Davis kicked off her shoes. She was back home. It had been hellacious getting out of the EIU, but somehow she had done it. It was sheer dumb luck. It was luck that it had been Adams who had found her – one of her most loyal Monitors – and not any of the others. If it had been that a-hole York or Mosher that goodie goodie, things would have turned out a whole lot differently. It had also been luck that the badge ID on the woman she’d stunned had had the right vehicle permissions – the odds of that happening were probably 20 to 1. Without that, Davis wouldn’t have been able to access the EIU skydeck, hail a glider, or make her escape. She thought back to Paltron’s stunner and winced to think that she had fired it without any idea of what it might do. Might still have done. She recalled the dark mass of that innocent woman on the floor, cold and lifeless. It wasn’t sheer dumb luck for her.
Davis was running out of time – she only had a few hours left before the EIU would be knocking down her door, stunners at the ready. She had to interrogate Paltron, set her loose somewhere remote, and then pack up her things and get the hell out of town. And where could she run? There weren’t many places on the Outside she could count on. She thought of Grace, her one rock, and immediately forced the image of her out of her mind. Just thinking about Grace was a risk. If Davis ending up having to go back In to escape the fallout, then so be it. She’d stay in Pureside for however long she had to, but the very moment it was safe, she'd come back Out, back to Grace. It would be a challenge, but there was no question that that was what she would do. The real challenge she faced now would be finding a place to hide where she could maintain her connection to the transmitter, the one she’d planted at the EIU and that was hopefully reading Paltron’s backup that very minute.
“Cici!” Davis called. Cici would be starving by now, given the events of the day. Big Jim was right – she was a damn big dog. That reminded her… Big Jim – it was hard to believe he had really given her up. They had been friends for nearly a decade. There had to be something, or someone, else at play. “Cici!” Davis called again. The dog would have normally bowled Davis over by now. Maybe she was occupied guarding Paltron. She was a very vigilant animal.
Davis wiped her hands on a rag and turned down the hall towards the holding room where she’d left Paltron. She stopped in her tracks. The door was open. There was nobody in the chair.
Davis silently slid into the kitchen and grabbed the stunner she kept stowed under the counter. With a few swift steps she was in the holding room; she turned immediately to check her blinds. Nobody.
She surveyed the scene. Her grip tightened around the stunner. Cici lay slumped against the wall, as if she’d been thrown against it. There were no signs of blood or blunt trauma, but she also didn’t seem to be breathing. Davis's face lowered to a menace. If that bitch had murdered her dog in cold blood….
She fought to stay focused. If the trail was still hot, there might be a chance of catching Paltron. She scanned the room for clues and then noticed it – Paltron’s bag was gone. She stepped to the spot where she'd last left the bag after finding the cognitive backup. Nothing.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, Davis glimpsed a small data card on the floor a few feet away. It was processed spheric. Most people Outside wouldn’t be able to recognize it in processed form anymore – the only tell was a miniscule gold tooth the size of a pin prick randomly placed on the thin side of the card. The tooth was just barely visible to the naked eye. But with her perfect eyesight and professional career spent working with the stuff, Davis recognized it immediately. Spheric cards were rare, mostly because of how expensive they were to produce at scale, but also because of how little spheric could actually be contained on one card – it was much easier to stream and delete the instant after it was read. Besides, storage was too permanent.
Davis picked the card up carefully between her two fingers and inspected the front and back of it. It was undamaged. There was only one way to read a spheric card – with a pinprompter, a special device designed to match gold pins to gold teeth – and luckily as the Outside Man she had one, albeit old, that would do the trick. She did one last scan of the room, hoping to find other clues, before heading to her center of operations, the media room. The room was sparse and small, but sufficient. She ran all of her Outside Man operations from this room, whether it was cutting up spheric for Baldsmith, tracking leads, or wrapping up a day’s work with the EIU. She spent many nights in this room. It was her haven.
Davis reached for the pinprompter, disrupting the light graze of dust that had settled on top of it and all around its place on the back shelf. She blew the cobwebs and particles off of it and set the device down on her desk. She jacked it into her computer and flipped on her small heating lamp to get it warmed up. She rubbed her hands as she waited. Pinprompters worked in miniscule, and mysterious, ways. After the lamp had raised everything to the right temperature, Davis felt with her fingers along the side of the machine. There were more than a hundred tiny brass pins lining the side – and only a precise combination of them, when pushed, would turn the device on. The operative pins were randomly assigned, and those selected were filled from the inside with kroton, a material that turned cold when exposed to the heat from a particular lamp. Her lamp. She traced her fingers over the pins and slowly began pushing in the ones giving cold zings. As soon as the last one was pressed, a small tray in front slid out. Davis dropped the spheric card into its place in the tray and pushed the tray shut. After a few moments of silence, the side pins began to slide back and forth. Davis watched as the correct pin slid all the way out of view to make contact with the gold tooth. She heard a small click. It was a precise mechanical system.
The console on her computer blinked on. <<This is for you>> the console read. <<I know how you love going down.>>
The pinprompter suddenly began to emit a series of rapid clicks as the pin struggled to disconnect from the tooth. There was a chain of three distinct clicks, like loud ratcheting sounds, before a long and uncanny silence. Then, suddenly, the machine began to shake on the table, buzzing and vibrating uncontrollably. Davis ducked as the pinprompter erupted into a shower of sparks, whirred once then twice, and then went silent.
Paltron smirked. The transmitter in her hand blinked green – the Trojan card she'd left for Davis had just gone off. The reaction between the kroton and the EMT should have been enough to paralyze or destroy most of her devices, including her home receiver.
“Ros, baby,” she said seductively, “See how much better this was than going after everything with a hammer?” She let her voice get doey and her eyes grow wide as her stray fingers traced along the inner thigh of the man sitting beside her.
Ros stared straight ahead and wrapped his free arm around her shoulders. With his other hand, he steered their glider right, taking his queen, couched in leather, back to her kingdom at Box Office headquarters.
Judy and Solomon sat housed in his colonial estate. The building – his home – boasted towering white columns with wisteria that wrapped neatly around them. The front porch carried two white wicker rockers. Inside, the ceilings were lofty, the floors made of hardwood, the cabinetry light and modern – everything had been made to feel perfectly antiquated. Of course it had all been fabricated, modeled after colonial, plantation style homes from the actual Abolitionist period, but the irony of a black man – one of the most powerful men in the world, in fact – residing in a plantation home that symbolized the enslavement of black men, was lost on Solomon, for Abolitionists were not allowed to know history.
It was a historical house of gigantic proportions for a modest amount of living.
Judy and Solomon sat in the living room, quiet. Being together in his house was against the rules.
In front of them, on the coffee table, sat two glasses of iced tea lemonade and a copy of the most recent Box Office. Among all the rules, possessing news was perhaps the most unbreakable one.
They each sat in silence trying to rationalize the fact that neither of them were active Abolitionists anymore anyhow. They had both been withdrawn. They were free to do as they pleased.
Their hands tripped across the couch and found each other.
Without another word, Judy reached across the table and lifted the paper – the least traceable form of news they could find – and brought it closer to where their middling eyesight could find it.
In bold headlines, it read,
EIU DEFECTOR LOOSE! WARRANT AND REWARD FOR CAPTURE.
Beneath it was printed a small black and white photo of a ten-ten woman, unsmiling.
This wasn’t the headline they were expecting to see at all. The two looked at each other, question marks in their eyes, and then kept reading.
Baldsmith twisted angrily in his chair. The latest Box Office release streamed across his wall.
He glanced at the photo of Monica that ran below it. Even though she had always hated his guts and treated him with disdain, as did most women, he had come to see her as something of a daughter figure in his life. He felt he owed her a paternal level of protection, especially since she was an orphan. Or adopted, whichever. The point was that he had been the only one looking out for her, and now this two-faced Paltron woman had given her up to the entire world. And what for? What in God’s name could be her reason? It bettered neither of their businesses to expose their Inside/Outside Men.
Baldsmith was no man for brinksmanship, but he felt that he had to do something. A tit for a tat, so to speak. If Paltron was willing to so readily abandon his trust, he would have to find a way to retaliate.
He picked up the phone and gave a call to his good friend P.P. Gonzalez.
P.P. picked up on the first ring.