23.6: Peacekeeper—A Debate, Reflejando

Re-cap:

Jericho was made vice-chair for Leona for the Head Chairman Elections. While he is kept to deskwork by Leona, he frequently sneaks out from Scorpio’s watchful gaze to help Cadence and Francis’s search for their missing children who have been stole away by Alpha. During one of these adventures, they encountered Epsilon who was able to transfer and move vitae and memories. After Maria was brought into the fold and gained information from Epsilon, she encountered Andres and Conta/Beta whom she subsequently brought to Francis’s exitless room upon request. 

With this converging of different sides of ELPIS, Jericho…


Serpens Establishment, Ophiuchus 

Jericho was having what he believed was a ‘peculiar’ week. Olive had described it as an ‘annoyingly painful’ week, while Cadence said it was a ‘dicey’ week but that ‘the rewards of it outweighed the cost.’ Werner labeled it as a ‘high-risk, but productive’ week and Atienna an ‘interesting’ week. Maria had perceived it as an ‘exciting’ week. Correction: ‘the most exciting week ever.’ However, Maria described every week in that way, so Jericho was uncertain.

It started off on Monday after the preliminary elections when Leona pulled Jericho from his cubicle and into her office. Her office was different from Gabrielle’s and Scorpio’s. While Gabrielle’s was somewhat cluttered, often filled with bottles of alcohol, and constantly occupied and Scorpio’s was dark and empty with mahogany furniture, Leona’s was bright and modern-looking. Amendment: it looked ‘normal.’ Behind her black lacquered desk was an open window that let in the graying winter sunlight. On the left and right side of the desk along the white wall unfolded a series of bookcases stuffed with well-cared for texts. A map of Signum hung from her left wall, while her right was occupied by filing cabinets.

Once Jericho greeted Leona at her desk, she moved him to sit at her mahogany meeting table at the center of her office. There, she lounged across from him, posed with chin resting on her hand and her legs crossed.

Jericho stared at her, uncertain.

“Did you bring your sketchbook with you like I asked?” 

Jericho lifted his hand, showing her his journal.

“Good.” She straightened her back. “Draw me.” 

Jericho stared harder.

“You draw, don’t you?” Leona asked. “Scorpio told me you do.”

At the name, Jericho felt his stomach churn uncomfortably. Regardless, he replied truthfully: “I only draw things I like.” Just because Maria was interested in Leona, that did not mean that he was.

Leona’s expression didn’t change. “And what about things you hate?”

“I don’t draw them.”

“Do you still hate ELPIS? Or has your hate moved to us now?” Leona uncrossed her legs. “You’ve worked so hard to come to this department. Your relentlessness and refusal to put your head down is something to be praised.” Her eyes narrowed. “However, you’ve set your feelings about ELPIS aside from what I understand from Scorpio. You’ve given up on your goal of eliminating ELPIS.”

Jericho stared, clenching his fists. “I am not giving up.  I will never give up.”

Leona hummed, looked him slowly up and down, then said, “I’d like for you to design a poster for my campaign for me. I’d like for you to capture my likeness.” 

Jericho cocked his head. Was he the odd one here again or was it her?

“There are better people to draw,” he answered curtly after a beat. Wrong choice of words, whispered a voice. So he amended: “I apologize. I mean there are people who are ‘better’ at doing these types of things than me.”

“I don’t care for those types of excuses,” Leona replied. “Regret, discomfort, low self-esteem, slovenliness. These are all things to overcome.” She poised herself again. “Draw me, Jericho.” 

It was best to go along with it now. Less trouble. No need to pick a fight where it wasn’t needed.

Jericho stiffly flipped open his journal and pulled out his pencil. After studying the silhouette of Leona’s body and her lines and curves, he began to sketch her jaw line.

“You are normal with me,” Jericho said more to himself than to her, “after everything you’ve all done.”

“After everything we’ve done, you say?” Leona’s eyes narrowed slightly, causing her eyelashes to catch the light falling in from the window. “How impertinent of you. Shifting the blame to ease yourself of guilt, pain, and responsibility. You’ll never learn that way.”

“Please don’t move.” Jericho said before suddenly recalling Francis’s words of responsibility, then Scorpio’s. 

“In fact, you’ll never be able to forge a path of your own if you keep deferring to others like that.”

Then Jericho thought of the searing heat, the sands, the tents, and that day he had made the decision that ELPIS was wrong. Their cries echoed in his ears.

“I’m not referring to your past with ELPIS, Jericho,” Leona added suddenly. “Don’t worry. I’m not like Scorpio. I find little amusement in dragging out personal matters from the past unless they’re pertinent. In fact, I find Scorpio’s way of doing things distasteful and near-sighted. The whole matters much more to me than the individual.”

Jericho paused and looked up at her.

“Although you could have absolutely resisted at the time being even with your age,” Leona continued, still poised perfectly like a statue—like the statues in the Monadic temples. “Your youth and ignorance at the time still should be held into account. As much as I dislike the argument of ‘not being fully aware of your own actions,’ the recent incident in Capricorn has given me time for some self-reflection. That too is a sign of strength.” 

“I am not a member of the Psychological Evaluations Department,” Jericho interjected. “I am not suitable for listening to this. I am bad at giving advice.”

Leona seemed to smile almost, but Jericho figured he was mistaken because she answered him flatly a moment later: “It’s not a personal discussion nor am I seeking advice. Don’t be arrogant and mistake our distance.”

Jericho stared and finished shading her hair.

“That being said, how have the others in the department been treating you?”

Jericho paused. “Like I am not there.” He thought of one of Cadence’s and Olive’s most recent comments on the subject. Subsequently, he added without much consideration: “Correction. I think they ‘gossip’ about me. Because of my vitae. They do not approve of its color. They have questions, but they do not ask it. They dislike me asking them to. I understand, I think.”

Leona’s eyes narrowed slightly. “How cowardly of them. Just this once, I’ll have a word with them. They do represent me, after all.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Well, you should,” Leona replied. “Have you no pride?” Before Jericho could answer, she continued, “It surprises me still that Theta would stand by and allow a child to have their vitae processed in that way.”

“It was not Theta,” Jericho said. He stopped himself from mentioning Alpha. “Theta was killed. Someone else did it. They said if we wanted to keep Theta’s memory, we should join them. It was what was ‘right.’” He paused, fully digesting Leona’s words.

There it was again. That familiarity between ELPIS and the Saint Candidates. He could not focus on the thought long, however, because his stomach began to boil as he thought of Cadence’s children. What were those ELPIS Leaders planning to do with Cadence’s children…? What if—

“—so I’ve heard,” Leona nodded. “I’m referring to Theta’s actions now. Although Vega was never the type to act on vengeance, she would most certainly feel responsible for what happened. Theta is with someone you’re connected to, aren’t they? I do wonder what they’re up to now.”

She was fishing for answers, Jericho realized. He answered stiffly, “No, I don’t know—”

“Did it hurt?”

Jericho cocked his head at the change in question. “Hurt?”

“When they bleached your vitae,” Leona drew slowly. “When you were brought in here, you reported not remembering the exact process of it, but I’m sure you still remember the feeling.”

Yes. The feeling of being strapped down on a metal table and the feeling of hot liquid searing through his veins. The pain fading completely and him being left with only the vague, hazy sensation of euphoria and greater purpose. 

Abruptly replacing this feeling came a feeling of absolute exhilaration. With it came the faint, blurred sensation of standing above another person in absolute victory.

Him, standing above a child no older than ten. A child who was cradling their bleeding arm and whimpering in fear. A child who was staring up at him in horror.

He looked down at the child and felt guilt clench his chest. 

“Don’t worry about him, dear,” came a voice from behind him as a hand rested on his shoulder. “It’s just that they weren’t able to become a star. Instead they’ll become the night sky that supports the sky.” 

Jericho blinked.

What. No, that wasn’t his memory. It was almost the same: seeing someone look at him in fear when he was younger. But it was different. 

“—Francis Foxman is nowhere near close to who Theta was as a person.” Leona’s voice cut through the muddled memories. “Just as Theta was nowhere near the person Vega was.” She sighed, seemingly with disappointment. “They whittle themselves away like so. It’s pitiable. They’re fools. I hope you’re not foolish in your own attachments, Jericho.”

Jericho said nothing.

Leona went on to speak of the weather, the state of Monadic temples in Leo, and even pressed Jericho for how he’d picked up drawing. It felt ‘casual,’ like one of the conversations he’d have with Gabrielle, Ferris, or—Talib. It felt so casual that Jericho was tempted to press Leona with questions of his own: What was the syzygy. What was causing the syzygy. But. Intuition: Leona would not like him if he did that. However—

Why do you want the syzygy to happen?”

Leona, who was still smiling for some reason after Jericho had told her of one of his first cases involving the Foxmans, stopped smiling instantly. She stared at him long and harm before pointing to his notebook. “Let me see.”

Jericho turned it over to her hesitantly. She accepted it before studying his sketch.

“Your art is truly beautiful, Jericho…” Leona said after a moment of quiet. “I’m surprised at how much you’ve honed your talents in such a short moment of time….”

“Thank you?”

Leona handed the notebook back to him. “However, this process takes too long. I want you to find another medium to capture my image for the flyers and posters.”

Jericho tensed. “Another medium?”

Leona nodded. “Something quicker but that can capture permanence.” She thrummed her fingers before rising from her seat. “I suggest speaking with Nadinaline, the First Chairwoman of the Assignment Department.”

“But she is your competitor.”

“She is, but she also knows a thing or two about permanence. I highly suggest you seek her out.”

With that, Leona excused him from her office. He complied curtly.

Jericho did not understand Leona, but he believed for once that this was not his own fault. Even Cadence who very lightly synchronized with him at the time didn’t understand her. And Cadence understood everyone

“Gives me a textbook superiority complex vibe,” Cadence noted afterwards. “But she can also probably kick my ass so not sure how we can twist that bit.”

* * *

That afternoon Jericho bumped into Beni, the potential saint candidate for Cancer, while turning a corner in the halls. ‘Literally.’ Beni stumbled back upon colliding with Jericho’s chest, and Jericho had to catch him by the arm in order to stop him from falling flat on his back.

After he righted Beni, Jericho offered a wave. “Hello.”

“H-Hi…” Beni stared up at him before recognition flickered in his gaze. “Oh! You’re the peacekeeper! Jericho! I’m relieved…” He sighed, doubling over. “I was with Nadinaline earlier and had to use the restroom, but when I came out—she was gone… I…” His face fell. “I’ve been searching for her for…. Saints—I don’t know how long.”

“You are… still you.” Jericho stared.

Beni looked around “Uhm… Yes, I’m… Beni….”

“You are not a saint candidate?” Jericho inquired.

“Oh no. The ceremony isn’t until later this month.” Beni chuckled. “There’s a whole process involved… I hate waiting around though.” He waved his hand through the air. “Wait, could you please show me where the Assignment Department is? So I can get to Nadinaline? She’s… er… in charge of me, I guess?”

Jericho stared at him and then nodded before leading him through the halls towards the designated department.

“How long have you worked here, Mr. Jericho?” Beni asked tentatively beside him as they paced along. 

“Just ‘Jericho’ is good.” He gave a thumbs-up. “I’ve ‘worked’ here for almost a year now. More. I don’t remember. I am bad at keeping track of time.” —Which was something Werner kept saying he needed to rectify.  

“I see…” Beni eyed his air quotation marks.

Jericho suddenly found himself saying, “I am working as vice chair for the First Chairwoman of the ELPIS Investigations Department for the elections right now, so it’s different.”

What? That’s so impressive!” Beni beamed. “I bet you can get into a lot of nitty gritty nefarious top-secret things now that you’re a vice chair for a chairperson, huh?”

Jericho paused, ears ringing as he swiveled to face Beni. 

Beni jumped at this and chuckled. “What…? Uhm… It was just a joke. I hope I didn’t offend you—”

Jericho felt his chest unclench. “Oh. A joke.” He turned and began to walk forward again. “It’s funny.” 

“Well, my family tells me that I’d never be a comedian, so that encouragement means a lot!” Beni added helpfully. After a long pause in which Jericho wondered if he should have said something, Beni asked, “So how is the election going?”

“The first chairwoman asked me to sketch her for an election poster. But she said that it takes too long. She wants me to find a quicker but permanent medium. She said to ask Nadinaline, but I am trying to figure it out. I have close people I can ask, but they are busy. I don’t want to bother them.”

“Oh, that’s very nice of you…” Beni suddenly brightened. “Wait—do they mean a photograph?”

“Photograph?” Jericho cocked his head. “I have never used a photograph before. Correction: a camera.” 

Beni beamed and rubbed his chest. “Well, my father is actually a photographer. He used to work with that Hilton Tyler before Tyler retired, you know? Taught me a few tricks.”

Hilton Tyler. The captured True Conductor.

“You know… uhm…” Beni cleared his throat. “I’m stuck around here doing pretty much nothing until my ceremony, so maybe I can teach you how to use one? To kill time? In exchange for you guiding me around?”

Jericho stared.

“Or not? I mean, I sort of asked you out of the blue. We don’t really know each other—“

Jericho’s heart hammered. “No. I would like that. Yes. Thank you—”

Bashhhshhhhshhhhshhhhh. Bahshhhhshhhhshhh.

At the familiar sound paired with a familiar scent, Jericho turned his head and found First Chairwoman Nadinaline Delacroix coming down the hall followed by the same two veiled peacekeepers he’d seen with her the previous day.

“I was looking everywhere for you, Beni!” Nadinaline called out with a sigh as she waved a loose hand in the air. “Where did you run off to?”

“Nadinaline!” Beni exclaimed and rushed over to her side. “I was looking everywhere for you!” 

“I only stepped away for a second—oh?” Nadinaline seemed to finally register Jericho’s presence. “You’re Jericho, aren’t you?”

“He was helping me out,” Beni replied. “He was actually meaning to ask you for some help too, so this sort of works out.”

Nadinaline didn’t say anything, but Jericho imagined she was lifting a brow from behind her veil.

Jericho opened his mouth then closed it. He nodded.

“His chairperson,” Beni continued. “Leona? She asked him to ask you to find something to capture permanence—”

“Oh, of course Leona would ask you to ask me that.” Nadinaline sighed, shaking her head. “How like her. Oh, but it’s rude for me to say something like that, isn’t it? No, maybe it’s merely conscientious? Well… I’m not the type to care for those kinds of things.” She shook her head again, causing her veil to sway back and forth. She glanced sharply at Jericho. “Wait? What were you asking again…?”

“About permanence,” Beni provided. “Capturing it? For a poster, I think. I suggested using a camera…” 

“Hm…” Nadinaline tilted her head slightly, smile thinning as she glanced at the veiled peacekeepers on her right and left. “There are many ways to capture permanence, but a using a photograph is debatable, isn’t it? A photograph can be so easily lost and worn away… You can’t hold it nor embrace it. All that it brings is a sensation of longing.” She placed a hand on Beni’s shoulder and turned him in the opposite direction. “Well, I wish you luck on your endeavors, Mr. Jericho. Thank you for seeing to Beni for me. See you around soon.”

With that, she began to guide Beni away. Just as Beni was rounding the corner with Nadinaline and the other peacekeepers, however, he turned and waved at Jericho. Jericho startled, smiled slightly, and waved back.

Beni. Beni. Beni?

He could not save Talib, but perhaps he could save Beni? Yes. Something else. A goal.

* * *

A day or so later, Cadence herself finally touched point with Francis again. Francis, who had determined that Alpha had taken the children from Cadence and the Foxmans. Alpha whom Francis had said earlier could possibly be the one who had indoctrinated Jericho himself and all the other children back then.

So, Jericho had made the decision to accompany them to Comientzo—even though he did not want to make Werner upset. Cost-benefit analysis. Although Jericho’s mind buzzed with anticipation at finding the one, he was ‘excited’ to see Cadence and Francis physically again. Finding Epsilon, on the other hand, confounded Jericho. But Cadence and Francis insisted that Epsilon was needed, so Jericho quelled his discomfort around the ELPIS Leader.

On Wednesday, Maria arrived at Francis’s room where Jericho awaited with the others for her to receive information from Epsilon. There were lies being told on multiple accounts and levels here: Maria pretending to be Leona, Cadence hiding the chlorowheat from Francis, and so on. Jericho did not like these lies, but Cadence kept assuring him that they were ‘necessary.’ And Jericho trusted Cadence.

After Maria had received the memories from Epsilon, she had ecstatically informed everyone that Alpha was in fact her Proteus, the man who had taken her in. But—Jericho wondered—was Alpha the one who had taken him in? Francis did not state things clearly when pressed for answers. Maria had her answer, but Jericho himself did not. Discomfort.

On Thursday, the memories of Maria’s encounter with Conta and Andres bled into Jericho’s mind. He could not visit until night time, however, so he had to bide his day in the office until then. He could barely focus on his desk work and designing the flyer for Leona’s campaign as his thoughts were filled with only two words:

ELPIS. Alpha. ELPIS. Alpha. ELPIS.

Theta—Francis was approved. Epsilon was approved because Cadence and Francis needed him to find the children. Beta was Conta, and Conta was important to Maria so Conta was approved too. Gamma was not. Gamma was no longer Izsak. Gamma was not approved. Therefore, he had to be brought to justice. Okay. No confusion. 

In fact, according to the paperwork on Jericho’s desk right now, Gamma was still in Taurus raking through the ley-lines and generator conductors located there. The conductors and ley-lines were all in recovery and maintenance at the moment, and a large proportion of the ELPIS Department had been sent up there to handle the situation. 

Those reservoirs—Jericho knew now—contained people who had been excised from the cycle through the use of conductors. They were stuck there. Trapped in a mass of high-energy-level vitae. Just as Trystan had been before Olive had enacted justice and set him free.

ELPIS was right but it was also wrong. Yes.

ELPIS. Alpha. ELPIS. Alpha. ELPIS.

Finally, the time came. Night. Jericho took a train heading out to Aquarius before off-boarding half way before. During the ride, his mind vibrated with the events that had unfolded in Francis’s exitless room throughout the day:

Maria, dragging Conta and Andres to her ship where Francis’s gate was located. Morandi, Emmanuel, and Raul, staring at Conta in flabbergasted confusion. Conta, not acknowledging their presence. Simon, worriedly asking if Veles was still asleep and then trying to explain everything right before Maria pulled Conta and Andres through the gate and into Francis’s room.

Waiting there for them there and sitting around the central round table had been the Foxmans, the Romanos, Cadence, and Francis.

“Who is this?” Fortuna had frowned, arms crossed, as soon as the three had entered. 

“The hell is a Monadic priest doin’ here?” Carl had asked before squinting at Conta. “Wait, I recognize that lady. Isn’t that your quartermaster or somethin’, Maria?”

“Beta,” Francis had greeted Conta pleasantly with a polite nod before offering a handshake. “I heard that you wanted to speak with me.”

And then came introductory exchanges that Cadence said were made clearly by ‘people who didn’t socialize much,’ although she later amended that the whole thing ‘could’ve ended up much more explosively.’ 

Coming back to himself, Jericho destroyed all of his belongings at the station as Werner had advised him to earlier before weaving through the white courtyard and the small garden hiding behind the station building. Hurriedly, he then entered Francis’s gate to the exitless room with his suitcase in tow. 

* * *

(   )

Upon arriving in the room, the Romano executives, the Foxmans, Francis, Cadence, Conta, and Maria, who were all gathered around the table, turned to look at him. While Cadence offered a two-finger salute, Maria a wild wave, and Carl a grunt, Conta stiffened immediately.

Conta stiffened immediately. “A peacekeeper again—” Her eyes flitted to the suitcase in Jericho’s hand. “Not just any peacekeeper, but the suitcase peacekeeper.”  She turned to Francis. “You know what he’s done to Omega and some of the others.” Her eyes flicked to Cadence, Maria, and Jericho. “I’m assuming he’s part of this group’s True Conductors. His conducting is too much like Libra’s. He’s dangerous—”

“I’m aware,” Francis said. “But we did have a deal, Beta.” He gestured loosely at nothing. “I am still providing you and Gamma with my gates in exchange for a half-way truce.” He paused and inquired, “Speaking of Gamma, am I correct in assuming he doesn’t know of your intention here?”

“No, Gamma isn’t aware of this,” Conta admitted. “I lost your proto-conductors in a fight with a convert using some of Rho’s vitae. Gamma is solely focused on the generator conductors, while Tau and I were on Alpha’s trail…. Our operations have become fractured.”

Jericho’s hand twitched at these words, and he felt something simmer in stomach. It was confusing. He liked Francis, but Francis was opening the gates for Gamma and the other ELPIS Leaders who were wreaking havoc in Taurus. 

Easy, detective, Cadence thought, I know, I know. But we gotta hold out.

“Jericho, you don’t have to stand so far,” Francis said suddenly, motioning Jericho forward.

The burning in Jericho’s chest subsided ever so slightly at the gesture. He nodded and came to a stand between Maria and Cadence. He then returned Conta’s stare and wondered where that tattoo was located on her body.

Conta frowned. “Have you considered the possibility that that peacekeeper may be the one who destroyed Omicron’s resistor? Tau told me everything that happened in Gemini.” She paused. “Omicron was skilled, Theta. Do you think her resistor would’ve been destroyed so easily?” 

Omicron? Francis’s “special” person, Jericho realized. Impaled by steel beams saving Francis’s “important” people. Resistor destroyed by Jericho himself.  Something twisted in Jericho’s abdomen at the thought, and he placed his hand over the area.

—hey now, came Cadence’s thought. Let’s not bring any more unnecessary drama ta the table, detective. ‘One thing at a time.’ Something in her tone softened. It’s okay, detective. Besides, things were different then—

“—Jeri is a good peacekeeper, Conta!” Maria interjected, throwing an arm around Conta’s shoulder. “I am actually very excited for you to meet him now that you know what True Conductors, yes? It is like a joining of crews!”

At the exclamation, Olive, Atienna, and Werner slowly phased into Jericho’s vision. Olive was on another train compartment with Stein and Claire. Atienna was in her room in Secoursonne contemplating the dress she’d just received from the duke. Werner was in his room in his inn near the border, still going over the files on the potential True Conductors. None of them said anything as they synchronized in: they merely watched. Observing. 

Conta studied Maria and pulled away but said nothing. Instead, she held Francis’s gaze.

“We—I—brought him in, Beta,” Francis said after a beat. “I need to take responsibility for it all…” He closed his eyes briefly. “Destroyed resistors… Speaking of which, my resistor is no longer functioning. It’s also been destroyed.”

Conta visibly paled. “What…?” She stared past him at Jericho. “Was it the suitcase peacekeeper?”

“It was a mutual decision,” Francis admitted.

Conta recoiled and then grabbed Francis’s arm. “Are—Are you insane?” She looked him up and down. “Why in the world would you do something so foolish like that…?”

Carl lurched forward for Conta’s wrist but was stopped short by a hand around the wrist himself from Maria who merely grinned at him.   

“I intend for this to be my last time,” Francis answered steadily. He nodded at Cadence then at Jericho. “It’s only fair and it serves as motivation. Besides, a world without Omicron is—”

Conta’s expression softened before falling flat. She released him. “That’s unfortunate. We’ve already lost this many.”

“Lost this many?” Francis repeated.

Conta regarded him. “I know that almost all of you—especially you Theta—view this state of living in resistors as a living death, but I’ve never viewed it as such. I don’t expect you to understand—”

“No… I understand…” Francis frowned, holding up a hand. “Tell me, Beta.”

Conta glanced up at Francis in surprise before drawing slowly, “A majority of the resistors containing the others are empty. The only ones left are you, me, Tau, Pi, Gamma, Rho, Nu, Iota—”

Olive tensed. 

“—Delta, and…”

Jericho’s heart skipped a beat as Francis’s expression also fell flat. Cadence reached over and touched Jericho’s arm.

Steady, detective…

What?” Francis pressed.

“At first, we thought that one of our recruits had double-crossed us or emptied them without knowing,” Conta explained calmly. “Then Alpha went missing and reappeared later with Rho and Nu. We suspected foul play…” Her eyes narrowed. “From what I understand, Epsilon has been initiated at this time, so… perhaps instead of the resistors being emptied, the vitae in them may have been merely transferred or drained…”

Jericho’s heart skipped a beat at this. Transferred? Drained? What did that mean? Did it mean those leaders were eliminated? Gone? Just like he had been hoping for. He was closer now. Right? Yes. But he hadn’t done it himself. No. He had returned those people in Capricorn to the cycle, but had not returned the ELPIS Leaders to nothingness. Incongruent. 

Jericho. 

Jericho glanced at Werner’s apparition and found the man holding his gaze.

Right.

 Focus.

Conta pressed, “You don’t have any information on Alpha’s actions in the past decade or so, do you?”

Andres extended his hand and conjured a notebook and pencil in a flash of amber. He scribbled something out onto the notebook and flashed it to everyone. The one who took the children from the orphanage? ‘Alpha’?

Jericho offered the man a thumbs up in response. 

Andres glanced at him, nodded, scribbled out, Thank you.

“No,” Francis answered Conta. “Omicron destroyed most of the records from the most recent decades. But…” He glanced at Maria then back at Conta with a contemplative expression. “We’re starting to get clues…”

Conta followed his gaze to Maria. “I’m sorry again, Theta. Omicron was good.”

“I know,” Francis said quietly. He placed a hand to his chin and mumbled into his hand. “First the children…” A pained look passed his face. “And now the resistors… what is Alpha up to?” He glanced back at Conta. “You were closer to Alpha than I was. Do you have any ideas?” 

“He’s become strange to me now…” Conta shook her head. “But I believe… depending on the amount of times Epsilon has been initiated these past centuries… Alpha may have found a loophole outside of the deterioration condition of bleached vitae using Epsilon.”

Francis’s eyes widened slightly. “I see…” He shifted in place and studied her. “Do you think you would be able to garner more information speaking to Epsilon yourself?”

“Epsilon is difficult to deal with,” Conta admitted. “I would rather not speak to him directly at the moment…” She crossed her arms. “But, do you know when he was initiated? Epsilon, I mean. We initiated Alpha only a week after what happened in Capricorn. He left for some time and then…”

Francis shook his head once. “We haven’t gotten that far with him yet. He was very unwilling to talk with us. However…” He gestured to Maria. “I’m not sure how much you’re aware of this, Beta, but Miss Maria here was a potential saint candidate for Leo. Her likeness is to the original Leo, isn’t it?”

Conta regarded Maria silently.

Maria beamed. “Francis talks like the Monadic priests back at the orphanage sometimes, no, my dear Conta? We should visit some time, yes? Since you are here now!”

Conta turned back to Francis.

“You know how Epsilon was with Leo,” Francis continued. “We were able to get certain things from him by having Maria here pretend to be Leona.”

Andres startled. Pretending to be a saint candidate? The saint candidate of Leo?

Maria pointed to her face and nodded with a beam. “I don’t think we are alike, but apparently we are? I mean, there is only one me in the entire world, yes?”

Andres’s face went red, and he scribbled out quickly: Blasphemy! It’s blasphemy! You have no respect…! It’s wrong! To call yourself a saint candidate when—

Olive opened his mouth to retort but then became distracted as Claire drifted into his view in the train. Jericho became distracted by the Sagittarian prince too.

Claire offered Olive an odd pat on the shoulder before nodding at Andres. “Take it easy, Andres.”

Jericho blinked.

Werner stiffened while Atienna’s hand went to her mouth. Cadence didn’t show any visible signs of distress but Jericho could feel her buzz with confusion. Maria merely tilted her head in wonder.

Olive stared at Claire then at Andres. “What?”

Claire stared back. “What…?”

Cadence looked between the two and then between Andres and Claire. “Wait a minute. Are ya tellin’ me that—”

Claire stared at Cadence, then back at Olive. “Wait. Didn’t you know…? Andres and I are connected. He’s part of my circle? Wait, isn’t that why you agreed to have Andres come along here? Because you knew?”

What?!” Olive shook his head. “No!” He pointed at Maria. “Maria’s Maria and there’s a lot of things going on outside of this right now, so that’s why we agreed—” He opened his mouth, closed it. “Are you serious…?”

“You’re also a True Conductor, Andres?!” Maria gasped, before she reached over and took Andres’s hand in her own. “That’s amazing! No wonder I liked you! Oh, well, I liked you before that, but I like you even more now!”

Andres flushed before pulling his hand away. A second after, he and Claire abruptly turned to face an empty spot on the table. Claire’s face fell a moment after and Andres nodded. 

Andres subsequently held up a newly written note: She was right. You were wrong, Claire.

Jericho cocked his head at the development. Was this how it looked like to others whenever he and the others communicated—

“You don’t have to put it harshly like that…” Claire sighed.

Olive shook his head and gawked at Claire. “I can’t believe you—”

“Let’s take it easy, kid,” Cadence noted. “It’s a bit of an odd ball throw, but it ain’t a bad one—”

“Who the hell are you all damn talkin’ to?!” Carl snapped, slamming his hands on the table. He jabbed a finger at Andres. “And why the hell does he keep writin’ everythin’ down?”

Jericho looked up at Carl and found Allen, Fortuna, Agape, and Bendetto ogling them with ranging expressions of confusion. Right. They could not see Claire or Olive or Werner or Atienna. 

“Calm down, Carl,” Francis eased, placing a hand on the man’s arm. “They’re most likely communicating with other True Conductors in their circle…” He glanced at Andres then at Cadence. “There are two groups of True Conductors here now. Am I correct in assuming this, Cadence?”

“Er—yeah. I’m pretty confused myself…” Cadence ruffled her hair. “Anyways, let’s keep it rollin’, ‘ey?”

I’m pretty surprised that you’re involved with these types of people, Ollie,” Claire noted, gesturing to the Foxmans and the Romanos. “I always had the impression that you hated hanging with this type of crowd.”

Cadence shrugged at this, unperturbed. 

“You’re one to talk…” Olive muttered, frowning at Claire. “I can’t believe you did it again—”

“We need to remain on task,” Werner interjected. He nodded at Olive. “You should discuss this development with Claire separately.” 

Olive met his gaze and returned the nod. He then looked to Cadence, to Maria, and finally to Jericho himself.

“Alpha,” Jericho provided helpfully. “We are searching for Alpha.”

“He’s the one who took us in, no, Conta? Proteus!” Maria took it with stride. “He left a message for me through Epsi!”

For once, it appeared as if Maria piqued Conta’s interest because she turned to Maria and pressed, “A message?”

Maria repeated the poem she had shared with them earlier. 

Conta’s curiosity fell flat. “Another riddle. How like him…. That doesn’t help.”

“No?” Maria cocked her head. “But it reminds you of the stories we used to tell, yes? We haven’t made a story in a while, so we should do one soon!” 

Conta turned away from Maria again and locked eyes with Francis. “I think it’s better if we work together on this, Theta. Handling this alone may prove to be too difficult for us individually”

“And Gamma?” Francis inquired.

“Gamma won’t know. I don’t believe he’d accept you as you are now.” Conta let out a breath. “Besides, at the moment, he is solely focused on eliminating as many as the generator conductors and ley lines in Taurus as he while disrupting the reservoirs. I don’t find his approach wrong, but I believe this is a higher priority.”

Olive frowned at this, and Jericho found himself frowning too.

“I think it’s better if we work together on this as well,” Francis replied calmly, offering a hand. “It’s better for all of us to work together on this front.”

Conta, who had been reaching for his extended hand, paused at the last statement and then stared past him at Maria, Jericho himself, and the others. “They’re True Conductors, Theta. And that group over there formerly sold conductors in masses. They are moving the syzygy forward with their own hands. Do you not see how backwards working with them is?” 

“If we kill these True Conductors, the saint candidates will just bide their time and wait for more True Conductors to populate. As for the crime organizations…” Francis glanced at his brothers and then at the Romanos. “In times like this, we can’t view things in black and white. We won’t win that way. It’ll be difficult to make a choice with these options, but the outcome will be much better, I believe.”

Jericho perked up at these words.

 “I won’t work with you if you seek to harm any of them, Beta,” Francis continued. “That’s the agreement we came to reach back in Capricorn. Anyways, you didn’t come here thinking that it would turn out any other way, did you?” His eyes narrowed. “I’ve always disliked how you’ve never been straightforward.” 

“Are you serious…?” Conta looked him up and down, then at Jericho with narrowing eyes. `“You’ve become awfully childish…” She remained silent for a stretch of time before she finally said, “But if Alpha continues to corrupt our ways, then there will be none of us left to prevent the syzygy in the future. All our efforts up until this point would have been for nothing…” She slowly turned and extended her hand out to Maria. “I understand I’ve tried to take your life at a previous point in time, but your existence is dangerous. Still, for the time being since our goals align, it would be best for us to work congruently.”

Jericho could feel Olive rolling his eyes. All of that talking when they could’ve just done this to begin with.

Maria stared at Conta’s extended hand before reaching past that and pulling Conta into a tight embrace. Conta stiffened in the hold before peeling herself away. Almost as if the embrace didn’t occur, she began to offer her hand to the others in the room, including Jericho himself. 

After a dizzying round of handshakes that left Jericho very much confused, Maria dragged Conta and Andres excitably back through the gate again. Maria’s departure left the usual quietness in her wake as Werner, Olive, and Atienna lessened their synchronizations and faded from Jericho’s vision. In that quietness, the Romanos and the Foxmans settled back into the table in silence.

“I don’t even get what the hell just happened,” Carl muttered, breaking the silence and shaking his head. “What the hell just happened?”

Fortuna merely pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. “So, Maria, that ELPIS leader, and that Monadic priest will be searching Leo for Alpha, while Francis and the ELPIS try to decode whatever message Ambrose—Epsilon—left?” 

“I pray that this partnership won’t derail our goal,” was all Cavallo said. He had been quiet and unreactive the entire time, so Jericho had almost forgotten his presence.

Jericho stared at the Geminians then at Cadence for a beat before turning to Francis. “Are you worried?” 

“Well… The world naturally turns in the direction of what is just,” Francis murmured in response absentmindedly. “That’s why we’re here now.”

Carl arched a brow at Allen, while Agape and Cavallo held each other’s gazes.

Jericho studied them as the words rang inside his head. Those words. They were familiar to Jericho. The other Theta had said them to him before when he’d younger. Jericho’s thoughts became foggy as the past bled in from the corners of his mind.

Cadence ta detective—

Jericho blinked, shook the memory off, offered Cadence a thumbs-up. Thank you.

No problem, detective. Cadence waved a hand. Let’s just stay grounded, right?

“—of course, justice is whittled away slowly,” Francis continued, his words now foreign and unfamiliar unlike before: not Theta, “and gradually with time, until it loses its original form and purpose.” He mumbled into his hand, but Jericho was able to barely make out his words: “But again, as I’ve said, the world naturally turns in the direction of justice. So, while I have concerns for these proximal matters, I have less of it for the distal, larger picture.”

“I will be justice,” Jericho replied reflexively. He paused when he felt Carl’s, Allen’s, and Fortuna’s stares. Usually, he was fine with this type of staring but it felt different because they were close to Cadence and close to him in turn. Feeling his cheeks burn unfamiliarly, he added quickly: “I have a question. For Maria.” It was also a question he had himself. “She wants to ask this, I think; but she also believes that she doesn’t need to ask. But: was Beta initiated correctly?”

“I was actually surprised when Maria didn’t ask me flat out to begin with…” Francis reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of v-cigs. He passed the packet around, allowing everyone to select one for themselves—Cadence and Jericho declined, of course—before pulling one out for himself. He ignited it and took a drag. “In Beta’s case, I doubt that whether or not she was correctly initiated matters to her. The accomplishment of our goals as ELPIS is what’s paramount… That was how I was before too, but it is especially so for people like them… Yes, that’s how it is.”

“People like them?” Jericho cocked his head.

“Yes… Alpha, Beta Gamma, Delta, Epsilon…” Francis explained before frowning slightly. “Although they are younger than me, they are the ones who can be considered the founders of ELPIS. It’s always the younger generation that takes up the helm. It’s troubling, really…” He took a drag. “Ironically, they’re the ones who remember the most. So this is good. We can get more information about the syzygy with this… and the children… helping the children…”

Cadence rubbed the back of her neck and glanced at the Foxmans and Romanos.

“Omicron, Omega, Iota, the others, and I…”  Francis continued after a beat. “It took us some time before we made the decision to join, if I recall correctly. I actually followed on after Omicron into ELPIS. Then again, Omicron followed me into my duties under Ophiuchus… So the beginning for us is…” He shook his head and took another drag. “Anyways, from what Maria’s told me, Alpha treated her very kindly when she was younger. I hope our children are…” He trailed off.  

Jericho nodded, shifted in place. “I am happy that Alpha did not do anything to Maria when she was younger if he isthe one.” He felt his stomach churn with discomfort again.

Francis studied him. Cadence did too.

“I don’t understand. I have some of Maria’s memories. From childhood. With Alpha. He was kind. From what I remember. She was happy. But with us. When you took us in. After you died. That was not happiness. I thought it was, but it was not. If Alpha and the one who took us under ELPIS are the same person—”

Detective…

Francis placed a hand on Jericho’s arm.

“I am not jealous of Maria. No.” Jericho searched his thoughts. “I am glad Maria found Conta. Maria is helping out too. With Epsilon. Epsilon and Maria. Leo. It’s an advantage.” He frowned. “Epsilon and Leo are close. They were… friends? Before?”  

Francis nodded. “Epsilon has always been close to Leo… although the Leona we know is a far cry from the Leo I remember.” Francis remained silent for a while before he added, “I believe what Epsilon admired about Leo in particular was their self-love.”

“Self-love?” Jericho thought on it, then thought on Leona and Maria. “Pride?”

Francis smiled faintly and shook his head. “Self-love is a pure love towards one’s own existence. In fact, perhaps it can be considered one of the purest forms of love.” He remained quiet again, then said, “You are taught to be loved by others before you are taught to love yourself. That was a problem even back then.”

Jericho glanced at Cadence who arched a brow at him.

“The freedom that comes with true self-love… That’s something the Leona of this time lacks and Maria has.” 

* * *

Serpens Establishment, Ophiuchus 

Now, it was Friday. Just the previous night, Atienna had shared with them the possible effects of chlorowheat after her date with the duke. Jericho hadn’t even noticed she had been gone. There was only a faint fuzziness to her reminiscent of how the others felt to him when they were asleep. 

It gave Jericho discomfort: the idea that his connection with the others could be cut off so easily without his notice. He didn’t like it. He didn’t want to experience something akin to his time in Capricorn again. No.

This concern and thoughts of Alpha followed Jericho throughout the day. Which was ‘bad’ because this day was the first official day of the chairman debates and the second round of vote casting. The voters: the other chairs of the departments and high-ranking peacekeeping office-workers. The next round would include votes cast by the general population of peacekeepers. The round after that would open up the voting to outside Conductors.

The chairmen debates were held in a large auditorium on the highest floor of the Serpens Establishment. Attendance was limited to chairs of the different departments and the high-ranking office workers, although the debate itself would be broadcasted live via radio across Signum.

Throughout the entire day, Jericho found himself being directed to different departments and to the different libraries within those departments by Leona. Gather information, notate different important topics, collect citizen concerns from the Assignment Department—these were the assignments given to Jericho. The latter task was a difficult feat, however, since the Assignment Department was guarded against the intrusion of non-department agents. Rivalry

Jericho would have failed at doing all of these tasks if it were not for Atienna’s assistance and knowledge. He still felt uncertain around her, but the thought of her disappearing again without his knowledge like that night with the duke alarmed him. He did his best to put away his discomfort and tried to treat her as he had before. Jericho personally believed things progressed smoothly enough with her so far. In fact, when  he informed Atienna he would prefer to be using his suitcase for field work not desk work, Atienna had even laughed.

Near the afternoon, Jericho—with a stack of files selected by Atienna and organized by Werner in hand—made his way to the waiting chamber that all debate participants spent time in before heading up to center auditorium stage. Jericho was not a participant himself, of course. From what he understood, his task was to merely present Leona with materials upon her request during the debate or read a line out loud from an article when needed. He could handle this much. Right. 

The waiting chamber itself looked more like a hallway than a chamber to him. It had black tiling and white walls embedded with pillar-like designs that reminded Jericho of Monadic temples in Leo. The ceiling hung low unlike the other ceilings in the Serpens Establishment, so it gave Jericho a claustrophobic feeling as he entered it. It was a feeling he wasn’t too unfamiliar with, so he scanned the faces in the room without difficulty.

Many of the chairs and their vice chairs clouded the area, chattering noisily to each other with grim expressions. Among those faces, Jericho found several familiar ones: Ferris with Nadinaline, the latter of whom was unaccompanied by her usual two peacekeepers for once; Gabrielle with her vice chair; Alice alone; and Moraeni with his vice chair. Ferris and Gabrielle offered Jericho a wave, while Alice nodded at him.

Jericho returned the gestures stiffly but felt oddly relieved at the interaction. But there was no Leona in sight. This was an issue. He then noticed that the only person standing without their chair or vice chair other than himself and Alice was Hårek Ohmdahl, First Chair of the Medical Department. The man stood off by the wall to himself, one hand on his hip and the other over his mouth. He stared holes into the carpet.

“Oh, Hårek, are you alright?”

Jericho locked eyes with Alice, Gabrielle, Ferris, then Moraeni, before turning towards the voice. Entering the room through the large entry black doors at the end of the hall came Scorpio himself.

Scorpio placed a hand over heart. “I heard that Elizabeta has gone away somewhere and you’ve had to handle all the election materials yourself. Are you sure you can do the debates on your own Hårek? I’ve heard you haven’t even selected a new vice chair to take her place yet.”

Yes. That was right. Elizabeta had disappeared without saying a word. Intuition: she had left a note with Gabrielle, but Gabrielle had been unable to share it with the rest of them due to Scorpio’s eyes being everywhere. Maybe the information would come down to Jericho shortly.  He hoped so. Although Jericho didn’t know her as well as he knew Alice, Gabrielle, and Ferris, he still liked her and wanted her safe.

Scorpio came to a stand beside Alice and placed a hand on his chin“Hopefully you’ll be able to handle the chlorowheat issue with just your other chairs…” 

“The chlorowheat issue?” Gabrielle arched a brow.

Hårek tensed as did Nadinaline.

Hårek adjusted his glasses and grimaced. “Yeah, there’s been a chlorowheat problem in Aquarius and Capricorn recently. It’s a new drug that’s been hitting the black markets. Their governments have concerns about how it’ll affect the health of the population since it’s so new, so they’ve brought it to my department’s attention…”

Katharina Groth, First Chair of Conducting Law and Conductor Regulations, narrowed her eyes at this. “Why weren’t we informed of this? Are you trying to blindside us for the debates?”

“That was going to be in our joint report we were going to publish Sunday,” Nadinaline drew. Her gaze seeped through her veil. “I doubt these topics will even come up today since no one knows…” Her gaze drifted to Scorpio. “How did you know, Talib?”

“Reports, right…” Scorpio sighed. “It’s quite alarming how slow communication is between departments, isn’t it?”

Saddine, First Chair of the Communications Department, blanched at this.

“Hopefully the report on the missing Leonian princess will be out by then too.” Scorpio ruffled his hair. “Actually, I think I just received the report on my desk just before coming here.”

Immediately, all eyes went to the First Chair of International Relations who was eyeing Scorpio with a thin frown. Seamus Dolby. Received a handful of votes from the preliminaries. Cadence and Olive had simultaneously labeled him: jerk.

What?” First Chair of the Conservation Department William Saovàng turned sharply to Seamus. “Seamus? What is this?”

Seamus cleared his throat, then smiled sympathetically with spread arms. “Right, right. The princess of Leo went missing about a week ago, and Leo itself came to our department with concerns mid-week. The effects of this on the union between Leo and Cancer is certainly concerning, but Leo requested for us to keep this topic secret, so I haven’t presented any materials to the moderator. Don’t worry, everyone.” He lifted one hand and placed the other over his heart. “I’m fair. Signum comes before petty politics, right?”

While the first chairs remained calm and unreacting, the vice chairs began to exchange nervous glances.

“Of course.” Scorpio returned the gesture with a curling smile. “Sorry that I doubted you for even a second—”

The black entry doors swung open again, garnering the attention of the room. Leona, looking oddly sketchable to Jericho now with her hair done up in an elaborate braided bun, stepped inside and scanned the room. She locked eyes with Scorpio, and they stood across from each other in a stalemate as the seconds ticked on.

Jericho cocked his head. 

Scorpio smiled with concern. “Late, Leona? Are you alright? Being late isn’t quite like you.” 

Leona brushed past the man and came to a stop beside Jericho. She nodded at him before nodding towards the white doors opposite that Jericho deduced led to the auditorium. “We should move along, everyone, and save the debates for the stage. Let’s not waste time playing games.”

With that, she headed towards and out through the white doors at the end of the chamber. Jericho quickly followed behind her and behind him came the other chairs. 

Jericho was immediately blinded by the v-lights beaming down from the scaffolding onto the black marble stage as soon as he stepped over the threshold of the door. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust; and once they did, he quickly took in the scene:

Twelve podiums hooked with large microphones were set up on the center stage in a straight line. Each was marked with the Ophiuchian peacekeeper seal. On the floor below the stage rested a desk with a small microphone where a single, balding man sat peering up at them. Behind that man sat rows of chairs occupied by white armband-wearing peacekeepers with faces shrouded in shadow. The other, lower chairs of the department and several office workers. 

Leona tapped Jericho’s arm, stirring him from his staring. “This way.”

Jericho followed Leona to a podium at the center stage as the other five synchronized with him lightly, all peering in with various forms of curiosity. They were a comfort. Once Jericho situated himself behind Leona and the other chairs and vice chairs were situated behind their respective podiums, the balding man sitting below them began to speak and introduced himself as the moderator. 

Jericho didn’t quite listen to the moderator’s words and instead exchanged looks with Gabrielle, Ferris, and Alice. Vaguely, he heard the moderator state the rules of the debates: everyone would have five minutes to speak on the topic, there was a round for defense and rebuttal, and respect should be kept.

“—the first topic we have today is Conductor Licensing,” the moderator announced suddenly, drawing Jericho’s attention away. “The state conductor exams and conductor licensing became put in place shortly after the Reservoir War’s end. Complaints have been raised about the exams being too difficult and inconsiderate of individuals who may not have access to the resources that would help them in passing the exam. What are your thoughts? We’ll start with the First Chairman of the Licensing Department Moraeni Pōʻai.” 

“I believe that the system we have in place works for the time being,” Moraeni replied, squeezing the edges of his podium. He was visibly sweating. “We’ve worked hard in crafting our conductor exams, constantly evaluating the way we hold them and frequently adjusting the questions to make them fairer and appropriate for changing times. Of course, we’re willing to consider any and all feedback from the constituents of Signum at this time.”

The moderator nodded, then gestured to Saddine. “First Chair of the Communications Department, Saddine Agwuegbo, what do you have to say?”

“Pass,” Saddine said nervously.

“Pass?” The moderator pressed. 

“Pass.”

Five minutes ticked on in silence before it was Gabrielle’s turn.

“Improvements can always be made with these types of things. We can’t ever achieve perfection, but we can do our best to make it better for everyone,” Gabrielle reasoned. “Our state conductor exams work fine, but they’re made with only one type of Conductor—one type of person—in mind. They don’t consider any sort of disabilities—mental, learning, or physical. Many of our most skilled and brightest veterans from the Reservoir War weren’t ever able to get their licenses because of injuries they gained during the war. And don’t get me started on the youth. We’re missing out on a lot of talent by not making these exams more inclusive.”

“As Gabrielle said,” Leona drew when it was her time to speak, “improvements can always be made. Not improving—whether that comes with things like this or personal situations—is lazy. We’ve been given these positions by you, and you expect us to constantly improve this continent. I am very aware of the issues with our examinations. Unfortunately, it sounds as if Gabrielle is asking for laxer examinations which I disagree with wholly. Strict examinations allow us to weed out individuals who may pose a threat to Signum if they were ever able to get their hands on dangerous conductors. We must be respectful and understanding—yes—but we also need to be strict and firm. We can’t lower our standards just to appease a minority.” 

Gabrielle frowned at this. 

Then, the moderator announced that it was Scorpio’s turn. Jericho was not very good at reading atmospheres, but the other five were so he was able to feel the tension in the air rise as Scorpio cleared his throat. Jericho stiffened as Werner did.

“I have to say that I don’t agree with any of these sentiments at all,” came Scorpio’s reply. “I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase ‘there’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken’? If we keep trying to change and amend and change and amend things, we’ll just end up with a monstrous amalgamation on our hands—” he glanced at Jericho and stared through him “—that won’t be of any use to anyone. Let’s not complicate things, right?”

The other first chairs offered their stances on the topic as they went down the line. Many of them, Atienna noted, were merely trying to walk the middle line. The only extremes had been Leona, Scorpio, and Gabrielle. Quite curious. 

“The second topic we have is taxation,” the moderator announced after William gave his standpoint on the examinations. “Recently there has been a proposal from peacekeepers to impose higher taxation on the countries they’re servicing. There has been rebuttal by several governments on this including Gemini and Leo on this proposal. We will start off with the First Chair of the Commerce Department, Luca D’Angelo. What are your thoughts?”

“Long story short: I agree on the taxation topic,” Luca said, before chuckling. He spread his arms. “Look. The taxes go to our departments so our departments can improve. Our improvement improves the whole of Signum and improve how we can help them. Look at the way the territories and tribes in Aquarius’s mountain region operate. They tax fairly and generously and look at the result. They’re able to personally fund all sorts of infrastructure projects within their small territories. We should all be taking notes.”

“I believe taxation should be proportional to the amount of weaponized conductors owned by each country,” Gabrielle reasoned next. “That way, we can move towards a more peaceful Signum by rewarding those who opt for generator conductors and general conductors instead of weaponized conductors.”

“We obviously need to achieve a balance with these types of things,” Hårek stated. “Taxation should be proportional at least to the size of the country or how much they rely on Ophiuchus. It’s just common sense. Of course, the amount should be minimal. We’re meant to help Signum, not rob them, after all.” 

“It’s quite easy for us to say ‘tax them, tax them, tax them,’” Scorpio drew, thrumming his nails on his podium. He waved his hand in the air, causing Alice to step forward and hand him a stack of papers. He set those papers in front of him and tapped the top sheet. “That taxation isn’t taxing the government. It’s taxing the people of those countries. Tax evasion also has to be considered, doesn’t it? And your point about the territories in Aquarius—well, look how small and homogeneous those territories are. Of course they can get away with those sorts of things. Signum as a whole is a salad bowl. How can we be fair to everyone like that? Besides, our role as peacekeepers is to give, not take.”

Scorpio annoyingly managed to get a lot of words out in a short amount of time. He was good at this which didn’t say much for his character.

“I object to everything Scorpio has said,” Leona said once it was her turn. “Our relationship with Signum as peacekeepers has always been a partnership. Partnerships require respect and a mutual give-and-take. Without the funds of the countries here, Ophiuchus would not exist; but without Ophiuchus, the countries may have fallen into disarray within a couple of years following the war.”

Down the line it went again.

“The third topic we have before intermission is international relations,” the moderator drew next. “As you may know, the recent Sagittarian succession race and the union between Cancer and Leo have been hot topics in the news. Many are concerned about the fall out of these developments and their potential impacts on Signum. How far do you believe Ophiuchus should become involved in these affairs? We’ll start with the First Chair of the International Relations Department Seamus Dolby.” 

“International relations has always been a sore topic for Signum and Ophiuchus,” Seamus drew with a pleasant smile. “We, as peacekeepers, have the responsibility of maintaining the peace of this continent while respecting the autonomy of the countries here. We can’t allow ourselves to hold political opinions about successions or unions between the countries. What we can do is act as a guiding hand and prevent things from derailing exponentially. I have full confidence that countries can maintain peace within themselves. All we have to do is help maintain the peace between the countries.”

“I agree with Seamus’s sentiments,” Nadinaline said next, “but I don’t believe that we should be completely apolitical. Our opinions of different countries help us to relate more to and understand the individuals that we’re helping. I, in fact, believe that each country should be able to have one member from their country as a first chair in Ophiuchus so that their voices can be heard.”

“Those are interesting perspectives, Scorpio noted. “But is it really possible to tip-toe around that line forever? That’s not really addressing any issues, is it? I mean, look at what’s happened in Capricorn and Aquarius. We’re peacekeepers, not politicians. Either we are action-takers guiding with an iron fist or mere observers watching the dominos slowly fall one after the other. We can’t be both. We have to choose. That’s a simple fact. I must say, I have a distaste for how middle-man-sounding my fellow chairs’ answers have been so far.”

Jericho studied Scorpio, unsure of what the saint candidate was trying to do.

He’s going against everything everyone else has said, Atienna provided. Perhaps, he’s acting as the ‘black sheep.’ It does so happen that many people become drawn to black sheep during times of tumult…

‘Black sheep.’ Jericho recalled Talib calling them a ‘partnership of black sheep’ during one of their cases together. 

“—either way, we can be certain that by the end of this year, Signum will be forever changed in a sense with everything going on.” Scorpio laughed. “Or maybe we’ll just end up right where we began. The question is, which one do the people of Signum think is best? I think we should move towards what the people will above all.”


Second Round Election Results 

Psychological Evaluations Department: Talib Al-Jarrah – 31 votes.

ELPIS Investigations Department: Leona Gloria-Angelo – 31 votes. 

International Relations Department: Seamus Dolby – 30 votes. 

General Investigations: Gabrielle Law – 28 votes.

Conductor Regulation: Katharina Groth – 20 votes.

Reservoir Conservation Department: William Saovàng – 18 votes.

Commerce Regulation Department: Luca D’Angelo – 16 votes

Communications Department: Saddine Agwuegbo – 10 votes.

Conductor & Vitae Research Department: Moraeni Pōʻai – 10 votes

Assignment Department: Nadinaline Delacroix – 6 votes

Medical Department: Hårek Ohmdahl – 6 votes

Conductor & Vitae Research / Literary Department: Sera Aliz – 5 votes.


Posted in the Reception Hall of the Serpens Establishment, February 18th, 1942

2 thoughts on “23.6: Peacekeeper—A Debate, Reflejando

  1. Thoughts while writing this chapter:

    Leona @ Jericho: paint me like one of your french cancerian girls
    ‘alternative title: jericho, surrounded by endless monologuers while he thumbs-up in confusion’
    this chapter is 10k words;; i probably could’ve split it eiaoruewior sorry TTTT

    Like

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