“Excuse me,” Marie wiped an eye and began to rise off her seat, but the Inspector interjected, “I wouldn’t advise it. The press must have at least a dozen people here. What might they say if a politician ran weeping out of her own fundraiser?”

Marie sat back down. She didn’t quite know why; she’d been found out, it was the end for her. But she sat back down.

“Am I to assume that you are, in fact, Alice Laurent then?”

She nodded. “You’ve changed so much,” she said to Haris, “Your body, your skin, your face… you used to be tiny,” she let out a nervous giggle, strangely relieved to finally be able to say things she’d wanted to say for a long time.

“You’ve changed a bit yourself,” he returned, softly.

“I had to leave for both of us.”

“Did you though?”

“Oh, I did,” she smiled through her tears and dabbed her cheeks with a napkin, “if it wasn’t for me then your little ‘deals’ will have put you in prison long ago.”

“You… you were helping me? All this time?”

“You wouldn’t believe how many red flags this whole mod thing has been putting up.” She help her palms flat in despair, “It was all I could do to protect you. The only way people were going to stay off your tail was a change in party policy at next week’s convention. This, all this…” she waved her hands around to refer to the fundraiser, “…is for you.”

Haris put a hand over his mouth. Even he was tearing up. They held hands for a moment, oblivious to everything going on around them. Lilo simply looked on completely flabbergasted.

“I’ll just take these, then…” The waitress tentatively picked up the forgotten cheese boards and began to back off. Noticing the unwanted attention, Marie and Haris quickly broke up and looked down at the table. “Dessert will be through shortly,” she said.

Given a few moments to return to her senses, Marie acknowledged the Inspector, “Well done, Inspector. You got us. All of us. I’m sure you’ll get a fine promotion for this.”

“Wait…” Lilo butted in, “I didn’t know about any of these things you two were doing. I wasn’t part of all this.”

“Oh, you were,” nodded Marie, “to protect Haris I had to protect you, as well.”

The waitress arrived with the desserts, “Profiteroles! I hope you all still have room. Enjoy!” Nobody had an appetite any more. It seemed inappropriate.

When the waitress left, Marie leaned over to the Inspector, “Inspector, I know you have no obligation to say, and no reason to even know, for that matter. But I was wondering… what happened to our child?”

“Your child?”

Haris nodded, “I couldn’t keep her when Marie left. Nobody knew at the time; a child would have showed how close we really were. She was so young.”

The Inspector paused; so long that Marie almost repeated herself, but eventually he spoke, “Your daughter went through two orphanages, before she eventually she fell into a minimum wage job in the Central Waste Processing District, or ‘The Midden’, as you like to call it,” he was looking at Haris; Haris simply nodded excitedly, but also with concern; the Inspector continued, “She worked in the Municipal Recycling Plant, stripping down old appliances to be recycled. She had this strange aspiration… she always wanted to look more catlike. Of course, she could never afford the mods.”

Marie leaned back. Recoiled almost. “Inspector…” she asked with mounting concern, “…what was her name? What name did they give her?”

“Her name,” said the Inspector finally, “was Sara Rossi.”

Marie began to cry again. Haris shook his head. Lilo just seemed to have withdrawn herself from the conversation in a state of passive acceptance.

“She was our daughter,” Marie whispered.

“She was anyone’s daughter,” replied the Inspector flatly, “or son, or husband, or wife, or close friend. Don’t just think it was her who was a victim of these machinations; there were many more. These are the consequences you didn’t think about, these are the people you labelled collateral damage without more than a passing thought. In all these years you tried to save your husband… you killed your daughter.

“And it’s all down to this; you don’t treat people like people. People are not sources of labour or sources of revenue or pieces in a game or mere commodities; first and foremost they are human beings just like any of you. This death is not just the story of the three of you but of this entire city. Everyone is ‘modded’ and changed for money like a computer or a car or a bicycle, with no concern for what the wider consequences might be. Even if everyone is still born equal they certainly don’t stay that way. This is the thing that destroys societies and, if left unchecked, this is the thing that will destroy this city – and there is only one City.

“Maybe if just one person had stopped to think then Sara Rossi would still be alive. Through corruption…” he looked at Marie, “…through greed…” he looked at Haris, “…and through recklessness…” he looked at Lilo, “…you all killed Sara Rossi.”

Before another word could be said, the Inspector stood and left.

CHEESE BOARD | DESSERT | COFFEE

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