October 9, Pre-Dawn
When Cowan finally walked into Kate’s office, eyes distant, Sonne sat up so fast her head spun with black dots. He was alive! He was safe!
He was a total asshole!
Dozens of possibilities had flooded Sonne’s mind in the last few hours — Cowan being tortured, Cowan being rewritten — and now that he was back, alive and unharmed and fucking smiling, her mind resented the torment he had put her through.
Sonne stood and stalked toward him, fists clenched. “What is wrong with you?”
He stopped and stared at her, as if only now noticing she was in the room. “Um … hi?”
“Do you have any idea how worried everyone has been about you?”
“Sorry.” Cowan looked around Kate’s oddly shaped office. “So uh, where’s everyone?”
“They left to look for you! Where were you?”
The way Cowan smiled was like he’d triggered an algorithmic orgasm. “I found Ellen.”
Sonne almost tripped. Of all the explanations she’d expected Cowan to provide, that was not on the approved list. Ellen? His Ellen? Cowan had found her? “Explain, please.”
“Ellen’s alive,” Cowan said, still smiling like a drunken idiot. “She’s safe, and it’s … well, it’s wonderful. Hey, can I sit? I’d really like to sit down now.”
“Okay. Sure.” Sonne pointed to an empty ergochair. “Sit your ass down.”
The others had left hours ago, after Kate received a call from one of her corporate spies. They’d planned a search for Cowan, and Sonne, lucky duck, had been nominated to stay at Club Lambda in case Cowan returned. Which he had. At four in the morning.
“Here’s the deal.” Cowan sat. “The secret to finding Ellen was in your father’s PBA.”
Sonne had left her father at Benzai Tower this evening, and hated leaving him alone. “What does my father have to do with Ellen?”
“Taylor had an old file on his headdesk. Before Galileo put him in a coma, he was reviewing job applications for a position at Benzai Corporation. PBA engineer.”
“Ellen’s name was on his shortlist. She sent a resume and everything.”
“How is that possible?” Had Galileo planted files in her father’s PBA to lure Cowan? If so, how was Cowan still alive? Galileo didn’t seem the type to let a hooked fish go.
“Corporate Security set Ellen free a few weeks after they arrested us,” Cowan said, like he actually believed that. “There was an inquiry, I mean … I talked to Ellen about it … but with her PBA erased, there wasn’t any evidence she’d actually committed corporate espionage. It was all circumstantial.”
Sonne rolled her eyes. “Like CorpSec needs evidence to toss someone down a rabbit hole?”
“Apparently, because everyone was so anxious to sweep anything dealing with Galileo under the rug, they cut her loose. They told her she’d been in an autocar accident.”
“And your lovely fiancé didn’t let you know she was safe?”
“That’s the tragedy of it.” Cowan’s high leveled off. “Ellen didn’t remember me at all, still doesn’t. She lost a whole year, and not just the memories in her PBA. Her real brain memories too. It’s like … what’s the term from those old movies? Total amnesia.”
“Well, that certainly sounds like bullshit.” Did Cowan really buy into all this? What if Ellen had been rewritten by Galileo? Had Ellen told Galileo where they were?
“I didn’t tell Ellen anything,” Cowan said. “I presented myself as a recruiter for Benzai Corporation, following up on the resume she’d sent. I explained that we’d kept it on file, and that we were looking at a new batch of candidates.”
“And she bought that?”
Cowan frowned. “Look, I was very careful. She didn’t remember me, like I said, and she has a fiancé now, and a job in LA. She has a life there and everything. She’s doing well.”
“Wait. She has another fiancé?”
Cowan sighed, and Sonne saw real hurt in his eyes. “Look. She’s happy, sane, and safe, and it hurts to never tell her who we were, but I have to. To keep her safe. I won’t risk hurting her again, and besides, she gave me the information we’ve needed like, forever.”
Sonne was still reeling from Cowan’s disappearance, his revelation, his sacrifice, but she focused on the part that might help everyone else instead. “What information?”
“The location of Gerhard Bayer. He’s in Switzerland. He runs a company there called M-Gesundheit.”
For the first time, Sonne wondered if this might not actually be bullshit. Galileo was in Switzerland — Puck had verified that — and there was no way Cowan could know that, yet, because he hadn’t been here when Puck was. If Galileo was controlling Ellen, why would he let her give away his real location? Or was Puck working with Galileo?
Christ, it made her head spin. Sonne hated spy games. She really hated spy games, but she’d play or she’d die, and more importantly, her family would die with her. She decided right then not to mention Puck to Cowan. She had to talk to Kate, first.
“Why not tell me in the ambulance?” Sonne asked instead. “Why lie to me about this?”
“I had to. I couldn’t know if Ellen’s application was real, or a trick by Galileo. I knew if I told you, you’d insist on going along, and I couldn’t risk anyone’s life but my own.”
Sonne slapped the wall hard enough to sting her palm. “You don’t get to make that choice for me!” Why did everyone she cared about treat her like a helpless child?
“Hey, this was my mess.” Cowan’s brow furrowed. “I’ve dropped enough problems on everyone, and if it was a trap, it made sense to risk as few of us as possible.”
“So, what? You think you’re expendable?” Because you’re not, she wanted to add, but didn’t, because she was still mad about him lying to her again.
Cowan sat forward. “If I’d been with Jeb, or Kate, or anyone else, and I’d found that information, I’d have lied to them like I lied to you. This wasn’t about doubting your abilities, or doubting you. I just had to do this alone.”
He was sincere, and goddammit, he’d just found out his rewritten fiancé wasn’t a mind-wiped zombie. Sonne walked over to the ergochair. She stared down at Cowan, at his brand new puppy happiness, and almost without thinking, she tousled his short black hair. He had really nice hair.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll let it slide, on one condition.”
She grabbed his hair and tugged hard enough to move his chair. “Lie to me again, and I will kick your ass from one side of this office to another. I will break your fucking nose.”
“Ow!” Cowan shouted. “Ow ow ow ow okay, okay!”
Sonne released her grip and thumped the back of his head. “Good boy.”
Cowan grinned at her.
“I’m glad you found her,” Sonne said, and she was, actually. Ellen sounded like a good person, and nobody deserved to be rewritten by Corporate Security. They’d finally caught a break, and every coin flip couldn’t fall in Galileo’s favor. Ellen lived.
Good for her.
* * *
October 13, Early Morning
Sonne chewed her nails relentlessly until the UPX plane reached cruising altitude. No CorpSec autocars surrounded the plane before it took off, and no army of milsynths parachuted from the sky. No one demanded they land once they were in the air, and no fighter jets intercepted them. Puck, it seemed, had them very well covered.
It had been a long wait until Saturday, knowing what they all knew, but Kate couldn’t change her schedule at Benzai Corporation without risking the notice of OneWorld corporation. Adrian Montes, CEO of UPX, had let Kate borrow one of his nicer corporate planes, one with an actual crew area but no actual crew. It had a big leather couch, a flatscreen, and even an open bar. Sonne still didn’t know why people imbibed alcohol.
She had, of course, relayed Cowan’s story about Ellen to Kate and the others. What bothered her most about everything is the others hadn’t questioned it. Lucy, David, Jeb, even Doctor Huan Xu — all of them said it was a good break, and a lucky one, and Cowan shouldn’t run off again. How could they be so sure about this?
Still … Sonne had to trust them. They were flying, after all, not dead in a plane crash, which suggested she was simply being paranoid. Once they were in international skies, Kate signaled the plane’s VI to open the cadaver transport tubes. Sonne knew that couldn’t have been comfortable. Jeb must have felt like a sardine in there.
Soon their whole anti-Galileo task force was sitting on the big fluffy couches in the jet’s main cabin: CID Detective Jeb Forrester, CID Detective Cowan Soto, retired DeathKitten David Forrester, Benzai CFO Katherine Lambda, professor turned simlord Huan Xu, and her. Samantha Frederick, aka Sonne, aka Scared Out of Her Fucking Mind. Couldn’t one of them look the least bit worried?
“We’re decided,” Jeb said.
“Nein.” Kate wore her serious face. “I vote for Alien.”
“Terminator 2 is way better.”
“Cybernetic bias!” Kate pointed at him. “You just like the scene where Arnold shows off his cybernetic hand.”
“Android hand,” David said.
“A terminator’s an android. Living tissue over a synthetic frame. A cyborg is an actual person with prosthetic parts.”
“Jeb’s not an android,” David said. “Trust me, I’ve checked.”
Cowan leaned close and whispered. “Do you have any idea what they’re talking about?”
Sonne shrugged. “Movies made a hundred years ago.”
With supersonic speeds reserved for corporate executives and wireless connections forbidden, this was going to be a very long twelve hour flight. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for them all, Jeb had archived a very deep list of “classic” movies. Like many since Hollywood went fully interactive, Jeb and David were big fans of the flatscreen films of the Internet Age. It was the rarity, they said, a nostalgia for time past.
“Hey, are you feeling okay?” Cowan asked.
“Are you still upset about last night?”
“Okay.” Cowan went back to watching the debate.
Sonne grimaced. She was quite obviously not fine, but Cowan seemed too happy about Ellen being alive to notice. Which was also fine. She didn’t need him worrying about her. What she needed was to get her head on straight. By the time Xu threw her vote behind Alien, Sonne was ready to scream at someone. She stalked to the cockpit instead.
The cockpit door opened — Lucy had, of course, seen her coming — and Sonne dropped into the co-pilot seat. She huffed an exaggerated huff. There was a clear blue sky outside the windows, warm and bright, but it didn’t make her feel any better. Nothing would.
“That bad, huh?” Lucy asked.
“They’re debating what stupid old movie we’re going to watch first.”
“What’s your pick? I’ll even the odds.”
“How can Katie be so calm about this?” As blue as that sky outside was, all Sonne could see was a dark sky filled with rain. A phantom pain pinched the inside of her chest.
“About going after Galileo?” Lucy asked.
“We’re attacking one of the most powerful men in the world, and we probably won’t all make it back alive.”
“You and Kate will make it.” Lucy sounded pretty sure about that, but keeping Kate alive was Lucy’s only job in the whole world. Sonne remained a bonus objective.
“None of them seem worried.” For what seemed like the thousandth time Sonne considered redacting her memories of the night she’d lost her family, her first family, but she’d done enough of that. What worried her now was losing her second.
“They’ve all been through this bad or worse,” Lucy said. “David’s a soldier who saw action in Peru. Jeb’s handled murders for twenty years, and Cowan? He’ll be floating from ‘They didn’t rewrite my fiancé and toss her down a hole’ for at least a week.”
“So what’s Katie’s excuse?” Sonne grabbed a plastic pen off the instrument board bit down on the end cap. Nervous chewing was a behavior you could easily get modded out, if you wanted, but Sonne wouldn’t let anyone mess with her brain.
“Kate’s terrified, Sonne.” Lucy stared ahead. “She’s just really good at hiding that.”
Maybe that was true. “If you had to make a choice, which of us would you save?”
“I don’t answer hypothetical questions.”
“If it comes down to me or Katie, save Katie.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem, since neither of you is going to die.”
Sonne then noticed that Lucy held the plane’s flight stick with both hands. Lucy didn’t need to hold the flight stick — this plane flew itself — so why hold the flight stick?
“You’re scared too?” Was that even possible?
Lucy shrugged. “I’d have to be pretty stupid not to be.”
“But nothing scares you. You’re a freaking cyborg!”
“I’m less than fifty-percent cyborg, darling. Also, I don’t have a robot heart.”
Sonne swallowed against the lump in her throat. “You know you’re family too, right? You’re practically my best friend. You’re amazing.”
Lucy patted Sonne’s hand with one of her own while the other remained locked around the flight stick. “I know you don’t pay me enough to put up with you otherwise.”
Sonne laugh-snorted, just once. She wanted to hug Lucy then, but Lucy was still holding the flight stick. She was pretty sure hugging Lucy would be bad for everyone.
Someone knocked on the cockpit door.
* * *
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