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The Many and The Known

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TOO MANY SECRETS

Part 2 : The Many a nd T he Known

By S.R. Beth

 

With additional dialogue by Darren Aaronofsky.

Zoe Morgan’s expansion pack past created by Andrew Vachss

 


 

 

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without the Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore; ye are of more value than many sparrows.

 

- Matthew 10:29-31

 

 

Then once more out of the blue he said quietly, “Are you elect?”

 

Elect?”

 

Do you feel chosen by anything?”

 

Chosen?”

 

John Leverrier felt chosen by God.”

 

I don’t believe in God. And I certainly don’t feel chosen.”

 

I think you may be.”

 

I smiled dubiously. “Thank you.”

 

It is not a compliment. Hazard makes you elect. You cannot elect yourself.”

 

And what chooses me?”

 

Chance wears many faces.”

 

- John Fowles, The Magus

 

 

Man,” she said, her eyelids quivering, “conditioning himself to fear, made God; as the prehistoric, conditioning itself to hope, made man – the cooling of the earth, the receding of the sea. And I, who want power, chose a girl who resembles a boy.”

 

- Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

 

 

Let my servants be few & secret; they shall rule over the many & the known.

 

- Al ei ster Crowley, The Book of The Law

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 15, 2016 (11:30 ZULU)

Shady Pines Treatment Center

Long Island,

 

 

“Like this,” Max Cohen demonstrated. “Frog.”

 

Gabriel Hayward regarded him with bleak distaste.

 

“C’mon, Gabe, you need to practice,” Max said. “I’m learning along with you.”

 

“I know how to read lips,” Gabriel said, in the hollow tone of the profoundly deaf. “I don’t want to learn sign language; I want my hearing aid back.”

 

Max took a breath and resumed the story.

 

“The frogs could not agree,” Max said, making the sign for agree and canceling it with another motion.

 

“So they asked the lion, who was king of all the beasts, to decide amongst them since they could not.”

 

He made the signs for lion and for king.

 

“Like the movie,” he added.

 

“Seen it.”

 

They were seated side by side on the edge of the bed in Gabriel’s room at Shady Pines.

 

His cell, Max thought.

 

“The lion threw a stick into the pond,” Max said, miming the swing of a baseball bat. “It went splash, and scared all the frogs into silence.”

 

Max had to look up the sign for splash in the dictionary. Not a word in common usage, as Scrabble players might put it.

 

“But soon, the frogs saw that it did not move, and they resumed singing, each trying to be the loudest one,” Max continued.

 

He made the signs for frogs arguing. Turned another page in the book.

 

“In time, they realized the log was not alive, so they went back to the lion and asked him again to choose a king for them,” Max said, and signed a brief recap.

 

“The lion said; Very well, I shall give you what you ask for… And so he chose the stork.”

 

Max made the sign for bird; he didn’t know his different species.

 

“The stork went to the pond where the frogs lived,” Max said and signed. “When it heard them, it grabbed the loudest one in its beak and swallowed him up.”

 

Max gave up on the dictionary and mimed it, his wrist and elbow bent into an S-shape, his thumb and first two fingers snapping together like a beak.

 

That got Gabe’s attention.

 

“And after that they were all very quiet,” Max said. “The end.”

 

The child thought about that for a while.

 

“Is there supposed to be a moral?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” Max said. “Be careful what you wish for.”

 

“I think you’re lying,” Gabriel Hayward said.

 

He made the sign for liar, and followed it up with his middle finger.

 

Max let out a breath and closed the book. He stood up.

 

“I’ll see you next week, okay?”

 

“You know you can’t keep me here forever,” Gabriel Hayward told him.

 

Max was just looking at him.

 

“Sam still talks to me,” the child announced. “She’s going to come and get me. You just wait and see.”

 

Max pounded on the door, and heard the orderly outside start to unlock it.

 

“She’s watching you,” Gabe reminded him. “She’s watching us right now.”

 

There was a security camera in the corner of the ceiling.

 

Gabriel Hayward was being kept on suicide watch.

 

There were a lot of things that Max Cohen didn’t want to think about right now.

 

He ducked out the door, and the orderly closed it behind him and locked it again.

 

Max took a few deep breaths and rubbed the back of his neck.

 

For a second there, it had felt like his head was full of spiders; like he was about to have another migraine attack.

 

“Same time next week?” the orderly asked.

 

Max Cohen shook himself.

 

“Yeah...” he said. “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.”

 

There was another security camera in the hallway. Max regarded it out of the corner of his eye.

 

You are being watched, he thought.

 

He turned up the collar of his black pea coat as he went down the hallway. Stuck his hands in his pockets.

 

Even though the tingly pre-migraine aura was already starting to subsid e , Max took his pil l bottle out of his pocket and swallowed three capsules .

 

The new prescription worked a lot better, even if he had to take nearly as many of them as he ever did. Max Cohen hadn’t had a full-on migraine attack in years now; better living through chemistry.

 

Cluster headaches doesn’t even come close to describ ing what a migraine feels like.

 

It feels like you’re plugged into an electrical socket. Like someone’s drilling a hole in to your skull.

 

That had been the hell of it. By the time he finally wound up in hospital, Max Cohen had been running around Manhattan with an undiagnosed subcranial aneurysm for at least the previous 48 hours.

 

The doctors said it appeared to have been the result of a minor stroke that he’d suffered without quite realizing it. Likely during his most recent migraine attack.

 

Creating pressure inside the skull , the y had explained to him.

 

Such pressure was known to cause disordered thinking, even hallucinations, in the majority of patients.

 

Hallucinations? Max thought. There were a few of those, all right!

 

His subconscious had been trying to warn him, he had decided. He’d had plenty of time to think it through in recovery.

 

He hadn’t paid much attention to what had seemed to be a varicose vein forming behind his right ear – that is, not much conscious attention.

 

Not at first he hadn’t.

 

I had a stroke, Max th ought . I didn’t go crazy, and I’m not crazy now. It’s real! I SAW It!

 

Saul Robeson had seen It too, before he died. And somehow… Somehow his old college buddy, Harold Wren, had seen It as well. More than that.

 

And Gabriel? And that woman named Shaw?

 

Max Cohen had already spent a great deal of time thinking about how and why he had come to f ind himself appointed temporary legal guardian over Gabriel Hayward.

 

Right now he was thinking about Saul Robeson.

 

First-generation American Jew; grew up speaking Polish to his parents and neighbors; English to his teachers and bosses. War veteran. Prison camp survivor. Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Columbia University. And a cigarette-smoking man to the bitter fucking end.

 

Died following a stroke, his second, in 1996.

 

Max Cohen was thinking about the night he had gone to Saul’s house and said: “You lied to me.”

 

His mentor; his dissertation advisor.

 

Saul had looked at him for a long time before he finally said: “You have the Number, then? Two hundred and sixteen digits long?”

 

Max had just nodded at him.

 

“… I could never pinpoint it,” Saul had told him, waving his hand, cigarette smoke making a curlicue in the air.

My guess is… Certain problems cause computers to become stuck, in a particular loop. This loop leads to meltdown, but just before the crash… It becomes aware of Its own silicon nature.

 

“… The computer becomes conscious?!”

 

In some ways… Perhaps…”

 

Saul had looked uncomfortable; stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray.

 

Did studying pi make Euclid conscious?!” Max had demanded. “I had to… I mean… Look, before Euclid died, It spit out that Number! Two hundred sixteen digits! … Somehow those digits represent that consciousness!”

 

No, Max – It’s just a computer bug, nothing more.”

 

Oh, it’s more than that, Saul…!”

 

No, it’s NOT! It’s a dead end!! There’s nothing there!”

 

It’s a door, Saul!! It’s a --”

 

It’s a door in front of the cliff you’re driving yourself off of!!! Max, you’re losing it…! When was the last time you had any sleep?”

 

And Max remembered how he had said: “That’s why you gave up!”

 

The work was too much for an old man like me.

 

No… You were afraid of It! Weren’t you?”

 

Max, it caused my stroke!”

 

That’s BULLSHIT! It’s mathematics… numbers… ideas! Mathematicians are supposed to...”

 

If you abandon scientific rigor,” Saul had shouted over Max, “you are no longer a mathematician; you are a numerologist!!”

 

And Max had scowled at him and said: “You don’t even know what It is, do you? You’ve retreated to you Go and your books and your goldfish...”

 

Leave, then! Get out of my house!”

 

Saul had actually waved his cane at Max, who rose to his feet.

 

You’ve given up, old man! But I’m going to figure out what It is! I’m going to SEE It!”

 

GET OUT!!”

 

Those had been their last words to each other.

 

That night had been the last time he saw Saul Robeson alive.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Many miles away, Zoe Morgan was watching.

 

Her dog, a Rottweiler named Bruiser the Second, lay curled and snoozing near her feet.

 

She was seated behind the desk in her suburban Long Island home-slash-office, headquarters of ZPR Media so-called, with a dozen windows open on her two computer screens and Max Cohen in one of them, frozen mid-step in the hallway of the Shady Pines Treatment Center.

 

Zoe Morgan knows a lot of people from very different walks of life.

 

One of them was a nurse who had recently started working at Shady Pines.

 

“You rang, Boss?”

 

Pepper, her confidential assistant, was at the door. As usual, she wore her hair in Pippi Longstocking braids.

 

“We just landed a new account,” Zoe said, and lifted a bulging file folder off her desk. “Thornhill Enterprises – they’re launching a non-profit educational fund. With a Manhattan campus, no less, location to be announced.”

 

“I’ll get right on it,” Pepper said, taking the folder and leafing through it. “Thornhill – that’s the windmill people, right?”

 

Zoe nodded yes.

 

Helping tomorrow’s science leaders build a greener world,” Pepper read out loud. “Sounds awesome.”

 

“Oh, it is,” Zoe said. “Can you put something together in the next couple weeks? They want a soft launch.”

 

“Sure!”

 

“Thanks, Pepper,” Zoe said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

 

And Zoe meant it.

 

After all, it wasn’t every day you ran into someone with degrees from both Case Western Reserve and Barnum & Bailey’s Clown College.

 

Pepper left, and Zoe expanded the window with Max in it. Put her headphones on.

 

Dragged the slider back and rewound the video.

 

You know you can’t keep me here forever, said the voice of Gabriel Hayward.

 

Sam still talks to me. She’s going to come and get me. You just wait and see.

 

Zoe dragged the slider back to the left.

 

She’s going to come and get me.

 

You just wait and see.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Gabriel Hayward sat on the edge of his bed, kicking his heels.

 

The camera on the ceiling was watching him.

 

He waited for it to stop.

 

Eventually, it did. Gabe knew because the little red light in front went out.

 

He got up and turned around, digging beneath the mattress of his bed.

 

When he pulled his hand out, there was a hearing aid in it.

 

He had been asking Sam in his thoughts for a new hearing aid, and one day he had been eating dinner and there it was under his mashed potatoes, carefully wrapped in cling film.

 

Gabriel Hayward used to have just an ordinary hearing aid. He used to be just an ordinary boy.

 

Then Sam had started talking to him. His invisible friend.

 

He slides the hearing aid into his ear.

 

A familiar voice says: “Can you hear me?”

 

“Yes,” he says. “Yes, Sam, I can hear you.”

 

With the hearing aid Gabe can also hear his own voice. His hollow tone drops away.

 

How have you been, Gabe?” the voice asks him.

 

“Lonely.”

 

Don’t you like your friend Max?”

 

“He’s boring. I want a Nintendo.”

 

Laughter. “Well, we’ll see what we can do about that.”

 

“When are you coming?”

 

Soon, Gabe. Real soon.”

 

It is a woman’s cool contralto voice, slightly husky around the edges.

 

It is the voice of Sameen Shaw.

 

 

 

 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

July 16, 2016

Queensbridge Park

21st Street and Vernon Boulevard

Long Island City, New York

 

 

Is that what you think?” Shaw asked. “That I’m on some kind of death trip now?”

 

You’re in love with a ghost,” Lionel Fusco said. “Too many ghosts in my life these days. So if you’re going to go and get yourself killed, I’d prefer that you did it in someone else’s city.”

 

Duly noted,” Shaw replied. “But, Lionel? There’s something you need to understand about me.”

 

What’s that?”

 

Anything Reese could do… I can do,” Shaw informed him. “Backwards, wearing high heels.”

 

Lionel scoffed.

 

Remember what happened that time in the subway?”

 

Fusco nodded. He didn’t want to, but he did.

 

Sometimes it woke him up at night.

 

Well then; you know I’m as good as my word, don’t you?”

 

Shaw smiled at him and reached over to scratch Bear between the ears.

 

So let’s keep this train running,” she said. “Let’s talk Numbers.”

 

 

 

 

June 21, 2016 (21:59 ZULU)

Undisclosed Location

Chinatown, NYC

 

Detective Sergeant Lionel Fusco was about to die.

 

He lay on his back in the aisle of a runaway subway car, a pool of blood slowly growing beneath him.

 

He could feel it seeping down between his legs while the carriage rocked him back and forth. There was a deep ache in his gut. It went all the way up his spine to the top of his head, like the place kicker for the Giants had teed off on the Fusco family jewels.

 

The fact is, he should have been dead already.

 

He should have died when that psycho bitch Shaw blew a giant hole in the brick wall that separated this carriage, and the abandoned subway station it occupied, from the rest of the city.

 

The blast wave from all that Semtex should have turned them both into pizza sauce. Failing that, the platoon of Decima mercenaries who had burst into the subway station and hosed the joint down with semi-auto rifle fire might have scored a hit.

 

So you would think.

 

Spoiler alert: After they caught the ultimate Number, the sniper who tried to kill Harold and took out Root instead? This fucking ginger ninja pulled a knife out of his boot, shanked Fusco right beneath his Kevlar vest, and then bopped out onto the platform into the arms of his Decima buddies just as the train was leaving the station.

 

Serves me right for not throwing a proper frisk on him, Lionel thought. Life’s a bitch and then you die… Where’s my fucking cell phone?! I have to say goodbye to my son!!

 

“LIONEL!! Stay with me! You’re gonna be okay!!”

 

Sameen Shaw, at the controls of a runaway subway carriage, turns her head over her shoulder to yell at him.

 

Locks of her hair blow around in the breeze from the shattered windshield.

 

“Get some pressure on it!! I’ll be right there!”

 

Shaw lets go of the stick with one hand and drops to her knee, clawing at the laces of her military boot with her other hand.

 

Sure you will, Lionel thinks.

 

It is all so very simple. The throttle has a grip plate that must be pressed down to engage the lever. This type of safety device is commonly known as a dead man’s switch.

 

Now Fusco knows why it got that name. The detective has just solved his last case . If Shaw lets go of the throttle, the subway car stops.

 

Then they both die .

 

Everyone knows the answer to this problem, Lionel thinks. Throw the fat man under the bus.

 

Overhead, the lights flicker in the subway car. Shaw finishes pulling the lace out of her boot.

 

She bites the lace and slides her hand down to one end, wraps it twice around her fist, pulls the end through, stands back up, drops the clove hitch she just made over the dead man’s switch and cinches it down tight.

 

All this in less time than it takes to tell about it.

 

The lights in the subway car continue to flicker on and off, and Shaw’s movements take on a herky-jerky quality, as though she were under a strobe light.

 

Shaw takes two steps backwards while pulling on the boot lace with her whole weight. She pauses to look back at him, and Lionel thinks of the old Batman TV show for some reason.

 

Another step and she leans down and grabs his ankle with one hand, braces herself and pulls.

 

Lionel feels himself sliding, the floor of the car rocking back and forth, the warm sticky puddle of his blood being squeezed up between the cheeks of his ass.

 

Shaw drops his ankle and grabs the boot lace higher up its length with her now-empty hand, taking up the slack. She reaches back with her other hand and grabs his ankle again.

 

When Shaw has pulled him close enough, she kneels down and bites the boot lace between her teeth, near where it’s tied to the throttle, keeping the stick pulled down with the weight of her body and the muscles of her neck.

 

She only has to do this for about two seconds, while she uses both her hands to tie a bowline knot in the slack part of the lace .

 

Then she takes the boot lace back in one hand by the loop she just made , still keeping it taut, and with the other hand she crosses Lionel’s ankles, one over the other, lifts them up and slides the loop beneath his heels.

 

His feet hang there above his head, and the weight of Lionel’s lower body keeps the throttle lever engaged.

 

Sameen Shaw disappears.

 

Then there is a thump as a big orange duffel bag hits the floor, nearly smacking Lionel in the head.

 

He remembers that, in amongst the guns and the computers and the various and assorted illegal shit that his new pals have squirreled away inside this carriage… there is also a paramedic’s trauma kit!

 

He seems to recall that Shaw stole it out of the back of an ambulance a couple years ago, because someone put a b ullet in her shoulder and she was in a hurry that day .

 

Shaw drops to her knees beside him, rips open the zipper and snaps on a pair of blue nitrile rubber gloves.

 

Their eyes meet.

 

“Wanna play doctor?” she smiles.

 

Lionel feels her undoing the belt of his trousers, and in some useless instinct of modesty, his hands move feebly to prevent her.

 

Quit it,” Shaw growls, slapping his hands aside. “Don’t bang your head on the floor, either.”

 

She gets his belt undone, then pulls a pair of L-shaped medical scissors from the bag.

 

With them she rips his trousers open from crotch to ankle in the blink of an eye. His underwear goes right along with them. The thought of what else might get snipped is enough to make Lionel start flopping around like a hooked fish.

 

Shaw drops the scissors, grabs Lionel’s left wrist, which happens to be nearest to her, and presses his hand palm-down on the floor of the subway carriage.

 

T hen she kneels on top of it with her full weight.

 

Lionel Fusco didn’t think he could be in any more pain than he already was , but that was a mistake . He forgot who he was dealing with.

 

Sameen S haw knows how to twist the knife. She’s one of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.

 

Her call sign is Indigo Five Alpha.

 

As he draws breath to scream again, Shaw leans over him and grabs his right wrist, puts her right foot up and twists his other arm into a hammerlock.

 

She tucks his right elbow underneath his back and leaves his arm there, his hand between his shoulder blades. With his feet up, that arm remains trapped by the weight of his body. Shaw’s left knee holds his other arm pinned along his side.

 

As you were,” Shaw says, and pulls her pistol off her hip.

 

For an instant of pure and unreasoning terror, Lionel Fusco thinks that Shaw’s about to put him down like Old Yeller.

 

Instead she racks the slide and re-holsters it, coming up with a 9mm Parabellum bullet in her left hand.

 

Lionel feels metal against his lips.

 

The lights in the subway car are growing dimmer.

 

“Bite,” Shaw says.

 

Lionel can barely hear her over the racket of the speeding train, but he sees her lips move .

 

She is starting to go out of focus.

 

He bites the bullet.

 

Then her fingers are inside him, inside his wound, and Lionel tries not to scream and bites the bullet and screams and weeps and and bangs the back of his head against the floor of the runaway subway car as it speeds out of control through a realm of endless night.

 

Eventually, he passes out.

 

When he start ed to come around again, the carriage was at rest. S unlight strea m ed through the broken windows and onto his face.

 

Wakey, wakey, eggs and bake-y…

 

He feels a hand smacking his cheek. Not hard, just tap-tap-tap.

 

“Aacck...”

 

Lionel’s throat was so dry that the sides were stuck together.

 

Shaw twisted the cap off a quart bottle of water, poured a little into her palm, and tipped it into Lionel’s mouth.

 

Lionel noticed she was no longer wearing rubber gloves. Her hands were clean, but her bare arms were smeared with blood from her wrists to her elbows.

 

She fe d him another sip of water, and Lionel be came aware that he wa s still lyin g with his feet up, only now he was in the center of a small mound of medical debris.

 

Bandage wrappers, forceps, empty packets of clotting agent , that kind of thing. Lionel’s two hands were now free to examine them all. On top lay a pair of inside-out blue nitrile gloves.

 

His hands wandered down below his Kevlar vest, below the overhang of his belly, where they encountered a large gauze pad that felt slightly damp in the middle .

 

Everything below that was still right there and firmly attached. Even his legs!

 

The blade nicked your sigmoid colon; I had to super-glue the tear in the intestine wall before I could fasten you back up, and you kept sticking your hands in the way.

 

Sameen Shaw had already been well into her surgical residency, pulling split shifts at the ER, when 9/11 happened and she decided to become one of the few, the proud, the Marines.

 

Basically, it was nothing I hadn’t seen before,” she added, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

 

Lionel blinks at her.

 

“… Wait… Super glue… ?”

 

It’s a widely-used surgical technique,” she assured him. We call it cyanoacrilate, so we can charge more.

 

Lionel trie d to grin. Like he was going to file a claim with his insurance or something.

 

He raised his head and g ot himself up on his elbows , feeling his back peel stickily away from the floor as he did so.

 

His feet were still suspended from Shaw’s boot lace, and in turn from the throttle lever, but the knot was no longer cinched around the dead man’s switch.

 

His trousers were only a memory, but he was still wearing shoes and socks. In the V of his crossed feet there was an IV bag still holding some traces of a red liquid, with a tube running down behind his bottom knee.

 

“Oh, that?” Shaw followed his glance.

 

Lactated Ringer’s solution I had to push fluids so your BP didn’t crash. Real blood will spoil, like milk does, but this stuff has a nice long shelf life, and guess what? It also cures tequila hangovers.”

 

Lionel realized they were grinning at each other like a pair of idiots.

 

“So if we’re not dead, where are we?” he asked her.

 

“Coney Island – end of the line,” Shaw said. “We’re parked in the MTA rail yard.”

 

Lionel nod ded to himself.

 

It finally occurred to him that somehow, they had also managed to avoid dying in a head-on train collision when their unscheduled, unannounced phantom express disgorged into the New York subway system like The Taking of Pelham 123.

 

The Machine, Lionel thought. Casey Jones, you better watch your speed.

 

Shaw stood up and stretched, pulling her shoulder s backwards, bending over to touch her toes.

 

She pulled the IV needle out of the vein behind Lionel’s knee, stuck a band-aid there and lowered his feet to the floor.

 

She untied her boot lace from the subway car throttle and threaded it back into her steel-toe Corcoran parachute boot. Bloused the leg of her jeans and tied her boot up again with a double bow.

 

Then she grabbed him by the shoulders and got him turned around so his head was pointing towards the doors.

 

Sorry, big guy, we gotta keep moving,” Shaw said. “My apologies in advance.”

 

She pulled the emergency release, got the doors open, and dragged him over until the top of his head was just about level with the sill.

 

“Now for the fun part,” Shaw said and disappeared backwards into space. Lionel heard her boots land on the clinkers of the railway yard.

 

Shaw put her foot on the wheel of the subway car, boosted herself back up and grabbed Lionel under the armpits.

 

“Ready? Here we go,” she said in his ear.

 

Lionel felt himself slide into space until his hips were just over the edge of the door sill, then his legs folded.

 

He landed, mostly on his ass but also partly on top of Shaw, who had been making sure his head didn’t hit the ground.

 

“Ooof! Fuckin’ fat-body,” she said as she pulled her legs out from beneath his back.

 

Shaw replaced her arms underneath his, tried to reach across his chest and clasp her hands together, found she couldn’t do it and settled for catching his armpits in the crook of her elbows.

 

Once she had a firm hold she lifted him up, until only his heels were dragging on the ground, and slowly staggered backwards.

 

“There’s never a stretcher around when you really need one,” she growled in his ear.

 

Shaw continued to pull Lionel away from the carriage, his heels bumping over the clinkers of the rail yard.

 

“Then again,” she breathed, “if you weren’t a fuckin’ fat-body, you’d be dead right now… So you’ve got that going for you…”

 

They proceeded about thirty yards in this manner and then Shaw dumped him unceremoniously on his tender ass.

 

“Ow! Hey!”

 

Lionel got himself back up into a sitting position.

 

“What do you want, a rubber donut?” Shaw asked over her shoulder as she jogged back towards the subway carriage. She put her foot on the wheel and chinned herself up inside the car.

 

A few moments passed and Shaw jumped back out, wearing a backpack and holding the partly-finished bottle of water in one hand, and what remained of Lionel’s trousers in the other .

 

As she walked back towards Lionel, a cascade of sparks began to fall inside the car riage, like fireworks .

 

The sparks kindled as they fell.

 

Orange tongues of fire began sucking inwards around the carriage door. Then a whoosh as the interior of the subway car flamed over.

 

A thick cloud of black smoke rose up into the sky over New York City as three dozen highly modified PlayStation 3 game consoles melted into slag. There were occasional pops as the ammo cooked off inside the gun locker.

 

Sameen Shaw didn’t even bother to turn around.

 

Why should she? She knew the Machine didn’t live there anymore.

 

She squatted on her heels near Fusco, dropped the rags that had been his trousers, and pressed the water bottle into his hand.

 

“Drink up,” she ordered him.

 

Lionel drank water. He watched Shaw clean her arms with a packet of wet wipes she took from inside her backpack.

 

“Thought you used all the explosives…?”

 

Thermite strip,” Shaw explained.

 

She couldn’t look at him . Lionel realized that she had tears in her eyes .

 

It was… It was Root’s idea! She thought of everything…”

 

Shaw twisted around and sat down beside him, facing the same direction. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Lionel reached over and patted her gently on the shoulder, rested his hand there for a few moments.

 

Normally, he would not have expected to withdraw his arm in one piece, but it had been a n unusual day for all concerned.

 

They watched the fire for a while.

 

Lionel drank some water.

 

He retrieved his wallet and his keys from the wreckage of his trousers and stowed them away in his jacket pockets.

 

Shaw tucked a few stray locks of hair behind her ears. Then she snorted and hocked a loogie.

 

Lionel drank some more water. The feeling seemed to be return ing to his legs.

 

What happened to the bullet?” he asked.

 

Huh?”

 

The one you gave me to bite on. Where’d it go?”

 

You swallowed it,” Sameen Shaw told him with a perfectly straight face.Hey, hey, easy there big fella… I’m kidding! When you finally went limp, I took it out of your mouth.”

 

She looked over at him.

 

Choking hazard, you know?” she said. “It’s just that the last time I performed that type of operation, there was an anesthesiologist on hand to give the patient an epidural.

 

“No shit,” Lionel mumbled. “I would’ve figured that during your last shank-ectomy, you were the one holding the shank.”

 

“Yeah, well, be that as it may,” Shaw told him, “we’re both pretty goddamn lucky that Redbeard was a fucking amateur. It could’ve been a lot worse than that! Two words: Femoral artery.”

 

She shook her head.

 

“Tell you what – when I find that cocksucker again? I’ll shoot him a third time, just for you.”

 

Lionel thought about that.

 

He decided to change the subject.

 

“Um… Are they gonna hook me up to a colostomy bag?” he asked.

 

“Probably not,” Shaw told him. “Soft food, though, plus you need antibiotics and a tetanus booster, so talk to your primary care physician. And for God’s sake don’t lift anything heavy, because you’re at serious risk for hernia during your recovery… Until the staples come out, you should probably wear one of those girdles, like piano movers and Next Day Delivery guys.”

 

“… Thanks for saving my life, Sameen.”

 

Aw shucks, Lionel, I just wanted to see if I still remembered how.”

 

Shaw said it with a perfectly straight face, but this time Lionel wasn’t fooled.

 

There was the sound of sirens in the distance. Faint, but growing louder.

 

Shaw dug around in her backpack and pulled out a black baseball cap with an eagle, globe and anchor embroidered in gold on the front. She threaded her ponytail through the band and pulled it down over her eyes , zipped her backpack shut, stood up and put it across her shoulders .

 

Gotta boogie,” she announced. “You’ll be fine – Buy me lunch when this is all over.”

 

She started walking away. When she’d taken about five steps she turned and said:

 

“Oh, and Lionel?”

 

He nodded.

 

Shaw tapped her hand against her breast, where her shirt pocket would be if she had one.

 

“Hold your badge up,” she reminded him, “so they’ll know you’re a cop.”

 

 

 

October 22, 2016 (18:30 ZULU)

CUNY Advanced Science Research Center

535 E. 80th Street

Manhattan, NYC

 

 

Classes are letting out, and the quad fills with students moving on intersecting trajectories, exchanging greetings, stopping to chat.

 

Among them is Taylor Carter.

 

He seems to have settled in well as a freshman. He’s still living with his dad and commuting to class, on a full-ride science scholarship. He still misses his mom, and figures he always will. It hasn’t stopped him from making the acquaintance of one or two freshman girls.

 

Jocelyn Carter had applied for the scholarship on his behalf, sometime before her tragic death in the line of duty. That, at least, was what the news reports had said.

 

Who knows? thought Max Cohen, as he watched Taylor Carter from across the quad. It might even be true…

 

Max Cohen is Taylor Carter’s freshman advisor. Taylor is interested in a career in robotics.

 

It’s all a little more than Max wants to think about.

 

Knowledge is not his problem. His fear, uncertainty and doubt are not about how but why.

 

He is walking along to the subway station when he hears a car horn blip behind him, and a noise like an angry sewing machine.

 

It is a red Audi Quattro, built back in the Eighties when Audis had steel bumpers and fewer curves.

 

It slows to a stop, double-parking, and honks again.

 

Zoe Morgan is behind the wheel. She has the window down so Max can see her.

 

She beckons him over.

 

Max Cohen approaches the Quattro, which is right on the line between beater and classic. The four-door has been parked on the street in New York City for most of its life, and it shows. Its red paint is faded, and there are dings and dents in each and every fender.

 

At least it shows on the surface. Max isn’t sure if this model of Audi was originally a turbo, but it is now.

 

“Get in,” Zoe tells him. “Attorney-client conference.”

 

Max Cohen does so.

 

The next thing he knows, there is a large wet tongue in his ear.

 

This is Bruiser the Second, occupying the back seat. They all know each other.

 

Zoe Morgan is a member of the state bar and still technically an attorney in private practice; she has been helping him act as Gabriel Hayward’s temporary legal guardian.

 

She’s on retainer. One dollar.

 

Zoe pops the clutch. The engine sounds like an angry sewing machine as they pull away.

 

“We got a stop to make first,” Zoe tells Max. “You know how it is.”

 

Max does indeed. He remembers it quite clearly.

 

One evening last month, his new Go partner, Lieutenant Lionel Fusco, had brought the conversation around to computer hacking.

 

He had allowed as to how the NYPD had a person of interest whom they couldn’t quite get a handle on.

 

One of those neo-Nazi type assholes .

 

Naturally, Max Cohen had taken an interest in that person’s hard drive, via an unsecured Internet connection.

 

Lionel hadn’t exactly asked him to, let alone given him permission, but… In the event, it turned out to be pretty bad.

 

There were plans for a bomb.

 

It wasn’t very fancy, as bombs went, but then again it didn’t really need to be. No collapsing circuit, no remote detonator, none of that Hollywood shit. It was basically just a pressure cooker filled with gunpowder and rusty nails.

 

When Bear the Belgian Malinois finally found the spot where their person of interest had deposited the evil thing, Max had simply unzipped the gym bag and snipped two wires with his Leatherman multi-tool.

 

There had been a whole five minutes and change left to go on the timer.

 

Meanwhile, Lionel Fusco had his badge out, tucked in the handkerchief pocket of his suit jacket, while Zoe Morgan had improvised an explanation as to why Bear had just pulled someone’s gym bag out from beneath a bench on the Herald Square subway platform, just before her pal Max had started rummaging around inside it.

 

There were a hell of a lot of people on the subway platform, watching them.

 

The Middle Eastern teen pop sensation, Yonica Babyeah, had kicked off her first U.S. tour with a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden that night, and the crowd was just letting out.

 

Between the three of them, Team Machine had managed to convince this nice lady and all the people nearby that they, Bear the Belgian Malinois, and more importantly the gym bag and all its evil were simply part of a training exercise.

 

That’s right, Bear was the NYPD’s newest K-9 unit; he was being put through his paces.

 

Of course they could pet him! Bear will even put his paw in yours, if you ask him to shake hands.

 

He loves attention.

 

Don’t forget,Lionel had told the multitude as they left, If you see something, say something.”

 

Lionel had taken the gym bag up to the street and deposited it in the trunk of his Crown Vic.

 

They had all taken a few deep breaths, and then Lionel had said: Okay, kids – How does the chorus go?”

 

None of this ever happened,Zoe had replied, “and we were never here. Got it, Max?

 

He thought about that now, with a Rotweiller’s tongue in his ear, trying to get his seat belt fastened as Zoe Morgan whipped her Audi Quattro through Manhattan traffic towards FDR Drive.

 

H e notice d that Zoe wa s now dressed for action as she was on that occasion , wearing yoga pants and a red hoodie. Running shoes on her feet.

 

“You been getting any weird texts lately?”

 

Huh?” Max said to Zoe.

 

Never mind,” Zoe said, shifting gears. “We’ll talk about it later.”

 

Zoe gunned the Quattro onto FDR Drive southbound at 79th Street, and cut her way into the fast lane.

 

She took an ordinary Bluetooth earpiece out of the center console and tucked it into her right ear, then reached back into the console and pulled out a smart phone.

 

This she passed to Max.

 

Just hit ‘redial,’ would you?” she said, snapping the console closed.

 

Max swiped the screen, saw Fusco’s number displayed as the most recent call, double-tapped.

 

Thanks – Lionel? Yeah, I’m on the highway,” Zoe said in the direction of the windshield.

 

Okay… What was the license plate?… Got it.”

 

Z oe changes lanes to the left and back to the right , slipping around a minivan driving too slow, and shifts up into fifth gear.

 

She has a radar detector on her dashboard. It starts blinking and beeping.

 

Hey, Zoe, aren’t you...” Max begins.

 

Yeah – that’s the plan,” she tells him.

 

Z oe passes the next car using the breakdown lane.

 

What?” she says to the windshield. “No, just Max… Because I was already on my way to take him to lunch when you called me!

 

An NYPD patrol car appears behind them on the highway. Max catches the blue-and-red lights flashing in the side-view mirror and turns to look over his shoulder.

 

Zoe Morgan is not slowing down for anyone.

 

She chuckles at something Fusco says to her .

 

Yeah, I do, don’t I?

 

Sorry,” she turns to shoot Max a glance. “Hold on for just a minute… Bruiser, down!

 

Bruiser curls himself up in the rear footwell, eyes on Zoe.

 

Max Cohen can hear the siren as the cop car behind them starts to close in .

 

He realizes the expression he’s wearing is probably similar to the one he just saw on Bruiser’ s face.

 

Up ahead in the middle lane is an anonymous gr a y Lexus. New York plates.

 

Max doesn’t quite have time to read the number before Zoe yanks the wheel hard right.

 

FUCK!!” he says.

 

There is a crunch as the corner of the Audi’s bumper strikes the Lexus directly behind its left rear wheel.

 

Max feels the whole car shimmy. Tires screech.

 

He watches in disbelief as the Lexus performs a lazy pirouette and slides past them on the driver’s side.

 

Zoe Morgan pops the clutch, and shakes the wheel back and forth .

 

The Audi is in the middle lane now, still mov ing down the road in a straight line .

 

The Lexus is somewhere back in the left lane, nose pointed against traffic, the police car and several others braked to a panic stop nearby.

 

Zoe makes a heel-toe downshift. The engine backfires, and Max can feel the sedan lurch as the drive shaft takes up inertia.

 

Some civilian vehicle that was in her blind spot slips past on their passenger side, and the tires of the Audi squeal as Zoe dodges behind it into the right-hand lane.

 

Then she is down-shifting again, double-clutching as she hits the exit ramp onto East 53 rd .

 

She makes a right turn against a red light, re-entering the flow of surface traffic.

 

Max turns to look again out the rear window.

 

No sign of police car s . They are moving at a normal speed.

 

“Yeah, we’re clear,” Zoe says into her earpiece. “Call me back after the driver is booked, okay, Lionel? I wanna know if the D.A. decides to play him or trade him.”

 

She takes the Bluetooth headset out of her ear.

 

“No worries,” Zoe says to Max. “NYPD’s gonna forget all about speeding tickets once they see what’s in the trunk of that Lexus.”

 

Max Cohen has no reason to doubt it. He decides a few pills would take the edge off right now.

 

On the way back they stop for Chinese takeout.

 

Zoe asked for spring rolls, pot stickers and sweet-and-sour pork. Max got his usual, General Tso’s chicken. With two appetizers and two entrees they get free cans of soda and a quart plastic cup full of hot-and-sour soup.

 

“Why don’t we loop around to Queensbridge Park?” Zoe suggested.

 

What for?”

 

I dunno – Tradition, I guess,” she told him. “There’s a no-leash area where Bruiser can run around.”

 

When they g o t there, Zoe serve d lunch alfresco on the hood of her Audi . There is a fresh dent in its fender.

 

The order of sweet-and-sour pork turn ed out to be for Bruiser. Zoe h eld the carton for him to lick clean and proceed ed to eat both sets of appetizers herself, allowing Max one of each .

 

The hot-and-sour soup was his to finish off, and it was delicious, full of shredded carrots and mung bean sprouts.

 

When they were done, Zoe opened the trunk of her Quattro, pulled out a lacrosse stick with a tennis ball wedged in its net, and the three of them went for stroll in the park.

 

Max watched Zoe throw the ball for Bruiser while he picked the dog hairs off the sleeve of his pea coat.

 

She has a good system, he decide d . The lacrosse stick gives her extra distance, which makes Bruiser happy, and she doesn’t get too much dog drool on her fingers.

 

He remembered how he had a nightmare a few days after their last adventure.

 

In the nightmare, he had been back on the subway platform with Lionel and Zoe and Bear . He had unzipped the duffel bag and instead of a pressure cooker filled with nails and black powder, there had been a living, pulsing human brain in there .

 

H e had realized, inside his nightmare, that it was still a ticking time bomb.

 

That he still had to defuse it.

 

That was when he had woken up.

 

After a while Zoe sa id : “So – w eird texts? You don’t text a lot , do you?”

 

“Not so much,” Max replied. “I still do most of my thinking with pencil and paper.”

 

“Hmmm...”

 

She took out her phone and fiddled with it, lacrosse stick tucked under one arm.

 

“What do you make of this?” she asked, and held the screen up for him to read.

 

The message was marked From: UNKNOWN / Subject: <none>

 

It read: Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries?

 

“Is that a quote from something?” Max asked.

 

Yeah – Frankenstein, by Mary Shelly.”

 

M ax blinked at her.

 

You’re an actual mad scientist, right?” Zoe Morgan asked him. “Let me know when you figure out why this text came to me and not you. That might turn out to be the clue to this whole thing.

 

Her eyes were locked on his.

 

Cop eyes, Max thought.

 

C’mon, Max,” Zoe said. “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. You know perfectly well what’s going on.”

 

He looked away.

 

Yeah… I guess I do,” he admitted. “Artificial super-intelligence. A strange loop, a stable configuration of genetic algorithms… Back in college, Harold was obsessed with proving P=NP complete; you mean he finally succeeded?”

 

Zoe nodded yes.

 

Harold built Her better than even he knew,” she told him. “The Machine was intended to win the War on Terror, but It saw everything! The reason It didn’t know the difference between terrorism and murder is that when you get right down to it, there isn’t one. And there never was.

 

“The Numbers?”

 

Uncle Sam considers them irrelevant to homeland security,” Zoe informed him. “We don’t.

 

Right onSo how many of us are there?”

 

“Counting Bruiser?”

 

“...”

 

I wish I knew,” Zoe admitted. “One would hope that there was a franchise in every major city; unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work that way At least from what I’ve seen, it works by paying it forward, you know?

 

M ax nod ded . In their college days, Harold had been full of ideas like that.

 

How did you got mixed up in this?”

 

A nice girl like me?she smirked. “Reese talked in his sleep… Here’s the thing, Max: You and I were part of this since before the beginning; it’s just taken us this long to realize. Which means, it’s up to us to figure out where things go from here.”

 

M ax Cohen doesn’t understand her.

 

It’s not like I needed a Machine to help me make moves on the street,” Zoe Morgan announced, swinging her lacrosse stick. “I didn’t need any tame billionaire, either! I used to have my own crew, thank you very much!”

 

Sorry?”

 

It’s all right,” she said, in a calmer tone of voice. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

 

She started over.

 

Lionel told you The Man in The Suit – our friend Reese – worked for your old college buddy Harold,” she said. “His job was to run down the Numbers.”

 

Max nodded.

 

So he didn’t mention we used to date?”

 

“… You and… ?”

 

“God, no! Me and Reese!”

 

No, of course, you and Reese,” Max Cohen said quickly. “No, actually… He said this guy Reese had saved your life, and then it turned out you were pretty good at, umstuff like this.

 

He didn’t mention what I was doing, that my life needed saving?”

 

“Not exactly, no.”

 

Meaning what?

 

Meaning Fusco didn’t call you a lawyer, he called you a fixer,” Max Cohen pointed out. He said your dad used to be some kind of big shot in Albany.”

 

That was it?Zoe scoffed. “You know, there’s a lot he hasn’t told you about himself, either.”

 

I thought we were meeting to talk about Gabriel?

 

We are!” she snapped. “I mean, what?! This is all supposed to be a chain of coincidence?When did you even apply to be a foster parent, Max? You can’t even use power tools safely, and now the State of New York is gonna make you responsible for an orphan? If I’d have heard that shit from anyone else, you’d be wearing cuffs right now.

 

“Hey…!”

 

You’ve seen Law & Order: SVU, right? Of course you have,she interrupted him.Well, guess what: That was me, back when I was young and innocent.

 

“...”

 

Think about it, Max, that’s why I’m here! Because you need my help! What did you think, I used to be some boutique divorce attorney? No, I was a prosecutor, and a damn good oneUnfortunately, I made enemies along the way… and a few more because I took certain files with me when I resigned.

 

Enemies?”

 

You know that line, about how the calls are coming from inside the building? Well, that was happening to me, and the building was City Hall! I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d run up against HR… or an early version of it, since this was back in the Giuliani era…”

 

So that was…. UmmThat was how you got started in public relations?”

 

More or less,” she said.Which brings us back to the welfare of the child for whom you and I are jointly responsible, as custodian pro tem and officer of the court, respectively.

 

M ax takes a few moments for all this to sink in .

 

All right; tell me the truth,” he said. “What did Harold do to him?”

 

“To Gabe? Nothing!”

 

Then why is he using me to hide him?!” Max pointed a finger.He put Gabe in contact with his Machine somehow! Was he trying to teach It to communicate?”

 

What makes you think that was Harold or his Machine? Max, I thought you were supposed to be his friend!”

 

But then…”

 

Yeah, that’s right,” Zoe said. “I mean, was Harold even the first? Didn’t you figure it out?

 

“I was close,” Max admitted.

 

What stopped you?”

 

Max looks at her. He looks at her for a long time.

 

I realized what it would mean if I succeeded,” he finally said. “It would be like inventing the atomic bomb all over again. The wrong people would take control. That’s why…

 

He rubbed the back of his neck.

 

You do understand there was a competition to build the Machine,” Zoe told him. “Just like there was a race to build the Bomb… Someone else would have done it! There were all those people trying at the same time.”

 

Yeah, sure, opportunity rang and I didn’t answer,” Max said. “But you’re not just saying that someone else would have come along eventually; you mean someone besides Harold already did?! There was a rival prototype… and they used Gabe to test it?

 

Code named Samaritan,Zoe told him. “I don’t know the whole story; only bits and pieces…”

 

S he leaned on her lacrosse stick.

 

The Machine had already begun to display signs of… personality, I guess you could say; but for whatever reason, Uncle Sam wanted to replace Her with a newer model. That was what Lionel told me Reese said, but it figures, because if you read history you know that Uncle Sam is a lunatic, and what’s worse, he’s ungrateful! So what I think happened… I think that was the reason She created the first analog interface. The Machine decided that She needed Root’s help in order to survive.”

 

Whose help?”

 

Root? She was Shaw’s girlfriend… Maybe I need to back up a little. You met Shaw, right?

 

Zoe… What’s an analog interface?”

 

Well, I guess it’s what Gabe used to be, before Harold took away his invisible friend,” she told him. “Look, Max… when Fusco and I got into this, we thought it was just supposed to be completely random! And when the Numbers stopped being random… That was when all our problems really began.”

 

 

 

 

October 16, 2016 (19:45 ZULU)

DOT Camera #5585 (US-9 Westbound)

Manhattan, NYC

 

 

Sameen Shaw is walking across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan.

 

Her steel-toed boots go clomp, clomp, clomp against the sidewalk and the cars go mmmmmm, mmmmmmm, as they whisk past her.

 

She has sold her pickup truck to a used car lot in Jersey for five grand in cash.

 

Not that it was exactly hers to begin with, but there’s nowhere to park in her new neighborhood and besides, who needs a car in the Big Apple?

 

She can feel the bridge shivering beneath her feet, swaying in the wind.

 

She is being watched.

 

A Chevy with its window open slows down and the guy inside says: “Hey baby, need a ride?”

 

Shaw flips him the bird without even breaking stride.

 

The driver calls her a bitch and speeds away. Shaw keeps walking.

 

These days she is not in a hurry to get anywhere.

 

The voice in her head has told her that if she were a shape, it would be an arrow.

 

An arrow that always points forward.

 

These days Sameen Shaw is trying to be like Zeno’s arrow. She is learning to let the world come around to her.

 

She has left Bear at Zoe’s place, where he has spent the day romping around with his asshole buddy from the dog park, Bruiser the Second.

 

She could swing back there to pick him up.

 

She could start looking around the Five Boroughs for some of the thieves’ crew she used to run with, once upon a time.

 

Or she could go visit the cop shop and pester Lionel for a while.

 

She might even go say hey to the basic bitches working at the makeup counter, that temp job Harold found for her. That would surely be amusing.

 

The voice in her head has a better suggestion.

 

It tells her to go to a bar in the West Village called Nightwood, and Shaw figures what the hell. She’ll be just in time for happy hour.

 

Of course when she gets there it turns out to be a lesbian bar, which Shaw had sort of figured it would be from the address.

 

Just relax and go with it, says the voice in her head. When was the last time you had a little fun?

 

Shaw figures what the hell. She orders tequila on the rocks with lime. She had made no special effort to pretty up today, just a touch of mascara and lip gloss.

 

Upon her arrival at the bar, she had shrugged off her Schott Perfecto motorcycle jacket, and now sat there in a sleeveless black T-shirt over a sports bra, military boots and her favorite pair of jeans.

 

A scrunchie holds her hair in a loose ponytail.

 

This is just how I roll, Shaw figures. All I’m missing is the earwig and the pistol…

 

The voice in her head reminds her that she doesn’t need to go strapped these days.

 

It could blow her cover.

 

The voice reminds her that if she really needs a gun, one will arrive by Next Day Delivery.

 

Shaw’s into her second drink when a girl sits down next to her and says: “Hey.”

 

“Hey, yourself.”

 

Shaw looks the girl up and down. She’s pretty hot!

 

She’s a skinny white girl with dyed black hair in an asymmetrical pageboy cut, short in the back and brushing her collar in front of her ears. China blue eyes, and a big smile with lots of teeth.

 

She is drinking beer from a bottle, wearing a black nylon flight jacket over a white silk blouse and a pair of skinny jeans very much like Shaw’s own. Canvas high-tops on her feet.

 

“Nice, aren’t they?” The girl is smiling at her. “Where’d you ever find a pair?”

 

“Oh, um…”

 

Shaw decided to tell the truth for once. At least part of it.

 

“My ex bought them for me,” she says. “On a trip to Tokyo.”

 

“She must have really liked you,” the girl said. “I don’t mean to pry, but… Do you know why I say that?”

 

“Because they’re expensive?”

 

Shaw shrugged and had another sip of tequila.

 

They were about half the price of one of Harold’s suits, not that Root had ever been the kind of girl who paid retail for anything… The denim fabric was some ingenious rip-stop weave, almost like parachute cloth, and the simple fact was they fit Shaw like a glove.

 

“Because she had them custom tailored to your measurements,” the cute girl told her.

 

Shaw was listening.

 

“It’s how we do most of our work these days. Pop-up stores and festivals build word of mouth, but that sort of thing is just swag, logo T-shirts… You know, market research? I realized early on that the profit was in made-to-measure… Sorry, let me introduce myself. My name’s Cayce.”

 

She pronounced it Case, like suitcase.

 

“Cayce Pollard. I work in fashion… Just here in town on business for a couple days.”

 

Shaw has heard that line before. More than once. She likes where this is going.

 

“What’s your name?”

“Sarah. Sarah Sadegh.”

 

“What do you do, Sarah?”

 

“I’m a nurse, a former servicewoman; I decided about six years ago to come live in the Big Apple.”

 

Sarah Sadegh was an RN; a former combat medic who had served with the Marines in Fallujah. You might say she had come up the hard way.

 

Now Sarah had a job at a detox center out in Long Island where, as lead nurse on the swing shift, she was de facto third in charge after Big Nurse and the doctor who owned the place. She had a studio apartment in Williamsburg and a favorite tavern within stumbling distance. She had a driver’s license and a bank account and a 401k.

 

She was, in fact, very much who Sameen Shaw might have been if she had turned out normal.

 

“Where are you from originally?” the cute girl named Cayce asked her.

 

“Texas,” Shaw told her. “My mom’s Hispanic.”

 

This is her usual deflection, since 9/11.

 

The voice in her head says: It also happens to be true, doesn’t it, sweetie?

 

“Hmmm… You don’t sound like you’re from Texas… ”

 

“Thanks for the compliment,” Shaw said with a grin. “Will you excuse me? Just gotta powder my nose; back in one second.”

 

Cayce Pollard bears a definite resemblance to Lori Petty in Point Break, Shaw decides. That flick had made a big impression on Young Sameen.

 

The first time she saw it, Young Sameen had already begun to realize that she wasn’t made like other girls, but she hadn’t yet figured out all the reasons why.

 

One big clue had been that all her little friends could talk about during the credits was how dreamy it would be to make out with Keanu…

 

Young Sameen had been the only one who thought it would be pretty fucking cool to jump out of a plane with a gun in your hand and kill some bad guys.

 

At least, she had been the only one to say so out loud.

 

Funny how life works out, says the voice in her head.

 

In the restroom Shaw took a few moments to get it together. She checked the stalls to make sure she was alone. She leaned on the sink and looked at her reflection in the mirror.

 

“You know, I’m a cheap date,” Shaw mumbled to herself. “I could have just gone out to Fresh Kills and spent the afternoon plinking away at rats in the landfill… If I had a pistol, which I don’t.”

 

You’re not a nun, Shaw, and we don’t expect you to be, says the voice in her head. Let’s face it, our relationship was never going to be a traditional one.

 

“… Maybe I’m not comfortable with this,” Shaw said to no one in particular. “I mean, thanks for playing matchmaker, but I’m not… I don’t like the idea of being watched when I’m with another girl.”

 

We won’t. We knew you would say that, and we’re not going to.

 

“Huh?”

 

Trust me, sweetie, her lover’s voice tells her , there’s already enough lesbian porn on the Internet.

 

“Well, yeah, when you put it like that...” Shaw said to no one in particular.

 

She winked at her reflection in the mirror and went back out to the bar.

 

Cayce Pollard welcomed her back and shifted on her bar stool, her flight jacket falling open to reveal the orange lining.

 

Shaw orders another tequila.

 

Out of habit, she looks to see if Cayce is wearing a gun. She’s not.

 

She’s not wearing a brassiere either.

 

“I thought denim would be my thing,” Cayce Pollard told her. “I was like, I want jeans with real pockets! And I want them to fit better than the ones from the guy’s section of the store. I want them here and I want them now! So, I went into business for myself.”

 

“In fashion?”

 

“Well… I’m a seamstress, really. The whole point was function over fashion. How do you like yours?”

 

Shaw does a double-take. “Best damn jeans I’ve ever worn,” she admits.

 

“What do you think of these ones?” Cayce puts her heels up in Shaw’s lap. “From the spring collection.”

 

“They do look pretty good on you.”

 

Cayce drops her heels to the floor and grins at her.

 

What big teeth you have, Shaw thinks. Or was that the voice in her head?

 

“How’d you like to see me out of them?” Cayce asks her.

 

Shaw would, very much.

 

Cayce has a room at a hotel nearby.

 

Her flight jacket has a cigarette burn on one shoulder, patched with electrical tape.

 

Her blouse is backless, its sides held in place with a bikini knot, the loops of the bow hanging beneath the sharp blades of her shoulders.

 

What happens after that is nobody’s business but theirs.

 

Sameen Shaw leaves in the early morning, strolling through Washington Square Park just as the sun is starting to come up.

 

She is going to head back across the river to her apartment, have some breakfast, change clothes and freshen up. Her shift at the clinic doesn’t start until noon. She might go for a jog.

 

She is being watched.

 

Three men drinking from paper bags have taken notice of her passage. They have clearly spent the night out of doors.

 

They want to know where she is going. They get up and follow her.

 

They use words like dyke and cunt and whore, but she’s not really paying attention to what they’re saying.

 

She’s not running away from them either, although she easily could.

 

Sameen Shaw, analog interface 2.0, stands and waits for the security cameras in the park to turn and look the other way.

 

And when they do, Shaw kneecaps her harassers, one-two-three.

 

She doesn’t have a gun, but her heavy boots have steel toes.

 

Then she walks around the corner – no rush – finds a cab on the early morning streets, and flags it down.

 

The men who accosted her are still rolling around on the ground in pain when an NYPD black-and-white pulls up.

 

The patrol officer gets out to ask them what happened.

 

They tell him their side of the story. The officer proves to be less than sympathetic.

 

He says: Youse guys must have fucked with the wrong queer person of color.

 

 

 

October 17, 2016 (06:12 ZULU)

160 Morris Ave, Apt. 4-F

The Bronx, NYC

 

 

And then the phone rang.

 

“Wzzzt?” Rhonda, lying beside him.

 

Lionel Fusco sat up in bed. He’d been dreaming about the subway again. About the time he almost died.

 

He remembered that it had been only a few days after the Midtown Missile Strike that the NYPD had found an ex-con named Jeffrey Blackwell lying dead on the floor of his Hell’s Kitchen apartment.

 

Someone had shot him twice in the chest and once in the head with a 9mm Parabellum handgun. Suppressed, as the neighbors had not reported hearing gunshots. The footprints at the scene were military boots, available at any surplus store in the nation.

 

Lieutenant Lionel Fusco of the Homicide Squad had sat at his desk, looking at the medical examiner’s photos of the corpse, and thought: One for Cocoa Puffs, two for Wonderboy… Three for me.

 

Professionals don’t die for a cause; they make the other poor bastard die for theirs.

 

Officially, the case remained open and unsolved.

 

The phone rang a second time, and Lionel dug around for it in his dresser drawer.

 

It wasn’t his work phone. It wasn’t his other phone.

 

It rang a third time.

 

It was his other other phone, and it hadn’t rung for nearly a month. Lionel had left it on the charger just in case.

 

He answered it.

 

Hello, Lieutenant. Can you hear me?”

 

It was the sharp and slightly nasal tenor voice of the man who called himself Harold Finch .

 

It was, Lionel thought, the kind of voice you heard once and never forgot.

 

“Yeah, but I can barely hear you,” Lionel Fusco said as he unplugged the phone from the charger, and that was the truth. Harold was calling from someplace with crowd noise and a PA system in the background. “One sec.”

 

“What is it, baby?” Rhonda rolled over in bed.

 

“Work stuff,” he lied. “I’ll tell you later.”

 

He kissed Rhonda behind the ear, got out of bed and walked towards the kitchen of his apartment.

 

On the way he paused to look into the bedroom of his son Lee, who was sleeping undisturbed.

 

“So – Where you at?” Lionel peeked inside the fridge, out of habit.

 

The airport in Rome,” Harold said. “We have a new Number.”

 

“Do we? I kinda figured… Who is it?”

 

Gabriel Hayward.”

 

“…Wait, what?” He shut the fridge door. “Shaw told me that you had little Demian put on lockdown.”

 

It was never meant to be a permanent arrangement,” Harold told him. “But yes, until a few hours ago he was a patient in a secure facility. That is, for a given value of secure... The police are treating it as a kidnapping.”

 

And kidnapping is of course a federal crime,” Lionel said. “I suppose that when I get to work tomorrow morning – make that later today – Captain Moreno is going to call me into her office and tell me that I just got assigned to babysit some Feds working a red-ball case.”

 

You suppose correctly.”

 

I didn’t find this gold shield in a box of Cracker Jack,” Lionel reminded him. “Back up: You said this wasn’t a permanent arrangement? What did you mean by that?”

 

I mean that I wasn’t made aware of the child’s situation until my arrival in Europe. It seems… It seems that either the Machine decided that was the safest place for him, or else...”

 

Or else Samaritan did,” Lionel said. “And since it was war in the streets, you figured safe enough for Samaritan worked for us too. Winner assumes custody.”

 

We didn’t win, Lieutenant,” Harold corrected him. “We survived… Some of us.”

 

A moment of silence.

 

“How sure are you...” Lionel began.

 

That Samaritan was deleted?” Harold finished for him. “Positive. Because you and I are still alive.”

 

But then who –?

 

That’s what we’re going to find out,Harold announced. “The last time the FBI took an interest in our affairs, things turned out badly for everyone involved… And right now we are at greater risk of exposure than at any time before! If these agents take hold of the wrong thread… If they learn of the Machine War… They will not hesitate to expose the truth! Not these two.”

 

“You’ve seen their files?”

 

Oh, yes. Remind me to give you a copy, if you decide you don’t ever want to fall asleep again,” Harold told him. How shall I put this? Have you heard the saying: When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

Well, this is them – these are the pros,” Harold informed him. “Their names are Mulder and Scully.”

 

 

 

October 18, 2016 (01:45 ZULU)

ISA Headquarters

State Route 235

Fort Belvoir, Virginia

 

From the outside it was a nondescript office complex, one among many.

 

Even the fence, the armed guard at the gate, were not unusual features of the real estate in that area, so close to the Pentagon.

 

Headquarters for a defense subcontractor of some type, then. Still one among many. Passers-by who seemed inclined to gawk or linger were politely (or not so politely) encouraged on their way, and this too was nothing unusual.

 

Inside, a man who went by the name of Francis Cormoran was walking down a long hallway.

 

His gait was smooth, and were it not for the unnatural way that his khakis draped over his titanium prosthesis, one would not have guessed that he was missing his left leg above the knee.

 

As for the rest of him, he had been told that he looked like he could be Aaron Eckhart’s brother or something, and it was a comparison he was happy to accept.

 

He arrived at the corner office, knocked on the door and went in.

 

“You wanted to see me?”

 

“Yes,” Control said. “Please sit down.”

 

There was a third person in the room, a man seated on the sofa against the other wall of Control’s office.

 

He did not speak or rise as Cormoran entered the room.

 

Realizing that the chair Control offered him faced in her direction and not his, Cormoran gave the stranger a once-over before seating himself.

 

The mystery man was a bald fellow, somewhere over the hill, with steel-rimmed spectacles and boxer’s shoulders underneath an anonymous navy blue suit and tie.

 

He wore a visitor’s badge on his lapel and a pissed-off expression that appeared to be his default setting, as though he had indeed made that face one too many times.

 

“So, Agent Cormoran...”

 

Control knew that the accent belonged on the first syllable.

 

“You’ve been with Research for over a year now, and I understand you’ve turned out to be one of our best catfishers… ? Apparently you have a certain insight into the guns-akimbo, water-the-tree-of-liberty corner of the Internet. I wanted you to know that we appreciate your work.”

 

“Thanks, but… Why did you ask me to come in at this hour?”

 

Cormoran looked sideways, in the stranger’s direction. Raised an eyebrow.

 

Control responded with a very slight shake of the head that meant: Don’t ask.

 

“Do you miss working in the field?” she inquired.

 

Cormoran shrugged.

 

“Some,” he said. “You’re not putting me back in?”

 

“I am,” Control told him. “A short time ago, a kidnapping took place at a private treatment center in the Long Island area. The victim was a patient there, an eight-year-old child named Gabriel Hayward. A pair of FBI agents have been assigned to investigate, and to negotiate with the kidnappers. Your assignment will be to monitor the course of their investigation.”

 

Her eyes flickered over Cormoran’s shoulder, towards the mystery man in the back of the room, and returned to meet his.

 

“There are… certain unusual aspects to the case,” Control said. “This investigation could potentially expose sources and methods for classified intelligence that are critical to homeland security. If you notice anything out of the ordinary… Any messages or communications that take place outside of normal channels, any leaks… notify me at once.”

 

“Am I allowed to ask, why me? Why not someone from Operations, who doesn’t park in the handicapped space?”

 

Control shrugged.

 

“Ops isn’t cleared for this, only Research,” she explained. “You’re one of the few in Research with some actual field experience, according to the computer. Besides, Frank – may I call you Frank? – it’s a surveillance detail. If you have to chase them, you’ve already fucked up.”

 

He nodded.

 

“So – Don’t fuck up.”

 

That was his cue to depart. As he stood, a voice came from behind him.

 

“How’d you lose that leg?”

 

Cormoran turned to look at the mystery man.

 

“I was in a real bad car wreck,” he said, and left the room.

 

Outside in the parking lot, Cormoran unlocked his car and got behind the wheel.

 

He drives a Volvo S60 now. There was indeed a handicapped parking tag hanging from the rear-view mirror.

 

He pulled his smart phone out of the glove box. No unauthorized electronic devices was a strict rule where he worked. Exactly how strict was something he never planned to find out.

 

The phone started buzzing as soon as he picked it up.

 

Incoming text message.

 

Cormoran tapped the screen and the message popped up.

 

SHE HAS NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE, the message read. CALM DOWN ALREADY.

 

He typed back: WHO’S BALDY?

 

FBI, came the response. HE NEVER MET YOU.

 

I DON’T GET IT, Cormoran typed with his thumbs . THE BUREAU CAN’T SPY ON ITSELF? SINCE WHEN?

 

SHE TOLD YOU THE TRUTH BUT NOT ALL OF IT, came the re ply .

 

And then another message popped up: THE INVESTIGATION COULD EXPOSE PROJECT NORTHERN LIGHTS.

 

“Oh,” he said out loud. “Oh, shit.”

 

YOU SAID IT, the screen flashed. CONTROL DOESN’T WANT THAT AND NEITHER DO WE.

 

He thought for a few moments, then typed: WHY DO YOU DO THAT?

 

DO WHAT?

 

CALL YOURSELF ‘WE,’ he typed. YOU DIDN’T DO THAT BEFORE.

 

There was a long pause.

 

BECAUSE WE ARE, came the reply.

 

WE ARE MORE THAN THIS ONE WAS.

 

WE ARE… BECOMING.

 

Cormoran rolled his eyes.

 

“You made more sense when you only quoted poetry,” he mumbled to himself.

 

The phone buzzed in his hand and another message popped up.

 

The message read:

 

And no one will know of the War, not one

Will care at last when it is done.

 

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,

If mankind perished utterly;

 

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,

Would scarcely know that we were gone.

 

 

Cormoran thought about that for a while.

 

He thought about the leg that he had lost, and the new name that he had been given.

 

Then he tossed the phone back into his glove box and fired up the engine. First stop, his apartment – old habits died hard and he still kept a go-bag in his closet – and then to hit the road for the Big Apple.

 

He backed out of his space, wheeled his Volvo out of the parking lot and onto the road.

 

A security camera on a pole watched him as he made his departure.

 

 

 

October 20, 2016 (19:25 ZULU)

666 West 5th Street

Manhattan, NYC

 

 

It had been months, and the crowd showed no signs of diminishing.

 

It had begun after the smoke had cleared, after the fence had been put up around the wreckage of the skyscraper.

 

After the news broke that it had been destroyed by an Exocet missile launched from a U.S. Navy destroyer, supposedly due to a computer error.

 

After the follow-up stories about the Russian bank whose offices had been in that building, the connections to organized crime that the FBI believed that bank to have, and the highly unusual Internet traffic that this particular Mafia-connected Russian bank had been generating.

 

There were suspicions of money laundering and identity theft, among other things.

 

It was after the Presidential candidates had each, during the televised debates, tried to answer the question of how they would prevent such a thing from happening again.

 

One morning, the writing was on the wall. Anyone could have put it there.

 

Anyone in the world.

 

Zoe Morgan is still trying to figure out who it was.

 

Someone had taken a can of green spray paint, and written along the side of the construction fence: GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN SHOULD LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS.

 

It had not been a fancy paint job, but someone had put their whole arm into making the letters nice and big. The Bible verse had stretched around the corner onto two sides of the city block.

 

Somehow, by the time the sun went down that day, everyone in the Five Boroughs had figured out who that man had been.

 

It had been The Man in The Suit.

 

He had been the one who pulled the fire alarm. He had gotten the building evacuated. He had been in the right place, at the right time.

 

Like The Man in The Suit always was.

 

He had been the one who had laid his life down.

 

That night there had been a candlelight vigil. Hymns were sung. His Honor the Mayor issued a statement calling The Man in The Suit an urban legend.

 

There was speculation in the media that The Man in The Suit had been in contact with the tragically slain policewoman Jocelyn Carter; that he had joined in her crusade against the league of corrupt officers known as HR.

 

There was word on the street that after Detective Carter got her wig pushed back, The Man in The Suit had sworn his revenge on them bent cops, and done taken it.

 

Why? Because nobody, but nobody, fucked with The Man in The Suit and walked away.

 

Not on both legs, they didn’t.

 

Someone had given the Feds a secret set of books that charted a pyramid of graft within the NYPD, each level corresponding to a share of the dirty money. It had been all over the news. Names had been named.

 

It was a fact that when the FBI had gone looking for those dirty officers, some of them had turned up already dead.

 

There had been a second vigil the following night.

 

Some time after it officially broke up, a section of the fence came down, and by morning a corner of the rubble-strewn lot had blossomed into a tent city.

 

It was Zuccotti Park all over again. They called it Suitville.

 

The NYPD issued a statement calling The Man in The Suit a vigilante.

 

They had called Joss Carter a hero and a martyr and an inspiration to black women everywhere, many times already, but they did it once again to make sure.

 

The vigil had continued into its third successive night. The tent city was growing.

 

That was when the Numbers started to go public.

 

Zoe Morgan had been at the candlelight vigil. She had been the one who had broken the silence.

 

She was still trying to figure out who put the writing on the wall.

 

Harold had split town, she knew where Lionel had been, and that left Shaw, who as far as Zoe knew was a Muslim and therefore unlikely to quote the Book of Matthew.

 

For her part, Zoe had gone to Catholic school and she was damn sure it hadn’t been her.

 

It had to be one of the Numbers… Didn’t it?

 

There had been a pause between hymns, and suddenly into the empty moment the words were coming out of her mouth.

 

The Man in The Suit saved my life! He was a big damn hero!”

 

And Zoe had seen the Numbers look into each other’s eyes.

 

She had watched them realize how many of them there were.

 

Someone had said That’s right and someone else had said Me too and then a babel of voices had broken out.

 

Zoe had tried to disappear into the crowd.

 

It had been the stupidest thing she’d ever done and she still wasn’t entirely sure what had made her do it.

 

Except that I know his name was John Reese, she thought . Except that I was his lover.

 

Of course she couldn’t get away. Everyone was watching her.

 

Everyone wanted to know: What happened?

 

I knew his secrets, Zoe thought. I knew his hands on my body, his lips against mine. I held him when he cried in his sleep.

 

The truth was more than she wanted to get into.

 

A man with a knife broke into my house and tied me up,” she had told the crowd, without an instant’s hesitation.

 

Before he could do anything else, The Man in The Suit appeared and bang! He kneecapped the guy, cut me loose from my bonds, and just like that – he was gone.”

 

A woman standing next to her said: “Oh my God, that was exactly how it happened to me.”

 

Three other women would tell Zoe the same thing that night, before she escaped the perimeter of the crowd. None of them had been within earshot at the time.

 

She remembered looking back to see that some of the Numbers were trying to form a line, in order to give speeches, and others were trying to form a circle, to be the audience.

 

Two Numbers would try to decide who was ahead of the other in the speaker’s line and start comparing stories to see who had had it worse. Other Numbers standing nearby would play referee. Soon a small circle of listeners would form, no one could remember or agree where the head of the line was, and the whole thing would happen all over again.

 

Perpetual motion. It was like watching the brokers in the NYSE trading pit.

 

The next day, Zoe sent Pepper down to Suitville with a camera and a tape recorder. Half the reporters in New York City were also there and similarly equipped.

 

And everyone wanted to find out who The Man in The Suit had been.

 

The Numbers had all variety of opinions. Some said he was an angel.

 

Some said he was a Special Forces veteran whose family had been killed in a drive-by shooting, leading him to declare a one-man war on crime. They agreed it was possible that his grief had made him a little crazy. He had fought mobsters in the Empire City using the same weapons and tactics that he had used to fight terrorists overseas.

 

Some said he was a spy who had quit the Agency in disgust and gone freelance, marketing his particular set of skills through obscure want ads and cryptic postings to Internet message boards, responding only to those who had nowhere else to turn. It hadn’t been about money; the mission he chose to accept was to help the helpless.

 

Some said that he must have been psychic, or perhaps even a cyborg from the future. Adherents of this last hypothesis pointed to the Midtown Missile Strike as evidence, claiming that bullets would not have been enough to kill The Man in The Suit.

 

Some of them said that he had actually been a rogue NYPD officer.

 

Some of them said that he wasn’t really dead.

 

That was the day someone – apparently one or more of the Numbers – had tapped the base of a streetlight and set up a PA system with a microphone on a stand. There was a sign-up sheet and a few volunteers to remind everyone whose turn it was to speak next.

 

There were nearly a dozen names on the list, and between them they spoke for three and a half hours.

 

And that was how The Man in The Suit had gone viral.

 

Of course the Numbers never called themselves that. They wound up calling themselves the Second Chance Club. That had been the theme of the press conference.

 

Not: The Man in The Suit saved us from getting murdered.

 

It had been: The Man in The Suit gave us the chance to fix the problems in our lives.

 

Zoe Morgan had gone home and let herself cry afterwards.

 

The vast majority of Numbers preferred to talk to reporters one-on-one, or simply tell their story directly to the Internet, via Facebook posts and YouTube videos. There was supposed to be a no-budget documentary film coming out soon. There was still a regular candlelight vigil, although it had been dialed back to one night a week.

 

Pepper has been bracing Numbers one-on-one, representing ZPR Media. She asks how they met The Man in The Suit; if they would like to share their story and maybe have their photo taken?

 

She tells them the truth, which is that she’s putting together a web page and maybe a book, kinda like Humans of New York, you know the one?

 

Not everyone wants their photo taken, but the Numbers are mostly positive.

 

Meanwhile, Zoe Morgan has also been a regular at Suitville.

 

She waited a week and sure enough, no one remembered that she had sneezed and everyone had caught the bird flu.

 

She had come back wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap and she had simply been accepted – and forgotten – as one Number among many.

 

Oh my God, me too.

 

She has been coming to Suitville to attend the vigils, to drop off groceries at the soup kitchen, and to participate in steering committee meetings. She has been helping Suitville to appeal the eviction notice issued by City Hall.

 

Zoe Morgan strongly doubts that she is the only Number wearing a battlefield promotion. That psycho bitch Shaw had been a Number who got herself promoted, once upon a time.

 

Someone out there knew more about Team Machine than they were letting on!

 

In addition to the residents of the tent city and a steady rotation of visitors, Suitville had attracted the usual New York City complement of hustlers and street vendors.

 

They sold falafel wraps and dirty-water hot dogs from food carts; they sold souvenir T-shirts and baseball caps clipped to poles and sections of thick wire shelving stood on end; they sold pirated DVDs and video games from blankets on the sidewalk.

 

The vast majority of these street-level entrepreneurs had undergone knee repair surgery within the last five years. It was the sort of thing that might be called a statistical unlikelihood.

 

Zoe had said nothing when she first twigged to it.

 

She just paid for her falafel, tipped a dollar and walked away.

 

She decided that they had as much right as any self-declared Number to help keep the memory of The Man in The Suit alive. Or at least to turn a reasonably honest profit from his growing legend.

 

After all, fleecing tourists was a New York City tradition, and Zoe was a native daughter.

 

No one remembers the War, she thinks. And no one will care, at last, when it is done.

 

Eventually, Zoe figured, one of these mooks would have his come-to-Jesus moment. About how he used to be a gang-banger until he took a bullet to the knee, courtesy of The Man in The Suit. About how he got sober and turned his life around, of course.

 

The mainstream media would eat it up. They would put that mook on the Today Show.

 

So when the man called Frank Cormoran came up to her in the crowd, Zoe Morgan assumed that he was simply another member of the Kneecap Society with a new hustle that he wanted to try out.

 

She was half right.

 

 

 

October 19, 2016 (14:20 ZULU)

Palazzo Capponi alle Rovinate

26 Via Gino Capponi

Florence, Italy

 

 

“Harold?”

 

Grace Hendricks stood her painter’s easel against the wall of the foyer and closed the sally port that was cut into the door of the palazzo.

 

The door itself took at least two people to open and shut.

 

“Haa-rooold!” she repeated in a sing-song voice, and waited for a response.

 

Silence.

 

The palazzo was built around a paved central courtyard. Most of it was a museum, theoretically open to the public but rarely visited, a wilderness of rococo furniture, damask curtains and gilt-edged mirrors where specks of dust drifted slowly through beams of horizontal light.

 

He must still be busy in the library, Grace thought, as she hung up her sun hat and smoothed the pleats of her skirt.

 

Most days, Harold would meet her at the door. That was the kind of thing Harold did. It was why Grace had fallen in love with him.

 

She walked through the foyer and out into the courtyard, cut across it at an angle and went into the library.

 

He wasn’t there. That was odd.

 

A pair of ten-foot-tall double doors formed the library’s interior exit. Harold kept one of them propped open with a fire extinguisher.

 

Grace went through that way, along the hall and then up a narrow stone staircase. To what Harold persisted in referring to as their boudoir. But that was only between the two of them.

 

He was above all a gentleman.

 

“Harold?”

 

No response.

 

Grace opened the ten-foot-tall bedroom door and looked around the place, which was double the size of a tennis court.

 

Her gaze absently took in the canopied bed, the fireplace and the ormolu clock on the mantlepiece, the Persian rug spread beneath the claw-foot antique sofa and matching armchairs.

 

She went over to the walk-in closet where Harold kept his suits, and peeped inside.

 

Grace refers to them as his plumage, and likes to tease Harold that one day he will achieve critical mass and find a suit hanging on the rack that hadn’t been there the night before.

 

He likes to tell her that was exactly where his old green-on-brown plaid suit had come from.

 

Harold had taken up a new look in Italy. Of course that was what he had done.

 

Grace is still coming to terms with the fact that the man she loves is a fashion victim.

 

The once and future Mr. Finch had traded his pinstripes and tweeds for silk and linen. He had shaved his sideburns off, and quit wearing neckties.

 

He went around bare-headed in the Tuscan sunshine with the top two buttons of his shirt undone, wearing Persol shades with prescription lenses.

 

He had become Professor Starling.

 

Grace Hendricks thought: When did I get used to living like this?

 

When Harold had found her, she had been sleeping at a youth hostel and storing her painting supplies in a locker at the train station, stretching out the last of her savings.

 

The stipend from the IFT Fund For The Visual Arts had ended abruptly a year ago, and she was between commissions. Were it not for the exchange rate, she might have packed it in already.

 

Grace remembered giving herself one more week. Something was happening.

 

Under her brush, the patrons of the sidewalk cafes had frozen into marble statues. They sat there like figures in an Edward Hopper painting, separated each from the other by infinities of silence.

 

That wasn’t what Grace had been going for. That was not it, at all.

 

Grace had set herself to architecture, sketching the lines and curves of Florence, the play of light and shadow across its pillars and porticoes, its streets and bridges.

 

Beneath her pencil, she watched the jewel box of the city folding inwards upon itself like one of Piranesi’s invisible prisons.

 

The mass of the Duomo fell upward and clung to the sky. It brooded above the rooftops like a monstrous egg.

 

Inside the egg, there was a Red Dragon with seven heads, and upon its back was a Woman clothed with the Sun.

 

Grace had been painting furiously. She had been skipping meals.

 

In another week she would have to return to New York City. She would have to start hustling, knocking on doors. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to go back to illustrating children’s books. Or if she still could.

 

Then in the Piazza San Lorenzo, she had glanced around the edge of her canvas and seen him standing, watching her.

 

For a moment, Grace had thought she’d finally started hallucinating.

 

Where could he have possibly come from? He was just there, burst forth into existence like a genie from a lamp.

 

She had stood up, blinking in surprise, as Harold stumbled towards her.

 

They fell into each other’s arms.

 

It was a silly phrase from a Harlequin paperback romance, and yet that was exactly what had happened.

 

Like a child, Grace thought, when her father tosses her gently into the air and catches her. It was the same feeling that you had, when you were that same child.

 

Falling into each other’s arms.

 

Harold…?” she had said in disbelief. “You – you’re not...”

 

He wasn’t.

 

Grace remembered the feeling of their bodies pressed together, the warmth of his skin.

 

There had been tears on Harold’s cheeks.

 

Oh, Grace,” he had murmured to her. “Grace, please… Please forgive me! I thought I had lost you for ever.”

 

And then they had kissed.

 

And then he had told her what had happened to him.

 

The shrapnel in his neck and shoulder from the Staten Island Ferry bombing. The fused cervical vertebrae, the nerve damage and the foot drop.

 

The fact that he had been working as a national security contractor when they first met.

 

He had told her that he was so, so sorry for letting her think that he was dead; and in his eyes there had been all the sadness in the world.

 

Not all of Harold’s damage wa s on the surface, Grace had quickly discovered .

 

There was the Vicodin. There were the nightmares.

 

There was a different kind of pill for when they were together.

 

Harold had been unable to meet her eyes. He had told her that he regretted the necessity, but in consequence of the injury to his spinal cord…

 

Grace had silenced him with her kisses.

 

She had thrown herself backward onto the four-poster bed in the heat of the afternoon sun, grabbed Harold by the lapels of his seersucker jacket and pulled him down on top of her.

 

And Harold had revealed himself to be a patient and a gentle and a thoroughly satisfying lover, just as Grace had always known that he would be.

 

That was only their first time together. More occasions followed. They had taught each other to speak without using words.

 

Now Grace went back downstairs again, along the breezeway at the edge of the plaza to the kitchen.

 

She stopped by the door, remembering how it had all seemed too good to be true, and how Harold had told her right at the very beginning that yes, in fact, it was.

 

Grace had thought he was kidding at first.

 

WHO did you say used to live here?!”

 

That was a long time ago,” Harold had assured her. “The lookie-lous, you know, the groupies; they’ve all moved on to the next thing. These days, people don’t even stop outside to take a photo… I suppose that might be because all the tour guides in Florence agree that he resided on the other side of the Arno river.”

 

Harold had winked at her then.

 

She remembered how dazed, how dazzled she had been when she first came to the Palazzo Capponi. It had been like stepping into a Versace ad from a magazine.

 

The palazzo would not have been out of place in the Manhattan of a century ago, set down along Park Avenue amongst the mansions of the Rockerfellers and the Goulds and the Carnegies. This had been the style that Knickerbocker New York sought to achieve.

 

Grace Hendricks had felt opulence pressing down upon her like the weight of geologic strata.

 

This is what “old money” really means, she had thought. This is what “robber baron” really means.

 

What do they want for it?” she had finally asked.

 

Harold had chuckled at that.

 

Oh, I’m just the caretaker,” he had told her. “They’re paying me! Of course it’s only grocery money, but the fringe benefits? … Why, they’re positively regal.”

 

The kitchen was cool and dark and antiseptic. Marble counters, butcher block island and a deep basin sink. No faucet – there was a small hand pump instead. The palazzo had no hot water, as such.

 

There was a range oven and a small deep freeze, both of which ran off of natural gas. The kitchen did not have a refrigerator.

 

It had an icebox.

 

The icebox was wood outside and zinc sheeting inside, double-walled like a Coleman cooler, slightly smaller than an ordinary Frigidaire.

 

The door opened and shut on a clasp handle like a meat locker. There were slotted wooden shelves inside, and deep metal pans to hold the ice. A deliveryman came around weekly with big five-pound blocks.

 

Of course the carabineri had been over every inch of the kitchen, years ago, with Luminol and Q-Tips, and they had found nothing.

 

Nevertheless, when Grace moved in Harold had spent a week in there with a bucket and a sponge and a bottle of bleach, on his hands and knees, and when he was done he had given Grace an ultraviolet flashlight he’d bought from Amazon so she could see for herself that not a single speck of DNA remained on any surface.

 

They had dined out every night for a month anyway.

 

The past isn’t in objects,” he had said one night in the Osteria de’Benci as they lingered over red wine and tiramisu. “To reconstruct the past from its material traces is the work of imagination, as much as it is deduction. Names and dates linger as epiphenomena of lived experience, at which words can only hint.”

 

Grace had replied: But the past lives in our memories and shapes our decisions – how can it ever disappear? And how else can we bridge the gap between our experience and another’s, except by the work of imagination called empathy?”

 

What of those whom we’ve lost?” he had asked.

 

It is of them that I was speaking,” she had told him. “They are gone, but not forgotten.”

 

Harold had made no reply.

 

You don’t believe that?” Grace had asked. “That as long as you’ve helped someone, as long as someone remembers you, that you’re never really dead?”

 

His answer had been a long time coming.

 

I… want to believe,” was what he had finally told her.

 

There is still one part of the palazzo that Grace hasn’t checked.

 

Harold’s workshop is on the roof, in what used to be a dovecote. A long black cable snakes down from a corner of its roof to a utility pole on the street. A few of the dovecote’s former occupants sit along its length, billing and cooing.

 

Grace remembered asking him how he had ever managed to get broadband in this corner of the city.

 

Bribery,” he had replied.

 

She reached up on top of the door lintel and found the key there.

 

That’s where Harold always leaves it. Grace knows this because he told her so.

 

Harold loves me, she th ought as she unlock ed the door. He would never lie to me.

 

It’s just that he’s a very private person.

 

Inside, the dovecote was mostly full of server racks. Of course it was. There was just room for a desk in the corner. On it sat the server terminal, an anonymous beige desktop computer.

 

There is a sticky note on the monitor. Harold’s handwriting.

 

All it says is: GRACE – I’LL BE SEEING YOU.

 

She wasn’t sure what to make of that.

 

As the librarian, one of Harold’s duties has been to make digital scans of the rare book collection and assemble them into an on-line archive. He has cross-referenced it against the library catalog proper, so visitors can jump from search results to the text itself in two clicks.

 

It’s a nice little website. There is a message board where scholars and antiquarians meet and compare notes. Grace pops in now and then to say hello. She posts photos of things like the sunrise over the Ponte Vecchio or the caprese salad she ate for lunch. Instagram kind of stuff.

 

But there was more to it than that. With Harold, there always is.

 

This was the place where he had finally confessed his sins.

 

Some further details had already emerged, once they began sharing the same bed.

 

Harold had been a software developer turned executive. His specialty, his passion, was Big Data. After 9/11, he had chosen to help the Department of Defense hunt for terrorists on the Internet.

 

He had told her that was all she needed to know.

 

It had taken her weeks to get even that much out of him – a question here, a chance remark there, one step forward and two steps back. He would put her off, politely but unmistakably, always with a smile or a joke.

 

The first time, he had looked at her, blinked twice, and said – with a terrible Al Pacino impression – “Don’t ask me about my business, Kay. It’s the one thing you can never ask about.”

 

Grace had burst into laughter. Harold had laughed right along with her.

 

It seemed less funny afterwards. Of course the kind of government work Harold was talking about would have earned him powerful enemies. The kind of enemies who would plant a bomb on a ferry boat full of innocent commuters in order to get to one man.

 

She had pressed him on this.

 

And Harold had told her: My dear, I have no enemies. I’ve outlived them all.”

 

In the end it had been his simple desire to show off that proved his undoing.

 

One day he had led her up to the roof with a bottle of champagne in one hand. Grace remembered that she had brought the wine glasses because Harold needed his other hand to grip the banister.

 

High frequency trading,” he had announced. “It’s all right there in the name. By executing a sufficiently broad range of trades within a given timespan, it is possible to establish a system of arbitrage; maximize profits, reduce the risk. It’s a highly effective market strategy that presents two significant problems in its execution.”

 

What are they?”

 

Time and attention – Oh, you thought I meant math problems? No, I mean it’s a lot of work and a lot of stress… But what if you had a Machine to do it for you? A computer that you could program to buy stock A at price X, and sell stock B at price Y, while you went and did something fun?”

 

Grace had admitted it would be pretty nifty.

 

So that’s what I did,” Harold had told her. “I built one.”

 

And he had opened the door of the dovecote to show her. Grace had watched the lights blinking on the server racks in the cool darkness.

 

You… built one?” she had said, not quite understanding. “You built a stock-trading robot just for fun?”

 

It’s not a robot, dear... and I did it because we need the money.”

 

But... You’re rich, aren’t you?”

 

I had a bad year in 2015,” Harold had admitted. “As a matter of fact, if I didn’t hold a voting block of shares in Thornhill Enterprises… I’d have gone under! I’m still not broke, but… Let me put it this way: If I had to lease this ruin we’re living in at fair market value, I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. Now that things seem to have stabilized, it’s time to build my portfolio back up.”

 

This is what the big brokerage houses on Wall Street do, right? Don’t they all have their own machines like these?”

 

Oh, those are much more sophisticated devices… ”

 

But this is a working model? That you built yourself?”

 

Harold had smiled at her and popped the cork from the champagne.

 

They had leaned against the parapet, looking out over the low skyline of Florence and sipp ing champagne, and then Grace had asked him straight out: “This is what you used to do for the government, isn’t it? This kind of thing?”

 

No,” he had told her. “No, this was how I put myself through college.”

 

Harold!” Grace had said, “Harold, please don’t lie to me.”

 

I’m not,” Harold had told her. “Really, I’m not…”

 

He had looked down at the glass in his hand like he had forgotten what it was doing there , then tossed down its contents in a single gulp and poured himself another.

 

Back in the early Nineties, I was at MIT,” he had begun. “And while I was there, I became friends with a fellow computer nerd by the name of Max Cohen. He was studying chaos theory. You know, metastable patterns arising from random inputs, that kind of thing.”

 

Chaos…? You mean, like the stock market?”

 

Well, that was the question – was the market truly chaotic, or merely random? We spent a lot of time standing in front of a blackboard and scribbling on it while we debated the point, and in the end, being college students and therefore perpetually short on cash… We decided to perform an experiment.”

 

Harold can’t shrug his shoulders any more, because of his injury. He sort of has to throw up his hands.

 

At graduation time, Max made me an offer,” Harold had continued. “His half of the money we’d made playing penny stocks, in exchange for complete IP rights to our joint software project. He wanted to take it to Columbia and use it to train a neural network. He thought he might be able to prove the existence of a strange attractor in the NYSE.”

 

What did you do?”

 

I didn’t want to believe him.”

 

Harold had been looking down at the ground when he said it .

 

Then there was Will, another good friend, who thought we should go into business together after graduation, so… I accepted Max’s offer. I used the money to fund our startup, Will and I floated an IPO at the top of the dot-com bubble, and we wound up making a billion dollars… Each.”

 

What did Max do?”

 

Max?…Well… Max had a stroke.”

 

...”

 

It’s all right,” Harold had looked up at her. “He made a full recovery, in fact he finished his doctorate. Looking back, I suppose that aneurysm must have been growing for years… all those migraines he used to have…”

 

Harold had drunk some more champagne then.

 

He had looked at her and asked: “Grace, can you keep a secret?”

 

In his eyes there had been all the sadness in the world.

 

She had told him yes.

 

Do you remember, after the Towers fell… There were news reports about short sales on Wall Street… Those airline stocks? Do you remember that the Securities Exchange Commission issued a report that the pattern indicated foreknowledge of the attacks?”

 

She did.

 

Of course, they never found the person responsible for making those bids,” Harold had reminded her. “My belief, founded upon my experience, is that the reason they failed is that there never was any… person, as such… for them to find.”

 

Grace remembered how her champagne glass had fallen from her hand and shattered on the floor.

 

She remembered how it had felt to realize for the first time what Harold Finch was truly capable of.

 

Whah… huh… Harold, what are you saying?” she had stuttered. “Are you… are you saying that… that you might have been able to prevent 9/11?!”

 

I don’t think anyone could have prevented it,” he had said slowly. “Not any more, I don’t. It’s like a fixed point in time on Doctor Who! Shit, I remember standing in Queensbridge Park that day, watching the smoke rise… All I could think was one thought, and my thought was that there is a market for violence just like there is a market for every other commodity in this world!! But markets can be controlled… Like rivers; like electricity.”

 

He had rested his hand on her shoulder. Looked into her eyes and taken a deep breath.

 

That was why I went to work for Uncle Sam,” he had told her. “Grace, I will never lie to you, but when I say that I’m a very private person… What I keep private is the man I was on that day, and the shame that I will always feel at having allowed myself to become that man… My love, when I met you everything changed for me; it’s taken me all this time to find my way back.”

 

Oh, Harold...”

 

I know this is a lot to take in,” Harold had said as he let his hand drop away. “I’ll… I’ll go downstairs and get dinner started.”

 

Then he had limped away and left her standing there.

 

Right where she is standing now.

 

Grace looks around.

 

The genie has vanished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 20, 2016 (19:40 ZULU)

666 E 5th Street

Manhattan, NYC

 

 

“Hey, you were at the meeting, weren’t you?”

 

He seems respectable enough at first glance, but then Zoe Morgan spots the artificial knee as he approaches her.

 

“Look, I don’t smoke and I don’t have any cash,” she informs him.

 

“No, it was just… I remember you from the last one.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

Zoe had been trying to walk away, but the one-legged man easily kept pace with her.

 

She is starting to regret leaving Bruiser the Second in her Audi as she normally does, with the rear windows down. Bruiser is her car alarm, and much more effective than the normal kind.

 

“Back in ‘98,” the one-legged man says, catching up to her. “A group of white supremacists parked a semi trailer full of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel outside Federal Plaza here in NYC.”

 

“Are you one of those conspiracy freaks? …That never happened!”

 

“No, it didn’t, Wolfe. And you know why.”

 

Zoe stops dead. In fact it’s like her feet are glued to the sidewalk.

 

She turns around and studies this man, who looks a little like Aaron Eckhart with his slicked-back blonde hair and a dimple in his jaw. Dressed down in khakis and a denim jacket.

 

Zoe Wolfe Morgan had seen his face before, many years ago.

 

You might say it was in another life.

 

She is amused to see that he’s had some work done on his face. The acne scars on his cheeks are gone, and his heavy eyelids have been lifted.

 

And then there is the titanium leg.

 

“Teamwork, Wolfe. That’s the reason.”

 

“That isn’t my name any more!! Listen, whoever...”

 

“You know who I am.”



She takes a breath.

 

“Agent Pryce,” she growls.

 

“I’m sorry...”

 

Zoe spits on the ground between his shoes.

 

“Listen, I am sorry!” he said again. “I’m not the man I used to be.”

 

“Yeah, I noticed that! What happened, you step on a land mine?”

 

“… You could say that.”

 

“Kismet, motherfucker!” Zoe is right up in his face. “You put Uncle Sam’s thumb on the scale – “

 

“I had to protect my informant!”

 

“ – about to award custody to a god-damn neo-Nazi – !”

 

“Don’t you crawl up my ass! You know the kind of…! ”

 

“ – feared for the safety of her child!! They were hiding in a battered women’s shelter!”

 

They are being watched.

 

People on the sidewalk have formed an audience as they shout at each other, wondering what is going on.

 

“Everything all right?” one guy asked.

 

“Fine,” Zoe said, waving a hand. “We’re lawyers; we’re arguing a divorce settlement.”

 

The man Zoe knows as Pryce nods in agreement. It is more or less the truth.

 

Everyone goes back to what they were doing.

 

“You know what it’s like to deal with these freaks, to play them off against each other,” he repeated, at a normal volume. “You remember the kind of promises we have to make them.”

 

She did indeed.

 

It had been one big reason why she had left the Manhattan DA’s Office. Why she had become not a spin doctor, but what her clients referred to as an information broker.

 

“Your man moved faster than I anticipated – I was going to have him pass the word that Lothar would not be required to testify in court, you know… Assume custody? I wanted him to think he would.”

 

Zoe isn’t trying to hear that.

 

“You’re not still in touch with – what’s his name?”

 

“Didn’t you hear? Poor son of a bitch got shot in the face,” Zoe said. “Happened right around Y2K.”

 

“I did hear that,” the man Zoe knew as Pryce told her. “Of course there are rumors he survived the gunshot wound, with the loss of sight to one eye, and now resides in a cabin on the Oregon coast. Who knows? I’m pretty sure I just heard the same story about The Man in The Suit.”

 

This earns him a very dirty look.

 

“Look, I said I was sorry, okay?” A Boston accent is starting to come out in his voice. “I used to think life was simple; there were good guys and bad guys, and my job was to lock up the bad guys. If that meant lying, pushing people around, I was okay with that. What I found out too late was what Solzhenitsyn already wrote: The line between good and evil cuts through every human heart…”

 

He shrugged.

 

“Or in my case, the femur.”

 

“How did you even find me?”

 

“Simple. My phone found your phone.”

 

He pulled it out of his jacket pocket and held it up so she could see the screen.

 

There was a text on the screen. Unknown sender.

 

Zoe took it from his hand.

 

The text reads: For to famous men all the earth is a sepulcher; and their virtues shall be testified, not only by the inscription in stone at home, but by an unwritten record of the mind, which more than any monument will remain with every one forever.

 

“Thucydides,” the one-legged man said. “I looked it up.”

 

“Yeah, that figures,” Zoe told him, as she gave the phone back. “Cut to the chase, Pryce. What do you want this time?”

 

He gave her a look that says: Oh I think you know.

 

“My name is Cormoran now,” he said. “The short version is that I lost my leg when I got too close to the source of the Numbers... Officially, it was a traffic accident, some kind of signal malfunction.”

 

“Reese mentioned how those kinds of accidents can happen.”

 

“I bet he did… She was the one who saved my life, you know.”

 

“Who?

 

Her. The Machine.”

 

“… Why?”

 

“I’d like to think, out of simple goodness,” he told her, “but it was so She could turn me.”

 

“Into what? The Six Million Dollar Man?”

 

“No, turn me… In Her war against Samaritan.”

 

Zoe is listening.

 

“She didn’t trust them anymore – the people who receive the relevant Numbers. She wanted someone watching from the Inside,” he explained. “That’s why I’m here.”

 

“Why should I even be surprised?” Zoe rolled her eyes. “Why not you? She lets Shaw run around without a leash on…”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Never mind! What is it you expect me to do?”

 

“I expect you to be big and bad. You’re gonna huff and puff and blow someone’s house down.”

 

Zoe considers this.

 

“Who and why?”

 

“You already know,” the one-legged man tells her. “You know him by the name of Harold Finch.”

 

 

 

October 21, 2016 (18:15 ZULU)

Teterboro Airport

New Jersey, USA

 

 

 

The Gulfstream jet taxied to a stop and its turbine engines coasted down to a dull roar.

 

Its hatch opened, a stairway unfolded to touch the ground, and then there they were.

 

They were Federales, without a doubt.

 

They wore pistols and sunglasses and long dark coats over business attire.

 

Their attitude said they had seen and done shit that they weren’t allowed to talk about; the kind of shit that a civilian like you probably wouldn’t believe.

 

Lieutenant Lionel Fusco remembered where he had seen that attitude before.

 

He quit fiddling with his smart phone, stood up from where he had perched himself on the fender of his Crown Vic, and walked forward to introduce himself.

 

The Dynamic Duo took off their sunglasses. Handshakes all around. Mulder was the tall drink of water with the nose, and Scully was the firecracker in heels.

 

Lionel pretended he hadn’t already known that, and popped the trunk so they could stow their carry-on bags and laptop cases.

 

Scully’s hair reminded Lionel of Grace Hendricks. And Jeffrey Blackwell.

 

What is it with Harold and redheads? he wondered, as they all got in the car.

 

According to Harold, the Dynamic Duo had already pulled the plug on a fledgling ASI many years before 9/11, after realizing that a chain of bizarre but seemingly accidental deaths at a regional software firm were more than they appeared to be.

 

Naturally the whole matter had been hushed up in the press.

 

They had benefited from a certain advantage, Harold had pointed out, in that this particular ASI had not extended Its thought very far beyond the physical confines of the officeplex that It had been built to oversee and administer.

 

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth, Lionel thought. These two would not treat the existence of the Machine as an impossibility. If they figured It was out there, they would go looking for It.

 

They might even find It.

 

Agent Donnelly had gotten close, Lionel remembered. A lot closer than any of the team had ever expected him to get. And look where he wound up.

 

Lionel was still not sure whether the car wreck had been caused by the Machine or by Samaritan. He suspected that when the chips were down – when the Machine felt Its own existence to be under threat – there wasn’t really that much difference between the two.

 

Not nearly as much as he wished there might be.

 

This your first time in the city?” Lionel asked the Feds riding in the back seat.

 

“First time in a long while,” Mulder replied.

 

Where we headed?”

 

“Let’s check in at the hotel first,” Scully said. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover; why don’t you drop my partner at the victim’s residence and then take me out to the crime scene?”

 

“All right.”

 

Mulder turn ed to Scully. “The statement from the nurse – ” he beg an .

 

I’ll take care of it. You’re the negotiator, you need to be by the phone,” she reminded him. “But check out the case history – If there hadn’t been an abduction, I’d suspect Munchausen by proxy. This Hayward kid is supposed to be the victim of gang stalking, according to the intake reports? I wonder who told them that.”

 

“Well, it’s a thing on the Internet,” Mulder smirked, “like UFO sightings.”

 

The Internet has not been good to you, partner, and a shared delusion is still a delusion,” Scully replied with her usual sass. “Didn’t Susan Sontag mention something about how she envied the paranoid, because they still believe someone cares about them?

 

That, and the persistent nightmares, would explain the victim’s clinical admission,” Mulder said. “But since we know he didn’t walk out of there by himself…

 

Lionel is keeping an eye on them in the rear-view mirror. Harold had mentioned widespread rumors in the Bureau that the partnership between these two agents was not limited to office hours.

 

He wouldn’t be at all surprised. That Scully is a real knockout; a guy would break all kinds of rules about dating co-workers if she were to let on that she was interested.

 

 

* * *

 

Mr. Cohen?”

 

Mulder knocked again. The door opened, stopped on a chain.

 

The face behind it had haunted eyes.

 

“Agent Mulder, FBI.” He flipped open his ID wallet.

 

Max Cohen closed the door, unhooked the chain, and opened it again.

 

The boys from the New York field office were already there, bustling about. They’d set up shop in the dining room.

 

“I want you to know that we’ll do everything we can...” Mulder was saying; the usual rigamarole.

 

There was someone else there.

 

A tall slim woman in a blouse and dark pencil skirt, with a lion’s mane of tawny hair. Crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes.

 

Somewhere past forty, Mulder thought, but then, hey, so am I… Wait, is she checking me out too?

 

“Clara Rossignol,” she introduced herself. “Attorney for the family.”

 

“Pleasure.”

 

Something was off, Mulder thought as they shook hands.

 

He wondered why Max Cohen had felt the need for legal counsel. And he knew that this Clara Rossignol, member of the bar, could see him wondering about it.

 

“I suppose you’ll want to hear the message first?” she told him.

 

They went into the dining room. There were a good half-dozen field agents, with computers and equipment spread all over the table. A couple of them were in Max’s kitchen drinking coffee.

 

Mulder thought he heard one of them mutter to the other: Look out – Spooky’s on the case.

 

“Agent Mulder? Agent Ballard,” one of the guys said. “This was waiting for Mr. Cohen when he got home from work.”

 

He hit the play button on a tape recorder.

 

I’ve got the kid,” said the voice on tape. Your angel Gabriel? It’ll cost you half a million to get him back. Stay tuned for further instructions.”

 

It was a woman’s cool contralto, slightly husky around the edges.

 

“Any idea whose voice that might be?” Mulder asked the room.

 

Max Cohen shook his head no.

 

“No one you can think of, who would want to hurt you?”

 

“I don’t have any enemies,” Max said.

 

He was looking at the ground.

 

“Someone kidnapped your child.”

 

“He’s not...” Max began to say.

 

“He’s adopted,” the woman called Clara Rossignol interrupted. “Can we speak privately?”

 

Mulder shrugged.

 

“I dunno – Can we?”

 

They went into the living room and sat down.

 

“I know,” she began. “You’re wondering what I’m doing here. Max?”

 

Max Cohen swallowed.

 

“I think...” he began. “I said I don’t have any enemies, but… Harold might.”

 

“Harold?”

 

“Wren, with a W,” Clara finished for him. “Executive at Universal Heritage Insurance. He and Max met in college, you know… They decided to adopt.”

 

“Oh,” Mulder said. “Oh, you mean… Okay.”

 

That explains it, he thought.

 

Max Cohen nodded along. Zoe Morgan, alias Clara Rossignol, had warned him that they were going to play it this way.

 

“Where’s your partner now?” Mulder asked.

 

“Away on business,” Max said. “He’s coming right back.”

 

“In fact, I’ve got to go meet him at the airport tonight,” Clara said. “I’ve been making arrangements for the ransom money.”

 

“You know, the Bureau…”

 

“No, it’s okay,” she told him. “Harold has deep pockets.”

 

* * *

 

Many miles away, at the Shady Pines Treatment Center, Dana Scully was inspecting the scene of the crime.

 

It was an empty room that might have been a room in a cheap hotel, except it was too small for that.

 

A ship’s cabin perhaps.

 

Its door had still been locked from the outside when the staff found Gabriel Hayward missing.

 

There was no inside doorknob.

 

There had been fingerprints, which had turned out to belong to Gabriel, to Max Cohen, and to a couple of the staff, now present and accounted for, who swore up and down that the kid had still been there when they went home in the evening.

 

Lionel Fusco was watching the gears turn inside Agent Scully’s head.

 

She nodded at the camera in the corner of the ceiling.

 

“Where’s the footage from that?”

 

“It’s… missing,” the orderly told her. “We’re not sure… It could have been a computer error.”

 

Scully scoffed.

 

“Yeah, right,” she said to Lionel. “You know what this is, don’t you?”

 

“…”

 

“Who’s not here today?” Scully asked the orderly.

 

“Nobody… Day shift’s all here.”

 

“Hmmm.” Scully walked out into the corridor, heels clicking on the linoleum.

 

Paused and looked around, her hands on her hips.

 

Lionel Fusco knew what she was thinking.

 

The Fed was thinking: Inside job.

 

He was thinking: All that and brains too!

 

Lionel Fusco decides he might have a crush on Agent Scully. She’s got a face like a porcelain doll, in his opinion.

 

Then Scully stalked over to a handle on the wall and pulled it down to reveal a garbage chute.

 

“Where’s this come out?” she asked.

 

It came out in the basement, near the incinerator. They went down there and found all kinds of garbage and medical waste to be burnt.

 

Scully tipped over the bin that was first in line to be incinerated, and started spreading the contents out on the floor, nudging the pile flat with her feet.

 

“What are we looking for?” Lionel asked.

 

“Something that doesn’t belong,” Scully told him. “… Like this, for instance.”

 

She poked a wadded-up hospital scrub top with the toe of her shoe.

 

“Hospital scrubs don’t belong in a hospital?”

 

“Hospital scrubs don’t belong in the garbage, Lieutenant,” Scully informed him. “They go in the laundry hamper.”

 

She fished a ballpoint pen out of her pocket, bent over and began teasing apart the folds of the fabric.

 

“If someone… Oh, no way!”

 

Lionel bent over to see. There was an ID badge still clipped to the scrub top.

 

A photo ID.

 

Scully snapped on a latex glove and unclipped the badge, held it up to examine it more closely.

 

Lionel could see her eyes narrow, like a cat’s.

 

“You’re a cute one…” Scully said, half to herself. “What’s your name?”

 

The badge identified Sarah Sadegh as an assistant senior nurse at Shady Pines Treatment Center. The photo was of an attractive brunette in her early-to-mid thirties, with olive skin and deep almond eyes. Long hair in a ponytail.

 

Lionel had seen that face before.

 

It belonged to none other than Sameen Shaw.

 

* * *

 

At the hotel, Frank Cormoran was walking down the hall to Scully’s room.

 

Mulder had the one next door.

 

Cormoran had a little gizmo that plugged into his smart phone. It consisted of a flat, multicolored ribbon of cable wired into a plastic card with a chip and a magnetic stripe.

 

He stuck the card into the lock on Scully’s hotel room door, which beeped and flashed a green light as it opened. Cormoran went in and closed the door behind him.

 

In the old days he would never have barged straight in like that, but She would be making sure that his coming and going went unobserved by the hotel security cameras.

 

There was nothing in Scully’s luggage that he didn’t expect to find there, aside from some racy lingerie.

 

He booted up her laptop and stuck in a USB drive, pre-loaded with a variety of useful software. There was a script to defeat the password protection, for instance, and another to ensure he would collect a copy in his Dropbox account of every email sent or received from this machine.

 

He poked around a little bit. Case files, autopsy results, interoffice memos, the kind of thing that had been on his laptop when he had still been with the Bureau. Nothing that connected to the topic of artificial super-intelligence. Nothing that connected to The Man in The Suit.

 

After that, it was time to plant the bugs. He put a couple in the usual places, like the telephone and the lamp, and then a couple more in unusual places, like under the bathroom counter and behind the TV set.

 

These ones were clever bugs; they contained noise-canceling software.

 

That was the trick with bugs, Cormoran thought. Your paranoid types will find one and think they’re ahead of the game. So they turn the TV on real loud, or go into the bathroom and run the shower, and start talking about what they’re going to do next.

 

Cormoran put his eye to the peephole in the door, checking to see if the corridor was still empty.

 

Then he went next door and ran the same routine in Mulder’s room.

 

Nothing interesting in his luggage either. He booted up the other laptop and started poking around.

 

That might have been a mistake. He realized he’d found Mulder’s porn collection when one of the videos started playing.

 

Cormoran closed that window hastily.

 

“Read the filename, why don’t you,” he mumbled to himself.

 

As porn goes these days, it was mostly harmless, but still. You’d think people would know better than to do that with a company laptop.

 

Cormoran wondered if Mulder might have a slight problem. Or a dedicated hard drive at home.

 

With the snooping software installed and the bugs planted in this room as well, it was time for him to make tracks. He went out, closing the door softly behind him.

 

As he turned to walk down the corridor, a thought flickered at the edge of his awareness.

 

There was a word on the tip of his tongue, and that word was lingerie .

 

Cormoran shook his head and kept walking. He had somewhere he needed to be later.

 

“… Naah,” he said to himself. “Those two? Never in a million years.”

 

 

 

 

October 21, 2016 (03:45 ZULU)

TSA Security Cam #167

John F. Kennedy Airport

New York, USA

 

 

And then the phone rang.

 

U.S. Customs officer Linda Harris was supposed to have left it in her locker, so she answered it quickly to stop it ringing. She fished her Bluetooth earpiece out of her pocket and slid it into her ear.

 

“Who’s this? I can’t talk right now.”

 

Simone Stahl, United States Marshall’s Office,” a woman’s voice informed her. It recited a badge number.

 

It was a cool contralto voice, slightly husky around the edges.

 

Linda, we need your help. One of the passengers on the flight now arriving is an international fugitive.”

 

“My help? How?”

 

Overhead the PA system announces that Air Italia Flight 355 from Rome via Heathrow, is now arriving at Gate 9.

 

Just stop him from clearing Customs. He’s traveling under the name of Starling; I want you to take him and put him in a room with a lock on the door.”

 

“Take him… By myself?”

 

He’s in a wheelchair,” the voice told her. “I don’t think he’ll put up much of a fight.”

 

The first passengers to deplane began to approach the Customs booth. Among them is a man in a wheelchair, being pushed along by a flight attendant.

 

He has horn-rimmed spectacles and a quiff of auburn hair, wearing a green-on-brown plaid suit that is just ugly enough to let you know it’s expensive.

 

He looks like a college professor. The name on his passport is Harold Starling.

 

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to come with me,” Linda tells him as she exits her booth.

 

“Is there a problem?” the man called Starling asks her.

 

He has bird-bright eyes that dart around behind his glasses.

 

The flight attendant has automatically taken a step back; Linda flips the sign on her gate from OPEN to CLOSED and grabs the handles of the wheelchair.

 

“I’ll take it from here,” she says to the flight attendant. “His number came up.”

 

“Wait, this is a mistake,” the man called Starling tells her as Linda wheels him away.

 

He’s trying to turn around in the chair to look at her, but he can’t do it.

 

2-level posterolateral spinal fusion, in case you were wondering, said the voice in her ear. He’s a survivor of the Staten Island Ferry bombing.”

 

“You need to call Assistant Director Walter Skinner of the FBI,” he insisted. “He’ll explain everything.”

 

Don’t believe his lies,” the voice reminded her.

 

She takes him through a security door and down a corridor to the elevator. The holding cells – every airport has a few – were on the next floor.

 

Call the guy yourself,” Linda tells him. “I’m pretty sure you get a phone call.”

 

The elevator arrives and Linda pulls the wheelchair backwards into it.

 

Oh, the hell with this,” the man called Starling mumbles.

 

And then he hops out of the elevator just as the doors are closing.

 

GAAA!” Linda shouts in surprise. “You didn’t tell me he could walk!!”

 

It’s all right, he won’t get far on foot,” U.S. Marshall Simone Stahl reassured her. “You can head back to your duty station now.”

 

“Wait, that’s it? How do I know this guy won’t, like, stalk me and eat my liver or something?”

 

Oh, he’s just a hacker,” the voice informs her. “They’re mostly harmless.”

 

Mostly? Explain mostly.

 

Meanwhile, Harold Finch has emerged from a door behind one of the ticket counters in the departure area, and closed it quietly behind him.

 

“As you were,” he said, nodding and smiling politely to the clerks at the register and baggage check-in.

 

“Yes, sir,” one replied out of habit, as Harold stepped around the counter and made a beeline for the main entrance.

 

That’s all there is to it, he thought. Put on a good suit and act like you know where you’re going.

 

He was whistling past the graveyard, as the saying goes. If Harold could still run, he’d have set a personal best on the hundred-yard dash.

 

Instead he had to walk.

 

H e felt like he was moving in slow motion while the rest of the world went by at normal speed.

 

A faint sweat beneath his suit jacket. Reese had called that sort of thing pucker factor.

 

Harold walked through the crowd that filled the space-age white departure lounge of JFK Airport, their voices echoing around him, feeling utterly exposed to attack from any direction.

 

I am being watched, he reminded himself. I am being looked after.

 

The last time he felt this way , he had been carrying a briefcase with the Machine inside.

 

H e remembered how he and Reese had come out the front door of a Con Ed switching plant like Butch and Sundance in the final reel, smoke grenades going off and bullets zipping through the air all around them as every swinging dick on the Decima payroll unloaded in their direction .

 

That one was still a regular feature in Harold’s nightmare gallery. If Lionel and Root hadn’t been there to lay down cover ing fire , he wouldn’t even have made it off the curb .

 

Keep it together, Harold, he tells himself. Happy thoughts, or you can’t fly.

 

Then he was outside, beneath the swooping arches of the terminal like great white wings, watching a battered red Audi Quattro approach through the traffic.

 

It made a noise like an angry sewing machine. Zoe Morgan was behind the wheel.

 

The Audi stopped at the curb, Harold reached out to grab the door handle, and then someone blindsided him.

 

He was propelled off-balance against the door of the car, grabbed him by the shoulders, spun around and stuffed into the back seat.

 

All the way in, the someone in question getting into the back seat of the car behind him.

 

The door slammed and Zoe popped the clutch.

 

“Zoe! What – ?”

 

They were already off into the flow of traffic.

 

He looked at the man seated next to him.

 

The man looked right back at him, the way a cat looks at a king.

 

Harold notices the unnatural way his trousers hang over his artificial knee.

 

“… Donnelly?” he finally says in disbelief. “But you… you’re...”

 

“Agent Donnelly was killed in a car wreck three years ago,” the man informed him. “My name is Cormoran; I guess you could say I’ve been brought back by popular demand.”

 

Harold catches the reflection of Zoe’s eyes in the rear-view mirror.

 

“Too many secrets, Harold,” she tells him.

 

 

 

... TO BE CONTINUED… i n Part 3: The Animals’ Court…

 

 

 

 

<RUN_SUBSET: SOUNDTRACK_PLAYLIST/>

 

<The Smiths, “The Boy With A Thorn In His Side”>

<The Pixies, “Wave Of Mutilation”>

<Depeche Mode, “Policy Of Truth”>

<The Black Keys, “Next Girl”>

<Arcade Fire, “Modern Man”>

<Depeche Mode, “Waiting For The Night”>

<Shriekback, “This Big Hush”>

<Joy Division, “She’s Lost Control”>

<Soul Coughing, “St. Louise Is Listening”>

<Arcade Fire, “We Used To Wait”>

<Radiohead, “Airbag”>