“The first time I saw you was when I was still stationed in Chantico,” said Cressida. “I had heard your name before, but I did some security work during LUX symposiums and you made a speech at one. About, umm… I think it was the Titans.”
The three of them sat cross-legged on the floor. Cress had changed into casual clothes- Eve had averted her eyes. Stanislav did not. “The connections between them and teleoarcanism,” Eve said. “Titans are multirelative entities who create micro-tears in ninth-dimensional space, reverberations of which can be felt in the third and fourth dimensions that we inhabit. They don’t experience time and space as we do- it draws from my theory that teleoarcanism is the result of Titanic activity on higher dimensions.”
Cress nodded hesitantly. “Ummm… yes. Maybe?”
“I have no idea what you just said,” Stanislav said.
“Well, anyways, we never spoke, but I stood maybe a few feet away from you.” She sighed. “I didn’t… recognize you when we met. But then I saw you, umm, disrobed this morning.”
Eve sighed. “I figured. Are you afraid of me, Cressida?”
“Should I be?”
The answer to that question was yes. The answer Eve gave was, “I’m trying very hard.”
Cressida’s smile was thin and fragile. “Well, whatever you are, I don’t think you’re a serial killer. I think you’re just a person who lost her temper. Of course, you could always lose it again… but what could I do about it?”
“What did she do?” Stan asked. “What did you do, Eve?”
“I killed dozens of people.”
Eve smiled grimly. “I think the better question would be, what are you doing here Stan? Cress, mind reminding me of Rule 2 in the TORCH charter?”
“No interaction with humanity except to maintain the clandestine nature of TORCH activity. Interaction is… uhm, punishable by death.”
Stan winced, but he seemed to already know that. Curious. “So you’ve both committed capital offenses, it seems,” he said softly.
“S-seems so, haha…” Cressida shook her head. “Will you, um, tell anyone?”
“No,” said Eve. “I know you have your reasons, although I’m not sure what they are. I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine, all right?” It didn’t feel as shitty as she expected, lying to Cress. But that was the funny thing: when you perpetrated a massacre, more mundane sins stopped feeling like they mattered.
Cress nodded in relief. There was no way she suspected that Coronis engineered the situation. Ideally she’d never find out. “You came in here to bring me food, right?”
“Yeah. I thought I’d talk to you about what you saw and try to… convince you not to tell on me.” Eve sighed. Maybe she should have actually done that. That would have been the right thing to do. “How did you end up with a non-agent boyfriend, exactly?’
Cressida and Stan made eye contact. They had a silent conversation, like only two people who knew each other exceedingly well could have. Then Cress spoke. “Okay. I’ll tell you.”
“You know that I originally enlisted in BEACON. I’m in good shape, but I’m not really much of a fighter. I thought maybe I could be a medic or a scout or something, but I wasn’t good enough for legion deployment. I instead ended up in BEACON_Security, and eventually I was assigned to Chantico.”
“A lot of girls dream of having a job in the capital, but I hated every second of it. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew that just standing at a security checkpoint and performing ID checks every day wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. But, you know, work is work. It sands your edges off, makes you neutral and regular. You just don’t have the energy to yearn for something more, because work takes so much out of you.”
“I found myself wishing for excitement, and then I got it. The Snuffing of SMOKE. All the SMOKE agents in Chantico were being rounded up to stand trial, and the ones who fought back were… killed. It was chaos for a few days. Some SMOKE agents tried to flee the city through my checkpoint with false ID’s. I did my job, I arrested them. Later on I found out that three of the four were found guilty of treason and executed.”
Eve hadn’t been in Chantico during the Snuffing. She had been aboard Pergamon, which carried over 2,000 SMOKE scientists. Every single one peacefully surrendered. They were exonerated at trial and almost universally invited to join LUX.
Few other branches extended the same kindness to the SMOKE agents in their midst. In a few cases things devolved into full-on armed conflict or even massacres, like those poor girls at Trinity Station who were massacred by UMBRA. “So you blamed yourself for the deaths?” Eve asked.
“Yes,” said Cressida, as though to say absurd, isn’t it? “I was miserable after that. I couldn’t decide, should I have let them go? What were my morals? What did I stand for? And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t stand for anything, I didn’t mean anything, I was just a drone that did a job and anything else about me was irrelevant.”
“That was when I met Stan. SMOKE had been replaced with neo_SMOKE and a massive black market sprung up pretty much overnight. One thing they issued was the Angora Bypass… a plug-in that let me interface my TORCH intranet with the Earth internet. I was just so bored, I didn’t have anything to lose, so I started chatting with humans. Just a little at first, but I got bolder and bolder. And then I met Stan.”