Beyond Right and Wrong
AN: An honest attempt to write my own BG&E II story, now that I know a sequel is in production. It will be filled with danger. Intrigue. Suspense. Mystery. Angst. And yes…even romance. Eventually. Please give the ship a chance, folks.
It's rated PG-13 for now. Some of the chapters in the future will be rated considerably higher for mature content. Such chapters may be redirected. Or I'll change the rating. Now grab a bag of cookies, feed your dog, throw on the BG&E soundtrack, shut up and read. )
Jade's conscience told her today would be just…another normal day like the last few dozen that had gone by since then. Since the end of the invasion. Since she'd defeated part of herself, brought back her family and settled down again in a life of normalcy and routine. Even her sanity was intact. That was always something to be happy about.
But her gut told her differently. There were no more explosions of green, twisted portals in the beautiful, morning sky and the only reason she used the shield anymore was to allow the kids to play outside when it rained. No more emergency broadcasts, or beating back alien abominations that tried to steal away the people she cared about. Even though her mind knew it was over, her gut always had this feeling. It would all come back again, and she wouldn't be able to stop it.
…and then the nightmares. She would always have nightmares.
With the help of IRIS, of course, the lighthouse was rebuilt faster than she'd dreamed. Hahn and the others put forth an enormous amount of effort to return her little island back to the way it had been. The governor donated plenty of credits, and finally there was a place to rest her head at night. Food on the table for the kids. It wasn't just normal…it was almost better than before.
Not one of the kids saw their parents again. Most of the people who were taken early during the invasion were still missing. Sure, she could try to convince herself that it wasn't her fault, that she couldn't save them no matter what. They'd been long gone before she reached the moon. It was a bitter trial trying to believe that, though.
Pey'j went back to being typical Pey'j. He even complained when she overcooked the only dish she knew how to make—Bluefish , and it wasn't even good when it was baked properly. As far was normalcy went, this was all she could ask for. Pey'j, the kids, and a place to call home.
To relax her mind, Jade woke up just before 4:00, before the sunrise, and dragged herself out of bed. She was careful to not wake the kids, though she knew at least one of them were already awake. Tendrils of her last nightmare still clung to her brain as she dressed, washed her face and trudged down the stairs. It was hard to not notice how the lighthouse no longer creaked or crackled like it used to. She missed the sound of the old, sea-bitten wood in the morning, and when she drifted off to sleep. Now she grabbed the kettle and prepared her herbal tea in the gloomy silence of the false dawn. In the faint distance, she could heard Pey'j snoring. It made her smile. At least that hadn't changed.
In her own cloud, she never even noticed that her PDA on the counter was flashing, indicating that she had new mail. Or hear the soft groan of wood in the stairwell leading outside. It wasn't long before she had a fresh cup of tea in her hands. When she turned away from the stove to take her first sip, she almost had a heart attack.
"Double H!" she cried softly, remembering just in time that the children were asleep. Double H did in fact, stand at the top of the stairway with a stricken, apologetic expression.
"Ah…Miss Jade," her fully armored comrade said hesitantly. He was standing was rigid as a board. "I wasn't expecting you to be awake at this hour. I'll come back at a more appropriate time—"
"No, Double H," she cut in. "I just wasn't expecting—anyway, did you forget? You're welcome here any time of the day." And he'd been here almost every day since construction began, with a hammer and nails and everything. No one asked him to knock anymore, though he still tried. "But I wouldn't wake Pey'j if I were you. He's not a morning person."
"Of course, but, Miss Jade—"
She stopped trying to tell him that her name was just Jade, without the 'Miss' or any of his other chivalrous titles in place, but…well, Double H was a tough nut to crack. An endearing, easy to like, big nut, but his armor wasn't the only part of him that was durable. Yep. Hub was still filed in her mysteries department.
"—my sincere apologies if I sound forward, but Mr. De Castellac is requesting an audience with us at HQ. They were becoming worried when you didn't answer their e-mails."
If one thing was true in this universe, it was that Double H had a hard time speaking to her when he was nervous. So he definitely had something to hide from her. He was talking like a hovercraft on overload. Not to mention the fact that he was using Hahn's code name, 'De Castellac', which meant somewhere along the line, Carlson and Peters wanted him to treat this visit like an undercover operation.
"In my defense, people don't usually scan their e-mail accounts when they're asleep," she said teasingly. "So, did Mr. De Castellac mention why he couldn't wait until morning or send an M-Disk for this 'special request'?" She lifted the cup to sip her tea. It was a very satisfying sip. "Double H, it's great seeing you all the time, but…I don't even have his racing pictures started yet."
"I'm afraid those will have to wait," he explained. He sighed, and now he looked meaningful. "Of course, it's much too early to bother you with something like this. You should get some rest, Miss Jade!"
Jade glanced up at him, but the knee-high protests in her brain were already toppled. "T. I.Y.C. Trust in your comrades. Chapter twenty-two, page seven hundred and thirty-two," she said a little begrudgingly, and set the teacup down on the counter. Oh, how she would miss this teacup. "Alright, Double H. I'll bite this time. C'mon, we might even catch the sunrise on the way out."
It was hard to see the relief under that thick armor, but she was attentive. Double H was always a little uncomfortable in the lighthouse, but she never thought about why. She had too much else to think about, and right now was no exception.
Even with the regular army back in control of Canal City and the surrounding regions, the IRIS network never did stop being a group of insurgents. Despite what they did to save the world from the Alpha Section, the law of Hillys criminalized anyone involved in the DomZ situations. They didn't exactly follow the rules, after all. Corrupted alien armies or no, the network did some things that had to be done for the better good. Just not legally.
Double H went back to his post in the city's defenses, but enlisted as a reserve only. That way he could still get information from them and not be sent halfway across the planet on a transfer. Though she hadn't asked, she knew he still had a good chunk of his memories missing. So far, no one had stepped forward to claim him as a friend, a brother, a son…not even an acquaintance. Seemed most of the people he worked with never tried to get to know him. So yeah, Double H was entirely alone in this world to start with, or he'd lost more than she wanted him to remember. If only things would go back to normal.
No one actually believed things would go back to normal. IRIS stuck together because there was no such thing as absolute peace. Something could happen. They just had to keep their eyes open.
And Jade, well…she went on photographing the whole world's species. Heck, there will still a few thousand that she knew of in the City. She took some other jobs on the side, but it made her uncomfortable to leave Pey'j and the kids alone for too long. They needed a lot less money than they had before. The economy went from a raging catalyst of destruction to a great, collective sigh of relief over the city. It didn't change her frame of mind, though.
She'd almost lost them. No part of her believed it wouldn't happen again.
Together, she and Double H scaled down the stairs of the lighthouse and stepped into the brisk, dawn air. Woof was sprawled on his back, wriggling in the dew-wet grass with a happy dog grin. She'd been wrong. Everyone really was still sleeping. It was calm. When she came back…it would still be calm. She needed to believe that much…
Otherwise, she would never leave.
In a way, the song playing at the Akuda Bar had become the sound of duty. Whenever she heard it, she thought of IRIS. She wondered if her old friend Mo played it as a subtle 'Hey, everyone, I'm an IRIS fan' joke, but even with the Alpha Section gone, it wasn't very funny. She'd just have to take hearing it from now on, with or without the bad dreams.
Jade barely listened as she reached the second floor. Peepers leaned back in his booth, arms folded with a customary smirk of greeting. She tried to pretend he didn't know more than he let on. But even Peepers had picked up a hammer when rebuilding the orphanage. It ended up putting a dent in the hovercraft, but she honestly believed he'd tried.
Since the end of the war, she and Double H rarely came to the den together. Life was supposed to be normal; IRIS was just preventive organization now. She wasn't even thinking when she stepped inside the revolving door that led to the secret room—but Double H was apparently lost in his own world and didn't see her. See, the little closet was designed for only one body at a time.
"Whoa…hey!' Jade's face literally flattened against the softer armor of his bicep as the laws of physics kicked in. In an instant, he'd snapped out of his daze and tried to escape. This was when the door did its job and spun around. For about one and a half seconds, they were a pair of sardines.
Then they tumbled out the other side. She nearly went over the railing, but caught herself in time. Hahn, who stood at the briefing table, turned at the commotion
"I'm sorry, Miss Jade! I should have been paying attention!" Double H looked both aghast and worried, hovering behind her in the event she was hurt (which she never was, but here's to chivalry anyway). Jade shook her head and chuckled a little.
"Don't worry, Double H. It wasn't that traumatic," she teased. Had she noticed the barest, unintentional tick in his face, she might have corrected herself. But timing was about everything.
"It's good to see you both," Hahn, now acting chief of IRIS, greeted them from the table below. He raised an eyebrow. "I commend you for trying to save time, but aren't you taking it too far?"
Jade sighed as she came down the stairs. "Your jokes never were that funny, Hahn. So, do you have something for me?"
The gentle humor in Hahn's face subsided as Mei and Nino stopped their activities to watch the proceedings. Both of his agents stood before him, awaiting his address.
Jade could hear her pulse thudding in her ears.
"I'm afraid you won't like what I'm going to tell you," Hahn went on. "Just last night, one of our more secluded agents reported some unusual activity in the agricultural sector."
Jade felt the hairs on her neck stand up. She dared to hope. "Another Alpha Section flare-up?"
Their chief sighed and barely shook his head. He might as well have screamed the answer at her.
"No." Could she hide the weakness in her knees, or the tremble in her voice? "It's impossible. That's impossible."
"No one has confirmed anything yet, Jade," Mei told her empathetically. "As far as we know, this is just an elaborate prank, or wild speculation. Wiseman's report was short and to the point. No specifications."
"That's why I called you two here." Hahn glanced between them. "You and Hub are my best reporters. You are the only ones I would trust this mission to. While the IRIS Network is quickly gaining favor, even we can't control the spread of rumors. If we don't take care of this, it could cause city-wide panic."
It was all far too much to take in at once. Nino and Mei stared at her relentlessly, their pity and professionalism like a two-mouthed shark biting into her chest. Hahn looked sad, but no different than when he had he'd asked them to travel to the moon and broadcast the IRIS message over the Alpha Section's transmitter.
And Double H…
"Miss Jade," he began somberly. It wasn't until now that she realized that he was standing inside her field of vision. Her emerald eyes flickered up, but didn't make it past his chin. "I know this is very difficult for you, but I feel the people of Hillys are owed an explanation. If you elect not to go, I want you to know that I give you my full support. You deserve your rest."
"No, no," she said with a slight crack and a flash of anger. "Don't say that. Don't, okay? I don't do this anymore. I'm just a photographer with thirteen mouths to feed and a life to rebuild. What you're asking me isn't fair!"
The silence that filled the room was ponderous. Then Hahn said, "We know it isn't fair, Jade. I'm asking this favor of you as a friend…not as your chief. No matter what you find. It is completely up to you."
Part of her considered the things IRIS had done for her in the past. Not just the big picture—freeing Hillys of the DomZ and helping her rescue her uncle, but the lighthouse and their constant companionship. The unreasonable half of her wanted to believe Hahn was being generous because he expected her to pay him back someday. Because all of that work he put into helping her rebuild, she was supposed to submit. But then, the part of her that she usually listened to knew it wasn't like that. Nobody thought she owed something.
Suddenly, the humid atmosphere of Hillys was too stifling. The neighboring smell of the machines made her head ache. She wanted the over-familiar stench of oil, dirt and sweat that haunted Peyj's workshop. Her fear of this new report, the possibility that there might still be…DomZ out there, appealed to the seven-year-old girl inside her that used to cling to her uncle's shirt during thunderstorms. What she wanted was comfort. Her home and her ocean view.
"Think about it," Hahn said. "Get back to me tomorrow. We don't want to rush you."
Mei's eyes widened. "Jade, you should take some time—
"You heard me." Thinking about it would only hurt more. "Double H and I will hunt down whatever's causing these rumors. And once we've proved to everyone that they really are gone, I can go back to my day job."
"But Miss Jade—
"D.B.U.T.T," she said, pointing in Double H's face. "One way or another, you're not going out there alone. I'll probably be the one who rescues you when you get captured, anyway."
It was a sore crack at humor and it didn't work, but she'd made up her mind and that was that. She could only imagine what she'd tell Pey'j. If she told Pey'j. She probably couldn't tell Pey'j.
"There is a mining town called Undervale east of Canal City. The sightings have been both inside and around the entrance to the mines. For now, they've been evacuated." The IRIS chief nodded to Nino, who tapped something into his computer station. The holo projector in the middle of the table blinked on, displaying the rendered head of a surprisingly rough-looking old man with an eye patch. "This is Wiseman. He's been our informant in this sector for over twenty years. If you need anything—supplies, information, a diversion—you only need to ask."
Though she felt like she'd been hassled into the middle of the canal with a thousand hovercrafts whizzing by on either side, Jade found herself thinking about this mission seriously. Who was she kidding? If she denied any of it, she would only sacrifice sleep and health. Nothing else.
"Here's an M-Disk with everything you need to know about the town and mines," the chief explained, pushing a circular disc forward on the table. "Jade, Hub…thank you."
"We will do our best," Double H replied curtly. Jade didn't respond, but she picked up the disc put it with her collection. She could read it later.
"Double H, when can you be ready to head out?" she asked.
"Anytime you are, Miss Jade."
There was a long pause before she lifted her head to look Hahn in the eye. "What happens if Wiseman is right? What can we do?"
He sighed. "Everything in our power. I give you my word."
It was said in a way that made it clear she didn't have a choice to trust his word or not. Right now, she didn't know whom she could trust. Other than Pey'j…and maybe Double H.
She glanced into her partner's determined face and slowly let her eyes slide to the floor again.
Since when did she stop trusting her own friends?
- TBC -