Avalanche – Snippet 48
No, she didn’t know how she was still alive. No, she didn’t have any memory of anything after locking Blue Team out of the generator base of the shield tower in Ultima Thule. No, she didn’t know how she had mysteriously reappeared miles away, stumbling across a ECHO clean-up crew with nothing more than the ECHO uniform on her back.
She had refused almost anything they had offered. She barely ate, was indifferent to the state of her unwashed, battle-torn body, and became violent when anyone so much as touched her. So she was still matted with dirt and blood, her hair wild and unkempt, and she was still adorned in the same battered ECHO nanoweave that she had worn in Ultima Thule.
She sat at one end of the interrogation table, her hands clasped before her as if in prayer, her hair obscuring her face as she slouched forward in her chair. Bull winced.
“Paris,” he growled. “You smell like someone left a vat of baked beans to rot in a monkey house.”
She didn’t answer. She hadn’t moved at all when he had entered, but through the tangled mess of her hair, Bull could feel her eyes on him. And they were cold. Nothing about this felt right to him. Before, he had been struggling to understand how the girl he had mentored for so long had fallen so far. But she had become so alien to him, he found himself wondering if it was even her at all.
He sighed and took a seat opposite her.
“I’m not going to run through all the questions again,” he said, pushing his tablet to the side. “You must have memorized them by now, and your answers have always been the same. So I’ll just ask this: Do you remember anything new?”
“No,” Scope muttered. “Nothing new. Can I go back to my cell now?”
“No, you can’t,” Bull said. “I’m afraid this is the last time we’ll be meeting like this. Because at the end of this meeting, I’m going to have to make a decision on what to do with you. So you will appreciate how very important it is, if you have anything new to share with me, that you do so now. Because at this moment, the only option I can see before me is to send you to GenPop. I can’t justify keeping you in Top Hold anymore.”
“General populace?” Scope said, and chuckled. “I guess that’s one solution. You don’t really expect me to last long there, do you? Or is that the point?”
“I’ve been bending the rules enough as it is. I’ll be over-ruled soon. If I don’t decide to send you, someone else will.”
“Oh, right,” Scope said, nodding. “The rules. We all know how you feel about the rules, Bull. Wouldn’t want to see any tarnish on your reputation now, would we?”
“What would you have me do?” Bull asked. “You won’t volunteer any information. You should have been atomized in that blast. Instead, here you are, with a few scratches instead, with nothing to oppose the accusations that you are and have been a mole all this time.”
“That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?” Scope muttered. “And really, if I was a plant, isn’t this a bit of a sloppy way to return? I’m weak, I’m jonesing like you wouldn’t believe, but I can still think. If I’m a traitor, I’m the dumbest, clumsiest traitor in the history of dumb, clumsy traitors.” She peered up at him, and Bull saw the light catch her furious eyes behind the curtain of hair.
“I don’t know what happened, Bull,” she whispered. “Not a clue. The last thing I remember is locking myself in that room and turning around to set the charges. The next thing I know, I’m crawling through a war zone. I didn’t even know we’d won. For a time, I actually thought I was the only one left. And when…”
She withdrew from him, and cowered beneath her veil again. Bull watched her intently, waiting… and relaxed when a sob escaped her lips.
“When…” she began again. “When I came across that ECHO crew, you don’t know… you have no idea how relieved I felt. If they were ECHO, then we had won. If they were ECHO, then most of you would still be alive. Maybe even you, even after…”
“After you screwed up so badly that a mountain fell on top of me?”
“Yeah,” Scope muttered. “Even after that.” She withdrew again, clasping her arms around herself and bowing her head. “Everything after, you know. I was brought here. You asked me questions I don’t know the answers to. And now you’re going to send me down to GenPop and I’m going to have to watch my back every single moment I’m not alone in a cell for a shiv to land in my back. For all you know, that’s what I want. But you don’t believe that, do you? You’ve never given up on anyone, have you Bull? You still believe in people. Some of those people have let you down so completely, you’ve been dragged to the edge so many times, you’re actually familiar now with the taste of your own death. But you still believe in me. I can tell. Your instincts are probably telling you some pretty confusing things right now. So how about I ask the questions for a change, Bulwark? What do you believe about me?”
Bull didn’t answer immediately. He watched her for a moment, as if sizing her up, then leaned forward and clasped his hands gently together on the table between them.
“I believe you’ve lost your way,” he said, “but that’s all. I don’t think you’re a traitor, like some do. I don’t think you had or have any intentions against ECHO. I think someone’s been playing you. I think you’ve been a bit of a victim through all this. With that said, I still think you had a hand in making yourself vulnerable to it and you should take some responsibility for that. I think you’re more a danger to yourself than anyone here now. Even if you were to clear your name or reputation, I don’t think anyone would clear you for active duty anymore, for various reasons. Jensen still wants you for more interrogation. Bella just doesn’t trust you anymore. I wouldn’t reinstate you either.”
“And why’s that, Bull?”
“Because I believe the moment you’re reinstated, you will stop being a danger just to yourself, but to anyone who has the misfortune of being placed on your team.”
“You’re not ready, Paris. I think someday you could be, but that’s a long ways away. If I had my way, you would be busted down to a base private and forced to work your way up again through the ranks, right from basic training.”
“I would,” Bull said. “Fortunately for you, there’s another option. Given that I was your commanding officer from the time you attained your OpOne levels, I don’t have much say in what will happen to you other than as the warden of Top Hold. I’m too close, they won’t allow it. All I can do is send you to GenPop for further questioning, or without any substantial evidence to hold you, release you outright.”
“You can’t!” Scope hissed, rising to her feet. “If you release me, I’ll be thrown out of ECHO altogether! No active duty, no reason to stay, I’ll be sent packing!”
Bull turned to the camera in the corner of the room, and motioned the guards outside to stand down. He turned back to Scope, and motioned for her to take her seat with a irritated flick of his eyes.
“Would that bother you so much?” he asked, after she had slumped back in her chair.
“Yeah,” she answered. “No. I don’t know.”
“Well, fortunately for you, you don’t have to decide just yet. Turns out you have a sponsor.”
“A sponsor?” She glanced up at him in surprise. “Who would be crazy enough to sponsor me?”
“Who amongst us isn’t crazy by now?” Bull muttered, retrieving his tablet and scrolling down to a memo he had just received that morning. He shook his head in disbelief. “As if she doesn’t have enough to do. Operative Victrix wants you to report to her as soon as you’re released, if you’re released. It seems she requires your aid.”
Scope looked baffled. “What does she want me to do?”
“It seems your recent absence has caused some unforeseen complications with another inmate.”
“Harmony,” Scope nodded, understanding. “She wants me to see Harmony.”
Bull nodded. “Normally I wouldn’t have problems with a withdrawn and quiet Harmony, but Victrix wants her at her talkative and snarky best for some monitoring she wants to try. Seems she was only that way when you were around. For her, it’s a chance to catch Harmony with her pants down. For you, it’s a chance for a new start. If you want my advice…”
“Always,” Scope breathed.
“…you will do exactly as she tells you to. You need all the goodwill you can get.” Bull stood up and motioned for the guards to release the door lock. He turned to leave, but paused briefly, swinging his head back around the door. “One more thing…”
“I wasn’t kidding about the smell,” he grunted. “Clean yourself up before you see her. Goodwill starts with not forcing your foulness on everyone within fifty feet.”
And with that, he was gone.