It's New Years' Day, and Skyspear's leaving.
Thomas knows he shouldn't be watching this happen, but it's hard not to. He's plugged into every piece of this building, after all. Every camera, every screen, every inch of it is him, in a sense.
And even if he wasn't watching, he really couldn't help but hear as Skyspear tells Mark exactly what she's thinking, right now.
She's got a lot to say, but Thomas isn't really listening to the words. He' doesn't need to. He can break their breakup down into simple images -- like word balloons in a comic strip.
Hers, accusations and declarations. She was broken and not knowing what she wanted. He was knowing he wanted someone else and settling for her. And if he'd been half a man he'd have let her go before now.
His, denials and half-truths. He was broken, too, and thought she'd completed him. She wasn't complaining, before, and they'd had a good thing going. And if she'd been unhappy she should have said so before now.
The arguments are circular. They go around and around like gears in a machine. And, given his new state of being, he knows that machines will keep operating until something breaks, or someone turns them off.
He wishes he could take credit for this one's finally going offline, but he knows that's not his doing. It happened at the party, when Myron told Skyspear what had been done to them, down in the Ice Palace. When he'd told her that she'd lost something important to her, in that awful deal they'd made to bring the President's daughter back to life.
Something only she could know about, as it was unique to her, but something that she could get back once she faced her loss, and moved forward.
What had she lost, then? Her sense of self, obviously. The spark of defiance and individuality that had let a village girl become a hero, instead of hiding her gifts and living quietly. The understanding that she would do what she wanted, so long as it was within the realm of what was good and just.
The belief that her life was her own, and not shackled to another, unless she truly and fully chose to make that person a part of her life.
But she had not done that, here. Suddenly bereft of her guiding principles, she had reached out in desperation. He had done the same, also out of desperation, though from a different cause. In desperation they'd found each other, in desperation they'd lived and loved.
And now, the truth was clear, and she was angry. Angry at him for having been so weak to have taken her to his bed because he could not be with another. Angry at him for taking advantage of her plight, as he must have realized, as some point, that the woman he met in the treehouse was not the woman he'd shacked up with.
And anger at herself, for not having realized this before now, and having to be told about it by someone else, at a !@#$ New Years Party.
And then to have him come back home, all upset that the person he was really in love with, all long -- the person she now realized he saw when he'd been making love to her -- might actually be falling for someone else?
Well, let's just say it made certain things a lot easier to say, now that the moment's here and it's time to say them. That they're hurtful goes without saying. That they're strewn with obscenities he can't quite make out is understandable.
But what's worse is that they're all true, and he knows it.
Thomas doesn't have to hear those words, though. He knows what's happening. He's known it was going to happen for some time.
And he knows what's going to happen, next...
"Mssr. Samuels?" the waddling Frenchman says, all but leaning over the Nthernaut's body, holding that zap-box like a gun.
He can barely see Jean-Jacques Excephir Geraud, just now. All his sensors are scrambled, and all his internal cameras are down. But, from the looks on the faces of those who came with him, he's sure that the confusion he feels inside is being mirrored all around the room, and the Central Building.
Possibly even Neo York City, itself, though he's amazed there aren't more emergency calls...
"That hurt," Thomas says, slowly getting to his feet, and doing his best to control his temper.
"It was supposed to," Eclat says, smiling just a little. He's the only person here who seems pleased at the way the screens are flickering, and the sound of alarms.
"Well, mission accomplished," he says, raising his hands. For a moment, the President of the Terre Unifee looks concerned he's going to retaliate -- so much so that his personal guard puts themselves between him and the Nthernaut. But then they realize he's generating floating, neon-blue interfaces to deal with the damage that just occurred.
I would appreciate an explanation, the Nthernaut says, a copy of himself stepping out of the form they just zapped: That was rude.
"Now see here," the Minister of Justice begins to say, but the President raises a hand to shush him.
"I'm sorry we had to do that, Thomas," he says: "I wasn't totally in favor of it, to be honest. But it was suggested that, if you really weren't someone we could trust anymore, your first act once you came out of it would be to attack us."
I see, the Nthernaut says, nodding, and looking between the Minister and the President: That was an incredibly foolish risk to take with the President's life, Minister. You know what I'm capable of. If I had been of a mind to harm you, after that-
"I would have whisked him away before you could," Ciel Rouge says, teleporting from one side of the room to the other, just to demonstrate
"And, to be frank, you would not have had the chance," Eclat announces, raising a hand. As he does, the copy of himself that was working on repairing the city's electronic infrastructure wavers and vanishes -- its neon-blue panels and screens clattering into sparks as it goes.
Thomas grits his teeth a little, feeling the disruption as one might feel an insect bite, and then looks the long-haired fellow in the eyes: So you're not merely wearing a signal scrambler. You are a signal scrambler.
"Eclat," the man introduces himself with a smug nod: "I am certain you have heard of me."
I have, yes.
"And you know what I can do, should I need to."
And can you take over for me, too? Thomas asks, raising his hands and flooding the room with blue screens, each showing a different angle of Neo York City: I don't just control Neo York City, ladies and gentlemen, I am Neo York City. I am its power, water, and waste management. I am its traffic lights, toll bridges, and defense grid. The subways run through my veins, the cars over my skin, and I bring its planes in to land every ten seconds on the dot-
"That will not deter us," the Minister of Justice announces: "We have brought something along to take your place, should it be necessary to deactivate you."
That I find hard to believe.
"Oh, believe it, young man," the Minister insists: "We would not be so foolish as to threaten an entire city if we did not have a way to handle it. While you were unconscious, it turned on, and maintained systems for a full minute."
Not very well, the Nthernaut insists: The emergency services are lagging by ten seconds, and-
"It can carry on your autonomic functions, they say," Ciel Rouge says, stepping forward: "The finer points may be lost, but that would only mean that the city could no longer look after itself. It would only mean that it would have to function like any other city in the world, with decisions made by ordinary men and women in uniform."
Thomas opens his mouth to say something, but realizes he can't quite argue that point -- at least, not without making a few revelations he doesn't care to announce at this time.
"We just want the truth, here," the President says, gesturing to Ciel Rouge: "That's why we've come here, today, Thomas. If necessary, we can make you tell us the truth. And if you won't help us-"
"And if we do not like the truth," the Minister of Justice adds, raising his box.
Then you have the means to deal with me, if needed, the Nthernaut finishes his threat: Very well. Now we all know where we stand.
"We have an extensive list of questions," the President's secretary says, pulling a thick pad of paper out of his leather notebook, and handing them over to Ciel Rouge: "She will ask them, and you will answer them, directly and completely. If you lie, we'll get the truth."
"Why would I lie?" Thomas says, dialing back the voice he tends to use in these situations. With a wave of his hand he's produced two chairs, and gestures to Ciel that she may sit in one of them as he sits down in the other.
"That is what we have come to find out," the red-cloaked woman says, sitting down and facing him: "I hope we have made a fool's journey, Thomas. I truly do."
"One condition," Thomas says, leaning forward: "If I am going to be completely honest? So will you."
"I beg your pardon-" the Minister snorts, but the President holds up a hand to shush him, yet again.
"What do you mean, Thomas?" he asks.
"I mean that you've come here to put me on trial, essentially. And from what I'm getting, if you find me guilty, you're going to let Eclat turn me off like a broken television. And yet I have had no time to prepare, and I have no legal counsel, and no impartial judge."
"Given the circumstances of the situation, I am certain you can understand why this was a surprise visit," Henri insists.
"And I can, yes. I've already said as much, and I meant it. But if we're going to continue, I need to have the understanding that if I'm going to be asked questions, I get to ask them in return. And I'm not the only one who can tell if someone's lying."
"I don't think-" the President starts to say, but then the room loses all power, just for a second.
Case in point, Thomas says: When I did that, everyone's heart rate went up, but especially yours and your Minister's, Mr. President. For a moment, you were afraid I was going to call your bluff, and leave the city in the dark.
And should I have done that, you're not really sure that whatever you brought with you is going to be enough to actually run Neo York City for more than a full minute... are you?
The President raises an eyebrow, and then slowly turns to look at the Minister, who coughs a few times into his hand.
"Very well," the President says: "You may ask us what you need to, Thomas. But-"
"And when you answer my questions, she's going to be looking as well," Thomas insists, pointing to Ciel Rouge: "She can tell if I'm lying? She can also tell if you're lying. I don't think you want us both on your case about fibbing, now do you?"
"Quid pro quo?" Eclat snorts, but soon gets the idea he's the only one who finds this funny.
"No, I guess we don't," the President says, looking to everyone there.
"Then let's start this," Thomas says, gesturing and causing more chairs to appear: "I have a city to run, and I'm sure you have a world to look after. The sooner we put this sorry and embarrassing thing behind us, the better."
"Very well," Ciel Rouge says, looking at the paper: "The first one seems fairly straightforward. Do you truly feel you can be trusted to watch over SPYGOD, given your family's close association with him, throughout the years?"
And Thomas smiles and answers, knowing that this is going to be the toughest battle he's ever fought in his life.
Especially since this is one he can't escape from, if needed.
(SPYGOD is listening to The Walk (The Cure) and having a Ciel Rouge a Nuit)