THE CRATER STILL REEKED OF SMOKE.
If not for the destruction itself, the inevitable glances of others only deepened the wound. So much was said through their expressions alone; it had only been a matter of weeks since the rebellion had marched their way towards the Core House, executing Alban Soto over the entrance stairs. Memory of the man's reign still haunted the city: the memory of unease and unsurety, the memory of being watched and the knowing that a single misstep would bring reprimand, the memory of aching labor and unsleeping nights where sleep was a prize and dreams were a fortune.
When the rebellion finally succeeded, there was an unspoken promise of change in the air. Nobody dared mention it out loud, as if doing so would reverse the news, but everybody knew, or thought they knew, what security and freedom this new life would bring. Now, looking at the crater with its carpet of debris and gunpowder, Nina could imagine the doubt which was creeping over their shoulders.
She caught a man walking past her towards the crater. There were two sorts of people who did such things, the ones who were looking for a way to pass and the ones who had too little to do. Judging from the expression on the man's face, he was the former. Nina caught his attention and pointed at the adjacent street, giving directions for a detour and apologizing, (perhaps too repeatedly), for the inconvenience.
As the man moved on, she turned back to the scene. Whoever was behind the bombing, they knew what they were doing. It had been no aimless decision to target this particular street: after Lews had come into power, one of his first acts was to tear down the walls which isolated each city sector, unifying the city by building roads between each. This had been the first to be laid out, and since then, the most developed, surpassing even the ill-tended ways within each sector.
At least, the most developed until now, Nina thought.
"It's a statement," Cal said, standing beside her. With the man's stunted stature and sunken shoulders, he looked a lifetime older than he actually was. Nina wondered if he had much care for his own well-being, seeing his dulled eyes and unkempt dark hair, and she worried for him. It would be a great loss if the commander of the militia dropped dead of fatigue one day – despite his appearances, Cal was a brilliant mind, and a persistent, too persistent, soul that had done much to support the rebellion's efforts.
As for Nina herself, she had been appointed to spearhead the city's repairs, just as she had always overseen the maintenance of the camps back in their days of hiding. She took pride watching as the city slowly arose from its ashes.
The bombing, when she'd first heard of it, had felt a personal blow to her efforts.
She looked at Cal. "Are there any signs of who did this?"
"None. Save for the mark."
Both of them knew what the mark meant, and how meaningless of a clue it was. Appearing over the weeks with increasing frequency, it was often found streaked in red over houses or signs, bearing the Greek alpha symbol. They had first deemed it as the signature of some restless citizen, willful but essentially harmless, but now, with the mark laid out at the crater's center, they could hear the carelessness of their assumptions chiding them.
"Take the road by the metalworker," Cal said, directing another confused straggler upon their way. Turning his attention back to the scene itself, he said without any emotion, "This is a mess. We should give Lews a more detailed report sooner than later."
Nina agreed, though it took her an extra glance at the scene before moving on. They struck the route to the Core House, discussing the situation along the way, and when they finally arrived, the guards, recognizing them from countless visits past, parted the entrance gates without question. Among the building's solemn steel walls, their conversation fell to a hush.
They arrived at the Conference Chamber to see Andrew, the head of the medical unit, step out with a grim expression. This alone troubled Nina, knowing the man's usual cheer. She didn't allow herself to dwell upon such omens.
Inside, Lews was seated at the head of the disproportionately large table. The man gave them an expectant look.
"There was an explosion by the First Street," Cal said, taking his own seat. "The alpha symbol was left at the scene."
"We're currently directing others to the parallel street on the right," Nina added. "People aren't happy with the crowding – but nothing serious has come out of the explosion, thankfully. Nobody died, and little surrounding area was damaged."
The man gave no sign of emotion save for the faintest twitch of his face.
"What do you plan to do now?"
"The most efficient way to repair the street is to bridge the gap." They had agreed on this while heading to the Core House. "At this stage, filling in the hole would be redundant, and we thought that covering it with wooden planks would be better, if it works with our supply."
"We have enough lumber to spare a small operation." The answer came as a surprise to her. Though she'd seen little of the forest herself, she'd heard how it'd long diminished after Soto's ruthless industrial endeavors. "The entire repair will take a while. What do you propose to do in the meantime?"
Sensing that she was at loss of a response, (since Nina truly hadn't expected such question), Cal said, "They'll have no choice but to take the detour."
But what would they think of that? Nina could only imagine the people, only further disgruntled that they would remain in such inconvenient circumstances.
Though Lews seemed to share similar concerns, he nodded, nonetheless. "It's the best we can do, I suppose. Are there still no leads to the cause of this?"
Cal shook his head.
"I've been thinking," Lews said, his expression betraying no emotion to the next idea, "of placing more attention on the city's day-to-day activities. Whoever's handiwork this is, they've been taking advantage of our lenience, and the sooner they're stopped, the better."
Though Nina opposed the idea, she held her tongue. It was only when Cal gave a slow nod that she said, cautiously, in hopes that she wouldn't come off as harsh, "It isn't right."
"Why's that?" Lews almost sounded pleased, as if hoping for a challenge.
"It wouldn't be any different from before. Soto did the same, bugging his buildings and appointing Supervisors, all of which we fought to overthrow. To place spies would be to bring back what we ended."
Lews's his expression dissolved into dissatisfaction.
After a moment, he said, "I shun inaction. If we do nothing, then why are we here? Yet, if we do something, will it be the right thing to do?" He looked at Cal, saying nothing to prompt him but a single look.
The man crossed his arms. "These are different circumstances. Soto had kept the city under fear; we're keeping it under safety. If I told my men to keep watch, they would understand their duty."
A silence fell upon the room.
"I need time to think," Lews said, sounding distant under the shroud of his thoughts. Nina stood up from her seat, recognizing the man's state as the only dismissal he would give, and a moment later, Cal followed.