Barb pulled Jimmy back towards the hatch. She didn’t care how, but she wanted to get out of that room, and out of sight from that scientist woman on the other side of the glass. Whoever she was, and whatever she’d been doing in that room, she had thoroughly creeped Barb out.
After hopping down into the hatch after Jimmy, she pulled the panel down over their heads. Jimmy was quiet.
“So is the thing on? Is it working?” she whispered. She never thought she’d be so happy to be back in the crawlspace.
“Hold on, it takes a second,” Jimmy said absentmindedly. “And it’s low on battery. Adams might have put his into standby.”
“What? Why? Didn’t you tell him we might need him? That we’re stuck in some crazy ass factory where they’re conducting weird ass research on animals?”
“He doesn’t know we're here. And we don’t really know what they’re doing.”
Barb grabbed Jimmy by the shoulder and swiveled him towards her – no easy feat on all fours.
“Yes, we do. Didn’t you see what she was doing? Please don’t tell me you’re defending that woman. The one you ‘know,’ supposedly… How does that even make sense? Haven’t you spent your whole life on the Outside? How could you know somebody over here? An hour ago you were Mr. Smart-Ass Whipper Snapper, and now you’re babbling like a dumb little baby. Snap out of it!” She got up in his face for emphasis.
“I know you,” he said absent-mindedly, “and we’re from different sides.” Barb sat back on her heels in rebuff. “I know I know her…” he continued. He reached his hand back up towards the panel, as if to lift it up. “I just have to know how…”
Barb slapped his hand out of the air. “Get your hand down! No, you don’t have to know! And you certainly won’t be asking HER! I don’t care if she’s your long lost Aunt freaking Sally, we are NOT going back –”
"You're right." For the first time, Jimmy looked straight into Barb’s eyes. “You’re exactly right.”
Barb stopped mouth agape, thrown off by his response.
“That’s how I know her,” he continued. “She’s my aunt.”
Before Barb could launch into another deluge of not-caring, he went on. “Except my aunt died five years ago. In a Glider accident.”
Barb shook her head and demonstratively rolled her eyes. “Okay, so it’s not your aunt! Who cares? Are you listening to yourself? Didn’t you say you freaks all basically look like each other anyways? It must be someone else! It CAN’T be your aunt, because like you just said, she’s DEAD – unless you freaks also invented reincarnation while you were at it, and —”
“I know it’s her,” Jimmy interrupted.
Barb bounced on her heels. “Well okay then. Great! It’s her. Can we get the shit outta here now?”
Jimmy hardly heard her. “There must be a genetic archive. That’s what this must be.”
“Come again? Inspector Gadget?”
Jimmy missed the reference. From where Barb currently stood (or crouched), Outsiders had no idea about anything.
“The plates, the discs, the injections, the variety of species… We always knew there was an archive, but we just didn't think it was active – that we were still harvesting somewhere. Or that it was here in Pureside. Siphoning off you guys.”
Barb heard a slamming sound from up above them. She grimaced angrily and shoved herself forward into Jimmy’s area of the crawlspace, despite his occupying most of it.
“You know what?” she whispered as loudly as possible, “Fuck you, Space Boy, and fuck this fucked up space station with its claustrophic ass crawlspace. I am getting the fuck out of here.” After five seconds of being thoroughly and awkwardly smushed up against each other, Barb broke free in front. She grabbed the comm roughly from behind Jimmy's ear. “And I’ll be taking that, fuck you very much.”
Jimmy stared emptily after her for a few crawlstrides before shuffling quickly to catch up.
Lisa stared at her retinal.
“We’re green,” she muttered under her breath. “Still transmitting.”
Adams leaned into his knuckles, covering his face as he replied. “Shove it.”
MB Charlie swung past them, arms crossed, still suspicious from their earlier interaction. Lisa quickly shoved the feed off her retinal.
When Adams and Lisa had found out that Shruti was dead, they’d both reacted as blamelessly and supportively as they could, on the outside at least. But tucked away inside their concerned exteriors, their true concern lay with MB Davis. They both knew what it meant for her that Shruti was dead – the search would now escalate to Class 1, the highest level possible. With the new class of murderer that MB Davis had become, it would go beyond the EIU now, beyond the vigilante civs who’d joined the hunt after the Box Office break. It would hit the Moderators. MAN would be getting involved.
The two sat helplessly by as MB Charlie barked orders at the other monitors trickling in from break. They were all dumbfounded as they heard the news of Shruti’s death. Shock and fear crossed each of their faces. The conspiracy theories around MB Davis loomed larger. Was she a terrorist from Pureside? How long had she been undercover? Would she be coming back to the EIU? What did she want from them? Who else was she out to kill?
Adams and Lisa, though temporarily escaping Chief MB’s scrutiny, had no way of getting in contact with MB Davis now. The EIU was on complete lockdown, and the Atrium in particular was up to its gills with people on full alert. As the other MBs paced frenetically around the Tower doing their rounds, it was clear that they had become both the Scrutinizing and the Scrutinized. Nothing broke solidarity like a breach.
With renewed fierceness, Adams and Lisa worked rapidly to carry out the plan they’d devised with MB Davis before Shruti’s passing. They each secretly wondered if it made sense to stick to an old plan when so much had changed. But they stuck to it anyways, because if they didn’t, then everything MB Davis had risked coming back for would’ve been in vain. And they didn’t know what else to do.
Adams kept a lookout as Lisa slid the feed back in.
“Yep,” she whispered. “Still green.”
The cognitive backup that MB Davis had snuck into the data room had finally finished coding, and the transmitter card was operational. Green meant it was transmitting.
Unfortunately the paired receiver card was sitting in a pile of zapped rubble in MB Davis’s equipment room, so the transmitter was sending out loose, unreceived streams. Luckily Lisa had been studying wireless capture and decryption in her EIU courses, so with a few uninterrupted hours, she would soon be able to intercept the streams before they were lost. But every minute they wasted was roughly equivalent to one minute of cog capture, so time was precious.
“Incoming,” Adams warned again as Monitor Graves bounded over. Lisa shoved her feed away again.
“Hey Lis,” Graves said, resting a hand affectionately on her shoulder. “You OK?”
Adams rolled his eyes.
“Hey Graves,” Lisa replied, staying focused on her retinal. “Sorry, I’m kinda busy right now. What’s up?”
“Did you hear the big news?”
“Yeah…” Lisa said slowly, turning to feign concern for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Yeah, I can’t believe it,” Graves went on, “We’re moving on!”
“Moving on?” Lisa asked, puzzled.
“To the semis!” Graves slapped his hand against her back in celebration, “We won the whir match!”
“Wow, Graves… that’s… awesome!” Lisa said, making eye contact with Adams, who couldn’t help his sheepish grin. “Good for you?”
“Thanks, Lis.” His voice got serious. “Hey, uh, I was thinking we could maybe go out for some drinks afterwards – if you’re free – just to celebrate.”
The grin on Adams' face dissipated.
“Graves…” Lisa turned fully around in her chair to face hi nowm. “Don’t you think it’s kind of inappropriate?” Graves's brow wrinkled as she stared at him expectantly. “To be celebrating anything right after Shruti’s death? And with everything going on?”
Graves’s face fell. “Oh shoot… you’re so right. Yikes I’m such an idiot.” His hand peeled itself slowly from her back. "Sorry." He noticed for the first time how closely she and Adams had been sitting together. A shadow crossed his face. “Am I interrupting something?” Lisa saw Graves's eyes dart to her screen. His mouth dropped opened slightly; she spun around quickly to see what he was gaping at. A green light sat blinking in the corner of her retinal. Shoot, she hadn’t fully shoved it off. What was worse, actual spheric images were streaming past too. They were clipped, but still visible.
“What – is – that?” Graves began.
Adams quickly rose from his chair and pushed Graves away. “Dude, back off! She said no!”
“Said no to what?” Graves stumbled back, confused. His arms flew up. Somehow Adams' physical push had activated a feud between them that had always existed. All other thoughts vanished from his mind.
Adams saw Graves’s eyes narrow and quickly realized that he’d have to carry this through – there was no turning back now. Lisa needed the time. The Atrium grew silent as monitors and MBs alike all turned to watch. There had never been a fight in the Atrium before.
Adams took one last sidelong look at everyone in the room – his friends and family – the people he'd shared his best times with and his worst times. This might be the last time he’d see them, or this room, ever again. Without another thought, Adams lowered his head and ran charging into Graves, bowling him over. The two monitors met tangling onto the ground, and in a few seconds, Adams had Graves handily pinned down. He used to be a wrestler after all. But for this ‘strategy’ to work, he needed to let Graves up. He needed this to be the most convincing fight over a girl it could be.
“You ASS!” he yelled. “She said no!” A few in the room gasped.
In an attempt to look scrappy, Adams threw his hand into Graves’s hair and pulled hard. He was sure the spectacle of it was ludicrous. It felt awesome.
Graves, however, was not about to let Adams off easy. He was not only a qualifying whirball athlete in his own right, but he was also a full foot taller than Adams and had the highest marks in EIU physical training. This was no game to him. He grabbed Adams’ arm and wrenched it sideways, rolling deftly out from under him and jumping up into a radical crouch, one of the primary positions they were taught in intermediate. Something dark, that Adams didn’t recognize, flashed through Graves’s eyes.
Adams threw his palms up. “Sorry, man, maybe I overreac –
The last thing Adams remembered was a loud roar from Graves as he ran thundering towards him.