The sun was beginning to rise. It was already ‘tomorrow’, and if I was to be awake when the investigator was ready in the evening, I’d have to sleep during the morning.
Becoming aware of my surroundings again, I hesitantly spoke four words. “That’s… all for now.”
I stood up from my chair, looking at my long empty cup of root beer forlornly. I felt so much calmer than I had back in the moments I was reminiscing about. But thinking about how I acted with my mother… it didn’t make me feel like a proud warrior. I didn’t exactly regret it either. It just made me feel sad. Like all our emotions were needlessly confused.
I walked over to the window and gazed across the landscape, the orange sun slowly rising. A large orange bird flew across my view in the distance.
Slowly I turned to the computer the investigator had set up on the table. I walked over to it and sat down, looking for the button to stop the recording.
The door behind me hissed open.
The investigator took a few steps forward and leaned in over my shoulder, hitting the stop button on the recording. She wasn’t wearing her uniform and her hair looked messy, and in her hand she was holding a coffee mug.
“What were you doing?” she asked quickly.
I stood up out of the chair and dusted myself off. Calmly, I replied. “I was simply pausing the recording.”
She blinked, and scanned me over suspiciously. “You… you were recording the story all night? Until just now?”
She shook her head and scoffed. “I guess it’ll take me several hours to listen through it all then.”
I shrugged. “That is accurate.”
“Did you stay up this whole time?” She asked incredulously.
“I’ve stayed up longer in the past.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you have,” she said, taking her seat in the chair.
“Well, I must sleep now if we are to continue the story this evening. I hope what I’ve recorded so far helps.”
“Me too,” she said. “Goodnight- Er, morning… Have a good sleep. Let me know when you wake up, assuming I’m finished listening to this.”
I stepped out of the room as I heard the click of a button, and my own voice began, staticy through the speakers. “I tried not to think about Joëlle’s squad, or that woman’s husband. The doors to the generator room…”
I wandered back to my room. Each step I took, I felt like I was getting farther and farther from the past. The sun was rising, but the shadows were long, and the room seemed to stretch. It was probably just my tired brain, but with each footstep I felt like my mind was also stepping simultaneously toward and away from infinity. Away from and toward so many memories of a time not so long ago, and of friends. But here and now, I was alone.
That evening, after a good amount of rest, I wrenched myself out of bed, and got some breakfast and a morning tea, steaming and minty. I took a stroll outside the building, breathing the fresh air in through my nose. TAU ships were scattered across the sky and landed on the ground between skyther ones, and patrols of soldiers of both factions marched across the landscape, mingling with civilians. The TAU ships seemed to be in good condition, and great numbers. I was pleased to offer them a safe haven in this region of space, though at a glance they didn’t look like they needed it.
“Talcorosax,” said an unfamiliar voice.
I spun around to see a TAU captain, fully armed and armoured. His armour was just like Captain Orion’s, from Voren, and his face was completely obscured by his helmet.
“Yes, Captain?” I replied, standing tall.
“Investigator Mercedes wishes to speak with you,” he said plainly.
“Alright.” I said, gazing off into the distance. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
He took a small step toward me. “Immediately.”
I looked him up and down. The rifle in his hands was neither active, nor aimed my way, but I got the sense there was a reason he was holding it. Slowly, I nodded.
“Right this way,” he said, and I began to follow him.
I entered the room once again, and the doors shut behind me. My empty cup of root beer from the day before was still placed on the table. The investigator was sitting in her seat, once again looking pristine in her uniform. She looked up at me as I entered. Two TAU soldiers were standing on either side of her. The window’s blinds were closed, and the room seemed strangely dark. The Captain stood behind me as I sat down.
The seat creaked as I leaned into it. “What’s the matter, investigator?” I asked, calmly.
“Nothing’s the matter,” she said, smiling slightly. “I’m just eager to ask you some questions.”
My heart rate was beginning to rise. “Ask away.”
She leaned forward slightly. “This whole time, in your story, you’re acting like you didn’t know about Jonathan. Is this true?”
I paused, briefly. “At the time, I didn’t know.”
She continued, “And K, you admitted to considering that she might have been a sleeper agent?”
I took a deep breath. “Yes, the thought crossed my mind.”
She continued pressing further, “You admit to trying to help K-”
“Of course,” I said, agitated. “K is my friend.”
“...Was.” I said, grimacing. What was she getting at? I thought. “You heard the story so far. I thought you’d understand.”
She leaned back. “We thought you’d understand, Talcorosax, that we aren’t interested in your life story. Arguing with your mother, circling in your own head about what’s right and wrong, true or false, laughing and crying, we don’t care. We don’t care about you, Talcorosax. All we want to know is the Brotherhood’s role in all of this mess.”
I paused, drinking in the silence of the room. If she didn’t care about me, she could have gone to anyone else to get their side of the story. She was particular about speaking to me, specifically. So why was she lying?
“You didn’t need to seek haven here, did you?” I said, my eyes narrowing and my ears peeling back. “You just wanted an excuse to station your ships in the atmosphere, your troops on the ground, because you think I’m a member of the Brotherhood. You think I’m somehow working with them.” I gripped my empty cup tightly. “And you’re afraid that I might attack.”
The investigator paused, smiled, and shook her head. “No no no, nothing like that. We wanted to seek haven here, for the time being, to restock and rest for a while. Fleets this big need significant time for repairs, and the crews need shore leave. It was just convenient that you were here to give us some information about the Brotherhood.”
I snorted. “I seriously doubt that I have any information which you don’t already have about the Brotherhood.”
“Just, tell us what happened to K,” she asked, clearly agitated, but masking it with a smile. I noticed the two TAU soldiers behind her exchange glances.
“No.” I said quietly.
“No?” Her eyebrows raised, and her smile faded.
“I don’t care what your reasons are for being here, you’re still guests.” I said. “And I will not just tell you what happened to K. I made it clear what is right for my culture, and what is right for me. And that is to make sure I do what is right for this story. I won’t leave out details. I won’t skip ahead.”
I heard the investigator groan as she put her head in her hands. “Please make it as quick as possible,” she said. But I was watching her intently. Behind her fingers, I noticed her shielded lips twitch into a slight smile. She actually wants to hear the whole story?
My skin began to crawl. I looked up at the soldiers, my eyes shifting between everyone. Had she been using reverse psychology on me? What did she really want?
Body tensing, I closed my eyes briefly, trying to mask my newfound nervousness. Even if I didn’t know, I knew I had to take some control of the situation.
“I don’t think those soldiers will be necessary. You aren’t scaring me.”
One of them spoke up to the investigator. “Sir?”
She met my gaze, and for a few solid seconds we shared in an unspoken staring contest. “Just go,” she said. “You too, Captain.”
“Of course,” he said, motioning the other soldiers to follow him out of the room. The door shut behind them.
“I’m opening the windows,” I said. I moved to let in some light, and exhaled deeply as quietly as I could.
The room was filled with light, though the sun would be setting soon. I had slept through most of the day. I took a seat again, pressing a button on my holo-gauntlet. She looked slightly amused, one eyebrow raised almost unnoticeably.
“Would you care for any refreshments?” I asked the investigator, trying to sound as pleasant as possible.
“Please,” she said halfheartedly.
“You know,” I said as a skyther brought me a fresh root beer and another drink for the investigator, “There’s nothing forcing you to listen to this whole story.”
She remained silent for a moment until the skyther left the room, and I sipped my drink, eagerly anticipating her response. “Actually,” she said carefully, “I was lying.”
I blinked. She was eyeing me closely, gauging my response.
“I do have orders to get this information from you, because you are under suspicion of working with the Brotherhood.”
“Of course,” she said, “I don’t believe it. To be honest, I don’t even want to be here.”
“That’s not obvious at all,” I said.
“I wouldn’t normally open up like this to someone I was investigating, but this is a special case. We’ve all heard the story about you in one way or another. It’s just… it’s hard to believe you’d be working with the Brotherhood. I guess I feel like this whole thing has been a waste of time.”
My brows furrowed. “Well, to be honest, it has been greatly helpful to me to have an audience for this story… a reason to tell it. So, I appreciate it.”
She smiled. “I’m glad something is coming of all this. But since your people value storytelling so much, why haven’t you just recorded this story on your own?”
I walked over to the window and gazed up at the sky. “And how do you know I haven’t?” I asked. I was glancing at her reflection through the window.
Her hand darted to her chest for a second. The question seemed to catch her off-guard.
“Well,” she began, “you said yesterday that you’d never told this story to anyone.”
I turned to her. “I never said I made no records of it.”
The investigator remained silent. When I looked at her she was shaking her head. “Okay,” she said. “Well, in any case, I’m not leaving until I have a recording of you explaining what happened to K, and to-”
“I get it,” I said, raising my hand as I returned to my seat. “And I promise, I will get to that part. But as I’ve said before, I must tell the story properly. The first telling will shape the future tellings, even if you are the only one to hear it.”
“Yes,” she said, removing her cap and placing it on the table. “Well, take as long as you need.” She clicked a button on her computer, and gestured to me to begin the story again, as she leaned back into her chair trying to get comfortable.
I eyed her intently and she returned my gaze. She wasn’t being fully honest with me. But I had a suspicion that the only way I could find out her true motives was to play along. And if truthfully, she was just here on TAU authority to investigate any connections I might have had to the Brotherhood, then I’d best tell the story properly to dispel any suspicion. Either way, she had me where she wanted. I knew I had to keep talking.