Book 5, Chapter 32

Returning to his apartment and its half-finished kitchen, Julian self-consciously cleared the empty bottles off of the cluttered surfaces in his living room. When he was done, it seemed like the natural next step to clear up some of the rest of the mess. By the time he slumped onto his couch, the mess of the last few weeks had been cleared away to reveal that he did, in fact, still own furniture.

Closing his eyes, he listed to the side until his cheek met cushion, inhaling the smell of dust and sweat and cologne. The apartment seemed strange and quiet now. Maybe he should volunteer to go out into the desert with Rabbit; it certainly didn’t seem like there was much left in Solace for him. Nothing but more years of investigating and wondering when his dad would take the first step toward repairing their relationship.

There were his friends, of course. Rabbit might be leaving, but Yoko would remain, a permanent fixture against an otherwise fluctuating background. The Protectors of Antiquity would be there for a night out drinking, if he felt like it; Phineas was in No Town, and his father and Ashe in the Core, if he wanted to travel. And of course Caine and Cross would be in the city at least as long as him. They’d probably need a babysitter every so often.

His brow crinkled in consternation. Sure, all of them were still around. But that seemed to pale in comparison to the absences, the way the eye was drawn to missing teeth in a grin and not the ones that were still present.

Sasha’s death was easy to accept. Sasha had been drifting further and further away since he’d inherited the Witness, and Julian had grown used to the silence in his apartment most nights.

It was harder to resign himself to the fact that Surge wasn’t coming back. Even when he’d finally made it back home that early the morning after the events on the ziggurat, Julian had fallen asleep certain that when he woke up again, it would be to a message from Surge. Legends didn’t die.

Maybe it was kinder not to hope for Surge to come back. He was wanted; everyone in the city knew his name and his face. His records had been made publicly available. All that was left for him was a very, very long lifetime in hiding, or reclamation.

A chime from his terminal derailed his train of thought. His eyes popped open and he stared at the screen, sideways in his field of vision. A new message had come in to his work account.

Grimacing, he sat up, pushed his bangs out of his eyes and reached to snap the terminal screen closed. The subject of the message caught his eye: ELECTRONIC SABOTAGE.

He paused. A sickening, swelling hope filled his stomach, expanding outward, making him feel giddy.

With a keystroke, he opened the message and scanned the details: missing files, altered records, data missing and corrupted; a strange man visiting with what had looked like an official badge. A video file was attached to the message and Julian opened it, not daring to blink as it played.

It was a brief clip from a surveillance camera. A tall man entered, stood at the front desk, flashed a badge, and was permitted entrance. Julian paused, went forward and back a frame at a time. It was no use; the man’s features were obscured by disturbances in the signal to the camera. It was possible that faulty wiring or some glitch in the recording program had caused them.

Julian stared at his screen, pursed his lips, and looked away, trying to keep his disappointment from crushing him. He should have known better.

It only took him a moment to type up his response: he would investigate, but it was probably an inside job. The man in the video was likely unrelated.

But he hesitated with his finger on the send button.

He opened the video and watched it again. Then a third time. Got up, walked to the kitchen, knocked back a swallow of whiskey, then another, before returning to the living room. Standing beside the coffee table, he eyed the terminal screen and the frozen image.

The man’s button up shirt was too big; the sleeves hung down to his knuckles.

Julian sighed and allowed his lips to twitch into a smile.

Further investigation couldn’t hurt. He’d take the job.

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