The Twin Cities is in chaos as ELPIS reigns through the streets. The six have come together to formulate a plan in order to resolve each of their interconnected issues. Cadence has successfully completed her portion of the plan and has captured the ELPIS leader Theta with Jericho’s assistance.
Werner is out of commission due to an override by Cadence but was previously looking into Colonel Fritz von Spiel’s invovlement with ELPIS after it was brought to his attention by Private Derik Stein. Von Spiel has been revealed to be a True Conductor connected to a child owned by the Campanas and to Aquarian secretary Yulia through Cadence’s and Atienna’s investigations.
As their plan unfolds, Werner’s role begins to come into play. And it’s all about trust.
Twin Cities, Gemini
Werner Waltz opened his eyes.
He immediately assessed his surroundings. He was lying on a firm bed; there was a sharp, antiseptic smell in the air; it was dim; and there was a brass sound trilling through the air. Saxophone. A record.
He was injured, clearly, given the way the back of his neck and arms felt sore. And he was forgetting something. The memory he sought, however, slipped from his fingers as soon as he reached for it. This prompted him to shuffle through his memories.
Firstly, Morello had overridden him, resulting in his injury. Given that occurrence, it was most likely that he was currently under Nico’s care.
He had allowed himself to be overridden twice within a month. A single error was already inexcusable. The same error made twice was unacceptable.
But that was not what he had been forgetting, so Werner temporarily set it aside as he searched his memory further.
Following a period of darkness, he had come to and had assisted Morello when she was captured by Caporegime Donato. He had overridden her and taken her place during Feliciano’s sadistic torturing. Yes, that had been a logical choice. However, there was a digression. At that moment when he had offered Morello his assistance, he had reached out for her with a comforting hand on the cheek.
Werner could not dissect why he had done such a thing. It hadn’t been appropriate. And it was rather… intimate. This issue too was insignificant, however, and Werner set it aside as well.
After he had assisted Morello, he had assisted Jericho in his conflict with Omega. The confrontation had been reckless, but the outcome was justifiable. ELPIS’s source of information and espionage had been cut off at the head.
Following this, he had guided Jericho back to the hotel since the man had seemed unstable. This was logical as well, but Werner couldn’t comprehend why he hadn’t directly advised Jericho to get a hold of himself and had instead assisted the peacekeeper quietly from the sidelines. Not significant.
Jericho had encountered Talib not so long after that, and Werner had observed their conversation from afar. The two peacekeepers had spoken of ‘trust’, and then Jericho had asked Talib to place one of his manipulated mediums on the colonel.
Werner forced himself up into a sitting position. The world around him spun, but he kept himself upright.
There was a white curtain drawn to his left, and behind it shadows danced in a backdrop of candlelight. Werner pulled the curtain open and found an older man in a lab coat sitting at a drab desk pressed against the wall. There was a candle flickering on the surface there and acting as the sole source of light in the room.
“Ah, I see you’ve finally woken up,” the man said, turning in his chair. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine. Thank you for your hospitality,” Werner responded. “Are you affiliated with Nico Fabrizzio?” He knew the answer already, but it would be suspicious not to ask.
“Yes, I’m Nico’s father actually,” Doctor Fabrizzio explained. He gestured around the room. “I apologize for the dismal conditions. The city’s power has been cut, it seems; and my portable generator conductor went out just the other day.”
“I see. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Doctor Fabrizzio,” Werner said. “Is Nico present?”
Doctor Fabrizzio smiled thinly, snapping his fingers. “Yes, he is. Let me retrieve him for you.” The doctor rose from his seat and exited the room, leaving Werner in dark and in silence.
Welcome back, Lieutenant! Just in time too! Told ya Nico does great stuff!
Cadence’s image appeared before Werner suddenly. The grin she wore quickly became a frown of concern. “You alright, Lieutenant?”
I’m fine, Morello. Re-inform me of the points in our plan.
Their synchronization increased slightly, and the memory of their discussion in the Sognare trickled to Werner gradually.
Cadence stiffened, reaching out and placing a hand on his shoulder. “Ya don’t remember yourself?”
There was no point in lying.
My recollection of everything that occurred while I was unconscious is hazy, Werner explained. It’s coming to me slowly, but I wanted to be clear on everything. And now I am.
“Well… that doesn’t sound like a bad thing. Hopefully, the whole thing with Feliciano’s escaped your memory too?”
No. I remember that clearly, but that’s not important.
Cadence blanched and rubbed the back of her neck. “I… I didn’t say this earlier ‘cause of everything that’s been happening but… Thank you for doing that, Werner. Sincerely. And don’t say there’s nothing ta thank ya for. There is.” A second of silence. “I’m sorry, Werner. I really am.”
Nothing is accomplished in being sorry, Morello, Werner informed her. Just be better.
Cadence half-laughed, half-sighed. “Ya got a way with inspirational words, Lieutenant…” Her gaze drifted down to his lap—no, his hands which rested on his lap.
They were bare, he realized. His hands were bare, his palms visible.
Before Werner could pull them away, however, Cadence placed her hand over them. Although she was not present, he could still feel the coolness of her touch.
Werner stiffened, unsure of how to respond. For once, however, he did not feel shame.
Cadence desynchronized abruptly as footsteps pounded up the hall. Nico stumbled into the room with black curls wild, face flushed from running, shirt disheveled. In his hands were Werner’s folded uniform and a glass of water.
“You’re—you’re awake,” Nico stammered. “I—my transmutation—I thought I missed something because you wouldn’t wake up. I’m…” He took a deep breath. “How’re you feeling? Do you have any prominent pain anywhere? I’m glad you’re alright.”
“Your work is good, Nico. My prolonged condition may have had something to do with me being a True Conductor.”
Nico handed him his uniform and the glass of water. “Then… you know what’s been happening? ”
“If you’re referring to what’s happening in the city at this moment, then yes, Nico. I am aware,” Werner replied after slipping on his gloves and then moving to take a sip of water. “I’m also aware that Cadence hasn’t been in contact with you recently.”
Nico took the empty glass from him and set it on the table. “I heard that she infiltrated the Campanas from Gilbert, but that’s it…” Nico frowned. “She overrode you, didn’t she?”
“That needs to be set aside, Nico. I am working in tandem with Cadence now to resolve our current issues here.” Werner felt a press at the back of his neck. “Cadence wanted me to tell you something.”
Nico’s brows rose. “Cadence did?”
Werner informed the man of Francis’s fate and ELPIS’s nature. It was a short debriefing, but it seemed to take its toll.
Nico fell pale afterwards and sank down to the bed beside him. He buried his head in his hands and remained silent. Finally, he turned to study Werner. His face was calm, expectant, waiting. “So do we have a plan?”
Werner was rather surprised at how readily Nico accepted these developments given his less than calm display earlier. It was a satisfactory change.
“Yes, we do,” Werner replied. “Where are the other men?”
“They’re actually in the rooms we have open here,” Nico drew dazedly. “I called them here as soon as the power went out. They… Well, Stein’s sorta figured out that I’m not from the best walk of life. Sorry about that—”
An odd tenseness in Werner’s shoulders released.
“Stein is awake?”
Nico nodded. “He woke up just the other day. He’s doin’ fine. Angry, as expected, but…” Nico moved forward. “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to move forward with my medical assessment first before—”
“Nico, I’m fine.”
Nico frowned, pulling out his conducting gloves from his pockets. “You’re my superior on the battlefield, Werner, but I’m your superior in this field.”
Werner considered this and conceded with a nod. Nico quickly, efficiently went through all the medical checks he usually would when they were in the field. Afterwards, he pulled back and beamed before leaving the room to allow Werner to change.
Werner slid on his uniform, straightened the medals on his chest, and combed back his platinum blonde hair. He then checked his pocket watch that had been stored safely away in his pants pocket.
Twelve hours exactly.
As he prepared to leave the room, a wooden picture frame resting on the desk caught his eye. After a moment of hesitation, he picked it up.
Captured in black and white, there was a group of six smiling children. There was a cross-armed, long-haired girl glaring at a freckled, boyish-looking girl. The latter had one arm slung over the shoulder of a calmly smiling, amused-looking boy and the other around the waist of a nervous-looking, curly-haired boy. Behind them stood a smirking, thick adolescent with crossed arms and a young man wearing an expression of indifference.
Werner could remember when this photograph was taken.
They had taken it using a portable camera stolen from an Ariesian tourist. They had spent all day choosing outfits for the picture, and it was nearly sundown when they had managed to all come together for it. Then they spent three hours trying to figure out how to get a good image out; and by dusk, they were at each other’s throats. Still, in the end, they came together to capture this single moment. Afterwards, Allen had treated them for some gelato as they waited for the v-lights on the Dioscuri Bridge to flicker on.
It was a warm memory.
A silhouette in the door’s threshold behind Werner became reflected on the picture’s surface.
“What is with you and wanting to hop right back in death’s door when you literally just got away from it?”
Gilbert was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed.
There were three seconds of silence.
“You feeling alright? Sleep good?”
“This is no time to be joking around, Gilbert.” Werner set the photograph down. “Were you able to submit the report about the colonel to the capital?”
Gilbert uncrossed his arms. “Yeah, I did. Klaus conjured a radio after the power went out.”
“The capital said they were going to run a preliminary investigation. Didn’t give us any directive, so I’m assuming they’re expecting us to just hang tight. Colonel’s gone AWOL too.” Gilbert grimaced. “Sorry.”
The development was not unexpected. Carrying on the plan without the capital’s personal mandate would be less than satisfactory, however. Werner was very aware that he had already acted outside of orders against a superior once. If he did it once more—regardless of his intentions—they would mark him down for misconduct and insubordination. He would appear rebellious and disorderly. Unsatisfactory.
Capricorn’s deal with the Romanos could be compromised by this plan going awry as well. And if the deal was compromised, then Capricorn would be at an impasse with Argo. And there was Gabrielle’s investigation to consider. If during the plan’s execution, Ophiuchus found out about the deal then—
Saints, ya think too much. It’ll be alright. Cadence. Below eighty percent synchronization. Like I said, I’ll make it right. Ya don’t have ta worry about your country’s dirty deeds bein’ caught on by Ophiuchus. I promise.
Right. The colonel held military secrets regarding Capricorn’s conductor development and most likely held classified information regarding Capricorn’s generator conductors and reservoirs. It wouldn’t be unfounded to believe that the colonel would trade these secrets for whatever ELPIS was offering if the offer involved Kovich. The desperation of connected True Conductors.
The thought unnerved Werner.
Regardless, sacrifices were necessary.
“It’s not your fault, Gilbert,” Werner finally said. “That was beyond your control.” He paused, approaching the man at the threshold and meeting his eyes. “Thank you for helping her—Morello—in her investigations of the Campanas.”
“No problem. Anyway, you two worked out your drama then, I’m assuming?” Gilbert shrugged before his expression soured. “So… do you know?” He tapped his head. “From Cadence?”
“Yes, I’m aware, Gilbert.” About the children.
“Makes me feel disgusting for even eating in places owned by those people.” Gilbert spat. “How the hell are they still operating? Ophiuchus is busy breathing down our necks about border agreements, but they’re letting this run? I hate sounding like those nationalists, but the hell is the point of them even being here?”
“I understand your feelings, but you need to remain calm,” Werner replied. “We need to focus on what we can manage.”
Gilbert’s eyes narrowed and then widened. “You mean… the colonel?”
Before Werner could respond, a pair of footsteps pounded up the hall. When Werner turned, he found Kleine doubled-over and panting.
“L-Lieutenant,” Kleine stammered after straightening to attention with a salute. “I-I heard you were awake, sir, and I’m glad to see you awake. But, sir, I need to tell you. My childhood friend Charite. She’s an ELPIS leader. I had no idea. I thought… it doesn’t make sense. I—”
“Dammit, Kleine!” Gilbert snapped. “Where is your respect? The man just woke up, and you want to barrage him with some half-assed explanation? He knows all that already.”
Kleine glanced in between them before he continued regardless, “I had no idea, Lieutenant. Believe me, sir. I really thought she was one of you. A True Conductor. But I—” Kleine fidgeted with his glasses. “I was completely wrong. I’m sorry, sir, if I’d known, I would have told you. I… I don’t understand it. But I promise you can trust me, sir.”
There was that word again.
“Kleine, calm down and lower your voice,” Werner ordered, holding up a hand. He scrutinized the man. “Has it ever occurred to you that I might be like Haussmann? That I might be affiliated with ELPIS?”
Kleine stiffened and stared, clearly confused. “What…? No, sir. Of course not.” He adjusted his glasses. “Is… Is this a test, sir?”
This was trust.
That was naïve. It was rank-and-file obedience.
Werner’s head buzzed.
“I’m going to need your assistance, Kleine,” Werner finally said. “I need to know if I can trust you, if I can rely on you.”
Kleine blinked out of his daze. “Rely on me?” He straightened and nodded. “Of course, sir.”
“Good.” Werner nodded before elaborating: “Colonel von Spiel is a True Conductor like myself. One of the individuals he is connected with is under the ownership of the Campanas—the organization that owns the restaurant you visited with Morello prior—and he is working with your childhood friend.”
Kleine startled, opened his mouth, closed it, digested the information. Finally, Kleine murmured, “He’s working with…. ELPIS?”
“I understand you have questions, Kleine,” Werner continued, “but I will address the remaining details with the others.”
After Werner collected his thoughts, he made his way into the reception room of Doctor Fabrizzio’s underground clinic. There he found all of his men that had accompanied him to this city waiting for him. Kleine and Bergmann were squeezed together on a small sofa in the corner of the room, while Stein and Gilbert were leaning against the wall. Nico stood off to the side, smiling lightly. They all stood at attention at his arrival, remaining silent and watchful.
Werner nodded at Stein whose left arm was slung up in cloth. “It’s good to see that you’ve recovered, Stein.”
“You too, Lieutenant.”
“Are you well enough to fire a rifle conductor?”
Stein straightened. “I’m always ready for a fight.” He moved his slung arm. “This is just for the ladies.”
Werner nodded at him before he began his debriefing:
“As you’ve been made aware, our true purpose in this city is not for luxury and recess. We were meant to act as a cover for Capricorn’s engagement with a crime organization that supplies us with modifier conductors. These were the orders handed down to us by the capital.”
Bergmann sank down into her seat, bunching her pants legs in her hands.
“Colonel Fritz von Spiel has been colluding with ELPIS for unknown reasons. It most likely involves his unsanctioned dealings that my associate investigated on my behalf. Stein found evidence of the ELPIS collusion this prior to his injury.”
Kleine nodded. Bergmann gasped. Stein grunted. Nico lowered his gaze, while Gilbert remained impassive.
“Then everything that’s been happening in the city…” Bergmann murmured before rising to a stand. “Has the capital been informed? What are we supposed to do?”
“What do you think the lieutenant is talking to us for, Bergman?” Stein scoffed.
“Stein, no one asked—”
“I am giving you all a briefing,” Werner interjected. “If you believe that what you have to say is an important point that I’m not aware of, then you can speak. If it is just commentary or questions that will be answered during this briefing, I ask you to remain silent.”
The two quieted.
“There are no orders from the capital regarding what to do with the colonel. In fact, they have indirectly requested us to stand by,” Werner continued. He allowed a brief pause of silence. “I am choosing to move forward and put the colonel under arrest. I will clarify that this differs from former major Ersatz’s—” Werner’s stomach churned, but he pushed it aside. “—betrayal. This is not a defensive position. This is offense.”
There was a beat of silence, and Werner could feel all of their gazes boring into him.
“I understand that given all the secrecy and lack of certainty in these developments, you may be hesitant to follow behind me.”
There was another beat of silence, but none of them exchanged looks as he’d been expecting.
“But what I am asking from you is not your blind obedience,” Werner stated. “What I am asking for is your trust and your assistance. I will take full responsibility for it.”
Werner met each of their gazes—the gazes of soldiers who had served beneath him for almost over two years now. They stared back at him, either wide-eyed or perplexed.
Werner knew his request was large and unprofessional. He had no doubt that their opinion of him had most likely decreased with this, but at the moment that wasn’t what was important.
“There are certain details I cannot divulge to you, but what I can tell you is this: the colonel is going directly against Capricorn’s interest and may compromise the country that we’ve served and protected all of these years.” Werner’s hands began to itch, and he had to take a moment to compose himself to continue: “Trust is something traded. You should know what I mean when I say this. So what is your answer?”
There was another stretch of silence, and Werner could easily count the seconds that ticked by without glancing at his pocket watch.
“Yes, sir!” In unison, in chorus, with the same certainty, they all stood at attention.
Their conviction was startling. And Werner had to carefully hide away his surprise with a curt nod of confirmation.
Gilbert paced over to him, placed a hand on his shoulder, and whispered, “Did you really even need to ask?”
The risk of their non-compliance had to be evaluated and accounted for, so of course, he had to ask—is what Werner wanted to say. Instead, however, he addressed them firmly: “I will now debrief you on what our next steps will be.”
On the morning of the plan’s execution, Werner ordered Kleine to conjure conducting rifles and normal ranged weaponry. Although they did not need this many weapons to capture the colonel, the city was at war with itself and precautions were necessary.
As Kleine rested and as they were loading and cleaning the weapons, Werner consulted Cadence and Jericho through eighty percent synchronization. The two had successfully detained Theta on their end; and Talib had just arrived at their warehouse. Werner watched in his mind’s eye as Jericho pulled Talib to the side and requested information on the medium that had placed on the colonel.
As the information regarding the colonel’s whereabouts trickled down to Werner, he and his men took to the streets.
The streets and alleys of the Twin Cities were dark and in chaos. People tore through the walkways and roads, either running at each other with weapons or away from each other with money. Every so often, the resounding cracks of gunfire would pepper the air and would be followed by the sharp whine of vitae ray fire. The smog clouds overhead would reflect back the bursts of vitae light and illuminate certain blocks briefly.
The atmosphere reminded Werner of the skirmishes on the fronts. His men seemed comfortable as they stalked the streets beside him, so it appeared to be a shared sentiment.
They encountered several hostile parties as they wove their way through the city. The first was a group of delinquents aiming for extortion. The second was a group of ELPIS cultists who demanded that they repent with their lives for carrying conductors. The third was a cluster of Twin Cities police officers who attempted to put them under arrest for being out past the set curfew.
None of these groups, however, were as efficiently trained as the enemies Werner had encountered during border service, nor were they as efficiently trained as Werner’s own men.
A shot to the leg of the ringleader of the first group acted as a signal for that group’s tactical retreat. A larger skirmish occurred with the ELPIS group. As with every ELPIS encounter, Jericho’s wrath surged beneath the surface. With difficulty, Werner kept focus, and the cultists were dismantled with a series of vitae rays and without casualties on Werner’s end. The third group was settled with Cadence’s assistance and suggestion: multiple rolls of Geminian cens.
But these were all distractions. The colonel was their key battle.
And as Jericho and Talib directed, Werner found Colonel Fritz von Spiel stepping out from a familiar shop with shattered windows on a dark, deserted street. There was a lollipop sign hanging down from the extended roof of the shop, and its storefront was littered with discarded candy wrappers and ribbons. Tucked under the colonel’s arm as he headed down the street was a gift basket filled with an assortment of sweets wrapped in plastic and topped with a bow.
Peering at the colonel from around the corner of the block, Werner slung his conducting rifle over his shoulders and pulled out a common handgun from his side. He signaled for his men to go around to the back of the strip before stalking the colonel quietly from behind.
When he was within a meter of the man, Werner calmly ordered, “Put your hands in the air, Colonel.”
An Externalist fired a conductor somewhere in the distance, lighting up the clouded sky with a flash of blue light.
The colonel stopped in his tracks just in front of the alleyway that divided the candy shop from a coffee shop. He peered over his shoulder, frowning. “What do you think you’re doing, First Lieutenant Waltz?”
“Colonel Fritz von Spiel, you have been found to be in collusion with the terrorist organization ELPIS and are suspected of divulging to them military secrets,” Werner stated calmly. “For this reason, I am taking you into custody.”
“What? I’m your superior, Werner,” the colonel said. “Where is your evidence? Without that, all I see is insubordination.”
The man was obviously scrambling.
The clouds darkened above them.
“There is a key witness who saw you conversing with an ELPIS leader—”
“You mean Stein?” The colonel scoffed. “He’s spent his entire time here with more alcohol in his bloodstream than there is in all of Gemini’s wineries. He’s hardly a reliable witness.”
“If you have nothing to hide, sir,” Werner stated calmly, “then please come in and testify. The capital is already running a separate investigation. I will take responsibility for my misconduct if it comes to that.”
“Alright then,” the colonel said.
There was a pause.
The colonel’s hand darted for his waist.
Werner aimed and fired without hesitation. The gunshot resounded through the streets as the skyline was once again lit up by the glow of vitae in the distance.
The colonel snarled, grabbing hold of his hand that now hosted a bullet-sized hole. The gun that the man had been reaching for clattered uselessly to the ground. Despite being wounded and deprived of his weapon, however, the colonel still kept the basket tucked tightly under his arm.
The colonel abruptly took down the alleyway at his left—just as calculated.
Werner dashed after him, side-stepping the glass bottles and trash bins that were carelessly scattered around. The colonel’s footing was not as exact, however, and the man tripped over a glass bottle before falling forward face-first. The basket flew from his hands, landing half a meter away. The colonel scrambled forward desperately, stopping short as he registered that Werner’s men stood guard only two meters down the alleyway. Grimacing, the colonel pulled himself up to a stand and picked the basket off the ground just as Werner neared him.
“This is ridiculous.” The colonel glowered at Werner and then at Werner’s men who drew closer. “Did the capital order this pursuit? This is absurd. This is insubordination.”
Just as Werner was about to take another step forward, three white-hot iron bars lit up the dark alley and bulleted the ground in front of him.
This was a good development, Werner thought calmly. It appeared as if all their assumptions required for this plan were holding.
The colonel’s eyes brightened up at the sight of the bars. The man then became ecstatic when the iron bars rose high from the ground and turned their tips towards Werner. Their target was clear.
The bars hurtled downwards—
—and then Kleine stepped in front of Werner.
The iron bars halted immediately mid air. The colonel paled in confusion, searching the skyline with desperation.
“C-Charite, I don’t know what happened to you,” Kleine called out to the dark, “but please—let’s talk. Please, Charite.”
A lengthy stretch of silence ensued before a figure dropped down from the fire escape right between Kleine and the colonel.
The snake-like tattoo on the left side of her face was unmistakable.
Werner’s hand twitched, and it took a minute for him to suppress the urge to lift his handgun and shoot her through the head then and there.
This was the first time Werner had seen the woman himself. Her body was poised for combat like that of a soldier, but her gaze was softer than he had expected.
Gilbert and Bergmann tensed from behind the woman, while Stein tightened his grip on his conducting rifle. Nico studied her silently, curiously, hopefully.
“Klaus,” Omicron whispered, “you should leave this city—no, the country. You don’t understand what you’re getting involved in.”
“You know I can’t leave.” Kleine nodded at the colonel standing behind her. “I have a duty.”
Omicron’s eyes narrowed. “So do I—”
“You know someone named Theta, right?” Kleine interjected.
Omicron froze, eyes wide, face pale. “How do you know that name, Klaus…?”
Kleine’s face crumpled. “I’m sorry, Charite. Right now Theta is currently being held captive by another group. That group reached out to us because they have an interest in the colonel too.”
A truth twisted into a half-lie.
“Their demands are—”
“Release the prisoners you have captive,” Werner finished. “No harm will come to Theta if you do this. If you don’t, they will kill him. If you contact any members of ELPIS, they will also kill him.”
The rage in Omicron’s eyes was undeniable; and with a flick of her wrists, she sent the metal pipes flying up in the air again.
“If you are concerned about the children owned by the Campanas,” Werner drew coolly, “I have received information that they are being freed through the joint effort of Ophiuchus and the party that asked us to deliver this request.”
A disturbing expression of both horror and relief eclipsed the colonel’s face, while Omicron’s expression became unreadable.
“It is your choice whether or not to believe me,” Werner continued. “What happens to those children and Theta next is entirely based on your decision.”
Omicron stared at him. If she did not agree to this, he could still get a head-shot in. Of course, the fall-out would be catastrophic, and the rest of the plan would unravel. It was an irritatingly unavoidable risk that had to be taken. All of it was.
Omicron lowered her hand, causing the floating steel beams to lose their white glow and clatter to the floor uselessly.
“Y-You can’t be really considering this, woman,” the colonel stammered, grabbing Omicron by the shoulder. “I completed every single request you had. I gave you your information. I bought all the children besides Kovich. You said you would give us that proto-conductor. You said we could escape—”
“How will I know where to go?” Omicron asked, brushing aside the colonel’s hand.
Somewhere in the distance, Jericho exchanged a word with Talib.
In the next moment, a colorful slip of origami paper that was outlined in dark blue light slipped out from the colonel’s pants pocket. It fluttered above Omicron’s head, and she plucked it from the air.
“That will lead you to the location of where Theta is being imprisoned after you’ve met your end of the bargain,” Werner explained.
“A Manipulator capable of putting up a strong observational medium…” Omicron concluded. An expression of pain passed over her.
Werner suspected she was thinking of Omega.
Omicron pocketed the slip of paper and drew out one of Theta’s proto-conductors. She tapped it against the alley wall behind her, and a door ignited in pale tangerine light there. Stein and Gilbert lifted their conducting rifles in alarm, but Werner held his hand in the air, signaling them to stand down.
“Klaus, I…” Omicron locked eyes with Kleine before lowering her head and stepping into the light.
Kleine took a step forward, but Werner placed a halting hand on the man’s shoulder.
“No…” The colonel dropped the basket and stumbled towards the glowing portal just as it dimmed into black. The colonel stared at the dark spot for a prolonged moment before he threw himself against the alley wall again and again. “No! No! No!” He pounded the wall with his fist. “You promised me! Come back!”
The man’s cool, suave, collected demeanor shattered in an instant, leaving Werner and his evidently gaping men startled. But perhaps this was Von Spiel’s true demeanor. As Cadence always said, appearances were deceiving.
“Dammit!” the colonel snapped, whipping around and glaring at Gilbert. “This is all your damn fault! Yours!”
“The hell…” Gilbert grimaced, cocking his rifle. “I’m not the one who made you—”
“It wasn’t enough that I lost all my inheritance putting it in the market to try to get enough back to buy him, but you had to make me take this stupid mission! Made me take those damn funds out from the country’s damn treasury!” the colonel spat. He paused, staring past Gilbert and snarling. “Of course, they’ll know it was me! They probably already know at the capital since they already started their investigations! I’ll be thrown in prison!”
Gilbert exchanged a look with Werner over the colonel’s shoulder.
Atienna. Werner reached out to her lightly, keeping their synchronization as low as he could as to not distract himself. Monitor—
I know, Werner. Be careful.
“You are suggesting that you have embezzled money from the Capricornian government,” Werner stated. “That will be an additional reason for your arrest—”
“Like hell, you helped me get this damn position!” The colonel grabbed hold of all the medals on his chest and tore them off their seams. “I never wanted this! You made me want this!” He threw the medals on the ground and stomped on them. “Why couldn’t we just take our time?! I was fine working in the damn capital! I could’ve worked my way up to a higher salary! All we had to do was be patient!”
Bergmann and Kleine were looking to Werner now in confusion. Gilbert frowned. Stein appeared rather disgusted, and Nico simply looked concerned.
The colonel abruptly fell silent, hanging his head, before he turned to Werner suddenly and held out his wrists. His expression was eerily calm. Werner signaled Stein with two fingers.
Slinging his conducting rifle over his shoulders, Stein moved forward and cuffed the colonel. Before Stein pulled away, however, the colonel grabbed hold of Stein’s wrist.
“At least kindly light one last smoke for me, would you?”
Stein grimaced, but then glanced back at Werner who nodded. Stein scowled, removed a box of cigars from the colonel’s pocket, lit one, before shoving it haphazardly into the man’s mouth. The colonel puffed calmly, acting as if his former irate outburst had been someone else’s.
Gilbert joined Stein on the other side of the colonel and together the two jailed him in tight, secure.
Werner ordered Bergmann to sweep the streets outside of the alleyway with Kleine. As Werner watched the two set off down the alley, he collected his thoughts.
All they would need to do now was safely transport the colonel back to Doctor Fabrizzio’s clinic and wait for the rest of the plan to unfold. As soon as the power was restored, he would return to Capricorn with a ready report via v-train. His superiors would decide the rest.
Werner checked his pocket watch. Eleven hours, eleven minutes, and eleven seconds exactly.
They were ahead of schedule—
“—never forgive you. I won’t forgive you. You—”
Anguish and rage clashed together in Werner’s chest. It was an overwhelming tidal wave, nearly submerging him in despair.
Something had gone wrong.
On Atienna’s and Maria’s end.
Werner’s head pounded as his chest curled in on itself.
This suffocating feeling belonged to—
“I won’t ever, ever forgive someone who has taken something that’s mine!”
The sorrow was sharp and painful, like a knife. The feeling of personal loss. Something he had never experienced before and—with the way Maria was reacting—something Maria had never experienced as well.
A hand on his shoulder dragged Werner out of the whirlpool of heartache. Gilbert was standing beside him with an expression of concern.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Werner. What’s going on?”
Werner looked past Gilbert towards the colonel. Von Spiral was still handcuffed rigidly beside Stein, but was now gawking at Werner with incredulity.
“You…” The colonel realized, his cigar falling out of his hands onto the ground. “You’re one too.”
And then something went wrong on Cadence and Jericho’s end.
Before Werner could even comprehend the events that had unfolded so shortly one after another, a terrible, inhuman screeching whine clawed its way through the air. It resounded from all directions. From below, from above, from beside, from between—from the black spot on the alleyway wall that Omicron had stepped into. A crack of white appeared there, stretching open wide and wider until it took the shape of the familiar glowing door. But no one stepped out from it.
“Saints. Werner, look…”
Gilbert was pointing at the sky.
The smog clouds were afire with the reflection of pale—almost white—tangerine light.
But this was not an event restricted only to their square in the city.
Werner could see it all—through the eyes of all those within the city whom he was connected with:
Every single street corner, every single building, every single surface in the Twin Cities was littered with glowing portals. It was as if every single gate Theta had within the city was now wide and open.
And from all of those spatial distortions, a singular, familiar voice cracked out in anguish: “There really is no hope.”
“Colonel Fritz von Spiel’s remarkable achievements in the past three years are exceptional. Once hailed as the record-holder for Capricorn’s most military failures, Von Spiel has flipped every single one of his defeats into a victory. He has shown heart, passion, and dedication to improvement. Moreover, he has shown the Capricornian public that any soldier can rise to bring good to Capricorn regardless of past grievances.
As his father states with utmost affection: It’s almost as if he’s become a different person.”Der Militärzeitung, Wöchentliche Ausgabe #78, 17 August 1939