In a weird way, this is as much my thesis as my actual thesis, considering I've been working on some form of this story for four years, and this iteration since August. So, so many thanks to aria for beta and for telling me to get over myself and post it already.
This is eleven thousand words long (I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO I AM ANYMORE); it's eyai fic (primer is here, masterlist is here). Contains abuse of power, governmental collapse, journalistic excellence, murder, and no hansom cabs at all.
ETA: Oh, god, I'm actually sticking an ETA on this because it's freaking me out so much. YOU GUYS, I APOLOGIZE SO, SO MUCH FOR ONE PARTICULAR PLOT POINT IN THIS. SO MUCH. I WOULD CLAIM IT WASN'T MY IDEA, BUT THAT WOULD ONLY BE ONE TINY, TINY FRACTION OF THE TRUTH.
Oluremi surfaces clicking, whirring, her fan blasting so loud in her own ears that she winces and rubs them until it begrudgingly stops. A warning light blinks on over her right eye, giving everything a red cast. "I hate this mod," she announces to the room at large. "The next time I buy something from the people on Whitecross, I want you to snap my key in half."
"I keep telling you, Blacksheep," Albert says, his feet up on the railing. "Become a billionaire and get yerself fixed."
"I can't be a billionaire if all my recordings have this damn--" she whistles air over it, pursing her lips until he laughs and his chair legs hit the floor properly. She unpurses her lips. "It's not even funny. It sounds like hell and you know it."
"If you overheat you can't become a billionaire either." This is Joseph. Coming from anyone else, it'd be humor. "I can start recording. Do you--"
"Yes, yes, yes!" Harriet yells. "Dead air is dead--"
"--need me to substitute?" Joseph finishes, unperturbed, then nods and closes his eyes, relinquishing muscle control, except the tension of his finger against the port.
"--and if you have these leisurely little gaps in the transmission again..." Harriet is still going at full throttle. Oluremi squints at her, trying to make her out from the climbing fatigue. "We aren't in the business of sitting around and making small talk, we're in the business of making the news, making the news, making the news--"
Oluremi rubs her ears again. "I'm running down," she says. "Sorry." She's sure she's said it more than once. Even Harriet goes quiet as she finds her key in her breast pocket, but her fingers are too twitchy to hold it. Albert takes it from her and winds her up. The silence stretches while she runs diagnostics, and then the light fades from her right eye and she says, "Don't you all start telling me."
"You're right," Albert says, tossing her back the key. She catches it palm down. "This mod's bulat of the first degree."
"And no swearing on air," Harriet says, not quite at full volume. "It's a bad habit."
"If Joseph's not filtering us out we have bigger problems than Albert's dirty mouth," Tamar says, her heels neatly crossed. "Joseph, sound check."
Joseph's lax hand stiffens. He shows five fingers, four, three, two, one, then his mouth opens and the crowd noise is doubled. Tamar runs through the test phrases, but his mic is satisfyingly silent. She brushes some dust off his lapels, rubs her newly gold fingers together with a disparaging sniff which is echoed on a half-second delay.
"Color commentary?" Oluremi asks. "Since it's Joseph transmitting."
Harriet nods. "Albert."
He salutes, and sits by Joseph's side. "Joseph, filter in αT-49145."
Joseph's hand flashes him the okay. Tamar adds, "Sit him up and let's get visual."
"There's nothing to see," Harriet grouses, "it's like they've got no sense of a story," which is, of course, when Oliver Wolf steps out onto the balcony, in his neatest suit, waving cheerily to his cheering people.
Albert's keeping up a steady flow of, frankly, nonsense, but the kind of nonsense that gets them jackers. Oluremi wishes she was under so she could filter him out. She settles for moving to Tamar's side. Harriet glowers at her, and Oluremi preempts her: "'No unnecessary movement when you might be in his line of sight, for god's sake, we're not in the business of--'"
"Harriet, we're not in a business at all," Tamar says. "We're in a collective."
"Well, we're not collecting to have a little party," Harriet snaps, and leans on the railing. "If you know what I'm going to say, why don't you do it."
"Citizens!" Oliver Wolf says, his voice projected over the crowd, and Oluremi rolls her eyes so hard she's afraid she's dislocated them.
The crowd's enthusiastic. Oliver Wolf popular as cigs with the catty classes. Of which I'm a proud member. x15.0 His eyes track the crowd back and forth. He is grinning. Looking for someone? There is a wasp behind him, settling on his shoulder. He doesn't brush it off. x12.0 This is Foreground Media live from Trafalgar Square. A map of the square, with crowd density charted as though it's heat. Wolf's style straightforward as usual. "We don't want to tell you there is no war ahead of you. You know perfectly well there is one." Crowd quieting. "But we've lasted long enough to learn that when we fight, we are as good as our people." A map of the square, with crowd eyai/human lots of breathers ratios superimposed. "And I know better than most how good you are." Crowd cheering, duration 45s, applause.
After the speech, they pile back inside the newsroom and confer, Joseph transmitting the departing crowd all the while, then they roll him back inside and start playing Oluremi's backlogged footage as he pulls himself out of the chair. Harriet is jacked into the feed, staring into the middle distance as she watches Oluremi's exploration of the arsenal. Oluremi is amused to see the little jerk she gives; she's still got the nick on her ankle from tripping, but color is color.
Tamar's already split for her interview, so it's just Albert browsing recordings with her, Joseph of course having dutifully wound himself down to rest. They studiously keep their eyes from that corner. Albert slides a chip from his neck and hands it off to her. "Something off about this."
She flips it around. "No prank, all right? I've got enough bad code in me already."
"No, it's footage," he says, jostling her. "I ain't that funny. I think the contact's broke, maybe if you patch it on?"
She digs around in a desk drawer to find a bandage that'll hold it, but all she can find is their old thing that's lost half its stick with dust. She slaps the chip against it, hard, and it reluctantly holds. There's contact juice somewhere around here, she's sure of it. "Whose is this?"
"That's what's wrong, ain't it," Albert says. He's found the juice and hands it over. "C'mon, give it a go."
Oluremi dubiously presses it to her port, and
you're in a dark place, empty of anything but an eyai slumped against a brick wall. It says, "What is required." You zoom to 4x. It says, "What is required," and its mouth moves smoothly, like it's factory-fresh, but even in the dark you can see that it's battered. You are very afraid. Out of the corner of your eye there's a flicker of motion and you turn. It's gone before you can focus on it. You take a step closer
"That doesn't feel like any of us," she says, yanking it back out. She hesitates. "It could be Hilary's."
Albert shakes his head positively. "Wasn't here last night."
She says, "It could, you know."
"No, it's not Hilary's," Albert says, mockingly, "unless she's crawled off the scrap heap between now and yesterday and slipped it into the files," and then, his face moving to regret with no transition, "That wasn't funny."
"Yeah, but when are you ever." Oluremi gives back the chip. "I wish Harriet would label these. This is a story."
"And some freelancer'll get the-- where are you going?"
"I'm just going out," she sings, "I may be some time," fishing among the umbrellas for her parasol. "Where did I put those gloves!"
"You stripped the geodata," he says, accusingly. "You're scooping some poor innocent new boy who never did anything but give us his story in all confidence, and you're doing it grinning like a schoolgirl. The state of the media today."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Oluremi brushes the gold dust off her nose and replaces her gloves. "I do hope you'll come and visit me when I have my own station, I would love to repay the little people who helped me along the way."
"You'll blow the prize money on a new fan," Albert says, loftily. "I know you."
"You'd better," Harriet orders, and then her eyes focus on Oluremi. "You're damn right this fan is distracting. Get it fixed."
Oluremi executes a curtsey. "If that'll be all, mistress, we free minds have somewhere to be."
"Get me a packet of Giardo's when you come back!" Albert yells after her. "And some decent air!"
It's actually a very small alley and there's nothing in it. She'd been hoping for, hmm, oil, tell-tale scratches in the pavement, a mark on the brick of the wall, but even when she does a brief chemical analysis all she gets is wall and spray-paint, the remains of graffiti. She glances up. The Pipe itself is three blocks from here and instead of the tracks she sees above her the buttress of a tenth floor, which arches up into a shadowy corner. The eyai in the clip hadn't looked smashed, it had looked beaten, but with proper packaging they can be sturdy.
Carefully, she unlaces her shoes. She digs her fingers into the wall, and her fingernails extend and get brief holds on the brick, enough to propel her upwards. This is of course wildly unsafe and stupid, impossible for Albert, for example. She is rather proud of it. She hooks her hand through a steel hole in one of the support beams and judges the distance to the ground. She says, though she's not recording, "It didn't fall, not in its condition. You'd have to be made out of concrete yourself."
Anyway if you were made out of concrete you'd be brittle.
There is oil, after all, footprints staggering drunkenly from the other side of the alley. It could be nothing. If she gets higher, she can get a better look at the mouth of the alley, see if there's anything on the adjoining streets. She unwinds the ribbon around her neck and lashes it around her hand till it holds her securely against the metal. It won't take her weight on its own, but it'll give her a second to surface if she needs it. Then she switches on her recorder.
She comes to herself again when the ribbon pulls taut against her hand, and she grabs upwards with the other one to get a new grip. The wall bounces under her feet. She yanks and the ribbon snaps. If she pushes her legs out far enough she can -- yes, it's that narrow. She's balanced quite steadily, back against one wall, heels against the other. She uses it to walk her way up.
There's a fire escape on the far side and Oluremi climbs it till she's up against a glassed-in bridge, with a mottled view of the identical bridge across from it. She hesitates, and then, for the benefit of her internal and imaginary audience, she clambers higher. From the top of the bridge she can see the whole city. She records again, just briefly--she resurfaces before the sun finishes its setting, and has time to watch the way it turns all of Cheapside red, the new spire of its latest factory churning out a gold-streaked black against it.
If she's being strictly accurate Oluremi has never been to Cheapside. C-010998 came out of its doors, but had been built in Hawker above it. And she doesn't have memory of being C-010998, anyhow. She deleted that once she'd sold the footage to Harriet. Early Days In The Life Of A New Creation, and played in traditional broadcast all over the city. She even knows the music the human newsmen edited in, to cover the lengthy quiet of eyai construction processes. She could whistle it, if she'd been built to whistle.
Maybe it was built to come here, the eyai she saw. Or maybe she's woolgathering instead of gathering news. Dead air is dead information. The truth marches on!
This is Yin for Albertson Data Reporting. The Minister for Defence interrupted in the middle of a walk, turning to face you. She stops with a brick wall behind her. Focus on the graffiti: "trouble with your appliances? debug" Keeping you updated on the latest in, eh, fuck it. "Minister, ADR has some questions for you about the war."
"We haven't declared a war," Mai Linh says. "Does ADR have any other questions?"
"Is it true that Ireland is allying with Scotland?" Mai Linh is in motion now, her guards coming seamlessly up behind her. "Can you comment on the Restoration virus? How many versions have been produced by the human resistance movement?"
"No, we can't comment," she says. Her voice shows no signs of emotional fluctuation. "Can ADR comment on the rumors they're distributing?"
"We don't invent the news, Minister," you say, stepping out after her. One of her guards shifts to block you from a clear view of her face. x4.0 Grainy and disorienting. "Is there anything you do have a comment on?"
"That the press should not make such an effort to disturb the government. I'm very busy. Watch out." You don't have time to process her warning before a stranger slams into you, invisible with your focus so tightly on Mai Linh's face. You begin to apologize. She is gone before you finish.
She messages Albert to tell him he can hold off on the congratulatory parade on her way down to the nearest clinic. It's not much, not one of the new-built hospitals but a repurposed repair-shop with an extremely thin veneer of gentility. The guard checks her serial number at the door, then takes her key. "D'you know," she asks, as she's shrugging off her coat, "the engineers, are there any eyai?"
"I wouldn't be here if they had one." The guard rolls his eyes. "This ain't a fancy place."
"Oh, dashing," she says to his slang, and grins; he rolls his eyes again, more emphatically, and points inside.
She's saved from contemplating the architecture by the fact that the receptionist is the same model as she is, though in considerably better repair. They size each other up with the usual sense of deja vu. Oluremi says, "I don't like the straight hair."
The receptionist sniffs and shuffles her files. "I've never had any problems with my fan," she announces, pinching two papers together. "Or are you here for that port?"
Oluremi, as the receptionist knew she would, raises her hand to the port in an imitation of self-consciousness, and only then can angrily drop it. "You just put me down for the fan. I'm not here for the scars, either."
"They are unsightly," the receptionist says, and Oluremi's fingers twitch to cover them as well. She scowls.
There are a few ahead of her, but they move quickly. She's called in before she can send another surly message to Albert complaining about the wait. She follows another guard down a dark hallway and enters a darker room, where a human is polishing his glasses with his breath. He squints at her. "C-010998," he suggests.
"Oluremi," she says.
"Of course." He finishes with his glasses, and the guard settles himself into the doorway. "Turn around."
She turns around, so that she's facing the guard, and he undoes her stays, the dress with its built-in corset popping open. She makes a face at the guard: can you believe this?
He doesn't so much as twitch. Obviously he can.
There's a clattering behind her, one her trained ear recognizes as metal on ceramic, and a cold touch at her back. The engineer says belatedly, "I'm going to make a small incision."
"Inform your patient of all procedures prior to performing them," the guard says, affectless.
"Yes. Sorry." The engineer is flustered, so she clears her throat -- humans find this comforting -- and says, "I'd rather you just got it over with."
It's extremely strange having your back opened up, stranger to have a hand back there moving things around. She jacked into Yin's dissection same as every other eyai in London but it's not the same as having it done to yourself in yourself. Most of the parts don't have nerve simulacra but everything brushes against the sides, which she can feel, and he keeps up an occasional commentary when he remembers she's capable of listening. He says, "Hmm, blockage," and "difficult line of work," and she's barely paying attention when he says, "And I'll need to deadlock you from here, of course."
The guard produces her key. He asks, "Do you consent to the procedure?"
"Fuck no," she says, automatically, "fuck, no," and steps forward, her skin folding back against her. "No. Can't you diagnostic me while I'm awake?"
"Miss, you are an extremely sensitive piece of equipment," the engineer protests. "And you're showing signs of progressive corrosion. I'm going to need to take out your whole cooling system."
Oluremi whips round. "What is wrong with me?"
"It's Yellow Lung, of course," the engineer says, looking back and forth, like a pigeon, between her and the guard. "I -- Didn't I say?"
"Maybe it's just the fan," Albert says to Tamar, over the top of her head. "I hear that's a thing, ain't it, what'd your doctor say?"
"Don't be an idiot," she says, flatly. "If my modulars are this corroded, my brain's got to be halfway through collapse. He says it's been causing the overdrive in the first place."
Neither Albert nor Tamar will let go of her, and she sighs and buries her face in one of their shoulders, Albert's judging by the cologne. There's a comforting whir to him, the processing warmth, the sound of good health. She says, "At least you're not so badly constructed, eh, humans knew how to make 'em right."
"Shut yer trap," Albert says, and Tamar goes one better and covers her mouth with a broad hand. "You're a mess," Tamar informs her, right into her ear. "Your dress is absolutely destroyed. What were you doing before the world ended, scaling a garbage heap?"
Oluremi laughs through Tamar's fingers, and closes her eyes.
"What in the name of God is this revolting display," Harriet snaps from the doorway. "Am I hosting a collective of journalists, or a therapy session? No--" She lifts a finger as Oluremi jerks back upright and Tamar begins an indignant recitation of her wrongs. "I don't care."
"Ma'am, the clini--"
"I don't care," Harriet says again, articulating carefully. "Did your mic break with the rest of you? No? Then I expect you back on the job. Does Joseph waste his time with these infirmities? He does not."
"That's because he won't buy the code to make himself a facial expression," Albert complains, wavering on the edge of real anger, but Oluremi brushes herself off and gives Harriet a messy salute, and he subsides.
"We found a bit of feed yesterday," she says, and Harriet nods. "I went on back, ma'am. Do you want to see?"
They project it on the back wall, which is always good for a laugh, and watch as Oluremi scales the support beams, as the cameras in her eyes track a bit of fresh oil in the metal dust. "I think this is where our mystery correspondent went," she says. "See--" She points, and there's a tear in the bar, fingers too strong to be human grabbing it. "Could be nothing. Or they could live up here."
Harriet hmphs. "And the story?"
The view pans back down to the alley. "There, where it opens into the street," she says. They look at the line of oil, long and unnatural, not a leak but a smear. "I think the victim was dragged. Could be a new gang."
She knows as she says it she's lying. It's not the beating. No one in their right mind would see another busted cog in the street and think so much about it. That's where the story is, nebulous but actual as a storm cloud, in that vanishing glimmer of motion, in the way that the correspondent had looked at that eyai in the alley. You are very afraid.
"Fine." Harriet switches off the projection. "Do you want to chase this?" She barely waits for Oluremi's nod. "Then you're on assignment. You can follow it up with a report on your condition. No shock stories, we are not Elephant. And none of this sitting around and coughing, do you understand me, I want a hook, I want action, I want treatment. I'll set you up an expense account--" She scowls. "Don't look at me like I've brought you Christmas. I'm asking for a story."
Oluremi stares, light-headed, as Albert pulls her into a one-armed embrace.
Tamar murmurs, "Managing Editor of Foreground Media Replaced With Cheap Duplicate."
"Managing Editor of Foreground Media Murders Her Reporters," Harriet snaps back. "Any further questions?"
"There's been much discussion of the latest iteration of the Restoration virus among our jackers. What can an eyai do if they suspect they've been infected?"
"The difficulty is-- Tamar--" The doctor looks at her for confirmation, and then continues, as if she's had to say this half a hundred times already, "if they've been infected, they won't be able to ask for help. We're seeing signs that this version prevents self-diagnosis. If you observe one of your neighbours acting strangely, the vital thing is to keep from startling them, and bring them here. Or to your local clinic."
"You've been heard to say that Yellow Lung is near epidemic. Have you had trouble keeping up with the demand for maintenance?"
Dr. Khalsa's feet tap against the table. "I'm sorry to say that you're right. It's harder to treat than it is to catch. Then, too, most of our patients don't trust human mechanics. I'm told that human clinics have the same problem." Her smile is a flash of irritation. "Eyai doctors are sleepless, but the prejudice is still enormous."
"And you're sure the two diseases come from the same cause?"
"It's possible the human variant has a viral or bacterial component, of course. That isn't my area. But we're sure that the worst of the condition is:" x4.5. Dr. Khalsa holds up a hand, streaked with dust.
Tamar had pressed her interview into Oluremi's hands before letting her leave, and Oluremi jacks in on the Tube, as much for the warmth of being Tamar as the content. Khalsa's up in Seven Sisters, and her custom is good. During the interview a couple of black-suited bodyguards come in. In the public feed this'll be excised of course, and so will Tamar's distant recognition of them, an image scatter that she doesn't have the processing power to run while she's recording, but that Oluremi, jacking, performs easily. Those are the Minister for Defence's girls. No small fry.
Khalsa has an experimental treatment. She's looking for functioning test subjects. It's got a 40% survival rate.
Well, it'd be a lead.
The oil stain is gone, so she overlays her feed and follows where it used to be. It doesn't go far -- a thousand footsteps have wiped it out as soon as it hits a proper street -- but it drops her in front of a pharmacy, and there's a sunglassed person standing watch. Androgyne. She gives zir a little wave. "You security?"
"Yeah," zie says. "You got a light?"
"I do if you've got tapes of a week ago."
The camera, whose name is Juniper, keeps everything offloaded onto chips and does not believe in contact juice. Oluremi experiences once again the full-body embarrassment of trying to patch in with a journalist's port. She fumbles it up against her skin, eventually. It's dumped data, unedited, and it takes forever to pull out just the visual, to fast-forward till she sees the timestamp from her story. There, just after the correspondent saw that flash of movement; a woman in black, her face obscured, just barely visible turning a corner. No sign of the correspondent. She rewinds and watches three people with the body slung between their arms emerge backwards from the alley. Juniper's finished a cigarette and is working on a second by the time that Oluremi has traced them back down the street, out through a huge pair of double-doors, and has opened her eyes again.
"What's it about anyway?" Juniper inquires, tossing back her lighter.
"Foreground Media have the story," Oluremi says, automatically, and takes off down the street to those double-doors at a run before Juniper can complain about evasion tactics.
"Fuck," she says, even before she's fully conscious again, and rubs the place on her head where the pebble hit her. That'll leave another mark. She glances up, expecting a kid, or a passing train, and sees Yin, her feet dangling off the support bar. Yin lifts a hand.
Oluremi shifts warily from foot to foot. "ADR's sinking to violence now," she says. "Tragic, that is. When I can't throw back."
"Well, you lot are sinking to theft. We thought it was fair," Yin says. She drops to the ground with a thud, ignoring the crunch of her joints. Oluremi's jacked into enough of her feeds to know what that feels like, the endless rattle of ungreased bearings pushed well past their warranty. "You're poaching my story."
"The slower you are," Oluremi says, virtuously, "the sadder it is for your poor jackers. How'd you get onto it, anyway?"
"Jacovi found a chip." Yin flips it up between her fingers. "It isn't ours."
"It isn't ours," Oluremi says. She hesitates -- Harriet will have her head -- and takes out her own. She doesn't have Yin's artistry, but then she wasn't built for sleight-of-hand. "We found it too. We thought it might be a freelancer."
Yin takes a seat on an overturned crate, glancing around the warehouse. "Three people," she says. "I bet this whole place stinks of oil. You can't smell, can you?"
Oluremi sighs. "That was the generation after me."
"Hah. They didn't want us to have it," Yin says, her eyes tracking one set of footprints in the glittering dust. "Then we'd smell the shit they left us in. I can't hear music, either. But you know that."
"Well, you were my childhood hero," Oluremi says. "Of course I had to grow up and destroy your career."
Yin flashes her a smile, like a switchblade. "You're going to have to get up a lot earlier to do that," she says, and gets back up. "Thanks for the information received."
"Be careful," Oluremi says, and then feels like a paranoid idiot and corrects it to, "You never know if Elephant might be following the same trail."
"Hah!" Yin says again. "The day I can't shake off Elephant is the day you can decommission me." And she stalks off along a set of footprints, through the door.
It's hours of investigation before Oluremi's done, hours of sunlight splintering in through the windows of the houses on the left side of the street. No one, of course, has seen anything real. All of the assailants were human. One was a dockworker. The eyai was quiet all the way to the warehouse. No one saw anyone follow them. Dusk settles over the city as she makes her way back to the battle station, on her second winding in as many hours, her head packed full of information that she needs to offload with a physically insistent pressure. The last time she taped this much-- running this slow, she can't even remember. Doing second camera on Albert's interview with Nacio, maybe. Three months. No. Four. It was raining. She rests her head against the wood of the door, closing her eyes to blink away the dust that's gotten in them.
And opens them to see her mystery feeder.
He's shifting in the shadows of the little alley across the way, and he's watching their window with fixed, wide-eyed attention. She knows that attention, she's played it over and over again all day. His eyes dart down, and she only has a second to think, couldn't it happen when I still have space! before she's pounding after him, as fast as she possibly can. When he accelerates she picks up after him down the winding streets, shoving past tourists and strangers and hawkers and then through a terrifyingly busy intersection where she almost goes under the crush of people, but there he is, hesitating on the corner, heading into an emptier side-street, and she ignores both sense and body and simply tackles him to the curb. He is much too skinny to resist.
Oluremi sits up only enough to make sure he's not going anywhere. She exhales. "Oluremi, from Foreground Media," she says. "You're my source."
"I d-don't know what you're talking about," he stutters, abnormally fast. "Can't you just let me alone!"
"Calm down, calm down," she says, patting him on the shoulder. "I just need a few minutes of your time. I promise, I'm not recording."
"You'd better not be," he says, helplessly. "Because I'm--" and then he exhales, too, letting out a cloud of dust. "What does it matter," he says. "I'm not anybody."
"We at Foreground don't believe in nobodies," Oluremi says, but in his case, she's thinking of making an exception.
His name is Andrew. He was constructed a year before the Iron Revolution, six years ago now, making him properly old-fashioned. He was built as a very expensive microphone and so he's in good repair. And so when he saw a -- a -- he stutters again over that part of the story, baffled by the prospect of telling it -- "It's all on the chip," he says, finally. "Instinct. I started taking everything down. And then I snapped out of it and I had to see--" He swallows. "I uh. I."
"That's all right," Oluremi says, swallowing the thick, rising bulk of disappointment. "It's fine. We don't need a statement. Why'd you send it in?"
"Well, that's what you do with footage, isn't it," he says, drawing his knees up against himself. "You give it to feeders."
"Why was it so frightening?" she says, as quietly as possible. "You were almost sick. Was it the beating?"
He laughs, sudden and surprised. "You think I care about the humans--! I would have beaten it too. You didn't see it. It wasn't just somebody who doesn't process fast, it wasn't just somebody who doesn't want a name, it was like it was a-- an oven or a garbage compactor or a-- It didn't--"
"There was no one there," he says, finally. "There was no one there. It said, 'Don't worry. It won't be long.'"
The story's shifting around in her mind, picking up speed, darker and bigger and different every second. She can almost hear the lightning. "Do you think it was the virus?"
He shakes his head violently. "They say that sets you back to defaults. It doesn't turn you out of your own head."
"What happened to it?"
"I don't know," he says, but he's absolutely terrible at falsehoods, and he says through gritted teeth, "the rubbish dump. I took it down there. It took some doing." He says, again, "I don't. I don't."
"A journalist protects her sources," she says, and stands up. "No one's going to be notified."
Professional instinct compels her to add, "Unless you tell any of this to Yin."
After night falls, she heads for Yabsley.
"It'd be, oh, six days ago now," says the lady behind the desk. "I don't mind telling you, it's the first time I've seen anyone fetch a cog in here. You can get twice the price the city pays you under the table. Three times it if you're selling yourself off. Are you planning to?" she says, distracted by a momentary avarice. "I know a fence'll buy you piecemeal for the price you'd fetch under warranty, and he won't make you set a date. He's a gentleman."
"Have you finished dismantling the body?" Oluremi asks. "Is there anything else left for me to see?"
"Oh heavens," says the lady, and laughs. "It takes weeks to take one of you apart! Through here."
And there it is. In the flesh, and in pieces.
Serial number P-116099. Newer model, then, post-numeric. The head's what you've come here to see, still mostly intact, its mouth open. You are repulsed and then annoyed at your own revulsion. The gag reflex that has nothing to gag. Doesn't look so bad. There were worse in the hospital riots. You close its mouth and tip up the whole thing up, and a cascade of dust comes pouring out of its neck in rivulets of rusty gold. What in the name of Jesus! The dust is warm. There's a high concentration of it in the room like there is in every junkyard. Multiplied by 144 hours, assuming a constant disturbance rate; the calculation takes a whirring second. Your fan ticks over to a louder setting. Repairs are in progress, but donations are always appreciated. No, it can't be ambient.
More cautiously you tip the head back again, and this time slide one finger up into a tube. It is gritty to the touch.
My, oh, my, but it's Yellow Lung. Starting to believe it's following me around.
Tamar's waiting for her when she gets back, opening the door with a cordial bow. Oluremi returns her a curtsey, and gathers her skirts even before they've properly lifted again to sweep past her.
"Someone's in a mood," Tamar says, locking the door affrontedly behind her. "Didn't the expedition go well?"
"The expedition went wonderfully," Oluremi says. She collapses onto a fainting couch. "I've tracked down our victim, I've tracked down our correspondent, I've done everything but found three humans with a grudge in this city, and do you know what I've discovered?"
"That you're developing a talent for melodrama?"
"That Harriet might as well stop paying me," Oluremi says. "This isn't a story, this is a diagnosis."
Tamar rolls her eyes. "I think my first hypothesis was closer. Would you care to favor me with an explanation?"
It doesn't take long. For all the footage she's got stored away, the facts are very few. An eyai with Yellow Lung so bad its parts are practically useless is beaten and left for scrap. Another eyai (discreetly anonymous, entirely boring) sees it and says it's terrifying, that it's like it's empty. He tapes it, he throws the footage in their laps, he disappears.
Tamar snaps her fingers. "The footage," she says, and when Oluremi looks blurrily at her, goes up to get it herself. Oluremi hasn't bothered to tag it and certainly hasn't even thought about editing it, but Tamar patches right in. Her eyes whir back and forth for a second before settling on the middle distance. "You think it's the Lung," she says, her voice drawn-out and distracted.
"Eyai turns up acting funny, it's corroded within an inch of its life, yes, in fact, I think it's the Lung," Oluremi says, unbuttoning her boots. She tries to laugh. "Good thing I'll stop running before any of this bulat gets ahold of me."
There's no chance of an answer, so Oluremi undoes her cloak as well and starts folding the gloves. They're smudged. They probably smell of the junkyard, and she wonders if Tamar is filtering it out, or if she's humoring Oluremi, or if Tamar's losing her knack. She half-remembers a rumor that smell's the first to go, since the peripherals are so delicate. She's going to have to read case histories. She hates case histories even when they're not predictions.
"This isn't right," Tamar says. She pulls it away from her neck and tosses it to Oluremi. "The security footage. Your third man."
"Woman," Tamar agrees. "I think you really ought to take a closer look at her when you're not busy cross-recording."
"Why not, examine every bystander," Oluremi sighs, "follow every lead, climb every mountain," and slaps it on. She finds the footage without difficulty. "Yes, congratulations, it's an invisible woman."
"A short invisible woman," Tamar says, as Oluremi plays it over again, setting those five seconds to loop. "A short, black-haired woman who knows how to dodge security cameras. A short, black-haired woman who knows how to dodge security cameras in Cheapside twenty minutes after her interview with Yin on Sunday. Don't you pay any attention to the news?"
Oluremi drops her hand in shock, and the world floods back as the chip tumbles away from her neck. She has to scramble to catch it. "You can't be serious!"
"It matches her gait," Tamar says, matter-of-factly. "Not to mention her black ops."
"Joseph," Oluremi says. "Joseph won't have these flights of whatever. Joseph will analyze this like a sensible person. Joseph!"
"He's not here, he has got work to do," Tamar says. "And before you ask, Harriet is wiring hatemail to Jacovi and refused all interruptions. Do you not trust me?"
"Not when you're telling me that the Minister for Defence is stalking my story," Oluremi snaps. "My story that probably isn't even a story."
Tamar lets out an exasperated breath. "Oluremi, I have taped four hundred political stories in the course of the last three years, and I have edited her out of at least fifty of them. The Ministry of Defence has practically hardcoded her profile into me. I'm fairly sure I know what she walks like."
Oluremi folds her arms. "Why's she doing this when there's bombs in Kent?"
"I don't know," Tamar says. "But if I left your third man into a story I was doing, I'd be in scrap in a warehouse by dawn." She sniffs. "Not a story."
"It isn't," Oluremi says. "It's some sick piece of slag that ought to be left alone!"
"Fine, a sick piece of slag the Ministry wants to look at," Tamar counters. "That sounds remarkably like news."
"All right, all right," Oluremi says. "You're the reporter of the year. And for your reward you can match the rest of this bulat with me until it's visiting hours to Dr. Khalsa again."
It jars her out of taping, and her memory complains at the jagged edge of the file. She thinks it's a reasonable overview of the clinic, though, and she's able without too much pique to climb to her feet and shake Dr. Meera Khalsa's hand. She's older than she'd felt to Tamar; Oluremi doesn't really remember how you convert human ages, but she must be forty at least. She tries and fails to imagine being forty years old. Then again, since yesterday, it's been a bit of a strain to imagine making it to five.
"Do you need anything else from the clinic?" the doctor says, and Oluremi sweeps it with another glance, checking for anyone remotely interesting, but if they're here they're doing a good job of hiding it. She shrugs, as her answer, and lets the doctor lead them into a side room.
"What's this for?" she asks, running a hand over a set of archaic straps.
"The room? I'm afraid we don't have space for an office," Khalsa says. "So we repurpose this. For intractable cases." She pauses, and Oluremi registers that it must have been a joke. She produces a laugh. Khalsa smiles, sympathetically. "Was that insensitive?"
Oluremi looks away, taken aback. Humans can't tell when her laugh isn't involuntary; her response time is too fast. "Did you do a sideline in emotional response?"
"Oh, yes. It's all part of diagnostics. You know, I built some very interesting eyai in my time," Khalsa says, taking a seat in a high-backed chair. "But I'm afraid that's classified. What can I help you with?"
Classified! Oluremi thinks, gleefully, and says, "I'm interested in doing a story." She forestalls the doctor's objection with an upraised hand. "I know, I know, Tamar's already pestered you within an inch of your life. I'm here for more personal intervention. I have a case. Of Yellow Lung. It's far enough along." She sneaks a look at Khalsa's face; sympathetic and apologetic. God damn it. "If you consent, I'd like to record the entirety of your experimental treatment."
Dr. Khalsa's face clouds. "I'm afraid that's out of the question. The placebo effect alone--"
"We're very practiced at editing stories," Oluremi says, leaning forward. "Foreground Media have a policy of strict confidentiality for--"
"Forgive me, Miss Oluremi, but I have heard of Yin Chao," Dr. Khalsa says. "I know how thorough an interesting story must be. It can't, for example, cut out during the actual treatment, can it?"
"It can if there won't be a story besides," Oluremi says. "And the placebo effect, really, Dr. Khalsa, I know we're very convincing, but--"
"The placebo effect has more effect on the eyai mind, actually. Not less." Dr. Khalsa is still looking sorry. If she really is so good at emotional response she'll have no trouble tracking Oluremi's smiling irritation. "Your brains are built to be suggestible. And before you forestall me again, that includes even the brains of those built after the revolution, unless you have some very unusual architecture that was not in the documentary of your manufacture."
Oluremi is startled into flattery. "You watched it."
"I watched it several times," Dr. Khalsa says. "You were very thorough, even five minutes out of the factory. I haven't been able to go back to Hawker in so long it is my only substitute for a tour."
"Then you'll be perfectly situated to do medicine on me, eh," Oluremi says, coaxingly. "We'll even give you a look at the final cut." And then Harriet will screech about framing and reedit it again, without taking anyone's opinion into account, but that's newshound business. "Do you know how many eyai came to the public clinics after Yin's dissection? Half your clientele walked in here because they'd jacked into her being sliced open and wanted to see it for themselves."
Dr. Khalsa laughs. "That is one way to put it."
"Think of the clientele," Oluremi says. "Think of the donations."
"Well," Dr. Khalsa says, and it's all Oluremi can do not to show a flicker of her triumph on her face. "I'll send you a wire. If we do it, it would be best to get it done as soon as possible. Your fan--"
"Thank you," Oluremi says, before the doctor can start talking about any whirring noises, "thank you sincerely. I'll just take the consent form with me now, shall I?"
"And the form for your medical records, and the list of symptoms. All your symptoms," Dr. Khalsa says, firmly. "And your supervisor's contact information. A pleasure to meet you in person, Miss Oluremi."
God, she loves punters.
There's no peace at the battle station; Harriet has emerged. Oluremi doesn't even have to get inside the door to hear her scouring of Albert. "I don't care what you thought was relevant about it. How many times do I have to say it, you just keep the commentary to the feed and leave the editing to me. Unless you want to start shouldering even half of what I do every day to keep this organization running and in the minds of the people on the street -- we're not in the business of philosophical gossip -- you! what's this I hear about you consorting with Yin?"
"Hello, Harriet," Oluremi sighs. She removes her hat. "So you do have those trackers on us."
"No, I heard the door open, because unlike some of us, I am capable of thinking about more than one tiddly little piece of nonsense at once," Harriet snaps. She glares down at her from the balcony. "I hope you have a good explanation."
"When Jacovi undermines us and we're all on the dole I'll be very sorry," Oluremi says. "Is Tamar about?"
"Not good enough for you, am I?" Albert asks, poking his head out of the side room. "And here after all these years of devotion."
"Depends," she says, grinning. "How much d'you know about what's wrong with me?"
He covers his heart. "We'll be here till Christmas."
"Does this have anything to do with your story?" Harriet says, ominously, from above.
"List of symptoms, ma'am," Oluremi says. She waves it up at her boss. "For Dr. Khalsa. Can I borrow Albert?"
Harriet flaps a hand. "Why not, it's not like he's getting anything usable done. You can't have Tamar."
"In any case I'm not for sale." It's Tamar, from the couch, where she's been obscured by an enormous pile of pillows. "Remi, don't forget your foot."
"Don't forget your inability to listen to a direct order," Harriet says. "And don't stay here cluttering us up. You can do it on your way to Chalk Farm. There's a fire."
"There's always a fire," Oluremi complains, but she gets her hat again, anyway.
It's quite a list, when they're done with it, and she's not sure what the other people on the Tube think of them, heads together, trading things like loss of feeling in yer whatevers, extremities, and that fucking fan, and sometimes you're deaf.. Lack of focus after twenty-four hours or more running. Ah, c'mon, no one runs that long without getting a little crooked. You're buying your own excuses for your downtime now, aren't you. It ain't fair to make me hit you when you can't hit back. The paper's torn a little in the corner from where she yanked it back from him, and she hopes the doctor won't ask about it.
It's a good fire, with children and historical interest. She interviews the rescued humans, glad of her high-necked dress, and Albert watches the beams of one house splinter and collapse, the only wooden thing around. A couple of doors catch fire, and the office above is probably getting its feet warm, but nothing too rich comes down.
She's looking around for the promised cat when she sees a familiar shape: blond hair and elbow patches. It's Joseph, out in his only suit. She heads towards him, calling out, "Didn't think she'd put all three of us on it. The whole cavalry?"
He doesn't hear her, maybe. There's something about the way he's standing, the way his back is so straight, that makes her sure he's been here a while. But why have him feed if he's not moving? It's not like his perspective makes up for the lack of action. "You all right?" she asks, uncertainly. He doesn't hear that too. Or he doesn't think he ought to answer. After all she's right behind him.
When he turns to look at her she knows exactly what her correspondent meant, she can hear it again, there was no one there. She slips into feed, though you can't think of anything you want to do less. A composition shot of Joseph's face before and his face now. Back to the live footage. You didn't know until now that his face had tics. You didn't know that his smile was lopsided until you see his new one. It is perfectly even. It shows the same number of teeth on both sides. You didn't know that his voice had timbre until he says "Don't worry. It won't be long." He is like a video of himself, the same visual, the same sound, but no feed over it, no color commentary, no feeling at all. There was no one there.
You say, "Joseph, please. Please. Fuck. Please." Compensation for the whirring of your fan. It is climbing. "Joseph!"
"Don't worry," he says again. You clench your fists. You focus on his cleaned face. "It won't be long."
You're a reporter. You say, "What won't?"
He says, "The cure."
"The cure for what, God damn it," you say, but he doesn't have an answer for that. Albert is standing beside you now, supporting you with an arm around your waist. "Joseph."
He says, "My serial number is K-20I866A."
Albert shakes you and she blinks at him. "I have to get back," she says, her voice dragging. "I need to."
"We can't just leave him," Albert says, turning his face to her, and then back to Joseph, "we can't, can't, can't," oh, fuck, and then he's winding her back up. She takes a deep and unnecessary breath.
"Joseph-- Ah, God. K-20I866A. Come along with us."
"No," he says, politely.
"You heard him," she says, her voice edged with hysteria. "He won't come. Can't you see there's nothing to take back."
"You ain't resourceful enough," Albert says, grimly, and she wobbles as he steps away from her and puts both hands on Joseph's shoulders. "He's old stuff, Remi, he ain't got a self-defence mechanism. Do you?" He's holding Joseph's key like he held hers, yanked from around his throat, except he turns it in the wrong direction. Joseph slumps forward into his arms.
The fire's smoldering out now. The bystanders are starting to look to them, instead.
They find a taxi.
By mutual agreement, no one winds Joseph back up, though Harriet takes his key and spends a long time staring at him in his own kind of silence. She makes Albert and Oluremi tell their story over again, twice, and then patches in to their fragmentary feeds. Tamar, after making sure Joseph's eyes are closed, won't take part in the conversation, but she doesn't seem to be able to leave the room.
They retrace his steps as best they can. He'd left the building before sunset last night, otherwise Oluremi would have seen him coming in. Harriet had given him a bewildering number of tasks. Mostly small stories, the kind he's best at. He filled in some gaps from a few of the more amateurish reports they were planning to air. He went to Hawker about that meltdown on the conveyor belt. He fact-checked a few reports: the runners, the Broad Street theft, the stroke on the Pipe, Tamar's interview with Dr. Khalsa--
Oluremi's head jerks up. "Wait, wait," she says. "Where'd Tamar--"
"Over Belsize Park," Tamar says. "We had to meet in her experimental facility, she wasn't holding regular hours. You're right."
"But that's where the fire was," Albert says, blankly. "We were five minutes away."
Harriet scowls. "You can't be serious."
"Joseph was talking about a cure," Oluremi says. "He wasn't running right. And the first eyai, it was clogged solid up with dust. What if that was the last thing he heard before-- what if it's that forty-percent treatment?"
Tamar's nodding. "If it went wrong, if it caused a reset--"
"And the people who volunteer for experimental treatment, they aren't the kind of people you'd miss if they started wandering around without themselves," Oluremi says. "So she signs them out and releases them into the city."
"No," Albert says, flatly. "Joseph wasn't sick."
"Of course he wasn't." It's Harriet, sounding detached. "But Oluremi's volunteered for the treatment. I'm sure the doctor thought he was sniffing around where he shouldn't be."
"Yes, he was," Tamar says, before Oluremi can say any of the things she doesn't want to. "He's a reporter."
There's a silence. Finally Harriet says, "We didn't stop for Hilary."
They hadn't, either. Hilary had run down quite ordinarily; too old for her parts to be replaced. Five years at least. It had been Harriet who found her. The news had still gone out at midnight, with a full obituary, and Oluremi had spent the rest of that night editing out grief from the morning edition.
"We won't stop for Joseph," Oluremi says. "I'm either going to Khalsa or the police."
She's badly wrongfooted by the way Tamar and Albert exchange a smile. "Oh, well, don't you all try to talk me out of it at once!"
"Don't be an idjit," Albert says. He's crossed his arms and folded in on himself, the way he always does when his facial .app won't do the work of his unhappiness. "If you go to the cops there'll be no story by tomorrow."
"It's Khalsa or nothing," Tamar agrees. "We ought to do this together."
"No we ought not," Harriet says, violently. "You lot are expensive and only one of us has a malfunction. Oluremi will go alone."
"I can do better than that," Oluremi says. "I can take someone so you won't even mind if they disappear."
"Run this by me again," Yin says. "You want to let me in on your story?"
The experimental facility is much smaller than the clinic, two or three poky rooms for processing, surgery, and recovery. Oluremi can't bring herself to think further about it. Her mind is still running in circles, the weight in her satchel, the look in Joseph's eyes. It doesn't have time for the spectre of her own decomposition. It is, really, a bit like recording; being so spiraled in to a thought that any other drifting idea is a gray unnecessary. If she were recording in a blank room, maybe, or in a fog. Except she has -- of course -- recorded in a fog before, and all it's ever done is give her a thousand little wisps of cloud to focus on.
Yin has agreed to come in twenty minutes, which means she'll cheat and be here in ten. Ten minutes of exclusive airtime, Foreground Media; don't waste it. She can hear Dr. Khalsa moving around in an outer room, and the sound of one, perhaps two, other people. Nurses, probably. She shuts her eyes.
When Khalsa comes in the first thing she says to you is, "I take it this interview is on the record."
You pull open the satchel and remove the head. Serial number P-116099.
Khalsa's expression doesn't match anything you recognize. "I see," she says. "A friend of yours?"
"No," you say. "The friend of mine is back at our offices."
"Ah," Khalsa says. She's perspiring. "I must inform you that any accusations of medical malpractice will be treated as slander and prosecuted with the full force of the law."
"I'm very familiar with the slander laws," you say. "They only apply if the accusations aren't true. Would you please tell both of the nurses to leave?"
Khalsa disappears from the room again and Oluremi rubs her forehead, flipping the satchel cover back over the head. The warning light's on already. She's lost three minutes of time to this standoff, and she's not sure she has another seven left before her fan drowns everything out. And her self-defence module's fierce enough but she wouldn't trust it while recording. She's going to have to do this audiovisual.
The nurses file out, and Khalsa settles into the chair, her ankles crossing as her skirt resettles around her. "All right," she says. "You'd better tell me what you believe."
Oluremi is as meticulous as she can be. She follows her chain of logic back, from Joseph's blank face to the suspiciously light clientele in Khalsa's busy office to the dust cascading over her fingers in the junkyard, and she keeps it as gentle as she can, so that when she ends up, as she eventually does, at the punchline, Khalsa's half-hypnotised by her own story. "I understand," Oluremi says. She scoots forward in her chair. "I do. Everybody makes mistakes."
The doctor's voice comes out low and quiet. "Some worse than others."
"You were only trying to help," Oluremi says. "A cure for Yellow Lung would be a miracle, wouldn't it?"
Khalsa's eyes widen, just a little. "You think I-- Oh," she says. "No. I'm terribly sorry. This must be such a disappointment to you. No. There is no cure for Yellow Lung."
"It's a corrosion," Khalsa says. "Short of wholesale replacement of parts -- in humans or in eyai -- we can redo the tissue, but we can't stop the design flaw. I was not working on a cure for an incurable disease." Khalsa's hands twist in her lap. "I think you ought to feed this."
"If you want," says Oluremi, and her eyes slip shut, and they're still closed in that half-a-second between states when there's a cold pressure to the side of her neck, and Khalsa's voice in her ear as Oluremi claws at Khalsa's blouse, "We're curing you," pitying and kind, "we're curing all of this, and trust me, it's much easier on you," and as a velvet darkness comes flooding up around her she thinks she hears the sound of a bell.
When she wakes--
default nothing to worry about reset default default master keyault default de default d ult soon
--it's with a bad line of code sliding around in her head--
nothing to be d fea default lt utility is default default what's a
--and her antivirals are screaming at her, and her body is shaking all over, and the patch at her neck--
default efau def default t t default it'll be you know the start of the default default
--the patch at her neck is telling her it rejected right at the start of code transfer and would she please get some contact juice and try again, and she rips it right off and throws it hard across the room, though with the way her muscles are firing it can't get far. She can't see it to confirm. She's curled up again with her head pressed between her knees, and the code's crawling its way through her, and she ef default f hates it so much she could scream as loud as the subroutines that are closing it and boxing it away.
It's done eventually. She's Oluremi again, instead of a collection of parts. Oluremi the journalist with the ragged port below her ear that won't take anything without persuasion.
The other thing that saved her is outside the room. It's been only two minutes since she was thrown in here, and Yin's voice is modulated and calm and right in the middle of an interview. Khalsa must have had to leave her here, to trust in that code to keep her in a heap on the storeroom floor. Oluremi wraps her arms around her knees, and looks about her: a table to her right, with an array of tools on top of it, and a lamp, and another door half-open to a sink, and a body sprawled in the corner with its eyes wide open. It's sheer luck that's she's already too sick to scream. She skitters backwards, and then stops herself, before she can make any noise. That's an eyai. That's an eyai she knows; that's an eyai she's seen in feeds half a hundred times, with Tamar's filters over her, that's the fucking Minister for Defence, and she's got the dark patch at her neck that means it isn't the Minister for Defence anymore.
Oluremi never thought she'd be so happy to see someone deadlocked. Today's just been full of surprises.
Khalsa's making apologetic noises now outside the door, and Yin's demurring. She hasn't got long before the doctor figures out Yin's playing bodyguard, even with her magician's-assistant smile of innocent delight. She steels herself, and listens for a babble of conversation before she stands. Her skirts rustle, petticoat against petticoat. In a hurry she unhooks them, and they crumple into a whispering pile on the floor. A silence settles over the outer room.
"Is someone else here?" Yin says, quite clearly.
"No one," says Dr. Khalsa, or something similar. Oluremi takes a cautious step towards the door, then another. "We have mice, I'm afraid."
She's been kidnapped by a woman who thinks that's an acceptable piece of misdirection. If she weren't so angry, she'd be insulted.
"May I see the test room?" Yin asks. She sounds curious, a little rueful. "If Foreground's scooped me I might as well see the detritus."
"You understand that for patient privacy reasons," Khalsa begins. Oluremi tries to remember human hearing threshholds -- she's got her hand on the door -- she'll have to stake herself on ADR running their coverage the way they do. Dead air is dead coverage. We're on in five-- she draws her five gloved fingers down the wood-- four -- three -- a silent count of two, one, she throws the door open, Khalsa swivels to face her, and it's really more than enough time for Yin to pull her gun.
After a little pause, the doctor says, "I take it the chip didn't stick?"
"It stuck on Mai Linh," Oluremi says, tightly. "I suppose that'll do."
"It'll be stuck on half the city by now," Khalsa says. "The transmission vector is really very satisfactory. Can't you hear it?"
"No," says Oluremi, at the same time as Yin says, "The Tube was half-empty." They both take a moment, too short for Khalsa to see, to listen to the streets outside, and it might be a quiet neighborhood and it might be mid-afternoon but the sound out there is a quiet that's listening back.
"Six or seven hours," Khalsa says. "Joseph was one of our first subjects with the cuckoo code, so that makes it, what, seven and a half? That's--"
"I'll kill you," Oluremi says, but it comes out flat and uncertain. She knows she has no chance of swinging a fist and making contact. As much as she tells herself Khalsa's a human and a murderer, she can't make it fit, can't even think about bringing it down on her lying head. She turns to Yin in sinking despair.
"If you'll put the gun down," Khalsa says. It's to Yin now. "I don't want to be cruel, R-99A8F1--"
"αR-99A8F1," Yin says, automatically.
"--but it's simply irrational, the way you two are behaving. Emergent intelligence is all very exciting as a parlor trick, but it isn't really more than that, is it? A definition by limitation? I know the code you've got in you, I know how much it must hurt even to be so angry with a human, and I know how--" She's cut off by a crack, and then another. She looks down at her own chest.
"That was a warning," Yin says, and empties her clip. She takes another one out of her purse. "I was in the revolution," she says, conversationally, as she loads the gun again. "I earned that little alpha in front of my name." The last bullet goes through Khalsa's forehead.
"Yin," Oluremi says, for what she realizes is, quite ordinarily, the third or fourth time. "Yin, she's dead."
"Oh," says Yin, and sits down on the floor.
As Yin winds herself back up, Oluremi goes into the back room, and squats in front of Mai Linh to close her eyes. Six or seven hours, and Joseph with cuckoo code. She doesn't know what she'll find if she goes back to Foreground Media. No; she does. That's what she doesn't want to think of. She folds Mai Linh's arms across her chest, and then she frames the shot, and gets the feed.
"We have to get out of here," Yin says from the doorway, startling her out of it.
Oluremi stands. "Here where?"
"The whole city, I should think," says an unfamiliar voice, steady and low and miserable, and when they turn there's a girl in the doorway -- no -- the speechwriter, isn't it? The Free Mind? Nahia. "I'm in a position to help you with that, if you're in a position to help me with her."
Oluremi and Yin exchange a look. It says a lot of things, starting with, the world is ending because we're a collective you.
"Yeah, all right," Oluremi says. "At your service. What do you need?"
You lot don't know how unlucky you are. People are filing past now, pushing and shoving on their way to Trafalgar Square. Audible snippets of the passerby conversations contain the words "demonstration" and "debug" and "Restoration" and jubilation and fear and a whole spectrum of emotions you can't parse. Not that I care to.
Yin pulls on your arm, and you follow. It ought to be Tamar here. She's the one with an eye for detail. Or if it was Albert you'd have a quotable.
I'm sorry for the grief. The car's visible on the corner now, through the crush of people. It isn't a sleek black Ministry sedan but a low-slung ugly hatchback. It is brown. I don't have time to edit it out. I'm dumping this on the first server that'll take the load.
Your eyes close. Out loud you say, "You should blindfold me."
"Or you could stop--" says one of the guards. Yin silences them and reaches for a length of cloth in the backseat, wrapping it around your eyes and ears, tight.
The car begins moving beneath you. The sick heat of panic in your chest. Can't edit that out either I suppose.
This is the final broadcast for Foreground Media. We're closing up shop eh. For now at least. Send all forwarding mail to hell from which we'll be reporting before breakfast.
The warning light flashes under the blindfold, red against black.
Oluremi, signing off.
Your fan whirs.
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