Appearing at the headquarters of the Guardia, still chafing under Somrak’s teasing, Sky ignores the slender Guardia Dei and heads directly for the Commander’s office. Chuckling, Somrak follows. After negotiating the corridors bustling with Guardia and support staff, Sky crosses the balcony and glances out at the moon-bathed City, his memory flashing back to the last time he was here, when this all began seven short weeks ago.
He pushes through the heavy doors and strides through the outer office, pausing at the desk of the Commander’s elegant secretary. She smiles and stands, coming around her desk, holding out her hands. Sky takes them both in his.
“Mrs. Finch,” Sky says to her with sincere affection. “How have you been?”
“Very well, Inspector.” Her wrinkles deepen as her smile grows. Sky finds himself almost lost in her lovely face, a map of well-earned lines that each speak to him of her mortality, noble and tragic. She regards every Guardia as her own child, newly met or old friends, ancient Dei far older than her or Popula teenagers still in the Academy. She reminds him strongly of someone else, from long ago, but her words pull him out of his revery. “I wish we could talk, but the Commander is waiting.”
“Of course.” Sky releases her hands and turns to enter the Commander’s office, leaving his shadow, Somrak, behind. It is only after he turns away from her that he realizes his armored jacket is covered with a wide splash of dried blood, and that his hands are speckled with blood as well. But Mrs. Finch never blinked.
“You’re late,” the Commander says flatly just as the doors close behind Sky. He is standing, looking out the window, ramrod straight, slim and rawboned.
“Apparently the agenda for this meeting was lost in the mail,” Sky growls back. “Can we skip the pleasantries? You are keeping me from people under my protection.”
The Commander looks around. About to say something, he sees a familiar glint in Sky’s eye, and appears to change his mind. “Report!” he demands.
“Sergeant Gwydion made a persuasive case for removing the Bunnies to his uncle’s estate. We set out but were ambushed by a hit squad of Dukaine thugs. Sergeant Machado was wounded. I stayed with him to hold off Dukaine pursuers. The rest pressed on to the portal. Apparently they ran into another hit team, but according to Sergeant Somrak, they all made it to the Archon’s estate. Now, I would like to join them, before your machinations get them killed.” Sky is almost shaking with anger, his face once again discolored with black markings. “Did you even consider that Alma’s creations might be people, kind, loving, individual people who deserve better than to be treated like disposable bait in a game to catch an Archon?”
The Commander holds Sky’s gaze. “You are getting emotional. Hot headed. Except for your little outbursts of rebelliousness, like stealing my cigars, you were always calm and focused.”
Sky glares back. “Just how you liked me. Calm. Emotionally dead. Like a machine. Your reliable tool.” He holds his hands out to indicate himself. “I guess this is what happens when you send me away to a place like Three Rats.”
The Commander studies him, his expression turning curious. “How are you feeling, Sky? Have you lost control? Have you transformed?”
Sky’s belligerence falters at the sudden change in tone. “I...transformed once. But I didn’t lose control. I did it at the Oracle’s request.”
The Commander nods. “Yes. I’m not surprised she figured it out. Are you willing to tell me what she saw?”
Shocked, Sky asks, “You’re giving me a choice?”
The Commander snorts. “I suppose I am. A personal prophecy is, well, personal.” He seems about to say more, then clears his throat and says instead, “But you are right to want to get back with your Sergeants and these Bunnies you seem so fond of. Despite what you think, I have no wish to see any of them come to harm. We’ll talk more of this later. Let’s go.”
The Commander grins. “I wouldn’t miss it.”