If you won’t stand up to those bastards, then I will.  We don’t have a choice anymore.

— Attributed to Sarah Farragut

24 Decem, 5249 PD

She looks haggard, Padraig thought to himself as he made his way over to Sephora’s table in the quiet seaside bistro.  He killed a rueful smile and the urge to shake his head at himself.  I probably don’t look much better.

Sephora looked up as Padraig slid into the chair across from her and gave him a bleak smile.  He smiled back.

“You look as tired as I feel,” he said.

“I probably am,” she admitted, reaching for her wineglass.  “How are your…evacuations…going?”

“Two more transports,” he said.  “And an old friend with Mission Systems gave me a quiet notification that if there’s more that we need to get off New Earth, they may be able to help us.  All I’ve got to do is ask.”

“They’re in bed with the Foundation and what’s left of the Guard,” Sephora said.  She took a deep swallow from her glass and set it down, her hand a bit unsteady.  “I got word on that from Winston before he went dark.  They’re pulling up stakes and moving their operations out of here as fast as they can.  I don’t blame them.  The organizations they contract with are ones that won’t mind the shift—may even welcome it, if they’re starting to see the writing on the wall.”

Padraig arched a brow.  “Which writing would that be?”

Sephora just shook her head. “The writing you and I already took note of.”

“Ah.  That writing.”

A waitress came by and he ordered a glass of whiskey.  Sephora told the girl to bring the whole bottle of wine when she came back.  When she departed, Sephora and Padraig just stared at each other for a few long moments.

“It’s happening all over again, isn’t it?”  Padraig asked quietly.

“I was about to ask you the same thing.”  Sephora closed her eyes, tilting her head back.  “I haven’t heard anything from Winston.  I’m worried.  He should have checked in by now.”

“I’m sure he’s just busy with the investigation.”  Doubt gnawed at Padraig’s entrails.

“It could be that, but I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”  Her hands cupped the foot of her wineglass and she stared into the shadows of the merlot liquid.  “I’ve got a really bad feeling about it.  The last time…”

“The last time you had a bad feeling like this, Frederick Rose was dead?”

Sephora winced, nodding.  “Yeah.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” Padraig said again, trying to ignore the beginnings of doubt gnawing at his guts.  “Even it’s not, all we can do is keep on doing what we’re doing.  The last time we met, you’d mentioned—”

“I’m not any closer,” she said.  “Not yet.  He didn’t leave me many clues.”  She glanced down into her wine again.  “Not any that I’ve been able to sort out, anyway.”

“There’s got to be something.”

“There is.  I just haven’t sorted it out.”  She took a deep gulp of wine.  “You should think about evacuating any from your department with a conscience, Padraig.  This is going to get ugly.”

“I can’t do that and you know why,” he said, trying to keep his voice gentle.  If he and his staff pulled up stakes and ran, there wouldn’t be anyone to uphold the law.

Maybe the day the laws change, we’ll have a reason to leave.  Until then…

Sephora sighed and shook her head, gaze roaming as she took another sip of wine.  “Why doesn’t that surprise me at all?”

“Because after all these years, you know me pretty well.”

She chuckled, then froze, eyes widening as she stared past Padraig.  Sephora set down her wineglass, her face pale.

Padraig’s stomach dropped through the floor.  “What’s wrong?”

“Seph.  What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Ben.”  Sephora rose carefully, even gracefully, only the barest hint of panic on her face.  She and Benjamin Israel had been estranged since Sephora had almost lost herself trying to figure out who had killed Frederick Rose, convinced that if she figured out who’d killed him, she’d solve the mystery of the Mimir attacks.  Padraig wasn’t sure how long it had been since the two had come face to face, but from the look of shock in Sephora’s eyes, it had been a long time—and this was the last place she’d expected him to show up.  “I didn’t realize you were in town.”

Benjamin Israel wasn’t a very big man, but he made up for his lack of stature with charisma and an infectious smile.  He’d worked his way up through the entertainment industry—fictional features and documentaries both—and had started to be wildly successful around the time Mimir fell.

He’d wanted Sephora to retire, since he was finally making enough to support both of them without her having to do the dangerous work associated with being a field agent for the Inspector General’s office.  Then Mimir had happened and there wasn’t a chance of her leaving—especially not after her friend and mentor had died.

“Sometimes you just have to come home,” Israel said as he came over to their table.  His crystal-blue eyes drank in his wife.  Padraig felt vaguely uncomfortable, watching the filmmaker studying the Chief Inspector.  “I hardly expected to find you here.”

Sephora inclined her head, gesturing vaguely to Padraig.  “I was meeting a friend.”

Israel startled, his gaze snapping toward Padraig.  He frowned for a brief moment, then brightened. “Colonial Office, right?”

“You’ve got a good memory, Mr. Israel,” Padraig said with a weak smile.

“If my memory was that good, I’d have remembered your name.”

Padraig laughed despite himself.  Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the barest glimpse of terror in Sephora’s eyes.

What would she be afraid of?

Israel glanced back to his estranged wife.  “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Maybe I have,” she said softly.  “A decade and we’ve barely spoken and now you’re here.  Like magic.”

“I didn’t stop loving you,” Israel whispered.  “Just because I couldn’t watch you tear yourself apart on the behalf of a thankless government doesn’t mean I stopped loving you, stopped worrying about you.”

Sephora took a shaky breath and nodded toward an empty spot at the table.  “Sit down,” she said softly.  “We may need your help.”

“My help?”  Israel seated himself, leaning forward against his elbows.  “What exactly would the two of you need my help with?  I don’t do government propaganda films—you know that, Seph.”

“It’s not that,” she said, toying with the stem of her glass.  She met his gaze after a moment, her soul bared to both of the men seated with her.  “It might be time to go, Ben, and we may need your help to do it.”

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