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Table for one
#21
This early, this hour. Lih remembered rising at this time, walking to work, purchasing coffee and these soft donut twists from the bakery on his block, seeing the open gates of the embassy as he approached… the night at the Kallisti ended up… oddly, when they both looked at each other.

“Shit,” was all Lih had time to say before she grabbed him.

It was Lillian.

Now he and Lillian sat under the archway near Lenin’s statue, munching the food. A pair of soldiers walked past but they didn’t spare them a second glance. Just two people hanging out, eating breakfast after a night in the taverns. Their chatter resumed, softly, urgently.

“So… you’re afraid of channelers?”

Lih frowned, his lips pursed. “That’s not what I said, Lillian.”

“But you’re worried about these… these happenings?”

“Of course I am! Worried… terrified.”

Lillian ate the last of her donuts and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. “I don’t understand. The gods are reborn here in Moscow, and the Ascendancy has proved his divinity by performing miracles. That surely is a cause for celebration for CCD officers. Why do you seem angry?”

Lih stiffened and looked at her, suddenly aware of the unpatriotic image he was projecting. He forced a smile. “I’m not ashamed to admit that reborn gods terrify me, Lillian. The unseen universe wielding its power over our material lives. That sort of… magic is so often the stock in trade of monsters. So, please forgive my tone just then. Miracles are beyond my understanding, beyond the remit of normal life, and I confess I’m alarmed by anything that does not fit into the logical, physical world of policing. I’m sure you will agree?”

Lillian nodded slowly. “Seriously, I don’t know why you’re talking to me.”

“Because—“ he paused “because we’re family—“

“Uhp-uhp-uhp!” Lillian shushed Lih and thought for a moment. “By rights, I could report you for disclosing this. Why have you trusted me?”

“I heard things.”

“Heard what?”

“Things. Things about you. I thought you might be sympathetic. I thought you might know what to do.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re here. And my parents trusted you.”

“This is the price I pay for wet nursing my nephew,” she shook her head and returned her attention to Lih’s issues. “You’re angry about your coworker Ivan.”

“No, put like that,” Lih said. “I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t scare me. The things I’ve seen… I should be running away screaming. But I keep wondering…”

“What?”

“The timing. Why then? Why choose that moment to act? To burn all the evidence?”

“I was thinking that myself. Is it but coincidence that Ivan went into the tunnels with you and thus set fire to everything?”

“There are no coincidences.” He looked up. “Now a terrible thing happened and you think I should question it?“

“Not quite,” said Lillian. “Are you going to finish that?” she asked, nodding at the half eaten donut in Lih’s hand.

Lih shook his head and passed it to Lillian.

“I don’t want to die, Lillian.” Lih said.

“No one said anything about d—“ she widened her eyes.

Lih shook his head. “A bullet to the head. That’s what I’ll get. They don’t even have to prove much. If anyone thinks, or even thinks they think, that I’m touched by these monsters, I’ll be gunned down. No hesitation. It’s their jobs. It’s the duty of every one of us. If I found out one of us was infected, I’d do it myself. You don’t take chances with monsters like that.”

“And that scares you.”

“Yes, it does.” He blinked at this and looked away.

“Oh, Lih! no! Don’t misunderstand me. There are times,” Lillian said, through a mouthful, “when I’m scared of the unknown. You’re the same. Light, everyone is!”

She laughed when Lih opened his mouth in surprise.

He glanced at her. “You seem astonishingly unmoved by this, aunt Lillian.”

Lillian shrugged. “Believe me, I’m just glad to have you back.”

She reached out and hugged him tightly, pecking a quick kiss on his cheek before pulling away again.

He smiled. The old smile. The one she’d once been rather charmed by. It reminded Lillian so much of her sister, Lih’s mom. She felt sadly nostalgic. “Our officer, a domovoi? Oh your mother would have been happy…” Lillian murmurred, genuinely moved and proud. “About time you made rank.”

Lih breathed heavily and rubbed his hands together. “I need to do my job. I want to get to the truth and uncover it. And that’s why I want to expose these things.”

Lillian reached into the tight pocket of her pants and fished out a pack of cigarettes.

“I thought you’d given those up.”

“So did I,” Lillian said, lighting one. “But I’m fit. Rudely healthy says my doctor.”

“Smoke away, then. And I don’t know. I need to do something. All I know is, I’m not corrupt, and I want to help Ivan.”

“Tell me the rest,” she said, exhaling the fragrant smoke. “What did Dorian say about the Syndicate again?”

“He knew they were threatening Ivan,” Lih’s face darkened. “But they’ve appeared at Dorian’s estate when I was there. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what it means, but it’s gonna be bad. It’s quite scared Ivan.”

“And Dorian too?” she asked quietly.

“No. If I know anything about Ivan it’s that he’s protective. He’ll protect you. He’ll do what is necessary to keep you safe, hopefully without breaking CCD law.” Lih said.

“Dorian’s… different. I think Dorian’s scared because he was in control of his game here until Nox left him and now he most definitely isn’t. I have to tell someone… about my suspicions… about everything… tell someone… the Captain, who knows? But if I tell, that’s the end for me. I don’t know, Lillian. Should I be looking after myself or looking to the greater good?”

They sat for a moment in silence.

Lillian got up, dusting crumbs from her lap. “I think you know the answer to that, sport.”
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