, Jonny, I just-” Aliza looked to the left, then deflated. “…I just don’t think we’d survive the attempt, is all. UMBRA is ruthless, and they won’t hesitate to dispose of us if we stand between them and what they want.”

Aliza’s words were credible. There was a real danger that UMBRA would try to kill them, or at least beat the fight out of them. And yet, Jonquil didn’t feel any fear. It was almost like Aliza said they might kill Jonquil’s avatar in a game or something. “Someone has to do something,” she urged. “If all the stars in the sky are against us. For the truth, Aliza, I’m willing to stare oblivion in the eye and wait for it to blink.”

There was a long silence. It was sometimes hard to pick up the nuances of Aliza’s emotions, because her mechanical eyes weren’t nearly as expressive as organics. Instead, Jonquil watched Aliza’s mouth: first pursed and peeled back. Uncertain. Then flat and symmetrical, in a grim parody of a smile. Resigned. “You can be a real pain in my ass, Jonny. And-”

“And not the kind of pain in your ass you like, yes, you’ve said it a thousand times before,” Jonquil said with a grin. “You need me as a partner, Aliza. If anyone else found out how often you repeat your jokes, they’d drown you in the storm drain.”

“Hey! My jokes aren’t repetitive, they’re crafted to perfection.” Aliza scowled playfully. “It’s about the delivery, not the novelty, you philistine. And by the way, you still turn bright red and start stuttering after half of them, so they can’t be that passe.”

“Well that too. Come on, sidekick. There’s a lead that we still haven’t followed.”

“You first, sidekick.”

<== ==>

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