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Vestal Sins: Chapter 2: Surrendering to the Tide
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<arthur_wellesly@hotmail.com>
Date: 26 June 2009, 3:18 am

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       Was this really the face of a monster?

       Eyal studied the battered face of Isaac Gables through the one-way mirror. The cut on his nose had not yet clotted—a few drops of blood still dripped into his already thickly matted beard. His swollen eyes were downcast, hidden by the untamed mass of grey-streaked hair that sprang in every direction from his face. His hands were folded on the metal tabletop, the rudimentarily bandaged right resting gently upon the other. Gables sat perfectly still in his chair, such that it almost appeared as if he were not breathing. Only a few twitches of his head assured Eyal that his prisoner had not expired.

       He remembered the little girl's assessment of Gables earlier: a frightened animal. It took very little stretch of the imagination for him to see it, too.

       Eyal looked downed at the file he held in his hands. It was Major Cordova's service record that the Militia had kindly forwarded to him. He had to admit, it was an impressive tome. Cordova joined with the Vesta Expeditionary Force in 2531, heading out along with the first big drive. Saw action at Harvest in '31, Purple Heart. Earned his commission at Jericho, '35—another Purple heart. Picked up a Bronze Star for shipboard combat during the Atlas Moons Campaign, '37; a Silver Star at Katowice, '41; another Silver Star at Sihnon, '48; a Medal of Honor for actions at Boston, during the First Battle of Earth. The man had been decorated with more campaign ribbons than he could count, along with almost a dozen lesser medals and a slew of general accolades. Eyal clucked his tongue. A genuine war hero.

       He raised his head once more to look at Gables, still sitting motionless in the interrogation chair. For a moment Eyal's mind slipped back to Waverleigh Heights, and he saw instead Cordova tied to his chair, blood still oozing from the hole in the back of his head. Eyal steeled himself. Frightened or no, he was dealing with a monster.

       The door opened with a sharp squeak behind him, and Assistant District Attorney Melanie Haskell slipped in. "Hello, Eyal," she greeted him with a warm smile.

       "Melanie," he said with a nod, watching as she shut the door. Her tall frame was dressed in a crisp black suit and her blonde hair was tied back in an elegant ponytail, not a strand out of place. He could never quite figure how she maintained her immaculate appearance after the long hours of her day. Next to the motley crew of cops, with their frayed suits smelling of stale coffee, Haskell always stood out like the moon against the stars.

       She strode over to stand next to him, peering through the mirror like a visitor studying a curiosity at the zoo. "This is the guy?" she asked him flatly. "You sure?"

       "More or less," he returned. "He matches a witness' description, and was seen on camera leaving the crime scene. We got our CSUs turning out his apartment. They've already recovered a handgun that matches our murder weapon. They're running the tests now."

       "Well, we need to be sure about this," she said. "Stanley wants this one tied off before it even makes the evening news. But there can't be any fuck-ups. He wants a confession."

       "I'm glad he thinks so highly of my skills," he retorted. "I'll do my best, Melanie, but he doesn't seem like the cooperative type. He'll plead insanity, regardless."

       "Doesn't matter. As long as we have a name and a face to give the networks."

       They were silent for a few moments, together sharing the company of a man entirely unaware of their presence. It was Haskell who, at length, broke the silence. "You coming over tonight?" she asked evenly.

       Eyal sighed, unconsciously scratching the back of his head. "I got a lot of work to do," he said slowly.

       She looked at him meaningfully. "How would that be different from any other day?"

       He had reserved this day for private indulgences, to do all the things he wished he could do every day if only exhaustion did not drive him to a premature sleep. To delve into the memories of his past without fear of distracting himself from all the pressing matters that assaulted him at work. And to do these things away from the constant scrutiny, real or imagined, of all the people in his life.

       This ambition already dashed, he committed to indulging his other needs. "Alright," he acceded. "As soon as I'm done with this."

       She just smiled, and remained silent.

       The door opened, and Eyal turned to see Mantega and Singh enter the room. Singh, as ever, looked hassled and tired, but wore on her face an expression of mild relief.

       "You got him," she said wearily.

       "Well, due process and all that, Captain," he returned with a smirk. "But I believe so, yes."

       Singh returned the smile and then turned to Haskell. "Melanie," she said, greeting the ADA with a nod. "You were prompt. Stanley must have a stick up his ass over this one."

       "You have no idea, Captain," she returned earnestly. "Has he asked for counsel yet?"

       "No," Mantega interjected. She had a glint in her eye as she regarded Haskell. "When I offered he practically snarled at me."

       "If only they were all so generous," Eyal said wistfully.

       Mantega chuckled. "We've contacted legal aid, but they're, uh, real busy over there just now."

       "And the injuries?" Singh inquired.

       "A nasty fall," Eyal assured her.

       "I see." She seemed disinclined to pursue the matter further. "Well, I'm sure Ms. Haskell is looking for a confession."

       "Indeed she is," Eyal said. "But it would be a whole lot easier if we knew anything about the man. Any luck finding that out, Captain?"

       "No," Singh replied, weariness again seeping into her voice. "There are only a handful of Isaac Gables planetside, and they're all accounted for. It's an alias. Unfortunately that's all I can tell you for now."

       "Didn't you run his prints?"

       "We're doing it now, but it's taking a while." Singh frowned. "Lee thinks the system might be down."

       "This Goddamn city," Eyal muttered, shaking his head. "Well, I'll see if I can get a confession from our nameless perp. I'll have him sign it 'X.'"

       Eyal and Mantega left the room, and approached the door to the adjoining interrogation room. Just outside, Mantega grabbed Eyal's elbow and pulled him close. "You didn't tell me you were fucking the ADA," she said accusingly. Eyal raised his eyebrows and began to speak, but Mantega only smirked and opened the door.

       Isaac jumped from his trancelike state at the sound of the door, casting wide, unblinking eyes in their direction. Upon recognizing them, he simply scowled and continued to stare at the table.

       "Little nervous, Gables?" Mantega asked, circling the room like a shark. "Or whatever the fuck your name is?"

       Isaac remained silent, adamantly staring at nothing.

       Mantega glanced at Eyal. "Maybe we should just give him up to the Militia," she suggested with a shrug. This seemed to do little to faze Isaac, who, were it not for a few involuntary twitches, Eyal would have suspected to be in a catatonic state.

       Eyal slowly seated himself on the chair opposite their suspect. "Look, Isaac," he began, reluctantly settling into the gentler role Mantega had left for him. "It's over. We got you. We've found the murder weapon in your apartment, we found the silencer, and we have you on camera leaving the scene. And I'm betting those cuts on your hand have Cordova's blood in them." He waited for a moment in vain for a reaction.

       "I don't know if there's any part of you that still cares about anything," Eyal continued. "I don't know if you care about your people, or your homeworld, or what's left of humanity, but if you give up now, you'll save a lot of time, and money, and suffering. Let us not waste resources we don't have acting out a fantasy where your guilt is actually in question."

       When his plea was met with silence, Mantega snorted. "Look at him. He doesn't care. He's gotta be a refugee."

       "I ain't no fucking fugee!" Isaac spat, suddenly rearing his head.

       Eyal was taken aback by the outburst, and so hurriedly continued to conceal his surprise. "You would be put in jail, Isaac, and you could stare at the walls all you liked until the world forgets about you. That's what you want, isn't it? You didn't try very hard to flee from your crime. Just make it easy on yourself, and us. Confess, and let's end this charade."

       Isaac was now looking into Eyal's eyes, but he still refused to answer. He unconsciously massaged his broken hand and stared defiantly back at him.

       "Not gonna give it up, eh Isaac?" Mantega asked, sensing Eyal's defeat. "You want to continue to live in a fantasy, where you didn't kill Luis Cordova, and where your name really is Isaac Gables. Well tell me," she said, seating herself on the edge of the table next to him, "who are you really? What happened to you that would drive you to torture and murder, and to suck up our few remaining resources to prove what we already Goddamn know? You're not a refugee, apparently, so what does that make you? A native Vestal?" She paused for effect as he continued to look at Eyal. "Okay then. But from whereabouts, I wonder. From around here?" She pretended to study him. "No, I don't think so. I'd wager you're from the South… another Southern simpleton lost in the big city. No wonder he was pissing his britches—probably never seen the inside of a police station that wasn't a shithouse." His eye twitched, but Isaac remained still.

       "All this electricity got you dazed and confused, Isaac?" she continued, leaping like a tiger upon this reaction. "Big city lights get you disoriented? Small minds turn to violence when thrown from their element. What happened—that northern Militiaman disrespected your miserable fucking culture?" Isaac, apparently steeling himself, remained composed under Mantega's latest verbal salvo.

       "You don't react to much, do you Isaac?" Eyal asked, trying to penetrate his glassy stare. "You keep concentrating on a single spot. Someone teach you to do that?"

       Mantega leaned a little closer to Isaac. "It's interesting—the weapon you used to kill Cordova is a standard VEF issued firearm. You in the army, Isaac? Is that it? I hear Cordova was a harsh man—did you serve with him? Did he cross you?" She made a sudden move to grab his wounded wrist and began to retract his sleeve. Though handcuffed, Isaac seized her arm and pulled her sharply forward, dragging her from the tabletop. Eyal rounded the table in a bound and roughly grasped his bandaged hand, slamming it upon the table. Isaac internalized his pain, but immediately released Mantega.

       "Like a fucking animal," she murmured as she pulled Isaac's sleeve up to his elbow. On the underside of his forearm was a tattoo approximately six inches long, depicting the familiar form of Vesta, her sharp-featured face turned to profile with a sword held aloft above her head. It was a departure from her usual detached serenity, though it had become all too familiar over the past thirty years.

       "Mark of the VEF," Eyal said, examining the design.

       Mantega shook her head and clucked her tongue. "I really didn't think you would be," she sighed. "A man who faced the Covenant… who faced down the ultimate Other… who saw the End with his own eyes… turning on one of his own like that. I can't fathom it… can't fathom what kind of twisted piece of shit could do that."

       At last, Isaac inclined his head towards Mantega. "Shut your fucking mouth. You don't know what you're talking about." He sullenly crossed his arms, gingerly resting his bandaged hand upon the opposite arm. "I'm nothing like him."

       "Like who, Isaac?" Eyal pressed. "The man you killed?"

       He just shook his head. "I'm not a monster."

       "Really?" Mantega asked. "Because you left some pretty compelling evidence that you are."

       Isaac strained his head towards hers. "I don't kill children," he hissed.

       "And Cordova did?" Eyal ventured, trying for a solid confession.

       He held his penetrating gaze into her eyes. "If you take a life before it's lived, you're a monster. And you deserve to die."

       Isaac's aphorism was greeted with a momentary silence. Mantega seemed to be unable to conjure a response; Eyal, for his part, could not avert his eyes from the burning intensity of Isaac's glare.

       They were spared a graceless recovery by a knock on the door.

       Eyal and Mantega promptly exited, leaving Isaac to return to his impassive state. Lee and Singh stood expectantly outside, the former clutching a folder in his hand.

       "Well?" Mantega demanded.

       "We finally got a hit on his prints," Lee said. "Off the VEF database." He opened the folder. "His real name is Isaac Stahl. Born 2515 in Cedar Gables, a small town in the South."

       Mantega grunted. "Cedar Gables," she repeated.

       "Lost both his parents in his youth," Lee continued. "He was put in an orphanage in Daesan in '24, spent most of his childhood there. Enlisted 2534 out of high school, discharged the following year for unspecified reasons and committed to a military psych hospital here in Massilia. Released in '36. He's stayed in the city and has been employed in various manufactories since then. He practically fell through a hole in the fucking earth since '53—no idea what he's been up to. All I can tell you is that he hasn't been receiving his medication for the past three years."

       "Fantastic," Mantega said.

       "Anyone in Cedar Gables who might actually know this guy?" Eyal asked.

       Lee shook his head. "Place doesn't even exist anymore."

       "What?" Singh demanded.

       "Happened to lots of little Southern hamlets," Lee explained. "Conscription rate got so high by the end that entire towns were depopulated of young people. Everyone that was left moved to the factories in the cities. The South is about as urbanized as we are now."

       "Any family at all?" Eyal asked.

       "I could only find his parents and a sister. All deceased."

       "Alright," Eyal said, turning back to Mantega. "Let's see if we can use any of that."

       They returned to the interrogation room, Isaac still sitting in his approximation of a marble statue.

       "Holding up well, Mr. Stahl?" Mantega asked, gaining the man's attention rather sooner than her first attempt. His eyes narrowed in suspicion as he regarded her.

       "Yes, we know all about you, Isaac Stahl," she said. "Your tat is a little misleading, isn't it? I mean, if you're discharged in less than a year and thrown in the nuthouse, can you really say that you've served?"

       "You said it," he growled in return, his tongue flicking across his front teeth. "Not me."

       "And yet you bear that mark?" she shook her head with a sigh. "If it were me—if your disgrace were mine—I would burn it off with acid, or tear it from my flesh with my fingernails. Even if I were stayed by cowardice or false pride, I would never have the gall to kill a war hero, no matter what crime I'd dreamed he had committed."

       "Shut your mouth, you fucking cunt!" Stahl shouted, his voice infused with fury. "You've got no fucking idea what you're talking about."

       "Tell me, then, Stahl," Eyal started, edging nearer to him. "What did he do to deserve what you did to him? From what recess of your mind did you pass judgment on this man? What urgency compelled you to rob not one but two men from humanity's hour of need? The same conviction, no doubt, that had you pissing on the grave of your family, and on the carcass of Cedar Gables."

       Stahl screeched a guttural howl, nearly upending the steel table as he lunged wildly towards Eyal. Though handcuffed and chained to his seat, he generated enough momentum to seize his lapel with both hands, dragging him to the floor as his shackles unbalanced him from his lunge. Eyal wrenched his hand away by twisting his wounded wrist and pinned his arm to the ground with his knee. Mantega rushed forward to help restrain the wild man.

       "There's no one left," Stahl breathed, once subdued. "No one."

       "What are you talking about?" Eyal demanded, out of breath.

       "He deserved it," he said in barely more than a whisper. "He had to die."

       "Who did?" Eyal pushed Stahl harder against the floor.

       "Cordova," he said at last. "He deserved… far worse than I could give him."

       Stahl closed his eyes and let his head fall to one side. Eyal looked to Mantega, who returned his gaze with a subdued expression of triumph. They rose and together righted their exhausted captive in his chair, neither saying another word.

       They returned to the observation room, where Singh greeted them with a rare look of satisfaction. "Well done, officers," she said.

       "He could plead improper coercion," Mantega replied, her voice restrained.

       Haskell, leaning against the wall, laughed softly at this. "He most certainly will," she chuckled. "But it'll do for now. It'll make a fine headline. I have to take personal affront to your methods, though, Michelle—I am, after all, a Southern girl."

       Mantega spread her hands and smiled faintly. "Just doing my job."

       "And very well done. I'll tell Stan the good news."

       As Haskell left, Singh turned to them with her more customary expression of stony unrest. "Alright. Close this one off. File your paperwork quickly and have it in order for the DA's office ASAP. With the Militia breathing down my neck I want to be rid of this son of a bitch fast."

       "Yes ma'am," Mantega acknowledged as Singh was already leaving.

       Left alone in the room together, Mantega seemed unable to meet his eyes. She roved the room searching for some triviality to set her focus upon, and at last decided on their battered suspect in the adjacent room. "Nice turn, Eyal," she said. "At the end."

       "Thank you," he replied. "And Michelle?"

       At last she faced him. "Yes?" she asked guardedly.

       "I would take it as a kindness if you could file the paperwork. As recompense for lost time, if you will. I have something I'd like to take care of."

       "Yes, of course. Do you have something in mind?"

       "Nothing special." He picked up Cordova's vitae which he had discarded earlier upon the desk. "I feel compelled to liaise with our friends—inform them of our good fortune."

       Mantega narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "You think there was something to Stahl's ravings?"

       "Why so cynical?" he asked caustically. "I merely wish to celebrate this hour of common triumph."

       "Fine," she said. She stopped him by the elbow as he left the room. "All that I said in there…" she began.

       He shrugged. "You were just doing your job, Michelle."

       "…Mr. Lansing will remain in Massilia until the election next week," the reporter intoned over the radio. The United Party candidate returned to his native city last night after an extensive tour of the Southern provinces. Mr. Lansing will be attending a last minute fundraiser on Thursday to fund his final campaign drive, and will be otherwise engaged at various rallies scheduled every day until Election Day."

       Eyal navigated the crowded streets of the Taiga Dockyard, only half-listening to the news. The twisting roads of the docks were perpetually clogged with vehicles, so much so that the freshly fallen snow had not yet been plowed but was merely crushed under wheel to a slick, brownish sludge. The sidewalks teemed with people; the day nearly over, an army of dockworkers fought to get home while time still afforded some respite besides sleep.

       The Taiga Dockyard was the turbulent confluence of Massilia's land, sea, and space transportation networks. Dominated by its twin space elevators, nicknamed Castor and Pollux, the docks were the material lifeline to what remained of the outside world. Much of the shipbuilding work which had sustained Vesta for so long was done on the surface and sent to the orbital platforms via the elevators. The requisite metals came by sea from the Northern mines, or from the few remaining mining colonies further afield. The city's continuous flow of human cargo landed elsewhere on the coastal plains to the east, where most of the camps were located.

       "Lansing's Vesta Party opponent Maria Renka continues to shore up support in her traditional Southern strongholds," the reporter continued. "Lansing holds a solid majority in nearly every province, putting the president decidedly on the defensive. For his part, the United Party candidate has maintained a subdued confidence over the past weeks as his numbers in the polls continue to climb."

       "'We have come a long road, my friends,'" Lansing's authoritative voice sounded, immediately capturing Eyal's attention. "'We have sacrificed all to defeat enemies which only thirty years ago we would never dared to imagine existed. Now that they are gone we are left alone, battered but unbroken. Our course now should be clear—yet some still shy away from our Earth kin, who among their sacrifices must count their own world. Did we fend off the Covenant hordes to submit to the ancient evil of faction? Do we flee from victory into the cold embrace of instinct?

       "'No. My friends, I ask you: we must, all of us, cast down the demons of our past and forge a new future as one people. They have left deep scars on the body of humanity, and none alive will ever see them healed. But we can rebuild. We can create. We can find, as we always have, the ray of light amidst the darkness pulled around our ears.'"

       Eyal switched off the radio at the speech's conclusion. Having reached his destination, he sat for a moment in his car, studying Cordova's vitae that rested on his lap. Certainly, his coming here was not in the spirit of Lansing's vision, nor even of his own philosophy. The passion of the speech very nearly compelled Eyal to restart his car and return home. Yet, once set upon a thing, he had always found it hard to turn back. And so, carried on the dubious wings of inertia, Eyal set about his task.

       The Militia's urban headquarters were located in a converted warehouse near the northern edge of the docks. Its expansive lot was covered in a sea of idle Warthogs—mostly of the transport variety, though a handful still retained their menacing rear-mounted chain guns. Silhouetted against the setting sun Eyal could see the distinctive outlines of a half dozen Pelicans parked upon the roof, as well as a small army of technicians milling about them, rendered diminutive by the crafts' massive hulls.

       The scene resembled his precinct on a vastly greater scale. Dispatches announced over the loudspeakers prompted sudden movement among the many Militia who congregated around the lot. Ever in full military gear, the groups of four immediately piled into a waiting Warthog and tore off in a thunderous roar. In a city of fifteen million citizens and nearly as many refugees, their services were often called for.

       He earned a few passing glances of contempt as he entered the warehouse, but he was not stopped. Within the cavernous building was perhaps more chaos than without. The wide space was broadly partitioned into many smaller communications arrays where teams coordinated the Militia's movements across the city. The loudspeakers roared their dispatches only feet from a mechanic hard at work repairing a broken-down Warthog. Eyal could not imagine being forced to operate under such conditions—though he supposed these men and women were adept at functioning under far more trying circumstances than these.

       Eyal approached one tech who appeared to be taking a break. The man regarded him coldly as he approached. "I'm looking for Colonel Dai," he said curtly.

       The man eyed him disdainfully. "You a cop?"

       "Is he here?" Eyal maintained steadily.

       He grunted scornfully, but pointed across the cluttered floor. "Towards the back."

       Eyal could not see precisely where he pointed among the sea of computers and people, but he gathered the general direction. "Thank you."

       Crossing the floor was a harrowing task, especially as it appeared that his suit made him seemingly invisible to the teeming uniforms. The harried soldiers made little attempt to navigate as they moved about, knocking roughly into him and nearly throwing him off his balance. He wondered for a moment if his civvies made him the target of the rough treatment, though he began to realize that the roughness was only the necessary reality of the situation.

       At last he reached what seemed to be a command station, if only judging by its relatively larger size. He sidled up to one woman seated at a desk near the front. "I'm looking for Colonel Dai," he said.

       The woman did not even look up from her work, his voice apparently lost in the din. He cleared his throat. "Colonel Dai?" he shouted.

       His over-vigorous query successfully attracted her attention, and a few others besides. He was spared further awkwardness by the approach of a man stepping out of the throng. "Hello, Detective," he said, extending his hand. "Good to see you again."

       "Yes sir, it is," he replied, taking his hand.

       "I assume this is regarding Major Cordova?" Dai was only half-attentive, his ear turned towards a nearby radio.

       Eyal nodded. "I thought you'd like to hear it personally that the man we apprehended confessed about an hour ago."

       The woman seated nearby overheard this and seemed gratified by the news. Dai, however, offered only a dim smile. "That's excellent news, Detective. I congratulate you on the swift catch." He ended on a tone of finality and half-turned away from Eyal, evidently prompting his departure.

       "Thank you," Eyal said, stubbornly staying put. "I was wondering, though, if I could have a word with you. In private."

       The trace of a smile vanished from the Colonel's face. He shook his head firmly. "I'm sorry, detective, but I don't have a moment to spare. Cordova did a lot around here—we're feeling the loss."

       "I appreciate that Colonel, I do," Eyal assured him earnestly. "And I'm sorry to intrude on your time. But I have a rather sensitive matter that needs to be resolved quickly. It will only take a moment, I promise you."

       Dai glanced around him, taking in a sweep the chaos of the scene. At length he relented, heaving a sigh. "Fine. Follow me." He turned to the woman. "I'm taking a quick break, Chris," he told her. She nodded absently.

       The Colonel led him past the comm. station towards the back of the warehouse. He pushed open the door to what appeared to be a sideroom and was greeted by a rush of warm, moist air. Through the light haze Eyal realized he was in a shower room, where dozens of men were showering nude in plain sight. A few cast uninterested glances at him, but most seemed not to notice at all. Dai pulled him aside to the locker area, where only a handful of Militia lingered.

       "This is private?" Eyal asked.

       "As private as you'll get around here," Dai retorted gruffly. "What is it you need to know, Detective?"

       "I have a few questions regarding the deceased."

       Dai grunted. "I assumed as much."

       "Of course." He paused for a moment, considering his phrasing. "I was wondering, Colonel, how you would characterize Major Cordova?"

       Dai raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

       "What was your opinion of the man?"

       The question did not seem to be the one the Colonel expected. "He was an excellent officer. He did his duty well. I never had the pleasure of serving with the Major, but I hear he conducted himself with the utmost bravery throughout the war."

       "And never missed a shift, I hear?"

       Dai narrowed his eyes. "That's right."

       "I see." Eyal shifted on his feet. "Fortunately, Colonel, I've had the pleasure of reading Cordova's vitae. I am aware of his impressive record. I was referring more specifically to your judgment of his character."

       Dai let his arms fall to his sides. "Excuse me, Detective, but just what the fuck are you trying to ask me here?"

       Eyal paused before he answered, taking stock of the man before him. The tall, well-muscled body of the Colonel was tensed as if for action, one foot slightly in front of the other, the fingers of his hands curved and twitching. His rough-featured face, looking as though it had been hewn from granite, was set in an aggressive scowl. His eyes, which appeared almost black, regarded him as he imagined they had regarded dozens of battlefields before.

       This was not a man to be strong-armed. Eyal decided on an earnest appeal instead.

       "Colonel, I'm not the press. I'm not here to nail anybody. I'm just trying to do my job, same as anybody else."

       "And a character study is requisite to that end?" he demanded brusquely. When Eyal did not respond, Dai scratched his unshaven face, his countenance relaxing as much as it was likely able to. "Well, Detective, I'll tell you one thing about Cordova: he was popular with the men. And they wouldn't like it if some cop was digging around in his past—especially after he just had a secluded chat with the Major's CO."

       "I understand that. And I think we both know, the situation being what it is between our two outfits, that I'll never be able to compel you to tell me anything. But if you've got something to say—now's the time."

       Dai looked around the near empty room, silently contemplating his position. "Cordova was a hard man to work with, sometimes," he allowed after a pause.

       "In what way?" Eyal pressed.

       "He was… intemperate. Hot-headed. As I said, he was popular with the men. They often mistook fervor for leadership."

       "Against your prerogative, you mean?"

       Dai frowned. "I'm not pissing on the memory of a dead comrade because of a personal disagreement."

       "I didn't mean to suggest as much," Eyal said, holding up a hand. "I only want to get a picture of the man."

       He seemed satisfied by this. "Look, Detective," he said. "This role they've cast us in: soldiers turned police? It's not good for the men. The command structure has gotten a lot looser since we started fighting junkies instead of Covies. It's gotten a lot more civilian." He said this matter-of-factly, not disdainfully. "The boys get a little restless sometimes, patrolling the streets. They're still ready to fight a war, they gear themselves up the same every day. Only there's no war to fight."

       "And Cordova took advantage of that."

       "Yes. Sometimes." He shrugged. "Cordova was the man on the streets. He ultimately commanded them in their duties off this compound. And he could be… overzealous in his duty. Brutal, even."

       Eyal did not press for details. "He treated the policing of the city like it was war."


       "An attitude useful against the Covenant, I assume, but destructive here at home."

       "Yes," Dai repeated, a little less enthusiastically.

       "This leads me to a curiosity I've found in Cordova's vitae." He pulled the document from his jacket pocket. "According to this, Major Cordova enlisted with the VEF in 2531. That would have made him 27 at the time."

       "And?" Dai asked impatiently.

       "Does it not strike you as odd that a man of Cordova's disposition was not involved in the civil war beforehand, considering the heavy recruitment towards the end?" he asked. "I struggle to imagine what he was doing prior to the '31 drive. A janitor, perhaps? Or maybe he was in finance?"

       "I wouldn't know," Dai growled. "We don't keep records of private employment."

       "I'm sadly aware of that deficiency, having perused his vitae at length. I was only wondering if you could check Cordova's enlistment date against your own records."

       Dai shook his head and made to leave. "I don't have time for this nonsense, Detective. If it says '31 then it was '31."

       "Please, Colonel," Eyal stopped him. "It's my last request. Then I'll leave."

       The prospect of his leaving without a bother apparently being too enticing to resist, Dai pulled out his datapad with a sigh. After examining its contents at length, Dai appeared surprised at what he found, his brow furrowing in confusion.

       When he offered no explanation, Eyal prompted him. "What?"

       Dai frowned. "Seems Cordova joined the Northern Legion in 2523. He was involved in multiple actions before the armistice in '25."

       Eyal looked down at his own record, pausing to collect this information. "Colonel—why was I given a redacted vitae?"

       Dai did not look up from his datapad. "I don't know."

       "Could I have a copy of your records?" Eyal ventured.

       Dai quickly shut off his device and shoved it back into his pocket. "No," he said bluntly, his face reassuming its hard line. "You'd better leave now."


       "I've no more time for you Detective," Dai cut him off. "Leave now or I will have you removed."

       His tone was not threatening, but it was stern and emphatic; Eyal did not doubt his intentions. An unceremonious ejection from the premises would reflect worse upon the Department than the Militia, given the pretext of his visit. Dai had every reason to make true his warning.

       "Thank you for your time, sir," Eyal said respectfully, turning on his heel.

       He beat a hasty retreat across the cacophonous warehouse floor. He mulled over what Dai had told him. By all rights, he knew he ought to consider it nothing more than a curiosity, a discrepancy to spare only a passing thought for. Or, perhaps, to regard it as a brick wall, an obstacle that would prove fruitless and destructive to try and surmount. But a fleeting image of Cordova's body convinced him that he could not ignore the truth. A poor excuse it was, he thought, to shackle oneself to one's nature. Yet surrendering to the tide had always been his preferred manner of existence.

       As he approached his car, he slowed his steady clip. Several Militia had congregated around his car and followed him with keen eyes as he neared. At length he recognized one of the officers who were leaning against the hood of his car. The man took a few swaggering steps towards him, his rifle resting casually upon one of his broad soldiers.

       "Sergeant Grantmyre," Eyal said with false joviality. "And here I thought we'd never meet again."

       "This is the wrong place to come if you'd wanted that to hold true," Grantmyre returned. His comrades seemed to gather around him in a rough semi-circle, intent on the show. "Just what the fuck are you doing here, Dayan?" He put an unnatural emphasis on his name.

       "Just came to share the good news," Eyal answered, trying to be civil. "Cordova's killer confessed."

       "Well that's fantastic," Grantmyre returned. "Now we get to watch him plead insanity or stupidity or whatever the fuck else—see him dance around your system while we put a Goddamn hero in the dirt."

       "He'll get what he deserves," Eyal murmured.

       "He already was, when you took him away behind Dai's skirt." A few of the Militia chuckled as Grantmyre took a few steps closer to Eyal. "Which raises a question that's been nagging at me all day. I wondered what kind of a serving man would draw on his comrades over some piece of shit. He must have been part of some chicken shit Home Guard outfit or something, I thought."

       Grantmyre came even closer towards him, until his face was mere inches from Eyal's own. "But I looked, and found that you were never with any outfit—that you never served at all. But that can't be right, I thought. Since they all but drafted my dear old grandma by the end, I wondered how it was that a healthy young man such as yourself didn't go. How is it that after Paris, after Siggy, after Reach… you somehow managed to slither away from fighting off our extinction?"

       Eyal tried to hold the Sergeant's menacing gaze, but he could not resist a darting glance at the ring of Militia that surrounded him. They regarded him with open disdain, even anger. Eyal was not sure who they would rather get their hands on: Stahl, or himself. He trusted at least the exposure of their present location, and tried not to appear nervous.

       "You know a lot about me, Sergeant?" Eyal asked steadily.

       "More than I'd care to," Grantmyre returned, his voice harshly sibilant. He let Eyal wallow in silence for a few minutes, then began to slowly back away. He spat on the ground in disgust. "Get the fuck out of here. If I ever see your face again, I'll cut it the fuck off. Understand?"

       Making good his ignominious retreat, Eyal hurried to his car. They remained tight around his vehicle, forcing him to turn sharply out of the lot. As he drove away, he saw in his rear-view the group of Militia watching his departure, like a pack of lions watching the lucky escape of their prey.

       Only with several blocks distance did he realize the radio was still in.

       …in other news, Metropolitan Police have taken a man named Isaac Stahl into custody for the murder of Major Luis Cordova, an officer of the Massilia Militia. Major Cordova was killed in his Waverleigh Heights apartment last night…

       Darkness had fallen completely now, bringing with it fresh flakes from the dark sky above. The lights of the city did little to illuminate the gloom, especially this far away from the streets. Even leafless, the maples overhead seemed to absorb the glow of the cityscape, casting the night like pitch upon the frozen ground.

       There was something sublime about the whole. The gentle chill against his face, the blue faintness of his surroundings. A good night to be dead, he thought. Conditions were suitable for a peaceful repose.

       After a time Eyal relented to the use of a flashlight to navigate the long rows of gravestones of the Pytheas Military Cemetery. Even in daylight, distinguishing the swaths of modest headstones was no easy task. Yet he felt crass shining casting light upon the dead, and he tried as best he could to keep it away from the shallow swells of the earth.

       Some of the trees began to strike him as familiar, and he found his feet guiding his way. He knew the stone by sight, for its neighbor had a long vertical crack along its left side. He knelt down, and brushed away the frost from its unadorned granite surface. With his gloved hand he traced the indentations which formed the name. Eva Cruz Dayan.

       It was an indulgence coming here, he knew. Speaking to her as he sometimes did certainly was. A latent sense of duty drove him to it. His single stake in honor.

       He rested a hand atop the headstone, steadying himself as he knelt before it. "I haven't a clue anymore," he whispered in confidence to the gray rock.

       His phone rang, its discordant chirp disturbing the silence like the crashing of a tree in a tranquil wood. In his haste to stop the noise he neglected to check the caller's ID.


       "Eyal? Where are you?" It was Melanie Haskell.

       If before he had felt crass, he now felt like Alaric in Rome.

       "I'm just getting off work now," he answered quietly.

       "Are you still coming over?"

       He closed his eyes and turned from the grave. "Yes."

       "See you soon, then." She hung up.

       He shut his phone and slid it into his pocket. He did not turn again to face the stone. "Goddamn it, don't you judge me," he said softly.

       Thereupon he left, his footsteps padded by the snow, granting silence its rightful union with the dark.

       She lived in one of the finer districts of town, the seaside strip of the North Delta. The gleaming glass and steel towers lined neatly along a perfect grid of the streets formed the very picture of old Massilia's self-image: a bastion of refined civilization standing strong against the backward South. Now the North Delta represented the imbalance between the original denizens of the city and those forced to migrate to the city's factories, and an especially painful reminder to the refugees of all that they had lost.

       Melanie always seemed embarrassed by her luxurious neighborhood, but was by no means willing to give it up. It was the product of a line of work that Eyal had always envisioned for himself. He did not begrudge her, or any of her neighbors, despite his own modest abode. Someone ought to still enjoy the fruits of better days.

       It was quite late. The apartment's marble clad lobby was silent, but for the low hum of a television belonging to the security guard. After Melanie rang him through, the guard smiled absently from his desk. The man was ancient, appearing as if he had been retired from his main line of work since the civil war.

       "Good evening, sir," he croaked.

       Eyal nodded to him as he had many times before. "Good evening."

       The elevator delivered him swiftly to the upper reaches of the building. The long corridor, immaculately clean, was completely silent, the elegant fixtures on the wall emanating a comforting light. He turned when he reached her apartment, and gently rapped the door.

       Almost immediately she answered. She was dressed in a white undershirt and jeans, and her long blond hair was down about her shoulders. It was her regular departure from the prim figure she cut as an ADA, and seemed to delineate in his mind the woman he knew at work from the woman he met in this apartment.

       "I'm glad you came," she said, a smile lighting up her face. "For some reason I didn't think you would."

       He strode in, closing the door behind him. "How would you expect me to stay away?" he asked.

       He kissed her, his hands slipping under the light fabric of her shirt. Her arms snuck under his own, casting his heavy jacket to the floor in a heap. She embraced him fully, the heat of her body suffusing his own, and led him with measured steps towards the bedroom.

       And for the first time in the day, Eyal thought nothing of Luis Cordova.