OPTICA #29

<== ==> 

Polly nodded faintly. “…Sure. Am I a suspect?”

“No,” said Jonquil. “But you are one of the only first-hand accounts we have, so your recollection could be crucial.”

“…One of the only? How many… did everyone die but me?” Polly’s face drained of color.

Aliza shot Jonquil a glare- a reminder that for whatever virtues Jonquil possessed, she was dog turds at interrogation and deposition. “There are still lots of people unaccounted for,” Aliza said soothingly. “They’re combing the wreckage for survivors, plus we’re still trying to account for who was actually in the building at the time of the blast. It’s only been a day since it happened.”

Deftly done: everything Aliza said was technically true, and it was exactly what Polly wanted to hear. Of course, the chances of other survivors were close to nil: the bodies yet to be discovered were the ones buried under tons of rubble or blasted to smithereens. Polly’s survival was miraculous.

How terrible it was, to lose everything you cared about in one random act of violence.

Polly seemed to calm down, though maybe that was the meds. “So there’s still hope. That’s good… we’re nothing without hope. Ask away… I’ll do my best to answer.”

Aliza smiled. “Well first, I’d like to ask what you did every day at SPRING_ToMind.”

Polly sighed. “Well, I’m a spectroscopist. I study light, specifically in communications. I was working on a way to embed messages in beams of light… like how the tellies talk to one another.  Mostly I just tinkered with my code all day long.”

“How was your research coming?”

Polly’s smile was bittersweet. “Slow. My niche is small and expensive. I think I might have been onto something when…” She trailed off.

“Is that why there were telegaeics in the base?” Aliza asked. “We saw some on the security footage and were curious.”

“Yeah, actually. They were in my wing… I worked with them a lot. Not that I could communicate much with them.” Polly looked at the ceiling. “Could they have been the ones who…?”

Aliza shrugged. “It’s a possibility that we’re looking into.” Another half-truth. “Was there anything strange about SPRING_ToMind, in your opinion?”

“I-I don’t think so… are you trying to say the bomber targeted us?” Polly asked in a small voice.

Aliza didn’t answer immediately. “We have to consider the possibility. It was either random or it was targeted- and if it was targeted, then the bomber’s motive becomes crucial motivation. Come on, wasn’t there anything odd? Think back to when you first started working there- anything out of place, anything you dismissed as just a quirk?”

Polly shook her head slowly. “I’m sorry… I can’t think of anything… oh! There was one thing.”

“Yes?”

“Accounting… they were always really weird. They didn’t talk to anyone outside of accounting, and if we had to talk to them for any reason they’d pretty much ignore us for as long as possible. I remember once that my pay didn’t arrive when it should have, so I messaged them… I didn’t hear back for three days. The digits were in my bank account. They didn’t so much as send me a ‘fixed it’ message.”

Aliza stroked her chin thoughtfully. She and Jonquil traded a glance. If a company was doing something shady, accounting was the first place to look. It wasn’t much to go on, though. “What about more recently?” Aliza asked instead. “Anything strange on the days leading up to the explosion?”

“Strange…” Polly continued to stare into space and avoid looking at either of them. “Well, the week before, President Du Pont made a speech. She told us that we had to deliver a working prototype before the end of the year, or else the investors would start pulling out. So we all starting spending long hours at the office… I even slept there sometimes. Everyone was stressed and tired.”

“Anything else?”

“Umm. Yeah, actually. Two days before, a few women came in to look at my wing’s projects. They didn’t say much. They looked around, asked a few questions to my boss, and left. At first I thought they were investors, but they didn’t really look like SPRING girls. They looked, uhh…” Polly sucked on her teeth. “M-maybe I shouldn’t say.”

“We can’t find who did this unless we know the whole story, Polly,” said Aliza gently. She went to cup Polly’s hand in hers, but Polly drew her hand back rather than be touched. “I want justice- and I bet you want it a thousand times more than I do. But I need the whole picture.”

Polly stared off into space for a minute. Her eyes were misty and her voice quivered when she spoke. “They looked like UMBRA agents.”

<== ==> 

OPTICA #28

<== ==>

To prevent UMBRA from following them out, Jonquil and Aliza left through the cargo entrance. Within minutes, they were on a train bound for Silica General Hospital.

It was a strange feeling to know that an intelligence agency had its eyes on you. Everything took on a new context. The SPRING girl reading the news on her watch who glanced their way a couple times. The off-duty BEACON security officer eating an early lunch at the cafe next door. The two nurses on a smoke break in the lobby. All of them could be the eyes of the enemy.

“Jonquil. Can you stop that?” Aliza grumbled.

“Stop what?”

“Stop staring at everyone like they’re about to take off their skin costume and vomit acid at you.”

“I’d prefer that to one of them being UMBRA.” Jonquil dropped her voice. “We have to be careful, Aliza.”

“It’s pointless, so just relax babe. UMBRA‘s tentacles are absolutely everywhere. We’d have better luck going a year without getting rained on than we would going a day without being spotted.”

Jonquil wondered how the hell that was meant to relax her.

Silica General was a huge U-shaped building, with rounded mint green walls. It was huge, thrice the size of Spectra Plaza, befitting its status as MIRROR‘s headquarters on Porropelin. Hundreds of research projects and initiatives, thousands of MIRROR doctors treating countless patients.  An otherwise-featureless pink plaque sat in front of the main entrance. It simply read “The Answer Stares Back”. MIRROR‘s motto. No idea what it meant.

The helpful woman behind the desk directed them to the trauma ward. That was where they’d find Polly Peck, the young agent who survived the SPRING_ToMind explosion. Polly had regained consciousness overnight and had been drifting in and out ever since, and OPTICA was waiting for her to recover before interviewing her.

Silica General was a labyrinth. Even with explicit directions, it was a fifteen minute walk from the entrance to Polly’s room. On the way, they passed rushing surgeons, haggard nurses, and shell-shocked patients.

The medical chicks were good people. They worked hard and organized well; MIRROR was perhaps the branch with the fewest internal conflicts and the most cohesive organizational vision. 

But Jonquil absolutely hated their aesthetic sensibilities. Everything was washed-out and low contrast, and so the hallways stretched on forever into a blurry mush. The walls almost seemed to pulsate in an optical illusion she couldn’t exactly explain. Girls ran to and fro in face masks to prevent the spread of bacteria, their outfits similarly bland and neutral. The air smelled like disinfectant.

Polly’s room was at the very back corner of the trauma ward. A simple little room with a bed, nightstand, and some dressers filled with supplies. Polly lay in bed with her doctor standing over her. “Last  question, how’s the dose treating you?” asked the doctor, a ruddy and full-figured woman with thick purple hair.

Polly sat up. Her right eye was hidden behind a bandage that wrapped around her scalp. Another big bandage adorned her left cheek, her right arm was in a sling and there were more bandages on her left arm and both her legs. Poor thing looked halfway through mummification. “Not so bad,” she said vacantly. “Makes me feel kinda… swimmy. But the pain is a lot less bad.”

“Good. We’ll steadily decrease it starting tomorrow and get you walking again. Those legs of yours are still good to go.” The doctor turned to leave when she spotted Jonquil and Aliza. “Oh, hello officers.”

“Morning doc,” Aliza said cheerily. “Mind giving us some time alone with your patient?”

“So long as you don’t bust her up any worse.” The doctor chuckled. “Don’t push her. She’s been through an ordeal.” She walked closer and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Physically, I’m positive she’ll make a full recovery. Mentally… might be tough.”

“We’ll treat her gently,” Jonquil promised.

The doctor moved to slide past them, but hesitated. “I’m sorry, I’m sure you get this question a lot, but…”

“Yes, I’m a Diakon,” Jonquil said wearily.

The doctor waved her hand. “Not you. I meant your partner. Those eyes… they’re MIRROR-made, aren’t they?”

Aliza’s back stiffened and she pursed her lips. “…Yes,” she said.

“Fascinating! How does an OPTICA hound end up with MIRROR tech in her skull?”

“…I used to be LUX,” Aliza forced out through gritted teeth. “They collaborated with MIRROR to make them. These are a prototype.”

The doctor nodded. “How long have you had them?”

“Just over three years now.”

“How do you like them? Good? Do they-”

“Doctor,” Jonquil interjected. “We’re in the midst of a criminal investigation of a terrorist attack.”

“Oh. Right. My bad.” The doctor bowed her head in embarrassment, then walked away.

Jonquil didn’t know much about Aliza’s mechanical eyes except for their functionality, and that Aliza hated to talk about how she got them. Now she knew that Aliza got the new eyes just before she transferred to OPTICA.

But if there was one thing Jonquil Diakon knew how to do, it was avoid touchy subjects. She clasped Aliza’s shoulder. “Let’s get to work.”

The consternation on Aliza’s face melted away, and she instantly reverted to her usual bouncy self. “Yeah, let’s. Oh Pollyyyy!”

Polly’s attention was on the window, watching the rain hypnotically beat against the glass. “Mmgh?” 

Aliza approached the bed, Jonquil a step behind. “Nice to meetcha. My name’s Junior Investigator Aliza Fete. The dwarf is Junior Investigator Jonquil . She’s the one who found you in the wreckage.”

“Wreckage?” Polly echoed. “What wreckage…? Oh… you mean… right.” She closed her eyes. “Sorry. It’s all fuzzy. Like a pool of rainwater.”

Jonquil sat at the foot of the bed. “Polly, my partner and I would like to ask you a few questions, if that’s all right. Anything you can tell us will be helpful.

<== ==>