Davis creaked back in her chair. Solomon and Judy stood behind her. So Paltron had caused the collapse. Davis had had her suspicions ever since their encounter at Paltron’s office, but she’d never been one to jump to conclusions. She’d wanted to hear it from Paltron’s own mouth. She’d wanted hard, solid evidence. And now that she had it, it explained a lot.
For starters, it explained why Paltron had sought out Solomon in the first place and tried to block the EIU from going in – prior to that point, there had never been any Outside eyes on Pureside except for hers, via Ros, and now everyone knew that she had him in her back pocket. Not only did the EIU going in make the break less exclusive to Box Office, but it meant there’d be a thousand eyes at the scene, ready to uncover foul play any minute.
It also explained why Paltron had tried to blackmail Baldsmith into giving up his Outside man. If the EIU had somehow learned of her connection to the collapse, she could’ve at least tried to keep the secret contained within the EIU by working her Outside connections. If the news spread Inside, though, it could trigger a humanity-ending war. There had never been interference across the Line. The Perot Treaty had held strong since the day of the Divide. So keeping the news from hitting Pureside had been her top priority, and to do that, she needed to buy off the Outside man. If she did that, she could keep it from Baldsmith; and if she kept it from Baldsmith, she could keep it from the Herald and all its unwashed masses.
But that had all backfired when Paltron realized that her Outside ‘man’ was Davis, and that she worked for the EIU. Paltron must have panicked to think what Davis might have already seen. Davis thought back to Paltron’s pathetic bribe to get her to doctor her reporting. Whether she was from the EIU or not, she could never be bought off.
Paltron had to be getting more desperate. Having her cognitive backup stolen and in the wrong hands meant it could be decrypted at any time. She’d come under personal investigation for owning an illegal flame. Lastly, she had Davis – knowing god knows what – still at large. Davis cricked her neck to the side. Paltron had to be nearing her limit – everyone had one. You could hear it in her voice – she would do anything to make this all go away and tie up loose ends once and for all. Starting with Davis.
There was just one thing Davis couldn’t figure out, and that was the man on the other end of the line. Who was he? He was an Outsider, that much was certain. But whoever he was, he seemed to know everything that was going on at the EIU – how? Beyond that, their conversation had hinted at something more, a darker side to recent events that only they seemed to know. The phrase ‘one of yours’ echoed ominously through Davis’s mind. What did it mean to 'own' a Pure? It wasn’t something she’d ever imagined. Who would want that, and to what end?
Davis turned in her seat; Solomon and Judy were now on the couch, huddled together with their faces angled down and their arms gently entwined around each other’s backs. They were taking this hard, harder than expected – they were Abolitionists who’d lived in isolation all their lives, did they even know what Pures were?
“What's going on?” Davis asked, somewhat harsh.
They looked up at her. Solomon looked like shit. Judy, for once, seemed to be the calm and controlled one.
“What?” Davis asked again. “Do you know something? Did you recognize that man?”
Solomon let his head sink back down, like a rusted anchor falling to a cold ocean floor. Judy’s lips twitched and curled into a frown. “We do. He’s our leader, Collinsworth. He’s Abolitionist Prime.”
Davis let the words sink in. She may have been a transplant, but she’d come to know a thing or two about living on the Outside. The impervious goodness – there was no other way to describe it – attributed to the governing body, MAN – was something she’d always subscribed to, believed in. The Moderators, composed largely of scientists and artists – or humanists, as they liked to be called, appealed to her sensibilities of rationality and reason, empathy and integrity. The idea of the Abolitionists – an unbiased group of philosophers responsible for making the laws – had always resonated with her. Compared to the Puritan House, where corruption ran rampant and pocketbooks ran legislature, MAN had been a dream, a system worth fighting for. And though she’d left Pureside primarily as an escape, she had specifically sought out the EIU as her way of fighting for that system. It was the closest thing Outsiders had to a military, and the military was the only way she knew how to best defend her ideals.
Now, Judy and Solomon were suggesting that the Prime Abolitionist was corrupt. Not corrupt in the typical sense – not in money or greed – but in the Abolitionist sense – meaning with information. He was unclean. His shroud of ignorance had been pierced – in fact, it was coming up full of holes. Not only that, but he seemed complicit in a much darker plot, one involving coercion, murder, and real lives – Pure lives. Davis struggled to see the bigger picture.
Suddenly Collinsworth’s voice broke the silence, and all three of them jumped – they’d forgotten the call was still live. Apparently Paltron's news had been a lot for him to process as well.
“The reason it matters,” they heard Collinsworth’s voice creak, “is that the site of the collapse, Calendula Sands, also happens to be the veiled site of our primary research facility, DOMO." When no sound of recognition came, he went on, this time with a vein of pride in his voice. "DOMO is the most magnificent science center in the world – it’s home to my Genetic Archive Project, and also home to the only known Glide gateway to ever cross the Divide. Up until your little incident, it was hidden entirely under the property and guise of Calendula Sands.” His voice became eerily cold, his next words dancing along a knife’s edge. “I hope you can understand ‘so the fuck why’ that’s important.” It was like speaking to a teenager.
“I see…” Paltron answered slowly. She seemed rightfully unnerved by Collinsworth’s change in tone. “I was… not aware… of… either of those things.” She cleared her throat, a brave flame of accusation in her voice. “You hadn’t told me.”
“Oh Jean…” Collinsworth replied, in a way that almost sounded like goodbye, “You didn’t need to know.”
A few seconds hung in the air as he seemed to think of something more – and then hung up.
The three defectors sat in silence, each one following their own specter of thought as every swollen minute passed. It was still daylight out. A bird chirped faintly outside. It was Solomon, finally, who spoke. “The Archive Project – the Genetic Archive Project –"
“GAP, was it? Did he say GAP?” Judy wondered aloud. “It’s incredible.”
Solomon stared at the creases in the palms of his hands, darkened folds tucked between bright white skin. “Was it decades ago?” He asked it ponderously, to no one in particular, and then looked into Davis’s eyes with conviction, “Because he spoke of it once, Collinsworth did. Right after we had deliberated, I remember.”
“Yes, at Panel,” Judy added. “At Panel, when we were young. We couldn’t have been more than seven, or eight! I remember it because of the frogs, the bright blue ones – ”
“How young?” Davis asked, in disbelief.
“Definitely younger than ten, wouldn’t you say, Solomon?” Judy answered, “Surely we were the youngest there.”
“Yes, we were the youngest,” Solomon replied. “No older than ten.” Davis threw Solomon a sidelong glance – how long must he have loved her, this Judy, with the ferocious red hair and animal spirit? Could he even pinpoint the moment it began? “It’s the hens that I remember,” Solomon went on, “The golden hens and the bright red rooster. My grandfather had one, before it was selected –”
“Selected for what?” Davis interrupted.
“We didn’t know at the time,” Solomon replied. “It must have been for the Archive.”
“The animals began to be chosen,” Judy explained, “Solomon remembers some of it, but I don’t. What I do remember though, very clearly, is what we deliberated.” And so Judy began, as though they were embarking on a grand adventure…