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It takes a moment for Silence to realize two things: 1) that these images aren’t blackmail, and 2) that they’re all meant for her. Kafka looks on anxiously as she swipes through the photos: one at a crooked angle of Saria lying on the floor but apparently uninjured, another of Saria standing guard in front of a jail cell on one of Mansfield’s upper floors, a blurry image of her backside from a low angle down a hallway, and the last—a surprisingly well-framed photo of Saria using Calcification on herself against a foe whom Silence assumes is Jesselton Williams, the serial killer who had sneaked into prison to try to put Anthony down. She glances over the tablet, looking slightly down at Kafka’s curled-in frame. It’s not like her to be so shy about things—especially when it comes to Silence.

Another thing occurs to her then: this is the first time she’s seen Saria dressed in the Mansfield Prison jailer uniform, rather than just hearing of it. She wears it well, but Saria would never deign to look uncomfortable in anything. It’s a smart fit, not at all baggy, and it admittedly looks appropriate on her. She’s worked in security before. This is nothing different.

Kafka keeps stealing glances at her, though, as if she’s expecting a different reaction. She chews her lip, bounces on her heels, cranes up her neck as though anticipating some sort of dramatic response. Silence isn’t sure what she’s supposed to do—pass out? Throw a fit? Cry? She glances at the last photo again, and then looks them over in reverse order. Though she sees Saria more than often enough now, there’s something nostalgic about seeing all these candid pictures of her.

She pauses over the one of Saria standing in front of the cell. Saria looks distracted, slightly unfocused, as though her mind is somewhere else. Her shoulders are straight and her posture is rigid, but her expression is more relaxed than it normally is. Silence lifts her free hand off the tablet, runs her finger over Saria’s face as though she could touch it—and then catches herself.

She looks at Kafka, scowling.

“Is that why you sent these to me?”

She grins back guiltily. “Whaddya mean, doc?”

Because you thought I’d like them. She’s seen Saria in casual clothing; she’s seen Saria in formalwear; she’s seen her naked. She knows what Saria’s underwear looks like. She knows what clothing stores she frequents, what brands she prefers and why. It occurs to her that, perhaps, to people who haven’t seen Saria in just about everything under the sun, it might seem… attractive, somehow, to see her in uniform, in tailored pants and an armored vest and frame cap, forearms exposed. Though, Silence wouldn’t think any less of her for wearing something else, and she knows just by looking at these that Saria isn’t particularly attached to what she’s wearing. It’s the jailers’ uniform for a for-profit prison. It’s the costume of hired thugs.

In other words, it’s not sexy.

She sighs a bit. “I appreciate the… effort it must have taken to procure these, Kafka, but it really was unnecessary.”

Silence exits out of the app, refraining from giving her anything resembling an actual lecture. Kafka’s not Ifrit; she doesn’t need it.

Instead, she adjusts her glasses and sets down her tablet on her desk. “I don’t need to know what she looked like in the uniform.”

“Aw.” Kafka practically droops; she looks so disappointed. “I just thought,” she grins again, “y’ know… to get the ol’ imagination going…”

Silence pinches the bridge of her nose and groans. “What exactly did you intend for me to do with this?”

“I just thought you’d like it, ’s all! Nothin’ wrong with getting a little eye candy.”

And there it is. Silence opens her mouth, closes it, and then tries again. “I… I don’t need it.”

“Aw, I get what you mean, doc,” says Kafka, “what you mean is you got plenty enough already! Right?”

Silence fights back a blush. “I…”

Kafka intertwines her fingers, twisting them together. “I mean, lookit you, you nabbed yourself a real looker way back when, didn’tcha? I thought I’d just… get a spark goin’ again! Or somethin’.”

I don’t need that, either, Silence thinks, but it’s clear that Kafka won’t be swayed so easily. “We’re not together anymore,” she says, “and I don’t need any more reminders of when we were. I already see her often enough as is.”

“Yeah,” says Kafka, “to fight.” Kafka punched the air, throwing jabs and hooks at nothing. “Dukin’ it out in fisticuffs over poor ol’ Ifrit. I just mean…”

“I don’t hate her,” Silence says softly.

Kafka gives her a skeptical glance.

“I didn’t think you knew anything about her, either,” says Silence. “What makes you think…”

“Nothin’, really,” says Kafka. She shrugs. “Maybe I was just havin’ one of those… flights of fancy, as they call it back home. A fool’s paradise. A pie in the sky. Wishful thinking.”

“That this was something that I wanted to see?” asks Silence.

Saria would have been a little conflicted wearing it, she thinks. In theory, Saria likes rules and regulations, takes comfort in knowing the difference between right and wrong, eschews ideas like moral relativism and the even more cynical nihilism. It would have been easy for her to pretend that she was OK with it.

Of course, the warden was corrupt. The entire facility was in the pocket of Rhine Lab. A prison was hardly a bastion of ethicality to begin with, but Mansfield had been even worse. It robbed the condemned of their legal protections and freedoms and made them into slaves of the state. Everything that was wrong with the justice system had had some hand in the creation of Mansfield Prison: the strange abundance of Rhine Lab equipment, the unchallenged tenure of its warden, the financial success of its factories, the source of the prison’s funding, and the destination of its profits. Money had had a hand in everything, and Saria would have known this.

So, Silence thinks, it’s less a badge of honor than it seems. It’s an artifact of late-stage capitalism, a plutocratic parody of everything that Saria holds dear. Private security for a private prison. Hired help for a criminal whose activities are condoned by the state. Mansfield is an elegant solution for the problems of the labor shortage and the abundance of prisoners alike. Its investors were probably lauded for their economic brilliance. Surely, it must be praised by pundits on national TV as they speak.

Columbia is a land of wealth and innovation, but the latter, Silence thinks, only happens for the sake of the former. Nothing there is untouched by the poisonous hand of greed.

“I mean, it ain’t a nice place, Mansfield Prison,” says Kafka. “But you know, I think when you look at it, you see a jailer, right? Someone who keeps the prisoners in. But when I see it…”

“What?” Silence asks.

“Well, y’ know, you see a Vouivre lady who’s in shape and a little tall, and you think, ‘Yeah, she’d be in charge of this type of place,’ but you know Saria, and I know Saria, and it’s funny, innit? Because you think, ‘Well, Saria’d want to keep the prisoners in too, ‘cause prisoners are bad people who deserve to be put in jail,’ but that ain’t what happened.” Kafka grins. “Everything about it makes sense on the surface, but at the same time, it doesn’t match the reality of why she was there. So… I was just curious whatcha thought, I guess. Kinda like a photoshoot, right?”

If it had been a photoshoot, Silence thinks, she would have been holding a pair of handcuffs or scowling at the camera or in the midst of removing her gloves—and she stops her train of thought there.

Fine. “We used to joke that if Saria were a little taller, she could go into modeling.” She’ll let Kafka have this much.

“Modelin’! Now that’d be a real sight.”

“She has the posture and the expression down, all right.” Silence looks away, hiding a smile. “And she can stand around for hours at a time doing nothing. It’s a very important skill.” In reality, of course, it isn’t that Saria’s doing nothing—she’s just disciplined enough to remain physically still while her mind stays active. There’s a lot going on under the surface.

“She’s got the face,” Kafka agrees, “but I didn’t really take her for the shameless type.”

That gives Silence pause.

Silence holds a kind of loyalty to her still—to keep all of her secrets, to remain silent about their former life together. What sort of person she is outside of work. What sort of person she wants to be. Partly out of respect for Saria herself, and partly out of respect for the relationship they had had. Betraying her memory of it would be denying a part of herself, and she’s been trying not to do that, lately.

“What do you think she’s like, then?” Silence asks.

“Not the type to play dress-up, at least.” She cocks her head, just like a crow. “Or is she?”

“Not for myself, at least. But for you? Anything.”

Silence smiles tightly. The Diαbolic Crisis, Saria’s resignation from Rhine Lab, the consequent death of her career… It’s all coming back.

“No,” she lies. “You’re right.”

“But do you like it?”

“Saria’s not the type to fuss over her appearance like that.”

“Well, then, if you don’t, then help me take it off.”

“She’s good at staying still, though.”

“Oh?” Kafka’s eyebrows rise.

“It’s an inherent trait of large, slow-moving mammals,” says Silence, before Kafka can say anything else, and before she can remember how quickly her own fingers used to work when she willed them. “She’ll do anything, really. She just needs the right reason.”

Kafka looks at her with clear, lucid eyes.

“Like some kind of super spy?”

She hadn’t thought of it that way.

“I suppose.” A romantic to the bitter end. “Don’t grow up to be like her,” Silence says. “I really do mean ‘anything.’”

“That’s kinda cool, though, right?” Kafka asks. “Like she’s unstoppable, or something.”

“To what end?” Silence looks at her.

“Yours, I guess.” She grins again. “Aw, shucks.” She turns on her heels, feigning a sigh and settling her hands on her thighs. “Guess you didn’t like my surprise after all. I get it, I get it,” she says, flapping a hand at Silence before she can say anything, “no taking pictures of people without their permission…”

“Is this a new hobby of yours,” Silence asks, “photography? Like, err, your gardening?”

“Hobby?” She doesn’t look like she’s thought of it.

“The picture you took of Saria and Jesselton was surprisingly well-done.”

“Oh,” says Kafka. “That. Naw, I just liked bein’ sneaky. Was probably just a fluke. Got all caught up in the heat of the moment, you know how it is.”

“It’s a shame.” Silence picks up the tablet again. “She looked…”

She doesn’t know how to say it. Saria isn’t the biggest fan of violence, especially not since the Incident, and Silence knows this isn’t the way she would want to be represented. Though sneaking around and betraying other people’s trust is another sort of violence, Silence supposes, so it’s all relative.

“She looked the way I remember her,” she finally says. Strong. Like she could carry the whole world on her shoulders. Not out of willingness, but out of duty. What she’s doing right now isn’t like her, but Silence doesn’t know how to tell her that—or whether she’ll ever tell her that. “I miss it.”

Kafka turns back around and beams. “Aw, really, doc? Then I’m definitely gonna pick it up. Real quick selfie!” She wraps an arm around Silence’s shoulders before she can protest and pulls a camera out of nowhere, holding it up at an angle and snapping a photo so suddenly the flash briefly blinds her.

Silence blinks the bright spots away. “Kafka—”

But she’s already gone, giggling as she sprints out of Silence’s room, long sleeves flapping behind her. The photo is on her tablet a second later—in it, Silence is squinting, and Kafka is slightly blurred. It’s exactly the sort of picture Kafka would take. Not quite an award winner yet.

Silence rubs her eyes and sends a message to Ptilopsis with the photo added as an attachment.

Can you put this on the server? she writes. After a moment, she zips the four photos Kafka sent her and attaches those, too. These too. Please don’t ask. Not in front of other people, at least.

Then she puts the tablet back down and takes a step back, letting the late afternoon sun wash over her through the slits in the blinds against the window.

“Don’t say ‘anything,’” she whispers under her breath.

“Fine, then,” Saria had said. “I won’t. What do you want me to say instead?”

“Whatever you wish.”

“Whatever ‘I’ wish?”

“It’s the same,” Silence had said. “My wish is yours.”

“And what is that?”

“You should already know.”

“Semantics,” she had scoffed. After a moment, she relented. “Help me set my limits, then. Since we both want the same thing.”

“Promise me you won’t let this project get between us.”

“That Sarkaz girl?”

“She has a name—”

“Then I’ll pretend she’s yours.”

“That doesn’t make anything simpler.”

“But if I do, and something happens…”

Silence turns away from her desk, shaking her head.

“Then I’ll find a way to make things right. That’s what you’re asking. Isn’t it? If not for you, then…”

“’Then for her,’” Silence says aloud.

“Wouldn’t that be enough?”

She couldn’t contradict her. Ifrit was a living being—a real human person. It had seemed sensible, at the time, to leave Ifrit in Saria’s hands. They’d been venturing into unknown territory. They hadn’t understood the risks of what they were doing, or the consequences of what they had done. Silence hadn’t, at least, but she’s beginning to suspect she was the only one. Perhaps that’s why they had let her leave with Ifrit. Perhaps they really hadn’t at all.

The room suddenly feels too big for one person. Silence picks up the tablet and carries it with her like it’s something precious. If she sincerely believes that Saria is doing the right thing—that her way is the only way, that without her they’ll have nothing—then she doubts she’ll be able to continue her work at all. Saria needs her ignorant for a reason, and it hurts. Maybe she’s just too afraid to face her head-on.

Silence leaves her room and shuffles out into the hallway.

“Kafka,” she sighs into the open air.

She’ll never find her this way, so she pulls out her phone and calls Ptilopsis.

“Ptilopsis,” she says, taking a deep breath, “so you remember how Closure gave you access to Rhodes Island’s security cameras that one time…”