Die Hauptstadt, Capricorn
Rubbing his wrists, Jericho looked away from the sign hanging on the back wall that read Schutz #45. Alice stood in front of him, holding a towel. He took it from her and wiped his face before pocketing the two bars of chocolate and proto-conductor rings he had taken out from his pockets earlier when searching them. At the moment, he was seated alongside a dusted wall on one of five chairs conjured up by a man who had introduced himself as Klaus Kleine.
Alice had explained to Jericho that they—including Werner’s subordinates, Werner’s captain, a major general and his subordinates who were working with them, a couple of captured Capricornian generals, Maria’s crew members, and Werner’s own family—were taking momentary shelter in this old war bunker in an abandoned area of the city. According to her, he had been unconscious for many weeks now because Werner had been cut by a powerful Manipulator. She had also elaborated that the powerful Manipulator was Talib—who was no longer Talib. Talib was Scorpio, a saint candidate. And saint candidates were ancestors in the same way ELPIS leaders were original Ophiuchians.
Alice abruptly sighed and then took the towel from him. Jericho looked up at her as she dropped the towel back on his head.
“Your hair, Jericho.”
Jericho dried his hair as instructed but kept the towel over his head. It served as a curtain to hide from the stares that everyone in the room was giving him.
They were afraid. It was clear. He was no longer in the many suppression cuffs Alice had put him in: so, in their minds, he could strike at any moment, despite not having his suitcase or conductor nearby.
The only person who seemed at ease was the man currently seated next to him and fastening a makeshift cast over his arm. “Nico Fabrizzio. Believe it or not—I’m a doctor” was how the man had introduced himself. Despite Nico’s relaxed appearance, there was a pair of suppression cuffs resting on his lap. Given to him by Alice.
Jericho felt uncomfortable. Maybe the correct word for it was ‘ashamed.’ He had broken his promise with Alice and used his conductor on people who were not with ELPIS. Gone. Olive would be angry at him if he found out about it. Atienna would be sad. Werner had almost looked disappointed. And although Jericho could not feel them, he felt these feelings in himself. Very uncomfortable. Because for a moment he had become like them—like ELPIS—taking away home, family, friends. No. He had become what he’d been before Ophiuchus took him in.
Frowning, Jericho instead tried to focus on other things like Alice had taught him and studied the others in the bunker. Although there were many people in here, Jericho only really knew a handful of them.
Gilbert was lying on a mattress on the left-hand wall. He was surrounded by a handful of other Capricornians and being tended to by a medic. Then there was Alice standing by the ladder that led to the surface and speaking to three men whom she had named for Jericho earlier: Martin von Spiel, Friedhelm Heimler, and Volker Weingartner. Theta was speaking with Kleine in the opposite corner—Jericho noted that the tattoo on the right side of Theta’s face was concealed by a skin-tone powder. Across from Theta clustered a foreign-looking group including a child, a Monadic priest, a sailor, and one other. In the farthest corner sat four Capricornian civilians—one of whom was in a wheelchair. Werner’s family—uncomfortable. In-between these different groups idled other Capricornian soldiers whom Alice had explained were under Martin. Most stood guard around a trio of bound-and-gagged Capricornian men at the bunker’s center—two of whom were highly decorated with medals.
Every so often when there was a lapse in conversation, some of the soldiers would turn to stare at Jericho. Their stares weren’t so different from the ones he’d received from people in Ophiuchus who knew. Unpleasant.
“Suggestion. If I make everyone feel uncomfortable, you can put the suppression cuffs back on me. I don’t mind,” Jericho said. When everyone who was staring looked away, he sensed he had said something unusual, so he dipped his head. “I apologize.”
Nico nudged him with his elbow and chuckled. “Hey, isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? You’re a peacekeepin’ agent, right? Cuff us instead.”
Jericho stared at Nico’s elbow. “Why are you doing that?”
Nico blinked. “Uh—well, it’s a friendly gesture…”
Alice crossed the room with Kleine following shortly behind her. Once she was in front of him, she sighed with a frown and pulled the towel from his head: “Jericho, we can’t have you in suppression cuffs right now. We need your vitae to cut out Scorpio’s spores.”
“Yes. Werner said that.” Jericho stared at Kleine and then at the metal-lined, cylindrical objects in Kleine’s hands.
Startling, Kleine stepped forward, hands tightly wrapped around the proto-conductors. “Er,” he tried in Capricornian. “Are you okay using—”
“I know how to use proto-conductors. I can fill them,” Jericho stated, holding out his good hand. “I will do it. To help.”
Kleine looked over his shoulder towards Weingartner who gave a curt nod. He then placed one proto-conductor into Jericho’s hand—a blade conductor with a cylindrical glass handle wrapped in metal.
“I tried my best to make them to what Alice said were your specifications,” Kleine said nervously. “I haven’t had much practice conjuring proto-conductors or conductors for Divergers… We don’t have many in the unit.”
Jericho gripped the handle and concentrated. Slowly, wisps of off-white light began to spill into the glass until it was filled to the brim with the color. “It is functional, Kleine.” He handed the proto-conductor to Alice and then accepted the other empty proto-conductors from Kleine. He began to fill those too.
“Saints… Look at that color.”
“Not even that ELPIS leader’s vitae is that white.”
“That’s Kaltes Auge, isn’t it? ‘Cold Eye’? Isn’t he a Projector?”
“How do you think a person can have multiple conducting-types like that?”
More staring—but no gaze was as intense as the one belonging to the one Gilbert had named as being Werner’s mother.
Gilbert rose from where he lay on his mattress and sent the whisperers a glare as did the Capricornians gathered around him.
“Enough,” Martin snapped from the ladder, silencing them all immediately. “This isn’t a circus.” He approached Jericho and held out his hand.
Jericho glanced at Alice who nodded, before he handed over one filled proto-conductor blade to the man and then the rest to Alice. Martin flicked his on, examining the off-white blade when it emerged. He then pressed the tip of the blade against the unoccupied chair in front of him.
Jericho watched as white cracks spread from the blade’s point of contact with the back of the chair to the chair’s rickety legs. The cracks thickened and joined together, tightening, tightening, until the chair shattered into nothingness in a burst of white light.
A long silence followed.
“What a terrifying conducting ability…” Martin muttered, before extinguishing the blade and studying the wisps of light captured in its insulation tubes. “It makes you wonder how quickly we would have defeated the Argoans if only Waltz had told us about his ability. Imagine having a True Conductor serving on the fronts… Capricorn would be unstoppable.”
“Do you think they’d let us go that easily, Martin?” Weingartner asked grimly from beside the ladder.
Martin held Weingartner’s gaze before turning back to address Jericho—“Fritz had this same ability to switch conducting types then too?”
“Fritz?” Jericho tilted his head, thinking. “Who is Fritz?”
Martin frowned, tensing.
Jericho stared at him, then turned back to Alice. “Alice. Talib is…” He searched for the word. “We are… partners. Talib—can he be fixed?”
“You and Talib are partners,” Alice affirmed, expression tight. “But Scorpio isn’t.” She looked over towards Theta. “I’m not sure if helping Talib is an accomplishable short-term goal for us at the moment.”
“We need to move along,” Martin interjected, turning to the corner of the room. “Now that we have the proto-conductors, we should test if they actually work combined with Lita’s ability.”
The girl in that corner was encircled by the Monadic priest, the sailor, and the other man who all tensed at the address.
“I don’t think she’s ready yet,” the priest said. “She’s still disturbed after meeting the saint candidate. She—”
“Unfortunately, Simon,” Martin replied, “we don’t have the luxury to be worrying about feelings. She’s been gifted with being a Diverger. These types of responsibilities come with it. It’s good to use it.”
Jericho glanced at Theta and found him glowering at Martin. Theta then stiffened and glanced back at Jericho. Jericho looked away.
Lita cleared her throat as she hesitantly stepped out of the priest’s—Simon’s—shadow. “I can do it. I can speak for myself too. I can do it.”
Simon tensed, glancing at Jericho before nodding and guiding Lita over to him. For a moment, the girl stood tentatively in front of him, shifting from foot to foot. Jericho noted how small she was. As small as Ayda was in his dreams.
“You aren’t Maria anymore…?” Lita asked.
Jericho shook his head.
“She’s blind, jackass,” someone muttered.
“No,” Jericho replied out loud. “I am not Maria.”
Lita’s shoulders slumped, but she shook herself and turned to Martin beside her. “So I just have to tell you where I see something unusual? Then what?”
“That’s when we’ll have one of the medics take the proto-conductor and cut the foreign item out,” Martin explained, his voice softer than earlier. He nodded at Nico before glancing back at the Capricornian medic. “It’s either you or Brandt—”
“I’ll do it, sir,” Nico interjected, extending his hand and glancing at Jericho. “I’ll… I’ll do it.”
Martin nodded and passed him the proto-conductor.
Wrapping his fingers around it and letting out a quiet sigh, Nico murmured, “Whenever you’re ready, Lita.”
Simon eyed Jericho warily before guiding Lita’s hesitant hands forward. Squeezing her eyes shut and pulling her conductor glasses up above her eyes, Lita took it the rest of the way and placed her hand on Jericho’s cheek. She slowly opened her eyes after a moment, peering through her conductor-glasses at him. Paling, she took a step back.
Jericho could feel the trembles of her hand. He felt exposed under her gaze.
Lita opened her mouth, lips quivering, and pointed towards his chest. Before she could indicate an exact location, she ripped away from him and threw herself into Simon’s arms. “S-Simon,” she stammered, voice breathy. “He’s not right. Something’s not right with him.”
Jericho touched his cheek where Lita’s hand had once been. “I… will not hurt you. I promise.” He began reaching for her—
“You should take Lita elsewhere and let her calm down,” Alice said to Simon, placing a hand on Jericho’s extended arm and pushing it down gently. “We’ll try again later—”
“Do you understand what’s happening in this country right now, Agent Kingsley?” Martin interjected. “We do not have the time to take breaks.”
“Since this is the first time we’re doing something like this, we need to be cautious,” Alice responded. “Jericho is the only one who we’re aware of who has this conducting ability that’s… on our side. The same applies to Lita. You’re a man of the military, Generalmajor von Spiel. You should know more about the importance of resources than I do.”
Martin frowned at her. After a long stretch of silence, he nodded at two Capricornians standing beside each other by the opposite wall. “Einswach, Grimm, accompany them. Stick to the alleyways. Return if you encounter any signs of trouble immediately.”
The two addressed soldiers saluted before guiding Simon and Lita up the ladder and out of the bunker.
One of the Capricornians perched by Gilbert’s side abruptly stomped over to them. “I still don’t get it. So are you ELPIS or not?”
“I am not ELPIS,” Jericho replied immediately.
“Stein,” Gilbert grumbled to the man from the mattress, “read the damn room.”
“I can’t be the only one who’s confused, sir,” Stein grumbled back. “And not the only one who feels off working with terrorists.”
“I am not—” Jericho started.
“Yeah, wasn’t talking to you.” Stein jerked his head towards Theta standing behind him. “So what’s your deal? Why are you hunkering down with us? You hate conductors, don’t you? From what I get, True Conductors are the ones you’re trying to off too.”
Theta regarded Stein for a minute before replying calmly, “Yes, because True Conductors are required for the syzygy. It is a reasonable response to carefully excise the most easily removed component of a machine. But that is no longer a goal of mine. At this point, True Conductors and reservoirs will continue to appear—albeit slowly—despite all of our efforts. It is a fruitless cycle that will continue until we are no longer here. A better approach is needed.”
Stein grimaced. “Something just doesn’t add up—”
“You’re not the best at math, Stein,” the Capricornian medic said from beside Gilbert.
“Shut up, Brandt. Damn traitor,” Stein fired back before facing Theta again. “So you’re centuries-old half-immortals. The way you talk makes it sound like you’ve been doing your crazy shit for centuries. How come the name ELPIS hasn’t popped up until then? Why is all this shit happening if you’ve been at it for that long?”
Theta’s eyes narrowed and an unfamiliar flame of anger sparked in his eyes. He relaxed a second after and looked familiarly gloomy again. “Our strategy and action have been the same throughout history… which further highlights our failure. I must admit… I believe we have become more extreme over the years. That may be the result of the outcome of your war—the Reservoir War.”
Martin, Heimler, and Weingartner exchanged looks.
“Ophiuchus was our home. To have it turned into a mocking puppet…” Francis glanced at Alice. “I still don’t believe peace can be achieved by those who have never known it.”
“If you’re wondering why you have not heard of us until now, look to those who have governed this continent over the centuries,” Theta continued. “That’s an answer you should be able to deduce from what you’ve experienced here.”
Stein grumbled, then said, “So you’re not going to off the oberleutnant or any person he’s connected to.”
“As I have said. That is no longer my intention.”
Stein rubbed the back of his neck with a nod. Then abruptly, he stormed over to the sidewall and kicked it multiple times with his foot— bam, bam, bam. “This is still bullshit! We’re stuck down here, while they’re up there fucking everything up—”
Martin sent Weingartner a look.
“Stein,” Weingartner said warningly. “Calm down. We still don’t know all the side-effects of post-infection.”
Brandt nodded, holding up a placating hand. “It’s good not to get too riled up, Stein. I don’t remember ever treating anyone who’s been freed from Scorpio’s control before, but I’m guessing high BP isn’t a good thing for it.”
Stein froze and tensed, looking around the room before heading to the ladder. “Fuck it. I’m going out for a damned smoke.” He stopped short in front of the ladder and looked back to Gilbert, then Weingartner. Only when the latter gave him a nod did he ascend.
Jericho watched Stein disappear above before turning back to stare at Theta who remained impassive across the room.
“Until Lita returns,” Martin said, gesturing to the suppression cuffs on Nico’s lap, “we should take precaution—”
“You seem to misunderstand the purpose of suppression cuffs,” Alice interjected. “They’re to help pacify people who are actively wielding a conductor and posing a danger to themselves and others. At the moment, none of those apply. Keep in mind: Jericho is still a peacekeeping agent.”
Martin frowned. “And we are in Capricorn, Agent Kingsley, with an incident that on the surface looks very confined within national borders. ELPIS’s involvement is keeping that Leona here, but not you. Besides, by how Scorpio was speaking, I doubt you hold as much authority as you believe you do.”
“With all due respect, Martin,” Weingartner inserted, “I think it’s better to remain negotiable with the way our situation is now.”
Martin stared at Jericho, gaze narrowing. Something akin to pain flitted across his features, before he said, “I understand. I just advise that we remain cautious and alert.”
“Duly noted,” Alice responded. “I haven’t become the third chairwoman of my department for lack of caution.” She crossed her arms. “That being said, Mr. Fabrizzio, Herr Kleine, Herr von Spiel, would you all please give Jericho and me a moment?”
The three men exchanged looks of confusion.
Nico was the first to peel himself out of the chair, tucking the proto-conductor into a holster at his belt as he did so. Kleine hesitantly followed not long after. Martin remained, however, hands folded quietly behind his back. Alice, in turn, pressed her palm against her belt where another pair of suppression cuffs were clipped. Martin gave a curt nod before heading back towards where he had been standing initially by the ladder.
“Jericho, I don’t believe I can be a suitable doctor for you anymore,” Alice said suddenly once Martin was on the opposite side of the room.
Jericho felt his stomach twist as a coldness gripped his chest. He stared down at his hands and tried to collect his thoughts. It was clear that Alice was angry. She was leaving him because he had broken the promise. He had disappointed her. Like he had disappointed himself.
“I won’t be able to effectively evaluate you and treat you with the neutrality and professionalism needed in patient-doctor relationships,” Alice continued. “I can be there for you in other ways but not that one. I… want you to get better, Jericho.”
Jericho paused and looked up at her. Her icy blue gaze no longer felt mindreading. And so, he nodded.
Alice uncrossed her arms. “So let’s have one last session.” She turned slightly, inclining her head at Theta. “Mr. Foxman, I’m sure you’re aware of what I’m implying. This isn’t healthy to ignore. We all need to address the elephant in the room.”
Kleine who was idle at Theta’s side tensed, winced, and then paced over to where Gilbert was laying. He found a place beside Nico who was now hovering there and then tucked his head down as did the other men in the circle.
Theta regarded Alice. “Since you’re a clever girl, Alice Kingsley, you can see clearly this is not the opportune moment to address—”
“Don’t ‘clever girl’ me, Mr. Foxman,” Alice cut in. “If you have as many years on you as you say you do, then you should know that this is necessary.” She looked around the room with narrowing eyes. “I’d much prefer for us to do this elsewhere in a space that’s less… public, but delaying this any further will just increase the chances of this never being addressed.”
Theta paused then chuckled—musical. “I suppose you’ve got a point.” Holding her gaze, he crossed the room slowly and came to a halt in front of Jericho. “What’s the agenda?”
Jericho couldn’t tell who was more intimidating: Theta for facing off against Alice’s ice-y gaze or Alice for standing against Theta.
Alice turned away from the man and asked Jericho quietly, “Would you feel comfortable with Francis sitting next to you? And do you feel comfortable continuing?”
Jericho looked around the room, eyeing all the Capricornians who looked away as soon as he met their gazes, then nodded. Theta studied Alice blankly before slowly sinking into the chair beside him. His presence felt like a shadow.
“Do you have something you’d like to ask Francis?” Alice sank into the opposite chair.
Jericho studied Theta’s face. “You covered your tattoo. Why?”
Theta cleared his throat, touching his cheek. “I thought it would make you more comfortable.”
“I do not want to attack you,” Jericho agreed. “As much.”
“Well, I’m glad I did it then.”
Something was off as Jericho had suspected: the picture didn’t fit. He asked, “Are you that Theta? A little bit of that Theta?”
“No, I don’t think I am,” Theta replied, “but that doesn’t mean I won’t take responsibility for that Theta’s actions.” He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a packet of v-cigarettes, and offered him one.
After a moment of consideration, Jericho accepted it, then watched as Theta—Francis—lit one for himself with a flick of his hand. The man took a drag and let it out slowly.
Theta wasn’t a smoker, Jericho thought—at least his Theta wasn’t.
After momentary hesitation, he copied the man and took a deep drag. The smoke curled in Jericho’s mouth oddly and clung to the roof of his mouth and the back of his throat. It tickled and burned—the sensation so unfamiliar to him that he doubled over, coughed, and gagged. The taste was bitter—at least, Jericho believed Olive would describe it that way—and not the good kind.
Frowning, Alice swiped the v-cig from his hands, discarded it on the floor, and then extinguished it with her boot.
Jericho rolled his tongue around his mouth. “Bad taste.” He reached into his pockets and pulled out the two chocolate bars from before. He broke one of the last two squares of chocolate off the bar that was already mostly eaten and popped it into his mouth.
“How is it?” Francis asked. “…Any nuts?”
“No nuts. Bitter. But good bitter,” Jericho replied. “Olivier would like it.” He moved to eat the last piece but then paused as he thought of Werner. After some consideration, he wrapped it back up in its wrapper and stuffed it in his pocket to save for the man later.
“I’m surprised Herr Waltz isn’t a smoker,” Francis noted. “I’ve heard Capricornians and Aquarians are the biggest consumers of v-cigarettes—aside from Geminians, of course.” He pulled the v-cigarette away from his lips and twirled it between his fingertips with a frown. “How disgusting these things are. All for a brief moment of indulgence… a habitual addiction.”
A distant rumbling resounded above. Thunder or a skirmish. Impossible to tell.
Francis resumed puffing.
Jericho studied the ceiling before facing Francis again: “That Theta. That ELPIS. Why did they attack us? Vitae and generator conductors: okay. But why people?”
“Not pulling punches, are you?” Francis glanced at him. “Unfortunately, Omicron destroyed the records from back then. Omega was the only leader that was active with me during that time. At least, I believe that is the case. I am unsure of the reason why you all were attacked. It may have been because you resisted. I apologize for my ignorance, but will knowing the reason change anything—”
“I killed Omega.”
Francis’s lips pulled down slightly. His brows furrowed before he nodded. “Yes. Yes, you did…”
“She wanted revenge for the others. The others with me. We were children. I thought I was returning them to the cycle. They would not stop any other way.” Jericho scanned Francis’s face. “I said the prayer you taught us after Omega died. I said it for Ayda and the others too back then.”
Francis took a drag and didn’t respond for a moment. After a beat, he said, “And the cycle of vengeance continues to drag in everyone who touches it. It truly is an endless spiral that is bottomless.”
“I started the cycle of vengeance?” Jericho tried, thinking.
“No.” Francis’s eyes narrowed slightly. “That responsibility falls with us… but I believe it is persisting still through you and the rest of the others—Gamma, Beta, me…” He flicked ash off his bud. “‘Vengeance’… I haven’t really thought about it like that until now.”
There was another stretch of silence. Jericho was unsure of whether he should continue to speak.
“Is there anything else you would like to ask Francis, Jericho?” Alice pressed.
Jericho nodded, appreciative of the direction. “How did you feel”—he struggled—“when you took us in. Towards us. How did you feel? No. Correction: how did you think you felt?”
Francis studied him before taking a puff and staring over Alice’s shoulder. “My answer will not change a thing.”
“That’s not answering the question, Francis,” Alice interjected tersely. “As Theta, you were a teacher, weren’t you? You should know the importance of answering questions.”
Theta—a teacher? Yes, Jericho could see that.
“We cared about you,” Jericho said. “After you died. We did it for you. They said it was what you wanted. Even though you were wrong. Even though you took everything. You cared for us. We thought you did.”
A familiar gloom crept back over Francis’s shoulders. Ash dribbled down from his v-cig as he spoke—“Children should be cherished. I believe that if any person cares for the future, they should care for the ones who inherit it. Teaching, guiding, protecting—these are mechanisms of action that should be maintained and fostered. Pushing on past responsibilities and grievances onto them… Well, naturally, the past bleeds into the future, but…” He lifted his hand and stared at it, gaze sobering. “But forcing the past into the present is quite a foolish thing. After all, children are not the ones who begin everything, and yet they have to bear the weight of continuing on with everything. A path is changed forcibly. It is quite a sobering thing.” He clenched his hand into a fist and then glanced at Jericho’s bare palms. “Sometimes instead of knowledge, ignorance is passed on.”
Jericho blinked, frowning.
Francis met his gaze. “I am certain that version of Theta cared for you because you held the future in your hands. And if that Theta taught you about the reversus oratio incantation, then you were someone close enough to be important. I doubt that Theta would have wanted you to do the things that Cadence said you were forced to do when you were younger, but I understand that is no fault of your own. These are not meant to be words of reassurance nor an excuse—this is the truth. But… it should be left in the past.”
Something in Jericho’s chest squeezed tight then lessened. He felt weightless and lightheaded.
“The cycle,” Jericho pressed, hoping Francis would understand.
Francis nodded. “Yes, I see. I probably told you then about mourning and the cycle. ‘Everything returns, so everything that has passed will still exist around you, so there is no need to mourn’—I said something along those lines, I’m assuming?”
“I did hold that thought for myself for a while up until now.” Francis lowered his clenched hand. “But things will not be the same when the cycle turns. What has passed on will leave only a faint imprint of what it was. Who it was. If it does return, it will not be the same. Paradoxically, only when something disappears—only when it is ephemeral—will its value and meaning increase.” He closed his eyes as an expression of what appeared to be pain and loss passed over his face. Then he let out a sigh and met Jericho’s eyes again. “But that in itself is a sign of change—little by little. There is hope in that.”
Alice had already highlighted that fact about the cycle for Jericho. But hearing Theta—the one who had taught him that aspect—confirm it helped to seal in the cracks. But it also felt like something else was cracking its place.
Jericho drew slowly, “Everything we did really—”
“It is good to reflect on past actions,” Francis continued. “That is a method of learning. But agonizing and obsessing over it is only an affliction of the self. The human condition is something—oh, I derailed the conversation again. Sorry.” Clearing his throat, Francis turned to him again and said, “I apologize that your childhood was taken from you and that Theta took you in without taking responsibility for it… You don’t have to forgive that Theta. Your anger is something that is most likely justified. I just ask you take caution on how you use that anger. I don’t think Cadence or any of those connected with you would like to see you hurt. I feel responsible for you, so neither would I.” He paused in thought. “Aside from that, I am coming to understand that I have a problem of leaving people behind.” He then chuckled half-heartedly. “Not sure if that’s the ELPIS in me or the Twin Cities in me.”
Jericho didn’t quite understand Francis’s words, but he did feel their meaning and intention. Abruptly recalling their confrontation only a couple hours ago, he pointed to Francis’s hand. “Is it okay? After I stabbed it?”
Francis lifted his hand revealing a perfectly in-tact glove conductor. “Yes, that Klaus Kleine is a bright boy. He conjured it to the perfect dimensions after only a short explanation. Unfortunately, that practiced-honed talent is concealed by his passive demeanor…”
“I meant your hand.”
“Oh…” Francis smiled. “Well, Nico’s always been talented with this kind of thing, so I wasn’t too worried about that. It’s healed.”
“I am sorry.”
“It didn’t hurt that much. Perks of partially bleached vitae.” Francis’s smile slid from his face. “I hope this conversation helped at least a little bit.”
“I think. It is still unclear.” Jericho thought. “After the Twin Cities, I wanted to find something new. The others said I should. But it is still there. Anger. I need to do it. I need to finish it. Bring ELPIS to justice. False hope. If I don’t, then… everything I did both as ELPIS and a peacekeeper… I am not ‘good.’ I do not want to forget what happened. I can’t. Ayda. The others.”
“‘False hope’…?” Francis stared at him for a while, before murmuring, “If the destination is too difficult, then think of the path instead. Good and bad are all relative anyways. Labeling things as black and white is a luxury. Or maybe it’s insanity.” He took a drag. “I admit we ELPIS are relics of the past. Our continual pursuit of destroying conductors, True Conductors, and reservoirs—as I’ve said, we planned to do it for eternity if necessary, but we cannot win that way…”
Jericho lowered his gaze.
“I am not saying you present Conductors are correct in any way, shape, or form. The sight of those things still disgusts me. But… Perhaps by combining the past that is us with the present that is you… perhaps through that, we can take on this obstacle that is the future together.”
One of the Capricornians snorted, but Jericho ignored it, instead nodding deeply. Francis placed something cold in Jericho’s hand a second after. When Jericho uncurled his fingers, he found a familiar, knife-shaped pendant with a glass handle in his palm. Unlike the pendant that Francis had offered Gamma earlier, the hilt of this one was empty and cold.
“That is my resistor,” Francis explained. “Gamma’s surprisingly easy to pickpocket—or maybe I’m just better at it now.” He stared across the room. “I had no intention of continuing to live on in another initiation since I would not be able to remember my last moments with Omicron. I intended this time to be my last… but I want to do right by you. You’ll live long—I can tell. Longer than me. When I die, if I return to my resistor, you can destroy me then or… If you’re feeling particularly vengeful, you can initiate me into someone who’s near-death and kill me at that moment. My future is in your hands. It’s only right since I took yours.”
Alice tensed across from him.
Jericho curled his fingers around the resistor. It felt so fragile in his hand. These resistors contained the catalyst for everything that happened in his life, and yet they were so fragile. He briefly wondered if saint candidates were the same.
“Alice,” Jericho said, “can you activate one of the proto-conductors? For me. I want to do something.”
Alice hesitated before she nodded and pulled out one of the proto-conductor blades clipped to her belt. She held it upright and pressed her index finger down on the switch. The white blade grew upwards, casting a pale glow across the walls of the room.
Jericho felt as if the atmosphere in the room had tightened. Ignoring this and leaning forward, he pressed the resistor’s handle against the white light and watched as glowing cracks formed up along the resistor’s glass hilt to its pointed blade. As the white lines completed their course, the resistor crumbled into specs of light and then into nothing. Jericho stared at his empty hand before looking back at Francis.
Francis was also staring at his hand. But slowly, his gaze rose to meet his. Then he smiled lightly and let out a sigh. “You’re a ridiculous person, I see. You and Cadence must get along very well. You’re both people pleasers.”
Jericho shook his head. “Cadence says I need to be a people pleaser. Practice, she says.”
Francis chuckled again before he took another puff and studied him. “We’ll get you both back to normal. I promise.” He placed a hand over his mouth before continuing slowly, “If you would like, I can help you in that pursuit of yours. I can help in finding who it was exactly that made you do those things. Not the unconquerable entirety but a single part.”
“We can see whether it was one of us or if it was another child sect that became carried away. And if you find whoever that was that indoctrinated you still alive… Well, I will be there too. Perhaps you will find peace in that. Of course, perhaps, I am just projecting. In the end, that is something to decide for yourself.”
Jericho considered this as a ghostly image of the old Theta flashed through his mind. He nodded slowly as the memory faded into white. “Okay.”
They sat in comfortable silence for a while.
Francis eventually turned to Alice: “Miss Kingsley, I have something for you too—other than my gratitude, of course.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a monochrome photograph, and handed it out to her.
In the dim lights, Jericho was able to briefly glimpse the silhouette of a man, a woman, and a young girl captured in the photo.
Alice’s eyes widened as she scanned it. “What… does this mean?”
“I’m not sure,” Francis muttered, puffing. “I am absolutely certain Gamma was initiated correctly… I don’t want to get your hopes up—”
A series of metallic clangs resounded from the opposite end of the room. Down the ladder came two Capricornian soldiers, Simon, and Lita. Nico rose from where he was sitting beside Gilbert and touched the proto-conductor at his waist.
After a momentary pause of silence, Lita—hand-in-hand with Simon—approached Jericho again. She stopped short only a step away from him, lifted her chin, and let out a shaky breath—“I’m sorry that I didn’t perform up to standards. But… I’m ready now.”
Jericho rose to a stand and blinked down at Lita who then reached out to him with a steady hand. He prepared to reach back—when his shoulder abruptly began to spasm and pulsate. It took a moment for him to realize what the sensation was because he barely remembered what it was from the other five: pain. It exploded out like a ring of fire, spreading from his shoulder to his arm and fingertips and then to his neck and head. He stumbled towards the ground beneath the throbbing but Francis caught him with alarm.
Jericho. Born November 30th. Blood type B. Vision, 20/40, prescription glasses required. Height, 192.1 cm. Weight, 91.5 kg. Left-handed. Personality type, ISFP-Assertive. Parents, deceased. Siblings, deceased.
“Alice.” Jericho stiffened. “Something’s wrong.”
Occupation, Ophiuchian Peacekeeping Agent in the ELPIS Investigations Department. Formerly a member of ELPIS. Number of people returned to the cycle, 541.
Heart hammering, Jericho shoved Francis away and to the ground.
Described by coworkers as “odd, peculiar, not right in the head.” Described by friends as “attentive, unique, humorous, good listener.”
Unusual activity: involvement in assassination investigations of True Conductor Olivier Chance, and active engagement in the ELPIS incident occurring in the Twin Cities.
Probability of being a True Conductor, 100%.
Probability of disrupting the syzygy, unknown. Reason, unpredictable.
“I’m sorry, Francis,” Jericho said before whipping around to face Alice. “Alice. I need suppression cuffs. Now. Please.”
Alice immediately pulled her pair from her waist and snapped one of the cuffs over his left wrist. At that exact moment, Jericho felt a hot breath tickle the back of his neck. Dark, shadowy, ghostly hands snaked out from behind him, their cold touch wrapping around his throat.
“The most human emotion is passion—no, vengeance,” a familiar voice whispered in his ear. “Meanwhile, the most human action is self-destruction. So, you shouldn’t abandon your humanity, Jericho. Not for anyone.”
“Well, all for all, help me set the stage before the final act—what do you say, partner?”
Everything cut to black.
Francis had felt rather nervous about speaking with Jericho. He was quite familiar with such nervousness—not as Theta but as Francis. Whenever he and his brothers were preparing to cut big business deals with the Romanos or the smaller underground entities around Signum, he always suffered nerves the day before. He’d go through two packs of v-cigs during those times, but he’d always managed to collect himself and present himself as a force to be reckoned—negotiated—with. He had to match Carl and Allen, after all. Couldn’t afford to be left behind.
That hadn’t been the same case for Theta. Nerves were something Theta didn’t experience often—but that was probably because Theta themselves had reached a point where there was nothing to be nervous about. Cycles broke fear and anxiety because they offered comfort, after all. Both a strength and a weakness.
Francis still recalled meeting Jericho for the first time in the Twin Cities when the man came to investigate Agent Leona—Leo. Francis had thought Jericho was quite peculiar and amusing back then. Their second encounter was also amusing when Jericho revisited the city to help the ELPIS Department of Ophiuchus with their investigation. And the last time they’d encountered each other was in that small warehouse in the Twin Cities. Then came Cadence’s revelation on top of those skyscrapers. The feelings from that terrible moment when she revealed that the suitcase peacekeeper—Jericho who had taken Omega’s life—had been taken in by some version of himself—of Theta years ago—and had subsequently been drawn into the fold of ELPIS was horrifying, sickening. The realization that he had indirectly, irresponsibly caused the suffering of children just like the ones he’d condemned followed him all the way here to Capricorn.
Guilt towards Jericho? A sense of responsibility to him? Those were things that no Twin Cities resident in their right mind would feel towards anyone. As for a teacher? Yes, those matters were important. Accept everything, reject nothing—the Twin Cities way.
Unfortunately while the part of him that was ‘Francis’ felt comfortable accepting the nervousness that came with eventually confronting Jericho, the part of him that was ‘Theta’ felt otherwise. In fact, he had gone over what to say in mind countless times in-between reading books on how to best approach apologies and condolences.
After his first friendly interaction face-to-face with Jericho had progressed decently, Francis thought his efforts had paid off—although the whole therapy-esque setup Alice had in place was peculiar. So—when Francis found himself suddenly shoved to the ground by Jericho after the fact, he was left rather jarred. Realization came soon after when Jericho requested to be placed in suppression cuffs.
However, just as Alice was about to slap the second shackle over his wrist, Jericho reached out and wrapped his free hand around her thin arm. Crimson flames sparked at his fingertips a second after. Francis barely had the time to lunge forward, jerk Alice backwards, and knock Simon and Lita down before the heatwave spiraled outwards like a tornado.
When the red flames died away, Francis picked himself up off the ground and found that the arm splint and the suppression cuffs that Jericho had been wearing had crumbled away into ash. Not-Jericho waved off the smoke clouding the ceiling absentmindedly before he covered his mouth and hacked a cough. Blood seeped between his fingers but he waved this off too.
“Well, this is a first,” Not-Jericho said. “It was a bit risky too, but I guess too much of Aries is left down there to really cause me any trouble.” He curled his hand into a fist and watched as crimson sparks danced around his knuckles. “So this is what it’s like to be a True Conductor.”
“Scorpio,” Francis realized, reaching for the knife holstered at his belt.
Scorpio smiled thinly, extending out a pale hand. “I see you’re still suffering, Vega. While I’m setting the final act of this revolution, let me help return you to nothingness.”
A burst of crimson flame flooded the room.