Davis slammed her headphones down with a bang. That bastard did it. Baldsmith had kept Paltron on the feed long enough to be traced. Those last few seconds – Paltron’s final jab – had given them just enough. Later, Davis would have time to celebrate the irony of using Paltron’s greatest power – her confidence in her control over men – against her. Thanks to Baldsmith’s dependable display of desperation and weakness, Paltron had actually let her guard down.
“So what? Is that it?” Judy wolfed in. “Was that the plan?”
Davis nodded. She started packing her things.
“But it seems like she knew!” Judy owled. “She called his bluff! She didn’t even ask for your location!”
“That was the plan,” Solomon intuited, without Davis explaining.
“But when you spoke to him,” Judy chimped on, “you said he had to tell her! ‘It's extremely important,’ you said, ‘to give her the location!’”
“He needed a mission,” Solomon conjectured again, “so he would not go astray.”
“So he wouldn’t panic,” Davis corrected, unplugging wires and coiling them rapidly. “He’s weak; she’s strong. I knew he’d struggle. Suspected he’d fail.”
Solomon whiffed air out his nostrils in appreciation. “And because he failed, we no longer need the additional funds –
“ – that you didn’t have anyways. Right.”
Judy was finding this know-it-all militant woman a bit insufferable. She stallioned back, “Well so all that – and we know where she is now? Without seeing the video? Just based on sound? Do we need to dial him back and ask if he saw where she was?”
“She’s still in her office,” Davis replied. “She hasn’t left yet. The trace wasn’t for her location, it was for her comm port. Spheric requires an additional level of authentication, and she had to provide it to open up the connection. And thanks to Baldsmith the connection stayed open long enough for me to route it back to her port and latch on.” She snapped her wire case shut and looked back at the two Abolitionists. Ex-Abolitionists, she reminded herself. She wouldn’t have dared do this otherwise.
“So now what?” Judy jayed.
“Now,” Davis went on, “and for the foreseeable future, we can listen in on all her calls –spheric and comm. We won’t get video, but –
“I understand,” Solomon said, with the utmost solemnity. Privacy was something he held in the highest regard. “We are spies.”
Davis couldn’t help but grin. If they only knew. “Yes. Spies.”
The lights had gone dim. Right after Adams’ comm with Lisa had cut out, the lights in the med room had gone dim. In lockdown mode, the lights would go blue. When the armory was released – which now felt like ages ago – the lights had gone red. But there was no code for dim. What was dim? What the fly knuckles was going on? Adams sat in the yellow gray, thinking. For a second he tried to arch his neck to look out the door, but a bright spasm of pain shot down his spine. It was really quiet. If all the power was down, then vid monitoring should be down too. Maybe he could re-engage his comm…
Suddenly a Monitor – Chungrae – ran into the room, and flung the door shut behind him. Adams sat up quickly and felt a lightning bolt of pain charge through his body. He threw his head back against the bed. Mother of pearl.
“Chung, what?” he managed, his eyes squeezed shut in pain.
“There’s a Pure. In the building.”
As visitors were rush-herded out and the EIU Immediate Response Team rush-hurried in, Dirth lay comatose on a gurney, the focus of everyone’s attention.
“That dude is like a 1!” Big Jim exclaimed gleefully to the gate monitor, Pete. They stood off to the side as the team prepared to wheel Dirth away.
“Hell na, 1 is white as white, man," Pete – or Lil Pete, as Big Jim called him – replied. "That dude is more like a 2!”
“Na that dude is a 1-1, thas what I’m sayin!” Big Jim rejoined.
“And what I’m sayin is he’s a 2-2, thas what I’m sayin!” Lil Pete volleyed back, popping up and down in the air like it was hot. He grabbed his commtab and sent a quick micro:
<<2-2 at the EIU>>
He grinned to himself. Had a nice ring to it. If his micro broke first and it got enough views, he could maybe buy Nancy dinner. Maybe even a dog, who knew. Dogs were one of the most expensive things Outside money could buy.
Paltron sat with her head down at her desk, face nestled between her arms, when the first micro hit. SQOOLGIRL78 wrote:
<<Spotted: Weirdo with 3 color hair omw to class. HOT.>>
<<2-2 at the EIU>> from PETEYBOY10
<<THURR A PURE UP IN HURR!!>> from BIGJIMEASY9
And then the next. And the next. And the next. It was a flood. And it was terrified. It was exuberant. And it was not stopping. Paltron’s mouth gaped open as her screen quickly filled and then spilled over with line after line of microtext streaming in. Strangely there were no pictures of the Pure though, no spheric or sound. The EIU must have contained it fast. She peeked out into the gallery below her office and watched the data pills being piped in – undoubtedly covering the collapse, or the ‘mysterious EIU defector,’ she was sure – but for how much longer?
She swallowed her panic. A 2-2 in the EIU… who could that be? How could a Pure have made it Out?
Boy did she hate getting her news from the news.
A call from Collinsworth and Paltron banged a knee on her desk.
Collinsworth paused. He was tempted to clear his throat but resisted. Instead he let it catch and hang at the bottom, where it threatened to burst and make him seem more stern or more stressed than he intended. After all, he loved this woman.
“John, for christ's sake,” Paltron stumbled forward, “I don’t know what this is, I don’t know what to do! Have you seen the micros? Should I try to stop them? Should I shut down the pipes? Or maybe try to spin it? I mean, what do you think? I don't… I don't know what this is!”
Collinsworth couldn’t stop his brow from furrowing. She sounded positively unspooled. He’d never heard her come undone before. He gripped his temple with a big meaty hand. He took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.
“Are you there?” She was panicked.
“I’m here, Jean. I’m here…”
“Well then why don’t you say something? I mean goddammit, this is a crisis!” There, with the swearing, was his woman. His girl.
“Did you cause the factory collapse, Jean?”
There. He had said it. The suspicion that had been plaguing him for days was out now. He proffered it up to her on a silver platter: a chance to come clean.
“Are you hearing what I’m saying? THERE IS A PURE, FREE, ON THE LOOSE, OUTSIDE! I think you should be worrying right now whether it could be one of yours!”
She hadn’t answered him. His mind raced.
“From what I’ve heard,” he said carefully, “the Pure's been contained. At the EIU. They have him in cell. He’s been stunned. But not – ” he added, remembering suddenly, “not burned, like that other poor girl, by your black-mark flame.” Or should he say killed. Something for which, he, now, was complicit.
In the silence, Collinsworth could practically hear Paltron roll her eyes.
Bitterly, she replied, “So you know who he is. The Pure.” Then, “And he is one of yours.”
Yes, Collinsworth thought to himself, of course I know who he is. I know everything. Jean might own the news, but he owned reality. Every other part of MAN was a construct, a technicality – he, and he alone, was the puppetmaster. He pulled the strings. Despite Outsiders’ best attempts to create a government with no figurehead, it simply wasn’t possible. Or practical. They all knew it, but they denied it. They would rather ignore what went on behind closed doors than fess up to the truth.
And here was the truth: there was no equality, not yet at least. He could see the words emblazoned on a poster – revolutionary propaganda, infidel words in a society of saints – THERE IS NO EQUALITY. Not until his Archive Project was through, and even then there were no guarantees. Some would always be born superior to others. Race may have fallen out of play, at least for the time being, but there was still class and creed. Gender and sexuality. Variance in intelligence and physical composition. He, for example, was born of exceptional intelligence, but had developed a bum leg as a teenager. As an adult, it put him in a position to easily attain power but to crave unattainable women. It got him to where he was now, Prime Abolitionist. The Abolitionists, of course, had been formed to be power-agnostic, intentionally oblivious for the purposes of legislature. In the real world, though, legislature didn’t matter one bit. It was when he realized that, that Collinsworth had become a free man. The natural world didn't follow law, it only followed habit. His only weakness was his love, and it seemed at the moment as though his love may have betrayed him.
“I’ll only ask once more, Jean.”
He sat there, resolved, resigned. Ready to hear the truth.
She was quiet.
“Yeah, I did. I caused it,” she spat finally. “So the fuck what?”