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Silence filled every corner of the room.

The sun was low.

I sipped my drink. My ears lowered, and my eyes thoughtfully fell to the table, and the investigator’s computer placed on the opposite side from me.

The investigator brushed a stray blonde lock aside, and leaned forward. Her blue eyes penetrated me. She frowned.

I basked in the silence, giving my voice a rest. The room was dimly lit by warm lamps. The sky was cloudy and the sun was low through the glass wall... the market would be closing soon. I knew I needed to return there, and buy more rations. In a minute, I thought.

“That’s all for now,” I said, standing up.

The investigator sighed, and gazed at me. “So, just like that?”

I blinked. “Just like what?”

“Omega. Dead. Just like that?”

I clenched my fists. “You could use a little more tact,” I said.

“You as well,” she retorted. She leaned back in her chair, stretching her arms up, and gazing at me.

My ears drooped. “I meant, Omega’s passing affected me greatly. I would request that you broach such a topic with sensitivity.” My voice was calm and quiet.

She was silent. She stood up, and adjusted her black uniform. “Alright. I’m sorry,” she said. I eyed her carefully. “Thank you, Talcorosax, for continuing the story today, despite our conflict.” She watched me curiously, then smirked. “I think I just get a little stir crazy, spending so long indoors. It makes me irritable.” She chuckled nervously.

Seriously? I thought. That’s your excuse?

“Of course,” I replied, politely. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to.” I bowed farewell, in the skyther style. At least it felt good to pretend to be pleasant, for a moment. “Goodnight, Investigator.” I said.

She folded her computer. “Shall we continue tomorrow?” she asked, gazing at me curiously.

I hesitated. “You really want to marathon this, don’t you?”

She paused. “Well, the sooner we finish, the sooner I can get back to focusing on other things.”

“Yes,” I replied. “Of course. As will I, once the story is done. I have… a lot of things to do…” I trailed off, then nodded. “Yes, tomorrow morning, meet back here. There’s still plenty left to tell. But with luck, by the time the sun sets tomorrow, I believe this business will be done. You’ll be able to go tell the TAU you did your research on me, and everything checks out. And you’ll have a nice audio-book of the story to listen to when you’re feeling nostalgic.”

She snorted a laugh. “Yes, of course.” She waved goodbye, and as I turned to leave said, “Watch your back tonight, Talcorosax. In case those skythers come back.”

My skin crawled as a chill ran down my spine. I was paralyzed.

I willed myself to face her. “Of course,” I said, lifting my ears weakly. She held her computer tucked under her arm, and stood up straight as she gazed my way. “Thanks for the concern.”


★★★

Despite her warnings, I didn’t run into any trouble in the market that night. I bought another two cases of rations, and averted my gaze from the people who took refuge beneath the signs, fighting to silence the voices in my head screaming do more! You have resources! Try to help! I could barely help myself. I barely wanted to.

I caught my breath atop the mountainside, absentmindedly scratching my chest fur. Still the TAU ships circled the sky. Still the city glowed beneath me. Still the cold embrace of the shadows beckoned me. My feet were cold against the rough stone, still damp from the rain the night before, which hadn’t fully evaporated. I was tired- achingly exhausted- and I didn’t want to waste any more time here. Anxiously I checked my holo-gauntlet for the fiftieth time since heading to the market. Still no reply from Fiona.

I placed the cases of rations next to the tree. The note I had left the night before was gone. My breath formed wispy clouds in the air as I let my eyes drag to the darkness of the forest, away from the city. Something stirred in the shadows.

“You can come out,” I said. My voice was hoarse. “It’s me.”

There was no reply. Even the rustling ceased. There was no wind. Nothing stirred. I was caught between the glow of the city and the shadow. And I was alone. But I didn’t want to be.

“Please,” I begged. “Come out...” My voice was barely audible, and I choked back a sob. I held my hands in front of me. Were they even mine? They looked foreign to me, felt foreign, and even as I flexed them and willed myself to be present, I began to panic more and more. Reality was slipping away from me. I felt like I was stuck in some sort of limbo.

Breathing hard, I stumbled back to the summit, and gazed out at the city. It should have been a beautiful array of colours. And it was. I knew it was. But I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel the colours. Time seemed to lag behind me, I was so tired. At least I was outside in the fresh air. I knew I should be sleeping, for my health, for any shred of hope that tomorrow might be better, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t sure I even could. A few stars stared back at me through a gap in the clouds. A tiny glimmer of hope, too far to reach.

I wondered if I should go and seek help. But from who? And what if it did more harm than good?

I lingered there for longer than I should, waiting for them to arrive. When I was certain they wouldn’t, I began to scribble them a note.

I hope these supplies aren’t too late. And I need to ask a favour...”

★★★

Later, I lay for hours in my bed, watching television on my holo-gauntlet. It was the only light in the room. It felt good to numb myself. Well, no. That’s not true. It just didn’t feel bad… No. That isn’t true either. It didn’t feel scary. That’s what it was. As long as I didn’t think too hard about it, I was fine.

I flipped through the channels. There was a romantic drama. It was rather risque, featuring a romance between a skyther and a human. I didn’t find out how it ended, cause I switched channels when the human fell into a coma following a hover-car accident. Not the kind of thing I wanted to see, yet leaving the story unfinished made me feel unresolved.

The local news droned on about an assault in the outskirts of the city. Someone had been hospitalized, apparently recovering. Someone else was arrested. Whatever. Then it switched to a new program, an informational video on what to do if you discover a bioweapon.

I leaned in. The narrator explained in the skyther tongue the dangers of bioweapons, reiterating that it is TAU law that any life forms biologically engineered for military or combat uses be immediately reported and turned into the authorities. “Bioweapons are a real threat to civilization,” the voice said, “which is why the TAU have made them illegal. If you need any convincing, it was discovered by King Talcorosax himself that the valicorr were bioweapons created by the loro many millennia ago. Creating bioweapons is not only unethical, but it is also a crime. Housing a bioweapon is a crime as well. If you have any information about bioweapons, contact this code-signal to report directly to Round Table, the branch of TAU enforcers tasked with arresting bioweapons. Or, contact skyther police. Remember, Astraloth authorities have agreed to enforce these important laws in skyther space, in good faith, to uphold the treaty between Astraloth and Earth, and keep the galaxy safe.”

I switched to a human crime show that was halfway through. The detective retrieved a piece of paper from a body, and waved it into the camera. “A letter from the assassin’s leader!” His skyther assistant asked, in broken English, “Why they make writing, when can just send text?” The detective whirled around dramatically, and adjusted his glasses as he looked at the paper. “Don’t be so naive, Toli. You can hack a computer… you can’t hack paper!” Then the two were ambushed by a group of humans in black masks, armed with molecular swords. One of them said, “It’s been a long time, Mister Baker. But now, I’m afraid, your time is up!” The music swelled as the image faded out.

A commercial popped up. There I was, sipping a can, decked out in combat gear. “Nothing beats a can of Galaxy Root Beer!” I said. “Galaxy Root Beer, you’re a-”

I flicked a switch, and my holo-gauntlet shut off with a whine. It was well past midnight. I sighed, put my head in my hands. I felt freezing, so I pulled my messy sheets over my body. Why had I wasted so much time tonight? I was just stressed. I thought about the investigator. Tomorrow was going to be a long day, and I had a sinking feeling that whatever happened, by the end of it, things would be different. Maybe change would be good, said a tiny voice in my head. Then I shut my eyes, and tried not to think about waking up.

★★★

The sun had barely risen. Bleary eyed, I slipped out of bed, and grabbed my holo-gauntlet before doing anything else. I checked for messages. Nothing. Then I activated my personal food synthesizer and scrolled through the logs of items I had recently synthesized until I found something that seemed mildly appealing. I sat on my bed and ate a small sandwich. It wasn’t great, but it was something. The accompanying honeyed tea helped.

I took fifteen minutes to have a shower in my personal bathroom, and an extra few to dry off in the full body dryer which moved up and down blowing hot air on me. I grabbed a tiny brush and started cleaning my mandibles and teeth. I spat into the sink, and as I left the room the sink retracted into the wall on standby mode.

Back in my room, I glanced at myself in the mirror. My fur was a mess. My eyes were baggy. But I kind of felt like I recognized myself, for a second. So that was good. I just tried not to stare at myself too long. I was afraid the familiarity would wear off. In fact I felt like it already was beginning to. My brain wouldn’t let me be too present… that would hurt too much. I had to stay detached. But I had to keep my wits about me today. I had to be on alert. I knew today was the day that the trap would be sprung. I was counting on it.

I reached up for my red coat on the clothes hooks, then remembered it was gone. I had left it with the skyther on the street. My hand hovered above the black hooded cloak which hung next to where my red coat used to be. The cloak Joëlle had given me. I held my hand there for a few seconds, contemplating what to do.

I took it off the hook, and flung it over my shoulders. The hood rested on my back, and the sides of the cape draped in front of my arms. I looked at myself in the mirror. I stood up straighter. I looked rugged, ready for adventure. I took in a deep breath. I reached my hands up to draw the hood over my head… then tore the thing off.

Without another glance, I tossed the cloak into a crumpled ball in the corner, and shut the door to my quarters as I left for the meeting room.

★★★

We sat across from each other, a drink in each of our hands. We had already greeted each other. She hit the recording button. I glanced out the glass wall at the sun slowly rising. Then my eyes locked with the investigator’s. She stared at me, a wicked smile spread across her face. She was excited this morning- excited that the story would be finishing today, as I had said it would the night before. I wasn’t totally sure how I would get through everything in time, but I was tired of this charade. Everything was in place. I was eager to spring the trap.

I sipped my root beer, savouring the sound and the taste. “Alright,” I said. “Let’s not waste any more time.”

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