Aurelia stood in the doorway, her mouth open and her mind spinning. She didn't know which of the three to go to first, so her body solved the problem by not moving at all. Nicholas was the first to speak, his voice groggy.
“It's fine, Aurelia.”
He took Jonathon by the shoulder and gently steered him towards the couch. Aurelia ran to his side.
“Are you hurt?”
His face was pale. “A little. Nothing too bad.”
Springing into business mode, she unbuttoned his shirt and palpitated his arm, eliciting a groan. Then, sliding his shirt back over him, she sat back. “It's a sprain, nothing worse. And you?” She looked at Nicholas.
“Fine.” He sank into a chair.
“And are you going to tell me what happened?”
“Nicholas saved me,” Jonathon said, his colour starting to return.
“I know that.”
“No, I mean just now.”
Aurelia got up from the couch and bent over Elza. The silver stunning device was in her hand, and she was unconscious. Being as gentle as possible, Aurelia felt around the woman's head, finding a growing lump. Eyes were fine, breathing stable.
“Elza jumped me, and Nicholas intervened,” Jonathon said.
She looked to Nicholas for confirmation of this, and he nodded.
“But...” The question didn't even need to be said.
“I don't know,” Jonathon answered. “I've had a feeling for a while that something has been off, but I didn't know what. We started the interrogation, and everything was going fine. But as soon as it became clear that I was coming around to Nicholas's explanation of things, Elza changed. Then she waited until I turned my back and came after me.”
“I pushed her away,” Nicholas added. “She hit her head on the edge of the desk there.”
Jonathon sat up, his injured arm folded against his chest. “Move her head again, to the right.”
Aurelia did as she was told, and Elza's hair lifted, revealing the white patch on her neck.
“That explains a lot,” said Jonathon.
Aurelia shrugged. “It's a stimulation patch, to keep you awake while you're working. Everyone wears them.”
Nicholas leant towards her and put a hand on her shoulder. “No they don't, Aurelia,” he said quietly.
She returned to the couch, and the three of them tried to piece the puzzle together. The patches that Elza habitually wore were a drug, a stimulating drug to be sure, but also a highly addictive one.
“But she gave me one on my first day at the hospital,” Aurelia protested.
“And did you have no side effects?” asked Nicholas.
“Well, I mean, I've been kind of tired and heavy for a day or so, but I've been working a lot, so it's normal, right?”
“Any cravings for another patch?”
Aurelia had been going to ask Elza for another patch earlier that day, but she hadn't been able to find her.
“I still don't understand why she would want to kill you,” Aurelia said.
Jonathon sighed. “Elza is a complicated person, Aurelia. You have to understand a few things. Firstly, well, if I'm being honest, she and I, we had something. Nothing serious, and it's long over. But she's always been a jealous woman.” He had the grace to blush at that. “But she's also had a very difficult job over the last few years. You know the role that she's played for the Resistance?”
“Sex,” answered Aurelia, shortly.
“Seduction,” corrected Jonathon. “It's a time-honoured method of getting information out of powerful men. And Elza was very good at it, though it wasn't something she particularly enjoyed doing. And then...” He paused for a Second. “I don't think that Elza is behind all of this at all.”
“You don't?” asked both Nicholas and Aurelia in surprise.
Jonathon shook his head. “Look, Elza is Med staff; she knows the dangers of addiction as much as anyone else. Also, when she gave the patch to Aurelia, she had no reason to want to hurt her in any way. Aurelia didn't even know about the Resistance at that point; she might not have passed our last Security checks. No, I think that Elza has been given these patches by someone who wanted her to be easy to control. By the time she realised what was happening, if she has realised, it was too late. The drugs were making her more paranoid, edgier, less reasonable, and more dependent on them. Someone counted on the fact that this could be turned around to hurt me if necessary. Either physically hurt me, as she tried to do, or blackmail or even bad publicity. It's well known on Lunar that Elza and I have a close relationship and that I would place her on my cabinet once I'm president. The way she saw things tonight was that I was edging towards believing Nicholas, and she was protecting the Secrets of the Resistance by any means necessary.”
“It's not a very reliable method of getting you killed,” Aurelia observed.
“But as it turns out, Nicholas wasn't a reliable method either, though statistically he really should have been,” pointed out Jonathon. “I think it was more a case of covering all the bases - if one didn't succeed, then the other might.”
“In which case, there could well be other people out there right now looking to assassinate you,” Nicholas said.
“Yep,” agreed Jonathon, and he grinned like he was enjoying a game.
Aurelia cleared her throat, afraid to ask the question but knowing that she had to. “So, what are we going to do with Elza, then?” she asked.
Jonathon looked at her, and his eyes were clouded. “I know what I should do, but I can't. I just can't.”
Aurelia had to smile a little. “Well, fortunately, you're sitting with the two people in Lunar who might just understand why you can't kill someone you're supposed to kill.”
“I truly don't think she's behind this. And…” He hesitated for a moment. “And I think she should be given a chance to speak for herself.”
“I agree,” said Aurelia. “And I have the beginnings of a plan.”
Whilst Elza was still unconscious, Nicholas and Aurelia moved her to the bed next door, Jonathon following them. Aurelia peeled the patch off her neck and asked Nicholas to find her something to tie Elza to the bed with.
“Is that really necessary?” asked Jonathon.
Aurelia nodded. “It's not just a matter of Security. Once she begins to withdraw from the drug, I'm not sure what's going to happen. Many people have fits, so it's for her own safety.”
When Elza was properly restrained, Jonathon turned to Nicholas. “I think you and I need to talk.”
Silently, Nicholas walked back to the other room.
“You'll be okay here for a while?” Jonathon asked Aurelia quietly.
“Yes. I need to keep an eye on her, anyway.”
The two men were gone for over an hour. Aurelia watched over Elza carefully, monitoring her breathing and responses, but she didn't wake. When Jonathon finally re-entered the room, he looked drained. Aurelia stood up and stretched her aching back.
“I need to go to the hospital,” she said.
“There are some things we need to talk about, Aurelia.”
“I know, and I have every intention of coming back. But I've got to go and pick up some stuff so that I can treat both Elza and you, unless you're all three planning on letting me check you into the hospital?”
“You have to?”
She nodded. She went to him and slid her arms around his waist. “I have to. I'll be an hour or so, I guess.”
She could feel him tense a little and looked up into his face. “You do trust me, don't you?”
He pulled her tighter to him, resting his chin on her head. “I don't know who I can trust anymore, Aurelia. Not Elza, not Nicholas, not even myself. But you, you I believe. And I always will. You have my abject apologies for this afternoon. I should have taken your word for what happened.”
“No you shouldn't,” Aurelia said, her voice muffled by his shirt. “I needed to prove myself, and I have.” She moved her head so she could kiss him. “It better not happen again, though.”
She gave Nicholas strict instructions about how to monitor Elza's condition, and about what to do if she woke up, though she thought that was unlikely. Briefly she wondered if leaving Jonathon and Nicholas alone together was really a bright idea, but they seemed to have come to a polite detente, though they hadn't told her yet what they'd discussed while she was looking after Elza. Anyway, she didn't have a choice. She buckled herself into Jonathon's transport pod and bent over the central console. Unsurprisingly, the hospital was a pre-set destination, so she clicked on the icon and the pod began moving.
She had mixed feelings about Elza. That was putting it lightly. She had liked the woman and could even maybe understand the situation she was in. Whether letting her, what? Live, Aurelia supposed. Whether letting her live was a good idea or not, she wasn't sure. But then, she didn't know as much about Elza as Jonathon did. It didn't bother her that he'd had a fling with the older woman, but the fact that she had been so easily compromised did bother her. No, that wasn't really it. What bothered her was that it could have been herself. She thought back to how easily she had taken the patch from Elza, how easily she had accepted the explanation of what it was. This could have happened to her. That was why she was more sympathetic to Elza than she maybe should have been.
The twenty-minute journey stretched to seem like hours. The dome above was deep, dark blue, almost black, by the time the pod stopped at the back gate of the hospital. She slid out of the pod and made her way inside, preparing a mental list of the equipment and supplies that she'd need to pick up.
She was busily stocking a small pack in one of the exam rooms when Jason came in.
“What are you doing?” he asked, curiously.
Hmmm. How to explain this. “Nothing, don't worry - it's something for Elza.”
His face turned from curious to suspicious. “Are you taking drugs out of the hospital?”
“No, well, yes, but not in a bad way.” Crap. She hadn't banked on having to explain herself.
He was still standing in the doorway, looking indecisive.
“Look, Jason, trust me, okay? I'm doing this for Elza, and I'll explain everything later.” When I've cooked up a story that you'll believe, she thought.
His eyes narrowed, catching sight of something in the bag. “Those are stim patches,” he said, coming closer. “And...” He looked even more closely. “Aurelia, are you treating yourself?” His voice had a mixture of anger and concern.
“No!” she said, shocked that he'd mentioned it.
“But you have everything that you need here to treat an addict.” He looked at her, his anger gone now, pure worry on his face. “Do you have a problem, Aurelia?”
When you don't know what to say, thought Aurelia, honesty is the best policy. Though maybe not complete honesty. “Not me,” she told him. “Elza. I'm helping her. But you can't tell anyone, okay?”
“Of course! Is there something that I can do?”
He had a sort of puppy dog enthusiasm that was very endearing. “Not right now,” she said. Then she considered her options. “Although, if you could check your intercom every now and again, I might need some help later. Someone to take over for a while so I can get some rest.”
“Sure, any time.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Just call me and I'll be right there. And good luck.”
She smiled, closed her pack and left him standing there shaking his head. Med staff were more prone to addictions than others, mostly because they were in closer proximity to drugs, so the story wasn't unbelievable. Besides, there was a fair chance that she might need help later; she had no idea how long it was going to take to get Elza clean.
The trip back seemed shorter, because Aurelia spent the time trying to come up with a treatment plan for Elza. When she arrived back at the Crematorium, she averted her eyes to avoid seeing the black hulk of the building. She was thankful when she got inside and found Jonathon and Nicholas waiting for her by Elza's bedside.
Her first priority was to treat Jonathon's arm, which she did quickly and efficiently. She then turned to Elza. Taking a stim patch out of her pack, she carefully cut it in half and stuck it on Elza's neck.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jonathon asked, catching her movement out of the corner of his eye.
“Listen, I'm the doctor, not you. I know exactly what I'm doing,” she said, continuing to work.
She explained that withdrawing Elza from the drug completely, all in one go, could very well kill her by putting her heart under too much strain. They needed to wean her off the drug. Aurelia then prepared a syringe with a formula that would bring Elza back to consciousness. She gave the injection, and they sat back to wait.
It took a couple of minutes for the woman to begin to wake, and when she opened her eyes she seemed relaxed. It took Jonathon a good while to recount what had happened to her, but she slowly retrieved her memories. Then she began to speak.
“I remember the first patch,” Elza said. “It was given to me at a party where I was the escort of a high-ranking Elite member. He too wore one, and I felt unable to decline. After a while, it became a regular part of my routine, and then a regular part of my work day.” She denied that she had ever been spoken to about Jonathon, though.
“How are we supposed to believe you?” Aurelia asked, their roles suddenly reversed.
Elza closed her eyes. “I'm willing to have my mind read,” she said, quietly. “I understand the implications of all this. I understand what I have done. And I understand what you feel you must do.” She looked at Jonathon.
“No, Elza,” he said. He patted her arm. “I'm not having you injected. I don't believe you're a traitor. I have to draw the line somewhere, and there are so few people that I can trust that I'm not willing to lose one of them. Especially someone as important as you.”
Her eyes showed how surprised she was. “But...”
“But nothing. We are going to figure this out.”
Leaving Nicholas with Elza, Jonathon took Aurelia to one side. “What are we going to do?” he asked.
Aurelia sighed. “It's going to take a while to clean her up, though she can probably work again in a couple of days. We'll taper off the dosage of the stim patches, and hopefully she'll be fine. Are you sure that we can let her, well, let her walk out of here?”
Jonathon nodded. “Yes. You don't understand Elza. I do. Maybe you will one day too. For now, yes I trust her.”
“Then I'm going to need help; I can't look after her on my own. I have a suggestion.”
She explained about Jason. “If we can just get Elza back to her quarters at the hospital, then Jason can take over. He knows only that she has an addiction problem, and he is very willing to help out.”
“But right now she needs to rest for a little while. I'm going to take the patch off her and let her sleep for an hour.”
Once Elza was sleeping again, Aurelia turned to the two men. “So?” she said.
“We have come to an understanding of sorts,” said Nicholas, stiffly.
“And what's that, then?” Aurelia took herself over to the couch. She was dead tired, and her feet felt like rocks.
“I will not join forces with the Clones,” Jonathon said.
Aurelia raised an eyebrow. “You won't?” It was a stupid decision and one that she felt sure he would regret later. But she didn't argue with him. Now wasn't the time.
“I won't,” he affirmed. “I will not, however, close any doors.”
“It's to be a subject for later discussion,” Nicholas said, obviously unhappy with this fact but unable to do anything about it.
“I think you're being foolish,” Aurelia said, unable to stop herself.
“I will learn more,” was all that Jonathon said.
The room was quiet for a moment, and Aurelia could almost hear their hearts beating.
“And in the meantime, what about Nicholas?” she asked after a moment.
“That, we have not yet discussed,” said the Clone.
She turned to Jonathon. “We can't send him back to the Military, not after this.”
Jonathon pursed his lips. “What can we do, then?”
It was Nicholas who answered. “Arrest me,” he said.
“No, no.” Jonathon came to sit down opposite the Clone. “You misunderstand. I owe you my life, and I shall pay my debt. I have no intention of getting you arrested; I believe what you're saying.”
Nicholas smiled. “That wasn't what I was implying at all. But it's the obvious solution to the problem. Have me arrested.”
The more Aurelia thought about it, the more it made sense. “I agree,” she said to Jonathan. “Look, if we have Nicholas arrested, he will be in a safe place, right? We'll know where he is, which should calm your nerves a bit. And if you are the one who has him arrested, he'll be under your protection, correct?”
“And if you arrest him under suspicion of trying to assassinate you, it will make whoever is behind all this think that you've found them out and you're just biding your time until you release the information. You might scare them into doing something stupid and identifying themselves.”
“I could just as easily scare them into plotting the death of Nicholas to stop him from opening his mouth or bearing witness,” Jonathon added dryly.
“It's a risk I will take,” said Nicholas.
“It's unorthodox to hold Clones prisoner,” Jonathon said, thoughtfully. “Generally they're just injected. Though I suppose if he agrees to witness for my case, then that would be excuse enough. But there's still a problem.”
“What?” asked Aurelia.
“You can't just trust that a Sec Worker isn't going to hurt him or be paid by another to hurt him,” said Jonathon. “You could be putting him in just as much danger by locking him up.”
She hadn't thought of that. But now that the problem had arisen, she found a solution. “There's a Sec Worker I can trust,” she said. “Michael. The guy whose life I saved on the shuttle. He'll do it. And we won't put Nicholas in the general cells; we'll put him under house arrest.”
“Where?” asked Nicholas.
Aurelia looked at Jonathon and shrugged. “Any ideas?”
“At my house,” Jonathon said. “It's the only place that makes sense. Plus, he'll be under my eye at all times.”
“Does that clear up everything?” asked Aurelia.
“For now,” said Jonathon. “Though we're going to need a far better long-term plan.”
“There'll be time to discuss that later,” Aurelia promised.
She looked at the two men. Both appeared tired, but that was to be expected. They also looked startlingly alike, with deep blue eyes and angular planes on their faces. But Nicholas had something softer there. Jonathon's face showed age, though he wasn't that old – experience, maybe. Nicholas still had the look of youth about him.
“Is there an intercom around?” she asked.
Jonathon pointed her in the right direction, and she went to make her call. Michael seemed surprised to hear from her, and guarded when she asked him to come to the Crematorium, but he agreed to meet her there. When he arrived, she met him at the door and led him in to see Jonathon and Nicholas. They explained the situation, ironed out a few details, and it was agreed.
“I can't take him here, though,” Michael warned them. “It would look suspicious, and it would also destroy the Secrecy of what I presume is a Secret place?”
“I'll report him in a moment,” Jonathon said. “You,” he said, nodding at Nicholas, “will leave now and meet Michael at an agreed-upon place.”
“Okay. Where?” said Nicholas.
Michael pulled out a screen and pointed out a location. “It's dark. There aren't many Sec Workers, so there's less chance of anyone but me catching you, and,” here he smiled, “it's on my way home, so I can easily find you accidentally.”
Jonathon and Nicholas stood, and Jonathon reached out a hand. Nicholas shook it, both men looking uncomfortable.
“I shall see you in a few hours,” said Jonathon.
He left to make his call, and Aurelia walked Nicholas to the door leading out of the Crematorium.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asked.
“Yes,” Nicholas said tightly.
She had a thought. “Are you going to make a run for it, or allow yourself to be caught?” She didn't ask in judgement; she knew that whatever he had decided, he was going to do. There was nothing she could do to stop him.
“Do you trust Jonathon's word?” he asked.
The Clone sighed and looked out into the night. “Then I suppose the best thing to do is to get caught.”
For a moment his face showed the same indefinable aged quality that Jonathon's had. Then he turned to her and grinned. “Bet there aren't many people who want to get caught by Sec Workers, huh?”
She smiled back. He was afraid, she knew. But this really was his best chance. If he went back to the Arena, or was caught trying to live outside of the Arena, he would be injected without question. This way he would grasp, at the very least, a few more days of life. More, if Jonathon kept his word and then agreed to help him. She stroked his arm.
“Good luck,” she said.
For a moment she thought he was going to kiss her, but at the last Second he broke eye contact, and without another word he began to walk through the yard of the Crematorium. Aurelia watched until he disappeared into the shadows. Only when she was sure that he was gone did she go back inside.
Michael was still waiting alone when she entered the room. She sat on the couch beside him.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Fine,” he said, smiling at her.
She scratched her nose. “I suppose I owe you some sort of explanation of what's going on around here.”
Michael put out a hand to stop her. “No,” he said. “I don't want to know. What I don't know, I can't tell other people. I will do as you have asked me to do. And I'll make sure that whoever is stationed to guard the Clone in Mr. Hansen's house is someone I trust, someone who doesn't beat on prisoners as sport. But that's it.”
“I understand,” said Aurelia. And she did. She wished in a way that she had his strength of character, the willpower not to get herself involved with things. “And I'm grateful.”
“Not as grateful as I am to you,” he said. “And I've got a wife and a three who are even more grateful than I am.”
She smiled. “I would like to meet them one day.”
“Maybe one day,” said Michael. But they both knew that wasn't going to happen.
When Jonathon came back, the Sec Worker stood. He took a moment to check his screen.
“Okay, it's on the wire. Full description and number. I'll get going, then.”
He gave a nod to Aurelia and Jonathon and left without saying goodbye.
They had already moved a still-sleeping Elza back to the hospital and were installing her in her room when the call came.
“They've got him,” Jonathon said, pressing a button on the intercom to close the conversation.
Aurelia's heart sped up. “And?”
“It was Michael. He's being escorted to my home as we speak. Everything went according to plan.”
Aurelia gave a sigh of relief. She covered Elza with a blanket.
“I think it's probably best if you go and wait in my rooms,” she told Jonathon. “I'll get hold of Jason and get him up here. I don't think it's a good idea for him to see you here.”
He stroked her hair as he left.
Jason appeared shortly after she called him. She explained her treatment plan to him, and he nodded in agreement.
“It seems like the best plan. But, Aurelia, how could she get herself into this mess?”
“She has a very stressful life,” Aurelia reminded him. “I don't think she deliberately chose to do things this way. And what's important now is that we help her.”
He looked down at Elza's sleeping body. “Yes, yes it is. She's helped me before.” He smiled. “I think she's helped pretty much everyone in the hospital.”
“But no one can know, alright? If she has to deal with this kind of scandal, then she'll never have authority again.”
“Understood,” said Jason. “Speaking of which, have you heard the latest gossip?”
Aurelia was starting to leave but turned around. “No, what happened?” Hospitals were always hotbeds of gossip.
“Dr. Ellis, the guy you replaced - rumour has it that the reason he disappeared is that he's gone off the rails. Tons of people saw him drinking in Elite clubs, and apparently he's been sleeping with someone he shouldn't have, and, well, you know what Lunar is like.... Shoot first, ask questions later, right?”
Interesting theory, Aurelia thought. “And has a body shown up?”
Jason shook his head. “Only a matter of time, though, I bet.”
Aurelia wondered, as she left the room, what other strange rumours would circulate about Ellis before something else happened to take the gossip spotlight off him.
Jonathon was waiting in her rooms, and he took her into his arms as soon as she entered. He kissed her, and it wasn't until much later, when the dome was already a pale white-blue colour, that they eventually talked about what had happened.
“Do you really still trust Elza?” Aurelia asked him, idly.
“Yes, yes I do. The more I think about it, the more it all makes sense. I mean, in her own head she was protecting the Resistance by hurting me. She was afraid that I was going to side with the Clones or spill our Secrets. And the same when she was trying to hurt you: she was protecting us all. Even under the influence of drugs, she still believed so much in what we're doing that she was willing to do anything for our cause. And I admire that.”
He had a point; Aurelia hadn't thought of things that way.
“This is all very difficult for me,” she said, closing her eyes.
“Which part specifically?”
“All of it. The changes. The newness. But mostly, I think, the idea that to achieve goodness you have to compromise, do things that are wrong to get what's right. It's a difficult concept.”
Jonathon propped himself up on his elbow to look at her. “It is,” he said. “Very difficult. I could tell you that the means justify the end, but that's not always true. That depends on what the end is, and we have no idea what the true consequences are of what we're doing.” He placed his hand on her breastbone. “I can't help you with this idea, Aurelia. It's either something that you have to accept or not. There's no halfway.”
He sighed. “And as much as I believe in what we're doing, I can't deny that there have been many others in history who have believed just as much in what they were doing. Belief doesn't equal rightness.”
“What do you hope for?” she asked quietly. She put her hand over his own.
“Peace,” he said simply. “It's only a matter of time before others realise the same as I have realised, and then there could be war again. And this time, I honestly think that we would destroy ourselves. What I hope for is that we solve the problem before it starts. And then we'll have peace.”
There was work to be done. It wasn't going to be easy - Aurelia knew that. She knew she was going to have to lie, maybe even kill sometimes. And the thought didn't sit easy with her. But she also knew that she would follow the man beside her wherever he went. He had right on his side, and she was sure of it. They would deal with the problems together. Face them together. Solve them together. Because she loved him. And that was the last thing that she said to him, before she closed her eyes and surrendered to sleep.