Beyond Truth and Lies
Deep in the desert at the heart of Nova Babylonia, sited at the furthest point from every inhabited city and settlement in the country, surrounded by sun-scorched dunes and barren mesas as far as the eye could see, there stood a curious structure.
It was a cube. A black, gleaming cube, five stories tall, perfectly equidistant on every side. Its exterior surface shone like glass, but in truth it was an amorphous alloy. Flat and smooth and perfectly featureless, there were no windows, no doors, none immediately visible to the external observer.
Three sets of barriers surrounded the cube. The outermost layer was a simple chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, twenty-one feet tall. The second barrier was composed entirely of razor wire, miles and miles of sharpened steel mounted on stakes as tall as the outer fence, six unbroken loops mounted one atop the other, so densely interwoven it was a forest of cutting steel. The final perimeter defense was a concrete wall, again topped with triple concertina razor wire.
There were twelve security towers. One at each corner, two more in between them. Every hour of the day, sharpshooters with high-caliber rifles patrolled the narrow catwalks, shifting their attention between the desert outside and the black cube. A remote weapon station topped every tower, armed with heavy machine guns, autocannons, lasers. The RWS platforms at the corners aimed outwards. The rest were aimed at the grounds of the cube.
The cube itself was an exercise in automation, efficiency, and control. The ground floor was earmarked for human staff. Here held the administration offices, the guard barracks, the kitchen, the storage areas, everything the facility needed for self-sufficiency. As close to self-sufficiency as its design would permit.
Populated by humans, it was the among most heavily secured areas on the planet. Checkpoints with biometric security systems, cameras and mirrors that observed every square inch of the interior, security doors rated against blasts and ballistics and other threats. Arms and ammunition lockers were in abundance in every sector, ready for immediate access. Every human who worked here was thoroughly vetted, subject to random audits and security tests, held to the most stringent security protocols ever designed by human minds.
For the inhabitants of the upper eight floors were not human.
At least, not until recently.
Inside the cube, there was the Box. Occupying the second to fifth floors of its host building, it was much smaller on the inside that its outward appearance suggested. Reinforced concrete, piping, shielded cables, sensors and security devices made up the difference. And, it was rumored, an army of secret things the government had enlisted to keep the peace, tucked away in unseen spaces and hidden rooms, waiting to be unleashed on the world.
The Box was hollow. A vast empty space stood in the middle of the Box. It was what passed for a courtyard, and in the center of the yard was a tower. Tinted ballistic windows peered out from every side, augmented by cameras and millimeter wave sensors. Sturdy steel doors, defended by a biometric lock, protected access to the tower and its exterior catwalk. Atop the tower was a laser turret, the most powerful, and most versatile, laser ever to be deployed in an indoor environment. It could dazzle a man, it could blind him, it could generate a single pulse powerful enough to knock him on his ass, it could cut him clean in half.
A bold red line painted on the floor ringed the tower. Diagonal lines cut through the enclosed space. On the other side of the line, stenciled words ordered unauthorized personnel to keep away. Elsewhere on the court, green lines demarcated running tracks with distance markers, a designated stretching area, a general workout space. The paint was scratched and faded, and rusty brown spots spattered across the pitted concrete.
Six levels of cells surrounded the tower and the courtyard, connected by catwalks and staircases. Every door was vault-grade, three inches of metallic glass and concrete, secured with a dozen deadbolts. Each cell was barely the size of a shoebox. Inside, there was a bed, a desk and a stool, all made of poured concrete, integral and immovable extrusions from the floor and walls. There was only one metal object in the room, the hygiene unit that combined a sink, a toilet and water fountain. Next to the hygiene unit was a small shower stall, just large enough for someone to stand. LEDs and camera domes glared unblinkingly from the ceiling, every hour of the day. Slots cut into the walls and floor housed microwave emitters and tear gas nozzles, ready to pacify any inmate who showed even the slightest hint of resistance.
This was the Box: the prison to hold the Elect of the New Gods.
And now, those who had hunted them.
The STS had transported the Black Watch here, straight from the BITE. No charges, no paperwork, no access to a lawyer. The staff in-processed everyone separately, locked them away in the Box, and forgot about them.
Even by the standards of the laxest court in Nova Babylonia, it was patently illegal. But here, the law held no sway. Through complex legal maneuvers, backed by reams of carefully constructed paperwork, the Box existed in a state of non-being, a space claimed by no nation on the remade world, and therefore a space ruled by no court or government.
The Box was Limbo on Earth.
The overhead lights dictated the time. When they were switched off, a darkness more than night overwhelmed the prison. Once turned on again, they were so bright they banished every shadow to the furthest corners of the complex.
Three times a day, the prison staff delivered meals through the food slots. There were just three options. A loaf of tasteless mush the color of human waste, a bowl of bland gruel, or a cold hard submarine sandwich. While designed to be eaten without utensils, each meal came with a one-use-only eating utensil baked from flavorless dough, itself designed to be edible should the prisoner desire it.
For twenty-three hours a day, the inmates were confined to their cells. There was nothing to do and nowhere to go. Any entertainment had to come from the depths of the inmate’s mind. The guards allowed stationery and books, but the inmate had to put in a special request, and none of those items could leave the cell. Or else.
In that last hour, they were allowed to exercise in the yard. It was a privilege, not a right, revocable at will. Yard time itself was carefully scheduled, preventing inmates from rival factions or gangs from encountering each other.
It was the only time the Black Watch could see each other.
During yard time, they were the only visible humans in their little slice of the world. There were guards hidden in the tower, of course, and a quick reaction force waiting in the wings. But for that hour, the six of them were left alone.
For that hour, they were allowed to be human.
Yard time carried the gravity of ritual. The first five minutes were for warm-ups, both ballistic and partner stretches. The next twenty-five minutes were for bodyweight exercises, a non-stop calisthenic routine that targeted every major muscle group without rest. Immediately after that came the run, an endless loop around the yard for another twenty-five minutes. Every day, they took turns to lead the group, and in that variation was their one means of rebellion against the system.
But the last five minutes never changed.
It was simple conversation. How they were doing and feeling, anything interesting that had happened in the cell, a brief election for the following day’s exercise leader, a competition to see who could insult the previous meals in the most amusing way possible.
Then the guards came for the Black Watch and hustled them back to the cells.
Day in, day out, the regimen never changed. Fox tried to adjust to her new life. Tried. But the density of boredom weighed her down, and at all hours of the day and night, men and women and things screamed and shrieked and prayed and sang and whispered and muttered, grinding down her soul bit by bit.
It was inhumane. But the Box was not for humans. It was for the most dangerous creatures on the surface of the Earth, for those who had traded their souls for raw power—and had somehow survived their encounters with the authorities. To these inmates, anything could be—and was—a weapon. They were themselves weapons, the instruments of the New Gods, the will of their patrons made flesh. They were too dangerous to be set free, too inconvenient to execute.
So the Box slowly drove them mad.
And, she feared, it would do the same to her.
Yamamoto had faith. Faith in his God, whoever he was. A god that had never been seen on the planet since the Calamity that saw the descent of the New Gods. And yet, she had seen that god work through him too many times to doubt his existence. Had he manifested any actual supernatural powers, Yuri would surely have been marked as an Elect. Yet he hadn’t, and by staying under the radar of the authorities and the New Gods, he had accomplished more than any mere mortal. His faith had brought him to this point, and surely his faith would keep him going.
Mustafa, too, had faith. As the Elect of a minor Power, he enjoyed direct communion with his god. The Box might be designed to hold someone like him, but if he put his mind to it, he could surely escape from this place. Or go out in a blaze of glory. But he hadn’t, and wouldn’t. Galen the White would not approve of it. So Karim would obey the will of the White Wolf, even if it meant lingering in this limbo for the rest of time.
But what about the others? What about her?
She couldn’t speak for Tan, Connor or Wood. But her… she had nothing.
Nothing to see her through the hours and the days of nothingness. Nothing to fortify her soul against the howling and the screeching and the crying of those who had succumbed to the isolation. Nothing but her native skills to keep her safe in a place filled with the monsters she had hunted for years, controlled by humans who could, at any moment, engineer a moment of carelessness that would bring her face-to-face with a Godtouched monster in human skin.
She hadn’t thought much of religion in her life. It was nothing but pretty words and shallow doctrines that the New Gods used to control their followers and justify their insatiable lust for blood and power. And yet… here and now…
Maybe she was starting to see why Yuri was a believer.
Fourteen days after their incarceration, right after breakfast, the guards came for her.
Three heavy booms resounded from the door.
“Kayla Fox! Step up to the door!”
Her name. For the first time since she arrived, they had used her name. Not ‘inmate’, not ‘you’, but her given name.
That alone piqued her curiosity. She eased off the stool and walked to the door.
Deadbolts snapped. The door silently swung open. Guards in riot armor, helmets and face shields stood by the door.
“Please step out, Ms. Fox,” the leader said.
“No cuffs? No shackles?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, ma’am. Not unless you give us a reason to use them.”
She stepped out.
The eight-man team immediately surrounded her. The sole female on the team patted her down, checking for contraband, but when her hands lifted off her body, she did not cuff Fox.
“Follow us, ma’am,” the leader said.
She followed, walking as if in a daze. Slowly scanning to her left, she saw five other teams extracting inmates from their cells.
They were extracting the Black Watch.
“What’s going on?” Fox asked.
“Just follow us, ma’am.”
They marched her to the courtyard. None of them laid a hand on her, but through presence and sheer mass alone, they herded her down the catwalks and the stairs, taking her to the guard tower. The other cell teams rallied around her, and among them were—
“Yuri?” she whispered.
He smiled. “Kayla.”
Wood, Tan, Connor, Mustafa, the men of the Black Watch shuffled through spaces between the guards, rallying on her.
“A lot of guards for yard time, isn’t it?” Wood remarked.
“What’s going on?” Tan asked.
“You have a visitor,” a team leader replied.
“A visitor?” Yamamoto repeated. “Who?”
“I don’t know anything about that. Our job is to take you to him. Let’s go.”
Forming a phalanx around the Black Watch, the guards marched them away.
To the exit.
She couldn’t believe it. Even after she passed through the double doors, cleared the security checkpoint, walked under the barrels of the ceiling-mounted guns.
Were they allowed to leave?
They took the stairs down to the first floor and wended through a labyrinth of narrow hallways and corridors. It was a different route from the ones they had used to march the team upstairs, but no less secure. Fox counted a dozen security gates, at least a hundred cameras, and a four-man team of guards standing close to arms lockers.
But there were no RWS platforms in sight, so maybe it was a less secure area.
The guards brought them to a conference room. The leader opened the doors and gestured inside.
“Go on. He’s waiting.”
Yamamoto went in first. Fox was right behind him.
A blast of cool, clean air hit her. Peeling away from Yamamoto, she saw a round table of polished glass. A dozen leather chairs surrounded the table. And at the head sat a middle-aged man in a black suit.
Commander Joshua Gregory.
He wore a smile. But dark rings surrounded his eyes, scraggly strips of white hair poked out from his chin and jawline, and deep lines etched across his weathered face.
“Gentlemen, lady, I’m glad to see you. Are you well? Were you mistreated?”
“How about you explain what the hell’s going on?” Connor said, crossing his arms.
“I’ll get to that,” he promised. “But first, I want to check in on you. Is everybody alright? Any complaints?”
“They treated us like we were monsters,” Fox said pointedly.
“Yes, well, there’s no getting around that. We couldn’t have rumors of a new batch of prisoners getting special treatment. If word about that leaked, it would attract the attention of the New Gods. We couldn’t have that. But all the same, I’m sorry you had to endure what you had been through.”
“Sir,” Yamamoto said quietly, “we’re as well as we can be, under the circumstances. But why don’t you start from the beginning and tell us the full story.”
“Yes, of course. But come, sit, you’ve been through enough already.”
Gregory gestured grandly at the tables. Everyone sat at the chairs closest to him. Yamamoto sat to Gregory’s right, within easy reach of his dominant hand. Fox sat next to Yamamoto.
“I want to start with an apology,” Gregory said. “Treating you like this wasn’t right. But it was the only option we had. The Box is the one place in the world the New Gods can’t reach. We didn’t put you here to punish you. We wanted to protect you.”
“Treating us like prisoners is ‘protection’?” Connor asked.
“I objected to it too. But my hands were tied. I burned a lot of favors to keep you off the official records. But I had to park you in a place even the New Gods can’t touch, or it wouldn’t matter at all.”
“We would have appreciated it if you had informed us in advance,” Wood said. “Or, at least, once we had settled in.”
“Sorry. We’ve been extremely busy over the past two weeks. We had to maintain operational security until it was all over.”
“What were you busy with?” Mustafa asked.
“Cleaning up after you.”
We left a hell of a mess at the BITE, huh,” Fox said.
“More than that. You took down the government.”
His words sucked the air out of the room.
“We… what?” Fox said.
“Right before we landed, someone posted terabytes of sensitive data on a half-dozen pastebin websites. Videos, audio recordings, minutes of meetings, bank statements, all of them proving improper relationships between the New Gods and key government figures. And text files with instructions to grow DNA solutions and how to retrieve information encoded in them. Sounds familiar?”
Gregory stared pointedly at Yamamoto. Then at Tan.
The men’s faces turned to stone.
It was the team’s final option. If the enemy breached their position, Tan would immediately publish everything he had on the Net, and damn the consequences. But nobody thought they’d live to see the consequences. At least, Fox didn’t.
“What happened next?” Wood prodded.
“While we were managing the fallout from the firefight, the compromising material spread across the Net. Once the alt media got their hands on it, there was no stopping it. The entire administration’s burning in the biggest scandal since the founding of Nova Babylonia.
“We—the STS—hit the ground running and didn’t stop. Our mandate is to save lives and uphold the law, and that was what we did. We arrested every corrupt individual implicated in the data. Sometimes in tandem with local law enforcement, usually by ourselves. At this moment, we’re still running ops and takedowns. As you can imagine, some of them don’t want to come in quietly. But you don’t have to worry about that.”
“Was anyone in the STS implicated in the scandal?” Yamamoto asked.
She knew what he was really asking: was Gregory implicated in it?
Gregory shook his head.
“No. We’re the only government agency not compromised by the New Gods. Yuri and I, we designed the STS from the ground-up so they could never influence us.”
Everyone turned to Yamamoto.
“Wait, what?” Mustafa exclaimed. “Yuri designed it?”
“He didn’t tell you?” Gregory said.
“The commander came up with the concept of the STS. He approached a number of… subject matter experts to stand up the unit. I was among them.”
“Modest to the end, aren’t you? See, Yuri isn’t just a plankowner. Everything about the STS—the training, the operations manual, the gear, the supply chains, the mission set, the organization, the doctrine—he had a part in creating them all. Without him, the STS could never have existed.”
Yamamoto looked away uncomfortably.
“Sir, I just did what was asked of me.”
Fox smiled. He was normally cool and composed, even in the heat of battle. She’d never seen this side of him before.
“And you did it to perfection,” Gregory said. “The New Gods have no leverage over us. That makes us the only truly independent law enforcement body in the entire country. The only ones who can drain the swamp and clean up the government.”
“We’re also the poor schmucks the PSB used to maintain the balance of power between the New Gods,” Wood pointed out.
“Yes, there is that perception. There are as-yet unidentified parties who are aiming to create that perception in the press, to paint us as the cat’s paws of the New Gods or the government or both, and cast our reputation in doubt. We are working on countering that. But right now, the people need heroes. They’ll turn to the one agency seen as incorruptible.”
Gregory sounded proud. Was it because the STS had remained true where others had fallen? Or was it something else?
“What’s going to happen now?” Yamamoto asked.
“There are still some unanswered questions about the events at the BITE,” Gregory said.
The faces of the Black Watch went still.
“Really?” Yamamoto said. “Such as?”
“As the responders closed in, they spotted a civilian female fleeing the campus. She linked up with two other females a block away. We notified BPD, but the first responders had their hands full evacuating the area and providing first aid. The women vanished. Do you know anything about them?”
“No,” Yamamoto said.
“Not even the female inside the BITE when the shooting went down?”
“We cleared the fifth floor of all civilians long before the firefight. But I can’t speak for any other civilians who might have been trapped on campus.”
Cindy wasn’t a civilian. She wasn’t even human. Technically, Yamamoto hadn’t lied.
Gregory’s eyebrows arched. “I see. There is also the question of the data. We recovered thirty-two vials of DNA solutions in the lab. DNA solutions containing encoded data. But you only published the information encoded in three vials. What about the others?”
“We only had time to decrypt and publish the contents of those three vials,” Tan said.
“And the others?”
“Encrypted using DNA steganography. We don’t have the primers to decrypt them. Do you?”
Gregory shook his head. “The original owners, whoever they are, haven’t come forward to with the keys. I’ve been informed it could take decades, if not centuries, to crack the encrypted solutions.”
“Were there any other non-encrypted vials?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“Because you’re using them as evidence,” Connor said with a sly smile.
Gregory’s eyes twinkled.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to excise the cancer of corruption in the upper echelons of society. We’re making the most of it. And on that note, Zen, have you sent the raw DNA data to anyone else?”
Tan’s borrowed machine automatically backed up its data to a private encrypted cloud, one shared only with Alex. Tan had nothing to do with that.
“No? I’m reading reports of behind-the-scenes manipulations. Allegations of extortion by an unknown party, publication of fresh blackmail material, even a few suicides. Someone else out there has access to the data, and I’m not talking about the original owners.”
“Don’t know anything about that either. I mean, we were in the Box for two weeks. It’s hard to hear anything about the outside world in here, you know?”
Tan’s voice started light-hearted, but it concealed a bitter edge.
“And what about your machine? It conveniently bricked itself after you published the data.”
Tan’s eyes widened in a mockery of shock.
“Really? I had no idea about that.”
Gregory pursed his lips. “I was hoping you would know something about that.”
Tan shrugged expansively. “I didn’t even know the machine was bricked. I was too busy following your orders to stand down. Maybe a third party traced the upload and decided to kill it at the source.”
“I see,” Gregory said, completely unconvinced. “It’s a pity the techs couldn’t trace the hacker who disabled your machine.”
“A pity,” Tan echoed.
“Anyway, that’s all the questions I have for you,” Gregory said. “And this isn’t a formal interview anyway.”
“What are you here for?” Yamamoto asked.
“To check in on you, see how you’re doing. And to update you on the situation.”
“What’s going on?”
“The people are furious. Everybody knows there’s at least some corruption in the government, but nobody knew it ran this deep. There are protest marches all over Nova Babylonia, demanding reforms and anti-corruption investigations. Not even the New Gods can do anything about it, not without risking a shooting war.
“The Attorney-General has appointed Special Counsel Robert Temple to investigate all allegations of corruption. Temple has issued subpoenas for all of us, myself included, to testify before the grand jury.”
“Which is why you’re here,” Wood said.
“Indeed. The nation is gripped in crisis, but in every crisis, there is opportunity. We need to decide how it plays out.”
Wood stiffened. Connor frowned. Yamamoto’s face hardened. Mustafa blinked.
“What do you mean?” Mustafa asked.
“Once the testimonies begin, there are two roads we can walk.
“One, I tell the grand jury that you were on a special assignment. After the mission in Riveria, you uncovered evidence suggesting corruption at a massive scale, so massive even the PSB was implicated in it. Under the guise of an official suspension, I ordered you to conduct an undercover investigation. Your investigation bore fruit, but as the New Gods sent their troops to silence you, you published the information you gathered before they got their hands on it. The paperwork and the timelines supporting this narrative have already been prepared; stick to it and we all walk away as heroes.”
Mustafa blanched. “You want us to lie to the grand jury?”
“There is always the… alternative path.”
“I tell the grand jury I had no idea what you were up to. This is the truth; Yuri kept me in the dark until the eleventh hour. When I received a report of a massive firefight on the BITE campus, I deployed the STS, who found you at the scene. That is the limit of my involvement. You will be free to tell Temple and the grand jury whatever you like.”
“How would you explain the air strike?” Wood asked.
“It was a massive firefight, as I said. In cases like these, the STS may exercise special powers to request help from the military. The military obliged. The AC-252 was the first to arrive on station, and engaged the combatants on the ground. When the STS arrived, it was all over.”
“That’s not what happened,” Fox said. “Yuri called in the air strike himself. You were working with him, weren’t you?”
“As I said, Yuri kept me in the dark. He only told me what was going on the night before the showdown at the BITE. That’s no lie.”
“But he wouldn’t have been able to call the air strike without your involvement.”
“The aircrew of the Wraith will testify that they received a lawful request for assistance from the STS, and that an STS operator in the area called down fire on the area around the campus,” Gregory said. “They have no knowledge of who, exactly, called the strike, nor would they be expected to.”
Fox’s blood went cold. “You wouldn’t…”
“Why not? That’s the truth. The aircrew wouldn’t know who ‘Samurai’ is, after all.”
Fox shook her head. She had always thought Gregory was fine leader, if somewhat distant. He was the driving force of the STS, the men who fended off the wolves so that the operators could get on with their jobs. Not the man who would throw his own to the wolves.
“This is bullshit!” Connor exclaimed.
“The only choice you’re giving us is the choice to choose what lies we want to be told,” Mustafa said.
“We’re at the point beyond truth and lies. All that matters is the narrative, and the consequences that flow from it.”
Sadness dripped from every word. Just yesterday, Fox might have believed that Gregory was remorseful. He might, even now, be capable of feeling it. But in the end, he was just like the rest of the New Gods: all he cared about was his own fief.
“No matter what happens, your ass is covered,” Fox said bitterly.
“I am in that curious position, yes. But I can help you. I want to help you.”
“How?” Connor demanded.
“Let’s say you pick the second option. You tell the grand jury your side of the story, and I won’t interfere. But that means you’ll have to admit to going rogue. You’ll have no official protection. The PSB will open investigations into every single one of your shootings up to this point, including the firefight at the BITE. You’ll have to explain your actions. Including what happened at the Golden Mile.”
“And the first option is any better?” Fox asked.
“I can tell Temple and the jury that I ordered you to investigate the Golden Mile and interview a witness. But the Void Collective discovered you and attacked you. To protect yourself and the witness, you had to fight your way to safety. Along the way, you managed to scoop up critical evidence incriminating many high-ranking government, military and police officials.”
“You got to Marcie?” Tan whispered.
“She was also a witness. She can tell the truth about how the VC turns would-be believers into mindless puppets. I mean, wasn’t that why you were there? To protect her?”
Tan clenched his fists.
“I suppose you have an explanation of how we collected the information from the servers.”
“Exigent circumstances. You believed the servers contained vital information pertaining to the VC’s criminal activities. If you had left without securing it, they would have destroyed it.”
“It wouldn’t hold up in court,” Connor said.
“Now that the information is out in the open, it doesn’t matter,” Gregory said calmly. “The public demands action. Heads will roll. The only question is whose, and how many.”
“And you don’t care if ours roll?” Tan said.
“I do. That’s why I’m willing to extend you a helping hand. But you must be willing to take it. Right, Yuri?”
Yamamoto said nothing. Since the moment Gregory offered his choices, he had sat in silence, presenting a stony facade to the world, his body utterly unreadable.
“What are you thinking?” Gregory asked.
Yamamoto looked away from him, facing his team.
“When I put together the Black Watch, I was looking a specific kind of operator. Someone with a moral code. Someone who would do the right thing, no matter what. Even if it meant defying the New Gods and the authorities of the world. Especially if it meant that.
“You, all of you, you did exactly that. Despite everything they threw at you, you kept the faith and stayed true to the mission. I’m proud to have known you. You are the finest bunch of shooters I’ve ever had the honor of serving with.
“Now we need to think of ourselves. If we testify before the grand jury, tell them exactly what happened and what we did, there’s only one outcome for us. We will be branded a rogue unit—and rightfully so. They will throw us back upstairs with the rest of the monsters. And this time, the New Gods will do everything in their power to ensure that we will have every opportunity to encounter their Elect.
“After everything we’ve been through together, after everything we’ve done, is this what you want? Is this what we deserve?”
“Yuri…” Fox whispered. “Are you serious?”
A pained expression crossed his face. “I just wanted to do the right thing by you. All of you. We’re all in this together. So I want to know: what do you want?”
“What’s the alternative?” Connor asked. “What if we play along?”
“You will be protected,” Gregory said. “I swear it. And when it all blows over, you’ll get your jobs back. Or you could start a new life, whatever you want. You earned it.”
“Well… fuck.” Connor sighed. “Hey, Yuri, in that Bible you told me about, there was this passage that says, ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ I sure don’t see any freedom in this.”
“It said ‘know’, not necessarily, ‘tell,’” Yamamoto said bitterly. “We know the truth. We are already free. Free to choose what we want to do with the rest of our lives, and how we want to live.”
“It’s a simple choice, isn’t it?” Gregory said.
“It’s not,” Fox snapped.
“Let’s reframe it then,” Yamamoto said. “The New Gods are responsible for all the misery and the suffering they’ve piled on us and the innocent. Our mission remains unchanged: to save lives and uphold the law. Which option allows us to continue the mission and hold the New Gods to account?”
The men of the Black Watch frowned and looked away.
“Who are you trying to convince?” Fox asked. “Us? Or yourself?”
Yamamoto licked his lips. He worked his mouth, trying to form words. Then he sighed and looked up at her.
“I thought so.”
She reached out, taking his hand.
“Listen. All this time, we’ve looked up to you. You led us through the most difficult and the most insane missions of our career. I had no regrets joining up. None of us do. You’re our leader, always have been, always will. Whatever you choose, we’ll follow you. All the way.”
Yamamoto swallowed. And looked around the room.
One by one, the men nodded at him.
He nodded back.
And patted her hand.
He looked back at Gregory.
“I think you know our decision, then.”
For the first time in two weeks, Fox saw the sun.
It hung high in the sky, a fireball that blessed the world with light and warmth. She stood with her arms outstretched, basking in its glory, chasing away the chill of the Box.
Behind her, the low-profile doors of the cube slid shut, recessing into place. The Black Watch, now dressed in civilian clothing, stood around her, chuckling softly.
“Are you photosynthesizing?” Yamamoto asked.
The men laughed again.
Seven close protection details and seven gravcars waited in the parking lot. One for each member of the Black Watch, plus Gregory. The bodyguards were all STS operators, kitted up in tac gear and armed to the teeth. They waved at Yamamoto and the men, and they waved back.
The cars would take them in seven separate directions, to seven separate safe houses scattered across the country. It was too dangerous to return to Babylon, or to gather in a single location. They would hunker down in their respective safe houses, and spend the following weeks rehearsing and refining their stories for Temple and the grand jury. The next time they saw each other would be in court, if at all.
“This is it,” Yamamoto said. “It’s time to go.”
“I respect the choice you made,” Gregory said. “I know it wasn’t easy. But it was the right thing.”
The operators just glared at him with icy stares.
“We’ll hold you to your word,” Yamamoto said.
“Count on it.”
Gregory was the first to go. He climbed into his car without looking back.
Everyone else turned inwards, forming a loose circle.
“Well, guys,” Yamamoto said, “it was a hell of a ride.”
“That it was,” Mustafa agreed.
“I can’t believe we got this far,” Fox said.
“But we did,” Wood said.
“More than I can say for so many others,” Connor said.
“I guess this is it,” Tan said. “See you on the flip side.”
One by one, the men grabbed walked to their designated cars. Tan, Connor, Wood, Mustafa, they found their vehicles and linked up with their drivers.
Leaving Yamamoto and Fox by the entrance.
“You’re staying?” he asked.
“You’re not leaving?” she replied.
“Figured you wanted to say something.”
He chuckled. And sighed.
“You know, this isn’t the end of it. Not by a long shot.”
“What do you mean?”
“The New Gods are the rulers of the world. We might have removed their puppets, but so long as they remain, they can simply install new ones.”
“You’re saying what we did didn’t matter?”
“It did. But there’ll always be people willing to take what the New Gods have to offer. There’ll always be people willing to trade their eternal souls for temporal power. They’ll cut loose everyone implicated in the scandal, then elevate new ones to replace them. It’s how they’ve always worked. How they remained in charge for so long.”
“But in the meantime, we’ll be able to change things. Make it harder for the New Gods to seize power. Make it easier for people to do what’s right.”
“I hope so too. And yet, so long as the New Gods are still around…”
“What about them?”
He shook his head. And as he completed the gesture, he cocked his head in the direction of the security camera behind them.
“What more is there to say? In the end, it’s just Babylon blues.”
“I understand. But you faced them once. You can face them again.”
“Of course. But we’re not going to do that standing around here.”
“Yeah. I… I just…”
She looked down. Clenched her fists. Took a deep breath. Looked back up.
“Thank you. For everything.”
He nodded. “You’re welcome. And don’t worry. This isn’t the end. We’ll see each other again.”
“Have faith,” he said.
And pointed at the sky.
He walked to his car.
She walked to hers.
They didn’t look back.
At last, BABYLON BLUES is finished! Thank you for your support. If you’d like to read the entire five-story saga in a single collection, plus a bonus story that follows Yuri Yamamoto on a personal mission, back BABYLON BLUES REMASTERED on Kickstarter here!
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