<== ==> (Coming 10/16/2019)
Cress and Stan’s faces mirrored one another’s: bittersweet smiles at the remembrance of what must have been a happier time for them. “Stan didn’t care that I was a witch, or that I hadn’t accomplished anything in my entire life. Stan just… liked me, and wanted me around. We talked more and more, soon every day.”
“Then one day, a neo_SMOKE agent wanted for smuggling tried to escape OPTICA pursuers through my checkpoint. I went to stop her, and then I thought, ‘what if they shoot her like they did those other girls?’ And I froze up. And I… let her go.”
There was no joy on Cressida’s part as she told the story. She didn’t seem proud of herself. “It was dumb. I didn’t have any principles so I thought that if I did something daring I could force myself to have principles. All I was doing was ruining my life with a pointless act of rebellion.”
“I was court-martialed, naturally. LUX intervened on my behalf, I guess for no other reason than I’m a witch, and offered to take me in rather than have me imprisoned. But they didn’t want me after that fuck-up, so they stuck me down here- and everything that I said about Chantico goes tenfold for this awful fucking place.”
For the first time, anger snuck into Cressida’s voice as it grew thick and breathy. “I was trapped. I didn’t know what to do, and the more I thought about the more I realized I had a nice life in Chantico but I was so stuck in here-” she tapped her head- “that I couldn’t realize it.”
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘what makes me happy?’ And the only answer I could come up with was Stan. We kept talking even though I was down here… and I started to let slip more about my circumstances because, hey, what did I have to lose?” Cress lay her hand atop of his. “And then…”
“I told her I wanted to meet her,” said Stan with the air of a dying soldier. “I was persistent. I brought it up many times. I guess I did a good job.”
Eve blinked. In all her years, she had never heard of a TORCH agent with a boyfriend from outside the organization. The rules outlined in the charter were in place for a reason: TORCH was centuries ahead of the governments of Earth. Any fragment of their technology would be like giving a nuclear bomb to some medieval king. All bets were off when advanced technology fell into the hands of those not ready for it.
But Cress had ignored that. The most sacrosanct principle, ignored.
“How much do you know?” Eve asked Stan. Sapiens, how many decades had it been since she talked to a human? Let alone one from this time period.
He scratched his head. “Enough.” He spoke quotid- the language TORCH agents spoke- okay, but it clearly wasn’t his first tongue. “Not a lot about the history, but the big things I know. You’re… famous?”
“She used to be the leader of LUX,” explained Cressida. “She’s one of the most powerful witches to ever live. If she wanted to, she could turn this whole base into soup.”
“O-oh.” He swallowed dryly. “Uh, pretty cool. Like literal soup or?”
Eve smiled in spite of herself. “So you spirited Stan from Earth to Lethe-2. That was Coronis’ doing?”
Cressida nodded. “It’s an open secret that Corey is a neo_SMOKE agent- she was happy to do it. I figured out that she’s the one who snuck you down here, too. She’s, um, a really good smuggler.”
No kidding. “And then what?”
“And then I just had Stan… live in my room. I brought him food from the kitchen. I used to sneak him out every now and again but we had a few close calls… ” Her cheeks pinkened.
Eve glanced at Stan. “And how do you feel about all this?”
“Pretty horrible,” he said promptly. “I mean… this place is like a prison. I don’t have any sort of life down here. If anyone sees me, Cress dies- which is fucked up, by the way.”
“I-it’s been hard,” Cressida added. Tears began to form in her cheeks. “We’ve been fighting a ton. I just… I just want to be happy, Eve. But it seems like everything I do just makes things worse.”
Now that was something she could relate to. With a grunt, Eve stood up. “Well, now all three of us have something to hide.” She looked at Stan. “If you like, I could come hang out here sometimes. Give you someone but Cressida to talk to.”
“Please,” Stan said, his voice filled with relief. “You have no idea how awful it is to talk about swimming when you can’t go swimming.”
Eve completely understood his meaning, and she completely understood why Cressida looked like she had just been punched in the stomach. “Do you want to go to dinner?” she asked.
“T-that’s okay. You brought us… I think it’s meant to be food.” Cressida glanced at the nuked remains of the meal Dryas had prepared. “I’m going to trust you, Eve. I don’t know if I should, but I will. P-please don’t make me regret it.” Her voice was soft, but there was a firmness to her words and posture. Part of Eve was annoyed, the rest of her was pleased that Cressida finally found her guts.
<== ==> (Coming 10/16/2019)