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Vestal Sins: Epilogue: All Too Human
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<arthur_wellesly@hotmail.com>
Date: 7 August 2009, 5:21 am

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       Detective Sergeant Eyal Dayan sat in his car, staring dismally out the windshield. Cradled in his lap was the day's newspaper, but he did not look at it. He did not want to acknowledge the failure that compounded his ruination. Yet he had found that denying reality was only ever effective for so long, and in this case the expiry would come rather sooner than usual. So he resigned himself to glance down, and read the headline once more.

       Alexander Lansing Wins Landslide Election

       Unfortunately, he had not misread it. Admittedly, it had been a long shot. He rested the newspaper on the steering wheel and at last began to read the article in earnest.

       Alexander Lansing Wins Landslide Election
       Eleventh Hour Scandal Barely Dampens Lansing's Numbers

       Wild cheers rang out across Independence Square in Alexander Lansing's native Massilia last night as the election results were promptly announced to the assembled crowd. The Senator won by a comfortable margin of 8%, somewhat less than the opinion polls had indicated but a decisive victory nonetheless.

       President Renka's camp quietly accepted the verdict. Despite her stalwart insistence throughout the campaign that the election was still up in the air, few were in doubt of the outcome. A hushed moan reverberated through the Vesta Party's Headquarters, followed by silence.

       "The people of Vesta have spoken," Ms. Renka announced last night in her concession speech. "I wish my opponent the best of luck in leading our great world through the many trials that lie ahead."

       Braving the chill air, the United crowd in Independence Square could scarcely hear the speech above the raucous cheers. Any attempt to quell their unbridled joy was immediately rebuked by the seething mass. When Lansing finally emerged onstage, it was many minutes before he was able to speak.

       "We have done it, ladies and gentlemen!" Lansing proclaimed. "Right here, right now is where we may say that the new age of humanity had properly begun. Not because of me, but because of you…"

       Eyal scanned the remainder of the obsequious article for any mention of the Cedar Gables incident, but found only more excerpts of Lansing's speech and a litany of election results. At the bottom he discovered that the story continued several pages in. He switched to the page indicated, and scrolled towards the bottom.

      … Lansing's victory arrives on the heel of a revelation by one of his ex-soldiers that places him at the scene of a massacre that occurred during the Civil War. Martim Salles, a soldier under Mr. Lansing's command in 2524, claims that the President-elect led his company into a Southern town called Cedar Gables and proceeded to slaughter all of its inhabitants. Mr. Lansing does not deny his Company's actions, but maintains that he was not present during the massacre.

       "I was outside the town, trying to coordinate our retreat," Lansing said in a statement made last week. "When I arrived, Cedar Gables had been burned to the ground."

       Other survivors from Lansing's Company were contacted to corroborate the story. While they uniformly refused to be interviewed, all of them agreed that Lansing neither took part in, nor sanctioned the killings.

       Martim Salles has declined further comment on the matter. The anonymous source who delivered Salles' testimony to the Massilia Post last week, and whose voice can be heard with Salles' on the tape, also remains elusive.

       Mr. Lansing, for his part, addressed neither party in his response to the scandal, offering instead a lengthy mea culpa. "The horrors of Cedar Gables have followed me for many years now. They followed me through the Covenant War, they followed me through this campaign, and they follow me still. I could have done more. I should have done more.

       "I can only offer my heartfelt apology to all our brethren of the South—and not just for Cedar Gables, but for the arrogance and the intolerance that produced it. But I can also offer my assurances. I assure you that I am a better man. I assure you that we are all better men. And I assure you that I will dedicate every effort to making sure that man need never again fear war against his fellow man."

       Several Vesta Party Senators vowed to make Lansing pay for his past sins. While few were willing to charge him with war crimes, a small coterie of VP politicians were threatening to take him to task for whitewashing the incident. With Lansing's decisive win last night—and with several of those Senators now without a seat—most of that talk has ceased.

       "I think the people of Vesta understand that what's past is past," said Nikita Bhatt, a prominent strategist for the Lansing campaign. "Many awful things happened during that war. That's exactly what we're trying to move past…"

       Eyal stopped reading and gently placed the datapad to rest on the passenger seat. He shook his head ruefully. From the hovel that he had exiled himself to over the past week, he had closely examined the news media's coverage of the scandal. Eyal had expected the story to explode like a bomb across the headlines, yet the reveal had fallen limply on an unresponsive public. Most publications were almost apologetic for Lansing, following every half-hearted critique with a catalogue of the man's accomplishments. Even the most vehemently pro-Vesta Party outlets had handled the story with distaste—not for Lansing, but rather for being forced to discuss the long-dead Civil War.

       He slowly clambered out of his vehicle. His joints ached, and his week-old wounds had taken on the stiff, throbbing pains that accompany a prolonged recovery. Before him lay a dismal sight: a squat, concrete building surrounded by a high chain link fence and barbed wire. The Massilia County Jail. It was hardly a destination that inspired him to overcome his pain.

       He was briefly stopped at the entrance, but once he identified himself as a police officer they gave him little trouble. The reception area was suitably bleak, the humming fluorescent lights above reflecting brightly off the institutionally white linoleum floors. A security guard in a white shirt and blue windbreaker sat behind a couple of inches of bullet proof glass, apparently reading a magazine. He took several moments to notice Eyal standing expectantly in front of him.

       "How can I help you, sir?" he asked in a drawl.

       "I'm looking for a prisoner. Isaac Stahl."

       "Visiting hours begin at noon," the guard replied. He turned back to his magazine, apparently satisfied that the matter was settled.

       Eyal pulled out his badge and stuck it against the glass. "I'm here on business, not pleasure," he said caustically.

       "Sorry, officer," the man grumbled, turning to a monitor at his side. "What was the name again?"

       "Isaac Stahl," Eyal repeated. He spelled it.

       The guard seemed surprised at the result of his search. "He was brought in last week on murder charges?"

       "That's right," Eyal confirmed.

       "Were you the investigating officer on the case?"

       "Yes," he said slowly, beginning to worry.

       The guard frowned. "I'm sorry to tell you that prisoner Stahl committed suicide early this morning."

       Eyal felt his heart skip a beat. For a few moments he was unable to speak. "Was he alone in his cell?" he asked at length.

       "Yes, he was in solitary. Men like him tend not to last long in here otherwise. Guard on patrol this morning found him. Would you like to see the report?"

       "No, thank you."

       He turned and left in a daze, his feet carrying him unconsciously to his car. He sat back down heavily, unsure how to feel.

       Isaac Stahl—the last casualty of Cedar Gables.

       By the time Eyal made it to the precinct, he was nearly ten minutes late. He was never late.

       Captain Singh was standing near his desk, speaking with another officer. She looked up as he approached with an expression of surprise on her face. "I didn't think you'd show up," she said.

       "I always show up."

       "Yes, but…" She stared at him for a few moments. "It was you, wasn't it? Wait," she held up a hand, shaking her head. "Never mind. Don't answer that. Then I'd have to fire you. Of course it was you."

       Eyal said nothing.

       "Mantega is already here. She should be out back. She'll fill you in on what she's been up to." She turned from him abruptly and walked away, as if she might become contaminated by his presence. It was still a better reunion than it might have been.

       Eyal went out back to the lot where Mantega was leaning against the driver's door of their squad car. Immediately she spotted him. He was unable to read her expression as she followed his approach.

       He stopped at the passenger door and remained there, returning her gaze. He was not sure what to say. 'Good morning' seemed inappropriate.

       "You're late," Mantega said impassively, still in the same pose.

       "Yes," he replied.

       "You're never late."

       "I know."

       "I figured you were dead."

       "Well, here I am."

       She got in the car. Eyal followed suit. He felt like a duckling.

       Mantega started off wordlessly, pulling out of the precinct and heading north. She obstinately refused to look at him. Eyal coughed loudly.

       "So, where are we going?" he asked quietly.

       Mantega seemed to appreciate his avoidance. She was all business. "You recall that refugee prostitution ring we were tracking before the Cordova case?"


       "We finally found it. You'll never guess where it is."



       Eyal grunted. "Well, that has a sort of symmetry to it, I suppose."

       He allowed everything else to remain unsaid. Words alone would fix nothing with Mantega. He entrusted the burden solely to time.

       The drive was long and uncomfortable. It was little trouble recognizing when they had reached their destination. Four Warthogs and as many police vans had cordoned off a section of a narrow street in one of Waverleigh's seediest neighborhoods. Their object of attention seemed to be a large two story house with boarded windows and a dilapidated porch. A crowd of locals had assembled at the sidelines to catch a glimpse at the spectacle.

       Mantega parked outside the perimeter. They proceeded together through the throng of civilians and were admitted entry by the aggravated Militia guards. At length they reached a police van near the center of the action, where a detective was talking animatedly with a Militia Officer.

       "What's the situation, Sam?" Mantega asked the detective.

       He turned to face her, breaking in mid-conversation. He spared a quick glance at Eyal, but addressed his response to Mantega. "They're holed up in there pretty damn good," he said, his voice carrying his stress. "Looks like they're Obschina… hard to tell one gang from the next. Could just be one offs. In any case, they're not surrendering."

       "Which is why we gotta root 'em out," the Militia Officer put in.

       "No," Sam said flatly. "If they're not surrendering to two dozen cops, it means they're planning on going out shooting. We must be careful."

       "Have we made contact with them at all?" Eyal asked.

       "They say they'll start killing the kids if we don't give them a vehicle to get out of here," the Militiaman growled. "Time isn't exactly on our side."

       "There are refugees in there," Sam insisted. "Not to mention civilians."

       "Civilians?" the Militiaman barked. "You mean the patrons. Of sex slaves."

       "It's just too dangerous," Sam protested firmly. "And this isn't your jurisdiction."

       "Refugees are our jurisdiction," the officer countered. "We're going in. With or without you."

       Sam did not reply immediately, though Eyal could detect his anger smoldering beneath the stony surface. Sam was a senior detective in his mid-fifties. He had been with the department for almost thirty years, avoiding conscription due to his age. Like many of the old school officers, he viewed the Militia with particular resentment for their encroachment on traditional police duties. Yet reining them in was near impossible—they had become too big and too vital for any politician to stand up to them. Sam knew this well.

       "Alright," he said finally. "We'll take the back, you take the front."

       The Militiaman nodded wordlessly, and began rounding up his men. Sam turned to Mantega. "Someone's gonna die here today," he said.

       Mantega said nothing. Eyal guessed her thoughts.

       They gathered ten officers to stack up at the back entrance of the building. Eyal, Mantega, and Sam took up the rear behind the more heavily armed Hostage Rescue Team. The lead man latched an explosive to the door and took his position.

       "Ready," Sam radioed to the Militia.


       "Breaching, breaching!"

       The explosive detonated, followed quickly by the Militia's around front. They rushed in, Eyal at the end of the line. He was hit by a wall of smoke, his gun raised uselessly in front of him. The HRT were screaming things like "Get down" and "Show me your hands." Through the haze he saw two men on their faces, the knees of a pair of officers digging into their backs.

       Gunfire sounded towards the front of the house, followed by incoherent shouts. It was chaos. He heard feet thumping on the floor above. Mantega and Sam remained with the two men in custody while the rest continued on through the house. Eyal followed them.

       The Militia had already fanned out and secured much of the downstairs. They were now lining up next to the stairwell to take the second floor as well. Eyal noticed the body of a man near the front door, slumped against the wall. A second man lay on his face to the left of the stairs, three bullet holes visible in his back.

       The remaining HRT joined the Militia by the stairs. When there was no response to their demand for surrender, they rushed up, each man trying his best to cover the other in the narrow space. The leading man fired twice when he reached the top, and Eyal heard a body thud to the floor.

       Eyal was the last to the top. The men of both teams moved with deadly efficiency—Eyal had never been certain how they could perform with such certainty in the midst of such chaos. He heard several men sound off "Clear!" but there was still a lot of commotion within the house's numerous rooms. He ducked into one such room, where a Militiaman was beating a half-naked man with the butt of his rifle. The man's face was a bloody mess, his jaw horrifically askew.

       "Alright, man, that's enough," the Militiaman's partner said. "There's a kid watching."

       In the corner, a young boy dressed only in his underwear was watching the beating with silent tears streaming down his face. The officer halted in mid-swing and averted his eyes. The bleeding john writhed on the floor.

       Eyal stumbled out of the doorway, almost running into a passel of HRT hauling a half dozen men off into custody. He backed into one of the cleared rooms to avoid getting caught in the rush. The arm holding his weapon grew weak, and he lowered it, gripping the pistol with both hands. He sat down slowly on the edge of a bed in the room, utterly without energy.

       Gradually he became aware of a noise within the room, and realized he was not alone. Once again, he lifted his sidearm and scanned the room: nothing. He bent down and peered carefully under the bed.

       Lying in a curled up ball amidst what looked like a decade's worth of dust and detritus was a young girl, no older than fifteen. She was entirely naked and much too thin, with a trickle of blood from her swollen lip shining brightly against her pale skin. She did not blink and barely moved, her wide eyes on him but seemingly not seeing him.

       He reached out a hand towards her. She declined to take it. "It's all right," he tried to assure her. He gripped her tiny wrist and pulled her from under the bed. She barely reacted. Eyal studied her eyes. They were fully dilated and did not track his movements.

       "I need an EMT upstairs, ASAP!" he radioed, his voice hoarse. He picked the girl up and lay her on the bed—she seemed to weigh nothing at all. He bent over her, trying to get any response at all. "Can you hear me?" he asked. "Can you see me?"

       Still she made no reply. Eyal guessed her condition, as he had seen it many times before. Abducted refugees were often forcibly hooked on a synthetic opiate known as "the Blue," to make them less rebellious and more pliable. The drug was highly addictive and extremely potent, and prolonged usage quickly effected permanent brain damage. A child this far gone would likely never be the same again.

       The paramedics were mercifully swift. Eyal backed away into the corner, feeling like a child himself as they performed a few perfunctory tests upon the girl. One of the men gave the other a meaningful look, and then loaded her onto the stretcher and carried her downstairs. Eyal followed in a daze.

       The all clear had been given, and the scene on the ground floor resembled a battlefield after the last shot had been fired. The Militia's kills had been stacked unceremoniously by the front door and covered with a blanket. In the kitchen, the surviving members of the Obschina Mafiya were lined against the wall along with the clients who had been unlucky enough to be caught in the siege. Two of the men had bullet wounds, and all of them looked to have suffered some rough treatment.

       Eyal emerged out the back, where the abducted refugees were being gathered. There were more than a dozen assembled, most of them looking as if eighteen would be a stretch of the imagination. They were very thin and their faces were haggard, if mostly unmarked. It was the eyes that truly told their story—they were deadened and unfocused, the light of youth utterly extinguished from them. From a good life on Earth, they had been removed first to the camps, and then to this house. Misfortune had broken their spirits, and the Blue had destroyed their minds.

       He staggered to the edge of the porch and sat upon its edge. More ambulances were arriving, bearing teams of already exhausted paramedics. They rushed up the stairs to where the refugees were gathered. It seemed children in distress could always bring energy to tired limbs and focus to hardened eyes.

       At length he noticed that someone had taken a seat next to him. He did not bother to look over. "Another win, eh, Michelle?"

       "Welcome back," his partner replied.

       They sat together in silence for a time. They studied the stream of children being led to the ambulances, and next the line of culprits being led to the paddywagons. The worst of both groups were carried on stretchers.

       "Good God, Michelle, but I am a damned fool," Eyal said.

       Mantega did not respond, allowing him the time to explain himself.

       "This is my job. This is my job. It's the only thing I have ever done right. And I nearly wasted what little I'm good for on a vendetta I had no business pursuing." He shook his head and breathed a deep sigh. "How can any of that matter when this is what goes on every day in this fucking city? Christ, I'm sorry," he added, almost as an afterthought.

       Mantega placed a hand on his shoulder. "You've no need to apologize to me. You were right in the end. Of course you were. I get why you did it, Eyal. I should never have tried to stop you."

       "You know, I'm almost glad I failed," he confessed quietly. "I suppose, if nothing else, it shows this newfound kinship of humanity to be durable. Yet the fact that we elected a man who presided over the murder of an entire town with hardly a murmur sends a chill up my spine. Stahl killed himself, by the way," he mentioned offhandedly. "This morning, in his cell. Small wonder. Probably he thought that if only the truth would out, that justice would be served. Then he found out that no one gives a fuck anymore."

       To this, Mantega had nothing to say, instead letting silence fall once more between them. A crew of CSUs accompanied by more detectives arrived to turn out the house and recover any relevant evidence within. The ambulances and paddywagons eventually departed, and the crowd that had gathered to watch the show dispersed in kind. It was another episode for them to discuss with horror and excitement and then promptly forget.

       Mantega began to stir next to him, slowly pulling herself to her feet. "Three shootings, four gang members, six johns, and fourteen abductees," she said, listing their morning's haul almost musically. "I foresee a mountain of paperwork and hours of debriefing from Internal Affairs."

       Eyal nodded tiredly. "Better get to it, then."

       As they approached their car, Eyal's phone beeped in announcement of an incoming message. He checked the sender, and stopped dead in his tracks.

       "What is it?" Mantega asked.

       "It's Lansing," he said, his voice hollow. "He wants me to meet him at Raphael's."

       "Don't tell me you're actually thinking of going?" she asked, studying his expression.

       "What choice do I have? Besides, if he wanted me dead, he would hardly do it at midday in an upscale restaurant."

       "Eyal…" she began.

       "No," he said firmly. "I'm not running, Michelle. This is going to have to end one way or the other."

       Mantega paused to light a cigarette, leaning against the car for a moment to enjoy her first puff. "Fine," she said. "But I'm coming with you."

       Eyal had never been to Raphael's, though he knew it well. It was one of those ancient restaurants that had been around for as long as anyone could remember. Famous as a haunt for the rich and the powerful, it was as much an institution as any governing body, and had seen many of the same men pass through its doors.

       When they pulled up outside the building, Mantega stirred and opened the driver's door. Eyal held out a restraining hand. "I'm going in alone," he said.

       She glared at him. "You must be joking."

       "Lansing will want to speak with me alone," he said. "He will not want a witness to our conversation, so you'll have to wait outside anyway. At any rate, I don't want to implicate you any further in this."

       She hesitated, but eventually nodded her wordless assent. Taking a moment to compose himself, Eyal lifted himself from his seat and headed inside.

       A couple of Militia patted him down at the entrance and swept him for listening devices. Once cleared, he entered the restaurant proper. The high-ceilinged interior was dotted with numerous crystal chandeliers that ringed the base of a sparkling, clear glass dome. The tables, mostly unoccupied, were topped with immaculately white tablecloths and an endless array of shining silverware. In the back, an ancient-looking pianist played some inoffensive tune that seemed to blend in with the very fabric of the room and its army of wait staff. Eyal could hardly fathom that this place existed within the same universe as the slave den he had busted earlier, let alone within the same city.

       He was led by a suited Militiaman to a secluded table in the back. Lansing was seated there alone, eating a pasta dish with some sparkling wine. He smiled broadly as Eyal approached, as if meeting an old friend.

       "Detective!" Lansing stood to greet him, finding a tone of impressive geniality. "Thank you, Francis," he added to Eyal's escort. The Militiaman nodded and left them alone.

       Lansing settled back down and took a sip of his wine. "I allowed myself some calm before the storm," he said, studying the bubbles in his drink. "I have speeches to make, a cabinet to form… busy months lie ahead, with promise of worse to come."

       Eyal looked around at his opulent surroundings. "No need feign modesty anymore, eh, Lansing?"

       He ignored this attempt to deflate his cordial demeanor. "You hid well. My people could not find you, despite their best efforts. You needn't have hid after you had already sent the recording, though. I am not a vindictive man. The damage having been done, you were under no threat from me."

       "You'll forgive me if I had the opposite impression."

       Lansing grunted. "I am sorry for what happened at the hotel. Ugly business."

       "Ugly business seems to follow you around, doesn't it, Mr. Lansing?"

       "I am profoundly sorry for what happened at Cedar Gables," he returned calmly, refusing to be angered. "That was a war of tragic stupidity. And the anger on both sides was so intense for it. I admit that I could have done more, and that perhaps a misguided loyalty to my men stayed my hand. It is a burden on my conscious that I must accept. Yet all men have such burdens, do they not, Detective?"

       Eyal sidestepped the accusation. "Even if you are to be forgiven for your inaction, what about your decision to whitewash the incident? Why did you not bring charges against Cordova, or any of the other men?"

       "The cover up was not my decision, though I certainly did not protest. With the deed done, what good could possibly have been achieved make a spectacle of it? What purpose would have been served by shaming the Northern Legion, or by angering the Southern populace? As for Cordova, how many men do you supposed I saved by sparing him? You read his vitae—he was an exceptional soldier. He fought the Covenant for thirty long years. He was a monster, but he was my monster. And in the end, I was right."

       Eyal chuckled mirthlessly and scratched his chin. "You sound very much like a man trying to convince himself of his innocence. I see it often in my line of work. I thought you had already forgiven yourself for Cedar Gables."

       "I have," he replied simply. "And the people seemed to have done the same. I could have done without the blemish, yet history is populated with flawed men. Just so long as the blemish does not become the man."

       "Why did you ask me here, then?"

       "Because you are a curiosity, Detective." Lansing regarded him intently. "I confess to a certain grudging admiration. You are dogged, intelligent, and in your own way courageous. Yet I do not understand you. Your actions belie your past. This last week—one of the busiest and most important of my life—I have spent an inordinate amount of time studying your record."

       Lansing bent over to retrieve something from a satchel on the floor next to him. It was a nondescript tin box, olive green in color with a faded emblem of the VEF on its lid. Eyal silently awaited the President-elect's explanation.

       "Your wife was killed at Sigma Octanus, no?" he asked bluntly.

       Eyal's jaw line hardened. "That's right."

       "Her battalion was attached to the Pucelle."

       This time Lansing did not ask, but Eyal nodded anyway.

       "Her effects were returned home before the Pucelle was later destroyed at Reach. A lot of these belongings never reached the intended families, especially towards the end of the war when things got messy. This had been sitting in a warehouse for three years." He slid the box across the table over to Eyal.

       For many moments Eyal stared at the container, unable to look inside. Finally he lifted a shaking hand to open the lid. Inside were scattered trinkets and photos—a locket; a ring; a picture of himself. There was a recording device as well, probably a journal. He wondered if he would ever be able to bring himself to listen to it.

       "That's the look right there," Lansing intoned. Eyal looked up to see the man studying his expression. "The look of guilt on your face just now… it's palpable. Was it that guilt you sought to assuage by coming after me? Perhaps you thought your persecution would consume us both, and so kill two birds with one stone."

       Lansing stopped, waiting for Eyal to make some response. He did not. He merely stared unblinkingly at the contents of the open box, his face utterly drained of color.

       After a time, Lansing pushed forward his half-full plate and stood. "I was not that hungry anyway. Too much to do to be hungry." He cleared his throat. "I guess this is goodbye, Detective. I can't say that I'm pleased I met you, but I do respect you. And I hope that box brings you some measure of peace."

       As he made to leave, Eyal stopped him by finally breaking his silence. "Let me ask you one last question, Mr. President. When I first came to you, I spoke of the war, and of Cordova, and Operation Pegasus. And you looked at me like I was speaking a different language." At last he lifted his head to look at him. "Had you completely forgotten of Cedar Gables?"

       Lansing returned his gaze without blinking, the supreme confidence within the grey depths of his eyes burning unabated. "Goodbye, Detective. May we never meet again."

       The great man departed with his entourage, leaving Eyal nearly alone in the cavernous dining room. He waited until he was sure they were all gone before slowly rising and heading towards the door. Mantega watched him with concern through the windshield, following his approach until he got in the car.

       "Jesus Christ, when they left and you didn't, I was getting worried," she said once he was inside. She looked at the box clasped in his hands. "What's that?"

       "It's nothing," he said firmly.

       She did not pursue the matter. "Well," she said hesitantly. "What did he want?"

       "He told me he's called off the dogs. That I have no more to fear from him."

       "Which isn't to say that Grantmyre won't still try."

       "At any rate," Eyal said through clenched teeth, "as far as Lansing goes, it's over."

       She seemed to read his tone. "Alright then. Back to work."

       The remainder of the day played out much to Mantega's predictions. Internal Investigation was crawling all over the station when they returned, prying into the morning's shootings. Never mind that all three of the shootings were conducted by the Militia. IA had to put on a show to make it seem as though law enforcement were not being conducted like a war.

       Singh, for her part, held a lengthy press conference discussing the raid on the slave den. Abducted refugees always seemed to garner a lot of attention. Mantega had made herself a target for IA by her intransigence, and disappeared for most of the day. The other officers, meanwhile, mostly avoided him, as if the taint of his suspension might infect them. As such, he spent the rest of his shift busying himself with paperwork.

       Mantega reappeared around five o'clock, looking petulant and more disheveled than usual. "Fucking IA," she grumbled, sauntering angrily over to his side. "Why don't they get a real fucking job?"

       "You survived their assault, then?" he asked.

       She grunted irritably. "Let's get the fuck out of here before I kill one of them."

       Eyal had considered offering to pull a double so as to help with all the regular work that had been neglected as a result of the morning's raid. Yet he felt the time was not quite right for penitent servility, and that Singh would rather see him depart. At any rate, he was not willing to entangle Mantega in a personal burden, and so yielded to his desire to leave.

       "Let's go," he said.

       She drove him home just as it started to snow. The dark clouds obscured the setting sun, and delivered an early evening to the streets of Massilia. Mantega said little as she drove home, but she rarely did at the end of the day—especially a day such as this one.

       When they arrived, she turned to him and wished him a rather awkward goodnight.

       Eyal did not get out right away. "Are things going to be okay between us, Michelle?"

       "They will be," she said. "Ask me again tomorrow."

       "Ellie said…"

       "I know what she said."

       "She meant it this time. She told me to find a new partner. I'm not sure she's wrong."

       "Ellie will come around," Mantega asserted, looking straight forward. "She's gonna have to. I'm not fucking learning a new partner's quirks."

       Eyal laughed softly at this. "Alright, Michelle," he chuckled. "Alright." The time for sentimentality was not right, if it ever was with Mantega, so he said nothing further.

       "See you tomorrow," she said as he got out of the car.

       He nodded. "As usual."

       As she drove away, Eyal remained on the sidewalk outside his building and glanced up. He desperately did not want to go to his apartment. At best, an empty home awaited. At worst, Grantmyre lay within, ignoring Lansing's call for exoneration. Dreading both options with equal vigor, he opted for neither. He turned on his heel, got into his car, and drove off.

       Gathering his courage, Eyal pressed the buzzer. At first there was no answer, and he thought that perhaps she were still at work. The second ring, however, finally got her attention.

       "Hello?" came the tentative voice.

       "It's Eyal," he said.

       There was a long pause, but eventually the door unlocked with a click. He hurried through, lest she changed her mind. He strolled purposefully through the lobby, nodding curtly to the antediluvian doorman. The man offered an indistinct greeting, devoid of recognition.

       He took the elevator to her floor and waited for a moment outside her door. She was prompt to answer his knocking, opening the door half-way and leaning against the frame to bar him entry. Her look of stone-faced anger was interrupted by momentary surprise at the faded bruises that still marked his face, but it quickly resumed its previous state.

       "I don't even know what to say to you right now," she said.

       Eyal spread his hands. "I'm sorry, Mel," he offered weakly. The words sounded empty, even to him.

       Melanie Haskell appraised him coldly. "Do I appear desperate to you, Eyal? Do I seem the type the hold my breath for two weeks while you disappear and ignore my phone calls?"

       "No," he answered truthfully. "Actually, I'm standing here wondering how a man like me ever even gained the esteem of a woman like you. Or how I was able to rouse you to such anger simply by my absence."

       She continued to study him, her countenance unchanged. Yet slowly she opened the door and stepped aside. Eyal entered with caution, taking time to remove his coat and shoes in the alcove.

       "So where were you?" she asked when he was finished.

       "In hiding," he answered shortly.

       "Might that have something to do with the recent revelation of Lansing's past?"

       Eyal nodded slowly, declining to speak.

       "The pursuit of which you enlisted my help, without my knowledge," she continued angrily. "With no regard for whether or not I desired to assist towards that end. And at every step shirking my confidence and betraying my trust."

       "I am sorry, Melanie," he said, trying to imbue the hollow words with some measure of earnestness. "I did not want to implicate you in a matter that at the very best might have ruined your career, and at worst…" he did not continue.

       "You told no one of your intentions, then, out of your concern?" she asked caustically. "Not even your partner?"

       Eyal averted his gaze, unable to lie to her. "I perhaps mistook the nature of our relationship."

       "What the fuck does that mean?" she yelled, throwing her hands in the air.

       "I have never been sure of what I am to you," he confessed. "I did not think it right to risk your life because of me."

       "Why do you think I invite you here every night? Don't you think I was worried sick about you these past weeks? Don't you think I missed you? Goddamnit, Eyal!" she cried, tears forming in her eyes. "I missed you."

       He moved forward instinctively and embraced her. She was limp for a moment in his arms, but eventually returned the hug.

       "I am sorry," he said again.

       She turned her head and kissed him fiercely, moving her hands to cup his face. Her face was hot and wet with tears. She pressed her body tightly against his own, and it sent waves of dulled pain from his battered torso.

       He did not protest.

       They lay together in her bed, neither one attempting sleep. She lay on her side, with one arm slipped under his neck, the other on his chest. Though the room was not warm, they both still glistened with sweat.

       After a time, Eyal shifted, so that his face was closer to hers. "Mel?" he ventured.

       She murmured a vague response.

       "Your husband," he began softly. "How did he die?"

       Instantly she stiffened. She removed both her arms from him and crossed them upon her chest, staring at the ceiling. "What?"

       "I never did ask. I never asked about him at all."

       She swallowed audibly. "He was killed at Paris, when it was glassed. My ship was posted there when it happened. I saw it burn."

       "I'm sorry," he said once more. He was saying it a lot, lately.

       "And your wife?" she asked quietly.

       "She was killed, on Sigma Octanus," he said matter-of-factly. "She was so close to making it, too, but she was convinced she'd die before the end. She said that all she wanted was to die on her feet. At least she got that."

       "I'm so sorry, Eyal," she said. Now it was her turn.

       "I've been forcing myself to remember her, lately. I've tried hiding from my memories at work, but they always find me. I wonder what it says of my character that when I think of her, all I can feel is guilt."

       Melanie said nothing. The silence in the room was thick.

       "My father was the Police Commissioner. Did you know that?" He felt her shake her head. "He kept me listed as essential personnel, even as all the other young officers were conscripted, one by one. He kept me off the draft list. I didn't ask him to," he adding quickly, as if she had protested. "But I knew what he was doing. And I didn't ask him to stop.

       "I am a coward. I have a good deal to feel guilty for. I supposed that's why I went after Lansing with such determination. To see a man, who ought to be ruined by his contrition, instead running for high office with a conscience cleared by own absolution…"

       "You are no coward, Eyal," she said. "Do you know how many would have done what you did, had they been given the option?"

       He sighed deeply. "I've said that to myself a thousand times, and not once has it eased my conscience."

       "If you need someone to absolve you, let it be me," she insisted. "You are a better man than Lansing will ever be. Would you truly sacrifice your soul to lessen your guilt, as he clearly did?"

       At this he only grunted. At length, he admitted, "You know, I voted for him. Who else would I have voted for? I am a perverse human being."

       "And I am lying with a man who fed me untruths and then abandoned me for more than a week without a word. So let's just lie together now in our perversity."

       He put his arms around her and was silent. For him, sleep was still far off, but he did not rekindle their conversation. He thought of confessing the depth of his affection for her, perhaps even his love. But the time was not right, and the silence that hung between them was of the peaceful variety. So he simply remained in place beside her, holding her in his arms, feeling her breath against his skin.

       And it was enough.