Julian’s morning routine had changed only slightly since the night of terror months ago. The alarm clock came alive to a news stations rather than pop tunes: it advertised jobs and homes and the miscellaneous daily affairs of the city and those most responsible for rebuilding it. After months, the news was rarely novel or interesting: everyone knew what had happened and what was being done about it. The fact that acting on all of the proposed plans would take longer than proposing them had promised many more mornings waking up to construction reports.
When the radio came on, Julian would nestle his head against clean linens and arch back, expecting to bump against welcome flesh only to find nothing. In the moment before memory caught up to conscious thought, he’d roll over or sit up, hand splayed out towards the empty space. And he’d remember.
Julian rarely got out of bed in a cheerful mood.
Then last week, the news had finally changed; Julian had woken up to the radio announcing the skyway disaster. A few minutes into the report, they were describing the Surge in frightening detail. Images lifted from surveillance feeds popped up on the CommNet and spread like an infection through the wires. By the end of that day, there were countless eyewitness reports to fill in any gaps. Julian could only watch in stunned horror as the information spread.
Surge was just as helpless to stop it. For all his power, he could do nothing about erasing human memories. And memories, unlike camera footage, were prone to exaggeration and inconsistencies. The people who had been ripped through the space via the wires were divided as to whether Surge had been trying to save or murder them. Many of them had been hospitalized with burns and neurological damage, but it seemed like none of them had lost their clarity of thought--or if they had, they were happy to imagine what they might have forgotten and present it as fact. And as the hours dragged by, everyone seemed to have either agreed that the Surge was dangerous and cruel or they had shut up.
All ears and eyes were tuned in to the media’s first original story since the demon disaster. Like most of Solace, Julian got very little done that day. And when it became Teyen and not Surge that they were reporting on, he knew hope was lost. It was a waiting game, now: listening each morning for news that Teyen had been caught.
”Worried about your boyfriend?” Sasha would have asked scornfully if he had still been there. But Surge wasn’t Julian’s boyfriend and neither was Sasha, and in the end, they were both missing.
Pulling himself out of bed after another inconclusive morning report on Surge’s whereabouts, Julian strode to his bathroom for a pre-breakfast piss, and then washed his hands under a chrome-finished spout. He made faces in the mirror. His hair had grown out quite a bit thanks to time and his curious abilities, but he’d gotten it cut short in the back during his last trip to the hairdresser’s. With the front left longer to frame his face, he still wasn’t sure he liked it.
Turning his head revealed subtle glimpses of his father’s lost youth. Strangers liked his father; they thought he looked respectable and trustworthy. As an entrepreneur himself, it wouldn’t hurt to reflect those same qualities with his appearance. Julian stuck his tongue out, smiled a little at his own childishness, and went to the kitchen for a slice of the leftover pizza that was still in the box on the counter.
The new apartment was quite a bit nicer than anything he’d owned before, even after his last apartment’s kitchen remodel. The kitchen was open and spacious, though the marbled gray countertops sported nothing but empty take-out boxes and half finished mugs of cold coffee. The refrigerator still had the stale smell of new appliances. The adjoining room he had made into his home office, rather than using for its intended purpose as a dining room, littering the table there with various cards: pre-loaded creds, business cards, and IDs. Business was good: both individuals and businesses wanted to solidify or disprove death claims in the aftermath of the massacres. It was somewhat grim work, but it kept him and his bank account both well fed.
He had a plush couch in the living room that wasn’t quite broken in yet, but also didn’t have the lingering smell of dust mixed with skin oils ground into it either. There was also a space left on the wall where a vidscreen would be mounted once Julian found the time or inclination to purchase one. There was a real window, though, looking out over rubble and a skyline of dragon-mouthed cranes. A bedroom window had saved his and Sasha’s lives during the attacks and although his apartment had only the one window, he no longer would have felt quite as safe without it.
But the most important motivation to relocate to this specific lower-core apartment was the bathrooms: one guest and one private. The guest bath was just a sink and a toilet, and he didn’t have to do anything but keep it stocked with toilet paper, vanilla scented soap and a hand towel. His own bathroom, however, had a separate shower and jet tub with three speed settings: luxury at its most economical. If not for the risk of electrocution, Julian would have preferred to run his business from the steaming, perfumed boil of bubbling water.
Standing at the table, though, with cold pizza and a fresh cup of coffee in either hand, he eyed the pool of cards as his mind flipped through the assignments still in queue. A woman who’d lost her daughter, a handful of cases involving companies looking to validate insurance claims on dead employees. He didn’t have the motivation to work on any of them. He sat down and gave the files a once over anyway, pleased that most of the work was done for him via Solace’s tracking systems. It wouldn’t take much more effort than entering a few key words, ID numbers and clicking the search button. Rarely did anything come up that would indicate either a possibly stolen identity or warrant an on-foot investigation. He was a button pusher, now. And no matter how simple that made his work, he just could not make himself do it.
He called the Protectors of Antiquity instead.
“Protector’s of Antiquity. Riyad speaking.”
Julian smiled a little at the warm, accented voice that answered. “Hey, Riyad. Not Jin for once?”
“Julian? Hey. No, Jin’s out right now. Did you need him or have we simply cut out the middleman this afternoon?”
“You’re the man I want, Riyad.”
Riyad chuckled over the sound of a worn chair creaking. “I’m sure you say that to all the handsome men you meet. But what can I do for you today?”
“Any news on Surge?”
“No.” He heard a sigh and waited for Riyad to continue. It took longer than expected. “No, no word on Surge since the disaster. Which is probably him doing us all a favor. I guess I don’t need to ask if you’ve heard anything. What about your father?”
“I don’t speak to him often, but it’s possible. Cross?”
“She called us after the SPD called her in for an interview. She wanted to know if we’d heard anything as well. Looks like we’re all in the dark.”
“Maybe. A lot of us are scared of the light, though.” Julian sat down and took another bite of pizza, chewing it slowly as he set the phone on speaker and clipped it to the front of his shirt.
“They’re talking about reclamation,” Riyad said.
Neither of them knew what to say after that. Reclamation was the city’s last resort with criminals. If not reclamation, Julian foresaw a future not unlike what he’d experienced in Tokoyo’s lab for Surge. Or death, if they were merciful. Surge’s identity was known now. His future, though uncertain in some respects, was very certain in others. He’d be caught, he would not be fairly tried, and the rest of his life would be spent in ways that would make sensible people avert their eyes.
“The Impulse lives for a long time. I’ve been around nearly as long as this city has existed.”
“If I continue to age slowly, if my body remains healthy, I’ll live a long time too, right?”
“Hn... Yes. The Healer can exist a lot longer than a normal person if he’s not killed somehow.”
“Then even if everyone else I know dies, I’ll still have you to spend my lifetime with. You’ll be the one person I don’t have to say goodbye to. Don’t make that face--a phone call now and then never killed anyone.”
The Surge was better off lost.
But Julian missed his friend.
“I guess we’ll have to change our name. We’re not so good at protecting the ancients. We’re pretty sloppy at rescuing them, terrible at keeping track of them, and as far as protection goes, there isn’t a damn thing we can do to help Surge. I’m sorry. We promised more than we’ve been able to provide any of you who’ve come forth.”
Julian winced slightly at the sincerity in Riyad’s voice. “No, it’s... You guys have been a great help in your own way. Your information has been invaluable, so don’t close down shop just yet, okay? It’s easier to check up on you guys if I only have to dial one number.”
“Oh, no, we’ve still got a mission to complete. We still need to find the Prodigy, the new Witness, the Metamorph, and the Oracle. And there are those signs you said you and your friends saw that night. Jin’s gone to get another book from Alan to look that drawing you gave to us.”
Julian bit his lip. Riyad was wrong: only the Prodigy remained undiscovered. Besides the Shards, he also knew the dark god Ashe-im-Torim and his son. And he knew Hiroki, Yoko’s half brother, was probably to blame for the demon attacks. He knew a lot more than he had ever disclosed to the curious group of men who tried their best to help when they could. It made him feel guilty, but not enough to say anything now. It wasn’t his place to do so.
Even if he gave them Sasha’s name, he couldn’t give them his location. The albino had left in a hurry, too angry to say goodbye, let alone tell Julian where he would be staying.
“It’s Yoko, isn’t it? I fucking knew you’d leave me the minute you found someone else who didn’t immediately blow you off!”
“You sound like an idiot. You have no idea what you’re talking about. This isn’t about Yoko, this is about you! I just can’t deal with it anymore, Sasha. I care about you and I don’t want you to be hurt but I’m not happy and this just isn’t going to work out. I’m getting the apartment for myself. I know--”
“You don’t know a damn thing! If I wasn’t the Witness you’d love me back, you stupid, selfish son of a bitch!”
“I don’t want to hurt you. You think this is easy? I put it off so long because I was trying to get past the crazy, but I can’t! You’re right. As long as you’re the Witness I just can’t do this. I’m sorry. I want us to be friends st--”
“I don’t need friends like you.”
“Then all I can do is wish you luck.”
“If the drawing is accurate enough, we should be able to find a close match. Thanks, though. These days, everyone could use a bit of luck thrown their way.”
Julian nodded slightly, finishing his last stale bite of his pizza crust. “Yeah. Well, you sound like you’ve got a lot of work to do and I should probably look into doing mine, too. Just...wanted to see if anyone had heard anything.”
“Sorry. We’ll all find out together, I guess. And whatever the outcome, we’re here for each other even if we can’t be there for him.”
“Dismal admission, but yeah, there’s that.” Julian unhooked his phone from his shirt, said his goodbyes, and hung up with overstressed optimism that fell flat.
No news was almost as good as good news, though. He stretched in his chair, kicking his feet out under the table. He couldn’t stomach the idea of another day indoors. The breeze was getting warmer, the sun was bright, and white walls had never done much for his mood. A quick walk around the block, maybe stopping in at a shop for some dinner items or a drink would give him the jolt he needed to settle down and commit to button pushing.
That plan hadn’t worked the last few times he’d tried it, but that didn’t deter him from trying it out again. Shoes on his feet, he left his new apartment with every intention of finding at least one thing to smile about again.