Adams awoke in a med room to the faint sounds of beeping machines. He tried to lift his head off the pillow and felt a sharp pain in his neck. Oh jesus. He looked around the room – it was one of the EIU’s. Well, at least he was still in the building.
He blinked slowly, looking around for the face to match Lisa’s voice. She didn’t seem to be there, at least not within his forward-facing field of vision.
“I’m on your personal.”
His face stayed flat as he realized that she’d somehow hooked into his personal comm. “They have cameras on you, so try not to react.”
It was hard to feel his face at the moment anyways. It felt frozen and numb – like someone had slathered concrete on top of it and called it a day. He felt self-conscious. He hoped he didn’t look too much like he’d taken a beating.
“Don’t worry, I can’t see you,” Lisa went on. “I couldn’t risk vid in here, after the whole Graves fiasco. Who, by the way, is in detainment now.” Adams couldn’t help but snort through the pain.
“Yeah, laugh,” Lisa replied. “But your little diversion helped. Dumb, but it helped. I got into the backup.”
Adams’ smile evaporated.
“It took longer than I thought it would. It was triply encrypted and tagged to go straight back to the Box Office pipeline. Even once I hacked it, it was hard to capture. I only skimmed about twenty percent of it I think, and even what I got is degraded.” She waited, sillily hoping he might say something. “Since I can’t play the spheric back while I’m in here, I pulled down the text and audio versions of what I have so far. And I found something.”
Adams waited, wanting to clear his throat, or give some signal he was listening, but he couldn’t.
“I’ll just play it.” Adams heard a shuffle and then a slight static sound as the feeds paired. Then he heard a woman’s voice, sharp and strong – “Let’s blow it. If we blow it we get the break first. And that asshole will learn to play on his side of the line.” The feed cut out.
Adams felt his neck straining to hear more. He heard Lisa exhale.
“I think she caused the factory collapse – that Paltron lady,” Lisa said. “I think she caused it and now she’s trying to cover it up –"
Suddenly the comm connection broke off.
Adams reached up to his ear towards the comm without thinking. He threw his hand down as he remembered he was being watched.
Barb stared straight ahead down the dimly lit crawlspace as Jimmy shuffled along behind her. She had no idea where they were going.
“You don’t know where you’re going,” his voice came echoing along.
“It’s not like there are that many ways to choose from,” she said, laying on the sarcasm.
“There are, actually, when you consider the added dimension of being able to go up,” Jimmy replied. He had a point. Know it all.
“Right,” Barb responded drily. “Is this your way of suggesting we go up through one of these tiles back to la-la-land? To go spy on your so-called aunt up there who’s probably slicing frog legs open? No thanks. I vote we just get the hell out of here.”
She felt his hand on her ankle. “Hey, just stop for a second.”
Something about his touch, and the maturity in his voice, stopped her. For a second, it reminded her of Dirth – who, she couldn’t help remembering, was still missing. She hoped he was OK. She angled her head awkwardly back to look at Jimmy. Resting on his hands and knees with that brown-haired crew cut, he looked calm, focused – not at all like the dazed idiot from half an hour before. He looked…cute.
“What.” She stated it plainly, reservation still obvious in her voice.
“We can’t just… get out of here. We have to go out the way we came… or the way I did, at least.”
“And it took you this long to mention it because…?”
“Well, because we can’t,” Jimmy replied, “we can’t go back that way. At least not exactly.”
Barb sat back on her haunches. “Okay Spacenaut, you can cut the cryptic bullshit, all I want to do is get out of here in one piece. If you have ideas for how to do that, I’m all ears.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to think about…”
“About what? How you got here?”
“No…” Jimmy replied absent-mindedly.
“And how the hell did you get over here anyways? I thought we had all kinds of advanced detection systems to keep you guys out.”
Jimmy pushed forward past her and took the lead. “You do have detection systems,” he said factually. “Enough to keep most people out. But this place – the factory – is different, for some reason. When the EIU drones were here, we realized there was something called an SDZ in place – a signal disruption zone.”
When it was clear Barb didn’t know what he was talking about, he went on. “It’s Outside technology that was developed a decade ago. It blocks regular methods of communication. When we saw they were using it here, we knew there had to be someone on the Outside involved. Or, at least my commander MB Davis knew. So to me that meant there probably had to be a way for Outsiders to get in, like Glide Transit.”
“Ooh ‘Glide Transit’…" Barb teased, "Let me guess, giant buttered up slides that whisk you around? Or how about… thousands of mini hang-gliders?”
Jimmy didn’t laugh. “In some ways, it is like a giant buttered up slide, but instead of a slide, it’s more like a tunnel. We built a massive network of them underground that can carry humans faster than the speed of sound, without needing vehicles or fuel. The system transports us using the electromagnetic current running through our bodies.”
“Well that sounds… lame.” Like bullshit, was what she meant to say.
Jimmy went on. “It’s brilliant actually because it’s data cheap. We kept butting our heads against this fantasy of disassembling and reassembling zettas of data – neural networks, physical configs – but we just couldn’t store and process all of it in a scalable way. Then Gruner came up with Glide. People scoffed at its simplicity, but it’s extremely powerful – we still don’t know all the ways it can be used. We’ve only gotten the hang of it in the last fifteen years. Without encasements, at least.”
“Okay…” Barb said slowly. “So what I’m hearing is… no teleporters? I speak on behalf of all Pures when I say I’m completely and utterly underwhelmed by you guys. Also, time travel. Would’ve expected that by now.”
“Well funny enough, the effect on the passenger is remarkably similar to what we would’ve had to do to teleport them. Upon entry, the brain gets temporarily stunned, so the passenger wakes up on arrival as though no transit time has elapsed.”
“Yeah," Jimmy laughed, still not picking up on her sarcasm, "The early testers claimed it wasn’t particularly pleasant to barrel down tunnels at high speeds in total darkness. Your body was frozen, but you were conscious. Supposedly you could still hear and feel things – like other people – whisking by next to you."
“Wow, so… let’s not go there. The idea of having my brain ‘turned off’ by a bunch of weirdos I don’t know isn’t exactly my cup of tea.”
“Cup of tea…” Jimmy turned the phrase over in his mind, filing it away for later. He had never heard of that before. “Well we’re not going there, so don’t worry. I came here a different way.”
“Oh Jesus, then how did you come here? Did you fly here in a plastic bag or something?”
Jimmy paused for a moment, surprised to hear her take their Lord’s name in vain. He made a mental note to ask her about it later.
“No,” he replied. “There weren’t any registered Glide portals that came up in my scan – even when I went through all the EIU class I databases. Besides, even if there had been one here, I probably wouldn’t have had the authority sig to come through.” He cleared his throat, in a feeble attempt to sound cooler than he currently felt. “No, I uh… I took a glider over, actually.”
“Ooh a ‘glider’...” Barb oozed in mock awe. “And that’s different from a buttered up ‘Glide’ tunnel, how, exactly? You guys really need to expand your vocabulary.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy laughed, “I guess we do." He ran a hand through his hair. "Well a glider – the non-buttery tunnel kind – is like… a jet. You know jets?”
“Yeah, I know jets…” Barb said slowly, both offended and impressed. “So a Glider is a jet?
Jimmy gave an awkward nod.
“And how exactly did you ‘secretly’ fly a jet over here? I can’t imagine it’s quiet.”
“Oh, they’re extremely quiet.” Jimmy explained. “It’s not really a jet though, that’s just the closest thing I could think of that I thought you might understand.” He winced, aware of the fine line he walked between being coolly informative and annoyingly patronizing. “All gliders have stealth tech, like cloaking. And they’re silent – even at mach speed.”
“Sounds…expensive. How were you able to get one then? Doesn’t your military need it for fighting? In wars and stuff?”
“Oh, no. We’ve never had… a war.” He stopped, unused to even saying the word. He was fairly certain its usage had been Abolished. He suddenly fought an onslaught of questions forming in his mind about war, poverty, and being a Pure, but he pushed them all down, kinda like hiding a house under a pillow. Now was not the time. He’d just have to keep taking lots of mental notes. He went on. “I… pulled some strings. It technically wasn’t... allowed, but I found a way to hack it. Anyways I think most of our stealth tech could get past your defensive systems, not just EIU-grade stealth. I just don’t think anyone’s ever tried, you know? Definitely not Outsiders…” He paused, hesitant to label himself as something Other than her. He went on with resolve. “Well, Outsiders, we respect the Perot Treaty. We’re actually… happy on our side, I'd say,” he added, “Besides we all know how dangerous it is here. In Pureside. Color factions, unregulated arms, poverty, natural disaster, hunger, war…”
"I thought you don't watch our news," Barb jousted.
Jimmy smiled. “I guess what I’m saying is it wasn’t ‘easy’ to get one – a glider, I mean. I had to take a risk. I just had to hope that whoever had found a way to set up an SDZ here had probably found a way to break the defensive shield too. So, I stole the glider and I flew over the Divide. And here I am.”
“Crawling,” Barb retorted.
“Crawling.” Jimmy replied, smiling again. He angled his head back to look her in the eyes. “We’re gonna get out of here. We’ll get the glider, and I can take you back wherever you need to go to be safe. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there looking for you now.”
“Sure…” For a second Barb thought of Bob, and Sandy. Without knowing why, Barb’s eyes made an uncomfortable tour around the space Jimmy occupied, from the tile to his left, to the tile to his right, and then down to the single tile that lay between his shoes and her hands. She basically wanted to be looking anywhere but straight into his eyes. She felt a heat in her neck. She bit her lip.
“Anyways, let’s go,” Jimmy said resolutely, turning back towards the darkness. “I have a plan.”