Jimmy Saguto felt the fatigue in his wrists. Even though all the action was taking place between his retinas and the screen, his wrists always had a way of embodying his stress.
The military in Zone 3 – or what the Pures liked to call “the bad part” – had just moved into its attack on Klammath.
“Everyone!” MB Davis demanded their attention. “As you’re seeing on the screens, Zone 3 has initiated its attack on Klammath, or Zone 2. This leaves the area where we are conducting our excavation – excuse me, evacuation – efforts completely defenseless and unattended. At this time we are calling the Invasive Defense Attack Unit into the area and stationing them on high alert. This is simply a precaution – we are preparing for the possibility of a Klammathian counterdefensive attack. You will see the IDA units near your workspace within the hour, but it should not hinder your evacuation efforts. That's it, back to your screens.”
Jimmy slowly swiveled back around in his chair, blinking once or twice to stretch out his vision and straighten up to the screen. Sixteen hours of the evacuation had him on the brink of his own consciousness. The mind-numbing images of dead kids had taken their toll. Every few minutes he’d had to peel back and remind himself to breathe, to swallow, to remember that this was just his job, not his life.
When he turned his attention back to the screen, he saw something that made him forget all of that. A teenage girl was picking her way furtively through the rubble. He spread his scan on her for a closer look. She had stringy blackish-brown hair and pale legs. Her ankles had weeks of dirt caked onto them, but she maintained a certain aura of purity about her. The jean jacket she wore had faded pink hearts stitched to the back that seemed to argue with the dark, fiery look in her eyes. The jacket seemed to tell a long, redemptive story about her life – a struggle to survive. Jimmy had never seen a girl like this before.
“Saguto!” Jimmy flicked the spheric away with his eyes and pulled up the nearest evacuee coordinates. MB Davis approached from a few monitors away. As she drew near, he stopped breathing altogether. By not reporting the sighting immediately, he had committed a breach of conduct serious enough to see him removed from the EIU for life.
MB Davis drew near. “How those wrists doing Saguto?”
“Good, ma’am. Good.” He was surprised she knew about his wrist problems.
“No more key mashing then?”
He realized she had no idea about his wrist problems. “No ma’am, no more key mashing.”
“Good.” She peered over his shoulder onto the screen. “agatha, these poor kids,” she said before continuing her patrol around the Tower.
As soon as her back was to him, Jimmy quickly pulled up the old spheric. His heart was racing; he felt like he hadn’t breathed for days.
The girl was gone. As he stared at the images, tracing over the rocks and broken steel for even a glimpse of her, his wrists froze. A tall, dirty-haired man wearing army fatigues and a thin shirt picked his way through the rubble along the same path the girl had been following. Something about the man was immediately honest. Were they together?
Suddenly, from behind him, “Saguto, report!”
“Yes ma’am, a Pure male has been spotted moving at coordinates two zero one, eight one seven at a speed of 2.2 milemeters per hour. Approximate build six mete four with three color hair and two color skin.” His wrists were practically rattling with fear.
The thought of the girl flashed through his mind. “No, ma’am.”
“We'll have to burn him.” A sudden quiet passed through the Atrium. Nobody was breathing now. "Graves, send Invasive Defense the command."
“Ma’am?” Monitor Graves wavered.
The blood in Graves's face drained. “To burn him?”
MB Davis took two sharp strides to his desk. "So help me, Graves, that is an order." With one last look at his commander, Graves turned to his monitor and quietly spoke the order into his comm. MB Davis swiftly turned to address everyone. "Let me be very clear. There is a chain of command here, and if any one of you breaks that chain of command again, your time in the EIU will be immediately at its end. Now you are all equipped to understand the urgency of the situation facing us. This is the first time that the EIU – or any major body – has crossed into Pureside since the Divide. This mission was issued directly from MAN, and as a Class I mission, it came with very specific requirements around containment. Drones only, no humans. Any humans entering or leaving the premises must be burned." The grim line of her lips finally indicated some displeasure at this prospect. "May I also remind you that there is a very real domestic war approaching the area, and our ID attack unit is not in place. Which means that all of our units are currently at risk." She turned back to Graves and raised her voice to a command. "Is that understood Graves!"
Graves nodded slowly, dazed with rebuff. They all nodded.
Burn. The term had never been one Jimmy was fond of. When someone was burned, all of their memories were copied into a database and the originals were degraded. It had originally been conceived of as a way to rehabilitate criminals. The tabula rasa, the blank slate. The trouble was, burning typically induced a rather severe incapacitation. The Moderators were still said to be working on it. It was more of an art, than a science, and it was hardly a science. Over time it was used as a way to punish criminals, deter crime. Some said it was even being explored as an intelligence tactic. The fact was that even after decades of use and incremental development, 40% of burn victims died.
Jimmy swallowed hard, feeling the resistance of a dry lump in his throat with no place to slide. Sure, all their units might be at risk, but they were just parts and plastic. That man was human. How could they burn him? He thought of the girl. Had MB Davis seen her too? How long had she been watching his monitor?
Without realizing what he was doing, Jimmy heard himself call out “Ma’am!”
He looked directly into MB Davis's eyes and told his second lie. “Pure male is taking up speed and moving at 4.6 metes per hour in a fourteen snap turn trajectory.”
He could see the gears in her head turning furiously. Important decisions were being made right in front of him. “Pos report, Saguto. Everyone back to your monitors!” She turned and made a straight line towards Chief MB.
Jimmy swiveled slowly back to his screen, gripping the counter to steady himself. He watched as the strange man ducked furtively into a cavern of metal, near the first set of coordinates Jimmy had given. In an instant, the man was gone.
I don’t know who you are, Jimmy thought to himself. But you better take care of that girl.
The Abolitionists sat solemnly round their heavy oak table. It was the centerpiece of their every meeting, their every waking day. The Christian Herald mockingly referred to it as “Jury Duty.” The joke was lost on them.
Solomon, the Abolitionist who had visited Jean Paltron at the Box Office earlier in the day, let his clasped hands come apart. “I will explain the situation.”
The others waited.
“Upon visiting Jean Paltron, in response to her request for an Abolitionist review and granted exemption, she divulged to me… certain information.”
They waited still.
“Information that immediately compromised my integrity as an Abolitionist and as a member of this panel.” Inaudible shock passed through them. He continued, “I must, regretfully, withdraw from my position.”
Judy, an oldish woman with rich red hazelnut hair – otherwise known as twelve color – immediately raised her finger in objection. “But why, Solomon? Why the dramatics? Surely this warrants some discussion.”
She looked around the room at her peers, rapt in silence. She threw her palms up in frustration. “I mean, this is unprecedented. This is Solomon we’re talking about here! He can’t just walk out, without saying why… we have to know why! Or at least the nature of it! We discuss – that’s what we do! Why wouldn’t we discuss this?”
“Judy,” Solomon began, “To say this is unprecedented is not entirely true. After the Divide, you’ll remember that Grenard –
“Oh, screw Grenard –
“You’ll remember that he willfully withdrew as Abolitionist when he felt his veil of ignorance had been compromised.”
“Yes, but listen to what I am saying,” Judy said forcefully, rising from the table. “There IS no precedent for how compromise is defined. The veil is purely fictive; its borders are a negotiation, and as such they are permeable! What I’m saying is that we – we – can abolish the very rule by which you've deemed yourself compromised! We can abolish it!”
A loud murmur of discomfort passed through the room.
Grace, a well-past-old woman with color one hair, sharpened. “Judy, listen to what you’re saying. Solomon knows something that he believes pierces the veil. There's only one course of action. He must withdraw. The Abolitionists cannot abolish the very foundation upon which we’ve been built. Certainly not for something so insubstantial.”
Judy straightened. “Yes, Grace, we can! I’ve been saying it for years – our purpose is to regulate this society. The Abolitionists who came before us felt that this goal was best served with ignorance. But it’s a new age.” She looked round, inspired. “It’s a new age, and change may be how we got here, but change is also how we move forward!” She pounded the table, trying to pound her message into their soft mushy brains. These were her childhood friends. Having a new thought in front of them felt unnatural. “It is not the age of innocence, it’s the age of awareness!” None would meet her eye.
“For others, yes, but for us, no,” Collinsworth finally responded, head bowed. “Your constant dissent, Judy, will quickly earn you the same fate as Solomon.”
Judy stared daggers into his eyes as she shoved her chair back. “Well then this is where I make my stand. I withdraw.” She grabbed her pin and ripped it off her lapel. “And when I get out of here, and I see what’s happening outside, I’m gonna scream it loud and clear for all you people to hear. Outside your parks. Outside your homes. Outside this very room. I’ll find a way to blow your precious veil to pieces. And then you’ll all be screwed.” She took one last look around the table, sneered in disgust, and left, her sure steps out the door echoing through the room. The sudden silence drifted slowly down on each of their heads.
Solomon, insistent on being demoted in the formal way, sat quietly.
At last, Collinsworth cleared his throat. “Solomon, as Prime Abolitionist –
Solomon lowered his head in ceremonious acknowledgement, “Yes your Prime, I understand.”
“— I’d like you to tell us what you heard.”
Solomon's head snapped up with a speed unbeknownst to him. Things spun vertically. “Your Prime?”
“Why don’t you tell us all what you heard today from Ms. Paltron.”
Solomon looked around in disbelief, catching glimmers of corrupt interest in each of their eyes. These were the people he’d grown up with, spent his whole life deliberating with, and who he relied on to value the veil, and reason, over all else. Collinsworth’s request violated every bond of trust he’d ever held; it completely rendered null his faith in the justice of their cause.
Solomon stood, took his coat under his wing, and strode out.