The city was lovely at midday. Sunlight reflecting off glass and steel towers, concrete bastions rising up amongst the smaller shops, people going about their lives with a myriad of emotions playing across their faces. The river, full of fish who were oblivious to the comings and goings of the people on land, flowed gently through the center of the city, making soft sounds as it splashed against the concrete barriers build to contain it.
A cool breeze blew, carrying with it so many scents. Vehicle fuel, bakery pastries, the corner vendor's hot potatoes, dead leaves, mingling perfumes and colognes. A deep breath brought it all in, then let it out just as quickly.
I looked up and saw Gregori standing beside me. "Absolutely spectacular," I replied. I patted the space beside me on the step I was sitting on. "Come on, sit down. The concrete's cool."
He sat down and we both sat there for a minute, on the steps of the city hall, looking across the river at the many buildings that made up the inner city.
"Kind of makes you sit back and wonder, 'Where did they find all this beauty?'" Gregori said. "Where, in such an ugly universe, can you find something so wonderful?"
I looked over at Gregori. His eyes seemed to be captivated by the city, like a child's eyes are captivated by a new animal they've never seen. "It's not all that ugly out there, you know."
"I know," he said. "It's just that it's so hard to concentrate on the good, the peaceful. All of out work revolves around the ugliness. Evil, greed, corruption... So many crimes. And so often they come from good intentions."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," I replied. "Good intentions are a slippery slop that'll catch you if you don't have enough friction."
We sat there, silent, for a few moments. Then Gregori turned to me.
"Do we have enough 'friction', Tal?"
I frowned at the question. "What do you mean?"
"We're forced in our duties to do things we don't want to do. Kill young people who made a mistake. Destroy whole worlds. Slaughter a child because he's been possessed by a daemon. Really, are we headed to damnation, or is our work and its results enough to save us?"
"We have to believe it is," I said. "We have to go on, believing that what we do is right, or it will tear us apart and make us mad, blind us from the light and leave us wandering around in darkness."
Gregori stood up and walked over to the river's banks. He looked down at the water, then back at me. "And if we have to kill someone we love? Or destroy our own homeworld? What then?"
I walked over to stand beside him. I looked in the water, saw my tired face looking back at me. Then I looked up at the city.
"We pray that they'll understand, Greg. And we pray for their forgiveness in the next life."
"What if we can't forgive ourselves?"
"Then we live with the pain," I said, "and carry on, hoping our work will prevent anyone else from ever having to make the choices we're forced to make."
"Did you ever make any choices you regret, Tal?"
I felt a tug at my heart with that question. "I've had to leave behind someone I cared about, for their safety. I got too close to a young man who became a criminal and lost his life soon afterward. I killed the wrong people on a mission and cost even more people their lives."
"Is it hard to live with those memories?"
"I've got a chance to correct two of them. The other... well, people tell me I can't make someone else's life decisions, but that doesn't make it any easier. I just try not to let it bother me too much."
Again we were silent for a few moments, gazing into the water of the river. My own reflection glared back at me accusingly.
Gregori broke the silence. "These thoughts are getting depressing. You want to go check out one of the latest vid-stories?"
"Sure," I answered. "Let's go to the Winston Vid Theater. They have the best price on popcorn, and I'm feeling hungry."
"Action? Suspense? Thriller?"
"Action. And none of those sappy romances. I hate those things."
"Agreed," Gregori said. We both walked away from the river, and toward the theater.
But as we walked, I just couldn't shake the accusatory look I saw in my own reflected face...