The dominoes are beginning to fall.
After enjoying his usual luncheon with Gabrielle’s inner circle, Jericho begins to wonder if his connection with the other five has quelled his rage. Alice says it is good progress and invites him to visit ELPIS-converted Wtorek Izsak who is imprisoned in the belly of Ophiuchus.
Prognoikos Aurora Reservoirs, Ophiuchus
“These security checks are ridiculous. We’re Ophiuchian peacekeeping agents. We shouldn’t have to go through these things like these tourists here.”
“Is it that you think you’re above all of these ‘tourists’, Talib? Do you think you’re above the security measures?”
“See! That’s exactly how the Organization wants you to think. They’re taking advantage of your docility and compliance! These vitae-spectrophotometer tests are just tools they use to find their next targets!”
“And how and why exactly would they do that? And who are these targets?”
Jericho paused and turned. Alice was walking right behind him and Talib beside her. They were all out of uniform. Jericho in a sweater vest, Talib with a blue scarf thrown over his shoulders, Alice in a blue ribbon dress.
They were walking along a wide bridge platform that rose high above the ground. Several meters below them glowed a cluster of oval-shaped vitae reservoirs. There were thirteen total with twelve smaller ones circling around a larger central one. The glow of them from this distance was psychedelic—shifting from soft blues to pale greens to bright purples. Particles of light rose from the pools and dusted the air coating everything in a dreamy haze.
It hurt to look at.
The platform they were walking across was one of twelve. Each platform hung over one of the twelve outer reservoirs and connected together at a central platform that stood tall above the largest reservoir. The platforms were congested, but not as congested as the streets of the Twin Cities.
Jericho approached the railing to his left and peered downwards into the light. His head pounded at the glow, but he took a deep breath and reached out to the other five. It took two tries. Synchronization was around 80 percent with all five appearing physically before him. Some were confused. Some were curious. One was excited.
Uh, what’s the deal, detective?
You said that there was nothing happening on my end, Jericho explained. I’ve heard that it is… customary… to visit places like this Prognoikos Aurora attraction since they are ‘touristy’—
“Jericho, put your hands down,” Werner interjected. “You’ll draw attention.”
Jericho put down his air quotation marks. Touristy. Uplifting to the spirit. That is what the books say. About this place.
“That’s very nice of you, Jericho,” Atienna drew with a smile, clasping her hands together. “Thank you.”
Maria threw her hands up the air and wrapped him in her arms before she peeled away and leaned over the railings. “Amazing! I have always wanted to visit this place!” She leaned forward. “What do you think it’s like to swim in it?”
“These are gigantic compared to the one in the royal palace,” Olivier noted, ignoring Maria as he peered over the railings beside her. He grimaced. “There’s so much of it here. I don’t understand why it isn’t just harvested and given out.” He glanced at Werner. “It’d save people a lot of trouble.”
It seemed as if Lavi was not with Olivier today. Jericho was somewhat disappointed. He had wanted to see her reaction.
“That’s not how economics works, kid,” Cadence said with a shrug, glancing with only mild interest at the reservoirs.
“And you know how economics works?” Olivier arched a brow back at her.
Cadence remained smiling. “Hey, who’s the one’s saved ya from gettin’ scammed in Sagittarius?”
“Well, this place is considered sacred in Monadism,” Atienna informed them. “It is used for the baptismal portion of saint candidate ceremonies. Although… I have heard that they are starting to begin the construction of a continent-wide insulator system to connect these reservoirs with other major vitae reservoirs around Signum. They’re hoping to provide the poorer areas with it too.”
Olivier perked up at this. “Really? I must have missed that…”
Atienna pressed her fingers to her lips. “It isn’t that you have missed it, it is that it has not been announced yet. Diplomats have very interesting conversations.” She smiled lightly. “Despite everything, we can still keep personal matters from each other. That is reassuring, don’t you think?”
Olivier shrugged and glanced at Jericho. Jericho had not heard of it either and mimicked the gesture.
Cadence cracked a grin, nudging Olivier on the shoulder. “See, friends in high places everywhere.”
“I’m literally the Ariesian prince…”
“Exactly!” Cadence snapped her fingers. “Anyway, I once sold a whole group of elites from Cancer phony VIP tickets to this place.” She slipped between Maria and Olivier at the railings. “I couldn’t really understand why a buncha people would fork over a thousand common coin to visit some vitae reservoirs but lookin’ at it now…”
“It’s pleasant,” Werner agreed. “The gesture is appreciated, Jericho. I’ve always wanted to see the Ophiuchian vitae reservoirs myself, so—”
What? Cadence’s grin widened. Mr. This-isn’t-a-vacation is takin’ in the scenic view?
“I do appreciate the natural wonders of Signum,” Werner returned coolly. “These are the things that fuel our countries. We should treat them with respect.”
“Hm—Hey, why are some of ‘em kinda lower than the rest?” Cadence inquired, gesturing to about eleven of the reservoirs. “It kinda ruins the whole symmetry.”
“It is a natural phenomenon,” Atienna explained, observing them far from the railings. “Every couple of decades, the levels of the vitae reservoirs rise and fall. I hear there is still research going on about it.” She glanced at Jericho before placing a hand on her chin. “However… During the end of the Reservoir War, the original country of Ophiuchus ended up desecrating half of the reservoirs here, so several of them have never risen since then.”
Cadence rocked back on her heels and grimaced. “That sounds like a history lesson I don’t wanna get into.”
The nausea that had been lightly holding Jericho’s stomach suddenly tightened as he watched them converse. He placed a hand over his stomach absentmindedly.
Olivier glanced back at him with a frown. “Look, Jericho, it’s not that great.” He loosely thumbed the reservoir below him. “You don’t have to show us this. A picture is good too.”
Cadence whipped around grinning. “Or ya could draw us it too. We could put it in a frame and everything. Hey, who knows? Ya might be the next big artist! People’ll be talkin’ about ya in the streets!”
“—uh, Jericho, are you home?”
Jericho snapped his attention to Talib who was standing right beside him waving a hand in his face.
The man startled at Jericho’s attention and placed a hand over his heart. “Saints! You scared me.” He straightened his scarf. “I was saying that this really is quite the view, isn’t it? And it’s nice to be out of uniform.”
Jericho stared back at him before he nodded. “No one stares.” He glanced around at the pedestrians passing by around them. “I didn’t realize. Some people aren’t fond of peacekeepers.”
Talib nodded slowly, following the passersby with his eyes. “Either we’re too controlling or we’re not controlling enough. Either we spend too much time saving people who don’t matter or we don’t spend enough time saving people who matter.”
“You’ve thought about this. A lot.”
“Yes, well… we can’t save, help, and make everyone happy,” Talib said. “But if we can save and help at least one person, I think that’s enough. Like that poor fellow and those women who were manipulated by that Cancerian—”
Jericho turned to find Alice behind him. She had been walking along the opposite railing and now stood before him with an unreadable expression as usual.
“I think this is good progress for you to come here,” Alice said curtly. “But today is also the day you said you would come with us to visit Izsak. I hope you don’t think that coming here this morning excuses you from your promise.”
“This is not an excuse.”
Alice nodded. “Good.”
Black Constellation Detention Center, Ophiuchus
Beneath the Serpens Establishment was the Black Constellation Detention Center. It was a prison that extended many meters below the ground and consisted of a network of halls and cells layered up on top of one another. Ferris had likened it one time to a beehive.
After passing through the ten security checks at the Center’s entrance—one of which consisted of a vitae-spectrophotometer test—Jericho, Alice, and Talib were allowed into a small elevator.
When Ophiuchus initially began using vitae-spectrophotometers, Jericho had been swept into an unexpected routine check, tested ‘white’, and had nearly been tackled to the ground after that. Alice had been nearby at the time, however, and had flashed her Ophiuchian chairman badge in his defense. Following that event, she had done a hefty load of paperwork and procured a special badge for him that allowed him to bypass the tests.
“Good ta know people in high places, right?” Cadence had chortled.
Sometimes Jericho wondered what those people who knew the color of his vitae thought of him. Rumors had probably already started.
They rode down the elevator in silence. Jericho watched as light from different levels bled through the crack in doors as they descended further and further. Ten minutes later the elevator dinged, and they reached the last floor.
When they exited the elevator, they were met with a sterile nearly all-white hallway. Lining the left of the hall were large two-way mirrors in-between which metal doors stood rigid. In front of each of those doors stood a pair of uniformed peacekeeping agents. The walls across from the guards were spotted with black metal benches. The walls themselves were dotted with occasional strange streaks of black.
Jericho glanced into the first two-way mirror as they walked past. Usian, laying down on the bed within with his hands folded over his stomach. He stared up at the ceiling with an unreadable expression.
The second two-way mirror down the hall contained another man. Major Ersatz. The Capricornian major paced the room back and forth while biting his thumb and muttering to himself.
Jericho’s gaze lingered on the man before he forced himself forward.
They came to a stop before the third two-way mirror.
Jericho glanced inside.
Wtorek Izsak sat at a table set at the room’s center. Across from him sat a woman in a black suit wearing a white armband. Her wavy brown hair was tied into a rather messy bun, and her hand was resting on the man’s upper arm.
The heaviness in Jericho’s chest felt foreign and detached.
Alice immediately went up to the window and stood before it with crossed arms. Jericho stared after her for a moment before glancing at the opposite wall.
There was a girl sitting on the bench across from the two-way mirror of Izsak’s cell. She had wispy brown hair braided, caramel-colored eyes and appeared to be around fourteen years old. Resting on her lap was a strange-looking stuffed rabbit, reminding Jericho of the monstrous stuffed animal that rested on a table back in his condo.
“That’s Izsak’s daughter. Csilla,” Talib whispered, detaching himself from Jericho’s side and walking over to the bench. He sat down beside the girl and began speaking animatedly with his usual dramatic hand gestures.
Csilla giggled in turn. Entertained.
Jericho stared at the two and offered Csilla a small wave when the girl looked up at him. She returned the wave with a faint smile before her gaze drifted to the two-way mirror. Jericho followed her gaze before coming to a stand beside Alice in front of the glass pane.
“Maintenance still hasn’t gotten rid of those stains yet?” Alice grimaced and turned to one of the guards standing beside the door. “Mladen, it’s disgusting to look at.”
Mladen was a tall, lean man with a light mustache, a prominent brow, and an expression of complete indifference. An Aquarian, gauging by his sharp features.
The Aquarian grimaced. “Every time you complain I go up to maintenance and cleaning and tell them. After that we have to take the prisoners out to a separate level while the stains are cleaned out. Then we move them back in. You know what happens after that? More stains appear. And the cycle repeats. Someone is pulling some stupid prank, and I have to suffer for it either way.”
“Give me the names of the maintenance crew, and I’ll deal it with myself if you can’t.”
Jericho looked around.
There. It was barely viewable from his current angle, but there was a black streak running along the wall just behind Izsak’s head. It was about the length of his arm, and it looked a bit familiar. It reminded Jericho of the paintings in Atienna’s cave. And…
Jericho turned his head.
There were similar black streaks on the wall behind him.
So it wasn’t a customary design then.
“That doesn’t help me,” Mladen complained. “I’ll just have to move all of them again when the stains reappear.”
Alice sighed and knocked on the steel door.
Elizabeta startled from within and pulled her hand away from her husband’s arm. She turned back towards the door and then glanced at the two-way mirror. Although she couldn’t see them, she nodded in their direction.
“Open the door,” Alice ordered.
Mladen rolled his neck and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a set of keys and inserted one into the slot in the door. There was a cold draft of wind as the door groaned open.
The guard beside Mladen shivered and grimaced. “Saints. They need to turn on the damn heat—”
A loud squelch cut the guard off. The sound was followed by a gurgle and then a steady drip, drip, drip.
Jericho turned, stared, and then tried to piece together the events that had preceded the scene before him. All he had seen was a flash of tangerine light, a glint of metal, and then—and then just red. Red seeping in-between the white tiles of the floor, red bleeding onto the guard’s Ophiuchian armband, red pooling out from the guard’s mouth—his mouth from which a steel beam now protruded. The beam extended almost all the way to the opposite wall, and the weight of the thing dragged the peacekeeper forward. His body crumpled to the floor in an instant, sending red droplets splattering onto the walls as he clutched his throat and gurgled.
“Z-Zeke!” Mladen shouted, rushing to the fallen guard’s side. He glared at the other Ophiuchian guards standing frozen around him. “Conductors! Get the damned medical Conductors! Don’t just stand there!”
“Wait! Nobody move!” Alice snapped.
The door to the cell behind her was just barely open. The chaotic noise from their side seemed to have traveled through the crack in the door, as Jericho could see that Elizabeta had shot up to a stand through the two-way mirror. Izsak, meanwhile, faced the wall and stared at the black smear there.
“Where in saint’s name did that come from?!” shouted another one of the peacekeepers closest to the elevator.
The elevator doors were closed. None of the peacekeeping agents had pulled out their conductors yet. The perpetrator was not in sight.
Jericho whipped his head around to where Talib and Csilla sat. The girl’s face was buried in Talib’s chest, and the man held her tightly while staring at Zeke with wide eyes.
The wall behind the two was glowing. No. The black patterns painted on the wall were glowing—glowing with pale tangerine light. And out from those numerous glowing splotches grew steel beams coated in white luminescence.
Familiar. Manipulator. White. That color.
The world around Jericho began to blur, the surroundings melding into one another.
Calm down. Think.
Jericho whipped his head around and tackled Alice to the ground just as the steel beams whistled out from the pools of light. The ear-piercing screech was followed by the ring of metal against glass, metal against tiled floor, metal against body. When the sounds dampened, Jericho peeled himself off of Alice and observed his surroundings.
Talib was on the ground as well, body caged protectively over a shivering Csilla. They both looked unharmed. Several other peacekeepers had also made the successful dodge. A number of them, however, were flat on the ground—bodies pierced through with pieces of metal.
The glow from the wall dimmed, leaving behind the black smears that still seemed to hum with a faint energy.
Specialist…? But even for that, this is—
Jericho scrambled to his feet to fully assess the damage. The two-way mirror leading to Ersatz’s cell had shattered and the floor was flooded with blood, bodies, pieces of metal, and fragments of glass. The two way-mirror of Izsak’s cell was, however, still intact—the door, still cracked open just slightly.
Ears ringing, Jericho dashed towards it.
“Jericho, wait!” Alice snapped, rising to a stand only to slip on the blood that dyed the floor crimson.
Ignoring her shout, Jericho ripped the door open and rushed inside.
Elizabeta stared at him wide-eyed as he entered. “Jericho? What’s—”
Jericho’s gaze fixated upon the black streak on the back wall that Izsak was now extending a hand out towards. Before Jericho could move forward, however, he was pushed to the side by another peacekeeping agent. Mladen.
The peacekeeper flicked his gloved hands and conjured a pistol and a combat knife in a flash of deep green light. He pointed the pistol squarely at Izsak, gripped the knife tightly in his other hand, and snapped, “Don’t move, Wtorek!”
“What are you doing?!” Elizabeta hissed at him. “Are you craz—”
The black streak on the wall began to glow with pale tangerine light, bringing with it a chillingly familiar updraft of wind. Something slithered out from that glowing streak. A hand.
Elizabeta whipped her head around and stared at the glow gaping. “What in saint’s name is—”
Izsak started forward, reaching out towards the hand protruding from the wall.
“No!” Elizabeta cried, throwing her body across the table and tackling Izsak to the ground away from the light.
“You’re going to make this very hard for us, aren’t you?”
Jericho froze as the familiar voice drifted out from the glowing light. The same voice from that night at the docks. The same mocking tone. The same feeling building in his chest. A hot iron heat that sent a surge of electricity through his entire body. His head buzzed, his ears rang—
Jericho, calm down.
The hand retracted back into the pool of light for a beat and then shot outwards again flinging out a spray of red that splashed across the room.
Without thinking, Jericho ducked beneath the splatter. Mladen, however, lifted his hand wielding the knife, and the red droplets caught on to his hand and the blade.
Mladen wiped the droplets from his face with a grimace. “Disgusting—”
And then the blood flecked upon his conjured blade began to glow white. The whiteness consumed the entire thing in an instant. Before the man had the chance to react, the knife flew from his hand and then flipped over to face him with its point. It hovered there for a moment before hurtling forward and piercing his shoulder. The force of the blow sent him flying back out of the doorway. He hit the wall in the hall with a thud before sliding to the ground motionless.
“‘Disgusting’? Isn’t that a bit too harsh? Unsanitary, yes—I have to admit that it is.”
Out from the glowing streak on the wall stepped a young woman dressed in a loosely buttoned blouse and a pair of black slacks. A chain glinted faintly on her neck, barely hidden by her loose rope of braided hair partially concealed her face. By her relaxed demeanor, however, it was evident that the concealment was not done purposefully. She had nothing to hide.
Sighing, the woman paused to brush off her shirt before glancing to the side of the room where Elizabeta remained hovering over Izsak. “You’re not going to cause trouble for us, are you?”
“Stay away from my family,” Elizabeta hissed, eyes fierce and cold. “He’s not one of you!”
The woman sighed again and snapped her conductor gloved fingers. The sound was followed by a whirling whine as the knife from Mladen’s shoulder flew out from his body and into her waiting hand.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Omicron said, pointing the knife at them, “but that man is no longer—”
Jericho rose to a stand, heart hammering, ears ringing, head pounding. If the others were there, he could not hear them or feel them. All he could feel was the heat that was building inside his chest just waiting to explode outwards. A feeling almost forgotten. Never.
Flipping her hair away from her face, the woman turned to face Jericho. In the pale overhead lights shining down from above, the white of the snake tattoo on the left half of her face blended into the pale of her skin.
Omicron. Yes. That was her name. He hadn’t forgotten since that night at the docks in the Twin Cities. He couldn’t recall the pain he’d felt when she’d pierced him through with the steel beams that night, but he could still recall the white glow of her vitae. A member—a leader—of ELPIS in here. In the Serpens Establishment. In the place Alice had said was safe.
Omicron’s eyes widened. “You’re…”
Recognition. Good. Good to know one’s executioner.
Izsak locked eyes with Jericho from beneath Elizabeta and held up a warning hand in the ELPIS leader’s direction. “Omicron, be careful, he’s a—”
What? Why was he—
Jericho grabbed one of the chairs that had toppled to the ground, leaped over the table at the room’s center, and swung the chair at her head. Omicron formed a fist with her gloved hands, and out from the pool of light on the wall behind her came another steel iron bar. The clang of metal against metal rang through the room as the bar slipped through the legs of the chair and locked it in place.
But Jericho was not deterred. He slipped beneath the thing and landed a solid kick to the woman’s chest sending both of them flying back into the wall and into the pool of light. Cold nipped at Jericho’s ears as they tumbled through a stretch of void and light. A tumbling free fall with no end and no beginning and—
—suddenly Jericho was falling out onto the messy floor of a familiar hallway. The floor was wet and red beneath him and littered with shards of glass, steel beams, and unmoving bodies dressed in monochrome.
He was somehow back out in the hall outside of Izsak’s cell. Above him, the black streaks on the wall were once again glowing with light.
Spatial distortion? Even for a Specialist, that’s hard to believe. Regardless. Pay attention. Look out for the other Conductor. Be careful. Get reinf—
Jericho’s ears began to ring again, muting Werner’s cool, calming voice. In the white noise, he began to evaluate his physical condition as Alice had directed him to do over and over again. The fragments of glass from the shattered two-way mirror of Ersatz’s cell had pierced his forearm, but he did not feel the pain. Operational still.
He focused his gaze upon Omicron who lay only a meter or so away from him. She was slowly rising to her feet now, groaning.
There was another peacekeeper laying beside him. At the peacekeeper’s waist were two conductors. One in the shape of a gun, and the other a bladeless hilt.
There was a sudden pang of horror in Jericho’s chest followed by remorse and disgust and pity at the sight of the body—the corpse—and then—
Probably a Projector’s conductor. Probably incompatible with a Specialist. It’s too dangerous—
But those facts didn’t matter.
Jericho lunged for the Projector’s gun, whipped around, and pointed it squarely at Omicron just as she turned to face him. Her eyes widened for a moment before an impassive expression slipped itself over her face. Acceptance. Without hesitation, he pulled the trigger.
The heat and the hum that trembled through the conductor told Jericho that his conducting-type was most definitely incompatible with the conductor. But the conductor still served its purpose. Out from its tip exploded a burst of blinding white light that hurtled right towards the woman’s torso.
In the moment before contact, however, another figure leapt in front of the white blast. The vitae ray caught the figure’s shoulder, and the force of the blast sent him flying back into Omicron. A familiar groan reached Jericho’s ears.
It was Ersatz, who lay draped across Omicron’s body while clutching his shoulder. Omicron stared down at him wide-eyed, before she reached into her pocket and slipped something into his hands. A pendant, knife-shaped and crafted with a glass handle.
Jericho glanced down and saw that the conducting gun was smoking.
You’re crazy! You cracked the insulator! It’s not usable anymore—
Jericho chucked the thing aside, gaze snapping to the bladeless conductor still at the dead peacekeeper’s waist.
Omicron whipped her gloved hand out again sending three of the steel beams that were scattered around the ground hurtling in his direction.
Jericho dove for the Projector’s blade conductor, activated it, and sliced through the steel beams with ease. Then without hesitating again, he lunged at her.
Omicron pushed Ersatz to the side as she launched herself backwards. She tensed as her escape was shortened by the two-way mirror behind her. Back pressed against the mirror, she glowered.
“You’ll die here,” Jericho stated before he swung again.
Omicron dropped and ducked below the swing but the blade skirted her braid, disintegrating it in an instant and leaving her with a rugged short cut. She flicked her wrist and sent another wave of pipes in his direction from all sides. She slipped out beneath him as he disassembled the pipes with three quick swishes. Before she could get out of his reach however, he grabbed her by what little remained of her hair and threw her back up against the pane. She hit it with a thud and slid to the floor with a slight grimace.
“Haven’t you heard of being a gentleman?” she asked.
Instead of answering, he swung at her again. She moved quicker than before, although she still barely managed to skirt him this time. His conductor, however, did make contact with something on her person—the oddly-shaped pendant of the chain that had been hanging from her neck. The pendant was knife-shaped with a clear handle just like the one she’d handed to Ersatz. It fragmented and shattered in an instant just like everything else Jericho’s vitae touched. This time, however, Omicron’s reaction was different. Her eyes widened in horror; and with a roar, she sent Jericho away from her with a solid kick to the chest.
Jericho hit the black painted wall behind him but immediately popped back up to a stand while flipping the conductor in his hand. The handle of it was hot in his grip, but he didn’t pay it any mind.
Omicron still had a completely stricken look on her face as she gripped the chain around her neck. Distracted.
He made towards her again but Olive’s thoughts rang out once more—
Jericho, it’s hot! You’re overheating the conductor! It hurts—
No sooner did the thought leave his mind did his hand suddenly release the conductor. It fell onto the floor, losing its blade of light immediately. It sizzled and smoked and popped, sparks bursting from its body.
He glanced at his hand. It was red and raw.
“You’re really crazy, you know that?”
He looked up to find Omicron standing and holding her gloved hand out in his direction. Surrounding him from all sides were rows of glowing white pipes. But he stared past them and stared holes into the woman. The woman grimaced and flicked her wrist—
—but before she could bring her hand down, Omicron was abruptly tackled to the side wall by another person. Jericho could barely register that the person was Alice before the two women fell into the glowing pools of light there and disappeared in an instant.
Jericho dashed towards the wall but was stopped by a hand around the wrist. Turning his head, he found Ersatz standing there, eyes wide and livid, practically foaming at the mouth. There were white cracks along man’s body, bleeding out from his wounded shoulder. The cracks were gradually spreading, fragmenting along his lower torso. Still, Ersatz struggled forward, brandishing the knife Omicron had dropped onto the ground moments before. Before Ersatz could even make a move, however, he too was tackled to the side of the wall—and into one of the glowing pools of light—by another peacekeeper. Mladen. In an instant they too were swallowed up.
—just like that, the light on the wall dimmed into nothing, leaving the black smears looking just as they did when Jericho had first come into the hall.
Jericho drifted to the wall and placed a hand on one of the smears. Cold.
He couldn’t quite comprehend the scene.
Elizabeta was now out in the hall hugging Csilla tightly. There were other peacekeepers filtering in through the elevator. The sirens were blaring. Talib was standing in front of him, shaking him and shouting. Alice. Where was Alice.
Were those his own thoughts or Talib’s shouts. Jericho didn’t know.
“Oh…” Omega lifted her head as she flipped her hair. She was sitting at the board game table across from Tau and had been using one of her black pieces to capture one of his white ones when her eyes had suddenly glazed over.
“Omega?” Tau pressed, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “What is it?”
Omega returned her attention to the board game, eyes still glazed over, as she finished capturing his piece. “Omicron isn’t in the Serpens Establishment anymore. Neither is Ersatz.”
Tau clicked his tongue at her move and handed one of the black game pieces he’d captured previously back over to her. “That’s good…. Then, where are they?”
“I don’t know,” she hummed, accepting the piece and placing it in the spot that his had previously occupied. She flipped her hair again, this time over her shoulder. “They’re not anywhere that I’ve used my conductor at. I can’t see them through any of my mediums. Oh, but Izsak is still there—”
“What?!” Tau snapped, shooting up to a stand. “That’s not good at all! What was the point of Omicron going there? I knew trusting that peacekeeper was a terrible, awful idea! Dammit! Izsak has valuable information! If I hadn’t lost that damn game with Omicron then—”
“It was the peacekeeper with the suitcase again,” Omega said, voice sing-song. “But he didn’t have his suitcase this time around. What a terrifying person.”
“The suitcase bastard Omicron met in the Twin Cities?” Tau pinched the bridge of his nose. “Again?”
“Theta is off right now,” Omega sang. “I wonder what they’ll do when they find out their knight in shining armor has failed.”
“If someone asked for your help, cried in front of you, or asked for your love, what would you do? Certainly, the easiest answer would be to embrace them. It’s the simplest method with the fastest effect. But giving a hug or a kiss or even offering a drink—these are all temporary measures. What about tomorrow? The day after that? Would you embrace them every single time? And what if you’re no longer around? What then? That is why, Jericho, I will not be like any of the others. I will not simply embrace you.”Doctor Alice Kingsley, Third Chairwoman of the Psychological Evaluations Department of Ophiuchus