Alright, here it is, the last major chunk of the story of Nightshade. This first section is the verdict from Okane’s trial, pulled from the Glaucus DoJ court transcript database. I’m trying to figure out how this whole mess started – at least, as far as such a thing is possible. President Fares and Commander Melkonian were the previous heads of Oculus and Aegis, respectively. Their histories are interesting, especially Fares’ connections to the Okane family (protege of then Minister Dasha Okane). Melkonian was a classic Aegis’ idealist, a little high strung and prone to anxiety, which as you’ll see, will be relevant.
FOR THE TRIBUNAL OF THE MINERVAN REGENCY
GENERAL FIONN J. OKANE
THE STATE OF MINERVA
OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS
2 April, 2100
PRESIDENT LENA G. FARES, OCULUS
DEAN BAHIR TIRYAKI, GLAUCUS
COMMANDER GREGOR T. MELKONIAN, AEGIS
For the Defendant:
COUNSELOR SAVIO MARTINEZ
COUNSELOR TIMOTHY C. OBERLAND
For the State of Minerva:
HIGH COUNSELOR HANA BINTE AIMAN
COUNSELOR BENJAMIN YAMAZAKI
214D, 9th Ward
Glaucus Department of Justice
(Regents return from deliberations.)
THE CLERK: All rise.
PRES. FARES: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. We’ve reached our verdict.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: Take your seats, please.
DEAN TIRYAKI: Let us note for the record that all members of the Department of Justice counsel team are present.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: Let’s not waste any time here. Fionn James Okane, your verdict is as follows. You are guilty of tampering with official records, conspiracy, committing conspiracy to undermine the authority of the state, perjury, obstructing justice, and child endangerment. You will be stripped of your rank, your privileges, and you –
PRES. FARES: Excuse me, Commander. First off, General, there is one matter you can clear up for us that could reduce the severity of your sentence. The fact that you falsified census data is not up for discussion. The fact that you have abused your personal connections in Oculus and in Aegis to cover up this crime is not up for discussion. We have documentation. We have witnesses. We’ve talked this through for thirty long, long days. Trials in the branch courts will begin shortly for your co-conspirators. But the question remains: what happened to the children of Terekat?
DEAN TIRYAKI: This is just a matter of public record, General Okane. We are not in (sic), um, interested in another lengthy trial. Please answer the question.
OKANE: Why, did you leave something in the oven?
DEAN TIRYAKI: Pardon? I, I don’t –
MARTINEZ: General, you may choose not to answer if you wish, but I would recommend against –
OKANE: Thank you, Counselor, I’ll take it from here.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: Too late. We’re done. You’re done, General. Full sentence.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: Did you, this is not a request. You will be stripped of your rank, your privileges, you will be under, placed under house arrest for a minimum of five years. You will wear an ankle monitor during this time. You will –
OKANE: No, I don’t think I will.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: I didn’t ask you what you think, I –
PRES. FARES: Commander, please calm down. Explain yourself, General.
OKANE: Thank you, Lena.
PRES. FARES: That’s President Fares.
OKANE: Thank you just the same. You know what we do, us men and women of Aegis? We get our orders from people who have never taken a breath of fresh air in their lives. We go out there, and we follow our orders, and we leave pieces of ourselves behind. The world takes pieces from you. Mm-hmm. But we do our duty and pick up what’s left of us and we haul it back home. This, I don’t mind. This is what they call being a soldier. I know that, my boys and girls know that, even Commander Melkonian knew that once upon a time. But this, here’s where it gets bad. Here’s where it sticks in my throat. We come back, and you take pieces from us at home. We can’t eat what we want, we can’t drink what we want, we can’t sleep with who we want. As you know, my wife was reassigned –
PRES. FARES: And you never separated.
OKANE: – but what you don’t know is what it felt like. She had three kids, none of them mine. She didn’t want to raise them, sent them all to the ICCs. Lena, you were the closest thing she ever had to a daughter.
PRES. FARES: I will not ask you again, General –
OKANE: I couldn’t stop –
PRES. FARES: – to refer to me as President Fares.
OKANE: – I couldn’t stop thinking about it, knowing what she was doing when she had to go off and fulfill her Pact. It did some damage to us both. I had my family in Aegis to get me through the cancer, but she (brief pause) she didn’t have that. All she had was a husband she couldn’t look in the eye. Can you even measure that? That guilt?
PRES. FARES: General, ah, what does this have to do with the missing children of Terekat?
OKANE: I didn’t think so. You expect us to give up what the world didn’t take, and you have the big brass balls to tell us it’s for the good of humankind. When you’re taking away all the things that make us human. Nobody’s asked the Regents to give up their humanity. You only expect it of us.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: Staff Sergeant Kelter, arrest this man.
PRES. FARES: That’s enough, General.
OKANE: (Unclear – two words)
CMDR. MELKONIAN: What was that? Sergeant Kelter, did you hear me?
OKANE: For instance, Gregor, I’ve seen the pills in your medicine cabinet. Right next to the whiskey you keep in a bottle of cough syrup.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: Kelter, if you don’t arrest this man, arrest him this instant, I’ll have your head.
DEAN TIRYAKI: Um, why is he, what’s he looking at?
OKANE: Oh, the good dean is finally awake. I thought you were going to sleep through this whole trial.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: I’m calling Bouchard. This is absurd.
PRES. FARES: General Okane, that’s more than enough. You are in freefall, sir. I suggest you control yourself.
OKANE: Don’t worry, Lena. I am in perfect control. In fact, I have a question for you. Who did you set up as my co-conspirators in Oculus? I don’t know anyone in the census bureau.
PRES. FARES: Ah, General Kubek? General Reinhardt? Please take this man into custody immediately.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: He’s not answering.
OKANE: Sergeant Kelter, Sergeant Zhao, please make sure the generals keep their seats. Scapegoats, ladies and gentlemen! The word of the day is scapegoats. Your leaders are hypocrites and criminals and some of my very best friends, but when the pressure is on and the evidence piles up, someone has to take the fall. Today, they thought they would make it me. Me, and some of my finest men, and oh, even some poor saps I’ve never met. Well, I say no. Not today. What did you think I would do, Lena? Did you think I would say, “Yes, ma’am, thank you very much, take this last piece of me. Take my rank and my freedom and I won’t say a word about the records you forged for me.”
PRES. FARES: That’s a lie. You (Unclear – three words)
CMDR. MELKONIAN: Colonel Bouchard. Answer your comms, goddamn it.
OKANE: You can relax, Commander. I’ll see myself out. But when I’m gone, I’d like you to consider what kind of leader your soldiers would rather follow – one who acknowledges their humanity, or one who does not. And I’d like you to think about where all of this evidence came from. Confidential sources? Uh-huh. It looks to me like someone here is trying to clean house, and if she can do this to me, then she can certainly do it to you.
PRES. FARES: She? Fio (sic), General, what are, who are you talking about?
OKANE: Take care, Lena. By the way, those children are dead.
(Okane stands and exits the room. Staff Sergeant Kelter, Sergeant Zhao, and Sergeant Prashad leave behind him. Brief pause. Dean Tiryaki stands.)
DEAN TIRYAKI: I’m, um, I’m going back to my lab.
CMDR. MELKONIAN: (Unclear – four or five words)
(Noise level makes further transcription impossible)
– Oh how deep the conspiracy goes. Shortly after this General Kubek became Commander of Aegis, after Melkonian committed suicide in his rooms with a pistol to the head. President Fares resigned on the eve of the 8th Company’s mutinee, and in the ensuing Family attacks, stole a cargo vehicle and disappeared. Her trail was lost at the Minervan border, and reports place her living a new life in the Caliphate.
Anyways, here is the last section of testimony from Mrs. Beshimov.
Nightshade, she do not move. She do not raise a hand. All the Family, they point their rifle at her, full of the gift of my husband, and she stand in front of Amon Kelter like no one in the room. The Father laugh, but the Family brother are silent. I think they see Nightshade work her magic before, and they know to be afraid. I remember that Nightshade, she tell me the men of the Family are cursed. She say that the curse will kill them. I move away more from the Family brother next to me. I do not wish to die by this curse.
I remember the Father, he say, “Thank you. Thank you for the laugh. Thank you for to bring yourself before justice.”
“Justice?” she ask.
“You have terrorize our community,” he say. “But we have rules here. We are civilize. When I take back Minerva, everyone have a fair trial. Even a witch.”
“You call this a community?” she say.
Then, the Father, he start to list names. These names, I think, are the men that Nightshade kill. I hear the name Ndaiye, and this is why I know. There are many, many names. He say, “These are brothers, fathers, husbands, sons. You kill them. Do you have anything to say in your defense?”
“It was good sport,” she say.
The other men, they yell at her, they scream things I will not say, but the Father, he hold up his hand and they become silent. He drop his hand and he say, “You are guilty of murder. By the word of the Father, the punishment is death.”
I look down over the rail. I cannot to turn away. I wait to hear the pop pop of rifle fire and to see the Dust Witch fall. Nightshade, she nod her head. The Father, he say to fire. Then, the curse strike the Family and the town hall become a evil dream.
I feel explosion close, and I hear a scream, and drops of wet fall on my arm. I close my ears and my eyes and I hear only scream and explosion and light that burn through my eyelid. Then, something heavy and soft and wet fall on me. It shake and moan and I open my eyes to see the Family brother next to me, his arm is gone and his chest is burn and his face is burn. I look for his rifle and I do not see. There is no rifle fire in the room. I sit up and look over the rail. The Family below, they bleed and scream. Some lie on the ground and do not scream.
Amon Kelter, he still stand, but the rifle in his hand is gone. His metal arm hang down, it spark and burn. He slap the arm with his other hand. Nightshade, she take a gun from her side, a small gun, like a handgun, and she shoot at his head, but she miss. I think she hit his armor. Kelter, he swing his metal arm and he hit Nightshade. She slide on the ground and drop her gun, but he does not crush her like he crush Headman Nogoyev. I think his arm, it is broken. I think that Nightshade, she make the Family weapons explode. She call upon her spirits to destroy the traitor weapons of Hamid Beshimov.
Nightshade, she stand and raise her arm. I see flash at her wrist, two, three time. Jaws of the fire djinn close on Amon Kelter, his body and his arm and his face, but his armor does not burn. He run through the fire and swing his machine arm again. The skin of his head is bright red, like a devil. I remember he hit her with his arm, and she fall onto a oil drum. Nightshade, she try to stand, but I can see her legs are weak. She tear off her cloak and throw it at Amon Kelter, and it cover his face. He swing and miss over her head – bald, like a man’s. This surprise me. But it is not important.
Amon Kelter, he grab the cloak with his bare hand and he throw it away while she dive under him. Tom Fury, he sit on the ground, and she pick him up as she roll over. The spear is still attach to the front. She shoot the spear into the side of Amon Kelter, and it stick in his armor. All this time, he make no sound. His face, it never change. His arm break and his skin melt and his chest is split with the spear, but it seem he never notice. He walk toward her with the spear in his side and the wire between them. I see then, on the edge of my eye, the Father climb on top of the Minotaur tank. Nightshade, she do not see, and I am going to yell to her, but a hand grab my arm.
This is Karina kyzy Taalay. She is the wife of farmer in Gulnara. I do not know her well, but I remember they take her with the other women. She grab me with panic in her eyes, but there is something else. I do not know how to describe, but I feel that she know something.
She say, “Saira, come with me,” and she pull me away from the rail. My arm hurt where she touch the cut, she squeeze so hard that tears blind my eyes, but I try to follow. She take me to stairs, and I slip on the metal step. Karina, she try to catch, but then there is a explosion, like thunder, and the room roll under us. We fall together, half down the stairs, and land on the floor below. I face up, I see the room is bright now with fire, and the air is full of death screams. All on this level, there are dead men, and bloody men carry each other away, until another thunder shake the room and the Family, they collapse to the floor. Fire blow like demon’s breath from halls around the room, and dirt flow from the ceiling. I think that Nightshade, she summon the devil come to swallow this place. The devil, they come to take all sinner to Jahannam.
Karina, she help me up, and we hold to the rail. This level is just above the ground, and Nightshade, she is right below me. She is down on one knee, she hold Tom Fury to her chest, and Amon Kelter, he still stand. He hold the wire with his bare hand. His face does not change, but he sway, and he does not move. His armor is red and wet, it pour down his leg. Then, I see the turret of the Minotaur tank, it move and turn to point at Nightshade.
I scream to her, but my voice, it burn and die in my throat. I think even Karina cannot hear. The smoke in the room choke the sound, and my voice, it already burn and taste of blood from when I am in the barrel. But then Nightshade, she pull on Tom Fury and Amon Kelter, he stumble forward, pull by the wire. At this time, the tank fire, and it does not sound like thunder. This sound make all sound vanish but the ring of my ears. The room bend and shake, and it throw us back. The ground tilt, the level collapse, and I roll down to bottom floor. I feel rock cut into my side and I feel…dizzy? Dizzy. When I stop, I am on my chest and I stare at the blood and the rock. I look up into the face of Amon Kelter, and he look back at me.
He does not blink. His owl eyes stare at me. But he is on the floor, and his head is twisted to the side, and when I lift my head, I see his back is, ah…I cannot to describe. Like…a bowl? Like a spoon…scoop into him. His back, it is metal and blood and bone all press and melt together. His legs I see across the room, where he stand before the tank fire. I know this tank, it fire nine round per minute, maybe seven second between fire. I try to think how much time go by.
Then, I see Nightshade, she lift her head above the corpse of Amon Kelter and she throw a black something, like a rice cake. This rice cake, it slide on the ground to the tank, and I count past seven. It is long past seven. I hear the autoloader lock in the next shell. It make unhappy sound. I hold my breath, and the rice cake, it slide under the tank. Then, the rice cake explode, and the tank lift into the air. The engine at front, it burst in a ball of fire.
The main gun shoot, but the Minotaur point up, and the shell hit the wall above. I feel the heat and the press of the air, but I still can hear nothing. A rock fall and hit me on the back. I try to stand, but I have no strength. I try to look, and I see the tank, it burn. It does not move. I think first, maybe the Father is dead, but I know the tank has crew compartment entrance in the back. I try to tell Nightshade, I try to lift my arm, but I cannot. I say something, I cannot hear what it sound like, but she understand. She nod, and wipe the blood that drip from her head out of the green spirit glow of her eyes. She try to run with her weak legs, and she climb up on the tank, and she look down at the other side. I do not see what she see. But I see she lift her arm, and she shoot a dart of fire from her wrist. Light and smoke puff from the tunnel behind Minotaur tank. Nightshade, she shoot again, but then she shake of a sudden and stumble off the tank.
There is a Family brother next to the tank. He have a rifle, old rifle. I see the gun flash, he shoot at the tank, but Nightshade, she is at the other side, she sit against the tread and hold her chest. The brother, he stop shoot and run down the tunnel. Nightshade, she sit and she wait, and hands push the rock from me. I am lift up, and Karina, she is beside me, and other woman of Gulnara. They carry to a dark hall that does not breathe fire and I sit against the wall. More women gather and speak, but my ears ring and ring and I cannot hear.
The women, they try to stop the blood from my wound, and I wave them away from my hand. A yellow-clear liquid run from the red cut there. My skin feel tight. We wait for some time, and then a shadow come over me. I look up and I see a man in Aegis armor. I try to scream and slap his helmet. The women, they hold my arms, but I do not hear them. I look to the tank that burn in the town hall, and I do not see Nightshade. Sirs, I do not know why. I fight and try to scream and I do not realize that this man is Aegis, not the Family, until he take me to the hangar, empty of Family vehicle but with two clean Aegis APC. They take us away, they take us back to Gulnara, I am put in the tent and the doctor tend me. This is my story.
You didn’t see what happened to Nightshade?
No. I would say, Sergeant Outwater. I am sorry. Do you not find her?
No. But –
Thank you very much, Mrs. Beshimov. Your assistance has been invaluable. It would be unconscionable to keep you any longer. I can hardly imagine the physical and mental torture you’ve been through, but thanks to this testimony, painful though it may have been, you’ve shed light on some of the biggest mysteries surrounding this incident. The doctor said you’ll need weeks of antibiotic treatment, and we’ll be sending therapists from headquarters to help with the survivors. Now, if you don’t have any more questions, the nurse will see you back to the triage center.
I have no question, Counselor Martinez. I cannot to speak anymore.
I understand. Thank you again for your bravery and your candor.
Thanks for coming in.
Yes. Thank you.
Get some rest, Mrs. Beshimov.
Yes. I will.
Well? What do you think?
I think we have to kill her.
Jesus, that’s not what I meant. I was talking about her story.
Well, we still don’t know how Nightshade tracked Kelter’s men, how she rigged Beshimov’s ammunition to explode, or how she was able to plant bombs all over the base. If anything, her story confuses the situation further.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. If Nightshade didn’t make it to Gulnara until just before our boys did, how could she even know about the ammo? And if they killed her horse, then how the hell did she follow them to the base?
It doesn’t fit. I don’t like it. Beshimov was supposed to be devoted to our cause. He squirreled away weapons and ammunition for months, so why does he…why was he afraid of us? Why did he call the house instead of speaking to the team in person?
Maybe it wasn’t him. We know Nightshade can mimic voices.
His own wife saw him return to the house. We found his body in the cellar, and everything checks out. Except it doesn’t.
So you think she’s lying?
I don’t know why she would. I asked one of the other local girls about her before you got here, and she corroborated Mrs. Beshimov’s story. She’s just a nomad who married into Minerva.
Do we really have to kill her?
She knows the Glaucus team was working with us.
Yeah, but…she’s two months removed from living in the fucking dirt. She can barely speak English. Why don’t we just take her statement, promise to look into it, and then throw it in the garbage?
Tom, this woman killed her husband and chased down Kelter and his men. I don’t think she’s the type to just let it be. Look, it’s not complicated. I’ll visit her in the triage center to ask her about the Glaucus team. I’ll switch out her antibiotics while I’m there. That’s all there is to it.
You’re so cold, it’s a little scary sometimes.
One more death to cover our tracks. It’s a simple equation. She dies, our brothers and sisters live, we go our separate ways, and nobody ever finds out. If that scares you, then you weren’t cut out for this in the first place.
But…we don’t know if the Khan is dead.
No. We just found buckets of his blood and pieces of his legs. And we haven’t heard a word from anybody, not even our missing brothers. No, we don’t know anything, Tom. That’s why we have to go dark. Pass the word along to the others. If we hear from them, we’ll talk about keeping the revolution alive. Until then, we stay quiet and enjoy the relative freedoms that our work has earned us.
What if he needs us out there? What if –
Hold on, I’m getting a call.
Forensics team. This is Martinez speaking. (brief pause) For Hamid Beshimov? The body in the basement. (long pause) How? (long pause) What about poison? (long pause) What’s the time of death? (short pause) That’s a large…but definitely not yesterday. (brief pause) Thank you, that’s all.
What the fuck are you –
Shut up. Security? This is Martinez. You know Saira Beshimov? (brief pause) Grab her. She’s on her way to the triage center. Now.
Okay, now tell me what –
You were right. She lied. Hamid Beshimov didn’t die of a broken neck. He’s been dead for at least three days, possibly over a week.
End of recording
– It seemed obvious to me that conspirators such as these two couldn’t have been so STUPID as to record themselves admitting to their crimes. In fact, checking the details of this record, apparently an anonymous source contributed the last section, it having differed from the “official” record these two provided. Downloading the next section of Nightshade’s personal journals give the rest of the story, and put everything else into proper perspective.
16 October, 2100
It’s over. I have to remind myself that. Even in the light of day, after a night of half-sleep to process it all, the realization slips from my thoughts. The satisfaction I craved for so long has proven to be more fleeting than even my cynical mind could have imagined. Shouldn’t I feel at peace? Shouldn’t I feel fulfilled? But maybe that’s what living is. It’s the pursuit of fulfillment. If we find it, we die, or we become irrelevant, which is as good as death. Perhaps I should be thankful that victory doesn’t satisfy me.
We came back so late last night that I didn’t have time to solidify my thoughts then, as much as I wanted to. We didn’t even eat, apart from the rations we took during the drive home. Summerland was a mute. She was busy downloading the audio from the bug she’d placed. When she was done, she plugged her microcom into the jeep stereo and we listened to her testimony the rest of the way back. We sat for several minutes under a rock outcrop as Sergeant Outwater and Counselor Martinez discussed the murder of Saira Beshimov. When the door slammed, it sounded as a coffin lid on the conspiracy. Summerland turned to me and smiled. It was a weak smile, played out on gray and weary lips. I felt another pang of guilt, or perhaps just a pang from my ribs, I’m not sure which.
Inside the hideout, I hobbled straight for my room. Had to peel off my armour, which stuck to my side where the field staples had burst. The blood had soaked through my plugsuit as well, and I slid out of that to discover a topography of bruises up and down my body, whole continents of internal bleeding. I put on a fresh set of underwear and began unwrapping the bloody bandages around my side. Kelter must have softened up my armour, because a bullet from an AK-74 shouldn’t have pierced the ballistic gel. There was a gory smile carved into my flesh where I’d cut the bullet out, right under the tiny eyeball of scar tissue that Steven Crane had once given me. One more shot and I’ll have a complete face of scars. I’d barely finished dabbing at the blood when Summerland swept into the room, changed from Saira Beshimov’s hospital gown to one of her usual bathrobes. She had a shot of clotting gel in one hand and a bandage roll in the other.
“I told you those staples wouldn’t hold,” she said, the first thing that’d come out of her mouth since I picked her up outside the Gulnara command post. She sat down beside me and pushed me onto my back.
“Get your filthy hands off of me,” I muttered groggily. As she bent over and applied the clotting gel, I noticed the bandages all over her right arm and I immediately regretted my choice of words. “Sorry, I didn’t mean – ”
“Shhhh,” she whispered. She slapped a pad over the gunshot wound and pulled me back upright so she could start taping me up. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, flower. I’ve had worse.”
I doubt that. There’s a difference in her. Maybe she doesn’t see it herself, but a little light has gone from her eyes, vanished with the color of her skin. I can’t imagine the horror and humiliation she endured in that barrel. I can’t imagine what she felt, sitting there in the Family’s twisted parody of Minerva HQ, watching the infection swell the cuts in her hand and wondering if I would find her in time. All I can do is blame myself.
“Do you think we got them all?” I asked.
“We’re not going to get them all,” she said. “They had hydroponics labs. Glaucus engineers on their side. Soldiers and counselors and Oculus agents waiting to bring down Minerva from within. This wasn’t just a mutiny. We stopped a revolution, dear. We’ll get Martinez and Outwater, and we’ll get the engineers, but once this leaks, the rest of Okane’s sympathizers will quiet down.”
“I’m not sure we did stop the revolution,” I murmured. “They changed us. Changed Minerva.”
“Hopefully that will be enough for them,” Summerland said. She finished wrapping my torso and pulled down my undershirt. Gently, as if handling a child, she lifted my legs and turned me to lay back on my bed. I was too beaten and exhausted to resist. I craved morphine, more than I have in years. Even the thought of those long days of withdrawal weren’t enough to banish the need. As if she sensed this subtle shift in my brain chemistry, Summerland laid down next to me and cradled my head to her shoulder, just like she’d done during the worst of my waking addict nightmares.
I felt a wave of relief then, the first of those fleeting tastes of satisfaction. We’re bruised, battered, and scarred for life, but we’ve done it. We beat them to Gulnara by nearly a month, just enough time to suss out Hamid Beshimov’s munitions stash and devise a trap with the townspeople. If only the history books could show how much our victory rested on the shoulders of those poor women. They had the courage to be ripped away from their loved ones, to carry transponders and explosives into the belly of the beast, and the ingenuity to plant them without the Family noticing. No one will ever know that the people who died at Gulnara were volunteers, that they played their part and gave their lives to put the Family at ease. I can eulogize them here, in a journal that no one else will ever read, and that will be good enough. After all, they don’t care about anything anymore; it’s my own guilty conscience I have to assuage.
“I have a confession to make,” I mumbled, as she stroked the stubble of my head with her good hand.
“Now is a good time for confessions,” she said, and the tenderness in her voice made the knot in my chest melt, just a fraction.
“I didn’t see him die,” I said.
“You said you blew his legs off.”
“Yes, but that’s not the same, is it? Used a napalm dart. Could have cauterized his knees.”
“He’s not coming back,” she whispered, with finality.
“But you said to always make sure.”
“Now I’m saying you need to get some sleep.”
“That’s not good,” I muttered. “Inconsistent parenting.”
“Not inconsistent. I’m flexible. This is what’s called an exception.”
“I should have brought in Agent Manas,” I said. For some reason, there were tears in my eyes. No sobs, no sadness – just tears, silently running down my cheeks and soaking into her robe.
“I did something horrible to him. I couldn’t.”
“What makes you think it would have turned out any differently? What makes you think he wouldn’t have ended up in a Kelter Can instead of me? Or with me?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like a monster, and you said this was a good time for confessions.”
“You’re not a monster,” she whispered. “You’re a laser-sighted killing machine. That’s different.”
“Thanks, I feel much better now,” I said, laughing sardonically.
“Good enough to sleep?” she asked.
“Almost. There’s one more confession.”
“One for you. I want you to tell me your name. Your real name.”
Summerland was quiet for a long time. I don’t know how long. She continued to stroke my head as she contemplated. Finally, she said, “Alejandra.”
“That’s a lie,” I said immediately.
“I’m not stupid.”
“Would you believe me if I said I don’t remember my real name?” she asked. I looked up at her face, the battle axe framed in black cotton curls. I could believe it.
“Well, if names are power, then you’ve got me beat.”
We fell silent, and at length, she reached over and turned off the light. I could never sleep with another human being in the bed, hated it even when my desire for Luther was at its peak. I need space. Last night, I slept just as we lay there, with my head on her shoulder, Summerland or Alejandra or Saira Beshimov, whatever I should call her. I awoke with a spot of drool pooling on her robe, joints stiff as a corpse. Wondering how a woman that I once wished to kill on a daily basis could make me feel this way. Only she could make me stop hating myself. Only she could make me feel new. Perhaps it’s because she knows the secret. When something is broken beyond repair, you don’t fix it, as so many men in my life have tried to do. When something is broken beyond repair, you take it apart, piece by piece, and build something else with it.
This morning, she cooked me an omelette. Best I’ve ever eaten in my life. She didn’t make anything for herself, she just packed up her things and threw on a cloak. Said I wouldn’t see her for some time. It takes extraordinary circumstances for Kubek to put two of his agents together on the same mission, and now that I’m fully grown, as she puts it, there’s no need for her to hang about. I’m not upset by this – at least, I don’t think so. Everyone I’ve ever cared for has died an early death, so even if I never see her again, I can take comfort in the thought that she may still exist, somewhere. I can conjure up her little fanged smile without pain. That’s a singular gift, and I suppose I prefer it this way. Like deadly flowers, people are best to be admired from afar.
– The journals become sporadic after this entry, with only passing references to Okane. I was downloading the next entry when I was suddenly booted from the terminal. I tried to reconnect to it, but was frustratingly unable to do so. A few minutes later, I received the following message:
(1) New Message
I hope your curiosity is satisfied, because I’ve just started scrubbing my drives. Annoyingly, I don’t yet know who you are – you’ve got one rat bastard of a security system – but if you take any of this information public, if you even mention what sort of sandwiches I like to a co-worker, I’ll find you. If you’ve learned a single thing from rooting through these journals, you should have learned that I’m not the sort of person you want to find you. I already know you’re a member of Minerva, so the next move you make will be very important, and very visible, no matter how safe you think you are. I suggest pressing the delete key, and not stopping until my private matters are banished from your drive. I cannot recommend any other course of action, and if our paths ever cross, I cannot promise that I won’t kill you anyway. You have been warned.
– Well. Isn’t she a friendly sort. That’s fine though, I’ve discovered everything I needed to know. Thalia Gordon, Nightshade, Dust Witch. Despite her threats, I think she could be a powerful ally. Maybe we can get Kubek to introduce us to her.
[Essence of Nightshade was written by guest contributor Josh Connor, author of the webcomic Steel Salvation, with Dan providing story guidance to make it canon along with writing the archivist commentary. Art by Robert Jackson.]