Saudade, vol. 1
rating: +17+x

He sat up on his bed, rubbing at his eyes as he attempted to banish the pleasant dreams from which he had been so abruptly removed. "Terribly sorry, sir," a voice echoed in the dark. "Call for you."

"From? Light," he added, and across the room, a small orange lamp glowed on his dresser. He flinched, as per usual, as the sudden light revealed the voice's true form - a hovering, glittering frown, alternating between expressions as it leapt from word to word.

"Private line."

He blinked and squeezed the ridge of his nose; his discomfort was palpable as he swung out of the Twin and limped over to the washroom. "In the bathroom, Pontus. Shades."

"Yes sir."

The windows opened, revealing a quiet, beautiful night. High-rises as far as the eye could see - and in the distance, towering above them, the spiral tower of the Coalition.

He cracked open the pill bottle and put his dosage down with a swig of the waterskin, which he put off to the side on an elegant stone table. The mirrors facing him doubled as a reactive surface, displaying (in-addition to the unshaven mug of a 63-year old man) the morning prophecies, weather and temperature, news alerts, and messaging. A red light flashed - to be calling at this hour, it could only be one person. He hit it as he got out his shaving equipment.

A younger face dominated the far left reflector. Bald, in uniform, with a deeper voice that did not match his naive exterior and without any indication of pity for calling at such an ungodly hour. Thomas the Liasion at his most humanitarian. "We've got a crisis. I need you here."

He glanced at the digital clock. "It's 4:30. Another six-hundred forms about troop-deployments can't wait?"

"Not that. We're short an impartial observer. Be here by 5. We're waiting."

Thomas swiped a hand over the image, and it dissipated, only leaving the reflector.

No time for a shower. Phillip limped back into the bedroom and removed his pyjamas, swapping them for his old Plainclothes. He strapped on his gun and slid a badge onto his belt, and headed towards a large, sterile walk-in booth near the door to his room. He walked inside, feeling the mild claustrophobia that always arose in the small, gray, booth, and folded the door closed behind him.

In front of him, on a small, raised platform, sat an altar, sprinkled with flowers and candles and a picture of Phillip's favorite result of the Coalition's endemic iconophilia - a rendered axolotl crossed by two swords, which (for some reason, lost to him) he found incomparably amusing.

A slab of meat sat in the midst of the honored place, next to his pocket knife. He cut into it and sprinkled some poppy over the blood-soaked mess. The cry he'd heard easily within the range of a hundred times once more came into being, in the form of a irate spirit, shackled to the altar, possessed with the face of a woman and the body of a snake.

"1 UN, please. Reverse the charges."

The thing seized him, wrapping itself around his garment until he was totally smothered in its embrace. It disappeared, and he found himself falling through a sea of sparks.

He was on solid ground again - the plaza at the base of HQ. Even in the early morning, it saw activity - suits walking in pairs in and out of shadows, a STRIKE team on patrol. Even at base level - this top of a grand, pyramidic staircase the Coalition was so fond of - many of the new high-rises could be seen, along with the endless blinking lights of jet-cars for the low-of-income and old-fashioned among the new society.

He walked into the building as the moon began to leave the horizon.

He saw Thomas first. The receptionist'd given him a location - top-floor - and it wasn't too hard to go from there. Everything was blocked off. An endless sea of shock-tape he needed to constantly wave about his badge to have cut, until eventually he found Thomas at a spacious corner office in its own section of the floor. Flanked by two soldiers in armor, the Liasion tapped a watch. "I wouldn't be late, if you didn't have your goons barricade the entire facility." Thomas shrugged, then motioned him inside. The grunts cocked their guns.

The first thing he noticed was the blood.

It was quite literally everywhere. He slowly circled the room, trying not to touch anything. A bookshelf to his left, a desk in front - and a window behind. A full V shape of someone's essence, imposed over the chair, and then more outside its outline over the viewport.

He looked back at Thomas. "What is this?"

"A lieutenant general's office. Jennifer Dower."

He turned to the chair. "Supposing then…"

"That's the general, yes."

The surveillance room was magnificent; a wide, dark chamber, populated by hundreds of well-dressed heads, hunched over computer terminals, facing the grand centerpiece of security: the FaceRec tree, humming on spirit power and locking on to every Blue, Green and Yellow within the city's vicinity. The agent in Phillip loved to come see it. The human despised it.

For the moment, he, Thomas, and the dutiful Security Chief sat at an innocuous, unoccupied terminal at the room's far corner. The security footage showed her hard at work one moment, a flash of light - and paste, over the walls of her office. "Is it missing a frame?" Phillip asked, incredulous. The security chief shook his head. "That's what we've got."

Phillip scratched his chin. "Well it's not very much. Not to go off of. For all we know this could just be a double-E."

Thomas and the Chief exchanged looks. "A what, sir?"

"A double- sorry, a procedural anomaly. I mean, why are you assuming she had a killer at all? It's a tragedy for the poor girl, but that's not my department."

Thomas appeared to consider something, and then dismissed the Chief, who saluted and moved away to review one of the endless monitors. He then said, with grim resolution, "I'll bring you down to the body."

They made their way into the depths of the building via a huge lift. The orange sunrise laid bare the twinkling city of high-rises filled to capacity and iterations in-progress. Eventually they descended below ground, and the doors opened to a white waiting area. "What is this place?"

"The morgue."

They walked into the vestibule, where they met a partition manned by a small individual in an labcoat, the palette of which was equally as prejudiced towards blinding-white as the rest of the room. He greeted them with a smile.

"Welcome, Liasion! It has been only days since your last visit. I'm honored."

Thomas returned the younger's grin. "I'm afraid the circumstances are the same, doctor." The latter's eyes flickered between the pair. "Shall I bring you to her then? Her contents remain pristine."

Thomas nodded. "Yes please, my friend.

The doctor left his office through a sliding wall on the right hand side, and, pushing his finger into a port, opened another door, which he ushered them through.

The hall was expansive. From his meagre position, Phillip could see a vast collection of rows of white tablets, stretching horizontally in regular intervals. "Quickly now," the doctor advised. "It is a ways there." He and Thomas started off, leaving Phillip to follow from a distance. "This is the morgue?" He asked.

"Yes," the doctor confirmed, with a touch of confusion. "Have you not seen the rows before?"

"No," Phillip admitted. "What are they?"

"What do they look like?" Thomas muttered.

"What, you mean - all these - people?"

The doctor assented, "Coalition, Council, city officials."

"No regular people."

"No. The heap reorganizes their components, for maximum efficiency. Remember - the bombings?"

"I remember."

"It's through here." They entered one of the columns, passing bleached chest after bleached chest until finally, they came upon one in particular. The doctor pushed a button on the side of tablet, springing open a harness. In several swift movements, he strapped his hand to the getup, which then proceeded to enter him with several sharp objects. After several seconds, the device gave off a low beep, followed by lighting of a green LED, leading the doctor to unstrap himself, push the harness back in, and pop open the tablet - swinging the lid over his head as he did so. Inside, hyper cooled, were what appeared to be large chops of flesh.

"What is this?" Phillip asked. Thomas answered, "Viscera, bone fragments, brain matter - everything we could recover, barring the essence."

"Doctor, would you leave us, a moment?" The man consented and moved back up the column, his black hair the only thing separating his pale form from the rest of the room.

From his breast pocket Thomas removed a huge device; at first glance Phillip assumed it to be a syringe, but the mass of circuitry and glyphs on the exterior made him take a second guess. Before he could, Thomas stabbed the device into a mass of the woman's flesh and, very slowly, body mass floated onward and upward through the small tube, compacted to the point where the hunk of meat from which it had fed was significantly diminished in significance. He walked over to a small readout over the coffin and plugged the device in to a port adjacent to it, reading 'PROP'T.' It whirred and hummed, and eventually a number came up on the screen. Phillip had difficulty believing his eyes.

"You asked why we're assuming foul play. Provisional-Councilman Torvin, if at the conclusion of your investigation, it is your professional opinion that this woman was not murdered, I will see to it personally you do not work in this building again."

Thomas put his hands together. "You're acquainted with this kind of work. A psyker in the High Command proper will cause a panic. You'll find me a trail and paint me a picture: this woman was murdered, by a Type Yellow. We will then proceed as the situation necessitates - destroying the elements involved, or publicizing them, to be forgotten. You have two weeks."

He sauntered off.

Phillip kept watching the screen.

The Contour was almost empty the night after. Barring a few lonely saps drinking themselves to death to the sweet crooning of washed-up and deceased Hollywood artists, all was quiet and solitary. He shared his usual Scotch at the bar with Griffith - who, despite all the hardship facing ex-Foundation operatives, found himself stable enough to swap stories most nights of the week.

Phillip continued on, "A Yellow. Four years STRIKE, Professional Citation. Latent, or - hidden. All that time."

"It's pretty unbelievable. Military family. How would they have gotten by?"

"That's what I'm gonna find out."

"You taking a visit?"

"They live in the boonies. Guess people like that - have their reasons."

"Are you gonna tell them?

"Depends. If I'm feeling particularly nasty. What about you? What's cooking in the department?"

"Besides the slave labor?" Griff gave a morbid chuckle.

"Besides that."

Griffith leaned in close, as though imparting a secret: "Dillon's in China. I'm here handling his paperwork, while I have agency spooks creeping up my asshole. Making sure the old man doesn't fuck up their precious and confidential operations."

"So - per usual."

"Pretty much." Griff smiled. "You know how much I love our little talks, Phillip."

"I love 'em too. Makes me feel -" he shook his head, suddenly disgusted.

Griffi obviously noticed his discomfort. "World's gone to shit, hasn't it?"

Phillip shrugged. "Who's to say?"

Griffi raised his eyebrows, and said, "I do. Nights at Redrafted. Sally Lewin - mm."

"And Dave Defranco. Those were - interesting times."

Griff scoffed. "Interesting? Be honest with yourself, man. Better times!"

"I don't know, anymore."

They grew quiet for a time. They listened to the resident performer - a beautiful woman, with a voice to match. Griff eventually returned, "Where do you figure they went wrong? Along the way."

After a while, Phillip said quietly, "I think about it. Quite a bit." He felt a well open up in his chest. "Empires die all the time, Griff. Some of them get overturned, fighting for what's right. Others bleed to death from their own incompetence. I guess ours just… faded. The time was right and we - well, we're just here to clean up the scraps."

The seas of sparks again. The worlds became less lustrous, and darkened; he was on the edge of a vast forest of pine. A barren field sat before him, and at the center - picturesque scarlet cabin, except he's confused, moved outside the perimeter. "Hello? Coalition business!" Nothing responded; for a wild hideaway, it was exceptionally quiet. Removing his badge, he slowly walked up to the house. It looked warm and natural and inviting, and as he stomped up the wooden steps to the porch, he began to feel somewhat more confident in his survival. He knocked on the wooden door.

Just then, a flurry of activity erupted behind him. He spun back around, and in the field, perhaps a dozen different sentry guns had popped up from the foxholes in the mud, their barrels trained directly on his centre mass. Before he could spring to cover, metal shifted away in the door behind him.

"Turn yourself."

He complied, and in doing so he saw that a small visor had opened in the door as he had been accosted by the sentries. Behind it lay two brown, powerful eyes.

"If you want to survive the coming minutes, I recommend telling what it is you're out in this neck o' the woods."

He spoke, keeping his hands raised. "PHYSICS. I have a badge. Do you want it?"

This gave the eyes paused, before they ordered him, "Step back, slow-like." He did so.

"Hold it up." Phillip retrieved it from his belt, uncomfortably aware of the number of guns whirring to lock on to the action. He held it up.

After a period of observation, the eyes said, "Now put it back down." He dropped it, and on impulse, his other hand followed suit. The latch closed, and the door clicked and clacked as its various securities released. The door opened, and he knew he was looking at Colonel Dower for the very first time.

"PHYSICS," the Colonel repeated.

"In the flesh." Phillip assured him.

The man sniffed. "You know my daughter? She's in the corps. Figure a man like you - you might get around to knowing a girl like her."

"…Mr. Dower, may I please come in?"

Mrs. Dower wailed from the confines of her bedroom. The living room itself was a lovely place; ornate, filled to the brim with carvings of fantastic creatures. Mr. Dower sat solemnly in what looked to be a hand-carved wooden chair.

"I didn't raise a psyker." He said.

Phillip tried to comfort him. "I've been going through the archive. If she ever learned what she was, she kept it on the down low. She would've gone through - hundred, two hundred C-tests. She couldn't slip through that, no-one could. Your daughter was a very special woman, Col. Dower. However she did it - it's what we're left with."

"Is there anything else?"

"Yes. I need to talk to you about some - specificities." He took out a pen and pad from his jacket pocket.

"Colonel, to be utterly frank, High Command wants me to paint this as a murder case. Now, I have nowhere to start, and absolutely nothing to go with. If you can give me something, anything that could help me build - some kind of dossier, that'd be appreciated."

"Well what're you lookin' for?"

"Anything. Grudges, friendships, sexual…' he stopped himself. "Sexual relations, perhaps of a dubious nature."

"Oh, god." The Colonel exhaled. Phillip searched for the idea that would make it acceptable. He failed to find it.

Time passed. Mr. Dower sighed. "It's why I left the force, you know. Shit like this. Pack of shit-heaps and liars."

"They're just… just trying to keep things together."

"Where'd you serve, boy?" His voice was urgent and a little bit afraid. Phillips was taken aback. "I'm sorry?"

He repeated, "Where'd you serve? Africa? The Tropics?"

"Europe. I served in Europe."


"Mobile, yes."

"Cheating sons of bitches. You ever seen anything like this? Far too much, Phillip thought. "Something akin to this situation - yes, once."

"My daughter was a whore. She did her time, did her service. Just as honored as you or me. You get that."

"Yes sir, I do."

"Back then, she wrote us - letters -" Dower stood, and with a dazed gait he walked to the coffee table at the center of the room, where photographs of a girl, flowers, and a small pine box sat in the middle. He picked up the box. "High castle wasn't so fond of the paper-bound stuff, but she insisted." He removed a small stack of yellowed paper from the chest, dropping it on the table and shifting through until he found what he was looking for - a single sheet of paper - and, with a trembling hand, extended it to Phillip, who took it.

The print was small. Phillip began to search out his reading glasses. "Martin Lawrence." Dowers said. "Don't know who he is, don't know where he went. Build your dossier." He stalked off, towards the cries of his wife. Phillip stood. "Colonel?"

Dowers turned to him with tears in his eyes. "Get out of my house. Please."

"Colonel the - could I -"

"Take it. Take them all. They were hers." Dowers entered the bedroom and closed the door. Phillip could still hear them mourn through the home-made wall.

It grew quiet. In the end, Phillip put away his glasses, gathered up the letters, and put them in the box. The door did not creak as he returned to the sunset.

That night, he buried himself in stationary. He sipped bourbon quietly in the study as he pored over the woman's records - an endless collection. He knew that if he was going to find anything, there'd be traces of it in the mail.


Mom, Colonel - it's Jennifer. I'm writing to you on your orders, and while this command's not altogether providing of leisure time, should I fail, and let them take me, I'll just have to come back around, so that you can set me straight. The post is going pretty well. We're a five man group - Leo, Silica, Norm, and Marty. And if you're wondering - Leo is just fine where he belongs. Supplies are good; the locals keep us in their favor. They've got no love for the insurgents, these folk. We met up with a FU adjutant a couple miles back. He looked world-weary. I almost felt sorry for the guy. Appealing to your rival - I'll always remember that lesson, Colonel.



Hey pals. Jen here. We're pushing along the river. The bombardment is pretty constant, but we'll hold up yet. STRIKE's shooting us some reinforcements from the South - we'll win enough time to break out, and then we can clear them out of the bush for good.

Scylla and Leo dispatched their commands yesterday. When the troop gets here, they'll bring them out - back home. I don't know how's Norm's taking it. He's stable, but he keeps interior most of the time. I'll give him a talk tonight. Maybe we can mail the ring to her parents.

Marty's doing worse. We've kept him in sickbay for most of our camp. He was always nervous, but I'm not sure he'll pull through this time. He took one squad yesterday, and it really wore him out. I might just have to keep him on probation. One less set of hands, but we can't really let him die.

Jen here,

Berlin is beautiful at night. One day I'll get the money and bring you both out here, just for a trip. Marty and I stood post and the sky lit up as our Harriers ran the mortars. The ejecta - these guinea pigs are easy pickings. I'm surprised they've given the Taskers such a beating. Perhaps they've just been run down.

Speaking of Marty, he proposed yesterday. I said ok. Norm's been gone for months, and it's been a lonely way out here. I think you'd be alright with him, dad.

We're moving deeper into city-centre tomorrow. Providing support for a forward column - it shouldn't be much of a stretch. Till then.

He removed his reading glasses. "Pontus, the time." The Lare lit up the room. "5:00, sir. The sun is rising on New York. Would you like me to prepare the coffee?"

"No, Pontus. Thank you. But lay out my clothes, please. And get me my pills."

It was a bright, sunny day outside the archive. The nature lounge area they'd set outside was full of couples; he chose a bench, near a cluster of pigeons, and decided to call Griffith. He heard the man pick up with a sort of primal grunt. "Griff."

"Phil! What's happening? We on for tonight?"

"Maybe sooner. Do you still have access to the old network?

"Network? Uh- what, what network? Phil, look, I'm feedin' my cats here - yes, you Sunny - can we do this later?"

"I don't know. I got a lead last night." "Oh yeah. The parents." Phillip heaved a sigh as he heard him set down something heavy over the phone. "How'd that one go? You piss in their mouths?"

"No, no. I've been running through the Coalition's logs, but there's nothing on this name - Martin Lawrence. I needed to know if you still have access." "To what? Phil?"

"The network." He tried to let the statement sink in. "

A voice tinged with melancholy answered him, "…SCiPNet?"


"Well why didn't you just say that? No, Phil I don't have access. Why would you even think about something like that?"

Phillip took out the letter he'd tucked into his jacket the night before. He'd pored over it at least a dozen times. "These are dated pre-war. Maybe something was lost."

He heard Griff groan over the line. "Phil, what was the deal with this high castle bitch in the first place? You know? Lay it out for me." He thought long and hard.

"Dower gets booted up the line, dies, and tests positive for specimen L-" He sighed. "Type yellow.

"Do you hear what you're saying Phil?"


"Check em out. Head down to the camp. If you don't get ahold of this Lawrence, maybe you'll work something out."


He hung up and looked back towards the archive. The area was full of trees, expelling their red-and-orange natural works of art - honoring the great, solid structure.

That evening, before entering the Thaumatic chamber, he entered the rough set of coordinates he'd pulled from the library. Once again, he fell through a whirlwind of sparks, and a moment later - found himself on solid Earth.

It was not the Quarantine Zone, he could see that well enough. If anything, it was a slum on the outskirts. Dumpster and barrel fires lit up the streets. Men and women roamed about in a ramshackle collections of clothes and he could see the UN building in the distance. The Slums.

He checked the coordinates on his GPS. He was just a mile outside the basic perimeter. It'd be a walk, but he could make it. He walked through the street, acutely aware of the weapon hanging in his shoulder holster.

As he hiked through the smouldering ruins of his old job, most of the vagrants and disposed experiments paid him attention at first - but, upon sighting the style of firearm under his bicep, slunk off in fear of retribution. While moving over a collapsed overpass, he was privy to the fine actions of his new colleagues; STRIKE officers, fully outfitted for the hazardous environment preparing to summarily dispatch the commands of a number of weak-looking, sickly people. Their visors glowed blue and red in the night and while they tracked his movement, they too left him mercifully unmolested.

As he drew closer to the site, he passed down a long avenue - once the site of heavy fighting, from the looks of the decaying fissures and bullet holes. Winos and wartrash hung about, and eventually, after climbing over a half-century old taxi, he happened upon what looked like a young girl and her mother.

Both were clothed in rags. The older woman appeared to be sleeping, and the child clutched her chest, whispering and crying. He knelt down on the hood of the car, and watched as, slowly, the woman brought her hand up to the child's face, brushing away tears and dirt, before expiring. As the child began to wail, Phillip decides it was his time to depart. There was nothing to be done.

As he drew farther and farther away from the Pyramid, where the glittering lights of the city behind almost faded, he happened upon fewer and fewer residents.

It came as he rounded the corner to a wide, empty Boulevard. His muscles ached and he began to consider the possibility the Quarantine Zone was, in fact, only a horrible rumor, perpetrated as fact for the benefit of naughty children. But before he could convince himself of the fantasy, headlights shown in the distance. A real vehicle, plowing through car wrecks. He rushed toward it, and eventually it became clear that the transport in question was a truck, well-emblazoned with Coalition colors. The engine became a roar and he rolled out of the way as it ran through his form. A soldier on the back of the truck, standing at a large turret swiveled the gun to face him.

"PHYSICS." He cried. "Coalition business."

The burly form leaped out of the truck and considered him from up above.

A pounding headache and several minutes later, he found himself in the back of the very same truck. The tall man stood on a gun at the rear of the cabin, scanning a horizon Phillip could not see. Rubbing his eyes, he perceived himself to be surrounded by a number of other dissidents; rich, poor, crying, stoic. The rumbling of the truck shook them all, but if it was bringing him where he thought it was - he could live with that.

Eventually he came to looking over the edge of the truck. They had arrived at a grand, walled compound, in a dusty, cleared out area smack in the middle of former suburbia. A huge, silver-and-gold UN emblem set against the black walls, made him shiver.

They carry him inside, and he gets up, and sees the vast numbers of people. The convoy slowed as they passed through the main gate. On all sides were cages full of silent men and women, clad in colored jumpsuits. Above them, quadrotors spun a fine mist of nutrients, water, and neural inhibitor into the cells, banishing thoughts of sleep, food or sex from the assets.

It was quite ingenious, Phillip thought. How wise of them to adapt a tried-and-true Foundation technique.

"How special are you?" Turning his head, he found a voice, hosted by a ragged-looking man in a torn blue jacket. He considered the question.

"I'm not."

He looked up at the gunner. "Hey." When the lumbering form turned to address him, he removed his badge from his back belt and waved it at him. "PHYSICS," he said, "Coalition business.

The gunner, seeing the double-palm globe on the face of the badge, left his post, plucked the parcel from Phillip's hand and examined it more closely. After a moment, the gunner looked at him with great intensity - all that could really be gleaned from the one-eyed mask he wore. A warbled voice replied,



The gunner kicked him in the teeth. He groaned, "Uh, countersign, wasn't it? It's been a while." The gunner slipped the badge into his pocket and turned back to his Browning. Phillip coughed up blood. "Wait," he croaked. The gunner glanced back around, "I've got it - Echo-Sierra-Baker. With a twist."

The gunner stared at him. His impenetrable, singular eye bore down into Phillip's two own.


The lift opened on a long hall, which they dutifully dragged him down. Windows on the sides gave a perfect view of the suffering below, and the sight at the end of the hall was perhaps one equally intimidating.

The Warden - Phillip presumed the man was the Warden, courtesy of his styled black uniform and army of citations planted on his chest - was a huge man; even from a distance, Phillip could perceive the fat cigar hanging off his lip as being puny compared to his monster of a face. A pair of rottweilers growled beside his desk, and to his right sat a pleasure spirit, who smiled at him. The guards roughly forced him before the man on a mat emblazoned with the same olive branches he'd seen outside.

The Warden peered at him over the equipment. "Hello, Agent Torvin. I wish you'd notified us of your visit; I'd've sent a car for you."

"Sorry." Despite himself, he was. He stood. "I didn't know this place was off the map."

"Well, we can't have people popping in and out of the holdings at will. Bad for business." The Warden considered Phillip - perhaps measuring him up for the slaughter. "It's two hours until we ship them out to the labor districts; I have five minutes." The implication was clear; you have five minutes.

"I'm looking for someone." After a moment's consideration, he added "A man, Martin Lawrence."

"One of my inmates?" The Warden's tone was cautious, as might be expected. I could very well be here to break someone out, he thought. Perhaps even now, it's still not so implausible.

"No, or - maybe. Somebody's dead and I'm looking into it. They're my only lead."

"Is this NERO business?"

"No sir. I'm empowered by NERO. But I retain my services and loyalty - to the Foundation."

"The Foundation," the Warden uttered in a stunningly unsuccessful attempt to constrain disbelief.

"Yes sir." The Warden chewed on his cigar. As he waited for reply, Phillip's concussion-addled mind began to construct an elaborate joke regarding oral fixation.

"And what is it that drew you to my facilities in particular, Mr. Torvin?"

"You're the primary house for Yellow acquisition in the region. I couldn't find anything on him in records.

"Records is horseshit. Lily."

The Pleasure spirit stood at attention. "Yes, sweet pea?

"Escort Mr. Torvin here down to the labs. If he can't find his man, have a detachment bring him back to HQ. Right away."

"Come, darling," her wispy form carried him along, back down the dark hall to the lift. He felt a rough push and he collided with the far elevator wall, and the lights flickered as the button for a 'Level 3' lit up near the doors. He dusted himself off, and the latter opened a minute later. A smell hit him. The room was full of death.

He walked forward. Masked, robed figures stood around operating tables meticulously spaced out in the periphery of the room, allowing a straight corridor through where to a room at the back. Everywhere his eyes begged him not to glance bore witness to one atrocity after another; live vivisections, squirming bodies with their innards portrayed, a team of the figures working with edged items around inside something covered and awful, a hoisted man in the nude, receiving limb prosthesis.

His ears rang and his head swelled from sensory overload. He did not vomit; he had stopped when he was 30. Instead, a well of anger and frustration inexplicably reared itself from his stomach, stretching all the way up through his ribcage. He felt wont to think, and comprehend the people around him.

Years seemed to pass before one such robed figure, overseeing the work in the awful thing, extracted itself from the operation and walked readily toward him. Phillip blinked at the short, oddly unimposing image of a man, which made a grunt of appreciation and lifted up its welding goggles. He - it was, in fact, a he - extended a hand, with which he grabbed Phillips own digits and shook with vigor. "You're the man from NERO, yes?" He didn't respond. The figure continued, regardless, "Warden just radioed, said you'd be coming along. You wanted information on one of my patients. Come. I have the full medical history in my study. Come along, come along!"

The figure, with a starkly surprising gentleness, took hold of Phillip's arm and led him through the grisly scene. Symbology he recognized from his time with the Fox sprung up from the Awful thing, springing around the room in a physical substance, shaping and molding itself to the cheers of the onlooking figures. The journey to the back ended only after a century had passed in his mind, when the creak from the doorknob crept its way into his subconscious.

The office was as stark white as the morgue and the operating room they had departed, and with a nudge the doctor indicated for him to seat himself at a chair behind a desk at the center of the wide, sterile chamber. The doctor then seated himself; at the desk was a terminal, and with a few clicks of a mouse to his side, and some clacking from the keyboard, a panel ejected from the side of the monitor. The doctor ripped off his glove and tossed it into the waste bin, and pressed his thumb hard against a fitted groove in the center of the pop-out. A voice proclaimed, Aura recognized. Designated user. Full access.

"And what was the name you required?"

"Martin Lawrence." His ears were still ringing.

The keyboard clacked. "Martin Lawrence, any middle name, date of birth."

"His birthday was in March. March 25th."

The doctor tapped into the terminal and grinned. "Ah, yes - I have three such individuals. One Martin William Joseph Lawrence, currently serving in-house as one of our test subjects. Another, Martin Daniel Lawrence - deceased. And a third - Martin James Lawrence. Missing."

Phillip's jaw opened. "What- what is he? "

The doctor continued, "I'm sorry. Martin James Lawrence. Missing. An early acquiry. Latent ability. Says here he had military service. Coalition work in Europe - classified."

"Context - what was the context of his escape?"

The doctor shook his head. "Lost, here. Undetermined. We have many pass-throughs. It is difficult to keep track. It is possible he would've been picked up again under a different name. Or, he might've vanished. Funny case."

"Sir?" His eyes were dull. He saw nothing. All was glass.

"Sir, are you all right? Sir?"

"I'll take those files to go, if you please."

He slammed them down on the table - the box, a sheaf of data he'd picked up from the Quarantine Zone, everything. Thomas had insisted on meeting him in the war room, in the highest of Coalition offices. Down below, one could see the Empire building - dwindled and decrepit, but standing.

"I've got your picture," he said.

Thomas turned from the window at the far end, and walk around the edge of the room. "What's all that?"

He was ready. "Dower was emotionally engaged with a colleague, Martin Lawrence. Near the end of their tour in the Union, he passed the TYBQ with full confidence, and got remanded to custody in Germany and then New York, and then he escaped. She never appealed on his behalf and, unless these are to show any different, never made to contact or resume relations with him in any way."

Thomas had cleared the table and stood beside him. "It doesn't wholly explain matters, but I suppose it's sufficient."

"There was a child."

A silence passed. Thomas walked back over to the window and stewed. Phillip began to worry for his health. If he wasn't enhanced, he was still so young to be collecting such stress.

"When?" Thomas asked.

Phillip shrugged. "Don't know. I'm assuming as early as 2019. There's references to it everywhere in her work. So much was encoded, though - she must not've trusted the couriers, even with their past experience."

"Anything else?" Thomas' voice edged slightly.

Phillip thought. "They spent so much time in Germany; maybe she got picked up with her father."

"It's not out of the realm of possibility. Is he still alive?"

"They couldn't say." Phillip gestured at the papers. "This is all we have. It's what you asked me for." He straightened his tie and turned to leave. "And if that's all, I'll be heading home."

"You're not done." Thomas said, sharply.

Phillip looked back. "I'm sorry?"

"You're not done. How many more have you spoken to about this?"

Phillip turned back around and put his hands in his pockets. With a sinking feeling, he realized his answer could prove deadly.

"No-one. Not yet."

Thomas himself returned; his eyes were not the same fearful ones that'd surfaced just moments ago. They were icy, and full of resolve. "Colleagues?"

Phillip suddenly became very aware of the rain pounding the window outside. "None."

The rain pounded further as the two men stared each other down across the room.

Thomas finally opened his mouth. "We cannot allow this to germinate."

"Why?" He asked the question that'd been eating him since he'd left. "They had a bastard in wartime. That's nothing uncommon. What is the malfunction here?"

Thomas gritted his teeth. "Nothing you need to know. But I still need my impartial observer." He waited before finally concluding, "I want the father's body. And the child's, preferably. Ashes would be acceptable, if unfortunate. Go out and find them."

"What if they're alive? I'll need backup to bring them in, he had full proficiency with th-"

Thomas shook his head. "You will have no backup. You will not bring them in."

Phillip heart sank a little further down. "Why me? Send STRIKE."

"As you fail, I will. But I would prefer this dealt with discreetly. Outside the chain of command." Thomas' hard exterior softened. "I know you, Phillip. You do good work. You've done better, so far."

Phillip was frozen. He didn't know what to say. He had a million thoughts racing through his mind - he hadn't felt as such but back at the old Site. He turned to leave again. As he opened the door, Thomas left him with a parting note.

"I know I can trust you, Mr. Torvin. If not for your sake - then for Griff's."

As he left the plaza, he threw his phone down a sewer drain.

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