Part 9

"Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on!" Sonya almost felt like stomping her foot but resigned herself to sitting on Bruce's couch, spine rigid and bewilderment on her face.

Robert sat across from her, his own expression bleak and eyes staring vacantly over the other's heads. Bruce shifted and cleared his throat, curious himself about what was really going on. He had a suspicion that he knew about as much as Sonya did.

Robert finally pulled his attention back to them and resettled himself. "I suppose you deserve to know," he threw an indefinable look at Bruce, distrust obvious in his eyes, "But I'd like to know why you're helping, first."

Bruce squinted and shifted, suddenly unsure what to say. He hadn't really thought much about it, just acted on his gut instinct. "I don't really know. I guess I felt that Councilman Meelak was overstepping himself and everything that was happening was wrong." He met Robert's eyes and shrugged, "That's all I can really say."

Robert nodded and paused, considering where to start. "It all happened on our last camping trip..."

The story took a considerable amount of time to relate, with both Sonya and Bruce interrupting with questions and the desire for clarification. Robert found himself almost unable to finish the story, thoughts of JP and worry for Ay'nin clogging his throat. When his voice finally faded it was to silence.

Bruce looked out the window, concerned that they couldn't hear anything from outside. His eyebrows jerked up in surprise at the sight of the citizens and Enforcers pausing and turning, looking up into the sky at something. "Come on," Bruce started toward his front door and out onto the porch where the trio stood, staring at the sky.

In the distance they could see the media tower activating, its large viewer powering up and projecting a gigantic image into the sky. The first thing they all saw was the IGNA logo, followed by a voice that Robert immediately recognized as Tamara Faal's.

"Citizens of Lorraine, know that you have been deceived. The near state of martial law under which you have all been living for the past several days has not been to catch a fugitive from justice on Earth. There are, in fact, only two records for hybrids within Earth's justice system and both persons are locked safely away in Tricon Prison.

"The real quarry is a woman named Ay'nin Yonan, a former member of the Founder's Group for your very colony."

Robert started at hearing Ay'nin's name then checked the time. He'd followed Tamara's "special" instructions, which allowed him to store everything they hadn't told the reporter on an anonymous server. He'd set it to transmit to Faal at three o'clock today; it was now almost quarter to four.

The broadcast continued, "She stumbled upon and found proof of a crime perpetrated on your planet." Tamara's voice broke off then, and the picture shifted to a video.

Robert grimaced at having to watch it again but had to admit that it was extremely effective. It clearly showed Enforcers, the strange C emblem on their collars, corralling and killing groups of the Chochasi people. Screams echoed from the video, shots of terror filled faces and the laughter of the Enforcers.

The camera operator turned at one point to show an enrage Chochasi coming at him with a raised stick. His body jerked suddenly and blood spurted out to coat the camera lens. Through the red veil the body fell to reveal an Enforcer behind him, weapon still raised from delivering the killing shot.

The picture cut out and resumed once more, to show the bodies being dragged and deposited in the cave then lit on fire. The final shot, before the video ended, was of John Meelak giving the order to start the fire.

Tamara's voice returned then, "The images you have just seen were taken from a video recorder found on Lorraine..."

Robert tore his gaze from the broadcast as Enforcers started moving purposefully down the street. For a moment, Robert was convinced they were coming to arrest them until he noted that they were local Enforcers who paused upon seeing Bruce.

Bruce stepped off the porch, studied his people carefully, then gave a brisk nod. The continued their march down the street and to the doors of the Council Hall.

"What's going on?"

"They're going to arrest Meelak."

Robert's lip curled, "Good. Can you get JP released?"

Bruce nodded then turned his attention to the other Enforcers.

Sonya saw where he was looking and voiced the question they were all thinking, "What about them?"

"If they're smart they'll give up their weapons and surrender."

Robert studied the streets; people milled about, unsure what to do and how to cope with everything that had just happened. Some were crouched over still bodies, weeping softly; others stood in numb shock, watching their houses burn while still others frantically searched the streets for a family member of friend.

If people were smart, none of this would have happened.

***

John Meelak twisted in the arms of his captors, his feet digging into the loose ground as he yelled, "This is a mistake! You have no idea what you're doing! I demand that you cease this action at once..." His yells disappeared as he was pulled into a transport.

Robert glared and muttered, "Good riddance." He spotted Bruce headed toward him and jogged to reach the Security Chief faster, "Where's JP?"

Sonya came up as well, anxious to see her friend.

Bruce stared at them both in turn then shook his head, "I'm sorry. She was shipped off planet before IGNA's broadcast came through."

"So? Just get her released from wherever they sent her."

Bruce frowned and turned away from them, "I can't."

Robert and Sonya were shocked into inaction, sharing disbelieving, openmouthed looks. They both spoke at the same time, "What do you mean you can't?"

Bruce looked up at the sky and closed his eyes. HE didn't want to have to tell them this. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right; it just was. "She's been processed. Meelak had her brought up on a bunch of charges and sent off to prison."

Sonya shook her head, her frown deepening, "What, like convicted? They can't do that! How can they just do that?"

"In less than three hours!" Robert added his own disbelief.

Bruce sighed and shrugged, "I don't know. Obviously, this "Central" pulled some strings somewhere. We won't know where or how until the entire organization has been dismantled."

"But she hasn't done anything!" Robert yelled, his frustration hitting the roof.

"I know that but there's nothing I can do! It's the nature of the system. JP's in it now and it's not a matter of simply saying 'Oh, it was a mistake. You can let her go now'. I don't like it any more than you do."

Robert pulled a face and stomped away, paused, and yelled over his shoulder, "So who they hell can do something?"

"I don't know."

Robert glared and then continued down the street.

***

Tamara Faal stepped off the transport and stared. The city was a mess. Tents were pitched in the streets, local Enforcers were out in full force, running the city until the full depth of the corruption could be found. Bruce Pincinati had proven himself to be untainted by Central and its policies. He was now Commander-in-Chief of Lorraine's forces and as such now ran the city. All of the other Council members were being held and questioned to determine their loyalties.

She was here to do a follow-up to the original broadcast. Tamara spotted a large man headed her way who she immediately recognized as Mr. Pincinati. She smiled and held out her hand, "Mr. Pincinati it's nice to meet you. Too bad it couldn't be under better circumstances."

He nodded, "Too true. And please, call me Bruce. Robert isn't around right now, he went out into the woods to try and find Ay'nin."

"And JP?"

Bruce hesitated for a moment, "Arrested."

"What?!"

He explained the situation and saw the same fury that both Sonya and Robert had demonstrated yesterday.

"That's bullshit."

"Yes, it is."

Tamara huffed and glared at the buildings. What a horrible way to start the day. "Is there any way I can get in contact with her?"

Bruce nodded, "I can arrange that."

"Excellent."

***

Robert pushed his way through the trees and almost fell over in shock at what he saw. Or, as it were, didn't see. The cave had been reduced to a pile of boulders and rocks, trees nearby had been bowled over as well and twisted up from the pile.

He approached it slowly, studying the ground for any sign of footprints or... Anything. He remembered what Cerina had said about Ay'nin, that she'd thought the hybrid was dying. He wouldn't accept that, though, not until he saw the bodies.

He'd believed her dead before.

Robert climbed up on the rocks, rooting around for anything that might indicate that Ay'nin was underneath the pile. After a fruitless half hour he sat down and allowed himself to cry.

For Ay'nin, for JP, himself; for everyone in Lorraine who had suffered as innocent bystanders; for the Chochasi, whose immense suffering had set this whole thing in motion.

He slammed his hands on the rock and kicked his feet before he stood and picked up a sizable piece and threw it into the woods, screaming. He did it again and again, yelling and cursing the entire time, tears running down his face. When Robert ran out of rocks he could pick up he jumped off the pile and started kicking bushes and dirt until he finally collapsed to his knees, spent.

Chest heaving, nose running, and hands hurting from scrapes he stilled, eyes closed, and put his forehead to the ground. Robert groaned and flung his arms out to the sides, trying to east the sudden cramping in his neck.

His hand hit something and sent it skittering across the rocks and sand. Robert sat up and grabbed the object, his forehead creasing. It was a chisel. What in the world was a chisel doing here?

His contemplation was broken by crunching footsteps and a very familiar voice, "Robert?"

Robert was on his feet and swinging around before his brain even had time to process who it was. "Dad?"

His father stepped out of the trees, a slightly leery look on his face. "Hey, kid."

Robert backed up a few steps, his chisel held between himself and his father, suddenly a weapon. "What are you doing here?" He shook his head, "No, forget that. Where the hell have you been? Do you..." Robert stopped and blew out a frustrated breath.

Andrew stopped advancing on his son and raised his hands, "I just had to leave Lorraine for a little while. I've been in the woods. Just trust me on this Robert-"

"No. Either you explain it to me or get the hell out of my life."

Andrew nodded, "All right. Your mother and I had an argument the night you and JP came to us..."

"Did you know?"

Andrew shook his head, "Know what?"

"Did you know about the Chochasi, about mom, before we came to you?"

"About your mother, yes. I've always known that she belonged to another government group. I didn't really know what they were about though, I swear. As for the Chochasi, the first time I heard that name was when you said it. That night we argued; she wanted me to give her the bone you'd given us but I refused. I asked her if she knew about the Chochasi and she didn't say anything. That made me pretty sure that she did, that she'd kept it from me."

"So you ran away?" The venom in Robert's voice made his father flinch.

"Please understand that the woman I spoke to that night was not the same person I had married. I guess maybe she'd always been that person and had worn a mask for me, in our marriage. She was talking about bringing me and you into custody," Andrew shook his head and took another slow step to his son, his hand outstretched, "I decided to hide away. I wanted to take you with me the next morning but I couldn't get to you in time."

Andrew finally reached his son and pulled Robert into a hug. It was long and desperate and when they pulled away they both had tears building in their eyes.

Robert rubbed his nose and met his father's eyes, "Why would she do that?"

Andrew shook his head, "I don't know. I guess it's because she belonged to them long before she belonged to us. Her loyalty to her job was greater than to her family." He wrapped his arm around Robert's shoulders and started pulling him away towards the town.

***

Tamara stopped and took two steps backwards, then waited until Bruce had returned, "What's this?" She gestured to the burnt out husk that a few people were combing through, looking for evidence and whatnot.

"It was JP's house."

"They burnt it down?"

He nodded.

"Why?"

He shook his head, "Why did they do anything? I think maybe they thought she was hiding and if they burnt it down she'd show herself."

Tamara looked around the town. A few other houses had succumbed to the same fate, the only difference was their owners were also sifting through the wreckage in search of anything salvageable. "Where are her parents?"

Bruce's jaw worked a few times before he spoke, "We think that they...tried to hide in the basement. When the fire started they didn't have a way out."

Tamara stayed rooted to the spot, staring, "Does JP know?"

"I'm not sure."

They stood for a few more seconds before Bruce gently tugged on the reporter's arm. He ducked into his temporary office and picked up the phone.

Tamara waited in the hall, trying not to listen as Bruce's voice raised in anger followed by silence as he was put on hold or transferred to another department. Finally, the door opened and he waved her in. She took the phone and waited.

"Hello?"

Tamara almost sighed at hearing the voice, "JP, how are you doing?"

"Faal?"

"Yeah."

There was hesitation and a long breath, "I...I guess I'm okay." She sounded tired and worn.

Tamara licked her lips, "Listen, everything's," she paused, unsure. Everything's what? Okay? Better? Not hardly. "Things are turning around here. You guys did it."

"Is Robert okay?"

"He's fine. He's not here right now, though, he's out looking for Ay'nin."

JP made a relieved sound, "And my parents?"

Tamara's eyes dropped closed. Christ, she didn't want to have to tell the kid like this. She didn't even want to be the one to break the news. "They, um..." She cleared her throat, "They...died. They got trapped in your house."

Utter silence. So much that Tamara thought JP might have hung up.

"JP?"

"Y-yeah. I'm here."

"I'm sorry."

A breath and when her voice came again Tamara could hear the tears, "Listen, um, you need...ah, you need to know about the mining."

"What?"

"They, they were mining. In the forest, at the mountain. Strip mining. Ay'nin... Ay'nin thought the miners were getting sick from the ore."

Tamara shook her head, stunned at this new information, "Slow down for a second. What kind or ore was it?"

"I don't know. It was green. She thought the rock dust was making them sick. It... It might have even been making Ay'nin sick and she was only in contact with it for a little while. Be careful."

Tamara was scribbled fiercely on a piece of paper, "Do you know where it is?"

"At the mountain. That's all she said." There was a pause and then shuffling and some background noise, "I, um, I have to go."

Tamara nodded, "Okay. Listen JP, we'll get this sorted out. We'll get you out of there. I promise."

"Yeah. Thank-you."

The reporter smiled a little, "You're welcome." She listened to a dial tone for a little until Bruce took the receiver from her and hung it up.

She turned and looked up at him, "We have a mountain to find."

Bruce nodded, "I might know a way to narrow it down. Come on." They exited the office and started down the hall.

Wesley Cho took in a deep breath and stepped into the hallway, directly in front of Bruce and Tamara. They stopped, and stated at him questioningly. "I have something to tell you." He gestured for the duo to follow him, "It's about another operation. The reason Central chose this planet and killed all those people."

They stepped into a storage room. Tamara couldn't figure out why. This guy had nothing to be afraid of now.

Cho reached into his pocket and pulled out a rock but kept his fist closed, "If you can guarantee safety for myself and my family I'll tell you anything you want to know."

Bruce and Tamara exchanged looks. This could be exactly what they needed. Bruce nodded.

Cho opened his hand, "It's all been about this. Trilinium."

Tamara picked the rock up and held it up to the light which bounced and glittered off the ore. A grin blossomed on her face.

***

That's how it went down. Ay'nin, JP, and Robert all did their part to bring the conspirators to justice. Tamara and Bruce found the camp the next day. Apparently, a lot of Central's Enforcers had retreated there thinking that they'd be safe. They weren't.

Most of the citizens of Lorraine left afterwards, but not before making it abundantly clear that they were outraged that something like this could have happened in the first place. That they had been tricked and deliberately mislead by their elected representatives. Really, though, what did they expect to accomplish by that?

Wesley Cho and his family were relocated to some undisclosed location after his damning testimony which quite literally brought Central down around the ears of those who ran it. Among those convicted were John Meelak, Naomi Burke, and three other members of Lorraine's Council: Liam Parker, Pauline Badeau, and Angela Judd. They weren't so much members of Central as Meelak's flunkies. They were in his pocket and ensured that he always had a majority on the seven member Council.

Don't take any of this to mean that Central is completely gone. Some people believe it will take countless years to root out everyone who ever had anything to do with it. Other people believe we shouldn't have dismantled the organization, that their work was necessary and vital.

Bullshit.

A new Council was eventually created on Lorraine, elected from the citizen population by the citizens. Bruce Pincinati won an overwhelming victory as Council head. By write in vote, mind you.

Tamara Faal got a position as field liaison for her series of stories entitled The Lorraine Conspiracy. I always thought the title was kind of hokey myself, and I told her that on many occasions. She laughed it off. The funny thing about Tamara was that, even though I didn't know her very well before she came to Lorraine, I noticed a change in her. After it was over, the trial and everything, she was so much lighter and free, kind of like some burden had been lifted.

I learned later on that she'd finally gotten justice for her partner, Barbara.

As for Robert and his father, they made amends to some degree. There is, to this day, a little bit of wariness between them. Old wounds like that don't just disappear. Robert was betrayed by his mother, lied to by his father. To say he came away with trust issues would be an understatement.

Robert started his own organization, the APA, or the Alien Protection Agency. I always equated it to Amnesty International for aliens. He made it his personal mission to make sure that nothing like Lorraine ever happened again. It took him awhile to get funding but he is nothing if not tenacious. The APA now has embassies, for lack of a better word, in all the major cities of the colonies and Earth. His father works there with him.

And now that I've touched on almost everything I bet you're sitting there thinking two things. What about JP? What about Ay'nin? Tamara and Robert both tried, they're still trying, but the fact remains that our justice system is an absolute mess. It's overcrowded, bogged down, and chaotic. JP's still in jail although we think we're pretty damn close to getting her out. Robert and I go to see her every week and I'd have to say, all thing considered, she's holding up remarkably well.

Ay'nin is another story entirely. The rocks of the collapsed cave were lifted and moved, every last one of them. We never found a body. Some people like to speculate that she survived and is living out there somewhere, hopefully happy. Others take into consideration the blood that was found soaked into the ground and say that she died, dragged off and eaten by netis. Robert never vocalized his opinion to me but sometimes I look up at him and I see it in his eyes. He waffles. He can't convince himself that she survived or that she died. Some days he hopes and others he mourns. I can't really decide either. The rational part of my mind says that even if the collapse of the cave didn't kill her there's no way she could have gotten somewhere safe, not without help. There certainly wasn't anyone around to help her. But we never found any form of remains in the woods and netis usually leave some trace behind. And yet I find myself bolstered by Robert's hope, believing that sometime impossible things can and do happen. She'd survived before when everyone thought her dead.

I could go in circles arguing this either way. I see little point in speculating now. I've provided the main arguments and leave it up to you to make your own decision. Know that a gravestone was erected at the cave and a service was held. I attended, as did we all.

As for me, I sit here today, March 15, 3207, and write these final words, exactly two years from the day that Wesley Cho led Tamara Faal and Bruce Pincinati into a storage closet. I am the soon to be Mrs. Robert Burke and I couldn't be happier for it.

This has been my account, for all that it is worth, and it is my sincerest hope that you perhaps found something within these pages to think about. It didn't end happily but it also wasn't a supreme tragedy. Take it as it is.

I never promised you a happy ending.

Fin

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