T H E – S O P H I S T
Five days before the Murder
Cris froze. Paul was leaning against her doorway, half hidden by the early morning light. A branch scraped over her window, squeaking against the glass.
“Oh,” she said, closing her desk drawer. “It’s you.”
President Paul Stravos watched his wife lean across the Cyderwood desk and search beneath a pile of papers. Eventually she pulled a sheet free, quickly folded it and stowed it in her hand bag. The soft light of the morning made her look young, like when he had first met her. They were different people now and sometimes he wondered if they had anything in common anymore. These days it felt like she was pulling against him, stuck in a stream he couldn’t touch and it hurt; a current rushing eastwards pulling the worlds with it.
“Late night?” he asked, folding his arms. His crisp shirt creased while his tie strained, caught in the fray.
Cris flicked her eyes up in a stern glare. “Can we do this later?”
She shook her head and snatched a folder from her locked filing cabinet. Cris pushed the drawer shut and turned the key, balancing the heavy object on her hip. “I’ll call you when I get back.”
Paul felt his heart quicken a little as she approached. He noticed that she was wearing the same skirt and blouse that he had last seen her in. “Colette...” He pushed off the doorway, blocking her exit.
Cris walked into him, using her body and a sharp edged folder to push past. Paul winced as he was stabbed by re-enforced cardboard but remained steadfast. He could smell that faint scent of white lilies on her and the slightest wisp of salt.
“Don’t go just yet,” he pleaded quietly, placing his hand gently around her waist. She shifted closer to the doorframe, trying to duck around him. “You don’t want to go, not really.” He closed his eyes and lowered his head.
She let him stay there for a moment, resting on her. A familiar feeling lingered; it was warm and safe. There was a part of her that wanted to stay like this forever. If she closed her eyes, she could almost feel Canceron’s waters lap at her feet as they had done when Paul first saw her. The city lights faded into the backdrop of stars and the distant music of the party died with the background. A sea rocked with three moons sinking into the dark water.
“I’m late,” she whispered, and slipped from his grasp.
* * *
Cris took the stairs to the top floor of Parliament building. A gust of freezing air hit her face as she pushed open the heavy door that emerged onto the roof. The force of the wind spun her around. She faced the great mountain range behind the city which embraced the scattered structures of Caprica’s capital. It was so beautiful – the first flocks of gulls taking off from the cliffs. They spread their winds and slipped through the sky, playing in the onshore wind.
A flash of light caught her attention. Cris turned back to the cement where her shuttle waited. The Captain flashed his lights once more and she smiled.
* * *
Matt felt a soft vibration and tilted his head to the rooftop in interest. The First Lady’s shuttle lifted gracefully off the cement and swung around to face the water. The shuttle’s lights pried away the dawn as it broke from the cement. The vessel cleared the rooftop and fell into the lines of traffic forming in the sky.
The colonel hit the glass with his fist. Heavy lids closed over his eyes as he leant upon the window. He wondered how many times she would fool him before this world came to its end.
Five days before the murder
“First Lady,” the man attired in a silk red vest and suit jacket nodded and opened the door for her. She crossed the foyer of Mesarthium’s Council Chambers and quickly met up with the crowd funnelling into the main hall.
“Excuse me,” she muttered, pushing past several people. Cris flashed her security pass and the crowd of robed people reluctantly parted.
It was Representative Naxos’s idea to call the Quorum to session on Aerelon. They had a beautiful hall for it – grand enough for the collective egos of the members present but sadly lacking in the architectural joy of the older buildings. Banners hung down from the walls, covering the cracks of past turmoil. They were all blood red, embroidered with Aerelon’s ram head stitched into the weave with a single gold thread. The words, ‘Wars of the sun cannot darken the days of night,’ appeared beneath and were repeated on the seal of the doors.
She stayed for the first of the speeches. A few eyes settled on her, some surprised to see her nestled amongst the public crowd. Cris grinned back at them. She had not been officially invited, but then, it always helped to know the host of the party.
Cris slipped out as Canceron’s member took the floor. Naxos caught her eye before she reached the door. He smiled warmly and nodded. She clutched her purse tightly and leant on the great doors, forcing them open.
A red sash of dust hung in the sky over the city. It smudged the otherwise flawless backdrop of the famous Aerelonian view. The buzz of shuttles thickened the air as she paced along the main street, ducking beneath the draped figures of trees, strangely green in the desert-like climate.
She smiled at the iron street lamps occupying every ten meters, they were copies of the city lights on Canceron. There was something friendly about them. The way their twisted metal clasped the glassy orbs was not possessive – it was tender. These were a gift of good faith. There was nothing she wanted more than to run her hand over their cool form as she turned the corner and caught sight of Colony Y.
Five days before the murder
There was a shuffle of feet in the corridor outside the President’s office. A few moments later, a friendly face peaked through the open door.
“Yes Mr. President?”
Paul signed a couple of documents, swearing as his pen leaked leaving several black pools of ink over his desk. “Ah – tissues...” he muttered, pulling open his drawer to find the box empty. His secretary stepped into the office and crossed the room. There, the Virgon woman ducked down to the bottom drawer of one of the many cabinets and located a box of tissues.
She deposited the box beside the President. “Was there anything else, sir?” she asked politely, waiting for him to dab the black liquid up. It quickly soaked through the fine layers of tissue, staining his hands.
“I want you to send a small security detail to Aerelon at once,” said the President. “But do it very quietly – you understand?”
“I – are you sure?” She may not have been privy to the intricate political details between the planets of the colonies, but she heard enough to know that Aerelon would not welcome an unaccompanied security deploy regardless of how quiet they were.
“You go with them,” he added, to her surprise. “Take this to my wife and send it with my love.”
Paul folded a piece of paper in half, slipped it into an unsealed envelope and handed it to Margaret. She hesitated before taking it from him. Margaret folded the flap of the envelope closed, sealing its contents inside.
Without a word she retreated to the door, letting her hand slip over its polished finish. “I,” she started, turning back towards the man behind the desk. A heavy scent had suddenly swept passed her, strangling the air. It was a thousand thoughts entwined between cinnamon and midnight. “But I don’t know where she is...”
The incense stick beside the President gently smoked. “Find out.”
* * *
Matt foraged about in his pockets, pulling out every item imaginable except for the slender Spacelink ticket. The ticket collector tapped his feet and diverted his weary eyes as Matt deposited his side arm on the seat next to his CDP badge.
“Just – I have it here somewhere,” he said, taking off his jacket and standing up. The shuttle roof was low and met his head hard.
The ticket collector snatched a glance at his watch and bent down to peak out the shuttle window. Four minutes until take off and people still couldn’t find their frakking tickets. Hadn’t they been listening to the speaker blaring out since they stepped on board? Even the beautiful flight attendants at the gates stressed the importance of – “Thank you sir.”
Matt handed his tickets over to be scanned. A bead of sweat slipped over his bald scalp and dripped onto his off-pink shirt. All of his possessions were littered across his seat and some managed to infringe upon other disgruntled passengers.
“Uh, thank you,” Matt muttered, as a business man held up his missing wallet.
The large Spacelink shuttle lumbered off the ground, clipping the safety rail on its way out of the airport. Matt averted his eyes and pretended not to notice as the vehicle lurched. Discretely tightening his seat belt, he pulled out his phone and tried to pull up a map a map of Aerelon. He was glared at shortly after by a hostess who pointed to the sign above his head which had a large red X through the word, ‘electronic devices’.
Five days before the murder
Colette Procris watched the shadows play in the small park outside the building. The deep velvet flowers poking up from the low garden beds rippled in the strong breeze, bending their delicate heads towards the ground. The air was fiercely warm, almost suffocating after the morning whispers of Caprica City.
She sat rigidly on the park bench. The two planks of palm wood creaked as she bent forward to pick a dried leaf off the sand. The world was harsh, she thought, as she crumbled the star shaped form. Its brittle skeleton shattered beneath her fingers and scattered into the wind.
There was a crunch behind her and Cris turned to see Doctor Urlchen leave the pebbled path and stride toward her. She stood and met him halfway.
“Doctor,” she nodded. He looked straight through her to the sparse park behind. Cris took his trembling hand and shook it firmly, managing to catch his fidgeting eyes.
“If we’re going to do this,” he said, handing her a security pass, “then we do it quickly.”
Cris nodded and they set off toward the building.
* * *
Colony Y was immense. It was difficult to appreciate its size from the busy streets that hemmed it in as – like an iceberg, the better part of its structure was submerged. Security was tighter than at parliament and despite her title she was searched thoroughly with all of her possessions logged in. Doctor Urlchen was treated with similar suspicion even though his great grandfather was one of the company’s original sponsors.
Finally they made it to the elevator. They shuffled in amongst a dozen other passengers and allowed themselves to be backed into the corner as the metal doors snapped shut. Urlchen waited for the last person to shuffle out before he leant past Cris and hit one of the bottommost buttons.
They didn’t speak until the whizzing noise of the elevator became a loud buzz. Cris guessed that they were approaching freefall as her stomach turned.
“How do you even know I’ve got what you’re after?” said the scientist suddenly. For some reason, he didn’t like looking at her and so held a stern gaze with the slightly reflective doors. His own ghostly shadow shivered back, rocking slightly as the lift light trailed down the string of numbers by the door.
Cris watched the lift’s yellow light flicker. “Because you agreed to see me,” she replied. “You and I both know that this has to stop. Our colonies are allies and someone is trying to rip us apart. I know who that someone is – but you can prove it.”
“What if I won’t?”
“You don’t want a civil war,” said Cris quietly. “The President doesn’t want to go to war and I most certainly would like to avoid one at all costs. There’s enough blood in the worlds as it is.”
“Not enough oil though,” he quipped.
The doors slipped open. The harsh light of the lower floor hurt her eyes as Urlchen led right to the end. There was a shuffle of keys and soon after she found herself standing in a cluttered storage room. Disorganised boxes hung over sets of shelves that worked their way up toward the ceiling while locked filing cabinets of varying sizes sat snugly together at the far end.
“What is this place?” she asked, running her fingers over the lid of a box only to have them coated in dust.
“One of the old filing centres. We’re required to keep all our records in hard copy but these ones are so obsolete that no one is ever going to be in need of them. Not unless the world ends.” He laughed dryly and then counted the boxes as the paced down the aisle. “It was the only place I could think of that might keep this safe.” He heaved a few boxes to the ground and reached to the back of the shelf. There was a loud ripping noise as he pulled a small wooden box free.
The box was beautifully ornate even with the tape strapped over its lid. Cris took it from him, but did not open it. She slid it into her purse and waited as Urlchen replaced the filing boxes which gave off plumes of dust ridden air.
“I’m only giving this to you because I believe you can make a difference. The truth is never pleasant and either way ma’am, you’re going to get a war. I think you know that. You’ve got to ask yourself whether it’s the right one.”
Cris shook her head and took him gently by the arm. She was taller than he had imagined from what he had seen and far more beautiful. There was something wild in her eyes that unsettled him, a danger that was always looking for an excuse to reach out.
“There is no ‘right’,” she whispered. “Only opinion.”
“And I suppose you’re going to tell me that it’s only those prepared to fight for their opinions that control the tide?”
“No. I was going to ask you who else knew about this.”
Urlchen hesitated. “I guess you’ll see when you open it so there’s no harm in saying. Nixon Bluard is the one who first showed it to me. He and I signed it to declare it authenticity. I suggest you do the same. Only problem is, you’re going to need more than a couple of scrawls from Aerelonian scientists.”
Cris smiled and released the doctor. “Yes, I realise that.”
“Well,” Urlchen herded her out the door. “You better hurry up then. The sooner you get that thing away from here the better. I’ve got terrible acid just knowing where it is. They never told me when I wanted to be a bioengineer that I’d have to play war games.”
“I thought it was on the general ‘welcome to life’ memo.” Cris flashed a wad of notes passed him but the glare she received in return told her that he wasn’t remotely interested. “Take care.”
“I’m taking a holiday – get my neck out of this chopping board ‘till things quiet down. You should do the same. You may be the President’s wife but that won’t save you from these people.”
* * *
“Just missed her,” said Edward Naxos, sipping his tea as the President’s secretary encroached into one of the large rooms that fitted in along the window lined wing of the council chambers. Built of red sandstone, the walls were coarse with forgotten river pebbles from streams long dead.
The dust of the room was held back by a breeze slipping through the open panels on the floor to ceiling window. This side of the building was in shade and the world outside appeared soft and at peace. Inside, Naxos took a biscuit from his saucer and dipped it into the steaming liquid.
“Perhaps you could try later?” he said, taking a bite of the soggy item. Crumbs showered the tea, saucer and floor.
Two sets of heavy curtains were tied back with gold cords. Their enormous accompanying tassels sagged toward the polished floorboards.
“It is important,” Margaret pleaded. Her honest eyes might have tempted someone less shrewd. The President’s secretary closed the door behind her and left Naxos to his supposedly empty room.
The lofty room remained empty for at least five minutes with nothing but the sound of Naxos sipping to keep the hum of the traffic outside company. Then a curtain shifted and a figure untangled from the fabric.
“Did you get it?” said Naxos to the moving curtain.
Colette appeared, somewhat ruffled.
“You were right,” she said, brandishing the box.
“And you’re being followed – did you know that?”
She dropped her eyes to the floor and took a step forward. “Yes, Epeius caught me on the corner of York and Ruin. He didn’t say anything but I could tell he’d been following me.”
“That’s very interesting.” Naxos set his tea down on a convenient table beside. “Because your loving husband has set a security detail on you spearheaded by his faithful secretary. So much for all that work leaving the Colonel behind.”
Colette collapsed into a chair opposite. “Gods damn.”
“Your delicate web is beautifully crafted Ms. Procris, but be careful of wasps breaking those silvery extensions.”
“And what are you, then?”
Naxos smiled and took the wooden box she handed him. “Just another spider.”
* * *
Cris lost sight of the red world as the ship veered toward Caprica’s star system. The wooden box sat snugly between her fingers as she rolled it over and over hearing something heavy slide with each pass.
Five days before the murder
“Four hours almost exactly,” she said, sliding down the glass pane. It was midday in Caprica and the city bells tolled from the temples. “That’s when I got back here. This was two hours ago. One might be tempted to ask where have you been, Colonel?”
Colonel Matthew Lenard was tired from travelling and sick of being left behind. “Where were you?”
“Nowhere...” she blinked.
“Nowhere,” he copied in a voice higher than usual.
“If you and I were both nowhere, it’s a wonder we didn’t bump into each other.”
The flash of excitement in her eyes made it difficult for him to refuse her a thing – including her love of secrets.
“A wonder,” he smiled back as his breathing returned to normal. The worry that he had for her almost killed him every time she vanished but he was sure that he would never tell her.
Cris reached into her shoulder bag and withdrew a small wooden box just far enough for him to see before she buried again. “Come on,” she whispered, hinting toward the lift.
Virgon Planet Astraea
The sky went dark. A bright crescent of light became a glowing ring as Astreaea’s star all but disappeared beneath Themis. The great celestial body took on a greenish hue as the sun’s light beat against its opposing face and snuck around its edges. Matt could see the planet’s scar now, a chasm of black ripped through its polar region where the green became shallower and the earth harsher.
The darkness lasted only a moment. Street lights clicked on and filled the city with a white glow. The world around barely blinked as this spectacular dance began. Slow steps became graceful sweeps of movement as Astraea and Themis circled one another backed by the curtain of the universe and an applause of stars.
Colonel Matthew Lenard thought it was beautiful. The most powerful man in the Colonies could not halt this motion. These bodies were locked to each other by the most lonely forces, kept separate by time.
He didn’t know why, but he cried. All the wisdom in the universe could not whisper to the past.