October 8, Early Afternoon
Galileo’s panel vanished, and Cowan numbly deleted the script that had put Taylor Lambda into a coma. He restored normal algorithms. It would be days until Taylor woke — he had been under long enough that the enforced sleep had put him into a real coma — but he would wake, now, eventually. Good for him.
Cowan flipped back to meatspace to find Sonne gripping his arms hard enough to hurt. She was on his side of the ambulance?
“Finally!” Sonne’s death grip on his arms eased. “What happened in there?”
Cowan eased her off. “I’m fine.”
“You were shaking like you had a seizure! I barely stopped you from bashing your head!”
“It was rough, but I found the problem. Fixed it.”
“Your Dad. I fixed your Dad’s malfunctioning PBA.” Cowan didn’t smile. “He might wake up in a few days, but—”
“Oh my God, Cowan!” Sonne threw her arms around him, laughing, but when she tried to kiss him he twisted away. He kept seeing Gerhard Bayer looming over Ellen.
Sonne sat back as if he’d hit her. “What the fuck did I do now?”
“I just need you to understand what I did,” Cowan said, mentally flailing as he struggled for a lie that would convince her. “Recovering from a coma takes months, even years. Even after your father wakes up, he might never regain all his faculties.”
“I know that.” Sonne sat back, away from him. “I’m not an idiot.” No one was kissing anyone now. “So was it Galileo, like we thought? Did he lock my father in a coma?”
“Yes.” That was true, more or less.
“Then that’s one more reason to take him down.”
“Okay. Also, I have to go.”
She stared at him. “Where?”
An update from Jeb brought Cowan a lie he knew might work. “Jeb almost got picked up at the OMH, but he’s out. Warren’s working with Galileo. They’ll come after me soon.”
“Shit,” Sonne said. “What do we do?”
“You get your father to Kate. Like I said, I have to go.”
She blocked the ambulance’s back doors with spread arms. “Still not hearing the why.”
“The CID can trace me through my PBA. They can follow me right to you, and I can’t let that happen.”
Her mouth opened a little. “And you didn’t think to mention that earlier?”
“I didn’t think things would fly apart so fast.” Understatement of the year.
“But … what happens to you?” The genuine worry in her eyes made Cowan hurt. She wasn’t supposed to like him anymore. This was easier when she didn’t like him.
“I’ll meet you at Club Sylvan as soon as I can get clear and get there, just like we planned. If I’m not there by Saturday, head to the airport without me.”
She thumped the doors. “Dammit, this wasn’t the plan.”
“It is now.”
“Fuck your plan, it’s a shitty plan!”
“I know how to evade the CID. I’ll get clear, isolate my PBA, and meet you at Club Sylvan.” Cowan directed his next words to the VI driving the ambulance. “Stop!”
“Don’t stop!” Sonne shouted, and the ambulance drove on. “We’re talking about this.”
“No time,” Cowan said. He linked to the autotruck’s VI and eased it to a stop. He’d slipped through its firewalls as soon as they got on the road. He had assumed someone might try the same thing, and he wanted to be prepared.
Sonne released her death grip on the door handle. “You really have to run?”
She had forgiven him for lying to her about Xu. “It’s the only way you’ll get to Club Sylvan safely.” He’d keep her and her father from getting incinerated.
“Then … just be careful, all right?” Sonne slid out of his way, back onto her narrow couch, back on her side of the ambulance. “And thank you, again, for Dad.”
Cowan wished he could hug her again, before he died, maybe. “Not a problem.” He told the ambulance’s back doors to open and hopped out onto a residential street.
The sky was clear, blue, and filled with drones. Between all the delivery and commercial drones above, Galileo’s military drone could be anywhere. There would be no escape.
They had stopped in a suburban neighborhood called Clairemont Mesa. Modest one-story homes surrounded him, some with autocars parked out front. The last he saw of Sonne was her worried eyes, watching him, before the ambulance doors shut.
The ambulance cruised off, and Cowan waited for a missile to fall from the sky. He waited for the ambulance to explode as his heart thumped. Nothing exploded.
Cowan activated the emergency scripting he’d long ago hidden in his private partition, the one the Sim couldn’t see. He vanished from the corporate network, and a moment after that, he vanished off their satellites, too. A single autocar approached.
Cowan carved through its firewalls and searched for its destination, but there was no destination. The car’s VI believed it had one passenger, yet when the doors rolled open, it was empty. The person this car’s VI thought it was transporting didn’t actually exist.
Cowan got in, the doors slid shut, and the autocar rolled off. He wasn’t invisible, but he was now one signal among thousands. The chances of anyone tracing him to this car were remote, and no one would know Cowan rode in it until it arrived, except Galileo.
So much for not lying to Sonne again.
* * *
October 8, Late Afternoon
“That wasn’t the plan,” Jeb said, once they were all gathered in Kate office at Club Sylvan. “Cowan was supposed to come back with you.”
“I pondered knocking him out,” Sonne said. “Should I have knocked him out?” It was a serious question.
“Either way, Cowan’s gone,” David said, interposing himself, “and there’s nothing we can do about it now. Whatever he’s up to, it’s out of our hands.”
Jeb sighed and sat back, rubbing his temples and trying to think positive. He and David were now both running Cowan’s loose circuit firmware, which kept them on the network but hidden from corporate retaliation. It also let them punch or shoot anyone they wanted without blacking out, which might be useful very soon.
Even so, today had been a depressingly unproductive day. Despite Kate and Sonne’s success in tracking Gerhard Bayer to M-Gesundheit, in Switzerland, they were still stuck in San Diego. After leaving Sarisa, Jeb had used a small explosive charge to blow a hole in the floor of the OMH headquarters, opening a way into its storm drain tunnels.
He hadn’t taken those tunnels, of course. He’d used Xu’s Myself Projector to disguise himself as a company janitor, one of dozens shocked by the urgent militarized search. Jeb suspected Corporate Security had searched those tunnels for hours after evacuating all maintenance personal. He understood why OneWorld had made MySelf illegal.
At the moment, the biggest problem they faced was Cowan, being gone. Jeb ran scenarios. What would have made Cowan bolt as Corporate One dropped the hammer?
Cowan’s story about CID tracking was bullshit. Even Jeb knew enough to evade corporate satellites before dropping off the Sim, so Cowan could do that easily. So why lie? Why leave Sonne?
The catalyst, Jeb decided, had to be whatever Cowan found in Taylor Lambda’s PBA. Something he hadn’t told Sonne or told anyone. Something that had forced him into a snap decision to do his own research, follow his own leads, alone.
“Obviously,” Jeb said, “David and I can’t leave this office until we have somewhere to go, but we can still be productive.” He turned to Doctor Xu. “How are you on engineering a counter for Joseph Dunn’s synthetic hacking scripts?”
“Better,” Xu said, “if you would stop asking about them.”
“David,” Jeb said, “any more takers on our offer?”
“Three willing recruits,” David said, “plus one very talented commander. I think we’ll pull together enough warm bodies for a full assault team.”
That was very good news. “Kate,” Jeb said, “would it be possible for us to remotely search your father’s PBA, at Benzai Corporation? If we look through what Cowan was doing before he took off, perhaps we can—”
The door to Kate’s office opened, and an honest-to-God fairy stepped inside. She sported glittering gossamer wings, a blonde pixie cut, and a green dress cut like a cavegirl’s.
“Hello!” The fairy waved. “How is everyone?” The door slammed shut behind her.
“What the shit?” Sonne grabbed her stunner and aimed.
“Stop!” Jeb shouted. He had seen this fairy before, but only inside a projection room beneath Corporate One. It seemed OneWorld Corporation had found them after all. He didn’t know how this thing had gotten here, but he knew shooting it was a bad idea.
“Hello, Detective Forrester!” Puck, the Augur fairy in a green dress, sauntered to the center of the room. “I’m so pleased you escaped the Office of Mental Health! I helped, you know. Maintenance man? I worked some magic to get you out of there.”
Jeb managed his calm. “Kate, do you have a back way out of here?”
Corporate Security shock troopers might already be on the way, but if that was so, why would Puck arrive first? Or were the soldiers already outside, and sending in Puck to negotiate their surrender? Also, how the fuck was she out here, in meatspace? Puck couldn’t be an AR projection, because AR projections couldn’t open and close doors.
Puck smiled as the lights in the office flickered. “Trust me, there’s no need to escape!”
Kate blinked and pushed her chair away from her desk. “You locked me out of my own system.” She stood. “How did you lock me out of my own system?”
“Can I shoot her?” Sonne asked.
“Please don’t shoot me.” Puck’s image flickered to reveal a tall woman with short blonde hair. “If you shoot this body, I’ll only inhabit another.”
Kate gasped. “You’re puppeting Lucy?” She strode around her desk. “What are you?”
“I’m your friend!”
“You’re not human, since no human could think faster than my dynamic firewalls and every other layer of security in my office. So you’re a VI. Who sent you? Galileo?”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Jeb said, “may I introduce Puck, one of Corporate One’s vaunted Augurs.”
“I still say we shoot her,” Sonne said.
* * *
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