Before the Music Dies Legacy
ANT Companion: The Place of White and Gold
Chapter Ten: A Battle (Or, A Dream)
Deneb said, "So," and Justice said, "So," and that was as far as their conversation had gotten. The rest had just been stating the obvious. Seventeen days had passed since the would-be meeting in the woods, and in the meantime, Two, Six, Eight—they were all on complete lockdown—and a thirty-five foot tall electric fence locked everyone into the state, razor wire and metal ground plates and guards watching it and all. There was a curfew well before dark, and school and all but the most necessary jobs came to a halt.
It was past midnight, on the twenty-sixth of March. (It would have been Felicity's birthday, her twenty-sixth, ironically, and that was why neither of them could get words out, because her Sector and those of everyone involved who was caught were on lockdown and the whole state seemed to be in disarray.
And Deneb felt like he had spent more nights crying over it than anyone else, though Justice tried to comfort him, even though it was her who'd known Felicity half of her life and he'd only known her—what, a year and a half?—and she didn't even know the whole story, what he thought about all the time.)
You pulled the trigger. You killed her. You—
He snapped out of it, and Justice's fingertips were brushing his cheek. "You… had that look again."
She looked up at him, head tilted to one side slightly, eyebrows drawing together. "It's okay." She kissed him, soft and soothing, and he gripped her by the shoulders until their lips were barely touching, and they were left with just their breathing and the quiet.
(Justice was always the reasonable, logical one—so maybe her comfort meant more than anyone else's, not that anyone else offered any.)
Light flooded the room from outside, intensely bright and flickering across the floor, and the fire was outside, the top floors of Sector Eight, everything burning all at once. A flurry of motion—grabbing shoes, jackets, door open, door closed, racing down the hall, stairs, across a room, door open, door closed—and they were outside, most of the state not on lockdown with them.
"You two! Any idea what's going on?" Licinius, running towards them; their view of the world seemed to be shaking.
"No, but where's—wait, are those—why do they have guns?" Deneb looked at the side of the Sector Eight building, where a great deal of the strategy team rounded up the Eight residents that had escaped. "That's not good—" A piece of the roof started to fall; there was screaming, a wailing sound behind them, and someone walked towards them through smoke. "Go help the kids—"
"—Do you really think that's our problem—?"
"—Just trust me—!"
Licinius and Justice saw that the person approaching them was Jack, and scattered from where Deneb stood, towards where the wailing of the small children came from, a gathering that the strategists were not restraining, trying to get people in order.
Crack; gunshot; screams; they whipped around. The fire quickly faded out, in the instant after the sound, and within a few seconds Justice had put together the shot and the severed wire lining the roof of the building and the weapon in Deneb's hand, which he gave back to Lance (one of the strategists there and armed, a conspirator nonetheless.)
"Two," she said. "Sector Two had something to do with this."
"The twenty-sixth of the month…."
Deneb had just started to approach them again as Jack found a portable microphone that went over the state's intercom system and gave orders, first to the strategy team: "All Sector Ten residents, please escort all Sector Eight citizens sixteen or over to Headquarters for further security action, and all those under sixteen to Sector Seven to stay for the night, then report to my office. All Representatives, and Deputy Laine, please report immediately to my office as well. Everyone else is to return to their quarters at once. Thank you."
The intercom system clicked off.
Lance went with the strategists to escort the terrified-looking Sector Eight citizens off, following that group's orders before the Representatives' (as he was the one for Ten), while Deneb and Justice and Licinius went towards Headquarters.
Jack apparently did not have much to say at that point. The Sector Eight building would be repaired quickly, while the citizens were questioned about what had happened and then, most likely, released. The other lockdowns were off; school and work were going back on, the curfew no longer enforced, everything announced in the morning.
They were dismissed. "Laine—I want to talk to you," Jack said, and Justice gave him a concerned look but obediently left with everyone else.
Jack sat at the desk and gestured for him to do the same, across from him; he did. "I've noticed that you've been back in Four a lot lately," he said, and the off-topic subject caught Deneb off-guard.
"They're expanding the Version Two project," he said, too quickly, and then scrambled for an explanation. "It's… short on assistance, because… a lot of those who worked on it were… caught in something else, when they decided to go back to it. So I've been working on it." (During the day, that was half true, but the rest wasn't.)
"And you like the work in Four?"
He wondered if that was a trap question, if it was meant to get him to say it's better than working for Headquarters. "Yes, sir."
"You're not just there during work hours, though," Jack continued, and before Deneb could think of a response added, "You're friendly with their Representative, aren't you?"
"… Yes, sir." He did something like cough, nervously. "As I am with most of the Representatives."
"But you've always been fascinated by Four, haven't you?"
"I practically grew up there."
"I wasn't talking about the Sector."
"She was your first choice for Deputy, back when you were a Representative, yourself, wasn't she?"
"Yes." He fought the urge to look away, now. Jack was clearly interested enough that he'd gone to Cygnus, and that was never good. A few extra seconds had passed in silence, and Deneb used "Sir?" as a prompt again.
Jack shrugged. "Just… watch yourself, Laine. Your department doesn't need any more scandal right now, does it?"
. . . . .
A back room of the Library of Legislation that Deneb had confirmed as safe was where a very small-scale gathering of the conspiracy was held the next day. It was just the remaining original leaders (Licinius, Altair, Justice), and the old-timers (Lance, Hale), and Deneb. (Licinius pointed out that they were really the only active people left, and no one could disagree.)
"It was an electricity fire, no doubt about it," said Lance. He was part of the strategy team that was Sector Ten now, but there was nothing that changed he'd spent most of his life in Two. "An accident like that—well, it'd be hard for it to be an 'accident'."
"Would someone know how to cause it, though?" Altair asked, from closer to one of the corners of the room.
"Yeah—yeah, of course, in Two… you learn that before you learn how to walk. Not on purpose, but… yeah. You would know."
"I have a theory," said Licinius, and waved the file that Deneb had brought, with Case 039 stamped on the front, which he had just finished skimming. "You know when this all happened, when it started? Thirty-nine minutes past midnight. Thirty-nine minutes. That sort of thing doesn't happen by coincidence. On the twenty-sixth of March. How old she would've been and her birthday and the case number, the date, really. No coincidence." He didn't use Felicity's name; he didn't have to. Licinius was pacing, voice raised just below the point that wouldn't have been cautious. "They're regretting it now. They think the worst possible thing they could do would be to give us a martyr… and they've done it. Look what happened in Eight! It scares them because that's what we're doing dead, let alone alive. … But, I guarantee you most of Two'll be dead in a month. They're not thinking anymore, we've lost them, they're dying for stupid reasons… and not being subtle about it either."
"Why would they do it, though? What's the motivation for lighting up the top stories of Eight?" Altair asked, clearly skeptical.
"—I don't know, destroying government property, arson, a way to get them to let them out of the building, maybe the Games just pissed them off and they wanted to watch something burn, I don't know—I'm not that insane yet!"
"Well for land's sake, what's your ranting doing for any of us?" Altair demanded, and the Record in his hand—one of Felicity's, something else they'd been looking at—went flying across the room, hitting the opposite wall.
There was tense silence while Licinius seethed at the question, but it was Hale who broke it, quietly: "Arguing isn't getting us anywhere, either. This is exactly what they want, for us to be fighting. We're not much good alone, are we?"
"Well if there's only six of us left—!"
"There are others; they're just not here."
"Well then, where are they? Dead? Scared off? Runaways? Do you know how many people have died in the last week trying to get past that fence—?"
"We have to work with what we have."
"Yeah, because everyone here is so useful. What about you, huh?" He gestured at Deneb. "Weren't you supposed to be helpful for keeping people alive?"
"I couldn't do anything more than any of the Representatives," Deneb said, voice carefully even. "You know that. Not without the risk of uncovering everything."
"You have more influence on Jack and you know it! And you were the only one who was there."
"I did what I had to."
Apparently the way he said the sentence didn't come out so even, inviting strange looks from everyone else, Licinius' tone turning to a hiss. "Did? 'Did' what?"
"Well, I—" He stopped himself, heart rate up a bit. He'd loaded the weapon with just one bullet, one shot, one chance, avoiding meeting Felicity's eyes, she was just a quivering mess on the floor, backed into the corner of the room, whispering pleasepleaseplease and then, "I'm sorry," crack; gunshot; the life draining out of her eyes, her body hitting the ground with a thud, the blood on the tiles, the weapon falling out of his grip, clattering on the floor, and he'd closed her eyelids, sat by her side for one extra minute, holding her hand and praying— "I… well…."
"You were the one who killed her, weren't you?"
"I did what I had to," he repeated, more distressed, and hating, more than any of the others' anger, the look Justice was giving him, although she still held onto his hand. "I… it was quick; that was the most that I could do—"
"The most that you could do?" Licinius laughed, harsh, bitter, raw. "That's the best you can come up with?"
"It was what any of us would've done," Justice said. "What any of us would've had to do. Don't tell me you wouldn't have done the same."
Licinius went back to pacing angrily but let the topic alone.
"Still, what about Eight?" Hale asked after a few seconds. (Most of them thought around then that no one had known the conspirators from Eight very well, the ones that had been caught—they had just chosen the wrong meeting to actually attend, not even regulars, and they weren't being discussed much.) "We're probably not against whoever started it, but…." He looked thoughtful for one second, as if pondering what he was about to say. "You ever heard the term 'fight fire with fire'?"
Everyone looked at him, even Deneb, who had been carefully watching the ground.
"You think we should try the same thing?" Lance asked, incredulous. "Where, here—Headquarters?"
"Are you really proposing—?"
"That, my dear friends," Hale started, looking somewhat crazed, "is exactly what I am proposing."
. . . . .
Author's Note: Well, this chapter took a while to get up… my apologies, but on the bright side, I won Camp NaNoWriMo with 77000 words in the meantime (why the chapter was late, besides the fact that it runs on the long side for this fic). Also, there's a new trailer for this companion up on the website (link in earlier Author's Notes). The next chapter will pick up exactly where this one leaves off, and should be up soon. Please leave a review with your thoughts; thanks, everyone, and may the odds be ever in your favor.