Jimmy Saguto leaned back. He felt the folds of the couch seeping over his legs. He had been sitting there so long, his skin itched and burned with hot, pooled blood. He massaged his thighs and raised his arms over his head. His wrists were almost fully healed now.
"You don't believe me," Lily said, more as a statement of fact than a question. She sat, hunched over the coffee table, her face a haunted gray and purple in the waning afternoon light.
"No, I do," Jimmy assured her, "I do. That's what makes it all… worse." He stretched his neck. "What I don't understand is how they thought they could get away with it."
Lily shrugged her shoulders, averting his gaze. "In a way, we're all doing it."
"No, but I mean whoever's leading it. Whoever's paying for it, making the decisions. I mean, you're just – I mean, no offense, but you're just doing what you've been told. You're just following the steps. To you, it's a science. You're –"
"A scientist –"
"Right, a scientist. And sure, maybe you've never questioned the ethics of it, but you never even knew what 'it' was! We don’t even know now, after all your snooping around. But if this is it, if what you're saying is true… then maybe there could be an ethical way to do it. I mean, if DOMO succeeded…" he trailed off breathlessly.
"I just never thought about it," Lily said, riding her own train of thought. "It was just what my parents did. And what my friends did. What we were all always told." She looked up at Jimmy finally, with guilt in her eyes. "I just wanted to be the best. I wanted to prove myself. I wanted to make the next big breakthrough."
"Right. I can understand that." He paused. "Look, you know I'm not blaming you."
"Right." Lily twisted her fingers nervously. A long empty silence stretched between them as they each considered what the other must be thinking.
"So let me just, summarize." Jimmy said, delicately.
"Sure." Lily watched her fingers.
"For as long as you can remember," Jimmy started slowly, "you, and your group of scientists here at DOMO – the center for 'Direct Observation and Moral Objectives,' have been collecting 'samples,' for an archive. A genetic archive."
"Right, GAP. And you don't really know who's funding it, or why. But, the samples you take – or, get – are from animals."
"Animals native to Pureside."
"Well there are only animals in Pureside."
"And you also get them from humans."
"Humans native to Pureside."
"And with the samples you take – or, get…"
"We're working to preserve every genetic variation," Lily cut in. She was getting frustrated. They'd already been over this part.
"But why? To what end? And when?"
"Well, I think the obvious understanding is that certain types…of animals, or people…are at risk of going extinct. And to prevent that from happening, we need an archive – a sufficient archive, with minimal data loss but reasonable storage capacity, and we need the ability to not only read, but write from it – in the event, I suppose… that we need to recreate them."
Jimmy looked at her. "But this 'event' – when we 'need' to recreate them… Don’t you think… it's kind of already happening? Like you were telling me about the pygmy tiger – how she's the only one like it, maybe in the world. But you don't think it's strange that you, or DOMO at least, hasn't tried to re-create a male? A counterpart for her?"
Lily frowned. "To my knowledge we haven't."
"But do you see what I mean?" Jimmy pressed on. "Who defines necessity? Who decides when we've gone past the point of no return?" He thought of all the people he knew and loved back home – his moms, Adams, Lisa, MB Charlie, Chungrae; he thought of how they all looked the same, and then he looked at her, this spitting image of his aunt, and said seriously now, "Or, according to what you're saying, who decided that we already did…"
Lily met his gaze. "Yes. Present theory is that I am a clone."
"Not a clone," Jimmy said quickly, aware of the sensitivities. "Just…"
"A dish baby."
"That's what we call them here. Dish babies." She swallowed uncomfortably. "When we talk… about the 'hypothetical' future," she said, using air quotes, "when we talk about the future and how one day we might need to write from all this data we're saving, we call the monsters we might create…dish babies." She paused. "It's that plate we squeeze the sample onto." Jimmy nodded half-heartedly. He'd figured.
"It's just one explanation," he added. "Look, you said I have a quarter that's distinctly Japanese, right?" Lily nodded. "That's rare on its own. But you do too. And we're both Outsiders. That's just… I mean, from what we know, that's just not possible right? All Outsiders are 10-10, fully blended, and we have been for more than a century. I don't know about you, but my family goes generations back on that side of the Divide. No cross-overs." He considered it more. "Maybe we're both dish babies. Maybe Aunt Syl's the –"
There was a knock at the door. Jimmy and Lily looked at each other a moment before rushing to cover him with the blankets. From Jimmy's place on the couch, he heard Lily walk calmly to the door, then open it.
"I'm looking for a Jimmy Saguto. I was told he could be found here."
He could recognize those declarative sentences and that tough staccato voice anywhere: MB Davis. Jimmy leapt off the couch, throwing his cover off. The day's last light shone from behind her shadow, but he knew it was her. "MB Davis?"
She took a few steps into the house. Lily, confused but clear-minded, shut the door quickly behind her.
"Saguto. I thought I'd never see you again. Are you safe?"
"Yeah." He gestured to Lily. "This is, my…new friend. She saved me, from the factory."
"You were at the collapse?"
"No. Well, under it, there's a…facility. They're doing research. It's a long story."
Lily eyed him, and then eyed the commander he seemed to put so much faith in.
Jimmy caught her wary glance and motioned an introduction. "We can trust her. She was my MB – or, commander – in the EIU."
Davis took a step towards her. "You're an Outsider."
Lily firmed up. Given everything she and Jimmy had just been discussing, it was hard to utter a definitive "Yes." But it was some relief to know she still looked like one. She nodded once.
"But you're living on this side of the Line?"
Jimmy and Lily exchanged glances. Lily was the first to speak. "You call it the Line?"
Davis smiled; old habits. "Yes, well, I've… I'm… staying here now. It's a long story."
"You're quitting the EIU?"
Davis's smile broke even wider. "You've been gone a while, kid. A lot's changed. I'm a defector, haven't you heard?" A shadow passed over her face. "Speaking of which, there's someone outside who wants to see you." She turned and called over her shoulder, "You can come in!" The door swung open; Barb stood in the doorway.
Barb blinked a few times as her eyes adjusted to the change in light.
From inside the dim living room, she heard a voice like Jimmy's say, "You made it." And then she saw Lily.
"YOU!" Before any of them knew what was going on, Barb was on top of her, pummeling her shoulders with angry fists. Davis sprang forward to pull her off.
"Saguto, talk to me, she know something I don't?"
Jimmy gave a bewildered look from one woman to the other, "No, I don't… I… Barb, what are you doing!"
Barb peeled back defiantly. "Oh, you think I don't recognize her? Well I do! She's the woman you were obsessed with, the one in the tanks!" Jimmy felt his stomach sink. He'd forgotten about that. "But guess what, she's not your aunt, Jimmy –"
"I know! She's a –"
"She's a crazy killer scientist! And she killed Dirth!"
"Who's Dirth?" Lily's voice came cautiously from behind where Jimmy stood.
"He's what you weirdos call 'a Pure," Barb answered, "and he was my friend! And you killed him! YOU did!" She swiveled to face Jimmy. "Did she tell you what they do? What everybody down there does? In those rooms with the cages?" Jimmy nodded frantically, hoping to assuage her. He knew everything. They had just been over it. If Barb would just let him explain… but she soldiered on. "Adams told me everything. Remember him? Your friend Adams? He hacked into their monitoring system." Davis's hands came off Barb's shoulders. Adams she trusted. "They basically kidnap people, like little kids, you know like those little rabbits, Jimmy? OK maybe you don't remember but they're those soft fluffy white things with big long ears and bushy tails – they're the an-i-mals we saw HER stick a needle with. Yeah they inject them with this wash treatment to change out all their blood and they take a, like, a sample, of their DNA, and do you know what they do after that, Jimmy? What your precious 'aunt' Sally does? She BURNS them! Like, they completely burn them, so they won't remember getting kidnapped and sampled and so they won't be a liability. And after they burn them they release them to the wild where they can go off and die somewhere in the woods because who can take care of them. Right? Who can take care of them! Their brain doesn't even work! They can't remember anything!! It's like the circle of life, right? Or, sorry, do you not know what that is? The circle of life is when the creatures at the top get EATEN by the ones at the bottom. Like Dirth would've been if he hadn't escaped. Adams said he was lucky to have escaped, before it was finished, the burning, so he could still remember some things, and make it out of there alive, and he even remembered me, but then he died! You ASSHOLE, he died! Because SHE killed him!" Barb fell sobbing onto the sofa. "And for what? For fucking blonde eyes and blue hair…"
Lily's hands flew up, covering her mouth. "They burn them… it makes perfect sense."
Jimmy gently knelt by Barb's side. "Dirth is gone?"
Barb wiped smeared makeup from under her eyes. It was a miracle there was any left to give. She nodded silently.
Jimmy wrapped her in his cold, tingling arms. They stayed like that for several minutes, suddenly understanding how far they'd both come.
Davis cleared her throat. "I'd like to get moving."
The three turned to look at her.
"I may no longer be a member of the EIU, but my personal mission has always been to uncover the truth, and then to expose it."
Jimmy looked at his leader with a new mix of awe and admiration. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to take it all down. I know who's behind this now – GAP, DOMO – I know who they are and I know they won't stop. There is no greater purpose; it's just a thought experiment. One that's harming people. There have to be other ways to preserve our endangered species – and races – than by killing the innocent. The Pures."
Lily, as though towards a beacon of hope, slipped her slender hand into Davis's, for no reason known to her. "How?"
"Well first, we have to take down the Divide."
The three watched her with alarm before Barb and Lily simultaneously spoke, "You mean, the Line?"
Her eyes grinned. "Yes, the Line."