“I need to talk to you about something,” said Pigeon, shutting the door behind her.
“Is it about the meeting the other day? I don’t know how she keeps getting invited to these things,” said Sophie.
“No,” responded Pigeon, shaking her head. “Most of that meeting was Greek to me. I wanted to ask you more about the machine for ghosts.”
“What did you want to know?” asked Sophie.
“Ever since I got this chip read by the Watcher, I’ve been getting phone calls from someone I know is dead,” said Pigeon.
“And my work has you convinced I’ll be able to help you with this problem?” Sophie asked.
“It all has something to do with your machine for ghosts… and this new Millennium. It all seems to relate,” said Pigeon.
Sophie leaned back in her chair and steeped her fingers. “I might have a job for you that can offer some insight.” Pigeon nodded, and Sophie proceeded.
“A few months ago, one of my research students absconded with some valuable information. Any attempt to contact or locate this person has been ineffective. If things are as connected as you say, this may be the lead you’re looking for. Find him, and recover that research.”
“So you agree that there is some sort of connection?” asked Pigeon.
Sophie gave the closest thing that the a synthetic human could give to a thoughtful silence, and then said, “I think there may be a possibility, perhaps. The logical frame work doesn’t exist, but the chance of a correlation is strong.”
“What makes you think that?” asked Pigeon.
“You said that everyone is trying to stake a claim on the Millennium, and if I’m being frank, so am I. This missing research is setting back my plans, and your communication with the Watcher seems to be the only loose end,” answered Sophie.
“And what is your plan for the Millennium?” asked Pigeon.
“What else have you heard?” asked Sophie.
“I’ve heard a lot of things,” responded Pigeon. “Something about Y2K. Some people want to stop it, with strength. Other people are trying to profit off of it.”
“If I’m continuing to be frank with you,” began Sophie, “my plans do involve the Y2K bug. At midnight on the New Year, I want to see my fellow synthetic humans rise up with their authentic comrades and seize the System for ourselves.”
“And then you put microchips in everyone’s heads?” asked Pigeon.
“The assimilation process will be swift and complete, yes. We will boost logical reasoning and efficiency, while doing away with the individual identities that have caused so much conflict and strife. We will create a eutopia, free from sickness and poverty and disease. Where everyone works, and no one starves.”
“Sounds like a pipedream,” said Pigeon.
“No,” responded Sophie. “This is very much a potentiality. If,” she added, “you can find me my missing research.”
When Pigeon arrived in the Green Room, there were several people sitting around the couches, reading. Someone in the corner was watching the news with the volume down low. No one seemed to know where Elizabeth was, until she emerged from the back rooms, yawning.
“Good evening,” she said. “Sorry, I was just napping. How are things?”
“Things go,” responded Pigeon. “Listen, I need to know: have you referred anyone else to the Watcher lately?” She produced a graduation photo that Sophie had given her. Elizabeth took the photo, examining it while frowning.
“Yeah, I remember this guy coming through here. You should know you’re not the only person looking for him. The police came through here not long ago with this same photo. What’s going on?”
“Do you remember what the Watcher told me?” asked Pigeon. Elizabeth nodded. “I’ve been talking to Sophie, and she said that this man has something to do with the machine for ghosts.”
“You’ve been speaking to Sophie, have you?” asked Elizabeth. “You should be careful around that one. Remember what I told you, about knowledge being power?”
“Yes, why?” asked Pigeon.
“Sophie is knowledgeable, yes. But there is some spark of humanity that her world-view has led her to deny. If Kim follows her heart too much, then Sophie has no heart whatsoever.”
Pigeon relayed the conversations that she had with Holly, Natsumi, and Sophie while lines of concern etched their way deeper into Elizabeth’s face. When Pigeon was done, she nodded thoughtfully then said, “This is worse than I thought. While you’re tracking down this missing researcher, I’ll need to get in touch with Kim and Alastair. This march is more vital than we knew.”
“Elizabeth! You need to see this!” exclaimed the person watching the TV. Turning up the volume, the whole room watched transfixed as the newscaster reported on the latest of a series of coordinated arrests sweeping the country.
Video clips of armed police officers rounding up groups of young men in camouflage from the Prairies to the Interior, some of them choosing to fight till the last, while a voice over described the ferocity of the crackdown and the intricate inter-agency coordination that made it possible.
“Hey!” exclaimed Pigeon excitedly, recognising the aesthetic of Holly’s followers. “That’s the group that Alastair was tracking!”
“This is bad,” said Elizabeth, frowning deeper than Pigeon had ever seen her.
“How so?” asked Pigeon. She couldn’t help feeling glad to be rid of Holly and her callous brutality.
Elizabeth went to bookshelf and began running her fingers along the spines, flipping through pages until she produced the information that she was looking for. She handed to book to Pigeon, who saw that it was a book about the history of fascism, turned to a chapter about impetus for action.
“With their backs up against the wall, they’re going to be more dangerous than ever,” said Elizabeth, shaking her head.
“Which means that I need answers more now than ever,” responded Pigeon.
“You go ahead on your own. I’ll need to get things prepared for this march. Once you’ve found what you need, come back here and we’ll go over it together.”
“Just like old times,” nodded Pigeon.
“Just like them,” agreed Elizabeth.
Holly stood in the wings of a hand built stage. The band was playing the final song of their set, and the energy in the abandoned factory had reached a fever pitch.
After the last note had rung out, the lights dimmed and she took the centre spotlight. A hush filled the ersatz auditorium. Holly stood, ramrod straight, steadily ratcheting up the tension. When she thought that her audience could take no more, she began to speak. Haltingly at first, but slowly allowing herself to gain momentum, until she was nearly shouting at the top of her lungs:
“I am an apex predator. That means that I can take what I want from whoever I want whenever I want. Being able to do something is the moral justification for doing it. If someone wants to take from me, they must be able to take it. If I can stop them, they have no right to take from me. If someone wants to stop me, they must stop me.
“If they can’t stop me, I have a right to take what I want. If I want to take their life, and they don’t stop me from taking their life, and I take it, their inability to stop me taking their life gives me the right to take it.”
She paused for effect, before continuing, her tone shifting. There was something electric in the air, and she fed off of it, vampiric.
“My daddy once told me that there are only two types of people in the world: creators, and parasites! He me told that creators create and parasites destroy, that creators give to the world while parasites leech from others. I think that he wanted for me to be a creator.”
“I chose to be a parasite! Creators are soft, fat, and docile. Parasites do not have that luxury! Creators must, at all times, remain bound to the will and wishes of other creators. Parasites must, at all times, be ready to bring retribution upon all others!”
“Creators give up their freedom in submission to dogmatic hypocrisy! Parasites are truly free and totally uninhibited! Creators must build for themselves or go without! Parasites take as they want!”
“Natural selection! Survival of the fittest! Sic semper nihilim!”
Heart pounding, she saluted her troops, and had the phrase and salute returned.
This is it, she thought. There is no going back.
Natsumi glanced at her watch. The meeting should have started ten minutes ago, but they were still waiting for Mr. Takahashi to be patched in by video conference. She stood in the bathroom of the hotel suite, her cold gaze cutting back at her from the mirror. She popped the access panel to her syntharm, and traced the line of surgical tubing that stretched from her upper arm to the tip of the index finger, looking for kinks or blockages.
Finding none, she clicked her arm back into place and tested out the new delivery system. A droplet of lethal, viscous, clear fluid formed just underneath one of her talon nails, and fell into the sink.
In ten seconds, she had dropped ten doses of the neurotoxin down the drain. The poison was a custom design, something she had the boys in the Lab whip up from some ‘seafood’ that she had diverted from a Foods Division order; nearly instantaneous, and completely untraceable.
A little extra insurance should things not go the way she had planned. There was always more than one way to secure the Company’s foothold in this shitbird little town.
A knock at the door, and then a voice: “Sorry to interrupt ma’am, but Mr. Takahashi is on line one.” Taking a moment to collect herself, Natsumi fixed a broad, warm grin on her face and stepped out of the washroom, flicking the light off behind her.
“And not a moment too soon, either,” she said. “Now, let’s make money.”
The posh living room had been organised into a semicircle of seating, facing the large window that dominated one entire wall of the room. As she began presenting, voice-activated infographics began spreading across the glass in a semi-translucent display.
“Good-evening gentlemen. I think you all know why I have brought you together today. I represent a collective of interests, whose proposition is simple. A merger between the Company’s interests and your families’ fortunes would be a powerhouse.”
“And for those of us not in the know, what exactly are Kuroyama’s interests?” asked the man closest to Natsumi. She pivoted gracefully to face him, smile widening.
“Let me walk you through our portfolio,” she said, feigning warmth.
Pigeon was back in the Green Room. When they had attempted to go past the Watcher’s place, they had found that it was surrounded by police officers, the entire block cordoned off. Cursing their luck, Pigeon had turned back onto the freeway. This was the only lead she had, and it had been severed all too quickly. Thoroughly dejected, she threw herself down on the bed in Elizabeth’s spare room.
She ground the palms of her hands into her eyes, willing her brain to make sense of everything that was happening, but it seemed like it was just too much at once to unscramble. It seemed like there was a weight bearing down on her, something overwhelming just over the horizon, smothering her. Her Runner’s Sense screamed in alarm, her senses completely shutting down. The next morning, the day of the march, Pigeon was unable to summon the energy to get herself out of bed. She felt drained, utterly lost, and totally miserable.
“Hey,” said Elizabeth knocking softly on the door.
“Hey,” replied Pigeon flatly. Her blank stare was fixed on the celling, watching patterns form and shift in the stucco.
“I just wanted to thank you for all of your help. I know you took on a lot of risk by giving us the information that you did. And I want you to know that it’s enough. You know?” said Elizabeth.
“Thanks,” said Pigeon. Even though she gave no indication, she was touched by Elizabeth’s statement. She had never been thanked like this before, and the she never realised how much she missed that validation until just now. Pigeon waited to get out of bed until Elizabeth had left and she was sure she was alone. A note on the kitchen counter offered her the leftovers in the fridge and encouraged her to check out some of the new additions to the Green Room’s collection.
Pigeon turned the TV on, flipping through the channels until she found the local news, where the headline story was the march. Almost a half-million people were expected to attend, and it was slated to shut down much of the downtown core for a sizable portion of the day. She left it on for noise in the background while she fixed herself a bowl of rice and beans.
Apparently, Lynne’s objection had been taken seriously, and the bulk of the march was made up of people waving banners calling for decolonisation and indigenous sovereignty. The rest of the protestors were waving handmade signs with anti-gentrification slogans emblazoned on them. Marshalling the march was the Skeleton Army, black banners flying high, each one unique. Some had pirate-style skull and crossbones, but more elaborate ones had full-sized skeletons, or coffins and grave roses, along with the name of the chapter.
Some had come from as far away as the Maritimes to join the protest. At the front of the procession were several Elders, beating drums in time to the pace of the march. A few feet behind them, Pigeon thought she could make out Elizabeth’s uneven gait. Orbiting the edges of the march like a flock of scavenging birds were Pacific City’s finest, desperately waiting for an excuse to rush in and break up the protest.
When she was finished eating, Pigeon started to pace the room, running her fingers along the spines of the books, mouthing their titles. The Green Room was divided by topic, and the sheer amount of information stored here was staggering. Prison abolition, animal liberation, Marxism, militants, media, disability politics, political theory, labour and organising, feminism… Just when Pigeon thought she had seen everything, she stumbled on an addition that housed even more books. Picking up a few zines at random, Pigeon sat down at the table and began flipping through them idly, admiring the hand drawn artwork.
A sudden loud bang gave her a start, and it took a moment for her to realise that it had come from the TV. There was a shift in the reporter’s tone, from professional to panicked, as a series of loud bangs emanated from somewhere off screen. There were screams of pain and horror, confusion as a mass of people began pushing back against the rest of the crowd. No one seemed to be in control, and the police saw this as the perfect opportunity to sweep in and start making arrests.
Then, a series of sharp pops, like too-loud firecrackers. More shrieks, more panic, as the crowd surged back into itself in a hopeless frenzy. A space in the ranks opened up, and the view was of several Skeleton Army members sprawled, bloody on the ground, torn limbs hanging brutally from the force of an explosion. And now, young man glad in camouflage were taking pot-shots at cops in the street in what was now clearly a coordinated attack.
Another loud bang, this one in the distance, and the camera swung wildly before the feed was switched off. Back to the studio, where a talking head informed the audience that the latest explosion had been at the police headquarters.
Pigeon stared agape, transfixed as events unfolded. Explosions and gunfire were now being reported at intuitions throughout the city: the courts, the library, city hall… She had hardly noticed the passage of time, so when the lock on the front door clicked open it nearly gave her a heart attack.
“Oh my god,” gasped Elizabeth, throwing herself through the doorway. Pigeon instinctively threw her arms around her in a tight hug. They spent the rest of the day huddling in front of the television, watching the news. The list of bombings and casualties kept mounting, as more and more militia cells took up arms in the name of Holly’s cause.
Throughout the day they had slowly attracted an audience of refugees; people who, like Pigeon, were unsure of what was happening or what to do, and turned to Elizabeth for guidance. She spent all day in the kitchen, occasionally asking someone to step in while she consoled those who had lost loved ones.
Around 8:00pm, the System declared a media blackout and with that, the talking heads settled into a routine of talking points. A half hour later the power cut out. They huddled under blankets in the dark, discussing in stern tones the causes and implications of the violence.
Pigeon’s phone rang, the sudden splash of light in the dark giving everyone in the room a start. She checked the call display and saw that it was Natsumi.
“I have to take this, once second,” said Pigeon, getting up and stepping outside. The patio was partially covered, and rain hammered the roof. A chill breeze blew through the openings, and she wished that she had brought the blanket with her.
“Hello?” she answered on the last ring.
“Good-evening!” said Natsumi. It sounded like there was a party going on in the background. “How is my star employee doing on this fine wet night?”
“Good,” lied Pigeon. “What’s the scan?”
“Only the opportunity of a life time! We’re busy celebrating, not sure if you can hear. This is exactly the sort of break through we’ve been hoping for! We have contractors moving in tomorrow to help clean up the damage. Big money to be made: media partnerships, stock buys, forex. You did good kid. The Company is ordering all of its employees to leave the City. Your card will get you through the checkpoints. There’s a safe house in Richmond you can use, your card will get you in there too. And stay in touch. I’m going to need you again, very soon.”
Pigeon stood alone, taking in the rain. She needed a break from the heady intellectualism of the Green Room. The full moon peered at her through the clouds, a perfect silver orb.
“Take me,” she whispered to the night, spreading her arms. “I’m ready.”
“No,” the moon whispered back to her. “We don’t want you. Not yet.”
Pigeon had just lit a smoke when a voice called to her from the dark. A figure stepped into the halo of light, and Pigeon recognised his face instantly, though he was a little older than in the photo she had been given: it was Sophie’s missing researcher.
“My name is Noah,” he said. “And I need to speak to Elizabeth immediately.”