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the dust has only just begun to fall

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Diana cried out and lurched forward when Carlos raised his weapon.  Phi stepped towards her, but Sigma was closer; he wrapped his arms around her from behind and held her tight.  She struggled against him briefly before going limp.  Nobody else was protesting, although Akane was staring at Carlos intently.  Phi saw Carlos nod, just barely, and she held up her hand.

“Wait!”  She turned to her father.  “Take her inside.”

Diana’s jaw dropped.  “No!  I – no!”

Sigma brought his lips to her ear and whispered something to her for several long moments.  She shook her head and started to cry.  He moved from behind to beside her, keeping one arm around her shoulders and holding her hand tightly.  He gave Delta a wide berth, leading Diana into Dcom, careful to keep his body between her and him.  The door closed behind them, solving one problem.

The second problem solved itself before Phi could even begin to come up with a plan.

“Shouldn’t Sean go in, too?” Mira asked. 

“Oh, yeah!  He’s just a kid!”

“He’s a robot, Eric,” Junpei said, disdain evident in his voice.

“It doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t need to see this.”  Mira held her ground, even though she looked like she was about to be ill.  It was understandable; the first SHIFT always sucked.

Akane chimed in.  “I think it’s a good idea.  Mira, Eric, can you take him inside?”

“Aw, come on, I want to watch this!”

“I’m not feeling well.”

Eric handled Mira's statement in typical fashion. By panicking. “Baby, are you okay?!”

“I just need some ginger ale or something to settle my stomach.”

Eric bent over and put one arm behind Mira’s shoulders and the other behind her knees, as if he was going to pick her up.  She just looked down at him with an annoyed look on her face.

“I can walk fine.”

He let out an embarrassed chuckle and rubbed the back of his head.  “Uh, yeah.  Well.  Let’s get inside.”

Mira went in first, followed by Sean and a slowly shuffling Eric.  Phi let out a sigh of relief.  She turned back to Carlos, who hadn’t seemed to have taken his eyes off Delta the entire time.  She braced herself, unsure if she would have to do anything to –

“Junpei?”  Akane held her hands over her heart.  “Someone should be inside to make sure they don’t run out here, no matter what.”

“Sigma can do that.”

“He has his hands full with Diana.  Please, Junpei.”

Phi tried to not let the confusion show on her face.  It seemed highly unlikely that anyone from Q-Team would be coming back out, so as long as Sigma kept a hold on Diana, there wouldn’t be a problem. 

Something flitted across Junpei’s face.

“It’s very important you keep everyone in there.  I’m counting on you. I know I can trust you with this.”

“Then come in with me,” he said as he cupped her face in his hands.  “Carlos can handle this.  You've seen enough death.”

She shook her head.  “I have to be here when this ends.  I'll be fine.” 

They argued like that for another minute or two, but he finally relented.  After he had disappeared into Dcom, throwing one last glance over his shoulder, Akane turned her attention to Phi.

“I’m staying.”

She made it clear in her tone that she would not budge.  She nodded to Akane, trying to let her know that she understood what was going on.  More to the point, at any moment, Delta could – if he hadn’t already – just read their minds to determine their plan.

It was time to get this show on the road.

While all of this had been going on around them, Carlos and Delta stood like statues, each with their eyes focused on the other. Delta seemed almost amused at the situation; Carlos just looked determined.

When Carlos fired, Phi jumped back, throwing her hands up in shock.  “The fuck?!”

Neither Akane nor Carlos responded to her.  They immediately ran over to where Delta lay in the dirt.  Carlos punched him in the face a few times and then shrugged off his shirt to hand to Akane. She bunched it up and pressed it to Delta’s shoulder.  Phi came closer and saw that his chest was free of wounds, and although Carlos’s punches had rendered the old man unconscious, he was still breathing.

“I knew it.”

Akane didn’t react, but Carlos looked up at her in surprise. “Wait, you knew we weren’t planning to kill him?”

“It makes no sense to kill him.  If he’s telling the truth about this religious fanatic, we need whatever information he has.”

The sudden sound of an approaching helicopter startled her.  Holding up a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, she tried to locate it.  It was coming over a mountain ridge and coming in fast

“Shit, who the fuck is that?” 

Phi had to shout to Akane to be audible over the sound of the blades whirring.  Rather than yell back, Akane came to her and put her head so close to Phi’s that their noses were touching.

“It’s just my brother.  He needs to get Delta out of here so the others don’t see him.  Celeste and Sayaka will be here soon to get us out.”

“Were you using the field to work this whole thing out with your brother while we were standing here?”

She nodded.  “I was hoping Carlos would understand what needed to be done.”

The conversation ended there as the helicopter landed, kicking dust up everywhere.  Carlos easily hauled Delta up and with Akane and Phi’s help, got him into the chopper.  A dark-skinned woman Phi didn’t recognize was in the backseat; she strapped Delta in and began tending to the bullet wound in his shoulder.  Phi pulled Akane aside.

“I thought you said your brother was on this thing.”

She smiled and pointed to the pilot.  Phi had only seen Aoi a couple times, so it took her a minute to recognize him under the helmet.  When she saw Delta was secure, Akane put her hand on her brother’s arm and said something Phi couldn’t make out.

The helicopter lifted off and headed back in the direction it came from.

“You said your brother was a stockbroker,” Phi said.

“He has many talents.”  Akane was still watching the sky, tracking Aoi until he disappeared.  She turned to Carlos.  “Two of my people will be here in about twenty minutes to take us out of here.”

Phi and Akane started walking towards Dcom, but Carlos stopped them.

“Hold up.  There’s one thing I don’t understand.”

One thing?”  Phi smirked at him.

“If you knew I wasn’t going to kill Delta, why did you tell Sigma to get Diana out of here?”

Her smile fell away.  “How do you think we’re going to get the information Delta has out of him?  Just ask nicely?  Diana can handle thinking he’s dead.  She’ll mourn, but she’ll get over it.  If she knows that Akane has him locked up somewhere, being … no need to mince words – being tortured … don’t you get it?  It’ll break her heart.”

“And you didn’t want Sigma to know so he wouldn’t have to lie to her,” Carlos said.

“Yeah.  What I don’t get is why you sent away Junpei.”  She turned to Akane, who looked as if she was deep in thought.  “Eric would run his mouth.  Mira – I don’t trust her as far as I can throw her.  And Sean may be a robot, but mentally, he’s still a kid who’s seen too much already.  Why –?”

“Because he’s also seen too much, Phi.”  A flash of anger crossed Akane’s face.  “He’s like Delta in a way – he’s seen so much ugliness that he’s … he’s … I don't want him going home and drinking himself into a stupor every day, trying to forget.  He doesn’t need to know about what must be done.”

“Akane…” Disapproval colored Carlos’s tone, but Akane didn’t let him finish.

“They have to be worried about what’s going on out here.  Junpei may not be able to hold back Sigma if he decides to investigate.  As far as those six are concerned, Delta is dead, and my brother just airlifted his corpse out of here to dispose of it. There should be just enough blood here to convince them.”

Phi agreed immediately but Carlos seemed to have reservations.

“We’re doing this to protect them, Carlos.”  Akane held her fist to her chest.  “You would do the same thing for your little sister.”

He hesitated, his gaze settling on the door to Dcom.

But only for a moment.

He took a deep breath and held out his hand, palm down.  As much as it seemed juvenile, Phi followed suit, putting hers on top of his.  Akane finally caught on and placed her hand over Phi’s. 

She would lie to her father.  She would hold her mother while she cried, insist that Delta didn’t suffer.    

It was a burden she could bear.