MB Davis quickly stuffed her uniform into a receptacle outside the EIU compound and began walking as casually as she could away from the building. She dialed Baldsmith.
After one ring, he picked up. She waited for him to say something, anything, but he said nothing.
“Is that you Baldsmith?”
He cleared his throat. “Is this a secure line?” He shifted uncomfortably.
“How the hell am I supposed to know?” Davis yelled, “How the hell am I supposed to know anything? I’ve been ‘compromised’?! What is that supposed to mean? What in God’s name is going on?”
Baldsmith drummed his fingers nervously on his upturned belly and cleared his throat as discreetly as he could. “We’re not quite sure, Monica. We’re looking into it. The important thing is that somehow, the Box Office has procured your identity and – ” he practically snarled, “the Head Conglomerator, has threatened to –” and he said this delicately, “expose you…if you don’t come In. Immediately.”
“I figured as much with ‘CODE 12’ lighting me up like a goddamned Christmas tree.”
Baldsmith’s neck puffed up with sweat. “So you made it out?”
Davis turned a corner. “Of course I made it out.”
Baldsmith grimaced. Of course she made it out. She was the best. This was about to get a whole lot more complicated. “Excellent,” he muttered insincerely.
“What do you mean ‘expose’ me?” Davis continued, “The Conglomerator knows full well what exposure would mean for me. I would never be free again – if I was lucky I’d get locked up before the civs could get their hands on me.”
Sometimes Baldsmith forgot that only he knew the Head Conglomerator’s identity. In fact most Outsiders would probably rebel if they knew there even was a Head Conglomerator - it was meant to be a flat, merit-based system, almost entirely automated. His thoughts returned to the present moment. “Well…” he began, “Rumor has it that Outsiders do in fact have laws, which I consider miraculous given the bounds of that newfangled means of government of yours –"
"Theirs," Davis interrupted.
"Theirs," Baldsmith corrected. "Pardon me." Davis waited. "So those 'laws' should be sufficient to prevent any ‘laying on of hands,’ so to speak. Besides, Outsiders are a gentle breed – they’ve had all the fight leeched out of them over the years, so I hear. No animal instinct. Of course you would know better than I, having lived among them for several years… and with one woman in particular...” He licked the threat greedily off his lips. “But what you know most clearly of all of course are the terms of your agreement, or so I’d hope.” He was suddenly so thankful for all those tiny letters and clauses. “I’m sure you understand it’s nothing personal… if… we were unable to assist you.”
“I don’t need your help,” Davis responded matter-of-factly. She paused. “Just tell me one thing – ”
“Who is this bastard, and how do I find him.”
Baldsmith froze, unable to swallow. Finally he answered, “I’m sure you’ll find a way.”
He hung up and sat without breathing. After a few moments, he joined his clammy palms together and rubbed them slowly and abrasively against each other.
He picked up the phone to make a call of his own.
“Paltron.” came the icy response.
“Your Outside Man is in transit,” he affirmed.
“Terrific. Well done, Harold, I’m rather pleased.”
“There’s one more thing – ” he couldn’t help but add.
For once, Paltron waited.
“He’s a woman.”
Davis scanned the street cautiously, then darted forward, heading towards her apartment. There was no way in hell she was going down without a fight. She had spent all of her adult life on the Outside, and most of that time in the EIU – it was home to her. But if she stayed now, she’d be exposed. And her fears of civ retaliation were real. Decades earlier, when the Divide still sat tangily on everyone’s tongue, the Inside Man – one of the first – had been exposed, and he had been brutally killed by Pures. It was one of the last recorded murders in Pure history, in fact. Just went to show how much people hated being spied on. And how bad history books were.
Who could predict what would happen to her? How would Outsiders react to having a spy in their midst? What would happen if the Motherboard found out? Chief MB?
From the sounds of it, the EIU still didn’t actually know anything yet. Exposure may have just been a threat to get her out. Was it a bluff? Was someone trying to smoke her out? If so, to what end? Did someone want her back in Pureside? If she went back In, who’s to say what would happen to her there. They'd call her a traitor. She thought of the history books. Her gut clenched in resolve. She had to figure out what was going on.
She cycled through the facts. Baldsmith had no reason to give her up. The Herald depended on her – it wasn't just that she was their only Outside source, but with the recent factory collapse, she was perfectly positioned at the EIU – why would he want her out? Why now?
Her fist clenched. The factory collapse. The two had to be related. But nobody – even Baldsmith – knew she was at the EIU. There was only one person on the planet who knew and could tie her back to her true identity. She thought about Grace’s eyes, their gentle wash of greens and blues – it couldn’t have been her.
She turned into her apartment building and scaled the stairs two at a time.
The only fact she knew was this – someone did want her out, and she wasn’t ready to take orders from anyone.
Jimmy ran his fingers through his perfect 10 colored hair. Shit was going down, and he had no idea how to take part in it. Where had MB Davis gone? He leaned back in his chair to survey the scene.
Chief MB was circling tensely around the Motherboard, deep in discussion with the other MBs. Lisa was hunched over her monitor, talking to someone on her comm – probably Graves – and flicking and scanning with her eyes at the same time. Adams was blinking slowly and massaging his temples. Empty cartons of Nutriyeast sat piled by his side. They had been at this for almost 30 hours. They were exhausted, but they were almost done. The children’s bodies were at 94% clearance.
Jimmy’s mind traced back over all the bodies he had seen in the last day. Filthy, darkened bodies. Zettabytes of drone footage streaming in all around him. It was surreal to him that he had basically spent the last 24 hours living in Pureside. Who else could have done that? Nobody had ever been in this position except maybe the Inside Man. But now, for the first time, he and the EIU had seen everything. They were right at the forefront. He felt good about his decision to enlist. At the time, he had signed up on the promise of adventure, but he could never have imagined something like this, not of this magnitude. He was seeing things he could never unsee. This was life-changing.
He thought briefly back to the girl. It was funny, he was scared to even think about her here, in case he got burned and they traced his thoughts back to her… He tried to shake the notion – why would he ever get burned? He was just being paranoid. Then again, things had gotten awfully weird in the last few hours…
Everything he had read in the Box Office seemed at once false and true. They made the Pures seem violent, vengeful, petty, obsolete. The girl he had seen seemed real, calm, brave. Brave. Now that was something Outside girls rarely had the chance to exhibit – Outsiders in general, really.
The Outside sure had its problems, but they were nothing compared to the horror he had just witnessed. An actual building collapse? He wasn't sure a building Outside had collapsed in his lifetime. Maybe even since the Divide. It seemed to him like the Pures were turning back the tides of history, undoing some of the advances they’d all even shared before the Divide.
A soft alert sounded from above – lunch time.
“You got any Nutri’s for me, Saggy?” Adams asked, per his old routine.
“Nope,” Jimmy answered. “But I’m gonna go get some.”
“OK, get me one too. Actually make that three.” Adams leaned forward to rest his head against his monitor. “But first, I nap.”
“Don’t do it, Adams,” Jimmy warned. “Fifth detention’s no charm.”
“Oh please. They’re not gonna put me in detention again. Not right now! They need me! I’m top Monitor material! And I’m at top extraction!”
Jimmy raised an eyebrow and turned dramatically towards the leaderboard where he knew his name reigned first.
“Alright, alright,” Adams waved him off. “What a show off, agatha. We get it. You’re the star among us. All I’m saying is if I have to look at one more disgusting Pure body…”
“Hey!” Jimmy couldn’t stop himself. “Don’t be a dick, dude. They’re not that bad.” What was he saying? Of course they were that bad. Why was he defending them?
“They’re not that bad?!” Adams echoed. “Lisa, Saggy here thinks the Pure kids aren’t that bad. What have you been looking at over there, Saguto? They’re skin and bones! Yes, it’s disgusting! When do you think was the last time they were fed? And I mean, I don’t know what color they get over there exactly, but they're so covered in dirt, they're all 20-20!”
Jimmy looked away. He felt uncomfortable with conversations like these. They had all been trained to since birth.
Adams sensed he had taken it too far. “All I’m saying is," he went on more gently, "what kind of society makes their 8 year olds work in a toxic sand mine? And starve them, while they're at it? Do they just not give a crap, or what?”
“Well what kind of society has 8 year olds who pump spheric?” Jimmy volleyed back. “Or learn Latin just for fun? Who are you to say what’s good and what's bad for kids? What’s right and what’s wrong?”
“It’s not my job, it’s MAN’s, but the way I see it, there is a right and a wrong. You don't need to be an Abolitionist to figure it out, you just know it when you see it. Besides, it's not the same for us – our 8 year olds are grown ass adults – ”
“Oh shut up you guys,” Lisa broke in. She stood by the Atrium door, shaking her head disapprovingly. “Why does everything have to be a fight between the two of you?”
“Hey, I have an idea, Lis,” Adams replied, “Why don’t you shut up, and go run to your overachieving little boyfriend over there.” He nodded towards Graves across the Atrium, completely oblivious to their conversation.
Lisa's jaw dropped in agitation, a crimson blush at her neck. “He’s not my boyfriend, so will you shut up about it!?”
“He’s not my boyfriend! So will you shut up about it?” Adams mimicked. He smirked as she swiveled and stomped away.
“You sure know how to win ‘em,” Jimmy sighed. “One of these days you think you’ll ever find the balls to tell her how you really feel?” He grabbed his ID tag. “Alright I’m going. You sure you want three Nutris? At this rate I think we might be done in…” He looked over at Adams, arms crossed in front of him and eyes closed, classic napping position. It really had been a crushing few days.
He looked around the Atrium at his buddies, his friends. Would he really risk losing them? Is that what would happen if he actually went through with this?
An image of the girl appeared in his mind again. He pushed her out. Chin set, Jimmy turned to exit, heading out through the curtains that MB Davis had skirted past hours before.