“What’s the point of this all?”
Lucia Fex stopped mid-keystroke, fingers poised above the keyboard to her sizable computer setup in the Burning Rescue base. The smallest member of Burning Rescue, head crowned by two bundles of blonde hair streaked with pink, Lucia spent a moment seemingly in thought, before flicking a finger against the head of the asker.
“Fun?” Heris Ardebit, seated beside Lucia at her station, rubbed at her forehead in the wake of the impact. “I thought... maybe you’d say something about your work still being good for rescue, or that we had no way of knowing if there’d be a future disaster that needs... all of this.” The wave of Heris’s hand indicated the wealth of schematics and concepts Lucia was working through, having dragged Heris from her temporary room in the Burning Rescue base to lend a hand. Lucia considered, unwrapping a lollipop and sticking it in her mouth, the stick flicking up and down as she ran her tongue around it.
“Yeah I guess,” the engineer shrugged. “No that’s real. But it’s not the real point. Not to me.”
“Yeah! Fun!” Lucia turned her chair to face Heris properly, lollipop stick still flipping up and down and side to side in her mouth. “It’s like, your mind is full of all these amazing ideas trying to take shape, bumping up against each other, trying to become real. You’re thinking about it constantly, it’s filling up your head more and more and then-” with a snap of her wrist Lucia clicked her fingers right before Heris’s face, startling the pink-haired woman once more, “a spark!” Lucia grinned. “Then it’s alive in your head and you have to make it real as soon as you can. You know what to do, you know how to make it, and it feels amazing to do so. To make it real. Doesn’t that sound like fun to you?”
“I... suppose.” The long draw of the word from Heris caused Lucia’s excited smile to drop a little. She frowned.
“You’ve really never felt that?”
The silence from Heris, deafening.
“Well, plenty of time to start.”
Except, Heris knew, not really.
She had little time left at all.
The trial of Kray Foresight was an open and shut case, resolved decisively and without delay. In the days following the Second Great World Blaze, as the citizens of Promepolis picked up the pieces of their city and looked to what came next, those responsible for the events of that day were each named and given appropriate reward.
For Galo Thymos and Lio Fotia, recognition. Their presence, their burning hearts, were felt in the flames that washed across the world yet seared no flesh, the names and actions of those two on that day spreading to all corners of the globe. They were heroes.
For Kray Foresight however, judgement and justice were his given due. He did not object, did not complain, did not offer anything in the form of defense for himself. With his own ambitions destroyed, and humanity brought to salvation by actions not his own, there was little left inside the once proud and respected governor of Promepolis. He consented to his conviction and arrest without a word.
Heris Ardebit, called to testify amongst the many, believed her own trial would run similar. The world was safe. Aina... was safe. What was left for Heris now? She’d sold her soul to the devil to protect her sister and now the danger was gone. Not in the way she had intended - indeed nothing Heris had done had helped, only hurt - but it was done. So she should face justice now too. Let everyone else say what they want, about manipulation, about cajoling and being used, the fact of the matter was that it was still Heris’s hands all over the experiments, from beginning to end. It was still her who started that engine - from which not all the imprisoned Burnish emerged.
It was still she, in her own mind, who had killed them all with her own two hands.
The date for her trial was given as three weeks. There was no judgement before that, she was not told the result was already decided, but Heris knew in her heart how it would go. Sent to a cell, just as Kray had been. It had to end that way. It wouldn’t be right if it didn’t. For anyone.
The first few days were easy, as manically busy as they were. Just as Biar Colossus, former secretary to the former Governor of Promepolis, had been tasked to redistribute the political and business powers Kray had kept to newly nominated councils - her own trial for her presence and actions upcoming as well - so was Heris required to organise the transfer of the Foresight Foundation’s work to new channels too. Her work within the laboratories Kray owned, the technology Heris had created and inherited, all of that needed to be passed on. Everything that could be used to rebuild the city - all the work behind the Centauri Terraformer, or ‘Krayzor-X’ as Galo insisted it be referred, for example - anything that could help, Heris had to get out there. And so she did.
Five days passed easily with Heris sleeping in exhausted bursts within the lab’s confines. And then on the fifth day there was nothing left to do.
Time for her to move on.
Her home was gone. Destroyed as so many were by the battle that fateful day. Once employed by the Foresight Foundation, Heris had been moved into the inner buildings of Promepolis, the ones built upon the Parnassus, the ark that would have risen into the sky, into the stars, and fled this burning earth for a new home. But all of that was gone now. What remained used as staging grounds for the city’s rebuild, and housing for the former Burnish left without home or safety by Kray Foresight’s actions.
Yet little time was Heris given to consider her now homelessness. For at her side in moments, the one who had been waiting for her all this time, the one to offer Heris a new place to stay was...
Aina Ardebit. Aina, Heris’s younger sister, with hair a more potent pink, and build far more muscular as a member of Burning Rescue than the scientist Heris was could ever be. A little taller, and a lot more vibrant, Aina was the single person in the world that Heris loved most. Would do anything for. If this all happened again, if the only choice to save Aina’s life was to sell the lives of billions, some through horrendous pain, even though Aina would loathe Heris for doing it, would she still?
Yes. And that was another reason her trial, judgement, and condemnation could not come soon enough.
Heris could not bring herself to stay in Aina’s home. Aina understood immediately, claiming the place was rather small. But of course that was not the reason. It was Heris who was the problem, Heris who could not allow a person as twisted as her to remain so close to the sister she loved. How long had Heris kept her distance before, immersing herself in her job, pretending that the work she was doing for Aina’s salvation would not revolt her so? And now, knowing what Heris had done, Aina, her heart so loving and kind, still offered Heris a place by her side?
Unacceptable. The feeling of sickness Heris felt, watching Aina associate with someone as wicked as her, she could not allow. Would do all she could so that Aina no longer had to witness her sinful sister so.
It was the best thing Heris could do for her now.
Aina, unaware of these thoughts, rounded on Heris with a wide grin. If Heris needed some room to stay, at least until they could get her a new home, Burning Rescue had plenty to spare!
Burning Rescue, firefighting force of Promepolis. The heroes of the city who’d appeared at every Burnish incident, saving all caught within and opposing the Burnish running wild. Burning Rescue, who’d helped save the world. Though the Burnish were no more - the Promare disconnected from them and this world - there was still a need for the people of this noble rescue force.
Firstly, rescue and repair. In the weeks following the Second Great World Blaze Promepolis remained unstable, deep structural damage spread throughout the city by the battles of that day and the seismic activity that almost broke the world. Buildings were on the verge of collapse everywhere. And the systems spread throughout the city, once designed to stop eruptions of flame, now ironically themselves combusted with ease. There was always somewhere needing rescue and relief. And so Burning Rescue remained busy each day.
That was the easy part.
The second, and far more distressing for all, were the acts of arson that still continued on. Once it had been by the Burnish, often not of their own intent, that fire burned. Now it was those who had lost homes, lost loved ones, to the flame that sought their own justice from the former-Burnish they blamed. The claim of those Burnish that there was no more fire within? Some of the most twisted, the most hateful, acting upon decades of prejudice instilled, took that as a challenge.
Brought fire to them and demanded they still burn.
And still others, members of the former Burnish, embraced the flame all the same. Felt their disconnect too harshly, longed to return to the heat and the burn. Stoked it. Burned the world around them. Burned themselves. Between those committing crimes of hate each day, and those so desperate to rekindle the flame that they set their own lives alight, there was no peace for Burning Rescue to find. Not yet.
Every day more to do.
Heris considered it. How easily she had distanced herself from paying attention to the suffering of the Burnish before. Even when it was right in front of her. That today, hearing of their pain and suffering made her heart ache, what did it really matter compared to what she had done before? There were no amends she could make.
She needed to be judged.
Yet none of Burning Rescue pointed any fingers at all.
Ignis Ex, captain and trusted leader, accepted Aina’s request for Heris to be granted accommodation. “For as long as it takes new residence to become available for you,” he stated. Heris was quick, once Aina was out of earshot, to remark that her new residence should be a cell in just over two weeks. A “hmm” was all she received from Ignis for saying that.
Remi Puguna, Burning Rescue’s lieutenant, had little to say on the matter. Accepted her presence with a nod alone. Varys Truss, the giant of a man who always lifted others up when they were in need, said many nice things about Aina - embarrassing Heris’s sister so - and endearing himself to Heris in the process. She felt far more welcomed by praise of Aina than acceptance of her.
Lucia Fex, mechanic and inventor behind Burning Rescue, was the other permanent resident of the station. She had her own direct interests, always working on her own projects, and Heris understood and respected that immediately. Left the woman all the room she could ask for and bundled herself into corners to keep out of the way. It had taken five days for Heris to complete her work transferring all she could from Foresight Industries to Promepolis at large. On the evening of the fifth day Aina had brought her to the Burning Rescue station.
The next morning, Heris breathed out and counted sixteen days remaining. Then it would be over.
It could all finally come to an end.
Galo Thymos, loud, brash, remarkably stupid in so many ways according to all of his coworkers, and known saviour of the world. Well, part of the pair to do so, specifically. Of course Galo still made his work as part of Burning Rescue, he lived for it. But often he was out of the station as well. Alongside Lio Fotia, former leader of Mad Burnish, second half of the pair behind the Second Great World Blaze - the conflagration that burned no flesh but every heart; that allowed the connection to the Promare to finally close - Galo worked tirelessly in helping smooth things along.
Publically, he was beloved. Even before all of this, just as a member of Burning Rescue, Galo’s raw charisma and heroism in the field of duty had drawn attention to him. And in the wake of the Second Blaze his actions had become all the more known. Thanks to that, Galo was able to help, so much, smooth the relations between the former Burnish, the displaced and abandoned who’d taken camp in the inner rubble of Promepolis after their release from the engine made by Heris’s hands - the engine that killed so many of them, their bodies turned to ash, scattered to the wind as you stood there and watched them burn - and the rest of the city beyond. The struggle was still great, but with a smile and a burning heart Galo took to it the same way he would any fire to be put out. Inspiring, truly.
Heris found him overwhelming. For all she had done to him - left him in that cell, lied to Aina about what he had done - still Galo greeted her with a smile. Didn’t flinch away at the sight of her in the Burning Rescue station, the place that she knew she decidedly did not belong. Why did all of them accept her so easily?
Why did they let it go?
The first time Galo returned to the station with Lio alongside, the look the young former leader of Mad Burnish gave Heris was the first of any to give the woman a sense of relief. Lio didn’t yell. Didn’t rage. Didn’t ask for her to be thrown out upon the street. But his eyes were cold. The slight twitch of his lip was clear. The recognition of who she was - what she’d done - was obvious. Finally. Finally someone who should judge her was doing so. To see Lio look at her that way, Heris truly felt relief. Yes, she would be judged. Yes, she would face justice. Lio wouldn’t let it rest until she did.
Her nature as a coward who took the easy way out of problems, who let others push her around: even now Heris was relying upon it. For others to take the duty of judging her, for making her pay, so that she did not have to herself. And yes, Heris loathed that part of her, she loathed so much about herself, but she did not change. Remained in that loathing, counting down the days. Sixteen. Fifteen. Fourteen. Soon enough.
Soon enough it would all be done.
The loud cry of frustration from Lucia was neither the first Heris had heard since beginning her stay at the Burning Rescue station, nor would be the last, she fully believed. The intensity by which the mechanic of Burning Rescue took to her work was enviable, but the noises of frustration when one piece of it all just didn’t line up were ones Heris understood well. She may have been quieter in expressing it, but she’d been there before many times as well.
Lucia, spinning in her chair to put her back to the massive computer terminal she worked at, stopped at the sight of Heris sitting quietly on the opposite couch with a coffee in hand. There really wasn’t much at all for Heris to do since moving here, so mostly she was just existing. Trying not to get in the way.
Lucia, bounding to her feet, pointed with all the drama and accusation she could muster. Surprisingly a lot.
Jolting, Heris almost spilled her drink, watching as Lucia marched across the room, lab coat swirling with exactly the kind of flair someone trying to make it flare would get. Grabbing Heris by the arm - Heris quick enough to spot the signs and set her coffee down - Lucia tugged ineffectually, were it not for Heris’s complete lack of resistance, pulling the taller woman across the room over to the computer station.
“Take a look at this!”
Basically forcing Heris into the chair, Lucia spun it around so Heris was facing the terminals, Vinny - the extremely well fed and concerningly intelligent-seeming rat that lived in the station and hung around Lucia at all times - looking over from napping atop the monitor block before yawning and returning to sleep.
Heris focused on the screen.
Lucia Fex’s work was interesting, in a distressing way. She’d taken the standardised equipment of Burning Rescue - provided by the Foresight Foundation - and then gone above and beyond in every direction, creating countless new inventions of every form - from modular robotic suits for the members to advanced anti-Burnish systems for handling their flames. And even now showed no signs of stopping her work at all.
She was brilliant, certainly, but it was a mad genius kind of brilliant, with far more emphasis on the mad than anything else. Just looking over the specs and notes Lucia had on screen was making Heris’s head spin. The kind of rigorous testing and approval systems she was used to would take months to approve even a fraction of Lucia’s work, yet the engineer was clearly planning to have it all out the door before the week was up.
Honestly, the only reason the other members of Burning Rescue trusted Lucia’s work as much as they did had to be that they didn’t understand how terrifyingly touch-and-go it was at all times.
Lucia jabbed a finger at one part of the screen.
“Why’s this not working?!”
Being demanded of and directed was easy for Heris. Surrender control, surrender opinion, just do what you’re told. Don’t think about it. Just do. So easy. She looked. Considered. Ah, of course.
“The average temperature has dropped after the Second Great World Blaze. You’re still using the previous average for calculation.”
With a splutter Lucia half-clambered over Heris, who consented to sit there as an elbow nearly caught her in the face while the smaller spindly woman bent at an awkward angle to get at the keyboard Heris sat before. Between tapping away at that, and flipping between the many screens active across the entire setup, the whole affair lasted a good minute before Lucia finally returned her feet to the ground.
With a huff, the blonde with pink-streaks haired woman tapped her foot, staring at Heris, until Heris finally realised and quickly got up from the chair, surrendering it back to Lucia’s claim. Spinning around in it once, Lucia set back to the keyboard properly, and in moments was once more typing up a storm.
Clearly dismissed, Heris returned to the couch and her coffee.
Halfway across the room, a “thanks” wafted from the busily working engineer to Heris’s ears.
Despite herself, Heris smiled.
Lucia made a habit of calling on Heris after that. At first it was checking calculations - since Heris was good at that, Lucia claimed - but pretty soon it became obvious to Heris that Lucia just wanted to show off. Having someone that could actually understand properly what she was doing and why it was so impressive was a new experience for the mechanic of Burning Rescue, and she was revelling in getting the opportunity. Heris, for her part, tried to be kind while honest.
“It’s impressive you made that work considering how risky it is” was a common sentiment. Lucia took it as a high compliment every time.
But as the days passed by Heris found her curiosity building more and more. The intense drive of Lucia, the incredible work she was giving her all to create, Heris could not help but question it. The Promare were gone. The Burnish no more. Of course there was still work for Burning Rescue but... the scale of before was fading day by day. Yet still Lucia seemed obsessed with making her machines bigger and better, more iterations of the robots she managed, more chasing a greater form.
Why? What was the point? Heris had wondered that so many times.
Three days after she’d begun working with Lucia, finally she mustered the courage to ask.
The answer from Lucia, and the discussion to follow, haunted Heris over the days to come. If things had been different for her, if she’d made better choices in life, if she hadn’t accepted the deal that she had, could Heris have felt that way too? ‘Fun’? Her work had never felt like that at all. Not even once.
And now, she was sure, it never would.
Screaming twisted voices, echoing around her, circling and spinning, crashing as a wave. Pushing her down. Drowning her.
She couldn’t breathe.
Heris woke hard, gasping for air, skin slick with sweat. The visceral nightmare, the sound of a thousand voices in pain, it was not the first night nor, Heris knew, would be the last. But the pounding of her heart, the ragged breathing as her chest heaved, it felt... worse.
If it one day killed her, she was sure it would be deserved.
They’d always screamed. Every time the engine started, every time the Burnish spun, they screamed. The first time, Heris had split her lip with how hard she bit it to hold herself back. By the end... it was just noise. Noise she was used to.
When the Parnassus’s engine started, when a thousand voices screamed out in pain, Heris... just stood there. Focused on what she had to do. What it took.
That was over now. But she still heard the screams.
She didn’t think they’d ever go away.
The lights in the Burning Rescue base were on, but even at this late hour that was no surprise. Lucia, who lived here full time as well, kept hours that frankly made no sense, Heris entirely unsure when the smaller woman slept. It seemed she was always at her station no matter the time of day or night. Having emerged to the larger main room of the base, less stuffy than the room she’d been so kindly given, Heris stood there breathing in the air, the tapping of Lucia’s fingers on her keyboard rhythmic in the background.
Heris ran a hand across her forehead, feeling it come away wet. The sweat from her nightmare still heavy. She’d need a shower.
Lucia’s voice rose up.
“Hey Heris, come look at this.”
The summons from Lucia came without the woman ever turning around to face her, Lucia somehow picking up on Heris’s presence even through her intense work focus. Vinny was clearly deeply asleep, lying atop the monitor stack, so Heris wasn’t entirely sure how Lucia had noticed at all.
Heris walked over to join her.
“Check it out.” As Lucia reached over to grasp Heris’s arm once it was within range, Heris considered how quickly she’d adapted to Lucia’s surprisingly hands-on personality. All of Burning Rescue seemed used to Lucia slinging herself over their shoulders, or pushing them around into the places she needed them to be. Lucia guided Heris’s hand to walk her through what she had on screen.
The next design iteration of Lucia Fex’s work on the Burning Rescue machines involved large-scale combination, something she’d discussed wanting before but not yet having figured out. Questioning why Lucia was so invested in making such a thing only earned Heris the reply that “things are always better when they combine”. Heris didn’t really understand what that meant. “Also it’s fun!” Another thing Heris still struggled with. ‘Fun’. She doubted she’d ever feel that way at all.
Was Lucia showing off, having Heris look over all she’d done? Of course. But the numbers for it weren’t yet complete. Not everything in place. It looked complex. Heris spotted a blank to fill in.
“Here”, she took the initiative, describing what she thought, Lucia following through on transcribing it and using it as a starting point to continue her own work. It was late, the depth of the night, but all too soon both women had large mugs of coffee and their eyes riveted on the screen. It was... interesting, Heris found herself unable to deny. Fascinating. The way it flowed together, the way the pieces came into shape. Fun, the voice of Lucia whispered in the back of Heris’s pink-haired head.
Heris pushed the voice down before it could tempt her further still.
Though nightmares followed Heris still, each time she emerged from her room there was Lucia, working away, and always happy to have Heris by her side. The distraction, the thing to focus on that took all of her mind, Heris valued it deeply, collapsing into dreamless sleep in the first hours of sunlight each following morn.
Lucia was talkative, as she worked, even when not discussing the work itself. When there was less collaboration, more watching Lucia putting the pieces of her puzzle into place, Heris still found herself entertained by the mechanic’s motor-mouth.
The stories Lucia had to tell of Burning Rescue, Heris quickly learned much about each member seen from Lucia’s eyes, and found her respect for each multiplying with knowing just how they were. Yet Lucia was the type to hold nothing back, and told as many stories embarrassing as heroic. The amount of times she left Heris clutching at her stomach in laughter, Lucia delightedly recounting another story of the antics her fellows of Burning Rescue got up to, Heris truly lost count of after a while. Came to rely on these nights with Lucia to settle her heart, even going right to Lucia’s side when the evening came, and chasing sleep only after her time with the mechanic had truly worn Heris out.
In quiet times when her thoughts could still hold her down, Heris could not hide from the knowledge that she was running away, using Lucia to mask the pain of her sins, seeking to escape from remembering them in darkness and dreams.
But that was fine. Her judgement came closer day by day. She was not running from that.
It would all be over soon enough.
Yet during the day when the sun was high, Heris smiled and laughed enough for no-one to notice her counting down the days at all. Aina, always happy for Heris to be living so close by, was around her sister as often as she could be, though complained repeatedly of Heris’s strange sleeping hours since her sister had begun working with Lucia more often than not.
Watching the members of Burning Rescue come and go each day, out on the job or spending moments at rest back at the base, Heris came to observe them and corroborate how Lucia had described them before.
Ignis, Heris learned more day by day, was truly the core of Burning Rescue, keeping everything going in everything he did. Varys was a staunch supporter of anything anyone tried to do, his presence surprisingly grounding for his own impactful appearance. Aina held great drive for her work, allowing her to be relied upon to do what she did with the least direction, while Galo was always expected to make a show of everything, but in an effective way all the same.
Remi, the quietest member of Burning Rescue, Heris never quite proved able to match to the way Lucia described him. In Lucia’s words Remi had a savagely sharp tongue, and just as much intensity and burning passion as anyone else in the base when push came to shove. Maybe it was just that she only ever saw him here, but Heris just couldn’t put that description and the way Remi acted around her together.
The closest she came to understanding was late one evening, working by Lucia’s side, each having pulled chairs up to the computer station. The doors of the Burning Rescue base opened, but honestly the most telling announcement of someone arriving was the smell.
Lucia pinched her nose as she rounded on the one to appear.
“Remi you smell like a sewer.”
“Yep.” Came the simple response from the teal-haired man marching across the room. Heris glanced back at Lucia to see a grin spread across her face.
“How’s she doing? Still fine?”
That was as much of the interaction before Remi had left the room, heading to the showers himself. Heris gave Lucia a quizzical gaze. Lucia turned her eyes back on Heris.
“You remember that Burnish explosion at Foresight Genetics earlier in the year?”
A chemical disaster, Heris knew, even if she wasn’t involved in the cleanup or study of possible effects.
“Buncha people got turned into different animals by it, including one of our own. Remi’s been keeping an eye on her until we can get her back.”
“Huh.” It wasn’t like that was outside the realm of possibility for the science of the day, Heris supposed, but it was still a strange thing to hear. Her wandering glance to the movement of a small creature seated upon Lucia’s shoulder prompted a quick thought to form in Heris’s mind.
“Is that what happened to Vinny too?”
Lucia tilted her head. “Huh? No, Vinny’s just a rat.”
The days continued peacefully for Heris, working with Lucia helping her avoid the loose thoughts in her head. But when the days before her trial numbered only seven left to go, Heris’s temporary peace was shattered as Aina took it onto herself to arrange Heris’s care. The lawyer brought to the Burning Rescue base to see her Heris politely but firmly asked to leave.
“Come on, Sis!” Aina’s loud complaint after their exit drew note from the other members of Burning Rescue, but all kept their distance during this family argument. Heris shook her head.
“I have no intention of disputing the judgement passed down.”
“And just ending up in a cell?”
“It is what is right.”
“It’s not right!” Aina’s snap was loud, her displeasure clear. “I don’t want you gone!”
“Aina,” Heris spoke calmly in response, none of the emotion in the air her own. “Would you ask Lio to forgive what I have done?”
Aina paused, mouth open.
“Or any of the Burnish? Or the ashes of the ones who died?”
“I am responsible for my decisions. I did not go against Kray’s plan. Just like him, I must be tried. I must.”
“Please stop trying to go away.” So much despair in Aina’s voice now. Heris hated to hear it. To know what she was doing to her sister. But, the voice in Heris’s own head said louder, you who would destroy so many for her must no longer be here. Or you’ll just hurt her, again and again.
As before, Heris ignored Aina’s wishes and set out to protect her in a way Aina would never accept.
“Aina,” Heris raised her hands, reaching to her sister’s shoulders. Aina stepped back, shaking her head. Heris’s arms remained where they were, for a moment, before dropping to her side. “Please let this go.”
“I don’t want to let you go.”
Aina’s response came with her exit, the younger woman turning and storming out of the Burning Rescue base, the sound of a motorbike roaring down the street moments later. Heris, ignoring how her hands were shaking, turned to see Lucia across the room, the mechanic facing away from her screens. Eye contact lasted a long moment between them indeed.
“Nothing,” Lucia spun back around, the sharpness of Heris’s voice so obviously a mirror of her sister’s. “Nothing at all.”
Aina did not return until later that day, prepared for another argument with Heris that Heris walked directly away from. She had no intention of changing her mind. No intention of backing down from what came next. It was only late in the night, late enough that everyone not staying at the base would have gone home, that Heris returned from her idle wandering of the city. Her thoughts full of what would come next alone.
Lucia, ever awake, waved Heris to join her once more.
Heris did so, used to the act, without a second thought.
Another long night, this one more than most, the sun already rising the next morning as, bags heavy under their eyes, Lucia and Heris stretched and yawned. Progress on this system of Lucia’s design was good. A part of Heris longed to see it complete. But...
“That was good.” Lucia said it with a smile, grinning at Heris. “Did you have fun?”
Long was the pause from Heris before, slowly, she nodded, Lucia’s grin widening at the act.
“We should do it again then.”
Immediately the expression, the tired grin on Lucia’s face, changed to something angry. Heris stepped back in surprise.
“Come on!” Lucia’s yell was loud, startling the sleeping Vinny awake, the shorter blonde and pink-haired woman stepping in close, closing the distance Heris was attempting to create. “You’re good at this! You’re good at making things that make things better! Isn’t that enough of a reason to keep going? Can’t you apologise by doing that instead of... of running away to a cell where you’ll have those nightmares without anyone to go to?”
So Lucia knew. Heris breathed in deep.
“If I am allowed to go free-”
“Screw that!” It was the angriest Heris had ever heard Lucia before. It startled her to realise how much it hurt to hear. “I don’t accept it! Aina doesn’t accept it! You’re not going to make anyone feel better doing this! Not me! Not her! Not you! Not anyone who died! And not anyone who didn’t! Think about it! Everything you can do that can help people, everything you can make that can save lives, if you go away you’ll take everything you could have done to make things better with you. Even more people will suffer! Isn’t the best thing to do to keep going on?!”
“It’s not!” The yell from Heris was the first, the first time emotions not calm acceptance burst forth from her chest. The feelings inside of her boiling over at long last. “I chose to let all of those people die, everyone in the world die, just to save Aina! You all saying I can come back from that, I can apologise by saving lives, I’m not like you all! I’m not a good person! I can’t be a good person! I’m just the one who selfishly decided if I could save one person it didn’t matter who else I hurt! There’s nothing else! Nothing!”
The pitch of Heris’s voice reached its peak.
“I can’t come back from that choice!”
Lucia, shaking too, stared at Heris, expression so angry. So furious at Heris’s words. Well Heris felt the anger at herself too. She’d felt it from long before that fateful day.
She turned on the ball of her foot.
“I’m going out.”
Heris did not return that day. Or the next. Aina, who’d failed to convince her sister to return, admitted at last to the others that Heris had returned to the lab she’d left before, setting up in there to wait out the days until her trial. Chosen to isolate herself until then.
Just hearing that made Lucia madder than ever before.
Ignis, quick to see the need, called round table on the topic. Gathered the Burning Rescue team - plus one - around a truly impressive amount of pizza. And set to the conversation they needed to have.
The first to speak, once she’d had enough to both calm down and charge up, Aina made her intent clear.
“I don’t want Heris to end up in a cell.”
“Sounds like she does,” Remi’s immediate response was crushing. Ignis closed one pizza box and opened another.
“She’s not wrong to say she should be judged.”
“I know that but-”
“She’s been working with you, hasn’t she?” Varys’s question, aimed at Lucia, drew a mutter from the smallest member of Burning Rescue. Lucia’s mood had been poor ever since Heris left.
“Galo, what do you think?”
Asked by Aina, Galo paused with a slice of pizza halfway to his mouth. Spent a moment glancing to his side where Lio was seated, stance wide. The former leader of Mad Burnish gave Galo a look but whatever it communicated no-one else could understand.
“Sounds like she’s only going to accept the judgement she wants.” Galo had been in and out of Burning Rescue constantly over the past weeks, and his interactions with Heris had been slim. Aina had taken the time to talk to him about her, to try and make sure Galo wasn’t upset with Heris being there, but the most he said was that it seemed Lucia was keeping her busy. That much they all knew.
Lio, quiet on the topic - leaving it as Burning Rescue discussion alone - matched Lucia’s wandering gaze. Startled at being caught abstaining from the conversation, Lucia glanced away from Lio. Somehow she couldn’t help but feel judged being seen so.
“I’m sure she can make amends by actually working to make things better!” Aina’s insistence was clear. Various noises of thought emerged from those occupied with their food.
“She has to want to though.” Remi’s reply offered little Aina could say in response. No-one else had anything to say either. Lio, keeping a quiet gaze, watched Lucia slip away from the group and take her leave.
“Hey! Heris! Hey!”
The banging of fist upon door echoed loud, Lucia having made her way into the lab complex Heris was apparently camping within. Sooner or later someone would come to investigate this disturbance though, so time was tight. No answer? Fine then. Lucia had prepared for that too.
Raising one of the Freeze Guns used by Burning Rescue, Lucia quite literally iced the hinges of the door, watching with a grin as they shattered and the door fell inwards. There we go.
Stepping inside the dark room, illuminated only by monitors on the far side, Lucia’s eyes locked onto the form seated before them all. Bingo.
Heris, already staring at where the door had fallen in, jumped in her seat at Lucia’s loud call, attempting to rise from her chair as the tiny woman with towering intent stormed through the room. Before Heris could even make it to her feet, Lucia had already closed the distance. A hand on each shoulder pushed Heris back down, preventing her from moving, Lucia’s face coming intensely close to her own as the back of Heris’s chair bumped up against the computer desk.
Nowhere to run this time.
“I am sick of you!” Lucia’s eyes were all but aflame, burning into Heris’s own. “Sick of this!” A hand jerked and waved through the air, before coming down hard again on Heris’s shoulder, Lucia’s stare never wavering. “Sick of thinking about you just lying down and not even trying to do anything, not even caring about anything but yourself and your stupid idiot punishment! You’re selfish! You only care about yourself! You refuse to even think about helping anyone if you can avoid it! All you want is for someone to tell you you’re a bad person and that they’re going to punish you for it!”
Heris’s eyes were wide. Lucia’s were unblinking.
“Well guess what that’s me! I’m the one who’s going to tell you that you messed up, you made things worse, and now you’ve gotta pay for it! You’ve gotta take yourself and go make things better; you’ve gotta save a hundred lives for every one that died! No, a thousand! You’ve gotta live doing things to apologise, not just sitting in a dark box like this feeling sorry for yourself! I’m your warden now! I’m the one who’s telling you what’s what if you’re not going to! So first of all you are getting a defense for your trial and you are not going to end up in jail! Okay? Got it? Are you listening to me Heris Ardebit?”
The silence, broken only by Lucia’s heaving breaths, having just put out exactly what had been boiling in her mind since her argument with Heris before, lasted long between them. Heris... was still just wide-eyed. She didn’t seem particularly upset, so much as just stunned.
Eventually she managed an answer. A single word and a nod.
Lucia, taking - for her - surprisingly long to parse that, felt her own eyes widen at Heris’s response. Felt her shaking body lose a bit of focus and her tight grip on Heris’s shoulders give in. Heris raised her arms before Lucia could drop fully to the floor, holding her up as all the tension drained out of the mechanic’s body. Lucia was suddenly very exhausted, after marching all the way here. She’d definitely gone above and beyond her usual on raw intensity today.
The silence held a little longer before Heris finally spoke, turning her head from Lucia’s stare to look at the monitor screens she was seated before.
“You were right. I was mad about it because you were right, so I came here to stop thinking about it. But I couldn’t. So I tried to distract myself. Lucia, look.”
Lucia looked. Took in the screens at last, the vast array of schematics across them. They were... calculations and designs for combination systems. Heris reproducing and improving on what they’d come up with before. Detailed too. Looked like they’d work. Immediately a part of Lucia’s mind starting thinking about how she’d apply them, and what she could improve on further still.
This was... good.
“You-” pulling herself up by the shoulder she was hanging onto, Lucia squeezed herself in to share Heris’s chair, leaning forward to get a closer look at the screen. To get at the keyboard and begin checking it all out. This was...
“I...” Heris paused on saying it, before shaking her head and continuing, her hair brushing against the side of Lucia’s face. “I wanted something to do to not think about it but... this was... fun. I liked doing this. And I couldn’t stop thinking about how you said I should be helping people. If I can do this... and help people... that’s better. Right?”
“Right!” Lucia grinned wide, relief pulsing through her chest at Heris’s words. This was absolutely what she’d wanted to hear. She couldn’t even believe how happy this made her. Lucia stared at the screen. At the work Heris had done. “I gotta say, Heris, you really got into this, huh? It’s... kind of amazing. I bet the two of us could do anything if we tried!”
“Well...” Heris drew out the word again. “It’s like you said.” Lucia’s head turned to look Heris in the eyes. Faces so close together. “I just...” Heris blinked slowly. “It was all I could think about. Filling up my head. And then-” another pause. Heris’s eyes staring into Lucia’s. Lucia’s back into her own. She knew.
They both knew.
How had their faces come so close together, that the speaking of that word, both at the same time, caused their lips to brush? The contact, the sensation, made both freeze, not even realising how this position had come about. Pressed so close together, squeezed into this chair. Eyes meeting. Faces the barest distance apart.
Their thoughts filling up more and more.
Lucia did not hold herself back from pressing her lips forward against Heris’s a second time.
Neither did Heris resist.
As Lucia had said so clearly before, it was always better when things combined.
So it would be with the two of them too.
The trial of Heris Ardebit was far less attended than that of Kray Foresight, yet in calibre of testimony those attending held equal weight. First came Biar Colossus, her own trial as an individual fully aware of the former Governor’s actions due later still. Biar’s assistance in the transfer of power from the Foresight Foundation, as well as starkness regarding her involvement and observations, had earned her some good will, but the timer existed for her as well.
To Heris’s surprise, Biar outlined a timeline of manipulation and small prompts provided by Kray to weaken Heris’s initial resistance to the use of Burnish for the warp drive. That Heris made the decision was inarguable but, Biar volunteered, the state of mind Heris made the decision in was questionable. Heris had spoken little with the secretary of Kray, basically none outside of work-topics, so to hear Biar speak in such a way now truly proved a shock.
The greater came when, after the testimony of Galo - who had been witness to Heris’s involvement firsthand - the next called to give statement was Lio Fotia himself.
“Heris Ardebit served as the main architect behind the Burnish Warp Drive, which resulted in the deaths of many Burnish individuals. She maintained the use of the Drive despite knowing this, and personally oversaw a number of those deaths herself.”
The truth of it was raw. Heris felt her heart hurt hearing it. But it was true. Every word Lio spoke was true.
“Despite the arguments presented for her situation at the time, she still made a decision herself that took lives. It is essential that this be addressed.”
Heris kept her head down, accepting the words. Of everyone in the whole world, Lio was the one most deserving to say such to her. He was right to. Aina, seated in the gallery, had her knuckles pressed white against her legs.
“The judgement of Kray Foresight was made based on both his actions and statements in this court. The man held no intention of making reparations. I was there when that judgement was handed down.”
Heris was too. Kray fully stated that he had made his decision believing it to be the best course of action, and whoever might call it wrong, it was still his decision to own. For Heris... well it was the same, wasn’t it? She’d made her decision believing it was best - for Aina, not the world, remember that, you did it for Aina alone - so her judgement should be the same. Lio breathed out.
“These are the facts I can give based on being asked to come here. However, there is one other thing.” The shift of paper. Lio’s eyes scanning the sheet he had been given. “I have been asked to read the following statement by Lucia Fex of Burning Rescue.”
Heris’s eyes shot up, staring at Lio in the witness stand. Wait, what was-
“Heris Ardebit is both very stupid and very smart,” Lio spoke clearly, recounting word for word what Lucia had provided. “But the most important thing I’ve seen is that she cares. She cares about what she did wrong. She cares about making amends. She cares about apologising for it. So please make her apologise in a way that means something. So she can actually make up for what she did.” Lio spent a moment silent before speaking as himself once more.
“Cosigned by Ignis Ex, captain of Burning Rescue, is a request for Heris Ardebit’s judgement to be her assignment to Burning Rescue as an assistant engineer under Lucia Fex, to assist with the on-going rescue and repair of Promepolis, and from there be transferred to rebuild operations as a managed member of Burning Rescue.” Heris struggled with just what that meant. Just what her future could be. It was... more than she’d imagined even to this day.
So much more.
“I,” Lio gave his own thoughts once more, “expect responsibility to be taken. I cannot say Heris’s actions can be forgiven. I can say that she must try to be all the same. Whatever the decision made today is, whether this,” Lio raised the sheet of paper, “or any other, my sole request is that the judgement be made so that Heris must do something.” Lio met Heris’s eyes directly. Was it kindness behind his? Or a demand for justice that meant something? She couldn’t tell.
Maybe it was both.
“It is an insult to all the lives lost for hers to be spent in imprisonment too.”
The plan had been a party. Aina had gone ahead as fast as her bike could take her - speed limits withstanding - to set up a celebration for Heris’s judgement, the best result possible, at the base. But Heris, as soon as she’d stepped out of Ignis’s car, walked into the base, and been surprised by Lucia and Aina loudly congratulating her, quickly proved unable to reply.
The tears flowing from her eyes and loud sobs as her long built up feelings drained away all those here gave Heris the room to cry. So many years of grief and despair, crystallised into acceptance, and then finally shattered like glass. She had a future now. A path forward to walk on. Her sister would be there. People who had accepted her despite what she’d done would be there.
She wasn’t alone.
And even if it was impossible to fully atone, still Heris would try. Still she would give her all for the world and everyone living in it. Because that was the opportunity she had been given. By Lucia. By Lio. By everyone here.
Her tears continued to fall.
And if, over the hours to follow, any noticed that Heris clung as much to Lucia - or maybe even more - than Aina herself, none made mention of it at all.
Lucia squeezed Heris’s hand, and smiled happily as Heris held on to her tight.