Twin Cities, Gemini
Talib had many questions for Jericho when he arrived at Warehouse 13. He procured a bullet-pointed list out from his journal and promptly read the list out word-for-word:
“Why did Jericho want me to track Colonel—rather, Oberst—Fritz von Spiel? Why is Jericho working alongside an associate of the Romano Family? Why is Jericho not on guard duty? Why did Jericho ask me to bring along a chair and rope? Is the Organization involved? Why—”
As soon as Talib laid eyes on Francis Foxman’s tattooed face, however, he fell silent.
Cadence propped up the chair Talib had brought, and Francis collapsed onto it with a polite word of gratitude. Jericho assisted her in binding the man to the seat with the rope.
“Sorry, Francis,” Cadence murmured, “we can’t be too careful.”
Francis offered a thin smile.
“I will explain when the others come,” Jericho said to Talib as he fastened the last knot. “No repetition.”
“Okay, partner…” Talib eyed the suppression cuffs around Francis’s wrists.
Now, they waited.
No one within the warehouse had a watch to count the time that ticked by, but that was not an issue. Werner would check his pocket watch every so often as he wove through the city streets and would increase synchronization just enough to provide an update. Every time Werner did this, Jericho would consult Talib about the location of Colonel Fritz von Spiel and would relay that information to Werner.
Cadence spent the time pacing the full length of the warehouse, while Talib busied himself folding origami with glazed eyes. Jericho remained standing in place, gripping his suitcase tightly and staring at Francis. Correction: staring at the tattoo on the right side of Francis’s face.
“Mind if I ask you what your story is, Mr. Jericho?” Francis asked suddenly.
“I want to destroy ELPIS,” Jericho answered without pause.
Francis blinked. “Well, that’s pretty straightforward.”
“Long story,” Cadence replied before meeting Jericho’s eyes. That ain’t the best conversation starter, detective.
I haven’t been practicing.
‘Practicing’…? Well, how about I practice with ya and show ya how ta do it so ya don’t have ta go practicin’ all the time?
You will… be my teacher?
“Are you two an item, Cadence?” Francis looked between them. “Didn’t think you’d be the type to go for someone like that.”
Saints. It’s so easy ta slip into that.
Cadence approached Jericho and threw an arm around his shoulder. “I mean, they do say that opposites attract, ‘ey?”
Jericho cocked his head.
“Partner, I know you said you’d explain everything later,” Talib drew as he finished folding a paper frog, “but this is quite… perplexing.”
Francis chuckled. “So we’re both being strung along then, Mr. Al-Jarrah?”
Talib frowned at Francis’s address.
Francis averted his gaze. “I understand your reservations—seeing that I’m not only the head of a crime organization but also a leader of a terrorist organization now. Two things you’re sworn as a peacekeeper to be against.”
Talib ran his fingers along the brim of his hat. “Well, you put it eloquently into words…”
Jericho felt something twist in Cadence’s gut. When he looked over to her, however, she was wearing a casual smile.
The Romanos arrived at the warehouse shortly after. First came Cavallo, alone as requested. And then came Cavallo’s special guest, bound with rope and guarded by two tall, suited men. As soon as the tied-up Caporegime Donato registered Cadence and Francis, he paled. His jailers and Cavallo also stiffened at the sight of Francis. No. At the sight of the tattoo on Francis’s face.
Only a second after came Ambrose Campana, accompanied by two guards. Not as requested. Another request Ambrose did not fulfill: bringing along Enzo. When Ambrose’s gaze passed over Francis’s face, he took a slight step backwards.
“What in saint’s name…”
“I’m aware that you’re young, Ambrose,” Cavallo drew, “but I was hoping you would still be attentive to Cadence’s request.”
Ambrose turned to Cavallo and then smiled as if amused. “Ah, yes, Cavallo, I’m very aware of our age difference as well.”
There was a tense stretch of silence as the two members of the crime organizations regarded each other, but Cadence swiftly stepped in between them, smiling.
“Hey now,” she sang, “we all reached an agreement before comin’ here right.” She gestured to Ambrose. “But like Cavallo said, I can see not everyone kept ta the deal.”
“I was merely being cautious, Cadence,” Ambrose replied. “I expected Cavallo to do the same, but I see now that he’s more honorable than what I originally took him for.” He placed a hand over his heart. “I apologize for my lack of tact.”
“And Enzo?” Cadence pressed.
Ambrose frowned. “His apartment was empty when we stopped by. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory—”
“Okay… what’s going on here?” came a voice from the doorway.
Gabrielle stood at the threshold there, panting. Her Ophiuchian band glowed on her arm.
“Talib? Jericho…?” She sighed and rubbed her hand down her face. “How much have I missed—” Her eyes widened as she registered Francis’s face. “Okay, brief me.”
* * *
With all parties present, Jericho proceeded with a prompt, general synopsis of what he and the other five had discovered about ELPIS’s origins, ELPIS’s goal of sinking the city and of targeting the reservoirs through Theta’s ability and proto-conductors, and how ELPIS was manipulating the Families from behind the scenes. Cadence interjected to describe Donato and Enzo’s role in the events and filled in the holes regarding how she and Jericho had stumbled across this information. She omitted any mention of True Conductors and refrained from mentioning their possession of two of Theta’s proto-conductors.
“Anyway, we met at a bar,” Cadence finished, thumbing herself and then Jericho. “Got drunk. Talked a little. Found out we got a lotta shared problems.”
Probably didn’t even need to pull wool over their eyes on that part, Cadence thought to him after they concluded their explanation. I mean, look at ‘em.
All of them—from the peacekeepers to the Family executives to the Family’s bodyguards—were quiet, stiff, pale as they digested the information.
“Do you have any idea when or where—other than the reservoirs—they’re going to set off the explosive conductors?” Gabrielle asked quietly.
Jericho shook his head once. “We are going to ask Omicron when she arrives.” He glanced at Francis. “Or Theta.”
He felt Cadence tense.
Gabrielle eyed Francis. “I’d like to say that I’d doubt they’d set it off when they’re still in the vicinity or that they don’t even have the firepower to, but…” Her eyes narrowed. “… with the way they operate, and Theta’s ability too…” She bit her thumb. “I hate to say it, but we really are going to have to rely on this Omicron to pull through.”
“Wait, so Izsak…” Talib drew dazedly. He turned to meet Gabrielle’s gaze. “Is he like Mr. Foxman here or…?”
Jericho opened his mouth to respond, but—
Not a good idea ta get emotions all riled up now. Things are tense as it is.
—“I’m unsure,” he said.
“They’re practically immortal… Right?” one of Ambrose’s guards muttered. “Is that even possible?”
“That’s not important.” Cavallo held up his hand before turning to Cadence. “Are you sure your plan will follow through, Cadence?” He folded his hands over his stomach. “Inviting us here when this city could be sunk into the Pollux Bay at any moment is quite callous.”
Cadence nodded half-heartedly in agreement.
Cavallo continued, calmly, “And if you do manage to complete this plan of yours, Cadence, what are you expecting to happen to Francis here? If what you’re saying is true, then he’s not only stolen from us but he’s also murdered several of our executives and is now planning to attack our territories.”
Francis didn’t acknowledge the mention of his name and continued to stare ahead at nothing with a strained expression.
“He attacked my father,” Ambrose interjected. “And he kidnapped and tortured Fortuna. Obviously, he needs to be held accountable.” He gestured to the ceiling. “The damages to the city. The current danger to our territories.” He shook his head and addressed Cavallo: “We shouldn’t even be waiting here. It may sound crude, but the best thing for us right now is to get Francis to talk no matter what means we’ll have to use—”
“That was Theta, not Francis,” Cadence argued. “And Theta happened because of Enzo and Donato. I get where you’re comin’ from, but before ya start pointin’ fingers, shouldn’t ya take a look at the ones who started all of this ta begin with? Plus, ya really think ya can make that guy talk? You’re charmin’, Ambrose, but even I can’t—”
Gabrielle finally stepped between them all with a yawn. “Look, you don’t decide what’s going to happen to him. Ophiuchus does.” Her gaze drifted over to Ambrose, and she smirked lightly. She nodded at Jericho and Talib. “And, you two, is there a reason why you didn’t turn Francis into Leona? You mentioned that she’s here.”
Jericho exchanged a look with Cadence and then with Talib.
Grunting noncommittally at the lack of response, Gabrielle leaned in towards Francis and inspected the tattoo on his face. “Anyway, Mr. Foxman, mind if I get a conversation in with your worse half?”
“That was parta the plan…” Cadence murmured, rubbing the back of her neck. She glanced at Francis with a frown. “But are ya up for it, Francis?”
“Whatever helps,” Francis replied after a beat.
Gabrielle nodded to Jericho, prompting him to move forward and undo the suppression cuffs over Francis’s wrists. The man grunted in turn and slumped immediately. A stretch of silence followed.
Cavallo and Ambrose puffed their v-cigarettes as they waited. Donato squirmed in his bindings. Talib and Gabrielle exchanged looks. Cadence bounced on the balls of her feet. Jericho drilled holes into the back of Francis’s skull.
Finally, the man at the center of their attention lifted his head, scanned his surroundings, scanned the gathered group, and tried his bindings.
Jericho stiffened. Ambrose and Cavallo stopped puffing. Donato froze. Talib and Gabrielle exchanged looks again.
“I see…” A sigh, amused. “It’s only natural that people of the same constitution would come together.”
“You’d be Theta, right?” Gabrielle pressed, walking forward and inspecting the man. “You’ve caused a lot of trouble, you know that?” She sighed. “I’m out of office for a little over a month and I come here to learn that you’ve gone and kidnapped one of my associates. And now what—”
“You’re referring to the blonde peacekeeper who wears glasses, I’m assuming,” Theta replied. “She is quite stubborn.”
“Do you mind telling me where you’re keeping her?” Gabrielle asked casually.
“You know my answer to that.”
“What about the others you’re holding captive?” Cavallo interjected. “Would it be too much to ask what their condition is, Mr. Theta?”
Theta turned his eyes onto Cavallo, and something akin to mirth enveloped his features. He answered in a quiet voice, “Before Cadence Morello captured me, the ones who we had not made an example of yet were Allen Foxman, Carl Foxman, Fortuna Romano, Agape Rosario, Bendetto, and a man whose name I believe is Maximallian. But rest assured. Even though I am not there, their time will come.” He turned back to Gabrielle. “You needn’t worry about your fellow peacekeeper. She is not a component of this. Her behavior aside, she is a very nice conversationalist—”
A pressure lifted itself off of Jericho’s chest.
“Are you the one who attacked my father?” Ambrose interjected, pressing forward. “The one who took Fortuna?”
The hell. We literally just told him that.
Theta stared at him. “Who are you?”
Something tickled the inside of Jericho’s chest. When Jericho turned to Cadence, he found that although she was frowning, there was a light in her eyes. She was amused, though Jericho didn’t know why.
“I’m Ambrose Campana,” Ambrose finally replied.
“Oh, I see.” Theta looked him up and down. “You’re his son. How dutiful… To answer your question, it wasn’t me who attacked your father, but an associate of mine. However, I will take responsibility for—”
Jericho felt a tug from Werner’s end, so he went over to Talib and asked the Manipulator to switch over his medium from Von Spiel to Omicron. Jericho kept his eyes glued onto the unfolding conversation all the while.
“—and Wtorek Izsak,” Gabrielle pressed. “This whole initiation thing—is he like you or is he…?”
“Would my answer change anything?” Theta inquired. After studying Gabrielle for a moment, however, he amended, “I’m unsure if he was properly initiated. I wasn’t the one who did it, and I didn’t ask.”
Gabrielle’s expression didn’t crack, and she pulled back in silent thought.
Theta regarded her for a moment before he registered the silent Donato standing just behind her. He chuckled. “I see you’ve brought the one who started this all here. It’s ironic. You people have caused your own downfall.”
“The polite thing to do would be to thank you, Donato,” Theta continued, “but you’ve taken something from us.” The lightness in his tone fell flat. “Where are our resistors?”
Jericho detached himself from Talib’s side and stepped before Theta, blocking the man’s view of Donato.
“We’re asking the questions,” Jericho stated. “You don’t deserve to ask.”
“That’s quite a fire you’ve got in your eyes…” Theta murmured. His gaze flicked down to the suitcase in Jericho’s hand. “Oh. I see. You must be the suitcase peacekeeper that’s been causing us a lot of trouble—”
“How do you use your proto-conductor?” Jericho pressed. No. That wasn’t the question he wanted to ask.
Theta remained silent.
Jericho could feel Gabrielle’s gaze prick his skin, and so he pulled away to allow Gabrielle to push forward again.
The woman studied him for a moment before addressing Theta once more: “Mind telling me when you’re planning to detonate the conducting grenades at the vitae reservoirs? And around the city? Where around the city?”
“You don’t have trust in your fellow peacekeepers to watch over the energy source you’re so dependent on?” Theta returned.
“Not really,” Gabrielle admitted. “Especially when you’ve got your handy Diverger conducting paired with those proto-conductors filled with your vitae—”
“What is the point?” Jericho interjected again, causing Gabrielle to glance at him with an unreadable frown. This was once again not the question Jericho wanted to put forward.
“Why are you asking me that question when the color of your vitae is the same as mine?” Theta murmured. “If you chose to bleach your vitae, then you should know and understand our feelings. Towards conductors and towards those who use them. It’s unnatural. It upsets the cycle. Those things are only used to take lives, disrupt the cycle, and sow the seeds of destruction. If you look all the way to the end, by eradicating those things and the people who use them and fight over them, you will save many more lives.”
“Interesting soliloquy…” Gabrielle noted, clearly unaffected by his words.
But Jericho was. He pressed, “You don’t think you’re evil?”—but this was not the question he had wanted to ask either.
“Evil?” Theta chuckled. Musically, familiarly. “I’m sorry for laughing, but isn’t that kind of a childish concept, Mr. Jericho? You’re the one who offed Omega, aren’t you? When you were about to kill her, how did she look at you? Did she look like she was about to be put down by some noble knight? Did she grovel on the floor and beg for forgiveness? No, I’m sure she was very aware of where she stood and where you stood.”
The memory of Omega’s eyes on that night flashed through Jericho’s mind. They had been wide and full of hatred.
“Look at the people surrounding you, peacekeeper. People who you peacekeepers are supposed to put behind bars. People who sell modified conductors outside of your regulations, who turn profit from the wars they fuel.”
Gabrielle and Talib frowned, exchanging looks before studying Ambrose and Cavallo. Ambrose froze under their gazes while Cavallo took a drag of his v-cig.
Theta shifted in his chair, examining Jericho pensively—almost in disappointment. “They are right in front of you but you avert your eyes to their crimes. What is worse? Acting or staying in place?” He met Jericho’s eyes. “Now that I look at you, suitcase peacekeeper, I see you’re quite pitiable. You made a choice, and you can’t accept responsibility for it. Instead, you seek to blame others, to find a purpose and reason. I look at you, and I can already tell. Although you’ve left ELPIS, you’re still after us—still with us—because you’re unable to find anything beyond us. Nothing afterwards. Because you know we’re right.” He paused. “I’m sure you’ve already realized that even without dying, you’re already close to becoming nothingness.”
Jericho cracked his fist against Theta’s jaw, nearly sending the man to the ground. Before he could take another swing, however, he was pulled back by both Talib and Cadence. Theta hadn’t even flinched.
“You need to keep a chain on your Ophiuchian friend, Cadence,” Cavallo said. “We can’t afford losing our bargaining chip.”
Another chuckle escaped Theta’s lips. This time it sounded flat. “Oh, I see. You all seem to be under the impression that my life has value and weight. Perhaps you think you can get one of my associates to trade those executives or the locations of the detonation points in this city for me.” Theta cast a somber look to the side. “You are quite mistaken. I know as much as the others do that our individual existences are nothing compared to our purpose. If you’ve contacted any of them, all you have done is signal that we need to move forward. Even the person who values me the most knows this. They won’t come for me.”
Jericho curled his fists, but Gabrielle extended an arm to hold him back.
“You can kill me here if you’d like,” Theta continued calmly. “Perhaps I will return to my resistor, or perhaps I won’t. It doesn’t matter. Someone else will take my place. All you are doing is failing to even prolong the inevitable.”
The guards Cavallo and Ambrose brought along tensed as Theta seemed to loom over them.
Theta continued, “You will take responsibility for—”
“Shut up about the damn cycle and takin’ responsibility!” Cadence snapped as she untangled herself from Jericho. She gestured back to him wildly. “How can ya even talk like that when ya forced him into this!”
“The peacekeeper made his choice,” Theta responded. “You’re responsible for your own actions.”
“Look, I completely get all your talk about responsibility,” Cadence drew. “But how can a dumb kid take responsibility for bein’ coerced into somethin’ he didn’t even understand?”
Jericho stared at Cadence in surprise.
Was she… defending him?
Theta frowned. “What are you talking about?”
Cadence stared back. “What—”
And then Jericho felt something clicked in Cadence’s head.
… He doesn’t know.
Cadence stared at Jericho.
Omicron was tryin’ ta hide the Diverger kids from Theta. And if she was doin’ that, she’s probably hidin’ the fact that some of the kids Theta’s taken in got the whole recruitment spiel. Maybe she’s thrown away the records or whatever they bookkeep with. Because Theta probably wouldn’t be too happy if he found out about that and Omicron—
Jericho stared at Cadence, ears ringing.
I ain’t defendin’ Theta by no means. I mean, he’s blowin’ up half the city. And I’m not sure if it even means anything. But maybe, we could use that against him.
Jericho’s head buzzed.
“You’re wrong about that, ya know,” Cadence addressed Theta again, thumbing her chest. “I don’t mean ta sound cheesy, but I know from experience. Love makes ya stupid. And right now, I bet ya my life that Omicron is about ta walk right through those—”
As if on cue, the doors to the warehouse swung open. Cavallo’s and Ambrose’s guards went for the guns on their hips, while Gabrielle flexed her gloves. Jericho himself tightened his grip on his suitcase, while Cadence skirted back behind him.
Theta stared wide-eyed at the woman standing at the threshold. “Why?”
Omicron held her bare, ungloved hands in the air as she stepped into the warehouse. “A deal is a deal.”
Behind her were a group of men and women. Four men. Two women. Status: tentative, confused, hesitant as they entered behind her.
Ambrose raised his hand. His bodyguards hesitated, exchanging looks.
“She doesn’t have a conductor,” Ambrose said through gritted teeth. “Hurry up.”
His guards startled before slowly making their way to Omicron. Upon reaching her, they patted her down cautiously before pulling her arms tightly behind her back.
“Alice!” Talib detached himself from the gathered circle and ran over to the side of one of the women who had come in behind Omicron.
The woman’s red square glasses were instantly recognizable, as were her piercing blue eyes. As soon as those eyes locked onto Jericho’s, he momentarily forgot about Theta sitting beside him and Omicron standing in front of him. A lightness filtered into his mind as the woman approached him. She came to a stop a quarter of a meter away while inspecting him.
“You are safe,” Jericho said. He searched his mind for the correct words. “I am… glad.”
“You look like you need more sleep, Jericho,” Alice returned. “Have you been writing in your journal?”
Alice clicked her tongue and shook her head. “You need to keep up with these things even when I’m gone.”
“Okay, I will.”
They held each other’s gaze for another moment before Alice headed back towards Gabrielle. Talib who had followed behind Alice remained planted at Jericho’s side.
Jericho wasn’t sure whose thought that was. Was that not the customary greeting for a reunion? He looked to Alice for confirmation, but it seemed she was preoccupied.
Once at Gabrielle’s side, Alice extended a hand. Gabrielle accepted the gesture with a slight smirk before they conversed with one another quietly. Gabrielle’s face paled as their conversation continued, and she shook her head before looking to and through Theta and then to and through Omicron.
Jericho glanced over at Cadence to find her surrounded by Allen Foxman, Carl Foxman, Fortuna, and Maximallian. Fortuna and Allen soon detached themselves from that circle, however, and moved over to speak with Ambrose, Agape, Bendetto, and Cavallo who were speaking within their own circle. Fortuna, Allen, and Carl kept throwing glances back at Theta. But Cadence didn’t seem to pay the behavior any mind. Although her shoulders were loose and her arms widespread, Jericho could feel the relief, the joy, leaking through their connection. There was a slight swelling in Jericho’s chest at this feeling, prompting him to consider the fact that he was ‘happy’ for her, but—
Jericho’s gaze flicked over to Omicron. Their eyes met. Jericho tightened his grip on the handle of his suitcase.
“I would like to speak to Theta,” Omicron said, turning away from Jericho and towards Ambrose.
“You’re in no position to be making demands!” Ambrose snapped, voice thin.
“Okay, cool it.” Gabrielle sighed, pacing over to them. “What’s going on here?” She seemed dazed. “What’s with the shouting?” She also seemed angry, irritated, unhappy. Sad.
“I just want to talk with Theta,” Omicron reiterated, shrugging herself out of the guards’ hold with ease.
Gabrielle ogled her. “You want to talk now?”
Gabrielle placed a hand on Omicron’s chest. For a moment, magenta sparks danced beneath the peacekeeper’s gloved fingertips. Gabrielle crumpled Omicron’s blouse in her hand—
“Please,” Omicron pressed. “I’ll tell you everything you want to know after. And…” She paused as if reading Gabrielle’s mind. “It wasn’t me. When I came across him, Wtorek was already—”
—and then Gabrielle released her.
“I don’t believe you,” Gabrielle muttered. “He’s not…” She trailed off, pulling away and motioning Omicron forward. “You have two minutes, and then you’re telling me exactly what happened on that day.”
Alice musta told Gabe what happened ta Izsak…
Jericho thought of the deformed stuffed animal still resting on the desk at his bedside in his condo. An uncomfortable tightness squeezed his chest.
Surprised that Gabe didn’t knock Omicron in. Guess the prince doesn’t give her enough credit. Or maybe she’s in denial—
That was why ELPIS was truly evil. They allowed false hopes like this to exist. An illusion.
Omicron sank down to her knees in front of Theta and placed her hands in his lap.
“What are you thinking?” Theta asked, tone flat.
In response, Omicron lifted the chain around her neck—the same one that hosted the resistor Jericho had shattered weeks ago—and revealed its bareness to Theta.
Theta’s eyes widened. “When…?”
“When I tried getting into Ophiuchus,” Omicron replied. She glanced at Jericho briefly. “I’ve been meaning to tell you—no, that’s a lie. I didn’t want you to know. Like how I didn’t want you to know the other things that happen in this city.” She chuckled half-heartedly. “It looks like I’m doomed to make poor and stupid decisions as Charite.”
“We can put your vitae into my resistor…” Theta muttered. “It will take some time and research, but—”
“It won’t be the same,” Omicron murmured. “I’ve been thinking about things that way for a while now, but my resistor breaking forced me to really face it.” She rested her head on top of Theta’s lap. “This is the only time this me and this you will meet each other.”
“You’re not making any sense. You’re putting our work at ri—”
“Aren’t you tired, darling? It’s like we’re all going through the same motions over and over again. Reservoir after reservoir, generator conductor after generator conductor, True Conductor after True Conductor. They fall and rise and fall and rise, over and over again. Reading the records has become such a chore now because I’m just reading the same thing in a different setting.”
“You’re only saying that because you weren’t initiated properly,” Theta stated, frowning. “Don’t be foolish. That is still progress. You’re beginning to sound like the—”
“Could you call me by my name one last time?”
“No, not those ridiculous code names we chose from the alphabet.” Omicron shook her head. “My real name.”
“Omicron, don’t do this.”
Omicron sighed and rose to her feet, turning towards Gabrielle and Alice. “We’ve been planning to deploy the conductor grenades and explosive conductors we’ve stolen from the Romano Family at certain areas in the city. Half of them have been placed already, and we’re currently in the process of placing the rest. They’re rigged to blow in two hours.”
Jericho tensed and saw Talib and Gabrielle do the same. The former captives of ELPIS didn’t appear startled in the least bit. Intuition: they were informed of this truncated timeline during their capture.
Saints. Two hours? Cadence was pale. Jericho could feel her scrambling for the others through their connection. I thought we’d have longer than that. I—
“You’re planning on leveling the entire city in two hours?” Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief. “Are you insane? Do you know how many people live here?”
“Our plan was to evacuate the children and those we deemed innocent,” Omicron replied, “before that happened.”
Gabrielle stared. “In that time frame? Just what gives you the right to say who’s innocent and guilty?”
“I admit it was a recent… rash idea,” Omicron replied, “but I’ll tell you the locations we’ve chosen as long as Theta is given some form of immunity or at least some protection.”
Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed. “That isn’t my call.”
Omicron sighed. “I figured as much.”
There was a stretch of silence.
Omicron gestured to Gabrielle’s side. “May I borrow those suppression cuffs?”
Gabrielle regarded Omicron for a moment before unlatching a pair from her belt and tossing it to the other woman.
“Don’t do this,” Theta stated.
Omicron reached over Theta, pulled both of his hands forward from beneath the rope, and pressed the suppression cuffs over his wrists. The man slumped immediately. She waited there patiently until Francis lifted and shook his head. He blinked in bewilderment, tensing when he registered her face.
“I’m sorry, Francis,” Omicron said, placing a hand on his cheek. “I was selfishly thinking this entire time that we might get to know one another. It’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it? I’m sorry this happened.”
Francis stared at her stiffly.
It enraged Jericho. He couldn’t comprehend how they could show kindness to each other like this, but not to others outside of them. He wanted to shatter them both right then and there. But he knew he couldn’t because Omicron was needed to save the city and because Theta was Francis. And because Theta was…
It ain’t that black and white, detective.
The door to the warehouse abruptly swung open again. Jericho felt Cadence’s heart take flight in her chest.
“If anyone activates any of their conductors,” a familiar voice called out from the threshold of the doorway, “I will order them to open fire.”
Cadence, who was halfway to snapping her fingers, lowered her hand as she stared at the silhouette standing at the entrance. That ain’t part of the plan. How in saint’s name did she find us here?
Omicron took a step backwards, eyes widening. “Leo—”
Yes. It was Leona who stood there at the entry, her golden hair seeming to glow in the darkness. Behind her clustered a group of men and women in monochrome suits. The chairwoman stared past them all and locked eyes with Omicron, then Francis.
Omicron followed Leona’s gaze to the man before stiffening and making an attempt towards him. However, Leona’s peacekeepers were on Omicron in an instant. They tackled her to the ground, pulled her to her feet, dragged her out of the warehouse as she cried Theta’s name.
“Please take the civilians in for questioning as well,” Leona added
The peacekeepers obliged, surrounding Cadence and the other executives and herding them outside. Cadence threw a look back at Jericho before dipping her head and allowing herself to be guided out. Although she was gone from his sights, he could still feel her peering in.
Leona signaled for Jericho, Talib, Alice, and Gabrielle to come to her. Gabrielle obliged first, followed by Talib and Alice. Jericho was the last to join. He approached the gathered group just as Leona introduced herself to Gabrielle with an extended hand:
“First chairwoman of the ELPIS Investigation Department.”
Gabrielle accepted the gesture. “Third chair of the Assignment Department.”
Leona turned her eyes onto Alice and shook her hand. “And you would be the third chair of the Psychological Evaluations Department. The one who was captured by ELPIS. I’m glad to see that you’re well.”
“Thank you. I appreciate your words,” Alice replied.
“You’ve certainly got your hands full,” Gabrielle said after a beat. “The city’s timeline is a bit tight so maybe we should—”
“We will handle the issue,” Leona said, “since it falls under the ELPIS Department. Please don’t overconcern yourself. We’ll handle it.”
The atmosphere felt odd.
Ya mean ‘awkward’?
“I’m very curious how this all came about,” Leona continued. “Captives of ELPIS, two peacekeepers off-mission, and a chairwoman gathered together with crime organization executives and leaders of ELPIS. I’m aware that you four are very close associates, but this seems too planned to be a coincidence.”
“I’m actually pretty curious about how you found your way here too, Leona,” Gabrielle replied. “I’ll detail it in my report, but I was pointed here by some of the city residents. ‘Course, like I said… it seems like there’s a bigger issue here.”
Jericho stared at Gabrielle. Was she covering for him?
Please stop starin’. It looks suspicious.
Jericho looked forward.
“You’re speaking of the explosive conductors set around the city. As I’ve said, the ELPIS Department will handle it. While you were here, we’ve been working with an information broker within the city to handle this issue. As we speak, we’re working towards locating and dismantling them. The addition of Theta and Omicron will, of course, be helpful.”
Aint she bein’ too casual?
But Gabrielle and the others kept quiet.
“And to answer your question, I was also given a handoff by the broker,” Leona replied. “Can you imagine my surprise when I found you all here? Gabrielle, you were on a covert operation?”
“That I’m just about to wrap up,” Gabrielle confirmed.
“Well, I congratulate you on that,” Leona continued, “but given this current predicament, I need you to tell me exactly how much you and everyone else has learned here regarding ELPIS.”
“Are you asking me if I know about the individual details of the ELPIS members,” Gabrielle drew, “or about how they’re shoving themselves into pseudo-conductors and transferring themselves into people who’re practically living corpses?”
“I see. So you do know.”
“Sounds like the ELPIS Department is privy to it too.”
“I’m aware of ELPIS’s origins,” Leona replied. “The ELPIS Department has been aware of it for quite some time. ELPIS is an old cult of extremists who have discovered the ability to extract their vitae and forcibly inject that—and therefore themselves, their ideology, their memories—into unfortunate victims. They were active pre-Reservoir War too but that’s confidential.”
Gabrielle arched a brow. “Well, that’s convenient… So the ELPIS Department accepts the idea of the Anima-Vitae Hypothesis? I don’t mean to come across as rude, but wouldn’t that information be useful to other Ophiuchian Agents? Or Conductors in general? Especially our Research Department.” She paused. “Unless the first chairs of the departments already know…”
“And what good would unveiling this information do if the hypothesis is real, Third Chairwoman Law?” Leona inquired, arms crossed. “All it will do is drive more people to ELPIS. Tell me, the very idea of being able to separate oneself—one’s vitae—from one’s body for pseudo-immortality is alluring, isn’t it? People will be drawn into ELPIS just for the chance at that if they believed it was possible.”
Gabrielle shrugged. “Rather than that, I was thinking more along the lines of the ethical implications of what that means.” She arched a brow. “You don’t sound like you have that much faith in humanity.”
Leona looked her over. “If you’re concerned about ethics, then consider the fact that human beings are quite unethical when they’re desperate. That’s why we exist in Signum. Souls, vitae, memory. Artificial immortality. There would be a cold war between all the countries here if they thought the Anima-Vitae Hypothesis were true, and our job is to keep the peace.”
So it was an illusion of peace.
Jericho’s heart skipped a beat.
What. No. ELPIS was the illusion.
“I have to say I’m impressed by the amount you know, Leona,” Gabrielle said after a beat. “Will I get that same information on my desk in a classified folder when I become first chairwoman of the Assignment Department, or is that something that the Head Chairman of Ophiuchus only provides to certain departments?”
Leona didn’t respond.
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. “Just checking job perks.”
Leona smirked and then addressed Jericho and Talib, “I did mention, Talib, Jericho, that if you were to divulge any of the information regarding the case files I’ve handed to you to any outsider, I would have a case put forward to have your licenses revoked—”
Talib stiffened beside Jericho.
“With all due respect, Chairwoman Leona,” Gabrielle interjected, “everything I learned just now, I learned from—”
“However,” Leona continued, holding up a hand, “since you were able to bring Theta and Omicron into our custody—a feat none of those under me were able to achieve—I will allow the digression to pass.”
“I—your understanding is greatly appreciated, Miss Leona,” Talib stammered. “I—”
“I would like to speak with Jericho alone,” Leona interjected.
Jericho blinked at her.
There was a stretch of silence.
Talib and Alice shared a look with each other before glancing at Jericho. Gabrielle, on the other hand, gave Jericho a nod before heading outside. After a moment, Talib and Alice followed suit.
Leona waited for them to pass the threshold of the doorway before she asked, “So?”
Jericho stared at her. “… So.”
She chuckled. Not with him. At him. “So have you found your peace here yet?”
Ya need ta get outta there, detective.
“ELPIS still exists.”
Leona chuckled again. “That may be so.” She extended her hand.
Jericho glanced at it and shook it. When he retracted his hand, however, she still held hers out, palms up.
“You have Theta’s conductor, don’t you?” Leona pressed. “That’s important evidence for the ELPIS Department.”
He dug into his pocket, pulled out Theta’s glove conductor, and dropped it into Leona’s waiting palm.
Leona smiled thinly, curling her fingers around the glove. “You have promise, Jericho. Once this is resolved, I will take a look at your application to my department myself.”
Her praise didn’t make him feel ‘good’. In fact, it accentuated the hollowness that had been carving itself in his chest ever since he had shattered Omega that night. He hadn’t been expecting to feel anything when he had completed the deed. But this emptiness was uncomfortable.
Leona said a word of parting to him before she exited the warehouse and left him in the quiet. In the new silence, the warehouse seemed vast, empty, like a void. And it left Jericho with his thoughts.
Theta hadn’t known.
But that changed nothing.
But that also meant that all the ELPIS leaders might not know either. Was there a point in shattering them all if they weren’t aware of their crimes?
Irrelevant. Of course there was.
But Theta. The question Jericho had truly wanted to ask Theta—
Suddenly, a terrible screech resounded from outside the warehouse, and a cold wind whipped the wooden doors ajar. His attention was drawn away from this by a pale tangerine light emitting from his suitcase. When he clicked it open, he found Theta’s proto-conductor that had been stored within glowing. He picked it up in confusion.
Jericho dropped the thing at the thought. It shattered on the ground upon impact, spewing its contents all across the ground. A portal, gaping wide.
Cadence’s terror came shortly afterwards.
Jericho turned away from the portal and dashed outside to find the sky afire with the reflection of pale tangerine light. The ground was littered with large planks of wood and singed with the aftermath of vitae-ray fire. Behind the crates scattered between the debris hid the peacekeepers. Jericho could feel Cadence’s fear and worry as she hid among their monochrome uniforms. And as if drawn by her feelings, Jericho found his gaze being pulled away from the scene and up to the roof of the warehouse just beside the one he had come out of.
At the top of Warehouse 12, Francis stood free of suppression cuffs. On his left hand was Theta’s glove conductor. On his face was an expression of distraught. No, of righteous fury.
Jericho started forward at the sight, only to suddenly sink downwards. He barely managed to register the portal that glowed beneath his feet before he was in free fall.