“This is useless.”
“Leave off, Suze.”
Ed shifted. The cafe’s seats weren’t meant for stakeouts. At least some of Suzie’s impatience was probably discomfort. They’d been sitting in the Middlefield Exchange for two days, now. She camped in a cafe on the central passage, while Auggie and Suzie each trained a hidden camera on the exits. Joshua had happily lent them to Suzie, after the ventilation swept the smoke away. When she commented how nice he seemed Suzie just laughed.
“I bet that hood recorded everything. Joshua is smart. He’ll make something out of all that information.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess it’s an advantage.”
“Take it where you can.”
The stream of faces feeding through to her tablet blurred together until she was afraid that the rich guy might have cruised past without standing out in any way.
“We can’t lurk forever.”
“They’re gonna start getting suspicious,” Auggie agreed.
“Also we have jobs.”
“Sure. That, too. If anyone is left at work.”
There was a lull between arrivals. She tapped her music open. Not cruel enough to torture her siblings with a constant feed, but seeing the title of the song strengthened her resolve. She smiled. Emma had bubbled over with tears and smiles when she’d heard it.
Ninety percent sure that an opera song got me laid. Thank you old Italian guy.
She looked back to Auggie’s feed, then Suzie’s.
“Suzie, the guy in the blue coat.”
Her sister obligingly zoomed in on his face.
“No, not him.”
She heard Suzie’s sigh.
Do you think this is fun for me?
But Emma wasn’t anything to them. Not really. They were helping her because she was their sister, not because they cared about Em.
“I didn’t realise there were so many handsome rich guys. Sorry.”
“Can I get you anything?”
She hid the tablet against her chest. The waiter scooped up her plate and coffee cup. She eyed the line of people waiting for a seat.
“Anything to drink?”
She waited until he was gone, then looked at the tablet again.
“Auggie, black coat.”
He zoomed, almost too late. The perfectly handsome, kindly face leaped out at her.
“Love the hair,” she murmured.
She darted out of the cafe. Auggie’s feed jumped wildly as he started following the guy.
The feed showed Wyn swanning past the line at the security check, heading to the VIP gate.
“Sorry Ed, he’s got a black card. It’ll get him anywhere fast.”
A gaggle of rich kids on their way to a night of slumming slipped into the gate just in front of him. He waited patiently.
Ed started jogging toward Auggie’s exit, pulling her hood over her hair. She saw the rich kids spilling out of the gate, and then Wyn, who paused to watch them, amused.
“Can you see him, Ed? Is he heading for the private cars?”
“No. I think he’s going to the train.”
“I could buy a fucking car with the money he paid for his clothes,” Auggie muttered. “What’s a VIP doing riding a train?”
“Just get to the van.”
Ed pinged through the ticket gate, eyes fixed on his broad shoulders.
“Centre Line,” she said.
She pushed her way onto his car. Crowded, but not too bad. She began to sift through the passengers. Her hand was sweaty on her paralyser.
“Constan Bridge,” she murmured. “It’s small, and there’s only one exit.”
“I’ll be there.”
There was the tiniest thread of excitement mixed in with the tension. Ed cocked her head. He was, very faintly, humming a song.
“Are you enjoying this?” Suzie asked.
“Nope. No. Never.”
Ed was close, now. She thought that the expensive cologne wafting through the car was probably him. She stopped with an older lady still between them, sneaking looks at his reflection in the window.
How could someone look so nice and drag away a harmless woman?
The first stop came and went. Constan was next. She shifted her shoulders. What the fuck was she doing? Whatever happened to Em, even if it was suspicious, what difference was this going to make?
Her bare feet sliding in the snow. Her pleading.
The doors opened. It wasn’t a busy station. No one was getting off. Her heart pounded so loud she missed the first part of the announcement saying that the doors were closing.
She crushed up against his back, pressing the paralyser against him hard.
She was a little surprised when he did. The doors snapped shut behind them, and the train’s hum gathered up, then it whooshed away, leaving them in an icy cold wash.
“Walk to the gate.”
She prodded him with the paralyser. “You know what this is.”
“Are you going to carry me away?”
“Fuck you! Keep walking.”
He did. His lack of fear was unnerving. At the gate she saw Suzie waiting on the other side.
“Ah, a team effort.”
“Yeah. Big fucking team. Keeping going through.”
There were cameras everywhere, and a station attendant keeping watch. She took his arm and pretended to snuggle up.
“You have a good strong grip.”
She dug the paralyser in a little.
“Now, sweetheart, you don’t have to play rough.”
Auggie wasn’t there. She looked at Suzie.
“Let’s go for a walk,” she said. Ed nodded.
Puffy flakes of snow were drifting down. They were alone under the amber lights. Ed’s pulse thundered in her ears. She thought she had tunnel vision or something weird. She blinked and shook her head, trying to clear it.
Where the fuck are you, Auggie?
“I didn’t wear my snow boots,” he said. “Will we be going far?”
“Take his bag,” she said. He let it go without a fuss.
“If this is a robbery, my wallet is in my coat pocket.”
Suzie retrieved his wallet, too, emptying his pockets.
“I don’t mind two ladies at once.”
“Don’t be gross.”
“You’re beautiful. It would be my pleasure.”
Auggie’s borrowed van wheezed its way into an alley ahead of them. He hopped out and opened the side door.
“Come now, you have everything of value.”
“Fuck you.” She plunged the injector into his side and pushed him into the van.
They took him to a garage that Auggie knew. It was watched over by shifty looking guys that didn’t show any reaction to the whole thing. The bulk of the space was given over to dismembered vehicles, their parts stacked together like meat in a shop. They dragged him out of the van and Auggie tied him to a chair.
“This is…” Suzie looked around the dim garage. “I want to be in the executive suite.”
Ed bit her lip. It was too weird, hearing her sister sound bewildered.
“Okay.” Auggie stood up, eyeing his work. “Wake him up.”
Ed shot him full of the antidote and stepped back.
It only took a minute before he was blinking awake. She didn’t miss how sharply he looked around his new environment. Like he still wasn’t worried. She glanced at Auggie, hugging herself. That wasn’t cool. That was some bad body language. They had to be in charge. She deliberately crossed her arms instead.
“Suitable for nefarious goings on.” His eyes settled on Ed. “I’ve seen you before.”
She pushed her hood back.
“Ah! Pink-haired girl.” He looked from Suzie to Ed. “Ah, I see why it wouldn’t work between we three. Is this about the tablet you stole from me?”
“Yeah, a bit.”
“Did you get a good price for it? I imagine the parts were worth something.” He shook his head to clear it, shifting in the chair. “Back for more?”
Ed took out the tablet. There was evidence of its fiery end around the case’s seam. He frowned, cocking his head. She felt vaguely triumphant; it was the first time that he seemed surprised.
“I didn’t steal it first. You did. You stole it from Emma.”
“You know Emma?”
“Yeah, I fucking know Emma. I want to know what you did to her. Where is she?”
“I guess that you must have seen her leaving that night. I can only imagine how traumatic it must have been for you. I want you to know that she’s cared for.”
Traumatic. For her. Nothing about Emma screaming and-
She looked down at the fist that her hand had formed.
“Why’d you kidnap her?”
“She was ill. She needed care.”
“When will she come back?” Suzie asked.
“I’m afraid it won’t be for some time. She’s very sick.”
“I don’t know, Ed. I think he’s lying through his perfect teeth.”
“I’m not. But thank you.”
“Why should we believe you? You’re just a kidnapper. You could be anyone.”
Suzie lifted a salon-shaped brow. “That’s a poorly chosen lie.”
“Casual boyfriend, maybe, but still.”
“No, not by choice,” Ed said. “Not hers. At least, that’s what the alien shit in this tablet said when we juiced it up.”
“You spoke to the application?”
“Maybe. We plugged that goo into a power source and it talked back.”
“You broke into the containment shell.” The lightness was gone from him. Auggie and Suzie shared a look. Ed swallowed and steadied her nerve. He was tied up. He couldn’t get to her.
“The silver box? It was busted open before we opened the tablet. It was all over inside.”
His eyes fixed on the tablet.
“It told us that it was keeping her home. Keeping her from…from me. From working.”
“You’re repeating the stories that Emma was telling.”
“Emma didn’t tell me anything. Nothing about this or the…Centre,” she guessed. He looked at her sharply. “The thing in the tablet did, but Emma kept her secrets. And yours too, I guess.”
“It’s impossible for the application to have done what Emma accused it of.”
“Now you’re calling my sister a liar?” Auggie straightened up.
“I’m sorry if it seems so. But you must trust me; it was impossible.
“Well, we were fucking there to see,” Auggie said. “Anyway-“
“I have proof.”
Auggie and Suzie chorused it at the same time. She looked from one to the other. The had their own tablets out.
“I thought it was a dead room.”
“Signals couldn’t get out, maybe, but recording still worked.” Suzie smiled. “Dummy.”
“Show me,” Wyn said. “Please.”
She watched herself interrogating the thing in the tablet, flattened on the wall of the garage. None of them had the money for interactive projection. Wyn watched through, then asked to see it again, his voice shaking. The final, digital pop when it vanished made him jump. He stared at the empty air, face white.
“Is it lying? Is the recording? Are we all lying or is it just you?”
He shook his head, looking like a man woken from a terrible dream.
“That thing was messing Emma up. She didn’t do anything wrong. So you can let her go.”
“Who can?” Suzie asked. “We’ll deal with the people who have the authority to let her go.”
He looked at Suzie. “Is that so?”
“There’s no point in negotiating with someone who doesn’t have the power to give us what we want.”
“And what do you have to negotiate with?”
“Mimics are a sensitive subject. How much trouble will it cause when the ASeL hear that there’s Mimic technology masquerading as old tablets?”
“Who would believe that?”
“Enough people to raise hell, when the deadman switch goes off and that recording goes out.”
Suzie stared Wyn down without blinking.
“Who are you to her?”
“She’s my sister’s girlfriend.”
“Oh. Oh!” He looked at Ed.
“I’m sorry. I can’t let her go. But if you come with me, with that, it might be enough.”
“You’ll take me to her?”
“Ed, are you sure?”
“I need to.”
“Suze, she’s gotta.”
“It should be on our terms.”
Auggie looked at Wyn. “I don’t think that it can be. Somehow. As long as you have that deadman switch, it’ll be okay. I mean…Look, we’ve come this far. Something is messed up. I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not. Probably not. But if she’s going then I’m going, too.”
Suzie shook her head. “You’re nuts.”
“Yeah, but…So are you. Aren’t you?”
Suzie sighed, nodding. Ed felt a wave of relief.
“Well.” Wyn stood up, shaking the ropes out and looping them tidily before handing them to Auggie. Her brother looked at them with horror. “Shall we go?”
“Nice,” Suzie laughed.
“If you can tie a man up better then you can do it next time.”
“There isn’t going to be a next time!”