Chairwoman Leona has arrived inside Warehouse 13 and has taken the reins from Cadence and Jericho. Fortunately, Omicron has already given up ELPIS’s captives and Theta has been successfully suppressed. The main problem that remains is the explosive conductors and conducting grenades scattered around the city. Leona does not seem too concerned, and the city inches towards salvation. However, while restricted under the suppression cuffs, Francis begins to…
Twin Cities, Gemini
The past had become a blur for Francis.
Sometimes memories of running barefoot across limestone brick on a warm summer’s day crossed over with memories of squeezing between tight alleyway walls while wearing hole-riddled shoes. Echoes of laughter ringing through open halls lined with white pillars bled into echoes of the metal clicks bullet cases made as they clinked against the ground. Recollections of shaking hands on business deals merged with recollections of reaching out to grasp an extended, waiting hand at the beginning of a dance. Orders shouted to grim-faced underlings swirled around with practiced lectures made to wide-eyed children.
Everything was clouded and uncertain in his mind to the point where he wasn’t sure if he was able to distinguish dream from reality.
One thing he was sure of, however, was that the suppression cuffs were back on his wrists. He also knew he was being guided out of Warehouse 13. He was pulled left and right, shoved forward and back by men and women in monochrome uniforms. Eventually, he was put in front of a woman with golden hair and molten eyes.
At the sight of her, his heart started racing. When she took hold of his chin and turned his face to the right, he felt a wave of disgust and disappointment. His sentiment was reflected in her eyes.
“You’re still such a fool…” the woman murmured.
She eventually departed from his side, and he was once again shoved forward.
Men and women in suits crowded the area. He searched the crowd for a face that itched at his mind, but he could not find her among them.
People conversed around him. Words he wasn’t quite able to understand. Everything sounded garbled like it was underwater—
—underwater. He had been underwater once before. Diving into the depths and swimming among schools of fish on a vibrant coral reef. He had captured a jellyfish once to study its dietary habits and had released it back after he had made his notes.
The beaches were blue back then. A cerulean blue. A friend had tried to paint the seascape once, but had never been able to capture that exact color.
Those were peaceful times. Not a worry in the world.
“—Campana crime organization investigation—”
“—separate investigations of the Romanos and the Foxmans—”
“—explosive conductor locations—”
“—my brother! Get the hell out of the way!”
“Mr. Foxman, sir, I understand your feelings, but we can’t allow you to—”
“Alright, alright.” A yawn. “Third chairwoman of the Assignment Department here. Let them through.”
“They’re involved with my case. And since it’s my case and I’m a chair and you’re not, I’m the authority here.”
Suddenly Allen and Carl were in front of him. At their side stood the yawning peacekeeper Gabrielle Law.
“So what’s gonna happen to him?” Carl asked. “They ain’t gonna lock him in Ophiuchus forever, are they? I mean, it ain’t his fault.”
“That’s up to the ELPIS Investigations Department,” Gabrielle replied. “But since you helped me out, I’ll try to see if I can work something out. After they finish questioning Omicron and get this whole city out of the danger zone, I mean.”
“Try or will?” Allen replied thickly.
“Try,” Gabrielle stated. “I’m not going to make empty promises. But… the silver lining in all of this is that the Campana case is near a case-closed. I was able to get the evidence.”
“The Campanas?” Carl arched a brow. “Yeah, it’s good that they’re bein’ buried under. But what’s the point if we’re buried under with them?”
“That’s what immunity is for,” Allen interjected. “That was part of the price for our involvement—”
“The case we’ve been working together on?”
The three turned to stare at him after exchanging looks.
“Yeah, Francis,” Carl said, “we got Gabrielle on Maria’s ship so she could find out what the Campanas product was. Remember?”
“It’s unpleasant stuff,” Carl said. “Even for me.”
Gabrielle’s brows rose. “You three know already?”
Carl nodded at Gabrielle. “Got the whole thing dumped on us by one of our pals not too long ago. Though… that Omicron didn’t want Theta to know about it for some reason. Some ELPIS drama thing I don’t understand.”
Why would Omicron hide it?
“What was their product…?” he asked.
No. He didn’t want to know.
But he had to know.
Carl arched a brow at him. “…Specialist children. That’s the Campana’s product.”
The world inverted.
“What are you talking about?”
Gabrielle frowned. “Francis—”
“Why are you standing here talking to me when you know that children are being sold like furniture?”
Gabrielle’s frown deepened slightly, and she lifted a hand. “I’m going to submit my report to the Serpens Establishment, and we’ll take it from there. I’m not sure how much time it’ll take with everything going on, but—”
“I don’t understand.” He stared at her. “‘Time’? How long will they have to wai—”
A cacophony of high-pitched squeals suddenly rang through the air, and out from the darkness behind the warehouses stampeded a herd of—children. Gowned in white. They wove their way through the startled peacekeepers before disappearing into the dark and leaving their shrieks turned laughter ringing in the air. Gone as fast as they came. It was surreal.
“What the hell…?”
The peacekeepers looked around flabbergasted.
“Looks like Maria’s got to work while I’ve been here…” Gabrielle muttered beside him. “What a mess.”
He stared at her, still numb, before his attention was drawn away by two lingering children who approached him. A boy and a girl.
“Theta, there you are!” the girl exclaimed, tugging the boy forward. “This is Emil! He and a couple of others wanted to meet you! It’s a lot to explain but he was with the Campanas before…” She trailed off as she registered his cuffed hands.
It was one of the girls that he had taken in earlier. Lia. Yes, that was her name. She was a pick pocketer who had been abandoned by her Taurusian parents. She had been near death’s door when he had taken her in and had been one of the ones who clung to his side the most. He had told her to leave the city, and yet here she was…
The girl worriedly slipped something into his hands—something he recognized immediately. His glove conductor.
The boy beside the girl peered at him curiously, innocently. The boy was dressed in a pure white nightgown. From beneath that whiteness, the bruises that purpled the boy’s neck were especially prominent.
A Specialist child owned by the Campanas…? So all of those children that had just run past had also been…? No…So many of them? This entire time?
The boy’s bruises reminded him of the bruises that had littered his own body when his father would come home mad and drunk. Allen would have to save him every single time, and—
“You idiot, don’t—” came Gabrielle’s shout that drew him out of his daze.
He looked up just in time to see an Ophiuchian agent swing a blade of glowing red vitae at him. He brought up his hands to defend himself as it seared downwards. Although he felt only faint pain as the weapon scraped against his arm, there was a vibrant gush of red as a jagged cut opened along the area. Absentmindedly he watched the peacekeeper who had attacked him wipe his blood from her face as she was restrained by Carl and Gabrielle. And then—almost out of habit—he slipped on the conductor and wiped the blood off of his arm with it.
The atmosphere changed instantaneously. The surrounding peacekeepers went for their conductors as the boy and the girl screeched and were pulled away. It was a heart-wrenching sound. But it was good that they were running away, he thought. Because in that moment, as the last pieces of the suppression cuffs fell away from his wrists, he reached a singularity. A sense of clarity.
“Francis!” came a cry of alarm. It was Cadence, standing only half a meter away from him behind a wall of peacekeepers. Her eyes were wide, her hands raised. “Don’t freak out on me.”
She was trying to deceive him again.
But the truth was this:
He had taken in these children because they had suffered at the hands of conductors. No. They had suffered at the hands of people using those conductors. But what about these ones? If he had missed them, then how many others…? In the end, had all of his efforts been—
A Projector peacekeeper fired a conducting rifle, sending a persimmon-colored vitae-ray hurtling at him.
The ray didn’t reach, of course.
His blood droplets were still hanging in the air from that initial attack, after all. And those droplets had been converted into small, almost imperceptible gates as soon as he had wiped the blood from his arm onto his conducting glove. He usually never used these small gates because they were so dangerous to manipulate. But.
The persimmon ray disappeared into the gate, splintering within the spatial distortion as it sheared through the tiny opening. Clenching his fist, he released the ray back through the other tiny gates floating in the air. The ray fragmented as it was forced out through them, and the splinters rained outwards, bulleting the peacekeepers who stood closest to him.
He clenched his fist again, and his blood on the peacekeeper who had initially attacked him morphed into a gate that cracked open and tore the peacekeeper in two. There was another rain of red, and his gate spread even further onto those who had been surrounding that peacekeeper.
A flurry of vitae rays came at him paired with a green roll of vitae flame. They all entered his small gates, splintered within them, and fragmented as he sent them back out with a flick of his wrist. Several of the splinters came back and struck his arms and legs, but the pain was nothing. All it did was enable him to produce more gates.
“Stop firing, dammit!” Gabrielle snapped.
Her voice resounded from behind a stack of crates alongside Warehouse 13. She had taken cover, it seemed.
He clenched his hand again, stepping back into a pool of blood that had formed on the ground from his injury. He sank down into its depths as it glowed pale tangerine and reappeared on top of Warehouse 12 from a gate he had placed there weeks ago.
He stared down at them all from his new height in fury.
“I’ve spent all of my lives trying to make it so that children who’ve been used and abandoned could have at least some chance at a hopeful future. All this time I’ve spent reading through all of the records, I’ve thought—even though I knew it wasn’t enough—that we’d made at least a little bit of a difference.”
The winds howled around him as he tore open all of his gates with a snap of his wrist.
“But how were things when I came to this era?!” He gripped his abdomen as it throbbed with phantom pain, and his voice cracked. “Children continue to suffer! Exploited for your petty wars, for your pocket change!”
Memories clashed together in a cacophony in his mind. Memories of extending out a hand to pat the head of a small child huddling at the very corner of an alleyway. Memories of spending hours and hours pouring through articles detailing the casualties of the Reservoir War. The displaced, the murdered, the orphans, the uncounted. Memories of himself cowering beneath the rage of his father. Memories of taking to the streets to pickpocket alongside Cadence and Nico on an empty stomach as adults turned a blind eye.
And all of these memories clashed with—
—memories of himself extending a hand out to Matilda as he hired her to deliver conductor parts. Memories of signing off on a lease to convert buildings street orphans had used as home into warehouses to temporarily store shipped conductors. Memories of himself chuckling alongside one of his hired men who had served as a child soldier in the war. Watching as that man gleefully beat an adolescent within an inch of her life because she had stolen from them. Memories of him watching Matilda coercing her friends and the younger street children to follow on behind her in her shipping business.
“They suffer and suffer and grow up only to cause more children to suffer!”
He panted heavily, heaved.
They had been right. They had been right from the very beginning. A senseless cycle.
“And you…” Theta glowered down at all the cowering peacekeepers, at all the leaders of the criminal organizations. “You all just stand by and watch, acting like it can’t be helped, turning your eyes away because it’s easier!” He staggered forward, gritting his teeth. “You could’ve helped them! Saved them!”
They all stared at him silently, wordlessly, looking at him as if he was some immovable object, as if he was the obstacle they needed to overcome instead of their own negligence and carelessness.
Theta couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight.
What was even the point? Even if they helped the children now, the children had already suffered so much. And those children would simply transfer their suffering onto other children. Once it began, there was no stopping it. Over and over. In an endless cycle.
He couldn’t take the failure any longer.
They really had been right.
He flicked his injured hand outwards, and an arc of red rained down on all those below. “There really is no hope.”
“What are you doing!?”
He turned to find Omicron running along the rooftop towards him. She stopped short just in front of him, raising a hand to his cheek. Her hand was gloved again with a conductor. She must have taken one off of one of the peacekeepers. Always so prepared, so reliable, so heroic. But a liar.
“I’m going to send the signal for all of the others to place the rest of the conducting grenades and the explosive conductors,” he replied calmly. “All they need to do is drop them into one of my gates, and I’ll direct them to where they need to go myself. Five-hundred locations. Even Leona won’t be able to get them all. Not when she’s trying so desperately to protect her reservoirs and those generator conductors. Beneath the Monadic Temple, on the east, on the west. But don’t worry. I’ll drop the explosive conductors in those places myself at the final moment. So in an hour and a half, this city will—”
“W-What about the children…?” Omicron interjected.
He’d never seen Omicron like this before. Her eyes were wide, her hand shaking as it caressed his cheek. There was fear in her. Fear of loss and death. Foolish.
“They will return to the cycle.”
Omicron pulled her hand away. “You don’t mean that… You—”
“Are you going to tell another lie of omission to convince me otherwise?” he asked. “Like how you hid your resistor and how you hid the Specialist children…?”
“I was going to get them out of the city before…” Omicron whispered. “So you wouldn’t have to see… so they could be free and leave. I’m sorry that I hid it from you, but what you’re doing now is—”
“Just because they can’t be seen doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered. Just because you take them out of their suffering doesn’t mean that you’ve saved them.” He found himself chuckling. “If you say you’re going to do something, you have to follow through. No matter what.” He shook his head slightly. “It’s been a bad hand since the very beginning…”
Omicron’s eyes widened. “Franc—”
He hovered a hand over her cheek, not quite touching. “Despite everything, you’re still my precious magpie. So please fly away for me.” He pulled his hand back, snapping his fingers.
A rain of brick and metal torrented out from his gates that hung in the air. Shouts resounded as all of stone and metal came crashing down below in front of the warehouse in a cacophony. A musical sound.
And with that, Theta stepped back into the portal, tuning his ears to the lovely sound the city made as it neared its end.
“You have to acknowledge it, Omicron. Theta was incorrectly initiated into a dangerous person. Regardless of the progress that person adds, we have to consider the fact that Theta may become as despicable as everyone else in this city.”
Vincente GiustiziaTau, Police Comissario of GeminiLeader of ELPIS