They were still shouting at each other when I woke up from reading the history of the conflict. The names of those who served with the King. I could…
Jay’s real name was on that list. His history was on that list. But why would…
Why would Teri be researching the War last night before coming to speak with me? Why would she be…
A traitor. Jay was a traitor. Was Teri coming to try and warn me of that? Was she here to warn me of Jay’s existence, of his…
The Hand of the Watcher. Jay was apart of that, somehow.
They’d stolen my life from me. They’d taken it all away in a hail of atomic fire. Killed billions. The world wasn’t how it was supposed to be. They’d taken away hopes, dreams.
The Fey were in on it, and so was Jay, apparently. Traitors.
I could… I could see how suspicion would fall on Jay, each and every time now. Like a scarlet letter tied to his brow. It’d be left there for the rest of his life. Unable to reproduce or continue on his lineage.
But I just couldn’t picture Jay scattering Teri. It didn’t ring true.
Not like the knock on the door just then.
Startled me out of thinking. “Yes?”
Tane’s voice. “Jess, Lani’s back together. You want to talk to her? I know you two didn’t get to meet yet.”
My joints popped as I stood up, numb, aching like little harsh pains. Someone else to talk to. Someone to pull information from.
“You look like you just found some bad news.” The Crow croaked in the dark room. I’d never seen Lani before, but the glint of her eyes, rimmed with almost gold, set her apart instantly. Perhaps it was the rings on her talons, or the almost human way she walked. She peered down inquisitively at a series of scopes, then back up at me, adjusting the glasses that sat crooked on her beak.
Omoi offered a connection between the lenses, and I denied it, not entirely sure what to do
But she didn’t set me uneasy. No, there was a certain familiarity there. The faint off smell of electronics, the way that wires were strewn about the previously nearly empty shrine. Perhaps it was the lab coat she was dressed in. One of my mine, but I wasn’t going to tease her about it; it was damn comfortable in the long run.
“I did,” I said, breaking the awkward silence.
“There’s a lot of bad news out there to discover,” Lani said, looking back down at the coms and equipment around her. “Like getting scattered instead of having a chance to talk to an old world scientist.”
I blinked at her, then she flashed me something like a smile. “I…”
“It’s an honor to meet you. Come, have a seat, let’s talk about whatever’s bothering you. I’ve been told you went after my attacker with great ferocity. How exciting to be fought over.” She took a seat herself, feathers puffing up.
I took the other seat, and looked down at her tiny workbench, strewn with bits and pieces.
“Jay’s been arrested on accusations of murder,” I said.
Lani clicked her beak. “He’s a good bird, he’ll get himself out if he needs to.”
“But did he do it?” I asked, looking up at her. “Before I go digging into the lives of those around me in this city, should I be treating this like he did it, or like he didn’t do it?”
“You’re the scientist,” Lani said, simply. “Take observations. Compile the situation in totality. Then, and only then, can you run the experiments you need to get truly salient information.”
“Not much of a need for old world scientists around here, is there?” I asked.
Lani shrugged her shoulders. “The world is dead, but Crows live on forever. They may not need life saving medication, and they may not need the next generation of Omoi. They might not appreciate all of those things, but that doesn’t mean there’s no point in tracking them down.” Lani gestured at the scrap on her desk. “What do you think this is?”
“Scraps out of some old Coms,” I said. “You’re sorting them.”
“My mentor and I were among the first to figure out how to repair Coms around the old- oh, tamper proofing mechanisms. Before then, we had to find an Omoi keyed to the proper repair companies to stop them from bricking themselves, very annoying. But the world didn’t really care, though it became a bit easier.” Lani leaned back. “Maybe in another world, where we had to worry about things, where we weren’t content to scrape by in our immortal existence, we would mind. But that’s not the Crow way.”
I looked down at them, and my mind (not my Omoi) assigned them each individual values and scraps of information.
Disappearances had been going on since before we arrived.
Teri was studying them to derive insights.
Teri had wanted to meet me.
Teri had gone missing.
Jay had gone outside around the same time.
I couldn’t assemble a working Com out of that mess, not with all of the tutorials in Omoi.
So I was missing pieces.
Lani clicked her beak. “Now, where the hell did the display go to?” She looked around for a moment, and I plucked the screen off of the ground and handed it over to her. “Thank you.”
“What else have you had a hand in?”
“I developed Crow-Emoticons,” Lani said, clicking her beak. “Luddites like those more than anything, more than updating Omoi logic to work better with multiple crow minds,” She tsked under her breath.
“The Outcast, you named him Jay?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“He’s an Outcast. The Elder favored him when he took charge of patrolling the areas marked anomalous, citing that he didn’t have to worry about them. I’m fairly certain he was marked in the old war. But that’s not what you want to know,” Lani said, knowingly.
“Smart Crow,” I complimented.
“But you’re not really asking if Jay is the murderer or not,” Lani said.
“You’re asking if Jay is dangerous, or if you can really trust him,” Lani clicked her beak. “And Warden, I know you’re smarter than I am. I know you’re more driven than I am. That’s not why you came to talk to me.”
“My bias lies in that he’s already saved my life twice,” I said. “Do you think that’s clouding my judgement too much?”
“For someone so old, you’re very inexperienced,” Lani said. “Weigh it like a scale. Figure out if you even care that Jay’s a traitor.” She leaned back against the wall. “Lots of Crows do; people who lost their loved ones in the war, only to see him slinking around like a bad memory, having gotten out of the war without dying. But you, you’re a Warden. You’re divorced from all of this context. Why should you care about Crow Kings?”
I didn’t care if Jay was a traitor. I just cared that…
It was petty to be upset that he hadn’t told me his shady past; we’d known each other so briefly I’d just latched onto the first friends I could muster. And learning they were nuanced, that they were older than the moment I’d met them… being angry about that was stupid.
I wasn’t betrayed, I was just informed.
“So at the end of the day, it’s down to whether or not you trust Jay,” Lani said.
If I trusted Jay, there was only one place to go.
An interview with Teri’s assistant, Irri.
“So?” Lani asked, leaning back. “What’s your question?”
“Do I trust him?”
There were a few equations here. Simplistic little things. If I stopped trusting Jay, my total resource pool dried up rather quickly; all of my allies believed him to be good. The Elder believed him to be trustworthy. Tane was starting to come around to him, if only at my suggestion.
And at the end of the day, I suppose, I believed in him. I wanted to believe in him.
“You made the decision before you walked in,” Lani said. “I just helped you realize it.”