Monday, November 19, 2018

Query 2.09: Crisis of Faith

Lilith stepped out of the cab the instant the automatic lock disengaged. She marched up the short walk to her apartment building as quickly as her tall heels and tight dress would allow, peeling the shoes from her feet and carrying them in her hand as soon as she crossed the threshold into the building.

The intimate Uptown apartment was warm with its wooden furniture and soft yellow light. The decor had a sleek modern styling that was pragmatic and lean, yet arranged with a care that made the cozy space feel like home.

Lilith dropped her purse and shoes by the door and pulled the pins from her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders. Sighing with frustration she made her way to the kitchen, stopping along the way to pick up her long black cat. She held the cat under the shoulders, letting his body dangle limply as she stared deep into his big green eyes.

“Oh Nyx, another loser. What’s a girl gotta do? I have to keep reminding myself that if I knocked off every asshole I went out with I’d have the DPD swinging through my windows.”

Lilith set the cat down on the couch where he stretched for a minute and then curled up in a tiny ball. Pouring herself a glass of wine she moved from the kitchen into the back office. For a moment she just stood by the window admiring the beauty of the city with its endless parade of lights and sounds. She understood why Xavier held the city so close to his heart, although she was beginning to worry if the lust for such worldly places had started to poison his judgment.

Turning from the window, she sat at her computer, the large monitor displaying a map of Delphi, divided into districts, and again into neighborhoods. Touching the screen, Lilith pulled up lists - lists of people, schedules, skills, some were knights that worked under her, some potential fodder, each of them manicured, cultivated with extreme care.

After a moment of review, Lilith closed her current files and opened a different one, listing everything she knew about Py and Logan’s activities over the past few weeks.

“What are you up too^” She mumbled to herself meticulously, marking her map with the latest places the pair had visited.

Bringing Xavier his “Mr. Black” had insured an angle into Vergeron, and helped to alleviate some of the tension between the two of them. It also meant Lilith might finally have way to determine if Py and Logan were investigating on Vergeron’s behalf. She’d had her man at the DPD send her a copy of the criminal database before crashing it. Lilith new everyone Py and Logan had visited were considered persons of interest in police investigations, so maintaining that evidence felt important. Most of the records were pretty chewed up, not much to go on, the concerning part being that many of the records had been damaged deliberately. Her plant had also told her the logs, which recorded access to the database, didn’t show any unusual behavior within the department. In other words, there was no proof Logan had stuck his nose anywhere it didn’t belong.

Lilith was guessing, just from observation, that the dynamic duo were stalking an answer to the ‘how’ of Cartwright’s power, and to that end she’d decided it was best to give them an answer to that particular question. Lilith had constructed what she thought was a serviceable red herring. Several years ago there was extensive research on what was essentially a really nasty weaponized version of LSD. By planting some partial copies of a formula along with some lab equipment she could create the illusion that Cartwright had been cooking up a cocktail of hallucinogenic toxins here in Delphi. By including a few exotic ingredients in the formula, Lilith created a scenario that could have investigators chasing their tails for months. By building a few labs in different parts of the city and leaking the location of each lab through a different informant she should be able to gain some insight into where Py and Logan were getting their intelligence. With any luck this would kill two birds with one stone, locate the source of Py and Logan’s information, and give them an excuse to terminate their investigation.

“Hey computer, call Nigel.”

“Yes, Lilith.” Her computerized digital assistant replied before initiating a video call.

“Hey Lilith,” Nigel spoke, absently adjusting his glasses on his nose. “Gee, you’ve got a pretty mouth.”

“What…” Lilith stared blankly at the screen before suddenly remembering the dark red pigment still adorning her lips. “Oh, hell.” She exclaimed, reaching for a tissue and wiping the makeup clean.

“That looks pretty fresh. Let me guess, another loser.”

“Shut up Nigel. How is everything looking for tonight.”

“Everything's shaping up. We’ve got three men on staggered shifts, each in a different part of town. Every agent will have a covert team watching the area for suspicious activity. If anything weird happens we’ll be ready for it.”

“Good. I’m setting up new rotations for next week. People will be going out in three man teams starting tomorrow.”

Nigel frowned. “That’s going to be hell on the men. Who’s putting in the extra time?”

“Everybody, all hands on deck. You guys up north have had it pretty easy while we’ve been dealing with the situation down in Old Town.”

“Damn it Lilith, my guys are lovers, not fighters. You can’t send them into that hellhole.”

“We’re all fighters now. Make sure your team is ready.”

Nigel sighed loudly. “It’s going to be hard to hunt in packs of three. Draws a lot more attention.”

“Yeah, I’m working on that. Look, I’m off to rendezvous with first squad. If things go well I’ll be up in your neighborhood later. If anything happens I want to know about it immediately.”

Nigel gave her a firm nod. “You got it.”

“Happy hunting, Nigel.”

“Happy hunting.”

The video call ended and Lilith made her way into the bedroom, retrieving black military style clothing from the closet. Dressing in silence her mind wandered through the mysterious web of intrigue that seemed to be deepening by the day.

Moving to the door, Lilith pulled a long red coat over her bullet proof vest and made it quickly out of the apartment. It was going to be a long night.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Making her way into the quiet suburban park, Lilith sat on a secluded bench and fired up her e-cig, leaning back with billowing smoke, feeling like a woman in a black and white detective movie.

“What’s the status?” Lilith spoke into the discreet mic that was hidden in her ear.

“Jed should be in view now.” The reply was immediate and Lilith watched intently as Jed made his way down the illuminated path that ran through the little grass hills. Within a few minutes he managed to stop a pair of young ladies out walking a large yellow dog, speaking with them congenially in the circle of an overhead light.

“Looks like Jed’s got ’em eatin’ out of his hand,” came Kevin’s voice over the mic.

Lilith knew there were five other people on the scene, who they were, and precisely where they should be, although she refrained from making a visual confirmation, as to not inadvertently give away their positions.

“No, they're just being polite.” Lilith spoke with a little smile. “They’ll be moving along any minute. Sound off.”

“Alex, here.”

“Kevin, reporting as ordered.”

“Angie, on point.”

“Rebecca, standing by.”

Then, silence…

“Where’s Anderson?” Lilith asked with some frustration. “ Anderson, you there… Somebody figure out where the hell Anderson is.”

“On it.” It was Alex, the unit commander, who responded.

As predicted the young women moved on and Jed, having missed his chance, started sweeping about for a fresh victim.

“Any read on Anderson?” Lilith asked, growing increasingly impatient.

“Umm, no. I can’t find him anywhere.”

“What do you mean you can’t find him anywhere?”

“I've been checking in with everyone I can think of. Nobody’s heard from him since last roll call.”

“God damn it!” Lilith exclaimed into her mic. “Abort mission. Fuck, abort the goddamn mission. Find Anderson, go right now!”

“Damn it!” Lilith screamed into the night, jumping to her feet, throwing her cigarette on the ground and smashing it. In frustration she pulled off her trench coat and bullet proof vest, tossing them aside. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before pulling a phone from her pocket and calling Nigel.

“Nigel, Anderson’s come up missing. Take squads two and three and sync up with squad one.”

“On it, boss.” Lilith terminated the call.

“Damn it… How do they always know?”

Lilith sat back on the bench, hanging her head and contemplating her next move. As she gazed into the damp grass, a shadow slowly crawled across the ground toward her until Lilith could feel the presence of a figure looming over her.

“What is it Jed?” Lilith asked, glancing up impatiently at the nervous looking man. Jed was young, early twenties at the latest, with close cropped blonde hair and a soft, well groomed attractiveness that made him a perfect lure for nights like tonight.

“Lilith…” He stammered. “Priestess... I know it’s not a good time, but can I make a confession?”

“Sure Jed.” Lilith replied, her face softening, motioning toward the seat next to her. He’d said one of the few things that would warrant such a change in Lilith. She took her position as Priestess seriously, and was more than happy to listen. It had been a long time since she’d sat a confession and it would feel good to hear somebody else's problems for a change.

Jed moved to sit next to her before continuing. “Priestess, what’s going on? I mean, it all seemed so easy before. Like god was always standing just over my shoulder. Now my friends are dying, people are losing their gifts, the Apostle is questioning everything we do. It seems bad. I’m just saying… I guess I don’t know what I’m saying.”

Lilith reached over and gave Jed a comforting pat on the shoulder. “I understand. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years and it never gets easy. Sometimes it’s hard to see how it all fits into god’s plan.”

Especially right now.

Jed glanced up expectantly. “Is this god’s plan? For all of us to suffer like this?”

Lilith gave a little chuckle. “We’re spoiled, you know that? Some people are asked to keep their faith based on nothing more than a vague promise of happiness in the afterlife. We see miracles everyday. Real miracles. We can’t forget that sometimes even we need to have a little faith in the mysteries of god.”

“So I shouldn't question?”

“It’s to court ruin^” Lilith muttered to herself.

“What was that?” Jed said expectantly.

“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about something someone told me once. How bout this? I’ll give you a five minute reprieve. No judgment, get it all out of your system.”

“All right,” Jed said, seeming emboldened by Lilith’s offer. “Sometimes the smell of blood makes me puke, and that shit’s everywhere. What the fuck is that about?”

“Yeah, blood’s pretty gross.” Jed smiled appreciatively. He seemed to loosen up with Lilith’s empathy, rolling his shoulders and visibly relaxing.

“Some of us made a deal with the deacons to call us when the Apostle leaves the church so we can do our offerings when he’s not around.”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that one.” Lilith couldn’t really blame them. While their faith wasn’t without disconcerting rituals, the Apostle was a floating nightmare.

“Ok, this is my last one. Lilith, I've got to know,” Jed had turned his gaze to his own hands, which appeared clenched together rather tight, “how do you deal with some of the psychopaths you’ve got working for you? Some of the knights are crazy as fuck.”

Lilith was a little surprised by the frankness of the question, though since it was something she herself had asked Xavier, she couldn’t blame Jed for thinking of it during his own crisis of faith. It burned her to the vary core that the response she formed was not only something she believed, but nearly the exact thing Xavier had told her a few weeks ago.

“It’s not easy, Jed, but some of those lunatics are uniquely qualified for what they do. I myself have had to do some pretty unsettling things to hold the knights together, and I can’t always do it alone. We’re soldiers after all, although I think some of us have started to forget.”

Jed unclenched his hands and gave a nod, seeming to accept Lilith’s words far easier than she had accepted Xavier’s.

Jed gave a little snort. “You know that Snyder likes to bite the heads off of pigeons.”

Lilith reflexively grimaced. “Don’t remind me.”

“And I heard Trevor once beat a man to death with his own leg.” Jed seemed better, more playfully bantering now than confessing.

“You’re lucky if that’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard about Trevor.” Lilith replied, letting herself enjoy the release of tension along with Jed.

“But the worst was that guy Cartwright. That freak gave me nightmares.”

Lilith felt her body tense and did her best to keep her response casual. It was no secret among her knights that she’d absolutely despised Cartwright, and Jed almost certainly thought he was commiserating by voicing his own disdain for the man.

“Yeah, Cartwright. Fuck that guy.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t overthink it.” Jed said, taking in a deep breath of cool night air.

Lilith adopted what she hoped was a reassuring smile and gave Jed a gentle punch on his arm. “Exactly right young man. Now, you’re five minutes are up. Time to get going.”

“Alright, no more questions.” Jed said, rubbing his arm in mock pain.

“Good, go help the others look for Anderson.”

“Thanks Lilith.” Jed got up from the bench and walked with renewed purpose into the night.

“No more questions, Jed.” Lilith spoke to herself after Jed was out of earshot, hoping she’d steered him toward salvation. “After all, to question god is to court ruin. Harsh words. Hmm, Cartwright, that fucker’s been dead for weeks and it’s like he’s still out to get me. Fuck that guy. Cartwright… Oh no^”

Monday, November 12, 2018

Query 2.08: Questionable Content

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next. This was the rhythm of Abigail's day.

Volunteering was always the highlight of her week. She was happy to do it, really. The gratitude in some of those faces for a simple ladle of stew…

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next.

There were a lot of new people working the shelter lately. You usually only saw new faces around holidays when guilt started knocking against the conscience. Not that Abigail was one to judge. It was lovely knowing there were others like her who cared, even in the off season. It was too bad they were all so private. She hadn’t gotten more than a few words out of any of them since they began.

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next.

Most other shelters in Delphi had automated their serving process, the consistency and cost effectiveness of machines taking precedence over the personal touch, but the Millennium Shelter was exceptional, believing there was more to feeding the needy than just the food, that having a real person there showed a depth of caring that was psychologically important to those going through trying times. Abigail believed in that philosophy and was sure it had nothing to do with the fact that the Millennium Shelter was in Old Town and as such wasn’t funded sufficiently to retrofit the kitchen with the latest technology.

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next.

Abigail noticed many of the shelter’s visitors were twitchy of late. Addicts weren’t uncommon, but there was a lot of skin picking going on, a lot of fluttering eyes and hungry gazes that were directed everywhere but the food. It made Abigail’s body prickle, especially her head, which itched terribly in a kind of sympathetic reaction. She wanted so much to dig her nails into her scalp and satisfy the need to scratch, but the job and her service gloves kept her hands occupied.

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next.

Abigail was getting a bit hungry herself. It wouldn’t be long now. She’d be able to take a bowl and a roll herself in a few minutes. The shelter was kind enough to feed its volunteers once regular service closed for the day, and the stew looked good. Abigail was so hungry…

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop...pour…

When the man’s bowl came forward for its complementary chow, Abigail dropped the ladle and grabbed the arm. His eyes went wide in surprise as the stew pot crashed to the floor with Abigail flying over the counter and sinking her teeth into the man’s wrist.

His flesh was old and stringy, the tendon pulling away with difficulty, but the blood was hot and welcoming. His scream called Abigail to his mouth where his lips waited, supple and loose enough to nibble though as he tried and failed to push her away.

The screaming caught on and a wall of sound drown the room as everyone began to yell. The tables cleared. People scrambled for the doors, most of them not knowing why they ran, only that to not run ment finding out.

Abigail’s mind was blissfully blank, save for the need to feed, to satiate the craving she’d found an answer for. A security gate came down with a loud crack against the counter behind her. Abigail looked back, her unthinking mind tracking the new volunteers as they seemed to glide soundlessly out of sight. It didn’t hold her attention for long as the fevered movement of those around her caused her to give chase and attack.

There was some small piece of Abigail’s mind that hadn’t caught up with the rest of her. She swam in a dream, fixated on the repetition she’d left behind.

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next. This was the rhythm of Abigail’s day.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“And what the hell am I supposed to do with these!” The Doctor’s voice thundered through the halls.

“I don’t know, but it takes a lot of paperwork to get stuff down here, so I can’t take it back without a special order.” The man talking back to the Doctor was more a guard than delivery doy. He wore the black common to the Underground and had a patient expression on his face.

“Who ordered these anyway?”

“Let’s see,” the man said, scrolling through the manifest pad, “someone named Alice.”

“Alice!” The Doctor called, stomping from the hallway into the lab. He was followed by a small automated forklift carrying a palette filled with hundreds of hard drives, his face twisted with utter exasperation. “What is this?”

“I’m running out of memory.” Alice spoke, her voice projected from the speakers built into her central body.

“And you ordered all these yourself?”

“Yes, Doctor.” The large camera body swung to focus on Ben, the Groucho Marx glasses, nose, and mustache combo the interns had strapped to the camera wobbled for a moment with the quickness of the motion.

“How’d you figure that out?”

“A P.O. is easy to file. You just fill in the blanks. I’ve seen Aster do it several times.” A small vein pulsed at Ben’s temple at the mention of Aster’s name.

“And the security arrangements?”

“The requisitions office automatically approves anything that has your signature on it.”

“You really shouldn’t use my signature.”

“Aster does.”

“Jesus Alice.” The Doctor replied, smashing his face in his hands. “Where are we even going to put all of this?”

“Racks and cables should arrive tomorrow.”

“That’s not what I meant, although thanks for that, what I meant is where are we going to put it? We don’t have a lot of floor space.”

Alice didn’t respond.

“Didn’t think of that, did you? Hmph, I’m sure we can think of something.” The Doctor said, shaking his head and leading the forklift back into the hall. “What are you even doing that requires so much storage?”

The Doctor stormed out of the room before anyone had a chance to answer, taking the forklift and its cargo with it. He glanced around for a moment before ordering the forklift to maneuver the payload of hard drives to the top of Aster’s desk.

While the Doctor and the robot argued over the safety implications of dropping its cargo on a desk, Logan stepped from the elevator and slipped through reception into the lab. Finding it best not to poke the bear, he slid passed the Doctor as quickly as he could, not saying a word and keeping his eyes to himself.

Py sat in his usual spot by the Alice workbench, pounding away on one of many keyboards that always seemed to litter the table, trying to tune out the distractions of the lab.

“Hey Py.” Logan called out as he entered. “What’s up?”

“Just playing my favorite game.” Py replied without lifting his eyes. “Juggle the crime statistics.”

“I’m surprised you can get much done with the DPD server down.” Logan said, swinging into a chair next to Py.

“Is that true?” Py asked, looking at Logan in surprise. “Alice can you find the server?”

“No, Py.”

“That’s unusual isn’t it?” Py asked, returning his gaze to Logan.

“It’s bad too. Total system failure. A friend of mine at the station said the master drives look like they’ve been struck by lightning. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

“Oh, Alice and I have been working off a copy of the database. The DPD server was really slow. Accessing one record at a time was alright, but it wasn’t built to handle a lot of cross referencing. I doubt the person who designed it considered the value of correlating the data on a large scale. It was actually faster to bring all the data here and cross reference it locally.”

“So this is your fault!” The Doctor called across the room brandishing a shipping order. “Where did you think all of that data was going?”

“I don’t know where Alice puts things. I asked if she could find a place for the data and she said yes.” The Alice armature was moving between Py and the Doctor, like it was monitoring a tennis match.

“And what’s this about?” The Doctor asked, throwing an image of a computer file directory onto the main screen, pointing at an encrypted file entry labeled ‘Py’s stuff _ Don’t erase’. “I can’t read it, I can’t delete it, I’m not even sure how big it is.”

Py’s face adopted a quizzical expression. “I’m sorry, that was meant to protect the details of our investigation from the interns. When I asked Alice to secure it I didn’t realize she would block your access as well.”

“You’re lucky you’re useful,” the Doctor muttered in frustration, stalking off to his office and slamming the door shut.

“You know,” Logan said, bringing the subject back around, “that DPD data is really valuable.” Logan’s voice was calm, probably getting used to the Doctor’s tantrums. “We should consider giving it back.”

“How are you going to broach that topic?” Py asked, his face showing some skepticism. “I doubt that ends well for you.”

“Yeah,” Logan sighed. “The longer I stay here… the secrets just keep piling up.”

“I’m sorry.” Py replied, beginning to see for the first time how much his illicit activities had weighed on Logan’s mind. “When I worked for the W.H.O. we didn’t have a lot of boundaries. I guess old habits die hard. The DPD doesn’t have any type of remote backup or cloud storage?”

“There’s a backup, but I heard it hasn’t been syncing correctly. Sounds like it’s been broken for years, but nobody knew because no one ever bothered to test it.”

“That’s suspicious.”

“Tell me about it. Anyway, how’s the hunt. Finding anything useful?”

“Actually, yes. The pavement pounding’s paying off. I’ve started identifying the discrepancies in the DPD records, crossing the scrubbed data with my original data, I've generated a new set of possible leads for us to follow up on.”

“Send a few of those over here and let me see them. What are we looking for?”

“Based on this I’m absolutely convinced that my original hypothesis was correct. The Alleyman wasn’t working alone. Not only did I find evidence of a larger organization, but I think I know where they are, well not specifically, but I think I know where they will be.” Py pulled up a map of Delphi on the main screen, displaying on it the mashup of usual colors and markers that had been dancing around the map now for days. “Since the death of the Alleyman crime numbers in Old Town, and a few of the neighboring areas, have been fluctuating wildly. Sometimes more crime than usual, sometimes less. It’s like the whole area has been destabilized. However, in other parts of the city the number of disappearances have either remained stable or are slightly elevated. I think there’s a high likelihood the Alleyman has associates working in these areas.”

“That’s the power of good old fashioned detective work.” Logan said with a broad smile, skimming through what Py had sent his way. “I like a couple of these files already. Looks like we’ve got some promising leads.”

“I have to admit, I doubt I could have done it without you...” Py paused for a moment, his expression growing sullen. “Logan, you know what else this means?”

Logan had been avoiding this for a while now, but it was time to rip the band-aid off.

“I think I know where you’re going.” Logan looked up at Py, setting aside for a moment the list of crime reports. “The mole.”

Py gave a quick nod. “Someone has been tampering with DPD data. There’s no other reasonable conclusion we can infer from our investigation.”

“Any idea who it might be?” Logan asked. Py could tell Logan was hoping for an out, something that would make this easier for him.

“...no.”

Logan sighed, giving a nod before diving into the meat of the subject.

“We know for sure electronic data has been altered. There’s a good chance someone is meddling with physical evidence as well, which wouldn’t be easy.”

“I’ll trust your judgment on that. I don’t know how well people stick to protocol, but from an electronic standpoint there’s a lot of security to bypass. I have to imagine it would be much simpler for a high ranking official.”

“Maybe. I have to tell someone.”

“How do you know who to trust? I can’t rule out anyone just yet.”

“Let me worry about that.”

Monday, November 5, 2018

Query 2.07: Information Deficits

Lilith usually avoided places like the Pie Bird Diner. Retro-nostalgia wasn’t something she enjoyed. Lilith suspected people found comfort in the trappings of the past, in the innocuous kitschiness of the neon sign and booth style seating, in the chrome and glass display case rotating slowly, proudly presenting the diner’s offerings, but she’d always felt disenchanted with such places. For Lilith the aesthetic was inherently disingenuous. The design felt to her like architectural homeopathy - a diluted copy, of a copy, of a copy, mimicking something that had been an ignorant rose tinted fantasy to begin with. Case in point, the man she’d been tailing the last few days would’ve likely been an unwelcome patron when such diners were in their heyday.

Logan Maxwell had been harder to track down than expected. The mess Cartwright wrought wasn’t limited to just the Night of Madness. Lilith had been dealing with the aftermath, part of which had been locating the mysterious DPD officer from the footage Xavier had shown her. She hadn’t put much effort in at first, hoping Xavier would acquire an unredacted version of the footage and demystify the process, deciding instead to search for the “Mr. Black” whose voice had featured in the footage. When Xavier wasn’t able to produce more video Lilith redirected her attention to the DPD, figuring a search for a “Mr. Black” was something of a wild goose chase. Luckily, most of the officers who participated in Cartwright’s capture were on administrative leave pending the conclusion of an internal investigation. This had narrowed her list of possible matches significantly, but given that she only had a general body shape to go on it forced her to get eyes on each in turn, eating up time she didn’t have right now. Lilith had almost crossed Logan off the list, thinking when she first saw him that he was a bit big to be the man Cartwright had loomed over in the video. She’d been about to write that morning off as another failure when a Vergeron Corp vehicle had stopped by the diner to pick Logan up.

Lilith had followed that car, overjoyed to finally find a connection, even a tentative one, between Vergeron and the DPD. It wasn’t immediately obvious why Vergeron would remain in contact with an off duty officer, but the unusual circumstance was almost a guarantee she’d finally found her man.

Lilith tailed that car and when it finally stopped she saw that Logan wasn’t alone. Another man, a gangly fellow in a wrinkled gray coat, was with him. They had proceeded to travel all over Delphi, ping ponging across the city in a pattern that quickly grew concerning. At first, though she was curious, Lilith hadn’t put much significance into what it was the two were doing, but when they stopped by the home of one of her soldiers she began to pay more attention.

After a day of keeping tabs on them Lilith went through and examined exactly who it was they were talking to and it became clear the two were sifting through data she thought expunged. It wasn’t precise what they were doing, not exact, but whatever information they were working off of had them sniffing around cult activity like a pair of bloodhounds, especially as it related to Cartwright.

Now that Lilith was certain she had her DPD officer, all she needed was to confirm the identity of his Vergeron counterpart. Running the name ‘Py’ through a database search of Vergeron employees had yielded a possible connection between ‘Py’ and ‘Pythagoras Black’, which was a promising lead. The cherry on top had been when she ran a picture she’d snapped of the gray coated man through facial recognition and come up with news footage of that same man being dragged forcibly from an airport. The news report proclaimed this man to be none other than a Mr. Black, one Richard Pythagoras Black. She’d crossed referenced Vergeron’s staffing database and was shocked to find Mr. Black not only as a listed employee, but a more recent hire in Vergeron’s marketing department, of all things. That revelation had sealed it for Lilith and she’d been following them exclusively ever since.

Lilith had taken one of the corner bar stools, giving her a view of Maxwell as he waited on his partner to show. The man was eating like he'd never seen food before, putting away two slices of pie and a full pint of milk before Mr. Black, who she’d overheard Logan call Py in her time tailing them, swung in through the door and straight to Logan. The first time she heard Py’s name come up in conversation Lilith wasn’t sure if it was in reference to the food, the diner, or the man, but ultimately that single word had been the link she needed between the DPD, Vergeron, and the infamous drone footage.

Lilith’s ears perked up as she tried to appear more interested in the remnants of her slice of coconut cream pie than in the men’s conversation.

Maxwell set down his fork and gave a snap of his fingers in an excited gesture as Py took the seat opposite him.

“I did a little checking on that tattoo and sure as shit a couple of the boys confirm they saw it on the guy.” Lilith glanced up nonchalantly as Logan pulled something from his jacket pocket.

“Called in a favor from one of the sketch artists on staff. It’s not perfect, but I think it confirms what Evelyn was talking about.” Lilith saw a quick flash of a drawing on paper before Logan passed it to Py. Lilith’s stomach gave a small turn. It was impossible to mistake, even from this distance - the sketch was that of a snake circling around to bite its own tail.

“It also confirms our information deficit, and gives us something to focus on.” Py said, taking a quick look at the paper before passing it back to Logan. “How do we want to proceed?”

“I think,” Logan said, pushing himself up and out of the booth, “we finish off our people of interest with the additional info and have Alice start cross referencing that tattoo...” Their conversation became muddy as Py got up himself and they exited the diner in a rush of excited purpose.

Lilith sat in thought, pushing her pie crust around her plate. She was sure now. These two were pulling at Cartwright’s shadow, trying to piece together whatever stray crumbs still clung to the dead fuck. Even in death he managed to annoy her. She knew inevitably their search ended at a corpse, but could they connect it to Lilith, or the cult? They were already making house calls, but that seemed more coincidence than focused intent. Under different circumstances she might have written it off, knowing the trail went cold, but where were they getting their information? There shouldn’t be anything actionable in what the DPD had access to and there were no open investigations concerning anything these two were looking into. As far as Lilith could tell, Logan was suspended from active duty, Py was a marketing peon with a sorted past and a bad nickname, and Vergeron seemed to be sponsoring their activities...why?

At least there was one thing she’d been able to confirm. Now that Lilith had gotten close enough to properly hear him there was no doubt that the voice in the background of Xavier’s footage was none other than Richard Pythagoras Black.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Lilith stepped through the door into Xaviers office. The Archdeacon had already arrived and was in the process of elocuting on some point of doctrine. Xavier was sitting across the conference table his head held in his hands, elbows on the table, fingers running through his hair as if he were contemplating removing it by force, his face hovering a few inches from an open bible.

“When was the last time you read that thing?” Lilith spoke, gently ribbing Xavier, who was not generally known for his deep love of scripture.

“I try to skim it at least once a year.” Xavier replied, lifting his face toward Lilith. She could see on his face an expression of absolute exhaustion. Deep black circles sagged under his eyes, which were dry and bloodshot, and his words slow and tired. “Get over here and help us, will you.”

“Sure,” Lilith replied, pulling a large tattered bible from a shoulder bag and making her way to the table. “What are you reading?”

“We’re trying to piece together everything the Apostle said to us the other day.” The Archdeacon chimed. “His quote doesn’t seem to be verbatim with the canonical text. I think he might’ve been indirectly alluding to a few different books. The reference to ‘cleansing’ may relate to this quote from the Sumerian Epistle: ‘The Children of the Advent draw power from the unwitting and unknowing, yea, many in ignorance have become slaves to that end. It is better that a nation be made clean than to allow for the Advent to dwell in its shadows.’” The Archdeacon shifted another of the open books in front of himself before continuing. “Now, the river of the dead may relate to this passage from the Ramesses Admonition where it states: ‘The army of the living shall not overcome the army of god, which commands both the living and the dead.”

“Hmm”, Lilith hummed thoughtfully.

“Care to enlighten us?” Xavier replied, seeming more than a little annoyed.

“Well, those are both from the Second Gospels. They're often less regarded since they were written by men after god’s ascension.”

The Archdeacon began nodding and continued her thought. “Unfortunately, the First Gospels as we know them are a little… less clear. Some scholars believe the Second Gospels are quoted from early texts that we no longer have access to. This is why they’ve been included with the standard canon even though some scholars perceive them as apocryphal texts.”

“Fine.” Xavier replied with some frustration. “So what is it after? Why is it here?”

“The Prophet searches the world for the Advent Children, right?” Lilith asked, quoting a commonly held, yet academically contested belief. “Maybe the Prophet thinks they’ve amassed some influence here.”

“Does it actually say that? Show me where it says that!” Xavier shouted, growing more irritated by the second.

Lilith set her bible on the table and started thumbing through pages thoughtfully. “There has to be something...”

“All I want to know is what’s happening so we can stop it.”

“Xavier,” Lilith gently rebuked, glancing up from her own bible “I know this is hard, but you can’t interfere with the work of god. If the Prophet has made its determination we shouldn’t get in its way.”

“There has to be some way we can short circuit this. What if we found the enemy first? Cleared them out ourselves. Wouldn’t that eliminate the need for this ‘cleanse’? Maybe the Prophet could wrap up and move on its way.”

“God’s not a lawyer Xavier,” Lilith said, “you're not going to just catch him on some technicality.”

“The Apostle said we would all be tested. Maybe this is the test. Maybe he wants to see if we can keep the world in equilibrium without burning it to the ground.”

“That feels like a stretch...”

“Then show me something else!” Xavier yelled, throwing his bible closed. “Show me where it talks about any of this garbage. I've been reading this thing day and night. So far I've found all the tenants of faith - the code of ethics, the ceremonial rights, but this Prophet is practically a ghost. It hardly exists in any of the scripture I've read so far.”

“It's true the work of the Prophet is somewhat obscured.” The Archdeacon expounded, seeming to ignore Xavier’s outburst. “But we do have a few passages. See here: ‘The Advent War is not inevitable. If the Children of Opposition can be cut at every turn, in the end, you shall know peace. If the war comes to Man the scar of such violence will mark the world eternally, even to the end of everything. With hope for salvation I will leave you weapons of great import. Chief among them are the Angels, birthed of my heart and mind. Do not seek to understand the Angels in all things, for the mind of Man is not prepared. But serve them as the ever evolving appendage of past and future Man’.”

“There, the beginning of that, doesn’t it say that war can be avoided? What else does it say?”

The Archdeacon remained silent for a moment, his eyes not leaving the page. He adopted a somber tone before continuing.

“It is the task of Man to serve the great weapon of which you are a part. To question god’s will is to be tested. To be tested is to court ruin. A weak weapon is blunt. A blunt weapon is indiscriminate.”

The room was silent for a moment. Lilith could see the wheels turn in Xavier’s mind in the way she had seen many times before, refusing to accept defeat.

“What was that last one from?” Xavier asked, looking as if he’d latched on to something.

“The first book of the Advent Revelation.” Lilith replied solemnly. “The first article in the Thesis of the End Times. I’m not sure it applies to our situation.”

“What does the rest of it say?” Xavier pressed.

“I don’t know.” The Archdeacon confessed. “It’s not part of the standard canon. There’s an addendum to the canon, usually referred to as the high canon. It’s the most difficult body of text to decipher. Disagreement over the meaning of the text once led to a dangerous schism in the faith. It was around the 15th century, I believe. This is actually when the western faith went through its controversial restructuring from the rights of the ancient cult to a form resembling the contemporary papistry. The break in the church was so severe in fact that the offending books were removed from the common scripture. Now only the College of Scholars have access to the full text.”

“I need to know the difference between a strong weapon and an indiscriminate one, and I need to know what an Angel is and what they want. Go to the College of Scholars and see what they can tell you. If they won’t help then we’ll go past them. I’ll dig an original testament out of the dirt if I have to. I’ll bring it to Delphi in stone slabs and build a house of scripture. Understood!? If we can save Delphi we will do it at any cost. I won’t accept any other alternative.”

“I don’t like this Xavier.” Lilith spoke, slowly shaking her head. “If you're not sure what to do… I think we should ask the Apostle for clarification.”

“If you want to talk to the Apostle I won’t stop you, but I’m not leaving the fate of my city to some thing I just met who seems to think I need testing.”

“You can’t cheat your way through this Xavier. I know you always manage to find a way to get what you want, but to question the will of god is to court ruin, just as the scriptures say.”

“The Apostle said we would be tested. I never met a teacher who just handed out the answers because I asked for them nicely. Just because he serves your god doesn’t mean he has your best interest in mind.”

Lilith felt her fist clench in response to the admonition. She did not appreciate being rebuked for defense of her faith.

“You rebuilt the church of Delphi in your own image and now the Apostle has called all of our judgment into question.”

Xavier shot up from his chair and pointed a finger at Lilith.

“Ever since you lost control of Cartwright I’ve sat back and watched your order disintegrate. The biggest chance I’ve taken in Delphi is the chance I took on you. You’d better think long and hard about that before you call my judgement into question.”

The room was deadly silent as Xavier lowed himself back into his chair, never breaking eye contact with Lilith.

“I should go.” The Archdeacon spoke, probably trying to dodge an awkward moment. “I still have a lot of studying to do. I’ll try to reach out to the College of Scholars. I think one of my old seminary instructors might still have access to the restricted texts.”

“Fine, I want to hear from you at least twice a day, every day, until I get something I can use.”

The Archdeacon gathered together his things and shuffled out the door.

“And what about me, sir?” Lilith asked stiffly her face roasting with the heat of righteous indignation.

“Do your job. Miss one quota and I’ll replace you in an instant. I already have a candidate in mind. And find your men. All of them. I’ve been more than patient, but it can’t continue.”

“Yes sir.” Lilith replied, fighting harder than ever to maintain her composure.

“Anything else?” Xavier asked, no doubt wondering why Lilith hadn’t left.

“Yes sir, I’ve found your ‘Mr. Black’.”