CAITLIN LEFT KELL’S HOUSE, leaving the briefcase with the money behind.
It had taken Kell an hour and a half to access and rip off Lamar’s savant. It was 1: 30, and Rob must be wondering what the hell was taking so long. Hang on, Rob, she thought. Give me some of your steadiness.
Rain pelted down as she locked the car doors. Pulling the printouts from their folder, she tried to focus on the names. She’d already scanned the sheets, seeing her own name, and Mateo’s and Emily’s. Now she’d look more closely. So who are your fellow mass murderers, Lamar?
A shadow moved over her windshield. Caitlin jumped, and the papers fell around her feet.
It was Kell, hovering by the passenger-side window. She jerked her head around to see if someone was with him.
He made a roll-down-the-window motion to her.
She hesitated. Why would he come outside? He looked beady-eyed and unhappy, especially the longer she hesitated to open the window.
Oblivious of the rain, Kell held up the briefcase and said, “I think you’ll be needing this empty case.”
He meant, don’t forget to refill it. Rolling down the passenger window, she snapped, “Throw it on the seat.”
With a smirk, he tossed the case in.
Up went the window. Caitlin nodded at him, trying to smile. He’d get his money. She started the engine and pulled away from the curb, heart still blipping from the moment’s panic that the computer intrusion had been discovered.
Titus, she thought, am I doing the right thing? She heard his voice in her mind: Raise hell, Caitlin. Tell everyone you know. No, he wouldn’t say that. He’d say, go underground, Caitlin. Don’t let the bastards find you. . . . It settled her, a little, to imagine what her brother-in-law would say. And despite the end of the sweet green world, she still thought she’d give anything to just have him hold her. For comfort. For . . .
Jesus, she’d forgotten to send Rob the file. He needed it immediately; she couldn’t be the only one who had it. She’d only driven two blocks. She pulled over. Hands shaking, she stranded the file to her dashCom. The load/send took three heartbeats.
The papers were still scattered on the floorboards. My God, she thought. I’m hardly operating on the few neurons they give me credit for. She gathered the papers, putting them in order.
Then she began reading the names. Oh, she knew some of these people: Booth Waller, Development Manager for Minerva; Peter DeFanti, Minerva board of directors. Here was Lamar’s name, number three, she noted. The list contained no one else besides her own family that she knew. Something about that didn’t click.
Then she pounced on it: The list named only one Minerva board member. And it wasn’t the chairman, Stefan Polich. Could it be that Minerva was clean on this conspiracy?
Strange. She’d been so sure that the odious Stefan Polich was among the two thousand. The man who’d threatened her when he started to lose confidence in Titus Quinn, the man who’d threatened her family if Titus Quinn ever reneged on his promise to come back from the Entire—that person was not on the list.
He didn’t even know, then. If he’d known, he’d want to get off the sinking ship, wouldn’t he?
Caitlin stuffed the pages under the driver’s seat and tried to drive normally out of Kell’s neighborhood toward the highway.
Lamar waited for Booth Waller in his car near the pier, engine off, the air inside the custom ZWI 600 cooling rapidly to match an unseasonably cold September. A rain squall cruised through Portland, peppering the windshield. He tugged at his pigskin driving gloves, nervous. It was overdramatic to meet out of the way like this.
Booth didn’t trust anyone anymore. It was getting on time to bring the new renaissance to the world. The engine was finished; they waited for Helice, now, for her signal that it was time to start the voyage. So near to their goal, Booth was getting antsy. Renaissance had put him in charge of logistics, and logistics was all that was left now. Well, not quite all—there was personnel: getting people to HTG, holding hands with those getting cold feet, running interference for them; and for those judged unreliable, making sure they were on a side rail. They had a good man, Alex Nourse, in charge of that. Lamar’s end of it was compiling the list of two thousand. That part was finished. Two thousand exactly, with a few names in mind for fill-in.
If, by this meeting, Booth was thinking of getting some of his friends in on this . . . well, he could forget it. The list was done.
A car approached down the frontage road. Lamar voiced: “lights on, and off.” The ZWI shot a wad of light at the incoming vehicle as it approached. Lamar was sweating in the cold. He was too old for these shenanigans.
The car stopped close by and the passenger door opened. Booth.
Lamar voiced the locks off, and Booth slid in, shaking water off his good suit. “Fucking weather,” he muttered by way of greeting.
Lamar shrugged. “Not for long.”
Booth barked a laugh. It was all going—bad weather and everything with it. They used black humor to get through the end times; they all did.
Lamar’s ZWI was a two-seater. Cozy, for whatever secret conversation Booth had planned. He hoped it wasn’t going to be about Caitlin and her little spy trip. She’d gone to Hanford, she’d met the folks. It was against her instructions, but she wasn’t going to blab even if she learned anything. Mateo and Emily were on the list. What mother would doom her own children? If she even learned about the engine.
“It’s Caitlin,” Booth said.
Lamar shifted irritably in his seat. Booth was fussy as an old woman. Why was he haranguing about Caitlin at a time like this?
Booth turned to him, “You’ve got lousy security on your home machine. I’ve got to say, I expected more from you.”
“What, my optical?” It was a dumb machine, no controlling mSap. Now Booth wanted a fortress around it? “For Christ’s sake, I use it for banking and e-mail.”
“And for keeping the list, apparently.”
Lamar stared at him.
Booth left a pause for emphasis. “You keep it there, right? The list?”
“Yes.” Goddamn. Someone had unlocked his computer and accessed the list. “It’s without context, Booth; it’s just a list of names. It doesn’t mean anything.” He couldn’t stop himself from sniping: “How do you know what’s going on with my home machine, anyway?”
Booth shrugged. “We’re monitoring everyone. No one’s exempt.”
“It was Caitlin, then?”
Stonily, Booth stared out at the patter of rain. “She’s sent the list to her husband. Love to know how she got it, but it doesn’t matter now. So she knows something. Probably everything. She must have gone to a lot of trouble to break your encryption—even as inadequate as it was.”
Lamar was getting sick of this superior attitude. He didn’t work for Booth. They were equals in the project. Renaissance had been Lamar’s damn idea—all right, Helice’s idea at first, but massaged by Lamar, with all the key players recruited by Lamar. No, Booth wasn’t getting by with the condescending attitude.
“She won’t talk, not Caitlin. She’s got the kids to get across. She lives for those kids.”
“The kids have disappeared, Lamar. So has the grandmother. That’s the first place we went.”
“Went!” They’d gone looking for her without consulting him? “Went, you son-of-bitch? Why wasn’t I told?”
“Alex Nourse has personnel. He was gathering the facts.”
Lamar felt sick. She’d sequestered the children. She was on the run. Holy mother of God. Caitlin, why didn’t you come to me? Lamar put his head in one of his gloved hands. Caitlin. Now Alex Nourse would silence her. God, it was unthinkable.
She’d learned that it wasn’t going to be a nice little advance guard of scientists going over. It was a lifeboat of survivors. And she hadn’t liked that.
Without understanding the context, she’d freaked. She didn’t understand the principals, the logic of it . . . oh Christ, they were going to kill her.
“Don’t,” Lamar murmured. “Let her be. We’re so close now. Let her be. I’ll talk to her, I’ll force her to come along; let me handle it.”
“That’s what I’m here for. To let you handle it.”
“No one would believe her. She’s got no evidence. Even Hanford isn’t proof of anything. The engine is useless without a matching one next door.
They’ll never shut us down. And if they did, they’d never do it in time. We’re just waiting for Helice. Any day now. Any hour.”
Booth nodded. “That’s why we can’t afford a loose cannon.” He reached inside his coat lapels, patting for something, then went for a side pocket. For a moment of sheer panic, Lamar thought he had a gun. But he brought out a little box, longer than wide, about three inches high.
“We don’t trust her anymore. We don’t want her along.”
“Who’s this fucking we all of a sudden? When did I get shoved to the side?”
“When? The day you altered her test scores, and her son’s. That day.”
“It didn’t hurt anything. Titus will thank us . . .”
“Titus is irrelevant. You trying to buy his favor?” Booth shook his head in disgust. “You’ve strayed a bit from first principals, Lamar. You’re still on board, we decided. But only if you get rid of her.”
Booth was inspecting the outside of the little box. “You need to get rid of her, and you need to do it now. Today.” He handed him the little box.
“We’ve had her car rigged since the day you fucking altered her Standard scores. She was always unreliable. She’s a middie.” He pointed at the recessed button on the box. “We’ll strand her coordinates to you here. Then you hook into the highway mesh, find her, and press the little button. You have to be within about two hundred feet. If it doesn’t work the first time, get closer. The closer you get, obviously more risk for you. But then, you’re the one that created this mess.”
Lamar was shaking. Caitlin, oh Caitlin. Like a daughter to me. Titus, like a son. Oh God.
“Why me,” he whispered.
Booth opened the door of the sports car, then paused before getting out.
“We just don’t want you blaming us for the next three hundred years. You’re going to do it Lamar. If not, Alex will, but then you’re not coming.”
Booth slammed the door and transferred to his own car.
Lamar hardly noticed the car leaving. He started the car after a few minutes. The dashboard lit up with an incoming strand signal. Staring at this noxious light for a full five minutes, Lamar finally accepted the data. She was on I-5 heading south.
Hands shaking, he drove slowly away from the pier, from the river, from things recognizable.