M I D A S
He noticed the lighting in her room created a weak, yellowish milieu without the numerous table lamps that she liked to have alight in the evenings. The brightest lamp was broken. Destroyed in fractures that could not be fully mended. It was the only object disturbed in the room. Therefore, it alone represented Colette's final struggle. A woman's life reduced to a broken lamp. Someone took a photograph of it – or was it just the lightening outside?
Unlike the other rooms of Parliament House, the curtains of the First Lady's room had not been pulled shut to separate the fragile human creatures from the storm outside. Matt could hear the rain buffeting the glass panels, typical of this season. Each drop probed the surface for a way into the room. Matt tried to ignore it.
Outside, thunder preceded the heavy clouds and the sky broke intermittently. The friction it generated could be felt in the air as the storm sought out another point of release. The after shocks of the storm's climax spread through Matt's body as he got up and walked over to the couch.
Cris's hair had fallen in a lightly curled mass of black strands. Their colour was reminiscent of the incense sticks protruding from the ceramic bowl on the table beside. Black with an undercurrent of mahogany. In his time as Head of Security, he'd noticed these bowls in most rooms Parliament House. They reminded him of another time, an era that should have been put to sleep but was, instead, deliberately remembered with each spark of fire and plume of scented smoke. He'd lived here for most of his life, yet he still didn't understand why Capricans spent their time in the past. It was a quality of the universe he had never liked, the tightening grip of history on the present.
The lifeless weight of Colette's hair upholstered the couch. It looked soft and had not lost its loveliness to death. Matt looked away. Even in his memory he did not want to meet her glassy eyes which fixed themselves upon the room. Cris was so still that she reminded him of the old porcelain dolls his sister kept. Perhaps then, she could be rearranged and carefully set upon a shelf. Kept safe forever.
Without lifting his eyes too far, he saw that Cris was perfect. Even the gentle line around the curve of her mouth, where her smile marked its place, had been preserved. Her face, and all its beauty, drew one's attention from the awkward angle in which her body fell.
One of her arms reached out over the couch, ending in outstretched fingers. A cushion sat short of their tips – would it have made a difference if she had reached it? The lower half of her body had slipped off the couch and now rested on the carpeted floor while her head tilted to one side, barely balanced on the seat of the couch and the edge of its arm. Vince knelt beside her, examining a shoe that was almost free of her stocking covered foot. A camera flashed once, twice until Matt perceived the room as dim. Vince waved the woman with the camera off with a firm, “Enough.”
Cris had been wearing a purple blouse that day, one with gentle frills on its cuffs. Her shoes matched. High, elegant heels which ended in metallic caps. Vince pointed to where the silk was torn around her neck and Matt went to reply.
As in dreams, his voice failed and shortly after the real world crept in. Everything faded except the memory of Cris. She would not fade. Not from memory, not from life. She was too stubborn.
Matt's eyes opened and he found himself in the Temple room, pressing himself against the glass of the fourteenth floor, hoping he might fall through it into the metropolis below. His palms slid up the window, following the slant and feeling it warm under their tips. His eyes closed again and the city noise hummed quietly. In a moment of silence, he thought he felt the city pulse.
* * *
It was still early.
Unwisely, Caprica allowed another day of chaos to slip over its curve. Pale orange and pink stretched over the bay and the water, a seething chameleon expanse, mimicked it. Surges of light caught the buildings along with the ships that drifted above them. They glistened, jewels in the crown of the new sky. A young Caprica City etched its way across the land. It was an intricate design of humanity, reaching for order in a universe that had none to offer.
Vince unclipped his seat belt as soon as the sign went off. From the window of his shuttle, he saw the city sprawl and the roof of Parliament diverge in different levels. In front was the parking bay. Several ships and shuttles aligned themselves on the concrete including the First Lady's ship which stood alone to the left, surrounded by orange tape. According to the log, it had not been moved since her disembarkation yesterday.
The police had it marked as a crime scene. They'd been crawling through it all night with their hands touching every part of it. Dust and brushes stained the paintwork and its glass windows revealed fingerprints to the morning light. Vince doubted much would come of the effort. Weeks his report said, to match the prints. He failed to see the point of the exercise. Even if they did manage to match every print, it would tell them nothing the passenger logs couldn't. The First Lady had not been murdered aboard the ship – only lived there. If the murderer happened to be in those logs then they were probably still a few floors below, walking down the hallways of Parliament, leaving their prints on the elevator doors or watching the sun rise over the water. Either way, Vince would catch them. He nearly always did.
“Detective.” A friendly young officer held out a cup of coffee and similarly coloured envelope. Vince stood up from his seat and ran his fingers through his hair. He was constantly paranoid that it was plastered flat to his scalp. His mother always told him to stop fussing. Vince always said it was beyond his control.
The morning air was cold at this height. Judging by the weight of the file, it contained the forensic photographs taken last night at the scene of the crime. It was amazing how fast things got done when the right people were puppeteering. Vince crossed the roof and ducked under the orange tape surrounding the ship. A forensic officer, clearly in need of a warm bed, emerged from the hull. The man waved Vince up.
“Nice sort of a morning, ay detective?” the man said when Vince reached the top of the stairs. Gods, thought Vince, not a Tauron. They had this irritating desire to talk Pyramid. “Bit warm though,” he continued, obviously noticing Vince's aversion to the temperature, “prefer to be freezing me balls off personally.” Vince made a non-committal noise, knowing that it was usually better not to encourage small talk after a game.
They entered the main cabin of the ship from the passenger entrance. It was luxurious. The kind of place that made two tonnes of metal feel airy and sleek. The rest of the man's team had scattered themselves around the room and didn't notice them arrive. Vince watched a woman kneeling in front of one of the cream seats pull a fiber from the folds of leather. “Any luck?”
“Oh, we got plenty of stuff,” the forensic scientist replied, leading the way over to a cart full of plastic trays. Specimens threatened to spill over its edges. “Unfortunately, I doubt much of it'd be any use. A shame really. These people,” he pointed to the room, “they're the best that I have. It's a damn waste, them up here.”
“Who's downstairs in the First Lady's room?”
The slightly senior man glared, “Boys from the C.D.P. You know anything about that?”
Vince raised his hands innocently. “Nothing to do with me. I just got here.”
“I know,” he replied, “you're late. They want you down there half an hour ago.”
You just – couldn't win... There was something inherently wrong about being late at six in the morning, but Vince didn't argue. He muttered a 'thanks' then led the way out of the ship and continued on his own, back down the shuttle stairs to the officer still holding his coffee. Vince relieved him of it and asked where Colonel Lenard was. The officer said something about the Temple.
“Hey,” the forensic scientist called from the top of the stairs, Vince grimaced, turning his head slowly in response. “You see the match last night? Better luck next year Caprica, eh?” It was two nights ago and no he distinctly avoided the TV during that painful hour.
Seven days before the murder
“As I said before,” the man, possibly in his late fifties, leant closer to the microphone mounted on the bench in front of the seat, “Aerelon has no comment on the allegation.” He was calm and firm. Not quite calculating. People in his position went to great lengths to ensure they never came off as anything resembling that.
“No comment?” Colette Procris rolled the words over her tongue, disgust tainting her tone. “Charges of illegally pursuing weapons technologies, which you have subsequently failed to share as directed under the Articles of Colonisation, and the more serious charge of conspiring to incite civil war have been leveled at your colony. Documents detailing both these activities have been leaked from within the highest level of your own government. We have the sworn testimony of a scientist – from your labs, who says that he was directed to effectively break the law.” The Quorum member for Aerelon didn't present any visible change to his exterior. No doubt he'd been preparing for this confrontation for some time. Cris, undeterred, continued her line of questioning from the podium at the center of the room, commonly referred to as, 'The Floor'. “The piles I've seen of evidence to your colony's crimes could fill this room, and you're telling the Quorum that Aerelon has no comment?”
Some of the other Quorum members responded to the Aerelon representative's smug expression with under-tongued remarks. Cris couldn't decide whether that was comforting or frightening.
He exchanged a meaningful look with Gemenon's envoy. It was too quick for Colette to catch in a room well on its way to dissolving into a disorderly ruckus. Aerelon's man left his seat this time, freeing the microphone from its holding and taking it in his right hand. “No comment.”
It seemed that politicians never tired of lies. They could be repeated from birth until death and still be delivered with that same air of confidence and credibility. Colette tired of politicians. She'd married one, spent all day with them and had eventually become one. That was enough. She relinquished the floor.
There was no hope of progress in this meeting. Aerelon was not going to admit to anything in the public arena. Not with the other colonies watching and most definitely not on Canceron.
The whispers that had been building throughout the discussion continued to flood the room as she stepped down from the podium. They didn't have to be particularly loud for her to hear their contents. Civil war. Everyone was thinking it. They could taste it, feared it.
It's a funny thing; the human race was inherently afraid of war. They filled their books with stories of the great conflict between man and the Gods. Brutality – bloodshed. When life began, the fragile peace had trouble outlasting their will to die. The Gods gave in, warfare raged and the people fled to twelve new worlds. It was a thrilling fairytale. Except that they lost. We lost. That's why we'll always be afraid.
These stories have been read to the children so that they might follow their parents in fear.
Cris had never been a fan of bedtime stories, but her husband loved to re-tell his favourites when it suited his mood. 'We were warned then,' he would say, tilting his ever present glass of Ambrosia to the light, 'this side of humanity is inevitable, written into our genetic code like imagination or sight. We must accept it – embrace it. That which we all feel, the urge to -' Cris closed her eyes, hearing his words replay in her head as she left the room and its fighting occupants. She almost expected the towering wooden beams of the ceiling to metamorphose into figs and other ancient trees. Or the down lights to become cracks in the canopy. She imagined the squabbling mob in white robes sitting on the mossy rocks of Kobol and her husband's voice prevailing over them. 'The urge to kill'.
In ways she didn't like to admit, he was right. Civil war had happened before and it would happen again, but unlike the Quorum, Cris didn't want to accept it. The last thing she wanted was people dying for fruitless causes. It was abhorrent, infighting like savages over scraps – and for what?
Tensions had been rising across the planetary system for months now and the President was powerless to control the spread of fear. Now it seemed nothing could be done without the Quorum's support. The Government and the people were forever locked in this silent war with only one constant. Their executioner, the Quorum, steadying an axe above both of their heads.
The People's Council were a few rooms away demanding a resolution which she couldn't yet give them – only more excuses and a little less hope. The photographs of the Forum on Gemenon, hanging from the walls of the hallway, were supposed to comfort passers by. When Colette saw the sandstone pillars supporting the octagonal roof and the thirteen statues standing guard at its entrance, all she felt was inadequacy to its builders.
“Matt, you around here?” Vince edged into the room.
The Temple room was located on the top floor of Parliament House. Its exterior wall was a curve of glass, built to take in the city sky line. In the center of this structure was a large panel filled with an intricate stained glass design. It depicted the old star constellations around a circle that was also divided. Vince quickly counted the segments. Thirteen. These guys were traditionalists.
The rest of the room was a deep red. Curtains hung everywhere concealing the depth of the room. Somewhere behind and to the left was the alter and the inner temple area.
He spotted Matt leaning against the glass off to the far side of the room. “I was wondering where you got to.” Vince stood next to him and looked out over the bay. Some of the office buildings still had lights on in their windows, left over from the early hours of the day. Parliament House was not uncommonly tall, but its situation at the height of the rise in the land lifted it up above most of the other buildings. “We're late you know.”
Matt hit his head gently on the glass, “I know.”
Vince had forgotten Matt's part in all of this. He was the First Lady's minder – the Head of Security for the President and this had happened under his watch. Vince knew what it felt like. “Come on. Show me this palace of yours...”
Matt straightened up slowly and managed to find a grin. He guessed it was somewhat of a palace. “Anywhere in particular you wish to go Detective?”
Vince handed Matt his jacket, “Deep down in the lioness's den.”
The only place Matt didn't want to see again. “Sure.”
Seven days before the murder
They were loud and violent upon her return. Most members of the People's Council had left their seats and crossed the carpet separating the two arcs of seating, not bothering to whisper like the Quorum. These people were shouting and turned as a group with their volume teetering on the edge of a scream when they saw her slip back into the room. Matt stayed close behind her, his mind thinking about the gun at his hip and how long it would take him to reach it.
Colette closed the door behind her. Then she told them what she had to.
Four hours until the fall
Flames fought and grew beneath the crippled Raptor. The desert sand melted in the heat and started to flow instead of slide as the fire took hold of the ship nestled in the embankment. It was half buried, held in the dune like a captured insect. Its burnt metal softened enough to drip. Ash blew from the wreckage into the air and toward the city on the horizon. Smoke, enigmatically human, freed itself from the steel structure and forced its way upwards into a pillar. Fire climbing within leapt outward, sporadically breaking the deceptively fragile creation.
Aerelon's capital peaked over the sand clogged ridge. Several of its towering buildings cleared the rock and sand. Its slender figures extended skyward, baking in the sun. The offices and their inhabitants casually watched the building cloud of the smoke. Destruction and death was little more than a passing curiosity as they waited for their coffee to boil or their appointments to confirm. By the time the canteens closed and people ran out of excuses to delay the inevitable start of work, the smoke had cleared and the desert panorama was as they remembered. Sweeping expanses of reddish sand and the unforgiving sky, cloudless and sublime.